The Lost Viol - M.P. Shiel - ebook

The Lost Viol ebook

M. P. Shiel

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Romantic mystery novel first published in New York by Clode in 1905. Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865–1947) was a prolific British writer of West Indian descent. Shiel was more than just a writer of sensational tales of magic and mystery. There is an undercurrent of philosophic seriousness running beneath the finely textured prose of all his fiction. Like his contemporaries George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and H. G. Wells (1866-1946), Shiel wrote out of the intellectual fervor of his times when the impact of Darwin’s theories and the revolutionary strides being made in the material sciences were shaking to the roots the philosophical and religious underpinnings of the closing nineteenth century.

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Liczba stron: 355

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER I

“YES, a grand night,” was the thought in Miss Kathleen Sheridan’s mind, as she passed into the west lodge-gates of Orrock Park on the evening of the 21st of November, ‘98: an evening of storm, with the roar of the sea in the ear. The young lady stopped at Embree Pond in the park to watch the sheet of water shivering to its dark heart under the flight of the squalls; then with her long-legged walk (she was a hunchback), went on her way, showing in her face her delight in this bleak mood of nature.

Some way further, however, on hearing the hoofs of a horse, her expression changed to one of very real fright, for she had a thought of one Sir Percy Orrock, beheaded by Cromwell, whose ghost gallops about on a headless horse in rough weather; but this turned out to be only Mr. Millings, the land-steward: for, on coming round to the manor-house, the young lady found Millings there talking to Sir Peter Orrock, who at a window was holding his ear forward to hear the land-steward’s news.

“Good evening, Mr. Millings,” called Miss Kathleen, laughing from ear to ear, with strings of black hair draping her face. “Well, uncle, I have been sketching it all on the heath–witches on broomsticks, ‘strange screams of death in the air.’ That silver lime of Farmer Carr’s is blown flat. Uncle, if you ask me to stop and dine, I may consent.”

“Hm,” muttered Sir Peter to himself, “better stick to your own dinner. Go on, Millings–same old story, eh?”

“Same old story, Sir Peter,” answered Mr. Millings: “there won’t be any of Norfolk left soon, at this rate. Mrs. Dawe’s cottage gone, and with it her son, James Dawe, and three of the boats–”

“Well, it is their own fault!” called out the little maid, “living on the edge of the cliffs, when they know–”

“Got nowhere else to live,” muttered Sir Peter. “Dawe drowned, Millings?”

“No, Sir Peter, but I’m afraid I must say rescued at an awful cost: he was rescued by Miss Langler, who has just been taken home to Woodside in a dying state.”

“Hannah? Hannah Langler?” breathed Sir Peter, turning very pale.

“The lad was carried out two hundred yards,” said Mr. Millings, “where he clung to the bottom of one of the three boats; on the cliffs I found a crowd watching him, including Fagan, the coast-guardsman, who told me that the lifeboat was coming round from Wardenham; but I thought from the first that it would come too late, for I could see Dawe nearer in every time the lighthouse beam swept over him: and so it proved, for, as the lifeboat-light appeared round the north headland, Dawe was thrown up by a breaker on a strip of sand–”

“But Hannah?” said the baronet.

“Miss Langler was in the crowd with her father,” said Millings; “she had been holding up Dawe’s mother, who was fainting, but when Dawe was all of a sudden lying on the strip of sand below us, I saw Miss Langler running among the fishermen, begging one and another to save him before the next wave. ‘There’s nothing like venturing,’ I heard her say twice or thrice, but they answered that that would only mean two deaths instead of one, and I fully agreed with them. When the next breaker drew back from the cliffs we all looked to see Dawe gone with it: but there he still was, and I now heard Miss Langler cry out to Horsford, the lighthouse-keeper, ‘Now, now, Horsford, venture now,’ and then, all at once, I was aware that she herself was going down the cliff-side by that little foot-path near the church-tower.”

“But, God’s name, man, couldn’t some of you stop her, a whole crowd of you there?” said Sir Peter.

“It couldn’t be done, Sir Peter, I regret to say. Two or three did make a try to hold her, but she was gone like the wind. Personally, I confess, I was rather paralyzed: she looked pretty small down there in the mouth of the sea, like a fly in an engine at work; it was rather painful. Old Farmer Langler fell on his knees; no one had a word to say. I don’t suppose it lasted ten minutes on the whole, but I shouldn’t care to live through it again. Dawe’s a heavy lout, a head taller than she, and twice she was felled by the sea with him in her arms. When a wave withdrew, we saw them still there, and another wave coming. Two of the womenfolk fainted. I with some other men ran half-way down to see better, and got drenched. However, she won back to the path with her unwieldy prize, and there gave in. We then ran down and got them somehow to the top; Dawe was taken to the postmistress’s cottage, and Miss Langler home to Woodside. Both are in a pretty bad way, they say.”

“Well, it is her own fault!” called the quaint maid shrilly against the wind from the outer hall. “Hannah has a secret pride in her physical powers which stood in need of a ducking.”

The baronet muttered something, turned from the window, and in five minutes was passing out of the house, well wrapped up, with his rusty top-hat pressed on his head, and a footman swinging a lantern before his steps.

“What, going to Woodside, uncle?” asked Kathleen, who still stood in the outer hall, “how wonderfully good of you!”

The baronet did not answer. She went out with him. Beyond the east gates they saw the lighthouse beam traveling over land and sea in turn, the one thing which the storm could not fluster. A drizzle, like spray caught from the sea, struck the face. It was very bleak. They met only a manure-cart whose driver saw, head-to-wind, his horses’ manes, tails, and forelocks floating out at random on the streams of the storm. Sir Peter was silent, but the quaint maid had ever something to say in her laughing way. “Isn’t it fine?” she cried out: “one feels as if one were oneself the storm!” Then presently: “Did you read all that about Chris Wilson? That boy is going to be the maestro of the day, you’ll see. He has won the year’s prize-violin, and been publicly embraced by Strauss. Yvonne writes me that he’s the wildest of madcaps, and leaves broken hearts in every capital: this is the boy that I am supposed to be engaged to.”

At this Sir Peter stooped sharply to her ear, saying: “Better drop that talk, and think of something besides men.”

“But what do you mean?” cried back Kathleen: “wasn’t it arranged before I was born that he should marry me? Not that I care at all, or would marry him, if he wanted me”; in a lower tone she added: “you have no humor, mon oncle.”

“This is Hannah Langler’s birthday, too!” she called out presently: “did you know? She will remember the date of her ducking. Isn’t it an extraordinary thing that on each of her birthdays that girl receives a present from some unknown person? This time it is a ring that must have cost two hundred pounds.”

“How old is she today?” asked Sir Peter, stooping to her ear.

“Twenty-four.”

“No–twenty-three.”

“Excuse me, uncle, twenty-four. But what does it matter to you, really? I believe you cherish some sort of odd weakness for this Langler girl. She tells me that every time you see her you whisper into her ear always the same words, ‘Uglier than ever, I see.’ Well that might be a pleasantry, if she were pretty, but as what you say happens to be true, it is hardly polite, is it? The rector has suggested that perhaps this yeoman’s daughter is destined to become–Lady Orrock. I told him that things of that sort don’t happen.”

“Hm!” muttered Sir Peter; “talk too much.”

Kathleen now went up a lane on the left leading to her own place, “The Hill,” while Sir Peter and the footman went on down yew and hawthorn hedges, till the light of Woodside Farm appeared; and great was the wonder of the old farmer and of Mrs. Langler when they saw Sir Peter come to see Hannah, for the baronet was a rather crusty and rusty type–tall, with a stoop and an asthmatic chest–from whom a jerk of the head was about all that people on the estate expected in the way of friendliness.

Sir Peter saw Hannah, who lay unconscious from her drenching, stayed a little with the old couple and old Dr. Williams, and then trudged back to the Hall.

He sat up so late that night, sniffing his three dried apples, that Bentley, his old house-steward, became uneasy. He was writing a long letter; for his discovery that night that Hannah Langler was twenty-four, not twenty-three, as he had somehow thought, was now hurrying him to an action which for fifteen years had lain planned in his heart.

“Better,” he wrote to his nephew Chris Wilson, “come here for two or three months, and let me see if I like you. As I have not seen you since you were sixteen, and then only for a few minutes in Paris, it is impossible for me to know what sort of being you are: but I was attached to your mother, and if you have any touch of her, it is possible that both myself and the young lady to whom I refer may care to have you permanently about us. Your income, if I remember rightly, hardly amounts to more than £500, and if Miss Hannah Langler will marry you, she will have from me a jointure of £3,000 a year, and will, moreover, be my heiress: in which case you may decide to give up scraping fiddles for the rest of your days,” etc., etc.

This letter went off to Paris the next day. Four days later came the reply, written apparently in a heat of haste:

“My dear Sir and Uncle:

“I am obliged by your most kind invitation to Orrock Hall, and delighted that I have so near a relative as my uncle to remember me. I shall certainly come to visit you, if the good people here will let me, and I will marry whomsoever you desire, since that is your caprice. You should expect me, therefore, let us us say, next Tuesday. Ever yours sincerely,

“Chris Wilson.”

CHAPTER II

THE appointed Tuesday came, but Chris Wilson did not come with it; nor did he send any excuse.

After a month Sir Peter wrote again, angrily this time; in two weeks the answer came from Vienna, saying that Chris would find it a “genuine delight” to visit so near and dear a relative as his uncle during the month of February next. But February, March, April, and May passed, and Chris Wilson did not come to Orrock, nor send any excuse.

Once more Sir Peter wrote, no longer an invitation, but a letter bitter to the point of invective; he received no answer to this, but on a day in June when no one expected him at Orrock, Chris Wilson sat in the Wardenham train from London, with the score of Fidelio open on his knees and three violins about him.

At Wardenham, of course, no carriage awaited him, and there he stood, a violin-case in each hand, looking up and down the road with a pathetic dismay. He believed that he had written to Sir Peter the date of his coming, and had perhaps expected a procession with flags to meet him, but no one even noticed him. “Well, the languid people,” he said with his meek smile, for it seemed to him odd that any one should be unconscious of his arrivals and departures.

At last one of the donkey-baskets peculiar to Wardenham was got; an old box, which was the master’s, and a more costly portmanteau, which was the valet’s, were put into it, and they set off through a land of cornfields and farms, past the lighthouse, the windmill on the hill, the village with its clothes hung out to dry in the sunlight. Anon the sea was in sight with sails on it, and the cliffs in their colored carpet of poppy, thistle, and sea-daisy; and anon the basket-chaise was among hills of heather and fern. There was hardly a sound, save the martin’s wing, the bee fumbling into its lavender-bed, and dream-laughter borne from some boys and girls playing cricket in a meadow. Three men mending a net before a cottage door, among them that Willie Dawe whom Hannah had rescued from the sea, seemed to work in a doze. But Chris Wilson, who was a native of cities, and was being jolted in the lanes, had no eye for all this, and cried out anon to his driver: “Is it far, my friend?”

Beyond the ruined church-tower on the cliffs, the chaise turned inland between hedgerows full of wild yellow tulip, and in a lane promenaded by geese passed Woodside peeping through its nest of old trees. At Woodside gate stood a young lady, looking up and down the lane with shaded eyes, who suddenly felt ashamed of her hair, but the moment the chaise had passed, beckoned eagerly, whereat another young lady spending the day at the farm ran out to her.

“Too late,” said Hannah Langler: “a Wardenham chaise with a young man in it, my dear! the squire’s nephew, I believe, has violins–you should have run quicker! Saw without seeing me at first, then suddenly realizing a petticoat about, looked back and smiled at me with little nods in an easy, cheeky kind of a sort of a way–”

“Did you nod back, Hannah?”

“Get thee behind me, Satan! Of course not. But it wasn’t done anyhow, my dear, but prince-like–”

“What is he like, Hannah?” asked Anne, highly interested.

“Not handsome, I think–broad-faced–stout–a bit overgrown–more body than head, top of his nose browned, my dear, like an apple just turning, a split cloth hat cocked well back, so that I could see his hair parted in the middle, spreads out behind in a mass of curls over his shoulders–brown, lighter than mine, his eyes blue and heavy–drowsy, tipsy-like–forehead small and flushed–”

“You saw enough of him all in a moment!”

“But it was that quietly wicked little smile, with little movements of his eyebrows––!”

“He must be fast, Hannah.”

“But a dear boy, I should think.”

“I wonder if Miss Kathleen will be falling in love! for all that girl thinks about is love and marriage.”

“Poor little dear,” sighed Hannah, with a change from very gay to very grave: “it is her poor little body that’s to blame for that, Anne. I believe she is ever wondering if everybody finds her as plain as she finds herself: the big doubt of her life, that; so she’s ever on the watch with her sharp grey eyes to solve it one way or the other, with a fear of the verdict trembling in her poor heart all the time.”

“Hannah, sometimes I believe you see right into people’s hearts,” remarked Anne.

“Know what’s in Kathleen’s, anyway,” answered Hannah with a pleased laugh: “she would give all she is worth and a penny more to enter somebody else’s mind for one minute to watch herself, and, of course, she cares most what the male gender thinks of her, so every farm-lad she sees, she asks herself, ‘How does he like me?’ And to think that she’s doomed to stew in that pot to the day of her death! Ah, we ought–”

A voice from the farmhouse called “Hannah!” and “Coming, mother!” called Hannah–“no peace to the wicked”–and ran away inward.

The chaise and violinist, meanwhile, had arrived before the low front of Orrock with its array of many-shafted oriels; whereat Sir Peter, hearing of it, hurried from his work of docketing old documents in the library, and found Chris Wilson tapping with his foot on the floor of the inner hall.

“You Chris Wilson?” asked Sir Peter, gazing over his glasses.

“The same, sir,” answered Chris.

“Well, what do you want now, sir?”

“Absolutely nothing, sir,” answered Chris, with his meek smile.

“I don’t like erratic persons, sir,” said Sir Peter. “I don’t allow any one about me to be erratic, except myself. You promised–”

“Then you are my own uncle, sir, for I am of precisely the same turn of mind myself. If you are as erratic as your footman, I have only to wish you a good day–”

“Stop, sir; did you not promise to be here since the month of February last?”

“I’m sure I can’t remember, sir. What happened in the month of February last are among the things in which I no longer take an interest. I am here now; let that suffice you.”

“Why, he chooses some of his words something like a Frenchman,” muttered Sir Peter. “Why on earth, sir, didn’t you let me know that you were coming?”

“Didn’t I, sir? I think so.”

“Hm! memory wants brushing up. But, sir–”

“May I remind you, sir, that I am holding an Amati fiddle in a terrible draft? If you invite me to come in, I will.”

“Then, sir–come in.”

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