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   Chapter 20 No.20

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 23251

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Christmas passed off quietly. As soon as it was known that Lady Greendale had returned, the neighbours called, and for the next few months there was the usual round of dinner parties. To all remarks as to the length of time that she had been away, Lady Greendale merely replied that Bertha had been staying among friends, and that as she herself had not been in very good health, she had preferred staying in town, where she could always find a physician close at hand if she needed one.

It was not until they had been back for more than a month, that the engagement between Bertha and Major Mallett was announced by Lady Greendale to her friends, and it was generally supposed that it had but just taken place. The announcement gave great satisfaction, for the general opinion had been that Bertha would get engaged in London, and that Greendale would be virtually lost to the county.

The marriage was to take place in April.

"There is no reason for a long delay," Lady Greendale explained. "They have known each other ever since Bertha was a child. They intend to spend their honeymoon on board Major Mallett's yacht, the Osprey, and will go up the Mediterranean until the heat begins to get too oppressive, when they talk about sailing round the islands, or, at any rate, cruising for some time off the west of Scotland."

About the same time, George Lechmere, in a rather mysterious manner, told Frank that he wished for a few minutes' conversation with him.

"What is it, George? Anything wrong with the cellar?"

"No, sir, it is not that. The fact is that Anna Parsons, Miss Greendale's maid, you know, and I, have settled to get married, too."

"Capital, George, I am heartily glad of it," Frank said, shaking him warmly by the hand.

"I never thought that I should get to care for anyone again, but you see we were thrown a good deal together on the voyage home, and I don't know how it came about, but we had pretty well arranged it before we got back, and now we have settled it altogether."

"I am not surprised to hear it, George. I rather fancied, from what I saw on board, that something was likely to come of it. It is the best thing by far for you."

"Well, sir, as I said, I never thought that I should care for anyone else, but I am sure that I shall make a better husband, now, than I should have done had I married five years ago."

"That I am sure you will. You have had a rough lesson, and it has made a great impression, and I doubt whether your marriage would have been a happy one had you married then, after what you told me of your jealous temper. Now I am sure that neither Anna, nor anyone else, could wish for a better husband than you will make. Well now, what are you thinking of doing, for I suppose you have thought it over well?"

"That is what we cannot quite settle, Major. I should like to stay with you all my life, just as I am."

"I don't see that you could do that-at least, not in your present condition. There is no farm vacant, and if there were one I must give the late tenant's son the option of it. That has always been the rule on the estate. However, we need not settle on that at present. When are you going to get married? I should like it to be at the same time as we are. I am sure that Miss Greendale would be pleased. We both owe you a great deal, and, as you know, I regard you as my closest friend."

"Thank you, Major, but I am sure that neither Anna nor I would care to be married before a church full of grand people, and we have agreed that we won't do it until after you come back from your trip. Miss Bertha has promised Anna that she shall go with her as her maid, and of course, Major, I shall want to go with you."

"Well, you might get married the week before, and still go with us."

George shook his head.

"I think that it would be better the other way, Major. We will go with you as we are, and get married after you come back."

The next day Frank had a long talk with Mr. Norton.

"Well, sir, your plan would suit me very well. Nothing could be better," said the old steward. "In fact, I was going to tell you that I was beginning to find that the outdoor work was getting too much for me, and that though I should be very sorry to give it up altogether, I must either arrange with you to have help, or else find a successor. I am sure that the arrangement you propose would suit me exactly.

"George Lechmere would be just the man for the work. We used to think him the best judge of livestock in the county, and he is a good all-round farmer. If he were to take the work of the home farm off my hands, I could keep on very well with the rest of the estate for another two or three years, and as he would act as my assistant he would, by the end of that time, be quite capable of taking it over altogether. I should then move into Chippenham. We have two married daughters living, and now that we have no one at home, my wife has been saying for some time that she would rather settle there than go on living in the country, and there is really no more occasion for me to go on working. So, as soon as Lechmere has got the whole thing in hand, I shall be quite ready to hand it over to him."

"Well, I am very glad that it is so, Norton. Of course, I should never have made any change until you yourself were perfectly willing to give it up, but as you are willing, I am certainly glad to be able to put him into it. As you know, he saved my life, and has done me many other great services, and I regard him as a friend and want to keep him near me. Of course, he will go into the farmhouse, and after you retire he can either move into yours, or remain there, as he likes. Naturally, as long as you live, Norton, I shall continue the rate of pay you have always had. You were over thirty years with my father, and I should certainly make no difference in that respect."

"Well, George, I have arranged your business," Frank said that evening. "Norton is getting on in life now, and he begins to find his work in winter a little too hard for him, so I have arranged that you are to take the management of the home farm altogether off his hands, and will, of course, establish yourself at the house. You will be a sort of assistant to him in other matters, and get up the work, and in the course of a couple of years, at the outside, he will retire altogether, and you will be steward. If you like you can work the home farm on your own account, but that will be for your consideration. How do you think that you will like that?"

"I should like it above everything, Major, and I am grateful to you, indeed."

"Well, I am glad that you like the arrangement, George. I had it in my mind when I was talking to you two days ago, but until I saw Norton, and found that he was willing to retire, I did not propose it."

Towards the end of February, Lady Greendale and Bertha went up to town for a fortnight, intimating to Frank that they would be so busy with important business that his presence there would not be desired. He, however, travelled with them to London, and then went round to Southampton, where he had a consultation with the firm in whose yard the yacht was laid up, and the head of the great upholstering firm there, and arranged for material alterations in the plans of the cabins, and their redecoration. Everything was to be completed by the beginning of April. He had written to Hawkins to meet him on board.

"You must have everything ready by the fifth," he said. "We shall arrive late in the afternoon, or perhaps in the evening of the fifth, and shall get under way next morning. I hope that you have been able to get the same crew."

"There is no fear of their not all coming, sir, except Purvis. He has been bad all the winter, and I doubt whether he will be able to go with us."

"I am sorry to hear that. Tell him that I shall make him an allowance of a pound a week for the season, and that I shall give him a little pension, of ten shillings a week, as long as he lives. I shall consider that all who went with me on that cruise to the West Indies have a claim upon me."

The time for the wedding approached. There was some consultation, between Frank and Lady Greendale, as to whether the dinner to the tenants should be given on that occasion, or on their return; and it was settled that it would be more convenient to postpone it.

"I am sure they would rather have you and Bertha here, and it would be much more convenient in every way. We have so much to think about now, and there will be so many arrangements to be made."

"I quite agree with you. I will put it all in the hands of Rafters, of Chippenham. I think that it is only right to give it to local people. We shall want two big marquees, one for your tenants and mine and their wives and families, and the other for all the labourers and farm servants."

"And there must be another for all the children," Bertha put in.

"Very well, Bertha.

"Then, of course, we must have a military band and fireworks, and we had better have a big platform put down for those who like to dance, and a lot of shows and things for the elders and children, and a conjurer with a big lucky basket, and things of that sort. Of course, at present one cannot give even an approximate date, but I will tell them that they shall have a fortnight's notice."

"I wonder what has become of Carthew, Major?" George Lechmere said, as he was having a last talk with Frank on the eve of the wedding. "He will gnash his teeth when he sees it in the papers."

"I have thought of him a good many times, George. He is an evil scoundrel, and nothing would please me more than to hear that he was dead. When I remember how many years he kept up his malice against me, for having beaten him in a fight; I know how intense must be his hatred of me, now that I have thwarted all his plans and burned his yacht. It is not that I am afraid of him personally, but there is no saying what form his vengeance will take, for that he will sooner or later try to be revenged I feel absolutely certain."

"I have often thought of it myself, sir. Perhaps he is out in Hayti still."

"No chance of that, George. Miss Greendale said that he told her that he had money sufficient to pay for a ten years' cruise. That may have been a lie, but he must have had money sufficient to last him for some time, anyhow, and you may be sure that he took it on shore with him. He may have died from the effects of that wound you gave him, but if he is alive I have no doubt that he is in England somewhere. Of course, he would not show himself where he was known, having been a heavy defaulter last year; but he may have let his beard grow, and so disguised himself that he would not be easily recognised. As to what he is doing, of course I have not the slightest idea; but we may be quite sure that he is not up to any good.

"Well, George, then it is quite settled that you and Anna are to go off with the luggage directly the wedding is over. You will come ashore with the gig and meet us at eight o'clock at the station, with a carriage to take us down to the boat."

"I will be there, Major, and see that everything is ready for you on board."

When packing up his things in the morning, George Lechmere put aside a pistol and a dagger that he had taken from the sash of a mutineer, whom he had killed in India.

"They are not the sort of things a man generally carries at a wedding," he said, grimly, "but until I know something of what that villain is doing, I mean to keep them handy for use. There is never any saying what he m

ay be up to, and I know well enough that the Major, whatever he says, will never give the matter a thought."

He loaded the pistol and dropped it into his coat pocket. Then he opened his waistcoat, cut a slit in the lining under his left arm, and pushed the dagger down it until it was stopped by the slender steel crosspiece at the handle.

"I will make a neater job of it afterwards," he said to himself. "That will do for the present, and I can get at it in a moment."

The wedding went off as such things generally do. The church was crowded, the girls of the village school lined the path from the gate to the church door, and strewed flowers as the bridal party arrived; and as they drove off to Greendale tenants of both estates, collected in the churchyard, cheered them heartily. There was a large gathering at breakfast, but at last the toasts were all drunk, and the awkward time of waiting over, and at three o'clock Major Mallett and his wife drove off amidst the cheers of the crowd assembled to see them start.

"Thank God that is all over," Frank said heartily as they passed out through the lodge gates.

At half-past eight Captain Hawkins was standing at the landing stage in a furious passion.

"Where can that fellow Jackson have got to?" he said, stamping his foot. "I said that you were all to be back in a quarter of an hour when we landed, and it is three quarters of an hour now. I never knew him to do such a thing before, and I would not have had such a thing happen this evening for any money. What will the Major think when he finds only five men instead of six in the gig, on such an occasion as this? We shall be having them down in a minute or two. Jackson had better not show his face on board after this. It is the most provoking thing I ever knew."

"It ain't his way, captain," one of the men said. "Jackson can go on the spree like the rest of us, but I never knew him to do such a thing all the years I have known him, when there was work to be done; and I am sure he would not do so this evening. He may have got knocked down or run over or something."

"I will take an oar if you like, captain," said a man in a yachtsman's suit, who was loitering near. "I have nothing to do, and may as well row off as do anything else. You can put me on shore in the dinghy afterwards."

"All right, my lad, take number two athwart. It is too dark to see faces, and the owner is not likely to notice that there is a strange hand on board. I will give you half a crown gladly for the job."

The man got into the boat and took his seat.

"Here they come," the captain went on. "We are only just in time. Up-end your oars, lads. We ain't strong enough to cheer, but we will give them a hearty 'God bless you!' as they come down."

George Lechmere came on first, and handed in a bundle of wraps, parasols, and umbrellas. The captain stood at the top of the steps, and as Frank and Bertha came up took off his hat.

"God bless you and your wife, sir," he said, and the men re-echoed the words in a deep chorus.

"Thank you, captain.

"Thank you all, lads, for my wife and myself," Frank said, heartily, and a minute later the boat pushed off.

The tide was running out strong, and they were halfway across it towards the dark mass of yachts, when there was a sudden crash forward.

"What is it?" Frank exclaimed.

"This fellow has stove in the boat, sir," the bow oar exclaimed, and then came a series of hurried exclamations.

Frank had not caught the words, but the rush of water aft told him that something serious had happened.

"Row, men, row!" he shouted.

"Steer to the nearest yacht, Hawkins."

"We shall never get there, sir. She will be full in half a minute."

"Let each man stick to his oar," Frank said, standing up. "We aft will hold on to the boat."

Then he raised his voice in a shout:

"Yachts, ahoy! Send boats; we are sinking!

"Don't be frightened, darling," he said to Bertha. "Keep hold of the gunwale. I can keep you up easily enough until help comes, but it is better to stick to the boat. We must have run against something that has stove her in."

A moment later the water was up to the thwarts, the boat gave a lurch, and then rolled over. Frank threw his arm round Bertha, and as the boat capsized clung to it with his disengaged hand.

"Don't try to get hold of the keel," he said. "It would turn her over again. Just let your hands rest on her, and take hold of the edge of one of the planks.

"That is it, Hawkins. Do you get the other side and just keep her floating as she is. We shall have help in a minute or two.

"Are you all right, George?"

"Yes, I am at her stern. Do you want assistance, sir?"

"No, we are all right, George."

A moment later a man came up beside the Major, and put his hand heavily on his shoulder.

"You won last time, Mallett," he hissed in his ear. "It is my turn now."

The man's weight was pressing him under water, and the boat gave a lurch.

Frank loosed his hold of Bertha with the words, "Hold on, dear, for a minute," and, turning, grappled with his enemy, at the same moment grasping his right wrist as the arm was raised to strike him with a knife.

In a moment both went below the water. They came up beyond the stern, and Frank said:

"Take care of Bertha, George-Carthew-" and then went down again.

Furiously they struggled. They were well matched in strength, but Frank felt that his antagonist was careless of his own life, for he had wound his legs round him, and, unable to wrench his arm from his grasp, was doing his utmost to prevent their coming to the surface.

Suddenly, when he felt that he could no longer retain his breath, he felt arms thrown round them both, and a moment later came to the surface. Then he heard an exclamation of "Thank God!" An arm was raised, and two blows struck rapidly.

Carthew's grasp relaxed, the knife dropped from his hand, and, as Frank shook himself free, he sank under the water.

"Are you all right, Major?" his rescuer said.

"Yes," he gasped.

"Put your hand on my shoulder. The boat is not a length away."

A minute later Frank was beside Bertha again.

"Where have you been, Frank? I was frightened."

"One of the men grasped me," he said, "and I should have turned the boat over if I had not let go. However, thanks to George Lechmere, who came to my rescue, I have shaken him off.

"Ah! here is help."

Three or four boats from the yachts were indeed rowing up. The four clinging to the gig were taken on board by one of them, while the others picked up the men who were floating supported by their oars.

"Don't say a word about it, George," Frank whispered.

The Osprey was lying but two or three hundred yards away, and they were soon alongside.

"This is not the sort of welcome I thought to give you on board, dear," he said, as he helped Bertha on deck, and went down the companion with her.

Anna burst into exclamations of dismay at seeing the dripping figures.

"We have had an accident, Anna," Frank said, cheerfully, "but I don't think that we are any the worse for it. Please take your mistress aft and get her into dry things at once.

"Steward, open one of those bottles of champagne, and give me half a tumbler full."

He hurried after the others with it.

"Please drink this at once, Bertha," he said. "Yes, you shall have some tea directly, but start with this. It will soon put you in a glow. Oh! yes, I am going to have one, too; but a ducking is no odds to me."

Then he ran up on deck.

"You have saved my life again, George, for that scoundrel would have drowned us both."

"I saw the knife in his hand as you went down, and knew that you wanted me more than Miss-I mean Mrs. Mallett did."

"How did you make him let go so quickly?"

"I had a sort of fear that, sooner or later, that villain would be up to something; and had made up my mind that I would always have a weapon handy. This morning I stuck that dagger of mine inside the lining of my waistcoat, so that it might be handy. And it was handy. You were not five yards from me when you went down, and I dived for you, but could not find you at first, and had to come up once for air. Of course, I could not use the dagger until I found which was which, and then I put an end to it."

"Then you killed him, George?"

"I don't think that he will trouble you any more, sir; and if ever a chap deserved his fate that villain did. Why, sir, do you know how it all happened?"

"No, I did not catch what the man at the bow said. There was such a confusion forward."

"He said that he had staved the boat in somehow. He must have taken the place of one of the men on purpose to do it."

"Well, George, I can't say that I'm sorry."

"I am heartily glad, sir. I am no more sorry for killing him than for shooting one of those murderous niggers. Less sorry, a great deal. The man deserved hanging. He was intending to murder you, and perhaps Mrs. Mallett, and I killed him as I should have killed a mad dog that was attacking you."

"Well, say nothing about it at present, George. It would be a great shock to my wife if she were to know it. Now you had better go and change your things at once, as I am going to do. Are all the men rescued?"

"Yes, sir, they are all five on board."

"Hawkins," Frank said, putting his hand in his pocket, "give the men who came to help us a couple of sovereigns each, and tell our men that I don't want them to talk about the affair. I will see you about it again."

Frank was not long in getting into dry clothes, and a few minutes later Bertha came in.

"Are you none the worse for it, dear?"

"Not a bit, Frank. That champagne has thoroughly warmed me. What a sudden affair it all was. Is everyone safe?"

"Yes, they stuck to the oars, and all our crew were picked up. It was a bad start, was it not? But it has never happened to me before, and I hope that it will never happen to me again."

"Some people would be inclined to think this an unlucky beginning," said Bertha, with a slight tone of interrogation.

"I am certainly not one of them," he laughed. "I had only one superstition, and that is at an end. You know what it was, dear, but the spell is broken. He had a long run of minor successes, but I have won the only prize worth having, for which we have been rivals."

Some days later the body of a sailor was washed ashore near Selsey Bill. An inquest was held, and a verdict returned that the man had been murdered by some person or persons unknown; but although the police of Portsmouth, Southampton, Cowes, and Ryde made vigilant inquiries, they were unable to ascertain that any yacht sailor hailing from those ports had suddenly disappeared.

There was much discussion, in the forecastle of the Osprey, as to the identity and motives of the man who had first got into conversation with Jackson, and then asked him to take a drink, which must have been hocussed, for Jackson remembered nothing afterwards. It was evident that the fellow had done it in order to take his place. He had staved in the boat, and, as they supposed, afterwards swam to shore; but the crime seemed so singularly motiveless that they finally put it down as the work of a madman.

It was not until the day before the Osprey anchored again in Cowes, three months later, that Bertha, on expressing some apprehension of further trouble from Carthew, if he had survived the wound George Lechmere gave him, learned the true account of the sinking of the gig, as she went on board at Southampton on her wedding day.

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