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The Australian authoress Mary Helena Fortune (ca. 1833-1911) was one of the first women to write detective fiction, and probably the first to write it from the viewpoint of the detective. Her opus includes several novels and over 500 stories, many of which feature a detective by the name of Mark Sinclair. She wrote under the pseudonyms "Waif Wander" and "W.W."
ON the west coast of Tasmania, where the sea lashes against great rocks, and where there is not a blade of grass from year's end to year's end; where the low scrub is cut by the strong gales as though shorn by sharp knives; where the white sails of a distant passing vessel by day, and the gleam of a distant lighthouse by night, is all that can be detected of human life, the rude home of Ranulph Edgar was raised.
A home of stones and driftwood nestled in a sheltered corner of the cliff round whose rough chimney the sea birds often screamed and whirled. A home where three living beings alone found shelter, viz., Ranulph Edgar, Martha his child, and a dog so old that he could barely waddle to and fro from his bed to a sunny corner on the rocks and sleep his old age peacefully away.
One day near the great old festival of "Christmas," which we are now approaching (only it was many years before 1882), Martha Edgar stood on the plateau of rock in front of the hut, and watched her father's small fishing smack sailing out to the open sea. The sun was warm, the day pleasant, and the hardy-looking, brown-faced girl of sixteen had to shade her eyes from the bright beams to catch a last sight of Ranulph as he rounded the lighthouse.
"I wonder if he will go in?" she said aloud, for there was nothing to overhear her soliloquy. "I should like to have gone but father looked so gloomy I dare not ask. I do hope that he won't forget the flour though, for we're nearly out. Hallo, old Prince, are you awake?"
The dog had arisen, and was gazing seaward with a look of stupid senility by no means confined to the four-footed animal creation. "Poor old Prince! I must give you your breakfast. What is the matter? Eh, Prince?"
But Prince could not satisfactorily reply. He only gave a muffled bark that was a decided failure, and lay down in the sun again. "How odd," Martha said thoughtfully; "I have not heard Prince bark for more than a year."
The young girl was about to go into the hut and attend to the household duties that women can find to do all the world over, when a loud "Hallo!" made her look up quickly to the summit of the cliff. There she saw, leaning over a rock, two or three strange faces, and stared at them in wonder.
"How can we get down?" one gesticulating Individual asked in a loud voice.
"Get down? We don't want any one down here," was Martha's reply.
"Don't be afraid, my girl, there are ladies here."
It was a sweet voice that spoke, and Martha caught a vision of a lovely face, with a quantity of gold-coloured hair, just like her own, wind blown around her face.
"There is a path to your left down the rocks, but you could never descend it," Martha said at last.
"Oh yes, we can!" was the laughing reply; "we have been up and down the Alps!" and the speaker disappeared.
Now, again old Prince arose, shook himself, and looked up. No doubt the sound of that voice awakened some memory of the past, but it was too faint to be retained, and with a canine sigh he lay down again on the warm rock.
Martha sat down in a bewildered frame of mind, and a pretty picture she was, sitting in the bright sunbeams in the fresh beauty of a sea-blown life, and with the lithe strength of her quiet sixteen years in every full outline of her figure. A coarse serge dress of dark blue tucked up over a scarlet petticoat; a sea-browned face with delicate features was lit up by large grey eyes and framed in golden fair hair that no effort would confine; and her small, well-formed feet were covered with strong boots, which could not, however, entirely hide the symmetry of their form—such in appearance was Martha Edgar.
The sound of nearing laughter aroused her, and the girl rose to her feet; the young party of four were making a successful scramble to the level of the hut, and ere many minutes stood beside her. There was a delicate-looking girl of about Martha's age, a robust black-haired woman of twenty-two or three, and two young men who deserve a paragraph to themselves.
The elder was twenty-five or six, dark-haired and grey-eyed. In his face was the calm thoughtfulness and resolution of the man of kindly heart and strong character, and it was his strong arm that had supported the delicate girl down the rough path in the face of the rock. The younger man was the very picture of the fair girl; no one could doubt their relationship of brother and sister.
"I hope we have not startled you," the dark young gentleman said politely to Martha. "The fact is, we came on an excursion for the benefit of this young lady's health. Having no idea of the rocky wall here, we walked; but our boat will be round very soon. Will you rest, Mary?"
"Yes, I am very tired, Harry;" and she sat down on the wooden bench from which Martha had just risen. "I hope you will excuse me, but I have been very ill." These words were addressed to the silent and wondering Martha.
"You are welcome," the fisherman's daughter replied simply. "I am sorry I have no refreshment worthy of your acceptance, for our stock is just out, and my father has gone to replenish it."
"Thank you, we have an ample supply in the boat, and here it comes."
As she spoke a sail-boat with two men in it was steering for the little landing-place used by Ranulph, and the sails were soon furled as the boat was made fast to the rocks.
Martha leaned against the rough wall of the hut, and watched the preparations for a lunch being made by the boatmen with the assistance of Emily St. John and the two young gentlemen.
"Are you not very lonely here?" asked the invalid gently.
"Lonely! No, I have never known another home since I can remember, and who could be lonely with that ever-changing picture to look at?" and Martha pointed to the broad expanse of sunlit sea. "I often wonder how people can live away from the sea."
"Are you alone—entirely alone?"
"With my father and old Prince the dog."
"And no one comes to see you?"
"Not often; a fisherman sometimes, and sometimes the boat from the lighthouse out there; but I often go out with father in the boat, and sometimes he leaves me all day at the lighthouse and calls for me on his way home."
Something very like a blush made Martha's soft cheeks take a deeper hue as she concluded, and when she looked up she met Henry St. John's eyes fixed intently on her face.
"Come, Mary, our lunch is spread, and you are in sore need of a glass of wine. Ask this young girl to join us."
"You will share our lunch?" the fair girl said as she rose; but Martha shyly declined, and stood still and watched the strange scene that seemed to her like a dream.
On the rock in front of the fisherman's hut was spread a snow-white cloth, on which were placed various viands, bottles, glasses, and such dainty silver spoons and forks as Martha had never seen in her life, but only read about in the few books she occasionally got from the lighthouse. To the pleasant accompaniment of clinking silver and crystal, the merry young voices chatted and laughed over the incidents of their excursion, or planned some future one should the weather hold fine, while old Prince gravely squatted near them and devoured the dainty bits frequently bestowed on him.
"I am sorry the girl will not share with us," the young lady who had been called Mary said, as she looked wistfully towards Martha.
"We will not take anything away with us," St. John responded thoughtfully; "her father and she will doubtless enjoy the change of provisions when they are alone."
"I can't bear the idea of that poor girl being buried in such a place," Mary added, with a sigh. "I wonder what kind of man her father is."
"We must try and find out. Harry, do you observe any likeness in the girl's face to any other face you know?"
"I have observed it," was the elder young gentleman's quiet reply, as he once more gazed at Martha's intelligent face.
Presently the plate and glass and crockery were re-consigned to the hampers, and the food carefully rolled in the snowy tablecloth and laid upon the bench at Martha's side.
"There are several things untouched," Mary said as she put the bundle down; "perhaps you will use them by-and-by. And now, will you permit me to take a great liberty with you without offending you?"
"I am sure you are too kind to say anything offensive," was Martha's reply.
"I am so sorry to leave you in this wild place, and to think of the lonely life you lead. You are happy now, but it may not be always so; if you should need a friend, will you remember me? That is my name and address," and she put a dainty card into Martha's hand.
"It is kind of you," she replied, her fine eyes filling with sympathetic tears, "but I shall never want anything while I have my father."
"We never know what we may want," Mary said gently. "Do not forget my name. Will you tell me yours?"
"My name is Martha Edgar."
"Good-bye, Martha. I hope we may meet again" and a little thin hand pressed Martha's.
More good-byes were exchanged, and the long look of Henry St. John into Martha's eyes as he held her hand lingered long in the fisher girl's memory; then the sail was set, the boat rounded the Point and disappeared, leaving Martha with a feeling of loneliness she had never before experienced in her rocky home.
Now, I think I must follow Ranulph Edgar, as he set out to sea on that morning so eventful to Martha. In the girl's partial eyes her father was almost perfection; but, in truth, he was a dark, low-browed man, with grizzled hair and an evil expression of countenance. As far as he kept a straight course over the bright sea he never once looked back to the coast, but no sooner had he rounded a promontory that shut out the view of both lighthouse and hut than he stood up and scanned the line of coast eagerly. Soon his accustomed eyes caught the gleam of a white cloth down low on the face of the rocks, and he trimmed his sail so as to change the boat's course toward the spot from whence he had recognized the signal.
"Dick sees me, and he's at the lower cave. I wonder what luck he's had this venture," the dark-faced man muttered. "He's too foolhardy—altogether too foolhardy, and if it wasn't for the profit I'd cut him altogether."
In a short time the boat was beached behind a sheltering rock, and a coarse-looking man of forty or so, with fiery red hair and a great tangled beard of the same hue, came out of a cave to meet Edgar.
"I thought you were never coming," he cried testily.
"Any luck?" was the sharp return.
"A little, half-a-dozen notes from some fools going to the tin mines."
"You didn't use violence, Dick?"
"Oh, of course not! I jest asked the gintlemen perlitely and they handed me the brads with a bow apiece! You're a bright chap, you are."
Edgar wiped the sweat from his face, and as he did so his hands trembled visibly. "I don't know what's come over me," he said. "I feel as if a dark shadow was following me all the time, and I can't get a wink of sleep o' nights. Do you ever have them kind o' fancies, Dick?"
"Yes, when the bottle's empty, and that reminds me it's empty now. Turn out the locker and come inside."
Edgar opened a locker at the end of the boat and drew out food and spirits, which he handed to his accomplice. Both men then entered the cave and sat down upon the heap of seaweed that served the outlaw for a bed.
"Edgar," Dick said seriously, when he had satisfied his hunger and thirst, "I've some news for you that I'm afraid won't make your dreams any pleasanter. Who do you think is within half-a-dozen miles of you?"
Ranulph made no reply, only his face got white and his lips quivered, as he stared hard and fearfully at the speaker.
"Colonel St. John."
"No!" almost shrieked Edgar, as he held out his arms to ward off some awful danger.
"It is true. He has something to do with the tin miner, and is stopping at Shizt's. Worse than that, he's got the family with him, and they're exploring the coast for the daughter Mary's health. If Martha is seen, Edgar, you are ruined."
"Are you quite sure, Dick? Who told you? Surely it is some awful mistake!"
"It is not; I saw them with my own eyes. I went to get rid of the notes I told you of, and tramped round to Shizt's; well, I nearly ran into the Colonel's arms, and found out the rest by inquiry."
"Didn't he know you?"
"Know me! How should he know me? It was you he lagged, not me."
Edgar groaned bitterly.
"I must go," he cried excitedly. "If I am discovered it will be a hanging matter."
"But what will you do with the girl?"
"Curse the girl! She has been nothing but a drag on me all her life."
"Well, you had your revenge, at all events. Surely you wouldn't give her up now?"
"Not if I hung for it!"
"What will you do, then?"
"I could leave her at the lighthouse, and clear out until these people leave. Oh, I don't know what to do! I'm distracted!"
Dick turned a sinister look on the coward as he buried his face in his hands and rocked himself to and fro, while an idea not entertained for the first time was fructifying in his breast.
"I daresay you are right, Edgar, but where would you shape for?"
"The old plant near Hokitiki; but I must go, Dick. I am regularly flurried. I will call at the lighthouse and speak to Daddy about the girl. I will come over tomorrow, perhaps I may hear something by that time."
"Ooh, you coward!" said Dick to himself as he watched the sail-boat gliding over the sea. "It's time you were out of the way. A man's never safe while you have a hold on him; for to save yourself you'd give up your own father, if ever you had one. Well, it's my chance now and a couple o' hundred easy made, then hey for California!"
A few miles over the watery way and Edgar's boat was fastened to the landing-place of the lighthouse. The lighthouse was erected on a rock that at high water was covered by the waves, and there, amid the roaring of wind and sea, lived happily old Daddy, the lighthouse-keeper, and his contented wife, Betsy. Old Daddy was a character in his way, a shrewd, intelligent, and well-read man, and to him and Betsy Martha owed most of the small education and information she was possessed of.
"Daddy," said the old woman on the day of which I write, "here's Edgar's boat and he's coming here."
The old man laid down his book and shook his head. Edgar was no favourite of his, but "for the child's sake," as he used to say, he tolerated the man.
"I wish poor Martha was out of his clutches," he said to his wife. "There's something wrong about that man, and his face gets darker and darker every day. Go down and meet him, Betsy."
"Well, Daddy, how does the world wag with you today?" was Edgar's salutation as he reached the upper chamber.
"It's a very good world every day, Edgar—a world that God made everything 'very good' in if wicked people would only behave themselves in it."
Edgar coughed awkwardly.
"I come to ask you a favour," he began, but his eyes remained fixed on the ground. "I have heard some tidings from New Zealand that makes it necessary for me to go over there. Will you keep Martha here for me until I come back? It would not be safe for her to stop in the hut by herself, and I will gladly pay you for her keep."
"Pay us! No, no, Edgar; Martha will be as welcome as a queen. Indeed we often wish we had her altogether—eh, old woman?"
"That we do, Daddy; and you may leave Martha here in all safety, Edgar. No harm shall come to her, I'll warrant."
"How long do you propose being away?"
"It all depends; not more than a fortnight I hope, and I'm thankful for your welcome to the girl."
"When will you bring her, Edgar?"
"Tomorrow, I think; and now so long, for the day's wearing, and I want to get home."
The boat of the strangers had barely faded out of sight when Martha recognized that of her father approaching, and anxious to tell him her wonderful news, she hastened down to meet him. It was, however, impossible for even the young girl not to notice the change in the man's dark face, and her affectionate heart took the alarm at once.
"How ill you look, father! Has anything happened? Have you hurt yourself some way?"
"There is nothing the matter," he answered gruffly. "What should be the matter with me? What's that?" and he pointed to the bundle that still lay where Mary St. John had left it.
"Oh, father, I've had visitors; two young ladies and two young gentlemen. They brought lunch in their boat and had it on the rocks, and as I would not take some with them one of the young ladies insisted on leaving that. She was so pretty and so kind, father, and I felt the strangest feeling when she took my hand."
Edgar glared at the excited speaker, actually glared; for no other term would describe the awful fierceness of his look. Martha was frightened, and drew back with a new impression of her father's disposition to any she had ever experienced before.
"They have been here!" the man cried hoarsely. "They have been here and have seen you!"
"What harm is that, father? They were perfect ladies and gentlemen, I assure you; and they seemed to have plenty of money, for everything was of the best."
"Did they tell you their names?" he asked, with the same glare in his sunken eyes.
"The young lady gave me this, and told me to remember her if I should ever want a friend."
Edgar took Mary St. John's card and looked at it for a moment; then he tore it into a hundred atoms and cast the pieces over the rocks into the sea. "They are no friends for you," he cried angrily; "and it is time you were out of this, when I can't leave the hut for a couple of hours but you must be entertaining fashionable company. Get your things ready, for I'll take you to the lighthouse first thing in the morning."
Never before had he spoken to or looked at Martha like that, and the girl prepared the supper with such a sinking at her heart as she could by no means account for. Edgar sat on the bench at the door for hours, muttering to himself and calling down imprecations on the head of some unnamed foe; meanwhile, the sun went down in a bank of dark clouds, the wind rose, and the fierce waves tossed sheets of wild white spray up against the rocky cliff on which the hut was built, ere Edgar retired to rest, and left Martha alone to dear away the remains of supper and prepare for seeking what repose she might hope for with so uneasy a mind as she had never before experienced.
While she made her preparations for going to the lighthouse, and wondered at the cause of Edgar's sudden resolve, the man began to toss and mutter in his bed as one oppressed by nightmare or a horrible dream. His hands were clenched, his teeth set, and heavy sweat-drops burst out on his forehead. At last he roared out aloud in tones that drowned the dash of the waves outside—"Tracked me, by God, but never alive; they shall never take me alive! One more won't matter. What if it is a brother's blood this time? One more won't matter! See how it clings!" and he held out his open right hand. "Water won't wash it off! And what matters a little more? He shall die! I can but hang for it."
Martha, horrified and frightened, shook Edgar's arm. "Father, waken up! Waken, you are having some awful dream."
He sat up, staring wildly, and with a white, haggard face turned to Martha, and asked her what was the matter.
"You have been dreaming and talking in your deep, and I thought it better to arouse you."
"Talking was I? What did I say? Tell me instantly what I said."
"You were threatening somebody."
"You did not mention any names, father."
"Ah," was the relieved answer, as he turned over to go to sleep again, "it was that confounded pie. A wonder it didn't choke me, as it had come from a St. John."
Martha heard the name this time, and turned away with increased surprise. What could her father know of St. Johns? Why should he hate them so terribly as his words implied? What mystery was coming into her life, hitherto so contented and happy? Why had he torn up the sweet young lady's card and tossed it into the sea, as if its touch was contamination?
Meanwhile, in a private room at Shizt's Hotel, on the same rocky coast, but some miles away, were seated Colonel St. John and the dark young gentleman who had accompanied the party to Edgar's hut and lunched on the rock. The two gentlemen were in earnest conversation, and the face of the elder was expressive of much anxiety and deep thought.
"It seems almost incredible, Harry, but it must be inquired into; it is so very long ago, and the subject such a sad one to look back to, nor did I ever hear or guess that Ranulph had anything to do with that terrible loss. You say the likeness is strong, Harry?"
"Allowing for the hardy life the girl has led, and the rosy, robust look that life has imparted, the likeness is perfect. And is it not strange, my dear uncle, that Mary should have taken so strong a liking for Martha, for my cousin is not given to sudden fancies?"
The Colonel, a tall, stately old gentleman, with his left arm in a sling, rose from his chair and paced uneasily to and fro on the carpet, but at last he stopped in front of his nephew and spoke.
"Are you thoroughly acquainted with all the painful circumstances connected with the subject your discovery has recalled, Harry?"
"No, uncle; I have a general idea of them from what you and my cousin Mary have occasionally said, but of the exact particulars I am ignorant."
"I would that I had been as ignorant, my boy, for it is a bitter page of an old family history to look back upon; but I think it is time you should know all the facts, so, painful as the task must be, I will relate them," and the Colonel reseated himself.
"It la fourteen years ago now since my lost wife and I, with our boy and baby twin girls, were on a visit to St. John's Court, where we were to spend the Christmas with my father, the General. Ranulph, my younger brother, was expected also, and he came with a male attendant, who soon made himself a general favourite at the Court, and who was known as Dick Harker.
"My brother had always led a fast and not always a reputable life; but he was the youngest, and my father's favourite, so he was received with open arms and every confidence placed in him.
"That confidence was betrayed. One night—it was on Christmas Eve—I was aroused from sleep by cries for help, and they proceeded from my father's chamber. Without a moment's loss of time I rushed out through the corridor in time to grapple with a man who was just escaping. It was a brilliant moonlight night, and we were struggling opposite a large window, so that I was able to discern the form and appearance of my antagonist. He had black crepe over his face, and rough attire, but as I tore off the crepe I recognized with horror the face of my brother Ranulph.
"By this time half-a-dozen old servants had reached the spot, and helped to relieve me from my perilous position; for Ranulph had driven a knife through the muscles of my arm, and I was in bodily as well as mental agony. Yes, it was a brother's arm that crippled me, and not, as the world has supposed, the sword of an enemy. My poor father was found insensible on the floor of his bedroom, where he had fallen in defense of an escritoire in which was a large sum of money, and, though he had received no wound, he died in a few days from the effects of the shock, and my brother was sentenced to penal servitude for life. Such is the painful story of a family's sorrow and disgrace."
"It is indeed a sad one, uncle; but what became of the man, Dick Harker?"
"I am coming to him. He did not appear to be at all implicated in Ranulph's attempt to murder as well as rob, and was loud in his expressions of pity for the fate of my unhappy brother. He visited him several times ere his embarkation for Freemantle penal settlement, and at last came to bid us good-bye for good; the very next day our two-years-old twin girl, little Martha, was stolen from the Court, and we have never seen or heard of her since. I have no doubt that Ranulph had succeeded in passing the stolen money to Dick, and the babe was taken in revenge for my evidence that convicted Ranulph. Ah! He has been the cause of more deaths than one, for the loss of her child killed my wife. May God forgive the wretched man if he be living to repent."
Henry St. John was silent, but his handsome countenance exhibited strong evidence of how deeply the Colonel's story had affected him.
"You know the rest, Harry. The war in New Zealand brought me out here, and when it was over I settled in Victoria, to find my lost daughter, if your suspicions be correct; but I pray Heaven not to look again upon the face of my wretched brother. There is some one knocking at the door, Harry. Come in."
It was the landlord.
"There is a man in the bar most anxious to speak with Colonel St. John in private," he explained.
"What kind of man?" the Colonel asked as he exchanged a look with his nephew.
"It is a fisherman, pretty well known on the coast, sir; he is often here, but I do not know his name."
"You may show him in," the Colonel said, and in a few seconds Dick of the cave stood in the apartment.
"You wished to see me?" the Colonel said, as he scanned the coarsely-dad fisherman.
"You are Colonel St. John?"
"What I have to say is for your ear alone," the man observed, as he glanced toward Harry.
"I have no secrets from my nephew; you may speak plainly before him."
"What I have to say is of events that took place at St. John's Court fourteen years ago."
"My nephew knows all; go on."
"Well, sir, if you wish it so. Fourteen years ago your brother Ranulph was sentenced to penal servitude for life, and your daughter Martha was stolen."
The old gentleman bowed his head; he was too much affected to speak.
"The child was stolen at the instigation of Ranulph St. John, out of revenge; and he was not six months in Western Australia before he escaped, by the aid of a friend and the money he had stolen from his father."
"And it was by your help, Dick Harker!" the Colonel cried, excitedly, as he rose to his feet. "I know you now, and it was you who stole the babe and broke its mother's heart!"
"You would have hard work to prove your assertion," the man said, with a grim smile; "but I am here to restore your daughter to you, if we can come to terms about it. Both your brother and your child are within a few miles of where I sit."
"I am aware of it," the Colonel replied coldly, and for a moment the villain was taken aback; only for a moment, however, for he went on as brazen as ever.
"I don't know how you can have found it out, but at all events you can prove nothing without me, for I have preserved the ornaments worn by the child when you lost her; and, besides, Ranulph knows you are here, and is going away tomorrow. You will lose them both without my help."
The Colonel remained silent for a little, and Henry St. John clenched his fist; he felt it almost impossible to keep his hands from Dick's throat, or his tongue from giving vent to his feelings of indignation against the mean-spirited villain. It would seem that Colonel St. John's ideas did not differ much from those of his nephew.
"You would sell your comrade back to the prison you have unjustly escaped You would barter for gold the girl you stole when a child? I will neither purchase my wretched brother's liberty, or give gold for my daughter, whom I will have in spite of you and him. Leave the room before I forget that you are accursed, and soil my fingers by ejecting you."
"While I am here, uncle, there is no need for you to do either. Go, hound! And it will not be my fault if you do not pay the penalty of your villainy and treachery."
As Harry spoke he opened the door, but Dick paused on the threshold and shook his fist at the gentlemen.
If mortal man can do it, I'll ruin your plans," he shrieked. "You will repent this hour's work; the girl shall be far from your grasp ere the morning dawns," and with a derisive laugh he passed out, banging the door loudly behind him.
Colonel St. John and his nephew looked uneasily at each other.
"I suppose it is quite impossible to go down to the hut tonight, Harry?"
"Oh yes; listen to the wind, uncle. Besides, what could we do without help to enforce your claims, which you cannot even prove? There is nothing for it but to wait until morning, and, in my opinion, the man who has kept Martha so safely all these years is able to keep her still from the hands of the vile wretch who has just left us."
"True, and if she is my lost child, she is, like every other child of Adam, in the hands of a merciful Father. I doubt not, He will protect her."
Ranulph St. John, as I may now call him, passed a wretched night, as he tossed to and fro, and dozed uneasily during his last hours in the cliff hut. The vicinity of his injured brother seemed to have brought with it all the awful memories of the past that he would fain have forgotten for ever, and above the howling of wind and lashing of water he heard his father's cry for help as he bore his grey hairs to the ground. In vain he tried to palliate his crime with the self-assurance that he had not intended to cause the old man's death. He could see the well-known face, with a reproachful gaze in the fixed eyes, meeting him in every corner of the dark room. He could hear the regular breathing of Martha, as she slept in the inner apartment, and tried to console himself by recalling his want of harshness to her.
"I might have beaten her and made a slave of her, but I did not. She has been happy and loves me, as she might never have loved her own stern father. Who can say I have done the girl a wrong?" But the voice of Conscience was loud, and it answered plainly, "I can!"
The miserable being struck a light with a trembling hand, and rose to visit a rude cupboard, which he kept locked, and in which was a goodly store of fiery spirits; but just as he was raising the stimulant to his lips there was a sharp knock at the door, and the glass fell from his hand to the floor. He thought the avengers were already upon him.
"Open the door, I say. Are you going to keep me here in the spray all night? It's only me, Dick.
Ranulph opened the door with alacrity, but with unallayed terror. It was so unusual a thing for Dick to visit the hut at all much less at that time of night, that he felt certain the man who passed for a fisherman was the bearer of ill-tidings. Nor was he mistaken, Dick Harker was about to seek his revenge on Colonel St. John.
"Don't stare at me so wild," the visitor growled. "A pretty tramp I've had of it on your account. I lost my way in the scrub, and if I had not heard the noise of the surf I should have been half-way to Mount Heemskirk by this time."
"What news do you bring?" was the tremulous question.
"The worst. I have been over to Shizt's to try and get some idea of the St. John's intentions; the Colonel passed through the bar and spotted me at once."
"Do you mean that be recognized you?"
"Yes, I do; he called me by my name and accused me of stealing the child at once. He was like a man out of his senses, and threatened us like anything. He knows you and the girl are here, and if it had not been for the weather they were coming down to arrest you. Now, Ranulph, you are not the man I take you to be if you let Martha fall into their hands again."
"What can I do with her?" St John asked desperately. "She has been a curse and reproach to me ever since you stole her; St. John has the best right to her, let him take her."
Dick stared at the speaker as at one distraught. "I wouldn't have believed it! To think that you should turn white-livered after all! Are you going to give her up?"
"Yes, I have seen the dead tonight, and there is a weight like death upon my heart."
Dick seized a glass and poured himself out a huge drink of the raw spirit.
"You shall not ruin yourself and me with your cowardly repentance!" he exclaimed, as he shivered the empty glass with a fierce blow on the table. "See, the dawn is breaking; rouse the girl and let us go!"
"Where?" asked Ranulph.
"To the cave, we shall at least be safe there till we lay our plans. The wind has fallen, and behind the Point the sea is sheltered; there will be no danger."
Mechanically, as one who obeys a power superior to his own, Ranulph rose and opened the door of the inner room. He held the light in his hand, but no sooner had he crossed the threshold than a cold breeze met his face and the candle was extinguished. With a cry of terror and astonishment, he saw the grey light of dawn through the open window, and hastened to relight his candle and return to Martha's room.
Dick, hearing his cry, followed him in, and then they saw the couch empty—Martha was gone!
"She has overheard all and fled," Ranulph said, despairingly, as, with a volley of fierce execrations, Dick dashed open the door and in the early morning light rushed out to examine the boat and the face of the rock. The boat was in its shelter all right, and there was nothing to be seen of Martha. Ranulph stood on the edge of the rock in front of the hut, and looked down to the heaving sea.
"She has thrown herself over," he muttered almost incoherently, "and there is another death on my soul."
"Villain, this is your doing; it is a planned thing between you and the girl to deprive me of my revenge!" and, with the words, the infuriated Dick seized St. John and dragged him to the front of the hut. The action seemed to arouse the miserable being from a sort of trance, and his grip on his enemy's throat was strong and desperate. With muffled curses and half-strangled oaths, the madmen struggled for each other's lives, until they once again reached the edge of the rock, when, all at once, Dick lost his footing and fell over into the sea. There was a wild shriek from the summit of the cliff, and, as Dick's head struck the rock below, he relaxed his grip on St. John, who fell back into the boiling sea with a last prayer for mercy on his lips. Once he rose and buffeted the surface weakly. Once more he sank to rise no more till the "sea shall give up its dead." The doom of the parricide was accomplished.
But, as yet, Dick Harker lived; partially stunned by the blow he had received, he yet instinctively clutched at the tangled lines of seaweed washed into the crevices of the rocks by the strong rush of a hundred angry waves; these twisted ropes of marine vegetation held fast to their anchorage in many places, and Dick clung to them with the tenacity of despair. Once, twice, thrice he shrieked aloud for help, and the last time he did so was when St. John's awful face appeared on the surface of the sea for the last time, and then as the spray leaped up and dashed against his face it was on the face of the dead, with the seaweed twisted around him and holding him close like a shroud.
While this awful doom was being fulfilled on the two miserable men, Martha was lying on the summit of the cliff in a swoon. The dead man's conjecture was, so far, right—the poor girl had indeed overheard all, and in her new-born terror of the terrible men she had escaped by the window and mounted the rock, with the one idea of hiding from them. Peeping over the rocks, she had watched Dick's ineffectual search for her, ready at a moment to take to the scrub, where she knew she could find safety for a time; and when she saw the struggling men fall into the sea, it was her shriek that frightened the sea birds from their holes in the rocks and sent them screaming far away over the surface of the sea, now growing bright with the promise of a rising sun.
The poor girl lay there unconscious until the sun was fairly up, and his warm rays slanting across her face, then she rose and with an inconceivable horror remembered where she was and the circumstances that had brought her there. She looked down toward the hut and the landing place, but there was no sign of living being save old Prince the dog, who was sitting on his haunches in front of the hut and uttering, as she could see from the occasionally uplifted muzzle, uneasy whines. Were the two men drowned or had they gone away? Martha went to a spot from whence she could get a view of the cove where the boat was usually sheltered—it was there quietly rocking on the gentle swell that alone could reach it. With steps that hesitated, and limbs that trembled, the terrified girl ventured to descend and peep into the window of her late home. There was no one there, and in an instant the old dog was welcoming her with an unfeigned delight.
Martha dreaded to look over the spot from which she had seen the men disappear, but she did at last and met the upturned face of the dead man, as in his shroud of seaweed, he swayed to and fro with the sweeping and retiring waves; from that instant Martha's horror was so great that it was only an instinctive desperation that guided her as she seized Prince in her arms and fled to the boat. Of the particulars she never remembered anything more save that she was on the sea and steering for the lighthouse. The wind had fallen, but the waves were high, yet Martha remembered nothing save the awful face of the dead man tangled in the seaweed.
In the early morning, while Betsy was getting breakfast ready, old Daddy, the lighthouse keeper, ascended the lantern and, as was his wont, scanned the horizon and sea through an excellent telescope. All at once he shouted for his wife in tones so alarming that the old woman hastened to his side in mortal dread.
"Betsy, there is something wrong with our Martha! She is coming across all by herself in the boat."
"Oh, there's nothing in that, Daddy; Martha can manage the boat as well as Edgar himself," was the reply.
"It isn't that, it's the child's face. Look." And he steadied the glass for her eye. What Betsy saw was the young girl sitting, without hat or shawl, in the sternsheets of the boat with distended eyes, staring over the sea, and an awful rigid horror in a face blanched to an almost unearthly pallor.
"Ay, there is something dreadful happened," Betsy said quickly, "let us go down at once, Daddy."
They watched the boat from the landing-rock; it came toward them like a phantom boat with Martha's expressionless face appearing now and then as the little vessel rose and fell on the summit of the swell or in the trough of the watery hills. As she neared the landing-place, Martha rounded the boat, lowered her little sail, and stepped on the rock, where she instantly fell into Betsy's outstretched arms in a dead faint.
"Good Heavens above, what has happened?" cried the good old woman as she laid Martha gently down. "She has fainted, Daddy; fasten the boat quick and help me to carry her inside." Here, leaving the poor girl in the kind charge of her faithful old friends, let me take you again to the inn were the St. Johns were staying.
Mary St John was reclining in a deep chair near a window from which she could see the outspread sea for miles and miles; her lovely face was almost as pale as the pillow against which she leaned her soft cheek, and her golden hair hung loosely around her save when, with a thin little hand, she pushed it back from her forehead. Emily St. John, the dark young lady who had formed one of the picnic party on the rocks, who was indeed Harry St. John's sister, was bending over her cousin and speaking loving and soothing words to Mary.
"The boat is quite out of sight. Oh, how I wish we could have gone too, Emily!"
"My dear cousin, you know you were quite unable to go. Yesterday's excursion was too much for you; and, besides, there may be trouble with that dreadful man!"
"You are speaking of our uncle, my father's brother," Mary said gently.
"I know; alas! I know; but he has forfeited all claim to the name we bear. Pray, do not think of him as a St. John."
"I am sorry for him," Mary said quietly; "only Heaven knows how sorry, and as for my sister—my twin-sister. Oh, Emily! Shall I live to see her again?"
"My dear Mary, do not excite yourself so; who knows but the Colonel may bring her with him? If things go all right, Martha will return to us ere many hours."
"I had hoped to spend Christmas at home," the invalid said wistfully, "but that is now impossible. Still, if Martha is with us we may be quite happy, Emily, even here. I like the sea, but think of poor Martha having lived nearly all her life in that lonely place, while I have been blessed with every good and pleasant thing that God could bestow."
"Save one, and that the greatest gift of all—health," Emily thought, but she did not utter the thought aloud, and Mary's eyes were still fixed on the sea.
"I hear the doctor's voice," Emily said, after a moment's silence. "Was it not good of him to say he would stop with us until we could all go to Krewarra together? Only poor Mrs. Renfrew will be so disappointed and lonely. Still I know when she sees that the trip has done the doctor so much good she will forget her disappointment in having to spend the Christmas without him."
While this conversation was going on between the cousins a large sail-boat was nearing the cliff hut, and in it were, in addition to the two men who owned her, Colonel St. John and his two nephews. The faces of all three were anxious in expression, and every eye was turned towards the hut as the boat rounded the Point. The Colonel's field-glass was at once in requisition, and as he lowered it he spoke to the young men.
"I do not see a sign of life save the open door; there is no boat in the neighborhood, so I fear they are gone."
"The cove where Edgar s boat lies cannot be seen from here, sir," one of the men remarked, "and as for no smoke being in the chimney, every fisherman has his breakfast hours afore this, and timber is scarce."
The boat ran in to the landing-rock and the gentlemen mounted to the level of the hut. Not a sign of life, no sound, not even the shrill cry of a seagull greeted their arrival.
They entered the opened door; the hearth was cold, the hut was empty. On the floor was the tumbler Dick's angry gesture had broken to pieces; on the floor lay the glass which had fallen from Ranulph's hand when he heard the unexpected knock at the door. The little bundle Martha had prepared to take with her to the lighthouse lay on a bench, and everything else was as it might have been any morning in a fisherman's by the sea.
"There has been some disturbance here," the Colonel said, as he pointed to the shivered glasses. "Let us go outside and search."
All at once there was a cry of horror from Henry St. John, who had bent over the rocky precipice in front of the hut, and who had seen the same awful sight which had met Martha's eyes earlier in the morning, viz., the upturned face of Dick Harker, ever and anon covered and exposed by the rising and falling spray as he hung on the face of the rock supported by tangled seaweed.
"Oh! It is terrible. Look here!" the young man exclaimed. "It is the man who visited us last night."
"Yes, it is Dick Harker," the Colonel responded. "His bad life has met with an awful termination, but only his offended Maker knows how. We must, however, extricate the body ere the sea washes it away."
With the assistance of the boat and the boatmen, the corpse, with its white terror glaring yet from its sightless eyes, was released from the twining weed of the sea, and carried into the deserted hut; there it was left on Ranulph's bed to await the arrival of the proper authorities to investigate the matter.
"Uncle, I heard Martha allude to the lighthouse as a place she sometimes visited. Let us go there; we may at least hear something of her, or of the mysterious events which appear to have occurred here."
It was Harry who spoke, and he pointed out the distant lighthouse with which the boatmen were, of course, well acquainted. The boat was immediately turned toward the lonely home of old Daddy and his wife Betsy, and scarcely a word was exchanged until the two stood on the rough landing and told their business to the old lighthouse keeper.
"You will be calm, my dear," old Betsy said to Martha as she sat by the fire and heard all about the search being made for her. "You are better now, and a bright future is, thank God, opening for you. Remember, Martha, my child, it is your own father you are going to see."
Martha started to her trembling feet, and when the tall, grey-haired old gentleman with the kindly face and the sad eyes opened his arms, she fell into them and sobbed on his breast.
"My poor child; my long, lost daughter," the old soldier murmured, as he clasped her fondly to his heart, "you have been sorely tried, but it is all over now. Look up, my love, and let me see your mother's eyes."
It was a long conversation, and one broken by many tears that ensued between Colonel St. John and his newly-recovered daughter; but at length it was settled, and Martha bade a temporary farewell to her old friends of the lighthouse.
"Only for a month, my dear," old Betsy whispered, "and it was so kind of your good father to offer us a home on his station, for Daddy and I are getting too old now for this lonely life."
We are drawing near the close of our sad tale now, for Christmas Day had come, and the St. Johns were unable to leave the West Coast in consequence of gentle Mary's increasing debility. The coast inn was decorated with greenery in honour of the welcome anniversary of our Lord's earthly birth, and the very sea seemed to play and sparkle in a brighter sun than was granted to ordinary days. Colonel St. John had read the solemn and triumphant service appointed for that day of rejoicing when Christ was born, in the presence of his children, and their cousins, as well as of good Dr. Renfrew, and then all had gone away and left the sisters alone together.
They sat at the window, hand clasped in hand, and with their cheeks close together, as they gazed on the sea, or looked into each other's eyes. Martha was much changed; in her altered attire, and with the sad memory of the dreadful scene she had witnessed on the cliff shadowing her paled face she looked years older; yet, besides the fragile and almost ethereal form of Mary, she looked strong and robust. Her father's and her cousin's kisses that she had shared with her sister were yet tingling sweetly on her lips, but there was a weight on her heart that she could not account for, even by recalling the troubles she had so recently undergone.
"Martha, my sister, do you know why they have left us alone?" Mary asked, after a silence of some duration. "I have something to tell you, dear—something that I preferred to tell you with my own lips. Are you listening to me, sister?"
"Listening, Mary dear, of course I am, but my mind was wandering again to the cliff hut."
"Think of it no more, darling. Martha, have you ever imagined what heaven must be like?"
"No, yes. Well, dear Mary, when I was alone on the cliff, and the sun was shining on the waves, and the foam sparkling in the light as it is doing now, I have thought that there could be no heaven where there was no sea."
"There is a Giver of Life, and God Himself is the sun thereof.'" Mary spoke dreamily, but her eyes were fixed on her sister's face.
"How very pale you are, sister dear! But why do you think so much of heaven today, dear Mary?"
"Because I am going there."
"'This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,'" the dying girl murmured, as her eyes closed and she became insensible.
When she recovered, all her friends were near her, and the half-suppressed sobs, and sad despair in their faces, grieved her loving heart even as it was ceasing to beat.
"Father, do not grieve so. God has given you back another child, and He thinks it is time that our mother should have one of her lost ones with her in heaven."
"My darling, my darling!" was all the poor Colonel could say.
"Martha, kiss me—be good to him, my sister, Emily, brother. Harry, good bye, I am so tired, and there is a great rest there."
She pointed upward, laying her head back on the pillows, where, with a soft sigh, the gentle Mary bade adieu to sorrow and sickness, and resigned her spirit into the safe keeping of "Him who gave it."
Far from the West Coast, yet so near the Lakes that Martha might yet feast her eyes on sunlit and storm-blown water, sleeps Mary St. John. Time has smoothed mercifully many sad memories of the gentle girl, but that she is not forgotten the tender care bestowed on her place of repose is a faithful witness. With old Daddy or his kindly wife many an hour Martha passes by the grave, for Mary is buried on her father's own property, and as each Christmas returns there is a wreath of snow-white immortels laid over the lost sister. But happiness still grows around the St. Johns; Mary's brother has married Emily, and, much as most people disapprove of such close intermarriages, it is gravely surmised that Martha will wed her cousin, Henry St. John. That such a prospect is not unpleasant to the Colonel may be read in his contented smile as he sees them together, and recalls the painful circumstances under which they first met "On the West Coast."
Non sibi sed omnibus
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