THE BLUE PAVILIONS
THE TWO PAVILIONS (continued).
"We must have an apiarium," Captain Barker announced a week later.
"What's that?" Mr. Swiggs asked.
"Half a dozen beehives, at least."
"There is nothing," pursued Captain Barker, "that gives such character to a garden as an apiarium unless it be fishponds. I will have both."
"The fishponds shall be constantly supplied with running water. I will have three ponds at different levels, connected with miniature waterfalls and approached by an allee verte. The glimpse of water between green hedges will be extremely refreshing to the eye. The apiarium shall stand close to these ponds—as Virgil commends:"
At liquidi fontes et stagna virentia musco
"—And shall be surrounded with beds of violets and lavender and such blue flowers as bees especially love. When, Narcissus, I glance over the hedge at the back of the house and behold Captain Runacles' two acres lying waste, cumbered like a mining country with the ruins of his mechanical toys, I have a mind to—"
"He'll neither sell nor lend."
"I perceive that in time we must set about draining so much of the marsh outside as belongs to me. There, if anywhere, the fishponds must lie. In the meantime there is a full rood of ground beyond the northern hedge that we may consider. By cutting a path through the privet there and enclosing this parcel, we gain for our bees a quadrangle which will not only give them their proper seclusion, but may be planted in the classical style without detriment to the general effect of our garden. The privet serving as a screen.…"
Invigorated by Mr. Swiggs's opposition, the little man continued for twenty minutes to revel in details, and ended by rushing his companion off to examine the ground. In his hot fit he forgot all about Tristram, who, tired of listening, had slipped away among the gooseberry-bushes, with a half-eaten slice of bread and butter in his hand.
The fruit proved green and hard—for it was now the third week of May—and by the time his bread and butter was eaten the boy had a fancy to explore farther. He wandered through the strawberry-beds, and, finding nothing there but disappointment, allowed himself to run lazily after a white butterfly, which led him down to the front of the pavilion, over the parterres of budding tulips and across to an east border gay with heart's-ease, bachelor's buttons, forget-me-nots and purple honesty. The scent of budding yews met him here, blown softly across from Captain Runacles' garden. The white butterfly balanced himself on this odorous breeze, and, rising against it, skimmed suddenly over the hedge and dropped out of sight.
Now there was set, under an archway in this hedge, a blue door, the chinks of which were veiled with cobwebs and the panels streaked with the silvery tracks of snails. By this pervius usus (as Captain Runacles called it) the two friends had been used to visit each other, but since the quarrel it had never been opened. No lock had been fixed upon it, however. Only the passions of two obstinate men had kept it shut for four years and more.
The child contemplated this door for a minute, then lifted himself on tip-toe and stretched his hand up towards the rusty latch. It was a good six inches above his reach.
He glanced back over his shoulder. Nobody was in sight. His eyes fell on a stack of flower-pots left by Narcissus beside the path. He fetched one, set it upside-down in front of the door and climbed atop of it.
This time he reached the latch and lifted it with some difficulty. His weight pressed the door open and he fell forward, sprawling on hands and knees, into the next garden.
He picked himself up, and was on the point of fetching a prolonged howl, but suddenly thought better of it and began to stare instead.
Barely six paces in front of him, and in the centre of a round garden-bed, a small girl was kneeling. She held a rusty table-knife, the blade of which was covered with mould; and as she gazed back at him the boy saw that her face was stained with weeping.
"I was just thinking of you, little boy, and beginning to despise you, when plump—in you tumbled."
"But, I say—look here, you know—I've been told what despising is, and if you despise me you ought to say why."
"Because I've been ordered to. I'm going to do it out of this book here. Listen: 'A point is that which has no parts and no magnitude,' and that's only the beginning. Oh, my dear, I'll wither you up—you just wait a bit!"
She dug the knife viciously into the earth.
"I don't care," said Tristram affably.
"P'r'aps you don't know what 'Don't Care' came to?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, he came to—a place. It was a good deal deeper down than this hole I'm digging."
"What's the hole for?"
"My doll, here. I've got to put away childish things; so I'm going to cover her right up and never see her face again. Oh! oh!"
She began to sob as if her heart would break.
"I wouldn't cry if I were you. I didn't cry just now when I tumbled off the flower-pot."
"You don't know what it is to be a mother."
"No, but I can dig ever so much better than you. Look here. I've got a spade of my own, and I'll show you how to dig properly, if you like."
He ran off and returned with it in less than a minute. In another minute they were engrossed in the burial rites, the girl still playing at tragedy, but enjoying herself immensely.
"We must read something over the remains," she announced.
"Because it's always done, unless the dead person is buried with a stake through his inside."
"Then we'd better take her out again and put a stake through her; because I can't read."
"Haven't you begun to learn yet?"
"Well," said Sophia, picking up the Euclid, "you can hold a corner of the book and listen to what I read, and perhaps you can repeat some of it after me, you contemptible boy."
They were standing over the doll's grave, side by side, and chanting in antiphon the fourth proposition of the First Book of Euclid, when Captain Runacles came round the corner of the house and halted to rub his eyes.
At the sound of his footstep on the gravel Sophia snatched the book from Tristram and looked desperately round. It was too late. Her father was glaring down upon them both, with his hands behind him and his chin stuck forward.
"You miserable child!"
He pronounced it deliberately, syllable by syllable, and turned upon Tristram.
"Will you kindly explain, sir, to what I owe the honour of your presence in my garden?"
Tristram, who had never before been addressed with harshness, failed to understand the tone of this speech, and answered with amiable directness—
"I tumbled in, off a flower-pot."
"Yes; and I stayed because I liked the girl here."
"You do her infinite honour."
"I'm going away now because I'm hungry. But I'll come back again after dinner, all right."
"No," said Captain Runacles grimly; "on that point you must allow me to correct you. You infernal young cub, if I catch you here again—"
"Hi! Captain!" interrupted a voice at the foot of the garden.
Doctor Beckerleg stood beside the blue gate and held it open to admit another visitor, whose dress and appearance were unfamiliar to the Captain. He paused midway in his threat and removed his eyes from the children. Sophia crept towards the house, while Tristram seized his opportunity and slipped away to the safe side of the privet hedge.
"Let me present," said the Doctor, "Mr. Josias Finch, of Boston, New England."
"Attorney-at-law," Mr. Finch added, lifting his hat politely.
He was a little man with a triple chin and small, intelligent eyes that twinkled deep in a round, fat face. His dress was of a slate-coloured material, decorated with silver buttons, and he wore a voluminous wig.
"With news for you, Captain."
"Important news," Mr. Finch echoed. He pulled out a silver snuff-box and offered it to Captain Runacles. "You don't indulge? But you will suffer me, no doubt. Ah," he went on, inhaling a pinch, "it has been a long journey, sir, and my stomach abhors sea-voyaging."
"Shall we step into the house?" suggested Captain Runacles.
"By all means, sir. My business is simple, but may require some elucidation. May I suggest that Dr. Beckerleg accompanies us? He is already acquainted with the drift of my commission, for reasons I will expound hereafter."
"Of course. Come in, Doctor." He led the pair into his dining-room. "I may as well state, Mr. Finch, that my temper is somewhat impatient. If you come as a friend, my hospitality is yours for as long as you care to use it; but I'd take it kindly if you came to the heart of your business at once."
"To be sure, sir, and a very proper attitude. I plunge, then, into the middle of affairs. You will doubtless remember Silvanus Tellworthy, younger brother of the late Sir Jabez Tellworthy whose virtues recently ceased to adorn this neighbourhood."
"His conscience led him to exchange this country, in the thirty-fifth year of his age, for a soil more amical to his religious opinions."
"I have heard 'twas for fear of the attentions of a widow in Harwich; but proceed."
"After amassing a considerable fortune he died, sir, of a paralytical stroke, upon the 12th of November last."
"I am sorry to hear it."
"That was the common expression of Boston at the time. Dismissing for a more leisurely occasion the consideration of his civic virtues, I may say that I had the honour to possess his confidence in the double capacity of friend and legal adviser. It fell to me to draw up his will, some few years before his decease; and now I am left to the task of giving it effect. He was a childless man, and, with the exception of some trifling legacies to the town of Boston and a few private friends, bequeathed his wealth to his only niece, Margaret, daughter of the Sir Jabez Tellworthy already mentioned, and her heirs."
Captain Runacles uncrossed his legs and addressed Dr. Beckerleg.
"Doctor, haven't you brought this gentleman to the wrong pavilion?"
"Wait a moment."
"I should rather say," Mr. Finch continued, "that a life interest only was bestowed upon Margaret Salt, the bulk of the estate going to the anticipated heirs of her body, and being (also by anticipation) apportioned among them on a principle of division which need not occupy our attention, for (as it turns out) she has left but one child. My client made this will soon after receiving the news of his niece's marriage with Captain Roderick Salt, and before he had any reason to suspect that gentleman's real character. It was therefore natural that in selecting a couple of trustees he regarded the Captain as the man who, of all others, might be reckoned on to look after the interests of the child or children. When, however, the unamiable qualities of Captain Salt reached his ear, he would doubtless have made some alteration in the will, but for the tidings of that officer's death in the Low Countries. He had such confidence in the surviving trustee—"
"Man alive!" Captain Runacles broke in, "if you are talking of yourself, let me advise you to quit England by the first ship that sails. The child is already furnished with a guardian—a guardian, my dear sir, who will nullify your legal claim upon the child by the simple expedient of taking your life."
"But, excuse me—"
"You will waive your claim, of course. But let me advise you also to conceal it; for Captain Barker is quite capable, should he get hold of this will, of regarding your mere existence as an insult."
"But, dear me—if you'll allow me to speak—I am not talking of myself."
"No; I am not the child's legal guardian."
"I congratulate you. But who is it, then?"
"It is you, Captain Runacles."
"What!" The Captain leapt up and glared at Mr. Finch incredulously.
"Here is a copy of the will; read for yourself. My friend, Silvanus Tellworthy, remembered you as a friend of his early days and as a man of probity. He had heard also, from time to time, news of your public actions that increased his esteem. He was informed—pardon me if I mention it—of your sincere and honourable affection for his niece; and, indeed, hoped, I may say—"
"No more on that point, if you please."
"Sir, I am silent, and ask your pardon."
"But—but—Doctor, this is simply astounding. Do you hear what this gentleman says?—that I—I alone—am Tristram's guardian after all?"
Mr. Finch and Dr. Beckerleg exchanged an anxious look. The Doctor cleared his throat and took up the story.
"No, my dear Captain, I regret that you make one mistake. You said 'alone.'"
"What? Is there another trustee?"
"There is the man already mentioned—Roderick Salt."
"Tut, tut—he's dead."
"I fear, on the contrary, that he's alive."
"But he was drowned, confound him!"
"Some meddling Netherlander, cursed with too much humanity, must have baulked the will of Heaven by dragging him out of the ditch and reviving him. He was rescued, sir, and clapped into prison; escaped by turning traitor and entering the service of the Prince of Orange— in what capacity I dare not say, but likely enough as a spy, or perhaps a kidnapper of soldiers. There are plenty of the trade along the frontiers just now. He has changed his name, but has been recognised by more than one Harwich man at The Hague, and again at Cuxhaven. For a year now I have heard nothing of him. Belike he is off upon a dirty mission to some German principality no bigger than your back-garden; ambassadors of his size are as easy to find on the Continent of Europe as a needle in a bottle of hay. Or maybe he wanders on some gaming campaign of his own."
The face of Captain Runacles, as the Doctor proceeded, went through three rapid changes of colour—white, scarlet and purple.
"You knew all this?" he shouted, the congested veins standing out upon his temples; "you knew all this, and kept us in the dark?"
"I did. It affected the child in no way. The fellow clearly knew nothing, or cared nothing, about Tristram. Even supposing—which was absurd—that he would wish to burden himself with the boy, I felt pretty sure of Barker's ability to cope with him at the briefest notice. Moreover, considering his mode of life, I hoped by waiting a very short while to be able to tell you that Captain Salt's career was ended by the halter. You see, he was evidently not born to be drowned, and I drew the usual inference. But Mr. Finch's news puts a very different complexion on the business. Tristram being heir, as I understand, to some fifteen hundred pounds per annum—"
"Mr. Finch," said the Captain calmly, stepping to the door and locking it, "have you, by any chance, the intention of seeking out my co-trustee?"
"H'm: I am bound, sir, to consider my duty as a professional man."
"Let me entreat you also to reconsider it."
The little attorney glanced over his shoulder at the closed door.
"Sir," he replied with dignity, "I perceive that I have been unfortunate enough to give you a wrong notion of my character. Let me say that, in interpreting my duty, I am even less likely to be coerced by threats than by the strict letter of the law. I will not be dragooned. And I decide nothing until you have opened that door."
"And that's mighty well said," commented Dr. Beckerleg.
Captain Jemmy slipped back the bolt.
"I shall nevertheless hold you to account," he growled.
"Thank you; I am accustomed to responsibility. And now let me say that as the child seems to be in good hands—"
"On the contrary, he's in outrageously bad ones."
"—Or rather, in the hands of an upright and kindly gentleman, I think we may perhaps agree that these rumours about Captain Salt are—shall we say?—too good to be true. May I ask Dr. Beckerleg here if he believes in ghosts?"
"Firmly," answered the Doctor, hiding a smile.
"I have known occasions," the attorney went on, with a serious face, "when a cautious belief in ghosts has proved of the very highest service in dealing with apparently intractable problems. Or suppose we call it an hypothesis, liable to correction?"
"That's it," assented the Captain heartily. "I can believe Roderick Salt to be a ghost until he comes to me and proves that he is not."
"And then I'll make him one."
The corners of Mr. Finch's mouth twitched perceptibly.
"Gently, dear sir! Remember, please, that I am only concerned with the immediate situation. To-morrow I start again for Bristol, leaving the future to be dealt with as your prudence may direct. But I have no doubt," he added, with a bow "that you will act, in all contingencies, with a single eye to the child's welfare. It is understood, then, that the child, Tristram Salt, remains under the care of Captain Barker, your friend, and his adoptive father—"
"Not at all."
"I think so," said Dr. Beckerleg quietly, looking straight into the Captain's eyes.
"That's for me to decide, Doctor."
"Tut, tut! it was decided the moment you were born."
"I think," Mr. Finch interposed, "it is time I gave Captain Runacles some necessary information about the boy's inheritance."
It was close upon four o'clock when the little blue door which, until that morning, had remained shut for over four years was opened a second time and Captain Runacles stepped through into Captain Barker's domain. His wig was carefully brushed and he carried a gold-headed cane. Whatever emotion he may have felt was concealed by the upright carriage and solemn pace proper to a visit of state.
Captain Barker, who stood at the lower end of the garden and stooped over his beloved tulips, started at the sound of footsteps, looked round, and hastily plucking his wig from the handle of a spade that stood upright in the mould by his elbow, arranged it upon his bald scalp and awaited the other's advance.
The pair did not shake hands.
"I have come to speak with you about—er—Tristram." The name stuck in Captain Jeremy's throat.
"The boy strayed into your premises to-day. I know it. If you are aggrieved by such a trifle—"
"I am not. If you doubt the sufficiency of my excuse for calling upon you, let me say at once that I come as the boy's guardian."
"Upon my word—"
"As his legal guardian."
"Bah! This is too much! Do you conceive yourself to be jesting?"
"Have you ever known me to jest?"
"Not, at any rate, upon parchment. Be so good as to run your eye over this."
The little man took the copy of Silvanus Tellworthy's will and fumbled it between his fingers.
"Is this some dirty trick of lawyer's work?"
"Do you really wish me to read it?"
"Unless you prefer me to explain."
"Very well, then."
And Captain Runacles proceeded to explain the will in a hard, methodical voice, nodding his head whenever he reached a point of importance at the parchment which rustled between Captain Barker's fingers. For a while this rustle sounded like the whisper of a gathering storm.
"It follows from this," concluded Captain Runacles, "that I am responsible for the child's upbringing. Can you carry the reasoning a step farther?"
The little man looked up. The wrath had clean died out of his puckered face; and in place of it there showed a blank despair, mingled with loathing and unspeakable bitterness of soul.
"Yes, I can," he replied very slowly, and turning away his face leant a hand on the spade beside him. "Oh, Jemmy, Jemmy!" he muttered.
There was no entreaty in the words, but they pierced Captain Jemmy's heart like two stabs of a knife. He took a step forward and stretched out a hand as if to lay it on his old friend's shoulder. The little man jumped aside, faced him again, hissing out one word—
The arm dropped.
"Jack—I'm sorry; but you have drawn the wrong conclusion."
The pair looked each other in the face for a moment, and Captain Runacles went on, but more coldly and as if repeating a task—
"Yes, the wrong conclusion. For my own part, as you once pointed out, I have a girl. I may add that I propose to train up Sophia; and I haven't the faintest doubt that, in spite of her sex, I can train her to knock your Tristram into a cocked-hat in every department of useful knowledge. At the same time it has occurred to me that, as his guardian, I am at least bound to give the boy every chance. You are teaching him gardening?"
Captain Barker nodded, with a face profoundly puzzled.
"You object to it?" he asked.
"Decidedly, under your present conditions. You are cramped for space."
"We are using every inch between the road and the marsh."
"You forget my back-garden, which lies waste at present."
"My dear Jemmy!"
"By knocking a hole in the party hedge you gain two and a half acres at least. Then, as to water—you depend on the rainfall."
"But there's an excellent spring between this and Dovercourt; and the owner will sell."
"It's half a mile away."
"God bless my soul! I suppose I am not too old to design a conduit."
Captain Jack's arm stole into Captain Jemmy's.
"You'll be saying next," the latter went on, "that I'm too old to set about draining the marsh. Then, as to sundials: you're amazingly deficient in sundials. Now half a dozen here and there—and a fish-pond or two—unless you'd like to have a moat. I could run you a moat around the back, and keep it supplied with fresh water all the year round. By the way, talking of moats and fresh water, did I tell you that Roderick Salt was not drowned, after all?"
"Eh? How did he die, then?"
"He's not dead."
"He has been seen at The Hague, and again at Cuxhaven, by men of this very port. Beckerleg will give you their names."
"But you tell me—the will, here, says—that he's joint guardian—"
"Yes: it's serious, if he finds out. Mr. Finch—I may say I've a large respect for that attorney—Mr. Finch suggests that it may have been his ghost. I think, Jack, we must take that explanation."
"Ghosts have some useful properties."
"Name one or two."
"Well, to start with, they can be disbelieved in until seen."
"I begin to see."
"Then, again, should one appear, he can be believed in and walked through. This is a rule without exceptions. If you have reason to believe that a ghost stands before you, your first step would be to make a hole in him to convince yourself."
"But if one should be mistaken?"
"If the apparition gives up the ghost, so to speak, and you find yourself mistaken, I see no harm in owning it. As co-trustee of aggrieved man, I will at any time listen to your apologies. By the by, I have asked Mr. Finch to call upon you to-morrow and explain his theory, among other matters of business. You will understand that I bear no affection towards this boy of yours: on the contrary, I sincerely desire my Sophia to shame him with her attainments. It is a mere matter of my duty towards him; and I'll be obliged if you keep him, as far as possible, out of my sight. Now about those dials—"
Captain Barker understood, but replied only by tightening for a moment the hand that rested on his comrade's sleeve. The old friends moved on beside the flower-borders and fell into trivial converse to hide a joy as deep as that of sweethearts who have quarrelled and now are reconciled.