Near the Temple Station of the Metropolitan
Railway is a small garden which contains a certain
number of fairly-sized trees, a round band-stand,
and a few flower-beds intersected by asphalt paths.
Here those who are engaged in various offices round
about come to enjoy rus in urbes, to listen
to the gay music, and, in many cases, to eat a scanty
mid-day meal. Old women come to sun themselves,
loafers sit on the seats to rest, workmen smoke and
children play. On a bright day the place is pretty,
and those who frequent it feel as though they were
enjoying a country holiday though but a stone’s
throw from the Thames. And lovers meet here also,
so it was quite in keeping that Paul Beecot should
wait by the bronze statues of the Herculaneum wrestlers
for the coming of Sylvia.
On the previous day he had departed
hastily, after committing the old man to Deborah’s
care. At first he had lingered to see Aaron revive,
but when the unconscious man came to his senses and
opened his eyes he fainted again when his gaze fell
on Paul. Deborah, therefore, in her rough, practical
way, suggested that as Beecot was “upsetting
him” he had better go. It was in a state
of perplexity that Paul had gone away, but he was
cheered on his homeward way by a hasty assurance given
by Miss Junk that Sylvia would meet him in the gardens,
“near them niggers without clothes,” said
It was strange that the sight of the
brooch should have produced such an effect on Aaron,
and his fainting confirmed Paul’s suspicions
that the old man had not a clean conscience.
But what the serpent brooch had to do with the matter
Beecot could not conjecture. It was certainly
an odd piece of jewellery, and not particularly pretty,
but that the merest glimpse of it should make Norman
faint was puzzling in the extreme.
“Apparently it is associated
with something disagreeable in the man’s mind,”
soliloquised Paul, pacing the pavement and keeping
a sharp look-out for Sylvia, “perhaps with death,
else the effect would scarcely have been so powerful
as to produce a fainting fit. Yet Aaron can’t
know my mother. Hum! I wonder what it means.”
While he was trying to solve the mystery
a light touch on his arm made him wheel round, and
he beheld Sylvia smiling at him. While he was
looking along the Embankment for her coming she had
slipped down Norfolk Street and through the gardens,
to where the wrestlers clutched at empty air.
In her low voice, which was the sweetest of all sounds
to Paul, she explained this, looking into his dark
eyes meanwhile. “But I can’t stay
long,” finished Sylvia. “My father
is still ill, and he wants me to return and nurse
“Has he explained why he fainted?” asked
“No; he refuses to speak on the matter.
Why did he faint, Paul?”
The young man looked puzzled.
“Upon my word I don’t know,” he said.
“Just as I was showing him a brooch I wished
to pawn he went off.”
“What kind of a brooch?” asked the girl,
Paul took the case out of his breast
pocket, where it had been since the previous day.
“My mother sent it to me,” he explained;
“you see she guesses that I am hard up, and,
thanks to my father, she can’t send me money.
This piece of jewellery she has had for many years,
but as it is rather old-fashioned she never wears
it. So she sent it to me, hoping that I might
get ten pounds or so on it. A friend of mine wished
to buy it, but I was anxious to get it back again,
so that I might return it to my mother. Therefore
I thought your father might lend me money on it.”
Sylvia examined the brooch with great
attention. It was evidently of Indian workmanship,
delicately chased, and thickly set with jewels.
The serpent, which was apparently wriggling across
the stout gold pin of the brooch, had its broad back
studded with opals, large in the centre of the body
and small at head and tail. These were set round
with tiny diamonds, and the head was of chased gold
with a ruby tongue. Sylvia admired the workmanship
and the jewels, and turned the brooch over. On
the flat smooth gold underneath she found the initial
“R” scratched with a pin. This she
showed to Paul. “I expect your mother made
this mark to identify the brooch,” she said.
“My mother’s name is Anne,”
replied Paul, looking more puzzled than ever, “Anne
Beecot. Why should she mark this with an initial
which has nothing to do with her name?”
“Perhaps it is a present,” suggested Sylvia.
Paul snapped the case to, and replaced
it in his pocket. “Perhaps it is,”
he said. “However, when I next write to
my mother I’ll ask her where she got the brooch.
She has had it for many years,” he added musingly,
“for I remember playing with it when a small
“Don’t tell your mother that my father
“Why not? Does it matter?”
Sylvia folded her slender hands and
looked straight in front of her. For some time
they had been seated on a bench in a retired part of
the gardens, and the laughter of playing children,
the music of the band playing the merriest airs from
the last musical comedy, came faintly to their ears.
“I think it does matter,” said the girl,
seriously; “for some reason my father wants
to keep himself as quiet as possible. He talks
of going away.”
“Going away. Oh, Sylvia, and you never
“He only spoke of going away
when I came to see how he was this morning,”
she replied. “I wonder if his fainting has
anything to do with this determination. He never
talked of going away before.”
Paul wondered also. It seemed
strange that after so unusual an event the old man
should turn restless and wish to leave a place where
he had lived for over twenty years. “I’ll
come and have an explanation,” said Paul, after
“I think that will be best,
dear. Father said that he would like to see you
again, and told Bart to bring you in if he saw you.”
“I’ll call to-day - this
afternoon, and perhaps your father will explain.
And now, Sylvia, that is enough about other people
and other things. Let us talk of ourselves.”
Sylvia turned her face with a fond
smile. She was a delicate and dainty little lady,
with large grey eyes and soft brown hair. Her
complexion was transparent, and she had little color
in her cheeks. With her oval face, her thin nose
and charming mouth she looked very pretty and sweet.
But it was her expression that Paul loved. That
was a trifle sad, but when she smiled her looks changed
as an overcast sky changes when the sun bursts through
the clouds. Her figure was perfect, her hands
and feet showed marks of breeding, and although her
grey dress was as demure as any worn by a Quakeress,
she looked bright and merry in the sunshine of her
lover’s presence. Everything about Sylvia
was dainty and neat and exquisitely clean: but
she was hopelessly out of the fashion. It was
this odd independence in her dress which constituted
another charm in Paul’s eyes.
The place was too public to indulge
in love-making, and it was very tantalising to sit
near this vision of beauty without gaining the delight
of a kiss. Paul feasted his eyes, and held Sylvia’s
grey-gloved hand under cover of her dress. Further
he could not go.
“But if you put up your sunshade,” he
“Paul!” That was all Sylvia
said, but it suggested a whole volume of rebuke.
Brought up in seclusion, like the princess in an enchanted
castle, the girl was exceedingly shy. Paul’s
ardent looks and eager wooing startled her at times,
and he thought disconsolately that his chivalrous
love-making was coarse and common when he gazed on
the delicate, dainty, shrinking maid he adored.
“You should not have stepped
out of your missal, Sylvia,” he said sadly.
“Whatever do you mean, dearest?”
“I mean that you are a saint - an
angel - a thing to be adored and worshipped.
You are exactly like one of those lovely creations
one sees in mass-books of the Middle Ages. I
fear, Sylvia,” Paul sighed, “that you
are too dainty and holy for this work-a-day world.”
“What nonsense, Paul! I’m
a poor girl without position or friends, living in
a poor street. You are the first person who ever
thought me pretty.”
“You are not pretty,”
said the ardent Beecot, “you are divine - you
are Beatrice - you are Elizabeth of Thuringia - you
are everything that is lovely and adorable.”
“And you are a silly boy,”
replied Sylvia, blushing, but loving this poetic talk
all the same. “Do you want to put me in
a glass case when we marry? If you do, I sha’n’t
become Mrs. Beecot. I want to see the world and
to enjoy myself.”
“Then other men will admire
you and I shall grow jealous.”
“Can you be jealous - Paul?”
“Horribly! You don’t
know half my bad qualities. I am poor and needy,
and ambitious and jealous, and - ”
“There - there.
I won’t hear you run yourself down. You
are the best boy in the world.”
“Poor world, if I am that,”
he laughed, and squeezed the little hand. “Oh,
my love, do you really think of me?”
“Always! Always! You
know I do. Why, ever since I saw you enter the
shop six months ago I have always loved you.
I told Debby, and Debby said that I could.”
“Supposing Debby had said that you couldn’t.”
“Oh, she would never have said that. Why,
Paul, she saw you.”
The young man laughed and colored.
“Do I carry my character in my face?”
he asked. “Sylvia, don’t think too
well of me.”
“That is impossible,” she declared.
“You are my fairy prince.”
“Well, I certainly have found
an enchanted princess sleeping in a jealously-guarded
castle. What would your father say did he know?”
Sylvia looked startled. “I
am afraid of my father,” she replied, indirectly.
“Yes - he is so strange. Sometimes
he seems to love me, and at other times to hate me.
We have nothing in common. I love books and art,
and gaiety and dresses. But father only cares
for jewels. He has a lot down in the cellar.
I have never seen them, you know,” added Sylvia,
looking at her lover, “nor have Deborah or Bart.
But they are there. Bart and Deborah say so.”
“Has your father ever said so?”
“No. He won’t speak
of his business in the cellar. When the shop is
closed at seven he sends Bart away home and locks Deborah
and I in the house. That is,” she explained
anxiously, lest Paul should think her father a tyrant,
“he locks the door which leads to the shop.
We can walk over all the house. But there we
stop till next morning, when father unlocks the door
at seven and Bart takes down the shutters. We
have lived like that for years. On Sunday evenings,
however, father does not go to the cellar, but takes
me to church. He has supper with me upstairs,
and then locks the door at ten.”
“But he sleeps upstairs?”
“No. He sleeps in the cellar.”
“Impossible. There is no accommodation
for sleeping there.”
Sylvia explained. “There
is another cellar - a smaller one - off
the large place he has the safes in. The door
is in a dark corner almost under the street line.
This smaller cellar is fitted up as a bedroom, and
my father has slept there all his life. I suppose
he is afraid of his jewels being stolen. I don’t
think it is good for his health,” added the
girl, wisely, “for often in the morning he looks
ill and his hands shake.”
“Sylvia, does your father drink alcohol?”
“Oh, no, Paul! He is a
teetotaller, and is very angry at those who drink
to excess. Why, once Bart came to the shop a little
drunk, and father would have discharged him but for
Paul said nothing, but thought the
more. Often it had struck him that Norman was
a drunkard, though his face showed no signs of indulgence,
for it always preserved its paleness. But the
man’s hands shook, and his skin often was drawn
and tight, with that shiny look suggestive of indulgence.
“He either drinks or smokes opium,” thought
Paul on hearing Sylvia’s denial. But he
said nothing to her of this.
“I must go home now,” she said, rising.
“Oh, no, not yet,” he implored.
“Well, then, I’ll stay
for a few minutes longer, because I have something
to say,” she remarked, and sat down again.
“Paul, do you think it is quite honorable for
you and I to be engaged without the consent of my
“Well,” hesitated Beecot,
“I don’t think it is as it should be.
Were I well off I should not fear to tell your father
everything; but as I am a pauper he would forbid my
seeing you did he learn that I had raised my eyes
to you. But if you like I’ll speak, though
it may mean our parting for ever.”
“Paul,” she laid a firm,
small hand on his arm, “not all the fathers in
the world will keep me from you. Often I have
intended to tell all, but my father is so strange.
Sometimes he goes whole days without speaking to me,
and at times he speaks harshly, though I do nothing
to deserve rebuke. I am afraid of my father,”
said the girl, with a shiver. “I said so
before, and I say so again. He is a strange man,
and I don’t understand him at all. I wish
I could marry you and go away altogether.”
“Well, let us marry if you like, though we will
“No,” said Sylvia, sorrowfully;
“after all, strange and harsh though my father
is, he is still my father, and at times he is kind.
I must stay with him to the end.”
Sylvia shook her head still more sorrowfully.
“Who knows? Paul, my father is afraid of
“By violence?” asked Beecot, thinking
of Deborah’s talk.
“I can’t say. But
every day after six he goes to church and prays all
alone. Deborah told me, as often she has seen
him leave the church. Then he is afraid of every
stranger who enters the shop. I don’t understand
it,” cried the girl, passionately. “I
don’t like it. I wish you would marry me
and take me away, Paul; but, oh, how selfish I am!”
“My own, I wish I could. But the money - ”
“Oh, never mind the money.
I must get away from that house. If it was not
for Deborah I would be still more afraid. I often
think my father is mad. But there,” Sylvia
rose and shook out her skirts, “I have no right
to talk so, and only do so to you, that you may know
what I feel. I’ll speak to my father myself
and say we are engaged. If he forbids our marriage
I shall run away with you, Paul,” said poor Sylvia,
the tears in her eyes. “I am a bad girl
to talk in this way. After all, he is my father.”
Beecot had an ardent desire to take
her in his arms and kiss away those tears, but the
publicity of the meeting-place denied him the power
to console her in that efficacious fashion. All
he could do was to assure her of his love, and then
they walked out of the gardens towards the Strand.
“I’ll speak to your father myself,”
said Paul; “we must end this necessary silence.
After all, I am a gentleman, and I see no reason why
your father should object.”
“I know you are everything that
is good and true,” said Sylvia, drying her eyes.
“If you were not Debby would not have let me
become engaged to you,” she finished childishly.
“Debby made inquiries about
me,” said Paul, laughing, to cheer her.
“Yes! she sent Bart to Wargrove and found out
all about me and my family and my respected father.
She wished to be certain that I was a proper lover
for her darling.”
“I am your darling now,”
whispered Sylvia, squeezing his arm, “and you
are the most charming lover in the world.”
Paul was so enchanted with this speech
that he would have defied public opinion by embracing
her there and then, but Sylvia walked away rapidly
down Gwynne Street and shook her head with a pursed-up
mouth when Paul took a few steps after her. Recognizing
that it would be wise not to follow her to the shop
lest the suspicious old man should be looking out,
Beecot went on his homeward way.
When he drew near his Bloomsbury garret
he met Grexon Hay, who was sauntering along swinging
his cane. “I was just looking for you,”
he said, greeting Paul in his usual self-contained
manner; “it worries me to think you are so hard-up,
though I’m not a fellow given to sentiment as
a rule. Let me lend you a fiver.”
Paul shook his head. “Thank you all the
“Well, then, sell me the brooch.”
Beecot suddenly looked squarely at
Hay, who met his gaze calmly. “Do you know
anything of that brooch?” he asked.
“What do you mean? It is
a brooch of Indian workmanship. That is all I
know. I want to give a lady a present, and if
you will sell it to me I’ll take it, to help
you, thus killing two birds at one shot.”
“I don’t want to sell
it,” said Paul, looking round. His eyes
fell on a respectable man across the road, who appeared
to be a workman, as he had a bag of tools on his shoulder.
He was looking into a shop window, but also - as
Paul suddenly thought - seemed to be observing
him and Hay. However, the incident was not worth
noticing, so he continued his speech to Grexon.
“I tried to pawn it with Aaron Norman,”
“Well, what did you get on it?” asked
Hay, with a yawn.
“Nothing. The old man fainted
when I showed him the brooch. That is why I asked
you if you know anything strange about the article.”
Hay shook his head, but looked curiously
at Beecot. “Do you know anything yourself?”
he asked; “you seem to have something on your
mind about that brooch.”
“There is something queer about
it,” said Paul. “Why should Aaron
Norman faint when he saw it?”
Hay yawned again. “You
had better ask your one-eyed friend - I think
you said he was one-eyed.”
“He is, and a frightened sort
of man. But there’s nothing about that
opal serpent to make him faint.”
“Perhaps he did so because it
is in the shape of a serpent,” suggested Grexon;
“a constitutional failing, perhaps. Some
people hate cats and other fluttering birds.
Your one-eyed friend may have a loathing of snakes
and can’t bear to see the representation of one.”
“It might be that,” said
Beecot, after a pause. “Aaron is a strange
sort of chap. A man with a past, I should say.”
“You make me curious,”
said Grexon, laughing in a bored manner. “I
think I’ll go to the shop myself and have a
look at him.”
“Come with me when I next go,”
said Paul. “I had intended to call this
afternoon; but I won’t, until I hear from my
“I want to learn how she came into possession
of the brooch.”
“Pooh, nonsense,” said
Hay, contemptuously, “you think too much about
the thing. Who cares if a pawnbroker faints?
Why I wish to go to the shop, is, because I am anxious
to see your lady-love. Well, when you do want
me to go, send for me; you have my address. ’Day,
old man,” and the gorgeous being sauntered away,
with apparently not a care in the world to render
Paul was anxious, however. The
more he thought of the episode of the brooch the stranger
it seemed, and Sylvia’s talk of her father’s
queer habits did not make Paul wonder the less.
However, he resolved to write to his mother, and was
just mounting his stairs to do so when he heard a
“Beg pardon, sir,” and beheld the working
man, bag of tools, pipe and all.
“Beg pardon, sir,” said
the man, civilly, “but that gentleman you was
a-talking to. Know his name, sir?”
“What the devil’s that to you?”
asked Paul, angrily.
“Nothing, sir, only he owes me a little bill.”
“Go and ask him for it then.”
“I don’t know his address, sir.”
“Oh, be hanged!” Paul went on, when the
man spoke again.
“He’s what I call a man
on the market, sir. Have a care,” and he
Paul stared. What did the working man mean, and
was he a working man?