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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Mikado Jewel » CHAPTER XI HARRY'S SWEETHEART
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With the arrival of Basil Dane, life became much brighter and more lively at Beckleigh. The young sailor was active-minded and light-hearted, so that he was always glad to provide amusement for himself and others. He took Patricia and Mara out sailing in the fairy bay, and walked with them across the windy spaces of the moors to view various centres of interest. In the evenings, having a sweet tenor voice, he sang to them, while Miss Carrol played his accompaniments, and, of course, he had much to tell them about foreign parts. No one could possibly be dull while Basil was in the house, and even the Squire left his beloved history of the Colpster family to enjoy the breezy humours of his favourite nephew. The old house awoke, as it were, from sleep, to enjoy a brief holiday of innocent amusement.

But although Basil was attentive to Mara, since he greatly wished to arouse her from those dreams which set her apart from others, he gave Patricia most of his company. From the moment he had set eyes on her, he had been attracted by the beauty of her face. Now that he knew her better, and found that she had a heart of gold, he frankly fell in love with such perfections. And very wisely, for Patricia was a rare specimen of her sex. She was not, on her part, averse to his wooing, as, of all the men she had ever met, Basil appeared to be the most trustworthy and fascinating. It was the old story of love at first sight, that miracle at which material-minded people scoff, but which is a veritable truth in spite of such scepticism.

Theodore, needless to say, was not pleased to see the fulfilment of his prophecy. He had known, the moment Basil arrived, that something of this silly sort--so he phrased it--would happen. Knowing nothing of love himself, for his selfishness swallowed up all other qualities in his somewhat narrow nature, he had scanty patience with this folly. He wished to get Patricia entirely to himself, because of her rare psychic qualities, and to do so was even willing to marry her. Of course, by such an act, he would cut himself off from all chance of acquiring the property, since it was very evident that the Mikado Jewel would never be found. Theodore was certain that it had gone back to Japan, and there would be no chance of its being stolen a second time. This being the case, only by marrying his cousin could he secure Beckleigh and carry out his design of forming a school of Occultism. But this ambition--as has before been stated--he was willing to surrender, provided that he could dominate Patricia and her mediumistic powers. With those at his disposal, he felt that he could do much to forward his selfish desires. Moreover--and this was a factor also in his decision--Mara disliked him so intensely that she certainly would never marry him.

But none of Theodore's feelings appeared in his looks and manners. To reach his ends he had to play a comedy, and did so with the skill of a clever actor. His face was all smiles, his behaviour most deferential, and he carefully avoided any possible quarrel with his brother. Also, he did not speak of his occult studies, since a discussion of such things was not welcome to others. Theodore, in fact, appeared in quite a social r?le, and seconded his brother in promoting a brighter and more active state of things in the old mansion. He was clever at conjuring, and gave exhibitions in the drawing-room when the girls grew weary of music and conversation. And always he was polite and genial. So much did he impose upon Basil and Mara and the Squire that they believed Theodore had--as the saying is--turned over a new leaf. But Patricia did not credit as genuine this too suave demeanour. She knew, if no one else did, that the leopard could not change his spots, and what is more, that this particular leopard did not wish to.

Beckleigh was certainly the Vale of Avilion, for in spite of the bad weather prevailing in almost every other county in England, this favoured spot preserved, more or less, a serene calm. Of course, it rained at times, but not very long and not very hard. As the Squire had said, his hay-crops at Hendle were completely ruined by the wet, and he anticipated a great loss, which he could ill afford in his straitened circumstances. But the flower gardens round his family seat bloomed in almost constant sunshine. Also, when snows fell--it was now close upon Christmas, and the hard frosts were coming--they spread a mantle of white on the moors above, but did not descend upon Beckleigh. It is true that, owing to the season, many of the trees in the demesne were leafless, but a goodly number, being foreign, were evergreen, and still clothed themselves in leaves. Throughout the winter, when severe conditions prevailed on the high lands, the climate of this little nook by the sea maintained a mildness and warmth little short of miraculous. The place might have been situated on the Riviera.

Patricia thought that these extraordinary circumstances--for an English winter--were due to the great red cliff which sheltered the vale. During the day it drew in much heat into its breast, and breathed it forth at night when the airs grew chilly. It was like being warmed by a good-humoured volcano, she thought, for Patricia, after the manner of Browning, always humanized the forces of Nature. But undoubtedly she was right in her surmise, for the solar fire constantly drawn to the cliff and radiated from the cliff, created an artificial summer, which endured throughout the year. Beckleigh was like the Garden of Eden for climate and fruitfulness and beauty, and Theodore was the intruding snake. But as yet, even to herself, she did not dare to confess that she was a modern Eve to Basil's Adam. Or, if a passing thought of this nature did cross her mind, she blushed and did not dwell on it. If she had, she would never, in her maidenly confusion, have been able to meet the eye of her lover. Yes, it had come that far: he was her lover.

Of course, Theodore, always on the watch, saw that the pair were falling deeper in love daily, and savagely felt that he could do nothing to prevent a happy ending to the romance. The Squire might want Basil to marry his cousin, but Mara merely loved the young man in a sisterly fashion, and did not dream of any closer tie. Colpster was not the man to force his daughter's affections even for the sake of the family. So it was probable that, if Mara refused Basil, which she assuredly would do if he offered himself, and if Patricia accepted the young sailor, Mr. Colpster would settle the Beckleigh property on his daughter, and give up his fancy of re-establishing the family. Moreover, he was now strangely fond of Patricia, and would be glad to have her for his niece by marriage. Look what way he could and would, Theodore saw that his chances of gaining either Beckleigh or Miss Carrol were very small indeed.

It was then that he determined to seek out Brenda Lee and see what the future had in store for him. After Mara's warning, he had always been haunted by a sense of ever-nearing danger, although he could not tell from which quarter it would come. Granny Lee would know, however, as she was a clairvoyant and could look into the seeds of Time as did Macbeth's weird women. Of course, in this material age, most people contemptuously dismiss such things as hanky-panky, but that did not matter to Theodore. Sceptics might refuse to shape their course by such a vague chart, but he knew positively from experience that, under certain circumstances, the devil could speak truly. And if Granny Lee, with her malignant disposition and greedy venom, was not the devil, who was? Granny Lee, therefore, was the one to solve riddles, and to Granny Lee Theodore went a few days before Christmas. Yet, so as to impress upon his uncle that he was going on a harmless and friendly errand, the young man sought him out in the seclusion of his library.

"I am going to see Isa Lee, and ask if she has heard anything about Harry since his return to England," said Theodore abruptly.

"You are going to Hendle?"

"No. Isa, so I have been told, is stopping for Christmas with her grandmother in that miserable hut on the moors. I can go and return in three hours."

"I should like to come with you," said the Squire alertly. "I am most anxious to know the whereabouts of Harry Pentreddle. We must question him about the emerald. I wonder if he really knows anything?"

"I am perfectly certain that he does," rejoined Theodore, positively; "if he did not, he would not have stayed away from Isa. But I do not advise you to come with me, Uncle George, as there is deep snow on the moors, and you are not so young as you were. Besides, I can ask all necessary questions."

"Well, do so. If you can recover the emerald, you know what your reward will be," said the Squire, and turned again to decipher an old document, which dealt with the adventures of Amyas Colpster in Peru.

Theodore shrugged his big shoulders and departed with a grimace. Much as he would have liked to secure the emerald, if only to inherit Beckleigh, which was a kind of Naboth's vineyard in his greedy eyes, he felt quite sure that Harry Pentreddle could tell him little that would be helpful. Harry undoubtedly had stolen the Jewel, and had given it to Patricia as his mother's emissary; but having departed for Amsterdam almost immediately, he would know nothing of its unexpected loss. Apparently he did not even know that his mother had been so barbarously murdered. If he did know, he assuredly would have returned to avenge her, in spite of any danger there might be to him from the guardians of the great gem. And that danger was now, as Theodore fully believed, a thing of the past. The emerald had been recovered, so it was only natural to suppose that the priests of the Kitzuki Temple would leave well alone. With these thoughts in his scheming mind, Theodore, well wrapped up in furs, mounted the winding road which led to the moors.

The vast grassy spaces were covered more or less deeply with snow, but Dane, accustomed to the country since his boyhood, and possessing great strength, made light of the drifts. Far away on the dazzling expanse, brilliantly and blindingly bright in the sunshine, he saw the many dark dots, which marked the village, near the cromlech, where Mrs. Lee had her home. A glance backward over the cliff showed him the verdant acres of Beckleigh, and a flash of colour where late flowers still bloomed. There was no snow below, but only emerald swards and green woods running to the verge of the sapphire bay, where the wavelets lipped the curved streak of the yellow sands. The contrast between the summer he was leaving and the winter he was going into struck Theodore forcibly.

"I wish I could get it all to myself," he groaned. "Basil is out of it if he marries Patricia Carrol, and Mara hasn't the sense to look after it. I may secure it, after all. But Patricia," he scowled; "I don't want her to become Basil's wife!" a speech which showed that Theodore both wished to have his cake and eat it, since he wanted both the girl and the property.

However, it was useless to moralize over possibilities, so Dane resolutely struck across the moors, and ploughed manfully through the drifts. After a mile or so, he came to the high road up which tourists came to view the rocking stone and the cromlech. This was comparatively clear, and he had no further difficulty in gaining his goal. Swiftly walking--and in spite of his great bulk Theodore could walk swiftly when he chose--he soon arrived at the handful of houses, sheltered immediately under the brow of the gently swelling hill, or boss, which marked the highest point of the moors. It was a most unlikely place for a village, as there seemed to be no chance of its inhabitants gaining food. But they acted as guides to tourists, drove them in vehicles from and to Hendle, shepherded droves of Exmoor ponies, and flocks of hardy sheep, and, if rumour was true, employed much of their spare time in poaching. The village--Boatwain was its name--had not a good reputation in general, and amongst its inhabitants Granny Lee, in particular, had the worst name.

Theodore soon found the tumbledown house in which she lived, and at the door came upon Isa Lee, just stepping--so she said--to post a letter. Dane saw his opportunity and took it immediately.

"You are writing to Harry," he observed, looking at the tall, robust, deep-bosomed woman, who always reminded him of Wagnerian heroines, with her fair, flaxen hair and Brunehild aspect.

Isa evidently saw no reason to deny the truth. "Yes, sir," she replied, in a deep contralto voice which boomed like a bell.

"Is Harry still abroad?"

"Yes, sir. He is stopping at Amsterdam, hoping to get a ship."

"Does he know of his mother's death?"

"Yes," answered Isa. "I told him, and sent him the papers."

"What does he say?"

"He intends to return here and pray by her grave."

Theodore shrugged his shoulders cynically. "He had much better avenge her death," was his remark.

"He wants to," said Isa stolidly; "but he says that he can't guess who killed her, and does not know how to begin. He is very sorrowful over the death, Mr. Dane, as he loved his mother."

"He doesn't seem to be so very sorry," snapped Theodore sharply, "or he would return and learn who murdered her."

"I am writing to him to advise him to do so," said the woman quickly. "Oh, don't think that Harry is hard, sir! He is--he is--afraid!"

"Of what?"

"I don't know: he refuses to tell me, sir."

Dane knew very well when she said this that Patricia's suggestion was a true one. Pentreddle had evidently stolen the jewel and now feared lest he should be assassinated. But with the recovery of the jewel by one of the priests--and he believed that there was more than one on the hunt--all danger had passed. "Isa," he said, impressively, "go back and add a postscript to your letter, telling Harry that there is now no danger, and that the Squire, my uncle, wishes to see him."

"What about, sir?" asked Isa suddenly, and with an anxious look.

"He wants to talk to him about Mrs. Pentreddle's death. She was our housekeeper, you know."

"Yes, sir, and a grand funeral the Squire gave her," said the woman, with a flush, for, like all the lower orders, she attached great weight to postmortem ceremonies. "He has been kind."

"Well, he wants to be kinder," said Theodore, not hesitating to tell a lie in order to gain his ends. "He has some idea of who killed Martha, and wishes to talk about it to Harry, who should avenge his mother's death. Will you go back and add that to your letter?"

"Yes, sir; oh, yes, sir!" said the girl eagerly; "and very glad Harry will be to hear it, as he has been fretting dreadfully over his mother's death. But he did not return because of this danger, whatever it is. Do you know, sir?"

"I can guess," answered Theodore significantly, "so you can tell Harry that he can come quite safely to England. Now go and write your letter, and say that he is to come back at once. The Squire wishes to see him at Beckleigh, as he has news for him. Meanwhile, I shall speak with your grandmother."

Isa nodded, and stepped aside to allow her grand visitor to enter the house, although it was scarcely worthy of the name. It was rather a hovel, and possessed only three rooms--a large one, used for all living purposes, and two tiny bedrooms. The old hag--she was nothing else--sat beside a small fire, smoking a short-stemmed clay pipe, and only vouchsafed Dane a grunt when he greeted her. She was about eighty-six years of age, but looked even older with her wrinkled, copper-coloured face and scanty white hair streaming from under a thrum cap. Her eyes were small, black and piercing, and full of vivid life. For the rest, she was hunched up in a basket-chair, stroking a large black cat, and looked a typical witch of James's time. Perhaps she dressed for the part and lived up to it, black cat and all, for she made much money in summer by telling fortunes to tourists. But undoubtedly her appearance was so old and wicked, that she would have tasted of the tar-barrel in Stuart days, almost without the formality of a trial. Granny Lee was a witch in grain, if ever there was a witch.

"Good-day," said Theodore, sitting down on a chair with no back, while Isa went into an adjoining bedroom to add the postscript to her letter. "How do you find yourself this weather, Granny?"

"Mrs. Lee, if you please," snarled the old woman, glaring at him in a malignant way and removing the pipe from her almost toothless gums.

"Mrs. Lee then be it; Mrs. Brenda Lee, if you like," said Dane, who had his reasons for keeping her in a good temper. "How are you?"

"How should I be in this damned weather? I'm all aches and pains and they dratted rheumatics."

"You shouldn't attend so many Sabbaths," chuckled Theodore, loosening his fur coat. "Riding a broom-stick with no clothes on is dangerous at your age."

"Leave my age alone, drat ye!" growled the amiable old lady, beginning to cut a fresh fill of tobacco with a clasp-knife. "As to Sabbaths, I don't believe in 'em, or I'd ha' gone long ago. There ain't any now, and I don't believe as there ever was. I don't go to Them, but They come to me."

Theodore cast a bold look round the miserable room. "Are They here now?"

Granny Lee chuckled in her turn. "Mine don't need to show when you're here, Mr. Dane. You've brought your lot along with you, and the biggest of them is looking over your shoulder at this blessed moment."

The big man turned his head, but, of course, not being gifted with mediumistic powers, could see nothing. "I wish I could have a look at him," he said regretfully. "What is he?"

"Just your thought grown big."

Theodore nodded quite comprehendingly. "Of course, thoughts create beings on the astral plane out of the essence. What special thoughts----?"

"There's lots of 'em, and none of 'em pleasant," interrupted Mrs. Lee, pointing with her pipe-stem. "Yon's Greed of what belongs to other folk, an' he's not a small one. Then there's Selfishness,--quite a giant--and Hatred, and Lust, and Ambition, and Murder----"

"Why murder? I haven't murdered any one," said Dane quickly and coolly.

"It's in your mind. That brother of yours----"

Theodore ground his teeth. "I'd like to strangle him," he growled, "only I might be caught. Yes, I daresay the murder thought is there."

Knowing what he did about occult matters, he had not the least doubt but what Mrs. Lee saw his thoughts made visible, since she possessed the astral vision--what the Celt calls "second sight" and could behold the Unseen. Ordinary matter-of-fact people would laugh at Mrs. Lee's pretensions, but Dane knew that they were only too truthful, and that she actually saw the hideous offspring of his brain with which his evil passions had surrounded him. However, he put the delight of conversing generally with this mistress of Black Magic aside for the moment, since at any moment Isa might finish writing her postscript and come out. It was time to get to business, and he did so without delay.

"I feel there is some danger near me," he said abruptly, "and I want you to see what it is."

Granny laid aside her pipe and stretched forth a skinny hand. "Give me the ring you are wearing. I must get your condition to see," she said.

Dane pulled off his signet ring and passed it along, as he knew that otherwise she could not come into contact with his magnetism. Mrs. Lee put it to her wrinkled forehead and closed her beady eyes. After a few moments she began to speak slowly, listening at times as if some of the viewless Things around her were speaking.

"It's danger from above," she muttered.

"What danger?"

"I can't tell. That shell of yours which holds your wicked soul is stretched out as flat as a pancake."

"How does that happen?"

"I can't tell, drat ye! But it won't happen if you don't let It come into the house."

"What is It?"

Granny listened for a moment. "A voice says that you're not to know."

"But how can I guard myself, if I'm not to know," protested Theodore in a vexed tone. "What is the use of warning me, unless the remedy's suggested?"

Granny shook her weird old head. "There's innocence against you, and Them as works for you can't get over."

"Get over what?"

"The barrier of innocence. Don't ask me more questions for the mist is hiding all." She handed back his ring. "What I get plainly is: Don't let It come into the house."

"But hang it!" raged Theodore, "what is It?"

"I can't tell, drat ye!" said Granny again, and resumed her pipe.

Theodore gave her a shilling and left the hut more doubtful than ever. His Oracle, as an Oracle should be, was too mystical for every-day comprehension.


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