Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLVIII

A Return Call

In the morning I labored to dismiss these thoughts, these shameful suspicions, almost as injurious to my father’s honor as it was to suspect him of the crime itself. And calling back my memories of him, and dwelling on what Mr. Shovelin said, and Uncle Sam and others, I became quite happy in the firm conviction that I ought to be put upon bread and water for having such vile visions. Then suddenly a thing came to my mind which shattered happy penitence.

Major Hockin had spoken of another purpose which he had in store while bringing me thus to London — another object, that is to say, besides the opening of the trinket. And this his second intention was to “have it out,” as he expressed it, “with that league of curs and serpents, Vypan, Goad, and Terryer.” This was the partnership whose card of business had been delivered at the sawmills under circumstances which, to say the least, required explanation. And the Major, with strong words and tugs of his head-crest, had vowed to get that explanation, or else put the lot of them into a police dock.

Moreover, when, at the opening of the locket, I did not think fit to show the lapidary what I had found inside it, except the painting on ivory (which proved to be as he expected), and when my companion suppressed curiosity at the risk of constitution, and while I could scarcely tell what I was about (through sudden shock and stupidity), I must have been hurried on to tell Major Hockin the whole of the private things I had discovered. For, in truth, there was scarcely any time to think; and I was afraid of giving way, which must have befallen me without relief of words; and being so much disturbed I may, in the cab, have rushed off for comfort to the Major, sitting so close to me. No doubt I did so, from what happened afterward; but in the morning, after such a night, I really could not be certain what I had said to Betsy, and what to him.

A large mind would have been steady throughout, and regarded the question of birth as a thing to which we, who are not consulted about it, should bear ourselves indifferently. And gladly would I have done so, if I could, but the power was not in me. No doubt it served me right for having been proud about such a trifle; but though I could call it a trifle as long as it seemed to be in my favor, my strength of mind was not enough to look at it so when against me.

Betsy told me not to be like that, for I had a great deal to go through yet, and must not be drawing on my spirit so, every atom of which would be needful. For the General — as she called the Major — was coming to fetch me at eleven o’clock to face some abominable rascals, and without any breakfast how could I do it? Then I remembered all about the appointment to go to Messrs. Vypan, Goad, and Terryer, and beginning to think about them, I saw sad confirmation of my bad ideas. My father’s wicked elder brother by another mother had left his own rights pending, as long as my father lived, for good reason. For if the latter had turned against him, through a breach of compact, things might go ill in a criminal court; but having him silenced now by death, this man might come forward boldly and claim estates and title. His first point would be to make sure as sure could be of the death of my father, to get hold of his private papers, and of me, who might possess dangerous knowledge. And if this were so, one could understand at once Mr. Goad’s attempt upon Uncle Sam.

“Now none of this! none of this, I say, Erema!” Major Hockin exclaimed, as he ran in and saw me scarcely even caring to hold my own with the gentle Maximilian — to which name Mr. Strouss was promoted from the too vernacular “Hans.” “My dear, I never saw you look ill before. Why, bless my heart, you will have crows’-feet! Nurse, what are you doing with her? Look at her eyes, and be ashamed of yourself. Give her goulard, tisane, tiffany — I never know what the proper word is — something, any thing, volatile Sally, hartshorn, ammonia, aromatic vinegar, saline draught, or something strong. Why, I want her to look at her very, very best.”

“As if she was a-going to a ball, poor dear!” Betsy Strouss replied, with some irony. “A young lady full of high spirits by nature, and have never had her first dance yet! The laws and institutions of this kingdom is too bad for me, General. I shall turn foreigner, like my poor husband.”

“It is vere goot, vere goot always,” said the placid Maximilian; “foreigner dis way, foreigner dat way; according to de hills, or de sea, or de fighting, or being born, or someting else.”

“Hold your tongue, Hans,” cried his Wilhelmina; “remember that you are in England now, and must behave constitutionally. None of your loose outlandish ideas will ever get your bread in England. Was I born according to fighting, or hills, or sea, or any thing less than the will of the Lord, that made the whole of them, and made you too? General, I beg you to excuse him, if you can. When he gets upon such things, he never can stop. His goodness is very great; but he must have a firm hand put upon his ‘philosophy.’ Maximilian, you may go and smoke your pipe for an hour and a quarter, and see where the cheapest greens and oil are, for his Excellence is coming in to-night; and mind you get plenty of stump in them. His Excellence loves them, and they fill the dish, besides coming cheaper. Now, Miss Erema, if you please, come here. Trust you in me, miss, and soon I will make you a credit to the General.”

I allowed her to manage my dress and all that according to her own ideas; but when she entreated to finish me up with the “leastest little touch of red, scarcely up to the usual color, by reason of not sleeping,” I stopped her at once, and she was quite content with the color produced by the thought of it. Meanwhile Major Hockin, of course, was becoming beyond all description impatient. He had made the greatest point of my being adorned, and expected it done in two minutes! And he hurried me so, when I did come down, that I scarcely noticed either cab or horse, and put on my new gloves anyhow.

“My dear, you look very nice,” he said at last, when thoroughly tired of grumbling. “That scoundrel of a Goad will be quite amazed at sight of the child he went to steal.”

“Mr. Goad!” I replied, with a shudder, caused, perhaps, by dark remembrance; “if we go to the office, you surely will not expect me to see Mr. Goad himself?”

“That depends, as the Frenchmen say. It is too late now to shrink back from any thing. If I can spare you, I will. If not, you must not be ashamed to show yourself.”

“I am never ashamed to show myself. But I would rather not go to that place at all. If things should prove to be as I begin to think, I had better withdraw from the whole of it, and only lament that I ever began. My father was right; after all, my father was wise; and I ought to have known it. And perhaps Uncle Sam knew the truth, and would not tell me, for fear of my rushing to the Yosemite. Cabman, please to turn the horse and go in the opposite direction.” But the Major pulled me back, and the driver lifted his elbow and said, “All right.”

“Erema,” the Major began, quite sternly, “things are gone a little too far for this. We are now embarked upon a most important investigation”— even in my misery I could scarce help smiling at his love of big official words —“an investigation of vast importance. A crime of the blackest dye has been committed, and calmly hushed up, for some petty family reason, for a period of almost twenty years. I am not blaming your father, my dear; you need not look so indignant. It is your own course of action, remember, which has led to the present — the present — well, let us say imbroglio. A man of honor and an officer of her Majesty’s service stands now committed at your request — mind, at your own request —”

“Yes, yes, I know; but I only meant you to — to go as far as I should wish.”

“Confidential instructions, let us say; but there are times when duty to society overrides fine feeling. I have felt that already. The die is cast. No half-and-half measures, no beating about the bush, for me. After what I saw yesterday, and the light that burst upon me, I did not act hastily — I never do, though slow coaches may have said so. I put this and that together carefully, and had my dinner, and made up my mind. And you see the result in that man on the box.”

“The cabman? Oh yes, you resolved to have a cab, and drive to those wicked informers.”

“Where are your eyes? You are generally so quick. This morning you are quite unlike yourself — so weak, so tearful, and timorous. Have you not seen that by side of the cabman there sits another man altogether? One of the most remarkable men of the age, as your dear Yankees say.”

“Not a policeman in disguise, I hope. I saw a very common, insignificant man. I thought he was the driver’s groom, perhaps.”

“Hush! he hears every thing, even on this granite. He is not a policeman; if he were, a few things that disgrace the force never would happen. If the policemen of England did their duty as our soldiers do, at once I would have gone to them; my duty would have been to do so. As it is, I go to our private police, who would not exist if the force were worth a rap. Vypan, Goad, and Terryer, in spite of Goad’s clumsiness, rank second. I go to the first of all these firms, and I get their very cleverest rascal.”

Major Hockin, speaking in this hoarse whisper — for he could not whisper gently — folded his arms, and then nodded his head, as much as to say, “I have settled it now. You have nothing to do but praise me.” But I was vexed and perplexed too much to trust my voice with an answer.

“The beauty of this arrangement is,” he continued, with vast complacency, “that the two firms hate one another as the devil hates — no, that won’t do; there is no holy water to be found among them — well, as a snake hates a slow-worm, let us say. ‘Set a thief to catch a thief’ is a fine old maxim; still better when the two thieves have robbed one another.”

As he spoke, the noble stranger slipped off the driving seat without troubling the cabman to stop his jerking crawl, and he did it so well that I had no chance of observing his nimble face or form. “You are disappointed,” said the Major, which was the last thing I would have confessed. “You may see that man ten thousand times, and never be able to swear to him. Ha! ha! he is a oner!”

“I disdain such mean tricks beyond all expression,” I exclaimed, as was only natural, “and every thing connected with them. It is so low to talk of such things. But what in the world made him do it? Where does he come from, and what is his name?”

“Like all noble persons, he has got so many names that he does not know which is the right one; only his are short and theirs are long. He likes ‘Jack’ better than any thing else, because it is not distinctive. ‘Cosmopolitan Jack,’ some call him, from his combining the manners and customs, features and figures, of nearly all mankind. He gets on with every one, for every one is gratified by seeing himself reflected in him. And he can jump from one frame to another as freely as Proteus or the populace. And yet, with all that, he is perfectly honest to any allegiance he undertakes. He would not betray us to Vypan, Goad, and Terryer for your great nugget and the Castlewood estates.”

“I have heard that there are such people,” I said; “but what can he possibly know about me? And what is he coming to do for us now?”

“He knows all about you, for a very simple reason. That you do not know him, is a proof of his ability. For you must have met him times out of number. This is the fellow employed by your good but incapable cousin, Lord Castlewood.”

“He is not incapable; he is a man of great learning, and noble character —”

“Well, never mind that; you must not be so hot. What I mean is that he has done nothing for you beyond providing for your safety. And that he certainly did right well, and at considerable expense, for this man can’t be had for nothing. You need have been under no terror at all in any of the scenes you have been through. Your safety was watched for continually.”

“Then why did he not come and help me? Why did he not find out that horrible man?”

“Because it was not in his orders, and Jack is the last man to go beyond those. He is so clever that the stupid Moonites took him for a stupid Moonite. You should have employed him yourself, Erema; but you are so proud and independent.”

“I should hope so, indeed. Should I put up with deceit? If the truth is not to be had without falsehood, it is not worth having. But what is this man to do here now?”

“That depends upon circumstances. He has better orders than I could give, for I am no hand at scheming. Here we are; or here we stop. Say nothing till I tell you. Pray allow me the honor. You keep in the background, remember, with your veil, or whatever you call it, down. Nobody stops at the very door. Of course that is humbug — we conform to it.”

With a stiff inclination, the gallant Major handed me out of the cab in a quiet corner of a narrow street, then paid the driver with less fuss than usual, and led me into a queer little place marked in almost illegible letters, “Little England Polygon.” “You have the card, my dear?” he whispered; “keep it till I call you in. But be ready to produce it in a moment. For the rest, I leave you to your own wit. Jack is on the watch, mind.”

There were two doors near together, one a brave door with a plate, and swung on playing hinges, the other of too secluded a turn to even pronounce itself “private.” We passed through the public door, and found only a lobby, with a boy on guard. “Mr. Goad? Yes, Sir. This way, Sir,” cried the boy. “Lady stay? Yes, Sir; waiting-room for ladies. Chair, miss; here, if you please — first right. Mr. Goad, second on the left. Knock twice. Paper, miss? Poker chained at this time of year. Bell A, glass of water. Bell B, cup of tea, if ladies grows impatient.”

If I had been well, I might have reduced this boy to his proper magnitude, for I never could endure young flippancy; but my spirits were so low that the boy banged the door with a fine sense of having vanquished me. And before there was any temptation to ring Bell A, not to mention Bell B, the sound of a wrathful voice began coming. Nearer and nearer it came, till the Major strode into the “ladies’ waiting-room,” and used language no ladies should wait for.

“Oh, don’t!” I said; “what would Mrs. Hockin say? And consider me too, Major Hockin, if you please.”

“I have considered you, and that makes me do it. Every body knows what I am. Did I ever exaggerate in all my life? Did I ever say any thing without just grounds? Did I ever take any distorted views? Did I ever draw upon my imagination? Erema, answer me this instant!”

“I do not remember a single instance of your drawing upon your imagination,” I answered, gravely, and did not add, “because there is none to draw upon.”

“Very well. I was sure of your concurrence. Then just come with me. Take my arm, if you please, and have the thief’s card ready. Now keep your temper and your self-command.”

With this good advice, the Major, whose arm and whole body were jerking with wrath, led me rapidly down the long passage and through a door, and my eyes met the eyes of the very man who had tried to bribe Uncle Sam of me. He never saw me then, and he did not know me now; but his insolent eyes fell under mine. I looked at him quietly, and said nothing.

“Now, Mr. Goad, you still assert that you never were in California — never even crossed the Atlantic. This young lady under my protection — don’t you be afraid, my dear — is the Honorable Erema Castlewood, whom you, in the pay of a murderer, went to fetch, and perhaps to murder. Now, do you acknowledge it? You wrote her description, and ought to know her. You double-dyed villain, out with it!”

“Major Hockin,” said Mr. Goad, trying to look altogether at his ease, but failing, and with his bull-dog forehead purple, “if indeed you are an officer — which I doubt for the credit of her Majesty’s service — if the lady were not present, I should knock you down.” And the big man got up as if to do it.

“Never mind her,” my companion answered, in a magnanimous manner; “she has seen worse than that, poor thing. Here I am — just come and do it.”

The Major was scarcely more than half the size of Mr. Goad in mere bodily bulk, and yet he defied him in this way. He carefully took his blue lights off, then drew up the crest of his hair, like his wife’s most warlike cock a-crowing, and laid down his rattan upon a desk, and doubled his fists, and waited. Then he gave a blink from the corner of his gables, clearly meaning, “Please to stop and see it out.” It was a distressing thing to see, and the Major’s courage was so grand that I could not help smiling. Mr. Goad, however, did not advance, but assumed a superior manner.

“Major,” he said, “we are not young men; we must not be so hasty. You carry things with too high a hand, as veteran officers are apt to do. Sir, I make allowance for you; I retract my menace, and apologize. We move in different spheres of life, Sir, or I would offer you my hand.”

“No, thank you!” the Major exclaimed, and then looked sorry for his arrogance. “When a man has threatened me, and that man sees the mistake of doing so, I am pacified, Sir, in a moment; but it takes me some time to get over it. I have served his Gracious Majesty, and now hers, in every quarter of the civilized globe, with distinction, Sir — with distinction, and thanks, and no profit to taint the transaction, Sir. In many battles I have been menaced with personal violence, and have received it, as in such positions is equitable. I am capable, Sir, of receiving it still, and repaying it, not without interest.”

“Hang it, Major, if a man is sorry, a soldier forgives him frankly. You abused me, and I rashly threatened you. I beg your pardon, as a man should do, and that should be an end to it.”

“Very well, very well; say no more about it. But am I to understand that you still deny in that barefaced manner, with my witness here, the fact of your having been at Colonel Gundry’s — my cousin, Sir, and a man not to be denied, without an insult to myself — a man who possesses ingots of gold, ingots of gold, enough to break the Bank of England, and a man whose integrity doubles them all. Have you not heard of the monster nugget, transcending the whole of creation, discovered by this young lady looking at you, in the bed of the saw-mill river, and valued at more than half a million?”

“You don’t mean to say so? When was it? Sylvester never said a word about it — the papers, I mean, never mentioned it.”

“Try no more — well, I won’t say lies, though they are confounded lies — what I mean is, no further evasion, Mr. Goad. Sylvester’s name is enough, Sir. Here is the card of your firm, with your own note of delivery on the back, handed by you to my cousin, the Colonel. And here stands the lady who saw you do it.”

“Major, I will do my very best to remember. I am here, there, every where — China one day, Peru the next, Siberia the day after. And this young lady found the nugget, did she? How wonderfully lucky she must be!”

“I am lucky; I find out every thing; and I shall find out you, Mr. Goad.” Thus I spoke on the spur of the moment, and I could not have spoken better after a month of consultation. Rogues are generally superstitious. Mr. Goad glanced at me with a shudder, as I had gazed at him some three years back; and then he dropped his bad, oily-looking eyes.

“I make mistakes sometimes,” he said, “as to where I have been and where I have not. If this young lady saw me there, it stands to reason that I may have been there. I have a brother extremely similar. He goes about a good deal also. Probably you saw my brother.”

“I saw no brother of yours, but yourself. Yourself — your mean and cowardly self — and I shall bring you to justice.”

“Well, well,” he replied, with a poor attempt to turn the matter lightly; “I never contradict ladies; it is an honor to be so observed by them. Now, Major, can you give me any good reason for drawing upon a bad memory? My time is valuable. I can not refer to such by-gone matters for nothing.”

“We will not bribe you, if that is what you mean,” Major Hockin made answer, scornfully. “This is a criminal case, and we have evidence you little dream of. Our only offer is — your own safety, if you make a clean breast of it. We are on the track of a murderer, and your connection with him will ruin you. Unless you wish to stand in the dock at his side, you will tell us every thing.”

“Sir, this is violent language.”

“And violent acts will follow it: if you do not give up your principal, and every word you know about him, you will leave this room in custody. I have Cosmopolitan Jack outside, and the police at a sign from him will come.”

“Is this job already in the hands of the police, then?”

“No, not yet. I resolved to try you first. If you refuse, it will be taken up at once; and away goes your last chance, Sir.”

Mr. Goad’s large face became like a field of conflicting passions and low calculations. Terror, fury, cupidity, and doggedness never had a larger battle-field.

“Allow me at least to consult my partners,” he said, in a low voice and almost with a whine; “we may do things irregular sometimes, but we never betray a client.”

“Either betray your client or yourself,” the Major answered, with a downright stamp. “You shall consult no one. You have by this watch forty-five seconds to consider it.”

“You need not trouble yourself to time me,” the other answered, sulkily; “my duty to the firm overrides private feeling. Miss Castlewood, I call you to witness, since Major Hockin is so peppery —”

“Peppery, Sir, is the very last word that ever could be applied to me. My wife, my friends, every one that knows me, even my furthest-off correspondents, agree that I am pure patience.”

“It may be so, Major; but you have not shown it. Miss Castlewood, I have done you no harm. If you had been given up to me, you would have been safer than where you were. My honor would have been enlisted. I now learn things which I never dreamed of — or, at least — at least only lately. I always believed the criminality to be on the other side. We never ally ourselves with wrong. But lately things have come to my knowledge which made me doubtful as to facts. I may have been duped — I believe I have been: I am justified, therefore, in turning the tables.”

“If you turn tables,” broke in the Major, who was grumbling to himself at the very idea of having any pepper in his nature —“Goad, if you turn tables, mind you, you must do it better than the mesmerists. Out of this room you do not stir; no darkness — no bamboozling! Show your papers, Sir, without sleight of hand. Surrender, or you get no quarter.”

To me it was quite terrifying to see my comrade thus push his victory. Mr. Goad could have killed him at any moment, and but for me perhaps would have done so. But even in his fury he kept on casting glances of superstitious awe at me, while I stood quite still and gazed at him. Then he crossed the room to a great case of drawers, unlocked something above the Major’s head, made a sullen bow, and handed him a packet.

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