Mrs. Georgie Sheldon: The Welfleet Mystery

PREF­ACE.

In pre­sent­ing "The Welfleet Mys­tery" to the pub­lic, the au­thor feels that some ex­pla­na­tion is a duty which she owes not only to her read­ers, hat also to her­self. The story may be termed the out-growth of "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood," writ­ten by Charles Dick­ens, which, ev­ery­one knows, was left in an un­fin­ished state, the au­thor dying be­fore it could be com­plet­ed.

The first half of "The Welfleet Mys­tery" nec­es­sar­i­ly fol­lows the plot of "Edwin Drood" very close­ly, al­though it has been the writ­er's aim to vary the char­ac­ters, in­ci­dents, and con­ver­sa­tions, so that they may not seem sim­ply a tame rep­e­ti­tion to those who have read the great mas­ter's work. While she does not claim for her­self ei­ther the power, fin­ished style, or in­tri­ca­cy which plot of char­ac­teris­es his writ­ings, she has en­deav­oured, by care­ful study of the story, as far as it is told, to gain some idea of the au­thor's plan, and to work it out to the best of her abil­i­ty and though var­ied some­what in cer­tain points, she trusts that it will prove both in­ter­est­ing and ac­cept­able to her read­ers.

Georgie Shel­don,
author of "The Forsaken Bride," "Brownie's Triumph," The Lily of Mordaunt."

CHAP­TER I.
THE ROOM-MATES.

A beau­ti­ful day was wan­ing, and with it the year. The sun was slow­ly and ma­jes­ti­cal­ly sink­ing in the west, cast­ing a ruddy glow over the long line of hori­zon lying be­yond the great cathe­dral, which, with its lofty and quaint square tower, loomed up so grand and state­ly just on the edge of an old En­glish town, of which for more than a cen­tu­ry it bad been the pride and boast.

At­tached to this mas­sive pile around which cen­tres so much of in­ter­est in our story, are the ruins of a monastery, a saint's-chapel, and a con­vent; while over their rough but pic­turesque walls mass­es of creep­er and glossy-leaved ivy, with here and there a frost-touched spray gleam­ing out among the green like a huge car­bun­cle or liq­uid amethyst, cling in fan­tas­tic shapes, or trail low on its weath­er-beat­en and moss-grown stones.

On the north, shad­ed with lofty beech­es and ven­er­a­ble elms, whose grace­ful branch­es, sweep­ing ten­der­ly and pro­tect­ing­ly down, al­most touch the un­even mounds which lie with­in their shad­ows, is the an­cient grave­yard, with its crum­bling tablets, sunken tombs, and bram­ble-cov­ered graves.

Back of this, and on high­er ground, quite near the rude re­mains of what was once a wall sur­round­ing the en­tire church prop­er­ty, in a spa­cious and sym­met­ri­cal hol­low, which at first might puz­zle the ob­serv­er.

It is now rank with veg­e­ta­tion — the de­posit and growth of many, many years — but un­der­neath it all there is solid ma­son­ry. It was once the reser­voir which sup­plied water for the ex­ten­sive es­tab­lish­ment con­nect­ed with the cathe­dral.

While we hav­ing been ex­plor­ing these sur­round­ings, the short course of the win­ter's sun has been run, and a win­ter's twi­light has set­tled down upon the scene, and, sud­den­ly ril­ing among the groined arch­es of the vast struc­ture near which we stand, the ves­per song comes peal­ing sweet­ly out upon the air.

A soli­tary fig­ure pass­ing along the high­way at this mo­ment, paused as it came near the en­trance to the church, bead­ing for­ward as if eager to catch the strains of melody, so deep, and rich, and fall—strains in which young boy­ish voic­es min­gled with the glo­ri­ous tonus of a mighty organ touched by a mas­ter-hand. The sounds ceased, but arose again and again as the ser­vice pro­ceed­ed, until at last, burst­ing forth into a tri­umphant an­them — "Glo­ria in ex­cel­sis" — the very at­mo­sphere seemed to quiver with song.

High­er, and fuller, and more melo­di­ous the strains arose with­in, while the shad­ows deep­ened with­out, until, with a pro­longed and rev­er­ent "amen," the voic­es of the youth­ful choir died away, and the organ, tak­ing up the tones, grad­u­al­ly melt­ed into si­lence.

That fig­ure stand­ing with­out, lis­ten­ing so in­tent­ly with bowed head and clasped hands, was seized with a sud­den trem­bling as the last note died away, while bit­ter, al­most con­vul­sive, sobs burst from her, for it was the form of a woman.

But it was only for a mo­ment; for, smit­ing her bosom as if to drive back the grief which had mas­tered her, she passed on, and was lost in the gath­er­ing gloom.

Five min­utes later the devo­tees with­in the sanc­tu­ary came pour­ing forth, sor­tie grave and im­pressed with the ser­vice, oth­ers placid and calm, as if noth­ing could dis­turb the even tenor of their lives, and many gay and thought­less alike of the dying year and fleet­ing hours of their own lives.

All pass on and dis­ap­pear; a gloomy si­lence falls over the great cathe­dral, while even the old town it­self seems sud­den­ly to have set­tled into slum­ber. A half-hour pass­es, and then a tall form emerges from a side door of the church, shuts and locks it after him, and, with slow and mea­sured tread, bends his way north­ward.

He has a book under his arm and a roll of music in his hand.

It is the or­gan­ist and choir-mas­ter.

The river lies north of the cathe­dral, and, run­ning through the town, emp­ties into the sea a few miles below.

To­wards the banks of this stream, just out­side the town, the or­gan­ist di­rect­ed his steps, and reach­es a spot ev­i­dent­ly fa­mil­iar to him, just as the moon, light and beau­ti­ful, but with a chill and win­try smile on her fair face, comes sail­ing up over the east­ern hori­zon.

An in­vol­un­tary shiv­er runs over the form of the soli­tary man as he be­holds it, and al­most un­con­scious­ly he draws his cloak clos­er about him.

Soli­tary, did I say?

No; for at that mo­ment a hand, icy cold in its touch, and chill­ing him through and through, is laid upon his, and a low voice ut­ters a sin­gle word in his ear:

"John!"

It is his own name, but the sound of it makes him start guilti­ly, and sends a fierce im­pre­ca­tion to his lips.

"You here?" he de­mand­ed, sav­age­ly. "I told you that I never wished to look upon your face again,"

"I know; and you need not now, it you do not choose," was the sad-voiced reply; "but I was starv­ing; I had to come to you for money, for no one else will give it to me."

"Humph! starv­ing for what — the old folly?" was the sneer­ing query.

"Yes, and for food, too; but who taught me the folly, John?"

The woman's voice was pa­thet­ic in its drea­ry mis­ery. He shrugged his shoul­ders' im­pa­tient­ly as he plunged one hand deep into his pock­et.

"How much do you want?" he de­mand­ed, sul­len­ly.

"What­ev­er you choose to give me," she an­swered, bit­ter­ly. "You know the old adage, 'beg­gars should not be choosers.'"

He pulled out a hand­ful of sil­ver.

"Now, go," he said, stern­ly, as he dropped it into her ex­tend­ed palm.

With­out one word in reply, she obe­di­ent­ly turned and glid­ed, like some dusky phan­tom, out of his sight.

"What a curse! Shall I never es­cape from it?" he cried, an­gri­ly, grind­ing his heel into the moist earth, while his face in the pale moon­light had a ghast­ly look upon it, and his eyes a half des­per­ate, hunt­ed ex­pres­sion.

Ere long he, too, turned his steps back­ward to­ward the town; but it, was with thought­ful mien and lag­ging gait, as if some un­pleas­ant mem­o­ry was haunt­ing him.

Just as he turned the cor­ner of the cathe­dral some­thing start­ed back in af­fright, and dodged out of sight among the thick mass­es of ivy grow­ing there.

Mut­ter­ing some­thing in­audi­ble, the man strode for­ward, part­ed the pen­dant vines, seized a small boy by the shoul­der, and drew him forth into the moon­light in no gen­tle man­ner.

"What are you doing here?" he de­mand­ed, stern­ly.

"Do' no, sir; I was jest goin' home."

Did you ex­pect to go through the walls of the church to get there?" was the iron­i­cal query.

"N, sir; but I were 'fraid when I see you comin'," whim­pered the lad, crook­ing his elbow, and hid­ing his face be­hind it.

"Afraid of what?" asked the choir-mas­ter.

"Do no, sir."

It seems to me that you are in a per­plex­ing state of un­cer­tain­ty," said the man, with a satir­i­cal smile. "But clear out now, and go home," he con­tin­ued, "and don't let me catch you spy­ing about me again, do you hear."

"Yes, sir," meek­ly came from be­hind the looked elbow.

"Start then!" and, ad­min­is­ter­ing a rough shake and a posh which tent the urchin stum­bling into the street, John Knight, or­gan­ist and choir mas­ter of Welfleet Cathe­dral, pur­sued his way, and soon en­tered the own door, which was not a stone's throw from the church en­trance.

Had he glanced be­hind him, how­ev­er, he might have seen the small boy en­gaged in what ap­peared to be a fu­ri­ous bat­tle with some in­vis­i­ble an­tag­o­nist, for he was strik­ing out most lusti­ly from the shoul­der, his fists mak­ing a queer shad­ow-pan­tomime upon the moon­lit ground be­hind him.

"'Clear out,' is it, mis­ter?" he cried, under his breath, while for a mo­ment he sus­pend­ed his bel­liger­ent ges­tic­u­la­tions. "It's yer­self I'd like to make clear out o' Welfleet, ye black devil! I'd soon­er meet the old boy him­self any time at night. Ugh!"

With a gen­uine shiv­er and a few more vig­or­ous pass­es at his re­treat­ing foe, the boy took to his heels and ran in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

"Moth­er, I have a let­ter here from Mr Grip­per, of Lon­don."

Thus spoke the Rev. Charles Ed­monds, Minor Canon of Welfleet Cathe­dral, as on New Year's morn­ing he took his seat at the break­fast-table, op­po­site a pale faced, gen­tle-eyed lit­tle woman, whom he loved and rev­er­enced as few moth­ers are loved and rev­er­enced by their sons.

"From Mr Grip­per?" re­peat­ed Mrs Ed­monds, with some­thing of sur­prised in­quiry in her tone, while she dropped a huge lump of sugar from the sil­ver tongs into her son's cup of cof­fee be­fore pass­ing it to him.

"Yes. He writes to ask me con­cern­ing the Miss­es Lovel's school for young ladies, and also what I should ad­vise re­gard­ing the ed­u­ca­tion of a lad who has been sadly ne­glect­ed. He states that a friend, a wid­ow­er, hav­ing died re­cent­ly in Aus­tralia, has com­mit­ted his chil­dren to his care. They are twins, nine­teen years of age, broth­er and sis­ter, and in ed­u­ca­tion both are very de­fi­cient. Mr. Grip­per seems very im­pa­tient at the bur­den thus thrust upon him, and quite anx­ious, I should judge, to shift it upon other shoul­ders."

"And I should judge that the poor things might fare much bet­ter to be 'thrust' upon some­one else," re­marked Mrs. Ed­monds, dryly.

The Rev. Charles laughed soft­ly.

"I am aware that Mr. Grip­per is no favourite of yours, moth­er mine," he said, "but he seems very re­gard­ful of their wel­fare, nev­er­the­less. He says that the pri­vate schools of Lon­don are very ex­pen­sive, and the or­phans have al­ways been ac­cus­tomed to coun­try life."

"Well; but why does he trou­ble you with all this?" Mrs. Ed­monds asked, some­what short­ly.

"I will ex­plain," re­turned her son. This broth­er and sis­ter are so fond of each other that they re­fute to be sep­a­rat­ed, and Mr. Grip­per states that he can think of no bet­ter plan than to seek ad­mit­tance for Miss Josephine Wal­ton — for that in the young lady's name — to the Miss­es Lovel's school, while he begs me to take the lad — Guy, an ob­sti­nate, un­bro­ken young colt, he calls him — and see what I can do for him. Whit do yon say, moth­er? Would you ap­prove such a plan?"

"Poor chil­dren!" sighed the gen­tle old lady, as she thought of a fair son and daugh­ter whom, years ago, she had laid to rest in a dis­tant church-yard "it is worse to be fa­ther­less and moth­er­less than to be child­less. My heart yearns to­ward them; but I am afraid, my son, that it will be too great a tax upon you."

"No, in­deed; it would be a plea­sure. I should love to con­duct this lad's stud­ies and strive to win him to a noble man­hood, while the amount paid me for it would swell oar small in­come con­sid­er­ably."

"But you have a great deal of writ­ing to do for the Dean you have so many vis­its too, to pay, that I am afraid your health will suf­fer if you add to your cares," replied the care­ful moth­er.

"Do not fear for my health; that is per­fect, and the care would not be much; be­sides, I think it would be rather pleas­ant than oth­er­wise to have some young life in the house."

"Young life, Charles! I am sure you are not old," Mrs. Ed­monds said, re­proach­ful­ly.

"No, not 'old,' per­haps," laughed the Minor Canon, good na­tured­ly; "but when one has passed thir­ty-five and is dubbed an 'old bach­e­lor' by the young ladies of the parish, one can­not pre­tend to be very youth­ful, you know."

"Per­haps not, bat I am of the opin­ion that some of those same young ladies would be glad to have the power to change the old bach­e­lor into a bene­dict," re­tort­ed Mrs Ed­monds, spirit­ed­ly, and with a fond look at the fresh, smil­ing face op­po­site her.

"Re­al­ly, moth­er dear, I did not know that you were so ob­serv­ing," laughed Rev. Charles, much amused. "But to re­turn to the ques­tion under dis­cus­sion, would it upset your do­mes­tic ar­range­ments to have a young­ster in the house?"

"No, I would rather like it, I be­lieve, if he should prove a nice lad," was the thought­ful reply. "But," with some anx­i­ety, "you say Mr. Grip­per calls him an ob­sti­nate, un­bro­ken young colt."

"I should be an ob­sti­nate, un­bro­ken colt my­self, if I was in Mr. Grip­per's hands," the Minor Canon drily re­marked.

"Well, we will try him if you like, Charles; and, as you ob­serve, the ad­di­tion to our in­come will be a help; it will at least en­able me to add to your com­fort," said his moth­er.

And me to give you a new gown a lit­tle of­ten­er, dear heart," Rev. Charles said, ris­ing, while with a smile that was half sad, he touched the gown of rusty black, which he re­mem­bered to have seen op­po­site him at break­fast for the last six years.

"Then we will call it set­tled," he added. "I will write to Mr. Grip­per by re­turn mail, telling him that I fully ap­prove his choice of schools for Miss Wal­ton, and that I will un­der­take to di­rect Mas­ter Guy's stud­ies for a year at least."

To de­cide upon a mea­sure was to put it at once in force with the Minor Canon, and re­pair­ing to his study, his let­ter was writ­ten and despatched with­out delay.

Three days later the young ladies of the Miss­es Lovel's sem­i­nary are thrown into a state of ex­cite­ment by the ar­rival of a new schol­ar—a tall, wil­low­ly, su­perbly hand­some girl, who at once im­press­es ev­ery­one as pos­sess­ing strong in­di­vid­u­al­i­ty, while al­most every heart thrills to the fact that she is an or­phan, and, save for the broth­er who is known to have ac­com­pa­nied her to Welfleet, alone in the world.

The same hour the Minor Canon and his gen­tle moth­er gave a warm wel­come to a young man, who at first seemed pos­sessed of even more dig­ni­ty than the rev­erend gen­tle­man him­self.

He greet­ed his new friends very stiffly and with some­thing of an air of de­fi­ance, while his keen black eye roved from one face to the other, as if to mea­sure the pow­ers with which he would have to cope dur­ing the en­su­ing year.

The Miss­es Lovel's school was very full. There was not an avail­able room in the whole house, they had said when Mr. Ed­monds had first in­ter­viewed them upon the ques­tion of ad­mit­ting Miss Josephine Wal­ton.

But a place had been made for her in a very un­ex­pect­ed way.

Miss Theodo­ra Lan­der was also an or­phan, and an heiress, while for many years she had been a pupil in the Lovel sem­i­nary.

Her moth­er had died when she was very young, and her fa­ther, heart-bro­ken over his loss, had com­mit­ted his child to the care of the Miss­es Lovel, who were per­son­al friends, end then sought re­lief in trav­el.

Two or three years later he also died, and her guardian had de­cid­ed that no change for the bet­ter could be made for Miss Theo; so the pret­ty lit­tle heiress bad be­come a fix­ture in the noted Welfleet sem­i­nary.

Her guardian had given the ladies in charge carte-blanche in all mat­ters per­tain­ing to his ward, and thus she had come to ex­pect and to re­ceive many favours not par­tic­u­larised in the cat­a­logue.

Among other things she had al­ways in­sist­ed upon room­ing alone, and her apart­ment was a ver­i­ta­ble bower of beau­ty — the envy and de­light of all who were so favoured as to be upon vis­it­ing terms with Miss Lan­der.

She hap­pened to be in the re­cep­tion room when Mr. Ed­monds called to in­quire if Miss Wal­ton could be ad­mit­ted to the school, and both Miss Sarah and Miss Lydia Lovel had re­gret­ful­ly an­swered that they had no room for her.

The Minor Canon was great­ly dis­ap­point­ed, and re­lat­ed some­thing of the his­to­ry of the broth­er and sis­ter.

Theo lis­tened with deep in­ter­est to the story, and when he con­clud­ed, a sud­den im­pulse seiz­ing her, she turned to the elder pre­cep­tress, say­ing:

"Miss Lovel, I will share my room with Miss Wal­ton, if you de­sire that she should come."

"But, my dear, you have al­ways had a room to your­self. L am afraid it would be very un­com­fort­able for you."

"I shall be crowd­ed no more than any­one else," Theo replied, show­ing her pret­ty dim­ples in a charm­ing smile, "while I have a no­tion that I shall like Miss Wal­ton — l like her name, any­way; and —and —" tears sprang into the azure eyes which were lift­ed to her teach­er's face — " like me she has no papa or mamma, so I will be de­light­ed to have her as a room-mate."

This was con­sid­ered very ami­able in the pet of the school, and with many thanks and prais­es for her self-de­nial, but Miss­es Lovel ac­cept­ed the un­ex­pect­ed offer.

Thus Miss Josephine Wal­ton be­came a mem­ber of the sem­i­nary at Welfleet. The two room-mates be­came friends at once, notwith­stand­ing they were the very op­po­site of each other, phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly.

Miss Wal­ton was dark, bril­liant, re­served, and self-re­liant. Theo Lan­der was del­i­cate, al­most child­ish­ly im­pul­sive, and de­pen­dent. Both were ex­ceed­ing­ly love­ly, and from the day of Josephine's ad­vent, Theo ceased to be pro­nounced "the beau­ty" of the es­tab­lish­ment.,

But she did not demur at shar­ing her hon­ours with her now friend; not even a rip­ple of jeal­ousy or ill-feel­ing dis­turbed her on ac­count of the ad­mi­ra­tion which Miss Wal­ton re­ceived from her school­mates.

She was very bright, and hav­ing been under the ex­cel­lent train­ing of the Miss­es Lovel for so many years, she had near­ly com­plet­ed their pre­scribed course of study, and would be ready to grad­u­ate at the end of the pre­sent term.

Josephine, how­ev­er, though pos­sess­ing much nat­u­ral abil­i­ty, was very, very de­fi­cient in all that per­tained to books.

She seized upon her ad­van­tages, though, as a starv­ing man would seize upon food; but the tasks which she set her­self were often dis­cour­ag­ing. One day she was bit­ter­ly be­moan­ing her ig­no­rance.

"Never mind," Theo said, kind­ly; "do not mourn over the past. You are so quick and clever, that in a cou­ple of years you will out­strip every girl in your class."

"I shall cer­tain­ly do it if I can," was the reply, with a de­cid­ed tight­en­ing of her red lips. "Who­ev­er heard of a girl of nine­teen bee­ing in a class with oth­ers of ten and twelve."

True to her re­solve, she was six months in ad­vance of her class at the end of the first term, and bade fair to gain a triple pro­mo­tion at the end of the year.

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