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Title: A Satisfactory Reference
Author: Fred M. White
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eBook No.: 1201651h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Aug 2014
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A Satisfactory Reference

by

Fred M. White

Published in The Queenslander, Brisbane, Australia, 21 Apr 1900
This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2014



I

PARKER paused in her walk, fearful lest the slightest noise should betray her. It was not dark yet, and Parker had no difficulty in recognising the features of the speakers. One of them, indeed, she knew perfectly well; for William, the second footman, was by way of being an admirer of hers, a state of things forced upon him against his better judgment.

"A very pretty gal is Parker," he had declared. "Parker's got style; and there's times when she might pass for quite the toff. But she's uppish, and nobody in the servants' 'all's good enough for her. A nice gal, but not the sort to make a man 'appy and comfortable."

So it came about that Parker, the Honourable Nora Vandeleur's maid, spent very little of her spare time with the rest of the servants. There was a legend extant that her father had once been a colonel in the army. Before the end of her first month she had found herself left severely alone.

Usually Parker spent an hour or so after the family had gone in to dinner rambling about the grounds. At that time the law was somewhat relaxed, and the housekeeper forgot to frown. Parker found this by far the pleasantest hour of the day. This evening she felt specially free from trouble, it was a balmy August evening, the hour close upon 9, and the light was just beginning to fade. Those two male voices in the shrubbery seemed to boom against the still air.

Parker had almost blundered upon the speakers before she saw them. That a listener was near neither of them dreamt for a moment. Peeping through the acacias Parker could see the others quite plainly.

One was William. Of that fact there could be no doubt. His companion was no stranger either, Parker had met him before under circumstances which did not redound to the credit of the stranger.

"William," said the latter earnestly, "is it good enough?"

"Joseph," William replied as solemnly, "it is. It's gold plate, my lad; a presentation service from some hemperor or another to the late Earl. Ambassador or some such tricks, he was, and it's all in a safe as you could rip open easy as I could crack a walnut."

Parker stood perfectly still. It seemed to her that on the present occasion eavesdropping was quite compatible with good breeding. Besides, had she not seen the gold plate on the dining-room table a dozen times?

"Of course I shall want a pal, Bill," Joseph remarked.

"Why?" William asked uneasily. "Haven't I explained to you the very place where the safe is? Haven't I promised to dose the butler? I'm not going to take any risks beyond leaving a door open for you."

"You always were a coward, William."

"You're right there," the second footman agreed with perfect candour; "I never had the pluck of a mouse. Ain't got the nerve for it somehow. But you can't deny that I've put a deal of business in your way, Joseph. No, you must collar the swag. You must get rid of it and send me my share. Then I can chuck this crib and move off, on the hunt for another plant of the same kind."

"All right," Baxter growled. "What night is it to be?"

"Wednesday. Nobody dining here 'cept the house party, and as they're all off early the next day on the razzle-dazzle, they're sure to be in bed by 11. I heard the captain say so to-night."

"The captain! Do you mean to say as he's here?"

"Certainly I do, Joseph. Do you know him?"

Joseph Baxter ground out something lurid between his teeth. It seemed to the watcher that his face was diabolical in the failing light.

"Don't I?" he hissed. "I shouldn't have been nearly killed all over an innocent lot of welshing at Sandown three years ago but for Captain Vandeleur. And about twelve months ago there was a pretty girl I met at Esher. She took out her purse to give me a bob, and it was full of quids. 'Tisn't my fault. Why did she go tempting a poor chap down on his luck in that way? And if there was a bit of a struggle, they'd no call to go and put it in the 'ditement as 'ighway robbery with vi'lence. And who should come up agen and give me a cowardly blow when I wasn't expecting it but the captain. And they gave me nine months' hard for that!"

William noted the beauty of his friend's law with a glance of sympathy.

"I'd pay him out," he said.

"I'm going to; I'm going to have my revenge if I swing for it. I'll put a knife into him first chance, sure as my name's Joe Baxter."

Parker crept quietly away. She had learnt all she required and more. For the rest of the evening she remained unseen by the other servants. It was past 11 before she found her way to Nora Vandeleur's room.

"Well, my dear," Nora said cheerfully.

"Well, Nora," Parker replied. "I have had an adventure to-night."

Miss Vandeleur's aristocratic features relaxed in a smile. The Earl of Malcombe's handsome daughter appeared to be remarkably free with her servants.

"You saw Rupert Gaunt with Mary Cresswell in the conservatory, then? You have noticed how shamefully they are flirting together?"

"I saw him kiss her last night," Parker said, calmly.

"And you are not furious about it. Your features are placid. I am certain that your pulse is beating normally. How glad I am, Dorothy."

"Well, I'm rather glad myself now. I admit that my life the last month has not been all a bed of roses, but at any rate my eyes have been opened. Rupert Gaunt is not likely to pay off his mortgages with my money."

"And Mary hasn't got a single penny!"

"Mary is a very pretty girl. She is quite innocent in this matter, and I am very sorry for her," Parker said judicially. "I was foolish enough to think that Rupert loved me, and you always protested he did nothing of the kind. I'm very glad now that I sank Dorothy Dean, the heiress, in the role of Parker, the Hon. Nora Vandeleur's new maid."

Nora's eyes sparkled. She had certainly cured her dearest friend of her passion for the handsome yet faithless Rupert Gaunt, but a good deal still remained to be done. The restoration of Dorothy Dean's faith in (male) human nature, for instance. At any rate Nora's brother, Captain Charles Vandeleur, could not be accused of fortune-hunting—a rich old aunt had saved him that stigma—and he was genuinely in love with Dorothy.

Dorothy was quite aware of the fact. And the Honourable Nora had not planned the present little ruse entirely to save Dorothy from a loveless marriage. There was an arriere pensee, and Captain Vandeleur was the inspiration.

In her present capacity Dorothy could watch without being seen. It was very easy for her to keep out of the way of the house-party, even had not her cap and apron and severely banded hair formed an efficient disguise. Even Vandeleur was perfectly unconscious of the little comedy.

"No use defying Fate," Nora remarked, sententiously. "It is quite evident to me that you and Charles are made for one another."

"I shall never marry," Dorothy interposed.

"Oh, nonsense! Do you suppose that Charles was at hand to save you when you had that adventure with the tramp at Esher for nothing?"

This remark of Nora's brought Dorothy down to mundane matters again.

"It is very strange you should mention that affair," she said. "Do you know I have seen my modern Duval this very evening?"

"You mean that horrid tramp?"

"The same. He did not see or hear me, which on the whole is a good thing for all parties concerned. This Joseph Baxter was in the shrubbery engaged in earnest conversation with William, the second footman."

"A burglary? What fun! We'll put the matter in Charlie's hands, eh?"

"Be serious, Nora. I assure you this is no laughing matter. Let me tell you there is a plot on foot to rob the house. Baxter is coming here on Wednesday night to take away the presentation plate; a door is to be left open for him, the butler is to be drugged, and all things made very comfortable for Baxter."

Nora's eyes gleamed.

"What fun!" she exclaimed. "We never had a burglary here."

"But it is not fun," Dorothy replied. "That awful Baxter went on fearfully about Charlie—I mean Captain Vandeleur. He has sworn to be avenged. If they meet I know some fearful mischief will be done."

But Nora laughed at Dorothy's fears.

"Those people always talk like that," she said, evidently with a lofty knowledge of burglars and their tortuous ways, "whereas they are the most cowardly of men. Dorothy, I won't say anything about this to anybody but Charlie, and he shall arrange to catch the thief. If other people get to hear of it, it may reach William's ears, and the mischief will be done."

Dorothy was precisely of the same opinion. Only Charles was so very headstrong.

"And do urge him to be careful," concluded Dorothy, "he is so rash. If anything were to happen to him I should never forgive myself."

Again the Hon. Nora's eyes sparkled.

"You would remain single for his sake," she whispered. "My dear, I would much rather you married to please him. Goodnight!"

II

THE second footman in the seclusion of his room was engaged in certain mystic rites, in which a kettle of boiling water played an important part. In other words, he was holding over the steaming spout an envelope purloined from the letter-bag, and which was addressed to a certain Captain Fitzroy in Captain Vandeleur's hand.

For the last day or two William had been laying his plans for an exodus from Vandeleur Park when once the ambassadorial plate should have found its way into the hands of Baxter. There was not work enough here, the conscientious William had informed Captain Vandeleur in a burst of confidence, could the captain help him. And the good-natured captain had promised to write Fitzroy, who wanted a man.

On the fifth day the letter had been written as William's diurnal examination of the postbag displayed. And being a cautious and cunning rascal, William quite appreciated the advantage of knowing the captain's opinion of him. Hence the hot water, and the letter which yielded to gentle pressure. But inside there was no allusion to William's virtues. The letter ran:

"Dear Jim,—I want you to come down here particularly; not later than Wednesday noon. I can promise you some sport, the like of which you have never had before. Don't fail me, because there is a deal at stake and be mum when you do come. But I know that I can rely upon you.—Yours as ever, C. V."

Some frigid sensation seemed to be darting up and down William's spinal column.

"Now how did he find it out, I wonder?" he muttered; "and does he suspect me? If that letter don't allude to Baxter's little game I'm a Dutchman. On the whole it would be just as well for the gallant captain not to get this letter. So I'll keep it in my pocket, and ask Baxter's opinion."

A post-card, properly worded, brought Baxter on the scene next day. When he saw the letter, his language was 'painful and frequent and free.' After a little time the frown lifted from Baxter's forehead.

"We'll do the captain brown, and I'll pay off old scores at the same time. The captain's tumbled to something, but he means to keep it to himself and catch us 'in flagrante dellicto,' as a Judge once remarked over a little affair we had together. And you're like to find yourself in Queer-street at the same time. Might just is well have the swag all the same. I'll manage that."

"But how?" asked the palpitating William. "We'd better bolt."

"Why bolt? They'll be after both of us in any case; and so long as we've got the name we may as well have the game. The captain's going to act the diplomatic dodge. But suppose I get him out of the way, and keep him out of the way, until the job's done, and we've had time to poach a good start."

"You can't do it, Joseph."

"I can and will. Now you leave it to me, William. Go about your business as if nothing had happened till Wednesday night. I ain't going to ask you to help me, because I don't trust you. But keep your window open on Wednesday night, and when you hear me whistle get up and dress and come out. There'll be a trap, waiting beyond the lodge gates. Do you tumble?"

William nodded gloomily. Words were very scarce with him just then. All the same he swallowed his fears, and went back to work with an assumption of gaiety which he was far from feeling.

Wednesday evening came, and with it no signs of Captain Fitzroy. Vandeleur said nothing, though he appeared to be annoyed about something. But Nora, the only one in the secret, did not allow her serenity to be ruffled.

"Make your mind quite easy." she said to Dorothy just before retiring. "Charlie has made all arrangements, and the thief is certain to be caught. Meanwhile I shall go and sleep as if nothing had happened, taking the precaution of locking my door. Ain't you glad Rupert Gaunt and Mary have gone?"

But Dorothy was too anxious to waste any time over her recreant lover. She knew Vandeleur to be brave to the verge of rashness.

"Captain Vandeleur is not even in the house," she said.

"I know," Nora responded sleepily. "He's gone down to the village to see one of the fishermen who has been taken ill. Morgan sent for him. But Charles will not be long, you may be sure of that."

Then Nora literally bundled her friend out of the room and locked the door. Dorothy retired like Macbeth, and like him, 'but not to sleep.' With her door just open she listened. An hour passed, two hours, and there came no sound. Then from the park arose a soft whistle, followed by steps in the corridor. Unable to bear it any longer, Dorothy peeped out.

Along the dimly-lighted corridor William, fully dressed, was creeping. He stopped just for an instant before a black object and grinned. Instantly Dorothy was alive to what had happened. Actually whilst she was waiting there, the plate chest had been rifled, and the whistle was a sign to William that his ally had got clear away.

Then came a more disturbing thought still. Where was Captain Vandeleur? Nothing in the ordinary way could have detained him. Had the thieves discovered anything, and had there been any foul play?

The mere idea was quite enough for Dorothy. It came to her like a flash of light that if anything happened to Vandeleur, life would be worthless to her. The discovery seemed to anneal her courage. Without delay she followed William. She was fully dressed save for her hat, which mattered little on so mild a night.

The hall door stood open. On a table there lay a case which Dorothy recognised. She pressed the spring, and a pair of revolvers stood disclosed to a velvet bed. Dorothy was no stranger to the weapon. She saw they were both loaded, and she carried one in her hand. Then she started out to stalk her quarry. William loomed on a hundred yards ahead until the road was reached. Here he paused till another figure joined him. As Dorothy crept closer she made out not only Baxter but a horse and trap pulled up by the side of the road.

"Got the swag?" William asked, hoarsely.

"Ay, and got the captain, too," Baxter chuckled. "I don't think as 'e's likely to give any further trouble. So come along with me and see a spree."

"Don't be an ass," William retorted. "Let's get away."

"And miss my vengeance? Not me. I ain't going for a good hour yet. And the moon's getting up proper. You come along with me down to the Blackrock Bay, and you'll see a sight, I promise you. You've got to come."

William departed gloomily and full of fear. What was Dorothy to do? The lodge was kept by a solitary old woman, the village was two miles away in the other direction, and help might be urgently needed.

Dorothy's mind was made up. She knew quite well how to unharness a horse, and she proceeded to put her knowledge into practice as soon as the rascals were out of earshot. And this was done. The animal was turned into the park and a vigorous slash with a briar sent it madly across the yielding turf.

"I've cut off their retreat, anyway," Dorothy said between her teeth.

Then she turned and followed quickly in the direction of Blackrock Bay, a little sandy cave with far-stretching sands and shut in by high cliffs. By this time the laggard moon was creeping up out of the deep.

The pallid light served to throw up two figures in high relief. They were those of William and Baxter standing on the lip of the sea. The tide was creeping in slowly up to the white post on the sands which served to mark the spot beyond which the drift-nets might not be shot.

Suddenly Dorothy gave a little gasping cry. Surely there was another figure at the base of the white post, something that looked horribly human, and at the same time as still as if death had overtaken it. A coarse word or two and sounds of mocking laughter Dorothy could understand.

Heedless of danger she began to scramble down the cliffs. By a miracle she reached the sands without accident. Then she cautiously made her way towards the white post, covered, and screened by the rocks here and there. She paused at length under shelter, some thirty feet away from the two. And now the incoming tide rose to the watcher's ankles.

What she had dreaded to find she saw. Captain Vandeleur, an ugly wound on his forehead, but otherwise calm and contemptuous-looking, was bound to the post. He evidently intended to meet his fate with resignation.

"This is murder!" he said. "And you are certain to be found out."

"I'll risk that," Baxter chuckled. "You little thought what was going to happen to you when you got that bogus message. And it was a pretty little smack of mine that laid you out. And when you came to yourself why here you was. Ah, my gallant captain, it's my turn now."

"So," said the captain, "you are that scoundrel Baxter?"

"The same, noble gamecock. I want to hear you scream and cry for mercy. I want to see you kick and struggle till the water fills your throat and you drown. I'd have given ten years of my life for this."

"You are going to murder me, then?"

"That's about the size of it. One good turn deserves another, captain. You are going to die, and I'm going to get off with the plunder. You've got a lot of friends here, captain. Why don't you call for them?"

Vandeleur shut his teeth hard.

"I'm not going to call at all. You will be denied that luxury."

Baxter grinned savagely.

"You will," he said, "when the water begins to rise. I shall stay here and see you drown. I shall watch you helpless—quite helpless."

Bang! There was a flash of light, a thundering report echoing amongst the rocks, at the first sound of which William turned tail and fled without further ado. Baxter raced round savagely. The rascal was not devoid of pluck. He made for the spot with the agility of a tiger.

Now or never, Dorothy came out and faced him. In all the course of her life Dorothy had never watched a drama so forcible and thrilling. On the fate of the new tableau her very being depended.

"Drop that gun or it will be the worse for ye," Baxter yelled.

Dorothy's only reply was to fire again. Her heart was hammering against her ribs, but her hand was steady enough. She heard the bullet ping and thud. She heard Baxter scream and saw his left arm drop helplessly. With a bitter curse Baxter turned and fled. Discretion under the circumstances was forced upon him; revenge would have to keep. Dorothy plunged into the water.

"Have you got a knife?" she asked Vandeleur.

"In my waistcoat pocket," Vandeleur responded. "Why, Dorothy!"

"Never mind that now. Don't ask questions. I never was so ashamed of myself, never half so frightened in my life. Now then."

The cords fell away one by one, Vandeleur was free. He checked a wild impulse to catch Dorothy in his arms and kiss her. Then a desire to be even with Baxter took the place of the tenderer emotion.

"We'll catch that rascal yet," he muttered.

Meanwhile Baxter was making his way back to the trap. The great thing to do now was to put as many miles as possible between himself and his pursuers without delay. This being so, his rage and passion at finding his horse no longer there can be imagined. Tears of anger stood in his eyes.

"There's no help for it," he groaned. "I shall have to look to myself. I can't even take the swag with me. Lor, if I only had that gal by the neck for a minute."

He plunged into the park, and then across to the cliffs again. The pain in his arm made him faint and sink. Worn out at length he crept under some pines, and fell into a heavy sleep. When he came to himself it was broad daylight. As he staggered to his feet he came face to face with a stalwart man in blue.

"Mr. Baxter," said the latter, "I want you. We've got William, we've got the swag, and now the game's complete. Come along, Baxter."


* * * * *

"But, Dorothy! I don't see any reason—"

"Don't you?" Dorothy said tearfully. "I'm awfully ashamed of myself. Perhaps Rupert Gaunt was really to blame. Anyway I found him out. And here I have been in the most shameful way pretending to be a lady's maid."

"And saving my life at the same time. You darling."

"Charlie, don't please. I ought to be scolded."

"Nothing of the sort. You are a real heroine, Dorothy. Dot, you saved my life. What do you propose to do with it?"

Dorothy blushed scarlet.

"I have been fearfully punished," she said.

"Well, that's no reason why you should punish me. It's a bit unkind, but Nora has given you away. Gaunt—"

"I never want to hear his name mentioned again."

"Very well. We'll put Gaunt aside. If you care for me—"

"Oh, you are going to make love to me again."

"I can't help it, Dorothy. You know that I love you. If you don't care for me you have only to say so."

Dorothy looked up archly through her tears.

"Shall I say so?" she asked.

"If you really and honestly can."

"Charlie, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie."

Vandeleur said not another word. But there was no need for speech until Dorothy deigned to proclaim that she was the happiest girl in the world.


THE END

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