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

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a kind of drainhole. But they got on the soft side of your old aunt -
who, by the way, begging your pardon, was a wonderfully obstinate old
lady when once she hammered an idea into her head - and so she set to
work and built this slate mushroom over the place, and one way and
another it cost her two hundred and fifty pounds. Dear me! I shall
never forget her face when she saw the bill," and the old gentleman
burst out into a Titanic laugh, such as Harold Quaritch had not heard
for many a long day.

"Yes," he answered, "it is a queer spot. I think that I must have a
dig at it one day."

"By Jove," said the Squire, "I never thought of that. It would be
worth doing. Hulloa, it is twenty minutes past seven, and we dine at
half past. I shall catch it from Ida. Come on, Colonel Quaritch; you
don't know what it is to have a daughter - a daughter when one is late
for dinner is a serious thing for any man," and he started off down
the hill in a hurry.

Very soon, however, he seemed to forget the terrors in store, and
strolled along, stopping now and again to admire some particular oak
or view; chatting all the while in a discursive manner, which, though
somewhat aimless, was by no means without its charm. He made a capital
companion for a silent man like Harold Quaritch who liked to hear
other people talk.

In this way they went down the slope, and crossing a couple of wheat
fields came to a succession of broad meadows, somewhat sparsely
timbered. Through these the footpath ran right up to the grim gateway
of the ancient Castle, which now loomed before them, outlined in red
lines of fire against the ruddy background of the sunset sky.

"Ay, it's a fine old place, Colonel, isn't it?" said the Squire,
catching the exclamation of admiration that broke from his companion's
lips, as a sudden turn brought them into line with the Norman ruin.
"History - that's what it is; history in stone and mortar; this is
historic ground, every inch of it. Those old de la Molles, my
ancestors, and the Boisseys before them, were great folk in their day,
and they kept up their position well. I will take you to see their
tombs in the church yonder on Sunday. I always hoped to be buried
beside them, but I can't manage it now, because of the Act. However, I
mean to get as near to them as I can. I have a fancy for the
companionship of those old Barons, though I expect that they were a
roughish lot in their lifetimes. Look how squarely those towers stand
out against the sky. They always remind me of the men who built them -
sturdy, overbearing fellows, setting their shoulders against the sea
of circumstance and caring neither for man nor devil till the priests
got hold of them at the last. Well, God rest them, they helped to make
England, whatever their faults. Queer place to choose for a castle,
though, wasn't it? right out in an open plain."

"I suppose that they trusted to their moat and walls, and the hagger
at the bottom of the dry ditch," said the Colonel. "You see there is
no eminence from which they could be commanded, and their archers
could sweep all the plain from the battlements."

"Ah, yes, of course they could. It is easy to see that you are a
soldier. They were no fools, those old crusaders. My word, we must be
getting on. They are hauling down the Union Jack on the west tower. I
always have it hauled down at sunset," and he began walking briskly

In another three minutes they had crossed a narrow by-road, and were
passing up the ancient drive that led to the Castle gates. It was not
much of a drive, but there were still some half-dozen of old pollard
oaks that had no doubt stood there before the Norman Boissey, from
whose family, centuries ago, the de la Molles had obtained the
property by marriage with the heiress, had got his charter and cut the
first sod of his moat.

Right before them was the gateway of the Castle, flanked by two great
towers, and these, with the exception of some ruins were, as a matter
of fact, all that remained of the ancient building, which had been
effectually demolished in the time of Cromwell. The space within,
where the keep had once stood, was now laid out as a flower garden,
while the house, which was of an unpretentious nature, and built in
the Jacobean style, occupied the south side of the square, and was
placed with its back to the moat.

"You see I have practically rebuilt those two towers," said the
Squire, pausing underneath the Norman archway. "If I had not done it,"
he added apologetically, "they would have been in ruins by now, but it
cost a pretty penny, I can tell you. Nobody knows what stuff that old
flint masonry is to deal with, till he tries it. Well, they will stand
now for many a long day. And here we are" - and he pushed open a porch
door and then passed up some steps and through a passage into an oak-
panelled vestibule, which was hung with tapestry originally taken, no
doubt, from the old Castle, and decorated with coats of armour, spear
heads, and ancient swords.

And here it was that Harold Quaritch once more beheld the face which
had haunted his memory for so many months.



"Is that you, father?" said a voice, a very sweet voice, but one of
which the tones betrayed the irritation natural to a healthy woman who
has been kept waiting for her dinner. The voice came from the recesses
of the dusky room in which the evening gloom had gathered deeply, and
looking in its direction, Harold Quaritch could see the outline of a
tall form sitting in an old oak chair with its hands crossed.

"Is that you, father? Really it is too bad to be so late for dinner -
especially after you blew up that wretched Emma last night because she
was five minutes after time. I have been waiting so long that I have
almost been asleep."

"I am very sorry, my dear, very," said the old gentleman
apologetically, "but - hullo! I've knocked my head - here, Mary, bring
me a light!"

"Here is a light," said the voice, and at the same moment there was a
sound of a match being struck.

In another moment the candle was burning, and the owner of the voice
had turned, holding it in such a fashion that its rays surrounded her
like an aureole - showing Harold Quaritch that face of which the memory
had never left him. There were the same powerful broad brow, the same
nobility of look, the same brown eyes and soft waving hair. But the
girlhood had gone out of them, the face was now the face of a woman
who knew what life meant, and had not found it too easy. It had lost
some of its dreaminess, he thought, though it had gained in
intellectual force. As for the figure, it was much more admirable than
the face, which was strictly speaking not a beautiful one. The figure,
however, was undoubtedly beautiful, indeed, it is doubtful if many
women could show a finer. Ida de la Molle was a large, strong woman,
and there was about her a swing and a lissom grace which is very rare,
and as attractive as it is rare. She was now nearly six-and-twenty
years of age, and not having begun to wither in accordance with the
fate which overtakes all unmarried women after thirty, was at her very
best. Harold Quaritch, glancing at her well-poised head, her perfect
neck and arms (for she was in evening dress) and her gracious form,
thought to himself that he had never seen a nobler-looking woman.

"Why, my dear father," she went on as she watched the candle burn up,
"you made such a fuss this morning about the dinner being punctually
at half-past seven, and now it is eight o'clock and you are not
dressed. It is enough to ruin any cook," and she broke off for the
first time, seeing that her father was not alone.

"Yes, my dear, yes," said the old gentleman, "I dare say I did. It is
human to err, my dear, especially about dinner on a fine evening.
Besides, I have made amends and brought you a visitor, our new
neighbour, Colonel Quaritch. Colonel Quaritch, let me introduce you to
my daughter, Miss de la Molle."

"I think that we have met before," said Harold, in a somewhat nervous
fashion, as he stretched out his hand.

"Yes," answered Ida, taking it, "I remember. It was in the long drift,
five years ago, on a windy afternoon, when my hat blew over the hedge
and you went to fetch it."

"You have a good memory, Miss de la Molle," said he, feeling not a
little pleased that she should have recollected the incident.

"Evidently not better than your own, Colonel Quaritch," was the ready
answer. "Besides, one sees so few strangers here that one naturally
remembers them. It is a place where nothing happens - time passes, that
is all."

Meanwhile the old Squire, who had been making a prodigious fuss with
his hat and stick, which he managed to send clattering down the flight
of stone steps, departed to get ready, saying in a kind of roar as he
went that Ida was to order in the dinner, as he would be down in a

Accordingly she rang the bell, and told the maid to bring in the soup
in five minutes and to lay another place. Then turning to Harold she
began to apologise to him.

"I don't know what sort of dinner you will get, Colonel Quaritch," she
said; "it is so provoking of my father; he never gives one the least
warning when he is going to ask any one to dinner."

"Not at all - not at all," he answered hurriedly. "It is I who ought to
apologise, coming down on you like - like - - "

"A wolf on the fold," suggested Ida.

"Yes, exactly," he went on earnestly, looking at his coat, "but not in
purple and gold."

"Well," she went on laughing, "you will get very little to eat for
your pains, and I know that soldiers always like good dinners."

"How do you know that, Miss de la Molle?"

"Oh, because of poor James and his friends whom he used to bring here.
By the way, Colonel Quaritch," she went on with a sudden softening of
the voice, "you have been in Egypt, I know, because I have so often
seen your name in the papers; did you ever meet my brother there?"

"I knew him slightly," he answered. "Only very slightly. I did not
know that he was your brother, or indeed that you had a brother. He
was a dashing officer."

What he did not say, however, was that he also knew him to have been
one of the wildest and most extravagant young men in an extravagant
regiment, and as such had to some extent shunned his society on the
few occasions that he had been thrown in with him. Perhaps Ida, with a
woman's quickness, divined from his tone that there was something
behind his remark - at any rate she did not ask him for particulars of
their slight acquaintance.

"He was my only brother," she continued; "there never were but we two,
and of course his loss was a great blow to me. My father cannot get
over it at all, although - - " and she broke off suddenly, and rested
her head upon her hand.

At this moment the Squire was heard advancing down the stairs,
shouting to the servants as he came.

"A thousand pardons, my dear, a thousand pardons," he said as he
entered the room, "but, well, if you will forgive particulars, I was
quite unable to discover the whereabouts of a certain necessary
portion of the male attire. Now, Colonel Quaritch, will you take my
daughter? Stop, you don't know the way - perhaps I had better show you
with the candle."

Accordingly he advanced out of the vestibule, and turning to the left,
led the way down a long passage till he reached the dining-room. This
apartment was like the vestibule, oak-panelled, but the walls were
decorated with family and other portraits, including a very curious
painting of the Castle itself, as it was before its destruction in the
time of Cromwell. This painting was executed on a massive slab of oak,
and conceived in a most quaint and formal style, being relieved in the
foreground with stags at gaze and woodeny horses, that must, according
to any rule of proportion, have been about half as large as the
gateway towers. Evidently, also, it was of an older date than the
present house, which is Jacobean, having probably been removed to its
present position from the ruins of the Castle. Such as it was,
however, it gave a very good idea of what the ancient seat of the
Boisseys and de la Molles had been like before the Roundheads had made
an end of its glory. The dining-room itself was commodious, though not
large. It was lighted by three narrow windows which looked out upon
the moat, and bore a considerable air of solid comfort. The table,
made of black oak, of extraordinary solidity and weight, was matched
by a sideboard of the same material and apparently of the same date,
both pieces of furniture being, as Mr. de la Molle informed his
guests, relics of the Castle.

On this sideboard were placed several pieces of old and massive plate,
each of which was rudely engraved with three falcons /or/, the arms of
the de la Molle family. One piece, indeed, a very ancient salver, bore
those of the Boisseys - a ragged oak, in an escutcheon of pretence -
showing thereby that it dated from that de la Molle who in the time of
Henry the Seventh had obtained the property by marriage with the
Boissey heiress.

Conversation having turned that way, as the dinner, which was a simple
one, went on, the old Squire had this piece of plate brought to Harold
Quaritch for him to examine.

"It is very curious," he said; "have you much of this, Mr. de la

"No indeed," he said; "I wish I had. It all vanished in the time of
Charles the First."

"Melted down, I suppose," said the Colonel.

"No, that is the odd part of it. I don't think it was. It was hidden
somewhere - I don't know where, or perhaps it was turned into money and
the money hidden. But I will tell you the story if you like as soon as
we have done dinner."

Accordingly, when the servants had removed the cloth, and after the
old fashion placed the wine upon the naked wood, the Squire began his
tale, of which the following is the substance.

"In the time of James I. the de la Molle family was at the height of
its prosperity, that is, so far as money goes. For several generations
previous the representatives of the family had withdrawn themselves
from any active participation in public affairs, and living here at
small expense upon their lands, which were at that time very large,
had amassed a quantity of wealth that, for the age, might fairly be
called enormous. Thus, Sir Stephen de la Molle, the grandfather of the
Sir James who lived in the time of James I., left to his son, also
named Stephen, a sum of no less than twenty-three thousand pounds in
gold. This Stephen was a great miser, and tradition says that he
trebled the sum in his lifetime. Anyhow, he died rich as Croesus, and
abominated alike by his tenants and by the country side, as might be
expected when a gentleman of his race and fame degraded himself, as
this Sir Stephen undoubtedly did, to the practice of usury.

"With the next heir, Sir James, however, the old spirit of the de la
Molles seems to have revived, although it is sufficiently clear that
he was by no means a spendthrift, but on the contrary, a careful man,
though one who maintained his station and refused to soil his fingers
with such base dealing as it had pleased his uncle to do. Going to
court, he became, perhaps on account of his wealth, a considerable
favourite with James I., to whom he was greatly attached and from whom
he bought a baronetcy. Indeed, the best proof of his devotion is, that
he on two occasions lent large sums of money to the King which were
never repaid. On the accession of Charles I., however, Sir James left
court under circumstances which were never quite cleared up. It is
said that smarting under some slight which was put upon him, he made a
somewhat brusque demand for the money that he had lent to James.
Thereon the King, with sarcastic wit, congratulated him on the fact
that the spirit of his uncle, Sir Stephen de la Molle, whose name was
still a byword in the land, evidently survived in the family. Sir
James turned white with anger, bowed, and without a word left the
court, nor did he ever return thither.

"Years passed, and the civil war was at its height. Sir James had as
yet steadily refused to take any share in it. He had never forgiven
the insult put upon him by the King, for like most of his race, of
whom it was said that they never forgave an injury and never forgot a
kindness, he was a pertinacious man. Therefore he would not lift a
finger in the King's cause. But still less would he help the
Roundheads, whom he hated with a singular hatred. So time went, till
at last, when he was sore pressed, Charles, knowing his great wealth
and influence, brought himself to write a letter to this Sir James,
appealing to him for support, and especially for money.

"'I hear,' said the King in his letter, 'that Sir James de la Molle,
who was aforetyme well affected to our person and more especially to
the late King, our sainted father, doth stand idle, watching the
growing of this bloody struggle and lifting no hand. Such was not the
way of the race from which he sprang, which, unless history doth
greatly lie, hath in the past been ever found at the side of their
kings striking for the right. It is told to me also, that Sir James de
la Molle doth thus place himself aside blowing neither hot nor cold,
because of some sharp words which we spake in heedless jest many a
year that's gone. We know not if this be true, doubting if a man's
memory be so long, but if so it be, then hereby do we crave his
pardon, and no more can we do. And now is our estate one of grievous
peril, and sorely do we need the aid of God and man. Therefore, if the
heart of our subject Sir James de la Molle be not rebellious against
us, as we cannot readily credit it to be, we do implore his present
aid in men and money, of which last it is said he hath large store,
this letter being proof of our urgent need.'

"These were, as nearly as I can remember, the very words of the
letter, which was written with the King's own hand, and show pretty
clearly how hardly he was pressed. It is said that when he read it,
Sir James, forgetting his grievance, was much affected, and, taking
paper, wrote hastily as follows, which indeed he certainly did, for I
have seen the letter in the Museum. 'My liege, - Of the past I will not
speak. It is past. But since it hath graciously pleased your Majesty
to ask mine aid against the rebels who would overthrow your throne,
rest assured that all I have is at your Majesty's command, till such
time as your enemies are discomfited. It hath pleased Providence to so
prosper my fortunes that I have stored away in a safe place, till
these times be past, a very great sum in gold, whereof I will at once
place ten thousand pieces at the disposal of your Majesty, so soon as
a safe means can be provided of conveying the same, seeing that I had
sooner die than that these great moneys should fall into the hands of
rebels to the furtherance of a wicked cause.'

"Then the letter went on to say that the writer would at once buckle
to and raise a troop of horse among his tenantry, and that if other
satisfactory arrangements could not be made for the conveyance of the
moneys, he would bring them in person to the King.

"And now comes the climax of the story. The messenger was captured and
Sir James's incautious letter taken from his boot, as a result of
which within ten days' time he found himself closely besieged by five
hundred Roundheads under the command of one Colonel Playfair. The
Castle was but ill-provisioned for a siege, and in the end Sir James
was driven by sheer starvation to surrender. No sooner had he obtained
an entry, then Colonel Playfair sent for his prisoner, and to his
astonishment produced to Sir James's face his own letter to the King.

"'Now, Sir James,' he said, 'we have the hive, and I must ask you to
lead us to the honey. Where be those great moneys whereof you talk
herein? Fain would I be fingering these ten thousand pieces of gold,
the which you have so snugly stored away.'

"'Ay,' answered old Sir James, 'you have the hive, but the secret of
the honey you have not, nor shall you have it. The ten thousand pieces
in gold is where it is, and with it is much more. Find it if you may,
Colonel, and take it if you can.'

"'I shall find it by to-morrow's light, Sir James, or otherwise - or
otherwise you die.'

"'I must die - all men do, Colonel, but if I die, the secret dies with

"'This shall we see,' answered the Colonel grimly, and old Sir James
was marched off to a cell, and there closely confined on bread and
water. But he did not die the next day, nor the next, nor for a week,

"Every day he was brought up before the Colonel, and under the threat
of immediate death questioned as to where the treasure was, not being
suffered meanwhile to communicate by word or sign with any one, save
the officers of the rebels. Every day he refused, till at last his
inquisitor's patience gave out, and he was told frankly that if he did
not communicate the secret he would be shot at the following dawn.

"Old Sir James laughed, and said that shoot him they might, but that
he consigned his soul to the Devil if he would enrich them with his
treasures, and then asked that his Bible might be brought to him that
he might read therein and prepare himself for death.

"They gave him the Bible and left him. Next morning at the dawn, a
file of Roundheads marched him into the courtyard of the Castle and
here he found Colonel Playfair and his officers waiting.

"'Now, Sir James, for your last word,' said the Roundhead. 'Will you
reveal where the treasure lies, or will you choose to die?'

"'I will not reveal,' answered the old man. 'Murder me if ye will. The
deed is worthy of Holy Presbyters. I have spoken and my mind is

"'Bethink you,' said the Colonel.

"'I have thought,' he answered, 'and I am ready. Slay me and seek the
treasure. But one thing I ask. My young son is not here. In France
hath he been these three years, and nought knows he of where I have
hid this gold. Send to him this Bible when I am dead. Nay, search it
from page to page. There is nought therein save what I have writ here
upon this last sheet. It is all I have left to give.'

"'The book shall be searched,' answered the Colonel, 'and if nought is
found therein it shall be sent. And now, in the name of God, I adjure
you, Sir James, let not the love of lucre stand between you and your
life. Here I make you one last offer. Discover but to us the ten
thousand pounds whereof you speak in this writing,' and he held up the
letter to the King, 'and you shall go free - refuse and you die.'

"'I refuse,' he answered.

"'Musqueteers, make ready,' shouted the Colonel, and the file of men
stepped forward.

"But at that moment there came up so furious a squall of wind, and
with it such dense and cutting rain, that for a while the execution
was delayed. Presently it passed, the wild light of the November
morning swept out from the sky, and revealed the doomed man kneeling
in prayer upon the sodden turf, the water running from his white hair
and beard.

"They called to him to stand up, but he would not, and continued
praying. So they shot him on his knees."

"Well," said Colonel Quaritch, "at any rate he died like a gallant

At that moment there was a knock at the door, and the servant came in.

"What is it?" asked the Squire.

"George is here, please, sir," said the girl, "and says that he would
like to see you."

"Confound him," growled the old gentleman; "he is always here after
something or other. I suppose it is about the Moat Farm. He was going
to see Janter to-day. Will you excuse me, Quaritch? My daughter will
tell you the end of the story if you care to hear any more. I will
join you in the drawing-room."



As soon as her father had gone, Ida rose and suggested that if Colonel
Quaritch had done his wine they should go into the drawing-room, which
they accordingly did. This room was much more modern than either the
vestibule or the dining-room, and had an air and flavour of nineteenth
century young lady about it. There were the little tables, the
draperies, the photograph frames, and all the hundred and one knick-
knacks and odds and ends by means of which a lady of taste makes a
chamber lovely in the eyes of brutal man. It was a very pleasant place
to look upon, this drawing-room at Honham Castle, with its irregular
recesses, its somewhat faded colours illuminated by the soft light of

Online LibraryH. Rider HaggardColonel Quaritch, V.C. A Tale of Country Life → online text (page 2 of 27)