Run to Earth - Mary Elizabeth Braddon - ebook

Run to Earth ebook

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

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Two different riddles, three villains, one of which was really the darkest paint, three murders, one suicide, the abduction of a child, three strong Victorian women – one of them is unusually tragic, the other is quite a deceiver, like Becky Sharp, and divine retribution. Suffice it to say that one of the main characters is a young woman who lives with a man who claims to be a father, but exploits and intimidates her, and when this villain, Black Milsom, actually kills the young navigator captain for money.

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Contents

Warned in a Dream.

Done in the Darkness.

Disinherited.

Out of the Depths.

’€œEvil, Be Thou My Good.’€

Auld Robin Gray.

’€œO Beware, My Lord, of Jealousy.’€

After the Pic-Nic.

On Yarborough Tower.

’€œHow Art Thou Lost! ’€” How on a Sudden Lost!’€

’€œThe Will! The Testament!’€

A Friend in Need.

In Your Patience Ye are Strong.

A Ghostly Visitant.

A Terrible Resolve.

Waiting and Watching.

Doubtful Society.

At Anchor.

A Familiar Token.

On Guard.

Down in Dorsetshire.

Arch-Traitor Within, Arch-Plotter Without.

’€œAnswer Me, If this Be Done?’€

’€œi Am Weary of My Part.’€

A Dangerous Alliance.

Move the First.

’€œWeave the Warp, and Weave the Woof.’€

Preparing the Ground.

At Watch.

Found Wanting.

’€œA Worthless Woman, Mere Cold Clay.’€

A Meeting and an Explanation.

’€œTreason has Done His Worst.’€

Caught in the Toils.

Larkspur to the Rescue.

On the Track.

’€œO, Above Measure False!’€

’€œThy Day is Come!’€

’€œConfusion Worse than Death.’€

’€œSo Shall Ye Reap.’€

Chapter 1

Warned in a Dream.

Seven-and-twenty years ago, and a bleak evening in March. There are gas-lamps flaring down in Ratcliff Highway, and the sound of squeaking fiddles and trampling feet in many public-houses tell of festivity provided for Jack-along-shore. The emporiums of slop-sellers are illuminated for the better display of tarpaulin coats and hats, so stiff of build that they look like so many sea-faring suicides, pendent from the low ceilings. These emporiums are here and there enlivened by festoons of many-coloured bandana handkerchief’s; and on every pane of glass in shop or tavern window is painted the glowing representation of Britannia’s pride, the immortal Union Jack.

Two men sat drinking and smoking in a little parlour at the back of an old public-house in Shadwell. The room was about as large as a good-sized cupboard, and was illuminated in the day-time by a window commanding a pleasant prospect of coal-shed and dead wall. The paper on the walls was dark and greasy with age; and every bit of clumsy, bulging deal furniture in the room had been transformed into a kind of ebony by the action of time and dirt, the greasy backs and elbows of idle loungers, the tobacco-smoke and beer-stains of half a century.

It was evident that the two men smoking and drinking in this darksome little den belonged to the seafaring community. In this they resembled each other; but in nothing else. One was tall and stalwart; the other was small, and wizen, and misshapen. One had a dark, bronzed face, with a frank, fearless expression; the other was pale and freckled, and had small, light-gray eyes, that shifted and blinked perpetually, and shifted and blinked most when he was talking with most animation. The first had a sonorous bass voice and a resonant laugh; the second spoke in suppressed tones, and had a trick of dropping his voice to a whisper whenever he was most energetic.

The first was captain and half-owner of the brigantine “Pizarro’, trading between the port of London, and the coast of Mexico. The second was his clerk, factotum, and confidant; half-sailor, half-landsman; able to take the helm in dangerous weather, if need were; and able to afford his employer counsel in the most intricate questions of trading and speculation.

The name of the captain was Valentine Jernam, that of his factotum Joyce Harker. The captain had found him in an American hospital, had taken compassion upon him, and had offered him a free passage home. On the homeward voyage, Joyce Harker had shown himself so handy a personage, that Captain Jernam had declined to part with him at the end of the cruise: and from that time, the wizen little hunchback had been the stalwart seaman’s friend and companion. For fifteen years, during which Valentine Jernam and his younger brother, George, had been traders on the high seas, things had gone well with these two brothers; but never had fortune so liberally favoured their trading as during the four years in which Joyce Harker had prompted every commercial adventure, and guided every speculation.

“Four years to-day, Joyce, since I first set eyes upon your face in the hospital at New Orleans,” said Captain Jernam, in the confidence of this jovial hour. “"Why, the fellow’s dead,’ said I. “No; he’s only dying,’ says the doctor. “What’s the matter with him?’ asked I. “Home-sickness and empty pockets,’ says the doctor; “he was employed in a gaming-house in the city, got knocked on the head in some row, and was brought here. We’ve got him through a fever that was likely enough to have finished him; but there he lies, as weak as a starved rat. He has neither money nor friends. He wants to get back to England; but he has no more hope of ever seeing that country than I have of being Emperor of Mexico.’ “Hasn’t he?’ says I; “we’ll tell you a different story about that, Mr. Doctor. If you can patch the poor devil up between this and next Monday, I’ll take him home in my ship, without the passage costing him sixpence.’ You don’t feel offended with me for having called you a poor devil, eh, Joyce?–for you really were, you know–you really were an uncommonly poor creature just then,” murmured the captain, apologetically.

“Offended with you!” exclaimed the factotum; “that’s a likely thing. Don’t I owe you my life? How many more of my countrymen passed me by as I lay on that hospital-bed, and left me to rot there, for all they cared? I heard their loud voices and their creaking boots as I lay there, too weak to lift my eyelids and look at them; but not too weak to curse them.”

“No, Joyce, don’t say that.”

“But I do say it; and what’s more, I mean it. I’ll tell you what it is, captain, there’s a general opinion that when a man’s shoulders are crooked, his mind is crooked too; and that, if his poor unfortunate legs have shrivelled up small, his heart must have shrivelled up small to match ’em. I dare say there’s some truth in the general opinion; for, you see, it doesn’t improve a man’s temper to find himself cut out according to a different pattern from that his fellow-creatures have been made by, and to find his fellow-creatures setting themselves against him because of that difference; and it doesn’t soften a poor wretch’s heart towards the world in general, to find the world in general harder than stone against him, for no better reason than his poor weak legs and his poor crooked back. But never mind talking about me and my feelings, captain. I ain’t of so much account as to make it worth while for a fine fellow like you to waste words upon me. What I want to know is your plans. You don’t intend to stop down this way, do you?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s a dangerous way for a man who carries his fortune about him, as you do. I wish you’d make up your mind to bank that money, captain.”

“Not if I know it,” answered the sailor, with a look of profound wisdom; “not if I know it, Joyce Harker. I know what your bankers are. You go to them some fine afternoon, and find a lot of clerks standing behind a bran new mahogany counter, everything bright, and shining, and respectable. “Can I leave a few hundreds on deposit?’ asks you. “Why, of course you can,’ reply they; and then you hand over your money, and then they hand you back a little bit of paper. “That’s your receipt,’ say they. “All right,’ say you; and off you sheer. Perhaps you feel just a little bit queerish, when you get outside, to think that all your solid cash has been melted down into that morsel of paper; but being a light-hearted, easy-going fellow, you don’t think any more of it, till you come home from your next voyage, and go ashore again, and want your money; when it’s ten to one if you don’t find your fine new bank shut up, and your clerks and bran-new mahogany counter vanished. No, Joyce, I’ll trust no bankers.”

“I’d rather trust the bankers than the people down this way, any day in the week,” answered the clerk, thoughtfully.

“Don’t you worry yourself, Joyce! The money won’t be in my keeping very long. George is to meet me in London on the fifth of April, at the latest, he says, unless winds and waves are more contrary than ever they’ve been since he’s had to do with them; and you know George is my banker. I’m only a sleeping partner in the firm of Jernam Brothers. George takes the money, and George does what he likes with it–puts it here and there, and speculates in this and speculates in that. You’ve got a business head of your own, Joyce; you’re one of George’s own sort; and you are up to all his dodges, which is more than I am. However, he tells me we’re getting rich, and that’s pleasant enough–not that I think I should break my heart about it if we were getting poor. I love the sea because it is the sea, and I love my ship for her own sake.”

“Captain George is right, though,” answered the clerk. “Jernam Brothers are growing rich; Jernam Brothers are prospering. But you haven’t told me your plans yet, captain.”

“Well, since you say I had better cut this quarter, I suppose I must; though I like to see the rigging above the housetops, and to hear the jolly voices of the sailors, and to know that the “Pizarro’ lies hard by in the Pool. However, there’s an old aunt of mine, down in a sleepy little village in Devonshire, who’d be glad to see me, and none the worse for a small slice of Jernam Brothers’ good luck; so I’ll take a place on the Plymouth coach to-morrow morning, and go down and have a peep at her. You’ll be able to keep a look-out on the repairs aboard of the “Pizarro’, and I can be back in time to meet George on the fifth.”

“Where are you to meet him?”

“In this room.”

The factotum shook his head.

“You’re both a good deal too fond of this house,” he said. “The people that have got it now are strangers to us. They’ve bought the business since our last trip. I don’t like the look on them.”

“No more do I, if it comes to that. I was sorry to hear the old folks had been done up. But come, Joyce, some more rum-and-water. Let’s enjoy ourselves to-night, man, if I’m to start by the first coach tomorrow morning. What’s that?”

The captain stopped, with the bell-rope in his hand, to listen to the sound of music close at hand. A woman’s voice, fresh and clear as the song of a sky-lark, was singing “Wapping Old Stairs,” to the accompaniment of a feeble old piano.

“What a voice!” cried the sailor. “Why, it seems to pierce to the very core of my heart as I listen to it. Let’s go and hear the music, Joyce.”

“Better not, captain,” answered the warning voice of the clerk. “I tell you they’re a bad lot in this house. It’s a sort of concert they give of a night; an excuse for drunkenness, and riot, and low company. If you’re going by the coach to-morrow, you’d better get to bed early to~night. You’ve been drinking quite enough as it is.”

“Drinking!” cried Valentine Jernam; “why, I’m as sober as a judge. Come, Joyce, let’s go and listen to that girl’s singing.”

The captain left the room, and Harker followed, shrugging his shoulders as he went.

“There’s nothing so hard to manage as a baby of thirty years old,” he muttered; “a blessed infant that one’s obliged to call master.”

He followed the captain, through a dingy little passage, into a room with a sanded floor, and a little platform at one end. The room was full of sailors and disreputable-looking women; and was lighted by several jets of coarse gas, which flared in the bleak March wind.

A group of black-bearded, foreign-looking seamen made room for the captain and his companion at one of the tables. Jernam acknowledged their courtesy with a friendly nod.

“I don’t mind standing treat for a civil fellow like you,” he said; “come, mates, what do you say to a bowl of punch?”

The men looked at him and grinned a ready assent.

Valentine Jernam called the landlord, and ordered a bowl of rum-punch.

“Plenty of it, remember, and be sure you are not too liberal with the water,” said the captain.

The landlord nodded and laughed. He was a broad-shouldered, square-built man, with a flat, pale face, broad and square, like his figure–not a pleasant-looking man by any means.

Valentine Jernam folded his arms on the rickety, liquor-stained table, and took a leisurely survey of the apartment.

There was a pause in the concert just now. The girl had finished her song, and sat by the old square piano, waiting till she should be required to sing again. There were only two performers in this primitive species of concert–the girl who sang, and an old blind man, who accompanied her on the piano; but such entertainment was quite sufficient for the patrons of the “Jolly Tar’, seven-and-twenty years ago, before the splendours of modern music-halls had arisen in the land.

Valentine Jernam’s dark eyes wandered round the room, till they lighted on the face of the girl sitting by the piano. There they fixed themselves all at once, and seemed as if rooted to the face on which they looked. It was a pale, oval face, framed in bands of smooth black hair, and lighted by splendid black eyes; the face of a Roman empress rather than a singing-girl at a public-house in Shadwell. Never before had Valentine Jernam looked on so fair a woman. He had never been a student or admirer of the weaker sex. He had a vague kind of idea that there were women, and mermaids, and other dangerous creatures, lurking somewhere in this world, for the destruction of honest men; but beyond this he had very few ideas on the subject.

Other people were taking very little notice of the singer. The regular patrons of the “Jolly Tar’ were accustomed to her beauty and her singing, and thought very little about her. The girl was very quiet, very modest. She came and went under the care of the old blind pianist, whom she called her grandfather, and she seemed to shrink alike from observation or admiration.

She began to sing again presently.

She stood by the piano, facing the audience, calm as a statue, with her large black eyes looking straight before her. The old man listened to her eagerly, as he played, and nodded fond approval every now and then, as the full, rich notes fell upon his ear. The poor blind face was illuminated with the musician’s rapture. It seemed as if the noisy, disreputable audience had no existence for these two people.

“What a lovely creature!” exclaimed the captain, in a tone of subdued intensity.

“Yes, she’s a pretty girl,” muttered the clerk, coolly.

“A pretty girl!” echoed Jernam; “an angel, you mean! I did not know there were such women in the world; and to think that such a woman should be here, in this place, in the midst of all this tobacco-smoke, and noise, and blasphemy! It seems hard, doesn’t it, Joyce?”

“I don’t see that it’s any harder for a pretty woman than an ugly one,” replied Harker, sententiously. “If the girl had red hair and a snub nose, you wouldn’t take the trouble to pity her. I don’t see why you should concern yourself about her, because she happens to have black eyes and red lips. I dare say she’s a bad lot, like most of ’em about here, and would as soon pick your pocket as look at you, if you gave her the chance.”

Valentine Jernam made no reply to these observations. It is possible that he scarcely heard them. The punch came presently; but he pushed the bowl towards Joyce, and bade that gentleman dispense the mixture. His own glass remained before him untouched, while the foreign seamen and Joyce Harker emptied the bowl. When the girl sang, he listened; when she sat in a listless attitude, in the pauses between her songs, he watched her face.

Until she had finished her last song, and left the platform, leading her blind companion by the hand, the captain of the “Pizarro’ seemed like a creature under the influence of a spell. There was only one exit from the room, so the singing-girl and her grandfather had to pass along the narrow space between the two rows of tables. Her dark stuff dress brushed against Jernam as she passed him. To the last, his eyes followed her with the same entranced gaze.

When she had gone, and the door had closed upon her, he started suddenly to his feet, and followed. He was just in time to see her leave the house with her grandfather, and with a big, ill-looking man, half-sailor, half-landsman, who had been drinking at the bar.

The landlord was standing behind the bar, drawing beer, as Jernam looked out into the street, watching the receding figures of the girl and her two companions.

“She’s a pretty girl, isn’t she?” said the landlord, as Jernam shut the door.

“She is, indeed!” cried the sailor. “Who is she?–where does she come from?–what’s her name?”

“Her name is Jenny Milsom, and she lives with her father, a very respectable man.”

“Was that her father who went out with her just now?”

“Yes, that’s Tom Milsom.”

“He doesn’t look very respectable. I don’t think I ever set eyes on a worse-looking fellow.”

“A man can’t help his looks,” answered the landlord, rather sulkily; “I’ve known Tom Milsom these ten years, and I’ve never known any harm of him.”

“No, nor any good either, I should think, Dennis Wayman,” said a man who was lounging at the bar; “Black Milsom is the name we gave him over at Rotherhithe. I worked with him in a shipbuilder’s yard seven years ago: a surly brute he was then, and a surly brute he is now; and a lazy, skulking vagabond into the bargain, living an idle life out at that cottage of his among the marshes, and eating up his pretty daughter’s earnings.”

“You seem to know Milsom’s business as well as you do your own, Joe Dermot,” answered the landlord, with some touch of anger in his tone.

“It’s no use looking savage at me, Dennis,” returned Dermot; “I never did trust Black Milsom, and never will. There are men who would take your life’s blood for the price of a gallon of beer, and I think Milsom is one of ’em.”

Valentine Jernam listened attentively to this conversation–not because he was interested in Black Milsom’s character, but because he wanted to hear anything that could enlighten him about the girl who had awakened such a new sentiment in his breast.

The clerk had followed his master, and stood in the shadow of the doorway, listening even more attentively than his employer; the small, restless eyes shifted to and fro between the faces of the speakers.

More might have been said about Mr. Thomas Milsom; but it was evident that the landlord of the “Jolly Tar’ was inclined to resent any disrespectful allusion to that individual. The man called Joe Dermot paid his score, and went away. The captain and his factotum retired to the two dingy little apartments which were to accommodate them for the night.

All through that night, sleeping or waking, Valentine Jernam was haunted by the vision of a beautiful face, the sound of a melodious voice, and the face and the voice belonged alike to the singing-girl.

The captain of the “Pizarro’ left his room at five o’clock, and tapped at Joyce Marker’s door with the intention of bidding him goodbye.

“I’m off, Joyce,” he said; “be sure you keep your eye upon the repairs between this and the fifth.”

He was prepared to receive a drowsy answer; but to his surprise the door was opened, and Joyce stood dressed upon the threshold.

“I’m coming to the coach-office with you, captain,” answered Harker. “I don’t like this place, and I want to see you safe out of it, never to come back to it any more.”

“Nonsense, Joyce; the place suits me well enough.”

“Does it?” asked the factotum, in a whisper; “and the landlord suits you, I suppose?–and that man they call Black Milsom? There’s something more than common between those two men, Captain Jernam. However that is, you take my advice. Don’t you come back to this house till you come to meet Captain George. Captain George is a cool hand, and I’m not afraid of him; but you’re too wild and too free-spoken for such folks as hang about the “Jolly Tar’. You sported your pocket-book too freely last night, when you were paying for the punch. I saw the landlord spot the notes and gold, and I haven’t trusted myself to sleep too soundly all night, for fear there should be any attempt at foul play.”

“You’re a good fellow, Joyce; but though you’ve pluck enough for twenty in a storm at sea, you’re as timid as a baby at home.”

“I’m like a dog, captain–I can smell danger when it threatens those I love. Hark! what’s that?”

They were going down stairs quietly, in the darkness of the early spring morning. The clerk’s quick ear caught the sound of a stealthy footstep; and in the next minute they were face to face with a man who was ascending the narrow stairs.

“You’re early astir, Mr. Wayman,” said Joyce Harker, recognizing the landlord of the “Jolly Tar’.

“And so are you, for the matter of that,” answered the host.

“My captain is off by an early coach, and I’m going to walk to the office with him,” returned Joyce.

“Off by an early coach, is he? Then, if he can stop to drink it, I’ll make him a cup of coffee.”

“You’re very good,” answered Joyce, hastily; “but you see, the captain hasn’t time for that, if he’s going to catch the coach.”

“Are you going into the country for long, captain?” asked the landlord.

“Well, no; not for long, mate; for I’ve got an appointment to keep in this house, on the fifth of April, with a brother of mine, who’s homeward-bound from Barbadoes. You see, my brother and me are partners; whatever good luck one has he shares it with the other. We’ve been uncommon lucky lately.”

The captain slapped his hand upon one of his capacious pockets as he spoke. Dennis Wayman watched the gesture with eager eyes. All through Valentine’s speech, Joyce Harker had been trying to arrest his attention, but trying in vain. When the owner of the “Pizarro’ began to talk, it was very difficult to stop him.

The captain bade the landlord a cheerful good day, and departed with his faithful follower.

Out in the street, Joyce Harker remonstrated with his employer.

“I told you that fellow was not to be trusted, captain,” he said; “and yet you blabbed to him about the money.”

“Nonsense, Joyce. I didn’t say a word about money.”

“Didn’t you though, captain? You said quite enough to let that man know you’d got the cash about you. But you won’t go back to that place till you go to meet Captain George on the fifth?”

“Of course not.”

“You won’t change your mind, captain?”

“Not I.”

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