B. H. R. Stower
By B. H. R. Stower in Pearson’s
“THERE!” exclaimed Mrs. Kell impatiently, at the same time closing her box with a bang; “that is packed at last and we shall be leaving Brussels in a couple of hours without one bit of lace. It’s a great bother having to leave so suddenly. To take back some Brussels lace for Margaret was my chief object in coming here with you, John!” “More lace !” groaned the Reverend John Kell wearily. “It has been nothing but lace, lace, all day. I tell you, Mary, I dare not spend any more money. We have only just enough to take us home.”
“You managed to spare enough to buy some tobacco for old Giles and a box of cigars for yourself,” remarked his wife with annoyance.
“Tobacco is cheap here,” said the Reverend John, tying a label on his portmanteau with a sigh of relief ; “but I shall not argue the matter. I am going down to have a smoke.” From this brief conversation it may be gathered that Mrs. Kell was a little out of humor. She admitted it herself. But then, it was unbearable to visit Brussels and not buy some lace. ,
Just then the door flew open in the usual unceremonious manner of Europe and a waiter came in with a letter.
Mrs. Kell recognized the writing. She eagerly tore it open and read: “Dearest Mother—Auntie has just sent me the enclosed notes”—here a cry of pleasure escaped Mrs. Kell’s lips and she hastily extracted several crisp notes—“Please buy me a lot of
white lace, also a fichu-”
The Rue du Midi abounded in the desired shops. One particularly attracted her attention. The window was artistically dressed with lace, and in large letters stuck on the glass, she read, “English here spoke.” After spending some minutes admiring it, Mrs. Kell went inside.
“I want some lace,” she said. “Oui, oui, madame. I vill show you the best in all Brussels.”
“I will take that,” said Mrs. Kell, pointing to a charming fichu, “and this.” She laid aside several yards of excellent lace. “How much?” “Dat vill be ten pounds.”
He looked at the notes as Mrs. Kell handed them over.
“Bank of Angleterre notes—oui, oui, I vill take dem.”
At that moment a sudden thought struck her.
“Goodness gracious!” she cried in alarm. “What about the duty? I have spent all my money on the lace.” “Your ladysheep need not excite herself about dat,” said the little man coolly, giving her the parcel of lace. “Lots of peoples buy lace from me. Vun man I know crosses de frontier and carries his lace like dis.” He lifted his leg and imitated a person binding something around it. “Den dare is an Engleeshman. He came into mon establishment so thin, but, mon Dieu] he goes over de frontier so large, and I grow rich.”
“How dare you tell me such abominable stories!” cried Mrs. Kell indignantly. “Good-day,” and she swept haughtily out of the shop.
The short walk to the hotel gave her time for consideration. She racked her brain in vain for a suitable plan. One thing—she would not breathe a word to John.
It was not until she had locked herself in her bedroom that inspiration came. She wondered why she had not thought of it before. It was so simple.
Precisely ten minutes after entering, she unlocked her door and came down-stairs. The lace had vanished.
Mrs. Kell discovered her husband fast asleep in the smoking-room.
“Come! Wake up, sleepy head!” she cried playfully, giving him a shake.
The Reverend John rubbed his eyes and looked at his watch.
“Dear me,” he said; “it is four o’clock. Only half an hour more in Brussels. Just time for a cup of coffee.”
Having finished their coffee they drove to the railway station, and in a short time were seated in the train for Antwerp.
Mrs. Kell’s thoughts would recur to the lace. She began to feel a trifle nervous. The passengers appeared to look at her suspiciously. When the train pulled up at a station it was worse. Everybody seemed to look in the carriage. And when a policeman entered the compartment at Malines, Mrs. Kell very nearly collapsed.
It was a relief when the train reached Antwerp. They soon boarded the boat. Mrs. Kell immediately retired to her cabin and did not appear on deck until the steamer had sailed some miles down the Scheldt.
It was wonderful what a damping effect the lace had on her spirits. She had been looking forward with pleasure to the voyage home, and now she did not enjoy anything.
“John,” she said suddenly, interrupting him in the midst of an eloquent eulogy on the view, “do they search everybody at Harwich?”
“No, my dear, not everybody. But I have heard that the customs officers are so experienced that they can tell at a glance whom to search. Such people, you know, always give themselves away somehow or other.”
Mrs. Kell felt more uncomfortable than ever.
“Do you think they would search me ?”
“My dear Mary! Why do you ask such absurd questions ? Let us change the subject. See,” waving his arm up the river, “how stately Antwerp looks as we recede. Does not tlie cathedral spire look splendid in the distance. However, I am feeling hungry. We might as well go down to the saloon and have dinner.”
Mrs. Kell could not eat and felt annoyed at seeing her husband make a hearty meal. What right had he to eat when she felt so wretched !
“What do you think the customs men would say if they found lace on me?” she said, trying to appear indifferent.
The Reverend John laid down his knife and fork and laughed unsuspiciously.
“Oh, Mary ! you will never forget that lace. Find lace on you, indeed! Why, you might as well say at once if they found lace on me!”
“And why not?” said Mrs. Kell warmly. “Of course, I know you are a model of virtue,” this sarcastically. “But please answer my question.”
“Well, then, of course, I can’t say exactly, but I read of a woman the other day being detected at Harwich trying to smuggle saccharine. She got six months, and well deserved it!”
“You are a heartless brute!” exclaimed his wife warmly, at the same time rising from the table.
The boat had now entered the sea, and her rolling added to Mrs. Kell’s alarm.
It was growing late. The Reverend John Kell having smoked a cigar advised his wife to go below.
“I am too much worried to sleep.”
“You need not be alarmed, my dear,” he said soothingly ; “this powerful steamer will not sink.”
“I wish it would! I don’t want to reach Harwich !”
“Why! what is the matter?”
“Only this,” said Mrs. Kell, determined now to - confess all. “Your wife is a—smuggler!”
“A what !” he almost shouted in surprise.
“Yes, a real smuggler, with yards and yards of lace concealed on her! I did it for Margaret—Margy sent me ten pounds this morning to buy her lace—I spent it all. It was all the fault of the little Belgian shopman —he persuaded me to buy such a lot —then he told me some tales, of smuggling—that made me do it—it was the only chance of saving the lace— oh, John, dear, do help me! I am so frightened.”
The Reverend John Kell had listened to this confession in mute sur-
prise. He could not realize that Mary, his wife, after all the eloquent sermons she had heard from his lips, had yielded to temptation!
“In the first place, where is the lace ?” he said, collecting his thoughts.
Mrs. Kell blushed.
“I—er—I will go and fetch it,” she stammered confusedly.
Quite a quarter of an hour elapsed before she returned and handed her husband a small brown paper parcel. This the Reverend John took, and stepping to the side of the ship he raised his arm as if to throw it over. A cry from his wife changed his mind, and, instead, he put it in his pocket.
“Oh, John! It is so beautiful! Poor Margaret will be disappointed. I shall blame you for its loss if I am not searched after all.”
The Reverend John made no answer and, wishing each other good-night, he and his wife retired to their respective cabins.
The reverend gentleman locked the door, sat down and undid the parcel. Fortunately the ship was not crowded, so he had the cabin to himself. He spread the fichu on his knees. He was charmed with it. What marvelous work ! It would be a sin to throw it away, He opened his purse. No good ! With a sigh he laid the lace on the chair, undressed, and climbing into his berth, in a few minutes was fast asleep.
He was aroused by the steward tapping at his door: “Time to get up, sir; we’re just off Harwich.”
The Reverend John clambered out of his berth and commenced dressing.
“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated, his eyes alighting on the lace, “I must drop it through the port-hole.”
He tried in vain to unfasten the latch. Quite overcome with his exertions he sat down. Once again his eyes were attracted by the lace. How disappointed Margaret would be. He could not make up his mind to de* stroy it; the port-hole refused to open —this must be the hand of fate.
The boat was fast approaching the dock and in a few minutes would be
moored alongside, so there was no time to be lost.
The Reverend John Kell therefore thoughtfully rolled up one trouser leg. He next divided the lace into two equal bundles ; a little twisting and tying and the calf of that leg had developed to a size that would have turned Sandow green with envy. Half the lace had vanished. A similar operation on the other leg absorbed the remainder.
Having completed his toilet he went on deck and soon discovered his, wife.
“Good-morning, my dear,” he said, “I hope you had a good night.”
“I could not sleep a bit for thinking of the lace. What did you do with it?”
“It is below,” he said evasively, looking at his boots, “Let us go ashore.”
They found their baggage placed on a long table awaiting the customs inspection.
“I suppose we shall be searched soon?” remarked his wife, observing the officers hurrying about in all directions.
The Reverend John did not reply. He appeared lost in thought.
“I’ll risk it!” he thought; “it will show Mary that I was right and may also divert suspicion from myself.”
Without saying a word he walked quickly to the farthest end of the inclosure, quite unconscious that his wife’s eyes were curiously fixed on his retreating figure.
A customs officer was examining a box. He touched him on the shoulder.
“I say, my man,” he said in a low voice, “do you see that lady over there, with the furs round .her neck?”
The officer nodded.
“Well, I think you had better search her; but don’t say who gave you the information.”
The officer hastened away, and the Reverend John Kell anxiously awaited developments.
“Madam, will you kindly step this way ?”
Mrs. Kell wheeled round and discovered a blue-coated, peak-capped man standing in front of her.
“What for ?” she demanded indignantly.
“You had better come quietly. It is useless to make a disturbance. I have just received information which warrants me in having you searched.”
Mrs. Kell protested. It was ridiculous! He was most insulting! Did he know who she was?
The officer was obdurate, and she eventually followed him into an office, where a female searcher made a most minute examination of her apparel.
The investigation proved unproductive, and she left the office burning with rage against that “somebody.” Outside, she was met by the peakcapped man, who apologized for the mistake.
“Oh, don’t mention it!” said Mrs. Kell icily. “The innocent are often mistaken for the guilty.”
She laid her hand on his arm.
“But, listen, I believe a clergyman caused this search.”
He nodded and muttered something about wishing he had an opportunity of landing him.
“Well that man deceived you! He only set you on to me to remove suspicion from himself—you noticed how stout he was; and-”
But the officer had vanished.
The Reverend John Kell was beginning to breathe more freely. His trunk had been searched and duly “chalked.” Everything had gone off happily, and he was inwardly congratulating himself, when a hand fell somewhat roughly on his shoulder.
“Got you at last!” exclaimed the customs officer.
“How dare you speak to me like that!”
“Now, look here, you aren’t going to bluff me a second time, I can tell you! You just come along with me.
“I shall do nothing of the sort,” said the reverend gentleman coolly. “Nothing but a team of horses will induce me to go along with you.”
Such drastic measures, however, were not found necessary. Two officers easily accomplished the work, and the Reverend John was led down the dock.
A cold feeling crept over him as he stepped into the office. He immediately confessed, and turning up his trousers discovered the lace.
“Hem,” said the officer, grinning sarcastically, “rather a shame to hide such pretty trimming!”
“Such comments are unnecessary,” said the Reverend John, quietly and with many blushes unwrapping the
“So that is all, sir?”
The officer glanced at the small heap which had accumulated on the floor.
“Just so! But I seem to remember your face. It strikes me you left here a few weeks ago with a much smaller waist. You lived well on the Continent—eh ?”
“You are most impertinent!” said the Reverend John, endeavoring to restrain his anger. “Kindly attend to your own business.”
“I will,” was the brisk reply. “Take off your coat and vest.”
The Reverend John Kell submitted to the examination without even losing his temper. He knew it was best so. Even when the officer gave him sundry nips through his shirt, to see that there was no padding, he only smiled and accepted them with Christian forbearance.
The officer seemed quite displeased at finding that his figure was genuine and, with an expression of annoyance, proceeded to turn out his pockets
“Hullo ! What’s this ?” he demanded triumphantly, holding up a small packet.
“Well, I declare!—I had completely forgotten. That is a pound of tobacco which I had bought for a friend—I assure-”
“Ah! Here’s another!”
The officer pulled out a small box of cigars.
“That looks like nothing more, doesn’t it?” he said, annoyed at his victim’s complacency and apparent good-humor.. “Why, you’re like a department store. Chock-full of all sorts of things. Nothing more, indeed! Just you come along with me
and have a talk with the Chief Inspector!”
In the meanwhile, Mrs. Kell could not imagine why her husband was detained so long. At last, growing impatient, she walked down to the dock and peeped in the searching-room. Nobody was there.
The peak-capped customs officer happened to pass at the moment.
Mrs. Kell, assuming an air of indifference, inquired about his victim.
“Oh, we have made a grand capture !” he said, delighted to have some one to brag to.
“He was stout,” he continued facetiously, “but I have considerably reduced his weight—just think of the old fellow trying to get you into trouble, when all the time he had no end of tobacco—cigars—and yards and yards of lace.”
“Yes; m’am, lace!”
“What are they going to do with him ?”
“Oh, he will be out soon. The chief has been rather lenient. I expect he thinks he’s a parson.”
Mrs. Kell heaved a sigh of relief.
“If I were you,” continued the officer, mistaking it for fear, “I should scoot. There is no knowing what he might do if he suspected you. It makes them wild.”
“Tell me where he is.”
The officer pointed to a building.
“He’s in there. But, remember, I warned you.”
Before he had finished speaking, Mrs. Kell was at the door. She opened it, and, heedless of the astonished Chief Inspector, rushed forward and impetuously threw her arms around her husband‘s neck and with many ex-
pressions of sorrow begged his forgiveness.
“It’s all right, Mary,” he said. “Half my case is settled. I am so far fined fifteen shillings on the tobacco and cigars.”
“What about the lace?” she whispered.
“He hasn’t come to it yet. Goodness only knows how much that will be.” This also whispered.
Mrs. Kell stood up and faced the officer.
“You have fined him quite enough,” she said, “I think you might at least overlook the lace.”
“Under the circumstances I will grant your request,” agreed the Chief Inspector with a short laugh.
“Trust your wife to get you out of a fix, John!” cried Mrs. Kell gayly.
The Reverend John was delighted at getting off so lightly.
“I hope,” he said, as he paid the fine, “you will accept the cigars as a slight recognition of your courtesy. I would like to include the tobacco, but I have already promised it to a friend.”
“Thank you!” said the Chief Inspector drily, “unfortunately, both are confiscated !”
Throughout this interview Mrs. Kell’s spirits had been rising and falling like a barometer. They now sank from “change” to “stormy.”
“Is—er is—the lace also confiscated?” she faltered.
The Chief Inspector rose from his chair, and placed the lace in her hands.
“You need not have gone to so much trouble in bringing it over,” he said, laughing. “The fact is, there is no duty on lace, nor has there been for the last forty years.”
On the whole, it is patience which makes the final difference between those who succeed or fail in all things. All the greatest people have it in an infinite degree, and, among the less, the patient weak ones always conquer the impatient strong.—J. Ruskin.