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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XXII.
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 It was not until Easter that Mark Thorndyke and his wife returned to England. They had spent the greater portion of that time in Italy, lingering for a month at Venice, and had then journeyed quietly homewards through Bavaria and Saxony; They were in no hurry, as before starting on their honeymoon Mark had consulted an architect, had told him exactly what he wanted, and had left the matter in his hands. Mrs. Cunningham had from time to time kept them informed how things were going on. The part of the house in which the Squire's room had been situated was entirely pulled down, and a new wing built in its stead. Millicent had been specially wishful that this should be done. “I don't know that I am superstitious, Mark,” she had said, “but I do think that when a murder has taken place in a house it is better to make a complete change. The servants always think they see or hear something. That part of the house is avoided, and it is difficult to get anyone to stay there. I think it is very much more important to do that than it is to get the house refurnished; we can do anything in that way you like when we get back, but I should certainly like very much to have the great alteration made before we return.”
The architect was a clever one, and the house, which was some two hundred years old, was greatly improved in appearance by the new wing, which was made to harmonize well with the rest, but was specially designed to give as much variety as possible to the general outline. Millicent uttered an exclamation of pleasure when they first caught a glimpse of the house. As they rode through the village they were again welcomed as heartily as they were on their wedding day. Mrs. Cunningham received them; she had been established there for a month, and had placed the house entirely on its old footing. They first examined the new portion of the house, and Millicent was greatly pleased with the rooms that had been prepared for them, Mark having requested Mrs. Cunningham to put the furnishing into the hands of the best known firm of the day.
“I have asked,” Mrs. Cunningham said, “the Rector and his wife and Mr. Chetwynd to dine with us this evening; they can scarcely be termed company, and I thought that you might find it pleasant to have these old friends here the first evening. There is a letter for you on the library table, Mark; it may almost be called a packet; it has been here nearly a month.”
In our days a newly married couple would find on their return from foreign travel basketfuls of letters, circulars, and catalogues from tradesmen of all kinds; happily, our forefathers were saved from these inflictions, and Mark at once went to the library with almost a feeling of surprise as to who could have written to him. He saw at once that it was a ship's letter, for on the top was written, “Favored by the Surinam.”
“Why, it is Ramoo's writing. I suppose he gave it to someone he knew, and that instead of its being put in the mail bag in India, he brought it on with him. What a tremendously long epistle!” he exclaimed, glancing his eye down the first page, and then a puzzled expression came across his face; he sat down and began to read from the first slowly and carefully.
“I do not know why I should write to tell you the true history of all these matters. I have thought it over many times, but I feel that it is right that you should know clearly what has happened, and how it has come about, and more especially that you should know that you need never fear any troubles such as those that have taken place. I am beginning to write this while we are yet sailing, and shall send it to you by ship from the Cape, or if it chances that we meet any ship on her way to England, our letters may be put on board her.”
“Why, this letter must be more than a year old,” Mark said to himself. There was no date to the letter, but, turning to the last sheet, he saw as a postscript after the signature the words, “January 26th.—A ship, the Surinam, is lying a short distance from us, and will take our letters to England.”
“Yes, it must be a year old; but what he means by the way he begins is more than I can imagine;” and he turned back to the point at which he had broken off.
“I would tell it you in order as it happened. I, Ramoo, am a Brahmin. Twenty years ago I was the head priest of a great temple. I shall not say where the temple was; it matters not in any way. There was fighting, as there is always fighting in India. There were Company's Sepoys and white troops, and one night the most sacred bracelet of the great god of our temple was stolen.”
“Good Heavens!” Mark exclaimed, laying down the letter. “Then it has been Ramoo who has all this time been in pursuit of the diamonds; and to think that my uncle never even suspected him!”
Then suddenly he continued, “now I understand why it was my life was spared by those fellows. By Jove, this is astounding!” Then he took up the letter again.
“Two of the Brahmins under me had observed, at a festival the day before the bracelet was lost, a white soldier staring at it with covetous eyes. One of them was in charge of the temple on the night when it was stolen, and on the day following he came to me, and said, 'I desire to devote my life to the recovery of the jewels of the god. Bondah will go with me; we will return no more until we bring them back.' 'It is good,' I said; 'the god must be appeased, or terrible misfortunes may happen.' Then we held a solemn service in the temple. The two men removed the caste marks from their foreheads, prostrated themselves before the god, and went out from amongst us as outcasts until the day of their death. Two months later a messenger came from the one who had spoken to me, saying that they had found the man, but had for a long time had no opportunity of finding the bracelet. Then Bondah had met him in a lonely place, and had attacked him. Bondah had lost his life, but the soldier was, though sorely wounded, able to get back to his regiment. He had died, but he had, the writer was convinced, passed the jewels on to a comrade, whom he would watch. Then I saw that one man was not sufficient for such a task. Then I, too, the Chief Brahmin of the temple, saw that it was my duty to go forth also.
“I laid the matter before the others, and they said, 'You are right; it is you who, as the chief in the service of the god, should bring back his jewels.' So again there was a service, and I went forth as an outcast and a wanderer, knowing that I must do many things that were forbidden to my caste; that I must touch unclean things, must eat forbidden food, and must take life if needs be. You, sahib, cannot understand how terrible was the degradation to me, who was of the purest blood of the Brahmins. I had taken the most solemn vows to devote my life to this. I knew that, whether successful or not, although I might be forgiven my offense by the god, yet that never again could I recover my caste, even though the heaviest penances were performed. Henceforth, I must stand alone in the world, without kindred, without friends, without help, save such as the god might give me in the search.
“I was rich. The greater part of my goods I gave to the temple, and yet retained a considerable sum, for I should need money to carry out my quest, and after I had accomplished it I should hand over what remained for the benefit of the poor. I should myself become a fakir. I want you to understand, sahib, that henceforth I had but one object in life, a supreme one, to accomplish, in which nothing must stand in my way, and that what would be in others a crime was but a sacrifice on my part, most acceptable to the god. I journeyed down to the place where my comrade was, dressed as one of the lowest class, even as a sweeper, and he and I strove by all the means in our power to discover what this man had done with the jewels. Night after night we crawled into his tent. We searched his bed and his clothes. With sharp rods we tried every inch of the soil, believing that he had hidden the diamonds underground, but we failed.
“There my comrade said, 'I must give my life to find out where he hides these things. I will watch night after night by the door of his tent, and if he comes out I will stab him; it shall be a mortal wound, but I will not kill him outright. Before he dies he will doubtless, as the other did, pass the jewels on to some comrade, and then it will be for you to follow him up.' 'It is good,' I said. 'This man may have hidden them away somewhere during the time they have marched through the country. In spite of the watch you have kept he may have said to himself, “I will return, though it be years hence.” Your plan is good,' I said. 'I envy you. 'Tis better to die thus than to live in sin as we are doing.'
“That evening the man was stabbed, but an officer running up killed my comrade. The soldier was taken to the hospital, and I lay down beside the tent with my eye to a slit that I had cut, and watched till morning.
“Then I took my broom and swept the ground. I had not been hired as one of the camp sweepers, and so could move about and sweep where I chose. No one ever asked me any questions. The soldiers heeded me no more than if I had been a dog, and, of course, supposed that I was acting by the order of the head of the sweepers. Presently I saw one of the servants of the hospital go across to the tent of the officer who had killed my comrade. He came over and went into the hospital tent. I felt sure that it was the wounded man who had sent for him. He was in there some time. Presently a soldier came out and went to the tent of the wounded man, and returned bringing a musket. Then I said to myself, 'The god has blinded us. He wills that we shall go through many more toils before we regain the bracelet.' Doubtless the man had carried the bracelet in his musket all the time, and we, blind that we were, had never thought of it.
“Presently the officer came out again. I noticed that as he did so he looked round on all sides as if to see if he were watched. Then I knew that it was as I had thought: the soldier had given the bracelet to him. At this I was pleased; it would be far more easy to search the tent of an officer than of a soldier, who sleeps surrounded by his comrades. I thought that there was no hurry now; it would need but patience, and I should be sure to find them. I had not calculated that he would have better opportunities than the soldier for going about, and that, doubtless, the soldier had warned him of his danger. Two hours later the officer mounted his horse and rode towards the camp of another regiment, a mile and a quarter away. There was nothing in that; but I watched for his return all that day and all that night, and when he did not come back, I felt that he was doing something to get rid of the diamonds.
“He was away three days, and when he returned I was almost sure that he had not the diamonds about him. As he had ridden off he had looked about just as he had when he left the hospital: he was uneasy, just as if he was watched; now he was uneasy no longer. Then I knew that my search would be a long one, and might fail altogether. I went away, and for three months I prayed and fasted; then I returned. I bought different clothes, I painted my forehead with another caste mark, then I bought from the servant of an officer in another regiment his papers of service: recommendations from former masters. Then I went to the officer—you will guess, sahib, that it was the Major, your uncle—and I paid his servant to leave his service, and to present me as a brother of his who had been accustomed to serve white sahibs, and was, like himself, a good servant; so I took his place.
“He was a good master, and I came to love him, though I knew that I might yet have to kill him. You have heard that I saved his life three times; I did so partly because I loved him, but chiefly because his life was most precious to me, for if he had died I should have lost all clew to the bracelet. I had, of course, made sure that he had not got them with him; over and over again I searched every article in his possession. I ripped open his saddle lest they might be sewn up in its stuffing. All that could be done I did, until I was quite sure that he had not got them. He, on his part, came to like me. He thought that I was the most faithful of servants, and after the last time I saved his life he took me with him everywhere. He went down to Madras, and was married there. I watched his every movement. After that he went down frequently. Then a child was born, and six months afterwards his wife died.
“The regiment was stationed at the fort. At that time he was at many places—the governor's, the other officer sahibs', the merchants', and others'. I could not follow him, but I was sure by his manner that he had not taken back the bracelet from whoever he had sent it to. I knew him so well by this time that I should have noticed any change in his manner in a moment. At last the child went away in the charge of Mrs. Cunningham. I bribed the child's ayah, and she searched Mrs. Cunningham's boxes and every garment she had, and found no small sealed parcel or box amongst them. Three years more passed. By this time the Colonel treated me more as a friend than as a servant. He said one day, laughing, 'It is a long time since my things have been turned topsy turvy, Ramoo. I think the thieves have come to the conclusion that I have not got what they are looking for.' 'What is that, sahib?' I asked. 'Some special jewels,' he said. 'They are extremely valuable. But I have got them and a lot of other things so safely stowed that no one will ever find them unless I give them the clew.' 'But suppose you are killed, sahib,' I said; 'your little daughter will never get the things.' 'I have provided for that,' he answered. 'If I am killed I have arranged that she shall know all about it either when she comes to the age of eighteen or twenty-one.'
“A few weeks after that he was wounded very badly. I nursed him night and day for weeks, and when he came to England he brought me with him. As you know, sahib, he died. When he was in London he went to see Mrs. Cunningham and the child, and several times to the office of the lawyer who attended your father's funeral. Then he came down to your father, and I know he had long and earnest conversations with him. I did all I could to listen, but the Colonel always had the windows and doors shut before he began to speak. I could see that your father was troubled. Then the Colonel died. After his death I could never find his snuff box; he had carried it about with him for some years; once or twice I had examined it, but it was too small for the diamonds to be hidden in. I suppose that he had given it to the sahib, your father, but as I could never find it I guessed that there was some mystery attached to it, though what I could not tell.
“Then your father took me down to Crowswood with him, and Mrs. Cunningham and the little girl came down. I was surprised to find that your father seemed to be master of the estate, and that no one thought anything of the child, whose name had been changed. I spoke one day to Mrs. Cunningham about it; your father seemed to me a just and good man, and I could not believe that he was robbing his brother's daughter. Mrs. Cunningham told me that the Colonel did not wish her to be known as an heiress, and that he had left the estate to his brother until she came of age. Your father was as good a master as the Colonel had been. I watched and watched, and once or twice I overheard him talking to himself in the library, and discovered that your father himself was altogether ignorant of the hiding place of the property that the Colonel had mentioned in his will. I knew then that I should have to wait until the child was either eighteen or twenty-one.
“It was a long time, but I had learnt to be patient. I was not unhappy; I loved your father, I loved the Colonel's little daughter; and I was very fond of you. All these things were small to me in comparison to my vow and the finding the jewels of the god, but they shortened the years of waiting. Then a year before the young mistress was eighteen came the shot through the window. I did not know who had fired it, but I saw that your father's life was in danger, and I said to myself, 'He will tell the young sahib what he knows about the bracelet.' After you had gone into the library I opened the door quietly, and listened. I could hear much that was said, but not all. I heard him say something about a snuff box, and some means of finding the lost things being hidden in it, and that he had kept them all these years in a secret hiding place, which he described. You were to search for the diamonds, and I guessed from that that he did not know what he was to be told when the young memsahib came of age, or perhaps when she was eighteen. It was not until I had thought over what I heard that I came to the conclusion that if I could find the things he spoke of I might be able to find the jewels. By that time your father had gone to bed. I was foolish not to have been patient, but my blood boiled after waiting for eighteen or nineteen years. The god seemed to have sent ............
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