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Title: The Vanishing Of Tera Author: Fergus Hume * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: NUMBER.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2017 Most recent update: August 2017 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of 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 Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - A King’s Daughter
Chapter 2. - Pearls of Price
Chapter 3. - A Disappointment
Chapter 4. - In the Cornfield
Chapter 5. - A Nine Days’ Wonder
Chapter 6. - Constable Slade’s Discovery
Chapter 7. - The Minister’s Debts
Chapter 8. - Captain Jacob
Chapter 9. - Miss Arnott
Chapter 10. - A Fresh Piece of Evidence
Chapter 11. - “Thou art the Man”
Chapter 12. - A Welcome Witness
Chapter 13. - Arrested
Chapter 14. - An Amazing Incident
Chapter 15. - A Strange Story
Chapter 16. - The Man from Koiau
Chapter 17. - The Pearl
Chapter 18. - Rachel
Chapter 19. - “The Truth will out”
Chapter 20. - What Tera knew
Chapter 21. - “The End does not always justify the Means”
Chapter 22. - The Truth
Chapter 23. - Trapped
Chapter 24. - Nemesis
“I come from Eden,” cried the preacher; “even from the Island of Koiau, which floats as a green leaf upon the untroubled sea. There reigneth eternal summer, but there reigneth not the Eternal God in the hearts of the heathen. Koiau is one of the dark places of the earth. There ‘every prospect pleases, and only man is vile.’ Yet the Lord hath not forgotten His people. The light of the gospel glimmers amid the gloom, and ours, brethren, must be the task of pouring oil into the lamp, that the flame may illuminate those who walk in darkness. Buli, the High Chief of the island, inclines his ear to the words of Salvation. He hath given a hostage to the Lord. Yea, verily; for doth not his only child abide in the tabernacles of Zion?—dwelleth she not in the land of Goshen? Tera she was: Bithiah she is, which, being interpreted, meaneth ‘daughter of the Lord.’ She, a brand plucked from the burning, shall yet herald the dawn of pure religion in her heathen cradle. ‘It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.’ ”
The speaker, whose zeal thus confused his metaphors, was a herculean, weather-beaten man of some fifty years. He was clothed in rough blue serge. Wind and spray had reddened his rugged face. His hair and short beard, iron-grey and grizzled, were in disorder, and the light of enthusiasm brightened his deep-set grey eyes, peering from under their shaggy brows. He had the appearance of a sea-captain; and his raucous voice rumbled through the building as though it were carrying orders through the storming of a gale. Through long study of the Bible, he had become possessed of a certain elevated phraseology; and, couching his everyday experiences in this, he managed to deliver a lurid and picturesque discourse which enthralled his hearers.
Before him now, in the bare pitch-pine pews of their place of worship, some twenty or more of these were seated. They were demure folk, and their chapel was tiny—diminutive even. Its walls were innocent of decoration—simply whitewashed, its windows plain glass. Before a deal rostrum—up to which on either side led steps to a reading-desk—the preacher now gesticulated and thundered. The majority of the congregation were women; some old, some young; but all were clothed in the plainest of garments, their close Quakerish caps hiding their hair.
In contrast to these, their faces pallid and expression impassive, there sat, almost immediately below the missionary, a dark and splendid girl of twenty-two or thereabouts, with a vivacious smiling face. She was the Tera, alias Bithiah, so eloquently referred to by the speaker. In deference to her savage love of colour, and her rank as a king’s daughter, she was permitted to indulge somewhat in feminine fripperies. Of this latitude she did not fail to take full advantage. No parrot of her native isles ever spread a finer plumage than did Tera. A dark blue dress, a bright scarlet shawl, a wonderful straw hat trimmed with poppies and cornflowers—she glowed like a sun-smitten jewel in that sombre conventicle. She was in no wise embarrassed by the pointed reference of the missionary. Her rank and good looks accustomed her to observation, and indeed, to admiration. Moreover, as a native convert, she was thought much of by the congregation at Grimleigh, and sat among them as a sign that the good work would prosper in the Island of Koiau. It was this impression that Korah Brand, former sailor and present missionary, wished to produce. Hence his use of her as an object-lesson.
“ ‘I am black but comely,’ ” quoted Brand, in a strain of doubtful compliment to Tera. “ ‘A king’s daughter all-glorious.’ As I am, so are those of my race, who yet bow down to idols of stone—the ‘work of men’s hands.’ ” Then the preacher passed into a description of the fierce heathen worship which Christianity was to destroy.
Tera’s eyes flashed, and her nostrils dilated, as Brand painted the idol ceremonies with natural eloquence. She, too, knew of the trilithon in the dark forest, where scowled the terrible god, Lomangatini; she also had seen the limestone altar which had streamed so often with human blood. These things, fables to her neighbours, were realities to her; and the hot barbaric blood sang in her veins with quick response to the home picture. After a time the missionary began to describe the island; and Tera’s fancy ran before his words to where Koiau lay amid leagues of shining seas, beneath the wider skies of the underworld. The lines of feathery palms; the long rollers crumbling on the ragged reef; the still lagoon where the parrot-fish darted amongst branching coral, of rainbow hues; picture after picture presented itself to her mind, and faded to leave her sick for home. In this grey island of sunless skies and chilling mists, she was as one in the pale realms of the dead.
To distract her thoughts, which were too much for her, she glanced round at the attentive congregation. There, with the elders, sat Farmer Carwell, his jolly red face filled with interest and awe. Near her, his daughter Rachel, pale and pretty, leaned forward to catch every word of the discourse; and beside the door, Herbert Mayne, the yeoman squire, also leaned forward, but less to hear the preacher than to catch a loving glance from Rachel’s bright eyes. Present also was Miss Arnott, a lean demure woman who had been an actress in her youth, but who, stirred by a chance word, had left the booths of Satan for the tabernacle of Zion. She was gazing ardently at a pale man seated on a cane chair near the rostrum, and guided by the intensity of the look, Tera let her eyes stray in the same direction. Yet there was little in the appearance of Mr. Johnson to attract the eye.
Johnson—the Rev. George—was the minister of the Grimleigh Bethesda, which was also known locally as Bethgamul, i.e the House of Recompense. This tall slender expounder of the Word had been a missionary in the South Seas some years before, but had returned to take charge of the Grimleigh remnant. He was well acquainted with the Island of Koiau, with Buli the High Chief also; and it was he who had brought home Tera to be educated in England. A religious man, a sympathetic man, yet a guardian whom Tera feared, and more than half detested. As she looked at his hairless face, the colour of old ivory, the minister, as if conscious of her gaze, raised his eyes. A look passed between them—on his part imploring, yet withal imperious; on hers, defiant, with a touch of dread. And in that look—intercepted and frowned upon by the vigilant Miss Arnott—lay a story of love and rejection. And the quondam actress shivered as her heart interpreted its meaning.
After an hour of description, denunciation, and imploring appeals on behalf of the poor heathen, Brand prayed long and fervently for the conversion of Tera’s countrymen. Then he gave out the words of a favourite hymn bearing on the subject of his discourse, which was sung with fervour by the moved congregation.
The music, following so closely on Brand’s discourse of her homeland, was too much for Tera’s emotions. With an hysterical sob she rose hastily and passed down the narrow aisle out into the night. Johnson’s burning gaze followed her graceful form, and a quiver passed over his face like a breath of wind on still waters.
Outside, the night was warm and balmy. Over the hills at the back of Bethgamul rode the golden wheel of the harvest moon. Below, where the land spread beach-ward at the foot of the rise, Tera could see the winking lights of the little town—the red eye of the lamp at the end of the jetty, and extending in radiance towards a darkening horizon, the silent ocean, broken here and there by the fitful moonlight into a myriad sparkles. Somewhere beyond those dark clouds lay Koiau, encircled by shining waters. The over-sea breeze blowing shoreward seemed almost to bear with it the spicy perfumes of the isle, strange intoxicating odours which maddened her for home. On the beach below beat the surf, as at this moment it beat on the coral reefs beyond the lagoon. As a bird, her soul flew on the wings of fancy to the radiant isle of her birth—to the cocoa-palm groves and banana plantations. Wild music, wilder dances, far-stretching spaces of silver sand, forests glowing with tropical blossom, the dusky women twining hibiscus flowers for coronals, and the great chiefs holding counsel in the “pure” (house) of the gods. Tera dreamed dreams; she saw visions; and still behind her drawled and droned the nasal harmonies of those colourless worshippers who adored an unknown god.
Suddenly a warm clasp was laid upon her wrist, and Tera awoke from her ecstasy to find a fair Saxon face close to her own. With a quiet little sigh of pleasure she nestled into the breast of the man.
“Jack,” she murmured softly, “O’ia fe gwa te ofal.”
“Put it in English, Tera,” said Jack, slipping his arm round the girl; “I never could get my tongue round that Kanaka lingo.”
She hid her face on his shoulder with a blush. “It means, ‘I love you,’ ” she said.
“Why then, Tera, Kanaka talk is very good talk. Let me hear more of it. But not here. The piety folk will soon be out, and their psalm-singing doesn’t step well with our love-making.”
“Aué,” sighed Tera, christened Bithiah; “they make me dull and sad, these songs. Let us go.” She moved along the brow of the hill, leaning on the sailor’s arm.
Jack Finland was Farmer Carwell’s nephew; a smart, alert second mate on board a coasting tramp. He should have shipped on a better boat, but Tera lived at Grimleigh, and Grimleigh was a port of call. He had sailed among the islands of Eden below Capricorn: he knew the looks of a coral atoll, and the beauty of the women who wandered on the South Sea beaches. After a prolonged stay in the islands, a fit of home-sickness had brought him back to the grimy port whence he had set sail many years before. Here he had seen Tera exiled from her Southern paradise, and here, with the impetuosity of a sailor, he had declared his love. That she returned it was natural enough; for Jack Finland was as splendid a young man as ever set foot ashore to beguile the hearts of maidens. Tera, with her inherent love for physical beauty, had surrendered at once to his wooing.
“But I fear we may not marry,” she said, as they strolled along. “My guardian—this Mr. Johnson—wishes that I should be his wife.”
“He wishes what he won’t get, then, Tera. You wouldn’t throw yourself away on an ugly devil-dodger like him? No, my dear, you shall marry me; and we will go to the South Seas for our honeymoon.”
“With you, Jack!—ah, how I should love that! At Koiau my father is a great chief. He will admit you to our family; he will place his tabu on you; and when Buli goes into the darkness we shall rule, my dear.” The girl sighed, and tightened her clasp on Jack’s arm. “But this thing cannot be. My father has sent Korah Brand Misi” [missionary] “to carry me back to Koiau.”
“But you won’t go, Tera?”
“I must. Jack. If I do not, Mr. Johnson will make me his wife.”
“I’ll wring his neck first.”
“Ah!” Tera’s eyes gleamed with a savage light. “If we were in my land you could do that; but here”—she shrugged her shoulders—“they would lock you in prison. No, Jack, here you must not kill.”
“Worse luck,” grumbled Finland, whose wanderings had made a barbarian of him; “still, you ain’t going to marry Johnson.”
“Oh no! I shall buy him if I can. Listen, Jack. When I left Koiau, my father gave me pearls to sell here. But I have never sold them—oh no! I had no need to sell them. Mr. Johnson is poor—he wants money—I will give those pearls to him if he lets me go free.”
“Then this missionary chap will collar you, Tera; and I don’t take much stock in that lot.”
“If I go with Misi, you come also, Jack. In Koiau we may marry.”
“In Koiau your father may make you marry some big chief,” said Jack, wisely, “and I should be left out in the cold.”
Before Tera could protest that she would be nobody’s wife save his, Johnson appeared, hurrying towards them with an angry look on his face. In the silver moonlight he could see the lovers plainly, and their attitude sent a thrill of rage through his heart.
“Bithiah,” he said harshly, “this is not an hour for you to be out. Come! My mother is waiting for us.”
“Tera is free to come and go as she pleases,” struck in Finland, hotly.
Johnson turned on him with restrained passion.
“You call her by a heathen name; you think of her as a heathen girl. Oh, I know you, Mr. Finland, you beach-comber.”
Finland, full of rage at the contemptuous word, would have struck the minister, but Tera flung herself between them.
“No, no, I must go!” she said, and flung a last word and look at Jack. “Toë fua” [farewell] said she, and walked away with Johnson.
Tera and her guardian walked home in silence, Johnson, whose love for the girl bordered on a frenzy, could not, as yet, trust himself to remark on her conduct in meeting Finland. On her side, Tera, having for Johnson something of the awe a pupil feels for his schoolmaster, did not dare to bring down an avalanche of anger by so much as one rash word. But this attitude was, as may be guessed, the calm before the storm. When Tera reached the house she would have gone supperless to bed, if only to avert high words; but the man, wrought beyond endurance, beckoned her into his study, and there the storm broke—as violent as any hurricane of the girl’s native clime.
“This cannot go on,” said Johnson, striving to speak calmly; “you must see for yourself—this cannot go on.”
The girl, seated in a chair beyond the circle of light thrown by the reading-lamp, said nothing. With clasped hands and head raised, like a serpent’s crest, she watched her guardian striding to and fro, vainly trying to moderate his anger. So had she seen countrymen of her own fighting the primeval elements of man. Religion, civilization, the restraint learned by experience, all were gone: and Johnson had got down to the rock-bed of his character, there to find that the centre of his being, like that of the earth, was raging fire. Tormented by the seven devils of rejected love, he hardly noticed that the girl made no comment upon his despairing outcry.
“That you, a baptized Christian, should leave the temple of God to dally with a profane Belial!” he raged. “Are you not ashamed to have converse with such an one? Finland is a mocker, a deceiver, a lover of strong drink; yet you dare trust yourself with him. Bithiah you are named; would that I could call you Candace.”
Tera drew her well-marked brows together. “I have done no wrong,” she said bravely; “lies are told of Jack: lies which I do not believe. He is tall and beautiful and good. I love him!”
Johnson looked as though he could have struck her; and only remembrance of his calling prevented his seizing her with a rough grasp. However, he restrained himself, beat down his anger, and spoke on.
“Bithiah!” said he, in a quiet voice, “you deceive yourself in this. You are attracted only by the appearance of this man, and you do not see how bad, how cruel he is. I should be false to my trust did I permit you to become his wife. As your guardian, I have power from your father, and that power shall be exercised for your good. I forbid you to see Finland again.”
“No!” said Tera, and set her mouth firmly.
“You defy me?”
“Then I shall have nothing more to do with you. You shall go back to Koiau with Brand.” He hesitated. “It will be a happy day for me when I see the last of you,” he added abruptly.
Tera said nothing, but looking on his white face, smiled with a little ripple of laughter. The man’s chest rose and fell with his panting: for the hint that she knew all, and scorned all, touched him nearly. Drawn as by cords, he stumbled across the room, every fibre of his being slack and weak.
“Tera,” he muttered faintly, “dear, I love you.”
“I am sorry! I cannot—”
“Wait! wait!” Johnson lightly touched her arm with his hot hand. “Do not speak. Hear me! I love you! I have always loved you: I always shall. I brought you here in the hope that you would learn to love me. My passion is stronger than my life! Many waters cannot quench it. Dear, I am but a man as other men. For months I have fought against this love, but in vain. Give me your heart; marry me. We will return to your island; we will bring your countrymen into the fold of the Good Shepherd. Let me comfort you, guide you, lead you as my earthly bride to the foot of the Cross. See! See! I am no stern guardian, no minister of the Gospel, but a man—a man whose life lies in your hand.”
“No!” said Tera, firmly, although his passion made her pity him; “my heart is not my own to give. You are a good man, but—Jack!”
“You—you love him then?”
“With all my soul!”
Johnson gave an hysterical sob. “ ‘And this also is a sore evil,’ ” he quoted under his breath, “ ‘that in all points as he came, so shall he go.’ ”
“May I leave the room?”
“Woman,” he seized her wrist, “you shall love me!”
“You are a snare—a sorceress; you have beguiled my soul to its undoing! I was happy once; I walked in pleasant ways, but you have turned aside my feet to iniquity. God help me! How can I preach His Word with this raging fire in my breast! You shall love me! I forbid you to think of Finland. You are mine—mine—mine!”
With a dexterous twist Tera released her hand and flew out of the room, closing the door behind her. Johnson started in headlong pursuit, but stumbling blindly against the door, struck his forehead on the panels, and fell half stunned on the floor. There he lay and moaned, with his head spinning like a teetotum, until the sound of approaching steps made him rise and get into the desk chair. Then his mother, a commonplace type of her sex, much occupied with domestic affairs, entered to say that supper was ready.
“I don’t want supper to-night, thank you, mother,” said the minister, keeping his face turned away that she might not see the swelling on his forehead; “have it yourself, and go to bed.”
“I can’t find Bithiah, my son.”
“She has retired, mother.”
“Ah!” the old woman wagged her head like a mandarin, “she is no doubt meditating on the beautiful discourse of Brother Korah.”
“No doubt, mother. Please go away; I am busy.”
“There is cold meat and pickles, George.”
“I am not hungry.”
“I want you to say grace.”
Johnson laughed bitterly. “I am not in the mood to say grace, mother.”
The old lady, who was somewhat querulous, lifted up her voice in reproof of his irreligious speech; but Johnson cut her short, and persuaded her to leave the room. Then he locked the door and threw himself into his chair with a groan.
“I am only a man—a man. It is past all bearing. Oh, what a life—what a life! No money, no love—and a faith that fails me at need. Yet I was wrong to lose my temper. ‘A fool’s wrath is presently known; but a prudent man covereth shame.’ ”
The minister was shaking as a blown reed, and his nerves racked him with pain. There was a French window opening on to a plot of grass, and this he flung wide to the night air. But the calm failed to soothe him, although he walked rapidly up and down the sward trying to forget the girl. He had done all he could; he could do no more. “Bithiah! Tera!” he cried. Then he was silent. He re-entered the room, and sat down resolutely at his desk. “I must try and forget her,” said he. “Work! work! Anything to distract my mind.”
From a drawer he took a number of bills, and with these, many unpleasant letters insisting upon payment. They were evidence of his youthful folly at college, before he had been called to grace—five hundred pounds of disgrace and self-indulgence which had hung round his neck these many years. Some he had paid, but many remained unsettled. During his two years’ absence in the South Seas, these records of sin—as he regarded them—had never troubled him; but since his return to Grimleigh his creditors had found him out, and were persecuting him daily. He was threatened with imprisonment, with bankruptcy, and public shame—he, a minister of the Gospel. If the truth became known he would lose his position; he would be cast without employment on the world. Yet how to conceal his difficulties he did not know. Five hundred pounds he owed, and his stipend was two hundred a year.
“If the pearls were only mine!” he murmured.
With a sigh he took from another drawer a bag of chamois leather, tied at the neck with red tape. Opening this, he shook out on the blotting-pad a number of smooth shining pearls, some large, some small, all of rare colouring and great value. These belonged to Tera. They had been given to her by Buli before she left Koiau, for the purpose of buying goods and clothes to take back when she returned. Tera, as yet, had not sold them, and for safe keeping had given them to her guardian. But the time was at hand when she would go back to Koiau with Brand; and this treasure would be turned into money, and exchanged for value, in accordance with her father’s wish.
“Three thousand pounds’ worth!” said Johnson, handling the glistening gems, “and if Bithiah married me the money would be mine. But God knows I do not care for these things, tempting as they are. It is she alone whom I desire for my wife, though to gain her I risk the pearl of great price. For a man’s soul is as a pearl, and she with her beauty would thieve—”
He stopped suddenly, for it seemed to him that he heard a soft and stealthy footstep outside. Cowardice formed no part of the young man’s character, and hastily replacing the pearls in the bag, and the bag in the drawer, he crossed the room and stepped out of the window. To right and left of him he looked, but saw nothing. Overhead shone the quiet stars; underfoot he trod the dewy sward; but there was no sign of any human being. Yet Johnson felt convinced that some eye had been on him whilst he counted the pearls, and he felt glad that he had locked the drawer which contained them. To verify his suspicions, he stepped through the iron gate, and walked some way up the street. All was silent under the glimmer of the gas-lamps, and he could hear only the echo of his own steps, hollow on the asphalt pavement. With a sigh of relief, half convinced that his ears had played him false, he returned to the house and his study. There was no doubt that some one had been at the desk during his ten minutes’ absence. The bills were gone!
The bills were gone! His secret was in the keeping of some other person. Who had done this? Why had he been watched? Why had the bills, of all things, been taken by this unknown thief? The minister ran wildly out again into the darkness; he hunted up and down the street; he looked over his neighbours’ fences; but in spite of the closest search he could find neither the bills nor the person who had taken them. The door leading from the study to the interior of the house was locked—no one could have entered in that way. No member of his own household could have stolen them. No! the thief must have come in by the window during his absence. But why had the miscreant taken the bills and not the pearls? An examination assured him that these were safe. But the list of his debts, his name, his honour, were in the hands of some person unknown.
“It is some horrible dream—a nightmare!” gasped the unfortunate man. “Oh God! what am I to do?”
There was nothing to be done. The strictest search had failed to find the thief, and he did not dare to summon assistance lest his dishonour might become the sooner known. With a prayer for help on his lips, he locked the window. Perplexed and anxious, he retired to rest—but not to his room. Fearful lest the thief should return, he lay down on the sofa. In vain were all efforts to sleep, and he passed the night in agony, until dawn burned redly along the ocean line. Then he rose to play his part of the godly young minister of the Grimleigh Bethesda.
With the passing of the night went a portion of Johnson’s terrors; and he was fairly composed when he met Tera at the breakfast-table. Beyond a conventional greeting he said nothing; but during the absence of his mother from the room, he raised his eyes to bespeak the girl’s attention.
“I beg your pardon for speaking as I did last night,” he said coldly; “I lost control of myself.”
“Say nothing more, Mr. Johnson,” cried Tera; “I understand.”
“You do not understand anything, Bithiah. To-day I write to Brother Korah, asking him to see me to-morrow morning at ten. You will please be present, as I wish to give into his charge you and your pearls.”
“Aué! You cast me off?”
“I can no longer be responsible for you or for myself. I love you, but your heart belongs to this worldly Finland. I shall tell all to Brother Korah, and he shall take you back at once to Koiau.”
“And Jack!” faltered Tera, in low tones.
“You shall never see him again,” said Johnson, fiercely; “in your own despite you shall be saved from that infidel.”
Tera looked at him so contemptuously that he winced.
“Dog in the manger!” said she, insultingly. “I am not to see Jack, because I refuse to love you. Well! we shall see if a chief’s daughter is to be your slave. Tofa alii” [farewell, chief], and with a haughty air she walked out of the room.
It might have been that Johnson would have followed, to explain his meaning more clearly, and even to defend his conduct so far as was possible, had not his mother returned just at that moment. She at once engaged him in a conversation touching the delinquencies of their maid-of-all-work, a mulish creature who was one of that great army of cooks sent by the devil for the spoliation of God’s food.
The man, intent on his own thoughts, listened mechanically, and seized the first opportunity to get away. That same morning he wrote a note, asking Brand, the missionary, to call and see him about Tera; and so, with iron determination, committed himself to a separation.
All that day Tera pointedly avoided his company, and when, as at meal-times, she was forced to be in it, was content to express herself in monosyllables. Johnson winced and paled at the scorn which her attitude implied, but bore with it as best he could. Yet his thoughts were not exclusively taken up with her. He was constantly conjecturing as to who could have stolen his bills, and he tortured himself with fears lest his shame would speedily be made known in Grimleigh. The strictest examination had revealed no trace of the thief. He could not imagine how the creature had accomplished his end so dexterously. He was silent and unhappy.
The year was drawing to harvest-time, and the golden sunlight lay heavy on the yellow corn lands. In the almost tropical heat, Johnson panted and quivered, for his jaded nerves and ill-nourished body could not resist the power of the sun. Towards five o’clock, when the heat had somewhat abated, and the cool sea-breeze breathed across the glowing earth, he went into the town to see some members of his congregation. His work, he sternly resolved, should not be neglected for his private troubles; so he visited the sick, succoured the needy, and returned somewhat calm to his home. As he entered, Mrs. Johnson, querulous as ever, met him.
“Where is Bithiah, my son?” she asked, complainingly. “I want Bithiah to help me prepare the supper; Jane is worse than useless.”
“I have not seen Bithiah, mother.”
“She went out an hour ago, George, and it is growing dark. This is not the time for a modest maiden to be out. And Jane worries me. She has used up all the milk, and has forgotten to order the meat. Do look for Bithiah.”
“Very well, mother. I expect she is taking her favourite walk by Farmer Carwell’s meadows. I must just see if there are any letters for me in the study.”
There was ample light in the room when he entered, for the curtains were drawn back from the open window. He approached the desk in an absent frame of mind, but suddenly his attention was fixed by an amazing circumstance. On the blotting-paper lay the pile of bills which had been stolen from him on the previous night. Again during his absence the thief had evidently entered. The plunder was restored. The minister shook, and the perspiration beaded his brow. Then he noticed that his keys, which he had left behind, dangled from the drawer which had contained the pearls.
“Gone!” he cried wildly. “The pearls are gone!” For a moment he stood still, looking at the returned bills—the empty drawer. Then, in a frenzy of fear, he rushed from the house.
Originally Korah Brand had been a sailor—careless of religion, and content to live for the day without taking thought of the morrow. Born in England, trained as a weaver, he had really wandered to America and the South Seas at the dictation of a restless and inquiring spirit. In those unregenerate days he had been a law unto himself, and thereby sufficiently ill-governed. But the chance words of a missionary, met with in Samoa, had turned his thoughts towards religion, and, deserting his seafaring life, he henceforth worked as a labourer in the Lord’s vineyard.
Yet this change hardened rather than softened his character. He held by the Mosaic law, and interpreted the precepts of Christ in a spirit of narrow bigotry. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth;” “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” These were the fundamental articles of his creed. He spoke much of the punishment, little of the promise, and daunted the minds of his hearers with threats of eternal doom. In his own way he was a good man, but incapable of preaching on the text, “God is Love.” He hardly understood that these three words form the true basis of Christianity.
In answer to Johnson’s urgent letter. Brand presented himself next morning in the study. He had visited it several times before, yet on this occasion he again glanced critically round him as if in search of some indulgence deserving of rebuke. But the room and its contents were plain—even poor. The furniture was of stained deal, the floor was covered with coarse cocoa-nut matting brought by its owner from Koiau. There were savage weapons on the walls between the well-filled bookcases: shells of strange hue and form ranged on the mantelpiece, and bright-coloured chintz curtains, drawn back with red, white, and blue cords, draped the one window. On these last Brand’s eyes rested with disapprobation.
“The lust of the eye is there, brother,” he declared to the pensive Johnson; “why do you deck your dwelling with purple and fine linen?”
“Miss Arnott gave them to me,” explained Johnson, lifting his heavy eyes; “she thought the room looked bare, and draped the window herself. The curtains are only of chintz, brother Brand, although the cords are of silk. They can scarcely do harm.”
“Admit God’s light into your tabernacle. Let not your heart be led astray by the gifts of a light woman.”
Though he felt sick in mind and body, Johnson could not let this remark pass without a protest.
“Miss Arnott is one of our most devoted sisters,” said he, stiffly; “she was once in the bonds of sin as a singing woman, but she gave up the allurements of the world to serve humbly in our Zion.”
“The old leaven is still in her, brother. Such gay adornments savour of the world. Let me say a word in season—”
“This is not the season for words,” interrupted Johnson, impatiently. “I have to speak with you on other and more important matters.”
“Nothing is more important than a man’s soul,” rebuked Korah, shaking his shaggy head; “but I suppose you desire to talk of the maiden Bithiah?”
“Yes. I want you to take her away to Koiau as soon as possible; but I fear that you will not be able to do so.” Johnson rose and paced the room. “She has disappeared,” he said, in a low voice.
“Disappeared!” repeated Brand, harshly. “What do you mean, brother? Have you lost the precious pearl entrusted to your charge?”
“Tera is lost. I admit she—.”
“Not Tera, friend. We know her as Bithiah.”
“Bithiah is lost,” repeated the minister, patiently. “She left my house last evening, shortly after four o’clock, and has not returned. I fear,” he added, “that she has taken her pearls with her.”
“What pearls, brother? What pearls?”
“Pearls worth three thousand pounds, which Buli gave her to sell here, before she returned to Koiau. She wished to keep them until the time of her return, and gave them into my keeping. In this drawer,” said Johnson, touching the desk, “I locked them up. When I returned yesterday evening the pearls were gone—Bithiah also.”
It will be perceived that Johnson omitted to explain the loss and return of the bills. This he did for two reasons. Firstly, his private affairs were his own concern. Secondly, to take Brand into his confidence would result only in a lecture. Korah, however, found in the disappearance of Tera and her pearls quite sufficient matter for anger. It was serious that an influential convert, and a comparatively large fortune, should be lost to the sect of which he was a member. At first he was inclined to speak severely; but a momentary reflection convinced him that it would be wiser first to examine Johnson with a view to reaching the root of the matter. Brand was not without diplomatic gifts.
“If you please,” said he, dryly, “we will approach this matter with more particularity. How do you know that Bithiah has gone away?”
“How do I know?” echoed the minister, with surprise on his haggard face; “why, she has not been home all night. Moreover, we had a few words.”
Johnson hesitated. It was unpleasant to tell this unsympathetic zealot the story of his love; but for the sake of gaining help it seemed inevitable. Still he temporized, so that courage to speak boldly might come to him in the interval. “About a man called Finland,” said he.
“Jack Finland, the sailor? Brother Carwell’s nephew?”
“Oh, you know him?”
“I know of him, and no good either. He was in the South Seas some few months back, and bore no very good character. So far as the low moral standard of fellow-man goes, he is right enough. But he is not a Christian; he is steeped in vanity. One of those who grin like a dog and run about the city. What is Bithiah to him?”
“She is in love with him. Wait, don’t speak. Since this sister returned to Grimleigh he has followed her constantly with the low, sensual passion which he miscalls love. The other night, after your lecture, she left our Bethgamul to meet him. I found them together, and she—she declared her love,” cried Johnson, with sudden passion. “She said it was her intention to marry him—to marry that son of Belial, lost and iniquitous as he is. I took her away from his sinful company, and brought her home into this very room.”
“And then?” demanded Korah, with his eyes on the quivering white face.
“Then I reproved her for consorting with sinners. I told her of my love.”
“Oh!” said Korah, very dryly, “then it was jealousy, and not pure Christianity, which urged you to save her?”
“Call it what you like, Brand. I loved her, and I told her of my love. I asked her to be my wife. I promised to take her back to the islands, that we might work together in the vineyard. She refused.”
“She was right to refuse. How dare you mingle sacred and profane love?”
“I am but a man,” replied Johnson, sullenly, “and as a man I feel: what harm was there in telling her that I wished to make her my wife? I am a minister, a follower of Christ. Is it not better that she should marry me, rather than Finland, the infidel?”
“You knew that I was about to take her back, brother; you might also have guessed that Buli had other views for her future. He has. This girl shall marry neither you nor Finland. But all you say in no way explains her disappearance.”
“I think it does, Brand. I told her that she must never see this sailor again; and I believe that she has gone that she may free herself from the prohibition.”
“Do you think that she has gone away with Finland?”
“If she went with him, they are not together now. Early this morning I saw him in the High Street, but I was not able to speak to him. It struck me that Bithiah might have sought out Shackel.”
“Shackel! Who is he?”
“Jacob Shackel,” explained the minister, “the captain of the boat we came home in. He is a godless, rum-drinking creature, but Tera—I mean Bithiah—was drawn to him, and she promised to visit him in London.”
“Where does he live, brother?”
“Somewhere near the docks, I believe. He gave Bithiah his address. Oh, I am sure she has gone to him, so that he may take her back to Koiau on his next voyage.”
“Is he in London now?”
“Yes. Bithiah received a letter from him only last week. He will help her to go away, as he has no love for us, Brother Korah.”
“A mocker!” said Brand, sadly. “Bithiah cannot go away. She has no money.”
“She has the pearls; and they are worth three thousand pounds at least.”
“How do you know that she took them?”
“I am certain she took them,” said Johnson, emphatically, “although I have only circumstantial evidence to go on. Bithiah was the only person who knew that they were locked in this drawer. Unfortunately, I left my keys behind me when I went out visiting yesterday; so it was easy for her to take them away.”
Korah frowned, and combed his beard with his fingers. “So far as I can judge from your story,” said he, rebukingly, “this maiden has departed to avoid your love.”
“Say rather because I wished to keep her from Finland.”
“Well, I will see Finland, brother. If he knows where Bithiah is, she shall be brought back—but not to you. I myself will take her to Koiau and deliver her to her father.”
“You take no account of my feelings,” said Johnson, bitterly.
“The Lord’s work cannot be hindered for your earthly passion. If Buli knew that you wished to take his child from him, he would not protect our missionaries, and the good seed would be sown in barren ground. But we can speak of these things later, Brother Johnson. The first thing to do is to rescue the maiden from the consequences of her foolish flight, I will question Finland. And you?”
“I am going up to London by the mid-day train to see Captain Shackel.”
“Why not write or telegraph?” suggested Korah.
“I think it best to be on the spot myself, brother.”
The missionary nodded and rose to leave the room. At the door he paused and looked at Johnson keenly from under his shaggy brows.
“Brother,” said he in a deep and solemn voice, “your feet are straying from the narrow path. You love this maiden entrusted to your care, and weary after the pearls.”
“No, no, I do not. What do I want with the pearls?”
“Brother,” Brand shook a menacing finger, “it is known that you owe money. With those pearls you would pay the price of your follies.”
“How do you know that I owe money?” asked Johnson, pale to the lips.
“Your handmaiden found a letter swept aside. It was from a tailor, requesting from you payment of eighty pounds due to him. What have you to do with the vanity of dyed garments from Bozrah?”
“My private affairs are my own, Mr. Brand,” cried Johnson, with spirit. “I allow no man to discuss them in my presence.”
“Brother, brother, your feet go downwards to the pit. A wastrel, a lover of vanities, how can you be the pastor of our Bethesda? Take heed lest you stumble, for soon the eyes of all shall be open to your iniquity.”
As the missionary departed, he cast a look over his shoulder, and saw the unhappy minister sink back in his chair with a look of pain. But Brand, in his Pharisaical uprightness, had no pity for the man or for his position. “As he has sown, so shall he reap,” muttered he, and dismissed the matter from his mind. He quite forgot that other text, “Bear ye one another’s burdens;” yet had he remembered, he would have misapplied it, as he did all other sayings of the Christ whom he professed to follow.
In the meantime he searched for Finland, and found him on the stone jetty, smoking and jesting with some fishermen. When Brand appeared, the young sailor turned his back on him, for he had no love for a half-baked missionary. But Korah, who had the pertinacity of a fanatic, was not to be put off so easily.
“John Finland, come with me. I have need of you.”
“Need’ll have to be your master then,” sneered Jack. “I’ve more to do than gavort round with psalm-singing critters.”
Brand seized the young man’s shoulders with a grasp like a pair of pincers. “It is about Bithiah,” he said, sourly.
“I don’t know any girl of that name.”
“She was Tera, when in the bonds of sin.”
“Tera!” Jack led the missionary aside, and looked at him with a frown on his handsome face. “And what may you have to say about Tera, Mister Missionary?”
“Where is she, John Finland?”
“How should I know? I am not her keeper.”
“So answered Cain when he destroyed his brother’s body; but you, John Finland, shall not evade my inquiry about the destruction of a human soul. Tera, as you call her, is gone!—and you have taken her from the fold.”
“Tera gone!” Finland paled through his bronzed complexion. “Where has she gone?”
“I ask that,” said Brand, sternly. “Last night she left the fold at six o’clock, and has not returned. She went to you, bearing precious jewels.”
“I never saw her, I swear! Last time I met her was the evening before yesterday, when Johnson took her away. This comes of her being amongst your psalm-singing lot. You have made away with Tera for the sake of her pearls.”
Finland was desperately in earnest, for he clenched his fists, spoke hoarsely, and looked wicked. Brand was sufficiently a judge of human nature to see that this speech was made in all honesty. Whosoever knew where Tera had gone, Jack was not the man. He was as astonished at her disappearance as Brand himself.
“I see you are ignorant of her whereabouts,” he said, in a disappointed tone. “We must seek elsewhere for Bithiah.”
“Oh, I’ll seek for her, I’ll find her,” said Jack, between his teeth; “and if any harm has come to her, I’ll wring that parson’s neck! I know him—he loves Tera, and I shouldn’t be surprised if he has carried her off. But I’ll find her—if she is above ground.”
“Above ground?” echoed Brand. “You—you don’t think the girl is dead!”
The little town of Grimleigh opened full on to the Channel. Its extension had of necessity been lateral, by reason of the hills which in the rear rose so precipitously as to be hopelessly inaccessible to the builder. But at either extremity the gradient became easier, and here row upon row of houses sloped down towards a lower plane built up of silt. This, too, was well covered, though here again Nature had intervened and the builder had perforce to stay his hand, threatened by the water. A narrow stone jetty ran out abruptly into the harbour, which, sheltered as it was by the high land around, afforded secure haven for those fishers of the deep upon whom in a large degree Grimleigh depended for its prosperity.
As you drew from the sea, the precipitous nature of the land ceased, and far into the hazy distance the undulating down now waved with the ripening corn. The comfortable-looking homesteads scattered here and there seemed almost buried in the golden billows. The distinction, too, between the land and sea folk was sharply marked. The one rarely mingled with the other. When Grimleigh folk left Grimleigh it was mostly for the sea, while Poldew—the market-town some ten miles further inland—was the invariable goal of farmer and farm labourer.
Mr. Carwell owned the farm nearest to Grimleigh. It stretched directly from the ridge where the hills sloped beachwards. A broad highway running through the corn-lands lifted itself over the rise and dropped gradually down until it ran into the High Street bisecting the silt. Besides this main approach, the place was rich in paths, which ran round the meadows; these the Grimleigh folk put to the fullest possible use, both economic and romantic.
A month after the disappearance of Tera two figures might have been seen climbing one of these paths. The one was Herbert Mayne, a smart yeoman squire, of handsome countenance and somewhat fickle disposition; the other Rachel Carwell, to whom for some time past the young man had attached himself. Rachel was small and rather pale; but you would not have denied her prettiness. Her brown curling hair and a neat figure and large blue eyes were attractions quite strong enough for the inflammable Herbert to lose his head over. In spite of her modest slate-coloured garb and close bonnet, Rachel knew very well that she was pretty. She in nowise resented Herbert’s attentions, for he was well-looking, well-to-do, and of a good yeoman family. Her father, she knew, would approve of such a match, and as her own inclinations leaned towards it, she grudged Herbert neither her company nor her conversation. It is true that he had been wild, that there were many tales current in the district about his attentions to other girls, and that it was reported that he had once been in love with a gipsy girl; but Rachel looked upon all these things as follies of the past. Herbert was now a reformed character. He went to chapel, he attended to his farm, and he cast no glance at another woman while Rachel was by; and, although he had said no word of love to her, she quite looked on him as her future husband. She was prepared to become Mrs. Mayne whenever he should propose to raise her to that dignity. There was no romance about Rachel or her courting: all was dull and respectable, with just an element of religion thrown in, to render her position irreproachable.
When the pair reached the brow of the hill, they cast one glance at a distant field, where Farmer Carwell was cutting and binding his corn, then turned to look back on Grimleigh and the distant ocean sparkling in the strong sunshine. Rachel had taken Herbert’s arm to climb the hill, and she still leaned on it with girlish confidence in its strong support. After a time they sat down on a convenient seat, and Rachel, feeling hot, took off her close linen bonnet. Her hair was very beautiful.
“What lovely curls you have!” said Herbert, admiringly. “It seems a shame to hide them.”
Rachel laughed and blushed, not ill pleased. When was a woman impervious to flattery?
“It is not right that one of our congregation should give way to the vanities of this world,” she said demurely. “I should put on my bonnet again, since my hair attracts your attention.”
“No, don’t, Rachel. I like to see a woman make herself look as pretty as she can.”
“Vanity and vexation of spirit, Herbert.”
“Nonsense! I think our people are far too severe. Wouldn’t you like to wear dresses of a pretty colour, and a gold brooch and a hat with flowers in it?”
“What is the use of thinking of such things?” said Rachel, rather pettishly, for she had the true feminine instinct for fashion and colour. “Father would never let me dress gaily; besides, think of the scandal there would be if I appeared in Bethgamul as you describe.”
“That native girl, Tera, was gaily enough dressed, Rachel; and no one said anything in rebuke to her.”
“You mean Bithiah,” corrected Rachel, primly. “Don’t call her by the name her heathen father gave her; you forget, Bithiah was a king’s daughter—not an English girl. Mr. Johnson said that her father wished her to be dressed like a parrot. After all, Bithiah was only a poor heathen.”
“Tera was; but Bithiah believed, and was baptized like a good Christian.”
“It did not do her much good, then,” said Rachel, with jealousy, “seeing that she ran away from our good minister. They will never find her again.”
“Never!” said Herbert, confidently. “She has vanished as completely as though the earth had swallowed her up. Mr. Johnson thought that she might have gone to London. Indeed, he went there to search for her.”
“Why to London?”
“Oh, it seems that the captain of the ship she came to England in lives in London—a man called Jacob Shackel, to whom Mr. Johnson thought she might have gone. But Shackel knew nothing about her, and Mr. Johnson came home in despair. I often wonder why she ran away.”
“I don’t,” said Miss Carwell, shrewdly. “Everybody is making mystery out of her disappearance, but I can’t see it myself. She was in love with my wicked cousin Jack—and ran away with him.”
“You are wrong, Rachel. Mr. Brand, the missionary, asked Jack about that, and he denied it. Besides, Jack was almost mad with grief when he heard the girl was lost, and hunted for her everywhere. There isn’t a hole or corner in the country where he has not been to search for her.”
“Oh, Jack is very wicked and very clever,” said Rachel, with a toss of her head. “He never comes to chapel, and was always a scoffer at godly things. He bowed down to that girl as though she were one of her own idols. Jack has been gone from Grimleigh these two weeks. I believe Bithiah ran away first, and he joined her. Bithiah indeed!”—this with a more vigorous toss of the head—“she has forfeited all right to that name by her conduct. I shall call her Tera. Well, Jack, believe me—Jack and Tera, wherever they are, are together.”
“But, Rachel, Jack left here to join his ship in London.”
“So he says; but I don’t believe him. Jack never did have any regard for the truth. No, he has joined Bithiah; else why did she take her pearls with her?”
This reasoning was so purely feminine that Herbert could neither follow nor answer it. He was a friend of Finland’s, and had received from him so solemn an assurance about his ignorance of Tera’s whereabouts, that he did not for one moment believe that the lovers were together. Moreover, before Jack had left for London he had asked Mayne to watch Johnson, so as to discover, if possible, if the minister were in anyway concerned in his ward’s disappearance. In pursuance of his promise, Herbert had made many inquiries about Johnson, and had learned much concerning him which he now imparted to Rachel.
“Do you know that our pastor is in debt?” he asked, with a certain amount of hesitation.
“What! Mr. Johnson—in debt?” gasped Rachel, brokenly. “I don’t believe it; no, I can’t. Why, he lives like a pauper—at least, well within his income.”
“He is hard up, for all that, Rachel. While at college he contracted certain debts, and these are not yet paid. Now he is suffering for the sins of his youth.”
Rachel, who was a fervent admirer of the minister, jumped up, and began to walk towards the distant cornfield. She seemed very angry. “I would not talk of youthful sins if I were you,” she said tartly to the astonished Herbert, as he regained his place by her side; “you are not so good yourself, or were not till lately.”
“I never pretended to be a saint, Rachel. No man is, that I know of—not even our precious pastor, in spite of what they say. He was in love with Bithiah himself.”
“I know that,” retorted Miss Carwell, unexpectedly. “I have seen him looking at her in chapel. Do you think I have no eyes in my head? Of course Mr. Johnson loved her, and a very lucky girl she was to gain the affection of such a man. But that her heart was set on worldly things, she would have remained here and married our pastor, instead of running away with that wicked cousin of mine. But these debts, Herbert—who told you about them?”
“I heard of them from several people. But the main source is through Mr. Johnson’s servant, who found one or two of the letters asking for payment, and read them.”
“Oh, Herbert!—poor Mr. Johnson will be called to account by the elders for this. They think it is a dire sin to owe money.”
“No doubt; and he will probably be asked to resign the pastorate of our Bethgamul. But—”
“Now don’t you say a word against him,” interrupted Rachel, with crimson cheeks, “or I shall go away.”
“Rachel, you are not in love with him, I hope?”
“No, Mr. Mayne, I am not. How dare you say such a thing to me! I am in love with no one at present.”
“Not with anyone?” whispered Mayne, looking directly at her.
“I refuse to answer questions which you have not the right to ask.”
By her reply, Rachel hinted very plainly that Herbert could easily become possessed of that right by the simple procedure of a proposal. She quite expected him to do so, seeing that she had thus met him half-way; but to her surprise and secret anger he appeared in no way anxious to avail himself of the opportunity. Making no reply, he walked on gloomily beside her, silent and ill pleased. This behaviour both piqued and frightened her. So, determined not to say the first word in reconciliation of their tiff, she, too, held her tongue. And so they walked on.
By this time they had arrived nearly at the cornfield where the harvesting was going on, under the personal supervision of Farmer Carwell. The sturdy old man was no convert to the use of steam, and his corn was reaped with sickle and scythe in the style of his forefathers. A long line of men, whose bodies rose and fell in rhythmic movement, swept the glittering blades through the thick standing grain. At their heels scrambled a crowd of women and boys, binding the swathes into sheaves. After them came the gleaners, picking up what was left. The sun flamed hotly in a cloudless sky of soft blue, and the yellow plain glowed like a furnace, Carwell, with his coat off, was directing operations, and only desisted from shouting and working when he saw his daughter approach with the silent Herbert at her heels.
“Hey, lass! you are just in time to give us a hand,” said he, wiping the perspiration from off his brow. “And you too, Mayne; but maybe you are too much taken up with your own crops to lend a hand with mine?”
“Oh, I’ll help,” said Herbert, slipping off his coat. “I just came up with Rachel here, although by rights I should be back at the farm.”
“I’m sorry you troubled to come with me, Mr. Mayne,” replied Rachel, not well pleased at this ungallant speech. “But we won’t detain you here. Please go back to your own land.”
“Nay, nay,” cried her father; “let the lad have a glass of beer and give us a hand if he will. We need all the help we can get, for I shouldn’t be surprised if we have a deal of rain before the end of the week.”
“The weather looks set enough now,” said Herbert, picking up a scythe. “Phew! it’s as hot as the tropics. Well, I’ll mow. Rachel, will you be my Ruth, and glean after me?”
Rachel tossed her head. “Indeed I will not, Mr. Mayne.”
“It was ‘Herbert’ a few minutes ago,” hinted the young man, dropping his voice.
“Ah, you were good then. Just now I am not pleased with you.”
It was on Herbert’s lips to ask her the reason, when a commotion was seen to take place amongst the harvesters. Excited voices were raised; two or three men stepped into the standing corn, and all threw down their hooks.
“Hullo, hullo!” cried the farmer, striding towards them. “What’s all this?”
The answer he received startled him. A woman shrieked, and then several of them came tearing past, wild-eyed and white-faced. Rachel looked at Mayne. “What—what is it?” she gasped. But without reply Herbert rushed on towards the disordered group.
“What is the matter?” roared Carwell, parting the crowd right and left. “What are ye—?”
Then his eye caught sight of a dark object lying in the middle of the corn, and he recoiled. “A body!” he exclaimed, in horrified tone. “God help us—the body of a lass!”
It was, indeed, the body of a woman. The harvesters examined it, but they could not recognize the face. It had evidently lain there several weeks among the standing corn. Recognition of its identity was impossible; indeed rain and sun and wind had combined to blot out well-nigh all semblance to humanity. But the dress showed these were the remains of a woman. There was something very pitiful in this poor clay lying there in the sunshine.
“Strangled!” muttered Carwell, bending over it; “there is a cord round the throat. Send the women away,” he shouted; “this is no sight for them. Poor lass! Dead—and in my field. I wonder who she was. Keep back, Rachel,” he added, as his daughter, attracted by the news, came swiftly up.
But Rachel did not pause. She had caught sight of the dead woman’s dress, and brushed past her father.
“Bithiah!” she cried. “It is Bithiah—Tera—Mr. Johnson’s ward!”
In a surprisingly short space of time the news was in every mouth. It drew the idlers of Grimleigh hot-footed to the half-reaped meadow where the corpse still lay amongst the standing corn. But the police, having received early notice, were quickly on the spot, and drew a cordon round the poor remains, that they might in no way be molested. Beyond this, the crowd of fishers and labourers broke into excited groups, arguing and theorizing.
“I smelt ‘um,” said a grey-headed reaper; “eh, I smelt ‘um. ‘Tis a very bad smell, sure.”
“ ‘Tis wonder mun was not found afore, William Lee.”
“You be a fule, George Evans. The poor lass was bedded out in the middle of the field wi’ the corn thick about her. Nor smell nor sight could come to sich as passed on the road.”
“But the maiden must ha’ bin dragged o’er the wheat-ears, and so they’d bin beat down. Now, if one saw sich—”
“They would think ‘twas the rain or God Almighty’s wind, George Evans. Eh, and who would look for mun in a cornfield? He who killed yon maiden was cliver for sure.”
“And who did that, William Lee?”
No one was sufficiently speculative or daring to answer this question. Eyes looked into eyes, heads were shaken at heads, but the labourers could guess neither by whom, nor for what reason, the girl had been killed. Mayne alone made an attempt to solve the mystery as he escorted Rachel to her home.
“I wonder what Mr. Johnson knows of this?” said he, suddenly.
Rachel looked at him in surprise. “I don’t see what he can know of it, Herbert; the poor girl left his house while he was out.”
“Quite so; but he followed her!”
“How do you know?”
“I was coming up from Grimleigh on the night Bithiah disappeared. As I climbed that path which goes to the field, I met our pastor coming from it. He looked wild-like, and tore past me like a storm-wind. I did not know then what he was after; now I make sure he was in search of Bithiah.”
“Not to kill her, Herbert,” cried Rachel, shuddering; “not to kill her!”
“No; I don’t say that, Rachel.”
“He had no reason to kill her, you know. He loved her. A man does not kill the woman he loves. A minister, set high as an example to the congregation, does not break the sixth commandment.”
Rachel turned on Mayne with a look of wrath in her usually mild eyes. “Herbert Mayne, for shame!” she cried furiously. “Shame upon you that you say such things! I would as soon believe my own father killed Tera, as Mr. Johnson.”
“I don’t want to accuse the pastor,” said Herbert, gloomily; “but if he does not know how she came by her death, who does?”
“I believe that Bithiah, or Tera, as I should call her, carried away her pearls on that night, and was killed by some tramp who wished to rob her.”
“How would a tramp know that Bithiah carried three thousand pounds worth of pearls?” retorted Herbert, sharply. “Your statement only strengthens the case against Mr. Johnson. He alone knew that Bithiah had the pearls with her. He—”
“A case against Mr. Johnson?” interrupted Rachel. “There is no case against him. How dare you talk like this?”
“It is merely a theory.”
“It is envy and hatred, Herbert Mayne. Here I am at home. I shall not ask you to come in; you have spoken too cruelly of our pastor. Go away, and ask God for a new heart—a contrite spirit. I am ashamed of you.”
Rachel entered the house and closed the door in Herbert’s face. He stood where he was for a moment. Then he turned and walked back to the field. In spite of Miss Carwell’s denunciation, he bore no ill will towards the minister. He only theorized on the sole evidence which he possessed. Johnson loved Tera, and she loved Finland. Johnson was in desperate need of money, and Tera had run away, and, on the very night of her departure, he had met Johnson on the path near the very cornfield in which the body had been found. The evidence, circumstantial if it was, clearly pointed to Johnson’s being more or less implicated. “I don’t say that he either stole the pearls or killed the girl,” mused Herbert, as he strode along. “I merely think he must in some way be connected with the matter, or at least know something about it. At all events, it will be for him to explain how he came to be in that particular place on that particular night. Sooner or later the police are bound to question him.”
When he reached the field, Herbert found that Inspector Chard had arrived from Poldew. By his directions the body of Tera was carried into Grimleigh, and there laid out in an empty building close to the police-office. Notified that the dead woman was Mr. Johnson’s ward, Mr. Inspector, after making a few inquiries, paid a visit to the minister. As luck would have it, he met him coming out of his garden. He looked somewhat scared, and when he saw Chard’s uniform he hastened towards him.
“What is this? what is this?” he asked hurriedly. “I hear that a terrible crime has been committed.”
“Yes, sir,” said Chard, with military brevity. “Are you Mr. Johnson?”
“That is my name. But this murder—”
“I have come to speak to you about it, Mr. Johnson.”
“To speak to me!” repeated the minister, whose face looked emaciated and painfully white. “Why! what have I to do with it?”
“Don’t you know who has been murdered?” asked Chard, with a keen glance.
“No; how should I? My mother was in the town just now, and returned with a story of some crime having been committed. She is rather deaf, and heard no details. I was coming to the police-office to make inquiries.”
“I will answer all your inquiries now, sir. Please take me within doors.”
“But who are you?” asked Johnson, who did not recognize the officer.
“Inspector Chard, of the Poldew police-office. I come to ask you a few questions.”
“About what?” said Johnson, conducting the inspector into the study.
“About the dead woman.”
“Ah!” Johnson dropped into his chair with a gasp. “A woman! The victim, then, is a woman?” He looked swiftly at the stern police officer, and passed his tongue over his dry lips. “What questions can I answer? I know nothing of this poor soul.”
“Pardon me, sir, but I think that is not quite correct,” replied the inspector, dryly. Then, with an observant eye, “The dead woman is, I believe, a native girl who—”
“Tera!” Johnson leaped up and shrieked the name. “Tera!” he repeated, and dropped back into his chair, “I—I knew it!”
“You knew it?” echoed the inspector, pouncing upon the admission. “And how did you know it? Be careful, sir—for your own sake, be careful.”
But the minister was heeding him not at all. Indeed, in his then state of mind it is questionable whether he even heard the man. Certainly he in no wise took in the meaning of the warnings. “Tera!” he moaned, resting his forehead on the table. “Oh, Bithiah!”
“Who is Bithiah?” asked Chard, still on the alert for any clue.
“Bithiah is Tera,” said Johnson, lifting his haggard face. “When we received her into the fold we named her Bithiah. And now she is dead—dead! Who killed her?” he demanded, with a sudden fierceness.
“That is what I wish to learn, Mr. Johnson; and if you will be so good as to answer my questions, we may perhaps arrive at some clue to lead us to the discovery of the assassin.”
The minister wiped the perspiration from his forehead and drew a long breath. Chard could see that the man’s nerves were shattered, and that he was suffering from severe mental excitement and physical prostration.
“How long have you been ill?” asked the inspector, suddenly.
“I am not ill; I am worried.”
There was a world of meaning in Chard’s ejaculation.
“Then how long have you been so worried?”
“I don’t know.”
“Shall we say a month?”
By this time the minister was beginning to see that there was something strange in the officer’s attitude.
“Why a month?” he asked, as a new fear filled him.
“The body we found has been lying in the field for quite a month.”
“Man!” cried Johnson, with a wild stare, “you don’t mean to infer that I killed her?”
“I—I infer nothing, sir. I am here to procure information—to ask questions, not to answer them. This dead woman was your ward. She left you, as I understand, a month ago, and has not been heard of since. To-day we find her dead body in a cornfield belonging to Mr. Carwell. It is my duty to learn how she came there—how she came to be strangled.”
“Strangled! Was she strangled?”
“Yes,” said Chard, dryly; “she was strangled, and her body was hidden in the thick of the standing corn. A very clever method of concealment. I don’t think I ever heard of a cornfield being used for such a purpose before. Moreover,” and Mr. Inspector leaned forward, “the body has been robbed.”
“Yes—the pearls, you know.”
“The pearls?” repeated Johnson, vacantly. “Oh yes, the pearls. But what are they—what is anything compared with her death? Oh! I loved her, how I loved her! And she is dead!” He leaned his head on his hands and wept.
Chard was becoming a trifle impatient. The man was in such a state of mental excitement and physical debility, that it seemed unlikely he would prove of much use—at present, at all events. Still, he was the person of all others from whom details regarding the past life of the dead girl could best be learned; and in her past life might be found a motive sufficiently strong to lead to some clue. Ever prepared for emergencies, Chard produced a flask of brandy from his pocket, and pouring a little of it into a cup, handed it to Johnson. As the odour of the spirit struck his nostrils, the minister recoiled with a look of disgust.
“I am an abstainer,” said he, waving it away.
“That may be,” rejoined Chard, imperturbably; “but you are all broken up and weak now. ‘A little wine for the stomach’s sake,’ as St. Paul says. You can hardly go against St. Paul, sir. Drink it,” he added, sharply. “I insist upon your drinking it.”
“You have no right to speak to me in that way, Mr. Chard.”
“I have the right of a Jack-in-office,” retorted the inspector. “I wish to learn all about this woman. You can supply the information I require, though at present you are hardly fit to do so. Drink the brandy, I say, and pull yourself together.”
“I am quite able to answer your questions without the aid of alcohol, thank you,” replied Johnson, in so dignified a tone that the officer did not press him further. “What is it you seek to know?”
Chard shrugged his shoulders, drank off the brandy himself, and, slipping the flask into his pocket, commenced a brisk examination.
“Who is—or, rather, who was, this girl?” he asked, taking out his pocket-book to note down the answers to his inquiries.
“A Polynesian girl from the island of Koiau in the South Seas.”
“And how did she happen to be in England?”
“She was brought here by myself, Mr. Inspector. For a year or more I was a missionary in Koiau, and while there I gained the good-will of Buli, the high chief. He inclined his ear to our faith, and, I believe, would have become a professed Christian, had not the heathen party been so strong that they might have deposed and killed him. As it was, he asked me to take his daughter Tera to England, and have her educated in one of our schools, so that she might return civilized and converted, to do good in her own land. I accepted the charge, and, after baptizing the girl as Bithiah, I brought her to England, and put her to a school near London. She was there for a year, and a few months ago she came here to live with my mother and myself, pending her return to Koiau.”
“Oh, she was about to return, you say?”
“Yes, her father, being old and frail, wished her to come back, that he might claim her as his successor. He sent home another missionary, named Korah Brand, to escort her back. It was only shortly before her death that I told Brand he could take her away.”
“You say you loved her!”
Johnson flushed, and looked troubled. “The confession escaped me in my sorrow,” he said, in a low voice. “I must ask you to respect the privacy of a statement made under such circumstances.”
“Nevertheless, I fear you must speak of it,” said Chard. “If I am to trace the murderer of this poor creature, I must know all about her.”
“Well, I don’t care who knows,” cried the minister, recklessly. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, Mr. Inspector, I loved her, and I asked her to marry me. She refused, declaring she was in love with a man named Jack Finland.”
“Oh, here is a fresh element. And who is Finland, may I ask?”
“A sailor—a nephew of Farmer Carwell.”
“H’m!” said Chard; “and it was in Farmer Carwell’s field the body was found. Strange!”
“I don’t think Finland killed her,” expostulated Johnson, with some eagerness. “He is not a godly man, and it is true, I believe, that he is a trifle dissipated in his habits; but he is a good-humoured, cheery sailor, and he loved the girl dearly. Indeed, I am certain that he is innocent.”
“All men are presumed to be innocent until they are found guilty,” said the officer, dryly. “And where is Mr. Finland now?”
“At sea, for all I know. He left Grimleigh three weeks ago, to join his ship in London.”
“Do you happen to know the ship’s name?”
“No,” replied Johnson, coldly; “I was not sufficiently interested in Finland to ask. Farmer Carwell may know.”
“I will ask him,” said Mr. Inspector, making a note in his book. “And now, Mr. Johnson, tell me when this girl ran away.”
“On the evening of August 23rd.”
“Why did she go?”
“Because I informed her that for the future Brand would take charge of her, and would not let her see Finland again. I was absent when she went away, but my mother tells me that she left the house between five and six o’clock.”
“What did you do?”
“I went out to look for her when I returned. I did not think she had run away; but that she had merely gone for a stroll. I therefore went out to find her, and escort her home.”
“Did you see her?”
“No. I walked about for nearly two hours, but I saw nothing of her.”
“Was there any circumstance which seemed to point to her having run away?”
“Well, the pearls were missing. Buli gave his daughter a bag of pearls worth at least three thousand pounds. She was to sell them, and with the money buy goods to take back to Koiau; but she was not to do so until immediately before her departure. For safety, I took charge of them, and they were usually locked up in a drawer of this desk.”
“Did the girl know where they were?”
“Oh yes, I showed them to her frequently. On the day she left I forgot to take my keys with me, and when I returned, both Bithiah and the pearls were gone. Then it was that it crossed my mind she might have run away.”
Johnson shook his head. “Finland was questioned by Mr. Brand about that,” said he, “and denied having seen the girl. He left Grimleigh a week after her disappearance.”
“Do you think Finland is guilty?”
“I have already said that I do not, Mr. Chard. He loved the girl, and she was quite willing to marry him and give up her fortune, so I do not see what motive he could have had to kill her. No, sir, Finland is innocent.”
“Had the girl any enemies?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Can you surmise who killed her?”
Johnson raised his head solemnly. “As the Lord God liveth, I can not,” he said, and his answer had all the solemnity of an oath.
This ended the examination for the time being, and Mr. Inspector disappeared. It was yet too early for him to make up his mind, but he was strongly of opinion that Johnson knew more than he chose to confess.
There are policemen who in their own eyes are wholly estimable. In Grimleigh dwelt such a one. He was a lean, solemn, taciturn being, with red hair and moustache, a freckled face, and the coldest of blue eyes, shrewdly observant in proportion to their coldness. The man really possessed capabilities, though for want of opportunity they had grown rusty. But that was not his fault. To arrest drunken sailors and seek out rural malefactors of a half-hearted type, and to see to it that public-houses were not open after prescribed hours—of such order were the duties of Jeremiah Slade. And the paltriness of them filled his ambitious soul with disgust. For this village constable was an omnivorous reader of the detective novel, and ardently admired the preternatural acuteness and dexterity brought into play by the fictitious miracle-mongers, who therein are depicted as ever able to solve the most impenetrable of mysteries. He longed for a chance to distinguish himself after the same fashion, and he chafed that opportunity was so long withheld. But now his hour had come, as we are told it comes to all men who know how to wait; and the discovery of Tera’s body in the cornfield seemed to promise a criminal thesis intricate enough even for his most ambitious desires.
Now, Jeremiah was a married man—married within the last twelve months to a diminutive, albeit not over-shrewd, black-haired tyrant, whose greatest of all desires was to live at Poldew. If only Slade could be transferred to that centre of gaiety—so different from Grimleigh—the little woman would be perfectly happy. At least she thought so. Now, if only Jeremiah could distinguish himself in the performance of his duties sufficiently to attract the intelligent and ever-watchful eye of Inspector Chard, it was not beyond the bounds of probability that the much-desired transference might come to pass. Therefore was Mistress Slade ever goading her good man to accomplish the impossible. She was as anxious as—nay, more so than he, that some tragedy of ample dimensions should take place. She, too, saw nothing but promotion and glory in the mysterious murder of Tera, and, the morning after the body had been transferred to the dead-house, she chose to attack Jeremiah on the subject, while she prepared his breakfast. Slade sat over the kitchen fire reading “The Moonstone.” He hoped therefrom to extract inspiration for the task which he was about to undertake. It is truly an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the Slades looked on the tragic fate of Tera as the foundation of their humble fortunes.
“Jerry,” said Mrs. Slade, pouring out the tea, “you have your chance now. If you can find out who killed that girl, we’ll be sent to Poldew, sure.”
“I’m goin’ to find out, Jemima,” growled the policeman. “I’m readin’ up for the business now.”
“Bah! your novels ain’t no good, Jerry. This is real life, this is.”
“The chaps that writes takes their ideas from real life, Jemima. But I know what I’m goin’ to do.”
“What is it, Jerry? Sit in to your tea.”
P.O. Slade hitched up his chair to the table, and loosened his belt the better to enjoy his breakfast.
“I’m goin’ to see that Mr. Brand, the missionary.”
“Why, Jerry, what’s ‘e got to do with it?”
“I’ve been makin’ inquiries on my own hook,” said Slade, nodding; “and I’ve found out from some of those Bethesda folk as Mr. Brand, was a-goin’ to take that nigger girl back to her island. Now’s she’s murdered, he won’t like it. ‘Sides,” added Jeremiah, his mouth full of bread-and-butter, “Mr. Brand, he don’t like the parson.”
“What good does that do?”
“Good? You never will read to improve your mind, Jemima. Why, don’t the book say as the detective always gets ‘old of the enemy of the cove as done the crime?”
“But Mr. Johnson ain’t done it, you fool! Lor’!” suddenly enlightened, “p’r’aps it is ‘im!”
Jeremiah nodded three times, and drank his cup to the dregs. “And don’t you go talkin’ about it, neither; or you’ll never get to Poldew. D’ye ‘ear?”
“I’ll be as silent as the tomb,” said Mrs. Slade, who was a virago chiefly so far as domestic matters were concerned. “What makes you think as Mr. Johnson did it, Jerry? I’ve seen ‘im myself, and ‘e’s that pale he couldn’t kill a little fly.”
“D’yer know Mr. Mayne?”
At the mention of this name the virago side of Mrs. Slade obtruded itself.
“Yes, I do, and ashamed I am to ‘ear you mention it. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Jeremiah. I know how you and ‘e used to go on with them gipsy girls.”
“That was in the exercise of my dooty.”
“Zara Lovell wasn’t your duty, Jeremiah. The way as you and Mr. Mayne be’aved to that girl was disgraceful, it was. If them gipsies ‘adn’t gone away, her ‘usband, Pharaoh Lee, would ‘a knifed you.”
“He wasn’t her ‘usband; only goin’ to be. You ‘old yer tongue!” cried Jeremiah, ferociously. “All that’s dead and done with two years ago. I ain’t got nothin’ to do with Zara now. Ain’t I married to you?”
“That you are; and the best day’s work it was you ever did in your life.”
“An’ I’m goin’ to do a better, as ‘ll get us to Poldew, if you’ll only ‘ear reason. Now, if you’re a-goin’ to weep, I’ll get away.”
“I ain’t crying, Jerry,” said Mrs. Slade, hastily, wiping her eyes with her apron. “Tell me, lovey, what’s this about Mr. Mayne?”
“Well, I knowed ‘e was at the findin’ of the body, which I wasn’t,” said the mollified Jeremiah; “so I arsk’d him a few questions, seein’ as we was always of a friendly turn with one another.”
“Them gipsies was—”
“Look ‘ere; d’yer want me to go? ‘Cos I’ll go, sure enough, if you don’t stop rakin’ up them gipsies.”
Dearly would Mrs. Slade have liked to develop her embryo quarrel, for she loved a few high words, “just to clear the air,” as she put it. But an indulgence to this extent meant that her curiosity might not be gratified—it might possibly even jeopardize the contemplated transfer to Poldew; so with great and praiseworthy self-denial she curbed her tongue, and nodded to her husband to continue.
“Mr. Mayne,” said Slade, with a scowl at her, “told me as ‘ow Mr. Johnson was in love with this girl, and she ran away from ‘im, not forgettin’ to take three thousand pounds’ worth of pearls with ‘er.”
“Lor’! you don’t say?” screeched Mrs. Slade, her eyes starting out of her head.
“Mr. Johnson says she run away,” added Jeremiah; “but I ain’t read my books for nothin’. Them as does the deed always tells lies.” His voice was veritably tragic now. “If she did run away, Jemima, she only got as far as that there cornfield. There, in the dark night, the villain strangled ‘er in all her youthful beauty” (this was clearly the influence of the detective novelist), “an’ stole the jewels to pay ‘is debts.”
“Lor’!” cried Mrs. Slade again, “you don’t say as Mr. Johnson has debts?”
“All Grimleigh couldn’t pay what he owes. Oh! ‘e is the murderer, right enough, Jemima; so I’m a-goin’ to see Mr. Brand, and find out what ‘e knows about this parson chap. Then I’ll call on ‘im, and ‘ave a squint round ‘is parlour.”
“You ain’t likely to find nothing there.”
“Don’t you be so mighty sure about that, missus; I might find them pearls!”
“Lor’, Jeremiah, what a great man you are! And will you tell all this to Mr. Chard?”
“Not till I have a complete case against Mr. Johnson. When I ‘ave, then I’ll go to him, and I’ll say, ‘Thou art the man!’ and run ‘im in. Then we’ll go to Poldew.”
“Oh, can’t I help, Jeremiah?”
“Well,” said the policeman, in a patronizing tone, “you might see Mrs. Johnson, and pick up what yer can. She’s an old lady as talks freely; so find out if the nigger girl and Johnson ‘ad a row. That’ll be strong circumstanshal evidence, any’ow.”
“I’ll do it, Jeremiah; I’ll do it! I can easy take up some fish as a gift to Mrs. Johnson. I’ve met her two or three times, and she’s got a friendly side to me.”
“Mind you’re careful, Jemima—and, above all, ‘old your tongue.”
Enunciating these words in his most majestic manner, the new Vidocq put on his helmet, and left Jemima doing her best to cork up the information she had received. No easy task for a lady with a tongue excessively developed longitudinally.
In the mean time, Grimleigh was in a great state of excitement. It was rarely that a murder occurred in their quiet neighbourhood, and this fact, coupled with their intimate knowledge of the victim, roused their interest in an extraordinary degree. The inquest was to take place in the afternoon, at “The Fisherman’s Rest”—a hostel near the shed in which the body had been laid out. The town was on tiptoe of excitement. Amongst the witnesses whom Chard intended to call was Mr. Johnson; and he sent up the astute Slade to serve the minister with a subpoena. Jeremiah was delighted at this chance, which, as likely as not, would bring him into the study of the man he suspected. He resolved to use his eyes sharply. Fortune often acts generously when she acts at all, and as Slade was climbing the hill, he met Korah Brand. This was the very man he wanted to see, and he at once saluted him.
“What is it?” asked Brand, impatiently. He looked older than usual, and a trifle pale. It was evident that the loss of Tera had affected him in an unusual degree, as in truth it had; for without Tera, Brand did not care to return to Koiau. If he did, it would be at the risk of his life; for, on learning of his daughter’s death, Buli would as likely as not sacrifice the luckless missionary on the altar of his god. It was therefore with no very great good will that he submitted to be stopped by this raw-boned Goliath.
“Who are you?” asked Korah, with a growl.
“Jeremiah Slade,” replied the officer. “I am a police-constable in this town. I am on my way to serve Mr. Johnson with a subpoena.”
“Oh, the shame, the shame that has fallen on Bethgamul!” said Brand, in tones of deep grief. “Our dear sister is taken, and our pastor has to bow down in the temple of Rimmon!”
“He’s got to appear at the inquest, if that’s what you mean, sir; but this subpoena”—Slade looked round anxiously, then approached his mouth to the missionary’s ear, “why shouldn’t it be a warrant?”
Brand turned a shade paler, and fixed a keen eye on Slade, whose meaning he at once seized.
“Do you know any reason why it should be a warrant?” he asked sharply.
“I have my own idea, sir.”
“What is your idea?”
Slade took time to consider, and pulled his red moustache. “See here, Mr. Brand,” he said softly, “do you want disgrace to fall on that chapel of yours?”
“Why, no. I would do anything to avert that.”
“Well then, sir, don’t ask me questions about your parson.”
The missionary bent his shaggy brows on the man, and stroked his beard. “Do you suspect Mr. Johnson?”
“Yes, I do; but nobody else does, except—yourself.”
“I!” Brand started back in dismay. “ ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ Why should I suspect him?”
Jeremiah tapped him on the chest. “If you hold your tongue, I can hold mine,” said he, and turned away.
In a moment Brand was after him, clutching his arm.
“Man, what do you mean?”
“Gammon! You know. Johnson killed that girl.”
“Oh!” Brand withdrew his arm with a moan. “I feared so, I greatly feared so. How do you know?”
“I’ll tell you, if you’ll answer my questions and work with me.”
“Any questions I can answer, I will; but work with you—why should I do that?”
“To get that parson chap arrested.”
“No, no! Think of the disgrace to Bethgamul. I want him saved from the consequences of his sin.”
“We’ll think about that when we prove his guilt,” said Slade, dryly. “But see here, it’s a chance of his escape I’m offering you. If I tell Chard all I know, you won’t get your parson off, I can tell you. I want to find out the truth of this mystery to get promotion. Help me to find out who killed the girl, and I’ll perhaps make things safe for the man as done it.”
This was purely a treacherous offer, as Slade knew that he could not get promotion unless the murderer of Tera was discovered and hanged. However, Korah Brand did not know this, and hoping to save Johnson—which for the sake of the chapel he really wished to do—he at once decided to accept Slade’s offer.
“I’ll help you all I can,” he said, “on condition that you don’t tell the inspector, should we find out the truth.”
“It’s a bargain, then!” Slade was delighted with the result of this diplomacy. Already he felt worthy to rank with the heroes of any of his favourite novels. “Now then, Mr. Johnson’s in debt, isn’t he?”
“Yes, deeply in debt—the follies of his youth. He now knows how true is the text, ‘Be sure thy sin will find thee out.’ ”
“He’ll find it truer when I’ve done with him,” said Jeremiah, grimly. “Well, sir, these pearls the girl had with her?”
“Yes. She took away some pearls. Johnson said so.”
“Very good. Then Johnson murdered her for those pearls, so that he might sell them and pay his debts.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s a theory.”
“A very bad one,” said Brand, a worldly nature appearing through his religious veneer, “The girl left the house with the pearls during Johnson’s absence.”
“Yes, but Johnson followed her.”
“What of that? He did not see her. He says he did not.”
“Oh,” cried Slade, contemptuously, “he’d say anything to save his neck! Why, Mr. Herbert Mayne met him coming from the cornfield in which the body was found, that very night. You believe me, Mr. Brand; Johnson met the girl there, strangled her, sold the pearls, and hid her body in the corn.”
“You can’t prove that.”
“We can prove it between us, Mr. Brand. You can prove as Johnson was sweet on the girl, and she’d have nothing to do with him. You can swear as ‘e ‘ad the pearls. His servant, by them bills and letters she picked up, can show that he was in debt, and Mr. Mayne can declare as Mr. Johnson left the cornfield on the night the girl ran away.”
“But all this is merely circumstantial evidence,” argued the missionary.
“Men have been hanged on as much before now. But I dare say we can make the case stronger. I’m going to serve this on Mr. Johnson, so in his study maybe I’ll see something of them pearls.”
“If he had the pearls, you may be sure he has disposed of them by this time,” said Brand, with a sudden thought. “After Bithiah disappeared he went up to London, and was away for a week. He said it was to search for her; but I dare say it was to sell the pearls.”
“Might be, sir. But if he’s got the money for them, he’ll have paid his debts.”
“We must find out if he has.”
“Very good. I leave that part of it to you; and now, sir, I’ll get to business. You wait for me here, and I’ll come back after I have had a squint round that room, and tell yer my impressions.”
“You can’t do much in so short a time.”
“I can watch his face any’ow, as I serve this subpoena. If ‘e’s guilty, guess I’ll twig it—trust me. I ain’t read detective stories for nothin’.” With a complacent nod Slade made off, and Brand watched him enter the minister’s house. He was absent for some ten minutes, during which time Korah stood staring at the sea, and wondered how he could return to his mission work at Koiau without Tera. Absorbed in these thoughts, he failed to hear Slade’s returning footsteps, and it was only when he felt a touch on his shoulder that he turned to see the triumphant face of the man.
“What have you found?” he asked, guessing that Slade had made some discovery.
“Well, I saw Johnson, and he took the subpoena, turning as pale as all villains. Then I looked about me a bit. I noticed the curtains on the winder.”
“I know, I know,” groaned Brand, “vanity and vexation and gauds of the world. Gay curtains they are, tied back with red, white, and blue cords.”
“Yes, but one of them cords is gone, Mr. Brand,” cried Slade, exultingly. “We’ve got ‘im. That girl was strangled with a red, white, and blue cord. It ain’t drawing back the curtain now. No, sir, it’s round her throat.”
Slade was present at the inquest. He was deeply interested in the proceedings, and every now and then he might have been seen to smile in a saturnine way. For his own purposes he had impressed on Brand the necessity of absolute silence concerning the discovery in Johnson’s study.
“That one of them curtain-cords was used to choke the girl proves a good deal,” he said, emphasizing with a stumpy finger on the palm of his hand; “but it don’t quite show as Johnson killed the girl.”
“But even before you found out about the cord, you were sure that he was guilty.”
“And I’m sure now, Mr. Brand—that I am; but I wants certain facts to build up a complete case against him—facts as he can’t deny. Now, this window-cord is one fact, but for all that, some one might have been in the room, and took it just to get Johnson into trouble. Now, my wife, Jemima, she’s as sharp as sharp. She’s been speaking to old Mrs. Johnson, who talks a lot, and Mrs. Johnson says as this girl and her son had a quarrel over her refusing him, afore the murder.”
“That strengthens the case against Mr. Johnson.”
“Hold on, sir. Mrs. Johnson says as the window-cord was missing three days afore that row took place. Now, sir, if Johnson killed the girl he wouldn’t have got ready the cord and taken it away so long afore he needed it. If he is the murderer, he killed the girl in a fit of passion ‘cos she was running away with the pearls as he wanted to pay his debts with. Going on this evidence, sir, some one must have stolen that cord with the idea of murder—and that some one, by reasoning aforesaid—as the lawyers say, wasn’t George Johnson.”
“Then you think that our pastor is innocent?” said Brand, hopefully.
“I don’t say nothing, sir, because I don’t see clear. Wait till I sees him at the inquest, and then we’ll talk.”
So at the inquest, Slade was observant of the minister’s demeanour. However, he gained little from his scrutiny. Johnson had exhausted his earlier grief, and was cool and collected, and perfectly willing to repeat the story he had told Chard. He answered the questions which were put to him, but made no voluntary statement. By adopting this course, he was able to keep his secret of the lost and restored bills. Yet several times it was in his mind to tell Chard of the stealthy footsteps and the theft. It was just possible, he thought, that some one might have seen him looking at the pearls, and afterwards, ascertaining in the same way that Tera had taken them, have followed the girl to murder her for their sake. But after debating the subject in his mind, he decided to hold his peace, and the evidence he gave, while exonerating himself, could throw no light on the darkness which environed the case.
Nor had Chard procured any other evidence likely to elucidate the matter at all. He had not heard the story of Herbert Mayne’s meeting with Johnson on the night of Tera’s disappearance, near the field in which her body had afterwards been found. Herbert had told this only to Rachel and the policeman Slade. The first had remained silent, lest the pastor whom she admired should be accused of a crime which she was certain he had not committed: the second, after relating the incident to Brand, had agreed with him that until they found fresh evidence, it was best to hold their tongues. Therefore, no one but these three knew that Johnson had actually been near the scene of the crime, and in the minister’s admission to Chard he had merely stated that he had searched two hours for the girl. Johnson repeated his former story, and the jury did the best they could with it; for no other evidence was procurable. There was, indeed, some talk of Finland and his departure; but as every one knew that he loved Tera, and could have secured both the girl and the pearls by marrying her—a course to which she was generally known as willing to consent—no one thought of taxing him with the crime. The peculiarity of the silken tri-coloured cord used passed unnoticed, strange to say. A London detective would have been struck by it immediately; but Chard and his subordinates were unaccustomed to such finnicky data, and it escaped them altogether.
On such spare evidence, it can easily be guessed what verdict was given by the thickheaded jury chosen from the Grimleigh wiseacres. They decided that Tera, alias Bithiah, a native of Polynesia, had been murdered by some person or persons unknown; and when the proceedings terminated, all those present thought they had heard the last of the matter. Slade chuckled and rubbed his hands; for now that Chard seemed likely to abandon inquiries as useless, he could go to work at his leisure, and build up a case as he chose. So far he had suspected Johnson alone; but on reconsidering the incident of the curtain-cord having been stolen three days before Tera’s disappearance, he concluded that some other person also was concerned in the matter. Who that person might be Slade, in his present state of indecision, was not prepared to say.
Having fulfilled the official part of his duties, Inspector Chard returned to the Grimleigh police office for a rest, preparatory to riding back to Poldew. While there, he was informed that Korah Brand wished to speak to him, and on the assumption that the man, having been connected with Tera, might have something of importance to say, he admitted him at once to an interview.
“Well, Mr. Brand,” said Chard, genially, “and what can I do for you?”
“I want to know about this poor girl’s murder, sir,” replied Brand, in his heavy, solemn way. “What are you going to do now?”
“Why, Mr. Brand, I have no very definite plans. But I may tell you that I intend to search for those pearls.”
“What will that do?”
“Reveal the identity of the murderer. There is no doubt in my mind, nor can there be in yours, that Tera was murdered for the sake of the pearls. Now, whoever has them, will surely turn them into money. To do so, he must sell them to some jeweller or pawnbroker. I intend to communicate with the London police on this point. They may discover who sold or pawned them, and thus be able to lay hands on the man we are in search of.”
“What makes you think of looking in London, Mr. Chard?”
“Because that sailor Finland went up there a week after the girl disappeared.”
“He went to join his ship,” said Brand, who believed in Jack’s innocence.
“So he said,” replied Mr. Inspector, dryly; “a very good excuse to get away from the town without suspicion.”
“But I don’t see why you should think Finland guilty. He assured me most solemnly that he never set eyes on Bithiah on that night.”
“Oh, I dare say. But Finland is Carwell’s nephew—the body was found in one of Carwell’s fields—so it is not beyond the bounds of probability that Finland placed it there.”
“I don’t believe it,” cried Brand, vigorously. “Bithiah, I believe, ran away to marry Finland, and by such marriage he could have secured both her and the pearls. Why should he kill her?”
When Korah placed the matter in this light. Inspector Chard was puzzled, and, unable to answer the question, lost his temper.
“I don’t pretend to be infallible,” said he, harshly, “and I may be mistaken. All the same, I believe Finland to be guilty.”
“Then why don’t you arrest him?”
“Because I have not sufficient evidence to enable me to get a warrant,” replied the inspector, tartly, “nor do I know where the man is. However, it is my intention to find out if possible the whereabouts of those pearls for which the girl was murdered. When I learn who disposed of them, I shall be able to capture the murderer.”
“He won’t be Finland, sir.”
“That we shall see,” retorted Chard, and closed an interview in which he felt he was getting the worst of the argument.
Brand left the police-office with the conviction that Tera’s murderer would never be discovered by this mulish officer. Slade had twice the man’s brains and decision, and Korah resolved to rely on him for the conduct of the case. He looked round for the policeman, but not finding him, and feeling he must talk with some one about the matter, he hurried up the hill to Johnson’s house. As Slade suspected Johnson, and as the queer incident of the lost window-cord proved that there was some ground for such suspicions. Brand thought he would do a little business on his own account, and question the minister. In the course of conversation he thought some evidence might be discovered likely to incriminate Johnson. Korah was inclined to beseech the young man to fly, lest he should be arrested, and lest disgrace should fall upon the chapel people of Grimleigh. Even as matters stood now, Johnson was in a dangerous position.
On entering the study, Brand cast a glance at the window, and saw that, as Slade had stated, one of the tri-coloured cords was missing. This fact made him wonder if Johnson had really strangled the girl with it; and if so, whether he had committed the crime in order to secure the pearls for the payment of his debts, or in a fit of despair caused by the rejection of his love. If haggard looks, which might be the outcome of remorse, went for anything, Johnson was guilty; for the man was white and worried-looking. Dark circles were under his eyes, his manner of greeting his visitor was uneasy, and he looked as though he had not slept for hours. On the other hand, this physical deterioration might be caused by grief for Tera’s death.
“Do you wish to see me particularly, brother Korah?” asked Johnson, lifting his heavy eyes with a weary look; “I am scarcely fit to talk.”
Brand sat down and assumed a stern demeanour. “Is this sorrow on account of your earthly passion, brother, or because an immortal soul has been lost?”
“Bithiah’s soul has not been lost,” cried Johnson, stirred out of his apathy to honest indignation; “she was a good girl, a true Christian. Her death was a martyrdom.”
“Yet she died in sin,” persisted the narrow-minded missionary. “She fled from your house with evil in her heart, and with the pearls.”
“The pearls were her own property.”
“No, brother. They were entrusted to her care by Buli, that she might buy goods for the civilization of Kioau. She was his steward, and had no right to remove the pearls from your keeping. But these matters,” added Brand, taking a more worldly tone, “we can discuss at leisure. The question now, and the one about which I came to see you, is the funeral.”
“I have arranged with Inspector Chard about the funeral,” said Johnson, wearily. “To-morrow the poor remains are to be buried in our own cemetery, and I shall read the service over the dead. Poor Tera, it is all I can do for her.”
“You will bury Bithiah the Christian, but not Tera the pagan, brother. Do you think you are wise to appear at the funeral?”
“Why not, Brother Korah?”
“There may be a riot.”
“A riot!” Johnson looked surprised. “And why should there be a riot if I appear?”
The missionary looked perplexed, and tugged at his grey beard. “Brother, brother,” he said, in a tone of remonstrance, “do you not know that public opinion credits you with the crime?”
Johnson rose slowly, with a look of horror on his colourless face, but this speedily gave way to an expression of indignation, “Who dares to say such a thing?” he demanded.
“It is the general opinion,” rejoined Korah, coldly. “You were near the field where the body was found on the very night Bithiah disappeared—on the very night when—if we go by medical evidence—the girl was murdered.”
“I was looking for her. Bithiah often walked near that field, and I thought it likely that I should find her there. Kill her! I swear to you, Brand, that I would as soon have killed myself as her. I loved her dearly; why then should I commit a crime contrary to my earthly love, to my religious principles?”
“I do not accuse you—the public voice does that,” replied Brand, still cold and unsympathetic; “you are known to be in debt—”
“I am not in debt now,” interrupted Johnson, hurriedly; “all my debts are paid.”
“Paid! Your debts paid!” Brand was thunderstruck, for this was the last thing he expected to hear. “How did you pay them?” he demanded with sudden suspicion.
“I did not pay them. Brand.”
“Then who did?”
“I don’t know,” was Johnson’s extraordinary reply.
Brand looked at him sternly and droned out a proverb: “ ‘Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices,’ ” he quoted.
“What do you mean, brother?”
“Brother!” repeated Korah, rising with indignation. “I am not a brother to you, man of sin as you are. Your debts are paid! Yes, I believe that. You do not know who paid them. Liar! You paid them yourself with the wages of your sin.”
“My sin!” gasped Johnson, aghast.
“Do not add deceit to your iniquity, man. You killed that girl; you stole her pearls; when you went to London it was to sell them. Now you have paid your debts at the cost of Bithiah’s life. ‘Be sure thy sin will find thee out.’ It has found you out—murderer!”
“I am no murderer,” cried the minister, vehemently; “as I am a living man, I had no hand in her death. I never saw her after she left my house. I searched, but in vain. Who paid my debts, I do not know. Yesterday I found a pile of receipted bills on this table. Who put them there I know no more than you do.”
“You cannot impose upon me by such a story,” said Brand, coldly; “debts like yours are not paid by unknown people. If such were the case, all you have to do is to see your creditors and ask who paid them.”
“I intend to, but as yet I have not had the time. After the funeral of Tera I am going to London to see my creditors and learn the truth.”
Brand smiled. “You are going to London,” he repeated; “that is, you intend to seek safety in flight. Well, it is the best thing you can do. I shall not betray your secret.”
“I do not intend to fly. I have done nothing wrong.”
“Man! man! why will you try to deceive me? I am your friend, and for your sake, for the sake of our Bethesda, I implore you to fly. What will your congregation say if their pastor is hanged for murder?”
Johnson drew back with a shudder. “Hanged! No, they dare not. I am innocent.”
“You have yet to prove that.”
“Brand,” cried the wretched man, imploringly, “you do not believe that I killed Tera?”
“From my soul I believe you did,” replied Korah, sternly, “and if I did my duty I should deliver you to justice. But for the sake of Bethgamul I refrain. My man, fly, and repent of your terrible sin! God help you, for I cannot!” and with a gesture of casting off a sinner. Brand walked out of the room.
Tera’s funeral was a function of importance. Well-nigh the entire population of Grimleigh crowded into the little cemetery above the town. Some of them were drawn there in true compassion for the terrible fate of the poor girl, others from sheer morbidness. But perhaps the greater part of the people were attracted by the expectation of a riot. It was vaguely understood that, in some inexplicable way, Johnson was responsible for Tera’s death. It was rumoured that if he had not killed her himself—and no one was bold enough to make that assertion—he was at least the means of driving her to destruction. Consequently public feeling ran high against the minister, and it was generally thought that if he read the service over his victim there would be trouble. Chard himself believed this, and accordingly attended the funeral in person with a posse of constabulary.
However, these precautions proved unnecessary, for Johnson was wise enough not to put in an appearance, much less take an active part in the ceremony. Whether deterred by the advice of Brand, or by the threats of the townspeople, he remained absent, and Tera was buried by a minister from Poldew, who nearly created a riot on his own account by his sensational references to the death. Farmer Carwell and his daughter, Herbert Mayne and Miss Arnott, were all of them present, and it was with feelings of shame and indignation that they saw the ceremony presided over by a strange divine. When the crowd had dispersed, Carwell looked at the newly-made grave for some moments in ominous silence. Then he turned to Korah Brand, who stood by his side. His pride as an elder of Bethgamul was hurt.
“If our pastor cannot clear his character,” said he, sternly, “he must be removed from the conduct of the congregation. Our Bethgamul cannot be shadowed thus by shame.”
“But surely you don’t believe that the pastor is guilty, father?” urged Rachel, before Brand could speak.
“I do not say that he is guilty; neither do I uphold his innocence,” rejoined Carwell; “but he is suspected, and he knows it. It is for him to deny such an accusation. His absence to-day only gives colour to the charge. Therefore, I say, until he refutes his accusers he must be cut off from the congregation of the just.”
“So say I, Brother Carwell,” cried Brand. “ ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ Still, we must give him every chance. Let us then call a meeting of our brethren, and demand that he disprove the charge or confess. If he be guiltless, the Lord will protect his own.”
“I don’t believe Mr. Johnson killed Bethiah,” said Rachel. “Nor does Herbert.”
“Oh, I am quite neutral,” interposed Mayne, hastily. “I am neither for nor against our pastor; though I grant you it was strange that I should have met him where I did on the very night of the girl’s disappearance.”
“No more strange than that you should have been there yourself, surely?”
“Well, really; I suppose you don’t mean to infer that I had anything to do with the girl’s disappearance? I hardly knew her. Any converse I had with her was in your presence.”
“Rachel is not accusing you, Mr. Mayne,” said Brand, coldly. “But she is zealous in support of her pastor, which does her nothing but credit: I trust her zeal may not prove to be misplaced. We must hope for the best.”
“Do you believe in Mr. Johnson’s guilt?” asked Rachel, sharply.
“I neither believe nor disbelieve,” replied Korah, after a pause. “I know certain facts which are suspicious, and with these I will tax him when he is before us on his trial.”
“I will see the elders at once,” said Farmer Carwell. “No time shall be lost in giving Mr. Johnson an opportunity of clearing himself. Let us hope that God in His mercy will avert disgrace from our Fold.”
“Amen to that!” cried Brand. “Surely the Lord will judge in all righteousness. He knoweth the sheep from the goats.”
“Mr. Johnson is not a goat,” said Rachel, in all seriousness.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Slade, relieved for the time being from official duty, had gone home to his mid-day meal. Now that Brand had told him how Johnson confessed to the fact of his debts being paid, he was quite confident as to his guilt. The girl had been murdered near Carwell’s field, and her body hidden in it. Near that field Johnson had on the night of the girl’s death, been met, much agitated. The pearls had been stolen from the dead, and the minister’s debts had been paid since that time. Finally, there was the cord used to strangle the wretched girl, which had clearly been taken from the pastor’s study. All this pointed conclusively to Johnson’s guilt, and Slade had almost made up his mind to arrest him. In the hope, however, of discovering some final and absolutely irrefutable piece of evidence, he decided to wait until he should have made a careful examination of the spot where the body was found. He could then, but only then, move with certainty as to the result.
He felt confident of success, and it was with a rosy vision of himself as a full-blown inspector at Poldew that Slade entered his home. Seated by the kitchen fire, he found his wife in tears. At sight of her husband, these gave way to rage. Furious with passion, she jumped up to meet him. Apparently something serious had occurred.
“They are back again, you wretch!” shrieked the little woman; “I have seen them myself. How dare you look me in the face?”
“Are you crazy, Jemima?” growled Slade, angry and astonished; “what’s come to you, woman?”
“This has come to me, that I know all about it; oh yes, and your Zara!”
“Ho, ho! so it’s them confounded gipsies again, is it?”
“Yes, it is. They are back—she is back!”
The constable sat down heavily. He looked anything but comfortable. “What?” he said, nervously; “you don’t tell me that Pharaoh Lee’s tribe’s come back?”
“As if you didn’t know, you villain! I went on to the common myself after the funeral. I heard as they were there; and sure enough I saw them; yes, she’s come after you.”
“Nonsense! Don’t I tell you I care nothing for the Zara girl? Ain’t I your lawful husband? Ain’t I tryin’ to get you to Poldew? What’s Zara Lovell to me?”
“That’s just what I’d like to know. Perhaps Mr. Mayne can tell me something about that. Any way, I’ll ask him.”
“Better ask the girl herself,” sneered Slade. “Wonder you didn’t.”
“I didn’t see her.”
“You didn’t see her!” repeated Slade, with a sense of relief; “ah, perhaps she ain’t there.”
“Whether she’s there or whether she ain’t, you come ‘ome straight from your business every night, or I’ll know the reason why, Jeremiah.”
“Oh, I’ll come straight home. Like all women, you’re making a row about nothing. How am I going to find out all about this murder if you worry me this way?”
“Anything fresh?” asked Mrs. Slade, her curiosity getting the better of her temper.
“Nothing since the cord, Jemima; but I’m going to examine the place where the body was hidden. Maybe there’s something there that’s been overlooked.”
“Near Pharaoh Lee’s camp, ain’t it, Jeremiah?”
“Oh, confound it, Jemima, you’ve got that girl on the brain!”
“I only hope you haven’t,” said Mrs. Slade, screwing up her mouth; “you deceive me, Jeremiah, and I’ll tell Chard all that you’ve found out.”
“Spoil my case, will you, you—”
“I don’t care.”
“You’ll never get to Poldew.”
“Then I’ll stay here,” snapped Jemima, with all the recklessness of a woman prepared to sacrifice anything and everything to gain her end. “If I see you speaking to that slut, Zara, I’ll go straight to Chard. So now you know.”
Slade did know, as he also knew that even though it were to ruin them both, she would carry out her threat. He spent the best part of his dinner-hour trying to explain his position, and to pacify the perturbed Jemima. He succeeded only in rendering her more unreasonable and jealous than ever. Mrs. Slade was nothing if not feminine, and her argumentative tactics were strikingly so. So soon as one position she took up was assailed and destroyed, she retreated to another, until beaten on that, she returned to her initial standpoint. Fearful lest she should drive him through sheer exasperation to use physical violence, Slade left the house. When he banged the door, Jemima sat down victorious, and proceeded to twist up her hair, which had broken loose in her excitement.
“Zara, indeed!” she went on viciously to herself. “I’ll tear the eyes out of her if I catch her as much as looking at my ‘usband.”
And in this strain the good lady continued until she was tired.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah, chafing with anger at his wife, and at women in general, went on his beat, which for the day happened to be on the beach road. He noticed a new vessel anchored in the harbour—a graceful schooner of some 600 tons. She was a rakish-looking craft, smart and workmanlike in appearance; and Slade, giving way to his curiosity for the moment, strolled down to the jetty on the chance of hearing something about her. But before he got that far, a boat with two or three men in her put off from the schooner. She reached the pier about the same time as the policeman. To his surprise, he saw that one of the men in the boat was Finland. The young mate sprang lightly up the steps, followed more soberly by a small, sallow-faced man.
“Hullo, messmate!” said Jack, greeting Slade, whom he knew; “here I am again, and yonder is my new ship—the Dayspring, ain’t she a clipper?”
“Pretty enough,” said Slade, who was grudging of his praise; “but a bit too slight in the build for my taste.”
“Stuff! What does a lubber like you know of a craft? Why, she’s going round the Horn anyhow, on her way to the South Seas. I just dropped in here to say good-bye to my uncle. I’m first mate this trip, and here’s my skipper, Captain Shackel.”
Slade eyed the small yellow-looking man thoughtfully. He had some skill in reading a face, and he concluded that the skipper was about the last man he would care to trust. In truth, Jacob Shackel was not prepossessing. He had a mean, rat-like little face, as brown and wrinkled as a walnut-shell, and hardly larger. His body was shrivelled up in a suit of blue serge, apparently several sizes too large for him. His voice was screechy and effeminate. He extended a claw in greeting to Slade.
“Yes, I’m Captain Jacob, I am,” said he, winking his one eye, for he was possessed of only a single optic, and that red as any ferret’s. “Well known on the high seas I am. Finland’s friends is mine.”
“Includin’ ‘is sweet’art, I suppose,” said Jeremiah.
“What the devil d’ye mean?” asked Jack, with a frown.
“Only that if that’s so, your skipper will be as sorry to hear the news as you will.”
“News? What? About Tera? Has she not been found?”
“Oh yes, she’s been found right enough—found dead.”
Jack started. “Dead? Tera dead?”
“Dead as a door nail. In your uncle’s field we found her—strangled. Her funeral was this morning.”
“Hold up, mate,” said Shackel, not unkindly, as Jack staggered; “you’ll fall in.”
“Tera dead?” gasped Finland, in horror. “Who killed her?”
“That’s just what we’re after findin’ out.”
“Was it Johnson?”
Slade looked suspiciously at the sailor from under his red eyebrows. “I can’t answer no questions,” said he.
“By gum, it was Johnson!” shouted Jack; “I see it in your face. The hound, I’ll see him! I’ll—” Without waiting to finish his sentence he ran up the pier like a greyhound.
“Guess I’d better go too, or there’ll be more murder,” said Jacob. “Jack Finland ain’t the chap to stick at no trifles when he’s on the bust to kill;” and with an activity wonderful for a man of his years, he followed sharp on the track of his first mate.
Slade looked after the pair thoughtfully. “He can’t ‘ave killed the girl,” said he to himself. “But he seems to think Johnson did. Perhaps I’d better follow in case there’s trouble. Hold on, though, I can’t go off my beat. Well, I’ll just have to trust to that captain; he won’t lose his mate through lettin’ him commit murder.”
Events fully justified Mr. Slade’s reasoning. Captain Jacob caught up with Finland, just as the latter was forced to slacken his pace to climb the hill. With much difficulty he persuaded him to abandon his intention.
“But I will have it out with him,” said Finland, fiercely.
“You’ll only get yourself into a mess,” said Jacob, soothingly; “better let the old man see the job through. I know Johnson well—none better. He came home in my ship with the girl from Koiau, so if any one can straighten him out, Jacob Shackel’s the man. ‘Sides, we want money, you fool!”
“You’ll not get it from Johnson. He’s as poor as a rat.”
“You lie low and dry up, sonny. I guess I can engineer this job without you sticking your oar in. Go and see your uncle and get all you can out of him. Your father’s in charge this trip.”
“Get along, then,” grumbled Jack, ungraciously; “but that Johnson’s a hound. I’ll hammer him black and blue if I catch him, the psalm-singing hypocrite!”
“Go slow, sonny. I don’t want to lose my mate. You’ve shipped for Koiau, you know. Get yourself into trouble here, and I’ll up anchor without you, I guess your papa’s as smart as most men.”
Finland shrugged his shoulders and turned away with a sullen resignation, while his skipper continued his way up the hill to Johnson’s house. Shackel knew it almost as well as did its occupant. He had run down repeatedly to see Tera at Grimleigh. As he climbed the hill he smiled to himself in a sour sort of way. He was evidently well pleased with his thoughts.
“Who’d a guessed it?” he chuckled; “and a parson of all things! I guess he’ll have to light out for kingdom come if he don’t trade my way. Lord! Here’s an A1 chance of victualing the barky.”
All day long Johnson had remained in his study, in the deepest despondency. He was astonished and in no wise pleased when Captain Jacob entered. He knew Shackel to have the worst of reputations, and he disliked the man. However, he managed to swallow his repugnance, and greeted the little sailor with as much good-will as he could muster. Shackel evidently did not intend to waste words. He came straight to the point.
“So that Kanaka girl’s gone,” he said, smiling largely.
“Tera? Yes, poor soul, she is dead and buried,” sighed Johnson, sadly.
“Murdered, wasn’t she?”
“Foully murdered, Shackel.”
“What did you do it for, then?” inquired the captain, dryly.
Johnson jumped up so suddenly as to overturn the chair on which he had been seated. “Oh! heavens, do you accuse me, too?” he cried in distress.
“ ‘Course I do. Why!” Jacob fastened his evil eye on his victim, “I know you killed the Kanaka for them pearls.”
“You liar, I did not! I swear—”
“Don’t swear,” said the captain, coolly; “ ‘tain’t no good with me. If ye didn’t kill the girl, how did ye get the pearls?”
“I haven’t got the pearls,” said Johnson, in a frenzy.
“Yah! that won’t do for me,” jeered Shackel. “I want a share of the money.”
“Man, I tell you I have not got the pearls.”
“Well,” said Shackel, “you are a square liar, there’s no mistake about that. I saw you myself taking ‘em to a London Jew dealer’s! Now, then, Ananias!”
The unfortunate Mr. Johnson was so dazed by the many accusations that were made against him, that this last astonished him scarcely so much as it should have done. He stared at Captain Jacob in blank bewilderment, and it was some time before he made any reply. His silence was misunderstood by the blackmailer—for Shackel was nothing else—who proceeded with his attack in more explicit terms.
“I guess you ain’t got brass enough to tell me I’m a liar,” said Jacob, with a twinkle in his one eye. “When you came to me with that yarn of Tera lighting out for a place as you didn’t know of, I thought it was a bit queer. I couldn’t make out your game, but I made up my mind to keep an eye on you. That trip you came back here; but two weeks later you skedaddled to London.”
“That is perfectly true,” admitted Johnson, quietly. “I went up again to London in connection with some debts I owed.”
“Oh, rats! You went up about them pearls.”
“Let us waive that question for the moment, Captain Jacob. I admit that I was in London two weeks after my visit to you about the disappearance of Bithiah. May I ask how you knew?”
“Oh, there ain’t no harm in telling that,” answered the captain, graciously. “I didn’t cotton to the idea of the Kanaka gal disappearing while she was in your house, so I wanted to see your game and spile it in the interests of justice. I dropped a line to Papa Brand, as was hanging out here, and asked him to keep an eye lifted your way. He wired as you were going to London by a certain train—”
“Korah Brand! He must have watched me!”
“You bet, he just did; and I did ditto t’other end. I saw you come out of Victoria Station and follered you. It was Hatton Garden as you made for, and you sneaked into a pop-shop when you thought no one was looking. I just thought to myself, arter the gal disappeared, as you’d be by way of sellin’ them pearls, so I waited till you kim out, and dodged in on my own hook. The Sheeny—Abraham Moss is his name, and you know it—was just putting the pearls back in the bag, and I recognized them straight off.”
“What! the pearls. Impossible!”
“Well,” drawled Shackel, rather disconcerted, “if I didn’t twig the pearls, I knew the bag was Tera’s, ‘cause she showed it to me when I brought you to England, and I knew the kind of tattoo mark as Buli put on it. Oh, the bag and pearls were Tera’s, right enough, but I didn’t surmise as you’d put the gal in her little wooden overcoat. No, sir! ‘Pears now as you did, seeing as a perlice cove says she was murdered. If I’d knowed that,” cried Jacob, with a show of virtuous wrath, “I’d yanked you into quod. I would, by thunder!”
Johnson listened to the man without moving a muscle. He looked him calmly in the face.
“Captain Shackel,” said he, coldly, “allow me to inform you that there is not a word of truth in the statement by means of which you propose to blackmail me. I visited London the first time to inquire if you had seen my ward, who I thought might have gone to you for shelter. You denied that she had been with you, so, believing your statement, I returned to Grimleigh. Two weeks after her disappearance, I was in great trouble about some money I owed. From some unknown person I received my several bills, receipted. They were placed on this very desk one day when I was out visiting. Much astonished, I went to London and saw my creditors, to learn, if possible, who had paid the money. They one and all refused to inform me, as they had promised my benefactor not to reveal his name. Failing in this attempt, I returned for the second time to Grimleigh, and since then I have hardly left my home. Tera has been murdered, but I do not know who murdered her. I myself am wholly innocent. I never saw the pearls after the night she disappeared. I was never near Hatton Garden. I know nothing of the pawnshop you mention or of its Jew owner. The name of Moss is unknown to me. In short, Captain Shackel, I deny your accusation.”
Jacob, in no wise put about by this denial, winked his one eye and became vulgarly familiar.
“That’s right, sonny, you stick to it,” said he; “it’s your only chance of saving your neck. See here, though, you Johnson,” he added, in a more threatening tone, “I hold you in the hollow of my hand. I’ve got a schooner of sorts as I’m sailing round the Horn in, to do trading business in the Islands. It’s taken all my savings to buy her; now I want money to buy stores and fit her out properly with rations for the voyage. That money I came here to get from you. Those pearls were worth a mint of coin, and I’m going to have my share—say, five ‘undred quid. Pay me that, and I’ll tie up my tongue about your killin’ the gal and sellin’ her pearls. But you refuse me, my son, and I guess you’ll be singing psalms in quod this time to-morrow.”
“There is the door, captain; you can go;” and the minister, pale, but firm, rose to dismiss his visitor.
“You won’t part?” urged the little man, shuffling to his feet.
“I won’t pay your blackmail, sir. Your attempt to levy it is, I may remind you, of itself a criminal offence.”
“What’s murder, then?” asked the captain. “Well, I guess I ain’t a hard man, and it’s true this thing’s come on you sudden-like. Me and Finland ‘ull give you twelve hours to think about it.”
“Finland! Is he with you?”
“I guess so. First mate. He was coming here to smash you for murdering his sweetheart, but I sent him off to his uncle Carwell, and come myself in his place, being milder-like. Well, what’s to be done?”
“Nothing, so far as I am concerned. You can go.”
“Twelve hours, my son,” threatened the captain, making for the door. “It’s either five hundred pounds to me, or gaol and the gallows for you. Figure it out your own way. So-long;” and the wrinkled embodiment of evil left the room with the utmost nonchalance. Evidently Captain Jacob was satisfied that the game was in his own hands.
Left to himself, Johnson gave himself up to a survey of his position. He was almost in despair. This was not the first disagreeable interview through which he had gone that day; for, before the funeral, Brand had been with him urging him to flight.
In his desire to save Johnson and avert disgrace from Bethgamul, Korah had broken his promise to Slade, and had related the discovery of the stolen curtain cord. A tri-coloured silken rope had been taken from the study; a tri-coloured silken rope had been used to strangle Tera. Were these one and the same? It certainly seemed so. Who could have stolen it? Who could have committed the murder? Johnson was strong in the consciousness of his own innocence, and he was sustained by his belief in the justice of God; yet the evidence against him was so explicit that he could not but see how difficult it would be to extricate himself from the position in which he was placed. He had been near the field the very night on which Tera had been killed there! his debts had been paid by some person whom he could not even name; the cord used to strangle the girl had been taken from his study; and public opinion was dead against him as the actual criminal. The wretched man knew not how best to combat this evil—how to disprove this evidence. He felt that he was in a net, the meshes of which were gradually closing round him. It was better, perhaps, to adopt Brand’s suggestion and fly, lest worse should befall.
“It is friendly advice,” said Johnson to himself, with a groan; “yet, dare I accept it? After all, how do I know that Brand is my friend? If he were a true friend he would hardly spy on me on Shackel’s behalf. This suggested flight may be but a snare to make me inculpate myself. And the selling of the pearls? How can I show that I did not sell them? I was in London! Shackel swears that he saw me enter Abraham Moss’s shop. The murderer must have been disguised as myself in order to throw the guilt on my shoulders. What can I do? Tell all these things to Chard? No; then I stand in immediate danger of arrest, and I can offer no defence. Fly? By doing that I make a tacit acknowledgment of guilt. O God, in Thy mercy inspire me with some plan of action. Tera, honour, good name—all gone. And now my life is in danger. What shall I do to help myself?”
He paced up and down the narrow room in a frenzy of anguish and futile thought. Then, growing calmer, he determined to question his mother as to Tera’s movements and behaviour on the night she disappeared. It might be that the girl had had some enemy of whom he knew nothing. She might perchance have let fall some word which, if followed up, might be likely to elucidate the mystery of her terrible death. In any case there was a chance that his mother might know something which would prove of use to help him. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. Johnson, in his state of distraction, looked on his mother as that straw. He went to look for her. His hope of her aid was faint; still, it was a hope, and that was something.
“Mother,” he said, as he watched her peeling potatoes, “I want you to tell me what Bithiah did on the night she disappeared.”
Mrs. Johnson looked up querulously. The name of the murdered girl disturbed her, and she gave a pious moan, such as she sometimes gave vent to in chapel when moved by the words of the sermon.
“Bithiah, George! Oh, don’t talk of her. She has gone into outer darkness, and I am not quite satisfied about her soul. The misery I’ve had over that poor heathen you wouldn’t believe.”
“Bithiah was not a heathen, mother, but a Christian, duly received into the fold. But tell me, what did Bithiah do on that evening?”
“Nothing more than usual,” replied Mrs. Johnson, with another moan. “She was mostly in her bedroom attending to her clothes. I was quite angry at her, George; indeed I was, for the supper was behind, and she would not help. Indeed, no! After leaving her room, she sat in the parlour like a fine lady, talking to Miss Arnott.”
“What!” cried Johnson, seizing on this admission, “was Miss Arnott here on that evening?”
“Didn’t I tell you, George? No, of course I didn’t. Miss Arnott asked me not to, as she did not wish you to know about her quarrel with Bithiah.”
“You amaze me, mother. Why should Miss Arnott quarrel in my house?”
“Ah,” moaned Mrs. Johnson, wagging her head over a potato, “Why, indeed! But the heart of man, and likewise woman, is bad and wicked. Miss Arnott and Bithiah quarrelled over you, my son.”
Johnson looked at his mother in amazement. “Quarrelled over me?” he said blankly.
“They both loved you.”
A bitter smile curved the minister’s lips. “At least Bithiah did not,” he said.
“Nonsense,” replied Mrs. Johnson. “Why, she even struck Miss Arnott out of love for you. I am glad she’s gone—but I’m sorry she’s dead. I could not have my son marry a heathen; besides, she was most careless about housekeeping, too; you’d much better marry Miss Arnott, George. She’s not young, but she’s both rich and godly. She hated Bithiah.”
Johnson waited to hear no more, but returned to his study. Miss Arnott loved him; she hated Bithiah. These words rang in his ears. A fresh thought was born of them, which he at first refused to entertain, but it forced itself upon him. It formed itself into a question—into a series of questions: Had Miss Arnott followed and strangled Bithiah? Was it Miss Arnott who had concealed the girl’s body in the field? She had frequently been in his study; she had quarrelled with Bithiah on the very night of the latter’s disappearance. So she might have stolen the cord and killed Tera.
“She was an actress once,” muttered Johnson, “and in spite of grace she may have yielded to temptation. But no!” he shuddered, “even if the woman does love me, she would not have lost her soul by murder.”
To put an end to this new doubt with which he was battling, Johnson made up his mind to call on Miss Arnott. Since the rumours against him had been rife in the town he had been shy of going out; but in this instance there was no need for him to go far. Miss Arnott was his next door neighbour, and a very few steps would bring him to her door. Only a broken fence of slabs divided her garden from his, and there was really no need for him to step outside the boundary of his own grounds. However, he determined to pay his call with due ceremony, and putting on his tall hat, he stepped out of his own gate and through that of Miss Arnott.
The whilom actress was a tall and stately woman. She had been beautiful, and was even now not without some remains of her early beauty. Her figure was still shapely and graceful. Not even the somewhat formless garments she now wore could hide completely the curves of her figure. In truth, she was but forty years of age, although her life of rigorous asceticism and self-denial made her look much older. Her eyes were large and dark—wonderfully eloquent in expression. There was no mistaking the look of devotion with which they fixed themselves on Johnson, as he was shown into her drawing-room.
“This is indeed an honour,” said she, giving him her hand with much grace. “Pray sit down, Mr. Johnson. You must have some tea.”
“No, thank you,” replied the minister, who felt rather uncomfortable in her presence. “I have come to talk seriously, Miss Arnott.”
“Is this a duty call as a pastor?” asked the woman, biting her lip. “Have you come to talk religion to me?”
“I have come to talk about Bithiah!”
Miss Arnott’s thin hands clenched themselves on her lap, and she flashed an anxious glance on her visitor.
“About that poor murdered heathen?”
“Yes, about Tera—although she was no heathen. Do you know, Miss Arnott, that I am accused of having murdered her?”
“I have heard the lie,” said Miss Arnott, with quiet scorn; “but I need hardly tell you that I do not believe it.”
“Thank you. My mother tells me that you saw Bithiah shortly before she left the house. I fancied she might have said something in your presence likely to throw light, perhaps, on the darkness of this mystery.”
Miss Arnott flushed through her sallow skin, but kept her black eyes on the minister.
“I asked your mother to say nothing about that meeting,” she remarked angrily. “Bithiah acted like the savage she was.”
“I know she did. Miss Arnott, and I am deeply sorry to know it. It was, of course, because the poor girl’s passions were those of a partially uncivilized being, that she so far forgot herself as to strike you.”
“She did strike me,” said Miss Arnott, drawing a long breath; “struck me and tore the ear-ring from my left ear. It was a ring of gold, and her hand or sleeve caught in it so roughly that the clasp gave way. My ear bled from her savage attack.”
“I am deeply grieved,” said Johnson, horrified at this instance of Tera’s savage nature; “but, as I have said, she was but half civilized.”
“She was sufficiently civilized to steal my ear-ring, however,” retorted Miss Arnott. “I never got it back.”
“I must see to that. What did you quarr—”
Johnson stopped suddenly, for he remembered what his mother had said was the cause of the quarrel.
“We quarrelled about you,” said Miss Arnott, in a low voice. “Yes, I can now acknowledge my love for you without shame. While you were prosperous and popular, with a stainless name, I kept silent—there was no other course open to me. Now that you are despised and accused of murder, I can tell you how dear you are to me. If you had not come to me to-day, I should still have told you.”
The minister rose to his feet, horrified at this bold and, as it seemed to him, shameless confession.
“Miss Arnott,” he stammered, “I—I—I cannot listen to this; I must go.”
“No, stay!” she cried, with a theatrical gesture; “I have some claim on you.”
“Claim on me?” replied Johnson. He could not understand her.
Miss Arnott looked at him steadily. “It was I who paid your debts,” she said.
Johnson made no further attempt to leave. He sat down again. He was too much taken aback to speak. Yet mechanically he repeated the words of Miss Arnott, as if the more clearly to convey their meaning to his mind.
“You paid my debts? For what reason, may I ask?”
“Because I love you!”
“How did you know that I owed money?” inquired the minister, ignoring the confession, which, in truth, confused him beyond measure.
Miss Arnott smiled. “Your indebtedness is everybody’s secret,” she replied quietly. “Your servant found some accounts which you carelessly left lying about, and, as servants will, she talked about them freely. I could not but hear something of this gossip. In fact, I heard you were in difficulties. I wondered how best I could help you. I decided that the first thing to do was to obtain a list of your liabilities—without your knowledge, of course.”
“Why so? Had you spoken openly to me—”
“You would not have accepted my help. Oh! believe me, I know your proud nature. Not even your devotional life has had any effect upon that. At least you would have wanted to know my reason for wishing to help you, and that I could not have given you at that time, for you stood well with the world then. I can tell it to you now—in one word. Love! My love for you!”
“The love of one Christian for another, I hope.”
“No! it is not.” Miss Arnott struck her breast theatrically. Her whole attitude now was reminiscent of her early profession. “It is the love of a woman for a man—the passion which, once in her lifetime, is born in the breast of every mortal woman—ay, and of every man. It is no artificial creation of Christianity.”
“You speak wickedly,” said the minister, agitated and shocked.
“I speak humanly—as a woman whose life’s happiness is at stake. Do not misunderstand me, Mr. Johnson. I joined your denomination knowing full well that it was for the salvation of my immortal soul. I was called to grace, and I left my life of amusement and worldly vanities. But the old leaven is here—here,” and she struck her breast again. “For ten years have I laboured to erase the evil of my past life. But I have laboured in vain. When I saw you, I—I loved you. Even my faith seemed as nothing then, beside the hope of becoming your wife: your wife—your wife; let me say it. You came between me and my Creator, try as I would to banish you from my thoughts. In vain, in vain; all in vain were my prayers. Nature was, nature is, too strong for me. I love you. I love you—let all else go!”
“Miss Arnott, I really cannot listen to this,” said Johnson. Her absolute abandonment scandalized and pained him. He rose to go.
“Sit down!” she said, imperiously. “We must understand each other. First, then, let us discuss your position, and see how best you can escape the danger which threatens you. I may be able to help you.”
“I don’t think so.” Johnson shook his head despondently. Nevertheless, he resumed his seat.
“We shall see. A woman’s wit can oftentimes achieve more than a man’s logic. That order for women to be silent was a mistake on the part of St. Paul. Nine men out of ten owe what is best in their lives to the advice of their wives or their mothers. Tell me how matters stand with you.”
“Believe me, I am glad to make you my confidante, Miss Arnott. God knows I need a friend.”
“I am your friend—more than your friend. Have I not proved at least my desire for your welfare? Trivial, perhaps, of itself, my action in paying your bills shows that. It was I who placed the receipts on your study table.”
Johnson looked up quickly. “Then it was you who took away the bills?”
“It was I,” rejoined Miss Arnott, composedly; “what else could I do? It was necessary that I should have a list of your creditors. So I watched at your window to see where you left your accounts. I came through the fence which divides your house from mine; you know it is broken in several parts.”
“Then it was your footsteps I heard?”
“It was, Mr. Johnson. I saw you looking at the pearls and your accounts. I feared lest in your great stress you might be tempted to sell that girl’s treasure. I determined to have those bills. On hearing my step you came out, and left them on the table.”
“Yes, I did. But I could not see you.”
“Of course not. The moment I saw you move I stepped back into my own grounds. You replaced the pearls in the bag. When you looked round I was behind the fence watching you. Then when I saw you go out and into the street, I seized my opportunity. I ran in quickly and took the bills. I copied the names and addresses of your creditors, with the amounts owing to each, and a day or so later I restored the accounts during your absence. Then I went to London and paid every one of them. Your creditors one and all promised me absolute silence. And one day I watched my opportunity and placed the receipts on your desk.”
He looked gloomily at the woman. She seemed to attach but little importance to what she had done. There was nothing theatrical about her now. She told it quite simply. He kept looking at her.
“You have done me a kindness,” he said, “and I thank you for it. But by doing it you have unconsciously added to the difficulties of my position. It is known that my debts have been paid. I am suspected of having stolen Bithiah’s pearls in order to pay them. How am I to repudiate this?”
“Easily enough. I can tell the congregation of Bethgamul what I have told you.”
“That may exonerate me in part, Miss Arnott. But I shall be severely censured by the congregation for having accepted monetary aid from a woman—a stranger, so to speak.”
“There are two answers to that,” replied Miss Arnott, quietly. “In the first place, I aided you without your knowledge. In the second, you have only to tell the congregation that I am your promised wife, and no one of them can say a word!”
Johnson became agitated. “I cannot say that you are my promised wife,” he said. “I cannot lie to them.”
“Why need it be a lie? Can you not marry me?”
“But—but I do not love you!”
“You must learn to love me. Such a passion as mine surely deserves some return. You would not be the most ungrateful of men. Have I not done my best to serve you?”
“I did not ask you to.”
“You and I alone know that, Mr. Johnson. No one else does. If I choose to confess the truth to the congregation you will be exonerated; if I say you accepted my help wittingly and willingly, there is nothing for you to do but to amend your position by saying that I am to marry you.”
“Miss Arnott, you place me in a most difficult position.”
“Be just. I also show you the way out of it.”
“A way I cannot—I dare not take,” said the minister, desperately.
Then the woman’s passion got the better of her. She rose, furious. “Yet you dare to slight me—you reject my love which has saved you from disgrace! Oh, I know well that you loved Bithiah—that wretched heathen creature! But she is dead. And I am glad that she is dead, for now there can be no hope for your mad passion. You must forget her. You must marry me. You shall marry me!”
“I will not!” said Johnson, rising in his turn, and speaking every word distinctly. “You overstep the bounds of modesty, Miss Arnott. I do not love you. I never could love you. My heart is buried in the grave of Tera.”
The woman turned pale, and sank back into her chair.
“Then is all my wickedness in vain,” she moaned.
“What do you mean?” asked the minister. He was struck by the peculiarity of the phrase.
“You know well what I mean. I have fought that woman for you, and she has beaten me. Once she was out of the way, I thought I could win you for myself. It seems I was wrong. Yet what can you do without me? Your good name is gone; you are suspected of murdering the girl, of robbing her, and of paying your debts with the wages of your sin. Do you think the congregation will keep you as preacher? No; you will be cast out of the fold. You will be disgraced and penniless. Where will you go? What will you do—without a name, without money? I am rich; I can save you. But you refuse my help!”
“God will help me,” said Johnson, moving towards the door. “He knows I am innocent.”
“Will God help me?” cried Miss Arnott, wildly. “He knows that I am not innocent. Go, go! Leave me to reap the harvest of my folly. I have loved you too well; and this—this is my reward. Leave me, I say. Go!”
She looked so furious, yet so imperious in her wrath—the wrath of a woman scorned—that the minister left the room without a word. In her present state of mind it were idle to argue with her.
Deep in thought, Johnson returned to his home. He had expected this interview to end differently. Most assuredly he had not anticipated that the element of love would so have dominated it. Miss Arnott’s mad passion, her quarrel with the dead girl, her payment of his debts—all these things perplexed him sorely. He knew not what to think of them. The knowledge that he was so attractive to this woman gave him no pleasure. On the contrary, rather did it cause him to shudder, to wince as at the contact of evil.
“I must release myself from this snare,” he murmured to himself, “and that can only be done by paying back this money. Yet where am I to get five hundred pounds? I am hampered on all sides. If I do not bribe this Shackel, he will accuse me of selling poor Tera’s pearls. Already I am suspected of her murder. Every one is working against me. It is best perhaps to follow Brand’s suggestion and fly. Here I may be arrested at any moment.”
The position was terrible. He did not see his way out of it at all. The more he thought, the more perplexed and confused he became. At length he seized his hat, and went out in the hope that fresh air and rapid motion would clear his brain. Knowing how unpopular he was, he kept away from the town and climbed the hill by the lonely path. Here in his meditation he jostled against a man coming the opposite way. The stranger was tall, slender, and as brown as Tera had been. But those keen black eyes and that hawk-like nose could belong only to a Romany. Having seen him before, Johnson had no difficulty in recognizing the man.
“Pharaoh Lee!” said the minister, stopping in his surprise. “I did not know you were here!”
“I’m with my people on the common yonder,” replied Pharaoh, gloomily; “we came back the other day, rye—and on no very pleasant errand, either.”
“I am sorry to hear that, Pharaoh! What is the matter?”
“A woman is the matter, as usual. D’ye remember Zara Lovell, rye?”
“Yes. She was to marry you. Are you now husband and wife?”
Pharaoh’s brow grew black, and he muttered a gipsy oath. “We’ll never be husband and wife in this life, rye, whatever we may be in the next,” he said bitterly. “Zara fell in love with one of your Gentile mashers here, and has gone back to him.”
“Who is he?”
“I wish I knew,” cried Lee, fiercely; “I’d knife him!”
“Hush! Hush!” rebuked Johnson, shivering at the thought of another murder. “You must not speak like that. It is dangerous.”
“Not always, rye. Why, some Gorgio cove killed a girl here the other day, they tell me, and he has not been caught. I dare say she deceived him.”
“Are you talking of Bithiah?”
“I don’t know what the name is; but her body was found in a cornfield.”
“That was the body of my ward, Bithiah,” explained Johnson, sadly; “you must remember her, Pharaoh. A dark handsome girl.”
“Job!” cried the gipsy, smiting his thigh, “it comes to me now. She was like the gentle Romany in looks. So it’s her, rye, is it? And why did he kill her?”
“The man as did it. She deceived him, I don’t doubt; and he strangled her.”
“You are wrong, Pharaoh; it was no love tragedy. How Bithiah came by her death no one knows. But I beg of you not to let this terrible crime form a precedent in your dealing with Zara. Where is she now?”
“I don’t know,” said Lee, becoming sullen again. “I was up North, and asked her to marry me over the poker and tongs, as we’d been vowed for months to one another. Then she told me of her marriage in the Gentile way with a Gorgio. I tried to get his name out of her; but she knew how ready my knife would be, and refused to tell me. In the night she ran away, and, as I guessed she’d come back here to her husband, I moved my people down as quick as I could. Here I am, but where Zara is I don’t know. Curses on her and him.”
“Hush! Do not swear, Lee. Who is this man?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you any idea as to who he is?”
“Yes; it’s either a man called Slade, or another, Mayne by name. They were always hanging round our camp when we were here last, and Zara was with them oftener than I liked. I believe it’s one or the other.”
“No, Pharaoh, you must be wrong. Slade, the policeman, has been married for quite a year; and although Mr. Mayne is still a bachelor, it is probable that he will make Miss Carwell his wife. So you see it can be neither of these.”
“Who can swear to that?” retorted Lee. “You Gorgios make nothing of deceiving our women-folk. We are not of your race, and your laws are not for us. If Zara is not married to one of the two Gentiles I speak of, they know who she is married to. They can tell me if they choose, and I shall force them to speak out,” added the gipsy, fiercely. “When I know the truth I’ll—”
“Lee, I implore you to do nothing rash.”
“I shall mend my honour in my own way, rye. It is an oath.”
With this dramatic declaration on his lips, Lee swung off down the hill to escape further reproof and entreaty. Johnson, knowing the fierce nature of the wanderer, looked after him with an air of doubt. When Pharaoh’s evil passions were roused, he struck at once, swift and true as a wounded snake. It seemed as if Tera’s murder were to be followed by another, and Johnson sighed as he thought of all that had happened so suddenly to trouble the hitherto smoothly-flowing current of his life. Since he had fallen in love with Tera there had been nothing but trouble, and he could not see how or where it was all to end.
Anxious-minded and hopeless of aid, the minister resumed his upward way, and shortly reached the brow of the hill, where the corn-lands stretched towards Poldew. Unconsciously his feet had led him into the very path along which Bithiah must have passed to her mysterious death. The omen chilled him for the moment, but shaking off the superstition, as incompatible with his calling as a teacher, he stepped resolutely along the grassy way which meandered through the stubble field. Some power drew him, almost against his will, towards the fatal spot.
As he walked along he caught sight of a burly figure bending down in the field. As he approached he recognized Jeremiah Slade. Knowing neither the man’s ambitions nor the interest he took in the case, Johnson wondered what he was doing so near the place where the body had been found. His curiosity being excited, he crossed the ridgy furrows, and walked up to the policeman.
“What are you looking for, Slade?” Jeremiah straightened himself, and a light came into his dull blue eye. “I ain’t lookin’ now,” said he, cunningly, “as I’ve found something already—something as is worth the findin’ too.”
“What is it?”
“You seem mighty anxious to know, sir,” was the constable’s reply, with a suspicious glance.
“Naturally, I wish to know anything bearing upon the fate of poor Bithiah.”
“Ah,” grunted Slade, “there’s more than you, sir, as wants information of that kind. But why are you so perticler, may I ask, if it ain’t no offence?”
“For two reasons,” rejoined Johnson, quietly. “One is, that I wish the assassin of my poor ward to be secured and punished; the other is that I desire to clear my own character from the suspicion which has fallen upon it.”
“You mean, sir, as folks suspect you of the murder?”
“I do; but I need hardly say that I am innocent.”
“Well,” said the policeman, reflectively, “of course, sir, you’re bound to say that to save your own neck. I thought as you did it yourself one time, for there ain’t no denyin’ as the evidence is dead against you. But what I’ve found now ‘as altered me a bit.”
“Really! Then you are good enough to exonerate me in your own mind? You don’t believe me guilty?” said Johnson, ironically.
“Not as the principal, anyway; it’s come to me as this poor girl was strangled by a woman.”
“A woman? How do you know that?”
“ ‘Cos I found this on the very spot where the girl’s body lay,” and Slade opened his hand. In the palm lay a golden ear-ring, which Johnson recognized as Miss Arnott’s!
The two men looked at the ear-ring, Slade with triumph, Johnson with dismay. There was no doubt it belonged to Miss Arnott. He had frequently seen her wearing it; and he asked himself how it came to be found on the spot where the body had lain. Miss Arnott’s declaration that Tera had wrenched the ear-ring from her ear, and had carried it away, might be a mere fiction. Carried away as she was by her feelings, it was impossible to rely upon what she said. If her statement were untrue, the discovery of the ornament on the scene of the crime went to show that Miss Arnott had been on the spot, and there, perhaps during a struggle with her victim, had lost the ear-ring. In a word, this piece of evidence inculpated her somewhat seriously. Remembering her agitation and strange remarks, Johnson began to think that she had committed the murder out of jealousy. It was very feasible. The more he thought of it the more likely it seemed. But the minister determined to keep his suspicions to himself. It was not for him, on whose account she had sinned—if she had sinned—to denounce her. It was for his sake she had broken that terrible sixth commandment. Therefore he judged it right, if not righteous, to deny all knowledge of the ornament.
“Have you seen this before, sir?” asked Slade, keeping a watchful eye on the face of the minister.
“No,” answered Johnson, with an effort to appear calm, “I never saw it before. It does not belong to Bithiah. She wore no ornaments in her ears.”
“Then it must be the property of some other woman—probably the woman who killed her, Mr. Johnson.”
“How do you know a woman killed her?”
“This ear-ring points that way, anyhow. I expect the two women met and quarrelled about something or some one. Perhaps they came to blows; or perhaps, while the murderess was trying to strangle your girl, she had this torn from her ear. But it’s evident that a woman’s mixed up in the matter.” Slade paused and looked again at the ornament. “It’s a gipsy ear-ring,” said he.
“How do you know, Slade?”
The policeman scratched his head in some embarrassment. “A flat circle of gold it is, ain’t it? Well, sir, I’ve seen a gipsy woman wearing things of this sort.”
“Zara Lovell, for instance?” observed Johnson, with sudden inspiration.
“Zara Lovell!” stammered Slade, retreating a step and looking anything but comfortable. “What do you know of her, Mr. Johnson?”
“Only so much as I learned from Lee.”
“Lee! Pharaoh Lee, the gipsy? Have you seen him?”
“I was speaking with him a quarter of an hour before I met you, Slade. He is looking for Zara.”
“Is she lost, then?”
“It would seem so. Pharaoh was to have married her; but she told him that she was already married to some one in this neighbourhood. Then she ran away from the gipsy camp. Thinking she came on here to her husband—whoever he is—Lee followed, and he is now looking for her. Slade,” said Johnson, gravely, “the gipsy declared that either you or Mr. Mayne must be the husband of this girl.”
Slade changed from red to white, and evaded the minister’s eye. “I knew Zara well enough a year ago,” he said, doggedly, “and we had a liking for one another; but as to marriage, that never came into my mind. I have a wife now—the only one I ever had—and if she hears this tale, Lord knows what she’ll do. She’s never done talking of Zara as it is.”
“Well, and Mr. Mayne?”
“Oh, he liked Zara too; but I don’t think he intended to marry her. Why, he’s set on marryin’ Miss Carwell.”
“Who else is there, that you know the girl was intimate with?”
The policeman reflectively slipped the ear-ring into his pocket, and began to think. Suddenly he started and slapped his thigh. “Why didn’t I think of him before?” he cried. “Finland—it’s Finland, of course.”
“Nonsense!” said the minister, somewhat sharply, for the mention of the sailor made him wince. “Finland was in love with Bithiah and—What is the matter?”
He asked this question with some astonishment, for Slade, with uncouth glee, was performing a kind of war-dance. “Lord!” he said, joyfully, “how plain it all is!”
“How plain what is?”
“The murder, of course. It was a woman killed Bithiah, or Tera, or whatever you call her. That’s pretty conclusive. Well, the woman was Zara.”
“What! the gipsy girl Pharaoh is looking for?”
“Oh, he’s looking for her,” said Slade, gleefully, “but he won’t find her. She’s made herself scarce because of this murder. This ear-ring is Zara’s. I know now, Mr. Johnson; I saw a pair of ‘em in her ears. Finland made love to Zara last year, and she was dead gone on him. I expect she heard of his goings on with your girl, and came back to make things hot. I don’t know if Finland married her, but if he did, Zara hurried back here to claim him as her husband. I dare say she met Tera here in this field, and they fought over the man. Tera tore the ear-ring from Zara while she was being strangled. Then Zara hid the body in this field, and ran away. It’s as clear as day,” and Slade danced again; “I’ll get to Poldew, sure enough!”
Knowing well to whom the ear-ring belonged, the minister could not believe in Zara’s guilt. But without compromising Miss Arnott, Slade’s theory was not to be demolished. The best he could do was to protest against it as being too fanciful.
“Why, you have more reason to suspect me,” he declared.
“True enough,” replied Slade, “but circumstanshal evidence ain’t good stuff—though I admit I’m going on it a lot in suspecting Zara.”
“The poor girl was strangled with my window—”
“I know all about that,” interrupted the policeman. “I soon found that out. But it don’t prove as you took the cord yourself. I always had my doubts, seeing it was taken two or three days afore the murder. You wouldn’t have made ready all that time. I says to myself, ‘If he killed the girl, he did it in a rage, so he wouldn’t have prepared the cord beforehand.’ ”
“I did not kill Tera,” protested Johnson, vehemently. “I never saw her after she left my house, although I searched for her round this field, knowing it was her favourite walk. I loved her too well to injure a hair of her head. As to my debts—and you suspected, no doubt, that it was to pay them I killed her—they have been discharged.”
“Who paid ‘em?”
“There is no harm in telling you that, Slade. But promise me to keep what I tell you a secret until I bid you speak.”
Filled with curiosity, Slade gave the required promise. When informed that Miss Arnott was Johnson’s benefactor, he chuckled so significantly as to bring a blush to the pale cheeks of the minister. Nevertheless—and this was the main point—he entertained no suspicion against the woman; and still harped on the probability of Zara’s guilt. “For she might have stolen the cord from your study,” said he, eagerly; “them gipsies are always stealing things.”
“Zara was never in my house that I know of,” replied Johnson, dryly.
This declaration rather disconcerted Slade, but he rallied under the blow when a new idea struck him.
“I dare say that Tera herself took the cord, being a bright pretty thing.”
“Why should she?”
“Why shouldn’t she?” retorted Slade; “it’s as broad as it’s long. Talk as you like, sir, it’s in my mind as Zara killed Tera and stole them pearls.”
Johnson reflected. This last remark set him thinking as to the advisability of telling Slade about Shackel’s proposed blackmail. The man seemed intelligent and trustworthy, and an ally would be invaluable, if only to protect him from the machinations of Captain Jacob. Forthwith, Johnson related to Slade the dilemma in which he was placed, and asked for the policeman’s advice and help. “For I swear,” said he, with all earnestness, “that while in London I did not go near Hatton Gardens. But how am I to prove that?”
“ ‘Tain’t difficult,” answered Slade; “you give me a couple of pounds and let me go up to London. I’ll find out from the Jew who sold them pearls.”
“Can you get leave?” asked Johnson, catching at the idea.
“Oh yes, for a couple of days or thereabouts.”
“Then you go, and hard-up as I am, you shall have five pounds for your expenses and trouble. But who did you think sold the pearls? It could not have been Zara, seeing that the seller was a man.”
“I’ll tell you what I think when I come back,” said Slade, doubtfully. “Let us go to your house, sir, and get the money. If that captain comes again to you, just tell him as the matter is in the hands of the police; you won’t have no trouble with him after that, I’ll bet.”
Subsequent events proved Slade to be correct. Johnson gave him the five pounds, and, having obtained leave for forty-eight hours, the man took train to London with the address of the Jew in his pocket. The day after his departure Shackel made his appearance, in the full belief that Johnson would pay him the sum he had demanded. When the minister referred him to the police, Captain Jacob was considerably taken aback by his victim’s daring. He protested loudly.
“Told the police, have yer?” he snarled; “well, I guess I don’t want any of that kind messing up my business. You’d better straighten out things, my son, and pay me.”
“I shall not pay you one penny,” answered Johnson, gaining courage at the man’s manifest desire to retreat. “The matter lies with the police now. If you trouble me any more, I shall give you in charge.”
Captain Jacob’s one eye twinkled in a very evil fashion, and he grew as red as his jaundiced complexion would permit. “You’ll jail me, will yer?” he piped shrilly; “I reckon two can play at that game, you scare-crow, psalm-singing, bun-faced—”
“Another word of that sort, and out you go!” said the minister, with spirit.
But Shackel was not to be silenced. Like all sea captains, he was accustomed to implicit obedience, and thought to get his own way by the adoption of a bullying tone. But Johnson was not one of his sailors, and moreover the vituperative insolence of the little scoundrel had roused him. So when Captain Jacob still proceeded to hector, the minister picked him up—he was of no great weight—and, carrying him out of the window, dropped him over the gate.
“There, you foul-mouthed extortioner,” said Johnson, loudly, “that is your place! Come back here again, and I’ll hand you over to the police.”
“By thunder, I’ll see the police myself!” replied Shackel, dusting his clothes. “You’ll be in jail afore to-night, my son. Ay! and I’ll come and see ye dance on nothing with a hempen cravat round your darned neck. I—”
Johnson waited to hear no more, but retired into his house, and left the mariner cursing the empty air until he grew weary and took himself off. The minister quite expected that the spiteful little creature would denounce him to the police as the seller of the pearls, and he was prepared to be arrested at any hour. But either Shackel was not very sure of his ground, or was afraid to come himself in contact with the law, of which he had a holy horror. He skulked back to the schooner without fulfilling his threats, and so far as he was concerned Johnson remained in peace. The blow was not to come from Shackel.
That same evening, Johnson, in his character of pastor, attended at Bethgamul. It was the weekly gathering, when the members of the congregation met to converse together, and to receive admonition and advice, as circumstances demanded. On this occasion, every member in Grimleigh was in attendance, in obedience to a fiat from the elders. It was known that Johnson was suspected of being concerned, either directly or indirectly, in the tragedy which had so recently happened amongst them, and the congregation expected that at this meeting he would attempt to exonerate himself. Johnson knew the position in which he stood, and what was required of him; but he entered the chapel resolved to let things take their course. If compelled to defend himself he would speak; but he was determined not to state his case voluntarily. There were details in connection with Miss Arnott which he certainly had no wish to make public.
Miss Arnott herself was present, looking haggard and nervous. She felt keenly the position in which she stood towards Johnson. But at the present moment she did not see how to improve it. She had come to the meeting for guidance and comfort. Farmer Carwell, his daughter, and Mayne, arrived together, ready for an exciting evening. Indeed, on their entry into the chapel they were definitely promised one by Brand, who met them at the door.
“Our pastor has not yet arrived,” whispered Korah in his deep voice, “but I have sent for him, and he will be here very soon. Then I shall invite him to confess.”
“He is not compelled to do that,” observed Rachel, who still held that in the absence of proof the minister was innocent.
“He is compelled so far,” responded Brand, “that if he cannot clear his character, we shall depose him from his office. He shall have sorrow and wrath with his sickness.”
“If he owns that he killed Tera, shall you have him arrested?” asked Mayne.
“No, no; that will never do,” interposed Carwell, with a frown. “We must not bring disgrace on Bethgamul by our own act. If the man is guilty, let him fly hence and repent of his sins.”
“He will not fly, although I have urged him,” groaned Korah.
“In that case it would seem he is innocent,” said Rachel. “But here he comes, poor man; how ill he looks!”
“ ‘He cometh in with vanity,’ ” quoted Brand, “ ‘and his name shall be covered with darkness.’ ”
“That has yet to be proved,” said Herbert. His defence of the minister drew an approving smile from Rachel.
Johnson did indeed look ill. As he stood on the rostrum under the yellow glare of the oil lamp, he gazed down on the stern faces of his people. Every countenance was set like a flint; even those of the women were harder and more unsympathetic than usual, and he felt that in their hearts they already condemned him. But the sight of his old mother weeping quietly in the corner brought him comfort. If no one else believed in his innocence, she did.
“Brother Johnson,” said Brand, rising as the minister opened the Bible, “before you speak from the sacred volume, we would know if you are worthy to do so. Are your lips undefiled? Is your heart clean within you?”
“Yes,” replied the minister, calmly. “I am conscious of no sin.”
“It is ‘whispered in Gath and told along the streets of Ascalon’ that you have the stain of blood on your hands. The blood of the innocent cries out for judgment against you.”
“Who dares to say such a thing, Brother Korah?”
“I do—unworthy as I am.” Brand stretched out his arm. “Brother Johnson, you are a pastor of the Lord’s sheep, and He committed a lamb to your charge. That lamb is slain, and it is cried aloud that you are the slayer. In the tents of Israel it is spoken. Your carnal love drove Bithiah of Koiau from your dwelling, and in her footsteps you followed to smite and slay her for the love of gold. As Nathan the prophet stood before David, so I stand before you; as Nathan the prophet said unto the king, so say I unto you: ‘Thou art the man.’ ”
Assuredly, the congregation had no reason to complain that the anticipated sensation was not forthcoming. There was an agitated rustle through the chapel. Every one looked eagerly at Johnson, wondering what reply he would make to the accusation of Brand. For a moment or so the minister stood silent with upraised face. His lips moved in silent prayer, for he was seeking from God that aid which was denied to him by man. Miss Arnott, white and trembling violently, leaned forward in expectation of the denial she felt certain would come. For quite a minute there was dead silence. It was broken by the accused man. “ ‘O Lord, Thou knowest,’ ” said he, in the words of Jeremiah, “ ‘remember me, and visit me, and revenge me on my persecutors.’ ” He paused, and looked quietly at the rugged face of Brand. “Brother Korah,” continued the minister, “you have borne false witness against me. I am innocent of this crime you would place on my shoulders. What evidence can you bring forward to prove that you speak truly? Let me hear your grounds of accusation, that I may reply to them as best I can.”
Brand was considerably surprised at the calmness of this speech. It was very different from what he had expected. He glanced with some embarrassment at Farmer Carwell.
“Shall I question him?” he demanded.
“Surely, brother,” answered Carwell, gravely; “the meanest criminal has a right to a hearing. Question our pastor, that we may learn if he is still to teach us, or if he should be cast out of Emmanuel’s fold.”
“I ask for nothing better than such an examination,” cried Johnson. “I stand here as I would at the Judgment Seat, to defend my name and life. Begin, Brother Korah. On what grounds do you accuse me?”
“You loved Bithiah,” said Brand, harshly.
“Is that a crime? Is love forbidden by the Gospel? Yes, I loved her.” Miss Arnott winced at the tenderness of his tone. “I would have made her my honoured wife, but that she refused me.”
“Why did she leave your house?”
“Because she loved Finland, the nephew of our Brother Carwell. I judged him too godless for Bithiah, and I forbade her to see him. Also I informed her that I would place her in the care of you, Brother Korah, to be taken back to Koiau. For love of Finland she left my house. Whither she went, I know not.”
“Yet you were near the scene of the crime on the night on which Bithiah may be supposed to have been murdered.”
“Certainly. I went there because it was her favourite walk. But I never saw a sign of her. On this Holy Book,” Johnson touched the great Bible before him, “I never saw the girl.”
“What of her treasure, brother?”
“The pearls? She took those with her, as she had every right to.”
“Did you not take them from her dead body that you might pay your debts?”
“No!” cried Johnson furiously. “How dare you assume that I am guilty of such an act! I never saw the girl dead. I took no pearls from her body. Where they are, I know no more than you do.”
“Yet your debts are paid!”
“They are—paid in full.”
“No. By some one whose name I decline to give.”
Brand looked down with a sardonic smile. If honest enough himself, the man’s methods of conducting an examination were certainly open to criticism. “Such a statement is incredible,” he declared; “as a rule, men’s debts are not paid by unknown benefactors.”
“Nevertheless, mine are paid,” said Johnson, firmly; “besides, my benefactor is not unknown. You are ignorant of her name, doubtless, but I am not.”
“Her name!” repeated Korah in surprise; “then it is a woman! Do you dare to stand there and state that you permitted your debts to be paid by a woman?”
“I state nothing. I admit nothing. My debts are paid.”
“And by the proceeds of the pearls,” cried Brand, “I do not believe your fiction about a woman. If you killed Bithiah, we will have no murderer for our pastor. If a woman—as you say—paid your debts, you are not fit to occupy our pulpit. It would appear that you add profligacy to—”
“Stop!” cried Miss Arnott, rising and coming forward with the sweep and style of a Lady Macbeth. “I forbid you, Brother Korah, to blame your pastor unjustly. His debts have been paid by a woman;” she looked round to emphasize her next words, and bespeak the attention of the congregation. “I am that woman!” she said, drawing herself up.
There was a pause, during which Miss Arnott’s dramatic instincts were strong enough to appreciate the situation. There she stood, defiant and calm, with the eyes of the amazed congregation fastened on her. Johnson remained in his seat, waiting developments; and Brand, taken by surprise, stared at her dumbfounded. In the old days there would have been a quick curtain on this situation, and probably much applause afterwards; and Miss Arnott, in spite of her conversion and religion, could not but thrill at this intrusion of melodrama into real life. Certainly she made the most of her part.
“Yes,” she repeated, touching her breast, “I am the woman, and who will dare to accuse me of acting otherwise than in a Christian spirit? It was told to me that our pastor was in difficulties about money, and as I am rich I determined to discharge his debts. ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens,’ saith the Gospel, and in obedience to that command I took our pastor’s burden on my shoulders. Having obtained a list of his creditors—it matters not how—I went to London and there paid their demands in full. That I might do good in secret, I made those I paid promise to say no word of my deed. Our pastor sought to learn my name, but could not until I myself revealed it to him. I did so,” said Miss Arnott in her grandest voice, “because he was accused of stealing those pearls to discharge his liabilities. Of the crime you would fix upon him, Brother Brand, he is innocent. I paid the money.”
Still no one spoke, least of all Brand, for he realized that his accusation had fallen to pieces hopelessly. Miss Arnott looked around her and saw her opportunity for making an effective exit. Seizing it, she swept with measured steps towards the door. There she paused and stretched out her arm towards Brand. “ ‘He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it,’ ” she declaimed, and, still facing the congregation, she withdrew slowly. In a transpontine theatre the intensity of the scene would have brought down the house. As it was, these good people simply sat silent and stared.
Johnson was the first to recover himself. He rose solemnly. “My honour has been vindicated,” he said. “Brother Korah, I demand that you withdraw your accusation.”
“Yes, yes; withdraw the accusation,” cried the congregation, awaking from their apathy. “Our pastor is innocent.”
Brand made as if to speak. He wished to question Johnson concerning the missing curtain cord. But at this moment one of the more enthusiastic members struck up a well-known hymn. The others joined in lustily, and drowned the words of the missionary. Seeing that the sympathy of the greatest number was with him, Johnson was wise enough to withdraw. As the singing grew louder and the people became more excited, he descended the rostrum and left the chapel. Outside, the night was moonless and starless, and hardly had the minister taken half a dozen steps when his arm was seized by Brand. The man was shaking with nervous excitement.
“Brother Johnson,” he said in an agitated voice, “believe me, I bear you no ill-will. I accused you in all good faith, but the Lord hath spoken. I now know you did not steal the pearls to pay your debts. I have no doubt you can also explain how the cord, with which Bithiah was strangled, came to be missing from your study.”
“That, I fear at this present moment, I cannot,” replied the minister, simply; “but you must believe in my innocence now?”
“I do, I do. But do not look on me as your enemy. I acted for the glory of the Lord. I would have cut you off as a withered branch. I see my mistake now—think of me, I pray, only as your friend.”
“I believe you accused me in good faith, Brother Korah. Let us say no more about the matter.”
Brand did not speak, but wrung the minister’s hand hard, and darted back to the chapel. Johnson took his way homeward, wondering at the rigid nature of the man who would have ruined him in all honesty. “If thy right hand offend thee cut it off”—that was the precept upon which Brand had acted; and but for Miss Arnott’s evidence he would have turned Johnson adrift on the world with a dishonoured name and an endangered life. The pastor shuddered at the missionary’s rigour, but he silently admitted his honesty of purpose. Then, standing under the stars, he took off his hat, and thanked God for having aided him in his trouble. There would be no question now of his leaving Bethgamul.
As he drew near his house, he saw a dark form at the gate. A few steps brought him beside it, and he then recognized Miss Arnott. She started as he came up, and looked at him in the glare of the gaslight. Her eyes were full of tears.
“Miss Arnott,” said Johnson, clasping her passive hand, “I thank you from my soul for the noble way in which you defended me to-night.”
“It was only right,” whispered the woman, trembling at his touch; “I know you are innocent.”
Recollecting Slade’s discovery, and recalling his own suspicions, Johnson laid his hand on her arm. “Do you know who murdered her?”
“I? No. How should I know?” Then she caught sight of the expression on his face. She shrank back. “Surely—you don’t suspect me?” she said in tones of horror.
“Miss Arnott,” replied the minister, anxiously, “I will be plain with you. On the spot where Bithiah’s body was found, Slade, the policeman, discovered your ear-ring!”
“Did he know it was mine?”
“No; I did not tell him. But his theory is that the woman to whom the ear-ring belongs killed the girl. Were you there on that night?”
“No; I went back to my house after my quarrel with Bithiah, and I was indoors all the evening.”
“How came that ear-ring to be there, then?”
“Bithiah tore the ear-ring from my ear,” explained Miss Arnott, hurriedly; “I can show you the scar. No doubt she took it with her to the field, and dropped it when she was assaulted by the person who killed her. I had no hand in her death. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Johnson, promptly. “I cannot think a woman who could act as you have done to-night would murder a defenceless girl.”
“After our quarrel I never saw her. I hated her—why? Because she was the one you loved. I was jealous and unjust. But I would not have killed her.”
“I am sure of that,” said Johnson, kindly. “But tell me—where did you get that ear-ring?”
“From a gipsy girl named Zara Lovell. She had a pair I admired very much—they were of gipsy workmanship—and I paid her well to get me a similar pair.”
“Then she still kept her own?”
“Yes—at least, I suppose so. She had them on when I saw her last, about a year ago. But why do you ask?”
“Slade suspects that Zara killed Bithiah out of jealousy on Finland’s account. Your story of the ear-ring would seem to confirm his belief. After all, the ear-ring found by Slade may not be yours!”
“I can’t say,” replied Miss Arnott, drawing her shawl round her. “She might have killed Bithiah, as you say, and lost her own ear-ring in the struggle. If it is mine, Bithiah herself must have taken it with her.” She touched the minister timidly. “You believe in my innocence?”
“Yes; I am sure of it.”
“Thank God for that. I could stand any one doubting me but you;” and before Johnson could stop her, the excited woman had bent down and kissed his hand. The next moment she was gone.
With a thoughtful face, Johnson walked inside, pondering on the great love she bore him. His feelings were touched. He thought more about her than he had done since the death of Bithiah. Was it possible that the void in his heart, great as it was, could ever be filled up? The very thought of such a thing seemed treason against the dead.
The next day he received a letter from Slade, which caused him considerable surprise. It contained certain instructions, which for his own safety it was necessary for him to carry out. Amongst other things, Slade stated that by threatening to denounce the Jew as a receiver of stolen goods, he had induced him to return with him to Grimleigh. He hoped to bring him to the minister’s house at about four o’clock that day. Johnson was delighted with the intelligence. It promised more completely to vindicate him. Meanwhile, having implicit faith in Slade, he duly carried out his instructions.
All that day he was much agitated. He kept within doors and refused to see any one, for he was determined not to go amongst his people until his character was clear. He admitted Chard only. For him he had sent, in accordance with Slade’s instructions. The inspector was every bit as curious as Johnson himself, and it was with great impatience they awaited the arrival of the Jew and the policeman. In the interim, he told Chard of Shackel’s accusation.
“Now you will see if these accusations are true,” said Johnson, emphatically. “If I sold the pearls, this man will recognize me at once.”
“And if he does not recognize you, what then?”
“Well, he may be able to describe the man who did sell the pearls.”
“Without doubt,” said Johnson, gravely, “seeing that they were taken from the body.”
“Well, I hope we’ll get at the truth, anyway,” said Chard. “I had no idea Slade was so smart!”
At four o’clock to the minute the policeman arrived, and with him a fat dark little man of a pronounced Hebraic character, whom he introduced as Mr. Abraham Moss.
“Of Hatton Garden,” explained the Jew, with a lisp, “I bought some pearlth from a gentleman for two thouthand poundth.”
“Is this the gentleman?” asked Slade, indicating Johnson.
“Bleth me, no. The gentleman wath tall—with a fair mouthtathe—good-looking gent. He wath no minithter. Oh no.”
“Under what name did he pawn or sell the pearls?” asked Chard.
“Brown—Luke Brown. ‘Courth I knew it wath a falth name, and—” The Jew stopped, for the door had opened, and in it stood a man—the very man for whom Johnson had sent in accordance with Slade’s instructions. “Why,” cried Moss, “that’th the gent ath thold me the pearlth!”
They all three turned simultaneously towards the door, and saw Finland!
When Jack Finland came, in answer to Johnson’s invitation, he little knew the kind of reception that awaited him. He entered the study with an alert step, but the merry expression quickly faded from his face when he recognized Mr. Moss. Nor was the presence of Slade—even though in plain clothes—and his superior officer, in any way reassuring.
“That’th the gent ath thold the pearlth,” lisped Mr. Moss, pointing a diamond-ringed finger at the new-comer.
“Oh! this is the gentleman, is it?” said Inspector Chard, blandly. “Come in, Mr. Finland; you are just in time.”
“For what?” asked Jack, making a fight for it. He saw that he was in a trap, and, anxious to get out of it, glanced at window and door. But Chard blocked the one, Slade the other. There was nothing for it, as Finland quickly saw, but to make a bold stand and face the thing out if possible. “For what?” said he, looking calmly at the unfriendly faces before him. He felt it was well to know exactly how things stood before committing himself in any way.
“About those lost pearls for one thing,” growled Slade, “and that girl’s murder for t’other.”
“What have I to do with either?”
“I know nothing about any murder,” said Moss; “but you are the gent ath thold me the pearlth. I gave you two thouthand poundth for them. Come now, that’th tho, ain’t it?”
“I’m blest if I understand what you’re talking about,” retorted Finland; “clap a tackle on your jaw, you measly Hebrew.”
“Abuse won’t do, Finland,” struck in Chard; “you had better keep a curb on your tongue. It’s always best to come quietly.”
“You daren’t arrest me!”
“That is my intention, as soon as I can get a warrant. In the mean time, I’m not likely to lose sight of you, my fine fellow.”
“What’s your charge?”
“The murder of a Polynesian girl called Tera, or Bithiah.”
“It’s a lie!” cried Finland, violently. “I never killed the poor girl. I loved her too well to lay a finger on her.”
Johnson, who had remained silent till now, turned to the sailor.
“Unhappy man,” he said solemnly, “do not add falsehood to your sins of murder and theft. Tera left this house with the pearls, and when her dead body was found the pearls were gone. Your captain, Shackel, came to blackmail me for—”
“What, Shackel?” cried Jack, savagely; “the blamed old shellback.”
“Yes; Captain Jacob declared that I had sold the pearls in London. He demanded five hundred pounds as the price of his silence. I declined to compound a felony, and at once informed Slade, here, of the man’s threat. Slade went to London for the purpose of seeing this gentleman to whom the pearls had been sold, and—”
“Yes, I did that,” said the constable, excitedly, cutting the minister short, “and I called on Mr. Moss. His description of the seller applied so exactly to you that I wrote to Mr. Johnson, asking him to get you to come here that we might confront you with Moss.”
“S’elp me, that’th ath true ath taxeth,” said Moss, “and thith polithman, he took me from my buthiness to identify you by thaying ath he’d run me in for rethieving thtolen goodth. How did I know you’d thtolen the pearlth, you beatht? You thaid your name wath Brown, and you’d brought the pearlth with you from the Thouth Theath. You got my money—yeth, two thouthandth poundth. Give it back to me, and pay me for coming all thith way to pick you out. Thith buthiness will ruin me.”
“I also was informed of the matter by Mr. Johnson,” chimed in Chard, “so I am here, you see, to take part in your reception. I had my suspicions about you—they were well founded it seems.”
“You think so,” retorted Finland, “but you’re a long way out, let me tell you. I never put a hand on the girl.”
“Then how did you come by the pearls?”
“Shan’t tell you; mind your own business.”
“That’s just what both of us is about to do,” said Slade, forgetting for the moment the presence of his superior officer. “Mr. Inspector will keep you here, and I’m off to get a warrant for your arrest. Mr. Moss will come with me.” Small matters such as that of precedence did not exist for the ambitious Slade at this juncture.
“Mither Moth will; but I hope Mither Moth will be paid for all thith trouble. It’th ruin to leave one’th buthineth like thith. If I have to give back thothe pearlth I mutht have my money back.”
“We’ll attend to all that,” said Slade, taking the Jew’s arm.
“As to getting your money back, I’m afraid that won’t be so easy, Mr. Moss,” said Chard. “Since I received the intelligence of Finland’s guilt, I have been making inquiries, and I find he is part owner of the schooner lying out in the bay yonder. I expect he spent the money in buying her.”
“Oh, you thwindler!” cried the excited Hebrew, “ith thith tho?”
“Half the Dayspring is mine,” admitted Jack, sulkily; “but I’m not going to tell you where I got the money to buy her.”
“I’ll put in an ecthecuthion, I will. I’ll levy it mythelf on board the ship.”
“If you do that, Captain Jacob will sling you overboard.”
“I’ll take a conthtable with me. I will have my money,” screeched the irate Shylock.
“Now, come along, please; we must get this warrant,” said Slade, taking the arm of Mr. Moss, and pulling him out of the room.
Left alone with Johnson and Chard, the sailor made no attempt to leave. He sat down with a sulky expression on his face, and betrayed not the least concern. It would seem that he was not fully alive to the danger of his position. Chard looked at him with bland satisfaction.
“You had better make a clean breast of it, my man,” said he.
Jack scowled at him, and rudely turned his chair so as to face the minister.
“Mr. Johnson,” he said quietly, “you are an honest man amongst these land sharks, and I can trust you. I seem to be in a tight place, but I swear that I am as innocent as an unborn babe. Shackel can prove my innocence; so I ask you to take a note to him from me.”
Johnson, who had no love for Shackel after the way in which the little scoundrel had tried to blackmail him, would have refused; but Chard, at Finland’s back, made a sign to him to accept the trust. The inspector thought that Jack was about to write to Shackel, asking him to destroy some evidence which might implicate him still further in the crime. At all events, he thought the letter would probably prove of some value, directly or indirectly. He was glad, therefore, when Johnson, understanding his signal, acceded to Finland’s request.
“Certainly, I will deliver your note,” said the minister, gravely. “I only hope you will be able to free yourself from this critical position.”
“Do you believe I killed Tera?”
“If you sold the pearls, it certainly looks very like it,” replied Johnson, “seeing that they were taken from her dead body. Yet, as I know you loved the girl, and she was willing to give you both herself and her pearls, I confess that I have my doubts as to your guilt. Besides, I honestly admit that I do not think you are a bad man. Frivolous and godless and profligate no doubt you are, but far from being a murderer. No, Mr. Finland, black as are appearances against you, I cannot bring myself to believe in your guilt.”
Jack looked at the minister with a friendly smile, and stretched out a large brown hand.
“You’re a white man,” said he, coolly; “I’ll take more stock in your piety when I’m out of this fix. Shake.”
The minister hesitated, for although he really did believe in the young sailor’s innocence, yet the man had been his rival, and he found it difficult to be on easy terms with him. However, his better nature prevailed, and he shook hands.
“That heartens me up a lot,” said Jack, cheerfully; “there is balm in Gilead, after all, as Rachel says. Now I’ll score a line to that blamed old idiot who has caused all this breeze.”
“Who is that?” asked Chard. Finland looked at him again, ignored him completely, and in silence sat down in the chair before the desk, vacated by the minister. Chard kept his eyes on him, and smiled at the foolish manner in which the man was giving himself away. Honestly speaking, he had no ill-will towards Jack, but the insolent behaviour of the sailor was not without its effect, and he determined when the warrant came to spare him in no way.
That Finland might be innocent, the inspector did not consider at all. He had sold the pearls, as was proved plainly by the evidence of Moss; and he could only have taken them from the dead body. The man’s coolness amazed him; for Jack scribbled away at his note quite nonchalantly, utterly indifferent to the sword of Damocles which swung over his head. Chard marvelled what defence he could have in his mind to make.
Johnson looked out of the window. He also was puzzled by the behaviour of Finland. On the face of the evidence against him it was impossible to doubt his complicity. Yet the minister could in no way divine the man’s motive for murder. He could have had the pearls for the asking; there was no need for him to kill the poor girl. Moreover, Finland had loved her dearly; and it was incredible that for any cause he could have killed her. Yet he had sold the pearls. There could be no doubt about that; and he was the nephew of the man in whose field the body had been so skilfully hidden. How to reconcile these conflicting elements, Johnson could not see. He was still puzzling the matter out in his own mind, when Jack finished his letter with a cheery laugh.
“You’ll laugh on the other side of your mouth soon,” said Chard, testily.
“I guess that’s my biz,” retorted Finland, addressing the inspector for the first time. “ ‘Taint my habit to squeal afore I’m hurt. Mr. Johnson, here is the letter. I’ll take it kind of you if you’ll deliver it to old Ramshackel as soon as you can.”
“I’ll see to it, Mr. Finland,” replied Johnson, slipping the note into his pocket, whither it was followed by Chard with greedy eyes, “And I trust, for your own sake and your uncle’s, that you will prove yourself innocent of this fearful charge.”
“Well, I don’t say as I haven’t got an ace somewhere, sir; but it ain’t time to plank it down yet. May I smoke?”
“I would if I were you,” interposed Chard; “you’ll not get tobacco in prison, you know.”
“Nor manners either, I guess, if you’re to turn the key.”
Chard vouchsafed no reply, and the three waited in silence for the return of Slade. In a surprisingly short space of time, considering his errand, the constable returned in uniform with a warrant for Finland’s arrest. Now that the worst had come, Jack turned a trifle pale, and slipped his pipe into his pocket with an uneasy laugh. Chard seemed well pleased.
“Take him to the lock-up, Slade,” he ordered; “we’ll have him up before the magistrate at Poldew to-morrow. I’ll remain here; Mr. Johnson and I must have a few words.”
“Come on,” said Slade, now a typical Jack-in-office. He laid his hand on Finland’s collar.
“Don’t show off, mate,” said Finland, twisting himself free. “I’ll go quiet enough. Let’s walk arm-in-arm, and then they’ll take us for brothers. ‘Tain’t no use kicking up dust, you know. Good-bye, Mr. Chard; I’ll put a spoke in your wheel before this crook is straightened out. Mr. Johnson, you’re a square man. I thank you for your kindness. Don’t forget to give that letter to the skipper.”
“I promise you it shall be delivered this evening.”
Jack and Slade departed quite affectionately, arm-in-arm, as the sailor had suggested. Chard waited till they were fairly on their way. Then he turned to the minister peremptorily.
“Now then, sir, that letter, if you please!”
Johnson looked astonished and ill pleased. “The letter is for Captain Shackel, sir.”
“Afterwards, perhaps: first it is for me. You don’t think I am going to lose a chance of making things safe for this scoundrel’s hanging?”
“Finland is not a scoundrel,” rejoined Johnson, quietly; “indeed, I begin to think he is perfectly innocent. As to the letter, that remains in my pocket.”
“Mr. Johnson, I don’t want to be unpleasant,” cried Chard, looking ugly, “but I must remind you that I am a police officer. I’ve a perfect right to see the letter of a man under arrest on a criminal charge; and I must insist upon your handing it over to me.”
“Does the law authorize you to read this letter?”
“Yes, sir; it does. If the man were free it would not, but the law permits me to gather all evidence I can in support of the case. That letter may be invaluable. Give it to me, please.”
Johnson hesitated. He saw the weakness of his position. He wished to assist Finland, for he believed him to be innocent; moreover, he did not wish, without the strongest reason, to fail in the trust he had undertaken. Still, Chard, as the representative of the law, had right and might on his side. If he did not give up the letter willingly, he would no doubt be forced to. On consideration he decided he could do nothing but yield.
“Here is the letter,” said he, taking it from his pocket. “I trust you will deliver it to its address when you have done with it.”
“That depends entirely upon the contents,” said Chard, grimly. He untwisted the piece of paper. Finland had not put it into an envelope. The reason for this was soon apparent. Chard looked at it carefully, then he swore.
“Mr. Chard,” reproved Johnson, “why such language?”
The inspector clapped the letter on the table before Johnson. “Isn’t that enough to make a man swear? The rascal has written his letter in cypher.”
It ran as follows:—
“Can’t you understand it?” asked Johnson, puzzled.
“No; can you?” snapped the inspector, picking up the cypher.
“Not a bit. What will you do now?”
“Take it to the man who does?”
“Who is that?”
“Why,” said Chard, coolly, “the man to whom it is written—Captain Shackel. I’ll make him read it to me.” Then Chard went off.
Left alone, Johnson sighed. “If Finland is innocent,” he thought, “I fear we shall never know who killed poor Tera.”
Grimleigh hummed like a hive in the swarming season. Through Slade, via his tattling wife, the news of Finland’s arrest was spread with the rapidity of influenza. As usual, rumour increased as a snowball does, and that evening half the town knew how Finland had met Tera by accident near Carwell’s field, how he had quarrelled with her, strangled her, and fled with the pearls, to sell them in London and buy a schooner. The circumstantial account was given with a wealth of detail which did credit to the imagination of those who repeated it. But there were some who declined to believe that so popular and genial a man as Jack could be guilty of a cold-blooded crime. The man’s whole life gave the lie to it.
Amongst those who refused credence to the accusation was Carwell. The old farmer was greatly agitated by the news of the arrest, and forthwith sought out Chard at Grimleigh police-office, shortly before the inspector departed for Poldew. For the last hour Chard, with the cypher-letter in his pocket, had been seeking Captain Jacob without success. The skipper was not on the schooner, or in the town; and Chard feared he would be forced to postpone the delivery of the letter until next morning. This would be inconvenient, as he was bound to be at Poldew when Finland was brought up—as he would be next day—before the magistrate. But the inspector was determined that no one should deliver the letter but himself, for he intended to force Shackel to translate it. Finally, Chard resolved to take Jack with him to Poldew on that night, and leave Slade behind, with instructions to find and bring on Captain Shackel the next morning. He had just arranged this with Slade when Carwell made his appearance, perturbed and angry.
“What’s all this?” demanded the old man, anxiously. “I hear that my nephew has been arrested.”
“Quite right, Mr. Carwell. On a charge of murdering the native girl who was a ward of Mr. Johnson’s. Tera—Bithiah—you know her name better than I do.”
“But it is impossible that Jack killed her. Inspector. He loved the girl—he was prepared to marry her. The charge is ridiculous.”
“No doubt,” replied Chard, coolly. “I can’t myself see his reason for the crime. But we have proof positive that he sold Tera’s pearls in London, and bought a share in the Dayspring with the proceeds.”
“Jack never told me that! I understood from him that she was the property of Captain Shackel.”
“Shackel says differently, Mr. Carwell. He told me himself that your nephew bought a share, and, what is more, paid for it on the nail.”
“Impossible! He had not the money.”
“Oh yes, he had. Moss declared that Finland got two thousand pounds for the pearls. To obtain them, he killed Tera.”
“I don’t, I won’t believe it!” cried Carwell, growing very red. “Jack is an honest lad, and my own sister’s son. If he were guilty he would not return here into the jaws of danger. If he were in funds, he would not want money from me, or risk his liberty and neck to come here for it.”
“Oh, so he wants money from you?”
“He does. I see no reason to deny the truth. My nephew came here to ask me for five hundred pounds. He wants that amount to pay seamen’s wages and provision the boat for her cruise to the South Seas. If he killed the girl, and sold the pearls for the amount you say, he would not require more.”
“But he paid away the proceeds of the pearls for his share in the Dayspring.”
“He could have purchased a share for less than two thousand. The whole boat could be bought for three. She is of no great tonnage.”
Chard looked puzzled. Certainly there was reason in what Carwell said, and Finland’s behaviour was most inconsistent.
“I can’t understand your nephew, Mr. Carwell,” said the inspector. “If he is innocent, why does he not prove his innocence?”
“He will, if you give him a chance.”
“I have given him every chance,” said Chard, nettled by this imputation cast on his fair dealing. “He refuses to give any explanation. Moreover, if he can exonerate himself, he will have an opportunity of doing so to-morrow morning at Poldew, when he is brought before the magistrate.”
“Can I see him now?”
“Certainly. Slade will take you to him. Try and persuade him to tell the truth. If he goes on as he is doing now, he will be committed for trial, and bail will be refused. The crime with which he is charged is serious, remember.”
“Jack has committed no crime,” said Carwell, hotly. “Let me see him.”
Hardly had the old man left the office with Slade when the door was pushed open, and Captain Jacob danced in. The little man was in a furious rage, and his language, was worthy of the occasion. He swore at Chard for quite two minutes without repeating himself, and it was only when he paused for want of breath that the inspector managed to get in a word.
“Come, come,” he said, bristling with official dignity, “we can’t have this sort of thing here. You must not behave in this way.”
“Oh, I mustn’t, mustn’t I?” screeched Shackel, shaking his fist. “Why, you son of a gun, ain’t you run in my mate? How d’ye think I’m going to light out for the Islands without Finland?”
“You’ll light out—as you call it—all alone, if Finland can’t prove his innocence of this murder.”
“Murder! Great Cæsar! he didn’t kill the gal!”
“Oh yes, he did, and you know it! See here”—Chard caught the excited man by the arm—“you tried to blackmail Mr. Johnson by stating that he sold these pearls. Now, you knew quite well that Finland sold ‘em. What do you mean by this game?”
“You mind your own business, and I’ll run my own circus,” snarled Jacob.
“Your blackmailing is my business,” said Chard, “and you don’t go out of here until you explain yourself.”
“Shan’t explain anything.”
“Yes, you will. This letter of Finland’s, for instance.”
Chard spread out the cypher on the table, and Jacob pounced on it like a hawk. He ran a dirty finger along the mystic line, then turned to the inspector with an injured air. “What’s all this bally rot?” he asked. “I don’t know. Looks like Chinese, I guess.”
“But Finland wrote it for you to read,” said Chard, stupefied by this unexpected ignorance.
“Then why the tarnation couldn’t he write in English?” snapped the captain. “I can’t read hen scratches.”
The inspector looked glum. He could not say whether Jacob spoke truly or falsely. It was possible that Finland might be playing a trick and jesting with the dignity of the law. On the other hand, it seemed incredible that one in so serious a position should act in such a way. Chard looked hard at the sallow face of the skipper. Apparently he was speaking the truth. His face was set like a mask. Then a new idea struck Mr. Inspector.
“If you can’t read it, some one on board your ship can!” he declared.
“Well, I should smile. D’ye think we carry a university on board?”
“But if Finland had not meant this letter to be read he would not have written it. You know this cypher. Don’t lie!”
“I’ll knock your head off if you give me the lie,” retorted Shackel. “Let me see Finland, and I’ll ask him myself what the dickens he means by playing low down on the old man.”
“No, you won’t see him,” said the inspector, sharply. “For all I know, the sight of this cypher may be a signal to bring you together. You may wish to gain instructions from Finland regarding the removal of evidence.”
“Me take instructions!” bawled the skipper; “why, cuss you, ain’t I a quarter-deck astride. It ‘ud be a dandy fine thing for Captain Jacob to obey orders of any second-rate, squawking, swivel-eyed son of a rum-puncheon. Here, gimme that letter and I’ll git.”
Chard snatched the cypher off the table and put it into his pocket. “No,” said he; “if you can’t read it, it isn’t meant for you.”
“Stealing my property now. Lord! I’d like to give you a dozen at the gangway.”
“And I’d like to put you in gaol, you blackmailing scoundrel!” cried Chard, hotly; then he became aware it was beneath him to bandy words with this abusive sailor, and resumed his former dignified tone. “Come, come, this will not do,” he cried; “you must come to Poldew to-morrow morning and give evidence about your mate and those pearls.”
“I can’t; and what’s more, I shan’t.”
“Oh yes, I think you can! Since you tried to blackmail Mr. Johnson, you know quite well that Finland sold the pearls; I dare say you know how he got them. For all I know, you may even be an accessory after the fact in this murder. I’ll have you watched, mind; so you’d better turn up at Poldew to-morrow.”
“Oh, I’ll turn up, never you fear!” growled Jacob, in a surly manner. “My log-book’s all right, I guess. I don’t want no land-shark to square me. And let me tell you,” cried Jacob, furiously, “if you send any more blamed Sheeny cusses to board my ship, I’ll chuck ‘em over—as I did the last ‘un.”
“Oh,” said Chard, laughing, “so Mr. Moss has been on board your boat, has he?”
“For two minutes he was, then I slung him overside to wash. Wanted to put an execution on my barky, the Jerusalem hound.”
“He’ll have the law of you for that,” said the inspector, turning to his papers. “Clear out now, my man, and report yourself at Poldew to-morrow, or it will be the worse for you.”
Captain Shackel backed towards the door with an evil grin. “I’ll be there, you bet,” he snapped, “and you’ll have a holy time with me, I can tell you. I’ve seen a better man than you made out of mud, I have.”
By this time Chard’s patience was quite exhausted. He caught Jacob in his arms and dropped him outside the door. Then, instructing a constable to keep an eye on him, he re-entered his office. This was the second time the little sea captain’s dignity had suffered reversal. He anathematized Chard with horrible fluency. But the inspector was well used to such flowers of speech, and they affected him but little.
Carwell returned to tell of failure. His nephew had been all that was civil and grateful to him, but he refused altogether to make him his confidant. The farmer had begged and commanded, and threatened, but without success. Jack gave him clearly to understand that he had his own way of conducting his own affairs, and that way he intended to pursue. He was not to be drawn at all. So it was that, heavy-hearted and disappointed, Carwell was obliged to leave the lad. After reporting his failure to Chard, he went home in a state of depression. Half an hour later the inspector left Grimleigh with his prisoner, and drove over to Poldew. In truth it had been an exciting day.
For Poldew, too, Johnson set out early next morning on foot. He was particularly anxious to be present when Finland was brought before the magistrate. He still believed in Jack’s innocence, but for the life of him he could not understand his reticence. He stepped out briskly into the cool fresh air, his mind full of the case. He had not gone far before he met Pharaoh Lee. He thought of Slade’s theory, and determined to say a word or two to the gipsy.
“Good morning, Lee. I’m glad to meet you,” he said gravely. “I particularly wish to speak to you—about Zara.”
“Have you news of her, rye?”
“No; but I have been talking to Slade, the policeman, about her.”
“Ah, he knows something for sure. Is she with him? Is he her husband? Was it he took her away from me? Speak, rye, speak.”
Johnson shook his head. “Slade is married to another woman,” he said slowly; “but he thinks that Zara was in love with a man named Jack Finland.”
“What, rye? With the Gentile who killed your lady? I have heard talk of him.”
“We are not yet able to say if Finland killed my ward, Lee. We have no right, because he stands accused of such a crime, to judge him guilty of it until he has had a fair chance of proving his innocence. He is to be examined at Poldew to-day; in fact, I am now on my way there to be present at his examination. Whether Slade has changed his mind in the mean while, I cannot say; but a day or two back he suspected Zara of this murder!”
“I’ll wring his neck for him if he dares to say that,” cried Pharaoh in his wrath. “Job! how does he make it out?”
“Oh, he has evidence to go upon, you may depend.” Then the minister related to him Slade’s discovery of the ear-ring, and the deductions he had drawn from it. He mentioned, too, that Finland had sold the pearls. “Now, it would seem,” continued Johnson, “that Zara, on the evidence of the ear-ring, killed Bithiah out of jealousy, robbed her dead body of the pearls, and gave them to Finland to dispose of in London. For all we know, he may have returned here to take Zara off to the South Seas, in the schooner which he bought with the money.”
“Do you believe this, rye?”
“No, frankly, I don’t. I believe that the ear-ring belonged to Miss Arnott, and that she lost it during her quarrel with Bithiah. It was probably dropped in the field by the poor girl herself when she struggled with her assailant. As to Finland, notwithstanding his disposal of the pearls, I cannot make up my mind to believe him guilty of murder.”
“Who knows, rye? A man will do much for a woman’s sake. If this sailor loved Zara—”
“He did not. He loved Bithiah!”
Pharaoh deliberated for a moment. “I will go with you to Poldew, rye,” he said. “It is necessary that I should hear the truth.”
“So be it, Lee; let us hope that is what we shall hear.”
They continued their way in silence; neither was inclined to speak.
It was late when they arrived, and the court house was already crowded. Johnson’s garb and the knowledge of his connection with the dead girl obtained him entrance, and Lee pushing close after him, they managed to secure a very good position both for seeing and hearing. Jack was already under examination before the magistrate, an elderly gentleman with a professionally bland manner. The prisoner appeared cool and composed. He was apparently not the least perturbed at the position in which he found himself. Many of the Grimleigh folk were present, amongst them Carwell and Korah Brand. Everybody was ready for an exciting morning. As it came about, they had cause for no small measure of excitement, though hardly in the direction they had anticipated.
“I am not guilty of this murder,” said Finland in a clear voice, “and I will prove my innocence.”
As he spoke there was a commotion at the lower end of the court. A man and a woman pushed through the crowd and placed themselves in full view of the assembly. The man was Captain Jacob; the woman, a dark-skinned girl in a faded yellow dress with a tartan shawl. Lee uttered a cry.
“Zara!” he said, as he caught sight of the dress; “it is Zara!”
But he was wrong. It was not Zara, it was Tera!
“Who is this?” asked the magistrate, amazed at the commotion. The Grimleigh people, recognizing Tera, were talking loudly and excitedly amongst themselves.
A babel of voices rose in answer to the question; but the usher of the court having proclaimed silence. Captain Jacob took upon himself to step forward.
“This, sir,” said he, with his nasal drawl, “is the young gal Tera, or Bithiah, who was supposed to have been scragged.”
“What does the man mean?” demanded the Bench. “How dare you interrupt the court, man?”
“Mean?” interposed the accused. “Well, I guess he means that I’m here to answer to the charge of murdering a girl who’s not dead. This is Tera—the young lady herself, your worship!”
“Dear me! dear me!” said the magistrate, fretfully—he was a little man, most careful of the dignity of his position—“all this is very irregular, not to say unseemly. Mr. Inspector, perhaps you can enlighten us?”
Chard rose, and cast no very friendly glance towards Jacob, whom he strongly suspected of having contrived this dramatic master-stroke.
“The girl is Tera, I believe; usually called Bithiah, your worship. What was thought to be her body was found in a cornfield at Grimleigh, as set forth in the charge. It now seems that there has been some mistake as to identity. This is the girl herself, your worship.”
“And I am innocent!” finished Jack.
“Silence in the court,” roared the usher, as the crowd manifested signs of giving vent to their feelings.
“I am to understand, then, that this young woman is the supposed victim of this murder,” said Mr. Benker, in his most pompous tones. “It is really most extraordinary. I don’t know that I have ever heard of anything more so. There is some one here, I presume, prepared and competent to swear to her identity?”
“Her guardian is in court, your worship.”
“Who is her guardian?”
“The Reverend Mr. Johnson, your worship.”
“Let Mr. Johnson be called and sworn.”
In response to the clerk’s call, the minister stepped up to the box. He looked white and haggard, and seemed to be suffering acutely. Hitherto he had schooled himself to endure the loss of Tera. Now she was here in the flesh, and likely to become the wife of the man who stood there accused of having murdered her. The revulsion of feeling was terrible, and, despite himself, he felt a very demon of jealousy awake within his breast. With an effort he controlled his emotion, and deposed that Tera was his ward, and that it was she who stood before them now.
The magistrate decided that his evidence was sufficient to warrant the accused’s discharge on the score of murder; “but,” he added, glancing at the charge-sheet, and then frowning down on the applause which once again showed signs of ebullience, “there is the charge of robbery from the body. I think we must have some evidence upon that. I should like to know, too,” he added, looking at Tera, “as you were not the woman who was killed, who she is; and how such a very serious mistake has come about. Perhaps you can help us, my girl.”
These remarks were addressed in part to Tera, and in part to Mr. Benker’s confidential clerk, from whom he was invariably accustomed to take his cue. A short discussion between them sotto voce ended in the magistrate’s giving instructions for Tera to be sworn.
Up to this time Tera had not spoken. With her eyes fixed on Jack, she had remained standing by Captain Shackel.
She now lifted her eyes to the magistrate, and proceeded to reply to the question he had addressed to her.
“Great Chief,” she said sadly (there was a slight elevation of the magistrate’s eyebrows as she said the words), “the one who is dead is Zara!”
“Zara?” repeated Mr. Benker, puzzled. Again he turned to his clerk.
Pharaoh, who had been standing quietly by the minister, gave a gasp and sprang forward.
“You killed her—devil-woman that you are!” he hissed savagely.
“I did not kill her,” continued Tera, with dignity, perfectly heedless of the irregularity of such intrusion. “Alas! why should I slay one so kind to me?”
“You wear her clothes; I saw that as you came in,” went on Lee.
“Yes, I wear her clothes; but these she gave to me for one of my pearls.”
“Silence in the court,” from the usher.
“If the decorum of this court is not more properly observed I shall clear it,” said the magistrate, with all the impressiveness he could muster. “Understand, please, my girl, that I cannot have interruptions of this kind. You will proceed with what you have to say unaided, if you please.”
Tera was looking calmly round at the crowd before her. Her eyes fell on the white face of her guardian, and then on Pharaoh. He, too, seemed to be labouring under great stress of emotion. A reporter at the solicitors’ table was intent upon his notes, delighted, no doubt, at the turn events had taken. No mere chronicle of legal jargon this; but a dramatic tale set forth by the principal witness herself—a pretty girl—the very “stuff” he knew his editor would revel in.
With a glance, first at Jack, and then at her guardian again, Tera began—
“I am the daughter of Buli, the High Chief of Koiau. Mr. Johnson brought me to this country by my father’s wish, that I might, with its good people, become civilized, and take back with me to my land the fruits of civilization. I had pearls—which Buli gave to me that I might buy goods for my people when I returned. I lived with Mr. Johnson after I had finished my education. I wished to marry Jack, but my guardian would not let me. He said that Jack was not a good man. He told me that Buli had sent Misi Brand to take me home, and that I must go with him. I was afraid I should be parted from Jack, and never see him again. That was the reason I ran away. On the night I left I took my pearls from the drawer in Mr. Johnson’s desk. He had left his keys behind him, and I had no difficulty in getting them. The pearls were mine, so I did not think there was any harm in taking them. I left the house with the intention of walking to Poldew, and taking the train to London. I was going to see Captain Shackel, in whose ship I had come to England.”
“Did you know his address?” asked the magistrate, who was now following the recital with much interest.
“Oh yes, sir! I knew his address. He had written me a letter shortly before I left, stating that he had come back from the South Seas and was in London. I determined to go to him, and afterwards send for Jack. Then we could go away together to Koiau. I was sorry to leave Mr. Johnson, who had been good to me; but I was afraid he would make me go with Misi Brand, and part me from Jack.”
“Why did you not tell any one where you were going?” asked Mr. Benker, “or at least leave a note behind you explaining your absence?”
“I was afraid,” said Tera, simply; “I did not wish to be followed and given to Misi Brand. I left the house when Mr. Johnson was away, and walked up to Farmer Carwell’s field on my way to Poldew. There I met with a girl very like myself. She was a gipsy.”
“Zara!” said Lee, with a sigh, but not loud enough to call for rebuke.
“She told me her name was Zara, and wanted to tell my fortune,” resumed Tera. “Then I thought if I could change clothes with her I might escape the more easily from my guardian and Misi Brand. At first, Zara refused to change clothes, but I promised to give her one of my pearls if she would. Then she consented. We went behind a hedge and changed clothes. I gave her the pearl, and we parted. I never saw her again.”
“In which direction did she go?” asked the magistrate, to whom Chard had sent up a note.
“Towards Grimleigh, by the road I had come.”
“Did she say why she was going to Grimleigh?”
“Yes; she said she was seeking her husband.”
“And his name—his name!” shouted Pharaoh, unable longer to keep silence.
“If you interrupt, I shall commit you for contempt of court,” said the magistrate, angrily. “How dare you raise your voice here?”
“I do not know his name,” continued the witness, when Pharaoh had been suppressed. “Zara never told me; we were only together for twenty minutes.”
“Did you see any one about?”
“No; no one.”
“Do you know who murdered this gipsy girl?”
“No, sir,” said Tera, very earnestly. “How was I to know that she went to meet her death?”
“Where did you go then—to Poldew?”
“No; as I had changed my clothes, I thought it best to avoid Poldew. I walked to the station beyond, and caught the train there. On arriving in London, I went to Captain Jacob, and told him what I had done. He promised to assist me if I would befriend him with my father, Buli, when we returned to Koiau. I consented, and he hid me in the house where his sister lived. I waited in London for some time, until I thought Mr. Johnson would have given up looking for me. Then I asked Captain Jacob to write for Jack. When he came up, the captain brought him to me, and Jack agreed that we should all go back to Koiau. He and Captain Shackel were both anxious to buy a schooner to return in, and to use for trading round the islands. I agreed that he should take my pearls and sell them for that purpose. He got two thousand pounds for them, although they were worth three—but he could not get more. With this money, and Captain Jacob’s savings, they together bought the Dayspring. That took all the money, except such small sum as was necessary to man the ship and bring her round here. Jack’s object in coming to Grimleigh was to get a sum of money from his uncle, so that we could procure some more sailors, and proper provisions for the voyage, I did not want to come, because I was afraid that Mr. Johnson would get hold of me, and take me away from Jack. But Captain Shackel and Jack arranged that I should stay on board the schooner until they came ashore and got the money; and then I could sail away to Koiau without any one being the wiser. I heard about the murder, but I was frightened to come forward. I knew, of course, that it was Zara who had been killed. Then Jack was arrested, and Captain Shackel told me that he wished me to come and show myself; which I have done,” finished Tera, with a glance round the court.
“Ah!” whispered Chard to Jacob, in an angry tone, “so you could read that cypher?”
“You bet,” replied Shackel, softly, with a wink; “read it the moment you clapped it on the table. Jack taught it to me; and mighty useful it’s been. No, there ain’t no fault to find with the cypher.”
Here the whispering attracted the attention of the magistrate. He eyed both the inspector and Jacob severely, but proceeded with the case without further rebuke.
“As this girl was the owner of the pearls,” he said, “she had, of course, a perfect right to give them to the accused. As she is here, there is obviously no case of murder. Therefore, on both charges, the accused is discharged. But I feel I must say a few words about this case.”
Whereupon, Mr. Benker delivered a lecture upon Tera’s wickedness in causing so much trouble by not communicating with her guardian. At this, Tera, afraid of the great chief, as Mr. Benker was in her eyes, began to weep. She upset the magistrate, and upset his dignity. He hastily discharged the prisoner, and ordered the court to be cleared.
When Johnson came out, he looked very grave. He walked up to the girl.
“Bithiah,” he said reproachfully, “you have not treated me well.”
“I am not Bithiah,” replied Tera, her eyes sparkling. “I will call myself by the name Buli gave me. I am sorry if you think I have treated you badly, but it was your own fault. You need not reproach me, Mr. Johnson,” she said in lower tones; “I spared you, in my story!”
The minister winced. “I thank you for that. I suppose I have no right to complain,” he said bitterly. “You still intend to marry Finland?”
“Of course she does,” cried Jack, taking Tera’s arm. “Do you think I’m going to let you take her from me now?”
“I have not the power to do so,” rejoined the preacher; “but Brother Brand will certainly demand that Tera be given back to him. He has authority from Buli to take charge of her.”
“I do not recognize it,” cried Tera, fiercely. “I refuse to go with him.”
“If Brother Brand comes my way, I’ll knock his head off,” said Jack, clenching his fist. “Come along, Tera. Let us go back to the schooner.”
“Wait,” said Carwell, coming up to them. “I am prepared to take Tera under my roof until you are married.”
“I think it would be better,” put in Johnson, in a low voice.
“Yes, and have Brand after her!” said Jack.
“No, I promise you that shall not be. She will be safe with us until she leaves as your wife. Come, Jack, you had better agree.”
“Will you give me that five hundred?” asked Finland.
“We will talk of that later, nephew. In the mean time, is Tera to come with us? If you are wise you—”
“Will you go, Tera?”
“Yes,” replied the girl, leaving Jack’s arm for that of his uncle. “I shall be quite safe with Mr. Carwell. I shall marry no one but you, Jack.”
Johnson could stand it no longer. Turning on his heel, without a word he walked away. He still loved the girl, and he realized that she was lost to him for ever. In the distance he espied a fellow-sufferer in the person of Pharaoh Lee. He, too, had lost the girl he loved, and in a more cruel way. Johnson hastened up to him and touched him on the shoulder.
“What are you thinking of, Lee?” he asked, with a wretched smile.
“I am thinking how to find out Zara’s husband, and hang him.”
“Yes,” said Lee, savagely. “She was killed by her husband.”
The farmhouse of Mr. Carwell was a substantial brick building, surrounded by barns and yards, and flanked by five or six hayricks, the whole being girdled by elm-trees. Their foliage now was of a mixed yellow and red as the year drew to winter. On all sides stretched the stubble fields, tawny in hue, save those which, having already been ploughed, presented patches of dark red earth. Sleek cows wandered in some meadows, horses grazed in others, pigs and fowl shared the farmyard, rooting and scratching amid the straw, pigeons whirled aloft in the cold blue of the sky, or cooed round the eaves of the thatched stable. The homestead wore an air of comfort and peace, in keeping with the quiet religious spirit of its owner. In recognition of the plenty which filled its walls, Carwell had written over the door the Hebrew word, “Bethdagon,” which signifies the “House of corn.”
In this Goshen Rachel ruled supreme. Her mother had passed away these many years, and she held the keys of the household. Demure, in a grey gown and close cap, lightfooted and ever watchful, she moved like a Puritan fairy in the home. The girl was a born housekeeper, and in her little kingdom affairs were conducted with a wonderful and rare combination of economy and cheerfulness. Carwell knew that some day she would marry—at present circumstances pointed to Herbert Mayne—and he often wondered how he would be able to manage without his clever, bright-eyed Rachel. Her departure would be a loss not easy to replace. Household blessings like this maiden do not grow on every bush.
But Rachel was not bright-eyed on this particular day. She was sorely afraid lest her cousin Jack should be committed for trial on a charge of murder. She was very fond of Jack, and although she disapproved of his harum-scarum sailorly ways, she could not believe him guilty of so terrible a crime. As she attended to her household duties, her heart was heavy within her, and several times she went to the door in the hope of seeing her father returning with news. But for Carwell’s express wish, she would have gone to the court herself.
At last, shortly before the mid-day meal, she caught sight of the old-fashioned trap turning in by the distant gate. She saw that it contained three people, and ran to meet it, in the hope that Jack having been acquitted, her father was bringing him home. As the vehicle came nearer, Rachel made out one of the trio to be a woman. She wondered who this third person could be. She was not left long in doubt.
“Here, Rachel, lass,” called out the farmer, jovially, “your cousin is a free man again; and here is a lady to see you.”
“Bithiah!” gasped Rachel, turning white. She was too much startled to express her amazement.
“Ioé,” said the girl, jumping down and throwing her arms round Rachel’s neck; “but not Bithiah any more. I am Tera of Koiau. Call me so.”
“You are not dead!”
“Dead!” cried Jack, with a joyful laugh, “not she! Tera’s still flesh and blood, and as pretty as ever. Don’t look so scared, Cousin Rachel. She’s no ghost.”
“You mustn’t faint, lass,” said Carwell, with rough good nature. “Tera is here, to stay until she marries Jack. Take her into the house, and set her at the table. She’ll eat well, I warrant,” and the farmer led away the horse with a jolly laugh.
“What does it all mean?” asked Rachel, still astonished. She was not a weak girl, else she would have fainted at the sudden re-appearance of Tera.
“It’s a long story,” cried Finland. “Tera will tell it to you.”
Rachel turned and kissed her cousin. “Oh, Jack, I’m so glad you are free. I thought they would— Oh, never mind; what does it all matter now? But as Tera is alive, who is the dead girl we buried?”
“A gipsy called Zara.”
“And who killed her?”
“No one knows. That’s a new job for Chard. Come, Rachel, take us inside, I’m as hungry as a beach-comber. And Tera looks as though she could eat a bit, too.”
“Come in, dear,” said Rachel, drawing Tera towards the house; “I am simply dying to hear what all this means.”
Shortly afterwards, in accordance with the manner of the sex, the two girls retired to Rachel’s room to exchange confidences. Jack was left alone, and stood on the front door-step, whistling. He was in the highest spirits, and no wonder. Was he not acquitted of a dangerous charge, engaged to marry Tera with the full consent of his uncle, part owner of a ship after his own heart, and shortly sailing for the South Seas, which he loved far more than his native land? The future was bright and assured, and Finland, although not as a rule devotionally inclined, breathed a prayer of thankfulness for his good fortune. There was but one thing doubtful in his mind. Would his uncle give him the money he required? As he debated the question, Farmer Carwell came round the corner of the house, ready for dinner. Jack, who was prompt in all his actions, broached the subject there and then.
“Uncle,” he said, as the old man took a seat in his armchair, “about this five hundred—can you let me have it?”
Carwell was not a mean man, but he was accustomed always to approach with due caution anything in the nature of a financial transaction; therefore he did not open his heart and hand so readily as Jack had expected.
“That requires some consideration, my lad,” he said after a pause; “money is harder to get than to give.”
“You have surely had plenty of time to consider the matter, uncle?—because, I do not ask you to give me the money, but to lend it to me. I’ll pay it back with interest—the loan will be as good a thing for you as for me.”
“H’m. You see, you offer no security.”
“Isn’t my word enough security?” cried Jack, flushing. “I am your own sister’s son; it is not likely I would swindle you.”
“Softly, my lad. I’m not accusing you of dishonesty; but I never stretch out my hand farther than I can draw it back. You want five hundred pounds; for use in connection with your ship, isn’t it?”
“Yes; the purchase of her has taken all the money I got for the pearls, and all the skipper’s savings to boot. We want more men; we can easily get them at Grimleigh. She must be provisioned, too, and that takes a lot of cash. Then a hundred or so in hand for trading purposes when we reach the South Seas. I can’t make bricks without straw.”
“What sort of trading will you do?”
“Oh, copra, and blackbirding,” replied Finland, carelessly.
“I’m a plain country farmer,” said Carwell, smiling, “and I don’t understand these terms you bring from your new world. What is copra?”
“The dried kernel of the cocoa-nut. It is used for oil-making, and fetches a good price, especially if the Kanakas don’t water it.”
“And blackbirding, what is that?”
Jack laughed and looked queerly at the old man. It was not easy for him to answer this question without offending his uncle’s prejudices. However, he skirted round it, and got out of danger as best he could.
“Blackbirding,” he said cautiously—“well, you see, we sail for the Solomons or the New Hebrides, and pick up natives to work on the plantations on the more civilized islands. They are well looked after and get good pay; so after a few years they go back to their own land set up for life.”
“Do the missionaries approve of this system?”
“Oh yes. It brings savages from out-of-the-way islands into the circle of Christianity, and then they can spread the Gospel on their own account.”
“They are not slaves, these natives?—they are paid?”
“Paid in what we call trade,” replied Jack. “They hire themselves out for three years as a rule, and when their service is ended we take them back again, with the value of what they have earned in goods. Oh, it’s square enough. The Australian Government appoints agents to see that all is above board.”
“Does it pay?”
“You bet, uncle—pays well. Let me have that five hundred, and I’ll soon give it to you again.”
“I must take a week to think over it,” said Carwell, still unconvinced.
Finland bit his lip, and very nearly committed the indiscretion of rapping out a nautical oath. But as, in that religious household, such language would at once have put an end to all chances of his getting the money, he was wise enough to restrain himself.
Shortly after this, Rachel arrived with Tera, in full possession of the whole story. The recital of it had excited her not a little, and during dinner she talked of nothing else.
“I suppose you will go back with Jack to your own island,” she said.
“Yes,” replied Tera, “as soon as we are married by Mr. Johnson.”
“Johnson? Oh! he won’t marry us,” said Jack, laughing. “I don’t see how you can expect him to, Tera.”
“He is a minister.”
“He is also a man, my dear,” observed Rachel; “and he is in love with you.”
“Let us trust that our pastor will be sensible,” said Carwell, seriously; “now that his ward has reappeared, he is relieved from a grave danger.”
“Oh, Miss Arnott relieved him of that before,” said Rachel, with a trifle of feminine spite; “indeed, he ought to marry her for all she has done for him.”
“It would be a good thing for Bethgamul,” replied her father, reflectively, “for Miss Arnott is wealthy. If she became the wife of our pastor she could do much good with her money.”
“She is too old to marry my guardian,” said Tera, doubtfully.
“What does her age matter, child? She has a beautiful soul. A minister should not dwell unduly on the outward graces of womanhood.”
Jack looked at Tera’s pretty face and laughed. Undeniably it was her comeliness that had attracted the minister, not her soul. He was about to make a remark to this effect, when the sound of wheels was heard, and the excited accents of a man with a lisp. Carwell went to the door, and found Inspector Chard and Mr. Moss descending from a trap.
“My dear thir,” cried the little Hebrew, running up with outstretched hands, “ith Mithter Finland here? Ith that girl with him? I’ve come about them pearlth.”
“Mr. Moss wants to know if the sale was quite regular,” explained Mr. Chard, as the boy came up to take his horse; “so I brought him here to set his mind at rest.”
“Come in, come in,” said Carwell, hospitably. “Tera and Jack can answer for themselves. Have you had dinner?”
“No; I shall be glad of some.”
“I can’t eat a mouthful until I know about the pearlth,” said Moss, fussing into the house. “Oh, Mr. Finland, here you are. What about the pearlth?”
“Well, what about them?” asked Jack, calmly.
“Ith all right, the thale, ithn’t it? You had a right to thell them?”
“This lady will tell you that I had. The pearls were her property.”
“Mith! mith!” said the Jew, fluttering up to Tera, “did you give the pearlth to Mithter Finland?”
“Yes. I asked him to sell them.”
“They were your own pearlth?”
“My own pearls. I received them from my father, Buli, the High-Chief.” Moss leered and rubbed one fat hand against the other.
“I should like to do bithness with your father, mith. So that thale ith all right?”
“It is all right,” agreed Tera, gravely; “you gave two thousand pounds for the pearls, and they belong to you.”
“Ah!” said the Hebrew, with relief, “that ith tho. Well, mith and mithter Finland, I give you one pieth of advith. Don’t you thell such beautiful pearlth tho cheap again. And now,” he added, trotting towards the dinner-table, “I can eat a morthel.”
While this matter was being settled. Chard was talking to Rachel about the cypher letter, and the cunning way in which Jacob Shackel had bamboozled him.
“The old rascal wanted to make a fine effect in court, of course,” said he, laughing, “for he might as well have told me at the time that the young lady was alive. I wish I had known the cypher myself. I must get Finland to show it to me.”
“I can do that,” answered Rachel, fishing in her pocket for a pencil, “for it was I who taught Jack the cypher. He finds it useful in many ways in business. But as he is going to the South Seas, I can tell it to you. Do you know the game of noughts and crosses and criss-cross, Mr. Chard?”
“What do you mean?” asked the inspector.
“I’ll show you. Here is a piece of paper. Observe now.” And Rachel drew two diagrams, which she proceeded to fill up with letters.
“There is the key to the thing,” she said. “You simply put an angle for each letter, with a dot for the right-hand one. Have you the letter?”
“Here it is. I would not give it to Shackel.”
Rachel read it. “It means, ‘Tell Tera to show up; arrested for her murder—Jack.’ Now, the first word is ‘tell,’ and you write it this way;” and she proceeded to explain. “You see the T is in the top angle of the criss-cross; and as it is the right-hand letter, you must place a dot so.” She placed a dot in the top angle of the diagonal figure. “The e is formed in the right-hand top angle of the noughts. Lastly, the two l’s are in the place under it on the right-hand side. Now look at the whole word, and write the rest of the message yourself.”
Chard took the word “Jack,” and, gradually grasping the idea, wrote it down in the characters.
“By Jove, it’s very neat!” he said admiringly.
“And quite simple,” said Rachel, rising. “Now you’d really better have some dinner, Mr. Chard.”
“Thank you, I will. But this cypher reminds me of the arrow-headed Assyrian letters.”
“Rather more like Hebrew characters,” said Carwell, joining them. “I wonder you did not know of it. Inspector. It is in common use.”
“It hasn’t come my way, then,” laughed Chard, drawing his chair to the table, where already Moss was making up for lost time.
During the meal Zara’s murder was the sole topic. It would seem that the whole case would have to be re-sifted. The old trial had ended in the discovery that Tera had not been murdered at all. The new one would have to start on fresh premises altogether; a fresh motive would, of course, have to be sought.
“She said nothing to you likely to lead to the identification of the assassin?” said the inspector, addressing Tera.
“I don’t know, Mr. Chard. She said her errand was to meet her husband in the neighbourhood; but from the way in which she spoke, I don’t think she expected him to be very well pleased to see her.”
“Did she mention his name?”
“No, she did not.”
“I knew the girl Zara,” said Jack unexpectedly; “she was always about with Slade.”
“Slade?” repeated Chard, drawing his brows together; “indeed, is—”
Before he could finish his speech, Tera, who had been looking idly at the door, started to her feet with an exclamation. With one accord they all followed her gaze, for the expression on her face was one of amazement.
In the doorway stood a tall, dark-skinned man, dressed in a badly fitting suit of clothes. He was staring hard at Tera. She ran forward and seized his hand.
“Tolai!” she cried, and then uttered something in her native tongue. The man smiled, nodded, and bowed himself to the ground. In slavish submission he kissed her feet. He was a Polynesian.
The company gathered under Farmer Carwell’s hospitable roof were naturally amazed at the unexpected appearance of Tera’s countryman. Jack, who, of course, had been in Koiau, recognized him at once as one of the smaller chiefs, and came forward to salute him. So pleased was Tolai at being addressed in his native tongue, that he insisted upon rubbing noses with Finland, much to the amusement of Rachel and her father.
“You good man. You savvy me,” said Tolai, in his broken English. “I glad see you, Jacky. Tera here, she glad see me.”
“I am astonished to see you,” said Tera, frowning somewhat. “What has brought you here?”
“Viara—she sent me all-e-same.”
“My mother?” said the girl, looking at Tolai anxiously. “Why?”
“Too much devil in Koiau,” replied the Polynesian, “no help big chief. Viara, she say you go Misi Johnson. Tolai he no shamed, he go all-e-same, and—dat is—” Here the native’s stock of English gave out, and he slid into a long explanation in his own vernacular.
Both Jack and Tera listened attentively.
“What is he talking about?” asked the inspector, curiously.
Tera explained. It seemed that her uncle Niga had revolted against his brother Buli, and there was trouble in the island. Buli wished his followers to become converts to Christianity, whereas Niga, as the head of the heathen party, desired to drive the missionaries from the island. Viara, the wife of Buli and mother of Tera, had sent Tolai to England to see Johnson, and warn him of the difficulties Tera might expect to meet with on her return. Tolai had embarked on a fruit schooner trading to Sydney, and from that port he had worked his way to London before the mast. Buli had given him Shackel’s address. Arrived there, the captain’s sister, having provided him with money, sent him off to Grimleigh in quest of Johnson. He had been told that Tera, after the trial, had gone on to Carwell’s, and thus he had presented himself at the door.
“But there is something else,” said Jack, when Tera had told all this to the company. “I can see it in the Kanaka’s eye.”
Tera of course agreed with Jack, and began to question Tolai anew. It was soon evident that Finland was right. The man was keeping something back. But in spite of all Tera’s commands he refused to tell it to any one but Mr. Johnson. On learning this, Tera said she would take him to the minister herself, and set out there and then. Chard took the opportunity of putting a few questions to Pharaoh Lee touching his relations with Zara; and Moss, at rest in his mind about the pearls, took his departure from Poldew.
“Bring back the man to stay here,” said Carwell to Tera; “as a native he may find difficulty in getting a bed in Poldew.”
“Thank you, Mr. Carwell, I will.”
When they arrived at Mr. Johnson’s house, the minister was surprised to see Tera, but he was still more surprised at the sight of Tolai. He spoke the native tongue fluently, and Tolai asked to see him alone. So the preacher sent Tera into the kitchen with his mother for company. In half an hour’s time he joined them and gave the Polynesian a good meal. The minister was pale and anxious. It was evident that Tolai’s message had been an alarming one.
“What is the matter?” Tera asked at once.
“Nothing; nothing. I have nothing to tell you,” rejoined Johnson, and he escaped back to the study, leaving Tolai eating.
But Tera was not to be put off in this way. She knew that there was something serious the matter, and, determined to learn what it was, she followed her guardian into the study. As she closed the door, and came forward with a frown on her handsome face, Johnson looked at her apprehensively, and made a gesture of refusal. This Tera disregarded altogether.
“You do not wish to tell me about Tolai,” she said in sharper tones than were usual with her, “but I must know, Misi. It is only fair that I should.”
“I cannot tell you now, Bithiah. Later on I may do so.”
“Is it a message from my mother?”
“Yes, to me. I am not to inform you until I think fit. The time has not yet come.”
“Is the Great Chief dead?”
“Buli? God forbid! No; he is well, and Viara also. Up to the present Niga has not succeeded in destroying our infant church. Tera,” he added earnestly, “do not frown on me, my child. You know I have your welfare at heart. When possible, I will let you know Viara’s message. At present, let me tell you there is nothing that need disquiet you.”
Tera looked at her guardian keenly, and apparently her distrust passed away. “You are a good man, Misi. I place my heart in your hand. And now I wish you to do something for me.”
“What is it?” asked Johnson, resting his aching head on his hand.
“I wish you to marry me to Jack!”
“No, no, I cannot do that. You ask me too much.”
“Misi!” Tera knelt down beside Johnson and seized his hand, which trembled in her grasp. “You must be brave as you are good. I was wrong to run away as I did and give you pain, but I feared you would part me from Jack. I love him, and I cannot love you. We wish to sail next week for the South Seas—for my own island—and we must be married before we go. You are my friend—my guardian; you will surely do me this last kindness.”
Johnson groaned. Curious to say, since Tera had returned, he found that his love was not so strong as it had been. Nevertheless, he felt a pang at giving her to another man. That his should be the hand to make them one was too much to ask. He feared it was beyond his strength. But the perils which he had escaped had rendered him grateful to God for the protection vouchsafed him. He felt that he should exercise some self-denial—make some sacrifice. Therefore, he made up his mind to curb this love which overwhelmed his soul, and since he could not gain Tera for himself, to place her under the protection of a husband who would make her happy and protect her from harm. In Koiau it would be well that Tera should marry a Christian, for with her own influence, and that of her European husband, they might hope to do much for the people.
“I will do what you wish,” he said, in a low voice, “I will marry you to Finland in Bethgamul.”
Tera uttered an exclamation of joy, and kissed the hand she held. He winced at that soft touch. The girl turned to go, but he stopped her before she could reach the door.
“Take Tolai with you,” he said gently.
“Ioé! Mr. Carwell told me to bring him back.”
“Never go anywhere without Tolai.”
“Not even when I go with Jack?”
“Not even then,” said Johnson, decisively. “Wherever you go, Tolai must be by your side. It is Viara’s wish.”
“I will obey. But why this protection, Misi?”
“That you shall know later. At present, be content to learn that Viara wishes you to be attended constantly by Tolai. He was sent to me for that purpose. Now go, my dear. We shall meet again soon.”
When Tera left the room, Johnson felt a strange calm stealing over him. His mad passion seemed to be wearing itself out by its own violence. No longer did he feel despair when Tera left his side, and he hoped that when called upon to fulfil his projected sacrifice he would be able to do it with calmness and dignity. It was with a feeling of relief to him that his malady of the heart was passing away. Soon he would be a free man; would be able to attend to his religious duties as of yore unhindered by the storm and stress of a hopeless love. He would return to his studies, to his old meditative life. But Miss Arnott? As the thought of her entered his mind, Johnson recalled his debts and the burden of gratitude which she had placed on his shoulders. Unless he could discharge that claim, by repaying the money she had lent him—and Johnson knew not where to obtain so large a sum—he feared the discharge would have to take the form of marriage. The idea dismayed him, still it was not so unpalatable to him as it had been.
At this point his meditations were interrupted by the appearance of Mrs. Slade, who was ushered in by his mother. The poor little woman’s black eyes were red with weeping, and she seemed to be greatly agitated. Terror struck at Johnson’s heart; for so many ills had befallen him that he quite expected more to follow. The sight of Mrs. Slade in this tearful condition made him fear she was a messenger of evil.
“What is the matter?” he asked, rising nervously when they were alone.
“Oh, sir,” cried Mrs. Slade, dropping limply into a chair, “I know you ain’t no parson of mine, as I was brought up in the Church of England. But you’re the only parson that I can come to for advice. You are her friend, you know.”
“That Bithiah—Tera—oh, I don’t know what her heathen name is, but she’s a minx if ever there was one.”
“Mrs. Slade, I cannot hear Bithiah spoken of like this. Why do you cry? What have you to urge against her?”
“Jeremiah!” said Mrs. Slade, and began to weep anew.
“Your husband?” said Johnson, beginning to feel impatient—for after all she did not belong to Bethgamul; “what of him?”
“He’s a beast!”
“Did you come here to tell me that? I must confess I take no interest in your domestic affairs, Mrs. Slade.”
The little woman’s eyes began to glitter with ominous fire. “Now don’t you be nasty, sir. It’s all your fault.”
“What is all my fault?”
“Jeremiah’s goings on. Why did you bring that horrid nigger girl, as isn’t respectable, to this place, with her dirty heathen ways? I thought it was Zara Lovell,” lamented Mrs. Slade, “as he was after. But she’s dead, they tell me—killed in mistake for your heathen. But it’s not Zara, it never was her—though I’ve called her all the names I could lay my tongue to.” Mrs. Slade’s voice jumped an octave and she shook with rage. “It’s your Bithiah!”
“What do you mean?” cried the minister, now really angry. “Bithiah is engaged to marry Finland. Do you dare to—”
“Oh, I know my own knowing, sir,” interrupted Mrs. Slade, tossing her head. “A nice wife Mr. Finland will get. She carries on with my Jeremiah. Oh yes, she does! I dare say she ran away first, and he went up to London to meet her.”
“Slade went to London at my request, on my business.”
“I dare say. You’re in the plot, too. You want Jeremiah to run away with that girl. But he shan’t—he shan’t! I’ll pull her hair out!”
Johnson could not forbear a smile. The idea of coupling Tera with the lanky red-haired policeman seemed too absurd. “Really, Mrs. Slade,” he exclaimed, with as much composure as he could command, “you’re quite wrong. Bithiah does not know your— Ah!” the preacher jumped, “what is that?”
Mrs. Slade had stronger nerves, and did not jump, but she also turned towards the window. “It’s one of them dratted gipsies,” said she, in an acidulated voice. “Pharaoh Lee, what do you mean by poking your nose into private business?”
“May I come in, rye?” said he—for it was indeed Pharaoh who stood in the window—Pharaoh, haggard and fierce-looking. “I want to speak to you—and to her.”
“Well, I’m sure,” gasped Jemima; “the impertinence!”
“I am engaged just now, Lee,” said the minister, annoyed at the man’s intrusion; “and may I remind you that in civilized communities visitors usually enter by the door.”
“I’m sorry, rye, but I came in the easiest way I could.” Lee stepped into the room. “I followed this woman up here.”
“Woman yourself, fellow! How dare you?”
“Why did you follow her?” asked the preacher, to prevent a quarrel.
“To ask her about Zara.”
“What do I know of your dirt?” said Mrs. Slade, disdainfully.
“Your husband knows about her, if you don’t,” retorted Pharaoh. “But why do I say your husband? As I live, I believe Slade is the husband of Zara, and you—”
“I’ll scratch your face if you call me names,” shrieked Mrs. Slade. “Jeremiah’s my husband. I have my marriage lines to prove it. I’m a respectable woman; none o’ yer gipsy trash.”
“Your husband was in love with Zara a year ago!”
“That’s a lie,” contradicted the woman. “I thought he was, but he wasn’t. I’ve just found out that it was Mr. Johnson’s nigger girl he was after, and I’ve come up to tell him so. Ay, and she was sweet on him, too!”
“I tell you she was, sir!”
“Hold your tongue,” cried Lee, ferociously. “Slade was in love with Zara. I believe he married her first and you afterwards. I have no doubt he murdered her to conceal that first marriage.”
Johnson uttered an exclamation, and Mrs. Slade grew a trifle pale. “It ain’t true,” she said vehemently; “you know it ain’t. It was this Bithiah girl, not Zara. Why did she give him one of her pearls if it wasn’t? Look here!”
The woman fished a pearl out of a scrap of newspaper and held it up. “I found this in Slade’s box!”
“A pearl?” cried Pharaoh, snatching it; “then this proves his guilt. Tera said to-day in court that she gave a pearl to Zara in exchange for her dress. I believe Slade killed Zara and took this pearl from her dead body!”
While these things were taking place in Mr. Johnson’s study, Tera, with Tolai in attendance, returned to Farmer Carwell’s. As she had promised her guardian to accept his statement as sufficient for the moment, she made no attempt to question Tolai. The conversation was quite impersonal, and dealt generally with island matters. There were friends and relatives to be inquired after: all sorts of things to ask about—the new banana plantations, for instance; if the old priest of Lomangatini was still alive; and what sort of goods Buli was getting from the traders in return for his copra. To all these Tolai replied in the native tongue. In this grey island of the west, these dusky children of the underworld delighted to talk of their tropical home. The girl was sick with nostalgia.
When again would she see the shining spaces of the blue seas, the curve of the white beaches, the lines of brown thatched houses, and the palms bending their graceful heads as the trade-winds hummed in the vault of heaven? Jack and she were going home—yes, to their true home—as soon as he could get the wherewithal from his uncle. But already he had made known to her the difficulty there was in obtaining it; and Tera resolved that if he failed, she would try what her blandishments would do. She was sick with the yearning to fly south to the lands of eternal summer, and it was not by mere want of money she was going to be prevented if she could help it.
“Are you a Christian, Tolai?” asked the girl, as they reached the brow of the hill above Grimleigh: she spoke in their own tongue.
“Yes, I am a Christian. Misi Brand he taught me to pray good.”
“Misi Brand is in this town. Have you seen him?”
“No. I wish to see him, too. Viara likes that Misi; she asked me to speak to him about coming back to Koiau.”
At this moment Tera raised her eyes, to see a tall black figure trudging towards them in the dust. It was mere coincidence that the figure proved to be that of the very man they were speaking of. She uttered an exclamation of surprise, and this attracted the attention of Korah, who was walking with bent head. As soon as he recognized Tera, he came swooping down like a crow, and held his arms wide as though to embrace her.
“My child! my sister!” he cried in English. “I heard of your wondrous resurrection from the dead. I have just been in quest of you at Farmer Car—” Here his eyes fell on the Polynesian. “Tolai!” he cried, with a sudden note of fear in his voice; “it cannot be Tolai!”
“Yes. He comes from Viara,” said Tera; “but speak to him in our own tongue, Misi. He knows little English.”
“Tolai,” repeated Brand, talking native, “what brings you here, Tolai?”
“Buli and Viara they wish Tera to return,” replied the savage. “I come in a big ship for her.”
“Did Viara give you a message for me?”
“No. She told me nothing but that you come back to Koiau.”
Brand looked at once relieved and disappointed. “What of Niga?” he said, with a glance at Tera.
“Niga fights against the big chief, Misi. Niga is a bad man.”
“We must convert him,” murmured Brand, rather to himself than to Tolai. “How can we expect a worshipper of blood-stained idols to be godly?” He looked at the dark-skinned native again, and rather uneasily. “I will speak with you again, Tolai,” he said, with a gesture of dismissal. Then turning to Tera, “How glad I am to see you are still alive, my child!”
“I am well, Misi,” replied Tera, with a toss of her dainty head, “and I am happy. I go soon to Koiau, and Jack with me.”
Brand shook his head. “You must not marry that godless sailor.”
“I marry Jack!” said Tera, her nostrils dilating; “he is a good man and beautiful. You have no right to speak to me so.”
“Let me remind you, child, that I am your guardian.”
“Mr. Johnson is my guardian!”
“He was; but your father, Buli, sent me to England to take charge of you. Therefore, I am your guardian now, and I intend to take you with me back to Koiau on the first ship I can get.”
“No,” said Tera, loudly, “you shall not. I will not go with you. Soon I am to marry Jack in Bethgamul. Mr. Johnson himself will marry us. Then we shall sail away in the Dayspring from Grimleigh.”
“You shall not do that if I can help it,” said Brand, sternly.
Tera laughed and snapped her fingers. “I care not,” she said. “It was from you and Mr. Johnson I ran away. Now you can do nothing; for Mr. Johnson says I am to marry Jack, and Mr. Carwell is quite pleased. If you come between us, Jack will kill you. You talk big! Poof!”
Brand frowned. He knew very well that he had no real power, and, as Tera phrased it, “talked big.” Finland was a determined young fellow, and as he had Johnson and Carwell on his side, it would be difficult to prevent his marrying Tera, in spite of all protest. Then, if Brand returned to Koiau, where was his interest? There was nothing to be gained by stern measures. Tera’s position was too strong to be shaken; therefore, Korah, with a smile that sat ill on his rugged face, altered his tone considerably.
“You are a wilful girl, Bithiah, and I suppose you must have your way; but what will Buli say to your taking a white husband?”
“The great chief will be pleased,” replied Tera, seriously. “He loves the haolis” (white men), “and with Jack I can do great things in Koiau.”
“Let us hope so, child. So Captain Shackel is taking his schooner to the island. I will ask him for a passage.”
“Oh yes, Misi. Let us all go. Tolai, Jack, you, and I.”
“I forgot Tolai for the moment,” said Brand, laying his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Bithiah, you can return to Brother Carwell. Rachel is expecting you. Tolai, come with me.”
“No, Misi. Me go with Tera.”
“You can return later. She does not require you now. We are in England, you must remember—she is perfectly safe alone.”
“I no savvy that, all e-same, Misi.”
Korah looked sharply at Tolai, seeing that there was some reason for this obstinacy. But the Polynesian’s face was blank of expression; and the missionary dropped the subject.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
“Tolai stays with me at Mr. Carwell’s,” said Tera.
“Brother Carwell is truly hospitable,” said Korah; “well may his house be called ‘Bethdagon.’ Well, I shall see you both soon again. I have many things to say to Tolai about Viara and Buli, but I have no time to talk now. Toefua” (farewell).
With a wave of his hand Brand walked in the direction of Grimleigh, while Tera and her escort pursued their way to Bethdagon.
Here the girl found Jack impatiently waiting for her at the gate. They strolled up the path side by side.
“We need not go into the house yet,” said Finland, rather disgusted. “Mayne is there, making love to Rachel.”
Tera stopped and looked surprised. “Does he love Rachel?”
“I suppose so. He has been hanging after her for the last few months. I suppose it will end in a marriage.”
“I am sorry for that, Jack,” said Tera, resuming her walk. “I do not like Mr. Mayne. Aué! it will be sad if Rachel goes to his house.”
“Why? Mayne isn’t a bad sort of fellow.”
“I don’t like him,” persisted the girl.
“That is a frozen fact; you like a sailor,” said Finland, dismissing the subject with a gay laugh. “Where have you been, Tera?”
“To Mr. Johnson, with Tolai.”
“Has he delivered his message?”
“Ioé! But I do not know what it is.”
“Trouble in Koiau, I guess,” observed Jack, carelessly. “That uncle Niga of yours seems to be raising Cain generally.”
“Niga! He big chief,” grunted Tolai, catching the name.
“Too big for his boots, if he wore ‘em, sonny. But Tera and I will help Buli to put him straight when we get to the seas of the Lina-manu (albatross). I guess I’ll settle down as a Kanaka when I reach Koiau; England’s too dull and grey for me. I’ll become an ‘ofa-manu’ (blood brother) of some one, and take up the chieftainship when Buli passes in his checks. Then we’ll enjoy ourselves, Tera, my girl: ride on the surf boats when the rollers rise high on the reef, walk in the bush, drink Kava, and take the mid-day sleep, which you can’t get here. Oh, we’ll have a high old time, you bet, my lass!”
Tolai could not follow all that Jack said. But every now and then, as he caught a native word familiar to him, he grunted approval. Tera laughed loud for very joy at the picture her lover was painting, and put her arms round his neck.
“With you I shall always be happy,” she whispered; “and let me tell you something, love. Mr. Johnson has promised to marry us at Bethgamul!”
“The deuce he has! Got over his sickness for you, has he?”
“I think so. At least he will marry us, and then we shall sail with Captain Jacob for our dear land.”
“We must get the dollars first, Tera. And the old man won’t part.”
“I can’t get the money from him, Jack. You let me talk to your uncle.”
“As you please. But he won’t part.”
“Oh yes. I will make him.”
“You’re a clever lass if you do. But I don’t see how you intend to go about it.”
“I will make him,” repeated Tera; “that is enough. And now let us go into the house. Tolai is cold, for the sun goes down.”
“Mayne is inside,” said Jack, hanging back, for he was enjoying the hour too much to shorten it.
“I know,” answered Tera, and walked towards the farm. “I want to see Mr. Mayne, and Rachel too.”
She spoke rather mysteriously, and Finland could not catch the drift of her meaning. However, she said nothing, and the three of them entered the house together. Tolai bestowed himself in a corner, where he sat cross-legged on the floor, after the fashion of his tribe, keeping his faithful eyes ever fastened on Tera. Mayne and Rachel were seated near the window, chatting, and the conversation had not been uninteresting, to judge from Rachel’s high colour and bright eyes. Finland guessed that Herbert Mayne had proposed and been accepted. He nudged Tera with a chuckle, but the girl did not respond to his merriment. Indeed, she looked so severely at Herbert when she greeted him that the young man was quite disconcerted. He did not look well, for his face was colourless and his manner uneasy. Yet if Rachel had accepted him—and there was no reason to believe that she had done otherwise—he should surely have been glowing with happiness.
“I am glad to see you again. Miss Bithiah,” said he; “we all mourned you as dead.”
“It was a strange mistake, Mr. Mayne.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t say that. The poor girl who was murdered wore your clothes, and as her body was not found for a month, the face was not recognizable. No one dreamed that the corpse was that of a gipsy girl.”
“Did not you, Mr. Mayne?”
“I! No,” replied Herbert, with frank surprise. “Why should I?”
“You knew this girl at one time,” said Tera, looking keenly at him.
The young man flushed and laughed nervously. “I knew her as one knows those sort of people,” he said. “Last year her tribe camped on the common near my farm, and Zara—that was her name, was it not?”
“Yes,” rejoined Tera, with some irony, “Zara Lovell was her name.”
“Well, Zara came round to my house a good deal, selling things and telling fortunes. I saw her very often; so did Finland, here.”
“Oh, I saw her!” struck in Jack. “A pretty girl she was, with a devil of a temper.”
“Jack,” cried Rachel, in a shocked tone, “how can you!”
“I beg your pardon, cousin. But she had a temper. I shouldn’t have liked to be hitched up ‘longside her in double harness.”
“You mean, I suppose, you would not have liked to marry her. Jack! Jack! what slang you use!”
“I do. Cousin Rachel. I must mend my ways.”
“Zara was married,” said Tera, shortly; “she told me so. I wish now I had asked her about her husband.”
“Why?” asked Mayne, suddenly.
“Because I believe he knows something about this murder.”
“Oh, Tera!” cried Rachel, flushing, “you don’t think her husband killed her. Poor thing!”
“No, I should be sorry to think that. But I dare say he knows who did.”
“I wonder who she married?” said Herbert, reflectively. “Slade, the policeman, was very sweet on her.”
“Oh, he can’t be her husband!” cried Rachel, vigorously; “why, he has been married almost a year. Herbert, surely you don’t think Slade has committed bigamy?”
“I hope not, Rachel. As a policeman he should know the danger of it. Well, interesting as this conversation is, I must be off.” And Herbert rose to his feet with a yawn.
“Won’t you stay to supper, Herbert?” asked Rachel, with a blush.
“No. You have the house full already. But I may look in after and smoke a pipe with the farmer.”
Mayne glanced so significantly at Rachel as he made this remark that Tera felt sure he spoke in the character of an accepted lover. Her belief was strengthened when she saw Rachel go to the door with the young man and return with a heightened colour. Tera drew her dark brows together and seemed displeased. While Rachel set out the supper-table she talked to Jack and Tolai in the most unconcerned manner, but when Rachel was about to go to her bedroom to smarten herself up for the meal, she stopped her.
“I’ll come with you, dear, if I may,” she said, rising. “I’ll leave you. Jack, to talk with Tolai, and wait for Farmer Carwell.”
“Right you are,” said Jack, lighting his pipe. “Come out for a stroll, Tolai. We have lots to talk about.”
Tera drew Rachel into the bedroom and shut the door. Then she looked at her steadily, and kissed her. “Has Mr. Mayne proposed?” she asked.
“Oh, how did you guess?” fluttered Rachel, growing very red. “Yes, dear. He has asked me to be his wife.”
“And have you promised to marry him?”
“Well, I love him very much, Bithiah, and he belongs to our congregation, and he has a nice farm, and is good-looking, and—”
“Ah, I see you said yes.”
“Oh!” Rachel flung her arms round Tera’s neck. “I am so happy.”
“Poor dear!” sighed the native girl; “and I am about to make you wretched.”
Rachel drew back in amazement. “Make me wretched?” she gasped.
“Yes. Your Herbert Mayne is not what you think him.”
“Not what I think him? Why? What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Tera, slowly, “that he has been deceiving you. He has been married already. Zara the gipsy was his wife. I can prove it.”
When Farmer Carwell came home to supper, he found the house in wild commotion. On hearing Tera’s intelligence and proving the truth of it, Rachel fainted away, and had recovered her senses only to go from one fit of hysteria into another. She was as deeply in love with Herbert as a girl of her temperament well could be, and the discovery of his treachery rendered her for the moment quite beside herself with mingled rage and grief. Now that she knew the unhappy Zara had been his wife, she was ready to declare he had murdered the girl. He had grown tired of her, no doubt, as men will of the most affectionate of women, and had cast her off. When she returned to assert her rights and require their marriage to be publicly announced, the man had killed her brutally and in cold blood. All this Rachel shrieked out with amazing vigour, and it was as much as ever Tera could do to keep her in her room.
For quite an hour she raved like a crazy-creature. At the end of that time she seemed worn out; her nervous energy had spent itself, and, completely exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep. Then only was Tera able to leave her. It was necessary she should do so, for Carwell, below, was clamouring impatiently to know what was amiss. Jack, of course, was as much in the dark as the farmer himself, and Tolai, cut off from all knowledge of these strange white people, crouched in a corner trembling. To him, though a very warrior among his own kind, such domestic upheaval was all strange. He knew not what evil it might portend; and he was scared, no doubt, by the horrors of his own imagination.
“Whatever is the matter, lass?” demanded Carwell, anxiously, and a trifle angrily; “is Rachel ill?”
“She is—very ill; but now she sleeps. She will be better soon. But, Mr. Carwell, I have bad news for you.”
“Out with it, then. It won’t improve for the keeping. Is it about Rachel?”
“It does concern Rachel,” replied Tera, in measured tones; “but it concerns also Mr. Mayne.”
“Mayne!” cried Jack, who was listening in bewilderment. “What about Mayne?”
“He is a bad man!”
“A bad man?” echoed Carwell, his ruddy face paling. “How?”
“To-night he asked Rachel to become his wife!”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong in that,” cried the farmer, impatiently. “I saw long ago that he was in love with the girl.”
“He has no right to love her, Mr. Carwell. He is married already.”
“Married!—the scoundrel! Who is he married to?”
“To Zara Lovell.”
“Zara Lovell!” repeated Finland, incredulously, while Carwell sank back in his armchair. “You must be mistaken, Tera; how do you know?”
Tera drew a paper from her pocket and placed it in the farmer’s hands.
“I am not mistaken, as that certificate will prove. Zara, as you know, changed clothes with me, and in her hurry, I suppose, forgot that her certificate of marriage was sewn in the skirt of her dress. I found it when I took off the clothes in London. I intended to restore it to her when I came to Grimleigh, but when I found that she had been murdered I said nothing about it. I thought it better to wait until I saw a fit opportunity. That came to-night, when Rachel told me Mr. Mayne had asked her to marry him. Then I told her of his wickedness, and proved it to her by that paper.”
“Well, if he ain’t a mean white!” said Finland, slowly; “I’d like to boot him round his own farm.”
Farmer Carwell did not speak. With white face and angry eyes he was reading the certificate. It was dated a year or more back, and it set forth that Herbert Mayne, bachelor, and Zara Lovell, spinster, had been at Chesterhope Church made man and wife. Chesterhope was a village some twenty miles from Poldew. Mayne, no doubt in order that attention should not be attracted, had obtained a licence for marriage in that parish. With her tribe, Zara had camped in most of the neighbouring districts. She had no doubt been resident in the parish of Chesterhope for a time more than sufficient to comply with the regulations for a marriage licence. He had been a long while in coming to the point with Rachel—here, it appeared, was good cause for it. But now that Tera had returned—now that he knew that Zara and not she was the victim of the murder, he had lost no time in putting the crowning point to his duplicity.
“Curse him!” said Carwell, crushing up the paper in his hand. He was a good man, an elder of Bethgamul, and he rarely swore. But he knew well the misery Mayne’s base conduct would cause his daughter, and now he did swear freely. Had Herbert been in the room that moment, assuredly the outraged farmer would have treated him to no half-measures.
“Great Cæsar!” said Jack, drawing a long breath, “what a knave! Shouldn’t wonder if he killed the girl!”
“No, no,” cried Tera, sharply. “He is bad enough without our making him out worse. He did not do that.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Carwell, slowly; he was recovering his presence of mind. “The girl told Bithiah that she had returned to meet her husband. Mayne was then courting Rachel, remember, and the sight of his wife would no doubt anger him. It is quite possible he may have made up his mind to put her out of his way.”
“But Zara was strangled by a cord taken from Mr. Johnson’s study,” cried Tera. “How and when could he have come by that?”
“Oh! easy enough,” said Finland. “Mayne was often in that study. It would not be any tough job for him to collar that curtain cord.”
“But where would be his reason? Remember, he did not know that Zara was coming back to Grimleigh,” argued Tera. “She told me she was going to surprise her husband. No, if he did kill Zara, which I very much doubt, it was in a fit of rage he did it.”
“We will question the man himself,” said Carwell, rising heavily from his seat. “My poor Rachel! This is terrible for her. I’ll see this man and wring the truth from him. I’ve a mind to go to him now.”
“There’s no need for that, uncle,” interposed the sailor; “he told Rachel he was coming here to-night after supper. He’ll probably be here in an hour or so. Let’s wait for him. There may as well be as many witnesses as possible to the skunk’s confessions. You come along, uncle, and have some supper; it’s ready, and you’ll be the better for it.”
“I could not eat a mouthful,” muttered Carwell, resuming his seat. “Go you and eat. Jack—you and Bithiah, with that heathen of yours. I’ll go and see Rachel.”
“No, please don’t,” said Tera, anxiously. “She is sleeping beautifully now. You will only make her ill again if you wake her.”
“Poor lass! poor lass!” murmured the farmer. Then he relapsed into a state of silence, indifferent utterly to what was going on around him.
Beckoned to by Tera, the Kanaka, still greatly troubled by this mystery and trouble, crept out of his corner. He seated himself timidly at the table with the other two, and managed to make a good meal, even though the viands placed before him were probably weird and strange to him. Nobody spoke save in an occasional whisper, and the time dragged wearily on. Jack sought solace in his pipe, and Tolai crawled back to his corner. Tera went upstairs to Rachel’s room, to see if she were still asleep. She slept soundly. Tera did not disturb her, but she returned to the sitting-room. As she came down the stairs she heard a cheery whistle from outside; then the tread of rapidly approaching footsteps, and finally a sharp rat-tat at the door. Tera went to open it, and with a smile on his face, Herbert stepped into the room. The lamplight seemed to dazzle him.
“Here I am,” he said, tossing down his cap. “I’m earlier than usual, but I couldn’t keep away any longer.” He did not appear to notice anything was wrong. He approached Farmer Carwell. “Has Rachel not told you, farmer, our news? Where is she?”
Carwell said nothing, but stretching out a huge paw, gripped the man by the shoulder, and drew him towards the table into the bright glare of the lamp. He placed the certificate on the cloth before Mayne’s eyes, and silently pointed to it. Mayne started, and gasped. Something seemed to catch in his throat, and he became inarticulate.
“You scoundrel!” said Carwell, between his teeth. “Do you know that paper? Yet you dare to make love to my child, you—you—you murderer!”
“I—I—I am no—murderer,” faltered Herbert, down whose pallid face the perspiration rolled in great drops. “I did not kill her.”
Carwell shook him fiercely. “Say your wife, you dog, you!”
“I wonder why I don’t slay you as you stand,” cried the farmer, his huge frame towering over the shrinking form of the culprit; “you have ruined my daughter’s life with your lies. I would—” He stopped, and burst into a harsh, contemptuous laugh. “Cur that you are, you are not worth an honest man soiling his hands. Out of my sight with you!” He dashed the man from him violently.
On the floor Herbert lay—a pitiable object, while the farmer stood over him, fighting down a fierce desire to kick him. Jack and Tera looked on in silence. Slowly Herbert gathered himself together, and, staggering to his feet, groped blindly to the far end of the room. He knew that he was detected, and he could neither deny nor excuse his conduct, much less show a fighting front to the man who had a right to call him to account for it. All he wished to do was to get away, out of the house, away from the scene of his disgrace, lest worse should befall. Blindly he felt for his cap, and made to leave.
“Stop!” thundered Carwell. “This girl, Zara, was your wife?”
“Yes,” dropped from Herbert’s lips almost in a whisper.
“Did you kill her so that you could marry Rachel?”
“No, I swear I did not. On my honour—”
“On your what, you skunk?” cried Jack, “Why, you low lubber, you don’t know what the word means!”
“Silence, nephew!” roared Carwell. He turned again to Mayne. “I know not whether you are a Cain or not, vagabond that you are. But mark my word, if you are, you shall swing for it, if I can manage the job. You needn’t try to get away. I’ll be too many for you. I’ll hunt you down. I’ll—”
Herbert cast a terrified glance around. At that moment the noise of wheels and loud voices was heard. He seemed to think the officers of justice were already on his track. With a rush he was at the door. Jack sprang forward to catch him, but Mayne flung open the door, and dashed out into the night—only to fall into the hands of Slade. Back whence he had come the policeman carried him, kicking and struggling. Immediately after them came Mrs. Slade and Pharaoh Lee.
“Now, Mr. Mayne, I have an account to settle with you. Stand still, if you please.”
The wretched man fell back against the wall, limp and despairing. With shrill clamour, Mrs. Slade bounced forward to explain their intrusion to Mr. Carwell. Pharaoh remained standing at the door, his hand behind his back.
“Oh, sir,” wailed the policeman’s wife, “I’m just heartbroken at all this. Tell me if my Jeremiah loves your Bithiah, or she him.”
“I? I love that man?” cried Tera. “Nonsense! Of course I do not. I am engaged to marry Mr. Finland, here.”
“Thank you, miss. Then why did you give Jeremiah one of your pearls?”
“I did not, Mrs. Slade. The only pearl I gave was one to Zara Lovell on the night she changed dresses with me.”
“There! I told yer so, Jemima,” said Slade, laying a heavy hand on Herbert’s shoulder. “And I got the pearl from this man, I was up about the field on the night Zara came back, and I saw her speaking to Mr. Mayne. I knew as there was something between them. I was sure it was her, as I saw ‘er face in the moonlight. At first, miss” (this to Tera), “I thought it was you—as she ‘ad your clothes on. Later on I met Mr. Mayne running down to Grimleigh. I told him as I’d seen him speaking to Zara, and he asked me to say nothing about it lest Miss Carwell should hear of it. I wouldn’t promise nothin’, so to persuade me he gave me a pearl which ‘e said Zara ‘ad just given im.”
“My pearl!” cried Tera.
“Yes, miss, your pearl. I took it home and put it in my box. Jemima ‘ere found it, and would ‘ave it as I got it from you.”
“No, no; I gave it to Zara.”
“There y’are. D’ye believe me now, Jemima?”
“Oh yes, yes,” whimpered the little woman, whose jealousy had brought about this catastrophe. “I believe you, Jeremiah; indeed I do.”
“You are all mad!” shrieked Mayne, haggard and pale. “I know nothing of Zara or any pearl.”
“You do!” thundered Carwell. “You saw Zara on that night; from her you got the pearl you bribed Slade with; you strangled the girl. I believe you killed your wife!”
“His wife!” said Pharaoh, darting forward. “Is he Zara’s husband?”
“Here is the certificate,” replied Jack, handing it to him. “That seems to say so.”
“His wife!” wailed a voice, as Pharaoh read the paper. And at the door stood Rachel with outstretched arms.
“Rachel!” cried the wretched young man; and, in a wild effort to escape her reproaches, he again made for the door. Hardly had he laid his hand on the latch when Pharaoh threw down the certificate and sprang on him. Rachel shrieked and rushed forward as the two men swayed and swung with clenched teeth, but her father caught her in his arms and forced her back into his chair. Mrs. Slade fell on her knees with a whimper, and Jack and the policeman endeavoured to part Mayne and the gipsy. At that moment they saw the glitter of a knife. One flash, and the weapon was driven home. Pharaoh withdrew the knife and tossed it at Rachel’s feet. His victim was prone on the floor, a spout of blood gushing from his breast.
“Take your lover!” he cried, and before the terror-stricken spectators could move, he had opened the door and disappeared.
Ill news travels fast. Slade and his wife brought the tragic tidings to Grimleigh that night, and by morning the whole town was in possession of a distorted version of the facts. The milkman reported his own particular rendering of the affair to Miss Arnott’s servant, who in her turn informed her mistress. Miss Arnott, feeling that the minister should be notified, put on her hat and called on him. She was shown into the dining-room, and found Johnson making a hurried breakfast, preparatory to departing for Bethdagon. Carwell had sent a special messenger to bring him up.
“I know all about it. Miss Arnott,” he said, when the lady entered. “It is very terrible. But I am glad to say that there is every chance of Mr. Mayne’s recovery.”
“I thought he was dying.”
“No. Brother Carwell’s messenger informs me that Lee’s knife pierced no vital part. The man will recover. Let us hope that he will repent of his sins, and lead a new life.”
“Amen to that,” said Miss Arnott, softly; “and the gipsy?”
“He is still at large. It will not be easy for the police to catch Pharaoh, The man knows the country as I know this room.”
“I hope they won’t catch him,” cried Miss Arnott, with a defiant look; “wicked as Lee has been, Mr. Mayne is worse. Pharaoh had great provocation to kill him. ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ Mr. Johnson. If Mr. Mayne murdered this unhappy girl whom he made his wife, it is right that he should suffer.”
“ ‘Vengeance is Mine,’ ” said Johnson, solemnly, “you know the text. Pharaoh had no right to take the law into his own hands.”
“Perhaps not. But Mr. Mayne robbed him of the woman he loved, and no doubt he lost his head for the moment. Love is capable of all things.”
“You are right,” said the minister, bitterly, as he thought of his own sad romance. “God knows we are but weak reeds blown by the wind. But we do not know yet if Mayne is guilty of Zara’s death. I have still to hear the true version from Farmer Carwell.”
“Let me know when you return,” remarked Miss Arnott, rising; then, after a pause, she added, “And all these troubles have arisen from Bithiah coming to stay with you.”
“I am afraid so. Let us hope they will end with her going. Next week I celebrate the ceremony of her marriage with Finland, as they both leave Grimleigh in the Dayspring.”
“Will her departure break your heart?” asked Miss Arnott, sarcastically.
Johnson reddened. “I once thought it would,” he said in a low voice.
“And don’t you feel as you did?”
“No, I do not. That folly is at an end. Before her supposed death she was all in all to me. Now I contemplate her marriage with Finland at least without distress.”
A smile of relief and joy irradiated the face of Miss Arnott. The burden of years seemed to fall from her shoulders, and her eyes brightened like those of a young girl. With a swift motion she gathered her shawl round her graceful figure, and stepped lightly towards the door. “Go on your errand of mercy,” she said in low tones, “and when you return come to me.”
“Miss Arnott! Miss Arnott!” called the minister, nervously; but she was gone, and he could not summon up courage to follow her.
When Johnson was on his road to Bethdagon he thought less of his errand than was consistent with the interest it had for him. The last words of Miss Arnott rang in his ears; the look on her face was constantly before his eyes. He knew well that his confession had inspired her with a new hope, and he did not know exactly what to think of it. His love for Tera had not been transferred to Miss Arnott. Yet the woman had done him a great kindness in the most delicate manner. He was her debtor to a large amount in money, and in gratitude, yet he could see no way save one of repaying her. That way he hesitated to take. He respected her, but he had no love to bestow; and he pursued his journey agitated in his mind as to what he had best do under such untoward circumstances. If Johnson had been a strong man with a well-defined character he would have decided at once and held by his decision; but he was weak-willed, gentle, and loth to give pain. It was a knowledge of this instability that made Miss Arnott so persistent in her determination. The woman knew that in the end she would gain her heart’s desire. The man had an inkling of it too, yet fought and argued and held back in the vain effort to avoid the inevitable. Poor Mr. Johnson! He was good, and lovable, and tender-hearted, but he lacked the strength to be a hero. Yet in his weakness was he not more heroic than many in their strength?
Farmer Carwell was waiting for the minister. He looked much older, for the terrible experiences of the previous night had proved a severe shock to his nerves. Jack, he informed Johnson, had gone to the schooner in answer to a message from Shackel. Tera was looking after the house, so far as she was able in her untrained way, and Rachel was nursing Herbert.
“Nursing Herbert?” repeated Johnson, for this was the last news he expected to hear; “has she forgiven him?”
Carwell did not reply at once. He brought out two chairs, and planted them in a shady corner where the sun was strong. “I don’t know if she has forgiven him,” he said when they were seated; “women are strange in their affections, and Rachel is no exception. Mayne has done her a cruel wrong, and if he were in his usual health and strength I do not think she would let him come near her. But now he is laid low, she will hardly leave his bedside. She would not even let him be removed to his own house. I was unwilling that the scoundrel should stay here, but Rachel insisted, and so I gave way.”
“Is he dying?”
“No, I don’t think he will die; men like Mayne never do meet the reward of their evil deeds. You remember the text of the ‘wicked flourishing like a green bay-tree,’ Brother Johnson. As like as not he will recover—so the doctor says. Then,” added Carwell, with a bitter smile, “I suppose Rachel will marry him.”
“Will you allow her to do so?”
“What can I do to prevent it? She is of age, and can act as best pleases her. I might threaten to disinherit her, but she is so infatuated with the scoundrel that she would not care if she went to him penniless. And he is well off in this world’s goods, you know. Yes, I believe she will marry him, unless Chard proves him guilty of murdering his wife.”
“Do you think he really killed her?” asked Johnson, doubtfully.
“Bithiah says he did not, but I cannot see how she knows. Slade declares that Herbert met Zara on that night and obtained from her the pearl which Bithiah gave her for the clothes. Herbert—so that Rachel might not know of his meeting—bribed Slade with the pearl.”
“Slade should be punished for his act.”
“I think he will be,” replied Carwell. “Mr. Inspector was here to-day, and he intends to report him at headquarters. So that is all Mrs. Slade has gained by her jealousy. It was her discovery of the pearl which led to this. She is satisfied now that he is innocent, and had nothing to do either with Bithiah or Zara; but she has lost him his employment.”
“Slade must have known, that the dead girl was Zara.”
“Yes, I believe he did. For he saw her meet Mayne in Bithiah’s clothes, and recognized her face in the moonlight. The scoundrel accepted the bribe, to hold his tongue; and did so in the face of all the trouble you got into, Brother Johnson.”
“Not only that,” rejoined the minister, resentfully, “but he actually worked against me in order to implicate me in the supposed murder of Bithiah. He tried to make out that I had taken from my study the cord with which the girl was strangled.”
“By the way, who did take the cord?”
“I don’t know. It might have been Mayne. He was frequently in my study.”
“No,” rejoined Carwell, after a moment’s thought, “I do not believe Mayne did so. Bithiah very truly says that if he did kill the girl, he must have done so in a passion. In that case he would hardly have got the cord beforehand for the commission of a crime which at the time never entered his mind. Bad as the man is, I think he is innocent of murder.”
“It could not have been Slade.”
“Certainly not. Slade had no motive to kill the girl. Zara was not married to him, but to Mayne.”
“What about Pharaoh Lee?”
“Oh! he was in the North when Zara was there,” replied Carwell, “and if he were guilty he would hardly have sought the assistance of the Poldew police. No! I can’t think who is the guilty person.”
“Time will show,” said Johnson, rising. “Has Pharaoh been caught yet? I hear the police are after him.”
“They might as well try to catch a flash of lightning,” said Carwell, gloomily. “Lee has had twelve hours’ start of them, and, now he has accomplished his vengeance, I do not think he will be seen in these parts again. I hope he will go free,” added the farmer, unconsciously echoing the wish of Miss Arnott. “After all, he only gave Mayne what he deserved.”
“Brother Carwell, that is not the speech of a Christian.”
“Perhaps not; but it is hard to be a Christian under the circumstances.”
Clearly, Farmer Carwell’s character and temper had not improved under the trouble that had come upon him. Yet Johnson, in spite of his sacred profession, did not feel called upon to reprove the old man over much. To know that his only child loved a proven scoundrel and wished to marry him was provocation indeed. And Rachel, in the face of all she knew, declared her intention of becoming Mayne’s wife when he recovered. She had a thousand excuses for his conduct.
“Men are weak,” said Rachel, when her father tried to reason her out of this infatuation, “and Herbert is no worse than the rest of them. That girl Zara tempted him, and he fell. It was honourable of him to make her his wife. I dare say he need not have done so.”
“Rachel! Rachel! Is it my child who speaks thus?”
“I love Herbert more than my own soul,” answered Rachel, and from this strange perverse attitude she could not be moved.
For the next two or three days Herbert’s life hung as by a thread. The doctor almost gave him up, but in the end he rallied. His own strong constitution and Rachel’s tender nursing prevailed, and he slowly grew stronger. Then he repented, and wept in his weakness; implored Rachel not to leave him, and declared that it was for her sake that he had bribed Slade. Rachel required little persuasion to believe in these protestations, which were perhaps quite sincere. Base as Herbert had proved himself to be, he truly loved her, and, knowing this, she promised to marry him as soon as he could leave his bed. Although Carwell anticipated that her obstinacy would lead to this result, he was in despair at the prospect of its realization.
As the days went by, Inspector Chard made all search for Lee, but failed to find a trace of him. From the moment he ran out into the night the man had not been seen. His tribe knew nothing of him—or said they knew nothing,—and, although the police scoured the country for miles around, no trace of the fugitive could be discovered. Then Chard relaxed his search, and began to pay frequent visits to the farmhouse to make inquiries after Herbert’s health. Rachel scented the danger.
“Why do you ask so often about Herbert?” she demanded one day.
“I wish to know when it will be safe to remove him to Poldew gaol,” said the inspector, frankly.
Rachel was not so astonished at this reply as might have been expected.
“You accuse him of the murder?” said she, scornfully.
“Yes. And I intend to arrest him on suspicion. Mayne had a reason for ridding himself of the girl, and he was the last person to see her alive. And I believe he is guilty of her death. However, that can be proved when he is tried.”
“You intend to arrest him, then?”
“Yes; as soon as the doctor says he can be moved.”
Rachel said no more at the time, for she might as well have attempted to persuade a block of granite to mercy as Chard. The inspector had been taunted with his failure in this case, and his pride was hurt. He believed Herbert was guilty, in spite of the young man’s denial, and rejoiced that he had survived Pharaoh’s knife to be punished for his crime.
But if he was determined to arrest Mayne, Rachel was equally resolved to save her lover. She was certain of Herbert’s innocence, but saw no way of proving it. Then it struck her that Tera might know the truth, and to Tera she went for information. The Polynesian girl was wretched enough herself at the moment, for, in spite of all her cajoling, Carwell sternly refused to give his nephew the needful five hundred pounds. Tera was in despair, as she saw her stay at Grimleigh prolonged for an indefinite period.
“Bithiah,” said Rachel, in desperation, “the inspector says that Herbert is guilty, and I am sure he is not. Can you help me to prove his innocence? I would do anything—give anything, to save him.”
Tera looked up alertly. “Jack wants five hundred pounds,” she said; “will you persuade your father to give it to him if I tell you who killed Zara? I know who did it.”
“You know! Tell me—oh! dear Bithiah, tell me!”
“No. I want that money for Jack. Then I’ll tell.”
“Cruel, cruel girl—mercenary—”
“I am not mercenary,” retorted Tera, haughtily. “If I can help Jack, why should I not do so? Besides, if I help you, you should help me. Get me the five hundred from your father, and—”
“My father will not give the money.”
“Then I hold my tongue!”
“Herbert’s life depends upon your speaking out.”
“Jack’s future depends upon my holding my tongue,” said Tera, with a sigh, “and in more ways than one.”
“Well, if you will only do it for money, I will give it to you myself,” cried Rachel. “My mother left me six hundred pounds. Some of it is invested, but the greater part of it is in the bank at Poldew. I can give you a cheque now, if you will speak out.”
“I’ll speak out. I’ll save Herbert,” said Tera, excitedly, “only give me the money.”
Disgusted with such avarice on the part of Tera, but reflecting that she had to do with a half-civilized being, Rachel left the room and shortly returned with a cheque.
“Take it to the bank, and you will get the money.”
“I must see the money in cash,” said Tera, cunningly. “I won’t speak till then.”
“Let us drive into Poldew this afternoon, then,” replied Rachel, impatiently, “and you can get the money yourself. And let me tell you, Bithiah, I would not give you this money so readily unless I had already determined to give it to Jack. My father refuses to lend it, but I am willing to do so, as I know Jack will give it to me again, when he makes money in the South Seas.”
“So long as Jack gets the money to go to Koiau, I don’t care if you give it or lend it,” replied Tera, sullenly; “I am only anxious to get away.”
Rachel said nothing, but left the room to give directions about Herbert, so that he might be well attended during her absence. Shortly the two girls were driving to Poldew, with Tolai behind them, for the Polynesian utterly refused to leave his mistress. The money was obtained in gold, as Tera wished, and this, packed in a little wooden box, corded and sealed, was placed in the trap.
“Now,” said Tera, gleefully, “let us drive to Grimleigh and take the money to Jack. He is on board the schooner.”
As they drove off, Rachel could no longer restrain her impatience.
“Now, then,” she said, when they were out of the town, “who killed Zara?”
Tera, who was driving, shook the reins with a careless laugh.
“Oh!” she said coolly, “I killed her myself!”
When Tera made the astounding statement that she it was who had killed Zara poor Rachel laughed incredulously. She thought the girl was joking, and she felt she could in nowise appreciate such ill-timed humour. She was really angry.
“It is too bad of you, Bithiah,” she said, flushing. “Did you get that money out of me, did you take me from Herbert’s sick-bed, only to talk in this silly manner? You should know enough of English life by this time to behave yourself. I don’t like such jokes.”
Tera shrugged her shoulders in a way she had picked up at school, and flicked the horse. “I am not joking,” she said calmly; “I did kill Zara.”
“I cannot believe it,” cried Rachel, in horror.
“Just as you please, but I am telling you the truth.”
“Tera! Bithiah! Do you mean to say that you strangled Zara?”
“Ioé,” said Tera, pettishly. “How often am I to speak?”
Rachel looked at her in horror. She knew that, in spite of her veneer of civilization, this native girl was a savage at heart. Doubtless she thought no more of taking a human life than an ordinary person would of killing a fly; but it was terrible to hear her admit the fact so calmly. In spite of the conviction which was stealing over her that Tera spoke the truth, Rachel tried her best to fight against it.
“I cannot believe it! I cannot!” she kept repeating; “you would not be so cruel.”
“I was not cruel. She died very quietly. I pulled the cord tightly—and she was gone.” And Tera, with a side-glance at her companion, chirrupped to the horse. She spoke quite frankly, for besides Rachel, who had paid her five hundred pounds for this information, there was only Tolai in the back seat to hear her. And even if the Polynesian had been able to understand her, she was in no danger from him.
Rachel shrank back from the girl with terror. “Bithiah! In God’s name, why did you kill her? She had done you no harm.”
“No. But I was afraid she would talk about our changing dresses, and Mr. Johnson would follow me. I thought it best to kill her,” said Tera, calmly.
“I don’t believe you,” cried Rachel again; “you are making this up.”
“Aüe! what trouble you make over this dead one. If in my island we talked so over every one who was killed, why—” Tera shrugged her shoulders, and continued more earnestly—“Listen! I will tell you all. I met Zara in the field, and I gave her a pearl that I might wear her dress. We changed, and I was going away. Then I thought she might betray me, and then Misi Brand would come after me. I was sorry I had not killed her. I had no knife or club, and I was not strong enough to strangle her with my hands. Then I remembered I had a cord of silk. I took this off the curtain, in Mr. Johnson’s study some days before. It was blue, red, and white, very pretty, and I used it to tie round my waist, I gave it to Zara when we changed clothes. I could have killed her with that, and was sorry I had not done so, that she might tell no stories of me, and part me from Jack. But she was gone, so I walked on. Then I went back to the field.”
“To kill her?” gasped Rachel.
“Ioé! to kill her,” answered Tera, serenely; “but I could not do so at first, for she was talking to Mr. Mayne. Then she left him. He went down to Grimleigh, and Zara came towards me, crying. When she saw me, she ran up, and asked me for her certificate of marriage, which was sewn in her dress. She had forgotten it. I saw a chance then. I asked her to give me back the silk cord which she had round her waist. She gave it to me at once, and ripped the certificate out of the skirt of her dress, which I wore. As she bent down to do so, I threw the cord round her neck. She died very quietly,” said Tera, musingly. “I do not think she felt pain. When she was dead, I dragged her along by the fence into the corn—a good way in, so that her body might not be seen. After that I went away, and caught the train to London. So you—”
“Oh!” cried Rachel, frantically. “Let me down! let me down! you wicked, wicked girl!”
Still holding the reins with one hand, Tera seized Rachel’s wrist with the other, and held her to her seat. “I will not let you,” she said fiercely; “if you try to go, I will tell Tolai to kill you. Be quiet! Listen! I tell you this to save your Herbert. But I do not want to be shut up in prison. Now Jack has the money, he will sail away. I go also, and when I am away, you can tell the truth.”
“No one will believe me.”
“Oh!” said Tera, who had lately learned the value of written statements, “I will write out all I tell you, and sign it Bithiah, Tera, what you will. Then I sail away, and no one will shut me up. Now you can go”—she pulled up the horse with a jerk—“but do not speak yet. If you do, I will say you—you will be sorry—that’s all. Wait till I give you the paper and sail away with my dear Jack, You hear?”
“Yes, yes,” said Rachel, her teeth chattering with fright at this exhibition of Tera’s savagery. “I will say nothing—not a word!”
“Good! You can go, then. I drive on to Grimleigh, and go on board the schooner, where I shall be safe. I shall not return, and the trap I will leave to some one to take back.”
Rachel, trembling violently, scrambled down as best she could. In her terror she believed that Tera might order Tolai to kill her. It was a strange experience to be at the mercy of two bloodthirsty savages on a quiet English road. Without a word she picked up her skirts and ran back, only anxious to get safely home. Tera burst into a jeering laugh at her manifest cowardice, then drove on at full speed to Grimleigh. Not until she was safe on board the schooner, with Jack beside her, would she feel secure. The laws in England were scarcely so lax as those in Koiau, and she could not presume on her rank as a chief’s daughter in this land of the haolis (whites). After all, Tera had no reason to jeer at Rachel. In a different way she was just as great a coward. She did not fear death in itself, but she dreaded lest anything should part her from Jack.
On arriving at the jetty, Tera carried out the programme which she had explained to Rachel. The Dayspring was anchored some distance out stream, so she hired a boat, and made Tolai, who was a brawny Polynesian Samson, carry the precious box of gold to it. Then she handed over the horse and trap to a fisherman she knew, and gave him half-a-crown to take it round to the Anchor Hotel, whence a stable-hand could drive it back to Bethdagon. In making these arrangements Tera displayed considerable mother-wit. She was quick in looking after her own interests.
In ten minutes, more or less, the boat was alongside the Dayspring, and Jack, with considerable amazement, looked over the taffrail. “Hullo, Tera!” he cried, “anything wrong?”
“No. All is right, Jack. Get this box on board, and take it to your cabin at once. Is Captain Jacob here?” she added, as Jack helped her up the side.
“Gone ashore. Do you want to see him?”
“I want to see you. Tolai, come!” she said in native, then slipped again into English. “Take care of the box, Jack.”
“Seems a heavy box. What is in it?”
“I will tell you soon,” said Tera, wisely, for two or three of the crew were within earshot. “Come to your cabin, my Jack.”
The box was carried into the cabin by Tolai. Tera closed the door and looked round.
“We are safe here, are we not?” she asked. “No one will hear?”
“Of course not,” replied Finland, somewhat surprised. “What on earth are you driving at?”
“Open the box,” said Tera, handing her lover the key with an air of triumph. Jack, still puzzled, proceeded to do as he was told. When the lid was thrown open, and the wrappings had been removed, he was amazed to see the pile of golden sovereigns.
“Gold! Money!” he cried, falling back a pace. “Great Scott, Tera! how did you get this?”
Tera crowed like a delighted child. “It is a long, long story. Guess who gave it to me.”
“No, no, not your uncle,” cried the girl, clapping her hands. “Rachel!”
“Rachel!” repeated Jack. “This is her own money, then? Why did she give it to you?”
“I said, ‘You give me five hundred pounds for my Jack, and I will tell you who killed Zara.’ Rachel said yes, to save Herbert. She gave me the money, and I brought it here. Now, my Jack, we can go to my own island, where you will be a great chief.”
“Hold on, Tera,” said Finland, seriously, “how do you know who killed this girl?”
“Oh! I know—I know. It was I who killed her!”
“You!” Jack dropped back on a locker as though he had been shot, and every drop of blood ebbed from his face. “You—killed—Zara?”
Tera began to be frightened. There was a look on Jack’s face she had never seen before.
“Why do you look so?” she faltered. “Am I a bad girl? Oh no. Poor Tera is good to you. She brings you this money; she gives you her pearls.”
“There is some devilry about this,” cried Jack, hoarsely, seizing her wrist. “I don’t believe you killed the girl. Tell me the story you told Rachel, and how you got this money. Quick! Every word.”
Tera collapsed on to the floor and began to weep.
“Aué!” she wailed, rocking herself to and fro, “you are cruel to poor Tera. Aué!”
“Tell me the story. I’ll swear you did not murder the girl. Tolai, sit in that corner,” he added, for the Polynesian was much distressed by Tera’s tears. “Obey me at once, or I’ll sling you overboard. Now then, Tera, tell me the truth.”
But it was not so easy to loosen Tera’s tongue. She was half-angry with Jack, and half-frightened of his stern manner. However, by coaxing and threatening and commanding, he managed to extract from her the story she had told Rachel, in order to obtain the money. When he was in full possession of the facts, he took a turn round the cabin. He was in despair. Knowing that Tera was half a savage, he saw no reason to doubt the truth of her statement. She did not regard murder with the horror of a European. She did not think it was a particularly great sin, in spite of her Christian training. Jack loved the girl, and wished to marry her, particularly as the marriage would place him comfortably and influentially in the semi-savage life he found most congenial. But it seemed that Tera had killed the unhappy Zara in a most cold-blooded way, and with the slightest of motives. He did not care to take the murderess to his bosom.
In the mean time Tera sat on the cabin floor in a sulky frame of mind. Privately she considered that she had tricked Rachel out of her money in a very clever way, and deserved praise rather than blame. She could not understand why her lover made such a fuss over such a small matter as the murder of this wretched girl. He could have killed a dozen in Koiau without causing her the least annoyance. So she sat still, weeping and sulking, and very much inclined—with the pettish temper of a childish nature—to end the whole trouble by throwing herself overboard. In spite of her conversion and education, poor wilful Tera had yet to learn the A B C of civilization.
“Tera,” said Jack at length, in a grave voice, “this is a serious matter.”
“I don’t see that it is,” whimpered the girl. “You didn’t love Zara.”
“No, but I didn’t wish you to kill her, my dear.”
“Kill her!” Tera looked up in amazement. “But I didn’t kill her.”
Finland was so dumfounded that he could only stare.
“I did not kill her,” repeated Tera, rising. “What makes you think I did?”
“Why—why—you said so!”
“Of course I did—to Rachel. She would not give me the money you wanted unless I told her who killed Zara. I don’t know who did, and I couldn’t think of any one else, so I said I killed her.”
“Tera!” Jack’s arms were round her, and his voice was shaking with the emotion caused by a sense of relief. “Then you made up this story to get the money?”
“Why, of course. You didn’t think it was true, Jack?”
“Upon my soul, I did,” gasped Jack, not knowing whether to be amused or angered. “Oh, Lord, Tera, what a fright you have given me! You told me the story with so much detail that I thought it was all square. I never heard better lying in my life.”
“You are not angry now, Jack?”
“Well, I am a bit. You are a bad girl, Tera, to deceive Rachel so.”
Tera began to whimper again. “I wanted to get the money. I could get it in no other way. I never saw Zara after we changed clothes, and I know no more than you do who killed her. What trouble you make over this woman! I would have killed her myself, had I wished to; but I did not.”
“I’m very glad you didn’t,” said Jack, emphatically. “Well, I must see Rachel about this, and tell her you were joking.”
“But you won’t give back the money?”
Jack looked at the box of gold, and felt very much inclined to keep it after Tera’s difficulty and perjury in getting it. But Finland was an honest man, so he put the temptation from him.
“I must, Tera,” said he, with a sigh; “you got the money under false pretences. I can’t take Rachel’s little fortune.”
“Aué!” wailed Tera, dismally; “she wants to lend it to you. She told me so; indeed she did.”
“Ah, that’s a different matter. If Rachel lends me the money, I must see her about it. I’ll pay her back, principal and interest, in a year or two. I wish I had known of her intention before you put your oar in, lass.”
“I did what I did for you.”
“All right. Don’t pipe your eye again,” and Jack patted her hand. “Now let us go back to my uncle. I’ll see Rachel, and square your trouble.”
“I don’t want to go back, Jack. I’ve come to stay here.”
“You can’t do that, Tera.”
“I will stay here,” said Tera, doggedly. “Let us marry and go away.”
Jack scratched his head. He did not exactly know how to deal with this unreasonable native. He closed the box and turned towards the door. At that moment it opened. To Tera’s profound surprise she beheld Pharaoh Lee.
It was Pharaoh Lee—the very man in search of whom the police were scouring the country. So astonished was Tera at his unexpected appearance, that she could only stare at him in silence. His face, sullen and lowering, lighted up with a fierce joy when he recognized her.
“You come from the farm,” he said, stepping up close to her. “Is that Gentile beast yet dead?”
“No,” stammered the girl, finding her tongue; “he is not going to die.”
“Duvel!” swore Lee, savagely; “why did I not strike harder? Job! for another chance! You will not betray me?”
“No; I shall not say a word,” said Tera, earnestly. “I was glad when I saw you stab that man. He is a low dog. But how did you come here? The police look for you everywhere.”
“Except in the right place,” said Finland, with a grin. “No one thinks Lee is aboard with us. He came straight from Bethdagon to Grimleigh, After midnight, when all was quiet, he swam out here, and climbed on board to see the skipper. When Shackel heard his story, he promised to conceal him for my sake. He knew I hadn’t any great love for Mayne, and that I’d be glad to give Lee a hand. Besides,” added Jack, with a shrug, “Mayne is getting on right enough—there’s no great harm been done.”
“I’ll kill him yet,” said the gipsy under his breath.
“Ah! you do that at your own risk, matey. Tolai, help me to carry this box into my cabin.”
While the man attended to this business, Tera conversed with Lee. “Are you coming with us to Koiau?” she asked curiously.
“No. Shackel is going to land me down the coast somewhere. Then I shall come back and settle my account with Herbert Mayne. I’ll see that it’s settled next time,” said Pharaoh between his teeth; and he looked as though he meant it.
“You are a great warrior,” said Tera, and patted his hand. “I know Mr. Mayne married Zara and took her from you. But I do not think he killed her.”
“It’s either him or Slade,” growled Pharaoh. “I’ll make sure which of them strangled my poor pretty Zara, and if I swing for it, I’ll give him my knife for all it’s worth. Meanwhile, I’m safe enough here. Those beggarly police can hunt every rat-hole in the land.”
As Lee said this, Jack, having locked up the money, returned to the cabin with Tolai at his heels. “Come, Tera, let us go ashore with the Kanaka. If you won’t return to my uncle’s, you won’t mind staying at your old quarters again. Mrs. Johnson will put you up.”
“I’m afraid,” said Tera, drawing back, “if I go there, Misi Brand will get me; then he will not let me go with you.”
“Oh, bosh!” said Jack, sharply; “if Brand interferes, I’ll kick him into kingdom come. You’re all right with the psalm-singer. He has promised to marry us, so he’ll look after you in the mean time.”
It was not always easy to make Tera see sense. She was as unreasonable as a child. At present she was filled with the idea that Brand might part her from Jack; and she thought herself safe only when on board the Dayspring. Indeed, now that the day of her return to Koiau was drawing near, she seemed to be losing the little control of herself she had acquired. This was particularly evidenced by her refusal to respond to her baptismal name of Bithiah. Jack was by no means far-seeing, but he had a shrewd suspicion that by the time Tera reached Koiau, her veneer of civilization would have worn off, and she would relapse into the wholly savage state natural to her. However, this idea troubled him very little. A semi-barbarian himself in many ways, he preferred the genuine savage to the half-baked article. But while he remained in England, and particularly in Grimleigh, where his rigid uncle lived, it was necessary to observe certain of the proprieties of life. He decided that Tera could not possibly return to the schooner until they were married. So, after much arguing and a show of anger, he induced her to come ashore, and again take up her quarters with Johnson. Tolai, as Tera’s shadow, accompanied them. Pharaoh Lee, who had once more relapsed into his sullen humour, of course remained on board. He had no very high opinion of the police, but he deemed it wise, for the present at all events, not to leave his place of refuge.
As Tera and Jack, with Tolai in close attendance, walked arm-in-arm up the hill to the minister’s house, they came face to face with Mr. and Mrs. Slade. The ex-policeman no longer wore a uniform. He was in plain clothes now, permanently, so far as the police force was concerned. Jack had heard of his dismissal, and stopped now to speak to him.
“Well, sonny,” said he, cheerfully, “so you’ve left the force.”
“I’ve bin kicked out for doing my duty,” growled Slade, glowering at his wife, “and it’s Jemima’s doing, with her jealousy. She never would behave sensible-like.”
“You needn’t begin again, Jeremiah,” whimpered Jemima, wiping her eyes with the corner of her shawl; “you’ve been at me all day.”
“Ain’t I got cause to? Ain’t you got me turned out of the force? Ain’t I got to leave Grimleigh?”
“Where are you going?” asked Tera.
“To London,” replied the ex-policeman; “there ain’t no chance for a man like me getting on here. I’m bent on being a detective—like those fellows in novels. Ah! there’s some chance in London.”
“What have you done with the pearl Mr. Mayne gave you?” demanded Jack,
“I’ve kept it; and I’m going to stick to it. Chard wanted me to give it up, but I wouldn’t. It’s mine, fair and square—worth thirty and more pounds. I’ll sell it in London, for we ain’t got over-much money, thanks to Jemima.”
“Slade,” said Finland, seriously, “before you clear out, tell me if Mayne killed the girl.”
“How should I know, sir? I ain’t got nothing to do with the case now. Let them as think themselves clever find out, I don’t believe he did, all the same. ‘Cos he’d left Zara when I met him.”
“Where did you meet him?”
“Just above the town. He was coming down to Grimleigh, and Zara was running in the Poldew direction. They didn’t meet again to my knowledge, and as I was on duty I was between them all the time up yonder. No, Mr. Finland; whoever killed that girl it wasn’t Mr. Mayne.”
“As you saw Zara in my clothes, you must have known that I was not dead,” said Tera.
“I did, miss. And when the time came I’d have said so. I was working to find out who killed Zara, not you, till them fools spoiled my case. It was Zara who was dead I knew well enough; but as she wore your clothes, my theory was as some one as hated you killed her in mistake. From that cord I thought as it was Mr. Johnson, but it wasn’t. Then it struck me as you might have had a hand in it, Mr. Finland, but you hadn’t.”
“I should think not,” said Jack, sharply. “Why should I harm Zara? Did you ever suspect Mayne?”
“No, I didn’t. If he’d killed Zara he’d a done so when he met her; and she was alive after he gave the pearl to me. It was in mistake for you, miss, as the girl was killed. As I’m going away, I don’t mind saying as much. Good-bye, miss; good-bye, sir. Jemima, you come along; we ain’t got no time to lose here.”
The pair strolled off—the woman still in tears—and Jack continued his way, deep in thought. If Slade’s theory that Zara had been killed in mistake for Tera were correct, Mayne could not be the guilty party. He could have absolutely no reason to murder the native girl. And if he were innocent, who was guilty? Finland was as much in the dark as ever. He felt he owed Rachel some reparation for Tera’s trickery, and if before he left for Koiau he could clear Mayne’s character, he would be doing her service more substantial than he was ever likely to accomplish in any other direction. He did not like Mayne—he thought him an out-and-out scoundrel. But Rachel had set her heart on marrying and reforming him, so there was nothing for it but to let her have her wish, and, if possible, to aid her towards the consummation of it.
“Tera,” said Jack, as they drew near Mr. Johnson’s house, “you must tell the parson chap how you tricked Rachel.”
“Aué,” wept Tera, “he will be cross with me. I don’t want to.”
“You must,” insisted her lover; “we must put our heads together and find out the truth somehow. We must clear Mayne. After getting that money out of Rachel, it is the least you can do to make it up to her.”
The girl clapped her hands. “You will keep the money, then, Jack?”
“H’m! that depends upon Rachel. I’ll place you in the psalm-singer’s charge first. Then I’ll go and see Rachel.”
The minister was absent for the moment, but he was expected to return shortly. Mrs. Johnson, however, received Tera, though with no very good grace. She knew that the girl had refused to marry her son, and had involved him in great trouble by her secret flight. As a mother, and more particularly as a woman, she would have refused admittance to the fugitive; but she was also a Christian, and it was her duty to forgive. So it was arranged that Tera should occupy her old room. Leaving her, then, in charge of Mrs. Johnson and the ubiquitous and ever-faithful Tolai, Jack, after promising to return in a couple of hours, set out for Bethdagon to see Rachel. His errand was not a pleasant one. But it was necessary and right that Rachel should be undeceived, that Tera’s trickery should be made known to her, and the money, which through it had been forthcoming, restored.
Rachel had returned home in a state of mind easier to imagine than to describe. After the graphic story narrated by Tera, she fully believed that the girl, giving rein to the savage instincts of her nature, had murdered Zara to protect herself from pursuit. She could not decide what to do, for, anxious as she was to save Herbert, she could not bring herself to denounce the native girl. After all, she was a savage, and did not regard murder with any great abhorrence. From her point of view she was less guilty than a European would have been. Rachel said nothing to Herbert of the information she had received as value for her five hundred pounds. She did not even mention the fact to her father: she sat down alone to consider what course she should take. Before she could decide, her cousin arrived and informed her of the trick which Tera had played upon her. She was naturally sceptical.
“But Tera told me the details,” she insisted; “how she got the cord from Mr. Johnson’s study, how she met Zara for the second time, and how she hid the body in the field.”
“I know, Rachel. Tera let herself go in fine style, I’ve no doubt, but only to get your money. She saw Zara only once, and that was when they changed dresses. The rest of the yarn is all her own!”
“Are you sure. Jack? Can you trust her?”
“Sure!” Jack swore a great oath. “I wish I were as sure of getting into heaven. Tera is a child—cunning in some things, simple in others. She might deceive you: she could not hoodwink me. No, no, my lass, Tera is square enough. I wouldn’t marry her else. You don’t suppose I’d take a long-haired mate with a murder on her hands!”
“Then if this is true, how am I to save Herbert?” cried Rachel, in despair. “He did not kill the girl.”
“Perhaps not. Slade says he did not. But Mayne has done a good many dirty things. I wouldn’t marry him, Rachel, if I were you. He is a skunk, if ever there was one.”
“Don’t you dare to call him names,” flashed out Rachel; “the poor soul lies sick unto death. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ Jack. I love Herbert, and I intend to marry him. If he is bad, I will reform him. I shall pluck him as a brand from the burning. This is not the time to give up the man I love, when he is in sore distress and in need of a helping hand.”
“What will your father say, Rachel?”
“My father, unfortunately, is not consistent in his Christianity,” replied the girl, in rather a Pharisaical manner. “He thinks over much of worldly vanities; of what people say of him and his. A woman shall leave father and mother to follow after the husband of her choice. Herbert is my choice, and in spite of my father’s anger, I will marry him. We shall not stay here to be mocked and despised. Herbert will sell his farm, I have some money of my mother’s, and together we will go to America. There we will lead a new and more devout life; and he shall atone for his sin.”
Seeing it was futile, her cousin ceased to argue with her.
“I only hope you will not live to repent it, Rachel,” said he. “If Mayne has a spark of manhood in him, he’ll act square by you. But about this money you gave to Tera. I could not, of course, bring it with me to-day, but I have it safe on board, and you shall have it back to-morrow.”
“No, Jack, you need not do that. I am willing to lend you the money, if it is to help you on in life. Repay it to me when you can.”
“That’s good hearing, Rachel,” said Finland, grasping her hand. “I promise you shall have the money, and interest with it, in a year or two. I’m not the man to go back on my word.”
“I know you are not, and I trust you. Jack. There is no need for you to give me any paper or bond. Take the money, and trade with it as you say. I hope it will bring you luck, and that you will prosper.”
“It is very good of you to do this for me, Rachel. I wish I could do something for you in return.”
“Find out who killed this poor girl. Jack, and I shall be amply repaid. In some way or another, I must save Herbert. Mr. Chard intends to arrest him as soon as he is well enough to be moved. Save him from that, if you can.”
“I’ll do my best, Rachel; for, bad as Herbert is—well, I won’t say a word against him, since it vexes you—I don’t believe he is guilty, and I’ll do my best to help you and him. Now I’m off.”
“Won’t you stay to dinner. Jack?”
“No, thanks. I promised Tera to go back to Mr. Johnson’s. If I learn anything to help you and Herbert, I’ll come back and tell you. Good-bye, Rachel, and thank you for the money.”
“Good-bye, Jack. God grant you may be successful.”
Jack echoed the prayer as he walked back to Grimleigh, but he had little hope that it would be answered. He had no experience in criminal cases, and could not see how he was to find out the truth in this especial one. The matter of Zara’s death was surrounded by mysteries; and think as he could, this simple sailor could not conjecture how they were to be solved. Where Slade and Chard, both trained men, had failed, he could hardly hope to succeed. Much as he wished to repay Rachel for her kindness, he saw no chance of doing so in the particular way she desired—in the way, too, which would best serve her. And so he was a trifle dejected when he arrived at Mr. Johnson’s house.
The minister had returned, and, when he saw Finland at the gate, stepped out of the window to beckon him into the study.
“Bithiah and Tolai are at the mid-day meal,” he said, in answer to Jack’s inquiries; “we will join them soon, meanwhile I wish to consult you.”
“Has Tera told you how she accused herself of this murder?”
“Yes,” Johnson sighed. “The poor child is yet a savage at heart, I fear; but in her own way she is heroic and honest. I don’t defend the falsehoods she told, but her action shows one thing clearly—it shows how well she loves you.”
“Oh! Tera’s a good sort, Mr. Johnson. Of course you didn’t believe her guilty.”
“No, I did not. I have a very good reason to disbelieve it. John Finland”—Johnson laid his hand on the young man’s arm—“it is on this very matter I wish to consult you. I know who killed Zara Lovell.”
“You do? This will be good news for Rachel. Who?”
“Korah Brand!” repeated Jack, in amazement. This was the very last name he had expected to hear. “Your pet missionary!—what on earth do you mean?”
“He killed Zara—I am certain of it,” answered Johnson, positively; “though for the present I grant you I have no proof. Now, let us see what is best to be done.”
“Done? Why, tell the inspector, of course, and get the beggar arrested.”
“No; that’s just what we can’t do just yet. We must have something tangible to go upon; and that’s where I want you to help me. Sit down, Mr. Finland, and we will go thoroughly into this matter.”
Jack took a seat; and as he looked inquiringly at the minister, he could not help being struck with the marked improvement in Johnson. Both in mind and body the man seemed in much more normal condition than when he had seen him last. True, his face was still thin, but there was more colour in it, and when he spoke it was with a degree of assurance that had formerly been altogether absent. Since the suspicions against him had been proved groundless, he had been able in a large degree to resume his normal habits. The incessant mental strain under which he laboured then had been removed, and his body had responded accordingly. He spoke now with force and decision. His indignation against Brand was in every way excusable; for to him it was that in a large degree he owed the terrible trouble which had come upon him recently. That indignation now spurred him on. He could, perhaps, have forgiven the man had he been his open enemy. But he had struck at him in the dark. He had plotted against him—against his very life—under the cloak of religion and brotherly love. He was a very Judas, and, as such, Johnson felt it behoved him to unmask the man. Therefore was he prepared to spare no pains to make his suspicions certainties. He judged this shrewd young sailor would prove a valuable ally; and the result proved his judgment to be correct.
“I am more than angered at Brand,” he said to Jack, in a tone of voice almost foreign to his usually gentle manner of speech. “Perhaps you notice that I no longer call him ‘brother.’ He shall be cast from out the congregation of Bethgamul, for he has done more than break the sixth commandment. But it is of that that he must first be proved guilty.”
“Well, do you expect that will be very difficult?”
“It will, and it will not, Mr. Finland. To make you understand what I mean, it will be necessary for me to go back to my life in Koiau. You know that I was a missionary in that island. Buli, the High Chief, protected me, and I spread the gospel to the best of my poor ability. Now, Brand was there also. He had been a sailor on board a whaling-boat, and having been called to grace, he took to mission work. I met him in Koiau, where he was trying to convert Niga.”
“I remember Niga. Buli’s brother, was he not?”
“Yes, Buli’s brother, and a man of no small importance. Buli I did not succeed in converting, but I was successful both with his wife Viara and his daughter Tera. In time I hoped to bring the light to Buli’s darkened soul, for he had leanings to our faith. With Niga, it was different. He was a fierce heathen, and devoted to the old idol worship. I never thought Brand would succeed with him, but he protected Brand, for the reason that the ex-sailor had shown him how to design and build canoes larger than were commonly in use among the natives. When I left Koiau the population was divided into two parts: the one half followed Buli, and inclined to the teaching of the haolis (whites); the other—the heathen party—held by Niga, and would have killed all the missionaries. You understand?”
“Yes. Was there any fighting?”
“No; Buli was the stronger, and Niga did not dare to attack him. Now, you must know that Tera is Buli’s only child, and he is very fond of her. He intends that she shall marry some big warrior, and rule the island after his death. He does not trust Niga, who would restore the old sacrifices.”
“That is bad for me,” said Jack, thoughtfully. “Buli won’t be pleased at my marrying Tera.”
“On the contrary,” said Johnson, so calmly that it was easily seen how his unreasonable passion for the girl had passed away, “I think Buli will be pleased. He likes the white men, because they can civilize his people. If you go to Koiau with Tera, as her husband. Buli will make you his heir. Then you can civilize the islanders and teach them the blessings of Christianity.”
“I’m not much of a hand at religion, Mr. Johnson; but I’ll do my best.”
“I am sure you will. But to resume. Niga, knowing that Buli intended Tera for his heiress, tried to kill her. But Viara, who is clever and watchful, managed to thwart him. Knowing the girl’s danger, I offered to bring her to England with me and have her educated, so that she might be the better able to influence her people for good. Both Buli and Viara accepted the offer, so I brought Tera to England, away from all danger.”
“But what has all this to do with Brand?”
“I am coming to that,” said the minister, quietly. “The other day, Tolai came here with a message from Viara, from which it appears that Niga, wishing to get Tera out of the way before she could return, induced Brand to come to England and kill her. What he was to have for so wicked a deed I do not know. The plot was betrayed to Viara by one of Niga’s wives, and she at once sent Tolai home to tell me and to protect Tera. Also, she made Tolai promise to be as Tera’s shadow, in case Brand tried to murder her. Now you know why Tolai has been by Tera’s side all these days.”
“The scoundrel!” cried Jack. “Then you think that Brand killed Zara in mistake for Tera?”
“I am certain of it. Brand was often in this study, and I have no doubt he stole the curtain-cord with the intention of implicating me in the crime, if possible. On seeing Zara in Tera’s dress, he took her for his victim. On strangling her, and finding out his mistake, he no doubt dragged the body into the corn. What makes me so indignant is that Brand, knowing I was innocent, conspired with Slade to accuse me of the murder. He even tried to persuade me to run away; which would have been a tacit admission of guilt. I am thankful,” added the minister, “that Tera was not given over to the charge of Brand. He would have murdered her on the way to Koiau, I feel cer— What is the matter, Finland? Don’t swear, I beg.”
For Jack was on his feet, making use of language not fit for that respectable study.
“The brute!” he cried. “He was at the skipper the other day to get a free passage to Koiau. Shackel consented; and I have no doubt he intended to sling Tera overboard when we were well out at sea. Where is the skunk, Mr. Johnson? I will wring his neck.”
“Calm yourself, Finland. You can’t go to him with my story, for he will deny it altogether, and then we can prove nothing. We must trap him into a confession. I do not like resorting to cunning, but while Brand is free, and hidden by the mask of religion, Tera is not safe. Now, how can we get his story out of him?”
“That is not difficult,” said Finland, who was as fertile in resources as most sailors are. “Let Tolai go to him and say that he comes from Niga to know when Tera is to be killed. Brand will believe this, and will talk freely. Now if you and I, Mr. Johnson, can overhear that conversation, we shall learn the truth.”
“That is a good idea; but how are we to overhear it?”
“Where does Brand live?” was Jack’s next question.
“Not far from here. He lodges with Sister Hoppus.”
“Of your congregation?”
“Certainly,” said Johnson, stiffly. “Did you not hear me call her sister?”
“Then, as you are her pastor, she will do a lot for you. Let Tolai ask Brand to see him privately in his lodgings, so that he may give him Niga’s message. In the mean time, you see Mrs. Hoppus, and get her to hide us in the next room to that in which they are. Then we shall hear the whole business, and know how to act.”
Johnson looked doubtful. “I am afraid that Sister Hoppus will not lend herself to such a deception,” he said.
“You must try and talk her over,” replied Jack. “I dare say it will be difficult, but I guess the business is worth it. I want to know the truth, for Rachel’s sake.”
“Well,” said Johnson, after some reflection, “your plan is a good one, and we will try it. If Brand condemns himself, out of his own mouth, we need ask for no further proof;” and so the matter was decided.
That afternoon the two conspirators took Tera and Tolai into their confidence. Tera did not like Brand, and quite believed in his guilt. She was more enraged than afraid on hearing of the plot against her life, and insisted upon seeing him then and there, to taunt him with its failure. It was with the utmost difficulty that Johnson kept her in the house, but ultimately she consented to remain with Jack while the minister saw Mrs. Hoppus. During his absence both Tera and her lover instructed Tolai in the part he was to play. Tolai was quick-witted and cunning: he hated Niga and Niga’s tool, Korah Brand; therefore he was quite ready to snare the man to his own undoing. Both Johnson and Finland were loth to resort to such underhand means, but, considering the exigencies of the case, they considered no choice was left them.
In an hour Johnson returned with the intelligence that he had been successful in securing the co-operation of Sister Hoppus. From the account he gave this had been no very easy task.
“She has a great opinion of the man,” said he, “and looks upon him as a devout Christian. When I enlightened her, she at first refused to believe me. But I argued with her, and explained myself at length. I pointed out that an innocent man was in danger of his life for Brand’s sin. Ultimately, she came round so far as to say that she would hide us in the room next to Brand’s parlour.
“Does she now believe him guilty?” asked Jack.
“No, she will not believe until she is convinced by his own words, so I have arranged that she shall wait with us, and hear what passes.”
“That is of no use,” put in Tera. “Misi Brand will talk to Tolai in our own tongue.”
“So I told Sister Hoppus. Still, when we learn the truth, we can come out and force Brand to confess it in her presence. She will then be convinced. Brand is expected home to his supper at seven o’clock to-night, so we will go to the house at half-past six, and hide in the next room.”
“What about Tolai?”
“Tolai will present himself at the door somewhere about seven, and ask to see Brand. Then he must do his best to make the man confess.”
“I can do that,” said the Polynesian, when this order was translated to him. “Oh yes, Tolai is cunning: he can work in many ways. The truth shall be told by Misi himself.”
“Shall we have the police in?” asked Johnson, after a pause.
“No,” replied Jack, promptly; “you and I understand Polynesian lingo, but they don’t. First we’ll make sure that Brand is guilty; then send Mrs. Hoppus for the police. I’ll have the truth from that scoundrel, if I squeeze his life out to get it.”
“He is a strong man, Mr. Finland.”
“ ‘Thrice armed is he who has his quarrel just,’ ” quoted Jack, grimly. “Look at my arm, sir. I guess that will level the beast.”
When the time arrived and the conspiracy became fact, Tera, as usual, proved unreasonable. She wanted to overhear the conversation also, and pouted and sulked because the two men wished her to remain behind.
“Let her come,” said Jack, at length. “Three witnesses are better than two, and Tera knows the native lingo better than we do. She can put us right if we miss a word.”
So it was decided that Tera should be an active member in the conspiracy, and after giving Tolai his last instructions—Johnson had pointed out Brand’s lodgings in the afternoon—the three went to Mrs. Hoppus’s. She was a little tremulous old woman with a grey cap and a grey dress. She seemed very nervous at the whole proceeding. She showed them into a clean empty bedroom, where they had to sit on the floor. There was a door between this and the sitting-room, but the wall was only of lath and plaster, and thin and old at that. It was certain that every word would be heard quite plainly.
“Then through the back door we can run round to the front and catch him,” said Jack, cheerfully. “You’ll wait too, won’t you, Mrs. Hoppus?”
“Oh no, my dear gentleman, I can’t,” whimpered the little grey woman. “I must go to the kitchen to see after Mr. Brand’s supper. Ah me! perhaps he will not eat it.”
“Perhaps not,” rejoined Jack, dryly. “He’ll have precious little appetite, I guess, when we’ve done with him. You’d better not take his supper in, Mrs. Hoppus, or he’ll smell a rat!”
“I will send in Jane, my servant,” she replied.
In the dark Jack touched Johnson’s arm. “Can you trust her?” he whispered. “She won’t split?”
“No, she’s right enough. She hopes that Brand will vindicate his character, you know. Hush! he may be back at any moment.”
So the three sat in the dark, with their ears against the wall. The minutes went slowly by, and they were growing tired of their cramped position, when the door was heard to open and Brand entered the room. They recognized him by his voice, as he told the servant to bring in his supper. Jane, who was not in the plot, conveyed her mistress’s excuses for not personally attending on her lodger. She then disappeared, returning shortly with the meal. Brand sat down to it. He had hardly eaten a mouthful when Jane introduced Tolai.
“Here’s a nigger, sir, as wants to see you,” said Jane, edging off from the black man.
“Tolai!” said Brand, rising in astonishment; “Tolai come to see me?”
“Ioé!” replied the man, nodding. “You no savvy wot me want tell you; all—e—same you know. Niga, Misi; Niga.”
“Jane, you can go,” said Brand, turning to the girl. As she left the room he rose and locked the door.
“Now, what is it?” he said to Tolai, in the native tongue. “Speak your own tongue, Tolai, else the woman may hear. These walls are not thick!”
“Good,” replied Tolai, standing like a pupil before Brand, but nevertheless cunningly getting as close as possible to the wall behind which the three were hidden. “I no love the white man’s tongue, Misi. I have looked for you these many days. I come from Niga.”
“Did Niga send you to me?”
“Yes, Misi; he sent me to ask about Tera.”
“But you were with her the other day,” said Korah, a trifle suspiciously. “You declared then that you came from Viara.”
“Oh yes, I know I say so. But you do not understand, Misi. I am clever. Niga wants Tera to die; so he told me to say I came from Viara. Then Tera loves me and wants me always to be with her. Some day I kill her—you see?”
“Does Niga want you to kill her?”
“Yes, Misi, he does—me or you.”
Not the least suspicion had Brand that Tolai was lying to him, still less acting a part to which six eager ears were listening—straining to catch every word, in the adjoining room. He answered freely, without so much as lowering his voice, for he felt secure in speaking the Polynesian tongue.
“I suppose Niga did send you,” he said slowly, “or you would hardly know as much as you do. The girl is not dead yet, as you see; and if there is to be any killing, I had rather you did it. I’ve had enough of the business.”
He shuddered slightly.
“You are no warrior, Misi. Why did you not obey Niga?”
“I did; or at least I thought I did. But it turned out I had made a mistake. Tera had changed clothes with another girl. I strangled that girl in mistake for her!”
“Ha! ha! You should have been sure she was the right one, Misi; you should have watched for her!”
“I did, Tolai. I watched longer than you would have cared to watch,” answered Brand, with some irritation. “I saw that Tera was accustomed to take a walk every evening in the twilight, so I determined to follow her and strangle her. I thought that was the quietest way of settling her. I took a cord, a silk cord, from Misi Johnson’s room, and one evening I followed her. But I lost sight of her for a while; some people were about, and I had to take great care not to be seen. When I came up with her—as I thought—again, she was walking along, crying. I crept up behind her, and threw the cord round her neck. She died very quietly, but it was only after she was dead that I discovered she was a gipsy girl, and not Tera. So I have a murder on my soul, and that for nothing!”
“Ahoee!” said Tolai. “If you are so afraid, why did you promise to kill Tera?”
“Why? Well, you, poor savage, would not understand. But Niga promised me that if Tera died, and he became chief, he would compel all the people of Koiau to become Christians. I sacrificed the girl that the gospel might be spread.”
“But she is not yet dead!”
“Then you must kill her on the way back to Koiau. I will not act again, no, not even to bring Koiau into the fold. That dead girl’s face is ever before me. I have sinned. I have done very wrong.”
“You have done wrong!” repeated Tolai, drawing nearer. Then, with a lurch at Brand’s throat, he shouted, “Yes, and you shall die for it!”
“Tolai!” gasped Brand, and the two men crashed on to the table. They rolled to the floor, Brand fighting desperately for life. Mrs. Hoppus rushed in, screaming and wringing her hands. Jack followed, and after him Tera and Johnson.
“Let go, Tolai,” cried Finland, trying to wrench him away. “Tera, make him leave go!”
Tera laid hold of the native, and together she and Jack pulled him away. In a moment Brand was on his feet glaring at them.
“Brand,” said Johnson, solemnly, “we know all. We have heard all. You killed—”
Before he could finish his sentence Korah Brand had seen the danger of his position—the trap into which he had fallen. With a yell the wretched man caught Johnson round the body and dashed him against Tera and Jack, who were holding Tolai. Mrs. Hoppus fell on her knees in terror. Quick as thought Brand turned out the lamp.
“Stop him! Stop!” shrieked Jack. But it was too late. Struggling in the darkness, they heard the door dashed open, and before they could recover themselves Brand had vanished into the night. But he had left the truth behind him.
A week later Tera and Jack were married. Owing to all that had recently occurred there were few people at the wedding. Rachel was still nursing Herbert, who was slowly but surely recovering his strength. But there was a brighter look than had been there of late on the face of Farmer Carwell as he gave away the bride. Johnson himself married them. His love for Tera, and his consequent jealousy of Jack, had died completely. He closed the book and told them they were man and wife without a pang. Miss Arnott, quite reconciled to Tera, followed, as solitary bridesmaid. Indeed, it was she who gave the bride the handsome wedding dress she wore. A few of the Bethgamul congregation were present, and looked on with great delight at the first convert of their Polynesian mission becoming the wife of their Elder’s nephew. Tolai was there too, and marvelled greatly at all he saw.
Perhaps further to mark his good-will, Johnson had given the wedding feast, and to it came both Captain Jacob and Inspector Chard. The last declared a special reason for his presence, “You see, I kept my promise to dance at your wedding,” said the big inspector, as he saluted the bride. “I have seen so much of you, and your case has been so interesting to me, that I felt I must put everything on one side to be present.”
“And I am very pleased to see you,” replied Tera, joyously, “though I fear you will have no dance. We leave in the schooner this afternoon.”
“You are very glad, I suppose?”
“Yes, I am very glad; and so is Tolai. You see we are going to our own land, where it is warm and sunny and beautiful—far, far away from these grey mists.”
“Well, I guess mists ain’t bad at times,” struck in Captain Jacob, who was going over the breakfast-table like a locust; “you grow darned tired of a blazin’ sun and a sky like a fiery furnace!”
“Oh, you’re there, are you, captain?” said Chard, who noted him for the first time. “Got any more cyphers for me to read?”
“Guess I bested you that trip, sonny.”
“You did; but you won’t best me again in a hurry. I know that cypher now.”
“Oh, you won’t see me writin’ it again, matey! I’m bound for the Islands; and I surmise I’ll hum when the barky lifts the Southern Cross. Take the ague out of my bones anyhow.
“Well, if you ask me, I think you are best on the other side of the world,” said the inspector, dryly; “the law here ain’t just the thing for people of your sort, captain.”
“Hullo, matey, what’s the jaw?”
“I’m mindful of your attempt to blackmail Mr. Johnson.”
“Oh, don’t bother about that; that’s all square; the parson’s made it up with me. Arter all it was only business. I wanted that money for our ship’s stores, and I had to trade some’ow.”
“You may consider yourself lucky Mr. Johnson did not prosecute you.”
“Oh! he wouldn’t be such a mean white as that,” grinned the skipper, winking his one eye; “he’s a straight cuss, he is; there ain’t much wrong with ‘im as I can see.”
Half annoyed and amazed at the old salt’s rascality, the inspector turned away. He was promptly buttonholed by Carwell.
“See here, Mr. Inspector; have you caught that blackguard Brand?”
“No, I have not; nor Pharaoh Lee either, for that matter. Where the pair of them have got to, beats me.”
Captain Jacob chuckled. He knew very well where one of them was, but he had no intention of gratifying Mr. Inspector Chard’s curiosity. To have done that would have been to risk a lively storm with his first mate; and the artful Shackel was counting far too much on Jack’s influence at Koiau, to run any risks of that kind.
But Carwell paid no attention to Jacob’s chuckle. His mind was busy with many thoughts, and he continued his conversation with the inspector.
“It is a great disgrace to Bethgamul,” he said dejectedly, “a very great disgrace. We believed in the man; we called him brother; we thought he was good. But he has poured dust on our heads.”
“But remember, sir, what your pastor overheard him say—that he wished to kill Tera in order that Niga might force his people to become Christians.”
“So far he was misled, Mr. Inspector. Two wrongs do not make a right, and it is not the custom of our congregation to spread the Word by means of murder. He killed Zara in mistake for Tera, I know; but his intention was to do evil that good might come of it—a very wrong intention.”
“Well, if I catch him, he’ll pay for his experiment.”
“You know now that Mayne’s not guilty, of course.”
“I do. Mr. Johnson and Mr. and Mrs. Finland have made an affidavit setting out Brand’s confession of his crime; and so far as we are concerned that document exonerates Mr. Mayne. But I wish we could get the man himself. What of your daughter, Mr. Carwell?”
“She is to marry Mr. Mayne as soon as he is well enough,” replied the farmer, gloomily. “In the end I had to give my consent. Rachel would have done without it else. However, she may yet bring the man to grace. There is joy over the sinner that repenteth.”
“I hear Mr. Mayne intends to sell his farm?”
“Yes, he and Rachel intend going to America. They will start afresh there.”
“And you, Mr. Carwell; do you go with them?”
“I am, I fear, too old a tree to be transplanted, Mr. Chard. No; when Rachel goes, a niece of mine—Jack’s sister—is coming to look after my house. I shall miss my daughter more than I can say; but I must be content to lose her. We know that a woman must forsake father and mother to cling to her husband. I only hope that Herbert Mayne will deserve his good fortune.”
“That I’m sure he will,” said Chard, in a tone of conviction. “He has had a fright likely to last him his life, I promise you.”
By this time the breakfast was at an end, and Tera, attended by Miss Arnott, went to her room.
“I’m really sorry you are going to leave us, my dear,” said Miss Arnott, in what was almost a penitent tone, “although once, I own, I would have been glad. You know why?”
Tera laughed, and threw a quizzical glance at her.
“We quarrelled over that, didn’t we?” she said. “I behaved very badly; and I hurt your ear, didn’t I? I am a very wicked girl.”
“You are a good girl now, Tera. But, tell me, how came that ear-ring of mine to be found by Zara’s body?”
“I think it caught in the fringe of my shawl, Miss Arnott, When I changed dresses with Zara, of course it passed to her. It must have fallen from her dress when the body was removed.”
“Well, perhaps that is the explanation, Tera; but the finding of it very nearly got me into trouble. However, we know the truth now, and how wicked Brand has been.”
“Wicked, indeed!” said Tera. “I should like you to have heard him say how Tolai could kill me. Ah, when I return to Koiau, Niga shall be punished, and Misi Brand too.”
“But he is not at Koiau?”
“No, not yet; but he has run away from England, and I am certain he intends going there to stir up trouble against Buli. Very likely Jack and I may find him there by the time we arrive. If we do—” Tera’s eyes flashed, and left no doubt as to her meaning. If Brand proved to be at Koiau, assuredly it did not promise well for him. But a recollection that it was her wedding day banished these savage thoughts from her mind. “I am ready now,” she said gaily, “ready for my journey. We must soon say good-bye, Mrs. Johnson.”
“Tera!” Miss Arnott flushed. “How can you say such a thing?”
“Because it will come true very soon, dear. Misi Johnson no longer thinks of poor Tera, but of you. He will make you his wife.”
Miss Arnott’s thoughts went back to the time when she paid the minister’s debts; to certain glances he had cast upon her of late, even to certain words he had spoken. “Perhaps,” she said, with a half-smile; “perhaps—who knows? Oh, Tera, I love him; I do love him so!”
When Tera reappeared, Tolai straightway shouldered her box, and the whole party walked down to the jetty. The heavier baggage had gone off earlier; Shackel had purchased stores and goods; he had hired seamen, and there was nothing to do now but to up anchor, and sail Westward Ho! The bridal pair took leave of their friends, and stepped into the gig that was waiting for them at the jetty steps. Once on board the Dayspring, Shackel set to work to weigh anchor and get away whilst the wind held fair.
In consideration of his new position, Jack decided to abandon his post of first mate. So Shackel, with the second, managed all operations; and the happy pair stood on deck listening to the chanties of the sailors, and watching the group on the pier head. Tera waved her handkerchief and smiled as the sailors tripped the anchor and roared their song of outward bound in rude rhyme:—
“The skipper slapped his-self and swore,
Oh, pulling out for Rio!
He’ll stay no longer slack ashore,
Oh, pulling out for Rio!
He’s said ‘so-long’ to gal and boss,
And started out for gain or loss,
To lift the blooming Southern Cross;
Pull out for Rio Grande.”
“We’re off at last,” said Tera, with a happy laugh.
“At last!” echoed Jack; “and glad I am to see the tail of the old country. We have just got to drop Pharaoh Lee ashore somewhere down the Channel, then let her smell the open sea.”
“Jack, if you put Pharaoh ashore, he may go back to Grimleigh and kill Mr. Mayne. Then what will Rachel say?”
“He couldn’t show his face in Grimleigh without being arrested,” replied Jack, encouragingly, “and Mayne is on his guard. Oh, you bet, Tera, that gipsy’s had enough of sticking people. Don’t let us talk about him.”
“We must talk of Koiau,” said Mrs. Finland. “Oh, Jack, how glad I am to go back! We shall be so happy in my land.”
“There is bound to be trouble at first, Tera. We must tell your father about Niga’s plot, and straighten him out. But perhaps Viara has already done that, and things may, of course, be all square when we arrive.”
“Buli is very powerful, Jack. He will conquer Niga, and you will help. He will proclaim me as the next ruler, and when we rule, Jack, we will make a great nation of Koiau.”
“Oh, we’ll make it a tidy place, I dare say. Come down to the cabin, Tera, and see if the baggage is all square.”
The sails were set by this time, and the Dayspring was heading to sea. Overhead the sky was cloudless, and the hot sun made the plain of the sea glitter as with myriads of jewels. As the wind bellied the sails, and the boat increased her speed, the foam swirled in creamy flakes from her sharp bow. In her own cabin, Tera was arranging her effects for the voyage. Suddenly she heard loud voices, the scuffle of feet, and then a cry of surprise from Jack. She ran hurriedly into the saloon. There, between two stalwart sailors, stood Brand. He was dusty, dirty, haggard and pale; but his eyes were bright, and his face set firm.
“You scoundrel!” cried Jack, fiercely; “how did you come on board?”
“He’s a blooming stowaway, sir,” spoke up one of the sailors; “we found him hidden in the hold.”
Before Brand could answer, the skipper came down the companion in a fury. “A stowaway aboard my boat?” he snapped out. “How did— Well, here’s a party! It’s your Brand.”
“Yes,” replied Brand, looking from one to another; “when I ran away, I knew you’d put the police on to me, so I came back to Sister Hoppus. She hid me in her cottage, and the police never looked for me there. Last night, as she found out you were leaving for Koiau, I got down to the water, and swam out to the boat, where I concealed myself.”
“I’ll put you ashore, cuss you,” growled Shackel. “I ain’t going to have no Jonah this trip, no, sir.”
“I am innocent—I never—”
“Here, shut your jaw,” said Jack, sharply; “we heard you confess with your own lips that you killed Zara in mistake for my wife.”
“Your wife? Are you married?”
“Yes, we are married,” cried Tera; “and we go to Koiau to punish Niga.”
“I go to Koiau also,” said Brand, resolutely folding his arms; “you can’t put me ashore now.”
“Can’t we?” growled Shackel, savagely. “There’s two words to that, my lad; we drop Pharaoh here down Channel, and you’ll go with him. A nice square time you’ll have; for he knows you killed his gal, and he’ll knife you, sure as a gun.”
“I’ll hold my own. If you won’t take me to Koiau, at least I’ll have a chance of escape now I’m out of Grimleigh.”
“How do you know we won’t hand you over to the police?”
“What good will that do?” retorted Brand, doggedly, “you can’t prove that I killed the girl.”
“Three of us can. Johnson, myself, and Tera. But I don’t care if you swing or not. All I wish for is the truth. Here are pen, ink, and paper, so you sit down and write a confession.”
“I won’t,” said Brand, desperately.
“Won’t you, by gum!” roared the skipper; “then I’ll clap you in irons, and send you ashore at the nearest port in charge of the police.”
The missionary looked round. He saw no gleam of mercy on the faces before him. He reflected that if he was only put ashore away from Grimleigh, he might contrive to escape. It would not be difficult to catch a ship bound for America; then he could make for ‘Frisco, and pick up a schooner for Koiau. Once on the island, and Niga, for his own sake, would protect him.
“I have health and money,” he reflected, rapidly; “it really does not matter if I confess, as I shall be far beyond reach when the statement is placed in the hands of the police. I shall—”
“Come now, sonny,” interrupted Shackel, sharply; “what’s your game?”
“Oh, I’ll write the confession you wish,” said Brand, gloomily; “but I must state that I killed Zara in mistake for Tera. If by her death I could secure the advantage of Koiau being Christianized at once, I contend that I was right to remove her. The blood of martyrs is the seed of—”
“Stop that,” cried Jack, roughly. “I’m not going to listen to any excuses for your infernal wickedness. Sit down and write, I tell you. Then you shall go ashore with Pharaoh, and I hope he’ll knife you as you deserve.”
“You misunderstand my motives, Mr. Fin—”
“I understand one thing, that you are a foul murderer. All your religion won’t get you over that.”
Brand said no more. The man was a fanatic, and really thought he was acting rightly when he decided to kill Tera. Her death meant the conversion of Koiau to the Christian faith, the spread of the gospel, the saving of many souls. But such arguments could not avail with the irreligious lot around him. With a sigh Brand sat down, and in half an hour had written out a full account of how he had murdered Zara. Moreover, he gave his reasons. This document he signed in the presence of Tera, Jack, and Shackel. When Mayne’s safety was thus secured, Finland turned on the missionary.
“Go on deck, you hound,” he said, leading him to the door, “and if you really believe in the stuff you preach, sling yourself overboard.”
“If I am a sinner,” cried Brand, his eyes flashing, “I repent of many things. I repent of Zara’s death; but if I had killed Tera I should rejoice. I—”
Jack’s arm shot out from his shoulder, but before the blow could get home Brand had scrambled up the stairs. Tera held back her husband.
“Let me go, Tera,” panted Jack, “I want to kick the beast.”
“Leave him alone, dear. Pharaoh will settle him.”
There was a loud cry on deck. “By gad, I believe Pharaoh is settling him,” cried Finland, rushing up, followed by Tera.
It was as he said. Pharaoh had come out for a stroll on deck, after being confined below so long. When he saw Brand emerge from the cabin he first stared at him in amazement, then furiously launched himself at him with a knife.
“I’ll kill you—I’ll kill you!” cried Pharaoh, closing with the missionary. “You killed my poor Zara—you shall die!”
“I will not die,” roared Brand, putting out his great strength against the gipsy. But he was weak with fasting, and Pharaoh, unable to use his knife, tried to strangle him.
“The same death as you gave Zara,” he muttered.
While the two men swayed and swung, the ship’s company mustered to look on. Shackel would not let any one interfere.
“Let ‘em kill one another,” he said. “I’ll have no Jonahs on this here barkey.”
The struggle was not of long duration. With a mighty effort Pharaoh lifted Brand over the taffrail, but the man clung round his neck, and his superior weight dragged the gipsy over. Tera and Jack and every one on board ran to the side. Neither man would loose his hold, and together they splashed into the water. The ship, now well under way, sailed on. Once only two heads were seen to rise out of the glittering water, then murderer and avenger went down into the deep sea, never to rise again. Zara was avenged, and for her Pharaoh had given his life.
* * * * * * *
Next day Jack and Shackel went ashore at the last port before leaving England, and made a declaration of the deaths. Jack also delivered Korah’s confession to the police, who promised to forward it to Inspector Chard at Grimleigh. Then they went aboard again, and the Dayspring spread her white wings and lifted to the swell of the open sea. Her nose was pointed south for the Horn.
“And then, Koiau!” whispered Jack to his wife,
“Koiau!” sighed Tera, and burst into wild singing in her native tongue. So they went sailing to a future of joy—to the spicy islands set like jewels in the shining seas of the under world.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.
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