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Fallen Among Thieves
Vol.2: The Marble Heart
Arthur William A'Beckett
Fallen Among Thieves, Vol. 2
Book I: The Marble Heart (cont'd)
Chapter VII. A Real "Sensation Scene."
Chapter VIII. The Old Hall-Clock Turns Traitor.
Chapter IX. Life Or Death?
Book II. — The Old Love And The New.
Chapter I. Freddy Makes A Friend.
Chapter II. The First Step.
Chapter III. The Paupers' Property Office.
Chapter IV. "Now That He Is Dead!"
Chapter V. Face To Face!
Chapter VI. Returned From The Dead!
Chapter VII. Through Storm And Rain.
Chapter VIII. Found!
Chapter IX. Father Dutton, Late Captain Of The "Q.D.G."
Chapter X. "Trust Her Not."
Chapter XI. Sir Ralph Travels By Night!
Chapter XII. "For His Sake!"
Chapter XIII. Melchisideck, The Money-Lender.
Chapter XIV. Mr. Cumberland Kenny Is Imprudent.
Chapter XV. "Vengeance Be Thine, Lord!"
Book III. — " Frailty, Thy Name Is "Woman!"
Chapter I. Off The Scent!
Chapter II. On The Scent!
Chapter III. Only A Woman!
Chapter IV. A " Larky" Gentleman.
Fallen Among Thieves, Vol. 2, A. W. A'Beckett
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Great was the excitement on board the 'Punjaub.' Actors and actresses were busily engaged in learning their respective parts. Lieutenants were seen all over the ship, striving hard to force into their well-meaning but thick-skulled heads the difficult words set down for them to speak on the night of the performances. Ladies were noticed with books in their hands, smiling and frowning, and repeating sentences over and over again, in the vain endeavour to gain perfection in their different roles. At the dinner-table dresses were lazily canvassed, and the scenery moodily mentioned.
"I don't know what we are to do," cried Mrs. Smith. "You know so much depends upon the artist. Will no one come to the rescue? Can no one paint?"
"I say, Harwood," cried Lieutenant Streater, of the 207th (Royal Fusiliers), from the end of one of the tables, "look here. I've seen some awfully jolly pictures in your cabin. I say, you didn't paint them, did you?"
"If you mean those wretched daubs, supposed by friends to represent a ship in a storm and a windmill in a gale of wind, yes, I did. It wouldn't be fair to the art to allow that any other man could paint so wretchedly."
"The very thing!" exclaimed Streater joyfully. "I've got an idea."
"An idea!" cried Thompson. "Let me congratulate you, my dear fellow."
And Thompson held out his hand to his brother sub. The two men hated one another with a bitterness horrible to witness. "Why did they hate one another? I will tell you — they both were amateur actors! It is unhappily a rule of nature that amateur actors must hate one another! This is sad, but, alas! too, too true! Ah! at best this poor globe of ours is but a world of jealousies and sorrows!
"What is the idea?" asked Mrs. Smith.
"I will unfold it when Mr. Thompson will permit me," replied Streater, with a scowl at his brother in the dramatic art.
"Pray do! we are all attention."
"Well, I was only going to say, when Mr. Thompson interrupted me, with the politeness for which he is so justly celebrated," began Streater sulkily, "that Mr. Harwood can paint beautiful pictures; why, then, not get Mr. Harwood to paint our scenery?"
The suggestion was received with acclamation.
"I shall make a sad mess of it, I fear," said Harwood. "I can assure you I scarcely know a brush from a pencil. Not only that; we have a very short time before us, and how am I to attend my rehearsals?"
"Oh, never mind that," replied Mrs. Smith quickly; "we can easily get some one to read your part for you. You'll only have to be perfect in your words, and everything will go admirably."
And so it was decided that the scenery should be painted by Mr. Richard Harwood.
Streater told himself off, to assist the "scenic artist," and for days the two men worked hard at covering canvas with most of the colors of the rainbow.
The rehearsals were held at all times. Novels were thrown aside, and even flirting went out of fashion. How can you flirt with a woman when she broadly hints at rehearsal that you don't know your part, and covertly suggests that you are little better than a rather dangerous idiot? Quarrels and squabbles were of hourly occurrence. Poor young Thompson was for ever throwing up his part, and protesting against the shameful conduct of his rival Streater. "I tell you what, Sir," he would declare after one of these contretemps, "if ladies had not been present, I would have felled him to the ground, Sir. Yes, Sir, felled him to the ground!" Their "mutual friends" (I use the adjective with fear and trembling) would attempt to appease him, and Streater would be brought up to him, with a grim apology upon his (Sweater's) lips. And then the rivals would solemnly shake hands, and leave one another with uneasy smiles on their faces, and deadly hatred in their heart of hearts.
The time passed very quickly. When the 'Punjaub' arrived at Aden, numbers of the passengers put off, and that not particularly lively town was searched far and near for "dresses and decorations," as the play-bills have it. When the ship entered the Red Sea, nearly every one was perfect in his or her part. Even Major Simpson, who played Berthier, required the assistance of the prompter but little; the role of the "Prince de Neuchatel" contained about fifteen words, and of these fifteen the gallant officer knew nearly ten! Everybody liked Simpson, he was so obliging. There was nothing he wouldn't do to please people. Some of the passengers thought that the good-nature of the Major was inexhaustible. They soon found out their mistake. Simpson drew the line at "whiskers." He was prepared to do anything for the public weal, — to give up his dignity, to appear as a buffoon, — but he would not shave off his beard, even at the solicitation of Stage Manager Streater. At last the auspicious day arrived. A stage had been fitted up in the saloon, and seats had been placed for the audience in the auditorium. "Where the passengers dined was, and still remains a mystery. The last rehearsal was held, the scenery was set, and everything was ready for the performance. The sun went down, the audience took their seats, and the prompter cleared his throat, preparatory to commencing the arduous duties of the night.
While all was more or less confusion in the Saloon, perfect silence reigned on deck, broken only by the vibrations of the screw. The 'Punjaub' was proceeding on her voyage at a great rate. The sea was perfectly calm, and the ship made her way through the waters like a ghost. The vessel glided along into the darkness, casting round about her as she came a little gleam of light, — a little gleam of light issuing from the portholes of the cabins; leaving behind her, as she passed away, a froth of water, — a froth of water, which soon languished and died, becoming once more one with the calm blue sea, stretching far, far back into the night.
And thus moved the silent ship, with its living freight, among the dangers of the mighty deep.
By-and-by the Captain of the vessel walked on to the quarter-deck, attended by his Chief Officer. Both men seemed to be engaged in earnest conversation. The junior was apparently trying to persuade his senior that his (the junior's) view of the case was the correct one.
"All you say may be very true, Hardy; but I tell you this is a very dangerous part of the voyage, and you are new to the line. It's no flattery to say that you are a capital sailor, but, believe me, it would be better for me to take the next watch."
"I can assure you, Sir, I have studied the chart carefully, and could take the ship through with my eyes shut. Do let me persuade you to go down. I am sure the passengers will be very much hurt if you don't patronize the entertainment. I am told that young Streater is capital; I only wish I could see it!"
"But — " began the Captain in an undecided tone.
"I beg pardon, Sir; but if you think I don't know my duty, of course I shall submit to your wishes," said the First Officer, with disagreeable dignity and pinchbeck humility.
"No, Hardy; I don't believe that for a moment; but — "
"Many thanks, Sir," interrupted the junior. "Then if you do not think me unfit for the appointment I have the honor to hold, I really can see no reason why you. should treat me with such marked distrust?"
"Well, well, as you will!" replied the Captain, and with a glance round the ship and a nod to his subordinate, he left the deck and descended into the saloon.
"How absurdly fussy the Captain is! Danger! why there will be no danger for the next six hours. Heigho! this is slow work," and the First Officer began to walk the deck.
By-and-by the sounds of laughter and applause came floating up from below. Hardy listened to them with ill-disguised impatience.
"What a bore it is! Here am I tied to my post, and I'm told that Streater is awfully good. I should so like to see him. Egad, too, and I will see him. The Captain is so fussy; why this part of the voyage, I know from the chart, is perfectly safe. I'll drop down for a few minutes, just have a look at Streater, and then return to my post in time to meet the danger — danger, ha! ha! Danger, indeed!"
He called the Fourth Officer to take his place, left the deck, and stealthily made his way down into the Saloon.
The ' Punjaub ' moved through the waters into the bosom of the darkness silently and steadily.
The curtain had fallen upon the farce. Streater had been a very great success. He had pulled faces like the late Mr. Wright, and had imitated the voice of the present Mr. Buckstone, and had crowned his waggeries by actually sitting down upon a real bandbox. This last man oeuvre had been received with shouts of laughter and delight by the very intelligent audience assembled in the auditorium of the "Theatre Royal Punjaub."
Poor Thompson stood at the wings scowling at his rival with an expression composed of rouge, malice, bismuth, and ferocity. He bit his nails, and murmured savagely, "Ah, wait till these fools have seen my De Cevennes!" The "fools" had not long to wait, and when they had seen it, it puzzled them terribly, as this truthful chronicle will fully testify.
After a very long pause the curtain rose upon ' Plot and Passion.' After Jabot (kindly assisted by the prompter) had got through his work very creditably, the principal actors appeared upon the scene. The rôles (with the exception of "De Cevennes —Mr. Thompson, 207th Royal Fusiliers") were tolerably well filled. The Fouché was rather good than otherwise, and the Desmarets was not very bad. Henri de Neuville was played coldly but carefully by Richard Harwood, and as for the Cicely of Mrs. Lever (the young "grass widow"), what it lacked in intelligence it made up for in diamonds. But the success of the evening was the Marie de Fontanges of Miss Ruthven. Edith seemed to feel the part thoroughly, and acted with the greatest spirit. In the scene in which she demands money of her fellow-spy, in order that she may return to the gambling-table, to enjoy once more the mad pleasures of play, her abandon was admirable. Long and loud was the applause when the curtain descended on the first act.
The "company" surrounded Edith, and offered her their heartiest congratulations. There was only one who kept apart from the throng, and for whose voice she listened eagerly but without avail. Richard Harwood neither joined in the song of praise nor raised his voice in the all but universal hymn of laudation.
"I really could scarcely have believed that the girl had so much in her," said Mrs. Smith to Mrs. Tremenheere.
"She was certainly very good indeed, but her rouge had been put on so carelessly that she looked a perfect fright," was the reply.
"Is Mr. Streater playing a serious or a comic part?"
"I really can't tell; I've seen the piece before, and I imagine he turns out to be Napoleon, or Robespierre, or somebody of that sort, at the end of the third act."
"He's very funny."
"Very, poor fellow! How miserable he looked when the prompter forgot to assist him."
"He's a very gentlemanly young man, but I don't think acting's his forte."
"Quite so. Really I do so wish we could find out whether he's playing a comic part or not. I'm afraid of laughing, for fear of making a mistake."
"Perhaps we shall see in the next act. But there's the bell for the curtain, so we mustn't talk any more."
The second act opened with the reappearance of Cecile (Marie's maid) in a new dress of the most expensive description, ornamented with the diamonds to which allusion has already been made. After a while, Marie and Henri came before the footlights, and the celebrated love-scene in ' Plot and Passion' was played by the actor and actress. It was not a success. Richard spoke his words with so little feeling that he almost caused a laugh amongst the audience. Edith blushed through her rouge, and murmured to herself, "Does he hate me so much that he cannot even pretend to love me?" and then her spirits failed her, and she became listless and sad. She seemed to have lost from that moment all her vivacity, and played the rest of the act with evident weariness. When the curtain fell, Edith's popularity had disappeared, — she was voted as bad an actress as her companion, the young "grass widow." Caring very little for the opinion of the audience Edith rested against the wing, waiting for the performances to recommence. As she stood thus she heard a woman's voice; she recognized the tones as the private property of Cicely. She listened.
"Yes, it was a little ambitious of Miss Ruthven to undertake so important a part. You must allow that the task was too great for her."
"Well," she heard Richard reply, "certainly Miss Ruthven was a little overweighed; as you say, she might have been better."
Edith's eyes flashed fire, and the tell-tale blood rushed to her cheeks as she murmured, "He thinks I cannot act. I will undeceive him. But no," she added with a sigh; "it will not be acting!"
At length the curtain rose for the last time, and Edith made her appearance once again. Her cheeks were flushed, and she seemed determined to carry all before her. She had lost her listlessness, and played with an energy that perfectly electrified those who watched her movements. In the grand scene in -which Marie asks the pardon of her lover for having unconsciously betrayed him, she became sublime. She seemed to forget that she was playing a part in a piece. She poured her whole soul into her words; she wept real tears; her shame at her degradation was not assumed; her prayer for mercy came from the bottom of her heart.
On her knees she implored Henri to pardon her, to forget the poor spy, and only to remember the wretched and repentant woman.
Richard raised her softly from the ground, and his voice sounded very sweet to her as he coldly granted the petition she had urged with so much earnestness.
At this moment there occurred a dreadful crash, which shook the ship from truck to keelson, and then some doors were thrown open, and the soldiers stood waiting on the stage ready to take Henri away from his mistress to the dreary cells of the Bastille, — perchance to an ignominious death. So excited were the audience with the thrilling situation that they did not notice, for the moment, that the Captain had hurriedly left the cabin for the deck.
The action on the stage continued, when a second crash occurred more dreadful than the first, — a pause, and the actors and actresses stopped talking, and looked from one to another. A moment later, and there arose a cry of astonishment and fear.
There was a dead silence after this for a moment, and then the Captain entered the Saloon. His face was very pale, but he spoke calmly and firmly. His words were these, —
"Pray be composed. If we keep our heads clear, there may still be life for every one of us. Ladies, get to your prayers, and pray for us. You gentlemen, follow me, I have work for you to do."
As he returned to the deck, a passenger asked him what was the matter. He answered in a low tone, —
"The 'Punjaub' has struck upon a rock. May God have mercy upon us all! "
We travel back again to England. A hot summer's day in the little village of Stelstead. Samson was absent from his shop; there was a grand match going on in the field belonging to the Grammar School, — the old cobbler always acted as umpire on behalf of the scholars. Round the cricket-ground were seated several members of the various county families who took an interest in the school; and what with the fine day, and gauzy dresses, and tiny bonnets, and fresh pretty faces, the sight, as a whole, was a pleasant one to gaze upon. Every now and then a shout of boyish voices told that a good "hit" had been made, and on these occasions, the face of the old umpire lighted up with satisfaction. "When a wicket fell, Samson had a word of comfort for the man "put out."
"You played that innings as well as ever I see you, Master Carter," the old fellow would say as the boy prepared to leave the ground.
"I should have done better, Jas, if it hadn't been for those beastly 'sneaks.' Who could play such bowling as that?" and with a glance of hearty contempt at his conqueror, the young cricketer would surrender his place at the wicket to one of his allies.
Of course Florence was on the ground, and again, as a matter of course, she had several admirers in attendance. Young country gentlemen, finishing their education at Oxford and Cambridge, gawky youths from Eton, and conceited Queen's Scholars from Westminster surrounded her. It was amusing to watch her as she played off one lad against the other, — sending this one to find out the score for her, another to fetch her an ice, a third to look for her scent bottle (supposed to have been left in the carriage), a fourth to carry a message to one of her girlish friends, and so on and so on. She had a smile for every one, and caused a general feeling of jealousy among the fair sex assembled on the greensward in front of the tent.
"Who is that young lady you're bowing to?" asked a man standing beside one of the carriages.
"Oh! Florence Ruthven — an awful flirt," was the answer, and the rosy lips of the speaker pressed themselves into a pout of pretty contempt. "Do you think her handsome?"
"Not at all; blonde isn't my style; I prefer brunette," and he looked into a pair of dark brown eyes. In spite of this, his attention wandered away every now and then to the brilliant Florence in the distance.
The game continued, and the trees began to throw shadows on the grass, when a horseman rode on to the ground. He looked round the field, dismounted, and gave over his mare to one of the village lads. Then with a smile upon his face he walked up to Florence, and held out his hand. She took it within her own, and blushed deeply; then she said in her usual manner, "Oh, Mr. Holston, I am so glad to see you. "Where have you come from?"
"I am staying at Grange Court, Miss Florence. I called at the house, found you were here, and me voici."
"Are you staying at Grange Court long?"
"For a week or ten days." He had taken up his position beside her, and, with perfect sang fro id and politeness, had already snubbed the crowd of admirers in attendance upon her. Florence, now that Freddy had arrived, had, with charming ease, dismissed the lesser attractions. Boys from Eton and Westminster were all very well when there were no men to flirt with. Freddy smiled as the little crowd disappeared, and the two were left alone. He turned to Florence and said —
"Ah, Flo, you are a sad flirt."
"I don't understand you, Mr. Holston," replied Florence, turning red; "and please don't call me Flo."
"Because my name is Miss Ruthven."
"Why, what have I done?"
"What have you done! What right had you to write me those letters? I had half a mind to show them to my uncle."
"Well, what if you had? I only told you the truth. Now what did I say in them to offend you?"
"Why you told me you loved me, and all that nonsense."
"Did that offend you?"
"No, — I mean yes. Not only that, you know it was a story. You only care for one person in the world."
"Really! And who may that be?"
"On my word, Miss Ruthven (if you won't let me call you Flo), you are too hard upon me. You really are," said Freddy with a smile and a stroke of his moustache. "What will make you believe me when I tell you that I love you?"
"May I hang myself?"
"Shall I take poison? I should rather like to take poison. And I could manage it so easily. My wine merchant has some very peculiar sherry, which he is always trying to sell me. Say 'yes,' and I will order in a dozen tomorrow. Please let me poison myself."
"Don't be so absurd. I am really very angry with you."
"Why, of course about those letters. You know you oughtn't to write to me. As I have said before, I very nearly gave them over to my uncle."
"Well, if you didn't give them over, what did you do with them?"
Florence was silent.
"Did you burn them?"
"Did you tear them up?"
"Then what did you do with them?"
Florence's eyes sought the ground, and then she said in a low tone, —
"I kept them."
"It's all right," thought Freddy, and he added aloud, "Well, I'm awfully sorry to have made you angry even for a moment. But you forgive me now, — don't you?"
"May I call you Flo? You may call me Freddy if you like. I don't mind it."
Florence laughed merrily at this, and said, "Well, if you must be rude, I suppose I must submit to it, especially as you are to be our guest at dinner this evening.''
"Yes. Sir Ralph was kind enough to ask me to stay to dine."
"Very well, then I think we had better be leaving. Will you find the carriage, please?"
Freddy started off on this errand. In a very short time he returned, and handed Florence to her seat. Throwing the lad, who had held his horse, sixpence, he mounted the animal, and the carriage and its escort left the ground.
As they passed by the gate, an old man uncovered his head. Florence blushed crimson as she encountered the old man's gaze.
"Who was that?" asked Freddy.
"Samson, the village shoemaker," replied Florence, with evident uneasiness.
"He stared at you very rudely."
"Oh dear no; he is the dearest of old creatures, and a great favorite of mine."
"I don't like the look of the fellow," said the young man, turning his head towards the cobbler.
Jas Samson met Freddy Holston's stern glance without flinching.
On this hot summer's afternoon there had been one lazy man in the village, or rather at the Hall. A very lazy man, for he had dozed under the trees of the park, and wandered listlessly by the side of the stream. Tired of even this exercise, he strolled back to the House, entered the hall, opened the large window, and leaning his elbows on the sill, began to whistle. Quickly fatigued by this exertion, he next turned his back upon the light, and, still resting against the casement, began to stare at the loud ticking hall-clock which was now facing him.