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Title: The Courtship of Morrice Buckler - A Romance
Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
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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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/courtshipofmorri00masouoft

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                            THE COURTSHIP

                                  OF

                           MORRICE BUCKLER



                            THE COURTSHIP

                                  OF

                           MORRICE BUCKLER

                              A Romance



        _Being a Record of the Growth of an English Gentleman
 during the years 1685-1687, under strange and difficult circumstances
   written some while afterwards in his own hand, and now edited by_


                            A. E. W. MASON
                  AUTHOR OF "A ROMANCE OF WASTDALE"



                                London
                       MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD.
                      NEW YORK: MACMILLAN & CO.
                                 1896



                   _First Edition, February_, 1896.
                     _Second Edition, May_, 1896.
                     _Third Edition, June_, 1896.



                              CONTENTS.


                              CHAPTER I.

TELLS OF AN INTERRUPTED MESSAGE.


                             CHAPTER II.

I REACH LONDON, AND THERE MAKE AN ACQUAINTANCE.


                             CHAPTER III.

TELLS HOW I REACH BRISTOL, AND IN WHAT STRANGE GUISE I GO TO MEET MY
FRIEND.


                             CHAPTER IV.

SIR JULIAN HARNWOOD.


                              CHAPTER V.

I JOURNEY TO THE TYROL, AND HAVE SOME DISCOURSE WITH COUNT LUKSTEIN.


                              CHAPTER VI.

SWORDS TAKE UP THE DISCOURSE.


                             CHAPTER VII.

I RETURN HOME AND HEAR NEWS OF COUNTESS LUKSTEIN.


                            CHAPTER VIII.

I MAKE A BOW TO COUNTESS LUKSTEIN.


                             CHAPTER IX.

I RENEW AN ACQUAINTANCESHIP.


                              CHAPTER X.

DOUBTS, PERPLEXITIES, AND A COMPROMISE.


                             CHAPTER XI.

THE COUNTESS EXPLAINS, AND SHOWS ME A PICTURE.


                             CHAPTER XII.

LADY TRACY.


                            CHAPTER XIII.

COUNTESS LUKSTEIN IS CONVINCED.


                             CHAPTER XIV.

A GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK.


                             CHAPTER XV.

THE HALF-WAY HOUSE AGAIN.


                             CHAPTER XVI.

CONCERNING AN INVITATION AND A LOCKED DOOR.


                            CHAPTER XVII.

FATHER SPAUR.


                            CHAPTER XVIII.

AT LUKSTEIN.


                             CHAPTER XIX.

IN THE PAVILION. I EXPLAIN.


                             CHAPTER XX.

IN THE PAVILION. COUNTESS LUKSTEIN EXPLAINS.


                             CHAPTER XXI.

IN CAPTIVITY HOLLOW.


                            CHAPTER XXII.

A TALK WITH OTTO. I ESCAPE TO INNSPRUCK.


                            CHAPTER XXIII.

THE LAST.



                                 THE
                     COURTSHIP OF MORRICE BUCKLER


                              CHAPTER I.

                   TELLS OF AN INTERRUPTED MESSAGE.


It chanced that as I was shifting the volumes in my library this
morning, more from sheer fatigue of idleness than with any set
intention--for, alas! this long time since I have lost the savour of
books--a little Elzevir copy of Horace fell from the back of a shelf
between my hands. It lay in my palm, soiled and faded with the dust of
twenty years; and as I swept clean its cover and the edges of the
leaves, the look and feel of it unlocked my mind to such an inrush of
glistening memories that I seemed to be sweeping those years and the
overlay of their experience from off my consciousness. I lived again
in that brief but eventful period which laid upon the unaccustomed
shoulders of a bookish student a heavy burden of deeds, but gave him
in compensation wherewith to reckon the burden light.

The book fell open of its own accord at the Palinodia at Tyndaridem.
On the stained and fingered leaf facing the ode I could still decipher
the plan of Lukstein Castle, and as I gazed, that blurred outline
filled until it became a picture. I looked into the book as into a
magician's crystal. The great angle of the building, the level row of
windows, the red roofs of the turrets, the terrace, and the little
pinewood pavilion, all were clearly limned before my eyes, and were
overswept by changing waves of colour. I saw the Castle as on the
first occasion of my coming, hung disconsolately on a hillside in a
far-away corner of the Tyrol, a black stain upon a sloping wilderness
of snow; I saw it again under a waning moon in the stern silence of a
frosty night, as each window grew angry with a tossing glare of links;
but chiefly I saw it as when I rode thither on my last memorable
visit, sleeping peacefully above the cornfields in the droning sabbath
of a summer afternoon. I turned my eyes to the ode. The score of my
pencil was visible against the last verse:


                        Nunc ego mitibus
              Mutare quæro tristia dum mihi
              Fias recantatis amica
              Opprobriis animumque reddas.


On the margin beside the first line was the date, Sept. 14, 1685, and
beneath the verse yet another date, Sept. 12, 1687. And as I looked,
it came upon me that I would set down with what clearness I might the
record of those two years, in the hope that my memories might warm and
cheer these later days of loneliness, much as the afterglow lingers
purple on yonder summit rocks when the sun has already sunk behind the
Cumberland fells. For indeed that short interspace of time shines out
in my remembrance like a thick thread of gold in a woof of homespun. I
would not, however, be understood to therefore deprecate the quiet
years of happiness which followed. The two years of which I speak in
their actual passage occasioned me more anxiety and suffering than
happiness. But they have a history of their own. They mark out a
portion of my life whereof the two dates in my Horace were the
beginning and the end, and the verse between the dates, strangely
enough, its best epitome.

It was, then, the fourteenth day of September, 1685, and the time a
few minutes past noon. Jack Larke, my fellow-student at the University
of Leyden, and myself had but just returned to our lodging in that
street of the town which they call the Pape-Graft. We were both fairly
wearied, for the weather was drowsy and hot, and one had little
stomach for the Magnificus Professor, the more particularly when he
discoursed concerning the natural philosophy of Pliny.

"'Tis all lies, every jot of it!" cried Larke. "If I wrote such
nonsense I should be whipped for a heretic. And yet I must sit there
and listen and take notes until my brain reels."

"You sit there but seldom, Jack," said I, "and never played yourself
so false as to listen; while as for the notes----!"

I took up his book which he had flung upon the table. It contained
naught but pictures of the Professor in divers humiliating attitudes,
with John Larke ever towering above him, his honest features twisted
into so heroical an expression of scorn as set me laughing till my
sides ached.

He snatched the book from my hand, and flung it into a corner.
"There!" said he. "It may go to the dust-hole and Pliny with it, to
rot in company." And the Latin volume followed the note-book.
Whereupon, with a sigh of relief, he lifted a brace of pistols from a
shelf, and began industriously to scour and polish them, though indeed
their locks and barrels shone like silver as it was. For my part, I
plumped myself down before this very ode of Horace; and so for a
while, each in his own way, we worked silently. Ever and again,
however, he would look up and towards me, and then, with an impatient
shrug, settle to his task again. At last he could contain no longer.

"Lord!" he burst out, "what a sick world it is! Here am I, fitted for
a roving life under open skies, and plucked out of God's design by the
want of a few pence."

"You may yet sit on the bench," said I, to console him.

"Ay, lad," he answered, "I might if I had sufficient roguery to supply
my lack of wits." Then he suddenly turned on me. "And here are you,"
he said, "who could journey east and west, and never sleep twice
beneath the same roof, breaking your back mewed up over a copy of
Horace!"

At that moment I was indeed stretched full-length upon a sofa, but I
had no mind to set him right. The tirade was passing old to me, and
replies were but fresh fuel to keep it flickering. However, he had not
yet done.

"I believe," he continued, "you would sooner solve a knot in Aristotle
than lead out the finest lady in Europe to dance a pavan with you."

"That is true," I replied. "I should be no less afraid of her than you
of Aristotle."

"Morrice," said he solemnly, "I do verily believe you have naught but
fish-blood in your veins."

Whereat I laughed, and he, coming over to me:

"Why, man," he cried, "had I your fortune on my back----"

"You would soon find it a ragged cloak," I interposed.

"And your sword at my side----"

"You would still lack my skill in using it."

Larke stopped short in his speech, and his face darkened. I had
touched him in the tenderest part of his pride. Proficiency in manly
exercises was the single quality on which he plumed himself, and so he
had made it his daily habit to repair to the fencing-rooms of a noted
French master, who dwelt in Noort-Eynde by the Witte Poort. Thither
also, by dint of much pertinacity, for which I had grave reason to
thank him afterwards, he had haled me for instruction in the art. Once
I got there, however, the play fascinated me. The delicate intricacy
of the movements so absorbed brain and muscle in a common service as
to produce in me an inward sense of completeness, very sweet and
strange to one of my halting diffidence. In consequence I applied
myself with considerable enthusiasm, and in the end acquired some
nimbleness with the rapier, or, to speak more truly, the foil. For as
yet my skill had never been put to the test of a serious encounter.

Now, on the previous day Larke and I had fenced together throughout
the afternoon, and fortune had sided with me in every bout; and it
was, I think, the recollection of this which rankled within him.
However, the fit soon passed--'twas not in his nature to be silent
long--and he broke out again, seating himself in a chair by the table.

"Dost never dream of adventures, Morrice?" he asked. "A life brimful
of them, and a quick death at the end?"

"I had as lief die in my bed," said I.

"To be sure, to be sure," he replied with a sneer. "Men ever wish to
die in the place they are most fond of;" and then he leant forward
upon the table and said, with a curious wonder: "Hast never a regret
that thy sword rusted in June?"

"Nay," I answered him quickly. "Monmouth was broken and captured
before we had even heard he had raised his flag. And, besides, the
King had stouter swords than mine, and yet no use for them."

But none the less I turned my face to the wall, for I felt my cheeks
blazing. My words were indeed the truth. The same packet which brought
to us the news of Monmouth's rising in the west, brought to us also
the news of his defeat at Sedgemoor. But I might easily have divined
his project some while ago. For early in the spring I had received a
visit from one Ferguson, a Scot, who, after uttering many fantastical
lies concerning the "Duke of York," as he impudently styled the King,
had warned me that such as failed to assist the true monarch out of
the funds they possessed might well find themselves sorely burdened in
the near future. At the time I had merely laughed at the menace, and
slipped it from my thoughts. Afterwards, however, the remembrance of
his visit came back to me, and with it a feeling of shame that I had
lain thus sluggishly at Leyden while this monstrous web of rebellion
was a-weaving about me in the neighbouring towns of Holland.

"'Art more of a woman than a man, Morrice, I fear me," said Jack.

I had heard some foolish talk of this kind more than once before, and
it ever angered me. I rose quickly from the couch; but Jack skipped
round the table, and jeered yet the more.

"'Wilt never win a wife by fair means, lad," says he. "The Muses are
women, and women have no liking for them. 'Must buy a wife when the
time comes."

Perceiving that his aim was but to provoke my anger, I refrained from
answering him and got me back to my ode. The day was in truth too hot
for quarrelling. Larke, however, was not so easily put off. He
returned to his chair, which was close to my couch.

"Horace!" he said gravely, wagging his head at me. "Horace! There are
wise sayings in his book."

"What know you of them?" I laughed.

"I know one," he answered. "I learnt it yesternight for thy special
delectation. It begins in this way:


                  "Quem si puellarum chore inseres."


He got no further in his quotation. For he tilted his chair at this
moment, and I thrusting at it with my foot, he tumbled over backwards
and sprawled on the ground, swearing at great length.

"'Wilt never win a wife by fair means for all that," he sputtered.

"Then 'tis no more than prudence in me to wed my books."

So I spake, and hot on the heels of my saying came the message which
divorced me from them for good and all. For as Larke still lay upon
the floor, a clatter of horse's hoofs came to us through the open
window. The sound stopped at our door. Larke rose hastily, and leaned
out across the sill.

"It is an Englishman," he cried. "He comes to us."

The next moment a noise of altercation filled the air. I could hear
the shrill speech of our worthy landlady, and above it a man's voice
in the English dialect, growing ever louder and louder as though the
violence of his tone would translate his meaning. I followed Larke to
the window. The quiet street was alive with peeping faces, and just
beneath us stood the reason of the brawl, a short, thick-set man,
whose face was hidden by a large flapping hat. His horse stood in the
roadway in a lather of spume. For some reason, doubtless the
excitement of his manner, our hostess would not let him pass into the
house. She stood solidly filling the doorway, and for a little it
amused us to watch the man's vehement gesticulations; so little
thought had we of the many strange events which were to follow from
his visit. In a minute, however, he turned his face towards us, and I
recognised him as Nicholas Swasfield, the body-servant of my good
friend, Sir Julian Harnwood.

"Let him up!" I cried. "Let him up!"

"Yes, woman, let him up!" repeated Larke, and turning to me: "He hath
many choice and wonderful oaths, and I fain would add them to my
store."

Thereupon the woman drew reluctantly aside, and Swasfield bounded past
her into the passage. We heard him tumble heavily up the dark
stairway, cursing the country and its natives, and then with a great
bump of his body he burst open the door and lurched into the room. At
the sight of me he brake into a glad cry:

"Sir Julian, my master," he gasped, and stopped dead.

"Well, what of him?" I asked eagerly.

But he answered never a word; he stood mopping his brows with a great
blue handkerchief, which hid his face from us. 'Tis strange how
clearly I remember that handkerchief. It was embroidered at the
corners with anchors in white cotton, and it recurred to me with a
quaint irrelevancy that the man had been a sailor in his youth.

"Well, what of him?" I asked again with some sharpness. "Speak, man!
You had words and to spare below."

"He lies in Bristol gaol," at last he said, heaving great breaths
between his words, "and none but you can serve his turn."

With that he tore at his shirt above his heart, and made a little
tripping run to the table. He clutched at its edge and swayed forward
above it, his head loosely swinging between his shoulders.

"Hurry!" he said in a thick, strangled voice.
"Assizes--twenty-first--Jeffries."

And with a sudden convulsion he straightened himself, stood for a
second on the tips of his toes, with the veins ridged on his livid
face like purple weals, and then fell in a huddled lump upon the
floor. I sprang to the stair-head and shouted for some one to run for
a doctor. Jack was already loosening the man's shirt.

"It is a fit," he said, clasping a hand to his heart.

Luckily my bedroom gave onto the parlour, and between us we carried
him within and laid him gently on my bed. His eyelids were open and
his eyes fixed, but turned inwards, so that one saw but the whites of
them, while a light froth oozed through his locked teeth.

"He will die," I cried.

A ewer of water stood by the bedside, and this I emptied over his head
and shoulders, drowning the sheets, but to no other purpose. Our
landlady fetched up a bottle of Dutch schnapps, which was the only
spirit the house contained, but his jaws were too fast closed for us
to open them. So we stood all three watching him helplessly, while
those last words of his drummed at my heart. Jeffries! I knew enough
of the bloody work he had taken in hand that summer to assure me there
would be short shrift for Julian had he meddled in Monmouth's affairs.
On the other hand, I reflected, if such indeed was my friend's case,
wherein could I prove of effectual help? "None but you can serve his
turn," the fellow had said. Could Julian have fallen under another
charge? I was the more inclined to this conjecture, for that Julian
had been always staunchly loyal to the King, and, moreover, a constant
figure at the Court.

However, 'twas all idle guess-work, and there before my eyes was
stretched the one man, who could have disclosed the truth, struck down
in the very telling of his story! I began to fear that he would die
before the surgeon came. For he breathed heavily with a horrid sound
like a dog snoring.

All at once a thought flashed into my mind. He might have brought a
letter from Julian's hand. I searched his pockets on the instant; they
held nothing but a few English coins and some metal charms, such as
the ignorant are wont to carry on their persons to preserve them from
misadventure.

While I was thus engaged, the doctor was ushered into the room, very
deliberate in manner, and magnificent in his dress. Erudition was
marked in the very cock of his wig. I sprang towards him.

"Make him speak, Mynheer!" I implored. "He hath a message to deliver,
and it cannot wait."

But he put me aside with a wave of his hand and advanced towards the
bed, pursing his lips and frowning as one sunk in a profundity of
thought.

"Can you make him speak?" I asked again with some impatience. But
again he merely waved his hand, and taking a gilt box from his pocket,
inhaled a large pinch of snuff. Then he turned to Larke, who stood
holding the bottle of schnapps.

"Tell me, young gentleman," he said severely, "what time the fit took
him, and the manner of his seizure!"

Larke informed him hastily of what had passed, and he listened with
much sage bobbing of his head. Then to our hostess:

"My assistant is below, and hath my instruments. Send him up!"

He turned to us.

"I will bleed him," he said. "For what saith the learned Hippocrates?"
Whereupon he mouthed out a rigmarole of Latin phrases, wherein I could
detect neither cohesion nor significance.

"Leave him to me, gentlemen!" he continued with a third flourish of
his wrist. "Leave him to me and Hippocrates!"

"Which we do," I replied, "with the more confidence in that
Hippocrates had so much foreknowledge of the Latin tongue."

And so we got us back to the parlour. How the minutes dragged! Through
the door I could still hear the noise of the man's breathing; and now
and again the light clink of instruments and a trickling sound as of
blood dripping into a bason. I paced impatiently about the room, while
Jack sat him down at the table and began loading his pistols.

"The twenty-first!" I exclaimed, "and this day is the fourteenth.
Seven days, Jack! I have but seven days to win from here to Bristol."

I went to the window and leaned out. Swasfield's horse was standing
quietly in the road, tethered by the bridle to a tree.

"'Canst do it, Morrice, if the wind holds fair," replied Jack. "Heaven
send a wind!" and he rose from the table and joined me. Together we
stretched out to catch the least hint of a breeze. But not a breath
came to us; not a tree shimmered, not a shadow stirred. The world
slumbered in a hot stupor. It seemed you might have felt the air
vibrate with the passage of a single bird.

Of a sudden Larke cried out:

"Art sure 'tis the fourteenth to-day?"

With that we scrambled back into the room and searched for a calendar.

"Ay, lad!" he said ruefully as he discovered it; "'tis the fourteenth,
not a doubt of it."

I flung myself dejectedly on the couch. The volume of Horace lay open
by my hand, and I took it up, and quite idly, with no thought of what
I was doing, I wrote this date and the name of the month and the date
of the year on the margin of the page.

"Lord!" exclaimed Jack, flinging up his hands. "At the books again?
Hast no boots and spurs?"

I slipped the book into my pocket, and sprang to my feet. In the heat
of my anxiety I had forgotten everything but this half-spoken message.
But, or ever I could make a step, the door of the bedroom opened and
the surgeon stepped into the room.

"Can he speak now?" I asked.

"The fit has not passed," says he.

"Then in God's name, what ails the man?" cries Larke.

"It is a visitation," says the doctor, with an upward cast of his
eyes.

"It is a canting ass of a doctor," I yelled in a fury, and I clapped
my hat on my head.

"Your boots?" cried Larke.

"I'll e'en go in my shoes," I shouted back.

I snatched up one of Jack's pistols, rammed it into my pocket, and so
clattered downstairs and into the street. I untied Swasfield's horse
and sprang on to its back.

"Morrice!"

I looked up. Jack was leaning out from the window.

"Morrice," he said whimsically, and with a very winning smile, "'art
not so much of a woman after all."

I dug my heels into the horse's flanks and so rode out at a gallop
beneath the lime-trees to Rotterdam.



                             CHAPTER II.

                  I REACH LONDON, AND THERE MAKE AN
                            ACQUAINTANCE.


At Rotterdam I was fortunate enough to light upon a Dutch skipper
whose ship was anchored in the Texel, and who purposed sailing that
very night for the Port of London. For a while, indeed, he scrupled to
set me over, my lack of equipment--for I had not so much with me as a
clean shirt--and my great haste to be quit of the country firing his
suspicions. However, I sold Swasfield's horse to the keeper of a
tavern by the waterside, and adding the money I got thereby to what I
held in my pockets, I presently persuaded him; and a light wind
springing up about midnight, we weighed anchor and stood out for the
sea.

That my purse was now empty occasioned me no great concern, since my
cousin, Lord Elmscott, lived at London, in a fine house in Monmouth
Square, and I doubted not but what I could instantly procure from him
the means to enable me to continue my journey. I was, in truth,
infinitely more distressed by the tardiness of our voyage, for towards
sunrise the wind died utterly away, and during the next two days we
lay becalmed, rocking lazily upon the swell. On the afternoon of the
third, being the seventeenth day of the month, a breeze filled our
sheets, and we made some progress, although our vessel, which was a
ketch and heavily loaded, was a slow sailer at the best. But during
the night the breeze quickened into a storm, and, blowing for twelve
hours without intermission or abatement, drove us clean from our
course, so that on the morning of the eighteenth we were scurrying
northwards before it along the coast of Essex.

This last misadventure cast me into the very bottom of despair. I knew
that if I were to prove of timely help in Julian's deliverance, I must
needs reach Bristol before his trial commenced, the which seemed now
plainly impossible; and, atop of this piece of knowledge, my ignorance
of the nature of his calamity, and of the service he desired of me,
worked in my blood like a fever.

For Julian and myself were linked together in a very sweet and
intimate love. I could not, and I tried, point to its beginning. It
seemed to have been native within us from our births. We took it from
our fathers before us, and when they died we counted it no small part
of our inheritance. Our estates, you should know, lay in contiguous
valleys of the remote county of Cumberland, and thus we lived out our
boyhood in a secluded comradeship. Seldom a day passed but we found a
way to meet. Mostly Julian would come swinging across the fells, his
otter-dogs yapping at his heels, and all the fresh morning in his
voice. Together we would ramble over the slopes, bathe in the tarns
and kelds, hunt, climb, argue, ay, and fight too, when we were
gravelled for lack of arguments; so that even now, each time that I
turn my feet homewards after a period of absence, and catch the first
glimpse of these brown hillsides, they become bright and populous with
the rich pageantry of our boyish fancies.

But my clearest recollections of those days centre about Scafell, and
a certain rock upon the Pillar Mountain in Ennerdale. A common share
of peril is surely the stoutest bond of comradeship. You may find
exemplars in the story of well-nigh every battle. But to hang half-way
up a sheer cliff in the chill eerie silence, where a slip of the heel,
a falter of the numbed fingers, would hurl both your companion and
yourself upon the stones a hundred yards below--ah, that turns the
friend into something closer than even a _frère d'armes_. At least, so
it was with Julian and me.

I think, too, that the very difference between us helped to fortify
our love. Each felt the other the complement of his nature. And in
later times, when Julian would come down from the Court to Oxford,
tricked out in some new French fashion, and with all sorts of
fantastical conceits upon his tongue, my rooms seemed to glow as with
a sudden shaft of sunlight; and after that he had gone I was ever in
two minds whether to send for a tailor, and follow him to Whitehall.

But to return to my journey. On the nineteenth we changed our course,
and tacked back to the mouth of the Thames. But it was not until the
evening of the twentieth that we cast anchor by London Bridge. From
the ship I hurried straight to the house of my cousin, Lord Elmscott,
who resided in Monmouth Square, to the north of the town, being minded
to borrow a horse of him and some money, and ride forthwith to
Bristol. The windows, however, were dark, not a light glimmered
anywhere; and knock with what noise I might, for a while I could get
no answer to my summons.

At last, just as I was turning away in no little distress of mind--for
the town was all strange to me, and I knew no one else to whom I could
apply at that late hour--a feeble shuffling step sounded in the
passage. I knocked again, and as loudly as I could; the steps drew
nearer, the bolts were slowly drawn from their sockets, and the door
opened. I was faced by an old man in a faded livery, who held a
lighted candle in his hand. Behind him the hall showed black and
solitary.

"I am Mr. Morrice Buckler," said I, "and I would have a word with my
cousin, Lord Elmscott."

The old man shook his head dolefully.

"Nay, sir," he replied in a thin, quavering voice, "you do ill to seek
him here. At White's perchance you may light on him, or at Wood's, in
Pall Mall--I know not. But never in his own house while there is a
pack of cards abroad."

I waited not to hear the rest of his complaint, but dashed down the
steps and set off westwards at a run. I crossed a lonely and noisome
plain which I have since heard is named the pest-field, for that many
of the sufferers in the late plague are buried there, and came out at
the top of St. James' Street. There a stranger pointed out to me
White's coffeehouse.

"Is Lord Elmscott within?" I asked of an attendant as I entered.

For reply he looked me over coolly from head to foot.

"And what may be your business with Lord Elmscott?" he asked, with a
sneer.

In truth I must have cut but a sorry figure in his eyes, for I was all
dusty and begrimed with my five days' travel. But I thought not of
that at the time.

"Tell him," said I, "that his cousin, Morrice Buckler, is here, and
must needs speak with him." Whereupon the man's look changed to one of
pure astonishment. "Be quick, fellow," I cried, stamping my foot; and
with a humble "I crave your pardon," he hurried off upon the message.
A door stood at the far end of the room, and through this he entered,
leaving it ajar. In a moment I heard my cousin's voice, loud and
boisterous:

"Show him in! 'Od's wounds, he may change my luck."

With that I followed him. 'Twas a strange sight to me. The room was
small, and the floor so thickly littered with cards that it needed the
feel of your foot to assure you it was carpeted. A number of gallants
in a great disorder of dress stood about a little table whereat were
seated a youth barely, I should guess, out of his teens, his face
pale, but very indifferent and composed, and over against him my
cousin. Elmscott's black peruke was all awry, his cheeks flushed, and
his eyes bloodshot and staring.

"Morrice," he cried, "what brings you here in this plight? I believe
the fellow took you for a bailiff, and, on my life," he added,
surveying me, "I have not the impudence to blame him." Thereupon he
addressed himself to the company. "This, gentlemen," says he, "is my
cousin, Mr. Morrice Buckler, a very worthy--bookworm."

They all laughed as though there was some wit in the ill-mannered
sally; but I had no time to spare for taking heed of their
foolishness.

"You can do me a service," I said eagerly.

"You give me news," Elmscott laughed. "'Tis a strange service that I
can render. Well, what may it be?"

"I need money for one thing, and----" A roar of laughter broke in upon
my words.

"Money!" cries Elmscott. "Lord, that any one should come to me for
money!" and he leaned back in his chair laughing as heartily as the
best of them. "Why, Morrice, it's all gone--all gone into the devil's
whirlpool. Howbeit," he went on, growing suddenly serious, "I will
make a bargain with you. Stand by my side here. I have it in my mind
that you will bring me luck. Stand by my side, and in return, if I
win, I will lend you what help I may."

"Nay, cousin," said I, "my business will not wait."

"Nor mine," he replied, "nor mine. Stand by me! I shall not be long.
My last stake's on the table."

He seized hold of my arm as he spoke with something of prayer in his
eyes, and reluctantly I consented. In truth, I knew not what else to
do. 'Twas plain he was in no mood to hearken to my request, even if he
had the means to grant it.

"That's right, lad!" he bawled, and then to the servant: "Brandy!
Brandy, d'ye hear! And a great deal of it! Now, gentlemen, you will
see. Mr. Buckler is a student of Leyden. 'Tis full time that some good
luck should come to us from Holland."

And he turned him again to the table. His pleasantry was received with
an uproarious merriment, which methought it hardly merited. But I have
noted since that round a gaming-table, so tense is the spirit which it
engenders, the poorest jest takes the currency of wit.

I was at first perplexed by the difference of the stakes. Before my
cousin lay a pair of diamond buckles, but no gold, not so much as a
single guinea-piece. All that there was of that metal lay in scattered
heaps beside his opponent.

Lord Elmscott dealt the hands--the game was écarté--and the other
nodded his request for cards. Looking over my cousin's shoulder I
could see that he held but one trump, the ten, and a tierce to the
king in another suit. For a little he remained without answering,
glancing indecisively from his cards to the face of his player. At
last, with a touch of defiance in his voice:

"No!" he said. "Tis no hand to play on, but I'll trust to chance."

"As you will," nodded the other, and he led directly into Elmscott's
suit. Every one leaned eagerly forward, but each trick fell to my
cousin, and he obtained the vole.

"There! I told you," he cries.

His opponent said never a word, but carelessly pushed a tinkling pile
of coins across the table. And so the play went on; at the finish of
each game a stream of gold drifted over to Lord Elmscott. It seemed
that he could not lose. If he played the eight, his companion would
follow with the seven.

"He hath the devil at his back now," said one of the bystanders.

"Pardon me!" replied my cousin very politely. "You insult Mr. Buckler.
I am merely fortified with the learning of Leyden;" and he straightway
marked the king. After a time the room fell to utter silence, even
Elmscott stopped his outbursts. A strange fascination caught and
enmeshed us all; we strained forward, holding our breaths as we
watched the hands, though each man, I think, was certain what the end
would be. For myself, I honestly struggled against this devilish
enchantment, but to little purpose. The flutter of the cards made my
heart leap. I sought to picture to myself the long dark road I had to
traverse, and Julian in his prison at the end of it. I saw nothing but
the faces of the players, Elmscott's flushed and purple, his
opponent's growing paler and paler, while his eyes seemed to retreat
into his head and the pupils of them to burn like points of fire. I
loaded myself with reproaches and abuse, but the words ran through my
head in a meaningless sequence, and were tuned to a clink of gold.

And then an odd fancy came over me. In the midst of the yellow heap,
ever increasing, on our side of the table, lay the pair of diamond
buckles. I could see rays of an infinite variety of colours spirting
out like little jets of flame, as the light caught the stones, and I
felt a queer conviction that Elmscott's luck was in some way bound up
with them. So strongly did the whim possess me that I lifted them from
the table to test my thought. For so long as took the players to play
two games, I held the buckles in my hands; and both games my cousin
lost. I replaced them on the table, and he began to win once more with
the old regularity, the heaps dwindling there and growing here, until
at length all the money lay silted at my cousin's hand. You might have
believed that a spell had been suddenly lifted from the company. Faces
relaxed and softened, eyes lost their keen light, feet shuffled in a
new freedom, and the heavy silence was torn by a Babel of voices.
Strangely enough, all joined with Elmscott in attributing his change
of fortune to my presence. Snuff-boxes were opened and their contents
pressed upon me, and I think that I might have dined at no cost of
myself for a full twelve months had I accepted the invitations I
received. But the cessation of the play had waked me to my own
necessities, and I turned to my cousin.

"Now," said I, but I got no further, for he exclaimed:

"Not yet, Morrice! There's my house in Monmouth Square."

"Your house?" I repeated.

"There's the manor of Silverdale."

"You have not lost that?" I cried.

"Every brick of it," says he.

"Then," says I in a quick passion, "you must win them back as best you
may. I'll bide no longer."

"Nay, lad!" he entreated, laying hold of my sleeve. "You cannot mean
that. See, when you came in, I had but these poor buckles left. They
were all my fortune. Stay but for a little. For if you go you take all
my luck with you. 'Am deadly sure of it."

"I have stayed too long as it is" I replied, and wrenched myself free
from his grasp.

"Well, take what money you need! But you are no more than a stone," he
whimpered.

"The philosopher's stone, then," said I, and I caught up a couple of
handsfull of gold and turned on my heel. But with a sudden cry I
stopped. For as I turned, I glanced across the table to his opponent,
and I saw his face change all in a moment to a strangely grey and
livid colour. And to make the sight yet more ghastly, he still sat
bolt upright in his chair, without a gesture, without a motion, a
figure of marble, save that his eyes still burned steadily beneath his
brows.

"Great God!" I cried. "He is dying."

"It is the morning," he said in a quiet voice, which had yet a very
thrilling resonance, and it flashed across me with a singular
uneasiness that this was the first time that he had spoken during all
those hours.

I turned towards the window, which was behind my cousin's chair.
Through a chink of the curtains a pale beam of twilight streamed full
on to the youth's face. So long as I had stood by Elmscott's side, my
back had intercepted it; but as I moved away I had uncovered the
window, and it was the grey light streaming from it which had given to
him a complexion of so deathly and ashen a colour. I flung the
curtains apart, and the chill morning flooded the room. One shiver ran
through the company like a breeze through a group of aspens, and it
seemed to me that on the instant every one had grown old. The heavy
gildings, the yellow glare of the candles, the gaudy hangings about
the walls, seen in that pitiless light, appeared inexpressibly
pretentious and vulgar; and the gentlemen with their leaden cheeks,
their disordered perukes, and the soiled finery of their laces and
ruffles, no more than the room's fitting complement. A sickening qualm
of disgust shot through me; the very air seemed to have grown acrid
and stale; and yet, in spite of all I stayed--to my shame be it said,
I stayed. However, I paid for the fault--ay, ten times over, in the
years that were to come. For as I halted at the door to make my
bow--my fingers were on the very handle--I perceived Lord Elmscott
with one foot upon his chair, and the buckles in his hand. My
presentiment came back to me with the conviction of a creed. I knew--I
knew that if he failed to add those jewels to his stake, he would
leave the coffeehouse as empty a beggar as when I entered it. I strode
back across the room, took them from his hand, and laid them on the
table. For a moment Elmscott stared at me in astonishment. Then I must
think he read my superstition in my looks, for he said, clapping me on
the back:

"You will make a gambler yet, Morrice," and he sat him down on his
chair. I took my former stand beside him.

"You will stay, Mr. Buckler?" asked his opponent.

"Yes," I replied.

"Then," he continued, in the same even voice, "I have a plan in my
head which I fancy will best suit the purposes of the three of us.
Lord Elmscott is naturally anxious to follow his luck; you, Mr.
Buckler, have overstayed your time; and as for me--well, it is now
Wednesday morning, and a damned dirty morning, too, if I may judge
from the countenances of my friends. We have sat playing here since
six by the clock on Monday night, and I am weary. My bed calls for me.
I propose then that we settle the bout with two casts of the dice. On
the first throw I will stake your house in Monmouth Square against the
money you have before you. If I win there's an end. If you win, I will
set the manor of Silverdale against your London house and your
previous stake."

A complete silence followed upon his words. Even Lord Elmscott was
taken aback by the magnitude of the stakes. The youth's proposal
gained, moreover, on the mind by contrast with his tone of tired
indifference. He seemed the least occupied of all that company.

"I trust you will accept," he continued, speaking to my cousin with
courteous gentleness. "As I have said, I am very tired. Luck is on
your side, and, if I may be permitted to add, the advantage of the
stakes."

Elmscott glanced at me, paused for a second, and then, with a forced
laugh:

"Very well; so be it," he said. The dice were brought; he rattled them
vigorously, and flung them down.

"Four!" cried one of the gentlemen.

"Damn!" said my cousin, and he mopped his forehead with his
handkerchief. His antagonist picked up the dice with inimitable
nonchalance, barely shook them in the cup, and let them roll idly out
on to the table.

"Three!"

Elmscott heaved a sigh of relief. The other stretched his arms above
his head and yawned.

"'Tis a noble house, your house in Monmouth Square," he remarked.

At the second throw, Elmscott discovered a most nervous anxiety. He
held the cup so long in his hand that I feared he would lose the
courage to complete the game. I felt, in truth, a personal shame at
his indecision, and I gazed around with the full expectation of seeing
a like feeling expressed upon the features of those who watched. But
they wore one common look of strained expectancy. At last Elmscott
threw.

"Nine!" cried one, and a low murmur of voices buzzed for an instant
and suddenly ceased as the other took up the dice.

"Two!"

Both players rose as with one motion. Elmscott tossed down his throat
the brandy in his tumbler--it had stood by his side untasted since the
early part of the night--and then turned to me with an almost
hysterical outburst.

"One moment."

It was the youth who spoke, and his voice rang loud and strong. His
weariness had slipped from him like a mask. He bent across the table
and stretched out his arm, with his forefinger pointing at my cousin.

"I will play you one more bout, Lord Elmscott. Against all that you
have won back from me to-night--the money, your house, your estate--I
will pit my docks in the city of Bristol. But I claim one condition,"
and he glanced at me and paused.

"If it affects my cousin's presence----" Elmscott began.

"It does not," the other interrupted. "'Tis a trivial condition--a
whim of mine, a mere whim."

"What is it, then?" I asked, for in some unaccountable way I was much
disquieted by his change of manner, and dreaded the event of his
proposal.

"That while your cousin throws you hold his buckles in your hands."

It were impossible to describe the effect which this extraordinary
request produced. At any other time it would have seemed no more than
laughable. But after these long hours of play we were all tinder to a
spark of superstition. Nothing seemed too whimsical for belief. Luck
had proved so tricksy a sprite that the most trivial object might well
take its fancy and overset the balance of its favours. The fierce
vehemence of the speaker, besides, breaking thus unexpectedly through
a crust of equanimity, carried conviction past the porches of the
ears. So each man hung upon Elmscott's answer as upon the arbitrament
of his own fortune.

For myself, I took a quick step towards my cousin; but the youth shot
a glance of such imperious menace at me that I stopped shamefaced like
a faulty schoolboy. However, Elmscott caught my movement and, I think,
the look which arrested me.

"Not to-day," he said, "if you will pardon me. I am over-tired myself,
and would fain keep to our bargain." Thereupon he came over to me.
"Now, Morrice," he exclaimed, "it is your turn. You have the money.
What else d'ye lack? What else d'ye lack?"

"I need the swiftest horse in your stables," I replied.

Elmscott burst into a laugh.

"You shall have it--the swiftest horse in my stables. You shall e'en
take it as a gift. Only I fear 'twill leave your desires unsatisfied."
And he chuckled again.

"Then," I replied, with some severity, for in truth his merriment
struck me as ill-conditioned, "then I shall take the liberty of
leaving it behind at the first post on the Bristol Road."

"The Bristol Road?" interposed the youth. "You journey to Bristol?"

I merely bowed assent, for I was in no mood to disclose my purpose to
that company, and caught up my hat; but he gently took my arm and drew
me into the window.

"Mr. Buckler," he said, gazing at me the while with quiet eyes,
"Fortune has brought us into an odd conjunction this night. I have so
much of the gambler within me as to believe that she will repeat the
trick, and I hope for my revenge."

He held out his hand courteously. I could not but take it. For a
moment we stood with clasped hands, and I felt mine tremble within
his.

"Ah!" he said, smiling curiously, "you believe so, too." And he made
me a bow and turned back into the room.

I remained where he left me, gazing blindly out of the window; for the
shadow of a great trouble had fallen across my spirit. His words and
the concise certainty of his tone had been the perfect voicing of my
own forebodings. I did indeed believe that Fortune would some day pit
us in a fresh antagonism; that somewhere in the future she had already
set up the lists, and that clasp of the hands I felt to be our bond
and surety that we would keep faith with her and answer to our names.

"Morrice," said Elmscott at my elbow, and I started like one waked
from his sleep, "we'll go saddle your horse."

And he laughed to himself again as though savouring a jest. He slipped
an arm through mine and walked to the door.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said. "Marston, _au revoir!_" And with a
twirl of his hat, he stepped into the outer room. His servant was
sleeping upon a bench, and he woke him up and bade him fetch the money
and follow home.

The morning was cold, and we set off at a brisk pace towards Monmouth
Square, Elmscott chatting loudly the while, with ever and again, I
thought, a covert laugh at me.

I only pressed on the harder. It was not merely that I was vexed by
his quizzing demeanour; but the moment I was free from that tawdry
hell, and began to breathe fresh air in place of the heavy reek of
perfumes and wine, the fulness of my disloyalty rolled in upon my
conscience, so that Elmscott's idle talk made me sicken with
repulsion; for he babbled ever about cards and dice and the feminine
caprice of luck.

"What ails you, Morrice?" at length he inquired, seeing that I had no
stomach for his mirth. "You look as spiritless as a Quaker."

"I was thinking," I replied, in some irritation, for he clapped me on
the back as he spoke, "that it must be sorely humiliating for a man of
your age either to win money or lose it when you have a mere stripling
to oppose you."

"A man of my age, indeed!" he exclaimed. "And what age do you take to
be mine, Mr. Buckler?"

He turned his face angrily towards me, and I scanned it with great
deliberation.

"It would not be fair," I answered, with a shake of the head. "It
would not be fair for me to hazard a guess. Two nights at play may
well stamp middle-age upon youth, and decrepitude upon middle-age."

At this he knew not whether to be mollified or yet more indignant, and
so did the very thing I had been aiming at--he held his tongue. Thus
we proceeded in a moody silence until we were hard by Soho. Then he
asked suddenly:

"What drags you in such a scurry to Bristol?"

"I would give much to know myself," I answered. "I journey thither at
the instance of a friend who lies in dire peril. But that is the whole
sum of my knowledge. I have not so much as a hint of the purport of my
service."

"A friend! What friend?" he inquired with something of a start, and
looked at me earnestly.

"Sir Julian Harnwood," said I, and he stopped abruptly in his walk.

"Ah!" he said; then he looked on the ground, and swore a little to
himself.

"You know what threatens him?" said I; but he made me no answer and
resumed his walk, quickening his pace. "Tell me!" I entreated. "His
servant came to me at Leyden six days ago, but was seized by a
fit or ever he could out with his message. So I learnt no more than
this--that Julian lies in Bristol gaol and hath need of me."

"But the assizes begin to-day," he interrupted, with an air of
triumph. "You are over-late to help him."

"Ah, no!" I pleaded. "I may yet reach there in time. Julian may haply
be amongst the last to come to trial?"

"'Twere most unlikely," returned he, with a snap of his teeth. "My
Lord Jeffries wastes no time in weighing evidence. Why, at Taunton,
but a fortnight ago, one hundred and forty-five prisoners were
disposed of within three days. The man does not try; he executes.
There's but one outlook for your friend, and that's through the noose
of a rope. Jeffries holds a strict mandate from the King, I tell you,
for the King's heart is full of anger against the rebels."

"But Julian was no rebel," I exclaimed.

"Tut, tut, lad!" he replied. "If he was no rebel himself, he harboured
rebels. If he didn't flesh his sword at Sedgemoor, he gave shelter to
those that did. And 'tis all one crime, I tell you. Hair-splitting is
held in little favour at the Western Assizes."

"But are you sure of this?" I asked. "Or is it pure town gossip?"

"Nay," said he, "I have the news hot from Marston. He should know,
eh?"

"Marston?" said I.

"Yes! The"--and he paused for a second, and smiled at me--"the _man_
who played with me. 'Tis his sister that's betrothed to Harnwood."

_His_ sister! The blood chilled in my veins. I had been aware, of
course, that Julian was affianced to a certain Miss Marston of the
county of Gloucestershire. But I had never set eyes upon her person
and knew little of her history, beyond that she had been one of the
ladies in attendance upon the Queen prior to her accession to the
throne; I mean when she was still the Duchess of York. Miss Marston
was, in fact, a mere name to me; and since consequently she held no
place in my thoughts, it had not occurred to me to connect her in any
way with this chance acquaintance of the gaming-table. Now, however,
the relationship struck me with a peculiar and even menacing
significance. It recalled to me the few words Marston had spoken in
the window; and, lo! not half an hour after their utterance, here was,
as it were, a guarantee of their fulfilment. Between Marston and
myself there already existed, then, a certain faint accidental
connection. I felt that I had caught a glimpse of the cord which was
to draw us together.

Elmscott's voice broke in upon my imaginings.

"So, Morrice, I have sure knowledge to back my words. No good can come
of your journey, though harm may, and it will fall on you. 'Twere best
to stay quietly in London. You may think your hair grey, but you will
never save Julian Harnwood from the gallows."

My cheeks burned as I heard him, for my thoughts had been humming
busily about my own affairs, and not at all about Julian's; and with a
bitter shame, "God!" I cried, "that I should fail him so! Surely never
was a man so misused as my poor friend! He is the very sport and
shuttlecock of disaster. First his messenger must needs fall sick;
then my boat must take five days to cross to England. And to cap it
all, I must waste yet another night in a tavern or ever I can borrow a
horse to help me on my way."

By this time we had got to Elmscott's house. He drew a key from his
pocket and mounted the steps thoughtfully, and I after him. On the
last step, however, he turned, and laying a hand upon my shoulder, as
I stood below him, said, with a very solemn gravity: "There is God's
hand in all this. He doth not intend you should go. In His great
wisdom He doth not intend it. He would punish the guilty, and He would
spare you who are innocent."

"But what harm can come to me?" I cried, with a laugh; though, indeed,
the laugh was hollow as the echo of an empty house.

"That lies in the dark," said he. "But 'tis no common aid Julian
Harnwood asks from you. He has friends enough in England. Why should
he send to Holland when his time's so short?" And then he added with
more insistent earnestness: "Don't go, lad! If any one could avail,
'twould be Marston. He has power in Bristol. And you see, he bides
quietly in London."

"But methinks he was never well-disposed to Julian," said I,
remembering certain half-forgotten phrases of my friend. "He looked
but sourly on the marriage."

"Very well," said he, with a shrug of the shoulders. "Must make your
own bed;" and he opened the door, and led me through the hall and into
a garden at the back. At the far end of this the stables were built,
and we crossed to them. "The rascals are still asleep," he remarked,
and proceeded to waken them with much clanging of the bell and shouts
of abuse. In a while we heard a heavy step stumbling down the stair.

"I had meant to have a fine laugh at you over this," said Elmscott,
with a rueful smile. "But I have no heart for it now that I know your
errand."

An ostler, still blinking and drowsy, opened the door. He rubbed his
eyes at the sight of his master.

"Don't stand gaping, you fish!" cried my cousin. "Whom else did you
expect to see? Show us to the stables."

The fellow led us silently into the stables. A long row of boxes stood
against the wall, all neatly littered with straw, but to my
astonishment and dismay, so far as I could see, not one of them held a
horse.

"She's at the end, sir," said the groom; and we walked down the length
of the boxes, and halted before the last.

"Get up, lass!" and after a few pokes the animal rose stiffly from its
bed. For a moment I well-nigh cried from sheer mortification. Never in
all my comings and goings since have I seen such a parody of Nature,
not even in the booths of a country fair. 'Twas of a piebald colour,
and stood very high, with long thin legs. Its knees were, moreover,
broken. It had a neck of extraordinary length, and a huge, absurd head
which swung pendulous at the end of it, and seemed by its weight to
have dragged the beast out of shape, for the line of its back slanted
downwards from its buttocks to its shoulders.

"This is no fair treatment," I exclaimed hotly. "Elmscott, I deserve
better at your hands. 'Tis an untimely jest, and you might well have
spared yourself the pleasure of it."

"And the name of her's Ph[oe]be," he replied musingly. "'Tis her one
good point."

He spoke with so droll a melancholy that I had some ado to refrain
from laughing, in spite of my vexation.

"But," said I, "surely this is not all your equipage?"

"Nay," returned he proudly, "I have its saddle and bridle. But for the
rest of my horses, I lost them all playing basset with Lord Culverton.
He took them away only yesterday morning, but left me the mare, saying
that he had no cart for her conveyance."

"Well," said I, "I must e'en make shift with her. She may carry me one
stage."

And I walked out of the stables and back into the hall. Elmscott bade
his groom saddle the mare and followed me, but I was too angry to
speak with him, and seated myself sullenly at a table. However, he
fetched a pie from the pantry and a bottle of wine, and set them
before me. I had eaten nothing since I had disembarked the night
before, and knowing, besides, that I had a weary day in store, I fell
to with a good appetite. Elmscott opened the door. The sun had just
risen, and a warm flood of light poured into the hall and brightened
the dark panels of the walls. With that entered the sound of birds
singing, the rustle of trees, and all the pleasant garden-smells of a
fresh September morning. And at once a great hope sprang up in my
heart that I might yet be in time to prove the minister of Julian's
need. I heard the sound of hoofs on the road outside.

"Lend me a whip!" I cried.

"You are still set on going?"

"Lend me a whip!"

He offered me an oak cudgel.

"Ph[oe]be has passed her climacteric, and her perceptions are dull,"
he said; and then with a sudden change of manner he laid his hand on
my shoulder. "'Twere best not to go," he declared earnestly. "Those
who bring luck to others seldom find great store of it themselves."

But in the sweet clearness of the morning such thoughts seemed to me
no more than night vapours, and I sprang down the steps with a laugh.
The mare shivered as I mounted, and swung her head around as though
she would ask me what in the devil's name I was doing on her back. But
I thwacked her flanks with the cudgel, and she ambled heavily through
the square. I turned to look behind me. Elmscott was still standing on
the steps.

"Morrice," he called out, "be kind to her! She is an heirloom."



                             CHAPTER III.

                TELLS HOW I REACH BRISTOL, AND IN WHAT
                STRANGE GUISE I GO TO MEET MY FRIEND.


At length, then, I was fairly started on my way to Bristol. For my
direction over this first stage of my journey I had made inquiries of
Elmscott, and I rode westwards towards the village of Knightsbridge,
thanking Providence most heartily for that the city still slept. For
what with my disordered dress, my oak cudgel, and the weedy screw
which I bestrode--I scruple to dignify her with the name of mare, for
I have owned mares since which I loved, and would not willingly
affront them--I could not hope to pass unnoticed were any one abroad,
and, indeed, should esteem myself well-used to be counted no worse
than a mountebank. Thus I crossed Hounslow Heath and reached Brentford
without misadventure. There I joyfully parted with my Rosinante, and
hiring a horse, rode post. The way, however, was ill-suited for speedy
travelling, and my hope of seeing Julian that night dwindled with my
shadow as the sun rose higher and higher behind my shoulders. Ruts
deep and broad as new furrows trenched the road, and here and there
some slough would make a wide miry gap, wherein my horse sank over the
fetlocks. Some blame, moreover, must attach to me, for I chose a false
turn at the hamlet of Colnbrook, and journeyed ten miles clean from my
path to Datchet; so that in the end night found me blundering on the
edge of Wickham Heath, some sixty-one miles from London. I had changed
horses at Newbury, and I determined to press on at least so far as
Hungerford. But I had not counted with myself. I was indeed
overwrought with want of sleep, and the last few stages I had ridden
with dulled senses in a lethargy of fatigue. At what point exactly I
wandered from the road I could not tell. But the darkness had closed
in before I began to notice a welcome ease and restfulness in the
motion of the gallop. I was wondering idly at the change, when of a
sudden my horse pops his foot into a hole. The reins were hanging
loose on his neck; I myself was rocking in the saddle, so that I shot
clean over his shoulder, turned a somersault in mid-air, and came down
flat on my back in the centre of the Heath. For a while I lay there
without an effort or desire to move. I felt as if Mother Earth had
taken pity on my weariness, and had thus unceremoniously put me to
bed. The trample of hoofs, however, somewhat too close to my legs,
roused me to wakefulness, and I started up and prepared to remount. To
my dismay I found that my horse was badly lamed; he could barely set
his foreleg to the ground. The accident was the climax of my
misfortunes. I looked eagerly about me. The night was moonless, but
very clear and soft with the light of the stars. I could see the
common stretching away on every side empty and desolate; here a
cluster of trees, there a patch of bushes, but never a house, never
the kindly twinkle of a lamp, never a sign of a living thing. What it
behoved me to do, I could not come at, think as hard as I might. But
whatever that might have been, what I did, alas! was far different.
For I plumped myself down on the grass and cried like a child. It
seemed to me that God's hand was indeed turned against my friend and
his deliverance.

But somehow into the midst of my lament there slipped a remembrance of
Jack Larke. On the instant his face took shape and life before me,
shining out as it were from a frame of darkness. I saw an honest scorn
kindle in his eyes, and his lips shot "woman" at me. The visionary
picture of him braced me like the cut of a whip. At all events, I
thought, I would make a pretence of manhood, and I ceased from my
blubbering, and laying hold of the horse by the bridle, led him
forward over the Heath.

I kept a sharp watch about me as I walked, but it must have been a
full two hours afterwards when I caught a glimpse of a light far away
on my left hand, glimmering in a little thicket upon a swell of the
turf. At first I was minded to reckon it a star, for the Heath at that
point was ridged up against the sky. But it shone with a beam too warm
and homely to match the silver radiance of the planets. I turned
joyfully in its direction, and quickening my pace, came at length to
the back of a house. The light shone from a window on the ground floor
facing me. I looked into it over a little paling, and saw that it was
furnished as a kitchen. Plates and pewter-pots gleamed orderly upon
the shelves, and a row of noble hams hung from the rafters.

I hurried round the side of the house and found myself, to my great
satisfaction, on a bank which overlooked the road. I scrambled down
the side of it and knocked loudly at the door. It was opened by an
elderly man, who stared at me in some surprise.

"You travel late, young sir," said he, holding the door ajar.

"I have need to," I replied. "I should have been in Bristol long ere
this."

"'Tis strange," he went on, eyeing me a thought suspiciously. "I
caught no sound of your horse's hoofs upon the road."

"'Twould have been stranger if you had," said I. "For I missed my way
soon after sundown, and have been wandering since on the Heath. I saw
the light of your house some half an hour agone over yonder," and I
pointed in the direction whence I had come.

"Then you are main lucky, sir," he returned, but in a more civil tone.
"This is the 'Half-way House,' and it has no neighbours. In another
hour we should have gone to bed--for we have no guests to-night--and
you might have wandered until dawn."

With that he set the door back against the wall, and stood aside for
me to pass.

"You must pardon my surliness," he said. "But few honest travellers
cross Wickham Heath by dark, and at first I mistook you. I have never
held truck with the gentry of the road, though, indeed, my pockets
suffer for the ease of my conscience. However, if you will step
within, my wife will get you supper while I lead your horse to the
stables."

"The beast is lame," said I, "and I would fain continue my way
to-night. Have you a horse for hire?"

"Nay, sir," said he, shaking his head. "I have but one horse here
besides your own, and that is not mine."

"I need it only for a day," I urged eagerly; "for less than a day. I
could reach Bristol in the morning, and would send it you back
forthwith."

I plunged my hand into my fob, and pulled out a handful of money as I
spoke.

"It is no use," he declared. "The horse is not mine. 'Twas left here
for a purpose, and I may not part with it."

"It would be with you again to-morrow," I repeated.

"It may be needed in the meanwhile," said he. "It may be needed in an
hour. I know not."

I let the coins run from my right hand into the palm of my left, so
that they fell clinking one on the top of the other. For a second he
stood undecided; then he spoke in a low voice like a man arguing with
himself.

"I will not do it. The horse was left with me in trust--in trust.
Moreover, I was well paid for the trust." And he turned to me.

"Put up your money, sir," said he stubbornly. "You should think shame
to tempt poor folk. You will get no horse 'twixt here and Hungerford."

I slipped the money back into my pocket while he moved away with the
horse. It limped worse than ever, and he stopped and picked up its
foreleg.

"It is no more than a strain, I think," he called out. "The wife shall
make a poultice for it to-night, and you can start betimes in the
morning."

It was a poor consolation, but the only one. So I made the best of it,
and, taking my supper in the kitchen, went forthwith to bed. I was
indeed so spent and tired that I fell asleep in the corner by the fire
while my ham was being fried, and after it, was almost carried
upstairs in the arms of my landlord. I had not lain in a bed since I
left Leyden, and few sights, I think, have ever affected me with
so pleasant a sense of rest and comfort as that of the little
inn-chamber, with its white dimity curtains and lavender-scented
sheets. I have, in truth, always loved the scent of lavender since.

The next morning I was early afoot, and, despatching a hasty
breakfast, made my way to the stables. The innkeeper had preceded me
in order to have all ready for my start; but he stood in the yard with
the horse unsaddled.

"'Tis no use, sir," he said. "You must e'en walk to Hungerford."

I had but to see the horse take one step to realise the truth of his
words, for it limped yet worse than the evening before. The foot,
moreover, was exceeding hot and inflamed.

"Take it back," said I. "The poor beast must bide here till I return."

I followed him into the stable, and inquired of the road.

"You go straight," he said, "till you come to Barton Court, opposite
the village of Kintbury--" when of a sudden I stopped him. There were
but two stalls in the building, and I had just caught a glimpse of the
horse which was tied up in the second. It was of a light chestnut in
colour, with white stockings, and a fleck of white in its coat at the
joint of the hip. The patch was like a star in shape, and very
unusual.

"Why, this is Sir Julian Harnwood's horse," I cried, leaping towards
it--"his favourite horse!"

"Yes," he said, looking at me with some surprise, "that was the
name--Sir Julian Harnwood. 'Tis the horse I told you of last night."

And in a flash the truth came upon me.

"It waits for me," I said. "Quick, man, saddle it! Sir Julian's life
hangs upon your speed."

But he planted himself sturdily before me.

"Not so fast, young master," he said. "That trick will not serve your
turn. 'Tis Sir Julian's horse, sure enough, and it waits its rider,
sure enough; but that you are he, I must have some better warrant than
your word."

"My name may prove it," I replied. "It is Buckler--Morrice Buckler.
Sir Julian's servant came to me in Holland."

"Buckler!" the man repeated, as though he heard it for the first time.
"Morrice Buckler! Yes, sir, that may be your name. I have nothing
against it beyond that it is unfamiliar in these parts. But a strange
name is a poor thing to persuade a man to forego his trust."

I looked at the man. Though elderly and somewhat bent, he was of a
large frame, and the sinews stood out in knots upon his bared arms.
Plainly I was no match for him if it came to a struggle; and a
sickening feeling of impotence and futility surged up within me. At
every turn of the road destiny had built up its barrier. I understood
that the clue to the matter lay hidden in that untold message which
had been vainly conveyed to Leyden; that Swasfield had some pass-word,
some token to impart whereby I might make myself known along the road.

"The horse waits for me," I cried, my voice rising as I beseeched him.
"In very truth it waits for me. Doubtless I should have some proof of
that. But the man that bid me come fell in a swoon or ever he could
hand it me."

The innkeeper smiled, and sat him down on a corn-bin. Indeed, the
explanation sounded weak enough to me, who was witness of its truth. I
should hardly have credited it from another's lips.

"Oh, can't you see," I entreated, in an extremity of despair, "can't
you feel that I am telling you God's truth?"

"No, master," he answered slowly, shaking his head, "I feel nought of
that sort."

His words and stolid bumpkin air threw me into a frenzy of rage.

"Then," cried I, "may the devil's curse light on you and yours! That
horse was left with you in trust. You have dinned the word into my
ears; there's no gainsaying it. And I claim the fulfilment of your
trust. Understand, fellow!" I went on, shaking my hand at him, for I
saw his mouth open and his whole face broaden out into a laugh. "It's
not a horse you are stealing; it is a life--a man's innocent life!"

Thereupon he broke in upon my passion with a great gust of mirth that
shook him from head to foot.

"Lord, master!" said he, "that be mighty fine play-acting. I don't
know that I ever saw better in Newberry Market"--and he slapped a
great fist upon his thigh. "No, I'll be danged if I did. Go on! go on!
Lord, I could sit here and laugh till dinner." And he thrust his feet
forward, plunged his hands in his breeches pockets, and rolled back
against the wall. I watched him in an utter vacancy of mind. For his
stupid laughter had quenched me like a pailful of cold water. I
searched for some device by which I might outwit his stubbornness. Not
the smallest seed of a plan could I discover. I sent my thoughts back
to the morning of the fourteenth, and cudgelled my memory in the hope
that Swasfield might have dropped some hint which had passed
unnoticed. But he had said so little, and I remembered his every word.
Then in a twinkling I recollected the charms which I had found upon
his person. Perchance one of them was the needed token. No idea was
too extravagant for me to grasp at it. What had I done with them? I
thought. I clapped my hand into the pocket of my coat, and my fingers
closed, not on the charms, but on the barrel of the pistol which Larke
had handed to me at the moment of my setting out. In an instant my
mind was made up. I must have that horse, cost what it might. 'Twas
useless to argue with my landlord. Money I had made trial of the night
before. And here were the minutes running by, and each one of them, it
might be, a drop of Julian's blood!

I walked quickly to the door, at once to disengage the pistol secretly
and to hide any change in my countenance. But the cock must needs
catch in the flap of my pocket as I drew the weapon out. I heard a
startled cry behind me, a rattle of the corn-bin, and a clatter of
heavy shoes on the ground. I took one spring out of the stable,
turned, and levelled the barrel through the doorway. For a moment we
stood watching one another, he crouched for a leap, I covering his
eyes with the pistol.

"Saddle that horse," I commanded, "and bring it out into the road!"

It was his turn now to argue and entreat, but I had no taste at the
moment for "play-acting."

"Be quick, man!" I said. "You have wasted time enough. Be quick, else
I'll splatter your head against the wall!"

The fellow rose erect and did as I bid, while I stood in the doorway
and railed at him. For, alas! I was never over-generous by nature.

"Hurry, you potatoe!" I exclaimed. Why that word above all other and
more definite terms of abuse should have pained him I know not. But so
it was; "Potatoe" grieved him immeasurably, and noting that, I
repeated it more often, I fear me, than fitted my dignity. At length
the horse was saddled.

"Lead it out!" I said, and walked backwards to the road with my pistol
still levelled.

He followed me with the horse, and I bade him go back into the stable
and close the door. Then I put up my pistol, sprang into the saddle,
and started at a gallop past the inn. I had ridden little more than a
hundred yards when I chanced to look back. My host was standing in the
centre of the way, his legs firmly apart, and a huge blunderbuss at
his shoulder. I flung my body forward on the neck of the horse, and a
shower of slugs whistled through the air above my head. I felt for my
pistol to return the compliment, but 'twould have been mere waste of
the shot; I should never have hit him. So I just curved my hand about
my mouth and bawled "Potatoe" at the top of my voice. It could have
done no less hurt than his slugs.

The horse, fresh from its long confinement, answered gladly to my call
upon its speed, and settled into a steady gallop. But for all that,
though I pressed on quickly through Marlborough and Chippenham, the
nearer I came to Bristol the more lively did my anxieties become. I
began to ponder with an increasing apprehension on the business which
Julian might have in store for me. The urgency of his need had been
proved yet more clearly that morning. The horse which I bestrode was a
fresh and convincing evidence; and I could not but believe that
similar relays were waiting behind me the whole length of the road
from London.

At the same time, as Elmscott had urged, I could bring him no solace
of help in the matter of his trial. It would need greater authority
than mine to rescue him from Jeffries' clutches. I realised that there
must be some secret trouble at the back, and the more earnestly I
groped after a hint of its nature, the more dark and awesome the
riddle grew.

For, to my lasting shame I own it, Elmscott's forebodings recurred to
me with the mystical force of a prophecy:

"There is God's hand in all this. He doth not mean you should go."

The warning seemed traced in black letters on the air before me; fear
whispered it at my heart, and the very hoofs of the horse beat it out
in a ringing menace from the ground.

At last, when I was well-nigh in the grips of a panic, over the brow
of a hill I saw a cluster of church-spires traced like needles against
the sun, and in a sudden impulse to outstrip my cowardice I drove my
heels into my horse's flanks, and an hour later rode through Lawford's
Gate into Bristol town. I inquired of the first person I met where the
Court was sitting. At the Guildhall, he told me, and pointed out the
way. A clock struck four as he spoke, and I hurriedly thanked him and
hastened on.

About the Guildhall a great rabble of people swung and pressed, and I
reined up on the farther side of the street, but as nearly opposite to
the entrance as I could force my way. In front of the building stood a
carriage very magnificently equipped, with four horses, and footmen in
powdered wigs and glistening liveries.

From such converse as went on about me, I sought to learn what
prisoners had been tried that day. But so great was the confusion of
voices, curses, lamentations, and rejoicings being mixed and blended
in a common uproar, that I could gather no knowledge that was
particular to my purpose. Then from the shadow of the vestibule shot a
gleam of scarlet and white, and at once a deep hush fell upon the
crowd. Preceded by his officers, my lord Jeffries stepped out to his
carriage, a man of a royal mien, with wonderfully dark and piercing
eyes, though the beauty of his face was much marred by spots and
blotches, and an evil smile that played incessantly about his lips. He
seemed in truth in high good-humour, and laughed boisterously with
those that attended him; and bethinking me of his savage cruelty, and
the unholy lustfulness wherewith he was wont to indulge it, my heart
sank in fear for Julian.

The departure of his carriage seemed to lift a weight from every
tongue, and the clamour recommenced. I cast about for some one to
approach, when I beheld a little man with a face as wrinkled and
withered as a dry pippin, pressing through the throng in my direction.
I thought at first that he intended speech with me, for he looked me
over with some care. But he came straight on to the horse's head, and
without pausing walked briskly along its side to my right hand and
disappeared behind me. A minute after I heard the noise of a dispute
on my left. There was my little friend again. He had turned on his
steps, and moving in the contrary direction had come up with me once
more. In the hurry of his movements he had knocked up against a
passer-by, and the pair straightway fell loudly to argument, each one
accusing the other of clumsiness. I turned in my saddle to watch the
quarrel, and immediately the little man, with profuse apologies, took
the blame upon himself and continued his way. I followed him with my
eyes. He had proceeded but ten yards when his pace began to slacken,
then he dropped into a saunter, and finally stood still in a musing
attitude with his eyes on the ground, as though he was debating some
newly-remembered question. Of a sudden he raised his head, shot one
quick glance towards me, and resumed his walk. The street was thinning
rapidly, and I was able to pursue him without difficulty. For half a
mile we went on, keeping the same distance between us, when he sharply
turned a corner and dived into a narrow side-street. I checked my
horse, thinking that I had mistaken his look; for he had never so much
as turned round since. But the next minute he reappeared, and stood
loitering in his former attitude of reflection. There could be no
doubt of the man's intention, and I gathered up the reins again and
followed him. This side-street was narrow and exceeding dark, for the
storeys of the houses on each side projected one above the other until
the gables nearly met at the top. The little man was waiting for me
about twenty yards from the entrance, in an angle of the wall.

"It is Mr. Buckler?" he asked shortly.

"Yes," I answered. "What news of Julian?"

"You have but just arrived?"

"The clock struck four as I rode through Law-ford's Gate. What news of
Julian?"

He gave a sharp, sneering laugh.

"Ay, ay," he said. "No one so flustered as your loiterer." And he
stepped out from the shadow of the house. "Sir Julian?" he cried
hastily. "Sir Julian will be hanged at noon to-morrow."

I swayed in the saddle; the houses spun round me. I felt the man's arm
catch at and steady me.

"It is my fault?" I whispered.

"No, lad!" he returned, with a new touch of kindliness in his tone.
"Nothing could have saved him. I should know; I am his attorney. Maybe
I spoke too harshly, but this last week he has been eating his heart
out for the sight of you, and your tardiness plagued me. There, there!
Lay hold of your pluck! It is a man your friend needs, not a weak
girl."

There was a pitying contempt in the tone of these last words which
stung me inexpressibly. I sat up erect, and said, with such firmness
as I could force into my voice:

"Where does Sir Julian lie?"

"In the Bridewell to-night. But you must not go there in this plight,"
he added quickly, for I was already turning the horse. "You would ruin
all."

He glanced sharply up and down the lane, and went on:

"We have been together over-long as it is." Then he tapped with his
foot for a moment on the pavement. "I have it," said he. "Go to the
'Thatched House Tavern,' in Lime Kiln Lane. I will seek you there.
Wait for me; and, mind this, let no one else have talk with you! Tell
the people of the house I sent you--Mr. Joseph Vincott. It will
commend you to their care."

With that he turned on his heel, ran up to the opening of the street,
and after a cautious look this side and that, strolled carelessly
away. I gave him a few moments' grace, and then hurried with all
despatch to the tavern, asking my direction as I went. There I ordered
a private room, and planting myself at the window, waited impatiently
for Vincott's coming.

It must have been an hour afterwards that I saw him turn into the lane
from a passage almost opposite to where I stood. I expected him to
cross the road, but he cast not so much as a glance towards the inn,
and walked slowly past on the further side. I flung up the window,
thinking that he had forgotten his errand, and leaned out to call him.
But or ever I could speak he banged his stick angrily on the ground,
raised it with a quick jerk and pointed twice over his shoulder behind
him. The movement was full of significance, and I drew back into the
shadow of the curtain. Mr. Vincott mounted the steps of a house,
knocked at the door, and was admitted. No sooner had he entered than a
man stepped out from the passage. He was of a large, heavy build, and
yet, as I surmised from the litheness of his walk, very close-knit.
His face was swarthy and bronzed, and he wore ear-rings in his ears. I
should have taken him for an English sailor but that there was a
singular compactness in his bearing, and his gait was that of a man
perfectly balanced. For awhile he stood loitering at the entrance to
the passage, and then noticing the inn, crossed quickly over and
passed through the door beneath me.

My senses were now strained into activity, and I watched with a
quivering eagerness for the end of this strange game of hide-and-seek.
I had not long to wait. The little lawyer came down the steps, stopped
at the bottom, took a pinch of snuff with great deliberation, and
blowing his nose with unnecessary noise and vehemence, walked down the
street. He had nearly reached the end of it before his pursuer lounged
out of the inn and strolled in the same direction. The moment Vincott
turned the corner, however, he lengthened his stride; I saw him pause
at the last house and peep round the angle, draw back for a few
seconds, and then follow stealthily on the trail.

The incident reawakened all my perplexed conjectures as to the
business on which I was engaged. Why should the fact of my arrival in
the town be so studiously concealed? Or again, what reason could there
be for any one to suspect or fear it? The questions circled through my
mind in an endless repetition. There was but one man who could answer
them, and he lay helpless in his cell, adding to the torture of his
last hours the belief that his friend had played him false. The
thought stung me like Ino's gadfly. I paced up and down the room with
my eyes ever on the street for Vincott's return. My heart rose on each
sound of a nearing step, only to sink giddily with its dying
reverberation. The daylight fell, a fog rolled up from the river in
billows of white smoke, and still Vincott did not come. The very clock
by the chimney seemed to tick off the seconds faster and faster until
I began to fancy that the sounds would catch one another and run by in
one continuous note. At last I heard a quick pattering noise of feet
on the pavement below, and Vincott dashed up the stairs and burst into
the room.

"I have shaken the rascal off," he gasped, falling into a chair; "but
curse me if it's lawyer's work. We live too sedentary a life to go
dragging herrings across a scent with any profit to our bodies."

"Then we can go," said I, taking my hat. But he struck it from my
hands with his cane.

"And you!" he blazed out at me. "You must poke your stupid yellow head
out of the window as if you wanted all Bristol to notice it! Sit
down!"

"Mr. Vincott!" I exclaimed angrily.

"Mr. Buckler!" he returned, mimicking my tone, and pulling a grimace.
There was indeed no dignity about the man. "It may not have escaped
your perceptions that I have some desire to conceal your visit to this
town. Would it be too much to ask you to believe that there are
reasons for that desire?"

He spoke with a mocking politeness, and waited for me to answer him.

"I suppose there are," I replied; "but I am in the dark as to their
nature."

"The chief of them," said he, "is your own security."

"I will risk that," said I, stooping for my hat. "'Tis not worth the
suffering which it costs Julian."

"Dear, dear!" he gibed. "Tis strange that so much heart should tarry
so long. Let me see! It must be full eight days since Swasfield came
to you at Leyden." And he struck my hat once more out of my grasp.

"Mr. Vincott," said I--and my voice trembled as I spoke--"if you have
a mind to quarrel with me, I will endeavour to gratify you at a more
seasonable time. But I cannot wrangle over the body of my friend. I
came hither with all the speed that God vouchsafed me." And I informed
him of my journey, and the hindrances which had beset my path.

"Well, well," he said, when I had done, "I perceive that my thoughts
have done you some injustice. And, after all, I am not sure but what
your late coming is for the best. It has caused your friend no small
anxiety, I admit. But against that we may set a gain of greater
secrecy."

He picked up my hat from the floor, and placed it on the table.

"So," he continued, "you will pardon my roughness, but I have formed
some affection for Sir Julian. 'Tis an unbusinesslike quality, and I
trust to be well ashamed of it in a week's time. At the present,
however, it angered me against you." He held out his hand with a
genuine cordiality, and we made our peace.

"Now," said he, "the gist of the matter is this. It is all-essential
that you be not observed and marked as a visitor to Sir Julian.
Therefore 'twere best to wait until it is quite dark; and meanwhile we
must think of some disguise."

"A disguise?" I exclaimed.

"Yes," said he. "You must have noticed from that window that there are
others awake beside ourselves."

I stood silent for a moment, reluctantly considering a plan which
had just flashed into my head. Vincott drew a flint and steel from
his pocket, and lighted the candles--for the dusk was filling the
room--and drew the curtains close. All at once the dizzy faintness
which had come over me in the side-street near the Guildhall returned,
and set the room spinning about me. I clutched at a chair to save
myself from falling. Vincott snatched up a candle, and looked shrewdly
into my face.

"When did you dine?" he asked.

"At breakfast-time," said I.

He opened the door, and rang a bell which stood on a side-table.
"Lucy!" he bawled over the bannisters.

A great buxom wench with a cheery face answered the summons, and he
bade her cook what meats they had with all celerity.

"Meantime," said he, "we will while away the interval over a posset of
Bristol milk. You have never tasted that, Mr. Buckler? I would that I
could say the same. I envy you the pleasure of your first acquaintance
with its merit."

The "milk," as he termed it, was a strong brewage of Spanish wine,
singularly luxurious and palatable. Mr. Vincott held up his glass to
the light, and the liquid sparkled like a clear ruby.

"'Tis a generous drink," he said. "It gives nimbleness to the body,
wealth to the blood, and lightness to the heart. The true Promethean
fire!" And he drained the glass, and smacked his lips.

"That is a fine strapping wench," said I. "She must be of my height,
or thereabouts."

The lawyer cocked his head at me. "Ah!" said he drily, "a wonderful
thing is Bristol milk."

But I was thinking of something totally different.

The girl fetched in a stew of beef, steaming hot, and we sat down to
it, though indeed I had little inclination for the meal.

"Now, Mr. Vincott," said I, "I will pray you, while we are eating, to
help me to the history of Julian's calamities." I think that my voice
broke somewhat on the word, for he laid his hand gently upon my arm.
"I know nothing of it myself beyond what you have told me, and a
rumour that came to me in London."

The lawyer sat silent for a time, drumming with his fingers on the
table.

"Your story," I urged, "will save much valuable time when I visit
Julian."

"I was thinking," he replied, "how much I should tell you. You see,
merely the facts are known to me. Of what lies underneath them--I mean
the motives and passions which have ordered their sequence--I may have
surmised something" (here his eyes twinkled cunningly), "but I have no
certitude. That part of the business concerns you, not me. 'Twere
best, then, that I show you no more than the plain face of the
matter."

He pushed away his plate, leaned both arms upon the table, and, with a
certain wariness in his manner, told me the following tale:

"In the spring of the year, Miss Enid Marston fell sick at Court. The
air of St. James's is hardly the best tonic for invalids, and she came
with her uncle and guardian to the family house at Bristol to recruit.
Sir Julian Harnwood must, of course, follow her; and, in order that he
may enjoy her company without encroaching upon her hospitality, he
hires him a house in the suburbs, upon Brandon Hill. One night, during
the second week of August, came two fugitives from Sedgemoor to his
door. Sir Julian had some knowledge of the men, and the story of their
sufferings so worked upon his pity that he promised to shelter them
until such time as he could discover means of conveying them out of
the country. To that end he hid them in one of his cellars, brought
their food with his own hands, and generally used such precautions as
he thought must avert suspicion. But on the morning of the 10th
September he was arrested, his house searched, and the rebels
discovered. The rest you know. Sir Julian was tried this afternoon
with the two fugitives, and pays the penalty to-morrow. 'Tis the only
result that could have been looked for. His best friends despaired
from the outset--even Miss Marston."

"I had not thought of her," I broke in. "Poor girl!"

"Poor girl!" he repeated, gazing intently at the ceiling. "She was
indeed so put back in her health, that her physician advised her
instant removal to a less afflicting neighbourhood."

As he ended, he glanced sideways at me from under half-closed lids;
but I chanced to be watching him, and our eyes crossed. It seemed to
me that he coloured slightly, and sent his gaze travelling idly about
the room, anywhere, in short, but in my direction, the while he hummed
the refrain of a song.

"You mean she has deserted Julian?" I exclaimed.

"I have no recollection that I suggested that, or indeed anything
whatsoever," he returned blandly. "As I mentioned to you before, I
merely relate the facts."

"There is one fact," said I, after a moment's thought, "on which you
have not touched."

"There are two," he replied; "but specify if you please. I will
satisfy you to the limit of my powers."

"The part which I shall play in this business."

He wagged his head sorrowfully at me.

"I perceive," says he, "with great regret that they teach you no logic
at the University of Leyden. You are speaking, not of a fact, but of
an hypothesis. The part which you will play, indeed! You ask me to
read the future, and I am not qualified for the task."

It became plain to me that I should win no profit out of my
questioning; there could be but one result to a quibbling match with
an attorney; so I bade him roughly tell me what he would.

"There are two facts," he resumed, "which are perhaps of interest. But
I would premise that they are in no way connected. I would have you
bear that in mind, Mr. Buckler. The first is this: it has never been
disclosed whence the information came which led to the discovery of
the fugitives. Sir Julian, as I told you, used great precautions. His
loyalty, moreover, had never been suspected up till then."

"From his servants, most like," I interposed.

"Most like!" he sneered. "The remark does scanty credit to your
perspicacity, and hardly flatters me. I examined them with some care,
and satisfied myself on the score of their devotion to their master.
'Tis doubtful even whether they were aware of Sir Julian's folly. 'Tis
most certain that they never betrayed him. Besides, my lord Jeffries
rated them all most unmercifully this afternoon. He would not have
done that had they helped the prosecution. No, the secret must have
leaked out if the information had come from them."

"And you could gather no clue?"

"Say, rather, that I did gather no clue. For my client forbad me to
pursue my inquiries. 'Tis strange that, eh? 'Tis passing strange. It
points, I think, beyond the servants."

"Then Julian himself must know," I cried.

"Tis a simple thought," said he. "If you will pardon the hint, you
discover what is obvious with a singular freshness."

I understood that I had brought the rejoinder upon myself by my
interruption, and so digested it in silence.

"The second point," he continued, "is interesting as a----" he made
the slightest possible pause--"a coincidence. Sir Julian Harnwood was
arrested at six o'clock in the morning, not in his house, but
something like a mile away, on the King's down. 'Tis a quaint fancy
for a gentleman to take it into his head to stroll about the King's
down in the rain at six o'clock of the morning; almost as quaint as
for an officer to go thither at that hour to search for him."

An idea sprang through my mind, and was up to the tip of my tongue.
But I remembered the fate of my previous suggestions, and checked it
on the verge of utterance.

"You were about to proffer a remark," said Mr. Vincott very politely.

"No!" said I, in a tone of indifference, and he smiled.

Then his manner changed, and he began to speak quickly, rapping with
his fist upon the table as though to drive home his words.

"The truth of the matter is, Mr. Buckler, Sir Julian went out that
morning to fight a duel, and his antagonist was Count Lukstein, who
came over to England six months ago in the train of the Emperor
Leopold's ambassador. Ah! you know him!"

"No!" I replied. "I know of him from Julian."

"They were friends, it appears."

"Julian made the Count's acquaintance some while ago in Paris, and
has, I believe, visited his home in the Tyrol."

"However that may be, they quarrelled in Bristol. Count Lukstein came
down from London to take the waters at the Hotwell, by St. Vincent's
rock, and has resided there for the last three months. 'Twas a
trumpery dispute, but nought would content Sir Julian but that they
must settle it with swords. He was on the way to the trysting-place
when he was taken."

And with a final rap on the table, Mr. Vincott leaned back in his
chair, and froze again to a cold deliberation.

"That," said he, "is the second fact I have to bring to your notice."

"And the first," I cried, pressing the point on him, "the first is
that no one knows who gave the information!"

"I observed, I believe," he replied, returning my gaze with a mild
rebuke, "that between those two facts there is no connection."

At the time it seemed to me that he was bent on fobbing me off. But I
have since thought that he was answering after his fashion the
innuendo which my words wrapped up. He took out his snuff-box as he
spoke, and inhaled a great pinch. The action suddenly recalled to me
the man[oe]uvres which I had watched from the window.

"It was a foreigner," I said, starting up in my excitement, "it was a
foreigner who dogged your steps this afternoon."

"I like the ornaments of the ceiling," says he (for thither had his
eyes returned); and, as though he were continuing the sentence: "I may
tell you, Mr. Buckler, that Count Lukstein left Bristol eleven days
ago."

"Did he take his servants with him?" I asked; and then, a new thought
striking me: "Eleven days ago! That is, Mr. Vincott, the day after
Julian's arrest."

"Mr. Buckler," says he, "you appear to me to lack discretion."

"I only re-state your facts," I answered, with some heat.

"The facts themselves are perhaps a trifle indiscreet," he admitted.
"I shall certainly have that ceiling copied in my own house." And with
that he rose from his chair. "'Tis close on eight by the clock, and we
must hit upon some disguise. But, Lord! how it is to be contrived with
that canary poll of yours I know not, unless you shave your head and
wear my peruke."

"I have a better device than that," said I.

"Well, man, out with it!"

For I spoke with hesitation, fearing his irony.

"You can trust the people of the inn?"

He nodded his head.

"Else I should not have sent you hither. They are bound to me in
gratitude. I saved them last year from some pother with the Excise."

"And Lucy--what of her?"

"She is the landlord's daughter."

Thus assured, I delivered to him my plan--that I would mask my person
beneath one of Lucy's gowns.

Vincott leapt at the notion, "'Od rabbit me!" he cried, "I misliked
your face at first, but I begin to love it dearly now. For I see 'twas
given you for some purpose."

Once more he summoned Lucy, invented some story of a jest to be
played, and bound her to the straitest secrecy. She gained no inkling
from him, you may be sure, of the business which we had in hand. I
stripped off my coat, and with much lacing and compressing, much
exercise of vigour on Vincott's part, much panting on mine, and more
roguish giggling upon Lucy's, I was at last squeezed into the girl's
Sunday frock. It had a yellow bodice bedecked with red ribbons, and a
red canvas skirt.

"But, la!" she exclaimed, "your feet! Sure you must have a long cloak
to hide them." And she whipped out of the room and fetched one. My
feet did indeed but poorly match the dress, which descended no lower
than my ankles.

By good fortune the cloak had a hood attached, which could be drawn
well forward, and blurred my features in its shadow.

"So!" said I. "I am ready." And I strode quickly to the door. For
Lucy's glee and my masquerading weighed with equal heaviness upon me.
I was full-charged with sorrow for the coming interview. The old days
in Cumberland lived and beat within my heart; the old dreams of a
linked future voiced themselves again with a very bitter irony. 'Twas
the last time my eyes were to be gladdened with the sight of my loved
friend and playmate. I looked upon this visit as the sacred visit to a
death-bed; nay, as something yet more sad than that, for Julian lay
a-dying in the very bloom of health and youth, and the grotesque guise
in which I went forth to him seemed to mock and flout the solemnity of
the occasion.

"Stop, lad!" said Vincott. "You must never walk like that. Your first
step would betray you. Watch me!"

With a peacock air, which at another time would have appeared to me
inimitably ludicrous, the little attorney minced across the room on
the tips of his toes. Lucy leaned against the wall holding her sides,
and fairly screamed with delight.

"What ails you, lass?" said he very sternly.

"La, Mr. Vincott," she gulped out between bubbles of laughter, "I
think you have but few honest women among your clients."

Mr. Vincott rebuked her at some length for her sauciness, and would
have prolonged his lecture yet further, but that my impatience
mastered me and I haled him from the room. The girl let us out by a
small door which gave on to an alley at the back of the house. The
night was pitch-dark, and the streets deserted; not even a lamp swung
from a porch.

"Stay here for a moment," whispered Vincott. "I will move ahead and
reconnoitre."

His feet echoed on the cobbles with a strange lonely sound. In a
minute or so a low whistle reached my ears, and I followed him.

"All's clear," he said. "I little thought the time would ever come
when I should bless his late Majesty King Charles for forbidding the
citizens of Bristol to light their streets."

We stepped quickly forward, threading the quiet roads as noiselessly
as we could, until Vincott stopped before a large building. Lights
streamed from the windows, piercing the mirk of the night with
brownish rays, and a dull muffled clamour rang through the gateway.

"The Bridewell," whispered Vincott. "Keep your face well shrouded, and
for God's sake hide your feet!"

He drew a long breath. I did the same, and we crossed the road and
passed beneath the arch.



                             CHAPTER IV.

                         SIR JULIAN HARNWOOD.


Mr. Vincott knocked at the great door within the arch, and we were
presently admitted and handed over to the guidance of a gaoler.

The fellow led us across a courtyard and into a long room clouded and
heavy with the smoke of tobacco.

"Keep the hood close!" whispered my companion a second time.

I muffled my face and bent my head towards the ground. For a noisy
clamour of drunken songs and coarse merriment, and, mingled with that,
a ceaseless rattle of drinking-cans, rose about me on all sides. It
seemed that the Bridewell kept open house that night.

We traversed the room, picking out a path among the captives, for even
the floor was littered with men in all imaginable attitudes, some
playing cards, some asleep, and most of them drunk. My presence served
to redouble the uproar, and each moment I feared that my disguise
would be detected. I felt that every eye in the room was centred upon
my hood. One fellow, indeed, that sat talking to himself upon a bench,
got unsteadily to his feet and reeled towards us. But or ever he came
near, the gaoler cut him across the shoulders with his stick and sent
him back howling and cursing.

"Back to your kennel!" he shouted. "'Tis an uncommon wench that would
visit the lousy likes o' you."

At the far end of the room he unlocked a door which opened on to a
narrow flight of stairs. On the landing above he halted before a
second door of a more solid make, the panels being strengthened by
cross-beams, and secured with iron bars and a massive lock. The gaoler
unfastened it and threw it open.

"You have half an hour, mistress," he said, civilly enough. A startled
cry of pain broke from the inside, I heard a sharp clink of fetters,
and Julian confronted me through the doorway, his eyes ablaze with
passion, and every limb strained and quivering.

"What more? What more, madam?" he asked, in a hoarse, trembling voice.
"Are you not satisfied?"

He stopped suddenly with a gasping intake of the breath, and let his
head roll forward on his breast like a fainting man. Vincott pushed me
gently within the room, and I heard the door clang behind me. For a
moment I could not speak. The tears rose in my throat and drowned the
words. Julian was the first to recover his composure.

"I crave your pardon," he said, and his voice sounded in my ears with
a sad familiarity like the echo of our boyhood. "I mistook you for
another." And he sat down on a bench and covered his face with his
hands.

"Julian!" I said, finding at length my voice, and I held out my hands
to him. He uncovered his face and stared at me in sheer incredulity.
Then with a cry of joy he sprang forwards, stumbling pitifully from
the hindrance of his fetters.

"Morrice at last!" He lifted his hands and clapped them down into
mine, and the quick movement jerked the chain between his handlocks so
that it fell cold across my wrists. So we stood silent, memory
speeding to and fro between our eyes and telling the same wistful tale
within the heart of each of us. But in that brumous cell, lit only by
a smoky lamp which served rather to deepen the shadows of the space
which it left obscure than to illumine the circle immediately about
it, such thoughts could not beguile one long; and a strange,
unaccountable fear began to creep up in my mind like a mist. It seemed
to me that the chain pressed ever tighter and tighter about my wrists,
and grew cold like a ring of ice. The chill of it slipped into the
marrow of my bones. I came almost to believe that I myself was
manacled, and with that I felt once again that premonition of evil
drawing near, which had numbed my spirit in the grey dawn at London.
Now, however, the warning came to me with a clearer and more
particular message. I had a penetrating conviction that this cell
prefigured some scene in the years to come wherein I should fill the
place of Julian; and, seeing him, I saw a dim image of myself as when
a man looks into a clouded mirror. So thoroughly, indeed, did the
fancy master me that I too became, as it were, the shadow and reflex
of another, a mere counter and symbol representing one as yet unknown
to me.

"I thought you would never come," said my friend, and I woke out of my
trance.

"I started at once from Leyden," I replied; but Julian cut short my
explanation.

"I am sure of it. I never doubted you. We have but half an hour, and I
have much to tell."

He turned away and flung himself down on the bench, which was broad
and had a rail at the back, such as you may see outside a village
alehouse.

"Vincott has told you the history of my arrest?"

"Yes!" said I. The lamp stood upon a stool beside the bench, and I
lifted it up and placed it on a rough bracket which was fixed to the
wall above. The light fell full upon his face, which had grown
extraordinary thin, with the skin very bloodless and tight about his
jaws, so that the bones looked to have sharpened. Only around his eyes
was there any colour, and that of a heavy purple. I sat down upon the
stool, and Julian gave something like a sigh of content.

"I am glad you have come, Morrice," he said. "It has tired me so,
waiting for you."

He closed his eyes wearily, and appeared to be falling asleep. I
touched him on the shoulder, and he sprang to his feet like one dazed,
brushing against the bracket and making the flame of the lamp spirt up
with a sudden flare. Once or twice he walked to and fro in the room,
as though ordering his speech.

"Here is the kernel of the matter," said he at last, coming back to
the bench. "I was arrested to serve no ends of justice, but the vilest
treachery and cowardice that man ever heard of. The tale, in truth,
seems well-nigh inconceivable. Even I, who have sounding evidence of
its truth," and he kicked one of his feet, so that the links of the
fetters rattled on the floor, "even I find it hard to believe that
'tis more than a monstrous fable. The man called himself my friend."

"It was Count Lukstein, then?"

"How did you find out that? Vincott could not have told you."

"He did not tell me, but yet he gave me to know it."

"Yes, it was Count Lukstein. He laid the information to spare himself
a duel and to get rid of--well, of an obstacle. I meant to kill him. I
should have killed him, and he knew it. The duel was arranged secretly
on the afternoon of Saturday, the ninth; the spot chosen--a dip in the
hill, solitary and unfrequented even at midday, for the descent is
steep--and the time six o'clock on the Sunday morning. And yet
there I was taken, on the very ground, at six o'clock on a Sunday
morning--raining, too!"

"There seems little doubt."

"There is no doubt. 'Twas his life or mine. The dispute was the mere
pretext and occasion of the duel."

"So I understood."

I was beginning to understand, besides, that the facts which Mr.
Vincott had intended to impart to me were somewhat more numerous than
he thought fit to admit.

"The cause--but I can't speak of that. In any case, 'twas his life or
mine, and he knew it, so deemed it prudent to take mine, since he had
the power, without risking his own."

"But," I objected, "could you trust your seconds? They knew the time,
the place----"

"But they did not know I was sheltering Monmouth's fugitives. Lukstein
knew it."

"You told him?"

"No!"

He stopped abruptly, and his eyes fell from my face to the ground. And
then he said, in a very sad and quiet voice:

"But I have none the less sure proof he knew."

He sat silent with bowed head, labouring his breath, and his hands
lying clasped together upon his knees. I noticed that the tips of his
fingers were pressed tight into the backs of his palms, so that the
flesh about them looked dead.

I leaned forward and took him gently by the arm.

"You must deliver me that proof, Julian," said I. For I began to have
a pretty sure inkling of the service he had it in his mind to require
of me.

He shifted his eyes to my face and then back again to the floor.

"I know, I know," he replied unsteadily. "I disclosed my secret to but
one person in the world." And as I held my peace wondering, he flashed
on me a tortured face. "Don't force me to give the name!" he cried.
"Think! Think, Morrice! Who should I have told? Who should I have
told?"

The words seemed wrung from his soul. I understood what that first
outburst meant when the gaoler had bidden me enter, and my gorge rose
against this woman who could make such foul sport of her lover's
trust. He read my thought in my face, and though he might upbraid his
mistress himself, he would not suffer me to do the same.

"You must not blame her," he said earnestly, laying a hand upon my
knee. "Blame me! Blame us who wantoned the days away at Whitehall, and
cloyed the very air with our flatteries. You chose the right part,
Morrice, a man's part--work. As for us," he resumed his restless walk
about the chamber, beating one clenched fist into the palm of the
other, "as for us, a new fashion, a new dance, were our studies,
cajoling women our work. The divine laws were sneered at, trampled
down. They were meet for the ragged who had nought but hope in the
next world to comfort them for their humiliation in this. But we--we
who had silk to wear and money to spend, we needed a different creed.
Sin was our God, and we worshipped and honoured it openly. When I
think of it I, a Catholic, can find it in my heart to wish that
Monmouth's cause had won. No, Morrice, you must not blame her. The
fault is ours, and I am rightly punished for my share in it. Constancy
was a burgess virtue, fit for a tradesman. We despised it in
ourselves; what right had we to expect it in the women we surrounded?"

He checked his vehement flow abruptly, and came and stood over me.

"And yet, Morrice," he said, with a smile that was infinitely tender
and sad, "and yet I loved her, with a sweet purity in the love, and a
humble thankfulness for the knowledge of it, loved her as any country
bumpkin might love the girl who rakes a furrow at his side."

"And in return," I said bitterly, "she betrayed you to Count
Lukstein?"

He nodded "yes," and sat down again on his bench.

"Why?"

"Long before the duel. She had no suspicion of the consequences of her
words," he said hastily. "She had no hand in this plot."

"Why?" I repeated.

He looked at me, imploring mercy.

"I understand," said I.

"Ah, no!" he said quickly; "your suspicions outstrip the truth. I
think so," and again with a curiously pleading voice, "I think so. The
man purred more softly than the rest, and so she----"

He broke off in the middle of the sentence and began anew.

"I must lay the whole truth bare, I see that. Only the shame of it
cuts into me like a knife."

He paused, and great beads of sweat broke out upon his forehead.

"I have told you that my dispute with Lukstein was no more than the
pretext of our quarrel. She was the cause. How long their acquaintance
had lasted I know not, or to what length of intimacy it had gone.
Lukstein was as secret as a cat, and he taught her his duplicity.
'Twas I, myself, presented him to her formally when he came first to
the Hotwell, but I think now the pair had met before in London. 'Twere
too long to describe how my fears were aroused--an exchange of glances
noted here, a letter in his hand dropped from a sachet there, a
certain guarded hesitation she evinced when Lukstein and I were both
with her, a word carelessly dropped showing knowledge of his
movements; all trifles in themselves, but summed together a very
weighty argument. So on the morning of the ninth, worn out with
disquiet, I resolved to bring the matter to an issue, and I rode over
to St. Vincent's rock. Lukstein was seated at an escritoire as I
entered the room. I saw his face blanch and his hand fly to an open
drawer, close, and lock it. He rose to greet me, and drew me to the
window, which pleased me the more for that a bell stood upon the
escritoire. I got between him and the bell and taxed him with his
treachery. He denied it, larding me with friendly protestations. I
backed to the escritoire and repeated the charge. He laughed at me for
my unmanly lack of faith. With a sudden wrench I tore open the locked
drawer. He bounded towards the bell; my sword was at his breast, and
we stood watching one another while I rummaged with my left hand in
the drawer.

"'You shall pay for this,' says he, very softly.

"'One of us will pay,' says I.

"'Yes, you! You!' and he smiled, with his lips drawn back so that I
saw the gums of his teeth on both jaws. If only I had known what he
meant! I had him there at my sword's point. I had but to lean forward
on my arm!

"'Get back to the window!' I ordered, and he obeyed me with an
affected jauntiness. Out of the drawer I drew a small gold box of an
oval shape. I had given it but a fortnight agone to--to----you will
understand; and it contained my miniature. The box fastened with a lock,
and I forgot to ask him for the key. He has it still. There were letters
besides in the drawer, and I made him burn them before my eyes. Then I
took my leave, and sent my seconds."

"Are you sure the box was the same?" I asked, when he had done. He
slipped his hand into his pocket, and brought it out and placed it in
my hand. His coat of arms was emblazoned on the cover.

"Keep it!" he said. I tried the lid, but the box was locked.

"Until I recover the key," I answered, and we clasped hands.

"Thank you!" he said simply. "Thank you!"

The smell of the Cumberland gorse was in my nostrils, my friend lay
before me traitorously fettered, and this poor, belated adjustment of
his wrong seemed the very right and fitting function of the love I
bore for him. There was, however, still one point on which I still
felt need to be assured.

For I knew the timidity of my nature, and I was minded to leave no
fissure in this wall of evidence through which after-doubts might leak
to sap my resolution.

"And the proof?" I asked. "The proof that she informed Count
Lukstein."

"She confessed that to me herself. She came to me here on the evening
of the day that I was taken."

I placed the gold box in the fob of my waistcoat, and as I did so I
felt a book. I drew it out, wondering what it might be. 'Twas the
small copy of Horace which I had thrust there unwittingly when I
waited for the doctor's report at Leyden. I held it in my hands and
turned over the pages idly.

"Count Lukstein has left Bristol," I said.

"Ay; he got little good out of his treachery beyond the saving of
his carcase. But he left his servant here--Otto Krax. That is why I
bade you come disguised. He knew I could not make the matter public
for--for her sake. But I suppose that he feared I might reveal it to
some friend if the trial went against me, entrust to him the just work
I am forced to leave undone. Perchance he had some hint of Swasfield's
departure; I know not. This only I know: Krax has been at Vincott's
heels, keeping close watch on all who passed in with him to me; and
should he find out that you had come from Holland in this great haste,
it might prove an ill day's work for you, and, in any case, Lukstein
would be forewarned."

"He lives in the Tyrol?"

"At Schloss Lukstein, six miles to the east of Glurns, in the valley
of the Adige. But, Morrice, he is master there. The spot is remote,
there's no one to gainsay him. You must needs be careful. He hath no
love for honest dealing, and you had best take him privately."

He spoke with so sombre a warning in his tone that the shadows
appeared to darken about the room.

"He is cunning," Julian went on; "you must match him in cunning. Nay,
over-match him, for he has power as well."

"You have visited this castle?"

"Yes. 'Tis built in two wings which run from east to west, and north
to south, and form a right angle at the north-east corner. At the
extreme end of the latter wing there is a tower; a window opens on to
the terrace from a small room in this tower. There are but two doors
in the room; that on the left gives on to a passage which leads to the
main hall. The servants sleep on the far side of the hall. The other
door opens on to a narrow stairway which mounts to the Count's
bedroom. 'Tis his habit of a night to sit in this small room."

"I understand. And the entrance to this terrace?"

"That is the danger, for the place is built upon a rock sheer and
precipitous. However, there is one spot where the ascent may be
contrived. I discovered the way by chance. The climb is hazardous, yet
not more so than some that we attacked out of mere sport on Scafell
crags. Ah, me! Morrice, those were the best days of my life. I wonder
whether 'twill be the same with you!"

Something like a shiver ran through me, but before I could answer him
the key grated in the lock and the door was flung open. I turned, and
saw in the shadow of the entrance the sombre figure of a priest. He
was tall, and the cassock which robed him in black from head to foot
made him show yet taller. In his hand he held a gleaming crucifix. He
raised it above his head as he crossed the threshold, and in the
twilight of the room it shone like a silver flame.

Julian sprang from his bench; his shoulder caught the bracket, the
lamp rocked once or twice, and then crashed to the ground. In the
darkness no one spoke; the rustle of our breathing was marked like the
ticking of a clock.

After a while the gaoler fetched in a taper. Julian looked at me in
some embarrassment The priest waited patiently by the door, and it was
impossible for us to renew our discourse. In rising, however, I had
let fall the Horace on to the floor, and the book lay open at my feet.
Julian caught sight of it, and a plan occurred to him. He fumbled in
his pocket for a pencil, picked the volume up, and drew a rapid sketch
upon the open page.

"That will make all clear," he remarked.

I took the book from him, and we clasped hands for the last time.

"At this hour to-morrow?" he said, with a little catch in his voice. I
was still holding his hand. I could feel the blood beating in his
fingers. At this hour to-morrow! It seemed incredible. "Morrice!" he
cried, clinging to me, and his voice was the voice of a child crying
out in the black of the night. In a moment he recovered his calm, and
dropped my hand. I made my reverence to the priest, and the door
clanged to between us.

Vincott was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs, and we hurried
silently to the gates. The porter came forward to let us out, but I
noticed that he fumbled with his keys which he carried upon an iron
ring. He tried first one and then another in the lock, as though he
knew not which fitted it. His ignorance struck me as strange until
Vincott pulled me by the sleeve.

"Turn your back to the hutch," he whispered suddenly. Instinct made me
face it instead, and I perceived, gazing curiously into my face, the
very man who had tracked Vincott in the afternoon: Otto Krax, as I now
knew him to be, Count Lukstein's servant. So startled was I by the
unexpected sight of him that I let the volume of Horace fall from my
fingers to the ground. On the instant he ran forward and picked it up.
I snatched it from his hand before he could do more than glance at its
cover, whereupon he made me a polite bow and returned to the
embrasure. At last the porter succeeded in opening the door, and we
got us into the street. Vincott was for upbraiding me at first in that
I followed not his directions, but I cut him short roughly, and bade
him hold his peace. For the world seemed very strange and empty, and I
had no heart for talking. So we walked in silence back towards the
inn.

Of a sudden, however, Vincott stopped.

"Listen!" he whispered.

I strained my ears until they ached. Behind us, in the quiet of the
night, I could hear footsteps creeping and stealthy, not very far
away. Vincott drew me into an angle of the wall, and we waited there
holding our breaths. The footsteps slid nearer and nearer. Never since
have I heard a sound which so filled me with terror. The haunting
secrecy of their approach had something in it which chilled the
blood--the sound of a man on the trail. He passed no more than six
feet from where we stood. It was Otto Krax; and we remained until we
could hear him no more. Vincott wiped his forehead.

"If he had stopped in front of us," I said, "I should have cried out."

"And by the Lord," said he, "I should have done no less."

A hundred yards further on, Vincott stopped again.

"He has found out his mistake," he exclaimed in a low, quavering
voice.

We listened again; the footsteps were returning swiftly, but with the
same quiet stealth.

"Quick!" said Vincott, "against the wall!"

"No," said I, "he is tracking along the side of it. Let us face and
pass him."

We walked on at a good pace, and made no effort at concealment. The
man stopped as soon as we had gone by, turned, and came after us. My
heart raced in my breast. He quickened his pace and drew level.

"Tis a strange time for women to run these streets." He spoke with a
guttural accent, and his face leered over my shoulder. In a passion of
fear I swung my arm free from the cloak, and hit at the face with all
my strength. The dress I was wearing ripped at the shoulder as though
you had torn a sheet of brown paper. My blow by good fortune caught
him in the neck at the point where the jaw curves up into the cheek,
and he fell heavily to the ground, his head striking full upon a
rounded cobble. I waited to see no more, but tucked up my skirts and
ran as though the fiend were at my heels, with Vincott panting behind
me. We never halted until we had reached the alley which led to the
back-door of the inn.

I invited Vincott to come in with me and recruit his energies with a
second dose of Bristol milk.

"No! no!" he returned. "'Tis late already, and you have to start
betimes in the morning."

"There is the ceiling," I suggested.

He laughed softly.

"Mr. Buckler, I exaggerated its beauties," he said, "and I fear me if
I went in with you I should be forced to repeat my error. It is just
that which I wish to avoid."

"There are other and indifferent topics," I replied, "on which we
might speak frankly." For a change had come over my spirit, and I
dreaded to be left alone. Vincott shook his head.

"We should not find our tongues would talk of them."

However, he made no motion of departure, but stood scraping a toe
between the stones. Then I heard him chuckle to himself.

"That was a good blow, my friend," he said; "a good, clean blow, pat
on the angle of the jaw. I would never have credited you with the
strength for it. The man has been a plaguy nuisance to me, and the
blow was a very soothing compensation. Only conduct your undertaking
with the like energy throughout, and I do believe----" He pulled
himself up suddenly.

"What do you believe?" I asked.

"I believe," he replied sententiously, "that Lucy will need a new
Sunday gown;" and he turned on his heel and marched out of the alley.

The next morning came a foreigner to the inn, and made inquiry
concerning a woman who had stayed there over-night. Lucy, faithful to
her promise, stoutly declared that no woman had rested in the house
for so little as an hour, and, not content with that asseveration, she
must needs go on to enforce her point by assuring him that the inn had
given shelter to but one traveller, and that traveller a man. But the
traveller by this time was well upon his way to London, and so learnt
nothing of the inquiry until long afterwards.



                              CHAPTER V.

                 I JOURNEY TO THE TYROL AND HAVE SOME
                    DISCOURSE WITH COUNT LUKSTEIN.


Dew jewelling the grasses in the fields, the chatter of birds among
the trees, a sparkling freshness in the air, and before me the road,
running white into the gold of the rising sun. But behind! On the top
of St. Michael's hill, outlined black against the pearly western sky,
rose the gaunt cross-trees of the gallows. 'Twas the last glimpse I
had of Bristol, and I lingered as one horribly fascinated until the
picture was embedded in my heart.

In London I tarried but so long as sufficed for me to repair the
deficiencies of my dress, since my very linen was now become unsightly
and foul, and, riding to Gravesend, took ship for Rotterdam.

I had determined to join Larke with me in my undertaking, for I
bethought me of his craving for strange paths and adventures, and
hoped to discover in him a readiness of wit which would counteract my
own scrupulous hesitancy. For this I implicitly believed: that it was
not so much the wariness that Julian bespoke which would procure
success, as the instinct of opportunity, the power, I mean, at once to
grasp the fitting occasion when it presented, and to predispose one's
movements in the way best calculated to bring about its presentment.
In this quality I knew myself to be deficient. 'Twas ever my
misfortune to confuse the by-ways with the high-road. I would waste
the vital moment in deliberation as to which was shortest, and alas!
the path I chose in the end more often than not turned out to be a
_cul-de-sac_.

In the particular business in which I was engaged such overweening
prudence would be like to nullify my purpose, and further, destroy
both Jack and myself. For beyond a description of Count Lukstein's
person which I had from Julian some while ago, I knew nothing but what
he had told me in the prison; and that knowledge was too scanty to
serve as the foundation for even the flimsiest plan. The region, the
Castle, the aggregate of servants, and their manner of life--it
behoved me to have certain information on all these particulars were I
to prearrange a mode of attack. As things were, I must needs lie in
ambush for chance, and seize it with all speed when it passed our way.

At Leyden I found Jack, very glum and melancholy, poring over a folio
of Shakespeare. 'Twas the single author whom he favoured, and he read
his works with perpetual interest and delight. "This is the book of
deeds," he would say, smacking a fist upon the cover. "There is but
one bad play in it, and that is the tragedy of _Hamlet_. The good
Prince is too speculative a personage."

"You reached Bristol in time?" he asked, springing up as I entered the
room.

"In time; but not a moment too soon," I replied, and sat mum.

"Then Sir Julian Harnwood is safe?"

"No! There was never a hope of that."

The old smile, half amusement, half contempt, flashed upon his lips;
the old envy looked out from his eyes. I, of course, had bungled where
a man of vigour might have accomplished.

"It was not for that end that he sent for me," I hastened to add, and
then I stuck. I had determined to relate to Jack forthwith the story
of my mission, and to engage his assistance, but the actual sight of
him overturned my intentions. I felt tongue-tied; I dared not tell him
lest my resolution should trickle away in the telling; for I read upon
his face his poor estimation of my powers, and I dreaded the ridicule
of his comments upon my unfitness for the task to which I had set my
hand. I had sufficient doubts of my own upon that score. Indeed, since
I had entered the room, they had buzzed about me importunate as a
cloud of gnats; for Larke had never been sparing of his homilies upon
my incapacity. I think every article I possessed, at one time or
another, had been twisted into a text for them; and now they all came
flocking back to me, as my eyes ranged over the familiar objects they
had been based upon. They seemed, in truth, to saturate the very air.

Hence, I confided to Larke no more than the fact of our journey into
the Tyrol; its reason and purpose I kept secret to myself. And to this
self-distrust, trivial matter though it was, I owed my subsequent
misfortunes. It was the first link in the chain of disaster, and I
forged it myself unwittingly.

"Jack," said I, "you were ever fond of adventures. One lies at your
door."

"Of what kind?" he asked.

"A journey into the Tyrol."

"For what purpose?"

"I cannot tell you. You must trust me if you come."

He looked at me doubtfully.

"Your life will be risked," I urged; "I can gratify you so far."

He closed the Shakespeare with a bang.

"When do we start?"

"As soon as ever we are prepared. To-morrow."

"'Twere a pity to waste a day."

I assured him that so far from wasting it, we should have much ado to
get off even the next morning. For there were a couple of stout horses
to be purchased, besides numberless other arrangements to be made. The
horses we bought of a dealer in the Rapenburg, and then, enlisting the
fencing-master to aid us, we sought the shop of an armourer in the
Hout-Straat. From him we bought a long sword and a brace of pistols
each, whereupon Larke declared that we were equipped cap-à-pie, and
loudly protested against further hindrance. I insisted, however, in
adding a pair of long cloaks of a heavier cloth than any we possessed,
and divers other warm garments. For we were now in the last days of
September, and I knew that winter comes apace in upland countries like
the Tyrol. Then there were maps to be procured, and a route to be
pricked out, so that it was late in the evening before we had
completed our preparations.

Meanwhile I inquired of Larke how it had fared with Swasfield. It
appeared that it was not until some hours after I had ridden off that
the man regained his senses, and then he was still too weak to amplify
his tidings; in fact, he had only recovered sufficiently to depart
from Leyden two days before I returned. Doubtless to some extent his
convalescence was retarded by grief for that he had not fulfilled his
errand. For he was ever lamenting the omission of his message, and
more particularly of that portion which referred to the road between
Bristol and London. For swift horses had been stabled at intervals of
fifteen miles along the whole stretch, and in order to make sure that
no one but myself should have the profit of them, as Swasfield said,
or rather, as I think, in order that my name might not transpire if
Count Lukstein's spies were watching the road and became suspicious at
this posting of relays, it was arranged that they should be delivered
only to the man who passed the word "Wastwater," that being the name
of the lake in Cumberland on which my lands abutted.

Of our journey into the Tyrol I have but faint recollections. We set
off the next morning with no more impediments than we could carry in
valises fixed upon our saddles. Even Udal, my body-servant, I left
behind, for he had neither liking nor aptitude for foreign tongues, a
few scraps of French and a meagre knowledge of Dutch forced on him by
his residence in the country, being all that he possessed. He would,
therefore, have only hindered our progress, and, besides, I had no
great faith in his discretion. I was minded, accordingly, to secure
some foreigner in Strasbourg who would think we were engaged upon a
tour of pleasure; which I did, and dismissed him at Innspruck.

For the rest I rode with little attention or regard for the provinces
through which we passed. The very cities wherein we slept seemed the
cities of a dream, so that now I am like one who strives to piece
together memories of a journey taken in early childhood. An alley of
trees recurs to me, the shine of stars in a midnight sky, or, again,
the comfortable figure of a Boniface; but the images are confused and
void of suggestion, for I rode eyes shut and hands clenched, as a
coward rides in the press of battle.

At times, indeed, when we halted, I would turn industriously to my
Horace. The book had fallen open at the Palinodia when I dropped it in
the prison, so that Julian's sketch was on the page opposite to the
date September 14. I append here the diagram which was to enable me to
find an entrance into the Castle, and it will be seen that I had much
excuse for studying it. In truth, I could make neither head nor tail
of its signification.

[Illustration: Outline of Lukstein Castle]


'Twas ever this outline of Lukstein Castle that I pondered, though
Jack knew it not, and when he beheld the book in my hands would gaze
at me with a troubled look of distrust. On the instant I would fall
miserably to taking count of myself. "Here are you," I would object to
myself, "a bookish student of a mean stature and a dilatory mind. You
have faced no weapon more deadly than a buttoned foil, and you would
compel a man of great strength and indubitable cunning to a mortal
encounter in the privacy of his own house, that is, supposing you are
not previously done to death by his serfs, which is most like to
happen." Then would my courage, a very ricketty bantling, make weak
protest: "You faced a blunderbuss and a volley of slugs, and you were
not afraid." "But," I would answer hotly, "you did not face them, you
were running away. Besides, you had called your assailant a potatoe,
and therefore had already a contempt for him. This time it is you who
will be the potatoe, as you will most surely discover when Count
Lukstein spits you on his skewer;" and so I would get me wretchedly to
bed.

There were, indeed, but two thoughts which served to console me. In
the first place, I was sensible that I had acquired some dexterity
with the foils, and if I could but imagine a button on the point of
the Count's sword I might hope to hold my own. In the second, I
remembered very clearly a remark of Julian's. "The man's a coward," he
had said, and I hugged the sentence to my breast. I repeated the
words, indeed, until they fell into the cadence of a rhythm and lost
all meaning and comfort for me, sounding hollow, like the tapping of
an empty nut.

Of what Larke suffered during that period I had no suspicion, but from
subsequent hints I gather that his distress, though based upon far
other grounds, was no whit inferior to my own. His behaviour, indeed,
when I came to consider it, revealed to me new and amiable aspects of
his character; for while he firmly disbelieved in my ability to
captain an expedition, he never once pestered me for an explanation. I
had entrusted the purse to his care, and at each town he made the
arrangements for our stay, looked after the welfare of our horses, and
in short, took modestly upon himself the troublesome conduct of our
travels. Knowing nothing of my purpose but its danger, and distrustful
of its achievement, he yet rode patiently forward, humming ever a
French song, of which the refrain ran, I remember:


              Que toutes joies et toutes honneurs
              Viennent d'armes et d'amours.


For he possessed that delicate gift of sympathy which keeps the friend
silent when the acquaintance multiplies his questions.

Thus we journeyed for over a month. It was, I fancy, on the 12th
November that we reached the town of Innspruck, the weather very
shrewd and bitter, for snow had fallen in great quantities, and a
cutting wind blew from the hills. That night I told my companion of
our destination, but disclosed no more of the business than that I had
a private message for Count Lukstein's ear, which must needs be
delivered secretly if we were to save our lives. We stayed here for
two days that we might rest our horses, and early on the 14th set off
for Glurns, which lay some eighty miles away in a broad valley they
called the Vintschgau. The snow, however, was massed very deep, and
though the road was sound, for it was the highway into Italy, we did
not come up with the village until two o'clock on the third afternoon.
Beyond Glurns the road traversed the valley in a diagonal line through
a dreary avenue of stunted limes, which in their naked leaflessness
looked in the distance like a palisade. Into this avenue we passed,
and were well-nigh across the dale and under its northern barrier of
mountains, when Larke suddenly reined up.

"'Childe Roland to the dark tower came,'" he sang out. "Heaven send
there be no one to complete the quotation!"

I followed the direction of his gaze. Right ahead of us the Castle,
the rock whereon it was pinnacled, and the village, huddled on a
little plateau at its base, stood out from the hillside like a black
stain upon the snow. A carriage-way, diverging from our road a hundred
yards farther on, ran up towards it in long zigzags, and to this point
we advanced.

"Look!" suddenly cried Larke. "We are not the first to visit the
worthy Count to-day."

From both directions carriages or sledges had turned into this track,
so that the snow at its entrance was trampled by the hoofs of horses,
and cut by intersecting curves.

"'Tis not certain," I said, "that the marks were made to-day."

"It is," he replied, "else would the ruts have frozen."

The thought that the Count had company doubled my disquiet. For there
was the less chance of finding him alone, and I was anxious to have
done with the matter.

The first angle made by the zigzags was thickly covered with a boskage
of pines. Into this we led our horses, and fastening them in the heart
of it where the trees were most dense, we crept towards the west
corner. At this point the track bent back upon itself and mounted
eastwards to the border of the village, turned again, threading the
houses at the bottom of the cliff, struck up thence at a right angle
in a clear, open stretch beneath the west face of the rock, and
finally curved round at the back to the gates. For the entrance to the
Castle fronted the hillside and not the valley.

I took my Horace from my pocket, and in an instant the diagram became
intelligible to me. The long curving line represented the road, and
the way of ascent, marked by the cross, was to be found on the western
wall of rock, and above the open stretch of road. Of this we now
commanded an unimpeded view, for the corner of the road at which we
stood was situate to the west of the Castle.

"I see it!" I exclaimed, and I handed the book to Larke.

"So this is the secret of the poet's fascination," he answered. "But I
see no path. The cliff is as smooth as an egg-shell, save for that one
projecting rib."

"That is the path," I replied.

A shoulder of rock with a ribbon of snow upon its ridge jutted out
from the summit of the cliff, and descended in an unbroken line to the
road.

"'Tis impossible to ascend that," said he. "We should break our necks
for a surety or ever we were half-way up."

"It shows steeper than it is," I answered. "We are not well-placed for
judging of its incline; for that we should see it in profile. But
where snow lies, there a man may climb."

Jack raised no further objection; but ever and again I noticed him
gazing at me with a puzzled expression upon his face. We crouched down
in the undergrowth until such time as the night should fall, blowing
on our fingers and pressing close against each other for warmth's
sake. But 'twas of little use; my body tingled with cold, and I began
to think my muscles would be frozen stiff, before the darkness gave us
leave to move. The valley, moreover, looked singularly mournful and
desolate in its shroud of white. As far as the eye could travel not a
living thing could be seen, nor could the ear detect a sound. The
region brooded in a sinister silence. I verily believe that I should
have loosed my horse and fled but for the presence of my companion.

Jack, however, was in no higher spirits than myself, and from the
continual glances of his eyes I think that he was infected with a
wholesome fear of the rib of rock. At last the dusk fell; the lights
began to twinkle in the village and in the upper windows of the
Castle. For a wall, broken here and there by round turrets, circled
about the edge of the cliff and hid the lower storey from our sight.

We looked to the priming of our pistols, buckled our swords tighter
about the waist, shook the snow from our cloaks, and cautiously
stepped out on to the path. At the edge of the village we stopped.
'Twas but one street; but that very narrow and busy. Not a moment
passed but a door opened, and a panel of orange light was thrown
across the gloom, and the figures of men and women were seen passing
and repassing. The village was astir and humming like a hive. But
there was no other way. For on our right rose the tooth of rock in a
sheer scarp; on our left the ground broke steeply away at the backs of
the houses.

"We must make a dash for it," said Larke. We waited until the street
cleared for a moment, and then ran between the houses as fast as our
legs would carry us. The snow deadened the sound of our feet, and we
were well-nigh through the village when Larke tripped over a hillock
and stumbled forward on his face with a curse. The next instant I
dropped down beside him, and covering his mouth with my hand, forced
him prone to the ground. For barely twenty feet ahead a door had
suddenly opened, and a man dressed in the jacket and short breeches of
the Tyroler came out on to the path. He stood with his back towards us
and exchanged some jest with the inmates of the house, and I
recognised his voice. I had heard it no more than once, it is true,
but the occasion had fixed the sound of it for ever in my memories. It
was the voice of the spy who had tracked us in the streets of Bristol.
He turned towards the door, so that the light streamed full upon his
face, shouted a "God be with you," and strode off in the direction of
the Castle. The sight of him left me no room for doubt. That he had
outstripped us caused me, indeed, little surprise, for we had
travelled by a devious way, and had, moreover, delayed here and there
upon the road.

Larke commenced to sputter and cough.

"Quiet!" I whispered, for the man was yet within hearing.

"Loose your hand, then!" he returned. "Tis easy enough to say quiet,
but 'tis not so easy to choke quietly."

In my fluster I was holding his head tightly pressed into the snow, so
that he could only have caught the barest glimpse of the man.

"Who was it?" he asked.

"One of Lukstein's servants."

"You know him?"

"I have seen him, and he has seen me. Maybe he would know me again."

We got safely quit of the houses and turned into the upward stretch of
road, towards the buttress of rock. It jutted out across our path, and
was plainly distinguishable, for the night was pure and clean, and
appeared to be tinctured with a vague light from the snow-fields. I
noticed, too, that on the far side of the valley a pale radiance was
welling over the brim of the hills with promise of the moon. 'Twas a
very sweet sight to me, since climbing an unknown rock-ridge in the
dark hath little to commend it, unless it be necessity.

At the foot of the rib we halted and prepared to ascend. But nowhere
could I find a cranny for my fingers or a knob for my boot. The
surface was indeed, as Jack had said, as smooth as an egg-shell. I
stepped back to the outer edge of the road and examined it as
thoroughly as was possible.

For the first twelve feet it was absolutely perpendicular; above that
point it began to slope. It was as though the lowest portion of the
rib had been cut purposely away.

And then I remembered! Julian had spoken only of a descent. Now a man
may drop twelve feet and come to no harm, but once at the bottom he
must bide there. There was but one way out of the difficulty, and
luckily Larke's shoulders were broad.

"You must lend me your back," I said. "I will haul you up after me."

He planted himself firmly against the rock, with his legs apart, and I
climbed up his back on to his shoulders.

"You teach me mercy to my horse," he said quietly.

"Why? What have I done?" I asked. "Jabbed your spurs into my thighs
and stood on them," he replied in a matter-of-fact voice. "But 'tis
all one. Blood was meant to be spilled."

Being now more than five feet from the ground, I was able to worm my
fingers into a crack at the point where the ridge began to incline,
and so hoist myself on to an insecure footing. But it was utterly
beyond my power to drag Larke after me, for the snow was thin and
shallow, and underneath it the rock loose and shattered. I should most
surely have been pulled over had I made the attempt. I ascended the
ridge in the hope of discovering a more stable position, whence I
could lower my cloak to my companion. But 'twas all slabs at a pretty
steep slope, with here and there little breaks and ledges. I could
just crawl up on my belly, but I could do no more. There was never a
yard of level where you could secure a solid grip of the feet. So I
climbed back again and leaned over the edge.

"Jack," I said, "I can't give you a helping hand. It would mean a
certain fall."

"I shall need little help, Morrice--very little," he answered, in a
tone of entreaty.

"I can't even give you that. The ridge is too insecure."

"Ah! Don't say that!" he burst out "You have not come all these miles
to be turned back by a foot or two of rock. It is absurd! It is worse
than absurd. It is cowardly."

"Hush!" I whispered gently. For I could gauge his disappointment, and
gauging it, could pardon his railing, "I have no thought of turning
back."

"Then what will you do? Morrice, this is no time for dreaming! What
will you do?"

"Jack," I said, "you and I must part company. I must win through this
trouble by myself."

I heard something like a sob; it was the only answer he made.

"Wait for me by the horses in the wood! Give me till dawn, but not a
moment longer! If I am not with you then--well, 'tis the long good-bye
betwixt you and me, Jack, and you had best ride for your life."

Again he made no answer. For a moment I fancied that he had stolen
away in a fury, and I craned my head over the rock, so that I could
look down into the road. He was standing motionless with bent
shoulders just beneath me.

"Jack!" I called. For it might well be the last time I should speak to
him. We had been good friends, and I would not have him part from me
in anger. "There is no other way. It can't be helped."

He turned up his face towards me, but it was too dark for me to read
its expression.

"Very well, Morrice," he said, and there was no resentment in his
tone. "I will wait for your coming, and God send you come!"

And with a dull, heavy step he walked back along the path.

I turned and set my face to the cliff. After a while the ridge widened
out, and the snow overlaid it more firmly, insomuch that a surefoot
might have walked along by day. In the uncertain light, however--for
the moon as yet hung low in a gap of the hills--I dared not venture
it, and crept up on my hands and knees, testing carefully each tooth
of rock or ever I trusted my weight to its stability. Towards the
summit the rib thinned again to a sharp edge, and I was forced to
straddle up it as best I could, with a leg dangling on either side.
Altogether, what with the obstacles which the climb presented, and the
numbing of my fingers, since the snow quickly soaked through my
gloves, I made my way but slowly.

At the top I found myself face to face with the Castle wall, which was
some ten feet in height, and quite solid and uncrumbled. Between it
and the rim of the crag, however, was a strip of level ground about
half a yard broad, and I determined to follow it round until I should
reach some angle at which it would be possible to climb the wall. On
this strip the snow was heavily piled, and for security's sake I got
me again to my hands and knees, flogging a path before me with the
scabbard of my sword. I began to fear that I might be foiled in my
endeavour for want of a companion; for again I bethought me, Julian
only descended, and a man might drop from any portion of the wall,
whereas the scaling of it was a different matter. I proceeded in the
opposite direction to the Castle gates, and so came out above the
south face of the precipice. Below me the houses of Lukstein village
glimmered like a cluster of glow-worms; I had merely to roll over to
fall dump among the roof-tops. I could even hear a faint murmur of
brawling voices, and once I caught a plaintive snatch of song. For in
that still, windless air sounds rose like bubbles in a clear pool of
water.

The wall on my left curved and twisted with the indents of the cliff,
and a little more than halfway across the face I came to a spot where
it ran in and out at a sharp angle. Moreover, one of the turrets which
I had remarked from the wood bulged out from the line, and made of
this angle a sort of crevice. Into the corner I thrust my back, and
working my elbows and knees, with some help from the roughness of the
stones, I managed to mount on to the parapet. The Castle lay stretched
before me. In front stood the main body of the building; to my right a
shorter wing, ending in a tower, jutted off towards the wall on which
I lay. A broad terrace, enclosing in the centre a patch of lawn,
separated me from the building.

I fixed my eyes upon the tower. The window of the lower room was dark,
and, strangely enough, 'twas the only window dark in the house. From
the upper room there shone a faint gleam as of a lamp ill-trimmed. But
all the other windows in the chief façade and the more distant part of
this wing blazed out into the night. I could see passing figures
shadowed upon the curtains, and music floated forth on a ripple of
laughter, gavotte being linked to minuet and pavane in an endless
melody.

Every now and then some couple dainty with ribbons and jewels would
step out from the porch, and with low voices and pensive steps pace
the terrace until the cold froze the sweetness from their talk. They
were plain to me, for the moon was riding high, and revealed even the
nooks of the garden. Indeed, the only obscure corner was that in which
I lay concealed. For a little pavilion leaned against the wall hard by
me, and cast a deep shadow over the coping.

But I hardly needed even that protection to screen me from these
truants. I might have stood visible in the lawn's centre, and yet been
asked no question. For such as braved the frost came not out to spy
for strangers; their eyes sought each other with too intimate an
insistance.

I had indeed timed my visit ill. The revels of the village were being
repeated in the Castle.

The sharp contrast of my particular purpose forced its reality grimly
upon me, and made this vigil one long agony. I had planned to tell
Larke the true object of my coming during the hour or so we should
have to wait, and to draw some solace from his companionship. Now,
however, I was planted there alone with a message of death for my foe
or for myself, and the glamour of life in my eyes, and it seemed to me
that all the tedium of my journey had been held over for these hours
of waiting.

To cap my discomfort I found occasion to prove to myself that I was a
most indisputable prig. I had often discoursed to Larke concerning the
consolations to be drawn from the classics in moments of distress. Now
I sought to practise the precept, and to that end lowered a bucket
into the well of my memories. But alas! I hauled up naught but tags
about Cerberus and Charon, and passages from the sixth book of Vergil.

To tell the honest truth, I was dismally afraid. The very stars in the
sky flashed sword-points at my breast, and the ice upon the hills
glittered like breastplates of steel. Moreover, my hands were swollen
and clumsy with the cold, and I dreaded lest I might lose the nervous
flexibility of their muscles, and so the nice command of my sword. I
stripped off my gloves which were freezing on my fingers, and thrust
my hands inside my shirt to keep them warm against my skin.

Somehow or another, however, the night wore through. The stars and the
moon shifted across the mountains, the music began to falter into
breaks, and the murmurs grew louder from the village. I heard sledges
descend the road with a jingle of bells, first one, then another, then
several in quick succession. Iron gates clanked on the far side of the
Castle, the windows darkened, and finally a light sprang up in the
lower of the chambers which I watched.

I turned over on my face and dropped on to the snow. But my spurs
rattled and clinked as I touched the ground, and I stooped down and
loosed them from my feet. I cast a hurried glance around me. Not a
shadow moved; the world seemed frozen to an eternal immobility. I
crept across the lawn, up the terrace steps to the sill of the window,
and peered into the room. It was small and luxuriously furnished, the
roof, panels, and floor, being all of a polished and mellow pine-wood.
Warm-coloured rugs and the skins of chamois were scattered on the
floor, and four candles in heavy sconces blazed on the mantel. Sunning
himself before the log-fire sat Count Lukstein. I knew him at once
from Julian's account: a big, heavy-featured man with a loose dropping
mouth. He was elaborately dressed in a suit of grey satin richly laced
with silver, which seemed somewhat too airy and fanciful to befit the
massive girth of his limbs. These he displayed to their full
proportions, and the sight did little to enhearten me. For he sat with
his legs stretched out and his arms clasped behind his head, the
firelight playing gaily upon a sparkle of diamonds in his cravat.

I noted the two doors of which Julian had spoken--that on my right
leading to the bedroom, that on my left to the hall--and in particular
a small writing-table which stood against the wall facing me. For a
silver bell upon it caught the light of the candles and reflected it
into my eyes. And I remembered Julian's story of his visit to the
Hotwell.

Whether it was that I rattled the frame of the window, or that chance
turned the Count's looks my way, I know not; but he suddenly turned
full towards me, My face was pressed flat to the glass. I drew back
hastily into the shadow of the wall. One minute passed, two, three;
the window darkened, and the Count, lifting his hands to his temples
to shut out the light at his back, laid his forehead to the pane.
Instinctively I clapped my hand to the pistol in my pocket and cocked
it. The click of the hammer sounded loud in my ears as though I had
exploded the charge. Count Lukstein flung open the window and set one
foot outside.

"Who is it?" he cried; and yet again, "who is it?"

I drew a deep breath, stepped quickly past him into the room, and
turned about. The two doors and the writing-table were now behind me.

He staggered back from the window, and his hand dived at the hilt of
his sword. But before he could draw it he raised his eyes to my face;
he let go of his sword and stared in sheer bewilderment.

"And in the devil's name," he asked, "who are you?"

'Twas a humiliating moment for me. He spoke as a master might to an
impudent schoolboy, and it was with a quavering schoolboy's treble
that I answered him.

"I am Morrice Buckler."

"An Englishman?" he questioned, bending his brows suddenly; for we
were speaking in German.

"Of the county of Cumberland," I replied meekly. I felt as if I was
repeating my catechism.

"Then, Mr. Morrice Buckler, of the county of Cumberland," he began,
with an exaggerated politeness. But I broke in upon him.

"I have some knowledge of the county of Bristol, too," I said, with as
much bravado as I could muster. But 'twas no great matter. The display
would have disgraced a tavern bully.

The words, however, served their turn. Just for a second, just long
enough for me to perceive it, a startled look of fear flashed into his
eyes, and his body seemed to shrink in bulk. Then he asked suddenly:

"How came you here?"

"By a path Sir Julian Harnwood told me of," says I.

He stretched a finger towards the window.

"Go!" he cried in a low voice. "Go!"

I stood my ground, for I noted with a lively satisfaction that the
quaver had passed from my voice into his.

"Have a care, Master Buckler!" he continued. "You are no longer in
England. You would do well to remember that. There are reasons why I
would have no disturbance here to-night. There are reasons. But on my
life, if you refuse to obey me, I will have you whipped from here by
my servants."

"Ah!" says I, "this is not the first time, Count Lukstein, that some
one has stood between you and the bell."

He cast a glance over my shoulder. I saw that he was going to shout,
and I whipped out the pistol from my pocket.

"If you shout," I said, "the crack of this will add little to the
noise."

"It would go ill with you if you fired it," he blustered.

"It would go yet worse with you," I answered.

And there we stood over against one another, the finest brace of
cowards in Christendom, each seeking to overcome the other by a wordy
braggadocio. Indeed, my forefinger so trembled on the trigger that I
wonder the pistol did not go off and settle our quarrel out of hand.

"What does it mean?" he burst out, screwing himself to a note of
passion. "What does it mean? You skulk into my house like a thief."

"The manner of my visit does in truth leave much to be desired," I
conceded. "But for that you must thank your reputation."

"It does, in truth," he returned, ignoring my last words. "It leaves
much--very much. You see that yourself, Mr. Buckler. So, to-morrow!
Return by the way you came, and come to me again tomorrow. We can talk
at leisure. It is over-late to-night."

"Nay, my lord," said I, drawing some solid comfort from the wheedling
tone in which he spake. "Your servants will be abroad in the house
tomorrow, and, as you were careful to remind me, I am not in England.
I have waited for some six hours upon the parapet of your terrace, and
I have no mind to let the matter drag to another day."

His eyes shifted uneasily about the room; but ever they returned to
the shining barrel of my pistol.

"Well, well," said he at length, with a shrug of the shoulders, and a
laugh that rang flat as a cracked guinea, "one must needs listen when
the speaker holds a pistol at your head. Say your say and get it
done."

He flung himself into a chair which stood in the corner by the window.
I sat me in the one from which he had risen, drawing it closer to the
fire. A little table stood within arm's reach, and I pulled it up
between us and laid my pistol on the edge.

"I have come," said I, "upon Sir Julian Harnwood's part."

"Pardon me!" he interrupted. "You will oblige me by speaking English,
and by speaking it low."

The request seemed strange, but 'twas all one to me what language we
spoke so long as he understood.

"Certainly," I answered. "I am here to undertake his share in the
quarrel which he had with you, and to complete the engagement which
was interrupted on the Kingsdown."

"But, Mr. Buckler," he said, with some show of perplexity, "the
quarrel was a private one. Wherein lies your right to meddle with the
matter?"

"I was Sir Julian's friend," I replied. "He knew the love I bore him,
and laid this errand as his last charge upon it."

"Really, really," said he, "both you and your friend seem strangely
ill-versed in the conduct of gentlemen. You say Sir Julian laid this
errand upon you. But I have your bare word for that. It is not enough.
And even granting it to be true, my quarrel was with Sir Julian, not
with you. One does not fight duels by proxy."

He had recovered his composure, and spoke with an easy
superciliousness.

"My lord," I answered, stung by his manner, "I must ask you to get the
better of that scruple, as I have of one far more serious, for, after
all, one does not as a rule fight duels with murderers."

He started forward in his chair as though he had been struck. I seized
the butt of my pistol, for I fancied he was about to throw himself
upon me.

"I know more than you think," said I, nodding at him, "and this will
prove it to you."

I drew the oval gold box from my fob and tossed it on to his knees.
His hands darted at it, and he turned it over and over in his palms,
staring at the cover with white cheeks.

"How got you this?" he asked hoarsely, and then remembering himself,
"I know nothing of it. I know nothing of it."

"Sir Julian gave it into my hands," said I. "I visited him in his
prison on the evening of the 22nd September."

He stared at me for a while, repeating "the 22nd September" like one
busy over a sum.

"The 22nd September," said I, "the 22nd September. It was the day of
his trial."

At the words his face cleared wonderfully. He rose with an
indescribable air of relief, flung the box carelessly on the table,
and said with a contemptuous smile:

"Ah, Mr. Buckler! Mr. Buckler! You would have saved much time had you
mentioned the date earlier. How much?" and he shook some imaginary
coins in the cup of his hand.

"Count Lukstein!" I exclaimed.

I had not the faintest notion of what he was driving at, and the
surprise which his change of manner occasioned me obscured the insult.

"Tut, tut, man!" he resumed, with a wave of the hand. "How much?
Surely the farce drags."

"The farce," I replied hotly, "is one of those which are best played
seriously. Remember that, Count Lukstein!"

"Well, well," he said indulgently, "have your own way. But, believe
me, you are making a mistake. I have no wish to cheapen your wares.
That you have picked up some fragments of the truth I am ready to
agree; and I am equally ready to buy your silence. You have but to
name your price."

"I have named it," I muttered, locking my teeth, for I was fast losing
my temper, and feared lest I might raise my voice sufficiently to be
heard beyond the room.

"Let me prove to you that you are wasting time," said he with insolent
patience. "You have been ill-primed for your work. You say that you
visited Sir Julian on the night of the 22nd. You say that you were Sir
Julian's friend. I would not hurt your feelings, Mr. Buckler, but both
those statements are, to put it coarsely, lies. You were never Sir
Julian's friend, or you would have known better than to have fixed
that date. But two people visited him on the 22nd, a priest and a
woman, the most edifying company possible for a dying man." He ended
with a smooth scorn. I looked up at him and laughed.

"Ah!" said he, "we are beginning to understand each other."

I laughed a second time.

"She was over-tall for a woman, my lord," said I, "though of no great
stature for a man."

I rose as I spoke the words and confronted him. We were standing on
opposite sides of the little table. The smile died off his face; he
leaned his hands upon the table and bent slowly over it, searching my
looks with horror-stricken eyes.

"What do you mean?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"I was the woman. How else should I have got that box?"

"You, you!" He spoke in a queer matter-of-fact tone of assent. All his
feeling and passion seemed to have gathered in his eyes.

So we stood waging a battle of looks. And then of a sudden I noticed a
crafty, indefinable change in his expression, and from the tail of my
eye I saw his fingers working stealthily across the table. I dropped
my hand on to the butt of my pistol. With a ready cunning he picked up
the gold box and began to examine it with so natural an air of
abstraction that I almost wondered whether I had not mistaken his
design.

"And so," says he at length, "you would fight with me?"

"If it please you, yes," says I.

"Miss Marston, it seems, has more admirers than I knew of," he
returned, with a cunning leer which made my stomach rise at him.

He seemed incapable of conceiving a plain open purpose in any man. Yet
for all that I could not but admire the nimbleness of his wits. Not
merely had he recovered his easy demeanour, but he was already, as I
could see, working out another issue from the impasse. I clung fast to
the facts.

"I have never seen Miss Marston," said I. "I fight for my friend."

"For your friend? For your dead, useless friend?" He dropped the words
slowly, one by one, with a smiling disbelief. "Come, come, Mr.
Buckler! Not for your friend! We are both men of the world. Be frank
with me! Is it sensible that two gentlemen should spill honest blood
for the sake of a feather-headed wanton?"

"If the name fits her, my lord," I replied, "who is to blame for that?
And as for the honest blood, I have more hope of spilling it than
faith in its honesty."

The Count's face grew purple, and the veins swelled out upon his ample
throat. I snatched up the pistol, and we both stood trembling with
passion. The next moment, I think, must have decided the quarrel, but
for a light sound which became distinctly audible in the silence. It
descended from the room above. We both looked up to the ceiling, the
Count with a sudden softness on his face, and I understood, or rather
I thought I understood, why he had not raised the alarm before I
produced my pistol, and why he bade me subsequently speak in English.
For the sound was a tapping, such as a woman's heels may make upon a
polished floor.

I waited, straining my ears to hear the little stairway creak behind
the door at my back, and cudgelling my brains to think what I should
do. If she came down into the room, it was all over with my project
and, most likely, with my life, too, unless I was prepared to shoot my
opponent in cold blood and make a bolt for it. After a while, however,
the sound ceased altogether, to my indescribable relief. The Count was
the first to break the silence.

"Very well, Mr. Buckler," said he; "send your friends to me in the
morning. Let them come like men to the door and give me assurance that
I may meet you without loss of self-respect, and you shall have your
way."

"You force me to repeat," said I, "that the matter must be disposed of
to-night."

"To-night!" he said, and stared at me incredulously. "Mr. Buckler, you
must be mad."

"To-night," I repeated stubbornly. For, apart from all considerations
of safety, I felt that such courage as I possessed was but the froth
of my anger, and would soon vanish if it were left to stand. The Count
began to pace the room between the writing-table and the window. I set
my chair against the wall and leaned against the chimney, and I noted
that at each turn in his walk he drew, as though unconsciously, nearer
and nearer to the bell.

"Mr. Buckler," he said, "what you propose is quite out of the
question. I can but attribute it to your youth. You take too little
thought of my side of the case. To fight with one whom I have never so
much as set eyes on before, who forces his way into my house in the
dead of night--you must see for yourself that it fits not my dignity."

"You are too close to the bell, Count Lukstein, and you raise your
voice," I broke in sharply. "That fits not my safety."

He stood still in the middle of the room and raised a clenched fist to
his shoulder, glaring at me. In a moment, however, he resumed his
former manner.

"Besides," he went on, "there is a particular reason why I would have
no disturbance here tonight. You got some inkling of it a moment ago."
He nodded to the ceiling.

I blush with shame now when I remember what I answered him. I took a
leaf from his book, as the saying is, and could conceive no worthy
strain in him.

"The good lady," I said, "whom you honour with your attentions now
must wait until the affairs of her predecessor are arranged."

The Count came sliding over the floor with a sinuous movement of his
body and a very dangerous light in his eyes.

"You insult my wife," he said softly, and as I reeled against the hood
of the fireplace, struck out of my wits by his words, he of a sudden
gave a low bellowing cry, plucked his sword from his sheath, and
lunged at my body. I saw the steel flash in a line of light and sprang
on one side. The sword quivered in the wood level with my left elbow.
My leap upset the table, the pistol clattered on the floor. I whipped
out my sword, Count Lukstein wrenched his free, and in a twinkling we
were set to it. I think all fear vanished from both of us, for Count
Lukstein's face was ablaze with passion, and I felt the blood in my
veins running like strong wine.



                              CHAPTER VI.

                    SWORDS TAKE UP THE DISCOURSE.


By these movements we had completely reversed our positions, so that
now I stood with my back to the window, while the Count held that end
of the room in which the doors were set. Not that I took any thought
of this alteration at the time, for the Count attacked me with
extraordinary fury, and I needed all my wits to defend myself from his
violence. He was, as I had dreaded, a skilled swordsman, and he
pressed his skill to the service of his anger. Now the point of his
rapier twirled and spun like a spark of fire; now the blade coiled
about mine with a sharp hiss like some lithe, glittering serpent.
Every moment I expected it to bite into my flesh. I gave ground until
my hindmost foot was stopped against the framework of the window; and
there I stayed parrying his thrusts until he slackened from the ardour
of his assault. Then in my turn I began to attack; slowly and
persistently I drove him back towards the centre of the room, when
suddenly, glancing across his shoulder, I saw something that turned my
blood cold. The door leading to the staircase was ajar. I had heard no
click of the handle; it must have been open before, I argued to
myself, but I knew the argument was false. The door had been shut; I
noted that from the garden, and it could not have opened so silently
of itself. I renewed my attack upon the Count, pressing him harder and
harder in a veritable panic. I snatched a second glance across his
shoulder. The door was not only ajar; 'twas opening--very slowly, very
silently, and a yellow light streamed through onto the wall beside the
door. The sight arrested me at the moment of lunging--held me
petrified with horror. A savage snarl of joy from Lukstein's lips
warned me; his sword darted at my heart, I parried it clumsily, and
the next moment the point leapt into my left shoulder. The wound
quickened my senses, and I settled to the combat again, giving thrust
for thrust. Each second I expected a scream of terror, a rush of feet.
But not a sound came to me. I dared not look from the Count's face any
more; the hit which he had made seemed to have doubled his energies. I
strained my ears to catch the fall of a foot, the rustle of a dress.
But our own hard breathing, a light rattle of steel as swords lunged
and parried, a muffled stamp as one or the other stepped forward upon
the rugs--these were the only noises in the room, and for me they only
served to deepen and mark the silence. Yet all the while I felt that
the door was opening--opening; I knew that some one must be standing
in the doorway quietly watching us, and that some one a woman, and
Count Lukstein's wife. There was something horrible, unnatural in the
silence, and I felt fear run down my back like ice, unstringing my
muscles, sucking my heart. I summoned all my strength, compressed all
my intelligence into a despairing effort, and flung myself at
Lukstein. He drew back out of reach, and behind him I saw a flutter of
white. Through the doorway, holding a lighted candle above her head,
Countess Lukstein advanced noiselessly into the room. Her eyes, dark
and dilated, were fixed upon mine; still she spoke never a word. She
seemed not to perceive her husband; she seemed not even to see me,
into whose face she gazed. 'Twas as though she was looking through me,
at something that stood in the window behind my head.

The Count, recovering from my assault, rushed at me again. I made a
few passes, thinking that my brain would crack. I could feel her eyes
burning into mine. I was certain that some one was behind me, and I
experienced an almost irresistible desire to turn my head and discover
who it might be. The strain had become intolerable. There was just
room for me to leap backwards.

"Look!" I gasped, and I leaned back against the window-pane, clutching
at the folds of the curtain for support.

Count Lukstein turned; the woman was close behind him. A couple of
paces more, and she must have touched him. He dropped his sword-point
and stepped quickly aside.

"My God!" he said in a hoarse whisper. "She is asleep!"

My whole body was dripping with sweat. It seemed to me that a full
hour must have passed since I had seen her first, and yet so brief had
been the interval that she was not half-way across the room.

Had she come straight towards me I could not have moved from her path.
But she walked betwixt Count Lukstein and myself direct to the open
window. She wore a loose white gown, gathered in a white girdle at the
waist, and white slippers on her naked feet. Her face even then showed
to me as incomparably beautiful, and her head was crowned with masses
of waving hair, in colour like red corn. She passed between us without
check or falter; her gown brushed against the Count. Through the open
window she walked across the snowy terrace towards the pavilion by the
Castle wall. The night was very still, and the flame of the candle
burnt pure and steady.

I looked at the Count. For a moment we gazed at one another in
silence, and then without a word we stepped side by side to follow
her. Our dispute appeared to have been swallowed up in this
overmastering event, and I experienced almost a revulsion of
friendliness for my opponent.

"'Tis not the first time this has happened, I am told," said he, and
as I looked at him inquiringly, he added, very softly: "We were only
married to-day."

"Only to-day," I exclaimed, and not noticing where I trod, I stumbled
over a wolf-skin that lay on the floor with the head attached. My foot
slipped on the polished boards beside it, and I fell upon my left
knee. The Count stopped and faced me, an ugly smile suddenly flashing
about his mouth. I saw him draw back his arm as I was rising. I
dropped again upon hand and knee, and his sword whizzed an inch above
my shoulder. I was still holding my own sword in my right hand, and or
ever he could recover I lunged upwards at his breast with all my
force, springing from the ground as I lunged, to drive the thrust
home. The blade pierced through his body until the hilt rang against
the buttons of his coat. He fell backwards heavily, and I let go of my
sword. The point stuck in the floor behind him as he fell, and he slid
down the blade on to the ground. Something dropped from his hand and
rolled away into a corner, where it lay shining. I gave no thought to
that, however, but glanced through the window. To my horror I saw that
Countess Lukstein was already returning across the lawn. The Count had
fallen across the window, blocking it. I plucked my sword free, and
lugged the body into the curtains at the side, cowering down myself
behind it. I had just time to gather up his legs and so leave the
entrance clear, when she stepped over the sill. A little stream of
blood was running towards her, and I was seized with a mad terror lest
it should reach her feet. She moved so slowly and the stream ran so
quickly. Every moment I expected to see the white of her slippers grow
red with the stain of it. But she passed beyond the line of its
channel just a second before it reached so far. With the same even and
steady gait she recrossed the room and turned into the little
stairway, latching the door behind her.

For a while I remained kneeling by the body of the Count in a numbed
stupor, All was so quiet and peaceful that I could not credit what had
happened in this last hour, not though I held the Count within my
arms. Then from the floor of the room above there came once more the
light tapping sound of a woman's heels. I looked about me. The table
lay overturned, the rugs were heaped and scattered, and the barrel of
my pistol winked in the sputtering light of the fire. I rose, snatched
up my sword, and fled out on to the snow.

The moon was setting and the moonlight grey upon the garden, with the
snow under foot very crisp and dry.

I sheathed my sword and clambered on to the coping. I turned to look
at the Castle--how quietly it slept, and how brightly burned the
lights in those two rooms!--and then dropped to the ledge upon the
further side of the wall.

I had reached the top of the ridge of rock, when a cry rang out into
the night--a cry, shrill and lonesome, in a woman's voice--a cry
followed by a great silence. I halted in an agony. 'Twas not fear that
I felt; 'twas not even pity. The cry spoke of suffering too great for
pity, and I stood aghast at the sound of it, aghast at the thought
that my handiwork had begotten it. 'Twas not repeated, however, and I
tore down the ridge in a frenzy of haste, taking little care where I
set my hands or my feet. How it was that I did not break my neck I
have never been able to think.

The village, I remember, was dark and lifeless save just at one house,
whence came a murmur of voices, and a red beam of light slipped
through a chink in the shutter and lay like a rillet of blood across
the snow.

Once clear of the houses. I ran at full speed down the track. At the
corner of the wood, I stopped and looked upwards before I plunged
among the trees. The moon had set behind the mountains while I was
descending the ridge, and the Castle loomed vaguely above me as though
at that spot the night was denser than elsewhere. 'Twas plain that no
alarm had been taken, that the cry had not been heard. I understood
the reason of this afterwards. The two rooms in the tower were
separated by a great interval from the other bedrooms. But what of the
Countess, I thought? I pictured her in a swoon upon the corpse of her
husband.

Within the coppice 'twas so black that I could not see my hand when I
raised it before me, and I went groping my way by guesswork towards
the trees to which we had tethered our horses. I dared not call out to
Larke; I feared even the sound of my footsteps. Every rustle of the
bushes seemed to betray a spy. In the end I began to fancy that I
should wander about the coppice until dawn, when close to my elbow
there rose a low crooning song:


              Que toutes joies et toutes honneurs
              Viennent d'armes et d'amours.


"Jack!" I whispered.

The undergrowth crackled as he crushed it beneath his feet.

"Morrice, is that you? Where are you?"

A groping hand knocked against my arm and tightened on it. I gave a
groan.

"Are you hurt, Morrice? Oh, my God! I thought you would never come!"

"You have heard nothing?"

"Nothing."

"Not a sound? Not--not a cry?"

"Nothing."

"Quick, then!" said I. "We must be miles away by morning."

He led me to where our horses stood, and we untied them and threaded
through the trees to the road.

"Help me to mount, Jack!" said I.

He pulled a flask from his pocket and held it to my lips. 'Twas neat
brandy, but I gulped a draught of it as though it were so much water.
Then he helped me into the saddle and settled my feet in the stirrups.

"Why, Morrice," he asked, "what have you done with your spurs?"

"I left them on the terrace," said I, remembering. "I left my spurs,
my pistol, and--and something else. But quick, Jack, quick!"

'Twould have saved me much trouble had I brought that "something else"
with me, or at least examined it more closely before I left it there.

He swung himself on to the back of his horse, and we set off at a
canter. But we had not gone twenty yards when I cried, "Stop!" 'Twas
as though the windows of the Castle sprang at us suddenly out of the
darkness, each one alive with a tossing glare of links. It seemed to
me that a hundred angry eyes were searching for me. I drove my heels
into my horse's flanks and galloped madly down the road in the
direction of Italy. A quarter of a mile further, and a bend of the
valley hid the Castle from our sight; but I knew that I should never
get the face of Countess Lukstein from before my eyes, or the sound of
her cry out of my ears.



                             CHAPTER VII.

                    I RETURN HOME AND HEAR NEWS OF
                          COUNTESS LUKSTEIN.


From Lukstein we rode hot-foot down the Vintschgau Thal to Meran, and
thence by easy stages to Verona, in Italy. I had no great fear of
pursuit or detection after the first day, since the road was much
frequented by travellers, and neither my spurs, nor my pistol, nor the
miniature of Julian bore any marks by which Jack or myself could be
singled out. At Verona an inflammation set up in my wounded shoulder,
very violent and severe, so that I lay in that town for some weeks
delirious and at death's door. Indeed, but for Jack's assiduous care
in nursing me, I must infallibly have lost my life.

At length, however, being somewhat recovered, I was carried southwards
to Naples, and thence we wandered from town to town through the
provinces of Italy until, in the year 1686, the fulness of the spring
renewed my blood and set my fancies in a tide towards home. Jack
accompanied me to England and took up his abode in my house in
Cumberland, being persuaded without much difficulty to abandon his
pretence of studying the law, and to throw in his lot with me for good
and all.

"My estates need a steward," said I, "and I--God knows I need a
friend." And with little more talk the bargain was struck.

During all this time, however, I had not so much as breathed a word to
him concerning the doings of that night in Castle Lukstein. At first
the matter was too hot in my thoughts, and even afterwards, when the
horror of my memories had dimmed, I could not bring myself to the
point of speech. Had it not been for the appearance and intervention
of the Countess, doubtless I should have blurted out the tale long
before. But with her face ever fixed within my view, I could not
speak; I could only picture it desolate with grief, and washed with a
pitiful rain of tears. Moreover, I knew that Jack would account my
story as the story of a worthy exploit, and I shrank from his praise
as from a burning iron.

'Twould have, nevertheless, been strange had not my ravings in my
delirium disclosed some portion of the night's incidents, and that
they did so I understood from a certain speech Jack once made me.
'Twas when I was yet lying sick at Verona. One morning, when I was
come to my senses after a feverish night, he walked over to my bedside
from the chair where he had been watching.

"I have been a common fool," says he, and repeats the remark, shifting
a foot to and fro on the floor; and then he claps his hand upon mine.

"God send me such a friend as you, Morrice, if ever trouble comes to
me!" says he, and so gets him quickly from the room.

Often did I wonder how much I had betrayed, but I had reason
subsequently to believe that 'twas very little; just enough to assure
him that I had not flinched from the conflict, with probably some
revelation of the fear in which I engaged upon it.

'Twas in the last days of March that I saw once more the rolling
slopes of Yewbarrow, streaked here and there with a ribbon of snow,
and my house at the base of it, its grey tiles shining in the sunset
like glass; and a homely restfulness settled upon my spirit, and
looking back upon the last months of purposeless wandering, I resolved
to pass my days henceforward in a placid ordering of my estate.

This feeling of peace, however, stayed with me no great while, the
very monotony of a quiet life casting me back upon my troubled
recollections. As a relief, I sought diversion with Jack's ready
assistance in the pleasures of the field. Hawking, hunting,
and climbing--for which somehow my companion never acquired a
taste--filled out the hours of daylight We chased the fox on foot
along ridges of the hills; we hunted the red deer in the forests
about Styhead; we walked miles across fell and valley to watch a
wrestling-match or attend a fair. In a word, we lived a clean,
open-air life of wholesome activity.

But alas! 'Twas of little profit to me. I would get me tired to bed
only to plunge into a whirlpool of unrestful dreams, and toss there
until the morning. Sometimes it would be the door of the little
staircase to the Count's bedroom. I would see it opening and opening
perpetually, and yet never wide open; or again, it would grow gigantic
in size, and swing back across the world as though it was hinged
betwixt the poles. Most often, however, it would be Count Lukstein's
wife. I beheld her now, tall and stately, with her glorious aureole of
hair and her dark, unseeing eyes eating through me like a slow fire as
she advanced across the room; now I followed her as she moved through
the moonlit garden with the taper burning clear and steady in her
hand. But, however the dream began, 'twould always end the same way.
The fiery windows of Castle Lukstein would leap upon me out of the
darkness, and I would wake in a cold sweat, my body a-quiver, and her
lone cry knelling in my ears.

A strange feature of these nightmare fancies, and a feature that
greatly perplexed me, was that the Count himself played no part in
them. Were my dreams the test and touchstone of the truth, I could
never so much as have set eyes upon him. The encounter, the
conversation which preceded it, the last cowardly thrust, and the dead
form huddled up in my arms among the curtains--of these things I had
not even a hint. They became erased from my memory the moment that I
fell asleep. Then 'twas always the woman who was pictured to me; in no
single instance the man. I wondered at this omission the more,
inasmuch as I frequently thought of Count Lukstein during the
day-time, remembering with an odd sense of envy the softness of his
voice when he spoke concerning his wife.

Spent with the double fatigue of the day's exertions and the night's
phantasmal horrors, I betook myself at length to my library, seeking
rest, if not forgetfulness, among my old companions. But the delight
and joy of books had gone out from me, and nowise could I recover it.
Once the very covers had seemed to me to answer the pressure of my
fingers with a friendly welcome; now I applied myself straightway to
the text as to a laborious and uncongenial task. I had looked so
deeply into a tragic reality that these printed images of life
appeared false and distorted, like reflections thrown from a convex
mirror; and I understood how it is that those who act are but seldom
their own historians, and when they are, content themselves with a
simple register of deeds. However, I persevered in this course for a
while, hoping that some time my former zest and liking would return to
me, and I should taste again the fine flavour of a nicely-ordered
sentence or of a discriminate sequence of thoughts.

But one May morning, coming into the study shortly after sunrise, I
sat me down, with my limbs unrefreshed and aching, before the "Religio
Medici" of the Norwich doctor, and I fell immediately across this
passage:

"I have heard some with deep sighs lament the lost lines of Cicero;
others with as many groans deplore the combustion of the library of
Alexandria. For my own part, I think there be too many in the world,
and could with patience behold the urn and ashes of the Vatican, could
I, with a few others, recover the perished leaves of Solomon."

The words chimed so appositely with my thoughts that I resolved there
and then to put the theory into practice, and closing the book, I made
a beginning with Sir Thomas Browne. Outside the window the birds piped
happily from vernal branches; the shadows played hide-and-seek upon
the grass, and the beck babbled and laughed as it raced down behind
the house. I locked the door of the library, and taking the key in my
hand, walked to the side of the beck. At this point the stream spouted
in a fountain from a cleft of rock, and fell some twelve feet into a
deep bason. A group of larches overhung the pool, and the sunlight,
sprinkling between the leaves, dappled the clear green surface with an
ever-shifting pattern. Into this bason I dropped the key, and watched
it sink with a sparkling tail of bubbles to the bottom. 'Twas of a
bright metal, so that I could still see it distinctly as it rested on
the rock-bed. A large stone lay upon the bank beside me, and with a
sudden, uncontrollable impulse I stripped off my clothes, picked up
the stone, and diving into the cool water, set it carefully atop of
the key. Many months passed before I came again to the pool, and found
the key still hidden safe beneath the stone; and during those months
so much that was strange occurred to me, and I wandered along such new
and devious paths, that when I held it again, all rusty and corroded,
in my hand, I felt as though it could not have been myself who had
dropped it there, but some one whose memories had been transmitted to
me and incorporated in my being by a mysterious alchemy.

It was on that very afternoon that the letter was brought to me. Jack
and I were sitting at dinner in the big oak dining-room about four of
the clock; the great windows were open, and the sunny air streamed in
laden with fresh perfumes. I can see Jim Ritson now as he rode up the
drive--'twas part of his duty to meet the mail at the post-town of
Cockermouth--I can almost hear his voice as he gave in the letter at
the hall-door. "There's a letter for t' maister," he said.

Jim is grown to middle age by this time, and owns a comfortable fat
face and a brood of children. But whenever I pass him in the lanes and
fields I ever experience a lively awe and respect for him as for the
accredited messenger of fate.

The letter came from Lord Elmscott and urged me to visit him in town.


"Come!" he wrote. "To the dust of Leyden you are superadding the mould
of Cumberland. Come and brush yourself clean with the contact of wits!
There is much afoot that should interest you. What with Romish priests
and English bishops, the town is in ferment. Moreover, a new beauty
hath come to Court. There is nothing very strange in that. But she is
a foreigner, and her rivals have as yet discovered no scandal to
smirch her with. There is something very strange in that. Such a
miracle is well worth a man's beholding. She hails from the Tyrol and
is the widow of one Count Lukstein, who was in London last year. She
wears no mourning for her husband, and hath many suitors. I have of
late won much money at cards, and so readily forgive you for that you
were the death of Ph[oe]be."


The letter ran on to some considerable length, but I read no more of
it. Indeed, I understood little of what I had read. The face of
Countess Lukstein seemed stamped upon the page to the obscuring of the
inscription. I passed it across to Jack without a word, and he perused
it silently and tossed it back. All that evening I sat smoking my pipe
and pondering the proposal. An overmastering desire to see her
features alive with the changing lights of expression, began to
possess me. The more I thought, the more ardently I longed to behold
her. If only I could see her eyes alert and glancing, if only I could
hear her voice, I might free myself from the picture of the blank,
impassive mask which she wore in my dreams. That way, I fancied, and
that way alone, should I find peace.

"I shall go," I said at last, knocking the ashes from my pipe. "I
shall go to-morrow."

"You shan't!" cried Jack vehemently, springing up and facing me. "She
knows you. She has seen you."

"She has never seen me," I replied steadily, and he gazed into my face
with a look of bewilderment which gradually changed into fear.

"Are you mad, Morrice?" he asked, in a broken whisper, and took a step
or two backwards, keeping his eyes fixed upon mine.

"Nay, Jack," said I; "but unless God helps me, I soon shall be. He may
be helping me now. I trust so, for this visit alone can save me."

"She has never seen you?" he repeated. "Swear it! Morrice! Swear it!"

I did as he bade me.

"What brings her to England?" he mused.

"What kept us wandering about Italy?" I answered. "The fear to return
home."

"'Twill not serve," said he. "She wears no mourning for her husband."

I wondered at this myself, but could come at no solution, and so got
me to bed. That night, for the first time since I left Austria, I
slept dreamlessly. In the morning I was yet more determined to go. I
felt, indeed, as though I had no power to stay, and, hurrying on my
servants, I prepared to set out at two of the afternoon. Udal and two
other of my men I took with me.

"Morrice," said Jack, as he stood upon the steps of the porch, "don't
stay with your cousin! Hire a lodging of your own!"

"Why?" I asked, in surprise.

"You talk overmuch in your sleep. Only two nights ago I heard you
making such an outcry that I feared you would wake the house. I rushed
into your room. You were crouched up among the bed-curtains at the
head of the bed and gibbering: 'It will touch her. It flows so fast.
Oh, my God! My God!'"

I made no answer to his words, and he asked again very earnestly:

"The Countess has never seen you? You are sure?"

"Quite!" said I firmly, and I shook him by the hand, and so started
for London.



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                  I MAKE A BOW TO COUNTESS LUKSTEIN.


In London I engaged a commodious lodging on the south side of St.
James' Park, and with little delay, you may be sure, sought out my
cousin in Monmouth, or rather Soho, Square--for the name had been
altered since the execution of the Duke. 'Twas some half an hour after
noon, and my cousin, but newly out of bed, was breakfasting upon a
bottle of Burgundy in his nightcap and dressing-gown.

"So you have come, Morrice," said Elmscott languidly. "How do ye? Lord
Culverton, this is my cousin of whom I have spoken."

He turned towards a little popinjay man who was fluttering about the
room in a laced coat, and powdered periwig which hung so full about
his face that it was difficult to distinguish any feature beyond a
thin, prominent nose.

"You should know one another. For if you remember, Morrice, it was
Culverton you robbed of Ph[oe]be."

"Ph[oe]be?" simpered Lord Culverton. "I remember no Ph[oe]be. But in
truth the pretty creatures pester one so impertinently that burn me if
I don't jumble up their names. What was she like, Mr. Buckler?"

"She was piebald," said I gravely, "and needed cudgelling before she
would walk."

"And Morrice killed her," added Elmscott, with a laugh.

"Then he did very well to kill her, strike me speechless! But there
must be some mistake. I have met many women who needed cudgelling
before they would walk, but never one that was piebald."

Elmscott explained the matter to him, and then, with some timidity, I
began to inquire concerning the Countess Lukstein.

"What! bitten already?" cried my cousin. "Faith, I knew not I had so
smart a hand for description."

"The most rapturous female, pink me!" broke in Lord Culverton. "She is
but newly come to London, and hath the town at her feet already. Egad!
I'm half-soused in love myself, split my windpipe!" and he flicked a
speck of powder from his velvet coat, and carefully arranged the curls
of his periwig. "The most provoking creature!" he went on. "A widow
without a widow's on-coming disposition."

"Ay, but she hath discarded the weeds," said Elmscott

"She is a widow none the less. And yet breathe but one word of tender
adoration in her ear, and she strikes you dumb, O Lard! with the most
supercilious eyebrow. However, time may do much with the obstinate
dear--time, a tolerable phrase, and a _je ne sçay quoi_ in one's
person and conversation." He pointed a skinny leg before the mirror,
and languished with a ludicrous extravagance at his own reflection.

I had much ado to restrain myself from laughing, the more especially
when Elmscott cried, with a wink at me:

"Oh, if you have entered the lists, the rest of us may creep out with
as little ignominy as we can. They say that every pretty woman has a
devil at her elbow, and 'tis most true, so long as Culverton lives."

"You flatter me! A devil, indeed! You flatter me," replied the fop,
skipping with delight. "You positively flatter me. The ladies use
me--no more. I am only their humble servant in general, and the
Countess Lukstein's in particular."

The remark had more truth in it than Culverton would have cared for us
to believe. For the Countess did in very truth use this gossipy
tittle-tattler, and with no more consideration than she showed to the
humblest of her servants. However, he was born for naught else but to
fetch and carry, and since he delighted in the work, 'twas common
kindness to employ him.

"Then we'll drink a health to your success," says Elmscott, pouring
out three glasses of his Burgundy.

"I never drink in the morning," objected Culverton. "'Tis a most
villainous habit, and ruins the complexion irretrievably, stap my
vitals!"

However, I was less squeamish on the subject of mine, and draining the
glass, I asked:

"Is she come to London alone?"

"She hath a companion, a very faded, nauseous person: a Frenchwoman,
Mademoiselle Durette. She serves as a foil;" and Culverton launched
forth into an affected estimation of Countess Lukstein's charms. Her
eyes dethroned the planets, the brightness of her hair shamed the
sunlight; for her mouth, 'twas a Cupid's bow that shot a deadly arrow
with every word. When she danced, her foot was a snow-flake upon the
floor, and the glint of the buckle on her instep, a flame threatening
to melt it; when she played upon the harp, her fingers were the ivory
plectrums of the ancients.

"You make me curious," I interrupted him, "to become acquainted with
the lady."

"Then let me present you!" said he eagerly.

"You see, Morrice," said Elmscott, "he has such solid grounds for
confidence that he has no fear of rivals."

"Nay, the truth is, she has a passion for fresh faces."

"Indeed!" said I.

"Oh, most extraordinary! A veritable passion, and no one so graciously
received as he who brings a stranger to her side. For that reason," he
added naïvely, "I would fain present you;" and then he suddenly
stopped and surveyed me, shaking his head doubtfully the while.

"But Lard! Mr. Buckler," he said, "you must first get some new
clothes."

"The clothes are good enough," I laughed, for I was dressed in my best
suit, and though 'twas something more modest than my Lord Culverton's
attire, I was none the less pleased with it on that account.

"Rabbit me, but I daren't!" he said. "I daren't introduce you in that
suit. I daren't, indeed! My character would never survive the
imputation, strike me purple if it would! 'Tis a very yeoman's habit,
and reeks of the country. I can smell onions and all sorts of horrible
things, burn me!"

"I will run the risk, Morrice," interposed Elmscott. "Dine with me
to-day at Lockett's, and I will take you to the Countess' lodging in
Pall Mall afterwards. But Culverton's right. You do look like a
Quaker, and that's the truth."

However, I paid little attention to what they said or thought
concerning my appearance. The knowledge that I was to meet Countess
Lukstein and have speech with her no later than that very evening,
engendered within me an indescribable excitement. I got free from my
companions as speedily as I could, and passed the hours till
dinnertime in a vague expectancy; though what it was that I expected,
I could not have told even to myself.

About seven of the clock we repaired to her apartments. The rooms were
already filled with a gay crowd of ladies and gentlemen dressed in the
extreme of fashion, and at first I could get no glimpse of the
Countess. But I looked towards the spot where the throng was thickest,
and the tripping noise of pleasantries most loud, and then I saw her.
Elmscott advanced; I followed close upon his heels, the circle opened,
magically it seemed to me, and I stood face to face with her at last.

Yet for all that I was prepared for it, now that I beheld her but six
steps from me, now that I looked straight into her eyes, a strange
sense of unreality stole over me, dimming my brain like a mist; so
incredible did it appear to me that we who had met before in such a
tragic conjunction in that far-away nook of the Tyrol, should now be
presented each to the other like the merest strangers, amidst the
brightness and gaiety of London town. I almost expected the candles to
go out, and the company to dissolve into air. I almost began to dread
that I should wake up in a moment to find myself in the dark, crouched
up upon my bed in Cumberland. So powerfully did this fear possess me
that I was on the point of crying aloud, "Speak! speak!" when Elmscott
took me by the arm.

"Madame," said he, "I have taken the liberty of bringing hither my
cousin, Mr. Morrice Buckler, who is anxious--as who is not?--for the
honour of your acquaintance."

"It is no liberty," she replied graciously, in a voice that was
exquisitely sweet, and she let her eyes fall upon my face with a quick
and watchful scrutiny.

The next instant, however, the alertness died out of them.

"Mr. Buckler is very welcome," she said quietly, and it struck me that
there was some hint of disappointment in her tone, and maybe a touch
of weariness. If, indeed, what Culverton had said was true, and she
had a passion for fresh faces, 'twas evident that mine was to be
exempted from the rule.

It might have been the expression of her indifference, or perchance
the mere sound of her voice broke the spell upon me, but all at once I
became sensible to the full of my sober, sad-coloured clothes. I
looked about me. Coats and dresses brilliant with gold and brocade
mingled their colours in a flashing rainbow, jewels sparkled and
winked as they caught the light, and I felt that every eye in this
circle of elegant courtiers was fixed disdainfully upon the awkward
intruder.

I faltered through a compliment, conscious the while that I had done
better to have held my tongue. I heard a titter behind me, and here
and there some fine lady or gentleman held a quizzing-glass to the
eye, as though I was some strange natural from over-seas. All the
blood in my body seemed to run tingling into my face. I half turned to
flee away and take to my heels, but a second glance at the sneering
countenances around me stung my pride into wakefulness, and resolving
to put the best face on the matter I could, I attempted a sweeping
bow. Whether my foot slipped, whether some one tripped me purposely
with a sword, I know not--I was too flustered to think at the time or
to remember afterwards--but whatever the cause, I found myself plumped
down upon my knees before her, with the titter changed into an open
laugh.

"Hush!" lisped one of the bystanders, "don't disturb the gentleman; he
is saying his prayers."

I rose to my feet in the greatest confusion.

"Madame," I stammered, "I come to my knees no earlier than the rest of
your acquaintance. Only being country-bred, I do it with the less
discretion."

She laughed with a charming friendliness which lifted me somewhat out
of my humiliation.

"The adroitness of the recovery, Mr. Buckler," she said, "more than
atones for the maladresse of the attack."

"Nay," I protested, with what may well have appeared excessive
earnestness, "the simile does me some injustice, for it hints of an
antagonism betwixt you and me."

She glanced at me with some surprise and more amusement in her eyes.

"Are not all men a woman's antagonists?" she said lightly.

But to me it seemed an ill-omened beginning. There was something too
apposite in her chance phrase. I remembered, besides, that I had
stumbled to the ground in much the same way before her husband, and I
bethought me what had come of the slip.

'Twas but for a little, however, that these gloomy forebodings
possessed me, and I retired to the outer edge of the throng, whence I
could observe her motions and gestures undisturbed. And with a growing
contentment I perceived that ever and again her eyes would stray
towards me, and she would drop some question into Elmscott's ear.

The Countess wore, I remember, a gown of purple velvet fronted with
yellow satin, which to my eyes hung a trifle heavily upon her young
figure and so emphasized its slenderness, imparting even to her neck
and head a certain graceful fragility. The rich colour of her hair was
hidden beneath a mask of powder after the fashion, and below it her
face shone pale, pale indeed as when I saw her last, but with a
wonderful clarity and pureness of complexion, so that as she spoke the
blood came and went very prettily about her cheeks and temples. The
two attributes, however, which I noted with the greatest admiration
were her eyes and voice. For it seemed to me well-nigh beyond belief
that the eyes which I now saw flashing with so lively a fire were the
same which had stared vacantly into mine at Lukstein Castle, and that
the voice which I now heard musical with all the notes of laughter was
that which had sent the shrill, awful scream tearing the night.

After a while the company sat down to basset and quadrille, and I was
left standing disconsolately by myself. I looked around for Elmscott,
being minded to depart, when her voice sounded at my elbow, and I
forgot all but the sweetness of it.

"Mr. Buckler," she asked, "you do not play?"

"No," I replied. "I have seen but little of either cards or dice, and
that little has given me no liking for them."

"Then I will make bold to claim your services, for the room is hot,
and my ears, perchance, a little tired."

'Twas with no small pride, you may be sure, that I gave my arm to the
Countess; only I could have wished that she had laid her hand less
delicately upon my sleeve. Indeed, I should hardly have known that it
rested there at all had I not felt its touch more surely on the
strings of my heart.

We went into a smaller apartment at the end of the room, which was
dimly lit, and very cool and peaceful. The window stood open and
showed a little balcony with a couch. The Countess seated herself upon
it with a sigh of relief, and leaning forward, plucked a sprig of
flowers which grew in a pot at her side.

"I love these flowers," said she, holding the spray towards me.

'Twas the blue flower of the aconite plant, and I answered:

"They remind you of your home."

"Then you know the Tyrol, and have travelled there." She turned to me
with a lively interest.

"I learnt that much of botany at school."

"There should be a fellow-feeling between us, Mr. Buckler," she said
after a pause; "for we are both strangers to London, waifs thrown
together for an hour."

"But there is a world of difference, for you might have lived amongst
these gallants all your days, while I, alas! have no skill even to
hide my awkwardness."

"Nay, no excuses, for I like you the better for the lack of that
skill."

"Madame," I began, "such words from you----"

She turned to me with a whimsical entreaty.

"Prithee, no! To tell the honest truth, I am surfeited with
compliments, and 'twould give me a great pleasure if during these few
minutes we are together you would style me neither nymph, divinity,
nor angel, but would treat me as just a woman. The fashion, indeed, is
not worth copying, the more especially when, to quote your own phrase,
one copies it without discretion."

She laughed pleasantly as she spake, and the words conveyed not so
much a rebuke as the amiable raillery of an intimate.

"'Tis true," I replied, "I do envy these townsmen. I envy them their
grace of bearing and the nimbleness of their wits, which ever reminds
me of the sparkle in a bottle of Rhenish wine."

She shook her head, and made room for me by her side.

"The bottle has stood open for me these two months since, and I begin
to find the wine is very flat."

She dropped her voice at the end of the sentence, and leaned wearily
back upon the cushions.

"You see, Mr. Buckler," she explained, "I live amongst the hills," and
there was a certain wistfulness in her tone as of one home-sick.

"Then there is a second bond between us, for I live amongst the hills
as well."

"It is that," said she, "which makes us friends," and just for a
second she laid a hand upon my sleeve. It seemed to me that no man
ever heard sweeter words or more sweetly spoken from the lips of
woman.

"But since you are here," I questioned eagerly, "you will stay--you
will stay for a little?"

"I know not," she replied, smiling at my urgency; and then with a
certain sadness, "some day I shall go back, I hope, but when, I know
not. It might be in a week, it might be in a year, it might be never."
Of a sudden she gave a low cry of pain. "I daren't go home," she
cried, "I daren't until--until----"

"Until you have forgotten." The words were on the tip of my tongue,
but I caught them back in time, and for a while we sat silent. The
Countess appeared to grow all unconscious of my presence, and gazed
steadily down the quiet street as though it stretched beyond and
beyond in an avenue of leagues, and she could see waving at the end of
it the cedars and pine-trees of her Tyrol.

Nor was I in any hurry to arouse her. A noisy rattle of voices
streamed out on a flood of yellow light from the further windows on my
left, and here she and I were alone in the starlit dusk of a summer
night. Her very silence was sweet to me with the subtlest of
flatteries. For I looked upon it as the recognition of a tie of
sympathy which raised me from the general throng of her courtiers into
the narrow circle of her friends.

So I sat and watched her. The pure profile of her face was outlined
against the night, the perfume of her hair stole into my nostrils, and
every now and then her warm breath played upon my cheek. A fold of her
train had fallen across my ankle, and the soft touch of the velvet
thrilled me like a caress; I dared not move a muscle for fear lest I
should displace it.

At length she spoke again--'twas almost in a whisper.

"I have told you more about myself than I have told to any one since I
came to England. It is your turn now. Tell me where lies your home!"

"In the north. In Cumberland."

"In--in Cumberland," she repeated, with a little catch of her breath.
"You have lived there long?"

"'Twas the home of my fathers, and I spent my boyhood there. But
between that time and this year's spring I have been a stranger to the
countryside. For I was first for some years at Oxford, and thence I
went to Leyden."

She rose abruptly from the couch, drawing her train clear of me with
her hand, and leaned over the balcony, resting her elbow on its
baluster, and propping her chin upon the palm of her hand.

"Leyden!" she said carelessly. "'Tis a town of great beauty, they tell
me, and much visited by English students."

"There were but few English students there during the months of my
residence," said I. "I could have wished there had been more."

A second period of silence interrupted our talk, and I sat wondering
over that catch in her breath and the tremor of her voice when she
repeated "Cumberland." Was it possible, I asked myself, that she could
have learnt of Sir Julian Harnwood and of his quarrel with her
husband? If she did know, and if she attributed the duel in which her
husband fell to a result of it, why, then--Cumberland was Julian's
county, and the name might well strike with some pain upon her
hearing. But who could have informed her? Not the Count, surely; 'twas
hardly a matter of which a man could boast to his wife. I remembered,
besides, that he had asked me to speak English, and to speak it low.
There could have been but one motive for the request--a desire to keep
the subject of our conversation a secret from the Countess.

I glanced towards her. Without changing her attitude she had turned
her head sideways upon her palm, and was quietly looking me over from
head to foot. Then she rose erect, and with a frank and winning smile,
she said, as if in explanation:

"I was seeking to discover, Mr. Buckler, what it was in you that had
beguiled me to forget the rest of my guests. However, if I have shown
them but scant courtesy, I shall bid them reproach you, not me."

"Prithee, madame, no! Have some pity on me! The statement would get me
a thousand deadly enemies."

"Hush!" said she, with a playful menace. "You go perilous near to a
compliment;" and we went back into the glare and noise of the
drawing-room.

"Ah, Ilga! I have missed you this half-hour."

'Twas a little woman of, I should say, forty years who bustled up to
us on our entrance.

"You see?" said the Countess, turning to me with a whimsical reproach.
"You must blame Mr. Buckler, Clemence, and I will make you acquainted
that you may have the occasion."

She presented me thus to Mademoiselle Durette, and left us together.
But I fear the good woman must have found me the poorest company, for
I paid little heed to what she said, and carried away no recollection
beyond that her chatter wearied me intolerably, and that once or twice
I caught the word "convenances," whence I gather she was reading me a
lecture.

I got rid of her as soon as I decently could, and took my leave of the
Countess. She gave me her hand, and I bent over and kissed it. 'Twas
only the glove I kissed, but the hand was within the glove, as I had
reason to know, for I felt it tremble within my fingers and then tug
quickly away.

"One compliment I will allow you to pay me," she said, "and that is a
renewal of your visit."

"Madame permits," I exclaimed joyfully.

"Madame will be much beholden to you," says she, and drops me a
mocking curtsey.

I walked down the staircase in a prodigious elation. Six steps from
the floor of the hall it made a curve, and as I turned at the angle I
stopped dead of a sudden with my heart leaping within my breast. For
at the foot of the stairs, and looking at me now straight in the face,
as he had looked at me in the archway of Bristol Bridewell, I saw Otto
Krax, the servant of Count Lukstein. The unexpected sight of his
massive figure came upon me like a blow. I had forgotten him
completely. I staggered back into the angle of the wall. He must know
me, I thought. He _must_ know me. But he gazed with no more than the
stolid attention of a lackey. There was not a trace of recognition in
his face, not a start of his muscles; and then I remembered the
difference in my garb. 'Twould have been strange indeed if he had
known me.

I recovered my composure, drew a long breath of relief, and was about
to step down to him when I happened to glance up the stairway.

The Countess herself was leaning over the rail at its head, with the
light from the hall-lamp below streaming up into her face. I had not
heard her come out on the landing.

"I knew not whether Otto Krax was there to let you out" She smiled at
me. "Good night!"

"Good night," said I, and looking at Otto, I understood whence she
might have got some knowledge of Sir Julian Harnwood.

Once outside, I stood for a while loitering in front of the house, and
wondering how much 'twould cost to buy it up. For I believed that it
would be a degradation should any other woman lodge in those same
rooms afterwards.

In a few minutes Elmscott came out to me.

"You have seen the Countess Lukstein before?" he asked, and the words
fairly startled me.

"What in Heaven's name makes you think that?"

"I fancied I read it in your looks. Your eyes went straight to her
before ever I presented you."

"That proves no more than the merit of your description."

"Well, did I exaggerate? What think you?"

I drew a long breath. 'Twas the only description I could give. There
were no words in the language equal to my thoughts.

"That will suffice," said Elmscott, and he turned away.

"One moment," I cried. "I need a service of you."

He burst out into a laugh.

"A thousand pounds to a guinea I know the service. 'Tis the address of
my tailor you need. I saw you looking down at your clothes as though
the wearing of them sullied you. Very well, one of my servants shall
be with you in the morning with a complete list of my tradesmen." And
he swung off in the direction of Piccadilly, laughing as he went,
while I, filled with all sorts of romantical notions, walked back to
my lodging. Though, indeed, to say that I walked, falls somewhat short
of the truth; to speak by the book, I fairly scampered, and arrived
breathless at my doorstep.

My servants had unpacked my baggage, and with a momentary pang of
misgiving, I observed, lying on the table, my ill-omened copy of
Horace.

"How comes this here?" I inquired sharply of Udal, taking the book in
my hands.

It opened at once at the diagram, and the date upon the leaf opposite.
So often had this outline been scanned and examined that the merest
fingering of the cover served to make the book fall open at this
particular page. I doubt, indeed, whether it had been possible to lift
or move the volume at all without noticing the diagram.

Udal told me that Jack himself had placed the book in my trunk. He
intended it as a hint for my conduct, I made certain, and, newly come
as I was from the presence of Countess Lukstein, I felt no gratitude
for his interference. I tossed the book on to a side-table by the
chimney, where it lay henceforward forgotten, and proceeded to light
my pipe.

'Twas late when I mounted to my bedroom. The moon was in its last
quarter, and the park which my window overlooked lay very fair and
quiet in the soft light. What nonsense does a man con over and ponder
at such times! Yet 'tis very pleasant nonsense, and though it keeps
him out of bed o' nights, he may yet draw good from it--ay, and more
good than from quartos of philosophy.



                             CHAPTER IX.

                     I RENEW AN ACQUAINTANCESHIP.


The next morning, and while I was still in bed drinking a cup of
chocolate, came Elmscott's servant to me, and under his guidance I set
forth to purchase such apparel as would enable me to cut a more
passable figure in the eyes of Countess Lukstein. Seldom, I think, had
the shopkeepers a customer so nice and difficult to please. Here the
wares were too plain and insignificant; there too gaudy and
pretentious, for while I was resolved to go no longer dressed like a
Quaker, I was in no way minded to ape the extravagance of my lord
Culverton. At last I determined upon a dozen suits, rich but of a
sober colour, and being measured for them, went from the tailor's to
the hosier's, shoemaker's, lace-merchant's, and I know not what other
tradesmen. Muslin jabots, Holland shirts, ruffles of Mechlin and point
de Venise, silk stockings, shoes with high red heels, which I needed
particularly, for I was of no great stature, laced gloves--I bought
enough, in truth, to make fine gentlemen of a company of soldiers.

Needless to say, when once my purchases were delivered at my lodging,
I let no long time slip by before I repeated my visit to the house in
Pall Mall. The Countess welcomed me with the same kindliness, so that
I returned again and again. She distinguished me besides by displaying
an especial interest not merely in my present comings and goings, but
in the past history of my uneventful days. Surely there is no flattery
in the world so potent and bewitching as the questions which a woman
puts to a man concerning those years of his life which were spent
before their paths had crossed. And if the history be dull as mine
was, a trivial, homely record of common acts and thoughts, why, then
the flattery is doubled. I know that it intoxicated me like a heady
wine, and I almost dared to hope that she grudged the time during
which we had been strangers.

Her bearing, indeed, towards me struck me as little short of
wonderful, for I observed that she evinced to the rest of her
courtiers and friends a certain pride and stateliness which, while it
sat gracefully upon her, tempered her courtesy with an unmistakable
reserve.

The summer was now at its height, and the Countess--or Ilga, as I had
come to style her in my thoughts--would be ever planning some new
excursion. One day it would be a water-party to view the orangery and
myrtelum of Sir Henry Capel at Kew; on another we would visit the new
camp at Hounslow, which in truth, with its mountebanks and booths,
resembled more nearly a country fair than a garrison of armed men; or
again on a third we would attend a coursing match in the fields behind
Montague House. In short, seldom a day passed but I saw her and had
talk with her; and if it was but for five minutes, well, the remaining
hours went by to the lilt of her voice like songs to the sweet
accompaniment of a viol.

One afternoon Elmscott walked down to my lodging, and carried me with
him to see a famous comedy by Mr. Farquhar which was that day repeated
by the Duke's players. The second act was begun by the time we got to
the theatre, and the house, in spite of the heat, very crowded. For
awhile I watched with some interest the packed company in the pit, the
orange-girls hawking their baskets amongst them, the masked women in
the upper boxes and the crowd of bloods upon the stage, who were
continually shifting their positions, bowing to ladies in the
side-boxes, ogling the actresses, and airing their persons and dress
to the great detriment of the spectacle. Amongst these latter
gentlemen I observed Lord Culverton combing the curls of his periwig
with a little ivory comb so that a white cloud of powder hung about
his head, and I was wondering how long his neighbours would put up
with his impertinence when Elmscott, who was standing beside me, gave
a start.

"So he has come back," said he. I followed the direction of his gaze,
and looked across the theatre. The Countess Lukstein and Mademoiselle
Durette had just entered one of the lower boxes; behind them in the
shadow was the figure of a man.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"An acquaintance of yours."

The man came forward as Elmscott spoke to the front of the box, and
seated himself by the side of Ilga. He was young, with a white face
and very deep-set eyes, and though his appearance was in some measure
familiar to me, I could neither remember his name nor the occasion of
our meeting.

"You have forgotten that night at the H. P.?" asked Elmscott.

In a flash I recollected.

"It is Marston," I said, and then after a pause: "And he knows the
Countess!"

"As well as you do; maybe better."

"Then how comes it I have never seen him with her before?"

"He left London conveniently before you came hither. We all thought
that he had received his dismissal. It rather looks as if we were out
of our reckoning, eh?"

Marston and the Countess were engaged in some absorbing talk with
their heads very close together, and a sharp pang of jealousy shot
through me.

"'Tis strange that she has never mentioned his name," I stammered.

"Not so strange now that Hugh Marston has returned. Had he been no
more than the discarded suitor we imagined him, then yes--you might
expect her to boast to you of his devotion. 'Tis a way women have. But
it seems rather that you are rivals."

Rivals! The word was like a white light flashed upon my memories. I
recalled Marston's half-forgotten prophecy. Was this the contest, I
wondered, which he had foretold in the chill dawn at the tavern? Were
we to come to grips with Ilga for the victor's prize? On the heels of
the thought a swift fear slipped through my veins like ice. He had
foretold more than the struggle; he had forecast its outcome and
result.

It was, I think, at this moment that I first understood all that the
Countess Lukstein meant to me. I leaned forward over the edge of the
box, and set my eyes upon her face. I noted little of its young
beauty, little of its wonderful purity of outline; but I seemed to see
more clearly than ever before the woman that lurked behind it, and I
felt a new strength, a new courage, a new life, flow out from her to
me, and lift my heart. My very sinews braced and tightened about my
limbs. If Marston and I were to fight for Ilga, it should be hand to
hand, and foot to foot, in the deadliest determination.

Meanwhile she still spoke earnestly with her companion. Of a sudden,
however, she raised her eyes from him, and glanced across towards us.
I was still leaning forward, a conspicuous mark, and I saw her face
change. She gave an abrupt start of surprise; there appeared to me
something of uneasiness in the movement She looked apprehensively at
Marston, and back again at me; then she turned away from him, and sat
with downcast head plucking with nervous fingers at the fan which lay
on the ledge before her, and shooting furtive glances in our
direction.

Elmscott, for some reason, began to chuckle.

"Let us make our compliments to the Countess!" he said.

We walked round the circle of the theatre. At the door of the box I
stopped him.

"Marston heard nothing from you of my journey to Sir Julian Harnwood?"
I asked.

"Not a word! He knows you were travelling to Bristol; so much you said
yourself. But for my part, I have never breathed a word of the matter
to a living soul." And we went in. The Countess held out her hand to
me with a conscious timidity.

"You are not angered?" she said, in a low voice.

The mere thought that she should take such heed of what I might feel,
made my pulses leap with joy. She seemed to recognise, as I should
never have dared to do myself, that I had a right to be jealous, and
her words almost granted me a claim upon her conduct. For answer I
bent over her hand and kissed it, and behind me again I heard Elmscott
chuckling.

Hugh Marston had risen from his chair as we entered, and stood looking
at me curiously.

"You have not met Mr. Marston," she said. "I must make my two best
friends acquainted."

I would that she had omitted that word "best," the more especially
since she laid some emphasis upon it. It undid some portion of her
previous work, and set us both upon a level in her estimation.

"We have met before," said Marston, and he bowed coldly.

"Indeed? I had not heard of that."

Marston recounted to her the story of the gambling-match, but she
listened with no apparent attention, fixing her eyes upon the stage.

"I fancied, Mr. Buckler, you had no taste for cards or dice," she said
carelessly, when he had done.

"Mr. Buckler in truth only stayed there on compulsion," replied
Marston. "He came from Leyden in a great fluster without any money in
his pockets, and so must needs wait upon his cousin's pleasure before
he could borrow a horse to help him on his way."

I threw a glance of appeal towards Elmscott, and he broke in quickly:

"'Twas Lord Culverton lent him the horse, after all."

But the next moment the Countess herself, to my great relief, brought
the conversation to an end.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" she said abruptly, with a show of impatience.
"I fear me I am as yet so far out of the fashion as to feel some
slight interest in the unravelling of the play, and I find it
difficult to catch what the players say."

After that there was no more to be said, and we sat watching the stage
with what amusement we might, or conversing in the discreetest of
whispers. For my part I remembered that Ilga had shown no great
interest in the comedy while she was alone with Marston, and I began
to wonder whether our intrusion had angered her. It was impossible for
me to see her face, since she held up a hand on the side next to me
and so screened her cheek.

Suddenly, however, she cried:

"Oh, there's Lord Culverton!" and she bowed to him with marked
affability.

Now Culverton had ranged himself in full view with an eye ever turned
upon our box, so that it seemed somewhat strange she had not observed
him till now. He swept the boards with his hat, and looking about the
theatre, his face one gratified smirk, as who should say, "'Tis an
every-day affair with me," immediately left his station, and
disappearing behind the scenery, made his way into the box. The
Countess received him graciously, and kept him behind her chair,
asking many questions concerning the players, and laughing heartily at
the pleasantries and innuendos with which he described them. It seemed
to me, however, that there was more scandal than wit in his anecdotes,
and, marvelling that she should take delight in them, I turned away
and let my eyes wander idly about the boxes.

When I glanced again at my companions I perceived that though
Culverton was still chattering in Countess Lukstein's ear, her gaze
was bent upon me with the same scrutiny which I had noticed on the
evening that we sat together in her balcony. It was as though she was
taking curious stock of my person and weighing me in some balance of
her thoughts. I fancied that she was contrasting me with Marston, and
gained some confirmation of the fancy in that she coloured slightly,
and said hastily, with a nod at the stage:

"What think you of the sentiment, Mr. Buckler?"

"Madame," I replied, "for once I am in the fashion, for I gave no heed
to it."

I had been, in truth, thinking of her lucky intervention in Marston's
narrative, for by her impatience she had prevented him from telling
either the date of the gambling-match or the name of the town which I
was in such great hurry to reach. Not that I had any solid reason to
fear she would discover me on that account, for many a man might have
ridden from London to Bristol at the time of the assizes and had
naught to do with Sir Julian Harnwood. But I had so begun to dread the
possibility of her aversion and hatred, that my imagination found a
motive to suspicion lurking in the simplest of remarks.

"'Twas that a man would venture more for his friend than for his
mistress," she explained. "What think you of it?"

"Why, that the worthy author has never been in love."

"You believe that?" she laughed.

"'Twixt friend and friend a man's first thought is of himself. Shame
on us that it should be so; but, alas! my own experience has proved
it. It needs, I fear me, a woman's fingers to tune him to the true
note of sacrifice."

"And has your own experience proved that too?" she asked with some
hesitation, looking down on the ground, and twisting a foot to and fro
upon its heel.

"Not so," I answered in a meaning whisper. "I wait for the woman's
fingers and the occasion of the sacrifice."

She shot a shy glance sideways at me, and, as though by accident, her
hand fell lightly upon mine. I believed, indeed, that 'twas no more
than an accident until she said quietly: "The occasion may come, too."

She rose from her chair.

"The play begins to weary me," she continued aloud. "Besides, Mr.
Buckler convinces me the playwright has never been in love, and 'tis
an unpardonable fault in an author."

Marston and myself started forward to escort her to her carriage. The
Countess looked from one to the other of us as though in doubt, and we
stood glaring across her. Elmscott commenced to chuckle again in a way
that was indescribably irritating and silly.

"If Lord Culverton will honour me," suggested the Countess.

The little man was overwhelmed with the favour accorded to him, and
with a peacock air of triumph led her from the box.

"Tis a monkey, a damned monkey!" said Marston, looking after him.

The phrase seemed to me a very accurate description of the fop, and I
assented to it with great cordiality. For a little Marston sat
sullenly watching the play, and then picking up his hat and cloak,
departed without a word. His precipitate retreat only made my cousin
laugh the more heartily; but I chose to make no remark upon this
merriment, believing that Elmscott indulged it chiefly to provoke me
to question him. I knew full well the sort of gibe that was burning on
his tongue, and presently imitating Marston's example, I left him to
amuse himself.

In the portico of the theatre Marston was waiting. A thick fog had
fallen with the evening, and snatching a torch from one of the
link-boys who stood gathered within the light of the entrance, he
beckoned to me to follow him, and stepped quickly across the square
into a deserted alley. There he waited for me to come up with him,
holding the torch above his head so that the brown glare of the flame
was reflected in his eyes.

"So," he said, "luck sets us on opposite sides of the table again, Mr.
Buckler. But the game has not begun. You have still time to draw
back."

For the moment his words and vehement manner fairly staggered me. I
had not expected from him so frank an avowal of rivalry.

"The stakes are high," he went on, pressing his advantage, "and call
for a player of more experience than you."

"None the less," said I, meeting his gaze squarely, "I play my hand."

Instantly his manner changed. He looked at me silently for a second,
and then with a calmness which intimidated me far more than his
passion:

"Are you wise? Are you wise?" he asked slowly. "Think! What will the
loser keep?"

"What will the winner gain?"

We stood measuring each other for the space of a minute in the flare
of the torch. Then he dropped it on the ground, and stamped out the
sparks with his heel. 'Twas too dark for me to see his face, but I
heard his voice at my elbow very smooth and soft, and I knew that he
was stooping by my side.

"You will find this the very worst day's work," he said, "to which
ever you set your hand;" and I heard his footsteps ring hollow down
the street. He had certainly won the first trick in the game, for he
left me to pay the link-boy.



                              CHAPTER X.

               DOUBTS, PERPLEXITIES, AND A COMPROMISE.


Two days later the Countess paid her first visit to my lodging. I had
looked forward to the moment with a great longing, deeming that her
presence would in a measure consecrate the rooms, and that the memory
of what she did and said would linger about them afterwards like a
soft and tender light.

We had journeyed that morning in a party to view the Italian
Glass-house at Greenwich, and dining at a hostelry in the
neighbourhood, had returned by water. We disembarked at Westminster
steps, and I induced the company to favour me with their presence and
drink a dish of bohea in my apartment.

Now the sitting-rooms which I occupied were two in number and opened
upon each other, the first, which was the larger, lying along the
front of the house, and the second, an inner chamber, giving upon a
little garden at the back. Ilga, I noticed, wandered from one room to
the other, examining my possessions with an indefatigable curiosity.
For, said she:

"It is only by such means that one discovers the true nature of one's
friends. Conversation is but the pretty scabbard that hides the sword.
The blade may be lath for all that we can tell."

"You distrust your friends so much?"

"Have I no reason to?" she exclaimed, suddenly bending her eyes upon
me, and she paused in expectation of an answer. "But I forgot; you
know nothing of my history."

I turned away, for I felt the blood rushing to my face.

"I would fain hear you tell it me," I managed to stammer out.

"Some time I will," she replied quietly, "but not to-day; the time is
inopportune. For it is brimful of sorrow, and the telling of it will,
I trust, sadden you."

The strangeness of the words, and a passionate tension in her voice,
filled me with uneasiness, and I wheeled sharply round.

"For I take you for my friend," she explained softly, "and so count on
your sympathy. Yet, after all, can I count on it?"

I protested with some confusion that she could count on far more than
my sympathies.

"It may be," she replied. "But I believe, Mr. Buckler, the whole story
of woman might be written in one phrase. 'Tis the continual mistaking
of lath for steel."

"And never steel for lath?" I asked.

"At times, no doubt," she answered, recovering herself with an easy
laugh. "But we only find that error out when the steel cuts us. So
either way are we unfortunate. Therefore, I will e'en pursue my
inquiries," and she stepped off into the inner room, whither presently
I went to join her.

"Well, what have you discovered?" I asked.

"Nothing," she replied, with a plaintive shake of the head. "You
disappoint me sorely, Mr. Buckler. A student from the University of
Leyden should line his walls with volumes and folios, and I have found
but one book of Latin poems in that room, and not so much as a
pamphlet in this."

I started. The book of poems could be no other than my copy of Horace,
and it contained the plan of Lukstein Castle. I reflected, however,
that the plan was a mere diagram of lines, without even a letter to
explain it, and with only a cross at the point of ascent. The
Countess, moreover, had spoken in all levity; her tone betrayed no
hint of an afterthought.

A small package fastened with string lay on the table before her, and
beside of it a letter in Elmscott's handwriting. She picked up the
package.

"And what new purchase is this?" she asked, with a smile.

"I know nothing of it. It is no purchase, and I gather from the
inscription of the letter it comes from my cousin."

"I shall open it," said she, "and you must blame my sex for its
inquisitiveness."

"Madame," I replied, "the inquisitiveness implies an interest in the
object of it, and so pays me a compliment."

"Tis the sweetest way of condoning a fault that ever I met with," she
laughed, and dropped me a sweeping curtsey.

I broke the seal of Elmscott's letter while she untied the parcel.

"Marston's conversation at the theatre," he wrote, "reminded me of
these buckles. They belong of right to you, and since it seems your
turn has come to need luck's services, I send them gladly in the hope
that they may repeat their office on your behalf."

The parcel contained a shagreen case which Ilga unfastened. The
diamond buckles from it flashed with a thousand rays, and she tipped
them to and fro so that the stones might catch the light.

"Your cousin must have a great liking for you," she said. "For in
truth they are very beautiful."

"Elmscott is a gambler," I laughed, "with all a gambler's
superstitions," and I handed her the letter.

She read it through. "These buckles were your cousin's last stake, Mr.
Marston related," she said. "Do you believe that they will bring you
luck?"

"To believe would be presumption. I have no more courage than suffices
me to copy Elmscott's example, and hope."

She returned me no answer, giving, so it seemed, all her attention to
the brilliant jewels in her hands. But I saw the colour mounting in
her cheeks.

"Meanwhile," she said, after a pause, with a little nervous laugh,
"you are copying my bad example, and leaving your guests to divert
themselves."

Not knowing surely whether I had offended her or not, I deemed it best
to add nothing further or more precise to my hints, and got me back
into the larger room. Ilga remained standing where I left her, and
through the doorway I could see her still flashing the buckles
backwards and forwards. Her evident admiration raised an idea in my
mind. My guests were amusing themselves without any need of help from
me. Some new scandal concerning the King and the Countess of
Dorchester was being discussed for the tenth time that day with an
enthusiasm which expanded as the story grew, so that I was presently
able to slip back unnoticed. The inner room, however, was empty; but
the glass door which gave on to the garden stood open, and picking up
the shagreen case, I stepped out on to the lawn. Ilga was seated in a
low chair about the centre of the grass-plot, and the sun, which hung
low and red just above the ivied wall, burnished her hair, and was
rosy on her face.

"Madame," said I, advancing towards her, "I have discovered how best
to dispose of the buckles so that they may bring me luck."

"Indeed?" she asked indifferently. "And which way is it?"

"They are too fine for a plain gentleman's wearing," said I. "Sweet
looks and precious jewels go best together." With that, and awkwardly
enough, I dare say, for I always stumbled at a compliment, I opened
the case and offered it.

She looked at me for a space as though she had not understood, and
then:

"No, no," she cried, with extraordinary vehemence, repulsing my gift
so that the case flew out of my grasp, and the buckles sparkled
through the air in two divergent arcs, and dropped some few feet away
into the grass. She rose from her seat and drew herself up to her full
height, her eyes flashing and her bosom heaving. "How dare you?" she
exclaimed, and yet again, "How dare you?"

Conscious of no intention but to please her by a gift which she
plainly admired, I stared dumbfounded at the outburst.

"Madame!" I faltered out at last; and with a great effort she
recovered a part of her self-control.

"Mr. Buckler," she said, speaking with difficulty, while the blood
swirled in and out of her cheeks, "the present hurts me sorely, even
though--nay, all the more _because_, it comes from you. It is the
fashion, I know well, to believe that a few gems will bribe the good
will of any woman. But I hardly thought that--that you held me in such
poor esteem."

I protested that nothing could have been further from my designs than
the notion which she attributed to me, and went so far as to hint that
there was something extravagant and unreasonable in her anger. For,
said I, the gift was no bribe but a tribute, and, I continued, with
greater confidence as her pride diminished, if either of us had a
right to feel hurt, it was myself, whom she insulted by the imputation
of so mean a spirit.

"Then I am to humbly beg your pardon, I suppose," she cried, with
another flash of anger.

"Oh, there's no arguing with you," I burst out in a heat no less
violent than her own. "Who bids you beg my pardon? What makes you
suppose I need you should, unless it be your own proper and fitting
compunction? There's no moderation in your thoughts. You jump from one
extreme to the other as nimbly as--as----"

I was turning away with the sentence unfinished, when:

"I could supply the simile you want," she said, with a whimsical
demureness as sudden and inexplicable as her wrath, "only 'tis
something indelicate," and she broke into a ringing laugh.

To a man of my slow disposition, whose very passions have a certain
[oe]conomy which delays their growth, the rapid transitions of a
woman's humours have ever been confusing, and now I stood stockish and
dumb, gazing at the Countess open-mouthed, and vainly endeavouring,
like a fool, to reduce the various emotions she had expressed into a
logical continuity.

"And there!" she continued, "now I have shocked you by lack of
breeding!"

And once more she commenced to laugh with a mirth so natural and
infectious that presently it gained on me, and for no definite reason
that I could name I found myself laughing to her tune and with equal
heartiness. 'Twas none the less a wiser action than any deliberation
could have prompted me to, for here was our quarrel ended decisively,
and no words said.

For a while we strolled up and down the lawn, Ilga interspacing her
talk with little spirts of laughter, as now and again she looked at my
face, until we stopped at the end of the garden, just before a small
postern-door in the wall.

"It leads into the Park?" she asked.

"Yes! Shall we slip out?"

She looked back at the house.

"The host can hardly run away from his guests."

"There is no one in the room to notice us."

"But the room above? 'Twould look strange, whoever saw us."

"Nay, there can be no one there, for it is my dressing-room."

She took hold of the handle doubtfully and tried it.

"It is locked."

"But the key is on the mantelshelf. I will get it."

"In this little room?"

"No, 'tis in the larger room, but----"

"Nay," she interrupted, "our absence will be enough remarked as it is.
Clemence will read me a lecture on the proprieties all the way home."

Consequently we returned to the house, and the Countess took her leave
shortly with the rest of the company; but as I conducted her to the
door, she said a strange thing to me.

"Mr. Buckler," she said, "you should be angry more often," and so with
another laugh she walked away.

That night, as I sat smoking a pipe upon the lawn, I saw something
flash and sparkle in the rays of the moon, and I remembered that
Elmscott's buckles still lay where they had fallen. Picking them up, I
returned to my seat and fell straightway into a very bitter train of
thought. 'Twas the recollection of the Countess' indignation that set
me on it, for since the mere gift could provoke so stormy and sincere
an outburst, how would it have been, I reflected, had she really known
who the giver was? The thought pressed in upon me all the more heavily
for the reason which she had offered to account for her anger. She set
a value upon my esteem, and no small value either; so much she had
told me plainly. Now it had been my lot hitherto to meet with a
half-contemptuous tolerance rather than esteem; so that this unwonted
appreciation shown by the one person from whom I most desired it
filled me with a deep gratitude, and obliged me in her service. Yet
here was I requiting her with a calculating and continuous deception.
'Twas no longer of any use to argue that Count Lukstein had received
no greater punishment than his treachery merited; that but for his
last coward thrust he would have escaped even that; that the advantage
of the encounter had been on his side from first to last, since I was
chilled to the bone with my long vigil upon the terrace parapet. Such
excuses were the merest thistledown, and it needed but a breath from
her to blow them into air. The solid stalk of my thoughts was: "I was
deceiving her." And it was not merely the knowledge of my concealments
which tortured me, but an anticipation of the disdain and contempt
into which her kindliness would turn, should she ever discover the
truth.

For so closely had the idea and notion of her become inwoven in my
being that I ever estimated my actions and purposes by imagining the
judgment which she would be like to pass on them, and, indeed, saw no
true image of myself at all save that which was reflected from the
mirror of her thoughts.

I came then to consider what path I should follow. There were three
ways open to my choice. I might go on as heretofore, practising my
duplicity; or, again, I might pack my trunks and scurry ignominiously
back to my estate; or I might take my courage between my two hands and
tell the truth of the matter to the Countess, be the consequences what
they might.

Doubtless the last was the only honest course, and if I did not bring
myself to adopt it--well, I paid dearly enough for the fault. At the
time, however, the objections appeared to me insurmountable. In the
first place, my natural timidity cried out against this hazard of all
my happiness upon a single throw. Then, again, how could I tell her
the truth? For it was not merely myself that the story accused, nor
indeed in the main, but her husband. His treachery towards me in the
actual righting of the duel I might conceal, but not his treachery to
Julian, and I shrank from inflicting such shame upon her pride as the
disclosure must inevitably bring.

I deem it right to set out here the questions which so troubled me,
with a view to the proper understanding of this story. For on the very
next day, while I was still debating the matter in great abasement and
despondency, an incident occurred which determined me upon a
compromise.

It happened in this way. I had ridden out into the country early in
the morning, hoping that a vigorous gallop might help me to some
solution of my perplexities, and returning home in the evening,
chanced to be in my dressing-room shortly after seven of the clock.

My valet announced that Lord Culverton and my cousin were below, and I
sent word down that I would be with them in the space of a few
minutes. Elmscott, however, followed the servant up the stairs, and
coming into the room entertained me with the latest gossip, walking
about the while that he talked. In the middle of a sentence he stopped
before the window which, as I have said, overlooked the Park, and
broke off his speech with a sudden exclamation. I crossed to where he
stood, wishing to see what had brought him so abruptly to a stop. The
walks, however, were empty and deserted, it being the fashion among
the gentry of the town rather to favour Hyde Park at this hour. A
chair, certainly, stood at no great distance, but the porters were
smoking their pipes as they leaned against the poles, and I inferred
from that that it had no occupant.

"Wait," said Elmscott; "the wall of your garden hides them for the
moment."

As he spoke, two figures emerged from its shelter and walked into the
open. I gave a start as I saw them, and gripped Elmscott by the arm.

"Lord!" said he, "are you in so deep as that?"

The woman I knew at the first glance. The easy carriage of her head,
the light grace of her walk, were qualities which I had noted and
admired too often to make the ghost of a doubt possible. The man, who
was gaily dressed in a scarlet coat, an instinct of jealousy told me
was Hugh Marston. Their backs were towards the house, and I waited for
them to turn, which they did after they had walked some hundred paces.
Sure enough my suspicions were correct. The Countess was escorted by
Marston, her hand was upon his arm, and the pair sauntered slowly,
stopping here and there in their walk as though greatly concerned with
one another.

"Damn him!" I cried. "Damn him!"

Elmscott burst into a laugh.

"The pretty Countess," said he, "would be more discreet did she but
know you overlooked her."

"But she does know," I returned. "She knows that I lodge in the house;
she knows also that this room is mine."

"Oh!" he exclaimed, in a tone of comprehension, "she knows that!"

"Ay; and 'twas no further back than yesterday that she discovered it.
I told her myself."

Elmscott remained silent for a while, watching their promenade. Again
they disappeared within the shelter of the wall; again they emerged
from it, and again they promenaded some hundred paces and turned.

"I thought so," he muttered; "'tis all of a piece."

I asked what his words meant.

"You remember the evening at the Duke's Theatre, when she caught sight
of you across the pit? One might have imagined she would not have had
you see her on such close terms with our friend; that she feared you
might mistake her courtesy for proof of some deeper feeling."

"Well?" I asked, remembering how he had chuckled through the evening.
For such in truth had been my thought, and I had drawn no small
comfort from it.

"Well, she saw you long ere that; she saw you the moment she entered
the box, before I pointed her out to you. For she looked straight in
your direction and spoke to the Frenchwoman, nodding towards you."

"No, it is impossible!" I replied. I recollected how her hand had
fallen upon mine, and the musical sound of her words--"the occasion
may come, too." "There is no trace of the coquette about her. This
must be a mistake."

"It is you who are making it. Add her behaviour now," he waved his
hand to the window, "to what I have told you! See how the incidents
fit together. Yesterday she finds out your room commands the Park,
to-day she walks in Marston's company underneath the window, and
backwards and forwards, mark that! never moving out of range. 'Tis all
part of one purpose."

"But what purpose?" I cried passionately. "What purpose could she
serve?"

"The devil knows!" he replied, with a shrug of his shoulders. "It is
of a woman we are speaking--you forget that."

I flung open the window noisily, in a desire to attract their
attention and observe how the Countess would take our discovery of her
interview. But she paid not the slightest heed to the sound. Elmscott
made a sudden dash to the door.

"Culverton!" he cried over the baluster.

I tried to check him, for I had no wish that Culverton's meddlesome
fingers should pry into the matter. I was too late, however; he
entered the room, and Elmscott drew him to the open window.

"Burn me, but 'tis the oddest thing!" he smirked.

For a minute or so we stood watching the couple in silence. Then the
Countess dropped her fan, and as Marston stooped to pick it up she
shot one quick glance towards us. Her companion handed her the fan,
and they resumed the promenade. But they took no more than half a turn
before the Countess signalled to the porters, and getting into the
chair, was carried off. Marston waited until she was out of sight,
with his hat in his hand, and then cocking it jauntily on his head,
marched off in the opposite direction. The satisfaction of his manner
made my blood boil with rage.

"The conceited ass!" I cried, stamping my feet.

"She heard the window open after all," said Elmscott.

As for Culverton, he tittered the more.

"The oddest thing!" he repeated. "The very oddest thing! Strike me
purple if I know what to make of the delightful creature!"

"'Tis as plain as my hand," replied Elmscott roughly. "No sooner did
she perceive that you were watching her than she gave Marston his
congé. He had done his work, and she had no further use for him. She
is a woman--there's the top and bottom of it. A couple of men to frown
at each other and grimace prettily to her! Her vanity demands no less.
She is like one of our Indian planters who value their wealth by the
number of their slaves; so she her beauty."

"Nay," interposed the fop. "If that were the whole business, one would
hear less concerning Mr. Buckler from her rapturous lips. But rat me
if she ever talks about any one else."

"Do you mean that?" I asked eagerly.

"Oh, most inquisitive, on my honour! In truth, your name is growing
plaguy wearisome to me. Why, but the other night, when she selected me
to lead her to her carriage at the theatre, 'twas but to question me
concerning you, and whether you gambled, and the horse of mine you
rode, and what not. And there was I with a thousand tender nothings to
whisper in her ear, and pink me if I could get one of 'em out!"

"Then I give the riddle up," rejoined Elmscott, though I would fain
have heard more of this strain from Culverton. "I make neither head
nor tail of the business, unless, Morrice, she would bring you on by a
little wholesome jealousy." He looked at me shrewdly, and continued:
"You are a timid wooer, I fancy. Why not go to her boldly? Tell her
you are going away, and have had enough of her tricks! 'Twould bring
your suit to a climax."

"One way or another," said I doubtfully.

"If Mr. Buckler would take the advice of one who has had some small
experience of ladies' whims," interposed Culverton, "and some
participation in their favours, he would buy some new clothes."

"These are new," I said. "I followed your advice before, and bought
enough to stock a shop."

"But of such a desperate colour," he replied. "Lard, Mr. Buckler, you
go dressed like a mute at a funeral! The ladies loathe it; stap me,
but they loathe it! A scarlet coat, like our friend wears, a full
periwig, an embroidered stocking, makes deeper inroads into their
affections than a year's tedious love-making. The dear creatures'
hearts, Mr. Buckler, are in their eyes."

With that the subject of Countess Lukstein dropped. For Culverton,
once started upon his favourite topic, launched forth into a complete
philosophy of clothes. The colour of each garment, according to him,
had a particular effect upon the sex; the adjustment of each ribbon
conveyed a particular meaning. He had, indeed, ingeniously classified
the various coats, hats, breeches, vests, periwigs, ruffles, cravats
and the other appurtenances of a gentleman's wardrobe, with the modes
of wearing them, as expressions of feeling and emotion. The larger and
more dominant emotions were voiced in the clothes, the delicate and
subtler shades of feeling in the disposition of ornaments. In short,
'twould be a very profitable philosophy for a race which had neither
tongues to speak nor faces and limbs to act their meaning.

This incident, as I have said, determined me upon a compromise, for it
set my heart aflame with jealousy. I had not taken Marston into my
calculations before; now I reflected that if I retired to the North, I
should be leaving a free field for him, and that I was obstinately
minded I would not do. On the other hand, however, this promenade in
front of my windows, whether undertaken of set purpose or from sheer
carelessness, seemed to show that after all I had no stable footing in
Ilga's esteem, and I feared that if I disclosed to her the deception
which I had used towards her, there could be but one result and
consequence.

I determined then to forward my suit with what ardour and haste I
might, and to unbosom myself of my fault in the very hour that I
pleaded my love.

The Countess, however, gave me no heart or occasion for the work. Her
manner towards me changed completely of a sudden, and where I had
previously met with smiles and kindly words, I got now disdainful
looks and biting speeches. She would ridicule my conversation, my
person, and my bearing, and that, too, before a room full of people,
so that I was filled with the deepest shame; or again, she would
shrink from me with all the appearances of aversion. Mademoiselle
Durette, it is true, sought to lighten my suffering. "It is ever
Love's way to blow hot and cold," she would whisper in my ear. But I
thought that she spoke only out of compassion. For 'twas the cold wind
which continually blew on me.

At times, indeed, though very rarely, she would resume her old
familiarity, but there was a note of effort in her voice as though she
subdued herself to a distasteful practice, and something hysterical in
her merriment; and as like as not, she would break off in the middle
of a kindly sentence and load me with the extremity of scorn.

Moreover, Marston was perpetually at her side, and in his company she
made more than one return to the Park; so that at last, being fallen
into a most tormenting despair, I made shift to follow Elmscott's
advice, and called at her lodging one morning to inform her that I
intended setting my face homewards that very afternoon.



                             CHAPTER XI.

                 THE COUNTESS EXPLAINS, AND SHOWS ME
                              A PICTURE.


It was a full week since I had last waited on my cruel mistress, and I
hoped, though with no great confidence, that this intermission of my
visits might temper and moderate her scorn. I had besides taken to
heart Culverton's advice as well as that of my cousin. For I was in
great trepidation lest she should take me at my word, and carelessly
bid me adieu, and so caught eagerly at any hint that seemed likely to
help me, however trivial it might be, and from whatever source it
came.

Consequently I had had my own hair cropped, and had purchased a
cumbersome full-bottomed peruke of the latest mode. With that on my
head, and habited in a fine new brocaded coat of green velvet and
lemon-coloured silk breeches and stockings, I went timidly to confront
my destiny. How many times did I walk up and down before her house, or
ever I could summon courage to knock! How many phrases and dignified
reproaches did I con over and rehearse, yet never one that seemed
other than offensive and ridiculous! What in truth emboldened me in
the end to enter was a cloud of dust which a passing carriage caused
to settle on my coat. If I hesitated much longer, I reflected, all my
bravery would be wasted, and dusting myself carefully with my
handkerchief, I mounted the steps. Otto Krax opened the door, and
preceded me up the staircase.

But while we were still ascending the steps, Mademoiselle Durette came
from the parlour which gave on to the landing.

"Very well, Otto," she said, "I will announce Mr. Buckler."

She waited until the man had descended the stairs, and then turned to
me with a meaning smile.

"She is alone. Take her by surprise!"

With that she softly turned the handle of the door, and opened it just
so far as would enable me to slip through. I heard the voice of Ilga
singing sweetly in a low key, and my heart trembled and jumped within
me, so that I hesitated on the threshold.

"I have no patience with you," said Mademoiselle Durette, in an
exasperated whisper. "Cowards don't win when they go a-wooing. Haven't
you learnt that? Ridicule her, if you like, as she does you--abuse
her, do anything but gape like a stock-fish, with a white face as
though all your blood had run down into the heels of your shoes!"

She pushed me as she spoke into the room, and noiselessly closed the
door. The Countess was seated at a spinnet in the far corner of the
room, and sang in her native tongue. The song, I gathered, was a
plaint, and had a strange and outlandish melancholy, the voice now
lifting into a wild, keening note, now sinking abruptly to a dreary
monotone. It oppressed me with a peculiar sadness, making the singer
seem very lonely and far-away; and I leaned silently against the wall,
not daring to interrupt her. At last the notes began to quaver, the
voice broke once and twice; she gave a little sob, and her head fell
forward on her hands.

An inrush of pity swept all my diffidence away. I stepped hastily
forward with outstretched hands. At the sound she sprang to her feet
and faced me, the colour flaming in her cheeks.

"Madame," cried I, "if my intrusion lacks ceremony, believe me----"

But I got no further in my protestations. For with a sneer upon her
lips and a biting accent of irony,

"So," she broke in, looking me over, "the crow has turned into a
cockatoo." And she rang a bell which stood upon the spinnet. I stopped
in confusion, and not knowing what to say or do, remained foolishly
shifting from one foot to the other, the while Ilga watched me with a
malicious pleasure. In a minute Otto Krax came to the door. "How comes
it," she asked sternly, "that Mr. Buckler enters unannounced? Have I
no servants?"

The fellow explained that Mademoiselle Durette had taken the duty to
herself.

"Send Mademoiselle Durette to me!" said the Countess.

I was ready to sink through the floor with humiliation, and busied my
wits in a search for a plausible excuse. I had not found one when the
Frenchwoman appeared.

Countess Lukstein repeated her question.

Mademoiselle Burette was no readier than myself, and glanced with a
frightened air from me to her mistress, and back again from her
mistress to me. Remembering what she had said on the landing about my
irresolution, I felt my shame doubled.

"Madame," I stammered out, "the fault is in no wise your companion's.
The blame of it should fall on me."

"Oh!" said she, "really?" And turning to Mademoiselle Durette, she
began to clap her hands. "I believe," she exclaimed in a mock
excitement, "that Mr. Buckler is going to make me a present of a
superb cockatoo. Clemence, you must buy a cage and a chain for its
leg!"

Clemence stared in amazement, as well she might, and I, stung to a
passion,

"Nay," I cried, and for once my voice rang firmly. "By the Lord, you
count too readily upon Mr. Buckler's gift. Mr. Buckler has come to
offer you no present, but to take his leave for good and all."

I made her a dignified bow and stepped towards the door.

"What do you mean?" she asked sharply.

"That I ride homewards this afternoon."

She shot a glance at Mademoiselle Durette, who slipped obediently out
of the room.

"And why?" she asked, with an innocent assumption of surprise, coming
towards me. "Why?"

"What, madame!" I replied, looking her straight in the face. "Surely
your ingenuity can find a reason."

"My ingenuity?" She spoke in the same accent of wonderment. "My
ingenuity? Mr. Buckler, you take a tone----" She came some paces
nearer to me and asked very gently: "Am I to blame?"

The humility of the question, and a certain trembling of the lips that
uttered it, well-nigh disarmed me; but I felt that did I answer her,
did I venture the mildest reproach, I should give her my present
advantage.

"No, no," I replied, with a show of indifference; "my own people need
me."

She took another step, and spoke with lowered eyes. "Are there no
people who need you here?"

I forgot my part.

"You mean----" I exclaimed impulsively, when a movement which she made
brought me to a stop. For she drew back a step, and picking up her fan
from a little table, began to pluck nervously at the feathers. Her
action recalled to my mind her behaviour at the Duke's Theatre and
Elmscott's commentary thereon.

"None that I know of," I resumed, "for even those whom I counted my
friends find me undeserving of even common civility."

"Civility! Civility!" she cried out in scorn. "'Tis the very proof and
attribute of indifference--the crust one tosses carelessly to the
first-comer because it costs nothing."

"But I go fasting even for that crust."

"Not always," she replied softly, shooting a glance at me. "Not
always, Mr. Buckler; and have you not found at times some butter on
the bread?"

She smiled as she spoke, but I hardened my heart against her and
vouchsafed no answer. For a little while she stood with her eyes upon
the ground, and then:

"Oh, very well, very well!" she said petulantly, and turning away from
me, flung the fan on to the table. The table was of polished mahogany,
and the fan slid across its surface and dropped to the floor. I
stepped forward, and knelt down to pick it up.

"What, Mr. Buckler!" she said bitterly, turning again to me, "you
condescend to kneel. Surely it is not you; it must be some one else."

I thought that I had never heard sarcasm so unjust, for in truth
kneeling to her had been my chief occupation this many a day, and I
replied hotly, bethinking me of Marston and the episode which I had
witnessed in the Park.

"Indeed, madame, and you may well think it strange, for have I not
seen you drop your fan in order to deceive the man who picks it up?"
With that I got to my feet and laid the fan on the table.

She flushed very red, and exclaimed hurriedly:

"All that can be explained."

"No doubt! no doubt!" I replied. "I have never doubted the subtlety of
madame's invention."

She drew herself up with great pride, and bowed to me.

I walked to the door. As I opened it, I turned to take one last look
at the face which I had so worshipped. It was very white; even the
lips were bloodless, and oddly enough I noticed that she wore a loose
white gown as on the occasion of our first meeting.

"Adieu," I said, and stepped behind the door.

From the other side of it her voice came to me quietly:

"Does this prove the sword to be lath or steel?"

I shut the door, and went slowly down the stairs, slowly and yet more
slowly. For her last question drummed at my heart.

"Lath or steel?" Was I playing a man's part, or was I the mere
bond-slave of a petty pride? "That can be explained," she had said.
What if it could? Then the sword would be proved lath indeed! Just to
salve my vanity I should have wasted my life--and only _my_ life? I
saw her lips trembling as the thought shot through me.

What if those walks with my rival beneath my window had been devised
in some strange way for a test--a woman's test and touchstone to essay
the metal of the sword, a test perhaps intelligible to a woman, though
an enigma to me? If only I knew a woman whom I could consult!

My feet lagged more and more, but I reached the bottom of the stairs
in the end. The hall was empty. I looked up towards the landing with a
wild hope that she would come out and lean over the balustrade, as on
the evening when Elmscott first brought me to the house. But there was
no stir or movement from garret to cellar. I might have stood in the
hall of the Sleeping Palace. From a high window the sunlight slanted
athwart the cool gloom in a golden pillar, and a fly buzzed against
the pane. I crossed the hall, and let myself out into the noonday. The
door clanged behind me with a hollow rattle; it sounded to my hearing
like the closing of the gates of a tomb, and I felt it was myself that
lay dead behind it.

As I passed beneath the window, something hard dropped upon the crown
of my hat, and bounced thence to the ground at my feet. I picked it
up. It was a crust of bread. For a space I stood looking at it before
I understood. Then I rushed back to the entrance. The door stood open,
but the hall was empty and silent as when I left it. I sprang up the
stairs, and in my haste missed my footing about halfway up, and rolled
down some half-a-dozen steps. The crash of my fall echoed up the well
of the staircase, and from behind the parlour door I heard some one
laugh. I got on to my legs, and burst into the room.

Ilga was seated before a frame of embroidery very demure and busy. She
paid no heed to me, keeping her head bent over her work until I had
approached close to the frame. Then she looked up with her eyes
sparkling.

"How dare you?" she asked, in a mock accent of injury.

"I don't know," I replied meekly.

She bent once more over her embroidery.

"Humours are the prerogative of my sex," she said.

"I set you apart from it."

"Is that why you cannot trust me even a little?"

The gentle reproach made me hot with shame. I had no words to answer
it. Then she laughed again, bending closer over her frame, in a low
joyous note that gradually rose and trilled out sweet as music from a
thrush.

"And so," she said, "you came all trim and spruce in your fine new
clothes to show me what my discourtesy had lost me! What a child you
are! And yet," she rose suddenly, her whole face changing, "and yet,
are you a child? Would God I knew!" She ended with a passionate cry,
clasping her hands together upon her breast; but before I could make
head or tail of her meaning she was half-way through another mood.
"Ah!" she cried, "you have brought my courtesy back with you." I had
not noticed until then that I still held the crust in my hand. "You
shall swallow it as a penance."

"Madame!" I laughed.

"Hush! you shall eat it. Yes, yes!" with a pretty imperious stamp of
the foot. "Now! Before you speak a word!"

I obeyed her, but with some difficulty, for the crust was very dry.

"You see," she said, "courtesy is not always so tasteful a morsel. It
sticks in the throat at times;" and crossing to a sideboard, she
filled a goblet from a decanter of canary and brought it to me.

"You will pledge me first," I entreated.

Her face grew serious, and she balanced the cup doubtfully in her
hand.

"Of a truth," she said, "of a truth I will." She raised it slowly to
her lips; but at that moment the door opened.

"Oh!" cried Mademoiselle Durette, with a start of surprise, "I fancied
that Mr. Buckler had gone," and she was for whipping out of the room
again, but Ilga called to her. The astonishment of the Frenchwoman
made one point clear to me concerning which I felt some curiosity. I
mean that 'twas not she who had set the hall-door open for my return.

"Clemence!" said the Countess, setting down the wine untasted, as I
noticed with regret, "will you bid Otto come to me? I ransacked Mr.
Buckler's rooms, and it is only fair that I should show him my poor
treasures in return."

She handed a key to Otto, and bade him unlock a Japan cabinet which
stood in a corner. He drew out a tray heaped up with curiosities,
medals and trinkets, and bringing it over, laid it on a table in the
window.

"I have bought them all since I came to London. You shall tell me
whether I have been robbed."

"You come to the worst appraiser in the world," said I, "for these
ornaments tell me nothing of their value though much of your
industry."

"I have a great love for these trifles," said she, though her action
seemed to belie her words, for she tossed and rattled them hither and
thither upon the tray with rapid jerks of her fingers which would have
made a virtuoso shiver. "They hint so much of bygone times, and tell
so provokingly little."

"Their example, at all events, affords a lesson in discretion," I
laughed.

"Which our poor sex is too trustful to learn, and yours too
distrustful to forget."

There was a certain accent of appeal in her voice, very tender and
sweet, as though she knew my story and was ready to forgive it. Had we
been alone I believe that I should have blurted the whole truth out;
only Otto Krax stood before me on the opposite side of the table,
Mademoiselle Durette was seated in the room behind.

Ilga had ceased to sort the articles, and now began to point out
particular trinkets, describing their purposes and antiquity and the
shops where she had discovered them. But I paid small heed to her
words; that question--did she know?--pressed too urgently upon my
thoughts. A glance at the stolid indifference of Otto Krax served to
reassure me. Through him alone could suspicion have come, and I felt
certain that he had as yet not recognised me.

Besides, I reflected, had she known, it was hardly in nature that she
should have spoken so gently. I dismissed the suspicion from my mind,
and turned me again to the inspection of the tray.

Just below my eyes lay a miniature of a girl, painted very delicately
upon a thin oval slip of ivory. The face was dark in complexion, with
black hair, the nose a trifle tip-tilted, and the lips full and red,
but altogether a face very alluring and handsome. I was most struck,
however, with the freshness of the colours; amongst those old curios
the portrait shone like a gem. I took it up, and as I did so, Otto
Krax leaned forward.

"Otto!" said Ilga sharply, "you stand between Mr. Buckler and the
light."

The servant moved obediently from the window.

"This," said I, "hath less appearance of antiquity than the rest of
your purchases."

"It was given to me," she replied. "The face is beautiful?"

Now it had been my custom of late to consider a face beautiful or not
in proportion to its resemblance to that of Countess Lukstein. So I
looked carefully at the miniature, and thence to Ilga. She was gazing
closely at me with parted lips, and an odd intentness in her
expression. I noticed this the more particularly, for that her eyes,
which were violet in their natural hue, had a trick of growing dark
when she was excited or absorbed.

"Why!" I exclaimed, in surprise. "One might think you fancy me
acquainted with the lady."

"Well," she replied, laying a hand upon her heart, "what if I
did--fancy that?" She stressed the word "fancy" with something of a
sneer.

"Nay," said I, "the face is strange to me."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "Look again! Look again, Mr. Buckler!"

Disturbed by this recurrence of her irony, I fixed my eyes, as she
bade me, upon the picture, and strangely enough, upon a closer
scrutiny I began gradually to recognise it; but in so vague and dim a
fashion, that whether the familiarity lay in the contour of the
lineaments or merely in the expression, I could by no effort of memory
determine.

"Well?" she asked, with a smile which had nothing amiable or pleasant
in it. "What say you now?"

"Madame," I returned, completely at a loss, "in truth I know not what
to say. It may be that I have seen the original. Indeed, I must think
that is the case----"

"Ah!" she cried, interrupting me as one who convicts an opponent after
much debate, and then, in a hurried correction: "so at least I was
informed."

"Then tell me who informed you!" I said earnestly, for I commenced to
consider this miniature as the cause of her recent resentment and
scorn. "For I have only seen this face--somewhere--for a moment. Of
one thing I am sure. I have never had speech with it."

"Never?" she asked, in the same ironical tone. "Look yet a third time,
Mr. Buckler! For your memory improves with each inspection."

She suddenly broke off, and "Otto!" she cried sternly--it was almost a
shout.

The fellow was standing just behind my shoulder, and I swung round and
eyed him. He came a step forward, questioning his mistress with a
look.

"Replace the tray in the cabinet!"

I kept the miniature in my hand, glancing ever from it to the Countess
and back again in pure wonder and conjecture.

"Madame," I said firmly, "I have never had speech with the lady of
this picture."

She looked into my eyes as though she would read my soul.

"It is God's truth!"

She signed a dismissal to Otto. Clemence Durette rose and followed the
servant, and I thought that I had never fallen in with any one who
showed such tact and discretion in the matter of leaving a room.

The Countess remained stock-still, facing me.

"And yet I have been told," she said, nodding her head with each word,
"that she was very dear to you."

"Then," I replied hotly, "you were told a lie, a miserable calumny. I
understand! 'Tis that that has poisoned your kind thoughts of me."

She turned away with a slight shrug of the shoulders.

"Oh, believe that!" I exclaimed, falling upon a knee and holding her
by the hem of her dress. "You must believe it! I have told you what my
life has been. Look at the picture yourself!" and I forced it into her
hands. "What do you read there? Vanity and the love of conquest. Gaze
into the eyes! What do they bespeak? Boldness that comes from the
habit of conquest. Is it likely that such a woman would busy her head
about an awkward, retiring student?"

"I am not so sure," she replied thoughtfully, though she seemed to
relent a little at my vehemence; "women are capricious. You yourself
have been complaining this morning of their caprice. And it might be
that--I can imagine it--and for that very reason."

"Oh, compare us!" I cried. "Compare the painted figure there with me!
You must see it is impossible."

She laid a hand upon each of my shoulders as I knelt, and bent over
me, staring into my eyes.

"I have been told," said she, "that the lady was so dear to you that
for her sake you fought and killed your rival in love."

"You have been told that?" I answered, in sheer incredulity; and then
a flame of rage against my traducer kindling in my heart, I sprang to
my feet.

"Who told you?"

"I may not disclose his name."

"But you shall," said I, stepping in front of her. "You shall tell me!
He has lied to you foully, and you owe him therefore no consideration
or respect. He has lied concerning me. I have a clear right to know
his name, that I may convince you of the lie, and reckon with him for
his slander. Confront us both, and yourself be present as the judge!"

Of a sudden she held out her hand to me.

"Your sincerity convinces me. I need no other proof, and I crave your
pardon for my suspicion."

I looked into her face, amazed at the sudden change. But there was no
mistaking her conviction or the joy which it occasioned her. I saw a
light in her eyes, dancing and sparkling, which I had never envisaged
before, and which filled me with exquisite happiness.

"Still," I said, as I took her hand, "I would fain prove my words to
you."

"Can you not trust me at all?"

She had a wonderful knack of putting me in the wrong when I was on the
side of the right, and before I could find a suitable reply she
slipped out of my grasp, and crossing the room, took in her hand the
cup of wine.

"Now," said she, "I will pledge you, Mr. Buckler;" which she did very
prettily, and handed the cup to me. As I raised it to my lips,
however, an idea occurred to me.

"It is you who refuse to pledge me," she said.

"Nay, nay," said I, and I drained the cup. "But I have just guessed
who my traducer is."

She looked perplexed for a moment.

"You have guessed who----" she began, in an accent of wonder.

"Who gave you the picture," I explained.

She stared at me in pure astonishment.

"You can hardly have guessed accurately, then," she remarked.

"Surely," said I, "it needs no magician to discover the giver. I know
but one man in London who can hope to gain aught by slandering me to
you."

Ilga gave a start of alarm. It seemed almost as though I were telling
her news, as though she did not know herself who gave her the picture;
and for the rest of my visit she appeared absent and anxious. This was
particularly mortifying to me, since I thought the occasion too apt to
be lost, and I was minded to open my heart to her. Indeed, I began the
preface of a love-speech in spite of her preoccupation, but sticking
for lack of encouragement after half-a-dozen words or so, I perceived
that she was not even listening to what I said. Consequently I took my
leave with some irritation, marvelling at the flighty waywardness of a
woman's thoughts, and rather inclined to believe that the properest
age for a man to marry was his ninetieth year, for then he might
perchance have sufficient experience to understand some portion of his
wife's behaviour and whimsies.

My mortification was not of a lasting kind, for Ilga came out on to
the landing while I was still descending the stairs.

"You do not know who gave me the picture," she said, entreating me;
and she came down two of the steps.

"It would be exceeding strange if I did not," said I, stopping.

"You would seek him out and----" she began.

"I had that in my mind," said I, mounting two of the steps.

"Then you do not know him. Say you do not! There could be but one
result, and I fear it."

A knock on the outer door rang through the hall; this time we took two
steps up and down simultaneously.

"Swords!" she continued, "for you would fight?"

I nodded.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "swords are no true ordeal. Skill--it is skill,
not justice, which directs the thrust."

I fancied that I comprehended the cause of her fear, and I laughed
cheerfully.

"I have few good qualities," said I, "but amongst those few you may
reckon some proficiency with the sword." I ascended two steps.

"So," she replied, with an indefinable change of tone, "you are
skilled in the exercise?" But she stood where she was.

Otto Krax came from the inner part of the house and crossed to the
door.

"It is my one qualification for a courtier."

Since Ilga had omitted to take the two steps down, I deemed it right
to take four steps up.

She resumed her tone of entreaty.

"But chance may outwit skill; does--often."

We heard the chain rattle on the door as Krax unfastened it. Ilga bent
forward hurriedly.

"You do not know the man!" and in a whisper she added: "For my
sake--you do not!"

There were only four steps between us. I took them all in one spring.

"For your sake, is it?" and I caught her hand.

"Hush!" she said, disengaging herself. Marston's voice sounded in the
entrance. "You do not know! Oh, you do not!" she beseeched in shaking
tones. Then she drew back quickly, and leaned against the balustrade.
I looked downwards. Otto was ushering in Marston, and the pair stood
at the foot of the staircase. I glanced back at the Countess. There
were tears in her eyes.

"Madame!" said I, "I have forgotten his name."

With a bow, I walked down the steps as Marston mounted them.

"'Tis a fine day," says I, coming to a halt when we were level.

"Is it?" says he, continuing the ascent.

"It seems to me wonderfully bright and clear," said the Countess from
the head of the stairs.



                             CHAPTER XII.

                             LADY TRACY.


Outside the house I came face to face with the original of the
miniature. So startled and surprised was I by her unexpected
appearance that I could not repress an exclamation, and she turned her
eyes full upon me. She was seated upon a horse, while a mounted groom
behind her held the bridle of a third horse, saddled, but riderless.
'Twas evident that she had come to the house in Marston's company, and
now waited his return. My conviction that Marston had handed the
miniature to Ilga was, I thought, confirmed beyond possibility of
doubt, and I scanned her face with more eagerness than courtesy,
hoping to discover by those means a clue to her identity. For a moment
or so she returned my stare without giving a sign of recognition, and
then she turned her head away. It was clear, at all events, that she
had no knowledge or remembrance of me, and though her lips curved with
a gratified smile, and she glanced occasionally in my direction from
the tail of her eye, I could not doubt that she considered my
exclamation as merely a stranger's spontaneous tribute to her looks.

Indeed, the more closely I regarded her, the less certain did I myself
become that I had ever set eyes on her before. I was sensible of a
vague familiarity in her appearance, but I was not certain but what I
ought to attribute it to my long examination of her likeness. However,
since Providence had brought us thus opportunely together, I was
minded to use the occasion in order to resolve my perplexities, and
advancing towards her:

"Madam," I said, "you will, I trust, pardon my lack of ceremony when I
assure you that it is no small matter which leads me to address you. I
only ask of you the answer to a simple question. Have we met before
to-day?"

"The excuse is not very adroit," she replied, with a coquettish laugh,
"for it implies that you are more like to live in my memory than I in
yours."

"Believe me!" said I eagerly, "the question is no excuse, but one of
some moment to me. I should not have had the courage to thrust myself
wantonly upon your attention, even had I felt----"

I broke off suddenly and stopped, since I saw a frown overspread her
face, and feared to miss the answer to my question.

"Well! Even had you felt the wish. That is your meaning, is it not?
Why not frankly complete the sentence? I hear the sentiment so seldom,
that of a truth I relish it for its rarity."

She gave an indignant toss of her head, and looked away from me,
running her fingers through the mane of her horse. I understood that
flattery alone would serve my turn with her, and I answered boldly:

"You are right, madam. You supply the words my tongue checked at, but
not the reason which prompted them. In the old days, when a poor
mortal intruded upon a goddess, he paid for his presumption with all
the pangs of despair, and I feared that the experience might not be
obsolete."

She appeared a trifle mollified by my adulation, and replied archly,
making play with her eyebrows:

"'Tis a pretty interpretation to put upon the words, but the words
came first, I fear, and suggested the explanation."

"You should not blame me for the words, but rather yourself. An
awkward speech, madam, implies startled senses, and so should be
reckoned a more genuine compliment than the most nicely-ordered
eulogy."

"That makes your peace," said she, much to my relief, for this work of
gallantry was ever discomforting to me, my flatteries being of the
heaviest and causing me no small labour in the making. "That makes
your peace. I accept the explanation."

"And will answer the question?" said I, returning to the charge.

"You deserve no less," she assented. "But indeed, I have no
recollection of your face, and so can speak with no greater certainty
than yourself. Perchance your name might jog my memory."

"I am called Morrice Buckler," said I.

At that she started in her saddle and gathered up the reins as though
intending to ride off.

"Then I can assure you on the point," she said hurriedly. "You and I
have never met."

I was greatly astonished by this sudden action which she made. 'Twas
as though she was frightened; and I knew no reason why any one should
fear me, least of all a stranger. But what she did next astonished me
far more; for she dropped the reins and looked me over curiously,
saying with a little laugh:

"So you are Morrice Buckler. I gave you credit for horn-spectacles at
the very least."

Something about her--was it her manner or her voice?--struck me as
singularly familiar to me, and I exclaimed:

"Surely, surely, madam, it is true. Somewhere we have met."

"Nowhere," she answered, enjoying my mystification. "Have you ever
been presented to Lady Tracy, wife of Sir William Tracy?"

"Not that I remember," said I, still more puzzled, "nor have I ever
heard the name."

"Then you should be satisfied, for I am Lady Tracy."

"But you spoke of horn-spectacles. How comes it that you know so much
concerning me?"

"Nay," she laughed. "You go too fast, Mr. Buckler. I know nothing
concerning you save that some injustice has been done you. I was told
of a homespun student, glum and musty as an old book, and I find
instead a town-gallant point-de-vice, who will barter me compliments
with the best of them."

"You got your knowledge, doubtless, from Hugh Marston," I replied,
with a glance at the door; "and I only wonder the description was not
more unflattering."

"I did not mean him," she said slowly. "For I did not even know that
you were acquainted with"--she paused, and looked me straight in the
face--"with my brother."

"Your brother!" I exclaimed. "Hugh Marston is your brother?" And I
took a step towards her. Again I saw a passing look of apprehension in
her face, but I did not stop to wonder at it then. I understood that
the indefinable familiarity in her looks was due to the likeness which
she bore her brother--a likeness consisting not so much of a distinct
stamp of features as of an occasional and fleeting similarity of
expression.

"I understand," said I, more to myself than to her.

She flushed very red in a way which was unaccountable, and broke in
abruptly.

"So you see we have never seen one another before to-day. For the last
year I have been travelling abroad with my husband, and only came to
London unexpectedly this morning."

Her words revealed the whole plot to me, or so I thought. Secured from
discovery by the pledge of secrecy which he had exacted from Ilga,
Marston had shown this miniature of his absent sister, and invented a
story which there was no one to disprove. Looking back upon the
incident with the cooler reflection which a lapse of years induces, I
marvel at the conviction with which I drew the inference. But although
now I see clearly how incredible it was that a man of Marston's
breeding and family should so villainously misuse the fair fame of one
thus near to hand, at the time I measured his jealousy by the violence
of my own, and was ready to believe that he would check at no barriers
of pride and honour which stood between him and his intention. Events,
moreover, seemed to jump most aptly with my conclusion.

So, full of my discovery of his plot, I said a second time, "I.
understand;" and a second time she flushed unaccountably. I spoke the
words with some bitterness and contempt, and she took them to refer to
herself.

"You blame me," she began nervously, "for marrying so soon after
Julian died. But it is unfair to judge quickly."

The speech was little short of a revelation to me. So busy had my
thoughts been with my own affairs, that I had not realised this was in
truth the woman who had been betrothed to Julian, and who had betrayed
him to his shameful death. I looked at her for a moment, stunned by
the knowledge. She was, as her portrait showed her to be, very pretty,
with something of the petted child about her; of a trim and supple
figure, and with wonderfully small hands. I remarked her hands
especially, because her fingers were playing restlessly with the
jewelled butt of her riding-whip; and I did not wonder at her power
over men's hearts. A small, trembling hand laid in a man's great palm!
In truth, it coaxes him out of very pity for its size. For my part,
however, conscious of the evil which her treachery had done to Julian,
ay, and to myself, too, I felt nothing but aversion for her, and,
taking off my hat, I bowed to her silently. Just as I was turning
away, an idea occurred to me. She knew nothing of her brother's plot
to ruin me in Ilga's estimation. Why should I not use her to confound
his designs?

"Lady Tracy," said I, returning to her side, "it is in your power to
do me a service."

"Indeed?" she asked, her face clearing, and her manner changing to its
former flippancy. "Is it the new fashion for ladies to render services
to gentlemen? It used to be the other way about."

"As you have sure warrant for knowing," I added.

The look of fear which I had previously noticed sprang again into her
eyes; now I appreciated the cause. She was afraid that I knew
something of her share in Julian's death.

"It has been my great good fortune," she replied uneasily, "when I
needed any small services, to meet with gentlemen who rendered them
with readiness and forbearance."

She laid a little stress upon the last word, and I took a step closer
to her.

"You cannot be aware, I think, who lodges in this house."

"I am not," she replied. "Why? Who lodges here?"

"Countess Lukstein."

She gave a little faltering cry, and turned white to the lips.

"You need have no fear," I continued. "I said Countess Lukstein, the
wife, or rather, the widow. For a widow she has been this many a
month."

"A widow!" she repeated. "A widow!" And she drew a long breath of
relief, the colour returning to her cheeks. Then she turned defiantly
on me. "And what, pray, is this Countess Lukstein to me?"

"God forbid that I should inquire into that!" said I sternly, and her
eyes fell from my face. "Now, madam," I went on, "will you do me the
favour I ask of you?"

"You ask it with such humility," she answered bitterly, "that I cannot
find it in my heart to refuse you."

"I expected no less," I returned. "Let me assist you to dismount."

She drew quickly away.

"For what purpose? You would not take me to--to his wife."

"Even so!"

"Ah, not that! Not that! Mr. Buckler, I beseech you," she implored
piteously, laying a trembling hand upon my shoulder. "I have not the
courage."

"There is nothing to fear," I said, reassuring her. "Nothing
whatsoever. Your brother is there. That guarantees no harm can come to
you. But, besides, Countess Lukstein knows nothing of the affair. No
one knows of it but you and I."

She still sat unconvinced upon her saddle.

"How is it you know, Mr. Buckler?" she asked, in a low tone.

"Julian told me," I answered, perceiving that I must needs go further
than I intended if I meant to get my way. "Cannot you guess why? I
said the Count was dead. I did not tell you how he died. He was killed
in a duel."

She looked at me for a moment with a great wonder in her eyes.

"You!" she whispered. "You killed Count Lukstein?"

"It is the truth," I answered. "And the Countess knows so little of
the affair that she is even ignorant of that."

"Are you sure?"

"Should I come here a-visiting, think you, if she knew?"

The words seemed somewhat to relieve her of apprehension, and she
asked:

"To what end would you have me speak to her? What am I to say?"

"Simply that you and I have met by chance, for the first time this
morning."

"Then she couples your name with mine," she exclaimed, in a fresh
alarm. "Without ground or reason! Your name--for you killed him--with
mine. Don't you see? She must suspect!"

"Nay," I answered. "It is the strangest accident which has led her to
link us together in her thoughts. She can have no suspicion."

"Then how comes it that she couples us who are strangers?"

I saw no object in relating to her the device of her brother, or in
disclosing my own passion for the Countess. Moreover, I bethought me
that at any moment Marston might take his leave, and I was resolved
that Lady Tracy should speak in his presence, since by that means he
would be compelled to confirm her words. So I broke in abruptly upon
her questioning.

"Lady Tracy, we are wasting time. You must be content with my
assurances. 'Tis but a little service that I claim of you, and one
that may haply repair in some slight measure the fatal consequences of
your disloyalty."

She slipped her foot from the stirrup, and, without touching the hand
I held out to assist her, sprang lightly to the ground. It may be that
I spoke with more earnestness than I intended.

"What mean cowards love makes of men!" she said, looking at me
scornfully.

The remark stung me sharply because I was fully sensible that I played
but a despicable part in forcing her thus to bear testimony for me
against her will, and I answered angrily:

"Surely your memory provides you with one instance to the contrary;"
and I mounted the steps and knocked at the door.

Otto Krax answered my summons, and for once in his life he betrayed
surprise. At the sight of Lady Tracy, he leaped backwards into the
hall, and stared from her to me. Lady Tracy laid a hand within my arm,
and the fingers tightened convulsively upon my sleeve; it seemed as
though she were on the point of fainting. I bade the fellow, roughly,
to wait upon his mistress, and inquire whether she would receive me,
and a friend whom I was most anxious to present to her. With a
curiosity very unusual, he asked of me my companion's name, that he
might announce it. But since my design was to surprise Hugh Marston, I
ordered him to deliver the message in the precise terms which I had
used.

So changed indeed was the man from his ordinary polite impassivity,
that he abruptly left us standing in the hall, and departed on his
errand with no more ceremony than a minister's servant shows to the
needy place-seekers at his master's levée. We stood, I remember
particularly, in a line with the high window of which I have already
spoken, and the full light of the noontide sun fell athwart our faces.
I set the circumstance down here inasmuch as it helped to bring about
a very strange result.

"Who is the man?" whispered Lady Tracy, in an agitated voice. "Does he
know me?"

"Nay," said I, reassuring her. "It may be that he has seen you before,
at Bristol, for he was Count Lukstein's servant. But it is hardly
probable that the Count shared his secret with him. And the matter was
a secret kept most studiously."

"But his manner? How account for that?"

"Simply enough," said I. "The person who slandered us to the Countess,
gave her, as a warrant and proof, a miniature of you."

"A miniature!" she exclaimed, clinging to me in terror. "Oh, no! no!"

"Gott im Himmel!"

The guttural cry rang hoarsely from the top of the stairs. I looked
up; Otto was leaning against the wall, his mouth open, his face
working with excitement, and his eyes protruding from their sockets. I
had just sufficient time to notice that, strangely enough, his gaze
was directed at me, and not at the woman by my side, when I felt the
hand slacken on my arm, and with a little weak sigh, Lady Tracy
slipped to the floor in a swoon.

I stooped down, and lifting her with some difficulty, carried, or
rather dragged her to a couch.

"Quick, booby!" I shouted to Otto. "Fetch one of the women and some
water!"

My outcry brought Ilga onto the landing.

"What has befallen?" she asked, leaning over the rail.

"'Tis but a swoon," I replied; "nothing more. There is no cause for
alarm."

"Poor creature!" she said tenderly, and came running down the stairs.
"Let me look, Mr. Buckler. Ailments, you know, are a woman's
province."

I was kneeling by the couch, supporting Lady Tracy's head upon my arm,
and I drew aside, but without removing my arm. Ilga caught sight of
her face, and stopped.

"Oh!" she cried, with a gasping intake of the breath; then she turned
on me, her countenance flashing with a savage fury, and her voice so
bitter and harsh that, had I closed my eyes, I could not have believed
that it was she who spoke.

"So you lied! You lied to me! You tell me one hour that you have never
had speech with her, the next I find her in your arms."

"Madame," I replied, withdrawing my arm hastily, "I told you the
truth."

The head fell heavily forward upon my breast, and I sought to arrange
the body full-length upon the couch.

"Nay," said the Countess. "Let the head rest there. It knows its
proper place."

"I told you the truth; believe it or not as you please!" I repeated,
exasperated by her cruel indifference to Lady Tracy. "I never so much
as set eyes upon this lady before to-day. I know that now. For the
first time in my life, I saw her when I left you but a few minutes
ago. She was waiting on horseback at your steps, and I persuaded her
to dismount and bear me out with you."

"A very likely plausible story," sneered Ilga. "And whom did your
friend await at my steps?"

"Her brother," I replied shortly. "Hugh Marston."

"Her brother!" she exclaimed. "We'll even test the truth of that."

She ran quickly to the foot of the stairs, as though she would ascend
them. But seeing Otto still posted agape half-way up, she stopped and
called to him.

"Tell Mr. Marston that his sister lies in the hall in a dead faint!"

Otto recovered his wits, and went slowly up to the parlour, while the
Countess eyed me triumphantly. But in a moment Marston came flying
down the stairs; he flung himself on his knees beside his sister.

"Betty!" he cried aloud, and again, whispering it into her ear with a
caressing reproach, "Betty!" He shook her gently by the shoulders,
like one that wakes a child from sleep. "Is there no help, no doctor
near?"

One of the Countess's women came forward and loosed the bodice of Lady
Tracy's riding-habit at the throat, while another fetched a bottle of
salts.

"It is the heat," they said. "She will soon recover."

Marston turned to me with a momentary friendliness.

"It was you who helped my sister. Thank you!" He spoke simply and with
so genuine cordiality that I could not doubt his affection for Lady
Tracy; and I wondered yet the more at the selfish use to which he had
put her reputation.

After a while the remedies had their effect, and Lady Tracy opened her
eyes. Ilga was standing in front of her a few paces off, her face set
and cold, and I noticed that Lady Tracy shivered as their glances met.

"Send for a chair, Hugh!" she whispered, rising unsteadily to her
feet.

"'Twere wiser for you to rest a little before you leave," said the
Countess, but there was no kindliness in her voice to second the
invitation, and she did not move a step towards her.

"I would not appear discourteous, madame," faltered Lady Tracy, "but I
shall recover best at home."

"I will fetch a chair, Betty," said Marston, and made as though to go;
but with a terrified "No, no!" Lady Tracy caught him by the coat and
drew his arm about her waist, clasping her hand upon it to keep it
there. 'Twas the frankest confession of fear that ever I chanced upon,
and I marvelled not that Ilga smiled at it. However, she despatched
Otto upon the errand, and presently Marston accompanied his sister to
her home.

Ilga and myself were thus left standing in the hall, looking each at
the other. I was determined not to speak, being greatly angered for
that she had not believed me when I informed her Lady Tracy was
Marston's sister, and I took up my hat and cane and marched with my
nose in the air to the door. But she came softly behind me, and said
in the gentlest tone of contrition:

"I seem to spend half my life in giving you offence and the other half
in begging your pardon."

And contrasting her sweet patience with me against the cold dislike
which she had evinced to Lady Tracy, I, poor fool, carried home with
me the fancy yet more firmly rooted than before, that her antagonism
to the original of the miniature was no more than the outcome of a
woman's jealousy.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                   COUNTESS LUKSTEIN IS CONVINCED.


One detail of this mischancy episode occasioned me considerable
perplexity. Conjecture as I might, I could hit upon no cause or
explanation of it that seemed in any degree feasible. The astonishment
of Otto Krax I attributed, and as I afterwards discovered rightly
attributed, to the appearance of Lady Tracy so pat upon the discussion
of her picture, and to my expressed desire to present her to the
Countess within a few minutes of strenuously denying her acquaintance;
and I deemed it not extravagant. That he recognised her as the object
of his master's capricious fancy at Bristol, I considered most
improbable. For I remembered how successfully the intrigue had been
concealed; so that even Julian himself came over-late to the knowledge
of it. His second exclamation on the stairs I set down to the
probability that he had perceived Lady Tracy was on the point of
swooning.

It was indeed the fact of the lady's swoon which troubled me. Her
natural repugnance to meeting the Countess was not motive enough. Nor
did I believe her sufficiently sensible to shame for that feeling to
work on her to such purpose. It seemed of a piece with the terror
which she had subsequently shown on her recovery. The miniature, I
conjectured, had something, if not everything to do with it. Resolving
wisely that I had best ascertain the top and bottom of the matter, I
called upon Marston at his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, close to the
new college of Franciscans, and asked where his sister stayed, on the
plea that I would fain pay my respects to her, and assure myself of
her convalescence.

"I can satisfy you on the latter point," he returned cordially, "but
at the cost of denying you the pleasure of a visit. For my sister left
London on the next day, and has gone down into the country."

"So soon?" I asked in some surprise. For Lady Tracy hardly impressed
me as likely to find much enjoyment in the felicities of a rural life.

"Her illness left her weak, and she thought the country air would give
her health."

For a moment I was in two minds whether to inquire more precisely of
her whereabouts and follow her; but I reflected that I might encounter
some difficulty in compassing an interview, for it was evident that
she had fled from London in order to avoid further trouble and concern
in the matter. And even if I succeeded so far, I saw no means of
eliciting the explanation I needed, without revealing to her the
unscrupulous use which her brother had made of her miniature; and that
I had not the heart to do. The business seemed of insufficient
importance to warrant it. There was besides a final and convincing
argument which decided me to remain in London. If I journeyed into the
West, I should leave an open field for my rival, and no ally with the
Countess to guard against his insinuations; and I reflected further
that there were few possible insinuations from which he would refrain.

On this point of his conduct, however, I was minded to teach him a
lesson, which would make him more discreet in the future, and at the
same time effect the purpose I had in view when Lady Tracy
inopportunely swooned. For when I came to think over the events of
that morning, I recollected that after all Lady Tracy had not spoken
as I asked her, and though the last words Ilga had said to me as I
left the house seemed to show me that she no longer believed the
calumny, I was none the less anxious to compel Marston to disavow it.

Now it was the fashion at the time of which I write for the fine
ladies and gentlemen of the town to take the air of a morning in the
Piazza, of Covent Garden; and choosing an occasion when Marston was
lounging there in the company of the Countess and her attendant,
Mdlle. Durette, I inquired of him pointedly concerning his sister's
health, meaning to lead him from that starting-point to an admission
that Lady Tracy was until that chance meeting a complete stranger to
me.

But or ever he could reply, Ilga broke in with an air of flurry, and
calling to Lord Culverton, who was approaching, engaged him in a rapid
conversation. She was afraid, I supposed, that I meant to break the
promise which I had given her upon the stairs, and tax Marston with
his treachery; and I was confirmed in the supposition when I repeated
the question. For she shot at me a look of reproach, and said quickly:

"I was telling your friend when you joined us," she said, "of my home
in the Tyrol." She laid some stress upon the word "friend." "'Twere
hard, I think, at any season to find a spot more beautiful."

"'Twere impossible," rejoined Culverton, with his most elegant bow.
"For no spot can be more beautiful than that which owns Beauty for its
queen."

"The compliment," replied Ilga, with a bow, "is worthy of the
playhouse."

"Nay, nay," smirked my lord, mightily gratified; "the truth, madame,
the truth extorted from me, let me die! And yet it hath some wit. I
cannot help it, wit will out, the more certainly when it is truth as
well."

"Lady Tracy, then----" I began to Marston.

"But at this time of the year," interrupted the Countess immediately,
"Lukstein has no rival. Cornfields redden below it, beeches are
marshalled green up the hillside behind it, gentian picks out a mosaic
on the grass, and night and day waterfalls tumble their music through
the air. Yet even in winter, when the ice binds it and gags its
voices, it has a quiet charm of silence whereof the memory makes one
homesick."

As she proceeded the anxiety died out of her face, and she grew
absorbed in the picture which her memories painted.

"Madame," said Marston, "I should appreciate the description better if
it spoke less of a longing to return."

"It is my kingdom, you see," she replied. "Barbarous no doubt, with a
turbulent populace, but still it is my kingdom, and very loyal to me."

Culverton paid her the obvious flattery, but she took no heed of it.

"The tiniest, compactest kingdom," she went on in a musing tone,
"sequestered in a nook of the world." She seated herself on a chair
which stood at the edge of the Piazza. "Indeed, I shall return there,
and that, I fancy, soon."

"Countess!" replied Culverton. "That were too heartless. 'Twould
decimate London, let me perish! For never a gallant but would drink
himself to death. Oh, fie!"

Marston joined eagerly in the other's protestations. For my part,
however, I remained silent, well content with what she had said. For I
recollected the evening when I first had talk with her, and the
construction which I had placed upon her words; how she would never
return to Lukstein until she was eased of the pain which her husband's
disaster had caused her. The notion that her memories had lost their
sting thrilled me to the heart, and woke my vanity to conjecture of a
cause.

"Then," said the Countess, "would my friends be proved heartless. For
it is their turn to visit me, and I would not be baulked of requiting
them for their kindness to me here. 'Tis not so tedious a journey
after all."

"I can warrant the truth of that," said Culverton. "For I have been as
far as Innspruck myself."

"Indeed?" said the Countess. She looked hard at him for a second, and
then laughed to herself. "When was that?" she asked.

"Some six years ago. I was on the grand tour with a tutor--a most
obnoxious person, who was ever poring over statues and cold marble
figures, but as for a fine woman, rabbit me if he ever knew one when
he saw her. He dragged me with him from Italy to Innspruck to view
some figures in the Cathedral."

"Then you must needs have passed beneath Lukstein," said the Countess,
"for it hangs just above the high-road from Italy."

Culverton would not admit the statement. Some instinct, some angelic
warning, he declared, would surely have bidden him stop and climb to
the Castle as to a holy shrine. The Countess laughingly assured him
that nevertheless he had passed her home, and with a fond minuteness
she described to him its aspect and position.

Then the strangest thing occurred. She leaned forward in her chair,
and with the tip of the stick she carried, drew a line on the gravel
at the edge of the pavement.

"That represents the road from Meran," she explained. "The stone
yonder is the Lukstein rock, on which the Castle stands." She briefly
described the character of the village, and marked out the windings of
the road from the gates at the back of the Castle down the hillside,
until she had well-nigh completed a diagram in all essentials similar
to that which Julian had sketched for me in my Horace.

"From the village," she said, "the road runs in a zigzag to join the
highway."

She traced two long, distinct lines, but stopped of a sudden at the
apex of the second angle, where the coppice runs to a point, with her
face puckered up in a great perplexity. Culverton asked her what
troubled her.

"I was forgetting," she said. "I was forgetting how often the road
twisted," and very slowly she drew the final line to join with that
which she had marked to represent the highway in the bed of the
valley.

It struck me as peculiar for the moment, that with her great affection
for Lukstein, she should forget so simple and prominent a detail as
the number of angles which the road made in its descent. But I gave
little thought to the matter, being rather engrossed in the strange
coincidence of the diagram. It brought home to me with greater
poignancy than ever before the deceit which I was practising upon my
mistress. For I compared the use to which I had put my plan of the
Castle with the motive which had led her unconsciously to reproduce
it, I mean her desire that her friends should appreciate the home in
which she took such manifest delight.

But while I was thus uneasily reproaching myself I perceived Marston
separate from the group, and being obstinately determined that he
should admit before Ilga the tenuity of my acquaintance with his
sister, I called him back and asked him at what period Lady Tracy
might be expected again in town.

This time the Countess made no effort to divert me. Indeed, she seemed
barely to notice that I had put the question, but sat with her chin
propped on the palms of her hands gazing with a thoughtful frown at
the outline which she had drawn; and I believed her to be engrossed in
the picture which it evoked in her imagination.

"It appears that you feel great interest in my sister, Mr. Buckler,"
said Marston curiously. Doubtless my question was a clumsy one, for I
was never an adept at finesse; but this was the last answer which I
desired to hear. "Nay, nay," I said hurriedly, and stopped at a loss,
idly adding with my cane a line here and there to Countess Lukstein's
diagram.

To my surprise, however, Ilga herself came to my rescue, and in a
careless tone brought the matter to an issue.

"Perhaps Mr. Buckler," she remarked, "is an old friend of Lady
Tracy's."

I raised my eyes from the Countess, fixing them upon Marston to note
how he took the thrust, and with a quick sweep of her stick she
smoothed the gravel, obliterating the lines. That I expected to see
Marston disconcerted and in a pother to evade the question, I need not
say, and 'twas with an amazement which fell little short of
stupefaction that I heard him answer forthwith in a brusque, curt
tone.

"That can hardly be. For my sister has been abroad all this year, and
Mr. Buckler in the same case until this year."

I turned to Ilga. But she seemed more interested in Lady Tracy than in
the fact of the admission.

"Ah! Lady Tracy was abroad," she said. "When did she leave England?"

"In September."

"The very month that I returned," I exclaimed triumphantly.

The Countess turned quickly towards me. "I fancied you only returned
this spring."

"I was in England for a short while in September," said I, regretting
the haste with which I had spoken.

"September of last year?"

"Of last year."

"Anno Domini 1685," laughed Culverton. "There seems to be some doubt
about the date."

"September, 1685," repeated the Countess with a curious insistency.

"There is no doubt," returned Marston hotly. "I could wish for Betty's
sake we had not such cause to remember it. She was betrothed to one of
Monmouth's rebels, curse him! and Betty was so distressed by his
capture that her health gave way."

I was upon tenterhooks lest Ilga should inquire the name of the rebel.
But she merely remarked in an absent way, as though she attached no
significance to his words:

"'Tis a sad story."

"In truth it is, and the only consolation we got from it was that the
rebel swung for his treachery. Betty was ordered forthwith abroad, and
she left England on the fourteenth of September. I remember the day
particularly since it was her birthday."

"September the fourteenth!" said the Countess; and I, thinking to make
out my case beyond dispute, cried triumphantly:

"The very day whereon I bade good-bye to Leyden."

The words were barely off my lips when Ilga rose to her feet. She
stood for a moment with her eyes very wide and her bosom heaving.

"I am convinced," she whispered to me with an odd smile. "I ought not
to have needed the proof. I am convinced."

With that she turned a little on one side, and Marston resumed:

"That proves how little Mr. Buckler is acquainted with Lady Tracy."

He spoke as though I had been endeavouring to persuade the company
that I was intimate with his sister; he almost challenged me to
contradict him. I could not but admire the effrontery of the man in
carrying off the exposure of his falsity with so high a head, and I
surmised that he had some new contrivance in his mind whereby he might
subsequently set himself right with Ilga. One thing, however, was
apparent to me: that he had no suspicion of his sister's acquaintance
with Count Lukstein.

"It was on the fourteenth that Betty set out for France," he once more
declared, and so walked away.

"Where she married most happily three months later," sniggered
Culverton. "As you say, madame, it is a very sad story."

The Countess laughed.

"She was not over-constant to her rebel."

"In the matter of the affections," replied Culverton, "Lady Tracy was
ever my Lady Bountiful."

It seemed to me that the Countess turned a shade paler, but any
inference which I might have drawn adverse to myself from that was
prevented by a proposal which she presently mooted. For some other of
our friends joining us about this time, she proposed for a frolic that
the party should take chairs and immediately invade my lodgings.
Needless to say, I most heartily seconded the proposition, apologising
at the same time for the poor hospitality which the suddenness of the
invitation compelled me to offer.

Since by chance I had the key in my pocket, we entered from the Park
by the little door in the wall of the garden. I mention this because I
was waked up about the middle of the night by the sound of this door
banging to and fro against the jambs, and I believed that I must have
failed to lock it after I had let my friends into the garden, the door
having neither latch nor bolt, but was secured only by the lock. For
awhile I lay in bed striving to shut my ears to the sound. But the
wind was high, and, moreover, blew straight into the room through the
open window, so that I could not but listen, and in the end grew very
wakeful. The sounds were irregularly spaced according to the lulls of
the wind. Now the door would flap to three or four times in quick
succession, short and sharp as the crack of a pistol; now it would
stand noiseless for a time while I waited and waited for it to slam.
At last I could endure the worry of it no longer, and hastily donning
some clothes, I clattered downstairs.

The moon was shining fitfully through a scurrying rack of clouds, but
as I always placed the key of the door upon the mantel-shelf of the
larger parlour, and thus knew exactly where to lay my hand on it, I
did not trouble to strike a light, to which omission I owed my life,
and, indeed, more than my life. I stumbled past the furniture, crossed
the garden, locked the door, and got me back to bed.

In a few moments I fell asleep, but by a chance association of
ideas--for I think that the banging of the postern must have set my
thoughts that way--I began, for the first time since I came to London,
to dream once more of the door in Lukstein Castle, and to see it open,
and open noiselessly across the world. For the first time in the
history of my nightmare fancies, that door swung back against the
wall. It swung heavily, and the sound of the collision shook me to the
centre. I woke trembling in every limb. It was early morning, the sun
being risen, and, to my amazement, through the open window I heard the
postern bang against the jamb.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                       A GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK.


Outside the boughs tossed blithely in the golden air; the wind piped
among the leaves, and the birds called cheerily. But for me the
morning was empty of comfort. For the recurrence of this dream filled
me with an uncontrollable terror; I felt like one who gets him to bed
of a night in the pride of strength, and wakes in the morning to see
the stains of an old disease upon his skin. I looked back upon those
first months of agony in Italy; I remembered how I had dreaded the
coming of night and the quiet shadows of evening; how each day, from
the moment I rose from bed, appeared to me as no more than night's
forerunner. Into such desperate straits did I fall that I was seized
with a wild foreboding that this period of torture was destined to
return upon me again and again in some inevitable cycle of fate.

There seemed indeed but one chance for me: to secure the pardon of
Ilga! It was only on her account that I felt remorse. I had realised
that from the beginning. And I determined to seek her out that very
day, unbosom myself of my passion, and confess the injury which I had
done her.

It may be remembered that I was on the brink of the confession when
Marston ascended the stairs at the apartment of the Countess, and
interrupted me. Since then, though I had enjoyed opportunities enough,
I had kept silence; for it was always my habit, due, I fancy, to a
certain retiring timidity which I had not as yet thoroughly mastered,
to wait somewhat slavishly upon circumstances, rather than to direct
my wits to disposing the circumstances in the conjunction best suited
to my end. Before I spoke or acted, I needed ever "the confederate
season," as Shakespeare has it. Now, however, I determined to take the
matter into my own hands, and tarry no longer for the opportune
accident. So, leaving orders with my servants that they should procure
a locksmith and have the lock of the garden door repaired, I set out
and walked to Pall Mall.

To my grief, I discovered that I had tarried too long. Countess
Lukstein, the servant told me--he was not Otto--had left London early
that morning on a visit into the country. A letter, however, had been
written to me. It was handed to me at the door, since the messenger
had not yet started to deliver it. With the handwriting I was
unfamiliar, and I turned at once to the signature. It was only
natural, I assured myself, that Mademoiselle Durette should write;
Ilga would no doubt be busy over the arrangements for her departure.
But none the less I experienced a lively disappointment that she had
not spared a moment to pen the missive herself. Mademoiselle Durette
informed me that news had arrived from Lukstein which compelled them
to return shortly to the Tyrol, and that consequently they had
journeyed that morning into the country, in order to pay a visit which
they had already put off too long. The Countess would be absent for
the space of a fortnight, but would return to London without fail to
take fitting leave of her friends.

The first three days of her absence lagged by with a most tedious
monotony. It seems to me now that I spent them entirely in marching
backwards and forwards on the pavement of Pall Mall. Only one thing,
indeed, afforded me any interest--the door in my garden wall. For
there was nothing whatever amiss with the lock, and on no subsequent
night did it fly open. I closely examined my servants to ascertain
whether any one of them had made use of it for egress, but they all
strenuously denied that they had left the house that night, and I was
driven to the conclusion that I had turned the key before closing the
door, so that the lock had missed its socket in the post.

On the fourth day, however, an incident occurred which made the next
week fly like a single hour, and brought me to long most ardently, not
merely that the Countess might lengthen her visit, but that she would
depart from England without so much as passing through London on her
way. For as I waked that morning at a somewhat late hour, I perceived
Marston sitting patiently on the edge of my bed. He was in
riding-dress, with his boots and breeches much stained with mud, and
he carried a switch in his hand. For a while I lay staring at him in
silent surprise. He did not notice that I was awake, and sat absorbed
in a moody reverie. At last I stirred, and he turned towards me. I
noticed that his face was dirty and leaden, his eyes heavy and tired.

"You sleep very well," said he.

"Have you waited long?"

"An hour. I was anxious to speak to you, so I came up to your room."

"We can talk the matter over at breakfast," said I cheerfully, though,
to tell the truth, I felt exceedingly uneasy at the strangeness of his
manner. And I made a movement as though I would rise; but he budged
not so much as an inch.

"I don't fancy we shall breakfast together," said he, with a slow
smile, and after a pause: "you sleep very well," he repeated,
"considering that you have a crime upon your conscience."

I started up in my bed.

"Lie down!" he snarled, with a sudden fierceness, and with a queer
sense of helplessness I obeyed him.

"That's right," he continued, with a patronising smile. "Keep quiet
and listen!"

For the moment, however, there was nothing for me to listen to, since
Marston sat silent, watching with evident enjoyment the concern which
I betrayed. He had chosen the easiest way with me. The least hint of
condescension in another's voice always made me conscious in the
extreme of my own shortcomings, and I felt that I lay helpless in some
new toils of his weaving.

At last he spoke.

"You killed Count Lukstein."

I was prepared for the accusation by his previous words.

"Well?" I asked, in as natural a tone as I could command.

"Well," he returned, "I would not be too hard with you. What if you
returned to Cumberland to-day, and stayed there? Your estates, I am
sure, will thrive all the better for their master's supervision."

"My estates," I replied, "have a steward to supervise them. Their
master will return to them at no man's bidding."

"It is a pity, a very great pity," said he thoughtfully, flicking his
switch in the air. "For not only are you unwise in your own interests,
but you drive me to a proceeding which I assure you is very repugnant
and distasteful to my nature. Really, Mr. Buckler, you should have
more consideration for others."

The smooth irony of his voice began to make my anger rise.

"And what is this proceeding?" I inquired.

"It would be my duty," he began, and I interrupted him.

"I can quite understand, then, that it is repugnant to your nature."

He smiled indulgently.

"It is a common fault of the very young to indulge in dialectics at
inappropriate seasons. It would be my duty, unless you retired
obediently to Cumberland, to share my knowledge with the lady you have
widowed."

"I shall save you that trouble," said I, much relieved, "for I am in
the mind to inform the Countess of the fact myself. Indeed, I called
at her lodging the other day with that very object."

"But the Countess had left, and you didn't." He turned on me sharply;
the words were more a question than a statement. I remained silent,
and he smiled again. "As it is, I shall inform her. That will make all
the difference."

I needed no arguments to convince me of the truth of what he said. The
confession must come from me, else was I utterly undone. I sat up and
looked at him defiantly.

"So be it, then! It is a race between us which shall reach her first."

"Pardon me," he explained, in the same unruffled, condescending tone;
"there will be no race, for I happen to know where the Countess is
a-visiting, and you, I fancy, do not. I have the advantage of you in
that respect."

I glanced at him doubtfully. Did he seek to bluff me into yielding, I
wondered? But he sat on the bedside, carelessly swinging a leg, with
so easy a composure that I could not hesitate to credit his words.
However, I feigned not to believe him, and telling him as much, fell
back upon my pillow with a show of indifference, and turned my face
from him to the wall, as though I would go to sleep.

"You do believe me," he insisted suavely. "You do indeed. Besides, I
can give you proof of my knowledge. I am so certain that I know the
lady's whereabouts, and that you do not, that I will grant you four
days' grace to think the matter over. As I say, I have no desire to
press you hard, and to be frank with you, I am not quite satisfied as
to how my information would be received." I turned back towards him,
and noticing the movement, he continued: "Oh, make no mistake, Mr.
Buckler! The disclosure will ruin your chance most surely. But will it
benefit me? That is the point. However, I must take the risk, and
will, if you persist in your unwisdom."

I lay without answering him, turning over in my mind the only plan I
could think of, which offered me a chance of outwitting him.

"You might send word to me, four days from now, which alternative you
prefer. To-day is Monday. On Thursday I shall expect to hear from
you."

He uncrossed his legs as he spoke, and the scabbard of his sword
rattled against the frame of the bed. The sound, chiming appositely to
my thoughts, urged me to embrace my plan, and I did embrace it, though
reluctantly. After all, I thought, 'twas a dishonourable wooing that
Marston was about. So I said, with a sneer:

"Men have been called snivelling curs for better conduct than yours."

"By pedantic schoolboys," he replied calmly. "But then the schoolboys
have been whipped for their impertinence."

With that he drew the bed-clothes from my chest, and raised his whip
in the air. I clenched my fists, and did not stir a muscle. I could
have asked for nothing that was more like to serve me. I made a
mistake, however, in not feigning some slight resistance, and he
suddenly flung back the clothes upon me.

"The ruse was ingenious," he said, with a smile, "but I cannot gratify
you to the extent you wish. In a week's time I shall have the greatest
pleasure in crossing swords with you. But until then we must be
patient."

My patience was exhausted already, and raising myself upon my elbow, I
loaded him with every vile epithet I could lay my tongue to. He
listened with extraordinary composure and indifference, stripping off
his gloves the while, until I stopped from sheer lack of breath.

"It's all very true," he remarked quietly. "I have nothing to urge
against the matter of your speech. Your voice is, I think,
unnecessarily loud, but that is a small defect, and easily reformed."

The utter failure of my endeavour to provoke him to an encounter,
combined with the contemptuous insolence of his manner, lifted me to
the highest pitch of fury.

"You own your cowardice, then!" I cried, fairly beside myself with
rage. "You have plotted against me from the outset like a common,
rascally intriguer. No device was too mean for you to adopt. Why, the
mere lie about the miniature----"

I stopped abruptly, seeing that he turned on me a sudden questioning
look.

"Miniature?" he exclaimed. "What miniature?"

I remembered the pledge which I had given to Ilga, and continued
hurriedly, seeking to cover up my slip:

"I could not have believed there was such underhand treachery in the
world."

"Then now," said he, "you are better informed," and on the instant his
composure gave way. It seemed as though he could no longer endure the
strain which his repression threw on him. Passion leaped into his
face, and burned there like a flame; his voice vibrated and broke with
the extremity of feeling; his very limbs trembled.

"'Tis all old talk to me--ages old and hackneyed. You are only
repeating my thoughts, the thoughts I have lived with through this
damned night. But I have killed them. Understand that!" His voice
shrilled to a wild laugh. "I have killed them. Do you think I don't
know it's cowardly? But there's a prize to be won, and I tell you"--he
raised his hands above his head, and spoke with a sort of devilish
exaltation--"I tell you, were my mother alive, and did she stand
between Ilga and me, I would trample her as surely as I mean to
trample you."

"Damn you!" I cried, wrought to a very hysteria by his manner. "Don't
call her by that name!"

"And you!" he said, and with an effort he recovered his self-control.
"And you, are your hands quite clean, my little parson? You kill the
husband secretly, and then woo the wife with all the innocence and
timidity in the world. Is there no treachery in that?"

I was completely staggered by his words and the contempt with which
they were spoken. That any one should conceive my lack of assurance in
paying my addresses to be a deliberate piece of deceit, had never so
much as entered my head. I had always been too busy upbraiding myself
upon that very score. Yet I could not but realise now how plausible
the notion appeared. 'Twas plain that Marston believed I had been
carefully playing a part; and I wondered: Would Ilga imagine that,
too, when I told her my story? Would she believe that my deference and
hesitation had been assumed to beguile her? I gazed at Marston,
horror-stricken by the conjecture.

"Ay!" said he, nodding an answer to my look, "we have found each other
out. Come, let us be frank! We are just a couple of dishonest
scoundrels, and preaching befits neither of us."

He moved away from the bedside, and picked up his whip which he had
dropped on to the floor. It lay close to the window, and as he raised
himself again, he looked out across the garden.

"You overlook the Park," he said in an altered tone. "It is very
strange."

At the time I was so overwhelmed by the construction which he had
placed upon my behaviour, that I did not carefully consider what he
meant. Thinking over the remark subsequently, however, I inferred from
it, what indeed I had always suspected, that Marston had no knowledge
his interviews and promenades with the Countess had taken place within
sight of my windows.

He took up his hat, and opened the door.

"I told you fortune would give me my revenge," he said.

"You are leaving your gloves," said I, awakened to the necessity of
action by his leave-taking.

The gloves were lying on the edge of the bed. Thanking me politely, he
returned, and stooped forward to take them. I gathered them in my hand
and tossed them into his face. His head went back as though I had
struck him a blow; he flushed to a dark crimson, and I saw his fingers
tighten about his whip. The next moment, however, he gave a little
amused laugh.

"There is much of the child lingering in you, Mr. Buckler," he said.
"'Tis a very amiable quality, and I wonder not that it gets you
friends. Indeed, I should have rejoiced to have been reckoned among
them myself, had such a consummation been possible."

He spoke the last sentence with something of sincerity; but it only
served to increase my rage.

"You cannot disregard the insult," I cried.

"Why not? There are no witnesses."

"There shall be witnesses and to spare on the next occasion," I
replied, baffled by his coolness. He shrugged his shoulders.

"You have four days to bring about that occasion. Afterwards I shall
seek it myself."

I had four days wherein to discover the whereabouts of Countess
Lukstein, or to compel Marston to an encounter. The one alternative
seemed impossible; the other, as I had evidence enough, little short
of impossible. Four days! The words beat into my brain like dull
strokes of a hammer. I could not think for their pressing repetition.
I was, moreover, bitterly sensible that I had myself placed the weapon
for my destruction into Marston's hand.

For there was no doubting that he had obtained his knowledge from his
sister. I had plumed myself somewhat upon my diplomacy in revealing my
secret to her, and in using it as a means to force her to deny my
acquaintance. Now, when it was all too late, I saw what a mistake my
cleverness had been. For not only through Lady Tracy's swoon had I
missed my particular aim, but I had presented to my antagonist a
veritable Excalibur, and kept not so much as a poniard for my own
defence. Even then, however, I did not realise the entirety of the
mistake, and had no inkling of the price I was to pay for it.

The first step which I took that morning was to make inquiries at the
lodging of Countess Lukstein. The servants, however, whom she had left
behind, knew--or rather pretended to know--nothing of their mistress'
journey, beyond what they had previously told me.

Since, then, it was impossible to search the length and breadth of
England within four days, I was thrown back upon my last resource. It
was discreditable enough even to my fevered mind; but I could see no
other way out of the difficulty, and at all costs I was resolved that
Marston should not relate his story to the Countess until I had
related mine. For even if he was minded to speak the truth, it would
make all the difference, as he justly said, which of us twain spoke
the first. I felt certain, moreover, that he would not speak the
truth. For, to begin with, he would ascribe my timidity to a
carefully-laid plan, since that was his genuine conviction; and again,
remembering the story which I believed him to have invented concerning
the miniature, I had no doubt that he would so embroider his actual
knowledge that I should figure on the pattern as a common assassin.
How much of the real history of Count Lukstein's death he knew, of
course I was not aware, nor did I trouble myself to consider.

My conclusion, accordingly, was to fix upon him within the next four
days an affront so public and precise that he must needs put the
business without delay to the arbitrament of swords; in which case, I
was determined, one or the other of us should find his account.

To this end I spent the day amidst the favourite resorts of the town,
passing from the Piazza to the Exchange in search of him; thence back
to St. Paul's Church, thence to Hyde Park, from the Park across the
water to the Spring Garden at Lambeth, and thence again to Barn Elms.
By this time the afternoon was far advanced, and bethinking me that he
might by chance be dining abroad, I sought out the taverns which he
most frequented: Pontac's in Abchurch Lane, Locket's, and the
"Rummer." But this pursuit was as fruitless as the former, and without
waiting to bite a morsel myself, I hurried to make the round of the
chocolate-houses. Marston, however, was not to be discovered in any of
them, nor had word been heard of him that day. At the "Spread Eagle,"
in Covent Garden, however, I fell across Lord Culverton, and framing
an excuse persuaded him to bear me company; which he did with great
good-nature, for he was engaged at ombre, a game to which he was much
addicted. At the "Cocoa Tree" in Pall Mall, I secured Elmscott by a
like pretext, and asked him if he knew of another who was minded for a
frolic, and would make the fourth. He presented me immediately to a
Mr. Aglionby, a country gentleman of the neighbouring county to my
own, but newly come to town, and very boisterous and talkative. I
thought him the very man for my purpose, since he would be like to
spread the report of the quarrel, and joining him to my company I
summoned a hackney coach, and we drove to the Lincoln's Inn Fields. A
hundred yards from Marston's house I dismissed the coach and sent
Elmscott and the rest of the party forward, myself following a little
way behind. I had previously instructed Elmscott in the part which I
desired him to play. Briefly, he was to inquire whether Marston was
within; and if, as I suspected, that was the case, to seek admittance
on the plea that he wished to introduce a friend from the country, in
the person of Mr. Aglionby. Whereupon I was to join myself quietly to
the party, and so secure an entrance into the house in company with
sufficient witnesses to render a duel inevitable upon any insult.

Marston, however, was prepared against all contingencies, for four
servants appeared in answer to my cousin's knocking; and as they
opened the door no further than would allow one person to enter at a
time, it was impossible even to carry the entrance by a rush. My
friends, however, had no thought of doing that, since one of the
servants came forward into the street and gravely informed them that
his master had fallen suddenly sick of an infectious fever, and lay
abed in a frenzy of delirium. Even as the fellow spoke, a noise of
shouts and wild laughter came through the open door. My companions
shuddered at the sounds, and with a few hasty expressions of regret,
hurried away from the neighbourhood. I ran after them, shouting out
that it was all a lie; that Marston had not one-tenth of the fever
which possessed me, and that his illness was a coward's dissimulation
to avoid a just chastisement. However, I had better have spared my
breath; for my words had no effect but to alienate their good-will,
and they presently parted from me with every appearance of relief.

I walked home falling from depth to depth of despondency. The summer
evening, pleasant with delicate colours, came down upon the town; the
air was charged and lucent with a cool dew; the sweet odours of the
country--nowhere, I think, so haunting, so bewitching to the senses as
when one catches them astray in the heart of a city--were fragrant in
the nostrils, so that the passers-by walked with a new alertness in
their limbs, and a renewed youth in their faces; and as I stood at the
door of my lodging, a great home-sickness swept in upon my soul, a
longing for the dark fields in the starshine and the silent hills
about them. I was seized with a masterful impulse to saddle my horse
and ride out northwards through the night, while the lights grew
blurred and misty behind me, and the fresh wind blew out of the
heavens on my face. I doubt not, however, that the desire would have
passed ere I had got far, and that I should have felt much the same
desolate home-sickness for the cobbles and dust of London as I felt
now for Cumberland.

However, I did not test the strength of my impulse; for while I stood
upon the steps debating whether I should go or stay, I perceived one
of Marston's servants coming towards me down the street. With a grave
deference, under which, rightly or wrongly, I seemed to detect a
certain irony, he gave me his master's compliments, and handed me a
little stick of wood. There was a single notch cut deep into the
stick. I understood it to signify that one day out of the four had
passed, and--so strangely is a man constituted--this gibing menace
determined me to stay. It turned my rage, with its fitful alternatives
of passion and despair, into a steady hate, just as one may stir
together the scattered, spurting embers of a fire into one glowing
flame.

Late that evening came Lord Elmscott to see me, and asked me with a
concern which I little expected, after his curt desertion of a few
hours agone, what dispute had arisen between Marston and myself. I
told him as much as I could without revealing the ground of our
quarrel; that Marston had certain knowledge concerning myself which he
was minded to impart to Countess Lukstein; that I was fully sensible
the Countess ought to be informed of the matter, but that I wished to
carry the information myself; that I doubted Marston would not speak
the truth, but would distort the story to suit his own ends. The rest
of the events I related to him in the order in which they had
occurred.

"But it may be," he objected, "that Marston has really fallen sick."

For reply, I handed him the stick of wood, and told him how it had
been delivered.

"The fellow's cunning," he observed, "for not only is he out of your
reach, but he locks your mouth. You cannot urge that a man refuses to
meet you when he lies abed with a fever, and you cannot prove that the
sickness is feigned."

For awhile he sat silent, drumming with his fingers on the table. Then
he asked:

"How comes it that Marston knows of this secret?"

"His sister must have told him," I replied.

"His sister!" he repeated. "Why, you never met her before this month."

"I told her on the first occasion that I met her. She was in some
measure concerned in it."

He looked at me shrewdly.

"She was engaged to Sir Julian Harnwood," said he.

I nodded assent.

He brought his fist down on the table with a bang.

"The trouble springs from that cursed journey of yours to Bristol. I
warned you harm would come of it. Had Lady Tracy any reason to fear
you?"

"None," I replied promptly.

"Or any reason to fear Countess Lukstein?"

"None," I replied again; but after a moment's thought I added: "But
she did fear her. I am sure of it."

He sprang to his feet.

"Three days!" he cried. "Three days! We may yet outwit him."

"How?" I asked, with the greatest eagerness.

"I'll not tell you now. 'Tis no more than a fancy. Wait you here your
three days. Keep a strict watch on Marston's house. 'Tis unlikely that
he will move before the time, since he would rather you spared him the
telling of the story; but there's no trusting him. On Thursday I will
come to you here before midnight; so wait for me, unless, of course,
Marston leaves before then. In that case, follow him, but send word
here of your direction. You must be wary; the fellow's cunning, and
may get free from his house in some disguise."

With that he clapped his hat on his head, and rushed out into the
street. For the next three days I saw no more of him. About Marston's
house I kept strict watch as he enjoined. There were but two
entrances: one in the façade of the building towards the Square, and
the second in a little side-street which ran along a wall of the
house. Few, however, either came in or out of these entrances, for the
rumour of his sickness was spread abroad in the town, and even his
tradesmen dreaded to catch the infection. I was, moreover, certain
that he had not escaped, since each evening his servant came to my
lodging and left a stick notched according to the number of days.

On the morning of the Thursday, being the fourth day and my last of
grace, I doubled the sentinels about the house, hiring for the purpose
some fellows of whom my people had cognizance. At the entrances,
however, I planted my own men, and bidding them mark carefully the
faces of such as passed out, in whatever dress they might be clothed,
I retired to a coign of vantage at some distance whence I could keep
an eye upon the house, and yet not obtrude myself upon the notice of
those within it. In a little alley hard by I had stationed a groom
with the swiftest horse that I possessed, so that I might be prepared
to set off in pursuit of my antagonist the moment word of his
departure was brought to me.

Thus, then, I waited, my heart throbbing faster and faster as the day
wore on, and every nerve in my body a jerking pulse. At last my
excitement mastered me; a clock in a neighbouring belfry chimed the
hour of four, and I crept out of my corner and mingled with the
gipsies and mountebanks who were encamped with their booths in the
centre of the Square. Amongst this motley crowd I thought myself safe
from detection, and moved, though still observing some caution,
towards the front of Marston's house. It wore almost an air of
desertion; over many of the windows the curtains were drawn, and never
a face showed through the panes of the rest. I could see that my men
were still stationed at their posts, and I began to think that we must
needs prolong our vigil into the night. Shortly after six, however,
the hall-door was opened, and the same servant who brought me the
sticks of an evening came out on to the steps. He looked neither to
the right nor to the left, but without a moment's hesitation stepped
across the road, and threading the tents and booths, came directly
towards me. It was evident that I had been remarked from some quarter
of the house, and so I made no effort at further concealment, but
rather went forward to meet him. With the same grave politeness which
had always characterised him, he offered me a letter.

"My master," said he, "bade me deliver this into your hand two hours
after he had left."

"Two hours after he had left!" I gasped, well-nigh stunned by his
words.

"Two hours," he replied. "But I have been a trifle remiss, I fear me,
and for that I would crave your pardon. It is now two hours and a half
since my master departed."

He made a low bow and went back to the house, leaving me stupidly
staring at the letter.


"My fever," it ran, "is happily so abated that I am to be carried this
instant into the country. There will be no danger, I am assured,
providing _that I am well wrapped up_. Au revoir! Or is it
adieu?--HUGH MARSTON."


The sarcasm made my blood boil in my veins, and I ran to the sentinels
I had posted before the entrances, rating them immeasurably for their
negligence. They heard me with all the marks of surprise, and
expostulated in some heat. No one, they maintained, who in any way
resembled Mr. Marston had left the house; they had watched most
faithfully the day long, without a bite of food to stay their
stomachs. Somewhat relieved by their words, I took no heed of their
forward demeanour, but gave them to understand that if their words
were true, they should eat themselves into a stupor an they were so
disposed. For I began to fancy that the letter was a ruse to induce me
to withdraw my watchmen from the neighbourhood, and thus open a free
passage for my rival's escape.

With the view of confirming the suspicion, I ordered them to give me a
strict and particular account of all persons who had come from the
house that day. For those who had kept guard before the front-door the
task was simple enough. A few gentlemen had called; but of them only
one, whom they imagined to be the physician, had entered the hall. He
had reappeared again within half an hour or so of his going in, and,
with that exception, no person had departed by this way.

The side-door, however, had been more frequently used. Now and again a
servant had come out, or a tradesman had delivered his wares. At one
time a cart had driven up, a bale of carpets had been carried into the
house, and a second bale fetched out.

"What!" I cried, interrupting the speaker. "A bale of carpets? At what
time?"

He knew not exactly, but 'twas between three and four, for he heard a
clock chime the latter hour some while afterwards.

"You dolt!" I cried. "He was in the carpets."

"I know nought of that," he answered sullenly. "You only bade me note
faces, and I noted them that carried the carpets. You said nothing
about noting carpets."

The fellow was justly indignant, I felt; for, indeed, I doubt whether
I should have suspected the bale myself but for Marston's letter. So I
dismissed the men from their work, and rode slowly back to my lodging.
Marston had three hours' start of me already; by midnight he would
have nine, even supposing that Elmscott arrived with trustworthy
intelligence. What chance had I of catching, him?

I walked about the room consumed with a fire of impatience. I seemed
to hear the beat of hoofs as Marston rode upon the way; and the
further he went into the distance, the louder and louder grew the
sound, until I was forced to sit down and clasp my head between my
hands in a mad fear lest it should burst with the racket. And then I
saw him--saw him, as in a crystal, spurring along a white, winding
road; and strangely enough the road was familiar to me, so that I knew
each stretch that lay ahead of him, before it came in view and was
mirrored in my imaginings. I followed him through village and wood;
now a river would flash for a second beneath a bridge; now a hill lift
in front, and I noticed the horse slacken speed and the rider lean
forward in the saddle. Then for a moment he would stand outlined
against the sky on the crest, then dip into a hollow, and out again
across a heath. At last he came towards the gate of a town. How I
prayed that the gate would be barred! We were too distant to ascertain
that as yet. He drove his spurs deeper into the flanks of his horse.
The gate was open! He dashed at full gallop down a street; turned into
a broad lane at right angles; the beat of hoofs became louder and
louder in my ears. Of a sudden he drew rein, and the sound stopped. He
sprang from his horse, mounted a staircase, and burst into a room. I
heard the door rattle as it was flung open. I knew the room. I
recognised the clock in the corner. I gazed about me for the
Countess--and Elmscott's hand fell upon my shoulder.

"Why, lad, art all in the dark?"

"I have just reached the light," I cried, springing up in a frenzy of
excitement. "The Countess Lukstein lies at the 'Thatched House
Tavern,' in Bristol town."

"Damn!" said Elmscott. "I have just ridden thither and back to find
that out."

And he fell swearing and cursing in a chair, whilst I rang for candles
to be brought.



                             CHAPTER XV.

                      THE HALF-WAY HOUSE AGAIN.


I had previously given orders that my horse should be kept ready
saddled in the stable, and I now bade the servant bring it round to
the door.

"Nay, there's no need to hurry," said Elmscott comfortably, throwing
his legs across a chair. "Marston will never start before the
morning."

"He has started," I replied. "He has seven hours to the good already.
He started between three and four of the afternoon."

"But you were to follow him," he exclaimed, starting up. "You knew the
road he was going. You were to follow him."

"He slipped through my fingers," said I, with some shame, for Elmscott
was regarding me with the same doubtful look which I had noticed so
frequently upon Jack Larke's face. "And as for knowing his road, 'twas
a mere guess that flashed on me at the moment of your arrival."

"Well, well," said Elmscott, with a shrug, "order some supper, and if
you can lend me a horse we will follow in half an hour."

Udal fetched a capon and a bottle of canary from the larder, and
together we made short work of the meal. For, in truth, I was no less
famished than Elmscott, though it needed his appetite to remind me of
the fact. Meanwhile, I related in what manner Marston had escaped me,
and handed him the letter which the servant had delivered to me in the
Lincoln's Inn Fields.

"In a bale of carpets!" cried Elmscott, with a fit of laughter which
promised to choke him. "Gadsbud, but the fellow deserves to win! Well
wrapped up! Morrice, Morrice, I fear me he'll trip up your heels!"

Elmscott's hilarity, it may easily be understood, had little in it
which could commend it to me, and I asked him abruptly by what means
he had discovered that the Countess Lukstein was visiting in Bristol.

"I'll tell you that as we go," said he, with a mouth full of capon.
"At present I have but one object, to fill my stomach."

After we had set forth, which we did a short while before
midnight--for I heard a clock tell that hour as we rode through the
village of Knightsbridge--he explained how the conjecture had grown up
in his mind.

"Marston came to you in the early morning, a week after the Countess
had left London. He was muddied and soiled, as though he had ridden
hard all night. In fact, he told you as much himself, and gave you the
reason: that he had been fighting out his battle with himself. I
reasoned, therefore, that he had only heard of this secret, whatever
it may be, which put you at his mercy, the evening before. Now that
information came from his sister. It concerned Countess Lukstein. Lady
Tracy, you told me, for some reason feared the Countess. I argued then
that it could only be this fear which made her write to her brother.
But then she had been in England a month already. How was it that she
had not revealed her anxiety before? And further, how was it that
Marston knew what you and every one else was ignorant of--where
Countess Lukstein was staying? Lady Tracy, I was aware, had gone down
to the family estate near Bristol; and I inferred in consequence that
she had seen the Countess in the neighbourhood, that her alarm had
been increased by the sight, and that she had promptly communicated
her fears to her brother; which fears Marston made use of as a weapon
against you. The period of Countess Lukstein's departure jumped most
aptly with my conjecture, and I thought it would be worth while to
ride to Bristol and discover the truth."

The notion seemed to me, upon his recounting it, so reasonable and
clear that I wondered why it had never occurred to me, and expressed
as much to Elmscott.

He laughed in reply.

"A man in love," said he, "is ever a damned fool. He smothers his mind
in a petticoat."

The night was very open, the moon being in the last quarter, and the
road, from the dry summer, much harder than when I had travelled over
it in the previous year; so that we made a good pace, and drew rein
before the "Golden Crown" at Newbury about seven of the morning. There
we discovered that two travellers had arrived at the inn a little
after midnight with their horses very wearied; but, since Thursday was
market-day, and the inn consequently full, they had remained but a
little while to water their beasts, and had then pushed on towards
Hungerford. Elmscott was for breakfasting at the "Golden Crown," but I
bethought me that Hungerford was but nine miles distant, and that
Marston was most like to have lain the night there. Consequently, if
we pressed forward with all speed, there was a good chance that we
might overtake my rival or ever he had started from the town; in which
case Elmscott, at all events, would be able to take his meal at his
leisure. To this view my companion assented, though with some
reluctance, and we set off afresh across Wickham Heath. In a short
time we came in view of the "Half-way House," and I related to
Elmscott my adventure with the landlord. As we rode past it, however,
I perceived the worthy man going towards the stable with a bucket of
water in his hand, and I hastily reined up.

"What is it?" asked Elmscott.

"The fellow has no horses of his own," I replied. "It follows he must
needs have guests."

I dismounted as I spoke, and hailed the man.

"Potatoe!" I cried to him.

For a moment he looked at me in amazement, and then:

"Dang it!" he shouted. "The play-actor!" And he dropped the bucket,
and ran towards me doubling his fists.

"I have a pass-word for you," I said, when he was near. "It lags a
year behind the time, it's true--Wastwater. So you see the mare was
meant for me no less than your slugs."

He stopped, and answered doggedly:

"Well, 'twas your fault, master. You should have passed the word. The
mare was left with me in strict trust, and you were ready enough with
your pistol to make an honest man believe you meant no good."

Elmscott broke in impatiently upon his apology with a demand for
breakfast. His wife, the landlord assured us, was preparing breakfast
even now for two gentlemen who had come over-night, and we might join
them if they had no objection to our company. I asked him at what hour
these gentlemen had ridden up to the inn, and he answered about one of
the morning. I could not repress an exclamation of joy. Elmscott gave
me a warning look and dismounted; he bade the landlord see the horses
groomed and fed, and joined me in the road.

"Their faces will be a fine sight," said he, rubbing his hands, "when
we take our seats at the table. A guinea-piece will be white in
comparison." And he fell to devising plans by which our surprise might
produce the most startling effect.

Strangely enough, it occurred to neither of us at the time that the
surest method of outwitting Marston was to leave him undisturbed to
his breakfast and ride forward to Bristol. But during these last days
the anxiety and tension of my mind had so fanned my hatred of the man,
that I could think of nothing but crossing swords with him. We were
both, in a word, absorbed in a single quest; from wishing to outstrip,
we had come to wish merely to overtake.

Elmscott gave orders to the innkeeper that he should inform us as soon
as the two travellers were set down to their meal; and for the space
of half an hour we strolled up and down, keeping the inn ever within
our view. At the end of that time I perceived a cloud of dust at a
bend of the road in the direction of Hungerford. It came rolling
towards us, and we saw that it was raised by a berlin which was drawn
at a great speed by six horses.

"They travel early," said Elmscott carelessly. I looked at the coach
again, but this time with more attention.

"Quick!" I cried of a sudden, and drew Elmscott through an opening in
the hedge into the field that bordered the road. The next moment the
berlin dashed by.

"Did you see?" I asked. "Otto Krax was on the box."

"Ay!" he answered. "And Countess Lukstein within the carriage. What
takes her back so fast, I wonder? She will be in London two days
before her time."

We came out again from behind the hedge, and watched the carriage
dwindling to a speck along the road.

"If you will, Morrice," said my cousin, with a great reluctance, "you
can let Marston journey to Bristol, and yourself follow the Countess
to town."

"Nay!" said I shortly. "I have a mind to settle my accounts with
Marston, and not later than this morning."

He brightened wonderfully at the words.

"'Twere indeed more than a pity to miss so promising an occasion. But
as I am your Mentor for the nonce, I deemed it right to mention the
alternative--though I should have thought the less of you had you
taken my advice. Here comes the landlord to summon us to breakfast."

We followed him along the passage towards the kitchen. The door stood
half-opened, and peeping through the crack at the hinges, we could see
Marston and his friend seated at a table.

"Gentlemen," said Elmscott, stepping in with the politest bow, "will
you allow two friends to join your repast?"

Marston was in the act of raising a tankard to his lips; but save that
his face turned a shade paler, and his hand trembled so that a few
drops of the wine were spilled upon the cloth, he betrayed none of the
disappointment which my cousin had fondly anticipated. He looked at us
steadily for a second, and then drained the tankard. His companion--a
Mr. Cuthbert Cliffe, with whom both Elmscott and myself were
acquainted--rose from his seat and welcomed us heartily. It was
evident that he was in the dark as to the object of our journey. We
seated ourselves opposite them on the other side of the table.
Elmscott was somewhat dashed by the prosaic nature of the reception,
and seemed at a loss how to broach the subject of the duel, when
Marston suddenly hissed at me:

"How the devil came you here?"

"On a magic carpet," replied Elmscott smoothly. "Like the Arabian, we
came upon a magic carpet."

Marston rose from the table and walked to the fireplace, where he
stood kicking the logs with the toe of his boot, and laughing to
himself in a short, affected way, as men are used who seek to cover up
a mortification. Then he turned again to me.

"Very well," he said, with a nod, "and the sooner the better. If Lord
Elmscott and Mr. Cliffe will arrange the details, I am entirely at
your service."

With that he set his hat carelessly on his head, and sauntered out of
the room. Mr. Cliffe looked at me in surprise.

"It is an old-standing quarrel between Mr. Buckler and your friend,"
Elmscott explained, "but certain matters, of which we need not speak,
have brought it to a head. Your friend would fain have deferred the
settlement for another week, but Mr. Buckler's engagements forbade the
delay."

So far he had got when a suspicion flashed into my head. Leaving
Elmscott to arrange the encounter with Mr. Cliffe, I hurried down the
passage and out on to the road. On neither side was Marston to be
seen, but I perceived that the stable door stood open. I looked
quickly to the priming of my pistol--for, knowing that the Great West
Road was infested by footpads and highwaymen, we had armed ourselves
with some care before leaving London--and took my station in the
middle of the way. Another minute and I should have been too late; for
Marston dashed out of the stable door, already mounted upon his horse.
He drove his spurs into its flanks, and rode straight at me. I had
just time to leap on one side. His riding-whip slashed across my face,
I heard him laugh with a triumphant mockery, and then I fired. The
horse bounded into the air with a scream of pain, sank on its
haunches, and rolled over on its side.

The noise of the shot brought our seconds to the door.

"Your friend seems in need of assistance," said Elmscott. For Marston
lay on the road struggling to free himself from the weight of the
horse. Cliffe loosened the saddle and helped Marston to his feet. Then
he drew aside and stood silent, looking at his companion with a
questioning disdain. Marston returned the look with a proud
indifference, which, in spite of myself, I could not but admire.

"There was more courage than cowardice in the act," said I, "to those
who understand it."

"I can do without your approbation," said Marston, flushing, as he
turned sharply upon me. Catching sight of my face, he smiled. "Did the
whip sting?" he asked.

I unsheathed my sword, and without another word we mounted the bank on
the left side of the road and passed on to the heath.

The seconds chose a spot about a hundred yards from the highway, where
the turf was level and smooth, and set us facing north and south, so
that neither might get advantage from the sun. The morning was very
clear and bright, with just here and there a feather of white cloud in
the blue of the sky; and our swords shone in the sunlight like darting
tongues of flame.

The encounter was of the shortest, since we were in no condition to
plan or execute the combinations of a cool and subtle attack, but
drove at each other with the utmost fury. Marston wounded me in the
forearm before ever I touched him. But a few seconds after that he had
pinked me, he laid his side open, and I passed my sword between his
ribs. He staggered backwards, swayed for a moment to and fro in an
effort to keep his feet; his knees gave under him, and he sank down
upon the heath, his fingers clasping and unclasping convulsively about
the pommel of his sword. Cliffe lifted him in his arms and strove to
staunch the blood, which was reddening through his shirt, while
Elmscott ran to the inn and hurried off to Hungerford for a surgeon.

For awhile I stood on my ground, idly digging holes in the grass with
the point of my rapier. Then Marston called me faintly, and I dropped
the sword and went to his side. His face was white and sweaty, and the
pupils of his eyes were contracted to pin-points.

I knelt down and bent my head close to his.

"So," he whispered, "luck sides with you after all. This time I
thought that I had won the vole."

He was silent for a minute or so, and then:

"I want to speak with you alone."

I took him from Cliffe's arms and supported his head upon my knee, he
pressing both his hands tightly upon his side.

"Betty is afraid," he continued, with a gasp between each word, as
soon as Cliffe had left us. "Betty is afraid, and her husband's a
fool."

The implied request, even at that moment, struck me as wonderfully
characteristic of the man. So long as his own desires were at stake he
disregarded his sister's fears; but no sooner had all chance of
gaining them failed, than his affection for her reasserted itself, and
even drove him to the length of asking help from his chief enemy.

"I will see that no harm comes to her."

"Promise!"

I promised, somehow touched by his trust in me.

"I knew you would," he said gratefully; and then, with a smile: "I am
sorry I hit you with my whip--Morrice. I could have loved you."

Again he lay silent, plucking at the grass with the fingers of his
left hand.

"Lift me higher! There is something else."

I raised his body as gently as I could; but nevertheless the rough
bandage which Cliffe had fastened over the wound became displaced with
the movement, and the blood burst out again, soaking through his
shirt.

"You spoke of a miniature----" he began, and then with a little
gasping sob he turned over in my arms, and fell forward on the grass
upon his face.

I called to Cliffe, who stood with his back towards us a little
distance off, and ran to where I had laid my coat and cravat before
the duel commenced. For the cravat was of soft muslin, and might, I
fancied, be of some use as lint. With this in my hand, I hurried back.
Cliffe was lifting Marston from the ground.

"Best let him lie there quietly," I said.

He turned the body over upon its back.

"Aye!" he answered, "under God's sky."

I dropped on my knees beside the corpse, felt the pulse, laid my ear
to the heart. The sun shone hot and bright upon his dead face. Cliffe
took a handkerchief from his pocket, and gently placed it over
Marston's eyes.

"This means a year on the Continent for you, my friend," he said.


When Elmscott and the surgeon arrived some half an hour later, they
found me eating my breakfast in the kitchen.

"Where is he?" they asked.

"Who?" said I.

I remember vaguely that the surgeon looked at me with a certain
anxiety, and made a remark to Elmscott. Then they went out of the room
again. How long it was before they returned I have no notion. Elmscott
brought in my coat, hat, and sword, and I got up to put them on; but
the doctor checked him, and setting me again in my chair, bound up my
arm, not without some resistance from me, for I saw that his hands
were dabbled with Marston's blood.

"Now," said he to Elmscott, "if you will help, we will get him
upstairs to bed."

"No!" said I, suddenly recollecting all that had occurred. "I made
Marston a promise. I must keep it! I must ride to town and keep it!"

"It will be the best way, if he can," said Elmscott. "He will be taken
here for a surety. I have sent a messenger to Bristol with the news."

The surgeon eased my arm into the sleeve of my coat, and made a sling
about my shoulders with my cravat. Elmscott buckled on my sword and
led me to the stables, leaving me outside while he went in and saddled
a horse.

"This is Cliffe's horse," said he; "yours is too tired. I will explain
to him."

He held the horse while I climbed into the saddle.

"Now, Morrice," he said, "you have no time to lose. You have got the
start of the law; keep it. Marston's family is of some power and
weight. As soon as his death is known, there will be a hue and cry
after you; so fly the country. I would say leave the promise
unfulfilled, but that it were waste of breath. Fly the country as soon
as you may, unless you have a mind for twelve months in Newgate gaol.
I will follow you to town with all speed, but for your own sake 'twere
best I find you gone."

He moved aside, and I galloped off towards Newberry. The misery of
that ride I could not, if I would, describe. The pain of my wound, the
utter weariness and dejection which came upon me as a reaction from
the excitement of the last days, and the knowledge that I could no
longer shirk my confession, so combined to weaken and distress me,
that I had much ado to keep my seat in the saddle. 'Twas late in the
evening when I rode up to Ilga's lodging. The door, by some chance,
stood open, and without bethinking me to summon the servants, I walked
straight up the staircase to the parlour, dragging myself from one
step to the other by the help of the balustrade. The parlour door was
shut, and I could not lay my fingers on the handle, but scratched
blindly up and down the panels in an effort to find it. At last some
one opened the door from within, and I staggered into the room. Mdlle.
Durette--for it was she--set up a little scream, and then in the
embrasure of the window I saw the Countess rise slowly to her feet.
The last light of the day fell grey and wan across her face and hair.
I saw her as through a mist, and she seemed to me more than ordinarily
tall. I stumbled across the room, my limbs growing heavier every
moment.

"Countess," I began, "I have a promise to fulfil. Lady Tracy----"
There I stopped. The room commenced to swim round me. "Lady Tracy----"
I repeated.

The Countess stood motionless as a statue, dumb as a statue. Yet in a
strange way she appeared suddenly to come near and increase in
stature--suddenly to dwindle and diminish.

"Ilga," I cried, stretching out my hands to her. She made no movement.
I felt my legs bend beneath me, as if the bones of them were dissolved
to water, and I sank heavily upon my knees. "Ilga," I cried again, but
very faintly. She stirred not so much as a muscle to help me, and I
fell forward swooning, with my head upon her feet.



                             CHAPTER XVI.

             CONCERNING AN INVITATION AND A LOCKED DOOR.


When consciousness returned to me, and I became sensible of where I
lay, I perceived that Elmscott was in the room. He stood in the
centre, slapping his boot continually with his riding-crop, and
betraying every expression of impatience upon his face. But I gave
little heed to him, for beside me knelt Ilga, a bottle of hartshorn
salts in her hand. I was resting upon a couch, which stood before the
spinet; the lamps were lighted, and the curtains drawn across the
window, so that my swoon must have lasted some while.

As I let my eyes rest upon the Countess, she slipped an arm under my
head and raised it, taking at the same time a cup of cordial, which
Clemence Durette held ready. 'Twas of a very potent description, and
filled me with a great sense of comfort. Ilga moved her arm as though
to withdraw it. "No," I murmured to her, and she smiled and let it
remain.

"Come, Morrice," said Elmscott. "You have but to walk downstairs. A
carriage is waiting."

He moved towards the couch. I tried to raise my arm to warn him off,
but found that it had been bandaged afresh, and was fastened in a
sling. For a moment I could not remember how I had come by the hurt;
then the history of it came back to me, and with that the promise I
had made to my dying antagonist. For while I believed that Lady Tracy
could have no grounds for her apprehensions, seeing that the Countess
must needs be ignorant of her relations with the Count, whatever they
might have been, I felt that the circumstances under which the request
was uttered gave to it a special authority, and laid upon me a strict
compulsion to obey it to the letter. The request, moreover, fitted
exactly with my own intention. Ilga believed now that I had never seen
Lady Tracy until that morning when she fainted, and so by merely
confessing that the death of Count Lukstein lay at my door, and at my
door alone, I should divert all possibilities of suspicion from
approaching Lady Tracy; so I whispered to Ilga:

"Send every one away!"

"Nay," she replied; "your cousin has told me."

"It is not that," said I. "There is something else--something my
cousin could not know."

"Does it follow," she answered, lowering her eyes, "that I could not
know it? Or do you think me blind?"

The gentle, hesitating words nearly drove my purpose from my mind. It
would have been so easy to say just, "I love you, and you know it." It
became so difficult to say, "I killed your husband, and have deceived
you." However, the confession pressed urgently for utterance, and I
said again: "Send them away!"

"No," she replied, "you have no time for that now. You must leave
London to-night. Everything is ready; your cousin's carriage waits to
take you to the coast. To-morrow you must cross to France. But if you
still--still wish to unburden your mind----"

"Heart," I could not refrain from whispering; and, indeed, my heart
leaped as she faltered and blushed crimson.

"Then," she continued, "come to Lukstein! You will be welcome," and
with a quiet gravity she repeated the phrase: "You will be very
welcome!"

Every word she spoke made my task the harder. I trust that the
weakness of my body, the pain of the wound, and my great fatigue, had
something to do with the sapping of my resolution. But whatever the
cause, an overwhelming desire to cease from effort, to let the whole
world go, rushed in upon me. The one real thing for me was this woman
who knelt beside the couch; the one real need was to tell her of my
love. I felt as though, that once told, I could rest without
compunction, without a scruple of regret, just rest like a tired
child.

"Come to Lukstein!" she repeated.

"Hear me now!" I replied with a last struggle, and got to my feet. I
was still so weak, however, that the violence of the movement made me
sick and dizzy, and I tottered into Elmscott's arms.

"Come, Morrice!" he urged. "A little courage; 'tis only a few steps to
descend."

I steadied myself against his shoulder. In a corner of the room, rigid
and impassive, was the tall figure of Otto Krax. How could I speak
before him?

"I shall expect you, then," said the Countess, "and soon. I leave
England to-morrow myself, and return straight home."

"You leave England to-morrow?" I asked eagerly.

"To-morrow!" she replied.

I drew a deep breath of relief. All danger to Lady Tracy, all her
fears of danger, would vanish with the departure of the Countess; and
as for my confession--it could wait.

"At Castle Lukstein, then," said I, and it seemed to me that she also
drew a breath of relief.

From Pall Mall we drove to my lodging, where I found my trunks packed,
and Udal fully dressed to accompany me in my flight; for Elmscott, who
had started from the "Half-way House" some two hours later than
myself, had ridden straight thither. On learning that my people had no
news of me, he had immediately guessed where I should be discovered,
and, instructing them to prepare instantly for a journey, had himself
hastened to the apartment of the Countess.

My baggage was speedily placed in the boot, Udal mounted on the box, I
directed my other servants to pay the bill and return to Cumberland,
and we drove off quickly to the coast, just twenty-four hours after we
had set out upon the great West Road on our desperate adventure.

As we rolled peacefully through the moonlit gardens of Kent, I had
time to think over and apportion the hurried events of the day, and I
recalled the half-spoken sentence which was on Marston's lips at the
moment of his death. I conjectured that he intended some expression of
remorse for the use to which he had put the likeness of his sister,
and I began again to wonder at the strange inconsistency of the man. I
had been bewildered by it before in respect of this very miniature,
when I first observed his genuine devotion to his sister. To-day he
had afforded me a second and corroborating instance, for no sooner had
he knowledge of his sister's fears, than he had used the knowledge
straightway as a weapon against me, leaving it to his antagonist to
secure her the safeguarding which she implored. And yet that his
anxiety on her account was very real it was impossible for me to
doubt, for I had looked upon his face when he bound me by a promise to
protect her.

At Dover we found a packet on the point of sailing for Calais.
Elmscott bade me good-bye upon the quay, and declared that if I would
keep him informed of my movements, he would send me word when the
affair had blown over and I might safely return. Then he asked:

"Morrice, did you tell Countess Lukstein of your duel?"

"I had not the time," I replied. "But she said you told her."

"Ay, I told the story, though I gave not the reason for the encounter.
But did you say nothing to her, give her no hint by which she might
guess it?"

"Nay," said I; "I swooned or ever I got a word of it out. I spoke but
two words to her: 'Lady Tracy.' She could have guessed little enough
from that."

"Strange!" said he, in a tone of some perplexity. "And yet, some way
or another, she must needs have known. For when I came to seek you,
Otto denied you were there. I was positive, however, and ran past him
up the stairs. The parlour door was locked, and they only gave me
entrance when I bawled my name through the keyhole and declared that I
knew you were within, and for your own sake must have immediate speech
with you. I fancied that the Countess was aware of the duel and meant
to conceal you."

I thought no more of his words at the time, and went presently aboard.
A fair wind filled the sheets and hummed through the cordage of the
rigging. The cliffs lessened and lessened until they shone in the
sunlight like a silver rim about the bowl of the sea; the gulls
swooped and circled in our wake; and thus I sailed out upon my strange
pilgrimage, which was to last so many weary months and set me amid
such perilous surroundings.



                            CHAPTER XVII.

                            FATHER SPAUR.


IT was on the sixth day of June that I arrived in London from
Cumberland; it was on the sixteenth of July that I landed at Calais;
and so much that was new and bewildering to me had happened within
this brief interspace of time, that I cannot wonder how little I
understood of all which it portended. For here was I, accustomed to
solitude, with small knowledge of men and a veritable fear of women,
plumped of a sudden amidst the gayest company of the town, where
thought and wit were struck out of converse sharply as sparks from a
flint not reached by my slow methods, which, to carry on my simile,
more resembled the practice of the Indians who produce fire, so
travellers tell, by the laborious attrition of stick upon stick.

From Calais I journeyed to Paris, where I stayed until a bill of
exchange upon some French merchants, which I had asked Elmscott to
procure for me, came to hand. With it was enclosed a letter from my
cousin and yet another from Jack Larke.

"This letter," wrote Elmscott, "was brought to your lodging the day
after you left London. L'affaire Marston has caused much astonishment.
Your friends almost refused to credit you with the exploit. The
family, however, is raised to a clamorous pitch of anger against you;
it has influence at Court, and the King has no liking for duels."

The letter from Larke recounted the homely details of the
country-side, and dwelt in particular upon the plan of Sir J. Lowther
of Stockbridge to appoint a new carrier between Kendal and Whitehaven,
so that the shipment of Kendal cottons to Virginia might be
facilitated. The obstacle to the scheme, he declared, was that the
road ran over Hard Knott, which in winter and spring is frequently
impassable for the snow. I wrote back to him that he should refund to
Elmscott with all despatch the amount of the bill of exchange, and
relating shortly the causes which kept me abroad, bade him, if he were
so minded, join me towards the end of September at Venice. Of my visit
to Lukstein I said never a word, the consequence of it was too
doubtful. I shrank from setting out my hopes and fears openly upon
paper. If I succeeded, I could better explain the matter to him in
speech, and take him back with me again to the Castle. If I failed, I
should avoid the need of making any explanation whatsoever.

From Paris I travelled into Austria; and so one sunset, in the latter
days of August, drove up to the door of "Der Goldener Adler" at
Glurns. From this inn I sent Udal forward with a note to Countess
Lukstein, announcing my arrival in the neighbourhood, and asking
whether she would be willing to receive me. The next day he returned
with Otto Krax, and brought me a message of very kindly welcome. Otto
himself, for once, unbent from his grave demeanour, saying that it was
long since the Castle had been brightened with a guest, and that for
his part he trusted I would be in no great hurry to depart.

I gathered no little comfort from his greeting, you may be sure, and I
set off forthwith to the Castle. The valley which, when I last rode
through it, showed stark and desolate in its snow drapery, now lay
basking in the lusty summer, and seemed to smile upon my visit. The
lime-trees were in leaf along the road, wild strawberries, red as the
lips of my mistress, peeped from the grasses, on either side
cornfields spread up the lower slopes to meet the serried pines, which
were broken here and there by a green gap, where the winter snows had
driven a track. Behind the ridge of the hills I could see mountains
towering up with bastions of ice, which had a look peculiarly rich and
soft, like white velvet. The air was fragrant with the scent of
flowers, and musical with the voices of innumerable streams. Even
Lukstein, which had worn so bare and menacing an aspect in the grey
twilight of that November afternoon, now nestled warmly upon its tiny
plateau, the red pointed roofs of its turrets glowing against the
green background of firs.

I was received at the Castle by a priest, who informed me that the
Countess was indisposed, and wished him to express her regrets that
she was unable to welcome me in person. I was much chapfallen and
chilled by this vicarious greeting, since on the way from Glurns I had
given free play to all sorts of foolish imaginings. The priest, who
was a kinsman of the Countess, conducted me very politely to the rooms
prepared for me.

"Mr. Buckler," said he, "it is only your face that is strange to me;
for I have heard so much of you from your hostess that I made your
acquaintance some while ago." Whereat I recovered something of my
spirits.

He led me through the great hall, paved with roughish slabs of stone,
and up a wide staircase to a gallery which ran round the four sides of
the hall. From that he turned off into a corridor, which ran, as I
guessed, through the smaller wing of the building towards the tower.
At the extreme end he opened a door and bowed me into a large room lit
by two windows opposite to one another. One of these commanded the
little ravine which pierced backwards into the hills beside the
Castle, and was called the Senner Thal; the other window looked out on
to the garden. Moving towards this last, I perceived, on the left
hand, the arbour of pinewood and the parapet on which I had lain
concealed; the main wing of the Castle stretched out upon the right,
and I realised, with an uneasy shiver, that I had been given the
bedroom of Count Lukstein. The moment I realised this my eyes went
straight to that corner, where I knew the little staircase to be. The
door of it stood by the head of the bed, and was almost concealed in
the hangings.

"It leads," said the priest, interpreting my glance, "to a little room
below; but the room gives only on to the garden, and the door has not
been used this many a month."

He went over to it as he spoke, and tried the handle. The door was
locked, but the key remained in the lock. It creaked and grated when
he turned it, as though it had rusted in the keyhole. Together we went
down the little winding stairway and into the chamber at the bottom.
What wonder that I hesitated on the last step with a failing heart,
and needed the invitation of the priest to nerve me to cross the
threshold! Not a single thing had been moved since I stood there last.
But for the clouds of dust, which rose at each movement that we made,
I could have believed this day was the morrow of our deadly encounter.
The table still lay overturned upon the floor, the rugs and skins were
heaped and disordered by the trampling of our feet, the curtain hung
half-torn from the vallance, where I had cowered in it with clutching
hands as the Countess passed through the window on to the snow.
Nothing had been touched. Yes, one thing; for as I glanced about the
room, I saw my pistol dangling from a nail upon the hood of the
fireplace.

"The room, you think, Mr. Buckler, does little credit to our
housekeeping?" said the priest. "But 'tis unswept and uncleansed of a
set purpose. As you see it now, so it was on the fifteenth night of
last November, and the Countess our mistress wills that so it shall
remain."

"There is some story," I replied, with such indifference as I could
assume, "some story connected with the room."

"Ay, a story of midnight crime--of crime that struck at the roots of
the Lukstein race, that breaks the line of a family which has ruled
here for centuries, and must in a few years make its very name to
perish off the earth. Count Lukstein was the last of his race, and in
this room was he slain upon his bridal night."

Sombre as were the words, the priest's voice seemed to have something
of exultation in its tone, and unwarily I remarked on it.

"God works out His purposes by ways we cannot understand," he
explained, with a humility that struck me as exaggerated and
insincere. "Unless Countess Lukstein marries again, the Castle and its
demesne will pass into the holy keeping of the Church."

He looked steadily at me while he spoke, and I wondered whether he
meant his utterance to convey a menace and warning.

"What if the Countess married a true son of the Church?" I hastened to
answer. "Would he not second and further her intention?"

"I think, Mr. Buckler, that you have more faith in mankind than
knowledge of the world. But 'twas of the room that we were speaking.
Until that crime is brought to light, the room may neither be swept
nor cleansed."

"You hope, then, to discover----" I began.

"Nay, nay!" said he. "'Tis not with us that the discovery rests. Look
you, sin is not a dead thing like these tables, to which each day adds
a covering of dust; it is rather a plant that each day throws out
fibres towards the sun, bury it deep as you will in the earth. Surely,
surely it will make itself known--this very afternoon, maybe, or maybe
in years to come; maybe not until the Day of Wrath. God chooses His
own time."

Very solemnly he crossed himself, and led the way back to the bedroom
above.

This conversation increased my anxiety to unburden myself to Ilga. For
it was no crime that I had committed, but an act of common justice.
But although the household, apart from the servants and retainers, who
made indeed a veritable army, consisted only of the Countess, Mdlle.
Durette, and Father Spaur, as the priest was named, I found it
impossible to hit upon an occasion.

In the first place, the Countess herself was, without doubt, ailing
and indisposed. She would come down late in the morning with heavy
eyes and a weariful face, as though she slept but little. 'Twas no
better, moreover, when she joined us, for she treated me, though ever
with courtesy as befitted a hostess, still with a certain distance;
and at times, when she thought I was interested in some talk and had
no eyes for her, I would catch a troubled look upon her face wherein
anger and sorrow seemed equally mixed. Nor, indeed, could I ever come
upon her alone, and such hints as I put forward to bring such a
consummation about were purposely misunderstood. In truth, the priest
stood between us. I set the changed manner of Countess Lukstein
entirely to his account, believing that he was studiously poisoning
her mind against me, and maybe persuading her that I did but pursue
her wealth like any vulgar adventurer. I suggested as much to Mdlle.
Durette, who showed me great kindness in this nadir of my fortunes.

"I know not what to make of it," she replied, "for Ilga has shut me
from her confidence of late. But there is something of the kind afoot,
I fear, for Father Spaur is continually with her, and 'twas ever his
fashion to ascribe a secret and underhand motive for all one's
doings."

The Father, indeed, was perpetually with either Ilga or myself. If he
chanced not to be closeted with the Countess, he would dance
indefatigable attendance upon me, devising excursions into the
mountains or in pursuit of the chamois, which abounded in great
numbers among the higher forests of the ravine.

On these latter occasions he would depute Otto Krax, who was, as I
soon learned, the chief huntsman of the Castle, to take his place with
me, pleading his own age with needless effusion as an excuse for his
absence. In the company of Otto, then, I gained much knowledge of the
locality, and in particular of the great ice-clad mountain which
blocked the head of the ravine. For the chase led us many a time high
up the slopes above the trees to where the ice lay in great tongues
all cracked and ridged across like waves frozen at the crest; and at
times, growing yet more adventurous with the heat of our pursuit, we
would ascend still higher, making long circuits and detours about the
cliffs and gullies to get to windward of our quarry; so that I saw
this mountain from many points of view, and gained a knowledge of its
character and formation which was afterwards to stand me in good
stead.

The natives termed it the "Wildthurm," and approached it ever with the
greatest reluctance and with much commending of their souls to God.
For the spirits of the lost, they said, circled in agony about its
summit, and might be heard at noonday no less often than at night
piercing the air with a wail of lamentation. It may be even as they
held; but I was spared the manifestation of their presence when I
invaded their abode, and found no denizens of that solitary region
more terrible than the eagles which built their nests upon the topmost
cliffs. Towards the ravine the "Wildthurm" towered in a stupendous
wall of rock of thousands of feet, but so sheer that even the chamois,
however encompassed, never sought escape that way. From the apex of
this wall a ridge of ice ran backwards in a narrow line and sloped
outwards on either side, so that it looked like nothing so much as a
gipsy's tent of white canvas.

When we sought diversion upon lower ground, hawking or riding in the
valley, Father Spaur himself would bear me company. In fact, I never
seemed to journey a mile from the Castle without either Otto or the
priest to keep me in surveillance.

Father Spaur, though past his climacteric, was of a tall, massive
build, and, I judged, of great muscular strength. His hair was
perfectly white, and threw into relief his broad, tanned face, which
wore as a rule an uninterested bovine expression, as of one whom
neither trouble nor thought had ever touched. One afternoon, however,
as we were riding up the hillside towards the Castle, I chanced to
make mention of the persecution of the Protestants in France, whereof
I had been a witness during my stay at Paris, and ventured, though a
Catholic, to criticise the French King's action in abrogating the
edict of Nantes.

"Cruelty, Mr. Buckler!" he exclaimed, reining in his horse, with his
eyes aglare, and his fleshy face of a sudden shining with animation.
'Twas as though some one had lit a lamp behind a curtain. "Cruelty!
'Tis the idlest name that was ever invented. Look you: a general
throws a thousand troops upon certain death. Is not that cruelty? Yet
if he faltered he would fail in his duty. If the men shrank, they in
theirs. Cruelty is the law of life. Nay, more, for with that word the
wicked stigmatise the law of God. Never a spring comes upon these
hills but it buries numbers of our villagers beneath its slipping
snowdrifts. You have seen the crosses on the slopes yourself. They
perish, and through no foolhardiness of their own. Is not that what
you term cruelty? Take a wider view. Is there not cruelty in the very
making of man? We are born with minds curious after knowledge, and yet
we only gain knowledge by much suffering and labour--an infinitesimal
drop after years of thirst. Take it yet higher. The holy Church
teaches us that God upon His throne is happy; yet He condemns the
guilty to torment. With a smile, we must believe He condemns the
guilty. Judge that by our poor weak understanding; is it not cruelty?
What you term cruelty is a law of God--difficult, unintelligible, but
a law of God, and therefore good."

'Twas a strange discourse, delivered with a ringing voice of
exaltation, and thereafter my thoughts did more justice to the
subtlety of his intellect.

Meanwhile the days slipped on and brought me no nearer to the
fulfilment of my purpose. The time had come, moreover, when I must set
off into Italy if I was to meet Larke at Venice as I had most
faithfully promised. I resolved, then, to put an end to a visit which
I saw brought no happiness to my mistress, and wasted me with
impatience and despondency. I was minded to go down into Italy, and
taking Jack with me to set sail for the Indies, and ease my heart, if
so I might, with viewing of the many wonders of those parts. So
choosing an occasion when we were all dining together in the great
parlour on the first floor of the Castle, I thanked the Countess for
the hospitality which she had shown me, and fixed my departure for the
next day. For awhile there was silence, Ilga rising suddenly from the
table and walking over to the wide-open windows, where she stood with
her back turned, and looked out across the waving valley of the Adige.

"It seems that we have been guilty of some discourtesy, Mr. Buckler,
since you leave us so abruptly," said Father Spaur with a great
perturbation.

Upon that point I hastened to set him right; for indeed I had been so
hedged in by attention and ceremony that I should have been well
content with a little neglect.

"Then," he continued with an easy laugh, "we shall make bold to keep
you. If we bring guests so far to visit us, we cannot speed them away
so soon. Doubtless the Castle is dull to you who come fresh from
London and Paris----"

"Nay," said I with some impatience, for I thought it unfair that he
should attribute such motives to me. "Madame will bear me out that I
have little liking for town pleasures." I turned towards her, but she
made no sign or movement, and appeared not to have heard me. "I am
pledged to meet a friend at Venice, and, as it is, I have overstayed
my time."

"Oh! you have a friend awaiting you," said the priest slowly. "You are
very prudent, Mr. Buckler."

The Countess turned swiftly about, her eyes wide open and staring like
one dismayed.

"Prudent?" I exclaimed in perplexity.

"I mean," said the priest, flushing a dark red and dropping his voice,
"I mean that if one fixes so precise a limit to one's visit, one
guards against any inclination to prolong it." He spoke with a meaning
glance in the direction of the Countess, who had turned away again.
"The heart says 'stay,' prudence 'go.' Is it not the case?" he
whispered, and he smiled with an awkward effort at archness, which,
upon his heavy face, was little short of grotesque.

Now his words and manner perplexed me greatly, for at the moment of my
coming to Lukstein, he had seemed most plainly to warn me against
encouraging any passion for Ilga, and his conduct since in disparting
us had assured me that I had rightly guessed his intention. Yet here
was he urging me to extend my stay, and sneering at my prudence for
not giving free play to that passion.

"Besides," he continued, raising his voice again, "if you go to-morrow
you will miss the best entertainment that our poor domain provides. We
are to have a great hunt, wherein some of our neighbours will join us,
and Otto informs us that you have great partiality for the sport, and
extraordinary skill and nimbleness upon mountains. In a week,
moreover, the headsman of our village is to marry. 'Tis a great event
in Lukstein, and, indeed, to a stranger well worth witnessing, for
there are many quaint and curious customs to be observed which are not
met with elsewhere."

He added many other inducements, so that at last I felt some shame at
persisting in my refusal. But, after all, the Countess was my hostess,
and she had said never a word, but had turned back again to the window
as though she would not meddle in the matter. At last, however, she
broke in upon the priest, keeping, however, her face still set towards
the landscape.

"Could you not send forward your servant, Mr. Buckler, to meet your
friend, and remain with us this week? As Father Spaur says, the
marriage will be well worth seeing, and since you are so pressed, you
may leave here that very night."

There was, however, no heartiness in her invitation; the words dropped
reluctantly from her lips, as if compelled by mere politeness towards
her guest.

"The most suitable plan!" cried the priest, starting up. "Send your
man to Venice, and yourself follow afterwards."

I explained that Udal was little accustomed to travelling in strange
countries, and had no knowledge of either the German or Italian
tongues; and to put a close to the discussion, I rose from my seat and
walked away to the end of the apartment, where I busied myself over
some weapons that hung upon the wall. In a minute or so I heard the
door close softly, and facing about, I saw that the priest and Mdlle.
Durette, who had taken no part in any of this talk, had departed out
of the room. The Countess came towards me.

"I sent them away," she said, with a wan smile, and a voice subdued to
great gentleness. "I have no thought to--to part with you so soon.
Stay out this week. You--you told me that you had something which you
wished to say."

"Madame," said I, snatching eagerly at her hand, "you also told me
that you had guessed it."

"Not now; not now." She slipped her hand from my grasp with an
imploring cry, and held it outspread close before my face to check my
words. "Not now. I could not bear it. Oh, I would that I had more
strength to resist, or more weakness to succumb."

Never have I heard such pain in a human voice: never have I seen
features so wrung with suffering. The sight of her cut me to the
heart.

"Listen," she went on, controlling herself after a moment, though her
voice still trembled with agitation, and now and again ran upwards
into an odd laugh, the like of which I have never hearkened to before
or since. 'Twas the most pitiful sound that ever jarred on a man's
ears. "On the night of the marriage the villagers will come to the
Castle to dance in the Great Hall. That night you shall speak to me,
and a carriage shall be ready to take you away afterwards, if you
will. Until that night be 'prudent.'"

She gave me no time to answer her, but ran to the door, and so out of
the room. I could hear her footsteps falling uncertainly along the
gallery, as though she stumbled while she ran, and a great anger
against the priest flamed up in my breast. "Strength to resist, or
weakness to succumb." Doubtless the words would have bewildered me,
like the oracles of old Greece, but for what I suspicioned in the
priest Now, however, in the blindness of my thoughts, I construed them
as the confirmation of my belief that he was practising all his arts
upon Ilga to secure Lukstein for the Church. 'Twas Father Spaur, I
imagined, whom she had neither the strength to resist nor the weakness
to yield to, and I fancied that I was set upon a second contest for
the winning of her, though this time with a more subtle and noteworthy
antagonist.

And yet for all my fears, for all Ilga's trouble, with such selfish
pertinacity do a lover's reflections seek to enhearten his love, I
could not but feel a throb of joy for that she had so plainly shown to
me what the struggle cost her.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.

                             AT LUKSTEIN.


In accordance, then, with the suggestion of Ilga, I despatched Udal to
Venice, bearing a letter wherein I requested Jack to bide there until
such time as I arrived. To supply my servant's place Father Spaur
offered me one, Michael Groder, whose assistance at the first sight I
was strongly in a mind to decline; for he was more than common uncouth
even for those parts, and with his scarred knees, tangled black hair,
and gaunt, weather-roughened face, seemed more fitted for hewing wood
upon the hillside than for the neater functions of a valet. The
priest, however, pressed his services upon me with so importunate a
courtesy that I thought it ungracious to persist in a refusal. Indeed,
Michael Groder, though of a slight and wiry build, was the unhandiest
man with his fingers that ever I had met with. There was not a servant
in the Castle who could not have done the work better; and I came
speedily to the conclusion that Father Spaur had selected him
particularly out of some motive very different from a desire to oblige
me; I mean, in order that he might keep a watch upon my actions, and
see that I gained no secret advantage with the Countess.

However, had I entertained any such design, the hunting expedition
would have effectually prevented its fulfilment. It lasted the greater
part of the week, and we did not return to Lukstein until the eve of
my departure. By this time my anxiety as to the answer which Ilga
would make to my suit when she knew all that I had to tell her, had
well-nigh worked me into a fever. I was for ever rehearsing and
picturing the scene, inventing all sorts of womanly objections for her
to urge, and disproving them succinctly to her satisfaction by
Barbara, Celarent and all the rules of logic.

Under these speculations, bolster them up as I might, there lurked
none the less a heavy and disheartening fear. 'Twas all vain labour to
reckon up, as I did again and again, the few good qualities which I
possessed, and to add to them those others which my friends attributed
to me. I could not shut my eyes to the disparity between us; I could
not believe but that she must be sensible of it herself. Such a woman,
I conceived, should wed a warrior and hero; though, indeed, 'twas
doubtful whether you could find even amongst them one whose deserts
made him a fit mate for her. As for me, 'twas as though a clown should
run a-wooing after a princess.

'Twill be readily understood that I had in consequence no great
inclination for the hearty fellowship of the neighbours who joined in
the hunt; and since my anxiety grew with every hour, by the time we
came back to Lukstein--for many of them returned thither instead of to
their own homes, meaning to stay over until the following night--'twas
as much as I could do to answer with attention any civil question that
was addressed to me.

The Countess, I found, was in an agitation no whit inferior to my own.
I observed her that afternoon at dinner. At times she talked with a
feverish excitement, at times she relapsed into long silences; but
even during these pauses I noticed that her fingers were never still,
but continually twitched and plucked at the cloth. I inferred from her
manner that she had not yet decided on the course she would take, the
more particularly because she sedulously avoided speech with me. If I
spoke to her she replied politely enough, but at once drew those about
her into the conversation, and herself withdrew from it; and if by
accident our eyes met, she hastily turned her head away. I knew not
what to make of these signs, and as soon as the company was risen from
table I slipped away out of the Castle that I might con them over
quietly and weigh whether they boded me good or ill.

The Castle, as I have said, stood upon a headland at the mouth of the
Senner Thal, and turning a corner of this bluff, I wandered by a rough
track some way along the side of the ravine, and flung myself down on
my back on the turf. The sun had already sunk below the crest of the
mountains, and the glow was fast fading out of the sky. The pines on
the hillside opposite grew black in the deepening twilight; a star
peeped over the shoulder of the Wildthurm; and here and there a grey
scarf of cloud lay trailed along the slopes. From a hut high above
came clear and sweet the voice of a woman singing a Tyrolese melody,
and so softly did the evening droop upon the mountains, shutting as it
were the very peace of the heavens into the valleys, that the brooks
seemed to laugh louder and louder as they raced among the stones. The
air itself never stirred, save when some bat came flapping blindly
about my face. I became the more curious, therefore, concerning a bush
some twenty yards below me, which now and again shivered and bent as
though with a gust of wind. I had been lying on the grass some ten
minutes before I noticed this movement. The dwarf oaks and beeches
which studded the slopes about me were as still and noiseless as
though their leaves had been carved from metal; only this one bush
rustled and shook. In a direct line with it, and within reach of my
foot, a small boulder hung insecurely on the turf. I stretched out my
foot and pushed it; the stone rocked a little on its base. I pushed
again and harder; the stone tilted forwards and stuck. I brought my
other foot to help, set them both flat against the stone, slid down on
my back until my legs were doubled, and then kicked with all my
strength. The boulder flew from the soles of my feet, rolled over and
over, bounded into the air, dropped on to the slope about ten yards
from the bush, and then sprang at it like a dog at the throat. I heard
a startled cry; I saw the figure of a man leap up from the centre of
the bush. The stone took him full in the pit of the stomach, and
toppled him backwards like a ninepin. He fell on the far side of the
shrub, and I heard the boulder go crash-crashing down the whole length
of the incline. Who the man was I had not the time to perceive, and I
made no effort to discover. The Countess had retired a few moments
before I slipped away from the Hall, and I judged that he was no more
than a spy sent by Father Spaur to ascertain whether I had some tryst
with her. So deeming that he had got no more than his deserts, I left
him lying where he fell and loitered back to the Castle.

The company I found gathered about a huge fire of logs at the end of
the Great Hall. Beyond the glow of the flames the Hall was lost in
shadow, and now and again from some corner would come a soft scuffling
sound, as a dog moved lazily across the flags. Thereupon with one
movement the heads would huddle closer together, and for a moment the
voices would sink to a whisper. They were speaking, as men will who
are girt with more of God's handiwork than of man's, concerning the
spirits that haunted the countryside, and told many stories of the
warnings they had vouchsafed to unheeding ears. In particular, they
dwelt much upon a bell, which they declared rang out from the
Wildthurm when good or ill-fortune approached the House of Lukstein,
tolling as the presage of disaster, pealing joyously in the forefront
of prosperity. One, indeed--with frequent glances across his shoulder
into the gloom--averred that he had heard it tolling on the eve of
Count Lukstein's marriage, and from that beginning the talk slid to
the manner of his death. 'Twas altogether an eerie experience, and one
that I would not willingly repeat, to listen to them debating that
question in hushed whispers, with the darkness closing in around us,
and the firelight playing upon mature, weather-hardened faces grown
timorous with the awe of children. For this I remarked with some
wonder, that no one made mention either of the things which I had left
behind me, or of the track which I had flogged in the snow about the
rim of the precipice. 'Twas evident that these details of the story
had been kept carefully secret, though with what object I could not
understand.

That evening I had no Michael Groder to assist me in my toilet, and so
got me to bed with the saving of half an hour. I cannot say, however,
that I gained half an hour's sleep thereby, for the thought of the
morrow, and all that hung upon it, kept me tossing from side to side
in a turmoil of unrest. It must have been near upon two hours that I
lay thus uneasily cushioned upon disquiet, before a faint sound came
to my ears, and made me start up in the darkness with my heart racing.

'Twas the sound that a man can never forget or mistake when once he
has heard it--the sound of a woman sobbing. It rose from the little
sitting-room immediately beneath me. The staircase door was close to
my bedside, and I reached out my hand and, turning the handle
cautiously, opened it. The sound was louder now, but still muffled,
and I knew that the door at the bottom of the staircase was closed.
For a little I remained propped on my elbow, and straining my ears to
listen. The mourner must be either Clemence Durette or Ilga, and I
could not doubt which of them it was. Why she wept, I did not
consider. 'Twas the noise of her weeping, made yet more lonesome and
sad by the black dead of night, that occupied my senses and filled me
with an unbearable pain.

I got quietly out of my bed, and slipping on some clothes crept down
the staircase in my stockings. 'Twas pitch dark in this passage, and I
felt before me with my hands as I descended, fearing lest I might
unawares stumble against the door. At the last step I paused and
listened again. Then very gently I groped for the handle. I had good
reason to know how noiselessly it turned, and I opened the door for
the space of an inch. A feeble light flickered on the wall of the room
at my side. I waited with my fingers on the handle, but there was no
check in the sobbing. I pushed the door wider open; the light upon the
wall wavered and shook, as though a draught took the flame of a
candle. But that was all. So I stepped silently forward and looked
into the room.

The sight made my heart bleed. Ilga lay face downwards and prone upon
the floor, her arms outstretched, her hair unbound and rippling about
her shoulders. From head to foot she was robed in black. It broke upon
me suddenly that I had never seen her so clad before, and I remembered
a remark that Elmscott had passed in London upon that very score.

The window was open, and from the garden a light wind brought the
soughing of trees into the room. A single candle guttered on the
mantelshelf and heightened its general aspect of neglect. Thus Ilga
lay, abandoned to--what? Grief for her husband, or remorse at
forgetting him? That black dress might well be the fitting symbol of
either sentiment. 'Twas for neither of these reasons that she wept, as
I learned long afterwards, but for another of which I had no suspicion
then.

I closed the door softly and sat me down in the darkness on the
stairs, hearkening to that desolate sound of tears and praying for the
morning to come and for the day to pass into night, that I might say
my say and either bring her such rest and happiness as a man's love
can bring to a woman, or slip out of her life and so trouble her no
more.

'Twas a long while before she ceased from her distress, and to me it
seemed far longer than it was. As soon as I heard her move I got me
back to my room. The dawn was just breaking when, from a corner of my
window, I saw her walk out across the lawn, and the dew was white upon
the grass like a hoar-frost. With a weary, dragging step, and a head
adroop like a broken flower, she walked to the parapet of the terrace,
and hung on it for a little, gazing down upon the roofs of her
sleeping village. Then she turned and fixed her eyes upon my window. I
was hidden in the curtains so that she could not see me. For some
minutes she gazed at it, her face very tired and sad. 'Twas her bridal
chamber, or rather, would have been but for me, and I wondered much
whether she was thinking of the husband or the guest. She turned away
again, looked out across the valley paved with a grey floor of mist,
and so walked back to the main wing of the Castle.

The light broadened out; starlings began to twitter in the trees, and
far away a white peak blushed rosy at the kiss of the sun. The one day
of my life had come. By this time to-morrow, I thought, the world
would have changed its colours for me, one way or another; and tired
out with my vigil, I tumbled into bed and slept dreamlessly until
Michael Groder roused me.

I asked him why he had failed me the night before.

"I was unwell," he replied.

"True!" said I, with great friendliness. "You got a heavier load upon
your stomach than it would stand."

The which was as unwise a remark as I could have made; for Groder's
ill-will towards me needed no stimulus to provoke it.



                             CHAPTER XIX.

                     IN THE PAVILION. I EXPLAIN.


The marriage, with its odd customs of the Ehrengang and Ehrentanz,
might at another time have afforded me the entertainment which Father
Spaur promised; but, to speak the truth, the whole ceremony wearied me
beyond expression. My thoughts were set in a tide towards the evening,
and I watched the sun loiter idly down the length of the valley in a
burning fever of impatience.

'Twas about seven of the clock when the villagers flocked up to the
Castle and began their antic dances in the Hall and in the ball-room
which fronted the terrace. They aimed at a display of agility rather
than of elegance, leaping into the air and falling crack upon their
knees, slapping their thighs and the soles of their feet, with many
other barbaric gambols; and all the while they kept up such a noise of
shouting, whistling, and singing, as fairly deafened one.

Ilga, I observed with some heart-sinking, had once more robed herself
in black, and very simply; but the colour so set off the brightness of
her hair, which was coiled in a coronal upon her head, and the white
beauty of her arms, that for all my fears I could not but think she
had never looked so exquisitely fair. However, I had thought the same
upon so many different occasions that I would not now assert it as an
indisputable fact.

As you may be certain, I had not copied Ilga's simplicity, but had
rather dressed in the opposite extreme. 'Twas no part of my policy to
show her the disrespect of plain apparel. I had so little to offer
that I must needs trick that little out to the best of advantage;
indeed, even at this distance of time, I fairly laugh when I recall
the extraordinary pains I spent that evening upon my adornment. My
Lord Culverton could never have bettered them. A coat of white
brocaded velvet, ruffles that reached to the tips of my fingers, a
cravat of the finest Mechlin, pink breeches, silk stockings rolled
above the knees, with gold clocks and garters, white Spanish leather
shoes with red heels and Elmscott's buckles, a new heavy black peruke;
so I attired myself for this momentous interview.

Father Spaur greeted me with a sour smile and a sneering compliment;
but 'twas not his favour that I sought, and I cared little that he
showed so plainly his resentment.

"A carriage," he added, "will be in waiting for you at eleven, if you
are still minded to leave us."

I thanked him shortly, and passed on to Ilga, but for some while I
could get no private speech with her. For though she took no part in
the dancing, even when a quieter measure made a break in the
boisterous revelry, she moved continually from one to the other of her
villagers with a kindly smile and affable word for each in a spirit of
so sweet a condescension, that I had no doubt that she had vaunted
their loyalty most truthfully. 'Twould have been strange, indeed, if
they had not greatly worshipped her.

In the midst of the clatter, however, and near upon the hour of nine,
a man burst wildly into the room, faltering out that the "Wildthurm"
bell was even now ringing its message to Lukstein.

On the instant the music was stopped; a great awe fell upon the noisy
throng; women clung in fear to men, and men crossed themselves with a
muttering of tremulous prayers; and then Ilga led the way through the
Hall into the courtyard of the Castle.

The ice-fields of the mountain glittered like silver in the moonlight,
and we gazed upwards towards them with our ears strained to catch the
sound. Many, I know, will scoff at and question what I relate. Many
have already done so, attributing it to a delusion of the senses, a
heated imagination, or any other of the causes which are held to
absolve the spirits of the air from participation in men's affairs.

Against such unholy disbelief it is not for me to argue or dispute,
nor is this the fitting place and opportunity. But this I do attest,
and to it I do solemnly put my name. 'Twas not I alone who heard the
bell; every man and woman who danced that night at Lukstein Castle
heard it. The sound was faint, but wonderfully pure and clear, the
strokes of the hammer coming briskly one upon the other as though the
bell was tossed from side to side by willing hands.

"It speaks of happiness for Lukstein," said Father Spaur with an evil
glance towards me.

For my part I just looked at Ilga.

"Come!" she said.

And we walked back through the empty echoing Hall, and across the lawn
to the terrace.

A light wind was blowing from the south, but there were no clouds in
the sky, and the valley lay beneath us with all its landmarks merged
by the grey, tender light, so that it seemed to have widened to double
its breadth.

The terrace, however, was for the most part in shadow, since the moon,
hanging behind a cluster of trees at the east corner of the wall, only
sprinkled its radiance through a tracery of boughs, and drew a dancing
pattern about our feet. As I leaned upon the parapet there came before
my eyes, raised by I know not what chance suggestion, a vivid picture
of my little far-away hamlet in the country of the English lakes.

"You are thoughtful, Mr. Buckler!" said Ilga.

"I was thinking of the valley of Wastdale," I replied, "and of a
carrier's cart stuck in a snowdrift on Hard Knot."

"Of your home? 'Twas of your home that you were thinking?" she asked
curiously, and yet with something more than curiosity in her voice,
with something of regret, something almost of pity.

"Not so much of my home," I replied, "but rather from what distant
points our two lives have drawn together." I was emboldened to the
words by the tone in which she had spoken. "A few weeks ago you were
here at Lukstein in the Tyrol, I was at the Hall in Cumberland, and we
had never spoken to one another. How strange it all seems!"

"Nay," she answered simply; "it was certain you and I should meet. Is
not God in His heaven?"

My heart gave a great leap. We had come now to the pavilion, which
leaned against the Castle wall, and Ilga opened the door and entered
it. I followed her, and closed the latch behind me.

In the side of the room there was a square window with shutters, but
no glass. The shutters were open, and through a gap of the trees the
moonlight poured into the pavilion.

We stood facing one another silently. The time had come for me to
speak.

"Well," said she, and her voice was very calm, "what is it, Mr.
Buckler?"

All my fine arguments and protestations flew out of my head like birds
startled from a nest. I forgot even the confession I had to make to
her, and

"I love you!" I said humbly, looking down on the floor.

She gave me no answer. My heart fainted within me; I feared that it
would stop. But in a little I dared to raise my eyes to her face. She
stood in the pillar of moonlight, her eyes glistening, but with no
expression on her face which could give me a clue to her thoughts, and
she softly opened and shut her fan, which hung on a girdle about her
waist.

"How I do love you!" I cried, and I made a step towards her. "But you
know that."

She nodded her head.

"I took good care you should," she said.

I did not stop to consider the strangeness of the speech. My desire
construed it without seeking help from the dictionary of thought.

"Then you wished it," I cried joyfully, and I threw myself down on my
knee at her feet, and buried my face in my hands. "Ilga! Ilga!"

She made no movement, but replied in a low voice:

"With all my heart I wished it. How else could I have brought you to
the Tyrol?"

I felt the tears gathering into my eyes and my throat choking. I
lifted my face to hers, and, taking courage from her words, clipped my
arms about her waist.

She gave a little trembling cry, and plucked at my fingers. I but
tightened my clasp.

"Ilga!" I murmured. 'Twas the only word which came to my lips, but it
summed the whole world for me then--ay, and has done ever since.
"Ilga!"

Again she plucked at my fingers, and for all the calmness which she
had shown, I could feel her hands burning through her gloves. Then a
shadow darkened for an instant across the window, the moonlight faded,
and her face was lost to me. 'Twas for no longer than an instant. I
looked towards the window, but Ilga bent her head down between it and
me.

"Tis only the branches swinging in the wind," she said softly.

I rose to my feet and drew her towards me. She set her palms against
my chest as if to repulse me, but she said no word, and I saw the
necklace about her throat flashing and sparkling with the heave of her
bosom.

It seemed to me that a light step sounded without the pavilion, and I
turned my head aside to listen.

"Tis only the leaves blowing along the terrace," she whispered, and I
looked again at her and drew her closer.

For a time she resisted; then I heard her sigh, and her hand stole
across my shoulder. Her head drooped forward until her hair touched my
lips. I could feel her heart beating on my breast. Gently I turned her
face upwards, and then with a loud clap the shutters were flung to and
the room was plunged in darkness.

Ilga started away from me, drawing a deep breath as for some release.
I groped my way to the window. The shutters opened outwards, and I
pushed against them. They were held close and fast.

A wooden settle stood against the wall just beneath the window, and I
knelt on it and drove at the shutters with my shoulder. They gave a
little at first, and I heard a whispered call for help. The pressure
from without was redoubled; I was forced back; a bar fell across them
outside and was fitted into a socket. Thrust as I might I could not
break it; the window was securely barricadoed.

Meanwhile Ilga had not spoken. "Ilga!" I called.

She did not answer me, nor in the blackness of the pavilion could I
discover where she stood.

"Ilga!"

The same empty silence. I could not even hear her breathing, and yet
she was in the pavilion, within a few feet of me. There was something
horrible in her quietude, and a great fear of I knew not what caught
at my heart and turned my blood cold.

"This is the priest's doing," I cried, and I drew my sword and made
towards the door.

A startled cry burst from the gloom behind me.

"Stop! If you open it, you will be killed."

I stopped as she bade me, body and brain numbed in a common inaction.
I could hear her breathing now plainly enough.

"This is not the priest's doing," she said, at length. "It is the
wife's." Her voice steadied and became even as she spoke. "From the
hour I found Count Lukstein dead I have lived only for this night."

I let my sword slip from my grasp, and it clattered and rang on the
floor.

'Twas not surprise that I felt; ever since the shutters had been
slammed I seemed to have known that she would speak those words. And
'twas no longer fear. Nor did I as yet wonder how she came by her
knowledge. Indeed, I had but one thought, one thought of overwhelming
sadness, and I voiced it in utter despondency.

"So all this time--in London, here, a minute ago, you were tricking
me! Tricking me into loving you; then tricking my love for you!"

"A minute ago!" she caught me up, and there was a quiver in her voice
of some deep feeling. Then she broke off, and said, in a hard, clear
tone: "I was a woman, and alone. I used a woman's weapons."

Again she paused, but I made no answer. I had none to make. She
resumed, with a flash of anger, as though my silence accused her:

"And was there no trickery on your side, too?"

They were almost the same words as those which Marston had levelled at
me, and I imagined that they conveyed the same charge. However, it
seemed of little use or profit to defend myself at length, and I
answered:

"I have played no part. It might have fared better with me if I had.
What deceit I have practised may be set down to love's account. 'Twas
my fear of losing you that locked my lips. Had I not loved you, what
need to tell you my secret? 'Twas no crime that I committed. But since
I loved you, I was bound in very truth to speak. I have known that
from the first, and I pledged myself to speak at the moment that I
told you of my love. I dared not disclose the matter before. There was
so little chance that I should win your favour, even had every
circumstance seconded my suit. But this very night I should have told
you the truth."

"No doubt! no doubt!" she answered, with the bitterest irony, and I
understood what a fatal mistake I had made in pleading my passion
before disclosing the story of the duel. I should have begun from the
other end. "And no doubt you meant also to tell me, with the same open
frankness, of the woman for whose sake you killed my--my husband?"

"I fought for no woman, but for my friend."

She laughed; surely the hardest, most biting laugh that ever man
heard.

"Tell me your fine story now."

I sank down on the settle, feeling strangely helpless in the face of
her contempt.

"This is the priest's doing," I repeated, more to myself than to her.

"It is my doing," she said again; "my doing from first to last"

"Then what was it?" I asked, with a dull, involuntary curiosity. "What
was it you had neither the weakness to yield to nor the strength to
resist?"

She did not answer me, but it seemed as though she suddenly put out a
hand and steadied herself against the wall.

"Tell me your story," she said briefly; and sitting there in the
darkness, unable to see my mistress, I began the history of that
November night.

"It is true that I killed Count Lukstein; but I killed him in open
encounter. I fought him fairly and honourably."

"At midnight!" she interrupted. "Without witnesses, upon his
wedding-day."

"There was blood upon Count Lukstein's sword," I went on doggedly,
"and that blood was mine. I fought him fairly and honourably. I own I
compelled him to fight me."

"You and your--companion."

She stressed the word with an extraordinary contempt.

"My companion!" I repeated in surprise. "What know you of my
companion? My companion watched our horses in the valley."

"You dare to tell me that?" she cried, ceasing from her contempt, and
suddenly lifting her voice in an inexplicable passion.

"It is the truth."

"The truth! The truth!" she exclaimed, and then, with a stamp of her
foot, and in a ringing tone of decision, "Otto!"

The door was flung open. Otto Krax and Michael Groder blocked the
opening, and behind them stood Father Spaur, holding a lighted torch
above his head. The Tyrolese servants carried hangers in their hands.
I can see their blades flashing in the red light now!

Silently they filed into the pavilion. Father Spaur lifted his torch
into a bracket, latched the door, and leaned his back against the
panels. All three looked at the Countess, waiting her orders. 'Twas
plain, from the priest's demeanour, that Ilga had spoken no more than
truth. In this matter she was the mistress and the priest the
servitor.

I turned and gazed at her. She stood erect against the wall opposite
to me, meeting my gaze, her face stern and set, as though carven out
of white marble, her eyes dark and glittering with menace.

For my part, I rose from the settle and stood with folded arms. I did
not even stoop to pick up my rapier; it seemed to me not worth while.

"The proper attitude of heroical endurance," sneered Father Spaur.
"Perhaps a little more humility might become 'a true son of the
Church.' Was not that the phrase?"

The Countess nodded to Otto. He took Groder's sword and stood it with
his own, by a low stool in the corner near the door.

"'Tis your own fault," she said sternly. "Even now I would have spared
you had you told me the truth. But you presume too much upon my
folly."

The next moment the two men sprang at me. The manner of their attack
took me by surprise, and in a twinkling they had me down upon the
bench. Then, however, a savage fury flamed up within me. 'Twas one
thing to be run through at the command of Ilga, and so perish decently
by the sword; 'twas quite another to be handled by her servants, and I
fought against the indignity with all my strength. But the struggle
was too unequal. I should have proved no match for Otto had he stood
alone, and I before him, fairly planted on my legs. With the pair of
them to master me I was well-nigh as powerless as a child. Moreover,
they had already forced me down by the shoulders, so that the edge of
the settle cut across my back just below the shoulder-blades, and I
could get no more purchase or support than the soles of my feet on the
rough flooring gave me.

My single chance lay in regaining possession of my rapier. It lay just
within my reach, and struggling violently with my left arm, in order
to the better conceal my design, I stretched out the other cautiously
towards it.

My fingers were actually on the pommel, I was working it nearer to me
so that I might grasp the blade short, before Groder perceived my
intention. With an oath he kicked it behind him. Otto set a huge knee
calmly upon my chest, and pressed his weight upon it until I thought
my spine would snap. Then he seized my arms, jerked them upwards, and
held them outstretched above my head, keeping his knee the while
jammed down upon my ribs. Groder drew a cord from his pocket, and
turning back my sleeves with an ironic deliberation, bound my wrists
tightly together.

"'Twas not for nothing Groder went a-valeting," laughed Father Spaur;
and then, seeing that I was assisted in my struggle by the pressure
which I got from the floor, "Twere wise to repeat the ceremony with
his ankles."

"You, Groder!" said Otto.

"I have no more cord," growled Michael, as he tied the knots viciously
about my wrists.

Something rattled lightly on the ground. 'Twas the girdle of the
Countess, with the fan attached to the end of it.

Groder plucked the fan off, struck my heels from under me, and bound
the girdle round and round my ankles until they jarred together and I
felt the bones cracking.

Otto took his knee from my chest, and the two men went back to their
former stations by the door.

Father Spaur came over to where I lay, rubbing his hands gently
together.

"Really, really!" said he in a silky voice, "so the cockatoo has been
caged after all."

The words, recalling that morning in London when first I allowed
myself to take heart in my hopes, so stung me that, tied as I was, I
struggled on to my feet, and so stood tottering. Father Spaur drew
back a pace and glanced quickly about him.

"Michael!" he called. But the next instant I fell heavily forward upon
his breast. He burst into a loud laugh of relief, and flung me back
upon the settle.

I looked towards Ilga.

"What have you not told him?" I asked.

"Nothing!" she said coldly. "I, at all events, had nothing to
conceal."

She motioned Father Spaur to fall back. Otto and Groder picked up
their swords. Father Spaur unlatched the door, rubbed out the torch
upon the boards, and one after another they stepped from the pavilion.
Ilga followed last, but she did not turn her head as she went out.
Through the open doorway I could see the shadows dancing on the
terrace, I could hear the music pouring from the Castle in a lilting
measure. The door closed, the pavilion became black once more, and I
heard their footsteps recede across the pavement and grow silent upon
the grass.



                             CHAPTER XX.

             IN THE PAVILION. COUNTESS LUKSTEIN EXPLAINS.


Of the horror which the next two hours brought to me, I find it
difficult to speak, even at this distance of time. 'Twas not the fear
of what might be in store for me that oppressed my mind, though God
knows I do not say this to make a boast of it; for doubtless some fear
upon that score would have argued me a better man; but in truth I
barely sent a thought that way. The savour of life had become brine
upon my lips, and I cared little what became of me, so that the ending
was quick.

For the moment the door closed I was filled with an appalling sense of
loneliness and isolation. Heart and brain it seized and possessed me.
'Twas the closing of a door upon all the hopes which had chattered and
laughed and nestled at my heart for so long; and into such a vacancy
of mind did I fall, that I did not trouble to speculate upon the
nature of the story which Countess Lukstein believed to be true. That
she had been led by I knew not what suspicions into some strange error
that she had got but a misshapen account of the duel between her
husband and myself, was, of course, plain to me. But since her former
kindliness and courtesy had been part of a deliberate and ordained
plan for securing me within her power, since, in a word, she had
cherished no favourable thoughts of me at any time, I deemed it idle
to consider of the matter.

Moreover, the remoteness of these parts made my helplessness yet more
bitter and overpowering; though, indeed, I was not like to forget my
helplessness in any case, for the cords about my ankles and wrists bit
into my flesh like coils of hot wire. "A sequestered nook of the
world," so I remembered, had Ilga called this corner of the Tyrol, and
for a second time that night my thoughts went back to my own distant
valley. I saw it pleasant with the domestic serenity which a man
discovers nowhere but in his native landscape.

And to crown, as it were, my loneliness, now and again a few stray
notes of music or a noise of laughter would drift through the chinks
into the pitch-dark hut, and tell of the lighted Hall and of Ilga,
now, maybe, dancing among her guests.

'Twas a little short of eleven when she returned to the pavilion. I am
able to fix the time from an incident which occurred shortly
afterwards. At first, the steps falling light as they approached, I
bethought me my visitor was either Otto or Groder coming stealthily
upon his toes to complete his work with me; for I never expected to
look upon her face again.

She carried no light with her, and paused on the sill of the door, her
slight figure outlined against the twilight. She bent her head
forward, peering into the gloom of the room, but she said no word;
neither did I address her. So she stood for a little, and then,
stepping again outside, she unbarred and opened the shutters of the
window. Returning, she latched the door, locked it from within, and,
fetching the stool from the corner, sat her down quietly before me.

The moon, which had previously shone into the room almost in a level
bar, now slanted its beams, so that the Countess was bathed in them
from head to foot, while I, being nearer to the window, lay half in
shadow, half on the edge of the light.

She sat with her chin propped upon her hands, and her eyes steadily
fixed upon mine, but she betrayed no resentment in her looks nor,
indeed, feeling of any kind. Then, in a low, absent voice, she began
to croon over to herself that odd, wailing elegy which I had once
heard her sing in London. The tune had often haunted me since that day
from its native melancholy, but now, as Ilga sang it in the moonlight,
her eyes very big and dark, and fastened quietly upon mine, it gained
a weird and eerie quality from her manner, and I felt my flesh begin
to creep.

I stirred uneasily upon the settle, and Ilga stopped. I must think she
mistook the reason of my restlessness, for a slow smile came upon her
face, and, reaching out a hand, she tried the knots wherewith I was
bound.

"It may well be," she suggested, "that you are better inclined to
speak the truth, since now you know to what falsehood has brought
you."

"Madame," I replied wearily, "I know not what you believe nor what you
would have me say. It matters little to me, nor can I see, since you
have reached the end for which you worked, that it need greatly
concern you. This only I know, that I have already told you the
truth."

"And the miniature you left behind you?" she asked, with an ironic
smile. "Am I to understand it has no bearing on the duel?"

"Nay, madame," said I; "'tis the key to the cause of our encounter."

"Ah!" she interrupted, with a satisfaction which I did not comprehend.
"You have drawn some profit from the reflection of these last hours."

"For," I continued, "it contained the likeness of my friend, Sir
Julian Harnwood, as, indeed, Otto must needs have told you. 'Twas in
his cause that I came to Lukstein."

"'Twas the likeness of a woman," she replied patiently.

I stared at her in amazement.

"Of a woman!" I exclaimed.

She laughed with a quiet scorn.

"Of a woman," she repeated. "I showed it you in my apartments at
London."

"The portrait of Lady Tracy? It is impossible!" I cried, starting up.
"Why, Marston gave it you. You told me so."

"Oh, is there no end to it?" She burst out into sudden passion,
beating her hands together as though to enforce her words. "Is there
no end to it? I never told you so. 'Twas you who pretended that. You
pretended you believed it, and like a weak fool, I let your cunning
deceive me. I was not sure then that you had killed the Count, and I
believed you had never seen the likeness till that day. But now I
know. You own you left the miniature behind you."

"But the case was locked," I said, "and I had not the key."

"I know not that."

I could have informed her who had possessed the key, but refrained,
bethinking me that the knowledge might only add to her distress and
yet do no real service to me.

"And so," I observed instead, "all your anxiety that I should not tax
Marston with the giving of it was on your own account, and not at all
on mine."

She was taken aback by the unexpected rejoinder. But to me 'twas no
more than a corollary of my original thought that the Countess had
been playing me like a silly fish during the entire period of our
acquaintance.

"I showed you the portrait as a test," she said hurriedly. "I believed
you guiltless, and I knew Mr. Marston and yourself had little liking
for each other. Any pretext would have served you for a quarrel.
Besides--besides----"

"Besides," I took her up, "you allowed me to believe that Marston had
given you the miniature, and had I spoken of the matter to him I
should have discovered you were playing me false."

"But you knew," she cried, whipping herself to anger, as it seemed to
me, to make up for having given ground. "You knew how the miniature
came into my hands. All the while you knew it, and you talk of my
playing you false!"

Suddenly she resumed her seat, and continued in a quieter voice:

"But the brother found out the shameful secret. You could overreach
me, but not the brother; and fresh from accounting to him for your
conduct, you must needs stumble into my presence with Lady Tracy's
name upon your lips, and doubtless some new explanation ready."

"Madame, that is not so. I came that evening to tell you what I have
told you to-night, but you would not hear me. You bade me come to
Lukstein. I know now why, and 'twas doubtless for the same reason that
you locked the door when I had swooned."

She started as I mentioned that incident.

"'Twas not on Lady Tracy's account, or because of any conduct of mine
towards her, that I fought Marston. Against his will I compelled him
to fight, as Lord Elmscott will bear out. He had learned by whose hand
Count Lukstein died, and rode after you to Bristol that he might be
the first to tell you; and I was minded to tell you the story myself."

"Or, at all events, to prevent him telling it," she added, with a
sneer. "But how came Mr. Marston to learn this fact?"

I was silent. I could not but understand that the Countess presumed
her husband, Lady Tracy, and myself to be bound together by some
vulgar intrigue, and I saw how my answer must needs strengthen her
suspicions.

"How did he find out?" she repeated. "Tell me that!"

"Lady Tracy informed him," I answered, in despair.

"Then you admit that Lady Tracy knew?"

"I told her of the duel myself, on the very morning that I first met
her--on the morning that I introduced her into your house."

"And why did she carry the news to her brother?"

Again I was silent, and again she pressed the question.

"She was afraid of you, and she sought her brother's protection,"
Every word I uttered seemed to plead against me. "I understand now why
she was afraid. I did not know her miniature was in that case, but
doubtless she did, and she was afraid you should connect her with
Count Lukstein's death."

"Whereas," replied the Countess, "she had nothing to do with it?"

I had made up my mind what answer I should make to this question when
it was put. Since I had plainly lost Ilga beyond all hope, I was
resolved to spare her the knowledge of her husband's treachery.
'Twould not better my case--for in truth I cared little what became of
me--to relate that disgraceful episode to her, and 'twould only add to
her unhappiness. So I answered boldly:

"She had nothing to do with it."

The Countess sat looking at me without a word, and I was bethinking me
of some excuse by which I might explain how it came about that Lady
Tracy's portrait and not Julian's was in the box, when she bent
forward, with her face quite close to mine, so that she might note
every change in my expression.

"And the footsteps in the snow; how do you account for them? The
woman's footsteps that kept side by side with yours from the parapet
to the window, and back again from the window to the parapet?"

I uttered a cry, and setting my feet to the ground, raised myself up
in the settle.

"The footsteps in the snow? They were your own."

The Countess stared at me vacantly, and then I saw the horror growing
in her eyes, and I knew that at last she believed me.

"They were your own," I went on. "I knew nothing of Count Lukstein's
marriage. I had never set eyes on him at all. I knew not 'twas your
wedding-day. I came hither hot-foot from Bristol to serve my friend
Sir Julian Harnwood. He had quarrelled with the Count, and since he
lay condemned to death as one of Monmouth's rebels, he charged me to
take the quarrel up. In furtherance of that charge, I forced Count
Lukstein to fight me. In the midst of the encounter you came down the
little staircase into the room. I saw you across the Count's shoulder.
The curtain by the window hangs now half-torn from the vallance. I
tore it clutching its folds in my horror. We started asunder, and you
passed between us. You walked out across the garden and to the Castle
wall. Madame, as God is my witness, when once I had seen you, I wished
for nothing so much as to leave the Count in peace. But--but----"

"Well?" she asked breathlessly.

"'Twas Count Lukstein's turn to compel me," I went on, recovering from
a momentary hesitation. I had indeed nearly blurted out the truth
about his final thrust. "And when you came back into the room, you
passed within a foot of the dead body of your husband, and of myself,
who was kneeling----"

She flung herself back, interrupting me with a shuddering cry. She
covered her face with her hands, and swayed to and fro upon the stool,
as though she would fall.

"Madame!" I exclaimed. "For God's sake! For if you swoon, alas! I
cannot help you."

She recovered herself in a moment, and taking her hands from before
her face, looked at me with a strangely softened expression. She rose
from her seat, and took a step or two thoughtfully towards the door.
Then she stopped and turned to me.

"Lady Tracy, you say, had nothing to do with this quarrel, and yet her
likeness was in the miniature case."

I had no doubt in my own mind as to how it came there. 'Twas the case
which Lady Tracy had given to Count Lukstein, and doubtless she had
substituted her portrait for that of Julian. But this I could not tell
to the Countess.

"'Twas a mistake of my friend," said I. "He gave me the case as a
warrant and proof, which I might show to Count Lukstein, that I came
on his part, telling me his portrait was within it. But 'twas on the
night before he was executed, and his thoughts may well have gone
astray."

"But since the case was locked, and you had not the key, who was to
open it?"

"Count Lukstein," I replied, being thrown for a moment off my guard.

"Count Lukstein?" she asked, coming back to me. "Then he possessed the
key. You fought for your friend, Sir Julian Harnwood. Lady Tracy was
betrothed to Sir Julian. The case was given to you as a warrant of the
cause in which you came. It contained Lady Tracy's likeness, and Count
Lukstein held the key."

She spoke with great slowness and deliberation, adding sentence to
sentence as links in a chain of testimony. I heard her with a great
fear, perceiving how near she was to the truth. There was, however,
one link missing to make the chain complete. She did not know that
Lady Tracy had owned the case and had given it to Count Lukstein, and
of that fact I was determined she should still remain ignorant.

"My husband loved me," she said quickly, with a curious challenge in
her voice.

"I believe most sincerely that he did," I answered with vehemence. I
was able to say so honestly, for I remembered how his face and tone
had softened when he made mention of his wife.

"Then tell me the cause of this quarrel that induced you to break into
this house at midnight, and, on a friend's behalf, force a stranger to
fight you without even a witness?"

There was a return of suspicion in her tone, and she came back into
the moonlight. The temptation to speak out grew upon me as I watched
her. I longed to assure her that I was bound to no other woman, but
pledged heart and soul to her, and the fear that if I kept silent she
would once more set this duel down to some rivalry in intrigue, urged
me well-nigh out of all restraint. Why should I be so careful of the
reputation of Count Lukstein? 'Twas an unworthy thought, and one that
promised to mislead me; for after all, 'twas not his good or ill
repute that I had to consider, but rather whether Ilga held his memory
in such esteem and respect that my disclosures would inflict great
misery upon her and a lasting distress. This postulate I could hardly
bring myself to question. Had I not, indeed, ample surety in the care
and perseverance wherewith she had sought to avenge his death?
However, being hard pressed by my inclinations, I determined to test
that point conclusively if by any means I might.

"Madame," I said, "last night, as I lay in my bed, bethinking me of
the morrow, and wondering what it held in store for me, I heard the
sound of a woman weeping. It rose from the little room beneath me;
from the room wherein I fought Count Lukstein. 'Twas the most desolate
sound that ever my ears have hearkened to--a woman weeping alone in
the black of the night. I stole down the staircase and opened the
door. I saw that the woman who wept was yourself."

"'Twas for my husband," she interposed, very sharp and quick, and my
heart sank.

Yet her words seemed to quicken my desire to reveal the truth. They
woke in me a strange and morbid jealousy of the man. I longed to cry
out: "He was a coward; false to you, false to his friend, false to
me."

"And in London?" I asked, temporising again. "The morning I came to
you unannounced. You were at the spinnet."

"'Twas for my husband," she repeated, with a certain stubbornness.
"But we will keep to the question we have in hand, if you please--the
cause of your dispute with Count Lukstein."

"I will not tell you it."

I spoke with no great firmness, and on that account most like I helped
to confirm her reawakened suspicions.

"Will not?" says she, her voice cold and sneering. "They are brave
words though unbravely spoken. You forget I have the advantage and can
compel you."

"Madame," I replied, "you overrate your powers. Your servants can bind
me hand and foot, but they cannot compel me to speak what I will not."

"Have you no lie ready? What? Does your invention fail?" and she
suddenly rose from the stool in a whirlwind of passion. "God forgive
me!" she cried. "For even now I believed you."

She ceased abruptly and pushed her head forward, listening. The creak
of wheels came faintly to our ears.

"You hear that? It is Mr. Buckler's carriage, and Mr. Buckler rides
within it. Do you understand? The carriage takes you to Meran; you
will not be the first traveller who has disappeared on the borders of
Italy. I am afraid your friend at Venice will wait for you in vain."

The carriage rumbled down the hill, and we both listened until the
sound died away.

"For the future you shall labour as my peasant on the hillside among
the woods, with my peasants for companionship, until your thoughts
grow coarse with your body, and your soul dwindles to the soul of a
peasant. So shall you live, and so shall you die, for the wrong which
you have done to me." She towered above me in her outburst, her eyes
flashing with anger. "And you dared to charge me with trickery! Why,
what else has your life been? From the night you went clothed as a
woman to Bristol Bridewell, what else has your life been? A woman! The
part fitted you well; you have all the cunning. You need but the
addition of a petticoat."

The bitterness of her speech stung me into a fury, and, forgetful of
the continence I owed to her:

"Madame!" I said, "I proved the contrary to your husband."

"Silence!" she cried, and with her open hand she struck me on the
face. And then a strange thing happened. It seemed as though we
changed places. For all my helplessness, I seemed to have won the
mastery over her. A feeling of power and domination, such as I had
never experienced before, grew stronger and stronger within me, and
ran tingling through every vein. I forgot my bonds; I forgot the
contempt which she had poured on me; I forgot the very diffidence with
which she had always inspired me. I felt somehow that I was her
master, and exulted in the feeling. Whatever happened to me in the
future, whether or no I was to labour as her bondslave for all my
days, for that one moment I was her master. She could never hold me in
lower esteem, in greater scorn than she did at this hour, and yet I
was her master. Something told me indeed that she would never hold me
in contempt at all again. She stood before me, her face dark with
shame, her attitude one of shrinking humiliation. Twice she strove to
raise her eyes to mine; twice she let them fall to the ground. She
began a sentence, and broke off at the second word. She pulled
fretfully at the laces of her gloves. Then she turned and walked to
the door. She walked slowly at first, constraining herself; she
quickened her pace, fumbled with the key in her hurry to unlock the
door, and once out of the pavilion, without pausing to latch or lock
it, fled like one pursued towards the house. And from the bottom of my
heart I pitied her.

In a little while Father Spaur, with the two Tyrolese, returned, and
they carried me quickly through the little parlour and up the
staircase to my bedroom. There they flung me on the bed and locked the
door and left me. Through the open window the dance-melodies rose to
my ears. It seemed to me that I could distinguish particular tunes
which I had heard when I crouched in the snow upon that November
night.


              Que toutes joies et toutes honneurs
              Viennent d'armes et d'amours.


Jack's refrain, which he had hummed so continually during our ride to
Austria, came into my head, and set itself to the lilt of the music.
Well, I had made essay of both arms and love, and I had got little joy
and less honour therefrom, unless it be joy to burn with anxieties,
and honour to labour as a peasant and be deemed a common trickster!

The music ceased; the guests went homewards down the hill, laughing
and singing as they went; the Castle gradually grew silent. The door
of my room was unlocked and flung open, and Groder entered, bearing a
candle in his hand. He set it down upon the table, and drew a long
knife from a sheath which projected out of his pocket. This he held
and flourished before my eyes, seeking like a child to terrify me with
his antics, until Father Spaur, following in upon his heels, bade him
desist from his buffoonery.

Groder cut the girdle which bound my ankles.

"March!" said he.

But my legs were so numbed with the tightness of the cord that they
refused their office. Father Spaur ordered him to chafe my limbs with
his hands, which he did very unwillingly, and after a little I was
able to walk, though with uncertain and wavering steps.

"Should you suffer at all at Groder's hands," said the priest
pleasantly, "I beg you to console yourself with certain reflections
which I shared with you one afternoon that we rode together."

We proceeded along the corridor and turned into the gallery which ran
round the hall. But at the head of the great staircase I stopped and
drew back. The priest's taunts and Groder's insolence I had endured in
silence. What they had bidden me do, that I had done; for in the
miscarriage of my fortunes I was minded to bear myself as a gentleman
should, without pettish complaints or an unavailing resistance which
could only entail upon me further indignities. But from this final
humiliation I shrank.

Below me the entire household of servants was ranged in the hall,
leaving a lane open from the foot of the stairs to the door. Every
face was turned towards me--except one. One face was held aside and
hidden in a handkerchief, and since that hour I have ever felt a
special friendliness and gratitude for the withered little
Frenchwoman, Clemence Durette. Alone of all that company she showed
some pity for my plight. None the less, however, my eyes went
wandering for another sight. What with the uncertain glare of the
torches, that sent waves of red light and shadow in succession
sweeping across the throng of faces, 'twas some while or ever I could
discover the Countess. That she was present I had no doubt, and at
last I saw her, standing by the door apart from her servants, her face
white, and her eyelids closed over her eyes.

Groder pushed me roughly in the small of the back, and I stumbled down
the topmost steps. There was no escape from the ordeal, and glancing
neither to the right nor to the left, I walked between the silent rows
of servants. I passed within a yard of Countess Lukstein, but she made
no movement; she never even raised her eyes. A carriage stood in the
courtyard, and I got into it, and was followed by Michael Groder and
Otto. As we drove off a hubbub arose within the hall, and it seemed to
me that a ring was formed about the doorway, as though some one had
fallen. But before I had time to take much note of it, a cloth was
bound over my eyes, and the carriage rolled down the hill.

At the bottom, where the track from Lukstein debouches upon the main
road, we turned eastwards in the direction of Meran, and thence again
to the left, ascending an incline; so that I gathered we were entering
a ravine parallel to the Senner Thal, but further east.

In a while the carriage stopped, and Otto, opening the door, told me
civilly enough to descend. Then he took me by the arm and led me
across a threshold into a room. A woman's voice was raised in
astonishment.

"Wait till he's plucked of his feathers!" laughed Groder, and bade her
close the shutters.

The bandage was removed from my eyes, and by the grey morning light
which pierced through the crevices of the window, I perceived that I
was in some rough cottage. An old woman stood gaping open-mouthed
before me. Groder sharply bade her go and prepare breakfast. Otto
unbound my wrists, and pointed to a heap of clothes which lay in a
corner, and so they left me to myself.

I had some difficulty in putting on these clothes, since my wrists
were swollen and well-nigh useless from their long confinement.
Indeed, but for a threat which Groder shouted through the door, saying
that he would come and assist me to make my toilet, I doubt whether I
should have succeeded at all.

For breakfast they brought me a pannikin full of a greasy steaming
gruel, which I constrained myself to swallow. Then they bound my hands
again. Groder wrapped up the clothes which I had taken off in a
bundle, and slung it on his back. Otto replaced the bandage on my
eyes, and we set out, mounting upwards by a rough mountain track,
along which they guided me. About noon Otto called a halt, and none
too soon, for I was ready to drop with fatigue and pain. There we made
a meal of some dry coarse bread, and washed it down with spirit of a
very bitter flavour. 'Twas new to me at the time, but I know now that
it was distilled from the gentian flower. Groder lit a fire and burned
the bundle of clothes which he had brought with him, the two men
sharing my jewels between them.

From that point we left the track and climbed up a grass slope,
winding this way and that in the ascent. 'Twas as much as I could do
to keep my feet, though Otto and Groder supported me upon either side.
At the top we dipped down again for a little, crossed a level field of
heather, but in what direction I know not, for by this I had lost all
sense of our bearings, mounted again, descended again, and towards
nightfall came to a hut. Groder thrust me inside, plucked the cloth
from my face, and unbound my hands.

"'Tis a long day's journey," said he; "but what matters that if you
make it only once?"



                             CHAPTER XXI.

                         IN CAPTIVITY HOLLOW.


The hut wherein I passed the first month of my captivity was of a more
solid construction than is customary at so great a height, and had
been built by the order of Count Lukstein for a shelter when the chase
brought him hitherwards. For the hillside was covered with a dense
forest of fir-trees in which chamois abounded, and now and again,
though 'twas never my lot to come across one, a bear might be
discovered.

The hut had a sort of vestibule paved with cobble-stones and roofed
with pine-wood. From this hall a room led out upon either side, though
only that upon the right hand was used by the wood-cutters who dwelt
here. Of these there were two, and they lived and slept in the one
room, cooking the gruel or porridge, which formed our chief food, in a
great cauldron slung over a rough fireplace of stones in the centre of
the floor. There was no chimney to carry off the smoke, not so much as
a hole in the wall; but the smoke found its way out as best it might
through the door. From the hall a ladder led up through a trap-door
into a loft above, and as soon as we had supped, Groder bade me mount
it, and followed me himself. The wood-cutters below removed the
ladder, Groder closed the trap, and, spreading some branches of fir
upon it, laid him down and went to sleep. I followed his example in
the matter of making my bed, but, as you may believe, I got little
sleep that night. For one thing my arms and legs were now become so
swollen and painful that it tortured me even to move them, and it was
full two days before I was sufficiently recovered to be able to
descend from the loft. By that time Otto had got him back to the
valley, and I was left under the authority of Groder, which he used
without scruple or intermission. Each morning at daybreak the ladder
was hoisted to the loft. We descended and despatched a hasty
breakfast; thereupon I was given an axe, and the four of us proceeded
into the forest, where we felled trees the day long. Through the gaps
in the clearings I would look across the valley to the bleak rocks and
naked snow-fields, and thoughts of English meadows knee-deep in grass,
and of rooks cawing through a summer afternoon, would force themselves
into my mind until I grew well-nigh daft with longing for a sight of
them. At nightfall we returned to the hut and partook of a meal, and
no words wasted. When the meal was finished I was straightway banished
to my loft, where I lay in the dark, and heard through the floor the
wood-cutters breaking into all sorts of rough jests and songs now that
I was no longer present to check their merriment For towards me they
consistently showed the greatest taciturnity and sullen reserve. 'Twas
seldom that any one except Groder addressed a word to me, and in truth
I would lief he had been as silent as the rest. For when he opened his
mouth 'twas only to utter some command in a harsh, growling tone as
though he spoke to a cur, and to couple thereto a coarse and unseemly
oath.

For a time I endured this servitude in an extraordinary barrenness of
mind. Not even the thought of escape stirred me to activity. The
sudden misfortune which had befallen me seemed to have numbed and
dulled all but my bodily faculties. Moreover the long and arduous
labour, to which I was set, wearied me in the extreme, and each
evening I came back so broken with fatigue that I wished for nothing
so much as to climb into my loft and stretch myself out upon my
branches in the dark, though even then I was often too tired to sleep,
and so would lie hour after hour counting the seconds by the pulsing
of my sinews.

After a couple of weeks had gone by, however, I began to take some
notice of the place of my captivity, and to seek whether by any means
I might compass my escape. For I recalled, with an apprehension which
quickened speedily, as I dwelt upon it, into a panic of terror, the
singular prophecy and sentence which the Countess had flung at me. I
began to see myself already sinking into a dull apathy, performing my
daily task, with no thought beyond my physical needs, until I became
one with these coarse peasants in spirit and mind.

What else, I reflected, could happen? Remote from all intercourse or
companionship, with not so much as a single book to divert me,
labouring with my hands from dawn to dusk, and guarded ever by
ignorant boors who reckoned me not worth even their speech--what else
could I become? 'Twould need far less than a lifetime to work the
transformation!

But, however carefully I watched, I could by no means come at the
opportunity of an evasion. At night, as I have said, Groder shared the
loft with me, and slept over the trap-door; nor was there any window
or other opening through which I might drop to the ground, since the
roof reached down to the flooring upon every side. This roof consisted
of a thatch of boughs, and of large sheets of bark superimposed upon
them, and weighted down by heavy stones. One night, indeed, when
Groder lay snoring, I endeavoured to force an opening through the
thatch; but I had no help beyond what my hands afforded me--for they
took my axe from me every night as soon as we got back to the hut--and
I was compelled, moreover, to work with the greatest caution and
quietude lest I should awaken my companion; so that I got nothing for
my pains but a few scratches and an additional fatigue to carry
through the morrow.

Nor, indeed, was my case any better in the day-time. We all worked in
the same clearing, and at no single moment was I out of sight of my
gaolers.

But even had I succeeded in eluding them, I doubt whether at this time
I should have been any nearer the fulfilment of my desire. For I knew
not so much as the direction of Lukstein, and I should only have
wandered helpless amongst these heights until either I was recaptured
or perished miserably upon the desolate wastes of snow.

The hut stood in the centre of a little hollow, on the brink of a
torrent, and was girt about by a rim of hills. There was, indeed, but
one outlet, and that a precipitous gully, through which the water
rushed with a great roaring noise, and I gathered from this that it
fell pretty sheer. I was the more inclined to this conjecture, since
had the gully afforded a path it would have been the natural entrance
into the hollow, and I knew that I had not been brought that way, else
I must needs have remarked the roar of the stream sooner than I did.
For that sound only came to my ears when I was but a short distance
from the hut.

If you stood with your back to the door of the hut, the noise came
from directly behind you. On your right rose the pine-forest wherein
we laboured, very steep and dense, to the crest of a hill; on your
left a barren wilderness, encumbered by stones, sloped up to the foot
of a great field of snow, which grew steeper and steeper towards its
summit. Here and there great masses of ice bulged out from the
incline, like nothing so much as the bosses of shields. I was rather
apt to underrate the size and danger of these, until one day a
fragment, which seemed in comparison no greater than a pea, broke away
from one of these bosses and dropped on to the slope beneath,
starting, as it were, a little rillet of snow down the hillside. On
the instant the hollow was filled with a great thunder, as though a
battery of cannon had been discharged; and I should hardly have
believed this fragment could have produced so great a disturbance, had
not the Tyrolese looked across the valley, and by their words to one
another assured me it was so.

In front of you, the head of this hollow was blocked up by a tongue of
ice, which wound downwards like some huge dragon, and the stream of
which I have spoken flowed from the tip of it, as though the dragon
spewed the water from its mouth. It was then apparent to me from these
observations that I had been carried into this prison by some track
through the pine-forest, and I set myself to the discovery of it. But
whether the wood-cutters kept aloof from it, or whether it was in
reality indistinguishable, I could perceive no trace of it. At one
point on the crest of the hill there was a marked depression, and I
judged that there lay the true entrance; but through the gap I could
see nothing but a sea of white, with dark peaks of rock tossed this
way and that, and dreaded much adventuring myself that way.

It soon came upon me, however, that in whichever way I determined to
make my attempt, I must needs delay the actual enterprise until the
spring; for we were now in the month of November, and the snow falling
very thickly, so that for some while we worked knee-deep in snow. Then
one morning Groder and his comrades once more bound my hands and
bandaged my eyes, and we set off to pass the winter in one of the
lower valleys. On this occasion I took such notice as I could of our
direction, and from the diminishing sound of the waterfall, I
understood that we marched for some distance towards the head of the
valley, and then turned to the right through the pine-forest.
Evidently we were making for the gap in the ridge of the hill, and I
determined to pay particular heed to the course which we followed down
the other side. Again, however, I was led in a continual zigzag, first
to the right, then to the left, and with such irregular distances
between each turn that it became impossible to keep a clear notion of
our direction. At times, too, we would retrace our steps, at others we
seemed to be describing the greater part of a circle; so that in the
end, when we finally reached our quarters, I was little wiser than at
the moment of setting out.

There were some five or six cottages in the ravine whither we were
come, and one of them most undeniably an inn; for though I was not
suffered to go there myself--nor, indeed, had I any inclination that
way--my guardians frequently brought back upon their tongues and in
their faces evidence as convincing as a sign swinging above the door.
In truth if the house was not an inn, it possessed the most hospitable
master in the world.

None the less strictly, however, on this account was the watch
maintained upon me; for if Groder and his fellows chanced to be
incapacitated for the time, there were ever some peasants from the
neighbouring cottages ready to fill their place; though, indeed, there
was but little necessity for their zeal, for the snow lay many feet
deep upon the ground, and the only path along which one could travel
at all led down to the more populous parts of the valley, through
which, at this time of the year, it would be impossible to escape. One
could journey no faster than at a snail's pace, and would leave,
besides, an unmistakable trail for the pursuers.

These winter months proved the most irksome of my captivity, my sole
occupation being the plaiting of ropes from the flax which was grown
about these parts. At this tedious and mechanic labour I toiled for
many hours a day, in an exceeding great vacancy of spirit, until I hit
upon a plan by which I might exercise my mind without hindering the
work of my fingers. 'Twas my terror lest my wits should wither for
lack of use that first set me on the device; since, indeed, it
mattered little how or when Countess Ilga discovered that I had slain
her husband. She _had_ discovered it; that was the kernel of the
matter, and the searching out of the means whereby she gained the
knowledge no more than an idle cracking of the shell into little
fragments after the kernel has been removed.

Many incidents, of course, became intelligible to me now that I knew
whose portrait the miniature box contained. The sudden swoon of Lady
Tracy in the hall at Pall Mall was now easily accounted for. The
moment before I had been speaking of the miniature, and Lady Tracy
knew--what I could not know--that Ilga held a proof of her
acquaintanceship with the Count, and would be certain to attribute it
as the cause of his death. It was doubtless, also, that piece of
knowledge which drove her to such a pitch of fear that on seeing the
Countess at Bristol she disclosed the story to her brother and
besought his protection. I understood, moreover, the drift of the
words which Marston was uttering when death took him. He meant to ask
a question, not to make an explanation.

Concerning those events, however, which more nearly concerned myself I
was not so clear. I had no clue whereby I could ascertain how the
Countess first came to fix her suspicions upon me, and in the absence
of that, my speculations were the merest conjectures. Much of course
was significant to me which I had disregarded, as, for instance, the
journey of Countess Lukstein to Bristol, the diagram which she had
drawn on the gravel under the piazza of Covent Garden, the perplexity
with which she had regarded the diagram, and the sudden start she had
given when I mentioned the date of my departure from Leyden. For I
remembered that she had previously remarked the Horace when she came
to visit me; and in that volume the date "September 14, 1685," was
inscribed on the page opposite to Julian's outline of Lukstein.

These details, now that I was aware she suspected me at that time,
were full of significance, but they gave me no help towards the
solving of that first question as to what directed her thoughts my
way. It seemed to me, indeed, as I looked back upon the incidents of
our acquaintance, that the Countess, almost from our first meeting,
had begun to set her husband's death to my account.

One thing, however, I did clearly recognise, and for that recognition
I shall ever be most gratefully thankful. 'Twas of far more importance
to me than any academic speculations, and I do but cite them here that
I may show how I came by it. I perceived that 'twas not so much any
investigation on the part of the Countess which had betrayed me to
her, as my own wilful and independent actions. Of my own free choice I
came from Cumberland to seek her; of my own free choice I brought her
to my rooms, where she saw the Horace; of my own free choice I joined
her in the box at the Duke's Theatre, and so led Marston to speak of
my ride to Bristol; and again of my own free choice I had persuaded
Lady Tracy to enter the house in Pall Mall and confront my mistress.
Even in the matter of the diagram, 'twas my anxiety and insistence to
prove that Lady Tracy and I were strangers which induced me to dwell
upon the date of my leaving Holland, and so gave to the Countess the
clue to resolve her perplexity. In short, my very efforts at
concealment were the means by which suspicion was ratified and
assured, and I could not but believe that Providence in its great
wisdom had so willed it. 'Tis that belief and conviction for which I
have ever been most grateful; for it enheartened me with patience to
endure my present sufferings, and saved me, in particular, from
cherishing a petty rancour and resentment against the lady who
inflicted them.

I had yet one other consolation during this winter. For at times Otto
Krax would come up from the valley to inquire after the prisoner. At
first he would but stay for the night and so get him back; but his
visits gradually lengthened and grew more frequent, an odd friendship
springing up between us. For one thing, I was attracted to him because
he came from Lukstein, and, indeed, might have had speech with
Countess Ilga upon the very day of his coming. But, besides that,
there was a certain dignity about the man which set him apart from
these rude peasants, and made his companionship very welcome. He
showed his good-will towards me by recounting at great length all that
happened at Lukstein, and on the eve of the Epiphany, which 'tis the
fashion of this people to celebrate with much rejoicing, he brought me
a pipe and a packet of tobacco. No present could have been more
grateful, and it touched me to notice his pleasure when I manifested
my delight. We went out of the cottage together, and sat smoking in
the starlight upon a boulder, and I remember that he told me one might
see upon this evening a woman in white clothing, with a train of
little ragged children chattering and clattering behind her. 'Twas
Procula, the wife of Pontius Pilate, he explained. 'Twas her penance
to wander over the world until the last day attended by the souls of
all children that died before they had been baptized, and at the
season of the Epiphany she ever passed through the valleys of the
Tyrol. However, we saw naught of her that night.

Early in May Groder carried me back to the hollow, and I began
seriously to consider in what way I should be most like to effect my
escape. At any cost I was firmly resolved to venture the attempt, and
during this summer too, dreading the thought of a second winter of
such unendurable monotony as that through which I had passed.

We were now set to drag from the hillside to the brink of the torrent
the wood which we had felled in the autumn, so that as the stream
swelled with the melting of the snows we might send the timber
floating down to the valley. 'Twas a task of great labour, and since
we had to saw many of the trunks into logs before we could move them,
one that occupied no inconsiderable time. Indeed we had not the wood
fairly stacked upon the bank until we were well into the first days of
June. Meanwhile I had turned over many projects in my mind, but not
one that seemed to offer me a possibility of success. I realised
especially that if I sought to escape by the way we had come, I
should, even though I were so lucky as to hit upon the right path,
nevertheless, have to pass through the most inhabited portion of the
district. And did I succeed so far, I should then find myself in the
valley, close by Castle Lukstein, with not so much as a penny piece in
my pocket to help me further on my way. Besides, by that route would
Groder be certain to pursue me the moment he discovered my escape, and
being familiar with the windings of the ravines, he would most surely
overtake me. Yet in no other direction could I discover the hint of an
outlet. I was in truth like a fly with wetted wings in the hollow of a
cup.

It was our custom to launch the trunks endwise into the torrent, but
one of them, which was larger than the rest, being caught in a swirl,
turned broadside to the stream, and floating down thus, stuck in the
narrow defile, through which the water plunged out of the hollow. The
barrier thus begun was strengthened by each succeeding log, so that in
a very short time a solid dam was raised, the water running away
underneath. To remedy this, Groder bade the peasants and myself take
our axes to the spot and cut the wood free.

Now this defile was no more than a deep channel bored by the torrent,
and on one side of it the cliff rose precipitously to the height of a
hundred feet. On the other, however, a steep slope of grass and
bushes, with here and there a dwarf-pine clinging to it, ran down to a
rough platform of rock, only twenty feet or so above the surface of
the current. To one of these trees we bound a couple of stout ropes,
and two men were lowered on to the block of timber, while the third
remained upon the platform to see that the ropes did not slip, and to
haul the others up. So we worked all the day, taking turn and turn
about on the platform.

To this lower end of the dale I had never come before, and when the
time arrived for me to rest, I naturally commenced to look about me
and consider whether or no I might escape that way. Beneath me the
torrent leaped and foamed in a mist of spray, here sweeping along the
cliff with a breaking crest like a wave, there circling in a whirlpool
about a boulder, and all with such a prodigious roar that I could not
hear my companions speak, though they shouted trumpet-wise through
their hands. 'Twas indeed no less than I had expected; the stream
filled the outlet from side to side.

Then I looked across to the great snow-slope opposite, and in an
instant I understood the position of Captivity Hollow, as, for want of
a better name, I termed the place of my confinement. The slope
finished abruptly just over against me, as though it had been shorn by
a knife, and I could see that the end face of it was a gigantic wall
of rock. I saw this wall in profile, as one may say, and for that very
reason I recognised it the more surely. 'Twas singularly flat, and
unbroken by buttresses; not a patch of snow was to be discovered
anywhere upon its face, and, moreover, the shape of its apex, which
was like the cupola upon a church belfry, made any mistake impossible.
In a word, the mountain was the Wildthurm; the wall of cliff blocked
the head of the Senner Thal, and the slope on which I gazed was the
eastern side, which I had likened to one of the canvas sides of a
tent.

If I could but cross it, I thought! No one would look for me in that
direction. I could strike into one of the many ravines that led into
the Vintschgau Thal to the west of Lukstein, and thence make my way to
Innspruck. If only I could cross it! But I gazed at the slope, and my
heart died within me. It rose before my eyes vast and steep, flashing
menace from a thousand glittering points. Besides, the early summer
was upon us, and the sun hot in the sky, so that never an hour passed
in the forenoon but blocks of ice would split off and thunder down the
incline.

The notion, however, still worked in my head throughout the day, and
as we returned to the hut I eagerly scanned the upper end of our
ravine, for at that point the slope of the Wildthurm declined very
greatly in height. Whilst the Tyrolese went in to prepare supper I
stayed by the door.

"Come!" shouted one of them at length--it was not Groder. "Come,
unless you prefer to sleep fasting."

And I turned to go in, with my mind made up; for I had perceived,
running upwards beside the tongue of ice which I have described, a
long, narrow ridge. 'Twas neither of ice nor snow, and in colour a
reddish brown, so that I imagined it to be a mound of earth, thrown up
in some way by the pressure of the snow. Along that it seemed to me
that I might find a path.

Groder was crouched up close to the fire, shivering by fits and
starts, like a man with an ague. He glanced evilly at me as I entered
the room, but said no word either to me or to his comrades, and kept
muttering to himself concerning "the Cold Torment." I knew not what
the man meant, but 'twas plain that he was shaken with a great fear;
and even during the night I heard him more than once start from his
sleep with a cry, and those same words upon his lips, "the Cold
Torment."

The next morning, hearing that the barrier was well-nigh cut through,
he ordered only one of the peasants to take me with him and complete
the work. I was lowered on to the dam first, and laboured at it with
saw and axe for the greater part of the morning. About noon, however,
I took my turn upon the platform, and after I had been standing some
little while, bent over the torrent, with my hand ready upon the rope,
since at any moment the logs might give way, I suddenly raised myself
to ease my back, and turned about.

Just above me on the slope I saw Groder's face peering over the edge
of a boulder. 'Twas so contorted with malignancy and hatred that it
had no human quality except its shape. 'Twas the face of a devil. For
one moment I saw it; the next it dropped behind the stone. I pretended
to have noticed nothing, and so stood looking everywhere except in his
direction. The expression upon his face left me no doubt as to his
intention. He was minded to take a leaf from my book, and precipitate
the boulder upon me when my back was turned, in which case I should
not come off so cheaply as he had done, for I should inevitably be
swept into the torrent. The boulder, I observed, was in a line with
the spot where I must stand in order to handle the rope.

What to do I could not determine. I dared not show him openly that I
had detected his design, for I should most likely in that event
provoke an open conflict, and I doubted not that the other peasant was
within call to help him to an issue if help were needed; and even if I
succeeded in avoiding a conflict, I should only put him upon his guard
and make him use more precautions when next he attempted my life.

I turned me again to the torrent and took the rope in my hand, with my
ears open for any sound behind me. I stooped slowly forwards, as if to
watch my companion, thinking that Groder would launch the stone as
soon as he deemed it impossible for me to recover in time to elude it.
And so it proved. I heard a dull thud as the boulder fell forward upon
the turf. I sprang quickly to one side, and not a moment too soon, for
the boulder whizzed past me on a level with my shoulder, leaped across
the stream, and was shattered into a thousand fragments against the
opposite cliff. The man below, who had been almost startled from his
footing, began to curse me roundly for my carelessness, and I answered
him without casting a glance to my rear, deeming it prudent to give
Groder the opportunity to crawl away into cover.

In that, however, I made a mistake, and one that went near to costing
me my life, for when I did turn, after explaining that the boulder had
slipped of its own weight and momentum, Groder was within ten feet of
me. He had crept noiselessly down the bank, and now stood with one
foot planted against it, the other upon the platform, his body all
gathered together for a leap. His teeth were bared, his eyes very
bright, and in his hand he held a long knife. I ran for my hatchet,
which lay some yards distant, but he was upon me before I could stoop
to pick it up. The knife flashed above my head; I caught at Groder's
wrist as it descended and grappled him close, for I knew enough of
their ways of fighting to feel assured that if I did but give his arms
free play, my eyes would soon be lying on my cheeks.

Backwards and forwards we swayed upon the narrow platform with never a
word spoken. Then from the torrent came a great crack and a shout. I
knew well enough what was happening. The barrier was giving, the water
was bursting the timber, and the peasant would of a surety be crushed
and ground to death between the loosened logs. But I dared not relax
my grip. Groder's breath was hot upon my face, his knife ever
quivering towards my throat. I heard a few quick sounds as of the
snapping of twigs, and once, I think, again the cry of a man in
distress; but the roaring of the waters was in my ears and I could not
be sure.

The labours of my captivity had hardened my limbs and sinews, else had
Groder mastered me more easily; but as it was, I felt my strength
ebbing, and twice the knife pricked into my shoulder as he pressed it
down. The din of the torrent died away. I was sensible of a deathly
stillness of the elements. It seemed as though Nature held its breath.
Suddenly a look of terror sprang into Groder's face. He redoubled his
efforts, and I felt my back give. Involuntarily I closed my eyes, and
then his fingers loosened their hold. He plucked himself free with a
jerk, and stood sullenly looking up the slope. I followed the
direction of his gaze, and saw Otto Krax standing above me. Gradually
the torrent became audible to me again; there was a rustling of leaves
in the wind, and in a little I understood that some one was speaking.
Groder advanced slowly across the grass and reached out the hand which
held the knife. Very calmly Otto grasped it by the wrist, twisted the
arm, and snapped it across his knee. What he said I could not hear,
but Groder went up the slope holding his broken arm, and I saw his
face no more.

Otto came down to me.

"You have never been nearer your death but once," he said.

I made no reply, but pointed to the rope at my feet. 'Twas dragging to
and fro upon the platform, and the thought of what dangled and tossed
in the water at the tag of it turned me sick. Otto walked to the edge
and looked over. Then he drew his knife and cut the rope.

"I saw only the end of the struggle," said he. "How did it begin?"

I told him briefly what had occurred.

"'Twas you taught him the trick," he said, with a laugh; "and he bore
you no good-will for the lesson."

"But what brought you so pat?" I asked.

"I was sent," he replied. "'Twas thought best I should follow."

"Follow? Follow whom?" said I.

He made no answer to my question, and continued hurriedly.

"I asked the fellow at the hut where you were, and he directed me
here--not a minute too soon either. Were you working at the timber
yesterday?"

"All day."

"Did Groder help?"

"No! He remained behind."

Otto gave a grunt.

"Alone?" he asked.

"Quite," I replied. "The others were with me."

We walked back to the hut together, and as on the evening before, I
stopped in the doorway to examine the ridge on which my hopes were
set. But I watched it to-day with a beating heart, and, let me own it,
with a shrinking apprehension too, for within the last hour the
possibility of my attempt had grown immeasurably real. Groder, I was
certain, I should see no more. 'Twas equally certain that Otto would
not remain to fill his place, and one of the peasants had been
battered to death in the breaking of the dam. 'Twas doubtless an
unworthy feeling, but, much as the nature of the man's end had
horrified me at the time, I could not now find it in my heart to
greatly regret it. I was too conscious of the fact that only a couple
of gaolers were left to guard me.

Otto coming from the kitchen to join me, I deemed it prudent not to be
particular in my gaze, and so taking my eyes off the ridge, which was
become to me what Mahomet's bridge is to the Turk, I let them roam
idly this way and that as we strolled forward over the turf. Hence it
chanced that about twenty yards from the door I saw something bright
winking in the verdure. I went towards it and picked it up. 'Twas a
little gold cross, and, moreover, clean and unrusted. A sudden thought
breaking in upon me, I turned to Otto and said:

"Otto, have you ever heard of the Cold Torment?"

Otto fell to crossing himself devoutly.

"The Cold Torment?" he asked, in awed tones. "What know you of it?" He
turned towards the gap in the hillside upon our right. "Look!" said
he. "You see the peak that stands apart like a silver wedge. On its
summit is buried an inexhaustible treasure, and night and day through
the ages seven guilty souls keep ward about it in the cold. Never may
one be freed until another is condemned in its stead. The Virgin save
us from the Cold Torment!"

"Ah!" said I, remarking the fervour of his prayer. "'Tis the text for
a persuasive homily, and Father Spaur, I fancy, preached from it
yesterday."

Otto started, and glanced about him with some fear, as though he half
expected to see the priest start out of the earth.

"You know not what you say," he exclaimed.

"Who sent you to follow him?"

"Nay," he protested; "I came not to spy upon Father Spaur. We know not
that he has been here. 'Twere wise not to know it."

I handed him the gold cross, and asked again:

"Who sent you after him?"

"I was not sent after him. I was bidden to come hither by my
mistress."

"Ah! she sent you!" I cried. "Give the cross back to Father Spaur, and
with it my most grateful thanks. He has done me better service than
ever did my dearest friend."

I reasoned it out in this way. Father Spaur was bent on appropriating
Lukstein and its broad lands to the Church. To that end, the Countess
must, at all costs, be hindered from a second marriage. What motive
could he have in prompting Groder to make an end of me, unless--unless
Ilga now and again let her thoughts stray my way? And to confirm my
conjecture, to rid it of presumption, I had this certain knowledge
that she had sent Otto to see that I came to no harm at his hands. I
should add that my speculations during the winter months had in some
measure prepared me to entertain this notion. From constantly
analysing and pondering all that she had said to me in the pavilion,
and bringing my recollections of her change in manner to illumine her
words, I had come, though hesitatingly, to a conclusion very different
from that which I had originally formed. I could not but perceive that
it made a great difference whether or no I had been alone upon my
first coming to the Castle. Besides, I realised that there was a
pregnant meaning which might be placed to the sentence which had so
perplexed me: "Would that I had the strength to resist, or the
weakness to yield!" And going yet further back, I had good grounds
from what she had let slip to believe that there was something more
than a regard for herself in the entreaty which she had addressed to
me in London, that I should not tax Marston with treachery in the
matter of the miniature.

Otto gave me back the cross.

"It is a mistake," said he. "Father Spaur has gone from Lukstein on a
visit."

"Then," said I, "present it to your mistress. She has more claim to it
than I."

That night Otto slept in the loft in Groder's place.

"You are sure," he asked, "that no one remained behind with Groder
yesterday afternoon?"

"Quite," said I.

"None the less, I should sleep on the trap if I were you, and 'twere
wise to carry your hatchet to bed for company."

"But they take it from me each night," I replied eagerly. "You must
tell them."

"I will. But there's no cause for fear."

'Twas not at all fear which prompted my eagerness; but I bethought me
if I had the loft to myself, and the axe ready to my hand, 'twould be
a strange thing if I could not find a way out by the morning.
Thereupon we fell to talking again of Groder's attempt upon my life,
and he repeated the words which he had used at the time.

"You were never nearer your death but once."

"And when was that once?" I asked drowsily.

He laughed softly to himself for a little, and then he replied; and
with his first sentence my drowsiness left me, just as a mist clears
in a moment off the hills.

"Do you remember one night in London that your garden door kept
slamming in the wind?"

"Well?" said I, starting up.

"You came downstairs in the dark, took the key from the mantelshelf,
and went out into the garden and locked it. That occasion was the
once."

"You were in the room!" I exclaimed. "I remember. The door was open
again in the morning. I had a locksmith to it. There was nothing amiss
with the lock, and I wondered how it happened."

Otto laughed again quietly.

"Right. I was in the room, and I was not alone either."

"The Countess was with you. Why?"

"There was a book in your rooms which she wished to see--a poetry
book, eh?--with a date on one page, and a plan of Castle Lukstein on
the page opposite. My mistress was at your lodging with some company
that afternoon."

"True," said I, interrupting him. "She proposed the party herself."

"Well, it seems that she got no chance of examining the book then. But
she unlocked the garden door. You had told her where you kept the
key."

I recollected that I had done so on the occasion of her first visit.

"And so Countess Lukstein and yourself were in the room when I passed
through that night."

Otto began to chuckle again.

"'Twas lucky you came down in the dark, and didn't stumble over us.
Lord! I thought that I should have burst with holding my breath."

"Otto," I said, "tell me the whole story; how your suspicions set
towards me, and what confirmed them."

"Very well," said he, after a pause, "I will; for my mistress
consulted me throughout. But you will get no sleep."

"I shall get less if you don't tell me."

"Wait a moment!"

He filled his tobacco-pipe and lighted it. I followed his example, and
between the puffs he related the history of those far-away days in
London. To me, lying back upon the boughs which formed my bed in the
dark loft, it seemed like the weaving of a fairy tale. The house in
Pall Mall--St. James's Park--the piazza, of Covent Garden! How strange
it all sounded, and how unreal!

The odour of pine-wood was in my nostrils, and I had but to raise my
arm to touch the sloping thatch above my head.



                             CHAPTER XXII.

               A TALK WITH OTTO. I ESCAPE TO INNSPRUCK.


"Of what happened at Bristol," he began, "you know well-nigh as much
as I do, in a sense, maybe more; for I have never learnt to this day
why my master, the late Count, left me behind there to keep an eye
upon the old attorney and Sir Julian Harnwood's visitors. There's only
one thing I need tell you. The night you came from the Bridewell,
after--well, after----" He hesitated, seeming at a loss for a word. I
understood what it was that he stuck at, and realising that my turn
had come to chuckle, I said, with a laugh:

"The blow was a good one, Otto."

"'Twas not so good as you thought," he replied rather hotly, "not by a
great deal; and for all that you ran away so fast," he repeated the
phrase with considerable emphasis, "for all that you ran away so fast,
I found out where you lodged. I passed the lawyer man as he was coming
back alone, and remembering that I had traced him into Limekiln Lane
in the afternoon, I returned there the next morning. The 'Thatched
House' was the only tavern in the street, and I inquired whether a
woman had stayed there overnight. They told me no; they had only put
up one traveller, and he had left already. I thought no more of this
at the time, believing my suspicions to be wrong, and so got me back
to Lukstein. After the wedding-night I told the Countess all that I
knew."

"Wait!" I said, interrupting him.

There was a point I had long been anxious to resolve, and I thought I
should never get so likely an opportunity for the question again.

"Was Count Lukstein betrothed at the time that he came to the
Hotwells?"

"Most assuredly," he replied, and I wondered greatly at the strange
madness which should lead a man astray to chase a pretty face, when
all the while he loved another, and was plighted to her.

Otto resumed his story.

"I told all that I knew: my master's anxiety concerning Sir Julian,
his relief when I brought him the news hither that only a woman had
visited the captive on the night before his execution, and his
apparent fear of peril. My mistress broke open the gold case which you
had left behind, and asked whether the likeness was the likeness of
Sir Julian's visitor. I assured her it was not, but she was convinced
that this Bristol pother was at the bottom of the trouble. We could
find no trace of you beyond your footsteps in the snow, and the
footsteps of the woman who was with you. I have often wondered how she
climbed the Lukstein rock."

He paused as though expecting an answer. But I had no inclination to
argue my innocence in that respect with one of Ilga's servants, and
presently he continued:

"Well, a quiet tongue is wisdom where women are concerned. No one in
the valley had seen you come; no one had seen you go. But my lady was
set upon discovering the truth and punishing the assailant herself. So
she said as little as she could to the neighbours, and the following
spring took me with her to London."

"Where I promptly jumped into the trap," said I.

"You did that and more. You set the trap yourself before you jumped
into it."

'Twas my own thought that he uttered, and I asked him how he came by
it.

"I mean this. 'Twas my lady's hope to discover the original of the
miniature, and so get at the man who was with her. But we had not to
wait for that. You left something else behind you besides the
miniature."

"I did," I replied. "I left a pair of spurs and a pistol, but I see
not how they could serve you."

"The spurs were of little profit in our search. You have worn them
since, it is true, but one pair of spurs is like another. For the
pistol, however--that was another matter. It had the gunmaker's name
upon the barrel, and also the name of the town where it was made."

"Leyden?" I exclaimed.

"That was the name--Leyden."

At last I understood. I recalled that evening when Elmscott presented
me to Ilga, and how frankly I had spoken to her of my life.

"We journeyed to Leyden first of all," he resumed, "and sought out the
gunmaker. But he did not remember selling the pistol, or, perhaps,
would not--at all events, we got no help from him, and went on to
London. In the beginning I believe Countess Lukstein was inclined to
suspect Mr. Marston. You see he came from Bristol, and so completely
did this search possess her that everything which concerned that city
seemed to her to have some bearing upon her disaster. But she soon
abandoned that idea, and--and--well, I know not why, but Mr. Marston
left London for a time. Then you were brought to the house, and on
your first visit you told her that your home was in Cumberland, where
Sir Julian Harnwood lived; that you had been till recently a student
at Leyden, and that there were few other English students there
besides yourself. At first I think she did not seriously accuse you of
Count Lukstein's death. It seemed little likely; you had not the look
of it. I did not recognise you at all, and, further, my mistress
herself inquired much of you concerning your actions, and you let slip
no hint that could convict you."

I remembered what interest the Countess had seemed to take in my
uneventful history, and how her questions had delighted me, flattering
my vanity and lifting me to the topmasts of hope; and the irony of my
recollections made me laugh aloud.

"Howbeit," he went on, paying no heed to my interruption--there
was no great merriment in my laughter, and it may be that he
understood--"Howbeit, her suspicions were alert, and then Mr. Marston
came back to London. She learnt from him that you had passed through
London in a great hurry one night, and from Lord Culverton that the
night was in September and that your destination was Bristol. I wanted
to ride there and see what I could discover, but my mistress would not
allow me. I don't know, but at that time I almost fancied she
regretted her resolve, and would fain have let the matter lie."

'Twas at that time also, I remembered, that the Countess treated me so
waywardly, and I coupled Otto's remark and my remembrance together,
and set them aside as food for future pondering.

"Then she showed you the miniature. You faced it out and denied all
knowledge of it So far so good. But that same morning you brought Lady
Tracy into the house, and that was the ruin of you. Oh, I know," he
went on as I sought to interrupt him, "I know! You faced that matter
out too. You brought Lady Tracy to bear witness that you and she were
never acquainted. 'Twas a cunning device and it deceived my mistress;
but you did not take me into account. I opened the door to you, and I
recognised Lady Tracy as the original of the miniature. Well, I looked
at her carefully, wondering whether I could have made a mistake,
whether it was she whom I had seen at the Bristol prison after all. I
felt certain it was not, but all the same I kept thinking about it as
I went upstairs to announce you. Lady Tracy was dark; the other woman,
I remembered, fair and over-tall for a woman. So I went on comparing
them, setting the two faces side by side in my mind. Well, when I came
back again there were you and Lady Tracy standing side by side--the
two faces that were side by side in my thoughts. The sunlight was full
upon you both. Lord! I was cluttered out of my senses. I knew you at
once. Height, face, everything fitted. I told my mistress immediately
after you had gone. She would not believe it at first; but soon after
she informed me that Lady Tracy had been betrothed to Sir Julian
Harnwood. That night we visited your rooms, as I have told you."

"Ay," said I, "Marston told her of his sister's betrothal in Covent
Garden."

'Twas indeed at the very time that the Countess was tracing that
diagram in the gravel.

"The visit to your rooms convinced Countess Lukstein."

"No doubt," said I, and I explained to him how she had traced the
diagram, and my mention of the date which had given her the clue to my
Horace.

"But that's not all," he laughed. "'Tis true that my mistress knew
that she had seen that same plan somewhere. 'Tis true your mention of
the date told her where. But the plan which my lady drew on the gravel
was different from yours in one respect. It lacked the line which
showed your way of ascent, the line which stood for the rib of rock."

"Well?"

"Well, you added that line yourself while you were talking."

"I did!" I exclaimed.

I could not credit it; but then I recollected how Ilga had suddenly
stooped forward and obliterated the diagram with a sweep of her stick.

"Ay, Otto!" I said. "You spoke truth indeed. I set the traps myself."

"The next morning we started for Bristol. We drove to the 'Thatched
House Tavern,' and with the help of a few coins wormed the truth from
the chambermaid. She had told me before that a man had stayed at the
inn on that particular night and I had no doubt who was the man. We
knew the story; we merely needed her to confirm it."

With that he laid his pipe aside, and was for settling to sleep. But I
had one more question to ask him.

"When Lord Elmscott came to find me at Countess Lukstein's apartments,
he was informed I was not there, and the door of the room in which I
lay was locked."

"We intended to convey you out of the country ourselves," he laughed,
"and that very night. 'Twould indeed have saved much trouble had Lord
Elmscott been delayed an hour or so upon the road. A boat was in
waiting for us on the river."

'Twas long before I could follow Otto's example and compose myself to
sleep. Using his narrative as a commentary, I read over and over again
my memories of those weeks in London, and each time I felt yet more
convinced that this deed had been brought home to me through no
cunning of the Countess, through no great folly of mine, but simply
because Providence had so willed it. As Otto said, I had set the traps
myself, and bethinking me of this, I recalled a phrase which I had
spoken to Count Lukstein. "I can fight you," I had said, "but I can't
fight your wife." In what a strange way had the remark come true!

The next morning Otto departed from the hollow, and fearing lest he
might presently despatch two other of Countess Lukstein's servants to
fill up the complement of my guards, I determined to make my effort at
enlargement that very night. I took my axe boldly from the corner of
the room when the time came for me to mount to the loft. The peasants
scowled but said nothing, and 'twas with a very great relief that I
understood Otto had been as good as his word. It had been my habit of
late to secrete about me at each meal some fragment of my portion of
bread, so that I had now a good number of such morsels hidden away
among the leaves of my bed. These I gathered together, and fastened
inside my shirt, and then sat me down, with such patience as I might,
to wait until the peasants beneath me were sound asleep. The delay
would have been more endurable had there been some window or opening
in the loft. But to sit there in the darkness, never knowing but what
the sky was clouding over and a storm gathering upon the heights,
'twas the quintessence of suspense, and it wrought in me like a fever.
I allowed two hours, as near as I could guess, to elapse, and then,
working quietly with my axe, I cut a hole through the thatch at the
corner most distant from the room of my gaolers, and dropped some
twelve feet on to the ground. There was no moon to light me but the
sparkle of innumerable stars, and the night was black in the valley
and purple about the cheerless hills. Cautiously I made my way over
the grass towards the ridge, taking the air into my lungs with an
exquisite enjoyment like one that has long been cooped in a sick-room.

Whimsically enough, I thought not at all of the dangers which were
like to beset me, but rather of Ilga in her Castle of Lukstein; and
walking forwards in the lonely quiet, I wondered whether at that
moment she was asleep.

The ridge, as I had hoped, was entirely compacted of earth and stones.
'Twas thrown up to a considerable height above the ice, and resembled
a great earthwork raised for defence, such as I have seen since about
the walls of Londonderry. I was able to walk along the crest for some
way with no more peril than was occasioned by the darkness and the
narrow limits of my path, and taking to some rocks which jutted out
from the snow, about two hours after daybreak, I reached the top of
the hill at noon. To my great delight I perceived that I stood, as it
were, upon a neck of the mountain. To my left the Wildthurm rose in a
sweeping line of ice, ever higher and higher towards the peak; to my
right it terminated in a ridge of rocks which again rose upwards, and
circled about the head of the ravine. I had nothing to do but to
descend; so I lay down to rest myself for a while, and take my last
look at Captivity Hollow and the hut wherein I had been imprisoned.
The descent, however, was not so easy a matter as I believed it would
be. For some distance, it is true, I could walk without much
difficulty, kicking a sort of staircase in the snow with my feet; but
after a while the incline became steeper, and, moreover, was inlaid
with strips of ice, wherein I had to cut holes with my hatchet before
I could secure a footing. Indeed, I doubt whether I should have come
safe off from this adventure but for the many crags and rocks which
studded the slope. By keeping close to these, however, I was able to
get solid hold for my hands, the while I stepped upon the treacherous
ice. Towards the foot of the mountain, moreover, the ice was split
with great gashes and chasms, so deep that I could see no bottom to
them, but only an azure haze; and I was often compelled to make long
circuits before I could discover a passage. Once or twice, besides,
when the ground seemed perfectly firm, I slipped a leg through the
crust and felt it touch nothing; and taking warning from these
accidents, I proceeded henceforth more cautiously, tapping the snow in
front of me with the hatchet at each step.

These hindrances did so delay me that I was still upon the mountain
when night fell, and not daring to continue this perilous journey in
the dark, I crept under the shelter of a rock, and so lay shivering
until the morning. However, I bethought me of my loft and its
thatch-roof, and contrasting it with the open sky, passed the night
pleasantly enough. I had still enough of my bread left over to serve
me for breakfast in the morning, and since there was no water to be
got, I made shift to moisten my throat by sucking lumps of ice. Late
that afternoon I came down into a desolate valley, and felt the green
turf once more spring beneath my feet. 'Twas closing in very dark and
black. In front of me I could see the rain stretched across the hills
like a diaphanous veil, shot here and there by a stray thread of
sunlight; while behind, the heights of the Wildthurm were hidden by a
white crawling mist. Looking at this mist, I could not but be sensible
of the dangers from which I had escaped, and with a heart full of
gratitude I knelt down and thanked God for that He had reached out His
hand above me to save my life.

For many days I journeyed among these upland valleys, passing from hut
to hut and from ravine to ravine, moving ever westwards from Lukstein,
and descended finally into the high-road close to the village of
Nauders. Thence I proceeded along the Inn Thal to Innspruck, earning
my food each day by cutting wood into logs at the various taverns, or
by some such service; and as for lodging, 'twas no great hardship to
sleep in the fields at this season of the year. At Innspruck, however,
whither I came in the first days of July, I was sore put to it to find
employment, which should keep me from starving until such time as I
could receive letters of credit from England. My first thought was to
obtain the position of usher or master in one of the many schools and
colleges of the town. But wherever I applied they only laughed in my
face, and unceremoniously closed the door upon my entreaties. Nor,
indeed, could I wonder at their behaviour, for what with my torn
peasant's clothes, my bare, scarred knees, and my face, which was
burnt to the colour of a ripe apple, I looked the most unlikely tutor
that ever ruined a boy's education. At one school--'twas the last at
which I sought employment--the master informed me that he "did his own
whipping," and wandering thence in a great despondency of spirit, I
came into the Neustadt, which is the principal street of the town.
There I chanced to espy the sign of a fencing-master, and realising
what little profit I was like to make of such rusty book-learning as I
still retained, I crossed the road and proffered him the assistance of
my services. At the onset he was inclined to treat my offer with no
less hilarity than the schoolmasters had shown; but being now at my
wits' end, I persisted, and perhaps vaunted my skill more than
befitted a gentleman. 'Twas, I think, chiefly to disprove my words,
and so rid himself of me, that he bade me take a foil and stand on
guard. In the first bout, however, I was lucky enough to secure the
advantage, as also in the second. In a fluster of anger he insisted
that I should engage upon a third, and thereupon I deemed it prudent
to allow him to get the better of me, though not by so much as would
give him the right to accuse me of a lack of skill. The ruse was
entirely successful; for he was so delighted with his success that he
hired me straightway as his lieutenant, and was pleased to compliment
me upon my mastery of the weapon; not but what he declared I had many
faults in the matter of style, which I might correct under his
tuition.

In this occupation I remained for some three months. I wrote a letter
immediately to Jack Larke, but received no answer whatsoever. Each
week, however, I put by a certain sum out of my wages until I had
accumulated sufficient to carry me, if I practised economy, to
England. In the beginning of September, then, I gave up my position; a
pupil, on hearing of my purposed journey, most generously presented me
with a horse, which I accepted as a loan, and one fine morning I
mounted on to the animal's back and rode out towards the gates of the
town.



                            CHAPTER XXIII.

                              THE LAST.


Now the road which I chose led past the Hofgarten, a great open space
of lawns and shrubberies which had been enclosed and presented to the
town by Leopold, the late Archduke of Styria. Opposite to the gates of
this garden stood the "Black Stag," at that time the principal inn,
and I noticed ahead of me four or five mounted men waiting at the
door. Drawing nearer I perceived that these men wore the livery of
Countess Lukstein.

My first impulse was to turn my horse's head and ride off with all
speed in the contrary direction; but bethinking me that they would
never dare to make an attempt upon my liberty in the streets of an
orderly city, I resolved to continue on my way, and pay no heed to
them as I passed. And this I began to do, walking my horse slowly, so
that they might not think I had any fear of them. Otto was stationed
at the head of the troop, a few paces in advance of the rest, and I
was well-nigh abreast of him before any of the servants perceived who
passed them. Even then 'twas myself who invited their attention. For
turning my head I saw the Countess just within the gates of the
garden. She was habited in a riding-dress, and was taking leave of a
gentleman who was with her.

On the instant I stopped my horse.

"Here, Otto!" I cried, and flinging the reins to him, I jumped to the
ground.

I heard him give a startled exclamation, but I stayed not to cast a
glance at him, and walked instantly forwards to where Ilga stood. I
was within two paces of her before she turned and saw me. She reached
out a hand to the gate, and so steadying herself looked at me for a
little without a word. I bowed low, and took another step towards her,
whereupon she turned again to her companion and began to speak very
volubly, the colour going and coming quickly upon her face. For my
part I made no effort to interrupt her. I had schooled myself to think
of her as one whom I should never see again, and here we were face to
face. I remained contentedly waiting with my hat in my hand.

"You have been long in Innspruck?" she asked of me at length, and
added, with some hesitation, "Mr. Buckler?"

"Three months, madame," I replied.

"But you are leaving?"

She looked across to my horse, which Otto was holding. A small
valise, containing the few necessaries I possessed, was slung to the
saddle-bow.

"I return to England," said I.

She presented me to the gentleman who talked with her, but I did not
catch his name any more than the conversation they resumed. 'Twas
enough for me to hear the sweet sound of her voice; as, when a singer
sings, one is charmed by the music of his tones, and recks little of
the words of his song. At last, however, her companion made his bow.
Ilga stretched out her hand to him and said:

"You will come, then, to Lukstein?" and detaining him, as it seemed to
me, she added, "I would ask Mr. Buckler to come, too, only I fear that
he has no great opinion of our hospitality."

"Madame," I replied simply, "if you ask me, I will come."

She stood for the space of some twenty seconds with her eyes bent upon
the ground. Then, raising her face with a look which was wonderfully
timid and shy, she said:

"You are a brave man, Mr. Buckler"; and after another pause, "I do ask
you."

With that she crossed the road and mounted upon her horse. I did the
same, and the little cavalcade rode out from Innspruck along the
highway to Landeck. The Countess pressed on ahead, and thinking that
she had no wish to speak with me, I rode some paces behind her. Behind
me came Otto and the servants. Otto, I should say, had resumed his old
impenetrable air. He was once more the servant, and seemed to have
completely forgotten our companionship in Captivity Hollow. Thus we
travelled until we came near to the village of Silz.

Now all this morning one regretful thought had been buzzing in my
head. 'Twas an old thought, one that I had lived with many a month.
Yet never had it become familiar to me; the pain which it brought was
always fresh and sharp. But now, since I saw Countess Lukstein again,
since she rode in front of me, since each moment my eyes beheld her,
this regret grew and grew until it was lost in a great longing to
speak out my mind, and, if so I might, ease myself of my burden.
Consequently I spurred my horse lightly, and as we entered Silz I drew
level with the Countess.

"Madame," I said, "I see plainly enough that you have no heart for my
company, neither do I intend any idle intrusion. I would but say two
words to you. They have been on my lips ever since I caught sight of
you on the Hofgarten; they have been in my heart for the weariest span
of days. When I told you that I entered Castle Lukstein alone, God is
my witness that I spoke the truth. No woman was with me. I championed
no woman; by no ties was I bound to any woman in this world. This I
would have you believe; for it is the truth. I could not lie to you if
I would; it is the truth."

She made me no answer, but bowed her head down on her horse's mane, so
that I could see nothing of her face, and thinking sadly that she
would not credit me, I tightened my reins that I might fall back
behind her. It may be that she noticed the movement of my hands. I
know not, nor, indeed, shall I be at any pains to speculate upon her
motive. 'Twas her action which occupied my thoughts then and for hours
afterwards. She suddenly lifted her face towards me, all rosy with
blushes and wearing that sweet look which I had once and once only
remarked before. I mean when she pledged me in her apartments in Pall
Mall.

"Then," says she, "we will travel no further afield to-day," and she
drew rein before the first inn we came to.

I was greatly perplexed by this precipitate action, also by the word
she used, inasmuch as we were not travelling afield at all, but on the
contrary directly towards her home. Besides, 'twas still early in the
afternoon. Howbeit, there we stayed, and the Countess retiring
privately to her room, I saw no more of her until the night was come.
'Twas about eleven of the clock when I heard a light tap upon my door,
and opening it, I perceived that she was my visitor. She laid a finger
upon her lip and slipped quietly into the room. In her hand she held
her hat and whip, and these she laid upon the table.

"You have not inquired," she began, "why I asked you to return with me
to Lukstein, what end I had in view."

"In truth, madame," I replied, "I gave no thought to it;
only--only----"

"Only I asked you, and you came," she said in a voice that broke and
faltered. "Even after all you had suffered at my hands, even in spite
of what you still might suffer, I asked you, and you came."

She spoke in a low wondering tone, and with a queer feeling of shame I
hastened to reply:

"Madame, if you were in my place, you would understand that there is
little strange in that."

"Let me finish!" she said. "Lord Elmscott and your friend, Mr. Larke,
are awaiting you at Lukstein. When your friend returned to England
without you, he could hear no word of you. He had no acquaintance with
Lord Elmscott, and did not know of him at all. He met Lord Elmscott in
London this spring for the first time. It appears that your cousin
suspected something of the trouble that stood between you and me, but
until he met Mr. Larke he believed you were travelling in Italy. Mr.
Larke gave him the account of your first journey into the Tyrol. They
found out Sir Julian's attorney at Bristol, and learned the cause of
it from him. They came to Lukstein two months ago, and told me what
you would not. I went up to the hills myself to bring you home; you
had escaped, and your--the men had concealed your flight in fear of my
anger. Lord Elmscott went to Meran, I came to Innspruck; and we
arranged to return after we had searched a month. The month is gone.
They will be at Lukstein now."

So much she said, though with many a pause and with so keen a
self-reproach in her tone that I could hardly bear to hear her, when I
interrupted:

"And you have been a month searching for me in Innspruck?"

She took no heed of my interruption.

"So, you see," she continued, "I know the whole truth. I know, too,
that you hid the truth out of kindness to me, and--and----"

She was wearing the gold cross which I had sent to her by Otto's hand.
It hung on a long chain about her neck, and I took it gently into my
palm.

"And is there nothing more you know?" I asked.

"I know that you love me," she whispered, "that you love me still. Oh!
how is it possible?" And then she raised her eyes to mine and laid two
trembling hands upon my shoulders. "But it is true. You told me so
this afternoon."

"I told you?" I asked in some surprise.

"Ay, and more surely than if you had spoken it out. That is why I
stopped our horses in the village. It is why I am with you now."

She glanced towards her hat and whip, and I understood. I realised
what it would cost her to carry me back as her guest to Lukstein after
all that had passed there.

I opened the door and stepped out on to the landing. A panel of
moonlight was marked out upon the floor. 'Twas the only light in the
passage, and the house was still as an empty cave. When I came back
into the room Ilga was standing with her hat upon her head.

"And what of Lukstein?"

"A sop to Father Spaur," she said with a happy laugh, and reaching out
a hand to me she blew out the candle. I guided her to the landing, and
there stopped and kissed her.

"I have hungered for that," said I, "for a year and more."

"And I too," she whispered, "dear heart, and I too," and I felt her
arms tighten about my neck. "Oh, how you must have hated me!" she
said.

"I called you no harder name than 'la belle dame sans merci,'" said I.

We crept down the stairs a true couple of runaways. The door was
secured by a wooden bar. I removed the bar, and we went out into the
road. The stables lay to the right of the inn, and leaving Ilga where
she stood, I crossed over to them and rapped quietly at the window.
The ostler let me in, and we saddled quickly Ilga's horse and mine. I
gave the fellow all of my three months' savings, and bidding him go
back to his bed, brought the horses into the road.

I lifted Ilga into the saddle.

"So," she said, bending over me, and her heart looked through her
eyes, "the lath was steel after all, and I only found it out when the
steel cut me."

And that night we rode hand in hand to Innspruck. Once she trilled out
a snatch of song, and I knew indeed that Jack Larke was waiting for me
at Lukstein. For the words she sang were from an old ballad of
Froissart:


              Que toutes joies et toutes honneurs
              Viennent d'armes et d'amours.



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *
     F. M. EVANS AND CO., LIMITED, PRINTERS, CRYSTAL PALACE, S.E.





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