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UPSIDONIA




BY THE SAME AUTHOR


THE HOUSE OF MERRILEES
EXTON MANOR
THE ELDEST SON
THE SQUIRE'S DAUGHTER
THE HONOUR OF THE CLINTONS
THE GREATEST OF THESE
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
WATERMEADS
UPSIDONIA
ABINGTON ABBEY
THE GRAFTONS
RICHARD BALDOCK
THE CLINTONS AND OTHERS




UPSIDONIA


BY
ARCHIBALD MARSHALL

Author of "Exton Manor," "The Honour of the Clintons,"
"Watermeads," etc.


[Illustration]


NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
1919




TO THE THREE
COMIC CHARACTERS,
K, M, & N.




UPSIDONIA




CHAPTER I


I had been walking for many days, carrying my pack, enjoying myself
hugely and spending next to nothing. I had got into a wild hilly
country, where habitation was very sparse, and had walked for hours that
morning along a rough road without meeting a single human being.

In the middle of the day I came to a moor-side hamlet, where I got
something of a meal, and set out again almost immediately, meaning to
find some place where I could enjoy an hour's sleep. For it was very
hot, and I had already walked over twenty miles.

But as I left the village, I was joined by a gentleman of obliging
manners but somewhat unkempt appearance, who invited me to turn aside
and visit the old jet caves, which had once been famous in this
locality, though long since disused.

For anything but a cave, I should have done my best to shake him off,
but I have a great love of caves, especially of those which go
mysteriously back into the bowels of the earth, and no one knows their
ending. They are full of romance, and call up all sorts of delightful
visions. From Eastern tales of magic and treasure to brisk tales of
smugglers, the entrance to a cave has always been the entrance to
regions of mystery, in which anything may happen. So I immediately
accepted the invitation to visit these caves, which were only a few
hundred yards away from the main road.

At first sight they were a trifle disappointing. There were three of
them, at the foot of a high bank of shale, almost hidden by trees and
shrubs. The shale had nearly closed the entrances, and one looked over a
bank of it, which left a hole hardly more than big enough to creep
through. Still, they were undoubtedly caves, and not mere holes in the
hillside. The largest one was full of water, and little ferns grew
luxuriantly on the sides and roof, which dripped continuously. One of
the others was choked by a fall of earth a little way from the entrance,
and my guide told me that this had happened quite recently, after a very
wet spell. The third was comparatively dry, and he said that he had
himself penetrated more than a mile into it, with no signs of its
ending.

Whether this was true or not, I could not resist trying it. I had an
electric torch, fully charged, in my pack, and it was a great chance to
have a cave to explore with it. My friend demurred a little at
accompanying me. He said that if the other cave had fallen in, after so
many years, this one was not unlikely to fall in now at any time, and we
should find ourselves in an awkward fix if it should fall in while we
were exploring, and cut off our retreat. I had no wish for his company,
and did not press him; but when I got out the torch, and flashed it, he
thought he would come after all. I think he had at heart the same sort
of feeling about caves and electric torches that I had.

We got over the mound on to the muddy floor of the cave. The roof was
high enough to enable us to walk upright, and we went forward singly,
straight ahead into the darkness.

We had got in perhaps thirty or forty yards, and I had just switched on
the torch, when a stone or something fell in front of us with a noisy
plump. My companion clutched me by the arm. "I believe there's going to
be a fall," he said.

I shook him off and continued, and again something fell, that made
still more noise. "Come back!" he shouted. "Come back!"

I turned round to see him running towards the patch of sunlight, and
then there was a load roar in my ears, which, however, instantly became
dead silence.

For a moment I was confused, but went on, forgetting all about my late
companion. When I turned round again he had disappeared, and the patch
of sunlight also. So I continued on my way, and seemed to be always
mounting upwards, with the ground quite dry, and the roof of the cave
still some way above my head.

I had certainly now walked a mile when, to my surprise, I saw a point of
light in front of me, which increased as I approached it, and presently
showed itself as a wide opening.

I came out into a place much like that at which I had entered, except
that it was still more masked by shrubs, and found myself in the
clearing of a wood. It seemed to me that I had come quite straight along
the underground passage, so that I must be on the way in which I
intended to go. The cave, as a cave, had been disappointing, and there
was nothing to be gained by going back. I would take my nap, and then
find the road again.

I looked about for a place to lie down in, and as I did so saw a very
ragged dirty man coming towards me.

I was rather annoyed at this. Having shaken off one uninvited companion,
I did not want to be troubled with another.

There was something rather striking about his face, in spite of his
unkempt hair and beard - a look of self-possession, even of pride, and,
as he kept his eyes on me approaching him, almost of arrogance.

However, he was poor enough, to all appearances, and I thought that if I
gave him some money he would probably want to go away at once and spend
it. So I accosted him cheerfully and offered him a sixpence.

I had made no mistake about his arrogance. He drew himself up, and his
eyes flashed at me.

"How dare you?" he began. "I will - - "; and he looked round as if to
summon someone to aid him in resenting an insult.

"Oh, all right," I said, pocketing the coin; "if you are as proud as all
that - - ! But I meant no harm, and I'm almost as poor as you are."

"The more shame to you for behaving like that," he said hotly. "I could
forgive it, perhaps, in one who was richer. I will not take your money;
and if you use your superior strength to force it on me, I warn you that
you will not hear the last of it."

I felt sorry for the poor creature. I took the sixpence out of my pocket
again, and held it out to him.

"Come now, take it," I said. "Go and get yourself a good meal, or a
drink if you like. You look as if it wouldn't do you any harm."

He was still more enraged. "You impudent scoundrel!" he cried. "I'll
have you arrested for this." And he stalked off with his head in the
air, wrapping his rags around him.

He looked such an absurd figure that I sent an involuntary laugh after
him, which caused him to turn round and shake his fist at me. I had not
meant him to hear, for I was sorry for him; but I reflected before I had
chosen my mossy resting-place under a spreading oak, that with so great
a contempt for money and what money represented in the way of bodily
comfort, he was not so much in want of pity as he seemed to be. Then I
took off my knapsack, and pillowing my head upon it was soon in a deep
sleep.

As, after a long time, I began to regain consciousness, I became aware
of a touch on my body about the region of my waist. It could only have
been a second or two before the actuality disengaged itself from the
stuff of my dreams, and I suddenly awoke, and sprang up into a sitting
posture, to see a figure disappearing among the trees. Feeling in my
waistcoat pocket, I found that my watch had disappeared.

I jumped up, and seizing my knapsack in one hand and my stout
walking-stick in the other, gave chase.

I had not very far to go. When I got round the tree behind which the
thief had disappeared, I saw to my surprise that he was an elderly, if
not an old man, dressed in a frock coat and a tall hat. He was stout,
and appeared to be grossly fed, for as I came up to him he turned and
put up his hands to warn me off - my watch was in one of them; but he was
so winded by his few yards' run that he was not able to speak. In his
mouth was a large and expensive-smelling cigar, and he formed the oddest
figure of a watch-snatcher that could well be imagined.

I seized my watch out of his hand, and he found breath enough to bleat
out: "What are you doing? They're after you. Give me all your money
quickly, before they come."

"You old rascal!" I cried, and was going on to give him a piece of my
mind, when my attention was distracted by a hullabaloo from the road,
which was only a few yards off, and from which we could be plainly seen.

"There's the rascal! That's him!" I heard shouted, and saw a
considerable concourse of people advancing towards me, headed by a
policeman, and the ragged man to whom I had tendered the coin.

The presence of a policeman in that, as I had thought, lonely spot, was
a better piece of fortune than I could have hoped for. "Yes, here he
is," I said. "He stole my watch while I was asleep, and ran off with it.
Constable, I give him in charge."

The policeman had leapt the ditch which divided the wood from the road,
and now came straight towards me with a look of determination on his
face.

"Take him!" shouted the ragged man; and, to my utter astonishment, he
seized me by the collar, and said: "Now you come along with me quietly,
or it will be the worse for you."

I shook him off roughly. I was young and strong, and he was neither.

"What are you doing?" I asked angrily. "Here's the thief! Take hold of
him."

The fat man turned away with a shrug of the shoulders. "I wash my hands
of it," he said. "You can do what you like with him."

I was so infuriated with his impudence that I made a dash for him. But
the policeman was on me again, and with him several others from the
crowd. In spite of my struggles I was soon overpowered.

"Are you all mad?" I cried. "There's the thief! Why don't you take him?
I've done nothing."

They paid not the slightest attention to my protestations. The ragged
man had taken no part in my capture, but stood aside, and directed the
others with an air of authority. This was the more remarkable, because
the greater part of them were not like the ordinary crowd that follows
the police on an errand of duty, but were well-dressed, and had all the
air of being well-to-do or even rich.

I appealed to them. "Do give a fellow a chance," I said. "I'm on a
walking-tour, and I dare say I look like a tramp. But I'm quite
respectable."

They cut me short by dragging me towards the road, where a smart
Victoria was standing, at a point towards which other carriages were now
driving.

The policeman said: "You're charged with trying to force money on this
gentleman; and I warn you that anything you now say will be used in
evidence against you."

I saw it was no use protesting further. I was either asleep and
dreaming, in which case I should presently awake; or I was in the hands
of a set of lunatics, and must wait until I got again into the company
of sensible men.

But it annoyed me to see the smug old thief retiring with all the
honours of war, while I was being led off in ignominious captivity. He
was actually now stepping into the Victoria, and the cockaded coachman
on the box was touching his hat to him.

"I warn you that you will be sorry for this," I said to my captors.
"But, at any rate, take that man too. I tell you that he stole my watch,
and wanted to take all my money before you came up."

They took no notice of this appeal, except that one of two ill-dressed
men amongst the well-dressed ones said to the other: "Old Perry is
really rather overdoing it. He'll be had up for tampering with justice
if he's not careful."

"Then why don't you get him taken up now?" I asked.

But they looked at me coldly and turned away.

"Mr. Perry," said the ragged man, "this is a dangerous criminal. Will
you let the constable drive him to the police station, and walk back
with us?"

The old humbug of whom this remarkable request was made turned up a
sanctimonious face, and replied: "I am in my proper place amongst the
low and degraded. Let the prisoner drive with me."

There were murmurs of astonishment at this, and one of the poor-looking
men said to my ragged one: "Oh, let him alone! He'll get tired of it by
and by."

I was then ordered into the carriage, and we drove off at a foot's pace,
the other carriages turning back to accompany us, and the crowd walking
behind and on either side.

I was surprised to see that the country was very different from what I
had imagined it to be when I had come through the cave. Before that, as
I have said, there had been few signs of human habitation; but now I had
suddenly come into a populous country-side, and seemed to be not far
from a town of some size.

For we were passing large houses in large gardens, villas, and cottages;
and the road, which had been of the roughest, was wide and smooth, and
there was a good deal of traffic on it.

I could not make out in the least where I had come to. I had known that
I could not be many miles off the village of Eppington, but could think
of no considerable town within a radius of fifty miles of where I had
spent the night; and I knew I could not have walked that distance. I
might have put a question to my companion; but I was so annoyed that I
could not bring myself to address him.

It was he who first addressed me. He was still ostentatiously smoking
his rich cigar, and looked at me out of a bilious, but impudently
benevolent eye, and said: "Young man, I would have saved you if I could.
I think you must now be convinced of that. It may be that in the
exercise of my charity I have overstepped the mark, and have done wrong.
It now only remains for you to show your gratitude by keeping what has
passed to yourself. If a charge is brought against me, I look to you to
shield my good name, or my sphere of influence may be much diminished."

My reply to this preposterous piece of cant was a somewhat violent
assurance that I should see that he got the punishment he deserved. He
held up his fat hands in pained astonishment, and thereafter kept
silence.




CHAPTER II


By and by we came to a tramway terminus, where an electric car was
standing. The policeman, who had been walking by the side of the
carriage, the ragged man, and many of our other followers, jumped on to
it. The fat rascal in whose carriage I was seated ordered the coachman
to drive on faster, and I was not sorry to be relieved of most of our
escort. But the other carriages, of which there were perhaps half a
dozen, and some of them very splendid equipages indeed, continued with
us, and my appearance was still rather more public than I could have
wished.

We presently passed into a busy street of shops. I could not for the
life of me imagine what town it was that I had come to. It was evidently
a place of considerable importance and a large population, which crowded
the streets, and frequently jeered at our little procession.

Everything around me seemed usual. The shops and buildings were like
those of any other large town, and the people much the same - a mixture
of old and young, rich and poor.

But there was just one thing that struck me as a little strange. The
poor people - even the very poorest, like the man at whose hands I had
been so remarkably arrested - walked amongst the rest with an air far
more assured than was customary; and the well-dressed people seemed to
have rather a hang-dog sort of look. I might not have noticed this but
for the predicament in which I found myself; but my attention being
fixed upon the point it was impossible to ignore it.

We drew up at the door of a police station, and I was taken inside,
where I lost no time in making a somewhat violent protest to the
sergeant in charge, and again invited him to take the preposterous Mr.
Perry into custody.

As before, not the smallest notice was taken of my indignant speech. I
was told sharply to hold my tongue, and the charge against me was
repeated in the same ridiculous form in which it had first been made,
and entered in the sergeant's ledger. The ragged man appeared before the
formalities were concluded, and, to my now painful bewilderment, was
treated with marked respect by the police, whom he addressed with calm
authority. His name was entered as my accuser, and, upon the charge
being read over to me, I discovered him to be "Lord Potter."

Well, if he was really a nobleman in disguise, that perhaps accounted
for the absurd subserviency with which he was treated. But the disguise
was so complete that my indignation was redoubled, and I made one more
very strong protest before I was led away.

"What place is this?" I asked, when I saw that no more notice was going
to be taken of my protest than before.

Lord Potter stared at me with high disdain on his dirty face, and Mr.
Perry with a most irritating air of grieved sympathy.

"Perhaps," I said, "I can find someone I know, who will come to my
assistance. I don't know in the least what town I am in."

"Come along," said the constable who had arrested me. "You'll only make
it worse by being impudent. You know well enough what place you're in.
Now are you coming quietly, or shall I have to take you?"

I thought it best to go quietly. I was taken through a door opposite to
the one by which we had entered, and rather to my surprise found myself
in a carpeted passage. We passed several other doors on either side,
until we came to one which the policeman unlocked.

"By the look of your clothes," he said, as he fumbled with the key, "you
ought to be better treated; but we're pretty full up, and you'll only be
here till to-morrow morning. You must make the best of it. Here, take
this."

He pushed half a crown into my hand, and me through the door, which he
immediately shut and locked after me, leaving me for the first time in
my life in a prison cell.

My surprise, at the extraordinary action of a policeman in pressing a
tip upon a prisoner, was overcome by the fierce anger I felt at being
locked up in a pitch dark cell, which could not have been more than five
or six feet square; for as I put out my hands I found I could touch the
walls on all sides. What mad piece of inhumanity was this, to add to the
burlesque charge on which I was to be tried! There was not even a stool
to sit down on. Was I really to be confined in this dark hole until I
could be taken before a magistrate on the following morning? I turned,
and banged and kicked on the door in uncontrollable rage, and shouted at
the top of my voice.

But there was no answer, and presently I desisted, determined to make
the best of my situation.

I began to feel round the walls, and immediately came to a little
obstacle, which with an immense lift of relief I recognized as an
electric switch. I turned it, and the place was flooded with light. Then
I discovered that I was not in a cell at all, but in a little lobby, in
all four walls of which were doors.

I opened one, and found a deep cupboard, with hooks in it, but nothing
else. I shut it and opened the next, and found myself on the threshold
of a small but comfortably furnished parlour.

Opposite to the door was a window looking on to a strip of garden gay
with flowers; but the window, which was of ordinary size, was guarded by
thick iron bars. It was this fact that brought it home to me that,
incredible as it might appear, this room, with a comfortable armchair by
the window, with books on a shelf, and pictures on the prettily papered
walls, was my prison cell, and not the narrow lobby into which I had
first come.

The third door in the lobby led into a well-appointed bathroom, and
leading out of the parlour was a little bedroom, with the sheets turned
down on the bed, and a suit of pink pyjamas laid out all ready for its
occupant.

It may be imagined that all this, following on what had already
happened, puzzled me not a little; but since this convenient little
self-contained flat was mine to make myself at home in until the
following morning, I could, at any rate, take advantage of its
amenities.

I was dusty and footsore, and very glad of a hot bath. As I lay steaming
in it, I recalled the words of the policeman, before he had pressed the
half-crown into my hand and shut me into the lobby: "By the look of your
clothes you ought to be better treated."

Well, as for my clothes, they had certainly been made by a good tailor,
but they were of well-nigh immemorial age, and were covered with dust
and travel-stains. I wore also an aged green hat of soft felt, and a
flannel shirt with a low collar and a whisp of an old tie; and my boots,
white with dust, were an easy but unlovely pair that I kept for these
expeditions. No, my clothes could not possibly have indicated any
exalted station in life, nor even the moderate degree of gentility that
was mine by birth and education. The man must have been sneering at me.

But then, what could he have meant by referring to better treatment? I
was lodged like a coronation guest. Was it the habit of the authorities
of this extraordinary town, whose identity puzzled me more and more, to
house their prisoners like potentates, since my quarters were considered
only fit to be apologized for? I could only give up the problem, and
wait for what should happen next.

When I had had my bath, brushed the dust off my clothes, and put on a
clean shirt and clean socks out of my pack, I began to feel hungry; and
such was the effect upon me of my surroundings that I looked around me,
almost without intention, for a bell. There was one by the mantelpiece,
which I rang, and then waited with some curiosity for what should
happen.

Within a very short time I heard the outer door being opened, and there
came into the room a waiter with a napkin over his shoulder. Except that
his clothes were seedy, and his shirt-front rather crumpled, he had the
appearance of a servant at a would-be smart restaurant, ready to do what
was wanted of him, but having no very high opinion of the person from
whom he received his orders. However, he seemed to have anticipated my
wants, for without a word he held out to me a bill of fare, and I
accepted it with equal unconcern and looked over it.

It was of a fairly elaborate description, and as a precautionary
measure, before making any selection, I said: "I suppose I don't have to
pay for any of this?"

His lip curled as he replied: "Of course not. Choose whatever you like
and put a tick against it."

Thus encouraged, I ordered a nice little dinner of clear soup,
_truite-au-bleu_, lamb cutlets with new potatoes, a slice of ham with
madeira sauce and spinach, a _p├ęche Melba_, angels on horseback, and
some strawberries to finish up with. He took the order without
flinching, and asked: "Do you want any wine?"

"Well, yes," I said, "if there's nothing to pay for it."

He flushed angrily. "I don't want any of your impudence," he said. "You
will pay nothing at all for anything you have as long as you are here,
and if you are not very careful you will be here a good deal longer than
you bargain for."

"I don't know that I should altogether object to that," I said, and
took the wine list from him.

It was an excellent list, and under the circumstances I made excellent
use of it. I allowed myself a glass of white Tokay, and another of
Chateau d'Yquem, a pint of Pommery, 1900, and a bottle of '68 port to
sit with later on. He looked more contemptuous than ever as he took the
order, and asked disdainfully: "Don't you want a liqueur with your
coffee?"

"I had forgotten that for the moment," I said. "Have you any very old
brandy?"

"We have some eighteen-fifteen," he said; "but I need scarcely say we
are very seldom asked for it."

"Well, on the terms that you have indicated, you are asked for it now,"
I said. "And I should like one or two really good cigars, fairly
strong - something like the one that Mr. Perry was smoking this
afternoon, if you can get them."

He went out of the room without a word, and carefully locked the outer
door behind him. However inexplicable my treatment, I was not, at any
rate, to forget that I was a prisoner.

Tired with my long walk, and the somewhat disturbing experiences I had
been through, I fell fast asleep in the easy chair by the open window,
through which came sweet wafts from a patch of night-scented stock in


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