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Story of the Bandbox

UP to the age of sixteen, at a private school and afterwards at one
of those great institutions for which England is justly famous, Mr.
Harry Hartley had received the ordinary education of a gentleman.
At that period, he manifested a remarkable distaste for study; and
his only surviving parent being both weak and ignorant, he was
permitted thenceforward to spend his time in the attainment of
petty and purely elegant accomplishments. Two years later, he was
left an orphan and almost a beggar. For all active and industrious
pursuits, Harry was unfitted alike by nature and training. He
could sing romantic ditties, and accompany himself with discretion
on the piano; he was a graceful although a timid cavalier; he had a
pronounced taste for chess; and nature had sent him into the world
with one of the most engaging exteriors that can well be fancied.
Blond and pink, with dove's eyes and a gentle smile, he had an air
of agreeable tenderness and melancholy, and the most submissive and
caressing manners. But when all is said, he was not the man to
lead armaments of war, or direct the councils of a State.

A fortunate chance and some influence obtained for Harry, at the
time of his bereavement, the position of private secretary to
Major-General Sir Thomas Vandeleur, C.B. Sir Thomas was a man of
sixty, loud-spoken, boisterous, and domineering. For some reason,
some service the nature of which had been often whispered and
repeatedly denied, the Rajah of Kashgar had presented this officer
with the sixth known diamond of the world. The gift transformed
General Vandeleur from a poor into a wealthy man, from an obscure
and unpopular soldier into one of the lions of London society; the
possessor of the Rajah's Diamond was welcome in the most exclusive
circles; and he had found a lady, young, beautiful, and well-born,
who was willing to call the diamond hers even at the price of
marriage with Sir Thomas Vandeleur. It was commonly said at the
time that, as like draws to like, one jewel had attracted another;
certainly Lady Vandeleur was not only a gem of the finest water in
her own person, but she showed herself to the world in a very
costly setting; and she was considered by many respectable
authorities, as one among the three or four best dressed women in
England.

Harry's duty as secretary was not particularly onerous; but he had
a dislike for all prolonged work; it gave him pain to ink his
lingers; and the charms of Lady Vandeleur and her toilettes drew
him often from the library to the boudoir. He had the prettiest
ways among women, could talk fashions with enjoyment, and was never
more happy than when criticising a shade of ribbon, or running on
an errand to the milliner's. In short, Sir Thomas's correspondence
fell into pitiful arrears, and my Lady had another lady's maid.

At last the General, who was one of the least patient of military
commanders, arose from his place in a violent access of passion,
and indicated to his secretary that he had no further need for his
services, with one of those explanatory gestures which are most
rarely employed between gentlemen. The door being unfortunately
open, Mr. Hartley fell downstairs head foremost.

He arose somewhat hurt and very deeply aggrieved. The life in the
General's house precisely suited him; he moved, on a more or less
doubtful footing, in very genteel company, he did little, he ate of
the best, and he had a lukewarm satisfaction in the presence of
Lady Vandeleur, which, in his own heart, he dubbed by a more
emphatic name.

Immediately after he had been outraged by the military foot, he
hurried to the boudoir and recounted his sorrows.

"You know very well, my dear Harry," replied Lady Vandeleur, for
she called him by name like a child or a domestic servant, "that
you never by any chance do what the General tells you. No more do
I, you may say. But that is different. A woman can earn her
pardon for a good year of disobedience by a single adroit
submission; and, besides, no one is married to his private
secretary. I shall be sorry to lose you; but since you cannot stay
longer in a house where you have been insulted, I shall wish you
good-bye, and I promise you to make the General smart for his
behaviour."

Harry's countenance fell; tears came into his eyes, and he gazed on
Lady Vandeleur with a tender reproach.

"My Lady," said he, "what is an insult? I should think little
indeed of any one who could not forgive them by the score. But to
leave one's friends; to tear up the bonds of affection - "

He was unable to continue, for his emotion choked him, and he began
to weep.

Lady Vandeleur looked at him with a curious expression. "This
little fool," she thought, "imagines himself to be in love with me.
Why should he not become my servant instead of the General's? He
is good-natured, obliging, and understands dress; and besides it
will keep him out of mischief. He is positively too pretty to be
unattached." That night she talked over the General, who was
already somewhat ashamed of his vivacity; and Harry was transferred
to the feminine department, where his life was little short of
heavenly. He was always dressed with uncommon nicety, wore
delicate flowers in his button-hole, and could entertain a visitor
with tact and pleasantry. He took a pride in servility to a
beautiful woman; received Lady Vandeleur's commands as so many
marks of favour; and was pleased to exhibit himself before other
men, who derided and despised him, in his character of male lady's-
maid and man milliner. Nor could he think enough of his existence
from a moral point of view. Wickedness seemed to him an
essentially male attribute, and to pass one's days with a delicate
woman, and principally occupied about trimmings, was to inhabit an
enchanted isle among the storms of life.

One fine morning he came into the drawing-room and began to arrange
some music on the top of the piano. Lady Vandeleur, at the other
end of the apartment, was speaking somewhat eagerly with her
brother, Charlie Pendragon, an elderly young man, much broken with
dissipation, and very lame of one foot. The private secretary, to
whose entrance they paid no regard, could not avoid overhearing a
part of their conversation.

"To-day or never," said the lady. "Once and for all, it shall be
done to-day."

"To-day, if it must be," replied the brother, with a sigh. "But it
is a false step, a ruinous step, Clara; and we shall live to repent
it dismally."

Lady Vandeleur looked her brother steadily and somewhat strangely
in the face.

"You forget," she said; "the man must die at last."

"Upon my word, Clara," said Pendragon, "I believe you are the most
heartless rascal in England."

"You men," she returned, "are so coarsely built, that you can never
appreciate a shade of meaning. You are yourselves rapacious,
violent, immodest, careless of distinction; and yet the least
thought for the future shocks you in a woman. I have no patience
with such stuff. You would despise in a common banker the
imbecility that you expect to find in us."

"You are very likely right," replied her brother; "you were always
cleverer than I. And, anyway, you know my motto: The family
before all."

"Yes, Charlie," she returned, taking his hand in hers, "I know your
motto better than you know it yourself. 'And Clara before the
family!' Is not that the second part of it? Indeed, you are the
best of brothers, and I love you dearly."

Mr. Pendragon got up, looking a little confused by these family
endearments.

"I had better not be seen," said he. "I understand my part to a
miracle, and I'll keep an eye on the Tame Cat."

"Do," she replied. "He is an abject creature, and might ruin all."

She kissed the tips of her fingers to him daintily; and the brother
withdrew by the boudoir and the back stair.

"Harry," said Lady Vandeleur, turning towards the secretary as soon
as they were alone, "I have a commission for you this morning. But
you shall take a cab; I cannot have my secretary freckled."

She spoke the last words with emphasis and a look of half-motherly
pride that caused great contentment to poor Harry; and he professed
himself charmed to find an opportunity of serving her.

"It is another of our great secrets," she went on archly, "and no
one must know of it but my secretary and me. Sir Thomas would make
the saddest disturbance; and if you only knew how weary I am of
these scenes! Oh, Harry, Harry, can you explain to me what makes
you men so violent and unjust? But, indeed, I know you cannot; you
are the only man in the world who knows nothing of these shameful
passions; you are so good, Harry, and so kind; you, at least, can
be a woman's friend; and, do you know? I think you make the others
more ugly by comparison."

"It is you," said Harry gallantly, "who are so kind to me. You
treat me like - "

"Like a mother," interposed Lady Vandeleur; "I try to be a mother
to you. Or, at least," she corrected herself with a smile, "almost
a mother. I am afraid I am too young to be your mother really.
Let us say a friend - a dear friend."

She paused long enough to let her words take effect in Harry's
sentimental quarters, but not long enough to allow him a reply.

"But all this is beside our purpose," she resumed. "You will find
a bandbox in the left-hand side of the oak wardrobe; it is
underneath the pink slip that I wore on Wednesday with my Mechlin.
You will take it immediately to this address," and she gave him a
paper, "but do not, on any account, let it out of your hands until
you have received a receipt written by myself. Do you understand?
Answer, if you please - answer! This is extremely important, and I
must ask you to pay some attention."

Harry pacified her by repeating her instructions perfectly; and she
was just going to tell him more when General Vandeleur flung into
the apartment, scarlet with anger, and holding a long and elaborate
milliner's bill in his hand.

"Will you look at this, madam?" cried he. "Will you have the
goodness to look at this document? I know well enough you married
me for my money, and I hope I can make as great allowances as any
other man in the service; but, as sure as God made me, I mean to
put a period to this disreputable prodigality."

"Mr. Hartley," said Lady Vandeleur, "I think you understand what
you have to do. May I ask you to see to it at once?"

"Stop," said the General, addressing Harry, "one word before you
go." And then, turning again to Lady Vandeleur, "What is this
precious fellow's errand?" he demanded. "I trust him no further
than I do yourself, let me tell you. If he had as much as the
rudiments of honesty, he would scorn to stay in this house; and
what he does for his wages is a mystery to all the world. What is
his errand, madam? and why are you hurrying him away?"

"I supposed you had something to say to me in private," replied the
lady.

"You spoke about an errand," insisted the General. "Do not attempt
to deceive me in my present state of temper. You certainly spoke
about an errand."

"If you insist on making your servants privy to our humiliating
dissensions," replied Lady Vandeleur, "perhaps I had better ask Mr.
Hartley to sit down. No?" she continued; "then you may go, Mr.
Hartley. I trust you may remember all that you have heard in this
room; it may be useful to you."

Harry at once made his escape from the drawing-room; and as he ran
upstairs he could hear the General's voice upraised in declamation,
and the thin tones of Lady Vandeleur planting icy repartees at
every opening. How cordially he admired the wife! How skilfully
she could evade an awkward question! with what secure effrontery
she repeated her instructions under the very guns of the enemy! and
on the other hand, how he detested the husband!

There had been nothing unfamiliar in the morning's events, for he
was continually in the habit of serving Lady Vandeleur on secret
missions, principally connected with millinery. There was a
skeleton in the house, as he well knew. The bottomless
extravagance and the unknown liabilities of the wife had long since
swallowed her own fortune, and threatened day by day to engulph
that of the husband. Once or twice in every year exposure and ruin
seemed imminent, and Harry kept trotting round to all sorts of
furnishers' shops, telling small fibs, and paying small advances on
the gross amount, until another term was tided over, and the lady
and her faithful secretary breathed again. For Harry, in a double
capacity, was heart and soul upon that side of the war: not only
did he adore Lady Vandeleur and fear and dislike her husband, but
he naturally sympathised with the love of finery, and his own
single extravagance was at the tailor's.

He found the bandbox where it had been described, arranged his
toilette with care, and left the house. The sun shone brightly;
the distance he had to travel was considerable, and he remembered
with dismay that the General's sudden irruption had prevented Lady
Vandeleur from giving him money for a cab. On this sultry day
there was every chance that his complexion would suffer severely;
and to walk through so much of London with a bandbox on his arm was
a humiliation almost insupportable to a youth of his character. He
paused, and took counsel with himself. The Vandeleurs lived in
Eaton Place; his destination was near Notting Hill; plainly, he
might cross the Park by keeping well in the open and avoiding
populous alleys; and he thanked his stars when he reflected that it
was still comparatively early in the day.

Anxious to be rid of his incubus, he walked somewhat faster than
his ordinary, and he was already some way through Kensington
Gardens when, in a solitary spot among trees, he found himself
confronted by the General.

"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas," observed Harry, politely falling
on one side; for the other stood directly in his path.

"Where are you going, sir?" asked the General.

"I am taking a little walk among the trees," replied the lad.

The General struck the bandbox with his cane.

"With that thing?" he cried; "you lie, sir, and you know you lie!"

"Indeed, Sir Thomas," returned Harry, "I am not accustomed to be
questioned in so high a key."

"You do not understand your position," said the General. "You are
my servant, and a servant of whom I have conceived the most serious
suspicions. How do I know but that your box is full of teaspoons?"

"It contains a silk hat belonging to a friend," said Harry.

"Very well," replied General Vandeleur. "Then I want to see your
friend's silk hat. I have," he added grimly, "a singular curiosity
for hats; and I believe you know me to be somewhat positive."

"I beg your pardon, Sir Thomas, I am exceedingly grieved," Harry
apologised; "but indeed this is a private affair."

The General caught him roughly by the shoulder with one hand, while
he raised his cane in the most menacing manner with the other.
Harry gave himself up for lost; but at the same moment Heaven
vouchsafed him an unexpected defender in the person of Charlie
Pendragon, who now strode forward from behind the trees.

"Come, come, General, hold your hand," said he, "this is neither
courteous nor manly."

"Aha!" cried the General, wheeling round upon his new antagonist,
"Mr. Pendragon! And do you suppose, Mr. Pendragon, that because I
have had the misfortune to marry your sister, I shall suffer myself
to be dogged and thwarted by a discredited and bankrupt libertine
like you? My acquaintance with Lady Vandeleur, sir, has taken away
all my appetite for the other members of her family."

"And do you fancy, General Vandeleur," retorted Charlie, "that
because my sister has had the misfortune to marry you, she there
and then forfeited her rights and privileges as a lady? I own,
sir, that by that action she did as much as anybody could to
derogate from her position; but to me she is still a Pendragon. I
make it my business to protect her from ungentlemanly outrage, and
if you were ten times her husband I would not permit her liberty to
be restrained, nor her private messengers to be violently
arrested."

"How is that, Mr. Hartley?" interrogated the General. "Mr.
Pendragon is of my opinion, it appears. He too suspects that Lady
Vandeleur has something to do with your friend's silk hat."

Charlie saw that he had committed an unpardonable blunder, which he
hastened to repair.

"How, sir?" he cried; "I suspect, do you say? I suspect nothing.
Only where I find strength abused and a man brutalising his
inferiors, I take the liberty to interfere."

As he said these words he made a sign to Harry, which the latter
was too dull or too much troubled to understand.

"In what way am I to construe your attitude, sir?" demanded
Vandeleur.

"Why, sir, as you please," returned Pendragon.

The General once more raised his cane, and made a cut for Charlie's
head; but the latter, lame foot and all, evaded the blow with his
umbrella, ran in, and immediately closed with his formidable
adversary.

"Run, Harry, run!" he cried; "run, you dolt! Harry stood petrified
for a moment, watching the two men sway together in this fierce
embrace; then he turned and took to his heels. When he cast a
glance over his shoulder he saw the General prostrate under
Charlie's knee, but still making desperate efforts to reverse the
situation; and the Gardens seemed to have filled with people, who
were running from all directions towards the scene of fight. This
spectacle lent the secretary wings; and he did not relax his pace
until he had gained the Bayswater road, and plunged at random into
an unfrequented by-street.

To see two gentlemen of his acquaintance thus brutally mauling each
other was deeply shocking to Harry. He desired to forget the
sight; he desired, above all, to put as great a distance as
possible between himself and General Vandeleur; and in his
eagerness for this he forgot everything about his destination, and
hurried before him headlong and trembling. When he remembered that
Lady Vandeleur was the wife of one and the sister of the other of
these gladiators, his heart was touched with sympathy for a woman
so distressingly misplaced in life. Even his own situation in the
General's household looked hardly so pleasing as usual in the light
of these violent transactions.

He had walked some little distance, busied with these meditations,
before a slight collision with another passenger reminded him of
the bandbox on his arm.

"Heavens!" cried he, "where was my head? and whither have I
wandered?"

Thereupon he consulted the envelope which Lady Vandeleur had given
him. The address was there, but without a name. Harry was simply
directed to ask for "the gentleman who expected a parcel from Lady
Vandeleur," and if he were not at home to await his return. The
gentleman, added the note, should present a receipt in the
handwriting of the lady herself. All this seemed mightily
mysterious, and Harry was above all astonished at the omission of
the name and the formality of the receipt. He had thought little
of this last when he heard it dropped in conversation; but reading
it in cold blood, and taking it in connection with the other
strange particulars, he became convinced that he was engaged in
perilous affairs. For half a moment he had a doubt of Lady
Vandeleur herself; for he found these obscure proceedings somewhat
unworthy of so high a lady, and became more critical when her
secrets were preserved against himself. But her empire over his
spirit was too complete, he dismissed his suspicions, and blamed
himself roundly for having so much as entertained them.

In one thing, however, his duty and interest, his generosity and
his terrors, coincided - to get rid of the bandbox with the
greatest possible despatch.

He accosted the first policeman and courteously inquired his way.
It turned out that he was already not far from his destination, and
a walk of a few minutes brought him to a small house in a lane,
freshly painted, and kept with the most scrupulous attention. The
knocker and bell-pull were highly polished; flowering pot-herbs
garnished the sills of the different windows; and curtains of some
rich material concealed the interior from the eyes of curious
passengers. The place had an air of repose and secrecy; and Harry
was so far caught with this spirit that he knocked with more than
usual discretion, and was more than usually careful to remove all
impurity from his boots.

A servant-maid of some personal attractions immediately opened the
door, and seemed to regard the secretary with no unkind eyes.

"This is the parcel from Lady Vandeleur," said Harry.

"I know," replied the maid, with a nod. "But the gentleman is from
home. Will you leave it with me?"

"I cannot," answered Harry. "I am directed not to part with it but
upon a certain condition, and I must ask you, I am afraid, to let
me wait."

"Well," said she, "I suppose I may let you wait. I am lonely
enough, I can tell you, and you do not look as though you would eat
a girl. But be sure and do not ask the gentleman's name, for that
I am not to tell you."

"Do you say so?" cried Harry. "Why, how strange! But indeed for
some time back I walk among surprises. One question I think I may
surely ask without indiscretion: Is he the master of this house?"

"He is a lodger, and not eight days old at that," returned the
maid. "And now a question for a question: Do you know lady
Vandeleur?"

"I am her private secretary," replied Harry with a glow of modest
pride.

"She is pretty, is she not?" pursued the servant.

"Oh, beautiful!" cried Harry; "wonderfully lovely, and not less
good and kind!"

"You look kind enough yourself," she retorted; "and I wager you are
worth a dozen Lady Vandeleurs."

Harry was properly scandalised.

"I!" he cried. "I am only a secretary!"

"Do you mean that for me?" said the girl. "Because I am only a
housemaid, if you please." And then, relenting at the sight of
Harry's obvious confusion, "I know you mean nothing of the sort,"
she added; "and I like your looks; but I think nothing of your Lady
Vandeleur. Oh, these mistresses!" she cried. "To send out a real
gentleman like you - with a bandbox - in broad day!"

During this talk they had remained in their original positions -
she on the doorstep, he on the side-walk, bareheaded for the sake
of coolness, and with the bandbox on his arm. But upon this last
speech Harry, who was unable to support such point-blank
compliments to his appearance, nor the encouraging look with which
they were accompanied, began to change his attitude, and glance
from left to right in perturbation. In so doing he turned his face
towards the lower end of the lane, and there, to his indescribable
dismay, his eyes encountered those of General Vandeleur. The
General, in a prodigious fluster of heat, hurry, and indignation,
had been scouring the streets in chase of his brother-in-law; but
so soon as he caught a glimpse of the delinquent secretary, his
purpose changed, his anger flowed into a new channel, and he turned
on his heel and came tearing up the lane with truculent gestures
and vociferations.

Harry made but one bolt of it into the house, driving the maid
before him; and the door was slammed in his pursuer's countenance.

"Is there a bar? Will it lock?" asked Harry, while a salvo on the
knocker made the house echo from wall to wall.

"Why, what is wrong with you?" asked the maid. "Is it this old
gentleman?"

"If he gets hold of me," whispered Harry, "I am as good as dead.
He has been pursuing me all day, carries a sword-stick, and is an
Indian military officer."

"These are fine manners," cried the maid. "And what, if you
please, may be his name?"

"It is the General, my master," answered Harry. "He is after this
bandbox."

"Did not I tell you?" cried the maid in triumph. "I told you I
thought worse than nothing of your Lady Vandeleur; and if you had
an eye in your head you might see what she is for yourself. An
ungrateful minx, I will be bound for that!"

The General renewed his attack upon the knocker, and his passion
growing with delay, began to kick and beat upon the panels of the
door.

"It is lucky," observed the girl, "that I am alone in the house;
your General may hammer until he is weary, and there is none to
open for him. Follow me!"

So saying she led Harry into the kitchen, where she made him sit
down, and stood by him herself in an affectionate attitude, with a
hand upon his shoulder. The din at the door, so far from abating,
continued to increase in volume, and at each blow the unhappy
secretary was shaken to the heart.

"What is your name?" asked the girl.

"Harry Hartley," he replied.

"Mine," she went on, "is Prudence. Do you like it?"

"Very much," said Harry. "But hear for a moment how the General
beats upon the door. He will certainly break it in, and then, in
heaven's name, what have I to look for but death?"

"You put yourself very much about with no occasion," answered
Prudence. "Let your General knock, he will do no more than blister
his hands. Do you think I would keep you here if I were not sure
to save you? Oh, no, I am a good friend to those that please me!
and we have a back door upon another lane. But," she added,
checking him, for he had got upon his feet immediately on this
welcome news, "but I will not show where it is unless you kiss me.
Will you, Harry?"

"That I will," he cried, remembering his gallantry, "not for your
back door, but because you are good and pretty."

And he administered two or three cordial salutes, which were
returned to him in kind.

Then Prudence led him to the back gate, and put her hand upon the
key.

"Will you come and see me?" she asked.

"I will indeed," said Harry. "Do not I owe you my life?"

"And now," she added, opening the door, "run as hard as you can,
for I shall let in the General."

Harry scarcely required this advice; fear had him by the forelock;
and he addressed himself diligently to flight. A few steps, and he
believed he would escape from his trials, and return to Lady
Vandeleur in honour and safety. But these few steps had not been
taken before he heard a man's voice hailing him by name with many
execrations, and, looking over his shoulder, he beheld Charlie
Pendragon waving him with both arms to return. The shock of this
new incident was so sudden and profound, and Harry was already
worked into so high a state of nervous tension, that he could think
of nothing better than to accelerate his pace, and continue
running. He should certainly have remembered the scene in
Kensington Gardens; he should certainly have concluded that, where
the General was his enemy, Charlie Pendragon could be no other than
a friend. But such was the fever and perturbation of his mind that
he was struck by none of these considerations, and only continued
to run the faster up the lane.

Charlie, by the sound of his voice and the vile terms that he
hurled after the secretary, was obviously beside himself with rage.
He, too, ran his very best; but, try as he might, the physical
advantages were not upon his side, and his outcries and the fall of
his lame foot on the macadam began to fall farther and farther into
the wake.

Harry's hopes began once more to arise. The lane was both steep
and narrow, but it was exceedingly solitary, bordered on either
hand by garden walls, overhung with foliage; and, for as far as the
fugitive could see in front of him, there was neither a creature
moving nor an open door. Providence, weary of persecution, was now
offering him an open field for his escape.

Alas! as he came abreast of a garden door under a tuft of
chestnuts, it was suddenly drawn back, and he could see inside,
upon a garden path, the figure of a butcher's boy with his tray
upon his arm. He had hardly recognised the fact before he was some
steps beyond upon the other side. But the fellow had had time to
observe him; he was evidently much surprised to see a gentleman go
by at so unusual a pace; and he came out into the lane and began to
call after Harry with shouts of ironical encouragement.

His appearance gave a new idea to Charlie Pendragon, who, although
he was now sadly out of breath, once more upraised his voice.

"Stop, thief!" he cried.

And immediately the butcher's boy had taken up the cry and joined
in the pursuit.

This was a bitter moment for the hunted secretary. It is true that
his terror enabled him once more to improve his pace, and gain with
every step on his pursuers; but he was well aware that he was near
the end of his resources, and should he meet any one coming the
other way, his predicament in the narrow lane would be desperate
indeed.

"I must find a place of concealment," he thought, "and that within
the next few seconds, or all is over with me in this world."

Scarcely had the thought crossed his mind than the lane took a
sudden turning; and he found himself hidden from his enemies.
There are circumstances in which even the least energetic of
mankind learn to behave with vigour and decision; and the most
cautious forget their prudence and embrace foolhardy resolutions.
This was one of those occasions for Harry Hartley; and those who
knew him best would have been the most astonished at the lad's
audacity. He stopped dead, flung the bandbox over a garden wall,
and leaping upward with incredible agility and seizing the
copestone with his hands, he tumbled headlong after it into the
garden.

He came to himself a moment afterwards, seated in a border of small
rosebushes. His hands and knees were cut and bleeding, for the
wall had been protected against such an escalade by a liberal
provision of old bottles; and he was conscious of a general
dislocation and a painful swimming in the head. Facing him across
the garden, which was in admirable order, and set with flowers of
the most delicious perfume, he beheld the back of a house. It was
of considerable extent, and plainly habitable; but, in odd contrast
to the grounds, it was crazy, ill-kept, and of a mean appearance.
On all other sides the circuit of the garden wall appeared
unbroken.

He took in these features of the scene with mechanical glances, but
his mind was still unable to piece together or draw a rational
conclusion from what he saw. And when he heard footsteps advancing
on the gravel, although he turned his eyes in that direction, it
was with no thought either for defence or flight.

The new-comer was a large, coarse, and very sordid personage, in
gardening clothes, and with a watering-pot in his left hand. One
less confused would have been affected with some alarm at the sight
of this man's huge proportions and black and lowering eyes. But
Harry was too gravely shaken by his fall to be so much as
terrified; and if he was unable to divert his glances from the
gardener, he remained absolutely passive, and suffered him to draw
near, to take him by the shoulder, and to plant him roughly on his
feet, without a motion of resistance.

For a moment the two stared into each other's eyes, Harry
fascinated, the man filled with wrath and a cruel, sneering humour.

"Who are you?" he demanded at last. "Who are you to come flying
over my wall and break my GLOIRE DE DIJONS! What is your name?" he
added, shaking him; "and what may be your business here?"

Harry could not as much as proffer a word in explanation.

But just at that moment Pendragon and the butcher's boy went
clumping past, and the sound of their feet and their hoarse cries
echoed loudly in the narrow lane. The gardener had received his
answer; and he looked down into Harry's face with an obnoxious
smile.

"A thief!" he said. "Upon my word, and a very good thing you must
make of it; for I see you dressed like a gentleman from top to toe.
Are you not ashamed to go about the world in such a trim, with
honest folk, I dare say, glad to buy your cast-off finery second
hand? Speak up, you dog," the man went on; "you can understand
English, I suppose; and I mean to have a bit of talk with you
before I march you to the station."

"Indeed, sir," said Harry, "this is all a dreadful misconception;
and if you will go with me to Sir Thomas Vandeleur's in Eaton
Place, I can promise that all will be made plain. The most upright
person, as I now perceive, can be led into suspicious positions."

"My little man," replied the gardener, "I will go with you no
farther than the station-house in the next street. The inspector,
no doubt, will be glad to take a stroll with you as far as Eaton
Place, and have a bit of afternoon tea with your great
acquaintances. Or would you prefer to go direct to the Home
Secretary? Sir Thomas Vandeleur, indeed! Perhaps you think I
don't know a gentleman when I see one, from a common run-the-hedge
like you? Clothes or no clothes, I can read you like a book. Here
is a shirt that maybe cost as much as my Sunday hat; and that coat,
I take it, has never seen the inside of Rag-fair, and then your
boots - "

The man, whose eyes had fallen upon the ground, stopped short in
his insulting commentary, and remained for a moment looking
intently upon something at his feet. When he spoke his voice was
strangely altered.

"What, in God's name," said he, "is all this?"

Harry, following the direction of the man's eyes, beheld a
spectacle that struck him dumb with terror and amazement. In his
fall he had descended vertically upon the bandbox and burst it open
from end to end; thence a great treasure of diamonds had poured
forth, and now lay abroad, part trodden in the soil, part scattered
on the surface in regal and glittering profusion. There was a
magnificent coronet which he had often admired on Lady Vandeleur;
there were rings and brooches, ear-drops and bracelets, and even
unset brilliants rolling here and there among the rosebushes like
drops of morning dew. A princely fortune lay between the two men
upon the ground - a fortune in the most inviting, solid, and
durable form, capable of being carried in an apron, beautiful in
itself, and scattering the sunlight in a million rainbow flashes.

"Good God!" said Harry, "I am lost!"

His mind raced backwards into the past with the incalculable
velocity of thought, and he began to comprehend his day's
adventures, to conceive them as a whole, and to recognise the sad
imbroglio in which his own character and fortunes had become
involved. He looked round him as if for help, but he was alone in
the garden, with his scattered diamonds and his redoubtable
interlocutor; and when he gave ear, there was no sound but the
rustle of the leaves and the hurried pulsation of his heart. It
was little wonder if the young man felt himself deserted by his
spirits, and with a broken voice repeated his last ejaculation - "I
am lost!"

The gardener peered in all directions with an air of guilt; but
there was no face at any of the windows, and he seemed to breathe
again.

"Pick up a heart," he said, "you fool! The worst of it is done.
Why could you not say at first there was enough for two? Two?" he
repeated, "aye, and for two hundred! But come away from here,
where we may be observed; and, for the love of wisdom, straighten
out your hat and brush your clothes. You could not travel two
steps the figure of fun you look just now."

While Harry mechanically adopted these suggestions, the gardener,
getting upon his knees, hastily drew together the scattered jewels
and returned them to the bandbox. The touch of these costly
crystals sent a shiver of emotion through the man's stalwart frame;
his face was transfigured, and his eyes shone with concupiscence;
indeed it seemed as if he luxuriously prolonged his occupation, and
dallied with every diamond that he handled. At last, however, it
was done; and, concealing the bandbox in his smock, the gardener
beckoned to Harry and preceded him in the direction of the house.

Near the door they were met by a young man evidently in holy
orders, dark and strikingly handsome, with a look of mingled
weakness and resolution, and very neatly attired after the manner
of his caste. The gardener was plainly annoyed by this encounter;
but he put as good a face upon it as he could, and accosted the
clergyman with an obsequious and smiling air.

"Here is a fine afternoon, Mr. Rolles," said he: "a fine
afternoon, as sure as God made it! And here is a young friend of
mine who had a fancy to look at my roses. I took the liberty to
bring him in, for I thought none of the lodgers would object."

"Speaking for myself," replied the Reverend Mr. Rolles, "I do not;
nor do I fancy any of the rest of us would be more difficult upon
so small a matter. The garden is your own, Mr. Raeburn; we must
none of us forget that; and because you give us liberty to walk
there we should be indeed ungracious if we so far presumed upon
your politeness as to interfere with the convenience of your
friends. But, on second thoughts," he added, "I believe that this
gentleman and I have met before. Mr. Hartley, I think. I regret
to observe that you have had a fall."

And he offered his hand.

A sort of maiden dignity and a desire to delay as long as possible
the necessity for explanation moved Harry to refuse this chance of
help, and to deny his own identity. He chose the tender mercies of
the gardener, who was at least unknown to him, rather than the
curiosity and perhaps the doubts of an acquaintance.

"I fear there is some mistake," said he. "My name is Thomlinson
and I am a friend of Mr. Raeburn's."

"Indeed?" said Mr. Rolles. "The likeness is amazing."

Mr. Raeburn, who had been upon thorns throughout this colloquy, now
felt it high time to bring it to a period.

"I wish you a pleasant saunter, sir," said he.

And with that he dragged Harry after him into the house, and then
into a chamber on the garden. His first care was to draw down the
blind, for Mr. Rolles still remained where they had left him, in an
attitude of perplexity and thought. Then he emptied the broken
bandbox on the table, and stood before the treasure, thus fully
displayed, with an expression of rapturous greed, and rubbing his
hands upon his thighs. For Harry, the sight of the man's face
under the influence of this base emotion, added another pang to
those he was already suffering. It seemed incredible that, from
his life of pure and delicate trifling, he should be plunged in a
breath among sordid and criminal relations. He could reproach his
conscience with no sinful act; and yet he was now suffering the
punishment of sin in its most acute and cruel forms - the dread of
punishment, the suspicions of the good, and the companionship and
contamination of vile and brutal natures. He felt he could lay his
life down with gladness to escape from the room and the society of
Mr. Raeburn.

"And now," said the latter, after he had separated the jewels into
two nearly equal parts, and drawn one of them nearer to himself;
"and now," said he, "everything in this world has to be paid for,
and some things sweetly. You must know, Mr. Hartley, if such be
your name, that I am a man of a very easy temper, and good nature
has been my stumbling-block from first to last. I could pocket the
whole of these pretty pebbles, if I chose, and I should like to see
you dare to say a word; but I think I must have taken a liking to
you; for I declare I have not the heart to shave you so close. So,
do you see, in pure kind feeling, I propose that we divide; and
these," indicating the two heaps, "are the proportions that seem to
me just and friendly. Do you see any objection, Mr. Hartley, may I
ask? I am not the man to stick upon a brooch."

"But, sir," cried Harry, "what you propose to me is impossible.
The jewels are not mine, and I cannot share what is another's, no
matter with whom, nor in what proportions."

"They are not yours, are they not?" returned Raeburn. "And you
could not share them with anybody, couldn't you? Well now, that is
what I call a pity; for here am I obliged to take you to the
station. The police - think of that," he continued; "think of the
disgrace for your respectable parents; think," he went on, taking
Harry by the wrist; "think of the Colonies and the Day of
Judgment."

"I cannot help it," wailed Harry. "It is not my fault. You will
not come with me to Eaton Place?"

"No," replied the man, "I will not, that is certain. And I mean to
divide these playthings with you here."

And so saying he applied a sudden and severe torsion to the lad's
wrist.

Harry could not suppress a scream, and the perspiration burst forth
upon his face. Perhaps pain and terror quickened his intelligence,
but certainly at that moment the whole business flashed across him
in another light; and he saw that there was nothing for it but to
accede to the ruffian's proposal, and trust to find the house and
force him to disgorge, under more favourable circumstances, and
when he himself was clear from all suspicion.

"I agree," he said.

"There is a lamb," sneered the gardener. "I thought you would
recognise your interests at last. This bandbox," he continued, "I
shall burn with my rubbish; it is a thing that curious folk might
recognise; and as for you, scrape up your gaieties and put them in
your pocket."

Harry proceeded to obey, Raeburn watching him, and every now and
again his greed rekindled by some bright scintillation, abstracting
another jewel from the secretary's share, and adding it to his own.

When this was finished, both proceeded to the front door, which
Raeburn cautiously opened to observe the street. This was
apparently clear of passengers; for he suddenly seized Harry by the
nape of the neck, and holding his face downward so that he could
see nothing but the roadway and the doorsteps of the houses, pushed
him violently before him down one street and up another for the
space of perhaps a minute and a half. Harry had counted three
corners before the bully relaxed his grasp, and crying, "Now be off
with you!" sent the lad flying head foremost with a well-directed
and athletic kick.

When Harry gathered himself up, half-stunned and bleeding freely at
the nose, Mr. Raeburn had entirely disappeared. For the first
time, anger and pain so completely overcame the lad's spirits that
he burst into a fit of tears and remained sobbing in the middle of
the road.

After he had thus somewhat assuaged his emotion, he began to look
about him and read the names of the streets at whose intersection
he had been deserted by the gardener. He was still in an
unfrequented portion of West London, among villas and large
gardens; but he could see some persons at a window who had
evidently witnessed his misfortune; and almost immediately after a
servant came running from the house and offered him a glass of
water. At the same time, a dirty rogue, who had been slouching
somewhere in the neighbourhood, drew near him from the other side.

"Poor fellow," said the maid, "how vilely you have been handled, to
be sure! Why, your knees are all cut, and your clothes ruined! Do
you know the wretch who used you so?"

"That I do!" cried Harry, who was somewhat refreshed by the water;
"and shall run him home in spite of his precautions. He shall pay
dearly for this day's work, I promise you."

"You had better come into the house and have yourself washed and
brushed," continued the maid. "My mistress will make you welcome,
never fear. And see, I will pick up your hat. Why, love of
mercy!" she screamed, "if you have not dropped diamonds all over
the street!"

Such was the case; a good half of what remained to him after the
depredations of Mr. Raeburn, had been shaken out of his pockets by
the summersault and once more lay glittering on the ground. He
blessed his fortune that the maid had been so quick of eye; "there
is nothing so bad but it might be worse," thought he; and the
recovery of these few seemed to him almost as great an affair as
the loss of all the rest. But, alas! as he stooped to pick up his
treasures, the loiterer made a rapid onslaught, overset both Harry
and the maid with a movement of his arms, swept up a double handful
of the diamonds, and made off along the street with an amazing
swiftness.

Harry, as soon as he could get upon his feet, gave chase to the
miscreant with many cries, but the latter was too fleet of foot,
and probably too well acquainted with the locality; for turn where
the pursuer would he could find no traces of the fugitive.

In the deepest despondency, Harry revisited the scene of his
mishap, where the maid, who was still waiting, very honestly
returned him his hat and the remainder of the fallen diamonds.
Harry thanked her from his heart, and being now in no humour for
economy, made his way to the nearest cab-stand and set off for
Eaton Place by coach.

The house, on his arrival, seemed in some confusion, as if a
catastrophe had happened in the family; and the servants clustered
together in the hall, and were unable, or perhaps not altogether
anxious, to suppress their merriment at the tatterdemalion figure
of the secretary. He passed them with as good an air of dignity as
he could assume, and made directly for the boudoir. When he opened
the door an astonishing and even menacing spectacle presented
itself to his eyes; for he beheld the General and his wife and, of
all people, Charlie Pendragon, closeted together and speaking with
earnestness and gravity on some important subject. Harry saw at
once that there was little left for him to explain - plenary
confession had plainly been made to the General of the intended
fraud upon his pocket, and the unfortunate miscarriage of the
scheme; and they had all made common cause against a common danger.

"Thank Heaven!" cried Lady Vandeleur, "here he is! The bandbox,
Harry - the bandbox!"

But Harry stood before them silent and downcast.

"Speak!" she cried. "Speak! Where is the bandbox?"

And the men, with threatening gestures, repeated the demand.

Harry drew a handful of jewels from his pocket. He was very white.

"This is all that remains," said he. "I declare before Heaven it
was through no fault of mine; and if you will have patience,
although some are lost, I am afraid, for ever, others, I am sure,
may be still recovered."

"Alas!" cried Lady Vandeleur, "all our diamonds are gone, and I owe
ninety thousand pounds for dress!"

"Madam," said the General, "you might have paved the gutter with
your own trash; you might have made debts to fifty times the sum
you mention; you might have robbed me of my mother's coronet and
ring; and Nature might have still so far prevailed that I could
have forgiven you at last. But, madam, you have taken the Rajah's
Diamond - the Eye of Light, as the Orientals poetically termed it -
the Pride of Kashgar! You have taken from me the Rajah's Diamond,"
he cried, raising his hands, "and all, madam, all is at an end
between us!"

"Believe me, General Vandeleur," she replied, "that is one of the
most agreeable speeches that ever I heard from your lips; and since
we are to be ruined, I could almost welcome the change, if it
delivers me from you. You have told me often enough that I married
you for your money; let me tell you now that I always bitterly
repented the bargain; and if you were still marriageable, and had a
diamond bigger than your head, I should counsel even my maid
against a union so uninviting and disastrous. As for you, Mr.
Hartley," she continued, turning on the secretary, "you have
sufficiently exhibited your valuable qualities in this house; we
are now persuaded that you equally lack manhood, sense, and self-
respect; and I can see only one course open for you - to withdraw
instanter, and, if possible, return no more. For your wages you
may rank as a creditor in my late husband's bankruptcy."

Harry had scarcely comprehended this insulting address before the
General was down upon him with another.

"And in the meantime," said that personage, "follow me before the
nearest Inspector of Police. You may impose upon a simple-minded
soldier, sir, but the eye of the law will read your disreputable
secret. If I must spend my old age in poverty through your
underhand intriguing with my wife, I mean at least that you shall
not remain unpunished for your pains; and God, sir, will deny me a
very considerable satisfaction if you do not pick oakum from now
until your dying day."

With that, the General dragged Harry from the apartment, and
hurried him downstairs and along the street to the police-station
of the district.


Here (says my Arabian author) ended this deplorable business of the
bandbox. But to the unfortunate Secretary the whole affair was the
beginning of a new and manlier life. The police were easily
persuaded of his innocence; and, after he had given what help he
could in the subsequent investigations, he was even complemented by
one of the chiefs of the detective department on the probity and
simplicity of his behaviour. Several persons interested themselves
in one so unfortunate; and soon after he inherited a sum of money
from a maiden aunt in Worcestershire. With this he married
Prudence, and set sail for Bendigo, or according to another
account, for Trincomalee, exceedingly content, and will the best of
prospects.

Robert Louis Stevenson