A Secret of the Sea_ A Novel. Vol. 2 (of 3)
Transcriber's Notes (Volume 2):
1. Page scan source: Internet web archive
(University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
A SECRET OF THE SEA.
By T. W. SPEIGHT,
"IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT," "UNDER LOCK AND KEY," ETC., ETC.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON.1876.
(All Rights Reserved.)
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
|II.||FLOATING WITH THE STREAM.|
|III.||A QUIET CUP OF TEA.|
|VI.||A SECRET OF THE SEA.|
|VIII.||A GLASS OF BURGUNDY.|
|IX.||THE STORY OF THE WRECK.|
A SECRET OF THE SEA.
It was nearly dusk on the eighth day after Peter Byrne and hisdaughter had got settled in their new rooms, when Gerald Warburtonknocked at the door of Max Van Duren's house.
"Is my father at home?" asked Gerald of the middle-aged woman whoanswered his summons.
"If you are Mr. Byrne's son, I was told to send you upstairs when youcalled," answered the woman. "The first floor, please--door with thebrass handle."
It was at Byrne's request that Gerald agreed to pass as his son on theoccasion of any visits which he might have to make to Van Duren'shouse. Gerald could see no reason for the assumption of such arelationship, but in the belief that Byrne might have some specialmotive in the matter, he acceded without difficulty.
Up the stairs he now went, and knocked at the door indicated by thewoman. "Come in," cried a voice, and in he went.
He paused for a moment or two just inside the room, and shut the doorslowly after him while his eyes took in the various features of thescene.
The room in which Gerald found himself was of considerable size, andwas lighted by three tall, narrow windows, curtained with heavyhangings of faded crimson velvet. The walls were painted a delicategreen, and the floor was of polished wood. There was a largeold-fashioned fire-place, and a heavy, overhanging marblechimney-piece, across the front of which was carved a wild processionof Baechic figures. A Turkey carpet covered the middle of the floor,but the sides of the room were left bare. Chairs, tables, and bureauwere of dark oak, heavy, uncouth, uncompromising--and if not reallyantique, were very good Wardour Street imitations of the genuinearticle. On one side of the hearth, however, stood a capacious, moderneasy-chair, for the special delectation of Mr. Peter Byrne, while inneighbourly proximity to it was the long-stemmed pipe with the chinabowl. On the opposite side of the hearth stood another article, thatseemed more out of keeping with the rest of the room, even, than theeasy-chair. It was a couch or lounge of the most modern fashion, andupholstered with a gay flowery chintz. There could be no doubt as tothe person for whose behoof this gay piece of furniture was intended.Stretched on the floor in front of it, and doing duty as a rug, was amagnificent tiger-skin. On this stood an embroidered footstool. At theback of the couch was a screen painted with Chinese figures andlandscapes. Near it hung a guitar.
Gerald advanced slowly into the room, and for a moment or two healtogether failed to recognize the man who rose out of the easy-chairto greet him. It was Byrne and yet it was not Byrne. "It must be hisfather, or an older brother," said Gerald to himself. Even when theman held out his hand and whispered: "Is there anybody outside thedoor?" he was still in doubt.
"There is no one outside the door," said Gerald. "I came up the stairsalone."
"That's all right, then, and I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Warburton,"said Byrne's familiar voice, after which there could no longer be anydoubt. "Not a bad make up, eh?" he added, with a chuckle, as he notedGerald's puzzled look.
"I certainly did not know you at first," replied the latter. "In fact,I took you for your own father."
"You could not pay me a higher compliment, sir," said Byrne, with agleeful rubbing of the hands. "It is part of the scheme I have inview, that Van Duren should take me to be an old man, very feeble,very infirm, and nearly, if not quite, on my last legs."
"You look at the very least twenty years older than when I last sawyou," remarked Gerald.
"And yet the transformation is a very simple matter," said Byrne. "Itwould not do to tell everybody how it's done, but from you I can haveno secrets of that kind. In the first place, I had my own hair croppedas closely as it was possible for scissors to do it. Then I had thisvenerable wig made with its straggling silvery locks, and this blackvelvet skull cap. Two-thirds of my teeth being artificial ones, I havedispensed with that portion of them for the time being, and that ofitself is sufficient to entirely alter the character of the lower partof my face. Then this dress--this gaberdine-like coat down to myknees, my collar of an antique fashion, my white, unstarchedneckcloth, fastened with a little pearl brooch, this stoop of theshoulders, my enfeebled walk, and the stick that I am obliged to useto help me across the room: all simple matters, my dear sir, but, inthe aggregate, decidedly effective."
Mr. Byrne omitted to mention that, as a conscientious artist bent onlooking the character he meant to play, he had for the time beingabandoned the hare's foot and rouge-pot. Although his use of those,articles had always been marked by the most extreme discretion, hisdiscarding of them entirely did not add to the youthfulness of hisappearance.
"And then you must please bear in mind that I am afflicted withdeafness," added Byrne, with a smile, when Gerald had drawn a chair upto the fire. "It is not a very extreme form of deafness, but still itis necessary that I should be spoken to in a louder voice thanordinary; and it is sufficiently bad," he added, with a chuckle, "toprevent me, as I sit in my easy-chair by the fire, from overhearingany little private conversation that you and another person--mydaughter, for instance--might choose to hold together as you sit bythe sofa there, only a few yards away."
"I certainly can't understand," said Gerald to himself, "how all thisscheming, and all these disguises, can in any way further the objectwhich Ambrose Murray has so profoundly at heart."
Gerald felt mystified, and he probably looked it. As if in response tohis unspoken thought, Byrne presently said: "All these things seemvery strange to you, I do not doubt, Mr. Warburton; but you willbelieve me when I assure you that I have not for one moment lost sightof the particular end for which my services are retained. As soon as Ibegin to see my way a little more clearly--if I ever do--my plans andpurposes shall all be told to you and Mr. Murray. I have built up acertain theory in my mind, and there seems only one way ofascertaining whether that theory has any foundation in fact. If ithas, it may possibly lead us on to the clue we are in search of. If ithas not--but I will not anticipate failure, however probable it maybe. If I still possess the confidence of Mr. Murray and yourself, ifyou are still willing to let me have my own way in this thing for alittle while longer, then I am perfectly satisfied."
"We have every confidence in you, Mr. Byrne," said Gerald, earnestly,"and we are both satisfied that the case could not have been entrustedinto more capable hands than yours."
While Gerald was speaking, a door that led to an inner room wasopened, and Miriam Byrne came in.
Byrne rose, laid one hand on the region of his heart, and waved theother gracefully.
"My daughter, Mr. Warburton--my only child," he said.
"I am glad that you have called to see us, Mr. Warburton," saidMiriam, frankly, in her rich, full voice. "My father has talked somuch about you that my curiosity was quite piqued to see for myselfwhat his rara avis was like."
"You will find that I am a bird of very homely plumage," repliedGerald, with a smile. "Your father has been drawing on a too livelyimagination. I am afraid that his rara avis will prove to be nothingmore wonderful than our familiar friend--the goose."
"What a superb creature!" was Gerald's thought, as he sat downopposite Miriam; and that was the right phrase to apply to her.
Miss Byrne was at this time close upon her twenty-second birthday. Herbeauty was of an altogether eastern type. Hardly anyone who met Miriamin the street took her to be an English girl; while to those who knewboth her and her father, it was a constant source of wonder how "oldPeter" could come to have for his daughter a girl so totally unlikehim in every possible way. But Byrne's wife, who died when herdaughter was quite an infant, had been a beautiful woman, and Miriammore than inherited her mother's good looks. People knowing the familyaverred that she was an exact counterpart of her grandmother: a lovelyRoumanian Jewess, who had been brought over to England in the train ofan Austrian lady of rank, and having found a husband here, had nevergone back.
Eyes and hair of the black-set had Miriam Byrne. Large, liquid eyes,shaded with long, black lashes, and arched with delicate, well-definedbrows; hair that fell in a thick, heavy mass to her very waist. Tintsof the damask rose glowed through the dusky clearness of her cheeks.Her forehead was low and broad as that of some antique Venus. Hermouth was ripe and full, and might have looked somewhat coarse, hadit not been relieved by her finely-cut nose with its delicatenostrils. She had on, this evening, a long, trailing dress of violetvelvet, which harmonized admirably with her dusky loveliness--a rich,heavy-looking dress by gaslight, but one which daylight would haveshown to be faded and frayed in many places. It had, in fact, at onetime been a stage-dress, and as such, had been worn by Miss Kestevenof the Royal Westminster Theatre, when playing the heroine of one ofSardou's clever dramas.
The necklace of pearls, with earrings to match, which Miriam wore thisevening, were also of stage parentage, but they looked so much likethe real thing, that no one, save an expert, could have told withouthandling them that they were nothing better than clever shams. The onering, too, which she wore--a hoop of diamonds--on her somewhat large,but well-shaped hand, was not more genuine than her pearl necklace. Ithad been bought for a few shillings in the Burlington Arcade; but itflashed famously in the gaslight; and as one cannot well take off alady's ring in order to examine it, answered its purpose just as wellas if it had cost a hundred guineas.
But we must not be too hard on Miriam. No doubt she was as fond of alittle finery as most of her sisters are at two-and-twenty, but, inthe present case, all these sham trinkets had been assumed by her ather father's wish, and "for a certain purpose," as the old man said.At the same time one need not imagine that the wearing of them,although they were counterfeit, was in any way distasteful to Miriam.As she herself would have been one of the first to say, go long asother people accepted her jewellery as real, the end for which it wasworn was thoroughly gained.
"And how do you like your new home, Miss Byrne?" asked Gerald.
"I would much rather it had been at the West End than in the City,"answered Miriam. "The rooms I like very much. They are large andold-fashioned, and have seen better days. To live in such rooms makesone feel as if one were somebody of importance--as if one had money inthe Bank of England. But the look-out is dreadful. At the back, intothat horrid churchyard; while in the front, there is nothing to beseen but a high, blank wall. I am always glad when it is time to drawthe curtains and light the gas."
"You must get out for a little change and amusement now and then,"said Gerald. "It will never do for you to get moped and melancholythrough shutting yourself up in this gloomy old house. A visit once aweek to