The Mynns' Mystery, Page 2George Manville Fenn
UNCLE JAMES' PLAN.
"That you, Gertie?"
"Yes, uncle, dear," and the girl, who had made a brave effort to growcalm, approached the side of a great four-post bedstead, where a large,thin, yellow hand lay upon the white coverlet.
"That's right, my dear, don't leave me long. It's getting very near theend, my darling."
"Oh, uncle, dearest, don't--don't talk like that," cried the girl,throwing herself upon her knees, and passionately kissing the yellowhand.
"Ah, that's nice, my pet--that's real. You couldn't have acted that."
"Uncle, dear," whispered the girl, as she raised herself, and gentlypassed her arm beneath the neck of the gaunt, withered old man whosehead lay upon the white pillow, "it doesn't sound like you to talk sobitterly."
"Oh, yes, it does, my dear. Why shouldn't I tell you I know you are adear, good, patient little darling, true as steel to the disagreeable,miserly old hunks whom everybody hates and wishes dead. But who wasthat downstairs?"
"Mr Saul Harrington, uncle."
"Well, he deserves it. Do you know, Gertie, that man only says oneprayer, and that is for my death."
"Oh, uncle, you misjudge him."
"Eh? What? Has he been trying to court you again?"
Gertrude inclined her head.
"Eh? What?" cried the old man excitedly, and his deeply sunken eyesseemed to glow. "You--you are not beginning to like him?"
"Oh! uncle, dear," sobbed the girl, "I detest him, and he frightens me."
"Ah!" ejaculated the old man, with a sigh of content followed by a lowchuckle. "A fox, that's what he is Gertie. Thinks I shall leave youall my money, and that he'll marry you and get it to spend--a mean,despicable, cunning fox. But I haven't left you a penny, my pet."
"But don't tell him so. I want him to be punished. He deserves it. Ihelped him a dozen times, but he always turned out badly. Not left youa penny, Gertie. Ain't you bitter against me?"
"Bitter against you who have always been like a dear father!"
"Eh? Well, tried to be, little one," said the old man as he toyed withthe girl's long, wavy dark hair. "Poor little fatherless, motherlessthing! why, of course I did. But now look here, Gertie. I'm wastingtime, and there's so little left."
"Don't say that, dear."
"But I must, my pet. And don't cry; nothing to cry for. An old man ofeighty-six going to sleep and rest, Gertie--that's all. I'm not sorry,only to leave you, my dear. I want to live till George comes home andmarries you. You--you will marry him, Gertie?"
"If he is the good, true man you say, uncle, and he will love me, andwish me to be his wife, I will pray God to make me a true, dutifulcompanion to him for life."
"But--but you don't speak out, my child," said the old man suspiciously.
"It is because I can't, uncle, dear. The words sees to choke me. It issuch a promise to make."
"But you never cared for any one else?"
"Oh no, uncle dear. I never hardly thought of such a thing."
"No; always shut up here in the dingy old Mynns with me."
"Where I have been very happy, uncle."
"And Heaven knows I tried to make you so, my child. And you will behappy when I'm gone--with George. For he is all I say--a true, noblefellow. But--but," he cried, peering into the girl's eyes from underhis shaggy brows, "suppose he is ugly?"
"Well, uncle dear," said the girl with a little laugh, "what does thatmatter?"
"Ay, what does that matter? But he can't be ugly, Gertie. Such ahandsome little fellow as he was when I saw him last. And he'll be arich man, Gertie. He shall have The Mynns and everything, for theinjury and wrong I did his father--my poor, poor boy!"
"Uncle, dear, don't reproach yourself," cried the girl, kissing thewithered forehead, as the old man's voice broke into a whimper, and hishands trembled. "It was all a mistake."
"No, Gertie, my dear; I was a hard, bitter, passionate man, and made noallowances for him. He would not stick to business, and he would marryone woman when I wanted him to marry another, and I told him he'd be abeggar all his life, and we quarrelled. Yes, he defied me, Gertie, whenI told him he would come cringing upon his knees for money, and he saidhe would sooner starve. Only like yesterday," continued the old manafter a pause, "and I never saw him but once more, he came to saygood-bye, with his wife, before they sailed for what he called theGolden West, and we quarrelled again because he disobeyed me and wouldnot stay. I was ready to forgive him, Gertie, if he would have stayedand taken to business, but he wouldn't stop with the arbitrary oldtyrant, and they went and took their boy."
The old man lay silent for some minutes, raising the girl's soft littlehand to his lips from time to time. Then he startled her by burstinginto a long low laugh.
"Eh? Only laughing at him, my pet--that boy George. Such a determinedlittle tyrant. Did what he liked with the old man. Wasn't afraid of mea bit. A little curly-headed rascal, and as sturdy as could be. Sucheyes. Gertie; looked through you. `I don't like you, grandpa,' hesaid. `You make my mamma cry.' Bless him! that he did. Ha, ha, ha! Isaw him when he was washed--a little, chubby, pink cupid of a fellow,splashing in his tub; and there, on his little white breast, was a blueheart with an arrow stuck in it. His father's doing after he came backfrom the West--he went out first, leaving his wife. And I asked thelittle chap about it. `Did it hurt much, my man?' I said. `Yeees,' hesaid. `And did you cry, George?' I said. `Pa said I was to be a manand not cry,' said the little fellow sturdily, `but I did a little, andto did my mamma.' `Have you no feeling for your child?' I said to hisfather. `Yes,' he said, `but I want to teach him how to bear pain. Itwill come easier to him, father; for he will have to bear it as I havehad in my time.' Yes, Gertie, I recollect it all. That's twenty-fiveyears ago, and I've never seen George since. But perhaps I shall now,for he's coming back, Gertie."
"Fetch me the second drawer; the keys have worked right behind."
She thrust her hand beneath the pillow, and drew out a bunch of verybright-worn keys, before crossing the room to a tall, black oak cabinetin the corner near the bed's head. Unlocking the glass door, sheunlocked also and took out a small shallow drawer which, evidentlyaccording to custom, she placed across the old man's knees, afterwardsassisting him to rise, and propping him with pillows, so that he couldexamine the contents.
"There," he said eagerly, as he took a handsome gold watch from itscase, the chain and seal pendant being curiously formed of naturalnuggets of gold.
The watch was of American make, and looked as new as if it had only justleft the maker's hands.
The old man's eyes looked on eagerly as the girl took and opened thewatch, the peculiar sound emitted, as she carefully re-wound it, seemingto afford the invalid the greatest satisfaction.
"Not lost, has it, Gertie?" he said quickly.
"No, uncle, dear," said Gertie, comparing her hands with those of herown watch.
"Nor likely to. A splendid watch, Gertie. No trashy present, that. Myboy's made of too good stuff to mar his future. But I was blind inthose days, Gertie--blind. Now read it again."
As if well accustomed to the task, the girl held the open case to thelight, and read on its glistening concave, where it was deeply engravedwith many a flourish and scroll:
James Harrington, Esq, from his grandson. Pure gold from the golden west.
"Pure gold from the Golden West!" said the old man, as he stretched outhis hands eagerly and ran the nugget chain through his fingers. "And Imocked at his poor father, and told him it was all a myth. Put it away,Gertie. George is to wear that always, my dear. I've saved it for him.You know I've only worn it on his birthdays since."
"Yes, uncle, dear," said the girl gravely, as she replaced the watch inits case.
"And now look here, my dear
," said the old man, taking up a smallpocket-ledger and handing it to Gertie; "open at page six."
"Yes, uncle," said the girl wonderingly; and then looking at him forfurther instructions.
"Do you see that?"
"Yes, uncle--entries of money, twenty-five pounds, over and over again."
"Do you know what that means?"
"No, uncle; but you are tiring yourself."
"Ay, but I shall have plenty of time to rest, Gertie, by-and-bye."
"Ah, don't you cry. Listen, Gertie. I wanted to try him--George. I'ma suspicious old man, and I said when he sent me that watch, a yearafter his father and mother died, `It's a sprat to catch a herring!'Ha, ha, ha! and I waited and wrote to him--such a lie, Gertie--such alie, my dear."
"Yes, the biggest lie I ever told. I wrote and told him that things hadgone wrong with me--so they had, for I had lost two hundred and fiftypounds by a man who turned out a rogue--and I begged George to try andhelp his poor old grandfather in England for his father's sake, andmight I sell the watch."
"And what did he say, uncle?" cried Gertrude eagerly.
"He sent me a hundred pounds, Gertie, in an order on a London bank; andhe said if I ever sold that watch he would never forgive me, for it washis father's wish that he should send it as a specimen of the gold I haddisbelieved in. A hundred pounds, Gertie, and ever since, for fouryears now, he has sent me twenty-five pounds every quarter."
"Then he thinks you are poor?"
"Yes, he did till I sent to him to come home. But I invested everypenny, Gertie, and there is the interest; and now what do you say? Ishe a true man--good enough to love?"
"Oh, uncle--yes!" cried the girl, with the tears glittering in her eyes.
"Yes, my darling, a worthy husband for you; one who will love andprotect you when I'm gone."
"But, uncle, dear--" faltered the girl.
"Does--does he know?"
"That he is to marry you? Yes. He knows by now that he is a rich man,or will be when I'm gone, and that he has the sweetest, truest littlewife waiting for him here. Put the book away; you and Mr Hampton knoweverything. Lock up the cabinet and put the keys under the pillowagain; and some morning, when you find I'm too fast asleep to wakeagain, take the keys and keep them for my dear boy."
"Oh, uncle, dearest!" sobbed the girl.
"God bless you, my pet! But I put it off too long. I may not see myboy again. That's right; quite under the pillow, dear. Thank you.Kiss me, not as your uncle, but as James Harrington, the grim old manwho told your father and mother he would protect their little girl, andhas tried to do his duty by her."
Gertrude raised the withered hand, and held it to her lips, as, afterremoving the pillow, the old man lay back, tired out, and slept calmlyand peacefully. And, as she watched him, she thought of her positionthere in that great house a dozen miles from town. How she had grown upwith no young companions save those she had encountered at school, andhow the time had glided away. How of late the old man who had adoptedher had begun to talk of his approaching end, and chilled her at firstwith horror till she grew accustomed to his conversation; but neverchilling her so much as when Saul Harrington, the old man's nephew, hadbegun to make advances to her--advances which filled her with disgustand dread.
She shivered as she thought of the scene in the dining-room that day;and, like a black cloud, the idea arose as to what her fate would be ifthe old man, hanging, as it were, on the brink of eternity, should passaway, leaving her alone.
There was Mrs Denton, the old housekeeper, and there were Mr and MrsHampton, old Harrington's confidential solicitor and his wife, friendsboth--Mrs Hampton, in her harsh, snappish way, always meaning to bemost kind. And then there was the doctor. Yes; and Bruno. But still,she would soon be alone, and at the mercy of Saul Harrington, a man whomshe had always dreaded when he came to pester his uncle for money.
Then came a change in her musings, and she began to picture the man whohad been selected for her husband, and the warm blood came and went inher cheeks as she found herself wondering what he would be like, what hewould think of her, and whether, under the circumstances, her futurewould be happy.
She bent down and covered her face with her hands, as she sat listeningto the old man's faint, regular breathing, and seemed to see thebright-eyed, sharp-witted child who had made so great an impression onher guardian. Then the blue tattooed heart upon his little white skinstood out before her mind's eye, and she half shuddered as she thoughtof the pain the brave child must have suffered under his sea-goingfather's whim.
And, as she thought and thought, wondering what her future would be, shewas so intent that she did not hear the door open, and a footstep crossthe carpet, the first suggestion of another presence being a hand laidlightly upon her shoulder, and she started into wakefulness to encounterthe mocking countenance of Saul.