The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)
Limited Night Entertainments
The Queen'S Earings.
The Queen's Earrings may be found to-day within half a mile of the spot where deeptoned whistles chime, and express trains sweeping up the valley momentarily light with the glare of their head-lamps, the white painted cattle stops on the road to Te Marae.
The jewels, once worn by Mary Stuart, were presented by her to Malcolm Lenzie, Laird of Glenmayne Priory in Renfrewshire, who aided herescape to England after the disastrous battle of Langside in 1568. They remained at Glenmayne until 1857 when Ardoch Lenzie, finding himself on the death of his father dispossessed of the house and estate by a moneylender named McWhin, resolved, at the suggestion of his wife Catherine to seek new lands and fortune in New Zealand.
So it came about when the ship “Druimuachdar” sailed from the Clyde in October, 1857, she carried as passengers, Ardoch and Catherine and an old woman, Mrs. McBride, who had been Catherine's nurse, and whose devotion was so great that nothing could prevent her from following her mistress to live “heels ower gowdie” amongst heathen savages at the bottom of the world.
They brought with them several bulky cases containing household effects of no very great value, and one small package that represented a modest fortune in the shape of the Queen's Earrings.
The knowledge that these jewels were aboard had come to the ears of a certain undesirable waterfront character whose partner in crime was Mr. Holloway, a seafaring man whom chance had made at the eleventh hour mate of the “Druimuachdar.”
However, the jewels were apparently safe enough, since the ship was commanded by Captain Charles Barcle, Catherine's brother, and all went well, until, within a week's fair sailing of the New Zealand coast, the ship was struck by a cyclonic storm and Captain Barcle swept overboard.
Mr. Holloway, as far as the ship's company were concerned, had always proved himself to be a man of action. It was doubly surprising, therefore, that for some minutes after Captain Barcle had disappeared, he did nothing. It was the second mate, Mr. Green, who raised the cry “man overboard,” tore a life-belt from its lashings and climbed to a precarious foothold on the broken rail, and in the brief space of time that he took to do these things, Mr. Holloway remained motionless, apparently unseeing and uncaring. In truth he was as oblivious of the actualities of his surroundings as a man still in possession of his senses may be. The broken rail, the tangle of gear that overlay it, even the heaving turmoil beyond, presented themselves to his mind's eye as an open door and the high road to fortune.
His mouth set in a grimly sardonic twist as, rousing from his reverie, he shook himself like a dog to rid his oilskins of the water that still drenched them, and bawled for all hands to lay aft and cut away the spars that threatened with every plunge of the ship to knock a hole in her side. Then he crossed the reeling deck to where Mr. Green still scanned the wastes, “Come along now, Mister,” he said sharply, “no man could swim in that even if alive when he went over. Look lively and get this mess cleared away and a tarpaulin over what's left of the skylight.” And as though to vindicate his momentary lapse, he burst into a sudden frenzy of activity, bellowing orders, cursing the alert, threatening the laggards with his fists, driving the men in true Yankee fashion until not even the most stupid of them could doubt that easy times aboard the “Druimuachdar were over.
Before the task of clearing the wreckage was half done, the wind came roaring down again, this time from the south-west, and Mr. Holloway putting the ship before it, let her run. For three days the gale held and at the slightest sign of abatement he set more sail until the old ship groaned and shuddered with the stress, and clove a path of white as broad as a boulevard from her blunt bows.
Down in the cabin the delirious mind of Catherine Lenzie heard the laboured sounds of the ship—sounds that were like long drawn tremulous sighs and quick gasps of pain, and standing aside seemed to watch another woman's agony.
The morning of the third day the sun shone clear and the new heir was born to the Lenzie fortunes.
* * *
“You're a rum looking cove ain't yer?” said Mr. Holloway thickly. He leered at the reflection in the mirror screwed to the forward bulkhead of Captain Barcle's cabin, and raised a glass to it. But 'eres to you old cock. Rum lookin’ or not, the girls won't mind yer ugly mug when they see all them lovely golden sovereigns.”
He struck an attitude, “Waitah,” he simpered, “another bottle of champagne wine.” The door of the cabin was pushed open and the reflected image of Ardoch Lenzie obtruded itself into the mirror.
Mr. Holloway glowered round at the intruder, “Customary to knock,” he growled.
“I did knock,” Ardoch replied pleasantly, I thought I heard you speaking to someone.”
“Mr. Holloway grunted, “Well,” he said ungraciously, “what can I do for you?”
“Mr. Green tells me we shall make Wellington heads the day after tomorrow.”
“Mr. Green tells you a damn sight too much,” Mr. Holloway began—and then quickly changed his tone. “I beg pardon, Mr. Lenzie, I'm sure,” he fawned, “but I'm fair knocked out—this last week has been a treat I can tell you. What with poor Captain Barcle goin’ over the side and your poor wife took ill an’ all. How's the little feller comin’ along?”
“As well as can be expected, thank you,” Ardoch replied shortly, “but—”
“Ah—that's good that's capital, mother and child both doing well—I must pay them a visit, Mr. Lenzie.”
“Mr. Holloway,” Ardoch interrupted him, “when this ship left the Clyde— page 43 I entrusted some of my personal effects to Captain Barcle's care. I have his receipt for them here.” He handed a paper to the mate who pursed his lips and blew out his cheeks as he read it.
“Package containing jewels known as Queen's Earrings—” he read aloud —“fire opals—pendants—property of Ardoch Lenzie, Esquire, Glenmayne. Hm! I wonder where he put 'em?
“You know, Mr. Lenzie,” he continued after a pause in which he searched the other's face intently, “Captain Barcle,” he bowed his head reverently, “was a most unmesh—unmeth—what I mean is he had his own way of doing things—You wouldn't believe the trouble I've had sorting out papers and such, why—”
“I should imagine they would be in the strong-box,” Ardoch broke in.
“Ah!” Mr. Holloway's eyes narrowed, “valuable were they?” he motioned Ardoch to a seat. Won't you take a drink, Mr. Lenzie? No? Well, I'll just have a taste myself, I've a touch of the fever I guess. Now, about these jewels. I've been through the strong-box and I don't think I remember seeing them. He bent down and hauled a heavy steel dispatch box from the locker beneath the bunk. He fumbled some moments with the lock and then throwing back the lid displayed its contents—several bundles of papers and a number of little leather bags containing the ship's money.
“There you are, Mr. Lenzie,” he betrayed a hint of triumph in his tone, “That's how I found it when I took command. I've done nothing except check the cash and made an entry in Captain Barcle's private log—here it is.” He appeared to be about to read from a small calf-bound volume when Ardoch held up his hand.
“Mr. Holloway I was with Captain Barcle the first night aboard when he put the jewels in that box. They were in a leather wallet; he wrapped the wallet in sailcloth and sealed it with wax, how could it possibly be missing now?”
Mr. Holloway shrugged, “Perhaps he had it on him when he was drowned.”
“Fiddlesticks!” snapped Ardoch.
“Ho, fiddlesticks, is it?” Mr. Holloway's face flamed red, “Just you take a reef in that talk, mister. I'm the master of this ship and I'm not taking no slack from no one. How should I know where your blasted jewels are? Didn't I tell you Captain Barcle had his own way of doing things? Ain't I had my hands full enough this last week navigatin’ the ship with a greenhorn mate and a crew of sojers, without having to bother me head with packets of sailcloth with sealin’ wax on 'em?”
Ardoch stood up, his face set, his fists clenched into white kunckles.
“Mr. Holloway,” he said quietly, “or Captain Holloway, if you prefer it, the jewels are somewhere aboard this ship and you are responsible for them. I demand that you conduct a thorough search both of the crew and the ship itself, and I warn you that if nothing is forthcoming by the time we reach port, I'll hand you over to the police!”
He snatched the receipt from Mr. Holloway's fingers and marched out slamming the cabin door behind him. Mr. Holloway settled himself back on the bunk with a complaisant chuckle.
* * *
Pinned to the capacious bosom of her dress Mrs. McBride wore a watch about the size and shape of a pigeon's egg. With unerring instinct she consulted this ungainly timepiece at five minutes before each hour, and thereafter awaited with growing impatience and darkening brow the arrival of the steward with beef tea, for Catherine was very weak, and but for her old nurse's unflagging attention must surely have died. Throughout the storm she had never left her side and even now though events were on the mend she had mounted guard over the cabin, granting admittance to no one except Ardoch, for fear that the news of Captain Barcle's death should prove too much of a shock for his sister's ears.
Constant supplies of nourishing food were needed and to this end she had dragooned the galley and the pantry of the “Druimuachdar” into a state of order and punctuality which, while it by no means measured up to her requirements, represented a big advance on the chaos which had reigned in those departments three days ago when the cabin was awash and the cook clung perched upon the long boat skids and watched his pots and pans go voyaging about the main deck. There were, however, in spite of all her efforts, backslidings, and taking a final look at her helpless charges, Mrs. McBride tiptoed from the cabin, and locked the door quietly behind her. She entered the main cabin at the same time that Ardoch emerged with a violent slam from the Captain's cabin aft, and advanced grimly to meet him.
D'ye think,” she demanded, “that what wi’ the trampin’ and duntin’ aboot overhead and yon loon o’ a steward smashin’ crockery by the ton that there's no’ enough noise on this ship a'ready?”
“The jewels have disappeared,” Ardoch began.
“Whisht—not so loud—” the old woman seated herself at the long cabin table and beckoned Ardoch to do likewise. “Now,” she said, “what's to do?”
Briefly Ardoch told her what had transpired in his interview with Mr. Holloway.
“Mphm!” Mrs. McBride nodded sagely, “there's nae doot in ma mind that yon felly has them, but dinna fash yerself, Lenzie—and above a’ dinna be rantin’ aboot the place wi’ yer slammin’ doors and flytin’, ye canna help yerself until we get to land. Forbye,” she added in warning, “there's no jewel i’ the world will buy back youre wife and wean would ye go dinning the news to her the way she is.”
Ardoch went up on deck to cool his head and Mrs. McBride to the galley for the tardy jug of beef tea. For once she did not scold the cook when she got there, neither did she stop on the way back to ask the steward why he had not brought the drink at the proper time; for her shrewd old head was full of this latest trouble and a plan to circumvent it.
* * *
From the balcony of a weatherboard building which, since the great earthquake of three years before, had done duty as a hotel, Ardoch looked out over the town of Wellington. The sun had dipped behind the hills and here and there along the curving waterfront road to Clay Point, lights were beginning to wink from the windows of stores and dwelling houses. A fiddle was squeaking down among the watermen's huts, and on the beach by Te Aro pa a fire throbbed like a jewel and sent a blood red streak of light dancing across the water to where the “Druimuachdar” lay at anchor. As Ardoch turned his eyes toward the ship her ensign, which had hung at halfmast all day, came down jerkily, hand over hand, and he read in it a sad and fateful gesture to mark the beginning of a new life!
Early that morning the ship had entered the heads and aided by light southerly airs made leisurely progress up the harbour. Ardoch watching the slow march of bush-clad hills, hearing the monotonous cry of the leadsman and the low spoken commands of the pilot at his back, felt bitter regret rise within him that he should ever have been persuaded to undertake this journey. Here were all the things that Charles had written about, and later enlarged upon at idle moments with Catherine. The hills and the bush, the bright flashing water, and the occasional white-painted houses along the foreshore; all the promise of freedom and adventurous life were here; and yet he felt that he could never be settled or at ease in these surroundings, for they would constantly revive the thought that there was lost to him that which by tradition and bequest was his birthright.
He was very near to defeat and his sense of frustration had deepened to despondency as the ship coming about off Point Halswell showed him what appeared to be little more than a fishing village at the head of the bay. What possible redress could be hoped for in a spot so remote? A repetition, perhaps, of the farcical proceedings of the day before when Mr. Holloway had mustered the crew aft and conducted with a wealth of inelegant satire a search of their persons and belongings.
“There you are, Mr. Lenzie,” he had remarked afterwards. “I've searched the ship for you, I can't do more, can I? The jewels is gone—over the side like I said—”
“I still propose to carry out my threat,” Ardoch had replied stubbornly, “and hand you over to the authorities.”
Mr. Holloway frowned, “What good can that do, Mr. Lenzie?” he asked. “Take my tip and let the whole thing drop. T'aint like the old dart where you're goin’, you know. People out here is rough and ready, they ain't got too much time to bother with fal de lals, and if you land makin a fuss over something you can't prove, why, you'll get yourself in bad from the start.”
And indeed, when the ship had at last come to anchor and a boat-load of cheery pirates who styled themselves port authorities had come aboard, there did seem to be some truth in what the mate had said. Ardoch had been invited into the Captain's cabin to state his case, but beyond that the sympathy shown him was only lukewarm. The men seemed inclined to regard the whole affair as rather trivial, and to attach more importance to page 46 page 47 the late Captain's whisky than the paper he had signed regarding some legendary jewels. In any case, they said, it was a matter for a lawyer and as the ship would probably be in port for several weeks, Mr. Holloway couldn't run away without her—“Eh, Tom, old sport?”—and they didn't mind if they did have another before they went ashore.
Presently they all trooped out on deck and over the side on a swaying rope-ladder and then the ship was fairly besieged by watermen's craft of all kinds, so that it was as much as Ardoch and Mrs. McBride could do to get Catherine and her five-day-old son safely ashore before sundown.
At the thought of his wife, Ardoch turned abruptly from the balcony, reproving himself for his selfishness, and made his way to the room which he had engaged for their night's lodging. Catherine was in bed and smiled a wan greeting. But soon enough she turned her eyes, very big and dark in the candlelight, to follow every movement of Mrs. McBride's capable hands as she lifted the infant from his temporary resting place in the bottom drawer, of the chest of drawers and proceeded to undress him.
“Eh, then,” the old woman murmured soothingly, “it's enough to make a body greet. What wi’ the heat and the smells, and a’ the leery faces spierin’ at him—and there's another o’ they things bummling aboot.” She paused, unable to do more at the moment than glare balefully while a houhou, come down from the bush, and drunk with the candle light, did its best to brain itself against the walls of the room.
“Juist you wait ma mannie till I'm done wi’ the bairn.”
But when the youngest Lenzie was at length undressed and lying comfortably in the crook of his mother's arm, it was not to the hou-hou that the old woman turned her attention. Instead, she lifted the baby's cloak and taking a pair of scissors, made an incision in the lining.
Something glinted in the candlelight, something over which she hurriedly closed her fingers, and crossing to the window, drew the curtain before she opened her palm and displayed to Ardoch's astonished gaze—the Queen's Earrings.
(To Be Coninued.)