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Title: Ada, the Betrayed - Or, The Murder at the Old Smithy
Author: Rymer, John Malcolm
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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Ada, the Betrayed;



or,



The Murder at the Old Smithy.



A Romance of Passion.



———



John Malcolm Rymer



TABLE OF CONTENTS



PREFACE

CHAPTER I.

The Storm.—The Old Smithy.—A Deed of Blood.—The Death Cry.—The Child of
the Dead.—Remorse and Despair.

CHAPTER II.

The Lull of the Tempest.—Morning is Coming.—The Child of Mystery.—The
Necklace.—A Surprise and a Disappearance.—The Inscription.—The Lord of
Learmont.

CHAPTER III.

Ten Years have Flown.—The Old Rose Inn.—A Snow Storm.—Tom the
Factotum.—An Arrival to the Old Smithy.—The Mysterious Stranger.

CHAPTER IV.

The Old Smithy.—A Lone Man.—The Alarm.—The Mysterious Conference.—Guilt
and Misery.

CHAPTER V.

The Morning.—A Visit.—Blasted Hopes.—The Arranged Meeting.—The
Packet.—And the Knife.

CHAPTER VI.

Night Again.—The Ruins.—The Conference.—The Old Oaken Door.—The Resolve.

CHAPTER VII.

The Conference, Continued.—Mutual Security.—The Oaken Door and the
Strange Appearance.—Mysteries Thicken.

CHAPTER VIII.

The Mansion.—Offers of Magnitude.—The Double Plot.

CHAPTER IX.

London in 1742.—Gray’s Home.—The Child.—The Voice of Conscience.—A
Visit.

CHAPTER X.

The Disappearance.—Mrs. Bridget Strangeways and the Old Oaken
Chest.—Albert’s Grief and Despair.

CHAPTER XI.

Learmont in London.—The Endeavour to Drown Thought.—Life in 1742.—All
is not Gold that Glitters.

CHAPTER XII.

The Consequences of Crime.—A Familiar Friend.—A Cloud upon Learmont’s
Felicity.

CHAPTER XIII.

A Walk in the Park.—A Recognition.—The Question.—A Defiance.—Jacob
Gray’s First Visit.—The Dream.

CHAPTER XIV.

The Dark Threat.—The Biter Bit.—Another Murder Projected.—Learmont’s
Reasoning.

CHAPTER XV.

Chase.—A Long Race, And its Results.

CHAPTER XVI.

The Lone House in Ancient Lambeth.—The Boy.—A Solitary Heart.

CHAPTER XVII.

“The Chequers,” at Westminster.—Britton’s Notions of Greatness.—“When
the Wine is In, the Wit is Out.”

CHAPTER XVIII.

The Lone Max.—The Voice of Conscience.

CHAPTER XIX.

Learmont’s Adventure.—A Discovery.—The Haunted House.—Exultation, and a
Resolution.

CHAPTER XX.

The Guide.—The Old House.—The Murder.

CHAPTER XXI.

A Sunny Morning.—The Chamber in the Old House.

CHAPTER XXII.

Learmont at Home.—His Exultation.—The Smith.—The Plot.

CHAPTER XXIII.

The Projected Murder.—The Unconscious Sleeper.—A Night of Horror.

CHAPTER XXIV.

The Attempted Assassination.—A Surprise.—Ada’s Surmises.—The Agony of
Gray.

CHAPTER XXV.

The Escape.—Taunts.—The Confession.—Learmont’s Rage and Discomfiture.

CHAPTER XXVI.

The Morning.—The Body of the Murdered Man.—The Old Inn.—Jacob’s
Reflections.

CHAPTER XXVII.

Ada’s Flight and Despair.—Old Westminster Bridge at Daybreak.—The
Smith.—Mad Maud.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

Ada’s Wanderings.—The Pearl Necklace.—A Kind Heart.—The Park.—A Joyous
Meeting.—The Arrangement.

CHAPTER XXIX.

The Young Lovers.—The Gallant of a Hundred Years Since.—Hopes and
Fears.—The Dream of a True Heart.

CHAPTER XXX.

Jacob’s Return Home.—An Unexpected Visitor.—The Lonely Watch.

CHAPTER XXXI.

Ada’s Fate Again Against Her.—The Threat.—The New Home.

CHAPTER XXXII.

Albert’s Disappointment.—Tibbs, the Bear Warden.—The Search.—A
Consultation.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Learmont at Home.—Dark Reflections.—The Summons.—The
Confederates.—Suspicions.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

The Girl in Her Melancholy Home.—The Prison House.—A Dungeon’s
Gloom.—Unavailing Sorrow.

CHAPTER XXV.

Ada’s Appeal.—The Promise.—Ada’s Despair.—Gray’s Triumph.

CHAPTER XXVI.

The Squire.—The Life of a Captive.—A Strange Fatality.—The Associates.

CHAPTER XXVII.

Learmont at Home.—The Baronetcy.—A Visitor.—The Rejected Offer.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

Ada’s Lone Home.—The Summer.—An Adventure.

CHAPTER XXIX.

The Alarm.—The Pursuit.—A Mob in the Last Century.—The Fugitive.—Maud,
the Beggar.

CHAPTER XXX.

The Tale.—A Blighted Heart’s Despair.

CHAPTER XXXI.

The Interview.—Jacob Gray’s Meditations.—The Slip of Paper.—The
Nail.—The Guilty Conscience.—The Departure.

CHAPTER XXXII.

Jacob Gray’s Fears.—The Promise.—Ada’s Meditations.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

Britton at the Chequers.—The Visit.—A Mysterious Stranger.—The Good
Company.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

The Fête.—Villany Prospers for a Season.—An Interruption.—The Dance.

CHAPTER XXXV.

The Ball-room.—A Noble Family.—The Interruption.—Unexpected End of
Learmont’s Fête.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

Albert Seyton.—The Lonely Search.—A Suggestion.—An Important Visit.

CHAPTER XXXVII.

The Pursuit.—The Attempted Murder.—A Providential Interference.—The
Papers.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

The Meeting at Mill-bank.—The Knife.—Ada’s Fate Hangs on a Thread.—The
Bold Plunge.

CHAPTER XXXIX.

The Smith’s Anger.—A Drunken Tour through Westminster in the Olden
Time.—The Watch.—A Scene at the Chequers.—The Determination.

CHAPTER XL.

The Old House Again.—Ada’s Alarm.—Gray and His Gold.

CHAPTER XLI.

A Human Voice.—The Departure.—An Unexpected Meeting.—The Reception.

CHAPTER XLII.

Gray’s Cunning.—Danger Thickens.—The Hour of Retribution has not Come.

CHAPTER XLIII.

The Proposal.—Gray’s Reasoning.—The Vault.—Ada’s Tears.—A Guilty
Heart’s Agony.

CHAPTER XLIV.

The Search.—The Confession.—The Strange Report.—An Awful Dilemma.

CHAPTER XLV.

The Lonely Watcher.—Gray’s Cunning.—The Cupboard on the Stairs.

CHAPTER XLVI.

The Death of the Elder Seyton.—Albert’s Grief.—The Prophecy.

CHAPTER XLVII.

The Smith at Learmont House.—The Breakfast.—The Threat, and its
Results.—The Caution.

CHAPTER XLVIII.

The Escape.—A Song of the Times.

CHAPTER XLIX.

The Projected Murder.—The Alarm.—The Death-Shot.—Ada’s Anguish and
Indignation.

CHAPTER L.

The Ruin at Night.—The Fire.—Gray’s Behaviour.—A Challenge.—Old
Westminster Again.

CHAPTER LI.

The Alcove on the Bridge.—Gray’s Speech to Ada.—The Flight.—The
Hunt.—The Last Refuge.

CHAPTER LII.

The Dark Court.—A Deed of Blood.—The Pursuit Continued.—The Mother and
the Child.

CHAPTER LIII.

A Mother’s Care.—The Pursuit.—A Successful Ruse.—The Second Visit.

CHAPTER LIV.

The Staircase.—The Old Attic.—A Friend in Need.—Fair Play.—Gray’s
Despair.

CHAPTER LV.

The Escape over the Houses.—Many Perils.—Gray’s Great Sufferings.—The
Guide Rope.

CHAPTER LVI.

The Robbers.—The Drugged Wine.—Visions of the Mind Diseased.

CHAPTER LVII.

Ada’s Escape.—The Magistrate.—Ada’s Ignorance of London
Localities.—Learmont’s Fright.

CHAPTER LVIII.

An Anecdote.—Sir Francis Hartleton’s House at Westminster.—The
Reception.—Ada’s Conduct and Feelings.

CHAPTER LIX.

Jacob Gray and His Kind Friends.—The Plunder.—Thieves’ Morality.—The
Drive to Hampstead.

CHAPTER LX.

Ada at Sir Francis Hartleton’s.—The Philosophy of a Young Heart.—A
Confession.—The Pleasure of Sympathy.

CHAPTER LXI.

Albert Seyton’s Destitution.—A Lone and Wearied Spirit.—The Application
to Learmont, and the Meeting with Sir Francis Hartleton.

CHAPTER LXII.

Jacob Grey in the Hampstead Fields.—The Placard.—The Reward.

CHAPTER LXIII.

Gray’s Proceedings.—A Narrow Escape.—The Night Visit to Learmont.

CHAPTER LXIV.

The Chequers.—Britton’s Corner.—An Alarm.—The Mysterious Stranger.—A
Quarrel.—A Fight and a Little Anatomy.

CHAPTER LXV.

An Interview with a Secretary of State.—Sir Francis Hartleton’s
Difficulties.

CHAPTER LXVI.

Gray’s Visit to Learmont.—The Disappointment.—A Week of Terror.—The
Street Newsvender.

CHAPTER LXVII.

The Disappointment.—The Last Resource.—A Strange Meeting.—The
Confession.

CHAPTER LXVIII.

Britton and Learmont.—Mind and Matter Produce Similar
Results.—Learmont’s Weakness and Fears.—The Chair.

CHAPTER LXIX.

A Walk and a Meeting.—The Vision at the Open Casement.—Learmont’s
Perturbation.

CHAPTER LXX.

The Jew and the Necklace.—Gray’s Troubles and Surmises.—An Adventure.

CHAPTER LXXI.

The Pursuit.—A Successful Ruse.—The Long Night.—Gray’s Terror.

CHAPTER LXXII.

The Return of Learmont.—The Interview.—Doubts and Fears.

CHAPTER LXXIII.

The Troublesome Shoe-maker.—Gray’s Agony and Danger.—The Flight.

CHAPTER LXXIV.

Ada’s Home.—A Happy Scene.—The Serenity of Goodness.

CHAPTER LXXV.

Britton in His Glory Again.—The Song and the Legal Functionary.—The
Surprise.

CHAPTER LXXVI.

The Old Associates.—Gray’s Fears.—The Old Attic at the Chequers.

CHAPTER LXXVII.

The Smith’s Plot Against Gray.—An Accommodating Friend.

CHAPTER LXXVIII.

Gray on the House Tops.—Specimens of the Rising Generation.—The Old
Attic.

CHAPTER LXXIX.

The Interview between Albert and Learmont.—The Promise, and Albert’s
Relation.

CHAPTER LXXX.

The Unfortunate Confidence of Albert Seyton.—Learmont’s Promises and
Treachery.

CHAPTER LXXXI.

Learmont’s Improved Prospects.—The Park.—Ada’s Recollections.—The
Meeting.

CHAPTER LXXXII.

Learmont’s Sneers.—The Spy.—The Amateur Constable.

CHAPTER LXXXIII.

Gray’s Peril.—A Peep into Domestic Affairs.—The Corpulent Lady.—The Man
who Was Hung on Monday.

CHAPTER LXXXIV.

The Mystery Explained.—The Escape.—Jacob Gray’s New Lodging.

CHAPTER LXXXV.

Learmont’s Treachery to Albert Seyton.—The Plot Against Gray.

CHAPTER LXXXVI.

Gray at Home.—The Confession.—A Walk through Westminster in Search of a
Wig.

CHAPTER LXXXVII.

Jacob Gray’s Disguise.—The Troublesome Shoemaker Again.—The Visit.

CHAPTER LXXXVIII.

Mad Maud and the Magistrate.—The Scraps of Gray’s Confession.

CHAPTER LXXXIX.

The Revelation.—Learmont’s Deep Duplicity.—Albert’s Gratitude.

CHAPTER XC.

The Last Meeting.—Mutual Cunning.—The Squire and Jacob Gray.

CHAPTER XCI.

The Pursuit.—The Spy.—The Three Wherries on the Thames.

CHAPTER XCII.

The Chase on the Thames.—Albert’s Successful Disguise.—The Old Stairs
at Buckingham-street.

CHAPTER XCIII.

Gray at Home.—Albert’s Joy and Exultation.—The Meeting in the Old Door
Way.

CHAPTER XCIV.

Strong Drink at the Chequers.—The Summons to Britton.—His Majesty’s
Amusements.

CHAPTER XCV.

The Walk in Search of Albert.—The Recognition at Charing Cross.

CHAPTER XCVI.

Sir Francis Hartleton’s Surprise at Albert’s Place of Destination.—The
Watch on the Squires’ House.—Ada’s Disappointment.

CHAPTER XCVII.

The Visit to Gray’s House.—Learmont’s Exultation.

CHAPTER XCVIII.

Albert’s Love and Determination.—The Squire’s Dream.

CHAPTER XCIX.

Ada’s Faith in Albert Seyton.—The Confidence of a Generous Heart.

CHAPTER C.

Learmont’s Visit to the Chequers.—The Sleeping Smith.

CHAPTER CI.

The Search.—The Assignation.—Britton’s Surprise and Exaltation.

CHAPTER CII.

The Hour of Eleven.—Gray in His Solitary Home.—The Lover’s Watch.—The
Eve of the Murder.

CHAPTER CIII.

From Twelve to One.

CHAPTER CIV.

The Murder.

CHAPTER CV.

After the Murder.

CHAPTER CVI.

The Arrest.

CHAPTER CVII.

The Interview and the Exculpation.—Sir Francis Hartleton’s Caution.

CHAPTER CVIII.

Albert’s Despair.—The Tests of Truth.

CHAPTER CIX.

The Meeting of the Lovers.

CHAPTER CX.

The Lovers.—The Interview of Sir Francis Hartleton with the Secretary
of State.—The Ball.

CHAPTER CXI.

The Confession.

CHAPTER CXII.

The Consultation with Albert and Ada.—The Arrangement for the Ball.

CHAPTER CXIII.

Learmont and Britton after the Murder.

CHAPTER CXIV.

Albert’s Visit to Learmont.—The Squire’s Triumph.

CHAPTER CXV.

The Masked Ball.

CHAPTER CXVI.

The Death of Learmont.

CHAPTER CXVII.

The Pursuit for Britton.

CHAPTER CXVIII.

Conclusion.

THE AUTHOR TO HIS READERS.

THE HOPE OF ALBERT SEYTON TO ADA THE BETRAYED.

TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES



Lloyd’s

Penny Weekly Miscellany



of



Romance and General Interest



There's not a passion of the mind,

A moving thraldom of the o’verwrought brain,

But with the magic of an art which is immortal,

Is enshrined here.—Ben Jonson.



I have a tale of war for knight

Lay of love for beauty bright,

Fairy tale to lull the heir,

Goblins grim the maids to scare.—Scott.



Vol. I.



London:

Printed and Published by E. Lloyd, 12 Salisbury Square, Fleet Street.

———

1843.



PREFACE



Prefaces, like prologues, have nearly gone out of fashion; but the
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“Weave their airy fictions”



in our pages. The Author of “Ada, the Betrayed; or, the Murder at the
Old Smithy,” in particular, has several novelties in progress, which
from time to time will appear.

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volume to their notice.



Ada, the Betrayed;



or,



The Murder at the Old Smithy.



A Romance of Passion.



———



Around the winter’s hearth the tale is told,

To lisping infancy and hoary age;

It is a story of strange passion—of grief and tears—

Of joy and love, and all the elements of mind

Which make us what we are.



Scott.



CHAPTER I.


The Storm.—The Old Smithy.—A Deed of Blood.—The Death Cry.—The Child of
the Dead.—Remorse and Despair.



It was towards the close of the year 1795 that a storm, unequalled in
duration and fury, swept over one of the most fertile districts of
England, spreading consternation and dismay among the inhabitants of
several villages, and destroying in a few short hours the hopes of many
an industrious family, who looked to the nearly ripened grain of the
fertile fields for their means of subsistence through the coming winter.

The day had been lowering and overcast. An unusual sultriness had
pervaded the air, and although more than sixty miles of hill and dale
laid between the spot to which we allude and the Northern Ocean, which
washes the eastern shore of England, several sea birds (a most unwonted
sight) had flown, screeching and wailing, over the rich corn-fields and
promising orchards.

The day had worn gradually on, and it was not until the sun was lost
amid a mass of fiery clouds in the glowing west that any precise
indications of the approaching tempest presented themselves. Then,
however, when the long shadows from the trees began to lose their
identity in the general gloom of the rapidly approaching night, a
singular moaning wind began to blow from the north-west.

The cattle showed alarm and uneasiness—the birds flew low and
uncertainly—horses trembled in their stables, and the hoarse scream of
various large birds of prey as they flew over the farm-house, or
settled on the roofs, had a peculiarly discordant effect. It would seem
as if there was something in the air which enabled the inferior animals
to know and dread the awful strife of the elements which was about to
ensue.

The glowing clouds in the west rapidly disappeared, and the night fell
over the land as if a black pall had been suddenly cast over the face
of Nature. The wind momentarily increased in violence. Now it moaned
like an evil spirit round the gable ends of the houses; then again,
with a wild whistle and a rushing sound, it would sweep past the
latticed windows like a wild animal seeking its prey.

Occasionally there would be a lull in the tempest, and in one of these
the heavens were lit up with a flash of lightning of such power and
brilliancy, that all who saw it closed instantly their eyes in dismay,
and trembled with apprehension. Then followed thunder—thunder that
shook the houses to their foundations, and boomed and rattled in the
sky with so awful a sound that many of the villagers sunk upon their
knees to pray, for they thought the end of the world was at hand, and
they should never see the blessed sun again. Mothers clasped their
screaming children to their breasts, and wept in bitterness of heart.
Strong men shook with fear, and when again the wind arose, and, like a
giant’s arm, levelled hedges, trees, haystacks, and some houses, a cry
of dismay arose from the villagers, and the bells were rung in the
rural churches. Some screamed—some prayed—some wept and rung their
hands. All was horror, uncertainty, and despair!

The storm had lasted several hours, and still, the forked lightning
darted in livid streaks from cloud to cloud. The awful thunder filled
the air with its hundred echoes, and the wind swept over a scene of
desolation, for the smiling corn-fields were no more; the laden fruit
trees were levelled with the soil, and many a cottage had its humble
thatch torn off, and presented but its bare walls to the moaning blast.

The principle fury of the land storm seemed to have been levelled at a
little village which occupied the gentle slope of a beautiful and
fertile valley, some few miles from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and through the
lowest portion of which a branch of the river Derwent wound its
serpentine course. The village was called Learmont, from the name of a
noble family who, since the Norman conquest, had been the owners of the
land.

There was scarcely a house, from the humblest cottage to the lordly
mansion of the Learmonts, which had not suffered by the hurricane; and
to add to the dismay of the inhabitants, who in fear and dread had
rushed from their homes, there arose about the hour of midnight the
dreadful cry of fire!

That fearful cry struck terror to every heart, and those who had breath
to shriek joined the shout, and “fire! fire!” passed from mouth to
mouth, in all the different tones and cadences of fear and hopelessness.

All uncertainty as to the precise locality of the fire was soon
removed, for the flames from a large irregular building, standing
somewhat apart from the other houses, quickly marked it as the spot of
the conflagration.

“It’s at the Old Smithy,” cried a dozen voices.

The words had scarcely passed their lips, when a woman darted into the
centre of the throng, shrieking wildly,—

“Aye—it is at the Old Smithy! The time has come—I knew. I have told you
all; you, and you, and you, I’ve told. Ha! Ha! Ha! Heaven has at last
forged a bolt for the Old Smithy! Do you stand aghast! Can you put out
yon light? No—no—no! I know you cannot. The Old Smithy gone at last.
Ha! Ha! I am happy now—happy now! You do not stir. You are right—quite
right. Let him, Andrew Britton—that’s his name—let him roast and writhe
in the flames—let his skin blacken in curling lights—let his flesh drop
from him in the hissing, roaring fire—let his bones whiten, and glow,
and crackle into long white splinters, as they will—as I know they
will; but I want to see it, my masters—I want to see it. Live—live and
shriek, Andrew Britton, till I come. Hark! now. I hear him.
Hark!—music—music—’tis music.”

She was about to bound off in the direction of the blazing house,
leaving her listeners aghast at her terrible denunciations, when a man
of forbidding aspect and Herculean build rushed into the midst of the
throng of villagers round her, and with one blow of his clenched hand
struck her insensible to the earth.

A cry of “shame! shame!” arose, and a young man stepping forward,
exclaimed,—

“Unmanly ruffian! How dared you strike the woman? You know as well as
all we that she is mad. Andrew Britton, you are a coward, and well you
merit your name of ‘The Savage.’”

“Down with the savage!” cried several.

“He has killed poor Mad Maud,” said one.

“Is she not always crying out against me?” growled the ruffian. “Is
there anything too bad for the old beldame to say of me, Andrew
Britton?”

“Not dead! not dead!” suddenly cried she whom the villagers called Mad
Maud, springing to her feet. “Mind ye all, Andrew Britton is to die
before I do. Ha! Ha!—Not dead! To the Smithy—to the Smithy.”

She darted off in the direction of the blazing house, and, as if by one
impulse, the villagers followed her, shouting,—

“To the Smithy—to the Smithy!”

The building, which was in flames, had at one time evidently been of a
much higher character than its present appearance warranted. It
consisted of a large uninhabited house, with two wings, one of which
had been converted into a smithy, and was in the occupation of Andrew
Britton, the smith, who stood high in favour of the then Squire
Learmont, whose property the old house was.

The fire was in the other wing to that which had been converted into a
smithy, and when the villagers arrived they found it so enveloped in
flames, that any attempt to save it seemed perfectly in vain.

“Blood—blood is spilling,” cried Mad Maud, rushing close to the flaming
building. “I heard it. A deed of blood! Hark!—hark!”

The villagers were horror-stricken by hearing piercing shrieks coming
from the interior of the burning house.

“There!” cried the maniac exultingly; “that’s a death cry. Ha! Ha! Ha!
Brave work—brave work. Andrew Britton, where are you?”

“Here,” cried the smith. “Look at me, all of you, and swear hereafter
you saw me here while—while—”

“While the murder was doing!” cried Maud.

“Murder?” said the villagers, as if with one voice.

“Drivelling idiot!” roared Britton. “By—”

Before the oath could escape his lips, there dashed from among the
burning ruins a figure which might well strike terror into every heart.
It was that of a man, but so blackened and scorched was he by the fire
that he scarcely looked human.

“Help! Help!” he screamed. “Murder! Murder!”

Every heart was paralysed as he dashed into the centre of the throng,
screaming with pain.

“The child! The child!” he screamed. “The child of the dead—save her!
Save her!”

Many hands were immediately stretched forward to take from his arms an
infant that the villagers now perceived he carried.

He resigned his charge, and then flinging his arms above his head, he
cried,—

“Save me—save me from myself—from the glance of the dead man’s eye—from
blood save me. Oh, save me from conscience. The hell has begun.”

His last words rung faintly on the ears of the horrified crowd, for
having given up the child, he then bounded onwards, and was soon lost
to sight and hearing in the darkness of a plantation which grew on the
border of the stream that watered the valley.

Britton, the smith, glared with eyes of fury after the shrieking
fugitive, then clenching his hand, he shook it wildly in the air, and
breathing a bitter curse, turned from the burning portion of the house,
and dashed into the wing in which was the Smithy.



CHAPTER II.


The Lull of the Tempest.—Morning is Coming.—The Child of Mystery.—The
Necklace.—A Surprise and a Disappearance.—The Inscription.—The Lord of
Learmont.



The startling and singular events at the Old Smithy had the effect of
distracting in some measure the attention of the affrighted inhabitants
of Learmont from the fury of the tempest, which was still raging,
although with diminished rage, around their humble dwellings.

The forked lightning was not so frequent in its flashes, and the
thunder seemed to be passing away in the direction of the wind.

Still it was a night of terror, and it was not until the wind had
sensibly abated, and a few heavy drops of rain fell splashing upon the
ground, that the peasants ventured to re-enter their dwellings, with a
hope that the storm had done its worst.

The child which had been brought from the burning house, in so awful
and mysterious a manner appeared to be little more than one year old,
and it was perfectly unknown to all in the village; neither could any
one give a guess as to who the strange man could be, who with such
frantic cries of pain and remorse, had appeared for a moment amongst
them.

The wing of the ancient building in which the fire had originated,
alone had suffered from the conflagration. It lay a heap of smouldering
ruins, but the rest of the large rambling habitation, including the
Smithy, was quite uninjured.

The child was surrendered by common consent to the care of a
kind-hearted woman, by the name of Dame Tatton, who was a widow. She
looked with an eye of trembling pity upon the little innocent who
nestled in her bosom in sobbing fear.

The little girl, for such she was, showed evidently by her attire that
she had been in the care of those of a far higher rank in life than the
kind-hearted, but humble cottager, who now strove to allay her childish
terror.

Around the neck of the infant was a small necklace of pearls, and about
its attire generally there were ample indications of wealth.

The little innocent soon sobbed itself to sleep upon the breast of Dame
Tatton, and the village gossips, after resolving in the morning to go
in a body to the Squire Learmont and ask his advice, or rather
commands, concerning the disposal of the babe that had been so
mysteriously thrown upon their hands, dispersed to seek that repose
they were so much in need of.

Every one naturally thought that Andrew Britton, the smith, knew
something of the mysterious man and the child; but none would venture
to the dwelling of “The Savage,” as he was generally called, to make an
inquiry, for his ferocity was too well known not to be universally
dreaded.

The storm had nearly gone. A heavy fall of rain was splashing on the
meadows, and beaten down vegetation, and all was still in Learmont till
the morning’s sun rose on the wreck which the tempest had made in the
green valley that the day before was redolent of peace and plenty.

Young and old then sought the cottage of Dame Tatton. They knocked at
first gently, then more loudly, but no one answered.

“My mind misgives me,” cried the young man who had the preceding
evening spoken so boldly to the smith—“my mind misgives me; but there
is something wrong. Let us force the door, my masters.”

“Nay, Frank,” said an old man. “The widow sleeps soundly after the
storm. Ye are too hasty—far too hasty, Frank Hartleton.”

“Nay to thee!” cried the impetuous youth. “’Tis but a broken panel at
the utmost, and we do force the dame’s door, and that we can any of us
mend again. What say you masters?”

“Aye, truly,” replied a little man with a red night-cap—“spoken
truly—most sagely spoken.”

“But will the squire approve of it, think ye?” suggested one.

“By my shears I thought not of that,” murmured the little man, who was
the garment fashioner of Learmont.

“Knock again,” cried several.

Frank Hartleton knocked loudly, and shouted,—

“Dame Tatton—Dame Tatton, I say; hast taken a sleeping draught?”

No voice replied. All was as still as the grave within the cottage.

Frank now placed his foot against the frail door, and with one vigorous
push he sent it flat upon the earthen floor of the cottage, and
immediately striding over it, he entered the humble dwelling.

The villagers hesitated for a moment, in order to be quite sure there
was no immediate danger in following Frank Hartleton, and then they
quickly thronged the little cottage, which could boast of but two small
apartments, so that the whole interior was in a very few minutes
examined.

The cottage was tenantless. Dame Tatton and her infant charge had both
disappeared.

The simple rustics gaped at each other in speechless amazement. The bed
had evidently been occupied, but there was no sign of confusion or
violence—all was orderly and neat—nothing was removed or disarranged. A
canary bird was singing gaily in a wicker cage; a cat slept on the
hearth; but the Widow Tatton and the mysterious child—now more
mysterious than ever—had both disappeared.

“I cannot account for this,” said Frank Hartleton. “By Heavens it’s the
most singular thing I ever heard of.”

“The place has a strange look,” cried one.

“A strange look!” said the rest in chorus. “So indeed it has.”

“Strange nonsense,” cried Frank. “So you are frightened all of you at
an empty-room are you?”

“Master Frank,” suddenly shouted one, “look ye here, you were always a
main scholar.”

Frank turned his attention to a part of the plaster wall indicated by
him who spoke, and on it was traced, as if rapidly with a thumb or
finger nail these words,—



“Help—the Squire and the Savage have—”



and that was all. Whoever had written that hurried scrawl had not had
time to finish the sentence which would probably have thrown some light
upon the inexplicable affair.

“There has been some foul play, I am convinced,” cried Frank. “My
friends, let us go at once and confront the squire.”

“You need not go far, insolent hind!” cried a hoarse voice, and Frank
turned suddenly to where the sound proceeded from, saw Squire Learmont
himself standing upon the threshold of the cottage.

Squire Learmont of Learmont, only as he preferred being called, was a
man far above the ordinary standard of height; his figure, however, was
thin and emaciated, which, coupled with his height, gave him an
ungainly appearance. His complexion was a dead white—there was nothing
of the sallow or brown in it—it was ghastly white, and contrasting with
his lank black hair which hung far down from his head straight and
snake-like without the shadow of a curl, it had a hideous corpse-like
appearance.

“I am glad,” said Frank, when he had recovered his first surprise at
the sudden appearance of Learmont, “I am glad we have not far to go,
for the business is urgent.”

Learmont waved his hand for him to proceed.

“Last night there was a storm,” continued Frank.

“Indeed!” sneered Learmont. “That is news this morning.”

Frank Hartleton felt his cheek flush with colour, but he controlled his
passion and continued,—

“A wing of the old house adjoining the smithy was on fire—the house I
mean that has been shut up so long because it is thought—”

“Who dared think?” cried Learmont, in a voice of violent anger. “Who
dared think of me—”

“Of you, sir?”

“Aye—who dared—?”

“It was of the house I spoke.”

“But—but is it not my house, quibbler?” cried Learmont.

“Truly, sir.”

“Then on with your speech, sir, and draw no inferences from idle
gossips. The wing of my house was on fire. Enough—what followed?”

“A man rushed from it in mortal agony of mind and body, carrying a
child—”

“Well—well!”

“That child was given to the care of Dame Tatton, who dwelt in this
cottage. Now child and dame have both disappeared.”

“I hear!” cried Learmont.

“What is to be done sir? You are the lord here.”

“And so, I presume,” sneered Learmont, “I must charge myself to bring
back every old woman, who disappears from her hovel?”

“Here is an inscription on the wall,” said Frank, “which seems to
refer—”

“Ah!” cried Learmont, striding forward, and reading the few words that
had been scratched on the wall. “Well, what then?”

“That I ask you Squire Learmont.”

“Then I reply, nothing. Will you finish that sentence?”

“Certainly not.”

“Then what further have you to say to me?”

Frank was rather confounded by the manner of the squire and was silent.

“Young man,” said Learmont, “your father did a service to the
Learmonts.”

“I know it,” said Frank.

“In return for that service, the Learmonts gave him a patrimony, an
estate, on the substance of which you live.”

“’Tis well known,” cried Frank. “The service was not overpaid. My
father saved your father’s life.”

“True,” sneered Learmont, “but beware!”

“Beware of what?”

“The house that was powerful enough to make a peasant an independent
man can again convert the audacious son of a peasant into a hind he
should have been. Beware I say. You know my motto.”

“I do. ‘Constant till death!’”

“Constant till death. Constant in all things, including—revenge!”

“I scorn your threats,” cried Frank.

“Be it so,” said Learmont, as with an angry frown he strode to the door
of the cottage. He turned upon the threshold, and said, “this hovel
shall be closed for ever. Once more I say beware!”

With a haughty step he left the humble dwelling and took the road to
his princely mansion.



CHAPTER III.


Ten Years have Flown.—The Old Rose Inn.—A Snow Storm.—Tom the
Factotum.—An Arrival to the Old Smithy.—The Mysterious Stranger.



Ten years had rolled away since the storm, so memorable on account of
the mysterious incidents connected with it, had swept over the village
of Learmont. Ten weary years to some—to others, years of sunshine and
joy—but of such chequered materials are human lives. But little change
had taken place in the village. Some of the aged inhabitants had
dropped into the silent tomb, and some of the young had grown grey with
care—nothing, however, had occurred to cast any light upon the dark and
mysterious occurrences of the well-remembered evening of the storm. The
smith, Andrew Britton, still plied his hammer, and the mass of ruins
which had once been the wing of the old house he inhabited, still lay
as they had fallen—only they were overgrown with wild weeds, and coarse
vegetation. The cottage of Dame Tatton remained uninhabited, for no one
would live in what they considered an ill-omened and mysterious
residence. It had, therefore, remained locked up since the
unaccountable disappearance of its last occupant, and in course of time
the villagers began to regard it with a superstitious feeling of
fear—some even asserted that lights had been seen at night gleaming
through the narrow casements—others reported that strange sounds of
pain and distress had been heard proceeding from the humble
dwelling—but whether or not these sights and sounds had really attacked
the senses of the inhabitants of Learmont, certain it was that the
cottage began by degrees to be regarded with as much dislike and dread
as the large rambling habitation of Britton, the smith.

The child too—the infant who had been rescued from the flames was never
heard of, and the storm—the fire—the burnt and shrieking man—the child
and Dame Tatton, became all leading topics in the gossips of the
villagers around their fire-sides, as well as in the old oaken parlour
of the “Rose,” an ancient ale house, which stood in the very centre of
Learmont, and had so stood for time out of mind.

It was in the depth of winter, ten years and some months after the
storm, that a goodly collection of the village gossips—scandal-mongers
and topers were seated around the cheerful, crackling, blazing fire in
the before-mentioned oaken parlour of the “Rose.” The hour was waxing
late, but the room was so warm and comfortable, the ale so good, and
the conversation so deeply interesting, that no one seemed inclined to
move, but upon the principle of “let well alone,” preferred the present
good quarters to a turn out in the snow.

“How long has it snowed now, Tom?” said a jolly farmer-looking man,
without taking the pipe from his capacious mouth.

“It beginned,” replied Tom the waiter, ostler, and fag in general. “It
beginned at half arter eleven, and here’s a quarter arter ten. It’s
snewed all that time.”

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said an old man. “Forty years ago, when I was a
youngster, it used to think nothing of snowing for a week or a
fortnight off hand.”

“Ah!” said another old man, shaking his head. “Snow now isn’t like the
snow as used to be. It’s not so white, I know, for one thing—”

“Mayhap, daddy, your eyes arn’t so good?” said a good-looking young man
who was the very picture of health and strength.

“I can tell you,” said the old man, with an air of indignation, “that
in my days—that’s my young days, everything was different, snow and
all.”

“You may say that,” remarked another. “When now shall we ever hear of a
storm, such as that happened only ten years ago, and a matter of three
months or thereby—eh?”

“You mean the time when Savage Britton had part of his old Smithy
burnt?”

“The fire wasn’t near his Smithy,” said the old man; “I saw it, and I
saw the mad fellow rush out with the child too.”

“We shall never know the rights of that business,” remarked another,
“and since Frank Hartleton has gone to London, there’s no chance
neither.”

“And you know who has shut himself up more than ever since.”

“The savage?”

“No—not he—some one else.”

“The squire?” said the young farmer.

“I mention no names,” said the old man, “mind I didn’t say the squire
shuts himself up. Did I, Tom?”

“Not at all,” replied Tom. “Any ale wanted? Keep the pot a bilin.”

“And if you did say the squire shuts himself up,” cried the young
farmer, “what then? We all know he shuts himself up, and room after
room has been locked up, in Learmont house, till it’s a misery to look
at the dirty windows.”

“That may be,” said the old man, “but mind I didn’t say so. Is it
snowing still, Tom?”

“I believe ye,” cried Tom, pulling aside a little bit of red baize that
hung by the window, as fast as ever. “It is a coming now.”

And so it was, for the large flakes of snow fell against the window
with faint blows, and as far as the eye could reach was one
uninterrupted field of pure white which lent an unnatural colour to the
night.

“I think we may venture to remark,” said a little man who had hitherto
sat silent in a corner next the fire-place, “that there won’t be many
out to-night that have got a chimney-corner to crawl to.”

“That’s uncommonly true,” replied several in a breath. “Hark!” cried
the young farmer, “there’s the clank of Britton’s hammer.”

“Aye, aye,” said the old man, who was so careful of speech. “In the
worst weather he works hardest. I hear it—I hear it—and, friends, mind,
I say nothing, but where does his work come from and when is it done,
where does it go to—eh?”

“That’s the thing!” cried several. “You’ve hit the right nail on the
head.”

“Mind, I said nothing—nothing at all,” cried the old man, resuming his
pipe, with a self-satisfied air.

“I’ll say something, though,” cried the young farmer, “my opinion is,
that he forges chains fer old Nick, and some day you’ll hear—”

Several heavy blows upon the outer door of the ale house, which was
closed to keep out the snow, stopped the young farmer in his speech and
attracted the attention of the whole company.

“Who’s that?” said one, looking round him. “We are all here.”

“House! House!” cried a deep hoarse voice, from without, and the blows
on the door continued.

“Tom! Tom!” screamed the landlady, Mrs. Fairclaw, who was a buxom
widow, fat, fair, and fifty, “Tom! You idle vagabond! Don’t you hear!
There’s some one knocking—if it’s a tramper, tell him this is no house
for him.”

Tom, with a knowing wink, proceeded to the door, and, in a few moments
ushered into the warm parlour a tall man, who was so covered with snow,
that it was difficult to make out what rank in life his appearance
indicated.

He cast a hurried and uneasy glance round him, as he entered the
parlour, and then taking a chair in silence, he turned to Tom, and said
in a tremulous voice, “Brandy, if you please.”

“Shall I take your hat and dry it by the kitchen fire?” said Tom.

“No,” replied the stranger. “I—I must not stay long.” So saying he
turned his chair, so as to leave his face very much in the shade, and
sat perfectly silent.

“A rough night, sir,” remarked the young farmer.

“Eh?—yes remarkably fine,” replied the stranger.

“Fine?”

“Oh—the—the—snow you mean. Yes, very rough—very rough, indeed—I beg
your pardon.”

The company looked very eagerly at each other, and then at the
abstracted stranger in great wonderment and intense curiosity.

Tom now entered with the brandy. The stranger eagerly clutched the
little pewter measure in which it was brought and toss’d off its
contents at once. Then he drew a long breath, and turning to Tom, he
said:—

“Stay—I—I want to know—”

“What?” said Tom, as the man paused a moment.

“Is—Andrew Britton—still—alive?”

“Yes,” said Tom.

“And does he,” continued the man, “does he still live at the old place?”

“The old Smithy?”

“Yes.“

“Oh, yes; he lives there still.”

“And—and is the squire—alive—”

“Ah! To be sure.”

“The smith,” said the young farmer, “still lives, sir, in his old
place, part of which was burnt down ten years ago, or more.”

“Ten years!” murmured the stranger.

“Yes; the night there was a storm—”

The stranger rose, saying—

“Indeed! You talk of a storm as if there never had been but one.”

So saying he threw down a shilling to Tom, and hastily left the room.

The occupants of the parlour looked at each other in silence, and those
who had pipes smoked away at such speed that in a few moments the room
was full of dense blue vapour.



CHAPTER IV.


The Old Smithy.—A Lone Man.—The Alarm.—The Mysterious Conference.—Guilt
and Misery.



It was the hammer of the smith which had sounded on the night air, and
the clangour of which had reached the ears of the frequenters of the
snug oaken parlour of the Rose Inn.

The Smithy was of great extent, for it occupied nearly the whole ground
floor of the wing of the dilapidated mansion in which Britton resided.

There were about the stained windows and carved oaken chimney-piece
ample evidences of ancient grandeur in the place, and it was not a
little singular to notice the strange effect produced by the mixture of
the rude implements of the smith with the remains of the former
magnificence of the ancient hall.

A blazing fire was roaring on the hearth, and by it stood Andrew
Britton, the smith, or “The Savage,” as he was called, in consequence
of the known brutality of his disposition. There was no other light in
the large apartment but what proceeded from the fire, and as it flared
and roared up the spacious chimney it cast strange shadows on the dusky
walls, and lit up the repulsive countenance of the smith with
unearthly-looking brilliancy. A weighty forge hammer was in his hand,
and he was busily turning in the glowing embers a piece of iron upon
which he had been operating.

“Curses on his caution,” he muttered, as if following up some previous
train of thought. “And yet—yet without the work—I think I might go mad;
drink and work. Thus pass my days; aye, and my nights too. He is right
there; I should go mad without the work. I drink—drink till my brain
feels hot and scorching—then this relieves me—this hammer, and I fancy
as I bring it clashing down upon the anvil that—ha! ha!—that some one’s
head is underneath it. And most of all, is it rare and pleasant to
imagine it his head, who turned a cowardly craven when he had work to
do which required a cool head, and a quick hand. Curses on him! Curses!”

He lifted the immense hammer which no ordinary man could have wielded,
and brought it down upon the anvil with so stunning a sound, that it
awakened startling echoes all over the old house.

Suddenly the smith stood in the attitude of attention, for as the
sounds he had himself produced died away, he fancied there mingled with
them a knocking at the door of the smithy.

For a few moments he listened attentively, and then became confirmed in
his opinion, that some one was knocking at his door.

“A visitor to me?” he muttered, “and at this hour—well, well—be it whom
it may, he shall enter. Whether he goes forth again or not is another
consideration. Men call me a savage. Let those beware who seek my den.”

He walked to the door of the smithy, and removing an iron bar which
hung across it, he flung it wide open, saying, “Who knocks at Andrew
Britton’s door?”

The mysterious stranger who had created so much sensation at the
“Rose,” stood on the threshold. His form was clearly defined upon the
snow, and the smith started as he said,—

“Andrew Britton, do you know me?”

“Know you?” said Britton.

“Aye! Look at me.”

The man took off his hat as he spoke, and stood in the full glare of
the flickering fire light.

A dark scowl came over the brow of the smith, and he still continued
silent while the man repeated, “Andrew Britton, do you know me?”

“Know you?” cried Britton, with a voice of rage almost goaded to fury.
“Yes, I do know you—robber—thief—paltry wretch that had not courage—”

“Hush, Andrew Britton,” said the stranger. “I have travelled many weary
miles to visit thee. From the moment that a stranger told me that the
clank of your hammer still sounded through the village of Learmont, I
guessed how you had been requited. I resolved to seek you, and tell you
how to better your condition. I am here with such a purpose. Am I
welcome? Or shall I turn from your door in anger, Andrew Britton? Speak
at once.”

Owing to the position in which the man stood, the red glare of the
smith’s fire fell full upon his working features, and after regarding
them attentively for some moments, Britton spoke in a calmer tone than
he had used before.

“I think I understand you now,” he said. “Come in—come in.”

“One word before I accept your hospitality,” said the stranger.

“Such conversation as ours,” remarked the smith, “is safest carried on
within.”

“But what I have to say is safest said now, and more to the purpose, as
I stand here upon your threshold.”

“Say on,” cried Britton, impatiently.

“’Tis three days’ journey by the quickest conveyances and the nearest
road to where I have hidden my head for ten years—ten weary years. In
my chamber lies a sealed packet, on which is written the date of my
departure, and accompanying it are these words: ‘If I return not, or
send no message with assurance of my safety by the time eight days have
expired, take this packet to the nearest justice and bid him open and
read its contents.’”

The dark countenance of the smith turned to a pallid hue as the
stranger spoke, and his gigantic frame perceptibly trembled as he said
in a low husky whisper, “And that packet contains—.”

“A confession.”

“You are cautious; but, you were safe without so deeply laid a plan.”

“I may have been; nay, I think I should have been safe when I explained
to you, Britton, the motive of my journey hither; but the mind is never
so free to act as when safety is doubly assured.”

“Come in—come in,” said Britton, “the night air is chilling, and the
snow flakes dash upon the floor. Come in at once.”

“Freely,” said the stranger, stepping into the smith’s strange abode.

Britton carefully barred the door, and without speaking for a few
moments, he threw coals upon his forge fire and stirred up the glowing
embers until a cheerful blaze of light illuminated the whole interior
of the smithy.

The stranger, from the moment of his entrance, had fixed his eyes upon
a large oaken door at the further end of the ancient hall, and he
continued to gaze at it, as if under the influence of some fascination
which he could not resist.

“Britton“ he said at length, while a shudder for one instant convulsed
his frame, “have you ever passed through that door since—since—”

“Since the night of the storm?” said Britton. “Yes, I have passed
through it.”

“You are bold.”

“I had a motive, and since your candour has been such as to tell me of
that little contrivance of yours about the packet you have left with
such urgent directions, I will tell you my motive, and ha! Ha!
We—we—shall better understand our relative situations.”

“What was the motive?”

“Can you form no guess?”

“I cannot; how—how should I Britton?”

“Did you lose nothing, ten years since?”

“Yes—yes—I did lose a knife—but not here—not here!”

“You did lose it here.”

“And you found it, good Britton, and will give it to me. ’Twas an old
keepsake from a friend. You will give it to me, Andrew Britton?”

“Ha! Ha!” laughed the smith in his discordant manner. “You know the
mind is free when safety is doubly secured.”

“The knife—the knife!” cried the stranger, earnestly. “My name is—is—”

“On the handle,” added Britton, “which makes it all the more valuable.
You say it was a keepsake. It shall be a keepsake still. I will keep it
for my own sake. I would not barter it for its worth in gold.”

“Perhaps you have not got it.”

“Do not please yourself with such a supposition, I will show it to you.”

Britton walked to an old press which stood in an obscure and dark
corner of the room, and then returned with a large knife in his hand,
the blade of which opened and remained fast by touching a spring.

“Do you know that?” he said, holding it to the eyes of his visitor. The
man groaned.

“Give it to me. Oh, give it to me, Britton,” he said.

“No,” said the smith. “You have taught me a lesson, I shall write a
confession and wrap it round this knife with ample directions to the
nearest justice, in case anything should happen to me. Do you
understand, my friend?”

The man’s lips became white with fear, and he faltered—

“If—if you will not give it me—take it away—out of my sight with it. It
makes my blood curdle in my veins, and a cold perspiration hangs upon
my brow. Curses! Curses! That I should have come thus far to be so
tortured.”

“Nay,” said the smith, in a tone of sneering exultation, “you shall be
convinced. Look at that name upon the blood-stained haft.”

“Away! Away, with it,” shrieked the stranger, covering his eyes with
his hands.

“Joseph Gray!” said Britton, reading the name on the knife. “Ha! Ha!
Master Gray, is not this a damning evidence?”

“Away! I say—oh, God, take it away.”

“Nay, your curiosity shall be amply satisfied,” continued the smith,
approaching his mouth closer to the ear of him who we shall henceforth
call Gray. “It was a week before I—even I, savage Britton, as they call
me, ventured to unbar that door, and when I did it was at midnight.”

Gray shook with emotion and groaned deeply.

“I knew the spot,” continued Britton, and he lowered his voice to a
whisper, while deep sighs of anguish burst from the labouring breast of
his listener. The snow pattered against the windows of the smithy—a
howling wind swept round the ruined pile of building, and not more wild
and awful was the winter’s storm without than the demoniac passions and
fearful excitement of those two men of blood who conversed in anxious
whispers in the Old Smithy, until the grey tints of morning began to
streak with sober beauty the eastern sky.



CHAPTER V.


The Morning.—A Visit.—Blasted Hopes.—The Arranged Meeting.—The
Packet.—And the Knife.



The snow storm had ceased, and a clear cold winter’s sun rose upon
Learmont, making even stern winter look most beautiful. The snow hung
in sparkling masses upon every tree and shrub, and in the valley where
the village nestled, it was in some places many feet in depth. The
little streamlet which ran through the village in the summer time, with
a happy murmuring sound, was now still and voiceless, and scarcely to
be distinguished from the surrounding land. Curling masses of dense
smoke arose from the chimneys of the thatched cottages. The robin sang
his plaintive ditty on the window sills, and occasionally might be seen
a group of children with their scanty garments repairing to the frozen
stream to gambol on its slippery surface.

Far above every other habitation in the place, towered the feudal
residence of the Learmonts. It was an ancient residence built in Gothic
style of architecture, and its blackened walls and time-worn towers
looked more than usually stern and desolate now that they were
contrasted with the pure white patches of snow that had lodged on every
projecting stone and window ledge.

In a chamber situated nearly in the very centre of the mansion, the
windows of which were provided with painted blinds, representing the
most beautiful and glowing Arcadian landscapes, and the temperature of
which was raised fully to that of summer, sat the same tall,
dark-browed man, who ten years before had visited the deserted hovel of
the Widow Tatton. Time had not swept harmlessly over Squire Learmont.
His raven locks were largely mixed with “hoary grey.” The deep olive of
his complexion had given way to a sickly sallow tint, which was
peculiarly disagreeable to look upon—but in all other respects the man
was the same. There was the same contemptuous curl of the lip—the same
angry contraction of the brow, and the same ever-shifting glance and
restlessness of manner which betokened a heart ill at ease with itself.

An open letter lay before him which he occasionally referred to, as if
to guide the wandering current of his thoughts, and after perusing
several times he rose from his seat, and for a time walked backwards
and for in the room in silence—then he spoke in indistinct and muttered
sentences. “Surely,” he muttered, “I may at last venture to enjoy what
I have plunged so deeply to obtain. What a vast accumulation of wealth
have I not now in my grasp, and shall I longer hesitate? Have I not now
the means to sit down by royalty and outvie its grandeur? I
have—ample—ample. Again let me read the dear assurance of unbounded
wealth. Truly, this money scrivener has done his duty with the large
sums I have entrusted to his care. Let me see.”

He stood by the table, and again perused the letter in an audible voice.



Noble and Honoured Sir,—Agreeable to your most kind instructions I send
an account of the disposal of all the moneys from time to time
entrusted by your most noble worship, to the care of your most humble
servant. Your honour will perceive by the annexed schedule, that like a
river augmented by a thousand little streams, you honour’s real
property has swollen to nearly one million sterling.



“A million,” cried Learmont, drawing himself up to his full height and
casting a flashing glance around him. “A million pieces of those golden
slaves that are ever ready to yield enjoyment. A million of those
glittering sprites which are more powerful than the genii of old
romance. Can I not now triumph? What refinement of life—what exquisite
enjoyments can now be denied to me!”

The door now softly opened, and an old servant appeared.

“What now?” cried Learmont abruptly.

“Britton, the smith, comes for your worship’s orders,” said the servant.

A gloom spread itself over the countenance of Learmont.

“Show him this way,” he said, as he sank into a chair with his back to
the light.

“He brings one with him, too, who craves to see your worship.”

“No! No!” cried Learmont, springing to his feet. “’Tis false—false as
hell. Has he dared to—to—the villain!—His own destruction is as
certain.”

The domestic looked amazed, but before he could make any remark,
Britton the smith, accompanied by Jacob Gray, stood on the threshold of
the door.

The hand of Learmont was plunged deep beneath the breast of his coat,
as he said.

“Well? What—who is that?”

“A friend,” said Britton, in a low voice.

For a moment Learmont regarded the face of the smith with attentive
earnestness, and then slowly withdrawing his hand, which had doubtless
clasped some weapon of defence, he said to the servant, “Leave the
room. Well, Britton; I—I am glad you have come about the—steel
gauntlets. Leave the room, I say.”

The servant who had lingered from curiosity, reluctantly left and
closed the door.

His curiosity, however, was far from satisfied, and after lingering a
moment or two, he fairly knelt down outside the door and placed his ear
as flat against the key-hole as it was possible so to do. A confused
murmur of voices was all that by his utmost exertions he could hear.

“A plague on them,” he muttered. “If they would but get in a passion
now and speak loud.”

His wish was gratified, for at the moment Learmont’s voice rose above
its ordinary pitch, as he said, “A thousand pounds upon the assurance
of the fact, beyond a doubt.”

The reply was too indistinct to hear, much to the torture of the
servants and in another moment his curiosity received a disagreeable
check by his master exclaiming, “I’ll get it, and return to you
immediately,” and before Oliver, which was the old domestic’s name,
could rise from his knees, the door opened, and his master nearly fell
over him on the threshold.

“Ha!” cried Learmont, drawing back. “Fool, you have ensured your
destruction.”

“Mercy, sir! Oh, mercy!” cried the old man.

Learmont took a sword from a corner of the room and unsheathed it.

“Hold, sir, a moment,” said Gray. “I do not think it possible he could
hear much.”

“Dotard!” cried Learmont, to the trembling Oliver. “What could induce
you to throw away the remnant of your worthless life by such folly?”

“Oh, sir, I heard nothing—I know nothing,” cried the old man, “I—I was
only passing the door to—to go to the picture gallery, and stooped to
pick up—a nail—that’s all, upon my word, sir.”

“Where is the nail?” said the smith.

“Here,” said Oliver, pointing to the oaken floor. “I thought it was
loose, but found it fast.”

“It matters not,” said Learmont, suddenly casting the sword from him;
“I don’t like even the most trifling affairs to be pryed into; but
since you know all, Oliver, will you assist us?”

“Sir, I am at your service,” said Oliver; “but, on my soul, I heard
nothing but your honour say you would get something.”

“Pooh,—pooh!” cried Learmont. “I forgive thee listening. Would money
tempt you, Oliver?”

“To what, sir?” said Oliver, with such a look of real innocence, that
Learmont turned aside, saying,—

“Enough—he knows nothing. Begone!”

With precipitation the old servant left the apartment, and when he was
fairly gone, Learmont turned to his visitors and said,—

“Rest quiet till to-night. I will then meet you at the smithy.”

“That may scarcely be,” said the smith, “for this gentleman—this
considerate Master Gray, must get hence again with all expedition.”

“There will be time, then,” said Gray, “and a day to spare.”

“Be it so, then,” said the smith.

“To-night at the Smithy,” again said Learmont.

“At what hour?”

“After midnight. I will tap thrice at your door. Reflect upon my offer,
Gray; ’tis a large sum.”

Gray turned his small cunning eyes upon Learmont as he replied,—

“There is an old fable, of the Goose and the Golden Eggs. You cannot
expect me to kill my goose so soon.”

“Nor can you expect me to comply constantly with extortionate demands,”
replied Learmont, trembling with passion.

“We will settle all to-night,” said the smith. “Do not fail us, sir.”

“Be assured I will not. But recollect, I come to purchase the silence,
not of a well kept secret, but of the grave.”

They parted, and once again the Squire of Learmont was alone with his
own thoughts. He threw himself into a chair, with a deep groan, saying,
“There must be more blood—more blood, ere I can dream of safety.”



CHAPTER VI.


Night Again.—The Ruins.—The Conference.—The Old Oaken Door.—The Resolve.



Great was the surprise in the village of Learmont at the non-appearance
of the stranger who had arrived during the snow storm at the village.
He had been seen with the smith proceeding to Learmont House, but that
one should willingly take up even a day residence with Savage Britton,
at the old Smithy, was quite beyond the comprehension of the simple
villagers.

But such appeared, however, to be the fact, for every one was confident
the stranger had not left Learmont, so it was quite clear he was with
the smith.

Such was the terror which Britton and his house were held in that none
ventured to go sufficiently near it to ascertain the fact, and the day
passed away in endless conjectures as to what the stranger could by
possibility want at Learmont, first, with the smith, and then with the
squire. Night came without in the least assuaging the general
curiosity, or adding any new food to it, and as the sun sunk in the far
west, and the cold evening wind swept moaning and sighing among the
leafless trees, the heavy clank of the smith’s hammer was heard as
usual at intervals till near midnight.

Then when the clock in the high tower of Learmont struck twelve, a tall
figure enveloped in an ample cloak stalked through the village, and
took the direct route to the Old Smithy.

The night had set in very dark, there was no moonlight, for masses of
heavy clouds obscured its light, although it was nearly at the full,
and the long straggling building, one wing of which was inhabited by
the smith, showed but faintly against the black sky.

The Squire of Learmont, for it was he, who at the silent hour of
midnight, had stolen out to keep his appointment, paused when he
reached the wing of the house which had been burnt down on the night of
the storm, and the crumbling ruins of which remained by his orders just
as they had fallen.

A shudder came ever his frame as he regarded them and he muttered, “Can
I? Dare I leave this spot with the knowledge of what it conceals? And
yet, I am surely safe now. If these men—these tools by which I have
hewn my path to wealth; if these could be safely disposed of—then—ah,
then, I might know peace. At least this anxious fever of wild
apprehension that gnaws at my heart would subside, and if I had a pang
it would be for the past and not from a dread of that which was to
come.”

He folded his cloak closer around him, and with hasty steps passed
onwards to the smithy.

Thrice he struck the heavy door with the hilt of his sword, and in a
moment the smith’s voice from within called loudly, “Who knocks?”

“Learmont,” was the answer; the door was flung open and the squire
stood as the stranger had stood the preceding evening in the glare of
the fire from the smithy.

“You are punctual, sir,” said Gray, advancing with an air of mock
ceremony.

Learmont waved his hand in reply, and stalked into the old hall.

“Now,” he said, when Britton had barred the door, “I am here. Make your
proposition.”

“Are you not afraid, sir,” sneered Gray, “to trust your worshipful
person alone with two such old acquaintances?”

“No,” answered Learmont fearlessly, “I know you both too well. You
calculate. My life is valuable to you. My death, in the accomplishment
of which you might get some chance injury yourselves, would be a
perfectly gratuitous act.”

“Enough of this folly,” growled Britton. “Let us to business.”

“I persevere then in my offer,” said Learmont, with a slight trembling
of his voice. “A thousand pounds.”

The smith was silent, but Gray spoke.

“We have decided, worshipful sir,” he said.

“And your decision is—”

“This. We think, with your worship, that London is the most delightful
of cities, and we purpose to follow you thither; to live ever near you,
and to trust to your liberality for our wants.”

For a moment it seemed, by the convulsive working of the countenance of
Learmont, that he was about to burst into an uncontrollable fit of
passion; but if such was his feeling he succeeded in suppressing it,
and replied with an affectation of calmness, “Preposterous! You must
think me weak, indeed, to be thus dictated to, Master Gray.”

“Then I must to London,” said Gray, “and my only regret is that I have
wasted valuable time.”

“Look ye, Squire Learmont,” said Britton, folding his huge arms across
his breast, and glaring with his ferocious eyes in the face of his
patron. “I was to have been well paid for a black job. You know I have
been ill paid, on the plea that it was not completed.”

“I have constantly supplied your wants,” said Learmont, shrinking under
the savage gaze of the smith.

“I have not starved, truly,” continued Britton. “But now I will have
wealth.”

“Wealth? How can I divide sufficient among us three to make you
wealthy?”

“Master Gray,” continued Britton, “has a ready wit and the news he
brings shall enrich us.”

“If I absolutely refuse?“

“Then we bargain for impunity for the past, while we—”

“Denounce me?”

“Exactly.”

“And to what extent, most considerate gentlemen, do you contemplate
making me your banker?”

“More or less as the case may be,” said Gray; “but we will be moderate
in a gentlemanly way. Eh, Britton?”

“Certainly,” growled Britton, with the laugh of a hyena.

“The sum! The sum!” said, Learmont, impatiently.

“Five hundred pounds each as a start,” said Jacob Gray, with the most
unblushing effrontery.

“Enormous!” cried Learmont.

“As you please, sir. Our conference then is over.”

“Britton, answer me one question,” said the squire.

“A dozen, if you please,” replied the smith.

“Have you been through that doorway, since—”

“I have, Squire Learmont.”

“And in what state—”

“Can you venture to look for yourself?” said the smith, with a sneer.

Learmont hesitated, and then said, “I can. Give me a light.”

The smith lit a lamp and handed it to the squire, along with a key.

“Can you give me any directions?” said Learmont.

“Take the second passage to your right and look closely on the ground
as you go on.”

Learmont took the lamp and advanced to the old oaken door. His hand
trembled as he turned the rusty lock, and in another moment he had
passed through, and was lost to the sight of the confederates in the
smithy.

In less than two minutes, he returned and staggered to a seat.

“You have seen it?” said Britton.

“No,” answered Learmont. “I—I thought I had the nerve—but for my life I
could not proceed three steps in that awful place.”

“Do you consent now to our conditions?” asked Gray.

“Who has the—the papers?”

“I,” replied Britton.

“And I a more dreaded secret,” still whispered Gray.

“I—I consent,” said Learmont. “I consent.”



CHAPTER VII.


The Conference, Continued.—Mutual Security.—The Oaken Door and the
Strange Appearance.—Mysteries Thicken.



For several minutes neither of the three men whose crimes had brought
them into such strange fellowship, spoke. They regarded each with the
most strange and mixed emotions. Upon the face of the haughty Lord of
Learmont were pride, hate, and fear, each struggling for mastery. The
smith looked, as he always looked, brutally ferocious, but upon this
occasion there was an air of exultant villany upon his swarthy visage,
which made him like a fiend in human shape. Gray, the cautious and
politic villain, with just sufficient relenting in his cold heart to
make him stop short at the consummation of some dark deed, while he
waded recklessly through all the preliminary proceedings to it; he,
too, wore a triumphant look, but it was one strangely mingled with
suspicion and doubt, whether or not some sudden occurrence would damp
his joy, and turn his self-congratulations to laments.

He was the first to break the silence.

“Had we not now better separate?” he said. “We can see you on the
morrow, squire.”

“There is yet one thing which remains to be considered,” said Learmont,
in a low voice.

“What is that?” cried the smith.

“When we are all gone, may not some one’s curiosity be prompted to
visit this house?”

“That is true,” said Gray, turning pale.

“If they do,” cried Britton, “they shall find nothing; I will see to
that.”

“Let it be so, then,” said Learmont, rising.

“Before we separate now,” interposed Gray, “there is one thing which we
should all feel thoroughly assured, and that is, that our mutual safety
depends upon our mutual preservation; that is, I mean, if one falls the
others are in danger.”

“We understand that, most politic Master Gray,” sneered Learmont, as he
clasped his cloak, preparatory to leaving the smithy.

“Perhaps, not fully,” said Gray.

“I am sure, not fully,” cried Britton, with a hoarse laugh. “I have a
hold upon our good friend the squire, which I will not even trust to
the good-keeping of Master Jacob Gray.”

“Ha!” cried Learmont, turning ghastly pale. “What—what mean you?”

“This way,” said the smith, beckoning the squire to the further end of
the apartment. Learmont obeyed the invitation, and whatever was the
communication he received, it was conveyed very briefly, for he
suddenly exclaimed—

“Enough! enough!” and strode to the door.

“Your worshipful squireship,” said Gray, “will always please to
recollect that my little packet, that is at home, would be an
exceedingly awkward revelation, should anything happen to me.”

“Hear me, both of you!” cried Learmont, turning with flashing eyes upon
the two men who so mocked him with their power. “I know;—I admit that
you both possess secrets that would prove my destruction; aye, my
death. We do understand one another, and we may as well speak openly.
What you would say is this, Jacob Gray, that I dare not for my own
safety take your vile life; and you the same, Britton; you have me in
your toils, I grant it; there needs no insinuations. We have waded
through too much blood to feel any delicacy of speech towards each
other. You have power, but beware how you use it, or you will rouse a
devil that you cannot quell again. Be moderate and faithful, and it
will not be worth my while to seek for safe means for your destruction.
Drive me too far, and you perish, though I call on hell to aid me!”

So saying, without waiting for an answer, he strode from the smithy
with his face distorted by passion, leaving the two confederates, who
had not expected such a burst of fury, abashed, even in spite of their
deep villanies and abounding craft.

“Gray!” said the smith, after a few moments’ silence.

Jacob Gray started and cried, “What shall we do now? Squire Learmont is
a man of wild passion.”

“What is his wild passion to us?” said Britton; “we have the means of
stripping him of his wealth, and leading him to a scaffold.”

“But you forget, Master Britton, that upon that same scaffold you and I
would be accommodated with prominent situations.”

“Pshaw!” cried the smith. “That is a thought that does not haunt me. We
are as adventurous miners, Gray, who have suddenly hit upon a vein of
wealth, which it requires but ordinary skill to work to our mutual
profit.”

“True,” said Gray, “and we will work it, always my friend, Britton,
remembering that we are so situated that we stand or fall together.”

“Agreed,” cried the smith. “If I fall I care not who stands; only thus
much I will take pains to do—drag all I can within the sphere of my own
ruin.”

“You are very considerate,” said Gray. “And now you must recollect that
my absence from London must be limited. There is danger in a longer
stay.”

“Away, then, with you at once.”

“What! leave Learmont with nothing but sounding promises, and an empty
purse? No, Britton. I must again see Squire Learmont, before I take my
leave of this place, which I hate.”

“True,” said the smith. “And before you go, there is another small
matter in which I claim your assistance.”

“What is that?”

“Beyond that ancient door is a sight which must be placed beyond human
recognition.”

Gray turned ghastly pale, as he said, “Britton, your nerves are strong.
You will feel little in—in—disposing securely of whatever is there that
would blast the gaze of another.”

“Jacob Gray,” said Britton in a determined tone, “you share the
advantages. You have by your cunning so hedged yourself in with
precautions, that I, even I, feel how impolitic it would be to scatter
your brains with yon forge-hammer.”

Gray started to his feet, as he exclaimed:

“You surely did not mean to murder me?”

“I did!” roared the smith. “And now, Jacob Gray, we understand each
other, and you know you are safe with me. But I will have no flinching,
there is a work to be performed which you shall aid in, although you
shrink from it as you would from the mouth of hell. If it turn your
blood to liquid flame you shall do it. If your reason fail you at the
ghastly sight, for ghastly it is, you shall do it; nay, should you die
in gasping terror, and involve me and Learmont in one common
destruction by the wily narrative you have left in London, you shall do
it.”

“Spare me! spare me!” said Gray.

“Ha! Ha!” laughed the smith, with a discordant yell that echoed through
the lofty hall. “Spare you? spare Jacob Gray?”

“I implore you,” cried Gray. “Spare me this task and I will pay you
handsomely.”

“You forget,” said Britton “that I have a better-filled purse than
yours to apply to. I love money, because it is enjoyment and power, but
I have my fancies, and one of them is, that you shall do your full
share of this necessary work. Your safety, as well as mine, demands
that it should be done. Any prying rustic who could so far call upon
his curiosity as to master his fears and penetrate from this hall
through yon door, would find food for gossip and inquiry, that would
raise a spirit, even all the wealth of Learmont could not quell. It
must be done, I say, and by the infernal powers you shall do it.”

Gray shuddered, and he said in a low voice, “When shall we again see
Learmont?”

“By the morning’s light,” answered the smith, “I will take you to the
mansion by a secret means, known only to myself. You can then procure
the means you immediately require. He dare not refuse you, and
post-horses will carry you to London, in ample time to take possession
of the little document you have so providentially left behind you.”

“Yes—yes,” said Gray. “Oh, yes, there will be time and—and Britton, I
will hand to you one-half of the sum that I procure from Learmont’s
fears, if—if you will do this work that must be done alone.”

“No!” cried Britton. “A hundred times, no! The world’s wealth, Jacob
Gray, should not tempt me to let you off.”

He took a flambeau from a corner as he spoke, and lighting it by the
forge fire, he held it high above his head, and while its flickering
light cast many dancing shadows upon the time-blackened walls of the
Old Smithy, he pointed to the oaken door, and exclaimed to the
trembling Gray:—

“Come, now, at once. ’Tis a work should be done at such an hour as
this.”

“Mercy! mercy!” cried Gray, clasping his hands.

“Rare sport! rare sport!” shouted the smith, in an ecstasy of mirth.
“Come on.”

“Britton, you do not mean it; I beseech, I implore.”

“Come on!” roared the smith.

“On my knees, I beg—”

“Coward! Come on! I could revile thee, trembling wretch, but that it
delights my very soul to see you suffer such mortal agony. Come on; you
knew him once. Come on, I say, and see if you could recognise him now.”

Holding the torch in one hand, so as to throw a red glare of light over
the vast apartment, the smith clutched with the other the trembling
companion of his guilt, and dragged him with irresistible force towards
the oaken door. In vain did Gray beseech for mercy. In vain did he beg
and implore, and pray to be released. And now they reached the door,
and he clung to the damp wall and screamed, but the smith heeded him
not; he answered him but with shouts and wild laughter, and lifting his
foot he, with one heavy kick, dashed the door open.

About two paces within the entrance stood a figure, tall and erect. The
glare from the torch fell upon it for one moment; with a shriek of the
most horrifying description, Gray fell insensible to the ground, and
even the iron nerves of the smith were shaken: the flambeau dropped
from his hand, and with a cry of surprise and horror he rushed from the
spot, trampling in his way upon the prostrate form of Gray, nor
stopping till he stood at the further end of the now gloomy hall, with
the outer door in his hand.



CHAPTER VIII.


The Mansion.—Offers of Magnitude.—The Double Plot.



Who or what the form was that so unexpectedly met the terrified gaze of
the savage smith, and his more nervous and timid companion in the Old
Smithy, we must leave to be discovered in the progress of our eventful
and strange narrative.

By the first gray tint of morning light, there sat three persons in a
small room of the mansion of Learmont; they were the smith, Gray, and
the squire himself. A quantity of money lay upon the table before them,
upon which Gray’s eyes were fixed with eager expression. The smith was
evidently not indifferent to the sparkling treasure before him, but he
did not exhibit his feelings so openly as Jacob Gray, while the Lord of
Learmont himself sat with his back to the dim light in moody silence.

“I shall be off,” cried Gray, “before another cock can proclaim the day
is coming.”

Learmont merely inclined his head.

“And I,” said Britton, “leave here for London in the course of the day.”

“Once more,” said Learmont, in a deep hollow voice—“once more I offer
you the large sum I have mentioned, if you will accede to my two
propositions.”

“No sir,” replied Gray, “I say no.”

“And you, Britton?”

“I say no, likewise,” replied the smith.

“I double my offer,” cried Learmont.

“Double?” echoed Gray.

“Aye, double. Let me but be sure that he is no more, and upon your
arrival in any part of America you may choose, you will find an order
there for the amount.”

“No! No!” cried Britton.

“’Tis a large sum, a very large sum,” murmured Gray.

“Hark ye!” cried Learmont, his face glowing with excitement. “Hark ye!
your presence will be my curse. Every time I see you will blast my eyes
with the remembrance of what I intend to forget in the vortex of
pleasure. My double offer amounts to no less a sum than two thousand
pounds to each of you. Once more, I raise your price, I will make those
sums three thousand each.”

“It is useless,” said Britton. “A night at the gaming table, and we are
beggars again. No, Learmont, there is nothing like a constant resource.”

“Very true,” said Gray. “That is exceedingly true; besides; my feelings
would not allow me to take the life of—of—”

“Your feelings?” cried Learmont. “Wretch! If among us three there be
one more doubly damned by crime than another, that one is Jacob Gray.
If there be one villain more coldly calculating than another, it is
thou. Talk of thy feelings? thou sneaking ruffian—thou shrinking
cut-throat!”

The smith threw himself back in his chair, and burst into a peal of
uproarious laughter.

“Capital! Oh, capital!” he cried. “That’s you, good, politic Master
Gray. Ho! Ho! How well we all understand each other! There are no
needless delicacies. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Gray rose from his chair without saying a word, but his very lips were
pale with suppressed rage. He hastily collected the money that lay
before him, and having bestowed it away in safety, he cast a malignant
scowl upon Learmont, and said,—“We shall meet again soon, sir, when,
should you happen to raise your voice do high, there may be listeners,
who will say we judge of Learmont by his company. Now to London.” So
saying, without waiting for a reply, he left the room.

The dark eyes of the Squire of Learmont flashed with rage, as Gray gave
utterance to this taunt, and when the last echo of his retreating
footsteps had died away, Britton broke the silence that ensued, by
saying,—

“Yon knave knows his power.”

“Aye, does he!” cried Learmont, striking the table with his clenched
hand. “But we, Britton, are not altogether powerless.”

“What can we do?” said the smith.

“Jacob Gray and his secret must perish together.”

“With all my heart, squire, but the fellow’s caution is so excessive,
that we are more interested in his preservation than his destruction.”

“True,” replied Learmont. “His caution is great, as you say, but there
are times when the most cautious are off their guard. Remember this,
Britton, that every guinea that finds its way into the purse of Jacob
Gray, is a guinea torn from you.”

“I know it,” cried the smith, “and I would have scattered his brains
upon the hearth-stone of the Old Smithy, but that he averred he had
taken the precaution of leaving the written statement of all he knew at
home, to be opened if he returned not within a given time, and although
I doubted that he had done so, even to the verge of positive disbelief,
yet was the risk too great, and I let him live.”

“For a time—only for a time,” said Learmont.

A grim smile crossed the face of Britton, as he said;

“Should Jacob Gray die suddenly, and leave no trace behind, him, shall
I be entitled to the whole of what is now divided?”

“You shall,” cried Learmont, eagerly. “Assure me of the death of this
man, who, from my soul, I abhor, and I will add to rather than diminish
the sum, which will now be divided between you, and further, mark me,
Master Britton. Should you find it in your way to dispose quietly and
surely of—of that one being who stands between me and the assurance of
my safety—”

“You mean the boy?”

“I do.”

“It would be worth a large price, Squire Learmont, to rid you of Jacob
Gray—the boy, and place in your hands the document which the wily Jacob
has composed.”

“It would be worth a price,” cried Learmont, “so high a price
that—that, Britton, you should yourself name it, and then, be it what
it might, couple it with but the condition that you leave England for
ever, and it is yours.”

“’Tis a tempting offer,” said the smith.

“I mean it to be such,” replied Learmont. “Insinuate yourself, Britton,
into the confidence of this man, Gray; steal his very heart’s inmost
secrets; make common cause with him; get inmates at his home, and
then—then take some propitious moment to possess yourself of his
written confession, if he have really produced one, and crush him at a
blow.”

“I should name thousands as the price of such a piece of work,” said
the smith.

“Name thousands, if you will. You shall have them.”

“Agreed, then, Squire Learmont, I accept the work. We shall meet in
London.”

“Yes, in London.”

“And in the meantime these shining pieces will make a gentleman of
Britton, the smith,” said the ruffian, as he took from the table a
number of gold pieces. “Fare you well, squire! You are liberal at last.”

“Farewell,” said Learmont. “To-morrow evening I shall be in London.”

“And I likewise. Whenever I seek your worship’s presence I will send a
message to you in these words—‘A message from the Old Smithy.’”

A dark scowl passed over the face of Learmont; but before he could
object to the pass-words which the brutal smith had adopted, he had
left the room, and the wealthy but ill-at-ease owner of Learmont and
its huge possessions was left to the communion of his own brooding
thoughts.

For a time he sat in silence, with his head resting upon his hand. Then
he rose and paced the apartment with unequal strides, muttering to
himself in disjointed sentences.

“Yes—yes,” he said, “this is politic—most politic. If Britton can be so
far wrought upon by his love of gold as to destroy this Jacob Gray, and
bring me his written confession, all will be well. Ha! Ha! Good Master
Britton, I will be well prepared for thee on that auspicious and
eventful day. You shall have your reward. You shall assure me, convince
me, past a doubt, that I am rid of Gray, and then a dagger shall be
found to reach your own heart. ’Tis well—exceedingly well. These knaves
will destroy each other in this way—Britton destroys Gray—and I destroy
Britton, so all will be well. That child will then be innoxious. No one
can know who it is: it will be a child of mystery; and if I, in my
abundant charity, support it, my praises will be in the mouths of all
good men. By the fiends! it shall be my slave—shall tend me—wait upon
my every nod and beck. What a glorious revenge! Let me consider—those
papers which Britton says he has, and which he likewise asserts prove
me—what?—Illegitimate? I know I am illegitimate, but is there proof,
and has he such proof? Let me recollect what he said—that Gray had
taught him more craft, and he took care of the papers he had. Yes, that
was it. Shall I employ Gray to do by Britton even as I have urged
Britton to do by Gray? I will—I will—it is a master-stroke. I cannot
well deal with the two, but whichever succeeds in being the destroyer
of the other will, at least, rid me of one-half my trouble. It shall be
so—it shall be so.”

So saying, with a smile of anticipated triumph in his face, Learmont
left the room.



CHAPTER IX.


London in 1742.—Gray’s Home.—The Child.—The Voice of Conscience.—A
Visit.



The course of our narrative compels us now to leave the little village
of Learmont and all its mysteries to direct the reader’s attention to
the great metropolis, not as it is now, crowded with costly buildings,
and its shops vying with palaces in splendour, but as it was a hundred
years since, before Regent-street was thought of, and when we were
still enjoying that piece of wisdom of our dear ancestors which induced
them to make every street as narrow as possible, every house as dark as
possible, and everything as inconvenient as possible.

In a long narrow street, which began somewhere about where the County
Fire Office now stands, and terminated Heaven knows where, inasmuch as
it branched off into a thousand intricacies of lanes, courts, and
alleys, there stood one house in particular, to which we wish to call
attention. It was a narrow, gloomy-looking habitation, and stood wedged
in between two shops of very questionable character.

The person who rented this house was a Mistress Bridget Strangeways,
and she did not belie her name, for her ways were strange indeed. This
lady (from courtesy) professed to be a widow and she gained a very
comfortable subsistence by letting to anybody and everybody the various
furnished apartments in her house. With the curious collection of
lodgers which Mrs. Strangeways had in her house on the occasion to
which we refer—namely, the winter of 1742—we have little or nothing to
do. The only one of her lodgers to whom we shall at present introduce
the reader, was sitting alone in a back room boasting but of few
comforts, and the walls of which were of a deep brown colour from age.

Still, if the furniture and appointments of the room were few, mean,
and scanty, everything was arranged with great neatness and order. The
hearth was cleanly swept, the little fire that blazed in the small
grate was carefully tended, the windows were scrupulously clean, and it
was clear that the most had been made of the scanty means of comfort
which the place afforded.

Seated in a high-backed, ancient-looking chair, was a boy reading. His
face was inclined towards his book, and a mass of raven curls, which he
held from covering his face with his hand, fell, however, sufficiently
over his countenance to hide it from observation. His figure was slight
in the extreme, and the long tapered fingers which held back the
tresses of his hair, were exquisitely white and delicate. The dress of
the period was ill-suited to set off the figure to advantage, but still
cumbrous and ungraceful, as was the long-flapped waistcoat,
broad-skirted coat, and heavy shoe-buckles, no one could look for a
moment upon that young boy without confessing him to be eminently
handsome.

He was most intently engaged upon his book, and he moved neither hand
nor foot for many minutes, so absorbed was he in the narrative he was
reading. Suddenly, however, he lifted his head, and shaking back from
his brow the clustering hair, he cried in a voice of enthusiasm,—

“Oh, what a dear romance! How these treasures of books cheat the hours
of their weariness.”

As he spoke he turned his head to the window. What a world of
intelligence and gentle beauty was in that face! It was a face to gaze
at for hours and speculate upon.

“Five days my uncle has been gone now,” he said—“five whole days, and
what should I have done without these dear books? How kind of Albert
Seyton to lend them to me! I do love Albert Seyton, and if—if—no—no, I
must not breathe that even to myself. Oh, Heavens! That I should be so
unfortunate. When—oh, when will my uncle, who is so stern, and yet
tender—so cruel, and yet sometimes so kind—when will he explain to me
the awful mystery he hints at when with tears I urge him to let me—”

A low knock at the room door now attracted his attention, and the boy
cried cheerfully,—

“Ha! I know that tap, ’Tis Albert. Come in—come in, Albert, I am here,
and all alone.”

The door was immediately opened, and a boy of about fourteen or fifteen
years of age, whose long flaxen hair and ruddy complexion proclaimed
him to be of true Saxon origin, bounded into the room.

“Your uncle still absent, Harry?” he cried.

“Yes,” replied the lad who had been reading. “Five days now, Albert, he
has been gone. What should I have done without you?”

“You know I love you, Harry Gray,” said Seyton. “You are very young,
but you are a great deal more sensible than many lads of twice your
age.”

“I’m past eleven!” said he who was called Harry Gray.

“That’s a great age,” said the other, laughing. “If you don’t think
your uncle would pop in unawares, I would sit with you an hour. My poor
father is out again. Ah, Harry, he still hopes to procure a recompense
from the count. He lost his all in the cause of the present royal
family, and now you see they have left him and myself to starve. It’s
too bad!”

“It’s wicked,” said Harry Gray.

“So it is,” replied Albert. “But we won’t talk about it any more now.”

The lad who was the occupant of the apartment was silent for a few
moments, then he said sadly,—

“Five days gone—five days. Albert, I think I will tell you a secret.”

“A secret, Harry?”

“Yes; it is a very strange one, and has made me very unhappy. Come
here.”

He took the hand of his companion and led him to a corner of the room
where there was a large, old-fashioned oaken chest, and taking from his
breast a key, he opened it, and lifting the lid, disclosed lying at the
bottom of it a roll of paper, and under that a large sealed packet.

Harry Gray lifted out the roll of paper and handed it to Albert,
saying, “Read what is written there,” pointing to a few lines on the
wrapper.

Albert read with surprise the following words:—



Wednesday.—Harry,—If I am not with you by twelve of the clock on next
Wednesday, take this roll of papers to Sir Francis Hartleton, who lives
in the Bird-cage. Walk by the Park. Do not let any hand but his own
take it from you.

J.G.



“That’s very odd,” said Albert. “Sir Francis Hartleton is a great man.
The king knighted him lately, I heard, and he is a magistrate. This is
quite a mystery, my dear Harry. I dare say you are some prince, really.”

Harry looked up with a beaming smile in the face of his young friend,
as he said,—

“Be I who or what I may, I shall never forget Albert Seyton.”

“You have a good heart, Harry,” cried Albert, throwing his arm
affectionately round his young friend’s neck, “and when my father gets
his own again, I will get him to ask your uncle to let you stay with
us.”

“That would be joy,” said Harry, clasping his hands—“oh, such joy!”

“You are a little delicate thing, you know,” continued Albert, “and you
want somebody to take care you are not affronted nor imposed upon; and
woe to anybody who dared so much as to—”

The door was at this moment suddenly flung open, and, livid with rage,
Jacob Gray stood on the threshold.

Harry gave a faint cry of alarm, and Albert started to his feet from
kneeling by the box, and boldly confronted Gray.

“So,” cried Gray, striding into the room, and shutting the door
violently behind him—“so, it is thus I find you engaged!”

“Sir,” said Albert Seyton, “if you have any fault to find, find it with
me and not with Harry. If he has done wrong, it was my fault; and—and—”

“And what, young sir?”

“I suppose I must fight you,” added Albert.

“Brat! beggar’s brat!” shrieked Gray, rushing towards the box. “What
have you seen—what have you done?”

“Seen very little, and done nothing,” said Albert.

Gray aimed a blow at Harry, which was warded by Albert, who cried,—

“For shame, sir—for shame to strike him. By Heavens! Mr. Gray, if you
hurt Harry I’ll just go to Sir Francis Hartleton, and tell him there is
something that concerns him in your big box here.”

Jacob Gray stood with his aim uplifted, as if paralysed at this threat.
He trembled violently, and sank into a chair. Several times he tried to
speak, and at length he said, with a forced smile, which sat hideously
upon his distorted features,—

“Well—well, it’s not much matter. Never mind, Harry, I—I have come
back, you see, so there need be no appeal made to the kindness of Sir
Francis in your behalf. It was—that is, the papers merely say you were
an orphan, and ask him to do something for you: but no matter—no
matter.”

“Then you forgive Harry?” said Seyton.

“Yes, yes—oh, yes.”

“Thank you, sir—thanks; he meant no wrong. Good-bye, dear Harry. Your
uncle will say no more about it now.”

Harry Gray raised his head from the edge of the box, and his eyes were
filled with tears. He took Albert’s hand and pressed it to his lips.



CHAPTER X.


The Disappearance.—Mrs. Bridget Strangeways and the Old Oaken
Chest.—Albert’s Grief and Despair.



There were cries of pain and deep sobs heard proceeding from the room
occupied by Jacob Gray long after Albert Seyton had left them. None of
the inhabitants of the house thought it necessary to interfere,
although it was shrewdly suspected that Master Gray was not very kind
to his poor, delicate little nephew.

It’s a true adage that what is everybody’s business turns out to be
nobody’s. Surely it was everybody’s business to interfere and prevent
ill-usage in any shape, and yet no one did interfere; and Albert Seyton
had left home in search of his father, so that poor Harry Gray had no
friend.

The night set in cold and dreary, and before the evening had far
advanced, Jacob Gray left the house, locking Harry in while he was
gone, and presently returned with several bottles of wine under his
arm. The neighbours then heard him alternately cursing, laughing,
shouting, and singing till past midnight; then all became suddenly
still, and those who had been kept awake by his voice went comfortably
to sleep, while Mrs. Bridget Strangeways made a mental determination
and a strong vow that the next morning she would give Mr. Jacob Gray
notice to quit forthwith and at the same time take the opportunity of
telling him “a piece of her mind,” that she would.

Now Mrs. Strangeways enjoyed nothing better than telling people “pieces
of her mind,” and, by some strange fatality, such mental extracts were
never of a complimentary character, and whatever charms the mind of
Mrs. Strangeways might possess as a whole, it was quite well known
that, given forth in “pieces” each piece was enough to set a city by
the ears, and would have most surely come under the cognizance of that
clause in the New Police Act, so Mrs. Strangeways made up her mind very
composedly and comfortably to give Mr. Jacob Gray such a “hearing” as
he never had in his life, and never would have again, except he
provoked Mrs. Strangeways on some future occasion to an equal pitch of
wrath.

The morning came, and Mrs. Bridget Strangeways having communicated her
intentions with respect to Mr. Jacob Gray to a select few of her
lodgers and neighbours, fortified herself with a tolerable dose of
“cordial,” and setting her arms a-kimbo, she walked majestically up to
the room of her troublesome lodger. She knocked and knocked, and
knocked again; but Jacob Gray was obstinate, and would not say “come
in;” so at length Mrs. Strangeways opened the door with a rush, and
entered the room, exclaiming,—

“Muster Gray, I’d have you to know, Muster Gray, as this house is—”

The lady had got so far when she saw that there was no Muster Gray, to
hear the piece of her mind, and her eyes dilated as she glanced round
the room and saw nothing but vacancy.

On the table lay a little piece of paper, and on the little piece of
paper lay some money. Mrs. Strangeways clutched at both, and, as she
afterwards declared, “you might have knocked her down with a small
feather” when she read,—



Mrs. Strangeways’ rent. Her lodger, Jacob Gray, is going to the other
end of the world, and he has taken his nephew with him.



The lady gave a great shriek (after pocketing the money), which roused
the house, and in a few minutes the room was full of company, among
whom was Albert Seyton, with apprehension in his looks.

“Good Heavens!” he cried, “is anything the matter with Harry?”

“What is it—what is it?” cried a dozen voices at once.

“Oh, that villain, Jacob Gray!” gasped Mrs. Strangeways.

“Where is he?” cried everybody.

“At the other end of the world,” replied Mrs. Strangeways.

“Harry! Harry!—where are you?” shouted Albert, at once rushing into the
little closet which had been the sleeping-chamber of the delicate and
sensitive boy. All was still and empty. Harry’s little bed had
evidently never been slept in. Jacob Gray’s was in the same state.
Every little article that had belonged to them was removed. There was
nothing in the rooms but what was the lawful property of Mrs.
Strangeways, except the old oaken chest.

“That chest,” said Albert—”he has left that.”

“It’s mine,” cried Mrs. Strangeways. “The villain has run away, as you
all see, and cheated a lone and defenceless, delicate female out of her
lawful rent. Oh, the wretch!”

Albert Seyton sprang to the box. It was locked.

“I think we ought to see what’s in here,” he cried.

“Do you, Jackanapes?” screamed Mrs. Strangeways, who by no means
wished, should there be anything worth having in the chest, to let
every one know it. “I’d have you to know, Master Albert Seyton, as it’s
no business of yours.”

“It’s locked,” cried Albert; “but the poker, I dare say, will open it.”

“Do you dare say the poker will open it!” screamed Mrs. Strangeways.
“Let anybody touch it if they dare.”

So saying the lady, to make sure of her real or fancied prize, rushed
forward and sat herself down on the old, chest with such a thump, that
the crazy lid gave way, and with a shriek Mrs. Strangeways fell in a
singular position into it.

When she was hauled out by the united exertions of everybody, it was
satisfactorily discovered that the chest was empty. Albert Seyton saw
at a glance that it was so, and he immediately left the deserted rooms
in grief for the loss of his young friend Harry, to whom he felt warmly
attached. He went to his father’s apartments, and throwing himself into
a chair, he burst into tears, exclaiming—

“My poor Harry, I shall never see you again!”

Albert Seyton’s father had been a gentleman of considerable property,
but he had lost all by his adherence to the royal family, who, now at
the end, as they thought, of a civil war, were seated on the throne of
England. In vain he had sought compensation. A scanty pension just
sufficient to keep him and his only boy Albert from actual want, was
all he could wring from the government, and now, day after day, he
haunted the court with the hope of calling attention at some fortunate
moment to his just claims.

He was out when all this conversation took place in the house, where
circumstances had compelled him to take up his humble home.

While Albert was still suffering from the first real gush of heartfelt
sorrow which had dimmed the brightness of his early youth, his father
returned home, and seeing his son in tears, was at once alarmed and
afflicted, nor could he be convinced that something had not happened
until Albert had related to him the history of the oaken chest and what
it had contained. This, coupled with the sudden and mysterious
disappearance of Jacob Gray, led Mr. Seyton to think that there was a
great deal more in the matter than met the eye.

Moreover, he had another reason which he did not disclose to Albert,
but which the reader will know in its right place, for suspecting that
a great mystery was connected in some way with Jacob Gray and his young
nephew. Full of these thoughts, Mr. Seyton debated with himself whether
it was his duty to inform Sir Francis Hartleton of all the
circumstances; but then when he came to consider how bald and
disjointed a narrative he had to tell, and how he must terminate it by
saying that he had no clue whatever to the whereabouts of the parties
who he suspected of he knew not what, he gave up, the idea as
premature, and turning to his son, he said,—

“Albert, did young Harry Gray ever confide to you any particulars of
his early life?”

“Never, father,” said Albert. “He always told me he was the child of
mystery, and that his life was a romance. Then he would sigh and weep,
and hope that the day would come when he could confide all to me. So,
sir, I could not press him.”

“Press him!—certainly not. To have wormed his secret from him
unwillingly would have been unjustifiable in the extreme. In truth, he
was a gentle boy.”

“Oh, father, I loved him, dearly loved him.”

Mr. Seyton was silent for some moments, then beckoning his son to him,
he whispered a few words in his ear, which brought the eloquent blood
in a full rush to the cheeks of Albert, and he gasped rather than said,
“Indeed, no father; I—I—never thought—”

“Then never mention what I have suggested, just now,” said Mr. Seyton,
“till I give you leave, and Albert, depend upon my using my utmost
exertions to endeavour to discover the mystery which envelopes the fate
of your young friend.”

Albert listened to his father with rapt attention, when he threw
himself into his arms, crying, “Oh, find them! Find them, and I shall
be happy.”

“This very day shall be devoted to inquiries,” said Seyton. “I am
greatly interested by all that has occurred, and perchance it will
withdraw my mind from sorrows and disappointments of my own, to turn my
mind and energies to unravel the mystery connected with your pretty
playmate.”

Albert, looked his gratitude, and after the morning’s scanty meal was
despatched, he saw his father depart upon his promised expedition with
a heart elate with hope and expectant joy.

For a time the youthful Albert remained at home in deep thought; then
he suddenly rose, saying, “Why should I be idle? I may do something in
this matter. Just Heaven! If that bad man should have murdered him?
Alas! My poor—poor Harry. My mind misgives me, that he loves you not.
Oh, had I but some clue—some means of commencing in the right path of
inquiry, I should then have some hope.”

So saying, with a desponding air, the youth left the house and wandered
onwards without any definite idea of whither he was going or how he was
to set about his self imposed task of endeavouring to discover the
retreat of Jacob Gray and the young Harry.



CHAPTER XI.


Learmont in London.—The Endeavour to Drown Thought.—Life in 1742.—All
is not Gold that Glitters.



Many spacious mansions which adorned the old city of Westminster at the
date of our story have long since been swept from the ground to give
place to more modern structures, and where the stately home of the
noble or wealthy commoner reared its lofty walls are now to be seen but
lines of streets, and the busy hum of commerce has superseded the
stately aristocratic silence which used to reign undisturbed in many
parts of the ancient district.

In a mansion of princely splendour, which has long since been pulled
down to build some approaches to Westminster Bridge, dwelt the head of
the house of Learmont, whenever business or inclination called him to
the metropolis. In that house, however, as yet, the present Squire of
Learmont had never resided. He had resided in deep seclusion ever since
he had been acknowledged as the head of his house. A small part of his
history was well known, but there were darker portions which the public
eye might in vain attempt to fathom. He was a younger brother of the
house he now represented, but his senior, from deep distress at the
loss of a young and lovely wife in the first year of his marriage, had
resolved by travelling in foreign countries, to endeavour to forget his
irreparable loss, leaving the present squire in undisputed authority
over his domains and extensive property. Then shortly came news of the
decease, at Rome, of the elder brother. The present squire entered on
his own account into undisputed possession of the vast accumulated
property, for the relatives of the family were very few and very
distant. This was all that was really known of the history of Squire
Learmont, and his sudden determination, after nearly fourteen years of
seclusion, to visit London, and launch out into a style of expensive
living which, although it was well known he could afford, yet
astonished everybody, were the themes of very general gossip. The old
mansion had been hastily put in order for his reception. The complement
of servants was greatly increased; an immense sum was spent in costly
liveries and interior adornments; expectation was on the utmost
stretch, and when Learmont did arrive and stalked into his ancient
house, he created a scarcely less sensation than as if he had been some
petty monarch.

No one liked the dark penetrating eye that scowled around, as if
suspicious of everything and everybody, but there was no absolute stain
upon his character; moreover he was immensely rich, and reported, of
course, to be a great deal richer than he really was, so that when it
became known that he intended to give a series of entertainments,
unequalled in effect and magnificence by any commoner, numbers of old
friends of the family sprung up from all quarters, and had his spacious
halls been ten times as spacious he would have found no difficulty in
filling them with glittering throngs whenever he chose.

Certainly Learmont seemed to be at the height of his ambition. The
possessor of a princely revenue which had been allowed to accumulate,
first by his elder brother, who was a man of frugal habits, for several
years, and then by himself, for a number of years more, until he found
himself possessed of a sum of money in actual cash, which had the
worthy associates, Britton and Gray, but fancied to be a third of its
real amount, would materially have assisted them in putting a high
price upon their services whatever they were.

On the evening of his arrival, Learmont sat alone and silent for a
considerable time in the magnificent library of his mansion; then, when
he could no longer look upon the gorgeous hangings and superb
decorations of the apartment, in consequence of the rapidly darkening
sky, he rung a small silver hand-bell which was immediately answered by
a page, attired in crimson and gold livery, who waited respectfully for
orders.

“Bid my steward,” said Learmont, “with my chamberlain and the officers
of the several departments of my household, attend me with lights. I
will walk through the house.”

The page-bowed and retired.

“Yes,” muttered Learmont, when he was again alone, “I will sate my eyes
with gazing upon the glorious magnificence I have wanted for so long; I
will see the glitter and the beauty of what I have so dearly purchased.
Attended by those who are taught to watch the slightest indication of
my pleasure, I will traverse the stately and gorgeous mansion, which
years since I used to wildly dream might once be mine, and smile when I
awoke to think of the extreme improbability of the vision.”

The door was now thrown open and the same page who had before attended
upon Learmont, respectfully announced that his commands had been
obeyed, and that his servants were in waiting to escort him over his
mansion.

He rose from his seat and strode with a haughty air to the door, “Lead
the way,” he cried, “I’ll follow.”

The servants bowed, and while some preceded him, conveying large wax
lights, others again followed, so that a full glare of light was thrown
upon the path of the proud man, who had purged his very soul for the
purpose of procuring such purchased and empty homage.

Saloon after saloon was traversed, and in each Learmont paused and
ordered the chandeliers and clustering lamps to be lighted, in order
that he might judge of the effect by night of the gorgeous decorations
of those noble apartments. Everything rich or rare that money could
produce was there congregated. The walls were hung with the most superb
tapestry; the ceilings were freshly and vigorously painted by artists
of celebrity, and the highly polished oaken floors shone like mirrors,
reflecting all the brilliancy and lustre of both roof and walls.

The heart of Learmont swelled with pride and triumph as he glanced
round upon all this luxury and refinement, and whispered to himself “it
is mine—all mine.”

“Lead on,” was his only cry as room after room was lighted and examined.

Now the mansion had been nearly traversed, and the chandeliers and
lamps being kept lighted, the whole house shone and glittered with
unparalleled brilliancy. There was but one other state-apartment which
Learmont had not visited, and that was a spacious ball-room, upon which
an enormous sum had been lavished. He wished, he hoped to be greatly
struck by the splendour of that noble room, and he sent the domestics
on before to light its numerous lustres, in order that he might judge
of its first effect upon the eye as any one entered it.

The steward of the household returned to say that all was ready, and
preceding his master with a long white wand in his hand, tipped with
gold, he led the way to the ball-room.

“Perfect!” was the exclamation of Learmont, when he stood in the centre
of that hall. To attempt a description of it would be in vain. It was
one gorgeous glitter; all that mirrors, gilding, hangings, painting,
lights and flowers could do to render it a scene of enchantment was
done.

Learmont’s colour deepened with pride as he looked around him and could
see nothing that he would have altered. All was as he wished, and he
felt conscious that such another apartment was not to be found in
London.

“This is the broad path to honour and distinction,” he muttered to
himself. “If you would be regarded among men as little short of a
divinity, you have but to throw gold-dust in their eyes, and through
that glittering medium they will see you are a very god.”

Now there suddenly burst upon the air from a balcony at the further end
of the hall, a strain of exquisite music. The lofty room echoed with
the melodious strains, and when the gay and spirit-stirring strains
were over the steward advanced with a self-satisfied air, and said,
“Sir, those are the musicians you are pleased to order should be
engaged to wait upon your pleasure, as part of your household, I
thought your worship might be pleased to judge of their skill and the
effect of their music in this apartment.”

“’Tis well,” said Learmont, inclining his head. “Bid them play again.”

Obedient to a signal, the musicians again filled the air with joyous
sounds, and Learmont stood and listened with delight, forgetting in
those moments everything but his own present greatness and wealth.

“Yes,” he said, when the strain ceased, as if pursuing a previous train
of thought: “this is the way to forget. Steep the senses in enjoyment,
and the conscience will have no room for action; wine, music, the
dance, the smile of beauty, all shall contribute to my enjoyment, and
life shall be—”

“May it please you, honourable sir, some one desires speech of you,”
said a domestic.

“Say I am occupied,” replied Learmont, and he again resumed his glowing
meditations. “Nobility,” he muttered, “will crowd to my fêtes, even
royalty might borrow new grace and dignity from the halls of Squire
Learmont. But that shall not long be my designation. Wealth in England
can purchase anything, and titles are easily procured where the price
is of little moment. I will be ennobled and—”

“Your pardon, sir,” said the servant, returning, “but; the stranger
will not take a refusal.”

“Ha! He will not?”

“An’ it please you, sir, he will not go.”

“Have I not idle knaves enough about me to drive an insolent intruder
from my doors?”

“’Tis a rude knave, your worship.”

“Cast him into the street. How dare he say he will see the master of
Learmont?”

“It shall be done, sir. To come here talking about an Old Smithy.”

Learmont caught the muttered words of the man as he was hurrying from
the hall, and a cry of pain and horror escaped him as he rushed
forward, and seizing the terrified servant by the arm, he cried—

“What—what manner of man is he who seeks me with such pertinacity?”

“A rough knave, an’ please you, sir; coarse of speech and appearance.”

“And—and he said—what?”

“He said he brought a message from the Old Smithy!”

A deadly paleness came across Learmont’s face, as he said in a husky
whisper, “Show him into a private room and tell him I will be with him
soon. Begone, knave, nor stand gaping there.”

The terrified servant darted from the hall, and Learmont turning to the
throng of domestics who were standing at a respectful distance from
him, cried—

“Lead on. To my chamber, and bid yon knave bring me word in what
apartment he has placed this—this—visitor.”

The servants hastened to throw the doors wide open for their imperious
master to pass out, but his mood was changed. The glow of triumph, and
gratified pride no longer lent a glow to his sallow cheek, nor lit up
his deep-sunken eyes with brilliancy. There was a load of care and
anxiety, almost amounting to agony, upon his face. His contracted brow
bespoke deep and anxious thought, and his limbs trembled as he left his
hall of light and beauty to seek an interview with the man who, he had
always dreaded, would exercise the power he had of stepping between him
and his moments of forgetfulness and consequent enjoyment.



CHAPTER XII.


The Consequences of Crime.—A Familiar Friend.—A Cloud upon Learmont’s
Felicity.



Being informed by his servants that his visitor had been shown into a
small room adjoining the library, Learmont took a lamp from his table,
and with a frowning brow and compressed lips, walked towards the room
to demand of Britton, for he guessed too well it was he, the cause of
so early a visit.

When he entered the room he found the smith lolling, at his ease, upon
a costly couch, and although he did rise at the presence of Learmont,
it was with an air and manner of extreme insolence.

“To what am I indebted for so early a visit, or rather I should say
intrusion?” asked Learmont in a low hollow voice.

“Principally,” said Britton with an air of perfect indifference, “to
assure you that I had arrived in London, perfectly safe.”

“Well?” said Learmont.

“Aye and well too,” answered the smith, purposely mistaking the other’s
meaning. “I wish to know, likewise, if you have seen Jacob Gray?”

“I have not,” replied Learmont.

“Know you, squire, where in London he is to be found?”

“I do not. Has he not confided that to you?”

“In faith, he has not. In vain I urged him to tell me his place of
abode, and if I know not where to find him how can I carry out the
project we have decided upon?”

“True,” said Learmont. “There must be found some means. Listen to me:
when next Jacob Gray seeks me for money, I will put him off to a
particular hour the next day. Be you then, at that hour, lurk about
here, and follow him to his home, whither he will most likely go
directly, having a sum of money with him.”

“That may do,” said Britton, after a moment’s consideration. “You can
send to me at any time by my real name, addressed to a little
hostelrie, called ‘The Old Chequers,’ by Storey’s Gate hard by. You
see, squire, I thought it handy to live near at hand.”

“Promise me—swear to me, you will take this man’s life!” cried Learmont
with sudden vehemence.

“I have no particular objection to take his life,” replied Britton.

“And the boy?”

“That’s as circumstances turn out, squire. If the boy knows
nothing—suspects nothing—”

“Aye there’s the doubt. Britton, dispose of Gray, and your reward, as
you know, is most ample. Bring, then, that boy to me.”

“Agreed. You shall have him.”

“Thanks, good Britton; and—and when you bring him you shall not be five
minutes without your just reward.”

There was a peculiarity of tone and manner about Learmont as he uttered
these words, which startled the smith, and he looked for a moment or
two suspiciously at his employer, then he said,—

“Squire Learmont, I have been taught an useful lesson by Jacob Gray. I,
too, have written a confession, and lodged it in a place of safety.”

“What mean you?” said Learmont.

“This—that if I should die suddenly, a packet of papers will be found,
which will do no good to the Squire of Learmont. You understand me.”

“I do understand you,” said Learmont; “but your suspicions are
groundless.”

“Be it so,” said the smith. “It’s best to be cautious.”

“Take what precautions you please,” replied Learmont; “but keep your
promise.”

“I will keep it,” cried the smith; “for I hate this Jacob Gray,
although he has made me know my own value.”

“Know your value—what mean you?”

“It was Jacob Gray who told me there were documents of some importance
about the body of—”

“Hush—hush!” cried Learmont; “name him not—it is enough. But tell me,
why did Gray inform you of the existence of those papers instead of
securing them himself?”

“He lacked the courage to seek them where they were to be found.”

“And yet I must take your word that they do prove what you say?”

“Squire Learmont, these papers distinctly prove your illegitimacy.
Among them is a letter from your mother, urging your father to marry
her on account of her infant—that infant was yourself, for you know she
died before you were one year old.”

“Enough—enough,” said Learmont.—“I will believe it is so.”

“So you perceive, squire, admitting your brother to—”

“Cease—cease!” cried Learmont, “I want not these details.”

“I was only about to remark that you were not the heir-at-law,” said
Britton.

“Heir to hell!” cried Learmont. “Now begone. You have delivered your
message. I will send to you at the pot-house you mention when a fitting
time comes. Now, away!”

“Not so fast,” said Britton. “I have made a resolution.”

“What resolution?”

“Never to leave this house empty-handed.”

“Pshaw! You forget the large sum you have received of me within these
three days.”

“No, squire, I do not: but I have told you my resolve—I shall charge
for my visits here.”

“And pray how much do you expect to receive whenever I am honoured by
your presence?” sneered Learmont.

“I shall leave that to your generosity,” said Britton.

“And how often do you purpose coming?”

“As often as the humour takes me, or my wants require,” replied the
smith, insolently.

Learmont evidently made a great effort to subdue his rage, and he said,
in half-choked accents,—

“Name your price.”

“Ten pieces,” said the smith.

Learmont took his purse from his pocket, and without a word, counted
out required sum, and then stood with his lamp in his hand waiting for
the other to leave the place.

“You won’t show me your house, I suppose?” said Britton, in an
aggravating voice.

The dark eye of Learmont flashed with rage; but he said nothing.

“Oh, very well,” cried Britton; “another time will do just as well.
Recollect the sign of ‘The Old Chequers,’ I shall be very glad to see
you whenever you may choose to call, and we can always find something
interesting to talk about.”

“Away with you—away!“ cried Learmont.

“Let me see,” said Britton, with great deliberation, counting on his
fingers, “this is Tuesday—Wednesday—Thursday—Friday—well, say Friday.”

“Friday for what?”

“My next visit.”

“So soon?”

“I don’t call that soon. Friday it shall be, squire.”

The lamp trembled in the hand of Learmont as he thought—“Oh, that for
my own safety’s sake I dared plunge a dagger to the hilt in his heart!”

Britton, however, seemed fully to feel his entire safety, and he
evidently felt an exquisite enjoyment in the agony he was inflicting
upon Learmont. He lounged slowly to the door, and nodding then in an
insolent, and familiar manner, he crossed the hall to the outer door,
while Learmont, nearly bursting with rage, sprung up the marble
staircase to the upper apartment of the house.

“This is brave work,” muttered Britton when he had passed out into the
street. “Humph! For ten long years did Master Learmont get the better
of me in cunning, and I could not drag him down without placing a
halter round my own neck; but now, thanks to the cunning of Master
Jacob Gray, I have the means of toppling the squire from his height of
power and grandeur without myself the least harm in the world. Ho! Ho!
’Tis brave indeed. And now for this Gray. I don’t see why I should not
have charge of that young scion of an ancient stock, who is so great an
eye-sore to Learmont. We shall see—we shall see, Master Gray, whether
you or I will succeed best in a contest of cunning in the long run, and
now for wine and jollity.”

The smith had now arrived at the door of “The Old Chequers,” where, as
the place most congenial to his disposition, he had taken up his abode,
and where showing that he had plenty of money, he was welcomed
accordingly.

“Hilloa!” he roared. “Landlord, some of your best. Quick—quick, I say;
I am thirsty, man.”

The landlord needed no second bidding, but placed a tankard of foaming
ale before the smith; who immediately took a deep draught of its
contents.

“Hurrah!” he cried; “I am Andrew Britton, the smith, and I don’t care
who knows it.”

“Certainly not, most worshipful sir,” said the landlord.

“Ah,” cried Britton, “worshipful sir. That’s a very good name, and I’ll
be called that for the future. Here’s a quart of the best to whoever
calls me worshipful sir, and whoever don’t I’ll wring his neck.”

“Hurrah! For the jolly smith“ cried a chorus of topers who were around.
“We’ll drink your health, worshipful sir.”

“So you shall,” cried Britton. “Here’s gold, and there’s more, too,
where that comes from. Landlord, do you hear? Quarts all round. The
best—the humming ale, recollect, that makes a man sing.”



CHAPTER XIII.


A Walk in the Park.—A Recognition.—The Question.—A Defiance.—Jacob
Gray’s First Visit.—The Dream.



The Squire Learmont’s first night in his splendid mansion was by no
means an agreeable one. He retired to rest vexed and enraged at Andrew
Britton, and his mind in a chaos of conflicting thoughts how to rid
himself of the insufferable torment of the threatened visits from that
man whose very name would have been sufficient, at any time, to bring a
chill to Learmont’s heart, and dash the brimming cup of joy from his
lips.

His restless slumbers, too, were haunted by the visionary creations of
his excited fancy. One moment he would be plunging a poniard into
Britton’s heart, while he dragged from his breast the papers so
important to his peace. Then again, at the moment of his fancied
triumph, the scene would change to a court of justice, and a voice
arraigned him for murder! In such fearful and disordered fancies was
his night passed, and he rose in the morning pale, haggard, and
un-refreshed. Hastily attiring himself, he drew aside the curtains of
his chamber-window, which commanded an extensive and pleasing view into
St. James’s Park. It was yet very early, but Learmont thought that he
should be able to withdraw his mind from disagreeable and horrible
reflections by healthful walk in the shady Mall.

He accordingly took his hat and sword, and walked from his house by a
garden-gate, opening into a narrow lane of trees, which terminated in
the park itself. The air was very cold, for frost was on the ground,
and the trees were stripped of their beautiful verdure; but it was
exercise that Learmont wanted, and he rather rejoiced than otherwise at
the necessity of active walking, inasmuch as he hoped exertion of body
would control the excitement of his mind.

The canal was then, and for many years afterwards, a mere straight
cutting, strongly resembling a wet dock, for the repair of ships, and
as little ornamental as it could possibly be. The walks, however, in
St. James’s Park, were then preferable to what they are now, for many
old trees were then existence that have now perished, and their places
are, of necessity, occupied by saplings, which the present generation
have been kind enough to plant for their successors.

Learmont walked very quickly over the frozen ground, which crackled
like glass under the feet. There were but few persons at that early
hour abroad, although the day gave promise of being one of those clear,
cold, frosty ones which are admired by a great many persons.

Approaching, however, from the direction towards which he was
proceeding, Learmont observed a gentlemanly-looking man enveloped in a
large cloak. By some sort of instinct, Learmont seemed to feel a dread
of this stranger’s approach, although he could not at all recognise in
him, at the distance they were apart, the gait or aspect of any one
that he knew. Nearer and nearer they approached each other; and, so
strong was the feeling of dread in the breast of Learmont, that, had it
not been for his stronger curiosity to ascertain who it was, he would
have turned from the open pathway among the trees, whose huge trunks
would have effectually hidden him from observation. As it was, however,
he pursued his walk until he and the stranger with the cloak came
nearly face to face. Then, as the stranger lifted up his eyes, which
had been fixed on the ground in a meditative manner, Learmont knew him.

It was the young man, by name Frank Hartleton, who had been so curious
and suspicious at the period of the great storm at Learmont, when the
wing of the building, in which was the smithy, had been burnt down.

The recognition was evidently mutual; indeed, no one who had once seen
Learmont could easily again forget him; and, although a great personal
change had taken place in the appearance of Hartleton, yet the features
of all who had taken any part in the proceedings of that eventful night
at the little village of Learmont were too indelibly impressed upon the
memory of the squire for him to find any difficulty in recognising in
the staid, and somewhat grave, gentleman person before him, the Frank
Hartleton who had always held him at open defiance and laughed at his
power.

Hartleton stopped short when he saw Learmont; and his first exclamation
was,—

“This is strange, indeed!”

“Sir,” said Learmont, “did you address me?”

“Scarcely,” replied Hartleton; “but your name is Learmont?”

“Well, sir?” replied the other with considerable hauteur.

“Do you know me, Squire Learmont?”

“I recognised the features, and know the names of many, sir,” said
Learmont, “that still are not upon my roll of friends or acquaintances.”

“You do know me,” said Hartleton, “I have no desire to be rude to you,
Squire Learmont; but our sudden meeting took me somewhat by surprise,
and the exclamation that I uttered arose from the curious coincidence
that I have been all night dreaming of you and the village of Learmont,
and was in deep thought about the mysterious occurrences that took
place three years ago when I suddenly came upon you.”

If his hatred and dread of Hartleton would have induced Learmont to
treat him in such a manner that he could not address him, his guilty
fears urged him to prolong the conversation, in order to discover, if
possible, the complexion of Hartleton’s thoughts with regard to him,
that he might know if he had anything really to dread from that
quarter. It was, therefore, with more courtesy that he said,—

“The coincidences are curious. I—I believe I speak to Sir Francis
Hartleton now?”

“Yes,” replied Hartleton; “I was, you recollect, destined for the law,
which my small patrimony just enabled me to enter with credit. I am now
a justice, and a knight, as you say.”

“I give you joy, sir, of your advancement,” said Learmont.

“You are very kind,” replied Hartleton, fixing his eyes upon the
countenance of Learmont in a manner that it required all the firmness
of the latter not to quail under.

“Might I presume so far,” said Learmont, “as to ask, what were the
thoughts concerning me that engaged Sir Francis Hartleton even now?”

“I was thinking of the mysterious man,” said Hartleton, “who rushed
with such wild gestures and shrieks from the burning house.”

Learmont strove to command his features to indifference; but, the
effort was almost beyond his power, and he spoke to endeavour to cover
his agitation.

“It was very strange,” he said; “most singular!”

“And the little child, too, that he had in his arms,” continued
Hartleton; “what can have become of that?”

“Ay—what?” said Learmont.

“Did you never get any clue, Squire Learmont, to these mysterious
circumstances, which must have greatly interested you?”

“Interested me? How?”

“Inasmuch as they occurred upon your estate, and among your own
tenants.”

“True—most true, sir. I—I was—and am much interested; but I know
nothing—have heard nothing, and have no clue to unravel the mystery.”

“We must only hope,” said Hartleton, “that some of these days, accident
as it generally does, will throw a light upon the subject, and give it
to us in all its details.”

An awful expression came across the face of Learmont as he replied.

“Yes—yes. As you say, it will be an accident. May I ask what your
impression is?”

“I have scarcely an impression upon the subject,” replied Hartleton;
“we lawyers, you know, are particularly cautious how we take up
impressions upon subjects unfounded upon evidence.”

“Exceedingly proper is such caution,” said Learmont; “otherwise the
innocent might be the victims of endless mistakes.”

“Exactly,” replied Hartleton; “but I have no particular objection to
tell you my dream without founding any impression upon it.”

“I am all attention,” said Learmont.

“I dreamt first that that smith, of the name of Britton, was a
desperate villain, and for gold would—”

“Would what?” gasped Learmont.

“Do anything” said Hartleton.

“Well, sir, is that all?”

“Oh, no; my vision changed, and I thought I saw a gloomy passage,
mouldy with the damps of time, and dripping with unwholesome
moisture—creeping slimy things were all around, and in the midst I saw—”

“Yes—yes,” gasped Learmont. “W—what saw you?”

“A mouldering skeleton.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, and the most curious circumstance of all was that in the midst of
it I constantly heard the clank of the smith’s hammer. I knew the sound
in a moment.”

“’Tis very strange!” muttered Learmont.

“Most strange!” said Hartleton; “but again my vision changed.”

“What saw you then?”

“A hall of judgment.”

“Yes—yes.”

“It was densely crowded, and some important and interesting proceeding
was evidently pending; then suddenly I heard a voice cry your name.”

“My name?”

“Yes, and you were asked to plead to a charge of murder!”

A cold sweat broke out upon the forehead of Learmont, and he could not
answer, when Hartleton added,—

“It was but a dream, though. I wish you a good morning, and a pleasant
walk, Squire Learmont.”



CHAPTER XIV.


The Dark Threat.—The Biter Bit.—Another Murder Projected.—Learmont’s
Reasoning.



Learmont stood for a few moments gazing after the retreating figure of
Sir Francis Hartleton; then, shaking his clenched hand in the direction
he was proceeding, he muttered between his teeth,—

“Beware—beware, Sir Magistrate!—beware! You may rouse a spirit you
cannot quell again. I am not the man to allow such as thou to be a
stumbling-block in my path.”

So saying, with a dark scowl upon his brow, the squire retraced his
steps towards his own house. The morning sun was now gilding with
beauty the housetops, and the icicles, which, pendant from every tree,
shone like gems of the purest water and brilliancy. Unheedful, however,
of the beauties of nature around, the wealthy Learmont passed onwards,
his thoughts, dark and gainful as they were, fully absorbing all his
attention. He passed up the little lane which was the nearest route to
his own house; and, as he was about to emerge from it, he was startled
(for the guilty are ever timid) by some one touching his shoulder.
Turning quickly round, he saw Jacob Gray, with a sickly, disagreeable
smile upon his face, standing close to him.

“Your worship rises early,” said Gray.

“Yes; you—you have been seeking me?”

“I have, squire. Your servants sought you, it appears, and found you
were not within; and, as I knew it was much the custom of the great
gentry, such as your worship, to gather an appetite for breakfast by a
stroll in the park, I made bold to seek you.”

“I am now proceeding homeward,” said Learmont. “In half an hour from
now I shall be at leisure.”

“As your worship pleases,” said Gray; “but methought there was an
inclination on the part of your lackeys to deny me speech of you. Now,
squire, if you would have the goodness to leave a message in your hall
to the effect that your old and trusty friend Jacob Gray was always to
be admitted, it would save us both trouble.”

Learmont was exceedingly impatient during this speech, and, at its
conclusion, he said, in a vexed tone,—

“Well—well—I will leave proper orders. In half an hour I shall expect
you.”

“Your worship shall not be disappointed,” said Gray, with a bow which
had more of burlesque mockery in it than respect.

Learmont turned haughtily from him, and in a few moments he entered the
gardens of his mansion, by the same private door through which he had
proceeded to the park. He ordered a sumptuous breakfast to be
immediately prepared for him, and took an opportunity to say, in a
careless manner, to the servant, whose special province it was to
answer the silver bell which always was at Learmont’s elbow,—

“Tell them in the hall that I expect one Jacob Gray. Let him be
admitted.”

The servant respectfully retired to communicate the message, and
Learmont, after a pause of thought, said, in a low voice,—

“Yes, Jacob Gray, you shall be admitted as often as you call; but it
will go hard with me if I do not take thy life soon. Assuming
wretch!—Oh! Can there be a state of more abject slavery than his, who,
after carving the way to his ambitious height, then finds himself at
the mercy of the mean and despicable tools he has used, and would fain
throw aside, and forget for ever! We shall see: we shall see. Surely I,
who have already done so much when so little seemed possible, am not to
be scared through life by such two ruffians as Britton and Gray. They
must destroy each other! Yes; that is the true policy, and now to work
on the fears and cupidity of this Jacob Gray!”

He had scarcely whispered to himself these reflections, when the object
of them was announced.

“Bring him hither,” said Learmont, and in a few moments Jacob Gray was
introduced. The moment the servant had left the room, and closed the
door behind him, Gray seated himself with an air of insolent
familiarity, which, under any other circumstances, would have produced
a storm of passion in Learmont; but he felt the necessity of
temporising; and, severe as was the struggle to him, he nevertheless
succeeded in keeping down his passion sufficiently to address Gray
calmly.

“You reached London in safety, of course?”

“Even so,” replied Gray. “Permit me to congratulate you upon your
house. It really is—”

“Yes, yes,” cried Learmont, impatiently. “Let us to business, Master
Gray. You found the papers your extreme prudence had left in London,
when you favoured me with a visit, quite safe, I trust?”

“Perfectly safe, and untouched,“ said Gray; “and—and—permit me to add,
that I have placed them again under such circumstances as must ensure
their delivery to one who has power and will to use them, should
anything sudden—you understand—happen to your humble servant, Jacob
Gray.”

“May I ask whose hands you consider so peculiarly adapted for those
papers?”

“Oh, certainly; a neighbour of yours, Sir Francis Hartleton.”

“Sir Francis Hartleton?” exclaimed Learmont.

“Yes,” replied Gray; “one of the most acute lawyers and active justices
in London.”

“As you please,” said Learmont. “Now, with regard to the—the—child?”

“He is quite well, squire, and likely to continue so.”

“Humph! Is he tall?”

“Not over tall, but slim and active.”

“Enough of him at present. I wish to speak to you of another matter.
The sums demanded of me by Britton are large.”

“Doubtless, squire; ’tis an extravagant knave.”

“Now those sums, Gray, added to what you yourself receive, would make a
goodly income.”

“In faith you speak, truly, squire.”

“Now, Gray, I will deal frankly with you,” continued Learmont. “This
Britton is fond of wine, and in his cups some day he may hint or say
enough to—to hang you, Master Gray.”

“Eh?” cried Gray. “Hang me?”

“Even so.”

“Oh, I understand, along with your worship, of course.”

“I don’t know that, Jacob Gray,” remarked Learmont, calmly and firmly.
“I have a long purse, you see, which you have not.”

“There—is—something in that,” muttered Gray.

“A man of your acuteness must perceive that there is a great deal in
that,” continued Learmont.

“Yes, truly; but still there would be danger, most imminent danger,
squire.”

“That I grant you, but yours, Jacob Gray, would far exceed mine. Be
that, however, as it may, you must see how very desirable a
consummation it would be if this swilling drunken knave, Britton, were
some day to choke himself.”

“Or be choked by Jacob Gray?” added Gray, with a smile of dark meaning.

“Exactly,” said Learmont. “It may be done easily. Invite him to your
house; feast with him, plan and plot with him; give him wine; and then,
some day, when time and circumstances are fitting, I will give you a
drug of such potency, that, if ever so slightly used in his wine-cup,
will seize upon the springs of life, and at once, you will see, Master
Gray, you are rid of this dangerous man.”

“And rid you likewise of him,” interposed Gray.

“Of course; but I gain little—you everything—by his death—safety and
wealth!”

“It might be done,” murmured Gray, “if it could be done safely.”

“With your caution,” suggested Learmont, “with but a little of the
admirable cunning you have as yet displayed in this business, methinks
it might be possible, Master Gray, for you to overreach in some way so
dull-witted a villain as this Britton, who, you see, stands so much in
the way of your fortunes.”

“If,” muttered Gray, “it can be done at all by me, that poison draught
you mentioned is, to my mind, the most ready, and—and—”

“Safe,” added Learmont.

“Well, safe be it,” said Gray. “There is no occasion for a greater risk
than necessary.”

“None in the least,” sneered Learmont: “you will then do your best,
Master Gray, to rid yourself of this sot, this incubus upon you, this
villain, whom I hate as—as—”

“As you hate me!” said Gray, twinkling his small eyes, and peering in
the face of Learmont.

“No,” said Learmont; “you are not so dangerous because you are more
cautious; but, Jacob Gray, is it not possible that, should you succeed
in ridding yourself of this Britton, you may think it worth your while
to name some price for the only thing I dread?”

“The child?”

“Yes: think of my words.”

“I will think,” said Gray; “but now I must be gone.”

Learmont placed in his hands a purse of gold, and with a shifting,
low-cunning glance of his little grey eyes, the wily villain left the
place muttering—

“Humph!—He wants to kill my goose, to get all the golden eggs at once.
Indeed!—we shall see!”



CHAPTER XV.


Chase.—A Long Race, And its Results.



When Gray left the splendid mansion of Learmont, he stood for a few
moments in the street, turning round him cautiously to see if he was
watched, for his suspicions had been awakened by Learmont, once during
this interview, ringing for an attendant, and giving some order outside
the door in a very low whisper.

Now Jacob was extremely cunning. He refined upon ordinary duplicity,
and now, as he stood in the street casting cautious glances up and down
its silent extent, he muttered to himself,—

“Humph! My way is westward. Now, your ordinary clever fellow would go
westward, for fear of being watched; but I—I, Jacob Gray, have got
beyond such cunning. Learmont knows well I am a careful man. Should he
have set a spy upon me, it will be with the certainty that I will not
go directly to my home; and to defeat that I will go—not directly home,
but in the direction of home. Ho! Ho! Squire Learmont, you are not yet
a match for Jacob Gray!”

Continuing muttering to himself, and peeping into every doorway that he
passed, Gray then betook himself to the river side, and, ordering a
boat, he desired the waterman to take him across the stream.

Well did Jacob Gray’s cunning teach him that the difficulty of
following a person crossing the river was immeasurably greater than on
shore, for, if followed by a boat, concealment of the person pursuing
would be nearly out of the question, and to make a palpable detour for
the sake of crossing a bridge would most probably ensure the complete
escape of the watched party. Jacob Gray did not know that he was
watched, but he knew that, had he been Learmont, and Learmont, Gray, he
would then have been watched with the keenest of eyes that could be
procured for that duty.

When the boatman neared the centre of the stream, Jacob Gray desired
him to pause upon his oars for a few moments, ostensibly that he, Gray,
might admire the bright sunshine on the frosted spires of the various
churches, but really to see if any other boat was about leaving the
point from which he had started. Nor was he disappointed; for scarcely
had the wherry floated idly in the stream for a few brief seconds, when
Jacob observed a boat push off, in which were two rowers, and a third
muffled in a cloak, and seated very low in the stern of it.

The waterman was now upon the point of urging his boat forward again,
when Gray said quietly:—

“Hold still a moment, my friend. Your time shall be paid for. Surely
yon boat is making speed through the water.”

The waterman looked in the direction of the wherry with the two rowers,
and exclaimed:—

“Some one is in haste. Yet, no,—they are pulling but lazily suddenly.”

Gray’s small eyes twinkled as he replied:—

“I have altered my mind; row easily up the stream.”

The boat’s head was turned in the required direction, and the waterman,
with regular and long sweeps of his oars, propelled the wherry towards
Westminster Bridge, and presently glided beneath one of its gloomy
arches. For a few moments the rowers in the boat in which Jacob Gray
suspected was some one upon his track, appeared quite undecided what to
do; then, in obedience to some order apparently from the cloaked
figure, they gently followed in the wake of Gray’s wherry.

“So,” muttered Gray to himself between his clenched teeth; “I am
followed;—and with what intent?—my safe destruction, of course.
Waterman,” he said, in a louder tone, “we are going with the tide?”

“Scarcely,” replied the man; “it is just on the turn.”

“When it is fairly running down,” said Gray, “I will go back. Keep on,
however, as you are for a short time.”

The waterman now shading his eyes with one hand from the sun, while the
oar idly played in the rollocks, said:—

“It seems to me, master, that yon skiff is following us for some
reason.”

“Indeed!” says Gray. “What have you been doing, that you should be
followed on the Thames?”

“I doing!” cried the man.

“Ay.—You suspect you are followed.”

“Mayhap it’s yourself, master, they follow,” remarked the man, rather
surlily.

Gray smiled as he replied:—

“Oh, no;—they suspect you of being one of the notorious pirates of the
Thames we have heard so much of lately.”

“The tide has turned,” said the waterman, looking into the stream as it
appeared, in preference to making any reply to this vague charge.

“Hark ye!” said Gray, as if a sudden thought had struck up in his
brain. “If you are inclined sometimes to earn more money at once than a
year’s plying as waterman on the river could produce you, it is
possible I may throw a job in your way.”

The man glanced uneasily at Gray, as he replied in a low tone,—

“Your lordship might trust me—if—”

“If what, my friend?”

“If I might trust your worship.”

“You may, or rather the trusting is all on my side. All I want of you
is this; when I shall some day give you notice that I shall want a
wherry at a particular hour and at the stairs I shall name, will you be
there?”

“Certainly,” replied the man. “But that is not quite all?”

“You are right,” said Gray. “I shall bring one with me; we will take
with us wherewithal to make us merry. I am abstemious, but my friend is
not, and I have often told him that some of these days, when drinking
in a wherry he will become so confused, that he will accidentally fall
into the Thames, do you understand?”

“I—think—I—do.”

“I am sure you do,” added Gray.

The man nodded.

“Your reward shall be ample,” continued his tempter.

“I don’t see why I should turn away a job,” said the man; “if I wasn’t
to take it, some one else would, of course.”

“A very true remark,” cried Jacob Gray. “You consent then to do this
little service?”

“I do, master.”

“Give me your name and address then.”

“Sheldon is my name, and I am always at the stairs at which you hired
me, unless away as might be now, when I return again as, soon as
possible.”

“That will do,” said Gray. “Now turn your boat’s head and go back with
the stream.”

The wherry, with the two rowers, had kept at a considerable distance in
the rear; and now that Gray’s boat was suddenly turned and rapidly
going down the stream, there seemed some little confusion on board the
other wherry; but before the two boats could meet or pass each other,
the pursuers had shot off on one side, as if with the intention of
landing near Westminster.

“Follow them,” cried Gray; “and wherever they land, do you land me.”

The waterman was a powerful man, and he bent to the oars with such
effect, that the wherry shot through the water with amazing speed.

It was curious to see the pursued become the pursuers, for such seemed
to be the state of things, as no sooner did it become evident that
Jacob Gray’s waterman was making fast for the boat with the two rowers,
than in obedience to a violent gesture from the person in the cloak
they pulled rigorously towards the shore.

“I must see that man in the cloak,” said Gray, “if it be possible.”

The waterman said nothing, but with his long sinewy arms, he took
tremendous sweeps with the oars, and sent the boat forward at each pull
with a force that astonished Gray.

The two wherries were not now above a quarter of the width of the river
apart from each other, when the foremost one ran upon the muddy beach,
and the man, in the cloak springing up, made an effort to jump on
shore, in which he fell over the seats of the boat. In the next moment
the other wherry was within two boats’ lengths of the shore.

With an oath, the cloaked-man scrambled to his feet, and without
turning, rushed on shore, and was soon lost to sight among the mean
habitations that crowded the banks of the river.

“It is the smith!” muttered Gray. “I see it all now, he has a
commission for my destruction, as I have for his, and in either case,
Squire Learmont betters his condition. Waterman, row me across now, as
I originally asked you.”

Again the wherry shot into the stream, and with his eyes fixed upon the
water, Jacob Gray appeared absorbed in deep thought.

The boat’s head grated against some stone steps that were on the
opposite landing, and Gray sprung to his feet, and stepped on shore.

Handing the waterman then a liberal gratuity, and whispering in his ear
the word “remember,” he walked at a rapid pace in the direction of the
ancient suburb of Lambeth.



CHAPTER XVI.


The Lone House in Ancient Lambeth.—The Boy.—A Solitary Heart.



In a district of Lambeth, which is now the mart of trade, but which at
the period of our narrative was scarcely inhabited, and consisted but
of a mass of old melancholy-looking buildings, which had been long
since condemned as dangerous, there stood one house in particular, the
exterior of which presented to the eye an appearance of such utter
decay that it would have required an adventurous person to venture
within its crumbling walls and mossy prisons, who, for the sake of a
short cut to some of the high roads passed the old building, would walk
out into the road way rather than run even the momentary risk of
walking close to its dilapidated walls.

The world, however, is ever being taken in by appearances. Not only was
this house much stronger and more substantial than its neighbours, but
within it there was a degree of comfort and even luxury which no one
could for a moment have surmised. It is true the windows were either
broken, or so much begrimed with dirt that it was impossible to say if
they were glass or not, and here and there a brick was displaced so
naturally that it seemed to have fallen out by the natural decay
incidental to the age of the structure. Such, however was not the case,
for these signs and tokens of insecurity had been manufactured in the
silence of the night for the express purpose of deterring any person
from entering the gloomy house, or supposing for a moment that it was
inhabited by other than rats and mice.

There were no persons living very close to this wretched-looking
residence, and the poor squalid creatures, who did occasionally seek a
shelter for a few nights in some of the “condemned” houses, never
approached that one, for it had the reputation of being haunted,
inasmuch as twice had strangers, in passing through the locality after
nightfall, called attention to lights dimly observable in the house,
and once a man had entered a little hostelry in the immediate
neighbourhood, and while his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth with
fear, and he trembled in every limb, he said he had seen a sight at one
of the lower windows of that particular house, which he would not see
again for his soul’s sake, and after fortifying himself with a bumper
of spiced canary, he had taken his leave, being firmly believed, and
leaving behind the character of the house, which lost nothing by being
repeated from mouth to mouth, and which produced so powerful an effect
upon the superstitious inhabitants of the vicinity that it is doubtful
if any bribe of sufficient magnitude could possibly be offered to
induce any one of them ever to pass it even after at sunset.

Into this mysterious house we will conduct the reader. The room to
which we would direct attention was small, but by no means destitute of
comforts; a wood fire burnt within the grate, and its low flickering
light disclosed several articles of domestic convenience about the
apartment. The only coarse appearance the place had was owing to some
rough ragged edged planks being nailed across the window on the inside,
so as effectually to close it against the egress of any wandering
stream of light from the fire.

The room was consequently dark, for the process of preventing the
fire-light from showing through the window likewise excluded the
daylight, and, although it was mid-day without, that apartment
presented the appearance of midnight within.

Stretched on the hearth before the fire was a large gaunt-looking dog,
apparently in a deep slumber, and sitting on an old-fashioned chair,
with his head buried in his hands, and resting on the table, was the
young boy, who has been already introduced to the reader as Harry Gray,
and who passed as a nephew of wily Jacob Gray. His remarkable long and
beautiful hair fell in masses upon the table, and the fine light
glistened on the glossy ringlets as they strayed in wild luxuriance
over his hands.

So still was that young creature, that he might have been thought
sleeping, and, perhaps, he had been, and had awakened from some dreams
of happiness to weep, for a deep sob burst from his heart, and looking
up, he cried, in accents of deep misery and despair,—

“I am very unhappy—I wish I could die.”

The dog, upon the sound of the voice, immediately rose, and with a low
whine placed his fore paws upon the knee of the boy, and looked in his
face with an expression of sagacious affection, which of all the
inferior animals dogs alone are capable of.

For a moment the boy did not heed him, but wept bitterly, and kept
repeating,—

“If I could but die—if I could but die!”

Then passing his delicate hands across his brow to part back the
clustering hair he looked in the face of the dumb animal, that again
with a low whine claimed his attention.

“You love me,” he cried; “yes—yes—I know you love me, my poor dog. I
found you starving in this lone house, and made a friend of you. I
called you ‘Joy,’ because it was joy to me to find you, and I can talk
to you, and fancy that you understand me as you gaze thus at me with
your honest face of dumb intelligence. There are two have loved me; you
are one, my poor dumb Joy, and the—the other—I shall never—see—again—it
was Albert Seyton, and he has left me—even he. Oh, Albert, if I were
free as thou art, and thou wert hidden—”

Sinking his head upon his hands, again the beautiful boy burst into
tears, and sobbed so bitterly that the dog howled piteously, in unison
with its master’s grief.

“Hush—hush, Joy, hush!” said, the boy. “My faithful kind friend, if he
had heard you, you would have an unkind word and a blow for this. It is
weak of me to give way thus to tears, but my spirits are subdued, and
my heart is nearly broken—broken—broken,” he repeated.

Then suddenly starting to his feet, he stood for a few moments in a
listening attitude.

“’Tis he,” he suddenly exclaimed. “Too well I know that step.”

In another moment the door opened, and Jacob Gray stood on the
threshold of the apartment.

His look was ferocious, and he pointed to the dog as he said, or rather
growled in an angry tone,—

“I heard that cur.”

Harry laid his arm over the dog’s neck, but made no answer.

“I told you,” continued Gray striding into the room—“I told you that I
would knock out the brains of that creature if ever I heard it bark, or
even whine too loudly.”

The boy held the dog tighter as Gray advanced and said,—

“Uncle, spare him this once—’twas my fault.”

“Pshaw!” cried Gray, “I tell you the cur shall die.”

A flush of colour came across the face of the boy as Gray spoke, and
pushing the dog behind him, he drew his slim figure up to its full
height, and confronted Gray with his dark, lustrous eyes, flashing with
unusual brilliancy.

“Then I tell you he shall not die!” he cried firmly.

Gray for a moment quailed beneath the glance of that singularly
beautiful child, and twice he tried to summon courage to meet that look
of proud defiance ere he could accomplish it, then he said slowly,—

“So you are bold. How long is it since you have plucked up so much
spirit?”

“From the moment that it was necessary to protect the only friend I
have against your violence,” replied the boy.

“Indeed!” answered Gray.

“Aye indeed!” said the boy, trembling with excitement.

“Your only friend?” continued Gray. “Humph! You think more, then, of
that dog than of me?”

“The hound,” said Harry, in a lower tone, “is kind, affectionate, and
faithful—’tis in its way, poor thing, tender and devoted; Uncle Gray,
are you all that?”

Gray laughed hysterically, as he replied,—

“Ha! Ha! Is that all? Have you quite summed up the virtues of your
hound?”

“Its virtues,” said Harry, “are much to me, for they are the only ones
I have now an opportunity of noting. Its kindly instincts and dumb
affection appear to me so great and estimable because I have no human
ones with which to contrast them. I do love the dog, for I have nothing
else to love.”

“Now,” cried Gray, “by hell—”

“Hold, uncle—for shame!” said Harry. “Love the dog, and the dog will
love you. They never betray their masters.”

A livid paleness came across Gray’s face as he held by the table, and
gasped,—

“Wh—what—do—you mean by that?”

“I say,” repeated Harry, “that dogs never betray their masters.”

“Never betray—their—their masters!” said Gray. “Oh, that is what you
mean—that is all?”

“Nay, uncle, what do you mean?” said the boy, surprised at the awful
and convulsive agitation of Gray.

“Mean?” echoed Gray—“What can I mean—I—I have said nothing. Recollect—I
know I said nothing, I am quite sure.”

“I know not the cause of your agitation,” remarked Harry; “but I cannot
have my poor hound injured.”

“He shall die!” shrieked Gray. “Heaven nor hell shall not save him. You
don’t know how or why, but you have sealed his fate.”

“I sealed his fate?”

“Yes, you—you, by your prating of his virtues.”

“Impossible, uncle; you do but jest. This noble creature is a safeguard
to you as well as to me. Dogs have been known to famish by the murdered
body of their master.”

“Cease—cease!” cried Gray. “Do you want to drive me mad?”

“Mad, uncle, because dogs are faithful?”

“No more, I say. Stand aside.”

“I will not forsake my dog. Joy, defend yourself.”

The dog uttered a low growl, and showed rather a formidable row of
glistening teeth.

“Harry,” said Gray, “do you know who and what you are?”

A mantling flush colour crimsoned the pale brow of the boy, as he said,—

“You have told me.”

“You know your utter dependence is upon me?”

“I know it, and I feel it.”

“You are base born.”

“You have not omitted to let me know that before,” said the boy,
proudly.

“So that, although I am your father’s brother,” added Gray, “you call
me uncle but by courtesy.”

The boy was silent, and Gray continued,—

“Stand aside, then, and baulk me not in such a matter as the life of a
hound.”

“No,” cried Harry; “were you ten times my uncle from courtesy, you
should not harm him!”

Gray clutched his hands convulsively, as if he felt an inclination to
rush upon the weak, defenceless boy, and crush him in his fury. He,
however, restrained himself, and said,—

“You are mad—quite mad. How can you hope for a moment to resist my
will?”

“Uncle,” said the boy, “I have done much to please you; I immure myself
here alone with you, and you are not always kind, as you know. Once,
then, rouse my suffering heart to resentment, and I will leave you but
one of two resources.”

“What are they?” cried Gray eagerly.

“Touch with an unkind hand my poor dumb companion here, and I will fly
from window to window of this ill-omened house, shrieking for aid.”

“You would?”

“Ay, would I, uncle, and you should not stop me by the other
alternative.”

“And what is that?”

“My murder!”

“Pshaw!” cried Gray; “you are ill, your mind is deranged. Go to rest.”

“God knows I have need of rest,” said the boy. “Come, Joy—come with me.”

The dog followed closely upon the heels of the boy as he slowly left
the room. When he had quite gone, Gray lit a lamp, and without
speaking, stole into the passage and listened attentively. Then
returning, he threw himself into the chair in which the boy had been
sitting, and commenced a murmuring colloquy with himself.

“The sight of this young thing,” he said, “always freezes my blood, and
yet I dare not murder. Oh, if by some grand stroke of fortune now I
could be revenged on the whole of them for the disquiet they have
caused me, I think I should be happy. What am I now? Am I even calm?
There was a time when I fancied gold had but to be possessed to bring
joy in its train. ’Twas a great mistake. I have gold. A large sum is in
my hands, and yet, by some damnable train of circumstances, I dare not
use it. I must think and contrive some means of freeing myself from the
shackles that bind me. Well may Learmont hand me the glittering price
of my silence with a smile. ’Tis so much dross to me. I dare not for
fear of my life, which I know he thirsts for, even let him know, where
I lay my head at night. I am still a fugitive, although rich! And—and
that smith, too, is on my track like a blood-hound. If I could get a
large sum from Learmont, and then dispose of this young creature I have
here, I might fly to some other country and use my wealth. It must be
so. More—blood—more blood—blood! Bloo—bl—”

His head dropped upon his breast, and yielding to the fatigue he had
undergone and the somnolent influence of the fire, he dropped into a
deep slumber by the dull red embers that still smouldered in the grate.



CHAPTER XVII.


“The Chequers,” at Westminster.—Britton’s Notions of Greatness.—“When
the Wine is In, the Wit is Out.”



Jacob Gray was quite right when he averred that the smith was on his
track like a blood-hound. Britton had entered heartily into the scheme
of destroying Gray. It was not that he particularly wished to
appropriate to himself Gray’s portion of what was wrung from the fears
of Learmont, nor did he particularly see or care for the destruction of
Gray as a matter of policy; but he hated him personally. His assumption
of superior address was especially annoying to Britton. He felt that
Gray was more than a match for him in cunning, and moreover, he
despised him for the cowardice of his character, and over his cups
thought it would be a rare thing to outwit Jacob Gray, which,
translated, meant kill him with safety—not personal safety in the act
of killing, but safety from the consequences of Gray’s extreme
precautionary measures for his own preservation.

The smith familiarised himself thus with the thought of overcoming the
wily Jacob, and his ferocious fancy indulged itself in glutting over
some violent and bloody death for the man who had presumed to assume
greater address than he. By some curious train of thought, too, the
smith always considered himself as personally injured by Gray, because
the latter, when he visited him at the smithy, had so fenced himself
round with precautions, that he, Britton could not but see the extreme
impolicy of knocking him on the head with his forge hammer, which he
had fully resolved to do whenever he had an opportunity.

“Curse him!” Britton would growl over his cups, “I will have his life
yet. Despite his cunning I will have his life!”

Britten’s scheme of operations was more in accordance with his violent
nature than any which Learmont could suggest to him. It was to dog Gray
to his house, and then finding some means of admittance, either wring
from his fears the secret of where he kept the written confession he
talked so much of, and then kill him; or should that plan not succeed,
take his life first, and trust to his powers of search to find the
dangerous document somewhere in his abode.

With this project in view, Britton had kept an eye on the house of
Learmont, and followed Gray upon the river, as we have seen.

Great was the rage of the smith at the utter failure of this, his first
attempt to ferret out the hiding-place of Master Gray, which he began
to think was by no means so easy a job as he had supposed. In fact,
should Gray pursue the plan he had commenced so successfully, of
turning upon his pursuer, the scheme would be fraught with the greatest
difficulties. Moreover the smith could not conceal from himself that by
his unsuccessful attempt he had put Gray upon his guard, which was the
very last thing he should have risked. All these reflections put the
smith in no very pleasant mood, when he repaired from the water-side to
“The Chequers” and it was not until he had quaffed at two draughts a
huge tankard of humming ale that he felt his equanimity at all restored.

He then began to swear awfully, which unburdened his mind very much,
and calling for another tankard, he shouted—

“Landlord, come hither, man. Dip your red nose in the tankard.”

The landlord, nothing loth, took a hearty draught of the ale, after
which he smacked his lips with a knowing air, and looking intently at a
fly-cage that hung from the ceiling he said in an abstracted tone,—

“This ale is splendid—glorious. I must keep it for the worshipful
Master Britton’s own drinking. I ought to do it—and I will do it.”

“What are you muttering about?” roared the smith, taking up the
empty-flagon, and bestowing a hard rap with it on the landlord’s head.

“Bless us!” cried the host, rubbing the afflicted part. “I—I do believe
I was in deep thought.”

“Deep lies, you mean,” cried Britton. “You’ll keep the ale for me, will
you?”

Again the flagon touched not over gently the landlord’s head, and the
smith was mightily amused at the wry faces he made.

“Come—come, sit down, man,” he cried, “and don’t try to deceive me;
you’ll keep the ale for me, will you?”

“In a moment I will attend your worship,” said the landlord, bustling
off as some one knocked furiously at the little wooden bar.

“Now, by the Holy Well of Penseross, which they say was pure Rhenish
wine,” muttered the landlord, when he was out of hearing of the smith,
“I could see that rascal hung with as much pleasure as—as—as—”

“Timothy!” screamed a female voice at this moment, which could be
likened to nothing but a tin trumpet with a bad cold—“Timothy, I say.”

“My wife!” said the landlord, finishing the sentence and rushing into
the bar with a “here my love,—here I am.”

The abundance of money possessed by Britton made him perfectly welcome
at “The Chequers,” notwithstanding the rough nature of many of his
practical jokes. The landlord lived in the full expectation of finding
some day that the smith’s funds were exhausted, and his object was to
keep him in good humour, and put up with him so long and no longer, for
the wiseacres at “The Chequers” had made up their minds that the gold
which Britton spent so freely was the produce of some great robbery,
and their only surprise from day to day was that they did not hear a
hue and cry after Britton, with an accurate description of him appended
to it.

The smith now took up the massive poker appertaining and belonging to
the fire-side of “The Chequers,” and commenced beating upon one of the
oaken tables so lustily that the landlord rushed into the room in wild
fright and amazement, crying, “The saints preserve us, Master Britton!
What does your worship want?”

“Sit down,” roared the smith. “Hurrah! I’m going to treat everybody.”

The landlord lifted up his hands and exclaimed,—

“Worshipful Master Britton, my humble opinion is of very little moment.”

“That’s true,” said Britton.

“But I assert,” continued the landlord, “that you ought to have been a
king.”

“And how do you know I ar’nt a king, eh, numskull?” cried the smith.

This was certainly a poser to the politic landlord, and he only
muttered that he ventured to suppose he was not.

“Then you’re a fool!” cried Britton, to the great amusement of the
company, who had pricked up their ears wonderfully since Button had
talked of a general treat.

“The landlord’s a fool!” repeated the smith, looking round the room
with a half-intoxicated stare.

“So he is,” cried several voices.

“No he ain’t,” roared Britton.

“N—n—not quite a fool,” said a little punchy man, with a pipe in his
mouth.

“But you are!” added Britton, which at once silenced the little punchy
man, who very wisely made no reply whatever.

After the applause of this sally had subsided, the landlord ventured to
suggest that mugs of spiced canary all round would not be amiss to
begin the evening with.

This suggestion met with universal approval, and Britton waving his
hand, consented whereupon the landlord heaved a deep sigh, and
remarked, that if all the world was like him, the worshipful Master
Britton, what a different world it would be to what it really was.

“Off with, you,” shouted Britton. “The canary—the canary, and we’ll
have a song. I’ve got a toast, too, to propose.”

The canary was not long in appearing, and Britton rising, proposed as a
toast,—

“Damnation for Jacob Gray!”

The landlord looked aghast, and the guests looked aghast, till the
punchy man volunteered his opinion in the following terms,—

“Gentlemen, we don’t know Jacob Gray, but there can be no doubt he’s a
very bad man—(Hear, hear.) Master Britton stands spiced canary, all
round, and, consequently, it’s my humble opinion it must be right.”

The topers looked at each other in amazement at this splendid piece of
reasoning; and one remarked that he, the punchy man, was the person to
get over a knotty pointy which was universally responded to in the
affirmative, and the toast was drunk with acclamation.

“A song,” cried Britton—“a song.”

The landlord looked imploringly round him for some one to sing, but no
one seemed inclined, therefore he said,—

“The worshipful Master Britton calls for a song, and there must be a
song.”

“Of course,” cried Britton, “and you must sing it.”

The landlord hemmed thrice, and after taking a deep draught of the
canary, he fixed his eyes on the fly-cage hanging from the ceiling, and
chaunted the following Bacchanalian strains,—



“Care mantles not in brimming cups,

It cannot enter there;

Within the bowl there’s nought but joy,

Without, but grim despair.



“Hurrah, boys!



“Care shuns the wine cup, boys—for why?

Because its blushing hue

Forbids the fiend to enter there,

Lest he be lost to view.



“Hurrah, boys!



“Drink—drink, and let the gushing stream

Of life boil through our veins,

While sober fools seek chill content,

And find care for their pains.



“Hurrah, boys!



“They lie who say that rosy wine

Can ever breed a pain,

For when the joy of one day’s o’er,

We drink and live again.



“Hurrah, boys!



“They tell us that when once the fire

Of wine has gone away,

Our hearts will beat in dull despair,

Nor be so calm as they.



“Hurrah, boys!



“But we a cure for such an ill

Can find in every glass;

And, boys, we know that life is short,

Catch pleasure ere it pass.



“Hurrah, boys!”



“Bravo!” cried Britton. “That’s good—mind, that’s good.”

“Very good, indeed,” cried everybody.

“Hurrah!” shouted the inebriated smith—“Hurrah, boys!
Three—ch—ch—cheers. I—I say—I—I’m a k—k—king!”

After an ineffectual attempt to stand, he dropped on the floor in a
state of unconsciousness.



CHAPTER XVIII.


The Lone Max.—The Voice of Conscience.



Alone, and still, as a sculptured image, sat the Squire Learmont, in
one of his stately halls. He was surrounded by magnificence, but he was
alone. The closely-fitting easements admitted, but in subdued murmurs,
the various voices of the city, but there was no one, save himself, to
enjoy the luxury of the calm that reigned in that gilt and gaudy
saloon. The choicest hangings depended from the walls, half concealing,
yet rendering more effective, the glowing paintings that were hung in
the most favourable lights; but Learmont was alone. A chandelier,
shaded by coloured glasses, shed a sweet and chastened light upon every
article in that costly room, but who was there to admire, to gaze in
rapture upon the splendour of that magical scene? Learmont was alone,
and the deep sense of his utter loneliness, crept across him with a
chilling influence that seemed to penetrate even to the very marrow in
his bones.

How many, in the selfish pride of their hearts, suppose it possible to
extract joy from merely selfish pleasures! How many have cast from them
all the endearing associations of kindred and fellowship to wrap
themselves up, as it were, in their own hearts that they might share no
delight with another, imagining that they might, by such a process,
concentrate in themselves all the diffused happiness of many. This has
been the dreary delusions of many, but a time has come when all have
awakened to the truth that man must borrow his greatest joy from the
reflected happiness of others. To such a mind as Learmont’s, this
immutable and holy truth was long in coming, but now as he sat alone in
his princely hall; surrounded with light and splendour, he would have
felt relieved could he have turned to any one upon whose countenance he
could have read with pleasure and delight—aye, the veriest beggar that
ever asked for alms of rich and proud, would, at that moment, have been
welcome, for Learmont’s very heart felt lonely and desolate. Did he
enjoy the exquisite covering of that lofty ceiling? Did he exult over
the rich gilding which lay like plates of massive gold on the elaborate
cornices? Did the soft, beautiful light, which seemed in its rare
excellence to belong to the sunrise of a better world, fall upon his
heart with joyful brilliancy? Alas, no! He was alone! The first proud
flush of gratified pride, in having created and being the master of all
this, had died away and left behind it but a sensation of loneliness
and desolation of spirit, such as he had never before experienced.

In vain the Lord of Learmont battled with his own feelings. They would
not be resisted; and, at length, half mad with the mental struggle he
was enduring, he rose from the chair on which he had been sitting and
stood up to his full height, in the centre of the saloon, while one
deep groan burst from his heart, sounding strangely awful in the midst
of all that glitter and display.

Then his dark eye flashed fire, and he made a great effort to rouse
himself from the deep dejection that had stolen over him.

“What have I striven for?” he cried. “What dipped my hands in blood
for, but for all this? This pride of wealth—this glory of
magnificence—and does it now pall upon my senses? Can I not enjoy what
I have striven so hard to obtain? Away, vain shadows of remorse—born in
superstition, and, fostered by prejudice—away—I will—I must enjoy what
I have wasted the better part of life to obtain. My gilded saloons, I
love you—my house—my retinue—my jewels—all are what men struggle for,
even to the grave’s brink, because the universal opinion of mankind has
proclaimed, that to have these things is to have the means of
happiness. I have them; and yet what serpent is it that now gnaws at my
heart, and forbids the enjoyment of what is mine own? There is,
perhaps, too much silence in my glorious house. I must fill my saloons
with the young and the beautiful. I must have joy reflected on my own
face from the sparkling eyes of beauty. I—I will not be alone!—no—no. I
will be seldom alone! ’Tis the silence of this spacious hall has bred
and nursed gloomy fancies in my brains. I was foolish to sit
here—because I was alone.”

His voice sounded hollow and distinct in the large space around him,
and the word “alone” seemed to catch some strange echo in the saloon,
and to be whispered back, to him from the high ceiling, with a mournful
tone.

Squire Learmont paused, and a sneer curled his lips, as he said,

“Now, were I weak and superstitious, how well could busy fancy people
this large space with grinning gliding shapes, such as haunt ordinary
men and drive their weak brains to distraction. I hear yon echo, but I
will not be alone. Ha! Ha! ’Tis your concave roof that throws back my
words. Now if, as I say, I were superstitious—but I am not.”

Even as he spoke, he repeatedly turned to look behind, and it was
evident that the guilty man was battling with his fears.

“This hall,” he continued, “is very large—and—and cold withal. I will
make some smaller room suffice me.”

He rang for a domestic, and, in spite of himself, he could not help
averring to his own heart, that it was a relief to see the face of a
human being in his magnificent solitude.

“Light up the small room with the yellow hanging,” said Learmont, “I
will sit there.”

The servant bowed and retired.

“Yes,” continued Learmont, in a low tone, as he seated himself in a
chair, the back of which touched the wall. “A smaller room to sit in is
more agreeable and much warmer than this saloon.” He would not own to
himself that the large space around him had frightened him, and that he
was really trembling with a terror of, he knew not what—such an awful
terror as commonly creeps over the hearts of the guilty in solitudes.

In a very few moments the servant returned and announced the smaller
room as ready for his master’s reception.

Then preceding him, with two wax lights, he showed the trembling squire
into a room of about one-third of the size of the saloon, and which was
furnished more plainly, but quite as richly as regarded the costly
nature of its hangings and various appointments.

Oh, let the innocent of heart and single of purpose lift their eyes to
Heaven, and thank it for their great happiness. Let those who can
challenge their deepest memories, to picture to the mental vision one
deed of wrong, lie down in blessed repose, for they are rich beyond the
wealth of kings—powerful beyond the power of the mightiest
conquerors—happy beyond any happiness that this world can afford, as
the price of that peace of mind, which so many barter for a bauble.

It was not the extent of his saloon, that had come across the soul of
the crime-steeped Learmont, with a shuddering horror. It was not that
his voice echoed in his lofty house. It was the undying worm,
conscience; that takes no rest, knows no peace, but will be heard amid
the din of battle—the hilarity of the banquet—that will float upon the
wine-cup—mingle with every strain of noise, and make a hell of the
human heart more maddening than the wildest fanatic can promise to the
wicked.

Learmont could not sit—he could not rest—the air around him seemed
thick and heavy—his first impulse was to ring for more lights, and more
were brought—more and more, until the apartment was one blaze of
illuminations; but all was in vain, and just before the midnight hour
sounded from the various churches, the lord of all the beauty and
magnificence of that costly mansion seized a hat and cloak, and rushed
into the streets to seek relief by violent exercise from the agony that
tortured him.

Without aim or object, save the one of endeavouring, by sheer bodily
fatigue, to seek repose for the overwrought mind, Learmont walked
onwards through the various streets that happened to present themselves
at convenient junctures to his notice, and as he walked with a quick
step, he muttered to himself the anxious reasoning that was crossing
his fevered brain.

“I will never be alone!” he muttered: “never—never. Why should I be
alone?—I who am revelling in wealth? From this moment I resolve to cram
my saloons. The brilliant decorations of my home shall be admired by
all; I will move amidst a throng of youth, beauty, and nobility, as the
presiding genius of a place which shall be little short of a fairy
palace of romance and beauty. I—I will intrigue with the
intriguing—quaff goblets of rich wine with the voluptuous. Ha! Ha!—I
will lead a life of enjoyment that shall leave no time for thought. I
will have pleasure after pleasure—excitement after excitement,
succeeding each other with such rapidity that they shall only
occasionally cease when the wearied frame calls loudly for repose, that
it may awaken with renovated strength to undergo a routine of new
pleasure!—I will never be alone!”

He walked on now for many minutes, only now and then muttering the
words “Never alone!” Then a new train of thought seemed to come across
his mind, and he whispered:—

“These two men, this Britton and the crafty Gray! They, indeed, are
thorns among the flowers with which I would surround myself. If either
could but safely destroy the other, I could then find an opportunity of
getting rid of the survivor. My deepest hatred light on Gray! May the
curses—pshaw! What hurts it that I curse him?—I must have his blood!
’Tis he, and he only, who by his craft preserves his own life, and
teaches Britton how to preserve his. What devil whispered to the
villain to write a confession of his crimes for his own preservation?
Time was when a master-spirit such as mine could with small pains rid
himself of the base lowly tools with which he built his fortune and his
fame. The grave closed over the hateful secrets that embittered the
road to power and greatness, leaving that power and greatness, when
once achieved, undermined by the black shadows of the past. Unbounded
wealth is at my command—a crouching herd at my feet, because I am the
master of the yellow dross for which mankind will barter Heaven!
And—and yet I—even I am to be haunted by two ruffians, who with a
subtlety undreamt of, have hedged themselves in with precautions. By
hell, I will not—cannot bear it!—I’ll pluck these papers from their
very hearts, if they should hide them there!—I will no longer be scared
by this awful phantom of fear that shadows my heart—they shall die!”

How many, in the selfish pride of their hearts, suppose it possible to
extract joy from merely selfish pleasures! How many have cast from
them, all the endearing associations of kindred and fellowship to wrap
themselves up, as it were, in their own hearts that they might share no
delight with another, imagining that they might, by such a process,
concentrate in themselves all the diffused happiness of many. This has
been the dreary delusions of many, but a time has come when all have
awakened to the truth that man must borrow his greatest joy from the
reflected happiness of others. To such a mind as Learmont’s, this
immutable and holy truth was long in coming, but now as he sat alone in
his princely hall; surrounded with light and splendour, he would have
felt relieved could he have turned to any one upon whose countenance he
could have read with pleasure and delight—aye, the veriest beggar that
ever asked for alms of rich and proud, would, at that moment, have been
welcome, for Learmont’s very heart felt lonely and desolate. Did he
enjoy the exquisite covering of that lofty ceiling? Did he exult over
the rich gilding which lay like plates of massive gold on the elaborate
cornices? Did the soft, beautiful light, which seemed in its rare
excellence to belong to the sunrise of a better world, fall upon his
heart with joyful brilliancy? Alas, no! he was alone! the first proud
flush of gratified pride, in having created and being the master of all
this, had died away and left behind it but a sensation of loneliness
and desolation of spirit, such as he had never before experienced.

In vain the Lord of Learmont battled with his own feelings. They would
not be resisted; and, at length, half mad with the mental struggle he
was enduring, he rose from the chair on which he had been sitting and
stood up to his full height, in the centre of the saloon, while one
deep groan burst from his heart, sounding strangely awful in the midst
of all that glitter and display.

Then his dark eye flashed fire, and he made a great effort to rouse
himself from the deep dejection that had stolen over him.

“What have I striven for?” he cried. “What dipped my hands in blood
for, but for all this? This pride of wealth—this glory of
magnificence—and does it now pall upon my senses? Can I not enjoy what
I have striven so hard to obtain? Away, vain shadows of remorse—born in
superstition, and, fostered by prejudice—away—I will—I must enjoy what
I have wasted the better part of life to obtain. My gilded saloons, I
love you—my house—my retinue.—my jewels—all are what men struggle for,
even to the grave’s brink, because the universal opinion of mankind has
proclaimed, that to have these things is to have the means of
happiness. I have them; and yet what serpent is it that now gnaws at my
heart, and forbids the enjoyment of what is mine own? There is,
perhaps, too much silence in my glorious house. I must fill my saloons
with the young and the beautiful. I must have joy reflected on my own
face from the sparkling eyes of beauty. I—I will not be alone!—no—no. I
will be seldom alone! ’tis the silence of this spacious hall has bred
and nursed gloomy fancies in my brains. I was foolish to sit
here—because I was alone.”

His voice sounded hollow and distinct in the large space around him,
and the word “alone” seemed to catch some strange echo in the saloon,
and to be whispered back, to him from the high ceiling, with a mournful
tone.

Squire Learmont paused, and a sneer curled his lips, as he said,

“Now, were I weak and superstitious, how well could busy fancy people
this large space with grinning gliding shapes, such as haunt ordinary
men and drive their weak brains to distraction. I hear yon echo, but I
will not be alone. Ha! Ha! ’Tis your concave roof that throws back my
words. Now if, as I say, I were superstitious—but I am not.”

Even as he spoke, he repeatedly turned to look behind, and it was
evident that the guilty man was battling with his fears.

“This hall,” he continued, “is very large—and—and cold withal. I will
make some smaller room suffice me.”

He rang for a domestic, and, in spite of himself, he could not help
averring to his own heart, that it was a relief to see the face of a
human being in his magnificent solitude.

“Light up the small room with the yellow hanging,” said Learmont, “I
will sit there.”

The servant bowed and retired.

“Yes,” continued Learmont, in a low tone, as he seated himself in a
chair, the back of which touched the wall. “A smaller room to sit in is
more agreeable and much warmer than this saloon.” He would not own to
himself that the large space around him had frightened him, and that he
was really trembling with a terror of, he knew not what—such an awful
terror as commonly creeps over the hearts of the guilty in solitudes.

In a very few moments the servant returned and announced the smaller
room as ready for his master’s reception.

Then preceding him, with two wax lights, he showed the trembling squire
into a room of about one-third of the size of the saloon, and which was
furnished more plainly, but quite as richly as regarded the costly
nature of its hangings and various appointments.

Oh, let the innocent of heart and single of purpose lift their eyes to
Heaven, and thank it for their great happiness. Let those who can
challenge their deepest memories, to picture to the mental vision one
deed of wrong, lie down in blessed repose, for they are rich beyond the
wealth of kings—powerful beyond the power of the mightiest
conquerors—happy beyond any happiness that this world can afford, as
the price of that peace of mind, which so many barter for a bauble.

It was not the extent of his saloon, that had come across the soul of
the crime-steeped Learmont, with a shuddering horror. It was not that
his voice echoed in his lofty house. It was the undying worm,
conscience; that takes no rest, knows no peace, but will be heard amid
the din of battle—the hilarity of the banquet—that will float upon the
wine-cup—mingle with every strain of noise, and make a hell of the
human heart more maddening than the wildest fanatic can promise to the
wicked.

Learmont could not sit—he could not rest—the air around him seemed
thick and heavy—his first impulse was to ring for more lights, and more
were brought—more and more, until the apartment was one blaze of
illuminations; but all was in vain, and just before the midnight hour
sounded from the various churches, the lord of all the beauty and
magnificence of that costly mansion seized a hat and cloak, and rushed
into the streets to seek relief by violent exercise from the agony that
tortured him.

Without aim or object, save the one of endeavouring, by sheer bodily
fatigue, to seek repose for the overwrought mind, Learmont walked
onwards through the various streets that happened to present themselves
at convenient junctures to his notice, and as he walked with a quick
step, he muttered to himself the anxious reasoning that was crossing
his fevered brain.

“I will never be alone!” he muttered: “never—never. Why should I be
alone?—I who am revelling in wealth? From this moment I resolve to cram
my saloons. The brilliant decorations of my home shall be admired by
all; I will move amidst a throng of youth, beauty, and nobility, as the
presiding genius of a place which shall be little short of a fairy
palace of romance and beauty. I—I will intrigue with the
intriguing—quaff goblets of rich wine with the voluptuous. Ha! Ha!—I
will lead a life of enjoyment that shall leave no time for thought. I
will have pleasure after pleasure—excitement after excitement,
succeeding each other with such rapidity that they shall only
occasionally cease when the wearied frame calls loudly for repose, that
it may awaken with renovated strength to undergo a routine of new
pleasure!—I will never be alone!”

He walked on now for many minutes, only now and then muttering the
words “Never alone!” Then a new train of thought seemed to come across
his mind, and he whispered:—

“These two men, this Britton and the crafty Gray! they, indeed, are
thorns among the flowers with which I would surround myself. If either
could but safely destroy the other, I could then find an opportunity of
getting rid of the survivor. My deepest hatred light on Gray! May the
curses—pshaw! what hoots it that I curse him?—I must have his blood!
’Tis’ he, and he only, who by his craft preserves his own life, and
teaches Britton how to preserve his. What devil whispered to the
villain to write a confession of his crimes for his own preservation?
Time was when a master-spirit such as mine could with small pains rid
himself of the base lowly tools with which he built his fortune and his
fame. The grave closed over the hateful secrets that embittered the
road to power and greatness, leaving that power and greatness, when
once achieved, undermined by the black shadows of the past. Unbounded
wealth is at my command—a crouching herd at my feet, because I am the
master of the yellow dross for which mankind will barter Heaven!
And—and yet I—even I am to be haunted by two ruffians, who with a
subtlety undreamt of, have hedged themselves in with precautions. By
hell, I will not—cannot bear it!—I’ll pluck these papers from their
very hearts, if they should hide them there!—I will no longer be scared
by this awful phantom of fear that shadows my heart—They shall die!”



CHAPTER XIX.


Learmont’s Adventure.—A Discovery.—The Haunted House.—Exultation, and a
Resolution.



In the wild excitement of his passions, Learmont had walked onwards,
heedless of whither he was going, and now that he had in some measure
found the relief he sought for in fatigue, he glared anxiously round to
find if possible what part of the town he had strayed to in his deep
abstraction.

The night was very dark, not a star peeped forth from heaven to light
with its small twinkling lustre the massive black arch of the
firmament. No moon shed its silvery radiance on the gigantic city;—a
darkness, so intense that sky, houses, trees,—all seemed merged into
one chaotic mass.

“Where should I be?” muttered Learmont; “I must have walked far, for I
am weary. Ha! Is that the hour?”

The clock of St. Paul’s struck three as he spoke, and from the
direction of the sound, Learmont guessed that he was somewhere
southward of that edifice.

“Some chance passenger,” he muttered, “will direct me to Westminster;
yet I hear no footfall in these silent streets. How still and solemn
now is the great city; one might imagine it a vast cemetery, in which
the dead alone dwelt.”

He paced slowly down a long straggling street, and his own footsteps
were the only sounds that disturbed the solemn stillness that reigned
around.

Learmont walked on slowly, for he knew not but he might be in some
dangerous quarter of the city, and his suspicions that the locality in
which he was did not possess any great claims to fashion or
respectability were much increased by a door suddenly opening in a
house some dozen yards in advance of him, and a man being flung from it
with considerable force into the centre of the street, while a loud
voice, exclaimed:—

“Go to the devil, an’ you will. Are we to sit up all night to attend to
one sot? No, that will never suit the Old Mitre, an’ there were a round
dozen of you, we might think of it.”

“It’s d—damned ill-usage,” remonstrated the man who had been turned out
so unceremoniously from what appeared to Learmont a little tavern, and
the door of which was immediately flung close, and barred from within.

“That’s the—the way of the world,” remarked the drunken man, as he
slowly gathered himself up on his feet, and shook his head with tipsy
gravity. “There’s no such thing as a consideration in the world, and
the street even is turning round—and round in a most
ex—ex—extra—ordinary manner. That’s how I never can get home
prop—properly. The streets keep a-moving in that ex—ex—extraordinary
manner;—that end comes round to this end—and that’s how I’m led astray.
It’s too bad—it is indeed; it’s enough to—to make one weep, it is. But
no matter ex—ex—a double extraordinary man, and a greatly injured
character.”

The drunkard had evidently reached the sentimental stage of
intoxication, and he staggered along weeping and lamenting alternately.

“I may gather from this sot some information of where I am,” thought
Learmont, and in an instant he strided after the reeling man.

When he reached him he touched him on the shoulder, and said,—

“My friend, can you tell me where I am?”

“Eh?—’pon my w—w—word, that’s a funny question. Why, you—you’ve just
been turned out of the Mitre.”

“Pho! Pho!” cried Learmont, impatiently. “Can you tell me what part of
the town we are in?”

“The o—open air, of course,” replied the man. “Hurrah! That’s my
opinion. My opinion’s hurrah! And all I mean to say is, if somebody
else—no, that isn’t it—if I didn’t take somebody else’s job—no, that
ain’t it.”

“What do you mean?” said Learmont.

“I’ll do it—I’ll do it, I tell you.”

“Do what?”

“Do what? Come, that’s good of you. You know what. All I mean to say
is, that if somebody else is to do it, why I am sure nobody—no, that
isn’t it either. How very ex—ex—extraordinary!”

“Idiot!” exclaimed Learmont, striding away; but the man called after
him, and his voice echoed through the deserted street, as he said,—

“Don’t be—be—offended. I’ll do it, I tell you. No, no—nonsense, now, I
know you—mind I—know you: it’s only a mur—murder! Ah! ah!”

Learmont paused in astonishment, not altogether unmingled with dismay,
at these words and he was by the man’s side again in a moment.

“You know me?“ he said.

“Yes, yes, I believe you,” replied, the man. “I’ll do it.”

“What can this mean?” thought Learmont; then he said, aloud,—

“Who am I—you say you know me?”

“You—you didn’t think it,” said the man, with much drunken cunning;
“but I watched you home.”

“You watched me home?”

“Yes,—to be sure. Don’t be frightened; I—I saw you go in. Oh! oh!”

“Indeed!” said Learmont, who was determined to humour his singular
companion.

“Yes, I believe you, I—I thought you’d be surprised; and so you are:
it’s ex—extraordinary, ain’t it?”

“Oh! Very.”

“Well, I’ll do it—you recollect my name?”

“Perfectly.”

“Of course you do. Sheldon, you know.”

“Sheldon is your name.”

“Yes, you know. There isn’t a waterman on the river as—as—can drink
like me.”

“You are a waterman, then?”

“You—know I am.”

“Of course. Oh, yes, of course I do,” said Learmont.

“Well then, you know—I—can keep my own counsel—it’s extra—extraordinary
how clever I—am.”

“Quite remarkable.”

“Well—I—I—watched—you home, and I heard you—a talking to—the—boy—”

“The boy?”

“Yes. You keep him shut up—in the haunted—house—oh! oh!—I’ve watched
you—you—see.”

“The boy?” repeated Learmont.

“Yes, yes, the boy. I climbed up at the back of—of the old house, you
see.”

“Yes, yes,” said Learmont, eagerly, “and you saw—”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“D—d—damned a thing—but I heard you—”

“And—the boy? You heard the boy? A boy’s voice?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You said so.”

“No, I didn’t—don’t in—in—insult me!”

“My good friend, I would not insult you on any consideration. I am
mistaken—I thought you said you heard a boy’s voice.”

“The—the—then—you thought wrong.”

“Exactly.”

“You are—a—f—f—fool—a ex—extraordinary fool.”

“Well,” said Learmont, in an oily voice, “you saw the boy?”

“Ah, now,” cried his drunken companion, “now you have hit it. I’ll just
tell you how—I—I cir—circum—navi—no, that ain’t it, circum—ventated
you.”

“Do,” said Learmont. ”You are exceedingly clever.”

“I know it. Well, I heard you talking to some one, and I went from
window to window to try to see in, you know, and at one of ’em I saw
him.”

“The boy?”

“Yes—to—to be sure.”

“Did you hear him speak?”

“I—I believe you—”

“Well—well.”

“Says he, in a mournful kind o’ way, says he,—what do you think now?”

“Really, I cannot tell.”

“Oh, but it’s ex—extraordinary, because you see that’s how—I found out
your name, you see.”

“My name, Master Sheldon?”

“Yes, your name.”

“No, you don’t know it. You cannot know it.”

“N—n—not know it?”

“Well, what is it, then, if you do know it?”

“Gray, to be sure.”

“Gray!” cried Learmont, with so sharp a cry, that the man jumped again;
and would have fallen had not Learmont clutched him tightly by the arm.

“Ye—ye—yes,” stammered the drunken man, in whom the reader has already
recognised Sheldon, the waterman, to whom Gray had proposed the murder
of Britton.

“You are sure? on your life—on your soul, you are sure the name was
Gray?”

The man looked in the countenance of Learmont, as well as the darkness
would permit him, and answered, not without evident trepidation,—

“Gray—yes—Gray—it—it was. I shouldn’t have known it—but, you see, the
boy stopped at the window to cry—”

“To cry?—well—and then?”

“Then, he said, ‘Can this man, Gray, really be of my kindred? Do we
think alike?’ says he, ‘do we’—now, hang me, if I recollect what he
said.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” suddenly laughed Learmont. “You are brave and acute. Ha,
ha! You have found me out, I see. I am Gray. Ha, ha!”

“I—I—beg—your pardon, Mister Gray,” hiccupped the man, “but was that
y—y—you that laughed in that odd way? Eh?”

“I laughed,” said Learmont.

“Then—d—don’t do it again. It’s the most uncom—com—comfortable sort o’
laugh I ever heard; an ex—ex—extraordinary laugh.”

“Good master a—a—”

“Sheldon,” said the man.

“Ay, Sheldon,” resumed Learmont. “I will have no secrets from you. You
shall come home with me. You know the way?”

“Of—of—course I do.”

“Then, come on,” cried Learmont, with difficulty concealing his
exultations at the chance that had thus thrown in his way a guide to
Gray’s house.

“Ay, you—you’re right,” said the waterman. “Come on—come on. We’ll have
a cup together?”

“Ha, ha!” cried Learmont, “we will.”

“Now didn’t I tell you,” said Sheldon, with drunken gravity, marking
off each word on his fingers, and making the most ludicrous efforts to
speak very clear and distinct, “didn’t—I tell—you—to—keep—those
laughs—to yourself?”

“You did,” said Learmont; “but I forget. Come on, we will have brimming
cups.”

“Hurrah for everybody!” cried Sheldon. “We—we are jolly—fellows.
Hurrah!”



“Hurrah! Hurrah for the vine,

When its sparkling bubbles rise,

Call it divine—divine,

For God’s a dainty prize.



“Hurrah!”



“By, heavens, a brave ditty,” said Learmont, “and well sung. You are an
Apollo, Sheldon, with a little mixture of Bacchus.”

“D—d—don’t insult me,” cried Sheldon. “I—I won’t bear it, Master
G—Gray.”

“Not for worlds,” muttered Learmont.

“Eh?” cried Sheldon, “was that you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Mean? Why—I—I—heard an uncommon odd voice say, ‘N—n—not for worlds.’”

“’Twas some echo, my good friend. Is this the turning?”

“Oh! Ah!” laughed the waterman. “Now that is good. Is—is—is this the
turning—and—you going—have—Ho! Ho! You know it’s the turning—perhaps
you want to in—in—sinuate that I’m drunk?”

“Certainly not,” replied Learmont. “I was only surprised at your
amazing knowledge of the road. I only meant to try you, good Master
Sheldon.”

“Try me? Try me? I—I know every inch of the road—I—follow me, and I’ll
take you to your own door.”

“Is it possible?”

“Come on and see. Follow, I—say—follow.”

“I will,” cried Learmont, his dark eyes flashing with unholy fire, as
he thought how gigantic a step towards the accomplishment of Gray’s
destruction would be the knowledge, unknown to him, of his secret abode.

Cautiously he followed the devious track of the drunken man, who, with
mock gravity, marched onwards to show the way. “Now, Jacob Gray,” he
thought, “you are in my grasp; you shall die—die—some death of horror
which in its bitter pangs will give you some taste of the
heart-sickness you have given me.”



CHAPTER XX.


The Guide.—The Old House.—The Murder.



Sheldon continued singing snatches of rude songs, and staggering
onwards, while Learmont followed closely upon his heels, and
judiciously kept up a conversation with him that prevented him from
giving any further thought on the object of his present undertaking.

It was strictly true what Sheldon had stated. After landing Jacob Gray,
he had left his boat in charge of one of the idlers who are always
plying on the banks of the river, and cautiously dogged his customer
home. This was a circumstance which it had never for one moment entered
into even Gray’s over-suspicious imagination to conceive. He had, as he
felt well assured, scared Britton from pursuing him for that time at
least; and he fancied himself, therefore, quite free. Hence was it that
the waterman, who wished to know something more of the man who had made
to him a proposal amounting to murder, succeeded in so successfully
following Jacob Gray.

At that period the Thames was infested with the worst of characters,
and scarcely any proposition, let it involve what measure of guilt it
might, could be made in vain to many of the desperadoes who were
ostensibly watermen, but really, robbers and cut-throats of the vilest
description. That Sheldon was a man not tortured with many virtuous
scruples, the reader will readily conceive; but he did shrink from the
cold-blooded murder so calmly proposed to him by Gray, and he felt well
inclined to sell that gentleman to justice, only he was very anxious to
have a good price for his virtue, for Master Sheldon was fond of sack,
doted on canary, and idolised all manner of strong drinks; so that a
good reward in gold pieces for not doing a decidedly disagreeable job,
presented itself to his mind in lovely and agreeable colours. So elated
had he been with the bare supposition of such an event, that instead of
going back to the stairs at which he had left his wherry, he had
repaired to the “Mitre,” and tasted so many different enticing and
delicious compounds, that, as the reader is aware, the calculating and
considerate landlord was compelled to turn him out at three o’clock in
the morning, because, being only one drunkard, he was not worth
attending to any longer.

With eager steps Learmont followed his guide till they came to the
range of miserable habitations, in one of which Jacob Gray had
concealed himself and his precious charge.

“Ah,” said Learmont, “I begin to think you do indeed know the way.”

“Know the way!” cried Sheldon—“I could find it blindfold. Come on,
I—I’ll take you to your own door.”

“What astonishing acuteness!” remarked Learmont.

“Yes,“ said Sheldon, wonderfully flattered, “I—I believe you there,
Master Gray. You are no fool yourself, because you—you see you’ve found
out how ex—ex—extraordinary clever I am—you see.”

“Exactly,” cried Learmont. “This is a lonely district.”

“Here you are—Ah! Ah!” laughed Sheldon. “I—I know it—this is the house.
Bless you, I know it by the painted windows.”

Learmont walked to the middle of the roadway, and by the dim morning
light, which was just beginning to shed a faint colour across the dusky
sky, he gazed earnestly at the ancient building, in which he had no
doubt were the objects of his hatred and dread.

“Well,” said Sheldon, “ain’t—ain’t you going to ask a fellow in, just
to take a drop o’ something?”

Learmont heard him not, or if he did, he heeded him not, but stood
intently gazing at the house, and treasuring up in his memory every
little peculiarity he could by the faint light detect, in order that he
might again recognise it without doubt or difficulty.

“Hilloa!” cried Sheldon. “What are you staring at—d—d—did you never see
your own house before?”

Learmont started, and advancing to Sheldon, he laid his hand upon his
shoulder, saying,—

“My good friend, in that house I have not one drop of liquor, good or
bad, to offer you.”

“The d—d—devil you haven’t,” said the waterman.

“Not a drain; but if you will walk with me till we come to some really
good hostel, I will make you the partaker of the value of a couple of
gold pieces melted down into humming ale, spiced canary, sack, or
choice Rhenish—ay? What you will you shall have, if you will how take
my arm, and let me be your guide.”

“You—you are the prince of good fellows,” cried Sheldon, “d—d—damme you
are—humming ale, did you say?”

“Certainly, such as will be music in your ears.”

“And—and spiced canary?”

“Even, so; deep draughts that will shut the world from your eyes and
your thoughts.”

“Sack—s—sack, and Rhenish too?”

“All—all. You shall steep your senses in delight; drown your soul in a
delirium of pleasure. Come on—come on, good Master Sheldon—do you not
see the morning is breaking?”

“D—d—d—n it, let it break. I mean to say that you are my best friend.
Bless you—I ain’t a-going to cry—no—no.”

“Come—come, say no more—say no more.”

Learmont took the arm of the waterman, who was rapidly becoming
sentimental again, and, passing it through his own, he led him away
from Gray’s house at a quick pace.

The morning light was now each moment increasing, and Learmont did not
fail to note every particular building he passed, in order that, when
he came again, he should need no guide.

Suddenly, as they turned the corner of a street, they came in sight of
the square tower of the Bishop’s Palace, at Lambeth, and as Learmont
knew that well, he felt quite assured that he could from that, as a
land-mark, walk with certainty to the house of Jacob Gray.

He now threw his whole thoughts into a consideration of what was to be
done with his intoxicated companion. That he had been in some sort of
communication with Jacob Gray he could not doubt, and moreover, he
shrewdly suspected that the destruction of Britten was the object
hinted at by Sheldon—that, however, was a far inferior object in
Learmont’s mind to the destruction of Gray himself, and the possession
of the boy he held in his power. Therefore was it that Learmont fell
into a train of anxious and horrid thoughts as to whether Sheldon after
he had left him might not, by his relation of having brought some one
to his secret abode, alarm the cautious Jacob Gray into an immediate
removal, and so baffle him, Learmont, again.

If there be any crime more awful than another, it is a cool and
deliberate murder founded upon calculation; but Learmont was just the
man to commit such an act, and while the thoughtless Sheldon was
hanging upon his arm and murmuring disjointed snatches of songs in
praise of good fellowship and glorious wine, Learmont half resolved
upon his death.

“This drunken idiot can be of no use to me,” he reasoned with himself,
“because I could never depend upon him; but he may, if I let him
escape, warn Gray, and I lose the rare chance that kind Fortune has
thrown so strangely in my way. He must die.”

They now passed the ancient entrance to the Bishop’s Palace; and
entered upon the well-known walk along the banks of the Thames, which
was then much more shadowed by lofty trees than it is at present; and
although those trees, in consequence of the season of the year, were
now leafless, yet their gigantic trunks cast broad and obscuring
shadows between them and the wall of the Bishop’s garden.

A cold piercing air blew from the Thames, and Sheldon shuddered as he
remarked,—

“I say—my—my good fellow, the—sooner we get to some place where we can
have this same ale, and—and sack—and Rhenish—the better—on my faith
it’s c—c—cold.”

“Come this way, close to the palace wall,” said Learmont, “and the old
trees will save us from the cool air that blows across the river.”

So saying, he led his doomed companion close to the ancient wall, then
he paused and listened attentively, in case any one should be within
hearing; all was as still as the grave—not the most distant sound
indicative of human life, met his ears.

“He must die!” muttered Learmont.

“You may say it’s cold,” remarked Sheldon; “w—w—what are you waiting
for—



“Ha! Ha! Ha! Who would not drink

When, the cup is brimming over,

Be it Rhenish—be it—sack—

Or burning old—Oc—Oc—October!



“that’s a—b—b—brave song—a ex—extraordinary brave song—a—w—w—wonderful
song.”

Learmont laid his hand on his sword as he said—

“There is more light now, Master Sheldon. Look at me.”

As he spoke he raised his cap, which previously had been drawn close
over his eyes, and raised himself to his full gaunt height.

The waterman fixed his wondering eyes upon him, and muttered:—

“I—I—think—you—you ain’t Master Gray.”

“Do you know me?” cried Learmont, fiercely.

The man trembled and seemed all at once half-sobered by terror as he
stammered—

“I—I—have seen—”

“Seen what?—who?”

“Your worship at Westminster.”

“Ah! My name—know you that?”

“They called you Squire Learmont.”

Learmont suddenly turned his back upon Sheldon, and casting an anxious
glance around him to satisfy himself that they were still alone, he
suddenly drew his sword and faced the trembling man.

“Mercy! mercy!” cried Sheldon, dropping on his knees.

“Idiot!” cried Learmont, “you are in my way. Curses on your worthless
life!”

“Oh, God, mercy!” cried the man.

Learmont shortened his arm, and plunged his sword through the body of
the defenceless man.

With a wild shriek that rung through the Bishop’s walk, Sheldon sprang
from his knees; he grasped wildly at the air, and spun round and round
in his frantic efforts to stand.

“Help! Help! Murder!” he shrieked.

“Damnation!” cried Learmont, and again he passed his reeking sword
through the heaving chest of Sheldon.

Again the wounded man tried to speak, but a low gurgling sound in his
throat was all he could produce, and he fell with a deep groan at the
feet of the murderer.



CHAPTER XXI.


A Sunny Morning.—The Chamber in the Old House.



The morning gathered each moment strength and beauty, for it was
beautiful, although the trees were stripped of their summer verdure,
and the earth no longer sent forth sweet flowers to—



Load with perfumes

The soft dreaming idle air

That steeped in sunshines.

Music, and all dear delight,

Hung, tranquilly ’twixt heaven and earth.



The sun, however, was bright, and the air, although the soft voluptuous
warmth of summer, was full of health and life. The little waves on the
river sparkled like silver broken into fragments and strewed upon the
surface of the stream. For miles the clear cloudless sky reflected
nothing but pure sunshine, beautiful although cold; it shone upon the
palaces, the churches, and the bridges, and upon the meanest hovels
pregnant with squalid poverty; it shone upon all alike. It found its
way in floods of beauty, softened by rich colouring of glass and
drapery, into the chambers of the rich and great, and it struggled
through the dingy panes of the cottage windows, making, perchance, more
happiness there than in the lordly mansion, which more frequently is
the habitation of an aching heart.

There was one small room into which that clear morning sun shone in all
its dearly-welcomed beauty, and there was one heart that was cheered by
its presence, and smiled gladly in its radiant light; that room into
which it shone was the sleeping chamber of the young boy, Harry, and
that heart that welcomed its rays was his—a heart that ever beat in
unison with all that was good—all that was beautiful.

The apartment was a small one adjoining a spacious room that was on the
second floor of the house, and communicating with it by folding doors.
It contained little else than a small couch and a few necessary
articles of the toilette. A large mat lay at the door, on which reposed
the dog, which was poor Harry’s only companion—his only friend.

The boy was up and leaning upon the window-sill, gazing earnestly
through a small chink that was left in the beading (for the window was
blocked up from without) which enabled him to see, and without danger
of being observed by any one in the street, and likewise was quite of
sufficient width to allow the morning sun to stream into the little
room.

With a deep sigh he turned from the window, and the dog at the same
moment rose, and with grateful gestures approached its kind master.

“The sun is shining, my poor Joy,” said Harry, mournfully; “but you and
I may not gambol in its beams. The world without this gloomy house
seems bright and beautiful, but we are prisoners, ’tis very, very
strange; Gray tells me he is my uncle, and that there is a fearful
secret connected with the family that forces him to shut himself and me
up in this mysterious manner. Uncle Gray, I doubt you. Such a tale
might suit the ears of a child, but—I—I am one no longer. Can this man
be my uncle? His behaviour is so strange to me, alternately harsh and
kind, affectionate and cruel. Alas! I know not what to think. Oh, how
my heart yearns for the bright sunshine, the open sky, and the green
fields! How long am I to be thus immured? Heaven only knows. I—will—I
must seek some other explanation. I know he fears me, I have seen him
shrink before my eyes. I have marked him tremble and turn pale at a
chance word I uttered, and yet I had no clue to such feelings, because
I knew not which word it was that moved him so; and this disguise, too,
which he persuades, begs, implores of me to wear, as he says, for my
life’s sake; ’tis very strange. These are not the garments of a young
maiden as I am. What have I done that I should, thus forswear sex,
liberty, sunshine, joy, all that makes life rich, and beautiful to the
young? Alas! Alas! What have I done to be a dreary prisoner? In all my
weary years, short, but oh, how long to me! But one face beamed with
kindness on me, that face was Albert Seyton’s; but one voice spoke to
me in accents of love and pity—that voice was Albert Seyton’s; but one
heart seemed ever to really feel for me a pang of sorrow, and—and—that
heart was Albert Seyton’s.”

The young girl, for such she was, sunk into a chair and wept bitterly.
Then suddenly dashing aside the tears that obscured her beautiful eyes,
she said,—

“No—no, I will not weep. No, Uncle Gray, if such you be, you shall not
wring another tear from me. You have made me a lonely being; you have
been harsh, unkindly—nay, you have struck me; but you shall not see me
weep, no—no, I will not let you see a tear. You have torn me from the
young heart that in my solitude found me and loved me as an orphan boy,
supposing me such. Oh, Uncle—Uncle, you are cruel! Another day shall
not pass without an explanation with you, Uncle Gray. I—I—will have
reasons—ample reasons—full explanations from thee. And he wanted to
kill my poor dog, too, because it loved me—because I had found some
living thing that looked fondly in my face. Oh, Uncle! Uncle! you have
raised a spirit in my breast—a spirit of resistance and opposition,
that in happier circumstances would have slumbered for ever.”

For a few minutes the young girl stood in deep thought, then, with a
remarkable alteration of tone and manner, she said, suddenly,—

“Come, Joy, come; we will go to Uncle Gray, our breakfast should be
waiting.”

She opened the door which led into the larger room, and crossing that,
closely followed by the dog, passed out of it by another door that
opened upon the staircase. Slowly then, she descended the creaking,
time-worn steps and pushing open a small door at their feet, entered
the room which has already been described to the reader, and in which
we last left Jacob Gray.

Gray was in the room, and he cast a suspicious glance at the young
creature who entered the room, as if he would read from her countenance
in what mood she was in that morning.

“Oh,” he said, “you have risen early, Harry, and—and Joy, too, is with
you—poor dog!”

Joy’s only answer to this hypocritical pity was a low growl, and
getting under a chair, he exhibited a formidable mouthful of teeth as a
warning to Jacob Gray not to attempt any familiarity.

“Do not call me Harry,” cried the girl, “you know it is not a fitting
name for me, Uncle.”

Gray’s face assumed a paler shade, as he replied in a low tone,—

“Wherefore this sudden passion—eh?”

“Uncle Gray, I have been thinking—”

“Thinking of what, child?”

“Call me child no more,” replied the girl, pushing the dark ringlets
from her brow, and gazing steadily at Gray. “Call me child no more,
Uncle Gray, and to prove to you that I am something more, I tell you
now that the poor tale that frightened the child will not now do for
me.”

“W—w—what do you mean?” gasped Gray, his lips trembling with ghastly
fear.

“I mean,” continued the other, “that the time has come when I must know
all. Who am I—my name—my lineage—my friends—kindred—where, and who are
they? Why am I here an innocent victim to the crimes, perchance of
others? The reasons of this solitary confinement, its duration, the
circumstances that would rescue me from it—this—all this I want to know
fully—amply, and I must know it, Uncle Gray.”

To describe the wild stare of astonishment and dismay that sat upon the
face of Jacob, as the fragile and beautiful creature before him poured
forth with earnest firmness this torrent of questions, would be
impossible: rage, fear, dismay, all seemed struggling for mastery in
Gray’s countenance, and the girl had done, and stood in an attitude
that a sculptor might have envied, bending half forward with a flush of
excitement upon her cheeks, awaiting the answer of the panic-stricken
man before her. It was several minutes before that answer came. Once,
twice, thrice, did Jacob Gray try to speak in vain, and when he did
produce an articulate sound, his voice was hollow and awful to hear.

“W—what devil,” he said, “has prompted you to this? What busy fiend has
whispered in your ears? Speak—speak!”

“I have spoken,” said the girl. “I ask but that I have the right to
know.”

“The right! How know you that?”

“How know I that! My heart tells me. ’Tis a right of nature, born with
the lowest, and no greater with the highest.”

“Then—you would destroy me!”

“No, I would destroy no one; give no one even a passing pang; but oh!
Uncle, I am young, and life is new and precious. I have read of sunny
skies, and smiling happy flowers; I have read of music’s witchery,
until my heart has sighed to create its own dear melody. I have read of
love, pure, holy love, such as could knit together young hearts for
ever in a sweet companionship; and oh! How my heart has yearned for the
sunlight, the flowers, the music, the sweet murmuring sound of moving
waters, the dear love that gilds them all with more than earthly
beauty, because it, and it alone, is the one gift that clings yet to
man from Heaven! How my heart has leaped upwards, like a living thing,
to read of kind words softly spoken, of purest vows breathed from heart
to heart, making as it were sweet music, and its still sweeter echo!
Oh! How I have clasped my hands an cried aloud for music filling the
sunny air width a mild embroidery of tones! I have asked of Heaven to
send me warm hearts to love me; to place me on the mountains, that I
may look around me and adore the God that made the valleys look so
beautiful! I have prayed to wander through the verdant valleys, that I
might look up to the mountains, so lifting my thoughts to the great
Creator. I have wept—sobbed aloud for all the dear companionships of
youth—the thousand sparkling, glowing charms that lend life its
romance, and make the world an Eden, Heaven a dear inheritance! The
dreary echo of my own voice alone has answered me! My own deep sobs
have come back to my ears in endless mockery, and I was alone; a chill
would then gather round my heart, for I was alone. The smile of a
father never—never gladdened my heart! A mother’s gentle kiss never
rested on my brow! I—I am a lonely thing; a blight and a desolation is
around me; no—no one loves me!”

To describe the exquisite intonation of voice with which these words
were uttered would be impossible. The gushing tenderness, the deep
pathos, the glowing tones! Oh, what must be the construction of that
heart that could listen unmoved to such an appeal? Gray trembled like
an aspen leaf, his eyes glared from their sockets, and he stretched out
his hands before him as he would keep off some spectre that blasted his
sight, and seared his very brain.

“Peace! Peace!” he shrieked; “peace! You want to—kill me, to drive me
mad; but that voice—that manner—those speaking eyes!—Peace, Ada; peace,
I say!”

“Ada!” cried the girl; “that, then, is my name?”

“No, no, no, no!” cried Gray. “God of Heaven!—no, no, no, no!—I—did not
say Ada?”

“You did, and something tells me that it is my name—the name you have
concealed from me so long. I am Ada. Uncle, some strong passion, some
awful fear at your heart overcame your caution. I am Ada; but Ada what?
Tell me, for the love of Heaven, all, and if you have done me wrong,
Uncle, I will, forgive you, as I live!”

Jacob Gray’s voice trembled and the perspiration stood in cold drops
upon his brow, as he said, faintly,—

“Water! Water! Water!—I—I am faint!”

Ada, for henceforward we will call her by that name, filled a glass
with sparkling cold water, and handed it in silence to the trembling
man. With a shaking hand he raised it to his lips, and drank deeply of
it; the glass dropped from his nervous grasp, and lay in fragments on
the floor.

“I—I am better now,” said Gray.

Ada stood before him—her dark eyes bent on his with a scrutinising
glance, beneath which he shrunk abashed.

“Now then, Uncle Gray,” she said, “now that you are better, will you
answer me?”

Gray looked at her for a moment or two in silence before he replied;
then he said slowly,—

“What if I refuse to answer the question you ask?”

“Then is our compact broken,” cried Ada.

“And—and—what will you do? What, can you do?”

“What can I do? I can toil, work, attend upon those who may perchance
repay my service with a smile, ample and dear wages to the poor,
desolate child of harshness and misfortune. I will leave you and this
gloomy abode for ever, and trust to the mercy of that Providence that
finds food for the merest insect that buzzes in the evening time!”

“Humph!” muttered Gray. “I never knew Providence to feed anything yet.
Providence will let you die on a door-step, and rot in a kennel!”

“Peace,” cried Ada, “and profane nor that you cannot comprehend. I
repeat I will leave you, without sufficient reason for my stay be given
me. Blind obedience to you is past. There was a plan which would have
ensured its continuance.”

“Indeed! What plan?”

“A simple one,” said Ada, mournfully: “Uncle Gray, you might have bound
me to you by the ties of such dear affection that I should have smiled
upon my bondage, and obedience without inquiry would have seemed to me
a pleasant virtue.”

“I—I have used you well,” stammered Gray.

“Well!” cried Ada; “Uncle, you have scoffed at my childish tears. I
have felt even your blows: you would kill even my poor dog. Used me
well?”

Gray looked down for a few moments; then he said,—

“To-night—or—or—say to-morrow morning. Yes, let it be to-morrow
morning, and I will tell you all.”

“To-morrow morning? Well, be it so!”

“Yes,” continued Gray, “give me but till to morrow morning, and you
shall ask me no more questions.”

“Tell me, though, now,” said the girl, kindly, “is Ada my name?”

“It is.”

“And what more?”

“Wait—wait till to-morrow. I—I have breakfasted—take yours. I have
business abroad.”

Jacob Gray rose, and keeping his small, keen, grey eyes fixed on Ada,
he left the room. Outside the door he paused, and, raising his clenched
hand, while his face was distorted with passion, he muttered,
“To-morrow, to-morrow, you shall be a stiffened corpse!”



CHAPTER XXII.


Learmont at Home.—His Exultation.—The Smith.—The Plot.



Learmont, after committing the cold-blooded and brutal murder in the
Bishop’s Walk, hastily wiped his blood-stained sword, and walked
quickly onwards till he came to the further extremity of the avenue. He
then darted down a narrow opening, which led him first away from, and
then by a circuitous route, to the back of the river.

“Boat!—Boat!” he cried, impatiently, and from a mean habitation a boy
immediately emerged.

“Can you row me across?” cried Learmont.

“Yes, your worship,” replied the boy. “This way, an’ it please your
honour.”

He led the way to a wherry which was moored close to some little wooden
steps, and Learmont, seating himself in the boat, said,—

“Quick!—Quick! I am in haste.”

The boy handled his skulls with dexterity, and the boat soon reached
the Middlesex shore. Throwing him a piece of silver, Learmont strided
over the boy, and was soon at his own house in Westminster. Without
deigning the slightest notice to his servants at the hall of the
mansion, who made obsequious way for him as he entered, he strode
onwards till he came to the room in which he had sat the preceding
evening, when his thoughts had been so great a torment to him, and,
flinging himself into a chair, he began to think over the singular
events of the night, and to arrange the plan that he had already
conceived for the destruction of Gray, and the possession of his young
charge.

“This is indeed a stroke of good fortune,” he said. “By Gray’s
destruction I gain much. The dull-witted sot Britton is not half the
annoyance that this Jacob Gray has proved to me. I hate—I abhor him.
Let me consider how the case stands.—He lives in a solitary, miserable
abode, out of the way of note or observation. Oh, Master Gray, you have
outwitted yourself here! With him, of course, is the great object of
all my fears. My worst enemy is that boy, whose existence I am so far
sure of from the statement of the babbling fool who has paid with life
for meddling with affairs beyond his comprehension. So far, so good.
Those papers containing Gray’s written confession that he speaks of,
let me consider well of them. The object of writing them was that they
should be found, in case of his death—found where? In his home, of
course, and easily found, too, most easily; because they were to fall
into the hands of persons not searching for them; so they must be in
some place easy of discovery; and most simple of access. How easy then
will it be for me to find them, knowing that they are there, and
determined to leave no nook or corner unsearched till I do find them.
Good, good; and the result: Gray dead—the boy is in my power, and the
confession, which was to preserve him so well to be my torment—in the
flames. Yes, all is clear, quite clear; and now for the immediate
means.”

For several minutes he paced the apartment in silent thought, then
suddenly pausing, he exclaimed:—

“Certainly; who so proper as Britton? It is a great and important
principle in all these matters to confine them to as few hands as
possible. Britton already knows enough for mischief, and his knowledge
being a little extended, cannot make him much more noxious. He shall
aid me. He and I will storm your garrison, Master Jacob Gray! Cunning,
clever, Jacob Gray! And then, why then, I have but one more object to
accomplish, and that is the death of Britton! The boy, too—By Heavens,
I always had my doubts if it were a boy! This drunken fool, who I have
been compelled to put out of the way of mischief, saw him though, and
doubt vanishes. He shall either die, or be rendered innoxious! Oh,
clever, artful, Jacob Gray, I have you on the hip!”

A servant now opened the door slowly, and Learmont turning quickly on
him with a frowning brow, cried,—

“How now, sirrah? Why this intrusion?”

“An’ it please your worship,” said the man, “there is one below who
would have speech of your worship.”

“Speech of me?”

“Ay, truly; an’ it please your—”

“Pshaw!” cried Learmont. “Use fewer words! Who is it that waits to see
me?”

“He says he brings a message from the Old Smithy; but I thought, your
worship—”

“You thought,” cried Learmont, making two gigantic strides, and seizing
the trembling domestic by the throat. “You thought! Wretch! If you dare
to think about any of my visitors, I’d give your brains to a dog, and
if your tongue but wags of aught you see or hear in this house, I’ll
tear it out by the roots!”

“The—the—Lord have—m—mercy upon us!” groaned the servant. “I—I—I’ll
never think again, your worship, as long as I—I live!”

“Begone! And show him who asks for me to this room.”

The terrified man made haste from the apartment, and in three or four
minutes Britton, the smith, staggered into the room with an air of the
most insolent and independent familiarity.

His face was bloated and swollen from his deep debauch of the previous
night, and his eyes looked sleepy and blood-shot. His attire hung
loosely on his huge form, and he was altogether the picture of
ferocity, and sensuality.

“Good morning to you, squire,” he said, as he threw himself into a
chair. “By G—you are well lodged here. You haven’t a spare room, have
you?”

Learmont stood with his back to the light, so that he was not in a
favourable position for the smith to notice the working of his
countenance, where indignation, hatred and policy were battling for
pre-eminence.

“Away with this nonsense,” cried Learmont. “What brings you here?”

“What brings me here? Why, my legs, to be sure. It’s too short a
distance to think of riding.”

“Your errand?” cried Learmont.

“Money!” bellowed Britton, in a still louder voice.

“Money! Again so soon?”

“Ay; so soon. I have found a mine, and I don’t see why I should not
work it, as that infernal Jacob Gray says.”

“Oh! Jacob Gray says that, does he?” sneered Learmont.

“On my faith he does. ’Tis a shrewd knave, but I hate him. I hate him,
I say!”

“Indeed!” says Learmont. “He says you are a beastly sot, good Britton.”

“Does he?”

“Ay, does he. A thick skulled, drunken idiot.”

“Ha! He says that of me?”

“Even so; a mere lump of brutality—savage beast!”

“Now curses on him!” muttered Britton.

“How much money do you want?” said Learmont, very suddenly.

“Twenty pieces.”

“Twenty? Pshaw, make them forty or fifty, provided you have likewise
your revenge on Jacob Gray.”

“Revenge on Jacob Gray? I tell you, squire, I’d go to hell to have
revenge on Jacob Gray.“

“Have you traced his abode?”

“No—no—curses on him. I watched him, but he doubled on me, and I lost
him.”

“Indeed! Then you know not where he lives, or rather, hides?”

“No; but I will though. I—”

“I will show you.”

“You—show—me—squire—”

“Yes. I will take you to his house, where he hides alone; with, at
least, none but the boy.”

“You—you can, squire?”

“I can, and will, to give you revenge, Britton; and when you have
killed him—when you see his heart’s blood flowing—then—then, Britton,
come to me and ask for unbounded wealth.”

Britton sprang to his feet—

“I will tear his heart out,” he cried. “Kill him? I will torture him.”

“To call you a muddle-headed beast,” said Learmont; “a thick-skulled
sot! A brute! A savage! A drivelling drunkard!”

“Enough! Enough!” cried Britton; “he dies—had he a hundred lives I’d
take them all.”

“Now that’s brave,” cried Learmont; “that’s gallant, and like you,
Britton. He shall die.”

“Die! Of course he shall,” roared Britton. “When shall I seek him? Tell
me when?”

“To-night.”

“To-night? Shall it be to-night?”

“Ay, shall it. Meet me on the bridge at midnight, and I will take you
to the bedside of Jacob Gray; you shall have your revenge.”

“On the bridge, hard by?”

“Yes, Britton. At the hour of midnight. Do you not fail. I shall be
there.”

“Fail! I would be there, squire, if ten thousand devils held me back.”

“Away then, now. Drink nothing till that is accomplished. Speak to no
one—brood only over your revenge; and when it is done, come to me for
any sum you wish. It shall be yours. Jacob Gray now robs you of what
you ought to have, Britton.”

“I know it, curses on him! But he shall do so no longer.”

“He kept you poor for years at the smithy.”

“He did.”

“And now calls you a drivelling idiot.”

“Oh, he dies! He dies!”

“Away then now with you; be careful, sober, and trust no one.”

“At midnight, squire, on Westminster-bridge.”

“Yes; midnight.”

The smith shook his clenched hand as he left the room, muttering,—

“I shall have my revenge! I shall have my revenge!”

Fortune now, indeed, appeared to have favoured the Squire of Learmont,
beyond his most sanguine expectations. What was there to stay his
progress up the slippery steep of his ambition?

Who was there to say to him, “Thus far shalt thou go and no further?”
Did not every circumstance conspire to favour his greatest—his most
arrogant wishes? Nay, even the very fear and disquiet of the last ten
years of his life had unconsciously, as it were, conspired to place him
on the proud height he so much panted for, and fancied he should enjoy
so truly, for by such circumstances the revenues of the broad estates
of Learmont had accumulated to the vast sum which he now had in his
hands; a sum so large, that, in a country like England, where even
crime has its price, there was no refinement of luxury or vice that he
could not command.



CHAPTER XXIII.


The Projected Murder.—The Unconscious Sleeper.—A Night of Horror.



It wanted but one hour of midnight, and silence reigned about the
ruined and deserted street in which Jacob Gray resided. Heavy clouds
hung in the sky, and not a star peeped forth to look with shining
beauty on the darkened world. A misty vapour, betokening the breaking
of the frost, arose from the surface of the Thames, and occasionally a
gust of wind from the south-west brought with it a dashing shower of
mingled rain and sleet. A clammy dampness was upon every thing both
within doors and without; the fires and lights in the barges on the
river burnt through the damp vapour with a sickly glare. It was a night
of discomfort, such as frequently occur in the winter seasons of our
variable and inconstant climate. It was a night to enjoy the comforts
of warm fire-sides and smiling faces; a night on which domestic joys
and social happiness became still more dear and precious from contrast
with the chilling prospect of Nature in the open air.

In the room which has already been described to the reader as the one
in which Jacob Gray usually sat in his lone and ruinous habitation, he
now stood by the window listening to the various clocks of the city as
they struck the hour of eleven.

A bright fire was blazing on the hearth, but still Jacob Gray trembled
and his teeth chattered as he counted the solemn strokes of some
distant church bell, the sound of which came slowly, and with a muffled
tone, through the thick murky air.

In a few minutes all was still again. The sounds had ceased. Nothing
met the ear of Jacob Gray but the low moaning of the gathering wind as
it swept around his dilapidated dwelling. Then he turned from the
window and faced the fire-light, but even with its ruddy glow upon his
face, he looked ill and ghastly. His step was unsteady, he drew his
breath short and thick, and it was evident from the whole aspect and
demeanour of the man that his mind was under the influence of some
excitement of an extraordinary nature.

In vain he strove to warm the blood that crept rather than flowed in
healthy currents through his veins. He held his trembling hands close
to the fire. He strove to assume attitudes of careless ease. He even
tried to smile, but produced nothing but a cold and ghastly distortion
of the features of his face.

“Surely,” he muttered, “the—the night must be very cold. Yes, that is
it. It is a chilling night. Eleven—eleven o’clock. I—I—meant to do it
at eleven; at—at least before twelve. Yes, before twelve—there is time,
ample time. ’Tis very—very cold.”

With a shaking hand, he poured from a flask, that was upon the table, a
quantity of raw spirit, and quaffed it off at a single draught. How
strange it is that the mind can, under peculiar circumstances so
entirely conquer the body and subvert, as it were, the ordinary laws of
nature! Such, was the frightful state of excitement which Jacob Gray
had worked himself up to, that he might as well have swallowed an equal
quantity of water, for all the effect that the strong spirit had upon
him. Still he trembled, still his teeth chattered in his head, and his
very heart appeared to him to be cold and lifeless in his breast. He
heaped fuel upon the fire, he paced the room, he strove to think of
something else than the one subject that filled his brain, but all was
in vain. He had determined that night to murder the hapless girl whom
he had wronged so much, and he had passed a day and evening of
unspeakable agony in working up his mind to do the deed calmly and
surely.

Ten o’clock he had pitched upon as the hour, then half-past ten, then
eleven, and still he trembled with dismay, and could not for his life
command his nerves to do the dreadful deed.

He now flung himself into a chair by the fire-side, and covering his
face with his hands he rocked to and fro, in agonising thoughts. In a
low tone then he held unholy communion with himself.

“I—I must do it,” he said. “I must do it. I always thought it would
come to this. When she became of age to inquire I was sure to be
tortured by question upon question. What resource have I? I dare not do
her justice, and tell her who she is. No—no. She has been my safeguard
hitherto, she may now be my destruction; should she leave me she may
either fall into the hands of Learmont, in which case I lose my chief
hold upon him, or, what is worse, she tells her strange tale to some
one, who may hunt me to force an explanation of her birth. There is but
one resource; she—she must die. Yes, she must die. Learmont still
fancying ’tis a boy, must still be tortured by the idea that such an
enemy lives, and requires but a word from me to topple him from his
height of grandeur to a felon’s cell. Yes—yes. That must be the course.
There is no other—none—none. Then I will accumulate what sum of money I
can, and leave England for ever—for—for well I know the savage smith
thirsts for my blood, and—and—should he discover my place of
concealment, my death were easy, and the packet containing my
confession, which, while I live, is equally dangerous to me as to
Learmont and Britton, would fall into their hands.”

He rose and paced the room again for several minutes in silence; then
taking from the table a small-hand lamp, he lit it, and clutching it
with a nervous grasp in his left hand, he muttered,—

“Now—now. It is—time. Ada, you will not see another sun rise. You must
die. ’Tis self-preservation, which even divines tell us is the first
great law of nature, that forces me to do this act. I—I do not want to
kill thee. No—no; but I—I must—I must do it; I cannot help the deed.
Ada, you must die—die—die.”

He placed the lamp again upon the table, and approaching with a
stealthy step a cupboard in the room, he took from it a double-edged
poniard. With a trembling hand he placed the weapon conveniently within
his vest, and then casting around him a hurried and scared glance, as
if he expected to find some eyes fixed upon him, he walked to the door
of the room.

There he paused, and, divested himself of his shoes, after which, with
a slow, stealthy movement, he began ascending the stairs to the chamber
in which reposed, in innocence and peace, the unconscious Ada.

Suddenly he paused, and staggered against the wall, as a new thought
struck his mind.

“The hound! the hound!” he gasped. “I—I had forgotten the dog.”

Here seemed at once an insurmountable obstacle to the execution of his
murderous intention, and for several minutes Jacob Gray sat down on the
staircase in deep thought, while his face was distorted by contending
passions of hate—fear—and rage.

“Curses—curses on the dog!” he muttered, as he ground his teeth
together and clenched his hands in impotent malice. “To be foiled by a
half-starved hound! I, Jacob Gray, with my life hanging as it were by a
single thread, to be prevented from taking the secret means of
preserving myself by this hateful dog. Curses! Curses! I—I—yes—yes.
There is a chance—one chance, the poison that Learmont placed in my
hands for the purpose of drugging Britton’s wine cup! That—yes, that
may rid me of the dog! I will try. Let me recollect. The animal sleeps
by the door, sometimes on the mat on the outside, and sometimes within
the chamber. We shall see—we shall see—the poison! Ay, the poison!”

Cautiously he descended the few steps he had gained, and going to a
drawer in the table, which he had the key of, and which stood close to
the blazing fire, in the room he had so recently left, he took from it
the phial of poison which he, Learmont, had given to him. After a
moment’s thought, he repaired to the cupboard, and taking from it the
remains of some meat, upon which he had dined, he poured at least
one-half the contents of the small bottle of poison over it.

“This deadly liquid,” he said, “has a grateful smell. If I can induce
the hound to fasten on this meat, his death is certain and quick, for
Learmont is not a man to do this by halves. Poison from him I should
assume to be deadly indeed! Ay, deadly indeed!”

Jacob Gray’s hatred for the dog seemed to have got in some degree over
his extreme nervousness, and it was with a firmer step now than he
could command before, that he cautiously again ascended the narrow
staircase conducting to Ada’s chamber.

Still, however, in his heart, he quailed at the murder—the deliberate,
cold-blooded murder of that innocent and beautiful girl, and he
presented the ghastly appearance of a resuscitated corpse, rather than
a human being who had not passed the portals of the grave. The feeling
of honourable humanity was a stranger to the bosom of Jacob Gray. He
did not shrink from the murder of the poor and persecuted Ada, because
it was a murder—no, it was because he, Jacob Gray, had to do it,
unaided and un-cheered in the unholy deed, by aught save his own
shivering and alarmed imagination. Jacob Gray had no compunction for
the deed; his only terror arose from the fact that he could not shift
its consummation on to some one else’s shoulders.

He would gladly have held a light to guide the dagger of another
assassin, but he did shrink from the personal danger and the personal
consequences of doing it himself. He was one of those who would watch
the door while the murder was doing—hold a vessel to catch the
blood—anything but do the deed himself.

His little accession of strength and confidence now only arose from the
fact that owing to the intervention of the circumstance of the dog, the
murder was, as it were, put off for a little time; he must first
dispose of the dog, then the murder itself, with all its damning train
of fears and agonies, would take its former prominent place in his
mind, and again would Jacob Gray tremble to his very heart’s core.

Stealthily he moved his way up the staircase, his great object being to
ascertain if the dog was within or without the chamber of Ada.

His doubts were soon resolved, for suddenly a low growl from the
faithful animal smote his ears.

Jacob Gray gave a malignant smile, as he said in a low whisper, “The
dog is outside the door.”

The growl of the hound now deepened to a louder note, and just as that
again was shaping itself to a short angry bark, Jacob Gray threw up the
piece of poisoned meat on to the landing on the top of the staircase.

Folding his lamp then under the lappels of his coat, Jacob Gray sat
down on the staircase, with a feeling of gratification on his mind,
that, in all human probability he was at length revenged on the poor
animal, whose only crime had been too much affection and fidelity
towards the hand that fed and caressed him, and the voice that spoke to
him in kindly tones.

All was as still as the grave after the meat had been thrown, and after
several minutes of suspense, Jacob Gray began to feel anxious for some
indication of the success of his scheme. Cautiously, he then ascended a
step or two, and paused—no sound met his ears. A few steps more were
gained—then a few more and finally, by stretching out his arm with the
light, he could command a view of the landing-place, but he looked in
vain for the dog: the animal was nowhere to be seen. Jacob Gray now
stood fairly upon the landing, and peered carefully around him, with
the hope of seeing the body of his foe, but such was not the case.

The open door of the outer room which led to Ada’s smaller sleeping
chamber now caught his eyes, and at once afforded a clue to the retreat
of the dog.

With a soft footfall that could not have possibly disturbed the
lightest sleeper, Gray entered that room, and moving his hand slowly
round him, so as to illuminate by turns all parts of the apartment, he
saw, at length, the object of his search.

Close up to the door leading to Ada’s room was the hound quite dead.
The faithful creature had evidently made an effort to awaken, its
gentle and kind mistress, for its paws were clenched against the bottom
of the door, where there was a crevice left.

For a moment Jacob Gray glanced at the fixed eyes of the dog, then he
spurned it from the door with his foot, as he muttered,—

“Humph! So far successful and now for—for—”

“The murder,” he would have said, but in one moment, as if paralysed by
the touch of some enchanter’s wand, all his old fears returned upon
him, and now that there was no obstacle between him and the commission
of the awful deed he meditated, he leaned against the wall for support,
and the perspiration of fear rolled down his face in heavy drops, and
gave his countenance an awful appearance of horror and death-like
paleness.

“What—what,” he stammered, “what if she should scream? God of Heaven,
if she should scream!”

So terrified was he at the supposition that his victim might, in her
death-struggle, find breath to scream, that for a moment he gave up his
purpose, and retreated slowly backwards from the room.

Suddenly now the silence that reigned without was broken by the various
churches striking twelve.

Gray started as the sounds met his ear.

“Twelve! Twelve!” he exclaimed. “It—it—should have been done ere this.
To-morrow. The to-morrow that she looks for is come. I—I thought not
’twas so late. It must be done! It must be done!”



CHAPTER XXIV.


The Attempted Assassination.—A Surprise.—Ada’s Surmises.—The Agony of
Gray.



The last faint echo from the slowest clock had died away upon the
midnight air, when Jacob Gray started from his position of deep
attention, and placing his small lamp on one of the window sills, he
drew from his breast the knife with which he intended to take the life
of the hapless Ada.

“She—she surely sleeps sound,” he muttered through his clenched teeth,
“or all these clocks with their solemn and prolonged echoes must have
awakened her. Yes; I—I—hope she sleeps sound. I—would not have a
struggle—a struggle. Oh, no, no, not for worlds. I—can fancy her
clinging to the knife and screaming—shrieking even as—as—her—father
did—when he had his death wound. That would be horrible. Oh, most
horrible—and yet I must kill her. I must kill her. Did she not brave me
to my face? Did she not tell me that she suspected me and my motives,
and that no more would she keep herself immured for my sake? I—she—she
did, and more than this, far more, she taunted me with. Yes—I—I am
quite justified—she must die!”

The door which led into the inner chamber was in two compartments, and
when Gray gently pushed against them, they both opened slightly, and
the dim, sickly light of a lamp from the interior room, to his
surprise, gleamed through the crevice, meeting the kindred ray of the
one which Jacob Gray had placed so carefully out of the way of, as he
thought, the eyes of the sleeping girl.

He crept into the room, and stood motionless for many minutes,
regarding the sight that met his eyes. Seated by a small table, on
which was the lamp dimly burning and near its expiration, was Ada,
completely dressed, but fast asleep. Her face rested partially upon an
open book, which she had evidently been reading before retiring to
rest, when sleep must have come upon her unawares, and sealed her
eyelids in forgetfulness.

Her long hair fell in beautiful disorder upon the table, and the one
eyelash that was visible hung upon her fair cheek wet with tears. She
had been weeping, but whether from some vision that crossed her
slumbers, or from lonesome and unhappy thoughts previous to dropping
into that temporary oblivion of sorrow, could not be known.

Jacob Gray stood like one spell-bound by some horrible apparition, for
to the wicked can there be a more horrible apparition than youth,
beauty, and innocence?

“She—she sleeps,” he gasped; “but by some strange fatality has not
retired to bed. My—my task is now ten times more difficult. I—I know
not what to do.”

The knife trembled in his grasp, and he shook vehemently; then, as a
low murmuring sound escaped the lips of Ada, he sunk slowly down, first
crouchingly, then on his knees, and lastly he grovelled on the ground
at her feet in mortal agony, lest she should awaken and see him there,
with those starting eyes, those livid lips and that knife, which he
came to bury in her innocent and gentle heart.

Some fearful vision was passing over the imagination of the sleeping
girl. Fancy was busy in the narrow chambers of the brain, and pictured
to her some scene of sorrow or terror; deep sobs burst from the
breast—then she spoke, and her words thrilled through Jacob Gary like
liquid fire.

“Spare, oh, spare him!” she said; “he is my father—my own father. Spare
him; oh, spare—spare—”

She awoke not even in her agony of spirit, but wept bitterly; then the
tears decreased and sobs only were heard; the vision, like a
thunder-storm, was passing away, low moans succeeded, and finally all
was still again.

It was, however, many minutes before Jacob Gray again rose from his
crouching position of abject fear, but at length he did so, and with
the glittering knife in his hand, he stood within a pace of his
innocent victim.

Then arose in his mind the awful question of where should he strike?
And, like a vulture, he hovered for a time over his prey, with the
fatal steel uplifted, doubting where he should make the sudden swoop.

By an accidental parting of the silken curls that floated upon Ada’s
neck and shoulders, he saw a small portion of her breast; it was there
then he determined to strike. He glanced at the blade of the knife, and
he thought it long enough to reach even to her heart.

“Now—now!” he groaned through his clenched teeth. “Now!”

The steel was uplifted; nay, it was upon the point of descending, when
one heavy knock upon the outer door of the lone house echoed through
the dreary pile, and arrested the arm of the murderer, while the blood
rushed in terror like a gush of cold water to his heart.

There was then an awful silent pause, when again that solemn heavy
knock awakened the echoes of the empty house.

Slowly, inch by inch, as if his arm worked by some machinery, Jacob
Gray brought the knife by his side, and still bending over the
unconscious Ada, he listened for a repetition of that knock, as if each
melancholy blow was struck upon his own heart.

Again it came, and then again more rapidly, and Jacob Gray trembled so
violently that he was fain to lean upon the table at which Ada slept
for support.

That movement awakened Ada, and starting from her position of rest, she
suddenly, with a cry of surprise, confronted the man who had sought her
chamber with so fell and horrible a purpose. One glance at the knife
which Jacob Gray held in his hand, and then a searching look at his
face, told her all. She clasped her hands in terror as she exclaimed—

“You—you—come to kill me?”

“No—no,” stammered Gray, trying to smile, and producing his usual
painful distortion of features. “No—no—I did—not—no—no! Ada, I did not.”

“That knife?” said Ada, pointing to it as she spoke.

“The knife,” repeated Gray. “Hark, some one knocks, Ada, at our lonely
home.”

“Those looks of terror,” continued the young girl, “those blanched
cheeks, those trembling hands, all convince me that I have escaped
death at your hands.”

“No; I say no,” gasped Gray.

“And my hound too,” added Ada: “my fond, faithful dog, where is he,
uncle Gray?”

“Yes; the dog,” cried Gray, eagerly catching at the hope of persuading
her that it was solely to compass the destruction of the hound he had
thus stolen to her room. “I admit I did seek the dog’s life; you vexed
me about the animal.”

The knocking at the door sounded now more loudly than before, and the
knocker was evidently plied by an impatient hand.

“Hark, hark!” cried Gray. ”Ada, hear me; whoever knocks without can be
no friend of ours.”

“Indeed?” said Ada.

“’Tis true; I am the only friend you have in the wide world.”

“You mean, I suppose, since you have killed my poor dog,” said Ada,
pointing through the open doorway to the inanimate body of the animal.

“The dog is dead,” said Gray.

“Uncle,” replied Ada, mildly, but firmly; “now hear me. You have broken
the compact. Let those who knock so loudly for admission enter, I will
not avoid them. Were they ten times my enemies they could not be more
cruel than thou art.”

“Ada, you know not what you say,” cried Gray. “They cannot be friends,
and, they may be foes. ’Tis light enough for me to note them from a
lower window. Yes, I will see, I will see. Remain thou here, Ada. Stir
not—speak not.”

“I promise nothing,” said Ada. “You shall no longer prescribe rules of
conduct for me, uncle Gray. I tell you I will promise nothing.”

Gray made an impatient gesture with his hands, and quitted the room. He
repaired to a window on the ground floor, in one corner of which he had
made a clear spot for the express purpose of reconnoitering the
doorway, and applying his eye now close to this, he could by the dim
light trace the forms of two men upon his threshold. Too well were
those forms engraven on his memory. It needed not a second glance to
tell him that the savage smith, Britton, and Squire Learmont were his
unwelcome and most clamorous visitors.

Now, indeed, the measure of Jacob Gray’s agony appeared to be full. For
a moment he completely surrendered himself to despair; and had Learmont
then forced the door, he would scarcely have made an effort to escape
the sword of the man of blood.

“Ha! Ha!” he heard the smith say; “I like to knock thus, it alarms
poor, clever, cunning Jacob. It shatters his nerves. Oh, oh, oh!”

“Can you depend on the men you have placed at the back of the house to
intercept his escape that way?” said Learmont.

“Depend upon them?” replied Britton. “Of course. They ain’t paid, and
are quite sober, as you see; they are ready for any cut-throat
business. Let’s knock again. Oh, oh, how Jacob Gray must be shaking!”

The taunts of the smith seemed to act as a stimulant to the sickened
energies of Gray. He roused himself and muttered, as he shook his
clenched hand in the direction of the door—

“Indeed, Master Britton. Do not even yet make too sure of cunning Jacob
Gray. He may yet prove too cunning for the sot, Britton. You think you
have me so safely that you can afford to tantalize me by knocking, when
a small effort of your united strength would burst yon frail door from
its frailer hinges. We shall see—we shall see.”

He bounded up the staircase to the room in which he had left Ada. She
was standing by the body of the dog with the lamp in her hand.

“Ada! Ada!” cried Gray; “we are lost—lost. We shall be murdered, if you
will not be guided by me.”

Ada only pointed to the door.

Gray was thoroughly alarmed at her decisive manner, and another loud
knock at the door at that moment did not tend to pacify his nervous
tremors.

“There are those at the door who come purposely to seek your life!”

“Your life, most probably, Uncle Gray.”

“Ada! Ada!” cried Gray. “Each minute—nay, each moment is precious.
There is no escape, none—none!”

“You are alarmed, Uncle Gray,” said Ada.

The perspiration of fear—intense fear, was standing upon the brow of
Gray, as he felt that each fleeting moment might be his last. From
exultation at the thought of still deceiving Britton and Learmont, he
dropped to a state of the most trembling, abject terror.

“God of Heaven!” he cried; “you—you will not, cannot refuse to save me!”

“Our compact is broken,” said Ada. “I do not believe that I have so
much to fear from those who seek admittance here as from him who but a
few minutes since stood over me as I slept—”

“No—no!” shrieked Gray. “It was not I—”

“It was you,” said Ada.

“I did not mean to—to kill you.”

“The knife was in your hand, uncle; you had destroyed my faithful
guard; you trembled; your guilt shone forth with an unholy and hideous
lustre from your eyes. Uncle Gray, God can alone see into the hearts of
men, but, as I hope for heaven, and—and to meet there my dear father,
whom I never knew, I do suspect you much, Uncle Gray.”

“Mercy!—Have mercy on me, Ada.”

“Ask that of Heaven.”

“In your chamber, you have clothing befitting your sex; for such an
emergency as this I provided it. Go, oh, go at once, and you may escape
as a girl from those who come here to murder a boy.”

Ada glanced at the trembling man, who, with clasped hands and trembling
limbs, stood before her, and then with a firm voice she said,—

“No, no, I cannot.”

With a loud crash at this moment the street-door was burst from its
hinges.

Gray gave one frantic scream, and threw himself at the feet of Ada.

“Save—oh, save my life!” he cried. “Have mercy on me, Ada! You shall do
with me as you please; I will be your slave,—will watch for you when
you sleep,—tend upon you, discover your wishes ever by a look. But oh,
save me—save me. I cannot—dare not die!”

Ada shuddered at the wild frantic passion of Gray. She struggled to
free herself from his grasp, for he clung to her with a desperate
clutch.

“Mercy! Mercy!” he shrieked.

In vain she retreated backwards from him; he crawled after her on his
knees, shrieking “Mercy! Mercy!”

Now Ada had gained the door of her own room, and with loathing and
horror, she tried in vain to disengage herself from Gray.

“They come! Ah, they come!” suddenly cried Gray, springing to his feet.
“Now, Ada, hear the secret you pine to know!”

“The secret?” cried Ada.

“Yes, I am your father. These men will apprehend me for murder; but I
am your father.”

For an instant Ada passed her hands upon her eyes, as if to shut out
the hideous phantasma of a dreadful dream, and then, with a cry of
exquisite anguish, she rushed through the folding doors and closed them
immediately after her.

“That—that will succeed,” gasped Gray, wiping from his brow the cold
perspiration that hung there in bead-like drops. “The lie is effective;
she may not believe it, but now she has not time to think. She will
save me now!”

He rushed to the door of the room which led to the staircase, and in a
moment locked it. Then he stood with his arms folded, and an awful
demoniac smile played upon his pale and ghastly face, awaiting the
issue of the next few minutes, which comprised to him the fearful
question of life or death.



CHAPTER XXV.


The Escape.—Taunts.—The Confession.—Learmont’s Rage and Discomfiture.



But few moments remained to Jacob Gray for sad or exultant communion
with his own thoughts. A heavy blow from without dashed the door open,
and Learmont, with a drawn sword in his hand, closely followed by
Britton, carrying a lighted link, entered the room.

“Well met; Jacob Gray,” cried Learmont. “Your cunning is now at fault.
You are scarcely a match for Squire Learmont, who you thought you had
so safely in your toils.”

“Ho! Ho!” sneered Britton, holding the torch close to the pale,
agitated face of Gray. “So we have unearthed the fox at last.
Cunning—clever Master Jacob Gray—amazingly artful Master Gray.”

“You have triumphed but for a short time,” added Learmont. “Your own
cunning has been your destruction, Jacob Gray, your life is not now
worth five minutes’ purchase.”

“Taunt on,” said Gray, “I know not what you mean or what you want.”

“Well you know,” cried Learmont, angrily, “you had a double hold upon
my fears, Jacob Gray, but that double hold depended upon a slender
foundation. So long as you could keep your hiding-place secret you were
safe, but no longer.”

“I—I still do not understand you,” said Gray, who was anxious to give
Ada some time to complete the change he did not doubt she was making in
her apparel.

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Learmont. “It were a thousand pities you should die
in ignorance of what had been the result of your extreme cleverness,
Jacob Gray. Suppose me, as I shall be now, possessed of the boy, and
the confession, which of course, must be somewhere handy, else it is
objectless.”

“Well—well,” said Gray, trembling, “suppose all that.”

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” chuckled the smith. “Upon my soul that’s good, cunning
Jacob—clever, artful, deep-designing Jacob. Why, supposing all that we
mean to cut your throat.”

“We waste time,” cried Learmont. “Where is the boy?”

“Ay, the boy, the cherub, the boy!” cried Britton.

“He is not here,” said Gray, with as much boldness as he could assume.

Learmont gave a smile of contempt as he said,—

“Indeed, he is not here, and yet Jacob Gray is here. That is very
probable. Now I tell you he is here, and what is more, he cannot
escape. The back of the house is guarded by persons who have orders to
cut down whoever attempts to leave it that way. Britton and I came in
at the front. We have well searched the lower rooms, so you see we have
taken our measures almost as cleverly as Jacob Gray took his when he
came to Learmont to whisper in his ear that the boy still lived!”

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” roared the smith, patting Gray on the back. “How feel
you, Master Jacob? Does your blood dance merrily through your veins, or
have you still some stroke of cunning un-played off that shall put us
yet to shame? By hell, if you have, Jacob Gray, I’ll—I’ll give you my
head!”

“Agreed,” said Gray.

“Give me the light,” cried Learmont.

He snatched the link from the hand of Britton, and made two strides
towards the inner room.

Gray with difficulty suppressed a scream of alarm, but before Learmont
could lay hand on the lock, Ada flung the door open, and walked
composedly forth.

She was attired in a plain, but neat girl’s dress. A small hooded cloak
was clasped round her neck; and now that she was attired in the proper
costume of her sex, she looked several years older, and the change in
her general appearance was so great that even Jacob Gray would scarcely
have recognised her.

She showed no nervousness, no haste, no sign of trepidation as she
stepped from the room, and her voice was soft, and musical, and quite
calm as she paused and said,—

“Good evening, Mr. Gray. I have put all Harry’s things in order.”

Then curtseying to Learmont, who stood almost directly in her way, she
passed across the outer room, and disappeared through the broken
doorway.

For several minutes not a word was spoken by either of the three men
there assembled. Oh, what precious minutes they were to Jacob Gray!

Learmont then, without a word, entered the inner room. In a few moments
he returned with his face distorted by passion, and placing his sword’s
point against the throat of Gray, he said,—

“Where is the boy?”

“Not here—on my soul not here!” cried Gray, trembling with fear that
Learmont’s passion might get the better of his prudence, and that by
one thrust of his weapon he might shed his life blood.

“Where is he?”

“Where is he?” echoed Gray, to whom each moment gained for Ada
thoroughly to escape, was equal to a drop of blood to his heart.

“Answer me!” shrieked Learmont.

“I repeat the boy is not here.”

“One moment more I give you,” added Learmont, “to declare to me where
the boy is, or you die, as sure as—as that I hate you from my soul!”

“Pause yet a moment, Squire Learmont,” sneered Gray. “If my life has
hitherto been valuable, and my safety precious to you, they are doubly
so now.”

“No, Jacob Gray,” cried Learmont, “that tale will do no more. We have
hunted you down. It is not probable that the cautious Jacob Gray has
trusted the boy we seek with the secret of his birth.”

“You are right,” said Gray, “I have not.”

“And you are candid,” sneered Learmont.

“Ho! Ho!” laughed Britton. “Poor Jacob Gray has forgotten even to lie—”

“Exactly,” snarled Gray, “because the truth will do as well. That is a
piece of philosophy which the muddled brains of savage Britton would
never have conceived.”

Britton made a furious rush at Gray, but the latter stepped behind
Learmont, saying,—“It is still the interest of Squire Learmont to
protect Jacob Gray.”

“Hold, Britton,” cried Learmont. “Stay your arm yet a moment. We—we
will hear him.”

“You need not be alarmed, squire,” said Gray. “Our relative positions
are still the same.”

“How mean you? Your retreat is discovered.”

“True, but—”

“And the confession which has hitherto ensured your safety, must be
here, and easily found, else it were valueless, and would defeat its
object.”

“Indeed!” said Gray. “Now, hear me. The boy is not here! The confession
is in his hands.”

Learmont trembled as he slowly dropped the point of his sword, and
fixed his eyes upon Jacob Gray’s countenance, as if he would read his
very soul.

“Go on, go on,” he said.

“I repeat, the boy has the confession. He knows not what it is. It is
sealed.”

“Well. Go—go—on.”

“But he has express instructions, which, be assured, he will fulfil to
the letter; that if he and I do not meet at an appointed spot, by an
appointed hour, he is to hasten to Sir Francis Hartleton, and deliver
the packet. You understand my position, Squire Learmont? And even your
dull-pated Britton may now see the expediency of being careful of your
dear friend, Jacob Gray. Fancy any delay being thrown in my way now,
which should prevent me from meeting the boy. How disagreeable it would
be to me to see hung, kind Britton, while I had my free pardon in my
pocket for being evidence against you. Do you understand?”

There was a most remarkable difference in the expression of the smith’s
countenance and that of Learmont’s, while Gray was speaking. The former
became nearly purple with suppressed rage, while the squire turned of
an ashy, ghastly paleness, and seemed scarcely equal to the exertion of
standing erect.

“Gray—Jacob Gray,” he gasped. “You do not—you cannot mean that—that—”

“That what, squire?” said Gray. “Why do you hesitate? I will answer any
question; candidly.”

“Have you,” continued Learmont, “indeed set all our lives in such a
chance as your meeting a boy at an appointed hour in this great city?”

“I have,” answered Gray; “or rather I should say you have.”

“Yes, Squire Learmont, you thirst for my blood! You would hunt me to
death could you do so with safety to yourself! Beware! I say, and give
up the chance!“

Learmont attempted to sheath his sword, but his hand trembled so
excessively, that it was several moments before he could accomplish it.
When, however, he had succeeded, he turned to Gray, and said,—

“At what hour—are—you to meet the boy?”

Gray smiled, as he said,—

“Perhaps your next question, sir, may be where I am to meet him?”

“I—I merely asked the hour.”

“Whatever the appointed hour may be,” said Gray, “be assured I shall
not meet him, let the consequences be what they may, until I am assured
that you and this angry smith are not dogging my footsteps.”

“Let—us—go, Britton,” said Learmont.

“Jacob Gray,” said Britton, striding up to him, and grinding his words
through his set teeth, “there will come a time for vengeance.”

“Exactly,” said Gray, calmly.

“An hour will come when I shall have the pleasure, and I would pay
dearly for it, of cutting your throat.”

“You shall pay dearly for it when you do,” said Gray; “and, in the
meantime cunning, clever, extremely artful Master Britton, I bid you
good morning.”

“Wretch!” cried Britton.

“Oh very cunning Britton,” sneered Gray; “amazingly clever, artful,
deep Master Britton—Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Now, if I dared!” cried Britton, half drawing a knife from his breast.

“But you dare not,” cried Gray.

“You are too cunning, far too cunning, clever Britton—Ha! Ha!”

“Away! Away!” said Learmont. “Come, Britton, we waste time.”

“Ay, and precious time, too,” added Gray, “only Master Britton is so
very—so extremely cunning and clever.”

“Come, come,” cried Learmont, seizing Britton by the arm.

“Nay, do not hurry away,” sneered Gray. “Shall I offer you
refreshments? ’Tis some distance to Westminster. Will you go by water,
cunning Britton?”

Britton’s passion was too great for utterance, and he walked to the
door, which he kicked open with a violence that split it from top to
bottom.

“You will like to hear, Squire Learmont,” said Gray, “that all is
right. I will do myself the honour of paying you a visit to-morrow.”

Learmont turned at the door, and cast a glance at Gray, that even he
quailed under, and then, followed Britton down the staircase.



CHAPTER XXVI.


The Morning.—The Body of the Murdered Man.—The Old Inn.—Jacob’s
Reflections.



When Learmont and the smith had left the house, and Jacob Gray felt
that his great and inevitable danger was over, he sunk into a chair,
and a fit of trembling came over him that he was many minutes in
recovering from.

“They are foiled this once,” he muttered; “but they may not be
again—’twas a rare chance, a most rare chance, I—I must leave her now.
I am hunted—hunted like a wild animal, from den to den. Oh! How they
would have rejoiced in my destruction. This is a sad life to
lead—and—and if, before they came, I had taken her life, I should even
now be lying a stiffened corpse on these boards—yet, what can I do? She
is my torment; she will be my destruction!”

He then rose, and paced the room for some time with hasty and unequal
steps. Suddenly pausing, he trembled again with the same awful
intensity that he had done before, and in a hoarse, husky whisper,
said,—

“What if she come not back? She suspects me. It is time she were here
again. Oh! If she should seek protection elsewhere! More danger!—More
danger!—Into what a tangled web of horrors am I placed! Can I fly? What
money have I? A large sum, but yet not enough. Oh! If Learmont would
give me at once a sum of money which would suffice me in a foreign
land, and trust my word to go, and if I could trust him to let me live
to go. Ah! There it is!—There it is! We cannot trust each other—not for
a moment—no, not for a moment.”

Jacob Gray muttered these gloomy meditations in a low, anxious tone,
and almost at every word he paused to endeavour to detect some token of
the return of Ada. None, however, met his ears, and, after two hours of
mental agony of mind had thus passed over the head of Jacob Gray, he
crept down the staircase, and stood at the door looking anxiously about
him by the dim morning light that was beginning, with its cold grey
tints, to struggle through the darkness of the sky.

“She does not come,” he muttered—“she does not come. What shall I
do—whither seek her? Yet—I—I must endeavour to find her.”

He now turned his attention to the broken lock of the door, and after
some time, succeeded in closing it after him tolerably securely, then
searching in the road till he found a piece of chalk, he wrote on the
door,—



“Wait—J.G.”



“Should she return during my absence,” he thought, “she will recognise
my writing and initials to wait my return. She is most probably near at
hand, waiting for me to search for her.”

Casting again a cautious, scrutinising glance around him, Jacob Gray
walked slowly down the ruined street, peering into each doorway as he
went, with the hope of seeing Ada.

His search was unsuccessful. He could see no trace of Ada; and a
thousand feelings of alarm and suspicion began to crowd upon his mind.
He paused irresolutely at the end of the street, uncertain which way he
should shape his course. At last, with a sudden resolution, he walked
in the direction of Westminster Bridge.

As he neared Lambeth, he observed that the watermen, who plied at the
different stairs by the side of the river, seemed particularly
engrossed by some subject of importance, for they were congregated
together in knots of two, three, and four, discoursing earnestly and
vehemently.

He approached one, and touching his arm, said,—

“What is the matter, friend?”

“Murder’s the matter,” replied the man.

“Murder!”

“Ay, murder. There has been a murder done in the Bishop’s Walk.”

“In the Bishop’s Walk?”

“Yes; the body was found cold and stiff—the body of a waterman; but we
will have justice.”

“What was his name?” said Gray.

“Sheldon. He plied at the bridge stairs opposite.”

“I thank you, friend,” said Gray, as he walked on muttering to himself,—

“Now, I’d lay my life this murder is Britton’s doing. Oh, if I could
fix him with it—and yet there might be danger. At the gallows he might
denounce me—yes, he would. It must have been by means of this man
somehow that my retreat was so quickly discovered—yet how, I cannot
divine.”

He now observed a small public-house, at the door of which was a throng
of persons, and pressing forward, he soon learned that there the body
of the murdered man lay.

Impelled by a curiosity that he could not resist, Gray entered the
house, and calling for some liquor, commenced a conversation with the
landlord, which somewhat altered his opinion concerning the murderer.

“I saw Sheldon,” said the host, “and intend to swear to it solemnly,
pass my house at an unusual hour in company with a stranger. I was
looking out to see the state of the night when I saw them pass on
towards the Bishop’s Walk.”

“What kind of man was he with?” said Gray.

“A tall man.”

“Thin and dark?”

“Nay, as for his complexion I can say nothing, for in the dark, you
know, all cats are grey.”

“True; but you could swear to the man being tall and thin, Master
Landlord?”

“In faith I could, and your tall, thin men are just what I dislike—bah!
They seldom drink much.”

“Most true—I thank you. ’Tis a barbarous murder.”

“Would you like, sir, to see the corpse?” said the landlord, in an
under tone.

“The corpse?” echoed Gray.

“Ay; he was a fine fellow. You must know that Sir Francis Hartleton has
been here—”

“The magistrate?”

“Yes. He is here, and there, and everywhere; and no sooner did he hear
of the body of a murdered man being found in the Bishop’s Walk, than he
had a cast across the Thames from his own house in Abingdon-street.”

“Yes—yes,” said Gray, abstractedly.

“He had the body brought here,” continued the loquacious landlord, “and
he says to me,—‘Landlord, allow no one to see or touch the corpse or
it’s clothing until you hear from me.’—‘No, your worship,’ says I, and
I’ve kept my word for excepting neighbour Taplin, the corn-factor, Mrs.
Dibbs, next door, Antony Freeman, the hosier, John Ferret, the bishop’s
steward, Matthew Briggs, who keeps the small wareshop at the corner,
Matthew Holland, the saddler, Dame Tippetto, the old midwife, and just
a few more friends, no one has crossed the threshold of the room the
corpse lies in. That I could take my solemn oath of, sir, I assure you.”

“No doubt—no doubt,” said Gray, “I—I will, if it so please you, see the
body.”

“Come along, then,” said the landlord, placing his finger by the side
of his nose, and keeping up a succession of winks all the way up the
staircase, till he came to the room door in which the body of the
murdered waterman was lying.

Jacob Gray entered after the landlord, and closed the door behind him.

“Now, sir, you will see him,” said the host. “Just let me move a
shutter, and you will have a little more light. There, sir—there he
lies. Ah, he was fond of his glass—that he was—a fine fellow.”

A stream of light came from the partially unclosed shutter, and Gray
saw the corpse of the man whom he had tempted to commit a murder upon
Britton himself, lying cold and stark in the bloody embrace of death.

The body lay upon a table, and the warmth of the house had caused the
wound to bleed slightly again. The face was ghastly and pale, and the
wide open staring eyes gave an awful appearance to the fixed rigid
countenance.

“See there, now,” cried the landlord. “You may note where he has been
run through the breast; don’t you see the rent?”

“I do,” said Gray.

“There are two such wounds.”

“Don’t it strike you,” remarked Gray, “that these are sword wounds?”

“Of course it does.”

“Then who but a gentleman accredited to wear a weapon could have killed
the man?”

“That’s true. I’ll solemn swear to that,” cried the landlord.

“The tall, thin, dark man,” added Gray, “must be some gentleman,
residing probably hereabout, or directly across the bridge.”

“No doubt; I’ll swear.”

“Most properly,” added Gray. “Good day to you, sir. I may perchance
look in again.”

“Come to the inquest, sir,” said the landlord. “There you shall have it
all out, I’ll warrant. There you shall hear me solemnly swear
everything.“

“Perchance, I may,” said Gray, as he descended the staircase. “Will it
be to-day?”

“To-morrow, at noon; as I understand, sir.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”

Gray left the house, and when he was some paces from the door, he
muttered.—

“So, Master Learmont, I have another hold upon your kind generosity.
That by some strange chance, which I cannot conjecture, this waterman
found out my place of abode, and thus communicated it to you, Squire
Learmont. I am convinced. Humph! He has got his wages. I could accuse
you of a crime, good, kind, considerate Learmont, that would not in the
least compromise my own safety. We shall see—we shall see. I—I must now
make my way homewards again. Surely by this time Ada has returned. She
must be waiting. Home! Home! And then, to think of another place in
which to hide my head from my worst foe, and yet my only source of
wealth.”



CHAPTER XXVII.


Ada’s Flight and Despair.—Old Westminster Bridge at Daybreak.—The
Smith.—Mad Maud.



When Ada, the beautiful and persecuted child of the dead, passed from
the room in the garments befitting her sex, she thought her heart must
burst with the suppressed feelings which were conjured up in its inmost
recesses. One awful question occurred to her to be traced in letters of
liquid fire upon her brain, and that was: “Is it true that Jacob Gray
is my father?” His assertion of the fact had come upon her so entirely
unawares that, as Gray had himself exultingly supposed, she had not
time to think—but the doubt—the merest suspicion that it might true,
was madness. Ada did not—she could not, even at the moment that Gray
declared himself her father, believe his words; but still the doubt was
raised, and although all reason—all probability—all experience gave the
lie to the assertion, there was still the awful intrusive thought that
it might be so.

Upon the impulse of that small possibility, that in that moment of
despair and agony of soul Jacob Gray had spoken truly, Ada acted. She
could not run the dreadful risk of sacrificing even a brutal and
criminal father, and with a speed that in her state of mind was
marvellous, she altered herself, in her girl’s clothing, and, as we
have seen, for the time, saved Jacob Gray from death.

As she descended the narrow, dilapidated staircase, she pressed her
hands convulsively upon her heart to still its tumultuous beatings. Her
position in life appeared to her to be all at once strangely altered.
If—and oh! That horrid if,—if conveying as it did a possibility of the
fact—if Jacob Gray was really her father!—What was she now to do?—How
think of him?—How address him? Could she ever bestow upon him the
smallest fraction of that dear love which flows in so easy and natural
a current from a child to its parent? Could she call him father?—No,
she felt that she could not. She examined her feelings to endeavour to
detect some yearnings of natural love and duty—some of that undefined,
mysterious instinct she had read of as enabling the parent to single
out the child—the child the parent, from the great mass of humanity;
but the search—the self-examination was in vain. Jacob Gray was to her
but the cruel, vindictive tyrant, rioting in oppression and brutality
when un-resisted, and shrinking from her like a beaten hound when she
dared to confront him, and question his acts.

“God of Heaven!” she said, when she had reached the street; “there
should be some similarity of thought, some community of feeling between
a father and his child. Do I and Jacob Gray think alike in anything?
Have we one feeling in common?—No,—not one.”

As the probabilities of his not being her father crowded upon her mind,
now that the intense excitement of the minute was over, Ada became more
happy and composed, and she slackened her pace, seeing that she had
already placed a considerable distance between herself and the house
which had been to her a prison for so long a period.

“I will not, cannot believe it,” she said to herself; “that man is no
father of mine. ’Twas a trick—a master-stroke in the extremity of his
fortunes to bend me to his wishes, for some reasons which I know not,
and cannot even hazard the wildest guess of. My father? Jacob Gray, my
father? Oh, no, no, no! Rather never let me look upon a father’s face,
than feel assured of such a horror as that! It cannot—cannot be. Oh,
what would I not give to be assured of the lie! Had I worlds of riches
in my grasp, I would unloose my hold and let them fly from me to be
assured, past all doubt—past all hesitation, that Jacob Gray was to me
neither father nor uncle.”

The dank fog that hung upon the Thames was now slowly clearing from
before the face of heaven, and by the time Ada had reached Westminster
Bridge, she could see through several breaks in the sky, glimpses of
the starry host looking down upon the rapidly departing night.

The excitement the young girl had gone through had hitherto supported
her against the intense coldness of the raw air, but now she trembled
in every limb, and as she stood upon the silent bridge, trying to
pierce with her dark, lustrous eyes, the heavy fog, and to catch a
glimpse of the rushing stream below, she felt the cold to her very
heart, and all the miseries of her homeless, friendless situation,
rushing at once like a full tide upon her mind, she shrank into one of
the little alcoves of the bridge, and sinking upon the rude wooden
seat, she burst into tears, and sobbed aloud in the deep anguish of her
heart.

Suddenly then she started to her feet, as she heard a heavy footstep
approaching. Her first impulse was to leave her place of refuge, and
walk quickly onwards, but a second thought caused her to shrink back,
with the hope that the stranger would pass on, and she should escape
his observation.

Nearer and nearer she heard the heavy measured tread approaching, and
an undefinable sensation of fear crept over her as the sounds echoed
from one side of the old bridge to the other.

Now and then the person, whoever it was, would pause in his walk, and
indistinct mutterings, as if he were communing with himself, reached
the ears of Ada.

As he came near she could detect the words he used, and her ears were
shocked by oaths of the most awful character, coupled with invectives
and horrible imprecations against some one. Involuntarily Ada shrank
still closer within the alcove, and now the stranger paused nearly
opposite to where she was concealed, and she could hear his words
distinctly.

“Curses on him,” he muttered; “I swear, I, Andrew Britton, swear by all
the furies of hell that I will have that man’s blood! He shall bitterly
rue his taunts, most bitterly. By Heaven, I would like to tear his
heart out. I—I could set his blood flowing like a torrent. I could
exult in any agony inflicted upon him. Cunning Britton am I? Taunt
on—taunt on; every dog will have his day.”

There was now a dead silence for some moments, and Ada strove to
recollect where and when she had heard that voice before.

“Can this be one of those from whose visits my—my—no, no, not my
father—my uncle shrank from in so much terror? It surely is—or else I
have heard his voice in some dream. Ha! He comes—he comes!”

Britton, for it was he, advanced a pace or two and leaned upon the
parapet of the bridge, still muttering deep and awful curses. He was so
close to Ada that she could have touched him with her small white hand,
had she chosen, but she stilled the very beating of her heart as much
as possible, in instinctive terror of that man.

“It’s all to do over again now,” he said: “all over again—with the
additional difficulty that he is upon his guard. Oh, could I but light
on that boy; I—I’d wring his neck—and then—then Jacob Gray, I would
invent some method of burning you to death painfully; some method that
would take long in doing this—I should see you writhe in your agony. By
the fiends there’s comfort in the thought. Oh, that I had him here—here
clinging to the parapet of this bridge while I—I, Andrew Britton, was
slowly—yes, very slowly, sawing his fingers till he loosed his hold and
fell. Then he would strike against yon projection. Ha! Ha! That would
be one pang—I should hear him shriek—what music! Then down—down he
would go into the water, mingling his blood with it! I should see him
rise again, and his heart would break in another shriek. Ha! Ha! Ha!—I
am better with the very thought. He—a step—I will to the Chequers, and
drown care in a flagon!”

A strange wild voice was now heard singing in a kind of rude chaunt.
The tones were feeble and broken, but Ada, with a feeling of pleasure,
recognised in them those of a woman. Her attention, however, was in a
moment again turned to Britton, who all at once exclaimed, “What voice
is that? I—I know that voice, although I have not heard it for some
time now.”

The voice became more distinct as the singer approached, and there was
a wild earnestness in the manner in which the following words were
spoken, which touched Ada to the heart:—



“The winter’s wind is cold,

But colder is my heart,

I pray for death full oft,

Yet may not now depart,

I have a work to do,

The gentle child to save,

Alas! That its poor father

Should want a shroud and grave.”



“Now I know her—now I know her!” cried Britton. “Damnation, it’s—it’s
Mad Maud! Shall I fly from her—or—or kill her?”

Before he could decide upon a course of action, the poor creature was
close to him. She laid her hand upon his arm—

“Found—found,” she shrieked. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Found at last. Andrew Britton
I have travelled many miles to find thee out.”

“Away, cursed hag!” cried Britton,

“I have sought you,” continued the poor woman, “oh, how I have sought
you and Learmont too. You see I am mad, and so I know more than
ordinary people. The day is coming—the day of vengeance, and I have
come to London to see it. I have asked often—often for you, Andrew
Britton, and now you are found.”

“Devil!” cried Britton, “why do you haunt me?”

“Haunt you! Yes, that is the word, I do haunt you! I will haunt you to
the last.”

“Indeed! Perhaps you may meet with some accident.”

“No, no; I will tell you who I asked for you. You will not be
surprised.”

“Who?—Who dared you ask for me?”

“There was a man hung last Monday—”

“Well, w—what is that to me? If there were fifty men hung? What is it
to me, I say?”

“Nothing—oh, nothing, Andrew Britton; but I asked if he knew your
hiding-place.”

“Why ask him?”

“Because the good and just cannot know you; you belong not to them; I
asked the man who stood beneath the gibbet if he had been tempted to
crime by Andrew Britton, the savage smith of Learmont; I asked the
hangman if he knew you, and when he said he did not, I described you to
him, that he might recognise you, when his cold clammy hands, are about
your neck!”

“Prating idiot!” said Britton, “if you tempt me to the deed, I’ll cast
you over the bridge!”

“You dare not, Andrew Britton! You dare not,” cried Maud. “Savage as
you are, you dare not do that! Strange, too, as you boast yourself, you
could not!”

“Indeed!“ answered Britton. “Now, by Heaven—”

“Hold—hold! Whatever you do, swear not by Heaven;—that Heaven you will
never see! What have you to do with Heaven, that you should record your
blustering oaths in its pure annals? Swear not by Heaven, Andrew
Britton, or you may provoke a vengeance that may be terrible even to
you.”

“Tell me,” said Britton, in an evidently assumed tone of mildness,
“what brought you to London?”

“A holier errand, Britton, than that which has brought you, God knows I
came to save, but you came to destroy.”

“Save who?”

“The child! The child!”

“You speak in riddles, Maud. What child?”

“I am mad!” replied the woman. “I know I am mad, but I have not
forgotten—no, no. I cannot tell how long ago it is, but I saw the child
of the dead brought forth by the bleeding man!”

“You rave,” cried Britton.

“No—no; I had no clue to that young child. To wander in search of it
was hopeless till—till I found that you, Andrew Britton, were on the
move. So long as the sound of your hammer rose on the night air at
Learmont, I stayed there,—I hovered round your dwelling.”

“You played the spy upon me?” cried Britton.

“I did—I did; and wherefore should I not? I have followed you to this
city. You came to seek the child; so have I. But you came quickly, with
gold to urge you on your way; I have been many weeks begging from door
to door. I asked two things wherever I went; one was a morsel of broken
bread, and the other was to place my face towards London; now I am
here,—here, Britton, I came to save the child.”

“Wretch!” cried Britton; “if your madness may be feigned for all I
know. Swear to me that you will at once, return to Learmont.”

“Return?”

“Ay; you shall not dog my steps. I know not what you mean. You rave,
woman—you rave.”

“Do I rave? Well, well, perhaps ’tis true. But I saw the child.”

“Tell me one thing, Maud. Do you know who that child is?”

There was a pause of a moment and Ada’s heart beat with tumultuous
emotion, as she thought that now she might hear by this strange
accidental meeting the secret of her birth.

“Yes,” said Maud; “yes—I know.”

“You are sure,” said Britton.

“I know, I know,” repeated Maud.

“Then, if there is a heaven above us, or a hell beneath us,” cried
Britton, “you shall not leave this bridge alive.”

“Hush—hush!” cried Mad Maud, “I have dreamt it often, and believe it.
You are to die before I do; it is so arranged, Andrew Britton.”

Ada looked out with trembling apprehension from her place of
concealment, and she saw, by the rapidly increasing light of the coming
day, the savage smith casting rapid glances around, as if to assure
himself that no one was within sight of the deed of blood he was about
to commit. For a moment an awful apathy crept over the heart of Ada,
and she felt as if she were condemned to crouch in that little alcove
without power of voice or action, and see the murder committed.

Mad Maud did not appear to have comprehended the last muttered threat
of Britton, for she stood with her arms folded across her breast,
murmuring in a low tone to herself, and apparently unheedful even of
the presence of her enemy. Ada then saw the smith fumble awhile in his
breast, and then he drew forth a knife. She saw it glitter in the faint
light.

“Yes, yes,” said Maud, in a low tone, “I recollect all, or nearly all.
How difficult it is to separate the dreams from the reality. The spirit
of the dead man still haunts the place! Yes; that is real! He cries for
his child!—His little child!—And there is a garb on his breast! Let me
think. How has he lived so long after his murder? Oh, yes—I know now:
it is by drinking the blood continually from his own wounds! Ay, that
would preserve him!”

Britton made a step towards her.

“The child!” she cried suddenly.

“You shall torment me no longer,” he cried.

“Ha!” shrieked Maud, as she saw the knife uplifted, “you dare
not—cannot do it!”

She shrank back, but Britton followed close upon her, Ada again saw the
knife uplifted, and by a violent effort, like a person recovering from
a nightmare, she screamed.

The sound seemed to Britton so great a surprise, that he staggered, and
dropped the knife from his trembling hand.

Her own voice appeared to have broken the spell of horror that bound up
the faculties of Ada, and now, by an impulse which lent her strength
and courage, she rushed from the place of concealment, and, snatching
the knife from the ground, she fled quickly along the bridge, crying,
“Help!—Help!”

She had not proceeded many paces when she was caught in the arms of
some one who cried,—

“Hilloa!—hilloa! What now, little one?”

“Help!—Murder on the bridge!” cried Ada. “Oh!—Haste!—Haste!—Save the
woman!”

It was the watchman going his rounds, and he hurried onwards, as fast
as his chilled limbs would permit him, towards the spot indicated by
Ada, who closely followed him.

“He has killed her!” exclaimed Ada, as she saw Maud lying apparently
lifeless on the stones.

“Murder done!” cried the watchman.

Ada cast an anxious glance around her, and she thought that at the
further extremity of the bridge she caught sight of the flying figure
of the man who she believed had done the deed.

“There!” she said, pointing in the direction—“Pursue him!—There flies
the murderer!”

The watchman immediately threw down the lantern, and with a great
clattering of his iron-shod shoes, rushed across the bridge.

“Alas!—Alas!” cried Ada, clasping her hands. “What can all this mean?
Who is this poor mad creature?—And who that fearful man? The mystery in
which my birth, name, and fate is involved, grows more and more
inexplicable. Was it of me she talked so strangely and so wildly? Oh!
If she could but breathe to me one word, to assure me that Jacob Gray
was not my father, how richly would the terrors of this fearful night
be repaid!”

Ada knelt by the body of Maud as she spoke, and placed her hand over
her heart, to endeavour to trace some sign of vitality.

“She lives—she lives!” suddenly cried Ada, as she felt the regular
beating of the organ of life. “Perchance the villain has only struck
her. He may not, after casting away his knife, have had the means of
harming her very seriously.”

A deep groan now came from the lips of the insensible woman.

“Speak—oh, speak!” cried Ada.

Maud opened her eyes. They glared with the wild fire of insanity on Ada.

“Do you know me?” said the girl.

“Know you?—Know you? Are you an angel or a devil?”

“Alas!” cried Ada. “There is no hope.”

Maud passed her hand across her eyes for several moments as if trying
to clear the mist that beset her memory and mental faculties. Then she
said,—

“Where is he?”

“The man you were talking with?”

“Yes, Britton, the savage smith of Learmont.”

“He has fled.”

“Yes—yes—fled. He was pursued by the dead man asking for his child.”

“What child?” said Ada, in a voice trembling with anxiety.

“I saw its little arms cling round its father’s murderer. I heard him
shriek—I heard him say the hell of conscience had began its awful work
within his guilty breast.”

“The child—the child,” cried Ada,—“what was its name? Oh, tell me, if
you can, its name?”

“Its name,” repeated Maud. “It was the child of the dead. It—it
reminded me of my own. Listen! When I was young—for I was young
once—and my hair hung in long silken rights from my brow, when my eyes
danced in the pure light of heaven, and my heart mounted with joy,
singing like the lark that carries its sweet notes even to the gates of
heaven. Long—long ago I clasped to my breast such a dear child as that.
So you see it reminded me of my own dear infant.”

“And you knew not its name?” said Ada.

“Its name!—No, I cannot tell you its name! but I will tell you a dream.”

“Answer me one question,” said Ada. “The child, I heard you say, you
came to London to save. Was its name Gray?”

“Gray—Gray. Who is Gray?”

“There is hope even,” sighed Ada, “in the want of confirmation of a
terrible doubt. If I am the child she raves so strangely of, she knows
me not by that most hateful name.”

“Will you hear my dream?” said Maud, endeavouring to rise from the cold
stones.

Ada saw that blood was trickling from her head, but whether she had
struck it in falling, or the man who had attempted her destruction had
inflicted the wound, was doubtful. Ada, however, assisted her to her
feet, and as she did so she heard the tread of the watchman as he
returned slowly from his pursuit.

“He’s off,” cried the man. “Hilloa!—Ain’t the woman dead?”

“Dead!” shrieked Maud, suddenly confronting the watchman, “is Andrew
Britton dead?”

“Who?”

“Andrew Britton, the savage smith; because he is to die before me. Ha!
Ha! Yes, Andrew Britton will die before I do.”

With wild laughter she flew rather than ran across the bridge in the
direction of Lambeth, and her voice echoed in the still morning air, as
she shrieked,—

“Andrew Britton—Andrew Britton—I am not dead!—Not dead yet!”

The watchman stared after her in amazement, and Ada took the
opportunity, while he was thus fully engaged, of walking quickly
onwards until she had cleared the bridge and the solemn spires of
Westminster Abbey came upon her sight.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Ada’s Wanderings.—The Pearl Necklace.—A Kind Heart.—The Park.—A Joyous
Meeting.—The Arrangement.



Cold and hunger now began to exercise a sensible influence upon the
fragile frame of Ada. Her step became languid and slow, and she began
to feel that her strength was fast deserting her. Her dislike to return
to Jacob Gray was very great, and yet where else in that great city
could she find a place whereon to lay her aching limbs? The sense of
her own extreme destitution came vividly across her imagination, and
had it not been for the curious gaze of the early passengers she met,
she could have wept freely in her bitterness of heart. Listlessly she
walked onwards, and thought, from its very intensity, became at last a
positive pain. Money she had none; and, in fact, so secluded from the
world had she been kept by the fears of Jacob Gray, that she would not
have known how to procure the means of supporting life, even had she
possessed valuable property about her.

A cold, glaring winter’s sun shone forth from a clear sky, mocking the
earth with an appearance of warmth, which made the sharp wind that
whistled round the corners of the streets seem doubly keen and piercing.

“Must I return to that dismal house?” thought Ada—“must I again throw
myself on the mercy of that man who calls himself my father?”

She paused in doubt and irresolution, and no one who passed could fail
to mark the air of deep dejection which sat upon the pale anxious face
of the young girl.

It so chanced that she stopped opposite to the shop-door of a jeweller
and dealer in precious stones, in Parliament-street, and as she clung
to the little wooden rail that guarded the window, she saw the keen,
sparkling eyes of an old man fixed on her from within. His beard and
general appearance proclaimed him a Jew, and scarcely had Ada shrank
from his gaze, and paused a step or two onwards, when she heard a voice
behind her saying,—

“My dear, will you sell that necklace?”

Ada turned quickly. The old man from the shop stood before her, and
repeated his question.

“Will you sell that necklace?”

“Necklace?” said Ada.

“Yes; the little necklace you have round your pretty little neck, my
dear.”

Ada now recollected that among her female attire she had found the
necklace; and hastily clasped it on when dressing, to elude the search
of Jacob Gray’s furious visitors.

“I am tired and hungry,” said Ada.

“Are you indeed. Bless me!” cried the old man. “Walk into my shop. You
see I am an old man. Walk in—do walk in.”

Ada suffered herself to be led into the little shop, and unclasping the
necklace, she said—

“Will it fetch me a meal?”

“A meal?” said the jeweller, and his eyes sparkled as he took the
necklace. “A meal? Why it’s real—no, I mean mock—mock pearls—”

“And valueless?” said Ada.

“No—no—not quite—not quite, my dear. Here is a new guinea—a bright new
guinea!”

Ada took the coin, and said, languidly—

“Alas! I am so strange here, I know not even how to dispose of this to
procure me food.”

“Indeed?” said the jeweller. “Do you know nobody? Have you no friends?”

“Do you—can you,” said Ada, and a radiant blush suffused her cheeks as
she spoke—“can you tell me, if you know where a Sir Seyton lives?”

“Does he know you had a necklace?” said the Jew.

“No, I scarcely knew it myself.”

“Indeed!” cried the jeweller, lifting up his eyes and hands. “My dear,
I don’t know the gentleman you mention.”

“I thank you,” said Ada, rising.

She left the shop, and looking back after she had gone a few paces, she
could not derive how it was that the Jew was putting up his shutters
with nervous haste. She little knew that her necklace was of Indian
pearls, and worth a very large sum indeed.

To her joy, after she had proceeded a few paces further, she saw that
the second house, down a small turning to her left, was a little
dairy—and immediately entering, she requested of the old woman who
served, a draft of milk.

It was handed to her, and she drank it off with great pleasure and laid
on the little counter her guinea.

“Would you like the rest, miss?” said the old woman; “you do seem
tired, to be sure.”

“I am tired,” said Ada, “and would gladly rest myself, if I am not in
your way.”

“Dear heart, no,” said the old woman. “Come in here, it’s warmer than
the shop. What weather we do have to be sure.”

Ada accompanied, the woman to the little parlour at the back of the
shop, and the good dame placed before her some rolls and more milk, of
which the wearied girl partook with more pleasure than she ever made
breakfast with before.

“You are too young to be out by yourself,” said the dame; “and a great
deal too pretty too.”

Ada shook her head, as she said,—

“Do you know where resides a Mr. Seyton?”

“No,” replied the woman. “This London is such an immense place, that
it’s like looking for a needle in a bottle of hay to find anybody.”

“If I could find him,” sighed Ada, “he would be my friend. Is there a
gentleman named Sir Francis Hartleton?”

“Indeed there is; and if you want him, he lives close at hand. He is a
magistrate, and as good a man as ever breathed.”

“Indeed,” said Ada, “’Tis very strange!”

“What’s strange, my dear?”

“Oh, nothing—nothing. Can you show me to his house?”

“Yes; if you come to the door, I can point it out for you, though he
very likely to be at his office, and that’s across the park.”

Ada accompanied the old woman to her outer door, and she pointed out to
the refreshed and much revived girl a handsome house, as the residence
of Sir Francis Hartleton.

She again tendered her guinea, but the kind-hearted woman replied—

“Pho, pho, my dear. You sha’n’t change your guinea for a sup of milk.”

The tears gathered to Ada’s eyes at this trifling act of kindness, and
she grasped the hand of the good dame, warmly, as she said, in a voice
of emotion,—

“I am not used to kindness.”

“Not used to kindness? Ah, well, poor thing! If your friend, Sir
Francis Hartleton, ain’t in the way, come here again.”

“If I live,” said Ada, “I will visit you again.”

She then, with a sweet smile, walked from the little dairy, and slowly
approached the house of Sir Francis Hartleton. She paused as she neared
it, and many anxious doubts and fears crossed her mind, concerning the
result of an interview with the magistrate; to whom Jacob Gray’s
mysterious bundle of papers was addressed, and above all, rose like a
spectre, the still clinging horrible supposition that Jacob Gray might
possibly be her father. She could not positively swear that he was not.
In defiance of all probability he might have spoken the truth.

She stood by the portico of the magistrate’s house, and her
irresolution increased each moment that she strove to reason with her
fears.

“Dare I,” she thought, “run this dreadful risk? Heaven knows what that
paper may contain which Gray sets such store by. Some awful history of
crime and suffering, perchance, which would bring him to a scaffold and
proclaim me the child of a murderer. Can I make conditions with the
magistrates? Can I say to him, I will direct you to a packet addressed
to yourself, containing, I know not what, which you can send a force,
if necessary, to possess yourself of, but which you must act upon only
so far as may be consistent with my feelings? Alas, no! I feel that
such would not be acceded to, and I am tortured by doubts and
anxieties—dreadful fears—Jacob Gray, what devil tempted you to raise so
dreadful a supposition in my mind that you might be my father? And yet
I do not, cannot believe you. No—but I doubt—ay doubt. There lies the
agony! The fearful irresolution that cramped my very soul—cripples my
exertions to be free, and makes me the unhappy, wretched thing I am.
No, I cannot yet betray thee to death, Jacob Gray, although you would
have taken my life, even while I slept unsuspectingly beneath your
roof, I cannot, dare not yet betray thee.”

Scarcely, in the confusion of other feelings, knowing whither she went,
she passed the door of Sir Francis Hartleton’s house, nor paused till
she found herself in the Bird Cage Walk, in St. James’s Park. It was
still very early, but the fine bracing morning had attracted many
pedestrians to the park, and the various walks were beginning to assume
a gay appearance, the fashionable hour of promenading being then much
earlier than it is at present.

Many an admiring glance was cast upon the beautiful Ada as she slowly
took her uncertain way beneath the tall ancient trees which have now
given place to young saplings, the fall beauty of which the present
generations will never enjoy. The cool air that blew across the wide
expanse imparted a delicate bloom to her cheeks, that many a court
beauty would have bartered a portion of her existence to obtain. The
hat she wore but partially confined the long dancing black ringlets
that fell in nature’s own freedom on her neck and shoulders; and,
withal, there was a sweet pensiveness in her manner, and the
expressions of her face, which greatly charmed and interested all the
gentlemen, and greatly vexed and discomposed all the ladies, who, with
one accord, voted it to be affectation.

How little they dreamt of the deep sorrow that was in the young girl’s
heart.

She walked on till she reached the Great Mall, and then, feeling
somewhat weary she sat down on one of the wooden seats, and seeing
nothing, hearing nothing, she gave herself up to her own thoughts, and
tears trickled slowly from her eyes, as all her meditations tended to
the one conclusion that she must starve or go back to the lone house
and Jacob Gray.

She was aroused from her reverie by some one repeatedly, in an affected
drawl pronouncing the word,—

“Delicious: de—licious; oh, de—licous!” immediately in front of where
she sat.

Ada looked up, and balancing himself before her, nearly on his toes,
was an affectedly dressed person who was staring at her through an
opera-glass, and repeating the word delicious, as conveying his extreme
admiration of her. When Ada looked up he advanced with a smirk and a
bow, and laying his hand on his embroidered waistcoat, said, in the
same drawling, affected tone—

“My charming little Hebe—what unearthly change—what glorious
concatenation of sublime events have procured St. James’s Park the
felicity of beholding you? Eh, eh, my delicious charmer?”

“Sir,” said Ada, annoyed by the tone of the remarks, the substance of
which she scarcely heard or comprehended.

“Charming simplicity!” cried the beau; “permit me.”

He seated himself with these words by the side of Ada, and attempted,
by an affected, apeish manner, to take her hand.

Ada shrunk from his touch, and rising with an innocent dignity, that
appalled for a moment the fine gentleman, she said—

“I do not know you, sir,” and walked onwards, leaving him the
questionable credit of having turned her out of the seat.

“Charming! charming!” she heard him say, after a few moments, as he
pursued her along the Mall.

Ada was excessively annoyed at this most disagreeable intrusion, and
she quickened her pace in the hope of distancing the gallant; such,
however, was not the event, for he was nearly close to her when she
arrived at the next seat, which was occupied but by one gentleman, who
was reading a book.

“One stranger,” thought Ada, “may protect me from the insults of
another,” and she paused close to the seat on which was the gentleman
reading.

“’Pon honour,” cried the beau who had followed her; “you walk most
vulgarly fast. Ah! Ah! Really now, a delicious little creature like you
ought to glide, not walk—to glide—positively glide. Ah! Ah! That would
be delicious.”

The gentleman who was reading looked up, his eyes met Ada’s.

“Harry!” he cried.

“Albert!” she replied, and bursting into tears, she clung convulsively
to the arms of Albert Seyton.



CHAPTER XXIX.


The Young Lovers.—The Gallant of a Hundred Years Since.—Hopes and
Fears.—The Dream of a True Heart.



It was several moments before Ada or Albert Seyton could speak from
excess of joyful emotion, and it was then the drawling, affected voice
of the beau that recalled them to a consciousness of where they were,
and that some one besides themselves was in the world.

“’Pon honour—really—damme!” cried Ada’s persecutor. “This is
extraordinary.”

“Sir,” said Albert Seyton.

“Well, sir,” said the beau.

“I thought you spoke to me.”

“’Pon honour no; I wouldn’t condescend on any account. Oh, no, ’pon
honour.”

“I have no desire for your conversation,” said Albert, turning his back
to him.

“My dear, my charming, delicious damsel,” sais the beau, smiling at Ada.

“Do you know, sir,” said Albert rising, “that it is a high crime to
commit an assault in the Park?”

“Well, ’pon honour what then?”

“Only this, that if you will come outside the gates, I’ll cane you
within an inch of your life.”

“Eh, oh—a perfect savage—a wild beast, ’pon honour,” said the beau,
making a precipitate retreat.

“Oh, Harry; dear, dear Harry!” said Albert; “by what kind mercy of
Heaven are you here?”

“Albert, do not call me Harry.”

“My own girl, I know you by no other name. I am not surprised to see
you in these becoming garments.”

“You—you did not know—”

“That my playmate, Harry, was a beautiful girl,” interrupted Albert.
“No—I did not—my father it was who first breathed the suspicion that
such was the fact. And now tell me some dear feminine name to call you
by.”

“My name is Ada.”

“Ada? A charm is in the sound. My own dear, dear Ada. How came you
here—have you thought of me? Where is your uncle? Are you happy—dear
Ada, are you glad, to see me?”

“Albert,” said Ada, smiling through her tears, “I will answer your last
question first—I am glad to see you, so very glad that I could weep for
joy.”

“Nay, dear Ada, weep not. You shall never weep again if Albert Seyton
can save a tear from dimming your eyes.”

“I know it,” said Ada; “you were ever kind to the poor persecuted Ada.”

“I loved you, Ada.”

“Oh, Albert; I have passed through such horrors since we met.”

“Horrors, Ada?”

“Yes; and even now I shudder to think of my situation. I am destitute,
homeless, hopeless.”

“No, Ada,” said Albert; “there you wrong yourself and my love;
destitute you cannot be while I have an arm to labour for you—homeless
you shall not be, for my father, who is an honourable gentleman, will
love you as his adopted daughter. Can you then call yourself
friendless, Ada?”

“Albert, I am—I am.”

“What, Ada; what can you be but what I know you are—all truth, all
innocence and virtue?”

“Suppose—suppose,” gasped Ada, looking beseechingly in Albert’s face,
as if her whole existence hung upon his reply—“suppose my name was a
disgrace.”

“A disgrace?”

“Yes; suppose I had found a father whose hands were stained with blood.”

“Oh, no—no—Ada. This is some chimera of your own overwrought fancy.”

“Suppose it’s true, Albert Seyton; could you—dared you then call me
your Ada?”

“I could—I dared.”

“If—I were—the child of a—a—”

“A what?”

“A murderer!”

Albert took her hand gently and tenderly.

“Ada,” he said, “crime is not hereditary. You are sinless, spotless,
and if I desert you because you may have the misfortune to be the child
of one who is guilty, may God desert me in my utmost need.”

“Albert,” sobbed Ada, “I—I do not believe it; but it is a remote
possibility that Jacob Gray is my father.”

“Nor do I believe it,” said Albert, “’Tis against all nature—depend
upon it, Ada, it is not true.”

“But—but if it were?”

“My Ada,” was his only reply, accompanied by a smile that fell like
sunlight on the young girl’s innocent heart.

“You would not, even then, despise me, Albert?” she said.

“Despise you? Oh how can you associate that word with yourself? Despise
you, Ada; if you knew the weary miles I have traversed in search of
you, you would then feel how truly my happiness is wound up in yours.
Not a street, court, or lane in the great city, has been un-trodden by
me to look for you since your sudden departure from Mrs. Strangeways.”

“My uncle hurried me from there to a more secret place of concealment.
We have now for some time inhabited a dilapidated house in Lambeth,
which you might pass a hundred times, and never guess that aught human
lodged within its crumbling walls.”

“And still you know not the cause of all this mystery?”

“No; all is dark and mysterious as ever, Albert, except my name, my
Christian name, and that in a moment of unguarded passion, Jacob Gray
let slip from his lips. Oh, you know not what a pleasure it was to me,
in my desolation, to find I had a right to a name.”

“My poor Ada.”

“Yes, Albert, I am your poor Ada.”

“But rich in all true wealth, beauty, innocence, and dear virtue, such
as no gold can buy.”

“The kind words of those who love are so very grateful,” sighed Ada,
“and they are so new to me.”

“Tell me all that has happened to you since we last parted,” said
Albert. “My own history is very shortly summed up. My father, remained
some few weeks longer at Mrs. Strangeways, and then having by dint of
earnest applications and remonstrances, procured some portion of what
was his due from the Government, we have come close here by Buckingham
House, and I am myself in the hope of procuring a situation as private
secretary to a man, they say, of enormous wealth and great liberality.”

“I joy in your prospects,” said Ada. “Alas! Mine is a darker
retrospect—a gloomier future.”

“Nay, Ada, our happiness must go hand-in-hand; or farewell to it for
Albert Seyton.”

Ada sighed.

“You forget, Albert, that I am beset with difficulties—strange
mysteries are around me; who and what I am, even, I know not; although
perhaps my ignorance is my greatest joy, while it is my constant source
of anxiety, for I have hope now which might by a knowledge of the truth
be extinguished for ever.”

“Your hope shall become a bright certainty,” said Albert, fervently;
“and now, tell me, Ada, of your present situation. You have more
freedom, or you would not be in the Great Mall of St. James’s Park.”

“My freedom is but transitory,” sighed Ada.

“How so?”

“Last night there came with furious knocking at our house, two men. My
uncle said they came to take his life and mine, but that, not finding
me, they would allow him to escape.”

“’Tis very strange.”

“He urged me then to change my boyish clothing for these garments. I
resisted his request; he implored me—begged of me to do so, saying that
those who sought me knew me but as a boy, and would allow a girl to
pass out unmolested. Still I refused, for he had taken the life of a
poor dog that loved me, and my mind was sore against him. He kneeled to
me, wept, and at the last moment declared himself my father and a
murderer!”

“Good Heavens!”

“Yes; the words fell like a thunderbolt on my heart. The men were at
the door; there was not time to think. With frantic speed I did his
bidding.”

“And the plan succeeded?”

“It did. With wondering looks they let me pass. I wandered I know not
where;—to some bridge I came at length, and there, as I lay crouching
from the cold of the raw morning, one of the men passed over.”

“One of those who sought Jacob Gray?”

“Yes, the most violent. There, within my hearing, he had an altercation
with a poor mad wanderer, from whom I heard his name.”

“His name, Ada?—It may afford some clue.”

“It may. She called him Andrew Britton.”

“Andrew Britton!—I will not forget.”

“He attempted her murder. My screams, I believe, saved her life.”

“And their discourse, Ada?—What said they?”

“Their speech was of some child to whom great wrong had been done years
since. Oh, Albert, my heart told me it was of me they spoke.”

“Could you learn nothing of the woman?”

“Alas! No. Her wits were gone. She wandered strangely in her speech;
madness had taken possession of her, and she, who seemed to know the
mystery which envelopes me, could not shape her thoughts to tell me.”

“Heaven, Ada, will work out your deliverance in its own good time from
this tangled web of guilt and mystery that is cast around you. I still
think, as I thought before, that the packet which Gray keeps so
carefully concealed would unravel all.”

“And perhaps destroy him!”

“It might be so.”

“Then, Albert, arises the terrible doubt that bad, wicked, cruel as he
is, he may be the father of the wretched Ada.”

“I cannot for one moment think so,” said Albert; “and yet, I own the
thought is terrible.”

“If we err, Albert, oh, let us err safely. I cannot call down upon him
the vengeance of the laws he has outraged. If some proposal could be
made to him, by which he might be induced to tell the truth, upon an
assurance of safety from the consequences, I might be saved the bitter
pang of betraying my own father, guilty though he may be.”

“You are right, Ada,” said Albert; “that is the best, the surest, and
the most merciful course. My father will undertake to make such terms
with Jacob Gray. He will be mild, yet firm.”

“That would be joy indeed,” said Ada.

“It shall be done. Dear Ada, a happier future is brightening before
you. The past will seem like an envious dream that has only robbed you
of a few hours of sunshine and joy.”

“Oh, would I could think so!” said Ada.

“It will—it must be so!” cried Albert, with a full face of animation.
“Come with me now to my father, and we will concert all necessary
measures.”

“I think,” said Ada, “that if this matter can be arranged with Gray, as
we wish, he must be taken completely by surprise, or all will be lost.
If he have time to hide the papers, or to concoct some deception, we
shall gain nothing.”

“That is true, Ada, but how can we do as you wish:“

“Thus,” replied Ada. “I will show you the house, and expecting you and
your father at a particular hour, I can direct you. Then there can be
no time for Gray even to think of any but a straightforward course of
action.”

“But—but,” said Albert, “that involves your return to—to—Gray—and—”

“Oh, heed not that, Albert. A few short hours, blessed as they will be
by the conviction that they are the last, will seem nothing in that
house, where for so long I have been immured secretly during the light
of day, and with no companion to cheer, my solitude but a poor dumb
creature, that could but look its kindness and gratitude.”

“And yet, Ada, my heart is very sad at the mere thought of your
returning.”

“And so would mine be, Albert, were it not with the assurance of so
soon bidding adieu to those gloomy walls for ever.”

“I suppose it must be so,” said Albert with a sigh. “I will only just
see you so far as to enable you to point out the exact place to me, and
then depend upon my father and I being with you in another hour.”

“But one hour?”

“But one, dear Ada.”

“That will be easily supported,” said Ada, with a grateful smile. “Oh,
let us go at once.”

They rose from the Park seat, and the young lovers, arm-in-arm, walked
down the Great Mall.

“Are you sure you know the way, Ada?” said Albert, anxiously.

“If I saw the bridge again, I could find it, I know, although I might
not discover the most direct route, Albert.”

Thus affectionately, and dreaming of future happiness, which, alas! was
still not close at hand, the young guileless beings pursued their
course to the old house at Lambeth.



CHAPTER XXX.


Jacob’s Return Home.—An Unexpected Visitor.—The Lonely Watch.



When Gray left the public-house in which lay the body of the murdered
waterman, he took a rapid route by the edge of the river to his own
gloomy home, and very soon reached the cluster of condemned houses, in
one of which he resided.

Looking very cautiously around him, as was his invariable custom before
gliding into his abode, to see if any one was observing him, he took a
key from his pocket, and, opening the frail door, quickly entered the
passage.

Then applying his eye to the window, through which he had reconnoitred
Britton and Learmont, he took a long look up and down the street to see
if he could detect the form of Ada lurking in any of the doorways,
awaiting his return.

“She is not here,” he muttered. “Well, she knows nothing—can guess
nothing, or, what little she does know or guess, she dares not utter to
human ears, for she will be tormented by the supposition that I may be
her father. Let her die in the streets—let her rot, so she trouble not
me; and yet I wonder she has not returned. She must have lost her way.”

Gray then opened the door again, and wiped off the words he had
written, then, carefully closing it, he had ascended about half way up
the creaking staircase, when his ears were suddenly saluted by a noise
that made him tremble, and convulsively clutch the crazy banisters for
support.

The noise was of quite a new character to Jacob Gray, and he could not
divine how or in what manner it could possibly be produced. It was not
a walking, it was not a fighting or a struggling—a dancing; but it was
a singular and wonderful admixture of them all. Then there would be a
shuffling scramble across the floor, then a hop, step, and a jump,
apparently, which would be followed by a continued bumping that
threatened the existence of the crazy house, and shook it to the very
foundation.

The perspiration of intense fear broke out upon the aching forehead of
Jacob Gray, and he sat down melancholy upon the stairs, to try to think
what could be the cause of the singular uproar in his commonly so
lonely dwelling.

Suddenly the noise approached the stair-head, and it assumed the form
of the pattering of naked feet, accompanied by the heavy tread of some
one in clumsy shoes.

Jacob Gray’s superstitious fears, and they were tolerably numerous, got
the better of his prudence, and he raised a cry of terror at the idea
of something of an unearthly character having taken up its abode in his
solitary dwelling.

The moment he spoke, the sounds rapidly retreated from the stair-head,
and for a few moments all was still as the grave.

Jacob Gray listened attentively for a long time before he would venture
up the staircase, and when he did so, it was step by step, and with the
utmost caution.

When he reached the top, he stood for a time, and listened attentively.
Not a sound met his ears. Then he gathered courage, and advanced to the
door of the room from whence the noises had seemed to proceed.

All was still, and Jacob Gray summoned his courage to turn the handle
of the lock and peer into the apartment.

“There is no one here,” he muttered. “What could it have been?
Imagination could not so deceive me!”

As he glanced round the room, to his surprise, he saw that several of
the articles which it contained were displaced; and his apprehensions
were still further increased by seeing on the floor several prints of
feet, of a character he could not define, and was quite certain he had
never seen before.

Scarcely had he time to think upon these strange and startling
appearances, when a low growl met his ears, and immediately upon that a
voice exclaimed.—

“There, now, you’ve done it! Oh, cuss you, Popsy.”

Gray gave a jump to the door, and he could scarcely believe his eyes
when a man’s head appeared from beneath the sofa, and confronted him
with a mixed expression of effrontery and apprehension.

“How—came—you—here?” gasped Gray.

“Popsy come out,” was the man’s only reply to his interrogatory; and,
to Gray’s surprise, an immense shaggy bear made its appearance from the
same place of concealment.

“Who are you?” cried Jacob Gray.

“Why don’t you answer the gentleman, you brute?” said the man, dealing
the bear a heavy blow with his fist; “affectionate ways is lost upon
you, that they is—”

“How dare you come here?” cried Gray.

“Don’t ye hear?” screamed the man, still addressing the bear. “How dare
ye come here?—Eh?”

“Spy!—Villain!” cried Gray, drawing from his breast the same knife with
which he would have stabbed Ada to the heart.

“Hilloah!—Hilloah!” cried the man. “Do you hear, my Popsy, what he
calls ye?”

The bear commenced a low growling, and displayed a formidable row of
blackened fangs at Jacob Gray.

“Who and what are you?” shrieked Gray to the man.

“Barbican Tibbs, the bear warden, but common people calls me Tipsy
Tibbs, and nothink else.”

“What in the name of hell brought you here?” cried Gray.

“Oh! I’m confidential,” replied the man, “and I don’t mind telling you.”

“Quickly then, quickly.”

“Why, you see they say as there isn’t to be allowed more than three
bear wardens in Westminster, and as I’ve only just come from
Canterbury, I makes faces and a parsecutor.”

“Faces, and a what?”

“A parsecutor—that is, they parsecutes me, and I gives them a dodge
through the streets, you see; and they, coming rather quick, I bolts
down this here street, and the first thing I sees is ‘wait—J.G.’ on
your door.”

“Well, what then?”

“Why, then Popsy and me, we gives the door a drive and we gets in, then
we shuts it again, and we’ve waited here ever since.”

“And it was you who made the noise I heard just now, as I was ascending
the stairs?”

“Very like; and it has quite alarmed poor Popsy, and shattered his
nerves by squeaking out in the passage.”

“How long have you been here?”

“A matter of half an hour.”

“What have you stolen?”

“Stole! Stole!”

“Yes: tell me, for there are some things I value, and some I do not.”

“Popsy, does ye hear what a opinion he has of your morals?”

Gray walked across the room, and opening a door that led to an inner
apartment, he entered it and remained absent some minutes. During that
absence he took from a chest (the key of which he had about him) a
large sum of money, being the bulk of what he had, from time to time,
received of Learmont, and he stowed it carefully about his person; the
greatest care, however, he bestowed upon a packet of papers that were
at the bottom of the bag. These he placed carefully in his breast, and
then returned to the room in which was the bear warden and his shaggy
associate.

“Hark you, friend,” said Gray, “I am going to leave this house.”

“Good morning,” said the bear warden.

“You seem a—a deserving man.”

“Do I?”

“Yes: I will give you the furniture you see about here, if you will
defend it against all comers; and should a young girl come here, will
you detain her for me?”

“Well, that’s odd,” said Tibbs, “but I don’t know you, my master.”

“Nor will you, I will take my own time and opportunity of calling upon
you.”

“Well” said the beat warden, “I don’t mind obliging you, particularly
as I haven’t anything of my own. Is there anything worth having up
stairs, old fellow?”

“There is,” said Gray—“and recollect one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Should a man come of burly frame and bloated aspect, be assured he
comes to take from you, if he can, all that I have given to you—be
assured of that.”

“The deuce he does!”

“You will know him. He is rough of speech, and coarse and bulky. Beware
of him!”

“But what shall I do with him?”

“Kill him—slaughter him. Take his life how and when you will—or maim
him—do him some deadly harm, for, on my soul, I do not believe he has
written any confession. Stay, I had forgotten.”

Gray hurried to the cupboard, and took from it the remainder of the
poison he had given to Ada’s dog; then turning to the astonished bear
warden, he said,—

“Remember, we shall meet again.”

He rapidly then descended the staircase, and was out of the house
before the man could answer him.

“Well, if ever I knew the like o’ that!” said the bear warden. “Popsy!”

The bear answered with a growl, “We’re dropped into a furnished house,
and nothing to pay. The blessed world’s a beginning to find out our
merits, it is!”



CHAPTER XXXI.


Ada’s Fate Again Against Her.—The Threat.—The New Home.



Jacob Gray was not acting with his usual caution when he left such
directions to the bear warden; but the attempt which had been made upon
his life by Learmont and the smith had filled him with rage, and he
would, in the height of his passion, willingly run some risk to be
revenged upon them.

“There is an ancient uninhabited house;” he muttered, “nigh to
Battersea-fields, that I have several times noted. Its walls are
crumbling with age. The bat screams around its tottering chimneys, I
have marked it well. There am I now to take up my abode until I have
wrung from Learmont a sum sufficient to induce me to leave England for
ever; and when I do—ay, when I am safe in another land, then will I
bring destruction upon him and Britton. They shall find that Jacob Gray
has yet a sting to reach their hearts.”

As he spoke, he cast an habitual glance of caution up and down the
street, ere he emerged from the doorway of the house he was about to
leave for ever.

Some distance from him, the flutter of a white garment caught his eye,
and he retreated back into the shadow of the doorway, from where he
peered forth, to note who it could be that was approaching that
solitary and ill-omened district.

Suddenly he clutched the door-post for support, and a deadly paleness
came over him. He saw Ada taking leave of Albert Seyton at the corner
of the street. He saw her hands clasped in affectionate pressure. Then,
with a lingering step. Albert Seyton turned away, looking, however,
many times back again to smile another brief farewell to Ada.

The deadly feelings of hatred that Gray entertained towards Albert
Seyton now all returned in their full force, and he muttered curses,
deep and appalling, against both him and Ada.

“That boy again,” he growled between his clenched teeth. “How in the
name of hell met she with him? In this large city what cursed fate has
caused them to meet. I will have his life. Something tells me he will
be a stumbling block in my way. I will take his life. Some means I will
devise to safely put him in his grave. Yes—yes—smile on, young sir. You
fancy now you have tracked Jacob Gray to his lair. You are mistaken.
You have found a clue but to lose it again. Ha! She comes. Now, there
is some deep-laid plot between them to surprise me; but I will foil
it—I will foil it.”

Ada now rapidly approached the doorway, in the shadow of which Gray was
concealed. There was a smile of joy upon her face—the pure light of
happiness danced in her eyes—and her step was agile as a young fawn.

“Another hour,” she whispered to herself—“but another hour of misery,
and life commences, as it were, anew for the poor forlorn Ada. My
existence, as yet, presents me with nothing but dim shadows; the dear
radiant sunshine of the life which Heaven has bestowed upon me, is now
at hand. Gray must see his own interests and safety in making terms
with Albert and his father. He will tell all—he will absolve me from
the fancied ties of friendship, and I will forgive him for all he has
made me suffer. If he be very guilty, in another land he may find
security and repentance—nay, make his peace with Heaven.”

Such were the glowing thoughts of the young girl, who was hastening to
separate herself from those who loved her, while in her guileless heart
she fondly imagined she was taking the surest means of securing her
happiness.

Jacob Gray saw her approaching. Eagerly he watched her steps, and when
she paused at the door of the house, he shrunk back into the passage,
and allowed her to enter its gloomy portal. Then stepping forward; he
closed the door, and said in a low tone,—

“Ada, is there anything in this house you value?”

Ada started, and glanced at Gray with surprise, as she replied,—

“Why do you ask? You see I have returned.”

“Ay. You could not desert your father!” smiled Gray.

Ada shrunk back as he laid his hand upon her shoulder, and he could not
but note the shudder of dislike that came over her.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I will give you your choice of one or two
alternatives.”

“What mean you.”

“You recollect the young man, Albert Seyton?”

A deep blush came over Ada’s face, as she said,—“I do.”

“Well—he had a father—”

“He has a father still!” cried Ada.

“In—deed!” sneered Gray. “You know that.”

Ada looked confused.

“Nay,” continued Gray, “you need not blush. Think you, Albert Seyton
loves you?”

“Loves me?” echoed Ada.

“Ay. You have read enough to tell you the meaning of the term.”

Ada was silent.

“Attend to my words,” continued Gray. “I have another home besides
this.”

“Another home?”

“Yes, Ada; and in that other home there are domestics which would place
you in so proud a station, that Albert Seyton would, in calling you his
some few years hence, be acquiring a rank and fortune beyond his or
your wildest dreams.”

Ada’s eyes sparkled as Gray spoke, and she involuntarily moved a step
towards him. The thought of enriching, perhaps ennobling, the poor
dependent Albert Seyton, was delightful to her heart.

“Oh!” she cried, “if you can do this, I will forget all the past.”

“At my house,” said Gray. “’Tis near at hand.”

“I will count the minutes till you return,” said Ada. “Oh, go at once.”

“Yes, but not alone. You go with me, or I go not at all. Come, Ada,
quick. We shall be back very soon. You are equipped for walking. We
will go together.”

“No—I—wish not to leave here,” said Ada.

“Not leave here? Has your love for this place suddenly grown so strong?”

“I am weary,” said Ada.

“Then we part for ever! Farewell! Ada. I go now to destroy—to burn
those papers! Carry with you through life the doubts that now harass
you!”

“Why force me to accompany you?” said Ada. “I am very weary.”

“Decide! The distance is but short. The next half hour fixes your fate
for a life!”

“Half hour!” said Ada. “Will it consume but half an hour?”

“Scarcely so much. A boat will take us where we are going in half the
time.”

“Jacob Gray,” said Ada, solemnly.

“Well—well,” replied Gray, avoiding her eyes.

“On your soul, are you speaking truly?”

“On, my soul!”

“You swear you are not deceiving me?”

“I swear!”

“We shall return here?”

“We shall, assuredly. Then my task shall be to find out this young
man—this Albert Seyton.”

“I—I will go,” said Ada. “Let us hasten—but half an hour?”

“Nay, not so long a time.”

Still Ada hesitated.

“You will know all then,” remarked Gray; “who and what you are, you
will know; but if you come not now, I leave you this instant for ever!
You’ll never see me more! And in losing me, you lose all clue to the
solution of mysteries that will torture you through life.”

“I will go—I will go,” said Ada. “Within the hour we shall return.”

“We shall. Come, Ada, come.”

“The papers that were above in the chest, where are they?”

“In my safe keeping,” cried Gray.

“I am weary. Will you not wait until sunset?”

“Not another moment.”

“Then I—will—go.”

Gray took her by the arm, and they left the house together.

A thousand conflicting thoughts rushed through Ada’s mind. The
prominent one, however, was the pleasure it would give her to meet
Albert Seyton, no longer the child of mystery, and perhaps of guilt,
but the proud descendant of some pure and unsullied house. If she let
Gray depart now, with him all chance of unravelling doubts and
mysteries which, as he truly said, would torture her through life,
would be lost. Albert and his father would come but to encumber
themselves with a nameless, destitute girl. That she could not bear,
and although she doubted, yet, she trusted Jacob Gray.

Ada, when she made up her mind that she would accompany Gray, quite
astonished him by the nervous haste which she showed in urging him
along, and his naturally suspicious mind at once surmised that there
was some especial reason in the mind of the young girl which induced
her desire to return to the house they were leaving within the hour.

“She has betrayed me to yon boy,” he thought. “’Tis more than likely
that within the hour I should be a prisoner suing for mercy to him, and
my confessions in his hands.”

They soon reached the river side, and Gray, addressing a waterman said,—

“Can you take us to Battersea, quickly?”

“Yes, master,” said the man; “the tide serves.”

Without another word Gray handed Ada into the boat, and they were soon
gliding swiftly along the Thames, towards the marshy fields of
Battersea.

As the time progressed, Ada’s uneasiness became more and more apparent,
and when the waterman tended them at a craggy flight of wooden steps
that merely led to the open fields, a tremor came over her, and she
began to repent trusting Jacob Gray.

“I see no house,” she said. “Whither are you leading me?”

“There—to your left,” said Gray. “Yon low building is the place of our
destination.”

“Let us be quick,” said Ada.

With a sneering smile Jacob Gray led the way by the side of the scanty
hedges till they reached the gloomy, desolate mansion he had long fixed
upon as his next place of concealment, should his lone dwelling at
Lambeth be discovered.

Ada looked upon the damp crumbling walls and shattered windows with a
feeling of dread she could not conceal. “What place is this?” she
falteringly asked.

“’Tis an old deserted farm-house,” said Gray, “in which a murder, they
say was committed.”

“A murder?”

“Yes; by a man named Forest. It is called now Forest House, and no one
will willingly approach it.”

They stood now in the shadow of the deep overhanging porch, and Jacob
Gray for a moment gazed around him upon the wide expanse of marshy
ground. A smile of triumph lit up his face with a demoniac-expression.

“Ada,” he said, “you would have betrayed me—you may shriek now—no one
will hear you; you may struggle—no one will aid you. This house is your
prison—perhaps your tomb.”

Ada clasped her hands in terror and despair. “Betrayed—betrayed! Oh,
Albert—” she cried, and sunk in a state of insensibility on the door
step of Forest House.



CHAPTER XXXII.


Albert’s Disappointment.—Tibbs, the Bear Warden.—The Search.—A
Consultation.



Within the hour he had named as being the extreme limit of his absence,
Albert Seyton and his father arrived at Gray’s house at Lambeth. They
knocked at first quietly, and finally loudly, for admittance. Here, as
they had predetermined, they burst upon the frail door, and, calling
upon Ada, Albert flew from room to room of the dismal house.

No voice responded to his, and he was about to give up the search in
despair, when a low rumbling sound met his ears from a room he had
already visited, and which was immediately followed by a heavy crash of
some fallen body.

He and his father instantly rushed into the room, and there, amid the
ruins, a table, several bottles, glasses, &c., lay Tibbs, the bear
warden, who was evidently far gone in intoxication.

The bear was licking its paws on the spot which would have been under
the table had that article of furniture preserved its perpendicularity;
but it now lay on one side, and it is to be surmised that Tipsy Tibbs
had hidden under it upon hearing the sound of footsteps, and then upset
it in his clumsy efforts to emerge from his temporary concealment.

Mr. Seyton Albert looked with undisguised astonishment on the strange
spectacle of a drunken man and a bear, where they expected to find a
young girl and a cool designing villain.

“How are you?” said Tibbs. “So, so—you’re come back, have you?
Hurrah—hurray—that’s my op—opinion.”

Albert stepped up to him, and shaking him roughly, cried in a loud
voice:—

“Who are you?”

“Who—who—am—I? Why, everybody knows me—I’m—Tip—Tip—Tipsy Tibbs, the
bear warder.”

“Tell me, have you seen a beautiful girl here? Speak at once.”

“A w—w—what?”

“A young girl, with black eyes; sparkling as diamonds—long dancing
ringlets.”

“Whew!” whistled Tibbs. “Don’t I wish I had? Oh, the little charmer.”

“Wretch!” cried Albert, “have you seen her?”

“Do—do—you mean—Mrs. Tibbs?”

“Albert,” said Mr. Seyton, “we shall get no information from this man
by angry questioning. Allow me to speak to him. Are you alone here, my
friend?”

“No, I ain’t.”

“Who else inhabits this house?”

“Popsy. Hurrah—let’s have another bottle—never get drunk—don’t make a
beast of yourself, old gentleman.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Two bottles!”

“How long a time, I say, have you been here?”

“Well, I say—two—two bottles.”

“The villain Gray has been more than a match for me, father;” said
Albert. “My poor Ada is not here!”

He sunk upon a chair, and gave way to a violent burst of grief as he
spoke, and Tibbs gazed upon him in speechless astonishment.

“Albert,” said his father, “this is childish of you. Let us thoroughly
search this house. We may still find some clue to the object of our
search.”

“True,” said Albert, rising, “I will not despair. We may, perchance,
light upon the mysterious packet of papers which Jacob Gray thinks so
much of, and which were addressed to Sir Francis Hartleton.”

“Take another bottle,” suggested Tibbs, making various ridiculous
efforts to get on his feet, in all of which he signally failed.

“Sot,” said Albert, “I will force more intelligent answers from you yet
before I leave this house.”

“Take another bottle,” said Tibbs. “My dear, here’s your health. You
have a rare voice. Bless you, you want to stay because I’m here. Don’t
let him persuade you; d—d—d—n his important papers.”

“What do you mean?” cried Albert.

“Why, she’s gone, to be sure. They didn’t know I was listening on the
stairs. Ho! Ho! Ho!—They’re off, and the furniture’s all mine. Take
another bottle.”

“From the ravings of this drunkard,” said Mr. Seyton, “we may gather
what has happened, Albert. Jacob Gray, on some pretence, having his
suspicions awakened, has induced Ada to leave this place with him.”

“I fear it is so, father,” said Albert; “but here I vow to Heaven that
I will not know more rest than is needful to my health and strength
till I have found where this bad man has hidden the fairest, best—”

“Control your feelings, Albert,” said his father. “God knows how
willingly I would have taken this persecuted young girl to my home, and
done a parent’s duty by her; but Heaven has decreed it otherwise.”

With a saddened and dejected air Albert again searched the house. He
found no vestige of Ada, save her male attire and the dead dog. An open
book was upon the table of her room. That he placed next his heart,
with the fond thought that she might have owned and prized it.

“Let us leave this place,” said his father, “and the more quickly the
better, I will employ someone to watch the house for some days in case
Gray should return, and in the meantime, we will ourselves make every
inquiry, and use our utmost endeavours to discover his retreat.”

With a heavy heart Albert left the house; he lingered long at the door
and in the street, and it was only his father’s arguments that induced
him at length to quit the spot.

“Father,” said Albert, “I will make an application to Sir Francis
Hartleton!”

“You forget,” replied Mr. Seyton, “that Sir Francis Hartleton is a
magistrate and has a public duty to perform, from which he is not the
man to flinch. We wish to temporise with this man Gray, and not drive
him to extremities. The more heartily Sir Francis might enter into this
business, the more misery we might be laying up for the persecuted girl
it is our wish to rescue. Recollect, Albert, there still lives the
awful doubt that Jacob Gray may still be the father of Ada.”

“It is an awful doubt,” said Albert.

“We must not then embitter her existence, wicked as Gray may be, by
executing upon him the full measure of justice until that doubt is
solved. It would be coldly right to do so, I will grant; but we look
more to Ada’s happiness, Albert, than the vengeance of the law upon a
guilty man.”

Albert grasped his father’s hand as he replied, in a voice struggling
with emotion,—

“Guide me, father—tell me what to do. Your words bring truth and
conviction with them.”

“Then, Albert, if you succeed in getting the situation you have been
endeavouring to obtain, as private secretary to this gentleman, who is
reported to be so rich and liberal, there may arise some opportunity of
interesting him in the matter, and, through his means and influence,
much might be done to unravel the whole mystery without endangering
Gray, should he turn out to be Ada’s father, of which, however, I have
the strongest doubts.”

“Yes,” cried Albert, with renovated hope; “they tell me this gentleman,
Squire Learmont, is rolling in wealth.”

“Ay, that is his name. He is comparatively unknown, I hear, in London;
but if you become his secretary, he may take a pleasure, if he be a
good man, in assisting you.”

“It shall be tried, father,” said Albert.

Learmont had been inquiring of several persons since his arrival in
London for some young man as private secretary, and Albert Seyton, who
never in his wildest dreams imagined that the rich Squire Learmont,
whose wealth was the theme of every tongue, could possibly be in any
way connected with the fortunes of the poor persecuted Ada, had applied
for the situation, and met with a favourable although evasive answer.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Learmont at Home.—Dark Reflections.—The Summons.—The
Confederates.—Suspicions.



In the small room which he had fitted up specially for himself, sat the
Squire Learmont, in an attitude of deep thought. His lips occasionally
moved as if he were repeating to himself the subject of his
meditations. The colour went and came upon his agitated face, according
to the uneven tenor of his thoughts. For more than an hour he thus sat,
and then suddenly rising as if with a violent determination to shake
off completely “the thick coming fancies” that disturbed his brain, he
went to the window and looked out upon the court yard of his mansion.

The uneasy thoughts of Learmont were not, however, to be thus laid
aside. In a few moments he again threw himself into the chair from
which he had risen, and commenced in a low, anxious, trembling tone,
muttering half aloud, the subject of his gloomy thoughts:—

“Was ever a man,” he said, “so circumstanced as I? With all the will to
act, yet so hemmed in by strange circumstances as to be
powerless—completely powerless. In truth, the wily Jacob Gray has had a
triumph. Can the smith have played me false, and warned him of his
danger; yet, no—I cannot think so. Britton hates him, and would gladly
take his life. He could not, with such consummate art, act the passion
he exhibited at that lonely hovel, wherein I thought I had entrapped
this Gray. There is yet another supposition. Does the boy live? Ay, is
there a young heir to Learmont’s broad acres and princely revenues?
That is a grave doubt; but let me doubt ever so strangely, I dare not
act. Jacob Gray—Jacob Gray, the arch-fiend himself could not have woven
a better web of protection around a human life than you have cast
around yours! I dare not kill you. No! Jacob Gray, you are very safe.”

Learmont clenched his hands and ground his teeth together, in impotent
rage, as he felt the full conviction upon his mind that he dared not,
for his own life’s sake, interfere with Jacob Gray.

“There is no plan but one,” he said, after a long pause. “I must try to
purchase from him, by some large and tempting offer, both the boy and
the confession—then, should he be attracted by such a bait, he shall
die for the disquiet he has given me. If I slaughter him here in my own
house, he shall die. I shall know no peace till that man is a corpse.”

A small timepiece in the room now struck the hour of twelve.

“Twelve o’clock,” muttered Learmont. “’Tis the hour the smith said he
would be here; but punctuality is not one of his virtues. He knows I
must wait for him? Curses on him—curses!”

A servant slowly opened the door at this moment, and said, in a timid
voice, for the household had had several specimens of Learmont’s wild
passions and violence,—

“An it please your worship, here is Master Gray.”

“Show him here,” said Learmont, quickly, and the man was out of the
room as expeditiously as if he had been pulled from behind with a
sudden jerk.

“They will meet here,” muttered Learmont. “Well, be it so. Three
persons so strangely knit together, as these two men and myself, were
surely never heard of. Hating them with that hatred which requires to
be glutted with blood to calm its fury; yet I am obliged to supply
their wildest extravagancies and most insolent demands. Oh, if I,
dared, if—oh, you are here, Jacob Gray?”

“As you perceive, most worshipful sir,” said Gray, as he closed the
door behind him, and fixed his keen, ferret-looking eyes upon the
Squire.

For a few minutes they regarded each other in silence. Learmont at
length, uttered the word,—

“Well?”

“I am rejoiced to hear you are well,” sneered Gray. “The fog last night
was very damp.”

“Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, “I sought your life.”

“Your worship was so kind,” said Gray, “and since my connexion with
your worship has grown so dangerous, it shall bear a higher price.”

“What mean you?”

“I mean,” said Gray, striking the palm of his hand with his fist—“I
mean that where I have had one guinea, Squire Learmont, I will have
ten; where ten, a hundred. Thank yourself for raising my price. My
nerves are weak, and yet I prize them. I like my blood to keep its even
pace. If I am to be tortured—if I am to be threatened—broken in upon at
midnight, and cold steel held to my throat, I will be well
paid—extremely well paid. You understand me, Squire Learmont, I have
raised my price.”

There was a strange mixture of cunning, rage, and ferocity in Jacob
Gray’s tone and manner as he made this speech. Every other word that he
spoke showed a disposition to shout with anger, but then it was as
quickly subdued again by his habitual caution and timidity. When he had
finished he glared at Learmont with a pale and distorted countenance
awaiting his reply.

“Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, “I did seek your life, but it was not for
your life’s sake I sought it.”

“Indeed!” sneered Gray.

“No,” continued Learmont. “What is your life to me? But the precautions
that you have taken to protect yourself keep me in continual and
imminent danger. What’s so uncertain as human life?”

“Ay—what?“ said Gray.

“Suppose your sudden death—by accident or illness—what though I had
poured into your coffers half my income?—What though I had satisfied
your wildest demands, still might I be exposed to danger most imminent,
nay, to death without your meaning so to involve me.”

“Well I know,” said Jacob Gray, “that life is uncertain—too well I know
if, Squire Learmont, you have coined for yourself the danger you
describe. While you live, it will haunt you.”

“But wherefore should I?” said Learmont. “You talk of increasing your
demands by tens and hundreds—why not name thousands at once as the
price of—”

“Of what?”

“The boy, and your absence for ever from England.”

“I—I—had thought of that,” said Gray.

“And a wise thought too,” urged Learmont. “What is your life to me were
it not that you have surrounded me with danger? Do I thirst for your
blood for its own sake? Certainly not—have your own price—bring me the
boy, and destroy your written confession.”

“And leave England for ever?” muttered Gray.

“Yes—seek safety and enjoyment somewhere else in another land, where
the finger of suspicion can never be pointed at you, and where you will
only appear as the wealthy stranger.”

“’Tis tempting,” said Gray; “but—”

“But what?—Why do you hesitate?”

“Would there be no danger even between the threshold of this house and
the deck of the vessel which was to convey me and my fortunes from
England for ever?”

“Danger?—a—What danger?”

“The assassin’s knife,” said Gray. “Hear me, Squire Learmont; if we
could trust each other for so brief a space as half an hour, it might
be done; but we cannot—you know we cannot!”

“You refuse upon danger,” said Learmont, trying to smile, and producing
a ghastly distortion of visage. “You are over cautious, Master Gray.”

“I think not,” said Gray, “and yet I will think upon your offer, Squire
Learmont. I will not deny that some scheme of the kind has already
dawned upon my own mind. I will think upon your offer; and should some
means occur to me by which safety can be so well assured as to be past
a doubt, I will accept it, for I loathe the life I lead.”

“’Tis well,” said Learmont.

“And now I want a hundred pounds,” said Jacob Gray, in an affectedly
submissive voice.

“A hundred pounds!” exclaimed Learmont.

“Yes, a hundred! And I will have them.”

“Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, “why have I plunged myself into crime, and
leagued myself with such men as you and Britton, but for this gold
which your and his insatiable demands would wring from me?”

“Agreed,” cried Gray. “But now ’tis done, and to keep the gibbet—”

“The gibbet!”

“Ay, the gibbet, Squire Learmont. To keep that without its victim, you
must, and will pay the last farthing, if needs be, of that gold you
talk of as your tempter. Why, it tempted me, and I will riot in it! A
hundred pounds, good squire.”

“Ten thousand are yours, if you bring me the boy and your written
confession.”

“Ten thousand! You may safely make it twenty, squire, or thirty.”

“What do you mean?”

“You call me cautious—cunning—wily as a fox, and am I all that; and
because I am, I will not sell my life for five minutes at the utmost
possession of any sum.”

“Sell your life!”

“Yes, my life. How many paces from this room would suffice to carry
Jacob Gray to his grave, provided he gave up his two most rare
securities—the boy and the confession?”

“You wrong me by your suspicions,” said Learmont, with difficulty
suppressing the rage that was swelling in his bosom.

“A hundred pounds!” said Gray.

“Jacob Gray, hear me—”

“Hear me first. A hundred pounds!”

Learmont went to a cabinet in the apartment, and without another word
counted out the sum.

“Have you moved Jacob Gray?” he said, in a calm voice.

“Nay,” replied Gray, “why need you ask?”

“A message from the Old Smithy,” announced a servant at this juncture.

“’Tis Britton,” whispered Learmont to Gray.

“What, cunning Master Britton!” answered Gray. “Ho! Ho! I shall be glad
to see him.”

“Admit him,” said Learmont to the servant; then turning to Gray, he
added,—

“Will you leave me, now?”

“No,” said Gray.

“Wherefore?”

“Because I do not want the smith again upon my track, like a blood
hound!”

“Oh, Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, “if you could destroy Britton,
securing at the same time the dangerous papers he has—bring me the
boy—commit your own confession to the flames, and share my fortune!”

“Humph!“ said Gray. “If I could.”

“You might.”

“Well, that’ll do,” roared Britton, as the servant held the door open
for him to enter the room. “Oh—oh—you here?”

“Yes, cunning Britton,” said Gray, “I am here.”

“Curse you, then!” said Britton, flinging himself into a chair.

“Bless you!” said Gray. “Ho, ho! Clever Britton.”

“Perhaps, gentlemen,” sneered Learmont, “you will condescend to carry
your quarrels to some pot-house, when you have said what you wish to
say to me?”

“Yes,” said Gray, “we shall anger his worship.”

“Damnation take—”

“Hold, Britton,” cried Learmont. “You come here for money. Name the
sum, and go.”

“Oh, name the sum!” said Britton. “What’s to-day?”

“Friday, my dear Britton,” said Gray. “It’s generally considered an
unlucky day, I pray you to take care of yourself, cunning Britton.”

Britton cast a savage scowl upon Gray, as he said,—

“I shall, and mind you be as careful. Friday, is it? Twenty pounds will
last me till next Monday, squire.”

“Will they, indeed?” sneered Learmont. “Here they are, then. May I now
be indulged with the privacy of my own house?”

“There now,” said Gray, “you hear his worship; why don’t you go,
Britton?”

“Because I intend staying out, Jacob Gray,” cried Britton, fiercely.

“Well,” said Gray, rising, “be it so, but hearken to me, Squire
Learmont. If I find this ruffian upon my track, I will be revenged with
safety to myself—bitterly revenged—now beware!”

So saying, Jacob Gray left the room, with an expression of countenance
perfectly demoniac.

Britton made a movement to follow him, but the squire laid his hand
upon his arm, and said,—

“No—not now, Britton. We must devise some better means yet of
destroying, with perfect safety, this Jacob Gray.”

“Curses on him!” growled Britton. “Did you hear how he taunted me?”

“I did.”

“Then, I say I must have his blood.”

“You shall.”

“I will—I have sworn it—I will take the hateful life of Jacob Gray.”

“Britton, we understand each other. This Gray is as great an enemy to
you as he is to me.”

“I know he is,” growled Britton. “You need not tell me that. And who,
think you, is in London, and raving through the streets to every one
she meets, about the Old Smithy, and a murder?”

“She? Who mean you?”

“Mad Maud, who used to haunt the village, and ever vented her bitterest
curses upon me.”

“Mad Maud! She must be secured. Even her clamour might arouse suspicion
in some quarter, and many a prying knave would be glad to pick a hole
in the reputation of the rich and proud Squire Learmont. When did you
see her, Britton?”

“On Westminster-bridge, after you and I had parted last.”

“The—water—was—near.”

“It was, but the old beldame raised a clamour that brought help. When
next we meet, she may not be so near assistance.”

“True. How true is the lesson taught by Jacob Gray, that safety is best
doubly assured. You stay still at the Chequers?”

“Yes—you know I do. Why do you ask?”

“From no special motive.”

“Yes; I am still at the Chequers. Ho! Ho! Ho! Money flies there. Mine
host is about to build a new front to his house and it’s all with your
money, squire. By G—d, they sell good liquor at the Chequers, and
there’s a merry company—a good song and a silver tankard on purpose for
good Master Britton. Ho! Ho! Ho!”

“You sleep there?”

“Yes; but mind ye, squire; drunk or sober, at home or abroad, those
papers are well secured. Don’t try to play any tricks with me, squire;
you would rue the hour.”

“Pho! Pho!” interrupted Learmont. “We understand each other—our
interests are mutual—but, as for this Jacob Gray—”

“Ah! Curse Jacob Gray!”

“To which I devoutly cry—Amen!” said Learmont. “And now, Britton, it is
our policy to let matters sleep for a time, until Gray’s newly awakened
caution is somewhat calmed. Go, now, good Britton, and—mind you, when
you are inclined to set a price upon the papers you have, tell me and
we will talk about it.”

“Oh, very well,” said Britton. “I shall be glad to see you at the
Chequers any time. I will say this for you, Squire Learmont, that you
pay very well, indeed. I lead the life of a gentleman now—nothing to
do, and so many people to help me—drink—drink from morning till night.
Damme, what could a king do more.”



CHAPTER XXXIV.


The Girl in Her Melancholy Home.—The Prison House.—A Dungeon’s
Gloom.—Unavailing Sorrow.



When Jacob Gray pitched upon the lone house at Battersea as his place
of abode, he could not have resolved upon a house less likely to be
visited by the curious, although seen from the river at a considerable
distance: it was always pointed out by the watermen to their customers,
as “Forest’s haunted house.”

The fact was, that a most awful and cold-blooded murder had been
committed in the house, since which it had been allowed to fall into
decay, and the land around it, which had been at one time well drained,
had subsided into its old character of a marsh. The fall of a stack of
chimnies had impressed every one with a belief of the extreme danger of
venturing within its crazy walls, lest they should fall and engulf the
rash intruder in their ruins.

It was with great caution that Gray first visited this place, that he
was long in discovering that the signs of decay were more superficial
than otherwise, and, inquiring diligently and cautiously concerning it,
he heard the character of the deserted house, which induced him
mentally to resolve upon making it his next abode, should he be hunted
out of his miserable residence in the ruined street at Lambeth.

The only risk he considered he ran of discovery was in conveying Ada
there by daylight; but, after that, he resolved upon never leaving or
approaching his gloomy abode except by night, or early in the morning,
when he was quite sure no one was observing him, save upon special
occasions, such as his recent visit to Learmont, whom he was anxious to
see after the stormy meeting in his former residence.

When Ada recovered consciousness, she at first felt all that sensation
of relief which comes over any one awakening from a horrible dream; but
this feeling of satisfaction lingered but for a few fleeting moments in
the breast of the persecuted, betrayed girl. The gloom that surrounded
her—the damp air that imparted a chill to her very heart—the dim ray of
light that proceeded from a candle, the wick of which showed that it
had been some hours unattended, all convinced her that she was a
prisoner.

With a cry of despair she started to her feet: she clasped her hands,
and called on Heaven to protect her, as she hastily glanced round the
gloomy place in which she found herself.

The dismal echo of her own voice only answered her wild and incoherent
appeal.

“Oh! Heaven,” she cried, “I shall be murdered here. No one to hear my
cries! No one to aid me! I am lost—lost! Oh!—Albert, Albert!”

She sank upon the ground, and wept long and bitterly as the thoughts of
how foolishly she had allowed herself to be deceived by Gray crowded
upon her oppressed mind.

“No hope!—No hope!—Now there is no hope!” she cried, bitterly. “Oh! Why
was I preserved for this dreadful fate! I thought it hard to endure the
cold air from the river, while crouching on the bridge. O God! O God!
What would I not give now to be as free beneath the canopy of Heaven as
I was then!”

After a time the native energy of Ada’s character overcame her first
bursts of bitter grief; and raising her head she strove to pierce, with
her tear-filled eyes, the dim obscurity by which she was surrounded.

“What can this place be?” she asked herself. “Let me recollect. He
brought me across swampy fields to a ruined house, and there, at that
point, recollection ceases—memory fades away in a confused whirl, none
of which are sufficiently distinct for the mind to grasp and reason
upon.”

She now approached the light, and, carefully trimming it, she held it
as high as she could, and, turning slowly round, took a long and
anxious survey of as much as she could see of her dungeon, for such she
considered it.

The floor was of earth merely, and the walls seemed to be composed of
the same material, mingled with stones and broken bricks, to give them
some degree of solidity and strength. The place altogether appeared to
be of considerable extent, and, by the various refuse matter that lay
about, it would seem to have been a cellar for strong vegetables, wood,
&c. during the winter season. A quantity of rough sacks and baskets lay
in different corners mouldy and moist, with the accumulated damp of
many years, and the air, too, was loaded with unwholesome moisture, and
pernicious exhalations.

With a slow and cautious step Ada traversed the whole of this gloomy
place, and what surprised her much was that she could see no means of
ingress or egress from it.

“How have I been placed here?” she asked herself. “There is no food.
Good Heaven! Am I doomed to starve in this wretched place? Alas! Is
this the awful mode which the fears of Jacob Gray have suggested to him
as the easiest and safest of compassing my death?”

So terrible did the dread of death in that damp, gloomy dungeon become
to the imagination of Ada that she could scarcely hold the light for
trembling, and she placed it on one of the mouldy baskets, while with
clasped hands, and upon her knees, she breathed a prayer to Heaven for
protection and safety in her extreme peril.

How calming and sweet is the soothing influence of prayer! As the
trembling words, wrung from the pure heart of the gentle and beautiful
Ada in her deep anguish, ascended to that Heaven which never permits
the wicked to prosper, but always interposes to protect the innocent
and virtuous, a holy balm seemed to fall upon her blighted spirit, and
the benign influence of some air from the regions of eternal bliss
seemed to fill the gloomy dungeon with a brightness and a beauty that
deprived it of its horrors.

For many minutes now Ada remained silent, and her fancy strayed to the
last kind words of Albert Seyton. Then she pictured him and his father
seeking her in the house at Lambeth. In her mind’s eye she saw his
despair when he found her not, and she thought then that her heart must
break to think that she should never see him more.

“Albert—Albert!” she cried.—“Oh save me—save—seek for me! Oh, could
your eyes but cast themselves upon this gloomy abode and know that I
was here, how happy might I be—far happier than before, for now I feel
convinced this dreadful man Gray is not my father. No—no, he could not
thus before Heaven have betrayed his child! Albert—Albert!”

She dropped her head upon her breast, and again the tears blinded those
beautiful eyes, and rolled gently down her cheeks, thence falling upon
a neck of snowy whiteness, and losing their gem-like lustre in the
meshes of her raven hair. Suddenly she ceased to weep. She ceased to
call on Albert, and a chill came over her heart, as she heard Gray’s
voice, cry,—

“Ada—Ada!”

She looked up, and from a square opening in the wall far above her
reach, she saw a streaming light enter the dungeon.

“Ada!” again cried Gray, and she saw him peering into the gloom below,
and shading his eyes from the glare of the light he carried. “Ada!” he
cried, impatiently.

“I am here,” said Ada.

Gray immediately disappeared from the opening, and all was again
darkness whence the light had issued.

“What can he mean?” thought Ada. “Did he suppose that already my spirit
had yielded to this gloomy prison, and is he disappointed to find that
I still live?”

While Ada was pursuing these reflections, Gray suddenly re-appeared,
and placing a ladder from the opening into the dungeon, he said, in a
voice intended to be conciliatory,—

“Ascend, Ada—ascend.”

“I can meet death here,” said Ada.

“There is no death to meet,” said Gray. “I mean you no harm.”

“Because you have done me as much, short of taking my life,” said Ada,
“as lies in your power. By what right—by what flimsy shadow of justice
am I immured here?”

“Ascend I say,” cried Gray. “There is warmth and comfort above here.”

“I may as well,” thought Ada, with a shudder, “meet my death from his
hands above as by starvation in this place.”

She placed her foot upon the ladder, and slowly ascended. When she
neared the top, Gray reached out his hand, and assisted her into the
room in which he was.

“You tremble, girl!” he said.

“And so do you,” replied Ada, fixing her eyes upon Jacob Gray’s pale
face.

“You—you think I mean you harm,” he said, in a hesitating tone, and
avoiding Ada’s gaze as much as possible.

“Think!” repeated Ada,—“think, Jacob Gray!”

“Jacob Gray?” he cried. “You speak strangely. I thought you now knew
me.”

“I do—too well,” said Ada.

“I have told you I am your father, girl.”

“You have told me.”

“And you believe—”

“No,” said Ada, with sudden energy; “on my soul, no—as I hope for
heaven, no!”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, Jacob Gray, for the honour of all fathers—for the credit of
humanity, I cannot—will not believe myself your daughter. No, no, Jacob
Gray, I am no longer scared by that dreadful thought—thank God!”

“Girl, you know not what you say.”

“My words may be incoherent—not aptly chosen—but the sense is the same.
Jacob Gray, you are neither father, uncle, kith, nor kin of mine. No,
no!”

“Who—who—told you so?” gasped Gray.

“There—there!” cried Ada. “Your fears speak the truth; you have
confessed the cheat. Jacob Gray, I could forgive you all, now that that
dreadful weight is removed from my heart.”

“Know you where you are, since you know so much?” said Gray, after a
pause.

“I do not, save that I have been deceived by you, and lured by false
promises to this dismal place.”

“You are in my power. Still, likewise, I assert you are my daughter.”

“In your power I grant myself, as far as Heaven will permit you; but
you are no kindred to me, Jacob Gray.”

“By hell, if you call me Jacob Gray again—”

“Jacob Gray,” shouted Ada, her face kindling with excitement, and her
delicate form appearing to dilate as she pointed to the abashed and
writhing countenance of the villain who trembled before her.

“Be it so,” said Gray; “we understand each other now. You defy me.”

“I ever defied you, Jacob Gray!”

“Be it so,” he repeated. “Follow me.”

“It is my heart that defies you, Jacob Gray,” said Ada. “You are a man,
and I a weak girl. You are strong enough to enforce me to accompany
you.”

“Come on!” cried Gray.

Ada slowly followed him from the room. Gray passed out at a large
doorway into a smaller apartment, in which was a table, some baskets,
similar to those Ada had seen in the cellar turned up for seats, and a
small fire dimly burning on an ample hearth; before which a bullock
might have been roasted, and perhaps had been in days gone by.

“Ada,” said Gray, “look around you.”

Ada did so, and Gray continued,—

“This is a place of discomfort; there is little to recommend it, but it
is preferable to yon gloomy dungeon from whence you have but now
emerged.”

“I grant it,” said Ada.

“Your secret existence here is necessary for me; nay, my very life
depends upon it. It may be but for a very short time. You may imagine
that I am not in love with this mode of life. I have gold—store of
gold—but I want more, and each day shall add to the glittering mass.
When it has reached the amount I wish, you shall be free.”

“Free?”

“Yes; free as air.”

“When you have the gold you wish?”

“Even so, Ada.”

“I have read that the love of gold is one of those passions that
increase as they are fed.”

“Not with me; I have fixed in my imagination a sum which I must have.
Then, Ada, I leave England for ever, and you are free!”

“But wherefore is my captivity essential?”

“Ask no questions,” interrupted Gray. “Circumstances make you valuable;
but mark me, you are equally valuable, dead as alive. Nay, start not—I
wish you to live, if possible. I do not want to take your
life—because—because—”

“Because, what?”

“I can use you as such an implement of revenge that—that—but no matter,
no matter, your fate is in your hands; you shall yourself decide your
destiny.”

“Myself?”

“Yes; swear to me that without my permission you will not leave this
place. Swear to me you will aid me in keeping you in silence and
secrecy. Swear this, and you return no more to yon loathsome dungeon,
and perhaps, in a short time, I may place you on a dazzling height of
power, and wealth shall make all England ring with your name! You could
be the admired of all; your beauty, your wit, your gold, would be the
themes of every tongue, if you will but swear.”

“How can I believe you?” said Ada.

“If ever words of truth passed my lips,” said Gray, “these are such.”

“On what pretence was I lured hither?”

“Ada, by force or fraud I was compelled to bring you here. ’Twere
better the latter than the former.”

“And now,” said Ada, “by force or fraud I am to be kept here. Jacob
Gray, I will not swear faith to thee.”

“You will not?”

“I will not.”

“Girl, you are mad—you know not what you do. This is a device of mine
to save your life—to place you above the reach of fortune’s malice.”

“Answer me one thing, and call on Heaven to witness your truth,” said
Ada. “Are you father, uncle, or nothing else?”

“Will you swear as I bid you?”

“I cannot resign the dear hope of escape,” said Ada.

“Escape,” replied Gray, “is impossible. The dungeon from which I have
even now brought you is inaccessible save by the means in my power. For
my own safety, I must keep you a prisoner, or—or—”

“Or murder me, you would say. Jacob Gray, I think you dare not kill me.”

“Dare not?” said Gray, trembling.

“Yes; dare not were my words. Now, I will make to you a proposal. Trust
me; tell me all, who and what I am. Tell me all, and I will forgive
injuries, and perchance do your bidding.”

“No, no, I cannot tell you yet,” said Gray. “I wish you one day to know
all—when I have my gold.”

“Am I to be the slave of your avarice?”

“Call it so, if you will.”

“Who am I?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Who were those men who sought your life? Was the name of one Andrew
Britton.”

Gray absolutely shrieked as Ada pronounced the name of the smith, which
it will be recollected she had heard from Mad Maud on
Westminster-bridge.

“A—what is this—what do you mean? Who—what devil told
you—speak—Ada—speak. Have the—the dead risen? Speak, or you will drive
me mad!”



CHAPTER XXV.


Ada’s Appeal.—The Promise.—Ada’s Despair.—Gray’s Triumph.



Ada had seen too often the nervous terrors of Jacob Gray to feel much
alarm at his present emotion, and she merely replied,—

“The man I mention—Andrew Britton by name—was one of them who came to
you at our late house. That he is in some manner connected with the
mysterious circumstances which envelope me, I am convinced. Oh, Jacob
Gray, bethink you now of the evil of wickedness; you cannot gain more,
nay, not half so much by deceiving and persecuting me than you would
gain by trusting me with every secret. Besides, there is one possession
which would then be yours, which is beyond all price—that dear
inheritance we all have from Heaven as its best, most costly gift, and
which is too often bartered for a bauble. You would have peace of mind,
Jacob Gray, which you have not now. He who tries may read pain and
disquiet in your face. You are haunted by the fearful creations of your
own over-hardened conscience. I—even I—can see that some hideous
spectre of the past is ever rising, perhaps in bloody guise, before
your appalled imagination. Oh, I am weak, young, and unknowing in the
ways of life, but I can tell you, Jacob Gray, that guilt is misery. You
are wretched—most wretched—you lead a life of apprehension. Your own
fears will carry you to an early grave. Oh, do some solitary but great
act of justice, and it will stand as a shield betwixt you and your
trembling soul—will plead with Heaven for you, and by its brightness so
dim the record of your guilt that you may cherish such dear hopes of
mercy as shall in themselves be happiness. Release me—trust me. Tell
me, Jacob Gray, who and what I am. Justice, though tardy, is justice
still. I will invent causes for you up to this moment—I will pray for
you, Jacob Gray. Oh, end at once this life of horror, suspicion and
distress!”

Gray waved his hand several times while Ada was speaking, as if he
would implore her to cease, but wanted power of speech to stop her in
her appeal. When she had ceased speaking, she stood with clasped hands
gazing in his face, and waiting with a deep and holy anxiety the words
that would pass his lips in reply.

“Girl!” he gasped, “you know not what you ask! I wish you well, but
dare not—dare not—dare not tell you a tale would drive you mad!
Enough—enough—urge me no more! All this will have an end—it must—but
not as you ask. Have patience, Ada, and I will do great things for you!
Yes, great things, when I am far away in another land, and safe—safe
from those who would take my life—who would spill my blood like water!
Have patience, girl! Have patience, and all will be well.”

“I am your prisoner, then, Jacob Gray,” said Ada—“still your prisoner.”

“For a time—only for a time. Promise me, by the faith you have in
Heaven—swear that you will abide here without an effort to escape, and
such a freedom as you can safely have, you shall have.”

“If I refuse?”

“Then you must take the consequences. My safety—my life, I tell you,
depends upon your security. I will not trifle with my own existence!
Night and day yon cellar shall be your home!”

“But how can my being your unknown, solitary, and unseen prisoner avail
you?”

“Ask me not,” cried Gray. “There is but one other alternative.”

“And that is—”

“Your death, Ada!”

“Ay—my death! Such was my thought.”

“But I—I do not want to kill you,” cried Gray, hurriedly. “On my soul,
I do not! Understand me, girl; your existence is equally valuable to me
as your death! Perhaps more so, although it has its risks. Promise me
that you will not increase those risks, and on my oath, you shall live
unharmed by me.”

Ada sank into a seat, and a feeling of despair came over her heart.

“Jacob Gray,” she said, “let me promise to go far away—I will be
unseen—unknown.”

“Not yet,” cried Gray. “I tell you I have not gold enough for that yet.
There will come a time when to proclaim who and what you are will be so
sweet to me, that it is only my love for that gold which brings in its
train the means of every enjoyment that can stifle pangs that spring
from the past, that induces me now to put off the dear gratification of
that deep revenge!”

“Still a bad and unworthy motive,” said Ada. “You will only do justice
to me for the gratification of your own malignant passions.”

“Say what you will, girl,” cried Gray. “Call me what you will, I care
not. You are to me now a mine of wealth! When my love of gold is
glutted to the full, I can make you an instrument of such revenge that
I shall wish for no greater gratification! You understand your position
now—you may baulk me of my revenge by forcing me to kill you! Save
yourself, Ada, by your solemn promise to remain here!”

Ada felt that all further appeal was useless, and she wept bitterly as
the dreary future presented itself to her as a protracted imprisonment,
or a speedy and cruel death.

Gray watched her keenly, and advancing close to her, he whispered in
her ear,—

“Ada, life is sweet to the young! A world full of beauty and enjoyment
is before you—if you promise what I ask—you shall have wealth—and
wealth is power. You shall be able to raise the lowly—to crush the
proud if you promise! Those whom you love you may do wonders for! He
too—that youth who has wound himself around your girlish heart—he you
can enrich! He will owe all to you! It will be Ada that will lift him
from his low estate, and make him great—perhaps noble! But you must
promise! How hard it is to die so young! Think of the last bitter pang!
None to pity—none to love you! But I need not point such agony to you,
you will promise?”

“Jacob Gray,” said Ada, dashing the tears from her eyes, “the
allurements you hold out to me are not sufficient; but I will not cast
away the life God has given me.”

“You promise?”

“On condition, I will. But hear me, Gray. I do not believe the tale you
tell me, that you will take my life some time when I am sleeping, for
awake you dare not—if I promise not, I do believe, for already have you
attempted the deed.”

“You—you will promise?” cried Gray, impatiently.

“Not unconditionally,” replied Ada. “For one month from now I do
promise.”

“To make no effort to leave here?”

“I will be passive merely. I will repel no one.”

“But you will remain?”

“Unsought by any one, I will not leave this place.”

“You swear?”

“No, Jacob Gray, I will not swear.”

“Well! I—I will take your word. You have made a wise decision.”

“Heaven knows I am helpless,” said Ada. “The decision is scarcely mine.”

She burst into tears, and wept bitterly. The name of Albert mingled
with her sobs, for she felt now that she was separated from him for an
indefinite period.

“Heaven help me,” she sobbed, “I am now desolate, indeed.”

“Hope,” cried Gray. “Hope, Ada. The time may come sooner than you
think. The time for my revenge, but I must have more gold yet—much more
gold; then, Ada, begins your triumph. You shall find yourself raised to
a height you dream not of. Jacob Gray’s revenge shall be your fortune.
You need not weep. You will cause tears of blood—yes, the blood of
those who would have murdered me, but they dare not. Ha! Ha! They dared
not; and Jacob Gray is still too cunning—far too cunning to fall their
victim.”

Ada sat silent and spirit-broken in that lonely house. A weight seemed
to hang upon her heart, and even hope, that one dear solace of the
unfortunate, appeared to have flown from her breast.

Gray had brought food with him, which Ada partook of in silence, and
when the night had come, and the short-lived winter’s sun had gone to
rest, he took his hat and cloak, and prepared to go forth.

“Ada,” he said, “attend to nothing—heed nothing while I am gone. If
danger—that is, I mean, if any one should venture here, extinguish your
light, and seek some hiding-place, for be assured, your life is the
object sought by those who would visit the dwelling of Jacob Gray. You
understand me. Be cautious.”

Ada answered not, and Gray slouching his hat over his face, and drawing
his cloak closely around him, left the lone house with a slow and
stealthy step, taking his route towards the river’s bank, from where he
took a boat to Westminster.



CHAPTER XXVI.


The Squire.—The Life of a Captive.—A Strange Fatality.—The Associates.



Vice, by the decrees of Providence, seems to have its allotted span.
Truly may we say, “The wicked triumph for a season,” and by some
strange combination of circumstances, notwithstanding the turbulence,
the anxiety, and the danger of Learmont’s early days in the metropolis,
matters so arranged themselves, or were arranged for wise purposes by
the great Dispenser of all things, that from the day on which Ada made
her promise to Jacob Gray, Learmont had prospered in his career of
villany. His natural sagacity had told him, that now Jacob Gray was put
upon his guard, any further open attempt against his life would be
attended with great danger; and might possibly have the effect of
driving him to some desperate measure of retaliation and revenge, which
might involve both. From a deep and careful review, therefore, of the
whole of circumstances by which he was surrounded, the criminal and
unscrupulous squire decided upon a safer, although more expensive and
protracted course of action, than he had hitherto pursued; that was, to
continually tempt Gray by large offers to give up the supposed boy,
together with his own confession, and go to some foreign land to spend
the earnings of his criminality.

Jacob Gray, with the cunning which formed such an ingredient in his
character, favoured this idea on the part of Learmont, by apparently
always hesitating upon his offers, while at the same time he had
thoroughly and entirely made up his mind not to accept them; feeling,
as he did, that his life would not be worth a minute’s purchase after
he had declared Ada’s sex, and given her up together with his written
confession.

Learmont at the same time was not neglectful of the chance that
continually presented itself of discovering Gray’s place of abode, and
pouncing upon him some night unawares, and wresting from him both the
boy and the confession, at the same time that he glutted his hatred by
putting him to death.

Jacob Gray for once in his life had been injudicious when he told Ada
that he only waited for a certain amount of gold before he gratified
his revenge by declaring who and what she was. He really had decided
upon such a course. The taunts and undisguised contempt of Learmont had
awakened a revengeful spirit in his breast, while the attempt to murder
him in the old house at Lambeth inflamed to perfect fury, and made, as
it were, part of his very nature.

Learmont laboured under considerable difficulty in any attempts he
might make to trace Jacob Gray to his abode, in consequence of the
impossibility of trusting any one to do the office of spy upon him,
except the smith or himself. To the smith, Britton, there were many
weighty objections now. Intoxication was doing its work, and moreover
Gray knew him so well. Learmont therefore felt that henceforward
Britton could be no useful agent in any attempt to discover the retreat
of Gray.

Then for him, Learmont himself, to dog the footsteps of the cautious
villain from his own house, was an undertaking full of difficulty. The
very haste with which he would have had to attire himself for the
street had its objections; and were Gray to come some day by
appointment, and find him ready equipped to follow him, would not his
extremely suspicious mind at once conclude the object?

Thus the task of following Jacob Gray became one of no ordinary
difficulty, and Learmont wasted many months in trying to dissuade
himself from persevering in his present course, and take a large sum at
once; expatriating himself immediately afterwards, which, by-the-by,
Learmont never for one moment intended to permit him to do, for he
would have slaughtered him upon his own marble steps rather than allow
him to escape, the moment he could do so with no other danger than that
to be encountered from the mere fact of taking a life, in justification
of which he would easily have found some plausible excuse, if
questioned concerning the act by the laws.

Not a week passed without a visit from Gray, and at each he always
carried away as much as he could wring from Learmont’s policy or his
fears.

But how truly did poor Ada say that the love of gold was a passion
which grew if it was fed. Already had Gray received from Learmont a sum
far exceeding that which he had first fixed in his mind as what would
content him ere he sought his revenge. Still, however, he lingered, and
as each visit to Squire Learmont’s mansion added something to his
store, he could not bring his mind to stop in time. Day after day—week
after week—month succeeding month—he still hoarded, saying over to
himself,—

“Not yet—not yet! I will have more gold ere I have my revenge.”

The smith, too, was to Learmont ever a sight of terror. He still lived
at the Chequers, close to Learmont’s mansion; and he, too, paid
periodical visits to the proud squire, although his demands were
insignificant in comparison with those of Jacob Gray.

While a few guineas sufficed for the coarse vices, the drunkenness, and
the debaucheries of the smith, Jacob Gray was not satisfied unless he
increased his hidden store by a large sum.

Thus, although the smith’s eternal “message from the Old Smithy“ grated
upon his very soul, Learmont did not feel that intensity of hatred to
Britton that he did to Jacob Gray.

Nevertheless he made frequent offers to Britton to quit the country,
and give up to him certain papers which, on the night of the murder at
the Old Smithy, had been by Britton taken from the corpse of him who
met his death within that ill-named pile.

These papers were of as much importance to Learmont as any could well
be; for if they did not prove his illegitimacy, they raised the point
so strongly that had he stood alone as the last and only heir to the
vast estates of Learmont, he could scarcely have established his claim.

Of this he was assured by Gray, who would himself have gloried in the
possession of such a document, but he dared not take them from the
body; hence they fell, knowingly by him, into the hands of Britton.

It was likewise constantly urged by Britton that he, too, had a
confession written, and in pursuance of his word, had rolled it round
the knife of Jacob Gray, which the latter had left behind him at the
smithy in the body of his victim.

For a long time it had become an object with Learmont to discover from
Britton where he kept such important documents, determining, should he
find out, to make some desperate effort by fraud or violence to possess
himself of them; but the smith constantly and pertinaciously eluded the
most artful inquiries, and Learmont could obtain no clue to where they
were concealed, although by Britton’s manner he felt satisfied they
were not at the Chequers. Still he feared to do violence to Britton,
lest he might have adopted some means of bringing them to light after
his decease.

Never probably were three persons placed by a curious train of
circumstances in such strange relation to each other.

Learmont hating the two accomplices of his guilt, and not deterred by
the slightest compunctions of conscience from taking their lives if he
dared, yet placed in so singular a position with regard to them, that
he trembled at the idea of any accident or sudden illness depriving
either of them of existence, as such an event might bring to light the
documents by which they held themselves safe from assassination at his
hands.

Jacob Gray received large sums of money which he dare not use, and
trembled with apprehensions from day to day lest his miserable retreat
in the marshes of Battersea should be discovered, yet with a species of
insanity lingered on with an unquenchable thirst of adding to his store
of gold before he began the enjoyment of a single guinea of it.

Britton, the reckless savage smith, was the only one of these three men
who in his own brutal manner enjoyed the fruits of his crimes. He
feasted, drank, and led a life of awful and reckless debauchery from
day to day—defying the future and drowning the present in a sea of
intoxication.

And now let us speak of Ada—the young, the beautiful, the persecuted
Ada—who now for many weary months had endured the solitary and
miserable life of a captive in the little house at Battersea.

From time to time Jacob Gray had enforced a renewal of the girl’s
promise not to escape from her state of bondage; and who, under similar
circumstances, would have refused the pledge when death was the only
alternative? Life to all is dear and precious—it is the one possession
to which mankind fondly clings under all privations—all sufferings. Rob
life of all its joys—clothe it in misery—attack the frame in which
lingers by disease and unceasing pain; still, while the brain retains
its healthy action, there will be a clinging to life—to mere vitality,
which is in human nature a feeling altogether independent of all that
makes up the pains or joys of existence. But if life is thus clung to
with a desperate reluctance to quit it by the aged, the diseased, and
the hopeless, how much greater must be its charms to the young,
healthful, ardent, and enthusiastic spirit that in its young existence
seems almost immortal!

Ada was unhappy—miserable, but she had not yet done with hope; she
could not say, take my life, Jacob Gray, for I will promise no more;
that would have been a species of moral suicide from which she shrank
aghast; and feeling, from Gray’s manner, a firm conviction that he did
speak the truth when he declared that her death or life were alike
indifferent to him, except so far as the former placed him in a less
dangerous position, and the latter would eventually gratify some wild
feelings of revenge against some one, she did go on from month to month
promising that she would make no effort to escape, and still hoping
that a day of deliverance was near, till the hue of health began to
fade upon her cheeks, and she felt that dreadful sinking of the heart
which ever waits on hope deferred.

We have now another person in our dramatis personæ to speak of, and
that is the gallant, young, and enthusiastic Albert Seyton.

The sudden and mysterious disappearance of Ada had struck deeply upon
his heart, and after about a fortnight’s hopeless search through
London, during which he endured immense fatigue, and scarcely took any
nourishment to sustain his exhausted frame, he was seized with an
illness which brought him to the point of death, and from which he
recovered but very slowly, although a good constitution and the
affectionate solicitude of his father at length triumphed over the
disease.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Learmont at Home.—The Baronetcy.—A Visitor.—The Rejected Offer.



A rich, glowing summer’s sun was shining through the stained glass in a
large window of one of the principal rooms in the mansion of Learmont.
The very air seemed filled with glorious tints, rivalling in hues of
gorgeous beauty the brightest refulgence of the rainbow. The songs of
birds from the gardens came sweetly to the ear: a dreamy stillness,
such as is often to be observed towards the close of some delicious
summer day, seemed to pervade all things. He, however, who sat in that
richly-decked apartment, had no ear for the melodies of nature; for him
the glorious sunlight had no romantic charms. His brow was knit with
anxious care—deep furrows were on his cheeks, and a nervous irritation
of manner betrayed the heart ill at ease.

It was Squire Learmont himself who thus sat at the close of that
summer’s day, and the change in his appearance since we last presented
him to the reader was so great that it might have been supposed many
years had passed over his head instead of the comparatively short time
that had actually elapsed. His lank black hair was thickly mingled with
grey tints, and the sallow of his complexion had changed more and more
to a sickly awful white, such as might be supposed to sit upon the
countenance of one risen from the grave.

He sat for a long time silent, although his lips moved as if he were
muttering to himself something that formed the principal subject of his
meditation.

“Well,” he suddenly said, half aloud, “if I have made so great an
inroad in my accumulated wealth as to reduce it by one-fourth of its
whole amount, I have achieved something—ay, a great deal, for I have
made the first step up the ladder of nobility. This baronetcy that is
promised me is what I suggested to myself long since. Yes, that is the
commencement of power, the limit of which who shall define—then a
marriage—one of those marriages of convenience on one side and ambition
on the other. My wealth will make me a most acceptable suitor to some
branch of a noble family, whose peerage will look all the better for a
new coat of gilding. Humph, what says the minister?”

He took from the table before him a note which lay open, and read it
slowly and distinctly. It ran thus;—



There can be no doubt of his Majesty’s most gracious inclination to
confer a baronetcy upon you, without the slightest reference to your
patriotic and disinterested offer to purchase the means of occupying
six seats in the lower house. The matter may be well concluded this
present week.



“May it?” muttered Learmont. “It shall. I am not one who brooks delays.
I have paid dearly for my baronetcy, and I will have it. Those six
seats have cost me thrice their sums in thousands—ay, more than that.
There can indeed be no doubt of the gracious intentions of his Majesty;
that business is settled. I am to all intents and purposes even now a
baronet—I have paid the price, and, thank the Fates, this is a country
where all things have a price, nobility included; and now, how much
longer am I to be tortured by these rascals, Gray and Britton? My
bitterest curses on them both. Gray’s demands increase each time he
comes here; his love of gold is insatiable, and he never relaxes in his
caution. How on earth to cope with that man I know not. Must I ever be
the victim of his avarice until some day he dies, leaving behind him
that which might condemn me? No; this must, cannot last. Too long
already have I groaned under the weight of this man’s hideous presence,
and frequent visits. Some bold or hazardous scheme must rid me of him;
and, too, he peremptorily refuses aught to do with the destruction of
Britton. He thinks the job too dangerous, and taunts me with the sneer
that he gets of me already what gold he chooses to demand. Jacob Gray,
beware. Some accident may yet arise to place you at my mercy—my mercy?
Ha! Ha! Oh, if I could invent some torture—some—Ha! What now?”

“Master Gray desires speech of your worship,” said a servant.

In a moment Gray entered the room. Anxiety of mind, and the necessity
of constant caution, had had all their effect upon Jacob Gray. He
stooped considerably, and moved along with a slow, silent, shuffling
tread, as if he feared the very sound of his own footsteps would betray
him. He peered into the face of Learmont from his half-closed eyes, and
then gently sliding to a seat, he said, in a half whisper,—

“Well, squire, how fares it with you?”

“Indifferently well, Jacob Gray,” said Learmont. “You look pale and
ill.”

“No, no!” said Gray, quickly, “I’m very well, quite well and strong. I
shall have many years to live yet, I am quite well and strong.”

“Your looks belie you then; your hands tremble; you are weak, Jacob
Gray.”

“And yet so strong,” said Gray, trembling, his small eyes fixed at
Learmont, “that those who would destroy me dare not lay a finger on me
in violence!”

“I understand your taunt,” said Learmont; “it has long been settled
between us that I dare not take your life, Jacob Gray. But even now,
will nothing tempt you to conclude a business which is slowly but
sorely hurrying you to the grave?”

“Squire Learmont,” said Gray calmly, “it may be hurrying me to my
grave, but I do not wish to avoid the hurry by being at once placed in
it; I may be ill, but I am not yet disposed to take death as a remedy.
You understand me, Squire Learmont?”

“’Twere needless to affect to be ignorant of your meaning; you think
that I would be so foolish as to run the great risk of not letting you
go in peace.”

“I know it.”

“You are wrong, Jacob Gray. There was a time, I admit, when I panted
for your destruction—I longed to be revenged upon you for your hints
and instructions to Britton, but that time is past—personal safety is
now all I care for.”

“Humph!” said Gray, “revenge is such a long-lived passion, ’tis
sometimes like a blazing fire craving fiercely for its prey, and then
it moves to something desperate and dangerous; but at others ’tis like
a smouldering combustion, scarcely telling of its existence, but still
slowly and surely burning on till the end of time, as if it were by
some mysterious means fed by its own ashes. Squire Learmont, I do not
say absolutely nay to your offer. There may come a day when I shall
wish for freedom of action in another land; then I will bring the boy
perchance to you, reserving the confession until my foot is on the
shore, or some other safe method which I have not yet matured: at
present, however, we will wait; yes, we will have a little patience,
Squire Learmont.”

Learmont bit his lips, and bent a scowl of such fierce hatred at Gray,
that if he had for a moment doubted the flame of resentment still lived
in Learmont’s breast or not, such doubt would have been at once
dissipated, and he would have felt convinced that their relative
positions had not altered one iota.

“Well, well,” said Gray, after a moment’s pause, “we will talk of other
things. The boy improves exceedingly.”

Learmont bent on him a glance of peculiar meaning as he said—

“Gray, that boy would be to me a dainty sight in his coffin.”

“No doubt—no doubt,” said Gray. “The time may come when you may enjoy
such a sight; but not yet—not yet.”

“I must needs wait your pleasure in this matter, Master Gray; but you
are not serious in refusing to exert your skill in the destruction of
the besotted knave, Britton? Ah! Jacob Gray, you stand in your own
light most grievously.”

“Do I?” said Gray. “Hem! Squire Learmont, some time since I listened to
your proposals for the death of Britton, the savage smith, I agreed
with you that his love of drink should be the means used to lure him to
destruction. The plan was thus to stultify his judgment and never very
active caution by the strong stimulants he so dotes on, till I wound
from him the secret of where he kept the papers, you know, and the
confession, if indeed he had written one—a fact I always doubted; and
then a subtle poison in his cup would remove him for ever. Two things
prompted me to the deed, Squire Learmont.”

“What were they?”

“The one was my love of gold. Look ye, sir; had I obtained the papers
which prove, as I well know, your illegitimacy, and bar you for ever
from possessing the estates of Learmont, be assured I should have kept
them.”

“Kept them, Gray?”

“Ay, kept them.”

“But you had—you have—sufficient hold on me already, in the person of
that boy.”

“A hold I had, but scarcely sufficient, squire. I am as a careful
mariner who in the calmest sea, would like two anchors to hold his
bark. The boy is a great thing; a valuable property; but human life is
uncertain, and the Squire of Learmont deep and bold.”

“What mean you?”

“I mean, that I have lived upon the rack!“ said Gray, his pale face
quivering with emotion. “Was I not by you watched, hunted like a wild
beast to my lair? You know I was; and the possession of these papers
would have made me sleep more soundly at night, for it would scarcely
have been prudent of you to hunt a man who possessed such certain means
of disinheriting you, even although you had paved your path to wealth
with oceans of blood. I tell you I would possess these papers.”

“And what benefit would the death of Britton have been to me, then?”

Gray smiled hideously as he replied,—

“It is always better to consolidate debts, Squire Learmont; you would
have had one creditor then, instead of two. Then, likewise, I would
have sold you the boy and left England forever.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes; with the papers.”

“And yet,” said Learmont, after a pause, “with all these advantages to
you resulting from the deed, you refuse to prosecute the enterprise of
removing Britton safely, which I am quite sure that you can do.”

“Hem!” said Gray, and his small eyes twinkled as he fixed them upon the
countenance of the squire. “There is an old fable of two dogs fighting
for a bone, while a third walks off unscathed with the object of
contention. Squire Learmont, you are scarcely yet a match for Jacob
Gray!”

Learmont was silent, and Gray laughed, and then started in alarm at the
unwonted sound of his own mirth.

“You spoke of two reasons for the death of Britton,” said Learmont,
after a pause of several minutes’ duration.

“Ay,” said Gray, “I did, and there I was indiscreet. My second reason
was, revenge. I hated Britton. I still hate him. I—I loathe him; and my
deep hatred, the direful spirit of my revenge, urged me to run some
little risk to gratify it. I knew your policy—I saw it as clearly as
the sun at noon-day. But I was a little blinded by my revenge, and I
did make an attempt to get the savage smith in my toils.”

“You failed?”

“Yes, because you were too hasty in your wish to get rid of Jacob Gray.
You recollect the Bishop’s-walk on a certain frosty morning some time
since?”

“The Bishop’s-walk?”

“Yes. There was a man who would have assisted me in the destruction of
Britton. You, Squire Learmont, left that man a mangled, bleeding corpse
in the Bishop’s Walk.”

“I!” exclaimed Learmont.

“Yes you! I did not see you do the deed, but after some thought I could
stake my life upon the fact that Sheldon, the Thames waterman, came by
his death from your sword. Thus it was squire; that man was tempted by
me to assist in the murder of Britton. Curiosity, or breach of faith,
induced him to dog my footsteps to the lonely house in which you and I
and Britton had the pleasant interview at midnight.”

Learmont made a gesture of impatience, and Gray proceeded.

“You note how candid and explanatory I am; it is not worth my while to
lie or conceal aught from you. By some means then, which I own I know
not, you met with this Sheldon. He told you my place of abode, and for
the information you murdered him.”

Learmont bit his lips with passion.

“That circumstance awakened me,” added Gray. “Oh! It did me a world of
good, I then saw on what slippery ground I stood. I let my revenge
sleep, and had its proper time for awaking. You taught me a useful
lesson, squire, a lesson on prudence.”

“Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, gravely. “You have great talent. Think
over my offers. If you can, procure me Britton’s papers. Give me up the
boy, and spend your life in any other land you choose. I will charge my
lands with an annuity of five thousand pounds per annum.”

“But the smith?”

“I will, you having rendered him innoxious by depriving him of the
papers, undertake to destroy him. He shall not live four-and-twenty
hours after that event.”

“I—will—think,” said Gray, rising.

“You had better,” cried Learmont. “Here is more money now; but you had
better take my offer. It is a large one.”

“Hem!” said Gray.

“And before you go, now,” added Learmont in a tone of excitement,
“since you have been so candid with me, know that I am not altogether
so much in your power as you, in your great cunning and admirable
wisdom, may imagine.”

“I am all attention,” answered Gray.

“Then I tell you there is a point of endurance beyond which even I may
be goaded: pass that by your demands, and I collect all my portable
wealth and leave England forever, first handing you over to the tender
mercy of the laws.”

“Indeed!” said Gray; “I have too much faith.”

“Faith in what?”

“In your love.”

“My love?”

“Ay—for yourself. I wish you a good evening, and pleasant dreams. Hem!”



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Ada’s Lone Home.—The Summer.—An Adventure.



“Blessed,” says the simple squire of Don Quixote, “is the man who first
invented sleep.” What would the spirit-worn—the persecuted—the
heart-stricken—and the desolate do without sleep? Oh, if there be one
heavenly seal set upon the pure and innocent heart, it is that dear
impressive slumber—deep and dreamless as infants, which, like a soft
south wind in dreariest winter, lays for a time the wearied senses, in
a blessed repose. Then is the imagination freed from earthly dross, and
clinging cares, carried far, far away to happier times. The poor
prisoner then escapes from his dungeon—his fetters drop from his
benumbed limbs, and he lives again in the glorious sunshine, with the
blue heavens alone looking down upon him, and the green earth in all
its wondrous beauty stretching far before him. The wave-tossed mariner,



“Absent so long from his heart’s home,”



will, in the dreamy watches of the night, revisit the loved ones that
are far away. The freezing winds of the “blustrous north” will lack
their power to chill his blood—the lashing surges will, by



“Some strange magic,”



be converted into sweet gentle sounds, such as perchance surround his
young home; a home to which his affections still cling, the more
distant he may happen to be from it. It was a beautiful idea of the
Italian poet, who likened the yearning for home of the Swiss exiles to
the tightening of the invisible strings that bound their hearts to
their native lands as they increased in distance from it.

The tired soldier too,



“When the night cloud has lowered,

And the sentinel stars set their watch in the sky;”



on his pallet of straw, he dreams of his home and all his dear
associations. He dreams of his native vale far away and in imagination
he looks for the familiar objects of childhood, each associated with
some dear reminiscence that makes perchance a wild flower to his heart
a dearer object than the richest gem! What is cold, hunger, wounds, and
pains then to him? He returns “weary and wan,” yet, oh so happy to
those he loves.



“He hears his own mountain goats bleating aloft,

He knows the sweet strain which the corn-reapers sing.”



He sees his home—the cottage embowered amongst crawling honey-suckles.
Every sight and sound is to his ears delightful. The wild flowers
breathe delicious perfume. Then he reaches the well-known door. There
is a cry of welcome!



“His little ones kiss him a thousand times o’er

And his wife sobs aloud in her fulness of heart.”



Oh, what a magic is in that scene conjured up by the fairy power of
imagination! The visions may fly at the first faint blush of the coming
morn. The sleeper may awaken with a sigh and a tear; but he has been
home again; he has kissed his children; oh, he has been happy, although
’twas but a dream. Soldier, may such dear visions ever haunt thy pillow!

May sleep—gentle sleep—



“Nature’s soft nurse,”



ever haunt the couch of innocence! If the persecuted and the unhappy
had nothing but that oblivion from care to thank Heaven for, it should
be sufficient to fill the heart with holy thoughts and deep
thanksgiving.

What would our poor Ada have done, but for sleep? And she could sleep,
although Jacob Gray could not. The weary months were reduced more than
one-half, and Heaven sent visions of joy and gushing tenderness to
uphold and comfort that young and beautiful girl in her solitude. The
day might be gloomy, and the old lone house dispiriting and cheerless,
but the fancy, when the body slept, took its airy flight, and,
Heaven-directed, laid in stores of beauty and food for waking thoughts.

Ada had kept her word with Gray. She had never once passed the
threshold of that lonely abode, and she had renewed her promise from
time to time, although with many tears; but she would not throw away
the life that God had given, so she lived on, illumined in her heart by
the hope that the day would come when her dreams would become reality,
and her present reality seem to her but as the fevered imaginings of a
dream!

From some hidden place in her prison-house, she would sometimes look
out for hours together upon the blue sky, and envy the wild birds as
they winged their free and happy flight far, far away in the liquid
depths of the blue arch that spanned the world. She would listen, too,
to the song of the aspiring lark as it flew up—up towards heaven, until
it became but a small speck in the sky. This was a delight to Ada; and
to her imaginative mind nothing could be sweeter music than the slowly
decreasing cadences of that wild, happy song of the lark as in its very
recklessness of joy it leaves the earth so far behind.

Far away sometimes in the open fields she would see some one picking
his or her way along the swampy ground, and she blessed the sight off
any other human face than Gray’s.

Then in the old house there were insects—crawling things, which in the
great world are despised and put to death because we cannot see their
beauties, nor appreciate their pains; but Ada, with a simple and
beautiful theology, taught her by her own heart, and culled from the
few books she had read, feared not these creatures, for she looked upon
them all with a kindly spirit, as being the creations of the same Great
Being who had made the mountains, the wondrous ocean, and all the
living, breathing things of earthy, sea and air.

So in course of time the very mice would come forth at the sound of her
voice and eat from her hand, peering at her from their bright twinkling
eyes, without fear.

Ada shrunk from no living thing but Jacob Gray, and him she avoided as
much as possible. He always brought home with him food enough for their
wants, and Ada took her portion in silence. There was one small room
which she had appropriated to her own use, and into that room she
forbade Jacob Gray to enter. Wicked and ruthless as he was, that young
girl had acquired a kind of moral control over him which he could not
shake off. They never conversed. They had no discussions. Their whole
intercourse resolved itself to this:—That he would murder her if she
did not promise to abide where she was without making an effort to
escape, and she, having promised so much, was otherwise a free agent,
and under no sort of control from him.

Thus the seasons had rolled on, and Ada had marked the subsidence of
winter and the budding beauty



“Of the sweet spring-time,”



from her lonely home.

Sometimes Jacob Gray would be absent for a whole day, and Ada was glad
he stayed away, for she would then sing to herself old ballads which
were dear to her, because the book from which she had learnt them had
been lent to her by Albert Seyton. But when she heard his well-known
signal of return, she went to her own room, and sung no more. Thus, to
a certain extent, Ada enjoyed the glorious summer, although she could
not wander in the green fields, or lose herself among shady trees. The
soft genial air, however, visited the ill-omened house at Battersea, as
freely as it blew its sweets in at the windows of a palace, and these
were moments when Ada felt most happy.

Gray, when he remained out the whole day, never mentioned to Ada his
intention of so doing; but she knew that if the day fully dawned and he
came not, that he would wait until the shades of evening rendered it
safe for him to cross the fields without the risk of observation.

On these occasions it seemed to Ada as if she was half liberated from
her prison, so grateful to her was the absence of Jacob Gray; and after
seeing the day fairly commenced, and rambling through the old house
without encountering the object of her dread and dislike, she would
feel comparatively happy.

It was on one of these occasions that we propose conducting our readers
to the Lone House at Battersea.

Gray had gone out the preceding evening at sunset, and the morning came
without bringing him back again. A glorious morning it was—full of
life, beauty, and sunshine. The summer air blew sweetly into the
chamber of the lovely girl; but the very murmuring of the soft breeze
was company to her, and the twitter of the happy birds as they flew
past the old house fell like Nature’s own music, as indeed it was, upon
her innocent heart.

Hastily dressing herself she rose, and with a slow, cautious step,
descended to Gray’s sitting-room. He was not there. Here she stood for
a few minutes upon the principal staircase, and listened attentively.
No sound disturbed the repose that dwelt in that house. Ada smiled.

“He has not returned,” she cried; “I shall have a whole day to myself.
A whole day, in which to sing over my old songs, to converse with the
birds, to feed the mice and insects that abound here; and I think they
have learnt to know me now, and love me in their way, and according to
their several natures.”

The day wore on, but it was scarcely wearisome to Ada. ’Tis true she
sometimes wept when she thought how cruelly she was situated; but then
she would soon smile again, and sitting opposite to an open window, she
would gaze for a long time upon the clear blue sky, and speculate upon
the various forms of the light fleecy vapours that imparted an
additional charm to the sky, by partially concealing some of its
beauties. Then she thought of those who were dear to her—of Albert
Seyton—of his father—of the poor woman who had spoken a few kind words
to her at the little milk-shop at Westminster. To those who have been
accustomed to harshness, with what a freshening joy the recollection of
a few words kindly spoken comes upon the mind! Oh, if the rich and
powerful—those who are living in high places, and revelling in
luxury—did but know how delightful to the bruised heart but a few
simple words of common courtesy are, they would themselves feel a
pleasure in speaking them, such as all the adulation of their
flatterers—all the glitter of their homes—all the gaudy insignia of
their rank can never bestow upon them. Ada wept with grateful joy
because that poor woman spoke but a few short sentences of kindness to
her!



CHAPTER XXIX.


The Alarm.—The Pursuit.—A Mob in the Last Century.—The Fugitive.—Maud,
the Beggar.



As Ada sat in an attitude of deep musing, and her long silken eyelashes
were wet with the tears starting to her eyes, a confused murmuring
sound from afar off came faintly to her ears. She started, for in that
solitude any direct or tangible sounds from the great world without
were strange and new.

Bending forward in an attitude of listening, the young girl endeavoured
to catch the purport of the unwonted disturbance.

Still nothing but faint mingled cries and shouts came to her ear; she
could hear no words distinctly, but, from the general tone of the
cries, she guessed they were those of derision and contempt.

So faintly were they borne across the fields, that had not the light
winds blown steadily in that direction, no sound of all the uproarious
voices, that were so mingled together in strange confusion, would have
reached the ears of the solitary prisoner.

Nearer and nearer, however, came the sounds; and Ada went to the
highest floor in the house, the windows of which commanded an extensive
view in all directions. Close down by the river’s side she could now
discern a disorderly rabble, apparently pursuing another object. She
saw the action of casting stones, and shouts, shrieks, loud laughter,
and every kind of noise which the human voice is capable of producing
came each moment more distinctly to her ear.

That the crowd were pursuing and pelting some object of popular scorn
or hatred she could easily perceive. Foremost, there appeared a strange
cowering mass of rags and squalid poverty, against which the
indignation of the rabble of Lambeth seemed to be directed.

Ada watched the scene with a pitying eye; she could not imagine any
circumstances which could justify the hunting down of a fellow-creature
in such a manner; but Ada did not know enough of human nature to be
aware that one of its recreations is persecution in all forms and
shapes.

Now she the fugitive took to the fields, and, to her surprise, made
directly for the Lone House. Ada’s heart beat quick with the idea that
the mob would follow, and her promise to Jacob Gray would become
nugatory by persons discovering her, and forcing her from her
imprisonment, instead of she herself contriving the means of escape.

Too soon, however, was this hope dissipated, for the yelling rout,
after pursuing the fugitive a short distance further, gave up the
sport, and retired with shouts and execrations from the pleasures of
the chase.

Still Ada saw the fugitive rushing wildly onwards, and from the
looseness and ragged plight of the apparel, she could not decide
whether it was a male or a female, who was evidently making with speed
towards Forrest’s house.

To obtain a nearer view of the stranger, Ada descended to the lower
portion of the house, and, by the time she had reached a window on the
ground floor, the persecuted one was so close to the building that she,
with a cry of surprise, recognised her as the mad female she had met on
Westminster bridge, and whose features and general appearance the
extraordinary events of that night had evidently impressed on her
memory.

For several moments after making this discovery, Ada’s mind was in such
a whirl of conflicting emotions, that she could decide upon no
particular course of action; and it was not until the poor hunted,
bruised, and bleeding woman had sunk upon the door-step with a deep
groan of anguish, that Ada felt herself at once roused to exertion, and
determined to dare all, risk all, in the sacred cause of humanity.

In another moment the compassionate and warm-hearted Ada was at the
door. She hesitated not a moment; but flinging it open, stood, for the
first time for many weary months, from under that miserable
prison-house.

The sound of the opening of the door seemed at once to strike alarm
into the heart of the poor creature, who sat crouched upon the steps
and sobbing bitterly. She sprang to her feet, and then, as if she
lacked the strength to fly, she sunk upon her knees, and in low,
heart-broken accents, she cried,—

“Mercy—mercy! Oh, spare me! Mercy—mercy!”

It is impossible to describe the tone of exquisite anguish in which
these words were spoken; but Ada felt them keenly, and the tears rushed
to her eyes, and her voice faltered as she said,—

“I am myself a child of woe and persecution. Come in, for some few
hours yet you will be safe here.”

With a shriek the poor maniac threw herself at Ada’s feet, and
attempted to kiss them.

“How I love to hear a word of kindness! Is there a human heart can feel
for poor Mad Maud!—Is there a human voice can speak to me in tones of
pity?”

“There is,” said Ada. “God knows I pity you; but you are hurt—come
in—come in—I dare not myself stand here.”

“Hush—hush!” said Maud, holding up her finger and smiling. “Do not
speak—you are young and beautiful; but do not speak, for I heard just
now the voice of one of God’s ministering angels. The tone was low and
sweet; but I knew it—Ha, ha! I knew it—’tis comfort to poor Maud.”

“’Twas I that spoke,” said Ada.

“Hark—hark! There again! Is it indeed you?”

“It is.”

“Shall you stay long?”

“Stay where?”

“From your house.”

She pointed to the blue sky as she spoke, and gazed earnestly upwards.

“See—see—yon cloud is waiting for you,” she said suddenly. “So you have
come from your own house of light and everlasting joy, to speak words
of comfort to poor Mad Maud? I bless—bless you.”

The poor creature covered her face with her hands, and wept aloud in
her fulness of heart.

Ada gently laid her small hand upon Maud’s arm, and led her
unresistingly into the house, closing the door after her.

“Do not weep now,” she said; “I saw you the sport of many from a window
in this house. What you may have done to anger those who so hotly
followed you with shouts and cries, I know not; but it is sufficient
for me that you are faint and weary. You shall have refreshment, and as
long a rest here as I dare, for your own safety as well as my own,
offer you.”

Maud withdrew her hands from before her eyes, and gazed earnestly at
Ada.

“Are you indeed mortal?” she said. “Must I once more, for your sake,
love my kind?”

“I am as you see me,” said Ada, “a poor helpless girl. Here, take
refreshment, and deem me not inhospitable if I tell you then to go from
this place, and forget you ever saw it.”

Ada placed before the poor, half-famished being such food as she had in
the house, and, while she ate of the meat and bread voraciously, Ada
amused herself with conjecture as to who and what this singular
creature could be, who seemed, in some strange and confused manner,
mixed up with her own fate.

“Your name is Maud, I heard you say?” remarked Ada, kindly.

“Mad Maud, they call me,” was the reply—“but I am not so mad as they
think me. Do not tell them that though, for the Savage Smith would kill
me, and then I should not die, as I ought to do, before he does.”

“Alas,” thought Ada, “it is in vain to question this poor creature, her
wits are tangled; she may know all, but can tell me nothing; and should
she tell me my own story, how can I unravel her strange discourse, or
separate the truth from the strange web of fiction which her mental
alienation mingles with it.”

“You are thinking,” suddenly said Maud, “so am I, so am I,—do you
recollect the burning of the smithy? Ha, ha! That was brave work.”

“What smithy?” said Ada.

“And do you know,” continued Maud, unheedful of the question, “do you
know, the crackling roaring flames would not touch the body? No, no,
the smith tried that, but the flames would not touch it! Like long
fiery tongues they licked round and round it; but, ha, ha! It could not
burn, it would not burn. No, no, it would not burn!”

There was a wild insane exultation about the poor creature as she
uttered these words that almost alarmed Ada.

“The man you call the smith,” she said, “was he you met one night on
Westminster-bridge? I heard you address him by that title.”

“On a bridge?”

“Yes, you must recollect, he would fain have taken your life.”

“That was a dream,” said Maud, shaking her head; “a long wild dream.”

“The sun is in the west,” said Ada, mournfully; “before it sinks I pray
you to go, I have no power now.”

“They called me a witch, and hunted me,” suddenly said Maud, shivering
and drawing her tattered garments closely around her; “’tis very hard,
for I am only poor Mad Maud; I follow Britton the smith, and he cannot
kill me, because the Almighty has doomed that he shall die first—did
you ever see that child again?”

“What child?” said Ada, earnestly. “Of what do you speak?”

“Ha! Ha!—’Twas brave work! Brave work!“ muttered Maud. “Was not that an
awful death, eh? It came from the Smithy, but they could not burn the
body! No, no,—God! How the man screamed—he was torn and bleeding—his
shrieks were music to me—music! Music! To me, because I knew he was a
murderer! And Andrew Britton was plunged deeper, deeper in crime! So I
follow him—I must see the smith die—that is my task for life!”

“Poor creature!” sighed Ada.

“Who’s that,” cried Maud, “who pities me?”

“I do, from the bottom of my heart,” said Ada. “Oh! Tell me, if you
can, what has driven you to this state—this fearful state? Had you a
house, kindred, were kind looks ever bent upon you; did the sweet echo
of soft words ever ring in your years? Tell me all.”

Maud convulsively clutched the arms of the chair upon which she sat,
and she trembled violently as Ada spoke—once, twice, thrice, she tried
to speak, then with a violent effort she gasped the words,—

“House—kindred—love—oh, Heaven! Oh, Heaven, spare me—spare me!”

She then burst into such a violent and frantic fit of weeping, that Ada
became much alarmed, and entreated her to be composed, in the most
moving and tender accents.

Gradually the deep anguish of Maud subsided, and when she again looked
on the face of Ada, the wild glowing expression of her eyes had given
place to a mild lustre, and she said in a low soft voice, exceedingly
different from that in which she usually spoke,—

“Where am I?”

“Alas!” said Ada, “I can scarcely tell you; but till sunset you are
welcome to what shelter and food I can give you.”

“Give!” said Maud; “God’s mercy has granted me just now, for the second
time, the calmness and rationality of my happier days—this will pass
away soon, and I shall become what I know I am—mad again!”

“Nay,” said Ada, “hope that Heaven is not so stinting of its mercy.”

Maud shook her head and sighed deeply.

“You wish me to go at sunset?”

“For your own safety.”

“Well, be it so; I was guided hither for I know not what—I believe only
because I am poor and wretched, and my wits wander sometimes.”

“Can there be any so wretched?”

“Ay,” said Maud, “many, many—be poor, houseless, and mad, from deep
grief and injury, and there is scarcely a human hand but what will not
be raised against you.”

“Horrible!” exclaimed Ada. “’Tis very wicked.”

“’Tis very true,” said Maud. “But hear me—my tale is very short—my
brain again will throb and beat—my blood will boil, and strange shapes
will again goad me to madness.”

She compressed her head tightly for several seconds, and rocked to and
fro as if in pain—then suddenly she laid her long skinny hand on Ada’s
arm, and said—

“Listen—you shall hear what drove me to this—haply it may save you from
the like.”



CHAPTER XXX.


The Tale.—A Blighted Heart’s Despair.



Poor Maud spoke in a low earnest voice, and Ada became deeply
interested in her story, as with many tears she poured it into the ears
of the lovely and persecuted girl.

“You are young and very beautiful,” she commenced. “I was young, and
they told me I was beautiful. Look at me now, and smile at the idle
boast. Still there was one who loved me—one who listened to my voice,
as though it had a magic in it—one who followed me where I led. My
heart was touched by the purity of his devotion, and I loved him even
as he loved me, next thing to Heaven. It might be that we each made too
much of our earthly idols, and so turned the face of Heaven against us
both; but I scarce can think so, for He who made His creatures with
fond and faithful hearts, must surely look with pleasure rather than
anger upon their deep and holy affections. Well, girl, the future lay
before us like a summer’s day—all sunshine, joy, and delight. We asked
each other what could mar our happiness; and in the ecstasy of our own
dear truthfulness we answered, ‘Nothing.’

“Where our mutual parents lived, there came one day a man of coarse and
ruffianly aspect. He said he came to settle in the place, and seek a
helpmate among the village maidens. None welcomed him, for his manner
was harsh and brutal—an index of the mind. This man’s name was Andrew
Britton.”

“Indeed!” said Ada.

“Yes, Andrew Britton, a smith. With unparalleled insolence he said he
had fixed on me for his wife. I scorned his suit. He jested at my
indignant refusal. I wept, for we were alone. He laughed at my tears.
Then I threatened him with the resentment of him to whom I had already
plighted my young heart, and Andrew Britton swore then a fearful oath
that I never should be his.

“He whom I loved found me in tears, and after much solicitation, got
from me the particulars of the interview that had just terminated with
the Savage Smith. I would not tell him, though, until he had promised
me he would not endanger himself by resenting—men heed not such
promises. His young blood boiled with anger. He met the smith, and from
words they came to mutual violence. Britton was much hurt, and he whom
I loved came off the conqueror, to the joy of all.

“Britton then came, and asked my forgiveness. He said he was an altered
man. He swore he repented of his passion, and we believed him. But, oh,
girl! When a bad, wicked man speaks, you may fairly mistrust him. ’Tis
the glitter of the eyes of the serpent that fascinate but to betray.

“The day of my union was at length fixed. There were no regrets—no
grief—all was happiness. We wandered hand-in-hand the evening before to
look at the last sunset ere we should be bound together in those holy
ties which none dare impiously to break asunder.

“We wondered what could happen to make us unhappy. We saw no cloud in
the clear horizon of our joy! Oh, what an hour of bliss was that! ’Tis
needless to dwell on what we said or how we looked into each other’s
eyes to see our own reflected happiness.

“The sun sunk to rest, and in the east uprose the silver moon ere we
parted. With many lingering regrets, we said adieu. Oh, God! We never
met again!”

Maud sunk on her knees, and, hiding her face upon her chair, she again
gave way to a similar wild, awful passion of grief to what had before
affected her.

Ada had been deeply impressed with poor Maud’s simple and affecting
narrative, told as it was with a pathos which defies description. She
did not speak but let the woman have her way, and after some minutes,
the violence of her grief, as before, subsided and she rose to outward
appearance calm again.

“Bear with me yet a brief space,” said Maud. “I shall not weep so much
again.”

“I hope indeed you never may,” said Ada. “But it would be a harsh and
unfeeling heart that could not bear patiently the tears springing from
a bruised heart.”

Maud took Ada’s hand, and pressed it to her lips in silent gratitude,
and then resumed her narrative.

“The morrow came, and brought with it a cloudless sky and a bright
sunshine, which never to me seemed so bright and beautiful. We were to
meet at the village church, to part no more! And, when I and my friends
arrived, and we found that we were first, they were inclined to chide
my lover’s delay, but I only smiled, for no doubt crossed my mind. Not
the smallest speck appeared to me as yet in the heaven of my happiness.

“An hour passed, and still he came not. Then, indeed, there was a
flutter at my heart—a mingled feeling of alarm and anger. Then some
went to seek him, and returned unsuccessful. He could not be found! My
anger vanished, and I began to tremble. Two more hours passed away—the
last was one of agony.

“Then came one into the church, and whispered to my father. I saw his
cheek grow pale! I saw him clutch at the altar rail for support! At
that moment, I thought I should have died, for I knew that something
had been whispered which was too horrible to speak aloud.

“By a violent effort, I preserved myself from fainting, and rushed to
my father.

“‘Tell me—tell!’ I shrieked. ‘What has happened? Father, suspense will
kill me.’

“‘He is dead!’ was the reply.

“I heard no more—I saw no more! For many months they told me I lay a
breathing senseless form, and then I awakened, and my first words were,
‘Take me to him!’

“They told me then that the grave had long since received its tenant,
and by degrees I learned from them that my lover—my husband in the
sight of Heaven, had been found a mangled corpse at the foot of a deep
precipice.

“He must have fallen over, they told me, but I knew better; something
whispered to me that Andrew Britton did the deed.

“Since then I know not what has happened. Once I awoke and found myself
chained to a stone wall in a gloomy cell; then again I was thrust out
from somewhere, and a voice told me to be gone, for I was harmless. So
I became Mad Maud as I am, and I follow Britton the Savage Smith,
because he is to die before I do, and then I shall meet my lover
again—and do you know that some sunset, by the great bounty of Heaven,
he will come again—when the murder is found out; yes, yes, when the
murder is found out. Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Again the maniac’s eye glanced with the wild fire of insanity, and poor
Maud was lost once more in the wanderings of her imagination.

The sympathies of Ada had been so strongly excited by the narrative of
poor Maud that she had allowed the lucid interval of the poor maniac to
pass away without questioning on the subjects nearest and dearest to
her. With a hope that even yet it might not be too late to glean some
information from her, she said,—

“What murder do you mean?”

“The murder at the Old Smithy,” replied Maud. “You saw the man as well
I—we all saw him.”

“When was that?” asked Ada.

“Last night! Last night! Hark, the wind is still around the Old Smithy.”

“’Tis all in vain,” sighed Ada. “The time is past.”

It now suddenly struck Ada that there would be extreme danger to the
poor creature should she stay till Jacob Gray came home; and as the sun
was just dipping into the western horizon, she said to her,—

“Take with you all these victuals,—I have no power here to prolong your
welcome.”

“The child of the dead! The child of the dead!” muttered Maud, totally
unheeding what Ada said.

“Let me now entreat you to go,” said the alarmed girl. “There will be
one here by sunset who has no feeling, no mercy.”

“That must be Britton, the Savage Smith,” cried Maud.

“No, ’tis one Jacob Gray. Heard you ever that name before?”

“Jacob Gray!” repeated Maud, evidently with no sort of recognition of
the name. “I will sing to him and you.”

“Go; let me entreat you to go,” cried Ada.

Maud heeded her not, but began to sing in a wild but sweet voice,—



“Who loves the bleak night wind,

That roars ’twist earth and sky,

Say, is its loud voice kind?

Not I—not I.



“That’s a brave song, but cheerless. I love the day and the sweet
sunshine. Here’s another for thee, maiden; ’twill suit thy young heart:



“Love’s like a rainbow,

Why, maiden, why?

It opens from the earth

Up to the sky!

A young heart’s passion

Is all as bright

As that purest arch

Of Heaven’s own light.



“Like ye that, young heart? Alas! ’Tis long since I learned the ditty.
Hark ye, here is one more sad and sombre, for I see the tear-drop in
your eye. Hark—hark:—



“The storm bird may scream

O’er the desolate moor,

And the north wind blow wide

The poor cottager’s door.

The snow drift may level

Mountain with plain,

But the sunlight will come,

And the birds sing again.

But, oh! the fond heart

Which one storm has swept o’er,

Can ne’er know the peace,

It rejoiced in before.”



As the last sound of the poor creature’s voice ceased, Ada clasped her
hands and uttered a cry of terror, for she heard without the low
whistle which she had been taught by Gray to recognise as the signal of
his return.



CHAPTER XXXI.


The Interview.—Jacob Gray’s Meditations.—The Slip of Paper.—The
Nail.—The Guilty Conscience.—The Departure.



For perhaps the space of a minute, Ada lost the power of action; but
the stern necessity of doing something to save the poor creature from
the death which Jacob Gray’s fears would, she doubted not, induce him
to put her to, braced the nerves of the young girl.

She took Maud by the arm, and looking her earnestly in the face, she
said,—

“What was the name of him you loved?”

Maud pressed her hand upon her brow for a moment as if striving to
comprehend the question; then she replied,—

“His name was William Heriot.”

“Then follow me, and speak not for his sake, as you hold his memory
dear.”

“To the world’s end! To the world’s end!” said Maud.

Ada heard the outer door now close, and she was sure that Gray was in
the passage. He might, or he might not, enter the room in which she and
Maud were, the door of which was within a few paces of the steps. Oh,
how dreadful to poor Ada were the few short, but to her awful moments
that elapsed before she felt convinced that Gray had passed the door,
he always trod slowly and stealthily even in that lone house, for
caution and suspicion had grown so habitual with him, that even in
security he could not shake off the actions which rendered those
feelings manifest.

It was difficult, therefore, for Ada to trace his footsteps, or come to
any positive conclusion as to what part of the house he had proceeded
towards.

One thing only she could feel certain of from the duration of time, and
that was, that the immediate danger of his entering the room in which
she and Maud were was past, unless he were lingering in the passage,
which she had never yet known him to do.

A few more minutes of great anxiety now passed, during which Maud did
not speak, but rocked to and fro in her chair, sighing deeply, as if
the sound of her murdered lover’s name had affected her deeply.

“Maud,” said Ada. “Maud, attend to me.”

“I hear the voice,” said Maud, “the voice of the angel that has come
from Heaven to speak words of kindness to poor Mad Maud.”

“By the memory of William Heriot,” said Ada, “do not speak or move till
I come to you again.”

Ada then left the room for the purpose of ascertaining in what room
Jacob Gray was staying. With an assumed carelessness of step and manner
she walked into the rooms on the ground floor, but in none of them was
Jacob Gray; she then ascended the staircase, and as she neared the top
of the crazy flight, a door was suddenly opened upon the landing, and
Gray appeared.

Ada paused, and they regarded each other for a few moments in silence.
Then Gray said, in a low tone,—

“Nothing has happened, Ada? No alarm?”

“No alarm,” said Ada, answering his last question; “wait for me below,
we must have some talk to-day.”

“To-day?”

“Yes, I promise but from month to month—to-day the month expires,” said
Ada.

“It does, but the promise will be renewed.”

“Stay where you are,” said Ada, “I will come to you in a short time.”

“Nay, not here,” said Gray, “go to the room below. I will be with you
shortly.”

“I am even now proceeding to my own chamber,” said Ada; “in a quarter
of an hour I will meet you here.”

Without waiting for a reply, Ada ascended to her own room.

Gray stood for a minute with the door in his hand, muttering to
himself,—

“She braves me thus ever—if I were to remark that the sun shone, she
would declare ’twas very cold—sometimes I doubt if I hate her or
Learmont most; yet I must spare her to be revenged on him! Curses on
them all!”

He flung the door to, which shut with a bang that Ada heard with
thankfulness. Gray then unlocked a cupboard in the room, and proceeded
to deposit, in a sacred place he had constructed at the back of it, the
last sum of money he had wrung from the fears of Learmont.

In the same place of safety, likewise, was the written confession
addressed to Sir Francis Hartleton, but that was not concealed; it lay
openly in the cupboard, a prominent object to any one who should force
the door. A smile of self-satisfaction came across Jacob Gray’s face as
he took the paper in his hand, and fixed his keen eyes upon its
superscription to the magistrate.

“It would, indeed, be a glorious revenge,” he mattered, “on both
Britton and Learmont to accumulate an ample fortune first, and then,
when my foot was on the very deck of the vessel that was to bear me
from England for ever, to hail some idle lounger on the quay, and bid
him take this to Sir Francis Hartleton, and ask his own reward. Yes, if
I had half a million, that would be worth as much again. The time will
come—yes—it will—it must come—when I have got enough money first, and
then my revenge. Ye taunt me, Squire Learmont, and you, Britton, too,
with my cunning—Ha! Ha! I am cunning, it is true—I am too cunning for
your dull wits. Jacob Gray will be too much for you both when he has
enough money!”

Suddenly then he now dropped the paper, and started; a slight noise
outside his door met his ears, and his guilty soul trembled.

“What—what noise was that?” he whispered. “Ada—yes—Ada,—Ah! It must be
Ada!”

In order to explain the sound that disturbed the gleeful cogitations of
Jacob Gray, we must follow Ada to her chamber, whither, as the reader
will recollect, she repaired after her very brief conversation with her
gaoler Gray.

The moment Ada found herself in the privacy of her own room she burst
into tears, and a fervent “thank Heaven!” burst from her lips.

The necessity of instant action and self-possession, however, rushed
simultaneously across her mind, and dashing away the tears with the
brief exclamation of,—

“My promise no longer binds me—I am free to act,” she hastily wrote on
a slip of paper, the following words:—

“To Albert Seyton,—Ada is betrayed—seek her in a Lone House by the
river.”

She then concealed the paper in her bosom, and, commending herself to
Heaven, with a beating heart she descended the staircase.

Her object now was to pass the door of the room in which was Gray,
without arousing his attention; but this was a matter of no ordinary
difficulty in that old house, for the staircase was so ancient and
dilapidated that it creaked and groaned under the slightest pressure.

Taking, however, as much of her weight off the stairs as possible, by
clinging to a stout rail, which was supported firmly by the wall, Ada
slowly descended.

She reached the landing, from which opened the door of the room in
which was Gray, in safety. To pass that door was dreadful, and Ada
thought each moment that her strength would desert her, and all would
be discovered. The life of poor Maud, she felt certain, hung upon the
slightest thread, and this thought nerved Ada more than any
consciousness of personal danger would have done.

Creeping cautiously along, she reached the door—one moment, then she
paused, and the sound of Jacob Gray’s voice, as he muttered his unholy
thoughts came clearly upon her overstrained senses.

With her hands pressing upon her heart to still its wild tumultuous
beating, she passed the door; now the flight of stairs leading to the
house was gained in safety. She laid her trembling hands upon the
banisters, and at that moment it was that Gray heard the creaking sound
that alarmed him in the midst of his wicked rejoicing over the
treachery he meditated.

Ada turned slowly round, and faced the door. To fly she knew would
tempt pursuit; and without, in her confusion, being able to reflect
further than that, the best plan would be to face Jacob Gray should he
come from the room, Ada stood for several minutes enduring the most
torturing and agonising suspense.

All remained still; Gray did not appear, and once more Ada turned to
descend the staircase; one step she had taken downwards, when a loose
nail from the crazy banisters fell into the passage below, making, in
the solemn silence that reigned in the house, an alarming noise.

Ada paused.

“Now, now,” she thought, “I shall need all my firmness. Heaven help me
now!”

The door of Gray’s room opened, and he stood in the entrance with a
pale and anxious face: Ada turned as before, and met his gaze. It would
have been difficult that moment to have decided which face bore the
palest hue—the beautiful and innocent one of Ada, contrasted as it was
with, her long jetty ringlets, to the disturbed, haggard countenance of
the man of crimes and blood.

“There—there was—a noise!” said Gray.

“I heard it,” replied Ada.

“W—where was it?”

“Above.”

“’Twas nothing, Ada—nothing—I suppose quite accidental, Ada; you are
going down—I—I’ll follow you—I’ll follow you.”

He closed the door behind him with a trembling hand, and made a step
towards the staircase.

“Jacob Gray,” cried Ada, “stop.”

He paused, for there was an awful earnestness in her manner that
greatly added to his alarm. Yet Ada knew not what to do or how to act.
The words she uttered were almost involuntary. Then it might be that
Heaven whispered to her mind a course of action; but it came across her
mind that Gray might be alarmed still more, knowing the lurking
superstition of his character, and she suddenly said,—

“Did you not tell me once this house was haunted?”

“Haunted!” echoed Gray, suddenly descending several stairs, and showing
by his rapid changes of colour the craven fear that was at his heart’s
inmost core.

His fears, however, had prompted him to the very course which Ada so
much dreaded, namely, to descend to the lower part of the house, and on
the impulse of the moment she laid her hand on Jacob Gray’s arm, and
said,—

“I was following it—it has gone down!”

“It!—Who?—What?” cried Gray, as he sprung back again to the door of his
room in an instant, trembling exceedingly.

Ada’s pure and innocent heart detested all kinds of duplicity; but if
ever such was justifiable, it was surely then; and to save the life of
the poor creature who had sought shelter with her, and had suffered so
much wrong and unmerited persecution, was a justification which, with
the rapidity of thought, came to Ada’s relief.

“There is some one below,” she said.

“You—you saw—it?”

“I did.”

“And—and—followed it?”

Gray licked his parched lips, as after a pause he added.—

“Ada—a—what manner of appearance was it?”

“Will you follow it with me?”

“Not for worlds—not for worlds,” cried Gray. “Tell me, Ada, was—was—was
it a man of—tall stature.”

“It was,” said Ada.

“Of—of noble bearing—hair—slightly silvered?”

“Even so.”

“I—I thought—’twas he. I—I saw him once at the door—in that—that
smithy. Yes, that has begun now. I—shall be haunted now—for ever. Oh,
horror! Horror!”

The word “smithy” struck upon Ada’s ears, and for one moment she could
not recollect why it came as if it were an old recollection to her.
Then she remembered that Mad Maud had spoken of a murder at an Old
Smithy, and she asked herself, can there be any connection between all
these dark hints of things long past and my own fate? There must be—I
will probe your heart, Jacob Gray.

“I will tell you,” she said, turning suddenly to Gray. “Listen! A wild
bleeding form has appeared in this house.”

“Bleeding?” gasped Gray.

“Yes, bleeding.”

“And—and—it is—” Gray pointed down the staircase.

“It is there,” said Ada.

Gray shuddered, as he said,—

“Can you—look on it, and live?”

“I can.”

“God help me!”

“Come with me, and we will together question it further,” said Ada.

“No! No! No!” cried Gray. “The sight would blast me forever. Ada! Ada!
If you have one spark of pity, one yearning of heavenly mercy in your
heart, you will pray for—me—pray for me!”

“For you—my persecutor?”

“Implore that hideous form to visit here no more. I shall go
mad!—Mad!—Mad!”

Gray hid his face in his hands, and groaned bitterly.

“In his anguish he may confess all,” thought Ada, and hastily calling
to her memory the words spoken by Maud, she said in a solemn whisper,—

“Jacob Gray, the bleeding form that has visited is not terrible to me.”

“No, no,” said Gray, “because—”

“Because what?”

“Nothing—nothing—I have said nothing.”

“Then hear me,” added Ada. “Strange things have been spoken to me.”

“By—it?”

“Yes. Do you recollect an Old Smithy?”

Gray removed his hands from before his face, and sinking on his knees,
he crawled towards Ada.

“Mercy! Mercy!” he said, in a husky whisper.

“There was a murder,” continued Ada.

“Ada! Ada!” shrieked Gray. “Child of the dead, spare me! Oh, spare me!”

“Child of the dead!” cried Ada. “Speak, Jacob Gray. Am I that child?
Tell all now that conscience is awakened, and soothe the pangs of your
own seared heart by relieving mine of worlds of agony. Speak, Jacob
Gray—oh, speak. Tell me who I am now at this moment of awful and bitter
repentance. I will forgive all—I will, as you ask, pray for you, Jacob
Gray. Heaven will pardon you. Speak—speak to me. Tell me, am I that
child?”

“Bid—bid—him go!” crawling towards the room.

“And then—”

“Then—you shall hear—all—all. The sight of him would overturn my
reason! Even now my brain reels. Bid him go—implore him not to haunt
me—not to drive me mad by a glance!”

Ada’s object was more than accomplished.

“Wait for me,” she cried, and glided down the staircase, leaving Gray
crouched up by the door of the room, with his glowing eyes fixed upon
the staircase, in awful expectation of seeing each moment a dreadful
form, that would drive him to insanity by one look from its glazed eye.

The period of trembling and nervousness was now passed with Ada, and
with the lightness and speed of a young fawn, she bounded into the room
where sat poor Maud.

The poor creature’s eyes brightened as Ada approached, and she said,—

“I have not stirred—I have not spoken.”

“Hush! Hush,” said Ada. “Speak not now. Here, take this paper. Fly
across the fields. Look not back, but get away from this place.”

“Yes, yes,” said Maud.

“Moments are precious,” continued Ada. “Wherever you go, I conjure you
by the remembrance of him you loved, and who you will meet again in the
presence of God, to show that paper—but never, never part with it.”

“Never, never!” cried Maud. “Oh, never!”

“Now follow me. Heaven speed you on your way!”

Maud, thrust the paper into her bosom, and allowed herself to be led by
Ada to the door.

“God bless and help you,” cried the girl.

Maud kissed her hand and sobbed bitterly.

“Away—away!” said Ada. “Oh, pause not a moment. For my sake hasten.”

Like a hunted deer. Mad Maud flew from the Lone House. Ada watched her
for a few minutes across the swampy waste, then, the excitement being
over, she burst into a passion of tears, and dropped into a state of
half insensibility in the passage of the old house.



CHAPTER XXXII.


Jacob Gray’s Fears.—The Promise.—Ada’s Meditations.



How long she remained in the passage of the house, Ada had no means of
distinctly knowing, but, when she recovered from her insensibility, she
found herself in the parlour alone, and nearly in total darkness.

A few moments sufficed to bring to her recollection all that had
occurred, and she sprang to her feet, looking anxiously around her, as
well as the dim light would permit, to see if Jacob Gray was in the
room.

An instant inquiry satisfied her that she was alone, but scarcely had
she made this discovery when a gleam of light came in from the passage,
and the door was gently and cautiously pushed open. Ada did not speak,
but she shrunk into a corner of the room, and saw Gray enter, carrying
with him a dim light.

“Ada! Ada!” he said.

“I am here,” she replied.

He set the light on the table, and she saw that his face looked harsh
and haggard.

“We cannot stay here,” he said, after a pause. “This place will be
hideous now.”

“Not stay here!“ cried Ada, and her heart sunk within her at the
thought of being again removed at the very time when there was a chance
of her being rescued by Albert Seyton, should he or any one knowing his
name chance to see the paper she had given to Mad Maud.

“No—no,” added Gray, “I—I would not sleep here. The very air of this
place smells of the grave! We must away, Ada!”

“How came I in this room?” said Ada!

“After a long time when you returned not to me,” replied Gray, “I
descended the staircase, and found you lying in the passage just by the
door which you had evidently been trying to escape by.”

Ada was deeply thankful that Jacob Gray himself put this interpretation
on the circumstance of finding the door open, and she said,—

“My feelings overcame me.”

“Ay—Yes. The sight must have been terrible!” said Gray. “Come, Ada;
’tis a very dark night—attire yourself in the less cumbrous and safer
garments of a boy, and let us leave here.”

“You forget your promise,” said Ada.

“My promise? What promise?”

“You said you would tell me all.”

“And so will I at the proper time and season, which, believe me, will
be the sooner for what has chanced this night.”

“And so am I deceived again,” said Ada.

“Girl,” said Gray, “you are young enough yet to wait a short time.
There will come a day when justice shall be done you, and the cup of my
revenge will be filled to the overflowing! It will be very soon, Ada.”

Ada felt that to urge Gray now that his great fear had passed away to
fulfil any promise he might have made while under its influence, would
be quite futile. Moreover, her great object—the escape of poor Maud—was
accomplished, and she had no new spectre wherewith to frighten Jacob
Gray.

“For that brief time you speak of,” said she, “let us remain here.
Think you the spirits of another world cannot follow you wherever you
go, Jacob Gray?”

“Follow me?” echoed Gray.

“Ay; are not all places alike to them? Why remove from here?”

Gray seemed to remain silent, then he said in a low agitated voice,—

“Girl, what you say may be true. I will think of it again. To-morrow I
will decide! Yes, let it be till to-morrow! You are not weary?”

“Wherefore do you ask?” said Ada.

“Because,” faltered Gray, “I do not wish to be alone.”

“And can you ask me to save you from the horrors of that solitude which
your conscience peoples with hideous forms?”

“Question me not,” cried Gray, impatiently. “I—I would have desired
your company—but will not enforce it.”

“You cannot,” said Ada.

“Cannot? You know not what you say.”

“You dare not!” added Ada.

She had learnt by experience that she could defy Jacob Gray to his face
successfully. Her only fear of him was that he would murder her while
she slept or mingle poison with her food! She could not look on him.

“Leave me, then! Leave me if you will,” he said. “I will not invade
your chamber.”

“If you were,” said Ada, “you might perchance be frozen with horror by
meeting the form you have described, with so much dread—a form which
the voice of nature hints must be that of my murdered father!”

As she spoke, Ada walked to the door of the room, but ere she reached
it, Gray called to her.

“Ada, stay yet a moment!”

“You forget!”

“Forget what?”

“That I must this day again receive your promise to exert no
contrivance for your escape from me. At twelve to-day your word
expired.”

“Oh!” cried Ada. “Then I was free?”

“No,” said Gray, “you were not free! I knew that if you meditated
escape, you would seize the first moment! I watched this house from
twelve till two. Then as you came not forth, I knew I was safe.”

“And you departed?”

“I did.”

Had Jacob Gray watched another hour he would have seen Maud hunted to
the old house.

“Your promise, girl,” he cried. “Before we part to-night I must have
your solemn promise!”

“On the same condition,” said Ada, “to preserve that life which God has
given me, I will give you my promise.”

“Be it so,” said Gray.

“Then in the name of Heaven, I promise from, one month from now that if
aid come not to me—if no one comes here to take me hence, and offer me
liberty, I will remain a prisoner! So help me Heaven!”

“Enough,” said Gray, “I am content. I know you will keep your word,
Ada.”

“How is it,” said Ada, “that you can trust thus to my word, Jacob Gray?
Have you not taught me deceit? Were I to deceive you as you have
deceived me, could you blame me?”

“Question me not,” cried Gray. “I have said I would trust to your word.
Let that suffice.”

Ada turned away, and sought the solitude of her own room. She always
wept bitterly after renewing her promise to Gray—it seemed like pushing
hope to a further distance from her heart, and on this occasion, when
she was alone, the tears dimmed her eyes as she reflected another
month—another month! But then even upon the instant, a small still
voice within her heart seemed to whisper to her that there were now
better grounds for hope than ever. She had made an effort by the slip
of paper that poor Mad Maud had taken with her—and her promise to Gray
was expressly conditional, so that if Albert Seyton should seek her,
she was free! How delightful did that word sound to the desolate heart
of the young girl. She clasped her hands, and a smile played over her
face like a sunbeam on a lake.

“Oh!” she cried, “if kind Heaven has indeed joy in store for the poor,
persecuted Ada, surely it will be more delightful by the contrast with
what has passed! Friends will be dearer to me, because I have known
none! The sunshine will to me possess a greater charm than to those who
have always been so happy as to revel in its beams! The charms of music
will entrance me, where they present but ordinary sounds to others, for
I shall contrast then with the echoes of this dreary house. The voices
of those who will love me, and use kindly phrases when they speak to
me, will ring in my ears with an unknown beauty! Mere freedom—the dear
gift of being able, at my own free-will, to seek the leafy glade of
some old forest—or walk in the broad sunlight of an open plain, will be
a rich reward for all that I have suffered! Oh! How can the world be
unhappy while Heaven has left it youth, sunshine, and love?”

Thus the young, ardent, enthusiastic girl beguiled the tediousness of
her imprisonment. She lived in a world of romance of her own creating,
a romance, too, that was mixed up with a pure and holy system of
natural theology culled from her own heart, and those mysterious
impulses which tell all, but those who wilfully shut their ears against
the solemn glorious truth—that there is a great and good God above
all—a Being to be loved more than to be feared.

Ada would now sit for hours picturing to herself the meeting of poor
Maud with Albert Seyton. She would frame all the dialogue that would
pass between them, until Albert had, piece by piece, extracted from the
wandering mind of the poor creature the exact situation of the old
house in which Ada was immured; then she would imagine his joy, his
rapture, until busy Fancy almost conjured up the reality of his voice
in her charmed ears.

The dull sons of system and calculation—the plodders through life
without the capacity to look beyond the present, or reason on the past,
may condemn the airy freaks of the imagination, because of their
unreality; but what would the lonely, the persecuted, and the unhappy
do, if Heaven, in its great mercy, had not laid up within the chambers
of the brain, such stores of joy and ecstatic thought ready to be drawn
forth infinitely to cheat what is real of its terrors, by contrasting
it with the rare creations of the ideal. Oh, is it not a rare and
amiable faculty of mind, that can thus shift, as it were, the scenes of
life, and with a thought, change a dungeon to a sweet glade in some
deep forest, where birds are singing for the pure love of song. Let
then the dreamy “castle builder” pile story upon story of his æriel
fabric,—he will be the nearer Heaven.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Britton at the Chequers.—The Visit.—A Mysterious Stranger.—The Good
Company.



Britton, the smith, was in truth a great man at the Chequers, in
Westminster. His love of liquor suited the landlord amazingly, and his
custom, when the whim took him, of treating everybody who happened to
be present, turned out an exceeding good speculation for mine host.
Sots and topers came from far and near to the Chequers, upon the chance
of a treat from “King Britton,” as he was commonly called, and they
would wait patiently drinking at their own proper costs until the smith
got intoxicated enough to act the great man, and order drink for all at
his own expense.

This acted well for the landlord, whose liquor was constantly kept
flowing at some one’s expense, and he put up patiently with the brutal
jests of the smith, many of them being accompanied with personal
ill-usage, rather then turn the tide of prosperity that was pouring
into his house.

Many were the conjectures as to the source of Britton’s ample means;
but although all supposed them to proceed from some not over honest
means, all were so much interested in their continuance that the
curiosity excited produced no further result than whispered expressions
of wonder and wise shakes of the head.

It was true that Britton had been watched to Learmont’s house, but it
never for a moment entered the heads of the busybodies at the Chequers
that he visited the great Squire Learmont himself, and whether or not
he had some accomplice at Learmont’s house, which enabled him to rob
the wealthy squire, was the only thought suggested by tracing him more
than once to the hall door of Learmont’s princely and much talked of
abode.

Daylight was commonly shut out of the old oaken parlour of the Chequers
before it was all necessary, by the orders of Britton, who found
himself more at home and enjoyed his liquor better by candle or
lamplight than with a bright setting sun streaming in upon his drunken
orgies.

It was upon one of these occasions that the shutters had been closed by
the obsequious landlord at least an hour earlier than necessary, and
for which he had been rewarded by a crack on the pate with a pewter ale
measure, and that made him dance again, that a more than usually
thronged company filled the parlor of the ancient house.

Britton sat in an arm-chair in the first stage of intoxication. His
eyes were inflamed and blood-shot, and his whole visage betrayed the
debasing influence of habitual drunkenness. He wore a strange mixture
of clothing; a richly-laced coat which he had bought from the window of
a tailor, who had only charged him double price for it and a kick,
contrasted oddly with a coarse red night-cap that he wore, and the pipe
stuck in the buttonholes of the rich laced waistcoat, presented a
strange anomaly of elegance and vulgarity.

The company were some smoking, some drinking, and some talking; but it
was easy to see that the general attention was fixed upon Britton, who
there sat, as he considered, in his glory.

“Landlord!” he roared, in a voice that made the glasses ring again.
“Landlord! I say, curse on you for a sluggish hand, come hither!
Where’s your respect for your king, you keeper of bad butts—you thief,
you purloiner of honester men’s sack?—Come hither, I say.”

“Ha!—Ha!” laughed a man, who had come a long way to chance a treat at
the Chequers—“Ha!—Ha!—That’s good. Ho!—Ho!”

“Who are you?” roared Britton.

“I—I—oh—I—I—am—a cordwainer from the Borough, sir.”

“How dare you call me, ‘Sir?’”

“Why—a—a—really—”

Some one here charitably whispered to the cordwainer the fact of
Britton’s kingly dignity! And with many winks and nods he corrected
himself, and said,—

“I humbly beg your majesty’s most gracious pardon.”

“You be d—d!” said Britton. “You are a cordwainer, are you?—A cobbler,
you mean—a patcher of leaks in bad shoes. Hark ye, Mr. Cordwainer, the
next time you presume to laugh at anything I say, I’ll make a leak in
your head.”

“May it please you, King Britton,” interposed the landlord, “I am here!”

“No you ain’t,” cried Britton, tripping up the landlord, who forthwith
fell flat on the floor, “you are there!”

This was a stock joke, and was perpetrated nearly every evening; so the
company laughed accordingly, particularly those who had seen and heard
it before, the new-comers not being fully up to the wit of it.

Here the landlord rose, and rubbing the injured part of his person,
said with a groan,—

“Well, gentlemen, did you ever know the like of that?”

“Here, come back with a bowl of punch,” cried Britton; “and, do you
hear, some spiced canary—come, quick!”

“May I venture to ask!” said the landlord, still affecting to writhe
with pain, “if the spiced canary is to be all round?”

“No, you may not ask!” said Britton; “off with you!”

“We’ll drink your majesty’s health,” said a pale thin man, with great
humility.

“Oh, you will, will you?” said Britton.

“We will—we will,” cried many voices.

“Drink away, then!” roared Britton.

“Your majesty has not yet ordered anything for us to drink,” said one.

“No, no, his majesty don’t mean,” said Britton. “You are a set of
rascals—thieves all.”

“Ah,” said the cordwainer, casting his eyes up to the fly-cage that
hung from the centre of the ceiling, “there is a great deal of
dishonesty in the world.”

“There ain’t, and you are a liar!” cried Britton.

At this moment the door was flung open, and a wild figure stood in the
entrance taking up the laugh of the guests in a strange discordant
tone, and pointing the while at the smith with exultant look.

Britton started from his chair, but he was scarcely able to stand, and
staggering into it again, he muttered,—

“Mad Maud, by all that is damnable!”

“Britton—Andrew Britton!” shrieked Maud, clapping her hands together “I
have found you—Ha!—Ha!—Ha!—I have found you!”

The persons assembled in the parlour looked at each other in speechless
amazement, and the majority of them in the excitement of the moment
finished at once whatever liquor they had before them.

“Britton!—Britton!” shrieked Maud, “are you not glad to see me? I heard
your voice—too well I know it! Oh, oh, I was passing—I was crawling
past this door when your voice struck upon my ear. Andrew Britton, I
won’t leave you now! Stop, stop—yes, I must do my errand. I had it from
one of bright things that live among the stars—I must do my errand.”

She fumbled for a time among her strange mass of many-coloured
clothing, and produced at length a small piece of paper. She gazed at
it for a moment, and then kissed it devotedly.

“It saves me from horror,” she said, in a low, unusual tone. “It saves
me from cramp and colds, from the frost and the scorching heat, but I
am bound to show it to you—all of you shall see it. It is blessed, and
was given to poor Mad Maud by the bright spirit. Look, do—you, and you,
and you. Are they not brave words—words to save and bless?”

She glided among the guests, and held for a moment before the eyes of
each the slip of paper that Ada had given her, till she came near the
smith, when she replaced it in her bosom, saying,—

“Not to you, man of blood—not to you. Ho!—Ho! Andrew Britton, not to
you!”

The smith had sat till now as if paralyzed; but, when Maud was making
for the door, he suddenly cried with a tone of anger, while his face
swelled with wild passion,—

“Hold—stop that witch! Kill her—tear her to pieces—curses on her!”

He rushed forward as he spoke, and would most probably have done the
poor creature some fatal injury, had he not been suddenly stopped by a
tall, stout man, who rushed from a corner of the room, upsetting
several persons in his progress, and placed himself before Maud.

“Stop!” he cried, in a voice of command—“touch the woman at your peril.”

For a moment Britton paused, while his face worked with fury, and he
more nearly resembled some wild animal at bay than a human being.
Suddenly, then, collecting all his energies, he sprang forward with a
cry of rage; but the stranger adroitly stepped on one side, at the same
time that he threw a chair, on which he had his hand, across Britton’s
path, who fell over it with great violence. Britton lay a moment as if
stunned by the fall, and several of the company began to cry shame upon
the stranger, who stood quite calm awaiting the rise of his foe.

The landlord, however, who had witnessed some of the affair from the
bar, now rushed in in a state of great indignation with the stranger,
for not allowing King Britton to do just what he liked.

“Troop out of my house,” he cried. “How dare you insult a customer of
mine? Troop, I say. Go after your pretended mad woman. You want to rob
the house, both of you. Troop, I say.”

“Suppose I won’t go?” said the stranger.

“Then suppose I make you, you vagabond?” cried the enraged landlord.

“You can’t,” said the stranger.

“Now by the mass that beats all the impudence ever I heard of,” cried
the landlord. “Here, Gregory—Gregory! My staff! We will have this
fellow out in the king’s name. My staff, I say! Was there ever such a
rogue to assault my best customers; and then not run away.”

The stranger laughed in spite of himself at this last remark of the
landlord’s and turning to the company, he said,—

“Every one here present can witness that I only interfered with this
drunken ruffian to prevent him from committing an assault upon a
maniac, and his present condition arises partly from intoxication, and
partly from falling over a chair in an attempt to attack me.”

“You are a scoundrel,” said the landlord.

“Out with him! Turn him out!” cried the company, with one voice.

“My staff! My staff!” roared the landlord, gathering courage from the
unanimous support he seemed likely to receive.

“You need not trouble yourself for your staff,” said the stranger, “I
am going, and if you required a staff, I, could lend you mine, friend.”

The stranger took from his pocket, as he spoke, a small bright silver
staff.

“W—w—what! Who—who are you?” stammered the landlord.

“It matters not just now who I am,” said the stranger, “but look to
your house, sir—it has grown disorderly of late.”

With a slow step the stranger then left the room, amid an universal
stare of astonishment from the company.

“Well, I never—” cried the landlord, “a silver staff! He belongs to the
office of the High Bailiff of Westminster, as I’m a sinner.”

“And yet you wanted to turn him out,” said the cordwainer.

“Landlord, you are an intemperate man,” said another.

“The landlord’s a fool,” cried a third.

“Not to know an officer!” cried a fourth.

“Ah—ah!” chimed in three or four more.

“Why—why you all called turn him out,” said the discomfited landlord.

“Ah—yes,” said the man who had prepared to drink Britton’s health—“but
we meant you.”

“Yes—yes! Hear—hear!” cried everybody; “we meant turn out the landlord.”

“The deuce you did.”

“Where—where—is she? Curses on her—where is she—is it a dream?”
murmured Britton, recovering from his mixed state of insensibility,
produced by drink and a blow of his head against the floor.

“Was—it true—eh?” continued Britton; “where the devil am I now? Can’t
you speak, none of you?”

The landlord turned to the company, and placed his fingers
confidentially and knowingly against the side of his nose, in
intimation that he was about to perpetrate some piece of extreme
cleverness not quite consistent with truth. Then, turning to Britton,
he said in a commiserating tone,—

“Good luck, Master King Britton, your majesty certainly took forty
winks in a chair, and by some sudden move, it has upset your majesty.”

“Is—is—that it?” said Britton, looking around him with heavy eyes.

“Yes all these honourable gentlemen can bear me out in what I say.”

“Curse me, then, if ever I had such a dream,” said Britton.

“All dreams are very disagreeable,” said the landlord.

“Oh, very!” said the company.

“D—n you all,” muttered Britton.

The landlord now turned again to the company, and favoured them with
another bit of facetiousness, which consisted in rubbing his left elbow
and going through the motion of drinking in dumb show; and having so
bespoken their kind and considerate attention, he turned to Britton,
and added,—

“Your worship’s majesty had just ordered cans of spiced canary all
round, as you went off to sleep like a babe.”

“Had I,” growled Britton; “I suppose they all had it then?”

“No, no, no!” cried a chorus of voices.

“Quite sure?”

“Oh, quite.”

“Then I’ll be d—d if you get it!”

The landlord looked rather taken aback by this, and rubbed his chin in
an abstracted manner with his apron, while the guests looked at each
other in consternation.

“What are you staring at, all of you?” cried Britton. “You have seen a
gentleman, before, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes—yes,” said everybody.

“Then go to the devil while I go for a walk!” added Britton, staggering
to the door, and as he passed out he muttered to himself,—

“A dream! No, no—no dream. She will do me some mischief yet. I must
kill her—curses on her; and he too. What did he want here? I know—it
was Hartleton! But curse them all—I’ll be even with them yet. I should
like to cut all their throats, and treat those beasts I have just left
with cans all round of their blood! I’d make them drink—damme, I’d make
them drink it!”



CHAPTER XXXIV.


The Fête.—Villany Prospers for a Season.—An Interruption.—The Dance.



That night the halls of the princely residence of Learmont presented to
the eye one blaze of light, brilliant costumes, costly decorations, and
everything that his imagination could suggest as calculated to entrance
the senses, and convey a notion of his boundless wealth and unlimited
prodigality. Learmont was now in truth carrying out to its utmost the
mode of life he had so often proposed to himself as that alone which
could smother the stings of conscience, and by not allowing him time to
think of the past, enable him to extract some enjoyment from the gaudy
glittering present.

To the entertainment which he now gave, he invited scores of persons
which he knew only by name, but who scrupled not to accept the bidding
of a man who was supposed to be rich beyond all comparison.

There were members of Parliament—of both houses, holy ministers of the
church, high legal functionaries. In fact, Learmont, from the mere
rumour of his enormous wealth—a rumour which he had himself originated,
and to which he lent countenance by his great expenses, found no
difficulty in filling his saloons with all that were considered
illustrious or great in the metropolis.

Learmont was not a man to allow anything to be wanting at such an
entertainment as that he was now giving. He possessed education,
talent, and taste, although all were perverted by the utter absence of
all moral feeling in his mind.

The most delightful music, breathing low dulcet sounds, mingled sweetly
and harmoniously, with the hum of conversation among his courtly
guests. The saloons rivalled the mid-day splendour of a summer’s day,
by the colour and profusion of the lights, which lent a charm to
everything within their glittering influence.

There were beaufets loaded with costly luxuries, to which the guests
helped themselves at discretion; and all this, heightened as it was by
brilliant costumes, civil and military, created a scene of magnificence
that astonished and delighted every one there to witness it.

The guests would congregate together in small knots,—those who knew
each other, to wonder at the glory and enchantment around them, and
many were the whispered surmises as to how the owner of such riches had
spent his early life, when now he manifested so prodigal a spirit, and
showed such rare taste and royal magnificence in his mode of life.

Some of the more superstitious would have it that he was an alchemist,
and had discovered the transmutation of metals, by which he could turn
lead and copper to gold. Others looked upon it with the jaundiced eye
of party politics upon the scene, and whispered to a friend that the
lord of so much wealth must be a spy in the service of the dethroned
family, whose rights, real or fancied, were not at that period, set at
rest in this realm.

It was strange that but one of all the guests of Learmont suggested a
probably and creditable mode of accounting for his great wealth, and
sudden freak of spending it; that was that he had lived many years in
melancholy seclusion, making mercantile ventures secretly with his
large revenues, which proving successful, had placed some enormous sum
at his disposal, the possession of which had dazzled his brain, and
induced him to fly from the pecuniary economy to that of profuse and
lavish expenditure.

This supposition was, however, far too commonplace and reasonable to
find many supporters, and the majority decidedly inclined to the more
marvellous opinion.

Learmont himself, attired in a handsome dress, which set off his tall
figure to the best advantage, seemed upon this occasion to have cast
off his habitual gloom and asperity of manner. He mingled freely with
his guests, jesting with one, discussing some knotty political point
with another in forcible and lofty language, cautiously complimenting a
third, and in fact, winning from all those golden opinions which ever
wait upon a known cold, proud, and haughty man, when he chooses to
unbend himself, and make an effort to become agreeable.

By degrees, however, he confined almost all his attention to a few
well-known political characters who were at the fête, and who were the
agents of ministers in the barter of a baronetcy for a certain sum of
money invested in parliamentary seats with Learmont. This baronetcy to
procure which Learmont had lent all his abilities of intrigue, he
fairly considered as the first grand step up the ladder of ambition;
for even supposing the remote probability of his legitimate claim to
the Learmont estates to be disputed successfully, he would still have
higher dignities of his own acquisition to fall back upon.

Thus it will be seen that the wily Learmont was playing a complicated
game of public ambition, while at the same time, he was privately
tortured by doubts and fears, concerning the fidelity of his
accomplices in crime—the crafty Jacob Gray, and the dissipated and
ruffianly Britton.

The fête was to conclude with a ball in a style of unparalleled
splendour: one of the largest of the saloons had been fitted up as the
ball-room, in a style of costly and rare elegance; the chalked flooring
alone costing five hundred pounds in execution, it being designed by
some of the first artists of the day.

This room was kept carefully closed, until Learmont himself should
perceive that his guests were desirous of some changes of amusement,
when upon a signal given by him, the folding doors were to be thrown
open.

This signal he did not give until late; and he had been assured of the
baronetcy in the following week, before he fancied it time to change
the scene.

“Your exceedingly patriotic conduct, sir,” said an eminent political
personage present, “has been represented to his majesty, who at once
acceded to the proposed baronetcy, which he was gracious enough to say
should be but the prelude to much greater things.”

“I trust that my future patriotism will be equally appreciated,”
replied Learmont, courteously, and with the smallest dash of satire in
his manner; “the next step up the ladder of nobility, I am quite aware
is not so easy of access.”

“Real patriotism,” replied the political personage, with, a low bow to
Learmont, “will accomplish wonders.”

“Would three more seats in the Commons be of service to the minister?”
said Learmont, in a low tone.

“I should say, decidedly,” replied the other in a suppressed voice;
“and a-hem, Baron Learmont would sound well.”

“There is nothing like patriotism,” said the squire.

“Oh! Nothing,” replied the political personage.

“And it should be rewarded.”

“I quite agree with you, sir.”

Learmont then took another round of his saloons, and conversed gaily
and appropriately with several groups of his guests.

A new arrival was now announced, which Learmont had been most anxiously
looking for. Not the least important of the schemes of Learmont was to
unite himself by marriage to some noble and influential family, who
would feel their own dignity and importance interested in upholding him
against any untoward circumstance that might occur of a nature to
depreciate him; and the announcement that now greeted his ears, of the
arrival of Lord Brereton, Lady Brereton, and the Honourable Georgiana
Brereton, their only daughter, was the most welcome that had occurred.
This family had all the mean, proud vices of the aristocracy, with
scarcely any of their redeeming virtues; but they were of ancient race,
and numbered among their connexions all the principal nobles of
England, claiming likewise a distant alliance with royalty itself.

Her father was one of those men who fancy they and their extravagancies
have some sort of claim upon society at large for support, and all
thoughts of usefulness or prudence were with him quite out of the
question, and derogatory to his dignity. The family estates were
mortgaged to the last farthing; the family plate and diamonds were only
their possession on hire from the money scriveners. Still the income of
Lord Brereton was immense, for he was in various shapes quartered upon
the public purse as a holder of sinecure appointments with large
salaries, on account of his high birth.

His lady was silly, weak, and egotistical—the Honourable Georgiana
Brereton, it was well understood, was for sale to the highest bidder;
she was proud, supercilious, and handsome.

Lord Brereton, it was understood, would settle upon his daughter an
estate worth ten thousand pounds per annum, always provided the happy
man who made her his wife was in a condition to advance the sum
necessary to redeem the title deeds from the money-lenders. Therefore
was the Honourable Georgiana Brereton, with all her pride and all her
insolence, put up for sale at the goodly sum claimed by divers lords as
mortgagees of the estate which was to be settled upon her.

Into this family Learmont thought it policy to enter. They had all the
influence of high rank, and were unscrupulous in using it. For the
Honourable Georgiana he cared no more than for the feathers that danced
in her head-dress. She might be proud, haughty, insolent, silly, but
her pride was nothing to his; her haughtiness must cringe before his,
associated as his was with intellect of a high order. Her indolence,
too, he could treat with contempt. She was, in his eyes, merely one of
the props to his ambition, and he approached the family, that he
despised in his heart, with a smile of welcome of the most engaging
character he could assume.

“Welcome to my humble house,” said Learmont; “no longer humble,
however, when graced by your presence, ladies.”

Lady Brereton bowed, and agitated all her feathers, while the
honourable daughter took no notice whatever of the courteous salutation
of the master of the house.

“You are well lodged here, sir,” remarked Lord Brereton. “I hear it is
his Majesty’s intention to create a baronetcy for you.”

“His Majesty is very gracious,” replied Learmont.

“I think it judicious,” added the lord; “wealth should never be allowed
to remain in the hands of untitled persons. Either they, if fitted,
should be raised to rank, or the wealth should be by some means taken
from them.”

“There is much sound philosophy in what your lordship says,” answered
Learmont.

“It is my opinion,” said Lord Brereton, with affected dignity.

“Certainly,” added Learmont; “and that should be sufficient to settle
the question for ever, my lord.”

Lord Brereton bowed stiffly.

Learmont now cast his eyes around the saloon, and fancying he saw an
air of satiety creeping over his guests, he resolved upon opening the
ball-room, which he felt sure would give an impetus to the flagging
spirits of the company, who were really getting tired of the incessant
glitter of all around them.



CHAPTER XXXV.


The Ball-room.—A Noble Family.—The Interruption.—Unexpected End of
Learmont’s Fête.



Clapping his hands as a signal to the attendants, who were in waiting,
the whole of one end of the saloon vanished, as if by magic, being slid
away like a scene at a theatre, and disclosed the magnificent
ball-room, brilliantly illuminated, and adorned with the most exquisite
plants and flowers. A murmur of delight and astonishment at the
suddenness of the change arose among the guests, and then the younger
portion eagerly pressed forward to enjoy the delight of the dance.

A choice band of music struck up in an enlivening strain, and in a few
moments, scarcely a guest remained in the first saloon, in which, the
numerous domestics began to lay a costly supper.

Even the apathetic Georgiana Brereton condescended to remark to her
noble mother that the poor man, meaning Learmont, ought not to be
blamed or despised, for he was evidently doing his best, to which the
mother replied, in an affected languid tone,—

“Certainly, my dear. They say he is very rich. I declare it’s quite
sinful for people with no names at all to have the means of doing these
things.”

“Papa says,” added the young lady, who, by-the-by, was thirty years of
age, “papa says that the Learmont family came in with the conquest, as
a Learmont was a standard-bearer to William.”

“Indeed, my love! Well, there is something in that, and should he
propose, we can make inquiry.”

“Exactly,” drawled the daughter.

The ball-room was now filled with the guests, and altogether, a more
brilliant spectacle could scarcely be conceived.

Learmont made a signal to the musicians to cease playing, while the
partners were chosen for the dance. With a gallant air, he stepped up
to the Brereton party, and offered his hand to the Honourable
Georgiana, which was graciously accepted, so far as the tips of that
young lady’s fingers extended.

All eyes were upon him and his patrician partner as he led her across
the richly-chalked floor. There was an impressive silence for a few
seconds, when from a side-door a servant appeared, and gliding among
the guests, approached Learmont, and stood for a moment as if he had
something to say to him.

“Well, knave!” cried Learmont, his face slightly flushed with anger, at
being interrupted at that moment.

“An please you, sir, there—there—is—”

The Honourable Georgiana tossed her plumed head with a look of great
displeasure, and Learmont forgetting everything on the impulse of the
moment, cried angrily,—

“Speak your message, sirrah!”

“A message from the Old Smithy,” said the trembling servant.

Learmont’s cheek blanched in an instant, and his lips quivered with
agitation.

“How dare you?” he gasped.

“An please your honour,” said the man, in a submissive tone, “your
honour ordered that—the—the—message from the Old Smithy should be
always brought to your honour, and—he—he won’t go away—he—has knocked
out two of Timothy’s teeth, your honour, besides, he—he—”

“Peace!” cried Learmont. “Peace, I say. Ho! Music there—music!”

The band immediately struck up an enlivening air, and the guests gazed
at Learmont with bewildered looks, for he presented more the appearance
of a madman than the high-bred courteous gentleman he had seemed during
the evening.

The servant slowly retreated, but Learmont could not, dared not, let
him go without some answer to the savage.

“Will your ladyship excuse me one moment?” he said to the Honourable
Georgiana Brereton, in an agitated manner.

“For as many as you please, sir,” answered the haughty damsel, with a
tone of pique and insolence.

Learmont strode after the servant, and just as the latter reached the
door, he caught, him, and said,—

“Tell him to wait.”

“Yes, your honour,” said the servant.

Learmont hurried back to where he had left the honourable lady, but she
was not there. He glanced hurriedly around him, and saw her with her
noble relatives at a distant part of the room. In a minute he was with
them.

“Pardon my rudeness,” he said, “in leaving you. I am a bachelor, and
have so many troublesome domestic matters to arrange that I am
compelled sometimes to appear rude where I would most of all wish to be
otherwise.”

“The interruption,” said the young lady, “was so very extraordinary.”

“Yes—a—a—rather an ill-bred knave,” said Learmont. “My servants want a
mistress sadly.”

“Such a strange thing in a ball-room,” added Georgiana.

“Eh!” said Lord Brereton. “If it be pronounceable, my dear, what was
it?”

“Oh, a mere nothing,” said Learmont; “an absurd mistake. Is not that a
divine strain they are playing?”

“Delightful!” said the lady. “But the words were a message from the Old
Smithy!”

“The old who?” exclaimed Lord Brereton, with a shrug.

“The Old Smithy. I cannot pretend to know what it means.”

“Frightful!” exclaimed Lady Brereton.

Learmont tried to smile, but the distortion of his features looked as
if occasioned by some acute pain rather than any sensation approaching
to the mirthful.

“It was most absurd,” he said, “and might make one angry, but that it
is too laughable.”

As he spoke a voice behind him said in a tone of trembling
apprehension,—

“And it please your honour—he—he—”

Learmont positively gasped, and clutched the back of a chair for
support, as he turned and faced another servant, the former one being
afraid to venture into the presence of his fiery master again.

“W—what now?” he said.

“He won’t go, an it please your honour.”

“Won’t go?” echoed Learmont, in such a confusion of mind that he
scarcely knew what he said, and the servant, emboldened by the apparent
placidity of his master, added,—

“No, your honour, and he says he won’t wait either.”

“Thrust him from my door,” shrieked Learmont; “kill him—no—no—tell him
to come to-morrow—yes, to-morrow.”

Learmont’s noble guests looked at each other in mute surprise. The
voice in which Learmont had spoken was loud and strange, and attracted
all eyes to the spot on which he stood. A glance around the ball-room
at once showed him that he was the observed of all, and he felt the
necessity of controlling his passion.

“The dance, the dance,” he cried; “the most precious hours of gladness
and joy. The dance! The dance!”

These words were scarcely spoken, when his attention was arrested by an
unusual commotion at the further end of the saloon, accompanied by
cries, the trampling of feet, and a few oaths, which sounded strangely
in that gaudy scene.

Learmont’s heart sunk within him, and at that moment he suffered a pang
greater than any he had ever power to inflict, as the conviction came
across his mind that Britton was forcing his way into the ball-room,
despite of every obstacle.

This was an event which could not have happened under ordinary
circumstances, but the whole of Learmont’s household were aware that
the strange man who came with the message from the Old Smithy had some
sort of power over their master and their ignorance of its extent,
paralysed their exertions in opposing his entrance to the ball-room,
although had they felt themselves free to act, he would never have
reached beyond the hall of the mansion.

Thus it was that the proud, wealthy, and haughty Learmont, surrounded
by troops of servants, and evidently exercising the most despotic sway
over them appeared to his assembled guests in the curious and anomalous
position of being unable to keep a drunken brawler from the very
penetralia of his mansion.

Too well the squire knew the voice of the smith not to feel convinced
that it was he, who in some freak of wilfulness or drunkenness was thus
invading his gay saloons. Defy him, he dared not; kill him he dared
not; nay, it was questionable if he dared even be rude to the burly,
and perhaps infuriated savage. A deep groan burst from Learmont’s
labouring breast, as the conviction came across his mind quicker than
we can relate the various steps of thought that led to it, that he
would always be subject to these visitations, even in his hours of
greatest enjoyment, when he was making the attempt to drown reflections
in a crowd of the gay and the trifling.

None of the guests seemed disposed to place themselves in the way of
Britton, and when the contest ceased between him and the servants,
which it did at the door of the ball-room, he found himself free and
unimpeded.

With a reeling gait he walked to the very centre of the splendid
apartment, and for the space of about a minute he seemed confused and
half stupified by the glare of light around; and the brilliant costumes
and decorations that everywhere met his drunken gaze.

“Hulloa!” he cried at length, “the squire’s coming out at last. A
dance, by h—ll I’m your man—I’ll dance with the best of you; I tread on
no one’s toes if they avoid mine; I’ve had a little drop, but what
matters? There are lights enough here to make a sober man’s brain dance
again; what do you all stare at me for? I came with a message from the
Old Smithy—tell that to the squire, and then hear what he says.
Ho—ho—ho! We are old friends, very old friends, but he didn’t invite me
to-night: it was d—d shabby; but here I am—the messenger from the Old
Smithy, at ten guineas a visit. What do you think of that? If anybody
says I’m drunk, I’ll take his life—his life I say—Hurrah for a dance! A
dance! Hurrah!”

Britton had all the ball-room nearly to himself, for the guests shrank
from him on all sides, and Learmont seemed for the moment completely
unmanned and powerless.

Shaking off, however, by a violent effort the confusion of his senses,
he suddenly advanced and confronted Britton.

The smith shrunk for a moment before the pale face of Learmont, in
which was an expression of concentrated rage and hate that might well
have appalled even a far bolder man.

Britton, however, was not in a state to admit of any moral control;
drink was inflaming his brain, and there was a recklessness about him
that, if not carefully treated, might involve both Learmont and himself
in one common destruction.

The haughty squire felt fully the precarious situation in which he
stood, and therefore was it that in the midst of a wild passion that
made him tremble, he felt obliged to temporise with the man whose
life’s blood flowing at his feet would scarcely have satisfied his
feelings of awful hatred.

“Andrew Britton,” he said, in a half-choked voice, which he wished no
one to hear but the smith.

“Well, Squire Learmont,” replied the ruffian, endeavouring to stand
steadily the fixed gaze of the other.

“For your own life’s sake go away from here—you are drunk, and know not
what you do.”

“Drunk, am I? Well, there’s many a better man been drunk before to-day!”

“What do you want?”

“Ten—ten—guineas and—a (hiccup) dance; I tell you what it is—it’s
infernally unfriendly of you not to invite me. You know I’m a gentleman
now. Never—never—never—to show me—your nobles—curse me if I—stand it.
In—introduce me to the rest of the gentlefolks, can’t you, and be d—d
to you. I—I ain’t such a sneak as that cursed Jacob Gray. No—no, I’m a
gentleman every—every inch a gentleman. Hurrah! Hurrah!”

“Are you mad?” said Learmont.

To his agony the squire now observed that, impelled by curiosity, his
guests were slowly creeping closer around him and the savage smith. He
raised his voice suddenly and cried—

“My noble and honoured guests, this is a poor mad fellow, who from
motives of charity, I support. I do not like to commit violence on one
so afflicted by Heaven. Here, take this purse and go.”

“Oh, yes,” hiccupped Britton; “that’s all very well as regards the
purse, but I don’t mean to go yet. I’ll have a dance. Let me see—I’ve
got something to say to you, squire.”

“Another time,” cried Learmont.

“No—no—time like the present. Life is so very un—uncertain. I tell you
what—you—you recollect that infernal Frank Hartleton?”

“Mad,—mad—quite mad,” said Learmont, striving to stop the smith.

“Beware,” said Britton, with drunken solemnity. “I say beware. He’s on
the look-out—curse him—and that infernal mad woman too—curse her! They
want to hang us—curse all the world. Beware, I say, that’s all—never
mind me, ladies and gentlemen—I’m a gentleman—I live on my means—I’m
King Britton, and hope to see you all at the Chequers. Thank you ma’am.”

This last observation was addressed to the Honourable Georgiana
Brereton, who having given her head a toss of disdain upon meeting the
anxious eye of the confounded Learmont, imparted such a nodding
reaction for some seconds to her feathers that the intoxicated smith
took it as a complimentary acknowledgment of his invitation to the
Chequers.

Some of the guests now began to laugh, and others to complain to each
other in no very measured terms of the intrusion among them, of so very
questionable a character as the smith appeared to be; while several,
among whom were the Brereton family, made a move to depart, fearful how
the singular scene would end.

For a moment Learmont had his hand on his sword hilt, and the turn of a
hair would have induced him to plunge the weapon, at all risks, into
the heart of Britton, but the latter seeing the Honourable Georgiana
Brereton, who he supposed had been so civil to him, about to depart,
made a sudden rush forward, and before any one could be aware of his
intentions, he clasped her round the waist with one arm, and commenced
dragging her along in a wild dance, entirely of his own invention. A
general rush now took place to rescue the shrieking female, and a scene
ensued of the greatest confusion.—

Britton grew absolutely furious, and dealt blows and oaths about him
with equal liberality. In the midst of all this Learmont was in a state
of mind bordering on distraction. He rushed into the midst of the
throng, and seizing Britton by the throat, tore him from among the
guests, nor relaxed his hold till he had dragged him through the outer
saloon, and flung him into a small ante-room, the door of which he
locked and placed the key in his pocket. Partly with the fumes of what
he had drunk, and partly with the heavy fall Learmont had given him,
the smith dropped into a lethargic state of half insensibility and half
sleep, so that at all events he was for a time quiet in the room where
he was thrown.

Dispirited, angry, and his apparel disarranged, Learmont returned to
his ball-room. His guests would not, however, be persuaded to remain,
and despite all his protestations that the “madman” was properly
secured, he could not restore the confidence or hilarity of the company.

Upon one excuse or another, they one and all departed, and not a single
dance took place in the elaborately and expensively prepared ball-room
of the ambitious and mortified squire.

With a forced civility he saw the last of his numerous guests to his
door. The lights were still blazing in his saloons, but there was
silence and loneliness in the midst of all his splendour, which now
looked such a mockery of gaiety.

He sunk upon a chair, and buried his face in his hands for many minutes
in an agony of painful reflection.

Learmont’s first grand fête was over, and a signal failure.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


Albert Seyton.—The Lonely Search.—A Suggestion.—An Important Visit.



We will now conduct the reader to one of our dramatis personæ that we
have unwillingly been compelled to neglect for some time—we mean the
gallant and enthusiastic Albert Seyton. As we have recorded the
prostration of spirits which ensued, when he lost all trace again of
the unfortunate and persecuted Ada, after so providentially, as it
were, encountering her in St. James’s Park, terminated in a long and
dangerous illness—an illness which brought him to the brink of the
grave; but thanks to the tender nursing of his father, and an excellent
constitution, he successfully battled with his sickness and after some
months, was able, although but the shadow of his former self, to walk
abroad, by the assistance of his father.

His deep dejection concerning Ada, however, still clung to him like a
blight, and it became clear to his deeply affected father that he
should never again see the bloom of health upon the cheek of his son
unless the hiding-place of the deceitful Jacob Gray was once more
discovered.

The old house at Lambeth had been soon deserted by Tibbs, the
bear-warden. The gloom and solitariness of the situation by no means
suited the habits of the roving vagabond, who had been so long without
a fixed home of any kind, that now he had become possessed of one, such
as it was, he soon hated it, and looked upon it in the light of a
prison. All that Jacob Gray had left in the house he sold off and once
more the ruined building was tenanted only by the rats and mice who
scampered along its deserted rooms and echoing corridors.

Twice Learmont himself had visited the house, and explored every nook
and corner; and once the savage smith, in a state of semi-intoxication,
had burst open the door, and rushed from room to room in the vain hope
that Jacob Gray might have returned to his hiding-place.

After that it was the haunt of any desperate character who chose to
enter it, for the door swung loosely by one hinge, and the winter’s
wind, hail, and sleet, found free entrance to the crazy building.

Albert’s father, too, had been often, and lingered about the ruined
street, until he could no longer cherish the remotest hope of being
enabled to find a clue to the place of confinement of the beautiful
girl, with whose weal or woe the happiness or sorrow of his dear son
was so much mixed up.

Then he besought Albert to be patient, and trust in Heaven to send
succour to her whom he loved; and when Albert himself could walk so
far, he went with his father to the old house, and wandered for hours
from room to room, pleasing himself with the thought that he was
treading upon the spots oft trodden by Ada, and looking upon the
objects most familiar to her eye.

The situation of secretary to Learmont, which Albert Seyton, little
dreaming how closely he was connected with the fate of Ada, had
endeavoured to obtain was filled up long before he was convalescent,
and the state of health of the unhappy youth gave his father far more
uneasiness than any consideration of his present prosperity in life.

Daily, however, the strength of Albert returned, and once again he
commenced the search throughout London and its suburbs for the lost
Ada. When wearied with some long perambulation, he would bend his steps
to the Park, and sit in melancholy thought upon the same seat on which
he had been sitting when he heard the voice of Ada. There, chewing the
cud “of sweet and bitter fancy,” he would recline for hours,
endeavouring to devise fresh schemes for the discovery of Ada, and
trying to recollect some part of the city that he had omitted to visit.
He would then wander homewards, listless, dispirited, and fatigued, to
relate to his father the particulars and non-success of his toils.

It was upon one of these occasions that poor Albert was more than
usually dispirited and weary, that his father said kindly to him,—

“Albert, it does appear to me that we can have no further scruple how
we commit this man Gray. He cannot be the father of the persecuted Ada.”

“He her father!” exclaimed Albert. “I would as leave think that the
tiger could be sire to the lamb. Oh, no! There is some dark, mysterious
villany at the bottom of all. My poor Ada is the innocent victim of
some intrigues and enemies, with which this Gray and Britton are mixed
up. Alas! Alas! The villains may have killed her. Oh I would that kind
Heaven would direct me where to seek her!”

“Do not despair, Albert,” said his rather soothingly, “the time will
come when all this must be made clear and apparent.”

“I hope it may, father,” said Albert, despondingly, “but I am very
wretched.”

“It strikes me,” continued Mr. Seyton, “that we are not justified,
Albert, in the course we are pursuing.”

“Indeed! Father.”

“No, Albert. What I advise is an immediate communication of the whole
of the circumstances to the magistrate, Sir Frederick Hartleton. The
fact that a mysterious packet was actually addressed to him, and set
such a store by this man Gray, will be sufficient to interest him in
the case.”

Albert remained in thought for a few moments, and then springing from
his seat with energy, he exclaimed,—

“Yes, father, let us do so. There is hope in that. Sir Frederick
Hartleton must have means of inquiry, and sources of information that
no one but a person in his situation could have. Let us go at once.”

“You are wearied now, Albert.”

“No, no; I am never wearied in the cause of Ada.”

“Wait till you are invigorated; you can then tell your fate better, for
in truth you must know a great deal more than I.”

“Oh father, come with me now. You have made this suggestion, and it may
be a most happy one. Come now!”

“I will not baulk you,” said Mr. Seyton, rising, “I do not think it a
proper course; but do not build too much upon it, Albert: only look
upon it as a chance that should not be thrown away.”

Sir Frederick Hartleton’s office was across the Park, somewhere close
about the spot now occupied by the gardens of Buckingham Palace, and
Seyton lived in the neighbourhood of Soho; so that the father and son
proceeded to Charing Cross and entered the Park by the gate in Spring
Gardens.

The sun was setting; but the great mall of the Park was thronged with
promenaders—St. James’s being then a much more fashionable place than
it is now.

Albert and his father paid but little heed to the careless throng they
passed among; their thoughts were intent upon the object of their
search, although it was with a sigh that the elder Seyton marked the
hopeful countenance and tone of his son; for he himself had been used
to disappointment, and expected but little from the visit to the
magistrate. It grieved him therefore to think that Albert should hope
much from the application, because he knew that his disappointment,
should it result in nothing, would be proportionately great.

“Albert,” he said, “this step I consider more a matter of public duty
than anything else. We must still trust to Providence to protect Ada,
only we place ourselves in a little better position by the co-operation
of a magistrate so much respected and esteemed as Sir Frederick
Hartleton, in what we do.”

“He may find me, my Ada,” said Albert, “and so entitle himself to a
gratitude from me that shall be boundless.”

“You had better let me tell the tale,” said his father, noticing the
agitated spirits of Albert—“should I omit anything, you can put me
right Albert.”

“As you please, father,” he replied, “I am too much agitated to speak
what I know.”

“Your sincerity will be the most apparent to Sir Frederick by the
emotion you cannot subdue, Albert. All men, but those who are
evil-doers, or live on the fruits of crime, speak well of this
gentleman, as an upright magistrate and a feeling man.”

He had now crossed the park and emerged at the little, gate leading to
Pimlico. They then inquired for the office of Sir Frederick, and were
directed down a narrow street, called Buckingham-place, which was but
dimly lighted by the inefficient oil lamps of the period.

Over an open doorway was a lamp, with the words “Magistrate’s Office,”
boldly enamelled upon the dirty glass.

“This must be the place, father,” said Albert, hurriedly.

“No doubt,” replied Seyton. “Come in, Albert.”

They stooped under the low arched doorway, and were immediately
confronted by a man of coarse heavy build, who demanded to know their
business.

“We have a private communication to make to Sir Frederick,” said Mr.
Seyton.

“Oh, private?” muttered the man.

“Yes, strictly private.”

“Is it anything about Bill Soames?”

“Bill who?”

“Bill Soames—he’s nabbed for robbing the Bishop of Ely, crossing the
open waste opposite Tyburn Gate.”

“No, its quite private business of another kind,” said Mr. Seyton.
“There is my card—this is my son. Please to tell Sir Frederick that we
have a private communication to make to him alone.”

The man took the card and passed through a doorway, growling as he went.

In a few moments he returned, and taking a key from a bunch at his
girdles he opened a door at the further end of the passage, at the same
time saying,—

“This way.”

Albert and his father stepped forward after their guide. In a moment
another door opened, from which issued a stream of light, and they
found themselves in the presence of Sir Frederick Hartleton, the
magistrate, the terror of highwaymen; several of whom he had himself
captured on Hounslow and Barnes’ Commons.

He rose courteously on the entrance of the Seytons, and invited them to
be seated. Before they could speak, he said rapidly,—

“Gentlemen, I trust you will not take any offence at my saying that my
time is very much occupied, and begging you to be brief.”

“The time of public affairs, sir,” said Mr. Seyton, “should never be
heedlessly wasted. Do you know a man named Gray?”

“Gray—Gray?” repeated Sir Frederick Hartleton. “No, sir, I do not.”

“There exists, however, a man of that name, who, without authority,
keeps prisoner a young girl, if he has not destroyed her.”

“Where is he?”

“That, sir, we do not know.”

“Where is the girl?”

“We are equally ignorant.”

“What’s her name?”

“Ada.”

“Ada what?”

“I know not, sir.”

“You do not bring me many particulars,” said the magistrate. “What do
you wish me to do?”

“In this man Gray’s possession, sir,” added Mr. Seyton, “is a sealed
packet carefully addressed to you.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes—and with a superscription attached, that is only to be forwarded
to you, should he, Gray, be absent from home without note or message
for a certain time.”

“Then you may depend that this Mr. Gray has found his way home in good
time, for I have received no such packet.”

“We,” continued Mr. Seyton, “from once living in the same house with
her, have warmly interested ourselves in the fate of the girl, who is
as virtuous and amiable as she is beautiful.”

“Is this Gray in London?”

“We believe he is. He has twice shifted his residence, to ensure the
better concealment of the girl.”

“There is most probably some crime at the bottom of this business,”
said Sir Frederick; “but I cannot help you. If you can find the girl, I
will of course grant a warrant to bring Gray here, for keeping her a
prisoner without her will. At the same time, you had better tell me the
minutest particulars as rapidly as you conveniently can.”

Mr. Seyton then related all that he knew of Ada and Gray, comprising
what he had gathered from Albert, and comprehending the meeting in the
park, and the particulars which Ada had related of the midnight attack
upon Gray’s house.

“What names were mentioned accidentally or otherwise, during all this
business?”

“But two, sir,” said Albert. “Ada told me in the park that one of the
men who sought the life of Gray was called by him Britton!”

“Britton?” said Sir Frederick. “Are you quite sure that was the name?”

“Quite.”

“I do know that name!”

“You—you do, sir!” exclaimed Albert, with sudden animation—“Then you
will save her!”

“Oh—you are in love with this imprisoned young lady,” said Sir
Frederick, with a smile.

Albert drew back, abashed.

“Nay my young friend,” the magistrate added, “you need not be ashamed
of an honest attachment, which, in the case of this persecuted girl,
must be disinterested.”

“You know Britton, sir?” said Albert, confused.

“I know a person of that name—in fact, I am watching his proceedings.”

“There was another name too mentioned,” said Albert, “it was that of a
poor maniac called Mad Maud. She seemed to know this Britton.”

“She has cause to know him,” remarked Sir Frederick Hartleton.

“Stay—I—”

The magistrate paused, and it was evident that something had crossed
his mind of an important nature. He covered his eyes with his hand, and
seemed to be musing over some train of circumstances in his mind that
wanted some connecting links.

“Be so good,” he said, suddenly, “as to answer me as exactly as you
can, what I shall ask of you.”

“We will, sir,” said Mr. Seyton.

“What kind of man is this Gray?”

“He is rather above the middle height, of spare habit, and very pale.”

“His eyes?”

“Shifting and inconstant—looking here, there, and everywhere, but in
the face of any one he addresses.”

“You never saw Britton?”

“Never.”

“Now tell me as nearly as you can the age of this young girl you call
Ada?”

“She cannot now be above seventeen,” said Albert.

“Seventeen?”

The magistrate took a scrap of paper, and made some slight calculations
in figures upon it—then he said,—

“During all this business, did you never hear another name mentioned as
a prime mover or important personage, connected with it?”

“No,” said Albert, “those were all.”

“Well, gentlemen,” remarked Sir Frederick; “you have said enough to
interest me. Pray come here again this day next week, if I should not
send to you; for which purpose be so good as to leave your address. You
may depend upon my utmost exertions to solve the mystery in which this
affair is at present so strangely enveloped.”

Albert and his father returned their warm acknowledgments to the
magistrate; and, leaving their address, they were escorted through the
same door they had entered from the private room of the magistrate.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


The Pursuit.—The Attempted Murder.—A Providential Interference.—The
Papers.



For some moments after the departure of his visitors, Sir Frederick
Hartleton remained in deep thought, then he commenced a diligent search
among some memoranda that he took from an iron chest imbedded in the
wall, and, selecting one paper, perused it attentively more than once.

“Surely,” he suddenly exclaimed, “this is the clue at last. Well do I
remember the awful night at Learmont, when the storm spread confusion
and dismay among the peasantry, and Britton’s ill-omened house was in
flames, while the dreadful cries that even now seem to ring in my ears,
so forcibly does memory recall them, issued from the burning mass. Let
me see. The time. Yes, that is sufficiently near,—between fourteen and
fifteen-years since. Learmont in London, and Britton, the smith, living
near him? In a style of coarse extravagance and debauchery befitting
his coarse nature. Who supplied the funds?—Why the rich ambitious
money-loving Squire Learmont, to be sure! And wherefore?—Aye, that’s
the question. For one of two reasons, I’ll swear. Either as a reward
for present services, or to purchase silence for the past. Humph!
Learmont is by no means scrupulous. He would murder the smith. Ay
surely would he. There is something then in progress which makes
Britton’s life valuable to the squire. And this man, Gray, too. Who is
he? Was he the man who rushed with such frantic gestures from the fire
with the child in his arms? And is that child, this girl—this Ada, as
they call her?—Surely the whole fits well together. But still there is
no proof—all is circumstantial as yet, and involved in mere conjecture.
Squire Learmont may maintain Britton if he please, and who shall
question him?”

Sir Frederick now again remained in silent thought for a long time,
then he said in an assured voice,—

“I must trust this affair to no one. It is too intricate for any
ordinary scouts to trace. I must see to it myself. The smith, I am
aware, holds his drunken orgies at the Chequers. Thither I will myself
go, and watch him. Squire Learmont, the time will come when the crimes
that I suspect you of may be made apparent; but cunning devil that you
are, I must be cautious or I shall alarm you, and defeat myself.”

The magistrate now rose, and disrobing himself of his upper clothings,
took from a cloth-press in his room the apparel in which he afterwards
appeared at the Chequers, where the little scene occurred between him
and the smith, Britton, of which the reader is already cognisant.

We will now, therefore, fellow the proceedings of Sir Frederick
Hartleton after he left the Chequers. His object was to procure poor
Maud, and get from her as much information as he thought he might, by
comparing with what he himself knew, rely upon.

He walked very quickly down the street; but the object of his search
was nowhere to be seen, and he felt convinced that she must have gone
in the opposite direction, although he felt almost sure likewise that
he had noticed a figure somewhat resembling hers in the way he was
proceeding. While he was standing in a state of doubt, the smith reeled
past him, and, Sir Frederick stepping into the shadow of a doorway,
escaped recognition from the drunken and infuriated man.

He then resolved to follow him, to see whither he went, as Mad Maud he
could easily discover by his police agents on the morrow.

Dogging, therefore, the unequal footsteps of Britton, the disguised
magistrate followed him closely and safely.

The smith paused at the corner of the street, and asked a drowsy
watchman if he had seen a beggar woman pass. He was at once answered in
the affirmative, and in the same breath asked for something to drink,
which Britton, being at the same time more savage than hospitable,
refused with the addition of a curse.

Sir Frederick now congratulated himself upon following the smith; for
he doubted not that, should he encounter poor Maud, he would inflict
upon her some fatal injury, unless he, Sir Frederick, was at hand to
protect the poor creature.

Britton blundered on, cursing and muttering to himself, but in so low a
tone that, although the magistrate came as close to him as he could
with safety, he could not shape any intelligible phrases from what was
thus uttered.

Britton walked on in the direction of the Houses of Parliament and
Westminster Hall, still very closely followed, and almost every
passenger he met he asked if a beggar woman had been seen. Some
answered one thing and some another, until a lad affirmed that an old
beggar woman passed him near to Millbank, and then sat down on a
door-step nearly facing the river.

With a shout of triumph Britton rushed onwards; but Sir Frederick kept
as close as prudence would dictate, until they cleared Abingdon-street,
and came upon the then dark and straggling purlieus of Millbank.

There were but few lights in this quarter, and the inhabitants were not
very favourably known to the magistrate as the most moral race in
London.

Britton now proceeded more cautiously, and kept peering about him to
endeavour, as it appeared to Sir Frederick, as well to discover Maud as
to note if any one was near. By gliding along close to some black
palings the magistrate entirely escaped observation, and Britton seemed
satisfied that he was alone.

Close to the river was a low wall of not more than four feet high, and
the night was so dark that it could scarcely be distinguished from the
dark stream that rolled by on the further side of it. Directly over the
wall was a kind of parapet of about three feet in width, which was
about level with the decks of the small river craft that came to
disengage gravel, wood, logs, &c., at the wharfs, and was very
convenient for them. Immediately, however, below this parapet, and, in
fact, partly washing under it, was the black muddy tide of the river.

Dark as was the water, the wall was still darker, and Sir Frederick
Hartleton could plainly see the upper part of the bulky form of the
smith in slight relief against the water, as he walked slowly along
close to the wall.

Once or twice he looked back; but his pursuer was on the other side of
the way, and quite well backed by the black paling which, when he
stooped a very little, was above his head.

This was the state of things, when suddenly a wild plaintive voice
broke the stillness of the night air; and, with a mockery of gaiety,
that had in it the very soul of pathos, sang or rather chaunted the
words of a song of joy, hope, and mirth, which was then popular in the
metropolis, and was the composition of one of the most distinguished
wits of the day.

There was a wild abandonment of manner about the singer, that would
have commanded the attention of Sir Frederick at any time; but now that
he saw the smith suddenly pause, he paused likewise, and the strains
with all their melancholy pathos came full upon his ear.



To the Bride! To the Bride!



“To the Bride! To the Bride,

I sing,

And away to the winds the strain

I fling.

There’s a tear in her gentle eye,

I trow—

She weeps, and her heart is sad,

I vow;

Her hand like a leaflet shakes

I see,—

That hand which never more

Is free.

She leaves her happy home

Of light,

Where her happiest days were past

So bright:

She has trusted all to one,

The bride.

Shall her young heart’s joy e’er know

A tide—

Shall her bliss flow on for aye

Or not?

When distant far, shall ever

The spot,

Where she lived and loved so long,

Be forgot?

To the Bride! To the Bride,

I sing,

And away to the winds my strain

I fling!”



The voice ceased. A solemn stillness reigned for a few brief seconds,
and then Sir Frederick saw the shadowy form of the smith glide
forwards—the gruff voice of the savage drunkard came to his ears as he
stooped and exclaimed,—

“So Maud—we have met again. D—n you, we are alone now!”

A half-stifled scream followed that speech, and the magistrate bounded
across the road. He paused, however, when he was within a few paces of
Britton, for he heard the poor mad creature speak, and the thought
crossed his mind that her cry had proceeded from sudden surprise, and
not from any injury inflicted by the smith, and knowing his power to
save her he thought that if Britton wished to procure any information
from Mad Maud previous to offering her any violence, he might as well
hear it, as in all probability it would be important and correct.

Acting on this supposition, he crouched down close by the wall for some
few seconds—then suddenly recollecting the parapet on the other side,
and the facilities it afforded as sufficiently close to aid poor Maud
in case of the most sudden emergency, he crept softly twenty yards or
more away, and then clambered over the wall in a moment, on to the
parapet. To draw himself along this noiselessly until he actually faced
Britton, was the work but of another minute, and laying flat down was
quite secure from observation, while he was ready for action, and must
hear the slightest murmured word that passed.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


The Meeting at Mill-bank.—The Knife.—Ada’s Fate Hangs on a Thread.—The
Bold Plunge.



“What do you mean?” exclaimed Britton, as Sir Frederick Hamilton halted
on the parapet. “Speak, Maud, or by hell I’ll throw you in the river!”

“What do I mean, Andrew Britton!” replied Maud; “I mean pain and death
here and torture everlasting in a world to come for you. Ay, for you,
Andrew Britton—you cannot kill Maud. The Almighty has written our names
in the book of mortality—but yours comes first. Yes, yours comes first,
Andrew Britton!”

“Idiot!” muttered Britton. “Tell me at once—did you bring that
Hartleton to the Chequers?”

“Hartleton!—Hartleton?” repeated Maud. “Oh, he was one of the spirits I
knew long ago, before I dropped from among the stars.”

“Answer my question!” cried Britton, fiercely, “did you bring Hartleton
to the Chequers?”

“Answer my question, Britton,” said Maud, “if your sealed black heart
will let you. Why does not my husband come to his bride?”

“What do you mean?”

“We waited for him, but he came not; then they whispered he was
dead—yes, dead, and I asked Heaven who had killed him, when a voice
whispered—Andrew Britton!”

“Peace,” cried Britton. “You are mad.”

“Yes, mad—mad,” said Maud; “but not so mad as Andrew Britton, for he
has murdered—murdered the innocent. There’s blood on your hands!”

Britton started and involuntarily glanced at his hands.

“Ay blood—blood,” cried Maud; “you may wash away the outward stain, but
then it clings to your heart; and when you are asked at the last if you
are guiltless or not of shedding man’s blood, you will hold up your
hand, and it will drip with gore!”

“Beldame, peace!” cried Britton. “You tempt me to do a deed before the
time I intended. Hear me, Maud; you have but a chance now for your
life. Answer me what I shall ask of you truly and I may spare you.
Refuse, or tamper with my temper in any way, and yon river receives you
in its black and rolling tide. We are alone; there is no one to hear a
cry, and I will take care you shall have breath but for one. No one is
at hand to aid—I have you at my mercy.”

“Your mercy, Andrew Britton?” said Maud. “Oh! Profane not the word.
When did you show mercy? Savage—the spirit of God is above and around
us. The fiat has gone forth, and Heaven has said, thus far shalt thou
go and no further—but your questions?—Your questions? I will hear your
questions, although I am a widow.”

“What paper is that you have?”

“Paper?”

“Yes; you have a paper with something written on it.”

“Well?”

“Give it to me or you die.”

“An angel gave it me. I dream of her now sometimes when my sleep is
blessed and happy.”

“’Tis not for you, Andrew Britton. It belongs to the angel. I must only
show it, and that not to you. No—no—not to you with your blood-stained
hands.”

Britton was silent for a moment. He was hesitating whether by violence,
at once, to tear the paper from the poor wandering creature, or
endeavour first to procure such other information as he expected she
possessed. He decided on the latter course, as violence could be
resorted to at any moment.

“Maud,” he said, “when did we meet last?”

“In a crowd,” she replied. “I recollect there were many men, but none
so bad as Andrew Britton. They held up their hands, the one after the
other, and none had blood upon them save his alone.”

“What brought you there? Tell me, or this moment is your last!”

“How far is it to the Old Smithy?” said Maud, as if she had not heard
or understood his question.

“Curses!” muttered Britton, whose passion and fear together had tended
to sober him; “is she mad, or cunning?”

“The Old Smithy, where the murder was done, I mean,” added Maud.

“I’ll tell you,” said Britton, in a tone that he intended should be
artful and temporising, “if you will answer me what I ask and give me
the paper you have?”

“Britton, where’s the child?” said Maud. “How came you to spare the
child? Did it lift its little hands in prayer to you? And was there one
spot in your heart that shuddered at the deed of blood? Did conscience
for once stay your arm? Or did Heaven interpose, and strike you
powerless, when you would have slaughtered the babe? Tell me that,
Britton. Where have you put the child?—Where is Dame Tatton?—Speak,
Andrew Britton! I have travelled many, many miles to seek you. You
killed him who loved me,—nay, scowl not, your brows are darker than the
night, and I see them frowning on me. Oh! There is nothing in nature so
dark and terrible as thy heart, Andrew Britton. Even at midnight, when
people call it dark, and say you cannot see your hand, the smile of
heaven still lingers on the world, and there is the faint light of its
love still beaming through the mists of night! Andrew Britton, give me
the child, and I will teach it to pray for you to Heaven. Oh, give it
to me! It must be cold and weary. Give it to me, Britton, and then hope
to be forgiven!”

“I have no child,” said Britton; “you know that years have passed, and
the child who was brought by—by—a man from the burning smithy, must be
now a child no longer.”

“You would deceive poor Mad Maud, because she hunts you—ay, to the
death, hunts you. You cannot escape me, Britton—you are d—d!”

“D—d! How—what mean you?”

“I am to see you die.”

“Pshaw! Tell me now, Maud, didst ever see the man again who rushed
forth bleeding, with the child, from the Old Smithy.”

“What man was that?”

“Didst ever hear the name of Gray?”

“Gray! Gray! The angel asked me that.”

“Ha!”

“Yes—yes—Gray. Who is Gray?”

“You could take me to the angel,” said Britton, in soothing accents.

Maud laughed hysterically, and pointed to the sky, as she said,—“Take
you! Take you! With the weight of so much blood upon you! No, no. Were
you lighter you could go, Andrew Britton. What did my husband say when
you killed him? What was his last word? You could not forget it. It
must be scorched on your heart. Tell it to me, Andrew Britton.”

“You rave,” said Britton; “do you know that Frank Hartleton, who used
to live at Learmont, has become a magistrate?”

“Do you know,” cried Maud, “that there’s blood wherever Andrew Britton
goes? If the soft dew of Heaven falls upon him, it turns to gore—he
dips his hands into a pure streamlet, and the limpid waters turn to
blood—his drink is blood, when it touches his lips—spots of thick
clotted gore fall on him wheresoever he goes—it is the ancient curse of
the Egyptians that is upon him! Ha! Ha! Ha! Blood—blood, Andrew
Britton!—Blood!”

“Devil!” muttered Britton.

“I will haunt you!” continued Maud—“I will shout after you as you
go—There steps a murderer! I will proclaim your calling to all—’tis one
of deep iniquity—you are branded by the mark of Cain—you have sinned
before Heaven in taking the life which thou could’st not restore or
even comprehend! Wretched—scared—cursed Andrew Britton! I will be with
you when you lie writhing in your last agony—when you try to pray, I
will clap my hands and shout ‘The Smithy!’ in your ears. When you gasp
for water to quench the fever that shall then be consuming your heart,
I will answer you by ‘The Smithy!’ When you shriek to Heaven in your
dark despair, I will answer you shriek for shriek, and the words of my
vengeance shall be ‘The Old Smithy!’ Ha! Ha! Ha!—The murder at the Old
Smithy! When the day comes, that the graves give up their dead, then
will appear a sight to blast you from the Old Smithy! ’Tis hidden now;
but the earth will crack, and with a hideous likeness of what it once
was, the form of your victim will pursue you to accuse you before the
judgment-seat of God! Then—then you will shriek—yell for mercy!—You,
who showed none,—and the blue sky shall open to let you go
down—down!—Encircled in the loathsome embrace of slimy awful things,
that will lick your shivering form with tongues of flame!”

“Peace, wretch,” cried Britton.

At the same moment he lifted his arm, and in his hand gleamed a knife.

“Hold!” cried Maud, “you dare not!”

Sir Frederick Hartleton raised his hand. Britton slowly dropped his
murdering arm.

“Woman,” he said, “do you wish for death, that you tempt me thus to
kill you?”

There was a trembling fear in Britton’s voice that re-assured Sir
Frederick; and, congratulating himself that the sudden movement he had,
on the impulse of the moment, made, had escaped observation, he again
lay perfectly quiet, but prepared to aid poor Maud upon an emergency.

“Maud,” said Britton, after a pause, “give me the paper you have! And
leave London.”

“Leave you,” said Maud, “I dare not; I have a duty to do,—it is to
follow you. Wherever you go, Andrew Britton, there will you find me.
No, no! I cannot leave you; I sometimes think I am dead, and that there
is my spirit haunting you.”

“We shall see,” muttered Britton; “spirits have never troubled me yet.
The paper, I say!—The paper that you set such store by! I must and will
have it.”

“Never!”

“Then take the consequences.”

He again raised his knife, and was in the very act of bringing it down
to plunge it into the breast of the hapless creature, when his eyes
fell upon the form of Sir Frederick Hartleton, who rose up on the
parapet between him and the water.

This sudden appearance, rising apparently from out of the river, had
all the effect which Sir Frederick expected it would. Britton, for the
first time in his life, was affected by superstition. He could, on the
spur of the moment, imagine the tall dusky form that thus rose before
his very eyes, and, as it were, from the bosom of the Thames, to be no
other than some supernatural being interposing between him and his
victim.

He started back in horror, then, dropping the knife, he rushed
precipitately from the spot.

Maud burst into a wild laugh, and before Sir Frederick Hartleton could
speak a word to detain her, she fled in a contrary direction to that
which Britton had taken, with great speed.

Hastily springing over the wall, Sir Frederick, as well as he was able
by the dim light, pursued the flying woman, his object being the same
as Britton’s, namely, to possess himself of the paper in Maud’s
possession, and which, he doubted not, was in some way near or remotely
connected with the chain of mysteries that enveloped the crimes of
Squire Learmont and his associates in guilt, the savage smith and the
man named as Gray.

Now and then he could see the flutter of her garments as she rushed
along by the wall; and as often as he did, he redoubled his speed with
the hope of overtaking, while she was compelled, from the nature of the
ground, to go forward in nearly a straight line; for he well knew that
after passing the river wall, which did not extend much further from
the broken nature of the open country, and several hedges and
plantations that were close at hand, he might be completely foiled till
daylight in his attempt to follow the poor creature, who most probably
fancied she was flying from Britton.

“Maud! Maud!” cried Sir Frederick Hartleton, with the hope that she
would recognise that his voice was not that of the savage smith.

His call, however, seemed to alarm her still more, and, in fact,
notwithstanding her wild and superstitious confidence in the
probability of her outliving the smith, the fear of death from his
ruffianly hands had come strongly upon her, and she fled, shrieking
from the magistrate, with the full confidence that Britton was pursuing
her, armed with the knife she had seen gleaming for an instant above
her devoted head. Her fleetness astonished Sir Frederick Hartleton, for
swift runner as he was, he could not come up with her.

“Maud!” he cried again, and the poor creature answered him by a scream,
which at once convinced him that he inspired her with terror, rather
than confidence, by calling after her. He therefore abstained from
doing so, and began evidently to gain upon her just as she neared the
part of the river’s bank where the low wall terminated.

Now she looked back and screamed again, as she saw his figure dashing
onwards through the gloom.

“I am a friend!” cried Sir Frederick Hartleton, but his voice was weak
from the violence, from which he had been pursuing Mad Maud, and she
heard him not.

Now she reached the end of the wall, and looked round again.—A cry
announced her terror, and she turned toward the river instead of the
land.

There was a heavy splash, and as he heard it, the awful conviction came
across the mind of the magistrate, that the unhappy creature had thrown
herself into the Thames to escape him.

He gained the spot in an instant. A lighter stood moored close to the
bank. With a tremendous spring Sir Frederick gained the deck, and
leaning anxiously over the side, he gazed earnestly into the stream as
it rippled by. A stifled cry met his ears. He looked in the direction
from whence it came, and saw a dark object hurried on by the water.

It was but the act of a moment to dive from the deck of the lighter,
and in the next the athletic Sir Frederick Hartleton touched the bottom
of the Thames.

He was an admirable swimmer, and rising to the surface, just as the
watchmen on the Surrey side began to spring their rattles, and give an
alarm by calling out that some one had fallen in the river.

Some few hundred yards in advance of him, he saw the dark object still
hurrying on. Assisted by the tide, and his own vigorous swimming, he
soon neared it. A few more sweeps of his arms brought him within arm’s
length, and he grasped poor Maud, for it was she, indeed, by her long
raven hair which had escaped from its confinement, and floated in a
dark mass upon the surface of the water.

“Help!” cried Sir Frederick in a clear voice, and turning towards the
Surrey shore, which was now much nearer to him than that from which he
had come.

Several boats had now pushed off, and in one a man stood up with a link
that cast a lurid glare over the stream.

“Hilloa!” cried the man. “Who’s in for a ducking now? Hilloa there.”

“Hilloa!” cried Sir Frederick, and the rowers at once pulled towards
him.

“Back water!” cried the man with the light—“I see him—here ye are.”

The magistrate grasped the side of the boat, and said—

“Now, my lads, take in the woman.”

Maud was lifted into the boat, and Sir Frederick himself clambered
after her.

“Fifty guineas, my brave fellows,” he cried, “if we get to shore in
time to recover this poor creature.”

“Fif—fif—fifty?” ejaculated the man with the light.

“Yes—fifty guineas.”

“Pull, you devils!” he shrieked out to the rowers. “Pull—pull.”

The men bent all their energies to the task, and in less than three
minutes more the keel of the boat grated on the shore.

Wet and cold as he was, Sir Frederick Hartleton seized the inanimate
and light form of Maud, as if she had been an infant, and springing
from the boat, he ran to a public-house called “The King’s Bounty,”
that was celebrated at the time and declaring who he was, had poor Maud
immediately properly attended to, while he himself ran to a surgeon,
and procured his instant services to restore her if possible to
consciousness.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


The Smith’s Anger.—A Drunken Tour through Westminster in the Olden
Time.—The Watch.—A Scene at the Chequers.—The Determination.



When Britton fled in sudden fright from the low wall by Millbank, he
took his rout up Abingdon-street, and turning into the first house of
entertainment he saw, he ordered a quantity of brandy that made the
landlady stare again; but when he lifted the measure to his mouth, and
then after a dead silence of about a minute, laid it down empty, the
aforesaid landlady’s eyes became much larger than before, and she
looked again and again in the measure, as if she imagined the brandy
might still be only lurking in some corner, and would suddenly make its
appearance again.

When Britton then struck his own head, which he did with his clenched
fist, the landlady gave a great jump, and exclaimed,—

“Bless us, and save us!”

“I am a fool! An ass!” cried Britton. “To be scared by a shadow—curses!
What’s to pay, woman? Don’t stand staring at me!”

“You—you’ve had a—pint, sir,” gasped the alarmed landlady.

“Take your money out of that, and be quick,” cried Britton, throwing
down a guinea, the ring of which on a little bit of marble, which the
landlady kept behind the bar door, being quite satisfactory, she turned
round to hand her customer his change, but to her surprise he was gone.

Half maddened by rage and drink together, Britton now rushed back to
where he had left Maud; but both she and Sir Frederick, from the pace
at which they had immediately left the place, were out of sight and
hearing; muttering, therefore, imprecations on his own head, the smith
returned towards Westminster in a fit mood for anything.

“Fool that I am!” he roared, for the tremendous dose of brandy he had
taken made him quite reckless of who might be within hearing. “Idiot! I
who have made the clang of my hammer heard by midnight, when within a
dozen paces of me was a—sight—sight that would—d—n the lights! They
stand in my eyes—and the houses are toppling. Fool—fool to let her go.
Would Jacob Gray have done as much? No, no, not he. It was the idiot
Britton. Oh, if I could find them out—Gray and the boy—ay, the boy—I’d
dash his brains out against Gray’s politic skull. Curses on them all.
The—the very pavement is mocking me. The houses reel, and the lamps
seem—dance—dancing—from earth to sky—as if they were all mad. It’s to
annoy me—I know it is.”

He reeled on, the liquor he had drunk so recklessly each moment
exerting greater effect upon him. The few chance passengers whom he met
heard his wild ravings before he reached them, and some had the
prudence to cross to the other side of the street, while others would
stand in a doorway until the evidently furious man had gone past them.

One watchman, who had just awakened from a sound nap, and walked out of
his box, eager to show his efficiency upon somebody, had the temerity
to hold up his lantern in Britton’s face, and make the simple and
innocent remark of—

“Hilloa, friend!”

Britton was, however, in no humour to be spoken to at all, and with one
crashing blow of his herculean fist he sent watchman and lantern into
the middle of the road, where they lay a dirty mass, consisting
principally of a greatcoat of a dingy white brown, with the letters
W.L., signifying Westminster Liberties, on the back of it.

This little adventure calmed, in a slight degree, the animal
irritability of Britton; and although he shouted and reeled along in a
stage of intoxication only one degree removed from the last, he spoke
more joyously, and even condescended to alarm the neighbourhood by some
snatches of Bacchanalian songs, roared out in a voice loud enough to
arouse the celebrated Seven Sleepers. In fact, divers of the indignant
and infuriated inhabitants opened their windows, and called “watch!”
but as no watch answered, they closed them again, wondering where the
watchman was, and remarking, as testy old gentlemen do now of the new
policeman, that he is never to be seen when he is at all
wanted,—although, in this case, the watchman might have been seen by
any curious inhabitant who chose to walk into the middle of the road in
Abingdon-street.

In about half an hour the guardian of the night recovered; and as
Britton had hurried on, and the neighbourhood was restored to quiet and
serenity, he roused it all up again, by springing his rattle, and
crying “murder!” for about five minutes incessantly.

The good folks of Abingdon street and its vicinity had therefore two
alarms that eventful night, the one by Britton himself roaring through
the streets when there was no watchman, and the other by the watchman
when there was nobody to apprehend.

In the meanwhile Britton went on until he reached, more from habit than
design, the door of the Chequers. There he paused, and as it happened
to be shut, by way of saving himself the trouble of knocking or lifting
the latch, he flung himself against it with such force, that he rolled
into the passage, as if he had been suddenly discharged from a cannon.

The landlord was not slow in recognising his Majesty King Britton, and
stooped to assist him to rise with all humility, which piece of
kindness was rewarded as kings very often reward their subjects, at
least as far as principle went, for the smith seized the unhappy
landlord by the hair of his head, and then bumped the said head against
the floor, with a reiteration of blows that alarmed the house.

“That will teach you to shut your doors in the faces of your best
customers,” stammered Britton, rising.

“Ye—ye—yes,” said the landlord, rubbing his head, and making a variety
of wry faces, “I—I—really—good Master King Britton—you—are
quite—facetious. I declare I never had such knocks on the head in my
life. I’ll see you hung some day.” This latter sentence was uttered
aside, and with an air of candour that left no doubt of the deep
sincerity of it.

“Stir yourself,” cried Britton. “Who’s here?”

“Who’s here, King?”

“Yes—Have you any croaking spies here? Who was yon vagabond in the grey
coat?”

“The—the—villain who stood in your worship’s way awhile ago?”

“Ay, the same: do you know him?”

“No, no, your Majesty.”

“So much the better. I do know him, and if you had, I’m not sure but I
should have been under the ne—ne—necessity of smashing you—do you hear?”

“Yes—most humbly—Oh, I shall see you at Tyburn yet!”

“What’s that you mutter?”

“I—I was arguing that—all villains ought, to be at Tyburn, your
worship.”

“Oh, ought they? Then why ain’t you there?”

“I—I—really don’t know.”

At this juncture, when the courteous host felt himself rather at a loss
to give a reason why he should not be hung, there entered the house a
little bustling man, exclaiming, as he came,—

“Well, they are coming it—there’s nothing but lights here, there, and
everywhere. You may hear the music in the park. Ah! No doubt, ’tis a
right merry scene.”

“What do you mean?” roared Britton. “Ex—ex—plain yourself, you
bad-looking—piece of—of—bad—clay, you gnat—ex—explain, or I’ll give you
a blow—shall—shall—Curse me, if—I know.”

“Ah, explain yourself, Master Sniggle,” said the host, winking at the
little man.

“Why,” said the little man, “there’s lights everywhere—there’s lights
above—lights below—”

“Ex—ex—plain!” roared Britton.

“Well, I am explaining. There’s lights—”

“If—you—you say lights again, I’ll be the death of you.”

“The—the—death of me for saying lights?”

“You are an idiot,” said Britton, gravely.

“Ah, a rank idiot,” cried the landlord, winking again at the little
man, who, however, was too much enraged to notice the telegraphic
regard of the politic host.

“I an idiot!” he exclaimed. “Well, I never heard the like of that
before. I tell you what it is, master landlord, I—I—I won’t drink any
more of your ale—d—e!”

“You—you can’t drink much, you wretched little midge,” said Britton.

“Sir,” cried the little man, giving his hat a fierce cock. “Sir, I
never enter your house again, and my wife shall get her rations from
the Blue Cat and Frying Pan, or the Crocodile and Crumpet, d—e!”

The landlord now winked so dreadfully and so incessantly, that it
seemed quite doubtful whether or not he would ever leave off again; but
the little man was not to be winked into good-humour, and shook his
head in great indignation.

Britton reeled towards the bar, exclaiming, “Give me a half-pint
measure, and if I don’t put him into it, my name ain’t King—King
Britton!”

The landlord now took the opportunity of whispering to Master Sniggles—

“Do for Heaven’s sake be an idiot.”

“I—I—the devil!” cried Sniggles.

“Say, you are a midge,” added the landlord, at the same time enforcing
his argument by a poke in the regions of Master Sniggles’ ribs.

“He’ll be desperate if you contradict him. Be an idiot just for old
acquaintance sake, and to oblige me.”

“It’s not very pleasant,” suggested the little man.

“Now,” roared Britton, returning with a pewter measure in his hand.
“Are you going to ex—explain yourself.”

“Ye—yes,” stammered the little man. “The lights, good sir, were at the
large house belonging to the rich squire, whose floors, they say, are
paved with dollars, and his walls hung with gold leaf.”

“Whe—do—you mean, Learmont?”

“Ay, marry do I—that’s his worshipful name; they say he eats off gold
plate, and cuts his food with a diamond.”

“But what about the lights?” roared Britton.

“Why, that’s what I asked a knave that was lounging at the door, and
he, a burly knave he was, he says to me—he was a stout fellow to—”

“What did he say?”

“Why, says he, the squire gives an entertainment to-night to the court
and nobility.”

“Oh,” cried Britton. “He does, and he has not invited me.”

The landlord winked at Master Sniggles, and Master Sniggles this time
winked at the landlord, both the winks signifying how very far gone was
Britton in drunkenness to make so very absurd and preposterous a remark.

Britton was silent for a few moments. Then a half-drunken,
half-malignant smile covered his swarthy visage.

“I will go,” he cried, “I will be the only uninvited guest, and—and yet
the most free. Ha, ha! Learmont would as leave see the devil himself
walk in as King Britton, the smith. I’ll go!”

“Does your majesty really mean,” suggested the landlord, “to kick up a
royal row at the rich squire’s?”

“Do I mean?” said Britton. “I will have a dance in his halls, I say.
There’s not a knave in his household dare stand in my way. Hurrah!
Hurrah! I’m a gentleman. I do nothing but drink, so I’m a gentleman.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Learmont don’t expect me, but there’s nothing like an
unlooked for pleasure. I’ll visit him to-night, if the pit of hell
should open at his threshold to stay my progress.”

So saying, he dashed from the Chequers leaving the landlord and Master
Sniggles gazing at each other in speechless amazement.

What occurred at the drunken smith’s visit to Learmont’s fête, we are
already aware.



CHAPTER XL.


The Old House Again.—Ada’s Alarm.—Gray and His Gold.



Ada felt that after the experience of the recent interview with Gray,
she had a power over him which, were she free from her promise not to
escape, she might use for the purpose of restoring herself to liberty.
That power was grounded on the superstition of his character—a weakness
which had grown with his crimes, and been increased by the constant
pangs of remorse, which even he could not stifle entirely. The solitude
likewise, and the constant state of trembling anxiety in which he
lived, had shattered his nervous system to that degree that he was
indeed a melancholy and warning spectacle of the mental and bodily
wreck to which crime is sure to reduce its unhallowed perpetrators.

His eyes were sunken and blood-shot, his lips never bore the hue of
health, his step was stealthy and trembling, and his hands shook like
an aspen leaf. He would lock himself in the room which contained his
hoarded wealth, and recount the glittering mass for hours together; but
still he could not think it enough. The demon of avarice had got a
clutch of his heart, and the larger the amount of his gold became, the
wider range his love of the bright temptation took, and constantly
fixed a sum far beyond what he had as that which would content him and
enable him to put in practice his scheme of departure from England, and
vengeance upon Learmont and Britton.

“I must yet have more,” he would mutter. “’Tis but a short delay, and
Learmont cannot refuse me the gold. Yes, two hundred more of those
pieces shall satisfy me. That will make up a goodly sum; and then, in
some other land, I shall get some sleep undisturbed by the awful
visions that here crowd upon my trembling imagination;—but two hundred
more. Perhaps I may get so much before this month is past, and then I
shall be saved the trouble of extorting a renewal of the promise of
this wilful girl. Yes, it shall be so. I will raise my demands upon
Learmont. He cannot—dare not say me nay, unless I were to become
outrageously unreasonable in my drafts upon his purse.—Two hundred.—Let
me think;—five visits at twenty pounds each will be half the money.
Pshaw! I will have forty each visit. Ay, forty; that will not alarm
him: If I insist on more he might, in his cautious brain, think upon
the scheme I mean to practise, and take some means of most effectually
preventing such ruin to himself. I will lull his suspicions. Oh! What a
day of triumph will it be to me when I sail from England with the
conviction that, within four-and-twenty hours after I am gone, Learmont
and Britton will each inhabit a prison. They will then confess that
Jacob Gray is cunning. The sneer will turn with an awful fact to them.
There is but one drawback.—I shall not see them hung. No;—I cannot—dare
not—stay to see them hung. Ada will be rich and great; but she will
know who I am. Will she use her wealth in hunting me through the world?
Or will she forgive in the flush of her prosperity? If—if—I thought
that the firm, untameable spirit which this girl evidently possesses,
and which I may confess it here in secret, daunts me,—if I thought it
would induce her to hunt me down, as she might, for her means would be
ample for such an object, were I hidden even in the bowels of the
earth, I’d—I’d—kill her ere I went. Yes, some night when she slept I
could do it; but not till the hour before I meant to go; for I—I could
not stay in this lone place without her. She scorns me,—treats me with
a haughty contempt; will scarcely condescend to address me: but still
she is here, and there is company in the thought that I know I am not
quite alone in this gloomy place. She may load me with opprobrium,—she
may heap scorn upon my head; but she is here, and I could not lie down
for one night here, without the conviction that there was some one else
within these walls. So, Ada, you are safe now—very safe; but ere I go I
must seek some subtle means of knowing what will be your course of
action when you know all, and the name of Jacob Gray is linked with a
crime that will rouse your nature, and bring an angry flash to your
eye. Ha!—What noise was that?”

Gray sprang to his feet, and he trembled violently, for some slight
noise, such as old decayed houses are full of, came upon his ear in the
stillness that reigned around.

“I—I thought I heard a noise,” he muttered; “but I have thought so
often, when ’twas nothing. Ada is here; I am not quite alone; should I
see anything, I—I could scream, and then she might come, perchance, to
exult in my agony; but there would be protection in her
presence—because—because she is—innocent.—Innocent!—Oh, God! Why am I
not innocent? Is all this world and its enjoyments a gross delusion,
for which I have bartered all the essence and foundation of all
joy—peace!”

For many minutes he remained silent, and the nervous twitching of his
countenance betrayed the disturbed condition of his mind. Then he spoke
quickly and nervously.

“I must not give way to thoughts like these,” he said; “they will drive
me mad. Yes, murder lies that way. I must go on now;—the path I have
chosen is one which there is no retracing. ’Tis as if a wall of adamant
followed close behind, to prevent one backward step. I am committed to
the course I have taken;—to pause is madness. I must go on—I must go
on! But I will spare you, Ada, if I can.”

The sound of a distant clock, sounding the hour of twelve, now came
upon the night air, and Jacob Gray listened to the faint moaning tones
of the bell until all was still again, and no sound broke the solemn
stillness but the agitated beating of his own heart.

“Midnight!” he said. “’Tis midnight! I will now endeavour to snatch a
few hours’ repose; I have fatigued myself now for many hours, with the
hope that the body’s weariness might lull the mind’s agony. Agony! I—do
I call it agony! Is that all I have purchased by—crimes?”

He lifted the light, as he spoke, and its feeble rays fell upon the
glittering heap of gold that lay before him. A ghastly smile played
across the pale countenance of Jacob Gray.

“I have gained something,” he said, as he laid his thin, cold hand upon
the gold. “Yes, I have gained these—these pieces of bright metal, that
will exchange for honours—service—gay attire—enchanting music—nay, they
will buy what men affect not to sell—opinion. There may be some pure
state of society, in which, when speaking of a man, the question may
be, ‘What is he?’ But here—here, in civilized, moral, intellectual
England, the question is, ‘What has he?’ These,” he continued, running
his hand among the guineas; “these even will purchase prayers to
Heaven; petitions to God from the good, the saintly, and the pious.
Gold, I love thee—but now to bed—to bed!”

He carefully placed his treasure in its recent receptacle at the back
of the cupboard, and then with a faltering step, and a shifting glance
of fear, he repaired to his own chamber, which was near to Ada’s room.

In his progress he passed the door of the dormitory of his victim—he
paused a moment, and listened attentively. Then in a voice of deep
anguish he said,—

“She can sleep—she can sleep—no ghostly vision scares slumber from her
eyes—while—”

He shuddered, and passed a step or two on, then pausing again, he said,—

“Oh, if she, the young and innocent—the loved of Heaven—if she would
but bid me a ‘good night,’ I think I could sleep—I asked her once, and
she would not—no, she would not give me so much peace; she would not
say good night to me!”

These words were spoken by Gray in a tone of great mental anguish, and
he passed on silently to his own chamber.

A silence, as of the grave, reigned over the old house, and an uneasy
slumber crept over Jacob Gray.

Well might the man of crime dread to sleep; for, although exhausted
nature sunk into repose, the busy fancy slept not; but, ever wakeful,
conjured up strange ghastly shapes to scare the sleeper.

The imagination, unchecked by reason, began its reign—a reign sometimes
so full of beauty and joy, that we sigh to awaken to a perception of
that which is, instead of remaining in the world of dreams.

Jacob Gray’s visions, however, took the shuddering ghastly complexion
of his waking thoughts and recollections.

From memory’s deepest cells would these creep forth one by one in
hideous distinctness—remembrances that were maddening, and scenes would
be enacted over and over again within the busy chambers of the brain,
that in his waking moments he would shun the faintest reminiscence of,
as he would the terrors of a pestilence.

The smithy at Learmont rose up before him, black and heavy as it
appeared among the drifting snow. Then he would hear the howling of the
wind even as it howled on that eventful night, when the storm was just
commencing—momentarily it increased in fury, and Jacob Gray felt that
all the awful events of that night were to do again; why or wherefore
he knew not.

Then the smith, he thought, took him by the throat and threw him down
upon a ghastly rotting corpse, and the long bony arms closed over him,
while he felt his own warm living face in hideous contact with the
slimy rottenness of the grave, he heard then, as he had heard it on
that dreadful night, the cry of fire! And he strove with frantic
efforts to free himself from the embrace of death—but ’twas all in vain.



*   *   *   *   *



The flames then waved around him like a sea, and the skeleton arms grew
to a white heat, and burnt into his flesh, and a hot pestilential
breath seemed to come from the grinning jaws of the dead—still he could
not move. His struggles were as those of an infant in that awful
clutch, and he prayed for death to terminate his agony.

Then a voice said, “No! You will remain thus till time is no more.”

With a scream Jacob Gray awoke, and starting wildly from his couch, he
sunk on his knees, shrieking—

“Mercy—mercy! Spare me, Heaven!”



CHAPTER XLI.


A Human Voice.—The Departure.—An Unexpected Meeting.—The Reception.



The dim, cold, uncertain light of morning was faintly gleaming in long
sickly streaks in the eastern sky, and the trembling, half-maddened
Jacob Gray crawled to the window of his room, and hastily tearing down
some paper that patched a broken pane of glass, he placed his scorched
and dry lips against the opening, and drank in the cool morning’s air
as one who had crossed a desert would quaff from the first spring he
met after the horrors and thirst of the wilderness.

On his knees the wretched man remained for some time, until the mad
fever of his blood subsided, and calmer reflection came to his aid.

“I cannot sleep,” he said, “I cannot sleep—’tis madness to attempt it;
my waking thoughts are bad enough, but when reason sleeps, and the
imagination, unshackled by probability commences its reign, then all
the wildest fancies become realities and I live in a world of horrors,
such as the damned alone can endure, endurance must constitute a
portion of their suffering, for if they felt so acutely as to decrease
sensation, they would be happy. Alas! What can I do, I must rest
sometimes. Exhausted nature will not be defrauded of her rights; but
while the body rests, the mind seems to take a flight to hell! Oh,
horrible! Horrible! I—I—wonder if Ada be awake—methinks now the sound
of a human voice would be music to my ears, I will creep to her chamber
door, and speak to her the slightest word in answer will be a blessing.
Yes, I will go—I will go.” Jacob Gray then, with a slow and stealthy
step, left his chamber, and as he glided along the dim corridor of that
ancient house, he might, with his haggard looks and straining eyes,
have well been taken for the perturbed spirit that popular superstition
said had been seen about the ill-omened residence of crime and death.

He reached Ada’s door, and after a pause, he knocked nervously and
timidly upon the panel. There was no answer, Ada slept—she was dreaming
of happiness, of joy, that brought pearly tears to her eyes—those eyes
that are the blissful overflowings of a heart too full of grateful
feeling. Again Jacob Gray knocked, and he cried “Ada!” in a voice that
was too low and tremulous to reach the ears of the sleeping girl, but
which startled Gray himself by the hollow echoes it awakened in the
silence of the gloomy house.

Again he knocked, and this time Ada started from her sleep—Gray heard
the slight movement of the girl.

“Ada!” he said, “Ada, speak!”

“Jacob Gray!” said Ada.

“Ada—I—I am going forth—speak Ada, again.”

“Wherefore am I summoned thus early?” said Ada—“what has happened?”

“Nothing, nothing!” replied Gray. “Be cautious, Ada; I shall not return
till night.”

He waited several minutes, but Ada made no reply. Then he crept slowly
from the door muttering,—

“She has spoken—I think there is some magic in her voice, for I am
better now, and the air in this place does not seem so thick and damp.
It may be that there are evil spirits that, at the sound of the voice
of one so pure and innocent as she, are forced to fly, and no more load
the air with their bad presence. I am relieved now, for I have heard a
human voice.”

Gray then proceeded to a lower room of the house, and enveloping
himself closely in an ample cloak, he cautiously opened the door and
went forth secure in the dim and uncertain light of the early morning.

The air was cold and piercing, but to Jacob Gray it was grateful, for
it came like balm upon his heated blood, and the thick teeming fancies
of his guilty brain gradually assumed a calmer complexion, subsiding
into that gnawing of the heart which he was scarcely ever without, and
which he knew would follow him to the grave.

He skirted the hedges, concealing himself with extreme caution, until
he was some distance from Forest’s house, for notwithstanding the great
improbability of his being seen at so early an hour, Jacob Gray was one
of those who, to use his own words to Learmont, always wished safety to
be doubly assured.

Walking rapidly now, along a pathway by the river’s side, he soon
neared Lambeth, and the sun was just commencing to gild faintly the
highest spires of the great city, when he arrived near the spot which
is now occupied by the road leading over Vauxhall-bridge.

Gray began now to look about him for some place in which to breakfast,
for such was his suspicious nature and constant fear, that he never
from choice entered the same house twice. As chance would have it now,
he paused opposite the doorway of the public-house called the King’s
Bounty, and while he was deliberating with himself whether he should
enter or not, he started and trembled with apprehension as the figure
of Sir Frederick Hartleton passed out.

Jacob Gray had made himself well acquainted with the magistrate by
sight, for curiosity had often impelled him to take means of seeing the
man to whom he had addressed the packet containing his confession, and,
from whom he expected his revenge against Learmont and Britton, and at
the same time that, he, Gray, had personally to dread Sir Frederick
most, of all men, while he should remain in England.

Gray drew back as the magistrate advanced, although a moment’s thought
convinced him of the extreme improbability of his being known even to
the vigilant eye of Hartleton, who had almost grown proverbial for his
skill and tact in discovering who any person was, and for recollecting
faces that he had only once in his life seen.

Gray was so near the doorway that he had to move in order to allow Sir
Frederick to pass, and at that moment their eyes met.

The magistrate looked earnestly at Gray for a moment, and then passed
on. During that brief look the blood appeared to Jacob Gray to be
almost congealing at his heart, so full of fear was he that some
distant reminiscence of his countenance might still live in the
remembrance of Sir Frederick Hartleton. Such, however, appeared not to
be the case, for the magistrate passed on, nor once looked behind him,
to the immense relief of Gray, who now made up his mind on the moment
to enter the house from a feeling of intense curiosity; to know what
business his greatest foe could have there at such an early hour.

When he reached the small sanded parlour of the little hostel, he found
several persons engaged in earnest discourse, among whom he had no
difficulty in selecting the landlord, who was talking earnestly and
loudly.

“Ah, my masters,” cried the landlord, “he’s a brave gentleman and a
liberal one, I can tell you. He said to me—‘Landlord,’ says he—‘let her
have of the best your house affords, and send your bill to me’—that’s
what he said—and it’s no joke, I can tell you, for a publican to be on
good terms with a magistrate. Oh, dear me! Then you should have seen
how cold and wet he was; and when I offered him my Sunday garments, he
took them with a thank ye, landlord, that was worth a Jew’s eye—coming
as it did from a magistrate, mind you.”

“Bring me a measure of your best wine,” said Gray, “and whatever you
have in the house that I may make a breakfast on.”

This liberal order immediately arrested the landlord’s attention, as
Gray fully intended it should, and mine host of the King’s Bounty
turned instantly all his attention to a visitor who ordered
refreshments on so magnificent a scale for the house.

“Di—rectly, sir!” cried he, “your worship shall have some wine such as
the bishop has not better in his cellars and they do say that he keeps
his Canary cool in an excavation that goes from his palace some feet
under the bed of the Thames.”

“I wish for the best of everything in your house,” said Gray.
“By-the-by, was not that Sir Frederick Hartleton whom I saw leave your
house a few minutes since?”

“An it please your honour, it was,” said the landlord. “Mayhap your
worship is a friend of his, and comes to speak to the poor creature
above?”

“Eh?—a—yes—yes.”

“By my faith, I thought as much.”

“Yet, stay,” said Gray, for he was cautious to the extreme. “Do you
know when Sir Frederick will be here again?”

“Not till to-morrow, sir.”

“Humph! Then I will see the poor creature you mention.”

“Certainly, sir. This way, sir. Your breakfast will be ready by the
time your worship comes down stairs again.”

“Who can this be that he calls the poor creature?” thought Gray, as he
followed the landlord up stairs.

“This way, sir,” exclaimed the loquacious host. “It was touch and go
with her, poor thing, they say; but Sir Frederick saved her. I dare
say, however, your honour knows all about it. That room, sir, if you
please.”

The landlord now opened a door, and, popping his head in, cried in a
very different tone to that in which he addressed Gray, upon the
supposition of his acquaintance with Sir Frederick Hartleton,—

“Hilloa! Here’s a gentleman come to see you, old ’un.”

Gray had not hear the reply; but he entered the room at once, and
confronted Mad Maud, who was sitting in a chair, looking more like a
corpse than a human being.



CHAPTER XLII.


Gray’s Cunning.—Danger Thickens.—The Hour of Retribution has not Come.



“Who are you,” cried she, “that seeks poor Maud?”

“Maud!” exclaimed Gray, ”I have heard Britton speak of you.”

“Britton, Britton, the savage smith!” cried Maud, rising, and trying to
clutch Gray with her long skinny arms. “He speak of me? Have they hung
him, and I not there? Tell me, have they dared to hang him without my
being there to see it? Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Gray shuddered. He had heard that wild and fearful laugh before. On the
night of the storm at Learmont he had heard it, and he had never
forgotten it.

“You—you lived once far from hence?” he said.

“Far—very far. ’Twas a weary way to walk. Sometimes I slept in a barn;
and they hooted me out in the morning, because the frown of God was
upon my soul, and I was mad—yes—I was mad, so they who had sense and
judgment cast me out.”

“You know Sir Frederick Hartleton?” said Gray.

“Frank Hartleton I know,” she replied. “He was always kind to poor
Maud. When the smith hunted me into the river, he saved me. Yes I know
him and the angel.”

“And who?”

“The angel who fed me, and spoke kind words even though I was mad.
Those kind words made me weep; an angel spoke them.”

“Mad as she can be,” thought Gray, “I do not like her acquaintance with
Hartleton, however. There may be danger.”

“The savage smith hunted you, did he?” he then said aloud.

“He would have killed me,” replied Maud, with a shudder; “but the water
came up to where we were, and saved me.”

“I am a friend, a dear friend of Hartleton’s,” said Gray; “and he
wishes you to say to me all you know about things that happened long
ago.”

“What things?”

“Of, you recollect the Old Smithy?”

“The Old Smithy!” repeated Maud. “Yes—I do—I do. Why should I not? The
murder was only done last night, and the death-cry of the victim still
lingers in the air. The storm is lulling, but the wind moans like an
infant sobbing itself to sleep upon its mother’s breast. The distant
shrieks of him who rushed forth with the child still echo through the
valley. Do I remember?—Yes—’Twas brave work—brave work for the savage
smith. Hush! Hush! Tell me now, if it be true that they will bring me
the child? I will tend it for I have nothing to love now; Britton
killed him—him that I loved. Oh! Give me the child of the dead, and I
will be a mother to it for its orphan state!”

“Indeed! Who has promised you the child?”

“He—the good—the brave.”

“Who?”

“Frank Hartleton. ‘Be patient,’ he said, ‘and you shall see that child
again.’”

Gray trembled as he said,—

“You—you are sure, he said this—Sir Frederick Hartleton? Tell me what
more he said, and, if you love gold, you shall have it. Tell me all
that has passed in your interview with him, and then ask of me what you
will, it is yours. You seem poor—nay, wretched; I will give you money
if you will tell me all you know of this—this murder you mention.”

“Gold! Gold!” muttered Maud. “That is man’s enemy; for that he betrays
trusts—robs—lies—murders!”

Jacob Gray groaned.

“Yes,” continued Maud, “the red gold is Heaven’s worst foe. It robs the
realms of light and glory of many mortal souls. I will not have your
gold. Tempter, away! Give me the child, the sweet, smiling babe that
Heaven made the bad man save from the burning smithy. Give me that, and
then tell me where Britton is, and I will do your bidding,—you shall
know all!”

“I accept your terms;” said Gray; “you shall have the child. Tell me
who did this murder at the smithy, and what Hartleton says about it.”

“Ay, Hartleton!” exclaimed Maud; “he, too, has promised me the child;
but he says I shall not know it.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes; he says that years have passed away; that the child has grown to
be a maiden of rare beauty. But I shall see it. Yes, poor Maud will see
it yet; and I shall know it, because its hands have some blood upon
them.”

Gray absolutely reeled, and mechanically sunk into a chair as Maud
spoke, and a conviction crossed his mind that by some means Sir
Frederick Hartleton was on the scent for him. A short interval of
confused and agonising thought now followed. Then it shaped itself into
a course of detail that he felt was the only one presenting a chance of
escape, and that was to discover, if possible, in what particular
manner the danger threatened, and whether it was near or remote—if it
consisted of positive knowledge, or only surmise.

“Go on,” he said, making a great effort to speak calmly, and
communicate his feelings. “Go on, I pray you.”

“I shall have the child?”

“You shall! Be assured you shall!”

“Ah, then Britton will soon die. I shall live till then—to see him die,
and then poor Maud is willing to die. I am to remain here till he comes
again.”

“Who?”

“Frank Hartleton, blessings on him! He says that the career of the
wicked is now over. Who is this Gray, they all speak to me about?”

Jacob Gray started, and fixed his eyes intently upon poor Maud’s face,
for an awful doubt, suggested by his shivering fear, came across his
mind, that he might be falling into some trap laid for him by the
cunning of the magistrate; and that she who asked of him so strange a
question might be only aping the malady she seemed to suffer under.

“Don’t you know Gray?” he said sharply, at the same time fixing his
keen, ferret-looking eyes upon the door, and then suddenly turning them
to her.

Maud shook her head; and there was something so genuine in her
negative, that Gray drew a long breath, and felt re-assured that he was
at the moment safe.

“Oh, Gray!” he said. “Who mentioned him! He is dead—dead long ago.”

“Dead?”

“Yes; there is now no such person. So Sir Frederick—I mean Frank
Hartleton, mentioned this Gray?”

“All have mentioned him,” said Maud. “’Tis very strange, but I am asked
by all if I know Gray!”

“Indeed! By—by Hartleton?”

“Yes, by him. He says that Gray is the worst villain of all. The Lord
of Learmont is scarce worse than Gray. Where is he, with his dark
scowl? I have not seen him for some days, that is, since he would not
have the fire put out. They said he and the savage smith killed Dame
Tatton, and took the child away; but I know better, ha—ha—ha! Poor Mad
Maud knows better.”

“Then Learmont did not do so?” said Gray, in a soft insinuating tone.

“How could he, when I met her by the mill-stream, weeping?”

“You met her?”

“Ay, did I, by the mill-stream. It was early dawn, and the birds alone
were awake, as well as Mad Maud. Ha—ha! I met her, and, I will tell
you, she had the child; and she wept while I kissed and blessed it.”

“But, about this man, Gray? Speak more of him—I pray you, speak of him.”

“I know him not, but Frank Hartleton, who always had a kind word for
poor Maud, which makes me believe him—he says, that before sunset, Gray
shall be in prison, and that he is a villain.”

Gray rose with his features convulsed with rage and fear, and
approaching Maud, he said, in a husky whisper,—

“Woman—on your soul, did he say those words?”

“He did. It will be brave work!”

“How is this?” cried Gray, clasping his hands. “God! How is this? Am I
betrayed—lost—lost!”

He sank in a chair with a deep groan, at the moment that, the landlord
opened the door, saying—

“An it please your honour, your breakfast is hot. There be new-laid
eggs, and buttered buns; a chine, the like of which is rarely seen at
the King’s Bounty. Then we have some confections, your honour, which
would be no disparagement to the bishop’s own larder, which, they do
say, keeps up a continual groaning from the heap of niceties collected
therein. Then, as to wine we have, I will say it—who should not—the
very creamiest, rarest—”

“Peace—begone!” said Gray.

“Your honour!”

“Begone, I say!”

“I humbly—”

“Peace! Is it thus you torment your guest? Do not interrupt me until I
call for you. I have a private conference to hold with this poor
creature. Here, pay yourself as you will for the cooling of your most
precious viands.”

Gray threw a piece of gold to the landlord, who picked it up, and
vanished with a profusion of bows, to tell his company below what a
nice gentleman, a friend of the great Sir Frederick Hartleton, he had
above stairs, who not only paid for what was cooked for him, but
requested he might be charged for the cooling of the various delicacies!

“Now, that’s what I call a real gentleman,” added the landlord; “and
one as makes a virtuous use of his money.”

When Jacob was once more alone with poor Maud, he approached her and
said,—

“As you value your life, tell me all.”

“My life? Is Britton dead?” she replied.

“What do you mean?” said Gray, impatiently.

“Because I cannot die till he does.”

“Listen to me,” said Gray. “You say that this Hartleton talks of
imprisoning Gray. Was that all he said?”

“I wept, and he would not then take from me what the angel had given
me. I promised her by a name, as sacred to me as that of Heaven, and I
could not even let him have it,—no, no! He pitied my tears, and let me
keep the angel’s paper.”

“Paper!—Paper!—What paper?”

“Oh! It is precious!” continued Maud; “I think it is a charm against
sickness,—it is, truly, as coming from an angel.”

“Let me see it.”

“Yes, of course; I am to show it to all,—that was what the angel said.
You shall see,—but you will not take it—promise me you will not take
it.”

“I promise.”

Maud then dived her hand in her breast, and produced, with an
expression of intense pride and satisfaction, the scrap of paper which
Ada had given her, with the faint hope that it might meet the hands of
Albert Seyton. She held it out to Gray to read, and as he did so, and
fully comprehending the few words it contained, his lips turned to an
ashy paleness, and his brain grew dizzy with apprehension.

“He—he has seen this?” he gasped.

“Who?”

“Hartleton!”

“Oh yes; I tell you he wanted it, but he would not tear it from me.”

Gray made a snatch at it, and tore it from the grasp of the poor
creature. Maud uttered a loud scream, and Gray, drawing a pistol from
his pocket, stood in an attitude of defence, as he heard a confusion of
steps upon the stairs.

“Give it to me!” shrieked Maud—“Oh! As you hope for heaven, give it to
me!”

A moment’s reflection assured Jacob Gray that not only was he acting
indiscreetly, but that he had no time to lose. Hastily concealing the
pistol, he handed the paper to Maud, saying—

“Hence, hence; I did but jest.”

The door was immediately flung open, and several heads appeared.

“This poor creature is mad, friends,” said Gray. “She—she thinks she
has seen something.”

“The Lord preserve us!” cried the landlord. “An’ it please you, sir, I
see Sir Frederick crossing the river.”

“Who?” cried Grey.

“Your honour’s good friend, Sir Frederick Hartleton—ah, I’ll warrant he
has some sport in view, for he has Elias and Stephy, his two runners,
with him.”

Gray darted to the door.

“Your honour—honour,” cried the landlord, “an’ it please you, what did
the poor crazy creature fancy she saw?”

“The devil!” cried Gray.

In a moment he was outside the house. He cast one glance towards the
river. In the middle of the stream was a two-oared cutter, pulled
rapidly by two rowers, while a figure that he at once recognised as the
magistrate sat steering.

With a stifled cry, Jacob Gray set his teeth, and darted off towards
his solitary home, like a hunted hare.



CHAPTER XLIII.


The Proposal.—Gray’s Reasoning.—The Vault.—Ada’s Tears.—A Guilty
Heart’s Agony.



Oh, what a fearful race home that was to Jacob Gray. He knew he had the
start of the magistrate by some quarter of an hour, or probably more;
but still that was not time sufficient to pause upon, and he relaxed
not his headlong speed till he came within sight of the lone house that
was his home: then, for the space of about a minute, he turned and
looked back to see if he were followed, and to strive to think what he
should do when he did reach the house, which he felt could shelter him
no more. That the scrap of paper in the possession of Mad Maud was
written by Ada, he did not entertain a doubt, but it utterly foiled all
conjecture to think how she could have found the opportunity, confined
as she was, of giving if to the poor creature, who set such great store
by it.

Forward, then, Jacob Gray rushed again, after ascertaining that there
was no one within sight. It was yet very early, and but few persons
were out, so that Gray hoped he might be able to cross the fields
without being seen; but how to drag Ada away and leave Forest’s house
in safety, before Sir Frederick and his party arrived, defied his
thoughts, and he groaned and struck his breast in the bitterness of his
anguish and despair.

“The time has come—the time has come!” he muttered. “I am lost—lost!—No
chance!—No hope! If—if I kill Ada—what then? I only exasperate my
pursuers, and my death is certain. I have, if taken, but one solitary
gleam of hope for mercy, and that is, that I have done no violence to
her. No—no—I dare not kill her, unless she would betray me. We must
hide. Aye that is a remote chance.”

He bounded over the swampy fields and gained the door. Without pausing
to make his accustomed signal, he drew from his pocket the key which
had fitted to the rusty lock, and in another moment he had entered his
house of dread and danger, and closed the door behind him.

“I have yet some time,” he said or rather panted, for his violent rush
homeward had quite exhausted him. He reeled rather than walked to his
own chamber, and took a copious draught of spirits. The ardent liquor
in his excited and agitated state of mind appeared to have but little
more effect upon him than would so much water—at least so far as its
power to intoxicate went. He felt refreshed, however, and now he rushed
to the window, which commanded an extensive view across the fields, and
he drew a long breath, as he said to himself with a sensation of
relief,—

“I do not see them yet—I have time—yes, still some time! Now for
Ada—for Ada! I have a task before me!”

He crossed the corridor to see if Ada was in her own room. The door
stood partially open.

“Ada! Ada!” cried Gray. There was no answer; and, looking into the
chamber, he saw she was not there. Suddenly he started. The sweetly
clear and natural voice of Ada emerging from an upper room met his
ears. She was looking out at the blue sky, and watching the soaring
larks, totally unconscious of the sudden return of Jacob Gray, and
fondly anticipating the pleasure—for all our pains and pleasures are
comparative—and it was a pleasure to Ada of being alone for a whole day.

Gray was in no mood for singing, and with a step very different from
the cautious stealthy one with which he usually crawled about the
house, he ascended the staircase, and presented himself before the
astonished eyes of Ada.

“Returned,” she exclaimed.

“Yes—returned,” echoed Gray. “Ada, you have broken your vow.”

“So help me, Heaven, no!”

“You have,” cried Gray, in a high, shrieking voice that decreased to a
hissing sound, as if he were afraid of his own violent outcry.

“I have not,” repeated Ada, fearlessly, and meeting Gray’s eyes with a
clear and open gaze that he shrunk from.

“The—the scrap of paper,” said Gray. “The note to the—the—what shall I
shall I call him?—Albert Seyton—I have seen that. Ah! Well may your
colour flit. Ada, you are detected—you have tampered with your vow. No
more prate to me of your innocence and high virtue—no more taunt me
with your purity. Ada, we understand each other better now.”

“Liar!” cried Ada, with an energy that made Gray start, “I will still
taunt you—still prate to you, of my innocence, which only can gall you
in proportion as you yourself are guilty. I have tampered with no vow,
and you know it. I still stand on a pinnacle, from which you have
fallen, never, never to rise again. Bend not your brows on me Jacob
Gray—you are my slave and you know that too!”

Gray quailed, and trembled, before the flashing eye of Ada, who, as she
spoke, assumed unconsciously an attitude of such rare grace and beauty,
with the fire of heavenly intelligence and truth beaming in every
feature of her face, that it was with mixed feelings-of fear, hate, and
admiration, that Gray replied,—

“You have made an indirect attempt to escape from here.”

“And why not?” said Ada. “If I have the power and opportunity, I will
make a hundred—ay, Jacob Gray, and a hundred more to back them. My vow
contained a special reservation, that I would accept of aid if it came
to me. Moreover, Jacob Gray, when I made the attempt, of which, by some
accident, you have become aware, I was as free as air—my promise had
expired.”

“Ha!”

“Yes: it was made in the brief time that elapsed between one promise
and another, Jacob Gray.”

“Damnation! Why do you reiterate my name so constantly?”

“Because it angers you, Jacob Gray.”

“What if I were to kill you?” growled Gray.

“’Twould be another murder,” said Ada.

“Ada, I do not believe your exculpation. Why did you not escape, if you
had the opportunity you speak of?”

“That I had a special reason for, which I will not tell you, Jacob
Gray.”

“I do not wish to kill you.”

“That I know—you have some highly politic reason for preserving my
life, else it had been sacrificed long since.”

“But now it has become politic so to do,” added Gray.

“Indeed?”

“Ay—indeed.”

“Then, God help me. If I must die now by your hands, may Heaven forgive
you for your deep sinfulness.”

“Hear me, girl,” cried Gray. “There is yet a chance of saving you.”

“Say on. You have some proposition to make, from which you guess I will
revolt, or you would not preface it with such murderous looks.”

Gray walked first to a window, which commanded a view in the direction
of Lambeth. He saw as yet no traces of the magistrate and his party,
and he returned to Ada.

“Attend to what I say,” he cried. “There are those coming here who, as
it happened once before in our former place of abode, seek mine and
your life.”

Ada started.

“Yes,” continued Gray. “By an accident little short of a miracle, I
have discovered their intentions—they are now on their road here. There
is not time to fly.”

“They may be foes to you only,” said Ada. She then suddenly clasped her
hands and uttered a cry of joy. “I see it now,” she said,
“Albert—Albert is coming.”

“No!” thundered Gray. “You are wrong—on my soul, you are wrong. It is
not he. If you hear his voice, act as you please—I will not restrain
you.”

“Who are these men then?”

“That I cannot, will not tell you. Suffice it, they seek your life. We
must die or live together in this emergency; or else if you, with fatal
obstinacy, will not be guided by me, and embrace the only chance of
escape, in self-defence I must silence you.”

“By murdering me?”

“Yes, although reluctantly. Ada, you have sense, knowledge, discretion,
beyond your years.”

Ada sat down, and deep emotion was evident in her countenance.

“Jacob Gray,” she said, “death is frightful to the young. Let me
believe the reasons you urge, or believe them not, it matters little.
You will kill me if I do not do your bidding in this case. Those who
are coming may be my friends or they may be my enemies, I cannot tell,
and your statements carry not with them the stamp of truth to my mind.
The heart once thoroughly deceived, trusts no more. You need not seek
to delude with untruths—it is enough that you will kill me if I do not
hide from those whom you dread—but you have said that, should I hear
the voice of him—him who—why should I shrink from the avowal?—Him whom
I love, you will not stay me.”

“I swear I will not,” cried Gray.

“Your word is quite as weighty as your oath, Jacob Gray,” said Ada.
“Both are worthless. But you would not make such a promise even if you
thought that he would be one of those you expect.”

“Time, Ada—time is precious!” cried Gray.

“To you probably—but I must obey you.”

“You have chosen wisely,” said Gray. “Hear me. My own life hangs upon a
single thread. If you had persevered in obstinately refusing to side
with me, I should have killed you for my own preservation, and cast
your lifeless body into the same place of secrecy where we will soon
repair to.”

“Where mean you?”

“That dark cell in which you have passed some gloomy hours. The
entrance to it is by a panel in the wainscotting of the room below,
which fits so truly that none, not previously aware of it, would
suspect its existence. When I came first here I found it by an
accident. If we are found there, we shall be found together and by any
crying to me, you would benefit nothing. All I require of you now is
silence.”

Gray now again walked to the window, and this time he started back with
a loud cry.

“They are coming,” he said; “look, Ada, be satisfied that neither of
these men in any degree resemble him you so much wish to see.”

Ada sprang to the window, and at some considerable distance off,
crossing the fields, towards the house, she saw three men who were
strangers to her.

“You see they are armed,” said Gray.

“They are—I know them not. How can they be enemies of mine?”

“Follow me!” shrieked Gray. “There is not time for another word.”

As he spoke he took a pistol from his breast, and turned to Ada.

“You know the use and powers of this weapon. So much as stir, unless I
bid you, when we are hiding, or speak even in the lowest whisper,
except in answer to me, and I will assuredly take your life.”

Ada did not answer, and after regarding her fixedly for one moment to
see what impression he had made upon her mind, Gray hastily left the
room, saying,—

“Follow quickly. We have time enough, but none to spare.”

He led her to the crevice in the wall of which the aperture opened,
leading to the damp vault, in which she had been before.

“The ladder is on the inner side,” he said, as he placed a chair to
assist her in reaching the opening. “Descend, while I make some other
arrangements in the room.”

He hastily left the room, locking the door behind him.

Ada stood upon the chair and looked into the dismal vault, from whence
a damp earthy smell arose, and sighed deeply.

“Alas!” she said, “must I obey this man? Is he so desperate that he
would really take my life, or does he only threaten that which he dare
not perform. No—he is a villain, and he would kill me, I am sure that
my life is of value to him, but with such a man the feeling of self
overcomes all other considerations, he will kill me if I obey him not
now. My heart tells me he will. Albert, for thy sake I will do what I
can to preserve my life. Just Heaven, direct and aid me!”

She passed through the opening in the wall, and slowly descended the
ladder into the dismal darkness of the vault.



CHAPTER XLIV.


The Search.—The Confession.—The Strange Report.—An Awful Dilemma.



Jacob Gray’s first care, when he left Ada, was to repair to the room in
which he concealed his money. Hastily collecting together the really
large sum he had from time to time wrung from the guilty fears of
Learmont, he bestowed it about his person, and then carefully placing
his written confession, with its dangerous address, in his breast, he
hurried to the street-door, upon the back of which he wrote with a
piece of chalk, ”J.G. and A. left here June 2nd,” thus endeavouring to
paralyse the magistrate’s exertions in the way of search by inducing
him to think that the house had been deserted by Jacob Gray for some
time.

He then with wild haste ran through the house concealing everything in
the shape of provisions which would undeniably indicate a recent
occupancy of it. Ada’s bed and his own he cast into a dusty cupboard,
and altogether succeeded in producing a general appearance of litter
and desertion.

Then, without daring to cast another look from the windows, for fear he
should be seen, he rushed to the room in which he had left Ada, and
getting through the opening in the wall, he closed the panel and stood
trembling so exceedingly on the ladder, that had he wished he could
scarcely have commanded physical energy sufficient to descend. His
object, however, was to remain there, and listen to what was passing,
which he could not do below.

“Ada, Ada,” he said, in a low tone, “you—you are safe?”

“I am here,” said Ada.

“Hush! Hush! Not another word, not even a whisper; hush, for your life,
hush!”

A heavy knock at the outer door now echoed fearfully through the
spacious passages and empty rooms of the house. To Gray that knock
could not have been more agonising had it been against his own heart.

By an impulse that he could not restrain, he kept on saying in a
half-choked whisper, “Hush—hush—hush!” while he clutched the sides of
the ladder till his nails dug painfully into the palms of his hands,
and a cold perspiration hung in massive drops upon his brow. Ada
meanwhile was getting a little used to the darkness of the place, and
feeling cautiously about, she found one of the baskets she recollected
to have seen there before. This she sat down upon, and burying her face
in her hands, she gave herself up to gloomy reflections, while tears,
which she would not let Jacob Gray see for worlds slowly and
noiselessly trickled through her small fingers.

In a few moments the knock at the door again sounded through the house,
and Gray, although he was expecting it, nearly fell from the ladder in
the nervous start that he gave.

Then followed a long silence, after which a voice came to his ears in
indistinct tones, saying something which terminated with the words,—“In
the King’s name.”

There was then a slight pause, followed in a moment by a crash; and
Jacob Gray knew that the doors were burst open.

A sensation of awful thirst now came over Gray—such thirst as he had
read of only as being endured by adventurous travellers in crossing
hundreds of miles of sandy desert. His tongue seemed to cleave to the
roof of his mouth, and his parched lips were like fire to his touch.
Still he clutched by the ladder, and each slight noise that met his
overstrained attention added fearfully to the pangs of apprehension
that tortured him thus physically and mentally.

He could hear the sound of heavy footsteps through the house, and
occasionally the low murmur of voices came upon his ears, although he
could not detect what was said. That they would, however, come to the
room from which he was only separated by a thin piece of wainscotting
he knew; and if his dread and agitation were great now, he thought with
a shudder what would be his feelings when each moment might produce his
discovery and capture.

Then he strained his ear to listen if he could hear Ada moaning, and a
low stifled sigh ascended from the gloomy vault.

“Yes, yes,” he thought. “She will be still—she will be still. The fear
of a sudden and violent death is upon her young heart. ’Tis well, ’tis
very well, now she thinks me the unscrupulous man—the—the murderer that
she taunts me with being. She—she does not suspect that if I were
taken, my only hope of mercy would be in having preserved her life—and,
and my only plea would be that not a hair of her head was injured. No,
no, she guesses not the value of her life. I—I have been cunning, very,
very cunning. Besides, if they find me, what evidence—”

Jacob Gray very nearly uttered a cry of terror as this thought passed
through his mind, for he immediately then recollected his own written
confession that he had in the breast pocket of his coat, and which, if
he were taken, would be his destruction.

He struck his forehead with his clenched hand, and uttered a deep
groan. What means had he there, situated as he was, of destroying the
damning evidence of a guilt which otherwise would only rest on
conjecture and surmise, and from the consequences of which, it not
being distinctly proved, the money and influence of Learmont, exerted
for his own sake, might actually free him. The written confession was
an admirable weapon against Learmont, so long as he, Jacob Gray, had
the control of it, and lived; but now, when there was a fearful chance
of his own apprehension, it was at once converted into a fearful weapon
against himself, and a damning evidence of his guilt.

For some moments he was incapable of anything resembling rational
thought, and his reason seemed tottering to its base. This state of
mind, however, passed away, and how to destroy his confession became
the one great question that agitated and occupied his throbbing and
intensely labouring brain.

If he attempted to tear it into fragments, he must either cast these
fragments on the door of the vault, from whence they would easily be
recovered, or he must keep them in his possession, which would avail
him nothing.

He thought of descending the ladder, and digging a hole with his hands,
in which to bury the dangerous document, but then Ada was there, and
would by the dim light of that place see what he was about, and it was
not to be supposed that she would keep a secret she was so strongly and
personally interested in revealing.

There was but one other resource that occurred to the maddened brain of
Jacob Gray, and that was one which, in his present state, nothing but
the abject, awful fear of death by the hands of the executioner could
have brought him to—it was to tear the confession into small pieces,
and eat it.

With trembling hands, while he stood upon the ladder as well as he
could, he drew the paper from his breast, and notwithstanding his awful
and intense thirst, he began tearing off piece by piece from it, and
forcing himself to swallow it.

Thus had this written confession—this master-stroke of policy, upon
which he had so much prided himself, become to him a source of torment
and pain.

Occasionally he could hear a door shut in the house, as Sir Francis
Hartleton and his two officers pursued their search, and he went on
with frantic eagerness devouring the paper.

Now, by the distinctness of the sounds, he felt sure those who sought
him were in the next apartment. In a few short moments they would be
there, his danger was thickening, and the confession was not half
disposed of. With trembling fingers, that impeded themselves, he tore
off large pieces, and forced them into his mouth, to the danger of
choking himself.

Now he really heard the door of the room open, and the heavy tread of
men upon the floor. In a few moments there was a death-like stillness,
and Jacob Gray stood in the act of suspending mastication, with a large
piece of the confession fixed in his teeth.

Then Sir Francis Hartleton’s voice, or what he guessed to be his, from
the tone of authority in which he spoke, came upon Gray’s ears.

“This is very strange,” he said. “To my thinking, there are evident
indications of recent inhabitants in this house. Go down to the door,
and ask your comrade if he has heard anything.”

“Yes, Sir Francis,” replied another voice, and the door closed,
indicative of the man proceeding on his errand.

“Now—now,” thought Gray, “if we were alone—if there were no other, a
pistol would rid me for ever of his troublesome and most unwelcome
visit.”

Sir Francis spoke, as if communing with himself, in a low voice—but in
the breathless stillness around, Gray heard distinctly what he said.

“Is it possible that the man Gray has left here?” he said. “Are we,
after all, as far off the secret as ever? And yet I cannot think so.
What could be the motive of such an inscription on the door as that
which states his departure more than a month since. It is some trick
merely. By Heavens, that must have been Gray who left the King’s Bounty
so soon before me. The fates seem to be propitious to the rascal, and
to aid him in every way. I made sure the information was good, and that
I had him here safe for the fetching merely.”

Sir Francis now walked to and fro in the room for some minutes; then he
paused and said,—

“He can’t be hiding here anywhere. The old house is full of cupboards
and closets, but they are very easily searched. Learmont, Learmont! Are
you still to triumph in your villany for a time? I could stake my life
upon the fact that some crime of black hue was committed that night of
the storm at the Old Smithy at yonder village. The issues of the crime
are still at work, but they are not revealed. Humph! It’s of no use
apprehending Britton on mere vague suspicion. No, that would be very
foolish, for it would set the whole party on their guard, and that
which is difficult now might become impossible.”

“Please your worship, he ain’t heard nothing,” said the man, at this
moment entering the room again.

“No noise of any kind?”

“No, nothing, your worship.”

“No one has crossed the fields within view since he has stood guard?”

“Not a mouse, your worship.”

“Very well. Now go and search the lower rooms thoroughly, and then come
back to me here. I shall rest on this chair awhile.”

So saying, Sir Francis Hartleton sat down on the chair which Ada had
stood upon to enable her to reach the panel that opened to the vault.

How little the poor, persecuted Ada imagined that a powerful friend was
very near to her.

Jacob Gray was now almost afraid to breathe, so close was the
magistrate to him. Had the wainscotting not intervened, Gray could, had
he been so minded, have touched Sir Francis’s head without moving from
where he stood.

At length he spoke again.

“I wonder,” he said, “if this girl that the Seytons speak of, and yon
poor creature, Maud, raves of as an angel, be really the child that was
saved from the Smithy on the night of the storm and the murder? I have
only one very substantial reason for thinking so, and that is, that the
name of Britton is mixed up with the business. To be sure, the dates
correspond pretty well with what the young man, Seyton, says he thinks
is her age. It’s rather strange though, that no one except Maud
mentions Learmont at all in the matter, and her mention of him is
nothing new. ’Tis a mysterious affair, and, at all events, this man,
Gray, is at hide and seek for some very special reason indeed.”

The man who had been sent to examine the lower rooms now returned.

“Well,” said Sir Francis.

“There ain’t not nothing, your worship, by no means,” he said.

“You have searched carefully?”

“Yes, your worship. I’d take my solemn davy as there’s nothing here.”

“I know I can rely upon you,” said Sir Francis, in a tone of
disappointment.

“Ex—actly, your worship.”

“Do you think there are any hiding places about this house?”

“Can’t say as I does. Your worship sees as it’s a house a standing all
alone, and there ain’t no great opportunity to make hiding-places, you
see.”

“I will make one more effort,” said Sir Francis; “it is a forlorn hope;
but if the girl be hiding anywhere in this house under the impression
that I am an enemy, she may hear me and put faith in my words. I will
call to her.”

Sir Francis rose as he spoke; and Jacob Gray, upon whom this
determination came like a thunder-clap, dropped from his trembling
hands the remnant of the confession he had been eating, and curling his
feet round the ladder, he slid in a moment to the damp floor of the
vault. His great dread was, that on the impulse of a moment, Ada might
answer any call to her by name; and he knew that, close as Sir
Hartleton was, the least shrill cry of hers must inevitably reach his
ears, when instant discovery and capture would be certain to follow.

Drawing then his pistol from his pocket, he felt about for Ada.

“Ada, Ada,” he said, in the faintest whisper.

“Here,” said Ada.

“Hush,” said Gray, as he grasped her arm; “speak above the tone I use,
and you seal your own destruction.”

He placed, as he spoke, the cold muzzle of a pistol against her
forehead, Ada shuddered as she said—

“What is that?”

“A pistol! Make the least noise—raise the faintest cry, and I will pull
the trigger. You will be a mangled corpse in a moment. Hush, hush,
hush!”

A voice now reached the ears of Ada, and thrilled through the very
heart of Jacob Gray. It was the voice of Sir Francis Hartleton, which,
now that he raised it to a high key, was quite audible to Ada, while
before, from the low position she occupied at the bottom of the vault,
she had only heard a confused murmuring of voices, without being able
to detect what was said.

“Ada!” cried the magistrate; “Ada!”

The girl clasped her hands, and an answering cry was on her lips, but
the cold barrel of the pistol pressed heavily and painfully against her
brow, and Gray, with his lips close to her ear, said,—

“Hush, hush!” prolonging the sound till it resembled the hissing of
some loathsome snake.

“Ada!” again cried Sir Francis, “Ada! If you are concealed within,
hearing of my voice, be assured it is a friend who addresses you.”

A low gasping sob burst from Ada, and Gray again hissed in her ear,—

“A word, and you die. You are a corpse if you speak; and all hope of
seeing Albert Seyton in this world will be past!”

“Ada!” again cried Sir Francis. “Speak if you be here. A friend
addresses you, I am Sir Francis Hartleton, the magistrate.”

Ada made a slight movement and Gray pressed her quite back with the
violence with which he held the pistol against her temple.

There was a dead silence now. Sir Francis said no more, Ada’s hope was
past. Still, however, Gray stood close to her with the pistol; and as
the murderer and the innocent Ada remained thus strangely situated, it
would have been difficult to say which suffered the most mental agony
of the two. Ada to know that relief had been so near without the power
to grasp at it—or Gray to know that one word from her would have
consigned him to a prison, from whence he would never have emerged but
to ascend the scaffold to die a death of ignominy and shame.



CHAPTER XLV.


The Lonely Watcher.—Gray’s Cunning.—The Cupboard on the Stairs.



Notwithstanding the search which Sir Francis Hartleton had made—a
search that satisfied him that Ada had been removed from Forest’s house
by the cunning of Gray—he could not divest himself of the idea that one
or both might return to the old mansion, if for no other purpose than
to remove some of the articles, which in the course of his researches
he had found in various closets and cupboards, into which they had been
hastily thrust by Jacob Gray.

In case such a thing should be, after some consideration, he resolved
to have one of his men there for several days, and he accordingly
turned to him who had been guarding the door, and said,—

“Elias, you must remain here for a few days.”

“Here, Sir Francis? In this old house, your worship?”

“Yes, here in this old house, Elias. You are strong, fearless, and well
armed. Arrest any one who comes here.”

“Yes,” said Elias, looking about him, not over well pleased with his
commission, as it did not promise much comfort or sprightly company—two
things that Elias was rather partial to.

“I expect a thin, sallow man,” continued sir Francis, “to come here, of
a pale and anxious cast of countenance. Arrest him by all means.”

“Yes, your worship.”

“And should a young girl come with him, or by herself, mind, Elias, she
is a lady, and take care you treat her respectfully.”

“A lady!” ejaculated Elias, with astonishment. “Your worship, is she a
real lady, or like Moll Flaherty?”

“Pshaw!” cried Sir Francis. “Treat her, I say, with respect, and bring
her to me.”

“Oh! Bring her to your worship—oh!”

“Now you have your instructions. It’s warm, so you can do without a
fire and it’s light, and smoke would scare away the people I wish to
come. When you sleep, Elias, shut your door lightly, so that you may
hear if any one comes. Upon consideration, however, you had better sit
up all night, and sleep a little in the day time, for those that I seek
are not likely to venture across the fields, lest they should be seen.”

“Your worship’s unkimmon considerate, and very kind,” muttered Elias.

“You have your lantern, Elias?”

“Yes, your worship, and lots of little wax ends put in it.”

“Very well. Now, good day. Keep a good watch, Elias—and, do you hear?
There’s fifty pounds reward for either the man or the girl.”

“Fifty!”

“Yes, from me; so you know you are sure of it if you earn it.”

“Oh!” cried Elias, looking round, him, with a very different
expression, upon the old house. “It’s a very comfortable place, indeed,
your worship.”

“By-the-by,” said Sir Francis, “I forgot one thing—the girl may come in
boy’s clothing.”

“Oh, the dear!” said Elias.

“So, if what you think a boy comes, you may assume that that’s the
girl.”

“The pretty cretur!” exclaimed Elias. “Fifty pounds! Bless her.”

The magistrate then reflected a moment, and not recollecting anything
else that it was necessary to impress upon the sensitive mind of Elias,
he was turning away from the door, when that gentleman himself suddenly
thought of something of the very greatest importance in his eyes.

“Your worship,” he said, “my victuals—my victuals, your worship.”

“What?” said Sir Francis.

“Am I to be starved, your worship? How am I to get my victuals?”

Sir Francis smiled, as he replied,—

“I should not have forgotten you. You must do the best you can till
sunset, when I will send Stephy to you with plenty to last you.”

“Well,” exclaimed Elias, “it is a mercy that I tucked in a tolerable
breakfast.”

Sir Francis now left the house with his other companions, and Elias,
who was remarkable for his size and great personal strength, closed the
door, and began to bethink how he should amuse the leisure hours until
sunset, when the welcome provisions should arrive; after which time he
did not contemplate that the time would hang at all heavily upon his
hands.

In the meanwhile Jacob Gray remained in the vault, threatening Ada,
until he thought all danger must be past, from the extreme quiet that
reigned in the house. Not the most distant notion of Sir Francis
Hartleton’s leaving any one behind him to keep watch in the lonely
mansion, occurred to Jacob Gray, and after half an hour, as he guessed,
had very nearly passed away, he began to breathe a little more freely,
and to congratulate himself that for that time at least the danger had
blown over his head.

During that half hour he made a determination to leave the house, and
for the short time now that he would stay in England—for he was
thoroughly scared, and resolved to be off very soon—he would take some
lodging for himself and Ada, at the same time binding her by a solemn
promise, as before, not to leave him, which promise he would now render
less irksome to her, by representing that in a short time she should be
quite free to act as she pleased, as well as knowing everything that
might concern her or her future fortunes.

With this idea, and believing the danger past, he spoke in a more
unembarrassed tone to Ada.

“Ada,” he said, “be not deceived—the voice you heard calling upon you
was not that of Sir Francis Hartleton. That name was assumed merely to
deceive you to your destruction. You, as well as I, have escaped a
great danger—so great a danger, that I shall hasten my departure from
England, and you may rest assured now that within one month of time you
will be rich and free.”

“Indeed!” said Ada, incredulously.

“You may believe me,” said Gray; “on my faith, what I say is true.”

“’Tis hard to believe him who would murder one moment, and promise
wealth and freedom the next.”

“I was forced to threaten your life, Ada, for my own, as I tell you,
hung upon a thread; you will not repent this day’s proceedings when you
are happy with him you love, and surrounded by luxury.”

Ada started; and had there been light enough in that dismal place. Gray
would have seen the mantling flash of colour that visited the cheek of
the persecuted girl, as the words he spoke conjured up a dream of
happiness to her imagination, that she felt would indeed pay her for
all she had suffered—ay, were it ten times more. She did not speak, for
she would not let Jacob Gray guess, from the agitation of her voice,
the effect that his words had produced, and after a pause he said to
her,—

“Remain here while I go into the house and see that all is safe. They
must be gone by this time, Jacob Gray has foiled them once again, but
he will not incur the danger a third time, I assure you. Ada, as I live
and breathe your thraldom shall not—cannot last another month.”

He ascended the ladder as he spoke, and after listening attentively and
hearing nothing, he slid open the panel and looked into the room. All
was still, and the glorious bright sunshine was streaming in upon the
dingy walls and blackened floor.

Again Gray listened—all was still, and he got through the opening with
a lurking smile of gratified cunning upon his face. He, however, could
not forget his habitual caution, and it was with a slinking, cat-like
movement that he walked along the floor of the room.

He intended to walk through the entire house, to see if his unwelcome
visitors had left behind them any traces of their presence. Opening the
door of the room, very carefully, he began to descend the stairs; he
muttered to himself as he went,—

“’Twas an hour of great danger, I have been saved by what good and
pious people would call a miracle, had it happened to them, but I
suppose it’s merely an accident in Jacob Gray’s case; well, well, be it
so—accident or miracle, ’tis all the same to me; and I am not sorry
too, to leave this old house: it has grown hateful and loathsome to me.
I would not pass such another night in it as I have passed for—for—much
money. No, no—it would indeed require a heap of gold to tempt me.”

Now he reached the door of a large cupboard on the staircase, which was
wide open, as Sir Francis and his men had left it in the course of
their search.

“So,” sneered Gray, “they have looked for me in the cupboards, have
they? Well, the keener the search has been, the better; it is less
likely to be renewed, far less likely. I wish I could think of any plan
of vengeance upon this magistrate, for the misery he has caused me; oh,
if I could inflict upon him but one tithe of the agony he has made me
suffer within the last hour, I should be much rejoiced. Curses on
him—curses on him and his efficiency as a magistrate: a meddling cursed
fiend he is to me—I must think, Master Hartleton; some little plan of
revenge upon you may suggest itself to me by-and-by?“

Jacob Gray rubbed his hands together, and gave a sickly smile, as he
said this. He was about the middle of the staircase, and it was
fortunate for him he had his hands on the banisters, or in the intense
horror and surprise that suddenly overcame him, he might have fallen
down the remaining portion of the crazy stairs.

He heard a door open, leading into the passage, from one of the lower
rooms, and a heavy careless step rapidly approached the staircase,
while a common street melody, whistled with a shrillness and
distinctness that was more horrible to Jacob Gray than would have been
the trumpet of the angel at the day of judgment, fell upon his ears.

Jacob Gray gave himself up for lost. The blood rushed to his heart with
frightful violence, and he thought he should have fainted. How he
accomplished the feat he afterwards knew not, but he stepped back. Two
paces brought him to the cupboard. It seemed like the door of heaven
opened to him. He doubled himself up under a large shelf that went
across the middle of it; and clutching the door by a small rim of the
panelling, he drew it close.

Mr. Elias, with his hands in his pockets, and whistling the before
mentioned popular melody, passed on up the staircase, leaving Jacob
Gray almost distilled to a jelly with fear.

Then, when he had passed, Gray thought at first that his best plan
would be to rush down the stairs, open the outer door, and make a rush
across the fields, leaving Ada to her destiny—but this was hazardous—he
would be seen—hunted like a wild beast; and taken! No. That was too
bold a step for Jacob Gray. He listened, with heart and soul, to the
footsteps that sounded so awful in his ears, and the question arose in
his mind, of—should the man, whoever he was, enter the room where he
Jacob Gray, had just left, so heedlessly as he now thought, with the
panel open, or would he pass on? That was a fearful question. He
thought he heard him pause once, and his heart sunk within him. No, he
passed on. He was ascending the second flight of stairs leading to the
second story.



CHAPTER XLVI.


The Death of the Elder Seyton.—Albert’s Grief.—The Prophecy.



It is necessary now that we should, although unwillingly, leave the
fortunes of the beautiful and persecuted Ada to proceed by themselves
for a short space, while we acquaint the reader with what the other
important personages in our story have been and are about.

First, we will turn to Albert Seyton, who, with his father, returned
from the office of Sir Francis Hartleton, rather dispirited than
otherwise at the result of the interview with him.

It was in vain that Albert reasoned with himself on the folly of his
having had any immediate expectations of news of Ada through the
interposition of the magistrate. He did feel depressed and
disappointed, and the words indicative of the difficulty that enveloped
the business which Sir Francis Hartleton had used made a far greater
impression upon the mind of Albert than anything else that had
transpired at the interview.

Had Sir Francis Hartleton not been a magistrate, but a mere private
gentleman, knowing what he did, and suspecting what he did, in all
probability the interview with the Seytons would have been more
satisfactory to them, and more productive of beneficial results to Ada;
but as it was, Sir Francis felt that, in his official capacity, he
could not be too cautious as to what he said, or what opinion he
suggested, in any criminal undertaking. Thus he did not (and so far he
was quite correct) feel himself justified in mentioning the name of
Learmont, unless the Seytons had heard it previously, in connexion with
any of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Ada.

As yet all was mere suspicion; and there was no direct evidence on
which to found an open accusation against the acts of Squire Learmont;
for although he, Sir Francis, by putting together all the circumstances
in his own mind, felt morally convinced that there had been some great
crime committed, in which Learmont, Britton the smith, the man Gray,
and possibly others were implicated, still the evidence of that crime
were to be sought; and it would have been highly inconsistent with him,
Sir Francis, as a magistrate, to have brought a loose and
unsubstantiated charge against any one—much less a man with whom it
could be easily proved he had previously quarrelled, and who might, by
the very indiscretion of making an improper charge against, be so far
put upon his caution, as to succeed in effectually destroying all
evidence that could ever militate against him.

Taking, therefore, this view of the case, and being satisfied that the
Seytons had communicated to him all they knew; and having their promise
to bring him any fresh information they might become possessed of, he
resolved to prosecute the matter quietly and cautiously, until, by
getting some of the parties in his hands, he would be able to put
together something distinct in the shape of a charge against Learmont,
or ascertain his innocence.

The magistrate had seen much of human nature, and he very soon came to
the conclusion, in his own mind, that brave, ardent, and enthusiastic
as Albert Seyton was, he would be very far from an efficient assistant
in a matter that required the utmost coolness, caution, and finesse.
Thus it was that he acted entirely independent of Albert, and said as
little to him as he could upon the subject, at the same time that he,
Sir Francis Hartleton, would not have lost a moment in communicating
with Albert, had any discovery really taken place at the old house at
Battersea.

While all this was going on, Albert Seyton pursued his inquiries,
although with a languid spirit, for there was no place he had not
already several times visited. Twice or thrice he had actually looked
at the house in which Ada was a prisoner, and once he thought of
crossing the fields from curiosity to visit it, but was told that it
was in ruins, and in fact dangerous to approach, as it was expected to
fall to the ground very shortly; and considering it as a most unlikely
place to search in, standing as it did so very much exposed to
observation in its situation, he abandoned the notion of crossing the
marshy fields to the old ruin.

Pale and languid, he would return to his father in the evening, and it
was some time before he noticed that there were perceptible signs of
rapid decay creeping over the only earthly tie he had, save Ada.

In truth. Mr. Seyton was near that bourne from whence no traveller
returns, and in the midst of his other griefs, the absorbing one sprang
up, of the loss of his father.

Every other consideration was now abandoned by Albert in his anxious
solicitude for his father’s health. It seemed, however, that a rapid
decay of nature was taking place, and in less than three days Mr.
Seyton lay at the point of death. Medical advice was of no avail; the
physician who was called in declared that neither he nor any of his
brethren could do anything in the case. There, was no disease to
grapple with—it seemed as if nature had said, “the time of dissolution
has come, and it may not be averted.”

It was early dawn, and the stillness that reigned throughout London had
something awful and yet sublime in it, when Albert, who had been
watching by the bedside of his father, was roused from a slight slumber
into which, from pure exhaustion, he had sunk, by the low, faint voice
of his dying parent feebly pronouncing his name.

“Albert, Albert!” he said.

Albert started, and replied to his father.

“Yes, father, I am here.”

“You are here, my boy, and you will remain here many years—here in this
world, I mean, which I hope may teem with happiness to you; but I am on
my last journey, Albert; I shall not see another day.”

“Father, say not so,” replied Albert, endeavouring to assume a tone of
cheerfulness that was foreign to his feelings. “Say not so; we may yet
be together many years.”

“Albert, do not try to delude me and yourself with false hopes—listen
to what I shall say to you now.”

“I will, father.”

“They are my last words, Albert, and it is said that when the spirit is
about to quit its earthly tenement, and is hovering, as it were, upon
the confines of eternity, it is permitted to see things that in its
grosser state were far above its ken, and even to obtain some dim
glimpse of the future, so that it may to the ear of those it loves
hazard guesses of that which is to come.”

Albert listened with eager attention to his father’s words; and it
seemed to him as if there were something of heavenly inspiration in his
tones.

After a pause, Mr. Seyton continued,—

“Albert, for two days now I have known no peace on your account,—”

“On my account, father?”

“Yes, Albert. By my death, the pension which my just claims have wrung
from the government, for which I suffered so much, ceases, and you know
I have not enjoyed it long enough to leave any sum that will do more
than supply your immediate exigencies.”

“Think not of me now, father,” said Albert; “dismiss all uneasiness
from your mind on my account. I am young, and can labour for my bread
as well as—as—”

“As what, my boy?”

“As my griefs will let me, father.”

“Listen to me, Albert. I say I have suffered much on your account,
because the thought haunted me that I was leaving you to struggle
unaided in a cold, selfish, and too—too frequently, wicked world; but
now that feeling, by some mysterious means, has left me.”

“Indeed, father?”

“Yes, a kind of confidence—surely from Heaven—has crept over my heart
concerning you, and, without knowing how or why, I seem to have a deep
and thorough conviction that you will be happy and prosperous.”

“Father,” said Albert, “for your sake do I rejoice in your words, not
for my own. If you must be taken by God from me, let me see you thus
even to the last, free from care and that cankering anxiety which has
now for some time afflicted you.”

“Yes, I am comparatively happy,” said Mr. Seyton. “You will wed her
whom you love, and there shall not be a cloud in the sky of your
prosperity and happiness. All shall be achieved by Heaven in its own
good time.”

“Father, your words sink deep into my heart,” cried Albert; “they come
to me as if from the lips of the Eternal One himself.”

“I—I would fain have lingered with you, my boy, yet awhile, even until
I could have seen and rejoiced in all this that I now foretel to you.
But it may not be—it may not be.”

“Oh, yes! There is still hope.”

“No, no! My mortal race is nearly run.”

Albert wept.

“Nay, Albert, do not weep,” said his father; “we and all we love—all
who have loved us—will meet again.”

“’Tis a dear hope,” said Albert, endeavouring to control his tears.

“And now, my dear boy, when you do see this young and innocent
girl—this Ada, whom you love—tell her I send her my blessing, and beg
her to accept it as she would a father’s. You will tell her, Albert?”

“Tell her, father? Oh yes!—Your words will be precious to her, father.”

“I know her gentle nature well,” continued Mr. Seyton. “Cherish her,
Albert, for she is one of those rare creatures sent among us by God, to
purify and chasten the bad passions of men. Cherish her as a dear gift
from Heaven to you.”

“As Heaven is my hope, I will,” said Albert, “I will live but for her.”

“’Tis well, ’tis well. I would have joyed to see her; but no matter.
The spirit may be allowed to look with purer eyes upon those it loved
on earth, than it could through its earthly organs.”

“Your love, father, will cling for ever round us, and we will rejoice
in the fond belief that we are seen by you from above.”

Albert’s voice became choked with tears, and he sobbed bitterly.

“Nay, now, Albert,” said his father, “this is not as it should be. We
were talking cheerfully. Do not weep. Death is not a misfortune; ’tis
only a great change. We leave a restless, painful scene for the calm
repose of everlasting peace and joy. Our greatest thrill of happiness
in this life is like a stagnant pool to the ocean, in comparison with
the eternal joy that is to come. Do not, therefore, weep for me,
Albert, but do your duty while you remain here behind me, so that we
may meet again where we shall meet never to part, without the shadow of
a pang.”

“Father, your words are holy, and full of hope; they will ever be
engraven on my heart.”

Mr. Seyton was now silent for many minutes; and Albert, by the rapidly
increasing light of the coming day, watched with painful interest the
great change that was passing over his countenance.

“Father,” he murmured.

“Yes, Albert, I am here still,” was the reply.

“You are in pain?”

“No, no. Bless you, my boy!”

Albert sobbed convulsively, and took his father’s hand in his—

“And bless you too, Ada,” added Mr. Seyton, after a pause. Then he
seemed to imagine she was present, for he said,—

“You love my boy, Ada? Blessings on you!—You are very beautiful. Ada,
but your heart is the most lovely. So you love my boy? Take an old
man’s dying blessing, my girl.”

Albert was deeply affected by these words, and in vain he endeavoured
to stifle his sobs.

“Albert!” said his father, suddenly.

“Yes, father, I am here,” he replied.

“Do you recollect your mother, my dear boy?”

“But dimly, father.”

“She—she is beckoning me now. Farewell! Bless you, Albert—Ada!”

There was one long-drawn sigh, and the kind-hearted, noble Mr. Seyton
was with his God.

It was some moments before Albert could bring himself to believe that
his father was no more; and then, with a frantic burst of grief, he
called around him the persons of the house, who with gentle violence
took him from the chamber of death, and strove to soothe his deep grief
with such topics of consolation as suggested themselves to them. But
poor Albert heard nothing of their sympathy. His grief was
overwhelming; and it was many hours before his deep agony subsided into
tears, and the last words of his father came like balm to his wounded
spirit.

Then his grief assumed a more calm and melancholy aspect. He shed no
more tears; but there was a weight at his heart which even the bright
and strangely earnest prophecies of his father, concerning his
happiness with Ada, could not remove. Time alone, in such cases, heals
the deep and agonising grief which ensues in a fond and truthful heart,
after such a disseverment of a tie which, while it exists, we cannot
imagine can ever be broken.



CHAPTER XLVII.


The Smith at Learmont House.—The Breakfast.—The Threat, and its
Results.—The Caution.



While these events were taking place, Learmont was ill at ease in his
stately halls. Well he knew that the visitation of the smith at so
inopportune an hour at his fête would be related throughout that circle
of nobility and power into which it was the grand end and aim of his
life to force himself; and, it added one more damning argument to those
already rapidly accumulating in his mind towards the conviction, that
after all he had made a grand mistake in life, and mistaken the road to
happiness. At the same time, however, he felt that having chosen the
path of guilt he had, there was for him no retreat, and with a dogged
perseverance, compounded of mortified ambition, he continued his career
of guilt.

Take the life of Britton he dared not, although he lay such an
inanimate, helpless mass in his power, and it was not the least of
Learmont’s annoyances that he was compelled to see to the personal
safety of the drunken brute who had produced confusion and derangement
among his most ambitious schemes.

It was many hours before Britton slept off the intoxication under the
influence of which he had acted in the manner described in the
ball-room, and when he did recover, and open his heavy eyes, it was
with no small degree of surprise that he found himself in the same dark
room into which the squire had thrown him to sleep off his debauch.

His first thought was that he was in prison, and he rose to his feet
with bitter imprecations and awful curses upon the head of Learmont and
Gray, whom he supposed must have betrayed him in some way. A second
thought, however, dispelled this delusion.

“No—no; d—n them—no!” he cried. “They dare not! Well they know they
dare not!—I have them safe!—My evidence would destroy them, while it
would not place me in a worse position. Where the devil am I?”

The room was very dark, the only light coming from a small pane of
glass at the top of the door. Britton, however, was not exactly the
kind of person to waste much time in idle conjecture or imaginative
theories as to where he was; but, ascertaining that the door was
locked, he placed his shoulder against it and with one heave of his
bulky form, forced it from its hinges.

A loud cry arrested the smith’s attention as he accomplished this feat,
and, to his great amusement, he saw lying amid the confusion of a tray,
glasses, and decanters, a man who happened to have been passing at the
moment, and, alarmed at the sudden and violent appearance of the smith,
had fallen down with what he was so carefully carrying.

This was a piece of sport quite in Britton’s way—one of those practical
jests that he perfectly understood and appreciated, in order, however,
to add zest to it, he gave the astonished man a hearty kick, which
induced him to spring to his feet, and make off with frantic speed,
shouting “Murder! Murder!” at the top of his lungs.

Britton immediately turned his attention to one decanter which, in a
most miraculous and extraordinary manner, preserved its position of
perpendicularity amidst the universal wreck of every other article. He
seized it instantly as a lawful prize, and plunging the neck of it into
his capacious mouth, he withdrew it not again until it presented an
appearance of perfect vacuity, and the bottle of wine which it had
contained was transferred into his interior man.

“That’s good,” gasped Britton, when he had finished his draught, “I was
thirsty. Upon my life that’s good. Curse the awkward fellow! He has
broken the other, I wonder how the d—l I came—by G—d! This is the
squire’s, now I look about me. I must have been drunk. What the deuce
has happened? My head is all of a twirl. Let me think,—humph! The
Chequers—d—n it! I can’t recollect anything but the Chequers.”

Britton’s cogitations were here interrupted by the appearance of
Learmont with a dark scowl on his brow that would have alarmed any one
but the iron-nerved and audacious Britton.

“Well, squire,” he said, “I suppose I’d a drop too much, and you took
care of me, eh? Is that it?”

“Follow—me!” said Learmont, bringing out the two words through his
clenched teeth, and making a great effort to preserve himself from
bursting out into a torrent of invective.

“Follow you?” exclaimed Britton. “Well I have no objection; I’ll follow
you. Our business is always quite private and confidential.”

He followed the rapid strides of Learmont along a long gallery, during
the progress of which they encountered a servant, when Britton
immediately paused, and roared out in a voice that made the man stand
like one possessed,—

“Hark, ye knave!—You in the tawny coat, turned up with white—bring
breakfast for two directly.”

“Andrew Britton!” cried Learmont, turning full upon the smith, flashing
with resentment.

“Squire Learmont!” replied Britton, facing him with an air of insolence
and bloated assurance.

There was a pause for a moment, and then Learmont added,—

“You—you are still drunk!”

“No, I am hungry; a drunken man never orders victuals, squire.”

“I have breakfasted,” said Learmont.

“Very like, but you don’t fancy I meant any of it for you. Curse me! I
always make a point of ordering breakfast for two, now that I am a
gentleman and can afford it;—I’m sure to have nearly enough then.
Breakfast for two, I say! You can get it ready while your master and I
settle some little affairs connected with the Old Smithy. Do you
hear?—What are you staring at?”

The servant looked at Learmont evidently for orders, and the squire,
almost inarticulate with rage, said,—

“Go—go! You may get him breakfast.”

“Ah, to be sure,” said Britton; “of course you may. I’m a particular
friend of your master’s; and mind you are more respectful another time,
you beast, and use polite language, and be d—d to you, you thief!”

The amazed domestic hastened away, for he shrewdly guessed that, if he
delayed much longer, he might be favoured by some practical display of
the excessive freedom which the messenger from the Old Smithy evidently
could take with the proud, haughty, Learmont, and everything that was
his, or in any way connected with him—a freedom which puzzled and
amazed the whole household, and formed the theme of such endless
gossipping in the servants’ hall, that without it, it would seem
impossible they could found any materials for consideration,
conjecture, and endless surmise.

Learmont now stalked on, followed by Britton, until he reached the
small private room in which the conferences with both Gray and the
smith were usually held. The squire then closed the door, and turning
to Britton with a face convulsed with passion, he said,—

“Scoundrel! Are you not afraid to tamper with me in this manner? Drive
me too far by your disgusting conduct, and insolent, vulgar
familiarities, and I would hang you, though I had to fly from England
forever before I denounced you;—nay, hear me out, and let my words sink
deep into your brain, if it be capable of receiving and recording them.
If you dare to thrall me by untimely visits, I will, though it cost me
thousands, lay such a plot for your destruction, that your life shall
not only be forfeited, but I will take care to associate your name with
such infamy that no confession nor statement of yours would be received
with a moment’s credence. You earn from me the wages of crime—deep
crime, and you know it; but were those wages millions, and were those
crimes of ten times blacker hue than they are, you have no right, nor
shall you be, a torment to me. I am your master, and I will make you
know it, or rue the fearful consequence.”

Learmont paused, and regarded the smith with an air of haughty defiance.

“Oh!” said Britton. “So you’ve had your say, Squire Learmont—you
threaten to hang me, do you? Ho! Ho! Ho!—The same length of cord that
hangs me will make a noose for your own neck. You will lay a plot to
destroy me, will—beware, Squire Learmont! I have laid a mine for you—a
mine that will blow you to h—ll, when I choose to fire the train. I
don’t want to quarrel with you; I’ve done a black job or two for you,
and you don’t much like paying for them; but then you know you must,
and there’s an end to that. Now for the familiarity business: I give in
a little there, squire, d—me! Justice is justice—give every dog his
day! I have been cursedly drunk, I suppose, and made an ass of myself.
I came here, though, now I recollect, with a good motive,—it was to
warn you. But mind you, squire, don’t call me any ugly names again—I
won’t stand them. Be civil, and growl as much as you like—curse you! Be
genteel, and don’t provoke me.”

“Solemnly promise me that you will only come here at stated times, from
visit to visit, to be arranged,” said Learmont, “and I am willing to
forget the past.”

“Well, that’s fair,” cried Britton. “When I’ve had a drop, I’m a little
wild or so,—d—n it! I always was.”

“You consent?”

“I do. Now give me my fee.”

“Your fee?”

“Yes; ten pounds.”

Learmont took out the sum required from his purse, and handed it to
Britton, saying as he did so,—

“And when shall I be honoured again with your next visit?”

“What’s to-day, squire?”

“Thursday.”

“Then I’ll see you on Saturday morning. If I’ve been sober on Friday
night, we’ll say eleven o’clock; if drunk, make it two or three.”

A low tap at the door now announced some one, and Learmont went to see
who it was.

“The—the—breakfast—for two, your honour—is—is—laid in the south
parlour,” stammered a servant, with a frightened aspect.

“Oh, it is, is it?” said Britton. “Then you may eat it yourself, for I
ain’t going to stay to breakfast with his worship.”

“Yes, yes,” said the servant, disappearing.

“There now,” cried Britton, “ain’t I respectful? You see I ain’t going
to touch your breakfast, I dare say I shall get a d—d sight better one
at the Chequers. Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m a king, then. Who’d have thought of
that—King Britton, the jolly smith of Learmont.”

“You said you came to warn me of somebody or something,” suggested
Learmont.

“So I did,” replied the smith. “That cursed Hartleton has got some
crotchet or another in his head, you may depend. He came in disguise to
the Chequers to watch me. Beware of him, squire. If I catch him prying
into my affairs, and listening to what I say over my glass, I’ll meet
him alone some dark evening, and there will be a vacancy in the
magistracy. Perhaps, squire, you could step into his shoes. That would
be glorious. I’d have a row every night, and you could smother it up in
the morning, besides paying all the expenses. Good morning to you
squire. Take care, of yourself.”



CHAPTER XLVIII.


The Escape.—A Song of the Times.



It was several minutes after Gray felt perfectly assured that the man,
whoever he was, that had passed whistling by the cupboard door, had
gone up to the highest story of the house before he could summon
courage to leave his temporary hiding-place. The urgent necessity,
however, of doing so while there was an opportunity came so forcibly
upon his terror-stricken mind, that although he trembled so excessively
as to be forced to cling to the banisters for support, he crawled from
the place of shelter which had presented itself so providentially to
him in such a moment of extremity, and treading as lightly as he could,
while his whole frame was nearly paralysed by fear, he succeeded in
reaching the room from which opened the small aperture to the vault
where Ada awaited his coming.

Jacob Gray’s mind at this moment embraced but one idea, indulged in but
one hope, and that was to reach the vault in safety, and close the
opening in the wall which had already escaped the scrutiny of Sir
Frederick Hartleton.

The extreme caution that he thought himself compelled to use in his
movements made him slow in attaining his object, and each moment
appeared an age of anxiety and awful suffering.

Now he mounted the chair, and as he did so he heard, or fancied he
heard, the descending footsteps of the stranger as he came from the
upper story. Jacob Gray then trembled so excessively that he could
scarcely contrive to put himself through the small panelled opening and
when he did, his anxiety was so great and his nervousness so intense,
that it was several moments before he could place his foot securely
upon one of the rounds of the ladder.

The shrill whistle of the man now sounded awfully distinct in his ears,
and he fancied that he must have closed the panel scarcely an instant
before the stranger entered the apartment.

Then Jacob Gray laid his ear flatly against the wainscot to listen if
more than one person was in the room, and gather from any conversation
they might indulge in what were their objects and expectations in
remaining so long in the ancient and dilapidated house.

For some minutes the whistling continued, for that was an innocent
amusement that Mr. Elias was fortunately partial to, and one to which
he invariably resorted when anything of a disagreeable character
absorbed his mind; and as now he could not withdraw his thoughts from
the fact that he must fast until sunset, he whistled with an energy and
a desperation proportioned to the exigency of the case.

At length, however, from want of breath, or that he had gone through
every tune he was acquainted with three times, he paused in his
whistling, and uttered the simple and energetic apostrophe of,—

“Well, I’m d—d!”

This did not convey a great deal of information to Jacob Gray, and he
waited very anxiously to hear what further remarks concerning his
thoughts and objects in this world might fall from the speaker who had
so cavalierly and off handedly settled his destination in the next. Nor
was he disappointed, for Mr. Elias, having no one to talk to, addressed
himself, in the following strains:—

“Well, here’s a precious old crib to be shut up in. Upon my soul, it’s
too bad of the governor. And no dinner—not a drop of nothing, no how
what so ever. How would he like it, I wonder? Why, not at all, to be
sure. The fifty pounds is something—but it’s all moonshine if the
fellow don’t come, or that ere gal as he talks on, as may make her
blessed appearance in a masculine sort o’ way. Well, I only hopes she
may, that’s all. Won’t I give that Stephy a precious nob on his
cocoa-nut, if he makes it very late afore he comes? Curse this place,
it’s as dull as a sermon, and about as pleasant and lively-looking as
mud in a wine-glass. I don’t like these kind of goes at all. Give me
fun, and a hunt after such a rollicking, slashing blade as Jack
Sheppard. Ah, he’s the fellow for my money. I love that blade. He’s got
a voice, too, like a flock o’ nightingales, that he has. Shall I ever
hear him sing that song again as I learnt of him by listening to him in
quod, and all the while as I was taken up with the tune, he was a
filing away at his darbies, bless him! Oh, he’s a rum un!”

Elias then delighted himself and astonished Jacob Gray, by singing the
following song; which was in great vogue at the time:—



What Knight’s Like the Knight of the Road?



“What knight’s like the knight of the road?

Who lives so well as he?

The proudest duke don’t lead

A life so brave and free.

Heighho! How the maidens sigh,

As he dashes proudly by!

And there’s not a gentle heart of all—

Let weal or woe betide—

That would not leap with dear delight

To be his happy bride.



“The day goes down on Hounslow-heath,

The night wind sighs amain;

Hurrah! Hurrah, for the road!

For now begins his reign.

Heighho! How the ladies cry,

As they see his flashing eye.

And there’s not a pair of cherry lips,

Of high or low degree,

Would scorn a kiss from the knight of the road,

Who’s welcome as he’s free.”



As Mr. Elias, between the stanzas of his song, whistled an
accompaniment, in which there were a great number of shakes, trills,
and what musicians call variations which means something which is not
at all connected with the tune, the whole affair took some considerable
time in execution; and Jacob Gray stood upon the ladder in a perfect
agony of annoyance until it was over.

“Bravo!” cried Elias, when he had completed the last few notes of his
whistling accompaniment. “Bravo!—Encore! Bravo! Well, I do hate these
long summer days, to be sure. Why, it will be half-past eight, if it’s
a bit, before Stephy comes. There’s a infliction, I wish this cursed
fellow, or the gal, or both of them, would just trot over the fields,
and save me any further waiting. Let me see—a thin, pale covey, the
governor said, with a nervous sort of look. Very good; I shall know
him. Just let him show his physiognomy here, and I’ll pop the darbies
on him before he can say Jack, to leave alone the Robinson. Well, I’ll
take another walk through the old den. They say there’s been a murder
here. I wonder if the fellow got much swag? I never heard o’ any
gentleman being hung for a murder here, I ’spose as that affair never
put forty pound into a runner’s pocket. Some fellows is such beasts
when they does slap-up murders; they commits suicide, and so cheat
somebody of the blood-money. Curse ’em!”

Having uttered this sentiment, Mr. Elias struck up an intense whistle,
and walked from the room.

Jacob Gray could hear him descend the stairs, and the whistle gradually
died away in the distance, until it sounded only faintly upon his ears,
convincing him that the stranger had gone into some of the rooms on the
ground floor.

Jacob Gray now slowly descended the ladder, and pronounced the name of
Ada in a low, anxious tone.

“I am here,” she replied.

“Ada, our situation is now perilous and awkward in the extreme. The
persons who were here have left one of their number behind them.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, they suspect I may return to this house.”

“Are we then to starve here?” said Ada.

“Starved?” echoed Gray, “I—I did not think of that. God of Heaven! What
shall we do?”

“Jacob Gray,” said Ada, “you are caught in your own snare. This place
which you imagined to be one of safety has now become your prison.
Remain here, if you please; I have no such urgent reasons as you may
have. If he whom you tell me is keeping guard in the house, be an enemy
to me, as well as to you, I will rather trust to his mercy than abide
here the horrors of famine. Such a death would be dreadful! Jacob Gray,
I will not remain here.”

“You will not?”

“I will not.”

“I am armed, Ada. You forget that I can force your obedience by the
fear of death.”

“You can murder me,” replied Ada, “but I cannot perceive that it is
your interest to do so.”

“Why not?”

“Let me go freely, and I promise not to disclose the secret of your
place of concealment. He who is waiting, if he be an enemy to me as
well as to you, may be satisfied with my capture, or perchance my
death, and leave you undisturbed to pursue your own course. If he prove
a friend to me, which from my heart, Jacob Gray, I verily believe, for
the voice I heard address me by name carried in its tones truth and
sincerity, then you will have less to fear, for I here promise not to
betray you.”

Gray was silent for several moments after Ada had spoken. Then bending
down his mouth, close to her ear, he said in a low, agitated voice,—

“Ada—there is another resource.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes—but one man keeps guard above.”

“I understand you. You will risk a contest with him?”

“No—no—no!”

“What mean you then, Jacob Gray?”

“To kill him.”

“But should he prove the stronger or the bolder, which he may well be,
Jacob Gray, you might be worsted in the encounter.”

“It shall not be an encounter,” said Gray.

“You speak in riddles.”

“Listen to me. He is walking uneasily from room to room of the house.
He does not suspect any one to be concealed here—that much I can gather
from his talk. At sunset I will creep forth, and hiding somewhere in
perfect security—watch my opportunity, and shoot him dead.”

“What!” cried Ada indignantly—“murder him?”

“I—I—only act in self-defence—I cannot help it—he would murder me.
Hush—hush! Do not speak so loud—you are incautious, Ada—hush—hush!”



CHAPTER XLIX.


The Projected Murder.—The Alarm.—The Death-shot.—Ada’s Anguish and
Indignation.



Ada was so much shocked at the proposal of Jacob Gray to commit a
deliberate and cold-blooded murder, that now for several minutes she
remained perfectly silent—a silence which Gray construed into passive
acquiescence in his proposition.

“You see, Ada,” he continued, “we have no other hope—as you say we
cannot starve here—the blood of this man be upon his own head—I do not
want his life, Ada; but I must preserve myself and you. You must see
all this in its proper light, Ada—you do not speak.”

“Hear me then speak now,” said Ada. “In all your knowledge of me, Jacob
Gray, what have you found upon which to ground a moment’s thought that
I could be as wicked as yourself? Captivity may present horrors to you,
from which you would free yourself, even at the fearful price of
murder. It may be that this awful deed you contemplate would, if
executed, add but another item to a fearful record of crime; but, God
of Heaven! What should make me so wicked? Wherefore should I connive at
a deed proscribed alike by God and man? Jacob Gray, I am weak and you
are strong; I am defenceless and you armed; but as there is a Heaven
above us, I will dare all—risk all to prevent this contemplated murder.”

“You are wild—mad,” said Gray, in a low tone, which, from its
bitterness, was evidently one of intense rage likewise. “The fear of
death has hitherto acted upon your mind—let it so act still.”

“It was a sufficient motive,” replied Ada, “when I personally was
concerned, and had to choose between captivity with hope, and death
which would extinguish all but Heaven’s mercy hereafter. But now, Jacob
Gray, I cannot, will not purchase life for myself at the price of death
to a fellow-creature.”

“You will not?”

“No; I will not: not if he, whose life you seek, were the veriest
wretch on earth—were he even such as you are, Jacob Gray, I would leave
him to his God.”

“You rave, girl—you rave,”

“No, I do not rave—’tis you that with a hollow, hideous sophistry
delude yourself.”

“Your consent or non-consent is of little moment,” said Gray; “I hold
both your life and his in my hands.”

“Then you shall take mine first, for I am sickened at such villany, and
would rather be its victim than its spectator. From this moment, Jacob
Gray, no bond, no promise binds me to you. Take but one decisive step
to commit the murder you contemplate, and this place shall echo with my
cries.”

Gray was evidently unprepared for the dilemma into which he had now
brought himself, and he knew not what to say for some moments, during
which he glared upon Ada with a fiendish expression of his eyes; which
she could just discern in the dim light of the cellar, that was more
worthy of some malignant demon than anything human.

“You ask me to sacrifice myself?” he at length said.

“No, I ask no such thing,” replied Ada; “allow me to ascend from this
place and see the man you say waits above. Friend or foe, I will risk
the encounter, and I will not betray you.”

“No, no,” said Gray; “not yet, not yet, Ada; I cannot part with you
yet. Moreover, there would still be danger—great danger. I cannot do as
you wish.”

“Then you shall incur a greater risk, or commit two murders.”

“Hush, hush,” said Gray; “you speak too loud. Let me think again; I
will spare him if I can.”

Jacob Gray remained in deep thought for about ten minutes; then, as he
came to some conclusion satisfactory to him, a dark and singular
contortion of the features crossed his face, and his hand was thrust
into the breast of his clothing, where he had a loaded pistol, upon
which he well knew he could depend in any sudden emergency.

“Ada,” he said, “I am resolved.”

“Resolved on what?”

“To take this man’s life, who is here for the express purpose of taking
mine if he can find the opportunity.”

“Then I am resolved,” said Ada, “to raise a voice of warning to that
man, be he whom he may. If this is to be my last hour, Heaven receive
me!”

“You shall die,” said Gray.

Ada sunk on her knees, and covering her face within her hands, she
said,—

“Jacob Gray, if Heaven permits you to murder me, I will not shrink. May
God forgive you the awful crime!”

Gray laughed a bitter, short laugh, as he said,—

“No, Ada, you may live. I do not intend to kill you. Possibly, too, I
may spare him who keeps watch above for me. Be patient while I go and
reconnoitre.”

“No, no,” cried Ada, “I cannot be patient here; you are going to
murder.”

“Listen to me,” said Gray. “There is one more chance. After nightfall
we will endeavour to leave the house. If we succeed in doing so
unobstructed, all may be well; but if opposition be offered, I must
defend myself. You surely cannot deny me that privilege, Ada?”

“Jacob Gray, you have not the courage to pursue such a plan,” said Ada.

“Girl, are you bent on your own destruction?” cried Gray.

“No; but; I know your nature well. The plan you propose is opposite to
your usual manner of acting. A darker scheme possesses you, of which
the one you have now proposed is but the cloak.”

“I waste time upon you,” said Gray, advancing towards the ladder.

He slowly and cautiously ascended, and then paused at the top step.

Ada bent all her attention to listen if any sound came from the room
above, for she was quite resolved, let the consequences to her be what
they might, to raise a cry of alarm, should Gray show any decided
symptoms of carrying out his project of murdering the man in the house.

The few moments that succeeded were intensely agonising to Ada, and her
heart beat painfully and rapidly as she kept her eye intently fixed
upon the dusky form of Jacob Gray, as it was dimly discernible at the
top of the ladder. This state of suspense did not last long, for in a
very few minutes the shrill whistling of Elias awakened the echoes of
the old mansion, and it was evident that he was in the room from which
the panel conducting to the cellar opened.

Ada strained her eyes upwards, but still all was darkness. She knew
that if Gray were to remove the panel, ever so slightly she must be
aware of it, by a ray of light streaming through the aperture; for that
ray of light Ada waited, as her signal to raise an alarm, which she was
determined to do.

Little, however, did Ada suspect that Gray had formed a plan which her
very effort to save the man on watch would assist to carry into effect.
Such, however, was the fact. Gray fully expected, and was quite
prepared for a cry from Ada, whenever he should draw aside the panel.

The loud whistling of Elias still continued, when suddenly Gray moved
the panel just sufficiently to allow Ada to see from below that he had
done so, and then, as he had done once before, he slid down the ladder,
and, as Ada thought, disappeared in the darkness which shrouded the
further extremity of the cellar. Had she felt inclined Ada could not
have stopped herself from uttering a cry, and the instant she saw
daylight through the panel, her voice rose clear and loud—

“Help—help!” she cried “Help—murder!”

Mr. Elias’s whistling immediately ceased, although he was in the middle
of a very intricate passage, and he sprung to the opening in the wall.

With one effort he tore down the piece of wainscoting and cried in a
loud voice,—

“Hilloa!”

Ada made a rush to the ladder, but an arm suddenly arrested her
progress with such violence that she fell to the ground with great
force.

Ada lay for a moment or two stunned by her fall, and she heard only
indistinctly the voice of Elias cry,—

“Hilloa! Below there. Oh, here’s a ladder, is there? Well, that’s what
I call providential.“

Elias was upon the ladder, and cautiously descending backwards, when
Ada shrieked,—

“Beware!—Treachery!”

Elias paused a moment. Then there was a bright flash, a loud report,
and a heavy fall, all of which were succeeded by a silence as awful and
profound as that of the grave. Ada rose partially from the floor, and a
dreadful consciousness of what had occurred came across her mind.

“Jacob Gray,” she said, “you are a murderer—a murderer.”

“I—I was compelled to do the deed,” said Gray, in a low hoarse voice.
“Come away—come away, Ada. Let us fly from hence—come away.”

“Not with you, man of blood,” cried Ada. “God sees this deed. Murderer,
I cannot go with you.”

“’Twas my life or his,” said Gray, creeping out from behind the ladder,
where he had been crouching, and through the spokes of which he had
shot Elias as he descended with a certainty of effect.

“No—no. Such was not the fact,” cried Ada.

“I care not,” said Gray, throwing off his low cautious tone, and
assuming a high shrill accent of anger; “I care not. Place what
construction you will upon me, or my actions, you shall come with me
now, or remain here to starve. Refuse to accompany me, and I will
remove the ladder and leave you here with the dead.”

Ada shuddered.

“Whither—oh whither would you lead me?” she said.

“To some other place of refuge for a short time, until my purposes are
completed. Be quick girl, do you stay or go?”

“It may be death to go,” said Ada, “but it is suicide to stay.”

“You consent?”

“I am in the hand of Providence. To it I commit myself. I will follow
you.”

“Quick, quick!” cried Gray, and he ascended the ladder with nervous
trepidation, followed slowly by the afflicted and terrified Ada. The
evening was fast approaching as they gained the room above, and Jacob
Gray, seizing Ada by the wrist, led her to the outer door of the old
house in which they had lived so long.

He turned upon the threshold, and holding up his hand, cried,—

“My curse be upon this habitation. Had I the means at hand—yet stay one
moment, Ada.”

He knelt on the step, and struck a light with materials he always
carried about him.

Dragging Ada again into the house, he opened the door of a room on the
ground floor, on which was a quantity of littered straw and baskets.
Throwing the light among the inflammable material, he ground through
his set teeth,—

“Burn, burn! And may not one brick stand upon another of this hateful
place.”

He then dragged Ada from the house, and took his course along the
fields at a rapid pace.



CHAPTER L.


The Ruin at Night.—The Fire.—Gray’s Behaviour.—A Challenge.—Old
Westminster Again.



Ada made no remark upon these proceedings of Jacob Gray. She had made
up her mind to a particular course of action. She had wound up her
feelings and her courage to a certain pitch and she resolved not to say
another word to Jacob Gray, until she had an opportunity of acting, as
she had now considered it her sacred duty to act.

Gray himself seemed suspicious and annoyed at her pertinacious silence,
and he addressed her in a fawning, trembling voice, as if he would fain
restore her to her usual confidence in addressing him. The calm of
Ada’s manner alarmed him. He would ten times rather she had spoken to
him in terms of reproach and abhorrence; but now that she said nothing,
he trembled for what might be the nature of her thoughts regarding him.

“Ada,” he said, as he crept along by her side, or rather one pace
before her towards the inner side. “Ada, all that I have often pictured
to you of riches and honour shall soon be yours. You will enjoy all
that your young and ardent imagination can hope for; but there are some
few things yet to be done ere I can place you in such a position as
would make you the envy of all.”

These few things, in Jacob Gray’s mind, consisted in efficient
preparations for his own departure from England; the secreting of his
confession, and the extortion of a yet further sum of money from the
fears of Learmont.

“You do not hear me, Ada,” as she made no reply.

The young girl shuddered, and shrank from him as far as he would permit.

“You shrink from me now,” said Gray, “and yet I am the only person who
can and will place you in a position to enjoy every pleasure—to gratify
every taste. Ada, you will be much beholden now to Jacob Gray.”

Still Ada would not speak, and they were rapidly nearing some stairs,
at which plied wherries between Battersea and Westminster. Gray now
looked cautiously around him, and being quite satisfied that no one was
within heating, he stooped his mouth close to Ada’s ear, and said, in a
voice of suppressed yet violent passion,—

“Girl, I am a desperate man. Do not tempt me beyond what I can resist
to do a deed which I fain would not do. Hear me, Ada—I swear to have
your life if you play me false. Be obedient to what I shall command,
and all will be well; but have a care—have a care, for I am desperate,
and you know what I can do.”

Jacob Gray then walked on in silence until he reached the stalls, at
which there was no one but a boy, who immediately cried to him, “Boat,
your honour—going across, sir?”

“Yes,” said Gray.

The boy ran into the water to steady the beat while Gray handed in Ada,
who submitted passively. Then he stepped on board himself, and the boy,
clambering in after him, pushed the boat out into the stream.

“Where to, your honour?” said the boy, as he settled the sculls in the
rollocks, and gave, a sweep that turned the boat’s head from the shore.

“To the stairs at Westminster-bridge,” said Gray.

The boy nodded, and the boat, under his good management, was soon
gliding up the stream in the wished-for direction.

The sun was now rapidly sinking, and tall dark shadows lay upon the
surface of the Thames, making the waters look as if they were composed
of different kinds of fluids of varying colours and densities. Then the
last edge of the sun’s disc, which had been reposing on the horizon for
a moment, suddenly disappeared, and a cold wind on the instant swept
across the face of the river, curling it up into small wrinkles, and
giving a gentle, undulating motion to the boat.

Not a word was spoken, and the small wherry might have been occupied by
the dead, for all the signs of life or animation given by Gray or Ada.

That Gray’s thoughts partook of the apprehensive might have been
guessed by the nervous manner in which he clutched the side of the
boat, and the distracted movement of the fingers of his other hand with
which he held the collar of his cloak across the lower part of his face.

Ada was pale as a marble statue; but there was an intellectuality and
determination about her small, compressed lips and commanding brow that
would have won admiration from all, and enraptured a poet or a painter.
She sat calm and still. There was no nervousness, no trembling, no
alarm; and it was the absence of all those natural and feminine
feelings which cast a cold chill to the heart of Jacob Gray, and filled
him with a terror of he knew not what.

He could not for more than one instant of time keep his eyes off Ada’s
face. There was a something depicted there that while he dreaded, he
seemed, by some supernatural power, compelled to look upon. Like one
fascinated by the basilisk eye of a serpent, he could not withdraw his
gaze; although pale, firm, and slightly tinged with a death-like hue by
the strange colours that lingered in the sky from the sunset, that
young and lovely face brought to his recollection one which the mere
thought of was an agony, and the name of whom was engraven upon his
heart in undying letters of eternal flame.

The fresh breeze caught as it passed the long glossy ringlets of Ada’s
hair, and blew them in wanton playfulness across her face, but still
she moved not. The night darkened, and the shadows of the buildings and
shipping crossed her eyes, but she stirred not. Her whole soul, with
all its varied perceptions and powers seemed to be engrossed by some
one great idea that would admit of no sort of companionship, and for
the time reigned alone within the chambers of her brain.

Suddenly now the boy let his oars rest in the water, and the boat no
longer urged forward, moved but sluggishly. His eyes seemed to be fixed
on something. Now he lifted one hand and shaded them, while he looked
earnestly in the direction from whence he had been coming.

Gray for a moment did not seem conscious that the boat was making no
progress, but in fact slowly turning broadside to the stream, and Ada,
if she did notice it, preserved her silence and calmness, for she
neither moved nor spoke.

“Master,” cried the boy, suddenly, and Gray started as if he had been
suddenly aroused by a trumpet at his ear.

“What—a—what?” he cried. “Who spoke?”

“I spoke, sir,” said the boy. “There’s a famous fire out Battersea way.”

“A fire?” said Gray.

“Yes,” said the boy, and he pointed with his finger in the direction
from whence they came. “It’s a large fire; now it does burn, to be
sure. Look, sir, there!”

Gray turned half round upon his seat in the boat, and he saw that the
heavens were illuminated with a dull, red glare in the direction to
which the boy had pointed, and in that one particular spot there was a
concentrated body of light from whence shot up in the sky myriads of
bright sparks, and now and then a long tongue of flame which lit up the
house, the shipping, and the river, with a bright and transitory glow.

“It is—the house,” muttered Gray to himself; “my work prospers. Sir
Frederick Hartleton, I have but one more wish, and that is, that your
flesh was broiling in yon house along with your myrmidon whom you left
to his fate.”

“It’s a large fire,” remarked the boy. “A famous fire.”

“Yes,” said Gray, “a famous fire; can you tell where it is?”

“I think,” said the boy, “it lies somewhere over the marshes.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes; and I should say it was Forest’s old haunted house, only nobody
lives there but the ghosts.”

“Forest’s house,” repeated Gray, in an assumed careless tone. “Indeed I
should not wonder if you were right.”

“I hope it is,” said the boy. “It was an old miserable-looking place.
You’ve heard about it, sir?”

“A little—a little,” replied Gray.

“There was a murder there once,” said the boy.

“Yes,—yes, I—know,” said Gray.

“Forest, you see, sir, lived in the house. He built it, you see, sir,
and he wasn’t content with what he had, so he murdered a poor fellow,
who they say had a thousand pounds belonging to somebody who employed
him to collect rents, you see, sir.”

“Yes,” said Gray, licking his lips.

“Well, sir, Forest shot him.”

“Shot him? Oh, yes. He—he shot him.”

“He was hung, though,” added the boy, “and well he deserved it, too. My
grandfather saw him hung on the common, not a hundred feet from his own
door.—After that no one would live in the house, and, in course, old
Forest’s ghost, and, the man’s ghost that he killed, took to being
there. Well, it does flare now famously.”

The fire seemed now at its height, for the flames rose to a tremendous
height into the sky, and the roaring and crackling of the timbers could
be distinctly heard, even at that distance from the spot of the
conflagration.

Now and then a loud sound, resembling the discharge of artillery at a
distance, would come booming through the air, indicative of the fall of
some heavy part of the ancient building, and then the flame would be
smothered for a moment, and dense volumes of smoke terrifically red
from the glare beneath, would roll over the sky, to be succeeded again
by myriads of sparks, which would, in their turns, give place to the
long tongues of flame which shot up from the fallen mass, as it became
more thoroughly ignited.

Jacob Gray gazed intently on the scene for a few minutes, then turning
to the boy, he cried,—

“We are in haste.”

The lad resumed his oars, and struck them lazily into the glowing
stream, that looked like liquid fire from the bright reflection of the
sky, and once more the boat was making way towards Westminster.

Several times Gray glanced in the face of Ada, to note what effect the
burning of the old house had upon her imagination, but not a muscle
moved—all was as still and calm as before, and save that the reflection
from the reddened sky now cast a glow of more than earthly beauty over
her otherwise pale face, to look at her, she might have been supposed
some thing of Heaven, summoned by the small casualties and petty
commotions of this world, which she had but visited for a brief space,
for some specific purpose.

The boat glided on, and so intent was the boy upon the fire, that he
had several narrow escapes of running foul of barges and other
wherries, some of the latter of which were pulling down the stream on
purpose to look at the fire, which was causing a great deal of comment
and commotion among the gossips of ancient Westminster.

Many were the oaths levelled on the head of the boy, by parties who
were obliged to ship their oars suddenly to avoid a collision with his
boat, and it was not until this happened thrice, that he began to be a
little more careful, and look warily about him.

The stairs to which Gray directed the boy were through the bridge, and
the boat now reached the ancient structure, which looked beautiful and
brilliant from the reflection of the fire upon its many rough stones
and jagged points of architecture.

A wherry, in which sat one person besides the rower, now came rapidly
from under the same arch of the bridge, through which the boat
containing Ada and Gray was about to proceed.

“Hilloa!” cried the man, who was sitting in the boat. “Hilloa there!”

“Well, what now?” said the boy.

“None of your impertinence, youngster,” cried the man, showing a
constable’s staff, which Ada knew no more the meaning of than if he had
unfurled the banner of Mahomet.

“Well, sir,” said the boy, “I only want to land my passengers.”

“You may land your passengers, and be d—d,” replied the man in
authority.

“Thank you kindly sir,” replied the boy, promptly.

The rower in the other boat laughed at this, and the constable cried,—

“Come, come, none of this. How far have you pulled up the river, boy?”

“From Battersea.”

“Oh, hem! From Battersea?”

“I told you so.”

“Come, come, young fellow—no insolence. Where’s the fire?”

“I can’t say exactly.”

“Where do you think it is? You say you have pulled up from Battersea,
and the fire is at Battersea, we know.”

“I think it’s at old Forest’s haunted house,” said the boy.

“D—d if I didn’t think so,” cried the officer, who was no other than
our old friend Stephy; “I must go and see, though, notwithstanding.
Pull away, my man.”

The wherries shot past each other, and in a few moments more, Ada and
Gray stood on the top of the flight of stone steps conducting from the
river to Bridge-street.



CHAPTER LI.


The Alcove on the Bridge.—Gray’s Speech to Ada.—The Flight.—The
Hunt.—The Last Refuge.



London was not so thronged with passengers at the period of our tale as
it is now, and Gray stood with Ada several moments at the corner of
Westminster-bridge, without more than three persons passing, and those
at intervals apart from each other.

Gray appeared to be in deep thought during this time, and then taking
Ada by the arm, he said in a trembling voice,—

“This way, this way,” and led her to the bridge.

Ada made no resistance, but suffered herself to be conducted into one
of the little alcoves which now exist. Then, after a pause, Jacob Gray
spoke to her in a low, earnest tone, to the following purport:—

“Ada, the time is now fast approaching when you will be free—free in
action as in thought, and with the means of giving to every thought,
however wayward or expensive, the immediate aspect of reality. You will
be guided implicitly by me, Ada, for the space of about one month, and
no longer—then all that I promise will be fulfilled, and you will be
happy. You may then forget Jacob Gray, for you will see him no more. In
another country I will spend the remainder of my life. What I am about
to do now is, to seek in the very heart of this populous city, a
temporary abode for you and myself. I am tired of solitudes and lonely
places. Ada, you must for that brief month assume in all appearance the
character of my daughter.”

Ada shuddered, and shrank back as far as she possibly could into the
alcove, for Gray, in the earnestness of his discourse, had brought his
face in very close proximity to hers.

“For your own sake, as well as for mine,” he continued, “you must pass
as a child of mine. When I am gone, you may repudiate the relationship
as quickly as you may think proper.”

Jacob Gray then paused as if awaiting the answer of Ada, but to his
great surprise and aggravation, she preserved the same unbroken silence
which she had dictated to herself since the murder at the lone house.

“You will not answer me,” said Gray, with bitterness. “Well, be it so.
Let no words pass between us. I can construe your silence—you feel that
you must obey me, and yet you cannot bring your nature to give me one
word of acquiescence. ’Tis as well, Ada—’tis as well. Our conversations
have never been so satisfactory that I should wish to urge their
continuance. You may preserve your silence, but you must obey me.
Before this time I have been placed in desperate straits, and have
reflected upon desperate remedies. Now, Ada, remember that if you
betray me, or even leave me, until the time I shall please to appoint,
you shall die. Remember, young, beautiful as you are, you shall die.”

Again Gray paused with the hope that Ada would speak, for although he
affected to despise it, the silence of the young girl was an annoyance
to him of the first magnitude.

His hope, however, was futile. She spoke not.

“Come, follow me,” cried Gray, suddenly. “Here, place your arm in mine.”

He attempted to draw her arm within his as he spoke, but Ada drew back
so firmly and resolutely, that Gray saw she would not walk with him in
such apparent amity.

“As you please,” he said, “so that you follow me. Come on—come on.”

Ada stepped from the alcove onto the bridge, and then Gray paused a
moment to see if he was observed, and being satisfied that he was not,
he drew aside the collar of his cloak and showed Ada the bright barrel
of a pistol, to which he pointed, saying,—

“Remember—death, sudden, painful, and violent on the one hand, and on
the other, after a short month, unbounded wealth, enjoyment, and
delight. Come on—come on.”

Side by side, the ill-assorted pair walked in the direction of
Parliament-street, it being Gray’s intention to pass through
Westminster, and proceed towards the densely populated district north
of the Strand, there to seek for a temporary lodging in which he and
Ada as his daughter, could remain until he had perfected his
arrangements for his own escape, and the utter destruction of Learmont
and Britton.

Gray had calculated his chances and position well. He stood as free as
ever from any attempt against his life by Learmont or the savage smith.
Ada, even if she should suddenly leave him, scarcely knew enough to be
thoroughly dangerous. Sir Francis Hartleton had but an indistinct
knowledge of his person, and even should he meet him in the public
streets, he could hardly hit upon him as being the man who had merely
flashed across his eyes for a moment. Besides, it was possible to make
sufficient alterations in his personal appearance to deceive those who
were not very well acquainted with his general aspect and appearance.
Then he need not go from home above four times, perhaps, in that whole
month, even provided he remained so long in London, and on those
occasions it would only be to creep cautiously from his own place of
abode to Learmont’s house and back again, so that the risk would be but
small of meeting the magistrate or Albert Seyton, who were the only two
persons at all interested in his capture.

His threats to Ada that he would take her life upon any attempt of hers
to escape, were perfectly insincere. To Ada and her existence he clung
as to his only hope of mercy, if by some untoward circumstance he
should be taken, as well as for his only means of being thoroughly and
entirely revenged upon Learmont.

Upon the whole, then, Jacob Gray, as he walked down Parliament-street,
in the dim, uncertain light from the oil lamps of the period, and saw
that Ada followed him slowly, rather congratulated himself upon his
extreme cunning and the good position for working out all his darling
projects, both of avarice and revenge, in which he was placed.

“There is an old proverb,” he muttered, “which says, ‘the nearer to
church, the further from Heaven,’ and I have read somewhere a fable of
a hunted hare finding a secure, because an unsuspected, place of refuge
in a dog-kennel. Upon that principal will I secrete myself for one
short month in some place densely inhabited; where two persons make but
an insignificant item in the great mass that surrounds them, will I
seek security, and then my revenge—my deep revenge!”

But few passengers were in Parliament-street; the quantity of persons,
however, sensibly increased as they approached Whitehall, and from
Charing-cross the lights were just glancing when Ada suddenly paused,
and Gray, on the impulse of the moment, got two or three paces in
advance of her. There were two persons conversing, about where
Scotland-yard stands, and laughing carelessly, while several more
people were rapidly approaching from Charing-cross.

Gray was sensible in a moment that Ada had stopped, and he hurried
immediately to see what were her intentions.

As he did so, Ada broke the long silence she had maintained by suddenly
exclaiming, in a voice that arrested every passenger, and made the
blood retreat with a frightful gush to the heart of Jacob Gray.

“Help! Help! Seize him. He is a murderer—a murderer!—Help! Help! Seize
the murderer!”

For one moment all sense of perception seemed to have left Gray, so
thoroughly unexpected was such an act on the part of Ada, and it was
well for him that those who were around for about the same space of
time remained in a similar undecided and bewildered state, as people do
always on any very sudden occasion for instant action.

Ada stood pointing with one trembling finger at Gray, while her pale
face and long black hair, combined with her rare beauty, made her look
like one inspired.

“The murderer!” she again cried, and her voice seemed to break the
spell which kept both Gray and the chance passengers paralysed.

With a cry of terror, Jacob Gray turned and fled towards Charing-cross.

Ada’s feelings had been wrought up to too high a pitch of excitement.
She had felt it to be her duty to denounce the murderer, and while that
duty remained to be done, the consciousness that upon her it devolved,
had nerved her to the task, and supported her hitherto—now, however,
the words were spoken. At what she supposed the risk of her life, she
had announced the crime of Jacob Gray. The revulsion of feeling was too
much, and a bystander, who saw her stagger, was just in time to catch
her as she fainted, and would otherwise have fallen to the ground.

The two persons who had been talking and laughing together at the
moment of Ada’s first exclamation, did not seem disposed to let the
accused man get off so easily as he appeared upon the point of doing.
They raised the cry so awful in the ear of a fugitive through the
streets of London, “Stop him! Stop him!” And they both started after
Jacob Gray at full speed.

Had Gray, when he turned the corner of Northumberland-house, then
walked quietly, like an ordinary passenger, the chances were that he
would have escaped; but, in his terror, he flew rather than ran up the
Strand, at once pointing himself out to all as the one pursued, and
tempting every person who had time or inclination to join the exciting
chase.

The words, “Stop him!” sounded in his ears, and he bounded forward as
he heard them, with another cry and a speed that, while it made it very
hazardous for every one to oppose him, yet increased the ardour of the
pursuit.

In the course of a few seconds, fifty persons had joined the chase, and
yells and shouts came upon Gray’s affrighted ears.

With compressed lips and a face as livid as that of a corpse, he rushed
on without the smallest idea of where he was going.

“For my life—for my life,” he gasped, and each cry behind him affected
him like a shock of electricity, and caused him to give another bound
forward in all the wildness of despair.

Of the crowd now that followed Gray, not one knew who he was, of what
he was accused, or why he was thus hunted, like a wild annual, through
the streets. One joined in the cry because he saw others engaged in it.
The two young men who had first raised the chase were a long way off,
for no one could keep up with the frantic speed of the nearly maddened
Gray. Those who followed him the closest were those who had joined the
hunt en route; although, to the fugitive’s excited imagination, he
seemed to be on the point of being overtaken by harder runners than
himself.

Shouts, cries, hootings, groans, and every wild and demoniac noise of
which the human animal is capable, were uttered by the mob, which kept
momentarily increasing as each alley, court, or street, sent forth its
tribute of numbers to the stream that roared, whooped, hurried, and
raced along the Strand.

Some began now to throw missiles of all kinds after Gray. Stones and
mud showered upon him, and he felt faint and neatly exhausted, as he
saw at some distance before him a man apparently intent upon stopping
him.

Little, however, did he who thought to capture Gray reflect upon the
shock he would receive from the speed of the hunted man. As Gray
approached him he swerved, more involuntarily than designedly, and
coming against the man rather obliquely, he shot him into the roadway
with an impetus that sent him rolling over and over in the mud, as if
he had been discharged from a cannon. To Gray the shock was severe, but
it did not take him off his feet, and the circumstance caused some
little diversion in his favour than otherwise; for the mob first
trampled upon the prostrate man, and then some fell over him.

After this, none were so bold as to stand in the way of a man who was
rushing along with so terrible a speed; and Jacob Gray, reeling,
panting, his lips running with blood, as he had bitten them in his
agony, arrived at Somerset-house.

Just beyond the stone front was a small court, and towards this
temporary place of refuge from the high street Gray tottered, spinning
round and round, like a drunken man.

A light, agile man, who had joined the chase by the Adelphi, and who
had kept very close upon Gray, now, with a shout of triumph, made a
rush forward, and grappled with him at the mouth of the little court.

The touch seemed like magic to revive all the fainting energies of
Jacob Gray, and he turned and grappled his enemy by the throat with
fearful vehemence.

The court descended from the street by a flight of stone steps, and in
the next instant with a shriek from the man, and a wild cry from Gray,
the pursuer and pursued rolled down the stone descent, struggling with
each other for life or death.



CHAPTER LII.


The Dark Court.—A Deed of Blood.—The Pursuit Continued.—The Mother and
the Child.



Bruised and bleeding. Gray and the adventurous stranger who had essayed
to capture him, arrived at the bottom of the flight of stone steps, and
for one or two seconds it was doubtful if either of them were in a
condition to make any further effort either offensive or defensive.

The fear of capture and death, however, was sufficiently strong in the
mind of Jacob Gray to overcome for the moment the sense of pain arising
from personal injury; and with an energy, lent to him by despair alone,
he rose on his knees and felt about for his antagonist. His hand
touched the man’s face, and now he began to move. With something
between a shriek and a shout, Gary laid hold of his head by the hair on
each side. He lifted it as far as he could from the stones and then
brought it down again with a sinking awful crash. One deep hollow groan
only came from the man, and again Gray lifted the head, bringing it
down as before with frightful violence. The skull cracked and smashed
against the hard stones. The man was dead, but once more was the
bleeding and crashed head brought into violent contact with the stones,
and that time the sound it produced was soft, and Jacob Gray felt that
he held but loose pieces of bone, and his hands were slimy and slippery
with the blood that spouted on to them.

Faltering, dizzy, and faint, he then rose to his feet, and from the
open throughfare there came to his ears shouts, cries, and groans. Then
he cast his eyes to the dim opening of the court, and he heard several
voices cry,—

“He is hiding down here. Let’s hunt him out. Lights—lights!”

In a state of agony beyond description Gray now turned to seek shelter
further down the dark court, and in doing so he trod upon the dead body
of the man he had just hurried from existence.

Recoiling then, as if a serpent had been in his path, he crept along by
the wall until he thought he must have passed the awful and revolting
object which now in death he dreaded quite as much as he did in life.

He then plunged wildly forward, heedless where his steps might lead, so
that it was away from his pursuers. A few paces now in advance of him
he descried a dim faint ray of light, and hastening onwards he found
himself at the entrance of a court running parallel with the Strand,
and consisting of mean, dirty, squalid-looking houses inhabited by the
very dregs of the poorer classes.

Some of the half-broken dirty parlour windows in this haunt of poverty
were converted into shops by being set open, and a board placed across
in the inside displaying disgusting messes in the shape of eatables,
mingled with wood, old bones, rags, &c.

Gray hesitated a moment and cast his eyes behind him. A loud yell met
his affrighted ears, and lights began to flash in the direction he had
left behind him. With a groan of despair, he rushed into the dark open
passage of one of the houses.

Breathing hard from his exertions and the fright he was in, Gray groped
his way along by the damp clammy walls of the passage until he came to
some stairs—he hesitated not a moment, but slowly and cautiously
ascended them.

As he crept stair after stair up the dark flight of steps the sound of
pursuit seemed to come nearer and nearer, and he could hear the hum of
many voices, although he could not distinguish exactly what was said.
Only one word came perpetually as clearly and distinctly to his ears as
if it had been spoken at his side, and that word was murder!

“They—they have found the body,” he gasped. “Yes, they have found the
body now. My life hangs on a thread!”

The cold perspiration of fear rolled down his face, and notwithstanding
his great exertions which would ordinarily have produced an intolerable
sense of heat, he was as cold and chilled as if he had suddenly
awakened from sleep in the open air. His teeth chattered in his head,
and his knees smote each other. He was fain to clutch with both hands
the crazy banisters of the staircase for support, or he must inevitably
have fallen.

“This is dreadful,” he whispered to himself, “to die here. They have
hunted me to death—I—I feel as if a hand of ice was on my heart. This
must be death.”

Slowly the cold sensation wore off, and like the flame of a taper,
which suddenly renews its origin most unexpectedly, when apparently
upon the point of dissolution, Gray gradually revived again, and his
vital energies came back to him.

With a deep sigh he spoke,—

“’Tis past—’tis past. They have not killed me as yet. It was, after
all, but a passing pang. They have not killed me yet.”

Again the cry of murder echoed in the court, and, with a start, Jacob
Gray set his teeth hard, and continued to ascend the dark staircase.
Suddenly, now, he paused, for a sound from above met his ears—it was
some one singing. How strangely the tones jarred upon the excited
senses of Jacob Gray: the sound was low and plaintive, and to him it
seemed a mockery of his awful situation.

He now by two more steps gained the landing, and he was sure that the
singing proceeded from some room on that floor. The voice was a
female’s, and by the softness and exquisite cadences of it evidently
proceeded from some person not far advanced in life.

Gray held by the banisters at the top of the stairs, and for some
minutes he seemed spell-bound, and to forget the precarious situation
in which he stood as those low, soft strains came upon his ear.

The female was evidently singing to a child, for occasionally she would
pause to express some words of endearment to the little one, and then
resume her song.

The few short lines of which the song was composed came fully to Gray,
and there was a something about their very simplicity and innocence
that rooted him to the spot, although they brought agony to his heart:



The Mother’s Choice.



“My babe, if I had offers three,

From gentle heavenly powers,

To bless thee, who, with aching heart,

I’ve watched so many hours,

I’d choose that gift should make thee great

In true nobility—

That greatness of the soul which leaves

The heart and conscience free.

Gold should not tempt me, gentle babe,

It might not bring thee rest;

Nor power would I give to thee,

’Tis but an aching breast.

But I would ask of Heaven, my babe,

A boon of joy to thee,

To make thee happy in this life,

From sin and sorrow free.

Nor gold nor silver should’st thou have,

Nor power to command,

But thou should’st have a guileless heart,

An open, unstained hand.

So should thou happy be, my babe,

A thing of joy and light;

While others struggled for despair,

You’d wish but to be right.”



The song abruptly ceased, for the loud tones of men reached the ears of
the singer, crying,—

“Murder!—Hunt him—secure the murderer! This way—this way!”

Those sounds roused Gray from his temporary inaction: he started
forward as if he had received some sudden and irresistible shock.

More from impulse than any direct design or preconcerted plan, Jacob
Gray made towards the door of the room in which was the mother and her
infant child.

At the moment, then, a sudden thought struck his mind that possibly he
might convert the affection of the mother for her infant into a means
of saving himself: it was a hope, at all events, although a weak and
forlorn one. Time, however, was precious, and Jacob Gray, with his
pale, ghastly face, torn apparel, bleeding-hands, and general
dishevelled look, made his appearance in the room.

By the remains of a miserable fire sat a young female scarcely above
the age of girlhood, and in a cot at her feet slept a child, the face
of which she was regarding with that rapt attention and concentrated
love which can only be felt by a mother.

So entirely, in fact, were all the faculties of the young mother wound
up in the contemplation of her sleeping child, that Gray’s entrance
into the room failed to arouse her, and he had time to glance around
the room and be sure that he and the mother, with the child, were the
only occupants of the place before he spoke.

He then drew the pistol he still retained from his breast, and suddenly
cried,—

“One word, and it shall cost you your life! Be silent and obedient, and
you are safe.”

A cry escaped the lips of the young female, and she stood
panic-stricken by Gray’s strange appearance, as well as his threatening
aspect and words.

“Listen to me,” he said, in a low, hoarse voice; “you love your child?”

“Love my child?” re-echoed the mother, in a tone that sufficiently
answered the question of Gray, who added,—

“I am a desperate man. I do not wish to do you harm; but, betray me to
those who are seeking my life, and your child shall die by my hands.”

“No—no—my child—no,” cried the mother, in a voice of alarm.

“Hush!” cried Gray, advancing; and pointing the muzzle of his pistol
towards the sleeping form of the child. “Such another outcry, and I
will execute my threat.”

The young mother stood paralysed with terror, while Gray hastily added,—

“I am hunted, I tell you. Have you no place of concealment? Speak!”

“Concealment? Good Heaven! How can I aid you? What have I done that you
should menace my child? You cannot, dare not be so wicked.”

A loud shout at this moment rang through the court, and the flashing
beams of several torches blazed through the murky windows of the
miserable abode of poverty.

“What sounds are those?” cried the female.

“My pursuers,” said Gray. “Now, hear me; I dare not leave this place.
They are on my track—your infant is sleeping—place its cot as nigh to
the wall as you can, and I will hide beneath it. If this room is
entered by my enemies, you must on the plea of not disturbing your
child, prevent a search from taking place.”

“I cannot.”

“You must—you shall! Betray me by look, word, or gesture, and your
child shall die, if the next moment were my last. By all hell I swear
it!”

The mother shuddered.

“Quick—quick!” cried Gray; “my life is now counted by moments!”

“Hunt him—hunt him! Hurrah!” cried the voices of the pursuers. “Hunt
the murderer!”

“You hear!” cried Gray. “Quick—quick!”

With a face of agonised terror the mother drew the cot, without
awakening the fastly-slumbering child, towards the wall.

“Now,” cried Gray, “remember—your child’s life is at stake: if I
escape, it escapes. If I am taken, it dies.”

“But I may not be able to save you,” said the mother, in imploring
accents.

“The child then dies,” said Gray.

“Guard the entrance to the court well,” cried a loud, authoritative
voice from the outside of the house. “Search every one of these hovels,
from top to bottom.”

“You hear?” said Gray, trembling with terror, and scarcely able to
speak from the parched state of his lips.

“I do,” she said.

“Give me some water.”

She handed him a small, earthen pitcher, from which he took a copious
and refreshing draught.

“Now,” he said, “sit you by the fire, and sing that song you were
singing. It will seem then as if you had been undisturbed, and remember
you are playing a game in which the stake is the life of your child.”

“Heaven aid me!” said the mother.

“Hush! To your seat!—To your seat!”

“Oh! Even be you what you may, I will do my best to save you, if you
will allow me to sit here.”

She pointed to the side of the cot.

“No, no,” said Gray; “the child shall be nearer to me than to you.”

“Why—oh, why?”

“Because it will then be out of your power to prevent its doom.”

“I swear—”

“Pshaw! I trust no oaths. Away to your seat—to your seat, or—”

He pointed the pistol again to the sleeping babe, and with a shudder
the young mother sat down by the fire-side.

The tramp of men was now heard below in the passage, and a voice cried,
“Detain any one who attempts to leave the house. Should you meet with
resistance, cut him down at once.”

“The song!” cried Gray.

He then insinuated himself between the wall and the cot, so that no
part of him was visible, and in a hissing whisper, he again cried to
the trembling agonised mother,—

“The song! The song!”

A confused sound on the staircase now announced the approach of the
persons and once more from his place of concealment, Gray hissed
between his teeth,—

“Curses on you! Will you do as I bid you, or must I do the deed?”

“Spare him! Spare him!” said the mother. “Oh, spare him!”

“The song!” cried Gray.



CHAPTER LIII.


A Mother’s Care.—The Pursuit.—A Successful Ruse.—The Second Visit.



With a faltering voice the terrified female commenced the strain which
Gray had overheard her singing to her child before it was placed in the
fearful jeopardy she now considered it in.

The men’s footsteps sounded on the staircase, as in trembling accents
she softly repeated the words,—



“My babe, if I had offers three,

From gentle heavenly powers,

To bless thee, who, with aching heart,

I’ve watched so many hours—”



There was then a slight pause—a knock from without—a broad glare of
light, and Jacob Gray’s pursuers were in the room.

The mother rose from her chair, and cried,—

“What do you mean?—What is the meaning of all this?”

“We are pursuing a man, who is hiding in one of these houses,” replied
a stern voice. “I am an officer. There has been murder done, my good
woman.”

“Murder!”

“Yes. A man has been savagely murdered at the bottom of the steps, and
he who committed the deed is somewhere about here. Have you heard any
alarm?”

“I have heard many voices.”

“I mean have you heard any one on the stairs, or has any one been here?”

“I was singing to my child. Pray do not speak so loud, or you will
awaken it.”

“Search the room,” cried the man.

The mother walked to the side, of the cot, and appeared to be regarding
the features of her sleeping babe, but she was in reality endeavouring
to hide the expression of terror which she felt was upon her face.

The men raised the torches they carried high above their heads, and
glanced round the miserable apartment.

“Open that cupboard,” said one.

It was opened and then shut again.

“Move that cot,” cried he who appeared to be in authority.

“No,” cried the mother, suddenly looking up, “do your duty in
discovering the criminal, but do not in doing it commit a needless act
of cruelty.”

“Cruelty!”

“Yes; you see my babe is sleeping. Why move his cot and awaken him? He
has been ill. The fever spot is still upon his cheek. The quiet slumber
he is now enjoying is the first he has had for many weary nights and
days. How could a murderer hide with a sleeping child? Some of you
perhaps have little ones of your own, if you have, you will think of
them, and not harm mine.”

“Was it you singing just now?“ asked the officer.

“It was. My voice, I think, soothes him, even in sleep. Hush! Do not
speak so loud, or you will wake him.”

“Leave her alone,” said the officer. “My good woman, we don’t want to
disturb your child. We have our duty, however, to do; but I am quite
satisfied he whom we seek is not here.”

“A mother’s blessing be upon you, sir,” said the woman. “You have,
perhaps, saved the very life of my child by not disturbing it.”

“What, has it been so bad as that?” remarked another.

“Oh, quite, quite!”

“The turn of a fever in those young things is always a ticklish
affair,” remarked another.

“Come on,” said the officer, “come on. We are sorry for disturbing you.
If any strange man should walk in here, be sure you give an immediate
alarm.”

“Yes, yes,” gasped the young mother, scarcely yet believing that her
infant was safe.

In a few moments more the room was clear of the men, and then the woman
covered her face with her hands and burst into such a hysterical
passion of weeping, that Gray was dreadfully alarmed lest it should be
heard, and induce a return of his pursuers.

“Peace, woman—peace,” he said, in a hoarse whisper, from his
hiding-place. “I am not yet out of danger, nor is your child yet safe
from my vengeance.”

“Man, man!” cried the mother, “I have saved your life. Be grateful and
depart.”

“Not yet—not yet,” said Jacob Gray, slowly and cautiously emerging from
his hiding-place, “not yet. This place is now the safest I can remain
in for sometime, because it has been visited.”

“You are wrong.”

“I cannot be.”

“I say you are wrong. I have a husband, and when he returns, he may not
be so weak as his wife.”

Gray started, and replied in accents of fear,—

“When—when do you expect him?”

“Even now—he may be here directly.”

“I must go.—I must go,” said Gray. “You are telling me the truth? I
will give you gold if you hide me here for another hour.”

“My compliance with your commands,” said the woman, “arose from a
higher motive than the love of gold. Heaven knows we are
poor—wretchedly poor, but gold from your polluted hands would bring
with it a curse, instead of a blessing.”

“You reject a large sum for an hour’s safety for me?”

“I do.”

“But your husband may better see his interest in this matter.”

“No—my husband is poor, but he was not always so. The feelings and the
habits of a gentleman still cling to him in the sad reverse of fortune
we are now enduring. Go, wretched man, save yourself if you can, and
ask mercy of Heaven for the crime I hear you have committed.”

“That crime was in self-defence,” said Gray; “I will risk all, and
remain here until this house has been searched.”

“I cannot hinder you. On your own head be the risk.”

Gray stood near the door, listening attentively, and presently he heard
descending footsteps, which from their number, he supposed rightly to
be the officers returning from their unsuccessful search in the upper
rooms of the house.

He drew his pistol from his breast, and pointing to the child, said in
a whisper to the weeping mother,—

“One word as they pass, and I fire.”

His honor may be conceived, but scarcely described, as the door at this
moment was opened, pinning him against the wall behind it, and the
officer who was conducting the search, put his head into the room,
saying,—

“No alarm, I suppose?”

“None,” said the mother.

“Good night, ma’am. We have not got him yet, but he cannot escape. I
hope your little one will get better.”

“Thank you,” she said, faintly.

The door closed again, and the heavy tread of the men going down stairs
sounded in the ears of Jacob Gray like a reprieve from immediate
execution.

His state of mind while the officer was speaking was of the most
agonising description, as one step into the room of that personage, or
one glance towards him of the young woman’s eye, must have discovered
him, and it would have been but a poor satisfaction even to such a mind
as Jacob Gray’s, to have taken the life of the infant, even if he had
the nerve to do it, which he certainly had not, although a mother’s
fears would not permit her to run the risk.

“Tell me now,” said Gray, when he could speak, for his fright had
almost taken away his breath, “tell me who lives up stairs in this
house?”

“I know not,” replied the woman, “I am but a stranger here.”

“And—and you are sure your husband would not protect me?”

“A murderer and the threatener of the life of his child can have little
indeed to expect in the way of protection from my husband. Fly,
wretched man, while yet you are free to do so.”

“They have left the house,” muttered Gray; “will you betray me by an
alarm when I leave you?”

“Let Heaven punish you in its own good time,” replied the young female.
“Base and guilty as you are, I will not have your blood upon my head.”

“You will be silent?”

“I will strive to forget you.”

“Then I go, I—I think I am safer away, as you are sure your husband
will not take a hundred gold pieces to protect and save me.”

Gray glanced at the woman as he named the sum of money, to see what
effect it had upon her, but there was nothing but a shudder of disgust,
and he gave up all hope of purchasing safety from her.

Without another word, he cautiously opened the door, and listened. All
was comparatively quiet, and he passed from the room.

In a moment he heard it locked behind him in the inside, and his place
of refuge was at once cut off.

“Curses on her,” he muttered. “She may have no husband coming after
all. What can I do to free myself from the mazes of these courts?
Ada—Ada—if ever we meet again, I will have a deep—a bloody revenge on
thee. Beware of Jacob Gray!”

He shook his clenched hand as he spoke, and ground his teeth with
concentrated anger. The question now was whether to ascend or descend
in the house, and after some moments of anxious consideration, he
thought his better chance would be to descend, and make an effort to
pass himself as one of the crowd which had come from the Strand in
pursuit of the murderer.

He wiped the blood, as he thought, well from his hands, and the dust
and mud from his face; then arranging his disordered apparel, he
fancied he might pass muster without much suspicion, as he was
confident none of those who followed him could have obtained more than
a transitory glance at him.

He then carefully groped his way in the pitchy darkness to the top of
the stairs and began slowly to descend.

It was many minutes before he reached the passage, and when he did, he
felt for the wall of the passage, and glided along it towards the open
doorway.

As he neared it, he heard two persons conversing, and the theme of
their conversation struck a chill to his heart.

“Yes, you may pass in,” said a voice; “my orders are to let nobody out.
We are hunting up a fellow who has committed a murder.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes. If the people in the parlour here know you, you can pass.”

“I live in the house,” said the other speaker, “they will recognise me
directly.”

Some little bustle now ensued, and a third voice inquired,—

“Do you know this person?” said the person who was keeping guard.

“Oh yes,” was the reply, “he lives up stairs.”

“Very well. Sorry to have detained you sir.”

“Never mind that; I hope you may catch the scoundrel.”

Jacob Gray shrank as close to the wall as he could, and some one
brushed quite against him in passing along the passage, without,
however, noticing him, although the imminent danger almost made him
faint upon the spot.



CHAPTER LIV.


The Staircase.—The Old Attic.—A Friend in Need.—Fair Play.—Gray’s
Despair.



For several moments now Gray stood in the passage quite incapable of
thought or action; his only impulse was by a kind of natural instinct
to stand as close to the damp passage wall as he possibly could, to
decrease the chances of any one seeing him or touching him in the act
of passing.

His brain seemed to be in a complete whirl, and many minutes must have
elapsed before he acquired a sufficient calmness to reflect with any
degree of rationality upon his present very precarious position.

When he could think, his terrors by no means decreased; for what
plausible course of action was there now open to him, as he could not
leave the house? The thought then occurred to him, that if he could
make his way into the cellars, he might have a chance of lying
concealed until the guard at the door was removed, and with this
feeling he crept along the passage, with the hope of finding some
staircase leading to the lower part of the premises.

He was still engaged in this task when the door of a room leading into
the passage suddenly opened, and a flood of light immediately
dissipated the pitchy darkness of the place.

Fortunately for him, Gray was within one pace of the bottom of the
staircase he had so recently descended; and, with the fear of instant
discovery upon his mind, from the person who was coming with the light,
he bounded up the staircase, nor paused till he reached the first
landing, from whence he had entered the room containing the mother and
her child.

There he stopped; but, to his extreme fright, the flashing of the light
evidently indicated that its bearer was coming up the stairs. With a
stifled groan Gray cautiously ascended the next flight, and again
paused on the narrow landing.

Still the light came on, and he could not conceal from himself the fact
that the person was still ascending, and that he had no other resource
than to continue his flight to the very upper part of the house. The
next flight of stairs was steep, narrow, and crazy, so that, tread
where he would, they wheezed, creaked, and groaned under the pressure
of his feet.

There was, however, no resource, and onward he went, until he was
stopped by a door exactly at the top: he pressed it, and it yielded to
his touch, allowing him to enter a dark attic.

Further progress Jacob Gray felt there could not be, and he stood in
the doorway, listening attentively if he could detect any sounds of
approaching feet.

A gush of blood to his heart, and an universal tremor of all his limbs,
seized him as he saw the light coming, and felt convinced that the
destination of the person approaching was one of the attics, if not the
very one he had sought refuge in. All hope appeared to die within him.
There was no time for the briefest reflection. With his eyes fixed upon
the door, and the pistol in his grasp, he retreated backwards into the
room as the footsteps came nearer and nearer to the door.

Then there was a slight pause; after which the door was flung open, and
a tall, heavy, coarse-looking man entered the room, carrying in his
hand a light.

One glance convinced Jacob Gray that the man was by far his superior in
strength—his only chance lay in the loaded pistol he had, and that he
was resolved to use should he not be able to bribe the man to connive
at his presence, and aid his escape.

It was a moment before the man observed the figure of Jacob Gray with
his back to the wall opposite to the door, and the pistol in his grasp.
When he did, he by no means betrayed the emotion that might have been
expected; but shading the light with his disengaged hand, he cried in a
loud voice,—

“Hilloa! Who are you when you are at home?”

“Do you love gold?” said Gray.

“Rather,” replied the man.

“Will it tempt you to assist me to escape from this place? If so, name
your price.”

“That’s business like,” said the man. “I suppose it’s you they are
making all the rout about below there?”

“It is. They are hunting me, and, with your assistance, I may yet
escape.”

“The devil doubt it. Curse me if I don’t actually love you. Why, I have
been poking about for this half hour to do you a good turn.”

“Is that possible?”

“To be sure. Why that fellow, whose crown you have cracked so
handsomely below there, was the pest of all the cracksmen in the
neighbourhood. I love you. I tell you.”

“Then you are—”

“Jem Batter, the cracksman.”

“Then you will befriend me?”

“In course—though hang me if I know you. I thought I knew all the hands
on town; but I never clapped eyes on your paste-pot of a mug before.”

Gray replaced his pistol, as he assumed a sickly smile, and said,—

“Then I have really found a friend?”

“A friend! Ah, to be sure you have. I say, I’ll tell you what we’ll do.
We’ll wait till the enemy is gone, and then I’ll poke you out on the
roof, and you can get in at Bill Splasher’s attic. It’s only across a
dozen houses or so. He’ll let you out then by the cellars of Somerset
House, and you’ll be as safe as any gentleman need wish to be.”

“I thank you,” said Gray. “I am now faint and weary.”

“Sit down then,” cried the man. “Don’t stand upon ceremony here. I
suppose you’ve been at some fakement of value—eh?”

“Yes, yes—a robbery,” said Gray, who thought it best to fall in with
the humour of his new friend.

“Plenty o’ swag?”

“A trifle, a mere trifle.”

“Never mind, better luck next time,” cried the man dealing Gray an
encouraging blow upon the back that nearly took his breath away.

“Thank you,” said Gray.

The thief, for such indeed he was, now proceeded to a cupboard, and
handed to Gray therefrom a bottle covered with protective wicker-work,
saying,—

“Drink; you’ll find that the best stuff.”

Gray took a hearty draught of the contents, which consisted of
exceedingly strong raw spirit.

“Don’t you feel better?” said the man.

“Yes,” replied Gray, “a great deal better.”

“Very good. Now, you see, short reckonings make long friends.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know the reg’lar terms of business. It’s share and share alike
with all who help a lame dog over a stile.”

“I am quite willing,” said Gray, “to award—”

“Oh, bother award,” interrupted the other; “I’m above it. Do you think
I’d take anything but my rights of lending a hand to help a poor fellow
when the bull dogs are on his track? No, sink me!”

“You are very kind,” said Gray, “but still—”

“Still, nonsense. There’s you, me, and there will be Bill, and Bill’s
young woman—that’ll make four of us. Share and share alike’s the plan.”

“Share?”

“Yes—the swag. Come, honour bright, now produce it, will you?”

“Really, I—I—”

“Do you doubt my honour?” cried the ruffian. “If you do, why don’t you
say so, you sneak? Take my life, but don’t doubt my honour!”

Gray’s hand mechanically moved towards his breast for his pistol, but
before he could reach it the brawny hand of the man was upon his
throat, and holding Gray as if he had been an infant in his herculean
grasp, he himself took the pistol from him and put it in his own
pocket, saying,—

“Thank you, I’ll mind it for you.”

“Let me go,” gasped Gray.

“Then you don’t doubt my honour?”

“No, no—certainly not.”

“Oh, very well, I thought you didn’t mean it.”

Gray was then liberated from the grasp which came within one degree of
suffocation, and he said,—

“I will be candid with you. I have forty pounds with me, which I will
divide as you propose.”

“Forty? Humph! It’s d—d little; but I hate all grumbling. We can’t have
more than a cat and her skin, say I.”

“No, certainly,” said Gray. “I didn’t understand you at first you see,
or I should never have for a moment hesitated.”

“Oh, it’s all right—it’s all right. Never say die, sink me.”

“That’ll be ten pounds each,” remarked Gray, who really, as we know,
had a very large sum about him—a sum so large indeed as materially to
have inconvenienced him in his race down the Strand.

“So it will,” replied the man. “Now, you know the rules, my covey, as
well as I do, I dare say?”

“What rules?”

“Why, you must strip and let me examine, for myself and Bill and Bill’s
young woman, all your togs, to see whether you haven’t forgot a stray
five pound note or so. No offence, my covey; but you know rules is
rules all the world over, and fair play is a jewel of very great
lustre, my rum ’un.”



CHAPTER LV.


The Escape over the Houses.—Many Perils.—Gray’s Great Sufferings.—The
Guide Rope.



Gray was silent for some moments, then, with, a deep groan, he dropped
his head upon his hands, and gave himself up to a bitterness of anguish
that must have both alarmed and melted any heart but the stubborn one
of the man who now had him in his power.

“All I have struggled for,” thought Gray—“all that I have dipped my
hands in blood for is about to be wrested from me for the mere doubtful
boon of existence.”

At that awful moment of misery he did indeed feel that he had chosen
the wrong path in life, and the gaudy flowers which had lured him from
the right road of virtue to the intricate one of crime and deep
iniquity, were but delusion, and had vanished, now leaving him a
wanderer in a region of dissolution and gaunt despair. Oh, what would
he have not given in that awful moment, when busy memory conjured up
all his crimes before him in frightful array, to have been the veriest
beggar that ever crept for alms from door to door, so that he could
have said, “I am innocent of great wrong—I have shed no man’s blood!”

It might be that the evident mortal agony of Jacob Gray really had some
effect even upon the hardened and obdurate heart of his companion, for
it was several minutes before he spoke, and then when he did, his voice
was scarcely so harshly tuned as before, and it is probable he meant to
offer something very consolatory when he said,—

“Snivelling be bothered, I have cracked never so many cribs, and I
never gaved up to the enemy yet. Keep up your heart, old ’un, you’ll
light on your feet yet, like a cat as is shied out o’ a attic window.”

Gray only groaned and shook his head.

“Now, I tell you what I’ll do for you,” continued the man, “you shall
go into partnership with me, and we’ll do a lot o’ work together.
You’ve got a good sneaking sort o’ face that’ll gammon the flats. You
can poke about and insinuate where family plate and such like things is
kept, and then I’ll go and crack the cribs. Don’t be groaning here.”

The robber then gave Gray another encouraging blow upon the back, which
effectually prevented him from groaning for some minutes, by leaving
him no breath to groan with. Gray then looked up, and, glancing in the
face of the man he said,—

“I will own to you that I have about me a larger sum than I at first
named.”

“I know’d it,” cried the man, “I know’d—you white-mugged fellers always
has larger sums than they names.”

“In one word,” said Gray, “I have two hundred pounds. Will you take one
hundred and leave me at liberty to go from here when the ardour of
pursuit has abated?”

“Without the search?”

“Yes. Without the search. You talk of your honour—why not rely upon
mine?”

“’Cos I’m a known gentleman, and you isn’t,” replied the fellow. “My
word’s respected all through the profession. If I say I’ll crack that
crib, I goes and cracks it.”

“Exactly. You will agree to my terms?”

“Why, you see, I’m rather awkwardly situated just now. It isn’t safe
for you to go out by the way you came in. You may think it is, but I
can tell you it isn’t. The people down stairs have had a cool hundred
offered for nabbing you, and ain’t they on the look-out?”

“A hundred?”

“Yes. You see that’s all you offer me. Now there’s Bill’s attic to pay
for, and Bill’s young woman.”

Gray replied by a groan.

“There you go, now, groaning away. It’s well for you that you’ve fell
among people with fine feelings, and all that sort o’ thing. Some folks
now, as know’d as much as, I’m pretty sure, I know, would put a knife
in your guts.”

“What—what—do—you know?” stammered Gray, shivering at the very idea of
such a process.

“What do I know? Why, I know you are trying to deceive a gentleman.
You’ve got more money then you’ll own to, you know you have.”

“You wrong me. Indeed you do.”

“Well, well, I’ll take Bill’s opinion. He’s better nor all the lawyers
in London, is Bill. If he says as it’s all right and we are to take the
hundred only, I consents. Now, my covey, I’ll trouble you to come with
me to Bill’s attic.”

“But can we go without danger? The people down stairs, you say, are on
the watch.”

“Let ’em watch—we ain’t a-going down stairs. The window’s the thing for
us.”

“Is it the next house?”

“No, it isn’t—nor the next arter that either—but it’s all the safer for
that. You’ve got a few roofs to get over, but I know ’em if well as I
know my own pocket.”

The man then opened the small latticed window of the room and looked
out for a moment. Then, with a satisfied tone, he said,—

“It’s a regular dark night. There ain’t a shadow o’ fear.”

“You think I shall escape?”

“I know it. I’ve said it. Think o’ my honour.”

He then took from an old chest a coil of very thick rope, in one end of
which he busied himself in making a noose, which, when he had
completed, he advanced with it to Gray, saying,—

“Just pop your head through.”

“Gracious Heavens!” cried Gray, starting up. “What do you mean?”

“Mean? Why to take care of you to be sure; I know the way over the
roofs, but you don’t. You’ll smash yourself in some of the courts
without a guide rope, you will.”

“A guide rope?”

“Yes. Don’t be making those faces. Do you think I’m going to hang you?”

“Oh no—no,” said Gray, with a nervous smile. “No—certainly.”

“I wouldn’t do such a ungentlemanly thing. Poke your head through.”

The man accompanied these words by seizing Gray by the hair and
thrusting his head into the noose, which then he passed over his
shoulder down to his waist.

“There you are now,” he said, “as safe as if you was a diamond in
cotton. Now, mind you, I go first, and you follow arter. You keep
coming on in the line of the rope, you understand, as long as you feel
me tugging at it; you are sure to be safe if you follow the rope, but
so certain as you don’t down you’ll go either into some of the yards o’
the houses, or into some o’ the open courts.”

“I understand,” said Gray, who felt anything but pleasantly situated
with a thick rope round his middle, by which he was to be hauled over
roofs of old houses. There was, however, no alternative, and he strove
to assume an air of composure and confidence, which sat but ill upon
him, and the ghastly smile which he forced his face to assume, looked
like some hideous contortion of the muscles produced by pain, rather
than an indication that the heart was at ease within him.

The housebreaker now took the coil of rope in his hand, leaving a
length between him and Jacob Gray of about three yards merely, and then
he nimbly got out at the window.

“Follow,” he said to Gray, “and mind ye now, if you say anything until
you are spoken to by me, I’ll let you down.”

Trembling and alarmed, Gray scrambled out at the window, and found
himself standing, or rather crouching in a narrow gutter, full of slime
and filth, and only protected from falling by a narrow coping, which
cut and scratched his ankles as he moved.

His guide crept on slowly and cautiously, and Gray followed guided by
the rope, which every now and then was pulled very tight with a jerk,
that at first very nearly upset him over the parapet.

There was a cold raw air blowing over the house tops, but Gray’s fears
produced a heavy perspiration upon him, and he shook excessively from
sheer fright at the idea of a false step precipitating him to a great
depth on to some stone pavement, where he would lay a hideous mass of
broken bones.

Tug, tug, went the rope, and now Jacob Gray felt the strain come in an
upward direction. He crawled on, and presently found that the rope
ascended a sloping roof of slates, which at the first dim sight of it,
struck him he would have the greatest difficulty in ascending. He was
not, however, left long to his reflections, for a sudden tug at the
rope which brought him with his face in violent contact with the
sloping roof, admonished him that his guide was getting rather
impatient.

With something between a curse and a groan, he commenced the slippery
and difficult ascent, which, however, by the aid of the rope, he
accomplished with greater ease than he had anticipated.

It happened that Gray, in the confusion of his mind, did not at all
take into consideration that the sloping roof might have a side to
descend as well as one to ascend, so that when he arrived at its
summit, he rolled over and came down with great speed into a gutter on
the other side, and partially upon the back of his guide, who, with a
muttered accusation of an awful character, seized him by the throat and
held down, in the gutter upon his back to the imminent risk of his
strangulation.

It seemed that Gray’s fall had given some kind of alarm, for in a
moment an attic window at some distance was opened with a creaking
sound, and the voice of a female cried,—

“Gracious me, what’s that?”

“Hush, for your life, hush,” whispered the man in Gray’s ear.

“Well, I never did hear such a rumpus,” said the woman’s voice. “It’s
those beastly cats again.”

She had no sooner uttered this suggestion, than Gray’s companion
perpetrated so excellent an imitation of a cat mewing, that Gray was
for a moment taken in it himself.

“Ah, there you are,” said the woman; “I only wish I was near you.
Puss—puss—puss.”

This call from the woman was a hypocritical one, and evidently intended
to deceive the supposed cat or cats to their serious personal detriment
should they venture to the window allured by such pacific sounds.

There was a pause of some moments, then the woman exclaimed,—

“Oh, you artful wretches; I declare these cats are as knowing as
Christians.”

The attic window was then shut with a very aggravated bang, and Gray’s
companion took his hand from his throat as he said to him,—

“Curse you, what the devil made you come down the slope with such a
run?“

“I—I didn’t know it,” said Gray.

“Come on and mind what you are about. I didn’t think you were so
precious green as you are; come on, I say.”

The fellow crept on ahead, and a tug at the rope caused Gray to follow,
which he did; so weak from terror and exhaustion that he could scarcely
contrive to keep up with his guide, and numerous were the falls he
received, as a sudden pull of the rope rebuked his tardy progress.
Altogether, it was, to Jacob Gray, an awful means of safety, if safety
was to be the result of it.

They proceeded along the gutter they were in until they came to the
corner house of the court, to turn which was no easy matter, from the
circumstance of the coping stones ceasing each way, at about a foot
from the absolute corner, down to which the roof came with a point.
Round this point the housebreaker stepped with ease, but to Gray,
oppressed as his mind was with fears and terrors, and weakened and
exhausted as he was from his recent unusual bodily exertion, it was a
task of the greatest magnitude and terror.

There was, however, no time to deliberate, and it was, perhaps, better
for Gray that such was the case, for his mind was not in that state to
reason itself out of nervous apprehensions.

A sharp tug of the rope settled his cogitations, and clinging with his
hands to the angle of the roof, he placed his leg round the corner. It
was then a moment or two before he could find, with his foot, the
coping stones on the other side, and those few moments seemed to him
hours of intense agony. At length he gained a hold with his foot, and
rubbing his very face against the roof for fear of overbalancing
himself in the outer direction, he contrived to get round.

For a moment a deadly sickness came over him, when he had accomplished
the, to him, difficult feat; then he felt as if he could have nothing
else to fear, and a feeling of congratulation sprang up in his mind,
that after all he might not only escape, but preserve the greater part
of the large sum he had about him.



CHAPTER LVI.


The Robbers.—The Drugged Wine.—Visions of the Mind Diseased.



The path over the house tops now continued for upwards of a quarter of
an hour, without presenting any very extraordinary difficulties to
Jacob Gray, and he was about to congratulate himself that really the
worst was past, when the rope suddenly slackened, and in a few moments
his guide was by his side.

“You can jump a bit, I suppose?” he said.

“Jump? Jump?”

“Yes, jump. What the devil do you repeat my words for?”

“I—am no greater jumper,” said Gray. “Where am I to jump?”

“Across this court.”

“Across a court? I cannot—I cannot.”

“You must.”

“I am lost—I am lost,” said Gray, wringing his hands, for the feat of
jumping across a court at the risk of a fall into the gulph below,
appeared to him to be totally impossible.

“Well,” cried the man, “if ever I came near such an out-and-out sneak
in the whole course of my life. Why you are afraid of what you know
nothing about. You’ve only got to jump off a parapet of one house in at
Bill’s attic window opposite.”

“Only,” said Gray, trembling exceedingly. “Do you call that easy?”

“Yes; and if you don’t jump it, I must just ease you of all you have
got in the money way on the roofs here, and leave you to your luck.”

Gray looked despairingly around him. There was no hope for him. He
stood in a drain between the two roofs, and he was as ignorant of the
locality of his position as it was possible to be. With a deep groan he
sunk grovelling at the feet of the man in whose power he was, and in
imploring accents he said,—

“Take me back, and let me run my chance of escape from the house you
live in. Oh, take me back, for I am unequal to the fearful task you
propose to me. I am, indeed—I should falter and fall—I know I should.
Then an awful death would be my lot—a death of pain and horror. Oh,
take me back—take me back!”

“I’ll see you d—d first,” cried the man. “Come on, or I’ll cut your
throat where you are. Come on, I say, you whining hound, come on, and
look at the jump you are so scared at afore you know anything about it.
Come on, I say. Oh, you won’t?”

“Spare me—spare me!”

The man took a large clasp knife from his pocket and opened it with his
teeth.

“I’ll go—I’ll go,” cried Gray. “Put up the knife—oh, God! Put up the
knife—any death but that!”

“Oh! Any death but that. Then it’s my opinion you’ve used such a little
article yourself. Speak!”

“I—I—have,” gasped Gray. “Take it out of my sight, I cannot bear to
look upon it.”

“Oh, you’re a tender-hearted piece of goods, certainly. Well, well, we
all have our little failings. You’ve had a precious fright about this
jump, and now I tell you it’s no jump at all.”

“Indeed?”

“No. These houses are so built that each story as they go up projects
outwards, so that I’m cursed if you couldn’t shake a fist with a pal
from some of the opposite attic windows. Come on, now, spooney, and
you’ll curse yourself for a fool for being afraid of nothing.”

“Is it indeed as you say,” muttered Gray, who still could not get over
his great terror, although he well knew that hundreds of houses in
narrow thoroughfares in London were so situated, that the attics had
scarcely a couple of yards of open space between them.

“Come on,” was the only reply, accompanied by a jerk of the rope, and
presently one of the roofs ceased upon one side, and turning an angle,
Gray, by the very dim light that was cast upwards from the street, saw
that he was opposite a row of dirty, squalid-looking attic windows,
from some of which lights were streaming, while others were obscured by
old clothes hung up in the inside. A very few steps further now brought
them to a part where, as the housebreaker had told Gray, the upper
story of the house on the top of which they were, projected
considerably across the narrow court; here Gray’s guide paused, and
pointing to an attic immediately opposite, he said,—

“There—that’s not much of a jump.”

“No, no,” said Gray. “I could do that.”

The distance was scarcely more than a long step from parapet to parapet.

The robber now slackened out some of the rope in order that by suddenly
jumping across the chasm he might not drag Gray from the slight
standing he had. Then, with the remainder of the rope on his arm, he
sprung across and alighted in safety in the gutter of the opposite
house.

“Jump now,” he said to Gray.

The distance was too insignificant to give occasion for fear, but still
Gray barely cleared it, and fell in the drain where the housebreaker
was standing.

“Well,” said the latter, “of all the awkward hands at business that
ever I saw you are the most awkward. It’s well for you there’s somebody
to look after you.”

He then undid a fastening on the outside of the attic window, and at
once jumped into the room, whither he was followed by Gray.

“You remain here,” he then said. “Don’t stir for your life, while I go
down stairs to speak to Bill.”

“You will not keep me here long?” said Gray.

“Not five minutes. Make no noise; but enjoy yourself as well as you
can.”

The man now left Gray to his meditations after carefully locking him in
the room, and these meditations were very far from an agreeable or
pleasant charae.

Gray’s first idea was that he would hide the money he had about him
with the exception of the amount he had averred to, namely, two hundred
pound, but then it naturally occurred to him how extremely improbable
it was that he should ever have an opportunity of repossessing himself
of it.

“Still,” he answered, with his usual selfish cunning; “still there may
be a remote, although a very remote chance; and, at all events, if I
never see it again myself, I may prevent these men from having it.”

Deep groans then burst from him, and he smote his breast as the thought
came across him that all the gold he had wrung from the guilty fear of
Learmont, and hoarded so carefully; might now be about to pass from him
in a mass never again to bless his sight.

“They will rob me—they will rob me,” he thought, and compared with
that, it appeared to him preferable to know that it was hidden from
them and undisposed of, although inaccessible to himself.

How and where to conceal it then became the object, and he felt about
in the dark to discover some loose board, or other means, of placing
his ill-gotten money out of sight—where, for all he knew, it might
remain until the coins of which it was composed, became blackened into
curiosities.

Such, however, was not to be the fate of Learmont’s gold, for while
Gray was still feeling about in the attic for a place of security in
which to deposit it, the door was suddenly opened, and his former
companion appeared, along with a shorter man, in whose countenance,
nature or education had taken especial pains to stamp villain!

“Here you are,” said the man who had guided Gray across the roofs.
“This is the gentleman, Bill. He was in an awkward fix, but now we mean
to do the thing handsomely by him, eh, Bill, don’t we?”

“I should think so,” replied Bill. “Your servant, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Gray. “Is the coast clear now? Can I go?”

“Lor’ bless you, no!” replied the man who was named Bill. “You must not
venture for an hour yet. There’s a watchman put at the end of this
court to apprehend any strange gentlemen going out of it; but in the
course of an hour we can dispose of him.”

“Indeed?” said Gray.

“Oh, yes. When Jim Binks comes home, he’ll go and be booked, as safe as
a gun.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Why, this is it,” continued Bill. “Jim Binks can make himself look so
uncommon suspicious a character, that if he likes he is sure to be
taken up, if there’s been any regular kick up about anything such as
your murder.”

Gray started.

“Well, well,” continued the ruffian, “damme, it was well done, you
needn’t now look as if you couldn’t help it.”

“I begin to understand you,” said Gray. “The person you name will allow
himself to be taken for me?”

“Exactly. They know him well at the watch-house, and will let him go
directly again, because it’s well known you are a stranger, as half a
dozen officers can swear to.”

“Then in the interval I can leave the house,” said Gray.

“You can. But Jim must be paid.”

“Oh, certainly. I have two hundred pounds, gentlemen; I hope you will
accept of one of them for your very great kindness, and leave me the
other.”

“What do you say to that, Bill?” cried the man who had come with Gray.

“I think it’s fair,” said the other.

“Well, then, that’s agreed.”

“Thank you, gentlemen,” said Gray, breathing a little more freely at
the idea of getting off with nearly all his money.

“Now then,” said Bill, “come down stairs, as all business matters are
settled, and have a bit of supper.”

“I shall be grateful for it,” said Gray, “for I have tasted nothing
to-day.”

He did not perceive the wink that passed between his new friends, but
at once followed them from the attic to the lower part of the crazy
tenement.

In an old wainscoted room on the first floor, there was a bright and
cheerful-looking fire, and such scanty articles of furniture as were
absolutely requisite for the personal accommodation of three or four
persons.

A table, on which were several plates, mugs, bottles, and other
evidences of some recent meal, stood close by the fire.

Bill, the proprietor of all this display of dirt and dinginess, took up
the poker from the fire-side, and beat it heavily against the floor,
observing at the same time—

“It’s a d—d sight better than a bell is a poker—the wire never breaks.”

“You speak like a oracle, Bill,” remarked the other man, throwing
himself into a seat, and giving Jacob Gray a pull towards him to undo
the rope that was still round his middle.

“What will you both drink?” cried Bill; “I have something of everything
here, I do believe.”

“Brandy for me,” cried the other man.

“I should prefer wine,” said Gray, “if you have some on hand.”

“I believe you—I have,” rejoined the host. “As fine a drop of wine as
ever you tasted in your life, on my honour.”

The door now opened, and an old wrinkled hag appeared, who, in not very
courteous terms, demanded,—

“What now?”

“What have you got to give a strange gentleman to eat?” said Bill.

“Nothing,” replied the woman.

“Then go and get something. Here’s a guinea. Be off with you, and do
you bring a bottle of our best claret for the gentleman. He prefers
wine, because it shouldn’t get in his head. Do you hear?”

The old woman fixed her keen, twinkling eye upon Gray, and then, with a
chuckle which quickly turned to a cough, she left the room on her
errand.

“We’ll settle all business after supper,” remarked Gray’s entertainer.
“Then I should advise you to lay by very snug for some days. You can’t
stay here, though.”

“No—no,” said Gray, who had quite as much objection to remaining there
as the thieves had to permitting him to do so. “I will find some place
of refuge without doubt.”

“Do you know the man whose head you so handsomely settled in the court?”

“No,” said Gray. “It was in self-defence. He would have taken me.”

“Self-defence be d—d,” remarked Gray’s first acquaintance. “He’s a good
riddance: his name was Vaughan, and a pest he was to all the family in
London.”

“Tell us what lay you had been on,” said Bill, “that made the runners
so hot after you?”

“Oh, only a—a robbery—a little robbery,” said Gray, with a sickly
attempt at a smile.

“Oh, that was all?”

“Yes; a robbery of two hundred pounds, of which you are to have one,
you know, and to leave me the other.”

“That’s quite agreed.”

The door was now again opened, and the old woman appeared with a tray
containing sundry viands from neighbouring shops dealing in
ready-cooked victuals. Wine and brandy likewise formed a part of her
burthen, and in a very few moments the table was spread, and Gray, who
really, now that he felt himself comparatively safe, began to be
tormented by the pangs of hunger, fell to with a vigorous appetite,
upon a cold tongue of ample dimensions.

“How do you like it?” said Bill, with a wink to his comrade.

“’Tis excellent,” replied Gray, glancing towards the bottles.

“You will take wine now?”

“If you please.”

A bottle was uncorked, and Gray relished the wine very much, along with
the other items of his repast.

The confederates drank small quantities of brandy from another bottle,
and encouraged Gray by never allowing his glass to be empty to make
great progress with the wine.

Glass after glass he drank with a kind of recklessness foreign to his
nature, but the liquor was drugged, and the very first draught had made
a confusion in the intellect of Jacob Gray. Up to his brain the fumes
mounted, awakening a desire still for more, and lighting up his eyes
with a strange wild fire.

His two companions now nodded and winked at each other openly, for
Jacob Gray was too far gone in intoxication to heed them.

“He’ll do,” remarked Bill in a whisper.

“Of course,” said the other, “you may depend he has something worth
while about him.”

“No doubt—no doubt.”

“Gentlemen—gentlemen,” said Gray, pouring himself out another glass,
“here’s to—to—our better—ac—acquaintance.”

“Hurrah!” cried Bill, “that’s yer sort.”

“And—confusion to Andrew Britton,” added Gray, dealing the table a
heavy blow with his fist. “Confusion, death, and damnation to Andrew
Britton.”

“Bravo! Bravo!”

“You’ll take a hundred. Mind only a hundred. Don’t rob me—no—no, don’t
rob me. It’s been too hard to get, with the—the curse of blood clinging
to it. The curse of blood.”

“Oh, that’s it, old fellow,” cried Bill.

“She—she to betray me,” muttered Gray “she of all others; I might have
killed her—I will kill her. Some slow and horrible death shall be hers.
I’ll hack your flesh from your bones, Ada—I will—I will—one word and
you die. I must shoot him—he seeks my life.”

“Here’s a beauty,” remarked Bill, to his comrade, who had very calmly
lighted a fire, and sat listening to Gray’s revelations with all the
composure in the world, as if he had merely been present at some
ordinary dramatic entertainment.

“Three thousand pounds would be enough,” said Gray, tossing off another
bumper of the drugged wine, and smashing the glass with the vehemence
with which he replaced it on the table. “Three thousand. Yes, yes;
enough to lead a life of—of riot somewhere else. Not here—not here.
Then I should read of his execution, or both their executions, and—when
I was dull, I would bring out the newspaper that had the account, and
I’d read it over and over again. I’ll wash my hands in her blood. I’ll
smash her face till—till there’s not a lineament remains to horrify me
by reminding me of her.”

“’Pon my soul,” remarked Bill, “we have hit on an out-and-outer.”

“Rather,” said the other, without taking the pipe from his mouth.

“Don’t look at me!” suddenly cried Gray, springing to his feet. “Don’t
glare at me with your stony eyes! Clear away—clear away. Do you want to
stop my breath—I—I—must go—go—from here—there—there; help—save me. What
do you do here—one—two—three. Why do you point at me? You would have
your deaths. You—you—why do you not remain and rot in the Old Smithy?
Save me from him. His wounds are bleeding still. Will the damp earth
never soak up all the blood? You—you I shot. Don’t grin at me.
Away—away—I am going mad—mad—Ada—Ada—Ada—pray—pray for me!”

He reeled around twice, and fell upon the floor with a deep groan.



CHAPTER LVII.


Ada’s Escape.—The Magistrate.—Ada’s Ignorance of London
Localities.—Learmont’s Fright.



When Ada sunk insensible into the arms of a stranger, after denouncing
Jacob Gray as a murderer, she was conveyed into a shop by
Charing-cross, when her rare and singular beauty, and the peculiar
circumstances under which she had fainted, were the themes of every
tongue. Such restoratives as upon the moment could be procured were
immediately brought into requisition, and after a quarter of an hour
she gently opened her eyes with a faint sigh and looked inquiringly
about her.

Then she clasped her hands, and as she gazed upon the throng of
curious, yet compassionate faces that surrounded her, she exclaimed,—

“What has happened? Oh, speak to me; where am I?”

“You have fainted,” cried four or five voices in a breath.

“Fainted—fainted?”

“Yes; I brought you in after you had called after the man as a
murderer,” said the person who had caught Ada before she was brought
into the shop.

For the space of about another minute then the young girl looked
confused; after that a gush of recollections flashed across her mind,
and the feeling that she was really at last free from Jacob Gray, came
across her heart with so much happiness and joy, that covering her
beautiful face with her small slender hands, she burst into tears and
sobbed aloud in her fulness of heart.

Those who stood by seemed to feel that there was something sacred in
the tears of the young thing before them, for they stood silent, and no
one attempted to insult her by the usual commonplace remarks of vulgar
consolation. There were tears in almost every eye, and when Ada
withdrew her hands from her face, and a smile, beautiful as a sunbeam
after an April shower, illumined her expressive countenance, it seemed
as if some universal joy had been awakened in every breast, and
murmured blessings upon her beauty, burst from several of the persons
who had crowded, from motives of curiosity, into the shop.

Then Ada looked from face to face, and oh, how different were those
honest sympathising countenances to the dark ever shifting expression
of the lineaments of Jacob Gray, where avarice, cruelty, and fear were
ever struggling together for a mastery.

“Thank you all—thank you all,” she cried; “I am very happy now.”

This was not a very comprehensible speech to those who had not gone
through the scene of misery and woe, that the young heart of Ada had
known, but still there was a deep truthfulness and sincerity in the
tone in which it was uttered that sensibly affected every one.

“Shall I take you home?” said the person who had supported her in the
street.

“Home—home?” cried Ada.

“Yes; you are not well enough to go home by yourself; I will see you
safely home.”

“I have no home,” said Ada.

“No home?”

“None—I never had a home.”

The people looked at each other in amazement, and several of them
significantly touched their foreheads in confirmation of their belief
that the beautiful young girl was not quite right in her head.

“Where are your friends?” said one.

“Alas, I know not,” cried Ada, mournfully. “Tell me, is he whom I
denounced in the street taken prisoner?”

“No, not that I am aware of,” said a man. “There has been one here who
says he ran up the Strand like a madman and escaped.”

Ada shuddered as she said,—

“Let him go now; his own conscience must be punishment enough. Let him
go now.”

“What has he done?” said several voices at once.

“Murder,” said Ada. “My eyes were shocked with the sight of blood. He
is a murderer.”

“A murderer?”

“Yes—I saw him do the deed.”

“What’s his name?”

“Jacob Gray.”

The people glanced at each other, and then several left the shop,
considering Jacob Gray as the more interesting person of the two to
make inquiries about.

“Where will you go, my dear?” said the owner of the shop.

“I have but one friend,” said Ada, “to whom there is any hope of
sending. He has called himself my friend, and his voice was sincere. I
will believe that he sought me with kindly feelings. His name is
Hartleton—he is a magistrate.”

“Sir Francis Hartleton?”

“Yes—the same.”

“If he knows you and is your friend,” said one, “you need look no
farther, for he is a good man, and universally esteemed.”

“I thank you for those words,” cried Ada. “And—and tell me—do any of
you know Albert Seyton?”

All shook their heads, and one man remarked,—“That he knew an Albert
Brown, which was the nearest he could come to it.”

“I will take you to Sir Francis Hartleton’s,” said the man of the shop.
Before Ada could reply, the door was opened, and a stranger walked in,
saying,—

“Where is the girl?”

“Here, here?” cried many voices.

The stranger stepped forward, and upon seeing Ada, he said,—

“My lass, you must come with me before a magistrate, and tell us what
you know of this man who has led us such a pretty race up the Strand.”

“Is he caught?” cried several.

“No,” replied the officer, for such he was; “we nearly had him by the
court next to Somerset-house, but he killed the man who laid hold of
him.”

“Another murder!” exclaimed Ada.

“Yes; I never saw such a sight as he left the man.”

“Take me to Sir Francis Hartleton,” said Ada.

“That I will,” said the officer.

Ada sprung to her feet, and then, turning to those in the shop, she
said,—

“Accept my heartfelt thanks? I am poor in all else.”

Then, taking the offered arm of the officer, who, though rough and
uncouth, meant to be quite kind and considerate in his way, she left
the shop, and the strangely-matched pair proceeded down Whitehall
towards Sir Francis Hartleton’s house.

“That fellow as you was with my dear,” remarked the officer, “is a
reg’lar out-and-outer; down as fifteen hammers, and a touch above
nothing.”

This speech was about as intelligible to Ada as if it had been spoken
in Chinese, and she replied mildly,—

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Bless your innocence!” said the officer; “I means as he’s the most
downiest cove as we’ve come across lately.”

“Indeed,” said Ada, who was quite as wise as before.

“Yes; he went up the Strand like twenty blessed lamplighters rolled
into one.”

“Where’s the Strand?” said Ada.

The officer stopped short at the question, and looked hard at Ada for
some moments to assure himself that he was not, in his own phraseology,
being “regularly done;” but there was something so very innocent and
guileless in the face of Ada that he very reluctantly came to the
conclusion that she really did not know where the Strand was, and from
that moment he looked upon her as a natural phenomenon, and spoke to
her with a curious kind of considerate voice, such as he would have
addressed to a person not quite right in her mind.

“Why, the Strand,” he said, “runs from the Cross to the Bar, you see.”

“Does it?” said Ada.

“This here is Whitehall.”

“Whitehall? I have read of Whitehall. Cardinal Wolsey held great state
here once.”

“Well, I never,” thought the officer, who had never heard of Cardinal
Wolsey in his life. “She’s wandering in her mind, poor thing.”

“What building is that?” inquired Ada, as they came opposite to the
Horse Guards.

“That ’ere is the Horse Guards, and leads into the Park.”

“St. James’s Park? I have been there,” said Ada. “That too is full of
recollection.”

“I believe ye,” said the officer. “Don’t you know as Bill Floggs, who
was called the ‘Nubbly Cove,’ robbed Lord Chief Justice Bones by
Buckingham Gate?”

“No,” said Ada, who, if there had been a Newgate Calendar in those
days, had never seen one.

“Oh! you doesn’t?—Nor Claude Duval, the ladies’ own highwayman, who
robbed a gentleman of his gold watch, while he, the gentleman, was
complaining of being stopped the very night before by him on Kennington
Common?”

“Indeed?”

“Lor,’ bless you, yes. The ladies used to take a drive out of town on
purpose to be robbed by Claude Duval.”

“A strange fancy,” said Ada.

They now proceeded for some distance in silence, until they came to a
large mansion, every window of which was blazing with light, and from
the interior of which came the sound of music.

Ada paused, and looked upon the illuminated windows as a sensation of
pleasure came across her mind, arising from the sweet sounds of melody
that came wafted to her ears from within the house of revelry.

“Ah!” remarked the officer, looking up at the house, “they do keep it
up finely. Almost every night now for a week there has been nothing but
feasting, dancing, and music in that house. They say its master don’t
like to be left alone, and that he is never satisfied unless the house
be full of company, and himself in the very midst of it.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, he is an odd-looking fellow; but they say he is so rich he might
pave his great hall with guineas.”

“And yet shrinks, as it were, from himself, that he dare not be alone!”

“Why, ’atween you and I, there’s Tyburn written upon his face.”

“What upon his face?”

“Tyburn.”

“What’s that?”

“Why—why—you don’t mean all to go to say as you never heard o’ Tyburn?”

“I have lived a lone and solitary life,” said Ada; “and, although so
near the haunts of thousands of my fellow-creatures, I have seen but
one, except rarely. The names of places in this great city, the habits,
the thoughts, and actions of its myriads of inhabitants, are all
strange to me. For all I know of the familiar things of life—those
every-day events and materials of life that make up the sum of most
persons’ existence—I am as ignorant as a child cast upon some desert
shore.”

There was a mournful pathos in the tone of voice in which Ada uttered
these words that gave them their full effect upon the rough man she was
with. Nature spoke in every soft melancholy word that fell from her
lips; and, although her language was to him as strange and
incomprehensible quite, as his to her, he understood sufficient to
reply to her.—

“Then, whosoever shut you up, and purvented you from going about and
amusing yourself, my dear, was a big brute, and only let him come
across me, that’s all.”

“Whose house is this?” said Ada, listening, at the same time, to a
beautiful melody which was being played as a prelude to the
commencement of a dance.

“Squire Learmont they call him,” replied the man; “but, if he lives a
little-longer, it’s said he’ll be a lord, or something of that kind.”

Ada placed her hand upon her brow, and repeated the name of Learmont,
as if its sound conjured up some long-forgotten images in her brain.
Then she shook her head, as memory could shape to her nothing tangible
in connexion with the name, which yet, as she again pronounced it, came
upon her heart as something far from new.

“Learmont—Learmont!” she murmured, as if pleased with the repetition.

“Yes, that’s his name,” rejoined the officer. “Nobody knows exactly
where he got all his money from; but got it he has, and he knows how to
spend it too.”

At this moment the doors of the mansion were flung open, and a splendid
carriage dashed up to the entrance.

“There’s somebody coming,” remarked the officer to Ada. “Let’s have a
look at them.”

Ada and her companion now crossed the road, and stood close to the step
of Learmont’s house, as a lacquey shouted to those in the hall,—

“Lord and Lady Brereton, and the Honourable Georgiana Brereton.”

A blaze of light shot from the interior of the mansion, and just as the
guests were alighting, Learmont himself descended the steps of his
house to receive them.

He was attired in a splendid suit of moreen velvet, and a diamond of
great lustre sparkled in his sword hilt. His fingers were covered with
rings, profusely studded with precious stones, and, take his appearance
altogether, he looked, indeed, like the man who could pave his hall
with gold.

A bland and courtly smile was upon his face, and he handed the
occupants of the carriage up the steps, with the air of a sovereign
prince, graciously condescending to an act of rare and unexampled
courtesy.

From the moment that he had appeared, Ada had never taken her eyes from
off his face; she seemed like one fascinated by the basilisk eyes of a
serpent, and, with a wild rush of mingled feelings, which she could
neither define nor understand, she watched each varying expression of
that cold, pale, haughty countenance that wore upon its surface so
hollow and so artificial a smile.

Learmont was one step below the Honourable Lady he was handing by the
extreme tips of her fingers, into his house, when the officer, in what
he thought a whisper, said to Ada,—

“That’s him.”

The guilty heart of Learmont throbbed even at this trifling remark, for
it did reach his ears, and he turned suddenly to see who had uttered
it, when his eyes met Ada’s, and for the space of about one moment they
looked full at each other.

The look on Ada’s part was one of intense and indescribable interest
and curiosity, but on Learmont’s, it was that concentrated
soul-stricken glare, with which a person might be supposed to regard
for about a breathing space, some awful blasting spectre, ere nature
gathers strength to scream.

A wild unearthly cry burst from his lips, and he stretched out his
hands towards her as he ascended the steps backwards, crying, or rather
shrieking,—

“Off—off—off—”

Then as he reached the top he reeled into the hall of his house, and
was caught by his servants as he fell insensible from the overwrought
agony of his mind.



CHAPTER LVIII.


An Anecdote.—Sir Francis Hartleton’s House at Westminster.—The
Reception.—Ada’s Conduct and Feelings.



Ada was both astonished and alarmed at the sudden emotion of the man
who, her reason told her, was a stranger to her; but who her
imagination seemed notwithstanding to recognise as one who she must
have seen before. Her memory concerning him was like one of those
sudden strange feelings which occasionally come over us all, as we meet
particular people who we are quite sure we have not met before, but who
nevertheless wear not the aspect of strangers to us; people whom we
could almost imagine we had been intimate with for good or evil, in
some other state of existence long antecedent to this.

On occasions of this singular nature too, there will always be a dim
perception in the mind concerning the person so strangely recognised;
which enables us to say, with certainty, whether the circumstances
connected with him or her quite unremembered, though they maybe, were
of a pleasing or a disagreeable character. To Ada, the full sight of
Learmont’s face brought a sensation of shuddering horror, which assured
her that wherever or whenever she and he had ever taken part together
in the great drama of human existence, he was an enemy to be at once
loathed and dreaded.

As for the officer he was so astonished and confounded at the whole
affair, that after rubbing his eyes twice, he looked a long way down
the street, with the full expectation of seeing something coming which
might, in some measure, account for Learmont’s sudden and extraordinary
flight. That the mere sight of the face of the beautiful girl, who was
with him, could cause such an excess of terror, he could not imagine,
and when a servant came from the hall, and said to him,—

“What was it! What scared him?” he replied—

“I’ll be hanged if I know. He was going up the steps, like Claude Duval
at a minuet, when he was taken aback by something.”

“It’s very odd,” said the servant.

“You may say that,” remarked the officer.

“Come away—come away,” said Ada faintly, “to Sir Francis Hartleton;
come, come.”

“Certainly,” said the officer, “but this here is, out of all hand, the
rummiest go ever I seed in all my life.”

“Come, come,” repeated Ada, “I would not see that man again for worlds.”

“No wonder he’s frightened you. My own very hair nearly stood a’ end.
I’m afeared he’s done something queer, and wants to be found out,
that’s what I am. I supposes as he seed some sort o’ ghostesses as made
him take on so.”

Ada sighed.

“Don’t you mind it,” said the officer. “You may depend as he’s a victim
of conscience, he is. I once before seed a face very like that as he
made when he staggered up the steps.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes. As like it as one pea is like another.”

“Where saw you it?”

“In the condemned cell.”

“The condemned cell; where, is that?”

“In Newgate. It’s where we stow a fellow afore his execution. There was
a man named Rankin, who had committed a murder, and he was regularly
tried and condemned. Well, he carried it off with a high hand, swearing
and blustering away, as if he didn’t care a bit, and roaring out as
he’d die game, which I knew very well he wouldn’t, for the noisy ones
never do.”

“Well, you see he was put in the cell, and we promised to wake him in
the morning, in answer to which piece of politeness he swore away at us
like a house o’ fire.”

“At half-past six, I and another went to get him up, and when we went
in, he never said not a word, and I cried out, ‘hilloa.’ Still he never
spoke, and I held up his light, and there he was, a standing straight
up against the further end of the cell with his eyes half an inch out
of his head, and some such a face as that Learmont puts on.”

Ada shuddered and the officer continued.

“When we went up to him, what do you think we found?”

“I cannot tell.”

“He was stone dead and stiffened up against the wall of his cell, and
our chaplain said as how he must have seen the devil all of a sudden.
But here we are at Sir Francis Hartleton’s.”

Ada cast her eyes up to the house, and a pang shot across her heart as
the doubt crossed her mind, that Jacob Gray might by some innate
possibility have spoken the truth, when he described Sir Francis as her
enemy; but still she hesitated not, but silently commending herself to
the care of Heaven, she entered the house along with the officer.

She was left for some time in a handsomely-furnished parlour, for this
was the magistrate’s private, not his official residence. Each moment
that passed now appeared to Ada an age of suspense and anxiety. She
could hear the beating of her own heart in the silence of that room,
and, as she sat with her eyes fixed upon the door, she thought that she
had scarcely suffered as much anxiety, even when, in the dreary cell
with Jacob Gray, a spirit of resistance to him and all his acts,
supported her and prevented her mind from sinking beneath the
oppressive circumstances which then surrounded her.

Ada’s mind was of that rare and high order which rises superior to
circumstances, and the energies of which become more acute and more
capable of vigorous action, the more necessity there exists for the use
of such qualities.

Now, however, when there was no iniquity to denounce, no wickedness to
resist, but when her heart was only oppressed with a faint doubt of
whether she was to receive from Sir Francis Hartleton kindness or not,
she did feel faint, weak, and sad, and all those trembling
sensibilities of her nature she had suppressed from native energy of
mind, and pride of innocence, when with Gray, now that she was free
from him, arose from the recesses of her pure heart and forced her to
feel, that, although a noble-minded heroine when surrounded by great
peril, yet in real nature she was but a timid shrinking girl, such as
her fragile and beautifully delicate appearance would indicate.

Then when her anxiety had almost grown into a positive pain, the door
opened and a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, with an intelligent
countenance, entered the room.

Ada rose, but for a moment she could not speak. He who had come in,
evidently saw her emotion, for he said in accents of the greatest
kindness and tender consideration to her,—

“Sit down, and don’t be alarmed—I will listen to you with patience.”

It was not the words, but it was the tone of genuine heartfelt kindness
in which they were spoken, that went direct to the heart of Ada.

Once, twice, she tried to speak, but what all the threats, and all the
harshness of Jacob Gray had failed to produce, these few simple words
kindly spoken, at once accomplished, and she burst into tears.

Sir Francis Hartleton had merely been told that a young girl wished to
see him, and he had not the remotest idea of who she was, or upon what
errand she came.

“I pray you to be calm,” he said, “I have no doubt you have something
to tell me that afflicts you very much.”

“No, no,” cried Ada.

“No!”

“It is joy—the joy of meeting a kind heart, that forces these tears
from me—I am, sir, but too—too happy now.”

“God forbid I should speak otherwise than kindly to you.”

“Oh, sir,” said Ada, dashing aside the long clustering ringlets of her
hair, that in her deep emotion had veiled her face. “You do not know
me, but I have pondered over your name till hopes and fears of who or
what you were have made my heart sicken. Though young in years, it
seems to me that in the small space of time which has seen my
existence, I have lived an age of sorrow, of persecution, of horror. I
am a harmless, friendless, and for all I know, a nameless thing.
Debarred from all that to the young is beautiful, I have passed the
dawning of my life the victim of another’s crimes, although how
connected with him and his great sinfulness, I cannot tell. My spirit
has been worn by incessant rebuke, until death would have been a
relief. A murderer’s hand has been lifted against me while I slept—I
have seen blood shed before my eyes, and could not stay the unrighteous
hand of the murderer—I have had none to love me but one—no mother ever
smiled upon me—no recollection of a father’s caress warms my heart. To
you, sir, I came for succour, for protection—a fugitive—a homeless
wanderer—a thing of blight and desolation; when I hoped, there has come
despair—when I wept I have met with mockery—when I trusted I was
betrayed—you called upon me once when I dared not return you one
answering cry—you proclaimed yourself my friend—I am she whom you
called in Forest’s ancient house. I am Ada, the Betrayed!”

Sir Francis Hartleton during this speech had stood before Ada with one
of her hands clasped in his, and showing by his earnest attention, and
the deep sympathy depicted in his countenance, that he was far from an
unmoved listener to her words. When she had concluded, a fervent “thank
Heaven!” burst from his lips, and he cried with animation.—

“Ada, I have for many months now sought you throughout this great
city—not one day has elapsed without some effort upon my part to find
you, and offer you friendship, protection, and a home; my poor girl,
you have suffered much—I know it—have known it long, and it has been a
shadow on my heart, to think that I could not aid you;—your trials—your
persecutions are all over now, and once more I from my heart thank
Heaven that I see you under my protection, safe from that awful man,
who I ever dreaded would in some wild moment, sacrifice you to his
fears, or to his revenge. Ada, you are safe and free! I have both power
and will to shelter you, and while Sir Francis Hartleton lives, whoever
would harm you must do it through his heart.”

When first Sir Francis had commenced speaking, Ada had fixed her large
pensive eyes upon his face, and appeared to drink in with her soul
every word he uttered; but as he went on, and his own voice became a
little broken by the depth of his emotion and the sincerity of his
sympathy, she, in all the guileless innocence of her heart, pressed his
hand within hers, and tears gushed from her eyes; but when he told her
that she was now safe for ever from Jacob Gray, and that his home
should be hers, her joy and gratitude became too much for her, and she
laid her head upon his breast and wept, as she would have done upon her
father’s heart.

Sir Francis Hartleton was himself scarcely less affected than Ada, for
brave, noble, and gifted natures such as his, are easily melted by the
softer feelings of human nature.

When he spoke, which was not for some minutes, for he could scarcely
command his voice sufficiently, he said,—

“Ada, you shall rest till to-morrow before you tell me all your
history—I have likewise much to tell you, and to-morrow we will have a
long conference.”

“Yes,” said Ada, “oh, what can I say to you to make you know how my
heart thanks you?”

“Nothing—say nothing, Ada—Heaven will help me to do what I am now
doing—it is but my duty, Ada, to protect you. Remember now you are at
home—you are no guest here, mind, but one of ourselves. These, I hope,
are the last tears I shall ever see you shed.”

“Ah, sir, they are far different from those I have shed in the silence
and solitude of my various prisons. Those were wrung from me by
despair. These come from a heart too full of gratitude.”

Sir Francis Hartleton now rung a small hand bell, which was immediately
answered by a servant, to whom he said,—

“Tell your mistress to come to me here;” then turning to Ada, he said,
with a half-smile upon his face—“Now, my dear Ada, I shall have nothing
to do with you till to-morrow. I am but recently married, and my wife
will love you for your own sake as well as for mine. She knows what of
your history I know, and is well prepared to give you welcome.”

At this moment a lady entered the room, and Ada cast her eyes upon her
face. That one glance was sufficient to assure her she had found a
friend, for it was one of those faces that cannot conceal the goodness
of the owner’s heart.

“Emilia, this is Ada,” said Sir Francis Hartleton. “I will not say make
much of her, and I don’t think you can spoil her.”



CHAPTER LIX.


Jacob Gray and His Kind Friends.—The Plunder.—Thieves’ Morality.—The
Drive to Hampstead.



When Jacob Gray fell upon the floor in a state of utter insensibility
in consequence of the powerful narcotic drug infused into his drink by
his two kind and considerate friends, those two gentlemen looked on
with the utmost composure for a few moments, and then Bill remarked in
a careless voice,—

“I think he’ll do now, Moggs?”

“In course,” responded the other, withdrawing the pipe from his mouth,
and knocking out the ashes very deliberately upon the hob of the grate.

“He’s precious green,” remarked Bill.

“Very,” said Mr. Moggs.

“Doesn’t you know who he is?”

“I hasn’t the slightest idea. Never clapped eyes on the fellow in my
life before, but to my mind he’s a new hand as has been and done
something strong in the murder line for an ample consideration.”

“Very likely—what’s the caper concerning him?”

“Honour, Bill—honour.”

“In course.”

“Vun o’ the rules is, that if a regular out-and-out prig or cracksman
comes to vun o’ us, and says, ‘I’m in trouble—the runners are hard on
me. Guv us a share.’ Why, then we shares the swag all round equal.”

“Spoke like a oracle.”

“Very good. Another o’ the rules is, ‘If the prig aforesaid,’ as the
lawyers say, ‘gammon us, or tries all for to gammon us, as to the exact
waley o’ the swag, we takes it all.’”

“Never vos a truer vord spoke,” responded Bill, with a look of intense
admiration at his companion.

“Well, if so be as this fellow has but what he said, two hundred, we
takes one, and leaves him one.”

“That’s the way.”

“But if so be as he has more we takes it all in course; and I’ll wager
my blessed nose off my face that he has a precious sight more.”

Bill nodded knowingly.

“Well then,” continued Mr. Moggs, “in either case we gets the
shay-cart, and takes him somewhere far enough off.”

Bill nodded again, and then taking from his pocket a large clasped
knife, he knelt down by the side of Gray, and with a neatness and
dexterity that were evidently the result of practice, he ripped open
every one of his pockets, and in a few brief moments Jacob Gray was
despoiled of every guinea of that sum of money he had gone through so
much pain, suffering, and crime, to procure.

The sum when collected from all his pockets, was in notes and gold so
much larger than the thieves had any idea of finding, that when they
had it fairly lying before them on the table, they looked at each other
for some moments in mute surprise.

“Bill,” cried the other, “this is a regular set up, it is. I’m blowed
if we maydent and must retire from business with all this.”

“Don’t be proud,” said Bill. “You always was ambitious. Take it easy,
can’t you. This card will be uncommonly useful. How many a poor fellow
has been scragged at the tree for want of a few pounds over the blood
money, to give a officer as had a warrant agin him. Tom, what I propose
is, for us to take a cool hundred or so only, out o’ all this here, and
lay the remainder by for bad times.”

“Bill,” remarked the other, after a pause of intense thought, “you
should have been Lord Chancellor, that’s what you should! We’ll do it,
my boy. Forty pounds is the blood money for hanging a poor fellow, and
it’s very well known a chap never will get taken by the officers so
long as he can make it guineas to let him go, except we comes across
that d—d Sir Francis Hartleton, and he wouldn’t let a chap go for
nothink or the whole world, he wouldn’t. What business has a beak to be
poking as he does, instead of sitting quiet in his arm-chair, and
leaving the business to be settled ’atween such as us and the
receivers? It’ an iniquity, and no good can come of it.”

“Very true,” said Bill. “You hide the money somewheres, while I go and
get the cart, for we must start this chap somewhere afore daylight.”

“Bill,” said the other, “you wouldn’t like to cut his throat?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well, well. I only mention it. I’m afraid he’s a sneak, but let him do
his worst. Get the chaise-cart, and bring it round to the corner by Jem
Medbourn’s.”

Bill nodded, and went to execute his errand, and during his absence,
the other carefully concealed the money beneath the floor of the room,
excepting about two hundred pounds, which he reserved for himself and
companion. Then lighting his pipe, he again sat down very composedly by
the fire-side.

“Well, well,” he said suddenly, as if he had arrived at some mental
conclusion that he could not help, and yet did not like. “Bill may have
it his own way, but I would never have let that chap,” nodding at Gray,
“have a chance o’ being venomous. He’s cut out for a sneaking lump o’
evidence against others he is, and I shouldn’t a bit wonder if he gets
into trouble himself, but he speaks agin us about the money just out o’
a nasty bit o’ revenge.”

He then resumed his smoking as if he had been reasoning upon some very
common place affair indeed, and in about ten minutes more Bill made his
appearance, saying,—

“It’s all right—they have guved up the search for to-night, and we
shall get on famously.”

“Where do you mean to take him?” said he, who had suggested the notion
of cutting Gray’s throat.

“I should say somewhere a little way out of town, and shoot him out o’
the cart into some blessed verdant spot,” replied Bill. “He’s rather a
queer one, himself, so he’ll find as he’s all right, when he wakes up
and finds as he’s amusing the butterflies and daisies.”

“I’m blessed if you ain’t a out and out good un,” replied the other.

“Supposes then,” suggested Bill, “we takes him up to Hampstead. It’s an
odd little out o’ the way place enough.”

“Very good,” said the other. “You are quite sure there’s nobody about?”

“Quite.”

“Come along, then.”

As he spoke the man stooped, and lifted Jacob Gray from the ground with
as much ease as if he had been an infant, and followed his comrade down
stairs with his burthen, which seemed in no way to distress him.

The court they passed out into was one of those kind which now are
exceedingly rare in London, but which the wisdom of our ancestors took
good care to make very common and infest the town with. At the period
of our tale there was an immense wen, as it might be termed, of various
pestiferous courts at the back of the Strand, where thieves and
vagabonds of all kinds lived in a sort of community of their own, quite
undisturbed by the authorities, who then could boast of very little
authority indeed. Another mass of such courts was to be found where
Regent-street now stands, and the vicinity; another at the bottom of
St. Martin’s-lane, and another close to old Fleet-market, so that the
city of London was as well provided with haunts of blackguardism and
vice as the mouth of the Thames is with mud banks.

Along the narrow court in which was Bill’s mansion, the confederates
pursued their way until they came to what any stranger would have
supposed a mere doorway, but which was in reality an entrance to
another court; into this they dived, and after proceeding for a small
distance ascended a flight of wooden steps, at the bottom of which
stood a dirty, mean chaise-cart.

Into this vehicle, without the least ceremony or consideration for what
bruises he might receive, Jacob Gray was flung. There was nothing at
the bottom of the cart but some littered straw, upon which he laid more
like a dead body than anything living and breathing.

The two men then climbed into the frail and crazy vehicle, and Bill
taking the reins gave a shrill whistle, which the horse seemed
perfectly to understand as a signal to go on, for he started
immediately at a smart trot.

There were no policemen then promenading the streets, who might have
looked with an eye of suspicion upon the proceedings of Bill and his
comrade, and the lazy watchmen having just signally exerted themselves
by squalling out the hour, with the supplementary information that it
was a cold night, betook themselves again to their watchboxes, leaving
the community over whose lives and property they were supposed, by a
fiction which lasted many years, to watch, to the care of Providence
and the mercy of thieves and housebreakers.

The chaise-cart rattled and bounded along through divers very intricate
lanes and bye-streets, until at length it emerged into the Strand, near
Arundel-street. Then dashing across the wide thoroughfare, it entered a
congeries of dirty streets on the other side, and finally emerged in a
curious and complicated place close to the British Museum. There were
bye-roads across the Pancras-fields, and Bill having dismounted and
taken down a bar which impeded his progress, drove across a meadow
which now forms part of the ground occupied by that compound of pride,
bloated arrogance, and humbug, the London University. Another quarter
of an hour passed, and they were rattling up the Hampstead-road, which
then had tall tress on either side of it.

Camden Town was then a small village, with not above forty little
whitewashed houses in it, with here and there sprinkled a few edifices
of somewhat more pretensions, which had been built by well-to-do
citizens, who repaired there on a Sunday to see the phenomena of a
cabbage growing, and admire the sweet pea blossom as it thrust its
pretty leaves in at the windows.

The most famous house of entertainment then in Camden Town, was called
the Queen’s Head, and has long been levelled with the dust; it was then
even an old-fashioned house, and spoken of as a curiosity. It could
boast of but one story, and its projecting sign hung so low that any
one riding by quickly, and not aware of it, ran the risk of breaking
his own head against the queen’s, with no very agreeable momentum.

The entrance was adorned with oaken carved pillars, to the designs on
which a great deal had been added from time to time by bread and cheese
knives, rapiers’ penknives, and all sorts of cutting instruments, the
door posts of an inn being considered as much public property, and open
to defacement, as are wooden seats in Kensington gardens.

To enter the house, you had to descend two steps, which generally at
night caused a strange visitor to fall on his nose in the passage, when
the hostess would come out, hearing the clatter, and probably a few
oaths, and trim a lamp; so that after the mischief was done, you had
the pleasure of seeing the steps quite clearly and beautifully.

At this house Bill drew up, and without getting out, called
lustily,—“Mother Meadows! Mother Meadows!”

“Well, what now?” said a shrill female voice from the interior.

“A shilling’s worth of brandy,” said Bill, and the coin he threw
rattled down the steps.

The liquor was brought to the chaise-cart by a boy, with a head of hair
resembling strongly one of the now popular patent chimney sweeping
apparatus.

Bill took his half to a nicety, and handed the remainder to his
companion, who then bumped the little pewter measure upon the boy’s
head till his eyes flashed fire.

Bill whistled to the horse, and with loud laughter, the two ruffians
galloped up the Hampstead-road, which was then as innocent of “Cottages
of Gentility” as is the Lake of Windermere.

Up the hill they went with but slightly lessened speed, nor stopped
till they were quite clear of all the little suburban houses that here
and there dotted the road, and within about half a mile of the village
of Hampstead itself. They then turned down Haverstock Hill, which was
quite free from buildings, and by a route which avoided the village,
they came upon the verge of the heath.

“I think this will do,” remarked Bill.

“I think so too,” said the other. “How precious dark it is, to be sure.”

“You may say that. I’m blowed if I can see the horse’s head. Woa! Woa!”

They both now alighted, and led the horse towards a thick hedge,
skirting a plantation, near the large house lately occupied by Lady
Byron. Then Bill let down the tail-board of the cart, and laying hold
of Jacob Gray by the heels, he dragged him out, and letting his head
come with a hard bump against the ground, which was by no means likely
to improve his faculties.

They then pushed him along with their feet, till he lay completely
under the hedge, and could not come to any harm from a chance vehicle
or horseman.

“Well,” remarked Bill, “I think we have done that job handsomely.”

“Uncommon,” replied his companion; “I’d give something to see his stare
when he wakes up to-morrow.”

“He will look about him a bit, and then, when he finds his money gone,
won’t he put up prayers for us in that blessed little old church, as is
now striking two.”

Hampstead church was striking two as he spoke, and the echo of the
sounds came sweetly and solemnly upon the night air.

Bill whistled to the horse, and, at a rapid pace, the thieves took the
road homewards again.



CHAPTER LX.


Ada at Sir Francis Hartleton’s.—The Philosophy of a Young Heart.—A
Confession.—The Pleasure of Sympathy.



What pen shall describe the happiness that gleamed now in the heart of
Ada as she sat with Sir Francis Hartleton’s young wife on the morning
after her introduction to her, in a neat and prettily-arranged room,
overlooking the park.

The air was fresh and balmy—the birds were flitting past the windows,
and filled the atmosphere with music. Crowds of gaily-dressed persons
were idly sauntering among the trees; enlivening strains of martial
music came wafted to her ears as the guard was changed at the Palace.
The perfume of flowers, the kind words of Lady Hartleton, and kinder
looks—the harmony of the household—the gay laughter from children who
were chasing each other in a neighbouring garden, and last, though
greatest of all, the consciousness of freedom from Jacob Gray, so
filled the heart of Ada with delight, that she suddenly threw herself
into the arms of Lady Hartleton, and with a flood of tears, said,—

“Oh, I am too happy! How can I by a life’s long duration ever repay you
a little of the joys you have filled my heart with?”

“My dear Ada,” replied Lady Hartleton, “you must not talk so. What you
are now enjoying, and for which you are so thankful, is no more, and
probably much less than what you ought always to have enjoyed. ’Tis the
contrast of this and what you have suffered which makes you overlook
all the disadvantages and fancy that to mix with the world, and enjoy
its routine of existence, must he unalloyed happiness.”

“Can any of those be unhappy?” said Ada, pointing to the gay throngs in
the park.

“Alas! my dear,” said Lady Hartleton, “how very few of them are happy.”

“Indeed, madam?”

“Aye, indeed, Ada. Our joys and our sorrows are all comparative. You,
in your pure innocence, my dear Ada, have yet to learn how many an
aching heart is hidden by wreathed smiles.”

“’Tis very strange,” said Ada, musingly. “’Tis very strange that we
should be unhappy, and the world so beautiful. To live—to have freedom
and liberty—to go wherever the wayward fancy leads me, seem to me a
great enjoyment. The birds—the sunshine—the flowers—ay, each blade of
grass trembling and glistening with its weight of morning dew, is to me
a source of delightful contemplation—I am sure all might be happy, the
green fields and the sunny sky are so very beautiful.”

“There are evils, Ada.”

“Yes—sickness, pain, the loss of those we love, are all evils,” said
Ada. “But then we have a thousand consolations even from them, in the
ever fresh and never dying beauties of nature around us.”

“Ada, with your feelings, death, pain, and sickness of ourselves, of
those we loves may well appear the greatest evils of existence. Yet
strange as it may seem to you, such is the perversity of human nature,
that these are the very things that affect it least.”

“You surprise me.”

“And well I may. The cares, the anxieties, the awful horrors of
existence to the many, arise from their artificial desires, and the mad
riot of their own bad passions. Avarice affects some—ambition, and the
love of power, others; and many who could, without a pang, see rent the
natural ties of love and kindred, will lay violent hands upon their own
lives, if they fail in some mad effort of their own wild passions.”

“Oh,” cried Ada, “I think that I could be so happy without
power—without wealth—my own ambition is to be surrounded by kind and
loving hearts, and happy faces—tongues that knew no guile, and breasts
that harboured no suspicion. Surely then, enough of variety might be
found, in watching the wonders of the changing seasons—enough of joy in
marking the many charms which He who made us all, has cast around us
for our pleasure.”

“You, my dear Ada, have the elements of happiness in your heart; but
now that we are alone, have you sufficient confidence in me, to tell me
at length all your history?”

“Confidence?” said Ada. “Oh, yes; and in whom could I have confidence,
if not in you?”

“Then sit here by me, and tell me all. We will be mutually
confidential, Ada, and have no secrets but in common. Now tell me, is
your happinesss quite perfect? Have you no secret yearning of the heart
yet ungratified, Ada?”

“My happiness,” said Ada, “is perfect with hope—a hope that must surely
ripen into a dear reality.”

“Then you have a hope—a wish that lives upon hope—an expectation yet
ungratified, Ada?”

“Madam,” said Ada, gazing without the least timidity into the eyes of
Lady Hartleton, “when I was quite friendless and oppressed, there was
one who loved me—when no other human heart spoke a word of consolation
to me, there was one that beat for me, and bade its owner whisper to me
words of dearer hope and joy, than ever before had lingered in my ears.
Wonder not then, that even now, when I have so much to be thankful and
grateful for, my heart yearns for him to share its new born joy.”

“And his name?” said Lady Hartleton.

“Is Albert Seyton,” said Ada, with a sigh.

“Is he handsome, Ada?”

“I love him,” replied Ada, emphatically.

“Maidens seldom avow their preferences so very boldly,” said Lady
Hartleton, with a smile.

“They who have felt as I have felt,” said Ada, “the pangs of solitude
and the horrors of a persecution, surely never paralleled, would learn
to set a high value on the heart that loved them in their misery, and
to cherish as something holy, the words of comfort, hope, and kindness,
that were breathed to them in their despair. You wonder that I can avow
without a blush my heart’s fond love for Albert Seyton. Oh, lady, it
has been the only light that shone upon me through years of gloom. Can
you wonder, then, that I thought it beautiful—I am as one who had been
confined for many, many years, in a dungeon. I read the legend in a
book that Albert lent to me. For many years, then, this poor fated
being had not seen the light of day—had heard nothing but the harsh
grating of his dungeon door—the hideous rattle of his chains, until at
last one day there came struggling like a sunbeam upon his soul, a
strain of music. ’Twas a common air, and played unskilfully, but to him
it was indeed divine.”

“The prisoner lived to bid adieu to his dungeon, and he came abroad
into the great world. He heard music in its excellence—music that
seemed borrowed from Heaven, and he praised; admired; applauded it. But
one day, some wandering minstrel, with a careless hand, struck up from
a rude viol the strain that in his dungeon had so sweetly greeted him.
Oh, how his heart bounded, like a bird, within his breast—how a joy
unequalled danced through his brain. He wept, he sobbed aloud in his
happiness. What music greeted his rapt senses like that! He hung upon
the minstrel’s neck, and his prayer was—‘Oh, stay ever near me, and
when I am sad or weary, play to me that strain that I may thank God for
my happiness.’”

Ada ceased speaking, and Lady Hartleton caught her to her heart, as she
said,—

“My dear Ada, I did but speak for the pleasure of hearing you reply to
me. I am too richly repaid.”

“As that lonely prisoner loved the strain of melody that greeted his
dreary solitude,” sobbed Ada, “so let me love him who sought me out
when I had none else to love me, and told me how to hope.”

“Your pure and noble feelings, Ada,” said Lady Hartleton, much
affected, “do you infinite honour. I am proud of you, my dear Ada, and
hope to have the second place in your heart.”

“You have the first,” said Ada. “I cannot make distinctions between
those I love. I open my heart freely to you. There is room, dear lady,
for you and Albert both, and for Sir Francis too.”

There was a beautiful and earnest simplicity in Ada’s manner that
perfectly charmed Lady Hartleton, and she encouraged her to open her
heart thoroughly to her; and she was perfectly astonished at the rich
store of poetry, beauty, and virtue which lay garnered up in the breast
of the persecuted and beautiful girl—stores of feeling, thought, and
imagination which required but the sunny influence of kindness to bring
forth in all their native purity and beauty.

Ada now gave Lady Hartleton an animated description of her whole course
of life with Jacob Gray, commencing at her earliest recollection of
being with him in various mean lodgings, and coming down through all
the exciting and dangerous scenes she had passed to her denunciation of
him at Charing Cross.

Lady Hartleton listened to her narration with the greatest interest,
and when Ada had concluded, she said,—

“And you have still no clue, Ada, to your birth?”

“None—none. The mysterious paper addressed to your husband by Jacob
Gray most probably contained some information, but I fear that is lost
for ever.”

“A more strange aad eventful history I never heard,” remarked Lady
Hartleton. “I have very sanguine hopes that the activity and
exhaustless energy of Sir Francis will soon clear up some of the
mysteries that surround you.”

“Heaven grant it may be so,” said Ada.

“There is one circumstance that must not be lost sight of, as it may
afford some clue or corroborative evidence of your birth—that is, the
necklace you sold to the Jew.”

“It might, indeed,” said Ada, “I was foolish to part with it.”

“Should you know the shop again?”

“Certainly I should, and the man likewise. My intercourse with the
world has been so very slight that I am not confused with a multitude
of images and occurrences. Everything that has happened to me, and
every one who has ever spoken to me, stand clear and distinct in my
memory.”

“Then the necklace may be recovered.”

“Indeed!”

“Without doubt; Sir Francis will get it back for you.”

Lady Hartleton rang the bell, and when a servant appeared, she said,—

“Is Sir Francis within?”

“Yes, my lady,” was the reply. “He has just returned from the Secretary
of State’s office.”

“Ask him to come here.”

The servant bowed and retired, and in a very few minutes, Sir Francis
Hartleton entered the room with a smile.

Ada arose and welcomed him with evident pleasure, and he said,—

“Well, Ada, are you happy here?”

“Too happy, sir,” she said, with emotion. “It requires all my reason to
convince me it is real.”

Lady Hartleton then related to her husband the story of the necklace,
to which he listened with grave attention.

At its conclusion, he said,—

“I need not trouble Ada to point out the shop. The description is
sufficient. The Jew who keeps it is well known to the police, I have no
doubt of getting back the necklace if it be still in this country. It
may be an important link in the chain of evidence concerning Ada’s
birth.”

“Have you any thought of who I am?” asked Ada, with eagerness.

“I have,” said Sir Francis, “but believe and trust me when I tell you
it is for your own peace of mind and happiness that I would rather tell
you nothing until I can tell you something which has a firmer basis
than conjecture.”

“You are right,” said Ada; “I should but be giving my imagination play,
and torturing my mind with perhaps futile fears, and too sanguine
hopes.”

“Hope all and fear nothing,” said Sir Francis. “The mere adventitious
circumstances of your birth need not affect your happiness, Ada. If you
can make this a comfortable home, we shall be much delighted.”

“I cannot speak to you as I ought,” replied Ada, “time may show my deep
gratitude, but never can I hope to repay you.”

“And appreciation of kindness, Ada,” said the magistrate, “is its
dearest reward. I will now leave you for a little time to call upon
your very doubtful friend the Jew.”

“He who bought my necklace. In sooth I know little of money, but from
what I have read, it should be worth a much larger sum. I heard Gray
call it real pearl.”

“No doubt—no doubt—I will go myself. You will see me again very soon,
and it will go hard, but I will make the hoary robber disgorge his
ill-gotten prey.”

So saying, Sir Francis bade Ada and his wife a temporary adieu, and
hurried to the shop of the Jew who had taken such an unworthy advantage
of Ada’s want of knowledge of the value of a really costly pearl
necklace.



CHAPTER LXI.


Albert Seyton’s Destitution.—A Lone and Wearied Spirit.—The Application
to Learmont, and the Meeting with Sir Francis Hartleton.



We have been compelled for a long time to leave the gallant and
noble-hearted Albert Seyton to follow out his fortunes unchronicled in
order to depict the various changing scenes in the life of Ada, who,
now that she is conducted to a haven of rest for a while, we can leave
in calm contentment, although not yet, fair persecuted girl, are thy
trials done! The sunshine of peace and joy that now surrounds you is
but a prelude to a storm. We will not, however, anticipate but allow
the events of our tale to flow on in their natural course like a mighty
river, which, as it nears the ocean which is the goal of its destiny,
sweeps onwards with it every little tributary stream and murmuring
rivulet that has borrowed a brief existence from it.

After the death of his father, the scanty means of support which the
elder Seyton had arising from the tardy justice of the government
ceased at once, and no answer was returned by the corrupt minister to
Albert’s application, not for a continuance of his father’s pension,
but for honourable employment.

One by one he was compelled to part with the several remnants of
convertable property which his father had left behind him. His whole
time was occupied in searching for Ada, until hope sickened into
despair and a deep gloom began to spread itself like a vapour before
the sun over his heart, which in happier circumstances would have
throbbed with every free, noble, and generous emotion.

Twice he had called upon Sir Francis Hartleton, but had not been so
fortunate as to meet with him, and the second disappointment, although
it was purely accidental, Albert took seriously to heart, and in the
gloomy confusion of his imagination, arising from the grief that
oppressed him, cemented it into an intentional slight, and never called
again. The consequence of this was, that at the time of Ada’s
introduction to the house of the kind and humane magistrate, she was
entirely ignorant of Albert’s place of abode and condition in life.

Several times since his father’s death the young man had shifted his
residence, for he could not bear that his rapidly decreasing means
should become a subject of remark, even although a pitying one, and now
he tenanted a small room in a narrow court, near the Savoy steps in the
Strand.

Absolute destitution was now rapidly approaching, and he felt that the
time was quickly coming when he would have had to bid adieu for ever to
the most distant hope of ever again beholding Ada; and to save himself
from starvation, enlisted as a private soldier in the army in which his
father had held a commission.

On that very morning that Ada was sitting in the little room commanding
so delightful a view of the park, and conversing with Lady Hartleton,
poor Albert sat in his cheerless apartment with his head resting upon
his hands in a deep reverie composed of gloomy and heart depressing
thoughts and anticipations.

“Alas! Alas!” he cried. “My beautiful Ada, thou art lost to me for
ever. Oh, why did I leave you for one moment to the mercy of that man?
I am rightly punished. Having by the merest accident—by one of those
happy chances of fortune that rarely occur twice, met you, Ada, when
you were wandering in this great city, I madly allowed you to go from
me. Oh, what blindness was that—why did not some good spirit shriek
‘beware’ in my ears? Ada—Ada, I have lost you forever!”

He remained for some moments silent, and suddenly rising he cried,—

“’Tis in vain to struggle with my fate. My lot in life is cast, and I
must stand the hazard of the die. Ada, farewell forever, I must take a
step now which will sever us for ever—a step which, while it takes from
me my freedom of action, places me in a situation that will separate me
from you, Ada. There is a regiment ordered, I am told, to the West
Indies. It wants recruits—with it will I go, and bid adieu to England,
hope, and Ada.”

With a saddened heart, and yet a fixed and determined aspect, he now
proceeded to collect and pack into a small compass such few papers and
small cherished articles as were in themselves valueless, but dear to
him as the words of his father. There was one book, too, in the inside
of the cover of which Ada, when quite young, had written the name of
“Harry”—and underneath “Albert.” This one word of her whom he loved so
well he placed next his heart, with a determination that death should
alone part him and it. He then destroyed a number of letters which
would have encumbered him, and which possessed no very peculiar
features of interest.

For a moment he paused over one of those notes, as he was about to tear
it across, and as he read it it suggested one last hope to his mind.

The reader will recollect that previous to his long and dangerous
illness, Albert Seyton had applied to Learmont, whom he knew but as the
reported richest commoner in the kingdom, for the situation of
secretary to him, and had received not a distinct, but certainly an
encouraging reply.

Before, however, Albert could follow up the application his illness had
placed so long an interval between the first proceeding and that which
would have been the second, that not doubting Learmont was long since
suited, he had taken no further steps in the matter. It was Learmont’s
note dated far back which now caught his eye, and made him in the
present desperate state of his fortunes adopt the sudden notion of
calling with it in his hand and explaining the cause of the long delay,
which might interest the rich and powerful squire to give him a
recommendation to some one else, if he could not himself employ him.

“A drowning man,” exclaimed Albert, “they say, will catch at a straw,
and upon the same principle I will cling to this one slender hope.” He
read the letter carefully, which ran thus:—



If Mr. Seyton will call upon Mr. Learmont at his house any morning
before eleven he will oblige him, and they will converse on Mr.
Seyton’s application.



This was very brief, but still amply sufficient to found a call upon,
and Albert placing it in his pocket, and trimming up as well as he
could his faded apparel, donned his hat, and with a quick active step
proceeded towards Learmont’s house.

What an estimable thing to youth is hope, and from what a small tiny
plant will it grow in the human breast to wondrous size and beauty.

The freshness of the morning, the sunshine and the feeling that there
was yet another chance for him, slight as it was, chased many of the
phantoms of gloom and despair from his mind.

He was not long in arriving at Learmont’s house and entering the hall,
for it was the fashion then of many of the wealthy to keep their
outer-doors open, and trust to the throng of servant’s they kept in
their halls, to defend them from any improper intrusion. He inquired
for Learmont. He was replied to by a question concerning his business,
when luckily recollecting his letter, he produced it, saying,—

“I have a note from the squire, requesting my attendance upon him.”

“Oh,” said a servant, “if that is the case, young sir, I will take your
name in. Pray follow me.”

Albert followed the man, and was conducted into a small, but
magnificent apartment, with an exquisitely painted roof, and hung with
crimson damask.

He had not waited long when the servant re-appeared to say,—“that his
master had no sort of recollection of the affair, and wished to see his
own letter which the stranger said he had.”

“Here is the letter,” said Albert; “but his worship will see by the
date, that the time therein mentioned scarcely authorises my present
visit. Be so good as to add that long illness and the death of one near
and dear to me, accounts for the delay.”

The man took the note and was away for some time, when he entered and
requested Albert Seyton to follow him, for that his master would see
him.

He was then conducted through a magnificent suite of rooms, until the
servant paused at a door which was a little way open. At this he
knocked gently, and a deep-toned hollow voice from within said,—

“Come in.”

The servant motioned Albert Seyton to enter the apartment, and in the
next moment he was in the presence of Learmont, who fixed his keen
searching eyes upon the young man’s face for several moments before he
spoke. Then he said in a low tone,—

“Young man, your application now can scarcely be considered as
encouraged by me. The note you have bears date a long time back.”

“It does, sir,” replied Albert; “but I have been on a bed of sickness
myself, and am now bereft of the parent who then—”

Albert’s feelings would not permit him to say more, and he paused.

“Are you an orphan?” said Learmont.

“I am.”

“And poor and friendless—and, and very nearly driven to despair? Have
you found out what a hollow cheat the care of Providence is? Are you
one of Fortune’s foot-balls, kicked here and there as the jade thinks
proper? Have you met with ingratitude where you should have had
succour? Contempt where you trusted upon honour—derision where you went
for sympathy—are you, young man, one of those who have seen enough of
misery to retaliate upon the world? Speak, young man, are you such as I
have described?”

There was a kind of subdued, snarling tone of vehemence in the
utterance of these words by Learmont, that surprised Albert Seyton as
much as the words themselves were unexpected. After a moment’s pause he
replied,—

“Sir, I scarce know how to answer you. I am, it is true, poor,
friendless, and an orphan; I have met with ingratitude when I should
have met friendship; cold indifference instead of ardent sympathy; but,
sir, I thank Heaven that poor, nearly destitute as I am, my heart is
light as thistle-down in its innocence of wrong, and from my inmost
soul do I look up to and acknowledge that Providence that watches over
all. You have jested with me, sir.”

“In truth have I,” said Learmont; “it is my custom with a stranger,
heed it not. When I want a moral, religious, and light-hearted
secretary, you may be assured that I will send for you, young man.”

A pang of disappointment shot across the heart of Albert Seyton as
Learmont spoke, and he replied sadly,—

“Farewell, sir, you will send for me in vain. This day, if unaccepted
by you, I enter the ranks as a soldier.”

“Indeed, are you so hardly pressed?”

“Heaven knows I am indeed. For myself, sir, I care not, but in my fate
is involved that of another.”

“What other?” said Learmont.

“Alas, sir, the tale is long, and its telling useless.”

“Young man,” said Learmont earnestly, “there is a matter in which I
could give you good employment, but it is one requiring secresy,
prudence, and deep caution.”

“If it be honourable, sir,” said Seyton, “I will freely undertake it
were it beset with dangers.”

“’Tis a reach above honourable,” said Learmont. “The object is
absolutely pious.”

This was said in so strange a tone that Albert was puzzled to make up
his mind if it were sincere or honourable, and he remained silent,
expecting Learmont to go on with what he was saying.

“It is a trifling service,” said Learmont, “and yet by trifles I ever
estimate good service. I fear me, much, young man, that in this great
city there is great wickedness.”

“No doubt,” said Albert, “and I should not object to any service that
had for its end a righteous object.”

“Sagely and wisely spoken, young sir,” said Learmont; “I give away
large sums to those who are in want, and some days since there came to
me a man who told a piteous tale, in which there were, however, some
glaring discrepancies. I relieved his wants, real or pretended, and
sent a servant to follow him home for two objects; first, to ascertain
if he had given his true place of abode to me, and, secondly, to enable
me to make inquiry into his real condition, in order that I might
expose him as an impostor, or grant him further relief. You understand
me?”

“I do, sir.”

“Good. The man I sent was foiled. He did not succeed in tracing him to
his home. With much doublings and windings he eluded all pursuit. This
man then I wish you to track to his abode;—Have you tact for such an
enterprise?”

“Methinks ’tis very easy,” said Albert.

“And you will do it?”

“I will, sir; I hate impostures, I hate that which puts the garb of
virtue or religion for base purposes.”

“Ah, you have a right feeling of these things, young man,” said
Learmont.

“Execute this matter to my satisfaction, and I will entertain you as my
secretary.”

“When, sir, may I have an opportunity to prove my zeal?”

“I think to-morrow. A week seldom passes but he comes here craving for
alms. You shall see him and follow him. Track him like a blood-hound;
it will be esteemed good service by me. ’Tis a mere trifle, but succeed
in it, and I will make much of you.”

“I shall do my utmost, sir. There may be difficulties that I wont not
of; but I will strive to overcome this, and do you satisfactory
service.”

“Here’s money for you,” said Learmont, handing him a purse. “Amuse
yourself to-day: I shall not require your services until to-morrow, but
attend me then at an early hour—say nine.”

“I will be punctual, sir.”

“And secret?”

“If you wish it.”

“I do wish it. Hark ye, young sir, it is a rule in this house, that, if
the slightest occurrence be made a subject of discourse out of it; if
the lightest stray word be repeated elsewhere, he who so reports never
enters its portals again.”

“I will obey you, sir; I have no taste for babbling, and, indeed, in
all this city I have not one that I can call an acquaintance.”

“’Tis better so—’tis better so,” said Learmont; “you will do me good
service. Farewell, young sir, until to-morrow.”

“Then I may consider myself as so far honoured by you, sir, as to call
myself your secretary?” said Albert Seyton, scarcely believing his good
fortune.

“You may—you may,” said Learmont. “We will talk more at large
to-morrow.”

He touched a bell as he spoke, and, when a servant appeared, he
said,—“This gentleman has access to me. Good morning, young sir.”

Albert bowed himself out, and scarcely recovered from his bewilderment
till he found himself out of the house.

Then, as he began to consider all that had passed in his interview with
Learmont, Albert began more and more to dislike his service, and to
suspect that his employer was not by any means the high-minded and
charitable gentleman he would fain assume to be. The manner of Learmont
was so much at variance with his words that Albert irresistibly came to
the conclusion that there was something more than had been explained to
him connected with the service he was asked to perform of watching to
his home an unfortunate beggar.

“Still,” he thought, “I may be mistaken, and blaming this man for
faults of nature. He may be benevolent and just, as he reports himself
to be, but still afflicted with as roguish and villanous a face as ever
fell to the lot of mortal man. It will not do always to trust to
appearances, and I should be foolish indeed to forsake an honourable
employment for perhaps a mere chimera of the imagination. I can leave
him when I please; and at least, while I remain, dear Ada, I will
please myself with a belief that I am near thee.”

When Learmont was once more alone, and the echo of the retiring
footsteps of Albert Seyton had died away, he muttered indistinctly to
himself for some moments. Then, as he grew more confident in the
success of some stratagem which he had connived, he spoke with a tone
of exultation.

“Yes,” he said, “fortune has favoured me with the best chance yet of
discovering the hiding place of Jacob Gray. This youth must be unknown
to him, and surely will succeed in dogging him to his haunt. That once
discovered, and an hour shall not elapse without witnessing his
dissolution, I can set this young man too upon Britton. The grand
difficulty in circumventing these fellows has always consisted in the
want of unsuspected persons to mingle with them. This youngster looks
bold and capable; he will surely be successful in taking him, and,
should his curiosity grow clamorous, he is easily disposed of. What
matters it to me a few more lives!—I am already steeped in
gore—steeped—steeped; but then I have my reward—wealth—honours—and—and
enjoyment, of course. Ha! What noise was that?”

Some slight creaking of an article of furniture sent the blood with a
frightful rush to his heart, and he remained for several moments
trembling excessively, and clutching the edge of the oaken table for
support. Then, with a deep sigh, he again spoke,—

“’Twas nothing—nothing. I have grown strangely nervous of late. I was
not wont to be so tremblingly alive to every slight alarm. Is it age
creeping upon me, or the shadow of some impending evil upon my heart?
Learmont—Learmont, be thyself. Shake off these vapours of the brain.
I—I have been ten times worse since I saw that face upon my door step.
God of heaven! How like it was to one who sleeps the sleep of death.
I—I cannot stay here. This room seems peopled with shapes.
Hence—hence—I am going—I am going—going.”

He slowly crept to the door, and kept softly muttering unintelligible
words with his cold, livid lips, till he had passed out, and closed the
door after him.

Laughter at this moment reached his ears from the servants’ hall, and
he smote his forehead with his clenched hand, as he exclaimed,—

“Why can I not laugh? Why has no smile ever lighted my face for years?
Am I a thing accursed? Others have spilt blood as well as I, and they
have not been thus haunted. I will go out. There seems in the house to
be ever close to me some hideous, unfashioned form, whose hot breath
comes on my cheek, and whose perpetual presence is a hell. Yes—I—I will
go out—out!”



CHAPTER LXII.


Jacob Grey in the Hampstead Fields.—The Placard.—The Reward.



The birds were singing merrily, and skimming over Jacob Gary’s head
long before he awoke from the effects of the drugged wine that had been
administered to him by the considerate friends he had met with. The
morning sun was shining upon his pale, haggard face, lighting even it
up with some appearance of less ghastliness, and yet there he lay
motionless, as if dead. It is a favourite theory of dreams with some
philosophers, that such visions of the fancy never occur but at the
moment or two before awakening, or at the moment of losing
consciousness by going to sleep, or in other words that we dream only
when not fully slumbering.

It would appear that this was the case with Jacob Gray; for, as the
birds sung above him, and the sun gleamed upon him, while a crow would
occasionally flap his face as it flew over him, his perception appeared
half to return, and his face became bedewed with a heavy perspiration,
as some fearful images of his past life came across his mental vision.

His thoughts were evidently wandering back to the fearful night of the
fire at the Old Smithy, and his busy fancy was enacting over again that
dreadful drama of blood.

He tossed his arms wildly to and fro, and groaned and uttered the
half-stifled screams which came from a disturbed stupor, in the agony
of his mind.

“Save—save her,” he said. “The child of the dead! I cannot do the deed.
Help, oh, help me, my heart is burning—charring in my breast.”

He then, in his intense mental suffering, bit his under lip till the
blood trickled on to his breast, and with the actual pain he awoke,
crying—

“Spare me—spare me! Oh, do not scorch my eye-balls so—my brain is on
fire! Oh, God, have mercy—mercy—mercy.”

He opened his eyes, and the full glare of the sunlight fell upon them,
blinding him for the moment. Then he opened them again, and glanced
around him in speechless wonder as to where he was.

His first impression was that he was dead, and in some other world.
Then he clasped his hands over his face and then tried to think. But a
confusion and want of images in his brain quite rendered such an effort
vain, and at length he became only alive to so horrible a sensation of
thirst that he shrieked aloud,—

“Water—water—water!”

He rose to his knees, and glaring around him with his parched tongue
hanging from his mouth, he saw a shining sheet of limpid water at some
distance before him. Then, still gasping the word “water” he attempted
to rise, but so confused was his head from the effects of the opiate
that had been so unstintingly administered to him, that, after
tottering a step or two, he sank to the earth again. His awful thirst
was however, unbearable, and with a dizzy brow and aching eyes, he
crawled on his hands and knees towards the pond.

He was long in reaching it, for he deviated from the strait track
largely; but when he did, oh, what an exquisite pleasure it was to lie
by the brink and dash his head in, drinking up huge quantities and
causing the cold stream to bubble in his mouth and ears.

Not till his breath was exhausted did Jacob Gray raise his head from
the pond, and then, when he did so, recollection returned to him up to
the point when he had sat down to supper with his two suspicious
friends in the court. With a cry that had something unearthly in it, he
hurriedly thrust his hands into all his pockets, then with a wild
shriek, he grovelled on the ground, dashing his head upon it, and
clutching the grass with his hands as he cried,—

“Gone—gone—all gone—that I have toiled for—beggared, ruined, gone.”

Then he lay on his back, panting, as he looked into the clear, quiet
pool before him, refecting, as it did, the face of Heaven in its glassy
surface, the thought came over him of plunging in, and at once ending a
life of never-ending misery.

“Is it easy to drown?” he asked himself; “or are there unknown hours of
maddening torture, after we think, by the cessation of all movement,
life is gone?”

He crawled towards the bank of the stream, and leaning over it, he
gazed long and earnestly into its clear blue depths, it seemed miles
down in the immensity of space, for now the ripples he had created had
all subsided, and there was scarcely the slightest trembling of the
reflected visage of the sky in the glassy stream.

Then with a shudder he withdrew, slowly.

“I dare not—I dare not,” he moaned. “It is for those of more unstained
souls than mine to take the awful leap from here to eternity, and hope
to be forgiven—not for me—not for me—I dare not. Yet where is now my
philosophy? There is no eternity—no, no—we are all here but to play our
parts in a great drama. What have I to fear? Nothing—nothing.
I—I—believe in nothing.”

Oh how the abject terror depicted in his countenance belied his words.
He was striving to cheat himself by the lying effusions of his own
tongue, while his heart was a haven of despair.

Suddenly his attention was arrested by a man singing, as he ascended to
the high ground, upon which Jacob Gray was lying. The strain was a
merry one, and jarred strangely upon the half-maddened ears of Gray,
who had just sufficient prudence left him to feel the necessity, in his
present position, of not giving any clue to suspicion, for he felt
that, in his weak and abject condition, a child might have arrested him.

He accordingly rested his head upon his arm, in as unconcerned an
attitude as he could assume, and awaited the coming of the man who was
now within a few paces of him. He was coarsely and roughly attired, and
evidently belonged to a very low grade of society. He did not notice
Jacob Gray till he apparently came full upon him, then he cried,—

“Hilloa, friend, you rise betimes. I call it over work getting up so
early.”

“Yes,” said Gray, “I—I am up soon. I like the cool air of the morning.”

The man looked very earnestly at him, and Gray’s heart sunk within him
at the thought that he was about to be recognised and taken. He made
one effort to save himself by quietly adding,—

“It’s nothing to me to be in the fields early or late. I am well armed.”

The man stepped back a pace at this intimation, and Gray saw that
whether or not the man had any criminal designs against his liberty, he
had succeeded in awakening his fears.

“No offence, sir,” he said—“no offence, I hope—I’m a poor fellow, come
upon business from Westminister.”

“Oh! From Westminister,” said Gray. Then he paused, and fixed an eager
searching glance upon the man, who added,—

“Have you heard of the murder last night, sir, of Mr. Vaughan?”

“No,” said Gray, “I have not been in London for some time, although I
have very nearly wandered out of my track.”

A clock at this moment chimed some quarters, and the man said,—

“The clock of the old church at Hampstead sounds clearly across the
fields.”

“At Hampstead,” muttered Gray, gazing earnestly around him, for he was
as ignorant as possible of the locality in which he rightly surmised he
had been left by those who had eased him of all his wealth.

“Yes, there’s the church peeping among the tree, sir,” added the man.

“I know it well,” said Gray, “my family all lie buried in its humble
graveyard.”

“Oh, indeed, sir,” said the man, and then he went with a slow step
towards a tree, and taking a little tin can and a brush from his
pocket, he began lathering it with paste.

Gray watched his proceedings with intense curiosity, for he could not
surmise what he could possibly be about to do. All wonder and
conjecture were, however, speedily set at rest, for the man took a
large printed bill from his hat, and the first word that struck Jacob
Gray was the awful and ominous one of “Murder” in large letters on the
top.

The man pasted the bill on to the trunk of the tree carefully and
evenly, and then he paused for a moment, and in a low, mumbling voice,
read it.

Jacob Gray was in such a position that he could not see the smaller
print of the bill with sufficient distinctness to read it. The one word
at the top—murder, only came out strongly and clearly to his eyes. That
the placard concerned him, he never for a moment doubted, and now his
agony became intense, at the thought that the man was most probably
then engaged in mentally concerning his Gray’s, personal appearance,
with a description of him in the bill.

His anxiety while the man was reading became so intense, that he could
neither speak nor move, and it was not until the man turned to him, and
said,—

“A horrid murder, sir, it seems,” that he found breath to answer him,
in a confused manner.

“Yes—yes,” he said, “a very horrid murder. Have you caught the
murderer?”

“No, sir—but there’s a hundred pounds reward offered for him, and bills
are being stuck all over London, and within ten miles, with a
description of him.”

“Indeed,” said Gray, a violent trembling coming over him. “I am glad I
am so well armed, that I hold several men’s lives in my power; so, you
see, should I meet him, I am safe from him.”

The man again went back a few paces upon hearing this declaration, and
said with an appearance of fright,—

“Certainly, sir—oh—of course, good morning, sir.”

“Good morning,” said Gray.

In a moment the man turned, and walk downed the hill at a pace which
Jacob Gray could see he was momentarily increasing, as he placed a
greater distance between them.

“He suspects me! He suspects me!” gasped Gray. “He has only gone to get
assistance to capture me. Whither can I now fly? I can purchase no more
safety, for I am penniless. Die I dare not—must I be taken—oh,
horror—horror! The scaffold dances before my eyes, and I seem even now
to hear the shouts of the multitude as I am dragged out to die.”

He shook for several moments fearfully, then with blanched lips and
tottering limbs, he rose and approached the tree on which was posted
the placard. For a minute or more, the letter seemed to dance before
his bewildered gaze, and he could read nothing but the one word
“Murder,” which appeared as it were to stand out from the paper with a
supernatural distinctness.

Gradually, however, this nervous delusion vanished, and the letters
arranged themselves like living things in their proper places. Jacob
Gray then read the bill, which offered a reward of one hundred pounds
to any one who would apprehend and lodge in any gaol the perpetrator of
the murder. The placard then went on to give but an imperfect
description of Gray’s person, and concluded by the name of one of the
magistrates of the metropolis.

There were two things that surprised Gray in this placard. One was,
that his name was not mentioned, and the other was, that no reference
was made to any other real or supposed crime than the murder of the man
Vaughan, in the court leading from the Strand.

Through Ada, who had so fearlessly denounced him, he had made sure that
his name would become public, and that his other crime of recent date,
namely, the murder of the officer Elias, in the house at Battersea,
would have become known, and form as direct and distinct a charge
against him as that of Vaughan, which was the least criminal act of the
two. Moreover, Sir Francis Hartleton’s name did not appear to the
document, which was as great a surprise to Gray as anything, for he
conjectured that to him, Ada would make her first appeal for protection.

Altogether the bill tormented and puzzled Jacob Gray, and he continued
gazing at it, until again the letters danced before his fevered brain,
and calm reflection became lost in a whirl of contending fears.



CHAPTER LXIII.


Gray’s Proceedings.—A Narrow Escape.—The Night Visit to Learmont.



The necessity for some immediate movement, in order to insure his
personal safety, now came strongly across the oppressed and wavering
mind of Gray, and hastily tearing down the bill from the tree, he
clasped his throbbing temples with his hands, and strove to reduce his
thoughts to order and consistency. That the bill-sticker had gone to
get assistance to apprehend him, was the frightful notion that never
for one instant left his mind, and without any definite notion of where
he was going, he went round the declivity of the hill, until he arrived
completely on the other side. The only means of concealment that there
presented itself was a thick hedge, but then he thought how very
insecure a place of refuge would that be, in the event of an active
search being made for him.

The country before him was level for a considerable distance, with only
here and there a small clump of trees. After some minutes more of
painful thought an idea suggested itself to him, which was very much in
accordance with his usual complicated habits of thought. That was, to
leave some portions of his apparel on the bank of the pond, to induce a
belief that he had drowned himself in its waters, and then to scramble
into one of the trees, and hide till nightfall among the branches.

This was the only feasible plan of escape that suggested itself to him,
for with his utter ignorance of the localities of the fields, an
attempt to cross them to the village would most probably be seen, and
but a short race in his exhausted and sickly state would ensure his
capture. “At night,” he thought, “I will venture to Learmont’s—it is my
only chance. I will then offer for a thousand pounds to deliver up Ada
to him, and he still supposing, probably, that nothing material has
happened, may consent, when I will find a means of leaving England for
ever, and mature at my leisure plans of revenge against them all. But
now most of all, Ada, will I mark you well. You, who have reduced me to
my present state, my bitterest malediction light upon you. I would, I
could have made you great and wealthy, but now I will devise some
finely woven scheme to revenge myself on those I hate, without missing
you.”

He then laid several articles of his clothing by the bank of the pond
to which he had walked, while the reflections we have worded were
passing through his brain. Then hastily repairing to one of the clumps
of trees we have mentioned, he with much difficulty and pain, for he
was sadly bruised, contrived to ascend it, and although the pangs of
hunger began, even now to harass him, he resolved that the shadows of
evening should shroud all things before he ventured from his retreat.

From his elevated position he now commanded a good view of the
surrounding country, and far down the hill he had first ascended, he
saw the forms of three persons rapidly approaching.

At that distance he could not see their forms distinctly, but as they
neared the brow of the hill, he felt no doubt that one of them was the
man who had stuck the placard to the tree. Now he saw them pause and
point forwards, then with an accelerated pace they all three advanced
towards the tree near which the bill sticker had left them. They now
paused, and appeared to be consulting upon their next step, when one
apparently saw the articles of clothing which Gray had left by the bank
of the pond, and they all came to the spot using gestures to each other
of astonishment.

They remained for several minutes in close consultation now, and then
as if in accordance with an arrangement they had just made, one of them
remained by the pond while the others commenced carefully peering into
the hedges and bushes.

After satisfying themselves that he they sought was not immediately at
hand, they both ran up Traitor’s-hill, and from its summit took a long
searching glance at all the surrounding fields. One of these men, Gray
could see now to his intense fright, had a gun in his hand, and that
fright was increased to absolute abject terror when he saw him level it
at one of the trees in the vicinity, and fire among the branches,
awakening many echoes and starting from their covert many birds who
flew twittering and screaming from among the branches.

Then to his agony he saw the gun again loaded, and the man pointed it
at another tree and fired. The sharp report went through Jacob Gray’s
excited brain like electricity, and it was only by twining his feet
round an arm of the tree in which he was, and clutching another with
his hands, that he saved himself from falling in his agitation to the
ground.

The two men now conversed for some minutes in an undertone. Then one
raising his voice, said in a tone that came clearly to Jacob Gray’s
anxiously straining ears,—

“Oh, don’t give it up yet—it’s worth a try.”

“So it is, but it’s a bore to fire away so much powder for nothing,”
said the other.

“Oh, nonsense, blaze away,” said the first, “I call it good sport.”

“Well, here goes then,” remarked the man with the gun, as he
deliberately rammed down another charge.

Jacob Gray now trembled so excessively that had the men been near at
hand the shaking of the branches of the tree must have at once betrayed
him; but fortunately for him they were too much occupied with the trees
they were firing into to heed any other at a distance, however short.

As they came sauntering on, Jacob Gray with a deep groan that he could
not repress, saw that a very few minutes more would bring the tree in
which he was, under the aim of the man with the gun.

Bang went the piece again, and another flight of screaming birds flew
from the tree fired at, and along with a number of crows took refuge in
the one occupied by Gray. The men were now within a few paces of the
tree, and he could hear in his elevated position with painful
distinctness every word they said.

By a great effort, he in a great measure stilled the trembling which
would have betrayed him, and lay along a thick branch nearly breathless
from terror.

“You may depend he’s off,” said the man with the gun. “He wouldn’t wait
for you.”

“Unless he’s drowned himself,” remarked the other, who was the
bill-sticker.

“No fear of that,” remarked the other with a laugh, “these kind of
fellows never cheat the hangman that way. He has had time to run across
the field to Highgate or Hampstead, or even to skulk into town you may
depend.”

“Well, I’d take my oath it was him as was mentioned in the bill,” said
the man who had brought all this danger upon Gray. “I was thankful I
got off scot-free from him, I can tell you. He would soon have blown my
brains out if I had said half a word.”

“Oh, bother you,” cried the other, “you were too fainthearted, you mean
to lay hold of him.”

“It’s all very well for you to talk with a gun in your hand, but what
odds was I with a paste-pot against a right down regular murderer, I
should like to know?”

“Upon my faith,” said he with the gun, “I should have enjoyed seeing
you sneak off—I really should.”

As he spoke, he commenced reloading his gun with deliberation. Oh, what
a horrible process that was to Jacob Gray. Each moment gave him a pang
of fear that nearly stopped the beating of his heart. How he watched
the action of the ramrod as the powder was pressed down. Then the
rattle of a number of small shot as they went down the barrel, came
upon his ears with dreadful distinctness. Again there was a piece of
paper pressed into the muzzle of the piece, and as the ramrod forced it
home with a dull sound upon the charge, Jacob Gray perspired in every
pore, and with difficulty kept himself from shrieking, mercy! Mercy!

“That’s an old tree,” remarked the man, as he primed the gun, and
stepping back a pace or two levelled it among the branches. “I
recollect it when I was a boy.”

“Fire away,” said the other, who seemed quite to enjoy the sport.

“Now—now,” thought Jacob, “now to fall a bleeding wounded man to the
ground—now for pain, horror, capture, death.”

He closed his eyes, and clung to the branch on which he lay with pure
desperation. All thought of a consistent character became lost in
abject terror. It seemed to him an age ere the man fired into the tree.
Then suddenly a loud report reached his ears. Small branches of the
tree fell about him, and he uttered a deep groan, as he felt a shock
upon his face, and along one arm, which assured him he had been hit by
some of the shots. The pain of a gun-shot wound is not immediate; the
first effect is rather as if sensation had been suddenly stunned, but
when the shock subsides, and the blood again resumes its wonted
channels, the agony of the wound commences. Such was the case with
Jacob Gray, and although but very few of the shots had struck him in
the face, the neck, and on one arm, he could have screamed with pain in
the course of a few moments, and it required all the counteracting
influence of the master feeling of his mind—fear—to prevent him from
discovering himself. Clinging still to the branch desperately he
endured the pain in silence for he durst not even moan. His first groan
had been drowned in the report of the gun, but now that the echoes had
died away, and all was still, the least sound of pain from his lips
might be his utter destruction.

The men were silent for some moments after the discharge of the
gun—then he who had fired it remarked in a disaffected tone,—

“He ain’t there. It’s no use. He must have given us the slip.”

“No, he could not stand that, I’m sure I couldn’t,” said the
bill-sticker, “I never saw so many birds fly out of a tree in my life.”

“That’s because we have hunted them from all the others, and they took
refuge in this one blockhead,” cried the man with the gun, whose temper
did not seem at all improved by the non-success of his expedition.

“Well, you needn’t get in a passion,” suggested the other.

“Who’s in a passion? How do you know I’m in a passion? I don’t believe
you saw the man at all, and there’s an end of it.”

“Upon my conscience—”

“Bother your conscience—you’ve got none.”

“Why, now you saw his things lying by the side of the pond yourself.
What—suppose now he’s drowned himself really. How you’d look then. Why
don’t you have the pond dragged—you know nobody will drag it for me.”

“Why don’t you get in and feel about for him?” suggested the man with
the gun.

“What?”

“Get into the pond and see if he’s there, I say.”

“And put my foot on him perhaps. I’d sooner go to Jericho. I should
never recover it. Suppose I was to go in, and put my foot on his very
face. Oh, oh!”

“You are a coward, that’s what you are, and you may hunt the fellow
yourself for all I care.”

“Don’t go away,” cried the bill-sticker. “Why—why—”

“I shan’t stay here to be fooled any longer,” said the other.

“Will you lend me the gun, then?”

“Lend you my gun?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll see you particularly well—never mind.”

So saying, he of the gun marched off in very great dudgeon, leaving the
bill-sticker gazing after him.

“Well,” he muttered, “there’s an air and a grace, I never knew he was
so hasty before. I—I think I’ll have a hunt for the fellow myself,
and—yet he might master me, and I think I won’t. It’s all very well to
take a prisoner, but when the prisoner takes you, it ain’t near so
pleasant.”

Having come to this sage conclusion, the bill-sticker rapidly walked
away, glancing every now and then around him in terror, lest Gray
should make a sudden dart at him from behind some tree or hedge.

“Here! Here,” moaned Jacob Gray, as he smeared the blood from his face
with his hand, “here I must remain in hunger and pain till night, and
then my only hope now is to crawl to Learmont’s!”



CHAPTER LXIV.


The Chequers.—Britton’s Corner.—An Alarm.—The Mysterious Stranger.—A
Quarrel.—A Fight and a Little Anatomy.



While all these important circumstances are taking place, intoxication
was doing its fell work upon even the iron frame of Andrew Britton, and
each day saw him more coarse, bloated, and wayward in his various
fancies. He was but as an infant in the interval between his fits of
drunkenness, and it was never until he had taken enough ardent spirits
to kill any ordinary person that he felt his energies increase and his
blood course through his veins with its accustomed activity. The
fearful excitement of drink was deluding him with its present support,
at the same time it was sapping the very springs of his life, and
weakening the foundations of his strength.

He had already expended a small fortune at the Chequers, and yet his
gold, to the surprise of the landlord and the frequenters of the house,
appeared to be inexhaustible. Endless were the conjectures of who and
what he was; and one person had actually called upon Sir Francis
Hartleton to mention his strong suspicions that all was not right as
regarded Britton; but we know that the magistrate had ample and
judicious reasons for not alarming Learmont by a useless interference
with Andrew Britton; and although he received the communication with
politeness, he replied that he saw no reason at present to take any
steps as regarded the drunken smith, who held his nightly orgies at the
Chequers; so that the party left his office rather discouraged than
otherwise, and Britton pursued his career unchecked.

On the very night which had witnessed the denunciation of Jacob Gray by
Ada at Whitehall, and the various harrowing incidents, directly and,
indirectly arising therefrom, Britton had been holding high revel in
the parlour of the Chequers.

He had that morning visited Learmont, and was now freely lavishing
around him the gold pieces, which appeared to have no limit, but to be
produced by him as freely as if he had discovered the much coveted
secret of the transmutation of metals.

There was one man who lately Britton had taken much to, and that was on
account principally of his wonderful capacity for drink, in which he
vied with the smith himself. This man was a butcher, residing in the
immediate vicinity, and in every respect he was indeed a fit companion
for Britton. Brutal, coarse, strong, and big, he combined in himself
all that Britton admired; and as he had no money, and Britton had
plenty, which he was, moreover, willing to spend freely, they became
quite great cronies and friends.

On this occasion Britton and the butcher, whose name was Bond, occupied
two seats near the fire-place, and were indulging in a bowl of hot
arrack punch, which steamed before them, and from which they dipped
large quantities with pewter measures.

The rest of the room presented its usual mostly appearance. There were
persons of all kinds and conditions below, the respectable, and a steam
of hot breaths, vapour of mixed liquors, and all sorts of villanous
compounds, to which was added copious volumes of tobacco smoke, which
ascended to the roof.

All was boisterous, rough mirth and roaring jollity, the only
distinguishing feature of which was that Britton took care his voice
should be heard above all the surrounding din, and if any one presumed
to laugh as loud as he, or raise his voice to as stentorian a pitch, he
either commissioned the butcher, or went himself, to nob the said
person on the head with the pewter measure. Britton was in one of his
treating humours, and he had just ordered jugs of strong ale all round
when the landlord came in and said,—

“Gentlemen all, there’s some rare news—most rare news!”

“What is it?” cried a dozen voices in chorus.

“Hilloa!” roared Britton. “Peace, I say, peace! Am I king or not?
Damme, if I was a cockchafer instead of a king, you couldn’t behave
worse; curse you all!”

“Ha, ha, ha! A cockchafer,” laughed a man whose back was towards
Britton, but who was just within his reach, and he accordingly received
from Britton such a stunning blow with the pewter measure that he had
not a laugh in him for an hour.

“Now, silence all,” cried Britton, and when comparative stillness was
procured, he turned with drunken gravity to the landlord, and said.—

“Now, idiot, you come into my presence, and say,—‘There’s news!’”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“If you interrupt me, I’ll brain you. No, not brain you. You can’t be
brained, having none; but I’ll do something else that I’ll think of.
Now, what’s the news?”

“May it please your majesty,” said the landlord, “there’s news of a
fire and a murder.”

The smith half rose from his chair and his face assumed a tinge of deep
red as he shouted,—

“Who dare say so much? Think you I am crippled and cannot use my fore
hammer still—the—the fire was accidental.”

A murmur of astonishment passed among those present, and the landlord
added,—

“I—I—was only told of it, your majesty, and thought you’d like to hear,
that’s all. No offence, your majesty, only they say that there’s been a
murder, and the old place where it was done burnt down to destroy the
dead body.”

“Liar!” cried Britton, making a rush at the landlord. “Who—who dare say
half as much? Show me the man, and I’ll take his life! Show his face,
and then I shall find his throat!”

Everybody rose, and the landlord made good his retreat to the door,
where he stood looking at Britton aghast, for he had never seen him in
so genuine a rage before.

“What do you mean,” growled the butcher, “by coming here and vexing
him? Slaughter me if you deserve such a customer. Hands off there,
leave him alone, will you?”

“It’s a lie,” cried Britton; “there is nobody there to burn, none—none.
That woman, that hag, Maud, has trumped up the tale. She is mad, but
full of malice—quite full of malice at me, for what I don’t know. Who
talks of the body? Who beards and flouts me, I should like to know?
Beware, I am Britton, the smith—Beware, I say!”

The veins upon his forehead were swollen almost to bursting, and rage
imparted to his voice a vehemence which soon destroyed it, for his last
words were hoarse and broken, and still muttering only—“Beware!” he
suffered the butcher to lead him back to his seat and fill for him a
measure of the hot punch, which Britton drank as if it had been so much
water. Then he drew a long breath and exclaimed,—

“The—villain—to—to—come to me with such a tale. His life—curses on him!
His life should be worth more to him than to risk it.”

“Be calm!” said the butcher, in a voice that almost shook the rafters
of the house. “Be calm; give care the go by, and drown all sorts of
disagreeables in drink. There is nothing like it, you may depend,
whether you’re a butcher or a king. Take another glass, by boy, and
swear away. That’s one o’ the comforts of life too, gentlemen. Now I’m
a butcher, and as humane a individual as is in all Westminster; and if
anybody says I isn’t, I’ll put my slaughtering knife in his inside.”

Britton was quiet for a few moments, partly from exhaustion and partly
because he was nearly choked with another measure of punch which he
threw into his throat rather heedlessly, and the landlord, when the
butcher had done speaking, took the opportunity of throwing in a word
of personal justification, for he was quite alarmed at the riot he had
created, as he supposed, with such very slender materials.

“Your majesty,” he said, “will humbly excuse me, but there is a fire at
Battersea, and they do say there’s been a murder.”

“At—at—where?” cried Britton.

“At Battersea. From the back window of the room up stairs, adjoining
your gracious majesty’s, you may see the sky as red as—as—anything.”

“Oh—at Battersea—to-night?”

“Yes—even now. It was one of Sir Francis Hartleton’s men who said there
had been a murder.”

“Indeed!—Oh, indeed,” said Britton, breathing more freely. “I—I—What’s
it to me? What have I to do with it? Here’s a toast, gentlemen, all. A
toast, I say.”

People are always ready to drink toasts at another’s expense, and it is
really very extraordinary what very out-of-the-way and singular
sentiments many well-meaning and harmless people will solemnly pledge
themselves when they come before them in the shape of toasts; and every
glass and tankard was filled to do honour to the proposition of
Britton, when the landlord, whose back was against the door, was nearly
pushed down by the sudden entrance of a man, who, after one glance
round the room, cried,—

“Now’s your time.”

At the words, there arose two men from among the guests, and nodded to
him who had just arrived. What the three were about to do seemed
involved in mystery, and likely to form an endless theme for
conjecture, for before they could make any movement indicative of their
intentions, another man appeared at the door, and nearly breathless
from the haste he had made, he cried in a loud voice,—

“No!”

The two men who had risen looked at each other in amazement, and then
at the stranger, who cried, “No!” in a tone of such authority. For the
space of about a minute no one spoke, and a general feeling of alarm
seemed to be produced by this strange proceedings, a clue to which no
one could possibly imagine.

Then he who had last made his appearance said, in a lower tone,—

“You know me?”

“Yes, sir,” replied both the men in a breath.

“Enough—follow!”

He then turned on his heels and walked away. The two men as well as he
who had just come in so mysteriously made a bustle to leave the room,
but by this time all the indignation of King Britton was thoroughly
aroused, and he roared out,—

“This is pretty; I’ll let you know who is king here. You follow him if
you dare, ye hounds. What’s the meaning of all this?”

He rose from his seat and sprung to the door as he spoke, but he had no
sooner got there that he found himself face to face with the man who
had cried “No” so lustily, and who hearing some objections made to his
orders, had come back. There was an unflinching boldness about the man,
that for a moment staggered Britton, and they stood face to face for a
few moments in silence.

“Well, bully,” cried the man, “what now?”

The only reply of the smith was a straightforward blow, which was,
however, so skillfully parried by the stranger, that it was not only
quite innoxious to him, but gave Britton a severe wrench of the elbow.

“What now?” again cried the man.

“Let me get at him,” roared the butcher.

“No,” screamed Britton. “D—e, let him have fair play. It’s my quarrel,
and I’ll smash anybody that interferes.”

All now rose, and a more strange collection of excited faces could
scarcely have been seen, than was presented just then at the Chequers
in expectation of a serious battle between the smith and his
antagonist, who, although not near so stout a man, was fully as tall,
and a great deal younger looking than he.

“What do you want here?” said Britton.

“I shall not tell you,” replied the man.

“You can fight?”

“A little.”

“Where I came from,” added Britton, “we wrestle a little.”

“So do we where I came from,” replied the other, calmly.

“Do you,” cried Britton, and then confident in his own strength and
skill, even half intoxicated as he was, he sprung upon the man, and
seizing him fairly by the shoulder and waist, he made a tremendous
effort to throw him, but he produced no more impression upon the
stranger than as if he had laid hold of the corner of a house.

After a few moments’ exertion, he ceased, panting, from his endeavours,
and at that moment the stranger put out his arms, and threw Britton so
heavily upon his back that the room shook again.

“Foul play! Foul play!” cried the butcher, half rising.

“You lie, sir,” cried the stranger, in a tone that made the butcher
fall back into his seat again with surprise.

“Follow,” cried the stranger then, addressing the men who had waited
patiently until the result of the combat. He then strode from the
house, being immediately followed by those who appeared to know him,
and under so implicit an obedience to his commands. Britton was picked
up by the butcher, and laid with a thwack as if he had been some huge
joint of meat, upon one of the oaken tables.

“I hope there’s no bones broke,” said the landlord.

“Bones broke, be bothered,” replied the butcher; “I think I ought to
know something about bones and meat too.”

“So you ought. Master Bond,” cried a man; “so you ought. Only I should
say you knew most about bones.”

“Should you, spooney—and why?”

“Because you never send me a joint that isn’t at least the best part
bones.”

There was a general laugh against the butcher at this sally, who,
glaring ferociously at the speaker, exclaimed,—

“When you come to my shop again, look after your own carcass that’s
all, and now for what I calls judgmatical atomy.”

“What?” cried several voices.

“Judgmatical atomy,” roared the butcher. “It means knowing whether
bones is broke or not.”

“Oh, very good, Master Bond,” said the landlord. “Pray attend to his
majesty, bless him. I hope he ain’t hurt—a d—d fool.”

This last sentence was uttered very low by the landlord, and Bond, the
butcher, at once commenced a ludicrous examination of the various limbs
of Britton.

“He ain’t hurt in the fore-leg,” he remarked. “He ain’t damaged nowhere
from neck to loins. He’d cut up as nice as possible, and nobody be no
wiser. Pour a glass of brandy into his mouth, and hold his nose.”

This operation was duly performed, and as recovery or strangulation
were the only alternatives nature had, in the case of Andrew Britton,
she embraced the former and he opened his eyes.



CHAPTER LXV.


An Interview with a Secretary of State.—Sir Francis Hartleton’s
Difficulties.



In order to explain the cause of the singular interruption which
occurred to the festive scene at the Chequers, we must glance at the
proceedings of Sir Francis Hartleton for the preceding two days.

We have before hinted at the very awkward position in which Sir Francis
Hartleton was placed as a magistrate, having suspicions of the very
strongest mature for suspecting some foul crime on the parts of
Learmont, Andrew Britton, and the man Gray, of whose existence and
identification with the third in the iniquitous proceeding he had only
lately had good reason to believe, and yet such suspicions not assuming
a sufficiently tangible form to enable him to found a charge upon him.

At the same time, working as he was in the dark in trying to unravel a
plot the intricacies of which seemed to him to increase instead of
diminish as he dived into it, he never knew but what some false step of
his—some effort of over-zeal might put the guilty parties not only on
their guard of him particularly, but might set them to work to take
more effectual steps than they had hitherto done for the suppression of
every particle of tangible evidence against them, but might likewise
induce deeper and blacker crimes than any they had yet attempted or
committed for the preservation of secrets essential to their existence.

Thus it was that although Sir Francis Hartleton had a strong perception
of the main facts of the case he had in hand as regarded the guilt of
Learmont, yet he felt that he could not be too cautious in what he said
or did consequent thereon, until some circumstance should arise to give
a direct clue to such a chain of evidence as should enable him at once
to pounce upon them all, and insure their condemnation on irrefragible
proofs.

After his first interview with Albert Seyton, he had carefully made a
narrative of all the circumstances connected with the affair, and as it
will be recollected that by that interview, he was enabled to place
together the names of Gray, Britton, and Learmont, in such a manner as
to be certain that they were then, or had been, engaged in some great
act of villany together, he was in a much better situation for arriving
at a correct conclusion with regard to the various circumstances that
came crowding upon his recollection.

That some crime, most probably a murder, had been committed so many
years ago when he, a young man, having more passion and impetuosity
than discretion, resided in the village of Learmont on the night of the
fire at the Old Smithy, he never entertained a doubt, and the
probability that had he been a private individual and not an open enemy
as it were of Learmont’s, he would have made some effort of perhaps a
hazardous and illegal nature to obtain satisfaction on the affair.

Sir Francis, however, was one of those who felt deeply the
responsibilities of the situation in which he was placed as one of the
ministers of justice, and he would have considered himself as quite
unfit for so onerous an office had he acted from impulse instead of
reflection in the prosecution of evil-doers. Thus, although ferretting
the while, he waited until something should occur to point him a clear
and consistent path in the investigation.

His own suspicions were simply these. That Learmont had, by the
assistance of the savage smith and the man who had rushed from the
burning house with the child, committed some great crime for the sake
either of stilling for ever some evidence of preceding criminality, or
for some then present gains or pecuniary advantage, and hence Andrew
Britton’s constant visits to Learmont were for probable claims upon his
purse.

That Jacob Gray was the man who had so rushed from the burning smithy,
and that Ada was the child he had in his arms, Sir Francis, after what
was related to him by Albert Seyton, felt almost assured of, and that
both Gray and Britton were now preying upon Learmont, he felt convinced.

All this, however, did not amount to much, and although greatly
strengthening his own previous suspicions of foul play somewhere,
afforded him no information as a magistrate. He could make no specific
charge against Learmont. He had nothing to say to Britton, and Gray he
had never been able to catch hold of, or he would have made an attempt
to possess himself of the papers addressed to him, which he thought
more than probably contained ample information.

He was likewise moved strongly by the picture Albert Seyton had drawn
of the persecutions endured by Ada, and setting apart all other
considerations, he was most anxious to rescue her from the ills by
which she was surrounded.

Thus he wanted to discover two things principally. The one was what
crime had been committed at the Old Smithy; and the other was,
presuming Ada to be the child seen on that memorable occasion—who was
she?

To neither of these questions could he give himself a rational answer,
and he was therefore forced to endeavour to comfort himself in the
affair by setting a watch over Britton, another on Learmont, and making
what exertions he could himself to ferret out the abode of Jacob Gray,
without exciting the suspicions of Learmont.

Several times the thought of an active search in the ruins of the Old
Smithy at Learmont had suggested itself to his mind, but had been
rejected upon the conviction that such a proceeding would be very
public, and could not be undertaken by him as a magistrate, without
some valid previous excuse.

On the day, however, that he considered himself so fortunate as to have
unearthed Jacob Gray, and to have him all but in his grasp, Sir Francis
Hartleton resolved to bring affairs to some sort of crisis, and adopt
reluctantly the only plan that presented itself to him, of securing the
safety of Ada and the punishment of two out of three criminals, and
that was to arrest Britton on that day, and, confronting him with Gray,
induce a clear confession from one or the other of them, under a
promise of relief from capital punishment.

He, acting upon this feeling, procured ample assistance, and previous
to starting for Gray’s house in the marshes of Battersea, he instructed
one of his experienced officers to make sure of the rapture of Britton
before night.

His disappointment at Forest’s house we are aware of, and immediately
upon his return, he was careful to countermand the order for Britton’s
arrest. This countermand, however, was given to an officer who was
seriously hurt in a common street affray before he could communicate
his message to him who had the particular charge to capture the smith.
Hence it arose that Sir Francis Hartleton was not aware that measures
were taking to apprehend Britton, until it was almost too late to
prevent it. He, nevertheless, made the attempt, and was as we have
seen, just in time personally to stop the arrest, for it was he himself
who cried “No!” in the parlour of the Chequers, being this time
effectually disguised from the observation of Britton.

Sir Francis then immediately returned to his own house, where he had
not long been, when he heard rapidly, one after the other, of the two
astounding events of the fire at the lone house by Battersea, and the
denunciation of a man, by a young and beautiful girl, near Charing
Cross, as a murderer.

The thought immediately flashed across his mind that this man must be
Jacob Gray, and his accuser the persecuted Ada. A very short time, as
we are aware, convinced him that his suspicions were well-founded, and
his main cause of anxiety being removed, he now resolved to lend all
his energies to discover who Ada was, and bring home the crimes of
Learmont and his associates to them.

The whole affair had now assumed so new and troublesome an aspect, that
Sir Francis Hartleton thought it necessary to apply to the Secretary of
State for sanction to the proceedings he might wish to adopt.

His wish was that the pursuit after Jacob Gray might not be active, but
that he should be rather left alone for a time, under a strict
surveillance, to see what he would do, and how far he might commit his
associates by visits and communication with them. He likewise wished
the case of Andrew Britton to be entirely left in his hands, for the
violent proceedings of the savage smith had begun to excite the
attention of others of the local authorities, and he, Sir Francis
Hartleton, was fearful that some imprudent step might be taken by some
other magistrate concerning Britton and his mysterious wealth, which
might alarm Learmont before he wished him to be at all alarmed.

With these views and feelings, Sir Francis Hartleton repaired to the
Secretary of State, with whom he had an immediate interview, and to
whom he carefully detailed all the circumstances which were within his
knowledge, concerning Ada and her fortunes, from the night of the fire
at the Old Smithy at Learmont, to the time when she had taken refuge at
his house, concluding by saying,—

“Sir, I have, from a record of all the circumstances, the strongest
reason to believe that this young girl is the same, who, when an
infant, was carried from the burning ruins by the blood-stained
shrieking man, but still I have no proof; I believe that Jacob Gray is
that man, but still I have no proof; I believe that a murder was
committed that night at the smithy, but still I have no proof; and
moreover, by Gray’s subsequent crimes, we are now entirely cut off from
offering him any merciful consideration for a full and free confession
of the whole of the circumstances, and Britton, I fear, is not the man
to confess at all; if he were, he is most probably awfully and deeply
implicated. Therefore, what I wish of you, sir, is authority to stop
proceedings against Gray, for the present, and to leave him at large
until I procure some more tangible information concerning all these
mysteries, always promising that I can arrest him at any time I please.”

“Upon my word,” said the secretary, scratching his chin, “it’s a very
disagreeable and awkward affair. This Learmont has promised us no less
than seven votes in the Commons.”

“Has he, sir?”

“Yes, and you see—really seven votes—are—are—in point of fact, seven
votes.”

“He procures them of course by nominating members of his properties?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then, sir, should all that property be wrested from him by a
conviction for felony, those votes and qualifications must revert to
the crown.”

“Upon my word that’s true; I dare say he’s a very great rogue; don’t
make a disturbance for nothing, Sir Francis, but you can take the
authority you require. Of course, the votes are more useful to us in
our hands than coming through his; but the family may not be extinct.”

“Still, sir, we cannot smother this affair; justice must be done.”

“Of course, I know all that; the majesty of justice must be upheld;
only, you see, seven votes are something, and I only mentioned how
awkward it is—I may say confoundedly awkward—for we have scarcely a
majority: but, however, you may take your authority, Sir Francis.”



CHAPTER LXVI.


Gray’s Visit to Learmont.—The Disappointment.—A Week of Terror.—The
Street Newsvender.



Evening was casting its broad shadows across the Hampstead fields, and
the air was varied with the songs of thousands of birds retiring to
roost, when Jacob Gray with pain and difficulty began his descent from
the tree which had afforded him so hazardous and painful a refuge for
so many hours.

Stiffened and benumbed as he was in every limb, he found it no easy
matter to crawl down from his high perch; and it was only after many
minutes of uneasiness and terror that he at last reached the ground;
then he leaned against the trunk of the tree, and with dizzy eyes and a
bewildered brain looked anxiously around him. A death-like silence
reigned around, broken by nothing but the twittering of the sparrows,
and the occasional chirp of a grasshopper. He put his hand up to his
wounded face, but the blood had ceased to flow, and he only now felt a
heavy, deadening sensation about the region of his wounds. After a time
then, he ventured to leave the tree, and with a slow, uncertain and
tottering step he walked towards the pond.

The direful pangs of hunger, which in his recumbent position in the
tree had not greatly afflicted him, now began to make themselves felt
in earnest, and Jacob Gray groaned in his agony.

“Oh,” he cried, “for a crust—the hardest morsel that ever a dainty
beggar cast from him as unworthy of his wallet—I shall die of hunger
ere I reach Westminster!”

Still he tottered on towards the pond, and when he reached its grassy
brink, he lay down as he had done before, and drank largely at the
clear water.

Then he bathed his face, and washed away partially the stains of blood
that had hardened into coagulated masses upon his cheeks; and he was
again somewhat refreshed, although still terribly faint from want of
sustenance.

To abate, if possible, the aching, racking pains in all his limbs, he
strove to increase his rate of walking, but that expedient, by
increasing the languid circulation of his half-thickened blood, caused
his wounds from the shot to burst out bleeding afresh, and the horrible
faintness that came over him for want of food made him reel along like
a drunken man.

It might have been the lingering effects of the opiate that had been so
freely administered to him, or it might be his huge draughts of water
upon an empty stomach, but, from whatever cause it arose, a deadly
sickness came over him just as he neared some cottages at the base of
the hill, leading to what is now a pretty collection of suburban
cottages, which was then a swampy hollow, with a few miserable huts,
occupied by people who sold bundles of dry sticks for firewood
ostensibly, but who were in reality had characters, not averse to
anything, so that it promised the smallest gain.

Jacob Gray held with a shivering, nervous grasp by one of the palings
which divided the patch of garden ground belonging to one of these
hovels from the waste common, and was dreadfully sick—sick until what
little strength had been left to him was frustrated, and he fell, a
breathing, but scarcely animate mass, by the side of the palings.

His situation was an unfavourable one for attracting the attention of
any person who might be in the hut, for the palings hid him, and he had
not strength, had he the inclination, to cry for help. How long he
remained there he knew not, but it was quite dark, when, the awful
sickness having subsided, he made an effort to rise again. With much
difficulty he gained his feet, and the moment he did, the horrible
feeling of hunger—maddening hunger—came across him with twice its
former intensity of pain.

“I—I can go no further,” he gasped. “I shall die on the road side if I
attempt to reach London from here with—without food, I—I cannot—cannot.”

He staggered along the palings till he came to a wide gate which had no
fastening, and there, with a feeling of desperation, he crawled
through, determined to risk all by craving charity of the cottagers.

As he went on by the inner-side of the wide palings, which he was
obliged to cling to for support, he struck against some projection
which threw him down and very much bruised his knee. As he lay there he
put up his hands, to feel what it was, and by the shape of the
projection, as well as dipping his hand into its contents, he thought
in a moment what it was, and he rose with alacrity to eat greedily from
a pig-trough the loathsome remainder of the last meal that had been
given to the swine.

What will hunger not induce persons to do? Jacob Gray thought he had
never so much enjoyed a meal in his life, and when he had devoured the
remnants of the mash in the trough, he sat down by the palings, and in
about half an hour was sufficiently recovered to make his project of
proceeding to the house of Learmont at Westminster not so wild and
impracticable.

The night was now fairly set in, and there was not much chance of
Gray’s ragged, wounded, and emaciated appearance attracting the notice
of any one along the dimly lighted road from Hampstead to London.

Although his strength was now a little restored, he still felt very ill
at every step of his progress, and his only hope became entirely
founded upon the chance of finding Learmont within, and inducing in him
a belief that his (Gray’s) strange and disordered appearance arose
merely from some accident on his road, and not from any circumstances
which had put it out of his power to be half so noxious and dangerous
as he had been.

“Oh,” he thought, “if when I see Learmont he did not know how harmless
to him I am without Ada—without a written scrap to leave behind me, to
point the finger of suspicion against him—how his fingers would close
upon my throat and what music to his ears would be my death rattle. But
I must deceive him—I must beard him still—still defy—still taunt him.”

It was some hours before Jacob Gray, travelling at the unsteady pace he
did, contrived to reach the first houses in London; and when he did so,
what would he had not given for but one of the pieces of bright gold he
had been so long hoarding, and of which he had been robbed so speedily,
in order that he might, ere he adventured to see Learmont, take some
means of improving his appearance, and nourishing his wearied frame, in
order that a suspicion might not arise in the breast of the crafty
squire that all was not as usual with him.

Then there was another view of his condition, that when it occurred to
his mind, brought a tumult of distracting thoughts into the brain of
Jacob Gray; and that view was based upon the uncertainty that beset him
with regard to Ada’s actions since denouncing him at Whitehall. Had she
gone to Sir Francis Hartleton’s, and so far added to his suspicions of
Learmont, as to have induced some step against the squire; or, had she
made her name and story so public that the whole of Westminster had
rung with it, coupled with the fact, that it was he, Jacob Gray, who
had been hunted up the Strand; and that Learmont, residing as he did,
within almost a stone’s throw of the whole occurrence, heard sufficient
to let him know how innoxious Jacob Gray now probably was in his death,
and how impolitic it had now become to let him live again to surround
himself with those precautions which had been so suddenly and so
strangely torn from him in the course of a few short hours.

Whenever all this occurred to Jacob Gray, his steps faltered, and the
perspiration of mortal fear broke out upon his brow, for he knew not
but that he was hurrying to his destruction, and making powerful
efforts to be earlier at the place in which he was to be sacrificed.

Still, what other hope had that miserable guilty man. Learmont alone
had the power to aid him, Learmont alone held him in dread, and might
still fancy he could even in death leave a sting behind him which might
topple him from his haughty height of power, and dissipate to the winds
of Heaven all his dreams of wild ambition.

“Yes, yes,” he muttered, “I must run this awful risk—I must go to
Learmont and procure enough gold for my present necessaries, and then
concoct some scheme for the dark future.”

With a face as pale as monumental marble, save where a few livid marks
and streaks of blood showed where he had been wounded, Jacob Gray now
turned into the dense mass of houses about St. Giles’s, for the purpose
of wending his way as quietly and as far from the public thoroughfares
as possible towards Charing-cross.

Skulking along by dark places, and shunning anywhere that presented a
light aspect, he pursued his route towards the upper end of St.
Martin’s lane. A crowd was there collected sufficiently dense to stop
his progress, and he dare not, like a man of clear conscience and open
heart, push his way through the motley assemblage. In vain he tried to
get up one of the side streets which would not take him far out of his
way. He had no recourse but to go back some hundred yards or more, or
endeavour to get through the mass of persons, the cause of whose
assembling he knew not nor cared, so that they would let him pass
unobstructed and unquestioned.

As he neared, in his efforts to pass, the centre of the throng of
persons, he found that they were collected around a man who was, in the
loud conventional voice of street singers and proclaimers of news,
attracting his auditors by some narrative of deep interest, apparently.
In another moment, Gray nearly lost all power of motion as he heard
these words:—

“Here, my masters, you have a full account with all the particulars of
the most horrid murder in the Strand of Mr. Vaughan, together with a
copy of verses made on the occasion, and addressed to all young
persons, warning them against dice, cards, drink, and Sabbath breaking.”

The man then in a loud nasal voice, commenced his verses.

Jacob Gray only paused to hear the first line, which consisted of an
appeal to young mothers nursing tender babes, and then unable any
longer to remain in the throng, he pushed his way through them like a
madman, and despite the kicks and cuffs he received, succeeded in
passing on and arriving nearly breathless, heated, and alarmed at
Charing-cross.



CHAPTER LXVII.


The Disappointment.—The Last Resource.—A Strange Meeting.—The
Confession.



The clocks were striking ten as Jacob Gray came within sight of
Learmont’s house, and then so strongly did all his former fears
regarding the possible results of his interview with the squire came
across him, that it was many minutes before he could summon courage to
ascend the steps of the mansion. There was, however, no other course;
and, although his fears were of a nature rather to be increased than
diminished, by the feverish nature of his reflection, he reluctantly at
length slunk up the steps and knocked at the door, for at that hour it
was always closed.

The few moments of suspense till the door was opened were agonising to
Jacob Gray in the extreme, and all his former faintness, and some of
exhaustion came over him as the ponderous portal opened, and a servant
stood in the gap and demanded his business.

“You know me?” said Gray.

The man looked at him doubtingly, for what with his wounds, and the
pain, misery, and anxiety, he had gone through, he was sufficiently
altered to make his recognition doubtful for a moment, even to those
who had seen him often. A second look, however, let the servant know
that he had seen him before as one of his master’s very mysterious
visitors, and he replied—

“Yes, sir, I do know you.”

“Tell your master I am here.”

“He is not within.”

“Not within,”

“No, sir. We do not expect him home to-night; he has gone to a party at
the Earl of Harrowdon’s, in the Palace-yard.”

Gray stood for a moment leaning for support against the door-post—then
by a strong effort he spoke—

“Thank you—I—I will call to-morrow,” and he descended the steps
stupified and bewildered by the cross accidents that seemed to conspire
against him.

He heard the door closed behind him, and he walked on mechanically for
about a hundred yards, when he sat down upon the step of a door, and
leaning his face upon his hands, he nearly gave himself up to despair.

“What could he do?—What resource was open to him?—Where could he go for
food and shelter? A starving fugitive!—With a price set upon his
capture. Could there be yet a degree of horror, and misery beyond what
he now endured?”

“Yes—yes,” he suddenly said, “I—I can beg. Till to-morrow I can beg a
few pence to save me from absolute starvation; but, yet that is a
fearful risk, for by so doing I shall challenge the attention of the
passers by, instead of evading it. I cannot starve; though I must
beg—if it be but a few pence to keep me alive until the morning.”

Jacob Gray’s appearance was certainly very much in favour of any tale
of distress he might relate for the purpose of moving the charitable to
pity and benevolence. A more miserable and woebegone wretch could
scarcely have been found within the bills of mortality.

The first person upon whom Jacob Gray made an attempt in the begging
way was a man who was slowly sauntering past, enveloped in a rich and
handsome coat, but the moment he heard Gray say,—

“I am starving,” he drew his cloak closer around him, as if by so doing
he shut out his appeal to humanity, and hurried on at a rapid pace.

Gray had not been begging long enough to have learnt humility, and the
bitter curses he muttered after the man with the cloak would have made
his hair stand on end, had he have heard them.

As he was then upon the point of rising from the step, and crawling to
some more public thoroughfare, in which he might have a more extended
sphere of operation, a strange wild noise smote his ears, and he drew
back into the shadow of the doorway with a feeling of alarm.

The sound seemed to approach from the further end of the street, and
now he could distinguish a voice addressing some one in imploring
tones, which were replied to by a harsh voice. The words spoken Gray
could not distinguish, but a strange presentiment came over him that he
was somehow connected with the persons approaching, or the subject
matter of their discourse.

Back—back—he shrunk into the doorway, until he was completely hidden in
the shadow of the house.

The disputants rapidly approached, and then he could hear the rougher
voice exclaim,—

“There is no harm meant you. You are a foolish woman. I tell you, over
and over again, that you are wanted for your own good.”

“Murderer, away, away!” cried a voice that struck to the heart of Jacob
Gray, for he knew it to be the woman he had seen at the public-house by
Vauxhall, when he ran so narrow a chance of capture by Sir Francis
Hartleton.

“Will you come quietly?” cried the man.

“No—no—not with you,” cried Maud, “not with you. Look at your hands,
man, are they not dyed deeply with blood? Ha! Ha! Ha! You shrink now.
No—no—Maud will not go with you; but I will tell you a secret.
Listen—do you know Andrew Britton, the savage smith?”

“No, nor don’t want,” said the man. “Come now, listen to reason, Sir
Francis Hartleton wants to see you particularly.”

“Aye, aye!” said Maud, “that’s a fine device. Tell me where the child
is, will you?”

“Come now,—it ain’t far,” said the man. “Here have I been hunting all
over London for you nearly a day and half now, and when I find you, you
won’t come. I tell you Sir Francis means to do something for you.”

“Can he restore the dead?”

“Not exactly.”

“Ah! Ah! Ah! He can—he can. So now I know you are no messenger of his.
You come from Andrew Britton,—why? To kill me; but it is of no use—of
no use, I tell you. You, and he, and everybody know well that he is to
die before I do.”

Maud now laid hold of the rails of the house and resolutely refused to
move. The man spoke in a perplexed tone as he said,—

“Come—come now, don’t be foolish. I must get some help to take you,
whether you like it or not, if you won’t come now quietly.”

“Beware,” said Maud.

The man gave a start, as the poor creature showed him the glittering
blade of a knife she had concealed in her bosom. There was a pause of a
few minutes, and then Gray heard the man say,—

“Very well. Just as you like, I always look after number one first, and
I’ll be hanged if I have anything more to do with you.”

Maud laughed hysterically as she sat down upon the step, and still kept
a clutch upon the iron rail.

“Foiled! Foiled!” she exclaimed. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Tell him it is in vain.
He may hunt me, but it is written in the book of the Eternal, that
Britton, the savage smith of Learmont, is to die before I. Go—go. Ha!
Ha! Ha! You will never wash the blood stains out. Never—never—never!”

The man made no answer, but walked away at a very rapid pace, no doubt
for the purpose of procuring some assistance; for he was an officer who
had been ordered by Sir Francis Hartleton to seek for the poor deserted
creature, and bring her to him, when he would take measures for placing
her in some asylum where she would be free from any violence on the
part of Andrew Britton, should he accidentally meet with her.

Maud continued to mutter in a low tone after the man had left, but Gray
could not closely distinguish what she said, and he remained for some
time perfectly quiet, resolving in his mind what he should do. As he
communed with himself the deadly spirit of revenge against all whom he
imagined to be in any way accessary to producing his present destitute
state came over him, and he ground his teeth as he muttered,—

“I could kill them all. I could exult in their agonies. I will, I must
have revenge. This hag was the cursed cause of all the horrors I have
been compelled to wade through, and shall I now suffer her to escape,
now that she is in my power?”

He cast a rapid glance up and down the street as he added,—

“And no one by. Oh? That I had some weapon that silently and surely
would do its work, and leave her here a corpse. She shall be one
offered on the altar of my revenge! I must, I will work the destruction
of them all, and she will be the—the first.”

A deathly languor came over Jacob Gray even as he spoke, and he groaned
audibly.

Maud started at the sound, and turning she fixed her eyes upon his
dusky form as it lay hid in the shadow of the doorway, from which, for
more than a minute his extreme weakness would not permit him to move.

“What man are you?” cried Maud. “You groan—wherefore? Have you lost all
you loved?”

“I have,” said Gray, with a groan, as he thought of his money.

Maud crept up the steps till she came close to him, and then laying her
shrivelled hand upon his arm, she said,—

“I know you now—I know you.”

“Know me?” faltered Gray, making an effort to pass her on the steps.

“Yes. Where, and how, and when we meet I shall soon think, but I know
you.”

Gray felt a little alarmed at this speech, and he replied,—

“You are mistaken, I am poor and destitute. We have never meet before.”

“Poor and destitute? Hast ever felt the pang of hunger as I have?”

“I feel them now.”

Maud opened a wallet she had with her, and took some broken victuals
from it, which she laid before Gray, saying,—

“Eat—eat—and I will think the while where I have met you.”

He needed no second invitation, but devoured the not very tempting
viands before him, with an eagerness that could leave no doubt of the
truth of his statement concerning his hunger.

Maud passed her hands several times across her brow as she said,—

“I know you, yet I know you not. Did you ever hear of a murder?”

“No,” said Gray.

“Done with such a thing as this?”

She half produced the knife as she spoke, and Gray immediately said
with eagerness,—

“Give me that!”

Maud drew back, and fixed her wild eye upon him as she said,—

“Are you a man of blood? Let me see your hands. Are they stained with
innocent gore, or free from the damning pollution that begrimes the
fool, and drags it shrieking to despair. Answer me man. Saw ye ever the
Old Smithy?”

“Give me the knife and I will tell you.”

“Yes, the knife! He is eager for the knife, who knows its use. Answer
me: saw ye the fire—yes, the fire—when was it? Yesternight?”

“What fire?”

“In a house where dwelt an angel, I knew ’twas that—Yes! Ha! Ha! Ha!
And there was a body too that would not burn. There it lay black and
cold, untouched amidst the charred fragments of the house. I—I have
been there to look for the angel, but she has flown up to her native
skies, with not a downy feather of her radiant wings touched by the
gross element.”

“You, you have been to the house?” stammered Gray.

“I have! You knew it? It lies near sweet green fields, and the merry
birds mock you as you go it. Listen, and I will tell you what I did.
The early dawn was brightening, and old and young with jests and
laughter, and mingling voices, went to see the ruins of the ancient
house.”

“And you went?”

“I did. Then some bright spades and hatchets, and they dug for the body
of a murdered man. Pile after pile of the blackened rubbish was
removed, and then one said,—‘he must be burnt to a cinder,’ but I knew
he would be found, no murdered body was ever yet all burnt. The
murderer himself has often tried thus to dissipate in the ashes of his
victim, all traces of his awful crime, but Heaven will not have it so.”

Gray clutched to the railings for support as he said,—

“Nonsense—I—I know better.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed Maud. “I cannot see well the working of your
face, but your voice belies your words. The man was found.”

“Well, well. It is nothing to me.”

“They said he had been shot,” continued Maud, “and that he must have
died in lingering agony. I saw them bring him forth—not a thread of his
garments—not a hair of his head—was touched by those flames that had
destroyed all else.”

“Well—well,” said Gray, “I don’t want to hear more. Will you give me
the knife?”

Maud had kept her hand upon the handle of the weapon, and Gray had
found no opportunity of taking her by surprise, or he would have made
an endeavour to destroy the poor creature, upon whose head the
chastening hand of Providence had fallen so heavily. A direct attack
upon her he dared not make, for first of all he could not trust his
present weak state to the chances of a struggle even with her, and
secondly, such was not Jacob Gray’s way of doing things.

“Will you give me the knife?” he repeated.

“No!” said Maud. “I’m keeping it for Andrew Britton.”

“Indeed?”

“I am—I am.”

“If I thought you would use it on Andrew Britton,” muttered Gray, “I
would not take it from you for a hundred pounds.”

“Listen—listen, I have not told you all,” said Maud.

“All what?”

“About the fire. You shall hear—all who went there from many motives,
left the smoking mass before the sun was at its topmost height in
Heaven—but I stayed.”

“Why did you stay?”

“I thought the angel might come to me, but she did not. I prayed for
her to come near again, and show me her pale and beautiful face, but
she did not. I wept, but she came not, and then I thought I might find
something that should ever remind me of her. And I did—I did.”

“You did?“

“Aye.”

“What—what—found you? Tell me, woman.”

“Twas very strange that I should find them there,” said Maud
thoughtfully.

“Find what?”

“Where the murdered man had lain there was no trace of fire. The flames
had burned round, but touched him not, there I found them.”

“Woman, tell me what you found, or—”

“Or what?” cried. Maud, her eyes flashing upon the cowardly Gray, who
immediately shrunk back, saying,—

“Nothing—I—want nothing. Only I am anxious to know what you found.”

“You are? Well, well, I found some of these. Here is one.”

As she spoke, she took from her breast a small torn scrap of paper and
gazed at it attentively.

In an instant Gray surmised the truth. In his attempt to get rid of his
written confession while standing on the ladder, previous to the murder
of Elias, he had dropped many pieces, and then in the exciting scenes
that followed utterly forgotten them. Once indeed, while in the tree on
Hampstead Heath, he remembered the circumstance, but then he
immediately assumed that they had been burnt along with the house.

He now trembled in every limb, as the thought came over him, that
possibly the poor mad creature might have collected sufficient of the
torn pieces to give Sir Francis Hartleton a tangible idea of the whole;
and although he felt that, next thing to his life, was the repossession
of those torn scraps, he was so overcome by the circumstance of their
thus coming to light, that for a few moments he thought he should have
fainted.

Maud, meanwhile spread out the small crumpled pieces of paper in her
hand, and commenced reading in a low muttering voice, “Andrew
Britton”—“the temptation”—“a double murder”—“shrieking”—“the
child”—“guilt—”

“Ha! Ha! Brave words, brave words!” she cried. “Murder and guilt, and
Andrew Britton’s name of course; where there is murder and guilt, there
must be Andrew Britton.”

Gray slowly prepared himself for action. He cast a wary eye around him,
but no one was visible. Then he drew himself up to make a rush upon
Maud, when he heard a voice some distance from the street say loudly,—

“Faster, I say, faster. Who’d be a king if he couldn’t be carried as
quick as he likes? On, I say, or I’ll be the death of some of you.”

“Andrew Britton!” shrieked Maud, and she bounded from the step and ran
down the street with amazing fleetness.

Jacob Gray sunk back against the door with a deep groan.



CHAPTER LXVIII.


Britton and Learmont.—Mind and Matter Produce Similar
Results.—Learmont’s Weakness and Fears.—The Chair.



Despite the apathy endured by his habitual state of intoxication,
Andrew Britton began to feel some vague sort of apprehension that there
was danger at hand, and that he was watched by parties who came and sat
down with apparent jollity in the old parlour of the Chequers.

When once this idea got possession of his mind, it began to torment
him, and, however, after thinking to the best of his ability over the
matter, he determined upon consulting with Learmont upon the subject,
and leaving it to his cooler judgment to take what steps he thought fit
in the affair.

According to this resolve he sought the house of Learmont, where he
arrived but a very few minutes after Albert Seyton had left, and
demanded, with his usual effrontery, an interview with the squire.

Learmont had latterly looked upon Andrew with mixed feelings of dread
and exultation—dread that he might drink himself to death some day and
leave behind him ample written evidence to convict him, Learmont, of
heavy crimes—and exultation that all the money the savage smith wrung
from his fears was converted into the means of his destruction by his
habit of habitual intoxication.

When they now met, Learmont forgot for a moment his personal danger in
eager notice of the trembling hand and generally decayed state of the
smith’s once hardy frame. But he forgot at the same time that anxiety
and the constant gnawing of conscience were making even more rapid
ravages upon his own constitution than the utmost stretch of
intemperance could have done.

Britton was pale, and in some degree emaciated; but Learmont was
positively ghastly, and had wasted nearly to a skeleton.

“Well,” said Learmont, in a hollow and constrained voice, “you come, as
usual, for more money, I suppose.”

“Yes,” said Britton,—“I don’t mean to go away empty-handed squire, you
may take your oath; but I have something more to say on this visit.”

“Say it; and begone! I—I—am busy.”

“Are you? Perhaps you will be busier still some day. Do you happen to
be thirsty?”

“No!” said Learmont impatiently.

“That’s a pity, because I am; and if it wasn’t for the look of the
thing, drinking by one’s self, I’d have a glass of something.”

“Andrew—Britton,” said Learmont, jerking out his words slowly from
beneath his clenched teeth; “I have warned you more than once before
not to trifle with me. Your errand here is specific; you come for the
means of carrying on a life of mad riot and intoxication—a life which
some of these days may lead you to an excess which will plunge you, and
all connected with you, in one common ruin.”

“Well, is that all?”

“And enough,” cried Learmont, angrily. “Have I ever resisted your
demands?”

“No.”

“Have I ever limited your calls upon my purse?”

“No; but how d—d moderate I’ve been—think of that.”

“But—but Britton—there was a time when you were not deaf to all reason;
hear me now.”

“You cannot complain of me, so long as I freely administer to your real
and fancied wants. Wherefore, then, should I run a fearful and terrible
risk daily from your excesses? You admit—you must admit—that I, to the
very spirit and letter, fulfil my contract with you; and yet I run a
fearful risk—a risk which can do you no manner of good. What, if you
were to die, Andrew Britton? You are a man of wild excesses; I say, if
you were to die? Is the end of all my compliances with your demands to
be my destruction, when you can desire no more? Speak! How do you
warrant me against so hard a condition?”

“I don’t warrant you at all,” said Britton. “Recollect you forced me to
it. What was I? The smith of Learmont. I toiled day and night; and they
called me ‘a savage’ and why? because I was in your toils—I did a piece
of work for you that—”

“Hush! Hush!” gasped Learmont.

“Oh, you are delicate, and don’t like it mentioned. I am not so nice—I
murdered for you squire, and you know it. What was my reward?
Toil—toil—and you know that too. You taunted me with my guilt and
crime. Once, squire, when I threw in your teeth, that the same halter
that was made for me, would fit your worshipful neck, you told me that
I flattered myself, for that the word of a right worshipful squire,
would outweigh the oath of a smith, and cursed me for a fool, but I
believed you, and put up with it, till that sneaking hound, Gray, came
to me.”

“Curses on him!” muttered Learmont.

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Britton. “I like him no more than yourself—I have
much to lay at his door.”

“But to my question, Britton,” said Learmont, impatiently.

“Well, to your question—what care I what becomes of you? I have myself
and myself only to look to, and you may go to the devil or anywhere
else, for all that it matters to me.”

“Andrew Britton, once before I told you to beware. You may carry this
matter so far that I may turn upon you, and find greater safety in a
foreign land than here, and if I once determine upon such a step—”

“You will leave me to the hangman?”

“I will because you goad me to it.”

“And what is there to hinder me from doing the same thing?”

“You cannot! You have not the means nor the inclination. To accomplish
such an object, you must come to me for a sum of money, which would be
equivalent to proclaiming your intention at once, and thus my least
danger would be your destruction—you understand me?”

“I do; and although there are two words to that bargain—pray in the
name of all that’s honourable, what do you want me to do, squire?”

“As a matter of common justice between us, I ask you to destroy any
written evidence you may have prepared according to the accursed and
unjust suggestions of Gray against me; or that in the event of your
death, I may, having faithfully fulfilled my bond with you, be then
released. Stay, I know what you would say. That, you would tell me,
holds out a temptation to me to take your life. I say it does not,
Andrew Britton, in your case. Your avarice is not so insatiable as
Jacob Gray’s; and, moreover, we never meet but as man to man, and you
can take what precautions you please to ensure your own safety.”

“No, squire,” said Britton, “it’s worth all the money, I’m d—d if it
ain’t to see you in such a fright. You think I’m drinking myself to
death, I know you do, and so I am, but it’s an infernally slow process,
and if you come to that, you look half dead yourself.”

“I—I?”

“Yes! Mind you give me none of your nonsense, you know, in case you
should pop off all of a sudden.”

“I—I am very well,” said Learmont, “strong and well; I never was
better.”

He dropped into a chair, as he spoke, and a deadly paleness came over
his face, robbing it even of its usual sallowness, and giving instead a
chalky appearance to the skin, that was fearful to behold.

“There, you see,” said Britton, “you ain’t well now—you don’t drink
enough. Here you have been making a riot about me, and the chance of my
popping off, and you have hardly an ounce of flesh on your cursed long
carcase.”

“I am better now!” cried Learmont, “I am quite well—very well indeed.
You—you have known me long, Andrew Britton—tell me I never looked
better in my life, and I will give you a hundred pounds—yes, a hundred
pounds, good Britton.”

“Can’t be such a cursed hypocrite,” said Britten, who mightily enjoyed
Learmont’s fright, “I never saw you look so bad in all my life!”

“I am sure you are joking.”

“Serious as a horseshoe.”

“Well, well, that don’t matter, I never take people by their looks.
Sometimes the freshest and the finest go first. You know that well,
Andrew Britton.”

“That’s very true,” said Britton, “as one we know—a tall proper man
enough—you recollect—his name was—”

“Peace! Peace! Do you want to drive me mad, Andrew Britton? Where is
your hope, but in me? What—what other resource have you? Fiend! Do you
dare thus to call up the hideous past to blast me? Peace—peace, I say,
Andrew Britton. Leave me—our conference is over.”

“Not quite.”

“It is—it is. Go—there’s money.”

He threw his purse to Britton as he spoke, and then cried,—

“Go, go. Go at once.”

“You forget,” said Britton, as he coolly pocketed the money, “that I
came here to tell you something particular.”

“What is it?”

“There is danger!”

“Danger?” cried or rather shrieked Learmont, springing from his seat.
“Danger? No, no; you don’t mean—”

“I mean what I say. There’s danger; and giving you credit for a cooler
head than mine, though I’m not quite sure of it, I came to tell you.”

Learmont leaned heavily upon the arm of the smith, as he said,—

“Good Britton, we will stand or fall together; we will not forsake each
other, I will help you, Britton. We have known each other long, and
been mutually faithful, I’m sure we have. You have still the sense
to—to take a life—for our own safety, Britton—always for our safety.”

“If I have, it’s more than you have,” said Britton. “Why, you are
turning silly. What’s the matter with the man? Have you seen a ghost?”

“Ah!” cried Learmont, “don’t speak of that; for, by the—the powers of
hell, I think I really have.”

“Oh! You think you have?”

“I do.”

“Where?”

“On my very door steps, Andrew Britton, I saw a face. Young and
beautiful—so like—so very like—hers who—”

“You don’t mean the Lady Monimia?”

“Hush, hush. ’Twas she—I knew her—come to look at me, as she looked—now
two and twenty years ago, in the spring of her rare beauty, when
we—we—quenched her life, Andrew Britton.”

“That’s all your beastly imagination,” said Britton, “I wonder at you.
On your step, do you say?”

“Yes.”

“Stuff—you don’t drink enough to clear your head of the vapours. Some
of these days you’ll fancy you see your—”

“Hush, hush. My conscience tells me the name you were about to
pronounce Hush, hush, I say. Oh! Andrew Britton, you are a man rough in
speech and manners. Your heart seems callous, but have there been no
times—no awful moments when your mental eye has been, as it were,
turned inwards on your soul, and you have shrunk aghast from—from
yourself, and wished to be the poorest, veriest abject mortal that ever
crawled, so you were innocent of man’s blood? Britton—savage, wild as
you are, you must have felt some portion of the pangs that bring but
one awful consolation with them, and that is, that hell can inflict no
more upon us.”

“I’ll be hanged if I know what you are driving at,” cried Britton. “I
should recommend brandy-and-water.”

“No, no; I cannot drink. That vulgar consolation is denied to me. My
blood dries up, and my brain inflames, but I get no peace from such a
source. Besides it shortens life.”

“Have your own way. All I’ve got to say is, that I feel as sure as that
I am standing here, that some one has been watching me at the Chequers.”

“No—no.”

“Yes—yes, I say.”

“Some drunken brawl of your own!”

“No. Do you know, I suspect that fellow Hartleton is poking and prying
about as usual, curse him.”

“Aye, Hartleton!” cried Learmont. “There is my great danger. He
suspects and watches—Britton, he might die suddenly.”

“He might.”

“Well, well.”

“And he will too, if I catch him.”

“Good, Britton. A thousand pounds for news that he is up more.”

“What’s the use of your thousand pounds to me? I can but lead the life
of a gentleman, and that I am. Why, somebody would cut my throat, if I
had a thousand shillings all at once. Good day to you, squire, good
day—take care of yourself. Leave me alone if I once catch Master
Hartleton at bay.”

“Yes, yes; you are courteous, Britton.”

“Oh! By-the-by, what do you call one of those things I see in your
hall, like a watch-box with two long poles to it?”

“A sedan chair.”

“Oh! Then I’m d—d if I don’t have one.”

“You?”

“Yes, me. Why shouldn’t I?—It will be rare fun—upon my life it will.
Good morning to you.”

So saying, Britton swaggered out of the house, and by way of showing
both his knowledge and his independence to Learmont’s servants in the
hall, when he got there, he said pointing the sedan-chair,—

“What’s that?”

“A chair,” said one.

“You think I didn’t know that, did you, spooney?” he replied, as he
gave the unfortunate footman a crack on the head that made him dance
again.



CHAPTER LXIX.


A Walk and a Meeting.—The Vision at the Open Casement.—Learmont’s
Perturbation.



An idea had struck Learmont, during the course of his conversation with
Britton which, now that the smith was gone, came still more strongly
and forcibly across his mind, and shaped itself into clearer words.

“Why should not I,” he said, “if I find that in England there is for me
nothing but danger, disgrace, and constant apprehension, why should not
I take my accumulated wealth somewhere else, to some land where I could
purchase with it dignity and power, and—what is more freedom from the
terrors that now beset my path? ’Tis worth reflecting on such a course;
I could do it most easily now. ’Tis a comforting reflection—a most
comforting reflection, and—and when I am tortured by doubts and fears,
I will think of such a course. But this news of Britton’s troubles me.
He thinks himself watched by Hartleton; why doubtless so am I. Sir
Francis is no friend to me, and would gladly find me tripping some of
these days—I must crush him—I will have his life, if it cost me half my
wealth. We kill a noxious reptile, because we think it may sting us; so
will I have vengeance upon you, Sir Francis Hartleton, because I know
you would sting me if you could. I must find some means subtle, deep,
and dangerous to him, but withal to me innoxious. I must kill, and yet
not seem to kill, even to the instrument with which I do the work.
Britton it is of no use attempting to employ on such an occasion,
unless I could be certain of his success, and then, his execution for
the deed. In such a case, I should be rid of two enemies; and even
Britton would not be so wantonly mischievous as to deceive me, at no
benefit to himself;—yet is it dangerous. I must think again. Master
Hartleton—you are playing with edged tools.”

Learmont was now silent for a time, and then rose, saying,—

“Now for the life of action which shall drown thought—my wealth—my
house—my brilliant entertainments have all succeeded so far as to make
me a honoured guest with more than I can visit—but I will visit
many,—it—it is time I began to enjoy something now.”

The horrible contortion which he produced upon his ghastly face, by way
of a smile, at these words, startled him, as he saw it reflected in a
mirror hanging opposite to him; and he shook in every limb, as he
hastily left the room.

His servants shrunk from before him as, in about ten minutes time, he
passed down the great marble staircase of his mansion, splendidly
dressed, and enveloped in a cloak, to make some calls.

Declining, with a haughty wave of his hand, the chair that stood in the
hall, he strode out; and, with his lips compressed as usual with him,
so closely that not a particle of blood was left in them, he turned
into the park, intending to call upon the frivolous but noble Brereton
family, who had lodgings near to old Buckingham House.

Of all the persons intent on pleasure, on business, or on intrigue,
that thronged to the park, Learmont fancied that no one could carry so
heavy a heart as himself, and yet how successful had he been! Had he
not accomplished all that he had grasped at? But, like the dog in the
fable, what a valuable and tangible possession had he dropped, in
grasping the shadow which now darkened his soul.

He saw not the sunshine,—for his own heart was black and gloomy; he
heard not the merry song of the birds,—for busy thought was conjuring
up direful images in his brain. He strode along, like a tall spirit—a
being belonging to some more gloomy and uncongenial world than ours,
who heard but discord in our sweetest sounds, and could not appreciate
any of our pleasures.

And yet strange to say, all that Learmont had toiled for—all he had
sinned for—all he had dipped his hands in blood for, had been that he
might enjoy, in greater abundance, these very delights and pleasures
that seemed to mock his grasp, and to retreat like the ignis fatuus of
the morass—far off in proportion, as he most wishes to approach.

He walked up the principal mall, and none addressed him, although many
looked after the tall, gaunt, melancholy-looking man, as he strode in
silence onwards. What would Learmont not have given for a companion;
one who would feel and think with him, and divide the weight of
oppressive conscience.

A lively burst of martial music now came suddenly upon his ears, and he
glanced in the direction from whence it came, when he saw a person
standing by a seat, from which he seemed to have just risen, close to
him. A second glance told Learmont it was the young man, Albert Seyton,
who had applied to him for the office of secretary, and he bowed coldly
and stiffly to him, which Albert courteously rejoined, saying,—

“The morning is inviting, sir.”

“Yes—a—cold, as you say,” replied Learmont, in an abstracted tone.

“Cold, sir?”

“Fine—fine, I mean. Did I say cold?”

“You did, sir; but probably your thoughts were somewhere else. I fear I
intrude upon you.”

“No, no; you do not. My thoughts, young sir, never wander, but I am
grateful to him who can bring them back again.”

“He is like me,” thought Albert, with a sigh; “a man with a very few
pleasant moments to look mentally back to.”

“Have you thought further of what I proposed to you at our last
meeting?” said Learmont.

After a long pause, for Albert did not well know what to say in answer
to the remark last made by the melancholy squire, “I have, sir,” he now
said, “and adhere firmly to all I before pledged myself to; namely,
that in all honour I will do you zealous service and tire not.”

“’Tis well, ’tis well. Walk with me, and we will converse more at large
as we go; I am merely out for exercise.”

Albert bowed, and walked by the side of his strange employer in silence
for some minutes. Learmont then said,—

“You will call upon me to-morrow, according to our previous
arrangement.”

“I shall be proud to do so,” said Albert.

“Well, well. Perhaps the man may be there; but beware of his consummate
art, young sir. If you would successfully track him to his haunt, you
must be wary and cunning, patient and sagacious; believe me no common
man will ever succeed in circumventing him.”

“Indeed, sir.”

“Ay, indeed, you know him not. He has the deep cunning of the serpent.
Even I—but no matter. You will freely undertake the employment?”

“As an earnest of future service, yes, sir, I will do your bidding, and
if great attention and extreme care can accomplish your desire, it
shall be done.”

“Persevere, yourself, young sir, in such a disposition, and you will
become a thriving man.”

“I hope to please you, sir.”

“You will; of course, you will, you will do me zealous service. But
mark me you must follow this man, who will call at my house, as you
would follow some light that would lead you from the caverns of poverty
to fortune. Track him home, and see him fairly housed. Then mark the
place by every token that may enable you again to lay your very hand
upon the door, and cry, ‘Here dwells that man!’”

“I will, sir, and I hope you may find him more deserving than you
think.”

“I hope I may,” said Learmont.

They now walked along the Birdcage-walk, for they had doubled the
canal, and were approaching towards Westminister again. For the space
of more than five minutes neither spoke, for both were busy with
reflections, although of a widely different character.

Albert Seyton was more and more suspicions of the intentions of
Learmont, and he began to think him a man, most probably, mixed up in
some dark political intrigues, to carry out which, he required some
simple and unsuspecting agent. There was something very galling to the
proud spirit of Albert, in the supposition that Learmont had pitched
upon him, as thinking him weak enough to believe anything, and never to
suspect that the employment he was set upon was far different from what
it purported to be, and he longed to say, “But I am not so simple and
foolish as you may imagine me, and have my doubts, and grave suspicions
concerning your conduct and the truth of words;” but then he could not
bring himself to say so much, because all as yet was merely made up of
doubt and suspicion, and he considered how ridiculously foolish he
would look by allowing his imagination to run riot in creating
apprehensions, perhaps after all, to be completely dissipated by the
result, and arising only, possibly, from his young and uninstructed
fancy and ignorance of the ways of the world.

Albert Seyton, therefore, prudently determined to be watchful and wary;
but to take nothing on surmise, and to believe, or affect to believe,
as far as the non-expression of doubt went, all that Learmont might
choose to say until some positive and glaring fact contradicted him.

While these thoughts were passing through Albert’s mind, Learmont, on
the other hand, was congratulating himself upon his meeting with the
young man, and extracting from the whole circumstance food for more
agreeable hope and reflection than had illumined his gloomy mind for a
long previous period.

“Here,” he thought, “there is at last a chance of discovering Jacob
Gray’s place of abode—a chance too, which if it fails, commits me to no
one, and does me no manner of injury. But it cannot scarcely fail. This
young man and he being perfect strangers might, in such a city as
London, follow each other about for a week without exciting suspicion.
Moreover, he looks upon discovering this man’s abode as the key-stone
of his future favour with me, and consequent advancement. I could not
have devised a better plan, and, surely, fortune must have been
desirous of favouring me when she sent this raw young man to solicit
employment from me. By the powers of hell, I would not have missed such
a chance of circumventing that demon Gray for a thousand pounds.”

Learmont, in the momentary exultation of these thoughts suddenly raised
his eyes from the ground, on which they had been bent, and uttering a
cry of terror, he sprang forward several yards, and then exclaimed,—

“There—there—again—again! Is it ever to haunt me thus?”

He pointed with his trembling finger to the windows of a house which
overlooked the park for some distance. One of the casements was open,
but there was no one at it, and Albert looked first at Learmont, and
then at the window in amazement, not unmixed with a sudden thought
that, after all, his new employer might be a madman.

Learmont continued pointing for a moment towards the window. Then he
slowly dropped his hand, and in a low agitated voice said, half aloud,—

“Could it be fancy?”

“What saw you, sir?” said Alberta.

“Come—come—hither.”

Albert approached close to him, when he leaned heavily on the arm of
the young man, and said,—

“You were walking with me, and if it were real, you must have seen it.”

“Seen what, sir?”

“A face pass for an instant across yon window.”

“That now open?”

“Yes—the sun shines upon it as you see, and across the open space there
slowly passed a face. You saw it?”

“I did not, sir.”

“You are sure?”

“Quite.”

“Then fancy must be torturing me. ’Tis very strange that she—she whom I
scarce think of should be the vision to haunt me. You are sure you saw
no one pass that window?”

“At the moment my eye might not have been cast in that direction,” said
Albert “but certainly I saw no one.”

“True you might not have been looking; but neither was I, and yet my
eyes were lifted as if by some invisible hand, and then I saw a
face—that—that—I fear now I shall often conjure up.”

Learmont leaned against the railings that divided the entrance from the
open thoroughfare of the park and for a time his strength appeared
quite prostrated.

Albert Seyton continued gazing at the house which had attracted so much
attention from Learmont, and after a pause of some minutes’ duration,
he said,—

“I think that house is known to me, although I never looked at it from
here before.”

Learmont made him no answer, for although he heard him speak, he
scarcely comprehended what he said, so busy was he with his own fears.

“If I mistake not,” said Albert, “it is the back of Sir Francis
Hartleton’s house we see from here.”

The name of Hartleton struck upon Learmont’s ears like a trumpet, and
starting from his reverie of disagreeable images, he cried hurriedly,
and violently,—

“Who spoke of Hartleton? Who mentioned his name?”

“I, sir,” said Albert, amazed at Learmont’s wild vehemence of tone.

“You—you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, you have heard of him. He is a man, I presume, known to many. Are
you sure that is the back of his house?”

“Yes, now I look again I am quite sure; I know it by some peculiar
chimnies. I have gazed on it for hours with a hope now extinguished for
ever.”

“You—you?”

“Yes, sir. My story is a strange one; I have lost both the natural and
acquired ties that bind me to life, I am an orphan, and I can never
more behold her who would have filled the void in my heart.”

“But you speak of this Hartleton as if you knew him. Is such the fact?”

“I am scarcely warranted in saying so much,” replied Albert, “although
I have seen and conversed with him.”

“Indeed?”

“Yes; and he gave me hopes, which were for a time my thoughts by day
and my dreams by night—my hopes which I clung to as some drowning
mariner clings to a stray spar; but alas! I have lost now the power to
dream myself happy.”

“He disappointed you?”

“He did. Perhaps he could not do otherwise. I have no right to censure
him, but he could not know how my heart was sinking, and he cannot know
how it has been wrecked, or perhaps he would have done more or tried to
do more. But I am querulous upon this subject, and may blame him
causelessly. It is a fault of human nature to mistake the want of power
for the want of will, and to him who loves all things appear so very
possible.”

“You have cause to quarrel with Sir Francis Hartleton, the particulars
of which you shall relate to me some other time. I, too, love him not,
and I may perchance aid you in your wishes more than he, although I may
promise less.”

“I thank you, sir.”

“Let me see you early to-morrow.”

“I shall attend you, sir.”

“Farewell.”

Learmont walked slowly away, and Albert Seyton, with a deep sigh turned
and walked pensively towards Buckingham-gate.

Had he happened to have been looking at the moment Learmont did towards
Sir Francis Harleton’s house, he would have seen Ada pass by the open
casement.



CHAPTER LXX.


The Jew and the Necklace.—Gray’s Troubles and Surmises.—An Adventure.



Sir Francis Hartleton found but very little difficulty in getting
possession of Ada’s necklace from the Jew, who had made so capital a
bargain with her. The wily Israelite made a practice of never
purchasing an article unless he got it at a price which always implied
that it was dishonestly come by, as was the case with Ada, of some
party totally ignorant or the value of the commodity.

Another rule of his business was to keep his greatest bargains some
years, if he thought it necessary so to do, before he brought them into
the market, so that if the jewel or the gold were stolen, all the
excitement concerning it had subsided, and the very person from whom
the property had been filched had long since given it up as quite
hopeless.

In this manner, he had acted with regard to Ada’s necklace, which was
really worth a much larger sum than either Jacob Gray or the Jew
imagined, for the former knew only from indirect sources the value of
the article, and the latter rarely came across anything so pure and
costly.

Moreover, Jacob Gray had a strong motive for preserving the necklace,
because, as we know, he always looked forward to a day when it might be
necessary or agreeable to him to declare Ada’s name, birth, and
lineage; and thus how important might any corroborative evidence become
upon the subject.

As for the Jew, he had been in a ceaseless wonder ever since he had
purchased the valuable trinket of the young girl, and in vain he
puzzled himself to account for her possession of it, and form some idea
of who she could possibly be that was wandering about alone with such
valuable property; and it is more than possible that his great bargain
was as great a source of disquiet to him as it was of congratulation,
for he reasoned with himself,—

“If sho be hash she had such a necklace, and didn’t know fot it wash
worth, sho help me, she might have had something else petter still.”

This was a sore reflection to the Jew, and on the whole afforded a fine
commentary upon such motives as his who rate their losses by their
gains, in the same manner as the man who found half-a-guinea, and upon
being told that two had been lost on the same spot sunk the fact of his
good fortune in finding the one, and bemoaned to everybody his loss of
the other.

It was a sore blow to the Jew, when Sir Francis Hartleton walked into
his shop, and at once announcing himself as the much dreaded, because
active and irreproachable, magistrate, demanded the necklace, giving a
description of it, and of Ada, which rendered any kind of shuffling out
of the matter of no possible use.

The necklace was therefore produced, and Sir Francis left the Jew fully
impressed with a belief that he would immediately be prosecuted,
although such a step was still far from the magistrate’s intentions,
who, as we are aware, was taking every means he could to keep matters
quiet, and awakening no public curiosity concerning Ada.

It was after another conversation with his beautiful young guest that
he issued an order to find poor mad Maud, intending to make some
permanent provision for her benefit, not at all expecting that she
really possessed sufficient pieces of Jacob Gray’s confession to enable
him to form a much nearer estimate of the merits and demerits of the
whole affair, than he had hitherto been able to do.

From Ada’s description of Gray, he was now enabled to set a watch upon
Learmont, who, from all the circumstances, he felt certain Gray visited
to get money.

Sir Francis’ object now was to give Jacob Gray time to provide himself
not only with means, but to fully again write out those papers he
believed would unravel every mystery connected with the affair.

That Andrew Britton was assailable in the same way he never suspected,
and he merely waited now until Gray should commit both Learmont and the
savage smith in writing to take some active step in the business.

Jacob Gray little imagined that he was quite free in London to go
whither his fancy might lead him, and that the man he most dreaded,
namely, Sir Francis Hartleton, had taken a great deal of trouble to
prevent his arrest.

Had he guessed he was being so angled with, his terror would have
killed him; but as he sat on the step of the door near to Learmont’s,
he concocted in his mind a line of proceeding, which, but for various
circumstances he could not know of, might have been successfully
carried out.

He would see Learmont in the morning, and affecting to be wearied of
his present line of life, to offer for two thousand pounds to surrender
to him the living object of his fears, as well as his, Jacob Gray’s,
own confession, and leave England for ever. Learmont might see him on
board a vessel even if he pleased. He might see him leave the shore,
when he would give him any address purporting to be where he would find
Ada; and then, at the first port he stopped at, he would send a letter
to Sir Francis Hartleton, containing sufficient to destroy Britton and
Learmont; but not sufficient to be of any service to the persecuted Ada.

By this means he thought to gratify his revenge against them all; and,
at least, secure to himself safety, and the means of living in
comparative luxury in some cheap continental state.

If Learmont should refuse such a compromise, he could adopt some other
course of action to be resolved upon after his next interview with him;
but, upon the necessity of leaving England, and that quickly too, he
was quite clear and decided.

One would have thought that Jacob Gray had met with sufficient
disappointment in his various arrangements to dishearten him from
attempting further to create circumstances, and philosophise upon their
results; but it is a fixed principle in those natures which are fond to
excess of plotting, that no experience will deter them from concocting
the hairbreadth schemes and chances which would, combined, make up a
satisfactory result, but which all possess the one alarming feature,
that the whole fabric must topple down upon the displacement of a
single brick.

He rose from the step of the door, and walked onwards, he knew not
whither, for some time; but, at length, he found himself in
Parliament-street, from the immediate vicinity of which he shrunk
quickly, for he dreaded the glare of the lights, and feared that some
one might recognise him as the fugitive of the Strand.

There were in his mind some strange and singular contradictions with
regard to his present situation, which, as calm reflection came to his
aid, he found it very difficult indeed to reconcile.

That Ada had sought refuge with Sir Francis Hartleton, he could
scarcely permit himself to doubt for a moment; but then the
consequences which she had always dreaded from such a step on her part
had certainly not increased so rapidly if they were to occur at all, as
he would have sworn they would. He anticipated so active, so
persevering, so energetic a hunt from him throughout, not only the
metropolis, but the whole kingdom, when once Ada should be in a
condition to possess Sir Francis Hartleton of the events of the five
years of her life with him, Gray, that safety and freedom for four and
twenty hours was a thing not to be thought of; and yet here he was,
without much disguise, without the means of taking that care to avoid
suspicion which he would fain have done, free and unquestioned hitherto
in the public streets.

His name seemed in no one’s mouth. There was no hue and cry—no bills of
any particular moment concerning him, save the meagre one he had seen
at Hampstead, and which had evidently not emanated from Sir Francis
Hartleton. In fact, the affair did not at all present the alarming
aspect to him he had ever expected it would.

Jacob Gray was, therefore, under those circumstances thrown back upon
several suppositions—none of which, however, to his mind bore the stamp
of much probability.

One was that Ada had not taken refuge with Sir Francis Hartleton, but
by some means had fallen into other hands, who did not feel so
interested in her story or had not the power or the inclination to act
upon any of the surmises it must naturally call forth.

Another supposition, was, that from some lingering feeling of pity
towards him, or from some dark and haunting suspicion in her mind that
he might be related to her, she had, although with Sir Francis,
abstained from committing him Gray sufficiently to induce a hot pursuit
for him, on other grounds than the murder of Elias, and of Vaughan.
Nay, he even thought it possible that Ada might have interceded for him
to be left alone, or bargained in some way for his safety. But as often
as these reflections began to shed some comforting influence on Gray,
there came the reflection of how firmly and broadly she had denounced
him as a murderer in the public streets, and he became lost again in a
whirl of conflicting thoughts and emotions.

He was slowly traversing a low, obscure street, leading from
George-street, as these painful thoughts were passing through his mind,
when he fancied he heard a footstep behind him, which seemed
accommodating itself to his in a manner that excited at once his
suspicion that he was watched. All Gray’s dreams of security
immediately vanished, and a cold perspiration broke out upon him, as he
fancied he was upon the point now of being arrested when his fate would
be certain; for what account could he give of himself that would not at
once strengthen and confirm suspicion. He still heard the footstep, but
he feared to look behind him, and after a few moments of confused
thought he resolved to try a simple experiment to ascertain if he were
really followed, and he paused suddenly to see if the stranger behind
him would pass on.

The whole mass of Jacob Gray’s blood appeared to him to curdle in his
reins, as he felt sure, whoever it was behind him, had stopped likewise.



CHAPTER LXXI.


The Pursuit.—A Successful Ruse.—The Long Night.—Gray’s Terror.



The little strength that Jacob Gray had left now all at once seemed
completely to have left him, and he trembled so that he could scarcely
stand. Walk on he could not, and yet what was he to do? Did the person
know who he was, or did he only suspect? Was there a remote chance of
escape, or was he fairly in the toils?

As these distressing thoughts passed rapidly through his mind, he heard
the stranger step up to him, and in a moment, a voice said, “A fine
evening, sir.”

Gray stretched out his hand, and held by an iron rail, while he turned
slowly and with pallid features, and his tongue cleaving to the roof of
his mouth with fright, faced the speaker.

He was a man about the middle height, with sharp small grey eyes, which
twinkled upon the terror-stricken Jacob as much as to say, “I am a
cunning, cautious fellow, and you won’t escape me.”

It was full a minute before Gray could command himself sufficiently to
speak, and the stranger during that time had repeated his remark of,—

“A fine evening.”

“Yes—yes, very,” stammered Gray.

“You don’t seem very well, sir,” said the stranger, twinkling his eyes
designedly upon Gray.

“Yes, quite well, thank—I—I haven’t the honour of knowing you. Good
evening—good evening.”

“I may be mistaken,” said the man; “but I think I have seen you
somewhere.”

Gray would have given anything at that moment to say “Where?” but he
lacked the courage, and merely muttered something about it being
unlikely they had ever met, as he was a stranger in London.

The man kept peering at him in a very disagreeable manner, and after a
few moments, he said in a careless tone,—

“Heard of the murder?”

“What murder?” gasped Gray.

“In the Strand—Vaughan’s murder I mean—strange affair, very!”

“No—I know nothing of it,” said Gray.

“Odd, that—the whole town knows of it. It’s crying about the streets,
and what’s the strangest thing of all, nobody seems to know who did it.”

“Indeed?”

“No, the fellow was a complete stranger, and the only man who gives
anything like a description of him, is a fellow whom he knocked down
near Arundel-street.”

“Yes—indeed,” was all Gray could find breath to say, for he expected
each moment that the man would pounce upon him, crying, “You are the
murderer—I have been only amusing myself a little with your fears.”

“It’s odd altogether,” continued the man, “and there’s fifty pounds
reward now offered by Vaughan’s relations for the man, which, together
with what government will give at his conviction, will make a good
round sum.”

“Exactly—yes,” said Gray, quite mechanically, for his senses were in a
complete whirl.

“You see that’s worth looking after,” said the man.

“Yes.—Good evening—good evening,” said Gray, and he tried to pass on.

“Are you going my way?” said the man.

“Which is your way?”

“Oh—why, really I ain’t at all particular, and I’ll walk with you, if I
am not intruding upon you?“

“I am going home,” said Gray.

“Good evening—I live just here.”

“You haven’t lost your way?”

“No—no—this place is quite familiar to me—I have known it long.”

“Oh, I thought you said you were a stranger here.”

Gray changed from pale to red, and from red to pale again, as he
replied,—

“You misunderstood me, sir.”

“Oh, did I? Very likely.”

“Good evening.”

“You had rather walk alone, would you?”

Gray summoned courage to say with tolerable firmness,—

“I would.”

“Certainly—certainly. Mind if you see anybody that looks suspicious,
lay hold of him; it may be the murderer, you know, and it would be a
prime evening’s work for anybody to nab him. He is about your
height—thin and pale, stoops a little, shabbily dressed. Look out—look
out.”

“I—I will. Are you an officer?”

“No, I’m a shoemaker, but I’ve a great fancy for catching thieves and
those kind of people.”

“Curse your fancy,” thought Gray.

“I couldn’t sleep to-night without taking what I call a prowl just to
see if the fates would place in my way the murderer.”

“Oh, indeed!“

“Yes, and I don’t despair yet. Good evening—good evening.”

“Good evening,” replied Gray; and he walked on with a faint hope that
after all the troublesome shoemaker, whom he devoutly wished dead and
buried, did not suspect him sufficiently to annoy him any more with his
following.

To ascertain this point, after he had left him, was a great object to
Gray, as it would afford him an idea how to act, and accordingly after
he had proceeded some distance, he just glanced over his shoulder to
see if the man had gone, and he supposed such was the case, for he
could neither see nor hear him.

Jacob Gray, however was reckoning without his host, for not only did
the troublesome shoemaker, who was the pest of Westminster, from his
love of meddling with the duties of the police, strongly suspect that
he had hit upon the right man, but he determined not to lose sight of
him, and had merely ensconced himself in a door way until Gray should
have got some distance off, when his intention was to follow him very
cautiously till he saw him housed somewhere, when he would bring the
officers upon him, for he did not like exactly to run the risk of
attempting the capture of so desperate a character as a murderer, who
had already taken one man’s life merely because he made an attempt to
capture him.

“Who knows,” thought the shoemaker, “he is a desperate chap, and may be
a great deal stronger than he looks; he might smash me just as he
smashed Vaughan, and that would be no joke, I’ll dog him till I see him
fairly housed, and then be down upon him.”

Cunning, however, as was the troublesome shoemaker he was scarcely a
match for Jacob Gray, when the latter had a little time to collect his
faculties and was not flurried. There were indeed but five persons who
could have succeeded in dogging Jacob Gray without his knowing it; and
although the shoemaker had in his mind concocted the artful scheme of
letting Gray turn a corner, and then running after him, and keeping him
in sight, until he had turned another, he did not know his man, for
that was the very course which Jacob Gray took good care to provide
against by himself popping into a doorway round the first corner he
came to, and waiting patiently to see what came of it.

The result confirmed his suspicions, for he had not been above two
minutes in that doorway, than the shoemaker arrived at the corner at
the top of his speed, and peered around it with what he considered
amazing cleverness and cunning.

The street was a long one, and he felt not a little surprised at
missing Gray in so very sudden a manner.

“Lost him, by ——,” he cried. “He must have gone into some house
here—that’s flat. I’ll get a constable to come with me and will call at
every one. I’d wager my head he’s the man.”

The amateur officer now darted off at a quick rate to procure a real
one, and when he had gone, Jacob Gray emerged from his hiding-place.

He paused a moment in the street, and then with bitter malignity, he
muttered,—

“Beware! I am not a man to be tempted too far.”

He then hastily walked in an opposite direction to that taken by the
shoemaker, although he had no definite idea of where he was going, or
what he meant to do until the morning should afford him a chance of
seeing Learmont. As the excitement of the last half-hour began along
with its danger to wear off, Jacob Gray felt dreadfully fatigued,
notwithstanding he had been much supported by the broken victuals he
had received from poor Maud, and he thought of proceeding to the sheds
of Covent-garden, and lying down to rest himself till morning’s dawn.

The rotten wooden stalls and sheds of Covent-garden-market, at the
period of our tale, were the nightly resort of many who had no other
place in which to lay an aching head and wearied body. There, among
potato-sacks, baskets, vegetable refuse, and all the mass of filth for
which that now handsome market was then so famous, the weary, the
destitute, and the heart-sore would find a temporary solace from their
cares, in the oblivion of sleep.

But not alone were the humble sheds of the market occupied by the sons
and daughters of misfortune and want—a number of the worthless and
abandoned characters who nightly prowl about the theatres had no other
places of refuge; and many a thief and, in some instances, criminals of
a higher grade in the scale of iniquity, were pushed out by the
officers from among the market lodgers, when he happened to be
particularly wanted; and when a housebreaker, or thief of any
description, was compelled by necessity to lodge there, he was
tolerably sure to be particularly wanted, because such a step augured a
state of his finances which was far from enabling him to fee the
officers—a system which although now so very rare, was a hundred years
ago flourishing in all its iniquity and glory.

To the sheds, then, of the market, Jacob Gray resolved to go, but by
many fortuitous accidents, he was doomed not to get there.



CHAPTER LXXII.


The Return of Learmont.—The Interview.—Doubts and Fears.



In his way Jacob Gray passed Learmont’s house, and he had scarcely got
half a dozen yards from the door, when he was compelled to step aside,
to allow a cavalcade to pass him, consisting of some half-dozen footmen
bearing links, followed by a chair containing their master.

One of the curtains of the sedan was but partially drawn, and Gray, at
a glance, saw that Learmont himself was the occupier of it. His
resolution was formed in a moment. He would risk whatever construction
the squire chose to put upon such a visit, at so singular an hour, and
procure some money from him at once for present pressing exigencies.

He could easily frame some lie to account for his visit at such an
hour; and whether Learmont believed it or not, it must pass current,
for who could contradict it?

He watched the haughty arbiter of his fortunes get out of the chair,
and ascend the steps of the mansion. Then, before the door could be
closed, he stepped forward; and being just behind Learmont, he said,—

“I have waited for you.”

Learmont turned suddenly, and looked perfectly astonished to see Gray.
For a moment neither spoke. Then the squire said, in a low tone,—

“To-morrow morning, early.”

“No,” said Gray. “My business is urgent and important, I must see you
to-night.”

“Must?”

“Yes—must!”

Learmont bit his lip, and passed into the house, which Gray taking as a
passive permission to follow him, did so, until Learmont paused in a
room devoted to the purpose of a library, and which was but dimly
lighted. Then turning to Gray, he said,—

“Well?” in a brief stern voice.

Gray had hastily concocted in his mind what he should say to Learmont,
and after carefully closing the door, he replied in nearly his usual
low and cautious tone, although his voice shook a little,—

“It is not all well. Squire Learmont, me thinks I should have a better
reception for coming some distance, and waiting long to tell you news
of more importance to you than to me.”

Jacob Gray was unconscious that he touched a chord in Learmont’s heart,
which had vibrated painfully ever since his interview with Britton; but
he saw, by the nervous clutching of a back of a chair with his fingers,
that Learmont was alarmed, and that was what he wished.

“What—what—mean you?” said Learmont.

“I mean this,” replied Gray, “that Sir Francis Hartleton—”

“Hartleton again!” cried Learmont, clenching his fist. “By all that’s
damnable—that man is born to be my bane—my curse—I will have his blood.”

Gray saw that he had struck the right chord, and he added,—“I fear he
is plotting and planning some mischief.”

“You only fear?”

“Nay, I am almost certain.”

“State all you know.”

“I will. And it is because I know so much that I come to you at so
unseasonable an hour.”

“Heed not that,” said Learmont. “All hours—all times by night and by
day—are alike to me, for they all teem with alarms. The shadow of some
dreadful coming evil seems to press upon my soul. Bad tidings crowd
upon me. Say on, Jacob Gray, I am prepared too well.”

“What I have to tell you,” said Gray, “consists more of a certain
knowledge that there is something to discover than that something
itself.”

“Say on—say on.”

“Before I speak, will you, for the first time, let me have a cup of
wine, for I am very—very faint.”

“Help yourself,” said Learmont, pointing to a buffet at the further end
of the room, on which were refreshments.

Gray eagerly poured himself a glass of rich wine; and as he felt the
generous fluid warm him, his blood seemed to flow easier through his
veins, and he appeared to have lifted half of his cares from his heart.

“Now—now,” said Learmont, impatiently. “Tell me all.”

“I will. Early this evening, I went into a small hostel, in Pimlico,
near to the public office of this Hartleton—”

“Yes—yes.”

“And there was one,” continued Gray, lying with a volubility that would
have taken any one in,—“there one belonging to the magistrate’s office,
who had already taken more drink than his brains would stand.”

“You—you—plied him well.”

“I did when my suspicions were awakened. He was talking loudly, and
amongst other things, he said ‘His master had an eye upon a certain
squire, not a hundred miles from Westminster, who bid fair for Tyburn.’”

“The knave!—What—what more?”

“On that I thought, of course, on you,” said Gray, with a sneering
malice in his tone.

“Well—well—what followed?”

“Why, knowing no other squire in Westminster but yourself, with whom I
could couple the allusion to Tyburn, I called for more drink and
brought him to converse with me.”

“And—and—what?”

“He dwelt but in obscure hints,” continued Gray, “and at last dropped
off into a drunken sleep, which smothered all his faculties.”

“And you heard no more?”

“No more.”

“’Tis not much.”

“Enough for apprehension,” suggested Gray.

“Ay; but not enough for action.”

“True—but you can think of it.”

“There is the curse! I can think of—thought is my hell!”

“Such thoughts lured unpleasant images; but ’tis better to have such
slender information of coming danger than to dream on of safety, but to
be roughly awakened by it when it comes to your doors.”

“No—no. Apprehension is a fiend of far more awful aspect than danger.
It only suggests the terrible, and leaves to the shrinking, trembling
fancy to fill up the ghastly picture. Show me danger, and I have nerve
to face it. Only tell me it is coming, and in some unknown shape, and
I—I—do quail before it. Yes I—even I do quail before it.”

He sank into a chair as he spoke, and turned deathly white.

“Arm yourself with fortitude,” said Gray. “You may yet triumph.”

“There is but one course open,” said Learmont, in a low earnest tone.
“Among us we must find a means to lay the troublesome spirit of this
Hartleton, Jacob Gray, where is all the deep cunning that would enable
you to circumvent hell itself? I say, where is it now, if you cannot
summon it to your aid, to rid us all of this man, who will otherwise
destroy us.”

“You may yet triumph,” muttered Gray, with a meaning look. “Hear me
Squire Learmont: I am sick and weary of the life I lead, an’ would fain
now lend an ear to some proposal from you, which would enable me to
feel more peace here.”

He struck his breast as he spoke, and fixed his keen eye upon Learmont,
who in his turn, from beneath his knitted brows, peered anxiously into
the face of Gray.

“You understand me,” continued Gray; “I am willing, if I could do so
with safety, to leave you at peace—to secure you from the worst evils
that can befall you—to deliver you from your greatest feelings of
apprehension.”

“Say on, Jacob Gray,” said Learmont, in a low indifferent tone.

“Nay, I would now hear from you,” remarked Gray, “what proposal you
would make to me for surrendering to you your worst foe.”

“The child?”

“Ay; but a child no longer,” hastily interrupted Gray. “Years have now
rolled on, and the child that was, has in the due progress of time
passed that age and become a dangerous enemy to you. An enemy only
controlled by me. I am as one holding in my grasp the thunderbolt
which, were I for a moment to let loose, would rush with fearful
certainty at your devoted head. I—but I want your proposal, squire—I am
willing to accede to some terms, but they must be to me, both safe and
profitable.”

Learmont was silent for some moments, then he said,—

“Tell me your demand, Jacob Gray, and at large particularise your
proposal.”

“Nay, squire, I repeat I have no proposal—none whatever—but I have
bethought me that danger threatens around us, and that some day when
the horizon of our fortunes may appear unclouded, a storm may come
which will sweep us to destruction.”

Learmont groaned, and then fixing his eyes upon Gray, he said with a
fearful and intense earnestness,—

“Jacob Gray, you are a man of crimes—you have shed blood more
causelessly than I—and I would ask you if ever in your solitude, when
none have been near you, you have seen or heard—”

Gray licked his parched lips, as he said with trembling apprehension,—

“What—what mean you, squire? I—I have seen nothing—heard nothing, ’Twas
Andrew Britton struck the blow—he—he did it.”

“Peace, peace!” cried Learmont; “nor with a hollow sophistry try to
cleanse your soul of the deep spots that eat, like a wild splash of
burning lava, to its inmost part.”

Gray shrank and cowered before the frightened looks of Learmont, and
after a pause he said,—

“What have you seen—what heard?”

“Twice now I have seen a face which, to look upon has nearly turned my
heart to stone.”

“A—a—face?”

“Yes—’tis an angel or a devil. Listen to me.”

“I—I will—I will.”

“Once on the steps of this, my mansion, at an hour when my heart was
lighter than its wont, and I was far from dreaming of such a sight, a
face appeared before me. It seemed that of a young girl, but so
like—oh, so like him—who sleeps in that dread spot which ever rises
like a spectre before my affrighted eyes.”

“The smithy?” said Gray.

“And once again,” continued Learmont, not heeding Gray’s interruption,
“once again I saw it. Then another was with me, and I know it was not
of this world because he saw it not.”

“The same face?”

“The same.”

“And of a young girl, say you—pale and noble, with a look of
gentleness, yet pride—a—brow of snow—long raven hair?”

“The—the same—you have seen it, Jacob Gray—you have seen it—you are
cursed as well as I.”

“In a dream,” muttered Gray.

“Only a dream? I saw it on a bright morning when all was light and life
around.”

“Was that recently?” said Gray.

“This very morning.”

Gray would have given much at that moment to be able to ask with
unconcern where Learmont had seen Ada, for that it was she he did not
entertain a shadow of a doubt, but it was several minutes before he
could command his voice sufficiently to say,—

“Where saw you this appearance?”

“Where all my fears are concentrated—where my worst foe resides—I saw
it at the window of Sir Francis Hartleton’s house from the park.”

Gray drew a long breath as he thought, “So my worst fears are
confirmed. She is with the magistrate.” He then said, with a more
assumed and confident air than he had hitherto assumed:—

“These fancies would leave you were you more at ease—I grieve that you
should as yet have missed the enjoyments which your wealth should have
brought within your grasp.”

“Enjoyment!” said Learmont, with a deep groan—“you mock me, Jacob
Gray—what enjoyments have you and Andrew Britton left me? Have you not
between you surrounded me with danger and suspicion? I have been
tempted, for the great favours I owe you both, to take some day a step
that should rid me of you for ever.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes—but we will talk more another time—the hour waxes late—shall we
meet in the morning?”

“The—the night would suit me better,” said Gray, who by no means
relished in his present dangerous circumstances a morning visit.

Learmont, with a forced air of unconcern, cried,—

“Pho—pho—let it be the morning—say at half-past ten.”

“I will take money of you now,” said Gray, evading the point, “in
earnest of the sum which shall separate us for ever.”

“There is my purse,” cried Learmont, giving it to him. “’Tis moderately
full—take it, and let me see you to-morrow by the hour I have named.”

“Squire Learmont,” said Gray, “for three thousand pounds I will rid you
of the young object of your fears—of myself—and, perchance, of Andrew
Britton.”

“Three thousand pounds?” said Learmont.

“Yes—a small sum you must own—a very small sum.”

“You will bring me here—”

“No—no—I will do this—on shipboard, I will hand you an address written
on the back of my confession.”

“I will consider,” said Learmont, “and in the meantime bethink you of
some means of ridding me of Hartleton. While that man lives I stand as
it were upon a mine, and—and—you will be here in the morning by
half-past ten.”

It would have been a curious study for any deep theorist on human
nature to have remarked these two men, Learmont and Gray, at this
moment, watching each other’s countenances, and yet endeavouring to
avoid seeming so to do, and mutually suspicious that every word covered
some hidden and covert meaning.

“What change has taken place, that Jacob Gray is so anxious to
compromise with me for a sum of money at once?” was Learmont’s mental
interrogatory.

“Why does he want me here by half-past ten so particularly?” thought
Gray; “I will not come.”

Thus they parted, mutually hating and mutually suspicious of each other.



CHAPTER LXXIII.


The Troublesome Shoe-maker.—Gray’s Agony and Danger.—The Flight.



Jacob Gray no longer was necessitated to take a temporary lodging among
the sheds of Covent-garden market, for upon, by the dim light of a
lamp, examining Learmont’s purse, he found a sum nearly approaching to
twenty guineas in it, and a ghastly smile same across his face, as, by
the mere possession of money, he felt, or fancied he felt, considerably
stronger and better than he had been for many days.

He walked with a firmer step and an air of greater self-possession than
before. One of his first acts was to dive into a back street, for the
purpose of finding some place in which he could lodge for the night,
and he had not gone far before he saw a small dingy-looking
public-house, where he thought he might find all he wanted in the way
of rest and refreshment without risk.

It is strange how intense mental anxiety will overcome and smother
almost entirely the consciousness of bodily pain. So it was with Jacob
Gray—for although he had been suffering much pain now for many hours
from his wounded face, his great anxiety of mind had thrown such mere
physical annoyance quite into the shade; but now that he had money in
his pocket, and fancied he saw light in the darkness of fate, he began
to experience great agony from the wound, and previous to seeking
refreshment or rest he wished to procure surgical assistance lest any
shots should be remaining in his face. With this intent he walked on
until he came to a chemist’s shop, near Westminster-bridge. On entering
the little doorway, for a very little mean shop it was, he asked of a
man behind the counter to examine his face.

“You have been wounded, and had better go to some hospital,” said the
surgeon, who was one of the self-taught and self-dubbed medical men who
flourished up to within the last thirty years.

“I have wherewithal to pay you for your services,” said Gray, taking
out Learmont’s purse and laying down a guinea.

Upon this the surgeon, with a good deal of practical skill, carefully
examined Gray’s face, and extracted several of the shots which had
remained just beneath the skin.

“How did this accident happen to you?” said the surgeon.

“A careless boy was shooting sparrows,” replied Jacob Gray.

“Ah! People never will be careful in the use of fire-arms. You will do
very well now; a little dry lint is all you require, but wash your face
frequently with diluted milk.”

“Thank you,” said Gray, receiving fifteen shillings out of his guinea;
“should I feel any uneasiness, I will call again.”

“That fellow has been robbing somebody, I’ll be sworn, and been shot at
for his pains,” remarked the surgeon when Gray had gone. “Well—well,
it’s all one to me, from a peer to a pickpocket.”

Gray felt very much relieved by the manipulation of the surgeon, and he
retraced his steps towards a small public-house he had before noticed,
and which from its plainness and obscurity, he thought would furnish
him a tolerably secure retreat till he could venture out again.

He was dreadfully weary, and the stars were beginning to disappear,
while a faint sickly light was slowly spreading itself over the eastern
horizon.

A very few minutes’ walk brought him to the door of the house, and he
dived down a steep step to enter it. A dim light only was in the bar,
although it was one of those houses that keep open the whole of the
night, under pretence of accommodating travellers, but really to
accommodate thieves, watchmen and police-officers.

“Can I,” said Gray, to a man who was yawning in the bar,—“can I have a
bed here, and some refreshment?”

The words were scarcely out of his lips, when he heard a noise behind
him; and turning hastily around, his eyes were blasted by the sight of
his tormentor, the amateur officer and Shoemaker, who, with a glass of
some steaming beverage in one hand, and a pipe in the other, stood
glaring at Jacob Gray as if he was some awful apparition.

“Bless me,” he at length found voice to say, “is it you?”

“I have no knowledge of you, sir,” said Gray, while a cold perspiration
bedewed his limbs, and he glanced uneasily at the door, between which
and him stood the troublesome man.

“I—I—you—you,” stammered the shoemaker, “you met me you know about two
hours ago, and you said you was a going home.”

“Well, sir.”

“It’s an odd time of night to be out.”

“Then why don’t you go home?” said Gray, summoning all the presence of
mind he could to his aid.

“Ah—yes—exactly, that is, a—hem!” said the shoemaker, feeling very much
confused, for he was afraid to promote hostilities with Gray, and
equally reluctant to let him go.

“Can you accommodate me,” said Gray, turning to the woman, “and two
friends?”

“Three of you!” groaned the shoemaker.

“Yes,” said Gray, “I have two friends waiting for me.”

“There’ll be a great deal of danger in having anything to do with him,”
thought the shoemaker, “but I’d wager ten guineas he’s the man that
killed Vaughan.”

“I can’t accommodate you all,” said the woman. “You can stay here, if
you like; and your friends can get a bed at the King’s Arms at the
bottom of the street.”

“Thank you,” said Gray, “I will speak to them;” and he moved towards
the door.

The little shoemaker, however, was not to be so easily cajoled, but
gulping down his glass of hot liquor, with a speed that nearly choked
him, and brought the tears into his eyes, he moved to the door at the
same time as Gray, resolved to stick to him now as long as there was no
actual bodily peril.

Gray paused at the door, and gave the man a look which caused him to
recoil a step or two within the house. Then he walked out into the
street; but the shoemaker, although daunted for a moment, was not quite
got rid of, and with a hurried whisper to himself of,—

“It would be the making of me to take him single-handed, and get all
the reward,” he bustled after Gray, with the intention of watching him.

In this, however, the amateur officer was disappointed; for Gray, after
proceeding half-a-dozen paces, turned sharp round, and caught the
shoemaker just coming out of the door of the public-house.

Gray was trembling with fear, but he had sense enough to feel that a
bold face very frequently hides a shrinking heart, and he endeavoured
to throw as much boldness as possible into his voice and manner as he
said,—

“Do you want anything with me, sir?”

“Oh no, no, nothing,” said the shoemaker, “only I thought you might be
curious in old houses, as you had popped into this one. It’s a most
ancient house, and I was going to tell you that twenty-three years ago,
to-day, my father apprehended the famous Jack Sheppard at the bar of
this very house. Now that’s curious—what I call very curious.”

“Indeed,” said Gray, walking on and inwardly cursing his tormentor.

“Yes,” continued the shoemaker, keeping up with him, “if my father took
him; one of his ladies was with him, and she got my father’s finger
between her teeth, and wouldn’t leave go till she had bit it to the
bone. Well, sir, my father took Jack to the watch-house in Great
George-street, and what do you think happened there?”

“I cannot say.”

“When they got to the door, my father knocked, and the moment it was
open, Jack seized hold of him like a tiger, and pitched him in right
upon the stomach of the night-constable saying, ‘Take care of him. Good
night, and off he went.’”

They had now reached the corner of the street, and Gray turned to his
companion, saying,—

“Sir, I do not wish your company.”

“Past four and a cold morning,” growled an asthmatic watchman, from
some distance off, at this moment.

“I’ll stick by him,” thought the shoemaker, “and when we come up to the
watchman, I’ll call upon him to help me to take him. I must have him
somehow.”

“Oh, you don’t want company! well, sir, I’ll only walk with you till
you meet your two friends.”

Had Jacob Gray, at that moment of goaded passion, possessed any weapon
that would have noiselessly and surely put an end to the ambition and
the life of the troublesome shoemaker, he would have used it with
exquisite satisfaction; but being quite unarmed, he considered himself
powerless; and as is the case in many contests in life, the affair
resolved itself simply to one point, namely, which should succeed in
frightening the other. But then the watchman might be a powerful
auxiliary to his opponent, and Jacob Gray screwed his courage up to the
sticking place, to endeavour to get rid of his companion before such
aid should arrive. He therefore turned abruptly and cried in a fierce
angry tone,—

“How dare you, sir, intrude yourself upon me?”

The shoemaker started back several paces, and in evident alarm, cried,—

“No violence—no violence.”

“Then leave me to pursue my walk alone,” said Gray. “In a word, sir, I
am well armed, and will not be intruded on; your design may be to rob
me, for aught that I know.”

“Far from it—far from it,” said the man. “I am a respectable tradesman.”

“Then you ought to know better than to force your company upon those
who desire it not,” said Gray.

“Very well, sir; very well. No offence; I’ll leave you. Good evening,
or rather morning.”

“Past four, and a cold morning,” said the watchman again, and while the
shoemaker paused irresolute for a moment, Gray walked hastily past the
guardian of the night.

He felt then how impolitic it would be to look back, but he could not
resist the impulse so to do, and saw the watchman in earnest
conversation with his late companion, while the eyes of both were bent
upon him.

The danger was great, but Gray felt that he should but provoke it to
wear a still worse aspect by exhibiting any fear; so, although he kept
all his senses on the qui vive, and every nerve strung for action, he
walked but slowly away, with something of the same kind of feeling that
an adventurous hunter might be supposed to feel in some Indian jungle
when retreating before a crouching tiger, who he feels would spring
upon him were he to show the least sign of trepidation, but who it is
just possible may let him off if he show a bold front.

Jacob Gray reached in a few moments the corner of a street, and then he
ventured another glance over his shoulder at the motions of the enemy.
His heart sickened as he saw the watchman give a nod to his companion,
and then commence running after him (Gray), at full speed.

With a spasmodic kind of gasp, produced by a choking sensation in his
throat, as his extreme danger now rushed upon his brain, Jacob Gray
dived down the narrow turning, and fled like a hunted hare.



CHAPTER LXXIV.


Ada’s Home.—A Happy Scene.—The Serenity of Goodness.



Sir Francis Hartleton on that same evening was immersed in deep though
on Ada’s prospects and affairs. So multifarious and complex had even
what he knew concerning her and her fortunes become, putting aside all
that he surmised, that now he had repaired to his own quiet little
room, in which he was never interrupted and sat down, as much for the
clearing of his own mind upon the subject, as for any other
considerations, to write in detail all the various circumstances
connected with the history and fortunes of Ada.

When he came fairly to separate what he knew from what he only surmised
he felt much disappointed at the limited facts that really appeared
upon paper, and as we have before intimated, he found himself in the
disagreeable position of suspecting much and knowing little—able to
surmise much more than he could prove, and morally certain of many
things which he despaired of ever finding the means of making clear by
proof.

The connection of Learmont with the same crimes in which Gray and
Britton had been participators was very clear, but could he specify
those crimes? It was not enough to say—“So and so is a criminal,” but
it was necessary to tell and define such a charge; and Sir Francis
Hartleton felt keenly all the advantage which such a man as Learmont
would have over him, were he to make a loose and unsupported attack
against him.

Having finished his narrative, Sir Francis sat in deep thought for more
than an hour, but yet could not form any satisfactory conclusion, nor
determine upon any course of action which would not be attended with
what he considered the worst consequence of all, namely, putting
Learmont thoroughly upon his guard.

He foresaw that he could not persevere, for a very long period of time,
upon the unwilling and rather unprecedented power given to him by the
Secretary of State, but that Jacob Gray must shortly be apprehended for
the murder of Vaughan, when it was more than probable that all chance
of discovering Ada’s real history through him would be lost; for what
inducement could be offered to such a man as Gray to do an act of
justice, when his own life could not by any possibility be spared, but
must be taken by the hands of the law for a clear and distinct
murder,—not to take into consideration the assassination of Elias, in
the lone house at Battersea.

It had more than once occurred to the mind of the magistrate to search
the ruins of the house in which Gray had resided, but then, as often,
the extreme improbability of such a man leaving anything behind him of
a character to criminate him in any way, saving the dead body of the
murdered officer, came so strongly across him that he rejected as
useless the attempt.

The smithy, too, at Learmont he longed to search effectually, but how
could he do so without observation in such a place; and should such a
proceeding come to the ears of Learmont, he might well complain of a
trespass upon his own premises, for the purpose of endeavouring to get
up some charge against him of a secret and undeclared nature.

“No,” exclaimed Hartleton, with disappointment, as he rose from his
chair, “I must not. There is no resource but patience, and, for a short
time, this man Gray, with all his crimes upon his head, must be
suffered to remain at large, unless some meddling person apprehends him
upon suspicion merely, in which case the law must take its course; for
although I can and may take no steps to make him a prisoner, I dare not
discharge him if once taken.”

As we have mentioned, it was mere humanity which induced Sir Francis
Hartleton to order poor Maud to be brought to him. He was very far
indeed from suspecting her possession of the important scraps of Jacob
Gray’s written confession, which she had rescued from among the charred
rafters of the house at Battersea and he received the report of the
officer, who had been commissioned to find her to the effect that he
had not yet been able to take her, without much feeling upon the
subject, engrossed as his mind was with other matters.

After thus turning the whole affair over in his mind, and, for the
present resolving to do nothing, but wait and see what the chapter of
accidents would bring forth Sir Francis left his study, and sought the
society of his young and amiable wife and Ada.

During the very short residence of Ada with Sir Francis Hartleton and
his lady, she had endeared herself greatly to them. Her love of
truth—her earnest depreciation of every wrong, and the sweet simplicity
of her character had placed her so high in their esteem, that they had
resolved she should never leave the friendly shelter of the roof,
unless circumstances should arise to place her in a happy home of her
own.

From all these circumstances and conclusions, it will be seen that not
one of our characters, variously situated as they are, have great cause
for congratulation on their prospects, with the exception of Ada, to
whom it was a new and beautiful existence to be free from the
persecutions of Jacob Gray. There was but one sad spot in the young
girl’s heart now, and that was, that loving, respecting, and admiring
as she did Sir Francis Hartleton and his lady, she did not feel for
them what she felt for Albert Seyton; and many, very many of the
gushing feeling of her heart were constrained to calmness and mere
courtesy, because she felt that to the ears of a lover would they alone
seem other than the enthusiastic dreams of a young and ardent
imagination.

Sir Francis’s wife, as we have remarked, sympathised much more with Ada
concerning the probable fate or circumstances of Albert Seyton, than
her husband could be expected to do; and it was at her solicitation
that he now gave directions to some of his most active officers, to
spare neither expense nor trouble to discover if the young man was in
London or not.



CHAPTER LXXV.


Britton in His Glory Again.—The Song and the Legal Functionary.—The
Surprise.



The deadly hatred which Learmont felt for Sir Francis Hartleton was a
mild feeling in comparison with that of the same nature which began to
engross the entire mind of Andrew Britton. Learmont he did certainly,
from the bottom of his heart, dislike; Jacob Gray he detested and hated
most cordially; but under the circumstances in which he was placed, he
had come to consider them both as out of reach of any species of
revenge he would feel gratified in having upon them. Besides he looked
upon them both as mixed up with himself in the various occurrences that
had shaped the whole of his existence, and he began to think Learmont a
poor creature, useful only to supply his extravagancies, and Jacob Gray
as a kind of necessary or, at least, inevitable evil to be endured, as
far as his existence went, with much the same feelings as he would put
up with the disagreeables of the changing seasons, or some other bodily
ailment it was in vain to fight against.

But Sir Francis Hartleton, what had he to do with the affair? And yet
was he not perpetually thrusting himself forward in the most
disagreeable manner, and thwarting him, Britton, at the most
inauspicious moment, and in the manner calculated, of all others, to
aggravate him—namely, by an exercise of personal strength?

When Britton was in that intermediate stage of intoxication which
influenced his passions, he would dash his fist upon the table, and
call down curses upon the head of his enemy, as terrible and fierce in
their language as they were violent and outrageous in manner. Bond, the
butcher, was his great companion on all such occasions, and no one was
better calculated than that individual to second Britton in any word or
deed of violence.

Britton had his usual large party at the Chequers, while Jacob Gray was
being hunted through Westminster by the extremely officious shoemaker.
His friend the butcher sat by his side, and whenever Britton roared out
an oath, Master Bond was sure to cap it by some other of the most
unique character.

The time was past midnight, and yet there was the rattling of
glasses—the thumping of tankards—the shouts—screams—laughter and oaths
of the motley assembly, proceeding in full vigour.

The landlord, when Westminster Abbey chimes struck the half hour past
twelve, rushed into the room with a bland smile, after relieving his
mind at the door by a hearty curse, and approaching Britton, he said,—

“Might I be so bold as to remind your most worshipful majesty that it
is now half-past twelve?”

“No, you might not,” roared Britton; “what’s time to me, I should like
to know? Are you king of the Chequers, or am I?”

“With humble submission to your majesty, of course your majesty is king
of the Chequers, but your highness must be aware that the magistrates
are dreadfully jealous of a poor fellow keeping his house open so late.”

“I suppose you may open as early as you like?” roared Britton.

“Certainly, your highness’s grace.”

“Very well; if any one comes to say a word, tell him you shut up at
twelve, and open again at half-past. Do you hear, noodle, eh?”

“Do you hear his majesty’s suggestion?” said the landlord, “was there
ever such a head piece?”

“No, never. Hurrah!” shouted the guests.

“His gracious majesty’s health,” said a man rising at the further end
of the room; “and may I be butchered if he ain’t a out and outer.”

“What do you mean by may you be butchered?” said Bond.

“No reflection upon you, good Master Bond,” said the man; “I only—that
is, I meant nothing.”

“Then don’t do it again,” said Bond, making three strides towards the
man, and knocking his head against the wainscot till the lights danced
again in his eyes.

That was just the kind of thing to arouse Britton, and he roared with
laughter at the faces the man mad.

“Is a man,” remarked the butcher, “to have his trade, let it be ever so
respectable, throwed slap in his face?”

“Bravo!” cried Britton; “well, landlord, bring us another bowl. Quick!”

“Yes, your majesty. Oh, he’s a wonderful man—I mean king. What a
head-piece, my masters—if there’s any difficulty to be overcome, ask
King Britton, and you have an answer pat at once—a most astonishing
monarch he is, to be sure.”

“Well, who the devil are you?” said Britton, as a stranger entered the
room.

“An’ it please you, sir, a serving man.”

“A serving man! Whom do you serve—eh?”

“The worshipful Sir Francis Hartleton, hard by.”

“Take that then,” said Britton, flinging a pewter measure at the poor
fellow’s head, which luckily missed him; “how dare you come here, you
sneaking spy?”

The man made a precipitate retreat, and when the landlord came with a
steaming bowl of punch, Britton with an oath exclaimed,—

“Haven’t I told you that I would have none of that Hartleton’s people
here?”

“Your majesty certainly was so gracious as to say so, but he, whom your
grace has so very judiciously turned out, tells me he has only been for
a day in his service, so, your highness, I knew him not as he passed
in.”

“Sharpen your wits, then,” said Britton, throwing the remnants of the
butcher’s flagon of strong ale in the landlord’s face.

“Oh, what a wit he has!”

“Curse Hartleton—curse him!” growled Britton.

“So say I,” said the butcher. “He has twice sent some one to condemn my
scales.”

“Sing us a song, somebody,” cried Britton. “A song I say, I say. Do you
hear!”

“Gentlemen—gentlemen—a song from some of you, if you please,” cried the
landlord, bustling among the guests. “You hear that his majesty is
musically inclined.”

“Well, gentlemen,” said a small man, with a twisted lace coat, “I don’t
mind if I try my hand at a stave.”

There was a great thumping of tankards upon the tables, and cries of
“Bravo!” in the middle of which the man who had volunteered the song
commenced in a wheezing tone as follows:—



The Triple Tree



“Of all the trees that’s in the land,

There’s none like that I wot of;

The blossoms big upon this tree

Ne’er hang until they rot off.

But if it bloom at morning’s dawn,

The fruit’s so ripe and brown,

That when an hour has passed away,

We always cut it down,

Hurrah, boys!”



“Silence!” roared Britton, as the man was about to commence the second
verse of his song. “What the devil’s song do you call that?”

“The Triple Tree.”

“And what may that be?”

“The gallows,” said the man, emphatically.

“Then who the devil are you?”

“The hangman!”

All shrunk from the man as he announced his calling; and for a minute
or two a ghastly sallow paleness came over Britton’s face.

“Very well, gentleman,” said the hangman, “if you don’t like my song,
you needn’t have the remainder of it I, am sure.”

Britton rose from his seat in a menacing attitude as he said,—

“Now, may I be smashed if ever I met with such assurance in all my
life. You horrid—you infernal—”

“My good fellow, don’t put yourself in a passion,” said the hangman.
“I’ve come all the way from Smithfield to see you.”

“See me?”

“Yes. I heard of you, and I came to take your weight in my eye—you
understand. It will require a good piece of hemp to hold you up. You
are bony, and that always weighs heavy. Good night—I’ll drop in again
some evening.”

With these words the functionary of the law was off before Britton
could make a rush at him, which he was just recovering sufficiently
from his surprise to enable him to do.

As it was, when he found the hangman had fairly escaped him, he looked
round him like some wild animal just turned out of a cage, and glaring
about to seek for some enemy upon whom to wreak his pent-up vengeance.

“He ain’t far off, I’ll be bound,” cried the butcher, “I dare say he’s
waiting outside.”

Britton upon this suggestion rushed from the room, and was at the
street-door in a moment. There was a man shrinking just within the
doorway, and without further examination, Britton seized him with both
hands, and found himself face to face with Jacob Gray.



CHAPTER LXXVI.


The Old Associates.—Gray’s Fears.—The Old Attic at the Chequers.



There was a light in the passage, which shed a strong full glare upon
the pallid care worn features of Gray; and Andrew Britton, as he held
him at arm’s length turned nearly as pale as he was with the intense
surprise of the meeting. He was sobered by the shock, and in a husky
whisper he muttered the name of Jacob Gray.

Such awful and abject fear seemed to take possession of Gray that had
not Britton held him, he must have fallen at his feet. All his presence
of mind and cunning appeared to have deserted him, and it was not until
Britton had again pronounced his name that he gasped,—

“Is—is it you, Andrew Britton? I—I am glad to see you look so well.”

“Yes by God,” said Britton, “it is me. What wind from hell blew you
here?”

“I—I, you are looking very well,” said Gray, with a sickly smile.

“Curses on my looks, and yours too, I say again what brought you here?”

“To—to see you, of course. I thought as we had been old friends, I
would come and—and see you. You rather hurt me, Britton.”

“You canting, whining villain,” said Britton, “I will know what brought
you here, or I will smash your head against the door-post.”

“Violent, Britton, still violent to poor Jacob Gray, who comes to do
you good. You know, my dear Britton—”

“Just say that again,” cried Britton, “and I’ll—”

He tightened his grasp upon Gray, who had just breath sufficient to
gasp out—

“Remember—my—confession! The gallows!”

Britton relaxed his hold, and a slight tremor passed over his frame as
he said in a lower tone,—

“Jacob Gray, you must have something damnable to say or propose to me!”

“Not exactly, Britton. But I think there is danger abroad to us both!”

“Danger?”

“Yes, Britton. Of course when I thought any danger threatened, I said
to myself, shall I not warn good, kind, peaceable, inoffensive Britton.”

“You infernal liar!” cried Britton.

“So having,” resumed Gray, not heeding any interruption, “so having
placed my written confession where, in case I return not soon, it would
be easily found and forwarded to Sir Francis Hartleton, I came, you
see, here at once.”

“Sir Francis Hartleton!” cried Britton; “if you have anything really to
say it is of him, I’ll be sworn. He has been hunting me, but I will
have his heart’s hood, I will!”

Gray caught at the suggestion, and immediately replied,—

“Yes—yes, Britton, it was of Sir Francis Hartleton I came to warn you.”

“Indeed, on your soul?”

“On my soul it was. He is hatching some mischief against us all,
Britton, and do you think I will let an old friend fall into danger,
and not warn him? So as I say, after placing my full and carefully
written confession—”

“Now, Jacob Gray,” said Britton, “if you say another word about your
d—d confession, I will brain you on the spot.”

“I only wished you to understand our relative positions, my good
Britton,” said Gray, who was rapidly overcoming his first fright, and
with his usual fertility of invention scheming to overcome Britton by
cunning.

“There, there, that will do. Let me hear no more of it,” said Britton.
“Come in.”

Gray hesitated a moment, and Britton, bending his brows upon him, said,—

“Why, you are as safe in the Chequers at Westminster, as you were at
the Old Smithy at Learmont. Why do you shrink, man? You know, and I
make no secret of it, that I would as soon dash out your brains as look
at you, if I could do so with safety. Come in, I say.”

“I am quite sure,” muttered Gray, “I may depend upon such an old friend
as Britton.”

He followed Britton as he spoke, and the smith, crossing the bar,
ascended two flights of stairs to his own sleeping room, into which he
ushered Jacob Gray.

“I have company down stairs, and be cursed to them,” he said. “Wait
here till I come back to you.”

“You—you won’t be long, Britton?”

“But five minutes.”

Britton left the room, and after proceeding down about three stairs, he
came back and, to Gray’s dismay, locked the door of the room.

“So—so,” murmured Gray, playing his fingers nervously upon the back of
a chair. “Here I am hunted through Westminster, and forced at length to
take refuge with Andrew Britton—he who has avowedly sought my life, and
would take it now, but for fear of my confession. Have I ever been in
such desperate straits as this before? Yes—yes—I have, and yet escaped.
Surely he will not kill me. He dare not. Yet he drinks largely, and may
remember then his revenge, and hatred against me, while he forgets his
own safety. Oh, if Andrew Britton knew how safe it was to murder Jacob
Gray, I should never see another sunrise. I am in most imminent
danger—very imminent danger, indeed, and locked in too. What will
become of me? What have toiled for, what committed crime upon crime
for, what dipped my hands in blood for, if I am to be hunted thus,
impoverished, and a price to be set upon my head?”

Jacob Gray leaned his head upon his hands, and groaned aloud, in the
bitterness of his despair.

Then after a time he rose and carefully examined the door with a
forlorn hope, that he might be able by some means to escape by it, and
slinking down the staircase, leave the house; but it was quite fast,
and although his strength might have been sufficient to break it open,
that was a mode of operation attended with far too much noise to answer
his purpose.

“I am a prisoner here,” he said,—“a prisoner to Andrew Britton, and my
only chance of safety consists now in acting upon his fears, and
arousing his anger more against Hartleton. He is long in coming,—what
can be detaining him? Has he gone to Learmont’s, and are they together
hatching some plot for my destruction? Am I safe, or—or am I on the
very brink of the grave? My heart sinks within me. Surely he has been
gone an hour. Shall I alarm the house? No—no. I am then taken for a
thief; and, perhaps, dragged before Hartleton, who would not fail to
recognise me. There is no weapon here to protect myself,—no means of
escape.”

A sudden thought seemed to strike Gray, and he took up the candle which
Britton had brought from the bar, and left with him.

“Does Britton,” he muttered, “keep his confession here with—my knife?
Oh, if I could find those,—if I could, ’twere worth all the risk I now
run. I would sell him to Learmont for a goodly sum.”

With a stealthy step, and a damp clammy perspiration of fear upon his
brow, Jacob Gray crept about the room, which was at the top of the
house, peering into every hole and corner in search of the much-dreaded
confession of Andrew Britton.

His search was in vain—there was no paper to be found of any
description and he sat down at length in despair.

“’Tis in vain—’tis in vain,” he groaned. “I am the victim of some
contrivance of Britton’s to destroy me, or he would have returned eye
this. I am lost—lost—lost.”

Jacob Gray wrung his hands, and wept like a child, as he thought his
hour was come.

A long, straggling ray of light came in at the window now, and he
started up exclaiming,—

“There is one hope more—the window—the window.”

The casement was one of those with diamond-shaped panes, held together
by thin slips of lead, and Jacob Gray saw that immediately under it was
a filthy gutter.

“One hope—one hope,” he muttered; and cautiously drawing himself
through the window, he closed it again, and stood in the gutter. On one
side of him was the high sloping roof of the attic, and on the other
was a narrow crumbling parapet.

With a shudder, he looked down into the street. An itinerant breakfast
provider had taken up his station immediately below, and several early
passengers were hurrying onwards to different employments.

A boy looked up, and said,—

“There he goes!”

Gray could have cut his throat with pleasure, but he could only curse
him, and creep on, while the urchin pointing him out to the saloon
dealer, who, shading his eyes with his hands, said in a voice that came
clearly to Jacob Gray’s ears,—

“It’s some thief, I’ll be bound, but it’s no business of mine—saloop!”



CHAPTER LXXVII.


The Smith’s Plot Against Gray.—An Accommodating Friend.



When Britton left Jacob Gray in his room, he descended but to the first
landing-place of the stairs, and then paused to consider what he had
better do under the circumstances so new and so strange as Gray taking
refuge with him from some danger to himself, or coming to consult with
him upon some common danger to them both. This latter supposition was,
however, too extravagant for Britton to believe; and when he came to
consider all the circumstances—his finding Gray skulking by the door,
and his evident confusion and fear when he was seized and seen, Britton
with a blow of his clenched fist upon his hand exclaimed,—

“I see it now—the sneaking villain was acting the spy upon me. He wants
to take my life—it’s all a d—d scheme of his, but I will be even with
him, or my name ain’t Andrew Britton. Let me consider—I’ll get Bond to
watch him home from here—a capital plan—he don’t know Bond, and will
never suspect he is followed. Then when he finds out where he lives, we
can go together, Bond and I, and knock his infernal brains out. That’ll
do.”

Having satisfactorily to himself settled this line of operations, and
considering Gray perfectly safe till he chose to release him, Britton
made his appearance again in the parlour of the Chequers.

“Come on,” cried Bond, “there hasn’t been no time lost while you was
gone for I’ve been drinking for you.”

“I thank you,” said Britton—“landlord, do you hear me, never open your
door to a hangman again.”

“It was a piece of great impudence,” said the landlord, “of such a
wretch coming here.” Then he added to himself, “Bless me, if he don’t
seem quite sober all of a sudden, and he was a going it finely a little
while ago. I do wonder now if he will recollect how much liquor he has
had.”

“Hurrah!” cried Britton’s guests—“Hurrah for King Britton! We’ll drink
his health again.”

“D—n you, then you’ll do it at your own expense,” said Britton. “What
do you mean by sotting here at this time, eh? Clear out with you all,
will you?”

“Well, I do think it’s—it’s nearly time to go,” hiccupped one man.

“Off with you all!” cried Britton. “Clear the house, landlord.”

The motley assembly, who among themselves could not have mustered the
price of a jug of ale, rose in obedience to Britton’s commands, and
avowing their intention of coming to see him on the morrow evening,
they, with much noise and boisterous clamour, took their departure from
the Chequers.

In a very minutes none were in the parlour but the landlord, Britton,
and the butcher. The smith then turned to his host, and said,—

“Bring me some spiced canary, and keep every body out of here.”

“Yes, your majesty—most certainly—oh dear yes!”

The spiced canary was soon set before the precious couple, and then
Britton, after a hearty draught, handed the liquor to the butcher, who
with a nod that might imply any toast that his companion liked to
translate it into, nearly finished the beverage.

“Bond,” said Britton, “I want you to do a little job for me.”

“I’m your man,” said the butcher. “What is it?”

“In my bedroom up stairs is a man.”

“A thief?”

“He is a thief, and be cursed to him! For he has robbed me for many
years of my due.”

“You want him thrown out of window?”

“No, not exactly. I am interested for many reasons in finding out where
he lives. When he leaves here, which I will take care he shall do soon,
you follow him.”

“I see—I see.”

“You comprehend. He must not know you are after him, for he is as wily
as a fox, but track him home, Bond, like a blood-hound!”

“Eh?” said Bond, rather astonished at the vehemence of Britton.

“I say you must follow him closely, and not let him escape you, on any
account.”

“I tell you what will be the best plan,” said Bond; “you don’t want to
lose him no how?“

“Dead or alive I will never let him escape me!”

“Then I’ll take my cleaver with me.”

“Your cleaver?”

“Yes; then, you know, then if he should turn round I can easily bring
him down with that.”

“Yes—yes; but he has something at his home that I want.”

“Oh, very well. Then we must let him go home first, I suppose. But I’d
rather have my cleaver with me, in case of anything handy and delicate
being wanted.”

“You may have the devil with you if you like, so that you dog the
fellow home, and come back with accurate news of where he lives. I hate
him, and must have his life!”

“May I make so uncommon free as to ask what he’s done?”

“Done! He has swindled me out of my own. You know I am a smith? Well,
for ten long years I beat the anvil, when I ought to be a gentleman,
all through him. For ten years by myself—shunned by every one. I was
forced to live by my—work by myself—drink by myself.”

“That was d—d hard.”

“It was; and all through this man. Hilloa there—more canary.”

Britton was fast relapsing into his former state of semi-intoxication,
and he struck his fists repeatedly upon the table as he continued,—

“He has been my bane—my curse—and he is so now! He boasts of his
cunning, and calls me a muddle-headed beast. I’ll muddle his head for
him. Curse him—curse him.”

“A precious rogue he must be,” said the butcher.

“He is a sneaking, cowardly villain. He is one of those who won’t do
his share of an ugly job, and yet wants more than his share of the
reward.”

“Humph! An ugly job.”

“Yes—I said it—drink—drink.”

“What’s his name?” said the butcher.

“His name is Jacob Gray.”

“A nice name for a small party. Well, we’ll settle his business for
him—humanely, you know, Master Britton, always humanely, say I. My
cleaver is the thing—there ain’t no sort of trouble with it, you may
depend.”

“Bond,” whispered Britton.

“Britton,” said Bond.

“If there should be any occasion, which I think there will be, to smash
this fellow, do you mind lending me that same cleaver of yours?”

“Sartinly not.”

“Thank you—thank you. Keep a look out now, by the door, and when you
see a pale, ill-looking scoundrel walk out—no, sneak out, I mean—follow
him. He will be the proper man, I wait here your return, good Master
Bond, and then we can take what steps, after you have found out where
he lives, we may agree upon. More canary there!”

Britton kept taking huge draughts of liquor as he instructed the
butcher, in what he wished him to do, and now his voice began to
thicken, and he had but a very confused recollection of what he had
confided to him, and what he had kept secret.

“D—n the Old Smithy,” he cried; “who cares? Not I. I’d live there again
although there are some strange sights and sounds.”

The butcher looked confused, and then in his peculiar elegant
phraseology he asked Britton what the h—ll he meant.

“What do I mean?” said Britton; “why, I mean what I say, to be sure.
You know what I mean well enough—I tell you this infernal thing that’s
now up stairs, kept me at the anvil for years, when I ought to have
been, as I am now, a gentleman.”

“Oh,” said the butcher, “I suppose he gave you an amazing lot of work
and wouldn’t pay for any of it till it was all done?”

“I suppose you’re a fool,” said Britton.

“Thank you,” replied Bond; “you may abuse me as much as you like, I’m
your best friend, and can stand it. You know you’ll go far afore you
can find another fellow as can drink as much as me.”

Britton seemed struck with the force and truth of this remark, and he
took another huge draught of liquor before he replied,—

“That’s true—you are a good fellow; never mind me—I—I should like to
see the Old Smithy again before the last drop goes down my throat.”

“The old who?”

“The Old Smithy at Learmont. I’ve had some pleasant hours there and
some unpleasant ones, just as it happened. In for a penny, you know,
and in for a pound, so I wasn’t going to say nay to the squire, you
understand, and be d—d to you.”

“Yes, I understand, that is to say, I don’t exactly comprehend,” said
Bonds trying to look very knowing.

“Then you’re a fool,” again cried Britton.

“Very well,” said Bond, with tipsy gravity, “very good—this here’s the
state of the case:—You’ve got an animal up stairs, you says—very good.
You wants me to take my cleaver, and see what’s to be done.”

“That’s the thing.”

“Then what the deuce do you mean by keeping the creature waiting for,
eh?”

“Because I know him,” laughed Britton. “It’s Jacob Gray, you know.”

“Oh, is it? It may be Jacob anything else for all I know about him.”

“I tell you it’s Jacob Gray,” reiterated Britton, striking his fist on
the table.

“Very well,” roared the butcher, dealing a much louder blow than
Britton’s and making the glasses dance again.

“Then I know he’s trembling—groaning with fear. He thinks his last hour
is come—I know he does. He suffers now more than as if we were to go up
now and cut his throat.”

“Stop a bit,” said the butcher, “always knock creturs on the head afore
you cuts their throats—mallet ’em first—always mallet first—it’s so
very humane, it is.”

“Come on,” cried Britton; “you, know what you have to do. Follow him
closely and surely, and bring me word where he lives. Then we can go
to-morrow night, and you may mallet him till he has no head to
mallet—hurrah!”

“A d—d fool!” muttered the butcher, as he immersed a considerable
portion of his immense red face in the bowl of liquor before him, nor
took it out while there was a drain left.

The bar was not hal