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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Yarn of Old Harbour Town > CHAPTER IX MR GREYQUILL'S VISIT
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 Mr Greyquill entered the room by two paces, and placing his hand upon the spot where he supposed his heart to lie, made three separate bows to the company, each of the "Your most humble and obedient servant" school; it was an expression of ceremony which for mingled respect and senility should have pleased, as it no doubt did please, Miss Acton.  
He was a figure striking in its way as he made these bows, with his long, snow-white hair, his heavy white eyebrows, his long curling nose, the purely congenital satiric leer that characterised the formation of his thin lips; and his faded dress, which was a very good representation of his mind, aided the impression produced by his face.
Admiral Lawrence gave him a nod which was barely a mark of recognition. Captain Acton bowed to him in silence. Miss Acton cried out:
[Pg 207]
"Pray step in, Mr Greyquill, and be seated!"
Greyquill sidled rather than walked in and sat down on a chair removed from the others, and observing enquiry strong in each face as those who watched him would not condescend to enquire the purpose of his visit, but waited to hear it, he said: "I was coming out of Lower Street this afternoon, when I heard the bell-man recite the announcement that Miss Lucy Acton had been missing from her home this morning since between seven and eight o'clock, and a reward of fifty guineas is offered to any one who shall proclaim her whereabouts, or who shall help to restore her to her family."
"That is so," said Captain Acton, viewing him gravely.
"Have you news of her?" cried Miss Acton.
"I wish to state, sir," said Mr Greyquill, addressing Captain Acton, "that if I should prove instrumental, not in the restoration of Miss Lucy Acton to her home, but in your discovering where she is, and how she got there, my candour will be due entirely to the very great respect I entertain for the young lady who has always had a kindly word for me, and whose character is an extremely lovable one, and to the regret, I may say indignation, that[Pg 208] one so young, beautiful and rich, should fall into such unworthy hands."
He glanced at the Admiral, who returned the look with a compressed brow, whilst with his right hand he seemed to be keeping time to an inward and secret tune with the play of his fingers upon the knee where the leg of his breeches fell into his stocking.
"Oh, pray continue, sir! Pray continue!" cried Miss Acton in a voice that was almost husky with the hysteric quality of her emotions.
"In other words, sir," continued Mr Greyquill, still addressing Captain Acton, "I beg to state that if I should be so fortunate as to help you in your trouble I desire no money reward, nor should dream of taking any."
Captain Acton merely bowed.
"I have not met with the usage," old Greyquill went on calmly, steadily exasperating Miss Acton by a preface that was disgusting and needless whilst she thirsted for the one essential fact, "that I certainly think I deserve from either Admiral Sir William Lawrence, nor his son, Mr Lawrence." He spoke with so complete a neglect of the Admiral's presence that the old gentleman might have been out of the room. "They have no claim upon my kindness."
[Pg 209]
"We shall be thankful to receive any news of Miss Lucy Acton," said Captain Acton, with that collectedness of manner which implies the glazing by a vigorous will of passions growing turbulent.
"Two or three days after your appointment of Mr Lawrence as master of the Minorca, I chanced to be going by way of Old Friar's Road to visit some houses belonging to me. At the bend of the road, which conceals the bridge and Old Harbour Town I met Mr Lawrence, and we exchanged a few sentences on the subject of the sum of three hundred pounds which he owes me. He informed me that when you, sir, had paid him off on his return he would hand me the sum of twenty-five guineas in part payment of his debt. We each pursued our way. When I had gone a few yards I stopped and turned to look after him. He had disappeared round the bend of the road, but just about the place where he and I had conversed I saw something white. It was a letter. Thinking I had dropped it in unconscious play of my hands during our talk, I returned and picked it up."
The old man put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the letter, which he held on his knee, whilst he continued: "It was not addressed, as you will presently see, but[Pg 210] the contents which I took the liberty of reading, the letter being open and manifestly a stray article which was anybody's property, assured me that it had just now fallen from the pocket of Mr Lawrence, who had brought it out possibly with his pocket-handkerchief, but who would not know of his loss by looking behind him as the turn of the road hid it from him. I was greatly astounded by the contents of this letter, which is in Mr Lawrence's handwriting, and somewhat incensed by reading that he termed me an old scamp, I, who had proved his friend at a time when friendship was valuable to him, and who have shown him every consideration since. Will you read the letter, sir?"
Mr Greyquill left his seat and stepped across with the missive to Captain Acton. The Captain glanced at the contents, and without reading extended the letter to the Admiral, saying: "Is this your son's writing, sir?"
The Admiral took the letter, ran his eyes over it, and answered, returning the letter to Captain Acton: "It is."
"It is a draft or copy," said Captain Acton. "It is undated, and it is without the formal beginning of My dear, etc."
He then read slowly and deliberately, the handwriting being good and clear:
[Pg 211]
"I should have answered your letter sooner but I have been so worried by debts and difficulties, by compulsory idleness and the absolute impossibility of finding anything congenial to do, that I have had no spirit to communicate with you or anybody else. But the wheel of fortune which has depressed me to the very bottom, has by another revolution, raised me. I must tell you that I am very heavily in debt. Even in this antiquated hole I owe an old scamp, named Greyquill, three hundred pounds, of which I have only had two hundred. I am in debt, some of them debts of honour, to several men, a few of whom I have spoken of in my time as brother-officers, and one of them quite recently threatened me with the law. In addition, I owe a lot to various tradespeople in London and elsewhere. So that my personal liberty hangs by a hair, and at any moment I may find myself clapped on the shoulder, arrested for debt, and flung into gaol, there to languish possibly for the remainder of my days, for it is quite certain that my father cannot, even if he would, come to my help. His private means are very small, and his pension inconsiderable, and though he has behaved very well in maintaining me since I quitted the Service, and allowed me to use his cottage as a home, he is a man whose morality is high and severe, and he is the last person to part with a farthing in discharge of debts which he regards as dishonourable.
[Pg 212]
"I had made up my mind to ship before the mast in a vessel bound to America, where I should have left her, and sought my fortune in a new country; when through the great kindness that a rich gentleman in this district has for my father, I was offered the command of a barque called the Minorca, a handsome little vessel of about five hundred tons, on terms which a Merchant shipmaster would consider liberal, but which to one, in the face of what I owe, are as a penny piece in the value of a guinea. Captain Acton (R.N., retired)—you may have met him—is the owner of the two little ships. He lives in a beautiful old house, planted in the midst of a fine prospect of gardens and orchards. He has one child, a daughter, a young creature so beautiful that the instant I saw her I irrecoverably lost my heart to her. I offered her marriage; she rejected me, probably because she had been told that I was a drinker and a gambler. I am, nevertheless, determined to possess her as my wife, and with that view have promptly conceived a stratagem or plot which should either end in enabling me to pay off all my debts and live at peace in this country, or be hanged as a pirate."
The Admiral, who had heretofore discovered no signs of life, started in his chair and clenched his fist.
"It is you, my dear Dick, and old companion, mess-mate and friend, with whom I have enjoyed many a jaunt to which I could never[Pg 213] recur without passionately lamenting the days that are no more, who will help me in this desperate undertaking. I propose to navigate the vessel, not to Kingston, Jamaica, to which port she ought to be bound, but to the port in which you live, Rio de Janeiro. By a ruse which must prove successful, I think, I shall inveigle Miss Lucy Acton on board, and everything being ready, shall make sail immediately after she is carefully confined in my cabin. I have had a cabin set apart for my own use, which I represented to Captain Acton was to serve as a sick-bay. This drama has been well rehearsed. When far out at sea the crew will be summoned aft. I shall read some pretended sealed orders from Captain Acton, requiring me to carry the ship to Rio de Janeiro, and to sell her, if possible, after discharging the mate and crew, who will receive from Captain Acton, on application, treble the amount of their wages they would have got for sailing the vessel to Kingston. I shall also take care to destroy the ship's papers. And my story will be that I was overhauled by an American cruiser, who sent an officer on board. He examined the box of papers and took it away to show to his Captain, as he considered them unsatisfactory. The cruiser then braced her main top-sail yard to the wind and sailed away with the box of papers. On my arrival, we will consult together as to the safest course to be adopted for the sale of the ship and cargo, by which time I have no doubt the lady will have agreed to marry me either for love,[Pg 214] or because she has been placed in a situation which must render marriage imperative to her in the name of honour. With the money which I shall make, thanks to you, through this business, I will pay off all my debts in England, and Lucy Acton being my wife, or promising me her hand, I may count with absolute certainty upon the forgiveness of her father, who is not likely to abandon his only child for a behaviour that was no fault of hers, and the rest must be left to time.
"I think our man to help us for a liberal commission will be your friend, José Zamovano Y Villa. His scrupulosity in financial matters is not likely to prove a great hindrance, eh, Dick? I shall follow this letter soon after the ship that takes it, so that you will not have long to wait before seeing me after you have read it."
This letter was unsigned. It was manifestly a rough draft of the posted letter which had been amplified before it was sent. Captain Acton's hand dropped with it on to his knee. He exclaimed:
"That is the end—there is no name."
On which Miss Acton screamed out: "What did I say? Are not my words true? To think of our beloved Lucy imprisoned in a ship! Sailed away with, never to be seen more perhaps, in the hands of—of—oh, what is to be done? What is to be done?"
[Pg 215]
The Admiral started from his chair to his feet. His face was full of blood, his hands were uplifted, and his fingers tightly locked. He cried, in a voice that was like mimic thunder in its power, and breaks, and falls:
"I will hire a vessel and chase him; I will pursue him, though he should lead me to the very gates of Hell. Oh, my precious God! I, who have ever striven to act my part well in the service of my country! I, who have ever struggled to live an honourable and a stainless life as a gentleman and a sailor! Why am I dishonoured and degraded by the possession of such a son?"
He unclasped his hands and buried his purple face, and stood rocking and reeling as though he were about to fall in a fit, and sobbed twice or thrice with that dreadful note of grief in his dry-eyed agony, which makes the fearlessness of manhood in suffering one of the most pitiful, painful and pathetic of spectacles. Captain Acton laid his hand on the Admiral's shoulder.
"Bear up!" he said gently. "Presently we will discuss the matter calmly. God is good, and this blow may not prove nearly so heavy as we now think it."
With kindly pressure he obliged the old seaman to resume his seat, and then turned with something of fierceness upon old Greyquill.
[Pg 216]
"May I ask," said he, flourishing the letter, "how it is that you, sir, being fully admitted by the perusal of this document into the base plot Mr Lawrence was hatching, should have chosen to keep the intention to yourself, when by the revelation of this letter you could have put it out of Mr Lawrence's power to carry off my child."
Mr Greyquill stood up. His eyes had a peculiar light in them, a faint flush was painted on each cheek, and seemed to make whiter yet the whiteness of his brows and his hair.
"Sir," he answered, "I am much sneered at in this town and district. I am very well aware that few have a kind word for me. If you, sir, or Admiral Lawrence condescend to bestow a nod upon me as I respectfully pass you in the street, it has the character of the recognition with which you would honour something you disdain, which you are compelled to see, and by that nod acknowledge the existence of. Your beautiful daughter, Miss Lucy, on the other hand, has always been gracious and kind to me. In the light and sweetness of her presence I am sensible of the warmth and glow which make me feel that I am human and a man. There is no office I would not discharge to oblige her. I make money by lending it, but I would[Pg 217] give her money—much if she needed it, for the delight I take in her sympathetic, tender and generous nature. When I read the letter you hold, sir, I did not believe that Mr Lawrence would have the power or the art to carry out his scheme of kidnapping your daughter, and I was only assured that his base plot, as you term it, had proved triumphant by the calling of the bell-man, and by the letterpress on the placards which they are pasting about the place. Then I was determined that you should be instantly apprised through the medium of Mr Lawrence's own letter of what had become of your daughter. Otherwise, sir, the loss of your ship by an act of piracy must be nothing to me. Mr Lawrence promises in his letter that he will repay all his creditors, of which I am one to the extent of three hundred pounds. And as I am of opinion that this is his honest intention in order to enable him to dwell in England at liberty, I resolved to keep my own counsel and to await the receipt of my money."
Thus speaking he picked up his hat from the floor, bowed to Captain Acton and to Miss Acton, and left the room without noticing the Admiral.
"What a wicked, dreadful old man!" exclaimed Miss Acton, "to preserve such a[Pg 218] hideous secret, and to be willing to wait for payment of his three hundred pounds out of another man's robbery. What is to be done? What will you do, brother? Our Lucy must be rescued. Is it too late? She was here in this house this morning at seven o'clock. The ship cannot be far off. Cannot she be reached?"
Captain Acton, holding the Greyquill letter in his hand, stepped to a bell rope and pulled it. The hue of his face was ashen, the expression cold and severe: such a face as he would carry had he to confront a crowd of armed mutineers.
"What is to be done? What is to be done?" cried Miss Acton.
"What is to be done?" exclaimed the Admiral, starting from a silence in which his form was motionless, though his lips might have been seen moving whilst his eyes were fastened upon the carpet. "This is to be done, madam. I will commute my pension. I will mortgage my household furniture. I will get together every penny that is to be had by realisation of what I possess. I will post to London to-morrow." He pulled out a great gold watch and surveyed it for two or three breathless moments, "and in the river seek and assuredly find a sharp-stemmed vessel which shall convey me to Rio de[Pg 219] Janeiro, and I shall be in that spot, if God but grant me wind enough, to greet the arrival of that villain, my son, to secure the person of your daughter, and return her in safety—that I will do!—that I will do!" And the poor old fellow stood up snapping his fingers whilst he flourished his arms at Captain Acton and his sister, and made several mouths in inarticulate phrase.
A footman entered.
"Send George at once," said Captain Acton, "with the gig as fast as the mare can trot to Captain Weaver. He must call at his house first—the Paragon out of Lowe............
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