ON THE SCENT.
Let us change the scene and put back
the clock. Ah, how many hearts would rejoice
if it were as easy to return on the track of Time in
real life as it is to do so in a tale!
It was the evening of the day in which
Jones and Billy went to sea in the little boat.
Ramsgate, Mr Durant’s supper-table, with Stanley
Hall and Robert Queeker as guests.
They were all very happy and merry,
for Stanley was recounting with graphic power some
of the incidents of his recent voyage. Mr Durant
was rich enough to take the loss of his vessel with
great equanimity all the more so that
it had been fully insured. Mr Queeker was in
a state of bliss in consequence of having been received
graciously by Fanny, whose soul was aflame with sentiment
so powerful that she could not express it except through
the medium of a giggle. Only once had Fanny
been enabled to do full justice to herself, and that
was when, alone with Katie in the mysterious gloom
of a midnight confabulation, she suddenly observed
that size and looks in men were absolutely nothing less
than nothing and that in her estimation
heart and intellect were everything!
In the midst of his mirth Mr Durant
suddenly turned to Queeker and said
“By the way, what made you so
late of coming to-night, Queeker? I thought
you had promised to come to tea.”
“Well, yes, but a that
is,” stammered Queeker in confusion, “in
fact I was obliged to keep an appointment in connection
with the the particular business ”
“The secret mission, in short,”
observed Katie, with a peculiar smile.
“Well, secret mission if you
choose,” laughed Queeker; “at all events
it was that which prevented my getting here sooner.
In truth, I did not expect to have managed to come
so soon, but we came to the boat ”
Queeker stopped short and blushed
violently, feeling that he had slightly, though unintentionally,
Fanny looked at him, blushed in sympathy, and giggled.
“Oh, there’s a boat
in the secret mission, is there?” cried Stanley;
“come, let us make a game of it. Was it
an iron boat?”
“No,” replied Queeker,
laughing, for he felt that at all events he was safe
in answering that question.
“Was it a wooden one?” asked Katie.
“Well ye ”
“Was it a big one?” demanded
Mr Durant, entering into the spirit of the game.
“No, it was a little one,”
said Queeker, still feeling safe, although anxious
to evade reply.
“Was there a man in it?” said Katie.
“And a boy?” cried Stanley.
The question was put unwittingly,
but being so put Queeker stammered, and again blushed.
Katie on the contrary turned pale,
for her previously expressed hope that there might
be some connection between Queeker’s mission
and Billy Towler’s troubles flashed into her
“But was there a boy
in it?” she said, with a sudden earnestness that
induced every one to look at her in surprise.
“Really, I pray I
must beg,” said Queeker, “that you won’t
make this a matter of even jocular inquiry.
Of course I know that no one here would make improper
use of any information that I might give, but I have
been pledged to secrecy by my employers.”
“But,” continued Katie
in the same anxious way as before, “it will not
surely be a breach of confidence merely to tell me
if the boy was a small, active, good-looking little
fellow, with bright eyes and curly hair.”
“I am bound to admit,”
said Queeker, “that your description is correct.”
To the amazement, not to say consternation,
of every one, Katie covered her face with her hands
and burst into tears, exclaiming in an agony of distress
that she knew it; she had feared it after sending him
away; that she had ruined him, and that it was too
late now to do anything.
“No, not too late, perhaps,”
she repeated, suddenly raising her large beautiful
eyes, which swam in tears; “oh papa, come with
me up-stairs, I must speak with you alone at once.”
She seized her astonished father by
the hand and led him unresisting from the room.
Having hurriedly related all she knew
about Billy Towler, Morley Jones, and Nora, she looked
up in his face and demanded to know what was
to be done.
“Done, my dear child,”
he replied, looking perplexed, “we must go at
once and see how much can be undone. You tell
me you have Nora’s address. Well, we’ll
go there at once.”
said Katie, “Nora does not know the full extent
of her father’s wickedness, and we want to keep
it from her if possible.”
“A very proper desire to spare
her pain, Katie, but in the circumstances we cannot
help ourselves; we must do what we can to frustrate
this man’s designs and save the boy.”
So saying Mr Durant descended to the
dining-room. He explained that some suspicious
facts had come to his daughter’s knowledge which
necessitated instant action; said that he was sorry
Mr Queeker felt it incumbent on him to maintain secrecy
in regard to his mission, but that he could not think
of pressing him to act in opposition to his convictions,
and, dismissing his guests with many apologies, went
out with Katie in search of the abode of Nora Jones.
Stanley Hall, whose curiosity was
aroused by all that had passed, went down to take
a walk on the pier by way of wearing it off in a philosophical
manner. He succeeded easily in getting rid of
this feeling, but he could not so easily get rid of
the image of Katie Durant. He had suspected
himself in love with her before he sailed for India;
his suspicions were increased on his return to England,
and when he saw the burst of deep feeling to which
she had so recently given way, and heard the genuine
expressions of remorse, and beheld her sweet face
bedewed with tears of regret and pity, suspicion was
swallowed up in certainty.
He resolved then and there to win
her, if he could, and marry her! Here a touch
of perplexity assailed him, but he fought it off nobly.
He was young, no doubt, and had no
money, but what then? he was strong, had
good abilities, a father in a lucrative practice, with
the prospect of assisting and ultimately succeeding
him. That was enough, surely.
The lodging which he had taken for
a few days was retaken that night for an indefinite
period, and he resolved to lay siege to her heart in
But that uncertainty which is proverbial
in human affairs stepped within the circle of his
life and overturned his plans. On returning to
his rooms he found a telegram on the table.
His father, it informed him, was dangerously ill.
By the next train he started for home, and arrived
to find that his father was dead.
A true narrative of any portion of
this world’s doings must of necessity be as
varied as the world itself, and equally abrupt in its
transitions. From the lively supper-table Stanley
Hall passed to the deathbed of his father. In
like manner we must ask the reader to turn with us
from the contemplation of Stanley’s deep sorrow
to the observation of Queeker’s poetic despair.
Maddened between the desire to tell
all he knew regarding the secret mission to Mr Durant,
and the command laid on him by his employers to be
silent, the miserable youth rushed frantically to his
lodgings, without any definite intentions, but more
than half inclined to sink on his knees before his
desk, and look up to the moon, or stars, or; failing
these, to the floating light for inspiration, and pen
the direful dirge of something dreadful and desperate!
He had even got the length of the first line, and
had burst like a thunderbolt into his room muttering
“Great blazing wonder of illimitable
when he became suddenly aware of the
fact that his chair was occupied by the conchological
friend with whom he had spent the earlier part of that
day, who was no other than the man with the keen grey
“What! still in the poetic vein?”
he said, with a grave smile.
“Why I thought
you were off to London!” exclaimed Queeker, with
a very red face.
“I have seen cause to change
my plan,” said Mr Larks quietly.
“I’m very glad
of it,” replied Queeker, running his fingers
through his hair and sitting down opposite his friend
with a deep sigh, “because I’m in the
most horrible state of perplexity. It is quite
evident to me that the boy is known to Miss Durant,
for she went off into such a state when I mentioned
him and described him exactly.”
“Indeed,” said Mr Larks; “h’m!
I know the boy too.”
“Do you? Why didn’t you tell me
“There was no occasion to,”
said the imperturbable Mr Larks, whose visage never
by any chance conveyed any expression whatever, except
when he pleased, and then it conveyed only and exactly
the expression that he intended. “But
come,” he continued, “let’s hear
all about it, and don’t quote any poetry till
you have done with the facts.”
Thus exhorted Queeker described the
scene at the supper-table with faithful minuteness,
and, on concluding, demanded what was to be done.
“H’m!” grunted Mr
Larks. “They’ve gone to visit Nora
Jones, so you and I shall go and keep them company.
He put on his hat and went out, followed
by his little friend.
In a lowly ill-furnished room in one
of the poorest streets of the town, where rats and
dogs and cats seemed to divide the district with poverty-stricken
human beings, they found Nora sitting by the bedside
of her grandmother, who appeared to be dying.
A large Family Bible, from which she had been reading,
was open on her knee.
Mr Larks had opened the door and entered
without knocking. He and Queeker stood in the
passage and saw the bed, the invalid, and the watcher
through an inner door which stood ajar. They
could hear the murmurings of the old woman’s
voice. She appeared to wander in her mind, for
sometimes her words were coherent, at other times she
“O Morley, Morley, give it up,”
she said, during one of her lucid intervals; “it
has been the curse of our family. Your grandfather
died of it; your father ah! he was
a man, tall and straight, and so kind, till
he took to it; oh me! how it changed him! But
the Lord saved his soul, though he let the body fall
to the dust. Blessed be His holy name for that.
Give it up, Morley, my darling boy; give it up, give
it up oh, for God’s sake give it
She raised her voice at each entreaty
until it almost reached a shriek, and then her whole
frame seemed to sink down into the bed from exhaustion.
“Why don’t ’ee speak
to me, Morley?” she resumed after a short time,
endeavouring to turn her head round.
“Dearest granny,” said
Nora, gently stroking one of her withered hands, which
lay on the counterpane, “father is away just
now. No doubt he will be back ere long.”
“Ay, ay, he’s always away;
always away,” she murmured in a querulous tone;
“always coming back too, but he never comes.
Oh, if he would give it up give it up ”
She repeated this several times, and
gradually dwindled off into unintelligible mutterings.
By this time Mr Larks had become aware
of whispering voices in a part of the room which he
could not see. Pushing the door a little farther
open he entered softly, and in a darkened corner of
the apartment beheld Mr Durant and Katie in close
conversation with James Welton. They all rose,
and Nora, seeing that the old woman had fallen into
a slumber, also rose and advanced towards the strangers.
Mr Durant at once explained to her who Queeker was,
and Queeker introduced Mr Larks as a friend who had
come to see them on important business.
“I think we know pretty well
what the business is about,” said Jim Welton,
advancing and addressing himself to Mr Larks, “but
you see,” he added, glancing towards the bed,
“that this is neither the time nor place to
prosecute your inquiries, sir.”
Mr Larks, who was by no means an unfeeling
man, though very stern, said that he had no intention
of intruding; he had not been aware that any one was
ill in the house, and he would take it as a favour
if Mr Welton would go outside and allow him the pleasure
of a few words with him. Of course Jim agreed,
but before going took Nora aside.
“I’ll not be back to-night,
dearest,” he said in a low whisper. “To-morrow,
early, I’ll return.”
“You will leave no stone unturned?” said
“Not one. I’ll do my best to save
“And you have told me the worst told
me all?” asked Nora, with a look of intense
grief mingled with anxiety on her pale face.
“I have,” said Jim, in
a tone and with a look so earnest and truthful that
Nora required no further assurance. She gave
him a kindly but inexpressibly sad smile, and returned
to her stool beside the bed. Her lover and Mr
Larks went out, followed by Queeker.
“We won’t intrude on you
longer to-night,” said Katie, going up to Nora
and laying her hand quietly on her shoulder.
“Your visit is no intrusion,”
said Nora, looking up with a quiet smile. “It
was love that brought you here, I know. May our
dear Lord bless you and your father for wishing to
comfort the heart of one who needs it so much oh,
so much.” She put her hands before her
face and was silent. Katie tried in vain to speak.
The tears coursed freely down her cheeks, but never
a word could she utter. She put her arm round
the neck of the poor girl and kissed her. This
was a language which Nora understood;
many words could not have expressed so much; no words
could have expressed more.