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´╗┐Title: Gwen Wynn - A Romance of the Wye
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Gwen Wynn
A Romance of the Wye
By Captain Mayne Reid
Published by Tinsley Brothers, 8 Catherine Street, Strand, London.
This edition dated 1877.

Volume One, Chapter I.

THE HEROINE.

A tourist descending the Wye by boat from the town of Hereford to the
ruined Abbey of Tintern, may observe on its banks a small pagoda-like
structure; its roof, with a portion of the supporting columns,
o'er-topping a spray of evergreens.  It is simply a summer-house, of the
kiosk or pavilion pattern, standing in the ornamental grounds of a
gentleman's residence.  Though placed conspicuously on an elevated
point, the boat traveller obtains view of it only from a reach of the
river above.  When opposite he loses sight of it; a spinney of tall
poplars drawing curtain-like between him and the higher bank.  These
stand on an oblong island, which extends several hundred yards down the
stream, formed by an old channel, now forsaken.  With all its wanderings
the Wye is not suddenly capricious; still, in the lapse of long ages it
has here and there changed its course, forming _aits_, or _eyots_, of
which this is one.

The tourist will not likely take the abandoned channel.  He is bound and
booked for Tintern--possibly Chepstow--and will not be delayed by lesser
"lions."  Besides, his hired boatmen would not deviate from their terms
of charter, without adding an extra to their fare.

Were he free, and disposed for exploration, entering this unused water
way, he would find it tortuous, with scarce any current, save in times
of flood; on one side the eyot, a low marshy flat, thickly overgrown
with trees; on the other a continuous cliff, rising forty feet sheer,
its _facade_ grim and grey, with flakes of reddish hue, where the frost
has detached pieces from the rock--the old red sandstone of
Herefordshire.  Near its entrance he would catch a glimpse of the kiosk
on its crest; and, proceeding onward, will observe the tops of laurels
and other exotic evergreens, mingling their glabrous foliage with that
of the indigenous holly, ivy, and ferns; these last trailing over the
cliff's brow, and wreathing it with fillets of verdure, as if to conceal
its frowning corrugations.

About midway down the old river's bed he will arrive opposite a little
embayment in the high bank, partly natural, but in part quarried out of
the cliff--as evinced by a flight of steps, leading up at back,
chiselled out of the rock _in situ_.

The cove thus contrived is just large enough to give room to a row-boat;
and, if not out upon the river, one will be in it, riding upon its
painter; this attached to a ring in the red sandstone.  It is a light
two-oared affair--a pleasure-boat, ornamentally painted, with cushioned
thwarts, and tiller ropes of coloured cord athwart its stern, which the
tourist will have turned towards him, in gold lettering, "The
Gwendoline."

Charmed by this Idyllic picture, he may forsake his own craft, and
ascend to the top of the stair.  If so, he will have before his eyes a
lawn of park-like expanse, mottled with clumps of coppice, here and
there a grand old tree--oak, elm, or chestnut--standing solitary; at the
upper end a shrubbery of glistening evergreens, with gravelled walks,
fronting a handsome house; or, in the parlance of the estate agent, a
noble mansion.  That is Llangorren Court, and there dwells the owner of
the pleasure-boat, as also prospective owner of the house, with some two
thousand acres of land lying adjacent.

The boat bears her baptismal name, the surname being Wynn, while people,
in a familiar way, speak of her as "Gwen Wynn;" this on account of her
being a lady of proclivities and habits that make her somewhat of a
celebrity in the neighbourhood.  She not only goes boating, but hunts,
drives a pair of spirited horses, presides over the church choir, plays
its organ, looks after the poor of the parish--nearly all of it her own,
or soon to be--and has a bright smile, with a pleasant word, for
everybody.

If she be outside, upon the lawn, the tourist, supposing him a
gentleman, will withdraw; for across the grounds of Llangorren Court
there is no "right of way," and the presence of a stranger upon them
would be deemed an intrusion.  Nevertheless, he would go back down the
boat stair reluctantly, and with a sigh of regret, that good manners do
not permit his making the acquaintance of Gwen Wynn without further loss
of time, or any ceremony of introduction.

But my readers are not thus debarred; and to them I introduce her, as
she saunters over this same lawn, on a lovely April morn.

She is not alone; another lady, by name Eleanor Lees, being with her.
They are nearly of the same age--both turned twenty--but in all other
respects unlike, even to contrast, though there is kinship between them.
Gwendoline Wynn is tall of form, fully developed; face of radiant
brightness, with blue-grey eyes, and hair of that chrome-yellow almost
peculiar to the Cymri--said to have made such havoc with the hearts of
the Roman soldiers, causing these to deplore the day when recalled home
to protect their seven-hilled city from Goths and Visigoths.

In personal appearance Eleanor Lees is the reverse of all this; being of
dark complexion, brown-haired, black-eyed, with a figure slender and
_petite_.  Withal she is pretty; but it is only prettiness--a word
inapplicable to her kinswoman, who is pronouncedly beautiful.

Equally unlike are they in mental characteristics; the first-named being
free of speech, courageous, just a trifle fast, and possibly a little
imperious.  The other of a reserved, timid disposition, and habitually
of subdued mien, as befits her station; for in this there is also
disparity between them--again a contrast.  Both are orphans; but it is
an orphanage under widely different circumstances and conditions: the
one heiress to an estate worth some ten thousand pounds per annum; the
other inheriting nought save an old family name--indeed, left without
other means of livelihood, than what she may derive from a superior
education she has received.

Notwithstanding their inequality of fortune, and the very distant
relationship--for they are not even near as cousins--the rich girl
behaves towards the poor one as though they were sisters.  No one seeing
them stroll arm-in-arm through the shrubbery, and hearing them hold
converse in familiar, affectionate tones, would suspect the little dark
damsel to be the paid "companion" of the lady by her side.  Yet in such
capacity is she residing at Llangorren Court.

It is just after the hour of breakfast, and they have come forth in
morning robes of light muslin--dresses suitable to the day and the
season.  Two handsome ponies are upon the lawn, its herbage dividing
their attention with the horns of a pet stag, which now and then
threaten to assail them.

All three, soon as perceiving the ladies, trot towards them; the ponies
stretching out their necks to be patted; the cloven-hoofed creature
equally courting caresses.  They look especially to Miss Wynn, who is
more their mistress.

On this particular morning she does not seem in the humour for dallying
with them; nor has she brought out their usual allowance of lump sugar;
but, after a touch with her delicate fingers, and a kindly exclamation,
passes on, leaving them behind, to all appearance disappointed.

"Where are you going, Gwen?" asks the companion, seeing her step out
straight, and apparently with thoughts preoccupied.  Their arms are now
disunited, the little incident with the animals having separated them.

"To the summer-house," is the response.  "I wish to have a look at the
river.  It should show fine this bright morning."

And so it does; as both perceive after entering the pavilion, which
commands a view of the valley, with a reach of the river above--the
latter, under the sun, glistening like freshly polished silver.

Gwen views it through a glass--a binocular she has brought out with her;
this of itself proclaiming some purpose aforethought, but not confided
to the companion.  It is only after she has been long holding it
steadily to her eye, that the latter fancies there must be some object
within its field of view more interesting than the Wye's water, or the
greenery on its banks.

"What is it?" she naively asks.  "You see something?"

"Only a boat," answers Gwen, bringing down the glass with a guilty look,
as if conscious of being caught.  "Some tourist, I suppose, making down
to Tintern Abbey--like as not, a London cockney."

The young lady is telling a "white lie."  She knows the occupant of that
boat is nothing of the kind.  From London he may be--she cannot tell--
but certainly no sprig of cockneydom--unlike it as Hyperion to the
Satyr; at least so she thinks.  But she does not give her thought to the
companion; instead, concealing it, she adds,--"How fond those town
people are of touring it upon our Wye!"

"Can you wonder at that?" asks Ellen.  "Its scenery is so grand--I
should say, incomparable; nothing equal to it in England."

"I don't wonder," says Miss Wynn, replying to the question.  "I'm only a
little bit vexed seeing them there.  It's like the desecration of some
sacred stream, leaving scraps of newspapers in which they wrap their
sandwiches, with other picnicking debris on its banks!  To say nought of
one's having to encounter the rude fellows that in these degenerate days
go a-rowing--shopboys from the towns, farm labourers, colliers,
hauliers, all sorts.  I've half a mind to set fire to the _Gwendoline_,
burn her up, and never again lay hand on an oar."

Ellen Lees laughs incredulously as she makes rejoinder.

"It would be a pity," she says, in serio-comic tone.  "Besides, the poor
people are entitled to a little recreation.  They don't have too much of
it."

"Ah, true," rejoins Gwen, who, despite her grandeeism, is neither Tory
nor aristocrat.  "Well, I've not yet decided on that little bit of
incendiarism, and shan't burn the _Gwendoline_--at all events not till
we've had another row out of her."

Not for a hundred pounds would she set fire to that boat, and never in
her life was she less thinking of such a thing.  For just then she has
other views regarding the pretty pleasure craft, and intends taking seat
on its thwarts within less than twenty minutes' time.

"By the way," she says, as if the thought had suddenly occurred to her,
"we may as well have that row now--whether it's to be the last or not."

Cunning creature!  She has had it in her mind all the morning; first
from her bed-chamber window, then from that of the breakfast-room,
looking up the river's reach, with the binocular at her eye, too, to
note if a certain boat, with a salmon-rod bending over it, passes down.
For one of its occupants is an angler.

"The day's superb," she goes on; "sun's not too hot--gentle breeze--just
the weather for a row.  And the river looks so inviting--seems calling
us to come!  What say you, Nell?"

"Oh!  I've no objections."

"Let us in, then, and make ready.  Be quick about it!  Remember it's
April, and there may be showers.  We mustn't miss a moment of that sweet
sunshine."

At this the two forsake the summer-house; and, lightly recrossing the
lawn, disappear within the dwelling.

While the anglers boat is still opposite the grounds, going on, eyes are
observing it from an upper window of the house; again those of Miss Wynn
herself, inside her dressing-room, getting ready for the river.

She had only short glimpses of it, over the tops of the trees on the
eyot, and now and then through breaks in their thinner spray.  Enough,
however, to assure her that it contains two men, neither of them
cockneys.  One at the oars she takes to be a professional waterman.  But
he, seated in the stern is altogether unknown to her, save by sight--
that obtained when twice meeting him out on the river.  She knows not
whence he comes, or where he is residing; but supposes him a stranger to
the neighbourhood, stopping at some hotel.  If at the house of any of
the neighbouring gentry, she would certainly have heard of it.  She is
not even acquainted with his name, though longing to learn it.  But she
is shy to inquire, lest that might betray her interest in him.  For such
she feels, has felt, ever since setting eyes on his strangely handsome
face.

As the boat again disappears behind the thick foliage, she sets, in
haste, to effect the proposed change of dress, saying, in soliloquy--for
she is now alone:--

"I wonder who, and what he can be?  A gentleman, of course.  But, then,
there are gentlemen, and gentlemen; single ones and--"

She has the word "married" on her tongue, but refrains speaking it.
Instead, she gives utterance to a sigh, followed by the reflection--

"Ah, me!  That would be a pity--a dis--"

Again she checks herself, the thought being enough unpleasant without
the words.

Standing before the mirror, and sticking long pins into her hair, to
keep its rebellious plaits in their place, she continues soliloquising--

"If one only had a word with that young waterman who rows him!  And were
it not that my own boatman is such a chatterer, I'd put him up to
getting that word.  But no!  It would never do.  He'd tell aunt about
it; and then Madame la Chatelaine would be talking all sorts of serious
things to me--the which I mightn't relish.  Well; in six months more the
old lady's trusteeship of this young lady is to terminate--at least
legally.  Then I'll be my own mistress; and then--'twill be time enough
to consider whether I ought to have--a master.  Ha, ha, ha!"

So laughing, as she surveys her superb figure in a cheval glass, she
completes the adjustment of her dress, by setting a hat upon her head,
and tightening the elastic, to secure against its being blown off while
in the boat.  In fine, with a parting glance at the mirror, which shows
a satisfied expression upon her features, she trips lightly out of the
room, and on down the stairway.

Volume One, Chapter II.

THE HERO.

Than Vivian Ryecroft--handsomer man never carried sling-jacket over his
shoulder, or sabretasche on his hip.  For he is in the Hussars--a
captain.

He is not on duty now, nor anywhere near the scene of it.  His regiment
is at Aldershot, himself rusticating in Herefordshire--whither he has
come to spend a few weeks' leave of absence.

Nor is he, at the time of our meeting him, in the saddle, which he sits
so gracefully; but in a row-boat on the river Wye--the same just sighted
by Gwen Wynn through the double lens of her lorgnette.  No more is he
wearing the braided uniform and "busby;" but, instead, attired in a suit
of light Cheviots, piscator-cut, with a helmet-shaped cap of quilted
cotton on his head, its rounded rim of spotless white in striking, but
becoming, contrast with his bronzed complexion and dark military
moustache.

For Captain Ryecroft is no mere stripling nor beardless youth, but a man
turned thirty, browned by exposure to Indian suns, experienced in Indian
campaigns, from those of Scinde and the Punjaub to that most memorable
of all--the Mutiny.

Still is he personally as attractive as he ever was--to women, possibly
more; among these causing a flutter, with _rapprochement_ towards him
almost instinctive, when and wherever they may meet him.  In the present
many a bright English lady sighs for him, as in the past many a dark
damsel of Hindostan.  And without his heaving sigh, or even giving them
a thought in return.  Not that he is of cold nature, or in any sense
austere; instead, warm-hearted, of cheerful disposition, and rather
partial to female society.  But he is not, and never has been, either
man-flirt or frivolous trifler; else he would not be fly-fishing on the
Wye--for that is what he is doing there--instead of in London, taking
part in the festivities of the "season," by day dawdling in Rotten Row,
by night exhibiting himself in opera-box or ball-room.  In short, Vivian
Ryecroft is one of those rare individuals, to a high degree endowed,
physically as mentally, without being aware of it, or appearing so;
while to all others it is very perceptible.

He has been about a fortnight in the neighbourhood, stopping at the
chief hotel of a riverine town much affected by fly-fishermen and
tourists.  Still, he has made no acquaintance with the resident gentry.
He might, if wishing it; which he does not, his purpose upon the Wye not
being to seek society, but salmon, or rather the sport of taking it.  An
ardent disciple of the ancient Izaak, he cares for nought else--at
least, in the district where he is for the present sojourning.

Such is his mental condition, up to a certain morning; when a change
comes over it, sudden as the spring of a salmon at the gaudiest or most
tempting of his flies--this brought about by a face, of which he has
caught sight by merest accident, and while following his favourite
occupation.  Thus it has chanced:--

Below the town where he is staying, some four or five miles by the
course of the stream, he has discovered one of those places called
"catches," where the king of river fish delights to leap at flies,
whether natural or artificial--a sport it has oft reason to rue.
Several times so, at the end of Captain Ryecroft's line and rod; he
having there twice hooked a twenty-pounder, and once a still larger
specimen, which turned the scale at thirty.  In consequence that portion
of the stream has become his choicest angling ground, and at least three
days in the week he repairs to it.  The row is not much going down, but
a good deal returning; five miles up stream, most of it strong adverse
current.  That, however, is less his affair than his oarsman's--a young
waterman by name Wingate, whose boat and services the hussar officer has
chartered by the week--indeed, engaged them for so long as he may remain
upon the Wye.

On the morning in question, dropping down the river to his accustomed
whipping-place, but at a somewhat later hour than usual, he meets
another boat coming up--a pleasure craft, as shown by its style of
outside ornament and inside furniture.  Of neither does the salmon
fisher take much note; his eyes all occupied with those upon the
thwarts.  There are three of them, two being ladies seated in the stern
sheets, the third an oarsman on a thwart well forward, to make better
balance.  And to the latter the hussar officer gives but a glance--just
to observe that he is a serving-man--wearing some of its insignia in the
shape of a cockaded hat, and striped stable-waistcoat.  And not much
more than a glance at one of the former; but a gaze, concentrated and
long as good manners will permit, at the other, who is steering; when
she passes beyond sight, her face remaining in his memory, vivid as if
still before his eyes.

All this at a first encounter; repeated in a second, which occurs on the
day succeeding, under similar circumstances, and almost in the selfsame
spot; then the face, if possible, seeming fairer, and the impression
made by it on Vivian Ryecroft's mind sinking deeper--indeed, promising
to be permanent.  It is a radiant face, set in a luxuriance of bright
amber hair--for it is that of Gwendoline Wynn.

On the second occasion he has a better view of her, the boats passing
nearer to one another; still, not so near as he could wish, good manners
again interfering.  For all, he feels well satisfied--especially with
the thought, that his own gaze earnestly given, though under such
restraint, has been with earnestness returned.  Would that his secret
admiration of its owner were in like manner reciprocated!

Such is his reflective wish as the boats widen the distance between; one
labouring slowly up, the other gliding swiftly down.

His boatman cannot tell who the lady is, nor where she lives.  On the
second day he is not asked--the question having been put to him on that
preceding.  All the added knowledge now obtained is the name of the
craft that carries her; which, after passing, the waterman, with face
turned towards its stern, makes out to be the _Gwendoline_--just as on
his own boat--the _Mary_,--though not in such grand golden letters.

It may assist Captain Ryecroft in his inquiries, already contemplated,
and he makes note of it.

Another night passes; another sun shines over the Wye; and he again
drops down stream to his usual place of sport--this day only to draw
blank, neither catching salmon, nor seeing hair of amber hue; his
reflecting on which is, perchance, a cause of the fish not taking to his
flies, cast carelessly.

He is not discouraged; but goes again on the day succeeding--that same
when his boat is viewed through the binocular.  He has already formed a
half suspicion that the home of the interesting water nymph is not far
from that pagoda-like structure, he has frequently noticed on the right
bank of the river.  For, just below the outlying eyot is where he has
met the pleasure-boat, and the old oarsman looked anything but equal to
a long pull up stream.  Still, between that and the town are several
other gentlemen's residences on the river side, with some standing
inland.  It may be any of them.

But it is not, as Captain Ryecroft now feels sure, at sight of some
floating drapery in the pavilion, with two female heads showing over its
baluster rail; one of them with tresses glistening in the sunlight,
bright as sunbeams themselves.

He views it through a telescope--for he, too, has come out provided for
distant observation--this confirming his conjectures just in the way he
would wish.  Now there will be no difficulty in learning who the lady
is--for of one only does he care to make inquiry.

He would order Wingate to hold way, but does not relish the idea of
letting the waterman into his secret; and so, remaining silent, he is
soon carried beyond sight of the summer-house, and along the outer edge
of the islet, with its curtain of tall trees coming invidiously between.

Continuing on to his angling ground, he gives way to reflections--at
first of a pleasant nature.  Satisfactory to think that she, the subject
of them, at least lives in a handsome house; for a glimpse got of its
upper storey tells it to be this.  That she is in social rank a lady, he
has hitherto had no doubt.  The pretty pleasure craft and its
appendages, with the venerable domestic acting as oarsman, are all
proofs of something more than mere respectability--rather evidences of
style.

Marring these agreeable considerations is the thought, he may not to-day
meet the pleasure-boat.  It is the hour that, from past experience, he
might expect it to be out--for he has so timed his own piscatorial
excursion.  But, seeing the ladies in the summer-house, he doubts
getting nearer sight of them--at least for another twenty-four hours.
In all likelihood they have been already on the river, and returned home
again.  Why did he not start earlier?

While thus fretting himself, he catches sight of another boat--of a sort
very different from the _Gwendoline_--a heavy barge-like affair, with
four men in it; hulking fellows, to whom rowing is evidently a new
experience.  Notwithstanding this, they do not seem at all frightened at
finding themselves upon the water.  Instead, they are behaving in a way
that shows them either very courageous, or very regardless of a danger--
which, possibly, they are not aware of.  At short intervals one or other
is seen starting to his feet, and rushing fore or aft--as if on an empty
coal-waggon, instead of in a boat--and in such fashion, that were the
craft at all crank, it would certainly be upset!

On drawing nearer them Captain Ryecroft and his oarsman get the
explanation of their seemingly eccentric behaviour--its cause made clear
by a black bottle, which one of them is holding in his hand, each of the
others brandishing tumbler, or tea cup.  They are drinking; and that
they have been so occupied for some time is evident by their loud
shouts, and grotesque gesturing.

"They look an ugly lot!" observes the young waterman, viewing them over
his shoulder; for, seated at the oars, his back is towards them.  "Coal
fellows, from the Forest o' Dean, I take it."

Ryecroft, with a cigar between his teeth, dreamily thinking of a boat
with people in it so dissimilar, simply signifies assent with a nod.

But soon he is roused from his reverie, at hearing an exclamation louder
than common, followed by words whose import concerns himself and his
companion.  These are:--

"Dang it, lads! le's goo in for a bit o' a lark!  Yonner be a boat
coomin' down wi' two chaps in 't; some o' them spick-span city gents!
S'pose we gie 'em a capsize?"

"Le's do it!  Le's duck 'em!" shouted the others, assentingly; he with
the bottle dropping it into the boat's bottom, and laying hold of an oar
instead.

All act likewise, for it is a four-oared craft that carries them; and in
a few seconds' time they are rowing it straight for that of the
angler's.

With astonishment, and fast gathering indignation, the Hussar officer
sees the heavy barge coming bow-on for his light fishing skiff, and is
thoroughly sensible of the danger; the waterman becoming aware of it at
the same instant of time.

"They mean mischief," mutters Wingate; "what'd we best do, Captain?  If
you like I can keep clear, and shoot the _Mary_ past 'em--easy enough."

"Do so," returns the salmon fisher, with the cigar still between his
teeth--but now held bitterly tight, almost to biting off the stump.
"You can keep on!" he adds, speaking calmly, and with an effort to keep
down his temper; "that will be the best way, as things stand now.  They
look like they'd come up from below; and, if they show any ill manners
at meeting, we can call them to account on return.  Don't concern
yourself about your course.  I'll see to the steering.  There! hard on
the starboard oar!"

This last, as the two boats have arrived within less than three lengths
of one another.  At the same time Ryecroft, drawing tight the port
tiller-cord, changes course suddenly, leaving just sufficient sea-way
for his oarsman to shave past, and avoid the threatened collision.

Which is done the instant after--to the discomfiture of the would-be
capsizers.  As the skiff glides lightly beyond their reach, dancing over
the river swell, as if in triumph and to mock them, they drop their
oars, and send after it a chorus of yells, mingled with blasphemous
imprecations.

In a lull between, the Hussar officer at length takes the cigar from his
lips, and calls back to them--

"You ruffians!  You shall rue it!  Shout on--till you're hoarse.
There's a reckoning for you, perhaps sooner than you expect."

"Yes, ye damned scoun'rels!" adds the young waterman, himself so enraged
as almost to foam at the mouth.  "Ye'll have to pay dear for sich a
dastartly attemp' to waylay Jack Wingate's boat.  That will ye."

"Bah!" jeeringly retorts one of the roughs.  "To blazes wi' you, an' yer
boat!"

"Ay, to the blazes wi' ye!" echo the others in drunken chorus; and,
while their voices are still reverberating along the adjacent cliffs,
the fishing skiff drifts round a bend of the river, bearing its owner
and his fare out of their sight, as beyond earshot of their profane
speech.

Volume One, Chapter III.

A CHARON CORRUPTED.

The lawn of Llangorren Court, for a time abandoned to the dumb
quadrupeds, that had returned to their tranquil pasturing, is again
enlivened by the presence of the two young ladies; but so transformed,
that they are scarce recognisable as the same late seen upon it.  Of
course, it is their dresses that have caused the change; Miss Wynn now
wearing a pea-jacket of navy blue, with anchor buttons, and a straw hat
set coquettishly on her head, its ribbons of azure hue trailing over,
and prettily contrasting with the plaits of her chrome-yellow hair,
gathered in a grand coil behind.  But for the flowing skirt below, she
might be mistaken for a young mid, whose cheeks as yet show only the
down--one who would "find sweethearts in every port."

Miss Lees is less nautically attired; having but slipped over her
morning dress a paletot of the ordinary kind, and on her head a plumed
hat of the Neapolitan pattern.  For all, a costume becoming; especially
the brigand-like head gear which sets off her finely-chiselled features,
and skin dark as any daughter of the South.

They are about starting towards the boat-dock, when a difficulty
presents itself--not to Gwen, but the companion.

"We have forgotten Joseph!" she exclaims.

Joseph is an ancient retainer of the Wynn family, who, in its domestic
affairs, plays parts of many kinds--among them the _metier_ of boatman.
It is his duty to look after the _Gwendoline_, see that she is snug in
her dock, with oars and steering apparatus in order; go out with her
when his young mistress takes a row on the river, or ferry any one of
the family who has occasion to cross it--the last a need by no means
rare, since for miles above and below there is nothing in the shape of
bridge.

"No, we haven't," rejoins Joseph's mistress, answering the exclamation
of the companion.  "I remembered him well enough--too well."

"Why too well?" asks the other, looking a little puzzled.

"Because we don't want him."

"But surely, Gwen, you wouldn't think of our going alone."

"Surely I would, and do.  Why not?"

"We've never done so before."

"Is that any reason we shouldn't now?"

"But Miss Linton will be displeased, if not very angry.  Besides, as you
know, there may be danger on the river."

For a short while Gwen is silent, as if pondering on what the other has
said.  Not on the suggested danger.  She is far from being daunted by
that.  But Miss Linton is her aunt--as already hinted, her legal
guardian till of age--head of the house, and still holding authority,
though exercising it in the mildest manner.  And just on this account it
would not be right to outrage it, nor is Miss Wynn the one to do so.
Instead, she prefers a little subterfuge, which is in her mind as she
makes rejoinder--

"I suppose we must take him along; though it's very vexatious, and for
various reasons."

"What are they?  May I know them?"

"You're welcome.  For one, I can pull a boat just as well as he, if not
better.  And for another, we can't have a word of conversation without
his hearing it--which isn't at all nice, besides being inconvenient.  As
I've reason to know, the old curmudgeon is an incorrigible gossip, and
tattles all over the parish, I only wish we'd some one else.  What a
pity I haven't a brother, to go with us!  _But not to-day_."

The reserving clause, despite its earnestness, is not spoken aloud.  In
the aquatic excursion intended, she wants no companion of the male
kind--above all, no brother.  Nor will she take Joseph; though she
signifies her consent to it, by desiring the companion to summon him.

As the latter starts off for the stable-yard, where the ferryman is
usually to be found, Gwen says, in soliloquy--

"I'll take old Joe as far as the boat stairs; but not a yard beyond.  I
know what will stay him there--steady as a pointer with a partridge six
feet from its nose.  By the way, have I got my purse with me?"

She plunges her hand into one of her pea-jacket pockets; and, there
feeling the thing sought for, is satisfied.

By this Miss Lees has got back, bringing with her the versatile Joseph--
a tough old servitor of the respectable family type, who has seen some
sixty summers, more or less.

After a short colloquy, with some questions as to the condition of the
pleasure-boat, its oars, and steering gear, the three proceed in the
direction of the dock.

Arrived at the bottom of the boat stairs, Joseph's mistress, turning to
him, says--

"Joe, old boy, Miss Lees and I are going for a row.  But, as the day's
fine, and the water smooth as glass, there's no need for our having you
along with us.  So you can stay here till we return."

The venerable retainer is taken aback by the proposal.  He has never
listened to the like before; for never before has the pleasure-boat gone
to river without his being aboard.  True, it is no business of his;
still, as an ancient upholder of the family, with its honour and safety,
he cannot assent to this strange innovation without entering protest.
He does so, asking:

"But, Miss Gwen; what will your aunt say to it?  She mayent like you
young ladies to go rowin' by yourselves?  Besides, Miss, ye know there
be some not werry nice people as moat meet ye on the river.  'Deed some
v' the roughest and worst o' blaggarts."

"Nonsense, Joseph!  The Wye isn't the Niger, where we might expect the
fate of poor Mungo Park.  Why, man, we'll be as safe on it as upon our
own carriage drive, or the little fishpond.  As for aunt, she won't say
anything, because she won't know.  Shan't, can't, unless you peach on
us.  The which, my amiable Joseph, you'll not do--I'm sure you will
not?"

"How'm I to help it, Miss Gwen?  When you've goed off, some o' the house
sarvints'll see me here, an', hows'ever I keep my tongue in check--"

"Check it now!" abruptly breaks in the heiress, "and stop palavering,
Joe!  The house servants won't see you--not one of them.  When we're off
on the river, you'll be lying at anchor in those laurel bushes above.
And to keep you to your anchorage, here's some shining metal."

Saying which, she slips several shillings into his hand, adding, as she
notes the effect,--

"Do you think it sufficiently heavy?  If not--but never mind now.  In
our absence you can amuse yourself weighing, and counting the coins.  I
fancy they'll do."

She is sure of it, knowing the man's weakness to be money, as it now
proves.

Her argument is too powerful for his resistance, and he does not resist.
Despite his solicitude for the welfare of the Wynn family, with his
habitual regard of duty, the ancient servitor, refraining from further
protest, proceeds to undo the knot of the _Gwendoline's_ painter.

Stepping into the boat, the other Gwendoline takes the oars, Miss Lees
seating herself to steer.

"All right!  Now, Joe, give us a push off."

Joseph, having let all loose, does as directed; which sends the light
craft clear out of its dock.  Then, standing on the bottom step, with an
adroit twirl of the thumb, he spreads the silver pieces over his palm--
so that he may see how many--and, after counting and contemplating with
pleased expression, slips them into his pocket, muttering to himself--

"I dar say it'll be all right.  Miss Gwen's a oner to take care o'
herself; an' the old lady neen't a know any thin' about it."

To make his last words good, he mounts briskly back up the boat stairs,
and ensconces himself in the heart of a thick-leaved laurestinus--to the
great discomfort of a pair of missel-thrushes, which have there made
nest, and commenced incubation.

Volume One, Chapter IV.

ON THE RIVER.

The fair rower, vigorously bending to the oars, soon brings through the
bye-way, and out into the main channel of the river.

Once in mid-stream, she suspends her stroke, permitting the boat to
drift down with the current; which, for a mile below Llangorren, flows
gently through meadow land, but a few feet above its own level, and
flush with it in times of flood.

On this particular day there is none such--no rain having fallen for a
week--and the Wye's water is pure and clear.  Smooth, too, as the
surface of a mirror; only where, now and then, a light zephyr, playing
upon it, stirs up the tiniest of ripples; a swallow dips its scimitar
wings; or a salmon in bolder dash causes a purl, with circling eddies,
whose wavelets extend wider and wider as they subside.  So, with the
trace of their boat's keel; the furrow made by it instantly closing up,
and the current resuming its tranquillity; while their reflected forms--
too bright to be spoken of as shadows--now fall on one side, now on the
other, as the capricious curving of the river makes necessary a change
of course.

Never went boat down the Wye carrying freight more fair.  Both girls are
beautiful, though of opposite types, and in a different degree; while
with one--Gwendoline Wynn--no water Nymph, or Naiad, could compare; her
warm beauty in its real embodiment far excelling any conception of
fancy, or flight of the most romantic imagination.

She is not thinking of herself now; nor, indeed, does she much at any
time--least of all in this wise.  She is anything but vain; instead,
like Vivian Ryecroft, rather underrates herself.  And possibly more than
ever this morning; for it is with him her thoughts are occupied--
surmising whether his may be with her, but not in the most sanguine
hope.  Such a man must have looked on many a form fair as hers, won
smiles of many a woman beautiful as she.  How can she expect him to have
resisted, or that his heart is still whole?

While thus conjecturing, she sits half turned on the thwart, with oars
out of water, her eyes directed down the river, as though in search of
something there.  And they are; that something a white helmet hat.

She sees it not; and as the last thought has caused her some pain, she
lets down the oars with a plunge, and recommences pulling; now, and as
in spite, at each dip of the blades breaking her own bright image!

During all this while Ellen Lees is otherwise occupied; her attention
partly taken up with the steering, but as much given to the shores on
each side--to the green pasture-land, of which, at intervals, she has a
view, with the white-faced "Herefords" straying over it, or standing
grouped in the shade of some spreading trees, forming pastoral pictures
worthy the pencil of a Morland or Cuyp.  In clumps, or apart, tower up
old poplars, through whose leaves, yet but half unfolded, can be seen
the rounded burrs of the mistletoe, looking like nests of rooks.  Here
and there, one overhangs the river's bank, shadowing still deep pools,
where the ravenous pike lies in ambush for "salmon pink" and such small
fry; while on a bare branch above may be observed another of their
persecutors--the kingfisher--its brilliant azure plumage in strong
contrast with everything on the earth around, and like a bit of sky
fallen from above.  At intervals it is seen darting from side to side,
or in longer flight following the bend of the stream, and causing
scamper among the minnows--itself startled and scared by the intrusion
of the boat upon its normally peaceful domain.

Miss Lees, who is somewhat of a naturalist, and has been out with the
District Field Club on more than one "ladies' day," makes note of all
these things.  As the _Gwendoline_ glides on, she observes beds of the
water ranunculus, whose snow-white corollas, bending to the current, are
oft rudely dragged beneath; while on the banks above, their cousins of
golden sheen, mingling with the petals of yellow and purple
loosestrife--for both grow here--with anemones, and pale, lemon-coloured
daffodils--are but kissed, and gently fanned, by the balmy breath of
Spring.

Easily guiding the craft down the slow-flowing stream, she has a fine
opportunity of observing Nature in its unrestrained action--and takes
advantage of it.  She looks with delighted eye at the freshly-opened
flowers, and listens with charmed ear to the warbling of the birds--a
chorus, on the Wye, sweet and varied as anywhere on earth.  From many a
deep-lying dell in the adjacent hills she can hear the song of the
thrush, as if endeavouring to outdo, and cause one to forget, the
matchless strain of its nocturnal rival, the nightingale; or making
music for its own mate, now on the nest, and occupied with the cares of
incubation.  She hears, too, the bold whistling carol of the blackbird,
the trill of the lark soaring aloft, the soft sonorous note of the
cuckoo, blending with the harsh scream of the jay, and the laughing
cackle of the green woodpecker--the last loud beyond all proportion to
the size of the bird, and bearing close resemblance to the cry of an
eagle.  Strange coincidence besides, in the woodpecker being commonly
called "eekol"--a name, on the Wye, pronounced with striking similarity
to that of the royal bird!

Pondering upon this very theme, Ellen has taken no note of how her
companion is employing herself.  Nor is Miss Wynn thinking of either
flowers, or birds.  Only when a large one of the latter--a kite--
shooting out from the summit of a wooded hill, stays awhile soaring
overhead, does she give thought to what so interests the other.

"A pretty sight!" observes Ellen, as they sit looking up at the sharp,
slender wings, and long bifurcated tail, cut clear as a cameo against
the cloudless sky.  "Isn't it a beautiful creature?"

"Beautiful, but bad;" rejoins Gwen, "like many other animated things--
too like, and too many of them.  I suppose, it's on the look-out for
some innocent victim, and will soon be swooping down at it.  Ah, me!
it's a wicked world, Nell, with all its sweetness!  One creature preying
upon another--the strong seeking to devour the weak--these ever needing
protection!  Is it any wonder we poor women, weakest of all, should wish
to--"

She stays her interrogatory, and sits in silence, abstractedly toying
with the handles of the oars, which she is balancing above water.

"Wish to do what?" asked the other.

"Get married!" answers the heiress of Llangorren, elevating her arms,
and letting the blades fall with a plash, as if to drown a speech so
bold; withal, watching its effect upon her companion, as she repeats the
question in a changed form.  "Is it strange, Ellen?"

"I suppose not," Ellen timidly replies; blushingly too, for she knows
how nearly the subject concerns herself, and half believes the
interrogatory aimed at her.  "Not at all strange," she adds, more
affirmatively.  "Indeed very natural, I should say--that is, for women
who _are_ poor and weak, and really need a protector.  But you, Gwen--
who are neither one nor the other, but instead rich and strong, have no
such need."

"I'm not so sure of that.  With all my riches and strength--for I am a
strong creature; as you see, can row this boat almost as ably as a
man,"--she gives a vigorous pull or two, as proof, then continuing,
"Yes; and I think I've got great courage too.  Yet, would you believe
it, Nelly, notwithstanding all, I sometimes have a strange fear upon
me?"

"Fear of what?"

"I can't tell.  That's the strangest part of it; for I know of no actual
danger.  Some sort of vague apprehension that now and then oppresses
me--lies on my heart, making it heavy as lead--sad and dark as the
shadow of that wicked bird upon the water.  Ugh!" she exclaims, taking
her eyes off it, as if the sight, suggestive of evil, had brought on one
of the fear spells she is speaking of.

"If it were a magpie," observes Ellen, laughingly, "you might view it
with suspicion.  Most people do--even some who deny being superstitious.
But a kite--I never heard of that being ominous of evil.  No more its
shadow; which as you see it there is but a small speck compared with the
wide bright surface around.  If your future sorrows be only in like
proportion to your joys, they won't signify much.  See!  Both the bird
and its shadow are passing away--as will your troubles, if you ever have
any."

"Passing--perhaps, soon to return.  Ha! look there.  As I've said!"

This, as the kite swoops down upon a wood-quest, and strikes at it with
outstretched talons.  Missing it, nevertheless; for the strong-winged
pigeon, forewarned by the other's shadow, has made a quick double in its
flight, and so shunned the deadly clutch.  Still, it is not yet safe;
its tree covert is far off on the wooded slope, and the tyrant continues
the chase.  But the hawk has its enemy too, in a gamekeeper with his
gun.  Suddenly it is seen to suspend the stroke of its wings, and go
whirling downward; while a shot rings out on the air, and the cushat,
unharmed, flies on for the hill.

"Good!" exclaims Gwen, resting the oars across her knees, and clapping
her hands in an ecstasy of delight.  "The innocent has escaped!"

"And for that _you_ ought to be assured, as well as gratified;" puts in
the companion, "taking it as a symbol of yourself, and those imaginary
dangers you've been dreaming about."

"True," assents Miss Wynn, musingly, "but, as you see, the bird found a
protector--just by chance, and in the nick of time."

"So will you; without any chance, and at such time as may please you."

"Oh!" exclaims Gwen, as if endowed with fresh courage.  "I don't want
one--not I!  I'm strong to stand alone."

Another tug at the oars to show it.  "No," she continues, speaking
between the plunges, "I want no protector--at least not yet--nor for a
long while."

"But there's one wants you," says the companion, accompanying her words
with an interrogative glance.  "And soon--soon as he can have you."

"Indeed!  I suppose you mean Master George Shenstone.  Have I hit the
nail upon the head?"

"You have."

"Well; what of him?"

"Only that everybody observes his attentions to you."

"Everybody is a very busy body.  Being so observant, I wonder if this
everybody has also observed how I receive them?"

"Indeed, yes."

"How then?"

"With favour.  'Tis said you think highly of him."

"And so I do.  There are worse men in the world than George Shenstone--
possibly few better.  And many a good woman would, and might, be glad to
become his wife.  For all, I know one of a very indifferent sort who
wouldn't--that's Gwen Wynn."

"But he's very good-looking?"  Ellen urges; "the handsomest gentleman in
the neighbourhood.  Everybody says so."

"There your everybody would be wrong again--if they thought as they say.
But they don't.  I know one who thinks somebody else much handsomer
than he."

"Who?" asks Miss Lees, looking puzzled.  For she has never heard of
Gwendoline having a preference, save that spoken of.

"The Reverend William Musgrave," replies Gwen, in turn bending
inquisitive eyes on her companion, to whose cheeks the answer has
brought a flush of colour, with a spasm of pain at the heart.  Is it
possible her rich relative--the heiress of Llangorren Court--can have
set her eyes upon the poor curate of Llangorren Church, where her own
thoughts have been secretly straying?  With an effort to conceal them
now, as the pain caused her, she rejoins interrogatively, but in
faltering tone--

"You think Mr Musgrave handsomer than Mr Shenstone?"

"Indeed I don't.  Who says I do?"

"Oh--I thought," stammers out the other, relieved--too pleased just then
to stand up for the superiority of the curate's personal appearance--"I
thought you meant it that way."

"But I didn't.  All I said was, that somebody thinks so; and that isn't
I.  Shall I tell you who it is?"

Ellen's heart is again quiet; she does not need to be told, already
divining who it is--herself.

"You may as well let me," pursues Gwen, in a bantering way.  "Do you
suppose, Miss Lees, I haven't penetrated your secret long ago?  Why, I
knew it last Christmas, when you were assisting his demure reverence to
decorate the church!  Who could fail to observe that pretty hand play,
when you two were twining the ivy around the altar-rail?  And the holly,
you were both so careless in handling--I wonder it didn't prick your
fingers to the bone!  Why, Nell, 'twas as plain to me, as if I'd been at
it myself.  Besides, I've seen the same thing scores of times--so has
everybody in the parish.  Ha! you see, I'm not the only one with whose
name this everybody has been busy; the difference being, that about me
they've been mistaken, while concerning yourself they haven't; instead,
speaking pretty near the truth.  Come, now, confess!  Am I not right?
Don't have any fear, you can trust me."

She does confess; though not in words.  Her silence is equally eloquent;
drooping eyelids, and blushing cheeks, making that eloquence emphatic.
She loves Mr Musgrave.

"Enough!" says Gwendoline, taking it in this sense; "and, since you've
been candid with me, I'll repay you in the same coin.  But mind you; it
mustn't go further."

"Oh! certainly not," assents the other, in her restored confidence about
the curate, willing to promise anything in the world.

"As I've said," proceeds Miss Wynn, "there are worse men in the world
than George Shenstone, and but few better.  Certainly none behind
hounds, and I'm told he's the crack shot of the county, and the best
billiard player of his club.  All accomplishments that have weight with
us women--some of us.  More still; he's deemed good-looking, and is, as
you say; known to be of good family and fortune.  For all, he lacks one
thing that's wanted by--"

She stays her speech till dipping the oars--their splash, simultaneous
with, and half-drowning, the words, "Gwen Wynn."

"What is it?" asks Ellen, referring to the deficiency thus hinted at.

"On my word, I can't tell--for the life of me I cannot.  It's something
undefinable; which one feels without seeing or being able to explain--
just as ether, or electricity.  Possibly it is the last.  At all events,
it's the thing that makes us women fall in love; as no doubt you've
found when your fingers were--were--well, so near being pricked by that
holly.  Ha, ha, ha!"

With a merry peal she once more sets to rowing; and for a time no speech
passes between them--the only sounds heard being the songs of the birds,
in sweet symphony with the rush of the water along the boat's sides, and
the rumbling of the oars in their rowlocks.

But for a brief interval is there silence between them; Miss Wynn again
breaking it by a startled exclamation:--"See!"

"Where? where?"

"Up yonder!  We've been talking of kites and magpies.  Behold, two birds
of worse augury than either!"

They are passing the mouth of a little influent stream, up which at some
distance are seen two men, one of them seated in a small boat, the other
standing on the bank, talking down to him.  He in the boat is a stout,
thick-set fellow in velveteens and coarse fur cap, the one above a spare
thin man, habited in a suit of black--of clerical, or rather sacerdotal,
cut.  Though both are partially screened by the foliage, the little
stream running between wooded banks, Miss Wynn has recognised them.  So,
too, does the companion; who rejoins, as if speaking to herself--

"One's the French priest who has a chapel up the river, on the opposite
side; the other's that fellow who's said to be such an incorrigible
poacher."

"Priest and poacher it is!  An oddly-assorted pair; though in a sense
not so ill-matched either.  I wonder what they're about up there, with
their heads so close together.  They appeared as if not wishing we
should see them!  Didn't it strike you so, Nelly?"

The men are now out of sight; the boat having passed the rivulet's
mouth.

"Indeed, yes," answered Miss Lees; "the priest, at all events.  He drew
back among the bushes on seeing us."

"I'm sure his reverence is welcome.  I've no desire ever to set eyes on
him--quite the contrary."

"I often meet him on the roads."

"I too--and off them.  He seems to be about everywhere skulking and
prying into people's affairs.  I noticed him, the last day of our
hunting, among the rabble--on foot, of course.  He was close to my
horse, and kept watching me out of his owlish eyes, all the time; so
impertinently I could have laid the whip over his shoulders.  There's
something repulsive about the man; I can't bear the sight of him."

"He's said to be a great friend and very intimate associate of your
worthy cousin, Mr--"

"Don't name _him_, Nell!  I'd rather not think, much less talk of him.
Almost the last words my father ever spoke--never to let Lewin Murdock
cross the threshold of Llangorren.  No doubt, he had his reasons.  My
word! this day with all its sunny brightness seems to abound in dark
omens.  Birds of prey, priests, and poachers!  It's enough to bring on
one of my fear fits.  I now rather regret leaving Joseph behind.  Well;
we must make haste, and get home again."

"Shall I turn the boat back?" asks the steerer.

"No; not just yet.  I don't wish to repass those two uncanny creatures.
Better leave them awhile, so that on returning we mayn't see them, to
disturb the priest's equanimity--more like his conscience."

The reason is not exactly as assigned; but Miss Lees, accepting it
without suspicion, holds the tiller-cords so as to keep the course on
down stream.

Volume One, Chapter V.

DANGERS AHEAD.

For another half mile, or so, the _Gwendoline_ is propelled onward,
though not running trimly; the fault being in her at the oars.  With
thoughts still preoccupied, she now and then forgets her stroke, or
gives it unequally--so that the boat zig-zags from side to side, and,
but for a more careful hand at the tiller, would bring up against the
bank.

Observing her abstraction, as also her frequent turning to look down the
river--but without suspicion of what is causing it--Miss Lees at length
inquires,--

"What's the matter with you, Gwen?"

"Oh, nothing," she evasively answers, bringing back her eyes to the
boat, and once more giving attention to the oars.

"But why are you looking so often below?  I've noticed you do so at
least a score of times."

If the questioner could but divine the thoughts at that moment in the
other's mind, she would have no need thus to interrogate, but would know
that below there is another boat with a man in it, who possesses that
unseen something, like ether or electricity, and to catch sight of whom
Miss Wynn has been so oft straining her eyes.  She has not given all her
confidence to the companion.

Not receiving immediate answer, Ellen again asks--

"Is there any danger you fear?"

"None that I know of--at least, for a long way down.  Then there are
some rough places."

"But you are pulling so unsteadily!  It takes all my strength to keep in
the middle of the river."

"Then you pull, and let me do the steering," returns Miss Wynn,
pretending to be in a pout; as she speaks starting up from the thwart,
and leaving the oars in their thole pins.

Of course, the other does not object; and soon they have changed places.

But Gwen in the stern behaves no better, than when seated amidships.
The boat still keeps going astray, the fault now in the steerer.

Soon something more than a crooked course calls the attention of both,
for a time engrossing it.  They have rounded an abrupt bend, and got
into a reach where the river runs with troubled surface and great
velocity--so swift there is no need to use oars down stream, while
upward 'twill take stronger arms than theirs.  Caught in its current,
and rapidly, yet smoothly, borne on, for awhile they do not think of
this.  Only a short while; then the thought comes to them in the shape
of a dilemma--Miss Lees being the first to perceive it.

"Gracious goodness!" she exclaims, "what are we to do?  We can never row
back up this rough water--it runs so strong here!"

"That's true," says Gwen, preserving her composure.  "I don't think we
could."

"But what's to be the upshot?  Joseph will be waiting for us, and auntie
sure to know all--if we shouldn't get back in time."

"That's true also," again observes Miss Wynn, assentingly, and with an
admirable _sang froid_, which causes surprise to the companion.

Then succeeds a short interval of silence, broken by an exclamatory
phrase of three short words from the lips of Miss Wynn.  They are--"I
have it!"

"What have you?" joyfully asks Ellen.

"The way to get back--without much trouble; and without disturbing the
arrangements we've made with old Joe--the least bit."

"Explain yourself!"

"We'll keep on down the river to Rock Weir.  There we can leave the
boat, and walk across the neck to Llangorren.  It isn't over a mile,
though it's five times that by the course of the stream.  At the Weir we
can engage some water fellow to take back the _Gwendoline_ to her
moorings.  Meanwhile, we'll make all haste, slip into the grounds
unobserved, get to the boat-dock in good time, and give Joseph the cue
to hold his tongue about what's happened.  Another half-crown will tie
it firm and fast, I know."

"I suppose there's no help for it," says the companion, assenting, "and
we must do as you say."

"Of course, we must.  As you see, without thinking of it, we've drifted
into a very cascade and are now a long way down it.  Only a regular
waterman could pull up again.  Ah! 'twould take the toughest of them, I
should say.  So--_nolens volens_--we'll have to go on to Rock Weir,
which can't be more than a mile now.  You may feather your oars, and
float a bit.  But, by the way, I must look more carefully to the
steering.  Now, that I remember, there are some awkward bars and eddies
about here, and we can't be far from them.  I think they're just below
the next bend."

So saying, she sets herself square in the stern sheets, and closes her
fingers firmly upon the tiller-cords.

They glide on, but now in silence; the little flurry, with the prospect
of peril ahead, making speech inopportune.

Soon they are round the bend spoken of, discovering to their view a
fresh reach of the river; when again the steerer becomes neglectful of
her duty, the expression upon her features, late a little troubled,
suddenly changing to cheerfulness, almost joy.  Nor is it that the
dangerous places have been passed; they are still ahead, and at some
distance below.  But there is something else ahead to account for the
quick transformation--a row-boat drawn up by the river's edge, with men
upon the bank beside.

Over Gwen Wynn's countenance comes another change, sudden as before, and
as before, its expression reversed.  She has mistaken the boat; it is
not that of the handsome fisherman!  Instead, a four-oared craft, manned
by four men, for there is this number on the bank.  The anglers skiff
had in it only two--himself and his oarsman.

But she has no need to count heads, nor scrutinise faces.  Those now
before her eyes are all strange, and far from well favoured; not any of
them in the least like the one which has so prepossessed her.  And while
making this observation another is forced upon her--that their natural
plainness is not improved by what they have been doing, and are still--
drinking.

Just as the young ladies make this observation, the four men, hearing
oars, face towards them.  For a moment there is silence, while they in
the _Gwendoline_ are being scanned by the quartette on the shore.
Through maudlin eyes, possibly, the fellows mistake them for ordinary
country lasses, with whom they may take liberties.  Whether or not one
cries out--

"Petticoats, by gee--ingo!"

"Ay!" exclaims another, "a pair o' them.  An' sweet wenches they be,
too.  Look at she wi' the gooldy hair--bright as the sun itself.  Lord,
meeats! if we had she down in the pit, that head o' her ud gi'e as much
light as a dozen Davy's lamps.  An't she a bewty?  I'm boun' to have a
smack fra them red lips o' hers."

"No," protests the first speaker, "she be myen.  First spoke soonest
sarved.  That's Forest law."

"Never mind, Rob," rejoins the other, surrendering his claim, "she may
be the grandest to look at, but not the goodiest to go.  I'll lay odds
the black 'un beats her at kissin'.  Le's get grup o' 'em an' see!  Coom
on, meeats!"

Down go the drinking vessels, all four making for their boat, into which
they scramble, each laying hold of an oar.

Up to this time the ladies have not felt actual alarm.  The strange men
being evidently intoxicated, they might expect--were, indeed,
half-prepared for--coarse speech; perhaps indelicate, but nothing
beyond.  Within a mile of their own home, and still within the boundary
of the Llangorren land, how could they think of danger such as is
threatening?  For that there is danger they are now sensible--becoming
convinced of it, as they draw nearer to the four fellows, and get a
better view of them.  Impossible to mistake the men--roughs from the
Forest of Dean, or some other mining district, their but half-washed
faces showing it; characters not very gentle at any time, but very rude,
even dangerous, when drunk.  This known, from many a tale told, many a
Petty and Quarter Sessions report read in the county newspapers.  But it
is visible in their countenances, too intelligible in their speech--part
of which the ladies have overheard--as in the action they are taking.

They in the pleasure-boat no longer fear, or think of, bars and eddies
below.  No whirlpool--not Maelstrom itself, could fright them as those
four men.  For it is fear of a something more to be dreaded than
drowning.

Withal, Gwendoline Wynn is not so much dismayed as to lose presence of
mind.  Nor is she at all excited, but cool as when caught in the rapid
current.  Her feats in the hunting field, and dashing drives down the
steep "pitches" of the Herefordshire roads, have given her strength of
nerve to face any danger; and, as her timid companion trembles with
affright, muttering her fears, she but says--

"Keep quiet, Nell!  Don't let them see you're scared.  It's not the way
to treat such as they, and will only encourage them to come at us."

This counsel, before the men have moved, fails in effect; for as they
are seen rushing down the bank and into their boat, Ellen Lees utters a
terrified shriek, scarcely leaving her breath to add the words--"Dear
Gwen! what shall we do?"

"Change places," is the reply, calmly but hurriedly made.  "Give me the
oars!  Quick!"

While speaking she has started up from the stern, and is making for
'midships.  The other, comprehending, has risen at the same instant,
leaving the oars to trail.

By this the roughs have shoved off from the bank, and are making for
mid-stream, their purpose evident--to intercept the _Gwendoline_.  But
the other Gwendoline has now got settled to the oars; and pulling with
all her might, has still a chance to shoot past them.

In a few seconds the boats are but a couple of lengths apart, the heavy
craft coming bow-on for the lighter; while the faces of those in her,
slewed over their shoulders, show terribly forbidding.  A glance tells
Gwen Wynn 'twould be idle making appeal to them; nor does she.  Still
she is not silent.  Unable to restrain her indignation, she calls out--

"Keep back, fellows!  If you run against us, 'twill go ill for you.
Don't suppose you'll escape punishment."

"Bah!" responds one, "we an't a-frightened at yer threats--not we.  That
an't the way wi' us Forest chaps.  Besides, we don't mean ye any much
harm.  Only gi'e us a kiss all round, an' then--maybe, we'll let ye go."

"Yes; kisses all round!" cries another.  "That's the toll ye're got to
pay at our pike; an' a bit o' squeeze by way o' boot."

The coarse jest elicits a peal of laughter from the other three.
Fortunately for those who are its butt, since it takes the attention of
the rowers from their oars, and before they can recover a stroke or two
lost--the pleasure-boat glides past them, and goes dancing on, as did
the fishing skiff.

With a yell of disappointment they bring their boat's head round, and
row after; now straining at their oars with all strength.  Luckily, they
lack skill; which, fortunately for herself, the rower of the
pleasure-boat possesses.  It stands her in stead now, and, for a time,
the _Gwendoline_ leads without losing ground.  But the struggle is
unequal--four to one--strong men, against a weak woman!  Verily is she
called on to make good her words, when saying she could row almost as
ably as a man.

And so does she for a time.  Withal it may not avail her.  The task is
too much for her woman's strength, fast becoming exhausted.  While her
strokes grow feebler, those of the pursuers seem to get stronger.  For
they are in earnest now; and, despite the bad management of their boat,
it is rapidly gaining on the other.

"Pull, meeats!" cries one, the roughest of the gang, and apparently the
ringleader, "pull like--hic--hic!"--his drunken tongue refuses the
blasphemous word.  "If ye lay me 'longside that girl wi' the gooe--
goeeldy hair, I'll stan' someat stiff at the `Kite's Nest' whens we get
hic--'ome."

"All right, Bob!" is the rejoinder, "we'll do that.  Ne'er a fear."

The prospect of "someat stiff" at the Forest hostelry inspires them to
increase their exertion, and their speed proportionately augmented, no
longer leaves a doubt of their being able to come up with the pursued
boat.  Confident of it they commence jeering the ladies--"wenches" they
call them--in speech profane, as repulsive.

For these, things look black.  They are but a couple of boats' length
ahead, and near below is a sharp turn in the river's channel; rounding
which they will lose ground, and can scarcely fail to be overtaken.
What then?

As Gwen Wynn asks herself the question, the anger late flashing in her
eyes gives place to a look of keen anxiety.  Her glances are sent to
right, to left, and again over her shoulder, as they have been all day
doing, but now with very different design.  Then she was searching for a
man, with no further thought than to feast her eyes on him; now she is
looking for the same, in hopes he may save her from insult--it may be
worse.

There is no man in sight--no human being on either side of the river!
On the right a grim cliff rising sheer, with some goats clinging to its
ledges.  On the left a grassy slope with browsing sheep, their lambs
astretch at their feet; but no shepherd, no one to whom she can call
"Help!"

Distractedly she continues to tug at the oars; despairingly as the boats
draw near the bend.  Before rounding it she will be in the hands of
those horrid men--embraced by their brawny, bear-like arms!

The thought re-strengthens her own, giving them the energy of
desperation.  So inspired, she makes a final effort to elude the ruffian
pursuers, and succeeds in turning the point.

Soon as round it, her face brightens up, joy dances in her eyes, as with
panting breath she exclaims:--

"We're saved, Nelly!  We're saved!  Thank Heaven for it!"

Nelly does thank Heaven, rejoiced to hear they are saved--but without in
the least comprehending how!

Volume One, Chapter VI.

A DUCKING DESERVED.

Captain Ryecroft has been but a few minutes at his favourite fishing
place--just long enough to see his tackle in working condition, and cast
his line across the water; as he does the last, saying--

"I shouldn't wonder, Wingate, if we don't see a salmon to-day.  I fear
that sky's too bright for his dainty kingship to mistake feathers for
flies."

"Ne'er a doubt the fish'll be a bit shy," returns the boatman; "but," he
adds, assigning their shyness to a different cause, "'tain't so much the
colour o' the sky; more like it's that lot of Foresters has frightened
them, with their hulk o' a boat makin' as much noise as a Bristol
steamer.  Wonder what brings such rubbish on the river anyhow.  They
han't no business on't; an' in my opinion theer ought to be a law
'gainst it--same's for trespassin' after game."

"That would be rather hard lines, Jack.  These mining gentry need
out-door recreation as much as any other sort of people.  Rather more I
should say, considering that they're compelled to pass the greater part
of their time underground.  When they emerge from the bowels of the
earth to disport themselves on its surface, it's but natural they should
like a little aquatics; which you, by choice, an amphibious creature,
cannot consistently blame them for.  Those we've just met are doubtless
out for a holiday, which accounts for their having taken too much
drink--in some sense an excuse for their conduct.  I don't think it at
all strange seeing them on the water."

"Their faces han't seed much o' it anyhow," observes the waterman,
seeming little satisfied with the Captain's reasoning.  "And as for
their being out on holiday, if I an't mistook, it be holiday as lasts
all the year round.  Two o' 'em may be miners--them as got the grimiest
faces.  As for t'other two, I don't think eyther ever touch't pick or
shovel in their lives.  I've seed both hangin' about Lydbrook, which be
a queery place.  Besides, one I've seed 'long wi' a man whose company is
enough to gi'e a saint a bad character--that's Coracle Dick.  Take my
word for't, Captain, there ain't a honest miner 'mong that lot--eyther
in the way of iron or coal.  If there wor I'd be the last man to go
again them havin' their holiday; 'cepting I don't think they ought to
take it on the river.  Ye see what comes o' sich as they humbuggin'
about in a boat?"

At the last clause of this speech--its Conservatism due to a certain
professional jealousy--the Hussar officer cannot resist smiling.  He had
half forgiven the rudeness of the revellers--attributing it to
intoxication--and more than half repented of his threat to bring them to
a reckoning, which might not be called for, but might, and in all
likelihood would be inconvenient.  Now, reflecting on Wingate's words,
the frown which had passed from off his face again returns to it.  He
says nothing, however, but sits rod in hand, less thinking of the salmon
than how he can chastise the "damned scoun'rels," as his companion has
pronounced them, should he, as he anticipates, again come in collision
with them.

"Lissen!" exclaims the waterman; "that's them shoutin'!  Comin' this
way, I take it.  What should we do to 'em, Captain?"

The salmon fisher is half determined to reel in his line, lay aside the
rod, and take out a revolving pistol he chances to have in his pocket--
not with any intention to fire it at the fellows, but only frighten
them.

"Yes," goes on Wingate, "they be droppin' down again--sure; I dar' say,
they've found the tide a bit too strong for 'em up above.  An' I don't
wonder; sich louty chaps as they thinkin' they cud guide a boat 'bout
the Wye!  Jist like mountin' hogs a-horseback!"

At this fresh sally of professional spleen the soldier again smiles, but
says nothing, uncertain what action he should take, or how soon he may
be called on to commence it.  Almost instantly after he is called on to
take action, though not against the four riotous Foresters, but a silly
salmon, which has conceived a fancy for his fly.  A purl on the water,
with a pluck quick succeeding, tells of one on the hook, while the whizz
of the wheel and rapid rolling out of catgut proclaims it a fine one.

For some minutes neither he nor his oarsman has eye or ear for aught
save securing the fish, and both bend all their energies to "fighting"
it.  The line runs out, to be spun up and run off again; his river
majesty, maddened at feeling himself so oddly and painfully restrained
in his desperate efforts to escape, now rushing in one direction, now
another, all the while the angler skilfully playing him, the equally
skilled oarsman keeping the boat in concerted accordance.

Absorbed by their distinct lines of endeavour they do not hear high
words, mingled with exclamations, coming from above; or hearing, do not
heed, supposing them to proceed from the four men they had met, in all
likelihood now more inebriated than ever.  Not till they have well-nigh
finished their "fight," and the salmon, all but subdued, is being drawn
towards the boat--Wingate, gaff in hand, bending over ready to strike
it.  Not till then do they note other sounds, which even at that
critical moment make them careless about the fish, in its last feeble
throes, when its capture is good as sure, causing Ryecroft to stop
winding his wheel, and stand listening.

Only for an instant.  Again the voices of men, but now also heard the
cry of a woman, as if she sending it forth were in danger or distress!

They have no need for conjecture, nor are they long left to it.  Almost
simultaneously they see a boat sweeping round the bend, with another
close in its wake, evidently in chase, as told by the attitudes and
gestures of those occupying both--in the one pursued two young ladies,
in that pursuing four rough men readily recognisable.  At a glance the
Hussar officer takes in the situation--the waterman as well.  The sight
saves a salmon's life, and possibly two innocent women from outrage.
Down goes Ryecroft's rod, the boatman simultaneously dropping his gaff;
as he does so hearing thundered in his ears--

"To yours oars, Jack!  Make straight for them!  Row with all your
might!"

Jack Wingate needs neither command to act nor word to stimulate him.  As
a man he remembers the late indignity to himself; as a gallant fellow he
now sees others submitted to the like.  No matter about their being
ladies; enough that they are women suffering insult; and more than
enough at seeing who are the insulters.

In ten seconds' time he is on his thwart, oars in hand, the officer at
the tiller; and in five more, the _Mary_, brought stem up stream, is
surging against the current, going swiftly as if with it.  She is set
for the big boat pursuing--not now to shun a collision, but seek it.

As yet some two hundred yards are between the chased craft and that
hastening to its rescue.  Ryecroft, measuring the distance with his
eyes, is in thought tracing out a course of action.  His first instinct
was to draw a pistol, and stop the pursuit with a shot.  But no.  It
would not be English.  Nor does he need resort to such deadly weapon.
True there will be four against two; but what of it?

"I think we can manage them, Jack," he mutters through his teeth, "I'm
good for two of them--the biggest and best."

"An' I t'other two--sich clumsy chaps as them!  Ye can trust me takin'
care o' 'em, Captin."

"I know it.  Keep to your oars, till I give the word to drop them."

"They don't 'pear to a sighted us yet.  Too drunk I take it.  Like as
not when they see what's comin' they'll sheer off."

"They shan't have the chance.  I intend steering bow dead on to them.
Don't fear the result.  If the _Mary_ get damaged I'll stand the expense
of repairs."

"Ne'er a mind 'bout that, Captain.  I'd gi'e the price o' a new boat to
see the lot chastised--specially that big black fellow as did most o'
the talkin'."

"You shall see it, and soon!"

He lets go the ropes, to disembarrass himself of his angling
accoutrements; which he hurriedly does, flinging them at his feet.  When
he again takes hold of the steering tackle the _Mary_ is within six
lengths of the advancing boats, both now nearly together, the bow of the
pursuer overlapping the stern of the pursued.  Only two of the men are
at the oars; two standing up, one amidships, the other at the head.
Both are endeavouring to lay hold of the pleasure-boat, and bring it
alongside.  So occupied they see not the fishing skiff, while the two
rowing, with backs turned, are equally unconscious of its approach.
They only wonder at the "wenches," as they continue to call them, taking
it so coolly, for these do not seem so much frightened as before.

"Coom, sweet lass!" cries he in the bow--the black fellow it is--
addressing Miss Wynn.  "'Tain't no use you tryin' to get away.  I must
ha' my kiss.  So drop yer oars, and ge'et to me!"

"Insolent fellow!" she exclaims, her eyes ablaze with anger.  "Keep your
hands off my boat.  I command you!"

"But I ain't to be c'mmanded, ye minx.  Not till I've had a smack o'
them lips; an' by Gad I s'll have it."

Saying which he reaches out to the full stretch of his long, ape-like
arms, and with one hand succeeds in grasping the boat's gunwale, while
with the other he gets hold of the lady's dress, and commences dragging
her towards him.

Gwen Wynn neither screams, nor calls "Help!"  She knows it is near.

"Hands off!" cries a voice in a volume of thunder, simultaneous with a
dull thud against the side of the larger boat, followed by a continued
crashing as her gunwale goes in.  The roughs, facing round, for the
first time see the fishing skiff, and know why it is there.  But they
are too far gone in drink to heed or submit--at least their leader seems
determined to resist.  Turning savagely on Ryecroft, he stammers out--

"Hic--ic--who the blazes be you, Mr White Cap!  An' what d'ye want wi'
me?"

"You'll see."

At the words he bounds from his own boat into the other; and, before the
fellow can raise an arm, those of Ryecroft are around him in tight hug.
In another minute the hulking scoundrel is hoisted from his feet, as
though but a feather's weight, and flung overboard.

Wingate has meanwhile also boarded, grappled on to the other on foot,
and is threatening to serve him the same.

A plunge, with a wild cry--the man going down like a stone; another, as
he comes up among his own bubbles; and a third, yet wilder, as he feels
himself sinking for the second time!

The two at the oars, scared into a sort of sobriety, one of them cries
out--

"Lor' o' mercy!  Rob'll be drownded!  He can't sweem a stroke."

"He's a-drownin' now!" adds the other.

It is true.  For Rob has again come to the surface, and shouts with
feebler voice, while his arms tossed frantically about tell of his being
in the last throes of suffocation!

Ryecroft looks regretful--rather alarmed.  In chastising the fellow he
had gone too far.  He must save him!

Quick as the thought off goes his coat, with his boots kicked into the
bottom of the boat; then himself over its side!

A splendid swimmer, with a few bold sweeps he is by the side of the
drowning man.  Not a moment too soon--just as the latter is going down
for the third--likely the last time.  With the hand of the officer
grasping his collar, he is kept above water.  But not yet saved.  Both
are now imperilled--the rescuer and he he would rescue.  For, far from
the boats, they have drifted into a dangerous eddy, and are being
whirled rapidly round!

A cry from Gwen Wynn--a cry of real alarm, now--the first she has
uttered!  But before she can repeat it, her fears are allayed--set to
rest again--at sight of still another rescuer.  The young waterman has
leaped back to his own boat, and is pulling straight for the strugglers.
A few strokes, and he is beside them; then, dropping his oars, he soon
has both safe in the skiff.

The half-drowned, but wholly frightened, Bob is carried back to his
comrades' boat, and dumped in among them; Wingate handling him as though
he were but a wet coal sack or piece of old tarpaulin.  Then giving the
"Forest chaps" a bit of his mind he bids them "be off!"

And off go they, without saying word; as they drop down stream their
downcast looks showing them subdued, if not quite sobered, and rather
feeling grateful than aggrieved.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The other two boats soon proceed upward, the pleasure craft leading.
But not now rowed by its owner; for Captain Ryecroft has hold of the
oars.  In the haste, or the pleasurable moments succeeding, he has
forgotten all about the salmon left struggling on his line, or caring
not to return for it, most likely will lose rod, line, and all.  What
matter?  If he has lost a fine fish, he may have won the finest woman on
the Wye!

And she has lost nothing--risks nothing now--not even the chiding of her
aunt!  For now the pleasure-boat will be back in its dock in time to
keep undisturbed the understanding with Joseph.

Volume One, Chapter VII.

AN INVETERATE NOVEL READER.

While these exciting incidents are passing upon the river, Llangorren
Court is wrapped in that stately repose becoming an aristocratic
residence--especially where an elderly spinster is head of the house,
and there are no noisy children to go romping about.  It is thus with
Llangorren, whose ostensible mistress is Miss Linton, the aunt and legal
guardian already alluded to.  But, though presiding over the
establishment, it is rather in the way of ornamental figure-head; since
she takes little to do with its domestic affairs, leaving them to a
skilled housekeeper who carries the keys.

Kitchen matters are not much to Miss Linton's taste, being a dame of the
antique brocaded type, with pleasant memories of the past, that go back
to Bath and Cheltenham; where, in their days of glory, as hers of youth,
she was a belle, and did her share of dancing, with a due proportion of
flirting, at the Regency balls.  No longer able to indulge in such
delightful recreations, the memory of them has yet charms for her, and
she keeps it alive and warm by daily perusal of the _Morning Post_ with
a fuller hebdomadal feast from the _Court Journal_, and other
distributors of fashionable intelligence.  In addition she reads no end
of novels, her favourites being those which tell of Cupid in his most
romantic escapades and experiences, though not always the chastest.  Of
the prurient trash there is a plenteous supply, furnished by scribblers
of both sexes, who ought to know better, and doubtless do; but knowing
also how difficult it is to make their lucubrations interesting within
the legitimate lines of literary art, and how easy out of them, thus
transgress the moralities.

Miss Linton need have no fear that the impure stream will cease to flow,
any more than the limpid waters of the Wye.  Nor has she; but reads on,
devouring volume after volume, in triunes as they issue from the press,
and are sent her from the Circulating Library.

At nearly all hours of the day, and some of the night, does she so
occupy herself.  Even on this same bright April morn, when all nature
rejoices, and every living thing seems to delight in being out of
doors--when the flowers expand their petals to catch the kisses of the
warm Spring sun, Dorothea Linton is seated in a shady corner of the
drawing-room, up to her ears in a three-volume novel, still odorous of
printer's ink and binder's paste; absorbed in a love dialogue between a
certain Lord Lutestring and a rustic damsel--daughter of one of his
tenant-farmers--whose life he is doing his best to blight, and with much
likelihood of succeeding.  If he fail, it will not be for want of will
on his part, nor desire of the author to save the imperilled one.  He
will make the tempted iniquitous as the tempter, should this seem to add
interest to the tale, or promote the sale of the book.

Just as his lordship has gained a point and the girl is about to give
way, Miss Linton herself receives a shock, caused by a rat-tat at the
drawing-room door, light, such as well-trained servants are accustomed
to give before entering a room occupied by master or mistress.

To her command "Come in!" a footman presents himself, silver waiter in
hand, on which is a card.

She is more than annoyed, almost angry, as taking the card, she reads--

"Reverend William Musgrave."

Only to think of being thus interrupted on the eve of such an
interesting climax, which seemed about to seal the fate of the farmer's
daughter.

It is fortunate for his Reverence, that before entering within the room
another visitor is announced, and ushered in along with him.  Indeed the
second caller is shown in first; for, although George Shenstone rung the
front door bell after Mr Musgrave had stepped inside the hall, there is
no domestic of Llangorren but knows the difference between a rich
baronet's son and a poor parish curate; as which should have precedence.
To this nice, if not very delicate appreciation, the Reverend William
is now indebted more than he is aware.  It has saved him from an
outburst of Miss Linton's rather tart temper, which, under the
circumstances, otherwise he would have caught.  For it so chances that
the son of Sir George Shenstone is a great favourite with the old lady
of Llangorren; welcome at all times, even amid the romantic gallantries
of Lord Lutestring.  Not that the young country gentleman has anything
in common with the titled Lothario, who is habitually a dweller in
cities.  Instead, the former is a frank, manly fellow, devoted to field
sports and rural pastimes, a little brusque in manner, but for all
well-bred, and, what is even better, well-behaved.  There is nothing odd
in his calling at that early hour.  Sir George is an old friend of the
Wynn family--was an intimate associate of Gwen's deceased father--and
both he and his son have been accustomed to look in at Llangorren Court
_sans ceremonie_.

No more is Mr Musgrave's matutinal visit out of order.  Though but the
curate, he is in full charge of parish duties, the rector being not only
aged but an absentee--so long away from the neighbourhood as to have
become almost a myth to it.  For this reason his vicarial representative
can plead scores of excuses for presenting himself at "The Court."
There is the school, the church choir, and clothing club, to say nought
of neighbouring news, which on most mornings make him a welcome visitor
to Miss Linton; and no doubt would on this, but for the glamour thrown
around her by the fascinations of the dear delightful Lutestring.  It
even takes all her partiality for Mr Shenstone to remove its spell, and
get him vouchsafed friendly reception.

"Miss Linton," he says, speaking first, "I've just dropped in to ask if
the young ladies would go for a ride.  The day's so fine, I thought they
might like to."

"Ah, indeed," returns the spinster, holding out her fingers to be
touched, but, under the plea of being a little invalided, excusing
herself from rising.  "Yes; no doubt they would like it very much."

Mr Shenstone is satisfied with the reply; but less the curate, who
neither rides nor has a horse.  And less Shenstone himself--indeed
both--as the lady proceeds.  They have been listening, with ears all
alert, for the sound of soft footsteps and rustling dresses.  Instead,
they hear words, not only disappointing, but perplexing.

"Nay, I am sure," continues Miss Linton, with provoking coolness, "they
would have been glad to go riding with you; delighted--"

"But why can't they?" asked Shenstone, impatiently interrupting.

"Because the thing's impossible; they've already gone rowing."

"Indeed!" cry both gentlemen in a breath, seeming alike vexed by the
intelligence, Shenstone mechanically interrogating:

"On the river?"

"Certainly!" answers the lady, looking surprised.  "Why, George; where
else could they go rowing!  You don't suppose they've brought the boat
up to the fishpond!"

"Oh, no," he stammers out.  "I beg pardon.  How very stupid of me to ask
such a question.  I was only wondering why Miss Gwen--that is, I am a
little astonished--but--perhaps you'll think it impertinent of me to ask
another question?"

"Why should I?  What is it?"

"Only whether--whether she--Miss Gwen, I mean--said anything about
riding to-day?"

"Not a word--at least not to me."

"How long since they went off--may I know, Miss Linton?"

"Oh, hours ago!  Very early, indeed--just after taking breakfast.  I
wasn't down myself--as I've told you, not feeling very well this
morning.  But Gwen's maid informs me they left the house then, and I
presume they went direct to the river."

"Do you think they'll be out long?" earnestly interrogates Shenstone.

"I should hope not," returns the ancient toast of Cheltenham, with
aggravating indifference, for Lutestring is not quite out of her
thoughts.  "There's no knowing, however.  Miss Wynn is accustomed to
come and go, without much consulting me."

This with some acerbity--possibly from the thought that the days of her
legal guardianship are drawing to a close, which will make her a less
important personage at Llangorren.

"Surely, they won't be out all day," timidly suggests the curate; to
which she makes no rejoinder, till Mr Shenstone puts it in the shape of
an inquiry.

"Is it likely they will, Miss Linton?"

"I should say not.  More like they'll be hungry, and that will bring
them home.  What's the hour now?  I've been reading a very interesting
book, and quite forgot myself.  Is it possible?" she exclaims, looking
at the ormolu dial on the mantelshelf.  "Ten minutes to one!  How time
does fly, to be sure!  I couldn't have believed it near so late--almost
luncheon time!  Of course you'll stay, gentlemen?  As for the girls, if
they're not back in time they'll have to go without.  Punctuality is the
rule of this house--always will be with me.  I shan't wait one minute
for them."

"But, Miss Linton; they may have returned from the river, and are now
somewhere about the grounds.  Shall I run down to the boat-dock and
see?"

It is Mr Shenstone who thus interrogates.

"If you like--by all means.  I shall be too thankful.  Shame of Gwen to
give us so much trouble!  She knows our luncheon hour, and should have
been back by this.  Thanks, much, Mr Shenstone."

As he is bounding off, she calls after--"Don't you be staying too, else
you shan't have a pick.  Mr Musgrave and I won't wait for any of you.
Shall we, Mr Musgrave?"

Shenstone has not tarried to hear either question or answer.  A luncheon
for Apicius were, at that moment, nothing to him; and little more to the
curate, who, though staying, would gladly go along.  Not from any
rivalry with, or jealousy of, the baronet's son: they revolve in
different orbits, with no danger of collision.  Simply that he dislikes
leaving Miss Linton alone--indeed, dare not.  She may be expecting the
usual budget of neighbourhood intelligence he daily brings her.

He is mistaken.  On this particular day it is not desired.  Out of
courtesy to Mr Shenstone, rather than herself, she had laid aside the
novel; and it now requires all she can command to keep her eyes off it.
She is burning to know what befel the farmer's daughter!

Volume One, Chapter VIII.

A SUSPICIOUS STRANGER.

While Mr Musgrave is boring the elderly spinster about new scarlet
cloaks for the girls of the church choir, and other parish matters,
George Shenstone is standing on the topmost step of the boat stair, in a
mood of mind even less enviable than hers.  For he has looked down into
the dock, and there sees no Gwendoline--neither boat nor lady--nor is
there sign of either upon the water, far as he can command a view of it.
No sounds, such as he would wish, and might expect to hear--no dipping
of oars, nor, what would be still more agreeable to his ear, the soft
voices of women.  Instead only the note of a cuckoo, in monotonous
repetition, the bird balancing itself on a branch near by; and, farther
off, the _hiccol_, laughing, as if in mockery--and at him!  Mocking his
impatience; ay, something more, almost his misery!  That it is so his
soliloquy tells:

"Odd her being out on the river!  She promised me to go riding to-day.
Very odd indeed!  Gwen isn't the same she was--acting strange altogether
for the last three or four days.  Wonder what it means!  By Jove, I
can't comprehend it!"

His noncomprehension does not hinder a dark shadow from stealing over
his brow, and there staying.

It is not unobserved.  Through the leaves of the evergreen Joseph notes
the pained expression, and interprets it in his own shrewd way--not far
from the right one.

The old servant soliloquising in less conjectural strain, says, or
rather thinks--

"Master George be mad sweet on Miss Gwen.  The country folk are all
talkin' o't; thinkin' she's same on him, as if they knew anything about
it.  I knows better.  An' he ain't no ways confident, else there
wouldn't be that queery look on's face.  It's the token o' jealousy for
sure.  I don't believe he have suspicion o' any rival particklar.  Ah!
it don't need that wi' sich a grand beauty as she be.  He as love her
might be jealous o' the sun kissing her cheeks, or the wind tossin' her
hair!"

Joseph is a Welshman of Bardic ancestry, and thinks poetry.  He
continues--

"I know what's took her on the river, if he don't.  Yes--yes, my young
lady!  Ye thought yerself wonderful clever leavin' old Joe behind,
tellin' him to hide hisself, and bribin' him to stay hid!  And d'y
'spose I didn't obsarve them glances exchanged twixt you and the salmon
fisher--sly, but for all that, hot as streaks o' fire?  And d'ye think I
didn't see Mr Whitecap going down, afore ye thought o' a row yerself.
Oh, no; I noticed nothin' o' all that, not I?  'Twarn't meant for me--
not for Joe--ha, ha!"

With a suppressed giggle at the popular catch coming in so _apropos_, he
once more fixes his eyes on the face of the impatient watcher,
proceeding with his soliloquy, though in changed strain:

"Poor young gentleman!  I do pity he to be sure.  He are a good sort,
an' everybody likes him.  So do she, but not the way he want her to.
Well; things o' that kind allers do go contrary wise--never seem to run
smooth like.  I'd help him myself if 'twar in my power, but it ain't.
In such cases help can only come frae the place where they say matches
be made--that's Heaven.  Ha! he's lookin' a bit brighter!  What's
cheerin' him?  The boat coming back?  I can't see it from here, nor I
don't hear any rattle o' oars!"

The change he notes in George Shenstone's manner is not caused by the
returning pleasure craft.  Simply a reflection which crossing his mind,
for the moment tranquillises him.

"What a stupid I am!" he mutters self-accusingly.  "Now I remember,
there was nothing said about the hour we were to go riding, and I
suppose she understood in the afternoon.  It was so the last time we
went out together.  By Jove! yes.  It's all right, I take it; she'll be
back in good time yet."

Thus reassured he remains listening.  Still more satisfied, when a dull
thumping sound, in regular repetition, tells him of oars working in
their rowlocks.  Were he learned in boating tactics he would know there
are two pairs of them, and think this strange too; since the
_Gwendoline_ carries only one.  But he is not so skilled--instead,
rather averse to aquatics--his chosen home the hunting field, his
favourite seat in a saddle, not on a boat's thwart.  It is only when the
plashing of the oars in the tranquil water of the bye-way is borne clear
along the cliff, that he perceives there are two pairs at work, while at
the same time he observes two boats approaching the little dock, where
but one belongs!

Alone at that leading boat does he look; with eyes in which, as he
continues to gaze, surprise becomes wonderment, dashed with something
like displeasure.  The boat he has recognised at the first glance--the
_Gwendoline_--as also the two ladies in the stern.  But there is also a
man on the mid thwart plying the oars.  "Who the deuce is he?"  Thus to
himself George Shenstone puts it.  Not old Joe, not the least like him.
Nor is it the family Charon who sits solitary on the thwarts of that
following.  Instead, Joseph is now by Mr Shenstone's side, passing him
in haste--making to go down the boat stairs!

"What's the meaning of all this, Joe?" asks the young man, in stark
astonishment.

"Meanin' o' what, sir?" returns the old boatman, with an air of assumed
innocence.  "Be there anythin' amiss?"

"Oh, nothing," stammers Shenstone.  "Only I supposed you were out with
the young ladies.  How is it you haven't gone?"

"Well, sir, Miss Gwen didn't wish it.  The day bein' fine, an' nothing
o' flood in the river, she sayed she'd do the rowin' herself."

"She hasn't been doing it for all that," mutters Shenstone to himself,
as Joseph glides past and on down the stair; then repeating, "Who the
deuce is he?" the interrogation as before, referring to him who rows the
pleasure-boat.

By this it has been brought, bow in, to the dock, its stern touching the
bottom of the stair; and, as the ladies step out of it, George Shenstone
overhears a dialogue, which, instead of quieting his perturbed spirit,
but excites him still more--almost to madness.  It is Miss Wynn who has
commenced it, saying.

"You'll come up to the house, and let me introduce you to my aunt?"

This to the gentleman who has been pulling her boat, and has just
abandoned the oars soon as seeing its painter in the hands of the
servant.

"Oh, thank you!" he returns.  "I would, with pleasure; but, as you see,
I'm not quite presentable just now--anything but fit for a drawing-room.
So I beg you'll excuse me to-day."

His saturated shirt-front, with other garments dripping, tells why the
apology; but does not explain either that or aught else to him on the
top of the stair; who, hearkening further, hears other speeches which,
while perplexing him, do nought to allay the wild tempest now surging
through his soul.  Unseen himself--for he has stepped behind the tree
lately screening Joseph--he sees Gwen Wynn hold out her hand to be
pressed in parting salute--hears her address the stranger in words of
gratitude, warm as though she were under some great obligation to him!

Then the latter leaps out of the pleasure-boat into the other brought
alongside, and is rowed away by his waterman; while the ladies ascend
the stair--Gwen, lingeringly, at almost every step, turning her face
towards the fishing skiff, till this, pulled around the upper end of the
eyot, can no more be seen.

All this George Shenstone observes, drawing deductions which send the
blood in chill creep through his veins.  Though still puzzled by the wet
garments, the presence of the gentleman wearing them seems to solve that
other enigma, unexplained as painful--the strangeness he has of late
observed in the ways of Miss Wynn.  Nor is he far out in his fancy,
bitter though it be.

Not until the two ladies have reached the stair head do they become
aware of his being there; and not then, till Gwen has made some
observations to the companion, which, as those addressed to the
stranger, unfortunately for himself, George Shenstone overhears.

"We'll be in time for luncheon yet, and aunt needn't know anything of
what's delayed us--at least, not just now.  True, if the like had
happened to herself--say some thirty or forty years ago--she'd want all
the world to hear of it, particularly that portion of the world yclept
Cheltenham.  The dear old lady!  Ha, ha!"  After a laugh, continuing:
"But, speaking seriously, Nell, I don't wish any one to be the wiser
about our bit of an escapade--least of all, a certain young gentleman,
whose Christian name begins with a G, and surname with an S."

"Those initials answer for mine," says George Shenstone, coming forward
and confronting her.  "If your observation was meant for me, Miss Wynn,
I can only express regret for my bad luck in being within earshot of
it."

At his appearance, so unexpected and abrupt, Gwen Wynn had given a
start--feeling guilty, and looking it.  Soon, however, reflecting whence
he has come, and hearing what said, she feels less self-condemned than
indignant, as evinced by her rejoinder.

"Ah! you've been overhearing us, Mr Shenstone!  Bad luck, you call it.
Bad or good, I don't think you are justified in attributing it to
chance.  When a gentleman deliberately stations himself behind a shady
bush, like that laurustinus, for instance, and there stands listening--
intentionally--"

Suddenly she interrupts herself, and stands silent too--this on
observing the effect of her words, and that they have struck terribly
home.  With bowed head the baronet's son is stooping towards her, the
cloud on his brow telling of sadness--not anger.  Seeing it, the old
tenderness returns to her, with its familiarity, and she exclaims:--

"Come, George! there must be no quarrel between you and me.  What you've
just seen and heard, will be all explained by something you have yet to
hear.  Miss Lees and I have had a little bit of an adventure; and if
you'll promise it shan't go further, we'll make you acquainted with it."

Addressed in this style, he readily gives the promise--gladly, too.  The
confidence so offered seems favourable to himself.  But, looking for
explanation on the instant, he is disappointed.  Asking for it, it is
denied him, with reason assigned thus:

"You forget we've been full four hours on the river, and are as hungry
as a pair of kingfishers--hawks, I suppose, you'd say, being a game
preserver.  Never mind about the simile.  Let us in to luncheon, if not
too late."

She steps hurriedly off towards the house, the companion following,
Shenstone behind both.

However hungry they, never man went to a meal with less appetite than
he.  All Gwen's cajoling has not tranquillised his spirit, nor driven
out of his thoughts that man with the bronzed complexion, dark
moustache, and white helmet hat.

Volume One, Chapter IX.

JEALOUS ALREADY.

Captain Ryecroft has lost more than rod and line; his heart is as good
as gone too--given to Gwendoline Wynn.  He now knows the name of the
yellow haired Naiad--for this, with other particulars, she imparted to
him on return up stream.

Neither has her confidence thus extended, nor the conversation leading
to it, belied the favourable impression made upon him by her appearance.
Instead, so strengthened it, that for the first time in his life he
contemplates becoming a benedict.  He feels that his fate is sealed--or
no longer in his hands, but hers.

As Wingate pulls him on homeward, he draws out his cigar case, sets fire
to a fresh weed, and, while the blue smoke wreaths up round the rim of
his topee, reflects on the incidents of the day,--reviewing them in the
order of their occurrence.

Circumstances apparently accidental have been strangely in his favour.
Helped as by Heaven's own hand, working with the rudest instruments.
Through the veriest scum of humanity he has made acquaintance with one
of its fairest forms.  More than mere acquaintance, he hopes; for surely
those warm words, and glances far from cold, could not be the sole
offspring of gratitude!  If so, a little service on the Wye goes a long
way.  Thus reflects he, in modest appreciation of himself, deeming that
he has done but little.  How different the value put upon it by Gwen
Wynn!

Still he knows not this, or at least cannot be sure of it.  If he were,
his thoughts would be all rose-coloured, which they are not.  Some are
dark as the shadows of the April showers now and then drifting across
the sun's disc.

One that has just settled on his brow is no reflection from the
firmament above--no vague imagining--but a thing of shape and form--the
form of a man, seen at the top of the boat stair, as the ladies were
ascending, and not so far off as to have hindered him from observing the
man's face, and noting that he was young, and rather handsome.  Already
the eyes of love have caught the keenness of jealousy.  A gentleman
evidently on terms of intimacy with Miss Wynn.  Strange, though, that
the look with which he regarded her on saluting, seemed to speak of
something amiss!  What could it mean!  Captain Ryecroft has asked this
question as his boat was rounding the end of the eyot, with another in
the selfsame formulary of interrogation, of which but the moment before
he was himself the subject:--"Who the deuce can _he_ be?"  Out upon the
river, and drawing hard at his Regalia, he goes on:--

"Wonderfully familiar the fellow seemed!  Can't be a brother?  I
understood her to say she had none.  Does he live at Llangorren?  No.
She said there was no one there in the shape of masculine relative--only
an old aunt, and that little dark damsel, who is cousin or something of
the kind.  But who the deuce is the gentleman?  Might _he_ be a cousin?"

So propounding questions without being able to answer them, he at length
addresses himself to the waterman, saying:

"Jack, did you observe a gentleman at the head of the stair?"

"Only the head and shoulders o' one, captain."

"Head and shoulders; that's enough.  Do you chance to know him?"

"I ain't thorough sure; but I think he be a Mr Shenstone."

"Who is Mr Shenstone?"

"The son o' Sir George."

"Sir George!  What do you know of _him_?"

"Not much to speak of--only that he be a big gentleman, whose land lies
along the river, two or three miles below."

The information is but slight, and slighter the gratification it gives.
Captain Ryecroft has heard of the rich baronet whose estate adjoins that
of Llangorren, and whose title, with the property attached, will descend
to an only son.  It is the _torso_ of this son he has seen above the red
sandstone rock.  In truth, a formidable rival!  So he reflects, smoking
away like mad.

After a time, he again observes:--"You've said you don't know the ladies
we've helped out of their little trouble?"

"Parsonally, I don't, captain.  But, now as I see where they live, I
know who they be.  I've heerd talk 'bout the biggest o' them--a good
deal."

The biggest of them!  As if she were a salmon!  In the boatman's eyes,
bulk is evidently her chief recommendation!

Ryecroft smiles, further interrogating:--"What have you heard of her?"

"That she be a _tidy_ young lady.  Wonderful fond o' field sport, such
as hunting and that like.  Fr' all, I may say that up to this day, I
never set eyes on her afore."

The Hussar officer has been long enough in Herefordshire to have learnt
the local signification of "tidy"--synonymous with "well-behaved."  That
Miss Wynn is fond of field sports--flood pastimes included--he has
gathered from herself while rowing her up the river.

One thing strikes him as strange--that the waterman should not be
acquainted with every one dwelling on the river's bank, at least for a
dozen miles up and down.  He seeks an explanation:--

"How is it, Jack, that you, living but a short league above, don't know
all about these people?"

He is unaware that Wingate, though born on the Wye's banks, as he has
told him, is comparatively a stranger to its middle waters--his
birthplace being far up in the shire of Brecon.  Still, that is not the
solution of the enigma, which the young waterman gives in his own way,--

"Lord love ye, sir!  That shows how little you understand this river.
Why, captain; it crooks an' crooks, and goes wobblin' about in such a
way, that folks as lives less'n a mile apart knows no more o' one the
other than if they wor ten.  It comes o' the bridges bein' so few and
far between.  There's the ferry boats, true; but people don't take to
'em more'n they can help; 'specially women--seein' there be some danger
at all times, and a good deal o't when the river's a-flood.  That's
frequent, summer well as winter."

The explanation is reasonable; and, satisfied with it, Ryecroft remains
for a time wrapt in a dreamy reverie, from which he is aroused as his
eyes rest upon a house--a quaint antiquated structure, half timber, half
stone, standing not on the river's edge, but at some distance from it up
a dingle.  The sight is not new to him; he has before noticed the
house--struck with its appearance, so different from the ordinary
dwellings.

"Whose is it, Jack?" he asks.

"B'longs to a man, name o' Murdock."

"Odd-looking domicile!"

"'Ta'nt a bit more that way than he be--if half what they say 'bout him
be true."

"Ah!  Mr Murdock's a character, then?"

"Ay; an' a queery one."

"In what respect? what way?"

"More'n one--a goodish many."

"Specify, Jack?"

"Well; for one thing, he a'nt sober to say half o' his time."

"Addicted to dipsomania?"

"'Dicted to getting dead drunk.  I've seen him so, scores o' 'casions."

"That's not wise of Mr Murdock."

"No, captain; 'ta'nt neyther wise nor well.  All the worse, considerin'
the place where mostly he go to do his drinkin'."

"Where may that be?"

"The Welsh Harp--up at Rogue's Ferry."

"Rogue's Ferry?  Strange appellation!  What sort of place is it?  Not
very nice, I should say--if the name be at all appropriate."

"It's parfitly 'propriate, though I b'lieve it wa'nt that way bestowed.
It got so called after a man the name o' Rugg, who once keeped the Welsh
Harp and the ferry too.  It's about two mile above, a little ways back.
Besides the tavern, there be a cluster o' houses, a bit scattered about,
wi' a chapel an' a grocery shop--one as deals trackways, an' a'nt
partickler as to what they take in change--stolen goods welcome as any--
ay, welcomer, if they be o' worth.  They got plenty o' them, too.  The
place be a regular nest o' poachers, an' worse than that--a good many as
have sarved their spell in the Penitentiary."

"Why, Wingate, you astonish me!  I was under the impression your Wyeside
was a sort of Arcadia, where one only met with innocence and primitive
simplicity."

"You won't meet much o' either at Rogue's Ferry.  If there be an
uninnocent set on earth it's they as live there.  Them Forest chaps we
came 'cross a'nt no ways their match in wickedness.  Just possible drink
made them behave as they did--some o' 'em.  But drink or no drink it be
all the same wi' the Ferry people--maybe worse when they're sober.  Any
ways they're a rough lot."

"With a place of worship in their midst!  That ought to do something
towards refining them."

"Ought; and would, I dare say, if 'twar the right sort--which it a'nt.
Instead, o' a kind as only the more corrupts 'em--being Roman."

"Oh!  A Roman Catholic chapel.  But how does it corrupt them?"

"By makin' 'em believe they can get cleared of their sins, hows'ever
black they be.  Men as think that way a'nt like to stick at any sort of
crime--'specialty if it brings 'em the money to buy what they calls
absolution."

"Well, Jack; it's very evident you're no friend, or follower, of the
Pope."

"Neyther o' Pope nor priest.  Ah! captain; if you seed him o' the
Rogue's Ferry Chapel, you wouldn't wonder at my havin' a dislike for the
whole kit o' them."

"What is there specially repulsive about him?"

"Don't know as there be any thin' very special, in partickler.  Them
priests all look bout the same--such o' 'em as I've ever set eyes on.
And that's like stoats and weasels, shootin' out o' one hole into
another.  As for him we're speakin' about, he's here, there, an'
everywhere; sneakin' along the roads an' paths, hidin' behind bushes
like a cat after birds, an' poppin' out where nobody expects him.  If
ever there war a spy meaner than another it's the priest of Rogue's
Ferry."

"_No_?" he adds, correcting himself.  "There be one other in these parts
worse than he--if that's possible.  A different sort o' man, true; and
yet they be a good deal thegither."

"Who is this other?"

"Dick Dempsey--better known by the name of Coracle Dick."

"Ah, Coracle Dick!  He appears to occupy a conspicuous place in your
thoughts, Jack; and rather a low one in your estimation.  Why, may I
ask?  What sort of fellow is he?"

"The biggest blaggard as lives on the Wye, from where it springs out o'
Plinlimmon to its emptying into the Bristol Channel.  Talk o' poachers
an' night netters.  He goes out by night to catch somethin' beside
salmon.  'Taint all fish as comes into his net, I know."

The young waterman speaks in such hostile tone both about priest and
poacher, that Ryecroft suspects a motive beyond the ordinary prejudice
against men who wear the sacerdotal garb, or go trespassing after game.
Not caring to inquire into it now, he returns to the original topic,
saying:--

"We've strayed from our subject, Jack--which was the hard drinking owner
of yonder house."

"Not so far, captain; seein' as he be the most intimate friend the
priest have in these parts; though if what's said be true, not nigh so
much as his Missus."

"Murdock is married, then?"

"I won't say that--leastwise I shouldn't like to swear it.  All I know
is, a woman lives wi' him, s'posed to be his wife.  Odd thing she."

"Why odd?"

"'Cause she beant like any other o' womankind 'bout here."

"Explain yourself, Jack.  In what does Mrs Murdock differ from the rest
of your Herefordshire fair?"

"One way, captain, in her not bein' fair at all.  'Stead, she be dark
complected; most as much as one o' them women I've seed 'bout
Cheltenham, nursin' the children o' old officers as brought 'em from
India--_ayers_ they call 'em.  She a'nt one o' 'em, but French, I've
heerd say; which in part, I suppose explains the thickness 'tween her
an' the priest--he bein' the same."

"Oh!  His reverence is a Frenchman, is he?"

"All o' that, captain.  If he wor English, he wouldn't--couldn't--be the
contemptible sneakin' hound he is.  As for Mrs Murdock, I can't say
I've seed her more'n twice in my life.  She keeps close to the house;
goes nowhere; an' it's said nobody visits her nor him--leastwise none o'
the old gentry.  For all Mr Murdock belongs to the best of them."

"He's a gentleman, is he?"

"Ought to be--if he took after his father."

"Why so?"

"Because he wor a squire--regular of the old sort.  He's not been so
long dead.  I can remember him myself, though I hadn't been here such a
many years--the old lady too--this Murdock's mother.  Ah! now I think
on't, she wor t'other squire's sister--father to the tallest o' them two
young ladies--the one with the reddish hair."

"What!  Miss Wynn?"

"Yes, captain; her they calls Gwen."

Ryecroft questions no farther.  He has learnt enough to give him food
for reflection--not only during the rest of that day, but for a week, a
month--it may be throughout the remainder of his life.

Volume One, Chapter X.

THE CUCKOO'S GLEN.

About a mile above Llangorren Court, but on the opposite side of the
Wye, stands the house which had attracted the attention of Captain
Ryecroft; known to the neighbourhood as "Glyngog"--Cymric synonym for
"Cuckoo's Glen."  Not immediately on the water's edge, but several
hundred yards back, near the head of a lateral ravine which debouches on
the valley of the river, to the latter contributing a rivulet.

Glyngog House is one of those habitations, common in the county of
Hereford as other western shires--puzzling the stranger to tell whether
they be gentleman's residence, or but the dwelling of a farmer.  This
from an array of walls, enclosing yard, garden, even the orchard--a
plenitude due to the red sandstone being near, and easily shaped for
building purposes.

About Glyngog House, however, there is something besides the
circumvallation to give it an air of grandeur beyond that of the
ordinary farm homestead; certain touches of architectural style which
speak of the Elizabethan period--in short that termed Tudor.  For its
own walls are not altogether stone; instead a framework of oaken
uprights, struts, and braces, black with age, the panelled masonry
between plastered and white-washed, giving to the structure a quaint,
almost fantastic, appearance, heightened by an irregular roof of steep
pitch, with projecting dormers, gables acute angled, overhanging
windows, and carving at the coigns.  Of such ancient domiciles there are
yet many to be met with on the Wye--their antiquity vouched for by the
materials used in their construction, when bricks were a costly
commodity, and wood to be had almost for the asking.

About this one, the enclosing stone walls have been a later erection, as
also the pillared gate entrance to its ornamental grounds, through which
runs a carriage drive to the sweep in front.  Many a glittering equipage
may have gone round on that sweep; for Glyngog was once a Manor-house.
Now it is but the remains of one, so much out of repair as to show
smashed panes in several of its windows, while the _enceinte_ walls are
only upright where sustained by the upholding ivy; the shrubbery run
wild; the walks and carriage drive weed-covered; on the latter neither
recent track of wheel, nor hoof-mark of horse.

For all, the house is not uninhabited.  Three or four of the windows
appear sound, with blinds inside them; while at most hours smoke may be
seen ascending from at least two of the chimneys.

Few approach near enough the place to note its peculiarities.  The
traveller gets but a distant glimpse of its chimney-pots; for the
country road, avoiding the dip of the ravine, is carried round its head,
and far from the house.  It can only be approached by a long, narrow
lane, leading nowhere else, so steep as to deter any explorer save a
pedestrian; while he, too, would have to contend with an obstruction of
overgrowing thorns and trailing brambles.

Notwithstanding these disadvantages, Glyngog has something to recommend
it--a prospect not surpassed in the western shires of England.  He who
selected its site must have been a man of tastes rather aesthetic, than
utilitarian.  For the land attached and belonging--some fifty or sixty
acres--is barely arable; lying against the abruptly sloping sides of the
ravine.  But the view is superb.  Below, the Wye, winding through a
partially wood-covered plain, like some grand constrictor snake; its
sinuosities only here and there visible through the trees, resembling a
chain of detached lakes--till sweeping past the Cuckoo's Glen, it runs
on in straight reach towards Llangorren.

Eye of man never looked upon lovelier landscape; mind of man could not
contemplate one more suggestive of all that is, or ought to be,
interesting in life.  Peaceful smokes ascending out of far-off chimneys;
farm-houses, with their surrounding walls, standing amid the greenery of
old homestead trees--now in full leaf, for it is the month of June--here
and there the sharp spire of a church, or the showy facade of a
gentleman's mansion--in the distant background, the dark blue mountains
of Monmouthshire; among them conspicuous the Blorenge, Skerrid, and
Sugar Loaf.  The man who could look on such a picture, without drawing
from it inspirations of pleasure, must be out of sorts with the world,
if not weary of it.

And yet just such a man is now viewing it from Glyngog House, or rather
the bit of shrubbery ground in front.  He is seated on a rustic bench
partly shattered, barely enough of it whole to give room beside him for
a small japanned tray, on which are tumbler, bottle and jug--the two
last respectively containing brandy and water; while in the first is an
admixture of both.  He is smoking a meerschaum pipe, which at short
intervals he removes from his mouth to give place to the drinking glass.

The personal appearance of this man is in curious correspondence with
the bench on which he sits, the walls around, and the house behind.
Like all these, he looks dilapidated.  Not only is his apparel out of
repair, but his constitution too, as shown by hollow cheeks and sunken
eyes, with crows' feet ramifying around them.  This due not, as with the
surrounding objects, to age; for he is still under forty.  Nor yet any
of the natural infirmities to which flesh is heir; but evidently to
drink.  Some reddish spots upon his nose and flecks on the forehead,
with the glass held in shaking hand, proclaims this the cause.  And it
is.

Lewin Murdock--such is the man's name--has led a dissipated life.  Not
much of it in England; still less in Herefordshire; and only its earlier
years in the house he now inhabits--his paternal home.  Since boyhood he
has been abroad, staying none can say where, and straying no one knows
whither--often seen, however, at Baden, Homburg, and other "hells,"
punting high or low, as the luck has gone for or against him.  At a
later period in Paris, during the Imperial _regime_--worst hell of all.
It has stripped him of everything; driven him out and home, to seek
asylum at Glyngog, once a handsome property, now but a _pied a terre_,
on which he may only set his foot, with a mortgage around his neck.  For
even the little land left to it is let out to a farmer, and the rent
goes not to him.  He is, in fact, only a tenant on his patrimonial
estate; holding but the house at that, with the ornamental grounds and
an acre or two of orchard, of which he takes no care.  The farmer's
sheep may scale the crumbling walls, and browse the weedy enclosure at
will; give Lewin Murdock his meerschaum pipe, with enough brandy and
water, and he but laughs.  Not that he is of a jovial disposition, not
at all given to mirth; only that it takes something more than the
pasturage of an old orchard to excite his thoughts, or turn them to
cupidity.

For all, land does this--the very thing.  No limited tract; but one of
many acres in extent--even miles--the land of Llangorren.

It is now before his face, and under his eyes, as a map unfolded.  On
the opposite side of the river it forms the foreground of the landscape;
in its midst the many-windowed mansion, backed by stately trees, with
well-kept grounds, and green pastures; at a little distance the
"Grange," or home-farm, and farther off others that look of the same
belonging--as they are.  A smiling picture it is; spread before the eyes
of Lewin Murdock, whenever he sits in his front window, or steps outside
the door.  And the brighter the sun shines on it, the darker the shadow
on his brow!

Not much of an enigma either.  That land of Llangorren belonged to his
grandfather, but now is, or soon will be, the property of his cousin--
Gwendoline Wynn.  Were she not, it would be his.  Between him and it
runs the Wye, a broad deep river.  But what its width or depth, compared
with that other something between?  A barrier stronger and more
impassable than the stream, yet seeming slight as a thread.  For it is
but _the thread of a life_.  Should it snap, or get accidentally
severed, Lewin Murdock would only have to cross the river, proclaim
himself master of Llangorren, and take possession.

He would scarce he human not to think of all this.  And being human he
does--has thought of it oft, and many a time.  With feelings too, beyond
the mere prompting of cupidity.  These due to a legend handed down to
him, telling of an unfair disposal of the Llangorren property; but a
pittance given to his mother who married Murdock of Glyngog; while the
bulk went to her brother, the father of Gwen Wynn.  All matters of
testament, since the estate is unentailed; the only grace of the
grandfather towards the Murdock branch being a clause entitling them to
possession, in the event of the collateral heirs dying out.  And of
these but one is living--the heroine of our tale.

"Only she--but she!" mutters Lewin Murdock, in a tone of such
bitterness, that, as if to drown it, he plucks the pipe out of his
mouth, and gulps down the last drop in the glass.

Volume One, Chapter XI.

A WEED BY THE WYESIDE.

"Only she--but she!" he repeats, grasping the bottle by the neck, and
pouring more brandy into the tumbler.

Though speaking _sotto voce_, and not supposing himself overheard, he
is, nevertheless--by a woman, who, coming forth from the house, has
stepped silently behind him, there pausing.

Odd-looking apparition she, seen upon the Wyeside; altogether unlike a
native of it, but altogether like one born upon the banks of the Seine,
and brought up to tread the Boulevards of Paris--like the latter from
the crown of her head to the soles of her high-heeled boots, on whose
toes she stands poised and balancing.  In front of that ancient English
manor-house, she seems grotesquely out of place--as much as a
costermonger driving his moke-drawn cart among the Pyramids, or smoking
a "Pickwick" by the side of the Sphinx.

For all there is nothing mysterious, or even strange in her presence
there.  She is Lewin Murdoch's wife.  If he has left his fortune in
foreign lands, with the better part of his life and health, he has
thence brought her, his better-half.

Physically a fine-looking woman, despite some ravages due to time, and
possibly more to crime.  Tall and dark as the daughters of the Latinic
race, with features beautiful in the past--even still attractive to
those not repelled by the beguiling glances of sin.

Such were hers, first given to him in a _cafe chantant_ of the
Tuileries--oft afterwards repeated in _jardin, bois_, and _bals_ of the
demi-monde, till at length she gave him her hand in the Eglise La
Madeleine.

Busied with his brandy, and again gazing at Llangorren, he has not yet
seen her; nor is he aware of her proximity till hearing an
exclamation:--

"_Eh, bien_?"

He starts at the interrogatory, turning round.

"You think too loud, Monsieur--that is if you wish to keep your thoughts
to yourself.  And you might--seeing that it's a love secret!  May I ask
who is this _she_ you're soliloquising about?  Some of your old English
_bonnes amies_, I suppose?"

This, with an air of affected jealousy, she is far from feeling.  In the
heart of the _ex-cocotte_ there is no place for such a sentiment.

"Got nothing to do with _bonnes amies_, young or old," he gruffly
replies.  "Just now I've got something else to think of than
sweethearts.  Enough occupation for my thoughts in the how I'm to
support a wife--yourself, madame."

"It wasn't me you meant.  No, indeed.  Some other, in whom you appear to
feel a very profound interest."

"There, you're right, it was one other, in whom I feel all that."

"_Merci, Monsieur!  Ma foi_! your candour deserves all thanks.  Perhaps
you'll extend it, and favour me with the lady's name?  A lady, I
presume.  The grand Seigneur Lewin Murdock would not be giving his
thoughts to less."

Ignorance pretended.  She knows, or surmises, to whom he has been giving
them.  For she has been watching him from a window, and observed the
direction of his glances.  And she has more than a suspicion as to the
nature of his reflections; since she is well aware as he of that
something besides a river separating them from Llangorren.

"Her name?" she again asks, in tone of more demand, her eyes bent
searchingly on his.

Avoiding her glance, he still pulls away at his pipe, without making
answer.

"It is a love secret, then?  I thought so.  It's cruel of you, Lewin!
This is the return for giving you--all I had to give!"

She may well speak hesitatingly, and hint at a limited sacrifice.  Only
her hand; and it more than tenderly pressed by scores--ay hundreds--of
others, before being bestowed upon him.  No false pretence, however, on
her part.  He knew all that, or should have known it.  How could he
help?  Olympe, the belle of the Jardin Mabille, was no obscurity in the
_demi-monde_ of Paris--even in its days of glory under Napoleon le
Petite.

Her reproach is also a pretence, though possibly with some sting felt.
She is drawing on to that term of life termed _passe_, and begins to
feel conscious of it.  He may be the same.  Not that for his opinion she
cares a straw--save in a certain sense, and for reasons altogether
independent of slighted affection--the very purpose she is now working
upon, and for which she needs to hold over him the power she has
hitherto had.  And well knows she how to retain it, rekindling love's
fire when it seems in danger of dying out, either through appeal to his
pity, or exciting his jealousy, which she can adroitly do, by her artful
French ways and dark flashing eyes.

As he looks in them now, the old flame flickers up, and he feels almost
as much her slave as when he first became her husband.

For all he does not show it.  This day he is out of sorts with himself,
and her and all the world besides; so instead of reciprocating her sham
tenderness--as if knowing it such--he takes another swallow of brandy,
and smokes on in silence.

Now really incensed, or seeming so, she exclaims:--

"_Perfide_!" adding with a disdainful toss of the head, such as only the
dames of the _demi-monde_ know how to give, "Keep your secret!  What
care I?"  Then changing tone, "_Mon Dieu_!  France--dear France!  Why
did I ever leave you?"

"Because your dear France became too dear to live in."

"Clever _double entendre_!  No doubt you think it witty!  Dear, or not,
better a garret there--a room in its humblest _entresol_ than this.  I'd
rather serve in a cigar shop--keep a _gargot_ in the Faubourg
Montmartre--than lead such a _triste_ life as we're now doing.  Living
in this wretched kennel of a house, that threatens to tumble on our
heads!"

"How would you like to live in that over yonder?"

He nods towards Llangorren Court.

"You are merry, Monsieur.  But your jests are out of place--in presence
of the misery around us."

"You may some day," he goes on, without heeding her observation.

"Yes; when the sky falls we may catch larks.  You seem to forget that
Mademoiselle Wynn is younger than either of us, and by the natural laws
of life will outlive both.  Must, unless she break her neck in the
hunting field, get drowned out of a boat, or meet _some other
mischance_."

She pronounces the last three words slowly and with marked emphasis,
pausing after she has spoken them, and looking fixedly in his face, as
if to note their effect.

Taking the meerschaum from his mouth, he returns her look--almost
shuddering as his eyes meet hers, and he reads in them a glance such as
might have been given by Messalina, or the murderess of Duncan.
Hardened as his conscience has become through a long career of sin, it
is yet tender in comparison with hers.  And he knows it, knowing her
history, or enough of it--her nature as well--to make him think her
capable of anything, even the crime her speech seems to point to--
neither more nor less than--

He dares not think, let alone pronounce, the word.  He is not yet up to
that; though day by day, as his desperate fortunes press upon him, his
thoughts are being familiarised with something akin to it--a dread, dark
design, still vague, but needing not much to assume shape, and tempt to
execution.  And that the tempter is by his side he is more than half
conscious.  It is not the first time for him to listen to fell speech
from those fair lips.

To-day he would rather shun allusion to a subject so grave, yet so
delicate.  He has spent part of the preceding night at the Welsh Harp--
the tavern spoken of by Wingate--and his nerves are unstrung, yet not
recovered from the revelry.  Instead of asking her what she means by
"some other mischance," he but remarks, with an air of careless
indifference,--

"True, Olympe; unless something of that sort were to happen, there seems
no help for us but to resign ourselves to patience, and live on
expectations."

"Starve on them, you mean?"  This in a tone, and with a shrug, which
seem to convey reproach for its weakness.

"Well, _cherie_;" he rejoins, "we can at least feast our eyes on the
source whence our fine fortunes are to come.  And a pretty sight it is,
isn't it?  _Un coup d'oeil charmant_!"

He again turns his eyes upon Llangorren, as also she, and for some time
both are silent.

Attractive at any time, the Court is unusually so on this same summer's
day.  For the sun, lighting up the verdant lawn, also shines upon a
large white tent there erected--a marquee--from whose ribbed roof
projects a signal staff, with flag floating at its peak.  They have had
no direct information of what all this is for--since to Lewin Murdock
and his wife the society of Herefordshire is tabooed.  But they can
guess from the symbols that it is to be a garden party, or something of
the sort, there often given.  While they are still gazing its special
kind is declared, by figures appearing upon the lawn and taking stand in
groups before the tent.  There are ladies gaily attired--in the distance
looking like bright butterflies--some dressed _a la Diane_, with bows in
hand, and quivers slung by their sides, the feathered shafts showing
over their shoulders; a proportionate number of gentlemen attendant;
while liveried servants stride to and fro erecting the ringed targets.

Murdock himself cares little for such things.  He has had his surfeit of
fashionable life; not only sipped its sweets, but drank its dregs of
bitterness.  He regards Llangorren with something in his mind more
substantial than its sports and pastimes.

With different thoughts looks the Parisian upon them--in her heart a
chagrin only known to those whose zest for the world's pleasure is of
keenest edge, yet checked and baffled from indulgence--ambitions
uncontrollable, but never to be attained.  As Satan gazed back when
hurled out of the Garden of Eden, so she at that scene upon the lawn of
Llangorren.  No _jardin_ of Paris--not the Bois itself--ever seemed to
her so attractive as those grounds, with that aristocratic gathering--a
heaven none of her kind can enter, and but few of her country.

After long regarding it with envy in her eyes, and spleen in her soul--
tantalised, almost to torture--she faces towards her husband, saying--

"And you've told me, between all that and us, there's but one life--"

"Two!" interrupts a voice--not his.  Both turning, startled,
behold--_Father Rogier_!

Volume One, Chapter XII.

A WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING.

Father Rogier is a French priest of a type too well known over all the
world--the Jesuitical.  Spare of form, thin-lipped, nose with the
cuticle drawn across it tight as drum parchment, skin dark and
cadaverous, he looks Loyola from head to heel.

He himself looks no one straight in the face.  Confronted, his eyes fall
to his feet, or turn to either side, not in timid abashment, but as
those of one who feels himself a felon.  And but for his habiliments he
might well pass for such; though even the sacerdotal garb, and assumed
air of sanctity, do not hinder the suspicion of a wolf in sheep's
clothing--rather suggesting it.  And in truth is he one; a very
Pharisee--Inquisitor to boot, cruel and keen as ever sate in secret
Council over an _Auto da Fe_.

What is such a man doing in Herefordshire?  What, in Protestant England?

Time was, and not so long ago, when these questions would have been
asked with curiosity, and some degree of indignation.  As for instance,
when our popular Queen added to her popularity, by somewhat
ostentatiously declaring, that "no foreign priest should take tithe or
toll in her dominions," even forbidding them their distinctive dress.
Then they stole timidly, and sneakingly, through the streets, usually
seen hunting in couples, and looking as if conscious their pursuit was
criminal, or, at the least, illegal.

All that is over now; the ban removed, the boast unkept--to all
appearance forgotten!  Now they stalk boldly abroad, or saunter in
squads, exhibiting their shorn crowns and pallid faces, without fear or
shame; instead, triumphantly flouting their vestments in public walks or
parks, or loitering in the vestibules of convents and monasteries, which
begin to show thick over the land--threatening us with a curse as that
anterior to the time of bluff King Hal.  No one now thinks it strange to
see shovel-hatted priest, or sandalled monk--no matter in what part of
England, nor would wonder at one of either being resident upon Wyeside.
Father Rogier, one of the former, is there with similar motive, and for
the same purpose, his sort are sent everywhere--to enslave the souls of
men and get money out of their purses, in order that other men, princes,
and priests like himself, may lead luxurious lives, without toil and by
trickery.  The same old story, since the beginning of the world, or
man's presence upon it.  The same craft as the rain maker of South
Africa, or the medicine man of the North American Indian; differing only
in some points of practice; the religious juggler of a higher
civilisation, finding his readiest tools not in roots, snake-skins, and
rattles, but the weakness of woman.  Through this, as by sap and mine,
many a strong citadel has been carried, after bidding defiance to the
boldest and most determined assault.

_Pere_ Rogier well knows all this; and by experience, having played the
propagandist game with some success since his settling in Herefordshire.
He has not been quite three years resident on Wyeside, and yet has
contrived to draw around him a considerable coterie of weak-minded
Marthas and Marys, built him a little chapel, with a snug
dwelling-house, and is in a fair way of further feathering his nest.
True, his neophytes are nearly all of the humbler class, and poor.  But
the Peter's pence count up in a remarkable manner, and are paid with a
regularity which only blind devotion, or the zeal of religious
partisanship, can exact.  Fear of the Devil, and love of him, are like
effective in drawing contributions to the box of the Rugg's Ferry
chapel, and filling the pockets of its priest.

And if he have no grand people among his flock, and few disciples of the
class called middle, he can boast of at least two claiming to be
genteel--the Murdocks.  With the man no false assumption either; neither
does he assume, or value it.  Different the woman.  Born in the Faubourg
Montmartre, her father a common _ouvrier_, her mother a
_blanchisseuse_--herself a beautiful girl--Olympe Renault soon found her
way into a more fashionable quarter.  The same ambition made her Lewin
Murdock's wife, and has brought her on to England.  For she did not many
him without some knowledge of his reversionary interest in the land of
which they have just been speaking, and at which they are still looking.
That was part of the inducement held out for obtaining her hand; her
heart he never had.

That the priest knows something of the same, indeed all, is evident from
the word he has respondingly pronounced.  With step, silent and
cat-like--his usual mode of progression--he has come upon them unawares,
neither having note of his approach till startled by his voice.  On
hearing it, and seeing who, Murdock rises to his feet, as he does so
saluting.  Notwithstanding long years of a depraved life, his early
training has been that of a gentleman, and its instincts at times return
to him.  Besides, born and brought up Roman Catholic, he has that
respect for his priest, habitual to a proverb--would have, even if
knowing the latter to be the veriest Pharisee that ever wore
single-breasted black-coat.

Salutations exchanged, and a chair brought out for the new comer to sit
upon, Murdock demands explanation of the interrupting monosyllable,
asking:

"What do you mean, Father Rogier, by `two'?"

"What I've said, M'sieu; that there are two between you and that over
yonder, or soon will be--in time perhaps ten.  A fair paysage it is!" he
continues, looking across the river; "a very vale of Tempe, or Garden of
the Hesperides.  _Parbleu_!  I never believed your England so beautiful.
Ah! what's going on at Llangorren?"  This as his eyes rest upon the
tent, the flags, and gaily-dressed figures.  "A _fete champetre_:
Mademoiselle making, merry!  In honour of the anticipated change, no
doubt."

"Still I don't comprehend," says Murdock, looking puzzled.  "You speak
in riddles, Father Rogier."

"Riddles easily read, M'sieu.  Of this particular one you'll find the
interpretation there."

This, pointing to a plain gold ring on the fourth finger of Mrs
Murdock's left hand, put upon it by Murdock himself on the day he became
her husband.

He now comprehends--his quick-witted wife sooner.

"Ha!" she exclaims, as if pricked by a pin, "Mademoiselle to be
married?"

The priest gives an assenting nod.

"That's news to me," mutters Murdock, in a tone more like he was
listening to the announcement of a death.

"_Moi aussi_!  Who, _Pere_?  Not Monsieur Shenstone, after all?"

The question shows how well she is acquainted with Miss Wynn--if not
personally, with her surroundings and predilections!

"No," answers the priest.  "Not he."

"Who then?" asked the two simultaneously.

"A man likely to make many heirs to Llangorren--widen the breach between
you and it--ah! to the impossibility of that ever being bridged."

"_Pere Rogier_!" appeals Murdock, "I pray you speak out!  Who is to do
this?  His name?"

"_Le Capitaine Ryecroft_."

"Captain Ryecroft!  Who--what is he?"

"An officer of Hussars--a fine-looking fellow--sort of combination of
Mars and Apollo; strong as Hercules!  As I've said, likely to be father
to no end of sons and daughters, with Gwen Wynn for their mother.
_Helas_!  I can fancy seeing them now--at play over yonder, on the
lawn!"

"Captain Ryecroft!" repeats Murdock, musingly; "I never saw--never heard
of the man!"

"You hear of him now, and possibly see him too.  No doubt he's among
those gay toxophilites--Ha! no, he's nearer!  What a strange
coincidence!  The old saw, `speak of the fiend.'  There's _your_ fiend,
Monsieur Murdock!"

He points to a boat on the river with two men in it; one of them wearing
a white cap.  It is dropping down in the direction of Llangorren Court.

"Which?" asks Murdock, mechanically.

"He with the _chapeau blanc_.  That's whom you have to fear.  The
other's but the waterman Wingate--honest fellow enough, whom no one need
fear--unless indeed our worthy friend Coracle Dick, his competitor for
the smiles of the pretty Mary Morgan.  Yes, _mes amis_!  Under that
conspicuous _kepi_ you behold the future lord of Llangorren."

"Never!" exclaims Murdock, angrily gritting his teeth.  "Never!"

The French priest and ci-devant French courtesan exchange secret, but
significant, glances; a pleased expression showing on the faces of both.

"You speak excitedly, M'sieu," says the priest, "emphatically, too.  But
how is it to be hindered?"

"I don't know," sourly rejoins Murdock; "I suppose it can't be," he
adds, drawing back, as if conscious of having committed himself.  "Never
mind, now; let's drop the disagreeable subject.  You'll stay to dinner
with us, Father Rogier?"

"If not putting you to inconvenience."

"Nay; it's you who'll be inconvenienced--starved, I should rather say.
The butchers about here are not of the most amiable type; and, if I
mistake not, our _menu_ for to-day is a very primitive one--bacon and
potatoes, with some greens from the old garden."

"Monsieur Murdock!  It's not the fare, but the fashion, which makes a
meal enjoyable.  A crust and welcome is to me better cheer than a
banquet with a grudging host at the head of the table.  Besides, your
English bacon is a most estimable dish, and with your succulent cabbages
delectable.  With a bit of Wye salmon to precede, and a pheasant to
follow, it were food to satisfy Lucullus himself."

"Ah! true," assents the broken-down gentleman, "with the salmon and
pheasant.  But where are they?  My fishmonger, who is, conjointly also a
game-dealer, is at present as much out with me as is the butcher; I
suppose, from my being too much in with them--in their books.  Still,
they have not ceased acquaintance, so far as calling is concerned.  That
they do with provoking frequency.  Even this morning, before I was out
of bed, I had the honour of a visit from both the gentlemen.
Unfortunately, they brought neither fish nor meat; instead, two sheets
of that detestable blue paper, with red lines and rows of figures--an
arithmetic not nice to be bothered with at one's breakfast.  So, _Pere_;
I am sorry I can't offer you any salmon; and as for pheasant--you may
not be aware, that it is out of season."

"It's never out of season, any more than barn-door fowl; especially if a
young last year's _coq_, that hasn't been successful in finding a mate."

"But it's close time now," urges the Englishman, stirred by his old
instincts of gentleman sportsman.

"Not to those who know how to open it," returns the Frenchman, with a
significant shrug.  "And suppose we do that to-day?"

"I don't understand.  Will your Reverence enlighten me?"

"Well, M'sieu; being Whit-Monday, and coming to pay you a visit, I
thought you mightn't be offended by my bringing along with me a little
present--for Madame here--that we're talking of--salmon and pheasant."

The husband, more than the wife, looks incredulous.  Is the priest
jesting?  Beneath the _froc_, fitting tight his thin spare form, there
is nothing to indicate the presence of either fish or bird.

"Where are they?" asks Murdock mechanically.  "You say you've brought
them along?"

"Ah! that was metaphorical.  I meant to say I had sent them.  And if I
mistake not, they are near now.  Yes; there's my messenger!"

He points to a man making up the glen, threading his way through the
tangle of wild bushes that grow along the banks of the rivulet.

"Coracle Dick!" exclaims Murdock, recognising the poacher.

"The identical individual," answers the priest, adding, "who, though a
poacher, and possibly has been something worse, is not such a bad fellow
in his way--for certain purposes.  True, he's neither the most devout
nor best behaved of my flock; still a useful individual, especially on
Fridays, when one has to confine himself to a fish diet.  I find him
convenient in other ways as well; as so might you, Monsieur Murdock--
some day.  Should you ever have need of a strong hard hand, with a heart
in correspondence, Richard Dempsey possesses both, and would no doubt
place them at your service--for a consideration."

While Murdock is cogitating on what the last words are meant to convey,
the individual so recommended steps upon the ground.  A stout, thick-set
fellow, with a shock of black curly hair coming low down, almost to his
eyes, thus adding to their sinister and lowering look.  For all a face
not naturally uncomely, but one on which crime has set its stamp, deep
and indelible.

His garb is such as gamekeepers usually wear, and poachers almost
universally affect, a shooting coat of velveteen, corduroy smalls, and
sheepskin gaiters buttoned over thick-soled shoes iron-tipped at the
toes.  In the ample skirt pockets of the coat--each big as a game-bag--
appear two protuberances, that about balance one another--the present of
which the priest has already delivered the invoice--in the one being a
salmon "blotcher" weighing some three or four pounds, in the other a
young cock pheasant.

Having made obeisance to the trio in the grounds of Glyngog, he is about
drawing them forth when the priest prevents him, exclaiming:--

"_Arretez_!  They're not commodities that keep well in the sun.  Should
a water-bailiff, or one of the Llangorren gamekeepers chance to set eyes
on them, they'd spoil at once.  Those lynx-eyed fellows can see a long
way, especially on a day bright as this.  So, worthy Coracle, before
uncarting, you'd better take them back to the kitchen."

Thus instructed, the poacher strides off round to the rear of the house;
Mrs Murdock entering by the front door to give directions about
dressing the dinner.  Not that she intends to take any hand in cooking
it--not she.  That would be _infra dig_ for the _ancien belle of
Mabille_.  Poor as is the establishment of Glyngog, it can boast of a
plain cook, with a _slavey_ to assist.

The other two remain outside, the guest joining his host in a glass of
brandy and water.  More than one; for Father Rogier, though French, can
drink like a born Hibernian.  Nothing of the Good Templar in him.

After they have been for nigh an hour hobnobbing, conversing, Murdock
still fighting shy of the subject, which is nevertheless uppermost in
the minds of both, the priest once more approaches it, saying:--

"_Parbleu_!  They appear to be enjoying themselves over yonder!"  He is
looking at the lawn where the bright forms are flitting to and fro.
"And most of all, I should say, Monsieur White Cap--foretasting the
sweets of which he'll ere long enter into full enjoyment; when he
becomes master of Llangorren."

"That--never!" exclaims Murdock, this time adding an oath.  "Never while
I live.  When I'm dead--"

"_Diner_!" interrupts a female voice from the house, that of its
mistress seen standing on the doorstep.

"Madame summons us," says the priest, "we must in, M'sieu.  While
picking the bones of the pheasant, you can complete your unfinished
speech.  _Allons_!"

Volume One, Chapter XIII.

AMONG THE ARROWS.

The invited to the archery meeting have nearly all arrived, and the
shooting has commenced; half a dozen arrows in the air at a time, making
for as many targets.

Only a limited number of ladies compete for the first score, each having
a little coterie of acquaintances at her back.

Gwen Wynn herself is in this opening contest.  Good with the bow, as at
the oar--indeed with county celebrity as an archer--carrying the
champion badge of her club--it is almost a foregone conclusion she will
come off victorious.

Soon, however, those who are backing her begin to anticipate
disappointment.  She is not shooting with her usual skill, nor yet
earnestness.  Instead, negligently, and to all appearance, with thoughts
abstracted; her eyes every now and then straying over the ground,
scanning the various groups, as if in search of a particular individual.
The gathering is large--nearly a hundred people present--and one might
come or go without attracting observation.  She evidently expects one to
come who is not yet there; and oftener than elsewhere her glances go
towards the boat-dock, as if the personage expected should appear in
that direction.  There is a nervous restlessness in her manner, and
after each reconnaissance of this kind, an expression of disappointment
on her countenance.

It is not unobserved.  A gentleman by her side notes it, and with some
suspicion of its cause--a suspicion that pains him.  It is George
Shenstone; who is attending on her, handing the arrows--in short, acting
as her _aide-de-camp_.  Neither is he adroit in the exercise of his
duty; instead performs it bunglingly; his thoughts preoccupied, and eyes
wandering about.  His glances, however, are sent in the opposite
direction--to the gate entrance of the park, visible from the place
where the targets are set up.

They are both "prospecting" for the selfsame individual, but with very
different ideas--one eagerly anticipating his arrival, the other as
earnestly hoping he may not come.  For the expected one is a gentleman--
no other than Vivian Ryecroft.

Shenstone knows the Hussar officer has been invited; and, however hoping
or wishing it, has but little faith he will fail.  Were it himself no
ordinary obstacle could prevent his being present at that archery
meeting, any more than would five-barred gate, or bullfinch, hinder him
from keeping up with hounds.

As time passes without any further arrivals, and the tardy guest has not
yet put in appearance, Shenstone begins to think he will this day have
Miss Wynn to himself, or at least without any very formidable
competitor.  There are others present who seek her smiles--some aspiring
to her hand--but none he fears so much as the one still absent.

Just as he is becoming calm, and confident, he is saluted by a gentleman
of the genus "swell," who, approaching, drawls out the interrogatory:--

"Who is that fella, Shenstone?"

"What fellow?"

"He with the vewy peculya head gear?  Indian affair--_topee_, I bewieve
they call it."

"Where?" asks Shenstone, starting and staring to all sides.

"Yondaw!  Appwoaching from the diwection of the rivaw.  Looks a fwesh
awival.  I take it, he must have come by bawt!  Knaw him?"

George Shenstone, strong man though he be, visibly trembles.  Were Gwen
Wynn at that moment to face about, and aim one of her arrows at his
breast, it would not bring more pallor upon his cheeks, nor pain to his
heart.  For he wearing the "peculya head gear" is the man he most fears,
and whom he had hoped not to see this day.

So much is he affected, he does not answer the question put to him; nor
indeed has he opportunity, as just then Miss Wynn, sighting the _topee_
too, suddenly turning, says to him:--

"George! be good enough to take charge of these things."  She holds her
bow with an arrow she had been affixing to the string.  "Yonder's a
gentleman just arrived; who you know is a stranger.  Aunt will expect me
to receive him.  I'll be back soon as I've discharged my duty."

Delivering the bow and unspent shaft, she glides off without further
speech or ceremony.

He stands looking after; in his eyes anything but a pleased expression.
Indeed, sullen, almost angry, as watching her every movement, he notes
the manner of her reception--greeting the new comer with a warmth and
cordiality he, Shenstone, thinks uncalled for, however much stranger the
man may be.  Little irksome to her seems the discharge of that so-called
duty; but so exasperating to the baronet's son, he feels like crushing
the bow stick between his fingers, or snapping it in twain across his
knee!

As he stands with eyes glaring upon them, he is again accosted by his
inquisitive acquaintance, who asks:

"What's the matter, Jawge?  Yaw haven't answered my intewogatowy!"

"What was it?  I forget."

"Aw, indeed!  That's stwange.  I merely wished to know who Mr White Cap
is?"

"Just what I'd like to know myself.  All I can tell you is, that he's an
army fellow--in the Cavalry I believe--by name Ryecroft."

"Aw yas; Cavalwy.  That's evident by the bend of his legs.  Wyquoft--
Wyquoft, you say?"

"So he calls himself--a captain of Hussars--his own story."

This in a tone and with a shrug of insinuation.

"But yaw don't think he's an adventuwer?"

"Can't say whether he is, or not."

"Who's his endawser?  How came he intwoduced at Llangowen?"

"That I can't tell you."  He could though; for Miss Wynn, true to her
promise, has made him acquainted with the circumstances of the river
adventure, though not those leading to it; and he, true to his, has kept
them a secret.  In a sense therefore, he could not tell, and the
subterfuge is excusable.

"By Jawve!  The Light Bob appears to have made good use of his time--
however intwoduced.  Miss Gwen seems quite familiaw with him; and yondaw
the little Lees shaking hands, as though the two had been acquainted
evaw since coming out of their cwadles!  See!  They're dwagging him up
to the ancient spinster, who sits enthawned in her chair like a queen of
the Tawnament times.  Vewy mediaeval the whole affair--vewy!"

"Instead, very modern; in my opinion, disgustingly so!"

"Why d'y aw say that, Jawge?"

"Why!  Because in either olden or mediaeval times such a thing couldn't
have occurred--here in Herefordshire."

"What thing, pway?"

"A man admitted into good society without endorsement or introduction.
Now-a-days, any one may be so; claim acquaintance with a lady, and force
his company upon her, simply from having had the chance to pick up a
dropped pocket-handkerchief, or offer his umbrella in a skiff of a
shower!"

"But, shawly, that isn't how the gentleman yondaw made acquaintance with
the fair Gwendoline?"

"Oh!  I don't say that," rejoins Shenstone with forced attempt at a
smile--more natural, as he sees Miss Wynn separate from the group they
are gazing at, and come back to reclaim her bow.  Better satisfied, now,
he is rather worried by his importunate friend, and to get rid of him
adds:

"If you are really desirous to know how Miss Wynn became acquainted with
him, you can ask the lady herself."

Not for all the world would the swell put that question to Gwen Wynn.
It would not be safe; and thus snubbed he saunters away, before she is
up to the spot.

Ryecroft, left with Miss Linton, remains in conversation with her.  It
is not his first interview; for several times already has he been a
visitor at Llangorren--introduced by the young ladies as the gentleman
who, when the pleasure-boat was caught in a dangerous whirl, out of
which old Joseph was unable to extricate it, came to their rescue--
possibly to the saving of their lives!  Thus, the version of the
adventure, vouchsafed to the aunt--sufficient to sanction his being
received at the Court.

And the ancient toast of Cheltenham has been charmed with him.  In the
handsome Hussar officer she beholds the typical hero of her romance
reading; so much like it, that Lord Lutestring has long ago gone out of
her thoughts--passed from her memory as though he had been but a musical
sound.  Of all who bend before her this day, the worship of none is so
welcome as that of the martial stranger.

Resuming her bow, Gwen shoots no better than before.  Her thoughts,
instead of being concentrated on the painted circles, as her eyes, are
half the time straying over her shoulders to him behind, still in a
_tete-a-tete_ with the aunt.  Her arrows fly wild and wide, scarce one
sticking in the straw.  In fine, among all the competitors, she counts
lowest score--the poorest she has herself ever made.  But what matters
it?  She is only too pleased when her quiver is empty, and she can have
excuse to return to Miss Linton, on some question connected with the
hospitalities of the house.

Observing all this, and much more besides, George Shenstone feels
aggrieved--indeed exasperated--so terribly, it takes all his best
breeding to withhold him from an exhibition of bad behaviour.  He might
not succeed were he to remain much longer on the ground--which he does
not.  As if misdoubting his power of restraint, and fearing to make a
fool of himself, he too frames excuse, and leaves Llangorren long before
the sports come to a close.  Not rudely, or with any show of spleen.  He
is a gentleman, even in his anger; and bidding a polite, and formal,
adieu to Miss Linton, with one equally ceremonious, but more distant, to
Miss Wynn, he slips round to the stables, orders his horse, leaps into
the saddle, and rides off.

Many the day he has entered the gates of Llangorren with a light and
happy heart--this day he goes out of them with one heavy and sad.

If missed from the archery meeting, it is not by Miss Wynn.  Instead,
she is glad of his being gone.  Notwithstanding the love passion for
another now occupying her heart--almost filling it--there is still room
there for the gentler sentiment of pity.  She knows how Shenstone
suffers--how could she help knowing? and pities him.

Never more than at this same moment, despite that distant, half
disdainful adieu, vouchsafed to her at parting; by him intended to
conceal his thoughts, as his sufferings, while but the better revealing
them.  How men underrate the perception of women!  In matters of this
kind a very intuition.

None keener than that of Gwen Wynn.  She knows why he has gone so short
away,--well as if he had told her.  And with the compassionate thought
still lingering, she heaves a sigh; sad as she sees him ride out through
the gate--going in reckless gallop--but succeeded by one of relief, soon
as he is out of sight!

In an instant after, she is gay and gladsome as ever; once more bending
the bow, and making the catgut twang.  But now shooting straight--
hitting the target every time, and not unfrequently lodging a shaft in
the "gold."  For he who now attends on her, not only inspires
confidence, but excites her to the display of skill.  Captain Ryecroft
has taken George Shenstone's place, as her aide-de-camp; and while he
hands the arrows, she spending them, others of a different kind pass
between--the shafts of Cupid--of which there is a full quiver in the
eyes of both.

Volume One, Chapter XIV.

BEATING ABOUT THE BUSH.

Naturally, Captain Ryecroft is the subject of speculation among the
archers at Llangorren.  A man of his mien would be so anywhere--if
stranger.  The old story of the unknown knight suddenly appearing on the
tourney's field with closed visor, only recognisable by a love-lock or
other favour of the lady whose cause he comes to champion.

He, too, wears a distinctive badge--in the white cap.  For though our
tale is of modern time, it antedates that when Brown began to affect the
_pugaree_--sham of Manchester Mills--as an appendage to his cheap straw
hat.  That on the head of Captain Ryecroft is the regular forage cap
with quilted cover.  Accustomed to it in India--whence he has but lately
returned--he adheres to it in England without thought of its attracting
attention and as little caring whether it do or not.

It does, however.  Insular, we are supremely conservative--some might
call it "caddish"--and view innovations with a jealous eye; as witness
the so-called "moustache movement" not many years ago, and the fierce
controversy it called forth.

For other reasons the officer of Hussars is at this same archery
gathering a cynosure of eyes.  There is a perfume of romance about him;
in the way he has been introduced to the ladies of Llangorren; a
question asked by others besides the importunate friend of George
Shenstone.  The true account of the affair with the drunken foresters
has not got abroad--these keeping dumb about their own discomfiture;
while Jack Wingate, a man of few words, and on this special matter
admonished to silence, has been equally close-mouthed; Joseph also mute
for reasons already mentioned.

Withal, a vague story has currency in the neighbourhood, of a boat, with
two young ladies, in danger of being capsized--by some versions actually
upset--and the ladies rescued from drowning by a stranger who chanced to
be salmon fishing near by--his name, Ryecroft.  And as this tale also
circulates among the archers at Llangorren, it is not strange that some
interest should attach to the supposed hero of it, now present.

Still, in an assemblage so large, and composed of such distinguished
people--many of whom are strangers to one another--no particular
personage can be for long an object of special concern; and if Captain
Ryecroft continue to attract observation, it is neither from curiosity
as to how he came there, nor the peculiarity of his head-dress, but the
dark handsome features beneath it.  On these more than one pair of
bright eyes occasionally become fixed, regarding them with admiration.

None so warmly as those of Gwen Wynn; though hers neither openly nor in
a marked manner.  For she is conscious of being under the surveillance
of other eyes, and needs to observe the proprieties.

In which she succeeds; so well, that no one watching her could tell,
much less say, there is aught in her behaviour to Captain Ryecroft
beyond the hospitality of host--which in a sense she is--to guest
claiming the privileges of a stranger.  Even when during an interregnum
of the sports the two go off together, and, after strolling for a time
through the grounds, are at length seen to step inside the summer-house,
it may cause, but does not merit, remark.  Others are acting similarly,
sauntering in pairs, loitering in shady places, or sitting on rustic
benches.  Good society allows the freedom, and to its credit.  That
which is corrupt alone may cavil at it, and shame the day when such
confidence be abused and abrogated!

Side by side they take stand in the little pavilion, under the shadow of
its painted zinc roof.  It may not have been all chance their coming
thither--no more the archery party itself.  That Gwendoline Wynn, who
suggested giving it, can alone tell.  But standing there with their eyes
bent on the river, they are for a time silent--so much, that each can
hear the beating of the other's heart--both brimful of love.

At such moment one might suppose there could be no reserve or reticence,
but confession full, candid, and mutual.  Instead, at no time is this
farther off.  If _le joie fait peur_, far more _l'amour_.

And with all that has passed is there fear between them.  On her part
springing from a fancy she has been over forward--in her gushing
gratitude for that service done, given too free expression to it, and
needs being more reserved now.  On his side speech is stayed by a
reflection somewhat akin, with others besides.  In his several calls at
the Court his reception has been both welcome and warm.  Still, not
beyond the bounds of well-bred hospitality.  But why on each and every
occasion has he found a gentleman there--the same every time--George
Shenstone by name?  There before him, and staying after!  And this very
day, what meant Mr Shenstone by that sudden and abrupt departure?
Above all, why her distraught look, with the sigh accompanying it, as
the baronet's son went galloping out of the gate?  Having seen the one,
and heard the other, Captain Ryecroft has misinterpreted both.  No
wonder his reluctance to speak words of love.

And so for a time they are silent, the dread of misconception, with
consequent fear of committal, holding their lips sealed.  On a simple
utterance now may hinge their life's happiness, or its misery.

Nor is it so strange, that in a moment fraught with such mighty
consequence, conversation should be not only timid, but commonplace.
They who talk of love's eloquence, but think of it in its lighter
phases--perhaps its lying.  When truly, deeply, felt it is dumb, as
devout worshipper in the presence of the divinity worshipped.  Here,
side by side, are two highly organised beings--a man handsome and
courageous, a woman beautiful and aught but timid--both well up in the
accomplishments, and gifted with the graces of life--loving each other
to their souls' innermost depths, yet embarrassed in manner, and
constrained in speech, as though they were a couple of rustics!  More;
for Corydon would fling his arms around his Phyllis, and give her an
eloquent smack, which she with like readiness would return.

Very different the behaviour of these in the pavilion.  They stand for a
time silent as statues--though not without a tremulous motion, scarce
perceptible--as if the amorous electricity around stifled their
breathing, for the time hindering speech.  And when at length this
comes, it is of no more significance than what might be expected between
two persons lately introduced, and feeling but the ordinary interest in
one another!

It is the lady who speaks first:--

"I understand you've been but a short while resident in our
neighbourhood, Captain Ryecroft?"

"Not quite three months, Miss Wynn.  Only a week or two before I had the
pleasure of making your acquaintance."

"Thank you for calling it a pleasure.  Not much in the manner, I should
say; but altogether the contrary," she laughs, adding--

"And how do you like our Wye?"

"Who could help liking it?"

"There's been much said of its scenery--in books and newspapers.  You
really admire it?"

"I do, indeed."  His preference is pardonable under the circumstances.
"I think it the finest in the world."

"What! you such a great traveller!  In the tropics too; upon rivers that
run between groves of evergreen trees, and over sands of gold!  Do you
really mean that, Captain Ryecroft?"

"Really--truthfully.  Why not, Miss Wynn?"

"Because I supposed those grand rivers we read of were all so much
superior to our little Herefordshire stream; in flow of water, scenery,
everything--"

"Nay, not everything!" he says, interruptingly.  "In volume of water
they may be; but far from it in other respects.  In some it is superior
to them all--Rhine, Rhone, ah!  Hippocrene itself!"

His tongue is at length getting loosed.

"What other respects?" she asks.

"The forms reflected in it," he answers hesitatingly.

"Not those of vegetation!  Surely our oaks, elms, and poplars cannot be
compared with the tall palms and graceful tree ferns of the tropics?"

"No; not those."

"Our buildings neither, if photography tells truth, which it should.
Those wonderful structures--towers, temples, pagodas--of which it has
given us the _fac similes_--far excel anything we have on the Wye--or
anything in England.  Even our Tintern, which we think so very grand,
were but as nothing to them.  Isn't that so?"

"True," he says, assentingly.  "One must admit the superiority of
Oriental architecture."

"But you've not told me what form our English river reflects, so much to
your admiration!"

He has a fine opportunity for poetical reply.  The image is in his
mind--her own--with the word upon his tongue, "woman's."  But he shrinks
from giving it utterance.  Instead, retreating from the position he had
assumed, he rejoins evasively:--

"The truth is, Miss Wynn, I've had a surfeit of tropical scenery, and
was only too glad once more to feast my eyes on the hill and dale
landscapes of dear old England.  I know none to compare with these of
the Wyeside."

"It's very pleasing to hear you say that--to me especially.  It's but
natural I should love our beautiful Wye--I, born on its banks, brought
up on them, and, I suppose, likely to--"

"What?" he asks, observing that she has paused in her speech.

"Be buried on them!" she answers, laughingly.  She intended to have said
"Stay on them for the rest of my life."

"You'll think that a very grave conclusion," she adds, keeping up the
laugh.

"One at all events very far off--it is to be hoped.  An eventuality not
to arise, till after you've passed many long and happy days--whether on
the Wye, or elsewhere."

"Ah! who can tell?  The future is a sealed book to all of us."

"Yours need not be--at least as regards its happiness.  I think that is
assured."

"Why do you say so, Captain Ryecroft?"

"Because it seems to me, as though you had yourself the making of it."

He saying no more than he thinks; far less.  For he believes she could
make fate itself--control it, as she can his.  And as he would now
confess to her--is almost on the eve of it--but hindered by recalling
that strange look and sigh sent after Shenstone.  His fond fancies, the
sweet dreams he has been indulging in ever since making her
acquaintance, may have been but illusions.  She may be playing with him,
as he would with a fish on his hook.  As yet, no word of love has passed
her lips.  Is there thought of it in her heart--for him?

"In what way?  What mean you?" she asks, her liquid eyes turned upon him
with a look of searching interrogation.

The question staggers him.  He does not answer it as he would, and again
replies evasively--somewhat confusedly.

"Oh!  I only meant, Miss Wynn--that you so young--so--well, with all the
world before you--surely have your happiness in your own hands."

If he knew how much it is in his he would speak more courageously, and
possibly with greater plainness.  But he knows not, nor does she tell
him.  She, too, is cautiously retentive, and refrains taking advantage
of his words, full of suggestion.

It will need another _seance_--possibly more than one--before the real
confidence can be exchanged between them.  Natures like theirs do not
rush into confession as the common kind.  With them it is as with the
wooing of eagles.

She simply rejoins:

"I wish it were," adding with a sigh, "Far from it, I fear."

He feels as if he had drifted into a dilemma--brought about by his own
_gaucherie_--from which something seen up the river, on the opposite
side, offers an opportunity to escape--a house.  It is the quaint old
habitation of Tudor times.  Pointing to it, he says:

"A very odd building, that!  If I've been rightly informed, Miss Wynn,
it belongs to a relative of yours?"

"I have a cousin who lives there."  The shadow suddenly darkening her
brow, with the slightly explicit rejoinder, tells him he is again on
dangerous ground.  He attributes it to the character he has heard of Mr
Murdock.  His cousin is evidently disinclined to converse about him.

And she is; the shadow still staying.  If she knew what is at that
moment passing within Glyngog--could but hear the conversation carried
on at its dining table--it might be darker.  It is dark enough in her
heart, as on her face--possibly from a presentiment.

Ryecroft more than ever embarrassed, feels it a relief when Ellen Lees,
with the Rev  Mr Musgrave as her cavalier attendant--they, too,
straying solitarily--approach near enough to be hailed, and invited into
the pavilion.

So the dialogue between the cautious lovers comes to an end--to both of
them unsatisfactory enough.  For this day their love must remain
unrevealed; though never man and woman more longed to learn the sweet
secret of each other's heart.

Volume One, Chapter XV.

A SPIRITUAL ADVISER.

While the sports are in progress outside Llangorren Court, inside
Glyngog House is being eaten that dinner to commence with salmon in
season and end with pheasant out.

It is early; but the Murdocks, often glad to eat what Americans call a
"square meal," have no set hours for eating, while the priest is not
particular.

In the faces of the trio seated at the table, a physiognomist might find
interesting study, and note expressions that would puzzle Lavater
himself.  Nor could they be interpreted by the conversation which, at
first, only refers to topics of a trivial nature.  But now and then, a
_mot_ of double meaning let down by Rogier, and a glance surreptitiously
exchanged between him and his countryman, tell that the thoughts of
these two are running upon themes different from those about which are
their words.

Murdock, by no means of a trusting disposition, but ofttimes furiously
jealous--has nevertheless, in this respect, no suspicion of the priest,
less from confidence than a sort of contempt for the pallid puny
creature, whom he feels he could crush in a moment of mad anger.  And
broken though he be, the stalwart, and once strong, Englishman could
still do that.  To imagine such a man as Rogier a rival in the
affections of his own wife, would be to be little himself.  Besides, he
holds fast to that proverbial faith in the spiritual adviser, not always
well founded--in his case certainly misplaced.  Knowing nought of this,
however, their exchanged looks, however markedly significant, escape his
observation.  Even if he did observe, he could not read in them aught
relating to love.  For, this day there is not; the thoughts of both are
absorbed by a different passion--cupidity.  They are bent upon a scheme
of no common magnitude, but grand and comprehensive--neither more nor
less than to get possession of an estate worth 10,000 pounds a year--
that Llangorren.  They know its value as well as the steward who gives
receipts for its rents.

It is no new notion with them; but one for some time entertained, and
steps considered.  Still nothing definite either conceived, or
determined on.  A task, so herculean, as dangerous and difficult, will
need care in its conception, and time for its execution.  True, it might
be accomplished, almost instantaneously with six inches of steel, or as
many drops of belladonna.  Nor would two of the three seated at the
table stick at employing such means.  Olympe Renault, and Gregoire
Rogier have entertained thoughts of them--if not more.  In the third is
the obstructor.  Lewin Murdock would cheat at dice and cards, do
moneylenders without remorse, and tradesmen without mercy, ay, steal, if
occasion offered; but murder--that is different--being a crime not only
unpleasant to contemplate, but perilous to commit.  He would be willing
to rob Gwendoline Wynn of her property--glad to do it--if he only knew
how--but to take away her life, he is not yet up to that.

But he is drawing up to it, urged by desperate circumstances, and
spurred on by his wife, who loses no opportunity of bewailing their
broken fortunes, and reproaching him for them; at her back the Jesuit
secretly instructing, and dictating.

Not till this day have they found him in the mood for being made more
familiar with their design.  Whatever his own disposition, his ear has
been hitherto deaf to their hints, timidly, and ambiguously given.  But
to-day things appear more promising, as evinced by his angry exclamation
"Never!"  Hence their delight at hearing it.

During the earlier stages of the dinner, as already said, they converse
about ordinary subjects, like the lovers in the pavilion, silent upon
that paramount in their minds.  How different the themes--as love itself
from murder!  And just as the first word was unspoken in the
summer-house at Llangorren, so is the last unheard in the dining-room of
Glyngog.

While the blotcher is being carved with a spoon--there is no fish slice
among the chattels of Mr Murdock--the priest in good appetite, and high
glee, pronounces it "crimp."  He speaks English like a native, and is
even up in its provincialisms; few in Herefordshire whose dialect is of
the purest.

The phrase of the fishmonger received smilingly, the salmon is
distributed and handed across the table; the attendance of the slavey,
with claws not over clean, and ears that might be unpleasantly sharp,
having been dispensed with.

There is wine without stint; for although Murdoch's town tradesmen may
be hard of heart, in the Welsh Harp there is a tender string he can
still play upon; the Boniface of the Rugg's Ferry hostelry having a
belief in his _post obit_ expectations.  Not such an indifferent wine
either, but some of the choicest vintage.  The guests of the Harp,
however rough in external appearance and rude in behaviour--have
wonderfully refined ideas about drink, and may be often heard calling
for "fizz"--some of them as well acquainted with the qualities of Moet
and Cliquot, as a connoisseur of the most fashionable club.

Profiting by their aesthetic tastes, Lewin Murdock is enabled to set
wines upon his table of the choicest brands.  Light Bordeaux first with
the fish, then sherry with the heavier greens and bacon, followed by
champagne as they get engaged upon the pheasant.

At this point the conversation approaches a topic, hitherto held in
reserve, Murdock himself starting it:--

"So, my cousin Gwen's going to get married, eh! are you sure of that,
Father Rogier?"

"I wish I were as sure of going to heaven."

"But what sort of man is he? you haven't told us."

"Yes, I have.  You forget my description, Monsieur--cross between Mars
and Phoebus--strength herculean; sure to be father to a progeny numerous
as that which spring from the head of Medusa--enough of them to make
heirs for Llangorren to the end of time--keep you out of the property if
you lived to be the age of Methuselah.  Ah! a fine-looking fellow, I can
assure you; against whom the baronet's son, with his rubicund cheeks and
hay-coloured hair, wouldn't stand the slightest chance--even were there
nothing: more to recommend the martial stranger.  But there is."

"What more?"

"The mode of his introduction to the lady--that quite romantic."

"How was he introduced?"

"Well, he made her acquaintance on the water.  It appears Mademoiselle
Wynn and her companion Lees, were out on the river for a row alone.
Unusual that!  Thus out, some fellows--Forest of Dean dwellers--offered
them insult; from which a gentleman angler, who chanced to be whipping
the stream close by, saved them--he no other than _le Capitaine
Ryecroft_.  With such commencement of acquaintance, a man couldn't be
much worth, who didn't know how to improve it--even to terminating in
marriage if he wished.  And with such a rich heiress as Mademoiselle
Gwendoline Wynn--to say nought of her personal charms--there are few men
who wouldn't wish it so to end.  That he, the Hussar officer, captain,
colonel, or whatever his rank, does, I've good reason to believe, as
also that he will succeed in accomplishing his desires; no more doubt of
it than of my being seated at this table.  Yes; sure as I sit here that
man will be the master of Llangorren."

"I suppose he will;" "must," rejoins Murdock, drawing out the words as
though not greatly concerned, one way, or the other.

Olympe looks dissatisfied, but not Rogier nor she, after a glance from
the priest, which seems to say "Wait."  He himself intends waiting till
the drink has done its work.

Taking the hint she remains silent, her countenance showing calm, as
with the content of innocence, while in her heart is the guilt of hell,
and the deceit of the devil.

She preserves her composure all through, and soon as the last course is
ended, with a show of dessert placed upon the table--poor and _pro
forma_--obedient to a look from Rogier, with a slight nod in the
direction of the door, she makes her _conge_, and retires.

Murdock lights his meerschaum, the priest one of his paper cigarettes--
of which he carries a case--and for some time they sit smoking and
drinking; talking, too, but upon matters with no relation to that
uppermost in their minds.  They seem to fear touching it, as though it
were a thing to contaminate.  It is only after repeatedly emptying their
glasses, their courage comes up to the standard required; that of the
Frenchman first; who, nevertheless, approaches the delicate subject with
cautious circumlocution.

"By the way, M'sieu," he says, "we've forgotten what we were conversing
about, when summoned to dinner--a meal I've greatly enjoyed--
notwithstanding your depreciation of the _menu_.  Indeed, a very _bonne
bouche_ your English bacon, and the greens excellent, as also the
_pommes de terre_.  You were speaking of some event, or circumstance, to
be conditional on your death.  What is it?  Not the deluge, I hope!
True, your Wye is subject to sudden floods; might it have ought to do
with them?"

"Why should it?" asks Murdock, not comprehending the drift.

"Because people sometimes get drowned in these inundations; indeed,
often.  Scarce a week passes without some one falling into the river,
and there remaining, at least till life is extinct.  What with its
whirls and rapids, it's a very dangerous stream.  I wonder at
Mademoiselle Wynne venturing so courageously--so _carelessly_ upon it."

The peculiar intonation of the last speech, with emphasis on the word
carelessly, gives Murdock a glimpse of what it is intended to point to.

"She's got courage enough," he rejoins, without appearing to comprehend.
"About her carelessness, I don't know."

"But the young lady certainly is careless--recklessly so.  That affair
of her going out alone is proof of it.  What followed may make her more
cautious; still, boating is a perilous occupation, and boats, whether
for pleasure or otherwise, are awkward things to manage--fickle and
capricious as women themselves.  Suppose hers should some day go to the
bottom she being in it?"

"That would be bad."

"Of course it would.  Though, Monsieur Murdock, many men situated as
you, instead of grieving over such an accident, would but rejoice at
it."

"No doubt they would.  But what's the use of talking of a thing not
likely to happen?"

"Oh, true!  Still, boat accidents being of such common occurrence, one
is as likely to befall Mademoiselle Wynn as anybody else.  A pity if it
should--a misfortune!  But so is the other thing."

"What other thing?"

"That such a property as Llangorren should be in the hands of heretics,
having but a lame title too.  If what I've heard be true, you yourself
have as much right to it as your cousin.  It were better it belonged to
a true son of the Church, as I know you to be, M'sieu."

Murdock receives the compliment with a grimace.  He is no hypocrite;
still with all his depravity he has a sort of respect for religion, or
rather its outward forms--regularly attends Rogier's chapel, and goes
through all the ceremonies and genuflexions, just as the Italian bandit
after cutting a throat will drop on his knees and repeat a _paternoster_
at hearing the distant bell of the Angelus.

"A very poor one," he replies, with a half smile, half grin.

"In a worldly sense, you mean?  I'm aware, you're not very rich."

"In more senses than that.  Your Reverence, I've been a great sinner, I
admit."

"Admission is a good sign--giving promise of repentance, which need
never come too late if a man be disposed to it.  It is a deep sin the
Church cannot condone--a dark crime indeed."

"Oh, I haven't done anything deserving the name.  Only such as a great
many others."

"But you might be tempted some day.  Whether or not it's my duty, as
your spiritual adviser, to point out the true doctrine--how the Vatican
views such things.  It's after all only a question of balance between
good and evil; that is, how much evil a man may have done, and the
amount of good he may do.  This world is a ceaseless war between God and
the devil; and those who wage it in the cause of the former have often
to employ the weapons of the latter.  In our service the end justifies
the means, even though these be what the world calls criminal--ay, even
to the taking of life, else why should the great and good Loyola have
counselled drawing the sword, himself using it?"

"True," grunts Murdock, smoking hard, "you're a great theologian, Father
Rogier.  I confess ignorance in such matters; still, I see reason in
what you say."

"You may see it clearer if I set the application before you.  As for
instance, if a man have the right to a certain property, or estate, and
is kept out of it by a quibble, any steps he might take to possess
himself would be justifiable providing he devote a portion of his gains
to the good cause--that is, upholding the true faith, and so benefiting
humanity at large.  Such an act is held by the best of our Church
authorities to compensate for any sin committed--supposing the money
donation sufficient to make the amount of good it may do preponderate
over the evil.  And such a man would not only merit absolution, but
freely receive it.  Now, Monsieur, do you comprehend me?"

"Quite," says Murdock, taking the pipe from his mouth and gulping down a
half tumbler of brandy--for he has dropped the wine.  Withal, he
trembles at the programme thus metaphorically put before him, and fears
admitting the application to himself.

Soon the more potent spirit takes away his last remnant of timidity,
which the tempter perceiving, says:--

"You say you have sinned, Monsieur.  And if it were only for that you
ought to make amends."

"In what way could I?"

"The way I've been speaking of.  Bestow upon the Church the means of
doing good, and so deserve indulgence."

"Ah! where am I to find this means?"

"On the other side of the river."

"You forget that there's more than the stream between."

"Not much to a man who would be true to himself."

"I'm that man all over."  The brandy has made him bold, at length
untying his tongue, while unsteadying it.  "Yes, Pere Rogier; I'm ready
for anything that will release me from this damnable fix--debt over the
ears--duns every day.  Ha!  I'd be true to myself, never fear!"

"It needs being true to the Church as well."

"I'm willing to be that when I have the chance, if ever I have it.  And
to get it I'd risk life.  Not much if I lose it.  It's become a burden
to me, heavier than I can bear."

"You may make it as light as a feather, M'sieu; cheerful as that of any
of those gay gentry you saw disporting themselves on the lawn at
Llangorren--even that of its young mistress."

"How, _Pere_?"

"By yourself becoming its master."

"Ah! if I could."

"You can!"

"With safety?"

"Perfect safety."

"And without committing,"--he fears to speak the ugly English word, but
expresses the idea in French--"_cette dernier coup_?"

"Certainly!  Who dreams of that?  Not I, M'sieu."

"But how is it to be avoided?"

"Easily."

"Tell me, Father Rogier!"

"Not to-night, Murdock!"--he has dropped the distant M'sieu--"Not
to-night.  It's a matter that calls for reflection--consideration, calm
and careful.  Time, too.  Ten thousand _livres esterlies_ per annum!  We
must both ponder upon it--sleep nights, and think days, over it--
possibly have to draw Coracle Dick into our deliberations.  But not
to-night--_Pardieu_! it's ten o'clock!  And I have business to do before
going to bed.  I must be off."

"No, your Reverence; not till you've had another glass of wine."

"One more then.  But let me take it standing--the _tasse d'estrope_, as
you call it."

Murdock assents; and the two rise up to drink the stirrup cup.  But only
the Frenchman keeps his feet till the glasses are emptied; the other,
now dead drunk, dropping back into his chair.

"_Bon soir, Monsieur_!" says the priest, slipping out of the room, his
host answering only by a snore.

For all, Father Rogier does not leave the house so unceremoniously.  In
the porch outside he takes more formal leave of a woman he there finds
waiting for him.  As he joins her going out, she asks, _sotto voce_:--

"_C'est arrange_?"

"Pas encore serait tout suite."  This the sole speech that passes
between them; but something besides, which, if seen by her husband,
would cause him to start from his chair--perhaps some little sober him.

Volume One, Chapter XVI.

CORACLE DICK.

A traveller making the tour of the Wye will now and then see moving
along its banks, or across the contiguous meadows, what he might take
for a gigantic tortoise walking upon its tail!  Mystified by a sight so
abnormal, and drawing nigh to get an explanation of it, he will discover
that the moving object is after all but a man, carrying a boat upon his
back!  Still the tourist will be astonished at a feat so herculean--
rival to that of Atlas--and will only be altogether enlightened when the
boat-bearer lays down his burden--which, if asked, he will obligingly
do--and permits him, the stranger, to satisfy his curiosity by an
inspection of it.  Set square on the sward at his feet, he will look
upon a craft quaint as was ever launched on lake, stream, or tidal wave.
For he will be looking at a "coracle."

Not only quaint in construction, but singularly ingenious in design,
considering the ends to be accomplished.  In addition, historically
interesting; so much as to deserve more than passing notice, even in the
pages of a novel.  Nor will I dismiss it without a word, however it may
seem out of place.

In shape the coracle bears resemblance to the half of a humming-top, or
Swedish turnip cloven longitudinally, the cleft face scooped out leaving
but the rind.  The timbers consist of slender saplings--peeled and split
to obtain lightness--disposed, some fore and aft, others athwart-ships,
still others diagonally, as struts and ties, all having their ends in a
band of wickerwork, which runs round the gunwale, holding them firmly in
place, itself forming the rail.  Over this framework is stretched a
covering of tarred, and, of course, waterproof canvas, tight as a drum.
In olden times it was the skin of ox or horse, but the modern material
is better, because lighter, and less liable to decay, besides being
cheaper.  There is but one seat, or thwart, as the coracle is designed
for only a single occupant, though in a pinch it can accommodate two.
This is a thin board, placed nearly amidships, partly supported by the
wicker rail, and in part by another piece of light scantling, set
edgeways underneath.

In all things ponderosity is as much as possible avoided, since one of
the essential purposes of the coracle is "portage;" and to facilitate
this it is furnished with a leathern strap, the ends attached near each
extremity of the thwart, to be passed across the breast when the boat is
borne overland.  The bearer then uses his oar--there is but one, a
broad-bladed paddle--by way of walking-stick; and so proceeds, as
already said, like a tortoise travelling on its tail!

In this convenience of carriage lies the ingenuity of the structure--
unique and clever beyond anything in the way of water-craft I have
observed elsewhere, either among savage or civilised nations.  The only
thing approaching it in this respect is the birch bark canoe of the
Esquimaux and the Chippeway Indians.  But, though more beautiful this,
it is far behind our native craft in an economic sense--in cheapness and
readiness.  For while the Chippewayan would be stripping his bark from
the tree, and re-arming it--to say nought of fitting to the frame
timbers, stitching, and paying it--a subject of King Caradoc would have
launched his coracle upon the Wye, and paddled it from Plinlimmon to
Chepstow; as many a modern Welshman would the same.

Above all, is the coracle of rare historic interest--as the first
venture upon water of a people--the ancestors of a nation that now rules
the sea--their descendants proudly styling themselves its "Lords"--not
without right and reason.

Why called "coracle" is a matter of doubt and dispute; by most admitted
as a derivative from the Latin _corum_--a skin; this being its original
covering.  But certainly a misconception; since we have historic
evidence of the basket and hide boat being in use around the shores of
Albion hundreds of years before these ever saw Roman ship or standard.
Besides, at the same early period, under the almost homonym of
"corragh," it floated--still floats--on the waters of the Lerne, far
west of anywhere the Romans ever went.  Among the common people on the
Wye it bears a less ancient appellation--that of "truckle."

From whatever source the craft derives its name, it has itself given a
sobriquet to one of the characters of our tale--Richard Dempsey.  Why
the poacher is thus distinguished it is not easy to tell; possibly
because he, more than any other in his neighbourhood, makes use of it,
and is often seen trudging about the river bottoms with the huge
carapace on his shoulders.  It serves his purpose better than any other
kind of boat, for Dick, though a snarer of hares and pheasants, is more
of a salmon poacher, and for this--the water branch of his amphibious
calling--the coracle has a special adaptation.  It can be lifted out of
the river, or launched upon it anywhere, without leaving trace; whereas
with an ordinary skiff the moorings might be marked, the embarkation
observed, and the night netter followed to his netting-place by the
watchful water-bailiff.

Despite his cunning and the handiness of his craft, Dick has not always
come off scot-free.  His name has several times figured in the reports
of Quarter Sessions, and himself in the cells of the county gaol.  This
only for poaching; but he has also served a spell in prison for crime of
a less venal kind--burglary.  As the "job" was done in a distant shire,
there has been nothing heard of it in that where he now resides.  The
worst known of him in the neighbourhood is his game and fish
trespassing, though there is worse suspected.  He whose suspicions are
strongest being the waterman, Wingate.

But Jack may be wronging him, for a certain reason--the most powerful
that ever swayed the passion or warped the judgment of man--rivalry for
the affections of a woman.

No heart, however hardened, is proof against the shafts of Cupid; and
one has penetrated the heart of Coracle Dick, as deeply as has another
that of Jack Wingate.  And both from the same how and quiver--the eyes
of Mary Morgan.

She is the daughter of a small farmer who lives by the Wyeside; and
being a farmer's daughter, above both in social rank, still not so high
but that Love's ladder may reach her, and each lives in hope he may some
day scale it.  For Evan Morgan holds as a tenant, and his land is of
limited acreage.  Dick Dempsey and Jack Wingate are not the only ones
who wish to have him for a father-in-law, but the two most earnest, and
whose chances seem best.  Not that these are at all equal; on the
contrary, greatly disproportionate, Dick having the advantage.  In his
favour is the fact that Farmer Morgan is a Roman Catholic--his wife
fanatically so--he, Dempsey, professing the same faith; while Wingate is
a Protestant of pronounced type.

Under these circumstances Coracle has a friend at head-quarters, in Mrs
Morgan, and an advocate who visits there, in the person of Father
Rogier.

With this united influence in his favour, the odds against the young
waterman are great, and his chances might appear slight--indeed would
he, were it not for an influence to counteract.  He, too, has a partisan
inside the citadel, and a powerful one; since it is the girl herself.
He knows--is sure of it, as man may be of any truth, communicated to him
by loving lips amidst showers of kisses.  For all this has passed
between Mary Morgan and himself.

And nothing of it between her and Richard Dempsey.  Instead, on her
part, coldness and distant reserve.  It would be disdain--ay, scorn--if
she dare show it; for she hates the very sight of the man.  But,
controlled and close watched, she has learnt to smile when she would
frown.

The world--or that narrow circle of it immediately surrounding and
acquainted with the Morgan family--wonders at the favourable reception
it vouchsafes to Richard Dempsey--a known and noted poacher.

But in justice to Mrs Morgan it should be said, she has but slight
acquaintance with the character of the man--only knows it as represented
by Rogier.  Absorbed in her paternosters, she gives little heed to ought
else; her thoughts, as her actions, being all of the dictation, and
under the direction, of the priest.  In her eyes Coracle Dick is as the
latter has painted him, thus--

"A worthy fellow--poor it is true, but honest withal; a little addicted
to fish and game taking, as many another good man.  Who wouldn't with
such laws--unrighteous--oppressive to the poor?  Were they otherwise,
the poacher would be a patriot.  As for Dempsey, they who speak ill of
him are only the envious--envying his good looks, and fine mental
qualities.  For he's clever, and they can't say nay--energetic, and
likely to make his way in the world.  Yet, one thing he would make--
that's a good husband to your daughter Mary--one who has the strength
and courage to take care of her."

So counsels the priest; and as he can make Mrs Morgan believe black
white, she is ready to comply with his counsel.  If the result rested on
her, Coracle Dick would have nothing to fear.

But it does not--he knows it does not--and is troubled.  With all the
influence in his favour, he fears that other influence against him--if
against him, far more than a counterpoise to Mrs Morgan's religious
predilections, or the partisanship of his priest.  Still he is not sure;
one day the slave of sweet confidence, the next a prey to black bitter
jealousy.  And thus he goes on doting and doubting, as if he were never
to know the truth.

A day comes when he is made acquainted with it, or, rather, a night; for
it is after sundown the revelation reaches him--indeed, nigh on to
midnight.  His favoured, yet defeated, aspirations, are more than twelve
months old.  They have been active all through the preceding winter,
spring, and summer.  It is now autumn; the leaves are beginning to turn
sere, and the last sheaves have been gathered to the stack.

No shire than that of Hereford more addicted to the joys of the Harvest
Home; this often celebrated in a public and general way, instead of at
the private and particular farm-house.  One such is given upon the
summit of Garran Hill--a grand gathering, to which all go of the class
who attend such assemblages--small farmers with their families, their
servants too, male and female.  There is a cromlech on the hill's top,
around which they annually congregate, and beside this ancient relic are
set up the symbols of a more modern time--the Maypole--though it is
Autumn--with its strings and garlands; the show booths and the
refreshment tents, with their display of cakes, fruits, perry, and
cider.  And there are sports of various kinds, pitching the stone,
climbing the greased pole--that of May now so slippery--jumping, racing
in sacks, dancing--among other dances the Morris--with a grand _finale_
of fireworks.

At this year's fete Farmer Morgan is present, accompanied by his wife
and daughter.  It need not be said that Dick Dempsey and Jack Wingate
are there too.  They are, and have been all the afternoon--ever since
the gathering began.  But during the hours of daylight neither
approaches the fair creature to which his thoughts tend, and on which
his eyes are almost constantly turning.  The poacher is restrained by a
sense of his own unworthiness--a knowledge that there is not the place
to make show of his aspirations to one all believe so much above him;
while the waterman is kept back and aloof by the presence of the
watchful mother.

With all her watchfulness he finds opportunity to exchange speech with
the daughter--only a few words, but enough to make hell in the heart of
Dick Dempsey, who overhears them.

It is at the closing scene of the spectacle, when the pyrotechnists are
about to send up their final _feu de joie_, Mrs Morgan, treated by
numerous acquaintances to aniseed and other toothsome drinks, has grown
less thoughtful of her charge, which gives Jack Wingate the opportunity
he has all along been looking for.  Sidling up to the girl, he asks in a
tone which tells of lovers _en rapport_, mutually, unmistakably--

"When, Mary?"

"Saturday night next.  The priest's coming to supper.  I'll make an
errand to the shop, soon as it gets dark."

"Where?"

"The old place under the big elm."

"You're sure you'll be able?"

"Sure, never fear, I'll find a way."

"God bless you, dear girl.  I'll be there, if anywhere on earth."

This is all that passes between them.  But enough--more than enough--for
Richard Dempsey.  As a rocket, just then going up, throws its glare over
his face, as also the others, no greater contrast could be seen or
imagined.  On the countenances of the lovers an expression of
contentment, sweet and serene; on his a look such as Mephistopheles gave
to Gretchen escaping from his toils.

The curse in Coracle's heart is but hindered from rising to his lips by
a fear of its foiling the vengeance he there and then determines on.

Volume One, Chapter XVII.

THE "CORPSE-CANDLE."

Jack Wingate lives in a little cottage whose bit of garden ground
"brinks" the country road where the latter trends close to the Wye at
one of its sharpest sinuosities.  The cottage is on the convex side of
the bend, having the river at back, with a deep drain, or wash, running
up almost to its walls, and forming a fence to one side of the garden.
This gives the waterman another and more needed advantage--a convenient
docking place for his boat.  There the _Mary_, moored, swings to her
painter in safety; and when a rise in the river threatens he is at hand
to see she be not swept off.  To guard against such catastrophe he will
start up from his bed at any hour of the night, having more than one
reason to be careful of the boat; for, besides being his _gagne-pain_,
it hears the name, by himself given, of her the thought of whom sweetens
his toil and makes his labour light.  For her he bends industriously to
his oar, as though he believed every stroke made and every boat's length
gained was bringing him nearer to Mary Morgan.  And in a sense so is it,
whichever way the boat's head may be turned; the farther he rows her the
grander grows that heap of gold he is hoarding up against the day when
he hopes to become a Benedict.  He has a belief that if he could but
display before the eyes of Farmer Morgan sufficient money to take a
little farm for himself and stock it, he might then remove all obstacles
between him and Mary--mother's objections and sinister and sacerdotal
influence included.

He is aware of the difference of rank--that social chasm between--being
oft bitterly reminded of it; but, emboldened by Mary's smiles, he has
little fear but that he will yet be able to bridge it.

Favouring the programme thus traced out, there is, fortunately, no great
strain on his resources by way of drawback; only the maintaining of his
own mother, a frugal dame--thrifty besides--who, instead of adding to
the current expenses, rather curtails them by the adroit handling of her
needle.  It would have been a distaff in the olden days.

Thus helped in his housekeeping, the young waterman is enabled to put
away almost every shilling he earns by his oar, and this same summer all
through till autumn, which it now is, has been more than usually
profitable to him, by reason of his so often having Captain Ryecroft as
his fare; for although the Hussar officer no longer goes salmon
fishing--he has somehow been spoilt for that--there are other excursions
upon which he requires the boat, and as ever generously, even lavishly,
pays for it.

From one of these the young waterman has but returned; and, after
carefully bestowing the _Mary_ at her moorings, stepped inside the
cottage.  It is Saturday--within one hour of sundown--that same Saturday
spoken of "at the Harvest Home."  But though Jack is just home, he shows
no sign of an intention to stay there; instead, behaves as if he
intended going out again, though not in his boat.

And he does so intend, for a purpose unsuspected by his mother, to keep
that appointment, made hurriedly, and in a half whisper, amid the fracas
of the fireworks.

The good dame had already set the table for tea, ready against his
arrival, covered it with a cloth, snow-white of course.  The tea-things
superimposed, in addition a dining plate, knife and fork, these for a
succulent beefsteak heard hissing on the gridiron almost as soon as the
_Mary_ made appearance at the mouth of the wash, and, soon as the boat
was docked, done.  It is now on the table, alongside the teapot; its
savoury odour mingling with the fragrance of the freshly "drawn" tea,
fills the cottage kitchen with a perfume to delight the gods.

For all, it gives no gratification to Jack Wingate the waterman.  The
appetising smell of the meat, and the more ethereal aroma of the Chinese
shrub, are alike lost upon him.  Appetite he has none, and his thoughts
are elsewhere.

Less from observing his abstraction, than the slow, negligent movements
of his knife and fork, the mother asks--

"What's the matter with ye, Jack?  Ye don't eat!"

"I ain't hungry, mother."

"But ye been out since mornin', and tooked nothing wi' you!"

"True; but you forget who I ha' been out with.  The captain ain't the
man to let his boatman be a hungered.  We war down the day far as
Symond's yat, where he treated me to dinner at the hotel.  The daintiest
kind o' dinner, too.  No wonder at my not havin' much care for eatin'
now--nice as you've made things, mother."

Notwithstanding the compliment, the old lady is little satisfied--less
as she observes the continued abstraction of his manner.  He fidgets
uneasily in his chair, every now and then giving a glance at the little
Dutch clock suspended against the wall, which in loud ticking seems to
say, "You'll be late--you'll be late."  She suspects something of the
cause, but inquires nothing of it.  Instead, she but observes, speaking
of the patron:--"He be very good to ye, Jack."

"Ah! that he be; good to every one as comes nigh o' him--and 's
desarvin' it."

"But ain't he stayin' in the neighbourhood longer than he first spoke of
doin'?"

"Maybe he is.  Grand gentry such as he ain't like us poor folk.  They
can go and come whens'ever it please 'em.  I suppose he have his reasons
for remaining."

"Now, Jack, you know he have, an' I've heerd something about 'em
myself."

"What have you heard, mother?"

"Oh, what!  Ye han't been a rowin' him up and down the river now nigh on
five months without findin' out.  An' if you haven't, others have.  It's
goin' all about that he's after a young lady as lives somewhere below.
Tidy girl, they say, tho' I never seed her myself.  Is it so, my son?
Say!"

"Well, mother, since you've put it straight at me in that way, I won't
deny it to you, tho' I'm in a manner bound to saycrecy wi' others.  It
be true that the Captain have some notion o' such a lady."

"There be a story, too, o' her bein' nigh drownded an' his saving her
out o' a boat.  Now, Jack, whose boat could that be if it wa'nt your'n?"

"'Twor mine, mother; that's true enough.  I would a told you long ago,
but he asked me not to talk o' the thing.  Besides, I didn't suppose
you'd care to hear about it."

"Well," she says, satisfied, "'tan't much to me, nor you neyther, Jack;
only as the Captain being so kind, we'd both like to know the best about
him.  If he have took a fancy for the young lady, I hope she return it.
She ought after his doin' what he did for her.  I han't heerd her name;
what be it?"

"She's a Miss Wynn, mother.  A very rich heiress.  'Deed I b'lieve she
ain't a heiress any longer, or won't be, after next Thursday, sin' that
day she comes o' age.  An' that night there's to be a big party at her
place, dancin' an' all sorts o' festivities.  I know it because the
Captain's goin' there, an' has bespoke the boat to take him."

"Wynn, eh?  That be a Welsh name.  Wonder if she's any kin o' the great
Sir Watkin."

"Can't say, mother.  I believe there be several branches o' the Wynn
family."

"Yes, and all o' the good sort.  If she be one o' the Welsh Wynns, the
Captain can't go far astray in having her for his wife."

Mrs Wingate is herself of Cymric ancestry, originally from the shire of
Pembroke, but married to a man of Montgomery, where Jack was born.  It
is only of late, in her widowhood, she has become a resident of
Herefordshire.

"So you think he have a notion o' her, Jack?"

"More'n that, mother.  I may as well tell ye; he be dead in love wi'
her.  An' if you seed the young lady herself, ye wouldn't wonder at it.
She be most as good-looking as--"

Jack suddenly interrupted himself on the edge of a revelation he would
rather not make, to his mother nor any one else.  For he has hitherto
been as careful in keeping his own secret as that of his patron.

"As who?" she asks, looking him straight in the face, and with an
expression in her eyes of no common interest--that of maternal
solicitude.

"Who?--well--" he answers confusedly; "I wor goin' to mention the name
o' a girl who the people 'bout here think the best-lookin' o' any in the
neighbourhood--"

"An' nobody more'n yourself, my son.  You needn't gi'e her name.  I know
it."

"Oh, mother! what d'ye mean?" he stammers out, with eyes on the but
half-eaten beefsteak.  "I take it they've been tellin' ye some stories
'bout me."

"No, they han't.  Nobody's sayed a word about ye relatin' to that.  I've
seed it for myself, long since, though you've tried hide it.  I'm not
goin' to blame ye eyther, for I believe she be a tidy proper girl.  But
she's far aboon you, my son; and ye maun mind how you behave yourself.
If the young lady be anythin' like's good-lookin' as Mary Morgan--"

"Yes, mother! that's the strangest thing o' all--"

He interrupts her, speaking excitedly; again interrupting himself.

"What's strangest?" she inquires with a look of wonderment.

"Never mind, mother!  I'll tell you all about it some other time.  I
can't now; you see it's nigh nine o' the clock."

"Well; an' what if't be?"

"Because I may be too late."

"Too late for what?  Surely you arn't goin' out again the night?"  She
asks this, seeing him rise up from his chair.

"I must, mother."

"But why?"

"Well, the boat's painter's got frailed, and I want a bit o' whipcord to
lap it with.  They have the thing at the Ferry shop, and I must get
there afores they shut up."

A fib, perhaps pardonable, as the thing he designs lapping is not his
boat's painter, but the waist of Mary Morgan, and not with slender
whipcord, but his own stout arms.

"Why won't it do in the mornin'?" asks the ill-satisfied mother.

"Well, ye see, there's no knowin' but that somebody may come after the
boat.  The Captain mayent, but he may, changin' his mind.  Anyhow, he'll
want her to go down to them grand doin's at Llangowen Court?"

"Llangowen Court?"

"Yes; that's where the young lady lives."

"That's to be on Thursday, ye sayed?"

"True; but, then, there may come a fare the morrow, an' what if there
do?  'Tain't the painter only as wants splicin', there's a bit o' a leak
sprung close to the cutwater, an' I must hae some pitch to pay it."

If Jack's mother would only step out, and down to the ditch where the
_Mary_ is moored, with a look at the boat, she would make him out a
liar.  Its painter is smooth and clean as a piece of gimp, not a strand
unravelled--while but two or three gallons of bilge water at the boat's
bottom attest to there being little or no leakage.

But she, good dame, is not thus suspicious, instead so reliant on her
son's truthfulness, that, without questioning further, she consents to
his going, only with a proviso against his staying, thus appealingly
put--"Ye won't be gone long, my son!  I know ye won't!"

"Indeed I shan't, mother.  But why be you so partic'lar about my goin'
out--this night more'n any other?"

"Because, Jack, this day, more'n most others, I've been feelin' bothered
like, and a bit frightened."

"Frightened o' what?  There han't been nobody to the house--has there?"

"No; ne'er a rover since you left me in the mornin'."

"Then what's been a scarin' ye, mother?"

"'Deed, I don't know, unless it ha' been brought on by the dream I had
last night.  'Twer' a dreadful unpleasant one.  I didn't tell you o' it
'fore ye went out, thinkin' it might worry ye."

"Tell me now, mother."

"It hadn't nought to do wi' us ourselves, after all.  Only concernin'
them as live nearest us."

"Ha! the Morgans?"

"Yes; the Morgans."

"Oh, mother, what did you dream about them?"

"That I wor standin' on the big hill above their house, in the middle o'
the night, wi' black darkness all round me; and there lookin' down what
should I see comin' out o' their door?"

"What?"

"The canwyll corph!"

"The canwyll corph?"

"Yes, my son; I seed it--that is I dreamed I seed it--coming just out o'
the farm-house door, then through the yard, and over the foot-plank at
the bottom o' the orchard, when it went flarin' up the meadows straight
towards the ferry.  Though ye can't see that from the hill, I dreamed I
did; an' seed the candle go on to the chapel an' into the buryin'
ground.  That woked me."

"What nonsense, mother!  A ridiklous superstition!  I thought you'd left
all that sort o' stuff behind, in the mountains o' Montgomery, or
Pembrokeshire, where the thing comes from, as I've heerd you say."

"No, my son; it's not stuff, nor superstition neyther; though English
people say that to put slur upon us Welsh.  Your father before ye
believed in the _Canwyll Corph_, and wi' more reason ought I, your
mother.  I never told you, Jack, but the night before your father died I
seed it go past our own door, and on to the graveyard o' the church
where he now lies.  Sure as we stand here there be some one doomed in
the house o' Evan Morgan.  There be only three in the family.  I do hope
it an't her as ye might some day be wantin' me to call daughter."

"Mother!  You'll drive me mad!  I tell ye it's all nonsense.  Mary
Morgan be at this moment healthy and strong--most as much as myself.  If
the dead candle ye've been dreamin' about we're all o' it true, it
couldn't be a burnin' for her.  More like for Mrs Morgan, who's half
daft by believing in church candles and such things--enough to turn her
crazy, if it doesn't kill her outright.  As for you, my dear mother,
don't let the dream bother you the least bit.  An' ye mustn't be feeling
lonely, as I shan't be long gone.  I'll be back by ten sure."

Saying which, he sets his straw hat jauntily on his thick curly hair,
gives his guernsey a straightening twitch, and, with a last cheering
look and encouraging word to his mother, steps out into the night.

Left alone, she feels lonely withal, and more than ever afraid.  Instead
of sitting down to her needle, or making to remove the tea-things, she
goes to the door, and there stays, standing on its threshold and peering
into the darkness--for it is a pitch dark night--she sees, or fancies, a
light moving across the meadows, as if it came from Farmer Morgan's
house, and going in the direction of Rugg's Ferry.  While she continues
gazing, it twice crosses the Wye, by reason of the river's bend.

As no mortal hand could thus carry it, surely it is the _canwyll corph_!

Volume One, Chapter XVIII.

A CAT IN THE CUPBOARD.

Evan Morgan is a tenant-farmer, holding Abergann.  By Herefordshire
custom, every farm or its stead, has a distinctive appellation.  Like
the land belonging to Glyngog, that of Abergann lies against the sides
of a sloping glen--one of the hundreds or thousands of lateral ravines
that run into the valley of the Wye.  But, unlike the old manor-house,
the domicile of the farmer is at the glen's bottom and near the river's
bank; nearer yet to a small influent stream, rapid and brawling, which
sweeps past the lower end of the orchard in a channel worn deep into the
soft sandstone.

Though with the usual imposing array of enclosure walls, the dwelling
itself is not large nor the outbuildings extensive; for the arable
acreage is limited.  This because the ridges around are too high pitched
for ploughing, and if ploughed would be unproductive.  They are not even
in pasture, but overgrown with woods; less for the sake of the timber,
which is only scrub, than as a covert for foxes.  They are held in hand
by Evan Morgan's landlord--a noted Nimrod.

For the same reason the farm-house stands in a solitary spot, remote
from any other dwelling.  The nearest is the cottage of the Wingates--
distant about half a mile, but neither visible from the other.  Nor is
there any direct road between, only a footpath, which crosses the brook
at the bottom of the orchard, thence running over a wooded ridge to the
main highway.  The last, after passing close to the cottage, as already
said, is deflected away from the river by this same ridge, so that when
Evan Morgan would drive anywhere beyond the boundaries of his farm, he
must pass out through a long lane, so narrow that were he to meet any
one driving in, there would be a deadlock.  However, there is no danger;
as the only vehicles having occasion to use this thoroughfare are his
own farm waggon and a lighter `trap' in which he goes to market, and
occasionally with his wife and daughter to merry-makings.

When the three are in it there is none of his family at home.  For he
has but one child--a daughter.  Nor would he long have her were a
half-score of young fellows allowed their way.  At least this number
would be willing to take her off his hands and give her a home
elsewhere.  Remote as is the farm-house of Abergann, and narrow the lane
leading to it, there are many who would be glad to visit there, if
invited.

In truth a fine girl is Mary Morgan, tall, bright haired, and with
blooming cheeks, beside which red rose leaves would seem _fade_.  Living
in a town she would be its talk; in a village its belle.  Even from that
secluded glen has the fame of her beauty gone forth and afar.  Of
husbands she could have her choice, and among men much richer than her
father.

In her heart she has chosen one, not only much poorer, but lower in
social rank--Jack Wingate.  She loves the young waterman, and wants to
be his wife; but knows she cannot without the consent of her parents.
Not that either has signified opposition, since they have never been
asked.  Her longings in that direction she has kept secret from them.
Nor does she so much dread refusal by the father.  Evan Morgan had been
himself poor--began life as a farm labourer--and, though now an employer
of such, his pride had not kept pace with his prosperity.  Instead, he
is, as ever, the same modest, unpresuming man, of which the lower middle
classes of the English people present many noble examples.  From him
Jack Wingate would have little to fear on the score of poverty.  He is
well acquainted with the young waterman's character, knows it to be
good, and has observed the efforts he is making to better his condition
in life; it may be with suspicion of the motive, at all events,
admiringly--remembering his own.  And although a Roman Catholic, he is
anything but bigoted.  Were he the only one to be consulted his daughter
might wed with the man upon whom she has fixed her affections, at any
time it pleases them--ay, at any place, too, even within the walls of a
Protestant Church!  By him neither would Jack Wingate be rejected on the
score of religion.

Very different with his wife.  Of all the worshippers who compose the
congregation at the Bugg's Ferry Chapel none bend the knee to Baal as
low as she; and over no one does Father Rogier exercise such influence.
Baneful it is like to be; since not only has he control of the mother's
conduct, but through that may also blight the happiness of the daughter.

Apart from religious fanaticism, Mrs Morgan is not a bad woman--only a
weak one.  As her husband, she is of humble birth, and small beginnings;
like him, too, neither has prosperity affected her in the sense of
worldly ambition.  Perhaps better if it had.  Instead of spoiling, a
little social pride might have been a bar to the dangerous aspirations
of Richard Dempsey--even with the priest standing sponsor for him.  But
she has none, her whole soul being absorbed by blind devotion to a faith
which scruples not at anything that may assist in its propagandism.

It is the Saturday succeeding the festival of the Harvest Home, a little
after sunset, and the priest is expected at Abergann.  He is a frequent
visitor there; by Mrs Morgan ever made welcome, and treated to the best
cheer the farm-house can afford; plate, knife, and fork always placed
for him.  And, to do him justice, he may be deemed in a way worthy of
such hospitality; for he is, in truth, a most entertaining personage;
can converse on any subject, and suit his conversation to the company,
whether high or low.  As much at home with the wife of the Welsh farmer
as with the French _ex-cocotte_, and equally so in the companionship of
Dick Dempsey, the poacher.  In his hours of _far niente_ all are alike
to him.

This night he is to take supper at Abergann, and Mrs Morgan, seated in
the farm house parlour, awaits his arrival.  A snug little apartment,
tastefully furnished, but with a certain air of austerity, observable in
Roman Catholic houses: this by reason of some pictures of saints hanging
against the walls, an image of the Virgin and, standing niche-like in a
corner, one of the Crucifixion over the mantelshelf, with crosses upon
books, and other like symbols.

It is near nine o'clock, and the table is already set out.  On grand
occasions, as this, the farm-house parlour is transformed into dining or
supper room, indifferently.  The meal intended to be eaten now is more
of the former, differing in there being a tea-tray upon the table, with
a full service of cups and saucers, as also in the lateness of the hour.
But the odoriferous steam escaping from the kitchen, drifted into the
parlour when its door is opened, tells of something in preparation more
substantial than a cup of tea, with its usual accompaniment of bread and
butter.  And there is a fat capon roasting upon the spit, with a
frying-pan full of sausages on the dresser, ready to be clapped upon the
fire at the proper moment--as soon as the expected guest makes his
appearance.

And in addition to the tea-things, there is a decanter of sherry on the
table, and will be another of brandy when brought on--Father Rogier's
favourite tipple, as Mrs Morgan has reason to know.  There is a full
bottle of this--Cognac of best brand--in the larder cupboard, still
corked as it came from the "Welsh Harp," where it cost six shillings--
The Rugg's Ferry hostelry, as already intimated, dealing in drinks of a
rather costly kind.  Mary has been directed to draw the cork, decant,
and bring the brandy in, and for this purpose has just gone off to the
larder.  Thence instantly returning, but without either decanter or
Cognac!  Instead with a tale which sends a thrill of consternation
through her mother's heart.  The cat has been in the cupboard, and there
made havoc--upset the brandy bottle, and sent it rolling off the shelf
on the stone flags of the floor!  Broken, of course, and the contents--

No need for further explanation, Mrs Morgan does not seek it.  Nor does
she stay to reflect on the disaster, but how it may be remedied.  It
will not mend matters to chastise the cat, nor cry over the spilt
brandy, any more than if it were milk.

On short reflection she sees but one way to restore the broken bottle--
by sending to the "Welsh Harp" for a whole one.

True, it will cost another six shillings, but she recks not of the
expense.  She is more troubled about a messenger.  Where, and how, is
one to be had?  The farm labourers have long since left.  They are all
Benedicts, on board wages, and have departed for their respective wives
and homes.  There is a cow-boy, yet he is also absent; gone to fetch the
kine from a far-off pasturing place, and not be back in time; while the
one female domestic maid-of-all-work is busy in the kitchen, up to her
ears among pots and pans, her face at a red heat over the range.  She
could not possibly be spared.  "It's very vexatious!" exclaims Mrs
Morgan, in a state of lively perplexity.

"It is, indeed!" assents her daughter.

A truthful girl, Mary, in the main; but just now the opposite.  For she
is not vexed by the occurrence, nor does she deem it a disaster, quite
the contrary.  And she knows it was no accident, having herself brought
it about.  It was her own soft fingers, not the cat's claws, that swept
that bottle from the shelf, sending it smash upon the stones!  Tipped
over by no _maladroit_ handling of corkscrew, but downright deliberate
intention!  A stratagem that may enable her to keep the appointment made
among the fireworks--that threat when she told Jack Wingate she would
"find away."

Thus is she finding it; and in furtherance she leaves her mother no time
to consider longer about a messenger.

"I'll go!" she says, offering herself as one.

The deceit unsuspected, and only the willingness appreciated, Mrs
Morgan rejoins:

"Do! that's a dear girl!  It's very good of you, Mary.  Here's the
money."

While the delighted mother is counting out the shillings, the dutiful
daughter whips on her cloak--the night is chilly--and adjusts her hat,
the best holiday one, on her head; all the time thinking to herself how
cleverly she has done the trick.  And with a smile of pardonable
deception upon her face, she trips lightly across the threshold, and on
through the little flower garden in front.

Outside the gate, at an angle of the enclosure wall, she stops, and
stands considering.  There are two ways to the Ferry, here forking--the
long lane and the shorter footpath.  Which is she to take?  The path
leads down along the side of the orchard; and across the brook by the
bridge--only a single plank.  This spanning the stream, and originally
fixed to the rock at both ends, has of late come loose, and is not safe
to be traversed, even by day.  At night it is dangerous--still more on
one dark as this.  And danger of no common kind at any time.  The
channel through which the streams runs is twenty feet deep, with rough
boulders in its bed.  One falling from above would at least get broken
bones.  No fear of that to-night, but something as bad, if not worse.
For it has been raining throughout the earlier hours of the day, and
there in the brook, now a raging torrent.  One dropping into it would be
swept on to the river, and there surely drowned, if not before.

It is no dread of any of these dangers which causes Mary Morgan to stand
considering which route she will take.  She has stepped that plank on
nights dark as this, even since it became detached from the fastenings,
and is well acquainted with its ways.  Were there nought else, she would
go straight over it, and along the footpath, which passes the `big elm.'
But it is just because it passes the elm she has now paused and is
pondering.  Her errand calls for haste, and there she would meet a man
sure to delay her.  She intends meeting him for all that, and being
delayed; but not till on her way back.  Considering the darkness and
obstructions on the footwalk she may go quicker by the road though
roundabout.  Returning she can take the path.

This thought in her mind, with, perhaps, remembrance of the adage,
`business before pleasure,' decides her; and drawing closer her cloak,
she sets off along the lane.

Volume One, Chapter XIX.

A BLACK SHADOW BEHIND.

In the shire of Hereford there is no such thing as a village--properly
so called.  The tourist expecting to come upon one, by the black dot on
his guide-book map, will fail to find it.  Indeed, he will see only a
church with a congregation, not the typical cluster of houses around.
But no street, nor rows of cottages, in their midst--the orthodox patch
of trodden turf--the "green."  Nothing of all that.

Unsatisfied, and inquiring the whereabouts of the village itself, he
will get answers, only farther confusing him.  One will say "here be
it," pointing to no place in particular; a second, "thear," with his eye
upon the church; a third, "over yonner," nodding to a shop of
miscellaneous wares, also intrusted with the receiving and distributing
of letters; while a fourth, whose ideas run on drink, looks to a house
larger than the rest, having a square pictorial signboard, with red lion
_rampant_, fox _passant_, horse's head, or such like symbol--proclaiming
it an inn, or public.

Not far from, or contiguous to, the church, will be a dwelling-house of
special pretension, having a carriage entrance, sweep, and shrubbery of
well-grown evergreens--the rectory, or vicarage; at greater distance,
two or three cottages of superior class, by their owners styled
"villas," in one of which dwells the doctor, a young Esculapius, just
beginning practice, or an old one who has never had much; in another,
the relict of a successful shopkeeper left with an "independence;" while
a third will be occupied by a retired military man--"captain," of
course, whatever may have been his rank--possibly a naval officer, or an
old salt of the merchant service.  In their proper places stand the
carpenters shop and smithy, with their array of reapers, rollers,
ploughs, and harrows seeking repair; among them perhaps a huge
steam-threshing machine, that has burst its boiler, or received other
damage.  Then there are the houses of the _hoi polloi_, mostly labouring
men--their little cottages wide apart, or in twos and threes together,
with no resemblance to the formality of town dwellings, but quaint in
structure, ivy-clad or honeysuckled, looking and smelling of the
country.  Farther along the road is an ancient farmstead, its big barns,
and other outbuildings, abutting on the highway, which for some distance
is strewn with a litter of rotting straw; by its side a muddy pond with
ducks and a half-dozen geese, the gander giving tongue as the tourist
passes by; if a pedestrian with knapsack on his shoulders the dog
barking at him, in the belief he is a tramp or beggar.  Such is the
Herefordshire village, of which many like may be met along Wyeside.

The collection of houses known as Rugg's Ferry is in some respects
different.  It does not lie on any of the main county thoroughfares, but
a cross-country road connecting the two, that lead along the hounding
ridges of the river.  That passing through it is but little frequented,
as the ferry itself is only for foot passengers, though there is a horse
boat which can be had when called for.  But the place is in a deep
crater-like hollow, where the stream courses between cliffs of the old
red sandstone, and can only be approached by the steepest "pitches."

Nevertheless, Rugg's Ferry has its mark upon the Ordnance map, though
not with the little crosslet denoting a church.  It could boast of no
place of worship whatever till Father Rogier laid the foundation of his
chapel.

For all, it has once been a brisk place in its days of glory; ere the
railroad destroyed the river traffic, and the bargees made it a stopping
port, as often the scene of rude, noisy revelry.

It is quieter now, and the tourist passing through might deem it almost
deserted.  He will see houses of varied construction--thirty or forty of
them in all--clinging against the cliff in successive terraces, reached
by long rows of steps carved out of the rock; cottages picturesque as
Swiss _chalets_, with little gardens on ledges, here and there one
trellised with grape vines or other climbers, and a round cone-topped
cage of wicker holding captive a jackdaw, magpie, or it may be parrot or
starling taught to speak.

Viewing these symbols of innocence, the stranger will imagine himself to
have lighted upon a sort of English Arcadia--a fancy soon to be
dissipated perhaps by the parrot or starling saluting him with the
exclamatory phrases, `God-damn-ye! go to the devil!--go to the devil!'
And while he is pondering on what sort of personage could have
instructed the creature in such profanity, he will likely enough see the
instructor himself peering out through a partially opened door, his face
in startling correspondence with the blasphemous exclamations of the
bird.  For there are other birds resident at Rugg's Ferry besides those
in the cages--several who have themselves been caged in the county gaol.
The slightly altered name bestowed upon the place by Jack Wingate, as
others, is not so inappropriate.

It may seem strange such characters congregating in a spot so primitive
and rural, so unlike their customary haunts; incongruous as the ex-belle
of Mabille in her high-heeled _bottines_ inhabiting the ancient
manor-house of Glyngog.

But more of an enigma--indeed, a moral, or psychological puzzle; since
one would suppose it the very last place to find them in.  And yet the
explanation may partly lie in moral and psychological causes.  Even the
most hardened rogue has his spells of sentiment, during which he takes
delight in rusticity; and as the "Ferry" has long enjoyed the reputation
of being a place of abode for him and his sort, he is there sure of
meeting company congenial.  Or the scent after him may have become too
hot in the town, or city, where he has been displaying his dexterity;
while here the policeman is not a power.  The one constable of the
district station dislikes taking, and rather steals through it on his
rounds.

Notwithstanding all this, there are some respectable people among its
denizens, and many visitors who are gentlemen.  Its quaint
picturesqueness attracts the tourist; while a stretch of excellent
angling ground, above and below, makes it a favourite with amateur
fishermen.

Centrally on a platform of level ground, a little back from the river's
bank, stands a large three-storey house--the village inn--with a swing
sign in front, upon which is painted what resembles a triangular
gridiron, though designed to represent a harp.  From this the hostelry
has its name--the "Welsh Harp!"  But however rough the limning, and
weather-blanched the board--however ancient the building itself--in its
business there are no indications of decay, and it still does a thriving
trade.  Guests of the excursionist kind occasionally dine there; while
in the angling season, _piscator_ stays at it all through spring and
summer; and if a keen disciple of Izaak, or an ardent admirer of the Wye
scenery, often prolonging his sojourn into late autumn.  Besides, from
towns not too distant, the sporting tradesmen and fast clerks, after
early closing on Saturdays, come hither, and remain over till Monday,
for the first train catchable at a station some two miles off.

The "Welsh Harp" can provide beds for all, and sitting rooms besides.
For it is a roomy _caravanserai_, and if a little rough in its culinary
arrangements, has a cellar unexceptionable.  Among those who taste its
tap are many who know good wine from bad, with others who only judge of
the quality by the price; and in accordance with this criterion the
Boniface of the "Harp" can give them the very best.

It is a Saturday night, and two of those last described connoisseurs,
lately arrived at the Wyeside hostelry, are standing before its bar
counter, drinking rhubarb sap, which they facetiously call "fizz," and
believe to be champagne.  As it costs them ten shillings the bottle they
are justified in their belief; and quite as well will it serve their
purpose.  They are young drapers' assistants from a large manufacturing
town, out for their hebdomadal holiday, which they have elected to spend
in an excursion to the Wye, and a frolic at Rugg's Ferry.

They have had an afternoon's boating on the river; and, now returned to
the "Harp"--their place of put-up--are flush of talk over their
adventures, quaffing the sham "shammy," and smoking "regalias," not
anything more genuine.

While thus indulging they are startled by the apparition of what seems
an angel, but what they know to be a thing of flesh and blood--something
that pleases them better--a beautiful woman.  More correctly speaking a
girl; since it is Mary Morgan who has stepped inside the room set apart
for the distributing of drink.

Taking the cigars from between their teeth--and leaving the rhubarb
juice, just poured into their glasses, to discharge its pent-up gas--
they stand staring at the girl, with an impertinence rather due to the
drink than any innate rudeness.  They are harmless fellows in their way;
would be quiet enough behind their own counters; though fast before that
of the "Welsh Harp," and foolish with such a face as that of Mary Morgan
beside them.

She gives them scant time to gaze on it.  Her business is simple, and
speedily transacted.

"A bottle of your best brandy--the French cognac?"  As she makes the
demand, placing ten shillings, the price understood, upon the
lead-covered counter.

The barmaid, a practised hand, quickly takes the article called for from
a shelf behind, and passes it across the counter, and with like
alertness counting the shillings laid upon it, and sweeping them into
the till.

It is all over in a few seconds' time; and with equal celerity Mary
Morgan, slipping the purchased commodity into her cloak, glides out of
the room--vision-like as she entered it.

"Who is that young lady?" asks one of the champagne drinkers,
interrogating the barmaid.

"Young lady!" tartly returns the latter, with a flourish of her heavily
chignoned head, "only a farmer's daughter."

"Aw!" exclaims the second tippler, in drawling imitation of Swelldom,
"only the offspring of a chaw-bacon! she's a monstrously crummy creetya,
anyhow."

"Devilish nice gal!" affirms the other, no longer addressing himself to
the barmaid, who has scornfully shown them the back of her head, with
its tower of twisted jute.  "Devilish nice gal, indeed!  Never saw
spicier stand before a counter.  What a dainty little fish for a
farmer's daughter!  Say, Charley! wouldn't you like to be sellin' her a
pair of kids--Jouvin's best--helpin' her draw them on, eh?"

"By Jove, yes!  That would I."

"Perhaps you'd prefer it being boots?  What a stepper she is, too!
S'pose we slide after, and see where she hangs out?"

"Capital idea!  Suppose we do?"

"All right, old fellow!  I'm ready with the yard stick--roll off!"

And without further exchange of their professional phraseology, they
rush out, leaving their glasses half full of the effervescing beverage--
rapidly on the spoil.

They have sallied forth to meet disappointment.  The night is black as
Erebus, and the girl gone out of sight.  Nor can they tell which way she
has taken; and to inquire might get them "guyed," if not worse.
Besides, they see no one of whom inquiry could be made.  A dark shadow
passes them, apparently the figure of a man; but so dimly descried, and
going in such rapid gait, they refrain from hailing him.

Not likely they will see more of the "monstrously crummy creetya" that
night--they may on the morrow somewhere--perhaps at the little chapel
close by.

Registering a mental vow to do their devotions there, and recalling the
bottle of fizz left uncorked on the counter they return to finish it.

And they drain it dry, gulping down several goes of B-and-S, besides,
ere ceasing to think of the "devilish nice gal," on whose dainty little
fist they would so like fitting kid gloves.

Meanwhile, she, who has so much interested the dry goods gentlemen, is
making her way along the road which leads past the Widow Wingate's
cottage, going at a rapid pace, but not continuously.  At intervals she
makes stops, and stands listening--her glances sent interrogatively to
the front.  She acts as one expecting to hear footsteps, or a voice in
friendly salutation--and see him saluting, for it is a man.

Footsteps are there besides her own, but not heard by her, nor in the
direction she is hoping to hear them.  Instead, they are behind, and
light, though made by a heavy man.  For he is treading gingerly as if on
eggs--evidently desirous not to make known his proximity.  Near he is,
and were the light only a little clearer she would surely see him.
Favoured by its darkness he can follow close, aided also by the
shadowing trees, and still further from her attention being all given to
the ground in advance, with thoughts preoccupied.

But closely he follows her, but never coming up.  When she stops he does
the same, moving on again as she moves forward.  And so for several
pauses, with spells of brisk walking between.

Opposite the Wingates' cottage she tarries longer than elsewhere.  There
was a woman standing in the door, who, however, does not observe her--
cannot--a hedge of holly between.  Cautiously parting its spinous leaves
and peering through, the young girl takes a survey, not of the woman,
whom she well knows, but of a window--the only one in which there is a
light.  And less the window than the walls inside.  On her way to the
Ferry she had stopped to do the same; then seeing shadows--two of them--
one a woman's, the other of a man.  The woman is there in the door--Mrs
Wingate herself; the man, her son, must be elsewhere.

"Under the elm, by this," says Mary Morgan, in soliloquy.  "I'll find
him there,"--she adds, silently gliding past the gate.

"Under the elm," mutters the man who follows, adding, "I'll kill her
there--ay, both!"

Two hundred yards further on, and she reaches the place where the
footpath debouches upon the road.  There is a stile of the usual rough
crossbar pattern, proclaiming a right of way.

She stops only to see there is no one sitting upon it--for there might
have been--then leaping lightly over, she proceeds along the path.

The shadow behind does the same, as though it were a spectre pursuing.

And now, in the deeper darkness of the narrow way, arcaded over by a
thick canopy of leaves, he goes closer and closer, almost to touching.
Were a light at this moment let upon his face, it would reveal features
set in an expression worthy of hell itself; and cast farther down, would
show a hand closed upon the haft of a long-bladed knife--nervously
clutching--every now and then half drawing it from its sheath, as if to
plunge its blade into the back of her who is now scarce six steps ahead!

And with this dread danger threatening--so close--Mary Morgan proceeds
along the forest path, unsuspectingly: joyfully, as she thinks of who is
before, with no thought of that behind--no one to cry out, or even
whisper, the word: "Beware!"

Volume One, Chapter XX.

UNDER THE ELM.

In more ways than one has Jack Wingate thrown dust in his mother's eyes.
His going to the Ferry after a piece of whipcord and a bit of pitch was
fib the first; the second his not going there at all--for he has not.
Instead, in the very opposite direction; soon as reaching the road,
having turned his face towards Abergann, though his objective point is
but the "big elm."  Once outside the gate he glides along the holly
hedge crouchingly, and with head ducked, so that it may not be seen by
the good dame, who has followed him to the door.

The darkness favouring him, it is not; and congratulating himself at
getting off thus deftly, he continues rapidly up the road.

Arrived at the stile, he makes stop, saying in soliloquy:--

"I take it she be sure to come; but I'd gi'e something to know which o'
the two ways.  Bein' so darkish, an' that plank a bit dangerous to
cross, I ha' heard--'tan't often I cross it--just possible she may
choose the roundabout o' the road.  Still, she sayed the big elm, an' to
get there she'll have to take the path comin' or goin' back.  If I
thought comin' I'd steer straight there an' meet her.  But s'posin' she
prefers the road, that 'ud make it longer to wait.  Wonder which it's to
be."

With hand rested on the top rail of the stile, he stands considering.
Since their stolen interchange of speech at the Harvest Home, Mary has
managed to send him word she will make an errand to Rugg's Ferry; hence
his uncertainty.  Soon again he resumes his conjectured soliloquy:--

"'Tan't possible she ha' been to the Ferry, an' goed back again?  God
help me, I hope not!  An' yet there's just a chance.  I weesh the
Captain hadn't kep' me so long down there.  An' the fresh from the rain
that delayed us nigh half a hour, I oughtn't to a stayed a minute after
gettin' home.  But mother cookin' that nice bit o' steak; if I hadn't
ate it she'd a been angry, and for certain suspected somethin'.  Then
listenin' to all that dismal stuff 'bout the corpse-candle.  An' they
believe it in the shire o' Pembroke!  Rot the thing!  Tho' I an't myself
noways superstishus, it gi'ed me the creeps.  Queer, her dreamin' she
seed it go out o' Abergann!  I do weesh she hadn't told me that; an' I
mustn't say word o't to Mary.  Tho' she ain't o' the fearsome kind, a
thing like that's enough to frighten anyone.  Well, what 'd I best do?
If she ha' been to the Ferry an's goed home again, then I've missed her,
and no mistake!  Still, she said she'd be at the elim, an's never broke
her promise to me when she cud keep it.  A man ought to take a woman at
her word--a true woman--an' not be too quick to anticipate.  Besides,
the surer way's the safer.  She appointed the old place, an' there I'll
abide her.  But what am I thinkin' o'?  She may be there now, a waitin'
for me!"

He doesn't stay by the stile one instant longer, but, vaulting over it,
strikes off along the path.

Despite the obscurity of the night, the narrowness of the track, and the
branches obstructing, he proceeds with celerity.  With that part he is
familiar--knows every inch of it, well as the way from his door to the
place where he docks his boat--at least so far as the big elm, under
whose spreading branches he and she have oft clandestinely met.  It is
an ancient patriarch of the forest; its timber is honeycombed with
decay, not having tempted the axe by whose stroke its fellows have long
ago fallen, and it now stands amid their progeny, towering over all.  It
is a few paces distant from the footpath, screened from it by a thicket
of hollies interposed between, and extending around.  From its huge
hollow trunk a buttress, horizontally projected, affords a convenient
seat for two, making it the very _beau ideal_ of a trysting-tree.

Having got up and under it, Jack Wingate is a little disappointed--
almost vexed--at not finding his sweetheart there.  He calls her name--
in the hope she may be among the hollies--at first cautiously and in a
low voice, then louder.  No reply; she has either not been, or has and
is gone.

As the latter appears probable enough, he once more blames Captain
Ryecroft, the rain, the river flood, the beefsteak--above all, that long
yarn about the _canwyll corph_, muttering anathemas against the ghostly
superstition.

Still she may come yet.  It may be but the darkness that's delaying her.
Besides, she is not likely to have the fixing of her time.  She said
she would "find a way;" and having the will--as he believes--he flatters
himself she will find it, despite all obstructions.

With confidence thus restored, he ceases to pace about impatiently, as
he has been doing ever since his arrival at the tree; and, taking a seat
on the buttress, sits listening with all ears.  His eyes are of little
use in the Cimmerian gloom.  He can barely make out the forms of the
holly bushes, though they are almost within reach of his hand.

But his ears are reliable, sharpened by love; and, ere long they convey
a sound, to him sweeter than any other ever heard in that wood--even the
songs of its birds.  It is a swishing, as of leaves softly brushed by
the skirts of a woman's dress--which it is.  He needs no telling who
comes.  A subtle electricity, seeming to precede, warns him of Mary
Morgan's presence, as though she were already by his side.

All doubts and conjectures at an end, he starts to his feet, and steps
out to meet her.  Soon as on the path he sees a cloaked figure, drawing
nigh with a grace of movement distinguishable even in the dim glimmering
light.

"That you, Mary?"

A question mechanical; no answer expected or waited for.  Before any
could be given she is in his arms, her lips hindered from words by a
shower of kisses.

Thus having saluted, he takes her hand and leads her among the hollies.
Not from precaution, or fear of being intruded upon.  Few besides the
farm people of Abergann use the right-of-way path, and unlikely any of
them being on it at that hour.  It is only from habit they retire to the
more secluded spot under the elm, hallowed to them by many a sweet
remembrance.

They sit down side by side; and close, for his arm is around her waist.
How unlike the lovers in the painted pavilion at Llangorren!  Here there
is neither concealment of thought nor restraint of speech--no time given
to circumlocution--none wasted in silence.  There is none to spare, as
she has told him at the moment of meeting.

"It's kind o' you comin', Mary," he says, as soon as they are seated.
"I knew ye would."

"O Jack!  What a work I had to get out--the trick I've played mother!
You'll laugh when you hear it."

"Let's hear it, darling!"

She relates the catastrophe of the cupboard, at which he does laugh
beyond measure, and with a sense of gratification.  Six shillings thrown
away--spilled upon the floor--and all for him!  Where is the man who
would not feel flattered, gratified, to be the shrine of such sacrifice,
and from such a worshipper?

"You've been to the Ferry, then?"

"You see," she says, holding up the bottle.

"I weesh I'd known that.  I could a met ye on the road, and we'd had
more time to be thegither.  It's too bad, you havin' to go straight
back."

"It is.  But there's no help for it.  Father Rogier will be there before
this, and mother mad impatient."

Were in light she would see his brow darken at mention of the priest's
name.  She does not, nor does he give expression to the thoughts it has
called up.  In his heart he curses the Jesuit--often has with his
tongue, but not now.  He is too delicate to outrage her religious
susceptibilities.  Still he cannot be altogether silent on a theme so
much concerning both.

"Mary dear!" he rejoins in grave, serious tone, "I don't want to say a
word against Father Rogier, seein' how much he be your mother's friend;
or, to speak more truthful, her favourite; for I don't believe he's the
friend o' anybody.  Sartinly, not mine, nor yours; and I've got it on my
mind that man will some day make mischief between us."

"How can he, Jack?"

"Ah, how!  A many ways.  One, his sayin' ugly things about me to your
mother--tellin' her tales that ain't true."

"Let him--as many as he likes; you don't suppose I'll believe them?"

"No, I don't, darling--'deed I don't."  A snatched kiss affirms the
sincerity of his words; hers as well, in her lips not being drawn back,
but meeting him halfway.

For a short time there is silence.  With that sweet exchange thrilling
their hearts it is natural.

He is the first to resume speech; and from a thought the kiss has
suggested:--

"I know there be a good many who'd give their lives to get the like o'
that from your lips, Mary.  A soft word, or only a smile.  I've heerd
talk o' several.  But one's spoke of, in particular, as bein' special
favourite by your mother, and backed up by the French priest."

"Who?"

She has an idea who--indeed knows; and the question is only asked to
give opportunity of denial.

"I dislike mentionin' his name.  To me it seems like insultin' ye.  The
very idea o' Dick Dempsey--"

"You needn't say more," she exclaims, interrupting him.  "I know what
you mean.  But you surely don't suppose I could think of him as a
sweetheart?  That _would_ insult me."

"I hope it would; pleezed to hear you say't.  For all, he thinks o' you,
Mary; not only in the way o' sweetheart, but--"

He hesitates.

"What?"

"I won't say the word.  'Tain't fit to be spoke--about him an' you."

"If you mean _wife_--as I suppose you do--listen!  Rather than have
Richard Dempsey for a husband, I'd die--go down to the river and drown
myself!  That horrid wretch!  I hate him!"

"I'm glad to hear you talk that way--right glad."

"But why, Jack?  You know it couldn't be otherwise!  You should--after
all that's passed.  Heaven be my witness! you I love, and you alone.
You only shall ever call me wife.  If not--then nobody!"

"God bless ye!" he exclaims in answer to her impassioned speech.  "God
bless you, darling!" in the fervour of his gratitude flinging his arms
around, drawing her to his bosom, and showering upon her lips an
avalanche of kisses.

With thoughts absorbed in the delirium of love, their souls for a time
surrendered to it, they hear not a rustling among the late fallen
leaves; or, if hearing, supposed it to proceed from bird or beast--the
flight of an owl, with wings touching the twigs; or a fox quartering the
cover in search of prey.  Still less do they see a form skulking among
the hollies, black and boding as their shadows.

Yet such there is; the figure of a man, but with face more like that of
demon--for it is he whose name has just been upon their lips.  He has
overheard all they have said; every word an added torture, every phrase
sending hell to his heart.  And now, with jealousy in its last dire
throe, every remnant of hope extinguished--cruelly crushed out--he
stands, after all, unresolved how to act.  Trembling, too; for he is at
bottom a coward.  He might rush at them and kill both--cut them to
pieces with the knife he is holding in his hand.  But if only one, and
that her, what of himself!  He has an instinctive fear of Jack Wingate,
who has more than once taught him a subduing lesson.

That experience stands the young waterman in stead now, in all
likelihood saving his life.  For at this moment the moon, rising, flings
a faint light through the branches of the trees; and like some ravenous
nocturnal prowler that dreads the light of day, Richard Dempsey pushes
his knife-blade back into its sheath, slips out from among the hollies,
and altogether away from the spot.

But not to go back to Rugg's Ferry, nor to his own home.  Well for Mary
Morgan if he had.

By the same glimpse of silvery light warned as to the time, she knows
she must needs hasten away; as her lover, that he can no longer detain
her.  The farewell kiss, so sweet yet painful, but makes their parting
more difficult; and, not till after repeating it over and over, do they
tear themselves asunder--he standing to look after, she moving off along
the woodland path, as nymph or sylphide, with no suspicion that a satyr
has preceded her and is waiting not far off, with foul fell intent--no
less than the taking of her life.

END OF VOLUME ONE.

Volume Two, Chapter I.

A TARDY MESSENGER.

Father Rogier has arrived at Abergann; slipped off his goloshes, left
them with his hat in the entrance passage; and stepped inside the
parlour.

There is a bright coal fire chirping in the grate; for, although not
absolutely cold, the air is damp and raw from the rain which has fallen
during the earlier hours of the day.  He has not come direct from his
house at the Ferry, but up the meadows from below, along paths that are
muddy, with wet grass overhanging.  Hence his having on india-rubber
overshoes.  Spare of flesh, and thin-blooded, he is sensitive to cold.

Feeling it now, he draws a chair to the fire, and sits down with his
feet rested on the fender.

For a time he has it all to himself.  The farmer is still outside,
looking after his cattle, and setting things up for the night; while
Mrs Morgan, after receiving him, has made excuse to the kitchen--to set
the frying-pan on the coals.  Already the sausages can be heard
frizzling, while their savoury odour is borne everywhere throughout the
house.

Before sitting down the priest had helped himself to a glass of sherry;
and, after taking a mouthful or two, set it on the mantelshelf, within
convenient reach.  It would have been brandy were there any on the
table; but, for the time satisfied with the wine, he sits sipping it,
his eyes now and then directed towards the door.  This is shut, Mrs
Morgan having closed it after her as she went out.

There is a certain restlessness in his glances, as though he were
impatient for the door to be reopened, and some one to enter.

And so is he, though Mrs Morgan herself is not the some one--but her
daughter.  Gregoire Rogier has been a fast fellow in his youth--before
assuming the cassock a very _mauvais sujet_.  Even now in the maturer
age, and despite his vows of celibacy, he has a partiality for the sex,
and a keen eye to female beauty.  The fresh, youthful charms of the
farmer's daughter have many a time made it water, more than the now
stale attractions of Olympe, _nee_ Renault.  She is not the only
disciple of his flock he delights in drawing to the confessional.

But there is a vast difference between the mistress of Glyngog and the
maiden of Abergann.  Unlike are they as Lucrezia Borgia to that other
Lucretia--victim of Tarquin _fils_.  And the priest knows he must deal
with them in a very different manner.  He cannot himself have Mary
Morgan for a wife--he does not wish to--but it may serve his purpose
equally well were she to become the wife of Richard Dempsey.  Hence his
giving support to the pretensions of the poacher--not all unselfish.

Eagerly watching the door, he at length sees it pushed open; and by a
woman, but not the one he is wishing for.  Only Mrs Morgan re-entering
to speak apologies for delay in serving supper.  It will be on the table
in a trice.

Without paying much attention to what she says, or giving thought to her
excuses, he asks in a drawl of assumed indifference,--

"Where is Ma'mselle Marie?  Not on the sick list, I hope?"

"Oh no, your reverence.  She was never in better health in her life, I'm
happy to say."

"Attending to culinary matters, I presume?  Bothering herself--on my
account, too!  Really, madame, I wish you wouldn't take so much trouble
when I come to pay you these little visits--calls of duty.  Above all,
that ma'mselle should be scorching her fair cheeks before a kitchen
fire."

"She's not--nothing of the kind, Father Rogier."

"Dressing, may be?  That isn't needed either--to receive poor me."

"No; she's not dressing."

"Ah!  What then?  Pardon me for appearing inquisitive.  I merely wish to
have a word with her before monsieur, your husband, comes in--relating
to a matter of the Sunday school.  She's at home, isn't she?"

"Not just this minute.  She soon will be."

"What!  Out at this hour?"

"Yes; she has gone up to the Ferry on an errand.  I wonder you didn't
meet her!  Which way did you come, Father Rogier--the path or the lane?"

"Neither--nor from the Ferry.  I've been down the river on visitation
duty, and came up through the meadows.  It's rather a dark night for
your daughter to have gone upon an errand!  Not alone, I take it?"

"Yes; she went alone."

"But why, madame?"

Mrs Morgan had not intended to say anything about the nature of the
message, but it must come out now.

"Well, your reverence," she answers, laughing, "it's rather an amusing
matter--as you'll say yourself, when I tell it you."

"Tell it, pray!"

"It's all through a cat--our big Tom."

"Ah, Tom!  What _jeu d'esprit_ has he been perpetrating?"

"Not much of a joke, after all; but more the other way.  The mischievous
creature got into the pantry, and somehow upset a bottle--indeed, broke
it to pieces."

"_Chat maudit_!  But what has that to do with your daughter's going to
the Ferry?"

"Everything.  It was a bottle of best French brandy--unfortunately the
only one we had in the house.  And as they say misfortunes never do come
single, it so happened our boy was away after the cows, and nobody else
I could spare.  So I've sent Mary to the Welsh Harp for another.  I know
your reverence prefers brandy to wine."

"Madame, your very kind thoughtfulness deserves my warmest thanks.  But
I'm really sorry at your having taken all this trouble to entertain me.
Above all, I regret its having entailed such a disagreeable duty upon
your Mademoiselle Marie.  Henceforth I shall feel reluctance in setting
foot over your threshold."

"Don't say that, Father Rogier.  Please don't.  Mary didn't think it
disagreeable.  I should have been angry with her if she had.  On the
contrary, it was herself proposed going; as the boy was out of the way,
and our girl in the kitchen, busy about supper.  But poor it is--I'm
sorry to tell you--and will need the drop of Cognac to make it at all
palatable."

"You underrate your _menu_, madame; if it be anything like what I've
been accustomed to at your table.  Still, I cannot help feeling regret
at ma'mselle's having been sent to the Ferry--the roads in such
condition.  And so dark, too--she may have a difficulty in finding her
way.  Which did she go by--the path or the lane?  Your own interrogatory
to myself--almost verbatim--_c'est drole_!"

With but a vague comprehension of the interpolated French and Latin
phrases, the farmer's wife makes rejoinder:

"Indeed, I can't say which.  I never thought of asking her.  However,
Mary's a sensible lass, and surely wouldn't think of venturing over the
foot plank a night like this.  She knows it's loose.  Ah!" she
continues, stepping to the window, and looking out, "there be the moon
up!  I'm glad of that; she'll see her way now, and get sooner home."

"How long is it since she went off?"  Mrs Morgan glances at the clock
over the mantel; soon she sees where the hands are, exclaiming:

"Mercy me!  It's half-past nine!  She's been gone a good hour!"

Her surprise is natural.  To Rugg's Ferry is but a mile, even by the
lane and road.  Twenty minutes to go and twenty more to return were
enough.  How are the other twenty being spent?  Buying a bottle of
brandy across the counter, and paying for it, will not explain; that
should occupy scarce as many seconds.  Besides, the last words of the
messenger, at starting off, were a promise of speedy return.  She has
not kept it!  And what can be keeping _her_?

Her mother asks this question, but without being able to answer it.  She
can neither tell nor guess.  But the priest, more suspicious, has his
conjectures; one giving him pain--greatly exciting him, though he does
not show it.  Instead, with simulated calmness, he says:

"Suppose I step out and see whether she be near at hand?"

"If your reverence would.  But please don't stay for her.  Supper's
quite ready, and Evan will be in by the time I get it dished.  I wonder
what's detaining Mary!"

If she only knew what, she would be less solicitous about the supper,
and more about the absent one.

"No matter," she continues, cheering up, "the girl will surely be back
before we sit down to the table.  If not, she must go--"

The priest had not stayed to hear the clause threatening to disentitle
the tardy messenger.  He is too anxious to learn the cause of delay;
and, in the hope of discovering it, with a view to something besides, he
hastily claps on his hat--without waiting to defend his feet with the
goloshes--then glides out and off across the garden.

Mrs Morgan remains in the doorway looking after him, with an expression
on her face not all contented.  Perhaps she too, has a foreboding of
evil; or, it may be, she but thinks of her daughter's future, and that
she is herself doing wrong by endeavouring to influence it in favour of
a man about whom she has of late heard discreditable rumours.  Or,
perchance, some suspicion of the priest himself may be stirring within
her: for there are scandals abroad concerning him, that have reached
even her ears.  Whatever the cause, there is shadow on her brow, as she
watches him pass out through the gate; scarce dispelled by the bright
blazing fire in the kitchen, as she returns thither to direct the
serving of the supper.

If she but knew the tale he, Father Rogier, is so soon to bring back,
she might not have left the door so soon, or upon her own feet; more
likely have dropped down on its threshold, to be carried from it
fainting, if not dead!

Volume Two, Chapter II.

A FATAL STEP.

Having passed out through the gate, Rogier turns along the wall; and,
proceeding at a brisk pace to where it ends in an angle, there comes to
a halt.

On the same spot where about an hour before stopped Mary Morgan--for a
different reason.  She paused to consider which of the two ways she
would take; he has no intention of taking either, or going a step
farther.  Whatever he wishes to say to her can be said where he now is,
without danger of its being overheard at the house--unless spoken in a
tone louder than that of ordinary conversation.  But it is not on this
account he has stopped; simply that he is not sure which of the two
routes she will return by--and for him to proceed along either would be
to risk the chance of not meeting her at all.

But that he has some idea of the way she will come, with suspicion of
why and what is delaying her, his mutterings tell:

"_Morbleu_! over an hour since she set out!  A tortoise could have
crawled to the Ferry, and crept back within the time!  For a demoiselle
with limbs lithe and supple as hers--pah!  It can't be the brandy bottle
that's the obstruction.  Nothing of the kind.  Corked, capsuled,
wrapped, ready for delivery--in all two minutes, or at most, three!  She
so ready to run for it, too--herself proposed going!  Odd, that to say
the least.  Only understandable on the supposition of something
prearranged.  An assignation with the River Triton for sure!  Yes; he's
the anchor that's been holding her--holds her still.  Likely, they're
somewhat under the shadow of that wood, now--standing--sitting--ach!  I
wish I but knew the spot; I'd bring their billing and cooing to an
abrupt termination.  It will not do for me to go on guesses; I might
miss the straying damsel with whom this night I want a word in
particular--must have it.  Monsieur Coracle may need binding a little
faster, before he consents to the service required of him.  To ensure an
interview with her it is necessary to stay on this spot, however trying
to patience."

For a second or two he stands motionless, though all the while active in
thought, his eyes also restless.  These, turning to the wall, show him
that it is overgrown with ivy.  A massive cluster on its crest projects
out, with hanging tendrils, whose tops almost touch the ground.  Behind
them there is ample room for a man to stand upright, and so be concealed
from the eyes of anyone passing, however near.

"_Grace a Dieu_!" he exclaims, observing this; "the very place.  I must
take her by surprise.  That's the best way when one wants to learn how
the cat jumps.  Ha! _cette chat_ Tom; how very opportune his mischievous
doings--for Mademoiselle!  Well, I must give _Madame la mere_ counsel
better to guard against such accidents hereafter; and how to behave when
they occur."

He has by this ducked his head, and stepped under the arcading
evergreen.

The position is all he could desire.  It gives him a view of both ways
by which on that side the farmhouse can be approached.  The cart lane is
directly before his face, as is also the footpath when he turns towards
it.  The latter leading, as already said, along a hedge to the orchard's
bottom, there crosses the brook by a plank--this being about fifty yards
distant from where he has stationed himself.  And as there is now
moonlight he can distinctly see the frail footbridge, with a portion of
the path beyond, where it runs through straggling trees, before entering
the thicker wood.  Only at intervals has he sight of it, as the sky is
mottled with masses of cloud, that every now and then, drifting over the
moon's disc, shut off her light with the suddenness of a lamp
extinguished.

When she shines he can himself be seen.  Standing in crouched attitude
with the ivy tendrils festooned over his pale, bloodless face, he looks
like a gigantic spider behind its web, on the wait for prey--ready to
spring forward and seize it.

For nigh ten minutes he thus remains watching, all the while impatiently
chafing.  He listens too; though with little hope of hearing aught to
indicate the approach of her expected.  After the pleasant
_tete-a-tete_, he is now sure she must have held with the waterman, she
will be coming along silently, her thoughts in sweet, placid
contentment; or she may come on with timid, stealthy steps, dreading
rebuke by her mother for having overstayed her time.

Just as the priest in bitterest chagrin is promising himself that
rebuked she shall be he sees what interrupts his resolves, suddenly and
altogether withdrawing his thoughts from Mary Morgan.  It is a form
approaching the plank, on the opposite side of the stream; not hers, nor
woman's; instead the figure of a man!  Neither erect nor walking in the
ordinary way, but with head held down and shoulders projected forward,
as if he were seeking concealment under the bushes that beset the path,
for all drawing nigh to the brook with the rapidity of one pursued, and
who thinks there is safety only on its other side!

"_Sainte Vierge_!" exclaims the priest, _sotto voce_.  "What can all
that mean?  And who--"

He stays his self-asked interrogatory, seeing that the skulker has
paused too--at the farther end of the plank, which he has now reached.
Why?  It may be from fear to set foot on it; for indeed is there danger
to one not intimately acquainted with it.  The man may be a stranger--
some fellow on teams who intends trying the hospitality of the
farmhouse--more likely its henroosts, judging by his manner of approach?

While thus conjecturing, Rogier sees the skulker stoop down, immediately
after hearing a sound, different from the sough of the stream; a harsh
grating noise, as of a piece of heavy timber drawn over a rough surface
of rock.

"Sharp fellow?" thinks the priest; "with all his haste, wonderfully
cautious!  He's fixing the thing steady before venturing to tread upon
it!  Ha!  I'm wrong; he don't design crossing it after all!"

This as the crouching figure erects itself and, instead of passing over
the plank, turns abruptly away from it.  Not to go back along the path,
but up the stream on that same side!  And with bent body as before,
still seeming desirous to shun observation.

Now more than ever mystified, the priest watches him, with eyes keen as
those of a cat set for nocturnal prowling.  Not long till he learns who
the man is.  Just then the moon, escaping from a cloud, flashes her full
light in his face, revealing features of diabolic expression--that of a
murderer striding away from the spot where he has been spilling blood!

Rogier recognises Coracle Dick, though still without the slightest idea
of what the poacher is doing there.

"_Que diantre_!" he exclaims, in surprise; "what can that devil be
after!  Coming up to the plank and not crossing--Ha! yonder's a very
different sort of pedestrian approaching it?  Ma'mselle Mary at last!"

This as by the same intermittent gleam of moonlight he descries a straw
hat, with streaming ribbons, over the tops of the bushes beyond the
brook.

The brighter image drives the darker one from his thoughts; and,
forgetting all about the man, in his resolve to take the woman unawares,
he steps out from under the ivy, and makes forward to meet her.  He is a
Frenchman, and to help her over the footplank will give him a fine
opportunity for displaying his cheap gallantry.

As he hastens down to the stream, the moon remaining unclouded, he sees
the young girl close to it on the opposite side.  She approaches with
proud carriage, and confident step, her cheeks even under the pale light
showing red--flushed with the kisses so lately received, as it were
still clinging to them.  Her heart yet thrilling with love, strong under
its excitement, little suspects she how soon it will cease to beat.

Boldly she plants her foot upon the plank, believing, late boasting, a
knowledge of its tricks.  Alas! there is one with which she is not
acquainted--could not be--a new and treacherous one, taught it within
the last two minutes.  The daughter of Evan Morgan is doomed; one more
step will be her last in life!

She makes it, the priest alone being witness.  He sees her arms flung
aloft, simultaneously hearing a shriek; then arms, body, and bridge sink
out of sight suddenly, as though the earth had swallowed them!

Volume Two, Chapter III.

A SUSPICIOUS WAIF.

On returning homeward the young waterman bethinks him of a difficulty--a
little matter to be settled with his mother.  Not having gone to the
shop, he has neither whipcord nor pitch to show.  If questioned about
these commodities, what answer is he to make?  He dislikes telling her
another lie.  It came easy enough before the interview with his
sweetheart, but now it is not so much worth while.

On reflection he thinks it will be better to make a clean breast of it.
He has already half confessed, and may as well admit his mother to full
confidence about the secret he has been trying to keep from her--
unsuccessfully, as he now knows.

While still undetermined, a circumstance occurs to hinder him from
longer withholding it, whether he would or not.  In his abstraction he
has forgotten all about the moon, now up, and at intervals shining
brightly.  During one of these he has arrived at his own gate, as he
opens it seeing his mother on the door-step.  Her attitude shows she has
already seen him, and observed the direction whence he has come.  Her
words declare the same.

"Why, Jack!" she exclaims, in feigned astonishment, "ye beant a comin'
from the Ferry that way?"

The interrogatory, or rather the tone in which it is put, tells him the
cat is out of the bag.  No use attempting to stuff the animal in again;
and seeing it is not, he rejoins, laughingly--

"Well, mother, to speak the truth, I ha'nt been to the Ferry at all.
An' I must ask you to forgie me for practisin' a trifle o' deception on
ye--that 'bout the _Mary_ wantin' repairs."

"I suspected it, lad; an' that it wor the tother Mary as wanted
something, or you wanted something wi' her.  Since you've spoke
repentful, an' confessed, I ain't a-goin' to worrit ye about it.  I'm
glad the boat be all right, as I ha' got good news for you."

"What?" he asks, rejoiced at being so easily let off.

"Well; you spoke truth when ye sayed there was no knowin' but that
somebody might be wantin' to hire ye any minnit.  There's been one
arready."

"Who?  Not the Captain?"

"No, not him.  But a grand livery chap; footman or coachman--I ain't
sure which--only that he came frae a Squire Powell's, 'bout a mile
back."

"Oh!  I know Squire Powell--him o' New Hall, I suppose it be.  What did
the sarvint say?"

"That if you wasn't engaged, his young master wants ye to take hisself,
and some friends that be staying wi' him, for a row down the river."

"How far did the man say?  If they be bound to Chepstow or even but
Tintern, I don't think I could go; unless they start Monday mornin'.
I'm 'gaged to the Captain for Thursday, ye know; an if I went the long
trip, there'd be all the bother o' gettin' the boat back--an' bare
time."

"Monday!  Why, it's the morrow they want ye."

"Sunday!  That's queerish, too.  Squire Powell's family be a sort o'
strict religious, I've heerd."

"That's just it.  The livery chap sayed it be a church they're goin' to;
some curious kind o' old worshippin' place, that lie in a bend o' the
river, where carriages ha' difficulty in gettin' to it."

"I think I know the one, an' can take them there well enough.  What
answer did you gie to the man?"

"That ye could take 'em, an' would.  I know'd you hadn't any other
bespeak; and since it wor to a church wouldn't mind its bein' Sunday."

"Sartinly not.  Why should I?" asks Jack, who is anything but a
Sabbatarian.  "Where do they weesh the boat to be took?  Or am I to wait
for 'em here?"

"Yes; the man spoke o' them comin' here, an' at a very early hour.  Six
o'clock.  He sayed the clergyman be a friend o' the family, and they're
to ha' their breakfasts wi' him, afore goin' to church."

"All right!  I'll be ready for 'em, come's as early as they may."

"In that case, my son; ye better get to your bed at once.  Ye've had a
hard day o' it, and need rest.  Should ye like take a drop o' somethin'
'fores you lie down?"

"Well, mother; I don't mind.  Just a glass o' your elderberry."

She opens a cupboard, brings forth a black bottle, and fills him a
tumbler of the dark red wine--home made, and by her own hands.

Quaffing it, he observes:--

"It be the best stuff I know of to put spirit into a man, an' makes him
feel cheery.  I've heerd the Captain hisself say, it beats their
_Spanish Port_ all to pieces."

Though somewhat astray in his commercial geography, the young waterman,
as his patron, is right about the quality of the beverage; for
elderberry wine, made in the correct way, _is_ superior to that of
Oporto.  Curious scientific fact, I believe not generally known, that
the soil where grows the _Sambucus_ is that most favourable to the
growth of the grape.

Without going thus deeply into the philosophy of the subject, or at all
troubling himself about it, the boatman soon gets to the bottom of his
glass, and bidding his mother good night, retires to his sleeping room.

Getting into bed, he lies for a while sweetly thinking of Mary Morgan,
and that satisfactory interview under the elm; then goes to sleep as
sweetly to dream of her.

There is just a streak of daylight stealing in through the window as he
awakes; enough to warn him that it is time to be up and stirring.  Up he
instantly is and arrays himself, not in his everyday boating
habiliments, but a suit worn only on Sundays and holidays.

The mother, also astir betimes, has his breakfast on the table soon as
he is rigged; and just as he finishes eating it, the rattle of wheels on
the road in front, with voices, tells him his fare has arrived.

Hastening out, he sees a grand carriage drawn up at the gate, double
horsed, with coachman and footman on the box; inside young Mr Powell,
his pretty sister, and two others--a lady and gentleman, also young.

Soon they are all seated in the boat, the coachman having been ordered
to take the carriage home, and bring it back at a certain hour.  The
footman goes with them--the _Mary_ having seats for six.

Rowed down stream, the young people converse among themselves; gaily,
now and then giving way to laughter, as though it were any other day
than Sunday.  But their boatman is merry also, with memories of the
preceding night; and, though not called upon to take part in their
conversation, he likes listening to it.  Above all he is pleased with
the appearance of Miss Powell, a very beautiful girl; and takes note of
the attention paid her by the gentleman who sits opposite.  Jack is
rather interested in observing these, as they remind him of his own
first approaches to Mary Morgan.

His eyes, though, are for a time removed from them, while the boat is
passing Abergann.  Out of the farmhouse chimneys just visible over the
tops of the trees, he sees smoke ascending.  It is not yet seven
o'clock, but the Morgans are early risers, and by this mother and
daughter will be on their way to _Matins_, and possibly Confession at
the Rugg's Ferry Chapel.  He dislikes to reflect on the last, and longs
for the day when he has hopes to cure his sweetheart of such a repulsive
devotional practice.

Pulling on down he ceases to think of it, and of her for the time, his
attention being engrossed by the management of the boat.  For just below
Abergann the stream runs sharply, and is given to caprices.  But further
on, it once more flows in gentle tide along the meadow lands of
Llangorren.

Before turning the bend, where Gwen Wynn and Eleanor Lees were caught in
the rapid current, at the estuary of a sluggish inflowing brook, whose
waters are now beaten back by the flooded river, he sees what causes him
to start, and hang on the stroke of his oar.

"What is it, Wingate?" asks young Powell, observing his strange
behaviour.  "Oh! a waif--that plank floating yonder!  I suppose you'd
like to pick it up!  But remember! it's Sunday, and we must confine
ourselves to works of necessity and mercy."

Little think the four who smile at this remark--five with the footman--
what a weird, painful impression the sight of that drifting thing has
made on the sixth who is rowing them.

Nor does it leave him all that day; but clings to him in the church, to
which he goes; at the Rectory, where he is entertained; and while rowing
back up the river--hangs heavy on his heart as lead!

Returning, he looks out for the piece of timber; but cannot see it; for
it is now after night, the young people having stayed dinner with their
friend the clergyman.

Kept later than they intended, on arrival at the boat's dock they do not
remain there an instant; but, getting into the carriage, which has been
some time awaiting them, are whirled off to New Hall.

Impatient are they to be home.  Far more--for a different reason--the
waterman; who but stays to tie the boat's painter; and, leaving the oars
in her thwarts, hastens into his house.  The plank is still uppermost in
his thoughts, the presentiment heavy on his heart.

Not lighter, as on entering at the door he sees his mother seated with
her head bowed down to her knees.

He does not wait for her to speak, but asks excitedly:--

"What's the matter, mother?"

The question is mechanical--he almost anticipates the answer, or its
nature.

"Oh, my son, my son!  As I told ye.  It _was the canwyll corph_!"

Volume Two, Chapter IV.

"THE FLOWER OF LOVE-LIES-BLEEDING."

There is a crowd collected round the farmhouse of Abergann.  Not an
excited, or noisy one; instead, the people composing it are of staid
demeanour, with that formal solemnity observable on the faces of those
at a funeral.

And a funeral it is, or soon to be.  For, inside there is a chamber of
death; a coffin with a corpse--that of her, who, had she lived, would
have been Jack Wingate's wife.

Mary Morgan has indeed fallen victim to the mad spite of a monster.
Down went she into that swollen stream, which, ruthless and cruel as he
who committed her to it, carried her off on its engulfing tide--her form
tossed to and fro, now sinking, now coming to the surface, and again
going down.  No one to save her--not an effort at rescue made by the
cowardly Frenchman; who, rushing on to the chasm's edge, there
stopped,--only to gaze affrightedly at the flood surging below,
foam-crested; only to listen to her agonised cry, further off and more
freely put forth, as she was borne onward to her doom.

Once again he heard it, in that tone which tells of life's last struggle
with death--proclaiming death the conqueror.  Then all was over.  As he
stood horror-stricken, half-bewildered, a cloud suddenly curtained the
moon, bringing black darkness upon the earth, as if a pall had been
thrown over it.  Even the white froth on the water was for the while
invisible.  He could see nothing--nothing hear, save the hoarse, harsh
torrent rolling relentlessly on.  Of no avail, then, his hurrying back
to the house, and raising the alarm.  Too late it was to save Mary
Morgan from drowning; and, only by the accident of her body being thrown
up against a bank was it that night recovered.

It is the third day after, and the funeral about to take place.  Though
remote the situation of the farm-stead, and sparsely inhabited the
district immediately around, the assemblage is a large one.  This partly
from the unusual circumstances of the girl's death, but as much from the
respect in which Evan Morgan is held by his neighbours, far and near.
They are there in their best attire, men and women alike, Protestants as
Catholics, to show a sympathy, which in truth many of them sincerely
feel.

Nor is there among the people assembled any conjecturing about the cause
of the fatal occurrence.  No hint, or suspicion, that there has been
foul play.  How could there?  So clearly an accident, as pronounced by
the coroner at his inquiry held the day after the drowning--brief and
purely _pro forma_.

Mrs Morgan herself told of her daughter sent on that errand from which
she never returned; while the priest, eye-witness, stated the reason
why.  Taken together, this was enough; though further confirmed by the
absent plank, found and brought back on the following day.  Even had
Wingate rowed back up the river during daylight, he would not have seen
it again.  The farm labourers and others, accustomed to cross by it,
gave testimony as to its having been loose.

But of all whose evidence was called for, one alone could have put a
different construction on the tale.  Father Rogier could have done this;
but did not, having his reasons for withholding the truth.  He is now in
possession of a secret that will make Richard Dempsey his slave for
life--his instrument, willing or unwilling, for such purpose as he may
need him, no matter what its iniquity.

The hour of interment has been fixed for twelve o'clock.  It is now a
little after eleven, and everybody has arrived at the house.  The men
stand outside in groups, some in the little flower garden in front,
others straying into the farmyard to have a look at the fatting pigs, or
about the pastures to view the white-faced Herefords and "Bye-land"
sheep; of which last Evan Morgan is a noted breeder.

Inside the house are the women--some relatives of the deceased, with the
farmer's friends and more familiar acquaintances.  All admitted to the
chamber of death to take a last look at the dead.  The corpse is in the
coffin, but with lid not yet screwed on.  There lies the corpse in its
white drapery, still untouched by "decay's effacing fingers," beautiful
as living bride, though now a bride for the altar of eternity.

The stream passes in and out; but besides those only curious coming and
going, there are some who remain in the room.  Mrs Morgan herself sits
beside the coffin, at intervals giving way to wildest grief; a cluster
of women around vainly essaying to comfort her.

There is a young man seated in the corner, who seems to need consoling
almost as much as she.  Every now and then his breast heaves in audible
sobbing as though the heart within were about to break.  None wonder at
this; for it is Jack Wingate.

Still, there are those who think it strange his being there--above all,
as if made welcome.  They know not the remarkable change that has taken
place in the feelings of Mrs Morgan.  Beside that bed of death all who
were dear to her daughter, were dear to her now.  And she is aware that
the young waterman was so.  For he has told her, with tearful eyes and
sad, earnest words, whose truthfulness could not be doubted.

But where is the other, the false one?  Not there--never has been since
the fatal occurrence.  Came not to the inquest, came not to inquire or
condole; comes not now to show sympathy, or take part in the rites of
sepulture.

There are some who make remark about his absence, though none lament
it--not even Mrs Morgan herself.  The thought of the bereaved mother is
that he would have ill-befitted being her son.  Only a fleeting
reflection, her whole soul being engrossed in grief for her lost
daughter.

The hour for closing the coffin has come.  They but await the priest to
say some solemn words.  He has not yet arrived, though every instant
looked for.  A personage so important has many duties to perform, and
may be detained by them elsewhere.

For all, he does not fail.  While inside the death chamber they are
conjecturing the cause of his delay, a buzz outside, with a shuffling of
feet in the passage, tells of way being made for him.

Presently he enters the room, and stepping up to the coffin stands
beside it, all eyes turned towards him.  His are upon the face of the
corpse--at first with the usual look of official gravity and feigned
grief.  But continuing to gaze upon it, a strange expression comes over
his features, as though he saw something that surprised, or unusually
interested him.  It affects him even to giving a start; so light,
however, that no one seems to observe it.  Whatever the emotion, he
conceals it; and in calm voice pronounces the prayer, with all its
formalities and gestures.

The lid is laid on, covering the form of Mary Morgan--for ever veiling
her face from the world.  Then the pall is thrown over, and all carried
outside.

There is no hearse, no plumes, nor paid pall-bearers.  Affection
supplies the place of this heartless luxury of the tomb.  On the
shoulders of four men the coffin is borne away, the crowd forming into
procession as it passes, and following.

On to the Rugg's Ferry chapel,--into its cemetery, late consecrated.
There lowered into a grave already prepared to receive it; and, after
the usual ceremonial of the Roman Catholic religion covered up, and
turfed over.

Then the mourners scatter off for their homes, singly or in groups,
leaving the remains of Mary Morgan in their last resting-place, only her
near relatives with thought of ever again returning to stand over them.

There is one exception; this is a mail not related to her, but who would
have been had she lived.  Wingate goes away with the intention ere long
to return.  The chapel burying-ground brinks upon the river, and when
the shades of night have descended over it, he brings his boat
alongside.  Then, fixing her to the bank, he steps out, and proceeds in
the direction of the new made grave.  All this cautiously, and with
circumspection, as if fearing to be seen.  The darkness favouring him,
he is not.

Reaching the sacred spot he kneels down, and with a knife, taken from
his pockets, scoops out a little cavity in the lately laid turf.  Into
this he inserts a plant, which he has brought along with him--one of a
common kind, but emblematic of no ordinary feeling.  It is that known to
country people as "The Flower of Love-lies-bleeding" (_Amaranthus
caudatus_).

Closing the earth around its roots, and restoring the sods, he bends
lower, till his lips are in contact with the grass upon the grave.  One
near enough might hear convulsive sobbing, accompanied by the words:--

"Mary, darling! you're wi' the angels now; and I know you'll forgie me,
if I've done ought to bring about this dreadful thing.  Oh, dear, dear
Mary!  I'd be only too glad to be lyin' in the grave along wi' ye.  As
God's my witness I would."

For a time he is silent, giving way to his grief--so wild as to seem
unbearable.  And just for an instant he himself thinks it so, as he
kneels with the knife still open in his hand, his eyes fixed upon it.  A
plunge with that shining blade with point to his heart, and all his
misery would be over!  "My mother--my poor mother--no!"  These few
words, with the filial thought conveyed, save him from suicide.  Soon as
repeating them, he shuts to his knife, rises to his feet, and returning
to the boat again rows himself home--but never with so heavy a heart.

Volume Two, Chapter V.

A FRENCH FEMME DE CHAMBRE.

Of all who assisted at the ceremony of Mary Morgan's funeral, no one
seemed so impatient for its termination as the priest.  In his official
capacity he did all he could to hasten it; soon as it was over hurrying
away from the grave, out of the burying-ground, and into his own house,
near by.

Such haste would have appeared strange--even indecent--but for the
belief of his having some sacerdotal duty that called him elsewhere; a
belief strengthened by their shortly after seeing him start off in the
direction of the Ferry-boat.

Arriving there, the Charon attendant rows him across the river; and,
soon as setting foot on the opposite side, he turns face down stream,
taking a path that meanders through fields and meadows.  Along this he
goes rapidly as his legs can carry him--in a walk.  Clerical dignity
hinders him from proceeding at a run, though judging by the expression
of his countenance he is inclined to it.

The route he is on would conduct to Llangorren Court--several miles
distant--and thither is he bound; though the house itself is not his
objective point.  He does not visit, nor would it serve him to show his
face there--least of all to Gwen Wynn.  She might not be so rude as to
use her riding whip on him, as she once felt inclined in the
hunting-field; but she would certainly be surprised to see him at her
home.

Yet it is one within her house he wishes to see, and is now on the way
for it, pretty sure of being able to accomplish his object.  True to her
fashionable instincts and _toilette_ necessities, Miss Linton keeps a
French maid, and it is with this damsel Father Rogier designs having an
interview.  He is thoroughly _en rapport_ with the _femme de chambre_
and through her, aided by the Confession, kept advised of everything
which transpires at the Court, or all he deems it worth while to be
advised about.

His confidence that he will not have long his walk for nothing rests on
certain matters of pre-arrangement.  With the foreign domestic he has
succeeded in establishing a code of signals, by which he can
communicate--with almost a certainty of being able to see her.  Not
inside the house, but at a place near enough to be convenient.  Rare the
park in Herefordshire through which there is not a right-of-way path,
and one runs across that of Llangorren.  Not through the ornamental
grounds, nor at all close to the mansion--as is frequently the case, to
the great chagrin of the owner--but several hundred yards distant.  It
passes from the river's bank to the county road, all the way through
trees, that screen it from view of the house.  There is a point,
however, where it approaches the edge of the wood, and there one
traversing it might be seen from the upper windows.  But only for an
instant, unless the party so passing should choose to make stop in the
place exposed.

It is a thoroughfare not much frequented, though free to Father Rogier
as any one else; and, now hastening along it, he arrives at that spot
where the break in the timber brings the house in view.  Here he makes a
halt, still keeping under the trees; to a branch of one of them, on the
side towards the Court attaching a piece of white paper, he has taken
out of his pocket.  This done with due caution, and care that he be not
observed in the act, he draws back to the path, and sits down upon a
stile close by--to await the upshot of his telegraphy.

His haste hitherto explained by the fact, only at certain times are his
signals likely to be seen, or could they be attended to.  One of the
surest and safest is during the early afternoon hours, just after
luncheon, when the ancient toast of Cheltenham takes her accustomed
_siesta_--before dressing herself for the drive, or reception of
callers.  While the mistress sleeps the maid is free to dispose of
herself, as she pleases.

It was to hit this interlude of leisure Father Rogier has been hurrying;
and that he has succeeded is soon known to him, by his seeing a form
with floating drapery, recognisable as that of the _femme de chambre_.
Gliding through the shrubbery, and evidently with an eye to escape
observation, she is only visible at intervals; at length lost to his
sight altogether as she enters among the thick standing trees.  But he
knows she will turn up again.

And she does, after a short time; coming along the path towards the
stile where here he is seated.

"Ah! _ma bonne_!" he exclaims, dropping on his feet, and moving forward
to meet her.  "You've been prompt!  I didn't expect you quite so soon.
Madame la Chatelaine oblivious, I apprehend; in the midst of her
afternoon nap?"

"Yes, Pere; she was when I stole off.  But she has given me directions
about dressing her, to go out for a drive--earlier than usual.  So I
must get back immediately."

"I'm not going to detain you very long.  I chanced to be passing, and
thought I might as well have a word with you--seeing it's the hour when
you're off duty.  By the way, I hear you're about to have grand doings
at the Court--a ball, and what not?"

"_Oui, m'sieu; oui_."

"When is it to be?"

"On Thursday.  Mademoiselle celebrates _son jour de naissance_--the
twenty-first, making her of age.  It is to be a grand fete as you say.
They've been all last week preparing for it."

"Among the invited Le Capitaine Ryecroft, I presume?"

"O yes.  I saw madame write the note inviting him--indeed took it myself
down to the hall table for the post-boy."

"He visits often at the Court of late?"

"Very often--once a week, sometimes twice."

"And comes down the river by boat; doesn't he!"

"In a boat.  Yes--comes and goes that way."

Her statement is reliable, as Father Rogier has reason to believe--
having an inkling of suspicion that the damsel has of late been casting
sheep's eyes, not at Captain Ryecroft, but his young boatman, and is as
much interested in the movements of the _Mary_ as either the boat's
owner or charterer.

"Always comes by water, and returns by it," observes the priest, as if
speaking to himself.  "You're quite sure of that, _ma fille_?"

"Oh, quite, Pere!"

"Mademoiselle appears to be very partial to him.  I think, you told me
she often accompanies him down to the boat stair, at his departure?"

"Often! always."

"Always?"

"_Toujours_!  I never knew it otherwise.  Either the boat stair, or the
pavilion."

"Ah! the summer-house!  They hold their _tete-a-tete_ there at times; do
they?"

"Yes; they do."

"But not when he leaves at a late hour--as, for instance, when he dines
at the Court; which I know he has done several times?"

"Oh, yes; even then.  Only last week he was there for dinner; and
Ma'mselle Gwen went with him to his boat, or the pavilion--to bid
adieus.  No matter what the time to her.  _Ma foi_!  I'd risk my word
she'll do the same after this grand ball that's to be.  And why
shouldn't she, Pere Rogier?  Is there any harm in it?"

The question is put with a view of justifying her own conduct, that
would be somewhat similar were Jack Wingate to encourage it, which, to
say truth, he never has.

"Oh, no," answers the priest, with an assumed indifference; "no harm,
whatever, and no business of ours.  Mademoiselle Wynn is mistress of her
own actions, and will be more, after the coming birthday number
_vingt-un_.  But," he adds, dropping the role of the interrogator, now
that he has got all the information wanted, "I fear I'm keeping you too
long.  As I've said, chancing to come by I signalled--chiefly to tell
you, that next Sunday we have High Mass in the chapel.  With special
prayers for a young girl, who was drowned last Saturday night, and whom
we've just this day interred.  I suppose you've heard?"

"No, I haven't.  Who Pere?"  Her question may appear strange, Rugg's
Ferry being so near to Llangorren Court and Abergann still nearer.  But
for reasons already stated, as others, the ignorance of the Frenchwoman
as to what has occurred at the farmhouse, is not only intelligible, but
natural enough.

Equally natural, though in a sense very different, is the look of
satisfaction appearing in her eyes, as the priest in answer gives the
name of the drowned girl.  "_Marie, la fille de fermier Morgan_."

The expression that comes over her face is, under the circumstances,
terribly repulsive--being almost that of joy!  For not only has she seen
Mary Morgan at the chapel, but something besides--heard her name coupled
with that of the waterman, Wingate.

In the midst of her strong, sinful emotions, of which the priest is
fully cognisant, he finds it a good opportunity for taking leave.  Going
back to the tree where the bit of signal paper has been left, he plucks
it off, and crumbles it into his pocket.  Then, returning to the path,
shakes hands with her, says "_Bonjour_!" and departs.

She is not a beauty, or he would have made his adieus in a very
different way.

Volume Two, Chapter VI.

THE POACHER AT HOME.

Coracle Dick lives all alone.  If he have relatives they are not near,
nor does any one in the neighbourhood know aught about them.  Only some
vague report of a father away off in the colonies, where he went against
his will; while the mother--is believed dead.

Not less solitary is Coracle's place of abode.  Situated in a dingle
with sides thickly wooded, it is not visible from anywhere.  Nor is it
near any regular road; only approachable by a path, which there ends;
the dell itself being a _cul-de-sac_.  Its open end is toward the river,
running in at a point where the bank is precipitous, so hindering
thoroughfare along the stream's edge, unless when its waters are at
their lowest.

Coracle's house is but a hovel, no better than the cabin of a backwoods
squatter.  Timber structure, too, in part, with a filling up of rough
mason work.  Its half-dozen perches of garden ground, once reclaimed
from the wood, have grown wild again, no spade having touched them for
years.  The present occupant of the tenement has no taste for gardening,
nor agriculture of any kind; he is a poacher, _pur sang_--at least, so
far as is known.  And it seems to pay him better than would the
cultivation of cabbages--with pheasants at nine shillings the brace, and
salmon three shillings the pound.  He has the river, if not the mere,
for his net, and the land for his game; making as free with both as ever
did Alan-a-dale.

But, whatever the price of fish and game, be it high or low, Coracle is
never without good store of cash, spending it freely at the Welsh Harp,
as elsewhere; at times so lavishly, that people of suspicious nature
think it cannot all be the product of night netting and snaring.  Some
of it, say scandalous tongues, is derived from other industries, also
practised by night, and less reputable than trespassing after game.
But, as already said, these are only rumours, and confined to the few.
Indeed, only a very few have intimate acquaintance with the man.  He is
of a reserved, taciturn habit, somewhat surly: not talkative even in his
cups.  And though ever ready to stand treat in the Harp tap-room he
rarely practises hospitality in his own house; only now and then, when
some acquaintance of like kidney and calling pays him a visit.  Then the
solitary domicile has its silence disturbed by the talk of men, thick as
thieves--often speech which, if heard beyond its walls, 'twould not be
well for its owner.

More than half time however, the poacher's dwelling is deserted, and
oftener at night than by day.  Its door shut, and padlocked, tells when
the tenant is abroad.  Then only a rough lurcher dog--a dangerous
animal, too--is guardian of the place.  Not that there are any chattels
to tempt the cupidity of the kleptomaniac.  The most valuable moveable
inside were not worth carrying away; and outside is but the coracle
standing in a lean-to shed, propped up by its paddle.  It is not always
there, and, when absent, it may be concluded that its owner is on some
expedition up, down, or across the river.  Nor is the dog always at
home; his absence proclaiming the poacher engaged in the terrestrial
branch of his profession--running down hares or rabbits.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It is the night of the same day that has seen the remains of Mary Morgan
consigned to their resting-place in the burying-ground of the Rugg's
Ferry chapel.  A wild night it has turned out, dark and stormy.  The
autumnal equinox is on, and its gales have commenced stripping the trees
of their foliage.  Around the dwelling of Dick Dempsey the fallen leaves
lie thick, covering the ground as with cloth of gold; at intervals torn
to shreds, as the wind swirls them up and holds them suspended.

Every now and then they are driven against the door, which is shut, but
not locked.  The hasp is hanging loose, the padlock with its bowed bolt
open.  The coracle is seen standing upright in the shed; the lurcher not
anywhere outside--for the animal is within, lying upon the hearth in
front of a cheerful fire.  And before the same sits its master,
regarding a pot which hangs over it on hooks; at intervals lifting off
the lid, and stirring the contents with a long-handled spoon of white
metal.  What these are might be told by the aroma; a stew, smelling
strongly of onions with game savour conjoined.  Ground game at that, for
Coracle is in the act of "jugging" a hare.  Handier to no man than him
were the recipe of Mrs Glass, for he comes up to all its requirements--
even the primary and essential one--knows how to catch his hare as well
as cook it.

The stew is done, dished, and set steaming upon the table, where already
has been placed a plate--the time-honoured willow pattern--with a knife
and two-pronged fork.  There is, besides, a jug of water, a bottle
containing brandy, and a tumbler.

Drawing his chair up, Coracle commences eating.  The hare is a young
one--a leveret he has just taken from the stubble--tender and juicy--
delicious even without the red-currant jelly he has not got, and for
which he does not care.  Withal, he appears but little to enjoy the
meal, and only eats as a man called upon to satisfy the cravings of
hunger.  Every now and then, as the fork is being carried to his head,
he holds it suspended, with the morsel of flesh on its prongs, while
listening to sounds outside!

At such intervals the expression upon his countenance is that of the
keenest apprehension; and as a gust of wind, unusually violent, drives a
leafy branch in loud clout against the door, he starts in his chair,
fancying it the knock of a policeman with his muffled truncheon!

This night the poacher is suffering from no ordinary fear of being
summoned for game trespass.  Were that all, he could eat his leveret as
composedly as if it had been regularly purchased and paid for.  But
there is more upon his mind; the dread of a writ being presented to him,
with shackles at the same time--of being taken handcuffed to the county
jail--thence before a court of assize--and finally to the scaffold!

He has reason to apprehend all this.  Notwithstanding his deep cunning,
and the dexterity with which he accomplished his great crime, a man must
have witnessed it.  Above the roar of the torrent, mingling with the
cries of the drowning girl as she struggled against it, were shouts in a
man's voice, which he fancied to be that of Father Rogier.  From what he
has since heard he is now certain of it.  The coroner's inquest, at
which he was not present, but whose report has reached him, puts that
beyond doubt.  His only uncertainty is, whether Rogier saw him by the
footbridge, and if so to recognise him.  True, the priest has nothing
said of him at the 'quest; for all he, Coracle, has his suspicions; now
torturing him almost as much as if sure that he was detected tampering
with the plank.  No wonder he eats his supper with little relish, or
that after every few mouthfuls he takes a swallow of the brandy, with a
view to keeping up his spirits.

Withal he has no remorse.  When he recalls the hastily exchanged
speeches he overheard upon Garran-hill, with that more prolonged
dialogue under the trysting-tree, the expression upon his features is
not one of repentance, but devilish satisfaction at the fell deed he has
done.  Not that his vengeance is yet satisfied.  It will not be till he
have the other life--that of Jack Wingate.  He has dealt the young
waterman a blow which at the same time afflicts himself; only by dealing
a deadlier one will his own sufferings be relieved.  He has been long
plotting his rival's death, but without seeing a safe way to accomplish
it.  And now the thing seems no nearer than ever--this night farther
off.  In his present frame of mind--with the dread of the gallows upon
it--he would be too glad to cry quits, and let Wingate live!

Starting at every swish of the wind, he proceeds with his supper,
hastily devouring it, like a wild beast; and when at length finished, he
sets the dish upon the floor for the dog.  Then lighting his pipe, and
drawing the bottle nearer to his hand, he sits for a while smoking.

Not long before being interrupted by a noise at the door; this time no
stroke of wind-tossed waif, but a touch of knuckles.  Though slight and
barely audible, the dog knows it to be a knock, as shown by his
behaviour.  Dropping the half-gnawed bone, and springing to its feet,
the animal gives out an angry growling.

Its master has himself started from his chair, and stands trembling.
There is a slit of a door at back convenient for escape; and for an
instant his eye is on it, as though he had half a mind to make exit that
way.  He would blow out the light were it a candle; but cannot as it is
the fire, whose faggots are still brightly ablaze.

While thus undecided, he hears the knock repeated; this time louder, and
with the accompaniment of a voice, saying:

"Open your door, Monsieur Dick."

Not a policeman, then; only the priest!

Volume Two, Chapter VII.

A MYSTERIOUS CONTRACT.

"Only the priest!" muttered Coracle to himself, but little better
satisfied than if it were the policeman.

Giving the lurcher a kick to quiet the animal, he pulls back the bolt,
and draws open the door, as he does so asking, "That you, Father
Rogier?"

"_C'est moi_!" answers the priest, stepping in without invitation.  "Ah!
_mon bracconier_! you're having something nice for supper.  Judging by
the aroma _ragout_ of hare.  Hope I haven't disturbed you.  Is it hare?"

"It was, your Reverence, a bit of leveret."

"Was!  You've finished then.  It is all gone?"

"It is.  The dog had the remains of it, as ye see."

He points to the dish on the floor.

"I'm sorry at that--having rather a relish for leveret.  It can't be
helped, however."

"I wish I'd known ye were comin'.  Dang the dog!"

"No, no!  Don't blame the poor dumb brute.  No doubt, it too has a taste
for hare, seeing it's half hound.  I suppose leverets are plentiful just
now, and easily caught, since they can no longer retreat to the standing
corn?"

"Yes, your Reverence.  There be a good wheen o' them about."

"In that case, if you should stumble upon one, and bring it to my house,
I'll have it jugged for myself.  By the way, what have you got in that
black jack?"

"It's brandy."

"Well, Monsieur Dick; I'll thank you for a mouthful."

"Will you take it neat, or mixed wi' a drop o' water?"

"Neat--raw.  The night's that, and the two raws will neutralise one
another.  I feel chilled to the bones, and a little fatigued, toiling
against the storm."

"It be a fearsome night.  I wonder at your Reverence bein' out--exposin'
yourself in such weather!"

"All weathers are alike to me--when duty calls.  Just now I'm abroad on
a little matter of business that won't brook delay."

"Business--wi' me?"

"With you, _mon bracconier_!"

"What may it be, your Reverence?"

"Sit down, and I shall tell you.  It's too important to be discussed
standing."

The introductory dialogue does not tranquillise the poacher; instead,
further intensifies his fears.  Obedient, he takes his seat one side the
table, the priest planting himself on the other, the glass of brandy
within reach of his hand.

After a sip, he resumes speech with the remark:

"If I mistake not, you are a poor man, Monsieur Dempsey?"

"You ain't no ways mistaken 'bout that, Father Rogier."

"And you'd like to be a rich one?"

Thus encouraged, the poacher's face lights up a little.  Smilingly, he
makes reply:

"I can't say as I'd have any particular objection.  'Stead, I'd like it
wonderful well."

"You can be, if so inclined."

"I'm ever so inclined, as I've sayed.  But how, your Reverence?  In this
hard work-o'-day world 'tant so easy to get rich."

"For you, easy enough.  No labour and not much more difficulty than
transporting your coracle five or six miles across the meadows."

"Somethin' to do wi' the coracle, have it?"

"No; 'twill need a bigger boat--one that will carry three or four
people.  Do you know where you can borrow such, or hire it?"

"I think I do.  I've a friend, the name o' Rob Trotter, who's got just
sich a boat.  He'd lend it me, sure."

"Charter it, if he doesn't.  Never mind about the price.  I'll pay."

"When might you want it, your Reverence?"

"On Thursday night, at ten, or a little later--say half-past."

"And where am I to bring it?"

"To the Ferry; you'll have it against the bank by the back of the Chapel
burying-ground, and keep it there till I come to you.  Don't leave it to
go up to the `Harp,' or anywhere else; and don't let any one see either
the boat or yourself, if you can possibly avoid it.  As the nights are
now dark at that hour, there need be no difficulty in your rowing up the
river without being observed.  Above all, you're to make no one the
wiser of what you're to do, or anything I'm now saying to you.  The
service I want you for is one of a secret kind, and not to be prattled
about."

"May I have a hint o' what it is?"

"Not now; you shall know in good time--when you meet me with the boat.
There will be another along with me--may be two--to assist in the
affair.  What will be required of you is a little dexterity, _such as
you displayed on Saturday night_."

No need the emphasis on the last words to impress their meaning upon the
murderer.  Too well he comprehends, starting in his chair as if a hornet
had stung him.

"How--where?" he gasps out in the confusion of terror.

The double interrogatory is but mechanical, and of no consequence.
Hopeless any attempt at concealment or subterfuge; as he is aware on
receiving the answer, cool and provokingly deliberate.

"You have asked two questions, Monsieur Dick, that call for separate
replies.  To the first, `How?'  I leave you to grope out the answer for
yourself, feeling pretty sure you'll find it.  With the second I'll be
more particular, if you wish me.  Place--where a certain foot plank
bridges a certain brook, close to the farmhouse of Abergann.  It--the
plank, I mean--last Saturday night, a little after nine, took a fancy to
go drifting down the Wye.  Need I tell you who sent it, Richard
Dempsey?"

The man thus interrogated looks more than confused--horrified, well nigh
crazed.  Excitedly stretching out his hand, he clutches the bottle, half
fills the tumbler with brandy, and drinks it down at a gulp.  He almost
wishes it were poison, and would instantly kill him!

Only after dashing the glass down does he make reply--sullenly, and in a
hoarse, husky voice:

"I don't want to know, one way or the other.  Damn the plank!  What do I
care?"

"You shouldn't blaspheme, Monsieur Dick.  That's not becoming--above
all, in the presence of your spiritual adviser.  However, you're
excited, as I see, which is in some sense an excuse."

"I beg your Reverence's pardon.  I was a bit excited about something."

He has calmed down a little, at thought that things may not be so bad
for him after all.  The priest's last words, with his manner, seem to
promise secrecy.  Still further quieted as the latter continues:

"Never mind about what.  We can talk of it afterwards.  As I've made you
aware--more than once, if I rightly remember--there's no sin so great
but that pardon may reach it--if repented and atoned for.  On Thursday
night you shall have an opportunity to make some atonement.  So, be
there with the boat!"

"I will, your Reverence; sure as my name's Richard Dempsey."

Idle of him to be thus earnest in promising.  He can be trusted to come
as if led in a string.  For he knows there is a halter around his neck,
with one end of it in the hand of Father Rogier.

"Enough!" returns the priest.  "If there be anything else I think of
communicating to you before Thursday I'll come again--to-morrow night.
So be at home.  Meanwhile, see to securing the boat.  Don't let there be
any failure about that, _coute que coute_.  And let me again enjoin
silence--not a word to any one, even your friend Rob.  _Verbum
sapientibus_!  But as you're not much of a scholar, Monsieur Coracle, I
suppose my Latin's lost on you.  Putting it in your own vernacular, I
mean: keep a close mouth, if you don't wish to wear a necktie of
material somewhat coarser than either silk or cotton.  You comprehend?"

To the priest's satanical humour the poacher answers, with a sickly
smile,--

"I do, Father Rogier; perfectly."

"That's sufficient.  And now, _mon bracconier_, I must be gone.  Before
starting out, however, I'll trench a little further on your hospitality.
Just another drop, to defend me from these chill equinoctials."

Saying which he leans towards the table, pours out a stoop of the
brandy--best Cognac from the "Harp" it is--then quaffing it off, bids
"bon soir!" and takes departure.

Having accompanied him to the door, the poacher stands upon its
threshold looking after, reflecting upon what has passed, anything but
pleasantly.  Never took he leave of a guest less agreeable.  True,
things are not quite so bad as he might have expected, and had reason to
anticipate.  And yet they are bad enough.  He is in the toils--the
tough, strong meshes of the criminal net, which at any moment may be
drawn tight and fast around him; and between policeman and priest there
is little to choose.  For his own purposes the latter may allow him to
live; but it will be as the life of one who has sold his soul to the
devil!

While thus gloomily cogitating he hears a sound, which but makes still
more sombre the hue of his thoughts.  A voice comes pealing up the
glen--a wild, wailing cry, as of some one in the extreme of distress.
He can almost fancy it the shriek of a drowning woman.  But his ears are
too much accustomed to nocturnal sounds, and the voices of the woods, to
be deceived.  That heard was only a little unusual by reason of the
rough night--its tone altered by the whistling of the wind.

"Bah!" he exclaims, recognising the call of the screech-owl, "it's only
one o' them cursed brutes.  What a fool fear makes a man!"

And with this hackneyed reflection he turns back into the house, rebolts
the door, and goes to his bed; not to sleep, but lie long awake--kept so
by that same fear.

Volume Two, Chapter VIII.

THE GAME OF PIQUE.

The sun has gone down upon Gwen Wynn's natal day--its twenty-first
anniversary--and Llangorren Court is in a blaze of light.  For a grand
entertainment is there being given--a ball.

The night is a dark one; but its darkness does not interfere with the
festivities; instead, heightens their splendour, by giving effect to the
illuminations.  For although autumn, the weather is still warm, and the
grounds are illuminated.  Parti-coloured lamps are placed at intervals
along the walks, and suspended in festoonery from the trees, while the
casement windows of the house stand open, people passing in and out of
them as if they were doors.  The drawing-room is this night devoted to
dancing; its carpet taken up, the floor made as slippery as a skating
rink with beeswax--abominable custom!  Though a large apartment, it does
not afford space for half the company to dance in; and to remedy this,
supplementary quadrilles are arranged on the smooth turf outside--a
string and wind band from the neighbouring town making music loud enough
for all.

Besides, all do not care for the delightful exercise.  A sumptuous
spread in the dining-room, with wines at discretion, attracts a
proportion of the guests; while there are others who have a fancy to go
strolling about the lawn, even beyond the coruscation of the lamps; some
who do not think it too dark anywhere, but the darker the better.

The _elite_ of at least half the shire is present, and Miss Linton, who
is still the hostess, reigns supreme in fine exuberance of spirits.
Being the last entertainment at Llangorren over which she is officially
to preside, one might imagine she would take things in a different way.
But as she is to remain resident at the Court, with privileges but
slightly, if at all, curtailed, she has no gloomy forecast of the
future.  Instead, on this night present she lives as in the past; almost
fancies herself back at Cheltenham in its days of splendour, and dancing
with the "first gentleman in Europe" redivivus.  If her star be going
down, it is going in glory, as the song of the swan is sweetest in its
dying hour.

Strange, that on such a festive occasion, with its circumstances
attendant, the old spinster, hitherto mistress of the mansion, should be
happier than the younger one, hereafter to be!  But in truth, so is it.
Notwithstanding her great beauty and grand wealth--the latter no longer
in prospective, but in actual possession--despite the gaiety and
grandeur surrounding her, the friendly greetings and warm
congratulations received on all sides--Gwen Wynn is herself anything but
gay.  Instead, sad, almost to wretchedness!

And from the most trifling of causes, though not as by her estimated;
little suspecting she has but herself to blame.  It has arisen out of an
episode, in love's history of common and very frequent occurrence--the
game of piques.  She and Captain Ryecroft are playing it, with all the
power and skill they can command.  Not much of the last, for jealousy is
but a clumsy fencer.  Though accounted keen, it is often blind as love
itself; and were not both under its influence they would not fail to see
through the flimsy deceptions they are mutually practising on one
another.  In love with each other almost to distraction, they are this
night behaving as though they were the bitterest enemies, or at all
events as friends sorely estranged.

She began it; blamelessly, even with praiseworthy motive; which, known
to him, no trouble could have come up between them.  But when, touched
with compassion for George Shenstone, she consented to dance with him
several times consecutively, and in the intervals remained conversing--
too familiarly, as Captain Ryecroft imagined--all this with an
"engagement ring" on her finger, by himself placed upon it--not strange
in him, thus _fiance_, feeling a little jealous; no more that he should
endeavour to make her the same.  Strategy, old as hills, or hearts
themselves.

In his attempt he is, unfortunately, too successful; finding the means
near by--an assistant willing and ready to his hand.  This in the person
of Miss Powell; she also went to church on the Sunday before in Jack
Wingate's boat--a young lady so attractive as to make it a nice point
whether she or Gwen Wynn be the attraction of the evening.

Though only just introduced, the Hussar officer is not unknown to her by
name, with some repute of his heroism besides.  His appearance speaks
for itself, making such impression upon the lady as to set her pencil at
work inscribing his name on her card for several dances, round and
square, in rapid succession.

And so between him and Gwen Wynn the jealous feeling, at first but
slightly entertained, is nursed and fanned into a burning flame--the
green-eyed monster growing bigger as the night gets later.

On both sides it reaches its maximum, when Miss Wynn, after a waltz,
leaning on George Shenstone's arm, walks out into the grounds, and stops
to talk with him in a retired, shadowy spot.

Not far off is Captain Ryecroft observing them, but too far to hear the
words passing between.  Were he near enough for this, it would terminate
the strife raging in his breast, as the sham flirtation he is carrying
on with Miss Powell--put at end to _her_ new sprung aspirations, if she
has any.

It does as much for the hopes of George Shenstone--long in abeyance, but
this night rekindled and revived.  Beguiled, first by his partner's
amiability in so oft dancing with, then afterwards using him as a foil,
he little dreams that he is but being made a catspaw.  Instead, drawing
courage from the deception, emboldened as never before, he does what he
never dared before--make Gwen Wynn a proposal of marriage.  He makes it
without circumlocution, at a single bound, as he would take a hedge upon
his hunter.

"Gwen! you know how I love you--would give my life for you!  Will you
be--" Only now he hesitates, as if his horse baulked.

"Be what?" she asks, with no intention to help him over, but
mechanically, her thoughts being elsewhere.

"My wife?"

She starts at the words, touched by his manly way, yet pained by their
appealing earnestness, and the thought she must give denying response.

And how is she to give it, with least pain to him?  Perhaps the bluntest
way will be the best.  So thinking, she says:--

"George, it can never be.  Look at that!"

She holds out her left hand, sparkling with jewels.

"At what?" he asks, not comprehending.

"That ring."  She indicates a cluster of brilliants, on the fourth
finger, by itself, adding the word "Engaged."

"O God!" he exclaims, almost in a groan.  "Is that so?"

"It is."

For a time there is silence; her answer less maddening than making him
sad.

With a desperate effort to resign himself, he at length replies:--

"Dear Gwen! for I must still call you--ever hold you so--my life
hereafter will be as one who walks in darkness, waiting for death--ah,
longing for it!"

Despair has its poetry, as love; oft exceeding the last in fervour of
expression, and that of George Shenstone causes surprise to Gwen Wynn,
while still further paining her.  So much she knows not how to make
rejoinder, and is glad when a _fanfare_ of the band instruments gives
note of another quadrille--the Lancers--about to begin.

Still engaged partners for the dance, but not to be for life, they
return to the drawing-room, and join in it; he going through its figures
with a sad heart and many a sigh.

Nor is she less sorrowful, only more excited; nigh unto madness, as she
sees Captain Ryecroft _vis-a-vis_ with Miss Powell; on his face an
expression of content, calm, almost cynical; hers radiant as with
triumph!

In this moment of Gwen Wynn's supreme misery--acme of jealous spite--
were George Shenstone to renew his proposal, she might pluck the
betrothal ring from her finger, and give answer, "I will!"

It is not to be so, however weighty the consequence.  In the horoscope
of her life there is yet a heavier.

Volume Two, Chapter IX.

JEALOUS AS A TIGER.

It is a little after two a.m., and the ball is breaking up.  Not a very
late hour, as many of the people live at a distance, and have a long
drive homeward, over hilly roads.

By the fashion prevailing a _galop_ brings the dancing to a close.  The
musicians, slipping their instruments into cases and baize bags, retire
from the room; soon after deserted by all, save a spare servant or two,
who make the rounds to look to extinguishing the lamps, with a sharp eye
for waifs in the shape of dropped ribbons or _bijouterie_.

Gentlemen guests stay longer in the dining-room over claret and
champagne "cup," or the more time-honoured B and S; while in the hallway
there is a crush, and on the stairs a stream of ladies, descending
cloaked and hooded.

Soon the crowd waxes thinner, relieved by carriages called up, quickly
filling, and whirled off.

That of Squire Powell is among them; and Captain Ryecroft, not without
comment from certain officious observers, accompanies the young lady, he
has been so often dancing with, to the door.

Having seen her off with the usual ceremonies of leave-taking, he
returns into the porch, and there for a while remains.  It is a large
portico, with Corinthian columns, by one of which he takes stand, in
shadow.  But there is a deeper shadow on his own brow, and a darkness in
his heart, such as he has never in his life experienced.  He feels how
he has committed himself, but not with any remorse or repentance.
Instead, the jealous anger is still within his breast, ripe and ruthless
as ever.  Nor is it so unnatural.  Here is a woman--not Miss Powell, but
Gwen Wynn--to whom he has given his heart--acknowledged the surrender,
and in return had acknowledgment of hers--not only this, but offered his
hand in marriage--placed the pledge upon her finger, she assenting and
accepting--and now, in the face of all, openly, and before his face,
engaged in flirtation!

It is not the first occasion for him to have observed familiarities
between her and the son of Sir George Shenstone; trifling, it is true,
but which gave him uneasiness.  But to-night things have been more
serious, and the pain caused him all-imbuing and bitter.

He does not reflect how he has been himself behaving.  For to none more
than the jealous lover is the big beam unobservable, while the little
mote is sharply descried.  He only thinks of her ill-behaviour, ignoring
his own.  If she has been but dissembling, coquetting with him, even
that were reprehensible.  Heartless, he deems it--sinister--something
more, an indiscretion.  Flirting while engaged--what might she do when
married?

He does not wrong her by such direct self-interrogation.  The suspicion
were unworthy of himself, as of her; and as yet he has not given way to
it.  Still her conduct seems inexcusable, as inexplicable; and to get
explanation of it he now tarries, while others are hastening away.

Not resolutely.  Besides the half sad, half indignant expression upon
his countenance, there is also one of indecision.  He is debating within
himself what course to pursue, and whether he will go off without
bidding her good-bye.  He is almost mad enough to be ill-mannered; and
possibly, were it only a question of politeness, he would not stand
upon, or be stayed by it.  But there is more.  The very same spiteful
rage hinders him from going.  He thinks himself aggrieved, and,
therefore, justifiable in demanding to know the reason--to use a slang,
but familiar phrase, "having it out."

Just as has reached this determination, an opportunity is offered him.
Having taken leave of Miss Linton, he has returned to the door, where he
stands hat in hand, his overcoat already on.  Miss Wynn is now also
there, bidding good night to some guests--intimate friends--who have
remained till the last.  As they move off, he approaches her; she, as if
unconsciously, and by the merest chance, lingering near the entrance.
It is all pretence on her part, that she has not seen him dallying
about; for she has several times, while giving _conge_ to others of the
company.  Equally feigned her surprise, as she returns his salute,
saying--

"Why, Captain Ryecroft!  I supposed you were gone long ago!"

"I am sorry, Miss Wynn, you should think me capable of such rudeness."

"Captain Ryecroft" and "Miss Wynn," instead of "Vivian" and "Gwen!"  It
is a bad beginning, ominous of a worse ending.

The rejoinder, almost a rebuke, places her at a disadvantage, and she
says rather confusedly--

"O! certainly not, sir.  But where there are so many people, of course,
one does not look for the formalities of leave-taking."

"True; and, availing myself of that, I might have been gone long since,
as you supposed, but for--"

"For what?"

"A word I wish to speak with you--alone.  Can I?"

"Oh, certainly."

"Not here?" he asks suggestingly.

She glances around.  There are servants hurrying about through the hall,
crossing and recrossing, with the musicians coming forth from the
dining-room, where they have been making a clearance of the cold fowl,
ham, and heel-taps.

With quick intelligence comprehending, but without further speech she
walks out into the portico, he preceding.  Not to remain there, where
eyes would still be on them, and ears within hearing.  She has an Indian
shawl upon her arm--throughout the night carried while promenading--and
again throwing it over her shoulders, she steps down upon the gravelled
sweep, and on into the grounds.

Side by side they proceed in the direction of the summer-house, as many
times before, though never in the same mood as now.  And never, as now,
so constrained and silent; for not a word passes between them till they
reach the pavilion.

There is light in it.  But a few hundred yards from the house, it came
in for part of the illumination, and its lamps are not yet
extinguished--only burning feebly.

She is the first to enter--he to resume speech, saying--

"There was a day, Miss Wynn, when, standing on this spot, I thought
myself the happiest man in Herefordshire.  Now I know it was but a
fancy--a sorry hallucination."

"I do not understand you, Captain Ryecroft!"

"Oh yes, you do.  Pardon my contradicting you; you've given me reason."

"Indeed!  In what way?  I beg, nay, demand, explanation."

"You shall have it; though superfluous, I should think, after what has
been passing--this night especially."

"Oh! this night especially!  I supposed you so much engaged with Miss
Powell as not to have noticed anything or anybody else.  What was it,
pray?"

"You understand, I take it, without need of my entering into
particulars."

"Indeed, I don't; unless you refer to my dancing with George Shenstone."

"More than dancing with him--keeping his company all through!"

"Not strange that; seeing I was left so free to keep it!  Besides, as I
suppose you know, his father was my father's oldest and most intimate
friend."

She makes this avowal condescendingly, observing he is really vexed, and
thinking the game of contraries has gone far enough.  He has given her a
sight of his cards, and with the quick subtle instinct of woman she sees
that among them Miss Powell is no longer chief trump.  Were his
perception keen as hers, their jealous conflict would now come to a
close, and between them confidence and friendship, stronger than ever,
be restored.

Unfortunately it is not to be.  Still miscomprehending, yet unyielding,
he rejoins, sneeringly--

"And I suppose your father's daughter is determined to continue that
intimacy with his fathers son; which might not be so very pleasant to
him who should be your husband!  Had I thought of that when I placed a
ring upon your finger--"

Before he can finish she has plucked it off, and drawing herself up to
full height, says in bitter retort--

"You insult me, sir!  Take it back!"  With the words, the gemmed circlet
is flung upon the little rustic table, from which it rolls off.

He has not been prepared for such abrupt issue, though his rude speech
tempted it.  Somewhat sorry, but still too exasperated to confess or
show it, he rejoins, defiantly:--

"If you wish it to end so, let it!"

"Yes; let it!"

They part without further speech.  He, being nearest the door, goes out
first, taking no heed of the diamond cluster which lies sparkling upon
the floor.

Neither does she touch, or think of it.  Were it the Koh-i-noor, she
would not care for it now.  A jewel more precious--the one love of her
life is lost--cruelly crushed--and, with heart all but breaking, she
sinks down upon the bench, draws the shawl over her face, and weeps till
its rich silken tissue is saturated with her tears.

The wild spasm passed, she rises to her feet, and stands leaning upon
the baluster rail, looking out and listening.  Still dark, she sees
nothing; but hears the stroke of a boat's oars in measured and regular
repetition--listens on till the sound becomes indistinct, blending with
the sough of the river, the sighing of the breeze, and the natural
voices of the night.

She may never hear _his_ voice, never look on his face again!

At the thought she exclaims, in anguished accent, "This the ending!  It
is too--"

What she designed saying is not said.  Her interrupted words are
continued into a shriek--one wild cry--then her lips are sealed,
suddenly, as if stricken dumb, or dead!

Not by the visitation of God.  Before losing consciousness, she felt the
embrace of brawny arms--knew herself the victim of man's violence.

Volume Two, Chapter X.

STUNNED AND SILENT.

Down in the boat-dock, upon the thwarts of his skiff, sits the young
waterman awaiting his fare.  He has been up to the house and there
hospitably entertained--feasted.  But with the sorrow of his recent
bereavement still fresh, the revelry of the servants' hall had no
fascination for him--instead, only saddening the more.  Even the
blandishments of the French _femme de chambre_ could not detain him; and
fleeing them, he has returned to his boat long before he expects being
called upon to use the oars.

Seated, pipe in mouth--for Jack too indulges in tobacco--he is
endeavouring to put in the time as well as he can; irksome at best with
that bitter grief upon him.  And it is present all the while, with
scarce a moment of surcease, his thoughts ever dwelling on her who is
sleeping her last sleep in the burying-ground at Rugg's Ferry.

While thus disconsolately reflecting, a sound falls upon his ears, which
claims his attention, and for an instant or two occupies it.  If
anything, it was the dip of an oar; but so light that only one with ears
well-trained to distinguish noises of the kind could tell it to be that.
He, however, has no doubt of it, muttering to himself--

"Wonder whose boat can be on the river this time o' night--mornin', I
ought to say?  Wouldn't be a tourist party--starting off so early?  No,
can't be that.  Like enough Dick Dempsey out a-salmon stealin'!  The
night so dark--just the sort for the rascal to be about on his unlawful
business."

While thus conjecturing, a scowl, dark as the night itself, flits over
his own face.

"Yes; a coracle!" he continues; "must 'a been the plash o' a paddle.
If't had been a regular boat's oar I'd a heerd the thumpin' against the
thole pins."

For once the waterman is in error.  It is no paddle whose stroke he has
heard, nor a coracle impelled by it; but a boat rowed by a pair of oars.
And why there is no "thumpin' against the thole pins" is because the
oars are muffled.  Were he out in the main channel--two hundred yards
above the bye-way--he would see the craft itself with three men in it.
But only at that instant; as in the next it is headed into a bed of
"witheys"--flooded by the freshet--and pushed on through them to the
bank beyond.

Soon it touches _terra firma_, the men spring out; two of them going off
towards the grounds of Llangorren Court.  The third remains by the boat.

Meanwhile, Jack Wingate, in his skiff, continues listening.  But hearing
no repetition of the sound that had so slightly reached his ear, soon
ceases to think of it; again giving way to his grief, as he returns to
reflect on what lies in the chapel cemetery.  If he but knew how near
the two things were together--the burying-ground and the boat--he would
not be long in his own.

Relieved he is, when at length voices are heard up at the house--calls
for carriages--proclaiming the ball about to break up.  Still more
gratified, as the banging of doors, and the continuous rumble of wheels,
tell of the company fast clearing off.

For nigh half an hour the rattling is incessant; then there is a lull,
and he listens for a sound of a different sort--a footfall on the stone
stairs that lead down to the little dock--that of his fare, who may at
any moment be expected.

Instead of footstep, he hears voices on the cliff above, off in the
direction of the summer-house.  Nothing to surprise him that?  It is not
first time he has listened to the same, and under very similar
circumstances; for soon as hearing he recognises them.  But it is the
first time for him to note their tone as it is now--to his astonishment
that of anger.

"They be quarrelling, I declare," he says to himself.  "Wonder what for!
Somethin' crooked's come between 'em at the ball--bit o' jealousy,
maybe?  I shudn't be surprised if it's about young Mr Shenstone.  Sure
as eggs is eggs, the Captain have ugly ideas consarnin' him.  He
needn't, though; an' wouldn't, if he seed through the eyes o' a sensible
man.  Course, bein' deep in love, he can't.  I seed it long ago.  She be
mad about him as he o' her--if not madder.  Well; I daresay it be only a
lovers' quarrel an'll soon blow over.  Woe's me!  I weesh--"

He would say "I weesh 'twar only that 'twixt myself an' Mary," but the
words break upon his lips, while a scalding tear trickles down his
cheek.

Fortunately his anguished sorrow is not allowed further indulgence for
the time.

The footstep, so long listened for, is at length upon the boat stair;
not firm, in its wonted way, but as though he making it were
intoxicated!

But Wingate does not believe it is that.  He knows the Captain to be
abstemious, or, at all events, not greatly given to drink.  He has never
seen him overcome by it; and surely he would not be, on this night in
particular.  Unless, indeed, it may have to do with the angry speech
overheard, or the something thought of preceding it!

The conjectures of the waterman, are brought to an end by the arrival of
his fare at the bottom of the boat stair, where he stops only to
ask--"Are you there, Jack?"  The pitchy darkness accounts for the
question.

Receiving answer in the affirmative, he gropes his way along the ledge
of rock, reeling like a drunken man.  Not from drink, but the effects of
that sharp, defiant rejoinder still ringing in his ears.  He seems to
hear, in every gust of the wind swirling down from the cliff above, the
words, "Yes; let it!"

He knows where the skiff should be--where it was left--beyond the
pleasure boat.  The dock is not wide enough for both abreast, and to
reach his own he must go across the other--make a gang-plank of the
_Gwendoline_.

As he sets foot upon the thwarts of the pleasure craft, has he a thought
of what were his feelings when he first planted it there, after ducking
the Forest of Dean fellow?  Or, stepping off, does he spurn the boat
with angry heel, as in angry speech he has done her whose name it bears?
Neither.  He is too excited and confused to think of the past, or aught
but the black bitter present.

Still staggering, he drops down upon the stern sheets of the skiff,
commanding the waterman to shove off.

A command promptly obeyed, and in silence.  Jack can see the Captain is
out of sorts, and suspecting the reason, naturally supposes that speech
at such time might not be welcome.  He says nothing, therefore; but,
bending to his oars, pulls on up the bye-way.

Just outside its entrance a glimpse can be got of the little pavilion--
by looking back.  And Captain Ryecroft does this, over his shoulder;
for, seated at the tiller, his face is from it.  The light is still
there, burning dimly as ever.  For all, he is enabled to trace the
outlines of a figure, in shadowy _silhouette_--a woman standing by the
baluster rail, as if looking out over it.

He knows who it is; it can only be Gwen Wynn.  Well were it for both
could he but know what she is at that moment thinking.  If he did, back
would go his boat, and the two again be together--perhaps never more to
part in spite.

Just then, as if ominous, and in spiteful protest against such
consummation, the sombre sandstone cliff draws between, and Captain
Ryecroft is carried onward, with heart dark and heavy as the rock.

Volume Two, Chapter XI.

A STARTLING CRY.

During all this while Wingate has not spoken a word, though he also has
observed the same figure in the pavilion.  With face that way he could
not avoid noticing it, and easily guesses who she is.  Had he any doubt
the behaviour of the other would remove it.

"Miss Wynn, for sartin," he thinks to himself, but says nothing.

Again turning his eyes upon his patron, he notes the distraught air,
with head drooping, and feels the effect in having to contend against
the rudder ill directed.  But he forbears making remark.  At such a
moment his interference might not be tolerated--perhaps resented.  And
so the silence continues.

Not much longer.  A thought strikes the waterman, and he ventures a word
about the weather.  It is done for a kindly feeling--for he sees how the
other suffers--but in part because he has a reason for it.  The
observation is--

"We're goin' to have the biggest kind o' a rainpour Captain."

The Captain makes no immediate response.  Still in the morose mood,
communing with his own thoughts, the words fall upon his ear
unmeaningly, as if from a distant echo.

After a time it occurs to him he has been spoken to and asks--

"What did you observe, Wingate?"

"That there be a rain storm threatening o' the grandest sort.  There's
flood enough now; but afore long it'll be all over the meadows."

"Why do you think that?  I see no sign.  The sky's very much clouded
true; but it has been just the same for the last several days."

"'Tan't the sky as tells me, Captain."

"What then?"

"The _heequall_."

"The heequall?"

"Yes.  It's been a cacklin' all through the afternoon and evenin'--
especial loud just as the sun wor settin'.  I niver know'd it do that
'ithout plenty o' wet comin' soon after."

Ryecroft's interest is aroused, and for the moment forgetting his
misery, he says:--

"You're talking enigmas, Jack!  At least they are so to me.  What is
this barometer you seem to place such confidence in?  Beast, bird, or
fish?"

"It be a bird, Captain?  I believe the gentry folks calls it a
woodpecker; but 'bout here it be more generally known by the name
_heequall_."

The orthography is according to Jack's orthoepy, for there are various
spellings of the word.

"Anyhow," he proceeds, "it gies warnin' o' rain, same as a
weather-glass.  When it ha' been laughin' in the mad way it wor most
part o' this day, you may look out for a downpour.  Besides, the owls
ha' been a-doin' their best, too.  While I wor waiting for ye in that
darksome hole, one went sailin' up an' down the backwash, every now an'
then swishin' close to my ear and giein' a screech--as if I hadn't
enough o' the disagreeable to think o'.  They allus come that way when
one's feelin' out o' sorts--just as if they wanted to make things worse.
Hark!  Did ye hear that, Captain?"

"I did."

They speak of a sound that has reached their ears from below--down the
river.

Both show agitation, but most the waterman; for it resembled a shriek,
as of a woman in distress.  Distant, just as one he heard across the
wooded ridge, on that fatal night after parting with Mary Morgan.  He
knows now, that must have been her drowning cry, and has often thought
since whether, if aware of it at the time, he could have done aught to
rescue her.  Not strange, that with such a recollection he is now
greatly excited by a sound so similar!

"That waren't no heequall; nor screech-owl neyther," he says, speaking
in a half whisper.

"What do you think it was?" asks the Captain, also _sotto voce_.

"The scream o' a female.  I'm 'most sure 'twor that."

"It certainly did seem a woman's voice.  In the direction of the Court,
too!"

"Yes; it comed that way."

"I've half a mind to put back, and see if there be anything amiss.  What
say you, Wingate?"

"Gie the word, sir!  I'm ready."

The boatman has his oars out of water, and holds them so, Ryecroft still
undecided.  Both listen with bated breath.  But, whether woman's voice,
or whatever the sound, they hear nothing more of it; only the monotonous
ripple of the river, the wind mournfully sighing through the trees upon
its banks, and a distant "brattle," of thunder, bearing out the portent
of the bird.

"Like as not," says Jack, "'twor some o' them sarvint girls screechin'
in play, fra havin' had a drop too much to drink.  There's a Frenchy
thing among 'em as wor gone nigh three sheets i' the wind 'fores I left.
I think, Captain, we may as well keep on."

The waterman has an eye to the threatening rain, and dreads getting a
wet jacket.

But his words are thrown away; for, meanwhile, the boat, left to itself,
has drifted downward, nearly back to the entrance of the bye-way, and
they are once more within sight of the kiosk on the cliff.  There all is
darkness; no figure distinguishable.  The lamps have burnt out, or been
removed by some of the servants.

"She has gone away from it," is Ryecroft's reflection to himself.  "I
wonder if the ring be still on the floor--or, has she taken it with her!
I'd give something to know that."

Beyond he sees a light in the upper window of the house--that of a
bedroom no doubt.  She may be in it, unrobing herself, before retiring
to rest.  Perhaps standing in front of a mirror, which reflects that
form of magnificent outline he was once permitted to hold in his arms,
thrilled by the contact, and never to be thrilled so again!  Her face in
the glass--what the expression upon it?  Sadness, or joy?  If the
former, she is thinking of him; if the latter of George Shenstone.

As this reflection flits across his brain, the jealous rage returns, and
he cries out to the waterman--

"Row back, Wingate!  Pull hard, and let us home!"

Once more the boat's head is turned upstream, and for a long spell no
further conversation is exchanged--only now and then a word relating to
the management of the craft, as between rower and steerer.  Both have
relapsed into abstraction--each dwelling on his own bereavement.
Perhaps boat never carried two men with sadder hearts, or more bitter
reflections.  Nor is there so much difference in the degree of their
bitterness.  The sweetheart, almost bride, who has proved false, seems
to her lover not less lost, than to hers she who has been snatched away
by death!

As the _Mary_ runs into the slip of backwater--her accustomed
mooring-place--and they step out of her, the dialogue is renewed by the
owner asking--

"Will ye want me the morrow, Captain?"

"No, Jack."

"How soon do you think?  'Scuse me for questionin'; but young Mr Powell
have been here the day, to know if I could take him an' a friend down
the river, all the way to the Channel.  It's for sea fishin' or duck
shootin' or somethin' o' that sort; an' they want to engage the boat
most part o' a week.  But, if you say the word, they must look out for
somebody else.  That be the reason o' my askin' when's you'd need me
again."

"Perhaps never."

"Oh!  Captain; don't say that.  'Tan't as I care 'bout the boat's hire,
or the big pay you've been givin' me.  Believe me it ain't.  Ye can have
me an' the _Mary_ 'ithout a sixpence o' expense--long's ye like.  But to
think I'm niver to row you again, that 'ud vex me dreadful--maybe more'n
ye gi'e me credit for, Captain."

"More than I give you credit for!  It couldn't, Jack.  We've been too
long together for me to suppose you actuated by mercenary motives.
Though I may never need your boat again, or see yourself, don't have any
fear of my forgetting you.  And now, as a souvenir, and some slight
recompense of your services, take this."

The waterman feels a piece of paper pressed into his hand, its crisp
rustle proclaiming it a bank-note.  It is a "tenner," but in the
darkness he cannot tell, and believing it only a "fiver," still thinks
it too much.  For it is all extra of his fare.

With a show of returning it, and, indeed, the desire to do so, he says
protestingly--

"I can't take it, Captain.  You ha' paid me too handsome, arredy."

"Nonsense, man!  I haven't done anything of the kind.  Besides, that
isn't for boat hire, nor yourself; only a little douceur, by way of
present to the good dame inside the cottage--asleep, I take it."

"That case I accept.  But won't my mother be grieved to hear o' your
goin' away--she thinks so much o' ye, Captain.  Will ye let me wake her
up?  I'm sure she'd like to speak a partin' word, and thank you for this
big gift."

"No, no! don't disturb the dear old lady.  In the morning you can give
her my kind regards, and parting compliments.  Say to her, when I return
to Herefordshire--if I ever do--she shall see me.  For yourself, take my
word, should I ever again go rowing on this river it will be in a boat
called the _Mary_, pulled by the best waterman on the Wye."

Modest though Jack Wingate be, he makes no pretence of misunderstanding
the recondite compliment, but accepts it in its fullest sense,
rejoining--

"I'd call it flattery, Captain, if't had come from anybody but you.  But
I know ye never talk nonsense; an' that's just why I be so sad to hear
ye say you're goin' off for good.  I feeled so bad 'bout losin' poor
Mary; it makes it worse now losin' you.  Good night!"

The Hussar officer has a horse, which has been standing in a little
lean-to shed, under saddle.  The lugubrious dialogue has been carried on
simultaneously with the bridling, and the "Good night" is said as
Ryecroft springs up on his stirrup.

Then as he rides away into the darkness, and Jack Wingate stands
listening to the departing hoof-stroke, at each repetition more
indistinct, he feels indeed forsaken, forlorn; only one thing in the
world now worth living for--but one to keep him anchored to life--his
aged mother!

Volume Two, Chapter XII.

MAKING READY FOR THE ROAD.

Having reached his hotel, Captain Ryecroft seeks neither rest nor sleep,
but stays awake for the remainder of the night.

The first portion of his time he spends in gathering up his
_impedimenta_, and packing.  Not a heavy task.  His luggage is light,
according to the simplicity of a soldier's wants; and as an old
campaigner he is not long in making ready for the _route_.

His fishing tackle, gun-case and portmanteau, with an odd bundle or two
of miscellaneous effects, are soon strapped and corded.  After which he
takes a seat by a table to write out the labels.

But now a difficulty occurs to him--the address!  His name of course,
but what the destination?  Up to this moment he has not thought of where
he is going; only that he must go somewhere--away from the Wye.  There
is no Lethe in that stream for memories like his.

To his regiment he cannot return, for he has none now.  Months since he
ceased to be a soldier; having resigned his commission at the expiration
of his leave of absence--partly in displeasure at being refused
extension of it, but more because the attractions of the "Court" and the
grove had made those of the camp uncongenial.  Thus his visit to
Herefordshire has not only spoilt him as a salmon fisher, but put an end
to his military career.

Fortunately he was not dependent on it; for Captain Ryecroft is a rich
man.  And yet he has no home he can call his own; the ten latest years
of his life having been passed in Hindostan.  Dublin is his native
place; but what would or could he now do there? his nearest relatives
are dead, his friends few, his schoolfellows long since scattered--many
of them, as himself, waifs upon the world.  Besides, since his return
from India, he has paid a visit to the capital of the Emerald Isle;
where, finding all so changed, he cares not to go back--at least, for
the present.

Whither then?

One place looms upon the imagination--almost naturally as home itself--
the metropolis of the world.  He will proceed thither, though not there
to stay.  Only to use it as a point of departure for another
metropolis--the French one.  In that focus and centre of gaiety and
fashion--Maelstrom of dissipation--he may find some relief from his
misery, if not happiness.  Little hope has he; but it may be worth the
trial and he will make it.

So determining, he takes up the pen, and is about to put "London" on the
labels.  But as an experienced strategist, who makes no move with undue
haste and without due deliberation, he sits a while longer considering.

Strange as it may seem, and a question for psychologists, a man thinks
best upon his back.  Better still with a cigar between his teeth--
powerful help to reflection.  Aware of this, Captain Ryecroft lights a
"weed," and looks around him.  He is in his sleeping apartment, where,
besides the bed, there is a sofa--horsehair cushion and squab hard as
stones--the orthodox hotel article.

Along this he lays himself, and smokes away furiously.  Spitefully, too;
for he is not now thinking of either London or Paris.  He cannot yet.
The happy past, the wretched present, are too soul-absorbing to leave
room for speculations of the future.  The "fond rage of love" is still
active within him.  Is it to "blight his life's bloom," leaving him "an
age all winters?"  Or is there yet a chance of reconciliation?  Can the
chasm which angry words have created be bridged over?  No.  Not without
confession of error--abject humiliation on his part--which in his
present frame of mind he is not prepared to make--will not--could not.

"Never!" he exclaims, plucking the cigar from between his lips, but soon
returning it, to continue the train of his reflections.

Whether from the soothing influence of the nicotine, or other cause, his
thoughts after a time became more tranquillised--their hue sensibly
changed, as betokened by some muttered words which escape him.

"After all, I may be wronging her.  If so, may God forgive, as I hope He
will pity me.  For if so, I am less deserving forgiveness, and more to
be pitied than she."

As in ocean's storm, between the rough surging billows foam-crested, are
spots of smooth water, so in thought's tempest are intervals of calm.
It is during one of these he speaks as above; and continuing to reflect
in the same strain, things, if not quite _couleur de rose_, assume a
less repulsive aspect.  Gwen Wynn may have been but dissembling--playing
with him--and he would now be contented, ready--even rejoiced--to accept
it in that sense; ay, to the abject humiliation that but the moment
before he had so defiantly rejected.  So reversed his sentiments now--
modified from mad anger to gentle forgiveness--he is almost in the act
of springing to his feet, tearing the straps from his packed
paraphernalia, and letting all loose again!

But just at this crisis he hears the town clock tolling six, and voices
in conversation under his window.  It is a hit of gossip between two
stable-men--attaches of the hotel--an ostler and fly-driver.

"Ye had a big time last night at Llangorren?" says the former,
inquiringly.

"Ah! that ye may say," returns the Jarvey, with a strongly accentuated
hiccup, telling of heel-taps.  "Never knowed a bigger, s'help me.  Wine
runnin' in rivers, as if 'twas only table-beer--an' the best kind o't
too.  I'm so full o' French champagne, I feel most like burstin'."

"She be a grand gal, that Miss Wynn.  An't she?"

"In course is--one o' the grandest.  But she an't going to be a _girl_
long.  By what I heerd them say in the sarvints' hall, she's soon to be
broke into pair-horse harness."

"Wi' who?"

"The son o' Sir George Shenstone."

"A good match they'll make, I sh'd say.  Tidier chap than he never
stepped inside this yard.  Many's the time he's tipped me."

There is more of the same sort, but Captain Ryecroft does not hear it;
the men having moved off beyond earshot.  In all likelihood he would not
have listened, had they stayed.  For again he seems to hear those other
words--that last spiteful rejoinder--"Yes; let it."

His own spleen returning, in all its keen hostility, he springs upon his
feet, hastily steps back to the table, and writes on the slips of
parchment--

_Mr Vivian Ryecroft, Passenger to London_, _G.W.R_.

He cannot attach them till the ink gets dry; and, while waiting for it
to do so, his thoughts undergo still another revulsion; again leading
him to reflect whether he may not be in the wrong, and acting
inconsiderately--rashly.

In fine, he resolves on a course which had not hitherto occurred to
him--he will write to her.  Not in repentance, nor any confession of
guilt on his part.  He is too proud, and still too doubting for that.
Only a test letter to draw her out, and if possible, discover how she
too feels under the circumstances.  Upon the answer--if he receive one--
will depend whether it is to be the last.

With pen still in hand, he draws a sheet of notepaper towards him.  It
bears the hotel stamp and name, so that he has no need to write an
address--only the date.

This done, he remains for a time considering--thinking what he should
say.  The larger portion of his manhood's life spent in camp, under
canvas--not the place for cultivating literary tastes or epistolary
style--he is at best an indifferent correspondent, and knows it.  But
the occasion supplies thoughts; and as a soldier accustomed to prompt
brevity he puts them down--quickly and briefly as a campaigning
despatch.

With this, he does not wait for the ink to dry, but uses the blotter.
He dreads another change of resolution.  Folding up the sheet, he slips
it into an envelope, on which he simply superscribes--

_Miss Wynn_, _Llangorren Court_.

Then rings a bell--the hotel servants are now astir--and directs the
letter to be dropped into the post box.

He knows it will reach her that same day, at an early hour, and its
answer him--should one be vouchsafed--on the following morning.  It
might that same night at the hotel where he is now staying; but not the
one to which he is going--as his letter tells, the "Langham, London."

And while it is being slowly carried by a pedestrian postman, along
hilly roads towards Llangorren, he, seated in a first-class carriage of
the Gr.W.R., is swiftly whisked towards the metropolis.

Volume Two, Chapter XIII.

A SLUMBERING HOUSEHOLD.

As calm succeeds a storm, so at Llangorren Court on the morning after
the ball there was quietude--up to a certain hour more than common.  The
domestics justifying themselves by the extra services of the preceding
night, lie late.  Outside is stirring only the gardener with an
assistant, at his usual work, and in the yard a stable help or two
looking after the needs of the horses.  The more important functionaries
of this department--coachman and head-groom still slumber, dreaming of
champagne bottles brought back to the servants' hall three parts full
with but half demolished pheasants, and other fragmentary delicacies.

Inside the house things are on a parallel; there only a scullery and
kitchen maid astir.  The higher class servitors availing themselves of
the licence allowed, are still abed, and it is ten as butler, cook, and
footman make their appearance, entering on their respective _roles_
yawningly, and with reluctance.

There are two lady's-maids in the establishment; the little French
demoiselle attached to Miss Linton, and an English damsel of more robust
build, whose special duties are to wait upon Miss Wynn.  The former lies
late on all days, her mistress not requiring early manipulation; but the
maid "native and to the manner born," is wont to be up betimes.  This
morning is an exception.  After such a night of revelry, slumber holds
her enthralled, as in a trance; and she is abed late as any of the
others, sleeping like a dormouse.

As her dormitory window looks out upon the back yard, the stable clock,
a loud striker, at length awakes her.  Not in time to count the strokes,
but a glance at the dial gives her the hour.

While dressing herself she is in a flutter, fearing rebuke.  Not for
having slept so late, but because of having gone to sleep so early.  The
dereliction of duty, about which she is so apprehensive, has reference
to a spell of slumber antecedent--taken upon a sofa in her young
mistress's dressing-room.  There awaiting Miss Wynn to assist in
disrobing her after the ball, the maid dropped over and forgot
everything--only remembering who she was, and what her duties, when too
late to attend to them.  Starting up from the sofa, and glancing at the
mantel timepiece, she saw, with astonishment, its hands pointing to
half-past 4 a.m!

Reflection following:--

"Miss Gwen must be in her bed by this!  Wonder why she didn't wake me
up?  Rang no bell?  Surely I'd have heard it?  If she did, and I haven't
answered--Well; the dear young lady's just the sort not to make any ado
about it.  I suppose she thought I'd gone to my room, and didn't wish to
disturb me?  But how could she think that?  Besides, she must have
passed through here, and seen me on the sofa!"  The dressing-room is an
ante-chamber of Miss Wynn's sleeping apartment.  "She mightn't
though,"--the contradiction suggested by the lamp burning low and
dim,--"Still, it _is_ strange, her not calling me, nor requiring my
attendance?"

Gathering herself up, the girl stands for a while in cogitation.  The
result is a move across the carpeted floor in soft stealthy step, and an
ear laid close to the keyhole of the bedchamber door.

"Sound asleep!  I can't go in now.  Mustn't--I daren't awake her."

Saying which the negligent attendant slips off to her own sleeping room,
a flight higher; and in ten minutes after, is herself once more in the
arms of Morpheus; this time retained in them till released, as already
said, by the tolling of the stable clock.

Conscious of unpardonable remissness, she dresses in careless haste--any
way, to be in time for attendance on her mistress, at morning toilet.

Her first move is to hurry down to the kitchen, get the can of hot
water, and take it up to Miss Wynn's sleeping room.  Not to enter, but
tap at the door and leave it.

She does the tapping; and, receiving no response nor summons from
inside, concludes that the young lady is still asleep and not to be
disturbed.  It is a standing order of the house, and pleased to be
precise in its observance--never more than on this morning--she sets
down the painted can, and hurries back to the kitchen, soon after taking
her seat by a breakfast table, unusually well spread, for the time to
forget about her involuntary neglect of duty.

The first of the family proper, appearing down stairs is Eleanor Lees;
she, too, much behind her accustomed time.  Notwithstanding, she has to
find occupation for nearly an hour before any of the others join her;
and she endeavours to do this by perusing a newspaper which has come by
the morning post.

With indifferent success.  It is a Metropolitan daily, having but little
in it to interest her, or indeed any one else; almost barren of news, as
if its columns were blank.  Three or four long-winded "leaders," the
impertinent outpourings of irresponsible anonymity; reports of
Parliamentary speeches, four-fifths of them not worth reporting; chatter
of sham statesmen, with their drivellings at public dinners; "Police
intelligence," in which there is half a column devoted to Daniel
Driscoll, of the Seven Dials, how he blackened the eye of Bridget
Sullivan, and bit off Pat Kavanagh's ear, a _crim. con._ or two in all
their prurience of detail; Court intelligence, with its odious plush and
petty paltriness--this is the pabulum of a "London Daily" even the
leading one supplies to its easily satisfied _clientele_ of readers!
Scarce a word of the world's news, scarce a word to tell of its real
life and action--how beats the pulse, or thrills the heart of humanity!
If there be anything in England half a century behind the age it is its
Metropolitan Press--immeasurably inferior to the Provincial.

No wonder the "companion"--educated lady--with only such a sheet for her
companion, cannot kill time for even so much as an hour.  Ten minutes
were enough to dispose of all its contents worth glancing at.

And after glancing at them, Miss Lees drops the bald broadsheet--letting
it fall to the floor to be scratched by the claws of a playful kitten--
about all it is worth.

Having thus settled scores with the newspaper she hardly knows what next
to do.  She has already inspected the superscription of the letters, to
see if there be any for herself.  A poor, fortuneless girl, of course
her correspondence is limited, and there is none.  Two or three for Miss
Linton, with quite half a dozen for Gwen.  Of these last is one in a
handwriting she recognises--knows it to be from Captain Ryecroft, even
without the hotel stamp to aid identification.

"There was a coolness between them last night," remarks Miss Lees to
herself, "if not an actual quarrel; to which, very likely, this letter
has reference.  If I were given to making wagers, I'd bet that it tells
of his repentance.  So soon, though!  It must have been written after he
got back to his hotel, and posted to catch the early delivery.  What!"
she exclaims, taking up another letter, and scanning the superscription.
"One from George Shenstone, too!  It, I dare say, is in a different
strain, if that I saw--Ha!" she ejaculates, instinctively turning to the
window, and letting go Mr Shenstone's epistle, "William!  Is it
possible--so early?"

Not only possible, but an accomplished fact.  The reverend gentleman is
inside the gates of the park, sauntering on towards the house.

She does not wait for him to ring the bell, or knock; but meets him at
the door, herself opening it.  Nothing _outre_ in the act, on a day
succeeding a night, with everything upside down, and the domestic, whose
special duty it is to attend to door-opening, out of the way.

Into the morning room Mr Musgrave is conducted, where the table is set
for breakfast.  He oft comes for luncheon, and Miss Lees knows he will
be made equally welcome to the earlier meal; all the more to-day, with
its heavier budget of news, and grander details of gossip, which Miss
Linton will be expecting and delighted to revel in.  Of course, the
curate has been at the ball; but, like "Slippery Sam," erst Bishop of
Oxford, not much in the dancing room.  For all, he, too, has noticed
certain peculiarities in the behaviour of Miss Wynn to Captain Ryecroft,
with others having reference to the son of Sir George Shenstone--in
short, a triangular play he but ill understood.  Still, he could tell by
the straws, as they blew about, that they were blowing adversely; though
what the upshot he is yet ignorant, having, as became his cloth,
forsaken the scene of revelry at a respectably early hour.

Nor does he now care to inquire into it, any more than Miss Lees to
respond to such interrogation.  Their own affair is sufficient for the
time; and engaging in an amorous duel of the milder type--so different
from the stormy passionate combat between Gwendoline Wynn and Vivian
Ryecroft--they forget all about these--even their existence--as little
remembering that of George Shenstone.

For a time are but two individuals in the world of whom either has a
thought--one Eleanor Lees, the other William Musgrave.

Volume Two, Chapter XIV.

"WHERE'S GWEN?"

Not for long are the companion and curate permitted to carry on the
confidential dialogue, in which they had become interested.  Too
disagreeably soon is it interrupted by a third personage appearing upon
the scene.  Miss Linton has at length succeeded in dragging herself out
of the embrace of the somnolent divinity, and enters the breakfast-room,
supported by her French _femme de chambre_.

Graciously saluting Mr Musgrave, she moves towards the table's head,
where an antique silver urn sends up its curling steam--flanked by tea
and coffee pot, with contents already prepared for pouring into their
respectively shaped cups.  Taking her seat, she asks:

"Where's Gwen?"

"Not down yet," meekly responds Miss Lees, "at least I haven't seen
anything of her."

"Ah! she beats us all to-day," remarks the ancient toast of Cheltenham,
"in being late," she adds, with a laugh at her little _jeu d'esprit_.
"Usually such an early riser, too.  I don't remember having ever been up
before her.  Well, I suppose she's fatigued, poor thing!--quite done up.
No wonder, after dancing so much, and with everybody."

"Not everybody, aunt!" says her companion, with a significant emphasis
on the everybody.  "There was one gentleman she never danced with all
the night.  Wasn't it a little strange?"  This in a whisper and aside.

"Ah! true.  You mean Captain Ryecroft?"

"Yes."

"It was a little strange.  I observed it myself.  She seemed distant
with him, and he with her.  Have you any idea of the reason, Nelly?"

"Not in the least.  Only I fancy something must have come between them."

"The usual thing; lover's tiff I suppose.  Ah, I've seen a great many of
them in my time.  How silly men and women are--when they're in love.
Are they not, Mr Musgrave?"

The curate answers in the affirmative but somewhat confusedly, and
blushing, as he imagines it may be a thrust at himself.

"Of the two," proceeds the garrulous spinster, "men are the most foolish
under such circumstances.  No!" she exclaims, contradicting herself,
"when I think of it, no.  I've seen ladies, high-born, and with titles,
half beside themselves about Beau Brummel, distractedly quarrelling as
to which should dance with him!  Beau Brummel, who ended his days in a
low lodging-house!  Ha! ha! ha!"

There is a _soupcon_ of spleen in the tone of Miss Linton's laughter, as
though she had herself once felt the fascinations of the redoubtable
dandy.

"What could be more ridiculous?" she goes on.  "When one looks back upon
it, the very extreme of absurdity.  Well;" taking hold of the
_cafetiere_, and filling her cup, "it's time for that young lady to be
downstairs.  If she hasn't been lying awake ever since the people went
off, she should be well rested by this.  Bless me," glancing at the
ormolu dial over the mantel, "it's after eleven, Clarisse," to the
_femme de chambre_, still in attendance, "tell Miss Wynn's maid to say
to her mistress we're waiting breakfast.  _Veet, tray veet_!" she
concludes, with a pronunciation and accent anything but Parisian.

Off trips the French demoiselle, and upstairs; almost instantly
returning down them, Miss Wynn's maid along, with a report which
startles the trio at the breakfast table.  It is the English damsel who
delivers it in the vernacular.

"Miss Gwen isn't in her room; nor hasn't been all the night long."

Miss Linton is in the act of removing the top from a guinea fowl's egg,
as the maid makes the announcement.  Were it a bomb bursting between her
fingers, the surprise could not be more sudden or complete.

Dropping egg and cup, in stark astonishment, she demands:

"What do you mean, Gibbons?"

Gibbons is the girl's name.

"Oh, ma'am!  Just what I've said."

"Say it again.  I can't believe my ears."

"That Miss Gwen hasn't slept in her room."

"And where has she slept?"

"The goodness only knows."

"But you ought to know.  You're her maid--you undressed her?"

"I did not--I am sorry to say," stammered out the girl, confused and
self-accused, "very sorry I didn't."

"And why didn't you, Gibbons? explain that."

Thus brought to book, the peccant Gibbons confesses to what has occurred
in all its details.  No use concealing aught--it must come out anyhow.

"And you're quite sure she has not slept in her room?" interrogates Miss
Linton, as yet unable to realise a circumstance so strange and
unexpected.

"Oh, yes, ma'am.  The bed hasn't been lied upon by anybody--neither
sheets or coverlet disturbed.  And there's her nightdress over the
chair, just as I laid it out for her."

"Very strange," exclaims Miss Linton, "positively alarming."

For all, the old lady is not alarmed yet--at least, not to any great
degree.  Llangorren Court is a "house of many mansions," and can boast
of a half-score spare bedrooms.  And she, now its mistress, is a
creature of many caprices.  Just possible she has indulged in one after
the dancing--entered the first sleeping apartment that chanced in her
way, flung herself on a bed or sofa in her ball dress, fallen asleep,
and is there still slumbering.

"Search them all!" commands Miss Linton, addressing a variety of
domestics, whom the ringing of bells has brought around her.

They scatter off in different directions, Miss Lees along with them.

"It's very extraordinary.  Don't you think so?"

This to the curate, the only one remaining in the room with her.

"I do, decidedly.  Surely no harm has happened her.  I trust not.  How
could there?"

"True, how?  Still I'm a little apprehensive, and won't feel satisfied
till I see her.  How my heart does palpitate, to be sure."

She lays her spread palm over the cardiac region, with an expression
less of pain, than the affectation of it.

"Well, Eleanor," she calls out to the companion, re-entering the room
with Gibbons behind.  "What news?"

"Not any, aunt."

"And you really think she hasn't slept in her room?"

"Almost sure she hasn't.  The bed, as Gibbons told you, has never been
touched, nor the sofa.  Besides, the dress she wore last night isn't
there."

"Nor anywhere else, ma'am," puts in the maid; about such matters
specially intelligent.  "As you know, 'twas the sky-blue silk, with
blonde lace over-skirt, and flower-de-loose on it.  I've looked
everywhere, and can't find a thing she had on--not so much as a ribbon!"

The other searchers are now returning in rapid succession, all with a
similar tale.  No word of the missing one--neither sign nor trace of
her.

At length the alarm is serious and real, reaching fever height.  Bells
ring, and servants are sent in every direction.  They go rushing about,
no longer confining their search to the sleeping apartments, but
extending it to rooms where only lumber has place--to cellars almost
unexplored, garrets long unvisited, everywhere.  Closet and cupboard
doors are drawn open, screens dashed aside, and panels parted, with keen
glances sent through the chinks.  Just as in the baronial castle, and on
that same night when young Lovel lost his "own fair bride."

And while searching for their young mistress, the domestics of
Llangorren Court have the romantic tale in their minds.  Not one of them
but knows the fine old song of the "Mistletoe Bough."  Male and female--
all have heard it sung in that same house, at every Christmas-tide,
under the "kissing bush," where the pale green branch and its waxen
berries were conspicuous.

It needs not the mystic memory to stimulate them to zealous exertion.
Respect for their young mistress--with many of them almost adoration--is
enough; and they search as if for sister, wife, or child according to
their feelings and attachments.

In vain--all in vain.  Though certain that no "old oak chest" inside the
walls of Llangorren Court encloses a form destined to become a skeleton,
they cannot find Gwen Wynn.  Dead, or living, she is not in the house.

Volume Two, Chapter XV.

AGAIN THE ENGAGEMENT RING.

The first hurried search, with its noisy excitement, proving fruitless,
there follows an interregnum calmer with suspended activity.  Indeed,
Miss Linton directs it so.  Now convinced that her niece has really
disappeared from the place, she thinks it prudent to deliberate before
proceeding further.

She has no thought that the young lady has acted otherwise than of her
own will.  To suppose her carried off is too absurd--a theory not to be
entertained for an instant.  And having gone so, the questions are, why
and whither?  After all, it may be, that at the ball's departing, in the
last moment when the guests were departing, moved by a mad prank, she
leaped into the carriage of some lady friends, and was whirled home with
them, just in the dress she had been dancing in.  With such an impulsive
creature as Gwen Wynn, the freak was not improbable.  Nor is there any
one to say nay.  In the bustle and confusion of departure the other
domestics were busy with their own affairs, and Gibbons sound asleep.

And if true a "hue and cry" raised and reaching the outside world would
at least beget ridicule, if it did not cause absolute scandal.  To avoid
this the servants are forbidden to go beyond the confines of the Court,
or carry any tale outward--for the time.

Beguiled by this hopeful belief, Miss Linton, with the companion
assisting, scribbles off a number of notes, addressed to the heads of
three or four families in whose houses her niece must have so abruptly
elected to take refuge for the night.  Merely to ask if such was the
case, the question couched in phrase guarded, and as possible
suggestive.  These are dispatched by trusted messengers, cautioned to
silence; Mr Musgrave himself volunteering a round of calls, at other
houses, to make personal inquiry.

This matter settled, the old lady waits the result, though without any
very sanguine expectations of success.  For another theory has presented
itself to her mind--that Gwen has run away with Captain Ryecroft!

Improbable as the thing might appear--Miss Linton, nevertheless, for a
while has faith in it.  It was as she might have done, some forty years
before, had she but met the right man--such as he.  And measuring her
niece by the same romantic standard--with Gwen's capriciousness thrown
into the account--she ignores everything else; even the absurdity of
such a step from its sheer causelessness.  That to her is of little
weight; no more the fact of the young lady taking flight in a thin
dress, with only a shawl upon her shoulders.  For Gibbons called upon to
give account of her wardrobe, has taken stock, and found everything in
its place--every article of her mistress's drapery save the blue silk
dress and Indian shawl--hats and bonnets hung up, or in their boxes, but
all there, proving her to have gone off bareheaded?

Not the less natural, reasons Miss Linton--instead, only a component
part in the chapter of contrarieties.

So, too, the coolness observed between the betrothed sweethearts
throughout the preceding night--their refraining from partnership in the
dances--all dissembling on their part, possibly to make the surprise of
the after event more piquant and complete.

So runs the imagination of the novel-reading spinster, fresh and fervid
as in her days of girlhood--passing beyond the trammels of reason--
leaving the bounds of probability.

But her new theory is short lived.  It receives a death blow from a
letter which Miss Lees brings under her notice.  It is that superscribed
in the handwriting of Captain Ryecroft, which the companion had for the
time forgotten; she having no thought that it would have anything to do
with the young lady's disappearance.  And the letter proves that he can
have nothing to do with it.  The hotel stamp, the postmark, the time of
deposit and delivery are all understood, all contributing to show it
must have been posted, if not written, that same morning.  Were she with
him it would not be there.

Down goes the castle of romance Miss Linton has been constructing--
wrecked--scattered as a house of cards.

It is quite possible that letter contains something that would throw
light upon the mystery, perhaps clear all up; and the old lady would
like to open it.  But she may not, dare not.  Gwen Wynn is not one to
allow tampering with her correspondence; and as yet her aunt cannot
realise the fact--nor even entertain the supposition--that she is gone
for good and for ever.

As time passes, however, and the different messengers return, with no
news of the missing lady--Mr Musgrave is also back without tidings--the
alarm is renewed, and search again set up.  It extends beyond the
precincts of the house, and the grounds already explored, off into woods
and fields, along the banks of river and bye wash, everywhere that
offers a likelihood, the slightest, of success.  But neither in wood,
spinney, or coppice can they find traces of Gwen Wynn; all "draw blank,"
as George Shenstone would say of a cover where no fox is found.

And just as this result is reached, that gentleman himself steps upon
the ground, to receive a shock such as he has rarely experienced.  The
news communicated is a surprise to him; for he has arrived at the Court,
knowing nought of the strange incident which has occurred.  He has come
thither on an afternoon call, not altogether dictated by ceremony.
Despite all that has passed--what Gwen Wynn told him, what she showed
holding up her hand--he does not even yet despair.  Who so circumstanced
ever does?  What man in love, profoundly, passionately as he, could
believe his last chance eliminated; or have his ultimate hope
extinguished?  He had not.  Instead, when bidding adieu to her, after
the ball, he felt some revival of it, several causes having contributed
to its rekindling.  Among others, her gracious behaviour to himself, so
gratifying; but more, her distant manner towards his rival, which he
could not help observing, and saw with secret satisfaction.

And still thus reflecting on it, he enters the gates at Llangorren, to
be stunned by the strange intelligence there awaiting him--Miss Wynn
missing! gone away! run away! perhaps carried off! lost, and cannot be
found!  For in these varied forms, and like variety of voices, is it
conveyed to him.

Needless to say, he joins in the search with ardour, but distractedly;
suffering all the sadness of a torn and harrowed heart.  But to no
purpose; no result to soothe or console him.  His skill at drawing a
cover is of no service here.  It is not for a fox "stole away," leaving
hot scent behind; but a woman goes without print of foot or trace to
indicate the direction; without word left to tell the cause of
departure.

Withal, George Shenstone continues to seek for her long after the others
have desisted.  For his views differ from those entertained by Miss
Linton, and his apprehensions are of a keener nature.  He remains at the
Court throughout the evening, making excursions into the adjacent woods,
searching, and again exploring everywhere.  None of the servants think
it strange; all know of his intimate relations with the family.

Mr Musgrave remains also; both of them asked to stay dinner--a meal
this day eaten _sans facon_, in haste, and under agitation.

When, after it, the ladies retire to the drawing-room--the curate along
with them--George Shenstone goes out again, and over the grounds.  It is
now night, and the darkness lures him on; for it was in such she
disappeared.  And although he has no expectation of seeing her there,
some vague thought has drifted into his mind, that in darkness he may
better reflect, and something be suggested to avail him.

He strays on to the boat stair, looks down into the dock, and there sees
the _Gwendoline_ at her moorings.  But he thinks only of the other boat,
which, as he now knows, on the night before lay alongside her.  Has it
indeed carried away Gwen Wynn?  He fancies it has--he can hardly have a
doubt of it.  How else is her disappearance to be accounted for?  But
has she been borne off by force, or went she willingly?  These are the
questions which perplex him; the conjectured answer to either causing
him keenest anxiety.

After remaining a short while on the top of the stair, he turns away
with a sigh, and saunters on towards the pavilion.  Though under the
shadow of its roof the obscurity is complete, he, nevertheless, enters
and sits down.  He is fatigued with the exertions of the afternoon, and
the strain upon his nerves through the excitement.

Taking a cigar from his case and nipping off the end, he rasps a fusee
to light it.  But, before the blue fizzing blaze dims down he drops the
cigar--to clutch at an object on the floor, whose sparkle has caught his
eye.  He succeeds in getting hold of it, though not till the fusee has
ceased flaming.  But he needs no light to tell him what he has in his
hand.  He knows it is that which so pained him to see on one of Gwen
Wynn's fingers--the engagement ring!

Volume Two, Chapter XVI.

A MYSTERIOUS EMBARKATION.

Not in vain had the green woodpecker given out its warning note.  As
Jack Wingate predicted from it, soon after came a downpour of rain.  It
was raining as Captain Ryecroft returned to his hotel, as at intervals
throughout that day; and now on the succeeding night it is again
sluicing down as from a shower bath.  The river is in full flood, its
hundreds of affluents from Plinlimmon downward, having each contributed
its quota, till Vaga, usually so pure, limpid, and tranquil, rolls on in
vast turbulent volume, muddy and maddened.  There is a strong wind as
well, whose gusts now and then, striking the water's surface, lash it
into furrows with white frothy crests.

On the Wye this night there would be danger for any boat badly manned or
unskilfully steered.  And yet a boat is about to embark upon it; one
which throughout the afternoon has been lying moored in a little branch
stream that runs in opposite the lands of Llangorren, a tributary
supplied by the dingle in which stands the dwelling of Richard Dempsey.
It is the same near whose mouth the poacher and the priest were seen by
Gwen Wynn and Eleanor Lees on the day of their remarkable adventure with
the forest roughs.  And almost in the same spot is the craft now spoken
of; no coracle, however, but a regular pair-oared boat of a kind in
common use among Wye watermen.

It is lying with bow to the bank, its painter attached to a tree, whose
branches extend over it.  During the day no one has been near it, and it
is not likely that any one has observed it.  Some little distance up the
brook, and drawn well in under the spreading boughs, that almost
touching the water, darkly shadow the surface, it is not visible from
the rivers channel: while, along the edge of the rivulet, there is no
thoroughfare, nor path of any kind.  No more a landing-place where boat
is accustomed to put in or remain at moorings.  That now there has
evidently been brought thither for some temporary purpose.

Not till after the going down of the sun is this declared.  Then, just
as the purple of twilight is changing to the inky blackness of night,
and another dash of rain clatters on the already saturated foliage three
men are seen moving among the trees that grow thick along the
streamlet's edge.  They seem not to mind it, although pouring down in
torrents; for they have come through the dell, as from Dempsey's house,
and are going in the direction of the boat, where there is no shelter.
But if they regard not getting wet,--something they do regard; else why
should they observe such caution in their movements, and talk in subdued
voices?  All the more strange this, in a place where there is so little
likelihood of their being overheard, or encountering any one to take
note of their proceedings.

It is only between two of them that conversation is carried on; the
third walking far in advance, beyond earshot of speech in the ordinary
tone; besides, the noise of the tempest would hinder his hearing them.
Therefore, it cannot be on his account they converse guardedly.  More
likely their constraint is due to the solemnity of the subject; for
solemn it is, as their words show.

"They'll be sure to find the body in a day or two.  Possibly to-morrow,
or if not, very soon.  A good deal will depend on the state of the
river.  If this flood continue and the water remain discoloured as now,
it may be several days before they light on it.  No matter when; your
course is clear, Monsieur Murdock."

"But what do you advise my doing, _Pere_?  I'd like you to lend me your
counsel--give me minute directions about everything."

"In the first place, then, you must show yourself on the other side of
the water, and take an active part in the search.  Such a near relative,
as you are, 'twould appear strange if you didn't.  All the world may not
be aware of the little tiff--rather prolonged though--that's been
between you.  And if it were, your keeping away on such an occasion
would give cause for greater scandal.  Spite so rancorous! that of
itself should excite curious thoughts--suspicions.  Naturally enough.  A
man, whose own cousin is mysteriously missing, not caring to know what
has become of her!  And when knowing--when `Found drowned,' as she will
be--not to show either sympathy or sorrow!  _Ma foi_! they might mob you
if you didn't!"

"That's true enough," grunts Murdock, thinking of the respect in which
his cousin is held, and her great popularity throughout the
neighbourhood.

"You advise my going over to Llangorren?"

"Decidedly, I do.  Present yourself there to-morrow, without fail.  You
may make the hour reasonably late; saying that the sinister intelligence
has only just reached you at Glyngog--out of the way as it is.  You'll
find plenty of people at the Court on your arrival.  From what I've
learnt this afternoon, through my informant resident there, they'll be
hot upon the search to-morrow.  It would have been more earnest to-day,
but for that quaint old creature with her romantic notions; the latest
of them, as Clarisse tell me, that Mademoiselle had run away with the
Hussar!  But it appears a letter has reached the Court in his
handwriting, which put a different construction on the affair; proving
to them it could be no elopement--at least with him.  Under these
circumstances, then, to-morrow morning, soon as the sun is up, there'll
be a hue and cry all over the country; so loud you couldn't fail to
hear, and will be expected to have a voice in it.  To do that
effectually you must show yourself at Llangorren, and in good time."

"There's sense in what you say.  You're a very Solomon, Father Rogier.
I'll be there, trust me.  Is there anything else you think of."

The Jesuit is for a time silent, apparently in deep thought.  It is a
ticklish game the two are playing, and needs careful consideration, with
cautious action.

"Yes," he at length answers.  "There are a good many other things, I
think of.  But they depend upon circumstances not yet developed by which
you will have to be guided.  And you must guide yourself, M'sieu, as you
best can.  It will be quite four days, if not more, ere I can get back.
They may even find the body to-morrow--if they should think of employing
drags, or other searching apparatus.  Still, I fancy, 'twill be some
time before they come to a final belief in her being drowned.  Don't
you, on any account suggest it.  And should there be such search,
endeavour, in a quiet way, to have it conducted in any direction but the
right one.  The longer before fishing the thing up, the better it will
be for our purposes: you comprehend?"

"I do."

"When found, as it must be in time, you will know how to show becoming
grief; and, if opportunity offer, you may throw out a hint, having
reference to _Le Capitaine Ryecroft_.  His having gone away from his
hotel this morning, no one knows why or whither--decamping in such haste
too--that will be sure to fix suspicion upon him--possibly have him
pursued and arrested as the murderer of Miss Wynn!  Odd succession of
events, is it not?"

"It is indeed."

"Seems as if the very Fates were in a conspiracy to favour our design.
If we fail now, 'twill be our own fault.  And that reminds me there
should be no waste of time--must not.  One hour of this darkness may be
worth an age--or at all events ten thousand pounds per annum.  _Allons!
vite-vite_?"

He steps briskly onward, drawing his caped cloak closer to protect him
from the rain, now running in rivers down the drooping branches of the
trees.

Murdock follows; and the two, delayed by a dialogue of such grave
character, draw closer to the third who had gone ahead.  They do not
overtake him, however, till after he has reached the boat, and therein
deposited a bundle he has been bearing--of weight sufficient to make him
stagger, where the ground was rough and uneven.  It is a package of
irregular oblong shape, and such size, that laid along the boat's bottom
timbers it occupies most part of the space forward of the mid-thwart.

Seeing that he who has thus disposed of it, is Coracle Dick, one might
believe it poached salmon, or land game now in season in the act of
being transported to some receiver of such commodities.  But the words
spoken by the priest as he comes up forbid this belief: they are an
interrogatory:--

"Well, _mon bracconier_; have you stowed my luggage?"

"It's in the boat, Father Rogier."

"And all ready for starting?"

"The minute your reverence steps in."

"So, well!  And now, M'sieu," he adds, turning to Murdock, and again
speaking in undertone, "if you play _your_ part skilfully, on return I
may find you in a fair way of getting installed as the Lord of
Llangorren.  Till then, adieu!"

Saying which he steps over the boat's side, and takes seat in its stern.

Shoved off by sinewy arms, it goes brushing out from under the branches,
and is rapidly drifted down towards the river.

Lewin Murdock is left standing on the brook's edge, free to go what way
he wishes.

Soon he starts off, not on return to the empty domicile of the poacher,
nor yet direct to his own home: but first to the Welsh Harp--there to
gather the gossip of the day, and learn whether the startling tale, soon
to be told, has yet reached Rugg's Ferry.

Volume Two, Chapter XVII.

AN ANXIOUS WIFE.

Inside Glyngog House is Mrs Murdock, alone, or with only the two female
domestics.  But these are back in the kitchen while the ex-cocotte is
moving about in front at intervals opening the door, and gazing out into
the night.  A dark stormy one; for it is the same in which has occurred
the mysterious embarkation of Father Rogier, only an hour later.

To her no mystery; she knows whither the priest is bound, and on what
errand.  It is not him therefore she is expecting, but her husband to
bring home word that her countryman has made a safe start.  So anxiously
does she await this intelligence, that, after a time, she stays
altogether on the door-step, regardless of the raw night, and a fire in
the drawing-room which blazes brightly.  There is another in the
dining-room, and a table profusely spread--set out for supper with
dishes of many kinds--cold ham and tongue, fowl and game, flanked by
decanters of different wines sparkling attractively.

Whence all this plenty, within walls where of late and for so long, has
been such scarcity?

As no one visits at Glyngog save Father Rogier, there is no one but he
to ask the question.  And he would not, were he there; knowing the
answer, better than anyone else.  He ought.  The cheer upon Lewin
Murdock's table, with a cheerfulness observable on Mrs Murdock's face,
are due to the same cause, by himself brought about, or to which he has
largely contributed.  As Moses lends money on _post obits_, at "shixty
per shent," with other expectations, a stream of that leaven has found
its way into the ancient manor-house of Glyngog, conducted thither by
Gregoire Rogier, who has drawn it from a source of supply provided for
such eventualities, and seemingly inexhaustible--the treasury of the
Vatican.

Yet only a tiny rivulet of silver, but soon, if all goes well, to become
a flood of gold grand and yellow as that in the Wye itself, having
something to do with the waters of this same stream.

No wonder there is now brightness upon the face of Olympe Renault, so
long shadowed.  The sun of prosperity is again to shine upon the path of
her life.  Splendour, gaiety, volupte, be hers once more, and more than
ever!

As she stands in the door of Glyngog, looking down the river, at
Llangorren, and through the darkness sees the Court with only one or two
windows alight--they but in dim glimmer--she reflects less on how they
blazed the night before, with lamps over the lawn like constellations of
stars, than how they will flame hereafter, and ere long--when she
herself be the ruling spirit and mistress of that mansion.

But as the time passes and no husband home, a cloud steals over her
features.  From being only impatient, she becomes nervously anxious.
Still standing in the door she listens for footsteps she has oft heard
making approach unsteadily, little caring.  Not so to-night.  She dreads
to see him return intoxicated.  Though not with any solicitude of the
ordinary woman's kind, but for reasons purely prudential.  These are
manifested in her muttered soliloquy:--

"Gregoire must have got off long ere this--at least two hours ago.  He
said they'd set out soon as it came night.  Half an hour was enough for
my husband to return up the meadows home.  If he has gone to the Ferry
first, and sets to drinking in the Harp?  _Cette auberge maudit_.
There's no knowing what he may do, or say.  Saying would be worse than
doing.  A word in his cups--a hint of what has happened--might undo
everything: draw danger upon us all!  And such danger--_l'prise de
corps, mon dieu_!"

Her cheek blanches at thought of the ugly spectres thus conjured up.

"Surely he will not be so stupid--so insane?  Sober he can keep secrets
well enough--guard them closely, like most of his countrymen.  But the
Cognac?  Hark Footsteps!  His I hope."

She listens without stirring from the spot.  The tread is heavy, with
now and then a loud stroke against stones.  Were her husband a Frenchman
it would be different.  But Lewin Murdock, like all English country
gentlemen, affects substantial foot gear; and the step is undoubtedly
his.  Not as usual however; to-night firm and regular, telling him to be
sober!  "He isn't such a fool after all!"  Her reflection followed by
the inquiry, called out--

"_C'est vous, mon mari_?"

"Of course it is.  Who else could it be?  You don't expect the Father,
our only visitor, to-night?  You'll not see him for several days to
come."

"He's gone then?"

"Two hours ago.  By this he should be miles away; unless he and Coracle
have had a capsize, and been spilled out of their boat.  No unlikely
occurrence with the river running so madly."

She still shows unsatisfied, though not from any apprehension of the
boat's being upset.  She is thinking of what may have happened at the
Welsh Harp; for the long interval, since the priest's departure, her
husband could only have been there.  She is less anxious however, seeing
the state in which he presents himself; so unusual coming from the
"_auberge maudite_."

"Two hours ago they got off, you say?"

"About that; just as it was dark enough to set out with safety, and no
chance of being observed."

"They did so?"

"Oh, yes."

"_Le bagage bien arrange_?"

"_Parfaitment_; or as we say in English, neat as a trivet.  If you
prefer another form; nice as ninepence."

She is pleased at his facetiousness, quite a new mode for Lewin Murdock.
Coupled with his sobriety, it gives her confidence that things have
gone on smoothly, and will to the end.  Indeed, for some days Murdock
has been a new man--acting as one with some grave affair on his hands--
feat to accomplish, or negotiation to effect--resolved on carrying it to
completeness.

Now, less from anxiety as to what he has been saying at the Welsh Harp,
than to know what he has there heard said by others, she further
interrogates him:--"Where have you been meanwhile, monsieur?"

"Part of the time at the Ferry; the rest of it I've spent on paths and
roads coming and going.  I went up to the Harp to hear what I could
hear."

"And what did you hear?"

"Nothing much to interest us.  As you know, Rugg's is an out of the way
corner--none more so on the Wye--and the Llangorren news hasn't reached
it.  The talk of the Ferry folk is all about the occurrence at Abergann,
which still continues to exercise them.  The other don't appear to have
got much abroad, if at all, anywhere--for reasons told Father Rogier by
your countrywoman, Clarisse, with whom he held an interview sometime
during the afternoon."

"And has there been no search yet?"

"Search, yes; but nothing found, and not much noise made, for the
reasons I allude to."

"What are they?  You haven't told me."

"Oh! various.  Some of them laughable enough.  Whimsies of that Quixotic
old lady who has been so long doing the honours at Llangorren."

"Ah!  Madame Linton.  How has she been taking it?"

"I'll tell you after I've had something to eat and drink.  You forget,
Olympe, where I've been all the day long--under the roof of a poacher,
who, of late otherwise employed, hadn't so much as a head of game in his
house.  True, I've since made call at an hotel, but you don't give me
credit for my abstemiousness!  What have you got to reward me for it?"

"_Entrez_!" she exclaims, leading him into the dining-room, their
dialogue so far having been carried on in the porch.  "_Voila_!"

He is gratified, though no ways surprised at the set out.  He does not
need to inquire whence it comes.  He, too, knows it is a sacrifice to
the rising sun.  But he knows also what a sacrifice he will have to make
in return for it--one third the estate of Llangorren.

"Well, _ma cherie_," he says, as this reflection occurs to him, "we'll
have to pay pretty dear for all this.  But I suppose there's no help for
it."

"None," she answers with a comprehension of the circumstances--clearer
and fuller than his.  "We've made the contract, and must abide by it.
If broken by us, it wouldn't be a question of property, but life.
Neither yours nor mine would be safe for a single hour.  Ah monsieur!
you little comprehend the power of those gentry, _les Jesuites_--how
sharp their claws, and far reaching!"

"Confound them!" he exclaims, angrily dropping down upon a chair by the
table's side.

He eats ravenously, and drinks like a fish.  His day's work is over, and
he can afford the indulgence.

And while they are at supper, he imparts all details of what he has done
and heard; among them Miss Linton's reasons for having put restraint
upon the search.

"The old simpleton!" he says, concluding his narration, "she actually
believed my cousin to have run away with that captain of Hussars--if she
don't believe it still!  Ha, ha, ha.  She'll think differently when she
sees that body brought out of the water.  _It_ will settle the
business!"

Olympe Renault, retiring to rest, is long kept awake by the pleasant
thought, not that for many more nights will she have to sleep in a mean
bed at Glyngog, but on a grand couch in Llangorren Court.

Volume Two, Chapter XVIII.

IMPATIENT FOR THE POST.

Never man looked with more impatience for a post, than Captain Ryecroft
for the night mail from the West, its morning delivery in London.  It
may bring him a letter, on the contents of which will turn the hinges of
his life's fate, assuring his happiness or dooming him to misery.  And
if no letter come, its failure will make misery for him all the same.

It is scarce necessary to say, the epistle thus expected, and fraught
with such grave consequence, is an answer to his own; that written in
Herefordshire, and posted before leaving the Wyeside Hotel.  Twenty-four
hours have since elapsed; and now, on the morning after, he is at the
Langham, London, where the response, if any, should reach him.

He has made himself acquainted with the statistics of postal time,
telling him when the night mail is due, and when the first distribution
of letters in the metropolitan district.  At earliest in the Langham,
which has post and telegraph office within its own walls, this palatial
hostelry, unrivalled for convenience, being in direct communication with
all parts of the world.

It is on the stroke of 8 a.m., and, the ex-Hussar-officer pacing the
tesselated tiles, outside the deputy-manager's moderately-sized room
with its front glass-protected, watches for the incoming of the
post-carrier.

It seems an inexorable certainty--though a very vexatious one--that
person, or thing, awaited with unusual impatience, must needs be behind
time--as if to punish the moral delinquency of the impatient one.  Even
postmen are not always punctual, as Vivian Ryecroft has reason to know.
That amiable and active individual in coatee of coarse cloth, with red
rag facings, flitting from door to door, brisk as a blue-bottle, on this
particular morning does not step across the threshold of the Langham
till nearly half-past eight.  There is a thick fog, and the street flags
are "greasy."  That would be the excuse for his tardy appearance, were
he called upon to give one.

Dumping down his sack, and spilling its contents upon the lead-covered
sill of the booking-office window, he is off again on a fresh and
further flight.

With no abatement of impatience Captain Ryecroft stands looking at the
letters being sorted--a miscellaneous lot, bearing the post marks of
many towns and many countries, with the stamps of nearly every civilised
nation on the globe; enough of them to make the eyes of an ardent stamp
collector shed tears of concupiscence.

Scarcely allowing the sorter time to deposit them in their respective
pigeon boles, Ryecroft approaches and asks if there be any for him--at
the same time giving his name.

"No, not any," answers the clerk, after drawing out all under letter R,
and dealing them off as a pack of cards.

"Are you quite sure, sir?  Pardon me.  I intend starting off within the
hour, and expecting a letter of some importance, may I ask you to glance
over them again?"

In all the world there are no officials more affable than those of the
Langham.  They are in fact types of the highest _hotel civilisation_.
Instead of showing nettled, he thus appealed to makes assenting
rejoinder, accompanying his words with a re-examination of the letters
under R; soon as completed saying,--

"No, sir; none for the name of Ryecroft."

He bearing this name turns away, with an air of more than
disappointment.  The negative denoting that no letter had been written
in reply, vexes--almost irritates him.  It is like a blow repeated--a
second slap in his face held up in humiliation--after having forgiven
the first.  He will not so humble himself--never forgive again.  This
his resolve as he ascends the great stairway to his room, once more to
make ready for travel.

The steam-packet service between Folkestone and Boulogne is "tidal."
Consulting Bradshaw, he finds the boat on that day leaves the former
place at 4 p.m.; the connecting train from the Charing Cross station, 1.
Therefore have several hours to be put in meanwhile.

How are they to be occupied?  He is not in the mood for amusement.
Nothing in London could give him that now--neither afford him a moment's
gratification.

Perhaps in Paris?  And he will try.  There men have buried their
griefs--women as well: too oft laying in the same grave their innocence,
honour, and reputation.  In the days of Napoleon the Little, a grand
cemetery of such; hosts entering it pure and stainless, to become
tainted as the Imperial _regime_ itself.

And he, too, may succumb to its influence, sinister as hell itself.  In
his present frame of mind it is possible.  Nor would his be the first
noble spirit broken down, wrecked on the reef of a disappointed
passion--love thwarted, the loved one never again to be spoken to, in
all likelihood never more met!

While waiting for the Folkestone train, he is a prey to the most
harrowing reflections, and in hope of escaping them, descends to the
billiard-room--in the Langham a well-appointed affair, with tables the
very best.

The marker accommodates him to a hundred up, which he loses.  It is not
for that he drops the cue disheartened, and retires.  Had he won, with
Cook, Bennett, or Roberts as his adversary, 'twould have been all the
same.

Once more mounting to his room, he makes an appeal to the ever-friendly
Nicotian.  A cigar, backed by a glass of brandy, may do something to
soothe his chafed spirit; and lighting the one, he rings for the other.
This brought him, he takes seat by the window, throws up the sash, and
looks down upon the street.  There to see what gives him a fresh spasm
of pain; though to two others, affording the highest happiness on earth.
For it is a wedding ceremony being celebrated at "All Souls" opposite,
a church before whose altar many fashionable couples join hands to be
linked together for life.  Such a couple is in the act of entering the
sacred edifice; carriages drawing up and off in quick succession,
coachmen with white rosettes and whips ribbon-bedecked, footmen wearing
similar favours--an unusually stylish affair.

As in shining and with smiling faces, the bridal train ascends the steps
two by two disappearing within the portals of the church, the spectators
on the nave and around the enclosure rails also looking joyous, as
though each--even the raggedest--had a personal interest in the event,
from the window opposite, Captain Ryecroft observes it with very
different feelings.  For the thought is before his mind, how near he has
been himself to making one in such a procession--at its head--followed
by the bitter reflection, he now never shall.

A sigh, succeeded by a half angry ejaculation; then the bell rung with a
violence which betrays how the sight has agitated him.

On the waiter entering, he cries out--

"Call me a cab."

"Hansom, sir?"

"No! four-wheeler.  And this luggage; get down stairs soon as possible."

His impediments are all in travelling trim--but a few necessary articles
having been unpacked, and a shilling tossed upon the strapped
portmanteau ensures it, with the lot, speedy descent down the lift.

A single pipe of Mr Trafford's silver whistle brings a cab to the
Langham entrance in twenty seconds time; and in twenty more a
traveller's luggage however heavy is slung to the top, with the lighter
articles stowed inside.

His departure so accelerated, Captain Ryecroft--who had already settled
his bill--is soon seated in the cab, and carried off.

But despatch ends on leaving the Langham.  The cab being a four-wheeler
crawls along like a tortoise.  Fortunately for the fare he is in no
haste now; instead will be too early for the Folkestone train.  He only
wanted to get away from the scene of that ceremony, so disagreeably
suggestive.

Shut up, imprisoned, in the plush-lined vehicle, shabby, and not over
clean, he endeavours to beguile time by gazing out at the shop windows.
The hour is too early for Regent Street promenaders.  Some distraction,
if not amusement, he derives from his "cabby's" arms; these working to
and fro as if the man were rowing a boat.  In burlesque it reminds him
of the Wye, and his waterman Wingate!

But just then something else recalls the western river, not ludicrously,
but with another twinge of pain.  The cab is passing through Leicester
Square, one of the lungs of London, long diseased, and in process of
being doctored.  It is beset with hoardings, plastered against which are
huge posters of the advertising kind.  Several of them catch the eye of
Captain Ryecroft, but only one holds it, causing him the sensation
described.  It is the announcement of a grand concert to be given at the
St. James's Hall, for some charitable purpose of Welsh speciality.
Programme with list of performers.  At their head in largest lettering
the queen of the eisteddfod:--

Edith Wynne!

To him in the cab now a name of galling reminiscence, notwithstanding
the difference of orthography.  It seems like a Nemesis pursuing him!

He grasps the leathern strap, and letting down the ill-fitting sash with
a clatter, cries out to the cabman,--

"Drive on, Jarvey, or I'll be late for my train!  A shilling extra for
time."

If cabby's arms sparred slowly before, they now work as though he were
engaged in catching flies; and with their quickened action, aided by
several cuts of a thick-thonged whip, the Rosinante goes rattling
through the narrow defile of Heming's Row, down King William Street, and
across the Strand into the Charing Cross station.

Volume Two, Chapter XIX.

JOURNEY INTERRUPTED.

Captain Ryecroft takes a through ticket for Paris, without thought of
breaking journey, and in due time reaches Boulogne.  Glad to get out of
the detestable packet, little better than a ferry-boat, which plies
between Folkestone and the French seaport, he loses not a moment in
scaling the equally detestable gang-ladder by which alone he can escape.

Having set foot upon French soil, represented by a rough cobble-stone
pavement, he bethinks of passport and luggage--how he will get the
former _vised_ and the latter looked after with the least trouble to
himself.  It is not his first visit to France, nor is he unacquainted
with that country's customs; therefore knows that a "tip" to _sergent de
ville_ or _douanier_ will clear away the obstructions in the shortest
possible time--quicker if it be a handsome one.  Peeling in his pockets
for a florin or a half-crown, he is accosted by a voice familiar and of
friendly tone.

"Captain Ryecroft!" it exclaims in a rich rolling brogue, as of Galway.
"Is it yourself?  By the powers of Moll Kelly, and it is."

"Major Mahon!"

"That same, old boy.  Give us a grip of your fist, as on that night when
you pulled me out of the ditch at Delhi, just in time to clear the
bayonets of the pandys.  A nate thing, and a close shave, wasn't it?
But's what brought you to Boulogne?"

The question takes the traveller aback.  He is not prepared to explain
the nature of his journey, and with a view to evasion he simply points
to the steamer, out of which the passengers are still swarming.

"Come, old comrade!" protests the Major, good-naturedly, "that won't do;
it isn't satisfactory for bosom friends, as we've been, and still are, I
trust.  But, maybe, I make too free, asking your business in Boulogne?"

"Not at all, Mahon.  I have no business in Boulogne; I'm on the way to
Paris."

"Oh! a pleasure trip, I suppose."

"Nothing of the kind.  There's no pleasure for me in Paris or anywhere
else."

"Aha!" ejaculated the Major, struck by the words, and their despondent
tone, "what's this, old fellow?  Something wrong?"

"Oh, not much--never mind."

The reply is little satisfactory.  But seeing that further allusion to
private matters might not be agreeable, the Major continues,
apologetically--

"Pardon me, Ryecroft.  I've no wish to be inquisitive; but you have
given me reason to think you out of sorts, somehow.  It isn't your
fashion to be low-spirited, and you shan't be, so long as you're in my
company--if I can help it."

"It's very kind of you, Mahon; and for the short time I'm to be with you
I'll do the best I can to be cheerful.  It shouldn't be a great effort.
I suppose the train will be starting in a few minutes?"

"What train?"

"For Paris."

"You're not going to Paris now--not this night?"

"I am, straight on."

"Neither straight nor crooked, _ma bohil_!"

"I must."

"Why must you?  If you don't expect pleasure there, for what should you
be in such haste to reach it?  Bother, Ryecroft! you'll break your
journey here, and stay a few days with me?  I can promise you some
little amusement.  Boulogne isn't such a dull place just now.  The smash
of Agra and Masterman's, with Overend and Gurney following suite, has
sent hither a host of old Indians, both soldiers and civilians.  No
doubt you'll find many friends among them.  There are lots of pretty
girls, too--I don't mean natives, but our countrywomen--to whom I'll
have much pleasure in presenting you."

"Not for the world, Mahon--not one!  I have no desire to extend my
acquaintance in that way."

"What, turned hater, women too.  Well, leaving the fair sex on one side,
there's half a dozen of the other here--good fellows as ever stretched
legs on mahogany.  They're strangers to you, I think; but will be
delighted to know you, and do their best to make Boulogne agreeable.
Come, old boy.  You'll stay?  Say the word."

"I would, Major, and with pleasure, were it any other time.  But, I
confess, just now I'm not in the mood for making new acquaintance--least
of all among my countrymen.--To tell the truth, I'm going to Paris
chiefly with a view of avoiding them."

"Nonsense!  You're not the man to turn _solitaire_, like Simon Stylites,
and spend the rest of your days on the top of a stone pillar!  Besides,
Paris is not the place for that sort of thing.  If you're really
determined on keeping out of company for awhile--I won't ask why--remain
with me, and we'll take strolls along the sea beach, pick up pebbles,
gather shells, and make love to mermaids, or the Boulognese fish-fags,
if you prefer it.  Come, Ryecroft, don't deny me.  It's so long since
we've had a day together, I'm dying to talk over old times--recall our
_camaraderie_ in India."

For the first time in forty-eight hours Captain Ryecroft's countenance
shows an indication of cheerfulness--almost to a smile, as he listens to
the rattle of his jovial friend, all the pleasanter from its _patois_
recalling childhood's happy days.  And as some prospect of distraction
from his sad thoughts--if not a restoration of happiness--is held out by
the kindly invitation, he is half inclined to accept it.  What
difference whether he find the grave of his griefs in Paris or
Boulogne--if find it he can?

"I'm booked to Paris," he says mechanically, and as if speaking to
himself.

"Have you a through ticket?" asks the Major, in an odd way.

"Of course I have."

"Let me have a squint at it?" further questions the other, holding out
his hand.

"Certainly.  Why do you wish that?"

"To see if it will allow you to shunt yourself here."

"I don't think it will.  In fact, I know it don't.  They told me so at
Charing Cross."

"Then they told you what wasn't true.  For it does.  See here!"

What the Major calls upon him to look at are some bits of pasteboard,
like butterflies, fluttering in the air, and settling down over the
copestone of the dock.  They are the fragments of the torn ticket.

"Now, old boy!  You're booked for Boulogne."

The melancholy smile, up to that time on Ryecroft's face, broadens into
a laugh at the stratagem employed to detain him.  With cheerfulness for
the time restored, he says:

"Well, Major, by that you've cost me at at least one pound sterling.
But I'll make you recoup it in boarding and lodging me for--possibly a
week."

"A month--a year, if you should like your lodgings and will stay in
them.  I've got a snug little compound in the Rue Tintelleries, with
room to swing hammocks for us both; besides a bin or two of wine, and,
what's better, a keg of the `raal crayther.'  Let's along and have a
tumbler of it at once.  You'll need it to wash the channel spray out of
your throat.  Don't wait for your luggage.  These Custom-house gentry
all know me, and will send it directly after.  Is it labelled?"

"It is; my name's on everything."

"Let me have one of your cards."  The card is handed to him.  "There,
Monsieur," he says, turning to a _douanier_, who respectfully salutes,
"take this, and see that all the _baggage_ bearing the name on it be
kept safely till called for.  My servant will come for it.  _Garcon_!"
This to the driver of a _voiture_, who, for some time viewing them with
expectant eye, makes response by a cut of his whip, and brisk approach
to the spot where they are standing.

Pushing Captain Ryecroft into the back, and following himself, the Major
gives the French Jehu his address, and they are driven off over the
rough, rib-cracking cobbles of Boulogne.

Volume Two, Chapter XX.

HUE AND CRY.

The ponies and pet stag on the lawn at Llangorren wonder what it is all
about.  So different from the garden parties and archery-meetings, of
which they have witnessed many a one!  Unlike the latter in their quiet
stateliness is the excited crowd at the Court this day; still more, from
its being chiefly composed of men.  There are a few women, also, but not
the slender-waisted creatures, in silks and gossamer muslins, who make
up an out-door assemblage of the aristocracy.  The sturdy dames and
robust damsels now rambling over its grounds and gravelled walks are the
dwellers in roadside cottages, who at the words "Murdered or Missing,"
drop brooms upon half-swept floors, leave babies uncared-for in their
cradles, and are off to the indicated spot.

And such words have gone abroad from Llangorren Court, coupled with the
name of its young mistress.  Gwen Wynn is missing, if she be not also
murdered.

It is the second day after her disappearance, as known to the household;
and now it is known throughout the neighbourhood, near and far.  The
slight scandal dreaded by Miss Linton no longer has influence with her.
The continued absence of her niece, with the certainty at length reached
that she is not in the house of any neighbouring friend, would make
concealment of the matter a grave scandal in itself.  Besides, since the
half-hearted search of yesterday new facts have come to light; for one,
the finding of that ring on the floor of the pavilion.  It has been
identified not only by the finder, but by Eleanor Lees and Miss Linton
herself.  A rare cluster of brilliants, besides of value, it has more
than once received the inspection of these ladies--both knowing the
giver, as the nature of the gift.

How comes it to have been there in the summer-house?  Dropped, of
course; but under what circumstances?

Questions perplexing, while the thing itself seriously heightens the
alarm.  No one, however rich or regardless, would fling such precious
stones away; above all, gems so bestowed, and, as Miss Lees has reason
to know, prized and fondly treasured.

The discovery of the engagement ring deepens the mystery instead of
doing aught towards its elucidation.  But it also strengthens a
suspicion, fast becoming belief, that Miss Wynn went not away of her own
accord; instead, has been taken.

Robbed, too, before being earned off.  There were other rings upon her
fingers--diamonds, emeralds, and the like.  Possibly in the scramble, on
the robbers first seizing hold and hastily stripping her, this
particular one had slipped through their fingers, fallen to the floor,
and so escaped observation.  At night and in the darkness, all likely
enough.

So for a time run the surmises, despite the horrible suggestion
attaching to them, almost as a consequence.  For if Gwen Wynn had been
robbed she may also be murdered.  The costly jewels she wore, in rings,
bracelets, and chains, worth many hundreds of pounds, may have been the
temptation to plunder her; but the plunderers identified, and fearing
punishment, would also make away with her person.  It may be abduction,
but it has now more the look of murder.

By midday the alarm has reached its height--the hue and cry is at its
loudest.  No longer confined to the family and domestics--no more the
relatives and intimate friends--people of all classes and kinds take
part in it.  The pleasure grounds of Llangorren, erst private and sacred
as the Garden of the Hesperides, are now trampled by heavy, hobnailed
shoes; while men in smocks, slops, and sheepskin gaiters, stride
excitedly to and fro, or stand in groups, all wearing the same
expression on their features--that of a sincere, honest anxiety, with a
fear some sinister mischance has overtaken Miss Wynn.  Many a young
farmer is there who has ridden beside her in the hunting-field, often
behind her no-ways nettled by her giving him the "lead;" instead,
admiring her courage and style of taking fences over which, on his cart
nag, he dares not follow--enthusiastically proclaiming her "pluck" at
markets, race meetings, and other gatherings wherever came up talk of
"Tally-ho."

Besides those on the ground drawn thither by sympathetic friendship, and
others the idly curious, still others are there in the exercise of
official duty.  Several magistrates have arrived at Llangorren, among
them Sir George Shenstone, chairman of the district bench; the police
superintendent also, with several of his blue-coated subordinates.

There is a man present about whom remark is made, and who attracts more
attention than either justice of the peace or policeman.  It is a
circumstance unprecedented--a strange sight, indeed--Lewin Murdock at
the Court!  He is there, nevertheless, taking an active part in the
proceedings.

It seems natural enough to those who but know him to be the cousin of
the missing lady, ignorant of the long family estrangement.  Only to
intimate friends is there aught singular in his behaving as he now does.
But to these, on reflection, his behaviour is quite comprehensible.
They construe it differently from the others--the outside spectators.
More than one of them, observing the anxious expression upon his face,
believe it but a semblance--a mask to hide the satisfaction within his
heart--to become joy if Gwen Wynn be found--dead.

It is not a thing to be spoken of openly, and no one so speaks of it.
The construction put upon Lewin Murdock's motives is confined to the
few; for only a few know how much he is interested in the upshot of that
search.

Again it is set on foot, but not as on the day preceding.  Now no mad
rushing to and fro of mere physical demonstration.  This day there is
due deliberation; a council held, composed of the magistrates and other
gentlemen of the neighbourhood, aided by a lawyer or two, and the
talents of an experienced detective.

As on the day before, the premises are inspected, the grounds gone over,
the fields traversed, the woods as well, while parties proceed up and
down the river, and along both sides of the backwash.  The eyot also is
quartered, and carefully explored from end to end.

As yet the drag has not been called into requisition; the deep flood,
with a swift, strong current preventing it.  Partly that, but as much
because the searchers do not as yet believe--cannot realise the fact--
that Gwendoline Wynn is dead, and her body at the bottom of the Wye!
Robbed and drowned!  Surely it cannot be?

Equally incredible that she has drowned herself.  Suicide is not thought
of--incredible under the circumstances.

A third supposition, that she has been the victim of revenge--of a
jealous lover's spite--seems alike untenable.  She, the heiress, owner
of the vast Llangorren estates, to be so dealt with--pitched into the
river like some poor cottage girl, who has quarrelled with a brutal
sweetheart!  The thing is preposterous!

And yet this very thing begins to receive credence in the minds of
many--of more, as new facts are developed by the magisterial enquiry,
carried on inside the house.  There a strange chapter of evidence comes
out, or rather is elicited.  Miss Linton's maid, Clarisse, is the author
of it.  This sportive creature confesses to having been out on the
grounds as the ball was breaking up; and, lingering there till after the
latest guest had taken departure, heard high voices, speaking as in
anger.  They came from the direction of the summer-house, and she
recognised them as those of Mademoiselle and Le Capitaine--by the latter
meaning Captain Ryecroft.

Startling testimony this, when taken in connection with the strayed
ring: collateral to the ugly suspicion the latter had already conjured
up.

Nor is the _femme de chambre_ telling any untruth.  She was in the
grounds at that same hour, and heard the voices as affirmed.  She had
gone down to the boat-dock in the hope of having a word with the
handsome waterman; and returned from it reluctantly, finding he had
betaken himself to his boat.

She does not thus state her reason for so being abroad, but gives a
different one.  She was merely out to have a look at the illumination--
the lamps and transparencies, still unextinguished--all natural enough.
And questioned as to why she said nothing of it on the day before, her
answer is equally evasive.  Partly that she did not suppose the thing
worth speaking of, and partly because she did not like to let people
know that Mademoiselle had been behaving in that way--quarrelling with a
gentleman.

In the flood of light just let in, no one any longer thinks that Miss
Wynn has been robbed; though it may be that she has suffered something
worse.  What for could have been the angry words?  And the quarrel; how
did it end?

And now the name Ryecroft is on every tongue, no longer in cautious
whisperings, but loudly pronounced.  Why is he not here?

His absence is strange, unaccountable, under the circumstances.  To none
seeming more so than to those holding counsel inside, who have been made
acquainted with the character of that waif--the gift ring--told he was
the giver.  He cannot be ignorant of what is passing at Llangorren.
True, the hotel where he sojourns is in a town five miles off; but the
affair has long since found its way thither, and the streets are full of
it.

"I think we had better send for him," observes Sir George Shenstone to
his brother justices.  "What say you, gentlemen?"

"Certainly; of course," is the unanimous rejoinder.

"And the waterman, too?" queries another.  "It appears that Captain
Ryecroft came to the ball in a boat.  Does anyone know who was his
boatman?"

"A fellow named Wingate" is the answer given by young Shenstone.  "He
lives by the roadside, up the river, near Bugg's Ferry."

"Possibly he may be here, outside," says Sir George.  "Go see!"  This to
one of the policemen at the door, who hurries off.  Almost immediately
to return--told by the people that Jack Wingate is not among them.

"That's strange, too!" remarks one of the magistrates.  "Both should be
brought hither at once--if they don't choose to come willingly."

"Oh!" exclaims Sir George, "they'll come willingly," no doubt.  Let a
policeman be despatched for "Wingate.  As for Captain Ryecroft, don't
you think gentlemen, it would be only politeness to summon him in a
different way.  Suppose I write a note requesting his presence, with
explanations?"

"That will be better," say several assenting.

This note is written, and a groom gallops off with it; while a policeman
on foot makes his way to the cottage of the Widow Wingate.

Nothing new transpires in their absence; but on their return--both
arriving about the same time--the agitation is intense.  For both come
back unaccompanied; the groom bringing the report that Captain Ryecroft
is no longer at the hotel--had left it on the day before by the first
train for London!

The policeman's tale is, that Jack Wingate went off on the same day, and
about the same early hour; not by rail to London, but in his boat, down
the river to the Bristol Channel!

Within less than a hour after a police officer is despatched to
Chepstow, and further if need be; while the detective, with one of the
gentlemen accompanying, takes the next train for the metropolis.

Volume Two, Chapter XXI.

BOULOGNE-SUR-MER.

Major Mahon is a soldier of the rollicking Irish type--good company as
ever drank wine at a regimental mess-table, or whisky-and-water under
the canvas of a tent.  Brave in war, too, as evinced by sundry scars of
wounds given by the sabres of rebellious sowars, and an empty sleeve
dangling down by his side.  This same token almost proclaims that he is
no longer in the army.  For he is not--having left it disabled at the
close of the Indian Mutiny: after the relief of Lucknow, where he also
parted with his arm.

He is not rich; one reason for his being in Boulogne--convenient place
for men of moderate means.  There he has rented a house, in which for
nearly a twelvemonth he has been residing: a small domicile, _meuble_.
Still, large enough for his needs: for the Major, though nigh forty
years of age, has never thought of getting married; or, if so, has not
carried out the intention.  As a bachelor in the French watering-place,
his income of five hundred per annum supplies all his wants--far better
than if it were in an English one.

But economy is not his only reason for sojourning in Boulogne.  There is
another alike creditable to him, or more.  He has a sister, much younger
than himself, receiving education there; an only sister, for whom he
feels the strongest affection, and likes to be beside her.

For all he sees her only at stated times, and with no great frequency.
Her school is attached to a convent, and she is in it as a
_pensionnaire_.

All these matters are made known to Captain Ryecroft on the day after
his arrival at Boulogne.  Not in the morning.  It has been spent in
promenading through the streets of the lower town and along the _jetee_,
with a visit to the grand lion of the place, _l'Establissement de
Bains_, ending in an hour or two passed at the "cercle" of which the
Major is a member, and where his old campaigning comrade, against all
protestations, is introduced to the half-dozen "good fellows as ever
stretched legs under mahogany."

It is not till a later hour, however, after a quiet dinner in the
Major's own house, and during a stroll upon the ramparts of the _Haute
Ville_, that these confidences are given to his guest, with all the
exuberant frankness of the Hibernian heart.

Ryecroft, though Irish himself, is of less communicative nature.  A
native of Dublin, he has Saxon in his blood, with some of its
secretiveness; and the Major finds a difficulty in drawing him in
reference to the particular reason of his interrupted journey to Paris.
He essays, however, with as much skill as he can command, making
approach as follows:

"What a time it seems, Ryecroft, since you and I have been together--an
age!  And yet, if I'm not wrong in my reckoning, it was but a year ago.
Yes; just twelve months, or thereabout.  You remember, we met at the
`Bag,' and dined there, with Russel, of the Artillery."

"Of course I remember it."

"I've seen Russel since; about three months ago, when I was over in
England.  And by the way, 'twas from him I last heard of yourself."

"What had he to say about me?"

"Only that you were somewhere down west--on the Wye I think--salmon
fishing.  I know you were always good at casting a fly."

"That all he said?"

"Well, no;" admits the Major, with a sly, inquisitive glance at the
other's face.  "There was a trifle of a codicil added to the information
about your whereabouts and occupation."

"What, may I ask?"

"That you'd been wonderfully successful in your angling; had hooked a
very fine fish--a big one, besides--and sold out of the army; so that
you might be free to play it on your line; in fine, that you'd captured,
safe landed, and intended staying by it for the rest of your days.
Come, old boy!  Don't be blushing about the thing; you know you can
trust Charley Mahon.  Is it true?"

"Is what true?" asks the other, with an air of assumed innocence.

"That you've caught the richest heiress in Herefordshire, or she you, or
each the other, as Russel had it, and which is best for both of you.
Down on your knees, Ryecroft!  Confess!"

"Major Mahon!  If you wish me to remain your guest for another night--
another hour--you'll not ask me aught about that affair nor even name
it.  In time I may tell you all; but now to speak of it gives me a pain
which even you, one of my oldest, and I believe, truest friends cannot
fully understand."

"I can at least understand that it's something serious."  The inference
is drawn less from Ryecroft's words than their tone and the look of
utter desolation which accompanies them.  "But," continues the Major,
greatly moved, "you'll forgive me, old fellow, for being so inquisitive?
I promise not to press you any more.  So let's drop the subject, and
speak of something else."

"What then?" asks Ryecroft, scarce conscious of questioning.

"My little sister, if you like.  I call her little because she was so
when I went out to India.  She's now a grown girl, tall as that, and, as
flattering friends say, a great beauty.  What's better, she's good.  You
see that building below?"

They are on the outer edge of the rampart, looking upon the ground
adjacent to the _enceinte_ of the ancient _cite_.  A slope in warlike
days serving as the _glacis_, now occupied by dwellings, some of them
pretentious, with gardens attached.  That which the Major points to is
one of the grandest, its enclosure large, with walls that only a man
upon stilts of the Landes country could look over.

"I see--what of it!" asks the ex-Hussar.

"It's the convent where Kate is at school--the prison in which she's
confined, I might better say," he adds, with a laugh, but in tone more
serious than jocular.

It need scarce be said that Major Mahon is a Roman Catholic.  His sister
being in such a seminary is evidence of that.  But he is not bigoted, as
Ryecroft knows, without drawing the deduction from his last remark.

His old friend and fellow-campaigner does not even ask explanation of
it, only observing--

"A very fine mansion it appears--walks, shade trees, arbours, fountains.
I had no idea the nuns were so well bestowed.  They ought to live
happily in such a pretty place.  But then, shut up, domineered over,
coerced, as I've heard they are--ah, liberty!  It's the only thing that
makes the world worth living in."

"Ditto, say I.  I echo your sentiment, old fellow, and feel it.  If I
didn't I might have been long ago a Benedict, with a millstone around my
neck in the shape of a wife, and half a score of smaller ones of the
grindstone pattern--in piccaninnies.  Instead, I'm free as the breezes,
and by the Moll Kelly, intend remaining so!"

The Major winds up the ungallant declaration with a laugh.  But this is
not echoed by his companion, to whom the subject touched upon is a
tender one.

Perceiving it so, Mahon makes a fresh start in the conversation,
remarking--

"It's beginning to feel a bit chilly up here.  Suppose we saunter down
to the Cercle, and have a game of billiards!"

"If it be all the same to you, Mahon, I'd rather not go there to night."

"Oh! it's all the same to me.  Let us home, then, and warm up with a
tumbler of whisky toddy.  There were orders left for the kettle to be
kept on the boil.  I see you still want cheering, and there's nothing
will do that like a drop of the _crather_.  _Allons_!"  Without
resisting, Ryecroft follows his friend down the stairs of the rampart.
From the point where they descended the shortest way to the Rue
Tintelleries is through a narrow lane not much used, upon which abut
only the back walls of gardens, with their gates or doors.  One of
these, a gaol-like affair, is the entrance to the convent in which Miss
Mahon is at school.  As they approach it a _fiacre_ is standing in
front, as if but lately drawn up to deliver its fare--a traveller.
There is a lamp, and by its light, dim nevertheless, they see that
luggage is being taken inside.  Some one on a visit to the Convent, or
returning after absence.  Nothing strange in all that; and neither of
the two men make remark upon it, but keep on.

Just however, as they are passing the back, about to drive off again,
Captain Ryecroft, looking towards the door still ajar, sees a face
inside it which causes him to start.

"What is it?" asks the Major, who feels the spasmodic movement--the two
walking arm-in-arm.

"Well! if it wasn't that I am in Boulogne instead of on the banks of the
river Wye, I'd swear that I saw a man inside that doorway whom I met not
many days ago in the shire of Hereford."

"What sort of a man?"

"A priest!"

"Oh! black's no mark among sheep.  The _pretres_ are all alike, as peas
or policemen.  I'm often puzzled myself to tell one from t'other."

Satisfied with this explanation, the ex-Hussar says nothing further on
the subject, and they continue on to the Rue Tintelleries.

Entering his house, the Major calls for "matayrials," and they sit down
to the steaming punch.  But before their glasses are half emptied, there
is a ring at the door bell, and soon after a voice inquiring for
"Captain Ryecroft."  The entrance-hall being contiguous to the
dining-room where they are seated, they hear all this.

"Who can be asking for me?" queries Ryecroft, looking towards his host.

The Major cannot tell--cannot think--who.  But the answer is given by
his Irish manservant entering with a card, which he presents to Captain
Ryecroft, saying:--

"It's for you, yer honner."  The name on the card is--

"Mr George Shenstone."

Volume Two, Chapter XXII.

WHAT DOES HE WANT?

"Mr George Shenstone?" queries Captain Ryecroft, reading from the card.
"George Shenstone!" he repeats with a look of blank astonishment--"What
the deuce does it mean?"

"Does what mean?" asks the Major, catching the other's surprise.

"Why, this gentleman being here.  You see that?"  He tosses the card
across the table.

"Well; what of it?"

"Read the name!"

"Mr George Shenstone.  Don't know the man.  Haven't the most distant
idea who he is.  Have you?"

"O, yes."

"Old acquaintance; friend, I presume?  No enemy, I hope?"

"If it be the son of a Sir George Shenstone, of Herefordshire, I can't
call him either friend or enemy; and as I know nobody else of the name,
I suppose it must be he.  If so, what he wants with me is a question I
can no more answer than the man in the moon.  I must get the answer from
himself.  Can I take the liberty of asking him into your house, Mahon?"

"Certainly, my dear boy!  Bring him in here, if you like, and let him
join us."

"Thanks, Major!" interrupts Ryecroft.  "But no, I'd prefer first having
a word with him alone.  Instead of drinking, he may want fighting with
me."

"O ho!" ejaculates the Major.  "Murtagh!" to the servant, an old soldier
of the 18th, "show the gentleman into the drawing-room."

"Mr Shenstone and I," proceeds Ryecroft in explanation, "have but the
very slightest acquaintance.  I've only met him a few times in general
company, the last at a ball--a private one--just three nights ago.
'Twas that very morning I met the priest, I supposed we'd seen up there.
'Twould seem as if everybody on the Wyeside had taken the fancy to
follow me into France."

"Ha--ha--ha!  About the _pretre_, no doubt you're mistaken.  And maybe
this isn't your man, either.  The same name, you're sure!"

"Quite.  The Herefordshire baronet's son is George, as his father, to
whose title he is heir.  I never heard of his having any other--"

"Stay!" interrupts the Major, again glancing at the card, "here's
something to help identification--an address--_Ormeston Hall_."

"Ah!  I didn't observe that."  In his agitation he had not, the address
being in small script at the corner.  "Ormeston Hall?  Yes, I remember,
Sir George's residence is so called.  Of course it's the son--must be."

"But why do you think he means fight?  Something happened between you,
eh?"

"No; nothing between us, directly."

"Ah!  Indirectly, then?  Of course the old trouble--a woman."

"Well; if it be fighting the fellow's after, I suppose it must be about
that," slowly rejoins Ryecroft, half in soliloquy and pondering over
what took place on the night of the ball.  Now vividly recalling that
scene in the summer-house, with the angry words there spoken, he feels
good as certain George Shenstone has come after him on the part of Miss
Wynn.

The thought of such championship stirs his indignation, and he
exclaims--

"By Heavens! he shall have what he wants.  But I mustn't keep him
waiting.  Give me that card, Major!"

The Major returns it to him, coolly observing--

"If it is to be a blue pill, instead of a whisky punch, I can
accommodate you with a brace of barkers, good as can be got in Boulogne.
You haven't told me what your quarrel's about; but from what I know of
you, Ryecroft, I take it you're in the right, and you can count on me as
a second.  Lucky it's my left wing that's clipped.  With the right I can
shoot straight as ever--should there be need for making it a
four-cornered affair."

"Thanks, Mahon!  You're just the man I'd have asked such a favour from."

"The gentleman's inside the dhrawin-room, surr."

This from the ex-Royal Irish, who has again presented himself, saluting.

"Don't yield the _Sassenach_ an inch?" counsels the Major, a little of
the old Celtic hostility stirring within him.  "If he demand
explanations, hand him over to me.  I'll give them to his satisfaction.
So, old fellow, be firm!"

"Never fear!" returns Ryecroft, as he steps out to receive the
unexpected visitor, whose business with him he fully believes to have
reference to Gwendoline Wynn.

And so has it.  But not in the sense he anticipates, nor about the scene
on which his thoughts have dwelt.  George Shenstone is not there to call
him to account for angry words, or rudeness of behaviour.  Something
more serious; since it was the baronet's son who left Llangorren Court
in company with the plain clothes policeman.  The latter is still along
with him; though not inside the house.  He is standing upon the street
at a convenient distance; though not with any expectation of being
called in, or required for any farther service now, professionally.
Holding no writ, nor the right to serve such if he had it, his action
hitherto has been simply to assist Mr Shenstone in finding the man
suspected of either abduction or murder.  But as neither crime is yet
proved to have been committed, much less brought home to him, the
English policeman has no further errand in Boulogne--while the English
gentleman now feels that his is almost as idle and aimless.  The impulse
which carried him thither, though honourable and gallant, was begot in
the heat of blind passion.  Gwen Wynn having no brother, he determined
to take the place of one, his father not saying nay.  And so resolved he
had set out to seek the supposed criminal, "interview" him, and then act
according to the circumstances, as they should develop themselves.

In the finding of his man he has experienced no difficulty.  Luggage
labelled "Langham Hotel, London," gave him hot scent, as far as the
grand _caravanserai_ at the bottom of Portland Place.  Beyond it was
equally fresh, and lifted with like ease.  The traveller's traps
re-directed at the Langham "Paris _via_ Folkestone and Boulogne"--the
new address there noted by porters and traffic manager--was indication
sufficient to guide George Shenstone across the Channel; and cross it he
did by the next day's packet for Boulogne.

Arrived in the French seaport, he would have gone straight on to Paris--
had he been alone.  But accompanied by the policeman the result was
different.  This--an old dog of the detective breed--soon as setting
foot on French soil, went sniffing about among _serjents de ville_ and
_douaniers_, the upshot of his investigations being to bring the chase
to an abrupt termination--he finding that the game had gone no further.
In short, from information received at the Custom House, Captain
Ryecroft was run to earth in the Rue Tintelleries, under the roof of
Major Mahon.

And now that George Shenstone is himself under it, having sent in his
card, and been ushered into the drawing-room, he does not feel at his
ease; instead greatly embarrassed.  Not from any personal fear; he has
too much "pluck" for that.  It is a sense of delicacy, consequent upon
some dread of wrong doing.  What, after all, if his suspicions prove
groundless, and it turn out that Captain Ryecroft is entirely innocent?
His heart, torn by sorrow, exasperated with anger, starting away from
Herefordshire he did not thus interrogate.  Then he supposed himself in
pursuit of an abductor, who, when overtaken, would be found in the
company of the abducted.

But, meanwhile, both his suspicions and sentiments have undergone a
change.  How could they otherwise?  He pursued, has been travelling
openly and without any disguise, leaving traces at every turn and
deflection of his route, plain as fingerposts!  A man guilty of aught
illegal--much more one who has committed a capital crime--would not be
acting thus?  Besides, Captain Ryecroft has been journeying alone,
unaccompanied by man or woman; no one seen with him until meeting his
friend, Major Mahon, on the packet landing at Boulogne!

No wonder that Mr Shenstone, now _au fait_ to all this--easily
ascertained along the route of travel--feels that his errand is an
awkward one.  Embarrassed when ringing Major Mahon's door bell, he is
still more so inside that room, while awaiting the man to whom his card
has been taken.  For he has intruded himself into the house of a
gentleman a perfect stranger to himself--to call his guest to account!
The act is inexcusable, rude almost to grotesqueness!

But there are other circumstances attendant, of themselves unpleasant
enough.  The thing he has been tracking up is no timid hare, or cowardly
fox; but a man, a soldier, gentleman as himself, who, like a tiger of
the jungles, may turn upon and tear him.

It is no thought of this, no craven fear which makes him pace Major
Mahon's drawing-room floor so excitedly.  His agitation is due to a
different and nobler cause--the sensibility of the gentleman, with the
dread of shame, should he find himself mistaken.  But he has a consoling
thought.  Prompted by honour and affection, he embarked in the affair,
and still urged by them he will carry it to the conclusion _coute que
coute_.

Volume Two, Chapter XXIII.

A GUAGE D'AMOUR.

Pacing to and fro, with stride jerky and irregular, Shenstone at length
makes stop in front of the fireplace, not to warm himself--there is no
fire in the grate--nor yet to survey his face in the mirror above.  His
steps are arrested by something he sees resting upon the mantelshelf; a
sparkling object--in short a cigar-case of the beaded pattern.

Why should that attract the attention of the young Herefordshire squire,
causing him to start, as it first catches his eye?  In his lifetime he
has seen scores of such, without caring to give them a second glance.
But it is just because he has looked upon this one before, or fancies he
has, that he now stands gazing at it; on the instant after reaching
towards, and taking it up.

Ay, more than once has he seen that same cigar-case--he is now sure as
he holds it in hand, turning it over and over--seen it before its
embroidery was finished; watched fair fingers stitching the beads on,
cunningly combining the blue and amber and gold, tastefully arranging
them in rows and figures--two hearts central transfixed by a barbed and
feathered shaft--all save the lettering he now looks upon, and which was
never shown him.  Many a time during the months past, he had hoped, and
fondly imagined, the skilful contrivance and elaborate workmanship might
be for himself.  Now he knows better; the knowledge revealed to him by
the initials Y.R. entwined in monogram, and the words underneath "From
Gwen."

Three days ago, the discovery would have caused him a spasm of keenest
pain.  Not so now.  After being shown that betrothal ring, no gift, no
pledge, could move him to further emotion.  He but tosses the headed
thing back upon the mantel, with the reflection that he to whom it
belongs has been born under a more propitious star than himself.

Still the little incident is not without effect.  It restores his
firmness, with the resolution to act as originally intended.  This is
still further strengthened, as Ryecroft enters the room, and he looks
upon the man who has caused him so much misery.  A man feared but not
hated--for Shenstone's noble nature and generous disposition hinder him
from being blinded either to the superior personal or mental qualities
of his rival.  A rival he fears only in the field of love; in that of
war or strife of other kind, the doughty young west-country squire would
dare even the devil.  No tremor in his frame; no unsteadfastness in the
glance of his eye, as he regards the other stepping inside the open
door, and with the card in hand, coming towards him.

Long ago introduced, and several times in company together, but cool and
distant, they coldly salute.  Holding out the card Ryecroft says
interrogatively--

"Is this meant for me, Mr Shenstone?"

"Yes."

"Some matter of business, I presume.  May I ask what it is?"

The formal inquiry, in tone passive and denying, throws the fox-hunter
as upon his haunches.  At the same time its evident cynicism stings him
to a blunt if not rude rejoinder.

"I want to know--what you have done with Miss Wynn."

He so challenged starts aback, turning pale.  And looking distraught at
his challenger, while he repeats the words of the latter, with but the
personal pronoun changed--

"What I have done with Miss Wynn!"  Then adding, "Pray explain yourself,
sir!"

"Come, Captain Ryecroft; you know what I allude to?"

"For the life of me I don't."

"Do you mean to say you're not aware of what's happened?"

"What's happened!  When?  Where?"

"At Llangorren, the night of that hall.  You were present; I saw you."

"And I saw you, Mr Shenstone.  But you don't tell me what happened."

"Not at the hall, but after."

"Well, and what after?"

"Captain Ryecroft, you're either an innocent man, or, the most guilty on
the face of the earth."

"Stop, sir!  Language like yours requires justification, of the gravest
kind.  I ask an explanation--demand it!"

Thus brought to bay, George Shenstone looks straight in the face of the
man he has so savagely assailed; there to see neither consciousness of
guilt, nor fear of punishment.  Instead, honest surprise mingled with
keen apprehension; the last not on his own account, but hers of whom
they are speaking.  Intuitively, as if whispered by an angel in his ear,
he says, or thinks to himself: "This man knows nothing of Gwendoline
Wynn.  If she has been carried off, it has not been by him; if murdered,
he is not her murderer."

"Captain Ryecroft," he at length cries out in hoarse voice, the
revulsion of feeling almost choking him, "if I've been wronging you I
ask forgiveness; and you'll forgive.  For if I have, you do not--cannot
know what has occurred."

"I've told you I don't," affirms Ryecroft, now certain that the other
speaks of something different, and more serious than the affair he had
himself been thinking of.  "For Heaven's sake, Mr Shenstone, explain!
What _has_ occurred there?"

"Miss Wynn is gone away!"

"Miss Wynn gone away!  But whither?"

"Nobody knows.  All that can be said is, she disappeared on the night of
the ball, without telling any one--no trace left behind--except--"

"Except what?"

"A ring--a diamond cluster.  I found it myself in the summer-house.  You
know the place--you know the ring too?"

"I do, Mr Shenstone; have reasons, painful ones.  But I am not called
upon to give them now, nor to you.  What could it mean?" he adds,
speaking to himself, thinking of that cry he heard when being rowed off.
It connects itself with what he hears now; seems once more resounding
in his ears, more than ever resembling a shriek!  "But, sir; please
proceed!  For God's sake, keep nothing back--tell me everything!"

Thus appealed to, Shenstone answers by giving an account of what has
occurred at Llangorren Court--all that had transpired previous to his
leaving; and frankly confesses his own reasons for being in Boulogne.

The manner in which it is received still further satisfying him of the
other's guiltlessness, he again begs to be forgiven for the suspicions
he had entertained.

"Mr Shenstone," returns Ryecroft, "you ask what I am ready and willing
to grant--God knows how ready, how willing.  If any misfortune has
befallen her we are speaking of, however great your grief, it cannot be
greater than mine."

Shenstone is convinced.  Ryecroft's speech, his looks, his whole
bearing, are those of a man not only guiltless of wrong to Gwendoline
Wynn, but one who, on her account, feels anxiety keen as his own.

He stays not to question further; but once more making apologies for his
intrusion--which are accepted without anger--he bows himself back into
the street.

The business of his travelling companion in Boulogne was over some time
ago.  His is now equally ended; and though without having thrown any new
light on the mystery of Miss Wynn's disappearance, still with some
satisfaction to himself, he dares not dwell upon.  Where is the man who
would not rather know his sweetheart dead than see her in the arms of a
rival?  However ignoble the feeling, or base to entertain it, it is
natural to the human heart tortured by jealousy.  Too natural, as George
Shenstone that night knows, with head tossing upon a sleepless pillow.
Too late to catch the Folkestone packet, his bed is in Boulogne--no bed
of roses but a couch Procrustean.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Meanwhile, Captain Ryecroft returns to the room where his friend the
Major has been awaiting him.  Impatiently, though not in the interim
unemployed; as evinced by a flat mahogany box upon the table, and beside
it a brace of duelling pistols, which have evidently been submitted to
examination.  They are the "best barkers that can be got in Boulogne."

"We shan't need them, Major, after all."

"The devil we shan't!  He's shown the white feather?"

"No, Mahon; instead, proved himself as brave a fellow as ever stood
before sword point, or dared pistol bullet?"

"Then there's no trouble between you?"

"Ah! yes, trouble; but not between us.  Sorrow shared by both.  We're in
the same boat."

"In that case, why didn't you bring him in?"

"I didn't think of it."

"Well; we'll drink his health.  And since you say you've both embarked
in the same boat--a bad one--here's to your reaching a good haven, and
in safety!"

"Thanks, Major!  The haven I now want to reach, and intend entering ere
another sun sets, is the harbour of Folkestone."

The Major almost drops his glass.  "Why, Ryecroft, you're surely
joking?"

"No, Mahon; I'm in earnest--dead anxious earnest."

"Well, I wonder!  No, I don't," he adds, correcting himself.  "A man
needn't be surprised at anything where there's a woman concerned.  May
the devil take her, who's taking you away from me!"

"Major Mahon!"

"Well--well, old boy!  Don't be angry.  I meant nothing personal,
knowing neither the lady, nor the reason for thus changing your mind,
and so soon leaving me.  Let my sorrow at that be my excuse."

"You shall be told it, this night--now!"  In another hour Major Mahon is
in possession of all that relates to Gwendoline Wynn, known to Vivian
Ryecroft; no more wondering at the anxiety of his guest to get back to
England; nor doing aught to detain him.  Instead, he counsels his
immediate return; accompanies him to the first morning packet for
Folkestone; and at the parting hand-shake again reminds him of that
well-timed grip in the ditch of Delhi, exclaiming--

"God bless you, old boy!  Whatever the upshot, remember you've a friend,
and a bit of a tent to shelter you in Boulogne--not forgetting a little
comfort from the _crayther_!"

Volume Two, Chapter XXIV.

SUICIDE, OR MURDER.

Two more days have passed, and the crowd collected at Llangorren Court
is larger than ever.  But it is not now scattered, nor are people
rushing excitedly about; instead, they stand thickly packed in a close
clump, which covers all the carriage sweep in front of the house.  For
the search is over, the lost one has at length been found.  Found, when
the flood subsided, and the drag could do its work--_found drowned_!

Not far away, nor yet in the main river; but that narrow channel, deep
and dark, inside the eyot.  In a little angular embayment at the cliff's
base, almost directly under the summer-house was the body discovered.
It came to the surface soon as touched by the grappling iron, which
caught in the loose drapery around it.  Left alone for another day it
would have risen of itself.

Taken out of the water, and borne away to the house, it is now lying in
the entrance-hall, upon a long table there set centrally.

The hall, though a spacious one, is filled with people; and but for two
policemen stationed at the door would be densely crowded.  These have
orders to admit only the friends and intimates of the family, with those
whose duty requires them to be there officially.  There is again a
council in deliberation; but not as on days preceding.  Then it was to
inquire into what had become of Gwendoline Wynn, and whether she were
still alive; to-day, it is an inquest being held over her dead body!

There lies it, just as it came out of the water.  But, oh! how unlike
what it was before being submerged!  Those gossamer things, silks and
laces--the dress worn by her at the ball--no more floating and
feather-like, but saturated, mud-stained, "clinging like cerements"
around a form whose statuesque outlines, even in death, show the
perfection of female beauty.  And her chrome yellow hair, cast in loose
coils about, has lost its silken gloss, and grown darker in hue: while
the rich rose red is gone from her cheeks, already swollen and
discoloured; so soon had the ruthless water commenced its ravages!

No one would know Gwen Wynn now.  Seeing that form prostrate and
pulseless, who could believe it the same, which but a few nights before
was there moving about, erect, lissome, and majestic?  Or in that face,
dark and disfigured, who could recognise the once radiant countenance of
Llangorren's young heiress?  Sad to contemplate those mute motionless
lips, so late wreathed with smiles, and speaking pleasant words!  And
those eyes, dulled with "muddy impurity," that so short while ago shone
bright and gladsome, rejoicing in the gaiety of youth and the glory of
beauty--sparkling, flashing, conquering!

All is different now; her hair dishevelled, her dress disordered and
dripping, the only things upon her person unchanged being the rings on
her fingers, the wrist bracelets, the locket still pendant to her neck--
all gemmed and gleaming as ever, the impure water affecting not their
costly purity.  And their presence has a significance, proclaiming an
important fact, soon to be considered.

The Coroner, summoned in haste, has got upon the ground, selected his
jury, and gone through the formularies for commencing the inquest.
These over, the first point to be established is the identification of
the body.  There is little difficulty in this; and it is solely through
routine, and for form's sake, that the aunt of the deceased lady, her
cousin, the lady's-maid, and one or two other domestics are submitted to
examination.  All testify to their belief that the body before them is
that of Gwendoline Wynn.

Miss Linton, after giving her testimony, is borne off to her room in
hysterics; while Eleanor Lees is led away weeping.

Then succeeds inquiry as to how the death has been brought about;
whether it be a case of suicide or assassination?  If murder the motive
cannot have been robbery.  The jewellery, of grand value, forbids the
supposition of this, checking all conjecture.  And if suicide, why?
That Miss Wynn should have taken her own life--made away with herself--
is equally impossible of belief.

Some time is occupied in the investigation of facts, and drawing
deductions.  Witnesses of all classes and kinds thought worth the
calling are called and questioned.  Everything already known, or
rumoured, is gone over again, till at length they arrive at the
relations of Captain Ryecroft with the drowned lady.  They are brought
out in various ways, and by different witnesses; but only assume a
sinister aspect in the eyes of the jury, on their hearing the tale of
the French _femme de chambre_--strengthened, almost confirmed, by the
incident of that ring found on the floor of the summer-house.  The
finder is not there to tell how; but Miss Linton, Miss Lees, and Mr
Musgrave, vouch for the fact at second hand.

The one most wanted is Vivian Ryecroft himself, and next to him the
waterman Wingate.  Neither has yet made appearance at Llangorren, nor
has either been heard of.  The policeman sent after the last has
returned to report a bootless expedition.  No word of the boatman at
Chepstow, nor anywhere else down the river.  And no wonder there is not;
since young Powell and his friends have taken Jack's boat beyond the
river's mouth--duck-shooting along the shores of the Severn sea--there
camping out, and sleeping in places far from towns, or stations of the
rural constabulary.

And the first is not yet expected--cannot be.  From London George
Shenstone had telegraphed:--"Captain Ryecroft gone to Paris, where he
(Shenstone) would follow him."  There has been no _telegram_ later to
know whether the followed has been found.  Even if he have, there has
not been time for return from the French metropolis.

Just as this conclusion has been reached by the coroner, his jury, the
justices, and other gentlemen interested in and assisting at the
investigation inside the hall, to the surprise of those on the sweep
without, George Shenstone presents himself in their midst; their excited
movement with the murmur of voices proclaiming his advent.  Still
greater their astonishment when, shortly after--within a few seconds--
Captain Ryecroft steps upon the same ground, as though the two had come
thither in companionship!  And so might it have been believed, but for
two hotel hackneys seen drawn up on the drive outside the skirts of the
crowd where they delivered their respective fares, after having brought
them separately from the railway station.

Fellow travellers they have been, but whether friends or not, the people
are surprised at the manner of their arrival; or rather, at seeing
Captain Ryecroft so present himself.  For in the days just past he has
been the subject of a horrid suspicion, with the usual guesses and
conjectures relating to it and him.  Not only has he been freely
calumniated, but doubts thrown out that Ryecroft is his real name, and
denial of his being an officer of the army, or ever having been; with
bold, positive asseveration that he is a swindler and adventurer!  All
that while Gwen Wynn was but missing.  Now that her body is found, since
its discovery, still harsher have been the terms applied to him; at
length, to culminate, in calling him a murderer!

Instead of voluntarily presenting himself at Llangorren alone, arms and
limbs free, they expected to see him--if seen at all--with a policeman
by his side, and manacles on his wrists!

Astonished, also, are those within the hall, though in a milder degree,
and from different causes.  They did not look for the man to be brought
before them handcuffed; but no more did they anticipate seeing him enter
almost simultaneously, and side by side, with George Shenstone; they,
not having the hackney carriages in sight, taking it for granted that
the two have been travelling together.

However strange or incongruous the companionship, those noting have no
time to reflect about it; their attention being called to a scene that,
for a while, fixes and engrosses it.

Going wider apart as they approach the table, on which lies the body,
Shenstone and Ryecroft take opposite sides--coming to a stand, each in
his own attitude.  From information already imparted to them they have
been prepared to see a corpse, but not such as that!  Where is the
beautiful woman, by both beloved, fondly, passionately?  Can it be
possible, that what they are looking upon is she who once was Gwendoline
Wynn?

Whatever their reflections, or whether alike, neither makes them known
in words.  Instead, both stand speechless, stunned--withered-like, as
two strong trees simultaneously scathed by lightning--the bolt which has
blasted them lying between!

Volume Two, Chapter XXV.

A PLENTIFUL CORRESPONDENCE.

If Captain Ryecroft's sudden departure from Herefordshire brought
suspicion upon him, his reappearance goes far to remove it.  For that
this is voluntary soon becomes known.  The returned policeman has
communicated the fact to his fellow-professionals, it is by them further
disseminated among the people assembled outside.

From the same source other information is obtained in favour of the man
they have been so rashly and gravely accusing.  The time of his starting
off, the mode of making his journey, without any attempt to conceal his
route of travel or cover his tracks--instead, leaving them so marked
that any messenger, even the simplest, might have followed and found
him.  Only a fool fleeing from justice would have so fled, or one
seeking to escape punishment for some trivial offence.  But not a man
guilty of murder.

Besides, is he not back there--come of his own accord--to confront his
accusers, if any there still be?  So runs the reasoning throughout the
crowd on the carriage sweep.

With the gentlemen inside the house, equally complete is the revolution
of sentiment in his favour.  For, after the first violent outburst of
grief, young Shenstone, in a few whispered words, makes known to them
the particulars of his expedition to Boulogne, with that interview in
the house of Major Mahon.  Himself convinced of his rival's innocence,
he urges his conviction on the others.

But before their eyes is a sight almost confirmatory of it.  That look
of concentrated anguish in Captain Ryecroft's eyes cannot be
counterfeit.  A soldier who sheds tears could not be an assassin; and as
he stands in bent attitude, leaning over the table on which lies the
corpse, tears are seen stealing down his cheeks, while his bosom rises
and falls in quick, convulsive heaving.

Shenstone is himself very similarly affected, and the bystanders
beholding them are convinced that, in whatever way Gwendoline Wynn may
have come by her death, the one is innocent of it as the other.

For all, justice requires that the accusations already made, or menaced,
against Captain Ryecroft be cleared up.  Indeed, he himself demands
this, for he is aware of the rumours that have been abroad about him.
On this account he is called upon by the Coroner to state what he knows
concerning the melancholy subject of their enquiry.

But first George Shenstone is examined--as it were by way of skirmish,
and to approach, in a manner delicate as possible, the man mainly,
though doubtingly accused.

The baronet's son, beginning with the night of the ball--the fatal
night--tells how he danced repeatedly with Miss Wynn; between two sets
walked out with her over the lawn, stopped, and stood for some time
under a certain tree, where in conversation she made known to him the
fact of her being betrothed by showing him the engagement ring.  She did
not say who gave it, but he surmised it to be Captain Ryecroft--was sure
of its being he--even without the evidence of the engraved initials
afterwards observed by him inside it.

As it has already been identified by others, he is only asked to state
the circumstances under which he found it.  Which he does, telling how
he picked it up from the floor of the summer-house; but without alluding
to his own motives for being there, or acting as he has throughout.

As he is not questioned about these, why should he?  But there are many
hearing him who guess them--not a few quite comprehending all.  George
Shenstone's mad love for Miss Wynn has been no secret, neither his
pursuit of her for many long months, however hopeless it might have
seemed to the initiated.  His melancholy bearing now, which does not
escape observation, would of itself tell the tale.

His testimony makes ready the ground for him who is looked upon less in
the light of a witness than as one accused, by some once more, and more
than ever so.  For there are those present who not only were at the
ball, but noticed that triangular byplay upon which Shenstone's tale,
without his intending it, has thrown a sinister light.  Alongside the
story of Clarisse, there seems to have been motive, almost enough for
murder.  An engagement angrily broken off--an actual quarrel--Gwendoline
Wynn never afterwards seen alive!  That quarrel, too, by the water's
edge, on a cliff at whose base her body has been found!  Strange--
altogether improbable--that she should have drowned herself.  Far easier
to believe that he, her _fiance_, in a moment of mad, headlong passion,
prompted by fell jealousy, had hurled her over the high bank.

Against this returned current of adverse sentiment, Captain Ryecroft is
called upon to give his account, and state all he knows.  What he will
say is weighted with heavy consequences to himself.  It may leave him at
liberty to depart from the spot voluntarily, as he came, or be taken
from it in custody.  But he is yet free, and so left to tell his tale,
no one interrupting.

And without circumlocution he tells it, concealing nought that may be
needed for its comprehension--not even his delicate relations to the
unfortunate lady.  He confesses his love--his proposal of marriage--its
acceptance--the bestowal of the ring--his jealousy and its cause--the
ebullition of angry words between him and his betrothed--the so-called
quarrel--her returning the ring, with the way, and why he did not take
it back--because at that painful crisis be neither thought of nor cared
for such a trifle.  Then parting with, and leaving her within the
pavilion, he hastened away to his boat, and was rowed off.  But, while
passing up stream, he again caught sight of her, still standing in the
summer-house, apparently leaning upon, and looking over, its baluster
rail.  His boat moving on, and trees coming between he no more saw her;
but soon after heard a cry--his waterman as well--startling both.

It is a new statement in evidence, which startles those listening to
him.  He could not comprehend, and cannot explain it; though now knowing
it must have been the voice of Gwendoline Wynn--perhaps her last
utterance in life.

He had commanded his boatman to hold way, and they dropped back down
stream again to get within sight of the summer-house, but then to see it
dark, and to all appearance deserted.

Afterwards he proceeded home to his hotel, there to sit up for the
remainder of the night, packing and otherwise preparing for his
journey--of itself a consequence of the angry parting with his
betrothed, and the pledge so slightingly returned.

In the morning he wrote to her, directing the letter to be dropped into
the post office; which he knew to have been done before his leaving the
hotel for the railway station.

"Has any letter reached Llangorren Court?" enquires the Coroner, turning
from the witness, and putting the question in a general way.  "I mean
for Miss Wynn--since the night of that ball?"

The butler present, stepping forward, answers in the affirmative,
saying--

"There are a good many for Miss Gwen since--some almost coming in every
post."

Although there is, or was, but one Miss Gwen Wynn at Llangorren, the
head servant, as the others, from habit calls her `Miss Gwen,' speaking
of her as if she were still alive.

"It is your place to look after the letters, I believe?"

"Yes; I attend to that."

"What have you done with those addressed to Miss Wynn?"

"I gave them to Gibbons, Miss Gwen's lady's-maid."

"Let Gibbons be called again!" directs the Coroner.

The girl is brought in the second time, having been already examined at
some length, and, as before, confessing her neglect of duty.

"Mr Williams," proceeds the examiner, "gave you some letters for your
late mistress.  What have you done with them?"

"I took them upstairs to Miss Gwen's room."

"Are they there still?"

"Yes; on the dressing table, where she always had the letters left for
her."

"Be good enough to bring them down here.  Bring all."

Another pause in the proceedings while Gibbons is off after the now
posthumous correspondence of the deceased lady, during which whisperings
are interchanged between the Coroner and jurymen, asking questions of
one another.  They relate to a circumstance seeming strange; that
nothing has been said about these letters before--at least to those
engaged in the investigation.

The explanation, however, is given--a reason evident and easily
understood.  They have seen the state of mind in which the two ladies of
the establishment are--Miss Linton almost beside herself, Eleanor Lees
not far from the same.  In the excitement of occurrences neither has
given thought to letters, even having forgotten the one which so
occupied their attention on that day when Gwen was missed from her seat
at the breakfast table.  It might not have been seen by them then, but
for Gibbons not being in the way to take it upstairs as usual.  These
facts, or rather deductions, are informal, and discussed while the maid
is absent on her errand.

She is gone but for a few seconds, returning, waiter in hand, with a
pile of letters upon it, which she presents in the orthodox fashion.
Counted there are more than a dozen of them, the deceased lady having
largely corresponded.  A general favourite--to say nothing of her youth,
beauty, and riches--she had friends far and near; and, as the butler had
stated, letters coming by "almost every post"--that but once a day,
however, Llangorren lying far from a postal town, and having but one
daily delivery.  Those upon the tray are from ladies, as can be told by
the delicate angular chirography--all except two, that show a rounder
and bolder hand.  In the presence of her to whom they were addressed--
now speechless and unprotesting--no breach of confidence to open them.
One after another their envelopes are torn off, and they are submitted
to the jury--those of the lady correspondents first.  Not to be
deliberately read, but only glanced at, to see if they contain aught
relating to the matter in hand.  Still, it takes time; and would more
were they all of the same pattern--double sheets, with the scrip
crossed, and full to the four corners.

Fortunately, but a few of them are thus prolix and puzzling; the greater
number being notes about the late ball, birthday congratulations,
invitations to "at homes," dinner-parties, and such like.

Recognising their character, and that they have no relation to the
subject of inquiry, the jurymen pass them through their fingers speedily
as possible, and then turn with greater expectancy to the two in
masculine handwriting.  These the Coroner has meanwhile opened, and read
to himself, finding one signed "George Shenstone," the other "Vivian
Ryecroft."

Nobody present is surprised to hear that one of the letters is
Ryecroft's.  They have been expecting it so.  But not that the other is
from the son of Sir George Shenstone.  A word, however, from the young
man himself explains how it came there, leaving the epistle to tell its
own tale.  For as both undoubtedly bear upon the matter of inquiry, the
Coroner has directed both to be read aloud.

Whether by chance or otherwise, that of Shenstone is taken first.  It is
headed--

"Ormeston Hall, 4 a.m., Apres le bal."

The date, thus oddly indicated, seems to tell of the writer being in
better spirits than might have been expected just at that time; possibly
from a still lingering belief that all is not yet hopeless with him.
Something of the same runs through the tone of his letter, if not its
contents, which are--

"Dear Gwen,--I've got home, but can't turn in without writing you a
word, to say that, however sad I feel at what you've told me--and sad I
am, God knows--if you think I shouldn't come near you any more--and from
what I noticed last night, perhaps I ought not--only say so, and I will
not.  Your slightest word will be a command to one who, though no longer
hoping to have your hand, will still hope and pray for your happiness.
That one is,--

"Yours devotedly, if despairingly,--

"George Shenstone.

"P.S.--Do not take the trouble of writing an answer.  I would rather get
it from your lips; and that you may have the opportunity of so giving
it, I will call at the Court in the afternoon.  Then you can say whether
it is to be my last visit there.--G.S."

The writer, present and listening, bravely bears himself.  It is a
terrible infliction, nevertheless, having his love secret thus revealed,
his heart, as it were, laid open before all the world.  But he is too
sad to feel it now; and makes no remark, save a word or two explanatory,
in answer to questions from the Coroner.

Nor are any comments made upon the letter itself.  All are too anxious
as to the contents of that other, bearing the signature of the man who
is to most of them a stranger.

It carries the address of the hotel in which he has been all summer
sojourning, and its date is only an hour or two later than that of
Shenstone's.  No doubt, at the self-same moment the two men were
pondering upon the words they intended writing to Gwendoline Wynn--she
who now can never read them.

Very different in spirit are their epistles, unlike as the men
themselves.  But, so too, are the circumstances that dictated them, that
of Ryecroft reads thus:--

"Gwendoline,--While you are reading this I shall be on my way to London,
where I shall stay to receive your answer--if you think it worth while
to give one.  After parting as we've done, possibly you will not.  When
you so scornfully cast away that little love-token it told me a tale--I
may say a bitter one--that you never really regarded the gift, nor cared
for the giver.  Is that true, Gwendoline?  If not, and I am wronging
you, may God forgive me.  And I would crave your forgiveness; entreat
you to let me replace the ring upon your finger.  But if true--and you
know best--then you can take it up--supposing it is still upon the floor
where you flung it--fling it into the river, and forget him who gave it.

"Vivian Ryecroft."

To this half-doubting, half-defiant epistle there is also a
postscript:--

"I shall be at the Langham Hotel, London, till to-morrow noon; where
your answer, if any, will reach me.  Should none come, I shall conclude
that all is ended between us, and henceforth you will neither need, nor
desire, to know my address.

"Y.R."

The contents of the letter make a vivid impression on all present.  Its
tone of earnestness, almost anger, could not be assumed or pretended.
Beyond doubt, it was written under the circumstances stated; and, taken
in conjunction with the writer's statement of other events, given in
such a clear, straightforward manner, there is again complete revulsion
of feeling in his favour, and once more a full belief in his innocence.
Which questioning him by cross-examination fails to shake, instead
strengthens; and, when, at length, having given explanation of
everything, he is permitted to take his place among the spectators and
mourners, it is with little fear of being dragged away from Llangorren
Court in the character of a criminal.

Volume Two, Chapter XXVI.

FOUND DROWNED.

As a pack of hounds thrown off the scent, but a moment before hot, now
cold, are the Coroner and his jury.

But only in one sense like the dogs these human searchers.  There is
nothing of the sleuth in their search, and they are but too glad to find
the game they have been pursuing and lost is a noble stag, instead of a
treacherous wicked wolf.

Not a doubt remains in their minds of the innocence of Captain
Ryecroft--not the shadow of one.  If there were, it is soon to be
dissipated.  For while they are deliberating on what had best next be
done, a noise outside, a buzz of voices, excited exclamations, at length
culminating in a cheer, tell of some one fresh arrived and received
triumphantly.

They are not left long to conjecture who the new arrival is.  One of the
policemen stationed at the door stepping aside tells who--the man after
Captain Ryecroft himself most wanted.  No need saying it is Jack
Wingate.

But a word about how the waterman has come thither, arriving at such a
time, and why not sooner.  It is all in a nutshell.  But the hour before
he returned from the duck-shooting expedition on the shores of the
Severn sea, with his boat brought back by road--on a donkey cart.  On
arrival at his home, and hearing of the great event at Llangorren, he
had launched his skiff, leaped into it, and pulled himself down to the
Court as if rowing in a regatta.

In the _patois_ of the American prairies he is now "arrove," and, still
panting for breath, is brought before the Coroner's Court, and submitted
to examination.  His testimony confirms that of his old fare--in every
particular about which he can testify.  All the more credible is it from
his own character.  The young waterman is well known as a man of
veracity--incapable of bearing false witness.

When he tells them that after the Captain had joined him, and was still
with him in the boat, he not only saw a lady in the little house
overhead, but recognised her as the young mistress of Llangorren--when
he positively swears to the fact--no one any more thinks that she whose
body lies dead was drowned or otherwise injured by the man standing
bowed and broken over it.  Least of all the other, who alike suffers and
sorrows.  For soon as Wingate has finished giving evidence, George
Shenstone steps forward, and holding out his hand to his late rival,
says, in the hearing of all--

"Forgive me, sir, for having wronged you by suspicion!  I now make
reparation for it in the only way I can--by declaring that I believe you
as innocent as myself."

The generous behaviour of the baronet's son strikes home to every heart,
and his example is imitated by others.  Hands from every side are
stretched towards that of the stranger, giving it a grasp which tells of
their owners being also convinced of his innocence.

But the inquest is not yet ended--not for hours.  Over the dead body of
one in social rank as she, no mere perfunctory investigation would
satisfy the public demand, nor would any Coroner dare to withdraw till
everything has been thoroughly sifted, and to the bottom.

In view of the new facts brought out by Captain Ryecroft and his
boatman--above all that cry heard by them--suspicions of foul play are
rife as ever, though no longer pointed at him.

As everything in the shape of verbal testimony worth taking has been
taken, the Coroner calls upon his jury to go with him to the place where
the body was taken out of the water.  Leaving it in charge of two
policemen, they sally forth from the house two and two, he preceding,
the crowd pressing close.

First they visit the little dock, in which they see two boats--the
_Gwendoline_ and _Mary_--lying just as they were on that night when
Captain Ryecroft stepped across the one to take his seat in the other.
He is with the Coroner--so is Wingate--and both questioned give minute
account of that embarkation, again in brief _resume_ going over the
circumstances that preceded and followed it.

The next move is to the summer-house, to which the distance from the
dock is noted, one of the jurymen stepping it--the object to discover
how time will correspond to the incidents as detailed.  Not that there
is any doubt about the truth of Captain Ryecroft's statements, nor those
of the boatman; for both are fully believed.  The measuring is only to
assist in making calculation how long time may have intervened between
the lovers' quarrel and the death-like cry, without thought of their
having any connection--much less that the one was either cause or
consequence of the other.

Again there is consultation at the summer-house, with questions asked,
some of which are answered by George Shenstone, who shows the spot where
he picked up the ring.  And outside, standing on the cliff's brink,
Ryecroft and the waterman point to the place, near as they can fix it,
where their boat was when the sad sound reached their ears, again
recounting what they did after.

Remaining a while longer on the cliff, the Coroner and jury, with craned
necks, look over its edge.  Directly below is the little embayment in
which the body was found.  It is angular, somewhat horse-shoe shaped;
the water within stagnant, which accounts for the corpse not having been
swept away.  There is not much current in the backwash at any part;
enough to have carried it off had the drowning been done elsewhere.  But
beyond doubt it has been there.  Such is the conclusion arrived at by
the Coroner's jury, firmly established in their minds, at sight of
something hitherto unnoticed by them.  For though not in a body,
individually each had already inspected the place, negligently.  But now
in official form, with wits on the alert, one looking over detects
certain abrasions on the face of the cliff--scratches on the red
sandstone--distinguishable by the fresher tint of the rock--
unquestionably made by something that had fallen from above, and what
but the body of Gwendoline Wynn?  They see, moreover, some branches of a
juniper bush near the cliff's base, broken, but still clinging.  Through
that the falling form must have descended!

There is no further doubting the fact.  There went she over; the only
questions undetermined being, whether with her own will, by
misadventure, or man's violence.  In other words, was it suicide,
accident, or murder?

To the last many circumstances point, and especially the fact of the
body remaining where it went into the water.  A woman being drowned
accidentally, or drowning herself, in the death struggle would have
worked away some distance from the spot she had fallen, or thrown
herself in.  Still the same would occur if thrown in by another; only
that this other might by some means have extinguished life beforehand.

This last thought, or surmise, carries Coroner and jury back to the
house, and to a more particular examination of the body.  In which they
are assisted by medical men--surgeons and physicians--several of both
being present, unofficially; among them the one who administers to the
ailings of Miss Linton.  There is none of them who has attended
Gwendoline Wynn, who never knew ailment of any kind.

Their _post-mortem_ examining does not extend to dissection.  There is
no need.  Without it there are tests which tell the cause of death--that
of drowning.

Beyond this they can throw no light on the affair, which remains
mysterious as ever.

Flung back on reasoning of the analytical kind, the Coroner and his jury
can come to no other conclusion than that the first plunge into the
water, in whatever way made, was almost instantly fatal; and if a
struggle followed it ended by the body returning to, and sinking in the
same place where it first went down.

Among the people outside pass many surmises, guesses, and conjectures.
Suspicions also, but no more pointing to Captain Ryecroft.

They take another, and more natural, direction.  Still nothing has
transpired to inculpate any one, or, in the finding of a Coroner's jury,
connect man or woman with it.

This is at length pronounced in the usual formula, with its customary
tag:--"Found Drowned.  But how, etc, etc."

With such ambiguous rendering the once beautiful body of Gwendoline Wynn
is consigned to a coffin, and in due time deposited in the family vault,
under the chancel of Llangorren Church.

Volume Two, Chapter XXVII.

A MAN WHO THINKS IT MURDER.

Had Gwendoline Wynn been a poor cottage girl, instead of a rich young
lady--owner of estates--the world would soon have ceased to think of
her.  As it is most people have settled down to the belief that she has
simply been the victim of a misadventure, her death due to accident.

Only a few have other thoughts, but none that she has committed suicide.
The theory of _felo de se_ is not entertained, because not
entertainable.  For, in addition to the testimony taken at the Coroner's
inquest, other facts came out in examination by the magistrates, showing
there was no adequate reason why she should put an end to her life.  A
lover's quarrel of a night's, still less an hour's duration, could not
so result.  And that there was nothing beyond this Miss Linton is able
to say assuredly.  Still more Eleanor Lees, who, by confidences
exchanged, and mutually imparted, was perfectly _au fait_ to the
feelings of her relative and friend--knew her hopes, and her fears, and
that among the last there was none to justify the deed of despair.
Doubts now and then, for when and where is love without them; but with
Gwen Wynn slight, evanescent as the clouds in a summer sky.  She was
satisfied that Vivian Ryecroft loved her, as that she herself lived.
How could it be otherwise? and her behaviour on the night of the ball
was only a transient spite which would have passed off soon as the
excitement was over, and calm reflection returned.  Altogether
impossible she could have given way to it so far as in wilful rage to
take the last leap into eternity.  More likely standing on the cliff's
edge, anxiously straining her eyes after the boat which was bearing him
away in anger, her foot slipped upon the rock, and she fell over into
the flood.

So argues Eleanor Lees, and such is the almost universal belief at the
close of the inquest, and for some time after.  And if not
self-destruction, no more could it be murder with a view to robbery.

The valuable effects left untouched upon her person forbade supposition
of that.  If murder, the motive must have been other than the possession
of a few hundred pounds' worth of jewellery.  So reasons the world at
large, naturally enough.

For all, there are a few who still cling to a suspicion of there having
been foul play; but not now with any reference to Captain Ryecroft.  Nor
are they the same who had suspected him.  Those yet doubting the
accidental death are the intimate friends of the Wynn family, who knew
of its affairs relating to the property with the conditions on which the
Llangorren estates were held.  Up to this time only a limited number of
individuals has been aware of their descent to Lewin Murdock.  And when
at length this fact comes out, and still more emphatically by the
gentleman himself taking possession of them, the thoughts of the people
revert to the mystery of Miss Wynn's death, so unsatisfactory cleared up
at the Coroner's inquest.

Still the suspicions thus newly aroused, and pointing in another
quarter, are confined to those acquainted with the character of the new
man suspected.  Nor are they many.  Beyond the obscure corner of Bugg's
Ferry there are few who have ever heard of, still fewer ever seen him.
Outside the pale of "society," with most part of his life passed abroad,
he is a stranger, not only to the gentry of the neighbourhood, but most
of the common people as well.  Jack Wingate chanced to have heard of him
by reason of his proximity to Bugg's Ferry, and his own necessity for
oft going there.  But possibly as much on the account of the intimate
relations existing between the owner of Glyngog House and Coracle Dick.

Others less interested know little of either individual, and when it is
told that a Mr Lewin Murdock has succeeded to the estates of
Llangorren--at the same time it becoming known that he is the cousin of
her whom death has deprived of them--to the general public the
succession seems natural enough; since it has been long understood that
the lady had no nearer relative.

Therefore, only the few intimately familiar with the facts relating to
the reversion of the property held fast to the suspicion thus excited.
But as no word came out, either at the inquest or elsewhere, and nothing
has since arisen to justify it, they also begin to share the universal
belief, that for the death of Gwendoline Wynn nobody is to blame.

Even George Shenstone, sorely grieving, accepts it thus.  Of
unsuspicious nature--incapable of believing in a crime so terrible--a
deed so dark, as that would infer--he cannot suppose that the gentleman
now his nearest neighbour--for the lands of Llangorren adjoin those of
his father--has come into possession of them by such foul means as
murder.

His father may think differently, he knowing more of Lewin Murdock.  Not
much of his late life, but his earlier, with its surroundings and
antecedents.  Still Sir George is silent, whatever his thoughts.  It is
not a subject to be lightly spoken of, or rashly commented upon.

There is one who, more than any other, reflects upon the sad fate of her
whom he had so fondly loved, and differing from the rest as to how she
came to her death--this one is Captain Ryecroft.  He, too, might have
yielded to the popular impression of its having been accidental, but for
certain circumstances that have come to his knowledge, and which he has
yet kept to himself.  He had not forgotten what was, at an early period,
communicated to him by the waterman Wingate, about the odd-looking old
house up the glen; nor yet the uneasy manner of Gwendoline Wynn, when
once in conversation with her he referred to the place and its occupier.
This, with Jack's original story, and other details added, besides
incidents that have since transpired, are recalled to him vividly on
hearing that the owner of Glyngog has also become owner of Llangorren.

It is some time before this news reaches him.  For just after the
inquest an important matter had arisen affecting some property of his
own, which required his presence in Dublin--there for days detaining
him.  Having settled it, he has returned to the same town and hotel
where he had been the summer sojourning.  Nor came he back on errand
aimless, but with a purpose.  Ill-satisfied with the finding of the
Coroner's jury, he is determined to investigate the affair in his own
way.

Accident he does not believe in--least of all, that the lady having made
a false step, had fallen over the cliff.  When he last saw her she was
inside the pavilion, leaning over the baluster rail, breast high;
protected by it.  If gazing after him and his boat, the position gave
her as good a view as she could have.  Why should she have gone outside?
And the cry heard so soon after?  It was not like that of one falling,
and so far.  In descent it would have been repeated, which it was not!

Of suicide he has never entertained a thought--above all, for the reason
suggested--jealousy of himself.  How could he, while so keenly suffering
it for her!  No, it could not be that; nor suicide from any cause.

The more he ponders upon it, the surer grows he that Gwendoline Wynn has
been the victim of a villainous murder.  And it is for this reason he
has returned to the Wye, first to satisfy himself of the fact; then, if
possible, to find the perpetrator, and bring him to justice.

As no robber has done the drowning, conjecture is narrowed to a point;
his suspicions finally becoming fixed on Lewin Murdock.

He may be mistaken, but will not surrender them until he find evidence
of their being erroneous, or proof that they are correct.  And to obtain
it he will devote, if need be, all the rest of his days, with the
remainder of his fortune.  For what are either now to him?  In life he
has had but one love, real, and reaching the height of a passion.  She
who inspired it is now sleeping her last sleep--lying cold in her tomb--
his love and memory of her alone remaining warm.

His grief has been great, but its first wild throes have passed and he
can reflect calmly--more carefully consider, what he should do.  From
the first some thoughts about Murdock were in his mind; still only
vague.  Now, on returning to Herefordshire, and hearing what has
happened meanwhile--for during his absence there has been a removal from
Glyngog to Llangorren--the occurrence, so suggestive, restores his
former train of reflection, placing things in a clearer light.

As the hunter, hitherto pursuing upon a cold trail, is excited by
finding the slot fresher, so he.  And so will he follow it to the end--
the last trace or sign.  For no game, however grand--elephant, lion, or
tiger--could attract like that he believes himself to be after--a human
tiger--a murderer.

END OF VOLUME TWO.

Volume Three, Chapter I.

ONCE MORE UPON THE RIVER.

Nowhere in England, perhaps nowhere in Europe, is the autumnal foliage
more charmingly tinted than on the banks of the Wye, where it runs
through the shire of Hereford.  There Vaga threads her way amid woods
that appear painted, and in colours almost as vivid as those of the
famed American forests.  The beech, instead of, as elsewhere, dying off
dull bistre, takes a tint of bright amber; the chestnut turns
translucent lemon; the oak leaves show rose-colours along their edges,
and the wych-hazel coral red by its umbels of thickly clustering fruit.
Here and there along the high-pitched hill sides flecks of crimson
proclaim the wild cherry, spots of hoar white bespeak the climbing
clematis, scarlet the holly with its wax-like berries, and maroon red
the hawthorn; while interspersed and contrasting are dashes of green in
all its varied shades, where yews, junipers, gorse, ivy, and other
indigenous evergreens display their living verdure throughout all the
year, daring winter's frosts, and defying its snows.

It is autumn now, and the woods of the Wye have donned its dress; no
livery of faded green, nor sombre russet, but a robe of gaudiest sheen,
its hues scarlet, crimson, green, and golden.  Brown October elsewhere,
is brilliant here; and though leaves have fallen, and are falling, the
sight suggests no thought of decay, nor brings sadness to the heart of
the beholder.  Instead, the gaudy tapestry hanging from the trees, and
the gay-coloured carpet spread underneath, but gladden it.  Still
further is it rejoiced by sounds heard.  For the woods of Wyeside are
not voiceless, even in winter.  Within them the birds ever sing, and
although their autumn concert may not equal that of spring,--lacking its
leading tenor, the nightingale--still is it alike vociferous and alike
splendidly attuned.  Bold as ever is the flageolet note of the
blackbird; not less loud and sweet the carol of his shyer cousin the
thrush; as erst soft and tender the cooing of the cushat; and with mirth
unabated the cackle of the green woodpecker, as with long tongue,
prehensile as human hand, it penetrates the ant-hive in search of its
insect prey.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

October it is; and where the Wye's silver stream, like a grand
glistening snake, meanders amid these woods of golden hue and glorious
song, a small row-boat is seen dropping downward.  There are two men in
it; one rowing, the other seated in the stern sheets, steering.  The
same individuals have been observed before in like relative position and
similarly occupied.  For he at the oars is Jack Wingate, the steerer
Captain Ryecroft.

Little thought the young waterman, when that "big gift"--the ten pound
bank-note--was thrust into his palm, he would so soon again have the
generous donor for a fare.

He has him now, without knowing why, or inquiring.  Too glad once more
to sit on his boat's thwarts, _vis-a-vis_ with the Captain, it would ill
become him to be inquisitive.  Besides, there is a feeling of solemnity
in their thus again being together, with sadness pervading the thoughts
of both, and holding speech in restraint.  All he knows is that his old
fare has hired him for a row down the river, but bent on no fishing
business.  For it is twilight.  His excursion has a different object;
but what the boatman cannot tell.  No inference could be drawn from the
laconic order he received at embarking.

"Row me down the river, Jack!" distance and all else left undefined.

And down Jack is rowing him in regular measured stroke, no words passing
between them.  Both are silent, as though listening to the plash of the
oar-blades, or the roundelay of late singing birds on the river's bank.

Yet neither of these sounds has place in their thoughts; instead, only
the memory of one different and less pleasant.  For they are thinking of
cries--shrieks heard by them not so long ago, and still too fresh in
their memory.

Ryecroft is the first to break silence, saying,--

"This must be about the place where we heard it."

Although not a word has been said of what the "it" is, and the remark
seems made in soliloquy rather than as an interrogation, Wingate well
knows what is meant, as shown by his rejoinder:--

"It's the very spot, Captain."

"Ah! you know it?"

"I do--am sure.  You see that big poplar standing on the bank there?"

"Yes; well?"

"We wor just abreast o' it when ye bid me hold way.  In course we must a
heard the screech just then."

"Hold way now!  Pull back a length or two.  Steady her.  Keep opposite
the tree!"

The boatman obeys; first pulling the back stroke, then staying his craft
against the current.

Once more relapsing into silence, Ryecroft sends his gaze down stream,
as though noting the distance to Llangorren Court, whose chimneys are
visible in the moonlight now on.  Then, as if satisfied with some mental
observation, he directs the other to row off.  But as the kiosk-like
structure comes within sight, he orders another pause, while making a
minute survey of the summer-house, and the stretch of water between.
Part of this is the main channel of the river, the other portion being
the narrow way behind the eyot; on approaching which the pavilion is
again lost to view, hidden by a tope of tall trees.  But once within the
bye-way it can be again sighted; and when near the entrance to this the
waterman gets the word to pull into it.

He is somewhat surprised at receiving this direction.  It is the way to
Llangorren Court, by the boat-stair, and he knows the people now living
there are not friends of his fare--not even acquaintances, so far as he
has heard.  Surely the Captain is not going to call on Mr Lewin
Murdock--in amicable intercourse?

So queries Jack Wingate, but only of himself, and without receiving
answer.  One way or other he will soon get it; and thus consoling
himself, he rows on into the narrower channel.

Not much farther before getting convinced that the Captain has no
intention of making a call at the Court, nor is the _Mary_ to enter that
little dock, where more than once she has lain moored beside the
_Gwendoline_.  When opposite the summer-house he is once more commanded
to bring to, with the intimation added:

"I'm not going any farther, Jack."

Jack ceases stroke, and again holds the skiff so as to hinder it from
drifting.

Ryecroft sits with eyes turned towards the cliff, taking in its facade
from base to summit, as though engaged in a geological study, or
trigonometrical calculation.

The waterman, for a while wondering what it is all about, soon begins to
have a glimmer of comprehension.  It is clearer when he is directed to
scull the boat up into the little cove where the body was found.  Soon
as he has her steadied inside it, close up against the cliff's base,
Ryecroft draws out a small lamp, and lights it.  He then rises to his
feet, and leaning forward, lays hold of a projecting point of rock.  On
that resting his hand, he continues for some time regarding the
scratches on its surface, supposed to have been made by the feet of the
drowned lady in her downward descent.  Where he stands they are close to
his eyes, and he can trace them from commencement to termination.  And
so doing, a shadow of doubt is seen to steal over his face, as though he
doubted the finding of the Coroner's jury, and the belief of every one
that Gwendoline Wynn had there fallen over.

Bending lower, and examining the broken branches of the juniper, he
doubts no more, but is sure--convinced of the contrary!

Jack Wingate sees him start back with a strange surprised look, at the
same time exclaiming,--

"I thought as much!  No accident!--no suicide--murdered!"

Still wondering, the waterman asks no questions.  Whatever it may mean,
he expects to be told in time, and is therefore patient.

His patience is not tried by having to stay much longer there.  Only a
few moments more, during which Ryecroft bends over the boat's side,
takes the juniper twigs in his hand, one after the other, raises them up
as they were before being broken, then lets them gently down again!

To his companion he says nothing to explain this apparently eccentric
manipulation, leaving Jack to guesses.  Only when it is over, and he is
apparently satisfied, or with observation exhausted, giving the order,--

"Way, Wingate!  Row back--up the river!"

With alacrity the waterman obeys; but too glad to get out of that
shadowy passage.  For a weird feeling is upon him, as he remembers how
there the screech owls mournfully cried, as if to make him sadder when
thinking of his own lost love.

Moving out into the main channel and on up stream, Ryecroft is once more
silent and musing.  But on reaching the place from which the pavilion
can be again sighted, he turns round on the thwart and looks back.  It
startles him to see a form under the shadow of its roof--a woman!--how
different from that he last saw there!  The ex-cocotte of Paris--faded
flower of the Jardin Mabille--has replaced the fresh beautiful blossom
of Wyeside--blighted in its bloom!

Volume Three, Chapter II.

THE CRUSHED JUNIPER.

Notwithstanding the caution with which Captain Ryecroft made his
reconnaissance, it was nevertheless observed.  And from beginning to
end.  Before his boat drew near the end of the eyot, above the place
where for the second time it had stopped, it came under the eye of a man
who chanced to be standing on the cliff by the side of the summer-house.

That he was there by accident, or at all events not looking out for a
boat could be told by his behaviour on first sighting this; neither by
change of attitude nor glance of eye evincing any interest in it.  His
reflection is--

"Some fellows after salmon, I suppose.  Have been up to that famous
catching place by the Ferry, and are on the way home downward--to Rock
Weir, no doubt?  Ha!"

The ejaculation is drawn from him by seeing the boat come to a stop, and
remain stationary in the middle of the stream.

"What's that for?" he asks himself, now more carefully examining the
craft.

It is still full four hundred yards from him, but the moonlight being in
his favour he makes it out to be a pair-oared skiff with two men in it.

"They don't seem to be dropping a net," he observes, "nor engaged about
anything.  That's odd!"

Before they came to a stop he heard a murmur of voices, as of speech, a
few words, exchanged between them, but too distant for him to
distinguish what they had said.  Now they are silent, sitting without
stir; only a slight movement in the arms of the oarsman to keep the boat
in its place.

All this seems strange to him observing: not less when a flood of
moonlight brighter than usual falls over the boat, and he can tell by
the attitude of the man in the stern, with face turned upward, that he
is regarding the structure on the cliff.

He is not himself standing beside it now.  Soon as becoming interested
by the behaviour of the men in the boat, from its seeming eccentricity,
he had glided back behind a bush, and there now crouches, an instinct
prompting him to conceal himself.

Soon after he sees the boat moving on, and then for a few seconds it is
out of sight, again coming under his view near the upper end of the
islet, evidently setting in for the old channel.  And while he watches,
it enters!

As this is a sort of private way, the eyot itself being an adjunct of
the ornamental grounds of Llangorren, he wonders whose boat it can be,
and what its business there.  By the backwash it must be making for the
dock and stair; the men in it, or one of them, for the Court.

While still surprisedly conjecturing, his ears admonish him that the
oars are at rest, and another stoppage has taken place.  He cannot see
the skiff now, as the high bank hinders.  Besides, the narrow passage is
arcaded over by trees still in thick foliage; and, though the moon is
shining brightly above, scarce a ray reaches the surface of the water.
But an occasional creak of an oar in its rowlock, and some words spoken
in low tone--so low he cannot make them out--tell him that the stoppage
is directly opposite the spot where he is crouching--as predatory animal
in wait for its prey.

What was at first mere curiosity, and then matter of but slight
surprise, is now an object of keen solicitude.  For of all places in the
world, to him there is none invested with greater interest than that
where the boat has been brought to.  Why has it stopped there?  Why is
it staying?  For he can tell it is by the silence continuing.  Above
all, who are the men in it?

He asks these questions of himself, but does not stay to reason out the
answers.  He will best get them by his eyes; and to obtain sight of the
skiff and its occupants, he glides a little way along the cliff, looking
out for a convenient spot.  Finding one, he drops first to his knees,
then upon all fours, and crawls out to its edge.  Craning his head over,
but cautiously, and with a care it shall be under cover of some fern
leaves, he has a view of the water below, with the boat on it--only
indistinct on account of the obscurity.  He can make out the figures of
the two men, though not their faces, nor anything by which he may
identify them--if already known.  But he sees that which helps to a
conjecture, at the same sharpening his apprehensions.  The boat once
more in motion, not moving off, but up into the little cove, where a
dead body late lay!  Then, as one of the men strikes a match and sets
light to a lamp, lighting up his own face with that of the other
opposite, he on the bank above at length recognises both.

But it is no longer a surprise to him.  The presence of the skiff there,
the movements of the men in it--like his own, evidently under restraint
and stealthy--have prepared him for seeing whom he now sees--Captain
Ryecroft and the waterman Wingate.

Still he cannot think of what they are after, though he has his
suspicions; the place, with something only known to himself, suggesting
them--conjecture at first soon becoming certainty, as he sees the
ex-officer of Hussars rise to his feet, hold his lamp close to the
cliff's face, and inspect the abrasions on the rock!

He is not more certain, but only more apprehensive, when the crushed
juniper twigs are taken in hand, examined, and let go again.  For he has
by this divined the object of it all.

If any doubt lingered, it is set at rest by the exclamatory words
following, which, though but muttered, reach him on the cliff above,
heard clear enough--

"No accident--no suicide--murdered!"  They carry tremor to his heart,
making him feel as a fox that hears the tongue of hound on its track.
Still distant, but for all causing it fear, and driving it to think of
subterfuge.

And of this thinks he, as he lies with his face among the ferns; ponders
upon it till the boat has passed back up the dark passage out into the
river, and he hears the last light dipping of its oars in the far
distance.

He even forgets a woman, for whom he was waiting at the summer-house,
and who there without finding him has flitted off again.

At length rising to his feet, and going a little way, he too gets into a
boat--one he finds, with oars aboard, down in the dock.  It is not the
_Gwendoline_--she is gone.

Seating himself on the mid thwart, he takes up the oars, and pulls
towards the place lately occupied by the skiff of the waterman.  When
inside the cove he lights a match, and holds it close to the face of the
rock where Ryecroft held his lamp.  It burns out and he draws a second
across the sand paper; this to show him the broken branches of the
juniper, which he also takes in hand and examines.  Soon also dropping
them, with a look of surprise, followed by the exclamatory phrases--

"Prodigiously strange!  I see his drift now.  Cunning fellow!  On the
track he has discovered the trick, and 'twill need another trick to
throw him off it.  This bush must be uprooted--destroyed."

He is in the act of grasping the juniper to pluck it out by the roots.
A dwarf thing, this could be easily done.  But a thought stays him--
another precautionary forecast, as evinced by his words--

"That won't do."

After repeating them, he drops back on the boat's thwart, and sits for a
while considering, with eyes turned toward the cliff, ranging it up and
down.

"Ah!" he exclaims at length, "the very thing; as if the devil himself
had fixed it for me!  That _will_ do; smash the bush to atoms--blot out
everything, as if an earthquake had gone over Llangorren."

While thus oddly soliloquising, his eyes are still turned upward,
apparently regarding a ledge which, almost loose as a boulder, projects
from the bank above.  It is directly over the juniper, and if detached
from its bed, as it easily might be, would go crashing down, carrying
the bush with it.

And that same night it does go down.  When the morning sun lights up the
cliff, there is seen a breakage upon its face just underneath the
summer-house.  Of course, a landslip, caused by the late rains acting on
the decomposed sandstone.  But the juniper bush is no longer there; it
is gone, root and branch!

Volume Three, Chapter III.

REASONING BY ANALYSIS.

Captain Ryecroft's start at seeing: a woman within the pavilion was less
from surprise than an emotion due to memory.  When he last saw his
betrothed alive it was in that same place, and almost in a similar
attitude--leaning over the baluster rail.  Besides, many other souvenirs
cling around the spot, which the sight vividly recalls; and so painfully
that he at once turns his eyes away from it, nor again looks back.  He
has an idea who the woman is, though personally knowing her not, nor
ever having seen her.

The incident agitates him a little; but he is soon calm again, and for
some time after sits silent; in no dreamy reverie, but actively
cogitating, though not of it or her.  His thoughts are occupied with a
discovery he has made in his exploration just ended.  An important one,
bearing on the suspicion he had conceived, almost proving it correct.
Of all the facts that came before the coroner and his jury, none more
impressed them, nor perhaps so much influenced their finding, as the
tale-telling traces upon the face of the cliff.  Nor did they arrive at
their conclusion with any undue haste or light deliberation.  Before
deciding they had taken boat, and from below more minutely inspected
them.  But with their first impression unaltered--or only strengthened--
that the abrasions on the soft sandstone rock were made by a falling
body, and the bush borne down by the same.  And what but the body of
Gwendoline Wynn?  Living or dead, springing off, or pitched over, they
could not determine.  Hence the ambiguity of their verdict.

Very different the result reached by Captain Ryecroft after viewing the
same.  In his Indian campaigns the ex-cavalry officer, belonging to the
"Light," had his share of scouting experience.  It enables him to read
"sign" with the skill of trapper or prairie hunter; and on the moment
his lamp threw its light against the cliff's face, he knew the scratches
were not caused by anything that came _down_, since they had been _made
from below_!  And by some blunt instrument, as the blade of a boat oar.
Then the branches of the juniper.  Soon as getting his eyes close to
them, he saw they had been broken _inward_, their drooping tops turned
_toward_ the cliff, not _from_ it!  A falling body would have bent them
in an opposite direction, and the fracture been from the upper and inner
side!  Everything indicated their having been crushed from below; not by
the same boat's oar, but likely enough by the hands that held it!

It was on reaching this conclusion that Captain Ryecroft gave
involuntary utterance to the exclamatory words heard by him lying flat
among the ferns above, the last one sending a thrill of fear through his
heart.

And upon it the ex-officer of Hussars is still reflecting as he returns
up stream.

Since the command given to Wingate to row him back, he has not spoken,
not even to make remark about that suggestive thing seen in the
summer-house above--though the other has observed it also.  Facing that
way, the waterman has his eyes on it for a longer time.  But the bearing
of the Captain admonishes him that he is not to speak till spoken to;
and he silently tugs at his oars, leaving the other to his reflections.

These are: that Gwendoline Wynn has been surely assassinated: though not
by being thrown over the cliff.  Possibly not drowned at all, but her
body dropped into the water where found--conveyed thither after life was
extinct!  The scoring of the rock and the snapping of the twigs, all
that done to mislead; as it had misled everybody but himself.  To him it
has brought conviction that there has been a deed of blood--done by the
hand of another.  "No accident--no suicide--murdered!"

He is not questioning the fact, nor speculating upon the motive now.
The last has been already revolved in his mind, and is clear as
daylight.  To such a man as he has heard Lewin Murdock to be, an estate
worth 10,000 pounds a-year would tempt to crime, even the capital one,
which certainly he has committed.  Ryecroft only thinks of how he can
prove its committal--bring the deed of guilt home to the guilty one.  It
may be difficult, impossible; but he will do his best.

Embarked in the enterprise, he is considering what will be the best
course to pursue--pondering upon it.  He is not the man to act rashly at
any time, but in a matter of such moment caution is especially called
for.  He is already on the track of a criminal who has displayed no
ordinary cunning, as proved by that misguiding sign.  A false move made,
or word spoken in careless confidence, by exposing his purpose, may
defeat it.  For this reason he has hitherto kept his intention to
himself; not having given a hint of it to any one.

From Jack Wingate it cannot be longer withheld, nor does he wish to
withhold it.  Instead, he will take him into his confidence, knowing he
can do so with safety.  That the young waterman is no prating fellow he
has already had proof, while of his loyalty he never doubted.

First, to find out what Jack's own thoughts are about the whole thing.
For since their last being in a boat together, on that fatal night,
little speech has passed between them.  Only a few words on the day of
the inquest; when Captain Ryecroft himself was too excited to converse
calmly, and before the dark suspicion had taken substantial shape in his
mind.

Once more opposite the poplar he directs the skiff to be brought to.
Which done, he sits just as when that sound startled him on return from
the ball; apparently thinking of it, as in reality he is.

For a minute or so he is silent; and one might suppose he listened,
expecting to hear it again.  But no; he is only, as on the way down,
making note of the distance to the Llangorren grounds.  The summer-house
he cannot now see, but judges the spot where it stands by some tall
trees he knows to be beside it.

The waterman observing him, is not surprised when at length asked the
question,--"Don't you believe, Wingate, the cry came from above--I mean
from the top of the cliff?"

"I'm a'most sure it did.  I thought at the time it comed from higher
ground still--the house itself.  You remember my sayin' so, Captain; and
that I took it to be some o' the sarvint girls shoutin' up there?"

"I do remember--you did.  It was not, alas!  But their mistress."

"Yes; she for sartin, poor young lady!  We now know that."

"Think back, Jack!  Recall it to your mind; the tone, the length of time
it lasted--everything.  Can you?"

"I can, an' do.  I could all but fancy I hear it now!"

"Well; did it strike you as a cry that would come from one falling over
the cliff--by accident or otherwise?"

"It didn't; an' I don't yet believe it wor--accydent or no accydent."

"No!  What are your reasons for doubting it?"

"Why, if it had been a woman eyther fallin' over or flung, she'd a gied
tongue a second time--aye, a good many times--'fore getting silenced.
It must a been into the water; an' people don't drown at the first goin'
down.  She'd a riz to the surface once, if not twice; an' screeched
sure.  We couldn't a helped hearin' it.  Ye remember, Captain, 'twor
dead calm for a spell, just precedin' the thunderstorm.  When that cry
come ye might a heerd the leap o' a trout a quarter mile off.  But it
worn't repeated--not so much as a mutter."

"Quite true.  But what do you conclude from its not having been?"

"That she who gied the shriek wor in the grasp o' somebody when she did
it, an' wor silenced instant by bein' choked or smothered; same as they
say's done by them scoundrels called garotters."

"You said nothing of this at the inquest?"

"No, I didn't; for several reasons.  One, I wor so took by surprise,
just home, an' hearin' what had happened.  Besides, the crowner didn't
question me on my feelins--only about the facts o' the case.  I answered
all his questions, clear as I could remember, an' far's I then
understood things.  But not as I understand them now."

"Ah!  You have learnt something since?"

"Not a thing, Captain.  Only what I've been thinkin' o'--by rememberin'
a circumstance I'd forgot."

"What?"

"Well; whiles I wor sittin' in the skiff that night, waitin' for you to
come, I heerd a sound different from the hootin' o' them owls."

"Indeed!  What sort of sound?"

"The plashing o' oars.  There wor sartin another boat about there,
besides this one."

"In what direction did you hear them?"

"From above.  It must ha' been that way.  If't had been a boat gone up
from below, I'd ha' noticed the stroke again, across the strip o'
island.  But I didn't."

"The same if one had passed on down."

"Just so; an' for that reason I now believe it wor comin' down, an'
stopped; somewhere just outside the backwash."

An item of intelligence new to the Captain, as it is significant.  He
recalls the hour--between two and three o'clock in the morning.  What
boat could have been there but his own?  And if other, what its
business?

"You're quite sure there was a boat, Wingate?" he asks, after a pause.

"The oars o' one--that I'm quite sure o'.  An' where there's smoke fire
can't be far off.  Yes, Captain, there wor a boat about there.  I'm
willin' to swear to it."

"Have you any idea whose?"

"Well, no; only some conjecters.  First hearin' the oar, I wor under the
idea it might be Dick Dempsey, out salmon stealin'.  But at the second
plunge I could tell it wor no paddle, but a pair of regular oars.  They
gied but two or three strokes, an' then stopped suddintly; not as though
the boat had been rowed back, but brought up against the bank, an' there
layed."

"You don't think it was Dick and his coracle, then?"

"I'm sure it worn't the coracle, but ain't so sure about its not bein'
him.  'Stead, from what happened that night, an's been a' happenin' ever
since, I b'lieve he wor one o' the men in that boat."

"You think there were others?"

"I do--leastways suspect it."

"And who do you suspect besides?"

"For one, him as used live up there, but's now livin' in Llangorren."

They have long since parted from the place where they made stop opposite
the poplar, and are now abreast the Cuckoo's Glen, going on.  It is to
Glyngog House Wingate alludes, visible up the ravine, the moon gleaming
upon its piebald walls and lightless windows--for it is untenanted.

"You mean Mr Murdock?"

"The same, Captain.  Though he worn't at the ball, as I've heerd say--
and might a' know'd without tellin'--I've got an idea he beant far off
when 'twor breakin' up.  An' there wor another there, too, beside Dick
Dempsey."

"A third!  Who?"

"He as lives a bit further above."

"You mean--?"

"The French priest.  Them three ain't often far apart; an' if I beant
astray in my recknin', they were mighty close thegither that same night,
an' nigh Llangorren Court.  They're all in, or about, it now--the
precious tribang--an' I'd bet big they've got foot in there by the
foulest o' foul play.  Yes, Captain; sure as we be sittin' in this boat,
she as owned the place ha' been murdered--the men as done it bein' Lewin
Murdock, Dick Dempsey, and the Roman priest o' Rogues!"

Volume Three, Chapter IV.

A SUSPICIOUS CRAFT.

To the waterman's unreserved statement of facts and suspicions, Captain
Ryecroft makes no rejoinder.  The last are in exact consonance with his
own already conceived, the first alone new to him.

And on the first he now fixes his thoughts, directing them to that
particular one of a boat being in the neighbourhood of the Llangorren
grounds about the time he was leaving them.  For it, too, has a certain
correspondence with something on the same night observed by himself--a
circumstance he had forgotten, or ceased to think of; but now recalled
with vivid distinctness.  All the more as he listens to the conjectures
of Wingate--about three men having been in that boat, and whom he
supposed them to be.

The number is significant as corresponding with what occurred to
himself.  The time as well; since, but a few hours before, he also had
his attention drawn to a boat, under circumstances somewhat mysterious.
The place was different; for all not to contradict the supposition of
the waterman--rather confirming it.

On his way to the Court--his black dress kerseymere protected by
India-rubber overalls--Ryecroft, as known, had ridden to Wingate's
house, and was thence rowed to Llangorren.  His going to a ball by boat,
instead of carriage or hotel hackney, was not for the sake of
convenience, nor yet due to eccentricity.  The prospect of a private
interview with his betrothed at parting, as on former occasions expected
to be pleasant, was his ruling motive for this arrangement.  Besides,
his calls at the Court were usually made in the same way; his custom
being to ride as far as the Wingate cottage, leave his roadster there,
and thence take the skiff.  Between his town and the waterman's house
there is a choice of routes, the main country road keeping well away
from the river, and a narrower one which follows the trend of the stream
along its edge where practicable, but also here and there thrown off by
meadows subject to inundations, or steep spurs of the parallel ridges.
This, an ancient trackway now little used, was the route Captain
Ryecroft had been accustomed to take on his way to Wingate's cottage,
not from its being shorter or better, but for the scenery, which far
excelling that of the other, equals any upon the Wyeside.  In addition,
the very loneliness of the road had its charm for him; since only at
rare intervals is house seen by its side, and rarer still living
creature encountered upon it.  Even where it passes Rugg's Ferry, there
intersecting the ford road, the same solitude characterises it.  For
this quaint conglomeration of dwellings is on the opposite side of the
stream; all save the chapel, and the priest's house, standing some
distance back from the bank, and screened by a spinney of trees.

With the topography of this plan he is quite familiar; and now to-night
it is vividly recalled to his mind by what the waterman has told him.
For on that other night, so sadly remembered, as he was riding past
Rugg's, he saw the boat thus brought back to his recollection.  He had
got a little beyond the crossing of the Ford road, where it leads out
from the river--himself on the other going downwards--when his attention
was drawn to a dark object against the bank on the opposite side of the
stream.  The sky at the time moonless he might not have noticed it, but
for other dark objects seen in motion beside it--the thing itself being
stationary.  Despite the obscurity he could make them out to be men,
busied around a boat.  Something in their movements, which seemed made
in a stealthy manner--too cautious for honesty--prompted him to pull up,
and sit in his saddle observing them.  He had himself no need to take
precautions for concealment; the road at this point passing under old
oaks, whose umbrageous branches; arcading over, shadowed the causeway,
making it dark around as the interior of a cavern.

Nor was he called upon to stay long there--only a few seconds after
drawing bridle--just time enough for him to count the men, and see there
were three of them--when they stepped over the sides of the boat, pushed
her out from the bank, and rowed off down the river.

Even then he fancied there was something surreptitious in their
proceedings; for the oars, instead of rattling in their rowlocks made
scarce any noise, while their dip was barely audible, though so near.

Soon both boat and those on board were out of his sight, and the slight
sound made by them beyond his hearing.  Had the road kept along the
river's bank he would have followed, and further watched them; but just
below Rugg's it is carried off across a ridge, with steep pitch; and
while ascending this, he ceased to think of them.

He might not have thought of them at all, had they made their
embarkation at the ordinary landing-place, by the ford and ferry.  There
such a sight would have been nothing unusual, nor a circumstance to
excite curiosity.  But the boat, when he first observed it, was lying
below--up against the bank by the chapel ground, across which the men
must have come.

Recalling all this, with what Jack Wingate has just told him, connecting
events together, and making comparison of time, place, and other
circumstances, he thus interrogatively reflects:

"Might not that boat have been the same whose oars Jack heard down
below?  And the men in it those whose names he has mentioned?  Three of
them--that at least in curious correspondence!  But the time?  About
nine, or a little after, as I passed Rugg's Ferry.  That appears too
early for the after event?  No!  They may have had other arrangements to
make before proceeding to their murderous work.  Odd, though, their
knowing _she_ would be out there.  But they need not have known that--
likely did not.  More like they meant to enter the house, after every
one had gone away, and there do the deed.  A night different from the
common, everything in confusion, the servants sleeping sounder than
usual from having indulged in drink--some of them overcome by it, as I
saw myself before leaving.  Yes; it's quite probable the assassins took
all that into consideration--surprised, no doubt, to find their victim
so convenient--in fact, as if she had come forth to receive them!  Poor
girl!"

All this chapter of conjectures has been to himself, and in sombre
silence; at length broken by the voice of his boatman, saying--

"You've come afoot, Captain; an' it be a longish walk to the town, most
o' the road muddy.  Ye'll let me row you up the river--leastways for a
couple o' miles further?  Then ye can take the footpath through Powell's
meadows."

Roused as from a reverie, the Captain looking out, sees they are nearly
up to the boatman's cottage, which accounts for the proposal thus made.
After a little reflection he says in reply:--

"Well, Jack; if it wasn't that I dislike over-working you--"

"Don't mention it!" interrupts Jack, "I'll be only too pleased to take
you all the way to the town itself, if ye say the word.  It a'nt so late
yet, but to leave me plenty of time.  Besides, I've got to go up to the
Ferry anyhow, to get some grocery for mother.  I may as well do it in
the boat--'deed better than dragglin' along them roughish roads."

"In that case I consent.  But you must let me take the oars."

"No, Captain.  I'd prefer workin' 'em myself; if it be all the same to
you."

The Captain does not insist, for in truth he would rather remain at the
tiller.  Not because he is indisposed for a spell of pulling.  Nor is it
from disinclination to walk, that he has so readily accepted the
waterman's offer.  After reflecting, he would have asked the favour so
courteously extended.  And for a reason having nothing to do with
convenience, for the fear of fatigue; but a purpose which has just
shaped itself in his thoughts, suggested by the mention of the Ferry.

It is that he may consider this--be left free to follow the train of
conjecture which the incident has interrupted--he yields to the
boatman's wishes, and keeps his seat in the stern.

By a fresh spurt the _Mary_ is carried beyond her mooring-place; as she
passes it her owner for an instant feathering his oars and holding up
his hat.  It is a signal to one he sees there, standing outside in the
moonlight--his mother.

Volume Three, Chapter V.

MATERNAL SOLICITUDE.

"The poor lad!  His heart be sore sad; at times most nigh breakin'!
That's plain--spite o' all he try hide it."

It is the Widow Wingate, who thus compassionately reflects--the subject
her son.

She is alone within her cottage, the waterman being away with his boat.
Captain Ryecroft has taken him down the river.  It is on this nocturnal
exploration, when the cliff at Llangorren is inspected by lamplight.

But she knows neither the purpose nor the place, any more than did Jack
himself at starting.  A little before sunset, the Captain came to the
house, afoot and unexpectedly; called her son out, spoke a few words to
him, when they started away in the skiff.  She saw they went down
stream--that is all.

She was some little surprised, though; not at the direction taken, but
the time of setting out.  Had Llangorren been still in possession of the
young lady, of whom her son has often spoken to her, she would have
thought nothing strange of it.  But in view of the late sad occurrence
at the Court, with the change of proprietorship consequent--about all of
which she has been made aware--she knows the Captain cannot be bound
thither, and therefore wonders whither.  Surely, not a pleasure
excursion, at such an unreasonable hour--night just drawing down?

She would have asked, but had no opportunity.  Her son, summoned out of
the house, did not re-enter; his oars were in the boat, having just come
off a job; and the Captain appeared to be in haste.  Hence, Jack's going
off, without, as he usually does, telling his mother the why and the
where.

It is not this that is now fidgeting her.  She is far from being of an
inquisitive turn--least of all with her son--and never seeks to pry into
his secrets.  She knows his sterling integrity, and can trust him.
Besides, she is aware that he is of a nature somewhat uncommunicative,
especially upon matters that concern himself, and above all when he has
a trouble on his mind--in short, one who keeps his sorrows locked up in
his breast, as though preferring to suffer in silence.

And just this it is she is now bemoaning.  She observes how he is
suffering, and has been, ever since that hour when a farm labourer from
Abergann brought him tidings of Mary Morgan's fatal mishap.

Of course she, his mother, expected him to grieve wildly and deeply, as
he did; but not deeply so long.  Many days have passed since that dark
one; but since, she has not seen him smile--not once!  She begins to
fear his sorrow may never know an end.  She has heard of broken hearts--
his may be one.  Not strange her solicitude.

"What make it worse," she says, continuing her soliloquy, "he keep
thinkin' that he hae been partways to blame for the poor girl's death,
by makin' her come out to meet him!"--Jack has told his mother of the
interview under the big elm, all about it from beginning to end.--"That
hadn't a thing to do wi' it.  What happened wor ordained, long afore she
left the house.  When I dreamed that dream 'bout the corpse candle, I
feeled most sure somethin' would come o't; but then seein' it go up the
meadows, I wor' althegither convinced.  When _it_ burn no human creetur'
ha' lit it; an' none can put it out, till the doomed one be laid in the
grave.  Who could 'a carried it across the river--that night especial,
wi' a flood lippin' full up to the banks?  No mortal man, nor woman
neyther!"

As a native of Pembrokeshire, in whose treeless valleys the _ignis
fatuus_ is oft seen, and on its dangerous coast cliffs, in times past,
too oft the lanthorn of the smuggler, with the "stalking horse" of the
inhuman wrecker, Mrs Wingate's dream of the _canwyll corph_ was natural
enough--a legendary reflection from tales told her in childhood, and
wild songs chaunted over her cradle.

But her waking vision, of a light borne up the river bottom, was a
phenomenon yet more natural; since in truth was it a real light, that of
a lamp, carried in the hands of a man with a coracle on his back, which
accounts for its passing over the stream.  And the man was Richard
Dempsey, who below had ferried Father Rogier across on his way to the
farm of Abergann, where the latter intended remaining all night.  The
priest in his peregrinations, often nocturnal, accustomed to take a lamp
along, had it with him on that night, having lit it before entering the
coracle.  But with the difficulty of balancing himself in the crank
little craft he had set it down under the thwart, and at landing
forgotten all about it.  Thence the poacher, detained beyond time in
reference to an appointment he meant being present at, had taken the
shortest cut up the river bottom to Rugg's Ferry.  This carried him
twice across the stream, where it bends by the waterman's cottage; his
coracle, easily launched and lifted out, enabling him to pass straight
over and on, in his haste not staying to extinguish the lamp, nor even
thinking of it.

Not so much wonder, then, in Mrs Wingate believing she saw the _canwyll
corph_.  No more that she believes it still, but less, in view of what
has since come to pass; as she supposes, but the inexorable fiat of
fate.

"Yes!" she exclaims, proceeding with her soliloquy; "I knowed it would
come!  Ah, me! it have come.  Poor thing!  I hadn't no great knowledge
of her myself; but sure she wor a good girl, or my son couldn't a been
so fond o' her.  If she'd had badness in her, Jack wouldn't greet and
grieve as he be doin' now."

Though right in the premises--for Mary Morgan was a good girl--Mrs
Wingate is unfortunately wrong in her deductions.  But, fortunately for
her peace of mind, she is so.  It is some consolation to her to think
that she whom her son loved, and for whom he so sorrows, was worthy of
his love as his sorrow.

It is wearing late, the sun having long since set; and still wondering
why they went down the river, she steps outside to see if there he any
sign of them returning.  From the cottage but little can be seen of the
stream, by reason of its tortuous course; only a short reach on either
side, above and below.

Placing herself to command a view of the latter, she stands gazing down
it.  In addition to maternal solicitude, she feels anxiety of another
and less emotional nature.  Her tea-caddy is empty, the sugar all
expended, and other household things deficient.  Jack was just about
starting off for the Ferry to replace them when the Captain came.  Now
it is a question whether he will be home in time to reach Rugg's before
the shop closes.  If not, there will be a scant supper for him, and he
must grope his way lightless to bed; for among the spent commodities
were candles, the last one having been burnt out.  In the widow
Wingate's life candles seem to play an important part!

However, from all anxieties on this score she is at length and ere long
relieved; her mind set at rest by a sound heard on the tranquil air of
the night, the dip of a boat's oars, distant but recognisable.  Often
before listening for the same, she instinctively knows them to be in the
hands of her son.  For Jack rows with a stroke no waterman on the Wye
has but he--none equalling it in _timbre_ and regularity.  His mother
can tell it, as a hen the chirp of her own chick, or a ewe the bleat of
its lamb.

That it is his stroke she has soon other evidence than her ears.  In a
few seconds after hearing the oars she sees them, their wet blades
glistening in the moonlight, the boat between.

And now she only waits for it to be pulled up and into the wash--its
docking place; when Jack will tell her where they have been, and what
for; perhaps, too, the Captain will come inside the cottage and speak a
friendly word with her, as he has frequently done.

While thus pleasantly anticipating, she has a disappointment.  The skiff
is passing onward--proceeding up the river!  But she is comforted by
seeing a hat held aloft--the salute telling her she is herself seen; and
that Jack has some good reason for the prolongation of the voyage.  It
will no doubt terminate at the Ferry, where he will get the candles and
comestibles, saving him a second journey thither, and so killing two
birds with one stone.

Contenting herself with this construction of it, she returns inside the
house, touches up the faggots on the fire, and by their cheerful blaze
thinks no longer of candles, or any other light--forgetting even the
_canwyll corph_.

Volume Three, Chapter VI.

A SACRILEGIOUS HAND.

Between Wingate's cottage and Rugg's Captain Ryecroft has but slight
acquaintance with the river, knows it only by a glimpse had here and
there from the road.  Now, ascending by boat, he makes note of certain
things appertaining to it--chiefly, the rate of its current, the
windings of its channel, and the distance between the two places.  He
seems considering how long a boat might be in passing from one to the
other.  And just this is he thinking of: his thoughts on that boat he
saw starting downward.

Whatever his object in all this, he does not reveal it to his companion.
The time has not come for taking the waterman into full confidence.  It
will, but not to-night.

He has again relapsed into silence, which continues till he catches
sight of an object on the left bank, conspicuous against the sky, beside
the moon's disc, now low.  It is a cross surmounting a structure of
ecclesiastical character, which he knows to be the Roman Catholic chapel
at Rugg's.  Soon as abreast of it he commands--

"Hold way, Jack!  Keep her steady awhile!"

The waterman obeys without questioning why this new stoppage.  He is
himself interrogated the instant after--thus:--

"You see that shadowed spot under the bank--by the wall?"

"I do, Captain."

"Is there any landing-place there for a boat?"

"None, as I know of.  Course a boat may put in anywhere, if the bank
beant eyther a cliff or a quagmire.  The reg'lar landin' place be
above--where the ferry punt lays."

"But have you ever known of a boat being moored in there?"

The question has reference to the place first spoken of.

"I have, Captain; my own.  That but once, an' the occasion not o' the
pleasantest kind.  'Twar the night after my poor Mary wor buried, when I
comed to say a prayer over her grave, an' plant a flower on it.  I may
say I stole there to do it; not wishin' to be obsarved by that sneak o'
a priest, nor any o' their Romish lot.  Exceptin' my own, I never knew
or heard o' another boat bein' laid along there."

"All right!  Now on!"

And on the skiff is sculled up stream for another mile, with little
further speech passing between oarsman and steerer; it confined to
subjects having no relation to what they have been all the evening
occupied with.

For Ryecroft is once more in reverie, or rather silently thinking; his
thoughts concentrated on the one theme--endeavouring to solve that
problem, simple of itself--but with many complications and doubtful
ambiguities--how Gwendoline Wynn came by her death.

He is still absorbed in a sea of conjectures, far as ever from its
shore, when he feels the skiff at rest; as it ceases motion its oarsman
asking--

"Do you weesh me to set you out here, Captain?  There be the right o'
way path through Powell's meadows.  Or would ye rather be took on up to
the town?  Say which you'd like best, an' don't think o' any difference
it makes to me."

"Thanks, Jack; it's very kind of you, but I prefer the walk up the
meadows.  There'll be moonlight enough yet.  And as I shall want your
boat to-morrow--it may be for the whole of the day--you'd better get
home and well rested.  Besides, you say you've an errand at Rugg's--to
the shop there.  You must make haste, or it will be closed."

"Ah!  I didn't think o' that.  Obleeged to ye much for remindin' me.  I
promised mother to get them grocery things the night, and wouldn't like
to disappoint her--for a good deal."

"Pull in, then, quick, and tilt me out!  And, Jack! not a word to any
one about where I've been, or what doing.  Keep that to yourself."

"I will--you may rely on me, Captain."

The boat is brought against the bank; Ryecroft leaps lightly to land,
calls back "good night," and strikes off along the footpath.

Not a moment delays the waterman; but shoving off, and setting head down
stream, pulls with all his strength, stimulated by the fear of finding
the shop shut.

He is in good time, however; and reaches Rugg's to see a light in the
shop window, with its door standing open.

Going in he gets the groceries, and is on return to the landing-place,
where he has left his skiff, when he meets with a man, who has come to
the Ferry on an errand somewhat similar to his own.  It is Joseph
Preece, "Old Joe," erst boatman of Llangorren Court; but now, as all his
former fellow-servants, at large.

Though the acquaintance between him and Wingate is comparatively of
recent date, a strong friendship has sprung up between them--stronger as
the days passed, and each saw more of the other.  For of late, in the
exercise of their respective _metiers_, professionally alike, they have
had many opportunities of being together, and more than one lengthened
"confab" in the _Gwendoline's_ dock.

It is days since they have met, and there is much to talk about, Joe
being chief spokesman.  And now that he has done his shopping, Jack can
spare the time to listen.  It will throw him a little later in reaching
home; but his mother won't mind that.  She saw him go up, and knows he
will remember his errand.

So the two stand conversing till the gossipy Joseph has discharged
himself of a budget of intelligence, taking nigh half an hour in the
delivery.

Then they part, the ex-Charon going about his own business, the waterman
returning to his skiff.

Stepping into it, and seating himself, he pulls out and down.

A few strokes bring him opposite the chapel burying-ground; when all at
once, as if stricken by a palsy, his arms cease moving, and the
oar-blades drag deep in the water.  There is not much current, and the
skiff floats slowly.

He in it sits with eyes turned towards the graveyard.  Not that he can
see anything there, for the moon has gone down, and all is darkness.
But he is not gazing, only thinking.

A thought, followed by an impulse leading to instantaneous action.  A
back stroke or two of the starboard oar, then a strong tug, and the
boat's bow is against the bank.

He steps ashore; ties the painter to a withy; and, climbing over the
wall, proceeds to the spot so sacred to him.

Dark as is now the night he has no difficulty in finding it.  He has
gone over that ground before, and remembers every inch of it.  There are
not many gravestones to guide him, for the little cemetery is of late
consecration, and its humble monuments are few and far between.  But he
needs not their guidance.  As a faithful dog by instinct finds the grave
of its master, so he, with memories quickened by affection, makes his
way to the place where repose the remains of Mary Morgan.

Standing over her grave he first gives himself up to an outpouring of
grief, heartfelt as wild.  Then becoming calmer he kneels down beside
it, and says a prayer.  It is the Lord's--he knows no other.  Enough
that it gives him relief; which it does, lightening his overcharged
heart.

Feeling better he is about to depart, and has again risen erect, when a
thought stays him--a remembrance--"The flower of love-lies-bleeding."

Is it growing?  Not the flower, but the plant.  He knows the former is
faded, and must wait for the return of spring.  But the latter--is it
still alive and flourishing?  In the darkness he cannot see, but will be
able to tell by the touch.

Once more dropping upon his knees, and extending his hands over the
grave, he gropes for it.  He finds the spot, but not the plant.  It is
gone!  Nothing left of it--not a remnant!  A sacrilegious hand has been
there, plucked it up, torn it out root and stalk, as the disturbed turf
tells him!

In strange contrast with the prayerful words late upon his lips, are the
angry exclamations to which he now gives utterance; some of them so
profane as only under the circumstances to be excusable.

"It's that d--d rascal, Dick Dempsey, as ha' done it.  Can't a been
anybody else?  An' if I can but get proof o't, I'll make him repent o'
the despicable trick.  I will, by the livin' God!"

Thus angrily soliloquising, he strides back to his skiff, and getting in
rows off.  But more than once, on the way homeward, he might be heard
muttering words in the same wild strain--threats against Coracle Dick.

Volume Three, Chapter VII.

A LATE TEA.

Mrs Wingate is again growing impatient at her son's continued absence,
now prolonged beyond all reasonable time.  The Dutch dial on the kitchen
wall shows it to be after ten; therefore two hours since the skiff
passed upwards.  Jack has often made the return trip to Rugg's in less
than one, while the shopping should not occupy him more than ten
minutes, or, making every allowance, not twenty.  How is the odd time
being spent by him?

Her impatience becomes uneasiness as she looks out of doors, and
observes the hue of the sky.  For the moon having gone down it is now
very dark, which always means danger on the river.  The Wye is not a
smooth swan pond, and, flooded or not, annually claims its victims--
strong men as women.  And her son is upon it!

"Where?" she asks herself, becoming more and more anxious.  He may have
taken his fare on up to the town, in which case it will be still later
before he can get back.

While thus conjecturing a tinge of sadness steals over the widow's
thoughts, with something of that weird feeling she experienced when once
before waiting for him in the same way--on the occasion of his pretended
errand after whipcord and pitch.

"Poor lad!" she says, recalling the little bit of deception she
pardoned, and which now more than ever seems pardonable; "he hain't no
need now deceivin' his old mother that way.  I only wish he had."

"How black that sky do look," she adds, rising from her seat, and going
to the door; "An' threatenin' storm, if I bean't mistook.  Lucky, Jack
ha' intimate acquaintance wi' the river 'tween here and Rugg's--if he
hain't goed farther.  What a blessin' the boy don't gie way to drink,
an's otherways careful!  Well, I 'spose there an't need for me feelin'
uneasy.  For all, I don't like his bein' so late.  Mercy me!  Nigh on
the stroke o' eleven?  Ha!  What's that?  Him I hope."

She steps hastily out, and behind the house, which fronting the road,
has its back towards the river.  On turning the corner she hears a dull
thump, as of a boat brought up against the bank; then a sharper
concussion of timber striking timber--the sound of oars being unshipped.
It comes from the _Mary_, at her mooring-place; as, in a few seconds
after, Mrs Wingate is made aware, by seeing her son approach with his
arms full--in one of them a large brown paper parcel, while under the
other are his oars.  She knows it is his custom to bring the latter up
to the shed--a necessary precaution due to the road running so near, and
the danger of larking fellows taking a fancy to carry off his skiff.

Met by his mother outside, he delivers the grocery goods and together
they go in; when he is questioned as to the cause of delay.

"Whatever ha kep' ye, Jack?  Ye've been a wonderful long time goin' up
to the Ferry an' back!"

"The Ferry!  I went far beyond; up to the footpath over Squire Powell's
meadows.  There I set Captain out."

"Oh! that be it."

His answer being satisfactory he is not further interrogated.  For she
has become busied with an earthenware teapot, into which have been
dropped three spoonfuls of "Horniman's" just brought home--one for her
son, another for herself, and the odd one for the pot--the orthodox
quantity.  It is a late hour for tea; but their regular evening meal was
postponed by the coming of the Captain, and Mrs Wingate would not
consider supper as it should be, wanting the beverage which cheers
without intoxicating.

The pot set upon the hearthstone over some red-hot cinders, its contents
are soon "mashed;" and, as nearly everything else had been got ready
against Jack's arrival, it but needs for him to take seat by the table,
on which one of the new composite candles, just lighted, stands in its
stick.

Occupied with pouring out the tea, and creaming it, the good dame does
not notice anything odd in the expression of her son's countenance; for
she has not yet looked at it, in a good light.  Nor till she is handing
the cup across to him.  Then, the fresh lit candle gleaming full in his
face, she sees what gives her a start.  Not the sad melancholy cast to
which she has of late been accustomed.  That has seemingly gone off,
replaced by sullen anger, as though he were brooding over some wrong
done, or insult recently received!

"Whatever be the matter wi' ye, Jack?" she asks, the teacup still held
in trembling hand.  "There ha' something happened?"

"Oh! nothin' much, mother."

"Nothin' much!  Then why be ye looking so black?"

"What makes you think I'm lookin' that way?"

"How can I help thinkin' it?  Why, lad; your brow be clouded, same's the
sky outside.  Come, now tell the truth!  Bean't there somethin' amiss?"

"Well, mother; since you axe me that way I will tell the truth.
Somethin' be amiss; or I ought better say, _missin'_."

"Missin'!  Be't anybody ha' stoled the things out o' the boat?  The
balin' pan, or that bit o' cushion in the stern?"

"No it ain't; no trifle o' that kind, nor anythin' stealed eyther.
'Stead a thing as ha' been destroyed."

"What thing?"

"The flower--the plant."

"Flower! plant!"

"Yes; the Love-lies-bleedin' I set on Mary's grave the night after she
wor laid in it.  Ye remember my tellin' you, mother?"

"Yes--yes; I do."

"Well, it ain't there now."

"Ye ha' been into the chapel buryin' groun' then?"

"I have."

"But what made ye go there, Jack?"

"Well, mother; passin' the place, I took a notion to go in--a sort o'
sudden inclinashun, I couldn't resist.  I thought that kneelin' beside
her grave, an' sayin' a prayer might do somethin' to lift the weight off
o' my heart.  It would a done that, no doubt, but for findin' the flower
warn't there.  Fact, it had a good deal relieved me, till I discovered
it wor gone."

"But how gone?  Ha' the thing been cut off, or pulled up?"

"Clear plucked out by the roots.  Not a vestige o' it left!"

"Maybe 'twer the sheep or goats.  They often get into a graveyard; and
if I beant mistook I've seen some in that o' the Ferry Chapel.  They may
have ate it up?"

The idea is new to him, and being plausible, he reflects on it, for a
time misled.  Not long, however; only till remembering what tells him it
is fallacious; this, his having set the plant so firmly that no animal
could have uprooted it.  A sheep or goat might have eaten off the top,
but nothing more.

"No, mother!" he at length rejoins; "it han't been done by eyther; but
by a human hand--I ought better to say the claw o' a human tiger.  No,
not tiger; more o' a stinkin' cat!"

"Ye suspect somebody, then?"

"Suspect!  I'm sure, as one can be without seein', that bit o'
desecrashun ha' been the work o' Dick Dempsey.  But I mean plantin'
another in its place, an' watchin' it too.  If he pluck it up, an' I
know it, they'll need dig another grave in the Rogue's Ferry buryin'
groun'--that for receivin' as big a rogue as ever wor buried there, or
anywhere else--the d--d scoundrel!"

"Dear Jack! don't let your passion get the better o' ye, to speak so
sinfully.  Richard Dempsey be a bad man, no doubt; but the Lord will
deal wi' him in his own way, an' sure punish him.  So leave him to the
Lord.  After all, what do it matter--only a bit o' weed?"

"Weed!  Mother, you mistake.  That weed, as ye call it, wor like a
silken string, bindin' my heart to Mary's.  Settin' it in the sod o' her
grave gied me a comfort I can't describe to ye.  An' now to find it tore
up brings the bitter all back again.  In the spring I hoped to see it in
bloom, to remind me o' her love as ha' been blighted, an' like it lies
bleedin'.  But--well, it seems as I can't do nothin' for her now she's
dead, as I warn't able while she wor livin'."

He covers his face with his hands to hide the tears now coursing down
his cheeks.

"Oh, my son! don't take on so.  Think that she be happy now--in Heaven.
Sure she is, from all I ha' heerd o' her."

"Yes, mother!" he earnestly affirms, "she is.  If ever woman went to the
good place, she ha' goed there."

"Well, that ought to comfort ye."

"It do some.  But to think of havin' lost her for good--never again to
look at her sweet face.  Oh! that be dreadful!"

"Sure, it be.  But think also that ye an't the only one as ha' to
suffer.  Nobody escape affliction o' that sort, some time or the other.
It's the lot o' all--rich folks as well as we poor ones.  Look at the
Captain, there!  He be sufferin' like yourself.  Poor man!  I pity him,
too."

"So do I, mother.  An' I ought, so well understandin' how he feel,
though he be too proud to let people see it.  I seed it the day--several
times noticed tears in his eyes, when we wor talkin' about things that
reminded him o' Miss Wynn.  When a soldier--a grand fightin' soldier as
he ha' been--gies way to weepin', the sorrow must be strong an' deep.
No doubt, he be 'most heart-broke, same's myself."

"But that an't right, Jack.  It isn't intended we should always gie way
to grief, no matter how dear they may a' been as are lost to us.
Besides, it be sinful."

"Well, mother, I'll try to think more cheerful; submittin' to the will
o' Heaven."

"Ah!  There's a good lad!  That's the way; an' be assured Heaven won't
forsake, but comfort ye yet.  Now, let's not say any more about it.  You
an't eating your supper!"

"I han't no great appetite after all."

"Never mind; ye must eat, an' the tea'll cheer ye.  Hand me your cup,
an' let me fill it again."

He passes the empty cup across the table, mechanically.

"It be very good tea," she says, telling a little untruth for the sake
of abstracting his thoughts.  "But I've something else for you that's
better--before you go to bed."

"Ye take too much care o' me, mother."

"Nonsense, Jack.  Ye've had a hard day's work o't.  But ye hain't told
me what the Captain tooked ye out for, nor where ye went down the river.
How far?"

"Only as far as Llangorren Court."

"But there be new people there now, ye sayed?"

"Yes; the Murdocks.  Bad lot both man an' wife, though he wor the cousin
o' the good young lady as be gone."

"Sure, then, the Captain han't been to visit them?"

"No, not likely.  He an't the kind to consort wi' such as they, for all
o' their bein' big folks now."

"But there were other ladies livin' at Llangorren.  What ha' become o'
they?"

"They ha' gone to another house somewhere down the river--a smaller one
it's sayed.  The old lady as wor Miss Wynn's aunt ha' money o' her own,
an' the other be livin' 'long wi' her.  For the rest there's been a
clean out--all the sarvints sent about their business; the only one kep'
bein' a French girl who wor lady's-maid to the old mistress--that's the
aunt.  She's now the same to the new one, who be French, like herself."

"Where ha' ye heerd all this, Jack?"

"From Joseph Preece.  I met him up at the Ferry, as I wor comin' away
from the shop."

"He's out too, then?" asks Mrs Wingate, who has of late come to know
him.

"Yes; same's the others."

"Where be the poor man abidin' now?"

"Well; that's odd, too.  Where do you suppose, mother?"

"How should I know, my son?  Where?"

"In the old house where Coracle Dick used to live!"

"What be there so odd in that?"

"Why, because Dick's now in his house; ha' got his place at the Court,
an's goin' to be somethin' far grander than ever he wor--head keeper."

"Ah! poacher turned gamekeeper!  That be settin' thief to catch thief!"

"Somethin' besides thief, he!  A deal worse than that!"

"But," pursues Mrs Wingate, without reference to the reflection on
Coracle's character, "ye han't yet tolt me what the Captain took down
the river."

"I an't at liberty to tell any one.  Ye understand me, mother?"

"Yes, yes; I do."

"The Captain ha' made me promise to say nothin' o' his doin's; an', to
tell truth, I don't know much about them myself.  But what I do know,
I'm honour bound to keep dark consarnin' it--even wi' you, mother."

She appreciates his nice sense of honour; and, with her own of delicacy,
does not urge him to any further explanation.

"In time," he adds, "I'm like enough to know all o' what he's after.
Maybe, the morrow."

"Ye're to see him the morrow, then?"

"Yes; he wants the boat."

"What hour?"

"He didn't say when, only that he might be needin' me all the day.  So I
may look out for him early--first thing in the mornin'."

"That case ye must get to your bed at oncst, an' ha' a good sleep, so's
to start out fresh.  First take this.  It be the somethin' I promised
ye--better than tea."

The something is a mug of mulled elderberry wine, which, whether or not
better than tea, is certainty superior to port prepared in the same way.

Quaffing it down, and betaking himself to bed, under its somniferous
influence, the Wye waterman is soon in the land of dreams.  Not happy
ones, alas! but visions of a river flood-swollen, with a boat upon its
seething frothy surface, borne rapidly on towards a dangerous eddy--then
into it--at length capsized to a sad symphony--the shrieks of a drowning
woman!

Volume Three, Chapter VIII.

THE NEW MISTRESS OF THE MANSION.

At Llangorren Court all is changed, from owner down to the humblest
domestic.  Lewin Murdock has become its master, as the priest told him
he some day might.

There was none to say nay.  By the failure of Ambrose Wynn's heirs--in
the line through his son and bearing his name--the estate of which he
was the original testator reverts to the children of his daughter, of
whom Lewin Murdock, an only son, is the sole survivor.  He of Glyngog is
therefore indisputable heritor of Llangorren; and no one disputing it,
he is now in possession, having entered upon it soon as the legal
formularies could be gone through with.  This they have been with a
haste which causes invidious remark, if not actual scandal.

Lewin Murdock is not the man to care; and, in truth, he is now scarce
ever sober enough to feel sensitive, could he have felt so at any time.
But in his new and luxurious home, waited on by a staff of servants,
with wine at will, so unlike the days of misery spent in the dilapidated
manor house, he gives loose rein to his passion for drink; leaving the
management of affairs to his dexterous better half.

She has not needed to take much trouble in the matter of furnishing.
Her husband, as nearest of kin to the deceased, has also come in for the
personal effects, furniture included; all but some belongings of Miss
Linton, which had been speedily removed by her--transferred to a little
house of her own, not far off.  Fortunately, the old lady is not left
impecunious; but has enough to keep her in comfort, with an economy,
however, that precludes all idea of longer indulging in a lady's-maid,
more especially one so expensive as Clarisse; who, as Jack Wingate said,
has been dismissed from Miss Linton's establishment--at the same time
discharging herself by notice formally given.  That clever _demoiselle_
was not meant for service in a ten-roomed cottage, even though a
detached one; and through the intervention of her patron, the priest,
she still remains at the Court, to dance attendance on the _ancien
belle_ of Mabille, as she did on the ancient toast of Cheltenham.

Pleasantly so far; her new mistress being in fine spirits, and herself
delighted with everything.  The French adventuress has attained the goal
of an ambition long cherished, though not so patiently awaited.  Oft
gazed she across the Wye at those smiling grounds of Llangorren, as the
Fallen Angel back over its walls into the Garden of Eden; oft saw she
there assemblages of people to her seeming as angels, not fallen, but in
highest favour--ah! in her estimation, more than angels--women of rank
and wealth, who could command what she coveted beyond any far-off joys
celestial--the nearer pleasures of earth and sense.

Those favoured fair ones are not there now, but she herself is; owner of
the very Paradise in which they disported themselves!  Nor does she
despair of seeing them at Llangorren again, and having them around her
in friendly intercourse, as had Gwendoline Wynn.  Brought up under the
_regime_ of Louis and trained in the school of Eugenie, why need she
fear either social slight or exclusion?  True, she is in England, not
France; but she thinks it is all the same.  And not without some reason
for so thinking.  The ethics of the two countries, so different in days
past, have of late become alarmingly assimilated--ever since that hand,
red with blood spilled upon the boulevards of Paris, was affectionately
elapsed by a Queen on the dock head of Cherbourg.  The taint of that
touch felt throughout all England, has spread over it like a plague; no
local or temporary epidemic, but one which still abides, still emitting
its noisome effluvia in a flood of prurient literature--novel writers
who know neither decency nor shame--newspaper scribblers devoid of
either truth or sincerity--theatres little better than licensed
_bagnios_, and Stock Exchange scandals smouching names once honoured in
English history, with other scandals of yet more lamentable kind--all
the old landmarks of England's morality being rapidly obliterated.

And all the better for Olympe, _nee_ Renault.  Like her sort living by
corruption, she instinctively rejoices at it, glories in the _monde
immonde_ of the Second Empire, and admires the abnormal monster who has
done so much in sowing and cultivating the noxious crop.  Seeing it
flourish around her, and knowing it on the increase, the new mistress of
Llangorren expects to profit by it.  Nor has she the slightest fear of
failure in any attempt she may make to enter Society.  It will not much
longer taboo her.  She knows that, with very little adroitness, 10,000
pounds a-year will introduce her into a Royal drawing-room--aye, take
her to the steps of a throne; and none is needed to pass through the
gates of Hurlingham nor those of Chiswick's Garden.  In this last she
would not be the only flower of poisonous properties and tainted
perfume; instead, would brush skirts with scores of dames wonderfully
like those of the Restoration and Regency, recalling the painted dolls
of the Second Charles, and the Delilahs of the Fourth George; in bold
effrontery and cosmetic brilliance equalling either.

The wife of Lewin Murdock hopes ere long to be among them--once more a
_celebrite_, as she was in the Bois de Boulogne, and the _bals_ of the
demi-monde.

True, the county aristocracy have not yet called upon her.  For by a
singular perverseness--unlike Nature's laws in the animal and vegetable
world--the outer tentacles of this called "Society" are the last to take
hold.  But they will yet.  Money is all powerful in this free and easy
age.  Having that in sufficiency, it makes little difference whether she
once sat by a sewing machine, or turned a mangle, as she once has done
in the Faubourg Montmartre for her mother, _la blanchisseuse_.  She is
confident the gentry of the shire will in due time surrender, send in
their cards and come of themselves; as they surely will, soon as they
see her name in the _Court Journal_ or _Morning Post_ in the list of
Royal receptions:--"_Mrs Lewin Murdock, presented by the Countess of
Devilacare_."

And to a certainty they shall so read it, with much about her besides,
if Jenkins be true to his instincts.  She need not fear him--he will.
She can trust his fidelity to the star scintillating in a field of
plush, as to the Polar that of magnetic needle.

Her husband bears his new fortunes in a manner somewhat different; in
one sense more soberly, as in another the reverse.  If, during his
adversity he indulged in drink, in prosperity he does not spare it.  But
there is another passion to which he now gives loose--his old,
unconquerable vice--gaming.  Little cares he for the cards of visitors,
while those of the gambler delight him; and though his wife has yet
received none of the former, he has his callers to take a hand with him
at the latter--more than enough to make up a rubber of whist.  Besides,
some of his old cronies of the "Welsh Harp," who have now _entree_ at
Llangorren, several young swells of the neighbourhood--the black sheep
of their respective flocks--are not above being of his company.  Where
the carrion is the eagles congregate, as the vultures; and already two
or three of the "leg" fraternity--in farther flight from London--have
found their way into Herefordshire, and hover around the precincts of
the Court.

Night after night, tables are there set out for loo, _ecarte_, _rouge et
noir_, or whatever may be called for--in a small way resembling the
hells of Homburg, Baden, and Monaco--wanting only the women.

Volume Three, Chapter IX.

THE GAMBLERS AT LLANGORREN.

Among the faces now seen at Llangorren--most of them new to the place,
and not a few of forbidding aspect--there is one familiar to us.
Sinister as any; since it is that of Father Rogier.  At no rare
intervals may it be there observed; but almost continuously.  Frequent
as were his visits to Glyngog, they are still more so to Llangorren,
where he now spends the greater part of his time; his own solitary, and
somewhat humble, dwelling at Rugg's Ferry seeing nothing of him for days
together, while for nights its celibate bed is unslept in: the luxurious
couch spread for him at the Court having greater attractions.

Whether made welcome to this unlimited hospitality, or not, he comports
himself as though he were; seeming noways backward in the reception of
it; instead as if demanding it.  One ignorant of his relations with the
master of the establishment might imagine _him_ its master.  Nor would
the supposition be so far astray.  As the King-mater controls the King,
so can Gregoire Rogier the new Lord of Llangorren--influence him at his
will.

And this does he; though not openly, or ostensibly.  That would be
contrary to the tactics taught him, and the practice to which he is
accustomed.  The sword of Loyola in the hands of his modern apostles has
become a dagger--a weapon more suitable to Ultramontanism.  Only in
Protestant countries to be wielded with secrecy, though elsewhere little
concealed.

But the priest of Rugg's Ferry is not in France; and, under the roof of
an English gentleman, though a Roman Catholic, bears himself with
becoming modesty--before strangers and the eyes of the outside world.
Even the domestics of the house see nothing amiss.  They are new to
their places, and as yet unacquainted with the relationships around
them.  Nor would they think it strange in a priest having control there
or anywhere.  They are all of his persuasion, else they would not be in
service at Llangorren Court.

So proceed matters under its new administration.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the same evening that Captain Ryecroft makes his quiet excursion down
the river to inspect the traces on the cliff, there is a little dinner
party at the Court; the diners taking seat by the table just about the
time he was stepping into Wingate's skiff.

The hour is early; but it is altogether a bachelor affair, and Lewin
Murdock's guests are men not much given to follow fashions.  Besides,
there is another reason; something to succeed the dinner, on which their
thoughts are more bent than upon either eating or drinking.  No spread
of fruit, nor dessert of any kind, but a bout at card-playing, or dice
for those who prefer it.  On their way to the dining-room they have
caught glimpse of another apartment where whist and loo tables are seen,
with all the gambling paraphernalia upon them--packs of new cards still
in their wrappers, ivory counters, dice boxes with their spotted cubes
lying alongside.

Pretty sight to Mr Murdock's lately picked up acquaintances; a
heterogeneous circle, but all alike in one respect--each indulging in
the pleasant anticipation that he will that night leave his host's house
with more or less of that host's money in his pocket.  Murdock has
himself come easily by it, and why should he not be made as easily to
part with it?  If he has a plethora of cash, they have a determination
to relieve him of at least a portion of it.

Hence dinner is eaten in haste, and with little appreciation of the
dishes, however dainty; all so longing to be around those tables in
another room, and get their fingers on the toys there displayed.

Their host, aware of the universal desire, does nought to frustrate it.
Instead, he is as eager as any for the fray.  As said, gambling is his
passion--has been for most part of his life--and he could now no more
live without it than go wanting drink.  A hopeless victim to the last,
he is equally a slave to the first.  Soon, therefore, as dessert is
brought in, and a glass of the heavier wines gone round, he looks
significantly at his wife--the only lady at the table--who, taking the
hint, retires.

The gentlemen, on their feet at her withdrawal, do not sit down again,
but drink standing--only a _petit verre_ of cognac by way of
"corrector."  Then they hurry off in an unseemly ruck towards the room
containing metal more attractive; from which soon after proceed the
clinking of coin and the rattle of ebony counters; with words now and
then spoken not over nice, but rough, even profane, as though the
speakers were playing skittles in the backyard of a London beerhouse,
instead of cards under the roof of a country gentleman's mansion!

While the new master of Llangorren is thus entertaining his amiable
company--as much as any of them engrossed in the game--its new mistress
is also playing a part, which may be more reputable, but certainly is
more mysterious.  She is in the drawing-room, though not alone--Father
Rogier alone with her.  He, of course, has been one of the dining
guests, and said an unctuous grace over the table.  In his sacred
sacerdotal character it could hardly be expected of him to keep along
with the company; though he could take a hand at cards, and play them
with as much skill as any gamester of that gathering.  But just now he
has other fish to fry, and wishes a word in private with the mistress of
Llangorren, about the way things are going on.  However much he may
himself like a little game with its master, and win money from him, he
does not relish seeing all the world do the same; no more she.
Something must be done to put a stop to it; and it is to talk over this
something the two have planned their present interview--some words about
it having previously passed between them.

Seated side by side on a lounge, they enter upon the subject.  But
before a dozen words have been exchanged they are compelled to
discontinue, and for the time forego it.

The interruption is caused by a third individual, who has taken a fancy
to follow Mrs Murdock into the drawing-room; a young fellow of the
squire class, but--as her husband late was--of somewhat damaged
reputation and broken fortunes.  For all having a whole eye to female
beauty; which appears to him in great perfection in the face of the
Frenchwoman--the rouge upon her cheeks looking the real rose-colour of
that proverbial milk-maid nine times dipped in dew.

The wine he has been quaffing gives it this hue; for he enters half
intoxicated, and with a slight stagger in his gait; to the great
annoyance of the lady, and the positive chagrin of the priest, who
regards him with scowling glances.  But the intruder is too tipsy to
notice them; and advancing invites himself to a seat in front of Mrs
Murdock, at the same time commencing a conversation with her.

Rogier, rising, gives a significant side look, with a slight nod towards
the window; then muttering a word of excuse saunters off out of the
room.

She knows what it means, as where to follow and find him.  Knows also
how to disembarrass herself of such as he who remained behind.  Were it
upon a bench of the Bois, or an arbour in the Jardin, she would make
short work of it.  But the ex-cocotte is now at the head of an
aristocratic establishment, and must act in accordance.  Therefore she
allows some time to elapse, listening to the speech of her latest
admirer; some of it in compliments coarse enough to give offence to ears
more sensitive than hers.

She at length gets rid of him, on the plea of having a headache, and
going upstairs to get something for it.  She will be down again by and
by; and so bows herself out of the gentleman's presence, leaving him in
a state of fretful disappointment.

Once outside the room, instead of turning up the stair-way, she glides
along the corridor; then on through the entrance-hall, and then out by
the front door.  Nor stays she an instant on the steps, or carriage
sweep; but proceeds direct to the summer-house, where she expects to
find the priest.  For there have they more than once been together,
conversing on matters of private and particular nature.

On reaching the place she is disappointed--some little surprised.
Rogier is not there; nor can she see him anywhere around!

For all that, the gentleman is very near, without her knowing it--only a
few paces off, lying flat upon his face among ferns, but so engrossed
with thoughts, just then of an exciting nature, he neither hears her
light footsteps, nor his own name pronounced.  Not loudly though; since,
while pronouncing it, she feared being heard by some other.  Besides,
she does not think it necessary; he will come yet, without calling.

She steps inside the pavilion, and there stands waiting.  Still he does
not come, nor sees she anything of him; only a boat on the river above,
being rowed upwards.  But without thought of its having anything to do
with her or her affairs.

By this there is another boat in motion; for the priest has meanwhile
forsaken his spying place upon the cliff, and proceeded down to the
dock.

"Where can Gregoire have gone?" she asks herself, becoming more and more
impatient.

Several times she puts the question without receiving answer; and is
about starting on return to the house, when longer stayed by a rumbling
noise which reaches her ears, coming up from the direction of the dock.

"Can it be he?"

Continuing to listen she hears the stroke of oars.  It cannot be the
boat she has seen rowing off above?  That must now be far away, while
this is near--in the bye-water just below her.  But can it be the priest
who is in it?

Yes, it is he; as she discovers, after stepping outside, to the place he
so late occupied, and looking over the cliff's edge.  For then she had a
view of his face, lit up by a lucifer match--itself looking like that of
Lucifer!

What can he be doing down there?  Why examining those things, he already
knows all about, as she herself?

She would call down to him, and inquire.  But possibly better not?  He
may be engaged upon some matter calling for secrecy, as he often is.
Other eyes besides hers may be near, and her voice might draw them on
him.  She will wait for his coming up.

And wait she does, at the boat's dock, on the top step of the stair;
there receiving him as he returns from his short, but still unexplained,
excursion.

"What is it?" she asks, soon as he has mounted up to her, "_Quelque
chose a tort_?"

"More than that.  A veritable danger!"

"_Comment_?  Explain!"

"There's a hound upon our track!  One of sharpest scent."

"Who?"

"_Le Capitaine de hussards_!"

The dialogue that succeeds, between Olympe Renault and Gregoire Rogier,
has no reference to Lewin Murdock gambling away his money, but the fear
of his losing it in quite another way.  Which, for the rest of that
night, gives them something else to think of, as also something to do.

Volume Three, Chapter X.

AN UNWILLING NOVICE.

"Am I myself?  Dreaming?  Or, is it insanity?"

It is a young girl who thus strangely interrogates.  A beautiful girl,
woman grown, of tall stature, with bright face and a wealth of hair,
golden hued.

But what is beauty to her with all these adjuncts?  As the flower born
to blush unseen, eye of man may not look upon hers; though it is not
wasting its sweetness on the desert air; but within the walls of a
convent.

An English girl, though the convent is in France--in the city of
Boulogne-sur-mer; the same in whose attached _pensionnat_ the sister of
Major Mahon is receiving education.  She is not the girl, for Kate
Mahon, though herself beautiful, is no blonde; instead, the very
opposite.  Besides, this creature of radiant complexion is not attending
school--she is beyond the years for that.  Neither is she allowed the
freedom of the streets, but kept shut up within a cell in the innermost
recesses of the establishment, where the _pensionnaires_ are not
permitted, save one or two who are favourites with the Lady Superior.

A small apartment the young girl occupies--bedchamber and sitting-room
in one--in short, a nun's cloister.  Furnished, as such, are, in a style
of austere simplicity; pallet bed along the one side, the other taken up
by a plain deal dressing table, a washstand with jug and basin--these
little bigger than tea-bowl and ewer--and a couple of common rush-bottom
chairs--that is all.

The walls are lime-washed, but most of their surface is concealed by
pictures of saints male and female; while the mother of all is honoured
by an image, having a niche to itself, in a corner.

On the table are some four or five books, including a Testament and
Missal; their bindings, with the orthodox cross stamped upon them,
proclaiming the nature of the contents.

A literature that cannot be to the liking of the present occupant of the
cloister; since she has been there several days without turning over a
single leaf, or even taking up one of the volumes to look at it.

That she is not there with her own will but against it, can be told by
her words, and as their tone, her manner while giving utterance to them.
Seated upon the side of the bed, she has sprung to her feet, and with
arms raised aloft and tossed about, strides distractedly over the floor.
One seeing her thus might well imagine her to be, what she half fancies
herself--insane!  A supposition strengthened by an unnatural lustre in
her eyes, and a hectic flush on her cheeks unlike the hue of health.
Still, not as with one suffering bodily sickness, or any physical
ailment, but more as from a mind diseased.  Seen for only a moment--that
particular moment--such would be the conclusion regarding her.  But her
speech coming after tells she is in full possession of her senses--only
under terrible agitation--distraught with some great trouble.

"It must be a convent!  But how have I come into it?  Into France, too;
for surely am I there?  The woman who brings my meals is French.  So the
other--Sister of Mercy, as she calls herself, though she speaks my own
tongue.  The furniture--bed, table, chairs, washstand--everything of
French manufacture.  And in all England there is not such a jug and
basin as those!"

Regarding the lavatory utensils--so diminutive as to recall "Gulliver's
Travels in Lilliput," if ever read by her--she for a moment seems to
forget her misery, as will in its very midst, and keenest, at sight of
the ludicrous and grotesque.

It is quickly recalled, as her glance, wandering around the room, again
rests on the little statue--not of marble, but a cheap plaster of Paris
cast--and she reads the inscription underneath, "_La Mere de Dieu_."
The symbols tell her she is inside a nunnery, and upon the soil of
France!

"Oh, yes!" she exclaims, "'tis certainly so!  I am no more in my native
land, but have been carried across the sea!"

The knowledge, or belief, does nought to tranquillise her feelings or
explain the situation, to her all mysterious.  Instead, it but adds to
her bewilderment, and she once more exclaims, almost repeating herself:

"Am I myself?  Is it a dream?  Or have my senses indeed forsaken me?"

She clasps her hands across her forehead, the white fingers threading
the thick folds of her hair which hangs dishevelled.  She presses them
against her temples, as if to make sure her brain is still untouched!

It is so, or she would not reason as she does.

"Everything around shows I am in France.  But how came I to it?  Who has
brought me?  What offence have I given God or man, to be dragged from
home, from country--and confined--imprisoned!  Convent, or whatever it
be, imprisoned I am!  The door constantly kept locked!  That window, so
high, I cannot see over its sill!  The dim light it lets in telling it
was not meant for enjoyment.  Oh!  Instead of cheering it tantalises--
tortures me!"

Despairingly she reseats herself upon the side of the bed, and with head
still buried in her hands, continues her soliloquy; no longer of things
present, but reverting to the past.

"Let me think again!  What can I remember?  That night, so happy in its
beginning, to end as it did!  The end of my life, as I thought, if I had
a thought at that time.  It was not, though, or I shouldn't be here, but
in heaven I hope.  Would I were in heaven now!  When I recall _his_
words--those last words and think--"

"Your thoughts are sinful, child!"

The remark, thus interrupting, is made by a woman, who appears on the
threshold of the door, which she had just pushed open.  A woman of
mature age, dressed in a floating drapery of deep black--the orthodox
garb of the Holy Sisterhood, with all its insignia, of girdle,
bead-roll, and pendant crucifix.  A tall thin personage, with skin like
shrivelled parchment, and a countenance that would be repulsive but for
the nun's coif, which partly concealing, tones down its sinister
expression.  Withal, a face disagreeable to gaze upon; not the less so
from its air of sanctity, evidently affected.  The intruder is "Sister
Ursule."

She has opened the door noiselessly--as cloister doors are made to
open--and stands between its jambs, like a shadowy _silhouette_ in its
frame, one hand still holding the knob, while in the other is a small
volume, apparently well-thumbed.  That she has had her ear to the
keyhole before presenting herself is told by the rebuke having reference
to the last words of the girl's soliloquy, in her excitement uttered
aloud.

"Yes?" she continues, "sinful--very sinful!  You should be thinking of
something else than the world and its wickedness.  And of anything
before that you have been thinking of--the wickedness of all."

She thus spoken to had neither started at the intrusion, nor does she
show surprise at what is said.  It is not the first visit of Sister
Ursule to her cell, made in like stealthy manner; nor the first austere
speech she has heard from the same skinny lips.  At the beginning she
did not listen to it patiently; instead, with indignation; defiantly,
almost fiercely, rejoining.  But the proudest spirit can be humbled.
Even the eagle, when its wings are beaten to exhaustion against the bars
of its cage, will became subdued, if not tamed.  Therefore the
imprisoned English girl makes reply, meekly and appealingly--

"Sister of Mercy, as you are called; have mercy upon me!  Tell me why I
am here?"

"For the good of your soul and its salvation."

"But how can that concern any one save myself?"

"Ah! there you mistake, child; which shows the sort of life you've been
hitherto leading; and the sort of people surrounding you; who, in their
sinfulness, imagine all as themselves.  They cannot conceive that there
are those who deem it a duty--nay, a direct command from God--to do all
in their power for the redemption of lost sinners, and restoring them to
his divine favour.  He is all-merciful."

"True: He is.  I do not need to be told it.  Only, who these
redemptionists are that take such interest in my spiritual welfare, and
how I have come to be here, surely I may know?"

"You shall in time, _ma fille_.  Now you cannot--must not--for many
reasons."

"What reasons?"

"Well; for one, you have been very ill--nigh unto death, indeed."

"I know that, without knowing how."

"Of course.  The accident which came so near depriving you of life was
of that sudden nature; and your senses--but I mustn't speak further
about it.  The doctor has given strict directions that you're to be kept
quiet, and it might excite you.  Be satisfied with knowing, that they
who have placed you here are the same who saved your life, and would now
rescue your soul from perdition.  I've brought you this little volume
for perusal.  It will help to enlighten you."

She stretches out her long bony fingers, handing the book--one of those
"Aids to Faith" relied upon by the apostles of the _Propaganda_.

The girl mechanically takes it, without looking at, or thinking of it;
still pondering upon the unknown and mysterious benefactors, who, as she
is told, have done so much for her.

"How good of them!" she rejoins, with an air of incredulity, and in
tones that might be taken as derisive.

"How wicked of you!" retorts the other, taking it in this sense.
"Positively ungrateful!" she adds, with the acerbity of a baffled
proselytiser.  "I am sorry, child, you still cling to your sinful
thoughts, and keep up a rebellious spirit in face of all that is being
done for your good.  But I shall leave you now, and go and pray for you;
hoping, on my next visit, to find you in a more proper frame of mind."

So saying, Sister Ursule glides out of the cloister, drawing to the
door, and silently turning the key in its lock.

"O God!" groans the young girl in despair, flinging herself along the
pallet, and for the third time interrogating, "am I myself, and
dreaming?  Or am I mad?  In mercy, Heaven, tell me what it means!"

Volume Three, Chapter XI.

A CHEERFUL KITCHEN.

Of all the domestics turned adrift from Llangorren one alone interests
us--Joseph Preece--"Old Joe," as his young mistress used familiarly to
call him.

As Jack Wingate has made his mother aware, Joe has moved into the house
formerly inhabited by Coracle Dick; so far changing places with the
poacher, who now occupies the lodge in which the old man ere while lived
as one of the retainers of the Wynn family.

Beyond this the exchange has not extended.  Richard Dempsey, under the
new _regime_ at Llangorren, has been promoted to higher office than was
ever held by Joseph Preece; who, on the other hand, has neither turned
poacher, nor intends doing so.  Instead, the versatile Joseph, as if to
keep up his character for versatility, has taken to a new calling
altogether--that of basket-making, with the construction of bird-cages
and other kinds of wicker-work.  Rather is it the resumption of an old
business to which he had been brought up, but abandoned long years agone
on entering the service of Squire Wynn.  Having considerable skill in
this textile trade, he hopes in his old age to make it maintain him.
Only in part; for, thanks to the generosity of his former master, and
more still that of his late mistress, Joe has laid by a little
_pecunium_, nearly enough for his needs; so that, in truth, he has taken
to the wicker-working less from necessity than for the sake of having
something to do.  The old man of many _metiers_ has never led an idle
life, and dislikes leading it.

Is is not by any accident he has drifted into the domicile late in the
occupation of Dick Dempsey, though Dick had nothing to do with it.  The
poacher himself was but a week-to-week tenant, and of course cleared out
soon as obtaining his promotion.  Then, the place being to let, at a low
rent, the ex-Charon saw it would suit him; all the better because of a
"withey bed" belonging to the same landlord, which was to let at the
same time.  This last being at the mouth of the dingle in which the
solitary dwelling stands--and promising a convenient supply of the raw
material for his projected manufacture--he has taken a lease of it along
with the house.

Under his predecessor the premises having fallen into dilapidation--
almost ruin--the old boatman had a bargain of them, on condition of his
doing the repairs.  He has done them; made the roof water-tight; given
the walls a coat of plaster and whitewash; laid a new floor--in short,
rendered the house habitable, and fairly comfortable.

Among other improvements he has partitioned off a second sleeping
apartment, and not only plastered but papered it.  More still, neatly
and tastefully furnished it; the furniture consisting of an iron
bedstead, painted emerald green, with brass knobs; a new washstand, and
dressing table with mahogany framed glass on top, three cane chairs, a
towel horse, and other etceteras.

For himself?  No; he has a bedroom besides.  And this, by the style of
the plenishing, is evidently intended for one of the fair sex.  Indeed,
one has already taken possession of it, as evinced by some female
apparel, suspended upon pegs against the wall; a pincushion, with a
brooch in it, on the dressing table; bracelets and a necklace besides,
with two or three scent bottles, and several other toilet trifles
scattered about in front of the framed glass.  They cannot be the
belongings of "Old Joe's" wife, nor yet his daughter; for among the many
parts he has played in life, that of Benedict has not been.  A bachelor
he is, and a bachelor he intends staying to the end of the chapter.

Who, then, is the owner of the brooch, bracelets, and other bijouterie?
In a word, his niece--a slip of a girl who was under-housemaid at
Llangorren; like himself, set at large, and now transformed into a
full-fledged housekeeper--his own.  But before entering on parlour
duties at the Court, she had seen service in the kitchen, under the
cook; and some culinary skill, then and there acquired, now stands her
old uncle in stead.  By her deft manipulation, stewed rabbit becomes as
jugged hare, so that it would be difficult to tell the difference; while
she has at her fingers' ends many other feats of the _cuisine_ that give
him gratification.  The old servitor of Squire Wynn is in his way a
_gourmet_, and has a tooth for toothsome things.

His accomplished niece, with somewhat of his own cleverness, bears the
pretty name of Amy--Amy Preece, for she is his brother's child.  And she
is pretty as her name, a bright blooming girl, rose-cheeked, with form
well-rounded, and flesh firm as a Ribston pippin.  Her cheerful
countenance lights up the kitchen late shadowed by the presence and dark
scowling features of Coracle Dick--brightens it even more than the
brand-new tin-ware or the whitewash upon its walls.

Old Joe rejoices; and if he have a regret, it is that he had not long
ago taken up housekeeping for himself.  But this thought suggests
another contradicting it.  How could he while his young mistress lived?
She so much beloved by him, whose many beneficences have made him, as he
is, independent for the rest of his days, never more to be harassed by
care or distressed by toil, one of her latest largesses, the very last,
being to bestow upon him the pretty pleasure craft bearing her own name.
This she had actually done on the morning of that day, the twenty-first
anniversary of her birth, as it was the last of her life; thus by an act
of grand generosity commemorating two events so strangely, terribly, in
contrast!  And as though some presentiment forewarned her of her own sad
fate, so soon to follow, she had secured the gift by a scrap of writing;
thus at the change in the Llangorren household enabling its old boatman
to claim the boat, and obtain it too.  It is now lying just below, at
the brook's mouth by the withey bed, where Joe has made a mooring-place
for it.  The handsome thing would fetch 50 pounds; and many a Wye
waterman would give his year's earnings to possess it.  Indeed, more
than one has been after it, using arguments to induce its owner to
dispose of it--pointing out how idle of him to keep a craft so little
suited to his present calling!

All in vain.  Old Joe would sooner sell his last shirt, or the
newly-bought furniture of his house--sooner go begging--than part with
that boat.  It oft bore him beside his late mistress, so much lamented;
it will still bear him lamenting her--aye for the rest of his life.  If
he has lost the lady he will cling to the souvenir, which carries her
honoured name!

But, however, faithful the old family retainer, and affectionate in his
memories, he does not let their sadness overpower him, nor always give
way to the same.  Only at times when something turns up more vividly
than usual recalling Gwendoline Wynn to remembrance.  On other and
ordinary occasions he is cheerful enough, this being his natural habit.
And never more than on a certain night shortly after that of his chance
encounter with Jack Wingate, when both were a shopping at Rugg's Ferry.
For there and then, in addition to the multifarious news imparted to the
young waterman, he gave the latter an invitation to visit him in his new
home; which was gladly and off-hand accepted.

"A bit o' supper and a drop o' somethin' to send it down," were the old
boatman's words specifying the entertainment.

The night has come round, and the "bit o' supper" is being prepared by
Amy, who is acting as though she was never more called upon to practise
the culinary art; and, according to her own way of thinking, she never
has been.  For, to let out a little secret, the French lady's-maid was
not the only feminine at Llangorren Court who had cast admiring eyes on
the handsome boatman who came there rowing Captain Ryecroft.  Raising
the curtain still higher, Amy Preece's position is exposed; she, too,
having been caught in that same net, spread for neither.

Not strange then, but altogether natural.  She is now exerting herself
to cook a supper that will give gratification to the expected guest.
She would work her fingers off for Jack Wingate.

Possibly the uncle may have some suspicion of why she is moving about so
alertly, and besides looking so pleased like.  If not a suspicion, he
has a wish and a hope.  Nothing in life, now, would be so much to his
mind as to see his niece married to the man he has invited to visit him.
For never in all his life has old Joe met one he so greatly cottons to.
His intercourse with the young waterman, though scarce six months old,
seems as if it had been of twice as many years; so friendly and
pleasant, he not only wants it continued, but wishes it to become nearer
and dearer.  If his niece be baiting a trap in the cooking of the
supper, he has himself set that trap by the "invite" he gave to the
expected guest.

A gentle tapping at the door tells him the trigger is touched; and,
responding to the signal, he calls out--

"That you, Jack Wingate?  O' course it be.  Come in!"

And in Jack Wingate comes.

Volume Three, Chapter XII.

QUEER BRIC-A-BRAC.

Stepping over the threshold, the young waterman is warmly received by
his older brother of the oar, and blushingly by the girl, whose cheeks
are already of a high colour, caught from the fire over which she has
been stooping.

Old Joe, seated in the chimney corner, in a huge wicker chair of his own
construction, motions Jack to another opposite, leaving the space in
front clear for Amy to carry on her culinary operations.  There are
still a few touches to be added--a sauce to be concocted--before the
supper can be served; and she is concocting it.

Host and guest converse without heeding her, chiefly on topics relating
to the bore of the river, about which old Joe is an oracle.  As the
other, too, has spent all his days on Vaga's banks; but there have been
more of them, and he longer resident in that particular neighbourhood.
It is too early to enter upon subjects of a more serious nature, though
a word now and then slips in about the late occurrence at Llangorren,
still wrapped in mystery.  If they bring shadows over the brow of the
old boatman, these pass off, as he surveys the table which his niece has
tastefully decorated with fruits and late autumn flowers.  It reminds
him of many a pleasant Christmas night in the grand servants' hall at
the Court, under holly and mistletoe, besides bowls of steaming punch
and dishes of blazing snapdragon.

His guest knows something of that same hall; but cares not to recall its
memories.  Better likes he the bright room he is now seated in.  Within
the radiant circle of its fire, and the other pleasant surroundings, he
is for the time cheerful--almost himself again.  His mother told him it
was not good to be for ever grieving--not righteous, but sinful.  And
now, as he watches the graceful creature moving about, actively
engaged--and all on his account--he begins to think there may be truth
in what she said.  At all events his grief is more bearable than it has
been for long days past.  Not that he is untrue to the memory of Mary
Morgan.  Far from it.  His feelings are but natural, inevitable.  With
that fair presence flitting before his eyes, he would not be man if it
failed in some way to impress him.

But his feelings for Amy Preece do not go beyond the bounds of
respectful admiration.  Still is it an admiration that may become
warmer, gathering strength as time goes on.  It even does somewhat on
this same night; for, in truth the girl's beauty is a thing which cannot
be glanced at without a wish to gaze upon it again.  And she possesses
something more than beauty--a gift not quite so rare, but perhaps as
much prized by Jack Wingate--modesty.  He has noted her shy, almost
timid mien, ere now; for it is not the first time he has been in her
company--contrasted it with the bold advances made to him by her former
fellow-servant at the Court--Clarisse.  And now, again, he observes the
same bearing, as she moves about through that cheery place, in the light
of glowing coals--best from the Forest of Dean.

And he thinks of it while seated at the supper table; she at its head,
_vis-a-vis_ to her uncle, and distributing the viands.  These are no
damper to his admiration of her, since the dishes she has prepared are
of the daintiest.  He has not been accustomed to eat such a meal, for
his mother could not cook it; while, as already said, Amy is something
of an _artiste de cuisine_.  An excellent wife she would make, all
things considered; and possibly at a later period, Jack Wingate might
catch himself so reflecting.  But not now; not to-night.  Such a thought
is not in his mind; could not be, with that sadder thought still
overshadowing.

The conversation at the table is mostly between the uncle and himself,
the niece only now and then putting in a word; and the subjects are
still of a general character, in the main relating to boats and their
management.

It continues so till the supper things have been cleared off; and in
their place appear a decanter of spirits, a basin of lump sugar, and a
jug of hot water, with a couple of tumblers containing spoons.  Amy
knows her uncle's weakness--which is a whisky toddy before going to bed;
for it is the "barley bree" that sparkles in the decanter; and also
aware that to-night he will indulge in more than one, she sets the
kettle on its trivet against the bars of the grate.

As the hour has now waxed late, and the host is evidently longing for a
more confidential chat with his guest, she asks if there is anything
more likely to be wanted.

Answered in the negative, she bids both "Good night," withdraws to the
little chamber so prettily decorated for her, and goes to her bed.

But not immediately to fall asleep.  Instead she lies awake thinking of
Jack Wingate, whose voice, like a distant murmur, she can now and then
hear.  The French _femme de chambre_ would have had her cheek at the
keyhole, to catch what he might say.  Not so the young English girl,
brought up in a very different school; and if she lies awake, it is from
no prying curiosity, but kept so by a nobler sentiment.

On the instant of her withdrawal, old Joe, who has been some time
showing in a fidget for it, hitches his chair closer to the table,
desiring his guest to do the same; and the whisky punches having been
already prepared, they also bring their glasses together.

"Yer good health, Jack."

"Same to yerself, Joe."

After this exchange the ex-Charon, no longer constrained by the presence
of a third party, launches out into a dialogue altogether different from
that hitherto held between them--the subject being the late tenant of
the house in which they are hobnobbing.

"Queer sort o' chap, that Coracle Dick! an't he, Jack?"

"Course he be.  But why do ye ask?  You knowed him afore, well enough."

"Not so well's now.  He never comed about the Court, 'ceptin' once when
fetched there--afore the old Squire on a poachin' case.  Lor! what a
change!  He now head keeper o' the estate."

"Ye say ye know him better than ye did?  Ha' ye larned anythin' 'bout
him o' late?"

"That hae I; an' a goodish deal too.  More'n one thing as seems
kewrous."

"If ye don't object tellin' me, I'd like to hear what they be."

"Well, one are, that Dick Dempsey ha' been in the practice of somethin'
besides poachin'."

"That an't no news to me, I ha' long suspected him o' doin's worse than
that."

"Amongst them did ye include forgin'?"

"No; because I never thought o' it.  But I believe him to be capable o'
it, or anything else.  What makes ye think he a' been a forger?"

"Well, I won't say forger, for he mayn't a made the things.  But for
sure he ha' been engaged in passin' them off."

"Passin' what off!"

"Them!" rejoins Joe, drawing a little canvas bag out of his pocket, and
spilling its contents upon the table--over a score of coins to all
appearance half-crown pieces.

"Counterfeits--every one o' 'em!" he adds, as the other sits staring at
them in surprise.

"Where did you find them?" asks Jack.

"In the corner o' an old cubbord.  Furbishin' up the place, I comed
across them--besides a goodish grist o' other kewrosities.  What would
ye think o' my predecessor here bein' a burglar as well as smasher?"

"I wouldn't think that noways strange neyther.  As I've sayed already, I
b'lieve Dick Dempsey to be a man who'd not mind takin' a hand at any
mortal thing, howsomever bad.  Burglary, or even worse, if it wor made
worth his while.  But what led ye to think he ha' been also in the
housebreaking line?"

"These!" answers the old boatman, producing another and larger bag, the
more ponderous contents of which he spills out on the floor, not the
table; as he does so exclaiming, "Theere be a lot o' oddities!  A
complete set o' burglar's tools--far as I can understand them."

And so are they, jemmies, cold chisels, skeleton keys--in short, every
implement of the cracksman's calling.

"And ye found them in the cubbert too?"

"No, not there, nor yet inside; but on the premises.  The big bag, wi'
its contents, wor crammed up into a hole in the rocks--the clift at the
back o' the house."

"Odd, all o' it!  An' the oddest his leavin' such things behind--to tell
the tale o' his guilty doin's; I suppose bein' full o' his new fortunes,
he's forgot all about them."

"But ye han't waited for me to gie the whole o' the cat'logue.  There be
somethin' more to come."

"What more?" asks the young waterman, suprisedly, and with renewed
interest.

"A thing as seems kewrouser than all the rest.  I can draw conclusions
from the counterfeet coins, an' the house-breakin' implements; but the
other beats me dead down, an' I don't know what to make o't.  Maybe you
can tell.  I foun' it stuck up the same hole in the rocks, wi' a stone
in front exact fittin' to an' fillin' its mouth."

While speaking, he draws open a chest, and takes from it a bundle of
some white stuff--apparently linen--loosely rolled.  Unfolding, and
holding it up to the light, he adds:--

"Theer be the eydentical article!"

No wonder he thought the thing strange, found where he had found it.
For it is a _shroud_!  White, with a cross and two letters in red
stitched upon that part which, were it upon a body, both cross and
lettering would lie over the breast!

"O God!" cries Jack Wingate, as his eyes rest upon the symbol.  "That's
the shroud Mary Morgan wor buried in!  I can swear to 't.  I seed her
mother stitch on that cross an' them letters--the ineetials o' her name.
An' I seed it on herself in the coffin 'fore't wor closed.  Heaven o'
mercy! what do it mean?"

Amy Preece, lying awake in her bed, hears Jack Wingate's voice excitedly
exclaiming, and wonders what that means.  But she is not told; nor
learns she aught of a conversation which succeeds in more subdued tone;
prolonged to a much later hour--even into morning.  For before the two
men part they mature a plan for ascertaining why that ghostly thing is
still above ground instead of in the grave, where the body it covered is
coldly sleeping!

Volume Three, Chapter XIII.

A BRACE OF BODY-SNATCHERS.

What with the high hills that shut in the valley of the Wye, and the
hanging woods that clothe their steep slopes, the nights there are often
so dark as to justify the familiar saying, "You couldn't see your hand
before you."  I have been out on some, when a white kerchief held within
three feet of the eye was absolutely invisible; and it required a
skilful Jehu, with best patent lamps, to keep carriage wheels upon the
causeway of the road.

Such a night has drawn down over Rugg's Ferry, shrouding the place in
impenetrable gloom.  Situated in a concavity--as it were, at the bottom
of an extinct volcanic crater--the obscurity is deeper than elsewhere;
to-night alike covering the Welsh Harp, detached dwelling houses,
chapel, and burying-ground, as with a pall.  Not a ray of light
scintillates anywhere; for the hour is after midnight, and everybody has
retired to rest; the weak glimmer of candles from cottage windows, as
the stronger glare through those of the hotel-tavern, no longer to be
seen.  In the last every lamp is extinguished, its latest-sitting
guest--if it have any guest--having gone to bed.

Some of the poachers and night-netters may be astir.  If so they are
abroad, and not about the place, since it is just at such hours they are
away from it.

For all, two men are near by, seemingly moving with as much stealth as
any trespassers after fish or game, and with even more mystery in their
movements.  The place occupied by them is the shadowed corner under the
wall of the chapel cemetery, where Captain Ryecroft saw three men
embarking on a boat.  These are also in a boat; but not one in the act
of rowing off from the river's edge; instead, just being brought into
it.

Soon as its cutwater strikes against the bank, one of the men, rising to
his feet, leaps out upon the land, and attaches the painter to a
sapling, by giving it two or three turns around the stem.  Then facing
back towards the boat, he says:--

"Hand me them things; an' look out not to let 'em rattle!"

"Ye need ha' no fear 'bout that," rejoins the other, who has now
unshipped the oars, and stowed them fore and aft along the thwarts, they
not being the things asked for.  Then, stooping down, he lifts something
out of the boat's bottom, and passes it over the side, repeating the
movement three or four times.  The things thus transferred from one to
the other are handled by both as delicately, as though they were
pheasant's or plover's eggs, instead of what they are--an ordinary set
of grave-digger's tools--spade, shovel, and mattock.  There is, besides,
a bundle of something soft, which, as there is no danger of its making
noise, is tossed up to the top of the bank.

He who has flung follows it; and the two gathering up the hardware,
after some words exchanged in muttered tone, mount over the cemetery
wall.  The younger first leaps it, stretching back, and giving a hand to
the other--an old man, who finds some difficulty in the ascent.

Inside the sacred precincts they pause; partly to apportion the tools,
but as much to make sure that they have not hitherto been heard.  Seen,
they could not be, before or now.

Becoming satisfied that the coast is clear, the younger man says in a
whisper--

"It be all right, I think.  Every livin' sinner--an' there be a good
wheen o' that stripe 'bout here--have gone to bed.  As for him, blackest
o' the lot, who lives in the house adjoinin', ain't like he's at home.
Good as sure down at Llangorren Court, where just now he finds quarters
more comfortable.  We hain't nothin' to fear, I take it.  Let's on to
the place.  You lay hold o' my skirt, and I'll gie ye the lead.  I know
the way, every inch o' it."

Saying which he moves off, the other doing as directed, and following
step for step.

A few paces further, and they arrive at a grave; beside which they again
make stop.  In daylight it would show recently made, though not
altogether new.  A month, or so, since the turf had been smoothed over
it.

The men are now about to disturb it, as evinced by their movements and
the implements brought along.  But, before going further in their
design--body-snatching, or whatever it be--both drop down upon their
knees, and again listen intently, as though still in some fear of being
interrupted.

Not a sound is heard save the wind, as it sweeps in mournful cadence
through the trees along the hill slopes, and nearer below, the rippling
of the river.

At length, convinced they have the cemetery to themselves, they proceed
to their work, which begins by their spreading out a sheet on the grass
close to and alongside the grave--a trick of body-stealers--so as to
leave no traces of their theft.  That done, they take up the sods with
their hands, carefully, one after another; and, with like care, lay them
down upon the sheet, the grass sides underneath.  Then, seizing hold of
the tools--spade and shovel--they proceed to scoop out the earth,
placing it in a heap beside.

They have no need to make use of the mattock; the soil is loose, and
lifts easily.  Nor is their task as excavators of long continuance--even
shorter than they anticipated.  Within less than eighteen inches of the
surface their tools come in contact with a harder substance, which they
can tell to be timber--the lid of a coffin.

Soon as striking it, the younger faces round to his companion, saying--

"I tolt ye so--listen!"

With the spade's point he again gives the coffin a tap.  It returns a
hollow sound--too hollow for aught to be inside it!

"No body in there!" he adds.

"Hadn't we better keep on, an' make sure?" suggests the other.

"Sartint we had--an' will."

Once more they commence shovelling out the earth, and continue till it
is all cleared from the coffin.  Then, inserting the blade of the
mattock under the edge of the lid, they raise it up; for it is not
screwed down, only laid on loosely--the screws all drawn and gone!

Flinging himself on his face, and reaching forward, the younger man
gropes inside the coffin--not expecting to feel any body there, but
mechanically, and to see if there be aught else.

There is nothing--only emptiness.  The house of the dead is untenanted--
its tenant has been taken away!

"I know'd it!" he exclaims, drawing back.  "I know'd my poor Mary wor no
longer here!"

It is no body-snatcher who speaks thus, but Jack Wingate, his companion
being Joseph Preece.

After which, the young waterman says not another word in reference to
the discovery they have both made.  He is less sad than thoughtful now.
But he keeps his thoughts to himself, an occasional whisper to his
companion being merely by way of direction, as they replace the lid upon
the coffin, cover all up as before, shake in the last fragments of loose
earth from the sheet, and restore the grave turf--adjusting the sods
with as much exactitude, as though they were laying tesselated tiles!

Then, taking up their tools, they glide back to the boat, step into it,
and shove off.

On return down stream they reflect in different ways; the old boatman of
Llangorren still thinking it but a case of body-snatching, done by
Coracle Dick, for the doctors--with a view to earning a dishonest penny.

Far otherwise the thoughts of Jack Wingate.  He thinks, nay hopes--
almost happily believes--that the body exhumed was not dead--never has
been--but that Mary Morgan still lives, breathes, and has being!

Volume Three, Chapter XIV.

IN WANT OF HELP.

"Drowned?  No!  Dead before she ever went under the water.  Murdered,
beyond the shadow of a doubt."

It is Captain Ryecroft who thus emphatically affirms.  And to himself,
being alone, within his room in the Wyeside Hotel; for he is still in
Herefordshire.

More in conjecture, he proceeds--"They first smothered, I suppose, or in
some way rendered her insensible; then carried her to the place and
dropped her in, leaving the water to complete their diabolical work?  A
double death as it were; though she may not have suffered its agonies
twice.  Poor girl!  I hope not."

In prosecuting the inquiry to which he has devoted himself, beyond
certain unavoidable communications with Jack Wingate, he has not taken
any one into his confidence.  This partly from having no intimate
acquaintances in the neighbourhood, but more because he fears the
betrayal of his purpose.  It is not ripe for public exposure, far less
bringing before a court of justice.  Indeed, he could not yet shape an
accusation against any one, all that he has learnt new serving only to
satisfy him that his original suspicions were correct; which it has
done, as shown by his soliloquy.

He has since made a second boat excursion down the bye-channel--made it
in the day time, to assure himself there was no mistake in his
observations under the light of the lamp.  It was for this he had
bespoken Wingate's skiff for the following day; for certain reasons
reaching Llangorren at the earliest hour of dawn.  There and then to see
what surprised him quite as much as the unexpected discovery of the
night before--a grand breakage from the brow of the cliff.  But not any
more misleading him.  If the first "sign" observed there failed to blind
him, so does that which has obliterated it.  No natural rock-slide, was
the conclusion he came to, soon as setting eyes upon it; but the work of
human hands!  And within the hour, as he could see by the clods of
loosened earth still dropping down and making muddy the water
underneath; while bubbles were ascending from the detached boulder lying
invisible below!

Had he been there only a few minutes earlier, himself invisible, he
would have seen a man upon the cliff's crest, busy with a crowbar,
levering the rock from its bed, and tilting it over--then carefully
removing the marks of the iron implement, as also his own footprints!

That man saw him through the blue-grey dawn, in his skiff coming down
the river; just as on the preceding night under the light of the moon.
For he thus early astir and occupied in a task as that of Sysiphus, was
no other than Father Rogier.

The priest had barely time to retreat and conceal himself, as the boat
drew down to the eyot.  Not this time crouching among the ferns; but
behind some evergreens, at a farther and safer distance.  Still near
enough for him to observe the other's look of blank astonishment on
beholding the _debacle_, and note the expression change to one of
significant intelligence as he continued gazing at it.

"_Un limier veritable_!  A hound that has scented blood, and's
determined to follow it up, till he find the body whence it flowed.
Aha!  The game must be got out of his way.  Llangorren will have to
change owners once again, and the sooner the better."

At the very moment these thoughts were passing through the mind of
Gregoire Rogier, the "veritable bloodhound" was mentally repeating the
same words he had used on the night before: "No accident--no suicide--
murdered!" adding, as his eyes ranged over the surface of red sandstone,
so altered in appearance, "This makes me all the more sure of it.
Miserable trick!  Not much Mr Lewin Murdock will gain by it."

So thought he then.  But now, days after, though still believing Murdock
to be the murderer, he thinks differently about the "trick."  For the
evidence afforded by the former traces, though slight, and pointing to
no one in particular, was, nevertheless, a substantial indication of
guilt against somebody; and these being blotted out, there is but his
own testimony of their having ever existed.  Though himself convinced
that Gwendoline Wynn has been assassinated, he cannot see his way to
convince others--much less a legal tribunal.  He is still far from being
in a position openly to accuse, or even name the criminals who ought to
be arraigned.

He now knows there are more than one, or so supposes; still believing
that Murdock has been the principal actor in the tragedy; though others
besides have borne part in it.

"The man's wife must know all about it?" he says, going on in
conjectural chain; "and that French priest--he probably the instigator
of it?  Aye! possibly had a hand in the deed itself?  There have been
such cases recorded--many of them.  Exercising great authority at
Llangorren--as Jack has learned from his friend Joe--there commanding
everybody and everything!  And the fellow Dempsey--poacher, and what
not--he, too, become an important personage about the place!  Why all
this?  Only intelligible on the supposition that they have had to do
with a death by which they have been all benefited.  Yes; all four
acting conjointly have brought it about!

"And how am I to bring it home to them?  'Twill be difficult, indeed, if
at all possible.  Even that slight sign destined has increased the
difficulty.

"No use taking the `great unpaid' into my confidence, nor yet the
sharper stipendiaries.  To submit my plans to either magistrate or
policeman might be but to defeat them.  'Twould only raise a hue and
cry, putting the guilty ones on their guard.  That isn't the way--will
not do!

"And yet I must have some one to assist me.  For there is truth in the
old saw `Two heads better than one.'  Wingate is good enough in his way,
and willing, but he can't help me in mine.  I want a man of my own
class; one who--stay!  George Shenstone?  No!  The young fellow is true
as steel and brave as a lion, but--well, lacking brains.  I could trust
his heart, not his head.  Where is he who has both to be relied upon?
Ha!  Mahon!  The man--the very man!  Experienced in the world's
wickedness, courageous, cool--except when he gets his Irish blood up
against the Sassenachs--above all devoted to me, as I know; has never
forgotten that little service I did him at Delhi.  And he has nothing to
do--plenty of time at his disposal.  Yes; the Major's my man!

"Shall I write and ask him to come over here.  On second thoughts, No!
Better for me to go thither; see him first, and explain all the
circumstances.  To Boulogne and back's but a matter of forty-eight
hours, and a day or two can't make much difference in an affair like
this.  The scent's cold as it can be, and may be taken up weeks hence as
well as now.  If we ever succeed in finding evidence of their guilt it
will, no doubt, be mainly of the circumstantial sort; and much will
depend on the character of the individuals accused.  Now I think of it,
something may be learnt about them in Boulogne itself; or at all events
of the priest.  Since I've had a good look at his forbidding face, I
feel certain it's the same I saw inside the doorway of that convent.  If
not, there are two of the sacerdotal tribe so like it would be a toss up
which is one and which t'other.

"In any case there can be no harm in my making a scout across to
Boulogne, and instituting inquiries about him.  Mahon's sister being at
school in the establishment will enable us to ascertain whether a priest
named Rogier holds relations with it, and we may learn something of the
repute he bears.  Perchance, also, a trifle concerning Mr and Mrs
Lewin Murdock.  It appears that both husband and wife are well known at
Homburg, Baden, and other like resorts.  Gaming, if not game, birds, in
some of their migratory flights they have made short sojourn at the
French seaport, to get their hands in for those grander Hells beyond.
I'll go over to Boulogne!"

A knock at the door.  On the permission to enter, called out, a hotel
porter presents himself.  "Well?"

"Your waterman, sir, Wingate, says he'd like to see you, if convenient?"

"Tell him to step up!"

"What can Jack be coming after?  Anyhow I'm glad he has come.  'Twill
save me the trouble of sending for him; as I'd better settle his account
before starting off."  [Jack has a new score against the Captain for
boat hire, his services having been retained, exclusively, for some
length of time past.] "Besides there's something I wish to say--a long
chapter of instructions to leave with him.  Come in, Jack!"

This, as a shuffling in the corridor outside, tells that the waterman is
wiping his feet on the door mat.

The door opening, displays him; but with an expression on his
countenance very different from that of a man coming to dun for wages
due.  More like one entering to announce a death, or some event which
greatly agitates him.

"What is it?" asks the Captain, observing his distraught manner.

"Somethin' queer, sir; very queer indeed."

"Ah!  Let me hear it!" demands Ryecroft, with an air of eagerness,
thinking it relates to himself and the matter engrossing his mind.

"I will, Captain.  But it'll take time in the tellin'."

"Take as much as you like.  I'm at your service.  Be seated."

Jack clutches hold of a chair, and draws it up close to where the
Captain is sitting--by a table.  Then glancing over his shoulder, and
all round the room, to assure himself there is no one within earshot, he
says, in grave, solemn voice:

"I do believe, Captain, _she be still alive_!"

Volume Three, Chapter XV.

STILL ALIVE.

Impossible to depict the expression on Vivian Ryecroft's face, as the
words of the waterman fall upon his ear.  It is more than surprise--more
than astonishment--intensely interrogative, as though some secret hope
once entertained, but long gone out of his heart, had suddenly returned
to it.

"Still alive!" he exclaims, springing to his feet, and almost upsetting
the table.  "Alive!" he mechanically repeats.  "What do you mean,
Wingate?  And who?"

"My poor girl, Captain.  You know."

"_His_ girl, not _mine_!  Mary Morgan, not Gwendoline Wynn!" reflects
Ryecroft within himself, dropping back upon his chair as one stunned by
a blow.

"I'm almost sure she be still livin'," continues the waterman, in wonder
at the emotion his words have called up, though little suspecting why.

Controlling it, the other asks, with diminished interest, still
earnestly:--

"What leads you to think that way, Wingate?  Have you a reason?"

"Yes, have I; more'n one.  It's about that I ha' come to consult ye."

"You've come to astonish me!  But proceed!"

"Well, sir, as I ha' sayed, it'll take a good bit o' tellin', and a lot
o' explanation beside.  But since ye've signified I'm free to your time,
I'll try and make the story short's I can."

"Don't curtail it in any way.  I wish to hear all!"

The waterman thus allowed latitude, launches forth into a full account
of his own life--those chapters of it relating to his courtship of, and
betrothal to, Mary Morgan.  He tells of the opposition made by her
mother, the rivalry of Coracle Dick, and the sinister interference of
Father Rogier.  In addition, the details of that meeting of the lovers
under the elm--their last--and the sad episode soon after succeeding.

Something of all this Ryecroft has heard before, and part of it
suspected.  What he now hears new to him is the account of a scene in
the farm-house of Abergann, while Mary Morgan lay in the chamber of
death, with a series of incidents that came under the observation of her
sorrowing lover.  The first, his seeing a shroud being made by the
girl's mother, white, with a red cross, and the initial letters of her
name braided over the breast: the same soon afterwards appearing upon
the corpse.  Then the strange behaviour of Father Rogier on the day of
the funeral; the look with which he stood regarding the girl's face as
she lay in her coffin; his abrupt exit out of the room; as afterwards
his hurried departure from the side of the grave before it was finally
closed up--a haste noticed by others as well as Jack Wingate.

"But what do you make of all that?" asks Ryecroft, the narrator having
paused to gather himself for other, and still stranger revelations.
"How can it give you a belief in the girl being still alive?  Quite its
contrary, I should say."

"Stay, Captain!  There be more to come."

The Captain does stay, listening on.  To hear the story of the planted
and plucked up flower; of another and later visit made by Wingate to the
cemetery in daylight, then seeing what led him to suspect, that not only
had the plant been destroyed, but all the turf on the grave disturbed!
He speaks of his astonishment at this, with his perplexity.  Then goes
on to give account of the evening spent with Joseph Preece in his new
home; of the waifs and strays there shown him; the counterfeit coins,
burglars' tools, and finally the shroud--that grim remembrancer, which
he recognised at sight!

His narrative concludes with his action taken after, assisted by the old
boatman.

"Last night," he says, proceeding with the relation, "or I ought to say
this same mornin'--for 'twar after midnight hour--Joe an' myself took
the skiff, an' stole up to the chapel graveyard; where we opened her
grave, an' foun' the coffin empty!  Now, Captain, what do ye think o'
the whole thing?"

"On my word, I hardly know what to think of it.  Mystery seems the
measure of the time!  This you tell me of is strange--if not stranger
than any!  What are your own thoughts about it, Jack?"

"Well, as I've already sayed, my thoughts be, an' my hopes, that Mary's
still in the land o' the livin'."

"I hope she is."

The tone of Ryecroft's rejoinder tells of his incredulity, further
manifested by his questions following.

"But you saw her in her coffin?  Waked for two days, as I understood
you; then laid in her grave?  How could she have lived throughout all
that?  Surely she was dead!"

"So I thought at the time, but don't now."

"My good fellow, I fear you are deceiving yourself.  I'm sorry having to
think so.  Why the body has been taken up again is of itself a
sufficient puzzle; but alive--that seems physically impossible!"

"Well, Captain, it's just about the possibility of the thing I come to
ask your opinion; thinkin' ye'd be acquainted wi' the article itself."

"What article?"

"The new medicine; it as go by the name o' chloryform."

"Ha! you have a suspicion--"

"That she ha' been chloryformed, an' so kep' asleep--to be waked up when
they wanted her.  I've heerd say, they can do such things."

"But then she was drowned also?  Fell from a foot plank, you told me?
And was in the water some time?"

"I don't believe it, a bit.  It be true enough she got somehow into the
water, an' wor took out insensible, or rather drifted out o' herself, on
the bank just below, at the mouth o' the brook.  But that wor short
after, an' she might still a' ben alive not with standin'.  My notion
be, that the priest had first put the chloryform into her, or did it
then, an' knew all along she warn't dead, nohow."

"My dear Jack, the thing cannot be possible.  Even if it were, you seem
to forget that her mother, father--all of them--must have been cognisant
of these facts--if facts?"

"I don't forget it, Captain.  'Stead I believe they all wor cognisant o'
them--leastways, the mother."

"But why should she assist in such a dangerous deception--at risk of her
daughter's life?"

"That's easy answered.  She did it partly o' herself; but more at the
biddin' o' the priest, whom she daren't disobey--the weak-minded
creature most o' her time given up to sayin' prayers and paternosters.
They all knowed the girl loved me, and wor sure to be my wife, whatever
they might say or do against it.  Wi' her willing I could a' defied the
whole lot o' them.  Bein' aware o' that their only chance wor to get her
out o' my way by some trick--as they ha' indeed got her.  Ye may think
it strange their takin' all that trouble; but if ye'd seen her ye
wouldn't.  There worn't on all Wyeside so good lookin' a girl!"

Ryecroft again looks incredulous; not smilingly, but with a sad cast of
countenance.

Despite its improbability, however, he begins to think there may be some
truth in what the waterman says--Jack's earnest convictions
sympathetically impressing him.

"And supposing her to be alive," he asks, "where do you think she is
now?  Have you any idea?"

"I have--leastways a notion."

"Where?"

"Over the water--in France--the town o' Bolone."

"Boulogne!" exclaims the Captain, with a start.  "What makes you suppose
she is there?"

"Something, sir, I han't yet spoke to ye about.  I'd a'most forgot the
thing, an' might never a thought o't again, but for what ha' happened
since.  Ye'll remember the night we come up from the ball, my tellin' ye
I had an engagement the next day to take the young Powells down the
river?"

"I remember it perfectly."

"Well; I took them, as agreed; an' that day we went down's fur's
Chepstow.  But they wor bound for the Severn side a duck shootin'; and
next mornin' we started early, afore daybreak.  As we were passin' the
wharf below Chepstow Bridge, where there wor several craft lyin' in, I
noticed one sloop-rigged ridin' at anchor a bit out from the rest, as if
about clearin' to put to sea.  By the light o' a lamp as hung over the
taffrail, I read the name on her starn, showin' she wor French, an'
belonged to Bolone.  I shouldn't ha' thought that anythin' odd, as there
be many foreign craft o' the smaller kind puts in at Chepstow.  But what
did appear odd, an' gied me a start too, wor my seein' a boat by the
sloop's side wi' a man in it, who I could a'most sweared wor the Rogue's
Ferry priest.  There wor others in the boat besides, an' they appeared
to be gettin' some sort o' bundle out o' it, an' takin' it up the
man-ropes, aboard o' the sloop.  But I didn't see any more, as we soon
passed out o' sight, goin' on down.  Now, Captain, it's my firm belief
that man must ha' been the priest, and that thing, I supposed to be a
bundle o' marchandise, neyther more nor less than the body o' Mary
Morgan--not dead, but livin'!"

"You astound me, Wingate!  Certainly a most singular circumstance!
Coincidence too!  Boulogne--Boulogne!"

"Yes, Captain; by the letterin' on her starn the sloop must ha' belonged
there; an' _I'm goin' there myself_."

"I too, Jack!  We shall go together!"

Volume Three, Chapter XVI.

A STRANGE FATHER CONFESSOR.

"He's gone away--given it up!  Be glad, madame!"

Father Rogier so speaks on entering the drawing-room of Llangorren
Court, where Mrs Murdock is seated.

"What, Gregoire?"--were her husband present it would be "Pere;" but she
is alone--"Who's gone away?  And why am I to rejoice?"

"_Le Capitaine_."

"Ha!" she ejaculates, with a pleased look, showing that the two words
have answered all her questions in one.

"Are you sure of it?  The news seems too good for truth."

"It's true, nevertheless; so far as his having gone away.  Whether to
stay away is another matter.  We must hope he will."

"I hope it with all my heart."

"And well you may, madame; as I myself.  We had more to fear from that
_chien de chasse_ than all the rest of the pack--ay, have still, unless
he's found the scent too cold, and in despair abandoned the pursuit;
which I fancy he has, thrown off by that little rock-slide.  A lucky
chance my having caught him at his reconnaissance; and rather a clever
bit of strategy so to baffle him!  Wasn't it, _cherie_?"

"Superb!  The whole thing from beginning to end!  You've proved yourself
a wonderful man, Gregoire Rogier."

"And I hope worthy of Olympe Renault?"

"You have."

"_Merci_!  So far that's satisfactory; and your slave feels he has not
been toiling in vain.  But there's a good deal more to be done before we
can take our ship safe into port.  And it must be done quickly, too.  I
pine to cast off this priestly garb--in which I've been so long
miserably masquerading--and enter into the real enjoyments of life.  But
there's another, and more potent reason, for using despatch; breakers
around us, on which we may be wrecked, ruined any day--any hour.  Le
Capitaine Ryecroft was not, or is not, the only one."

"Richard--_le braconnier_--you're thinking of?"

"No, no, no!  Of him we needn't have the slightest fear.  I hold his
lips sealed, by a rope around his neck; whose noose I can draw tight at
the shortest notice.  I am far more apprehensive of Monsieur, _votre
mari_!"

"In what way?"

"More than one; but for one, his tongue.  There's no knowing what a
drunken man may do or say in his cups; and Monsieur Murdock is hardly
ever out of them.  Suppose he gets to babbling, and lets drop something
about--well, I needn't say what.  There's still suspicion abroad--plenty
of it,--and like a spark applied to tinder, a word would set it ablaze."

"_C'est vrai_!"

"Fortunately, Mademoiselle had no very near relatives of the male sex,
nor any one much interested in her fate, save the _fiance_ and the other
lover--the rustic and rejected one--Shenstone _fils_.  Of him we need
take no account.  Even if suspicious, he hasn't the craft to unravel a
clue so cunningly rolled as ours; and for the _ancien hussard_, let us
hope he has yielded to despair, and gone back whence he came.  Luck too,
in his having no intimacies here, or I believe anywhere in the shire of
Hereford.  Had it been otherwise, we might not so easily have got
disembarrassed of him."

"And you do think he has gone for good?"

"I do; at least it would seem so.  On his second return to the hotel--in
haste as it was--he had little luggage; and that he has all taken away
with him.  So I learnt from one of the hotel people, who professes our
faith.  Further, at the railway station, that he took ticket for London.
Of course that means nothing.  He may be _en route_ for anywhere
beyond--round the globe, if he feel inclined to circumnavigation.  And I
shall be delighted if he do."

He would not be much delighted had he heard at the railway station of
what actually occurred--that in getting his ticket Captain Ryecroft had
inquired whether he could not be booked through for Boulogne.  Still
less might Father Rogier have felt gratification to know, that there
were two tickets taken for London; a first-class for the Captain
himself, and a second for the waterman Wingate--travelling together,
though in separate carriages, as befitted their different rank in life.

Having heard nothing of this, the sham priest--as he has now
acknowledged himself--is jubilant at the thought that another hostile
pawn in the game he has been so skilfully playing has disappeared from
the chess-board.  In short, all have been knocked over, queen, bishops,
knights, and castles.  Alone the king stands, he tottering; for Lewin
Murdock is fast drinking himself to death.  It is of him the priest
speaks as king:--

"Has he signed the will?"

"_Oui_."

"When?"

"This morning, before he went out.  The lawyer who drew it up came, with
his clerk to witness--"

"I know all that," interrupts the priest, "as I should, having sent
them.  Let me have a look at the document.  You have it in the house, I
hope?"

"In my hand," she answers, diving into a drawer of the table by which
she sits, and drawing forth a folded sheet of parchment; "_Le voila_!"

She spreads it out, not to read what is written upon it, only to look at
the signatures, and see they are right.  Well knows he every word of
that will, he himself having dictated it.  A testament made by Lewin
Murdock, which, at his death, leaves the Llangorren estate--as sole
owner and last in tail he having the right so to dispose of it--to his
wife Olympe--_nee_ Renault--for her life; then to his children, should
there be any surviving; failing such, to Gregoire Rogier, Priest of the
Roman Catholic Church; and in the event of his demise preceding that of
the other heirs hereinbefore mentioned, the estate, or what remains of
it, to become the property of the Convent of --, Boulogne-sur-mer,
France.

"For that last clause, which is yours, Gregoire, the nuns of Boulogne
should be grateful to you, or at all events, the abbess, Lady Superior,
or whatever she's called."

"So she will," he rejoins with a dry laugh, "when she gets the property
so conveyed.  Unfortunately for her the reversion is rather distant, and
having to pass through so many hands there may be no great deal left of
it, on coming into hers.  Nay!" he adds in exclamation, his jocular tone
suddenly changing to the serious, "if some step be not taken to put a
stop to what's going on, there won't be much of the Llangorren estate
left for any one--not even for yourself, madame.  Under the fingers of
Monsieur, with the cards in them, it's being melted down as snow on the
sunny side of a hill.  Even at this self-same moment it may be going off
in large slices--avalanches!"

"_Mon Dieu_!" she exclaims, with an alarmed air, quite comprehending the
danger thus figuratively portrayed.

"I wouldn't be surprised," he continues, "if to-day he were made a
thousand pounds the poorer.  When I left the Ferry he was in the Welsh
Harp, as I was told, tossing sovereigns upon its bar counter, `Heads and
tails, who wins?'  Not he, you may be sure.  No doubt he's now at a
gaming-table inside, engaged with that gang of sharpers who have lately
got around him, staking large sums on every turn of the cards--Jews'
eyes, ponies, and monkeys, as these _chevaliers d'industrie_ facetiously
term their money.  If we don't bring all this to a termination, that
will you have in your hand won't be worth the price of the parchment
it's written upon.  _Comprenez-vous, cherie_?"

"_Parfaitement_!  But how is it to be brought to a termination.  For
myself I haven't an idea.  Has any occurred to you, Gregoire?"

As the ex-courtesan asks the question, she leans across the little
table, and looks the false priest straight in the face.  He knows the
bent of her inquiry, told it by the tone and manner in which it has been
put--both significant of something more than the words might otherwise
convey.  Still he does not answer it directly.  Even between these two
fiends in human form, despite their mutual understanding of each other's
wickedness, and the little reason either has for concealing it, there is
a sort of intuitive reticence upon the matter which is in the minds of
both.  For it is murder--the murder of Lewin Murdock!

"_Le pauvre homme_!" ejaculates the man, with a pretence at
compassionating, under the circumstances ludicrous.  "The cognac is
killin' him, not by inches, but ells; and I don't believe he can last
much longer.  It seems but a question of weeks; may be only days.
Thanks to the school in which I was trained, I have sufficient medical
knowledge to prognosticate that."

A gleam as of delight passes over the face of the woman--an expression
almost demoniacal; for it is a wife hearing this about her husband!

"You think only _days_?" she asks, with an eagerness as if apprehensive
about that husband's health.  But the tone tells different, as the
hungry look in her eye while awaiting the answer.  Both proclaim she
wishes it in the affirmative; as it is.

"Only days!" he says, as if his voice were an echo.  "Still days count
in a thing of this kind--aye, even hours.  Who knows but that in a fit
of drunken bravado he may stake the whole estate on a single turn of
cards or cast of dice?  Others have done the like before now--gentlemen
grander than he, with titles to their names--rich in one hour, beggars
in the next.  I can remember more than one."

"Ah! so can I."

"Englishmen, too; who usually wind up such matters by putting a pistol
to their heads, and blowing out their brains.  True, Monsieur hasn't any
much to blow out; but that isn't a question which affects us--myself as
well as you.  I've risked everything--reputation, which I care least
about, if the affair can be brought to a proper conclusion; but should
it fail, then--I need not tell you.  What we've done, if known, would
soon make us acquainted with the inside of an English gaol.  Monsieur,
throwing away his money in this reckless fashion must be restrained, or
he'll bring ruin to all of us.  Therefore some steps must be taken to
restrain him, and promptly."

"_Vraiment_!  I ask you again--have you thought of anything, Gregoire?"

He does not make immediate answer, but seems to ponder over, or hang
back upon it.  When at length given it is itself an interrogation,
apparently unconnected with what they have been speaking about.

"Would it greatly surprise you, if to-night your husband didn't come
home to you?"

"Certainly not--in the least.  Why should it?  It wouldn't be the first
time by scores--hundreds--for him to stay all night away from me.  Aye,
and at that same Welsh Harp, too--many's the night."

"To your great annoyance, no doubt; if it did not make you dreadfully
jealous?"

She breaks out into a laugh, hollow and heartless, as was ever heard in
an _allee_ of the Jardin Mabille.  When it is ended she adds gravely:--

"The time was when he might have made me so; I may as well admit that.
Not now, as you know, Gregoire.  Now, instead of feeling annoyed by it,
I'd only be too glad to think I should never see his face again.  _Le
brute ivrogne_!"

To this monstrous declaration Rogier laconically rejoins:--

"You may not."  Then placing his lips close to her ear, he adds in a
whisper, "If all prosper, as planned, _you will not_!"

She neither starts, nor seeks to inquire further.  She knows he has
conceived some scheme to disembarrass her of a husband, she no longer
care? for, to both become inconvenient.  And from what has gone before,
she can rely on Rogier with its execution.

Volume Three, Chapter XVII.

A QUEER CATECHIST.

A boat upon the Wye, being polled upward, between Llangorren Court and
Rugg's Ferry.  There are two men in it, not Vivian Ryecroft and Jack
Wingate, but Gregoire Rogier and Richard Dempsey.

The _ci-devant_ poacher is at the oars; for in addition to his new post
as gamekeeper, he has occasional charge of a skiff, which has replaced
the _Gwendoline_.  This same morning he rowed his master up to Rugg's,
leaving him there; and now, at night, he is on return to fetch him home.

The two places being on opposite sides of the river, and the road round
about, besides difficult for wheeled vehicles, Lewin Murdock moreover an
indifferent horseman, he prefers the water route, and often takes it, as
he has done to-day.

It is the same on which Father Rogier held that dialogue of sinister
innuendo with Madame, and the priest, aware of the boat having to return
to the Ferry, avails himself of a seat in it.  Not that he dislikes
walking, or is compelled to it.  For he now keeps a cob, and does his
rounds on horseback.  But on this particular day he has left his
roadster in its stable, and gone down to Llangorren afoot, knowing there
would be the skiff to take him back.

No scheme of mere convenience dictated this arrangement to Gregoire
Rogier.  Instead, one of Satanic wickedness, preconceived, and all
settled before holding that _tete-a-tete_ with her he has called
"cherie."

Though requiring a boat for its execution and an oarsman of a peculiar
kind--adroit at something besides the handling of oars--not a word of it
has yet been imparted to the one who is rowing him.  For all, the
ex-poacher, accustomed to the priest's moods, and familiar with his
ways, can see there is something unusual in his mind, and that he
himself is on the eve of being called upon for some new service or
sacrifice.  No supply of poached fish or game.  Things have gone higher
than that, and he anticipates some demand of a more serious nature.
Still he has not the most distant idea of what it is to be; though
certain interrogatories put to him are evidently leading up to it.  The
first is--

"You're not afraid of water, are you, Dick?"

"Not partickler, your Reverence.  Why should I?"

"Well, your being so little in the habit of washing your face--if I am
right in my reckoning, only once a week--may plead my excuse for asking
the question."

"Oh, Father Rogier!  That wor only in the time past, when I lived alone,
and the thing worn't worth while.  Now, going more into respectable
company, I do a little washin' every day."

"I'm glad to hear of your improved habits, and that they keep pace with
the promotion you've had.  But my inquiry had no reference to your
ablutions; rather to your capabilities as a swimmer.  If I mistake not,
you can swim like a fish?"

"No, not equal to a fish.  That ain't possible."

"An otter, then?"

"Somethin' nearer he, if ye like," answers Coracle, laughingly.

"I supposed as much.  Never mind.  About the degree of your natatory
powers we needn't dispute.  I take it they're sufficient for reaching
either bank of this river, supposing the skiff to get capsized and you
in it?"

"Lor, Father Rogier!  That wouldn't be nothin'!  I could swim to eyther
shore, if 'twor miles off."

"But could you as you are now--with clothes on, boots, and everything?"

"Sartin could I, and carry weight beside."

"That will do," rejoins the questioner, apparently satisfied.  Then
lapsing into silence, and leaving Dick in a very desert of conjectures
why he has been so interrogated.

The speechless interregnum is not for long.  After a minute or two,
Rogier, as if freshly awaking from a reverie, again asks--

"Would it upset this skiff if I were to step on the side of it--I mean
bearing upon it with all the weight of my body?"

"That would it, your Reverence; though ye be but a light weight; tip it
over like a tub."

"Quite turn it upside down--as your old truckle, eh?"

"Well; not so ready as the truckle.  Still 'twould go bottom upward.
Though a biggish boat, it be one o' the crankiest kind, and would sure
capsize wi' the lightiest o' men standin' on its gunn'l rail."

"And surer with a heavier one, as yourself, for instance?"

"I shouldn't like to try--your Reverence bein' wi' me in the boat."

"How would you like, somebody else being with you in it--_if made worth
your while_?"

Coracle starts at this question, asked in a tone that makes more
intelligible the others preceding it, and which have been hitherto
puzzling him.  He begins to see the drift of the _sub Jove_ confessional
to which he is being submitted.

"How'd I like it, your Reverence?  Well enough; if, as you say, made
worth my while.  I don't mind a bit o' a wettin' when there's anythin'
to be gained by it.  Many's the one I've had on a chilly winter's night,
as this same be, all for the sake o' a salmon, I wor 'bleeged to sell at
less'n half-price.  If only showed the way to earn a honest penny by it,
I wouldn't wait for the upsettin' o' the boat, but jump overboard at
oncst."

"That's game in you, Monsieur Dick.  But to earn the honest penny you
speak of, the upsetting of the boat might be a necessary condition."

"Be it so, your Reverence.  I'm willing to fulfil that, if ye only bid
me.  Maybe," he continues in tone of confidential suggestion, "there be
somebody as you think ought to get a duckin' beside myself?"

"There is somebody, who ought," rejoins the priest, coming nearer to his
point.  "Nay, must," he continues, "for if he don't the chances are we
shall all go down together, and that soon."

Coracle sculls on without questioning.  He more than half comprehends
the figurative speech, and is confident he will ere long receive
complete explanation of it.

He is soon led a little way further by the priest observing--

"No doubt, _mon ancien braconnier_, you've been gratified by the change
that's of late taken place in your circumstances.  But perhaps it hasn't
quite satisfied you, and you expect to have something more; as I have
the wish you should.  And you would ere this, but for one who
obstinately sets his face against it."

"May I know who that one is, Father Rogier?"

"You may, and shall; though I should think you scarce need telling.
Without naming names, it's he who will be in this boat with you going
back to Llangorren."

"I thought so.  An' if I an't astray, he be the one your Reverence
thinks would not be any the worse o' a wettin'?"

"Instead, all the better for it.  It may cure him of his evil courses--
drinking, card-playing, and the like.  If he's not cured of them by some
means, and soon, there won't be an acre left him of the Llangorren
lands, nor a shilling in his purse.  He'll have to go back to beggary,
as at Glyngog; while you, Monsieur Coracle, in place of being
head-gamekeeper, with other handsome preferments in prospect, will be
compelled to return to your shifty life of poaching, night-netting, and
all the etceteras.  Would you desire that?"

"Daanged if I would!  An' won't do it if I can help.  Shan't if your
Reverence'll only show me the way."

"There's but one I can think of."

"What may that be, Father Rogier?"

"Simply to set your foot on the side of this skiff, and tilt it bottom
upwards."

"It shall be done.  When, and where?"

"When you are coming back down.  The where you may choose for yourself--
such place as may appear safe and convenient.  Only take care you don't
drown yourself."

"No fear o' that.  There an't water in the Wye as'll ever drown Dick
Dempsey."

"No," jocularly returns the priest; "I don't suppose there is.  If it be
your fate to perish by asphyxia--as no doubt it is--strong tough hemp,
and not weak water, will be the agent employed--that being more
appropriate to the life you have led.  Ha! ha! ha!"

Coracle laughs too, but with the grimace of wolf baying the moon.  For
the moonlight shining full in his face, shows him not over satisfied
with the coarse jest.  But remembering how he shifted that treacherous
plank bridging the brook at Abergann he silently submits to it.  He may
not much longer.  He, too, is gradually getting his hand upon a lever,
which will enable him to have a say in the affairs of Llangorren Court,
that they dwelling therein will listen to him, or, like the Philistines
of Gaza, have it dragged down about their ears.

But the ex-poacher is not yet prepared to enact the _role_ of Samson;
and however galling the _jeu d'esprit_ of the priest, he swallows it
without showing chagrin, far less speaking it.

In truth there is no time for further exchange of speech, at least in
the skiff.  By this they have arrived at the Rugg's Ferry landing-place,
where Father Rogier, getting out, whispers a few words in Coracle's ear,
and then goes off.

His words were--

"A hundred pounds, Dick, if you do it.  Twice that for your doing it
adroitly!"

Volume Three, Chapter XVIII.

ALMOST A "VERT."

Major Mahon is standing at one of the front windows of his house waiting
for his dinner to be served, when he sees a _fiacre_ driven up to the
door, and inside it the face of a friend.

He does not stay for the bell to be rung, but with genuine Irish
impulsiveness rushes forth, himself opening the door.

"Captain Ryecroft!" he exclaims, grasping the new arrival by the hand,
and hauling him out of the hackney.  "Glad to see you back in Boulogne."
Then adding, as he observes a young man leap down from the box where he
has had seat beside the driver, "Part of your belongings, isn't he?"

"Yes, Major; my old Wye waterman, Jack Wingate, of whom I spoke to you.
And if it be convenient to you to quarter both of us for a day or two--"

"Don't talk about convenience, and bar all mention of time.  The longer
you stay with me you'll be conferring the greater favour.  Your old room
is gaping to receive you; and Murtagh will rig up a berth for your
boatman.  Murt!" to the ex-Royal Irish, who, hearing the _fracas_, has
also come forth, "take charge of Captain Ryecroft's traps, along with
Mr Wingate here, and see all safety bestowed.  Now, old fellow, step
inside.  They'll look after the things.  You're just in time to do
dinner with me.  I was about sitting down to it _solus_, awfully
lamenting my loneliness.  Well; one never knows what luck's in the wind.
Rather hard lines for you, however.  If I mistake not, my pot's of the
poorest this blessed day.  But I know you're neither _gourmand_ nor
_gourmet_; and that's some consolation.  In!"

In go they, leaving the old soldier to settle the _fiacre_ fare, look
after the luggage, and extend the hospitalities of the kitchen to Jack
Wingate.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Soon as Captain Ryecroft has performed some slight ablutions--necessary
after a sea voyage however short--his host hurries him down to the
dining-room.

When seated at the table, the Major asks--

"What on earth has delayed you, Vivian?  You promised to be back in a
week at most.  Its months now!  Despairing of your return, I had some
thought of advertising the luggage you left with me, `if not claimed
within a certain time, to be sold for the payment of expenses.'  Ha!
ha!"

Ryecroft echoes the laugh; but so faintly, his friend can see the cloud
has not yet lifted; instead, lies heavy and dark as ever.

In hopes of doing something to dissipate it, the Major rolls on in his
rich Hibernian brogue--

"You've just come in time to save your chattels from the hammer.  And
now I have you here I mean to keep you.  So, old boy, make up your mind
to an unlimited sojourn in Boulogne-sur-mer.  You will, won't you?"

"It's very kind of you, Mahon; but that must depend on--"

"On what?"

"How I prosper in my errand."

"Oh! this time you _have_ an errand?  Some business?"

"I have."

"Well, as you had none before, it gives reason to hope that other
matters may be also reversed, and instead of shooting off like a comet,
you'll play the part of a fixed star; neither to shoot nor be shot at,
as looked likely on the last occasion.  But speaking seriously,
Ryecroft, as you say you're on business, may I know its nature?"

"Not only may, but it's meant you should.  Nay, more, Mahon; I want your
help in it."

"That you can count upon, whatever it be--from pitch-and-toss up to
manslaughter.  Only say how I can serve you."

"Well, Major, in the first place I would seek your assistance in some
inquiries I am about to make."

"Inquiries!  Have they regard to that young lady you said was lost--
missing from her home!  Surely she has been found?"

"She has--found drowned!"

"Found drowned!  God bless me!"

"Yes, Mahon.  The home from which she was missing knows her no more.
Gwendoline Wynn is now in her long home--in Heaven!"

The solemn tone of voice, with the woe-begone expression on the
speaker's face, drives all thoughts of hilarity out of the listener's
mind.  It is a moment too sacred for mirth; and between the two friends,
old comrades in arms, for an interval even speech is suspended; only a
word of courtesy as the host presses his guest to partake of the viands
before them.

The Major does not question further, leaving the other to take up the
broken thread of the conversation.

Which he at length does, holding it in hand, till he has told all that
happened since they last sat at that table together.

He gives only the facts, reserving his own deductions from them.  But
Mahon, drawing them for himself, says searchingly--

"Then you have a suspicion there's been what's commonly called foul
play?"

"More than a suspicion.  I'm sure of it."

"The devil!  But who do you suspect?"

"Who should I, but he now in possession of the property--her cousin, Mr
Lewin Murdock.  Though I've reason to believe there are others mixed up
in it; one of them a Frenchman.  Indeed, it's chiefly to make inquiry
about him I've come over to Boulogne."

"A Frenchman.  You know his name?"

"I do; at least that he goes by on the other side of the Channel.  You
remember that night as we were passing the back entrance of the convent
where your sister's at school, our seeing a carriage there--a hackney,
or whatever it was?"

"Certainly I do."

"And my saying that the man who had just got out of it, and gone inside,
resembled a priest I'd seen but a day or two before?"

"Of course I remember all that; and my joking you at the time as to the
idleness of you fancying a likeness among sheep; where all are so nearly
of the same hue--that black.  Something of the sort I said.  But what's
your argument?"

"No argument at all, but a conviction, that the man we saw that night
was my Herefordshire priest.  I've seen him several times since--had a
good square look at him--and feel sure 'twas he."

"You haven't yet told me his name?"

"Rogier--Father Rogier.  So he is called upon the Wye."

"And, supposing him identified, what follows?"

"A great deal follows, or rather depends on his identification."

"Explain, Ryecroft.  I shall listen with patience."

Ryecroft does explain, continuing his narrative into a second chapter,
which includes the doings of the Jesuit on Wyeside, so far as known to
him; the story of Jack Wingate's love and loss--the last so strangely
resembling his own--the steps afterwards taken by the waterman; in
short, everything he can think of that will throw light upon the
subject.

"A strange tale, truly!" observes the Major, after hearing it to the
end.  "But does your boatman really believe the priest has resuscitated
his dead sweetheart and brought her over here with the intention of of
shutting her up in a nunnery?"

"He does all that; and certainly not without show of reason.  Dead or
alive, the priest or some one else has taken the girl out of her coffin,
and her grave."

"'Twould be a wonderful story, if true--I mean the resuscitation, or
resurrection; not the mere disinterment of a body.  That's possible, and
probable where priests of the Jesuitical school are concerned.  And so
should the other be, when one considers that they can make statues wink,
and pictures shed tears.  Oh! yes; Ultramontane magicians can do
anything!"

"But why," asks Ryecroft, "should they have taken all this trouble about
a poor girl--the daughter of a small Herefordshire farmer,--with
possibly at the most a hundred pounds, or so, for her dowry?  That's
what mystifies me!"

"It needn't," laconically observes the Major.  "These Jesuit gentry have
often other motives than money for caging such birds in their convents.
Was the girl good looking?" he asks after musing a moment.

"Well, of myself I never saw her.  By Jack's description she must have
been a superb creature--on a par with the angels.  True, a lover's
judgment is not much to be relied on, but I've heard from others, that
Miss Morgan was really a rustic belle--something beyond the common."

"Faith! and that may account for the whole thing.  I know they like
their nuns to be nice looking; prefer that stripe; I suppose, for
purposes of proselytising, if nothing more.  They'd give a good deal to
receive the services of my own sister in that way; have been already
bidding for her.  By Heavens!  I'd rather see her laid in her grave!"

The Major's strong declaration is followed by a spell of silence; after
which, cooling down a little, he continues--

"You've come, then, to inquire into this convent matter, about--what's
the girl's name?--ah!  Morgan."

"More than the convent matter; though it's in the same connection.  I've
come to learn what can be learnt about this priest; get his character,
with his antecedents.  And, if possible, obtain some information
respecting the past lives of Mr Lewin Murdock and his French wife; for
which I may probably go on to Paris, if not further.  To sum up
everything, I've determined to sift this mystery to the bottom--unravel
it to its last thread.  I've already commenced unwinding the clue, and
made some little progress.  But I want one to assist me.  Like a lone
hunter on a lost trail, I need counsel from a companion--and help too.
You'll stand by me, Mahon?"

"To the death, my dear boy!  I was going to say the last shilling in my
purse.  As you don't need that, I say, instead, to the last breath in my
body!"

"You shall be thanked with the last in mine."

"I'm sure of that.  And now for a drop of the `crayther,' to warm us to
our work.  Ho! there, Murt! bring in the `matayreals.'"

Which Murtagh does, the dinner-dishes having been already removed.

Soon as punches have been mixed, the Major returns to the subject,
saying--

"Now then; to enter upon particulars.  What step do you wish me to take,
first?"

"First, to find out who Father Rogier is, and what.  That is, on this
side; I know what he is on the other.  If we can but learn his relations
with the convent it might give us a key, capable of opening more than
one lock."

"There won't be much difficulty in doing that, I take it.  All the less,
from my little sister Kate being a great pet of the Lady Superior, who
has hopes of making a nun of her!  Not if I know it!  Soon as her
schooling's completed she walks out of that seminary, and goes to a
place where the moral atmosphere is a trifle purer.  You see, old
fellow, I'm not very bigoted about our Holy Faith, and in some danger of
becoming a `vert.'  As for my sister, were it not for a bit of a legacy
left on condition of her being educated in a convent, she'd never have
seen the inside of one, with my consent; and never will again when out
of this one.  But money's money; and though the legacy isn't a large
one, for her sake I couldn't afford to forfeit it.  You comprehend?"

"Quite.  And you think she will be able to obtain the information,
without in any way compromising herself?"

"Pretty sure of it.  Kate's no simpleton, though she be but a child in
years.  She'll manage it for me, with the instructions I mean giving
her.  After all, it may not be so much trouble.  In these nunneries,
things which are secrets to the world without, are known to every
mother's child of them--nuns and novices alike.  Gossip's the chief
occupation of their lives.  If there's been an occurrence such as you
speak of--a new bird caged there--above all an English one--it's sure to
have got wind--that is inside the walls.  And I can trust Kate to catch
the breath, and blow it outside.  So, Vivian, old boy, drink your toddy,
and take things coolly.  I think I can promise you that, before many
days, or it may be only hours, you shall know whether such a priest as
you speak of, be in the habit of coming to that convent; and if so, what
for, when he was there last, and everything about the reverend gentleman
worth knowing."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Kate Mahon proves equal to the occasion; showing herself quick witted,
as her brother boasted her to be.

On the third day after, she is able to report to him; that some time
previously, how long not exactly known, a young English girl came to the
convent, brought thither by a priest named Rogier.  The girl is a
candidate for the Holy Sisterhood--voluntary of course--to take the
veil, soon as her probation be completed.  Miss Mahon has not seen the
new novice; only heard of her as being a great beauty; for personal
charms make noise even in a nunnery.  Nor have any of the other
_pensionnaires_ been permitted to see or speak with her.  All they as
yet know is, that she is a blonde, with yellow hair--a grand wealth of
it--and goes by the name of "Soeur Marie."

"Sister Mary!" exclaims Jack Wingate, as Ryecroft at second-hand
communicates the intelligence--at the same time translating the "Soeur
Marie."

"It's Mary Morgan--my Mary!  An' by the Heavens of Mercy," he adds, his
arms angrily thrashing the air, "she shall come out o' that convent, or
I'll lay my life down at its door."

Volume Three, Chapter XIX.

THE LAST OF LEWIN MURDOCK.

Once more a boat upon the Wye, passing between Rugg's Ferry and
Llangorren Court, but this time descending.  It is the same boat, and as
before with two men in it; though they are not both the same who went
up.  One of them is--Coracle Dick, still at the oars; while Father
Rogier's place in the stern is now occupied by another; not sitting
upright as was the priest, but lying along the bottom timbers with head
coggled over, and somewhat uncomfortably supported by the thwart.

This man is Lewin Murdock, in a state of helpless inebriety--in common
parlance, drunk.  He has been brought to the boat landing by the
landlord of the "Welsh Harp," where he has been all day carousing; and
delivered to Dempsey, who now at a late hour of the night is conveying
him homeward.  His hat is down by his feet, instead of upon his head;
and the moonbeams, falling unobstructed on his face, show it of a sickly
whitish hue; while his eyes, sunk deep in their sockets, have each a
demi-lune of dark purplish colour underneath.  But for an occasional
twitching of the facial muscles, with a spasmodic movement of the lips,
and at intervals, a raucous noise through his nostrils, he might pass
for dead, as readily as dead drunk.

Verily, is the priest's prognosis based upon reliable data; for by the
symptoms now displayed Lewin Murdock is doing his best to destroy
himself--drinking suicidally!

For all, he is not destined thus to die.  His end will come even sooner,
and it may be easier.

It is not distant now, but ominously near, as may be told by looking
into the eyes of the man who sits opposite, and recalling the
conversation late exchanged between him and Father Rogier.  For in those
dark orbs a fierce light scintillates, such as is seen in the eyes of
the assassin contemplating assassination, or the jungle tiger when
within springing distance of its prey.

Nothing of all this sees the sot, but lies unconscious, every now and
then giving out a snore, regardless of danger, as though everything
around were innocent as the pale moonbeams shimmering down upon his
cadaverous cheeks.

Possibly he is dreaming, and if so, in all likelihood it is of a grand
gas-lighted _salon_, with tables of _tapis vert_, carrying packs of
playing cards, dice cubes, and ivory counters.  Or the _mise en scene_
of his visionary vagaries may be a drinking saloon, where he carouses
with boon companions, their gambling limited to a simple tossing of odd
and even, "heads or tails."

But if dreaming at all, it is not of what is near him.  Else, far gone
as he is, he would be aroused--instinctively--to make a last struggle
for life.  For the thing so near is death!

The fiend who sits regarding him in this helpless condition--as it were
holding Lewin Murdock's life, or the little left of it, in his hand--has
unquestionably determined upon taking it.  Why he does not do so at once
is not because he is restrained by any motive of mercy, or reluctance to
the spilling of blood.  The heart of the _ci-devant_ poacher,
counterfeiter, and cracksman, has been long ago steeled against such
silly and sensitive scruples.  The postponement of his hellish purpose
is due to a mere question of convenience.  He dislikes the idea of
having to trudge over miles of meadow in dripping garments!

True, he could drown the drunken man, and keep himself dry--every
stitch.  But that would not do.  For there will be another coroner's
inquest, at which he will have to be present.  He has escaped the two
preceding; but at this he will be surely called upon, and as principal
witness.  Therefore he must be able to say he was wet, and prove it as
well.  Into the river, then, will he go, along with his victim; though
there is no need for his taking the plunge till he has got nearer to
Llangorren.

So ingeniously contriving, he sits with arms mechanically working the
oars; his eyes upon the doomed man, as those of a cat having a crippled
mouse within easy reach of her claws, at any moment to be drawn in and
destroyed!

Silently, but rapidly, he rows on, needing no steerer.  Between Rugg's
Ferry and Llangorren Court he is as familiar with the river's channel as
a coachman with the carriage-drive to and from his master's mansion;
knows its every curve and crook, every purl and pool, having explored
them while paddling his little "truckle."  And now, sculling the larger
craft, it is all the same.  And he pulls on, without once looking over
his shoulder; his eyes alone given to what is directly in front of him;
Lewin Murdock lying motionless at his feet.

As if himself moved by a sudden impulse--impatience, or the thought it
might be as well to have the dangerous work over--he ceases pulling, and
acts as though he were about to unship the oars.

But again he seems suddenly to change his intention; on observing a
white fleck by the river's edge, which he knows to be the lime-washed
walls of the widow Wingate's cottage, at the same time remembering that
the main road passes by it.

What if there be some one on the road, or the river's bank, and be seen
in the act of capsizing his own boat?  True, it is after midnight, and
not likely any one abroad--even the latest wayfarer.  But there might
be; and in such clear moonlight his every movement could be made out.

That place will not do for the deed of darkness he is contemplating; and
he trembles to think how near he has been to committing himself!

Thus warned to the taking of precautions hitherto not thought of, he
proceeds onward; summoning up before his mind the different turns and
reaches of the river, all the while mentally anathematising the moon.
For, besides convenience of place, time begins to press, even trouble
him, as he recalls the proverb of the cup and the lip.

He is growing nervously impatient--almost apprehensive of failure,
through fear of being seen--when rounding a bend he has before him the
very thing he is in search of--the place itself.  It is a short straight
reach, where the channel is narrow, with high banks on both sides, and
trees overhanging, whose shadows meeting across shut off the hated
light, shrouding the whole water surface in deep obscurity.  It is but a
little way above the lone farm-house of Abergann, and the mouth of the
brook which there runs in.  But Coracle Dick is not thinking of either;
only of the place being appropriate for his diabolical design.

And, becoming satisfied it is so, he delays no longer, but sets about
its execution--carrying it out with an adroitness which should fairly
entitle him to the double reward promised by the priest.  Having
unshipped the oars, he starts to his feet; and mounting upon the thwart,
there for a second or two stands poised and balancing.  Then, stepping
to the side, he sets foot on the gunwale rail with his whole body's
weight borne upon it.

In an instant over goes the boat, careening bottom upwards, and spilling
Lewin Murdock, as himself, into the mad surging river!

The drunken man goes down like a lump of lead; possibly without pain, or
the consciousness of being drowned; only supposing it the continuation
of his dream!

Satisfied he has gone down, the assassin cares not how.  He has enough
to think of in saving himself, enough to do swimming in his clothes,
even to the boots.

He reaches the bank, nevertheless, and climbs up it, exhausted;
shivering like a water spaniel, for snow has fallen on Plinlimmon, and
its thaw has to do with the freshet in the stream.

But the chill of the Wye's water is nought compared with that sent
through his flesh, to the very marrow of his bones, on discovering he
has crawled out upon the spot--the self-same spot--where the waves gave
back another body he had consigned to them--that of Mary Morgan!

For a moment he stands horror-struck, with hair on end.  The blood
curdling in his veins.  Then, nerving himself to the effort, he hitches
up his dripping trousers, and hurries away from the accursed place--by
himself accursed--taking the direction of Llangorren, but giving a wide
berth to Abergann.

He has no fear of approaching the former in wet garments; instead knows
that in this guise he will be all the more warmly welcomed--as he is!

Mrs Murdock sits up late for Lewin--though with little expectation of
his coming home.  Looking out of the window, in the moonlight she sees a
man, who comes striding across the carriage sweep, and up into the
portico.

Rushing to the door to receive him, she exclaims in counterfeit
surprise--

"You, Monsieur Richard!  Not my husband!"

When Coracle Dick has told his sad tale, shaped to suit the
circumstances, her half-hysterical ejaculation might be supposed a cry
of distress.  Instead, it is one of ecstatic delight, she is unable to
restrain, at knowing herself now sole owner of the house over her head,
and the land for miles around it!

Volume Three, Chapter XX.

A CHAPTER DIPLOMATIC.

Another day has dawned, another sun set upon Boulogne; and Major Mahon
is again in his dining-room, with Captain Ryecroft, his sole guest.

The cloth has been removed, the Major's favourite after-dinner beverage
brought upon the table, and, with punches "brewed" and cigars set
alight, they have commenced conversation upon the incidents of the day--
those especially relating to Ryecroft's business in Boulogne.

The Major has had another interview with his sister--a short one,
snatched while she was out with her school companions for afternoon
promenade.  It has added some further particulars to those they had
already learnt, both about the English girl confined within the nunnery
and the priest who conveyed her thither.  That the latter was Father
Rogier is placed beyond a doubt by a minute description of his person
given to Miss Mahon, well known to the individual who gave it.  To the
nuns within that convent the man's name is familiar--even to his
baptismal appellation, Gregoire; for although the Major has pronounced
all the sacerdotal fraternity alike, in being black, this particular
member of it is of a shade deeper than common--a circumstance of itself
going a good way towards his identification.  Even within that sacred
precinct where he is admitted, a taint attaches to him; though what its
nature the young lady has not yet been able to ascertain.

The information thus obtained tallies with the estimate of the priest's
character, already formed; in correspondence, too, with the theory that
he is capable of the crime Captain Ryecroft believes him to have
abetted, if not actually committed.  Nor is it contradicted by the fact
of his being a frequent visitor to the nunnery, and a favourite with the
administration thereof; indeed an intimate friend of the Abbess herself.
Something more, in a way accounting for all: that the new novice is not
the first _agneau d'Angleterre_ he has brought over to Boulogne, and
guided into that same fold, more than one of them having ample means,
not only to provision themselves, but a surplus for the support of the
general sisterhood.

There is no word about any of these English lambs having been other than
voluntary additions to the French flock; but a whisper circulates within
the convent walls, that Father Rogier's latest contribution is a
recusant, and if she ever become a nun it will be a _forced_ one; that
the thing is _contre coeur_--in short, she protests against it.

Jack Wingate can well believe that; still under full conviction that
"Soeur Marie" is Mary Morgan; and, despite all its grotesque strangeness
and wild improbability, Captain Ryecroft has pretty nearly come to the
same conclusion; while the Major, with less knowledge of antecedent
circumstances, but more of nunneries, never much doubted it.

"About the best way to get the girl out.  What's your idea, Mahon?"

Ryecroft asks the question in no careless or indifferent way; on the
contrary, with a feeling earnestness.  For, although the daughter of the
Wyeside farmer is nought to him, the Wye waterman is; and he has
determined on seeing the latter through--to the end of the mysterious
affair.  In difficulties Jack Wingate has stood by him, and he will
stand by Jack, _coute-qui-coute_.  Besides, figuratively speaking, they
are still in the same boat.  For if Wingate's dead sweetheart, so
strangely returned to life, can be also restored to liberty, the chances
are she may be the very one wanted to throw light on the other and alas!
surer death.  Therefore, Captain Ryecroft is not all unselfish in
backing up his boatman; nor, as he puts the question, being anxious
about the answer.

"We'll have to use strategy," returns the Major; not immediately, but
after taking a grand gulp out of his tumbler, and a vigorous draw at his
_regalia_.

"But why should we?" impatiently demands the Captain.  "If the girl have
been forced in there, and's kept against her will--which by all the
probabilities she is--surely she can be got out, on demand being made by
her friends?"

"That's just what isn't sure--though the demand were made by her own
mother, with the father to back it.  You forget, old fellow, that you're
in France, not England."

"But there's a British Consul in Boulogne."

"Aye, and a British Foreign Minister, who gives that Consul his
instructions; with some queer ideas besides, neither creditable to
himself nor his country.  I'm speaking of that jaunty diplomat--the
`judicious bottle-holder,' who is accustomed to cajole the British
public with his blarney about `Civis Romanus sum.'"

"True, but does that bear upon our affair?"

"It does--almost directly."

"In what way?  I do not comprehend."

"Because you're not up to what's passing over here--I mean at
headquarters--the Tuilleries, or St. Cloud, if you prefer it.  There the
man--if man he can be called--is ruled by the woman; she in her turn the
devoted partisan of Pio Nono and the unprincipled Antonelli."

"I can understand all that; still I don't quite see its application, or
how the English Foreign Minister can be interested in those you allude
to?"

"I do.  But for him, not one of the four worthies spoken of would be
figuring as they are.  In all probability France would still be a
republic instead of an empire, wicked as the world ever saw; and Rome
another republic--it maybe all Italy--with either Mazzini or Garibaldi
at its head.  For, certain as you sit there, old boy, it was the
judicious bottle-holder who hoisted Nap into an imperial throne, over
that Presidential chair, so ungratefully spurned--scurvily kicked behind
after it had served his purpose.  A fact of which the English people
appear to be yet in purblind ignorance!  As they are of another, equally
notable, and alike misunderstood: that it was this same _civis Romanus
sum_ who restored old Pio to his apostolic chair; those red-breeched
ruffians, the Zouaves, being but so much dust thrown into people's
eyes--a bone to keep the British bull-dog quiet.  He would have growled
then, and will yet, when he comes to understand all these transactions;
when the cloak of that scoundrelly diplomacy which screens them has
rotted into shreds, letting the light of true history shine upon them."

"Why, Mahon!  I never knew you were such a politician!  Much less such a
Radical!"

"Nothing much of either, old fellow.  Only a man who hates tyranny in
every shape and form--whether religious or political.  Above all, that
which owes its existence to the cheapest--the very shabbiest chicanery
the world was ever bamboozled with.  I like open dealing in all things."

"But you are not recommending it, now--in this little convent matter?"

"All! that's quite a different affair!  There are certain ends that
justify certain means--when the Devil must be fought with his own
weapons.  Ours is of that kind, and we must either use strategy, or give
the thing up altogether.  By open measures there wouldn't be the
slightest chance of our getting this girl out of the convent's clutches.
Even then we may fail; but, if successful, it will only be by great
craft, some luck, and possibly a good deal of time spent before we
accomplish our purpose."

"Poor fellow!" rejoins Ryecroft, speaking of the Wye waterman, "he won't
like the idea of long waiting.  He's madly, terribly impatient.  This
afternoon as we were passing the Convent I had a difficulty to restrain
him from rushing up to its door, ringing the bell, and demanding an
interview with the `Soeur Marie'--having his Mary, as he calls her,
restored to him on the instant."

"It's well you succeeded in hindering that little bit of rashness.  Had
he done so, 'twould have ended not only in the door being slammed in his
face, but another door shut behind his back--that of a gaol; from which
he would never have issued till embarking on a voyage to New Caledonia
or Cayenne.  Aye, both of you might have been so served.  For would you
believe it Ryecroft, that you, an officer of the boasted H.B.R.A.; rich,
and with powerful friends--even you could be not only here imprisoned,
but _deporte_, without any one who has interest in you being the wiser;
or, if so, having no power to prevent it.  France, under the regime of
Napoleon le Petit, is not so very different from what it was under the
rule of Louis le Grand, and _lettres de cachet_ are now rife as then.
Nay, more of them now written, consigning men to a hundred Bastilles
instead of one.  Never was a people so enslaved as these Johnny Crapauds
are at this present time; not only their speech fettered, but their very
thoughts held in bondage, or so constrained, they may not impart them to
one another.  Even intimate friends forbear exchanging confidences, lest
one prove false to the other!  Nothing free but insincerity and sin;
both fostered and encouraged from that knowledge intuitive among
tyrants; that wickedness weakens a people, making them easier to rule
and ride over.  So, my boy, you perceive the necessity of our acting
with caution in this business, whatever trouble or time it may take--
don't you?"

"I do."

"After all," pursues the Major, "it seems to me that time isn't of so
much consequence.  As regards the girl, they're not going to eat her up.
And for the other matters concerning yourself, they'll keep, too.  As
you say, the scent's become cold; and a few days more or less can't make
any difference.  Beside, the trails we intend following may in the end
all run into one.  I shouldn't be at all surprised if this captive
damsel has come to the knowledge of something connected with the other
affair.  Faith, that may be the very reason for their having her
conveyed over here, to be cooped up for the rest of her life.  In any
case, the fact of her abduction, in such an odd outrageous way, would of
itself be damning collateral evidence against whoever has done it,
showing him or them good for anything.  So, the first work on our hands,
as the surest, is to get the waterman's sweetheart out of the convent,
and safe back to her home in Herefordshire.

"That's our course, clearly.  But have you any thoughts as to how we
should proceed?"

"I have; more than thoughts--hopes of success--and sanguine ones."

"Good!  I'm glad to hear it.  Upon what do you base them?"

"On that very near relative of mine--Sister Kate.  As I've told you,
she's a pet of the Lady Superior; admitted into the very _arcana_ of the
establishment.  And with such privilege, if she can't find a way to
communicate with any one therein closeted, she must have lost the mother
wit born to her, and brought thither from the `brightest gem of the
say.'  I don't think she has, or that it's been a bit blunted in
Boulogne.  Instead, somewhat sharpened by communion with these Holy
Sisters; and I've no fear but that 'twill be sharp enough to serve us in
the little scheme I've in part sketched out."

"Let me hear it, Mahon?"

"Kate must obtain an interview with the English girl; or, enough if she
can slip a note into her hand.  That would go some way towards getting
her out--by giving her intimation that friends are near."

"I see what you mean," rejoins the Captain, pulling away at his cigar,
the other left to finish giving details of the plan he has been mentally
projecting.

"We'll have to do a little bit of burglary, combined with abduction.
Serve them out in their own coin; as it were hoisting the priest on his
own petard!"

"It will be difficult, I fear."

"Of course it will; and dangerous.  Likely more the last than the first.
But it'll have to be done; else we may drop the thing entirely."

"Never, Mahon!  No matter what the danger, I for one am willing to risk
it.  And we can reckon on Jack Wingate.  He'll be only too ready to rush
into it."

"Ah! there might be more danger through his rashness.  But it must be
held in check.  After all, I don't apprehend so much difficulty if
things be dexterously managed.  Fortunately there's a circumstance in
our favour."

"What is it?"

"A window."

"Ah!  Where?"

"In the Convent of course.  That which gives light--not much of it
either--to the cloister where the girl is confined.  By a lucky chance
my sister has learnt the particular one, and seen the window from the
outside.  It looks over the grounds where the nuns take recreation, now
and then allowed intercourse with the school girls.  She says it's high
up, but not higher than the top of the garden wall; so a ladder that
will enable us to scale the one should be long enough to reach the
other.  I'm more dubious about the dimensions of the window itself.
Kate describes it as only a small affair, with an upright bar in the
middle--iron, she believes.  Wood or iron, we may manage to remove that;
but if the Herefordshire bacon has made your farmer's daughter too big
to screw herself through the aperture, then it'll be all up a tree with
us.  However, we must find out before making the attempt to extract her.
From what sister has told me, I fancy we can see the window from the
Ramparts above.  If so, we may make a distant measurement of it by guess
work.  Now," continues the Major, coming to his programme of action,
"what's got to be done first is that your Wye boatman write a billet
doux to his old sweetheart--in the terms I shall dictate to him.  Then
my sister must contrive, in some way, to put it in the girl's hands, or
see that she gets it."

"And what after?"

"Well, nothing much after; only that we must make preparations for the
appointment the waterman will make in his epistle."

"It may as well be written now--may it not?"

"Certainly; I was just thinking of that.  The sooner the better.  Shall
I call him in?"

"Do as you think proper, Mahon.  I trust everything to you."

The Major, rising, rings a bell; which brings Murtagh to the dining-room
door.

"Murt, tell your guest in the kitchen, we wish a word with him."

The face of the Irish soldier vanishes from view, soon after replaced by
that of the Welsh waterman.

"Step inside, Wingate!" says the Captain; which the other does, and
remains standing to hear what the word was wanted.

"You can write, Jack--can't you?"

It is Ryecroft who puts the inquiry.

"Well, Captain; I ain't much o' a penman; but I can scribble a sort o'
rough hand after a fashion."

"A fair enough hand for Mary Morgan to read it, I dare say."

"Oh, sir, I only weesh there wor a chance o' her gettin' a letter from
me!"

"There is a chance.  I think we can promise that.  If you'll take this
pen and put down what my friend Major Mahon dictates to you, it will in
all probability be in her hands ere long."

Never was pen more eagerly laid hold of than that offered to Jack
Wingate.  Then, sitting down to the table as directed, he waits to be
told what he is to write.

The Major, bent over him, seems cogitating what it should be.  Not so,
however.  Instead, he is occupied with an astronomical problem which is
puzzling him.  For its solution he appeals to Ryecroft, asking:--

"How about the moon?"

"The moon?"

"Yes.  Which quarter is she in?  For the life of me, I can't tell."

"Nor I," rejoins the Captain.  "I never think of such a thing."

"She's in her last," puts in the boatman, accustomed to take note of
lunar changes.

"It be an old moon now shining all the night, when the sky an't
clouded."

"You're right, Jack!" says Ryecroft.  "Now I remember; it is the old
moon."

"In which case," adds the Major, "we must wait for the new one.  We want
darkness after midnight--must have it--else we cannot act.  Let me see;
when will that be?"

"The day week," promptly responds the waterman.  "Then she'll be goin'
down, most as soon as the sun's self."

"That'll do," says the Major.  "Now to the pen!"

Squaring himself to the table, and the sheet of paper spread before him,
Wingate writes to dictation.  No words of love, but what inspires him
with a hope he may once more speak such in the ears of his beloved Mary!

Volume Three, Chapter XXI.

A QUICK CONVERSION.

"When is this horror to have an end?  Only with my life?  Am I, indeed,
to pass the remainder of my days within this dismal cell?  Days so
happy, till that the happiest of all--its ill-starred night!  And my
love so strong, so confident--its reward seeming so nigh--all to be for
nought--sweet dreams and bright hopes suddenly, cruelly extinguished!
Nothing but darkness now; within my heart, in this gloomy place,
everywhere around me!  Oh, it is agony!  When will it be over?"

It is the English girl who thus bemoans her fate--still confined in the
convent, and the same cloister.  Herself changed, however.  Though but a
few weeks have passed, the roses of her cheeks have become lilies, her
lips wan, her features of sharper outline, the eyes retired in their
sockets, with a look of woe unspeakable.  Her form, too, has fallen away
from the full ripe rounding that characterised it, though the wreck is
concealed by a loose drapery of ample folds.  For Soeur Marie now wears
the garb of the Holy Sisterhood--hating it, as her words show.

She is seated on the pallet's edge while giving utterance to her sombre
soliloquy; and without change of attitude continues it:--

"Imprisoned I am--that certain!  And for no crime.  It may be without
hostility on the part of those who have done it.  Perhaps, better it
were so?  Then there might be hope of my captivity coming to an end.  As
it is, there is none--none!  I comprehend all now--the reason for
bringing me here--keeping me--everything.  And that reason remains--
must, as long as I am alive!  Merciful heaven!"

The exclamatory phrase is almost a shriek; despair sweeping through her
soul, as she thinks of why she is there shut up.  For hingeing upon that
is the hopelessness, almost a dead, drear certainty, she will never have
deliverance!

Stunned by the terrible reflection, she pauses--even thought for the
time stayed.  But the throe passing, she again pursues her soliloquy,
now in more conjectural strain:--

"Strange that no friend has come after me?  No one caring for my fate--
even to inquire!  And _he_--no, that is not strange--only sadder, harder
to think of.  How could I expect, or hope, he would?

"But surely it is not so?  I may be wronging them all--friends--
relatives--even him?  They may not know where I am?  Cannot!  How could
they?  I know not myself!  Only that it is France, and in a nunnery.
But what part of France, and how I came to it, likely they are ignorant
as I.

"And they may never know!  Never find out!  If not, oh! what is to
become of me?  Father in Heaven!  Merciful Saviour! help me in my
helplessness!"

After this frenzied outburst a calmer interval succeeds; in which human
instincts as thoughts direct her.  She thinks:--

"If I could but find means to communicate with my friends--make known to
them where I am, and how, then--Ah! 'tis hopeless.  No one allowed near
me but the attendant and that Sister Ursule.  For compassion from
either, I might just as well make appeal to the stones of the floor!
The Sister seems to take delight in torturing me--every day doing or
saying some disagreeable thing.  I suppose, to humble, break, bring me
to her purpose--that the taking of the veil.  A nun!  Never!  It is not
in my nature, and I would rather die than dissemble it!"

"Dissemble!" she repeats in a different accent.  "That word helps me to
a thought.  Why should I not dissemble?  I _will_."

Thus emphatically pronouncing, she springs to her feet, the expression
of her features changing suddenly as her attitude.  Then paces the floor
to and fro, with hands clasped across her forehead, the white attenuated
fingers writhingly entwined in her hair.

"They want me to take the veil--the _black_ one!  So shall I; the
blackest in all the convent's wardrobe if they wish it--aye, crape if
they insist on it?  Yes, I am resigned now--to that--anything.  They can
prepare the robes, vestments, all the adornments of their detested
mummery; I am prepared, willing, to put them on.  It's the only way--my
only hope of regaining liberty.  I see--am sure of it!"

She pauses, as if still but half resolved, then goes on--

"I am compelled to this deception!  Is it a sin?  If so, God forgive me!
But no--it cannot be!  'Tis justified by my wrongs--my sufferings!"

Another and longer pause, during which she seems profoundly to reflect.
After it--saying:

"I shall do so--pretend compliance.  And begin this day--this very hour,
if the opportunity arise.  What should be my first pretence?  I must
think of it; practice, rehearse it.  Let me see.  Ah!  I have it.  The
world has forsaken, forgotten me.  Why then should I cling to it!
Instead, why not in angry spite fling it off--as it has me.  That's the
way!"

A creaking at the cloister door tells of its key turning in the lock.
Slight as is the sound, it acts on her as an electric shock, suddenly
and altogether changing the cast of her countenance.  The instant before
half angry, half sad, it is now a picture of pious resignation!  Her
attitude different also.  From striding tragically over the floor she
has taken a seat, with a book in her hand, which she seems industriously
perusing.  It is that "Aid to Faith" recommended, but hitherto unread.

She is to all appearance so absorbed in its pages as not to notice the
opening of the door, nor the footsteps of one entering.  How natural her
start, as she hears a voice, and looking up beholds Soeur Ursule!

"Ah!" ejaculates the latter, with an exultant air, as of a spider that
sees a fly upon the edge of its web, "Glad, Marie, to find you so
employed!  It promises well, both for the peace of your mind and the
good of your soul.  You've been foolishly lamenting the world left
behind: wickedly too.  What is to compare with that to come?  As
dross-dirt, to gold or diamonds!  The book you hold in your hand will
tell you so.  Doesn't it?"

"It does, indeed."

"Then profit by its instructions; and be sorry you have not sooner taken
counsel from it."

"I am sorry, sister Ursule."

"It would have comforted you--will now."

"It has already.  Ah! so much!  I would not have believed any book could
give me the view of life it has done.  I begin to understand what you've
been telling me--to see the vanities of this earthly existence, how poor
and empty they are in comparison with the bright joys of that other
life.  Oh! why did I not know it before?"

At this moment a singular tableau is exhibited within that Convent
cell--two female figures, one seated, the other standing--novice and
nun; the former fair and young, the latter ugly as old.  And still in
greater contrast, the expression upon their faces.  That of the girl's
downcast, demure, lids over the eyes less as if in innocence than
repentant of some sin, while the glances of the woman show pleased
surprise, struggling against incredulity!

Her suspicion still in the ascendant, Soeur Ursule stands regarding the
disciple, so suddenly converted, with a look which seems to penetrate
her very soul.  It is borne without sign of quailing, and she at length
comes to believe the penitence sincere, and that her proselytising
powers have not been exerted in vain.  Nor is it strange she should so
deceive herself.  It is far from being the first novice _contre coeur_
she has broken upon the wheel of despair and made content to taking a
vow of life-long seclusion from the world.

Convinced she has subdued the proud spirit of the English girl, and
gloating over a conquest she knows will bring substantial reward to
herself, she exclaims prayerfully, in mock pious tone:

"Blessed be Holy Mary for this new mercy!  On your knees _ma fille_, and
pray to her to complete the work she has begun!"

And upon her knees drops the novice, while the nun as if deeming herself
_de trop_ in the presence of prayer, slips out of the cloister, silently
shutting the door.

Volume Three, Chapter XXII.

A SUDDEN RELAPSE.

For some time after the exit of Soeur Ursule, the English girl retains
her seat, with the same demure look she had worn in the presence of the
nun; while before her face the book is again open, as though she had
returned to reading it.  One seeing this might suppose her intensely
interested in its contents.  But she is not even thinking of them!
Instead, of a sharp skinny ear, and a steel grey eye--one or other of
which she suspects to be covering the keyhole.

Her own ear is on the alert to catch sounds outside--the shuffling of
feet, the rattle of rosary beads, or the swishing of a dress against the
door.

She hears none; and at length satisfied that Sister Ursule's suspicions
are spent, or her patience exhausted, she draws a free breath--the first
since the _seance_ commenced.

Then rising to her feet, she steps to a corner of the cell, not
commanded by the keyhole; and there dashes the hook down, as though it
had been burning her fingers!

"My first scene of deception," she mutters to herself--"first act of
hypocrisy.  Have I not played it to perfection?"

She draws a chair into the angle, and sits down upon it.  For she is
still not quite sure that the spying eye has been withdrawn from the
aperture, or whether it may not have returned to it.

"Now that I've made a beginning," she murmurs on, "I must think what's
to be done in continuance; and how the false pretence is to be kept up.
What will _they_ do?--and think?  They'll be suspicious for a while, no
doubt; look sharply after me, as ever!  But that cannot last always; and
surely they won't doom me to dwell for ever in this dingy hole.  When
I've proved my conversion real, by penance, obedience, and the like, I
may secure their confidence, and by way of reward, get transferred to a
more comfortable chamber.  Ah! little care I for the comfort, if
convenient,--with a window out of which one could look.  Then I might
have a hope of seeing--speaking to some one--with heart less hard than
Sister Ursule's, and that other creature--a very hag!"

"I wonder where the place is?  Whether in the country, or in a town
among houses?  It may be the last--in the very heart of a great city,
for all this death-like stillness!  They build these religious prisons
with walls so thick!  And the voices, I from time to time hear, are all
women's.  Not one of a man amongst them!  They must be the Convent
people themselves!  Nuns and novices!  Myself one of the latter!  Ha!
ha!  I shouldn't have known it if Sister Ursule hadn't informed me.
Novice, indeed--soon to be a nun!  No! but a free woman--or dead!  Death
would be better than life like this!"

The derisive smile that for a moment played upon her features passes
off, replaced by the same forlorn woe-begone look, as despair comes back
to her heart.  For she again recalls what she has read in books--very
different from that so contemptuously tossed aside--of girls, young and
beautiful as herself--high-born ladies--surreptitiously taken from their
homes--shut up as she--never more permitted to look on the sun's light,
or bask in its beams, save within the gloomy cloisters of a convent, or
its dismally shadowed grounds.

The prospect of such future for herself appals her, eliciting an
anguished sigh--almost a groan.

"Ha!" she exclaims the instant after, and again with altered air, as
though something had arisen to relieve her.  "There are voices now!
Still of women!  Laughter!  How strange it sounds!  So sweet!  I've not
heard such since I've been here.  It's the voice of a girl?  It must
be--so clear, so joyous.  Yes!  Surely it cannot come from any of the
sisters?  They are never joyful--never laugh."

She remains listening, soon to hear the laughter again, a second voice
joining in it, both with the cheery ring of school girls at play.  The
sound comes in with the light--it could not well enter otherwise--and
aware of this, she stands facing that way, with eyes turned upward.  For
the window is far above her head.

"Would that I could see out!  If I only had something on which to
stand!"

She sweeps the cell with her eyes, to see only the pallet, the frail
chairs, a little table with slender legs, and a washstand--all too low.
Standing upon the highest, her eyes would still be under the level of
the sill.

She is about giving it up, when an artifice suggests itself.  With wits
sharpened, rather than dulled by her long confinement--she bethinks her
of a plan, by which she may at least look out of the window.  She can do
that by upending the bedstead!

Rash she would raise it on the instant.  But she is not so; instead
considerate, more than ever cautious.  And so proceeding, she first
places a chair against the door in such position that its back blocks
the keyhole.  Then, dragging bed clothes, mattress, and all to the
floor, she takes hold of the wooden framework; and, exerting her whole
strength, hoists it on end, tilted like a ladder against the wall.  And
as such it will answer her purpose, the strong webbing, crossed and
stayed, to serve for steps.

A moment more, and she has mounted up, and stands, her chin resting on
the window's ledge.

The window itself is a casement on hinges; one of those antique affairs,
iron framed, with the panes set in lead.  Small, though big enough for a
human body to pass through, but for an upright bar centrally bisecting
it.

She balancing upon the bedstead, and looking out, thinks not of the bar
now, nor takes note of the dimensions of the aperture.  Her thoughts, as
her glances, are all given to what she sees outside.  At the first _coup
d'oeil_, the roofs and chimneys of houses, with all their appurtenances
of patent smoke-curers, weathercocks, and lightning conductors; among
them domes and spires, showing it a town with several churches.

Dropping her eyes lower they rest upon a garden, or rather a strip of
ornamental grounds, tree shaded, with walks, arbours, and seats, girt by
a grey massive wall, high almost as the houses.

At a glance she takes in these inanimate objects; but does not dwell on
any of them.  For, soon as looking below, her attention becomes occupied
with living forms, standing in groups, or in twos or threes strolling
about the grounds.  They are all women, and of every age; most of them
wearing the garb of the nunnery, loose flowing robes of sombre hue.  A
few, however, are dressed in the ordinary fashion of young ladies at a
boarding school; and such they are--the _pensionnaires_ of the
establishment.

Her eyes wandering from group to group, after a time become fixed upon
two of the school girls; who linked arm in arm are walking backward and
forward, directly in front.  Why she particularly notices them, is that
one of the two is acting in a singular manner; every time she passes
under the window looking up to it, as though with a knowledge of
something inside in which she feels an interest!  Her glances
interrogative, are at the same time evidently snatched by stealth--as in
fear of being observed by the others.  Even her promenading companion
seems unaware of them.

She inside the cloister, soon as her first surprise is over, regards
this young lady with a fixed stare, forgetting all the others.

"What can it mean?" she asks herself.  "So unlike the rest!  Surely not
French!  Can she be English?  She is very--very beautiful!"

The last, at least, is true, for the girl is, indeed, a beautiful
creature, with features quite different from those around--all of them
being of the French facial type, while hers are pronouncedly Irish.

By this the two are once more opposite the window, and the girl again
looking up, sees behind the glass--dim with dust and spiders' webs--a
pale face, with a pair of bright eyes gazing steadfastly at her.

She starts; but quickly recovering, keeps on as before.  Then as she
faces round at the end of the walk, still within view of the window, she
raises her hand, with a finger laid upon her lips, seeming to say, plain
as words could speak it--

"Keep quiet!  I know all about you, and why you are there."

The gesture is not lost upon the captive.  But before she can reflect
upon its significance the great convent bell breaks forth in noisy
clangour, causing a flutter among the figures outside, with a scattering
helter skelter.  For it is the first summons to vespers, soon followed
by the tinier tinkle of the _angelus_.

In a few seconds the grounds are deserted by all save one--the
schoolgirl with the Irish features and eyes.  She, having let go her
companion's arm, and lingering behind the rest, makes a quick slant
towards the window she has been watching; as she approaches it
significantly exposing something white, she holds half hidden between
her fingers!

It needs no further gesture to make known her intent.  The English girl
has already guessed it, as told by the iron casement grating back on its
rusty hinges, and left standing ajar.  On the instant of its opening the
white object parts from the hand that has been holding it, and like a
flash of light passes through into the darksome cell, falling with a
thud upon the floor.

Not a word goes with it; for she who has shown such dexterity, soon as
delivering the missile, glides away; so speedily she is still in time to
join the _queue_ moving on towards the convent chapel.

Cautiously reclosing the window, Soeur Marie descends the steps of her
improvised ladder, and takes up the thing that had been tossed in; which
she finds to be a letter shotted inside!

Despite her burning impatience she does not open it, till after
restoring the bedstead to the horizontal, and replacing all as before.
For now, as ever, she has need to be circumspect, and with better
reasons.

At length, feeling secure, all the more from knowing the nuns are at
their vesper devotions, she tears off the envelope, and reads:--

  "Mary,--Monday night next after midnight--if you look out of your
  window you will see friends; among them:--

  "Jack Wingate."

"Jack Wingate!" she exclaims, with a look of strange intelligence
lighting up her face.  "A voice from dear old Wyeside!  Hope of delivery
at last!"

And overcome by her emotion she sinks down upon the pallet; no longer
looking sad, but with an expression contented, and beatified as that of
the most _devotee_ nun in the convent.

Volume Three, Chapter XXIII.

A JUSTIFIABLE ABDUCTION.

It is a moonless November night, and a fog drifting down from the _Pas
de Calais_ envelopes Boulogne in its damp, clammy embrace.  The great
cathedral clock is tolling twelve midnight, and the streets are
deserted, the last wooden-heeled _soulier_ having ceased clattering over
their cobble-stone pavements.  If a foot passenger be abroad he is some
belated individual groping his way home from the _Cafe de billars_ he
frequents, or the _Cercle_ to which he belongs.  Even the _sergens de
ville_ are scarcer than usual; those seen being huddled up under the
shelter of friendly porches, while the invisible ones are making
themselves yet more snug inside _cabarets_, whose openness beyond
licensed hours they wink at in return for the accommodation afforded.

It is, in truth, a most disagreeable night: cold as dark, for the fog
has frost in it.  For all, there are three men in the streets of
Boulogne who regard neither its chillness nor obscurity.  Instead, this
last is just what they desire, and for days past have been waiting for.

They who thus delight in darkness are Major Mahon, Captain Ryecroft, and
the waterman, Wingate.  Not because they have thoughts of doing evil,
for their purpose is of the very opposite character--to release a
captive from captivity.  The night has arrived when, in accordance with
the promise made on that sheet of paper so dexterously pitched into her
cloister, the Soeur Marie is to see friends in front of her window.
They are the friends; about to attempt taking her out of it.

They are not going blindly about the thing.  Unlikely old campaigners as
Mahon and Ryecroft would.  During the interval since that warning
summons was sent in, they have made thorough reconnaissance of the
ground, taken stock of the convent's precincts and surroundings; in
short, considered every circumstance of difficulty and danger.  They are
therefore prepared with all the means and appliances for effecting their
design.

Just as the last stroke of the clock ceases its booming reverberation,
they issue forth from Mahon's house; and, turning up the Rue
Tintelleries, strike along a narrower street, which leads on toward the
ancient _cite_.

The two officers walk arm in arm, Ryecroft, stranger to the place,
needing guidance; while the boatman goes behind, with that carried
aslant his shoulder, which, were it on the banks of the Wye, might be
taken for a pair of oars.  It is nevertheless a thing altogether
different--a light ladder; though were it hundreds weight he would
neither stagger nor groan under it.  The errand he is upon knits his
sinews, giving him the strength of a giant.

They proceed with extreme caution, all three silent as spectres.  When
any sound comes to their ears, as the shutting to of a door, or distant
footfall upon the ill-paved _trottoirs_, they make instant stop, and
stand listening--speech passing among themselves only in whispers.  But
as these interruptions are few, they make fair progress; and, in less
than twenty minutes after leaving the Major's house, they have reached
the spot where the real action is to commence.  This is in the narrow
lane which runs along: the _enceinte_ of the convent at back; a
thoroughfare little used even in daytime, but after night solitary as a
desert, and on this especial night dark as dungeon itself.

They know the _allee_ well; have traversed it scores of times within the
last few days, as nights, and could go through it blindfold.  And they
also know the enclosure wall, with its exact height, just that of the
cloister window beyond, and a little less than their ladder, which has
been selected with an eye to dimensions.

While its bearer is easing it off his shoulders, and planting it firmly
in place, a short whispered dialogue occurs between the other two, the
Major saying--

"We won't all three be needed for the work inside.  One of us may remain
here--nay, must!  Those _sergens de ville_ might be prowling about, or
some of the convent people themselves: in which case we'll need warning
before we dare venture back over the wall.  If caught on the top of it,
the petticoats obstructing--aye, or without them--'twould go ill with
us."

"Quite true," assents the Captain.  "Which of us do you propose staying
here?  Jack?"

"Yes, certainly.  And for more reasons than one.  Excited as he is now,
once getting his old flame into his arms he'd be all on fire--perhaps
with noise enough to awake the whole sleeping sisterhood, and bring them
clamouring around us, like crows about an owl, that had intruded into
the rookery.  Besides, there's a staff of male servants--for they have
such--half a score of stout fellows, who'd show fight.  A big bell, too,
by ringing which they can rouse the town.  Therefore, master Jack _must_
remain here.  You tell him he must."

Jack is told, with reasons given, though not exactly the real ones.
Endorsing them, the Major says--

"Don't be so impatient, my good fellow!  It will make but a few seconds'
difference; and then you'll have your girl by your side, sure.  Whereas,
acting inconsiderately, you may never set eyes on her.  The fight in the
front will be easy.  Our greatest danger's from behind; and you can do
better in every way, as for yourself, by keeping the rear guard."

He thus counselled is convinced: and, though much disliking it, yields
prompt obedience.  How could he otherwise?  He is in the hands of men
his superiors in rank as experience.  And is it not for him they are
there; risking liberty--it may be life?

Having promised to keep his impulsiveness in check, he is instructed
what to do.  Simply to lie concealed under the shadow of the wall, and
should any one be outside when he hears a low whistle, he is _not_ to
reply to it.

The signal so arranged, Mahon and Ryecroft mount over the wall, taking
the ladder along with them, and leaving the waterman to reflect, in
nervous anxiety, how near his Mary is, and yet how far off she still may
be!

Once inside the garden, the other two strike off along a walk leading in
the direction of the spot, which is their objective point.  They go as
if every grain of sand pressed by their feet had a friend's life in it.
The very cats of the Convent could not traverse its grounds more
silently.

Their caution is rewarded; for they arrive at the cloister sought,
without interruption, to see its casement open, with a pale face in it--
a picture of Madonna on a back ground of black, through the white film
looking as if it were veiled.

But though dense the fog, it does not hinder them from perceiving, that
the expression of that face is one of expectancy; nor her from
recognising them as the friends who were to be under the window.  With
that voice from the Wyeside still echoing in her ears, she sees her
deliverers at hand!  They have indeed come.

A woman of weak nerves would under the circumstances be excited--
possibly cry out.  But Soeur Marie is not such; and without uttering a
word, even the slightest ejaculation, she stands still, and patiently,
waits while a wrench is applied to the rotten bar of iron, soon snapping
it from its support, as though it were but a stick of macaroni.

It is Ryecroft who performs this burglarious feat, and into his arms she
delivers herself, to be conducted down the ladder; which is done without
as yet a word having been exchanged between them.

Only after reaching the ground, and there is some feeling of safety, he
whispers to her:--

"Keep up your courage, Mary!  Your Jack is waiting for you outside the
wall.  Here, take my hand--"

"Mary!  My Jack!  And you--you--" Her voice becomes inaudible, and she
totters back against the wall!

"She's swooning--has fainted!" mutters the Major; which Ryecroft already
knows, having stretched out his arms, and caught her as she is sinking
to the earth.

"It's the sudden change into the open air," he says.  "We must carry
her, Major.  You go ahead with the ladder, I can manage the girl
myself."

While speaking he lifts the unconscious form, and bears it away.  No
light weight either, but to strength as his, only a feather.

The Major going in advance with the ladder guides him through the mist;
and in a few seconds they reach the outer wall, Mahon giving a low
whistle as he approachs.  It is almost instantly answered by another
from the outside, telling them the coast is clear.

And in three minutes after they are also on the outside, the girl still
resting in Ryecroft's arms.  The waterman wishes to relieve him,
agonised by the thought that his sweetheart, who has passed unscathed,
as it were, through the very gates of death, may after all be dead!

He urges it; but Mahon, knowing the danger of delay, forbids any
sentimental interference, commanding Jack to re-shoulder the ladder and
follow as before.

Then striking off in Indian file, the Major first, the Captain with his
burden in the centre, the boatman bringing up behind, they retrace their
steps towards the Rue Tintelleries.

If Ryecroft but knew who he is carrying, he would bear her, if not more
tenderly, with far different emotions, and keener solicitude about her
recovery from that swoon.

It is only after she is out of his arms; and lying upon a couch in Major
Mahon's house--the hood drawn back and the light shining on her face--
that he experiences a thrill, strange and wild as ever felt by mortal
man!  No wonder--seeing it is Gwendoline Wynn!

"Gwen!" he exclaims, in a very ecstasy of joy, as her pulsing breast and
opened eyes tell of returned consciousness.

"Vivian!" is the murmured rejoinder, their lips meeting in delirious
contact.  Poor Jack Wingate!

Volume Three, Chapter XXIV.

STARTING ON A CONTINENTAL TOUR.

Lewin Murdock is dead, and buried--has been for days.  Not in the family
vault of the Wynns, though he had the right of having his body there
laid.  But his widow, who had control of the interment, willed it
otherwise.  She has repugnance to opening that receptacle of the dead,
holding a secret she may well dread disclosure of.

There was no very searching enquiry into the cause of the man's death;
none such seeming needed.  A coroner's inquest, true; but of the most
perfunctory kind.  Several habitues of the Welsh Harp; with its staff of
waiters, testified to having seen him at that hostelry till a late hour
of the night on which he was drowned, and far gone in drink.  The
landlord advanced the narrative a stage, by telling how he conveyed him
to the boat, and delivered him to his boatman, Richard Dempsey--all true
enough; while Coracle capped the story by a statement of circumstances,
in part facts, but the major part fictitious:--how the inebriate
gentleman, after lying a while quiet at the bottom of the skiff,
suddenly sprung upon his feet, and staggering excitedly about, capsized
the craft, spilling both into the water!

Some corroboration of this, in the boat having been found floating keel
upwards, and the boatman arriving home at Llangorren soaking wet.  To
his having been in this condition several of the Court domestics, at the
time called out of their beds, with purpose _prepense_, were able to
bear witness.  But Dempsey's testimony is further strengthened, even to
confirmation, by himself having since taken to bed, where he now lies
dangerously ill of a fever, the result of a cold caught from that
chilling _douche_.

In this latest inquest the finding of the jury is set forth in two
simple words, "Drowned accidentally."  No suspicion attaches to any one;
and his widow, now wearing the weeds of sombre hue, sorrows profoundly.

But her grief is great only in the eyes of the outside world, and the
presence of the Llangorren domestics.  Alone within her chamber she
shows little signs of sorrow; and if possible less when Gregoire Rogier
is her companion; which he almost constantly is.  If more than half his
time at the Court while Lewin Murdock was alive, he is now there nearly
the whole of it.  No longer as a guest, but as much its master as she is
its mistress!  For that, matter indeed more; if inference _may_ be drawn
from a dialogue occurring between them some time after her husband's
death.

They are in the library, where there is a strong chest, devoted to the
safe keeping of legal documents, wills, leases, and the like--all the
paraphernalia of papers relating to the administration of the estate.

Rogier is at a table upon which many of these lie, with writing
materials besides.  A sheet of foolscap is before him, on which he has
just scribbled the rough copy of an advertisement intended to be sent to
several newspapers.

"I think this will do," he says to the widow, who, in an easy chair
drawn up in front of the fire, is sipping Chartreuse, and smoking paper
cigarettes.  "Shall I read it to you?"

"No.  I don't want to be bothered with the thing in detail.  Enough, if
you let me hear its general purport."

He gives her this in briefest epitome:--

"_The Llangorren estates to be sold by public auction, with all the
appurtenances, mansion, park, ornamental grounds, home and out farms,
manorial rights, presentation to church living, etc, etc_."

"_Tres bien_!  Have you put down the date?  It should be soon."

"You're right, _cherie_.  Should, and must be.  So soon, I fear we won't
realise three-fourths of the value.  But there's no help for it, with
the ugly thing threatening--hanging over our necks like a very sword of
Damocles."

"You mean the tongue of _le braconnier_?"

She has reason to dread it.

"No I don't; not in the slightest.  There's a sickle too near his own--
in the hands of the reaper, Death."

"He's dying, then?"

She speaks with an earnestness in which there is no feeling of
compassion, but the very reverse.

"He is," the other answers, in like unpitying tone; "I've just come from
his bedside."

"From the cold he caught that night, I suppose?"

"Yes; that's partly the cause.  But," he adds, with a diabolical grin,
"more the medicine he has taken for it."

"What mean you, Gregoire?"

"Only that Monsieur Dick has been delirious, and I saw danger in it.  He
was talking too wildly."

"You've done something to keep him quiet?"

"I have."

"What?"

"Given him a sleeping draught."

"But he'll wake up again; and then--"

"Then I'll administer another dose of the anodyne."

"What sort of anodyne?"

"A _hypodermic_."

"Hypodermic!  I've never heard of the thing; not even the name!"

"A wonderful cure it is--for noisy tongues!"

"You excite one's curiosity.  Tell me something of its nature?"

"Oh, it's very simple; exceedingly so.  Only a drop of liquid introduced
into the blood; not in the common roundabout way, by pouring down the
throat, but direct injection into the veins.  The process in itself is
easy enough, as every medical practitioner knows.  The skill consists in
the _kind_ of liquid to be injected.  That's one of the occult sciences
I learnt in Italy, land of Lucrezia and Tophana; where such branches of
knowledge still flourish.  Elsewhere it's not much known, and perhaps
it's well it isn't; or there might be more widowers, with a still larger
proportion of widows."

"Poison!" she exclaims involuntarily, adding, in a timid whisper, "Was
it, Gregoire?"

"Poison!" he echoes, protestingly.  "That's too plain a word, and the
idea it conveys too vulgar, for such a delicate scientific operation as
that I've performed.  Possibly, in Monsieur Coracle's case the effect
will be somewhat similar; but not the after symptoms.  If I haven't made
miscalculation as to quantity, ere three days are over it will send him
to his eternal sleep; and I'll defy all the medical experts in England
to detect traces of poison in him.  So don't enquire further, _cherie_.
Be satisfied to know the hypodermic will do you a service.  And," he
adds, with sardonic smile, "grateful if it be never given to yourself."

She starts, recoiling in horror.  Not at the repulsive confessions she
has listened to, but more through personal fear.  Though herself steeped
in crime, he beside her seems its very incarnation!  She has long known
him morally capable of anything, and now fancies he may have the power
of the famed basilisk to strike her dead with a glance of his eyes!

"Bah!" he exclaims, observing her trepidation, but pretending to
construe it otherwise.  "Why all this emotion about such a _miserable_?
He'll have no widow to lament him--inconsolable like yourself.  Ha! ha!
Besides, for our safety--both of us--his death is as much needed as was
the other.  After killing the bird that threatened to devour our crops,
it would be blind buffoonery to keep the scarecrow standing.  I only
wish, there were nothing but he between us, and complete security."

"But is there still?" she asks, her alarm taking a new turn, as she
observes a slight shade of apprehension pass over his face.

"Certainly there is."

"What?"

"That little convent matter."

"_Mon Dieu_!  I supposed it arranged beyond the possibility of danger."

"Probability is the word you mean.  In this sweet world there's nothing
sure except money--that, too, in hard cash coin.  Even at the best we'll
have to sacrifice a large slice of the estate to satisfy the greed of
those who have assisted us--_Messieurs les Jesuites_.  If I could only,
as by some magician's wand, convert these clods of Herefordshire into a
portable shape, I'd cheat them yet; as I've done already, in making them
believe me one of their most ardent _doctrinaires_.  Then, _chere amie_,
we could at once move from Llangorren Court to a palace by some Lake of
Como, glassing softest skies, with whispering myrtles, and all the other
fal-lals, by which Monsieur Bulwer's sham prince humbugged the Lyonese
shopkeeper's daughter.  Ha! ha! ha!"

"But why can't it be done?"

"Ah!  There the word _impossible_, if you like.  What!  Convert a landed
estate of several thousand acres into cash, _presto-instanter_, as
though one were but selling a flock of sheep!  The thing can't be
accomplished anywhere; least of all in this slow-moving Angleterre,
where men look at their money twice--twenty times--before parting with
it.  Even a mortgage couldn't be managed for weeks--may be months--
without losing quite the moiety of value.  But a _bona fide_ sale, for
which we must wait, and with that cloud hanging over us!  Oh! it's
damnable.  The thing's been a blunder from beginning to end; all through
the squeamishness of Monsieur, _votre mari_.  Had he agreed to what I
first proposed, and done with Mademoiselle, what should have been done,
he might himself still--The simpleton, sot--soft heart, and softer head!
Well; it's of no use reviling him now.  He paid the forfeit for being a
fool.  And 'twill do no good our giving way to apprehensions, that after
all may turn out shadows, however dark.  In the end everything may go
right, and we can make our midnight flitting in a quiet, comfortable
way.  But what a flutter there'll be among my flock at the Rugg's Ferry
Chapel, when they wake up some fine morning, and rub their eyes--only to
see that their good shepherd has forsaken them!  A comical scene, of
which I'd like being a spectator.  Ha! ha! ha!"

She joins him in the laugh, for the sally is irresistible.  And while
they are still ha-ha-ing, a touch at the door tells of a servant seeking
admittance.

It is the butler who presents himself, salver in hand, on which rests a
chrome-coloured envelope--at a glance seen to be a telegraphic despatch.

It bears the address "Rev. Gregoire Rogier, Rugg's Ferry,
Herefordshire," and when opened the telegram is seen to have been sent
from Folkestone.  Its wording is:--

"_The bird has escaped from its cage.  Prenez garde_!"

Well for the pseudo-priest, and his _chere amie_, that before they read
it, the butler had left the room.  For though figurative the form of
expression, and cabalistic the words, both man and woman seem instantly
to comprehend them.  And with such comprehension, as almost to drive
them distracted!  He is silent, as if struck dumb, his face showing
blanched and bloodless; while she utters a shriek, half terrified, half
in frenzied anger!

It is the last loud cry, or word, to which she gives utterance at
Llangorren.  And no longer there speaks the priest loudly, or
authoritatively.  The after hours of that night are spent by both of
them, not as the owners of the house, but burglars in the act of
breaking it!

Up till the hour of dawn, the two might be seen silently flitting from
room to room--attended only by Clarisse, who carries the candle--
ransacking drawers and secretaires, selecting articles of _bijouterie_
and _vertu_, of little weight but large value, and packing them in
trunks and travelling bags.  All of which, under the grey light of
morning are taken to the nearest railway station in one of the Court
carriages--a large drag-barouche--inside which ride Rogier and Madame
Murdock _veuve_; her _femme de chambre_ having a seat beside the
coachman, who has been told they are starting on a continental tour.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And so were they; but it was a tour from which they never returned.
Instead, it was extended to a greater distance than they themselves
designed, and in a direction neither dreamt of.  Since their career,
after a years interval, ended in _deportation_ to Cayenne, for some
crime committed by them in the South of France.  So said the _Semaphore_
of Marseilles.

Volume Three, Chapter XXV.

CORACLE DICK ON HIS DEATH-BED.

As next morning's sun rises over Llangorren Court, it shows a mansion
without either master or mistress!

Not long to remain so.  If the old servants of the establishment had
short notice of dismissal, still more brief is that given to its latest
retinue.  About meridian of that day, after the departure of their
mistress, while yet in wonder where she has gone, they receive another
shock of surprise, and a more unpleasant one, at seeing a hackney
carriage-drive up to the hall door, out of which step two men, evidently
no friends to her from whom they have their wages.  For one of the men
is Captain Ryecroft, the other a police superintendent; who, after the
shortest possible parley, directs the butler to parade the complete
staff of his fellow domestics, male and female.  This with an air and in
a tone of authority, which precludes supposition that the thing is a
jest.

Summoned from all quarters, cellar to garret, and out doors as well,
their names, with other particulars, are taken down; and they are told
that their services will be no longer required at Llangorren.  In short,
they are one and all dismissed, without a word about the month's wages
or warning!  If they get either, 'twill be only as a grace.

Then they receive orders to pack up and be off; while Joseph Preece,
ex-Charon, who has crossed the river in his boat, with appointment to
meet the hackney there, is authorised to take temporary charge of the
place; Jack Wingate, similarly bespoke, having come down in his skiff,
to stand by him in case of any opposition.

None arises.  However chagrined by their hasty _sans facon_ discharge,
the outgoing domestics seem not so greatly surprised at it.  From what
they have observed for some time going on, as also something whispered
about, they had no great reliance on their places being permanent.  So,
in silence all submit, though somewhat sulkily; and prepare to vacate
quarters they had found fairly snug.

There is one, however, who cannot be thus conveniently, or
unceremoniously, dismissed--the head-gamekeeper, Richard Dempsey.  For,
while the others are getting their _mandamus_ to move, the report is
brought in that he is lying on his death-bed!  So the parish doctor has
prognosticated.  Also, that he is just then delirious, and saying queer
things; some of which repeated to the police "super," tell him his
proper place, at that precise moment, is by the bedside of the sick man.

Without a second's delay he starts off towards the lodge in which
Coracle has been of late domiciled--under the guidance of its former
occupant Joseph Preece--accompanied by Captain Ryecroft and Jack
Wingate.

The house being but a few hundred yards distant from the Court, they are
soon inside it, and standing over the bed on which lies the fevered
patient; not at rest, but tossing to and fro--at intervals, in such
violent manner as to need restraint.

The superintendent at once sees it would be idle putting questions to
him.  If asked his own name, he could not declare it.  For he knows not
himself--far less those who are around.

His face is something horrible to behold.  It would but harrow sensitive
feelings to give a portraiture of it.  Enough to say, it is more like
that of demon than man.

And his speech, poured as in a torrent from his lips, is alike
horrifying--admission of many and varied crimes; in the same breath
denying them and accusing others; his contradictory ravings garnished
with blasphemous ejaculations.

A specimen will suffice, omitting the blasphemy.

"It's a lie!" he cries out, just as they are entering the room.  "A lie,
every word o't!  I didn't murder Mary Morgan.  Served her right if I
had, the jade!  She jilted me; an' for that wasp Wingate--dog--cur!  I
didn't kill her.  No; only fixed the plank.  If she wor fool enough to
step on't that warn't my fault.  She did--she did!  Ha! ha! ha!"

For a while he keeps up the horrid cachinnation, as the glee of Satan
exulting over some feat of foul _diablerie_.  Then his thoughts changing
to another crime, he goes on:--

"The grand girl--the lady!  She arn't drowned; nor dead eyther!  The
priest carried her off in that French schooner.  I had nothing to do
with it.  'Twar the priest and Mr Murdock.  Ha!  Murdock!  I _did_
drown _him_.  No, I didn't.  That's another lie!  'Twas himself upset
the boat.  Let me see--was it?  No! he couldn't, he was too drunk.  I
stood up on the skiff's rail.  Slap over it went.  What a duckin' I had
for it, and a devil o' a swim too!  But I did the trick--neatly!  Didn't
I, your Reverence?  Now for the hundred pounds.  And you promised to
double it--you did!  Keep to your bargain, or I'll peach upon you--on
all the lot of you--the woman, too--the French woman!  She kept that
fine shawl, Indian they said it wor.  She's got it now.  She wanted the
diamonds, too, but daren't keep _them_.  The shroud!  Ha! the shroud!
That's all they left _me_.  I ought to a' burnt it.  But then the devil
would a' been after and burned me!  How fine Mary looked in that grand
dress, wi' all them gewgaws, rings,--chains, an' bracelets, all pure
gold!  But I drownded her, an' she deserved it.  Drownded her twice--
ha--ha--ha!"

Again he breaks off with a peal of demoniac laughter, long continued.

More than an hour they remain listening to his delirious ramblings, and
with interest intense.  For despite its incoherence, the disconnected
threads joined together make up a tale they can understand; though so
strange, so brimful of atrocities, as to seem incredible.

All the while he is writhing about on the bed; till at length,
exhausted, his head droops over upon the pillow, and he lies for a while
quiet--to all appearance dead!

But no; there is another throe yet, one horrible as any that has
preceded.  Looking up, he sees the superintendent's uniform and silver
buttons; a sight which produces a change in the expression of his
features, as though it had recalled him to his senses.  With arms flung
out as in defence, he shrieks:--

"Keep back, you--policeman!  Hands off, or I'll brain you!  Hach!
You've got the rope round my neck!  Curse the thing!  It's choking me.
Hach!"

And with his fingers clutching at his throat, as if to undo a noose, he
gasps out in husky voice:

"Gone by God."

At this he drops over dead, his last word an oath, his last thought a
fancy, that there is a rope around his neck!

What he has said in his unconscious confessions lays open many seeming
mysteries of this romance, hitherto unrevealed.  How the pseudo-priest,
Father Rogier, observing a likeness between Miss Wynn and Mary Morgan--
causing him that start as he stood over the coffin, noticed by Jack
Wingate--had exhumed the dead body of the latter, the poacher and
Murdock assisting him.  Then how they had taken it down in the boat to
Dempsey's house; soon after, going over to Llangorren, and seizing the
young lady, as she stood in the summer-house, having stifled her cries
by chloroform.  Then, how they carried her across to Dempsey's, and
substituted the corpse for the living body--the grave clothes changed
for the silken dress with all its adornments--this the part assigned to
Mrs Murdock, who had met them at Coracle's cottage.  Then, Dick himself
hiding away the shroud, hindered by superstitious fear from committing
it to the flames.  In fine, how Gwendoline Wynn, drugged and still kept
in a state of coma, was taken down in a boat to Chepstow, and there put
aboard the French schooner _La Chouette_; carried across to Boulogne, to
be shut up in a convent for life!  All these delicate matters, managed
by Father Rogier, backed by _Messieurs les Jesuites_, who had furnished
him with the means!

One after another, the astounding facts come forth as the raving man
continues his involuntary admissions.  Supplemented by others already
known to Ryecroft and the rest, with the deductions drawn, they complete
the unities of a drama, iniquitous as ever enacted.

Its motives declare themselves; all wicked save one.  This a spark of
humanity that had still lingered in the breast of Lewin Murdock; but for
which Gwendoline Wynn would never have seen the inside of a nunnery.
Instead, while under the influence of the narcotic, her body would have
been dropped into the Wye, just as was that wearing her ball dress!  And
that same body is now wearing another dress, supposed to have been
prepared for her--another shroud--reposing in the tomb where all
believed Gwen Wynn to have been laid!

This last fact is brought to light on the following day; when the family
vault of the Wynns is re-opened, and Mrs Morgan--by marks known only to
herself--identifies the remains found there as those of her own
daughter!

Volume Three, Chapter XXVI.

THE CALM AFTER THE STORM.

Twelve months after the events recorded in this romance of the Wye, a
boat-tourist descending the picturesque river, and inquiring about a
pagoda-like structure he will see on its western side, would be told it
is a summer-house, standing in the ornamental grounds of a gentleman's
residence.  If he ask who the gentleman is, the answer would be, Captain
Vivian Ryecroft!  For the ex-officer of Hussars is now the master of
Llangorren; and, what he himself values higher, the husband of
Gwendoline Wynn, once more its mistress.

Were the tourist an acquaintance of either, and on his way to make call
at the Court, bringing in by the little dock, he would there see a
row-boat, on its stern board, in gold lettering "_The Gwendoline_."

For the pretty pleasure craft has been restored to its ancient moorings.
Still, however, remaining the property of Joseph Preece, who no longer
lives in the cast-off cottage of Coracle Dick, but, like the boat
itself, is again back and in service at Llangorren.

If the day be fine this venerable and versatile individual will be
loitering beside it, or seated on one of its thwarts, pipe in mouth,
indulging in the _dolce far niente_.  And little besides has he to do,
since his pursuits are no longer varied, but now exclusively confined to
the calling of waterman to the Court.  He and his craft are under
charter for the remainder of his life, should he wish it so--as he
surely will.

The friendly visitor keeping on up to the house, if at the hour of
luncheon, will in all likelihood there meet a party of old
acquaintances--ours, if not his.  Besides the beautiful hostess at the
table's head, he will see a lady of the "antique brocaded type," who
herself once presided there, by name Miss Dorothea Linton; another known
as Miss Eleanor Lees; and a fourth, youngest of the quartette, _yclept_
Kate Mahon.  For the school girl of the Boulogne Convent has escaped
from its austere studies; and is now most; part of her time resident
with the friend she helped to escape from its cloisters.

Men there will also be at the Llangorren luncheon table; likely three of
them, in addition to the host himself.  One will be Major Mahon; a
second the Reverend William Musgrave; and the third, Mr George
Shenstone!  Yes; George Shenstone, under the roof, and seated at the
table of Gwendoline Wynn, now the wife of Vivian Ryecroft!

To explain a circumstance seemingly so singular, it is necessary to call
in the aid of a saying, culled from that language richest of all others
in moral and metaphysical imagery--the Spanish.  It has a proverb, _un
claco saca otro claco_--"one nail drives out the other."  And, watching
the countenance of the baronet's son, so long sad and clouded, seeing
how, at intervals, it brightens up--these intervals when his eyes meet
those of Kate Mahon--it were easy predicting that in his case the adage
will ere long have additional verification.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Were the same tourist to descend the Wye at a date posterior, and again
make a call at Llangorren, he would find that some changes had taken
place in the interval of his absence.  At the boat dock Old Joe would
likely be.  But not as before in sole charge of the pleasure craft; only
pottering about, as a pensioner retired on full pay; the acting and
active officer being a younger man, by name Wingate, who is now waterman
to the Court.  Between these two, however, there is no spite about the
displacement--no bickerings nor heartburnings.  How could there, since
the younger addresses the older as "uncle"; himself in return being
styled "nevvy?"

No need to say, that this relationship has been brought about by the
bright eyes of Amy Preece.  Nor is it so new.  In the lodge where Jack
and Joe live together is a brace of chubby chicks; one of them a boy--
the possible embryo of a Wye waterman--who, dandled upon old Joe's
knees, takes delight in weeding his frosted whiskers, while calling him
"good grandaddy."

As Jack's mother--who is also a member of this happy family--forewarned
him, the wildest grief must in time give way, and Nature's laws assert
their supremacy.  So has he found it; and though still holding Mary
Morgan in sacred, honest remembrance, he--as many a true man before, and
others as true to come--has yielded to the inevitable.

Proceeding on to the Court the friendly visitor will at certain times
there meet the same people he met before; but the majority of them
having new names or titles.  An added number in two interesting olive
branches there also, with complexions struggling between _blonde_ and
_brunette_, who call Captain and Mrs Ryecroft their papa and mamma;
while the lady who was once Eleanor Lees--the "companion"--is now Mrs
Musgrave, life companion not to the _curate_ of Llangorren Church, but
its _rector_.  The living having become vacant, and in the bestowal of
Llangorren's heiress, has been worthily bestowed on the Reverend
William.

Two other old faces, withal young ones, the returned tourist will see at
Llangorren--their owners on visit as himself.  He might not know either
of them by the names they now bear--Sir George and Lady Shenstone.  For
when he last saw them the gentleman was simply Mr Shenstone, and the
lady Miss Mahon.  The old baronet is dead, and the young one, succeeding
to the title, has also taken upon himself another title--that of
husband--proving the Spanish apothegm true, both in the spirit and to
the letter.

If there be any nail capable of driving out another, it is that sent
home by the glance of an Irish girl's eye--at least so thinks Sir George
Shenstone, with good reason for thinking it.

There are two other individuals, who come and go at the Court--the only
ones holding out, and likely to hold, against change of any kind.  For
Major Mahon is still Major Mahon, rolling on in his rich Irish brogue as
ever abhorrent of matrimony.  No danger of his becoming a Benedict!

And as little of Miss Linton being transformed into a sage woman.  It
would be strange if she should, with the love novels she continues to
devour, and the "Court Intelligence" she gulps down, keeping alive the
hallucination that she is still a belle at Bath and Cheltenham.

So ends our "Romance of the Wye;" a drama of happy _denouement_ to most
of the actors in it; and, as hoped, satisfactory to all who have been
spectators.

THE END.





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use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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