Lindigo, the White Woman/Chapter 13
MEETING AT THE THEATRE.
On arriving in London, Charlie and his faithful servant engaged private lodgings in a quiet part of the city, not wishing to mix with company or visit the great merchant McKay, where the idol of his heart was living. His time was therefore taken up in finding out some ship or expedition going abroad, or some opening for an energetic young man, who intended to push his way through life.
Among other novelties which at this time attracted the attention of the public, and which excited the greatest interest, was the announcement of the young Queen's appearance at the principal theatre one evening. Our hero showed a little of the universal curiosity to have a sight of royalty; he dressed himself in complete Highland costume, of Royal Stuart Tartan, and made his way to the scene of attraction. On entering the theatre, which was crowded, he managed to obtain a seat in one of the principal boxes, and being the only person in the Highland garb, attracted a good deal of attention, notwithstanding the interest the Royal boxes created.
The Young Queen looked charmingly, accompanied by the Foreign Prince, whom some knowing ones hinted would soon stand in a nearer relationship than a cousin to her. Behind the Royal couple, and in attendance on the Prince, was Lord Lundy, who was a great favourite at Court, his noble parent holding one of the most responsible posts under the Crown.
We will now lead the reader to the Royal box, and listen to the conversation and remarks made there.
The Royal pair were apparently intently scrutinising some interesting object in the opposite box, when the Prince turned suddenly to Lord Lundy, and enquired whether he knew the young lady so handsomely dressed in that novel Highland costume?
Lord Lundy coloured deeply, and answered—"Your Highness, that lady is the daughter of my agent in the Highlands, and her name is Miss McKay."
The young Queen, who had overheard the conversation, inquired whether the lady was the "Highland Beauty" of whom she had heard so much? His Lordship answered in the affirmative, when her Majesty inquired whether the young gentleman by her side was her brother?
"He is, and an officer in your Majesty's Guards," replied his Lordship.
"I do not mean the officer, but the gentleman on the other side, dressed in the Highland costume," added her Majesty.
Lord Lundy turned pale, and, in a contemptuous tone, replied, "I beg your Majesty's pardon, that young gentleman was a tenant of mine, but I turned him off my estate for poaching; and, being a neighbour of Miss McKay's, he had the assurance to pretend to her hand, when she was obliged to leave her home to escape his addresses, and visit her uncle, who is a rich merchant in this city; and it seems that he has followed her to renew his objectionable addresses."
"It appears she has greatly changed her mind, for she smiles very lovingly on him at this moment," added the Prince, provokingly; to which her Majesty agreed, and said "that it was a great pity that the young gentleman incurred his Lordship's displeasure by his imprudence, for he was the finest specimen of a Highlander she ever saw," and said "a likely match for the young lady, who appeared very much attached to him," and concluded by regretting that she did not know more of that part of her dominions and its interesting inhabitants.
Lord Lundy, during these remarks, was suffering under the most excruciating torments of rage and jealousy, having proof of the truth of her Majesty's remarks, which so fully belied his own account.
Bella McKay justified the remarks of royalty, and shone like a meteor among the brilliant stars of the British capital; she was dressed in her favourite Highland garb of silk McKay tartan, with the costliest and most glittering jewellery which could be obtained from her uncle's bounty, and was accompanied by her brother George.
On taking their seat exactly opposite the Royal Box, Bella recognised Lord Lundy in attendance, with his eyes fixed upon her, and instantly removing her looks towards another part of the theatre, towards which a number of glasses were directed, her quick eye caught the form of Charlie, whom she thought was still among his native hills. "With her heart bounding with joy, she pointed him out to George, who immediately beckoned his old play-fellow to their box, although he could not recognise him in the handsome grown-up young man before him, but he depended upon his sister's eyes of love. Charlie, who had observed them, instantly accepted the invitation, and made his way to their box, where a most happy and joyful meeting took place. On taking a seat on the other side of Bella, her brother whispered in her ear—"Oh, you little rogue! I can now see your objection to Lord Lundy's addresses," which words brought the crimson to her face as she bent down, with a feeling of confusion, intermixed with happiness.
The joy which the lovers experienced during that delightful evening, was for years impressed on their memory; nor was the presence of Royalty, the novelties enacted on the stage, or the powerful strains of the orchestra sufficient to attract their attention, or interrupt the happy current of their thoughts and conversation.
Charlie conducted Bella to the carriage, where he took leave of her and George, promising to meet again on an early opportunity.
Little did Charlie think that evening, while drinking with fond intoxication every word which dropped from the lips of his adorable Bella, that there was another and more dangerous enemy than Lord Lundy within the walls of that theatre, and who watched with demoniacal gaze all his movements; this other enemy was no other than the profligate Melrose, who, on being disgraced and shunned by all respectable society in Edinburgh (after the exposure of his conduct in the Scottish Court), had made his way to London.
Unable to obtain any respectable situation there, for want of certificates or recommendations as to his previous character, he spent all his money in dissolute habits, and was now on the verge of starvation, unless something occurred by which he could earn subsistence. Visiting the theatre this evening, and purchasing a ticket with the last silver he was possessed of, he beheld his former adversary, Charlie Stuart, entering.
Hearing, through some private source, the rivalry and antagonism that existed between Lord Lundy and Charlie regarding Bella, and watching his Lordships jealous looks, a diabolical expedient to raise money and satisfy his own revenge seized him at once, which he resolved, next day, to put into execution. He, next morning went direct to his Lordship's residence, sent in his card, and wished to be admitted at once, on the plea of having business of importance to communicate.
Melrose could not have arrived at a better moment for the purpose of making his base proposition, for Lord Lundy had passed a restless night occasioned by the dreadful torments of enraged jealousy, through witnessing the loving communications of Charlie and Bella on the previous evening. On looking at the card he thought he had heard or seen the name coupled with that of his rival, and told Brown to admit him at once.
On entering, Melrose, with his usual tact and address, opened his business at once in the following manner:—"You see, my Lord, that my name is Melrose, and for a short time a member of the Scottish bar, but who, unfortunately, through the machinations of a villain, and a fellow member, has been expelled from that position."
"Oh!" interrupted his Lordship eagerly, and bethinking himself—"Are you the Melrose whom that scoun———, I mean that Charlie Stuart brought charges against in Edinburgh; I read the whole of it in the papers."
"The same, my Lord, but I hope you are not led by such partial accounts, which I must declare, were not favourable to me, but rather one-sided."
"Not at all; I do not mind what the journals state, as they invariably side with the successful party; but what has that to do with your business with me? I am no judge or jury to enter into the matter."
"Pardon me, my Lord, I am aware of that; nor do I wish to renew the case; but hearing that my accuser has been reviling your Lordship also, and poisoning the ears of a certain young lady, and a neighbour of his, against you, I have therefore come before you with a proposition which, if you will help me in, will be of satisfaction to us both. The proposition I have to to make, is to supply me with funds to remove from your path this object of mischief to our common happiness."
"Surely you do not mean to take his life, and implicate me as your accomplice?"
"There are many ways of removing people, for a time, at least, my Lord, without taking life."
"And how much would satisfy you in that case?"
"To be plain with you, my Lord, I could not undertake the task for less than a thousand pounds."
"A thousand pounds is a large sum; however, I will meet your demands in this matter; I will give you five hundred now, and the remaining five hundred when the lady to whom I am attached becomes my wife."
These terms were satisfactory to both parties, and Melrose left, with demoniacal smile, his Lordship's presence, hugging his ill-gotten bribe. However, instead of having accomplices to prosecute his villainous plan, he plunged once more into his profligate habits, in gambling and other excesses, until his money was again swallowed up.
On finding himself again penniless, and no nearer the object of his revenge, or likely to earn the other five hundred pounds, he purchased a brace of pistols, with the last money in his possession, with the intention either to finish his own life, or take that of his enemy. He debated a long time in his mind which of these atrocious crimes he would attempt, when the love of his own prevailed, and that of taking Charlie's was resolved upon.
Charlie had at length some prospect of going abroad, and had entered upon a speculation by which he hoped to earn a small fortune. This was in joining a partner, named Stevenson, a gentleman of his own acquaintance, who had chartered a vessel to carry articles of trade to New Zealand, for the purpose of exchanging them with the natives of that country for land. This Charlie kept as yet a secret; not even telling Bella, whom he but seldom met, as he never visited her uncle, that gentleman being a great advocate of Lord Lundy's.
Donald Munro was often in attendance upon his master and Mr. Stevenson, visiting places of business, and often noticed a suspicious-looking person, who, in a Spanish cloak and slouched hat, dogged them from place to place. He told his master of the circumstance, but Charlie, not minding it, treated his servants suspicion as trifling. However, Donald was resolved on watching more closely for the future.
One evening, as the two gentlemen were walking arm in arm through one of the bye-streets, Munro kept on the opposite side, and observed the same suspicious person following them at a short distance. On nearing a cross-lane, where the traffic was less, and badly lighted, the person drew closer to them, and was in the act of drawing something like a pistol from under his cloak, when Donald called out to them, which caused Mr. Stevenson to turn suddenly round, when he received, in his right breast, the bullet which was intended for his companion, upon which he fell into the arms of Charlie Stuart.
Munro pursued the assassin, who flew at full speed through the lane, but the swift-footed Highlander soon overtook him, and, giving him his country's trip, threw him upon his back, and placed his knee upon his chest.
The police soon arrived, and took him into custody.
Charlie Stuart, after conducting his wounded partner to the nearest medical man, approached the crowd which had gathered round the prisoner, when, to his astonishment, he recognised in him his former enemy Melrose; then it was that his own providential escape flashed across his mind.
The attempted assassination in the public street created considerable excitement, and great interest was manifested on the day of trial. The prisoner was ably defended by some of the leading counsel of the day, but by whom they were engaged was never known. However, their eloquence on his behalf was of no avail; the case being so clearly proved, the jury, without any hesitation, returned a verdict of guilty. On being asked what he had to say why the sentence of the Court should not be passed upon him, he made a most affecting and touching appeal to the Bench, couched in such brilliant language that he quite surprised all his hearers, and concluded by saying that if he was to suffer the extreme penalty of the law, some person, whose name he would not mention, and who held one of the most noble and exalted positions in society, and who was at that moment listening to him, was the principal instrument in exciting him to commit such a desperate act; and, although he was sorry for shooting or wounding a gentleman with whom he had never quarrelled, he felt greatly disappointed in having missed his intended victim, whom he wished to chastise for former injuries.
Charlie, who was in the court, followed Melrose's eye while he was speaking, and saw Lord Lundy among the crowd in the gallery, who, on encountering the prisoner's looks, and hearing the insinuations he had given bent his head, and turning his ghastly countenance away, hid himself among the crowd.
A few days after the prisoner was reprieved, his sentence being commuted to transportation for life.
The voyage to New Zealand had been delayed through this unfortunate circumstance, and Mr. Stevenson, whose life was in great danger, entreated Charlie to proceed on the voyage without him, and offered to dispose of his share, and Charlie now became the owner of all the cargo, and was ready for sea.
One evening Charlie again met George and Bella at the theatre, and was holding one more delightful téte-a-téte with her, when he related his suspicions concerning Lord Lundy's complicity with Melrose for the destruction of his life. Bella was greatly shocked at hearing this, and, entertaining no doubt upon the matter, she now held Lord Lundy in the most intense horror and disgust.
On their leaving the box, they saw Lord Lundy at the entrance, and, as soon as Bella stepped out, he offered his arm to conduct her to the carriage. The young girl recoiled from him in terror, when Charlie, stepping between them, offered his arm, remarking scornfully, "Miss McKay only accepts the protection of Honourables by action, not by title."
"Dare you insinuate dishonourable actions to me?" replied his Lordship, turning pale with rage, "You shall suffer for your insolence before long."
"At any time and place you choose," replied Charlie with great coolness.
Bella had not heard these last remarks in the confusion of the moment, and the parties separated for the evening.
Next morning, the Hon. Captain Somerville, with a challenge from Lord Lundy, called upon Charlie, who at once referred him to his friend, Lieutenant John M'Donald (John Lom), who had arrived with his regiment in London, being under orders for Indian service.
A meeting took place on the following morning, when, after exchanging shots, Lord Lundy fell severely wounded.
Charlie was greatly distressed at such an occurrence, and was on the point of giving himself up, when his friend the Lieutenant forced him to leave the place, and impressed upon him the necessity of at once leaving the kingdom.
Having arranged everything for his departure the previous day, and the vessel having cleared the customs in Mr. Stevenson's name, he embarked at once as that gentleman, in order to avoid the punishment of the law. On joining the vessel, without even bidding adieu to Bella, he wrote a long letter to her, giving her a full account of all that had occurred, which would fully account for his abrupt departure, asking her to overlook his transgression should Lord Lundy not survive, and he hoped they would yet meet under better auspices. This letter he sent by Donald, with strict directions to hand it to no one but Bella, and to wait for an answer.
He was not to approach Mr. McKay's until night, lest that should give any clue as to Charlie's whereabouts, and afterwards meet the ship's boat at a given spot and be taken on board.
Donald had followed the first part of these instructions to the letter, and enjoyed a long interview with Mary Grant, who endeavoured to dissuade him from going and remain with her, remarking with tears, that the first part of Ni Ruari's prophecy was already coming true.
Donald at last tore himself from her, and imprinting the last kiss, he left her; but as he was going through the back premises he was rushed upon and seized. The most powerful of his assailants struggled with him, when they both fell and continued their struggle while on the ground. Donald managed to get his antagonist under him, when he heard the well-known voice of John Brown calling out, "Shoot the villain before he gets off." The active Highlander, upon hearing this, rolled over, bringing his antagonist uppermost, just in time to receive the bullet (which was intended for himself) through the back, killing him on the spot.
A crowd had now gathered round the spot, when Brown and his associate declared that Donald was the person who fired the shot, and notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, he was arrested on the charge. On being brought next day, to the inquest which was hold on the body of the detective, his accusers, Brown and Williams, swore to their previous assertions, the evidence against him being strengthened by the fact that a pistol, with the letters "D. M." upon it, had been found near the spot, and which had been recently used.
Donald acknowledged that the pistol was his property, but said he lost it at his lodgings in the hurry of removing. This statement was of course not received, and he was fully committed for trial.
The sessions commenced in a few days, when the same evidence was brought against him. The only witness who could have saved him, was the servant at the house where he had been lodging, who could have proved that the pistol was left there, but she could not be found, he was found guilty of manslaughter, but was strongly recommended to mercy, there being some question as to whether the evidence was thoroughly reliable; upon the verdict being given, the sentence of the Court was passed upon him, which was, that he should be transported for seven years to Botany Bay.
How the innocent but unfortunate piper became a convict, and how it was that his own pistol was found near the scene, and which was the strongest evidence against him, was as follows:—
It will be remembered that John Brown had become a sworn enemy to Donald over since their visit to the brews, and the ridiculous exposure he had made of him before Mary Grant. Brown had resolved on paying him back, and determined to remove him, as he was the obstacle in the way of his happiness. In order to accomplish this, as soon as he heard that Donald had arrived in London, he bribed the servant at the house in which Charlie had taken lodgings for himself and Donald, made her presents, and also an offer of marriage. He then became leagued to some extent with Melrose whom he supplied with information which he obtained from the servant; but as Melrose was inclined to take desperate measures, Brown thought it better to steer clear of him altogether and not risk his life. He then associated with another desperado named Williams, who proved to be a housebreaker and highwayman, but who had as yet managed to evade the laws, and whom Brown engaged to forward his plans and those of his master also.
At the sudden and unexpected crisis occasioned by the duel and Lord Lundy's unfortunate fate, Brown set off with his accomplice Williams and a detective, to capture Charlie and Donald at their lodgings. The detective was stationed outside to prevent anyone leaving the house, while Brown and Williams entered to talk with the servant, and obtain all information possible.
Notwithstanding their precipitation, they found to their great mortification, that they had removed, and that Donald on the previous day had taken their luggage in a great hurry, paid the bill and had not returned.
Brown, in order to satisfy himself, asked to be allowed to see the rooms they had occupied, found a pistol, upon which was Donald's initials, hung upon a nail, and which had been overlooked by the lodger while removing the goods; he took possession of it with the determination of soon turning it to some account. On leaving the lodgings, Brown proposed that they should watch Mr. McKay's house, urging that Charlie would never leave without bidding farewell to Bella, and at dusk the three took their station and watched; they did not remain long before they saw Donald approaching, having entered by the back gate. Brown pointed him out, and declared him to be Charlie Stuart; they then waited for his return, and as he was leaving, rushed upon him. Brown well knew who it was that had been seized, and to satisfy his long cherished revenge, gave Williams the pistol he had taken from the room they had inspected, and ordered him to fire.
Upon seeing that the wrong man had received the bullet, they instantly made up their minds to heap the guilt upon Donald, which was successfully carried out, and proved extremely disastrous to the innocent victim of their machinations.
In order to accomplish their wickedness effectually, and remove any trace of evidence favourable to the prisoner, Brown had prevailed upon the servant to leave her situation, under the pretence of marrying her.
Donald's unfortunate conviction proved distressing in several respects, and caused great anxiety to Charlie.
The poor fellow had the presence of mind to throw Bella's letter over the wall while engaged in the scuffle, which was picked up the next morning by Mary Grant, who gave it to her mistress, thus entirely preventing any clue being given to his whereabouts.
But the greatest sufferer of all was Mary, whose appearance gave evidence of her wretchedness of mind, refusing any consolation at the unhappy fate of her lover, whose innocence she never doubted.