Vol 9 ????
H. Rider Haggard ????
Book Index ???? ???? ????The Witch's Head ???? ????Jess ???? ????Mr. Meeson's Will ???? ????Colonel Quaritch, V.C. ???? ???? ????
The Witch's Head
???? ???? ???? First Published 1884 ???? ???? ???? ????Swell out, sad harmonies, ????From the slow cadence of the gathering years; ????For Life is bitter-sweet, yet bounds the flood ????Of human fears ????A death-crowned queen, from her hid throne she scatters ????Smiles and tears ???? ????Until Time turn aside, ????And we slip past him towards the wide increase ????Of all things beautiful, then finding there ????Our rest and peace; ????The mournful strain is ended. Sorrow and song ????Together cease. ???? ????A. M. Barber. ???? ???? Contents ???? ???? BOOK I ???? ????I. Ernest's Appearance ????II. Reginald Cardus Esq., Misanthrope ????III. Old Dum's Ness ????IV. Boys Together ????V. Eva's Promise ????VI. Jeremy Falls in Love ????VII. Ernest is Indiscreet ????VIII. A Garden Idyl ????IX. Eva Finds Something ????X. What Eva Found ????XI. Deep Waters ????XII. Deeper Yet
????XIII. Mr. Cardus Unfolds His Plans ????XIV. Good-Bye ????XV. Ernest Gets Into Trouble ????XVI. Madame's Work ???? BOOK II ???? ????I. My Poor Eva ????II. The Locum Tenens ????III. Eva Takes a District ????IV. Jeremy's Idea of a Shaking ????V. Florence on Marriage ????VI. Mr. Plowden Goes A-Wooing ????VII. Over the Water ????VIII. A Homeric Combat ????IX. Ernest's Love Letter ????X. A Way of Escape ????XI. Found Wanting ????XII. Ernest Runs Away ????XIII. Mr. Plowden Asserts His Rights ????XIV. The Virgin Martyr ????XV. Hans's City of Rest ????XVI. Ernest Accepts a Commission ????XVII. Hans Prophesies Evil ????XVIII. Mr. Alston's Views ????XIX. Isandhlwana ????XX. The End of Alson's Horse ???? BOOK III ???? ????I. The Cliffs of Old England ????II. Ernest's Evil Destiny ????III. Introspective ????IV. After Many Days ????V. Home Again ????VI. How It All Came About ????VII. Mazooku's Farewell ????VIII. Mr. Cardus Accomplishes His Revenge ????IX. Mad Atterleigh's Last Ride ????X. Dorothy's Triumph ???????? ????????????
I. Ernest's Appearance
????"Come here, boy, let me look at you."
????Ernest advanced a step or two and looked his uncle in the face. He was a noble-looking ladof about thirteen, with large dark eyes, black hair that curled over his head, and theunmistakable air of breeding that marks Englishmen of good race.
????His uncle let his wandering glance stray round him, but, wandering as it was, it seemed totake him in from top to toe. Presently he spoke again:
????"I like you, boy."
????Ernest said nothing.
????"Let me see—your second name is Beyton. I am glad they called you Beyton; it was yourgrandmother's maiden name, and a good old name too. Ernest Beyton Kershaw. By the way, have youever seen anything of your other uncle, Sir Hugh Kershaw?"
????The boy's cheek flushed.
????"No, I have not; and I never wish to," he answered.
????"Because when my mother wrote to him before she died"—here the lad's voice choked—"justafter the bank broke and she lost all her money, he wrote back and said that because hisbrother—I mean my father—had made a low marriage, that was no reason why he should supporthis child and widow; but he sent her five pounds to go on with. She sent it back."
????"That was like your mother, she always had a high spirit. He must be a cur, and he does notspeak the truth. Your mother comes of a better stock than the Kershaws. The Carduses are one ofthe oldest families in the Eastern counties. Why, boy, our family lived down in the Fens byLynn there for centuries, until your grandfather, poor weak man, got involved in his greatlawsuit and ruined us all. There, there, it has gone into the law, but it is coming back, it iscoming back fast. This Sir Hugh has only one son, by the way. Do you know that if anythinghappened to him you would be next in the entail? At any rate you would get the baronetcy."
????"I don't want his baronetcy," said Ernest, sulkily; "I will have nothing of his."
????"A title, boy, is an incorporeal hereditament, for which the holder is indebted to nobody.It does not descend to him, it vests in him. But tell me, how long was this before your motherdied—that he sent the five pounds, I mean?"
????"About three months."
????Mr. Cardus hesitated a little before he spoke again, tapping his white fingers nervously onthe table.
????"I hope my sister was not in want, Ernest?" he said, jerkily.
????"For a fortnight before she died we had scarcely enough to eat," was the blunt reply.
????Mr. Cardus turned himself to the window, and for a minute the light of the dull Decemberday shone and glistened upon his brow and head, which was perfectly bald. Then before he spokehe drew himself back into the shadow, perhaps to hide something like a tear that shone in hissoft black eyes.
????"And why did she not appeal to me? I could have helped her."
????"She said that when you had quarrelled with her about her marrying my father, you told hernever to write or speak to you again, and that she never would."
????"Then why did you not do it, boy? You knew how things were."
????"Because we had begged once, and I would not beg again."
????"Ah," muttered Mr. Cardus, "the old spirit cropping up. Poor Rose, nearly starving, anddying too, and I with so much which I do not want. O, boy, boy, when you are a man never set upan idol, for it frightens good spirits away. Nothing else can live in its temple; it is a placewhere all things are forgotten—duty, and the claims of blood, and sometimes those of honourtoo. Look now, I have my idol, and it has made me forget my sister and your mother. Had she notwritten at last when she was dying, I should have forgotten you too."
????The boy looked up puzzled.
????"Yes," went on his uncle in his dreamy way—"an idol. Many people have them; they keep themin the cupboard with their family skeleton; sometimes the two are identical. And they call themby many names, too; frequently it is a woman's name; sometimes that of a passion; sometimesthat of a vice, but a virtue's—not often."
????"And what is the name of yours, uncle?" asked the wondering boy.
????"Mine? O, never mind!"
????At this moment a swing-door in the side of the room was opened, and a tall, bony woman,with beady eyes, came through.
????"Mr. de Talor to see you, sir, in the office."
????Mr. Cardus whistled softly.
????"Ah," he said, "tell him I am coming. By the way, Grice, this young gentleman has come tolive here; his room is ready, is it not?"
????"Yes, sir; Miss Dorothy has been seeing to it."
????"Good; where is Miss Dorothy?"
????"She has walked into Kesterwick, sir."
????"O, and Master Jeremy?"
????"He is about, sir; I saw him pass with a ferret a while back."
????"Tell Sampson or the groom to find him and send him to Master Ernest here. That will do,thank you. Now, Ernest, I must go. I hope that you will be pretty happy here, my boy, when yourtrouble has worn off a bit. You will have Jeremy for a companion; he is a lout, and anunpleasant lout, it is true, but I suppose that he is better than nobody. And then there isDorothy"—and his voice softened as he muttered her name—"but she is a girl."
????"Who are Dorothy and Jeremy?" broke in his nephew; "are they your children?"
????Mr. Cardus started perceptibly, and his thick white eyebrows contracted over his dark eyestill they almost met.
????"Children!" he said, sharply; "I have no children. They are my wards. Their name is Jones;"and he left the room.
????"Well, he is a rum sort," reflected Ernest to himself, "and I don't think I ever saw such ashiny head before. I wonder if he oils it? But, at any rate, he is kind to me. Perhaps it wouldhave been better if mother had written to him before. She might have gone on living then."
????Rubbing his hand across his face to clear away the water gathering in his eyes at thethought of his dead mother. Ernest made his way to the wide fireplace at the top end of theroom, peeped into the ancient inglenooks on each side, and at the old Dutch tiles with which itwas lined, and then, lifting his coat after a grown-up fashion, proceeded to warm himself andinspect his surroundings. It was a curious room in which he stood, and its leading feature was
old oak-panelling. All down its considerable length the walls were oak-clad to the low ceiling,which was supported by enormous beams of the same material; the shutters of the narrow windowswhich looked out on the sea were oak, so were the doors and table, and even the mantelshelf.The general idea given by the display of so much timber was certainly one of stolidity, but itcould scarcely be called cheerful—not even the numerous suits of armour and shining weaponswhich were placed about upon the walls could make it cheerful. It was a remarkable room, butits effect upon the observer was undoubtedly depressing.
????Just as Ernest was beginning to realise this fact, things were made more lively by thesudden appearance through the swing-door of a large savage-looking bull-terrier, which began tosteer for the fireplace, where evidently it was accustomed to lie. On seeing Ernest it stoppedand sniffed.
????"Hullo, good dog!" said Ernest.
????The terrier growled and showed its teeth.
????Ernest put out his leg towards it as a caution to keep it off. It acknowledged thecompliment by sending its teeth through his trousers. Then the lad, growing wroth, and beingnot free from fear, seized the poker and hit the dog over the head so shrewdly that the bloodstreamed from the blow, and the brute, losing his grip, turned and fled howling.
????While Ernest was yet warm with the glow of victory, the door once more swung open,violently this time, and through it there came a boy of about his own age, a dirty deep-chestedboy, with uncut hair, and a slow heavy face in which were set great grey eyes, just now ablazewith indignation. On seeing Ernest he pulled up much as the dog had done, and regarded himangrily.
????"Did you hit my dog?" he asked.
????"I hit a dog," replied Ernest politely, "but——"
????"I don't want your 'buts.' Can you fight?"
????Ernest inquired whether this question was put with a view of gaining general information orfor any particular purpose.
????"Can you fight?" was the only rejoinder.
????Slightly nettled, Ernest replied that under certain circumstances he could fight like atom-cat.
????"Then look out; I'm going to make your head as you have made my dog's."
????Ernest, in the polite language of youth, opined that there would be hair and toe-nailsflying first.
????To this sally, Jeremy Jones, for it was he, replied only by springing at him, his hairstreaming behind like a Red Indian's, and, smiting him severely in the left eye, caused him tomeasure his length upon the floor. Arising quickly, Ernest returned the compliment withinterest; but this time they both went down together, pummelling each other heartily. With whomthe victory would ultimately have remained could scarcely be doubtful, for Jeremy, who even atthat age gave promise of enormous physical strength which afterwards made him such a notedcharacter, must have crushed his antagonist in the end. But while his strength still enduredErnest was fighting with such ungovernable fury, and such a complete disregard of personalconsequences, that he was for a while, at any rate, getting the best of it. And luckily forhim, while matters were yet in the balanced scales of Fate, an interruption occurred. For atthat moment there rose before the blurred sight of the struggling boys a vision of a smallwoman—at least she looked like a woman—with an indignant little face and an upliftedforefinger.
????"O, you wicked boys! what will Reginald say, I should like to know? O, you bad Jeremy! I amashamed to have such a brother. Get up!"
????"My eye!" said Jeremy thickly, for his lip was cut, "it's Dolly!"
II. Reginald Cardus, Esq., Misanthrope
????When Mr. Cardus left the sitting-room where he had been talking to Ernest, he passed down apassage in the rambling old house which led him into a courtyard. On the farther side of theyard, which was walled in, stood a neat red-brick building one story high, consisting of tworooms and a passage. On to this building were attached a series of low green-houses, andagainst the wall at the farther end of these houses was a lean-to in which stood the boilerthat supplied the pipes with hot water. The little red-brick building was Mr. Cardus's office,for he was a lawyer by profession; the long tail of glass behind it were his orchid-houses, fororchid-growing was his sole amusement. The tout ensemble, office and orchid-houses, seemed
curiously out of place in the grey and ancient courtyard where they stood, looking as they didon to the old one-storied house, scarred by the passage of centuries of tempestuous weather.Some such idea seemed to strike Mr. Cardus as he closed the door behind him, preparatory tocrossing the courtyard.
????"Queer contrast," he muttered to himself; "very queer. Something like that between ReginaldCardus, Esquire, Misanthrope, of Dum's Ness, and Mr. Reginald Cardus, Solicitor, Chairman ofthe Stokesly Board of Guardians, Bailiff of Kesterwick, &c. And yet in both cases they are partof the same establishment. Case of old and new style!"
????Mr. Cardus did not make his way straight to the office. He struck off to the right, andentered the long line of glasshouses, walking up from house to house, till he reached thecompartment where the temperate sorts were placed to bloom, which was connected with his officeby a glass door. Through this last he walked softly, with a cat-like step, till he reached thedoor, where he paused to observe a large coarse man, who was standing at the far end of theroom, looking out intently on the courtyard.
????"Ah, my friend," he said to himself, "so the shoe is beginning to pinch. Well, it is time."Then he pushed the door softly open, passed into the room with the same cat-like step, closedit, and, seating himself at his writing-table, took up a pen. Apparently the coarse-looking manat the window was too much absorbed in his own thoughts to hear him, for he still stood staringinto space.
????"Well, Mr. de Talor," said the lawyer presently, in his soft, jerky voice, "I am at yourservice."
????The person addressed started violently, and turned sharply round. "Good 'eavens, Cardus,how did you get in?"
????"Through the door, of course; do you suppose I came down the chimney?"
????"It's very strange, Cardus, but I never 'eard you come. You've given me quite a start."
????Mr. Cardus laughed, a hard little laugh. "You were too much occupied with your ownthoughts, Mr. de Talor. I fear that they are not pleasant ones. Can I help you?"
????"How do you know that my thoughts are not pleasant, Cardus? I never said so."
????"If we lawyers waited for our clients to tell us all their thoughts, Mr. de Talor, it wouldoften take us a long time to reach the truth. We have to read their faces, or even their backssometimes. You have no idea of how much expression a back is capable, if you make such thingsyour study; yours, for instance, looks very uncomfortable to-day: nothing gone wrong, I hope?"
????"No, Cardus, no," answered Mr. de Talor, dropping the subject of backs, which was, he felt,beyond him; "that is, nothing much, merely a question of business, on which I have come to askyour advice as a shrewd man."
????"My best advice is at your service, Mr. de Talor: what is it?"
????"Well, Cardus, it's this." And Mr. de Talor seated his portly frame in an easy-chair, andturned his broad, vulgar face towards the lawyer. "It's about the railway-grease business——"
????"Which you own up in Manchester?"
????"Yes, that's it."
????"Well, then, it ought to be a satisfactory subject to talk of. It pays hand over fist, doesit not?"
????"No, Cardus, that is just the point: it did pay, it don't now."
????"Well, you see, when my father took out the patent, and started the business, his 'ouse wasthe only 'ouse on the market, and he made a pot, and I don't mind telling you, I've made a pottoo; but now, what do you think?—there's a beggarly firm called Rastrick & Codley that tookout a new patent last year, and is underselling us with a better stuff at a cheaper price thanwe can turn ours out."
????"Well, we've lowered our price to theirs, but we are doing business at a loss. We hoped toburst them, but they don't burst: there's somebody backing them, confound them, for Rastrick &Codley ain't worth a sixpence. Who it is the Lord only knows. I don't believe they knowthemselves."
????"That is unfortunate, but what about it?"
????"Just this, Cardus. I want to ask your advice about selling out. Our credit is good, and wecould sell up for a large pile—not so large as we could have done, but still large—and Idon't know whether to sell or hold."
????Mr. Cardus looked thoughtful. "It is a difficult point, Mr. de Talor, but for myself I amalways against caving in. The other firm may smash after all, and then you would be sorry. Ifyou were to sell now you would probably make their fortunes, which I suppose you don't want todo."
????"Then you are a very wealthy man; you are not dependent on this grease business. Even ifthings were to go wrong, you have all your landed property here at Ceswick's Ness to fall backon. I should hold, if I were you, even if it was at a loss for a time, and trust to the fortuneof war."
????Mr. de Talor gave a sigh of relief. "That's my view, too, Cardus. You are a shrewd man, andI am glad you jump with me. Damn Rastrick & Codley, say I!"
????"O yes, damn them by all means," answered the lawyer, with a smile, as he rose to show hisclient to the door.
????On the farther side of the passage was another door, with a glass top to it, which gave onto a room furnished after the ordinary fashion of a clerk's office. Opposite this door Mr. deTalor stopped to look at a man who was within, sitting at a table writing. The man was old, oflarge size, very powerfully built, and dressed with extreme neatness in hunting costume—boots,breeches, spurs and all. Over his large head grew tufts of coarse grey hair, which hung down indishevelled locks about his face, giving him a wild appearance, that was added to by a curiousdistortion of the mouth. His left arm, too, hung almost helpless by his side.
????Mr. Cardus laughed as he followed his visitor's gaze. "A curious sort of clerk, eh?" hesaid. "Mad, dumb, and half-paralysed—not many lawyers could show such another."
????Mr. de Talor glanced at the object of their observation uneasily.
????"If he's so mad, how can he do clerk's work?" he asked.
????"O, he's only mad in a way; he copies beautifully."
????"He has quite lost his memory, I suppose?" said de Talor, with another uneasy glance.
????"Yes," answered Mr. Cardus, with a smile, "he has. Perhaps it is as well. He remembersnothing now but his delusions."
????Mr. de Talor looked relieved. "He has been with you many years now, hasn't he, Cardus?"
????"Yes, a great many."
????"Why did you bring him 'ere at all?"
????"Did I never tell you the story? Then if you care to step back into my office I will. It isnot a long one. You remember when our friend"—he nodded towards the office—"kept the hounds,and they used to call him 'Hard-riding Atterleigh'?"
????"Yes, I remember, and ruined himself over them, like a fool."
????"And of course you remember Mary Atterleigh, his daughter, with whom we were all in lovewhen we were young?"
????Mr. de Talor's broad cheek took a deeper shade of crimson as he nodded assent.
????"Then," went on Mr. Cardus, in a voice meant to be indifferent, but which now and againgave traces of emotion, "you will also remember that I was the fortunate man, and, with herfather's consent, was engaged to be married to Mary Atterleigh so soon as I could show him thatmy income reached a certain sum." Here Mr. Cardus paused a moment, and then continued, "But Ihad to go to America about the great Norwich bank case, and it was a long job, and travellingwas slow in those days. When I got back, Mary was—married to a man called Jones, a friend ofyours, Mr. de Talor. He was staying at your house, Ceswick's Ness, when he met her. But perhapsyou are better acquainted with that part of the tale than I am."
????Mr. de Talor was looking very uneasy again now.
????"No, I know nothing about it. Jones fell in love with her like the rest, and the next Iheard of it was that they were to be married. It was rather rough on you, eh, Cardus? but,Lord, you shouldn't have been fool enough to trust her."
????Mr. Cardus smiled, a bitter smile. "Yes, it was a little rough, but that has nothing to dowith my story. The marriage did not turn out well; a curious fatality pursued all who had anyhand in it. Mary had two children; and then did the best thing she could do—died of shame andsorrow. Jones, who was rich, went fraudulently bankrupt, and ended by committing suicide.'Hard-riding Atterleigh' flourished for a while. Then lost his money on horses and a ship-building speculation, and got a paralytic stroke that took away all his speech and most of hisreason. I brought him here to save him from the madhouse."
????"That was kind of you, Cardus."
????"Oh no, he is worth his keep, and besides, he is poor Mary's father. He is under the fixedimpression that I am the devil; but that does not matter."
????"You've got her children, too, eh?"
????"Yes, I have adopted them. The girl reminds me of her mother, though she will never haveher mother's looks. The boy is like old Atterleigh. I do not care about the boy. But, thankGod, they are neither of them like their father."
????"So you knew Jones?" said de Talor, sharply.
????"Yes, I met him after his marriage. Oddly enough, I was with him a few minutes before hedestroyed himself. There, Mr. de Talor, I will not detain you any longer. I thought that youcould perhaps tell me something of the details of Mary's marriage. The story has a fascinationfor me, its results upon my own life have been so far-reaching. I am sure that I am not at thebottom of it yet. Mary wrote to me when she was dying, and hinted at something that I cannotunderstand. There was somebody behind who arranged the matter, who assisted Jones' suit. Well,well, I shall find it all out in time, and whoever it is will no doubt pay the price of hiswickedness, like the others. Providence has strange ways, Mr. de Talor, but in the end it is aterrible avenger. What! are you going? Queer talk for a lawyer's office, isn't it?"