"I hope you are not going to get into any mischief," he said. "I mistrust that part of the world. And now what else is there I can do for you?"
"I want you," I replied, "to draw up my will. I have some little property that I should like to leave to Molly and my mother. It is not very much, but it would doubtless prove useful, should anything befall me."
"We will hope that nothing will happen to you," said the lawyer. "At the same time I will draw up your will with pleasure. What have you to leave?"
When the old boy discovered the amount of my fortune his face betrayed his astonishment. Knowing that I had not been left anything by my father, I could see that he was anxious to question me concerning the manner in which I had acc.u.mulated this amount.
Fortunately for my reputation for truthfulness, however, he repressed his inquisitiveness.
"It is a very creditable sum for a young man to have got together," he remarked. "Much may be done with five thousand pounds. It may interest you to know that I myself started with my articles and not a penny more than a hundred guineas to my name. To-day, however, I fancy--but there, I understand that you wish this amount, in the event of your death, to be divided equally between your mother and Miss Molly. And supposing that one survives the other?"
"In that case the whole amount must pa.s.s to the survivor!"
He promised me that the doc.u.ment should be drawn up and forwarded to me for my signature without delay, whereupon I shook him by the hand and bade him good-bye. My one thought now was to get back to Falstead as quickly as possible. I grudged every hour I spent away from it.
Perhaps it was the dangerous nature of my enterprise that was accountable for it; at any rate, I know that I was dreading the leave-taking that was ahead of me more than I had ever done before. No one could say what the next few weeks would have in store for me, and, as it happened, that very night I was fated to have a dream that was scarcely calculated to add to my peace of mind.
It seemed to me that I was standing in a large yard, walled in on every side. Some tropical foliage was to be seen above the walls. At my feet was a large hole which I knew to be a grave. A squad of slovenly soldiers, clad in a uniform I had never before seen, were leaning on their rifles, some little distance away, watching me, while their officer consulted his watch. Then he shut it with a snap and nodded to me. I was about to throw down the handkerchief I held in my hand, when there was a cry and Molly appeared before me. Running towards me, she threw her arms about my neck. Knowing that at any moment the men might fire, I tried to put her aside. But she only clung the tighter. Every moment I expected to hear the rattle of rifles, but it seemed an age before it came. Then the soldiers fired, and Molly and I fell together, down, down, down, and I awoke with a start, to find myself sitting up in bed, my face bathed in perspiration. Never had I had such a dream before. More than twenty-four hours went by before I could get the effect it produced out of my mind. Molly noticed my condition after breakfast and asked what ailed me.
"Cannot you guess, darling?" I asked, having no intention of telling her the truth. "Is it likely that I could be anything but depressed, when I am leaving you for I cannot say how long?"
"But you will be in no danger, and you will come back to me before very long, will you not?" she said, looking at me seriously, as if she were afraid I was hiding something from her.
"Of course, dear," I replied. "Every man, however, has to take his chance of something befalling him when he puts to sea. I might go to the end of the world--risk my life in a thousand different ways--only to return to England to be knocked down in the Strand by a runaway cab. I might go to the North Pole and come back safely, to fall through the ice and be drowned in the Vicarage pond. You mustn't be angry with me, dear," I continued, "if I am a little downcast. Let us try to think of the day when I shall return to make you my bride. Oh, how happy we shall be then!"
"Happy indeed," she answered. "G.o.d grant that day may come soon. I shall pray for you always, d.i.c.k, and ask Him to send my darling back to me, safe and sound."
We walked as far as Welkam Bridge and then home again across the meadows to lunch. By the time we reached the house I had somewhat recovered my spirits--but they were destined to fall to zero again before the day was at an end. It was a sad little party that sat down to dinner that evening. My mother could scarcely restrain her tears--Molly tried to be cheerful and failed in the attempt; as for myself--though I joked on every conceivable subject, save that of foreign travel--my heart was heavy as lead, and my face, I'll be bound, was as solemn as that of an undertaker's mute. For the reason that I felt it would be too much for her to leave it until the last moment, Molly and I bade each other good-bye that evening.
Next morning I rose early, breakfasted at seven, very much in the same state of mind, I should say, as a man who is about to be led to execution, and at eight o'clock gave my dear old mother one last kiss, and left the house with a lump in my throat that came near to choking me. I can see my mother's tear-stained face at the window even now, as I waved my hand to her before turning the corner of the village street. Little did I dream then how much I was to go through before I should see that beloved countenance again.
When the last house of the village was behind me, I mended my pace and struck out for Salisbury. It was a bright morning; the birds sang in the hedges, the cattle grazed peacefully in the meadows, indeed, all nature seemed happy but myself. I turned the corner of the Ridge Farm, and, pa.s.sing through the chalk cutting, began the descent of the hill that, when you have left the cross roads and the gipsy's grave behind you, warns you that you are half-way into town. As everybody who knows the neighbourhood is aware, there is at the foot a picturesque cottage, once the residence of the turnpike keeper, and, a hundred yards or so on the other side again, a stile, which commences the footpath across the fields to Mellerton. I was thinking, as I approached it, of the last time I had walked that way with Molly, and was wondering how long it would be before I should do so again, when, as I drew near the stile, I became aware of a girlish figure leaning against the rail. My heart gave a leap within me, and I cried out, "Molly, can it be you?" Yet it was Molly sure enough.
"Oh, d.i.c.k, dear," she faltered, as I approached her, "do not be angry with me. I could not stay away. I felt that I must see the last of you!"
It was impossible for me to be angry with her, even though, as she told me later, she had breakfasted at six o'clock, and had been waiting at the stile for me since seven. However, I satisfied myself by promising her a good wigging when I came home again, and then we set off together. How short the remainder of that walk seemed, I must leave you to imagine. It appeared scarcely to have commenced before we had left the country and were in the quaint old streets of Salisbury, making our way towards the railway station. We must have walked somewhat slowly, for, when we reached it, I found that I had only five minutes to spare. Over the parting that took place when the train put in an appearance I must draw a veil.
Punctually at half-past eleven the train steamed into Waterloo and disgorged its pa.s.sengers upon the platform. I immediately engaged a cab and drove direct to Silvestre's hotel, where, for upwards of half-an-hour, I was closeted in close confabulation with him. Then I bade him good-bye, for it was part of our arrangement that he should not accompany me to the ship, and, having done so, returned to my cab and bade the man drive me to the railway station, where I was to take the train to the docks. By three o'clock I was on board, and endeavouring to convince myself that I was only a pa.s.senger, and not in any way connected with the working of the vessel. At a quarter to four we were steaming down the river, and my one and only adventure had commenced.
How was it destined to end? was the question I asked myself.
It was a new experience to me to find myself at sea as a pa.s.senger, to have no watches to keep, and no round of irksome duties to perform. It was a pleasant change to be able to turn into one's bunk at ten o'clock and to enjoy a good night's rest, after being used to leaving it at midnight in order to go up and pace a cold and cheerless bridge for four long hours at a time. I had a vague premonition that I should be recognized as soon as I arrived on board. Strangely enough this proved to be the case, for I had no sooner set foot on the promenade deck, before a well-known voice hailed me.
"Hulloa, d.i.c.k Helmsworth," it said. "What on earth brings you aboard this hooker?"
I turned and recognized the speaker as an old shipmate, who, like myself, had once sailed with Harveston. But, more fortunate than myself, he had managed to retain his billet after so doing. In reply to his question I informed him that I was proceeding to Barbadoes on private business, and that I profoundly hoped I had abandoned the sea as a profession. From him I learnt the names of the various officers of the boat. For more reasons than one I was glad to hear that they were unknown to me, and also that there was only one first-cla.s.s pa.s.senger for Barbadoes. He proved to be an old French priest, and from what I saw of him, I gathered that he would not be likely to remember me, or, indeed, any one else, when once he had left the vessel.
A good pa.s.sage down Channel and a smooth crossing of the Bay carried us well on our way. We reached Madeira in due course, and afterwards settled down for the voyage across the Atlantic. Among other things, I had to familiarize myself with the character I was about to portray.
To be a rich young Englishman, with a pa.s.sion for yachting, would not at first thought seem a difficult part to play. It was not as easy, however, as it would appear. In order that it might come the more naturally to me, I determined to cultivate a manner while on board. I accordingly spoke with a somewhat affected drawl, interlarded my speech with "Reallies," "Bah Joves," "Don't you know," and other exotic flowers of speech, until my old friend Kirby, the chief officer, found occasion to remonstrate with me.
"What on earth has come over you, d.i.c.k?" he cried. "You're as affected as a school-girl. You'll have to come back to sea, my lad, or you'll be developing into a masher of the worst type. It's very evident that lying in at night don't suit you. You ought to be back on the bridge again, standing your watch like a man."
"Not if I know it," I replied. "I've had enough of that sort of thing to last me a lifetime. Wait until you come into a bit of money, my boy, and then you'll see how nice it feels to watch others work."
"Egad! I wish I could," he answered. "I'd never trouble the briny again. Give me a cottage somewhere in the country, with a bit of garden, and some fowls to look after, and I wouldn't change places with the Czar of all the Russias."
Two days before we were due to reach Barbadoes, I made a resolve.
This, in due course, took me along the alley-way to the barber's shop.
As soon as the pa.s.senger whose hair he had been cutting departed, I seated myself in the vacated chair, and when the barber asked me what he could do for me, I put up my hand to my moustache.
"Take this off," I said.
The man gazed at me in astonishment. My moustache was a heavy one, and it was plain that he thought me mad to want to get rid of it.
"You don't mean to say, sir, that you want me to take it off," he remarked, as if he had not heard aright.
"That's exactly what I _do_ mean," I replied. "I want it out of the way."
He thereupon took up his scissors and began his work of destruction, but in a half-hearted fashion. When he had finished I sat up and looked at myself in the gla.s.s. You may believe me or not, when I tell you that I scarcely recognized the face I saw there.
"If I were to meet you in the street, my lad, I should pa.s.s you by," I said to myself. Then to the barber I added: "What a change it makes in my appearance."
"It makes you look a different man, sir," the barber replied. "There's not many gentlemen would have sacrificed a nice moustache like that."
I paid him, and, when I left the shop, went to my cabin. Once there, I unlocked my trunk, and took from it a smart yachting cap and a leather case, containing various articles I had purchased in London. One of these was an eye-gla.s.s, which, after several attempts, I managed to fix in my eye. Then, striking an att.i.tude, I regarded myself in the mirror above the washstand.
"Good-day, Mr. George Trevelyan," I muttered. "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Really, bah Jove, that's awfully good of you to say so," I answered in my a.s.sumed voice. "I hope, bah Jove, we shall be very good friends for the time that we're destined to spend together."
"That will only be until we get back to Barbadoes," d.i.c.k Helmsworth replied. "After that, Mr. George Trevelyan, you can clear out as soon as you please. From that day forward I shall hope never to set eyes on you again."
I thereupon placed the eye-gla.s.s in its case, put the cap back in the trunk, and relocked the latter. After that I went on deck to receive the chaff I knew would be showered upon me by my fellow-pa.s.sengers.
Two days later, that is to say, on the twenty-ninth of the month, we reached the island of Barbadoes and came to anchor in the harbour of Bridgetown. When I had collected my baggage, I bade my friends on board good-bye and made my way ash.o.r.e. I had already carefully searched the shipping, but I could see no sign of any yacht, such as I had been led to expect I should find awaiting me there. I did not worry myself very much about it, however, knowing that her captain had been furnished with my address, and feeling sure that he would communicate with me as soon as he arrived. On landing I drove to the Imperial Hotel and engaged rooms in my own name. I had intended adopting my a.s.sumed cognomen on quitting the ship, but to my dismay I learnt that some of the pa.s.sengers had also come ash.o.r.e and were due to lunch at my hotel. To have entered my name as Trevelyan upon the books, and have been addressed as Helmsworth in the hearing of the proprietor, might have sowed the seeds of suspicion in his mind. And this I was naturally anxious not to do. Later in the day the pa.s.sengers returned to the steamer, and she continued her voyage. As I watched her pa.s.s out of the bay I wondered whether I should ever see her again. Before it would be possible for me to do so, many very strange adventures would in all probability have happened to me.
On my return to the hotel, I inquired for the proprietor, who presently came to me in the verandah.
"I expected to have met a friend here," I said, "a Mr. Trevelyan. I am given to understand, however, that he has not yet arrived?"
"There is no one staying in the hotel at present of that name," he replied. "There was a Mr. Trevelyan here last year, but, if my memory serves me, he was a clergyman."
"I'm afraid it cannot have been the same person," I said, with a smile. "By the way, should any one happen to call, and inquire for him, I should be glad if you would give instructions that he is to see me."
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