Henry Dunbar, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 29

Going Away.

At one o’clock on the appointed Thursday morning, Mr. Dunbar presented himself in the diamond-merchant’s office. Henry Dunbar was not alone. He had called in St. Gundolph Lane, and asked Mr. Balderby to go with him to inspect the diamonds he had bought for his daughter.

The junior partner opened his eyes to the widest extent as the brilliants were displayed before him, and declared that big senior’s generosity was something more than princely.

But perhaps Mr. Balderby did not feel so entirely delighted two or three hours afterwards, when Mr. Isaac Hartgold presented himself before the counter in St. Gundolph Lane, whence he departed some time afterwards carrying away with him seventy-five thousand eight hundred pounds in Bank-of-England notes.

Henry Dunbar walked away from the neighbourhood of Holborn with his coat buttoned tightly across his broad chest, and nearly eighty thousand pounds’ worth of property hidden away in his breast-pockets. He did not go straight back to the Clarendon, but pierced his way across Smithfield, and into a busy smoky street, where he stopped by-and-by at a dingy-looking currier’s shop.

He went in and selected a couple of chamois skins, very thick and strong. At another shop he bought some large needles, half-a-dozen skeins of stout waxed thread, a pair of large scissors, a couple of strong steel buckles, and a tailor’s thimble. When he had made these purchases, he hailed the first empty cab that passed him, and went back to his hotel.

He dined, drank the best part of a bottle of Burgundy, and then ordered a cup of strong tea to be taken to his dressing-room. He had fires in his bedroom and dressing-room every night. To-night he retired very early, dismissed the servant who attended upon him, and locked the door of the outer room, the only door communicating with the corridor of the hotel.

He drank a cup of tea, bathed his head with cold water, and then sat down at a writing-table near the fire.

But he was not going to write; he pushed aside the writing-materials, and took his purchases of the afternoon from his pocket. He spread the chamois leather out upon the table, and cut the skins into two long strips, about a foot broad. He measured these round his waist, and then began to stitch them together, slowly and laboriously.

The work was not easy, and it took the banker a very long time to complete it to his own satisfaction. It was past twelve o’clock when he had stitched both sides and one end of the double chamois-leather belt; the other end he left open.

When he had completed the two sides and the end that was closed, he took four or five little canvas-bags from his pocket. Every one of these canvas-bags was full of loose diamonds.

A thrill of rapture ran through the banker’s veins as he plunged his fingers in amongst the glittering stones. He filled his hands with the bright gems, and let them run from one hand to the other, like streams of liquid light. Then, very slowly and carefully, he began to drop the diamonds into the open end of the chamois-leather belt.

When he had dropped a few into the belt, he stitched the leather across and across, quilting-in the stones. This work took him so long, that it was four o’clock in the morning when he had quilted the last diamond into the belt. He gave a long sigh of relief as he threw the waste scraps of leather upon the top of the low fire, and watched them slowly smoulder away into black ashes. Then he put the chamois-leather belt under his pillow, and went to bed.

Henry Dunbar went back to Maudesley Abbey by the express on the morning after the day on which he had completed his purchase of the diamonds. He wore the chamois-leather belt buckled tightly round his waist next to his inner shirt, and was able to defy the swell-mob, had those gentry been aware of the treasures which he carried about with him.

He wrote from Warwickshire to one of the best and most fashionable jewellers at the West End, and requested that a person who was thoroughly skilled in his business might be sent down to Maudesley Abbey, duly furnished with drawings of the newest designs in diamond necklaces, earrings, &c.

But when the jeweller’s agent came, two or three days afterwards, Mr. Dunbar could find no design that suited him; and the man returned to London without having received an order, and without having even seen the brilliants which the banker had bought.

“Tell your employer that I will retain two or three of these designs,” Mr. Dunbar said, selecting the drawings as he spoke; “and if, upon consideration, I find that one of them will suit me, I will communicate with your establishment. If not, I shall take the diamonds to Paris, and get them made up there.”

The jeweller ventured to suggest the inferiority of Parisian workmanship as compared with that of a first-rate English establishment; but Mr. Dunbar did not condescend to pay any attention to the young man’s remonstrance.

“I shall write to your employer in due course,” he said, coldly. “Good morning.”

Major Vernon had returned to the Rose and Crown at Lisford. The deed which transferred to him the possession of Woodbine Cottage was speedily executed, and he took up his abode there. His establishment was composed of the old housekeeper, who had waited on the deceased admiral, and a young man-of-all-work, who was nephew to the housekeeper, and who had also been in the service of the late owner of the cottage.

From his new abode Mr. Vernon was able to keep a tolerably sharp look-out upon the two great houses in his neighbourhood — Maudesley Abbey and Jocelyn’s Rock. Country people know everything about their neighbours; and Mrs. Manders, the housekeeper, had means of communication with both “the Abbey” and “the Rock;” for she had a niece who was under-housemaid in the service of Henry Dunbar, and a grandson who was a helper in Sir Philip Jocelyn’s stables. Nothing could have better pleased the new inhabitant of Woodbine Cottage, who was speedily on excellent terms with his housekeeper.

From her he heard that a jeweller’s assistant had been to Maudesley, and had submitted a portfolio of designs to the millionaire.

“Which they do say,” Mrs. Manders continued, “that Mr. Dunbar had laid out nigh upon half-a-million of money in diamonds; and that he is going to give his daughter, Lady Jocelyn, a set of jewels such as the Queen upon her throne never set eyes on. But Mr. Dunbar is rare and difficult to please, it seems; for the young man from the jeweller’s, he says to Mrs. Grumbleton at the western lodge, he says, ‘Your master is not easy to satisfy, ma’am,’ he says; from which Mrs. Grumbleton gathers that he had not took a order from Mr. Dunbar.”

Major Vernon whistled softly to himself when Mrs. Manders retired, after having imparted this piece of information.

“You’re a clever fellow, dear friend,” he muttered, as he lighted his cigar; “you’re a stupendous fellow, dear boy; but your friend can see through less transparent blinds than this diamond business. It’s well planned — it’s neat, to say the least of it. And you’ve my best wishes, dear boy; but — you must pay for them — you must pay for them, Henry Dunbar.”

This little conversation between the new tenant of Woodbine Cottage and his housekeeper occurred on the very evening on which Major Vernon took possession of his new abode. The next day was Sunday — a cold wintry Sunday; for the snow had been falling all through the last three days and nights, and lay deep on the ground, hiding the low thatched roofs, and making feathery festoons about the leafless branches, until Lisford looked like a village upon the top of a twelfth-cake. While the Sabbath-bells were ringing in the frosty atmosphere, Major Vernon opened the low white gate of his pleasant little garden, and went out upon the high-road.

But not towards the church. Major Vernon was not going to church on this bright winter’s morning. He went the other way, tramping through the snow, towards the eastern gate of Maudesley Park. He went in by the low iron gate, for there was a bridle-path by this part of the park — that very bridle-path by which Philip Jocelyn had ridden to Lisford so often in the autumn weather.

Major Vernon struck across this path, following the tracks of late footsteps in the deep snow, and thus took the nearest way to the Abbey. There he found all very quiet. The supercilious footman who admitted him to the hall seemed doubtful whether he should admit him any farther.

“Mr. Dunbar are hup,” he said; “and have breakfasted, to the best of my knowledge, which the breakfast ekewpage have not yet been removed.”

“So much the better,” Major Vernon answered, coolly. “You may bring up some fresh coffee, John; for I haven’t made much of a breakfast myself; and if you’ll tell the cook to devil the thigh of a turkey, with plenty of cayenne-pepper and a squeeze of lemon, I shall be obliged. You need’nt trouble yourself; I know my way.”

The Major opened the door leading to Mr. Dunbar’s apartments, and walked without ceremony into the tapestried chamber, where he found the banker sitting near a table, upon which a silver coffee service, a Dresden cup and saucer, and two or three covered dishes gave evidence that Mr. Dunbar had been breakfasting. Cold meats, raised pies, and other comestibles were laid out upon the carved-oak sideboard.

The Major paused upon the threshold of the chamber and gravely contemplated his friend.

“It’s comfortable!” he exclaimed; “to say the least of it, it’s very comfortable, dear boy!”

The dear boy did not look particularly pleased as he lifted his eyes to his visitor’s face.

“I thought you were in London?” he said.

“Which shows how very little you trouble yourself about the concerns of your neighbours,” answered Major Vernon, “for if you had condescended to inquire about the movements of your humble friend, you would have been told that he had bought a comfortable little property in the neighbourhood, and settled down to do the respectable country gentleman for the remainder of his natural life — always supposing that the liberality of his honoured friend enables him to do the thing decently.”

“Do you mean to say that you have bought property in this neighbourhood?”

“Yes! I am leasehold proprietor of Woodbine Cottage, near Lisford and Shorncliffe.”

“And you mean to settle in Warwickshire?”

“I do.”

Henry Dunbar smiled to himself as his friend said this.

“You’re welcome to do so,” he said, “as far as I am concerned.”

The Major looked at him sharply.

“Your sentiments are liberality itself, my dear friend. But I must respectfully remind you that the expenses attendant upon taking possession of my humble abode have been very heavy. In plain English, the two thou’ which you so liberally advanced as the first instalment of future bounties, has melted like snow in a rapid thaw. I want another two thou’, friend of my youth and patron of my later years. What’s a thousand or so, more or less, to the senior partner in the house of D., D., and B.? Make it two five this time, and your petitioner will ever pray, &c. &c. &c. Make it two five, Prince of Maudesley!”

There is no need for me to record the interview between these two men. It was rather a long one; for, in congenial companionship, Major Vernon had plenty to say for himself: it was only when he felt himself out of his element and unappreciated that the Major wrapped himself in the dignity of silence, at in some mystic mantle, and retired for the time being from the outer world.

He did not leave Maudesley Abbey until he had succeeded in the object of his visit, and he carried away in his pocket-book cheques to the amount of two thousand five hundred pounds.

“I flatter myself I was just in the nick of time,” the Major thought, as he walked back to Woodbine Cottage, “for as sure as my name’s what it is, my friend means a bolt. He means a bolt; and the money I’ve had to-day is the last I shall ever receive from that quarter.”

Almost immediately after Major Vernon’s departure, Henry Dunbar rang the bell for the servant who acted as his valet whenever he required the services of one, which was not often.

“I shall start for Paris to-night, Jeffreys,” he said to this man. “I want to see what the French jewellers can do before I trust Lady Jocelyn’s necklace into the hands of English workmen. I’m not well, and I want change of air and scene, so I shall start for Paris to-night. Pack a small portmanteau with everything that’s indispensable, but pack nothing unnecessary.”

“Am I to go with you, sir?” the man asked.

Henry Dunbar looked at his watch, and seemed to reflect upon this question some moments before he answered.

“How do the up-trains go on a Sunday?” he asked.

“There’s an express from the north stops at Rugby at six o’clock, sir. You might meet that, if you left Shorncliffe by the 4:35 train.”

“I could do that,” answered the banker; “it’s only three o’clock. Pack my portmanteau at once, Jeffreys, and order the carriage to be ready for me at a quarter to four. No, I won’t take you to Paris with me. You can follow me in a day or two with some more things.”

“Yes, sir.”

There was no such thing as bustle and confusion in a household organized like that of Mr. Dunbar. The valet packed his master’s portmanteau and dressing-case; the carriage came round to the gravel-drive before the porch at the appointed moment; and five minutes afterwards Mr. Dunbar came out into the hall, with his greatcoat closely buttoned over his broad chest, and a leopard-skin travelling-rug flung across his shoulder.

Round his waist he wore the chamois-leather belt which he had made with his own hands at the Clarendon Hotel. This belt had never quitted him since the night upon which he made it. The carriage conveyed him to the Shorncliffe station. He got out and went upon the platform. Although it was not yet five o’clock, the wintry light was fading in the grey sky, and in the railway station it was already dark. There were lamps here and there, but they only made separate splotches of light in the dusky atmosphere.

Henry Dunbar walked slowly up and down the platform. He was so deeply absorbed by his own thoughts that he was quite startled presently when a young man came close behind him, and addressed him eagerly.

“Mr. Dunbar,” he said; “Mr. Dunbar!”

The banker turned sharply round, and recognized Arthur Lovell.

“Ah! my dear Lovell, is that you? You quite startled me.”

“Are you going by the next train? I was so anxious to see you.”

“Why so?”

“Because there’s some one here who very much wishes to see you; quite an old friend of yours, he says. Who do you think it is?”

“I don’t know, I can’t guess — I’ve so many old friends. I can’t see any one, Lovell. I’m very ill, I saw a physician while I was in London; and he told me that my heart is diseased, and that if I wish to live I must avoid any agitation, any sudden emotion, as I would avoid a deadly poison. Who is it that wants to see me?”

“Lord Herriston, the great Anglo–Indian statesman. He is a friend of my father’s, and he has been very kind to me — indeed, he offered me an appointment, which I found it wisest to decline. He talked a great deal about you, when my father told him that you’d settled at Maudesley, and would have driven over to see you if he could have managed to spare the time, without losing his train. You’ll see him, wont you?”

“Where is he?”

“Here, in the station — in the waiting-room. He has been visiting in Warwickshire, and he lunched with my father en passant; he is going to Derby, and he’s waiting for the down-train to take him on to the main line. You’ll come and see him?”

“Yes, I shall be very glad; I——”

Henry Dunbar stopped suddenly, with his hand upon his side. The bell had been ringing while Lovell and the banker had stood upon the platform talking. The train came into the station at this moment.

“I shan’t be able to see Lord Herriston to-night,” Mr. Dunbar said, hurriedly; “I must go by this train, or I shall lose a day. Good-bye, Lovell. Make my best compliments to Herriston; tell him I have been very ill. Good-bye.”

“Your portmanteau’s in the carriage, sir,” the servant said, pointing to the open door of a first-class compartment. Henry Dunbar got into the carriage. At the moment of his doing so, an elderly gentleman came out of the waiting-room.

“Is this my train, Lovell?” he asked.

“No, my Lord. Mr. Dunbar is here; he goes by this train. You’ll have time to speak to him.”

The train was moving. Lord Herriston was an active old fellow. He ran along the platform, looking into the carriages. But the old man’s sight was not as good as his legs were; he looked eagerly into the carriage-windows, but he only saw a confusion of flickering lamplight, and strange faces, and newspapers unfurled in the hands of wakeful travellers, and the heads of sleepy passengers rolling and jolting against the padded sides of the carriage.

“My eyes are not what they used to be,” he said, with a good-tempered laugh, when he went back to Arthur Lovell. “I didn’t succeed in getting a glimpse of my old friend Henry Dunbar.”

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