Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



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"My dear," said his wife to him while he was dressing in the morning, "you were very restless last night."

"Was I?" he remarked, with a guilty air.

"Yes. You were tossing about for hours, and murmuring something about a bill."

"Oh," he said, "the bank business. It is beginning to tell upon me, perhaps."

"Nonsense," said Aunt Leth; "you want a little medicine."

"Yes," he said, meekly; "that must be it."

"I dreamt of Ph?be all night long," said Aunt Leth. "What would I not give to see her dear face!"

"It is strange we hear nothing of her," he observed. "It is wearing upon Mr. Cornwall."

"And upon all of us. Fanny is quite a changed girl. All her high spirits seem to be going."

"It is terrible," said Mr. Lethbridge, absently. He loved Ph?be devotedly, but he was thinking of the bill.

"Tom Barley is going to Parksides to-night. 'Melia Jane says he is determined to get some news of the dear girl."

"I hope he will," said Mr. Lethbridge; and then they went down to breakfast.

On his way to the bank that morning he made up his mind that before the week was out he would confide his trouble to his wife.

CHAPTER XVIII
O RARE TOM BARLEY!

Aunt Leth's statement to her husband that Tom Barley was going to Parksides to-night, and was determined to get some news of Ph?be, was in exact accordance with that faithful fellow's determination. Hitherto in his visits to Parksides he had contented himself with wandering and lingering in the vicinity of the grounds; he had no right to enter them, and it was a certainty that he would get himself into difficulty if he committed a trespass. But he was now nerved to a daring pitch, for which 'Melia Jane slightly, and Fanny Lethbridge largely, were responsible. By 'Melia Jane he was led to believe that to render his young mistress a service which might be inestimable, and of which she stood sorely in need, depended entirely upon himself. The nature of this service, and the manner in which it was to be rendered, were a mystery to the elucidation of which he held no clue, and to all appearance he might continue to go to Parksides for years, as he had already been doing for months, without his being any the wiser. But Fanny had stepped in and implored him to do something – never mind what nor at how great a risk – to get one word from Ph?be that he could bring back to the Lethbridges. "What can I do, miss?" Tom had asked. "Get inside the grounds at night," Fanny had replied, "when Ph?be's father and that wicked wretch, Mrs. Pamflett, are asleep. You know the room in which my dear cousin sleeps. Perhaps you may see a light in it – if not the first time you go, the second, or third, or fourth. If you see a light it is almost certain that my cousin will be awake, because she always sleeps in the dark. Throw a little gravel up at her window; you will know how to act so that she shall not be frightened. She knows your voice, and has spoken a hundred times of your kindness to her.

Tell her you come from me and Aunt Leth; that we sent you. Ask her if she wants any help. Say that we are all ready to die for her; that we love her more than ever we did; that we have written again and again to her, and that we are certain that our letters have been kept from her; that Mr. Cornwall is here continually, and never ceases speaking of her; that he is faithful and true to her, and will be all his life. Say whatever comes into your mind, Tom, that you think will please and comfort her, and bring us back some news of her. Do, Tom, do!" Fanny said much more than this, and said it so excitedly and with so much fervour that there was no resisting her. So Tom Barley had promised, and he set out for Parksides determined to carry his resolution into effect. He knew what he was risking, and that if he were caught by Miser Farebrother or Mrs. Pamflett or Jeremiah prowling in the grounds in the dead of the night, he would be as good as ruined. He would be dismissed from the force, and all his bright hopes for the future would be destroyed. These considerations, however, did not deter him from putting his design into execution. His love for his young mistress was too profound for him to hesitate because there was danger ahead. All the more reason that he should go straight on to his service of humble love and duty.

He reached Beddington station at a few minutes past eleven o'clock, and he walked slowly thence to Parksides, congratulating himself that the night was dark, and that he was therefore not likely to be recognized. By midnight he was on the outskirts of the grounds. He was familiar with every inch of them, and he was soon immediately outside the old house, looking up at the windows. All was dark and silent; there came from within not a sound of life. There was no light in his young mistress's room, but the white blinds drawn down were an indication that it was inhabited. He resolved to wait an hour or two, and then, if all still remained silent, if no sign came to him, to make a cautious attempt to arouse Ph?be by throwing a little light gravel against the window-panes. He knew, also, in which room Miser Farebrother slept, and saw that all was dark therein. Up to this point he was safe.

He had been watching and waiting for nearly an hour when he was startled by a circumstance which could not but be unusual at such an hour of the night in that locality. For a horseman to gallop along the public road would have been reasonable enough, but for the rider to pull up immediately outside the grounds, to alight, to tie his horse to a hedge, to creep stealthily into the grounds, to peer around him in the dark for several minutes, not daring to move another step until he was convinced that he was alone and that his movements were not observed; then to creep on and on into the interior of the grounds, away from the house, to pause again and take from an inner pocket a dark lantern, and to commence to search the earth for some mark of which he was in quest – all this was unusual and suspicious; but it was exactly what occurred, and the man peering and searching, falling on his knees now and then, and seeming to tear at the earth, was none other than Jeremiah Pamflett! When the sounds of the horse's feet had ceased outside the grounds, Tom Barley had crept in that direction, and had seen what has been described. He recognized Jeremiah, but had not the slightest idea of the object which had brought the schemer to Parksides at such a strange hour. But it was not the first time that Jeremiah had been thus engaged. He was convinced that in some part of the grounds there was a spot in which Miser Farebrother had been in the habit of secreting large hoards of money. During the last three or four months the miser had drawn out of the bank at various times sums amounting in the aggregate to not less than ?7,000. Information which Jeremiah had received from his mother had forced upon him this conviction of a secret hiding-place. Even in the daylight, when he was strong enough to walk in the open air by the aid of his crutch stick, the miser was sometimes seen by Mrs. Pamflett creeping painfully onward in the direction to which Jeremiah was now devoting his attention. Lynx-eyed and fox-like in his movements, Miser Farebrother had never failed to discover when Mrs. Pamflett was watching him, and on every occasion he had peremptorily sent her about her business. He was too wary for her, but she was satisfied that he had this secret hiding-place; Jeremiah was satisfied of it also, and knowing that it would not be safe for him to search for it in daylight, he had adopted this means toward the discovery. Had it not been that it was almost vitally necessary that he should produce a large sum of money by a certain date to save himself from exposure, Jeremiah Pamflett might not have had the courage to do as he was doing now. The career into which he had been tempted by Captain Ablewhite had proved singularly disastrous; he had "plunged" and lost, and was now engaged in the desperate task of trying to get his money back. If not his money, some other person's money – he scarcely cared whose, or by what means, so long as he made himself safe; and surely in these midnight quests, cautious as he was, coming out of London disguised, and always careful to avoid observation, there was small danger of exposure.

He had not yet been successful. At first he had searched wildly, and without any distinct plan, but of late he had pursued the search systematically; mapping out the ground as it were, and examining it foot by foot; and so, on this night when he was watched by Tom Barley, he continued his examination. Four or five hundred yards off lay the house, in deep shadow. From where Tom Barley and Jeremiah Pamflett were lurking it could not be seen; and after Tom had been for some forty or fifty minutes observing Jeremiah's proceedings, it occurred to him that this was not the errand upon which he himself had come to Parksides. He moved silently back in the direction of the house, and started when he observed a light in the room occupied by Miser Farebrother. Some person, therefore, must be awake in the house. Tom felt that he was in a position of danger, but he would not desert his post. He fancied he heard voices proceeding from the room, but he was not sure, though his sense of hearing was extraordinarily acute. However it was, the impression of these real or fancied sounds did not remain upon him. He stood in silence for a few minutes, and then the light in the miser's room was suddenly extinguished. All was dark within and without. He moved in the direction of his young mistress's room; there was no indication that she was not asleep, and the knowledge he had gained that Miser Farebrother was passing a restless night was a warning not to attempt to arouse her on this occasion. He would leave it for another time. It was now past two o'clock. "One more peep at that scoundrel Jeremiah," he thought, "and then it will be as well that I should make tracks to London." It was his intention to foot it; a walk of ten or eleven miles was a small matter to such a pedestrian.

He did not fulfil his intention of going in search of Jeremiah. The front of the house opened, and a figure staggered blindly out. Tom Barley could not distinguish who it was, but it seemed to him that the person's movements were wild and uncertain, and that there was in them no attempt at concealment. The figure was approaching in his direction, swaying this way and that, attempting to catch at something for support; then the arms were thrown up, a moan of agony escaped the lips, and the figure slid rather than fell to the ground, where it lay still and motionless.

Tom Barley knew who it was the moment she fell. He darted forward and bent over her. Yes, it was Ph?be, his beloved mistress, with marks of cruel blows upon her, with blood staining her white neck and forehead! As he held her on his knee he saw these marks of blows and the oozing blood, and his heart beat with furious passion and indignation.

This, then, had been the life of his dear mistress, the sweetest lady the world contained; it was for this she had been immured in the prisonhouse of Parksides! But he, her devoted servant, was there to protect her now, and to convey her to a place of safety!

His passion deserted him; he became cold as ice. Had he arrived too late? Was she dead?

He put his ear to her heart. No, she was not dead. Faint as were her heart-beats, he heard them, and thanked God!

There was no time to lose – not a moment. He would take her at once to London, where love and truest pity awaited her; he would take her to the only home in which she had had an hour's real happiness.

But how was this to be accomplished? It must be done swiftly and in secret. There were no trains. He could have carried her light form easily to the station, but it would be hours before the departure of a train to London. There was no possibility of obtaining a conveyance or a horse.

A horse! An inspiration fell on him. Jeremiah's horse was tethered a couple of hundred yards away.

Quick as thought he acted. Swiftly and tenderly he lifted the inanimate form from the ground, swiftly and tenderly he bore it along; with a lightning movement he unfastened the rope, and was on the horse's back, clasping Ph?be closely to him. Away he galloped through the dark night toward London!

Jeremiah raised his head. What sound was that? The sound of a horse galloping away. He ran to the place by which he had fastened his horse. It was gone. "Curse my luck!" cried Jeremiah.

He dared not remain any longer. He must himself get back to London, and there was nothing for it but to walk the road. He did not doubt but that the horse had got loose, and was running riderless. Perhaps he would catch it up. He extinguished the light in his lantern, which he put into his pocket, buttoning his long coat over it. Then he shambled on, cursing and swearing.

The rushing air played about Ph?be's face and revived her. The horse, urged by Tom Barley, was racing like the wind. Tom, glancing down, saw his beloved mistress's eyes languidly open.

"Don't be frightened," he whispered. "I am with you – Tom Barley! We are riding to London. I am taking you to your aunt's house in Camden Town."

"Oh, Tom!" she murmured; and clasped her trembling arms about his neck, and laid her face close to his.

If ever a man tasted heaven on earth, Tom Barley tasted it then.

And Ph?be? O dolorous night, charged with woe and pain! O happy night, charged with visions of hope and glory! O blessed winds that kissed her hot and feverish face and neck! Loving hearts still beat for her; loving arms were waiting to welcome her. The sweetness overcame her; her eyes were filled with happy tears.

"Miss Ph?be," said Tom.

"Yes, Tom?"

"You must try and help yourself a bit."

"I will, Tom. Tell me what to do."

"In half an hour we shall be in London streets. Then I must take you off the horse. We can't ride on it to your aunt's door. There are reasons."

"Very well, Tom."

"Do you think you will be able to walk a bit?"

"I will try, Tom – and you will help me?"

"That I will. I could carry you, but it would draw attention upon us. Perhaps we may get a cab. Then there will be no difficulty."

"Tom, I will do everything you tell me."

"Thank you, Miss Ph?be."

They had taken the Croydon road to London Bridge, and in half an hour, when they reached a quiet street, in which no soul but themselves was to be seen, Tom lifted Ph?be from the horse.

"Hold on to me, Miss Ph?be, and turn your face a bit."

She did so. With a branch which he had plucked from the hedge and had used as a whip Tom struck the horse a smart blow. Away it galloped with an empty saddle on its back, and in three moments was lost to his sight.

"Now, Miss Ph?be, if we can only find a cab!"

Angel Fortune was on their side. They had taken scarcely a dozen steps when a four-wheeler turned the corner of the street. The bargain was soon made, and Ph?be and Tom, safely ensconced in the cab, were on their way to Camden Town.

"My dear," said Aunt Leth, shaking her husband, "the street-door bell has rung; and, hark! do you hear the loud knocking? What can have happened?"

He was out of bed in a moment and gliding down the stairs, and Aunt Leth quickly drew on a dressing-gown, and hastened after him.

"Open the door," cried Tom Barley, outside. "It's all right! There's nothing to be frightened at."

Uncle Leth threw open the door.

"Aunt Leth! oh, dear Aunt Leth!" murmured Ph?be, and fell sobbing into the good woman's arms.

"Ph?be! my poor dear Ph?be! Oh! look here! look here! There is blood upon her!"

"I am well and happy now!" sobbed Ph?be. "Oh! so happy! so happy! Dear aunt, dear uncle, don't let them take me from you again!"

"They never shall! they never shall! Oh, my poor dear! oh, my poor dear!"

Close, close, to the tender womanly heart, close to the faithful breast – closer, closer, closer!

"Ph?be!" screamed Fanny, flying down the stairs. "Oh, Ph?be! Ph?be! Mother, give her to me! give her to me!"

And here was 'Melia Jane, in the most outrageous of costumes, quite scandalous, indeed, running down to the kitchen to light the fire.

"I will tell you all to-morrow," said Tom Barley. "Nobody must know she is here. Good-night."

"Tom!" murmured Ph?be.

"Yes, Miss Ph?be?"

"Good-night, Tom."

"Good-night, miss."

He took the thin white hand she held out to him. She drew his face to hers and kissed him.

"Thank you, Tom! Oh, thank you!"

The tender light of the coming day shone upon his tear-stained face as he walked home to his humble bed.

CHAPTER XIX
A VISIT TO DONCASTER AND ITS RESULTS

The "system" which Jeremiah Pamflett, after infinite patience, had discovered of winning large sums of money upon the turf did not turn out the absolute certainty which his calculations upon paper had foreshadowed. At first all went well; he commenced with small amounts, and a peculiar run of wins in a certain direction favoured him. For three or four weeks his good fortune continued; every day's results showed a balance on the right, his lowest daily win being ?3, his highest ?62. At the end of that time he was the richer by ?280. So far, so good.

He did not think so; he was mad with himself for winning so little. That was because he had ventured so little. "What an idiot I am!" he groaned, in the solitude of his bedchamber. "What an idiot! what an idiot! Had I multiplied my stakes by fifty I should have won ?14,000. Where are my brains? Where is my pluck? Without courage, no one who was not born to riches has ever made a great fortune. And here am I wasting the precious time and letting my opportunities slip! ?14,000 in four weeks. Forty racing weeks a year, ?140,000. Five years of that, ?7,000,000. Oh, Lord! seven million pounds! Seven millions! I could double it while I was making it. Fourteen million pounds! What could I do with fourteen millions? What could I do?" he screamed. "What couldn't I do? I could turn the world topsy-turvy! I could become anything I liked! – a Prince – a King – an Emperor! And all in five years from to-day – with a long life before me to enjoy my money! I'll do it – I'll do it – I'll do it!"

These contemplations turned his head. He resolved to dash in and become a millionaire.

The race-courses upon which his initial trials were made were situated at an easy distance from London – Kempton Park, Sandown, Epsom, Croydon, Ascot, Hampton, Windsor, and other such meetings, from which, when the last race was run, he could reach Miser Farebrother's office at seven or eight o'clock in the evening.

"I'm going to commence my system in real earnest," said Jeremiah to Captain Ablewhite. "No more shillyshallying."

"Brave boy!" replied Captain Ablewhite admiringly. "Where?"

"Well," questioned Jeremiah, seeking information. "Where?"

"Come with me to Doncaster," said Captain Ablewhite. "Glorious place! No end of swells there, waiting to hand you their money. A fortune ready made for you. We'll have a rare week. I know to a certainty what's going to win the Leger. A dark 'un."

"Doncaster's a long way off," said Jeremiah ruminatively.

"All the better. You can manage it: throw over the office for five days. What is life without beer and skittles? You will come back rolling in money."

Jeremiah did manage it. Miser Farebrother had one of his worst attacks, and there was no likelihood of his being able to leave his room the Doncaster week. Away went Jeremiah on Monday, in the company of Captain Ablewhite and three other swells, to commence the solid foundation of the great fortune in store for him. He had made his preparations for the grand coup, and had possessed himself of no less a sum than two thousand pounds in ready cash. How he had obtained this money need not be too curiously inquired into; sufficient to say that it was his master's, and that forgery was the means by which he had come into possession of it. He had "borrowed" it for a week. When the Doncaster Meeting was over, he would be able to replace it. He had confided to his mother that he was leaving London for a few days, and had instructed her to communicate regularly with him at Doncaster, giving her the address of an inn at which he and Captain Ablewhite intended to stop. She had implored him to confide in her the nature of the business which took him away; but he was obdurate, and he sternly refused to let her into the secret.

"All it is necessary for you to know," he said to her, "is that when you see me next I shall have twenty thousand pounds of my own."

"Don't run yourself into danger," she begged. "Oh, Jeremiah, be careful!"

"Let me alone for that," he replied. "I know what I'm about."

On the road to Doncaster he played "Nap" with Captain Ablewhite and his swell friends, crown points, and when the train reached its destination he had won over forty pounds.

"A good commencement," he said to himself, elated at his good fortune.

"You have the luck of the devil," said one of the losers to him. "How do you manage it?"



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