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" I tried to persuade bim that witliout knowing,
seeing, hearing this Frenchman, it would not be easy
to imagine such an action proceeding from a sane
man, but that his exalted style of talk and his inflated
sentimentality made the thing credible. He wants to
belong to a family, to be owned and accepted as some
one's relative. The man is dying of the shame of his

*^ ' Let him marry.'

" ' So he means, and I hear to Bramleigh's widow.
Lady Augusta.'

"He laughed heartily at this and said, 'It's the
only encumbrance on the property.' And now, Mr.
Bramleigh, you are to judge, if you can ; is this the
offer of generosity, or is it the crafty proposal of a
beaten adversary ? I don't mean to say it is an easy
point to decide on, or that a man can hit it off at
once. Consult those about you ; take into considera-
tion the situation you stand in and all its dangers ;
bethink you what an adverse verdict may bring if we
push them to a trial ; and even if the proposal be, as
Mr. Attorney thinks, the cry of weakness, is it vdse
to disregard it?"

" Would you have laid such a proposal before my


father, Sedley?" said Bramleigh, with a scarcely
perceptible smile.

" Not for five hundred pounds, sir."

" I thought not."

" Ay, hut remember your father would never have
landed us where we stand now, Mr. Bramleigh."

Augustus winced under this remark, but said

'' If the case be what you think it, Sedley," said
he at last, '* this is a noble offer."

" So say I."

" There is much to think over in it. If I stood
alone here, and if my own were the only interests
involved, I think — that is I hope — I know what
answer I should give ; but there are others. You
have seen my sister ; you thought she looked thin and
delicate — and she may well do so, her cares overtax
her strength; and my poor brother too, that fine-
hearted fellow, what is to become of him ? And yet,
Sedley," cried he suddenly, " if either of them were
to suspect that this — this — what shall I call it ? — this
arrangement — stood on no basis of right, but was
simply an act of generous forbearance, I'd stake my
life on it, they'd refuse it."


" You must uot consult tJiciii then, that's clear."

" But I will not decide till I do so."

'•' Oh, for five minutes — only five minutes — of
your poor father's strong sense and sound intellect,
and I might send off my telegram to-night." And
with this speech, delivered slowly and determinately,
the old man arose, took his hed-room candle, and
walked away.




After a sleepless, anxious niglit, in which he can-
vassed all that Sedley had told him, Bramleigh pre-
sented himself at Jack's hedside as the day was
breaking. Though the sailor was not worldly wise,
nor endowed with much knowledge of life, he had, as
Augustus knew, a rough and ready judgment which,
allied to a spirit of high honour, rarely failed in
detecting that course which in the long run proved
best. Jack, too, was no casuist, no hair splitter ; he
took wide, commonplace views, and in this way was
sure to do what nine out of ten ordinary men would
approve of, and this was the sort of counsel that
Bramleigh now desired to set side by side with his
own deeply considered opinion.

Jack listened attentively to his brother's explana-


tion, not once interrupting him by a word or a ques-
tion till he had finished, and then, laying his hand
gently on the other's, said, " You know well. Gusty,
that you couldn't do this."

" I thought you would say so, Jack."

" You'd be a fool to part with what you owned,
or a knave to sell what did not belong to you."

" My own judgment precisely."

" I'd not bother myself then with Sedley's pros
and cons, nor entertain the question about saving
what one could out of the ^M-eck. If you haven't
a right to a plank in the ship, you have no right to
her because she is on the rocks. Say ' Xo,' Gusty :
say ' No ' at once."

" It would be at best a compromise on the life of
one man, for Pracontal's son, if he should leave one,
could re\'ive the claim."

" Don't let us go so far. Gusty. Let us deal with
the case as it stands before us. Say 'Xo,' and have
done with the matter at once."

Augustus leaned his head between his hands and
fell into a deep vein of thought.

" You've had your trial of humble fortune now,
Gusty," continued Jack, " and I don't see that it has

VOL. III. 63


soured you ; I see no signs of fretting or irritability
about you, old fellow; I'll even say that I never
remember you jollier or heartier. Isn't it true, this
sort of life has no terror for you ? "

''Think of Nelly, Jack.'^

" Nelly is better able to brave hard fortune than
either of us. She never was spoiled w^hen we were
rich, and she had no pretensions to lay down when
we became poor."

" And yourself, my poor fellow ? I've had many
a plan of what I meant by you."

" Never waste a thought about me. I'll buy a
trabaccolo. They're the handiest coasting craft that
ever sailed; and I'll see if the fruit-trade in the
Levant won't feed me, and we'll live here, Gusty, all
together. Come now, tell me frankly, would you
exchange that for C^istello, if you had to go back
there and live alone — eh ? "

" I'll not say I would ; but "

" There's no ' but ; ' the thing is clear and plain
enough. This place wouldn't suit Marion or Temple ;
but they'll not try it. Take my word for it, of all our
fine acquaintances, not one will ever come down here
to see how^ we bear our reduced lot in life. We'll


start fresli in the race, and we'll talk of long ago and
our grand times without a touch of repining."

" I'm quite ready to tiw it, Jack.''

" That's well said,'' said he, grasping his hand,
and pressing it affectionately. " And you'll say ' Xo *
to this offer ? I knew you would. Not hut the
Frenchman is a fine fellow, Gusty. I didn't believe
it was in his nation to behave as nobly ; for, mark
you, I have no doubts, no misgivings about his
motives. I'd say all was honest and above board in
his offer."

"I join you in that opinion, Jack: and one of
these days I hope to tell him so."'

" That's the way to fight the battle of life,'' cried
the sailor, enthusiastically. " Stand by your guns
manfully, and, if you're beaten, haul down your flag
in all honour to the fellow who has been able to
thrash you. The more you respect him, the higher
you esteem yourself. Get rid of that old lawyer as
soon as you can. Gusty ; he's not a pleasant fellow,
and we all want Cutty back again."

" Sedley wiU only be too glad to escape ; he's not
in love with our barbarism."

" I'm to breakfast with Cutty this morning. I


was nigh forgetting it. I liope I may tell him that
his term of banishment is nearly over."

" I imagine Sedley will not remain beyond to-

" That will be grand news for Cutty, for he can't
bear solitude. He says himself he'd rather be in
the Marshalsea with plenty of companions, than be
a king and have no associates. By the way, am I at
liberty to tell him about this offer of Pracontal's ?
He knows the whole history, and the man too."

" Tell him if you like. The Frenchman is a
favourite with him, and this will be another reason
for thinking well of him."

" That's the way to live, Gusty. Keep the ship's
company in good humour, and the voyage will be all
the happier."

After a few words they parted, Augustus to
prepare a formal reply to his lawj-er, and Jack to
keep his engagement with Cutbill. Though it was
something of a long walk, Jack never felt it so ; his
mind was full of pleasant thoughts of the future.
To feel that Julia loved him, and to know that a life
of personal effort and enterprise was before him, were
thoughts of overwhelming delight. He was now to

show himself worthy of her love, and he would do
this. With what resolution he would address himself
to the stern work of life ! It was not enough to say
affluence had not spoiled him, he ought to he ahle
to prove that the gentleman element was a source of
energy and perseverance which no reverses could
discourage. Julia was a girl to value this. She
herself had learned how to meet a fallen condition,
and had sacrificed nothing that graced or adorned
her nature in the struggle. Nay, she was more
loveable now than he had ever known her. Was it
not downright luck that had taught them both to
bear an altered lot before the trial of their married
life began ? It was thus he reasoned as he went,
canvassing his condition in every way, and contented
with it in all.

" What good news have you got this morning ? "
cried Cutbill, as he entered. '' I never saw you look
so jolly in my life."

'' Well, I did find half-a-crown in the pocket of
an old letter-case this morning ; but it's the only
piece of unexpected luck that has befallen me."

" Is the lawyer gone ? "

" No."


*' Nor thinking of going ? "

" I won't say that. I suspect he'll not make a
long halt after he has a talk with Gusty to-day."

And now Jack told in a few words the object of
Sedley's coming, what Pracontal had offered, and
what Augustus had resolved to send for answer.

" I'd have said the Frenchman was the biggest
fool in Europe if I hadn't heard of your brother,"
said Cutbill, puffing out a long column of smoke, and
oiving a deep sigh.

"That's not exactly how I read each of them,"
said Jack, sternly.

"Possibly; but it's the true rendering after all.
Consider for one moment "

"Not for half a moment, Master Cutbill. That
my brother might make a very good bargain, by
simply bartering such an insignificant thing as his
honour as a gentleman, is easy to see ; and that
scores of people wouldn't understand that such a
compromise was in question, or was of much con-
sequence, even if it were, is also easy to see ; and
we need waste no time in discussing this. I say
Gusty' s right, and I maintain it ; and if you like to
hold a different opinion, do so in heaven's name, but


don't disparage motives simply because you can't
feel them."

'^Ai-e you better after all that?" said Cutbill,
drily, as he filled Jack's glass with water, and pushed
it towards him. '' Do you feel refreshed ? "

'' Much better — considerably reKeved."

" Could I offer you anything cooling or calming "?"

" Nothing half as cool as yourself, Cutty. And
now let's change the subject, for it's one I'll not
stand any chaff about."

"Am I safe in recommending you that grilled
chicken, or is it indiscreet in me to say you'll find
those sardines good '? "

Jack helped himself, and ate on "s^dthout a word.
At last, he lifted his head, and, looking around him,
said, *' You've very nice quarters here, Cutbill."

'' As neat as paint. I was thinking this morning
whether I'd not ask your brother to rent me this
little place. I feel quite romantic since I've come
up here, with the nightingales, and the cicalas, and
the rest of them."

''If there were only a few more rooms like this,
I'd dispute the tenancy with you."

" There's a sea-view for you," said he, throwing


wide the jalousies. " The whole Bocca di Cattaro
and the islands in the distance. Naples is nothing
to it ! And when yoii have feasted your eye with
worldly heauty, and want a touch of celestial beatitude,
you've only to do this." And he arose, and walking
over to one side of the room, drew back a small
curtain of green silk, disclosing behind it an orna-
mental screen or *' grille " of iron -work.

'' "What does that mean ? " asked Jack.

'' That means that the occupant of this room,
when devoutly disposed, could he able to hear mass
without the trouble of going for it. This little
grating here looks into the chapel : and there are
evidences about that members of the family who
lived at the villa* were accustomed to come up here
at times to pass days of solitude, and perhaps penance,
w^hich, after all, judging from the indulgent character
of this little provision here, were probably not over

'^ Nelly has told me of this chapel. Can we
see it?"

" No ; it's locked and barred like a gaol. I've
tried to peep in through this grating ; but it's too
dark to see anything."


" But this grating is on a hinge," said Jack.
" Don't you see, it was meant to open, though it
appears not to have done so for some years hack "?
Here's the secret of it." And pressing a small knob
in the wall, the framework became at once moveable,
and opened like a window.

*' I hope it's not sacrilege, but I mean to go in,"
said Jack, who, mounting on a chair, with a sailor's
agility insinuated himself through the aperture, and
invited Cutbill to follow.

*' Xo, no ; I wasn't brought up a rope-dancer,"
said he, gi'utfiy. '' If you can't manage to open the
door for me "

*' But it's what I can. I can push back every
bolt. Come round now, and I'll admit you."

By the time Cutbill had reached the entrance,
Jack had succeeded in opening the massive doors ;
and as he flung them wide, a flood of light poured
into the little crypt, with its splendid altar and its
silver lamps; its floor of tesselated marble, and its
ceiling a mass of gilded tracery almost too bright to
look on : but it was not at the glittering splendour
of gold or gems that they now stood enraptured. It
was in speechless wonderment of the picture that


formed the altar-piece, whicli was a Madonna, — a
perfect copy, in every lineament and line, of the
Flora at Castello. Save that an expression of
ecstatic rapture had replaced the look of joyous
delight, they were the same, and unquestionably
were derived from the same original.

" Do you know that ? " cried Cutbill.

" Know it ! Why, it's our own fresco at

" And by the same hand too," cried Cutbill.
" Here are the initials in the corner — G. L. ! Of
all the strange things that I have ever met in life,
this is the strangest ! " And he leaned on the
railing of the altar, and gazed on the picture with
intense interest.

" I can make nothing of it," muttered Jack.

" And yet there's a great story in it," said
Cutbill, in a low, serious tone. " That picture was
a portrait — a portrait of the painter's daughter ; and
that painter's daughter was the wife of your grand-
father, Montagu Bramleigh ; and it is her grand-
child now, the man called Pracontal, who claims your

'' How do you pretend to know all this ? "


" I knoTv it chapter and verse. I have gone over
the whole history with that old painter's journal
before me. I have seen several studies of that girl's
face — ' Enrichetta Lami,' she was called — and I have
read the entry of her marriage with your grandfather
in the parish register. A terrible fact for your poor
brother, for it clenches his ruin. Was there ever as
singular a chance in life as the re-appearance of this
face here ? "

" Coming as though to taunt us with oui' down-
fall ; though certainly that lovely brow and those
tearful eyes have no scorn in them. She must have
been a great beauty.''

" Pracontal raves of her beauty, and says that
none of these pictures do her justice, except one at
Urbino. At least he gathers this from the journal,
which he swears by as if it were gospel."

" I'd call her handsomer in that picture than in
our fresco. I wonder if this were painted earlier or
later ? "

'*' I can answer that question, for the old sacristan
who came up here yesterday, and fell to talking about
the chapel, mentioned how the painter — a gran'
maestro he called him — bargained to be buried at


the foot of the altar, and the Marchese had not kept
his word, not hking to break up the marble pave-
ment, and had him interred outside the walls, with
the prior's grave and a monk at either side of him.
His brushes and colours, and his tools for fresco -
work, were all buried in the chapel, for they had
been blessed by the Pope's Nuncio, after the com-
pletion of the basilica at Udine. Haven't I remem-
bered my story well, and the old fellow didn't tell it
above nine times over ? This was old Lami's last
work, and here his last resting-place."

" What is it seems so familiar to me in that
name ? Every time you have uttered it I am ready
to say I have heard it before."

" What so likely, from Augustus or your sister."

" No. I can answer for it that neither of them
ever spoke of him to me. I know it was not from
them I heard it."

" But how tell the story of this suit without
naming him ?"

" They never did tell me the story of the suit,
beyond the fact that my grandfather had been
married privately in early life, and left a son whom
he had not seen nor recognized, but took every


means to disayow and disown. Wait now, a
moment ; my mind is coming to it. I think I have
the clue to this old fellow's name. I must go back
to the villa, however, to be certain."

" Not a word of our discovery here to any one,"
cried Cutbill. '• We must arrange to bring them
all here, and let them be surprised as we were."

" I'll be back with you within an hour," said
Jack. " My head is full of this, and I'll teU you
why when I retm-n."

And they parted.

Before Cutbill could believe it possible, Jack ,
flushed and heated, re-entered the room. He had
run at top speed, found what he sought for, and
came back in intense eagerness to declare the

" You've lost no time. Jack ; nor have I either.
I took up the flags under the altar-steps, and came
upon this oak box. I suppose it was sacrilege, but I
carried it ofi'here to examine at our leisure."

" Look here," cried Jack, '' look at this scrap of
paper. It was given to me at the galleys at Ischia
by the fellow I was chained to. Read these names,
Giacomo Lami — whose daughter was Enrichetta — I


was to trace him out, and communicate, if I could
with this other man, Tonino Baldassare or Pracontal
— he was called by both names. Bolton of Naples
could trace him."

A long low whistle was Cutbill's only reply as he
took the paper and studied it long and attentively.

" Why, this is the whole story," cried he at last.
" This old galley-slave is the real claimant, and
Pracontal has no right, while Niccolo, or whatever
his name be, lives. This may turn out glorious news
for your brother, but I'm not lawyer enough to say
whether it may not be the Crown that will benefit,
if his estates be confiscated for felony."

" I don't think that this was the sort of service
Old Nick asked me to render him when we parted,"
said Jack, drily.

'^ Probably not. He only asked you to help
his son to take away your brother's estate."

"Old Nick knew nothing about whose brother
I was. He trusted me to do him a service, and I
told him, I would."

Though Cutbill paid but little attention to him.
Jack talked on for some time of his old comrade,
recounting the strange traits of his nature, and


rememberiiig with gi-atitude such Httle kindness as
it was in his power to show.

"I'd have gone clean out of my mind but for
him," said he at last.

" And we have all believed that this fellow
was lost at sea," muttered Cutbill. ''Bolton gave
up all his papers and the remnant of his property
to his son in that belief."

*'Xor does he wish to be thought living now.
He charged me to give no clue to him. He even
said I was to speak of him as one I had met at
Monte Video years ago."

'' These are things for a 'cuter head than yours
or mine, Jack," said Cutbill, "«*ith a cunning look.
"We're not the men to see our way through this
tangle. Go and show that scrap of paper to Sedley.
and take this box with you. Tell him how you came
by each. That old fox will soon see whether they
confirm the case against your brother or disclose a
flaw in it."

■ •' And is that the way I'm to keep my word to
Old Nick •? " said Jack, doggedly.

" I don't suppose you ever bound yom-self to
injure your own flesh and blood by a blank promise.


I don't believe there's a family in Europe witli as
many scruples, and as little sense how to deal with

'' Civil that, certainly."

" Not a bit civil, only true ; but let us not
squabble. Go and tell Sedley what we have chanced
upon. These men have a way of looking at the
commonest events — and this is no common event
— that you nor I have never dreamed of. If
Pracontal's father be alive, Pracontal cannot be the
claimant to your estates ; that much, I take it, is
certain. At all events Sedley's the man to answer

Half pushing Jack out of the room while he
deposited the box in his hands, Cutbill at last sent
him off, not very willingly indeed, or concurringly,
but like one who, in spite of himself, saw he was
obliged to take a particular course, and travel a road
without the slightest suspicion of where it led to.

{ 289 )



" Sedley asks for the best Italian scholar amongst
us," said Augustus the next morning at breakfast,
" and the Yoice of public opinion calls upon 3'ou,

" You know what Figaro said of ' common report.'
I'll not repeat it," said she laughing, " and I'll even
behave as if I didn't believe it. And now what is
wanted of me, or my Italian scholarship ? "

" The matter is thus : Sedley has received some
papers " — here a look of intelligence passed between
Augustus and Jack — ''which he imagines may be of
consequence, but being in Italian, he can't read
them. He needs a translator "

"I am equal to that," broke she in, ''but why
don't we do it in committee, as you political people
call it ? Five heads are better than one."
VOL. III. 64


" Mr. Sedley is absolute, and will have but one."

" And am I to be closeted for a whole morning
with Mr. Sedley ? I declare it seems compromising.
Jack frowns at me. There is nothing so prudish as
a sailor. I msh any one would tell me why it is so."

'' Well, the matter is as you have stated it," said
Augustus. " Mr. Sedley says, ' Let me have the aid
of some one who will not grudge me two hours,
mayhap three.' "

'' What if the documents should turn out love-
letters ? "

" Julia ! Julia ! " cried Jack, reprovingly; for in
reality her sallies kept him in constant anxiety.

''I can't help it, Jack; I must be prudent, even
if I shock you by my precautions. I repeat, if these
be love-letters?"

''Well, I can answer so far," said Augustus.
*' They are not — at least I can almost assert they are

" I wish Nelly would go," said Julia, with mock
seriousness. "I see Jack is wretched about it, and
after all Mr. Sedley, though not exactly a young
man "

" I declare this is too bad," said Jack, rising


angrily from the table, and then throwing himself back
in his chair, as if in conflict with his own temper.

" She u provoking, there is no doubt of it, and
on board ship we'd not stand that sort of thing five
minutes," said Julia, with a demui'e au-; ''but on
land, and amongst terrestrial creatm-es. Master Jack,
I know nothing for it but patience."

'"Patience!" muttered he, with an expression
that made them all burst out laughing.

*' So I may tell Sedley you will aid him ? " asked

'• I'm ready now. Indeed, the sooner begun the
better, for we have a long walk project — haven't we,
Jack ? — for this afternoon."

" Yes, if we have patience for it," said he. And
once more the laugh broke forth as they arose from
table and separated into little knots and groups
through the room.

" 1 may tell you, Julia," said Augustus, in a
half whisper, " that though I have given up hoping
this many a day, it is just possible there may be
something in these papers of moment to me, and I
know I have only to say as much to secure your
interest in them."


" I believe you can rely upon that," said she ;
and within less than five minutes afterwards she
was seated at the table with Mr. Sedley in the
study, an oblong box of oak clasped with brass
in front of them, and a variety of papers lying

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 16)