A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) Mason.

Miranda of the balcony; a story online

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MIRANDA OF THE BALCONY






MIRANDA

OF THE BALCONY



_A STORY_




BY

A. E. W. MASON

AUTHOR OF "THE COURTSHIP OF MORRICE BUCKLER," ETC.




New York
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., Ltd.
1899
_All rights reserved_






Copyright, 1899,
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY




_Norwood Press_
_J. S. Cushing & Co. - Berwick & Smith_
_Norwood, Mass., U.S.A_.





CONTENTS


CHAPTER I

IN WHICH A SHORT-SIGHTED TAXIDERMIST FROM TANGIER MAKES A DISCOVERY
UPON ROSEVEAR.


CHAPTER II

PRESENTS THE HERO IN THE UNHEROIC ATTITUDE OF A SPECTATOR.


CHAPTER III

TREATS OF A GENTLEMAN WITH AN AGREEABLE COUNTENANCE AND OF A WOMAN'S
FACE IN A MIRROR.


CHAPTER IV

TREATS OF THE FIRST MEETING BETWEEN CHARNOCK AND MIRANDA.


CHAPTER V

WHEREIN CHARNOCK AND MIRANDA IMPROVE THEIR ACQUAINTANCESHIP IN A
BALCONY.


CHAPTER VI

WHILE CHARNOCK BUILDS CASTLES IN SPAIN, MIRANDA RETURNS THERE.


CHAPTER VII

IN WHICH MAJOR WILBRAHAM DESCRIBES THE STEPS BY WHICH HE ATTAINED HIS
MAJORITY AND GIVES MIRANDA SOME PARTICULAR INFORMATION.


CHAPTER VIII

EXPLAINS THE MYSTERY OF THE "TARIFA'S" CARGO.


CHAPTER IX

SHOWS THE USE WHICH A BLIND MAN MAY MAKE OF A DARK NIGHT.


CHAPTER X

M. FOURNIER EXPOUNDS THE ADVANTAGES WHICH EACH SEX HAS OVER THE OTHER.


CHAPTER XI

IN WHICH MIRANDA ADOPTS A NEW LINE OF CONDUCT AND THE MAJOR EXPRESSES
SOME DISCONTENT.


CHAPTER XII

THE HERO, LIKE ALL HEROES, FINDS HIMSELF IN A FOG.


CHAPTER XIII

WHEREIN THE HERO'S PERPLEXITIES INCREASE.


CHAPTER XIV

MIRANDA PROFESSES REGRET FOR A PRACTICAL JOKE.


CHAPTER XV

IN WHICH THE MAJOR LOSES HIS TEMPER AND RECOVERS IT.


CHAPTER XVI

EXPLAINS WHY CHARNOCK SAW MIRANDA'S FACE IN HIS MIRROR.


CHAPTER XVII

SHOWS HOW A TOMBSTONE MAY CONVINCE WHEN ARGUMENTS FAIL.


CHAPTER XVIII

IN WHICH THE TAXIDERMIST AND A BASHA PREVAIL OVER A BLIND MAN.


CHAPTER XIX

TELLS OF CHARNOCK'S WANDERINGS IN MOROCCO AND OF A WALNUT-WOOD DOOR.


CHAPTER XX

CHARNOCK, LIKE THE TAXIDERMIST, FINDS WARRINER ANYTHING BUT A
COMFORTABLE COMPANION.


CHAPTER XXI

COMPLETES THE JOURNEYINGS OF THIS INCONGRUOUS COUPLE.


CHAPTER XXII

IN WHICH CHARNOCK ASTONISHES RALPH WARRINER.


CHAPTER XXIII

RELATES A SECOND MEETING BETWEEN CHARNOCK AND MIRANDA.


CHAPTER XXIV

A MIST IN THE CHANNEL ENDS, AS IT BEGAN, THE BOOK.





MIRANDA OF THE BALCONY




CHAPTER I

IN WHICH A SHORT-SIGHTED TAXIDERMIST FROM TANGIER MAKES A DISCOVERY
UPON ROSEVEAR


The discovery made a great stir amongst the islands, and particularly
at St. Mary's. In the square space before the Customs' House, on the
little stone jetty, among the paths through the gorse of the Garrison,
it became the staple subject of gossip, until another ship came ashore
and other lives were lost. For quite apart from its odd circumstances,
a certain mystery lent importance to Ralph Warriner. It transpired
that nearly two years before, when on service at Gibraltar, Captain
Warriner of the Artillery had slipped out of harbour one dark night in
his yacht, and had straightway disappeared; it was proved that
subsequently he had been dismissed from the service; and the coroner
of St. Mary's in a moment of indiscretion let slip the information
that the Home Office had requested him to furnish it with a detailed
history of the facts. The facts occurred in this sequence.

At seven o'clock of a morning in the last week of July, the St. Agnes
lugger which carries the relief men to and fro between the Trinity
House barracks upon St. Mary's and the Bishop Lighthouse in the
Atlantic, ran alongside of St. Mary's pier. There were waiting upon
the steps, the two lighthouse men, and a third, a small rotund Belgian
of a dark, shiny countenance which seemed always on the point of
perspiring. He was swathed in a borrowed suit of oilskins much too
large for him, and would have cut a comical figure had he not on that
raw morning looked supremely unhappy and pathetic. M. Claude Fournier
was a taxidermist by profession and resided at Tangier; he was never
backward in declaring that the evidences of his skill decorated many
entrance-halls throughout Europe; and some three weeks before he had
come holiday-making alone to the islands of Scilly.

He now stood upon the steps of the pier nervously polishing his
glasses as the lugger swung upwards and downwards on the swell. He
watched the relief men choose their time and spring on board, and just
as Zebedee Isaacs, the master of the boat, was about to push off with
his boat-hook, he nerved himself to speak.

"I go with you to the Bishop, is it not?"

Isaacs looked up in surprise. He had been wondering what had brought
the little man out in this dress and on this morning.

"There'll be a head-wind all the way," he said discouragingly, "and
wi' that and a heavy ground sea we'll be brave an' wet before we reach
the Bishop, brave an' wet."

"I do not mind," replied M. Fournier. "For the sea, I am _dévot_;" but
his voice was tremulous and belied him.

Isaacs shook his head.

"It's not only the sea. Look!" And he stretched out his arm. A
variable fog rolled and tumbled upon a tumbling wilderness of sea.
"I'ld sooner have two gales lashed together than sail amongst these
islands in a fog. I'ld never go to-day at all, but the boat's more'n
three weeks overdue."

Indeed, as M. Fournier looked seawards, there was no glimpse of land
visible. A fortnight of heavy weather had been followed by a week of
fog which enveloped the islands like a drenched blanket. Only to-day
had it shown any signs of breaking, and the St. Agnes lugger was the
first boat, so far as was known, to run the hazard of the sea. It is
true that two days before one man had run in to the bar of
Tregarthen's Hotel and told how he had stood upon the top of the
Garrison and had looked suddenly down a lane between two perpendicular
walls of mist, and had seen the water breaking white upon Great Smith
Rock, and in the near distance an open boat under a mizzen and a jib,
beating out through the heavy swell towards the west. But his story
was in no wise believed.

To all of Isaacs's objections M. Fournier was impervious, and he was
at last allowed to embark.

"Now!" cried Zebedee Isaacs, as the lugger rose. M. Fournier gave a
pathetic look backwards to the land, shut his eyes and jumped. Isaacs
caught and set him upon the floor of the boat, where he stood
clutching the runners. He saw the landing-steps dizzily rush past him
up to the sky like a Jacob's ladder, and then as dizzily shut
downwards below him like a telescope.

The boat was pushed off. It rounded the pier-head and beat out on its
first tack, across the Road. M. Fournier crouched down under the
shelter of the weather bulwark.

"As for the sea I am _dévot_," he murmured, with a watery smile.

In a little the boat was put about. From Sour Milk Ledge it was sailed
on the port tack towards Great Minalto, and felt the wind and felt the
sea. It climbed up waves till the red lug-sail swung over M.
Fournier's head like a canopy; and on the downward slope the heavy
bows took the water with a thud. M. Fournier knelt up and clung to the
stays. At all costs he must see. He stared into the shifting fog at
the rollers which came hopping and leaping towards him; and he was
very silent and very still, as though the fascination of terror
enchained him.

On the third tack, however, he began to resume his courage. He even
smiled over his shoulder towards Zebedee Isaacs at the tiller.

"As for the sea," he began to say, "I am - " But the statement, which
he was not to verify on this day, ended in a shriek. For at that
moment a great green wave hopped exultingly over the bows, and
thenceforward all the way to the Bishop the lugger shipped much water.

M. Fournier's behaviour became deplorable. As Isaacs bluntly and
angrily summarised it, "he lay upon the thwarts and screeched like a
rook;" and in his appeals to his mother he was quite conventionally
French.

He made no attempt to land upon the Lighthouse. The relief men were
hoisted up in the sling, the head-keeper and one of his assistants
were lowered, and the lugger started upon its homeward run before the
wind. The fog thickened and lightened about them as they threaded the
intricate channels of the western islands. Now it was a thin grey
mist, parting here and there in long corridors, driven this way and
that, twirling in spires of smoke, shepherded by the winds; now again
it hung close about them an impenetrable umber, while the crew in
short quick tones and gestures of the arms mapped out the rocks and
passages. About them they could hear the roar of the breaking waves
and the rush of water up slabs and over ledges, and then the "glumph
glumph" as the wave sucked away. At times, too, the fog lifted from
the surface and hung very low, massed above their heads, so that the
black hillocks of the islets stood out in the sinister light like
headstones of a cemetery of the sea, and at the feet of them the water
was white like a flash of hungry teeth.

It was at one such moment, when the boat had just passed through
Crebawethan Neck, that M. Fournier, who had been staring persistently
over the starboard bulwark, suddenly startled the crew.

"There's a ship on shore. _Tenez_ - look!" he cried. "There, there!"
And as he spoke the mist drove between his eyes and what he declared
that he saw.

Zebedee Isaacs looked in the direction.

"On Jacky's Rock?" he asked, nodding towards a menacing column of
black rock which was faintly visible.

"No, no - beyond! - There!" And M. Fournier excitedly gesticulated. He
seemed at that moment to have lost all his terror of the sea.

"On Rosevear, then," said the keeper of the lighthouse, and he
strained towards Rosevear.

"I see nothing," he said, "and - "

"There's nothing to see," replied Isaacs, who did not alter his
course.

"But it's true," exclaimed the little Belgian. "I see it no more
myself. But I have seen it, I tell you. I have seen the mast above the
island - "

"You!" interrupted Isaacs, with a blunt contempt; "you are blind!" And
M. Fournier, before anyone could guess his intention, flung himself
upon Isaacs and jammed the tiller hard over to port. The boat came
broadside to the wind, heeled over, and in a second the water was
pouring in over the gunwale. Zebedee wrenched the main sheet off the
pin, and let the big sail fly; another loosed the jib. The promptitude
of these two men saved the boat. It ran its head up into the wind,
righted itself upon its keel, and lay with flapping sails and
shivered.

Isaacs without a word caught hold of M. Fournier and shook him like a
rat; and every man of the crew in violent tones expounded to the
Belgian the enormity of his crime. Fournier was himself well-nigh
frantic with excitement. He was undaunted by any threats of violence;
neither the boat, nor the sea, nor the crew had any terrors for him.

"There is a ship!" he screamed. "The fog was vanished - just for a
second it was vanished, and I have seen it. There may be men alive on
that rock - starving, perishing, men of the sea like you. You will not
leave them. But you shall not!" And clinging to the mast he stamped
his feet. "But you shall not!"

"And by the Lord he's right," said the lighthouse-keeper, gravely - so
gravely that complete silence at once fell upon the crew. One man
stood up in the bows, a second knelt upon the thwarts, a third craned
his body out beyond the stern, and all with one accord stared towards
Rosevear. The screen of haze was drawn aside, and quite clear to the
view over a low rock, rose the mast and tangled cordage of a wreck.

The sheets were made fast without a word. Without a word, Zebedee
Isaacs put the boat about and steered it into the Neck between
Rosevear and Rosevean. As they passed along that narrow channel, no
noise was heard but the bustle of the tide. For at the western end
they saw the bows of a ship unsteadily poised upon a ledge. There was
a breach amidships, the stern was under water, only the foremast
stood; and nowhere was there any sign of life.

Isaacs brought the boat to in a tiny creek, some distance from the
wreck.

"We can land here," he said, and the lighthouse-keeper and Fournier
stepped ashore.

On the instant that quiet, silent islet whirred into life and noise.
So startling was the change that M. Fournier jumped backwards while
his heart jerked within him.

"What's that?" he cried, and then laughed as he understood. For a
cloud of puffins, gulls, kittiwakes and shearwaters whirled upwards
from that nursery of sea-birds and circled above his head, their cries
sounding with infinite melancholy, their wings flickering like silver
in that grey and desolate light.

"It's so like your Robinson Crusoe," said M. Fournier.

"It is more like our islands of Scilly," said the lighthouse-keeper,
as he looked towards the wreck.

They climbed over the low rocks and walked along the crown of the
island towards the wreck. There was no tree or shrub upon the
barren soil, only here a stretch of sandy grass, there a patch of
mallows - mallows of a rusty green and whitened with salt of the sea.
In the midst of one such patch they came upon the body of a man. He
was dressed in a pilot coat, sea boots and thick stockings drawn over
his trousers to the hips, and he lay face downwards with his head
resting upon his arms in a natural posture of sleep.

Fournier stood still. The lighthouse-keeper walked forward and tapped
the sleeper upon the shoulder. But the sleeper did not wake. The
lighthouse man knelt down and gently turned the man over upon his
back; as he did so, or rather just before he did so, Fournier turned
sharply away with a shudder. When the sailor was lying upon his back,
the keeper of the lighthouse started with something of a shudder too.
For the sailor had no face.

The lighthouse man drew his handkerchief from his pocket and gently
covered the head. It seemed almost as if Fournier had been waiting,
had been watching, for this action. For he turned about immediately
and stood by the lighthouse-keeper's side. Above the lonely islet the
sea-birds circled and called; on the sea the mist was now no more than
a gauze, and through it the glow of the sun was faintly diffused.

"Strange that, isn't it?" said the lighthouse-keeper, in a hushed
voice. "The sea dashed him upon the rocks and drew him down again and
threw him up again until it got tired of the sport, and so tossed him
here to lie quietly face downwards amongst the mallows like a man
asleep."

Then he sat back upon his heels and measured the distance between the
mallows and the sea with some perplexity upon his forehead - and the
perplexity grew.

"It's a long way for the sea to have thrown him," he said, and as
Fournier shifted restlessly at his side, he looked up into his face.
"Good God, man, but you look white," he said.

"The sight is terrible," replied Fournier, as he wiped his forehead.

The lighthouse-keeper nodded assent.

"Yes, it's a terrible place, the sea about these western islands," he
said. "Did you ever hear tell that there are sunken cities all the way
between here and Land's End, the sunken cities of Lyonnesse? Terrible
sights those cities must see. I often think of the many ships which
have plunged down among their chimneys and roof-tops - perhaps here a
great Spanish galleon with its keel along the middle of a paved square
and its poop overhanging the gables, and the fishes swimming in and
out of the cabins through the broken windows; perhaps there a big
three-decker like Sir Cloudesley Shovel's, showing the muzzles of
her silent guns; or a little steam-tramp of our own times, its iron
sides brown with rust, and God knows what tragedy hidden in its tiny
engine-room. A terrible place - these islands of Scilly, dwelling
amongst the seas, as the old books say - dwelling amongst the seas."

He bent forward and unfastened the dead sailor's pilot jacket. Then he
felt in his pocket and drew out an oilskin case. This he opened, and
Fournier knelt beside him.

There were a few letters in the case, which the two men read through.
They were of no particular importance beyond that they were headed
"Yacht The Ten Brothers," and they were signed "Ralph Warriner," all
of them except one. This one was a love-letter of a date six years
back. It was addressed to "Ralph," and was signed "Miranda."

"Six years old," said the lighthouse-keeper. "For six years he has
carried that about with him, and now it will be read out in court to
make a sorry fun for people whom he never knew. That's hard on him,
eh? But harder on the woman."

At the words, spoken in a low voice, M. Fournier moved uneasily and
seemed to wince. The lighthouse-keeper held the letter in his hands
and thoughtfully turned over its pages.

"I have a mind to tear it up, but I suppose I must not." He returned
the papers to the oilskin case, and going back to the boat called for
two of the crew to carry the body down. "Meanwhile," said he to
Fournier, "we might have a look at 'The Ten Brothers.'"

They could not approach the bows of the ship, but overlooked them from
a pinnacle of rock. There was, however, little to be remarked.

"She is an old boat, and she has seen some weather from the look of
her," said the lighthouse-keeper. That, indeed, was only to be
expected, for "The Ten Brothers" had been a trader before Ralph
Warriner bought her, and two years had elapsed between the night when
he slipped from Gibraltar Harbour, and the day when this boat came to
its last moorings upon Rosevear.

The mist cleared altogether towards sunset. The sun shone out from the
edge of the horizon a ball of red fire, and the lugger ferried the
dead body back to St. Mary's over a sea which had the colour of
claret, and through foam ripples which sparkled like gold.

The Miranda who wrote the love-letter was Miranda Warriner, Ralph
Warriner's wife. Miranda Bedlow she had been at the date which headed
the letter. She was living now at Ronda in the Andalusian hills, a
hundred miles from Algeciras and Gibraltar, and had lived there since
her husband's disappearance. To Ronda the oilskin case was sent. She
heard the news of her Ralph's death with a natural sense of solemnity,
but she was too sincere a woman to assume a grief which she could not
feel. For her married life had been one of extraordinary unhappiness.




CHAPTER II

PRESENTS THE HERO IN THE UNHEROIC ATTITUDE OF A SPECTATOR


It was Lady Donnisthorpe who two years later introduced Luke Charnock
to Mrs. Warriner. Lady Donnisthorpe was an outspoken woman with an
untameable passion for match-making, which she indulged with the
ardour and, indeed, the results of an amateur chemist. Her life was
spent in mingling incompatible elements and producing explosions to
which her enthusiasm kept her deaf, even when they made a quite
astonishing noise. For no experience of reverses could stale her
satisfaction when she beheld an eligible bachelor or maid walk for the
first time into her parlour.

She had made Charnock's acquaintance originally in Barbados. He sat
next her at a dinner given by the Governor of the Island, and took her
fancy with the pleasing inconsistency of a boyish appearance and a
wealth of experiences. He was a man of a sunburnt aquiline face, which
was lean but not haggard, grey and very steady eyes, and a lithe, tall
figure, and though he conveyed an impression of activity, he was still
a restful companion. Lady Donnisthorpe remarked in him a modern
appreciation of the poetry of machinery, and after dinner made
inquiries of the Governor.

"He is on his way homewards from Peru," answered the latter. "He has
been surveying for a railway line there during the last two years.
What do you think of him?"

"I want to know what you think."

"I like him. He is modest without diffidence, successful without
notoriety."

"What are his people?" asked Lady Donnisthorpe.

"I don't believe he has any. But I believe his father was a clergyman
in Yorkshire."

"It would sound improper for a girl without visible relations to say
that she was the daughter of a clergyman in Yorkshire, wouldn't it?"
said her ladyship, reflectively. "But I suppose it's no objection in a
man;" and in her memories she made a mark against Charnock's name. She
heard of him again once or twice in unexpected quarters from the lips
of the men who from East to West are responsible for the work that is
done; and once or twice she met him, for she was a determined
traveller. Finally, at Cairo, she sat next to Sir John Martin, the
head partner of a great Leeds firm of railway contractors.

"Did you ever come across a Mr. Charnock?" she asked.

The head partner laughed.

"I did; I knew his father."

"It's a strange thing about Mr. Charnock," said she, "but one never
hears anything of what he was doing before the last few years."

"Why not ask him?" said the North-countryman, bluntly.

"It might sound inquisitive," replied Lady Donnisthorpe, "and perhaps
there's no need to, if you know."

"Yes, I know," returned Sir John, with a great deal of provoking
amusement, "and, believe me, Lady Donnisthorpe, it's not at all to his
discredit."

Lady Donnisthorpe began thereafter to select and reject possible wives
for Charnock, and while still undecided, she chanced to pass one
December through Nice. The first person whom she saw in the vestibule
of the hotel was Luke Charnock.

"What in the world are you doing here?" she asked.

"Taking a week's holiday, Lady Donnisthorpe. I have been in Spain for
the last two years, and shall be for the next nine months."

"In Spain?"

"I am making a new line between Cadiz and Algeciras."

"God bless the man, and I never thought of it!" exclaimed Lady
Donnisthorpe. "I think you will do," she added, looking him over, and
nodding her head.

"I hope so," replied Charnock, cheerfully. "It's a big lift for me."

"In a way, no doubt," agreed her ladyship. "Though, mind you, the land
isn't what it was."

"The railway will improve it," said Charnock.

They happened to be talking of different subjects. Lady Donnisthorpe
pursued her own.

"Then you won't be in England for a year?" she said regretfully.

"The company building the line is an English one," replied Charnock.
"I shall have to see the directors in June. I shall be in London
then."

"Then you must come and see me. Write before you leave Spain.
Promise!" said Lady Donnisthorpe, who was now elated.

Charnock promised, and that day Lady Donnisthorpe wrote to her cousin,
Miranda Warriner, at Ronda, who was now at the end of the first year
of her widowhood, and of the third year of her ridiculous seclusion at
that little hill-town of Spain. Miranda was entreated, implored, and
commanded to come to London in May. There was the season, there was
Miranda's estate in Suffolk, which needed her attention. Miranda
reluctantly consented, and so Lady Donnisthorpe was the instrument by
which Charnock and Mrs. Warriner became acquainted. But the


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