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myself by a few inquiries."

"You've seen Glasson, then?" Mr. Hucks interrupted.

"I have; but not in any way you suspect. I haven't called, for
instance, at the Orphanage - though I intend to. Glasson's not at home.
He was down in my neighbourhood yesterday afternoon, nosing around for

"Then he knows the children are thereabouts?"

"No, he does not. But has been pushing researches. He has learnt who
is the boy's probable father, and where he lives - at a place called
Meriton. He came to Meriton to get the father's foreign address, and
when the butler refused it, he called on me."

"I see." Mr. Hucks nodded. "And you refused it too?"

"I did better. I gave it to him - "


" - at the same time taking care that the father - his name is Chandon, by
the way, and he's a baronet - should get a wire from me to come home by
the first train he can catch. By this means, you see, I not only get
Glasson out of the neighbourhood, where he might have run against the
children, or picked up news of them, but I send him all the way to the
South of France expressly to find his bird flown. It's cruel, I grant
you; but I've no tenderness for blackmailers - especially when they keep

"You're right there. You've no call to waste any pity on Glasson.
But the question is, Will he come? The father, I mean."

"Certainly, since I tell him," Miss Sally answered with composure.

"And him a bart - a bloomin' bart - what the Tichborne chap used to call a
bart of the B.K.!"

Mr. Hucks stared at his visitor with rounded eyes, drew a long breath,
puffed out his cheeks and emitted it, and wound up by removing his hat
and laying it on the ledge of the desk.

"Well," said he, "you've done it clever. You've done it so mighty
clever that I don't see why you come to me to help. _I_ can't order
barts about."

"No," said Miss Sally; "in this part of the business I fear you cannot
help. Read _that_, please."

She spread open the telegraph form which she had been holding all this
while, and laid it on the desk before him.

"Breward, Grand Central Hotel, Bursfield."
"'Regret to say children missing. Supposed left
Inistow Cove Tossell's boat Saturday night. Boat
found ashore Clatworthy Beach. Search parties along
coast. Will report any news. - Chichester.'"

"When did you get this, ma'am, making so bold?"

"At nine this morning. If you look, you will see the telegram was
handed in at 8.37, and received here at 8.50 - is it not? The sender is
a Mr. Chichester, a clergyman and a friend of mine."

"Aye," said Mr. Hucks, after slowly examining the telegram and the
office stamp. He raised his formidable grey eyes and fixed them full on
Miss Sally.

"Oh," she said after awhile, but without blanching, "I see what's in
your mind."

"No you don't," he answered abruptly. "It _did_ cross my mind, but it's
not there any longer. You're straight. And you're quality - though
maybe your kind don't answer to the pictcher-books. . . . Well, about
this wire now. . . . What's your opinion?"

"Why, that the children are lost."

"Meanin' by that drowned - or just missing?"

"From that message what must one conclude?"

"Well," said Mr. Hucks slowly, after another perusal of the telegram,
"I don't conclude much from it; but from my knowledge of the gal-child,
I jolly well conclude that they're no more drowned than you or me.
They've just made another bolt for it, and the shipwrecked boat's no
more than a blind."

"They were comfortable enough at Inistow Farm. Why should they want to
bolt?" Miss Sally urged.

"Because, ma'am, that gal has a business conscience developed to a
degree I never struck yet in man or woman. You've dealt open with me,
and I'll deal open with you. I _did_ help that pair to give Glasson the
slip; not from any kindheartedness, I'd have you to know, if you're
thinkin' to accuse me of it; but as a kind of by-speculation. For I saw
that dirty thief Glasson was mad to get the boy back, and it seemed to
me there was likely some money in it. I gave 'em their chance, yes;
because it happened so, and I couldn't see no other way. Now, observe
me - that gal knew all the time I wasn't doing it for my health, as you
might say; she knew well enough I was just as hard as Glasson, though
maybe in a different way. She knew this, and as things turned out, she
might have run off with the boy and snapped her fingers at me. But does
she? Nothing o' the sort. She freezes to her bargain, same as if she'd
all a lawyer's knowledge and none of his conscience. First, she clears
me back every penny I've invested in Mortimer, and with interest; and
I'm the first man that ever invested on that scamp and saw his money
again. When that's paid she strikes out on a trail of her own - but not
to lose herself and the boy: not she. At every halt she reports herself
and him; and by her last I was to write to her at a place called
Holmness, which I posted a letter there yesterday."

"Holmness!" ejaculated Miss Sally. "Holmness, did you say?"

"That's so. Might it be anywhere in your parts?"

"Of course it is. But Holmness, my good sir, is an island."

"She mentioned that, now I come to think of it. Island or not, she'll
get there, if she bursts; and I won't believe other till I hear from the
Dead Letter Office."

"You addressed a letter to Holmness? . . . But it's too absurd; the
place is a mere barren rock, three good miles from the mainland.
Nothing there but rabbits, and in summer a few sheep."

"Mayhap she didn't know it when she gave the address. But," persisted
Mr. Hucks doggedly, "she's there if she's alive. You go back and try."

[He gave Tilda, as the reader knows, more credit than she deserved; but
from this may be deduced a sound moral - that the value of probity, as an
asset in dealing, is quite incalculable.]

Miss Sally considered for a full minute - for two minutes, Mr. Hucks
watching her face from under his shaggy eyebrows.

"It is barely possible," she owned at length. "But supposing they have
reached Holmness, it can only be to starve. Good Lord! they may be
starving to death there at this moment!"

Mr. Hucks kept his composure.

"It's plain to me you haven't measured that gal," he said slowly.
"Is this Holmness in sight from the farm - whatever you call it - where
they were missed?"

"Right opposite the coast there."

"And not more than three miles away? Then you may take it she won't
have started without provisions. It wouldn't be her way."

[Again, the reader perceives, he gave Tilda undeserved credit; but
always in this world the Arthur Miles's will be left out of account by
men of business, to upset again and again their calculations.]

"So," he continued, "there's no need for you to be running and sending
telegrams to folks there to chivvy 'em. Take the next train home and
pick up the credit yourself."

"Mr. Hucks," said Miss Sally after a pause, "you are a remarkable man.
I am half inclined to believe you; and if you should prove to be right,
I shall not know how to repay you."

"Well," said Mr. Hucks, "it seems likely I've helped, after all.
I'm not pressing for payment; though, as between persons of business,
I'm glad you mention it."

"If these children are recovered, you shall name any price in reason.
But there is another matter in which you can help me, I hope. I want
admission to Glasson's Orphanage."

"The 'Oly Innocents? It goes by nomination, and I'm not a subscriber,"
said Mr. Hucks with a grin, which Miss Sally ignored.

"Will it be enough if I call and ask to be shown over the institution?"

"Quite enough - to get the door slammed in your face."

"Well, I mean to have a look inside, even though I get you to put me in
a sack and lower me into the coal-cellar."

"That's an idea, though," said Mr. Hucks rising.

He went to the door and, stepping into the yard, emitted a loud roar
like the bellow of a bull. Apparently it was his method of telephoning
to his employees. After a moment a distant voice called back,
"Aye, aye, boss!"

"Where's Sam Bossom?"

"In the stables."

"Then send him along here, and tell him to look sharp. He's the man for
our job," explained Mr. Hucks, returning to the counting-house;
"and maybe you'll like to make his acquaintance, too, after what you've

"Before he comes I should like even better to hear your plan of
campaign; for it seems that you have one."

"I have; but it being what you might call a trifle 'igh-'anded, I wasn't
proposin' to drag a lady into it - leastways, not to make her an
accomplice before the fac'."

"I'll risk that," she assured him.

"Well, you see, Glasson owes me for coal; thirteen ten on the last lot
delivered, and six pounds owin' before that - total nineteen ten.
I warned him he'd got the last lot out o' me by a trick; an' I'm goin'
to send Sam to see if there's a chance to recover it. That'll be by
the back way - same as the children got out. Eh? Here's the man," he
wound up as Sam Bossom's honest face appeared in the doorway.

"Good morning, Mr. Bossom." Miss Sally held out a hand. "I'm proud to
make your acquaintance."

"Thank ye, ma'am." Sam looked at the hand, but rubbed his own up and
down the seat of his trousers. "What for, if it's not makin' too bold?"

"The lady here," explained Mr. Hucks, "is a friend of two children that
broke out of 'Oly Innocents t'other day - as it maybe you'll remember.
What's more, she 's brought news o' them."

"Oh!" said Sam, his face clearing. "Doin' pretty well, I 'ope?"

"They were quite well when I left them, two days ago. Come, shake hands
and tell me. How is everyone at the 'Four Alls'?"

"If it 'adn't been for them children - " blurted Sam, and came to a full

Miss Sally nodded.

"They are wonders, those Babes in the Wood; and the funniest thing about
'em is, while they went along asking their way, they were all the time
teaching it to others."

"Well," struck in Mr. Hucks, while Sam scratched his head over this,
"I suggest the conspiracy may just as well get going at once. Sam, I
want you to step along to 'Oly Innocents with us, and on the road I'll
fix up _your_ modest hopper'andy."

Of this _modus operandi_ the opening move was made as the trio reached
the confines of the Orphanage premises. Here, by the angle of the red
brick wall, Mr. Bossom halted to strike a match for his pipe. He struck
it upon the iron cover of the manhole, and thus made opportunity to
assure himself that the cover was still removable. Satisfied of this,
he lit his pipe and stood for a minute puffing at it, and staring, now
at the stagnant canal water, now after the retreating figures of Miss
Sally and Mr. Hucks, as without a backward look they passed down the
towpath to the Iron Bridge.

At the bridge they turned, as Tilda had turned, to the left, and came,
as Tilda had come, to the Orphanage gate with its box labelled,
"For Voluntary Donations."

Mr. Hucks rang the bell; and after a minute or so Mrs. Huggins,
slatternly as ever, opened the front door and came shuffling down the

"Eh?" said she, halting within the gate, a pilaster of which hid Miss
Sally from her. "Mr. 'Ucks? And what might _you_ be wantin', Mr.

"Nineteen pound ten," Mr. Hucks answered tersely.

"Then you can't 'ave it."

"That's a pity." He appeared to ruminate for a second or two. "And I
can't offer to take it out in orphans, neither. Very well, then, I must
see Glasson."

"You can't; 'e's not at 'ome."

"That's a worse pity. Hist, now!" he went on with a sudden change of
tone, "it's about the runaways. I've news of 'em."

He said it at the top of his voice.

"For the Lord's sake - " entreated the woman, glancing nervously across
his shoulder at the traffic in the street. "The Doctor don't want it
discussed for all the town to 'ear."

"No, I bet he don't. But it's your own fault, missus. This side o' the
gate a man can't scarcely hear hisself speak."

"Come in, then, if you've brought news. The Doctor'll be glad enough
when 'e comes back."

"Will he?" Mr. Hucks, as she opened, planted his bulk against the gate,
pushing it back and at the same time making way for Miss Sally to follow
him. "Yes, I got news; but here's a lady can tell it better than me -
'avin' come acrost them right away down in Somerset."

Mrs. Huggins stepped forward, but too late. "I don't want no crowd in
'ere," she muttered, falling back a pace, however, as Miss Sally
confronted her.

"You'll have one in two two's if you make any disturbance," Miss Sally
promised her, with half a glance back at the street. "Show me into the
house, if you please."


The woman placed herself in the pathway, with arms akimbo, barring her

"You behave very foolishly in denying me," said Miss Sally.

"Maybe; but I got my orders. _You_ never took no orders from a man, I
should say - not by the looks o' yer."

"You are right there."

Miss Sally regarded her with a smile of conscious strength, stern but
good-natured. Her gaze wandered past the woman's shoulder, and the
smile broadened. Mrs. Huggins saw it broaden, and cast a look behind
her, towards the house - to see Mr. Bossom, coal-grimed but cheerful,
grinning down on her from the front door-step.

"It's a trap!" she gasped, shooting a venomous look at Mr. Hucks.

"It _looks_ like one," said Miss Sally, stepping past her; "and I shall
be curious to know, by and by, who baited it."

"Where shall I take ye, ma'am?" asked Sam Bossom.

"Show me the children first, if you please."

He walked before her down the unsavoury passage. He was unacquainted
with the interior, and knew only that the way through the kitchens, by
which he had come, led to the kitchen garden and missed the children's
quarters. Avoiding this, and opening a door at random - a door on his
right - he stepped into the bare drawing-room. Miss Sally followed, and
Mrs. Huggins at her heels, protesting. Mr. Hucks brought up the rear.
Finding himself in an apartment which apparently led nowhither, Sam
would have turned and shepherded the party back into the corridor; but
Miss Sally strode past him, attempted to fling up the window-sash, but
in vain, and looking over it, beheld what Tilda had beheld - the
gravelled yard, the children walking listlessly to and fro, the groups
passing and repassing with scarce a lift of the eyes, the boys walking
with the boys and the girls with the girls.

"But it is horrible - horrible!" cried Miss Sally. "Mr. Hucks, lend me
your stick, if you please. This window won't open."

He passed his stick to her, supposing that she meant in some way to
prise the window open. But she took it and deliberately smashed a
pane - two panes - all the six panes with their coloured transparencies of
the Prodigal Son. And the worst was, that the children in the yard, as
the glass broke and fell, scarcely betrayed surprise. One or two
glanced furtively towards the window. It seemed that they dared do no

"Save us!" exclaimed Miss Sally. "They're starving; that's what's the

"They are not, ma'am!" still protested Mrs. Huggins.

"Tut, woman, don't talk to _me_. I've bred cattle, and I know. Fetch
a list of the pious persons that have lent their names to this swindle.
You, Mr. Hucks, take me upstairs; I'll explore this den from garret to
basement, though it cost my stomach all that by the smell I judge it
will. And you, Sam Bossom - here's a five-pound note: take it to the
nearest pastry-cook's and buy up the stock. Fetch it here in cabs; hire
every cab you meet on the way; and when you've brought 'em, tell 'em to

An hour later a procession of fifteen cabs drove up to the Grand Central
Hotel, Bursfield, to the frank dismay of hall-porters and manager; a
dismay which Miss Sally accepted with the lordliest indifference.

"You see that they're stowed," she advised Mr. Hucks shortly, as they
helped the dazed children to alight. "And if there's any difficulty,
send the manager to me. He'll find me in the telegraph office."
She consulted a prospectus of the Holy Innocents, extorted from Mrs.
Huggins. "I shall be there for an hour at least. There are two dozen
patrons on this list - besides a score of executive committee, and I'm
going - bless you, Mr. Hucks - to give those philanthropists the dry

"A telegram for you, ma'am," said the hall-porter, advancing with a
nervous eye on the children congregated, and still congregating, in the

Miss Sally took it and read: -

"Coming Fair Anchor, 4.30 Tuesday. Chandon."

She knit her brows and examined the telegraph form carefully.
The message was forwarded from Fair Anchor. It had been handed in at
the Monte Carlo post office on Sunday night, addressed to Culvercoombe,
but at what hour she could not decipher. The Fair Anchor office was
closed on Sunday, and opened on Monday at eight o'clock. The telegram
had been received there at 8.12; had been taken to Culvercoombe, and
apparently re-transmitted at 12.15. All this was unimportant. But how
on earth had her telegram, to which this was evidently a reply, reached
Monte Carlo on Sunday evening - last evening?

She considered awhile, and hit on the explanation. Parson Chichester
last evening, calling on the coast-guard in his search, must have used
their telephone and got the message through by some office open on



"_O, who lives on the Island,
Betwix' the sea an' the sky?
- I think it must be a lady, a lady,
I think it must be a genuwine lady,
She carries her head so high._" - OLD BALLAD.

In the moonlit garden of the Casino at Monte Carlo Miles Chandon smoked
a cigar pensively, leaning against the low wall that overlooks the
pigeon-shooters' enclosure, the railway station and the foreshore.
He was alone, as always. That a man who, since the great folly of his
life, had obstinately cultivated solitude should make holiday in Monte
Carlo, of all places, is paradoxical enough; but in truth the crowd
around the tables, the diners at the hotel, the pigeon-shooters, the
whole cosmopolitan gathering of idle rich and predatory poor, were a
Spectacle to him and no more. If once or twice a day he staked a few
napoleons on black or red in the inner room of the Casino, it was as a
man, finding himself at Homburg or Marienbad, might take a drink of the
waters from curiosity and to fill up the time. He made no friends in
the throng. He found no pleasure in it. But when he grew weary at home
in his laboratory, or when his doctor advised that confinement and too
much poring over chemicals were telling on his health, he packed up and
made for Monte Carlo, or some other expensive place popularly supposed
to be a "pleasure-resort." As a matter of fact, he did not understand
pleasure, or what it means.

Finding him in this pensive attitude in the moonlit garden by the sea,
you might guess that he was sentimentalising over his past. He was
doing nothing of the sort. He was watching a small greyish-white object
the moon revealed on the roof of the railway station below, just within
the parapet. He knew it to be a pigeon that had escaped, wounded, from
the sportsmen in the enclosure. Late that afternoon he had seen the
poor creature fluttering. He wondered that the officials (at Monte
Carlo they clean up everything) had not seen it before and removed it.
He watched it, curious to know if it were still alive. He had a fancy
at the back of his head - that if the small body fluttered again he would
go back to his rooms, fetch a revolver, and give the _coup de grace_.
And he smiled as he played with the fancy, foreseeing the rush of
agitated officials that a revolver-shot in the gardens would instantly
bring upon him. It would be great fun, explaining; but the offence no
doubt would be punishable. By what? Banishment, probably.

He turned for a moment at the sound of a footstep, and was aware of his
man Louis.

"A telegram, sir."

"Eh? Now who in the world - Matters hasn't burnt down Meriton, I hope?"

He opened the telegram and walked with it to the nearest of the electric
lamps; read it, and stood pondering.

"Louis, when does the new night-express leave for Paris?"

"In twenty-five minutes, sir."

"Then I've a mind to catch it. Put up a travelling-suit in my bag.
I can get out of these clothes in the train. You had better pack the
rest, pay the bill, and follow to-morrow."

"If you wish it, sir. But if I may suggest - "


"In twenty minutes I can do all that easily, and book the
sleeping-berths too. I suggest, sir, you will find it more comfortable,
having me on the train."

"Admirable man - hurry up, then!"

The admirable man saluted respectfully and retired "hurt," as they say
in the cricket reports. He never hurried; it was part of the secret by
which he was always punctual. At the station he even found time to
suggest that his master might wish to send a telegram, and to dispatch

This was on Sunday. They reached London late on Monday evening, and
there - Louis having telegraphed from Paris - Sir Miles found his
favourite room ready for him at Claridge's. Next morning, as his hansom
drew up a few minutes after eleven o'clock by the entrance to Paddington
Station, he observed that the porter who stepped forward from the rank
to attend on him, did so with a preoccupied air. The man was grinning,
and kept glancing along the pavement to his right.

"Luggage on the cab just behind," said Sir Miles, alighting.
"Never mind me; my man will take the tickets and get me a seat.
But what's the excitement here?"

"Lady along there, sir - offering to fight her cabby. Says he can't
drive for nuts - "


Sir Miles looked, recognised Miss Sally, and walked briskly towards her.
She caught sight of him and nodded.

"Thought you would come. Excuse me a moment."

She lifted her voice and addressed the cabby again -

"Oh, you can talk. They taught you that at the Board School, no doubt.
But drive you cannot; and talk you would not, if you knew the respect
due to a mouth - your own or your horse's."

With this parting shot she turned to Sir Miles again, and held out her

"Tell your man he needn't trouble about a seat for you. I've engaged a
compartment where we can talk."

"Well?" he asked, ten minutes later, lowering his newspaper as the train
drew out of the station.

"Well, in the first place, it's very good of you to come."

"Oh, as for that . . . You know that if I can ever do you any service - "

"But you can't. It was for your own sake I telegraphed."

"Mine? Is Meriton really burnt to the ground, then? But even that news
wouldn't gravely afflict me."

"It isn't - and it would. At any rate, it might now, I hope," said Miss
Sally enigmatically.

He waited for her to continue.

"Your wife's dead!" she said.

She heard him draw a quick breath.

"Indeed?" he asked indifferently.

"But your son isn't - at least, I hope not."

He looked up and met her eyes.

"But I had word," he said slowly, "word from her, and in her own
handwriting. A boy was born, and died six or seven weeks later - as I
remember, the letter said within a week after his christening."

Miss Sally nodded.

"That settles it," she said; "being untrue, as I happen to know.
The child was alive and hearty a year after the christening, when they
left Cawsand and moved to the East coast. The fact is, my friend, you
had run up - if not in your wife, then in the coastguardsman Ned
Commins - against a pride as stubborn as your own. They wrote you a
lie - that's certain; and I'm as hard as most upon liars; but,
considering all, I don't blame 'em. They weren't mercenary, anyway.
They only wanted to have no more truck with you."

"Have you seen the boy?"

Again Miss Sally nodded.

"Yes, and there's no doubting the parentage. I never saw that
cross-hatched under-lip in any but a Chandon, though you _do_ hide it
with a beard: let alone that he carries the four lozenges tattooed on
his shoulder. Ned Commins did that. There was a moment, belike, when
they weakened - either he or the woman. But you had best hear the story,
and then you can judge the evidence for yourself."

She told it. He listened with set face, interposing here and there to
ask a question, or to weigh one detail of her narrative against another.

"If the children should be lost - which God forbid!" she wound up, " - and
if I never did another good day's work in my life, I'll remember that
they started me to clear that infernal Orphanage. It's by the

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Online LibraryArthur Thomas Quiller-CouchTrue Tilda → online text (page 20 of 21)