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   Chapter 19 MOTHER COCKLESHELL.

Red Money By Fergus Hume Characters: 23747

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was late in the afternoon when Lambert got back to the village inn, and he felt both tired and bewildered. The examination of Silver had been so long, and what he revealed so amazing, that the young man wished to be alone, both to rest and to think over the situation. It was a very perplexing one, as he plainly saw, since, in the light of the new revelations, it seemed almost impossible to preserve the name of the family from disgrace. Seated in his sitting room, with his legs stretched out and his hands in his pockets, Lambert moodily glared at the carpet, recalling all that had been confessed by the foxy secretary of Miss Greeby. That he should accuse her of committing the crime seemed unreasonable.

According to Silver, the woman had overheard by chance the scheme to lure Pine to The Manor. Knowing that the millionaire was coming to Abbot's Wood, the secretary had propounded the plan to Garvington long before the man's arrival. Hence the constant talk of the host about burglars and his somewhat unnecessary threat to shoot any one who tried to break into the house. The persistence of this remark had roused Miss Greeby's curiosity, and noting that Silver and his host were frequently in one another's company, she had seized her opportunity to listen. For some time, so cautious were the plotters, she had heard nothing particular, but after her recognition of Hearne as Pine when she visited the gypsy camp she became aware that these secret talks were connected with his presence. Then a chance remark of Garvington's-he was always loose-tongued-gave her the clue, and by threats of exposure she managed to make Silver confess the whole plot. Far from thwarting it she agreed to let them carry it out, and promised secrecy, only extracting a promise that she should be advised of the time and place for the trapping of the millionaire. And it was this acquiescence of Miss Greeby's which puzzled Lambert.

On the face of it, since she was in love with him, it was better for her own private plans that Pine should remain alive, because the marriage placed Agnes beyond his reach. Why, then, should Miss Greeby have removed the barrier-and at the cost of being hanged for murder? Lambert had asked Silver this question, but had obtained no definite answer, since the secretary protested that she had not explained her reasons. Jokingly referring to possible burglars, she had borrowed the revolver from Silver which he had obtained from Garvington, and it was this action which first led the little secretary to suspect her. Afterward, knowing that she had met Pine in Abbot's Wood, he kept a close watch on her every action to see if she intended to take a hand in the game. But Silver protested that he could see no reason for her doing so, and even up to the moment when he confessed to Lambert could not conjecture why she had acted in such a manner.

However, it appeared that she was duly informed of the hour when Pine would probably arrive to prevent the pretended elopement, and also learned that he would be hanging about the blue door. When Silver retired for the night he watched the door of her bedroom-which was in the same wing of the mansion of his own. Also he occasionally looked out to see if Pine had arrived, as the window of his room afforded a fair view of the blue door and the shrubbery. For over an hour-as he told Lambert-he divided his attention between the passage and the window. It was while looking out of the last, and after midnight, that he saw Miss Greeby climb out of her room and descend to the ground by means of the ivy which formed a natural ladder. Her window was no great height from the ground, and she was an athletic woman much given to exercise. Wondering what she intended to do, yet afraid-because of Pine's expected arrival-to leave the house, Silver watched her cautiously. She was arrayed in a long black cloak with a hood, he said, but in the brilliant moonlight he could easily distinguish her gigantic form as she slipped into the shrubbery. When Pine arrived, Silver saw him dash at the blue door when it was opened by Garvington, and saw him fall back after the first shot. Then he heard the shutting of the door; immediately afterward the opening of Lady Agnes's window, and noted that Pine ran quickly and unsteadily down the path. As he passed the shrubbery, the second shot came-at this point Silver simply gave the same description as Lady Agnes did at the inquest-and then Pine fell. Afterward Garvington and his guests came out and gathered round the body, but Miss Greeby, slipping along the rear of the shrubbery, doubled back to the shadow at the corner of the house. Silver, having to play his part, did not wait to see her re-enter the mansion, but presumed she did so by clambering up the ivy. He ran down and mingled with the guests and servants, who were clustered round the dead man, and finally found Miss Greeby at his elbow, artlessly inquiring what had happened. For the time being he accepted her innocent attitude.

Later on, when dismissed by Jarwin and in want of funds, he sought out Miss Greeby and accused her. At first she denied the story, but finally, as she judged that he could bring home the crime to her, she compromised with him by giving him the post of her secretary at a good salary. When he obtained the forged letter from Chaldea-and she learned this from Lambert when he was ill-Miss Greeby made him give it to her, alleging that by showing it to Agnes she could the more positively part the widow from her lover. Miss Greeby, knowing who had written the letter, counted upon Agnes guessing the truth, and had she not seen that it had entered her mind, when the letter was brought to her, she would have given a hint as to the forger's name. But Agnes's hesitation and sudden paleness assured Miss Greeby that she guessed the truth, so the letter was left to work its poison. Silver, of course, clamored for his blackmail, but Miss Greeby promised to recompense him, and also threatened if he did not hold his tongue that she would accuse him and Garvington of the murder. Since the latter had forged the letter and the former had borrowed the revolver which had killed Pine, it would have been tolerably easy for Miss Greeby to substantiate her accusation. As to her share in the crime, all she had to do was to deny that Silver had passed the borrowed revolver on to her, and there was no way in which he could prove that he had done so. On the whole, Silver had judged it best to fall in with Miss Greeby's plans, and preserve silence, especially as she was rich and could supply him with whatever money he chose to ask for. She was in his power, and he was in her power, so it was necessary to act on the golden rule of give and take.

And the final statement which Silver made to Lambert intimated that Garvington was ignorant of the truth. Until the bullet was produced in the library to fit the revolver it had never struck Garvington that the other weapon had been used to kill Pine. And he had honestly believed that Silver-as was actually the case-had remained in his bedroom all the time, until he came downstairs to play his part. As to Miss Greeby being concerned in the matter, such an idea had never entered Garvington's head. The little man's hesitation in producing the revolver, when he got an inkling of the truth, was due to his dread that if Silver was accused of the murder-and at the time it seemed as though the secretary was guilty-he might turn king's evidence to save his neck, and explain the very shady plot in which Garvington had been engaged. But Lambert had forced his cousin's hand, and Silver had been brought to book, with the result that the young man now sat in his room at the inn, quite convinced that Miss Greeby was guilty, yet wondering what motive had led her to act in such a murderous way.

Also, Lambert wondered what was best to be done, in order to save the family name. If he went to the police and had Miss Greeby arrested, the truth of Garvington's shady dealings would certainly come to light, especially as Silver was an accessory after the fact. On the other hand, if he left things as they were, there was always a chance that hints might be thrown out by Chaldea-who had everything to gain and nothing to lose-that he and Agnes were responsible for the death of Pine. Of course, Lambert, not knowing that Chaldea had been listening to the conversation in the cottage, believed that the girl was ignorant of the true state of affairs, and he wondered how he could inform her that the actual criminal was known without risking her malignity. He wanted to clear his character and that of his wife; likewise he wished to save the family name. But it seemed to him that the issue of these things lay in the hands of Chaldea, and she was bent upon injuring him if she could. It was all very perplexing.

It was at this point of his meditation that Mother Cockleshell arrived at the inn. He heard her jovial voice outside and judged from its tone that the old dame was in excellent spirits. Her visit seemed to be a hint from heaven as to what he should do. Gentilla hated Chaldea and loved Agnes, so Lambert felt that she would be able to help him. As soon as possible he had her brought into the sitting room, and, having made her sit down, closed both the door and the window, preparatory to telling her all that he had learned. The conversation was, indeed, an important one, and he was anxious that it should take place without witnesses.

"You are kind, sir," said Mother Cockleshell, who had been supplied with a glass of gin and water. "But it ain't for the likes of me to be sitting down with the likes of you."

"Nonsense! We must have a long talk, and I can't expect you to stand all the time-at your age."

"Some Gentiles ain't so anxious to save the legs of old ones," remarked Gentilla Stanley cheerfully. "But I always did say as you were a golden one for kindness of heart. Well, them as does what's unexpected gets what they don't hope for."

"I have got my heart's desire, Mother," said Lambert, sitting down and lighting his pipe. "I am happy now."

"Not as happy as you'd like to be, sir," said the old woman, speaking quite in the Gentile manner, and looking like a decent charwoman. "You've a dear wife, as I don't deny, Mr. Lambert, but money is what you want."

"I have enough for my needs."

"Not for her needs, sir. She should be wrapped in cloth of gold and have a path of flowers to tread upon."

"It's a path of thorns just now," muttered Lambert moodily.

"Not for long, sir; not for long. I come to put the crooked straight and to raise a lamp to banish the dark. Very good this white satin is," said Mother Cockleshell irrelevantly, and alluding to the gin. "And terbaccer goes well with it, as there's no denying. You wouldn't mind my taking a whiff, sir, would you?" and she produced a blackened clay pipe which had seen much service. "Smoking is good for the nerves, Mr. Lambert."

The young man handed her his pouch. "Fill up," he said, smiling at the idea of his smoking in company with an old gypsy hag.

"Bless you, my precious!" said Mother Cockleshell, accepting the offer with avidity, and talking more in the Romany manner. "I allers did say as you were what I said before you were, and that's golden, my Gorgious one. Ahime!" she blew a wreath of blue smoke from her withered lips, "that's food to me, my dearie, and heat to my old bones."

Lambert nodded. "You hinted, in Devonshire, that you had something to say, and a few moments ago you talked about putting the crooked straight."

"And don't the crooked need that same?" chuckled Gentilla, nodding. "There's trouble at hand, my gentleman. The child's brewing witch's broth, for sure."

"Chaldea!" Lambert sat up anxiously. He mistrusted the younger gypsy greatl

y, and was eager to know what she was now doing.

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" Mother Cockleshell nodded three times like a veritable Macbeth witch. "She came tearing, rampagious-like, to the camp an hour or so back and put on her fine clothes-may they cleave with pain to her skin-to go to the big city. It is true, rye. Kara ran by the side of the donkey she rode upon-may she have an accident-to Wanbury."

"To Wanbury?" Lambert looked startled as it crossed his mind, and not unnaturally, that Chaldea might have gone to inform Inspector Darby about the conversation with Garvington in the library.

"To Wanbury first, sir, and then to Lundra."

"How can you be certain of that?"

"The child treated me like the devil's calls her," said Gentilla Stanley, shaking her head angrily. "And I have no trust in her, for a witchly wrong 'un she is. When she goes donkey-wise to Wanbury, I says to a chal, says I, quick-like, 'Follow and watch her games!' So the chal runs secret, behind hedges, and comes on the child at the railway line making for Lundra. And off she goes on wheels in place of tramping the droms in true Romany style."

"What the deuce has she gone to London for?" Lambert asked himself in a low voice, but Gentilla's sharp ears overheard.

"Mischief for sure, my gentleman. Hai, but she's a bad one, that same. But she plays and I play, with the winning for me-since the good cards are always in the old hand. Fear nothing, my rye. She cannot hurt, though snake that she is, her bite stings."

The young man did not reply. He was uneasy in one way and relieved in another. Chaldea certainly had not gone to see Inspector Darby, so she could not have any intention of bringing the police into the matter. But why had she gone to London? He asked himself this question and finally put it to the old woman, who watched him with bright, twinkling eyes.

"She's gone for mischief," answered Gentilla, nodding positively. "For mischief's as natural to her as cheating is to a Romany chal. But I'm a dealer of cards myself, rye, and I deal myself the best hand."

"I wish you'd leave metaphor and come to plain speaking," cried Lambert in an irritable tone, for the conversation was getting on his nerves by reason of its prolixity and indirectness.

Mother Cockleshell laughed and nodded, then emptied the ashes out of her pipe and spoke out, irrelevantly as it would seem: "The child has taken the hearts of the young from me," said she, shaking her grizzled head; "but the old cling to the old. With them as trusts my wisdom, my rye, I goes across the black water to America and leaves the silly ones to the child. She'll get them into choky and trouble, for sure. And that's a true dukkerin."

"Have you the money to go to America?"

"Money?" The old woman chuckled and hugged herself. "And why not, sir, when Ishmael Hearne was my child. Aye, the child of my child, for I am the bebee of Hearne, bebee being grandmother in our Romany tongue, sir."

Lambert started from his seat, almost too astonished to speak. "Do you mean to say that you are Pine's grandmother?"

"Pine? Who is Pine? A Gentile I know not. Hearne he was born and Hearne he shall be to me, though the grass is now a quilt for him. Ohone! Hai mai! Ah, me! Woe! and woe, my gentleman. He was the child of my child and the love of my heart," she rocked herself to and fro sorrowfully, "like a leaf has he fallen from the tree; like the dew has he vanished into the blackness of the great shadow. Hai mai! Hai mai! the sadness of it."

"Hearne your grandson?" murmured Lambert, staring at her and scarcely able to believe her.

"True. Yes; it is true," said Gentilla, still rocking. "He left the road, and the tent, and the merry fire under a hedge for your Gentile life. But a born Romany he was and no Gorgio. Ahr-r-r!" she shook herself with disgust. "Why did he labor for gold in the Gentile manner, when he could have chored and cheated like a true-hearted black one?"

Her allusions to money suddenly enlightened the young man. "Yours is the name mentioned in the sealed letter held by Jarwin?" he cried, with genuine amazement written largely on his face. "You inherit the millions?"

Mother Cockleshell wiped her eyes with a corner of her shawl and chuckled complacently. "It is so, young man, therefore can I take those who hold to my wisdom to the great land beyond the water. Ah, I am rich now, sir, and as a Gorgious one could I live beneath a roof-tree. But for why, I asks you, my golden rye, when I was bred to the open and the sky? In a tent I was born; in a tent I shall die. Should I go, Gentile, it's longing for the free life I'd be, since Romany I am and ever shall be. As we says in our tongue, my dear, 'It's allers the boro matcho that pet-a-lay 'dree the panni,' though true gypsy lingo you can't call it for sure."

"What does it mean?" demanded Lambert, staring at the dingy possessor of two millions sterling.

"It's allers the largest fish that falls back into the water," translated Mrs. Stanley. "I told that to Leland, the boro rye, and he goes and puts the same into a book for your readings, my dearie!" then she uttered a howl and flung up her arms. "But what matter I am rich, when my child's child's blood calls out for vengeance. I'd give all the red gold-and red money it is, my loved one," she added, fixing a bright pair of eyes on Lambert, "if I could find him as shot the darling of my heart."

Knowing that he could trust her, and pitying her obvious sorrow, Lambert had no hesitation in revealing the truth so far as he knew it. "It wasn't a him who shot your grandson, but a her."

"Hai!" Gentilla flung up her arms again, "then I was right. My old eyes did see like a cat in the dark, though brightly shone the moon when he fell."

"What? You know?" Lambert started back again at this second surprise.

"If it's a Gentile lady, I know. A red one large as a cow in the meadows, and fierce as an unbroken colt."

"Miss Greeby!"

"Greeby! Greeby! So your romi told me," shrieked the old woman, throwing up her hands in ecstasy. "Says I to her, 'Who's the foxy one?' and says she, smiling like, 'Greeby's her name!'"

"Why did you ask my wife that?" demanded Lambert, much astonished.

"Hai, she was no wife of yours then, sir. Why did I ask her? Because I saw the shooting-"

"Of Pine-of Hearne-of your son?"

"Of who else? of who else?" cried Mother Cockleshell, clapping her skinny hand and paddling on the floor with her feet. "Says Ishmael to me, 'Bebee,' says he, 'my romi is false and would run away with the golden rye this very night as ever was.' And says I to him, 'It's not so, son of my son, for your romi is as true as the stars and purer than gold.' But says he, 'There's a letter,' he says, and shows it to me. 'Lies, son of my son,' says I, and calls on him to play the trustful rom. But he pitches down the letter, and says he, 'I go this night to stop them from paddling the hoof,' and says I to him, 'No! No!' says I. 'She's a true one.' But he goes, when all in the camp are sleeping death-like, and I watches, and I follers, and I hides."

"Where did you hide?"

"Never mind, dearie. I hides securely, and sees him walking up and down biting the lips of him and swinging his arms. Then I sees-for Oliver was bright, and Oliver's the moon, lovey-the big Gentile woman come round and hide in the bushes. Says I to myself, says I, 'And what's your game?' I says, not knowing the same till she shoots and my child's child falls dead as a hedgehog. Then she runs and I run, and all is over."

"Why didn't you denounce her, Gentilla?"

"And for why, my precious heart? Who would believe the old gypsy? Rather would the Poknees say as I'd killed my dear one. No! no! Artful am I and patient in abiding my time. But the hour strikes, as I said when I spoke to your romi in Devonshire no less, and the foxy moll shall hang. You see, my dear, I waited for some Gentile to speak what I could speak, to say as what I saw was truth for sure. You speak, and now I can tell my tale to the big policeman at Wanbury so that my son's son may sleep quiet, knowing that the evil has come home to her as laid him low. But, lovey, oh, lovey, and my precious one!" cried the old woman darting forward to caress Lambert's hand in a fondling way, "tell me how you know and what you learned. At the cottage you were, and maybe out in the open watching the winder of her you loved."

"No," said Lambert sharply, "I was at the cottage certainly, but in bed and asleep. I did not hear of the crime until I was in London. In this way I found out the truth, Mother!" and he related rapidly all that had been discovered, bringing the narrative right up to the confession of Silver, which he detailed at length.

The old woman kept her sharp eyes on his expressive face and hugged his hand every now and then, as various points in the narrative struck her. At the end she dropped his hand and returned back to her chair chuckling. "It's a sad dukkerin for the foxy lady," said Gentilla, grinning like the witch she was. "Hanged she will be, and rightful it is to be so!"

"I agree with you," replied Lambert relentlessly. "Your evidence and that of Silver can hang her, certainly. Yet, if she is arrested, and the whole tale comes out in the newspapers, think of the disgrace to my family."

Mother Cockleshell nodded. "That's as true as true, my golden rye," she said pondering. "And I wish not to hurt you and the rani, who was kind to me. I go away," she rose to her feet briskly, "and I think. What will you do?"

"I can't say," said Lambert, doubtfully and irresolutely. "I must consult my wife. Miss Greeby should certainly suffer for her crime, and yet-"

"Aye! Aye! Aye! The boro rye," she meant Garvington, "is a bad one for sure, as we know. Shame to him is shame to you, and I wouldn't have the rani miserable-the good kind one that she is. Wait! aye, wait, my precious gentleman, and we shall see."

"You will say nothing in the meantime," said Lambert, stopping her at the door, and anxious to know exactly what were her intentions.

"I have waited long for vengeance and I can wait longer, sir," said Mother Cockleshell, becoming less the gypsy and more the respectable almshouse widow. "Depend upon my keeping quiet until-"

"Until what? Until when?"

"Never you mind," said the woman mysteriously. "Them as sins must suffer for the sin. But not you and her as is innocent."

"No violence, Gentilla," said the young man, alarmed less the lawless gypsy nature should punish Miss Greeby privately.

"I swear there shall be no violence, rye. Wait, for the child is making mischief, and until we knows of her doings we must be silent. Give me your gripper, my dearie," she seized his wrist and bent back the palm of the hand to trace the lines with a dirty finger. "Good fortune comes to you and to her, my golden rye," she droned in true gypsy fashion. "Money, and peace, and honor, and many children, to carry on a stainless name. Your son shall you see, and your son's son, my noble gentleman, and with your romi shall you go with happiness to the grave," she dropped the hand. "So be it for a true dukkerin, and remember Gentilla Stanley when the luck comes true."

"But Mother, Mother," said Lambert, following her to the door, as he was still doubtful as to her intentions concerning Miss Greeby.

The gypsy waved him aside solemnly. "Never again will you see me, my golden rye, if the stars speak truly, and if there be virtue in the lines of the hand. I came into your life: I go out of your life: and what is written shall be!" she made a mystic sign close to his face and then nodded cheerily.

"Duveleste rye!" was her final greeting, and she disappeared swiftly, but the young man did not know that the Romany farewell meant, "God bless you!"

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