The Joss: A Reversion/Chapter 34
HOW MATTERS STAND TO-DAY.
I should have preferred that the close of Captain Max Lander’s statement should have been the conclusion of this strange history. But for the satisfaction of any reader who may desire to know what became of A, B, C, or D, these following lines are added.
What have been described by Captain Lander as “the treasures of the temple” were found in the house in Camford Street. So far as could be ascertained, intact. The question of ownership involved a nice legal problem. The native attendants of the temple vanished almost as soon as they appeared. No one knew where they went to. Nothing has been seen or heard of them since. It seemed, therefore, that they put forward no claims. There remained the girl, Susan, presumably the dead man’s daughter, though there was no legal proof of the fact; Mary Blyth, who had claims under her uncle’s will; Captain Lander, who held the document entitling him to a half share; and the owners and crew of The Flying Scud. All these had claims which required consideration. In the end, by great good fortune, an amicable settlement was arrived at, which gave satisfaction to all parties concerned.
As might have been expected, the value set on the property by Mr. Batters proved to be an exaggeration. It was worth nothing like a million. Still, it fetched a considerable amount when realised, and after the owners and crew of The Flying Scud had been appeased—excepting Mr. Luke, who was markedly dissatisfied because he only received an ordinary seaman’s share—an appreciable sum remained as surplus. To this was added the cash which had been bequeathed to Miss Blyth by the will whose validity was, at best, extremely doubtful; the whole being divided, in equal portions, between the niece and the daughter. As Miss Batters immediately afterwards became Mrs. Max Lander, the commander of The Flying Scud had no cause to be discontented with this arrangement.
No. 84, Camford Street is still without an owner. It appears, from the story told by the girl, Susan, that on reaching England, her father hurried her from place to place, seldom stopping for more than two or three days under one roof. They seem to have made their most lengthy stay in a barge in one of the lower reaches of the river. No doubt the notion of concealment was present to his mind from the first. Though how he lighted on the house in Camford Street is still a mystery. Nor has anything transpired to show by whose orders it was fortified in such ingenious and elaborate fashion; nor by whom the work was executed. Nothing has been found which goes to show that he had any right to call the house his property. Its actual ownership still goes begging.
The document purporting to be a will was possibly drawn up by his own hand. The letter signed “Arthur Lennard, Missionary,” pretending to announce his death on that far-off Australasian island, was probably concocted, at his instigation, by one of the miscellaneous acquaintances whom he picked up during his wanderings among the riverside vagabonds. From such an one he might have acquired Mr. Paine’s name, together with some side-lights on that gentleman’s character. Miss Batters made it abundantly clear that her father was the “freak” to whom Mr. Paine was of service by rescuing him from the too curious crowd in the Commercial Road.
His exact object in making his will has never been shown. No doubt the man’s brain was in disorder. He was actuated, perhaps, by three considerations. The desire for concealment; the consciousness that he and his daughter would fare very badly if shut up in a house alone together; the wish to avail himself of his niece’s services. To have gone to her with a straightforward tale would have been in accord neither with his character or policy. He had lived too long in what, for civility’s sake, may be called a diplomatic atmosphere, to be able to breathe in any other. Also, he knew nothing of his niece. Suspected that she knew nothing good of him. Was moved, possibly, by a very natural unwillingness to make himself, or his story, known to her until he had learned what kind of person she was.
So he invented his own death, making her his heiress, for the sole purpose of getting her inside the house. It is impossible to say what might have happened had she proved amenable to his wishes; and events moved along the road which he had laid down for them. The presumption is that, sooner or later—probably sooner—he would have made himself known to her, and endeavoured to purchase her fidelity, and services, on terms of his own.
As it is, the uncle is the constant theme of the niece’s conversation. Miss Blyth is now Mrs. Cooper. The Coopers are residents of one of the smaller south coast watering places, where they are regarded as leading lights among local social circles. Mr. Cooper is a vice-president of the boat-club, yacht-club, swimming-club, cricket-club, football club, and so on; his wife is the mother of an increasing family, and a lady with a tale. Its subject is Uncle Benjamin. That gentleman lived a life of strange and varied adventure. His history loses none of its marvels at his niece’s lips. Either because they are a trifle tired of the theme, or are merely jealous, some of the more frequent hearers have been heard to doubt if there ever was an Uncle Benjamin. If these doubts are serious they do the lady less than justice.
Mr. and Mrs. Lander are also happy. One would be reluctant to doubt it. Yet, at the same time, one cannot refuse to admit that there are occasions when the outward and visible signs of their happiness take a somewhat boisterous shape. He has a temper; she has a temper. There are moments when it would appear as if there was hardly room for the two tempers in a single house. Since they seldom remain in one place for more than three months, they can scarcely be said to live anywhere. In selecting their next abiding-place, they seem to act on the principle of letting it be as far from the present as possible. Mr. Lander has not pursued his profession since the last eventful voyage which he has herein set forth. Possibly by way of killing time he is apt to be a trifle too convivial. Nothing makes Mrs. Lander more indignant than an even hinted doubt of her positive assertion, made in and out of season, that every drop of blood in her veins is English. As her complexion is a little dusky, her aggressive attitude upon this point makes her rather a difficult person to get on with.
Mr. Frank Paine, oddly enough, has married Miss Purvis. And, what is perhaps still more odd, theirs is the happiest match of the three. About their complete and absolute content with their condition there can be no possible doubt whatever. He worships her; she worships him. If there is any finer recipe for matrimonial happiness than that, it has not come in the present writer’s way. His practice as a solicitor has grown large. Mrs. Paine is of opinion that he is rightly regarded with even fulsome reverence by the entire bench and bar. Since he would not dream of contesting any opinion which happened to be his wife’s, the position of affairs could not possibly be improved.
Mr. Benjamin Batters lies in Kensal Green Cemetery. In a deep grave, and in a full-sized coffin. Surrounded by dignitaries and respectabilities. In his coffin were placed the broken pieces of the curiosity which he called the God of Fortune. So they are still together. A handsome monument has been raised above him. There is no hint, in the inscription, that below are but the mangled fragments of what was once a human body; or any reference to the fact that he ever posed as a joss; or a god; or was ever believed, even by savages, to have put on immortality before his time. It simply says:
"BENEATH THIS STONE
AFTER A LIFE OF VARIED ADVENTURE
IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD,
We will hope that it is so.