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Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 22882

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

As Miss Greeby had informed Lambert, she intended to remain at the Garvington Arms until the mystery of Pine's death was solved. But her interview with him necessitated a rearrangement of plans, since the incriminating letter appeared to be such an important piece of evidence. To obtain it, Miss Greeby had decided to return to London forthwith, in order to compel its surrender. Silver would undoubtedly show fight, but his mistress was grimly satisfied that she would be able to manage him, and quite counted upon gaining her end by bullying him into compliance. When in possession of the letter she decided to submit it to Agnes and hear what that lady had to say about it as a dexterous piece of forgery. Then, on what was said would depend her next move in the complicated game. Meanwhile, since she was on the spot and desired to gather all possible evidence connected with Chaldea's apparent knowledge of the crime, Miss Greeby went straight from Lambert's cottage to the gypsy camp.

Here she found the community of vagrants in the throes of an election, or rather their excitement was connected with the deposition of Gentilla Stanley from the Bohemian throne, and the elevation of Chaldea. Miss Greeby mixed with the throng, dispensed a few judicious shillings and speedily became aware of what was going on. It appeared that Chaldea, being pretty and unscrupulous, and having gained, by cunning, a wonderful influence amongst the younger members of the tribe, was insisting that she should be elected its head. The older men and women, believing wisely that it was better to have an experienced ruler than a pretty figurehead, stood by Mother Cockleshell, therefore the camp was divided into two parties. Tongues were used freely, and occasionally fists came into play, while the gypsies gathered round the tent of the old woman and listened to the duet between her and the younger aspirant to this throne of Brentford. Miss Greeby, with crossed legs and leaning on her bludgeon, listened to the voluble speech of Mother Cockleshell, which was occasionally interrupted by Chaldea. The oration was delivered in Romany, and Miss Greeby only understood such scraps of it as was hastily translated to her by a wild-eyed girl to whom she had given a shilling. Gentilla, less like a sober pew-opener, and more resembling the Hecate of some witch-gathering, screamed objurgations at the pitch of her crocked voice, and waved her skinny arms to emphasize her words, in a most dramatic fashion.

"Oh, ye Romans," she screeched vehemently, "are ye not fools to be gulled by a babe with her mother's milk-and curses that it fed her-scarcely dry on her living lips? Who am I who speak, asses of the common? Gentilla Stanley, whose father was Pharaoh before her, and who can call up the ghosts of dead Egyptian kings, with a tent for a palace, and a cudgel for a sceptre, and the wisdom of our people at the service of all."

"Things have changed," cried out Chaldea with a mocking laugh. "For old wisdom is dead leaves, and I am the tree which puts forth the green of new truths to make the Gorgios take off their hats to the Romans."

"Oh, spawn of the old devil, but you lie. Truth is truth and changes not. Can you read the hand? can you cheat the Gentile? do you know the law of the Poknees, and can you diddle them as has money? Says you, 'I can!' And in that you lie, like your mother before you. Bless your wisdom"-Mother Cockleshell made an ironical curtsey. "Age must bow before a brat."

"Beauty draws money to the Romans, and wheedles the Gorgios to part with red gold. Wrinkles you have, mother, and weak wits to-"

"Weak wits, you drab? My weakest wits are your strongest. 'Wrinkles,' says you in your cunning way, and flaunts your brazen smoothness. I spit on you for a fool." The old woman suited her action to the word. "Every wrinkle is the mark of lessons learned, and them is wisdom which the Romans take from my mouth."

"Hear the witchly hag," cried Chaldea in her turn. "She and her musty wisdom that puts the Romans under the feet of the Gentiles. Are not three of our brothers in choky? have we not been turned off common and out of field? Isn't the fire low and the pot empty, and every purse without gold? Bad luck she has brought us," snarled the girl, pointing an accusing finger. "And bad luck we Romans will have till she is turned from the camp."

"Like a dog you would send me away," shrieked Mother Cockleshell, glancing round and seeing that Chaldea's supporters outnumbered her own. "But I'm dangerous, and go I shall as a queen should, at my own free will. I cast a shoe amongst you,"-she flung one of her own, hastily snatched off her foot-"and curses gather round it. Under its heels shall you lie, ye Romans, till time again and time once more be accomplished. I go on my own," she turned and walked to the door of her tent. "Alone I go to cheat the Gentiles and win my food. Take your new queen, and with her sorrow and starvation, prison, and the kicks of the Gorgios. So it is, as I have said, and so it shall be."

She vanished into the tent, and the older members of the tribe, shaking their heads over the ill-omen of her concluding words, withdrew sorrowfully to their various habitations, in order to discuss the situation. But the young men and women bowed down before Chaldea and forthwith elected her their ruler, fawning on her, kissing her hands and invoking blessings on her pretty face, that face which they hoped and believed would bring prosperity to them. And there was no doubt that of late, under Mother Cockleshell's leadership, the tribe had been unfortunate in many ways. It was for this reason that Chaldea had raised the standard of rebellion, and for this reason also she gained her triumph. To celebrate her coronation she gave Kara, who hovered constantly at her elbow, a couple of sovereigns, and told him to buy food and drink. In a high state of enjoyment the gypsies dispersed in order to prepare for the forthcoming festivity, and Chaldea, weary but victorious, stood alone by the steps of the caravan, which was her perambulating home. Seizing her opportunity, Miss Greeby approached.

"My congratulations to your majesty," she said ironically. "I'm sorry not to be able to stay for your coronation, which I presume takes place to-night. But I have to go back to London to see a friend of yours."

"I have no friends, my Gentile lady," retorted Chaldea, with a fiery spark in each eye. "And what do you here amongst the gentle Romany?"

"Gentle," Miss Greeby chuckled, "that's a new word for the row that's been going on, my girl. Do you know me?"

"As I know the road and the tent and the art of dukkerhin. You stay at the big house, and you love the rye who lived in the wood."

"Very clever of you to guess that," said Miss Greeby coolly, "but as it happens, you are wrong. The rye is not for me and not for you. He marries the lady he worships on his knees. Forgive me for speaking in this high-flowing manner," ended Miss Greeby apologetically, "but in romantic situations one must speak romantic words."

Chaldea did not pay attention to the greater part of this speech, as only one statement appealed to her. "The rye shall not marry the Gentile lady," she said between her white teeth.

"Oh, I think so, Chaldea. Your plotting has all been in vain."

"My plotting. What do you know of that?"

"A certain portion, my girl, and I'm going to know more when I see Silver."

Chaldea frowned darkly. "I know nothing of him."

"I think you do, since you gave him a certain letter."

"Patchessa tu adove?" asked Chaldea scornfully; then, seeing that her visitor did not understand her, explained: "Do you believe in that?"

"Yes," said Miss Greeby alertly. "You found the letter in Pine's tent when he was camping here as Hearne, and passed it to Silver so that he might ask money for it."

"It's a lie. I swear it's a lie. I ask no money. I told the tiny rye-"

"Silver, I presume," put in Miss Greeby carelessly.

"Aye: Silver is his name, and a good one for him as has no gold."

"He will get gold from Lady Agnes for the letter."

"No. Drodi-ah bah!" broke off Chaldea. "You don't understand Romanes. I speak the Gorgio tongue to such as you. Listen! I found the letter which lured my brother to his death. The rani wrote that letter, and I gave it to the tiny rye, saying: 'Tell her if she gives up the big rye free she shall go; if not take the letter to those who deal in the law.'"

"The police, I suppose you mean," said Miss Greeby coolly. "A very pretty scheme, my good girl. But it won't do, you know. Lady Agnes never wrote that letter, and had nothing to do with the death of her husband."

"She set a trap for him," cried Chaldea fiercely, "and Hearne walked into it like a rabbit into a snare. The big rye waited outside and shot-"

"That's a lie," interrupted Miss Greeby just as fiercely, and determined to defend her friend. "He would not do such a thing."

"Ha! but I can prove it, and will when the time is ripe. He becomes my rom does the big rye, or round his neck goes the rope; and she dances long-side, I swear."

"What a bloodthirsty idea, you savage devil! And how do you propose to prove that Mr. Lambert shot the man?"

"Aha," sneered Chaldea contemptuously, "you take me for a fool, saying more than I can do. But know this, my precious angel"-she fumbled in her pocket and brought out a more or less formless piece of lead-"what's this, may I ask? The bullet which passed through Hearne's heart, and buried itself in a tree-trunk."

Miss Greeby made a snatch at the article, but Chaldea was too quick for her and slipped it again into her pocket. "You can't prove that it is the bullet," snapped Miss Greeby glaring, for she dreaded lest its production should incriminate Lambert, innocent though she believed him to be.

"Kara can prove it. He went to where Hearne was shot and saw that there was a big tree by the blue door, and before the shrubbery. A shot fired from behind the bushes would by chance strike the tree. The bullet which killed my brother was not found in the heart. It passed through and was in the tree-trunk. Kara knifed it out and brought it to me. If this," Chaldea held up the bullet again jeeringly, "fits the pistol of the big rye he will swing for sure. The letter hangs her and the bullet hangs him. I want my price."

"You won't get it, then," said Miss Greeby, eyeing the pocket into which the girl had again dropped the bullet. "Mr. Lambert was absent in London on that night. I heard that by chance."

"Then you heard wrong, my Gentile lady. Avali, quite wrong. The big rye returned on that very night and went to Lundra again in the morning."

"Even if he did," said Miss Greeby desperately, "he did not leave the cottage. His housekeeper can prove-"

"Nothing," snapped Chaldea triumphantly. "She was in her bed and the golden rye was in his bed. My brother was killed after midnight, and if the rye took a walk then, who can say where he was?"

"You have to prove all this, you know."

Chaldea snapped her fingers. "First, the letter to shame her; then the bullet to hang him. The rest comes after. My price, you know, my Gorgious artful. I toves my own gad. It's a good proverb, lady, and true Romany."

"What does it mean?"

"I wash my own shirt," said Chaldea, significantly, and sprang up the steps of her gaily

-painted caravan to shut herself in.

"What a fool I am not to take that bullet from her," thought Miss Greeby, standing irresolutely before the vehicle, and she cast a glance around to see if such an idea was feasible. It was not, as she speedily decided, for a single cry from Chaldea would bring the gypsies round to protect their new queen. It was probable also that the girl would fight like a wild cat; although Miss Greeby felt that she could manage her so far. But she was not equal to fighting the whole camp of vagrants, and so was compelled to abandon her scheme. In a somewhat discontented mood, she turned away, feeling that, so far, Chaldea had the whip-hand.

Then it occurred to her that she had not yet examined Mother Cockleshell as had been her original intention when she came to the camp. Forthwith she passed back to the tent under the elm, to interview the deposed queen. Here, she found Gentilla Stanley placing her goods in an untidy bundle on the back of a large gray donkey, which was her private property. The old creature's eyes were red with weeping and her gray hair had fallen down, so that she presented a somewhat wild appearance. This, in connection with her employment, reminded Miss Greeby-whose reading was wide-of a similar scene in Borrow's "Lavengro," when Mrs. Pentulengro's mother shifted herself. And for the moment Mother Cockleshell had just the hairy looks of Mrs. Hern, and also at the moment, probably had the same amiable feelings.

Feeling that the old woman detested her successful rival, Miss Greeby approached, guessing that now was the right moment to work on her mind, and thus to learn what she could of Chaldea's underhand doings. She quite expected a snub, as Gentilla could scarcely be expected to answer questions when taken up with her own troubles. But the artful creature, seeing by a side-glance that Miss Greeby was a wealthy Gentile lady, dropped one of her almshouse curtseys when she approached, and bundled up her hair. A change passed over her withered face, and Miss Greeby found herself addressing not so much a fallen queen, as a respectable old woman who had known better days.

"And a blessing on your sweet face, my angel," mumbled Mother Cockleshell. "For a heart you have to feel for my sorrows."

"Here is a sign of my feelings," said Miss Greeby, handing over a sovereign, for she rightly judged that the gypsy would only appreciate this outward symbol of sympathy. "Now, what do you know of Pine's murder?"

Mother Cockleshell, who was busy tying up the sovereign in a corner of her respectable shawl, after biting it to make sure it was current gold, looked up with a vacant expression. "Murder, my lady, and what should I know of that?"

Miss Greeby looked at her straightly. "What does Chaldea know of it?"

A vicious pair of devils looked out of the decent widow's eyes in a moment, and at once she became the Romany. "Hai! She knows, does she, the drab! I hope to see her hanged."

"For what?"

"For killing of Hearne, may his bones rest sweetly."

Miss Greeby suppressed an exclamation. "She accuses Lady Agnes of laying a trap by writing a letter, and says that Mr. Lambert fired the shot."

"Avali! Avali!" Mother Cockleshell nodded vigorously, but did not interrupt her preparations for departure. "That she would say, since she loves the Gorgio, and hates the rani. A rope round her neck to set the rye free to make Chaldea-my curses on her-his true wife."

"She couldn't have fired the shot herself, you know," went on Miss Greeby in a musing manner. "For then she would remove an obstacle to Mr. Lambert marrying Lady Agnes."

"Blessings on her for a kind, Gentile lady," said Gentilla, piously, and looking more respectable than ever, since the lurking devils had disappeared. "But Chaldea is artful, and knows the rye."

"What do you mean?"

"This, my lady. Hearne, who was the Gorgio Pine, had the angel to wife, but he did not hope to live long because of illness."

Miss Greeby nodded. "Consumption, Pine told me."

"If he had died natural," pursued Mother Cockleshell, pulling hard at a strap, "maybe the Gentile lady would have married the golden rye, whom she loves. But by the violent death, Chaldea has tangled up both in her knots, and if they wed she will make trouble."

"So she says. But can she?"

"Hai! But she's a deep one, ma'am, believe me when I say so," Mother Cockleshell nodded sapiently. "But foolish trouble has she given herself, when the death of Hearne natural, or by the pistol-shot would stop the marriage."

"What do you mean?" inquired Miss Greeby once more.

"You Gentiles are fools," said Gentilla, politely. "For you put other things before true love. Hearne, as Pine, had much gold, and that he left to his wife should she not marry the golden rye."

"How do you know that?"

"Chaldea was told so by the dead, and told me, my lady. Now the angel of the big house would give up the gold to marry the rye, for her heart is all for him. 'But,' says he, and tell me if I'm wrong. Says he, 'No. If I make you my romi that would beggar you and fair it would not be, for a Romany rye to do!' So, my lady, the red gold parts them, because it's red money."

"Red money?"

"Blood money. The taint of blood is on the wealth of the dead one, and so it divides by a curse the true hearts of the living. You see, my lady?"

Miss Greeby did see, and the more readily, since she had heard Lambert express exactly the sentiments with which the old gypsy credited him. An overstrained feeling of honor prevented him in any case from making Agnes his wife, whether the death had come by violence or by natural causes. But it was amazing that Gentilla should know this, and Miss Greeby wonderingly asked her how she came by such knowledge. The respectable widow chuckled.

"I have witchly ways, ma'am, and the golden rye has talked many a time to me in my tent, when I told him of the Gorgious lady's goodness to me when ill. They love-aye, that is sure-but the money divides their hearts, and that is foolish. Chaldea had no need to shoot to keep them apart."

"How do you know she shot Pine?"

"Oh, I can say nothing the Poknees would listen to," said Mother Cockleshell readily. "For I speak only as I think, and not as I know. But the child was impatient for joy, and hoped by placing the cruel will between true hearts to gain that of the golden rye for her own part. But that she will not. Ha! Ha! Nor you, my lady, nor you."

"Me?" Miss Greeby colored even redder than she was by nature.

Gentilla looked at her shrewdly. "La! La! La! La!" she croaked. "Age brings a mighty wisdom. They were fools to throw me out," and she jerked her grizzled head in the direction of the caravans and tents.

"Don't talk rubbish, you old donkey! Mr. Lambert is only my friend."

"You're a woman and he's a man," said Mother Cockleshell sententiously.

"We are chums, pals, whatever you like to call us. I want to see him happy."

"He will never be happy, my lady, unless he marries the rani. And death, by bringing the money between their true love, has divided them forever, unless the golden rye puts his heart before his fear of silly chatter for them he moves amongst. The child was right to shoot Hearne, so far, although she could have waited and gained the same end. The rye is free to marry her, or to marry you, ma'am, but never to marry the angel, unless-" Mother Cockleshell adjusted the bundle carefully on the donkey, and then cut a long switch from the tree.

"I don't want to marry Mr. Lambert," said Miss Greeby decisively. "And I'll take care that Chaldea doesn't!"

Gentilla chuckled again. "Oh, trust you for that."

"As to Chaldea shooting Pine-"

"Leave it to me, leave it to me, ma'am," said the old gypsy with a grandiloquent wave of her dirty hand.

"But I wish to learn the truth and save Lady Agnes from this trouble."

"You wish to save her?" chuckled Mother Cockleshell. "And not the golden rye? Ah well, my angel, there are women, and women." She faced round, and the humor died out of her wrinkled face. "You wish for help and so have come to see me? Is it not so?"

"Yes," said Miss Greeby tartly. "Chaldea will make trouble."

"The child won't. I can manage her."

Miss Greeby hitched up her broad shoulders contemptuously. "She has managed you just now."

"There are ways and ways, and when the hour arrives, the sun rises to scatter the darkness," said Gentilla mystically. "Let the child win for the moment, for my turn comes."

"Then you know something?"

"What I know mustn't be said till the hour strikes. But content yourself, my Gorgious lady, with knowing that the child will make no trouble."

"She has parted with the letter?"

"I know of that letter. Hearne showed it to me, and would make for the big house, although I told him fair not to doubt his true wife."

"How did he get the letter?"

"That's tellings," said Mother Cockleshell with a wink of her lively eye.

"I've a good mind to take you to the police, and then you'd be forced to say what you know," said Miss Greeby crossly, for the vague hints irritated her not a little.

The old woman cackled in evident enjoyment. "Do that, and the pot will boil over, ma'am. I wish to help the angel rani who nursed me when I was sick, and I have debts to pay to Chaldea. Both I do in my own witchly way."

"You will help me to learn the truth?"

"Surely! Surely! my Gorgious one. And now," Mother Cockleshell gave a tug at the donkey's mouth, "I goes my ways."

"But where can I find you again?"

"When the time comes the mouth will open, and them as thinks they're high will find themselves in the dust. Aye, and maybe lower, if six feet of good earth lies atop, and them burning in lime, uncoffined and unblessed."

Miss Greeby was masculine and fearless, but there was something so weird about this mystic sentence, which hinted at capital punishment, that she shrank back nervously. Mother Cockleshell, delighted to see that she had made an impression, climbed on to the gray donkey and made a progress through the camp. Passing by Chaldea's caravan she spat on it and muttered a word or so, which did not indicate that she wished a blessing to rest on it. Chaldea did not show herself, so the deposed queen was accompanied to the outskirts of the wood by the elder gypsies, mourning loudly. But when they finally halted to see the last of Mother Cockleshell, she raised her hand and spoke authoritatively.

"I go and I come, my children. Forget not, ye Romans, that I say so much. When the seed needs rain it falls. Sarishan, brothers and sisters all." And with this strange speech, mystical to the last, she rode away into the setting sun, on the gray donkey, looking more like an almshouse widow than ever.

As for Miss Greeby, she strode out of the camp and out of the Abbot's Wood, and made for the Garvington Arms, where she had left her baggage. What Mother Cockleshell knew, she did not guess; what Mother Cockleshell intended to do, she could not think; but she was satisfied that Chaldea would in some way pay for her triumph. And the downfall of the girl was evidently connected with the unravelling of the murder mystery. In a witchly way, as the old woman would have said herself, she intended to adjust matters.

"I'll leave things so far in her hands," thought Miss Greeby. "Now for Silver."

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