Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 15

A Terrible Resolve.

When the hawthorns were blooming in the woods of Raynham, a new life dawned in the stately chambers of the castle.

A daughter was born to the beautiful widow-lady — a sweet consoler in the hour of her loneliness and desolation. Honoria Eversleigh lifted her heart to heaven, and rendered thanks for the priceless treasure which had been bestowed upon her. She had kept her word. From the hour of her husband’s death she had never quitted Raynham Castle. She had lived alone, unvisited, unknown; content to dwell in stately solitude, rarely extending her walks and drives beyond the boundary of the park and forest.

Some few of the county gentry would have visited her; but she would not consent to be visited by a few. Honoria Eversleigh’s was a proud spirit; and until the whole county should acknowledge her innocence, she would receive no one.

“Let them think of me or talk of me as they please,” she said; “I can live my own life without them.”

Thus the long winter months passed by, and Honoria was alone in that abode whose splendour must have seemed cold and dreary to the friendless woman.

But when she held her infant in her arms all was changed She looked down upon the baby-girl, and murmured softly —

“Your life shall be bright and peaceful, dearest, whatever mine may be. The future looks bleak and terrible for me; but for you, sweet one, it may be bright and fair.”

The young mother loved her child with a passionate intensity; but even that love could not exclude darker passions from her breast.

There was much that was noble in the nature of this woman; but there was also much that was terrible. From her childhood she had been gifted with a power of intellect — a strength of will — that lifted her high above the common ranks of womanhood.

A fatal passion had taken possession of her soul after the untimely death of Sir Oswald; and that passion was a craving for revenge. She had been deeply wronged, and she could not forgive. She did not even try to forgive. She believed that revenge was a kind of duty which she owed, not only to herself, but to the noble husband whom she had lost.

The memory of that night of anguish in Yarborough Tower, and that still darker hour of shame and despair in which Sit Oswald had refused to believe her innocent, was never absent from the mind of Honoria Eversleigh. She brooded upon these dark memories. Time could not lessen their bitterness. Even the soft influence of her infant’s love could not banish those fatal recollections.

Time passed. The child grew and flourished, beautiful to her mother’s enraptured eyes; and yet, even by the side of that fair baby’s face arose the dark image of Victor Carrington.

For a long time the county people had kept close watch upon the proceedings of the lady at the castle.

The county people discovered that Lady Eversleigh never left Raynham; that she devoted herself to the rearing of her child as entirely as if she had been the humblest peasant-woman; and that she expended more money upon solid works of charity than had ever before been so spent by any member of the Eversleigh family, though that family had been distinguished by much generosity and benevolence.

The county people shrugged their shoulders contemptuously. They could not believe in the goodness of this woman, whose parentage no one knew, and whom every one had condemned.

She is playing a part, they thought; she wishes to impress us with the idea that she is a persecuted martyr — a suffering angel; and she hopes thus to regain her old footing amongst us, and queen it over the whole county, as she did when that poor infatuated Sir Oswald first brought her to Raynham. This was what the county people thought; until one day the tidings flew far and wide that Lady Eversleigh had left the castle for the Continent, and that she intended to remain absent for some years.

This seemed very strange; but what seemed still more strange, was the fact that the devoted mother was not accompanied by her child.

The little girl, Gertrude, so named after the mother of the late baronet, remained at Raynham under the care of two persons.

These two guardians were Captain Copplestone, and a widow lady of forty years of age, Mrs. Morden, a person of unblemished integrity, who had been selected as protectress and governess of the young heiress.

The child was at this time two and a half years of age. Very young, she seemed, to be thus left by a mother who had appeared to idolize her.

The county people shook their heads. They told each other that Lady Eversleigh was a hypocrite and an actress. She had never really loved her child — she had played the part of a sorrowing widow and a devoted mother for two years and a half, in the hope that by this means she would regain her position in society.

And now, finding that this was impossible, she had all of a sudden grown tired of playing her part, and had gone off to the Continent to spend her money, and enjoy her life after her own fashion.

This was what the world said of Honoria Eversleigh; but if those who spoke of her could have possessed themselves of her secrets, they would have discovered something very different from that which they imagined.

Lady Eversleigh left the castle in the early part of November accompanied only by her maid, Jane Payland.

A strange time of the year in which to start for the Continent, people said. It seemed still more strange that a woman of Lady Eversleigh’s rank and fortune should go on a Continental journey with no other attendant than a maid-servant.

If the eyes of the world could have followed Lady Eversleigh, they would have made startling discoveries.

While it was generally supposed that the baronet’s widow was on her way to Rome or Naples, two plainly-dressed women took possession of unpretending lodgings in Percy Street, Tottenham Court Road.

The apartments were taken by a lady who called herself Mrs. Eden, and who required them only for herself and maid. The apartments consisted of two large drawing-rooms, two bedrooms on the floor above, and a dressing-room adjoining the best bedroom.

The proprietor of the house was a Belgian merchant, called Jacob Mulck — a sedate old bachelor, who took a great deal of snuff, and Disquieted himself very little about the world in general, so long as life went smoothly for himself.

The remaining occupant of the house was a medical student, who rented one of the rooms on the third floor. Another room on the same floor was to let.

Such was the arrangement of the house when Mrs. Eden and her maid took possession of their apartments.

Mr. Jacob Mulck thought he had never seen such a beautiful woman as his new lodger, when he entered her apartment, to ascertain whether she was satisfied with the accommodation provided for her.

She was sitting in the full light of an unshaded lamp as he entered the room. Her black silk dress was the perfection of simplicity; its sombre hues relieved only by the white collar which encircled her slender throat. Her pale face looked of an ivory whiteness, in contrast to the dark, deep eyes, and arched brows of sombre brown.

The lady pronounced herself perfectly satisfied with all the arrangements that had been made for her comfort.

“I am in London on business of importance,” she said; “and shall, therefore, receive very little company; but I may have to hold many interviews with men of business, and I trust that my affairs may not be made the subject of curiosity or gossip, either in this house or outside it.”

Mr. Mulck declared that he was the last person in the world to talk; and that his two servants were both elderly women, the very pink of steadiness and propriety.

Having said this, he took his leave; and as he did so, stole one more glance at the beautiful stranger.

She had fallen into an attitude which betrayed complete abstraction of mind. Her elbow rested on the table by her side; her eyes were shaded by her hand.

Upon that white, slender hand, Jacob Mulck saw diamonds such as are not often seen upon the fingers of the inhabitants of Percy Street. Mr. Mulck occasionally dealt in diamonds; and he knew enough about them to perceive at a glance that the rings worn by his lodger were worth a small fortune.

“Humph!” muttered Mr. Mulck, as he returned to his comfortable sitting~room; “those diamonds tell a tale. There’s something mysterious about this lodger of mine. However, my rent will be safe — that’s one comfort.”

While the landlord was musing thus, the lodger was employed in a manner which might well have awakened his curiosity, could he have beheld her at that moment.

She had fallen on her knees before a low easy-chair — her face buried in her hands, her slender frame shaken by passionate sobs.

“My child!” she exclaimed, in almost inarticulate murmurs; “my beloved, my idol! — it is so bitter to be absent from you! so bitter! so bitter!”

Early on the morning after her arrival in London, Honoria Eversleigh, otherwise Mrs. Eden, went in a cab to the office of an individual called Andrew Larkspur, who occupied dingy chambers in Lyon’s Inn.

The science of the detective officer had not, at that time, reached its present state of perfection; but even then there were men who devoted their lives to the work of private investigations, and the elucidation of the strange secrets and mysteries of social life.

Such a man was Andrew Larkspur, late Bow Street runner, now hanger-on of the new detective police. He was renowned for his skill in the prosecution of secret service; and it was rumoured that he had amassed a considerable fortune by his mysterious employment.

He was not a man who openly sought employers. His services were in great request among a certain set of people, and he had little idle time on his hands. His name was painted in dirty white letters on the black door of his dingy chambers on a fourth story. On this door he called himself, “Andrew Larkspur, Commission Agent.”

It will be seen by-and-by how Honoria Eversleigh had become acquainted with the fact of this man’s existence.

She went alone to seek an interview with him. She had found herself compelled to confide in Jane Payland to a very considerable extent; but she did not tell that attendant more than she was obliged to tell of the dark business which had brought her to London.

She was fortunate enough to find Mr. Andrew Larkspur alone, and disengaged. He was a little, sandy-haired man, of some sixty years of age, spare and wizened, with a sharp nose, like a beak, and thin, long arms, ending in large, claw-like hands, that were like the talons of a bird of prey. Altogether, Mr. Lark spur had very much of the aspect of an elderly vulture which had undergone partial transformation into a human being.

Honoria was in no way repelled by the aspect of this man. She saw that he was clever; and fancied him the kind of person who would be likely to serve her faithfully.

“I have been informed that you are skilled in the prosecution of secret investigations,” she said; “and I wish to secure your services immediately. Are you at liberty to devote yourself to the task I wish to be performed by you?”

Mr. Larkspur was a man who rarely answered even the simplest question until he had turned the subject over in his mind, and carefully studied every word that had been said to him.

He was a man who made caution the ruling principle of his life, and he looked at every creature he encountered in the course of his career as an individual more or less likely to take him in.

The boast of Mr. Larkspur was, that he never had been taken in.

“I’ve been very near it more than once,” he said to his particular friends, when he unbent so far as to be confidential.

“I’ve had some very narrow escapes of being taken in and done for as neatly as you please. There are some artful dodgers, whose artful dodging the oldest hand can scarcely guard against; but I’m proud to say not one of those artful dodgers has ever yet been able to get the better of me. Perhaps my time is to come, and I shall be bamboozled in my old age.”

Before replying to Honoria’s inquiry, Andrew Larkspur studied her from head to foot, with eyes whose sharp scrutiny would have been very unpleasant to anyone who had occasion for concealment.

The result of the scrutiny seemed to be tolerably satisfactory, for Mr. Larkspur at last replied to his visitor’s question in a tone which for him was extremely gracious.

“You want to know whether you can engage my services,” he said; “that depends upon circumstances.”

“Upon what circumstances?”

“Whether you will be able to pay me. My hands are very full just now, and I’ve about as much business as I can possibly get through.”

“I shall want you to abandon all such business, and to devote yourself exclusively to my service,” said Honoria.

“The deuce you will!” exclaimed Mr. Larkspur. “Do you happen to know what my time is worth?”

Mr. Larkspur looked positively outraged by the idea that any one could suppose they could secure a monopoly of his valuable services.

“That is a question with which I have no concern,” answered Honoria, coolly. “The work which I require you to do will most likely occupy all your time, and entirely absorb your attention. I am quite prepared to pay you liberally for your services, and I shall leave you to name your own terms. I shall rely on your honour as a man of business that those terms will not be exorbitant, and I shall accede to them without further question.”

“Humph!” muttered the suspicious Andrew. “Do you know, ma’am, that sounds almost too liberal? I’m an old stager, ma’am, and have seen a good deal of life, and I have generally found that people who are ready to promise so much beforehand, are apt not to give anything when their work has been done.”

“The fact that you have been cheated by swindlers is no reason why should insult me,” answered Honoria. “I wished to secure your services; but I cannot continue an interview in which I find my offers met by insolent objections. There are, no doubt, other people in London who can assist me in the business I have in hand. I will wish you good morning.”

She rose, and was about to leave the room. Mr. Larkspur began to think that he had been rather too cautious; and that perhaps, this plainly~attired lady might be a very good customer.

“You must excuse me, ma’am,” he said, “if I’m rather a suspicious old chap. You see, it’s the nature of my business to make a man suspicious. If you can pay me for my time, I shall be willing to devote myself to your service; for I’d much rather give my whole mind to one business, than have ever so many odds and ends of affairs jostling each other in my brain. But the fact of it is, ladies very seldom have any idea what business is: however clever they may be in other matters — playing the piano, working bead-mats and worsted slippers, and such like. Now, I dare say you’ll open your eyes uncommon wide when I tell you that my business is worth nigh upon sixteen pound a week to me, taking good with bad; and though you mayn’t be aware of it, ma’am, having, no doubt, given your mind exclusive to Berlin wool, and such like, sixteen pound a week is eight hundred a year.”

Mr. Larkspur, though not much given to surprise, was somewhat astonished to perceive that his lady-visitor did not open her eyes any wider on receiving this intelligence.

“If you have earned eight hundred a year by your profession,” she returned, quietly, “I will give you twenty pounds a week for your exclusive services, and that will be a thousand and forty pounds a year.”

This time, Andrew Larkspur was still more surprised, though he was so completely master of himself as to conceal the smallest evidence of his astonishment.

Here was a woman who had not devoted her mind to Berlin wool-work, and whose arithmetic was irreproachable!

“Humph!” he muttered, too cautious to betray any appearance of eagerness to accept an advantageous offer. “A thousand a year is very well in its way; but how long is it to last? If I turn my back upon this business here, it’ll all tumble to pieces, and then, where shall I be when you have done with me?”

“I will engage you for one year, certain.”

“That won’t do, ma’am; you must make it three years, certain.”

“Very well; I am willing to do that,” answered Honoria. “I shall, in all probability, require your services for three years.”

Mr. Larkspur regretted that he had not asked for an engagement of six years.

“Do you agree to those terms?” asked Honoria.

“Yes,” answered the detective, with well-assumed indifference; “I suppose I may as well accept those terms, though I dare say I might make more money by leaving myself free to give my attention to anything that might turn up. And now, how am I to be paid? You see, you’re quite a stranger to me.”

“I am aware of that, and I do not ask you to trust me,” replied Honoria. “I will pay you eighty pounds a month.”

“Eighty pounds a month of four weeks,” interposed the cautious Larkspur; “eighty pounds for the lunar month. That makes a difference, you know, and it’s just as well to be particular.”

“Certainly!” answered Lady Eversleigh, with a half-contemptuous smile. “You shall not be cheated. You shall receive your payment monthly, in advance; and if you require security for the future, I can refer you to my bankers. My name is Mrs. Eden — Harriet Eden, and I bank with Messrs. Coutts.”

The detective rubbed his hands with a air of gratification.

“Nothing could be more straightforward and business-like,” he said. “And when shall you require my services, Mrs. Eden?”

“Immediately. There is an apartment vacant in the house in which I lodge. I should wish you to occupy that apartment, as you would thus be always at hand when I had any communication to make to you. Would that be possible?”

“Well, yes, ma’am, it would certainly be possible,” replied Mr. Larkspur, after the usual pause for reflection; “but I’m afraid I should be obliged to make that an extra.”

“You shall be paid whatever you require.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You see, when a person of my age has been accustomed to live in one place for a long time, it goes against him to change his habits. However, to oblige you, I’ll get together my little traps, and shift my quarter to the lodging you speak of.”

“Good. The house in question is No. 90, Percy Street, Tottenham Court Road.”

Mr. Larkspur was surprised to find that a lady who could afford to offer him more than a thousand a year, was nevertheless contented to live in such a middle-class situation as Percy Street.

“Can you go to the new lodging to-morrow?” asked Honoria.

“Well, no, ma’am; you must give me a week, if you please. I must wind up some of the affairs I have been working upon, you see, and hand over my clients to other people; and I must set my books in order. I’ve a few very profitable affairs in hand, I assure you. There’s one which might have turned out a great prize, if I had been only able to carry it through. But those sort of things all depend on time, you see, ma’am. They’re very slow. I have been about this one, off and on, for over three years; and very little has come of it yet.”

The detective was turning over one of his books mechanically as he said this. It was a large ledger, filled with entries, in a queer, cramped handwriting, dotted about, here and there, with mysterious marks in red and blue ink. Mr. Larkspur stopped suddenly, as he turned the leaves, his attention arrested by one particular page.

“Here it is,” he said; “the very business I was speaking of. Five hundred pounds for the discovery of the murderer, or murderers, of Valentine Jernam, captain and owner of the ‘Pizarro’, whose body was found in the river, below Wapping, on the third of April, 1836. That’s a very queer business, that is, and I’ve never had leisure to get very deep into the rights and wrongs of it yet.”

Mr. Larkspur looked up presently, and saw that his visitor’s face had grown white to the very lips.

“You knew Captain Jernam?” he said.

“No — yes, I knew him slightly; and the idea of his murder is very shocking to me,” answered Honoria, struggling with her agitation. “Do you expect to discover the secret of that dreadful crime?”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Andrew Larkspur, with the careless and business-like tone of a man to whom a murder is an incident of trade. “You see, when these things have gone by for a long time, without anything being found out about them, the secret generally comes out by accident, if it ever comes out at all. There are cases in which the secret never does come out; but there are not many such cases. There’s a deal in accident; and a man of my profession must be always on the look-out for accident, or he’ll lose a great many chances. You see those red marks stuck here and there, among all that writing in blue ink. Those red marks are set against the facts that seem pretty clear and straightforward; the blue marks are set against facts that seem dark. You see, there’s more blue marks than red. That means that it’s a dark case.”

Honoria Eversleigh bent over the old man’s shoulder, and read a few fragmentary lines, here and there, in the page beneath her.

Seen at the ‘Jolly Tar’, Ratcliff Highway, a low public-house frequented by sailors. Seen with two men, Dennis Wayman, landlord of the ‘Jolly Tar,’ and a man called Milson, or Milsom. The man Milson, or Milsom, has since disappeared. Is believed to have been transported, but is not to be heard of abroad.

A little below these entries was another, which seemed to Honoria Eversleigh to be inscribed in letters of fire:—

“Valentine Jernam was known to have fallen in love with a girl who sang at the ‘Jolly Tar’ public-house, and it is supposed that he was lured to his death by the agency of this girl. She is described as about seventeen years of age, very handsome, dark eyes, dark hair —”

Mr. Larkspur closed the volume before Lady Eversleigh could read further. She returned to her seat, still terribly pale, and with a sickening pain at her heart.

All the shame and anguish of her early life, the unspeakable horror of her girlhood, had been brought vividly back to her by the perusal of the memoranda in the detective’s ledger.

“I mean to try my luck yet at getting at the bottom of the mystery,” said Andrew Larkspur. “Five hundred pounds reward is worth working for. I— I’ve a notion that I shall lay my hands upon Valentine Jernam’s murderer sooner or later.”

“Who offers the reward?” asked Honoria.

“Government offers one hundred of it; George Jernam four hundred more.”

“Who is George Jernam?”

“The captain’s younger brother — a merchant-captain himself — the owner of several vessels, and, I believe, a rich man. He came here, accompanied by a queer-looking fellow, called Joyce Harker — a kind of clerk, I believe — who was very much attached to the murdered man.”

“Yes — yes, I know,” murmured Honoria.

She had been so terribly agitated by the mention of Valentine Jernam’s name, that her presence of mind had entirely abandoned her.

“You knew that humpbacked clerk!” exclaimed Mr. Larkspur.

“I have heard of him,” she faltered.

There was a pause, during which Lady Eversleigh recovered in some degree from the painful emotion caused by memories so unexpectedly evoked.

“I may as well give you some preliminary instructions to-day,” she said, re-assuming her business-like tone, “and I will write you a cheque for the first month of your service.”

Mr. Larkspur lost no time in providing his visitor with pen and ink. She took a cheque-book from her pocket, and filled in a cheque for eighty pounds in Andrew Larkspur’s favour.

The cheque was signed “Harriet Eden.”

“When you present that, you will be able to ascertain that your future payments will be secure,” she said.

She handed the cheque to Mr. Larkspur, who looked at it with an air of assumed indifference, and slipped it carelessly into his waistcoat pocket.

“And now, ma’am,” he said, “I am ready to receive your instructions.”

“In the first place,” said Honoria, “I must beg that you will on no occasion attempt to pry into my motives, whatever I may require of you.”

“That, ma’am, is understood. I have nothing to do with the motives of my employers, and I care nothing about them.”

“I am glad to hear that,” replied Honoria. “The business in which I require your aid is a very strange one; and the time may come when you will be half-inclined to believe me mad. But, whatever I do, however mysterious my actions may be, think always that a deeply rooted purpose lies beneath them; and that every thought of my brain — every trivial act of my life, will shape itself to one end.”

“I ask no questions, ma’am.”

“And you will serve me faithfully — blindly?”

“Yes, ma’am; both faithfully and blindly.”

“I think I may trust you,” replied Honoria, very earnestly “And now I will speak freely. There are two men upon whose lives I desire to place a spy. I want to know every act of their lives, every word they speak, every secret of their hearts — I wish to be an unseen witness of their lonely hours, an impalpable guest at every gathering in which they mingle. I want to be near them always in spirit, if not in bodily presence. I want to track them step by step, let their ways be never so dark and winding. This is the purpose of my life; but I am a woman — powerless to act freely — bound and fettered as women only are fettered. Do you begin to understand now what I require of you.”

“I think I do.”

“Mr. Larkspur,” continued Honoria, with energy. “I want you to be my second self. I want you to be the shadow of these two men. Wherever they go, you must follow — in some shape or other you must haunt them, by night and day. It is, of course, a difficult task which I demand of you. You have to decide whether it is impossible.”

“Impossible! ma’am — not a bit of it. Nothing is impossible to a man who has served twenty years’ apprenticeship as a Bow Street runner. You don’t know what we old Bow Street hands can do when we’re on our mettle. I’ve heard a deal of talk about Fooshay, that was at the head of Bonaparty’s police — but bless your heart, ma’am, Fooshay was a fool to us. I’ve done as much and more than what you talk of before to-day. All you have to do is to give me the names and descriptions of the two men I am to watch, and leave all the rest to me.”

“One of these two men is Sir Reginald Eversleigh, Baronet, a man of small fortune — a bachelor, occupying lodgings in Villiers Street. I have reason to believe that he is dissipated, a gamester, and a reprobate.”

“Good,” said Mr. Larkspur, who jotted down an occasional note in a greasy little pocket-book.

“The second person is a medical practitioner, called Victor Carrington — a Frenchman, but a perfect master of the English language, and a man whose youth has been spent in England. The two men are firm friends and constant associates. In keeping watch upon the actions of one, you cannot fail to see much of the other.

“Very good, ma’am; you may make your mind easy,” answered the detective, as coolly as if he had just received the most common-place order.

He escorted Honoria to the door of his chambers, and left her to descend the dingy staircase as best as she might.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/run_to_earth/chapter15.html

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