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Title: In the Dead of Night.  Volume 3 (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Speight, T. W. (Thomas Wilkinson)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:

     1. Page scan source: The Internet Web Archive
        https://archive.org/details/indeadofnightnov03spei
        (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)



IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT.



A Novel.



IN THREE VOLUMES.

VOL. III.



LONDON:
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON.
1874.

(_All rights reserved_.)



CONTENTS OF VOL. III.

CHAPTER
     I. A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY.

    II. IN THE SYCAMORE WALK.

   III. MISS CULPEPPER SPEAKS HER MIND.

    IV. KNOCKLEY HOLT.

     V. AT THE THREE CROWNS HOTEL.

    VI. TOM FINDS HIS TONGUE.

   VII. EXIT MRS. MCDERMOTT.

  VIII. DIRTY JACK.

    IX. WHAT TO DO NEXT?

     X. HOW TOM WINS HIS WIFE.

    XI. THE EIGHTH OF MAY.

   XII. GATHERED THREADS.



IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT.



CHAPTER I.
A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY.


Two hours after the receipt of Mrs. McDermott's second letter, Squire
Culpepper was on his way to Sugden's bank. His heart was heavy, and
his step slow. He had never had to borrow a farthing from any man--at
least, never since he had come into the estate--and he felt the
humiliation, as he himself called it, very bitterly. There was
something of bitterness, too, in having to confess to his friend Cope
how all his brilliant castles in the air had vanished utterly, leaving
not a wrack behind.

He could see, in imagination, the sneer that would creep over Cope's
face as the latter asked him why he could not obtain a mortgage on
his fine new mansion at Pincote; the mansion he had talked so much
about--about which he had bored his friends; the mansion that
was to have been built out of the Alcazar shares, but of which
not even the foundation-stone would ever now be laid. Then, again,
the Squire was far from certain as to the kind of reception which
would be accorded him by the banker. Of late he had seemed cool, very
cool--refrigerating almost. Once or twice, too, when he had called,
Mr. Cope had been invisible: a Jupiter Tonans buried for the time
being among a cloud of ledgers and dockets and transfers: not to be
seen by any one save his own immediate satellites. The time had been,
and not so very long ago, when he could walk unchallenged through the
outer bank office, whoever else might be waiting, and so into the
inner sanctum, and be sure of a welcome when he got there. But now he
was sure to be intercepted by one or other of the clerks with a "Will
you please to take a seat for a moment while I see whether Mr. Cope is
disengaged." The Squire groaned with inward rage as, leaning on his
thick stick, he limped down Duxley High Street and thought of all
these things.

As he had surmised it would be, so it was on the present occasion. He
had to sit down in the outer office, one of a row of six who were
waiting Mr. Cope's time and pleasure to see them. "He won't lend me
the money," said the Squire to himself, as he sat there choking with
secret mortification. "He'll find some paltry excuse for refusing me.
It's almost worth a man's while to tumble into trouble just to find
out who are his friends and who are not."

However, the banker did not keep him waiting more than five or six
minutes. "Mr. Cope will see you, sir," said a liveried messenger, who
came up to him with a low bow; and into Mr. Cope's parlour the Squire
was thereupon ushered.

The two men met with a certain amount of restraint on either side.
They shook hands as a matter of course, and made a few remarks about
the weather; and then the banker began to play with his seals, and
waited in bland silence to hear whatever the Squire might have to say
to him.

Mr. Culpepper fidgeted in his chair and cleared his throat. The
crucial moment was come at last. "I'm in a bit of a difficulty, Cope,"
he began, "and I've come to you, as one of the oldest friends I have,
to see whether you can help me out of it."

"I should have thought that Mr. Culpepper was one of the last people
in the world to be troubled with difficulties of any kind," said the
banker, in a tone of studied coldness.

"Which shows how little you know about either Mr. Culpepper or his
affairs," said the Squire, dryly.

The banker coughed dubiously. "In what way can I be of service to
you?" he said.

"I want five thousand five hundred pounds by this day week, and I've
come to you to help me to raise it."

"In other words, you want to borrow five thousand five hundred
pounds?"

"Exactly so."

"And what kind of security are you prepared to offer for a loan of
such magnitude?"

"What security! Why, my I.O.U., of course."

Mr. Cope took a pinch of snuff slowly and deliberately before he spoke
again. "I am afraid the document in question could hardly be looked
upon as a negotiable security."

"And who the deuce wanted it to be considered as a negotiable
security?" burst out the Squire. "Do you think I want everybody to
know my private affairs?"

"Possibly not," said the banker, quietly. "But, in transactions of
this nature, it is a matter of simple business that the person who
advances the money should have some equivalent security in return."

"And is not my I.O.U. a good and equivalent security as between friend
and friend?"

"Oh if you are going to put the case in that way, it becomes a
different kind of transaction entirely," said the banker.

"And how else did you think I was going to put the case, as you call
it?" asked the Squire, indignantly.

"Commercially, of course: as a pure matter of business between one man
and another."

"Oh, ho that's it, is it?" said the Squire, grimly.

"That's just it, Mr. Culpepper."

"Then friendship in such a case as this counts for nothing, and my
I.O.U. might just as well never be written."

"Let us be candid with each other," said the banker, blandly. "You
want the loan of a very considerable sum of money. Now, however much
inclined I might be to lend you the amount out of my own private
coffers, you will believe me when I say that I am not in a position to
do so. I have no such amount of available capital in hand at present.
But if you were to come to me with a good negotiable security, I could
at once put you into the proper channel for obtaining what you want. A
mortgage, for instance. What could be better than that? The estate, so
far as I know, is unencumbered, and the sum you need could easily be
raised on it on very easy terms."

"I took an oath to my father on his deathbed that I would never raise
a penny by mortgage on Pincote, and I never will."

"If that is the case," said the banker, with a slight shrug of the
shoulders, "I am afraid that I hardly see in what way I can be of
service to you." He coughed, and then he looked at his watch, an
action which Mr. Culpepper did not fail to note and resent in his own
mind.

"I am sorry I came," he said, bitterly. "It seems to have been only a
waste of your time and mine."

"Don't speak of it," said the banker, with his little business laugh.
"In any case, you have learned one of the first and simplest lessons
of commercial ethics."

"I have, indeed," answered the Squire, with a sigh. He rose to go.

"And Miss Culpepper, is she quite well?" said Mr. Cope; rising also.
"I have not had the pleasure of seeing her for some little time."

The Squire faced fiercely round. "Look you here, Horatio Cope," he
said; "you and I have been friends of many years' standing. Fast
friends, I thought, whom no reverses of fortune would have separated.
Finding myself in a little strait, I come to you for assistance. To
whom else should I apply? It is idle to say that you could not help me
out of my difficulty, were you willing to do so."

"No, believe me----" interrupted the banker; but Mr. Culpepper went on
without deigning to notice the interruption.

"You have not chosen to do so, and there's an end of the matter, so
far. Our friendship must cease from this day. You will not be sorry
that it is so. The insults and slights you have put upon me of late
have all had that end in view, and you are doubtless grateful that
they have had the desired effect."

"You judge me very hardly," said the banker.

"I judge you from your own actions, and from them alone," said the
Squire, sternly. "Another point, and I have done. Your son was engaged
to my daughter, with your full sanction and consent. That engagement,
too, must come to an end."

"With all my heart," said the banker, quietly.

"For some time past your son, acting, no doubt, on instructions from
his father, has been gradually paving the way for something of this
kind. There have been no letters from him for five weeks, and the last
three or four that he sent were not more than as many lines each. No
doubt he will feel grateful at being released from an engagement that
had become odious to him; and on Miss Culpepper's side the release
will be an equally happy one. She had learned long ago to estimate
at his true value the man to whom she had so rashly pledged her hand.
She had found out, to her bitter cost, that she had promised herself
to a person who had neither the instincts nor the education of a
gentleman--to an individual, in fact, who was little better than a
common boor."

This last thrust touched the banker to the quick. His face flushed
deeply. He crossed the room and called down an India-rubber tube:
"What is the amount of Mr. Culpepper's balance?"

Presently came the answer: "Two eighty eleven five."

"Two hundred and eighty pounds, eleven shillings, and five pence,"
said Mr. Cope, with a sneer. "May I ask, sir, that you will take
immediate steps for having this magnificent balance transferred to
some other establishment."

"I shall take my own time about doing that," said Mr. Culpepper.

"What a pity that your new mansion was not finished in time--quite a
castle it was to have been, was it not? A mortgage of five or six
thousand could have been a matter of no difficulty then, you know. If
I recollect rightly, all the furniture and decorations were to have
come from London. Nothing in Duxley would have been good enough. I
merely echo your own words."

The Squire winced. "I am rightly served," he muttered to himself.
"What can one expect from a man who swept out an office and cleaned his
master's shoes?" He rose to go. For all his bitterness, there was a
little pathetic feeling at work in his heart. "So ends a friendship of
twenty years," was his thought. "Goodbye, Cope," he said aloud as he
moved towards the door.

The banker, standing with his back to the fire, and looking straight
at the opposite wall, neither stirred nor spoke, nor so much as turned
his head to take a last look at his old friend. And so, without
another word, the Squire passed out.

A bleak north wind was blowing as the Squire stepped into the street.
He paused for a moment to button his coat more closely around him. As
he did so, a poor ragged wretch passed trembling by without saying a
word. The Squire called the man back and gave him a shilling. "My
plight may be bad enough, but his is a thousand times worse," he said
to himself as he walked down the street.

Where to go, or what to do next, he did not know. He had gone to see
Mr. Cope without any very great expectation of being able to obtain
what he wanted, and yet, perhaps, not without some faint hope nestling
at his heart that his friend would find him the money. But now he knew
for a fact that nothing was to be got from that quarter, he felt a
little chilled, a little lonely, a little lost as to what he should do
next. That something must be done, he knew quite well, but he was at a
nonplus as to what that something ought to be. To raise five thousand
five hundred pounds at a few days' notice, with no better security to
offer than a simple I.O.U., was by no means an easy matter, as the
Squire was beginning to discover to his cost. "Why not ask Sir Harry
Cripps?" he said to himself. But then he bethought himself that Sir
Harry had a very expensive family, and that only six months ago he had
given up his hunter, and dispensed with a couple of carriage-horses,
and had talked of going on to the continent for four or five years.
No: it was evident that Sir Harry Cripps could do nothing for him.

In what other direction to turn he knew not. "If poor Lionel Dering
had only been alive, I could have gone to him with confidence," he
thought. "Why not try Kester St. George?" was his next thought. "No:
Kester isn't one of the lending kind," he muttered, with a shake of
the head. "He's uncommonly close-fisted, is Kester. What he's got
he'll stick to. No use trying there."

Next moment he nearly ran against General St. George, who was coming
from an opposite direction. They started at sight of each other, then
shook hands cordially. Their acquaintanceship dated only from the
arrival of the General at Park Newton, but they had already learned to
like and esteem one another.

After the customary greetings and inquiries were over, said Mr.
Culpepper to the General: "Is your nephew Kester still stopping with
you at Park Newton?"

"Yes, he is still there," answered the General; "though he has talked
every day for the last month or more about going. Kester is one of
those unaccountable fellows that you can never depend on. He may stay
for another month, or he may take it into his head to go by the first
train to-morrow."

"I heard a little while ago that he was ill; but I suppose he is
better again by this time?"

"Yes--quite recovered. He was laid up for three or four days, but he
soon got all right again."

"Your other nephew--George--Tom--Harry--what's his name--is he quite
well?"

"You mean Richard--he who came from India? Yes, he is quite well."

"He's very like his poor brother, only darker, and--pardon me for
saying so--not half so agreeable a young fellow."

"Everybody seems to have liked poor Lionel."

"Nobody could help liking him," said the Squire, with energy. "I felt
the loss of that poor boy almost as much as if he had been my own
son."

"Not a soul in the world had an ill word to say about him."

"I wish that the same could be said of all of us," said the Squire.
And so, after a few more words, they parted.

As General St. George had told the Squire, Kester was still at Park
Newton. The doctor who was called in to attend him after his sudden
attack on the night that the footsteps were heard in the nailed-up
room, prescribed a bottle or two of some harmless mixture, and a few
days of complete rest and isolation. As Kester would neither allow
himself to be examined, nor answer any questions, there was very
little more that could be done for him.

Kester's first impulse after his recovery--and a very strong impulse
it was--was to quit Park Newton at once and for ever. Further
reflection, however, convinced him that such a step would be unwise in
the extreme. It would at once be said that he had been frightened away
by the ghost, and that was a thing that he could by no means afford to
have said of him. For it to get gossiped about that he had been driven
from his own house by the ghost of Percy Osmond, might, in time, tend
to breed suspicion; and from suspicion might spring inquiry, and that
might ultimately lead to nobody knew what. No: he would stay on at
Park Newton for weeks--for months even, if it suited him to do so. The
incident of his sudden illness was a very untoward one: on that point
there could be no doubt whatever; but not if he could anyhow help it
should the faintest breath of suspicion spring therefrom.

The Squire's troubles had faded into the background for a few minutes
during his interview with General St. George, but they now rushed back
upon him with, as it seemed, tenfold force. There was nothing left for
him now but to go home, and yet he had never felt less inclined to do
so in his life. He dreaded the long quiet evening, with no society but
that of his daughter. Not that Jane was a dull companion, or anything
like it; but he dreaded to encounter her pleading eyes, her pretty
caressing ways, the lingering embrace she would give him when he
entered the house, and her good-night kiss. He felt how all these
things would tend to unman him, how they would merely serve to deepen
the remorse which he felt already. If only he could meet with some one
to take home with him!--he did not care much who it was--some one who
would talk to him, and enliven the evening, and take off for a little
while the edge of his trouble, and so help him to tide over the weary
hours that intervened between now and the morrow, by which time
something might happen--he knew not what--or some light be vouchsafed
to him which would show him a way out of his difficulties.

These, or something like these, were the thoughts that were floating
hazily in his mind, when in the distance he spied Tom Bristow striding
along at his usual energetic rate. The Squire being still very lame,
wisely captured a passing butcher boy, and, with the promise of
sixpence, bade him hurry after Tom, and not come back without him.

"You must come back with me to Pincote," he said, when the astonished
Tom had been duly captured. "I'll take no refusal. I've got a fit of
mopes, and if you don't come and help to keep Jenny and me alive this
evening, I'll never speak to you again as long as I live." So saying,
the Squire linked his arm in Tom's, and turned his face towards
Pincote; and nothing loath was Tom to go with him.

"I've done a fine thing this afternoon," said Mr. Culpepper, as they
drove along in the basket-carriage, which had been waiting for him at
the hotel. "I've broken off Jenny's engagement with Edward Cope."

Tom's heart gave a great bound. "Pardon me, sir, for saying so," he
said as calmly as he could, "but I never thought that Mr. Cope was in
any way worthy of Miss Culpepper."

"You are right, boy. He was not worthy of her."

"From the first time of seeing them together, I felt how entirely
unfitted was Mr. Cope to appreciate Miss Culpepper's manifold charms
of heart and mind. A marriage between two such people would have been
a most incongruous one."

"Thank Heaven! it's broken now and for ever."

"I've broken off your engagement to Edward Cope," whispered the Squire
to Jane in the hall, as he kissed her. "Are you glad or sorry, dear?"

"Glad--very, very glad, papa," she whispered back as she rained a
score of kisses On his face. Then she began to cry, and with that she
ran away to her own room till she could recover herself.

"Women are queer cattle," said the Squire, turning to Tom, "and I'll
be hanged if I can ever make them out."

"From Miss Culpepper's manner, sir," said Tom, gravely, "I should
judge that you had told her something that pleased her very much
indeed."

"Then what did she begin snivelling for?" said the Squire, gruffly.

"Why not tell him everything?" said the Squire to himself, as he and
Tom sat down in the drawing-room. "He knows a good deal already,--why
not tell him more? I know he can do nothing towards helping me to
raise five thousand pounds, but it will do me good to talk to him. I
must talk to somebody--and I feel sure my secret is quite safe with
him. I'll tell him while Jenny's out of the room."

The Squire coughed and hemmed, and poked the fire violently before he
could find a word to say. "Bristow," he burst out at last, "I want to
raise five thousand five hundred pounds in five days from now, and as
I'm rather a bad hand at borrowing, I thought that you could, maybe,
give me a hint as to how it could best be done. Cope would have
advanced it for me in a moment, only that he happens to be rather
short of funds just now, and I don't want to trouble any of my other
friends if it can anyhow be managed without." He began to hum the air
of an old drinking-song, and poked the fire again. "Capital coals
these," he added. "And I got 'em cheap, too. The market went up three
shillings a ton the very day after these were sent in."

"Five thousand five hundred pounds is rather a large amount, sir,"
said Tom, slowly.

"Of course it's a large amount," said the Squire, testily. "If it were
only a paltry hundred or two I wouldn't trouble anybody. But never
mind, Bristow--never mind. I didn't suppose that you could help me
when I mentioned it; and, after all, it's a matter of very little
consequence whether I raise the money or not."

"I can only suggest one way, sir, by which the money could be raised
in so short a time."

"Eh!" said the Squire, turning suddenly on him, and dropping the poker
noisily in the grate. "You don't mean to say that you can see how it's
to be done!"

"I think I do, sir. Do you know the piece of ground called Prior's
Croft?"

"Very well indeed. It belongs to Duckworth, the publican."

"Between you and me, sir, Duckworth's hard up, and would be glad to
sell the Croft if he could do it quietly and without its becoming
generally known that he is short of money."

"Well?" said the Squire, a little impatiently. He could not understand
what Tom was driving at.

"I dare engage to say, sir, that you could have the Croft for two
thousand pounds, cash down."

"Confound it, man, what an idiot you must be!" said the Squire
fiercely, bringing his fist down on the table with a tremendous bang.
"Didn't I tell you that I wanted to borrow money, and not to spend it?
In fact, as you know quite well, I've got none to spend."

"Precisely so," said Tom, coolly. "And that is the point to which I am
coming, if you will hear me out."

The Squire's only answer was to glare at him, as if in doubt whether
he had not taken leave of his senses.

"As I said before, sir, Duckworth will take two thousand pounds for
the Croft, cash down. Now I, sir, will engage to raise two thousand
pounds for you by to-morrow, at noon, with which to buy the piece of
ground in question. The purchase can be effected, and the necessary
deeds made out and completed, by ten o'clock the following morning. If
you will entrust those deeds into my possession, I will guarantee to
effect a mortgage for six thousand pounds, in your name, on the
Croft."

If the Squire had looked suspicious with regard to Tom's sanity
before, he now seemed to have no doubt whatever on the point. He
quietly took up the poker again, as if he were afraid that Tom might
spring at him unexpectedly.

"So you could lend me two thousand pounds could you?" said the Squire
drily.

"I did not say that, sir. I said that I could raise two thousand
pounds for you, which is a very different matter from lending it out
of my own pocket."

"Humph! And who, sir, do you think would be such a consummate ass as
to advance six thousand pounds on a plot of ground that had just been
bought for two thousand?"

"Strange as such a transaction may seem to you, sir, I give you my
word of honour that I should find no difficulty in carrying it out.
Have I your permission to do so?"

"I suppose that the two thousand raised by you would have to be repaid
out of the six thousand raised by mortgage, leaving me with a balance
of four thousand in hand?" said the Squire, without heeding Tom's
question, a smile of incredulity playing round his mouth.

"No, sir," answered Tom. "The two thousand pounds could remain on
interest at five per cent. for whatever term might suit your
convenience. Again, sir, I ask, have I your permission to negotiate
the transaction for you?"

Mr. Culpepper gazed steadily for a moment or two into Tom's clear,
cold eyes. There were no symptoms of insanity visible there, at any
rate. "And do you mean to tell me in sober seriousness," he said,
"that you can raise this money in the way you speak of?"

"In sober seriousness, I mean to tell you that I can. Try me."

"I will try you," answered the Squire, impulsively. "I will try you,
boy. You are a strange fellow, and I begin to think that there's more
in you than I ever thought there was. But here comes Jenny. Not a word
more just now."



CHAPTER II.
IN THE SYCAMORE WALK.


The Park Newton clocks, with more or less unanimity as to time, had
just struck ten. It was a February night, clear and frosty, and Lionel
Dering sat in his dressing-room in slippered ease, musing by
firelight. He had turned out the lamp on purpose; it was too garish
for his mood to-night. He was back again in thought at Gatehouse Farm.
Again he saw the gray old cottage, with its moss-grown eaves--the
cottage that was so ugly outside, but so cosy within. Again he saw the
long low sandhills, where they stretched themselves out to meet the
horizon, and, in fancy, heard again the low, monotonous plash of the
waves, whose melancholy music, heard by day and night, had at one time
been as familiar to him as the sound of his own voice. What a quiet,
happy time that seemed as he now looked back to it--a time of soft
shadows and mild sunshine, with a pensive charm that was all its own,
and that was lost for ever in the hour which told him that he was a
rich man! Riches! What had riches done for him? He groaned in spirit
as he asked himself the question. He could have been happy with Edith
in a garret--how happy none but himself could have told--had fortune
compelled him to earn her bread and his own by the sweat of his strong
right arm.

His musings were interrupted by a knock at the door. "Come in," he
called out mechanically; and in there came, almost without, a sound,
Dobbs, body-servant to Kester St. George.

"Oh, Dobbs, is that you?" said Lionel, a little wearily, as he turned
his head and saw who it was.

"Yes, sir, I have made bold to intrude upon you for a few seconds,"
said Dobbs, with the utmost deference, as he slowly advanced into the
room, rubbing the long lean fingers of one hand softly with the palm
of the other. "My master has not yet got back from Duxley, and there's
nobody about just now."

"Quite right, Dobbs," said Lionel. "Anything fresh to report?"

"Nothing particularly fresh, sir, but I thought that you might perhaps
like to see me."

"Very considerate of you, Dobbs, but I am not aware that I have
anything of consequence to say to you to-night."

"Thank you, sir," said Dobbs, with a faint smile and an extra rub of
his fingers. "Master's still very queer, sir. No appetite worth
speaking about. Obliged to screw himself up with brandy in a morning
before he can finish his toilet. Mutters and moans a good deal in his
sleep, sir."

"Mutters in his sleep, does he?" said Lionel. "Have you any idea,
Dobbs, what it is that he talks about?"

"I've tried my best to ascertain, sir, but without much success. I
have listened and listened for hours, and very cold work it is, sir;
but there's never more than a word now and a word then that one can
make out. Nothing connected--nothing worth recollecting."

"Does Mr. St. George still walk in his sleep?"

"He does, sir, but not very often--not more than two or three times a
month."

"Keep your eyes open, Dobbs, and the very next time your master walks
in his sleep come to me at once--never mind what hour it may be--and
tell me."

"I won't fail to do so, sir."

"In these sleep-walking rambles does Mr. St. George always confine
himself to the house, or does he ever venture out into the park or
grounds?"

"He generally goes out of doors, sir, at such times. Three times out
of four he goes as far as the Wizard's Fountain, in the Sycamore Walk,
stops there for a minute or two, and then walks back home. I have
watched him several times."

"The Wizard's Fountain, in the Sycamore Walk! What should take him
there?"

"Then you know the place, sir?"

"I know it well."

"Can't say what fancy takes him there, sir. Perhaps he doesn't know
hisself."

"In any case, let me know when he next walks in his sleep. I have no
further instructions for you to-night, Dobbs."

"Thank you, sir. I have the honour to wish you a very good night,
sir."

"Good-night, Dobbs. Keep your eyes open, and report everything to me."

"Yes, sir, yes. You may trust me for doing that, sir." And Dobbs the
obsequious bowed himself out.

In his cousin's valet Lionel had found an instrument ready to his
hand, but it was not till after long hesitation and doubt that he made
up his mind to avail himself of it. The necessities of the case at
length decided him to do so. No one appreciated the value of a bribe
better than Dobbs, or worked harder or more conscientiously to deserve
one. There was a crooked element in his character which made whatever
money he might earn by indirect means, or by tortuous working, seem
far sweeter to him than the honest wages of everyday life. Kester St.
George was not the kind of man ever to try to attach his inferiors to
himself by any tie of gratitude or kindness. At different times and in
various ways he suffered for this indifference, although the present
could hardly be considered as a case in point, seeing that it was not
in the nature of Dobbs to resist a bribe in whatever shape it might
offer itself, and that gratitude was one of those virtues which had
altogether been omitted from his composition.

Late one afternoon, a few days after the interview between Lionel and
Dobbs, Kester St. George had his horse brought round, and rode out
unattended, and without leaving word in what direction he was going,
or at what hour he might be expected back. The day was dull and
lowering, with fitful puffs of wind, that blew first from one point
and then from another, and seemed the forerunners of a coming storm.
Buried in his own thoughts, Kester paid no heed to the weather, but
rode quickly forward till several miles of country had been crossed.
By-and-by he diverged from the main road, and turned his horse's head
into a tortuous and muddy lane, which, after half an hour's bad
travelling, landed him on the verge of a wide stretch of brown
treeless moor, than which no place could well have looked more
desolate and cheerless under the gray monotony of the darkening
February afternoon. Kester halted for awhile at the end of the lane to
give his horse breathing time. Far as the eye could see, looking
forward from the point where he was standing, all was bare and
treeless, without one single sign of habitation or life.

"Whatever else may be changed, either with me or the world," he
muttered, "the old moor remains just as it was the first day that I
can remember it. It was horrible to me at first, but I learned to like
it--to love it even, before I left it; and I love it now--to-day--with
all its dreariness and monotony. It is like the face of an old friend.
You may go away for twenty years, and when you come back you know that
you will find on it just the same look that it wore when you went
away. Not that I have ever cared to cultivate such friendships," he
added, half regretfully. "Well, the next best thing to having a good
friend is to have a good enemy, and I can thank heaven for granting me
several such."

He touched his horse with the spur, and rode slowly forward, taking a
narrow bridle path that led in an oblique direction across the moor.
"This ought to be the road if my memory serves me aright," he
muttered, "but they are all so much alike, and intersect each other so
frequently, that it's far more easy to lose one's way than to know
where one is."

"I suppose I shall have the rough side of Mother Mim's tongue when I
do find her," he went on. "I've neglected her shamefully, without a
doubt. But such ties as the one between her and me become tiresome in
the long run. She ought to have died off long ago, but she's as tough
as leather. Poor devils in this part of the country, that haven't a
penny to bless themselves with, think nothing of living till they're a
hundred. Is it a superfluity of ozone, or a want of brains, that keeps
them alive so long?"

He rode steadily forward till he had nearly crossed one angle of the
moor. At length, but not without some difficulty, he found the place
he had come in search of. It was a rudely-built hut--cottage it could
hardly be called--composed of mud, and turf, and great boulders all
unhewn. Its roof of coarsest thatch was frayed and worn with the wind
and rain of many winters. Its solitary door of old planks, roughly
nailed together, opened full on to the moor.

At the back was a patch of garden-ground, which was supposed to grow
potatoes in the season, but which had never yet been known to grow any
that were fit to eat. Mr. St. George looked round with a sneer as he
dismounted.

"And it was in this wretched den that I spent the first eight years of
my existence!" he muttered. "And the woman whom this place calls its
mistress was the first being whom I learned to love! And, faith, I'm
rather doubtful whether I've ever loved anybody half so well since."

Putting his horse's bridle over a convenient hook, and dispensing with
the ceremony of knocking, Kester St. George lifted the latch, pushed
open the door, stooped his head, and went in. Inside the hut
everything was in semi-darkness, and Kester stood for a minute with
the door in his hand, striving to make out the objects before him.

"Come in and shut the door: I expected you," said a hollow voice from
one corner of the room; and the one room, such as it was, comprised
the whole hut.

"Is that you, Mother Mim?" asked Kester.

"Ay--who else should it be?" answered the voice. "But come in and shut
the door. That cold wind gives me the shivers."

Kester did as he was told, and then made his way to a wretched pallet
at the other end of the hut. Of furniture there was hardly any, and
the aspect of the whole place was miserable in the extreme. Over the
ashes of a wood fire crouched a girl of sixteen, ragged and unkempt,
who stared at him with black, glittering eyes as he passed her. Next
moment he was standing by the side of a ragged pallet, on which lay
the figure of a woman who looked ill almost unto death.

"Why, mother, whatever has been the matter with you?" asked Kester. "A
little bit out of sorts, eh? But you'll soon be all right again now."

"Yes, I shall soon be all right now--soon be quite well," answered the
woman grimly. "A black box and six feet of earth cure everything."

"You mustn't talk in that way, mother," said Kester, as he sat down on
the only chair in the place, and took one of the woman's lean, hot
hands in his. "You will live to plague us for many a year to come."

"Kester St. George, this is the last time you and I will meet in this
world."

"I hope not, with all my heart," said Kester, feelingly.

"I know what I know, and I know that what I say is true," answered
Mother Mim. "You would not have come now if I had not worked a spell
strong enough to bring you here even against your will. I worked it
four nights ago, at midnight, when that young viper there"--pointing a
finger at the girl, who was still cowering over the ashes--"was fast
asleep, and there were no eyes to see but those of the cold stars. Ah!
but it was horrible! and if it had not been that I felt I must see you
before I died, I could never have gone through with it." She paused
for a moment, as though overcome by some dreadful recollection. "Then,
when it was over, I crept back to bed, and waited quietly, knowing
that now you could not choose but come."

"I ought to have come and seen you long ago--I know it--I feel it,"
said Kester. "But let bygones be bygones, and I give you my solemn
promise never to neglect you again. I am rich now, mother, and you
shall never want for anything as long as you live."

"Too late--too late!" sighed the woman. "Yes, you're rich now, rich
enough to bury me, and that's all I ask you to do."

"Don't talk like that, mother," said Kester.

"If you had only come to see me!" said the woman. "That was all I
wanted. Just to see your face, and squeeze your hand, and have you to
talk to me for a little while. I wanted none of your money--no, not a
single shilling of it. It was only you I wanted."

Kester began to feel slightly bored. He squeezed Mother Mim's hand,
and then dropped it, but he did not speak.

"But you didn't come," moaned the woman, "and you wouldn't have come
now if I hadn't worked a charm to bring you."

"There you wrong me," said Kester, decisively. "Your charm, or spell,
or whatever it may have been, had no effect in bringing me here. I
came of my own free will."

"Self-conceited, as you always were and always will be," muttered the
woman. Then, half raising herself in bed, and addressing the girl, she
cried: "Nell, you hussy, just you hook it for a quarter of an hour.
The gent and I have something to talk about."

The girl rose sullenly, went slowly out, and banged the door behind
her.

Kester wondered what was coming next. He had dropped the woman's hand,
but she now held it out for him to take again. He took it, and she
pressed his hand passionately to her lips three or four times.

"If the great secret of my life is to be told at all on this side the
grave, the time to tell it is now come. I always thought to die
without revealing it, but somehow of late everything has seemed
different to me, and I feel now as if I couldn't die easy without
telling you." She paused for a minute, exhausted. There was some
brandy on the chimney-piece, and Kester gave her a little. Again she
took his hand and kissed it passionately.

"You will, perhaps, curse me for what I am about to tell you," she
went on, "but whether you do so or not, so may Heaven help me if it is
anything more than the simple truth! Kester St. George, you have no
right to the name you bear--to the name the world knows you by!"

Kester was so startled that for a moment or two he sat like one
suddenly stricken dumb. "Go on," he said at last. "There's more to
follow. I like boldness in lying as in everything else."

"Again I swear that I am telling you no more than the solemn truth."

"If I am not Kester St. George," he said with a sneer, "perhaps you
will kindly inform me who I really am."

"You are my son!"

He flung the woman's hand savagely from him, and sprang to his feet
with an oath. "Your son!" he said. "Ha! ha! ha! Your son, indeed!
Since when have your senses quite left you, Mother Mim? A dark cell in
Bedlam and a strait waistcoat would be your best physic."

"I am rightly punished," moaned the woman--"rightly punished. I ought
to have told you years ago--ay--before you ever grew to be a man. But
I loved you so, and had such pride in you, that I couldn't bear the
thought of telling you, and it's only now when I'm on my deathbed that
the secret forces itself from me. But it will go no farther, never you
fear that. No living soul but you will ever hear it from my lips; and
you have only got to keep your own lips tightly shut, and you will
live and die as Kester St. George."

She sank back with the exhaustion of speaking. Mechanically, and
almost without knowing what he was doing, Kester again gave her a
little brandy. Then he sat down; and Mother Mim, finding his hand
close by, took possession of it again. He shuddered slightly, but did
not withdraw it.

Although Mother Mim had advanced no proofs in support of the strange
story she had just told him, there was something in her tone which
carried conviction to his inmost heart.

"I must know more of this," he said, after a little while, speaking
almost in a whisper.

"How well I remember everything about it! It seems only like yesterday
that it all happened," sighed the woman. "You--my own child, and
he--the other one that was sent to me to nurse, were born within a few
hours of one another. His father broke a blood-vessel about six weeks
after the child was brought to me. The mother went with her husband to
Italy to take care of him, and the child was left with me. A week or
two afterwards he was taken suddenly ill, and died. Then the devil
tempted me to put my own boy into the place of the lost heir. When
Mrs. St. George came back from Italy she came to see her child, and
you were shown to her as that child. She accepted you without a
moment's suspicion. They let you stay with me till you were eight
years old, and then they took you away and sent you to school. My
husband and my sister were the only two beside myself who knew what
had been done, and they both died years ago without saying a word. I
shall join them in a few days, and then you alone will be the keeper
of the secret. With you it will die, and on your tombstone they will
write: 'Here lies the body of Kester St. George.'"

She had told her story with great difficulty, and with frequent
interruptions to gather strength and breath to finish it. She now lay
back, utterly exhausted. Her eyes closed, her hand relaxed its hold on
Kester's, her jaw dropped slightly, the thin white face grew thinner
and whiter: it seemed as if Death, passing that way, had looked in
unexpectedly, and had beckoned her to go with him. Kester rose
quickly, and struck a match and lighted a fragment of candle that he
found on the chimney-piece. His next impulse was to try and revive her
with a little brandy, but he paused with the glass in his hand. Why
try to revive her? Would it not be better for him, for her, for every
one, if she were really dead? If such were the case, it would do away
with all fear of her strange secret being ever divulged to any one
else. Yes--in every way her death would be a welcome release.

It was not without a tremor, it was not without a faster beating of
the heart, that Kester took the bit of cracked looking-glass from the
wall and held it to the woman's lips. His very life seemed to stand
still for a moment or two while he waited for the result. It came. The
glass clouded faintly. The woman was not dead. With a muttered curse
Kester dashed the glass across the floor and put back the candle on
the chimney-piece. Then he took up his hat. Where was the use of
staying longer? She could tell him nothing more when she should have
come to her senses than she had told him already: nothing, that is, of
any consequence; and as for details, he did not want them--at least,
not now. What he had been told already held food enough for thought
for some time to come. He paused for a moment before going out.
Was it really possible--was it really credible, that that haggard,
sharp-featured woman was his mother?--that his father had been a
coarse, common labouring man, a mere hedger and ditcher, who had lived
and died in that mean hut, and that he himself, instead of being the
Kester St. George he had always believed himself to be, was no other
than the son of those two--the boy whose supposed death he remembered
to have heard about when little more than a mere child?

Fiercely and savagely he told himself again and again that such a
thing could not be--that what Mother Mim had told him was nothing more
than a pack of devil's lies--the invention of a brain weakened and
distorted by illness and the clouds of coming death. It was high time
to go. He put five sovereigns on the chimney-piece, went softly out,
and shut the door behind him. The girl was sitting on the low mud-wall
near the door, with the skirt of her dress drawn over her head as some
protection from the bitter wind. Her black, glittering eyes took him
in from head to foot as he walked up to her. "Go inside at once. She
has fainted," said Kester. The girl nodded and went. Then Kester
mounted his horse and rode slowly homeward through the chilly
twilight. Bitterest thoughts held him as with a vice. When he came
within sight of the chimneys of Park Newton, he gave a sigh of relief,
and put spurs to his horse. "That is mine, and no power on earth shall
take it from me," he muttered. "That and the money that comes with it.
I am Kester St. George. Let those disprove who can!"

A few nights later, as Lionel Dering was sitting in his dressing-room,
smoking a last cigar before turning in, there came three low, distinct
taps at the door, which he recognized as the peculiar signal of Dobbs.
It was nearly an hour past midnight, and in that early household every
one had been long abed, or, at least, had retired long ago to their
own rooms.

Lionel opened the door, and Dobbs slid softly in. Such visits were by
no means infrequent, but they were usually paid at a somewhat earlier
hour than on the present occasion.

"Come in, Dobbs," said Lionel. "You are later to-night than usual."

"Yes, sir, I am, and I must ask you to pardon me for intruding at such
an hour; but, if you remember, sir, you told me, a little while ago,
that I was to let you know without fail the very next time my master
took to walking in his sleep."

"Quite right, Dobbs. I am glad that you have not forgotten my
instructions."

"Well, sir, Mr. St. George left his rooms, a few minutes ago, fast
asleep."

"In which direction did he go?"

"He went down the side staircase, and through the conservatory, and
let himself out through the little glass door into the garden."

"And then which way did he go?"

"I did not follow him any farther, but ran at once to tell you."

"Have you any idea as to what direction he would be most likely to
take?"

"There is little doubt, sir, but that he has gone towards the Wizard's
Fountain, in the Sycamore Walk. Three times already, that is the place
to which he has gone."

"We must follow him, Dobbs."

"Yes, sir."

"We must watch him, but be careful not to disturb him."

"Yes, sir."

"I suppose there is little or no fear of his waking before he gets
back to the house?"

"None whatever, sir, as far as my experience goes. As a rule, he goes
quietly back to his own rooms, undresses himself as quietly and
soberly as if he was wide awake, and gets into bed; and when he does
really wake up in the morning, he never seems to know anything about
what has happened over-night. But we must make haste, sir, if we wish
to overtake him."

"I will be ready in one minute."

Lionel wrapped a warm furred cloak about him, and put a travelling-cap
on his head. Three minutes later he and Dobbs stood together in the
open air.

The night was clear, crisp, and cold. The moon was just rising above
the tree-tops, bathing the upper part of the quaint old house in its
white glory, but as yet the shrubbery and the garden-paths lay in
deepest shadow. Nowhere could they discern the figure of the man whom
they had come out to follow; but the Wizard's Fountain was a good half
mile from the Hall, so they struck at once into the nearest footway
that led towards it. A few minutes' quick walking took them there.
Lionel knew the place well. It had been a favourite haunt of his when
living at Park Newton during the few happy weeks that preceded the
murder. Very weird and solemn the whole place looked, as seen by
moonlight at that still hour of the night.

Although known as the Sycamore Walk, there were only two trees of that
particular kind growing there, and they threw their antique shadows
immediately over the fountain itself. The rest of the avenue consisted
of beech, and oak, and elm. But all the trees were huge, and old, and
fantastic: untended and uncared for--growing together year after year,
whispering their leafy secrets to each other with every spring that
came round, and standing shoulder to shoulder against the winds of
winter: a hoary brotherhood of forest sages.

The fountain itself, whatever it might have been in years long gone
by, was now nothing more than a confused heap of huge stones,
overgrown with lichens and creepers. From the midst of them, and from
what had doubtless at one time been a representation in marble of the
head of a leopard or other forest animal, but which now was almost
worn past recognition, trickled a thin stream of coldest water; which,
falling into a broken basin below, over-brimmed itself there, and was
lost among the cracks and interstices in the masses of broken masonry
that lay scattered around.

"You had better, perhaps, wait here," said Lionel to Dobbs, as they
halted for a moment at the entrance to the avenue.

Dobbs did as he was bidden, and Lionel advanced alone, keeping well
within the shade of the trees. When within a dozen yards of the
fountain, he halted and waited. The low, ceaseless monotone of the
falling water was the only sound that broke the moonlit silence.

From out the dense shadow of the trees on the opposite side of the
avenue, and as if he himself were part of that shadow, Kester St.
George slowly emerged. In the middle of the avenue, and in the full
light of the moon, he paused. His right hand was thrust into the bosom
of his vest, as if he were hiding something there. Standing thus, he
seemed, as it were, to shrink within himself. Still hugging that
hidden something, he seemed to listen--to listen as if his very life
depended on the act. Then, with a slow, creeping motion, as though his
feet were weighted with lead, he stole towards the fountain. He
reached it. He grasped the stonework with one hand, and then he turned
to gaze, as though in dread of some hidden pursuer. Then slowly,
almost reluctantly, he seemed to draw something from within his vest,
and, while still gazing furtively around him, he thrust his arm, elbow
deep, into a crevice in the masonry, let it rest there for a single
moment, and then withdrew it. With the same furtively restless look,
and ears that seemed to listen more intently than ever, he paused for
an instant. Then he stole swiftly back across the moonlit avenue, and
so vanished among the black shadows from whence he had come.

So natural had been his actions, so unstudied his every movement, that
it seemed impossible to believe that he was indeed asleep.

Hardly had Kester St. George disappeared before Lionel Dering was by
the fountain, on the very spot where his cousin had stood half a
minute before. He had noted well the place. There, before him, was the
very crevice into which Kester had thrust his arm. Into that same
crevice was Lionel's arm now thrust--elbow deep--shoulder deep. His
groping fingers soon laid hold of that which was hidden there. He drew
out his arm quickly, and the something that he had found glittered
steel-blue in the moonlight. With a cry of horror he dropped it, and
it fell with a dull clash among the stones. Lionel Dering had
recognized it in a moment as a dagger which he had last seen in the
possession of Percy Osmond.



CHAPTER III.
MISS CULPEPPER SPEAKS HER MIND.


Mrs. McDermott had reached Pincote, and she did not fail to let every
one know it. As the Squire had predicted, the moment she had taken off
her waterproof, and changed her boots, she marched straight into the
library, and asked for her money. It was with a feeling of profound
satisfaction that her brother unlocked his bureau, and handed her a
roll of notes representing five thousand seven hundred and fifty
pounds. She counted the notes over twice, slowly and carefully.

"What are the seven hundred and fifty pounds for?" she asked.

"Interest for three years at five per cent. per annum."

"I thought you would have got me seven per cent. at the least," she
said ungraciously. "My man of business tells me that seven is quite a
common thing nowadays. He says that he can get me nine or ten per
cent. on real property, without any difficulty."

"I should advise you to be careful what you are about," said the
Squire, gravely. "Big profits, big risks; little profits, little
risks."

"I know perfectly well what I'm doing," said Mrs. McDermott, with a
toss of her antiquated curls. "It's you slow, sleepy, country folks,
who crawl behind the times, and miss half the golden chances that come
to people who keep their eyes wide open."

The Squire shook his head, but said no more. He groaned in spirit when
he thought what his "golden chance" had done for him.

"Let her buy her experience as I've bought mine," he said to himself.
"From a girl she was always pig-headed: let her pay for it."

"Have you any idea how long your aunt is likely to stay?" he asked
Jane, a day or two later.

"No idea whatever, papa. If the quantity of her luggage is anything to
go by, I should say that her stay is likely to be a long one."

"I hope not, with all my heart," sighed the Squire.

Mrs. McDermott, in truth, was not a lady who ever troubled herself to
make her presence agreeable to those with whom she might be staying.
Consideration for the comfort of others was a thought that never
entered her mind. From the day of her arrival at Pincote she began to
interfere with the existing arrangements of the house; finding fault
with everything: changing this, altering the other, and evidently
determined to have her own way in all. The first thing she did was to
find fault with her bedroom, although it was one of the pleasantest
apartments in the house, and had been especially arranged by Jane
herself with a view to her aunt's comfort. But it was not the best
bedroom--the state bedroom, therefore Mrs. McDermott would have none
of it. Into the state bedroom, a gloomy apartment fronting the north,
which was never used above once or twice in half a dozen years, she
migrated at once with all her belongings. Her next act, she being
without a maid of her own at the time, was to induct one of the
Pincote servants into that office, taking her altogether from her
proper duties, and not permitting her to do a stroke of work for any
one but herself. Then she talked her brother into allowing the dinner
hour to be altered from six to half-past seven; so that, as the Squire
grumbled to himself, the cloth was hardly removed before it was time
to go to bed. Then the Squire must never appear at dinner without a
dress coat, and a white tie--articles which, or late years, he had
been tacitly allowed to dispense with when dining en famille. A white
cravat especially was to him an abomination. He never could tie the
knot properly, and after crumpling three or four, and throwing them
across the room in a rage, Jane's services would generally have to be
called into requisition as a last resource.

One other infliction there was which the Squire found it very
difficult to bear patiently. After dinner, when there was no
particular company at Pincote, it was an understood thing that the
Squire should have the dining-room to himself for half an hour, in
order that he might enjoy the post-prandial snooze which long custom
had made almost a necessity with him. But this was an arrangement that
failed to meet with the approbation of Mrs. McDermott. She insisted
that the Squire should either accompany the ladies, or, otherwise, she
herself would keep him company in the dining-room; and woe be to him
if he dared so much as close an eye for five seconds! It was "Where
are your manners, sir? I'm thoroughly ashamed of you;" or else,
"Falling asleep, sir, in the presence of a lady? a clodhopper could do
no more than that!" till the Squire felt as if his life were being
slowly tormented out of him.

Nor did Jane fail to come in for a share of her aunt's strictures.
Mrs. McDermott evidently looked upon her as little more than a child.
Firstly, her hair was not arranged in accordance with her aunt's ideas
of propriety in such matters, which, truth to say, belonged to a
somewhat antiquated school. Then the girl was altogether too bright
and sunny-looking, with her bows of ribbon and bits of lace showing
daintily here and there. And she was too forward in introducing topics
of conversation at meal-times, instead of allowing the introduction of
appropriate themes to come from her elders and her betters. Then Jane
was addicted to the heinous offence of laughing too heartily, and too
often. Altogether her aunt saw in her much that stood in need of
reformation. Jane bore everything with a sort of good-humoured
indifference. "The time to speak is not come yet. I will see how much
further she will go," she said to herself. But when the cook came to
her one morning and said: "If you please, miss, Mrs. Dermott says that
for the future I am to take my dinner orders from her," then Jane
thought that the time to speak was drawing very near indeed.

"Do as Mrs. McDermott tells you," she said quietly to the astonished
cook.

"Well, I never! I thought that the mistress had more spirit than
that," said the woman as she went back to her duties in the kitchen.

Next day brought the coachman. "Beg pardon, miss," he said, with a
touch of his hair; "but Mrs. McDermott have given orders that the
brougham and gray mare is to be ready for her every afternoon at three
o'clock to the minute. I am to take the order, miss, I suppose?"

"Quite right, John, till I give you orders to the contrary."

Next came the gardener. "Very sorry, miss, but I shall have to give
notice--I shall really."

"Why, what's amiss now, Gibson?"

"It's all Mrs. McDermott, miss; begging your pardon for saying so. Why
will she pretend to understand gardening better than me that has been
at it, man and boy, for fifty year? Why will she come finding fault
with this, that, and the other, in a way that neither the Squire nor
you, miss, ever thinks of doing? And she not only finds fault, but
gives orders, ridiculous orders, about things she knows nothing of. I
can't stand it, miss, I really can't."

"Mrs. McDermott will give you no more orders, Gibson, after to-day.
You can go back to your work with an easy mind."

Jane waited till next morning, and then having ascertained that her
aunt had again given orders to the cook respecting dinner, she walked
straight into the breakfast-room where she knew that she should find
Mrs. McDermott alone, and busy with her correspondence--for she was a
great letter writer at that hour of the morning.

"What a noisy girl you are," she said crossly, as her niece drew up a
chair and sat down beside her. "I was just writing a few lines to dear
Lady Clark when you came in in your usual brusque way and put all my
ideas to flight."

"They must be poor, timid, little ideas, aunt, to be so easily
frightened away," said Jane.

"Jane, there has been a flippant tone about you for the last day or
two that I don't at all approve of. Flippancy in young people is
easily acquired, but difficult to get rid of. The sooner you get rid
of yours the better I shall be pleased."

Jane rose from her chair and swept Mrs. McDermott a stately curtsey.
"Is it not almost time, aunt," she said quietly, "that you gave up
treating me, and talking to me, as if I were a child?"

"If you are no longer a child in years, you are still very childish in
many of your ways."

"You are quite epigrammatic this morning, aunt."

"Don't be impertinent, young lady."

"I have no intention of being impertinent. But I have come to see you
about the order for dinner which you gave the cook half an hour ago."

"What about that?" asked Mrs. McDermott snappishly. "In what way does
it concern you?"

"It concerns me very materially indeed," answered Jane. "You have
ordered several things for dinner that papa does not care about; some,
in fact, that he never eats. Fried soles, for instance, and veal
cutlets--articles he never touches. So I have told the cook to
supplement your order with some turbot and a boiled fowl à la
marquise. I have also told her that for the future she will receive
from me every evening the menu for next day. Should my list contain
nothing that you care about, the cook has orders to obtain specially
for you any articles that you may wish to have."

"Upon my word! what next?" was all that Mrs. McDermott could gasp out
at the moment, so overcome was she with rage and surprise.

"This next," said Jane. "From to-day the dinner hour will be altered
back to six o'clock. Half-past seven suits neither papa nor me. Should
the latter hour be a necessity with you, you can always have your
dinner served at that time in your own room. But papa and I will dine
at six."

"I shall talk to your papa about this, and ascertain from his own lips
whether I am to be dictated to and insulted by a chit like you."

"That is just what I must forbid you to do," said Jane. "Papa's health
has not been what it ought to be for a long time past.

"Only a few weeks ago he had a slight stroke. Happily he soon recovered
from it, but Dr. Davidson says that all exciting topics must be kept
carefully from him. You know how little things will often excite him;
and if you begin to worry him about any petty differences that may
arise between you and me, you will do so at your peril, and must be
satisfied to take whatever consequences may arise from your so doing."

Mrs. McDermott stared at her niece in open-mouthed wonder.

"Perhaps you have something more to say to me," she gasped out.

"Yes, several things. Before ordering the brougham to be at your beck
and call every day at three o'clock, it might, perhaps, be just as
well to make sure that your brother is not likely to want it. He has
taken to using it rather frequently of late."

"Oh, indeed; I'll make due inquiry," was all that Mrs. McDermott could
find to say.

"And if I were you, I wouldn't go quite so often into the greenhouses,
or near the men at work in the garden."

"Anything else, Miss Culpepper? You may as well finish the list while
you are about it."

"Simply this: that after dinner papa must be left to himself for an
hour. He is used to have a little sleep at such times, and he cannot
do without it. This is most imperative."

"I was never so insulted in the whole course of my life."

"Then your life must have been a very fortunate one. There is no
intention to insult you, aunt, as your own common sense will tell you
when you come to think calmly over all that I have said. You are here
as papa's guest, and both he and I will do our best to make you
comfortable. But there can be only one mistress at Pincote, and that
mistress, at present, is your niece, Jane Culpepper."

And before Mrs. McDermott could find another word to say, Jane had
bent over her, kissed her, and swept from the room.

For two days Mrs. McDermott dined in solitary state, at half-past
seven, in her own room. But she found it so utterly wretched to have
no one to talk to but her maid, that on the third day her resolution
failed her; and when six o'clock came round she found herself in the
dining-room, sitting next her brother, with something of the feeling
of a school-girl who has been whipped and forgiven.

Her manner towards her brother and her niece was very frigid and
stand-off-ish for several days to come. Towards the Squire she
imperceptibly thawed, and the old familiar intimacy was gradually
resumed between them. But between herself and Jane there was
something--a restraint, a coldness--which no time could altogether
remove. It was impossible for the older woman to forget that she had
been worsted in the encounter with her niece. Could she have seen some
great misfortune, some heavy trouble, fall upon Jane, she could then
have afforded to forgive her, but hardly otherwise.

It was with a sense of intense relief that Squire Culpepper handed
over to his sister the five thousand pounds that he was indebted to
her. It was a great weight off his mind, and although he did not say
much to Tom Bristow about it, he was none the less grateful in his
secret heart. He was still as much at a loss as ever to understand by
what occult means Tom had been able to raise the mortgage of six
thousand pounds on Prior's Croft. He had hinted more than once that he
should like to know the secret by means of which a result so
remarkable had been achieved, but to all such hints Tom seemed utterly
impervious.

Still more surprised was the Squire when, a few days after the six
thousand pounds had been put into his hands, Tom came to him and said:
"With regard to Prior's Croft, sir. You have taken my advice once in
the matter: perhaps you won't object to it a second time."

"What is it, Bristow, what is it?" said the Squire, graciously. "I
shall be glad to listen to anything you may have to say."

"What I want you to do, sir," said Tom, "is to have some plans at once
drawn up, and have the foundations laid of a number of houses--twenty
to thirty at the least--on Prior's Croft."

"I thought you crazy about the mortgage," said the Squire, with a
twinkle in his eye. "Are you quite sure you are not crazy now?"

"I am just as sane now as I was then."

"But to build houses on Prior's Croft! Why, nobody would ever live in
them. The place is altogether out of the way."

"That has nothing whatever to do with the question. If you will only
take my advice, sir, you will get the foundations down without an
hour's unnecessary delay."

"And where should I be at the end of a month, when the contractor came
to me for the first instalment of his money?"

"All that can be arranged for without difficulty. Your credit is sound
in the market, and that is the one thing indispensable."

"But what is to be the ultimate result of all these mysterious
proceedings?"

"Now you get me in a corner. But I must again crave your indulgence,
and ask you to let the mystery remain a mystery a little while longer.
If you have sufficient faith in me, why, take my advice. If not--you
will simply be missing a chance of making an odd thousand or so."

"And that is what I can by no means afford to do," said the Squire
with emphasis.

The result was that a week later some forty or fifty men were busily
at work cutting the turf and digging the foundations for the score of
grand new villas which Mr. Culpepper had decided on building at
Prior's Croft.

Everybody's verdict was that the Squire must be mad. New villas,
indeed! Why there were hardly people enough in sleepy old Duxley to
occupy the houses that fell vacant as the older inhabitants died off.

"That may be," said the Squire, when this plea was urged on his
notice; "but I mean to make my villas so handsome, so commodious, and
so healthy, that a lot of the old rattletrap dens will at once be
deserted, and I shall not have house-room for half the people who will
want to become my tenants." So spoke the Squire, putting a brave face
on the matter, but really as much in the dark as any one.

But if there was one person more puzzled than another, that person was
certainly Mr. Cope the banker. He had ascertained for a fact that
within a few days of their interview--their very painful interview, he
termed it to himself--his quondam friend had actually become the
purchaser of Prior's Croft; and what was a still greater marvel, had
actually paid down two thousand pounds in hard cash for it! And now
the town's talk was of nothing but the grand villas which the Squire
was going to build on his new purchase. Mr. Cope could hardly credit
it all till he went and saw with his own eyes the men hard at work.
Still, it was altogether incomprehensible to him. Could the Squire
have merely been playing him a trick; have only been testing the
strength of his friendship, when he came to him to borrow the five
thousand pounds? No, that could hardly be; else why had his balance at
the bank been allowed to dwindle to a mere nothing? Besides which, he
knew from words that the Squire had let drop at different times, that
he must have been speculating heavily. Could it be possible that his
speculations had, after all, proved successful? If not, how account
for this sudden flood of prosperity? For several days Mr. Cope failed
to enjoy his dinner in the hearty way that was habitual with him: for
several nights Mr. Cope's sleep failed to refresh him as it usually
did.

Although the Squire's heaviest burden had been lifted off his mind
with the payment of his sister's money, he had by no means forgotten
the loss of his daughter's dowry. And now that his mind was easy on
one point, this lesser trouble began to assume a magnitude that it had
not possessed before. He could not get rid of the thought that there
was nothing but his own frail life between his daughter and all but
absolute penury. A few hundred pounds Jane would undoubtedly have, but
what would that be to a young lady brought up as she had been brought
up? "Not enough," as the Squire put it in his homely way, "to find her
in bread-and-cheese and cotton gowns."

But what was to be done? Life assurance was out of the question. He
was too old and too infirm. There was nothing much to be got out of
the estate. It was true that he might thin the timber a little and
make a few hundreds that way; but the heir-at-law had too shrewd an
eye to his own ultimate interests to allow very much to be done in
that line. Besides which, the Squire himself could not for very shame
have impaired what was the chief beauty of the Pincote property--its
magnificent array of timber.

There was, perhaps, a little cheese-paring to be done in the way of
cutting down domestic expenses. A couple of servants might be
dispensed with indoors. The under-gardener and the stable-boy might be
sent about their business. The gray mare and the brougham might be
disposed of. The wine merchant's bill might be lightened a little; and
fewer coals, perhaps, might be burnt in winter--and that was nearly
all.

But even such reductions as these, trifling though they were, could
not be made secretly--could not be made, in fact, without becoming the
talk of the whole neighbourhood; and if there was one thing the Squire
detested more than another, it was having his private affairs
challenged and discussed by other people. And what, after all, would
the saving amount to? How many years of such petty economy would be
needed to scrape together even as much as one-fourth of the sum he had
lost by his mad speculations? It was all a muddle, as he said to
himself; and his brain seemed getting hopelessly muddled, too, with
asking the same questions over and over again, and still finding
himself as far from a satisfactory answer as ever.

There was one thing that he could do, and one only, that had about it
any real basis of satisfaction. He could sell that piece of ground
which has already been spoken of as not forming part of the entailed
estate--the piece of ground on which his new mansion was to have been
built. Land, just now, was fetching good prices. Yes, he would
certainly sell Knockley Holt, and fund in Jenny's name whatever money
it might fetch--not that it would command a very high price, being a
poor piece of land, as everybody knew. Still it would be a nest egg,
though only a little one, for a rainy day.



CHAPTER IV.
KNOCKLEY HOLT.


About this time Tom Bristow found himself very often at Pincote. The
Squire would have him there. It seemed as if he could not do without
Tom's society. Since the loss of his money he had been getting more
and more disinclined either for going out himself or having company at
home. Still he could not altogether do without somebody to talk to now
and then; and Tom being either a good listener or a lively talker, as
occasion might require, and having already rendered the Squire an
important service, it seemed somehow to fall into the natural order of
things that he should be invited three or four times a week to dine at
Pincote. Nor after Mrs. McDermott's arrival was he there less
frequently. Not that the Squire did not find his sister very lively
company. In fact, he often found her too lively. She had too much to
say: her tongue was never quiet. In season and out of season, she
overwhelmed her brother with an unending flow of small-talk and petty
gossip about things that had little or no interest for him; but about
which he was obliged to feign an interest, unless, as he himself
expressed it, "he wanted to know the length of his sister's tongue."

But when Tom was there the case was different. He acted as a sort of
buffer between Mrs. McDermott and the Squire. By means of a few adroit
questions, and a clever assumption of ignorance with regard to
whatever topic Mrs. McDermott might be dilating on, he generally
succeeded in drawing the full torrent of her conversation on his own
devoted head, thereby affording the Squire a breathing space for which
he was truly grateful. Sometimes, but not very often, Tom let the
demon of mischief get the mastery of him. On such occasions he would
lead Mrs. McDermott on by one artful question after another till she
began to contradict herself and eat her own words, and ended by
floundering helplessly in a sort of mental quagmire, and so
relapsing into sulky silence, with a dim sense upon her that she had
somehow been coaxed into making an exhibition of herself by that
demure-looking young scamp of a Bristow, who seemed hand and glove
with both her brother and her niece after a fashion that she neither
liked nor understood.

Yet was the love of hearing herself talk so ingrained in Mrs.
McDermott's nature, that by the time of Tom's next visit to Pincote
she was ready to fall into the same trap again, had he been inclined
to lead her on.

"Who is that young Bristow that you and Jane make such a pet of?" she
asked her brother one day. "I don't seem to recollect any family of
that name hereabouts."

"Pet, indeed! Nobody makes a pet of him, as you call it," growled the
Squire. "He's the son of the doctor who attended poor Charlotte in her
last illness. He's a sharp young fellow who has got his head screwed
on the right way, and he's been useful to me in one or two business
matters, and may be so again; so there's no harm in asking him to
dinner now and then."

"Now and then with you seems to mean three or four times a week,"
sneered Mrs. McDermott.

"And what if it does?" retorted the Squire. "As long as I can call the
house my own, I'll ask anybody I like to dinner, and as often as I
like."

"Only if I were you, I wouldn't forget that I'd a daughter who was
just at a marriageable age."

"Nor a sister who wouldn't object to a husband number two," chuckled
the Squire.

"Why not set your cap at young Bristow, eh, Fanny? You might do worse.
He's young and not bad looking, and if he has no money of his own,
he's just the right sort to look well after yours."

Mrs. McDermott fanned herself indignantly. "You never were very
refined, Titus," she said; "but you certainly get coarser every time I
see you."

Mr. Culpepper only chuckled to himself, and poked the fire vigorously.

"I'll have that young Bristow out of this house before I'm three weeks
older!" vowed the 'widow to herself. "The way he and Jane carry on
together is simply disgusting, and yet that poor weak brother of mine
can't see it."

From that day forth she took to watching Tom and Jane more
particularly than she had done before. Not satisfied with watching
them herself, she induced her maid Emma to act as a spy on their
actions. With her assistance, Mrs. McDermott was not long in gathering
sufficient evidence to warrant her, as she thought, in seeking a
private interview with her brother on the subject. "And high time
too," she said grimly to herself. "That minx of a Jane is carrying on
a fine game under the rose. The arrant little flirt! And as for that
young Bristow--of course it's Jane's money that he's after. Titus must
be as blind as a bat, or he would have seen it all long ago. I've no
patience with him--none!"

Having worked herself up to the requisite pitch, downstairs she
bounced and burst into the Squire's private room--commonly called his
study. She burst into the room, but halted suddenly the moment she had
crossed the threshold. The Squire was there, but not alone. Tom
Bristow was with him. The two were in deep consultation--so much she
could see at a glance--bending towards each other over the little
table, and speaking, as it seemed to her, almost in a whisper. The
Squire turned with a gesture of impatience at the opening of the door.
"Oh, is that you, Fanny?" he said. "I'll see you presently; I'm busy
with Mr. Bristow, just now."

She went out without a word, but her face flushed deeply, and an evil
look came into her eyes. "That's the way you treat your only sister,
Mr. Titus Culpepper, is it?" she muttered under her breath. "Not a
penny of my money shall ever come to you or yours."

Tom had walked over to Pincote that morning to see the Squire
respecting the building going on at Prior's Croft. When their
conference had come to an end, said the Squire to Tom: "You know that
scrubby bit of ground of mine--Knockley Holt?"

Tom started. "Yes, I know it very well," he said. "It is rather
singular that you should be the first to speak about it; because it
was partly about that very piece of ground that I am here this morning
to see you."

"Ay--ay--how's that?" said the Squire, suddenly brightening up from
the apathy that had begun to creep over him so often of late.

"Why, it doesn't seem to be of much use to you, and I thought that
perhaps you wouldn't mind letting me have a lease of it."

The Squire laughed heartily: a thing he had not done for several
weeks. "And I had just made up my mind to sell it, and was going to
ask your advice about it!"

Tom's face flushed suddenly. "And do you really think of selling
Knockley Holt?" he asked, with his keen bright eyes bent on the
Squire's face more keenly than usual.

"Of course I think of selling it, or I shouldn't have said what I have
said. As things have gone with me, the money would be more useful to
me than the land is ever likely to be. It won't fetch much I know, but
then I didn't give much for it, and whoever may get it won't have much
of a bargain."

"Perhaps you wouldn't object to have me for a purchaser?"

"You! You buy Knockley Holt? Why, man alive, you must know that I
should want money down, and---- But I needn't say more about it."

"If you choose to sell Knockley Holt to me, I will give you twelve
hundred pounds for it, cash down."

The Squire was getting into the way of not being astonished at
anything that Tom might say, but he did look across at him for a
moment or two in blank amazement.

"Well, you are a queer fish, and no mistake!" were his first words.
"And pray, my young shaver, how come you to be possessed of twelve
hundred pounds?"

"Oh, I'm worth a little more than twelve hundred pounds," said Tom,
with a smile. "Why, only the other week I cleared a thousand by one
little stroke in cotton."

"Well done, young one," said the Squire, heartily. "You are not such a
fool as you look. And now take an old man's advice. Don't speculate
any more. Fortune has given you one little slice of her cake. Don't
tempt her again. Be content with what you've got, and speculate no
more."

"At any rate, I won't forget your advice, sir," said Tom. "I wonder,"
he added to himself, "what he would think and say if he knew that it
was by speculation, pure and simple, that I earn my bread and cheese."

"And so you would really like to buy Knockley Holt, eh?"

"I should indeed, if you are determined to sell it."

"Oh, I shall sell it, sure enough. But may I ask what you intend to do
with it when you have got it?"

"Ah, sir, that is just one of those questions which you must not ask
me," said Tom, laughingly. "If I buy it, it will be entirely on
speculation. It may turn out a dismal failure: it may prove to be a
big success."

"Well, well, that will be your look out," said the Squire,
good-naturedly. "But, Bristow, it's not worth twelve hundred pounds,
nor anything like that sum."

"I think it is, sir--at least to me, and I am quite prepared to pay
that amount for it."

"I only gave nine fifty for it; and I thought that if I could get a
clear thousand I should have every reason to be perfectly satisfied."

"I have made you an offer, sir. It is for you to say whether you are
willing to accept it."

"Seeing that you offer me two hundred pounds more than I ever hoped to
get, I'm not such an ass as to say, No. Only I think you are robbing
yourself. I do indeed, Bristow; and that's what I don't like to see."

"I think, sir, that I'm pretty well able to look after my own
interests," said Tom, with a meaning smile. "Am I to consider that
Knockley Holt is to become my property?"

"Of course you are, boy--of course you are. But I must say that you
are a little bit of a simpleton to give me twelve hundred when you
might have it for a thousand."

"An offer's an offer, and I'll abide by mine."

"Then there's nothing more to be said: I'll see my lawyer about the
deeds to-morrow."

Tom shook hands with the Squire and went in search of Jane.

"Perhaps I may come in now," said Mrs. McDermott five minutes later,
as she opened the door of her brother's room.

"Of course you may," said the Squire. "Young Bristow and I were
talking over some business affairs before, that would have had no
interest for you, and that you know nothing about."

"It's about young Bristow, as you call him, that I have come to see
you this morning."

"Oh, indeed," said the Squire drily. Then he took off his spectacles,
and rubbed them with his pocket handkerchief, and began to whistle a
tune under his breath.

Mrs. McDermott glared fiercely at him, and her voice took an added
tone of asperity when she spoke again. "I suppose you are aware that
your protégé is making violent love to your daughter, or else that
your daughter is making violent love to him: I hardly know which it
is!"

"What!" thundered the Squire, as he started to his feet. "What is that
you say, Fanny McDermott?"

"Simply this: that there is a lot of lovemaking going on between Jane
and Mr. Bristow. If it is done with your sanction, I have not another
word to say. But if you tell me that you know nothing about it, I can
only say that you must have been as blind as a bat and as stupid as an
owl."

"Thank you, Fanny--thank you," said the Squire sadly, as he sat down
in his chair again. "I dare say I have been both blind and stupid; and
if what you tell me is true, I must have been."

"Miss Jane couldn't long deceive me," said the widow spitefully.

"Miss Jane is too good a girl to deceive anybody."

"Oh, in love matters we women hold that everything is fair. Deceit
then becomes deceit no longer. We call it by a prettier name."

Her brother was not heeding her: he was lost in his own thoughts.

"The young vagabond!" he said at last. "So that's the way he's been
hoodwinking me, is it? But I'll teach him: I'll have him know that I'm
not to be made a fool of in that way. Make love to my daughter,
indeed! I'll have him here to-morrow morning, and tell him a bit of my
mind that will astonish him considerably."

"Why wait till to-morrow? Why not send for him now?"

"Because he left here a quarter of an hour ago.

"Oh, you would not have far to send for him."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply that he and Jane are in the shrubbery together at the present
moment."

The Squire stared at her helplessly for a moment or two. "How do you
know that?" he said at last, speaking very quietly.

"Because my maid, who was returning from an errand, saw them walking
there, arm in arm." She paused, as if expecting her brother to say
something, but he did not speak. "I have not had my eyes shut, I
assure you," she went on. "But in these matters women are always more
quick-sighted than men. From the very first hour of my seeing them
together I had my suspicions. All their walking and talking together
couldn't be for nothing. All their hand-shakings and sly glances into
each other's eyes couldn't be without a meaning."

The Squire got up from his chair and rang the bell. A servant came in.
"Ascertain whether Mr. Bristow is anywhere about the house or grounds;
and, if he is, tell him that I should like to see him before he goes."

Mrs. McDermott rose in some alarm. It was no part of her policy to be
seen there by Tom. "I am glad  you have sent for him," she said. "I
hope matters have not gone too far to be stopped without difficulty."

He looked up in a little surprise. "There will be no difficulty. Why
should there be?" he said.

"No, of course not. As you say, why should there be? But I must now
bid you good-morning for the present. There will be hardly any need, I
think, for you to mention my name in the affair."

"There will be no need to mention anybody's name. Good-morning."

Mrs. McDermott went out and shut the door gently behind her. "Breaking
fast, poor man," she said to herself. "He's not long for this world,
I'm afraid. Well, I've the consolation of knowing that I've always
done a sister's duty by him. I wonder what he'll die worth. Thousands,
no doubt; and all to go to that proud minx of a Jane. We are not
allowed to hate one another, or else I'm afraid I should hate that
girl."

She shook her fist at an imaginary Jane, went straight upstairs, and
gave her maid a good blowing-up.

Some three weeks had now come and gone since Tom, breaking for once
through the restraint which had hitherto kept him back, did and said
something which made Jane very happy. What he did was to draw her face
down to his and kiss it: what he said was simply, "Good-night, my
darling." Nothing more, but quite enough to be understood by her to
whom the words were spoken. But since that evening not one syllable
more of love had been breathed by Tom. For anything that had since
passed between them Jane might have imagined that she had merely
dreamt the words--that the speaking of them was nothing more than a
fancy of her own lovesick brain.

Under similar circumstances many young ladies would have considered
themselves aggrieved, and would not have been deemed unreasonable in
so thinking, But Jane had no intention whatever of adopting an
injured tone even in her own inmost thoughts. She had never been in
the habit of looking upon herself in the light of a victim, and she
had no intention of beginning to do so now. Surprised--slightly
surprised--she might be, but that was all. In Tom's manner towards
her, in the way he looked at her, in the very tone of his voice, there
was that indescribable something which gave her the sweet assurance
that she was still loved as much as ever. Such being the case, she was
well satisfied to wait. She felt that her lover's silence had a
meaning, that he was not dumb without a reason. When the proper time
should come he would speak, and to some purpose. Till then Eros should
keep a finger on his lips, and speak only the language of the eyes.

"So this is the way you treat me, is it, young man?" said the Squire,
sternly, as Tom re-entered the room.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Tom, looking at him in sheer amazement.

"Oh, don't pretend that you don't know what I mean."

"It may seem stupid on my part, but I must really plead ignorance."

"You worm yourself into my confidence till you get the run of the
house, and can come and go as you like, and you finish up by making
love to my daughter!"

"It is no crime to love Miss Culpepper, I hope, sir. There are few
people, I imagine, who could know her without loving her."

"That's all very well, but you don't get over me in that way, young
sir. What right have you to make love to my daughter? That's what I
want to know."

"I may love Miss Culpepper, but I have never told her so."

"Do you mean to say that you have never asked her to marry you?"

"Never, sir; on that point I give you my word of honour."

"A good thing for you that you haven't. The sooner you get that love
tomfoolery out of your head the better."

"I promise you one thing, sir," said Tom; "if I ever do marry Miss
Culpepper, it shall be with your full consent and good wishes."

The Squire could not help chuckling. "In that case, my boy, you will
never have her--not if you live to be as old as Methuselah."

"Time will prove, sir."

"And look ye here. There must be no more walks in the shrubbery, no
more gallivanting together among the woods. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, sir. Your words could not be plainer."

"I mean them to be plain. There seems to be no harm done so far, but
it's time this nonsense was put a stop to. Miss Culpepper must marry
in a very different sphere from yours."

"Pardon the remark, sir, but you were quite willing to take Mr. Edward
Cope as your son-in-law. Now, I consider myself quite as good a man as
Mr. Cope--quite as eligible a suitor for your daughter's hand."

"Then I don't. Besides, young Cope would never have had the chance of
getting her if he hadn't been the son of my oldest friend; the son of
the man to whose bravery I owe my life itself. Master Edward owes it
to his father and not to himself that I ever sanctioned his engagement
to Miss Culpepper."

"I am indebted for this good turn to Mrs. McDermott," said Tom to
himself, as he walked homeward through the park. "It will only have
the effect of bringing matters to a climax a little earlier than I
intended, but it will not alter my plans in the least."

"Fanny has been exaggerating as usual," was the Squire's comment.
"There was something in it, no doubt, and it's just as well to have
crushed it in the bud; but I think it's hardly worth while to say
anything to Jenny about it."

A week later, the Squire happened to be riding on his white pony along
the high road that fringed one side of Knockley Holt, when, to his
intense astonishment, he heard the regular monotonous puffing and saw
the smoke of a steam engine that was apparently hard at work behind a
clump of larches in the distance. Riding up to the spot, he found some
score or so of men all busily engaged. They were excavating a hole in
the hill-side, filling-in stout timber supports as they got deeper
down; the engine on the top being employed to hoist up the earth in
big bucketfuls as fast as it was dug out.

"What's all this about?" inquired the Squire of one of the men; "and
who's gaffer here?"

"Mr. Bristow, he be the gaffer, sur, and this hole be dug by his
orders."

"Oh, ho! that's it, is it? And how deep are you going to dig the hole,
and what do you expect to find when you get to the bottom?"

"I don't rightly know, sur, but I should think we be digging for
water."

"A likely tale that! What the dickens should anybody want water for
when we haven't had a dry day for seven weeks?"

"Our foreman did say, sur, as how Mr. Bristow was going to have a hole
dug clean through, so as to make a short cut like to the other side of
the world. Anyhow, it be mortal dry work."

The Squire gave a grunt of dissatisfaction, and rode off. "What queer
crotchet has that young jackanapes got into his head now?" he muttered
to himself. "It's just possible, though, that there may be a method in
his madness."



CHAPTER V.
AT THE THREE CROWNS HOTEL.


"Hi! Jean, whose is this luggage?" cried Pierre Janvard one morning to
his head waiter. He pointed at the same time to a large portmanteau
which lay among a pile of other luggage in the hall of the Three
Crowns Hotel, Bath.

With that restless curiosity which was such a marked trait in his
character, Janvard had a habit of peering about among the luggage of
his guests, and even of prying stealthily about their bedrooms when he
knew that their occupants were out of the way, and he himself safe
from detection. It was not that he hoped to benefit himself in any
way, or even to pick up any information that would be of value to him,
by such a mode of proceeding; but it had been a habit with him from
boyhood to do this kind of thing, and it was a habit that he could by
no means overcome.

Passing through the hall this morning, his eye had been attracted by a
pile of luggage belonging to several fresh arrivals, and he at once
began to peer among the labels. The second label that took his eye was
inscribed, "Richard Dering, Esq., Passenger to Bath." Janvard stood
aghast as he read the name. A crowd of direful memories rushed to his
mind. For a moment or two he could not speak. Then he called Jean as
above.

"That portmanteau," answered Jean, "belongs to a gentleman who came in
by the last train. He and another gentleman came together. They wanted
a private sitting-room, and I put them into number twenty-nine."

"Has the other gentleman any luggage?"

"Yes, this large black bag belongs to him." Janvard stooped and read:
"Tom Bristow, Esq., Passenger to Bath." "Quite strange to me, that
name," he muttered to himself. At this moment the boots came, and
shouldering the luggage, hurried with it upstairs.

"They have ordered dinner, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you hear them say how long they were likely to stay here?"

"No, sir."

"Wait on them yourself at dinner. Bear in mind all that they talk
about, and report it to me afterwards."

"Yes, sir."

Pierre Janvard retired to his sanctum considerably disturbed in mind.
Was the fresh arrival any relation or connection of the dead Lionel
Dering, or was it merely one of those coincidences of name common
enough in everyday life? These were the two questions that he put to
himself again and again.

One thing was quite evident to him. Himself unseen, he must contrive
to see this unknown Richard Dering. If there were a possibility of the
slightest shadow of danger springing either from this or from any
other quarter, it behoved him to be on his guard. He would see these
people, after which, if requisite, he would at once write to Mr.
Kester St. George for instructions.

He had just brought his cogitations to an end, and had opened his
banker's passbook, the contemplation of which was a never-failing
source of joy to him, when a tap came to the door, and next moment in
walked Mr. Richard Dering and Mr. Tom Bristow.

It was on the face of this Richard Dering that Pierre Janvard's eyes
rested first. In one brief glance he took in every detail of his
appearance. Then his eyes fell. His sallow face grew sallower still.
His thin lips quivered for a moment, and then his hands began to
tremble slightly, so that in a little while he was obliged to take
them off the table and bury them in his pockets.

He saw at once that this Mr. Dering must be a near relative of that
other Mr. Dering whose face he remembered so well--whose face it was
impossible that he should ever forget. They were alike, and yet
strangely unlike: the same in many points, and yet in others most
different. But the moment this dark-looking stranger opened his lips,
it seemed indeed as if Lionel Dering had come back from the grave. A
covert glance at Mr. Bristow assured Janvard that in him he beheld a
man whose face he had no recollection of having ever seen before.

"Your name is Janvard, I believe?" said Mr. Dering, with a slight bow.

"Pierre Janvard at your service," answered the Frenchman,
deferentially.

"You were formerly, I believe, in the service of Mr. Kester St.
George?"

"I had that honour."

"My name is Dering--Richard Dering. It is probable that you never
heard of me before, seeing that I have only lately returned from
India. I am cousin to Mr. Kester St. George."

The Frenchman bowed. "I have no recollection of having heard
monsieur's name mentioned by my late employer."

"I suppose not. But my brother's name--Lionel Dering--must be well
known to you."

Janvard could not repress a slight start So that was the relationship,
was it?

"Ah, yes," he said. "I have seen Mr. Lionel Dering many times, and
done several little services for him at one time or another."

"You were one of the chief witnesses on the trial, if I recollect
rightly?"

Janvard coughed, to gain a moment's time. The conversation was taking
a turn that he did not approve of. "I certainly was one of the
witnesses on the trial," he said, with an air of deprecation. "But
monsieur will understand that it was a misfortune which I had no means
of avoiding. I could not help seeing what I did see, and they made me
tell all about it."

"Oh, we quite understand that," said Mr. Dering. "You were not to
blame in any way. You could not do otherwise than as you did."

Janvard smiled faintly, and bowed his gratification.

"My friend here, Mr. Bristow, and myself, have come down to stay a
week or two in your charming city. The doctors tell me there is
something the matter with my spleen, and have recommended me to drink
the Bath waters. Hearing casually that you were the proprietor of one
of the most comfortable hotels in the place, and looking upon you
somewhat in the light of a connection of the family, we thought that
we could not do better than take up our quarters with you."

Again Janvard smiled and bowed his gratification. "Monsieur may depend
upon my using my utmost endeavours to make himself and his friend as
comfortable as possible. Pardon my presumption, but may I venture to
ask whether Mr. St. George was quite well when monsieur saw or heard
from him last?"

"My cousin was a little queer a short time ago, but I believe him to
be well again by this time." Mr. Dering turned to go. "We have given
your waiter instructions as to dinner," he said.

"I hope my chef will succeed in pleasing you," said Janvard., with a
smile. "He has the reputation of being second to none in the city."
With the same smile on his face he followed them to the door and bowed
them out, and, still smiling, watched them till they turned the corner
of the street. "No danger there, I think," he said to himself. "None
whatever. Still I must keep on the watch--always on the watch. I must
look to their dinners myself, and leave them nothing to complain of.
But I shall be very much pleased indeed when they call for their bill:
very much pleased to see the last of them."

Said Tom to Lionel, as they were walking arm-in-arm towards the
pump-room: "Did you notice that magnificent ring which Janvard wore on
the third finger of his left hand?"

"I could not fail to notice it. I was thinking about it at the very
moment you spoke."

"I have not seen so splendid a ruby for a long time. The setting, too,
is rather unique."

"Yes, it was the peculiar setting that caused me to recognize it
again."

"That caused you to recognize it! You don't mean to say that you have
ever seen the ring before?"

"I certainly have seen it before."

"Where?"

"On the finger of Percy Osmond."

Tom halted suddenly and stared at Lionel as if he could hardly believe
the evidence of his ears.

"I am stating nothing but the simple truth," continued Lionel. "The
moment I saw the ring on Janvard's finger the thought flashed through
me that I had certainly seen it somewhere before. All the time I was
talking to Janvard I was trying to call that somewhere to mind, but it
did not come to me till after we had left the hotel--not, in fact,
till a minute before you spoke about it."

"Are you sure you are not mistaken? There are many ruby rings in the
world."

"I don't for one moment think that I am mistaken," answered Lionel
deliberately. "If the ring worn by Janvard be the one I mean, it has
three initial letters engraved inside the hoop. What particular
letters they are I cannot now recollect. I chanced to express my
admiration of the ring one night in the billiard-room, and Osmond took
it off his finger in order that I might examine it. It was then I saw
the letters, but without noticing them with sufficient particularity
to remember them again."

"I always had an idea," said Tom, "that Janvard was in some way mixed
up with the murder, and this would seem to prove it. He must have
stolen the ring from Osmond's room either immediately before or
immediately after the murder."

"I must see that ring," said Lionel decisively. "It must come into my
possession, if only for a minute or two, if only while I ascertain
whether the initials are really there."

"I don't think that there will be much difficulty about that," said
Tom. "The fellow has no suspicion as to whom you really are, or as to
the object of our visit to Bath. To admire the ring is the first step:
to ask to look at it the second."

A quarter of an hour later Lionel gripped Tom suddenly by the arm.
"Bristow," he whispered, "I have just remembered something. Osmond had
that ruby ring on his finger the night before he was murdered! I have
a distinct recollection of seeing it on his hand when we were playing
that last game of billiards together."

"If this ring," said Tom, "prove to be the one you believe it to be,
the finding of it will be another and a most important link in the
chain of evidence."

"Yes--almost, if not quite, the last one that we shall need," said
Lionel.

At dinner that evening Janvard in person took in the wine. The eyes of
both Lionel and Tom fixed themselves instinctively on his left hand.
The ring was no longer there.

"Can he suspect anything?" asked Lionel of Tom, as soon as they were
alone.

"I think not," answered Tom. "The fellow is evidently uneasy, and will
continue to be so as long as you stay under his roof But the very
openness of our proceedings, and the frank way in which we have told
him who we are, will go far to disarm any suspicions which he might
otherwise have entertained."

Two or three days passed quietly over. Lionel drank the waters with
regularity, and he and Tom drove out frequently in the neighbourhood
of King Bladud's beautiful city. Janvard always gave them a look in in
the course of dinner to see that everything was to their satisfaction;
but he still carefully abstained from wearing the ring.

By-and-by there came a certain evening when Janvard failed to put in
his usual appearance at the dinner table. Said Tom to the man who
waited upon them: "Where is your master this evening? Not ill, I
hope?"

"Gone to a masonic banquet, sir," answered the man.

"Then he won't be home till late, I'll wager."

"Not till eleven or twelve, I dare say, sir.

"Gone in full fig, of course?" said Tom, laughingly.

"Yes, sir," answered the man with a grin.

"Diamond studs and ruby ring, and everything complete, eh?" went on
Tom.

"I don't know about diamond studs, sir," said the man, "but he
certainly had his ring on, for I saw it on his finger myself."

"Now is our time," said Tom to Lionel, as soon as the man had left the
room. "We may not have such an opportunity again."

It was close upon midnight when Pierre Janvard, alighting from a fly
at the door of his hotel, found his two lodgers standing on the steps
smoking a last cigar before turning in for the night. In this there
was nothing unusual--nothing to excite suspicion.

"Hallo! Janvard, is that you?" cried Tom, assuming the tone and manner
of a man who has taken a little too much wine. "I was just wondering
what had become of you. This is my birthday: so you must come upstairs
with us, and drink my health in some of your own wine."

"Another time, sir, I shall be most happy; but to-night----"

"But me no buts," cried Tom. "I'll have no excuses--none. Come along,
Dering, and we'll crack another bottle of Janvard's Madeira. We'll
poison mine host with his own tipple."

He seized Janvard by the arm, and dragged him upstairs, trolling out
the last popular air as he did so. Lionel followed leisurely.

"You're a good sort, Janvard--a deuced good sort!" said Tom.

"Monsieur is very kind," said Janvard, with a smile and a shrug; and
then in obedience to a wave from Tom's hand, he sat down at table. Tom
now began to fumble with a bottle and a corkscrew.

"Allow me, monsieur," said Janvard, politely, as he relieved Tom of
the articles in question, and proceeded to open the bottle with the
ease of long practice.

"That's a sweet thing in rings you've got on your finger," said Tom,
admiringly.

"Yes, it is rather a fine stone," said Janvard, dryly.

"May I be allowed to examine it?" asked Tom, as he poured out the wine
with a hand that was slightly unsteady.

"I should be most happy to oblige monsieur," said Janvard, hastily,
"but the ring fits me so tightly that I am afraid I should have some
difficulty in getting it off my finger."

"Hang it all, man, the least you can do is to try," cried Tom.

The Frenchman flushed slightly, drew off the ring with some little
difficulty, and passed it across the table to Tom. Tom's fingers
clutched it like a vice. Janvard saw the movement and half rose, as if
to reclaim the ring; but it was too late, and he sat down without
speaking.

Tom pushed the ring carelessly over one of his fingers, and turned it
towards the light. "A very pretty gem, indeed!" he said. "And worth
something considerable in sovereigns, I should say."

"Will you allow me to examine it for a moment?" asked Lionel gravely,
as he held out his hand. For the second time Janvard half rose from
his seat, and for the second time he sat down without a word. Tom
handed the ring across to Lionel.

"A magnificent stone, indeed," said the latter, "but somewhat
old-fashioned in the setting. But that only makes it the more valuable
in my eyes. A family heirloom, without doubt. And see! inside the hoop
are three initials. They are somewhat difficult to decipher, but if I
read them aright they are M. K. L."

"Yes, yes, monsieur," said Janvard, uneasily. "As you say, M. K. L.
The initials of the friend who gave me the ring." He held out his
hand, as if expecting that the ring should at once be given back to
him, but Lionel took no notice of the action.

"Three very curious initials, indeed," said Lionel, musingly. "One
could not readily fit them to many names. M. K. L. They put me in mind
of a curious coincidence--of a very remarkable coincidence indeed. I
once had a friend who had a ruby ring very similar to this one, and
inside the hoop of my friend's ring were three initials. The initials
in question were M. K. L. Precisely the same as the letters engraved
on your ring, Monsieur Janvard. Curious, is it not?"

"Mille diables! I am betrayed!" cried Janvard, as he started from his
seat, and made a snatch at the ring. But Lionel was too quick for him.
The ring had disappeared, but Janvard had it not.

He turned with a snarl like that of a wild animal brought to bay, and
looked towards the door. But between him and the door now stood Tom
Bristow, no longer with any signs of inebriety about him, but as cold,
quiet, and collected as ever he had looked in his life. Tom's right
hand was hidden in the bosom of his vest, and Janvard's ears were
smitten by the ominous click of a revolver. His eyes wandered back to
the stern dark face of Lionel. There was no hope for him there. The
pallor of his face deepened. His wonderful nerve for once was
beginning to desert him. He was trembling visibly.

"Sit down, sir," said Lionel, sternly, "and refresh yourself with
another glass of wine. I have something of much importance to say to
you."

The Frenchman hesitated for a moment. Then he shrugged his shoulders
and sat down. His sang-froid was coming back to him. He drank two
glasses of wine rapidly one after another.

"I am ready, monsieur," he said, quietly, as he wiped his thin lips,
and made a ghastly effort to smile. "At your service."

"What I want from you, and what you must give me," said Lionel, "is a
full and particular account of how this ring came into your
possession. It belonged to Percy Osmond, and it was on his finger the
night he was murdered."

"Ah ciel! how do you know that?"

"It is enough that what I say is true, and that you cannot gainsay it.
But this ring was not on the finger of the murdered man when he was
found next morning. Tell me how it came into your possession."

For a moment or two Janvard did not speak. Then he said, sulkily: "Who
are you that come here under false pretences, and question me and
threaten me in this way?"

"I am not here to answer your questions. You are here to answer mine."

"What if I refuse to answer them?"

"In that case the four walls of a prison will hold you in less than
half an hour. In your possession I find a ring which was on the finger
of Mr. Osmond the night he was murdered. Less than that has brought
many a better man than you to the gallows: be careful that it does not
land you there?"

"If you know anything of the affair at all, you must know that the
murderer of Mr. Osmond was tried and found guilty long ago."

"What proof have you--what proof was there adduced at the trial, that
Lionel Dering was the murderer of Percy Osmond? Did your eyes, or
those of any one else, see him do the bloody deed? Wretch! You knew
from the first that he was innocent! If you yourself are not the
murderer, you know the man who is."

Again Janvard was silent for a little while. His eyes were bent on the
floor. He was considering deeply within himself. At length he spoke,
but it was in the same sullen tone that he had used before.

"What guarantee have I that when I have told you anything that I may
know, the information will not be used against me to my own harm?"

"You have no guarantee whatever. I could not give you any such
promise. For aught I know to the contrary, you, and you alone, may be
the murderer of Percy Osmond."

Janvard shuddered slightly. "I am not the murderer of Percy Osmond,"
he said quietly.

"Who, then, was the murderer?"

"My late master--Mr. Kester St. George."

There was a pause which no one seemed inclined to break. Although
Janvard's words were but a confirmation of the suspicions which Lionel
and Tom had all along entertained, they seemed to fall on their ears
with all the force of a startling revelation. Of the three men there,
Janvard was the one who seemed least concerned.

Lionel was the first to speak. "This is a serious charge to make
against a gentleman like Mr. St. George," he said.

"I have made no charge against Mr. St. George," said Janvard. "It is
you who have forced the confession from me."

"You are doubtless prepared to substantiate your statement--to prove
your words?"

"I do not want to prove anything. I want to hold my tongue, but you
will not let me."

"All I want from you is the simple truth, and that you must tell me."

"But, monsieur----" began Janvard, appealingly, and then he stopped.

"You are afraid, and justly so. You are in my power, and I can use
that power in any way that I may deem best. At the same time,
understand me. I am no constable--no officer of the law--I am simply
the brother of Lionel Dering, and knowing, as I do, that he was
accused and found guilty of a crime of which he was as innocent as I
am, I have vowed that I will not rest night or day till I have
discovered the murderer and brought him to justice. Such being the
case, I tell you plainly that the best thing you can do is to make a
full and frank confession of all that you know respecting this
terrible business, leaving it for me afterwards to decide as to the
use which I may find it requisite to make of your confession. Are you
prepared to do what I ask of you?"

Janvard's shoulders rose and fell again. "I cannot help myself," he
said. "I have no choice but to comply with the wishes of monsieur."

"Sensibly spoken. Try another glass of wine. It may help to refresh
your memory."

"Alas! monsieur, my memory needs no refreshing. The incidents of that
night are far too terrible to be forgotten." With a hand that still
shook slightly he poured himself out another glass of wine and drank
it off at a draught. Then he continued: "On the night of the quarrel
in the billiard-room at Park Newton I was sitting up for my master,
Mr. St. George. About midnight the bell rang for me, and on answering
it, my master put Mr. Osmond into my hands, he being somewhat the
worse for wine, with instructions to see him safely to bed. This I
did, and then left him. As it happened, I had taken a violent fancy to
Mr. Osmond's splendid ruby ring--the very ring monsieur has now in his
possession--and that night I determined to make it my own. There were
several new servants in the house, and nobody would suspect me of
having taken it. Mr. Osmond had drawn it off his finger, and thrown it
carelessly into his dressing-bag which he locked before getting into
bed, afterwards putting his keys under his pillow.

"When the house was quiet, I put on a pair of list slippers and made
my way to Mr. Osmond's bedroom. The door was unlocked and I went in. A
night-lamp was burning on the dressing-table. The full moon shone in
through the uncurtained window, and its rays slanted right across the
sleeper's face. He lay there, sleeping the sleep of the drunken, with
one hand clenched, and a frown on his face as if he were still
threatening Mr. Dering. It was hardly the work of a minute to possess
myself of the keys. In another minute the dressing-case was opened and
the ring my own. Mr. Osmond's portmanteau stood invitingly open: what
more natural than that I should desire to turn over its contents
lightly and delicately? In such cases I am possessed by the simple
curiosity of a child. I was down on my knees before the portmanteau,
admiring this, that, and the other, when, to my horror, I heard the
noise of coming footsteps. No concealment was possible, save that
afforded by the long curtains which shaded one of the windows. Next
moment I was safely hidden behind them.

"The footsteps came nearer and nearer, and then some one entered the
room. The sleeping man still breathed heavily. Now and then he moaned
in his sleep. All my fear of being found out could not keep me from
peeping out of my hiding-place. What I saw was my master, Mr. Kester
St. George, standing over the sleeping man, with a look on his face
that I had never seen there before. He stood thus for a full minute,
and then he came round to the near side of the bed, and seemed to be
looking for Mr. Osmond's keys. In a little while he saw them in the
dressing-bag where I had left them. Then he crossed to the other side
of the room and proceeded to try them one by one, till he had found
the right one, in the lock of Mr. Osmond's writing-case. He opened the
case, took out of it Mr. Osmond's cheque book, and from that he tore
either one or two blank cheques. He had just relocked the writing-case
when Mr. Osmond suddenly awoke and started up in bed. 'Villain! what
are you doing there?' he cried, as he flung back the bedclothes. But
before he could set foot to the floor, Mr. St. George sprang at his
throat, and pinned him down almost as easily as if he had been a boy.
What happened during the next minute I hardly know how to describe. It
would seem that Mr. Osmond was in the habit of sleeping with a dagger
under his pillow. At all events, there was one there on this
particular night. As soon as he found himself pinned down in bed, his
hand sought for and found this dagger, and next moment he made a
sudden stab with it at the breast of Mr. St. George. But my master
was too quick for him. There was an instant's struggle--a flash--a
cry--and--you may guess the rest.

"A murmur of horror escaped my lips. In another instant my master had
sprung across the room and had torn away the curtains from before me.
'You here!' he said. And for a few seconds I thought my fate would be
the same as that of Mr. Osmond. But at last his hand dropped.
'Janvard, you and I must be friends,' he said. 'From this night your
interests are mine, and my interests are yours.' Then we left the room
together. A terrible night, monsieur, as you may well believe."

"You have accounted clearly enough for the murder, but you have not
yet told us how it happened that Lionel Dering came to be accused of
the crime."

"That is the worst part of the story, sir. Whose thought it was first,
whether Mr. St. George's or mine, to lay the murder at the door of Mr.
Dering, I could not now tell you. It was a thought that seemed to come
into the heads of both of us at the same moment. As monsieur knows, my
master had no cause to love his cousin. He had every reason to hate
him. Mr. Dering had got all the estates and property that ought to
have been Mr. St. George's. But if Mr. Dering were to die without
children, the estate would all come back to his cousin. Reason enough
for wishing Mr. Dering dead.

"We did not talk much about it, my master and I. We understood one
another without many words. There were certain things to be done which
Mr. St. George had not the nerve to do. I had the nerve to do them,
and I did them. It was I who put Mr. Dering's stud under the bed. It
was I who took his handkerchief, and----"

"Enough!" said Lionel, with a shudder. "Surely no more devilish plot
was ever hatched by Satan himself! You--you who sit so calmly there,
had but to hold up your finger to save an innocent man from disgrace
and death!"

"What would monsieur have?" said Janvard, with another of his
indescribable shrugs. "Mr. St. George was my master. I liked him, and
I was, besides, to have a large sum of money given me to keep silence.
Mr. Dering was a stranger to me. Voilà tout."

"Janvard, you are one of the vilest wretches that ever disgraced the
name of man!"

"Monsieur s'amuse."

"I shall at once proceed to put down in writing the heads of the
confession which you have just made. You will sign the writing in
question in the presence of Mr. Bristow as witness. You need be under
no apprehension that any immediate harm will happen to you. As for Mr.
St. George, I shall deal with him in my own time, and in my own way.
There are, however, two points that I wish you to bear particularly in
mind. Firstly, if, even by the vaguest hint, you dare to let Mr. St.
George know that you have told me what you have told me to-night, it
will be at your own proper peril, and you must be prepared to take the
consequences that will immediately ensue. Secondly, you must hold
yourself entirely at my service, and must come to me without delay
whenever I may send for you, and wherever I may be. Do you clearly
understand?"

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"For the present, then, I have done with you. Two hours later I will
send for you again, in order that you may sign a certain paper which
will be ready by that time. You may go."

"But, monsieur----"

"Not a word. Go."

Tom held open the door for him, and Janvard passed out without another
word.

"At last, Dering! At last everything is made clear!" said Tom, as he
crossed the room and laid his hand affectionately on Lionel's
shoulder. "At last you can proclaim your innocence to the world."

"Yes, my task is nearly done," said Lionel, sadly. "And I thank heaven
in all sincerity that it is so. But the duty that I have still to
perform is a terrible one. I almost feel as if now, at this, the
eleventh hour, I could go no farther. I shrink in horror from the last
and most terrible step of all. Hark! whose voice was that?"

"I hear nothing save the moaning of the wind, and the low muttering of
thunder far away among the hills."

"It seemed to me that I heard the voice of Percy Osmond calling to me
from the grave--the same voice that I have heard so often in my
dreams."

"How your hand burns, Dering! Shake off these wild fancies, I implore
you," said Tom. "What a blinding flash was that!"

"They are no wild fancies to me, but most dread realities. I tell you
it is Osmond's voice that I hear. I know it but too well, 'Thou shalt
avenge!' it says to me. Only three words: 'Thou shalt avenge!'"



CHAPTER VI.
TOM FINDS HIS TONGUE.


Nearly a fortnight elapsed after Tom's last interview with the Squire
before he was again invited to Pincote, and after what had passed
between himself and Mr. Culpepper he would not go there again without
a special invitation. It is probable that the Squire would not have
sent for him even at the end of a fortnight had he not grown so
thoroughly tired of having to cope with Mrs. McDermott single-handed
that he was ready to call in assistance from any quarter that promised
relief. He knew that Tom would assist him if only a hint were given
that he was wanted to do so. And Tom did relieve him; so that for the
first time for many days the Squire really enjoyed his dinner.

Notwithstanding all this, matters were so arranged between the Squire
and Mrs. McDermott that no opportunity was given Tom of being alone
with Jane even for five minutes. The first time this happened he
thought that it might perhaps have arisen from mere accident. But the
next time he went up to Pincote he saw too clearly what was intended
to allow him to remain any longer in doubt. That night, after shaking
hands with Tom at parting, Jane found in her palm a tiny note, the
contents of which were three lines only. "Should you be shopping in
Duxley either to-morrow or next day, I shall be at the toll-gate on
the Snelsham road from twelve till one o'clock."

Next day, at half-past twelve to the minute, Jane and her
pony-carriage found themselves at the Snelsham toll-gate. There was
Tom, sure enough, who got into the trap and took the reins. He turned
presently into a byroad that led to nowhere in particular, and there
earned the gratitude of Diamond by letting him lapse into a quiet walk
which enabled him to take sly nibbles at the roadside grass as he
crawled contentedly along.

Two or three minutes passed in silence. Then Tom spoke. "Jane," he
said, and it was the first time he had ever called her by her
Christian name, "Jane, your father has forbidden me to make love to
you."

It seemed as if Jane had nothing to say either for or against this
statement. She only breathed a little more quickly, and a lovelier
colour flushed her cheeks. But just then Diamond swerved towards a
tempting tuft of grass. The carriage gave a slight jerk, and Tom
fancied--but it might be nothing more than fancy--that, instinctively,
Jane drew a little closer to him. And when Diamond had been punished
by the slightest possible flick with the whip between his ears, and
was again jogging peacefully on, Jane did not get farther away again,
being, perhaps, still slightly nervous; and when Tom looked down there
was a little gloved hand resting, light as a feather, on his arm. It
was impossible to resist the temptation. Dispensing with the whip for
a moment he lifted the little hand tenderly to his lips and kissed it.
He was not repulsed.

"Yes, dearest," he went on, "I am absolutely forbidden to make love to
you. I can only imagine that your aunt has been talking to your father
about us. Be that as it may, he has forbidden me to walk out with you,
or even to see you alone. The reason why I asked you to meet me to-day
was to tell you of these things."

Still Jane kept silence. Only from the little hand, which had somehow
found its way back on to his arm, there came the faintest possible
pressure, hardly heavy enough to have crushed a butterfly.

"I told him that I loved you," resumed Tom, "and he could not say that
it was a crime to do so. But when I told him that I had never made
love to you, or asked you to marry me, he seemed inclined to doubt my
veracity. However, I set his mind at rest by giving him my word of
honour that, even supposing you were willing to have me--a point
respecting which I had very strong doubts indeed--I would not take
you for my wife without first obtaining his full consent to do so."

Here Diamond, judging from the earnestness of Tom's tone that his
thoughts were otherwhere, and deeming the opportunity a favourable one
to steal a little breathing-time, gradually slackened his slow pace
into a still slower one, till at last he came to a dead stand.
Admonished by a crack of the whip half a yard above his head that Tom
was still wide awake, he put on a tremendous spurt--for him--which, as
they were going down hill at the time, was not difficult. But no
sooner had they reached a level bit of road again than the spurt toned
itself down to the customary slow trot, with, however, an extra whisk
of the tail now and then which seemed to imply: "Mark well what a
fiery steed I could be if I only chose to exert myself."

"All this but brings me to one point," said Tom: "that I have never
yet told you that I loved you, that I have never yet asked you to
become my wife. To-day, then--here this very moment, I tell you that I
do love you as truly and sincerely as it is possible for man to love;
and here I ask you to become my wife. Get along, Diamond, do, sir."

"Dearest, you are not blind," he went on. "You must have seen, you
must have known, for a long time past, that my heart--my love--were
wholly yours; and that I might one day win you for my own has been a
hope, a blissful dream, that has haunted me and charmed my life for
longer than I can tell. I ought, perhaps, to have spoken of this to
you before, but there were certain reasons for my silence which it is
not necessary to dilate upon now, but which, if you care to hear them,
I will explain to you another time. Here, then, I ask you whether you
feel as if you could ever learn to love me, whether you can ever care
for me enough to become my wife. Speak to me, darling--whisper the one
little word I burn to hear. Lift your eyes to mine, and let me read
there that which will make me happy for life."

Except these two, there was no human being visible. They were alone
with the trees, and the birds, and the sailing clouds. There was no
one to overhear them save that sly old Diamond, and he pretended to be
not listening a bit. For the second time he came to a stand-still, and
this time his artfulness remained unreproved and unnoticed.

Jane trembled a little, but her eyes were still cast down. Tom tried
to see into their depths but could not. "You promised papa that you
would not take me from him without his consent," she said, speaking in
little more than a whisper. "That consent you will never obtain."

"That consent I shall obtain if you will only give me yours first."

He spoke firmly and unhesitatingly. Jane could hardly believe her
ears. She looked up at him in sheer surprise. For the first time their
eyes met.

"You don't know papa as well as I do--how obstinate he is--how full of
whims and crotchets. No--no; I feel sure that he will never consent."

"And I feel equally sure that he will. I have no fear on that
score--none. But I will put the question to you in another way, in the
short business-like way that comes most naturally to a man like me.
Jane, dearest, if I can persuade your father to give you to me, will
you be so given? Will you come to me and be my own--my wife--for
ever?"

Still no answer. Only imperceptibly she crept a little closer to his
side--a very little. He took that for his answer. First one arm went
round her and then the other. He drew her to his heart, he drew her to
his lips; he kissed her and called her his own. And she? Well, painful
though it be to write it, she never reproved him in the least, but
seemed content to sit there with her head resting on his shoulder, and
to suffer Love's sweet punishment of kisses in silence.

It is on record that Diamond was the first to move.

While standing there he had fallen into a snooze, and had dreamt that
another pony had been put into his particular stall and was at that
moment engaged in munching his particular truss of hay. Overcome by
his feelings, he turned deliberately round, and started for home at a
gentle trot. Thus disturbed, Tom and Jane came back to sublunary
matters with a laugh, and a little confusion on Jane's part. Tom drove
her back as far as the toll-gate and then shook hands and left her.
Jane reached home as one in a blissful dream.

Three days later Tom received a note in the Squire's own crabbed
hand-writing, asking him to go up to Pincote as early as possible. He
was evidently wanted for something out of the ordinary way. Wondering
a little, he went. The Squire received him in high good humour and was
not long in letting him know why he had sent for him.

"I have had some fellows here from the railway company," he said.
"They want to buy Prior's Croft."

Tom's eyebrows went up a little. "I thought, sir, it would prove to be
a profitable speculation by-and-by. Did they name any price?"

"No, nothing was said as to price. They simply wanted to know whether
I was willing to sell it."

"And you told them that you were?"

"I told them that I would take time to think about it. I didn't want
to seem too eager, you know."

"That's right, sir. Play with them a little before you finally hook
them."

"From what they said they want to build a station on the Croft."

"Yes, a new passenger station, with plenty of siding accommodation."

"Ah! you know something about it, do you?"

"I know this much, sir, that the proposal of the new company to run a
fresh line into Duxley has put the old company on their mettle. In
place of the dirty ram-shackle station with which we have all had to
be content for so many years, they are going to give us a new station,
handsome and commodious; and Prior's Croft is the place named as the
most probable site for the new terminus."

"Hang me, if I don't believe you knew something of this all along!"
said the Squire. "If not, how could you have raised that heavy
mortgage for me?"

There was a twinkle in Tom's eyes but he said nothing. Mr. Culpepper
might have been still further surprised had he known that the six
thousand pounds was Tom's own money, and that, although the mortgage
was made out in another name, it was to Tom alone that he was
indebted.

"Have you made up your mind as to the price you intend to ask, sir?"

"No, not yet. In fact, it was partly to consult you on that point that
I sent for you."

"Somewhere about nine thousand pounds, sir, I should think, would be a
fair price."

The Squire shook his head. "They will never give anything like so much
as that."

"I think they will, sir, if the affair is judiciously managed. How can
they refuse in the face of a mortgage for six thousand pounds?"

"There's something in that, certainly."

"Then there are the villas--yet unbuilt it is true--but the plans of
which are already drawn, and the foundations of some of which are
already laid. You will require to be liberally remunerated for your
disappointment and outlay in respect of them."

"I see it all now. Splendid idea that of the villas."

"Considering the matter in all its bearings, nine thousand pounds may
be regarded as a very moderate sum."

"I won't ask a penny less."

"With it you will be able to clear off both the mortgage and the loan
of two thousand, and will then have a thousand left for your expenses
in connection with the villas."

The Squire rubbed his hands. "I wish all my speculations had turned
out as successful as this one," he said. "This one I owe to you,
Bristow. You have done me a service that I can never forget."

Tom rose to go. "Mrs. McDermott quite well, sir?" he said, with the
most innocent air in the world.

"If the way she eats and drinks is anything to go by, she was never
better in her life. But if you take her own account, she's never
well--a confirmed invalid she calls herself. I've no patience with the
woman, though she is my sister. A day's hard scrubbing at the wash-tub
every week would do her a world of good. If she would only pack up her
trunks and go, how thankful I should be!"

"If you wish her to shorten her visit at Pincote, I think you might
easily persuade her to do so."

"I'd give something to find out how. No, no, Bristow, you may depend
that she's a fixture here for three or four months to come. She
knows--no woman alive better--when she's in comfortable quarters."

"If I had your sanction to do so, sir, I think that I could induce her
to hasten her departure from Pincote."

The Squire rubbed his nose thoughtfully.

"You are a queer fellow, Bristow," he said, "and you have done some
strange things, but to induce my sister to leave Pincote before she's
ready to go will cap all that you've done yet."

"I cannot of course induce her to leave Pincote till she is willing to
go, but after a little quiet talk with me, it is possible that she may
be willing, and even anxious, to get away as quickly as possible."

The Squire shook his head. "You don't know Fanny McDermott as well as
I do," he said.

"Have I your permission to try the experiment?"

"You have--and my devoutest wishes for your success. Only you must not
compromise me in any way in the matter."

"You may safely trust me not to do that. But you must give me an
invitation to come and stay with you at Pincote for a week."

"With all my heart."

"I shall devote myself very assiduously to Mrs. McDermott, so that you
must not be surprised if we seem to be very great friends in the
course of a couple of days."

"Do as you like, boy. I'll take no notice. But she's an old soldier,
is Fan, and if for a single moment she suspects what you are after,
she'll nail her colours to the mast, defy us all, and stop here for
six months longer."

"It is, of course, quite possible that I may fail," said Tom, "but
somehow I hardly think that I shall."

"We'll have a glass of sherry together and drink to your success.
By-the-by, have you contrived yet to purge your brain of that
lovesick tomfoolery?"

"If, sir, you intend that phrase to apply to my feelings with regard
to Miss Culpepper, I can only say that they are totally unchanged."

"What an idiot you are in some things, Bristow!" said the Squire,
crustily. "Remember this--I'll have no lovemaking here next week."

"You need have no fear on that score, sir."



CHAPTER VII.
EXIT MRS. MCDERMOTT.


Tom and his portmanteau reached Pincote together a day or two after
his last conversation with the Squire. Mrs. McDermott understood that
Tom had been invited to spend a week there in order to assist her
brother with his books and farm accounts. It seemed to her a very
injudicious thing to do, but she did not say much about it. In truth,
she was rather pleased than otherwise to have Tom there. It was
dreadfully monotonous to have to spend one evening after another with
no company save that of her brother and Jane. She was tired of her
audience, and her audience were tired of her. Mr. Bristow, as she knew
already, could talk well, was lively company, and, above all things;
was an excellent listener. She had done her duty by her brother in
warning him of what was going on between Mr. Bristow and her niece;
if, after that, the Squire chose to let the two young people come
together, it was not her place to dispute his right to do so.

Tom was very attentive to her at dinner that day. Of Jane he took no
notice beyond what the occasion absolutely demanded. Mrs. McDermott
was agreeably surprised. "He has come to his senses at last, as I
thought he would," she said to herself. "Grown tired of Jane's
society, and no wonder. There's nothing in her."

As soon as the cloth was removed, Jane excused herself on the score of
a headache, and left the room. The Squire got into an easy-chair and
settled himself down for a post-prandial nap. Tom moved his chair a
little nearer that of the widow.

"I have grieved to see you looking so far from well, Mrs. McDermott,"
he said, as he poured himself out another glass of wine. "My father
was a doctor, and I suppose I caught the habit from him of reading the
signs of health or sickness in people's faces."

Mrs. McDermott was visibly discomposed. She was a great coward with
regard to her health, and Tom knew it.

"Yes," she said, "I have not been well for some time past. But I was
not aware that the traces of my indisposition were so plainly visible
to others."

"They are visible to me because, as I tell you, I am half a doctor
both by birth and bringing up. You seem to me, Mrs. McDermott, pardon
me for saying so--to have been fading--to have been going backward, as
it were, almost from the day of your arrival at Pincote."

Mrs. McDermott coughed and moved uneasily on her chair. "I have been a
confirmed invalid for years," she said, querulously, "and yet no one
will believe me when, I tell them so."

"I can very readily believe it," said Tom, gravely. Then he lapsed
into an ominous silence.

"I--I did not know that I was looking any worse now than when I first
came to Pincote," she said at last.

"You seem to me to be much older-looking, much more careworn, with
lines making their appearance round your eyes and mouth, such as I
never noticed before. So, at least, it strikes me, but I may be, and I
dare say I am, quite wrong."

The widow seemed at a loss what to say. Tom's words had evidently
rendered her very uneasy. "Then what would you advise me to do?" she
said, after a time. "If you can detect the disease so readily, you
should have no difficulty in specifying the remedy."

"Ah, now I am afraid you are getting beyond my depth," said Tom, with
a smile. "I am little more than a theorizer, you know; but I should
have no hesitation in saying that your disorder is connected with the
mind."

"Gracious me, Mr. Bristow!"

"Yes, Mrs. McDermott, my opinion is that you are suffering from an
undue development of brain power."

The widow looked puzzled. "I was always considered rather
intellectual," she said, with a glance at her brother. But the Squire
still slept.

"You are very intellectual, madam; and that is just where the evil
lies."

"Excuse me, but I fail to follow you."

"You are gifted with a very large and a very powerful brain," said
Tom, with the utmost gravity. The Squire snorted suddenly in his
sleep. The widow held up a warning finger. There was silence in the
room till the Squire's gentle long-drawn snores announced that he was
again happily fast asleep.

"Very few of us are so specially gifted," resumed Tom. "But every
special gift necessitates a special obligation in return. You, with
your massive brain, must find that brain plenty of work to do--a
sufficiency of congenial employment--otherwise it will inevitably turn
upon itself, grow morbid and hypochondriacal, and slowly but surely
deteriorate, till it ends by becoming--what I hardly like to say."

"Really, Mr. Bristow, this conversation is to me most interesting,"
said the widow. "Your views are thoroughly original, but, at the same
time, I feel that they are perfectly correct."

"The sphere of your intellectual activity is far too narrow and
confined," resumed Tom; "your brain has not sufficient pabulum to keep
it in a state of healthy activity. You want to mix more with the
world--to mix more with clever people like yourself. It was never
intended by nature that you should lose yourself among the narrow
coteries of provincial life: the metropolis claims you: the world at
large claims you. A conversationalist so brilliant, so incisive, with
such an exhaustless fund of new ideas, can only hope to find her
equals among the best circles of London or Parisian society."

"How thoroughly you appreciate me, Mr. Bristow!" said the widow, all
in a flutter of gratified vanity, as she edged her chair still closer
to Tom. "It is as you say. I feel that I am lost here--that I am
altogether out of my element. I stay here more as a matter of duty--of
principle--than of anything else. Not that it is any gratification to
me, as you may well imagine, to be buried alive in this dull hole. But
my brother is getting old and infirm--breaking fast, I'm afraid, poor
man," here the Squire gave a louder snore than common; "while Jane is
little more than a foolish girl. They both need the guidance of a kind
but firm hand. The interests of both demand a clear brain to look
after them."

"My dear madam, I agree with you in toto. Your Spartan views with
regard to the duties of everyday life are mine exactly. But we must
not forget that we have still another duty--that of carefully
preserving our health, especially when our lives are invaluable to the
epoch in which we live. You, my dear madam, are killing yourself by
inches."

"Oh, Mr. Bristow, not quite so bad as that, I hope!"

"What I say, I say advisedly. I think that, without difficulty, I can
specify a few symptoms of the cerebral disorder to which you are a
victim. You will bear me out if what I say is correct."

"Yes, yes; please go on."

"You are a sufferer from sleeplessness to a certain extent. The body
would fain rest, being tired and worn out, but the active brain will
not allow it to do so. Am I right, Mrs. McDermott?"

"I cannot dispute the accuracy of what you say."

"Your nature being large and eminently sympathetic, but not finding
sufficient vent for itself in the narrow circle to which it is
condemned, busies itself, for lack of other aliment, with the concerns
and daily doings of those around it, giving them the benefit of its
vast experience and intuitive good sense; but being met sometimes with
coldness instead of sympathy, it collapses, falls back upon itself,
and becomes morbid for want of proper intellectual companionship. May
I hope that you follow me?"

"Yes--yes, perfectly," said the widow, but looking somewhat mystified,
notwithstanding.

"The brain thus thrown back upon itself engenders an irritability of
the nerves, which is altogether abnormal. Fits of peevishness, of
ill-temper, of causeless fault-finding, gradually supervene, till at
length all natural amiability of disposition vanishes entirely, and
there is nothing left but a wretched hypochondriac, a misery to
himself and all around him."

"Gracious me! Mr. Bristow, what a picture! But I hope you do not put
me down as a misery to myself and all around me."

"Far from it--very far from it--my dear Mrs.  McDermott. You are only
in the premonitory stage at present. Let us hope that in your case,
the later stages will not follow."

"I hope not, with all my heart."

"Of course, you have not yet been troubled with hearing voices?"

"Hearing voices! Whatever do you mean, Mr. Bristow?"

"One of the worst symptoms of the cerebral disorder, from the earlier
stages of which you are now suffering, is that the patient hears
voices--or fancies that he hears them, which is pretty much the same
thing. Sometimes they are strange voices; sometimes they are the
voices of relatives, or friends, no longer among the living. In short,
to state the case as briefly as possible, the patient is haunted."

"I declare, Mr. Bristow, that you quite frighten me!"

"But there are no such symptoms as these about you at present, Mrs.
McDermott. The moment you have the least experience of them--should
such a misfortune ever overtake you--then take my advice, and seek the
only remedy that can be of any real benefit to you."

"And what may that be?"

"Immediate change of scene--a change total and complete. Go abroad. Go
to Italy; go to Egypt; go to Africa;--in short to any place where the
change is a radical one. But I hope that in your case, such a
necessity will never arise."

"All this is most deeply interesting to me, Mr. Bristow, but at the
same time it makes me very nervous. The very thought of being haunted
in the way you mention is enough to keep me from sleeping for a week."

At this moment Jane came into the room, and a few minutes later the
Squire awoke. Tom had said all that he wanted to say, and he gave Mrs.
McDermott no further opportunity for private conversation with him.

Next day, too, Tom carefully avoided the widow. His object was to
afford her ample time to think over what he had said. That day the
vicar and his wife dined at Pincote, and Tom became immersed in local
politics with the Squire and the Parson. Mrs. McDermott was anxious
and uneasy. That evening she talked less than she had ever been known
to do before.

The rule at Pincote was to keep early hours. It was not much past ten
o'clock when Mrs. McDermott left the drawing-room, and having obtained
her bed candle, set out on her journey to her own room. Half way up
the staircase stood Mr. Bristow. The night being warm and balmy for
the time of year, the staircase window was still half open, and Tom
stood there, gazing out into the moonlit garden. Mrs. McDermott
stopped, and said a few gracious words to him. She would have liked to
resume the conversation of the previous evening, but that was
evidently neither the time nor the place to do so; so she said
good-night, shook hands, and went on her way, leaving Tom still
standing by the window. Higher up, close to the head of the stairs,
stood a very large, old-fashioned case clock. As she was passing it
Mrs. McDermott held up her candle to see the time. It was nearly
twenty minutes past ten. But at the very moment of her noting this
fact, there came three distinct taps from the inside of the case,
and next instant from the same place came the sound of a hollow,
ghost-like voice. "Fanny--Fanny--list! I want to speak to you," said
the voice, in slow, solemn tones. But Mrs. McDermott did not wait to
hear more. She screamed, dropped her candle, and staggered back
against the opposite wall. Tom was by her side in a moment.

"My dear Mrs. McDermott, whatever is the matter?" he said.

"The voice! did you not hear the voice!" she gasped.

"What voice? whose voice?" said Tom, with an arm round her waist.

"A voice which spoke to me out of the clock!" she said, with a shiver.

"Out of the clock?" said Tom. "We can soon see whether anybody's
hidden there." Speaking thus, he withdrew his arm, and flung open the
door of the clock. Enough light came from the lamp on the stairs to
show that the old case was empty of everything, save the weights,
chains, and pendulum of the clock.

"Wherever else the voice may have come from, it is plain that it
couldn't come from here," said Tom, as he proceeded to relight the
widow's candle.

"It came from there, I'm quite certain. There were three distinct raps
from the inside as well."

"Is it not possible that it may have been a mere hallucination on your
part? You have not been well, you know, for some time past."

"Whatever it may have been, it was very terrible," said Mrs.
McDermott, drawing her skirts round her with a shudder. "I have not
forgotten what you told me yesterday."

"Allow me to accompany you as far as your room door," said Tom.

"Thanks. I shall feel obliged by your doing so. You will say nothing
of all this downstairs?"

"I should not think of doing so."

The following day Mr. Bristow was not at luncheon. There were one or
two inquiries, but no one seemed to know exactly what had become of
him. It was Mrs. McDermott's usual practice to retire to the library
for an hour after luncheon--which room she generally had all to
herself at such times--for the ostensible purpose of reading the
newspapers, but, it may be, quite as much for the sake of a quiet
sleep in the huge leathern chair that stood by the library fire. On
going there as usual after luncheon to-day, what was the widow's
surprise to find Mr. Bristow sitting there fast asleep, with the
"Times" at his feet where it had dropped from his relaxed fingers.

She stepped up to him on tiptoe and looked closely at him. "Rather
nice-looking," she said to herself. "Shall I disturb him, or not?"

Her eyes caught sight of some written documents lying out-spread on
the table a little distance away. The temptation was too much for her.
Still on tiptoe, she crossed to the table in order to examine them.
But hardly had she stooped over the table when the same hollow voice
that had sounded in her ears the previous night spoke to her again,
and froze her to the spot where she was standing. "Fanny McDermott,
you must get away from this house," said the voice. "If you stop here
you will be a dead woman in three months!"

 She was too terrified to look round or even to stir, but her
trembling lips did at last falter out the words: "Who are you?"

The answer came. "I am your husband, Geoffrey. Be warned in time."

Then there was silence, and in a minute or two the widow ventured to
look round. There was no one there except Mr. Bristow, fast asleep.
She managed to reach the door without disturbing him, and from thence
made the best of her way to her own room.

Two hours later Tom was encountered by the Squire. The latter was one
broad smile. "She's going at last," he said. "Off to-morrow like a
shot. Just told me."

"Then, with your permission, I won't dine with you this evening. I
don't want to see her again."

"But how on earth have you managed it?" asked the Squire.

"By means of a little simple ventriloquism--nothing more. But I see
her coming this way. I'm off." And off he went, leaving the Squire
staring after him in open-mouthed astonishment.



CHAPTER VIII.
DIRTY JACK.


There was one thing that puzzled both General St. George and Lionel
Dering, and that was the persistent way in which Kester St. George
stayed on at Park Newton. It had, in the first place, been a matter of
some difficulty to get him to Park Newton at all, and for some time
after his arrival it had been evident to all concerned that he had
made up his mind that his stay there should be as brief as possible.
But after that never-to-be-forgotten night when the noise of ghostly
footsteps was heard in the nailed-up room--a circumstance which both
his uncle and his cousin had made up their minds would drive him from
the house for ever--he ceased to talk much about going away. Week
passed after week and still he stayed on. Nor could his uncle, had he
been desirous of doing so, which he certainly was not, have hinted to
him, even in the most delicate possible way, that his room would be
more welcome than his company, after the pressure which he had put
upon him only a short time previously to induce him to remain.

Nothing could have suited Lionel's plans better than that his cousin
should continue to live on at Park Newton, but he was certainly
puzzled to know what his reason could be for so doing; and, in such a
case, to be puzzled was, to a certain extent, to be disquieted.

But much as he would have liked to do so, Kester had a very good
reason for not leaving Park Newton at present. He was, in fact, afraid
to do so. After the affair of the footsteps he had decided that it
would not be advisable to go away for a little while. It would never
do for people to say that he had been driven away by the ghost of
Percy Osmond. It was while thus lingering on from day to day that he
had ridden over to see Mother Mim. One result of his interview was
that he felt how utterly unsafe it would be for him to quit the
neighbourhood till she was safely dead and buried. She might send for
him at any moment, she might have other things to speak to him about
which it behoved him to hear. She might change her mind at the last
moment, and decide to tell to some other person what she had already
told him; and when she should die, it would doubtless be to him that
application would be made to bury her. All things considered, it was
certainly unadvisable that he should leave Park Newton yet awhile.

Day after day he waited with smothered impatience for some further
tidings of Mother Mim. But day after day he waited in vain. Most men,
under such circumstances, would have gone to the place and have made
personal inquiries for themselves. This was precisely what Kester St.
George told himself that he ought to do, but for all that he did not
do it. He shrank, with a repugnance which he could not overcome, from
the thought of any further contact with either Mother Mim or her
surroundings. His tastes, if not refined, were fastidious, and a
shudder of disgust ran through him as often as he remembered that if
what Mother Mim had said were true--and there was something that rang
terribly like truth in her words--then was she--that wretched
creature--his mother, and the filthy hut in which she lay dying
his sole home and heritage. He knew that for the sake of his own
interest--of his own safety--he ought to go and see again this woman
who called herself his mother, but three weeks had come and gone
before he could screw his courage up to the pitch requisite to induce
him to do so.

But before this came about, Kester St. George had been left for the
time being, with the exception of certain servants, the sole occupant
of Park Newton. Lionel Dering had gone down to Bath to seek an
interview with Pierre Janvard, with what result has been already seen.
Two days after Lionel's departure, General St. George was called away
by the sudden illness of an old Indian friend to whom he was most
warmly attached. He left home expecting to be back in four or five
days at the latest; whereas, as it fell out, he did not reach home
again for several weeks.

It was one day when thus left alone, and when the solitude was
becoming utterly intolerable to him, that Kester made up his mind that
he would no longer be a coward, but would go that very afternoon and
see for himself whether Mother Mim were alive or dead. But even after
he had thus determined that there should be no more delay on his part,
he played fast and loose with himself as to whether he should go or
not. Had there come to him any important letter or telegram demanding
his presence fifty miles away, he would have caught at it as a
drowning man catches at a straw. The veriest excuse would have
sufficed for the putting off of his journey for at least one day. But
the dull hours wore themselves away without relief or change of any
kind for him, and when three o'clock came, having first dosed himself
heavily with brandy, he rang the bell and ordered his horse to be
brought round.

What might not the next few hours bring to him? he asked himself as he
rode down the avenue. They might perchance be pregnant with doom. Or
death might already have lifted this last bitter burden from his life
by sealing with his bony fingers the only lips that had power to do
him harm.

For nearly a fortnight past the weather had been remarkably mild,
balmy, and open for the time of year. Everybody said how easily old
winter was dying. But during the previous night there had come a
bitter change. The wind had suddenly veered round to the north-east,
and was still blowing steadily from that quarter. Steadily and
bitterly it blew, chilling the hearts of man and beast with its icy
breath, stopping the growth of grass and flowers, killing every
faintest gleam of sunshine, and bringing back the reign of winter in
its cruellest form.

Heavy and lowering looked the sky, shrilly through the still bare
branches whistled the ice-cold wind, as Kester St. George, deep in
thought, rode slowly through the park. He buttoned his coat more
closely around him, and pulled his hat more firmly over his brows as
he turned out of the lodge gates, and setting his face full to the
wind, urged his horse into a gallop, and was quickly lost to view down
the winding road.

It would not have taken him long to reach the edge of Burley Moor had
not his horse suddenly fallen lame. For the last two miles of the
distance his pace was reduced to a slow walk. This so annoyed Kester
that he decided to leave his horse at a roadside tavern in the last
hamlet he had to pass through, and to traverse the remainder of the
distance on foot. A short three miles across the moor would take him
to Mother Mim's cottage.

To a man such as Kester a three miles' walk was a rather formidable
undertaking--or, at least, it was an uncommon one. But there was no
avoiding it on the present occasion, unless he gave up the object of
his journey and went back home. But he could by no means bear the
thought of doing that. In proportion with the hesitation and
reluctance which he had previously shown, to ascertain either the best
or the worst of the affair, was the anxiety which now possessed him to
reach his journey's end. His imagination pictured all kinds of
possible and impossible evils as likely to accrue to him, and he
cursed himself again and again for his negligence in not making the
journey long ago.

Very bleak and cold was that walk across the desolate, lonely moor,
but Kester St. George, buried in his own thoughts, hardly felt or
heeded anything of it. All the sky was clouded and overcast, but far
away to the north a still darker bank of cloud was creeping slowly up
from the horizon.

The wind blew in hollow fitful gusts. Any one learned in such lore
would have said that a change of weather was imminent.

When about half-way across the moor he halted for a moment to gather
breath. On every side of him spread the dull treeless expanse. Nowhere
was there another human being to be seen. He was utterly alone. "If a
man crossing here were suddenly stricken with death," he muttered to
himself, "what a place this would be to die in! His body might lie
here for days--for weeks even--before it was found."

At length Mother Mim's cottage was reached. Everything about it looked
precisely the same as when he had seen it last. It seemed only like
a few hours since he had left it. There, too, crouched on the low
wall outside, with her skirt drawn over her head, was Mother Mim's
grand-daughter, the girl with the black glittering eyes, looking as if
she had never stirred from the spot since he was last there. She made
no movement or sign of recognition when he walked up to her, but her
eyes were full of a cold keen criticism of him, far beyond her age and
appearance.

"How is your grandmother?" said Kester, abruptly. He did not like
being stared at as she stared at him.

"She's dead."

"Dead!" It was no more than he expected to hear, and yet he could not
hear it altogether unmoved.

"Ay, as dead as a door nail. And a good job too. It was time she
went."

"How long has she been dead?" asked Kester, ignoring the latter part
of the girl's speech.

"Just half an hour."

Another surprise for Kester. He had expected to hear that she had been
dead several days--a week perhaps. But only half an hour!

"Who was with her when she died?" he asked, after a minute's pause.

"Me and Dirty Jack."

"Dirty Jack! who is he?"

"Why Dirty Jack. Everybody knows him. He lives in Duxley, and has a
wooden leg, and does writings for folk."

"Does writings for folk!" A shiver ran through Kester. "And has he
been doing anything for your grandmother?"

"That he has. A lot."

"A lot--about what?"

"About you."

"About me? Why about me?"

"Oh, you never came near. Nobody never came near. Granny got tired of
it. 'I'll have my revenge,' said she. So she sent for Dirty Jack, and
he took it all down in writing."

"Took it all down in writing about me?" She nodded her head in the
affirmative. "If you know so much, no doubt you know what it was that
he took down--eh?"

"Oh, I know right enough."

"Why not tell me?"

"I know all about it, but I ain't a-going to split."

Further persuasion on Kester's part had no other effect than to induce
the girl to assert in still more emphatic terms that "she wasn't
a-going to split."

Evidently nothing more was to be got from her. But she had said enough
already to confirm his worst fears. Mother Mim, out of spite for the
neglect with which he had treated her, had made a confession at the
last moment, similar in purport to what she had told him when last
there. Such a confession--if not absolutely dangerous to him--she
having assured him that none of the witnesses were now living--might
be made a source of infinite annoyance to him. Such a story, once made
public, might bring forth witnesses and evidence from twenty hitherto
unsuspected quarters, and fetter him round, link by link, with a chain
of evidence from which he might find it impossible to extricate
himself. At every sacrifice, Mother Mim's confession must be destroyed
or suppressed. Such were some of the thoughts that passed through
Kester's mind as he stood there biting his nails. Again and again he
cursed himself in that he had allowed any such confession to emanate
from the dead woman, whose silence a little extra kindness on his part
would have effectually secured.

"And where is this Dirty Jack, as you call him?" he said, at last.

"He's in there"--indicating the hut with a jerk of her head--"fast
asleep."

"Fast asleep in the same room with your grandmother?"

"Why not? He had a bottle of whiskey with him which he kept sucking
at. At last he got half screwy, and when all was over he said he would
have a snooze by the fire and pull himself together a bit before going
home."

Kester said no more, but going up to the hut, opened the door and went
in. On the pallet at the farther end lay the dead woman, her body
faintly outlined through the sheet that had been drawn over her. A
clear fire was burning in the broken grate, and close to it, on the
only chair in the place, sat a man fast asleep. His hands were grimy,
his linen was yellow, his hair was frowsy. He was a big bulky man,
with a coarse, hard face, and was dressed in faded threadbare black.
He had a wooden leg, which just now was thrust out towards the fire,
and seemed as if it were basking in the comfortable blaze.

On the chimney-piece was an empty spirit-bottle, and in a corner near
at hand were deposited a broad-brimmed hat, greasy and much the worse
for wear, and a formidable looking walking-stick.

Such was the vision of loveliness that met the gaze of Kester St.
George as he paused for a moment or two just inside the cottage door.
Then he coughed and advanced a step or two. As he did so the man
suddenly opened his eyes, got up quickly but awkwardly out of his
chair, and laid his hand on something that was hidden in an inner
pocket of his coat. "No, you don't!" he cried, with a wave of his
hand. "No, you don't! None of your hanky-panky tricks here. They won't
go down with Jack Skeggs, so you needn't try 'em on!"

Kester stared at him in unconcealed disgust. It was evident that he
was still under the partial influence of what he had been drinking.

"Who are you, sir, and what are you doing here?" asked Kester,
sternly.

"I am John Skeggs, Esquire, attorney-at-law, at your service. And who
may you be, when you're at home? But there--I know who you are well
enough. You are Mr. Kester St. George, of Park Newton. I have seen you
before. I saw you on the day of the murder trial. You were one of the
witnesses, and white enough you looked. Anybody who had a good look at
you in the box that day would never be likely to forget your face
again."

Kester turned aside for a moment to hide the sudden nervous twitching
of his lips.

"I'm sorry the whiskey is done," said Mr. Skeggs with a regretful look
at the empty bottle. "I should like you and I to have had a drain
together. I suppose you don't do anything in this line?" From one
pocket he produced an old clasp knife, and from the other a cake of
leaf tobacco. Then he cut himself a plug and put it into his mouth.
"When one friend fails me, then I fall back upon another," he said.
"When I can't get whiskey I must have tobacco."

There was no better known character in Duxley than Mr. Skeggs. "Dirty
Jack," or "Drunken Jack," were the sobriquets by which he was
generally known, and neither of those terms was applied to him without
good and sufficient reason. There could be no doubt as to the man's
shrewdness, ability, and knowledge of common law. He was a great
favourite among the lower and the very lowest classes of Duxley
society, who in their legal difficulties never thought of employing
any other lawyer than Skeggs, the universal belief being that if
anybody could pull them through, either by hook or crook, Dirty Jack
was that man. And it is quite possible that Mr. Skeggs's clients were
not far wrong in their belief.

"No good stopping here any longer," said Skeggs, when he had put back
his knife and tobacco into his pocket.

"No, I suppose not," said Kester.

"I suppose you will see that everything is done right and proper by
our poor dear departed?"

"Yes, I suppose there is no one to look to but me. She was my
foster-mother, and very kind to me when I was a lad."

"His foster-mother! Listen to that! His foster-mother! ha! ha!"
sniggered Dirty Jack. Then laying a finger on one side his nose, and
leering up at Kester with horrible familiarity, he added: "We know all
about that little affair, Mr. St. George, and a very pretty romance it
is."

"Look you here, Mr. Skeggs, or whatever your dirty name may be," said
Kester, sternly, "I'd advise you to keep a civil tongue in your head
or it may be worse for you. I've thrashed bigger men than you in my
time. Be careful, or I shall thrash you."

"I like your pluck, on my soul I do!" said Skeggs, heartily. "If
you're not genuine silver--and you know you ain't--you're a deuced
good imitation of the real thing. Thoroughly well plated, that's what
you are. Any one would take you to be a born gentleman, they would
really. Which way are you going back?"

Kester hesitated a moment. Should he quarrel with this man and set him
at defiance, or should he not? Could he afford to quarrel with him?
that was the question. Perhaps it would be as well to keep from doing
so as long as possible.

"I'm going to walk back across the moor as far as Sedgeley," said
Kester.

"Then I'll walk with you--though three miles is rather a big stretch
to do with my game leg. I can get a gig from there that will take me
home."

Kester shrugged his shoulders, but made no comment. Skeggs took up his
hat and stick, and proceeded to polish the former article with his
sleeve.

"Queer woman that," he said, with a jerk of his thumb towards the
bed--"very queer. Hard as nails. With something heroic about her, to
my mind--something that, under different circumstances, might have
developed her into a remarkable woman. Well, that's the way with heaps
of us. Circumstances are dead against us, and we are not strong enough
to overmaster them; else should we smite the world with surprise, and
genius would not be so scarce an article in the market as it is now."

Kester stared. Was this the half-drunken blackguard who had been
jeering at him but two minutes ago? "And yet, drunk he must be," added
Kester to himself. "No fellow in his senses would talk such precious
rot."

"Your obedient servant, sir," said Skeggs, with a purposely
exaggerated bow as he held open the door for Mr. St. George to pass
out.

The girl was still sitting on the wall with her skirt drawn over her
head. Kester went up to her. "I will send some one along first thing
to-morrow morning to see to the funeral and other matters," he said,
"if you can manage till then."

"Oh, I can manage right enough. Why not?" said the girl.

"I thought that perhaps you might not care to be in the house by
yourself all night."

"Oh, I don't mind that."

"Then you are not afraid?"

"What's there to be frittened of? She's quiet enough now. I shall make
up a jolly fire, and have a jolly supper, and then a jolly long sleep.
And that's what I've not had for weeks. And I shall read the Dream
Book. She can't keep that from me now. I know where it is. It's in the
bed right under her. But I'll have it." She laughed and nodded her
head, then putting a nut into her mouth she cracked it and began to
pick out the kernel. Kester turned away.

"Nell, my good girl," said Mr. Skeggs, insinuatingly, "just see
whether there isn't such a thing as a drop of whiskey somewhere about
the house. I've an awful pain in my chest."

"There's no whiskey--not a drop--but I know where there's half a
bottle of gin. Give me five shillings and I'll fetch it."

"Five shillings for half a bottle of gin! Why, Nell, what a greedy
young pig you must be!"

"Don't have it then. Nobody axed you. I can drink it myself."

"I'll give you three shillings for it. Come now."

"Not a meg less than five will I take," said Nell, emphatically, as
she cracked another nut.

"Why, you young viper, have you no conscience at all?" he cried
savagely. Then seeing that Nell took no further notice of him, he
turned to Kester. "I find that I have no loose silver about me," he
said. "Oblige me with the loan of a couple of half-crowns till we get
to Sedgeley." Whenever Mr. Skeggs made a new acquaintance he always
requested the loan of a couple of half-crowns before parting from him.
But the half-crowns were never paid back until asked for, and asked
for more than once.

A few premonitory flakes of snow were darkening the air as Kester St.
George and Mr. Skeggs started on their way back across Burley Moor,
the latter with a thick comforter round his neck and the bottle of gin
stowed carefully away in the tail pocket of his coat. The cold seemed
more intense than ever, but the wind had fallen altogether.

"We are going to have a rough night," said Skeggs as he stepped
sturdily out. "We must contrive to get across the moor before the snow
comes down very thick, or we shall stand a good chance of losing our
way. Only the winter before last a pedlar and his wife were lost in
the snow within a mile of here, and their bodies not found for a
fortnight. This sudden change will play the devil with the young
crops."

Kester did not answer. Far different matters occupied his thoughts. In
silence they walked on for a little while.

"I suppose you could give a pretty good guess," said Skeggs at length,
"at my reasons for asking you which way you were going to walk this
afternoon?"

"Indeed, no," said Kester with a shrug. "I have not the remotest idea,
nor do I care to know. It was you who chose to accompany me. I did not
thrust my company upon you."

Skeggs laughed a little maliciously. "I don't think there's much good,
Mr. Kester St. George, in you and I beating about the bush. I'm a
plain man of business, and that reminds me,"--interrupting himself
with a chuckle--"that when I once used those very words to a client of
mine, he retorted by saying, 'You are more than a plain man of
business, Mr. Skeggs, you are an ugly one.' I did my very utmost for
that man, but he was hanged. Mais revenons. I am a plain man of
business, and I intend to deal with this question in a business-like
way. The simple point is: What is it worth your while to give me for
the document I have buttoned up here?" tapping his chest with his left
hand as he spoke.

"I am at a loss to know to what document you refer," said Mr. St.
George, coldly.

"A very few words will tell you the contents of it, though, if I am
rightly informed, you can give a pretty good guess already as to what
they are likely to be. In this document it is asserted that you, sir,
have no right to the name by which the world has known you for so long
a time--that you have no right to the position you occupy, to the
property you claim as yours. That you are, in fact, none other than
the son of Mother Mim herself--of the woman who lies dead in yonder
hut."

Kester drew in his breath with something like a sigh. It was as he had
feared. Mother Mim had told everything, and, of all people in the
world, to the wretch now walking by his side. He braced his nerves for
the coming encounter. "I have heard something before to-day of the
rigmarole of which you speak," he said, haughtily; "but I need hardly
tell you that the affair is nothing but a tissue of vilest lies from
beginning to end."

"I dare say it is," said Skeggs, good humouredly. "But it may be
rather difficult for you to prove that it is so."

"It will be still more difficult for you to prove that it is not so."

"Oh! I am quite aware of all the difficulties both for and against--no
man more so. You have got possession, and a hundred other points in
your favour. Still, with what evidence I have already, and with what
evidence  I can get elsewhere, I shall be able to make out a strong
case--a very strong case against you in a court of justice."

"Evidence elsewhere!" said Kester, disdainfully. "There is no such
thing, unless you are clever enough to make the dead speak."

"Even that has been done before now," said Skeggs quietly. "But in
this case we have no need to go to the churchyard to collect our
evidence. I have a living, breathing witness whom I can lay my hands
on at a day's notice."

"You lie," said Kester, emphatically.

"I'll wash that down," said Skeggs, halting for a moment and
proceeding to take a good pull at his bottle of gin. "If you so far
forget yourself again, I shall begin to feel sure that you are not a
St. George. What I told you was not a lie. There were four witnesses
who had all a personal knowledge of a certain fact. Three of those
witnesses are dead: the fourth still lives. Of the existence of this
fourth witness Mother Mim never even hinted to you. It was her trump
card, and she was far too cunning to let you see it."

Kester walked on in silence. He felt that just then he had hardly a
word to say. Was all that he had sacrificed so much for in other ways,
all that he had run such tremendous risks for, to be torn from him by
the machinations of a vile old hag, and the drunken, ribald scoundrel
by his side? Through what strange ambushes, through what dusky
by-paths, doth Fate oft-times overtake us! We look back along the
broad highway we have been traversing, and seeing no black shadow
dogging our footsteps, we go rejoicing on our way; when suddenly, from
some near-at-hand shrub, is shot a poisoned arrow, and the sunlight
fades from our eyes for ever.

"And now, after this little skirmish," said Skeggs, "we come back to
my first question: What can you afford to give me for the document in
my pocket?"

"Suppose I say that I will give you nothing--what then?" said Kester,
sullenly.

"Then I shall get my evidence together, work out my case on paper, and
submit it to the heir-at-law."

"And supposing the heir-at-law, acting under advice, were to decline
having anything to do with your case, as you call it?"

"He would be a fool to do that, because my case is anything but a weak
one. I tell you this in confidence. But supposing he were to decline,
then I should say to him: 'I am willing to conduct this case on my own
account. If I fail, it shall not cost you a penny. If I succeed, you
shall pay all expenses, and give me five thousand pounds.' That would
fetch him, I think."

"You have been assuming all along," said Kester, "that your case is
based on fact. I assure you again that it is not--that it is nothing
but a devilish lie from beginning to end."

"Really, my dear sir, that has little or nothing to do with the
matter. I dare say it is a lie. But it is my place to believe it to be
the truth, and to make other people believe the same as I do. Here's
your very good health, sir." Again Mr. Skeggs took a long pull and a
strong pull at his bottle of gin.

"Knowing what you know," said Kester, "and believing what you believe,
are you yet willing to sell the document now in your possession?"

"Of course I am. What else is all this jaw for?"

"And don't you think you are a pretty sort of scoundrel to make me any
such offer? Don't you think----"

"Now look you here, Mr. St. George--if that is your name, which I very
much doubt--don't let you and me begin to fling mud at one another,
because that is a game at which I could lick you into fits. I have
made you a fair offer. If we can't come to terms, there's no reason
why we shouldn't part friendly."

Once again Kester walked on in silence. The snow had been coming down
more thickly for some time past, and already the dull gray moor began
to look strange and unfamiliar, but neither of the two men gave more
than a passing thought to the weather.

"If you feel and know your case to be such a strong one," said Kester,
at last, "why do you come to me at all? Why send a white flag into
your enemy's camp? Why not fight him à l'outrance at once?"

"Because I'm neither so young nor so pugnacious as I once was,"
answered Skeggs. "I go in for peace and quiet nowadays. I don't want
the bother and annoyance of a law-suit. I have no ill-feeling towards
you, and if you will only make me a fair offer, I shall be the last
man in the world to disturb you in any way. Gemini! how the snow comes
down! We are only about half way yet. We shall have some difficulty in
picking our road across."

"I myself am as anxious as you can be, Mr. Skeggs, to be saved the
trouble and annoyance of a law-suit, however sure I may feel that the
result would be in my favour. But you must give me a little time to
think this matter over. It is far too important to be decided at a
moment's notice."

"Time? To be sure. You can make up your mind in about a couple of
days, I suppose. Shall I call upon you, or will you call upon me?"

Hardly were the words out of Mr. Skeggs's mouth when his wooden leg
sunk suddenly into a hidden hole in the pathway. Thrown forward by the
shock, the lawyer came heavily to the ground, and at the same moment
his leg snapped short off just below the knee.

Kester took him by the shoulders and assisted him to assume a sitting
posture on the footpath.

Mr. Skeggs's first action was to pick up his broken limb and look at
it with a sort of comical despair. "There goes a friend that has done
me good service," he said; "but he might have lasted till he got me
home, for all that. How the deuce am I to get home?" he asked, turning
abruptly to Kester.

Kester paused for a minute and looked round before answering. The snow
was coming down faster than ever. The moor was being gradually turned
into a huge white carpet. Already its zig-zag paths and winding
footways were barely distinguishable from the treacherous bog which
lay on every side of them. In an hour and a half it would be dark with
a darkness that would be unrelieved by either moon or stars. If it
kept on snowing all night at this rate the drift would be a couple of
feet deep by morning. Skeggs's casual remark about the pedlar and his
wife, unheeded at the time, now flashed vividly across Kester's mind.

"You will have to wait here till I can get assistance," he said, in
answer to his companion's question. "There is no help for it."

"I suppose not," growled Skeggs. "Was ever anything so cursedly
unfortunate?"

"Sedgeley is the nearest place to this," said Kester. "There are
plenty of men there who know the moor thoroughly. I will send half a
dozen of them to your help."

"How soon may I expect them here?"

"In about three-quarters of an hour from now."

"Ugh! I'm half frozen already. What shall I be in another hour?"

"Oh, you'll pull through that easily enough. Your bottle is not empty
yet."

"Jove! I'd forgotten the bottle," said Skeggs, with animation.

He took it out of his pocket, and held it up to the light. "Not more
than a quartern left. Well, that's better than none at all."

"Goodbye," said Kester, as he shook some of the snow off his hat.
"You may look for help in less than an hour."

"Goodbye, Mr. St. George," said Skeggs, looking very earnestly at him
as he did so.

"You won't forget to send the help, will you? because if you do
forget, it will be nothing more nor less than wilful murder."

Kester laughed a short grating laugh. "Fear nothing, Skeggs," he said.
"I won't forget. About that other trifle, I will write you in two or
three days. Again goodbye."

Skeggs's face had turned very white. He could not speak. He took off
his hat and waved it. Kester responded by a wave of his hand. Then
turning on his heel he strode away through the snowy twilight. In
three minutes he was lost to sight. Skeggs could no longer see him.
Tears came into his eyes. "He'll send no help, not he. I shall die
here like a dog. The snow will be my winding-sheet. If ever there was
mischief in a man's eye, there was in his, as he bade me goodbye."

Onward strode Kester St. George through the blinding snow. Altogether
heedless of the weather was he just now. He had other things to think
about. As instinctively as an Indian or a backwoodsman tracks his way
across prairie or forest did he track his way across the moor, all
hidden though the paths now were. He was a child of the moor. He had
learned its secrets when a boy, and in his present emergency, reason
and intellect must perforce give way to that blind instinct which was
left him as a legacy of his youth.

At length the last patch of moorland was crossed, and a few minutes
later he found himself close by a well-remembered finger-post, where
three roads met. One of these roads led to Sedgeley, which was but a
short quarter of a mile away; another of them led to Duxley and Park
Newton. At Sedgeley his horse was waiting for him. There, too, was to
be had the help which he had so faithfully promised Skeggs that he
would send. Leaning against the finger-post, he took a minute's rest
before going any farther. Which road should he take? That was the
question which at present he was turning over and over in his mind.
Not long did he hesitate. Taking out his pocket-handkerchief, he made
a wisp of it, and tied it round his throat. Then he turned up the
collar of his coat. Then once again he shook the snow off his hat.
Then plunging his hands deep in his pockets, and turning his back on
the finger-post, he set out resolutely along the road that led towards
Park Newton. Once, and once only did he pause, even for a moment,
before reaching home. It was when he fancied that he heard, away in
the far distance, a low, wild, melancholy cry--whether the cry of an
animal or a man he could not tell--but none the less a cry for help.
Whatever it was, it did not come again, and after that Kester pursued
his way homeward steadily and without pause. It was quite dark long
before he reached his own room.

He changed his clothes and went down to dinner. Both his uncle and
Richard Dering were away, and he dined alone, for which he was by no
means sorry. Every half-hour or so he inquired as to the weather. They
had nothing to tell him except that it was still snowing hard. The
evening was one of slow torture, but at length it wore itself away. He
went to bed about midnight. Dobbs's last report to him was that the
weather was still unchanged. But several times during the night Dobbs
heard his master pacing up and down his room, and had he been there he
might, ever and again, have seen a haggard face peering out with eager
eyes into the darkness.

"Twelve inches of snow, sir, on the drive," was Dobbs's first news
next morning. "They say there has not been a fall like it in these
parts for a dozen years."

The snow had ceased to fall hours before. By-and-by there came a few
gleams of sunshine to brighten the scene, but the wind was still in
the north, and all that day the weather kept bitterly cold. Soon after
sunset, however, there was a change. Little by little the wind got
round to the south-west. At ten o'clock Dobbs reported: "Snow going
fast, sir. Regular thaw. Not be a bit left by breakfast-time."

"Call me at four," said his master, "and have some coffee ready, and a
horse brought round by four thirty."

He was quite tired out by this time, and when he went to bed he felt
sure that he should have four or five hours' sound sleep. But his
sleep was several times disturbed by a strange dream: always the same
thing repeated over and over again. He dreamt that he was standing
under the finger-post on the edge of the moor. But the finger-post was
neither more nor less than a gigantic skeleton, of which the
outstretched arms formed the direction boards. On the bony palm of one
outstretched arm, in letters of blood, was written the words: "To
Sedgeley." Then as he read the words in his dream, again would sound
in his ears the low, weird, melancholy cry which had arrested his
steps for a moment as he walked home through the snow, and hearing the
cry he would start up in bed and stare round him, and wonder for a
moment where he was.

Dobbs duly called his master at four, and at four thirty he mounted
his horse and rode away. The roads were heavy and sloppy with the
melting snow. The morning was intensely dark, but Kester knew the
country thoroughly, and was never at a loss as to which turn he ought
to take. Not one human being did he meet during the whole of his ride.
But, indeed, his nearest friend would have passed him by in the dark
without recognition. He wore an old shooting suit, with a Glengarry
bonnet and a macintosh, and had a thick shawl wrapped round his throat
and the lower part of his face.

Day was just breaking as he reached the edge of the moor. He tethered
his horse to the stump of an old tree behind a hedge. He had brought a
powerful field-glass in his pocket. He scanned the moor carefully
through it before proceeding farther on his quest. No living being was
in sight anywhere. Satisfied of this, he set out without further
delay, leaving his horse by itself to await his return. Not without a
tremor--not without a faster beating of the heart--did he again set
foot on the moor. A drizzling rain now began to fall, but Kester was
not sorry for this. The worse the weather, the fewer the people who
would be abroad in it. Onward he strode, keeping a wary eye about him
as he went.

At length he reached a curve in the path from whence he ought to be
able to discern the bulky form of John Skeggs, Esq., if that gentleman
was still where he had last seen him. He looked, but the morning was
still heavy and dark: he could see nothing. Then he adjusted his
glass, and looking through that he could just make out a heap--a
bundle--a shapeless something. It required a powerful effort on his
part to brace his nerves to the pitch requisite to carry him through
the task he had still before him. He had filled a small flask with
brandy, and he now drank some of it. Then he started again. A few
minutes more and the end of his journey was reached.

There lay Skeggs, on the very spot where he had left him, resting on
his side, with one hand under his head, as if asleep. His hat had
fallen off. On the ground near him were the empty bottle, his
walking-stick, and his broken wooden leg. Numbed by the intense cold,
he had fallen asleep while waiting for the help which was never to
come, and had so died, frozen to death. Doubtless his death had been a
painless one, but none the less, as he himself would have said, was
Kester St. George his murderer.

Gloved though he was, it was not without a feeling of indescribable
loathing that Kester could bring himself to touch the body. But it was
absolutely necessary to do so. The paper he had come in quest of was
in the breast pocket of the dead man's coat. It did not take him long
to find it. Having made sure that he had got the right document, he
fastened it up in the breast pocket of his own coat. "Now I am safe!"
he said to himself. Then he took off his gloves and buried them
carefully under a large stone. Then with one last glance at the body,
he slunk hurriedly away, cursing in his heart the daylight that was
now creeping up so rapidly from the east. In the clear light of dawn
the foul deed he had done looked a thousand times fouler than it had
looked before.



CHAPTER IX.
WHAT TO DO NEXT?


Not to every one among the children of men is given the power, the
faculty, to act as comforter to others. To listen to another's sorrow,
to be told the history of another's trouble, is one thing: to be able
to give back comfort is another. That delicate intuitive sympathy with
another's woe which draws away the sting even while listening to it,
which makes that woe its own property as it were, which sheds balm
round the sufferer in every word and look and touch: this is surely as
much a special gift as the gift of song or the poet's fine phrenzy,
and without it the world would be a much poorer place than it is.

This rare gift of sympathy was possessed by Edith Dering in a
pre-eminent degree. She was at once emotional and sympathetic. To
Lionel in his dire trouble she was a comforter in the truest sense of
the word. It was she who preserved his mental balance--the equipoise
of his mind. But for her sweet offices he would have become a
monomaniac or a misanthrope of the bitterest kind. Naturally she had
him with her as much as possible, but still his home was of necessity
at Park Newton. To the world he was simply Richard Dering, the
unmarried nephew of General St. George. It would not do for him to be
seen going to Fern Cottage sufficiently often to excite either scandal
or suspicion. He could only visit there as the intimate friend of Mrs.
Garside and her niece. Sometimes he took his uncle with him, sometimes
Tom, in order to divert suspicion. For him to enter the garden gate of
Fern Cottage was to cross the threshold of his earthly paradise. Edith
and he had been married in the depth of a great trouble--troubles and
danger had beset the path of their wedded life ever since. Owing,
perhaps, to that very cause week by week, and month by month, their
love seemed only to grow in depth and intensity. As yet it had lost
nothing of its pristine charm and freshness. The gold-dust of romance
lingered about it still. They were man and wife, they had been man and
wife for months, but to the world at large they seemed nothing more
than ordinary friends.

But all Edith's care and watchful love could not lift her husband,
except by fits and starts, out of those moods of glom and depression
which seemed to be settling more closely down upon him day by day. As
link after link was added to the chain of evidence, each one tending
to incriminate his cousin still more deeply, his moods seemed to grow
darker and more difficult of removal. With his cousin Lionel
associated no more than was absolutely necessary. They rarely met each
other till dinner-time, and then they met with nothing more than a
simple "How do you do?" and in conversation they never got beyond some
half-dozen of the barest commonplaces. Lionel always left the table as
soon as the cloth was drawn.

On Kester's side there was no love lost. That dark, stern-faced cousin
was a perpetual menace to him, and he hated him accordingly. He hated
him for his likeness to his dead and gone brother. He hated him
because of the look in his eyes--so coldly scrutinizing, so searching,
so immovable. He hated him because it was a look that he could in
nowise give back. Try as he might, he could not face Lionel's steady
gaze.

For some two or three weeks after his return from Bath with Janvard's
written confession, Lionel was perfectly quiescent. He took no further
action whatever. He was, indeed, debating in his own mind what further
action it behoved him to take. There was no need to seek for any
further evidence, if, indeed, any more would have been forthcoming.
All that he wanted he had now got; it was simply a question as to what
use he should make of it. Day and night that was the question which
presented itself before his mind: what use should he make of the
knowledge in his possession? His mind was divided this way and that;
day passed after day, and still he could by no means decide as to the
course which it would be best for him to adopt. Of all this he said
not a word to Edith: he could not have borne to discuss the question
even with her; but it is possible that she surmised something of it.
She knew that she had only to wait and everything would be told her.
Perhaps to Bristow, who knew all the details of the case as well as he
did, he might have said something as to the difficulty by which he was
beset, but as it happened, Tom was not at home just then. Much of his
time was spent by Lionel in long solitary walks far and wide through
the country. He could think better when he was walking than when
sitting quietly at home, he used to say; and, indeed, the country folk
who encountered him often turned to look at him, as he stalked along,
with his eyes set straight before him, gazing on vacancy, and with
lips that moved rapidly as he whispered to himself of his dreadful
secret.

But, little by little, the need of counsel, of sympathy, grew more
strongly upon him. He was still as much at a loss as ever as to the
step which he ought to take next.

"They shall decide for me," he said at last; "I will put myself into
their hands: by their verdict I will abide."

General St. George at this time was away from Park Newton. As has been
already stated, he had been summoned to the sick-bed of a very old and
valued friend. The illness was a long and tedious one, and at the
request of his friend the General stayed on and kept him company.
Truth to tell, he was by no means sorry to get away from Park Newton
for awhile. Of late his position there had been anything but a
pleasant one. The silent, deadly feud between his two nephews troubled
him not a little. If Kester would only have gone away, then, so far,
all would have been well. But having pressed him so earnestly to visit
Park Newton, he could not, with any show of conscience, ask him to go
till he was ready to do so of his own accord. Knowing what he knew,
that Kester was all but proved to have been the murderer of Percy
Osmond, he might well not care to live under the same roof with him,
hiding his feelings under a mask, and, while pretending to know
nothing, to be in reality cognisant of the whole dreadful story.
Knowing what he knew, that Richard was none other than Lionel, and
knowing the quest on which he was engaged, and that, sooner or later,
the climax must come, he might well wish to be away from Park Newton
when that most wretched day should dawn--a day which would prove the
innocence of one nephew at the price of the other's guilt. Therefore
did General St. George accept his old friend's invitation to stay with
him for an indefinite length of time--till, in fact, Kester should
have left Park Newton, or till the tangled knot of events should, in
some other way, have unravelled itself.

When, at length, Lionel had decided that he would take the advice of
his friends as to what his future course should be, he was obliged to
await Tom Bristow's return before it was possible to do anything.
Then, when Tom did get back home, the General had to be written to.
When he understood what he was wanted for, he agreed to come on
certain conditions. He was to come to Fern Cottage, spend one night
there, and go back to his friend's house next day. No one, except
those assembled at the cottage, was to know anything of his journey.
Above all, it was to be kept a profound secret from Kester St George.

Thus it fell out that on a certain April evening there were assembled,
in the parlour of the cottage, Edith, Mrs. Garside, General St.
George, Tom Bristow, and Lionel. It was a very serious occasion, and
they all felt it to be such.

The General would sit close to Edith, whom he had not seen for a
little while; and several times during the evening he took possession
of one of her hands, and patted it affectionately between his own
withered palms.

"You are not looking quite so well, my dear, as when I saw you last,"
had been his first words after kissing her. Her cheeks were, indeed,
just beginning to look in the slightest degree hollow and worn, nor
did her eyes look quite so bright as of old. The wonder was,
considering all that she had gone through during the last twelve
months, that she looked as fair and fresh as she did. Of Mrs. Garside,
whom we have not seen for some little time, it may be said that she
looked plumper and more matronly than ever. But then nothing could
have kept Mrs. Garside from looking plump and matronly. She was one of
those people off whom the troubles and anxieties of life slip as
easily as water slips off a duck's back. Although she had a copious
supply of tears at command, nothing ever troubled her deeply or for
long, simply because there was no depth to be troubled. She was always
cheerful, because she was shallow; and she was always kind-hearted so
long as her kindness of heart did not involve any self-sacrifice on
her part. "What a very pleasant person Mrs. Garside is," was the
general verdict of society. And so she was--very pleasant. If her
father had been hanged on a Monday for sheepstealing, by Tuesday she
would have been as pleasant and cheerful as ever.

But we must not be unjust to Mrs. Garside. She had one affection, and
one only, her love for Edith. During all the days of Edith's
tribulation, her aunt had never deserted her--had not even thought of
deserting her; and now, for Edith's sake, she had buried herself alive
in Fern Cottage, where her only excitement was a little mild shopping,
now and then, in Duxley High Street, under the incognito of a thick
veil, or a welcome visit once and again from Miss Culpepper. Under
these depressing circumstances, it ought perhaps to be put down to the
credit of Mrs. Garside, rather than to her discredit, that her
cheerfulness was not one whit abated, and that her face was a picture
of health and content.

"I think you know why I have asked you to meet me here to-night,"
began Lionel. "I want your advice: I want you to tell me what step I
must take next. You know what the purpose of my life has been ever
since the night I escaped from prison. You know how persistently I
have pursued that purpose--that I have allowed nothing to deter me or
turn me aside from it. The result is that there has grown under my
hands a fatal array of evidence, all tending to implicate one man--all
pointing with deadly accuracy to one person, and to one only, as the
murderer of Percy Osmond. I have but to open my mouth, and the four
walls of a prison would shut him round as fast as ever they shut round
me; I have but to speak of half I know and that man would have to take
his trial for Wilful Murder even as I took mine. But shall I do this
thing? That is the question that I want you to help me to answer. So
long as the chain of evidence remained incomplete, so long as certain
links were wanting to it, I felt that my task was unfinished. But at
last I have all that I need. There is nothing more to search for. My
task, so far, is at an end. Knowing, then, what I know, and with such
proofs in my possession, am I to stop here? Am I to rest content with
what I have done, and go no step farther? Or am I to go through with
it to the bitter end? What that end would involve you know as well as
I could tell you."

He ceased, and for a little while they all sat in silence. General St.
George was the first to speak. "Lionel knows, and you all know, that
from the very first he has had my heartfelt sympathy in this unhappy
business. He has not had my sympathy only, he has had my help,
although I have seen for a long time the point to which we were all
tending, and the terrible consequences that must necessarily ensue. Me
those consequences affect with peculiar force. One nephew can only be
saved at the expense of the irretrievable ruin and disgrace of the
other. It is not as though we had been searching in the dark, and had
there found the bloodstained hand of a stranger. The hand we have so
grasped is that of one of our own kin--one of ourselves. And that
makes the dreadful part of the affair. Still, I would not have you
misunderstand me. I am as closely bound to Lionel--my sympathy and
help are his as much to-day as ever they were, and should he choose to
go through with this business in the same way as he would go through
with it in the case of an utter stranger, I shall be the last man in
the world to blame him. More: I will march with him side by side,
whatever be the goal to which his steps may lead him. Such
unparalleled wrongs as his demand unparalleled reparation. For all
that, however, it is still a most serious question whether there is
not a possibility of effecting some kind of a compromise: whether
there is not somewhere a door of escape open by means of which we may
avert a catastrophe almost too terrible even to bear thinking about."

"What is your opinion, Bristow?" said Lionel, turning to Tom. "What
say you, my friend of friends?"

"I have a certain diffidence in offering any opinion," said Tom,
"simply on account of the relationship of the two persons chiefly
involved. To tell the world all that you know, would, undoubtedly,
bring about a family catastrophe of a most painful nature. It
therefore seems to me that the members of that family, and they alone,
should be empowered to offer an opinion on a question so delicate as
the one now under consideration."

"Not so," said Lionel, emphatically. "No one could have a better
right, or even so great a right, to offer an opinion as you. But for
you, I should not have been here to-night to ask for that opinion."

"Nor I here but for you," interrupted Tom.

"I will put my question to you in a different form," said Lionel; "and
so put to you, I shall expect you to answer it in your usual clear and
straightforward way. Bristow, if you were circumstanced exactly as I
am now circumstanced, what would you do in my place?"

"I would go through with the task I had taken in hand, let the
consequences be what they might," said Tom, without a moment's
hesitation. "Nothing should hold me back. I would clear my own name
and my own fame, and let punishment fall where punishment is due. You
are still young, Dering, and a fair career and a happy future may
still be yours if you like to claim them."

Tom's words were very emphatic, and for a little while no one spoke.
"We have yet to hear what Edith has to say," said the General. "Her
interests in the matter are second only to those of Lionel."

"Yes, it is my wife's turn to speak next," said Lionel.

"What my opinion is, you know well, dearest, and have known for a long
time."

"My uncle and Bristow would like to hear it from your own lips."

"Uncle," began Edith, with a little blush, "whatever Lionel may
ultimately decide to do will doubtless be for the best. The last wish
I have in the world is to lead him or guide him in any way in
opposition to his own convictions. But I have thought this: that it
would be very terrible indeed to have to take part in a second
tragedy--a tragedy that, in some of its features, would be far more
dreadful than that first one, which none of us can ever forget. No one
can know better than I know how grievously my husband has been sinned
against. But nothing can altogether undo the wrong that has been done.
Would it make my husband a happy man if, instead of being the accused,
he should become the accuser? Let us for a few moments try to imagine
that this second tragedy has been worked out in all its frightful
consequences. That my husband has told everything. That he who is
guilty has been duly punished. That Lionel's fair fame has been
re-established, and that he and I are living at Park Newton as if
nothing had ever happened to disturb the commonplace tenor of our
lives. In such a case, would my husband be a happy man? No. I know him
too well to believe it possible that he could ever be happy or
contented. The image of that man--one of his own kith and kin, we must
remember--would be for ever in his mind. He would be the prey of a
remorse all the more bitter in that the world would hold him as
without blame. But would he so hold himself? I think not--I am sure
not. He would feel as if he had sought for and accepted the price of
blood." Overcome by her emotion, she ceased.

"I think in a great measure as you think, my dear," said the General.
"What course do you propose that your husband should adopt?"

"It is not for me to propose anything," answered Edith. "I can only
suggest certain views of the question, and leave it for you and Lionel
to adopt them or reject them, as may seem best to you."

"Holding the proofs of his innocence in his hands as he does," said
the General, "is it your wish that Lionel should sit down contented
with what he has already achieved, and knowing that the real facts of
his story are in the keeping of you and me, and two or three trusted
friends, rest satisfied with that and ask for nothing more?"

"No, I hardly go so far as that," said Edith, with a faint smile. "I
think that the man who committed the crime should know that Lionel
still lives, and that he holds in his hands the proof at once of his
own innocence and of the other's guilt. Beyond that I say this: The
world believes my husband to be dead: rather than re-open so terrible
a wound, let the world continue so to believe. My husband and I can do
without the world, as well as it can do without us. We have our mutual
love, which nothing can deprive us of: against that the shafts of
Fortune beat as vainly as hailstones against a castle wall. On this
earth of ours are places sweet and fair without number. In one of
them--not altogether dissevered from those ties of friendship which
have already made our married life so beautiful--my husband and I could
build up a new home, with no sad memories of the past to cling around
it; and when this haunting shadow that now broods over his life shall
have been brushed away for ever, then I think--I know--I feel sure
that I can make him happy!" Her voice, her eyes, her whole manner were
imbued with a sweet fervour that it was impossible to resist.

Lionel crossed over and kissed her. "My darling!" he said. "But for
your love and care I should long ago have been a madman."

"You, my dear, have put into words," said the General, "the very ideas
that for a long time have been floating about, half formed, in my own
mind. Lionel, what have you to say to your wife's suggestions?"

"Only this: that I have made up my mind to follow them. _He_ shall
know that I am alive, and that I hold the proofs of his guilt, ready
to produce them at a moment's notice, should I ever be compelled to do
so. Beyond that, I will leave him in peace--to such peace as his own
conscience will give him. The world believes Lionel Dering to be dead
and buried. Dead and buried he shall still remain, and 'requiescat in
pace' be written under his name."

The General got up with tears in his eyes and shook Lionel warmly by
the hand. "Good boy! good boy! You will not go without your reward,"
was all that he could say.

"The eighth of May will soon be here," said Lionel--"the anniversary
of poor Osmond's murder. On that day he shall be told. But I shall
tell him in my own fashion. On that day, uncle, you must promise to
give me your company; and you yours, Tom. After that I shall trouble
you no more."

If Tom Bristow dissented from the conclusion thus come to, he said no
word to that effect. There was one point, however, that struck his
practical mind as having been altogether overlooked; and as soon as
Edith and Mrs. Garside had left the room he did not fail to mention
it.

"What about the income of eleven thousand a year?" he said. "You are
surely not going to let the whole of that slip through your fingers?"

"Ah, by-the-by, that point never struck me," said the General. "No, it
would be decidedly unjust both to yourself and your wife, Lionel, to
give up the income as well as the position."

"Now you are importing a mercenary tone into the affair that is
utterly distasteful to me. It looks as if I were being bribed to keep
silence."

"That is sheer nonsense," said the General. "You have but to hold out
your hand to take the whole."

Lionel said no more, but went and sat down dejectedly on the sofa.

"You and I must settle this matter between us," said the General to
Tom. "It is most important. It shall be my place to see that whatever
is agreed upon shall be duly carried out in the arrangement between
the two men. I should think that if the income were divided it would
be about as fair a thing as could be done. What say you?"

"I agree with you entirely," said Tom. "The other one will have the
name and position to keep up, and that can't be done for nothing."

"Then it shall be so settled."

"There is one other point that I think ought to be settled at the same
time. Who is to have Park Newton after _his_ death? Lionel may have
children. _He_ may marry and have children. But, in common justice,
the estate ought to be secured on Dering's eldest child, whether the
present possessor die with or without an heir."

"Certainly, certainly. Good gracious me! a most valuable suggestion.
Strange, now, that it never struck me. Yes, yes: Lionel's eldest child
must have the estate. I will see that there is no possible mistake on
that score."



CHAPTER X.
HOW TOM WINS HIS WIFE.


After Mrs. McDermott's departure from Pincote, life there slipped back
into its old quiet groove--into its old dull groove which was growing
duller day by day. The Squire had altogether ceased to see company:
when any of his old friends called he was never at home to them; and
on the score of ill health he declined every invitation that was sent
to him. But it was not altogether on account of his health that these
invitations were declined, because three or four times a week he would
be seen somewhere about the country roads being driven out by Jane in
the basket-carriage. There was another reason for this state of
things--a reason to which his friends and neighbours were not slow in
giving a name. The Squire in his old age was becoming a miser: that is
what the said friends and neighbours averred. But to dub him as a
miser was altogether unjust: he was simply becoming penurious for his
daughter's sake, as many other men are penurious for ends much more
ignoble. He had, in fact, decided upon carrying out that modest scheme
of domestic retrenchment of which mention has been made in a previous
chapter, and the mode of living adopted by him now did undoubtedly, to
many people, seem miserly in comparison with that lavish hospitality
for which Pincote had heretofore been noted. The Squire knew that he
could not go much into society without giving return invitations. Now
the four or five state dinners which he had been in the habit of
giving every year were very elaborate and expensive affairs, and he no
longer felt himself justified in keeping them up. Instead of spending
so many pounds per annum in entertaining a number of people for whom
he cared little or nothing, would it not be better to add the amount,
trifling though it might seem, to that other trifling amount--only
some few hundreds of pounds when all was told--which he had already
managed to scrape together as a little nest-egg for Jane when he
should be gone from her side for ever, and Pincote could no longer be
her home? "If I had only died a year ago," he would sometimes say to
himself, "then Jenny would have had a handsome fortune to call her
own. Now she's next door to being a pauper."

Half his journeys into Duxley nowadays were to the bank--not to
Sugden's Bank, we may be sure, but to the Town and County--and he
gloated over every five pounds added to the fund invested in his
daughter's name as something more added to the nest-egg; and to be
able to put away fifty pounds in a lump now afforded him far more
genuine delight than the putting away of a thousand would have done
six months previously.

There had been little or no conversation between Jane and her father
respecting the loss of her fortune since that memorable night when the
Squire himself first heard the fatal tidings, and Jane was far more
anxious than he was that the topic should never be broached between
them again. She guessed in part what his object might be when he began
to cut down the house expenses at Pincote discharging some half dozen
of his people; raising his farm rents where it was possible to do so;
letting out the whole, instead of a portion only, of the park as
pasturage for sheep; selling some of his horses, and the whole of his
famous cellar of wines; besides arranging for part of the produce of
his kitchen garden to be taken by a greengrocer at Duxley. She
guessed, but that was all. Her father said nothing definite as to his
reasons for so doing, and she made no inquiry. The sphere of his
enjoyment had now become a very limited one. If it gave him
pleasure--and she could not doubt that it did--to live penuriously so
as to be enabled to put away a few extra pounds per annum, she would
not mar the edge of that pleasure by seeming even to notice what was
going on, much less make any inquiry as to its meaning. The Squire, on
his part, had many a good chuckle in the solitude of his own room.
"After I'm gone, she'll know what it all means," he would say to
himself. "She's puzzled now--they are all puzzled. They call me a
miser, do they? Let 'em call me what they like. Another twenty put
away to-day. That makes----" and out would come his passbook and his
spectacles.

The fact that the Squire no longer either received company or went
into society compelled Jane, in a great measure, to follow his
example. There were two or three houses to which, if she chose, she
could still go without its being thought strange that there was no
return invitation to Pincote; and there were two or three old school
friends whom she could invite to a cup of tea in her own little room
without their feeling offended that they were not asked to stay to
dinner. But of society, in the general sense of the term, Jane now saw
little or nothing. To her this was no source of regret. Just now she
was far too deeply in love to care very much for company of any kind.

Happy was it for Jane that the only exception to her father's
no-society rule was in favour of the man she loved. The Squire had by
no means forgotten Mrs. McDermott's warning words, nor Tom's frank
confession of his love for Jane; and it had certainly been no part of
his intention to encourage Tom's visits to Pincote after the widow's
abrupt departure. In honour of that departure, there had been, next
day, a little dinner of state, at which Mr. Culpepper had made his
appearance in a dress coat and white cravat, at which there had been
French side dishes, and at which the Squire had drunk Tom's health in
a bumper of the very best port which his cellar contained. But when
they parted that night, when the Squire, having hobbled to the front
door, shook hands with Tom, and bade him good-night, it was with a
sort of half intimation that some considerable time would probably
elapse before they should have the pleasure of seeing him at Pincote
again. In the first flush of his delight at having got rid of his
sister, the Squire thought that he could be content and happy at home
of an evening with no company save that of Jane, even as he had been
content and happy long before he had known Tom Bristow. But in so
thinking he had overlooked one very important point. The Titus
Culpepper of six months ago had been a prosperous, well-to-do
gentleman, satisfied with himself and all the world, in tolerable
health, and excited by the prospect of making a magnificent fortune
without trouble or anxiety. The Titus Culpepper of to-day was a
broken-down gambler--a gambler who had madly speculated with his
daughter's fortune, and had lost it. Broken-down, too, was he in
health, in spirits, and in temper; and, worst sign of all, a man who
no longer found any pleasure in the company of his own thoughts, and
who began to dislike to sit alone even for half an hour at a time. Of
this change in himself the Squire knew and suspected nothing: how few
of us do know of such changes! Other people may change--nay, do we not
see them changing daily around us, and smile good-naturedly as we note
how querulous and hard to please poor Jones has become of late? But
that we--we--should so change, becoming a burden to ourselves and a
trial to those around us, with our queer, cross-grained ways, our
peevish, variable tempers, and our general belief that the sun shines
less brightly, and that the world is less beautiful than it was a
little while ago--that is altogether impossible. The change is always
in others, never in our immaculate selves.

The Squire was a man who, all his life, had preferred men's company to
that of the opposite sex. His tastes were not at all æsthetic. He
liked to talk about cattle, and crops, and the state of the markets;
to talk a little about imperial politics--chiefly confined to
blackguarding "the other side of the House"--and a great deal about
local politics. He had been in the habit of talking by the hour
together about paving, and lighting, and sewage, and the state of the
highways: all useful matters without a doubt, but hardly topics
calculated to interest a lady. Though he liked to have Jane play to
him now and then--but never for more than ten minutes at any one
time--he always designated it as "tinkling;" and as often as not, when
he asked her to sing, he would say, "Now, Jenny, lass, give us a
squall." But for all this, in former times Jane and he had got on very
well together on the occasions when they had been without company at
Pincote. He was moving about a good deal in the world at that time,
mixing with various people, talking to and being talked to by
different friends and acquaintances, and was at no loss for subjects
to talk about, even though those subjects might not be particularly
interesting to his daughter. But Jane made a capital listener, and
could always give him a good commonplace answer, and that was all he
craved--that and three-fourths of the talk to himself.

Of late, however, as we have already seen, the Squire had all but
given up going into society, by which means he at once dried up the
source from which he had been in the habit of obtaining his
conversational ideas. When he came to dine alone with Jane he found
himself with nothing to talk about. Under such circumstances there was
nothing left for him but grumbling. But even grumbling becomes
tiresome after a time, especially when the person to whom such
complainings are addressed never takes the trouble to contradict you,
and is incapable of being grumbled at herself.

It was after one of these tedious evenings that the Squire said to
Jane, "We may as well have Bristow up to-morrow, I think. I want to
see him about one or two things, and he may as well stop for dinner.
So you had better drop him a line."

The Squire had nothing of any importance to see Tom about, but he was
too stubborn to own, even to himself, that it was the young man's
lively company that he was secretly longing for. The weather next
morning happened to be very bad, and Jane smiled demurely to herself
as she noted how anxious her father was lest the rain should keep Tom
from coming. Jane knew that neither rain nor anything else would keep
him away. "Papa is almost as anxious to see him as I am," she said to
herself. "He thought that he could live without him: he now begins to
find out his mistake."

Sure enough, Tom did not fail to be there. The Squire gave him a
hearty greeting, and took him into the study before he had an
opportunity of seeing Jane. "I've heard nothing more from those
railway people about the Croft," he said. "Penfold was here yesterday
and wanted to know whether he was to go on with the villas--all the
foundations are now in, you know. I hardly knew what instructions to
give him."

"If you were to ask me, sir," said Tom, "I should certainly say, let
him begin to run up the carcases as quickly as possible. I happen to
know that the company must have the Croft--that they cannot possibly
do without it. They are only hanging fire awhile, hoping to get you to
go to them and make them an offer, instead of their being compelled to
come to you; which, in a transaction of this nature, makes all the
difference."

"I don't think you are far wrong in your views," said Mr. Culpepper.
"I'll turn over in my mind what you've said." Which meant that the
Squire would certainly adopt Tom's advice.

"No lovemaking, you know, Bristow," whispered the old man, with a dig
in the ribs, as they entered the dining-room.

"You may trust me, sir," said Tom.

"I'm not so sure on that score. We are none of us saints when a pretty
girl is in question."

Tom did not fail to keep the Squire alive during dinner. To the old
man his fund of news seemed inexhaustible. In reality, his resources
in that line were never put to the test. Three or four skilfully
introduced topics sufficed. The Squire's own long-winded remarks,
unknown to himself, filled up three-fourths of the time. Then Tom made
a splendid listener. His attention never flagged. He was always ready
with his "I quite agree with you, sir;" or his "Just so, sir;" or his
"Those are my sentiments exactly, sir." To be able to talk for half an
hour at a time to an appreciative listener on some topic that
interested him strongly was a treat that the Squire thoroughly
enjoyed.

After the cloth was drawn he decided that instead of remaining by
himself for half an hour, he would go with the young people to the
drawing-room. He could have his snooze just as well there as in the
dining-room, and he flattered himself that his presence, even though
he might be asleep, would be a sufficient safeguard against any of
that illicit lovemaking respecting which Bristow had been duly
cautioned.

As a still further precaution, he nudged Tom again, as they went into
the drawing-room, and whispered, "None of your tomfoolery, remember."
Five minutes later he was fast asleep.

They could not play, or sing, or talk much, while the Squire slept, so
they fell back upon chess. "There's to be no lovemaking, you know,
Jenny," whispered Tom, across the table, with a twinkle in his eye.

"None, whatever," whispered Jane back, with a little shake of the
head, and a demure smile.

A mutual understanding having thus been come to, there was no need for
any further conversation, except about the incidents of the game,
which, truth to tell, was very badly played on both sides. In place of
studying the board, as a chess-player ought to do, Jane found her
eyes, quite unconsciously to herself, studying the face of her
opponent, while Tom's hand, wandering purposelessly about the board,
frequently found itself taking hold of Jane's hand instead of a knight
or a pawn; so that when at last the game did contrive to work itself
out to an ineffective conclusion, they could hardly have said with
certainty which one of them had checkmated the other. The Squire woke
up, smiling and well-pleased. He had not heard them talking to each
other, and there could be no harm in their playing a simple game of
chess. If he were content, they had no reason to be otherwise.

After this the Squire would insist on having Tom up at Pincote, as
often as the latter could possibly contrive to be there. In spite of
himself the old man's heart warmed imperceptibly towards him, and when
it so happened that business took Tom away from home for two or three
days, then the Squire grew so fretful and peevish that all Jane's tact
and good temper were needed to make life at all endurable. She tried
her best to persuade him to invite some of his old friends to come and
see him, or go himself and call up on some of them, but in vain.
Bristow he wanted, and no one but Bristow would he have. He looked
upon himself as a ruined man, as a man whom it behoved to economize in
every possible way. To keep company costs money: Tom Bristow was a
sensible fellow, with whom it was not necessary to stand on ceremony,
or be at any extra expense--a man who was content with a chop and a
rice pudding, and a glass of St. Julien. "He doesn't come here for
what he gets to eat and drink. I like his society, and he likes mine.
He finds that he can learn a good many things from me, and he's not
above learning."

All this time the works at Knockley Holt were being pushed busily
forward, much to the bewilderment and aggravation of the good people
of Duxley. They were aggravated, and they considered they had a right
to be aggravated, because they could not understand, and had not
been told, what it was that was intended to be done there. In a
small town like Duxley, no inhabitant has a right to put before his
fellow-citizens a problem which they find incapable of solution, and
then when asked to solve it for them decline to do so. Such conduct
merits the severest social reprehension.

Surely next to the madness of building a row of villas on Prior's
Croft, was the puzzling folly of digging a hole in Knockley Holt.
After much discussion pro and con, amongst the townspeople--chiefly
over sundry glasses of whiskey toddy, in sundry bar parlours, after
business hours--it seemed to be settled that Culpepper's Hole, as some
wag had christened it, could be intended for nothing else than an
artesian well--though what was the exact nature of an artesian well it
would have puzzled some of the Duxley wiseacres to tell, and why water
should be bored for there, and to what uses it could be put when so
obtained, they would have been still more at a loss to say. The Squire
could not drive into Duxley without being tackled by one or another of
his friends as to what he was about at Knockley Holt. But the old man
would only wink and shake his head, and try to look wise, and say, "It
doesn't do to blab everything nowadays, but between you and me and the
post--this is in confidence, mind--I'm digging a tunnel to the
Antipodes." Then he would chuckle and give the reins a shake, and
Diamond would trot off with him, leaving his questioner angry or
amused, as the case might be.

It was not known to any one in Duxley, except the Squire's lawyer,
that Knockley Holt was now the property of Tom Bristow. That the works
there were under Tom's direction was a well-known fact, but he was
merely looked upon as Mr. Culpepper's foreman in the matter. "Gets a
couple of hundred or so a year for looking after the Squire's
affairs," one wiseacre would remark to another. "If not, how does he
live? Seems to have nothing to do when he's not at Pincote. A poor way
of getting a living. Serve him right: he should have stopped with old
Hoskyns when he had the chance, and not have thought he was going to
set the Thames on fire with his six thousand pounds."

No one could be possessed by a more burning desire than the Squire
himself to know the meaning of the works at Knockley Holt, but having
asked once and asked in vain, his pride would not allow him to make
any further direct inquiry. Not a day passed on which he saw Tom, that
he did not try, by one or two vague hints, to lead up to the subject,
but when Tom turned the talk into another channel, then the old man
would see that the time for him to be enlightened had not yet come.

But it did come at last, and after what was, in reality, no very long
waiting. On a certain afternoon--to be precise in our dates, it was
the fifth of May--Tom walked over to Pincote, in search of the Squire.
He found him in his study, wearying his brain over a column of
figures, which would persist in coming to a different total every time
it was added up. The first thing Tom did was to take the column of
figures and bring it to a correct total. This done, his next act was
to produce something from his pocket that was carefully wrapped up in
a piece of brown paper. He pushed the parcel across the table to the
Squire. "Will you oblige me, sir," he said, "by opening that paper,
and giving me your opinion as to the contents?"

"Why, bless my heart, this is neither more nor less than a lump of
coal!" said the Squire, when he had opened the paper.

"Exactly so, sir. As you say, this is neither more nor less than a
lump of coal. But where do you think it came from?"

"There you puzzle me. Though I don't know that it can matter much to
me where it came from."

"But it matters very much to you, sir. This lump of coal came from
Knockley Holt."

The Squire was rather dull of comprehension. "Well, what is there so
wonderful about that?" he said. "I dare say it was stolen by some of
those confounded gipsies, and left there when they moved."

"What I mean is this, sir," answered Tom, with just a shade of
impatience in his tone. "This piece of coal is but a specimen of a
splendid seam which has been struck by my men at the bottom of the
shaft at Knockley Holt."

The Squire stared at him, and gave a long, low whistle. "Do you mean
to say that you have found a bed of coal at the bottom of the hole you
have been digging at Knockley Holt?"

"That is precisely what I have found, sir, and it is precisely what I
have been trying to find from the first."

"I see it all now!" said the Squire. "What a lucky young scamp you
are! But what on earth put it into your head to go looking for coal at
Knockley Holt?"

"I had a friend of mine, who is a very clever mining engineer, staying
with me for a little while some time ago. But my friend is not only an
engineer--he is a practical geologist as well. When out for a
constitutional one day, we found ourselves at Knockley Holt. My friend
was struck with its appearance--so different from that of the country
around. 'Unless I am much mistaken, there is coal under here,' he
said, 'and at no great distance from the surface either. The owner
ought to think himself a lucky man--that is, if he knows the value of
it.' Well, sir, not content with what my friend said, I paid a heavy
fee and had one of the most eminent geologists of the day down from
London to examine and report upon it. His report coincided exactly
with my friend's opinion. You know the rest, sir. I came to you with a
view of getting a lease of the ground, and found you desirous of
selling it. I was only too glad to have the chance of buying it. I set
a lot of men and a steam engine to work without a day's delay, and
that lump of coal, sir, is the happy result."

The Squire rubbed his spectacles for a moment or two without speaking.
"Bristow, that's an old head of yours on those young shoulders," he
said at last. "With all my heart congratulate you on your good
fortune. I know no man who deserves it more than you do. Yes, Bristow,
I congratulate you, though I can't help saying that I wish that I had
had a friend to have told me what was told you before I let you have
the ground. For want of such a friend I have lost a fortune."

"That is just what I have come to see you about, sir," said Tom, as he
rose and pushed back his chair. The Squire looked up at him in
surprise. "Although I bought Knockley Holt from you as a speculation,
I had a pretty good idea when I bought it as to what I should find
below the surface. If I had not found what I expected, my bargain
would have been a dear one; but having found what I expected, it is
just the opposite. In fact, sir, you have lost a fortune, and I have
found one."

"I know it--I know it," groaned the Squire. "But you needn't twit me
with it."

"So far the speculation was a perfectly legitimate one, as
speculations go nowadays. But that is not the sort of thing I wish
to exist between you and me. You have been very kind to me in many
ways, and I have much to thank you for. I could not bear to treat you
in this matter as I should treat a stranger. I could not bear to think
that I was making a fortune out of a piece of ground that but a few
short weeks ago was your property. The money so made would seem to me
to bring a curse with it, rather than a blessing. I should feel as if
nothing would ever prosper with me afterwards. Sir, I will not have
this coal mine. There are plenty of other channels open to me for
making money. Here are the title deeds of the property. I give
them back to you. You shall repay me the twelve hundred pounds
purchase-money, and reimburse me for the expenses I have been put to
in sinking the shaft. But as for the pit itself, I will have nothing
to do with it."

Tom had produced the title deeds from his pocket and had laid them on
the table while speaking. He now pushed them across to the Squire.
Then he took the deed of sale tore it across, and threw the fragments
into the grate.

It is doubtful whether Titus Culpepper had ever been more astonished
in the whole course of his life than he was at the present moment. For
a little while he seemed utterly at a loss for words, but when he did
speak, his words were not lacking in force.

"Bristow, you are a confounded fool!" he said with emphasis.

"I have been told that many times before."

"You are a confounded fool--but you are a gentleman."

Tom merely bowed.

"You propose to give me back the title deeds of Knockley Holt, after
having found what may literally be termed a gold mine there--eh?"

"I don't propose to do it, sir. I have done it already. There are the
title deeds," pointing to the table. "There is the deed of sale,"
pointing to the fire-grate.

"And do you think, sir," said the Squire, with dignity, "that Titus
Culpepper is the man to accept such a romantic piece of generosity
from one who is little more than a boy! Not so.--It would be
impossible for me to forgive myself, were I to do anything of the kind
The property is fairly and legally yours, and yours it must remain."

"It shall not, sir! By heaven! I will not have it. There are the title
deeds. Do with them as you will." He buttoned his coat, and took up
his hat, and turned to leave the room.

"Stop, Bristow, stop!" said the Squire, as he rose from his chair. Tom
halted with the handle of the door in his hand, but he did not go back
to the table.

Mr. Culpepper walked to the window and stood there looking out for
full three minutes without uttering a word. Then he turned and
beckoned Tom to go to him.

"Bristow," he said, laying his hand affectionately on Tom's shoulder,
"as I said before, you are a gentleman--a gentleman in mind and
feeling. More than that a man cannot be, whether his family be old or
new. You propose to do a certain thing which I can only accede to on
one condition."

"Name it, sir," said Tom briefly.

"I cannot take Knockley Holt from you without giving you something
like an equivalent in return. Now, I only possess one thing that you
would care to receive at my hands--and that is the most precious thing
I have on earth. Exchange is no robbery. I will agree to take back
Knockley Holt from you, if you will take in exchange for it--my
daughter Jane."

"Oh! Mr. Culpepper."

"That you love her, I know already, and I dare say the sly hussy is
equally as fond of you. If such be the case, take her. I know no man
who so thoroughly deserves her, or who has so much right to her as you
have."



CHAPTER XI.
THE EIGHTH OF MAY.


The eighth of May had come round at last.

Of all days in the year this was the one that Kester St. George
intended least to spend at Park Newton, but, as circumstances fell
out, he could not well avoid doing so.

After the death and burial of Mother Mim--the expenses of the
last-named ceremony being defrayed out of Kester's pocket--it had been
his intention to leave Park Newton at once and for ever. But it so
fell out that in the document purloined by him from the pocket of
Skeggs when that individual lay dead on the moor, there was given the
name of a certain person, still living, who could depose, of his own
personal knowledge, to the truth of the facts as put down in the dying
woman's confession. This person was the only witness to the facts
there stated who was now alive. The name of the man in question was
William Bendall, and the point that Kester had now to clear up was:
Who was this William Bendall, and where was he to be found? There was
no address given in the Confession, nor any hint as to the man's
whereabouts; but Skeggs had doubtless known where he was to be found,
and had, in fact, told Kester that he could put his hand on the man at
a day's notice.

With such a sword as this hanging over his head, Kester felt that it
was impossible for him to leave Park Newton. When the man should learn
that Mother Mim was dead, which he probably would do in the course of
a few days, and when the restraining power which had doubtless kept
him silent should be removed for ever, what was to prevent him from
telling all that he knew, or, at least, from giving such broad hints
as to the information in his possession as might lead to inquiry--to
many inquiries, perchance: to far more than Kester would care to
encounter--unless he should ever be so unfortunate as to be driven to
bay?

But, as yet, he was not driven to bay, nor anything like it. It
behoved him, therefore, or so it seemed to him, to make certain
cautious inquiries as to the whereabouts of Mr. William Bendall, with
the view of ascertaining what kind of a man he was, or whether there
was any danger to be apprehended from him. And if so, how could the
danger best be met?

It was quite evident that it would be unadvisable for Kester to leave
Park Newton while these inquiries were afoot. He might be wanted at
any hour should Mr. Bendall, when found, prove intractable; so he
stayed on at the old place, very much against his will in other
respects. But, to a certain extent, his patience had already been
rewarded. Mr. Bendall's address had been discovered, and Mr. Bendall
himself had been found to be first cousin to Mother Mim, and a railway
ganger by profession. But just at this time he was away from home--his
home being at Swarkstone, a great centre of railway industry, about
twenty miles from Duxley--he having been sent out to Russia in charge
of a cargo of railway plant. He was now expected back in the course of
a few days, and Kester determined not to leave the neighbourhood till
he had found out for himself what manner of man he was.

We may here finally dispose of Skeggs. His body was not found till two
days after Kester's visit to it. There, too, was found his broken leg,
so that the nature of the accident he had met with was clearly seen,
and it was at once understood how he had come by his death. No one
except the girl Nell had seen Kester St. George in his company, so, as
it fell out, that gentleman's name was never even whispered in
connexion with the affair.

The future of Nell had been a point that Mr. St. George had anxiously
discussed in his own mind, after Mother Mim's death. What to do with
such a strange girl he knew not, nor how best to secure her silence.
Did she really know anything, as she asserted that she did, or did she
not? If anything, how much did she know, and to what use did she
intend to put her knowledge? Kester had no opportunity of talking to
her in private before the funeral, so he made an appointment with her
for the morning following that event. She was to meet him at a certain
milestone on the Duxley Road at eleven o'clock. Kester was there to
the minute. But Miss Nell was not there, nor did she come at all.
Kester went back home in a fume, and after luncheon he rode over to
Mother Mim's cottage without once slackening rein. There he found the
old woman who had been looking after matters previously to the
funeral: From her he ascertained that Nell had disappeared about two
hours after her return from seeing the last of her grandmother, taking
with her her new black frock and a few other things tied up in a
bundle, and had given no hint as to where she was going, or whether it
was her intention ever to come back.

The girl's disappearance had been a source of considerable disquietude
to Kester for several days, but as time passed on without bringing any
sign of her, or any information as to where she was, his uneasiness
gradually wore itself away, till he came at last to persuade himself
that from that quarter at least there was no possible danger to be
apprehended.

But had it not been for another and a much more potent reason, Kester
St. George would certainly not have spent the eighth of May at Park
Newton, not even though he could not have left it till the seventh,
and had been compelled to come back to it on the ninth. He would have
gone somewhere--anywhere if only for a dozen hours--if only from
sunset till sunrise, had it in anyway been possible for him to do so.
But it so happened that it was not possible for him to do so. On the
fifth he received a letter from his uncle, which astonished him very
much. General St. George was still staying at Salisbury with his sick
friend, Major Beauchamp. He wrote as under:


"All being well, I shall be back at Park Newton on the eighth instant,
but for a few hours only. I don't know whether your cousin Richard has
told you that he is tired of England, and has decided upon going out
to New Zealand, and that he has persuaded me to go with him."


"The old fool! To think of going to New Zealand at his time of life!"
muttered Kester. "Of course, it's Master Richard's dodge to take him
with him, so as to make sure of his money when he dies. Well, if I can
only get rid of the young one, the old one may go with him, and
welcome." Then he went on with his uncle's letter.


"I shall reach Park Newton on the eighth, about four P.M., when I hope
to spend the evening with you. It will be my last evening at the old
place, and there are several things I wish to talk to you about.
We--that is, Richard and I, leave by the eight o'clock train next
morning direct for Gravesend, where the ship will be waiting for us.
By this day next week, I shall have bidden a final farewell to dear
Old England."


"So deucedly sudden. I hardly know what to make of it," said Kester,
as he folded up the letter. "I would give much if it was any other day
than the eighth. I never thought to spend that day here. But there's
no help for it. Well, it will be better to spend it in company than to
spend it here alone. Nothing could have persuaded me to do that."

"Yes, if the old boy goes to the other side of the world, there's no
chance of any of his money coming to me," he said to himself later on.
"That scowling cousin of mine will come in for the lot. Poor devil! I
don't suppose he's got enough of his own to pay his passage out. I
wouldn't mind giving a thousand pounds myself to be rid of him for
ever."

The eighth dawned at last, cold and dull as English May days so often
are. Breakfast was hardly over before Kester ordered his horse, and
away he started without telling any one where he was going. He was out
all day, and did not get back till five o'clock, an hour after the
arrival of his uncle, with whom had come Mr. Perrins, the family
lawyer. Him Kester knew of old, but had not seen for a long time. He
was rather surprised to see him, but it struck Kester that his uncle
had probably some private arrangements to make before leaving England,
in which the aid of Mr. Perrins might be required.

"This is very sudden, uncle, about your leaving England," said Kester.

"Yes, it is very sudden," replied the General. "It is not more than
three weeks since Dick told me that he intended to go out. The reasons
he gave me for coming to that conclusion were such that I could not
blame him. I have no son of my own, and, somehow, since poor Lionel
left us, I seem to cling to that boy; and so it fell out, that I
presently made up my mind to go with him. I cannot bear the idea of
living alone. I have only you and him--and you; Kester, are too much
of a Bohemian, too much a citizen of the world--a wandering Arab who
strikes his tent a dozen times a year--for me ever to think of staying
with you. Dick is far more of an old fogey than you are, and he and
I--I don't doubt--will get on very well together."

"All the same, uncle, I shall be deucedly sorry to lose you."

Kester was destined to be still more surprised when he came down to
dinner, for there he found Mr. Hoskyns and the Reverend Mr. Wharton,
the octogenarian Vicar of Duxley. Mr. Hoskyns he had seen incidentally
during the course of the trial, but not since. The vicar he had known
from boyhood.

It was by Lionel's express desire that the two lawyers and the vicar
had been invited to-day to Park Newton. What he was going to tell
Kester to-night should be told to them also. They were all, in a
certain sense, friends of the family; they were all men of honour;
with them his secret would be safe. In simple justice to himself, he
felt that it was not enough that his uncle and Bristow should be the
sole depositories of that secret. There ought to be at least two or
three family friends to whose custody it might be implicitly trusted,
and whose good wishes and friendship would be sweet to him even in
exile.

None of the three gentlemen had any suspicion as to the one particular
reason why they had been invited to Park Newton: not one of them had
any suspicion that Richard Dering was none other than the Lionel whom
they all so sincerely mourned. They had simply been invited to a
little dinner party given by General St. George on the eve of his
departure from England for ever.

The last to arrive at Park Newton--and he did not arrive till two
minutes before dinner was served--was Mr. Tom Bristow. He had driven
Miss Culpepper from Pincote to Fern Cottage, and had stayed talking
with Edith till the last minute.

Tom was an entire stranger to Kester St. George. The General
introduced them to each other. Tom had seen Kester several times,
knowing well who he was, but the latter had no recollection of having
ever seen Tom.

Neither the General, nor Tom, nor even Edith herself, had any idea as
to the particular mode which Lionel would adopt for telling his cousin
that which he had made up his mind to tell him. On that point he had
kept his own counsel, having spoken no word to any one. It was a
subject on which even his wife felt that she could not question him.
During the past week he had been even more silent and distrait than
usual. His thoughts were evidently occupied with one subject, to the
exclusion of all others. He seemed hardly to notice, or be aware of,
what was going on around him. For Edith the time was a very anxious
one. All the preparations for the approaching voyage devolved upon
her: that she did not mind in the least; what she prayed and longed
for was that the fatal eighth might come and go in peace: might come
and go without any encounter between her husband and his cousin.
Lionel and Tom were to ride across from Park Newton to Fern Cottage at
the close of the evening--Tom, in order that he might escort Jane back
to Pincote: Lionel, because he should then have bidden the old house a
last farewell, because he should then have done with the past for
ever, and because he should then be ready to start with his wife for
their new home on the other side of the world.

"And will nothing that any of us can say or do, persuade you to
reconsider your determination?" said Jane to Edith, as they sat, hand
in hand, after Tom had gone forward to Park Newton. Mrs. Garside had
gone into Duxley to make some final purchases, and they had the little
parlour all to themselves.

"I'm afraid not," answered Edith with a melancholy smile

"It seems so hard to lose you, just when everything is made straight
and clear--just as your husband is able to prove his innocence to the
world! Yes, and were I in his place I would prove it. I would cry it
aloud on the housetops, and let that other one pay the penalty which
he deserves to pay. I would never banish myself from my native country
for his sake; he is not worthy of such a sacrifice."

"You must not talk like that," said Edith, with a little extra squeeze
of Jane's hand; "but it is easy to see who has been inoculating you
with his wild doctrines."

"They are my own original sentiments, and not second-hand ones," said
Jane emphatically. "There's nothing wild about them; they are plain
common sense."

"There could be no happiness for either Lionel or me were we to follow
the course suggested by you. Depend upon it, Jane, that what we are
about to do is best for all concerned."

"I will never believe that it is good for me to lose my friends in
this way. Do you know, I feel almost tempted to go with you."

"I wish, with all my heart, that you were going with us; but I'm
afraid Mr. Culpepper is too deeply rooted in English soil to bear
transplanting to a foreign clime."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Jane, with a little sigh. "Only I should so
like to travel: I should so like a six months' voyage to somewhere."

"The voyage is just what I dread, only it would not do to tell Lionel
so."

"You might have fixed on some place a little nearer than New Zealand,
some place within four or five days' journey, where one could run over
for a little holiday now and then and see you. It is very ridiculous
of you to go so far away."

"When you say that, dear, you forget certain peculiarities of the
case. If Lionel were to settle down at any place where there would be
the least possibility of his being recognized, it would necessitate a
perpetual disguise. This, in a little while, would become intolerable.
He must go to a place where there will be no need for him to stain his
face, or dye his hair, and where he can go about freely, and without
fear of detection."

"I can quite understand what an immense relief it must be to
you to get away from this neighbourhood, with all its painful
associations--to hide yourself in some remote valley where no shadow
of the past can darken your door; but it seems to me that you need
not go quite so far away in order to do that."

"It will be all for the best, dear, depend upon it."

"No; I cannot see it. If you had only gone to America, now! No one
would recognize Mr. Dering there, and it would not be too far away for
me to pay you a visit once every now and again. In fact, I should make
it a condition of marrying Tom, that he gave me a promise to that
effect. But, New Zealand!"

As the evening wore itself on, so did Edith's uneasiness increase, but
she did her best to hide it from Jane and Mrs. Garside. Lionel had
told her that she must not expect him much before midnight, and up to
the time of the clock striking eleven she contrived to take her share
in the conversation with tolerable composure, but after that time she
was unable to altogether control herself. What terrible scenes might
not even then be enacting at Park Newton! To what danger might not her
husband be exposed, while, only a mile away, they three were idly
chatting about twenty indifferent topics! How intolerable it was to be
a woman, to be condemned to inaction, to have no share in the dangers
of those one loved, to be able to do nothing but wait--wait--wait! If
she went to the window once, she went twenty times, to listen for the
sound of coming hoofs. The roads were hard and dry, and it would be
possible to hear the horsemen while they were still some distance
away. To and fro she paced the little room like an imprisoned
leopardess. White-faced, eager-eyed, her long slender fingers clasping
and unclasping themselves unceasingly, she looked like some priestess
of old, who sees in her mind's eye a vision of doom--a vision of
things to come, pregnant with woe unutterable. The two women watched
her in silence: her mood infected them: it could not be otherwise; but
there was nothing for them to do; they could only wait and listen.

"I can bear this no longer," said Edith, at last; "the room suffocates
me. I must get out into the fresh air. I must go and meet Lionel." She
snatched up a shawl of Mrs. Garside's, that lay on the sofa, and flung
it over her head and shoulders.

"Let me go with you," cried Jane, "I am almost as anxious as you are."

"Hush! hush!" cried Edith, suddenly, "I hear them coming!"

Hardly breathing, they all listened.

"I can hear nothing but the low moaning of the wind," cried Mrs.
Garside, after a few moments.

"Nor I," said Jane.

"I tell you they are coming," said Edith. "There are two of them.
Listen! Surely you can hear them now!" She flung open the window as
she spoke; then could be plainly heard the sound of hoofs on the hard
highroad. A minute or two later the horsemen drew rein at the cottage
door. Martha Vince, candle in hand, lighted them up the stairs, at the
top of which the ladies stood waiting to receive them.

Very stern and very pale looked the face of Lionel Dering as, followed
by Tom Bristow, he walked slowly upstairs as a man in a dream. He was
no longer disguised: face, hands, and hair were their natural colour.
To see him thus sent a thrill to every heart there. To each, and all
of them, he seemed like a man newly risen from the grave.

Hardly had he reached the top of the stairs before Edith's white arms
were round his neck.

"My darling: what is it?" she said. "What dreadful thing has
happened?" He stooped his head still lower, and whispered something
in her ear. She stared up into his face for a moment, then his arms
tightened suddenly round her, and they all saw that she had fainted.


At Park Newton the evening wore itself slowly and gloomily away. Tom
and Mr. Hoskyns, assisted occasionally by Mr. Perrins and the vicar,
did their best to keep the conversation from flagging, but at times
with only indifferent success. None of them could forget what day it
was--could forget what took place that night twelve months ago, only a
few yards from where they were sitting; and so remembering, who could
wonder that the dinner seemed tasteless and the wines without flavour,
that the lights seemed to burn low, and that to the imagination of
more than one there a shrouded figure was with them in the room,
invisible to mortal eyes, but none the less surely there, drinking
when they drank, pledging a health when they pledged one, and knowing
well all the time which one of the company would be the first to join
it in that Land of Shadows to which it now belonged.

Kester was altogether gloomy and preoccupied, and Lionel hardly spoke
at all except when spoken to. General St. George was obliged to keep
up some show of conversation out of compliment to his guests; but no
one but himself knew how irksome it was to do so. What did Lionel
intend to do? Would there be a scene--a fracas--between the two
cousins? What would be the end of the wretched business? How fervently
he wished that the morrow was safely come, that he had seen that
unhappy man's face for the last time, and that he, and Lionel, and
Edith were fairly started on their long journey to the other side of
the world!

The vicar and the two men of law had naturally expected that the party
would break up by ten o'clock at the latest. Not that it mattered
greatly to either Perrins or Hoskyns, who were to stay at Park Newton
all night. But the vicar was an old man, and anxious to get home in
decent time, so that when he began to fidget and look at his watch,
Lionel, who was only waiting for him to make a move, knew that it
would be impossible to detain him much longer.

"I must really ask you to excuse me, General," said the old man at
last. "But I see that it is past ten o'clock, and quite time for gay
young sparks like me to be thinking of their night-caps."

"I hope you are not particular to a few minutes, vicar," said Lionel.
"I have ordered coffee to be served in my room, and, with my uncle's
permission, we will all adjourn there."

"You must not keep me long," said the vicar.

"I will not," said Lionel. "But I know that you like to finish up your
evening with a little café noir; and I have, besides, a picture which
I want to show you, and which I think will interest you very much--a
picture--which I want to show not only to you, Dr. Wharton, but to all
the other gentlemen who are here to-night."

They all rose and made a move towards the door.

"As I don't care for café noir, and don't understand pictures, you
will perhaps excuse me," said Kester, ignoring Lionel, and addressing
himself to his uncle.

"You had better go with us," said Lionel, turning to his cousin. "You
are surely not going to be the first to break up the party."

"I don't want to break up the party. I will wait here till you come
back," answered Kester, doggedly.

"You had better go with us," said Lionel, meaningly, but speaking so
that the others could not hear him.

"Pray who made you dictator here?" said Kester haughtily. "I don't
choose to go with you. That is enough."

"You had better go with us," said Lionel for the third time. "If you
still decline, I can only assume that you are afraid to go."

"Afraid!" sneered Kester. "Of whom and what should I be afraid?"

"That is best known to yourself."

"Anyhow, I'm neither afraid of you nor of anything that you can do."

"If you decline going to my rooms, I can only conclude that you are
kept away by some abject fear."

"Lead on.--I'll follow.--But mark my words, you and I will have this
little matter out in the morning--alone."

"Willingly."

The rooms occupied by Lionel were in the opposite wing of the house to
those occupied by Kester. They were, in fact, in the same wing as, and
no great distance from, the room where Percy Osmond had been murdered:
a good and sufficient reason why Kester should get as far away as
possible.

Lionel's sitting-room was a good-sized apartment, but it was divided
into two by large folding doors, now closed. A moderator lamp stood on
the table, together with coffee, cognac, and cigars.

"Gentlemen, I must ask you to excuse me for a few minutes," said
Lionel. "My picture requires a little preparation before I can show it
to you." So speaking he left the room. There was no servant. Each of
the gentlemen, Kester excepted, helped himself to a cup of coffee.

Kester seated himself apart on a chair near the door. His eyes were
bent on the floor. He played absently with his watch-guard. Just now,
as he was coming slowly upstairs, a shadowy hand had been laid on his
shoulder, a ghostly voice had whispered in his ear. It was only that
one little word that he had heard whispered oft-times before. "Come!"
was all the voice said, but it was followed, this time, by a little
malicious laugh, such as Kester had never heard before. Round his
heart there was a cold, numb feeling, that was altogether strange to
him; a dull singing in his ears like the faint echo of a tide beating
on some far-away shore. No one spoke to him. No one seemed to know
that he was there. He felt at that moment, with an unspeakable
bitterness, how utterly alone he was in the world. There was no human
being anywhere who, if he were to die that moment, would really regret
him--not one single creature who would drop a solitary tear over his
grave.--But such thoughts were miserable; they must be driven away
somehow. He rose and went to the table, poured himself out half a
tumbler of brandy, and drank it off without water. "It puts fresh life
into me as it goes down," he muttered to himself.

He was in the act of replacing the glass on the table when a sudden
noise caused all eyes to turn in one direction. The folding doors were
being unbolted from the inner side. Then they were opened till they
stood about half a yard apart, but as yet all within was in darkness.
Then from out this darkness issued the voice of Lionel--or, as most
there took it to be, the voice of Richard--but Lionel himself was
unseen.

"Gentlemen," said the voice, "you all know what day this is. It is the
eighth of May. Twelve months ago to-night Percy Osmond was murdered.
About that crime I have often thought and often dreamed. I dreamed
about it only a little while ago, and in my dream I seemed to see how
the murder really was done. What I then saw in my sleep, I have
painted. What I have painted I am now going to show to you."

The folding doors were closed for a minute, and then flung wide open.
The farther room was now a blaze of light. Facing this light, so that
every minute detail could be plainly seen, was a large unframed
canvas, on which in colours the most vivid, was painted Lionel
Dering's Dream.

The scene was Percy Osmond's bedroom, and the moment selected by the
artist was the one when, after the brief struggle between Osmond and
Kester, the latter has obtained possession of the dagger, and while
pinning Osmond down with one knee and one arm, has, with his other
hand, forced the dagger deep into his opponent's heart. Peeping from
behind the curtains could be seen the white, terror-stricken, face of
Pierre Janvard. The figures were all life-size, and the likenesses
takable.

Awe-struck they crowded round the folding doors, and gazed silently at
the picture, forgetting for the moment that the man thus strangely
accused was one of themselves.

"Now you see how the murder really happened--now you know who the
murderer really was," said Lionel, speaking from some place in the
farther room where he could not be seen. "This is no dream but a most
dread reality that you see pictured before you. I have proofs--ample
proofs--of the truth of that which I now state. The murderer of Percy
Osmond stands among you. Kester St. George is that man!"

At these words, every eye was turned instinctively on Kester. He was
still standing at the table where he had put down his glass. His right
hand was hidden in his waistcoat. With his left hand he supported
himself against the table. A strange lividity had overspread his face;
his lips twitched nervously. His frightened eyes wandered from one
face to another of those who were now gazing on him. He tried to
speak, but could not. Then his eyes fixed themselves on the brandy.
Tom interpreted the look and poured some into a glass. He drank it
greedily and then he spoke.

"What you have just been told," he said, "is nothing but a cruel,
cowardly; devilish lie! Where is this man who accuses me? Why does he
hide himself? He hides himself because he is a liar--because he dare
not face either you or me. We all know who was the murderer--we all
know that Lionel Dering----"

"Lionel Dering is here to answer for himself. It is he who tells you
to your face that you are the murderer of Percy Osmond!"

Yes, there, framed by the archway, full in the blaze of light, stood
Lionel, no longer disguised--the dye washed off his face, his hands,
his hair--the Lionel that they all remembered so well come back from
the dead--his own dear self, and none but he, as they could all see at
a glance, and yet looking strangely different without his long fair
beard.

For a full minute Kester St. George stood as rigid as a statue,
glaring across the room at the man whom he had so bitterly wronged.

One word his lips tried to form, but only half succeeded in doing so.
That one word was _Forgive_. Then a strange spasm passed across his
face; he pressed his hand to his left side, and turning suddenly half
round, fell back into the arms of the man nearest to him.

"He has fainted," said the General.

"He is dead," said Tom.

"Heaven knows, I had no thought of knowledge of this," said Lionel.
"None whatever!"



CHAPTER XII.
GATHERED THREADS.


The terribly sudden death of Kester St. George, left Lionel Dering
with two courses to choose between. On the one hand he could carry out
his original intention of going abroad, under an assumed name, leaving
the world still to believe that he was dead. On the other hand, he
could give himself up to justice, under his real name, and, his first
trial never having been finished--take his stand at the bar again
under the original charge, and with the proofs he had gathered in his
possession, let his innocence of the crime imputed to him work itself
out through a legitimate channel to a verdict of Not Guilty. This
latter course was the only one open to him if he wished to clear
himself in the eyes of the world from the stain of blood, or even if
he wished to assume his own name and his position as the owner of Park
Newton. But did he really wish this thing? That idea of going abroad,
of burying himself and his wife in some far-away nook of the New
World, had taken such hold on his imagination, that even now it had by
no means lost its sweetness in his thoughts. Then, again, Kester
having died without a will, if he--Lionel were to leave himself
undeclared, the estate would go to General St. George, as next of kin,
and after the old soldier's time it would go, in the natural course of
events, to his brother Richard. Why, then, declare himself? why give
himself into custody and undergo the pain and annoyance of another
term of imprisonment, and another trial--and they would be both
painful and annoying, even though his innocence were proved at the end
of them? Why not rather bind over to silence those few trusted friends
to whom his secret was already known, and going abroad with Edith,
spend the remainder of his days in happy obscurity. Why re-open that
bloodstained page of family history, over which the world had of a
surety gloated sufficiently already?

But in this latter view he was opposed by everybody except his wife;
by his uncle, by Tom, by the vicar, and by nobody more strongly than
by Messrs. Perrins and Hoskyns. The cry from all was--take your trial;
let your innocence be proved, as proved it must be, and assume the
name and position that are rightfully yours. Edith, with her head
resting on his shoulder, only said: "Do that which seems best to you
in your own heart, dearest, and that alone. Whether you go or stay, my
place is by your side--my love unalterable. Only to be with you--never
to lose you again--is all I ask. Give me that: I crave for nothing
more."

Strange to say, the person who brought matters to a climax, and
finally decided Lionel as to his future course of action, was the girl
Nell, Mother Mim's plain-spoken grand-daughter. Through some channel
or other she had heard of the death of Mr. St. George, and one day she
marched up the steps at Park Newton, and rang the big bell, and asked,
as bold as brass, to see the General. The General was one of the most
accessible of men, and when told that the girl wanted to see him
privately, he marched off at once to the library, and ordered her to
be admitted.

It was a strange story the girl had to tell--so strange that the
General at first put her down as a common impostor. Fortunately Mr.
Perrins happened to be still at Park Newton, and he at once called the
shrewd old lawyer to his assistance.

But Miss Nell was now taken with a stubborn fit, and refused either to
say any more or to answer any more questions, till five pounds had
been given her as an earnest of more to follow, in case her
information should prove to be correct. The five pounds having been
put into her hands, she told all that she knew freely enough, and
answered every question that was put to her. Then she was dismissed
for the time being, having first left an address where she might be
found when wanted.

Nell had told them how the body of Dirty Jack had been found dead on
the moor, and the first point to ascertain was, what had become of the
confession which was known to have been in his possession when he left
Mother Mim's cottage? Had it been found on his person? If so, where
was it now? It was rather singular that Mr. St. George should be the
last person known to have been seen in the company of Skeggs. The
second question was, where was Mr. Bendall to be found? Mr. Perrins
set to work without delay to solve this latter problem, by engaging
one of Mr. Hoskyns's confidential clerks to make the requisite
inquiries for him. To the first question, the whereabouts of the
confession, he determined to give his own personal attention. But
before he had an opportunity of doing this, he found among the papers
of Kester the very document itself--the original confession, duly
witnessed by Skeggs and the girl Nell. A day or two later Mr. Bendall
was also found, and--for a consideration--had no objection to tell all
he knew of the affair. His evidence, and that given in the confession,
tallied exactly. There could no longer be any moral doubt as to the
fact of Kester St. George having been a son of Mother Mim.

This revelation was not without its effect on the question Lionel was
still debating in his own mind. It armed his uncle and Tom with one
weapon more in favour of the course they were desirous that he should
pursue. If Kester St. George were not Lionel's cousin, if he were not
related to the family in any way, there was less reason than ever why
Lionel should not declare himself, why he should not give himself up,
and let his own innocence be proved once and for ever, by proving the
guilt of this other man.

Even Edith at last added her persuasions to those of his uncle and the
others, and when this became the case Lionel could hold out no longer.
Exactly a week after the death of Kester St. George (as we may as well
continue to call him) Lionel Dering walked into the police-station at
Duxley, and gave himself up into the hands of the sergeant on duty.

Mr. Drayton was astounded, as well he might be. "How can you be Mr.
Dering?" he said. Lionel being now close-shaved, did not tally with
the superintendent's recollection of him. "I saw that gentleman lying
dead in his coffin in the church of San Michele, in Italy, and I could
have sworn to him anywhere."

"What you saw, Mr. Drayton, was a cleverly-executed waxen effigy, and
not the man himself. Me you did see and talk to, but without
recognizing me. At all events here I am, alive and well, and if you
will kindly lock me up, I shall esteem it a favour."

"I was never so sold in the whole course of my life," said Drayton.
"But there's one comfort--Sergeant Whiffins was just as much sold as I
was."

At the ensuing summer assizes Lionel Dering was again put on his trial
for the murder of Percy Osmond. Janvard, whose safety had been
carefully looked after by a private detective in the guise of a guest
at his hotel, was admitted as evidence for the Crown, and without
leaving their box a verdict of Not Guilty was found by the jury. Never
had such a scene been known in Duxley as was enacted that summer
afternoon, when Lionel Dering walked down the steps of the Court-house
a free man. A landau was in waiting, into which he was lifted by main
force. No horses were needed, or would have been allowed. Relays of
the crowd dragged the carriage all the way to Park Newton, in company
with two brass bands, and all the flags that the town could muster.
Lionel's arm had never ached so much as it did that evening, after he
had shaken hands with a great multitude of his friends--and every man
and boy prided himself upon being Mr. Dering's friend that day. As for
the ladies, they had their own way of showing their sympathy with him.
Half the children in the parish that came to light during the next
twelve months were christened either Edith or Lionel.

The post-mortem examination showed that heart disease of long standing
was the proximate cause of Kester St. George's death. He was buried
not in the family vault where the St. Georges for two centuries lay in
silent state, but in the town cemetery. The grave was marked by a
plain slab, on which was engraved simply the initials of the name he
had always been known by, and the date of his death.

"I warned him of it long ago," said Dr. Bolus to two or three fellows
at Kester's old club, as he stood with his back to the fire and his
coat tails thrown over his arms. "But whose warnings are sooner
forgotten than a doctor's? By living away from London, and leading a
perfectly quiet and temperate life, he might have been kept going for
years. But, above all things, he should have avoided excitement of
every kind."

Lionel and Edith put off for a little while their long-talked-of tour
in order that they might be present at the wedding of Tom and Jane.
The ceremony took place in August. Tom and his bride went to Scotland
for their honeymoon. Lionel and his wife started for Switzerland, en
route for Italy, where they were to spend the ensuing winter.

Of late the Squire had recovered his health wonderfully. He seemed to
have grown ten years younger in a few weeks. In the working of that
wonderful coal-shaft, and in the prospect of his making a far larger
fortune for his daughter than the one he so foolishly lost, he found a
perpetual source of healthy excitement, which, by keeping both his
mind and body actively and legitimately employed, had an undoubted
tendency to lengthen his life. Besides this, Tom had asked him to
superintend the construction of his new house. It was just the sort of
job that the Squire delighted in--to look sharply after a lot of
working men, and while pretending that they were all in a league to
cheat him, blowing them up heartily all round one half-hour, and
treating them to unlimited beer the next.

"I should like to see you in the Town Council, Bristow," said the
Squire one day to his son-in-law.

"Thank you, sir, all the same," said Tom, "but it's hardly good
enough. There will be a general election before we are much older,
when I mean, either by hook or by crook, to get into the House."

"Bristow, you have the cheek of the Deuce himself," was all that the
astonished Squire could say.

It may just be remarked that Tom's ambition has since been gratified.
He is now, and has been for some time, member for W----. He is clever,
ambitious, and a tolerable orator, as oratory is reckoned nowadays.
What may not such a man aspire to?

Mr. Hoskyns is a frequent guest both of Tom and Lionel. Chatting with
the former one day over the "walnuts and the wine," said the old man:
"I have often puzzled my brain over that affair of Baldry's--that
positive assertion of his that he saw and spoke to me one night in the
Thornfield Road when I was most certainly not there. Have you ever
thought about it since?"

"Once or twice, I dare say, but I could have enlightened you at the
time had I chosen to do so. It was I whom Baldry met. I had made
myself up to resemble you, and previously to my visit to the prison in
your character, I thought I would try the effect of my disguise upon
somebody who had known you well for years. As it so happened, Baldry
was the first of your acquaintances whom I encountered on my nocturnal
ramble. The rest you know."

"You young vagabond! And yet you have the audacity to call yourself a
respectable member of society. Perhaps you can explain the mystery of
the ghostly footsteps at Park Newton when poor Pearce, the butler, was
frightened out of the small quantity of wit that he could lay claim
to?"

"That, too, I can explain. The ghostly footsteps, as it happened, were
very corporeal footsteps, being those of none other than your humble
servant."

"But how did you get into the room? It had been nailed up months
before."

"The nailing up was more apparent than real. The nails were sham
nails. The door could be unlocked at any time, and the room entered in
the ordinary way."

"But how about the cough--Mr. Osmond's peculiar cough?"

"That was an imitation by me from lessons given me by Mr. Dering. It
answered the purpose admirably for which it was intended."

"To hear such sounds at midnight in a room where a man had been
murdered was enough to shake the strongest nerves. I wonder you were
not frightened yourself to be in the room."

"That would have been ridiculous. There was nothing to be afraid of."

"In any extraordinary circumstances I shall never believe the evidence
of my own senses again."

Mr. Cope was not long in perceiving that he had committed a grave
error of judgment in refusing Mr. Culpepper the assistance he had
asked for. There would be a splendid fortune for Jane after all. It
was enough to make a man tear his hair with vexation--only Mr. Cope
hadn't much hair to tear--to think what a golden chance he had let
slip through his fingers. Edward was recalled at once on the slight
chance that if a meeting could anyhow be brought about between him and
Jane, the old flame might spring up with renewed ardour in the young
lady's bosom, in which case she might insist upon her engagement with
Edward being carried out. But Edward bore his disappointment very
philosophically, and had not been three hours in Duxley before he
found himself eating pastry, and being ministered to by Miss Moggs,
who was still unmarried, and still as plump and smiling as ever.

Three weeks later the good people of Duxley were treated to a
delightful sensation. Mr. Cope, Junior, had run away with the daughter
of Mr. Moggs, the confectioner, and Mr. Cope, Senior, had threatened
to cut his son off with the well-known metaphorical shilling.

The latest news of young Mr. Cope is, that he is living in furnished
apartments in a cheap suburb of London. The late Miss Moggs, her
plumpness notwithstanding, has developed into a Tartar. They have six
children. Mr. Cope's income is exactly two hundred a-year, left him by
his mother. His father will not give him a penny, and he is either too
lazy, or too incompetent, to attempt to add to his means by a little
honest work. He is very stout and very short of breath. When he has
any money he spends his time in a neighbouring billiard-room, smoking
a short pipe and drinking half-and-half, and watching other men play.
When he has no money he stops at home and rocks the cradle, and
listens to his wife's reproaches. Mrs. Cope vows that she will buy a
mangle and make her husband turn it, and try whether she cannot shame
him into work that way. And all this is the result of eating pastry
and being waited upon by a pretty girl.

After the trial was over, Nell, by means of some speciously-concocted
tale, contrived to cozen General St. George out of twenty pounds. With
this she disappeared, and was never either seen or heard of in Duxley
or its neighbourhood again.

During the time that Lionel and his wife were abroad the General went
with his friend, Major Beauchamp, to Madeira, and wintered there.

It had been Lionel's intention to stay abroad for about three years.
But as it fell out, he and Edith were back at Park Newton by the end
of twelve months, being brought thither by the expectation of an
all-important event. Lionel has not since then left home for more than
a month at a time. So full of painful memories was Park Newton to him,
that it was only by Edith's persuasion that he was induced to settle
there at all. But years have come and gone since then, and nothing
would now induce him to live anywhere else. Whatever gloomy
associations might otherwise have clung to the old house have been
exorcised long ago by the merry laughter of children. It was difficult
at first for the Echoes of that murder-haunted roof to bring
themselves to mimic the soft syllables of childhood, but when one
little stranger after another came to teach them, then their voices,
rusty and creaky at first through long disuse, gradually won back to
themselves a long-forgotten sweetness; and now the Echoes follow the
children wherever they go, and all the grim old pile is musical with
the laughter and songs and free joyous shouts of childhood. Many a
time they have a bout together--the children and the Echoes--trying
which of them can make the more noise; and then the children call to
the Echoes and bid them come out of their hiding-places and show
themselves in the dusky twilight; but the Echoes only laugh back their
answer, and are ever too timid to let themselves be seen.

Who, of all people in the world, should be the children's primest
favourite and slave but General St. George? His heart is in the
nursery, and there he spends hours every day. He "keeps shop" with
them, he plays at soldiers with them, he is their horse, their roaring
lion, their wild man of the woods. It is certainly amusing to see the
old warrior, whose very name was once a word of terror among the
lawless hill-tribes of the far East see him led about by one boy by
means of a piece of string tied round his arm, and while another
youthful scapegrace deafens you with the noise of a drum, to watch him
imitate, with dangling paws, the uncouth gracefulness of a dancing
bear. There can be no doubt on one point--that the old soldier enjoys
himself quite as much as the children do.

After his year's imprisonment was at an end--to which mitigated
punishment Janvard was condemned, in consideration of his having acted
as witness for the Crown--he and his sister went over to Switzerland,
and opened an hotel there at one of the chief centres of tourist
travel. There, not long ago, he was encountered by Lionel. Smirking,
bowing, and rubbing his hands, Janvard went up to him, with a request
that Monsieur Dering would do him the honour of stopping at his hotel.
But Lionel would have nothing to do with him, and when Janvard could
be made to comprehend this, his face became a study of mortification
and surprise. His feelings, such as they were, were evidently hurt. He
never could be made to understand why Monsieur Dering had refused so
positively to take up his quarters at the Lion d'Or.

In a world that is full of permutation and change, there are happily a
few things that change not. One of these is the friendship between
Lionel and Tom, which neither time nor absence, nor the growth of
other interests has power to alter in the least. When they both happen
to be in Midlandshire at the same time, a week never passes without
their seeing more or less of each other, and between their wives there
is almost as firm a friendship as there is between themselves. Four
people more united, more happy in each other's society, it would be
impossible to find.

It was only last summer, during the long spell of hot weather, that
Edith and Jane, with their youngsters, went over to Gatehouse Farm
together, for the sake of the fresh sea breezes that seem to blow
perpetually round the old house. They were sitting one day on the
broad yellow sands, idling through the glowing afternoon, with their
embroidery and a novel, when one of Jane's little girls happened to
fall and hurt her finger. She began to cry, and Edith's little boy was
by her side in a moment.

"Don't cry," he said, as he stooped and kissed her. "I will marry you
when I grow to be a big man."

The little girl's tears at once ceased to flow. The two ladies looked
up. Their eyes met, and they both smiled.

"Such a thing is by no means improbable," said Edith.

"I shall not be a bit surprised if it really comes to pass," replied
Jane.



THE END.



-----------------------------------
BILLING, PRINTER, GUILDFORD, SURREY





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