Sanker’s Visit


Ellen Wood

First published in The Argosy, 1868.

This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Sat Jun 27 22:34:35 2015.

To the best of our knowledge, the text of this
work is in the “Public Domain” in Australia.
HOWEVER, copyright law varies in other countries, and the work may still be under copyright in the country from which you are accessing this website. It is your responsibility to check the applicable copyright laws in your country before downloading this work.

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Sanker’s Visit.

His name was Sanker, and he was related to Mrs. Todhetley. Not expecting to go home for the holidays—for his people lived in some far-off district of Wales, and did not afford him the journey—Tod invited him to spend them with us at Dyke Manor: which was uncommonly generous, for he disliked Sanker beyond everything. Having plenty of money himself, Tod could not bear that a connection of his should be known as nearly the poorest and meanest in the school, and resented it awfully. But he could not be ill-natured, for all his prejudices, and he asked Sanker to go home with us.

“It’s slow there,” he said; “not much going on in summer besides haymaking; but it may be an improvement on this. So, if you’d like to come, I’ll write and tell them.”

“Thank you,” said Sanker; “I should like it very much.”

Things had been queer at school as the term drew to its close. Petty pilferings were taking place; articles and money alike disappeared. Tod lost half-a-sovereign; one of the masters some silver; Bill Whitney put sevenpence halfpenny and a set of enamelled studs into his desk one day, never to see either again; and Snepp, who had been home to his sister’s marriage, lost a piece of wedding-cake out of his box the night he came back. There was a thief in the school, and no clue to him. One might mentally accuse this fellow, another that; but not a shadow of proof was there against any. Altogether we were not sorry to get away.

But the curious thing was, that soon after we got home pilferings began there. Ned Banker was well received; and Tod, regarding himself in the capacity of host, grew more cordial with him than he had been at school. It was a sort of noblesse oblige feeling. Sanker was sixteen; stout and round; not tall; with pale eyes and a dull face. He was to be a clergyman; funds at his home permitting. His father lived at some mines in Wales. Tod wondered in what capacity.

“Mr. Sanker was a gentleman born and bred,” explained Mrs. Todhetley. “He never had much money; but what little it was he lost, speculating in this very mine. After that, when he had nothing in the world left to live upon, and a wife and several young children to keep, he was thankful to take a situation as over-looker at a small yearly salary.”

We had been home about a week when the first thing was missed. At one side of the house, in a sort of nook, was a square room, its glass-doors opening on the gravel-path that skirted the hedge of the vegetable garden. Squire Todhetley kept his farming accounts there and wrote his letters. A barometer and two county maps, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, on its walls, a square of matting on its floor, an upright bureau, a table, some chairs; and there you have the picture of the room.

One afternoon—mind! we did not know this for a week after, but it is as well to tell of it as it occurred—he was sitting at the table in this room, his account-books, kept in the bureau, open before him; his inkstand and cash-box at hand. Lying near the cash-box was a five-pound note, open; the Squire had put it out for Dwarf Giles to get changed at Alcester. He was writing an order for some things that Giles would have to bring back, when Rimmell, who acted as working bailiff on the estate, came to the glass-doors, open to the warm June air, saying he had received an offer for the wheat that had spurted. The Squire stepped outside on the gravel-path while he talked with Rimmell, and then strolled round with him to the fold-yard. He was away—that is, out of sight of the room—about three minutes, and when he got back the note was gone.

He could not believe his own eyes. It was a calm day; no wind stirring. He lifted the things on the table; he lifted the matting on the floor; he shook his loose coat; all in vain. Standing at the door, he shouted aloud; he walked along the path to the front of the house, and shouted there; but was not answered. So far as could be seen, no person whatever was about who could have come round to the room during his short absence.

Striding back to the room, he went through it, and up the passage to the hall, his boots creaking. Molly was in the kitchen, singing over her work; Phoebe and Hannah were heard talking upstairs; and Mrs. Todhetley stood in the store-room, doing something to the last year’s pots of jam. She said, on being questioned, that no one had passed to the passage leading to the Squire’s room.

It happened at that moment, that I, coming home from the Dyke, ran into the hall, full butt against the Squire.

“Johnny,” said he, “where are you all? What are you up to?”

I had been at the Dyke all the afternoon with Tod and Hugh; they were there still. Not Sanker: he was outside, on the lawn, reading. This I told the pater, and he said no more. Later, when we came to know what had happened, he mentioned to us that, at this time, no idea of robbery had entered his head; he thought one of us might have hidden the money in sport.

So much an impossibility did it appear of the note’s having been lifted by human hands, that the Squire went back to his room in a maze. He could only think that it must have attached itself to his clothes, and dropped off them in the fold-yard. What had become of it, goodness knew; whether it had fluttered into the pond, or the hens had scratched it to pieces, or the turkeys gobbled it up; he searched fruitlessly.

That was on a Thursday. On the following Thursday, when Tod was lying on the lawn bench on his back, playing with his tame magpie, and teasing Hugh and Lena, the pater’s voice was heard calling to him in a sharp, quick tone, as if something was the matter. Tod got up and went round by the gravel-path to whence the sound came, and I followed. The Squire was standing at the window of the room, half in, half out.

“I don’t want you, Johnny. Stay, though,” he added, after a moment, “you may as well be told—why not?”

He sat down in his place at the table. Tod stood just inside the door, paying more attention to the magpie, which he had brought on his arm, than to his father: I leaned against the bureau. There was a minute’s silence, waiting for the Squire to speak.

“Put that wretched bird down,” he said; and we knew something had put him out, for he rarely spoke with sharpness to Tod.

Tod sent the magpie off, and came in. The first day we got home from school, Tod had rescued the magpie from Goody Picker’s grandson; he caught him pulling the feathers out of its tail; gave him sixpence for it, and brought it home. A poor, miserable, half-starved thing, that somebody had taught to say continually, “Now then, Peter.” Tod meant to feed it into condition; but the pater had not taken kindly to the bird; he said it would be better dead than alive.

“What was that I heard you boys talking of the other day, about some petty pilferings in your school?” he asked, abruptly. And we gave him the history.

“Well, as it seems to me, the same thing is going on here,” he continued, looking at us both. “Johnny, sit down; I can’t talk while you sway about like that.”

“The same thing going on here, sir?”

“I say that it seems so,” said the pater, thrusting both his hands deep into his trousers’ pockets, and rattling the silver in them. “Last Thursday, this day week, a bank-note lay on my table here. I just went round to the yard with Rimmell, and when I got back the note was gone.”

“Where did it go to?” asked Tod, practically.

“That is just the question—where? I concluded that it must have stuck to my coat in some unaccountable way, and got lost out-of-doors. I don’t conclude so now.”

Tod seemed to take the news in his usual careless fashion, and kept privately telegraphing signs to the magpie, sitting now on the old tree-stump opposite.

“Yes, sir. Well?”

“I think now, Joe, that somebody came in at these open doors, and took the note,” said the pater, impressively. “And I want to find out who it was.”

“Now then, Peter!” cried the bird, hopping down on the gravel; at which Tod laughed. The Squire got up in a rage, and shut the doors with a bang.

“If you can’t be serious for a few moments, you had better say so. I can tell you this is likely to turn out no laughing business.”

Tod turned his back to the glass-doors, and left the magpie to its devices.

“Whoever it was, contrived to slip round here from the front, during my temporary absence; possibly without ill intention: the sight of the note lying open might have proved too strong a temptation for him.”

“Him!” put in Tod, critically. “It might have been a woman.”

“You might be a jackass: and often are one,” said the pater. And it struck us both, from the affable retort, that his suspicions were pointing to some particular person of the male gender.

“This morning, after breakfast, I was here, writing a letter,” he went on. “While sealing it, Thomas called me away in a hurry, and I was absent the best part of an hour. When I got back, my ring had disappeared.”

“Your ring, sir!” cried Tod.

“Yes, my ring, sir,” mocked the pater; for he thought we were taking up the matter lightly, and it nettled him. “I left it on the seal, expecting to find it there when I returned. Not so. The ring had gone, and the letter lay on the ground. We have got a thief about the house, boys—a thief—within or without. Just the same sort of thief, as it seems to me, that you had at school.”

Tod suddenly leaned forward, his elbow on his knee, his whole interest aroused. Some unpleasant doubt had struck him, as was evident by the flush upon his face.

“Of course, anybody that might be about, back or front, could find their way down here if they pleased,” he slowly said. “Tramps get in sometimes.”

“Rarely, without being noticed. Who did you boys see about the place that afternoon—tramp or gentleman? Come! You were at the house, Johnny: you bolted into it, head foremost, saying you had come from the Dyke.”

“I never saw a soul but Sanker: he was on the bench on the lawn, reading. I said so at the time, sir.”

“Ah! yes; Sanker was there reading,” quietly assented the Squire. “What were you hastening home for, Johnny?”

As if that mattered, or could have had anything to do with it! He had a knack of asking unpleasant questions; and I looked at Tod.

“Hugh got his blouse torn, and Johnny came in to get another,” acknowledged Tod, readily. The fact was, Hugh’s clothes that afternoon had come to uncommon grief. Hannah had made one of her usual rows over it, and afterwards shown the things to Mrs. Todhetley.

“Well, and now for today,” resumed the pater. “Where have you all been?”

Where had we not? In the three-cornered paddock; with Monk in the pine-house; away in the rick-yard; once to the hay-field; at the rabbit-hutches; round at the stables; oh, everywhere.

“You two, and Sanker?”

“Not Sanker,” I said. Sanker stayed on the lawn with his book. We had all been on the lawn for the last half-hour: he, us, Hugh, Lena, and the magpie. But not a suspicious character of any sort had we seen about the place.

“Sanker’s fond of reading on the lawn,” remarked Mr. Todhetley, in a careless tone. But he got no answer: we had been struck into silence.

He took one hand out of his pocket, and drummed on the table, not looking at either of us. Tod had laid hold of a piece of blotting-paper and was pulling it to pieces. I wondered what they were thinking of: I know what I was.

“At any rate, the first thing is to find the ring; that only went this morning,” said the Squire, as he left us. Tod sat on where he was, dropping the bits of paper.

“I say, Tod, do you think it could be——?”

“Hold your tongue, Johnny!” he shouted. “No, I don’t think it. The bank-note—light, flimsy thing—must have been lost in the yard, and the ring will turn up. It’s somewhere on the floor here.”

In five minutes the news had spread. Mr. Todhetley had told his wife, and summoned the servants to the search. Both losses were made known; consternation fell on the household; the women-servants searched the room; old Thomas bent his back double over the frame outside the glass-doors. But there was no ring.

“This is just like the mysterious losses we had at school,” exclaimed Sanker, as a lot of us were standing in the hall.

“Yes, it is,” said the Squire.

“Perhaps, sir, your ring is in a corner of some odd pocket?” went on Sanker.

“Perhaps it may be,” answered the Squire, rather emphatically; “but not in mine.”

Happening to look at Mrs. Todhetley, I saw her face had turned to a white fright. Whether the remark of Sanker or the peculiarity of the Squire’s manner brought to her mind the strange coincidence of the losses, here and at school, certain it was the doubt had dawned upon her. Later, when I and Tod were hunting in the room on our own account, she came to us with her terror-stricken face.

“Joseph, I see what you are thinking,” she said; “but it can’t be; it can’t be. If the Sankers are poor, they are honest. I wish you knew his father and mother.”

“I have not accused any one, Mrs. Todhetley.”

“No; neither has your father; but you suspect.”

“Perhaps we had better not talk of it,” said Tod.

“Joseph, I think we must talk of it, and see what can be done. If—if he should have done such a thing, of course he cannot stay here.”

“But we don’t know that he has, therefore he ought not to be accused of it.”

“Oh! Joseph, don’t you see the pain? None of you can feel this as I do. He is my relative.”

I felt so sorry for her. With the trouble in her pale, mild eyes, and the quivering of her thin, meek lips. It was quite evident that she feared the worst: and Tod threw away concealment with his step-mother.

“We must not accuse him; we must not let it be known that we suspect him,” he said; “the matter here can be hushed up—got over—but were suspicion once directed to him on the score of the school losses, the disgrace would never be lived down, now or later. It would cling to him through life.”

Mrs. Todhetley clasped her slender and rather bony fingers, from which the wedding-ring looked always ready to drop off. “Joseph,” she said, “you assume confidently that he has done it; I see that. Perhaps you know he has? Perhaps you have some proof that you are concealing?”

“No, on my honour. But for my father’s laying stress on the curious coincidence of the disappearances at school I should not have thought of Sanker. ‘Losses there; losses here,’ he said——”

“Now then, Peter!” mocked the bird, from his perch on the old tree.

“Be quiet!” shouted Tod. “And then the Squire went on adroitly to the fact, without putting it into words, that nobody else seems to have been within hail of this room either time.”

“He has had so few advantages; he is kept so short of money,” murmured poor Mrs. Todhetley, seeking to find an excuse for him. “I would almost rather have found my boy Hugh—when he shall be old enough—guilty of such a thing, than Edward Sanker.”

“I’d a great deal rather it had been me,” I exclaimed. “I shouldn’t have felt half so uncomfortable. And we are not sure. Can’t we keep him here, after all? It will be an awful thing to turn him out—a thief.”

“He is not going to be turned out, a thief. Don’t put in your oar, Johnny. The pater intends to hush it up. Why! had he suspected any other living mortal about the place, except Sanker, he’d have accused them outright, and sent for old Jones in hot haste.”

Mrs. Todhetley, holding her hand to her troubled face, looked at Tod as he spoke. “I am not sure, Joseph—I don’t quite know whether to hush it up entirely will be for the best. If he—— Oh!”

The exclamation came out with a shriek. We turned at it, having been standing together at the table, our backs to the window. There stood Sanker. How long he had been there was uncertain; quite long enough to hear and comprehend. His face was livid with passion, his voice hoarse with it.

“Is it possible that I am accused of taking the bank-note and the ring?—of having been the thief at school? I thank you, Joseph Todhetley.”

Mrs. Todhetley, always for peace, ran before him, and took his hands. Her gentle words were drowned—Tod’s were overpowered. When quiet fellows like Sanker do get into a rage, it’s something bad to witness.

“Look here, old fellow,” said Tod, in a breath of silence; “we don’t accuse you, and don’t wish to accuse you. The things going here, as they did at school, is an unfortunate coincidence; you can’t shut your eyes to it; but as to——”

“Why are you not accused?—why’s Ludlow not accused?—you were both at school, as well as I; and you are both here,” raved Sanker, panting like a wild animal. “You have money, both of you; you don’t want helping on in life; I have only my good name. And that you would take from me!”

“Edward, Edward! we did not wish to accuse you; we said we would not accuse you,” cried poor Mrs. Todhetley in her simplicity. But his voice broke in.

“No; you only suspected me. You assumed my guilt, and would not be honest enough to accuse me, lest I refuted it. Not another hour will I stay in this house. Come with me.”

“Don’t be foolish, Sanker! If we are wrong——”

“Be silent!” he cried, turning savagely on Tod. “I’m not strong; no match for you, or I would pound you to atoms! Let me go my own way now. You go yours.”

Half dragging, half leading Mrs. Todhetley with him, the angry light in his eyes frightening her, he went to his bedroom. Taking off his jacket; turning his pockets inside out; emptying the contents of his trunk on the floor, he scattered the articles, one by one, with the view of showing that he had nothing concealed belonging to other people. Mrs. Todhetley, great in quiet emergencies, had her senses hopelessly scared away in this; she could only cry, and implore of him to be reasonable. He flung back his things, and in five minutes was gone. Dragging his box down the stairs by its stout cord, he managed to hoist it on his shoulders, and they saw him go fiercely off across the lawn.

I met him in the plantation, beyond the Dyke. Mrs. Todhetley, awfully distressed, sent me flying away to find the pater; she mistakenly thought he might be at Rimmell’s, who lived in a cottage beyond it. Running home through the trees, I came upon Sanker. He was sitting on his box, crying; great big sobs bursting from him. Of course he could not carry that far. Down I sat by him, and put my hand on his.

“Don’t, Sanker! don’t, old fellow! Come back and have it cleared up. I dare say they are all wrong together.”

His angry mood had changed. Those fierce whirlwinds of passion are generally followed by depression. He did not seem to care an atom for his sobs, or for my seeing them.

“It’s the cruelest wrong I ever had dealt to me, Johnny. Why should they pitch upon me? What have they seen in me that they should set me down as a thief?—and such a thief! Why, the very thought of it, if they send her word, will kill my mother.”

“You didn’t do it, Sanker. I——”

He got up, and raised his hand solemnly to the blue sky, just as a man might have done.

“I swear I did not. I swear I never laid finger on a thing in your house, or at school, that was not mine. God hears me say it.”

“And now you’ll come back with me, Ned. The box will take no harm here till we send for it.”

“Go back with you! that I never will. Fare you well, Johnny: I’ll wish it to you.”

“But where are you going?”

“That’s my business. Look here; I was more generous than some of you have been. All along, I felt as sure who it was, cribbing those things at school, as though I had seen it done; but I never told. I just whispered to the fellow, when we were parting: ‘Don’t you go in for the same game next half, or I shall have you dropped upon;’ and I don’t think he will.”

“Who—which was it?” I cried, eagerly.

“No: give him a chance. It was neither you nor me, and that’s enough to know.”

Hoisting the box up on to the projecting edge of a tree, he got it on his shoulders again. Certain of his innocence then, I was in an agony to get him back.

“It’s of no use, Johnny. Good-bye.”

“Sanker! Ned! The Squire will be fit to smother us all, when he finds you are off; Mrs. Todhetley is in dreadful grief. Such an unpleasant thing has never before happened with us.”

“Good-bye,” was all he repeated, marching resolutely off, with the black box held safe by the cord.

Fit to smother us? I thought the pater would have done it, when he came home late in the afternoon; laying the blame of Sanker’s going, first on Mrs. Todhetley, then on Tod, then on me.

“What is to be done?” he asked, looking at us all helplessly. “I wouldn’t have had it come out for the world. Think of his parents—of his own prospects.”

“He never did it, sir,” I said, speaking up; “he swore it to me.”

The pater gave a sniff. “Swearing does not go for much in such cases, I’m afraid, Johnny.”

It was so hopeless, the making them understand Sanker’s solemn truth as he did swear it, that I held my tongue. I told Tod; also, what he had said about the fellow he suspected at school; but Tod only curled his lip, and quietly reminded me that I should never be anything but a muff.

Three or four days passed on. We could not learn where Sanker went to, or what had become of him; nothing about him except the fact that he had left his box at Goody Picker’s cottage, asking her to take charge of it until it was sent for. Mrs. Todhetley would not write to Wales, or to the school, for fear of making mischief. I know this: it was altogether a disagreeable remembrance, whichever way we looked at it, but I was the only one who believed in his innocence.

On the Monday another loss occurred; not one of value in itself, but uncommonly significant. Since the explosion, Mrs. Todhetley had moved about the house restlessly, more like a fish out of water than a reasonable woman, following the Squire to his room, and staying there to talk with him, as she never had before. It was always in her head to do something to mend matters; but, what, she could not tell; hence her talkings with the pater. As each day passed, bringing no news of Sanker, she grew more anxious and fidgety. While he was in his room on the Monday morning, she came in with her work. It was the unpicking some blue ribbons from a white body of Lena’s. There had been a child’s party at the Stirlings’ (they were always giving them), and Lena had a new frock for it. The dressmaker had put a glistening glass thing, as big as a pea, in the bows that tied up the sleeves. They looked like diamonds. The pater made a fuss after we got home, saying it was inconsistent at the best; she was too young for real diamonds, and he would not have her wear mock rubbish. Well, Mrs. Todhetley had the frock in her hand, taking these bows off, when she came to the Squire on the Monday morning, chattering and lamenting. I saw and heard her. On going away she accidentally left one of them on the table. The Squire went about as usual, dodging in and out of the room at intervals like a dog in a fair. I sat on the low seat, on the other side of the hedge, in the vegetable garden, making a fishing-line and flinging stones at the magpie whenever he came up to his perch on the old tree’s stump. All was still; nothing to be heard but his occasional croak, “Now then, Peter!” Presently I caught a soft low whistle behind me. Looking through the hedge, I saw Roger Monk coming out of the room with stealthy steps, and going off towards his greenhouses. I thought nothing of it; it was his ordinary way of walking; but he must have come up to the room very quietly.

“Johnny,” came the Squire’s voice by-and-by, and I ran round: he had seen me sitting there.

“Johnny, have you a mind for a walk to——”

He had got thus far when Mrs. Todhetley came in by the inner door, and began looking on the table. Nothing in the world was on it except the inkstand, the Worcester Herald, and the papers before the Squire.

“I must have left one of the blue knots here,” she said.

“You did; I saw it,” said the Squire; and he took up his papers one by one, and shook the newspaper.

Well, the blue shoulder-knot was gone. Just as we had searched for the ring, we searched for that: under the matting, and above the matting, and everywhere; I and those two. A grim look came over the Squire’s face.

“The thief is amongst us still. He has taken that glittering paste thing for a diamond. This clears Sanker.”

Mrs. Todhetley burst into glad sobs. I had never seen her so excited; you might have thought her an hysterical girl. She would do all sorts of things at once; the least of which was, starting in a post-chaise-and-four for Wales.

“Do nothing,” said the Squire, with authority. “I had news of Sanker this morning, and he’s back at school. He wrote me a letter.”

“Oh, why did you not show it me?” asked Mrs. Todhetley, through her tears.

“Because it’s a trifle abusive; actionable, a lawyer might say,” he answered, stopping a laugh. “Ah! ha! a big diamond! I’m as glad of this as if anybody had left me a thousand pounds,” continued the good old pater. “I’ve not had that boy out of my head since, night or day. We’ll have him back to finish his holidays—eh, Johnny?”

Whether I went along on my head or my tail, doing the Squire’s errand, I didn’t exactly know. To my mind the thief stood disclosed—Roger Monk. But I did not much like to betray him to the Squire. As a compromise between duty and disinclination, I told Tod. He went straight off to the Squire, and Roger Monk was ordered to the room.

He did not take the accusation as Sanker took it—noisily. About as cool and hardy as any fellow could be, stood he; white, angry retaliation shining from his sullen face. And, for once, he looked full at the Squire as he spoke.

“This is the second time I have been accused wrongfully by you or yours, sir. You must prove your words. A bank-note, a ring, a false diamond (taken to be a true one), in a blue ribbon; and I have stolen them. If you don’t either prove your charge to be true, or withdraw the imputation, the law shall make you, Mr. Todhetley. I am down in the world, obliged to take a common situation for a while; but that’s no reason why I should be browbeat and put upon.”

Somehow, the words, or the manner, told upon the Squire. He was not feeling sure of his grounds. Until then he had never cast a thought of ill on Roger Monk.

“What were you doing here, Monk? What made you come up stealthily, and creep stealthily away again?” demanded Tod, who had assumed the guilt out and out.

“As to what I was doing here, I came to ask a question about my work,” coolly returned Monk. “I walked slowly, not stealthily; the day’s hot.”

“You had better turn out your pockets, Monk,” said the Squire.

He did so at once, just as Sanker had done unbidden, biting his lips to get some colour into them. Lots of odds and ends of things were there; string, nails, a tobacco-pipe, halfpence, and such like; but no blue bow. I don’t think the Squire knew whether to let him off as innocent, or to give him into custody as guilty. At any rate, he seemed to be in hesitation, when who should appear on the scene but Goody Picker. The turned-out pockets, Monk’s aspect, and the few words she caught, told the tale.

“If you please, Squire—if you please, young masters,” she began, dropping a curtsy to us in succession; “the mistress told me to come round here. Stepping up this morning about a job o’ work I’m doing—for Mrs. Hannah, I heard of the losses that have took place, apperiently thefts. So I up and spoke; and Hannah took me to the mistress; and the mistress, who had got her gownd off a-changing of it, listened to what I had to say, and telled me to come round at once to Mr. Todhetley. (Don’t you be frighted, Monk.) Sir, young gentlemen, I think it might have been the magpie.”

“Think who might have been the magpie?” asked the Squire, puzzled.

“What stole the things. Sir, that there pie, bought only t’other day from my gran’son by young Mr. Todhetley, was turned out o’ my son Peter’s home at Alcester for thieving. He took this, and he took that; he have been at it for weeks, ever since they’d had him. They thought it was the servant, and sent her away. (A dirty young drab she was, so ’twere no loss.) Not her, though; it were that beast of a magpie. A whole nest of goods he had got hid away in the brewhouse: but for having a brewing on, he might never ha’ been found out. The woman was drawing off her second mash when she see him hop in with a new shirt wristban’ and drop it into the old iron pot.”

Tod, who believed the story to be utterly unreasonable—got up, perhaps, by Mother Picker to screen the real thief—resented the imputation on his magpie. The bird came hopping up to us, “Now, then, Peter.”

“That’s rather too good, Mrs. Picker, that is. I have heard of lodging-house cats effecting wonders in the way of domestic disappearances, but not of magpies. Look at him, poor old fellow! He can’t speak to defend himself.”

“Yes, look at him, sir,” repeated Mother Picker; “and a fine objec’ of a half-fed animal he is, to look at! My opinion is, he have got something wrong o’ the inside of him, or else it’s his sins that troubles his skin, for the more he’s give to eat the thinner he gets. No feathers, no flesh; nothing but a big beak, and them bright eyes, and the deuce’s own tongue for impedence. Which is begging pard’n for speaking up free,” concluded Mother Picker, as Mrs. Todhetley came in, fastening her waistband.

A little searching, not a tithe of what had been before again and again, and the creature’s nest was discovered. In a cavity of the old tree-stump, so conveniently opposite, lay the articles: the bank-note, the ring, the blue bow, and some other things, most of which had not been missed. One was a bank receipt, that the house had been hunted for high and low.

“Now, then, Peter!” cried the magpie, hopping about on the gravel as he watched the raid on his treasures.

“He must be killed today, Joe,” said Mr. Todhetley; “he has made mischief enough. I never took kindly to him. Monk, I am sorry for the mistake I was led into; but we suspected others before you—ay, and accused them.”

“Don’t mention it, sir,” replied Monk, his eye catching mine. And if ever I saw revenge written in a face, it was in his as he turned away.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005