The search outside the house proved as barren of results as had been that within. The undercliff was so broken as to offer many places in which with ingenuity and some labour recesses might be formed in which much could be concealed. But to a hiding-place of this description there must be a track; and the fallen elder-twigs, and scattered leaves, the straggling binds of bramble armed with terrible hooks, the thickets of thorn undisturbed, showed that no runs had been made from the house to any particular spot.
Discouraged, Olver leaned his elbows on a mass of chalk, laid one huge red hand over the other, palm downward, looked across the block at Jack, who was beyond, and said, ‘I’m darned, if this is not one of the worst jobs I have ever been in. I wish your father had wrote down on the slate where it was he had stowed the money.’
‘That is, if he had anything to stow.’
‘He must have had. He did have—else why should he have been in such a fear lest you should squander it?’
‘If something had been saved and put away, we must have found it.’
Dench remained looking steadily at Jack, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
‘You don’t think,’ mused he, and he spoke to himself rather than to Jack, ‘you don’t think as how Jane Marley may have scented it, and have secured it, and got it now in that chest of hers. We have looked everywhere else. She is away now at Bindon. Let us prize open the lock and search it from end to end. I warrant it is there. It can be nowhere else that I can think of.’
‘No,’ answered Jack emphatically. ‘To that I will not consent. If she chooses voluntarily to open, that will be[128] another matter, but in her absence, without her knowledge—never.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because it is not right, and she a poor woman. I would rather let her have it than commit such an outrage.’
‘You would, would you?’
‘Certainly,’ with some heat. ‘Besides, I owe Winefred a debt of gratitude, and I will not repay it by an insult offered to her mother.’
‘Well! men are made in different fashions and out of various clays. What, then, is to be done?’
‘There is but one thing can be done—accept the situation. I must make up my mind to knock about till I can find work that will suit me. I have not expected much. If there had been a trifle I should have been well pleased; had there been much, my father would have given me to understand that it was so.’
‘He has done this. He has told me and you plainly that he was resolved to make a gentleman of you.’
‘He has given me education, and it is that which makes the gentleman.’
‘Fine! Education is a rare advantage if you have money to back it up; money without education is a halting horse; but education without money is one foundered in all four legs. What will you be? Not a fisherman. Your education is thrown away for that.’
‘I intend to sell the house.’
‘Sell the house!’ echoed Dench, and lifted his hands in astonishment.
‘I must do so. If I had a little income I might live here in it, and idle. I should not relish that. As I have no income I cannot occupy it. I must look out for a situation, and not being a snail I cannot travel with my house on my back.’
‘You have the cutter.’
‘That cutter is of no use to me unless I know how to employ her.’
‘Oh! there is employment easy found.’
‘Yes, but not such as I care to undertake. I know what you mean. Besides, my education is so much capital invested. I must see if I cannot make it render interest.’
‘But the house——’
‘It holds me here, and just here no work suitable for me is to be found.’
‘Darn me!’ said Olver, looking musingly at his hands, ‘I’d not sell the house till I had torn down every stone, and had sifted every peck of dust.’
‘And found nothing, and thrown away what little value the cottage possessed when standing.’
‘I do not see,’ said the ferryman, ‘that this is a house that will fetch a price. There is no field or paddock attached to it. There are just four walls and nothing further. If you were to take to the sea and carry on your father’s business, then the place is well enough. And yet, after this late affair, it is a little blown upon. And then Jane Marley’s cottage has gone to pieces. These cliffs are not sure; you cannot say what may happen next. Purchasers might argue that it was an unsafe tenure, not worth much because so insecure in its foundations. It might last a hundred years, or it might go to-morrow. I am shot if I would sell.’
‘I have thought it well over,’ said Jack; ‘no other course is open to me.’
‘You may let the cottage.’
‘Who would take it? It is fit only for a labourer in Bindon, and their hands are all provided for in Axminster. Besides, I am in want of money.’
‘You will sell furniture and all.’
‘Yes, everything.’
‘Then, take my advice, and dispose of the house first. You are separated by the mouth of the Axe from Seaton, and Seaton folk will not come here to get furniture; but if the house be sold, then the purchaser may bid well for what is in it, that he may have the whole bag of tricks together, and not be put to the extra trouble and cost in new rigging.’
‘There is something in what you say. The sooner it is done the better. I shall speak to the auctioneer, and have the crier sent about.’
‘Well, if it must be, I say so as well.’
The young man walked away to go to Beer, where he had been in lodgings up to his father’s death. He had matters to arrange there.
Dench remained in deep thought for some time. He was completely puzzled, and could not resolve what he should do. In the event of the cottage being sold, would it be advisable for him to buy it? But it could be of no use to him, and his ambition pointed to a public-house. To risk his money on the chance of finding the captain’s hoard was altogether too[130] precarious. Three times had the cottage been ransacked, and each time fruitlessly. Yet Olver was not satisfied. Rattenbury had boasted to him over his grog of his intentions with regard to Jack, and Rattenbury was not a man to lie, though he might exaggerate. He had not obscurely intimated that he was possessed of the means whereby he could carry out his intentions.
Dench returned to the cottage, and as he entered he took with him the chopper which had been driven into a bench that stood by the door. It was used for cutting up the fuel.
By this time Mrs. Marley had returned.
‘Jane,’ said he, ‘don’t look sour and turn crabbed. It must be done. Young Jack laid it on me, but I don’t like doing his dirty work. He might have come and taken the job in hand himself, but he is a sneak, a miserable sneak, and he has gone to Beer and bound me to do it.’
‘What is it?’
‘He bade me break open your chest. He says that the captain’s money has not been found, and that you have laid your hands on it. Says he, make the old cat give up the key, or break the lock off the chest. Turn everything out.’
Her face flushed with anger.
‘You take me for a thief!’
‘Not I. I don’t think you clever enough. But Jack—it is Jack’s demand.’
‘There is the key.’
She threw it at his feet.
Dench picked it up. She looked at him frowning and with scorn.
He went to her chest and searched, to be once more disappointed.
He returned to the kitchen, gave her the key and seated himself. He said nothing, but leaned his head in his hand. Think as he might, he could hit on no other place in which to search.
‘Jane,’ said he at length, despairing of finding what he sought, and changing the current of his thoughts, ‘what are you going to do? Jack has made up his mind to sell the old place and every stick in it.’
‘Sell the house!’
Mrs. Marley considered. She put her knuckles to her lips.
‘What will you do? Where will you go? I reckon you will have to make up your mind as to that.’
‘Where I go, and what my plans are—these are no concerns of yours,’ she answered. ‘I shall find a home somewhere.’
‘May not an old acquaintance—a friend you will not allow me to call myself—ask a civil question without meeting with a rude answer! Why, Jane, I have known you since you were a little girl. I knew you when you met with him. I know all about that bad business, and I have known you ever since, and have admired how you have kept yourself respectable. I should be a bad sort of a chap, and altogether without heart, were I to let you go and not ask about you.’
Jane answered, somewhat mollified, ‘I shall take a house suitable for Winefred and me in our altered condition.’
‘Well now,’ said Dench, ‘I don’t understand that. Altered is for the worse, I suppose.’
‘I should have said in our bettered condition. Winefred’s father has acknowledged her, and will provide that she be brought up as a lady.’
The colour faded instantly from Dench’s face, and his jaw fell. He looked at her with blank, fishy eyes.
‘He has acknowledged her! It is not possible. You lie.’
‘It is true. Look at this. See the gold watch with his initials on it. He gave it to her as a token that he would provide handsomely, liberally for her. We shall take a house in which she can live as a gentleman’s daughter ought to live. For myself I care not. I am not, I never have been, a lady. That is why he deserted me. But with her it is different.’ She raised her head, and there was triumph in her eyes and a flush in her cheeks.
‘It is false,’ gasped Dench.
If what Jane said was true, then Mr. Holwood was reconciled to his wife. He had recognised his daughter. If so, his own knavery would be discovered. Not only would the quarterly supplies cease, which for eighteen years he had appropriated to himself, but he would be called to task for what he had done, and would have to answer for it in court.
‘Have you squared up with him?’ he inquired, with his attitude and tone of voice expressive of uneasiness. Jane was too full of pride to consider him. She answered, ‘I have not met him. I am in no hurry to do so. There is too much calling out against him in my heart, that is like a kennel of barking dogs, for me to forgive. But Winefred has seen him, has talked with him, and he has promised her that he will deal by her, I will not say generously, but as he ought.’
‘I do not believe it. He is in Tierra del Fuego.’
‘He is returned. What say you to the watch? I knew it immediately. He had offered it to me once.’
‘I see no proof in the watch. It may have belonged to the captain, and you——’
She cut him short—’It has his initials on the back.’
‘J. H. are common initials. John Hall, the cheesemonger, has the same.’
‘Whether you believe or not matters nothing to me,’ said Jane, still swelling with pride. ‘All Seaton, all Axmouth, every one shall perceive that we are not as we were; that my Winnie has no more occasion to go along the beach picking up chalcedonies, nor I to trudge the lanes, hawking pins and needles; but that Winefred is a lady, a real lady, with money to spend, dressing like a lady, doing nothing—like a lady. When I hear from Jack Rattenbury, I shall know when to leave this cottage, but do not think that I will take orders or advice from you.’