11. Leon Hamar Calls on the Martins
"Where's Gladys?" John Martin asked as he rose with an effort, stiff and tired, from the remains of a meat tea.
In reply Miss Templeton merely pointed a finger—and went on crocheting.
Following the direction indicated, John Martin stepped out on to the lawn, and glancing round the garden, called "Gladys!" Then he listened, and there came to him snatches of a song, the words of which, full of arch sentiment, allied with (and to a large extent dependent on), a unique knowledge of and love of nature—would not have disgraced a Herrick or a Raleigh—the music—a Schubert, or a Sullivan. John Martin had spared no money in educating Gladys, and she did him credit. He thought so now, as exhausted from a hard day's poring over letters, he paused and leaned his back against a tree. A gentle breeze blew her notes to him, full of melody and mirth; fresh and young and tender—as tender as the rosebuds and violets that nestled at her bosom.
"By Jove!" John Martin murmured. "Fancy my having a daughter like Gladys! I ought to be jolly well pleased. And so I am. The only thing I fear, is, that she'll marry some one who isn't half good enough for her! But who would be good enough for her! God alone knows! And God alone knows whether she or I ought to decide! Gladys!"
"Hulloa!", and the next moment a vision in pink emerged from the bushes.
"Gladys, I want to confide in you!"
"What's wrong, Daddy, dear?" Gladys said, thrusting an arm through his and walking him gently along with her through the glade. "You weren't at all nice to me when we parted this morning, but you look so wearied that I'll be magnanimous and forgive you. What is it?"
"Why it's like this!'" John Martin said, putting his arm round her and holding her close to him, as he used to do when, a little girl, she came sidling up to him for sugar-plums. "Poor Dick's affairs are in a terrible muddle. Unknown to me he speculated right and left, and he has not only muddled through everything he had, but he has left a number of debts, and unfortunately I have to meet them."
"You, Father! But why you?" Gladys cried.
"Because they were incurred in the name of the Firm. I can meet them all right, but it will be a big drain on my resources. That's worry number one. Worry number two is about young Davenport—Shiel. I don't know what to do about him. He was entirely dependent on Dick. His work as an artist doesn't bring him in enough to keep him in tobacco, and the worst of it is he doesn't seem capable of turning his hand to anything else; I can't see him starve, so I shall have to allow him something."
"He seemed to me very intelligent," Gladys observed, "couldn't you take him into the Firm? Who are you going to have in his uncle's place?"
"That's the trouble!" John Martin replied. "I do feel I want some one. I am getting on in years, my brain is not so vigorous as it used to be, and I can't go on inventing fresh tricks ad infinitum. Moreover, I need assistance in the purely business side of the concern. I want some one who is both business-like and inventive—some one young, brilliant and reliable."
"You couldn't sell out I suppose?"
"No, not just at present. Thanks to poor old Dick the Firm is in rather a precarious condition! Another six months over, and we may be perfectly all right. No! I must stick on, and get another partner. And look here, Gladys, you know I let you do pretty nearly everything you like. But let me beg of you not to be too friendly with that young Davenport. I caught him looking very impressibly at you this morning, and I am quite sure, if he sees anything more of you, he will be falling head over ears in love. Which is the very last thing in the world I want!"
"That's making me out to be very attractive, Daddy," Gladys said, looking round at him mischievously.
"And so you are, dear!" John Martin said. "Wonderfully attractive! and none knows it better than yourself. But in this case you must think of consequences—consequences that might be disastrous to us all! Confound it all, who's this? What on earth does he want?"
Gladys gazed in astonishment. A young and very smartly dressed man was advancing towards them with a soft, cat-like tread. He was of medium height and slim build. His head disproportionately large; his right ear standing out, in proof that it had long been used as a pen-rest; his nose pronounced and Semitic in outline; his eyes, big, projecting and yellowish brown; his chin, retreating; his complexion, dark and saturnine.
Gladys shivered. "What a horrible person!" she whispered, "there is something positively uncanny about him. I feel cold all over and how he stares!"
"Yes—what is it?" John Martin demanded. "Do you want to see me?"
"You're Mr. Martin, I reckon!" the stranger replied in the soft drawl, characteristic of California. "I've come to have a little talk with you on business."
"With me—on business!" John Martin cried. "I don't know you! I've never seen you before!"
"You see me now anyway!" the stranger laughed, casting approving eyes at Gladys. "My name's Leon Hamar, and I've come to talk over that show of yours."
"D—n your impudence!" John Martin said, raising his stick threateningly. "How dare you intrude upon me here on such a pretext."
"Calmly, calmly, sir!" Hamar cried, his cheeks paling. "I've come here with every intention of being civil. I am chief partner in the Modern Sorcery Company Ltd., and as conjuring figures prominently in our programme I thought you might prefer to have us as friends rather than rivals."
"I'm sure my father need not fear your rivalry," Gladys broke in, meeting Hamar's admiring gaze stonily.
"If," he said, "you desire a proof of our ability to accomplish what we profess, I will give that proof without delay. With your per—"
"You have no permission from me, sir," John Martin cried fiercely. "Go!"
Hamar merely shrugged his shoulders. "You ought not to get so heated," he said, "considering that exactly twenty feet below where you are standing is a spring. All you have to do is to mark the spot, and sink a well, and there will be no need for you to use the Company's water. As you are probably aware, spring water is a thousand times clearer and purer. Also," he went on, stepping hastily back as John Martin again raised his stick, "in the trunk of that elm over yonder is a hollow about eight feet from the ground, and if you look inside it, you will discover an iron box full of curios and jewellery. Shall I—"
"No!" retorted John Martin. "If you don't go instantly I'll send for the police,"—and Hamar, coming to the conclusion that upon this occasion discretion was better than valour, hurriedly beat a retreat.
"You'll be sorry, John Martin!" he shouted from a safe distance, "and so will Miss Gladys, charming Miss Gladys. But remember you have only yourselves to blame. Ta-ta!", and the next moment he was lost to sight.
"Well!" Gladys ejaculated, "of all the beastly cads I have ever seen he fairly takes the biscuit. What colossal cheek! The idea of his coming here and speaking to us like that! Can't we prosecute him, Father?"
"Hardly!" John Martin replied, "best leave him alone. I wish he hadn't come! He's upset me! My nerves are anyhow! Which was the tree he spoke about?"
"This one," Gladys exclaimed, walking up to an elm, and patting it with her hand, "but you surely don't believe what he said, do you? It was all rubbish from start to finish. Daddy, my dear old Daddy, I do believe you are worrying about it."
"Hold my hat and stick a moment," John Martin said, and making a spring, which for one of his age and weight showed surprising agility, he succeeded in catching hold of one of the nearest lateral branches. The elm being old, the bark had become very gnarled and uneven, and thus the difficulty of ascension lay more in semblance, perhaps, than in reality. Embracing the huge trunk, as closely as possible, with his arms and knees, much to the detriment of his clothes, seizing with his hands some projections, and resting his feet upon others, John Martin, after one or two narrow escapes from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and paused to wipe his forehead.
"Oh, do take care, Father!" Gladys pleaded, "you'll fall and break your neck. Do be sensible and come down now."
But John Martin paid no attention, he went on groping.
"I've found it," he suddenly shouted. "That bounder was right, the trunk is hollow." He was silent then, for some minutes, and Gladys could only see his boots. Then there was a muffled oath, a sound of choking and gasping, which made Gladys's blood run cold, and then—a great cry. "There's something here, something hard and heavy. It's a box, an iron box! Take it from me." And leaning as far down as he dared, he placed in Gladys's outstretched hands, a rusty iron box. Then there was the sound of scraping and tearing, and John Martin gradually lowered himself to the ground—his coat covered with green, and the knees of his trousers ripped to pieces.
Gladys ran indoors for a hammer and chisel, and, the hinges of the box being worn with age and exposure, it was but the work of a few seconds to break it open. It was full of gold and silver coins and jewellery; there were only a few gold pieces, the greater number of the coins were silver—the bulk Georgian—and their dates ranged from 1697 to 1750. The jewellery consisted of several massive gold bracelets, (two or three of very fine workmanship); some dozen or so plain gold rings; two silver watches, and a varied assortment of silver trinkets. All were more or less antique, but none—apart from the gold bracelets—of any great value.
"Well!" John Martin exclaimed, as they concluded their examination of the articles, "what do you make of it?"
"Why that man put them there, of course," Gladys said, "can't you see the whole thing is nothing but a dodge to intimidate you into forming a friendship with him. I daresay he has heard that Mr. Davenport is dead, and thinks he sees an opportunity to be taken into partnership. He had a horrid face—sly and cunning, and his way of looking at me was positively disgusting. It makes me feel sick and horrid even to think of it."
"What shall we do with these things?" John Martin asked, picking up one of the watches and eyeing it with curiosity.
"Are they ours?" Gladys replied.
"I certainly consider we've a right to keep them," her father said, "since we've found them ourselves on our own property, but I suppose, legally, they are treasure trove and ought to be given up."
"Then surely the Government would pay us something for them, wouldn't it?"
"I should think so, at least a decent Government would. Anyhow, I think to give them up will be our best course. I doubt if the whole lot is worth fifty pounds. Where was it he said there was water?"
"Good gracious!" Gladys exclaimed, "you don't mean to say you are going to bother about that now!"
"It was here, I think," John Martin went on, thrusting his stick in the ground, "to the best of my knowledge—and I had experts' advice—there is no water any where near here. Had there been, I should not have gone to the expense of having pipes laid down to feed the pond."
"Oh, Father, how can you be so silly," Gladys cried, "of course there isn't any water here. It's only a trick, a trick to frighten you—and I'm beginning to think it has succeeded."
"I shall try here anyway to-morrow," John Martin said grimly. "Let us go in now."
When Gladys went into the garden on the following morning she beheld an extraordinary sight. Her father, the gardener, and a man whom she did not recognize at first, as his back was turned towards her, but who, to her utter astonishment, proved to be Shiel Davenport, were hard at work, digging a pit.
Her father paused every now and then, and rested; but he did not allow the others a moment's respite. Every time they were about to slack, he urged them on. It was all very well for the gardener who was accustomed to it, but it was obviously killing work for Shiel Davenport, and Gladys—as soon as she had overcome a preliminary outburst of laughter—gave vent to her sympathies.
"What a shame," she exclaimed, "Father how can you? Poor Mr. Davenport looks ready to drop. Take a rest, Mr. Davenport! Do—you have my permission."
Looking very hot and exhausted, Shiel Davenport threw down his spade and attempted to make himself presentable.
"His clothes will be ruined, Father," Gladys said, indignantly.
"They're not his clothes—he's wearing an old suit of mine," John Martin explained, trying to appear unconcerned.
Shiel forced a laugh. "I'm rather out of form, Miss Martin, I haven't had much exercise lately."
"You're getting it now anyway," John Martin chuckled.
"And it's blistered your hands horribly!" Gladys cried, pointing to several raw places. "I will fetch you a pair of father's gloves—he's a brute!"
"Please don't trouble," Shiel exclaimed, "I'll use my handkerchief instead. Digging is even harder work than painting—in one way."
"It's not fit work for you," Gladys replied with another reproachful glance at her father. "When did you arrive, I never heard you?"
"I 'phoned to him last night," John Martin said, looking rather sheepish. "I thought a day out here would do him good. He thought so too, and came on by the seven o'clock train. We've been digging ever since breakfast—but a bit of exercise won't hurt him, and I'll give him plenty of vaseline presently."
They resumed work again; and Gladys retired indoors. At eleven o'clock John Martin let Shiel go. "You can amuse yourself till luncheon with books and papers," he said, "you'll find plenty of them in my study. I'll join you later."
But Shiel had other ideas of amusing himself, and as soon as he had washed and changed back into his own clothes, he followed the sounds of music until he reached the drawing-room.
"I'm sure you must feel dreadfully tired," Gladys said, leaving off playing. "It was too bad of Father to make you work like that."
"I'm afraid your father thinks me a very useless article," Shiel replied, seating himself in an easy chair, and trying his hardest not to look too ardently. "And an artist is not much good outside his profession."
"Who is?" Gladys smiled. "Shall you still go on painting?"
"Now that my uncle has died? It all depends—depends on whether he has been able to leave me anything in his will. From one or two things your father has said I fear he has not—in which case I don't quite know what I shall do. I could hardly expect Mr. Martin to take me into his firm."
"Aren't you any good at invention?" Gladys asked, "I know he wants some one who is—some one who can help him devise fresh tricks. This everlasting racking of the brains to think of something new is beginning to be too much for him."
"I wish I could be of some use," Shiel said, "both for his sake and mine, and may I add yours. Anyhow I'll try. I have a certain amount of imagination—I suppose most artists have, and henceforth I'll devote it to trickery."
"No, not to trickery!" Gladys said, "to conjuring!"
"Well, to conjuring then—to planning something novel and startling in the way of a trick. And as they say, two heads are better than one, perhaps, you will help me."
"I," Gladys laughed, "why I've never invented anything in my life, barring a song."
"Nevertheless I'm sure you would be of great help to me," Shiel said; "you would at least criticize my efforts, wouldn't you?"
"Oh! I should certainly do that," Gladys laughingly rejoined, "and probably do more harm than good."
"You could never do any harm!" Shiel said, with so much eagerness that Gladys got up and began searching for a piece of music. "I would give anything to paint you."
"I have been painted—twice," Gladys observed.
"For the R.A.?"
"Yes! I didn't much care about it, and I grew desperately tired of sitting."
"Who painted you?"
"Heniblow painted me once, and Darker painted me once."
"Then it's useless for me even to think of it. How did they treat you in their pictures?"
"Heniblow painted me in evening dress, and Darker painted me in the character of Enid—you know, the Enid in the 'Idylls of the King.'"
"Yes. But I should like to paint you as 'Melody in Flower Land.'"
"I'm afraid I can't grasp it," Gladys said.
"Can't you!" Shiel exclaimed, "I can. The idea came to me when I heard you singing just now, and saw you sitting here, in the midst of flowers, and dressed like a rose. I should paint you clad as you are now—all in pink—seated in the garden singing; and all the flowers leaning towards you listening. I would give anything to paint it," and he spoke with such enthusiasm that Gladys, remembering her dream, flushed.
"I think," she said, "we might go into the garden and see how the work is progressing."
"I fear I can't do any more digging," Shiel put in hastily, "I willingly would if I could, but I really can't use my hands."
"And you've not had any vaseline," Gladys cried. "I'll get you some," and before he could prevent her she had gone.
She was back again, however, in a few moments with a tiny white jar and some linen bandages. "I couldn't find my aunt," she began, "or she would bandage your hands for you."
"Won't you?" Shiel asked. "Do!"
He thrust his hands towards her as he spoke, and Gladys uttered an exclamation of horror—the palms and fingers were raw and swollen.
"I feel heartily ashamed of myself for being so thin-skinned," Shiel said. But Gladys had disappeared. She returned almost immediately with a bowl of water.
"I'm sure they must hurt you dreadfully," she exclaimed, as she gently bathed the hands. "It makes me feel quite ill to see them."
For the next few moments Shiel was in Paradise. The touch of her cool, white fingers on his hot and burning skin was far nicer than anything he had ever imagined. Her sweet-scented breath stealing gently up his nostrils soothed away all his care—even the remembrance of his recent loss.
With his whole heart and soul concentrated in his gaze, he watched her every movement—watched the waving and tossing of the stray wisps of hair over her temples and ears, as the breeze rustled through the open windows; and the gentle tightening and relaxation of her delicately moulded lips each time she breathed.
Shiel had always led a very solitary existence. Apart from his uncle he had no near relatives, and with the exception of the five or six weeks in the year he had spent at Dick Davenport's house at Sydenham, he had always been in rooms. He had often felt lonely, but never quite so lonely as now—now that the only person he had known intimately and for whom he had entertained any real affection, was suddenly taken away. He was now absolutely alone in the world, and the poignancy of his position came home to him acutely.
It is a terrible thing to be lonely. Lonely men do all sorts of dreadful things—things they would certainly never dream of doing if they had companionship. And Shiel was doing a dreadful thing now. Every moment he was falling more and more desperately in love, despite the fact that he had no money, and worse still—no prospects of ever making any. And loneliness was in the main responsible for it.
Had he not been so lonely—had he not spent days and days, alone in lodgings, with no one to talk to—no one to care whether he were ill or dying; had this not been his experience—the experience he was even then undergoing, reason would have outweighed folly, and even though he might have realized that in Gladys Martin he had found his ideal of beauty—of womanliness, he would have been content only to admire.
As it was, he was in that very dangerous mood when the heart yearns for sympathy; when a plain woman's sympathy means much—and a pretty woman's more than much. It is no exaggeration to say that Shiel would have lain down and died for Gladys ten times over. For her sake—if only to see her smile, no mere physical pain would have been too excruciating for him to bear. And when she put the finishing touches to the bandages, and quite by chance, of course, their eyes met, he looked at her as if he never meant to leave off looking at her, as if he never meant to do anything else but look at her for all eternity.
Whether she understood as much or not, is impossible to say. Shiel asked himself the question over and over again before the day was out, and in his sleep, and during the next day, and for many days afterwards. Could she tell how much he admired her? How much he worshipped her? All that he was prepared to do for her sweet sake? All this he asked himself repeatedly, and went on thinking of her when he knew he ought never to have thought of her at all.
"I'm sure your hands are more comfortable now. Won't you go into the garden and see how the work is progressing?" she said. "Or if you are afraid Father will want you to dig again, perhaps you would like to go into his study and read the papers."
"I should like to stay here and listen to you singing," he said. "Mayn't I do that?"
"You might," she said, "but I have to go out."
"Then I'll stay here till you return," he said, "I've never been in such a delightful room."
"What do you think of Shiel Davenport?" Gladys remarked to her aunt a few minutes later. "I don't think I've ever met such an extraordinary young man. He does nothing but stare at me, and when I ask him to do one thing he suggests doing another. He's the most difficult person to manage. In fact, I can't manage him at all."
"Never mind about managing him, my dear," Miss Templeton replied, "so long as you don't let him manage you. Young men who do nothing but stare are not merely difficult—they are dangerous."