Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Left Hand
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100901.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2011
Date most recently updated: December 2011

This eBook was produced by: Roy Glashan

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Left Hand
Author: Fred M. White

*

Published in The Rodney And Otamatea Times, New Zealand, 18 September 1912, Page 6

*


RODNELL strode across the room and looked out into the
garden. Those strong hands of his were clenched, and his teeth were closely
set together. He was a man of strength in more ways than one—the kind
of man who knows how to suffer in silence. As his gaze wandered over the
garden, the brooding shadow in his eyes deepened. Seven hard, honest years
lay there; he had found the place a wilderness, he had turned it into the
semblance of a smiling paradise. A bad nervous breakdown had caused him to
sever his connection with the Press and start in a small way as a gardener
with a capital of a hundred pounds and what experience he had picked up from
casual observation.

Well, at any rate, he had managed to live. It had been a hard struggle,
but the open air life had made another man of him, and he had decided to go
on with the fight. There had been times when it was necessary to borrow
money, but the garden had grown and grown, the shining rows of glasshouses
had expanded, the returns were better every year. Yet, despite this fact,
Dick Rodnell owed James Cartright four hundred pounds and the knowledge
troubled him.

Cartright's reputation was a sinister one, and many were the tales told of
him in Little Mersham. He called himself a lawyer, but practically no
business passed through his hands, and the fortune he had scraped together
had come to him in the form of usury pure and simple.

He had been pressing Rodnell of late. He had found out by some means that
the latter expected to do great things with a new carnation that he had
discovered. Before long the Rodnell carnations would be the talk of the
horticultural world. Already one of the greatest nurserymen in England had
offered Rodnell a thousand pounds for a half interest in one of the new
plants, and the settlement of this deal was only a matter of time. But the
big florist was in South America, and nothing could be done till his
return.

Rodnell bitterly regretted that he had ever mentioned this to Cartright.
He had done so more with the intention of gaining time than anything else.
Unless some unforeseen event occurred he would be a comparatively wealthy man
in a year's time. Cartright had shared this optimistic opinion, and on the
strength of it had advanced a further sum of fifty pounds. Just as a matter
of form, the precious pots of carnations were added to the security.

And now Cartright had shown his hand. He had had losses, and needed his
money at once. One legal process after another followed in startling
rapidity. He had done it all himself in his furtive and secretive way, and
probably was the only man who knew that Rodnell had had a bankruptcy notice
served on him.

Rodnell was not blind; he knew exactly what this meant. Cartright was
after those carnations, and unless some miracle happened they would be his in
a week's time. It was no use appealing to any of the other great florists,
seeing that the carnations had finished blooming, and the great man in that
line was the only member of his firm who knew anything about them. Rodnell
cursed himself for his folly none the less heartily because he had been
conscious of it from the first.

Why should be be robbed of all he had in this way? Cartright was just as
much a thief as if he had picked his pocket. And nobody knew anything of j
the story beyond the two men concerned. All the papers and documents were in
Cartright's safe in the library of his house. Rodnell knew the house and its
garden quite well. Cartright's niece Jessie, who lived with him, was a great
gardener, and Rodnell had spent many happy hours helping her. She was a
flower herself, and Rodnell often wondered how it was that she could flourish
in that uncongenial soil.

As he stood there staring moodily at his own garden he could picture
Jessie Cartright working in hers. He had promised to go down this evening and
give her some assistance with the chrysanthemums, but he shrank from it now.
He did not feel like facing James Cartright just then. Up to that moment he
had had no quarrel with the money-lending attorney, whose manner was just the
same as it always had been. Business was business, he said, and there was no
reason to make a personal matter of it.

Rodnell could see everything quite clearly. He knew the interior of
Cartright's house perfectly. He could have found his way about tEe garden
blindfolded!. He could picture Cartright sitting up late as usual working at
his accounts long after everybody else had gone to bed. He knew that this was
Cartright's custom. Hardly anybody in Little Mersham was up after ten
o'clock. Cartright would be working away there, with his papers littered all
over the big table, the safe door open. Suppose he were to surprise
Cartright, to gag and bind him, and take his securities and make off with
them! He would pay his just debts after the matter of the sale of the
carnations was effected—he had no wish to be a thief. It would be only
his word against Cartright's, and people would prefer to believe him. All he
needed was time to save himself from the clutches of this miserly rascal.

For half an hour Rodnell stood there brooding over this idea. He was a
desperate man in a desperate mood. And these carnations were as the apple of
hiw eye. His whole life's work was in them—they would give him an
established reputation amongst gardeners. He had other discoveries that he
would work out as soon as he had the money and the peace of mind necessary
for their development.

He put on his hat presently, and went down the village street in the
direction of Cartright's house. It was a warm evening in early September, and
the gardens were still gay with flowers. Out at the back of the old-fashioned
house Jessie Cartright was working. Her eyes brightened, and a color rose to
her cheeks as she saw Rodnell coming.

"I began to imagine that you were not coming," he said. "I was conceited
enough to go on with these cuttings in your absence, Mr. Rodnell. Now, have I
mixed enough sand with this mould?"

Rodnell sifted the soil through his fingers thoughtfully. He held it up to
the light between his fingers. Across the palm was a rough white seam, a
little hard and ragged at the edges. "Yes, I should think that your
proportions are quite correct," he said "What are you looking at?"

"Well, I was looking at your hand," Jessie confessed. "How did you manage
to do it?"

"Oh, that is an old story," Rodnell said, lightly. "I did that five years
ago. I was hacking away at a rose briar with a pruning knife, and the blade
slipped and gashed my left hand. It was rather a nasty business at the time,
but it is all right now, as you can see. I should add just a shade more of
that peat if I were you. And push the cuttings down more
firmly—so."

Jessie Cartright watched him admiringly. She made a pretty picture as she
stood there, her face shaded by her big garden hat. Perhaps Rodnell's eyes
told her this, for the color crept into her cheeks. She did not fail to
notice that Rodnell was a little more quiet than usual. In her quick,
observant way she saw most things. She had a more than vague idea as to the
way in which Cartright made his money—she had not been living with him
two years for nothing.

"You are very quiet to-night," she said at length.

Rodnell aroused himself from his reverie with a start. "Am I?" he said.
"Well, we all have our little worries at times."

"I hope you have not been disappointed over those carnations of
yours?"

"Well, not exactly that," Rodnell admitted. "They are all right. If I can
only manage to hold on for a month or two longer, Waterton's people—Mr.
Waterton himself But you don't understand these things. I mean it's a
question of money."

Had Rodnell glanced at his companion just then be would have seen that she
understood a good deal more than he gave her credit for. They had often
discussed the great things likely to result from the sale of the new
carnations, but as to their being pledged to Cartright nothing had been
said.

"It must hare been hard work at the start," Jessie said.

"It was," Rodnell said, grimly. "I had only about a hundred pounds, and I
was further handicapped by poor health and utter lack of experience. I had to
pay pretty dearly for my experience; and yet I fancy I enjoyed the struggle.
It was something to fight for, you see. I don't mind confessing to you that I
should have had to abandon it altogether if it had not been for those
carnations. And to lose them just when fortune is in my grasp is hard. I
daresay

"Dick—Mr. Rodnell," Jessie whispered. "If it so bad as that? Won't
you tell me?"

Her eyes were full of sympathy; the little red mouth quivered. In the
impulse of the moment she laid her hand on Rodnell's arm. He took the fingers
in his and kissed them; then in some vague way he found himself kissing the
quivering red lips as well.

"I ought not to have done that," he said; "but I was so lonely, I had
nobody to confide in. And when you looked on me as if—as if—well,
as it you cared

"Of course I care," Jessie whispered. "Haven't you known that for a long
time, Dick?"

"But I am a pauper," Dick groaned. "What right has a pauper to love a girl
like you?"

"Well, tell me all about it," Jessie asked, impressively. "What have you
been doing with the carnations—my carnations now? Please to tell me the
story at once."

In a tame and halting way Rodnell complied. The carnations were in pawn to
a man who had made up Ms mind to possess them. Dick mentioned no names. He
had a certain delicacy in disclosing the fact that t"he Shylock in question
was Jessie's own flesh and blood; and, strangely enough, she did not seem to
be in the least curious on the point. Her face was hot with indignation, but
all the same she seemed anxious to avoid Rodnell's glance.

"A man like that deserves any treatment!" she exclaimed. "You are
justified in doing anything to thwart his plans. And you can pay him before
long. If I were a man I should not hesitate for a moment. We must discuss
this again, Dick; we must talk it over, and find some way to overcome the
enemy. I must go now and look after my uncle's supper. Good-night."

She lifted up her face to he kissed in the most natural manner, and
vanished. As a rule she asked Dick inside but she seemed averse to doing so
this evening. He walked across the lawn to a gate that led into a lane, now
quite dark and deserted. The oLd woman who "did" for him did not sleep in the
house. She usually put out his supper and cleared it away in the morning. She
had the key of the back door, and came and went as she pleased. Nobody would
be able to prove that Rodnell was not in his cottage all the evening.

The more he thought the matter over the easier it looked. It was as if the
Fates had gone out of their way to make the path easy for him. He was
convinced now that he was justified in taking the step that he was going
take, and Jessie had shared this opinion. If he only took his courage in both
hands now he could be free. In a few months' time he would have ample means.
He would take that dear little girl to share his cottage with him—the
dream of his life" would be realised. He would do it; he would hesitate no
longer.

He lay there in a dry ditch on the far side of a hedge till the clock
struck eleven. By this time the whole of the village was fast asleep. There
was not a light to be seen anywhere, save the one that gleamed dully from the
window of Cartright's study. It was an easy matter to find his way across the
lawn to the house.

There was a ragged edge to the blind, and Rodnell could see into the
study. An oil lamp was on the table, and behind it sat Cartright busy at his
books. Rodnell could see that the safe door was open.

Rodnell was breathing a little more quickly now, but there was no
hesitation in his mind. He was going to get those papers. He knew that it
would be no difficult matter to gain access to the house. Fortunately for him
he was wearing tennis shoes, so that his footsteps made no sound. Ho crept
round to the back, and tried the scullery window. With his thin-bladed
grafting-knife he pushed back the latch. A moment later and he was creeping
along the passage leading to the hall.

So far, so good. The house was absolutely silent. In his rubber soles Dick
made his way to the study. The door was wide open, and as he looked in he
could see the safe hospitably open. Half in front of it was a big screen
fashioned out of the colored plates of bygone Christmas numbers. It might be
just possible to reach the shelter of the screen without being observed. Once
this was done the contents of the safe would be clear to any average pair of
eyes. It was a risk, and a big risk, for once he was discovered Dick was
lost. Still, Cartright's back was to him, and the miser was deeply engrossed
in his papers. On all fours Dick commenced to enter the room.

He hardly dared to breathe now; the sweat was pouring down his hot face.
He wriggled along like a dog until he stood in the shelter of the screen,
gazing into the safe eagerly. There were rows and rows of papers, neatly
docketed and arranged on shelves. Rodnell was amazed to read the names on
some of them. Evidently Cartright had most of his neighbours under his thumb.
His heart beat a little faster as he recognised his own name on one of the
packets.

So far everything had been in his favor. He had only to snatch the packet,
drop it into his pocket, and retreat by the way he had come. At any moment
Cartright might rise from his chair and come over to the safe for something'
or other. And if that happened—well, Dick did not care to think of
it.

He grabbed the packet and thrust it into his pocket. As he did so a grunt
came from the table. Cartright dragged himself heavily from his chair and
rose to his feet. Rodnell watched him breathlessly through one of the folds
of the screen. There was nothing for it now but to resort to heroic measures.
If Cartright came as far as the safe Dick would stun him by a blow on the
side of the head before his precious host could discover the identity of his
visitor. This was the way that some men went headlong on to murder, Dick
thought. He was living his life over again in those few seconds. Cartright
came along muttering and coughing. He came nearer and nearer to the
screen.

With clenched teeth and heart beating like a drum, Dick waited. Then there
was a cry and an oath and a snarl, and the lamp went out with a crash,
leaving the room in total darkness. Dick's fists unclenched, and he rubbed
his eyes in amazement. Was it possible that he had had anything to do with
this? Had there been one brief moment of madness when he had attacked
Cartright openly—a terrible struggle, in which the lamp had been
extinguished? It did not seem to him that he had moved; he could feel the
sharp edge of the screen when his forehead had bumped against it.

And the din was still going on. Dick could hear yells and screams and the
rustle of struggling bodies, than a loud cry for help, and a body crashing
down the flight of stone steps that led from the passage to the door leading
to the back garden. Somebody groaned again, and all was still.

A dog barked somewhere in the house, the bells began to ring, and Dick
could hear footsteps outside Then somebody seemed to stand by him and fumble
for his hand. A small hand grasped his and pulled him in the direction of the
door. He was too dazed and stunned to ask any questions; he could only obey
meohanically. Before he could realise what had happened he was outside the
front door, which was quietly closed behind him raced down the little drive,
and fled mechanically along the road, it seemed to him that he had gained his
house without a soul being any the wiser.

He lighted his lamp and stood gazing at it, regardless of his supper.

"Now, what does it all mean?" he thought. "Am I a coward that I turned my
back upon trouble in that way. And what would Jessie say it if she knew? Did
I kill Cartright, or shall I wake presently and find that it has all been a
hideous dream ?"

He locked the papers carefully away in his own little safe and wont to
bed. He would hear all about the trouble in the morning. After breakfast ho
found the village to be full of it. Somebody had broken into the house of Mr.
Cartright the night before and had attacked him at hit work. A lot of books
and papers seemed to be missing, but whether or not any valuables had been
taken it was impossible to say, as Mr. Cartright was still unconscious. He
was not dead, or anywhere near it, and probably he would be himself again in
a week. He had had a nasty blow on the head with a jemmy, which had been
found at the bottom of the stairs. The miscreant had got clean off, but h e
had been 'badly torn by the Bedlington terrier that Cartright always turned
loose after the house was closed. Dick blessed the fact that ho and the
Bedlington were good friends.

It seemed a plausible story, but it puzzled him. He was still half under
the impression that he was the author of the mischief. He would have to go up
to the house, of course, and inquire after Cartright. It was late in the
afternoon when he summoned up the necessary courage to call and ask for
Jessie. She came down to the long, oak-panelled drawing-room a little pale
and. tired-looking, but otherwise quite herself. Just for a moment he
hesitated to kiss her.

"What is all this I hear?" he asked. "Have you found anything out,"

"I don't think we ever shall" said Jessie. "The man must have been
concealed in the study. One of the side-tables has a long cloth over reaching
to the ground. The French window in "the study was open till long after it
was dark; in fact, I closed it myself. The man was there waiting his chance.
Possibly some movement on his part betrayed him, and there was a struggle. We
shall know all about it when my uncle gets better."

"It must have frightened you terribly," Dick muttered.

"To a certain extent, yes. I had not gone to bed. I was writing in my room
at the back of the house. I went downstairs first and made my way to the
library. I—I was suspicious about something. I may confess at once that
I was not thinking of my uncle for the moment."

"Oh! Now, there is somebody else in your mind, then?"

"Yes, Dick. I was thinking of a story I heard earlier in the evening. It
was a story of a man who had pledged all that he held dear to another man who
was trying to rob him of it. And it occurred to me that my uncle was a man
like that. And it also occurred to me that I had suggested a way in which
that one man could get back that which he had been robbed of. The burglar had
gone when I got to the foot of the stairs—gone by the back door, with
the dog after him. I—I was thinking of the other man. And I found him,
Dick—l found him and showed him how to escape. I took him by the hand,
and when I felt his hand—there was a scar upon it I knew —I knew
Jessie paused as if unable to proceed. Dick caught his breath as he looked at
her. He could see that her eyes were full of tears, that her face was flushed
and smiling. He caught her in his arms and kissed her passionately. It seemed
to him that there was no further need for explanation. "I expect that man
felt an awful coward," he said. "He was a coward to leave you here all
alone."

Not at all, Dick. He did exactly what I wanted him to do. I was quite
safe. And that man was justified in what he did. When you fight a rascal you
fight him with his own weapons. And if the man I mean was in love with a girl
like—me, for instance—he is all the more justified because he is
taking steps to get me out of a hateful place like this. Do you believe in
the truth of what are called dramatic coincidences, Dick I do, and we had one
of them last night. And, Dick—whisper—did you get the
papers?"

Dick smiled down into the flushed, happy face. "I did, darling," he said.
"I got them before the row began. I was hiding behind the screen. If you had
only seen me sneak into the study and hide myself—"

"I did," Jessie said, dreamily. "I was looking over the stairs. We are a
wicked couple, Dick, and I—well, I love you all the better for it. So
there!"

THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia