Under Lock and Key_ A Story. Volume 1 (of 3)
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(Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
T. W. SPEIGHT,
AUTHOR OF "BROUGHT TO LIGHT," "FOOLISH MARGARET,"ETC.
IN THREE VOLUMES.VOL. I.
TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND.
[All rights of Translation and Reproduction are reserved.]
SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS, CHANDOS STREET,
In justice to himself the author thinks it requisite to state that theentire plan of this story was sketched out, and several of thechapters written, before the first lines of Mr. Wilkie Collins's"Moonstone" had been given to the Public.
He has further denied himself the pleasure of reading "The Moonstone"till after the completion of his own story, so as to preclude anypossible charge of having derived the outline of his plot from thework of another writer.
London, February, 1869.
|I.||MY ARRIVAL AT DUPLEY WALLS.|
|II.||THE MISTRESS OF DUPLEY WALLS.|
|III.||A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY.|
|V.||AT ROSE COTTAGE.|
|VI.||THE GROWTH OF A MYSTERY.|
|VII.||EXIT JANET HOLME.|
|VIII.||BY THE SCOTCH EXPRESS.|
|IX.||AT THE "GOLDEN GRIFFIN."|
|X.||THE STOLEN MANUSCRIPT.|
|XII.||THE AMSTERDAM EDITION OF 1698.|
|XIII.||M. PLATZOFF'S SECRET--CAPTAIN DUCIE'STRANSLATION OF M. PAUL PLATZOFF'S MS.|
|XVII.||DUPLEY WALLS AFTER SEVEN YEARS.|
UNDER LOCK AND KEY.
MY ARRIVAL AT DUPLEY WALLS.
"Miss JANET HOLME,
To the care of Lady Pollexfen,
Dupley Walls, near Tydsbury,
"There, miss, I'm sure that will do famously," said Chirper, theoverworked oldish young person whose duty it was to attend to theinnumerable wants of the young-lady boarders of Park Hill Seminary.She had just written out, in a large sprawling hand, a card as above,which card was presently to be nailed on to the one small box thatheld the whole of my worldly belongings.
"And I think, miss," added Chirper, meditatively, as she held out thecard at arm's length and gazed at it admiringly, "that if I was towrite out another card similar, and tie it round your arm, it wouldmayhap help you in getting safe to your journey's end."
I, a girl of twelve, was the Janet Holme indicated above, and I hadbeen looking over Chirper's shoulder with wondering eyes while sheaddressed the card. "But who is Lady Pollexfen, and where is DupleyWalls? and what have I to do with either, Chirper, please?" I asked.
"If there is one thing in little girls more hateful than another, itis curiosity," answered Chirper, with her mouth half full of nails."Curiosity has been the bane of many of our sex. Witness Bluebeard'sunhappy wife. If you want to know more, you must ask Mrs. Whitehead. Ihave my instructions, and I acts on them."
Meeting Mrs. Whitehead half an hour later as she was coming down thestone corridor that led from the refectory, I did ask that ladyprecisely the same questions that I had put to Chirper. Her frostyglance, filled with a cold surprise, smote me even through herspectacles, and I shrank a little, abashed at my own boldness.
"The habit of asking questions elsewhere than in the class-room shouldnot be encouraged in young ladies," said Mrs. Whitehead, with a sortof prim severity. "The other young ladies are gone home; you are aboutto follow their example."
"But, Mrs. Whitehead--Madam," I pleaded, "I never had any other homethan Park Hill."
"More questioning, Miss Holme? Fie! Fie!" And with a lean forefingeruplifted in menacing reproval, Mrs. Whitehead sailed on her way, nordeigned me another word.
I stole out into the playground, wondering, wretched, and yet smittenthrough with faint delicious thrillings of a new-found happiness such,as I had often dreamed of, but had scarcely dared hope ever torealize. I, Janet Holme, going home! It was almost too incredible forbelief. I wandered about like one mazed--like one who steppingsuddenly out of darkness into sunshine is dazzled by an intolerablebrightness whichever way he turns his eyes. And yet I was wretched:for was not Miss Chinfeather dead? And that, too, was a fact almosttoo incredible for belief.
As I wandered, this autumn morning, up and down the solitaryplayground, I went back in memory as far as memory would carry me, butonly to find that Miss Chinfeather and Park Hill Seminary blocked upthe way. Beyond them lay darkness and mystery. Any events in mychild's life that might have happened before my arrival at Park Hillhad for me no authentic existence. I had been part and parcel of MissChinfeather and the Seminary for so long a time that I could notdissociate myself from them even in thought. Other pupils had hadholidays, and letters, and presents, and dear ones at home of whomthey often talked; but for me there had been none of these things. Iknew that I had been placed at Park Hill when a very little girl bysome, to me, mysterious and unknown person, but further than that Iknew nothing. The mistress of Park Hill had not treated me in any waydifferently from her other pupils; but had not the bills contracted onmy account been punctually paid by somebody, I am afraid that theeven-handed justice on which she prided herself--which, in conjunctionwith her aquiline nose and a certain antique severity of deportment,caused her to be known among us girls as _The Roman Matron_--wouldhave been somewhat ruffled, and that sentence of expulsion from thoseclassic walls would have been promptly pronounced and as promptlycarried into effect.
Happily no such necessity had ever arisen; and now the Roman Matronlay dead in the little corner room on the second floor, and had donewith pupils, and half-yearly accounts, and antique deportment, forever.
In losing Miss Chinfeather I felt as though the corner-stone of mylife had been rent away. She was too cold, she was altogether too farremoved for me to regard her with love, or even with that modifiedfeeling which we call affection. But then no such demonstration waslooked for by Miss Chinfeather. It was a weakness above which she rosesuperior. But if my child's love was a gift which she would havedespised, she looked for and claimed my obedience--the resignation ofmy will to hers, the absorption of my individuality in her own, thegradual elimination from my life of all its colour and freshness. Shestrove earnestly, and with infinite patience, to change me from adreamy, passionate child--a child full of strange wild moods,capricious, and yet easily touched either to laughter or tears--into aprim and elegant young lady, colourless and formal, and of the mostorthodox boarding-school pattern; and if she did not quite succeed inthe attempt; the fault, such as it was, must be set down to myobstinate disposition and not to any lack of effort on the part ofMiss Chinfeather. And now this powerful influence had vanished from mylife, from the world itself, as swiftly and silently as a snowflake inthe sun. The grasp of the hard but not unkindly hand, that had held meso firmly in the narrow groove in which it wished me to move, had beensuddenly relaxed, and everything around me seemed tottering to itsfall. Three nights ago Miss Chinfeather had retired to rest, as well,to all appearance, and as cheerful as ever she had been; next morningshe had been found dead in bed. This was what they told us pupils; butso great was the awe in which I held the mistress of Park HillSeminary that I could not conceive of Death even as venturing tobehave disrespectfully towards her. I pictured him in my girlish fancyas knocking at her chamber door in the middle of the night, and afterapologizing for the interruption, asking whether she was ready toaccompany him. Then would she who was thus addressed arise, and wrapan ample robe about her, and place her hand with solemn sweetness inthat of the Great Captain, and the two would pass out together intothe starlit night, and Miss Chinfeather would be seen of mortal eyesnevermore.
Such was the picture that had haunted my brain for two days and asmany nights, while I wandered forlorn through house and playground orlay awake on my little bed. I had said farewell to one pupil afteranother till all were gone, and the riddle which I had been putting tomyself continually for the last forty-eight hours had now been solvedfor me by Mrs. Whitehead, and had been told that I too was going home.
"To the care of Lady Pollexfen, Dupley Walls, Midlandshire." The wordsrepeated themselves again and again in my brain, and became a greaterpuzzle with every repetition. I had never to my knowledge heard ofeither the person or the place. I knew nothing of one or the other. Ionly knew that my heart thrilled strangely at the mention of the word_Home;_ that unbidden tears started to my eyes at the thought thatperhaps--only perhaps--in that as yet unknown place there might besome one who would love me just a little. "Father--Mother." I spokethe words, but they sounded unreal to me, and as if uttered byanother. I spoke them again, holding out my arms, and crying aloud.All my heart seemed to go out in the cry, but only the hollow windsanswered me as they piped mournfully through the yellowing leaves, athrong of which went rustling down the walk as though stirred by thefootsteps of a ghost. Then my eyes grew blind with tears, and I weptsilently for a time as if my heart would break.
But tears were a forbidden luxury at Park Hill, and when, a littlelater on, I heard Chirper calling me by name, I made haste to dry myeyes and compose my features. She scanned me narrowly as I ran up toher. "You dear, soft-hearted little thing!" she said. And with thatshe stooped suddenly and gave me a hearty kiss that might have beenheard a dozen yards away. I was about to fling my arms round her neck,but she stopped me, saying, "That will do, dear. Mrs. Whitehead iswaiting for us at the door."
Mrs. Whitehead was watching us through the glass door which led intothe playground. "The coach will be here in half an hour, Miss Holme,"she said; "so that you have not much time for your preparations."
I stood like one stunned for a moment or two. Then I said, "If youplease, Mrs. Whitehead, may I see Miss Chinfeather before I go?"
Her thin, straight lips quivered slightly, but in her eyes I read onlycold disapproval of my request. "Really," she said, "what a singularchild you must be. I scarcely know what to say."
"Oh, if you please, Mrs. Whitehead!" I urged. "Miss Chinfeather wasalways kind to me. I remember her as long as I can remember anything.To see her once more--for the last time. It would seem to me cruel togo away without."
"Follow me," she said, almost in a whisper. So I followed her softlyupstairs into the little corner room where Miss Chinfeather lay inwhite and solemn state, grandly indifferent to all mundane matters. AsI gazed, it seemed but an hour ago since I had heard those still lipsconjugating the verb _mourir_ for the behoof of poor ignorant me, andthe words came back to me, and I could not help repeating them tomyself as I looked: _Je meurs_, _tu meurs_, &c.
I bent over and kissed the marble-cold forehead, and said farewell inmy heart, and went downstairs without a word.
Half an hour later the district coach, a splendid vision, pulled upimpetuously at the gates. I was ready to the moment. Mrs. Whitehead'sfrosty fingers touched mine for an instant; she imprinted a chill kisson my check, and looked relieved. "Good-bye, my dear Miss Holme, andGod bless you," she said. "Strive to bear in mind through after lifethe lessons that have been instilled into you at Park Hill Seminary.Present my respectful compliments to Lady Pollexfen, and do not forgetyour catechism."
At this point the guard sounded an impatient summons on his bugle;Chirper picked up my box, seized me by the hand, and hurried with meto the coach. My luggage found a place on the roof; I wasunceremoniously bundled inside; Chirper gave me another of her heartykisses, and pressed a crooked sixpence into my hand "for luck," as shewhispered. I am sure there was a real tear in her