Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Yarn of Old Harbour Town > CHAPTER VIII WHERE IS LUCY?
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 Captain Acton and the Admiral walked a few hundred paces in silence, each lost in thought. Very abruptly the Admiral stopped, obliging his companion to halt.  
"If I have your permission, sir," he exclaimed, "I will at once send a messenger in a post-chaise to the Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, and after stating the facts request him to send a ship to overtake or intercept and arrest the Minorca, and you will then be able to ascertain direct from my son the meaning and causes of his extraordinary conduct."
Captain Acton resumed his walk, and the Admiral rolled by his side beating the ground.
"That idea has occurred to me," he said, "and I have dismissed it, sir, for what reception would the Commander-in-Chief give such a message as you propose? The master of a ship, who is fully empowered to act in the interests of his owners, chooses to leave a certain harbour some hours earlier than the[Pg 182] time announced. The reason he gives is that there is a Frenchman in the neighbourhood whom he is anxious to avoid and escape. The Commander-in-Chief's sympathy would be with him in that. It is no case of piracy to ship a pilot, and the mate and crew which the vessel carried last voyage; and besides, sir, would the sloop, corvette, or frigate which the Commander-in-Chief might choose to send, overhaul the Minorca if your son determined that his purpose, whatever it may be, should be prosecuted without interruption? She is certainly as swift as the fastest thing that we have in the Navy, and there is no reason to suppose that any vessel as fast would be despatched in chase. Plymouth is a long distance from this spot, and messengers are not always the rapid people we desire them to be. No, sir, we have to accept the position as it is. The ship has sailed; Mr Lawrence's conduct is unaccountable. We must continue to regard him as the honourable, well-meaning man which I have found him during our association in the matter of this command, and I must await with a certain degree of confidence a letter in which he will communicate the full meaning of what is now unintelligible to us."
The Admiral bowed in silence. He was the father of the person they were talking[Pg 183] about. Captain Acton's acceptance of an incident which must instantly prove sinister to a suspicious intelligence was noble and gracious, and it was certainly not for the father to endeavour to prove his son a rogue and a scoundrel, and perhaps worse still, in the teeth of the disposition of his employer to continue to place trust in him.
When they were within ten minutes' walk of Old Harbour House, they met Mr Adams, who was an agent for a gentleman who lived in London, and who owned a great deal of property in the neighbourhood of Old Harbour Town.
"I beg your pardon, squire," said Mr Adams, addressing Captain Acton, who with the Admiral was passing on with a nod, "but I understand that enquiries are being made after your daughter."
Both the old retired officers instantly stopped.
"Has she returned home?" asked Captain Acton.
"I cannot tell you that, sir, but this morning at about a quarter before eight o'clock, I was about ten minutes' walk this side Old Harbour Bridge. I was going up the road and met your daughter, who was alone, coming down. A few minutes after I had passed her, I happened to look round and perceived that[Pg 184] she had been stopped by a young man, humpbacked and otherwise deformed, well known to me as a fellow who used to hang about Old Town, and called by the single word Paul. As your daughter was alone I slackened my pace and continued to look to see what the man wanted with her, and observed that he gave her a letter which she read, and I heard her exclaim on reading it: 'Oh dear! I hope it is not serious,' and she immediately walked swiftly on followed by the fellow called Paul. She turned the bend of the road, and I pursued my way."
"I beg your pardon," exclaimed Captain Acton, whose agitation was marked when Mr Adams ceased to speak, "but may I enquire if you are quite sure that it was my daughter whom you met?"
"Sir, there is but one Lucy Acton in this country, and no man who has set eyes on her is ever likely to forget her beauty and sweetness."
Captain Acton bowed, but his distress was lively.
"What sort of a fellow was this who stopped Miss Acton?" enquired the Admiral. "Was he a pauper? Broken clothes, whining voice, the suppliant's demeanour—that sort of thing?"
"I have known the fellow by sight some[Pg 185] years. He got his living by running errands, and has in his day, I believe, been watched with some attention by the magistrates. He is a red-haired, hunchbacked, long-armed man with rounded legs, and I marked a peculiarity in him whilst he addressed the lady which I have before taken notice of when passing him as he lounged in the sun, or stood waiting in a door: I mean that whilst the young lady was reading the missive, he scratched his left shoulder precisely as a monkey scratches himself."
Captain Acton started, and stared hard at Mr Adams.
"Did you notice how he was dressed?" he asked.
"In a camlet jacket. There was something of the sailor's rig in his costume."
"Then the fellow," said Captain Acton, "is steward of the Minorca! This gentleman," said he, addressing the Admiral, "has exactly described the figure of a man who passed me in the cabin two or three days ago when I was talking to Mr Lawrence. Judging that he belonged to the ship, and being struck by his appearance, I asked Mr Lawrence who he was, and he answered that he was a poor devil whom he had shipped as a steward or captain's waiter out of pity, and he said something about having once paid a fine for[Pg 186] the man to rescue him from a term of imprisonment to which he would have been sentenced for some trifling offence."
The Admiral's face wore an expression that was almost imbecile with bewilderment.
"From whom was that letter? Who is the person that Miss Lucy has fled to help? It cannot possibly be my son, sir. If he had met with a serious accident, would the ship have sailed? But even if he had met with a serious accident and left the duty of going to sea with the mate, would he have sent to Miss Lucy? I am utterly beaten. I see nothing, and can conjecture nothing!"
Captain Acton with a violent effort had by this time recollected himself.
"I am much obliged to you, sir, for your information," he said to Mr Adams. "We may find her at home, sir," he said, addressing the Admiral. "An explanation will simplify the miraculous. Good day, sir, and many thanks."
He bowed to Mr Adams, and again set off with the Admiral for Old Harbour House.
"To me it is impossible to suppose," said Sir William, "that my son could have written the letter which Mr Adams saw your daughter reading. Captain Weaver told us plainly that my son was aft on the quarterdeck of the Minorca at the time that she was hauling out[Pg 187] from the wharf. It is perfectly clear therefore that no accident could have befallen him. Nor is it imaginable that, even if he had met with a disaster, he would dream of communicating with your daughter. Why your daughter, sir? If they are on bowing terms we may take it that their intimacy scarcely goes farther. Depend upon it, there is some man in connection with this business, in whom your daughter is interested—of course, sir, you will understand me to mean as a sweet and beautiful Christian sympathiser, as one to whom every sort of misfortune appeals, to whom suffering and misery are quick to make themselves known, being sure of heartfelt, womanly pity. The moment I have had a peck, after hearing whether Miss Lucy has arrived at home, I will devote the rest of the day to enquiries about this person who wrote the letter which Mr Adams saw delivered."
"Speculation is idle," exclaimed Captain Acton, with a slight flavour of impatience in his manner. "I am profoundly puzzled. There can be no question from Mr Adams's statement and from my own observation that the fellow who delivered the missive is cabin-boy, or steward, or whatever you please to call him, of the Minorca, chosen by your son, as he admits, though it seemed to me as I looked at him that nobody less likely and less[Pg 188] inviting for such a post could have been found in the district."
These and a few further words brought them to the gateway of Old Harbour House. They entered and found Miss Acton in the dining-room.
"Well," she cried in a voice of tremulous eagerness, "have you heard of her?"
This was proof conclusive that Miss Acton had not.
"She has not returned, then?" said Captain Acton.
"No, nor can I get to hear of her," answered Miss Acton, whose voice trembled with tears and terror. "Wasn't she down on the wharves?"
"We have heard of her, but not as we could wish, sister," said Captain Acton. "But what have you done to find her, or to hear of her?"
"Why," answered the old lady, "I sent George and Joseph on horseback to every house where she is known, and she has visited none, nor been seen by any this morning. Yes, Mrs Moore as she was passing our gate, caught a sight of her coming out of the house at half-past seven, or at some such time, and gave her a curtsy and received a smile. But nobody else that George and Joseph met and called upon has seen her this day. What have you to tell me about her?"
[Pg 189]
Captain Acton repeated Mr Adams's statement. The old lady's face was slowly moulded into a mask that her friends would scarcely have recognised by the horror and terror that worked in her.
She cried: "A dirty fellow giving her a letter, and beguiling her and luring her into some dreadful place, perhaps to her destruction! Oh dear! oh dear! what is to be done? Can't she be discovered? Can't the bell-man raise the alarm? Who can the wretch be that wrote to her? And why should she rush away to his help? Oh dear! oh dear! what is to be done?"
"I'll do something," said the Admiral. "I'll call upon you this evening and tell you what I have found out. Farewell for the present. No, I thank you, I must go home first and I'll get a bite that awaits me, and then away to Old Harbour Town, and the place shall be dredged, and the fellow who wrote the letter found, and the lady restored to her home if wrong has been done her, if there is one ounce of energy left in this old composition."
He bowed with the vehemence of a man who butts at another, struck the floor hard with his staff, and rolled out on legs that showed themselves more expeditious than his years seemed to promise.
Captain and Miss Acton sat down to dinner.[Pg 190] An elegant repast was rendered insipid in every dish by the absence of Lucy. The Captain's excellent if fastidious appetite was gone, and his eyes often wandered to his daughter's vacant place. Brother and sister had but one subject in their minds; they talked but little, however, for servants were present.
When they were alone, Miss Acton exclaimed: "I hope I may be forgiven if I do him a wrong, and I love his old father, who is the soul of honour and a fine example of a true gentleman of the sea, but I cannot help thinking, brother, that Mr Lawrence has had a hand in our Lucy's disappearance."
And the worthy old lady's eyes grew dim as she pronounced the words "our Lucy."
Captain Acton started from a reverie and looked at her attentively.
"You want to imply," he cried, "that there was an understanding between Mr Lawrence and my daughter?"
"I cannot imagine why the steward of the ship came to be employed, as Mr Adams tells us—an assertion you justify by saying that you saw this man in the cabin of the vessel—unless Mr Lawrence sent the letter."
Captain Acton expanded his chest, and a look of haughtiness entered his face.
"Sister, is your opinion of Lucy such that[Pg 191] you imagine she can have anything to do with Mr Lawrence unknown to me?"
But a quality of stubbornness was one of Miss Acton's characteristics.
"He offered her marriage, brother."
"Yes. And she rejected him with the peremptoriness which I should have expected in her."
"A woman," said Miss Acton, "cannot but think with more or less kindness of the man who offers her marriage and who loves her. She may reject him, but she will always feel a tenderness for him."
"But do I understand," said Captain Acton, "that you mean that Lucy was secretly attached to the man whose hand she declined, and that she speeds to him at the first call that is made upon her by such a missive as the fellow Paul delivered?"
"I cannot but think," answered Miss Acton, "that Lucy had a secret hankering after Mr Lawrence. He is exceedingly handsome. In bearing he is superior to any man of quality I ever met, and for fine manners you must look to the aristocracy of this country. He can make a leg with the grace equal to any master of elegant salutations; and though his character is bad, yet there are many points in him which women admire, and I say," she continued, with perseverance and a fixity of[Pg 192] meaning truly astonishing in an old lady who in most matters scarcely knew her own mind, who was easily filled with terror, and who seldom acted without consulting her friends, "Lucy has a secret liking for the man, which could scarcely escape the observation of any one who watched them when they are in company."
With an expression of face that was near to amazement Captain Acton said: "Do you want me to believe that Lucy has eloped with Mr Lawrence?"
"Lord forbid! She is too God-fearing, and too nobly and sweetly moulded as a woman to be capable of any such descent."
"Then I do not understand you," said Captain Acton.
"What has become of her?" cried Miss Acton, sinking suddenly into her tremulous voice and into a manner of alarm, bewilderment, and general confusion of mind. "What shall you do to find out?"
"As I am quite convinced," said Captain Acton, "that Mr Lawrence has nothing to do with this business, and as I feel persuaded that the call made upon her is by some man or woman—for how are we to know the sex of the person who wrote that letter?—in whom her charity is interested, and whom she has been helping according to her wont in ways unknown to us, I shall devote the[Pg 193] afternoon as Sir William intends, to making enquiries in Old Harbour Town and about the wharves——"
"But she cannot be in Old Town or even in the district," broke in Miss Acton, "or why did she not return to dinner? She has had the whole morning. From a little after seven till now is a very long time, and a hundred acts of charity may be performed in less."
Though Captain Acton was not a man to be influenced by his sister's opinions he knew her to be in many directions a shrewd, observant woman, who could deliver herself of many stupid antiquated notions, whilst at times she would astonish him by the sagacity of her views and the penetration with which she interpreted human motives. We shall not be surprised, therefore,............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved