No Name, by Wilkie Collins

The Seventh Scene.

St. Crux-In-The-Marsh.

Chapter 48

“THIS is where you are to sleep. Put yourself tidy, and then come down again to my room. The admiral has returned, and you will have to begin by waiting on him at dinner to-day.”

With those words, Mrs. Drake, the housekeeper, closed the door; and the new parlor-maid was left alone in her bed-chamber at St. Crux.

That day was the eventful twenty-fifth of February. In barely four months from the time when Mrs. Lecount had placed her master’s private Instructions in his Executor’s hands, the one combination of circumstances against which it had been her first and foremost object to provide was exactly the combination which had now taken place. Mr. Noel Vanstone’s widow and Admiral Bartram’s Secret Trust were together in the same house.

Thus far, events had declared themselves without an exception in Magdalen’s favor. Thus far, the path which had led her to St. Crux had been a path without an obstacle: Louisa, whose name she had now taken, had sailed three days since for Australia, with her husband and her child; she was the only living creature whom Magdalen had trusted with her secret, and she was by this time out of sight of the English land. The girl had been careful, reliable and faithfully devoted to her mistress’s interests to the last. She had passed the ordeal of her interview with the housekeeper, and had forgotten none of the instructions by which she had been prepared to meet it. She had herself proposed to turn the six weeks’ delay, caused by the death in the admiral’s family, to good account, by continuing the all-important practice of those domestic lessons, on the perfect acquirement of which her mistress’s daring stratagem depended for its success. Thanks to the time thus gained, when Louisa’s marriage was over, and the day of parting had come, Magdalen had learned and mastered, in the nicest detail, everything that her former servant could teach her. On the day when she passed the doors of St. Crux she entered on her desperate venture, strong in the ready presence of mind under emergencies which her later life had taught her, stronger still in the trained capacity that she possessed for the assumption of a character not her own, strongest of all in her two months’ daily familiarity with the practical duties of the position which she had undertaken to fill.

As soon as Mrs. Drake’s departure had left her alone, she unpacked her box, and dressed herself for the evening.

She put on a lavender-colored stuff-gown — half-mourning for Mrs. Girdlestone; ordered for all the servants, under the admiral’s instructions — a white muslin apron, and a neat white cap and collar, with ribbons to match the gown. In this servant’s costume — in the plain gown fastening high round her neck, in the neat little white cap at the back of her head — in this simple dress, to the eyes of all men, not linen-drapers, at once the most modest and the most alluring that a woman can wear, the sad changes which mental suffering had wrought in her beauty almost disappeared from view. In the evening costume of a lady, with her bosom uncovered, with her figure armed, rather than dressed, in unpliable silk, the admiral might have passed her by without notice in his own drawing-room. In the evening costume of a servant, no admirer of beauty could have looked at her once and not have turned again to look at her for the second time.

Descending the stairs, on her way to the house-keeper’s room, she passed by the entrances to two long stone corridors, with rows of doors opening on them; one corridor situated on the second, and one on the first floor of the house. “Many rooms!” she thought, as she looked at the doors. “Weary work searching here for what I have come to find!”

On reaching the ground-floor she was met by a weather-beaten old man, who stopped and stared at her with an appearance of great interest. He was the same old man whom Captain Wragge had seen in the backyard at St. Crux, at work on the model of a ship. All round the neighborhood he was known, far and wide, as “the admiral’s coxswain.” His name was Mazey. Sixty years had written their story of hard work at sea, and hard drinking on shore, on the veteran’s grim and wrinkled face. Sixty years had proved his fidelity, and had brought his battered old carcass, at the end of the voyage, into port in his master’s house.

Seeing no one else of whom she could inquire, Magdalen requested the old man to show her the way that led to the housekeeper’s room.

“I’ll show you, my dear,” said old Mazey, speaking in the high and hollow voice peculiar to the deaf. “You’re the new maid — eh? And a fine-grown girl, too! His honor, the admiral, likes a parlor-maid with a clean run fore and aft. You’ll do, my dear — you’ll do.”

“You must not mind what Mr. Mazey says to you,” remarked the housekeeper, opening her door as the old sailor expressed his approval of Magdalen in these terms. “He is privileged to talk as he pleases; and he is very tiresome and slovenly in his habits; but he means no harm.”

With that apology for the veteran, Mrs. Drake led Magdalen first to the pantry, and next to the linen-room, installing her, with all due formality, in her own domestic dominions. This ceremony completed, the new parlor-maid was taken upstairs, and was shown the dining-room, which opened out of the corridor on the first floor. Here she was directed to lay the cloth, and to prepare the table for one person only — Mr. George Bartram not having returned with his uncle to St. Crux. Mrs. Drake’s sharp eyes watched Magdalen attentively as she performed this introductory duty; and Mrs. Drake’s private convictions, when the table was spread, forced her to acknowledge, so far, that the new servant thoroughly understood her work.

An hour later the soup-tureen was placed on the table; and Magdalen stood alone behind the admiral’s empty chair, waiting her master’s first inspection of her when he entered the dining-room.

A large bell rang in the lower regions — quick, shambling footsteps pattered on the stone corridor outside — the door opened suddenly — and a tall lean yellow old man, sharp as to his eyes, shrewd as to his lips, fussily restless as to all his movements, entered the room, with two huge Labrador dogs at his heels, and took his seat in a violent hurry. The dogs followed him, and placed themselves, with the utmost gravity and composure, one on each side of his chair. This was Admiral Bartram, and these were the companions of his solitary meal.

“Ay! ay! ay! here’s the new parlor-maid, to be sure!” he began, looking sharply, but not at all unkindly, at Magdalen. “What’s your name, my good girl? Louisa, is it? I shall call you Lucy, if you don’t mind. Take off the cover, my dear — I’m a minute or two late to-day. Don’t be unpunctual to-morrow on that account; I am as regular as clock-work generally. How are you after your journey? Did my spring-cart bump you about much in bringing you from the station? Capital soup this — hot as fire — reminds me of the soup we used to have in the West Indies in the year Three. Have you got your half-mourning on? Stand there, and let me see. Ah, yes, very neat, and nice, and tidy. Poor Mrs. Girdlestone! Oh dear, dear, dear, poor Mrs. Girdlestone! You’re not afraid of dogs, are you, Lucy? Eh? What? You like dogs? That’s right! Always be kind to dumb animals. These two dogs dine with me every day, except when there’s company. The dog with the black nose is Brutus, and the dog with the white nose is Cassius. Did you ever hear who Brutus and Cassius were? Ancient Romans? That’s right — good girl. Mind your book and your needle, and we’ll get you a good husband one of these days. Take away the soup, my dear, take away the soup!”

This was the man whose secret it was now the one interest of Magdalen’s life to surprise! This was the man whose name had supplanted hers in Noel Vanstone’s will!

The fish and the roast meat followed; and the admiral’s talk rambled on — now in soliloquy, now addressed to the parlor-maid, and now directed to the dogs — as familiarly and as discontentedly as ever. Magdalen observed with some surprise that the companions of the admiral’s dinner had, thus far, received no scraps from their master’s plate. The two magnificent brutes sat squatted on their haunches, with their great heads over the table, watching the progress of the meal, with the profoundest attention, but apparently expecting no share in it. The roast meat was removed, the admiral’s plate was changed, and Magdalen took the silver covers off the two made-dishes on either side of the table. As she handed the first of the savory dishes to her master, the dogs suddenly exhibited a breathless personal interest in the proceedings. Brutus gluttonously watered at the mouth; and the tongue of Cassius, protruding in unutterable expectation, smoked again between his enormous jaws.

The admiral helped himself liberally from the dish; sent Magdalen to the side-table to get him some bread; and, when he thought her eye was off him, furtively tumbled the whole contents of his plate into Brutus’s mouth. Cassius whined faintly as his fortunate comrade swallowed the savory mess at a gulp. “Hush! you fool,” whispered the admiral. “Your turn next!”

Magdalen presented the second dish. Once more the old gentleman helped himself largely — once more he sent her away to the side-table — once more he tumbled the entire contents of the plate down the dog’s throat, selecting Cassius this time, as became a considerate master and an impartial man. When the next course followed — consisting of a plain pudding and an unwholesome “cream” — Magdalen’s suspicion of the function of the dogs at the dinner-table was confirmed. While the master took the simple pudding, the dogs swallowed the elaborate cream. The admiral was plainly afraid of offending his cook on the one hand, and of offending his digestion on the other — and Brutus and Cassius were the two trained accomplices who regularly helped him every day off the horns of his dilemma. “Very good! very good!” said the old gentleman, with the most transparent duplicity. “Tell the cook, my dear, a capital cream!”

Having placed the wine and dessert on the table, Magdalen was about to withdraw. Before she could leave the room, her master called her back.

“Stop, stop!” said the admiral; “you don’t know the ways of the house yet, Lucy. Put another wine-glass here, at my right hand — the largest you can find, my dear. I’ve got a third dog, who comes in at dessert — a drunken old sea-dog who has followed my fortunes, afloat and ashore, for fifty years and more. Yes, yes, that’s the sort of glass we want. You’re a good girl — you’re a neat, handy girl. Steady, my dear! there’s nothing to be frightened at!”

A sudden thump on the outside of the door, followed by one mighty bark from each of the dogs, had made Magdalen start. “Come in!” shouted the admiral. The door opened; the tails of Brutus and Cassius cheerfully thumped the floor; and old Mazey marched straight up to the right-hand side of his master’s chair. The veteran stood there, with his legs wide apart and his balance carefully adjusted, as if the dining-room had been a cabin, and the house a ship pitching in a sea-way.

The admiral filled the large glass with port, filled his own glass with claret, and raised it to his lips.

“God bless the Queen, Mazey,” said the admiral.

“God bless the Queen, your honor,” said old Mazey, swallowing his port, as the dogs swallowed the made-dishes, at a gulp.

“How’s the wind, Mazey?”

“West and by Noathe, your honor.”

“Any report to-night, Mazey!”

“No report, your honor.”

“Good-evening, Mazey.”

“Good-evening, your honor.”

The after-dinner ceremony thus completed, old Mazey made his bow, and walked out of the room again. Brutus and Cassius stretched themselves on the rug to digest mushrooms and made gravies in the lubricating heat of the fire. “For what we have received, the Lord make us truly thankful,” said the admiral. “Go downstairs, my good girl, and get your supper. A light meal, Lucy, if you take my advice — a light meal, or you will have the nightmare. Early to bed, my dear, and early to rise, makes a parlor-maid healthy and wealthy and wise. That’s the wisdom of your ancestors — you mustn’t laugh at it. Good-night.” In those words Magdalen was dismissed; and so her first day’s experience of Admiral Bartram came to an end.

After breakfast the next morning, the admiral’s directions to the new parlor-maid included among them one particular order which, in Magdalen’s situation, it was especially her interest to receive. In the old gentleman’s absence from home that day, on local business which took him to Ossory, she was directed to make herself acquainted with the whole inhabited quarter of the house, and to learn the positions of the various rooms, so as to know where the bells called her when the bells rang. Mrs. Drake was charged with the duty of superintending the voyage of domestic discovery, unless she happened to be otherwise engaged — in which case any one of the inferior servants would be equally competent to act as Magdalen’s guide.

At noon the admiral left for Ossory, and Magdalen presented herself in Mrs. Drake’s room, to be shown over the house. Mrs. Drake happened to be otherwise engaged, and referred her to the head house-maid. The head house-maid happened on that particular morning to be in the same condition as Mrs. Drake, and referred her to the under-house-maids. The under-house-maids declared they were all behindhand and had not a minute to spare — they suggested, not too civilly, that old Mazey had nothing on earth to do, and that he knew the house as well, or better, than he knew his A B C. Magdalen took the hint, with a secret indignation and contempt which it cost her a hard struggle to conceal. She had suspected, on the previous night, and she was certain now, that the women-servants all incomprehensibly resented her presence among them with the same sullen unanimity of distrust. Mrs. Drake, as she had seen for herself, was really engaged that morning over her accounts. But of all the servants under her who had made their excuses not one had even affected to be more occupied than usual. Their looks said plainly, “We don’t like you; and we won’t show you over the house.”

She found her way to old Mazey, not by the scanty directions given her, but by the sound of the veteran’s cracked and quavering voice, singing in some distant seclusion a verse of the immortal sea-song — “Tom Bowling.” Just as she stopped among the rambling stone passages on the basement story of the house, uncertain which way to turn next, she heard the tuneless old voice in the distance, singing these lines:

“His form was of the manliest beau-u-u-uty,

His heart was ki-i-ind and soft;

Faithful below Tom did his duty,

But now he’s gone alo-o-o-o-oft —

But now he’s go-o-o-one aloft!”

Magdalen followed in the direction of the quavering voice, and found herself in a little room looking out on the back yard. There sat old Mazey, with his spectacles low on his nose, and his knotty old hands blundering over the rigging of his model ship. There were Brutus and Cassius digesting before the fire again, and snoring as if they thoroughly enjoyed it. There was Lord Nelson on one wall, in flaming watercolors; and there, on the other, was a portrait of Admiral Bartram’s last flagship, in full sail on a sea of slate, with a salmon-colored sky to complete the illusion.

“What, they won’t show you over the house — won’t they?” said old Mazey. “I will, then! That head house-maid’s a sour one, my dear — if ever there was a sour one yet. You’re too young and good-looking to please ’em — that’s what you are.” He rose, took off his spectacles, and feebly mended the fire. “She’s as straight as a poplar,” said old Mazey, considering Magdalen’s figure in drowsy soliloquy. “I say she’s as straight as a poplar, and his honor the admiral says so too! Come along, my dear,” he proceeded, addressing himself to Magdalen again. “I’ll teach you your Pints of the Compass first. When you know your Pints, blow high, blow low, you’ll find it plain sailing all over the house.”

He led the way to the door — stopped, and suddenly bethinking himself of his miniature ship, went back to put his model away in an empty cupboard — led the way to the door again — stopped once more — remembered that some of the rooms were chilly — and pottered about, swearing and grumbling, and looking for his hat. Magdalen sat down patiently to wait for him. She gratefully contrasted his treatment of her with the treatment she had received from the women. Resist it as firmly, despise it as proudly as we may, all studied unkindness — no matter how contemptible it may be — has a stinging power in it which reaches to the quick. Magdalen only knew how she had felt the small malice of the female servants, by the effect which the rough kindness of the old sailor produced on her afterward. The dumb welcome of the dogs, when the movements in the room had roused them from their sleep, touched her more acutely still. Brutus pushed his mighty muzzle companionably into her hand; and Cassius laid his friendly fore-paw on her lap. Her heart yearned over the two creatures as she patted and caressed them. It seemed only yesterday since she and the dogs at Combe-Raven had roamed the garden together, and had idled away the summer mornings luxuriously on the shady lawn.

Old Mazey found his hat at last, and they started on their exploring expedition, with the dogs after them.

Leaving the basement story of the house, which was entirely devoted to the servants’ offices, they ascended to the first floor, and entered the long corridor, with which Magdalen’s last night’s experience had already made her acquainted. “Put your back ag’in this wall,” said old Mazey, pointing to the long wall — pierced at irregular intervals with windows looking out over a courtyard and fish-pond — which formed the right-hand side of the corridor, as Magdalen now stood. “Put your back here,” said the veteran, “and look straight afore you. What do you see?” — “The opposite wall of the passage,” said Magdalen. — “Ay! ay! what else?” — “The doors leading into the rooms.” —“What else?” — “I see nothing else.” Old Mazey chuckled, winked, and shook his knotty forefinger at Magdalen, impressively. “You see one of the Pints of the Compass, my dear. When you’ve got your back ag’in this wall, and when you look straight afore you, you look Noathe. If you ever get lost hereaway, put your back ag’in the wall, look out straight afore you, and say to yourself: ‘I look Noathe!’ You do that like a good girl, and you won’t lose your bearings.”

After administering this preliminary dose of instruction, old Mazey opened the first of the doors on the left-hand side of the passage. It led into the dining-room, with which Magdalen was already familiar. The second room was fitted up as a library; and the third, as a morning-room. The fourth and fifth doors — both belonging to dismantled and uninhabited rooms, and both locked — brought them to the end of the north wing of the house, and to the opening of a second and shorter passage, placed at a right angle to the first. Here old Mazey, who had divided his time pretty equally during the investigation of the rooms, in talking of “his honor the Admiral,” and whistling to the dogs, returned with all possible expedition to the points of the compass, and gravely directed Magdalen to repeat the ceremony of putting her back against the wall. She attempted to shorten the proceedings, by declaring (quite correctly) that in her present position she knew she was looking east. “Don’t you talk about the east, my dear,” said old Mazey, proceeding unmoved with his own system of instruction, “till you know the east first. Put your back ag’in this wall, and look straight afore you. What do you see?” The remainder of the catechism proceeded as before. When the end was reached, Magdalen’s instructor was satisfied. He chuckled and winked at her once more. “Now you may talk about the east, my dear,” said the veteran, “for now you know it.”

The east passage, after leading them on for a few yards only, terminated in a vestibule, with a high door in it which faced them as they advanced. The door admitted them to a large and lofty drawing-room, decorated, like all the other apartments, with valuable old-fashioned furniture. Leading the way across this room, Magdalen’s conductor pushed back a heavy sliding-door, opposite the door of entrance. “Put your apron over your head,” said old Mazey. “We are coming to the Banqueting-Hall now. The floor’s mortal cold, and the damp sticks to the place like cockroaches to a collier. His honor the admiral calls it the Arctic Passage. I’ve got my name for it, too — I call it, Freeze-your-Bones.”

Magdalen passed through the doorway, and found herself in the ancient Banqueting-Hall of St. Crux.

On her left hand she saw a row of lofty windows, set deep in embrasures, and extending over a frontage of more than a hundred feet in length. On her right hand, ranged in one long row from end to end of the opposite wall, hung a dismal collection of black, begrimed old pictures, rotting from their frames, and representing battle-scenes by sea and land. Below the pictures, midway down the length of the wall, yawned a huge cavern of a fireplace, surmounted by a towering mantel-piece of black marble. The one object of furniture (if furniture it might be called) visible far or near in the vast emptiness of the place, was a gaunt ancient tripod of curiously chased metal, standing lonely in the middle of the hall, and supporting a wide circular pan, filled deep with ashes from an extinct charcoal fire. The high ceiling, once finely carved and gilt, was foul with dirt and cobwebs; the naked walls at either end of the room were stained with damp; and the cold of the marble floor struck through the narrow strip of matting laid down, parallel with the windows, as a foot-path for passengers across the wilderness of the room. No better name for it could have been devised than the name which old Mazey had found. “Freeze-your-Bones” accurately described, in three words, the Banqueting-Hall at St. Crux.

“Do you never light a fire in this dismal place?” asked Magdalen.

“It all depends on which side of Freeze-your-Bones his honor the admiral lives,” said old Mazey. “His honor likes to shift his quarters, sometimes to one side of the house, sometimes to the other. If he lives Noathe of Freeze-your-Bones — which is where you’ve just come from — we don’t waste our coals here. If he lives South of Freeze-your-Bones — which is where we are going to next — we light the fire in the grate and the charcoal in the pan. Every night, when we do that, the damp gets the better of us: every morning, we turn to again, and get the better of the damp.”

With this remarkable explanation, old Mazey led the way to the lower end of the Hall, opened more doors, and showed Magdalen through another suite of rooms, four in number, all of moderate size, and all furnished in much the same manner as the rooms in the northern wing. She looked out of the windows, and saw the neglected gardens of St. Crux, overgrown with brambles and weeds. Here and there, at no great distance in the grounds, the smoothly curving line of one of the tidal streams peculiar to the locality wound its way, gleaming in the sunlight, through gaps in the brambles and trees. The more distant view ranged over the flat eastward country beyond, speckled with its scattered little villages; crossed and recrossed by its network of “back-waters”; and terminated abruptly by the long straight line of sea-wall which protects the defenseless coast of Essex from invasion by the sea.

“Have we more rooms still to see?” asked Magdalen, turning from the view of the garden, and looking about her for another door.

“No more, my dear — we’ve run aground here, and we may as well wear round and put back again,” said old Mazey. “There’s another side of the house — due south of you as you stand now — which is all tumbling about our ears. You must go out into the garden if you want to see it; it’s built off from us by a brick bulkhead, t’other side of this wall here. The monks lived due south of us, my dear, hundreds of years afore his honor the admiral was born or thought of, and a fine time of it they had, as I’ve heard. They sang in the church all the morning, and drank grog in the orchard all the afternoon. They slept off their grog on the best of feather-beds, and they fattened on the neighborhood all the year round. Lucky beggars! lucky beggars!”

Apostrophizing the monks in these terms, and evidently regretting that he had not lived himself in those good old times, the veteran led the way back through the rooms. On the return passage across “Freeze-your-Bones,” Magdalen preceded him. “She’s as straight as a poplar,” mumbled old Mazey to himself, hobbling along after his youthful companion, and wagging his venerable head in cordial approval. “I never was particular what nation they belonged to; but I always did like ’em straight and fine grown, and I always shall like ’em straight and fine grown, to my dying day.”

“Are there more rooms to see upstairs, on the second floor?” asked Magdalen, when they had returned to the point from which they had started.

The naturally clear, distinct tones of her voice had hitherto reached the old sailor’s imperfect sense of hearing easily enough. Rather to her surprise, he became stone deaf on a sudden, to her last question.

“Are you sure of your Pints of the Compass?” he inquired. “If you’re not sure, put your back ag’in the wall, and we’ll go all over ’em again, my dear, beginning with the Noathe.”

Magdalen assured him that she felt quite familiar, by this time, with all the points, the “Noathe” included; and then repeated her question in louder tones. The veteran obstinately matched her by becoming deafer than ever.

“Yes, my dear,” he said, “you’re right; it is chilly in these passages; and unless I go back to my fire, my fire’ll go out — won’t it? If you don’t feel sure of your Pints of the Compass, come in to me and I’ll put you right again.” He winked benevolently, whistled to the dogs, and hobbled off. Magdalen heard him chuckle over his own success in balking her curiosity on the subject of the second floor. “I know how to deal with ’em!” said old Mazey to himself, in high triumph. “Tall and short, native and foreign, sweethearts and wives — I know how to deal with ’em!”

Left by herself, Magdalen exemplified the excellence of the old sailor’s method of treatment, in her particular case, by ascending the stairs immediately, to make her own observations on the second floor. The stone passage here was exactly similar, except that more doors opened out of it, to the passage on the first floor. She opened the two nearest doors, one after another, at a venture, and discovered that both rooms were bed-chambers. The fear of being discovered by one of the woman-servants in a part of the house with which she had no concern, warned her not to push her investigations on the bedroom floor too far at starting. She hurriedly walked down the passage to see where it ended, discovered that it came to its termination in a lumber-room, answering to the position of the vestibule downstairs, and retraced her steps immediately.

On her way back she noticed an object which had previously escaped her attention. It was a low truckle-bed, placed parallel with the wall, and close to one of the doors on the bedroom side. In spite of its strange and comfortless situation, the bed was apparently occupied at night by a sleeper; the sheets were on it, and the end of a thick red fisherman’s cap peeped out from under the pillow. She ventured on opening the door near which the bed was placed, and found herself, as she conjectured from certain signs and tokens, in the admiral’s sleeping chamber. A moment’s observation of the room was all she dared risk, and, softly closing the door again, she returned to the kitchen regions.

The truckle-bed, and the strange position in which it was placed, dwelt on her mind all through the afternoon. Who could possibly sleep in it? The remembrance of the red fisherman’s cap, and the knowledge she had already gained of Mazey’s dog-like fidelity to his master, helped her to guess that the old sailor might be the occupant of the truckle-bed. But why, with bedrooms enough and to spare, should he occupy that cold and comfortless situation at night? Why should he sleep on guard outside his master’s door? Was there some nocturnal danger in the house of which the admiral was afraid? The question seemed absurd, and yet the position of the bed forced it irresistibly on her mind.

Stimulated by her own ungovernable curiosity on this subject, Magdalen ventured to question the housekeeper. She acknowledged having walked from end to end of the passage on the second floor, to see if it was as long as the passage on the first; and she mentioned having noticed with astonishment the position of the truckle-bed. Mrs. Drake answered her implied inquiry shortly and sharply. “I don’t blame a young girl like you,” said the old lady, “for being a little curious when she first comes into such a strange house as this. But remember, for the future, that your business does not lie on the bedroom story. Mr. Mazey sleeps on that bed you noticed. It is his habit at night to sleep outside his master’s door.” With that meager explanation Mrs. Drake’s lips closed, and opened no more.

Later in the day Magdalen found an opportunity of applying to old Mazey himself. She discovered the veteran in high good humor, smoking his pipe, and warming a tin mug of ale at his own snug fire.

“Mr. Mazey,” she asked, boldly, “why do you put your bed in that cold passage?”

“What! you have been upstairs, you young jade, have you?” said old Mazey, looking up from his mug with a leer.

Magdalen smiled and nodded. “Come! come! tell me,” she said, coaxingly. “Why do you sleep outside the admiral’s door?”

“Why do you part your hair in the middle, my dear?” asked old Mazey, with another leer.

“I suppose, because I am accustomed to do it,” answered Magdalen.

“Ay! ay!” said the veteran. “That’s why, is it? Well, my dear, the reason why you part your hair in the middle is the reason why I sleep outside the admiral’s door. I know how to deal with ’em!” chuckled old Mazey, lapsing into soliloquy, and stirring up his ale in high triumph. “Tall and short, native and foreign, sweethearts and wives — I know how to deal with ’em!”

Magdalen’s third and last attempt at solving the mystery of the truckle-bed was made while she was waiting on the admiral at dinner. The old gentleman’s questions gave her an opportunity of referring to the subject, without any appearance of presumption or disrespect; but he proved to be quite as impenetrable, in his way, as old Mazey and Mrs. Drake had been in theirs. “It doesn’t concern you, my dear,” said the admiral, bluntly. “Don’t be curious. Look in your Old Testament when you go downstairs, and see what happened in the Garden of Eden through curiosity. Be a good girl, and don’t imitate your mother Eve.”

Late at night, as Magdalen passed the end of the second-floor passage, proceeding alone on her way up to her own room, she stopped and listened. A screen was placed at the entrance of the corridor, so as to hide it from the view of persons passing on the stairs. The snoring she heard on the other side of the screen encouraged her to slip round it, and to advance a few steps. Shading the light of her candle with her hand, she ventured close to the admiral’s door, and saw, to her surprise, that the bed had been moved since she had seen it in the day-time, so as to stand exactly across the door, and to bar the way entirely to any one who might attempt to enter the admiral’s room. After this discovery, old Mazey himself, snoring lustily, with the red fisherman’s cap pulled down to his eyebrows, and the blankets drawn up to his nose, became an object of secondary importance only, by comparison with his bed. That the veteran did actually sleep on guard before his master’s door, and that he and the admiral and the housekeeper were in the secret of this unaccountable proceeding, was now beyond all doubt.

“A strange end,” thought Magdalen, pondering over her discovery as she stole upstairs to her own sleeping-room — “a strange end to a strange day!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/collins/wilkie/c71no/chapter48.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30