Ernest Hornung.

Denis Dent: A Novel



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Denis shook his head.

"I am. Lungs. I'm afraid it's a case. Do you remember this early morning?"

The disfigured face made a ghastly protest. Devenish only smiled.

"It was a good sort of duel," he whispered. "And you see, you've won!"

He stretched out a deathly hand for the champagne. Denis reached it for him.

The surgeon stood in the opening of the tent, advanced a step, shrugged, and retired unseen. Ralph had not hidden his hand again. Denis held it in both of his.

"Ask her to forgive me," gasped the shallow whisper. "No… I can't ask you… I don't. But you might tell her – when it came to this sort of thing – "

And the deathly face lit up with such a smile as it had worn that morning, when Ralph Devenish waved his sword, and led his company to the succour of their comrades before the Sandbag Battery.

CHAPTER XXXI
TIME'S WHIRLIGIG

John Dent was a Yorkshire yeoman, born in the last years of the eighteenth century, of that hardy northern stock which is England's biceps to this day. As a very little boy he was sent to Richmond Grammar School, and there eventually educated beyond the needs of his vocation, which was to live all his days upon the land of his fathers. John Dent was quite prepared to do so when he had seen something of the world; and by thirty he had not only seen more of it than was usual in those times, but had fallen in love on his travels with a young Irish girl of a social station indubitably above his own. What was more important, the young Irish girl had fallen in love with John Dent, who was handsome, huge, and gentle, with no great sense of humour, but of tenderness and strength compact.

Being what he was, John Dent came to his point with startling directness, was accepted, left the party which he proposed to deplete, and traveled like the crow to Dublin, where a perfect old gentleman sent him about his business in the sweetest imaginable brogue. John Dent returned to Yorkshire with hardly a word, set his affairs in order, ascertained his income to a nicety, chartered a little ship at Whitehaven, and landed in Dublin with his business books under his arm and certain family documents in his wallet. This time he sent a note to Merrion Square, and was content to beard the perfect old gentleman in his official quarters. But to no purpose; he was not even suffered to produce his books or his papers; neither deed, document, nor yet banker's reference, he was smilingly informed, would recommend the match to which he aspired. John Dent replied that he was sorry, as he certainly meant to realize his aspiration, and since his beloved was of age, at the earliest possible moment. Dogged as could be seen, but more enterprising than was supposed, he went straight aboard his vessel, where Nora Devenish actually awaited him; and in two or three days they were leaving Gretna Hall as man and wife when a Carlisle coach rattled over the bridge and up the hill with the perfect old gentleman screaming curses from the box.

Such was the story of the marriage of Denis's parents in the last days of George IV.

Right or wrong, justified or unjustifiable, it led neither to long life nor to prosperity. Nora Devenish had the spirit to cut herself off from her own flesh and blood, but Nora Dent had neither the heart nor the health to bear a permanent severance. They never forgave her, and it broke her heart. Meanwhile the perpetual care of an ailing wife combined with the new Corn Laws to impoverish John Dent's estate. He did not live to see the repeal of the measures which had helped to ruin him; and he too died unforgiven, not only by his wife's family, but by himself for her early death. And the last thing that John Dent foresaw from his deathbed was the reunion of his name with that of Devenish in the very next generation.

Nevertheless, just as John Merridew had himself foreshadowed in a moment of emotion on the Australian coast, the place that was made for Denis in his firm led almost at once to a junior partnership. But the new partner was now enabled to bring in a little capital, and that at a time when the growing need of steamers was involving every line in large expense; his few thousands, however, were as nothing compared with his practical knowledge of the sea; and so, still in the 'fifties, a Devenish and a Dent were hand-in-glove.

Denis and Nan were not married until the winter before the Indian Mutiny, because Denis made a quick enough recovery to abide by an impulse, as he had always done, and to fight through the rest of the Crimean War. He was a sergeant of that ragged remnant of the Guards Brigade which marched through London on a midsummer's day and which the Queen welcomed from the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Thereafter Denis had quickly and quietly bought himself out, and it was as a civilian, once more shorn of his picturesque tatters, that he drove down to Hertfordshire for the second time in his life. He looked several years older. His habitual expression was a little grim and wary, the movement of head and eyes something staccato. But that wore off. And many people never noticed that the curve of one nostril was much deeper than the other, though it was there a Russian bayonet had been driven through his face.

They lived in London, if the part that was still Old Kensington could be so reckoned at that time. But in summer they took a cottage near Mr. Merridew, partly because it was called The Fortune, and was yet one of the smallest fortunes in the world, and partly because Nan loved roses, which grew on that rich soil as on no other. Shortly after Mr. Merridew's death his house, being sold, was turned into a school; after some years it became a great school; and their boys, the grandsons of the old red place, went back there on the way to Harrow.

Denis kept in touch with his first partners on the gold-fields, though it was some years before he saw either of them again. Doherty did almost as well as ever for some time after his departure, but the life was no longer what it had been, and the lad gave it up on hearing from Denis that there was no chance of his return. He went back to the station on the craggy coast where the North Foreland had met her doom. Denis next heard of him as a pioneer squatter in the Riverina country, and a partner of his former master, the kindly Kitto; and when they did meet in after life the younger man happened to be the richer of the two. His career was checkered but honourable, and his memory is one of the few green things in the district of his adoption. Denis saw more, however, of a bland clergyman who called on him in the City one fine May morning: he had come in for a family living in East Anglia, where the Dents found Parson Moseley as great a success with his crass parishioners as he had proved a failure among the quick and energetic diggers of the early days.

There was one other figure of those days whom Denis encountered twice in the 'fifties, once for a minute in Pall Mall, when an ill-advised expression of gratitude on the part of Denis curtailed an interchange of much interest, and a few years later at a social function of some magnitude to which Nan enticed her husband. She recognized the tall and lazy-looking gentleman who recognized Denis; in point of fact he was a public man, and far less lazy than he looked; but as Nan did not know him she withdrew to the nearest ottoman, where she looked very beautiful under the glass chandelier of the period (in spite of its unregenerate skirts) during the little conversation which Denis was careful not to cut short again.

"I hope you saw the news?" said the tall man, as though he and Denis had been meeting every day.

"The news from where, sir?"

"Black Hill Flat, if you happen to recollect such a place."

"I should think I did!" cried Denis. "But I haven't seen anything about it in the paper."

"I knew you had a good memory," said the tall man, smiling a little over his beard. "I suppose it doesn't by any chance hark back to what I told you would some day happen on Black Hill Flat?"

"Rather!" cried Denis again. "You used to say that gold would be found there sooner or later."

"It was found the other day, within a few feet of the top."

"You said it would be!"

"On the Native Youth side, and plenty of it, including a solid lump nearly as big as the one you got out of my old shaft. They call it the Nil Desperandum Nugget, which amuses me, because I never met another man who didn't despair of the place. I'm surprised you hadn't heard of it," said the old deep-sinker, and with his old nod passed on.

Nan was immensely excited under the glass chandelier; and excitement and bright lights still became her; but Denis had never known his wife so bad a listener.

"But you know who it is?" she asked him both at beginning and end.

"Indeed I don't."

"You know that man to speak to, and you don't know him by name?"

"No; who is he?"

And she told him with bated breath.

THE END

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