The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)
Limited Night Entertainments. — The Queen's Earrings. — The Concluding Chapters
Railway passengers who pass through Mawhio nowadays often fail to notice its existence. There is no station there, not even a siding; just a general store and an hotel set down in the middle of a swampy flat with two or three farm-buildings in the distance and the telegraph wires humming their eternal song as the wind, which is seldom still hereabout, fans across them.
Things were very different in the autumn of 1887, however, on that evening when Frewan Lenzie, riding out of the cutting which had but lately been driven through the rising ground half a mile to the north, found himself confronted by what appeared to him in his innocence to be a veritable city.
On either side of the railway line was a wide expanse of well-trodden clay, baked hard with the heat of summer days and exhaling with every faint stirring of the air above it little puffs and whirls of dust which lent a ruddy tinge to the colouring of the scene.
Red is a heady, wanton colour, the colour of vigorous blood, of romance and danger; and Frewan's emotions as he lounged in his saddle on the threshold of this new life were compounded of these things. How he found them, how he progressed from stage to stage through the corridors of an erratic life is another story, of which this is only the beginning. Suffice it that on this night he gambled and drank rather more than his fill and woke on the morrow to find himself bereft of practically everything he possessed, and the mare, as a result of his misguided trust in the power of an ace-high straight, became the property of his cultured flax-plaiting acquaintance of the rail-head.
* * *
Two years rolled by, the railway crept slowly, by gorge and ravine and the rain-swept limestone bluffs, to invade the precincts of Te Marae. Settlers were coming to the valley in increasing numbers, and Mary Lenzie, now twenty, was to be married to the son of a neighbouring farmer. The day of the ceremony saw a great gathering at the Lenzie homestead, the driveway was lined with the gigs and buggies and saddle horses of neighbours, some of whom had come from fifty miles away. Farming men, jovial, red-faced, sweating with the unaccustomed restriction of starch and broadcloth, their wives in silk and sprigged poplin, whispering together in excited undertones. On the verandah the Maori women smoked and called to each other while their brown babies rolled on the steps into the flowerbeds. Alone in the cool depths of the library the laird waited with the wooden casket containing the Queen's Earrings clasped upon his knee.
Mary Lenzie was married, and after the toasts had been drunk and the pipers in the hall were fortifying themselves for fresh efforts, she changed her bridal dress for a costume more suitable for a twenty-mile drive, and gave the Earrings into Robert's hands as he helped her into the waiting carriage. Robert did not immediately return the jewels to their place beneath the hearthstone; to do so would have meant disturbing the guests, for it required the strength of two men to lift the stone. Instead, he took them to the library, and placing them in their casket, locked them in a drawer of the writing desk.
As he returned to the hall he collided with Frewan, who, unusually sober and aloof, was leaning against the jamb of the library door. He made some jesting remark and passed on, but later he was to recall the incident with tragic significance.
With the approach of evening the homestead glowed like a fairy castle with the radiance of a hundred lamps—the pipes skirled and with the clink of their glasses the ladies forgot their reserve and lifted their petticoats to the measure of reels and schottisches. Threading his way in and out through the dancers, leaving behind him always a blush or a gale of boisterous laughter, went Frewan, no longer sober or aloof, but riotously gay.
All too soon came midnight and the guests with lonely, half-formed roads to traverse, began to depart. By two's and three's the company dwindled until the last wheels had rattled down the drive, and the great hall was empty save for the laird and Robert and the pipers draining a final glass. Frewan was nowhere to be seen; doubtless he was upon some fool's errand of his own, and the laird sighing turned towards the library.
“I put the jewels in the drawer of the desk,” said Robert, “Wait now, I'll get one of the men here to help me lift the stone.” He stopped and stared aghast. The desk was broken open, the window swung wide in the night wind. Robert ran forward, the casket was there but the jewels had gone!
Servants and farmhands were roused, lanterns flashed in the darkness, the search of the house and grounds revealed no sign of Frewan. A search of the stables discovered the fastest horse in the district missing, and dawn found a jewel, one and only one of the Queen's Earrings, dropped in haste upon the grass beneath the library window.
* * *
There is very little bush standing in the valley nowadays, twin rails of steel traverse it from end to end and deeptoned whistles chime for Baker's crossing as express trains sweep through the dark.
Baker's Crossing is the name given to the road that, bearing north from the settlement, turns east across the railway tracks and winds up the hill to the Lenzie homestead. The old house is now separated from the farmlands by trim lawns hedged with privet. On the side sheltered from the shrewd southwind a gnarled medlar tree has grown to great size and here on sunny days old Mr. Robert Lenzie takes the air in a wheel chair.
One fine summer day Robert Lenzie stowed a cargo of Sir Walter Scott into the flap of his wheel chair and trundled himself from the library into the hall. Here his housekeeper, who, in the absence of Mary Craig, anticipated all his movements, slipped an old plaid ulster about his shoulders and helped him down off the verandah steps. The view from the shade of the medlar tree was very fine, and Robert, who still enjoyed keen eyesight, watched for some minutes the activities of the little township below him. The north bound local train had just arrived and presently the figure of a tall young man appeared striding along the road in the direction of Baker's Crossing. Robert followed his movements with mild interest, and then, finding the glare of the heat-filled valley trying to his eyes, turned his attention to his book.
Ten minutes later he was surprised to hear himself addressed by name, and, looking up, saw the young man leaning his elbows rather insolently upon the top bar of the gate.
He appeared to be a very self-assured young man who wore good clothes and regarded the laird with candid grey eyes.
“Are you the brother of the late Frewan Lenzie of Melbourne?” he asked.
Robert stiffened; “That is as it may be,” he replied, not liking his visitor's manner. “Who are you?”
“His son,” the young man smiled faintly.
Robert raised his eyebrows. “That is not altogether to your advantage,” he said after a pause. “What have you come here for?”
“Not to get a hospitable welcome, it seems,” the young man retorted; then he cocked his head on one side with a quizzical air. “Shall we say,” he added, “that I came to make a deal with you.”
“I don't understand,” said old Robert coldly. “Thirty-five years ago your father alienated himself by a dishonourable act, and his name was struck out of the family records. As his son you have no claim upon my hospitality, and I should be obliged if you would remove yourself as soon as possible.”
He made a gesture of dismissal and returned his gaze to the pages of his book. The gate clicked and he looked up sharply. The young man stood on the grass before him, his right hand was extended and in the centre of his palm, just out of reach there glistened a fire opal set in a whorl of beaten gold, the whole forming a pendant for a lady's ear. Robert's knuckles whitened on the arms of his chair, and forgetting his impotence, he struggled to rise. The young man closed his hand. “I don't have to tell you what that is,” he remarked, and, stepping back a pace, continued, “my father died a month ago, as a result of sunstroke, whiskey, and an unfortunate investment at Moonee Ponds. He was able to speak before he died, however, and told me that if I could beat his creditors to it I should find my inheritance in a safety deposit box, the key to which he gave me. I found this trinket and a note; shall I read the note to you?”
Robert nodded, and the young man drew a paper from his pocket, and smoothing it out read: “This jewel is one of a pair, without the other it is of little value, together they are worth possibly ten thousand pounds. I don't know where the other one is, as I lost it the night they came into my possession. It is just possible that my half-brother Robert Lenzie of Te Marae, New Zealand, may have it. If he has, and you can persuade him to part with it, you will have more than earned your inheritance.”
For some minutes there was silence in the garden, then,
“Frewan was noted for his perverted sense of humour,” said old Robert. “Ten thousand pounds, dear land!”
“It's an underestimate,” the young man retorted, “a dealer in Sydney told me that if it can be proved that they are really the Queen's Earrings the pair is worth half as much again.”
“Did he so?” old Robert nodded. “Tell me, what is your name, lad?”
“Aye—it's a grand name. How old are you, Malcolm?”
“Twenty-eight—have you got the other earring?”
“I have,” old Robert chuckled dryly, “but as your father rightly says, you will have earned more than their value if you can persuade me to part with it.”
“But, good Lord, the things are as good as sold. You'd get over seven thousand pounds as your share, allowing for commission and so on. Don't you want the money?”
“No,” said old Robert gently.
“Will you have a drink?” He rang a bell attached to the arm of his wheel chair. “Mrs. Meadow will bring a chair for you.”
“Now,” he said when, some minutes later, the story was told, “You see where you stand. You have no real right to the jewel, but on the other hand you are the only heir bearing the name of Lenzie, which, in spite of the fact that your father was disowned, deserves some consideration. I don't think that under any circumstances you could have laid claim to the jewel at my death; in any case, I don't intend to die for a long time yet.”
He noted the young man's glance towards the invalid chair. “This is only the result of riding a clumsy-footed horse. The position as far as you are concerned resolves itself into one of stalemate.” He paused and regarded the young man thoughtfully. “What do you do for a living, Malcolm?”
“Hitherto,” replied Malcolm coolly, “Father and I managed to get along well enough by selling the wrong kind of stock to the right kind of people, a little judicious card-playing and the ponies. Of course, we had our ups and downs, but the downs were becoming rather too much of a habit before he died. These jewels have all the earmarks of a very substantial ‘up.’”
“It's a great pity,” old Robert mused half to himself. “You're a Lenzie really—you're the Lenzie colouring and build, and I believe that if you'd had half a chance, you'd bear a Lenzie character. Somebody ought to give you a chance—aye—somebody—.” His voice tailed away into silence, and to Malcolm the old man appeared to doze. He roused again in a minute, however, and “Malcolm,” he said, “I think you would find that life you led with your father distasteful at times, distasteful because it carried no stability, no pride of place. I think you must have felt a lack of certain vital things to which you could not put a name, things which are here”—he embraced the house and valley with a sweep of his arm, “and which I promise you, you will find here if you will consent to be my guest for a few days. Understand,” he added, noticing the young man's sudden suspicion, “this is no confidence trick, you are free to come and go as you like and no reference will be made to the jewels until you have had a chance to become acquainted with the conditions of your birthright, shall we say in a week's time.”
A week slipped by, a week in which Malcolm and Mary played tennis together, rode together, drove and danced, and in the scented dusk of summer evenings wandered beneath the trees at Te Marae.
Old Robert watched rather helplessly from his wheel-chair, and then late one evening summoned Malcolm to the library.
“Malcolm,” he said, coming abruptly to the point, “it is time for us to discuss that little matter of the jewels. I had hoped to put it off a little longer, but the time for that is past now.” He leaned back in his chair. “I am getting old,” he said brusquely, “if I were not, why should I be trying to order the affairs of younger people. You would call Mary a thoroughly modern young woman, would you not?”
“I would,” replied Malcolm.
“Aye—but not modern enough to be proof against falling in love?”
“I thought this was to be a discussion about jewels,” Malcolm protested.
“It is, and it seems that fortune or misfortune, which ever you like to call it, has thrown them in your way.”
Old Robert lifted a wooden casket from the drawer of his desk, and removed from it the single earring it contained. He regarded it thoughtfully a moment and then, leaning forward, laid it in front of Malcolm.
“But I don't understand”—Malcolm began.
“Neither do I,” old Robert answered grimly, “how I ever came to make the mistake of thinking I could make a gentleman of you. You're your father's son, Malcolm, with all his capacity for mischief. During this past week I have watched you with Mary. Noticed the way you gained her sympathy and affection and, worst of all, noticed the response to your blandishments in her eyes.
“For the past twelve years Mary has lived with me as my daughter, she thinks and lives as I do. If she knew what you really are and why you are here it would break her heart. I won't have that and I believe it is not too late to save her pain on your account. I have not the money to buy you off, so I am giving you this lesser treasure on the understanding that you leave at once.”
There followed a tense silence, in which Malcolm glowered at the old man with the blood of anger in his face. Presently, however, he lowered his eyes from the cold grey stare and rose to his feet. He matched the jewels thoughtfully in his palm and then slipped them into his pocket.
“I'll say good-bye now,” he said shortly. “I can catch a train from the Junction at daylight.”
The laird made no sign that he either saw or heard him, and Malcolm, glad to escape from his accusing presence, page 45 turned upon his heel and left the room.
An hour later Mary Craig woke in the darkness of her room with an unreasoning sense of fear. The night was very still, and it seemed to her that stealthy footsteps crossed the verandah. Then a creak and the click of a latch. Mary rose swiftly, and throwing a wrap about her shoulders, stepped into the hall. The library door was ajar and a stooping figure appeared blackly silhouetted against the lighter square of the window beyond it. The figure moved, and Mary, her heart beating tumultuously, crossed the hall and felt for the light switch behind the library door.
“Malcolm,” she gasped, as light flooded the room, and then, seeing what he held in his hand, “You—a—a thief!”
He straightened himself with a shrug, and the Queen's Earrings tinkled upon the desk top.
Slowly as though drawn by some hypnotic impulse, Mary crossed the room to his side. The jewels glinted redly against the dark wood.
“Two,” she whispered. She took them in her hand, and lifting the lid of the Maori casket, dropped them into their velvet bed. “Perhaps you had better go now,” she said, raising tear-filled eyes to Malcolm’s.
He turned and had taken no more than a step towards the French windows when a familiar voice bade him stop. The laird faced them in his wheel chair.
“Give me the casket, Mary,” he said. “I think we both owe Malcolm an apology. I gave him these jewels not an hour ago because I believed him capable of stealing; he was not as you thought, stealing, Mary, but returning them,” he paused, and glanced quizzically from one to the other, then grasping the wheels of his chair, turned himself about.
“I don't think, lad, that you'll be in time to catch that early train,” he said over his shoulder, “and besides, I'll be needing a strong man to help lift the old hearthstone in the morning.”
* * *
Travellers by any one of the night expresses might have noticed not long ago that the old house upon the hillside to the east of Baker's Crossing was brightly illuminated. Had the train stopped they would have heard the skirl of pipes and the shuffle of dancing feet, for there was a great gathering at the Lenzie homestead. The driveway was lined with the cars of neighbours, some of whom had come from fifty miles away, to the marriage of Malcolm Lenzie, whose bride wore in her ears the Queen's Earrings.