Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXVIII

A Check

So many things now began to open upon me, to do and to think of, that I scarcely knew which to begin with. I used to be told how much wiser it was not to interfere with any thing — to let by-gones be by-gones, and consider my own self only. But this advice never came home to my case, and it always seemed an unworthy thing even to be listening to it. And now I saw reason to be glad for thanking people who advised me, and letting them go on to advise themselves. For if I had listened to Major Hockin, or even Uncle Sam for that part, where must I have been now? Why, simply knowing no more than as a child I knew, and feeling miserable about it. Whereas I had now at least something to go upon, and enough for a long time to occupy my mind. The difficulty was to know what to do first, and what to resolve to leave undone, or at least to put off for the present. One of my special desires had been to discover that man, that Mr. Goad, who had frightened me so about two years back, and was said to be lost in the snow-drifts. But nobody like him had ever been found, to the sorrow of the neighborhood; and Sylvester himself had been disappointed, not even to know what to do with his clothes.

His card, however, before he went off, had been left to the care of Uncle Sam for security of the 15,000 dollars; and on it was printed, with a glazing and much flourish, “Vypan, Goad, and Terryer: Private Inquiry Office, Little England Polygon, W.C.” Uncle Sam, with a grunt and a rise of his foot, had sent this low card flying to the fire, after I had kissed him so for all his truth and loveliness; but I had caught it and made him give it to me, as was only natural. And having this now, I had been quite prepared to go and present it at its mean address, and ask what they wanted me for in America, and what they would like to do with me now, taking care to have either the Major close at hand, or else a policeman well recommended.

But now I determined to wait a little while (if Betsy Bowen’s opinion should be at all the same as mine was), and to ask Mr. Shovelin what he thought about it, before doing any thing that might arouse a set of ideas quite opposite to mine, and so cause trouble afterward. And being unable to think any better for the time than to wait and be talked to, I got Major Hockin to take me back again to the right number in European Square.

Here I found Mrs. Strouss (born Betsy Bowen) ready and eager to hear a great deal more than I myself had heard that day. On the other hand, I had many questions, arising from things said to me, to which I required clear answers; and it never would do for her to suppose that because she had known me come into this world, she must govern the whole of my course therein. But it cost many words and a great deal of demeanor to teach her that, good and faithful as she was, I could not be always under her. Yet I promised to take her advice whenever it agreed with my own opinions.

This pleased her, and she promised to offer it always, knowing how well it would be received, and she told all her lodgers that they might ring and ring, for she did not mean to answer any of their bells; but if they wanted any thing, they must go and fetch it. Being Germans, who are the most docile of men in England, whatever they may be at home, they made no complaint, but retired to their pipes in a pleasant condition of surprise at London habits.

Mrs. Strouss, being from her earliest years of a thrifty and reputable turn of mind, had managed, in a large yet honest way, to put by many things which must prove useful in the long-run, if kept long enough. And I did hear — most careful as I am to pay no attention to petty rumors — that the first thing that moved the heart of Herr Strouss, and called forth his finest feelings, was a winding-up chair, which came out to make legs, with a pocket for tobacco, and a flat place for a glass.

This was certainly a paltry thought; and to think of such low things grieved me. And now, when I looked at Mr. Strouss himself, having heard of none of these things yet, I felt that my nurse might not have done her best, yet might have done worse, when she married him. For he seemed to have taken a liking toward me, and an interest in my affairs, which redounded to his credit, if he would not be too inquisitive. And now I gladly allowed him to be present, and to rest in the chair which had captivated him, although last night I could scarcely have borne to have heard in his presence what I had to hear. To-night there was nothing distressful to be said, compared, at least, with last night’s tale; whereas there were several questions to be put, in some of which (while scouting altogether Uncle Sam’s low estimate) two females might, with advantage perhaps, obtain an opinion from the stronger sex.

And now, as soon as I had told my two friends as well as I could what had happened at the bank (with which they were pleased, as I had been), those questions arose, and were, I believe, chiefly to the following purport — setting aside the main puzzle of all.

Why did my father say, on that dreadful morning, that if his father was dead, he himself had killed or murdered him? Betsy believed, when she came to think, that he had even used the worse word of these two.

How could the fatal shot have been discharged from his pistol — as clearly it had been — a pistol, moreover, which, by his own account, as Betsy now remembered, he had left in his quarters near Chichester?

What was that horrible disease which had carried off all my poor little brothers and sisters, and frightened kind neighbors and servants away? Betsy said it was called “Differeria,” as differing so much from all other complaints. I had never yet heard of this, but discovered, without asking further than of Mr. Strouss, that she meant that urgent mandate for a levy of small angels which is called on earth “diphtheria.”

Who had directed those private inquirers, Vypan, Goad, and Terryer, to send to the far West a member of their firm to get legal proof of my dear father’s death, and to bring me back, if possible? The present Lord Castlewood never would have done so, according to what Mr. Shovelin said; it was far more likely that (but for weak health) he would have come forth himself to seek me, upon any probable tidings. At once a religious and chivalrous man, he would never employ mean agency. And while thinking of that, another thought occurred — What had induced that low man Goad to give Uncle Sam a date wrong altogether for the crime which began all our misery? He had put it at ten, now twelve, years back, and dated it in November, whereas it had happened in September month, six years and two months before the date he gave. This question was out of all answer to me, and also to Mrs. Strouss herself; but Herr Strouss, being of a legal turn, believed that the law was to blame for it. He thought that proceedings might be bound to begin, under the Extradition Act, within ten years of the date of the crime; or there might be some other stipulation compelling Mr. Goad to add one to all his falsehoods; and not knowing any thing about it, both of us thought it very likely.

Again, what could have been that last pledge which passed between my father and mother, when they said “good-by” to one another, and perhaps knew that it was forever, so far as this bodily world is concerned? Was it any thing about a poor little sleeping and whimpering creature like myself, who could not yet make any difference to any living being except the mother? Or was it concerning far more important things, justice, clear honor, good-will, and duty, such as in the crush of time come upward with high natures? And if so, was it not a promise from my mother, knowing every thing, to say nothing, even at the quivering moment of lying beneath the point of death?

This was a new idea for Betsy, who had concluded from the very first that the pledge must be on my father’s part — to wit, that he had vowed not to surrender, or hurt himself in any way, for the sake of his dear wife. And to my suggestion she could only say that she never had seen it in that light; but the landings were so narrow and the walls so soft that, with all her duty staring in her face, neither she, nor the best servant ever in an apron, could be held responsible to repeat their very words. And her husband said that this was good — very good — so good as ever could be; and what was to show now from the mouth of any one, after fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, the years?

After this I had no other word to say, being still too young to contradict people duly married and of one accord. No other word, I mean, upon that point; though still I had to ask, upon matters more immediate, what was the next thing for me, perhaps, to do. And first of all it was settled among us that for me to present myself at the head-quarters of Vypau, Goad, and Terryer would be a very clumsy and stupid proceeding, and perhaps even dangerous. Of course they would not reveal to me the author of those kind inquiries about myself, which perhaps had cost the firm a very valuable life, the life of Mr. Goad himself. And while I should learn less than nothing from them, they would most easily extract from me, or at any rate find out afterward, where I was living, and what I was doing, and how I could most quietly be met and baffled, and perhaps even made away with, so as to save all further trouble.

Neither was that the only point upon which I resolved to do nothing. Herr Strouss was a very simple-minded man, yet full of true sagacity, and he warmly advised, in his very worst English, that none but my few trusty friends should be told of my visit to this country.

“Why for make to know your enemies?” he asked, with one finger on his forehead, which was his mode of indicating caution. “Enemies find out vere soon, too soon, soon enough. Begin to plot — no, no, young lady begin first. Vilhelmina, your man say the right. Is it good, or is it bad?”

It appeared to us both to be good, so far as might be judged for the present; and therefore I made up my mind to abstain from calling even on my father’s agent, unless Mr. Shovelin should think it needful. In that and other matters I would act by his advice; and so with better spirits than I long had owned, at finding so much kindness, and with good hopes of the morrow, I went to the snug little bedroom which my good nurse had provided.

Alas! What was my little grief on the morrow, compared to the deep and abiding loss of many by a good man’s death? When I went to the door at which I had been told to knock, it was long before I got an answer. And even when somebody came at last, so far from being my guardian, it was only a poor old clerk, who said, “Hush, miss!” and then prayed that the will of the Lord might be done. “Couldn’t you see the half-shutters up?” he continued, rather roughly. “’Tis a bad job for many a poor man today. And it seems no more than yesterday I was carrying him about!”

“Do you mean Mr. Shovelin?” I asked. “Is he poorly? Has any thing happened? I can wait, or come again.”

“The Lord has taken him to the mansions of the just, from his private address at Sydenham Hill. A burning and a shining light! May we like him be found watching in that day, with our lamps trimmed and our loins girded!”

For the moment I was too surprised to speak, and the kind old man led me into the passage, seeing how pale and faint I was. He belonged, like his master, and a great part of their business, to a simple religious persuasion, or faith, which now is very seldom heard of.

“It was just in this way,” he said, as soon as tears had enabled me to speak — for even at the first sight I had felt affection toward my new guardian. “Our master is a very punctual man, for five-and-thirty years never late — never late once till this morning. Excuse me, miss, I ought to be ashamed. The Lord knoweth what is best for us. Well, you threw him out a good bit yesterday, and there was other troubles. And he had to work late last night, I hear; for through his work he would go, be it anyhow — diligent in business, husbanding the time — and when he came down to breakfast this morning, he prayed with his household as usual, but they noticed his voice rather weak and queer; and the mistress looked at him when he got up from his knees; but he drank his cup of tea and he ate his bit of toast, which was all he ever took for breakfast. But presently when his cob came up to the door — for he always rode in to business, miss, no matter what the weather was — he went to kiss his wife and his daughters all round, according to their ages; and he got through them all, when away he fell down, with the riding-whip in one hand, and expired on a piece of Indian matting.”

“How terrible!” I exclaimed, with a sob. And the poor old man, in spite of all his piety, was sobbing.

“No, miss; not a bit of terror about it, to a man prepared as he was. He had had some warning just a year ago; and the doctors all told him he must leave off work. He could no more do without his proper work than he could without air or victuals. What this old established concern will do without him, our Divine Master only knows. And a pinch coming on in Threadneedle Street, I hear — but I scarcely know what I am saying, miss; I was thinking of the camel and the needle.”

“I will not repeat what you have not meant to tell,” I answered, seeing his confusion, and the clumsy turn he had made of it. “Only tell me what dear Mr. Shovelin died of.”

“Heart-disease, miss. You might know in a moment. Nothing kills like that. His poor father died of it, thirty years agone. And the better people are, the more they get it.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackmore/rd/erema/chapter28.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31