H. Rider Haggard.

Colonel Quaritch, V.C. A Tale of Country Life online

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had received some bank papers which must be attended to that night.

Now most men would in all human probability have been dismayed by this
state of affairs into relinquishing an attempt at matrimony which it
was evident could only be carried through in the face of the quiet but
none the less vigorous dislike and contempt of the other contracting
party. But this was not so with Edward Cossey. Ida's coldness excited
upon his tenacious and obstinate mind much the same effect that may be
supposed to be produced upon the benighted seeker for the North Pole
by the sight of a frozen ocean of icebergs. Like the explorer he was
convinced that if once he could get over those cold heights he would
find a smiling sunny land beyond and perchance many other delights,
and like the explorer again, he was, metaphorically, ready to die in
the effort. For he loved her more every day, till now his passion
dominated his physical being and his mental judgment, so that whatever
loss was entailed, and whatever obstacles arose, he was determined to
endure and overcome them if by so doing he might gain his end.

He was reflecting upon all this on the morning in question when Mr.
Quest, looking very cool, composed and gentlemanlike, was shown into
his room, much as Colonel Quaritch had been shown in two mornings
before.

"How do you do, Quest?" he said, in a from high to low tone, which he
was in the habit of adopting towards his official subordinates. "Sit
down. What is it?"

"It is some business, Mr. Cossey," the lawyer answered in his usual
quiet tones.

"Honham Castle mortgages again, I suppose," he growled. "I only hope
you don't want any more money on that account at present, that's all;
because I can't raise another cent while my father lives. They don't
entail cash and bank shares, you know, and though my credit's pretty
good I am not far from the bottom of it."

"Well," said Mr. Quest, with a faint smile, "it has to do with the
Honham Castle mortgages; but as I have a good deal to say, perhaps we
had better wait till the things are cleared."

"All right. Just ring the bell, will you, and take a cigarette?"

Mr. Quest smiled again and rang the bell, but did not take the
cigarette. When the breakfast things had been removed he took a chair,
and placing it on the further side of the table in such a position
that the light, which was to his back, struck full upon Edward
Cossey's face, began to deliberately untie and sort his bundle of
papers. Presently he came to the one he wanted - a letter. It was not
an original letter, but a copy. "Will you kindly read this, Mr.
Cossey?" he said quietly, as he pushed the letter towards him across
the table.

Edward finished lighting his cigarette, then took the letter up and
glanced at it carelessly. At sight of the first line his expression
changed to one of absolute horror, his face blanched, the perspiration
sprang out upon his forehead, and the cigarette dropped from his
fingers to the carpet, where it lay smouldering. Nor was this
wonderful, for the letter was a copy of one of Belle's most passionate
epistles to himself. He had never been able to restrain her from
writing these compromising letters. Indeed, this one was the very same
that some little time before Mr. Quest had abstracted from the pocket
of Mr. Cossey's lounging coat in the room in London.

He read on for a little way and then put the letter down upon the
table. There was no need for him to go further, it was all in the same
strain.

"You will observe, Mr. Cossey, that this is a copy," said Mr. Quest,
"but if you like you can inspect the original document."

He made no answer.

"Now," went on Mr. Quest, handing him a second paper, "here is the
copy of another letter, of which the original is in your handwriting."

Edward looked at it. It was an intercepted letter of his own, dated
about a year before, and its contents, though not of so passionate a
nature as the other, were of a sufficiently incriminating character.

He put it down upon the table by the side of the first and waited for
Mr. Quest to go on.

"I have other evidence," said his visitor presently, "but you are
probably sufficiently versed in such matters to know that these
letters alone are almost enough for my purpose. That purpose is to
commence a suit for divorce against my wife, in which you will, of
course, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, be joined as
co-respondent. Indeed, I have already drawn up a letter of instruction
to my London agents directing them to take the preliminary steps," and
he pushed a third paper towards him.

Edward Cossey turned his back to his tormentor and resting his head
upon his hand tried to think.

"Mr. Quest," he said presently in a hoarse voice, "without admitting
anything, there are reasons which would make it ruinous to me if such
an action were commenced at present."

"Yes," he answered, "there are. In the first place there is no knowing
in what light your father would look on the matter and how his view of
it would affect your future interests. In the second your engagement
to Miss de la Molle, upon which you are strongly set, would certainly
be broken off."

"How do you know that I am engaged?" asked Edward in surprise.

"It does not matter how I know it," said the lawyer, "I do know it, so
it will be useless for you to deny it. As you remark, this suit will
probably be your ruin in every way, and therefore it is, as you will
easily understand, a good moment for a man who wants his revenge to
choose to bring it."

"Without admitting anything," answered Edward Cossey, "I wish to ask
you a question. Is there no way out of this? Supposing that I have
done you a wrong, wrong admits of compensation."

"Yes, it does, Mr. Cossey, and I have thought of that. Everybody has
his price in this world and I have mine; but the compensation for such
a wrong must be a heavy one."

"At what price will you agree to stay the action for ever?" he asked.

"The price that I will take to stay the action is the transfer into my
name of the mortgages you hold over the Honham Castle Estates,"
answered Mr. Quest quietly.

"Great heavens!" said Edward, "why that is a matter of thirty thousand
pounds."

"I know it is, and I know also that it is worth your while to pay
thirty thousand pounds to save yourself from the scandal, the chance
of disinheritance, and the certainty of the loss of the woman whom you
want to marry. So well do I know it that I have prepared the necessary
deeds for your signature, and here they are. Listen, sir," he went on
sternly; "refuse to accept my terms and by to-night's post I shall
send this letter of instructions. Also I shall send to Mr. Cossey,
Senior, and to Mr. de la Molle copies of these two precious epistles,"
and he pointed to the incriminating documents, "together with a copy
of the letter to my agents; and where will you be then? Consent, and I
will bind myself not to proceed in any way or form. Now, make your
choice."

"But I cannot; even if I will, I cannot," said he, almost wringing his
hands in his perplexity. "It was on condition of my taking up those
mortgages that Ida consented to become engaged to me, and I have
promised that I will cancel them on our wedding. Will you not take
money instead?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Quest, "I would take money. A little time ago I
would not have taken it because I wanted that property; now I have
changed my ideas. But as you yourself said, your credit is strained to
the utmost, and while your father is alive you will not find it
possible to raise another thirty thousand pounds. Besides, if this
matter is to be settled at all it must be settled at once. I will not
wait while you make attempts to raise the money."

"But about the mortgages? I promised to keep them. What shall I say to
Ida?"

"Say? Say nothing. You can meet them if you choose after your father's
death. Refuse if you like, but if you refuse you will be mad. Thirty
thousand pounds will be nothing to you, but exposure will be ruin.
Have you made up your mind? You must take my offer or leave it. Sign
the documents and I will put the originals of those two letters into
your hands; refuse and I will take my steps."

Edward Cossey thought for a moment and then said, "I will sign. Let me
see the papers."

Mr. Quest turned aside to hide the expression of triumph which flitted
across his face and then handed him the deeds. They were elaborately
drawn, for he was a skilful legal draughtsman, quite as skilful as
many a leading Chancery conveyancer, but the substance of them was
that the mortgages were transferred to him by the said Edward Cossey
in and for the consideration that he, the said William M. Quest,
consented to abandon for ever a pending action for divorce against his
wife, Belle Quest, whereto the said Edward Cossey was to be joined as
co-respondent.

"You will observe," said Mr. Quest, "that if you attempt to contest
the validity of this assignment, which you probably could not do with
any prospect of success, the attempt must recoil upon your own head,
because the whole scandal will then transpire. We shall require some
witnesses, so with your permission I will ring the bell and ask the
landlady and your servant to step up. They need know nothing of the
contents of the papers," and he did so.

"Stop," said Edward presently. "Where are the original letters?"

"Here," answered Mr. Quest, producing them from an inner pocket, and
showing them to him at a distance. "When the landlady comes up I will
give them to her to hold in this envelope, directing her to hand them
to you when the deeds are signed and witnessed. She will think that it
is part of the ceremony."

Presently the man-servant and the landlady arrived, and Mr. Quest, in
his most matter-of-fact way, explained to them that they were required
to witness some documents. At the same time he handed the letters to
the woman, saying that she was to give them to Mr. Cossey when they
had all done signing.

Then Edward Cossey signed, and placing his thumb on the familiar wafer
delivered the various documents as his act and deed. The witnesses
with much preparation and effort affixed their awkward signatures in
the places pointed out to them, and in a few minutes the thing was
done, leaving Mr. Quest a richer man by thirty thousand pounds than
when he had got up that morning.

"Now give Mr. Cossey the packet, Mrs. Jeffries," he said, as he
blotted the signatures, "and you can go." She did so and went.

When the witnesses had gone Edward looked at the letters, and then
with a savage oath flung them into the fire and watched them burn.

"Good-morning, Mr. Cossey," said Mr. Quest as he prepared to part with
the deeds. "You have now bought your experience and had to pay dearly
for it; but, upon my word, when I think of all you owe me, I wonder at
myself for letting you off at so small a price."

As soon as he had gone, Edward Cossey gave way to his feelings in
language forcible rather than polite. For now, in addition to all the
money which he had lost, and the painful exposure to which he had been
subjected, he was face to face with a new difficulty. Either he must
make a clean breast of it to Ida about the mortgages being no longer
in his hands or he must pretend that he still had them. In the first
alternative, the consideration upon which she had agreed to marry him
came to nothing. Moreover, Ida was thereby released from her promise,
and he was well aware that under these circumstances she would
probably break off the engagement. In the second, he would be acting a
lie, and the lie would sooner or later be discovered, and what then?
Well, if it was after marriage, what would it matter? To a woman of
gentle birth there is only one thing more irretrievable than marriage,
and that is death. Anyhow, he had suffered so much for the sake of
this woman that he did not mean to give her up now. He must meet the
mortgages after marriage, that was all.

/Facilis est descensus Averni/. When a man of the character of Edward
Cossey, or indeed of any character, allows his passions to lead him
into a course of deceit, he does not find it easy to check his wild
career. From dishonour to dishonour shall he go till at length, in due
season, he reaps as he has sown.



CHAPTER XXVIII

HOW GEORGE TREATED JOHNNIE

Some two or three days before the scene described in the last chapter
the faithful George had suddenly announced his desire to visit London.

"What?" said the Squire in astonishment, for George had never been
known to go out of his own county before. "Why, what on earth are you
going to do in London?"

"Well, Squire," answered his retainer, looking marvellously knowing,
"I don't rightly know, but there's a cheap train goes up to this here
Exhibition on the Tuesday morning and comes back on the Thursday
evening. Ten shillings both ways, that's the fare, and I see in the
/Chronicle/, I du, that there's a wonnerful show of these new-fangled
self-tying and delivering reapers, sich as they foreigners use over
sea in America, and I'm rarely fell on seeing them and having a
holiday look round Lunnon town. So as there ain't not nothing
particler a-doing, if you hain't got anything to say agin it, I think
I'll go, Squire."

"All right," said the Squire; "are you going to take your wife with
you?"

"Why no, Squire; I said as I wanted to go for a holiday, and that
ain't no holiday to take the old missus too," and George chuckled in a
manner which evidently meant volumes.

And so it came to pass that on the afternoon of the day of the
transfer of the mortgages from Edward Cossey to Mr. Quest the great
George found himself wandering vaguely about the vast expanse of the
Colinderies, and not enjoying himself in the least. He had been
recommended by some travelled individual in Boisingham to a certain
lodging near Liverpool Street Station, which he found with the help of
a friendly porter. Thence he set out for the Exhibition, but, being of
a prudent mind, thought that he would do well to save his money and
walk the distance. So he walked and walked till he was tired, and
then, after an earnest consultation with a policeman, he took a 'bus,
which an hour later landed him - at the Royal Oak. His further
adventures we need not pursue; suffice it to say that, having started
from his lodging at three, it was past seven o'clock at night when he
finally reached the Exhibition, more thoroughly wearied than though he
had done a good day's harvesting.

Here he wandered for a while in continual dread of having his pocket
picked, seeking reaping machines and discovering none, till at length
he found himself in the gardens, where the electric light display was
in full swing. Soon wearying of this, for it was a cold damp night, he
made a difficult path to a buffet inside the building, where he sat
down at a little table, and devoured some very unpleasant-looking cold
beef. Here slumber overcame him, for his weariness was great, and he
dozed.

Presently through the muffled roar and hum of voices which echoed in
his sleep-dulled ears, he caught the sound of a familiar name, that
woke him up "all of a heap," as he afterwards said. The name was
"Quest." Without moving his body he opened his eyes. At the very next
table to his own were seated two people, a man and a woman. He looked
at the latter first. She was clad in yellow, and was very tall, thin
and fierce-looking; so fierce-looking that George involuntarily jerked
his head back, and brought it with painful force in contact with the
wall. It was the Tiger herself, and her companion was the coarse,
dreadful-looking man called Johnnie, whom she had sent away in the cab
on the night of Mr. Quest's visit.

"Oh," Johnnie was saying, "so Quest is his name, is it, and he lives
in a city called Boisingham, does he? Is he an off bird?" (rich)

"Rather," answered the Tiger, "if only one can make the dollars run,
but he's a nasty mean boy, he is. Look here, not a cent, not a stiver
have I got to bless myself with, and I daren't ask him for any more
not till January. And how am I going to live till January? I got the
sack from the music hall last week because I was a bit jolly. And now
I can't get another billet any way, and there's a bill of sale over
the furniture, and I've sold all my jewels down to my ticker, or at
least most of them, and there's that brute," and her voice rose to a
subdued scream, "living like a fighting-cock while his poor wife is
left to starve."

"'Wife!' Oh, yes, we know all about that," said the gentleman called
Johnnie.

A look of doubt and cunning passed across the woman's face. Evidently
she feared that she had said too much. "Well, it's a good a name as
another," she said. "Oh, don't I wish that I could get a grip of him;
I'd wring him," and she twisted her long bony hands as washerwomen do
when they squeeze a cloth.

"I'd back you to," said Johnnie. "And now, adored Edithia, I've had
enough of this blooming show, and I'm off. Perhaps I shall look in
down Rupert Street way this evening. Ta-ta."

"Well, you may as well stand a drink first," said the adored one. "I'm
pretty dry, I can tell you."

"Certainly, with pleasure; I will order one. Waiter, a brandy-and-soda
for this lady - /six/ of brandy, if you please; she's very delicate and
wants support."

The waiter grinned and brought the drink and the man Johnnie turned
round as though to pay him, but really he went without doing so.

George watched him go, and then looked again at the lady, whose
appearance seemed to fascinate him.

"Well, if that ain't a master one," he said to himself, "and she
called herself his wife, she did, and then drew up like a slug's
horns. Hang me if I don't stick to her till I find out a bit more of
the tale."

Thus ruminated George, who, be it observed, was no fool, and who had a
hearty dislike and mistrust of Mr. Quest. While he was wondering how
he was to go to work an unexpected opportunity occurred. The lady had
finished her brandy-and-soda, and was preparing to leave, when the
waiter swooped down upon her.

"Money please, miss," he said.

"Money!" she said, "why you're paid."

"Come, none of that," said the waiter. "I want a shilling for the
brandy-and-soda."

"A shilling, do you? Then you'll have to want, you cheating white-
faced rascal you; my friend paid you before he went away."

"Oh, we've had too much of that game," said the waiter, beckoning to a
constable, to whom, in spite of the "fair Edithia's" very vigorous and
pointed protestations, he went on to give her in charge, for it
appeared that she had only twopence about her. This was George's
opportunity, and he interfered.

"I think, marm," he said, "that the fat gent with you was a-playing of
a little game. He only pretinded to pay the waiter."

"Playing a game, was he?" gasped the infuriated Tiger. "If I don't
play a little game on him when I get a chance my name is not Edith
d'Aubigne, the nasty mean beast - the - - "

"Permit me, marm," said George, putting a shilling on the table, which
the waiter took and went away. "I can't bear to see a real lady like
you in difficulty."

"Well, you are a gentleman, you are," she said.

"Not at all, marm. That's my way. And now, marm, won't you have
another?"

No objection was raised by the lady, who had another, with the result
that she became if not exactly tipsy at any rate not far off it.

Shortly after this the building was cleared, and George found himself
standing in Exhibition Road with the woman on his arm.

"You're going to give me a lift home, ain't you?" she said.

"Yes, marm, for sure I am," said George, sighing as he thought of the
cab fare.

Accordingly they got into a hansom, and Mrs. d'Aubigne having given
the address in Pimlico, of which George instantly made a mental note,
they started.

"Come in and have a drink," she said when they arrived, and
accordingly he paid the cab - half-a-crown it cost him - and was ushered
by the woman with a simper into the gilded drawing-room.

Here the Tiger had another brandy-and-soda, after which George thought
that she was about in a fit state for him to prosecute his inquiries.

"Wonderful place this Lunnon, marm; I niver was up here afore and had
no idea that I should find folks so friendly. As I was a saying to my
friend Laryer Quest down at Boisingham yesterday - - "

"Hullo, what's that?" she said. "Do you know the old man?"

"If you means Laryer Quest, why in course I do, and Mrs. Quest too.
Ah! she's a pretty one, she is."

Here the lady burst into a flood of incoherent abuse which tired her
so much that she had a fourth brandy-and-soda; George mixed it for her
and he mixed it strong.

"Is he rich?" she asked as she put down the glass.

"What! Laryer Quest? Well I should say that he is about the warmest
man in our part of the county."

"And here am I starving," burst out the horrible woman with a flood of
drunken tears. "Starving without a shilling to pay for a cab or a
drink while my wedded husband lives in luxury with another woman. You
tell him that I won't stand it; you tell him that if he don't find a
'thou.' pretty quick I'll let him know the reason why."

"I don't quite understand, marm," said George; "there's a lady down in
Boisingham as is the real Mrs. Quest."

"It's a lie!" she shrieked, "it's a lie! He married me before he
married her. I could have him in the dock to-morrow, and I would, too,
if I wasn't afraid of him, and that's a fact."

"Come, marm, come," said George, "draw it mild from that tap."

"You won't believe me, won't you?" said the woman, on whom the liquor
was now beginning to take its full effect; "then I'll show you," and
she staggered to a desk, unlocked it and took from it a folded paper,
which she opened.

It was a properly certified copy of a marriage certificate, or
purported so to be; but George, who was not too quick at his reading,
had only time to note the name Quest, and the church, St.
Bartholomew's, Hackney, when she snatched it away from him and locked
it up again.

"There," she said, "it isn't any business of yours. What right have
you to come prying into the affairs of a poor lone woman?" And she sat
down upon the sofa beside him, threw her long arm round him, rested
her painted face upon his shoulder and began to weep the tears of
intoxication.

"Well, blow me!" said George to himself, "if this ain't a master one!
I wonder what my old missus would say if she saw me in this fix. I
say, marm - - "

But at that moment the door opened, and in came Johnnie, who had
evidently also been employing the interval in refreshing himself, for
he rolled like a ship in a sea.

"Well," he said, "and who the deuce are you? Come get out of this, you
Methody parson-faced clodhopper, you. Fairest Edithia, what means
this?"

By this time the fairest Edithia had realised who her visitor was, and
the trick whereby he had left her to pay for the brandy-and-soda
recurring to her mind she sprang up and began to express her opinion
of Johnnie in violent and libellous language. He replied in
appropriate terms, as according to the newspaper reports people whose
healths are proposed always do, and fast and furious grew the fun. At
length, however, it seemed to occur to Johnnie that he, George, was in
some way responsible for this state of affairs, for without word or
warning he hit him on the nose. This proved too much for George's
Christian forbearance.

"You would, you lubber! would you?" he said, and sprang at him.

Now Johnnie was big and fat, but Johnnie was rather drunk, and George
was tough and exceedingly strong. In almost less time that it takes to
write it he grasped the abominable Johnnie by the scruff of the neck
and had with a mighty jerk hauled him over the sofa so that he lay
face downwards thereon. By the door quite convenient to his hand stood
George's ground ash stick, a peculiarly good and well-grown one which
he had cut himself in Honham wood. He seized it. "Now, boar," he said,
"I'll teach you how we do the trick where I come from," and he laid on
without mercy. /Whack! whack! whack!/ came the ground ash on Johnnie's
tight clothes. He yelled, swore and struggled in the grip of the
sturdy countryman, but it was of no use, the ash came down like fate;
never was a Johnnie so bastinadoed before.

"Give it the brute, give it him," shrilled the fair Edithia,
bethinking her of her wrongs, and he did till he was tired.

"Now, Johnnie boar," he panted at last, "I'm thinking I've pretty nigh
whacked you to dead. Perhaps you'll larn to be more careful how you


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