BIRDS OF PREY
BIRDS OF PREY
[Illustration: "Be good enough to take me straight to her"
said the Captain "I am her father."]
Book the First.
I. THE HOUSE IN BLOOMSBURY
II. PHILIP SHELDON READS THE "LANCET"
III. MR. AND MRS. HALLIDAY
IV. A PERPLEXING ILLNESS
V. THE LETTER FROM THE "ALLIANCE" OFFICE
VI. MR. BURKHAM'S UNCERTAINTIES
Book the Second.
THE TWO MACAIRES.
I. A GOLDEN TEMPLE
II. THE EASY DESCENT
III. "HEART BARE HEART HUNGRY VERY POOR"
Book the Third.
HEAPING UP RICHES.
I. A FORTUNATE MARRIAGE
III. GEORGE SHELDON'S PROSPECTS
IV. DIANA FINDS A NEW HOME
V. AT THE LAWN
VI. THE COMPACT OF GRAY'S INN
VII. AUNT SARAH
VIII. CHARLOTTE PROPHESIES RAIN
IX. MR. SHELDON ON THE WATCH
Book the Fourth.
VALENTINE HAWKEHURST'S RECORD.
I. THE OLDEST INHABITANT
II. MATTHEW HAYGARTH'S RESTING-PLACE
III. MR. GOODGE'S WISDOM
Book the Fifth.
RELICS OF THE DEAD.
I. BETRAYED BY A BLOTTING-PAD
II. VALENTINE INVOKES THE PHANTOMS OF THE PAST
III. HUNTING THE JUDSONS
IV. GLIMPSES OF A BYGONE LIFE
Book the Sixth.
THE HEIRESS OF THE HAYGARTHS.
II. VALENTINE'S RECORD CONTINUED
IV. IN PARADISE
V. TOO FAIR TO LAST
VI. FOUND IN THE BIBLE
Book the Seventh.
I. "IN YOUR PATIENCE YE ARE STRONG"
II. MRS. SHELDON ACCEPTS HER DESTINY
III. MR. HAWKEHURST AND MR. GEORGE SHELDON COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING
IV. MR. SHELDON IS PROPITIOUS
V. MR. SHELDON IS BENEVOLENT
VI. RIDING THE HIGH HORSE
VII. MR. SHELDON IS PRUDENT
VIII. CHRISTMAS PEACE
BIRDS OF PREY
BOOK THE FIRST.
THE HOUSE IN BLOOMSBURY.
"What about?" There are some houses whereof the outward aspect is
sealed with the seal of respectability--houses which inspire confidence
in the minds of the most sceptical of butchers and bakers--houses at
whose area-gates the tradesman delivers his goods undoubtingly and
from whose spotless door-steps the vagabond children of the
neighbourhood recoil as from a shrine too sacred for their gambols.
Such a house made its presence obvious some years ago in one of
the smaller streets of that west-central region which lies between
Holborn and St. Pancras Church. It is perhaps the nature of
ultra-respectability to be disagreeably conspicuous. The unsullied
brightness of No. 14 Fitzgeorge-street was a standing reproach to every
other house in the dingy thorough-fare. That one spot of cleanliness
made the surrounding dirt cruelly palpable. The muslin curtains in the
parlour windows of No. 15 would not have appeared of such a smoky yellow
if the curtains of No. 14 had not been of such a pharisaical whiteness.
Mrs. Magson at No. 13 was a humble letter of lodgings always more or
less in arrear with the demands of quarter-day; and it seemed a hard
thing that her door-steps whereon were expended much labour and
hearthstone--not to mention house-flannel which was in itself no
unimportant item in the annual expenses--should be always thrown in the
shade by the surpassing purity of the steps before No. 14.
Not satisfied with being the very pink and pattern of respectability
the objectionable house even aspired to a kind of prettiness. It was as
bright and pleasant and rural of aspect as any house within earshot
of the roar and rattle of Holborn can be. There were flowers in the
windows; gaudy scarlet geraniums which seemed to enjoy an immunity
from all the ills to which geraniums are subject so impossible was it
to discover a faded leaf amongst their greenness or the presence of
blight amidst their wealth of blossom. There were birdcages within the
shadow of the muslin curtains and the colouring of the newly-pointed
brickwork was agreeably relieved by the vivid green of Venetian blinds.
The freshly-varnished street-door bore a brass-plate on which to look
was to be dazzled; and the effect produced by this combination of white
door-step scarlet geranium green blind and brass-plate was
Those who had been so privileged as to behold the interior of the house
in Fitzgeorge-street brought away with them a sense of admiration that
was the next thing to envy. The pink and pattern of propriety within
as it was the pink and pattern of propriety without it excited in
every breast alike a wondering awe as of a habitation tenanted by some
mysterious being infinitely superior to the common order of
The inscription on the brass-plate informed the neighbourhood that No.
14 was occupied by Mr. Sheldon surgeon-dentist; and the dwellers in
Fitzgeorge-street amused themselves in their leisure hours by
speculative discussions upon the character and pursuits belongings and
surroundings of this gentleman.
Of course he was eminently respectable. On that question no
Fitzgeorgian had ever hazarded a doubt. A householder with such a
door-step and such muslin curtains could not be other than the most
correct of mankind; for if there is any external evidence by which a
dissolute life or an ill-regulated mind will infallibly betray itself
that evidence is to be found in the yellowness and limpness of muslin
window-curtains. The eyes are the windows of the soul says the poet;
but if a man's eyes are not open to your inspection the windows of his
house will help you to discover his character as an individual and his
solidity as a citizen. At least such was the opinion cherished in
The person and habits of Mr. Sheldon were in perfect harmony with the
aspect of the house. The unsullied snow of the door-step reproduced
itself in the unsullied snow of his shirt-front; the brilliancy of the
brass-plate was reflected in the glittering brightness of his gold-studs;
the varnish on the door was equalled by the lustrous surface of his
black-satin waistcoat; the careful pointing of the brickwork was in a
manner imitated by the perfect order of his polished finger-nails and
the irreproachable neatness of his hair and whiskers. No dentist or
medical practitioner of any denomination had inhabited the house in
Fitzgeorge-street before the coming of Philip Sheldon. The house had
been unoccupied for upwards of a year and was in the last stage of
shabbiness and decay when the bills disappeared all at once from the
windows and busy painters and bricklayers set their ladders against
the dingy brickwork. Mr. Sheldon took the house on a long lease and
spent two or three hundred pounds in the embellishment of it. Upon the
completion of all repairs and decorations two great waggon-loads of
furniture distinguished by that old fashioned clumsiness which is
eminently suggestive of respectability arrived from the Euston-square
terminus while a young man of meditative aspect might have been seen
on his knees now in one empty chamber anon in another performing
some species of indoor surveying with a three-foot rule a loose little
oblong memorandum-book and the merest stump of a square lead-pencil.
This was an emissary from the carpet warehouse; and before nightfall it
was known to more than on inhabitant in Fitzgeorge-street that the
stranger was going to lay down new carpets. The new-comer was evidently
of an active and energetic temperament for within three days of his
arrival the brass-plate on his street-door announced his profession
while a neat little glass-case on a level with the eye of the passing
pedestrian exhibited specimens of his skill in mechanical dentistry
and afforded instruction and amusement to the boys of the neighbourhood
who criticised the glistening white teeth and impossibly red gums
displayed behind the plate-glass with a like vigour and freedom of
language. Nor did Mr. Sheldon's announcement of his profession confine
itself to the brass-plate and the glass-case. A shabby-genteel young
man pervaded the neighbourhood for some days after the surgeon-dentist's
advent knocking a postman's knock which only lacked the galvanic
sharpness of the professional touch and delivering neatly-printed
circulars to the effect that Mr. Sheldon surgeon-dentist of 14
Fitzgeorge-street had invented some novel method of adjusting false
teeth incomparably superior to any existing method and that he had
further patented an improvement on nature in the way of coral gums
the name whereof was an unpronounceable compound of Greek and Latin
calculated to awaken an awful reverence in the unprofessional and
The Fitzgeorgians shook their heads with prophetic solemnity as they
read these circulars. Struggling householders who find it a hard task
to keep the two ends which never have met and never will meet from
growing farther and farther asunder every year are apt to derive a
dreary kind of satisfaction from the contemplation of another man's
impending ruin. Fitzgeorge-street and its neighbourhood had existed
without the services of a dentist but it was very doubtful that a
dentist would be able to exist on the custom to be obtained in
Fitzgeorge-street. Mr. Sheldon may perhaps have pitched his tent
under the impression that wherever there was mankind there was likely
to be toothache and that the healer of an ill so common to frail
humanity could scarcely fail to earn his bread let him establish his
abode of horror where he might. For some time after his arrival people
watched him and wondered about him and regarded him a little
suspiciously in spite of the substantial clumsiness of his furniture
and the unwinking brightness of his windows. His neighbours asked one
another how long all that outward semblance of prosperity would last;
and there was sinister meaning in the question.
The Fitzgeorgians were not a little surprised and were perhaps just a
little disappointed on finding that the newly-established dentist did
manage to hold his ground somehow or other and that the muslin
curtains were renewed again and again in all their spotless purity;
that the supplies of rotten-stone and oil hearthstone and house-flannel
were unfailing as a perennial spring; and that the unsullied snow of Mr.
Sheldon's shirt-fronts retained its primeval whiteness. Wonderland
suspicion gave place to a half-envious respect. Whether much custom
came to the dentist no one could decide. There is no trade or
profession in which the struggling man will not receive some faint show
of encouragement. Pedestrians of agonised aspect with handkerchiefs
held convulsively before their mouths were seen to rush wildly towards
the dentist's door then pause for a moment stricken by a sudden
terror and anon feebly pull the handle of an inflexible bell. Cabs had
been heard to approach that fatal door--generally on wet days; for
there seems to be a kind of fitness in the choice of damp and dismal
weather for the extraction of teeth. Elderly ladies and gentlemen had
been known to come many times to the Fitzgeorgian mansion. There was a
legend of an old lady who had been seen to arrive in a brougham
especially weird and nut-crackery of aspect and to depart half an hour
afterwards a beautified and renovated creature. One half of the
Fitzgeorgians declared that Mr. Sheldon had established a very nice
little practice and was saving money; while the other half were still
despondent and opined that the dentist had private property and was
eating up his little capital. It transpired in course of time that Mr.
Sheldon had left his native town of Little Barlingford in Yorkshire
where his father and grandfather had been surgeon-dentists before him
to establish himself in London. He had disposed advantageously of an
excellent practice and had transferred his household goods--the
ponderous chairs and tables the wood whereof had deepened and mellowed
in tint under the indefatigable hand of his grandmother--to the
metropolis speculating on the chance that his talents and appearance
address and industry could scarcely fail to achieve a position. It
was further known that he had a brother an attorney in Gray's Inn
who visited him very frequently; that he had few other friends or
acquaintance; that he was a shining example of steadiness and sobriety;
that he was on the sunnier side of thirty a bachelor and very
good-looking; and that his household was comprised of a grim-visaged
active old woman imported from Barlingford a girl who ran errands and
a boy who opened the door attended to the consulting-room and did some
mysterious work at odd times with a file and sundry queer lumps of
plaster-of-paris beeswax and bone in a dark little shed abutting on
the yard at the back of the house. This much had the inhabitants of
Fitzgeorge-street discovered respecting Mr. Sheldon when he had been
amongst them four years; but they had discovered no more. He had made
no local acquaintances nor had he sought to make any. Those of his
neighbours who had seen the interior of his house had entered it as
patients. They left it as much pleased with Mr. Sheldon as one can be
with a man at whose hands one has just undergone martyrdom and
circulated a very flattering report of the dentist's agreeable
manners and delicate white handkerchief fragrant with the odour of
eau-de-Cologne. For the rest Philip Sheldon lived his own life and
dreamed his own dreams. His opposite neighbours who watched him on
sultry summer evenings as he lounged near an open window smoking his
cigar had no more knowledge of his thoughts and fancies than they
might have had if he had been a Calmuck Tartar or an Abyssinian chief.
PHILIP SHELDON READS THE "LANCET."
Fitzgeorge-street was chill and dreary of aspect under a gray March
sky when Mr. Sheldon returned to it after a week's absence from
London. He had been to Little Barlingford and had spent his brief
holiday among old friends and acquaintance. The weather had not been in
favour of that driving hither and thither in dog-carts or riding
rakish horses long distances to beat up old companions which is
accounted pleasure on such occasions. The blustrous winds of an
unusually bitter March had buffeted Mr. Sheldon in the streets of his
native town and had almost blown him off the door-steps of his
kindred. So it is scarcely strange if he returned to town looking none
the better for his excursion. He looked considerably the worse for his
week's absence the old Yorkshire-woman said as she waited upon him
while he ate a chop and drank two large cups of very strong tea.
Mr. Sheldon made short work of his impromptu meal. He seemed anxious to
put an end to his housekeeper's affectionate interest in himself and
his health and to get her out of the room. She had nursed him nearly
thirty years before and the recollection that she had been very
familiar with him when he was a handsome black-eyed baby with a
tendency to become suddenly stiff of body and crimson of visage without
any obvious provocation inclined her to take occasional liberties now.
She watched him furtively as he sat in a big high-backed arm-chair
staring moodily at the struggling fire and would fain have questioned
him a little about Barlingford and Barlingford people.
But Philip Sheldon was not a man with whom even a superannuated nurse
can venture to take many liberties. He was a good master paid his
servants their wages with unfailing punctuality and gave very little
trouble. But he was the last person in the world upon whom a garrulous
woman could venture to inflict her rambling discourse; as Nancy
Woolper--by courtesy Mrs. Woolper--was fain to confess to her
next-door neighbour Mrs. Magson when her master was the subject of an
afternoon gossip. The heads of a household may inhabit a neighbourhood
for years without becoming acquainted even with the outward aspect of
their neighbours; but in the lordly servants' halls of the West or the
modest kitchens of Bloomsbury there will be interchange of civilities
and friendly "droppings in" to tea or supper let the master of the
house be never so ungregarious a creature.
"You can take the tea-things Nancy" Mr. Sheldon said presently
arousing himself suddenly from that sombre reverie in which he had been
absorbed for the last ten minutes; "I am going to be very busy to-night
and I expect Mr. George in the course of the evening. Mind I am not at
home to anybody but him."
The old woman arranged the tea-things on her tray but still kept a
furtive watch on her master who sat with his head a little bent and
his bright black eyes fixed on the fire with that intensity of gaze
peculiar to eyes which see something far away from the object they seem
to contemplate. She was in the habit of watching Mr. Sheldon rather
curiously at all times for she had never quite got over a difficulty
in realising the fact that the black-eyed baby with whom she had been
so intimate _could_ have developed into this self-contained inflexible
young man whose thoughts were so very far away from her. To-night she
watched him more intently than she was accustomed to do for to-night
there was some change in his face which she was trying in a dim way to
He looked up from the fire suddenly and found her eyes fixed upon him.
It may be that he had been disturbed by a semi-consciousness of that
curious gaze for he looked at her angrily--"What are you staring at
It was not the first time he had encountered her watchful eyes and
asked the same impatient question. But Mrs. Woolper possessed that
north-country quickness of intellect which is generally equal to an
emergency and was always ready with some question or suggestion which
went to prove that she had just fixed her eyes on her master inspired
by some anxiety about his interests.
"I was just a-thinking sir" she said meeting his stern glance
unflinchingly with her little sharp gray eyes "I was just a-thinking--
you said not at home to _any one_ except Mr. George. If it should be a
person in a cab wanting their teeth out sudden--and if anything could
make toothache more general in this neighbourhood it would be these
March winds--if it should be a patient sir in a cab----"
The dentist interrupted her with a short bitter laugh.
"Neither March winds nor April showers are likely to bring me patients
Nancy on foot or in cabs and you ought to know it. If it's a patient
ask him in by all means and give him last Saturday week's _Times_ to
read while I rub the rust off my forceps. There that will do; take
your tray--or stop; I've some news to tell you." He rose and stood
with his back to the fire and his eyes bent upon the hearthrug while
Mrs. Woolper waited by the table with the tray packed ready for
removal. Her master kept her waiting so for some minutes and then
turned his face half away from her and contemplated himself absently
in the glass while he spoke.
"You remember Mrs. Halliday?" he asked.
"I should think I did sir; Miss Georgina Cradock that was--Miss Georgy
they called her; your first sweetheart. And how she could ever marry
that big awkward Halliday is more than I can make out. Poor fondy! I
suppose she was took with those great round blue eyes and red whiskers
"Her mother and father were 'took' by his comfortable farmhouse and
well-stocked farm Nancy" answered Mr. Sheldon still contemplating
himself in the glass. "Georgy had very little to do with it. She is one
of those women who let other people think for them. However Tom is an
excellent fellow and Georgy was a lucky girl to catch such a husband
Any little flirtation there may have been between her and me was over
and done with long before she married Tom. It never was more than a
flirtation; and I've flirted with a good many Barlingford girls in my
time as you know Nancy."
It was not often that Mr. Sheldon condescended to be so communicative to
his housekeeper. The old woman nodded and chuckled delighted by her
master's unwonted friendliness.
"I drove over to Hyley while I was at home Nancy" continued the
dentist--he called Barlingford home still though he had broken most of
the links that had bound him to it--"and dined with the Hallidays.
Georgy is as pretty as ever and she and Tom get on capitally."
"Any children sir?"
"One girl" answered Mr. Sheldon carelessly. "She's at school in
Scarborough and I didn't see her; but I hear she's a fine bouncing
lass. I had a very pleasant day with the Hallidays. Tom has sold his
farm; that part of the world doesn't suit him it seems--too cold and
bleak for him. He's one of those big burly-looking men who seem as if
they could knock you down with a little finger and who shiver at every
puff of wind. I don't think he'll make old bones Nancy. But that's
neither here nor there. I daresay he's good for another ten years; or
I'm sure I hope so on Georgy's account."
"It was right down soft of him to sell Hyley Farm though" said Nancy
reflectively; "I've heard tell as it's the best land for forty mile
round Barlingford. But he got a rare good price for it I'll lay."
"O yes; he sold the property uncommonly well he tells me. You know if
a north-countryman gets the chance of making a profit he never lets
it slip through his fingers."
Mrs. Woolper received this compliment to her countrymen with a
gratified grin and Mr. Sheldon went on talking still looking at the
reflection of his handsome face in the glass and pulling his whiskers
"Now as Tom was made for a farmer and nothing but a farmer he must
find land somewhere in a climate that does suit him; so his friends
have advised him to try a place in Devonshire or Cornwall where he may
train his myrtles and roses over his roof and grow green peas for the
London markets as late as November. There are such places to be had if
he bides his time and he's coming to town next week to look about him.
So as Georgy and he would be about as capable of taking care of