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Title: Burgo's Romance
Author: Speight, T. W. (Thomas Wilkinson)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:
     1. Page scan source:
        https://books.google.com/books?id=prZLAQAAMAAJ
        (The University of Chicago Library)



BURGO'S ROMANCE



BY
T. W. SPEIGHT
AUTHOR OF "BACK TO LIFE," "HOODWINKED," ETC.



_AUTHORIZED EDITION_
--------------------



PHILADELPHIA
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
1894



AUTHORIZED EDITION



CONTENTS

CHAPTER
         I. YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN.
        II. CAPTAIN CUSDEN'S REPORT.
       III. CUT ADRIFT.
        IV. "OLD GARDEN."
         V. A HUMBLE FRIEND.
        VI. A LAST INTERVIEW.
       VII. BURGO IN A NEW CHARACTER.
      VIII. UNCLE AND NEPHEW.
        IX. BURGO'S VIGIL.
         X. A SLEEP AND AN AWAKING.
        XI. A CLUE.
       XII. FOUND.
      XIII. HELPLESS.
       XIV. IN DURANCE VILE.
        XV. DACIA ROYLANCE.
       XVI. DACIA EXPLAINS.
      XVII. A DOOR BETWEEN.
     XVIII. IN WHICH THE UNEXPECTED COMES TO PASS.
       XIX. THE CAPTAIN OF THE "NAIAD."
        XX. RESCUED.
       XXI. A SURPRISE FOR BURGO.
      XXII. A MYSTERY SOLVED.



BURGO'S ROMANCE



CHAPTER I.
A YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN.


A dark handsome face bent close to a fair and glowing one, a trembling
white hand clasped in a sinewy brown one, two black eyes aflame with
the light of love, two blue eyes cast down in a sweet confusion and
shaded by long brown lashes.

The scene was the conservatory at the back of Mrs. Mordaunt's London
house. It was a wilderness--that is to say, a wilderness where art
reigned supreme--of shrubs, ferns, mosses, and sweet-smelling tropical
flowers. Here and there a shaded lamp glowed with chastened radiance
through the greenery; here and there a Chinese lantern hung suspended
in mid-air like some huge transparent insect of many colours; here and
there a statue gleamed snow-white through the leafage. Some one in the
drawing-room was playing a dreamy waltz; in the breaks of the music
the low silvery plash of a hidden fountain made music of another kind.

Time and the place conspired. The dark, handsome face bent closer, the
lean brown fingers tightened their grasp, two hearts fluttered as they
had never fluttered before. Then the words which one was dying to say
and the other one dying to hear, broke forth in accents low, eager,
and impassioned:

"Clara, darling, you must know that I love you. You must know that I
have loved you ever since that day when----"

In smooth, clear accents a voice behind them broke in:

"Clara, love, I have been looking for you everywhere. I want you
particularly. Mr. Brabazon, will you kindly open that slide a few
inches? I can't think what Stevens has been about; the temperature is
perfectly unbearable."

Burgo Brabazon was brought back to mundane matters with a shock as
though a stream of ice-cold water had been poured down his back. He
dropped Miss Leslie's trembling fingers and turned in some confusion
to obey Mrs. Mordaunt's behest. Before doing so however, he contrived
to whisper the one word "To-morrow."

By the time he had arranged the slide, Mrs. Mordaunt and her niece had
disappeared. He muttered an execration under his breath, for Mr.
Brabazon was by no means an exemplary young man.

Ten minutes later he left the house without saying "Good-night" to
anybody.

As he made his way through the drawing-room he saw Miss Leslie sitting
a little apart from the general company in a recessed window. By her
side, and playing with her fan, sat young vacuous-faced Lord
Penwhistle--vacuous-faced, but enormously rich. "Ah-ha! _chère
madame_, so that's your little game, is it?" muttered Burgo to
himself.

A group of three or four men with whom he was slightly acquainted were
talking on the stairs. They became suddenly silent when they saw him
coming down, and each of them greeted him with a solemn nod as he
passed. Burgo felt vaguely uncomfortable, he hardly knew why.

A hansom took him quickly to his club, and there, over a cigarette and
a bottle of Apollinaris, he sat down to meditate.

Burgo Brabazon at this time was within a month of his twenty-sixth
birthday. He might have been a lineal descendant of Coleridge's
_Ancient Mariner_, seeing that, like him, he was "long and lank and
brown"; but his was the lankiness of perfect health, of a frame
trained to the fineness of a greyhound's, which had not an ounce of
superfluous flesh about it. He had a long oval face and clear-cut
aquiline features; he had dark, steadfast-looking eyes, with a fine
penetrative faculty about them which gave you the impression that he
was a man who would not be easily imposed upon; his hair and his small
moustache were jet black. He was seldom languid, and still more rarely
supercilious, while occasionally inclined to be cynical and
pessimistic (in which respect he was by no means singular); but those
were qualities of which he could disembarrass himself as easily as he
could of his overcoat. He dressed fastidiously, but had nothing
whatever of the latter-day "masher" about him, he was far too manly
for that. Finally, no one could have had a more frank and pleasant
smile than Burgo Brabazon, so that it was almost a pity he was not
less chary of it.

It is certainly unpleasant when, after much effort and inward
perturbation, a man has succeeded in screwing up his courage to ask a
certain question which has been trembling on his lips for weeks, to
find himself baulked at the very outset--to be, as it were, dragged
ignominiously back to earth when another moment would have seen him
soaring into the empyrean. It is more than unpleasant--it is
confoundedly annoying.

Till this evening Burgo had had no reason to suppose that Mrs.
Mordaunt regarded him with unfavourable eyes. His evident liking for
her niece had certainly not escaped the observation of that vigilant
matron, and if she had not openly encouraged him, she had certainly
given him no reason to suppose that any advances he might choose to
make would meet with an unfavourable reception at her hands.

Miss Leslie was no heiress; her sweet face was her only fortune. Her
father had been a country rector, and had bequeathed her an income
which just sufficed to save her from the necessity of joining the
great army of governesses. For a young lady so slenderly endowed with
the good things of this world Burgo Brabazon might be looked upon as a
very fair catch in the matrimonial fishpond--for was he not his
uncle's heir?

"It's all that confounded little Penwhistle," he muttered to himself.
"He's evidently entêté with Clara, and Mrs. M. will do her best to
hook him. But I flatter myself I'm first favourite there, and if that
is so, by Jove! no other man shall rob me of my prize. I'll call
to-morrow, and again and again, till I can get five minutes alone with
her. I never cared for any one as I care for that girl."

He was still deep in thought when some one touched him on the
shoulder. It was Tighe, a club friend, to whom he had lost a hundred
or so at cards during the course of their acquaintance.

"You have heard the news, of course?" said the latter.

"No; what is it?" asked Burgo languidly, with a half-smothered yawn.
Just then he did not care greatly about either Tighe or his news.

For reply Tighe handed him an evening paper, his thumb marking a
certain passage. The passage in question ran as under:

"At Nice, on the 12th inst., Sir Everard Clinton, Bart., to Giulia,
relict of the late Colonel Innes."

Burgo stared at the paper for some moments as if his mind were unable
to take in the announcement.

Then he gave it back to Tighe. "What an ancient idiot!" he said in his
usual impassive tone. "He'll never see his sixtieth birthday again.
But he always was eccentric." And Burgo lighted another cigarette.

But truth to tell, although he took the matter so coolly, he was much
perturbed inwardly. The two lines he had just read announced a fact
which might have the effect of altering all his prospects in life.

"I wonder whether Mrs. Mordaunt had heard the news when she carried
off Clara?" was one of the first questions he asked himself. "And
those fellows on the stairs?" Already he began to feel in some
indefinable sort of way that he was no longer quite the same Burgo
Brabazon in the eyes of the world that he had been a couple of hours
previously.

All his life he had been led to believe that he would be his uncle's
heir. The title, together with such portion of the property as was
entailed, would go to his other uncle, Denis Clinton, the baronet's
younger brother. He, Burgo, was the only son of Sir Everard's
favourite sister. Both his parents dying when he was a child, his
uncle had at once adopted him, and from that time to the present had
treated him as if he were his own son. When his education was
finished, and Burgo hinted to his uncle that the time had now arrived
for deciding upon his future profession in life, Sir Everard had only
laughed in his quiet way and put the question aside as a piece of
harmless pleasantry; and when Burgo had ventured to broach the subject
on two or three subsequent occasions, it had met with no response from
the elder man.

Burgo, who had no wish to lead an idle life, would fain have gone into
the army, but his uncle was unaccountably prejudiced against a
military career, and there had been no hope in that direction.

Thus it fell out that month after month had drifted by without
anything being finally arranged, till Burgo had gradually settled down
into the groove of a young man about town, with no more serious
employment in life than to contrive how his liberal quarterly
allowance could be made productive of the greatest amount of
enjoyment. And that he did enjoy himself there could be no reasonable
doubt. He belonged to two or three pleasant clubs; he knew no end of
nice people who were glad to see him, or professed themselves to be
so; and when the shooting season began he had the pick and choice of a
dozen country houses. In short, Burgo was one of the spoiled darlings
of Society, and he was quite aware of the fact, although how much of
the favour accorded him was due to his own merits and how much to the
reflected radiance of his uncle's prospective thousands, was one of
those problems of which it would be invidious to attempt the solution.

Of his uncle during these latter years Burgo had seen but little. The
English climate disagreed with the baronet's health, or so he averred,
and three-fourths of his time was spent abroad. He was a confirmed
numismatist and an inveterate _bric-à-brac_ hunter. He was said to
have one of the finest collections of coins in the three kingdoms, and
his house at Oaklands overflowed with curios picked up from every
country under the sun. That such a man at the mature age of
sixty-three should fall a victim to the shafts of Dan Cupid was one of
the last things which any one who was acquainted with Sir Everard
Clinton would have predicated of him.



CHAPTER II.
CAPTAIN CUSDEN'S REPORT.


In the _Times_ newspaper of the following morning Burgo read a
confirmation of his uncle's marriage. "There's a suspiciously Italian
flavour about the bride's baptismal name," he muttered to himself;
"but who was the late Colonel Innes, I wonder?"

In the course of the afternoon he knocked at Mrs. Mordaunt's door.

"Not at home, sir."

Many an afternoon had he called there, but never before had such a
missile been flung at his head. His face flushed a little when he saw
Lord Penwhistle's miniature brougham being driven slowly up and down
the street.

Two days later he called again, only to be repulsed with the same
polite fiction.

Each afternoon he lingered in the Park till the last moment, in the
hope of catching a glimpse of Clara's sunny face; but all his
lingering was in vain. A week later he heard through a mutual
acquaintance that Mrs. Mordaunt and Miss Leslie had started for the
Continent.

But before this took place the cards of the newly-wedded pair had
reached Burgo. He tore them up in a pet and threw them into the fire.
The same day, in sheer recklessness, he drove down to Richmond with
some club acquaintances who belonged to a faster set than he
habitually consorted with. There he drank more champagne and smoked
more cigars than was good for him, and awoke next morning with a
splitting headache.

It has been remarked before that he was by no means an exemplary young
man.

It was during these days he got the notion into his head that the
world was already beginning to look askance at him, that the greetings
of his acquaintances were scarcely so cordial as they used to be, that
there was a chilliness in the social atmosphere such as he had never
experienced before.

All this was probably due to some touch of morbid fancy on his part.
One unpleasant fact there was, however, which he found it impossible
to ignore: he rarely opened his morning's letters nowadays without
finding among them one or more bills, most of them containing a
pressing request for an early settlement. To poor Burgo it seemed as
if the air was full of portents.

If he had ever thought much about the matter--which, to give him his
due, he never had--he would have said that it was impossible he could
have owed so much money. Yet here was account after account tumbling
in, embodying items not one of which, when he came to look at them,
was he in a position to dispute. And when, one morning, he found
courage to take a sheet of paper and a pencil and total up the lot, he
was astounded at the magnitude of the result. It was not the first
time he had floundered into a similar quagmire. His uncle had already
paid his debts on two previous occasions--not without a little
grumbling, for Sir Everard was somewhat penuriously inclined, and
living well within his own income, considered that everybody should do
the same--and, under ordinary circumstances, Burgo would have appealed
to him for the third time, and would have felt confident that the
appeal would not have been in vain. But now the door was shut in his
face, at least for the time being. Until he should know what kind of
woman this new aunt should prove to be, he felt that it would be
impossible for him to appeal to his uncle as he should otherwise have
done. It was a capital thing, he said to himself, that quarter-day was
so close at hand.

When those important epochs came round, it was Burgo's practice to
charter a hansom, and be driven into the City, to the office of Mr.
Garden, his uncle's lawyer, have ten minutes' chat and a glass of dry
sherry with him, pocket the cheque which was always waiting for him,
give a receipt in due form, and then lounge back westward, with a fine
glow of satisfaction such as he had not been conscious of half-an-hour
before. "You have heard the news, I presume," said Mr. Garden on the
present occasion, as he shook hands with the young man.

"I have; and very much surprised I was. Were not you also surprised?"

"I have lived too long, and have seen too much of human nature, to be
greatly surprised at anything. Still I must confess that I never
looked upon Sir Everard as a marrying man."

"I should think not, indeed."

"Let us hope that the step he has taken will in no way interfere with
your prospects in life."

"It is pretty sure to do that," responded Burgo a little ruefully.

"I don't see why it should. Sir Everard always gave me the impression
of being a very just-dealing man. Of course you are aware that a fresh
will will now have to be drawn up?"

"Does that follow as a matter of course?"

"As a matter of necessity. Sir Everard's marriage annuls any will he
may have executed prior to that ceremony."

"Oh!"

"I may tell you in confidence, that up to the present I have received
no instructions in the matter. By the way, do you know anything of the
lady who has now the privilege of calling you her nephew?"

"Nothing whatever. I had never heard of her existence before I read
her name in the newspaper."

"Well, we can only hope for the best. It is a poor philosophy which
anticipates troubles that may never come to pass."

Then Mr. Garden handed Burgo a certain narrow slip of paper, for which
the latter gave a receipt in the usual form. Then he rose to go.

"Sit down for a minute or two, Mr. Brabazon. I have not quite done
with you yet," said the old lawyer. Burgo, wondering a little, did as
he was told.

"In a certain communication which I received from your uncle a few
days ago," resumed Mr. Garden, "among other matters he requested me to
obtain from you a full and complete schedule of any debts that may be
owing by you at the present time, and forward the same to him as early
as possible. I presume," added Mr. Garden blandly, as he stared at
Burgo over his spectacles, "that you young gentlemen about town are
nearly always in debt?"

"By Jove! I believe you are right there," answered Burgo, with a short
laugh; "at least, I know that in my case the complaint has almost become
chronic. But what can be the dear old boy's reason for making such a
request?"

"That is more than I can say; but one may be permitted to hazard a
guess."

"He has paid my debts twice already."

"Who should know that fact better than I? But is it not the accepted
creed among you young gentlemen of the town that rich fathers and
uncles are sent into the world by a kind Providence expressly for that
purpose?"

Burgo laughed a little uneasily. "The distribution of capital is said
to conduce to the national well-being," he replied, with a quizzical
glance at the staid face opposite him.

"A very bad argument for getting into debt, my dear Mr. Brabazon.
However, you will let me have the document asked for by your uncle as
early as convenient."

"When you see the sum total it will frighten you."

"It won't frighten _me_; but I can't answer for the effect it may
have on Sir Everard."

"You shall have it in the course of to-morrow; but I shall be deucedly
uneasy, I can tell you, till I know the result."

"Were you ever 'deucedly uneasy' about anything, Mr. Brabazon for more
than a few hours at a time?"

"Upon my word, I don't think I ever was," laughed Burgo. "By-the-by,
have you any idea when my uncle is coming home?"

"Not the remotest."

With that Burgo took his leave.

Next day the schedule of his liabilities was duly made out and
despatched, after which Burgo did his best to dismiss the subject from
his mind.

Clara Leslie dwelt much in his thoughts about this time. He never
smoked a pipe alone in his rooms without seeming to see her face
shining on him through the smoke wreaths. That he was deeply in love
with her he had not the slightest doubt, but he was not quite so
certain how much she cared for him in return. True, there had not been
wanting tokens which told him that he was not wholly indifferent to
her, but between liking and love there is often a wide chasm, and
although that chasm may be, and often is, bridged over, it is not
always so; and in this case the cold winds of absence would doubtless
do their best to extinguish any tiny flame of love which might
perchance have been kindled in Miss Leslie's bosom. Among hundreds of
strange faces and a perpetual change of scene, how could he hope that
his image would continue to dwell in her memory? And yet--and yet she
had not repulsed him that evening when he took her hand and spoke
certain words to her in the conservatory; there had even been
something in her manner, or he dreamed so, which led him to believe
that, had they not been interrupted at that particular moment, no
repulse need have been feared by him. This thought it was, and this
alone, that made sweet his solitary musings.

About a fortnight after his visit to Mr. Garden, Burgo received a note
from that gentleman informing him that the whole of his debts, as
specified in the schedule rendered by him, had been paid in full.
Burgo gave vent to a sigh of satisfaction as he laid down the lawyer's
note. A great weight had been lifted off his mind. He hesitated as to
whether he ought not to write a few words of thanks to his uncle, but
ultimately decided that he would await Sir Everard's arrival in town,
and then thank him in person. It was characteristic of him that next
day he should call upon his tailor and his bootmaker, and one or two
other tradesmen, and thoroughly replenish his wardrobe. It was not so
much that there was any real necessity for his doing so, as that the
novelty of being out of debt caused him to feel slightly
uncomfortable. He had not been used to it, and it did not seem right
somehow. Besides, how is it possible for tradespeople to live unless
they are liberally patronised?

One morning, as he was skimming through the newspapers at his club,
Burgo was accosted by a voice which he had not heard for several
months. There was no mistaking the rasping tones of Captain Cusden.
"We have lost sight of you for several months," said Burgo, as soon as
he had shaken hands with the new-comer--a man of fifty-five, who did
his best to keep up an assumption of juvenility by consorting as much
as possible with men thirty years younger than himself.

"Been trotting about the Continent with Aunt Jane, dear boy," answered
Cusden, who wanted no encouragement to talk, as he drew a chair up.
"Expectations and all that, you know. Must do one's duty. Awful hard
work I found it, dear boy. Had to be on parade every morning at eight
to the tick. Wonderful old lady! If I had to explore one church with
her, I had to explore five hundred; if I was expected to admire one
picture, I was expected to admire five thousand. Did it ever occur to
you, dear boy, what a remarkable chap that Rubens must have been? Must
have turned out a fresh picture every week of his life, by Jove if the
catalogues are not telling flams. At last we got away from the Low
Countries--very properly so called, dear boy--and when I found myself
at Chamonix I began to breathe again. It was there, by the way, that I
had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a certain venerated
relative of yours."

Burgo knocked the ash off his cigarette; then he said, quietly: "My
uncle, I suppose, you mean?"

"Right you are, dear boy. Sir Everard and his bride." Here Cusden gave
vent to a snigger, followed by a sharp sidelong glance at his
companion; but that impassive individual was not so easily caught.

"They had been married in Italy a few weeks before and were on their
way home, doing the thing by easy stages. Of course you are aware that
the bride is at the very least thirty years younger than the
bridegroom?"

"I believe I have been told something of the sort," answered Burgo.
Although, in point of fact, he had been told nothing of the kind.

"A famous catch for her, I should imagine, considering--hem!--her
antecedents," remarked the Captain with an expressive shrug.

For the moment Burgo felt a strong desire to fling his companion out
of the window, but he reflected in time that, were he to do so, he
might perhaps remain for ever in ignorance of the antecedents to which
Cusden had alluded, and he had his reasons for not wanting to do that.
So he merely lighted another cigarette, and said in his drawling way:
"She had antecedents, then?"

"No woman of thirty is without 'em, particularly when she comes to
marry her third husband."

"I should not wonder if you are right there," was all Burgo
condescended to remark in reply to this somewhat startling piece of
intelligence.

"Her first husband is said to have been an Italian who held some sort
of Government post," resumed Cusden. "_Entre nous_, I believe she
herself is half an Italian. He left her with one boy, who is said to
be now at school somewhere in Switzerland. Her second husband, Colonel
Innes, was an old East Indian without any liver to speak of. He is
said to have died under somewhat mysterious circumstances at the end
of a couple of years, and there were some queer rumours afloat at the
time, but I suppose they came to nothing. By all accounts that second
marriage must have proved a rank failure as far as she was concerned,
seeing that the Colonel lost nearly all he was worth by a bank smash
within a year of their becoming man and wife."

"You seem to have picked up a lot about her in the course of your
travels," remarked Burgo.

"People _will_ talk, you know, dear boy, and one can't help hearing
what is said in society. However, you'll probably have the pleasure of
making Lady Clinton's acquaintance before long. Ta-ta for the
present."

There was cold comfort for Burgo in what Cusden had just told him. "I
hope to heaven the dear old boy has not fallen into the hands of some
scheming adventuress," he muttered.

But he was obliged to admit that circumstances looked very much like
it.

A week later the following note reached him:--

"22 Great Mornington Street, W.

"Will Mr. Brabazon have the goodness to call here at four o'clock
to-morrow."


The writing was that of a lady.



CHAPTER III.
CUT ADRIFT.


Burgo Brabazon had many pleasant recollections associated in his mind
with his uncle's house in Great Mornington Street. He had nearly
always spent his holidays there when a lad, and very jolly times
they had generally been. But, on the present occasion, when once the
front door was shut behind him, he found himself in an unknown
country. Everything was changed. The sober, substantial, thoroughly
English-looking furniture, which seemed to match so well with the
dingy Georgian mansion, had all been swept away and the art
upholsterer, with his latest fads, had had full scope given him to
work his own bizarre will.

Burgo was ushered into the back drawing-room--a pleasant, home-like
room it had been in the old days, where he and his uncle had played
many a game of backgammon; but now it was transmogrified out of all
recognition, and a chill came over the young fellow's spirits as he
looked around. It had been more like home to him than any other place
in the world, and now he knew it no longer.

Presently the door opened and a tall, dark, handsome woman, whose age
might be anything between thirty and forty, came slowly forward.

"Mr. Brabazon, I presume."

"At your service, Lady Clinton," answered Burgo, as for a moment he
bent over the rather large, but beautifully shaped hand which was
extended for his acceptance.

"I have heard much of you, and am glad to see you. Pray be seated."
Her tones were clear and incisive, like those of a person in the habit
of giving orders and of having them obeyed.

When he had sat down, Burgo was enabled to observe her more at his
leisure.

Notwithstanding that the bloom and freshness of youth had left her for
ever, she was still a very handsome and presentable woman, and had
nothing of the typical adventuress in her appearance, as Burgo was
fain at once to concede.

Her complexion was dark--a clear, dark olive--without being in the
least degree sallow. (Burgo called to mind that Cusden had said
something about her being of semi-Italian parentage, and he could well
believe it) She had a plentiful mass of jet black silky hair, and
rather thick but finely-curved eyebrows. But the eyes themselves,
which in colour matched her hair, Burgo did not like. They seemed to
him cold, watchful, almost cruel. Her mouth was rather large and her
lips were ripe and full--a little too ripe and full some people deemed
them, while there were others who counted them as one of the most
attractive features of a more than ordinarily attractive physiognomy.
For so do opinions differ.

She looked best when she smiled and displayed her splendid teeth, and
she was quite aware of the fact.

There was a little pause after they had seated themselves, which Burgo
was the first to break.

"I trust that my uncle is quite well, Lady Clinton?" he said.

"I am sorry to say that dear Sir Everard is far from well. We had a
rough passage across, and it seems to have upset him considerably."

"When may I hope to have the pleasure of paying my respects to him?"

"That is more than I can say, in the present state of his health."

"But surely----" began Burgo, and then he stopped. He had been about
to say, "But surely he will see _me_, even although he may not be able
to see any one else," when he suddenly remembered that between himself
and his uncle there now interposed a barrier which all his wishes
might perchance prove powerless to overpass.

"It will, I trust, Mr. Brabazon, be sufficient if I state that at the
present time my husband is not in a condition to see any one--any one
at all." She laid a marked emphasis on the words "my husband."

The young man bent his head gravely. "I am sorry to hear you say that,
madam--very sorry indeed. I trust, however, that you will not fail to
convey my love and dutiful respects to my uncle, who has, indeed, been
both father and uncle to me for the last eighteen years." In Burgo's
voice there was an unwonted tremor.

"I will not fail to give your message to Sir Everard," said Lady
Clinton, with a half-smile which just showed the pearly line of her
teeth.

Burgo, watching her, said to himself, "This woman is my enemy."

He was at a loss to know whether he was now expected to rise and take
his leave. Had he been summoned to Great Mornington Street simply to
be told that his uncle was ill and declined to receive him?

But Lady Clinton did not leave him long in doubt.

"Pardon me, Mr. Brabazon," she went on after a momentary pause, "but
did you really come here to-day with the expectation that your uncle
would receive you with the same degree of cordiality and affection
which he has accorded you on so many previous occasions?"

"I certainly did, and I fail to see in what way such an expectation
was unreasonable."

"Excuse me again; but for the moment you seem to have forgotten the
sacrifice--for I can call it by no other term--which, only a few weeks
ago, Sir Everard was called upon to make for you."

"I presume your ladyship refers to the payment of my debts?"

Her ladyship gravely inclined her head.

"My uncle was not called upon by me to make any such sacrifice, as you
term it. I was asked to supply a list of my debts, and I did so."

"May I ask whether you were in a position to have paid them yourself?"

For the life of him, Burgo could not help colouring up to the very
roots of his hair. "That I certainly was not," he replied
unhesitatingly.

"Then it was perhaps as well that your uncle should pay them for you,
were it only to save the family credit."

"Confound this woman! I begin to hate her as much as she hates me,"
muttered poor Burgo under his breath.

"This is not the first occasion, I believe, on which Sir Everard has
had to relieve you from the burden of your extravagances."

Burgo writhed helplessly on his chair.

"Twice previously my uncle has had the melancholy satisfaction of
discharging my liabilities."

"Just so. And yet you come here to-day, and tell me coolly that you
expected to be received on precisely the same terms as if nothing had
happened!"

"Oh, madam!" cried the young man, a fine flame of indignation burning
in his eyes; "I have known my uncle all my life, and I judge him by a
different--a very different--standard from that which you seem to
judge him by. That he would have grumbled, that he would have scolded
me a little, as most fathers and uncles have a way of doing under such
circumstances, I was quite prepared to expect; but that he would
refuse to see me I would never have believed--never!" His voice broke
a little as he finished, and he turned away his head for a moment,
ashamed to think that he should have been so moved.

Lady Clinton sat regarding him with her coldly-critical half-smile.

She was one of those people who seem to derive a sort of semi-sensuous
enjoyment from witnessing the mental tortures and anguished
heart-throbs of their more susceptible fellow mortals. Such people
have keen powers for analysing in others a certain class of emotions
of the existence of which in themselves they have no cognisance.

Lady Clinton gave Burgo a few moments to recover himself, and then she
said in her clear, incisive tones: "May I ask, Mr. Brabazon, what your
plans for the future are?"

"My plans for the future!" he echoed, looking at her with unmitigated
astonishment. "Upon my word, madam, I am not aware that I have any."

"That is rather sad, is it not? And rather singular, too, if I may
venture to say so--considering your age."

"I fail to understand why your ladyship should see anything either sad
or singular in such a state of things. I have always left my fortunes,
both present and to come, in the hands of my uncle--as it has been his
invariable wish that I should do."

"Such being the case, may I assume that any wishes or desires your
uncle may choose to give expression to will be regarded as obligatory
by you?"

Burgo paused before answering. Then he said: "If my uncle himself had
put such a question to me three months ago, I should have answered
'Yes' unhesitatingly; but, seeing that it is your ladyship who puts
the question to me to-day, I am somewhat at a loss what to reply."

Burgo's barb pricked her. Her eyes dilated a little; two red-hot spots
flamed out for a moment on her cheeks and then vanished.

"If I have taken upon myself, Mr. Brabazon, to question you with
regard to your plans for the future, I have done so at your uncle's
special request. He presumes that, at your age, your future career
cannot be altogether a matter of indifference to you, and he is
desirous of knowing what views and wishes you may have formed with
regard to it."

"It seems somewhat strange, madam, that my uncle should all at once
profess to be so anxious about my future. On more than one occasion,
some four or five years ago, I acquainted him with my wishes in the
matter, but he chose quietly to set them aside as of no moment, and
since that time I have never troubled myself in the affair?"

"Even granting that such may have been the case at the period you
speak of," said her ladyship, "you can readily understand, Mr.
Brabazon, that certain circumstances which have happened since then
may have modified Sir Everard's views in many matters, and in the
particular one under consideration among the rest."

"Oh yes, I can quite understand that," answered Burgo, not without a
spice of bitterness.

"While fully aware that, in all probability, such would be the case,
you have not, to quote your own words, troubled yourself further in
the affair?"

"I have not--as I said before. When I left college, as I did not fail
to impress upon my uncle at the time, I was desirous of entering the
army, but it is too late to think of that now. Then it was that my
uncle took the responsibility of my future into his own hands, and in
his hands it still remains."

Lady Clinton did not at once reply, but sat gazing through the window
like one deep in thought.

Presently Burgo spoke again.

"Your ladyship will pardon me, but, from what you have already said, I
can only presume that when you asked me to come here to-day, it was
because you were in a position to impart to me some information, or to
put before me some definite proposition on my uncle's part with
respect to my future. If such be the case, I shall be glad to listen
to whatever message you may be charged with, with as little further
preface as may be."

It was an audacious speech, and her ladyship felt it to be such;
indeed, to her it seemed nothing less than a piece of consummate
impertinence. She stared at him for a moment in icy surprise, but he
met her gaze unflinchingly. Evidently there was more in this young man
than she had given him credit for.

"When you were requested to call here to-day, Mr. Brabazon, it was not
in order to obtain your assent to some proposition which I had been
commissioned to lay before you (_that_ would have been too
ridiculous), but to inform you of the decision which your uncle has
come to in respect of matters between yourself and him."

"That is the point, madam, about which I am anxious to be
enlightened."

"Very well. Here is Sir Everard's decision in a nutshell. The
allowance which his lawyer has been in the habit of paying you
quarterly will cease from to-day, and in lieu thereof, and further, as
a quittance in full of any imaginary claim which you may have assumed
yourself to have on your uncle's pecuniary resources, he requests your
acceptance of this cheque for one thousand guineas."

As her ladyship ceased speaking, she opened her _porte-monnaie_, which
she had held clasped in one hand all this time, and extracted
therefrom a narrow folded slip of paper, and rising, laid it on the
table close by where Burgo was sitting. Then she resumed her seat.

It is not too much to say that Burgo was literally stunned. He
repeated her ladyship's words automatically to himself before he could
feel sure that he had heard aright. For a moment or two he saw
everything through a haze, as one sees things in a half-dream, and
when the film had cleared away it was to leave him conscious that Lady
Clinton's eyes were fixed on him with a cynical and, as he fancied,
somewhat contemptuous smile. The sight acted on him like an ice-cold
douche, and brought him at once to himself.

"So," he said, speaking not without an effort, "the statement I have
just heard from your ladyship's lips embodied my uncle's ultimatum, so
far as I am concerned?"

"It is Sir Everard's ultimatum--the word is your own, Mr. Brabazon."

"And it is you, madam, whom I have to thank for it."

Lady Clinton set her lips tight, but did not reply.

Burgo rose, and taking up the cheque opened it, and let his eyes rest
for a moment or two on the familiar signature.

"This is my answer to the offer of which you are the bearer," he said,
looking her straight in the face; and with that he deliberately tore
the cheque in four, and dropped the pieces on the table. "Never will I
touch another shilling of my uncle's money as long as I live."

He turned and took up his hat. "I need not detain you further, Lady
Clinton," he said. "But I cannot go without complimenting you on the
thoroughly businesslike way in which you have carried out the task you
set yourself to do. Madam, I have the honour to wish you a very good
day."

He swept her a low bow, and as he did so his eyes crossed fire with
hers. There was no flinching on either side. They both felt that
henceforth it was a duel _à outrance_ between them. But already Lady
Clinton had drawn "first blood."

She rose as the door closed behind Burgo, and drew a deep breath. "So
far the day is mine," she said, "but I shall be greatly surprised if I
have seen the last of Mr. Burgo Brabazon. If I ever read mischief in
anybody's eyes, I read it in his. I would give something to know what
step he meditates first. In any case, it will be nothing dastardly,
nothing underhand. Any one not a gentleman would have taken that
cheque and have remained my enemy just the same. I am glad I have seen
him; under other circumstances I feel that I could both like and
admire him--and yet I must brush him from my path. He is the one great
obstacle I have to contend against, and he _must_ be sacrificed. If
only he would have contented himself with the thousand guineas, and
have given no further trouble! And now to give Sir Everard my own
version of the interview," she added, as she took up the portions of
the cheque and tore them into still smaller fragments.



CHAPTER IV.
"OLD GARDEN."


When the door of No. 22 Great Mornington Street clashed behind Mr.
Brabazon, instead of at once proceeding about his business, whatever
that might be, he paused on the topmost step and stared first up the
street and then down it, like a man whose faculties for the time being
had gone wool-gathering. But it was not so much that as it was the
strange, sudden sense of homelessness which had come over him, for No.
22 might be said to be the only home he had known since he was quite a
child, although during the last few years, since his uncle had taken
to living so much abroad, he had crossed its threshold but seldom.

As he stood there he found it hard to realise that, in all likelihood,
the old familiar door had closed behind him for the last time, and
that the tie between himself and his uncle, which had been one of
strong if undemonstrative affection, was severed for ever. And he owed
it all to the woman he had just left! He ground his teeth together and
went through a brief, but forcible form of commination, which it was,
perhaps, just as well that Lady Clinton was not there to hear.

But he could not stand on the step all day. A passing hansom inspired
him with a sudden resolution. He would go and see "old Garden," and
give him an account of the interview between himself and her ladyship.

He was fortunate enough to find the lawyer at home.

The old man listened to him with kindly patience, and did not
interrupt his recital by a word. When Burgo had finished, he said: "It
would seem from what you tell me that you and her ladyship have not
only begun by being at daggers-drawn, but are likely to remain so."

"Whose fault is that? Not mine assuredly. But how is it possible for
me to regard her otherwise than as my enemy? Think how she must have
worked upon my uncle's mind before she succeeded in obtaining his
consent to an act of such gross injustice! Knowing the dear old boy as
I do, it is inconceivable to me how he was ever persuaded to agree to
such a thing. Putting aside his affection for me, I never knew a man
with a stronger sense of justice; besides which, he had always a will
of his own, and knew how to assert it."

The lawyer shook his head with a smile and a pursing out of his lips.
"My experience has taught me that it is often the most unlikely men,
to all seeming, who succumb the soonest and the most completely to
feminine influence. It is your smooth, slippery, softly good-natured
sort of men--men with no angles or corners to speak of--whom the
ladies find it most difficult to grasp and hold. Now you Mr. Burgo (if
you will allow me to say so), with all your fine assertiveness (which,
mind you, I like to see in one of your years), and that dash of
Hotspur in your composition, are just the kind of man whom a certain
kind of woman could twist round her little finger with the utmost
ease, and that without allowing you to suspect that you were anything
but very much your own master."

Burgo laughed, as if to cover the dusky flush that mounted to his
cheeks. Would it be anything but happiness, he asked himself, to be,
as old Garden put it, twisted round the little finger of Clara Leslie,
even although he should be fully cognisant of the mode in which he was
being practised upon? But, for that matter, was Clara at all the kind
of girl to try to twist any man round her finger? From what he had
seen of her, he felt sure she was not.

Mr. Garden coughed, and put on his gravest professional air. "To
return to the interview between Lady Clinton and yourself," he said.
"This seems likely to prove a very awkward business for you."

"Awkward is not the word. It simply means ruination."

"And yet you refused the cheque for a thousand guineas!"

"Under the circumstances would you have had me take it? I feel sure
that had I done so you would have thought considerably worse of me
than you do; which," he added, as if to himself, "it is quite needless
that you should." It was an assertion the lawyer made no attempt to
refute.

"Of course you have not yet had time to decide upon anything as
regards your future," he observed.

"There's one point as to which I'm quite clear--that I must earn my
living by hook or by crook."

"And a very good thing for you that you should be compelled to do so,
if I may be permitted to say so. You have led an idle life far too
long, Mr. Brabazon."

"There I am at one with you. But whose is the fault? Not mine. As you
are aware, several years ago I pestered my uncle to send me to
Sandhurst; but he would not hear of it, nor of anything else which, in
time, might have helped to make me independent of his purse-strings.
As far as I see at present, there's only one thing left me to do, and
that is to enlist as a full private in one of Her Majesty's regiments
of dragoons."

"I hope you will do nothing so rash and ill-advised. A private
soldier, indeed! Tut-tut!"

"Why not? I don't see that I'm fit for anything else. And sure I am
that I would enlist to-morrow if I could make certain of being sent to
India, or somewhere where there was a chance of a brush with the black
fellows."

"I am glad to think there's no such chance open to you, for, as far as
I am aware, we have not even a little war on hand just now. It is just
possible--hem!--that _I_ might be able to do something for you--of
course in a very humble way--in the City, or elsewhere."

Burgo smiled a little bitterly. "Thank you all the same, Mr. Garden,
but when you say that, you don't know what a rank duffer I am--you
don't really. I should not be a bit of use in an office of any
kind. I'm not built that way. I declare I would rather carry a
sandwich-board about the streets, or break stones for a bob a day,
than be perched on a stool, with a pen in my fist and a big ledger in
front of me, for six hours out of the twenty-four, even if by so doing
I could rake in five hundred a year, which is utterly absurd, even as
a supposition."

"In any case, my serious advice to you is to do nothing in a hurry,
nothing rashly. Who knows but that your uncle, when he has had more
time to think over the affair, may come to the conclusion that he has
dealt too hardly by you; and remembering that you are his sister's
son, and that he has always taught the world to look upon you as his
heir, will award you that measure of justice, and restore to you that
measure of affection, of which, I trust, you have only been
temporarily deprived?"

Burgo shook his head. "That his affection for me is just as strong as
it ever was, I firmly believe. But so long as he remains in the power
of that woman--so long as she retains her influence over him--so long
shall I continue to be (for aught he will know to the contrary) the
outcast and pauper I know myself to be at this moment."

Mr. Garden rubbed the side of his nose thoughtfully with his
forefinger.

"You remember what I said to you the other day," he presently
remarked, "about the necessity which now exists for a fresh will?"

Burgo nodded.

"Of course, as Sir Everard's legal adviser, I am not justified in
mentioning the fact, but in this instance I will take upon myself the
responsibility of doing so. The fact to which I refer is this--that,
up to the present time, I have been favoured with no instructions from
your uncle for the drawing up of another will."

"That seems somewhat singular, does it not?"

"I was inclined to think so before to-day."

"And now?"

"Now I am inclined to look at the affair from an altogether different
point of view. After what you have told me about Lady Clinton, I am
disposed to think that she is sufficiently--I don't like to say
artful, especially where a lady is concerned----"

"There need be no hesitation on your part in applying the term to her
ladyship," interpolated Burgo with a short laugh.

"Well, then, we will say sufficiently wide-awake to persuade her
husband into engaging a fresh lawyer to draw up the all-important
document."

"But why on earth should she be at the trouble of doing that?"

"Knowing, as she probably does, that I have been Sir Everard's
confidential adviser ever since he succeeded to the property, that
his previous wills--he has made some half-dozen in all at different
times--have been drawn up by me, and also, perhaps, being aware that
you and I have been brought into frequent contact, she may have deemed
it advisable for various reasons that the new will should be entrusted
to a stranger, more especially should her husband have been induced,
as seems by no means unlikely, to constitute her his sole legatee, to
the exclusion of every one else who might be supposed to have some
claim to be remembered by him."

"By Jove! I shouldn't wonder if you are right."

"At present we are only dealing with suppositions. It is quite
possible that I may have a letter by the next post asking me to wait
upon Sir Everard to-morrow morning."

"By the way," said Burgo, "may I ask whether you know anything about
my dear aunt's antecedents?"

"I know nothing whatever about them, except that she is said to have
been the widow of a certain Colonel Innes."

"Then I am in the position of being able to tell you a little more
than that about her." Whereupon he proceeded to recount to Mr. Garden
the information which had been retailed to him by Captain Cusden at
the club. "Of course it's as plain as a pikestaff that the woman is
nothing more than an adventuress," he finished up by saying.

The old lawyer protruded his under lip. "Is not that rather a sweeping
assertion to make on no better authority than the gossip of a club
acquaintance?"

"Does not what I have told you to-day with regard to myself go far to
prove it? Do you suppose the dear old boy would have coldshouldered me
as he has done had it not been for her? No, you know better than that.
She's thirty years younger than he, and a remarkably handsome woman
(there's no denying that); for what else, then, can she have married
him save for his money and his position?"

"What then? Don't we hear of such unions every day? I presume your
uncle knew what he was about when he married the handsome widow, and
we have no right to suppose that he is otherwise than perfectly
satisfied with his share of the bargain. All of which, Mr. Brabazon,"
added the old man, with a kindly inflection of the voice, "makes your
case no whit the less hard."

There was a little space of silence. Burgo, with a pencil he had
picked up, was idly sketching the profiles of his uncle and Lady
Clinton on the blotting-pad in front of him.

"I wonder," said Mr. Garden musingly, as he proceeded to polish his
spectacles with the silk handkerchief he kept by him for that purpose,
"I wonder whether Lady Clinton is aware of the large sum of money
which will accrue to her husband--should he live till then--some time
in October next?"

Burgo paused in his sketching. "To what particular sum of money do you
refer, Mr. Garden?"

"To the fifteen thousand pounds conditionally bequeathed Sir Everard
by his cousin, the late Mrs. Macdona."

"What were the conditions, Mr. Garden? I have more than once heard
some vague talk about such a legacy, although it was a subject my
uncle always seemed to fight shy of; but nobody ever told me the real
ins and outs of the affair."

"As there's nothing about the affair to make a secret of, there can be
no harm in my telling you what I know of it," replied the lawyer.
"Mrs. Macdona was Sir Everard's cousin on his mother's side. When no
longer in the bloom of youth she married a man a great deal older than
herself, who was a sleeping partner in one of our big London
breweries. At his death she succeeded to the greater portion of his
wealth, amounting to nearly a quarter of a million. She outlived her
husband a score years, but never married again. She had no family, and
by her will, among numerous other legacies with which we are not
concerned, she bequeathed to each of her five cousins, your uncle
Everard being one of them, the sum of fifteen thousand pounds, which,
however, was in no case to be paid till he or she should have reached
the age at which the testatrix quitted this world for a better one,
which happened to be within a day or two of her sixty-fourth birthday.
Should any of the legatees die before attaining that age, the fifteen
thousand pounds which would otherwise have come to him or her was to
be divided among certain specified charities.

"So eccentric was the will deemed that it was seriously debated by
some of the legatees whether an attempt should not be made to have it
set aside by a court of law. But Mrs. Macdona was known to have been
such a clear-headed, shrewd, businesslike woman, that wiser counsels
prevailed, and the will was left undisputed. To make a long story
short, of the five cousins who were legatees, two died before reaching
the age of sixty-four; one, your aunt, Mrs. Fleming, of whom you can
have no recollection, seeing that she married and went with her
husband to America nearly a quarter of a century ago, had the
pleasure, two years since, of succeeding to her legacy; while the
remaining two cousins, of whom your uncle Everard is the elder, and
your uncle Denis the younger, have not yet arrived at the required
age. But, as I have already remarked, next October will bring Sir
Everard's sixty-fourth birthday, and with it his long-deferred legacy
of fifteen thousand pounds."

"It will be fifteen thousand pities if he should live to succeed to it
merely that it may ultimately help to enrich that she-cormorant his
wife! Not but what her nest will be pretty well feathered without
that, should she outlive my uncle."

"Yes; although not especially wealthy for a man of his rank and social
position, Sir Everard is a long way from being a pauper. As I happen
to know, he has always made a point of living well within his income,
although what he will do, or be persuaded into doing, now that he is
married, it might be dangerous to prophesy. His only extravagance, if
such a term may be applied to it, has been that he could rarely
or never resist a 'bargain' in the way of curios, coins, or
_bric-à-brac_; which, however, he looks upon as a judicious investment
of capital, his contention being that after his death his collection
will sell for far more than it originally cost him--which may, or may
not, prove to be the case. At any rate, whatever money he has put away
(whether it be hundreds or thousands, is no concern of ours) is
invested in sound English stock which pays a fair rate of dividend.
Yes, if Lady Clinton should outlive her husband and succeed to all he
has to leave, the world will deem her a very fortunate woman."

Mr. Brabazon rose and took possession of his hat. He felt that the
interview, without having been productive of any positive benefit to
him, or having served in any way to modify the facts of his position,
had yet done him good. It was something to have secured the sympathy
and goodwill of the kind-hearted old man; and that, however
undemonstrative his manner might be, or however guarded his
utterances, he had secured them he felt fully assured. The cloud had
lifted in some measure, and his heart felt lighter, he knew not why,
than it had felt an hour before.

The lawyer also rose. There were two or three people in the outer
office waiting to see him.

"Don't forget my advice," he said. "Do nothing rashly, or in a hurry.
Remember that the chapter of accidents may nearly always be counted on
as a big asset, especially when one is still as young as you are. I
have your present address by me, but should you change your venue, let
me know. Also, don't forget to advise me should there be any change in
the present relations between your uncle and yourself. But, for that
matter, I don't know why you shouldn't come and look me up as often as
you feel inclined. One can say in five minutes more than one can
convey in half a dozen sheets of foolscap, and you know without my
telling you that I shall always be glad to see you. And now one last
word"--here he laid a kindly hand for a moment on the young man's
shoulder. "I don't suppose you are very flush of cash--it would be
rather an uncommon state of affairs with you if you were, wouldn't it?
Well, seeing that one source of supplies has run dry, it behoves you
to look out for another. Let me be that other, Mr. Brabazon; let me be
your banker till brighter fortunes dawn upon you. I have a tidy little
balance lying idle at the bank, and if----"

Burgo caught him suddenly by the hand and gripped it hard, very hard.
"My dear Mr. Garden--my dear old friend," he said, and then he had to
pause for a moment before he could go on, "not a word more of this
just now. I have still a few pounds by me, and by the time they are
gone I hope to have settled on something definite as regards my
future. But should it ever be my fortune, or misfortune, to be
stone-broke (which is by no means an unlikely thing to happen), and to
find myself without a shilling to pay for my night's lodging, then I
promise you that you shall be the first of whom I will ask that help
which I can no longer do without."



CHAPTER V.
A HUMBLE FRIEND.


Two days later Burgo Brabazon knocked at the door of No. 22 Great
Mornington Street. Although Lady Clinton had distinctly told him his
uncle was too ill to see anybody, that only made it all the more
imperative that he should call and ascertain for himself whether the
dear old boy was better or worse.

To the servant who responded to his summons--moderated for fear of
annoying the sick man--he said, while handing him his card, "Take this
to Lady Clinton with my compliments, and tell her that I have called
to inquire about my uncle's health."

It was a curious and by no means a pleasant sensation to Burgo to find
himself left standing on the mat in the entrance-hall of the house
which, nearly ever since he could remember, he had regarded in the
light of home, and to realise that he was now looked upon as nothing
more than an alien and an outcast.

The man was not gone more than a couple of minutes. "Lady Clinton begs
to inform Mr. Brabazon," he said, "that Sir Everard is neither better
nor worse than usual."

Could anything be more vague and unsatisfactory? But that it was so of
set purpose he felt fully assured. Then, before he knew what had
happened, he found his card back in his fingers. Although the man did
not say so, her ladyship had evidently refused to receive it. It was
plain that she was bent on insulting him as often as he should afford
her an opportunity of doing so. He had to set his teeth hard in order
to keep back the imprecation that rose to his lips as he tore the card
in a dozen pieces and flung the fragments from him.

Three days later he called again. This time he sent in no card, but
contented himself with a verbal message. The answer brought him was in
precisely the same terms as before: "Sir Everard is neither better nor
worse than usual." This time he was more sad than angry when he turned
away from Great Mornington Street.

He felt that it would be hard, very hard, to be compelled to break
entirely with his uncle. Not once, but fifty times, he said to
himself: "This is not his doing, but hers. He would never treat me so
of his own accord. I durst wager twenty to one he has never been told
that I called; and even were I to write to him, the chances are that
my letter would not reach him. Still, it's worth the attempt, for I
want him to know that, although he has thought well to cast me adrift,
my affection for him is robust enough to survive all the shocks of
chance and change. He may, if he so choose, sever the chain which
binds him to me, but he cannot, against my will, sever the one which
binds me to him!"

A few days later Burgo wrote to Sir Everard as under:

"My dear Uncle,--You will, I hope, need no assurance on my part that I
was extremely grieved to hear from Lady Clinton that since your return
from abroad your health has been in such an unsatisfactory state.

"Since my interview with her ladyship I have called twice in Great
Mornington Street, but only to be told that there was no improvement
in your condition.

"I had hoped on one or the other occasion of my calling to have been
permitted to see you, if only for a few minutes, and that I, your
sister's son, to whom for the last eighteen years you have filled a
father's part, should be debarred from doing so seems indeed hard to
credit.

"That I have done anything to forfeit a continuance of your affection
and esteem I am wholly unaware, and in conclusion I can but assure you
that the dearest hope I have is that the bond which has so long
existed between us should remain intact and wholly unaffected by any
extraneous circumstances whatever.

     "Ever your affectionate Nephew,

                   "Burgo Brabazon."


Epistolary composition was not much in Burgo's line, and the missive
to his uncle was written and altered and rewritten at least a dozen
times before the final fair copy was made and despatched, and even
then he was far from satisfied with it.

But after all it proved to be so much labour in vain. By the first
post next morning his letter came back to him enclosed in an envelope
addressed in a feminine hand, but without an added word of any kind
inside. It had been opened, and that might be taken as proof positive
that it had been read--but by whom? Had it ever reached his uncle? In
view of her husband's invalid condition might not Lady Clinton have
taken upon herself to open and attend to his correspondence? Nothing
seemed more likely. In any case, whether Sir Everard had read the
letter or whether he had not, he, Burgo, was powerless to do more than
he had done in the way of bringing himself and his uncle together
again. He had been baulked at every turn. A resolute and unscrupulous
woman had come between them, and against her poisoned arrows he was
helpless. As he stood up and tore his letter across and across before
flinging it into the fire he cursed Lady Clinton in his heart.

A few days later, as he was taking one of those long solitary rambles
after nightfall into the habit of which he had fallen of late, finding
himself; without any intention on his part, close by Great Mornington
Street, he turned into it and strolled slowly along till he came
opposite his uncle's house. Unlike several neighbouring houses, it was
almost in darkness. There was a light in the entrance hall, but beyond
that only one window in the whole frontage of the house was illumined
from within, and that Burgo knew to be the window of a cosy little
sitting-room known as "the study," and in bygone days sacred to his
uncle's own use. Of course it was quite possible, and indeed most
probable, that the back drawing-room and other rooms which faced the
opposite way were lighted up, but regarded from the street, No. 22
looked distinctly dismal and forbidding. Still, there was nothing
funereal about it, as his first glance at it told him, and the same
moment his heart gave a great throb of relief. There had been a
certain vague dread upon him as he came slowly--almost reluctantly
down the street. What if when he got opposite the house, he should
find it staring out at the night with sightless eyes, its every blind
drawn down, telling of the presence within of that dread visitant who
comes to each of us in turn! Why that dread should have haunted him
to-night more than at another time, he did not know.

"Fact is, I'm hipped--off colour," he said to himself, "and am getting
all sorts of ridiculous notions into my head. It's high time for me to
buckle to work of some kind. Nothing like work, I've been told, for
curing the blues. Well, I suppose I shall have every chance of testing
the remedy as soon as I've succeeded in finding work of some kind to
do."

He had been standing staring at the house for some two or three
minutes, and he now turned to go back up the street. A dozen yards
brought him to a lamp, and he was full in the light reflected from it
when an exclamation from a man who had been on the point of passing
him arrested his attention. The man came to a dead halt and
involuntarily Burgo did the same.

"Sakes alive! if it ain't Mr. Brabazon!" exclaimed the other. "I
thought I couldn't be mistaken," and the same instant Burgo recognised
the speaker.

It was Benny Hines, who, many years before, had been Sir Everard's
coachman, till a fall which broke his right wrist had disabled him for
driving. From that date he had been permanently pensioned by the
baronet, the only duty exacted in return being that he and his wife
should act as caretakers of the mansion in Great Mornington Street
whenever Sir Everard was abroad, or after those families to whom it
was occasionally let for the London season had, with the coming of
autumn, winged their flight elsewhere.

It was Benny who had taught Burgo to "handle the ribbons" when the
latter was a lad, and his memory was stored with reminiscences of many
pleasant hours spent in the old man's company.

"Why, Benny, old friend, and how are you after all this long time?"
said Burgo, as he gave the ex-coachman's hand a cordial grip. "It must
be quite four years since you and I parted last."

"Four years and eight months, Mr. Burgo."

"So long as that! Yes, it must be. I remember it was just before my
uncle took it into his head to go and live abroad. You look as perky
as a redbreast on a snowy morning, and not a day older than when I saw
you last. Missis quite well?"

"Better in health than temper, sir. As I tell her, she has too much of
her own way, and that's allus bad for a woman. I made a foolish start,
sir; I began by indulging her over much, and now--well, well!" He
sighed and pulled down his waistcoat with an air of comic martyrdom.

Burgo laughed. "If I remember rightly, the boot's on the other leg,
Benny. I believe you're a regular Bluebeard at home, and that you
frighten that little wife of yours half out of her wits."

There was a humorous twinkle in Benny's eye. "It's them little mites
o' women like my wife, Mr. Burgo, as are allus the most difficult to
manage. Talk about tempers--lor! Now, if I had only married some big,
strapping, grenadier-kind of woman----"

"You would have had the life thrashed out of you years ago. But we
need not stand here. You were going this way. I'll take a turn with
you. To me one road's the same as another." Then after a pause, as
they paced slowly along side by side: "Have you seen anything of my
uncle and his bride since their arrival home?"

"Very little, sir. You see, they don't either of them go out much. Sir
Everard, I'm sorry to say, seems to be slowly breaking up. But no
doubt you have observed that for yourself, sir, and think it's like my
imperance to speak of it."

Thereupon Burgo proceeded to enlighten the old man to some extent with
regard to the relations which now existed between himself and the
inmates of No. 22.

Benny gave vent to a prolonged whistle. "Excuse my saying so, Mr.
Burgo, but I'm afraid it was a bad day's work for you, sir, when your
uncle brought home a wife."

Burgo shrugged his shoulders.

"I would give much to know how my uncle really is," he said,
"and--and, in point of fact, to learn how affairs in general are going
on at No. 22."

"Then, sir, you have lighted on the very person who can tell you a
good deal of what you want to know."

"Do you mean to say that you are that person, Benny?"

"I am, sir."

"You astonish me. But how do you happen to be able to do what you
say?"

"It's very simple, sir. My wife's niece is parlour-maid at No. 22. She
pops in on us most Sunday evenings, if it's only for a half-hour, and
being in her way as sharp as a needle, there ain't much as escapes
her, or that we don't hear about."

"Then can you tell me this: Is my uncle really as ill as her ladyship
gives me to understand he is?"

"As I said before, sir, my old master seems to be gradually breaking
up. It's not that he's in any pain, or has even a bad cough, or has to
keep to his room. It's just, as far as I can make out from what Polly
tells us, as if he was slowly fading away--gradually dying out, as a
lamp does when the oil begins to run low. All his old go and energy
seem to have left him; he's as mild as milk, and could hardly say 'Bo'
to a goose. Another bad sign is that nothing seems to tempt his
appetite. Polly says, and I suppose she has heard the butler say so,
that he doesn't eat as much in the twenty-four hours as a man in
fairish appetite will eat at one meal."

"Has he any medical advice?"

"Bless you, yes, sir. Dr. Hoskins calls every day."

"Does he never go out of doors?"

"When the weather is very fine, the brougham or barouche is ordered
round about four o'clock, and her ladyship and he go out together. Sir
Everard is dropped at his club, while her ladyship shows herself in
the Park for an hour. Then Sir Everard is picked up and they drive
back home. Other days the baronet never crosses the doorstep."

"Has my uncle any nurse, or any regular attendant besides his valet?"

"He has no nurse but her ladyship, and, by all accounts, he couldn't
have a better. She seems to think nothing a trouble. She it is that
allus gives Sir Everard his medicine and things, and orders this or
the other little dainty to be got ready for him by way of a surprise,
and just to tempt his appetite. Day or night, it seems all one to her,
she's allus on the spot."

After this they walked on for some time in silence, while Burgo strove
to digest what had just been told him. It was certainly one of the
last things he would have looked to be told about Lady Clinton, that
she made an affectionate wife and a devoted nurse to a man whom it was
hardly conceivable she should have married for anything save his money
and his rank.

"You remember, Mr. Burgo," resumed Benny after a time, "what a man the
guv'nor used to be for having his own way?"

"I have not forgotten."

"Allus very quiet--never any bluster--but his own way he would have.
He was one of them men as can't abear opposition. His own way seemed
better to him than anybody else's--not, mind you, sir, that it allus
was. I could have often proved him in the wrong if he would have
listened to argyment, but that was just what he wouldn't do."

"Well, what then?"

"Merely this, sir, that if what I hear is true--and I've no call to
doubt it--then a mighty change must have come over Sir Everard.
Nowadays he's no will about anything; her ladyship keeps it for him
under lock and key. Her will is her husband's will and her own too.
Everything's done through her. Sir Everard daren't--or if he dare he
won't--give an order direct to any of the servants. What he does is to
say, 'My dear, don't you think that such-and-such a thing ought to be
done?' or, 'What is your idea, love, about so-and-so?' And then her
ladyship decides, and whichever way she decides, it seems all one to
Sir Everard. And they do say that his eyes follow her about for all
the world as if he was frightened of her, and dared hardly call his
soul his own. Oh lord! oh lord!" groaned the old fellow, "what a
change to have come over a man, and all the doing of one woman!"

Burgo could have groaned in unison.

"And yet you say that, as a nurse, no one could be kinder or more
attentive than she is?" he presently remarked.

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Burgo, but that may be only part of her
artfulness. Some women, sir, are the very----" A discreet cough
finished his sentence.

Before Burgo and the old man parted they exchanged addresses. Benny
was exhorted to encourage the gossiping proclivities of his wife's
niece anent those matters in which Burgo was interested. He, Burgo,
would not fail to look him up from time to time, and draw upon his
budget of news. Should any information of an alarming kind, bearing on
Sir Everard's health, reach him, Mr. Brabazon was to be communicated
with without loss of time.



CHAPTER VI.
A LAST INTERVIEW.

But there was another matter besides the one he had discussed with
Benny Hines, which at this period of his career might not unreasonably
be supposed to seriously ruffle that serenity of mind which Mr.
Brabazon had heretofore been so successful in cultivating, and that
was his love affair with Miss Leslie.

With his uncle's discarding of him, all his hopes in that direction
had been irremediably blighted. As a pauper--for he was no more than
that now--all thought of love-making was out of the question for years
to come, if not for ever. It was true that he had won no promise from
Clara, but he had so far declared himself to her at the moment of Mrs.
Mordaunt's interruption that he felt it due to both of them that he
should find an opportunity of explaining to Miss Leslie that, if he
wished her to consider as unsaid the impassioned words he had poured
into her ear on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion, it was not
because his feelings towards her had undergone the shadow of a change,
but because circumstances outside his control had rendered it
impossible for him, as an honourable man, to press his suit to an
issue. Bitter, very bitter to him, would such a confession be. During
the last few months he had dreamt so many dreams of which Clara was
the central figure, his imagination had indued her with so many
precious attributes, and so full of happy confidence had he been but a
little while before, that to find himself at one fell blow robbed of
everything, even of hope for the future, had, taken in conjunction
with that other stroke of fate, the effect, for the time being, of
numbing all his faculties of thought and feeling. For hours he would
lie on his back with shut eyes, his senses too dulled to allow of his
suffering acutely, while yet what might be termed a slow fever of
misery seemed to be eating his very life away.

Among all Mr. Brabazon's acquaintances, and they were more numerous
than he could readily have counted, there was not one, perhaps,
who would have credited him with the possession of more than that
limited--mostly very limited--range of feeling and sensibility with
which a somewhat parsimonious Providence has seen fit to endow your
average young man about town. Indeed, it is only fair to assume that
Burgo himself had no suspicion that there lay dormant within him such
heights and depths of passionate but restrained emotion as those which
now revealed themselves for the first time. But he was essentially a
man of action, and before long he roused himself, although not without
an effort, and shook off him a torpor which could not well be
otherwise than enervating, and which seemed to him nothing less than a
slur on his manhood. And with that his courage came back to him in
full measure, and he set himself to confront the future with resolute
eyes.

A wild, nay, nothing less than an insane notion, had more than once
caught him by the throat, as it were, and for a little while had made
his breath come thick and fast. What, he said to himself--what if,
when he should tell Clara he was a ruined man, and that she must
strive to forget he had ever spoken to her as he had, she were to
reply that to her his loss of fortune meant nothing, that her heart
was his and ever would be; that she loved him not one jot less now
that he was poor than when all the world accepted him as his uncle's
heir It was a madman's dream; yet he had read and been told of such
things; and there were times when it refused to be scouted, and would
"sweetly creep into his study of imagination." But even granting for a
moment that such a thing were to come to pass, what then? The
circumstances of the case would in no wise be altered. To tie any girl
down to his broken fortunes would be both a cruelty and a wrong. It
would be very, very sweet to listen to such a confession from the lips
he loved--but--_après_?

Every morning he skimmed the columns of arrivals and departures in the
_Morning Post_ in quest of a notification of the return to town of
Mrs. Mordaunt and her niece, for he was quite aware that to the elder
lady life would have seemed scarcely worth living had her comings and
goings failed to be duly recorded in that organ of the elect. At
length he found what he was looking for. Mrs. Mordaunt and Miss Leslie
had arrived from Paris at No. 6 Cantelupe Gardens. Then, a few days
later, in one of the weekly society papers he came across an
announcement of the engagement of Miss Leslie and Lord Penwhistle.

It was only what he had been expecting to hear for some time past, and
yet the blow, when it did fall, seemed scarcely the less hard to bear
on that account. Well, all was at an end now. Whatever faint but
altogether illusory hopes had lurked unbidden in the most secret
chamber of his heart that Clara might possibly rise superior to the
prejudices of her station--might even rise to the height of a great
sacrifice, and insist upon throwing in her lot with his--withered and
fell dead before that fatal announcement.

On one point he was determined: he would see Clara and speak with her
for the last time. After what had passed between them, after what he
had said to her on the occasion of their last meeting, he felt that
some justification of himself might not improbably be looked for by
her. At any rate, it was due to himself to impress upon her that,
although fickle fortune had left him in the lurch, there was no change
in the sentiments with which he regarded her--that he still loved her
as devotedly as ever he had done. No less than that and no more would
he say to her.

More clearly, as time went on, was Burgo made to feel that he was
being coldshouldered and quietly dropped by numbers of those with whom
he had heretofore been on terms of intimacy, and who had always
accepted him as one of themselves. Already his cards and invitations
had dwindled by fifty per cent. People whom he had been in the habit
of visiting for years seemed of late to have unaccountably forgotten
his existence. Mothers with marriageable daughters no longer smiled on
him so sweetly as they had been wont to do, indeed, they often forgot
to smile on him at all; and the daughters themselves, or so he
fancied, had become more shy and distant--in some cases positively
chilling--and no longer evinced the readiness to dance with him or to
allow him to escort them to the supper-room, to which they had
accustomed him. Even at his club he detected a difference. There was a
frigidity in the atmosphere such as he had never been conscious of
before. Men who had always made a point of shaking hands with him, now
satisfied themselves with a nod and a curt "How-de-do?" It was a
lesson in life the value of which Burgo would recognise later on, but
which at present he could only face in a spirit of proud, bitter
indifference.

It is not to be presumed that among the circle of Mr. Brabazon's
friends and acquaintances any knowledge of the fact that his uncle had
discarded him had as yet leaked out. It was enough for society to know
that Sir Everard Clinton had taken to himself a wife not more than
half his own age, and that, as a consequence, his nephew's prospects
had gone down nearly, if not quite, to zero. Henceforward Mr. Brabazon
would be relegated to the great army of detrimentals.

But not all people are alike, and the Hon. Mrs. Dovering was one of
those who never turned her back on any one whom she liked simply
because fortune had chosen to frown on him or her. Yet Mrs. Dovering
moved in very select circles indeed. Thus it came to pass that one day
a card for her forthcoming garden party reached Burgo. He at once made
up his mind to accept the invitation, for he knew that Mrs. Dovering
and Mrs. Mordaunt were friends of long standing, and it seemed to
him very likely that the latter, accompanied, of course, by Miss
Leslie, would be at the party. If so, he might be able to secure his
wished-for opportunity of speaking with Clara for the last time.

Twysden Court, the country house of the Hon. Mrs. Dovering, was about
a dozen miles up river. When the day of the party arrived Burgo timed
himself so as not to reach there till after the majority of the
company would have assembled. The great attraction of the afternoon
was to be a lawn-tennis match, in which two of the most accomplished
amateur players were to take part.

After shaking hands with his hostess, who greeted him with a
cordiality in no wise impaired by the recent change in his prospects,
of which she had been duly informed, he sauntered off, keeping well on
the fringe of the crowd--and it was a crowd, for there must have been
quite a couple of hundred people present--which, just then, was, or
professed to be, intensely interested in a critical point of the game,
but not failing to keep a wary look-out for Mrs. Mordaunt and her
niece. At length he caught sight of them, not among the mob round the
players, but forming part of a thin outer fringe of people for
whom tennis had no special charm, who were scattered about in little
groups of three or four--the ladies seated, the gentlemen mostly
standing or strolling from one group to another--in the welcome shade
of some "immemorial elms." He saw them, but he was nearly sure that
neither of them had recognised him, and as Mrs. Mordaunt was somewhat
short-sighted, there was not much fear of that matron doing so so long
as he kept outside her limited range of vision. They were seated on a
couple of rustic chairs, and now and again one or another of the men
would lounge up, chat for a couple of minutes, and then retire to make
way for some one else. At length he saw his hostess approach them, say
something to Mrs. Mordaunt, and presently carry that lady off in the
direction of the conservatory. The fact was that, just at that time,
the Hon. Mrs. Dovering's pet craze--she had a fresh one every year,
sometimes two--was the cultivation of orchids, and as Mrs. Mordaunt,
who dabbled a little in most things, but had no enthusiasms (they were
too expensive, she said, and she was not overburdened with means), had
on a recent occasion expressed a strong desire to see her hostess's
collection, her wish was now about to be gratified.

Miss Leslie was left alone.

Here was Burgo's opportunity, and he was not slow to avail him self of
it.

He made a little detour on purpose, and so took the girl unawares. She
gave a great start as he stood suddenly before her, and caught her
breath quickly. Then the hot colour surged up and dyed throat and face
alike, but only, a few seconds later, to ebb as swiftly as it had
come, leaving her paler than before. Burgo, on his part, was perhaps a
trifle paler than ordinary, but perfectly self-possessed and
unembarrassed.

"Good afternoon, Miss Leslie," he said in his blandest tones, as he
smilingly raised his hat. "It seems a long time since I had the
pleasure of seeing you last. As an old acquaintance, I trust it won't
be deemed a liberty if I venture to congratulate you on a certain
auspicious event which, I am told, may shortly be expected to take
place." Then, with an almost startling change of voice and manner, he
added: "For, of course, it is true that you are going to marry Lord
Penwhistle."

"Yes, Mr. Brabazon, it is quite true," replied Clara in a timid little
voice.

"In that case, pray accept my best wishes for your happiness," he
said, as he dropped into the chair by her side. His voice had
recovered its smoothness, his face was a mask. Only for a moment had
he betrayed himself, and, if he could anyhow help it, it should not
happen again.

"On the one side youth and beauty," he continued, "on the other a
title and a rent-roll of thirty thousand a year, with Love himself,
young, fresh, and pure as the dawn, to pipe before the glowing hours
as they pass! It will, indeed, be an ideal union--one of those
marriages (alas, that they should be so few in number!) which are said
to be made in heaven itself."

"You are very cruel, Mr. Brabazon," murmured Clara, with a tear in the
corner of either eye.

"Am I? I did not mean to be," he said; and some of the hardness melted
out of his eyes as he looked at her.

She was not regarding him, but looking straight before her. How lovely
she looked, with her delicate clear-cut profile, her fresh purity of
complexion, her long brown upcurved lashes, which half veiled the
violet orbs beneath them, and that half-opened rosebud of a mouth
which seemed made purposely for kisses--and, perhaps, for sugar-plums!
Burgo, as his eyes devoured her, was possessed by an almost
irresistible longing to put his strong arms around her and strain her
to his heart. How was he to know that beneath that lovely exterior
there fluttered the soul of a butterfly (if butterflies possess
souls), at once vain, frivolous, and shallow--incapable of constancy,
or of any depth of affection, and infected by a certain mercenary
quality which would grow and develop into something hateful as years
went on, and had already instilled its first great lesson into her
mind--that a girl's primary duty to herself; more especially if she be
a girl without a "tocher," is to make a wealthy marriage?

Of all the men to whom she had been introduced since her aunt had
taken her in hand and brought her out, she liked Burgo Brabazon best.
His good looks were of a kind which took her fancy captive. As a rule
she did not care for fair men--and yet, little Lord Penwhistle had
straw-tinted hair, eyes of the colour of skim milk, and a faint,
fluffy moustache, like the down on the breast of a very young
chicken--while Brabazon, the first time she saw him, seemed to her
her own embodiment of Byron's _Corsair_, a poem which she had lately
read for the first Lime; or the hero of one of those very sentimental
milk-and-water novels, to a perusal of which a large share of her
leisure hours was devoted. But although Burgo's personality appealed
so strongly to the romantic side of her character, she would never
have devoted a second serious thought to him (for one can be at once
romantic and mercenary-minded) had he been nothing more than (say) a
banker's clerk, instead of the nephew and heir of a wealthy baronet.

Mrs. Mordaunt had made it her business to ascertain as much about Mr.
Brabazon's family history as it concerned her to know, and she was
quite satisfied that he would make as good a match for her niece as
that charming but impecunious young woman could reasonably look for.
At any rate, unless something better should presently offer itself, he
must by no means be allowed to slip through Clara's fingers, for
although Mr. Brabazon had not yet spoken, his infatuation was as plain
as a pikestaff to that astute matron. Therefore the _mot d'ordre_ was
passed to Clara, much to her delight. She was to lead him gently on as
by a silken thread, but never, if possible, to let him suspect that
her fingers had fast hold of the other end of it. It ought not to be a
difficult matter to bring him to book, Mrs. Mordaunt opined, "for,
unless I am very much mistaken, the bandage is over his eyes already."

Nobody, therefore, could have been more astonished than Miss Leslie
was that evening when, Mr. Brabazon having been brought to declare
himself, her aunt (who had known quite well where to find them) bore
down upon them just in time to prevent her from accepting him, and,
with a request to Mr. Brabazon to rearrange the conservatory slides,
carried her off from under the nose of her would-be lover.

But Clara comprehended when, a few minutes later, her aunt said to
her: "Mr. Brabazon's uncle has got married somewhere abroad. I've just
heard the news. It may--nay, it must--make a great difference as
regards the young man's prospects. The safest plan will be to give him
his _congé_. Besides, Lord Penwhistle, with whom you danced twice the
other night, has been asking for you. He's very rich. If you play your
cards judiciously, there's no knowing what may come to pass."

Miss Leslie cried a good deal in the course of the next few days in
the solitude of her chamber. She disliked Lord Penwhistle as much as
she liked Burgo; indeed, it might be said that she loved the latter as
much as her shallow little heart was capable of loving any one. But
she was a good girl, and thoroughly amenable to her aunt's dictates.
No thought of rebellion ever entered her mind. Besides, if Mr.
Brabazon was going to be a poor man it was far better that they should
not marry. She had seen and understood enough of the horrors of
genteel poverty when a child at home. It had been the perpetual worry
about sordid details and the long, hopeless struggle to free himself
from debt, which had worn out her father years before his time. Even
now the recollection of it made her shudder.

No, there was no help for it. Fate was very unkind, but she and Mr.
Brabazon must part. And when--her birthday falling about a week
later--Lord Penwhistle requested her acceptance of a ruby and sapphire
bracelet, she felt still more convinced that all must be considered at
an end as between Burgo and herself.

"I am glad to have secured this opportunity, Miss Leslie, for a little
quiet talk with you," resumed Mr. Brabazon after a pause which to
Clara was fast becoming intolerable. The dying embers of her love for
Burgo had been fanned afresh into a flame by his presence. Never had
Lord Penwhistle seemed so odious to her as at that moment. "After
to-day, however, you need have no fear that I shall trouble you again.
On a certain occasion I took the liberty of saying certain things to
you, but was interrupted before I had got more than half-way through.
Your aunt broke in upon us and carried you off--for what reason is now
plain enough. She had just heard that my uncle, whose heir I was
supposed to be, had taken to himself a wife, and that, consequently,
my eligibility as a _parti_ for her niece had suddenly gone down to
vanishing point. Is my statement very wide of the mark, Miss Leslie?"

"No, it is not, Mr. Brabazon," replied Clara without hesitation. Just
then she felt that she hated Mrs. Mordaunt. She would save her nothing
in the way of exposure. "My aunt had heard the news you speak of, and
she told me that as between you and me everything must at once come to
an end."

"And you?" said Burgo quietly.

"What could I do? When you called, we were not at home. A few days
later my aunt carried me off to Paris, and from the date of that
evening in the conservatory till now you and I have never met."

"That has been owing to no remissness on my part, I assure you. I was
most anxious to meet you. I wanted to tell you that, although I was
unfortunately no longer in a position to ask you to become my wife, my
sentiments towards you had in no wise changed--that it was not I, but
circumstances, that were to blame."

He paused till a burst of clapping and cheering from the crowd round
the players had died away.

"I am glad to have been able to tell you this at last," he went on.
"But if fortune has behaved scurvily by me, she has dealt kindly by
you. If you had conceded me that which I was on the point of asking
you for when Mrs. Mordaunt appeared so inopportunely on the scene, you
would have made me a happy man, but think what you would have lost
yourself!"

"I fail to understand you. Pray explain yourself, Mr. Brabazon," said
Clara a little uneasily.

"'Tis plain enough. Had you given your hand to me, you would never
have had the happiness of becoming Lady Penwhistle."

A faint "Oh!" was Clara's sole reply. Why was he so bitter? He must
have loved her very much to talk as he did.

"So that you see everything has happened for the best as far as you
are concerned," resumed Burgo in his soft drawling tones. "Indeed, I
think that you ought to be very thankful for your escape--probably you
are. The Penwhistle family diamonds are said to be superb, and rumour
has it that his lordship is disposed to behave most liberally in the
way of settlements. You are a very fortunate young woman, Miss
Leslie."

Clara's heart, such as it was, was full to bursting. "Oh! if you knew
all," she exclaimed; "if you knew how I was pestered and badgered into
accepting Lord Penwhistle, you would pity me instead of sneering at
me! If you think I like him, you are mistaken. I don't. There! And I
don't care who knows it." For once she was carried out of herself.

"Pestered and badgered, indeed! Is that all? Why should any young
woman allow herself to be pestered and badgered by anybody into
marrying a man for whom she does not care? What a confession of
weakness is here!"

"As I said before, you don't know my aunt--as I know her."

"No--thank heaven!" murmured Burgo.

"But all this talk is to no purpose, Mr. Brabazon," said Clara
hastily. She already regretted her little outburst. "In fact, I ought
not to have listened to it. It is enough that I have promised to marry
Lord Penwhistle, and I am not going to run away from my promise."

"Of course you are not," assented Burgo with that exasperating smile
of his. "You would regret it to the last day of your life if you did."

"Ah, here comes my aunt," said Clara with a sigh of relief.

Burgo stood up as Mrs. Mordaunt drew near. Her face became charged
with thunder the moment she recognised him. But that in no wise
discomposed our friend. "Delighted to see you again, Mrs. Mordaunt,"
he said, as he raised his hat. "It seems ages since I parted from you
last. I have just been felicitating Miss Leslie upon a certain event
which, I hear on good authority, is to take place very shortly. I
suppose, if it would not be considered presumptuous on my part, that I
ought also to congratulate you, Mrs. Mordaunt, for affairs of this
sort, to be successfully carried through, necessitate delicate
manipulation and diplomatic talent of a very special kind. Yes, I am
quite sure you ought to be congratulated. Penwhistle's a decent little
chap enough, though they _did_ blackball him at the Corinthian. Still,
I don't think it can be true that the reason they 'chucked' him was
because his grandfather is said to have been a marine-store dealer in
Auld Reekie. No man can help his grandfather, can he? And when a
fellow is worth thirty thousand a year, it would not matter a button
even if one of his ancestors was hanged for sheep-stealing."



CHAPTER VII.
BURGO IN A NEW CHARACTER.


Burgo Brabazon had made up his mind beforehand that if he should be
successful in meeting Miss Leslie at Twysden Court, and should find an
opportunity of unburdening his mind to her of that which he wanted to
say, he would take therewith his farewell of the pomps and vanities of
London society. Well, he had succeeded in seeing her, and in having
his say into the bargain, and as he passed out of the gates of Twysden
Court he murmured to himself with a bitter smile: "Good-bye, proud
world. From this day forth you and I are strangers. I choose to cut
you, rather than afford you the chance of cutting me."

For, indeed, it was high time for him to think seriously of putting
his hand to the plough, only, at present, he was not quite sure in
which direction to look for that useful implement, or rather, for its
latter-day equivalent.

He had been going into the question of his finances, and had found
that in hard cash he was worth a matter of between forty and fifty
pounds, that sum representing the balance of his last quarter's
allowance. He had a tolerable stock of jewellery and trinkets, which
would always fetch something should the worst come to the worst. His
uncle had discharged all his liabilities, so that his calculations
were not disturbed by any question of what he owed to others. It was
true that in the interim he had run up various little accounts with
his tailor, his bootmaker, and so on. But such trifles were not worth
a second thought. He had always accustomed his tradespeople to
waiting, and he had no wish to hurt their feelings by offering them
ready money. It was with a clear conscience that he said to himself,
"When a fellow finds himself in a fix such as I'm in now, there's
really a sort of sweet satisfaction in knowing that he doesn't owe a
shilling to a soul."

But fifty pounds, even if doled out with the most cheeseparing
economy, will not last for ever, and when the end of it should be
reached, what then? He had not forgotten "old Garden's" offer to be
his banker till brighter days should dawn; but he was by no means
inclined to accept it. "As he said, a spell of hard work will do me
good, and I'll work my fingers to the bone before I'll apply to him."

Evidently the first thing to be done was to get rid of his rooms,
which were within fifty yards of New Bond Street, and move into
lodgings which would accord better with the exiguity of his resources.
But it was requisite that he should either find a fresh tenant or give
a month's notice. Fortunately he knew a fellow who was dissatisfied
with his own "diggings," and would jump at the chance of securing his.

In the interval between his last interview with Mr. Garden and his
afternoon at Twysden Court he had had ample time to turn over a score
of different projects in his mind, each of which, however, when he
came to consider it in detail, proved to be either more or less
impracticable, or else to have certain features in connection with it
against which his somewhat fastidious taste revolted. He had spoken to
the lawyer about enlisting, but when he came to reckon up all that he
had seen and been told about life in barracks (several of his
acquaintances were military men), and to call to mind the class of
persons from whom three-fourths of the British army is recruited, the
prospect seemed to him the reverse of alluring. Could he have made
sure of being at once despatched on active service, where there would
have been a chance of promotion, he would have enlisted without
hesitation; but the thought of a dull, inglorious life in barracks and
all that was implied thereby, appalled him.

Had he but possessed the requisite capital, he would have gone out to
the States, or Australia, and after serving a couple of years to the
business, would have bought a cattle ranch or a sheep run, and have
sunk or swum by the venture. But, as we have seen, his worldly fortune
amounted to the preposterously inadequate sum of fifty pounds, all
told.

Sometimes a great longing would come over him when he thought of these
things, and a voice would seem to whisper in his ear, "What a
consummate ass you must have been to tear up your uncle's cheque!
Think of all you might have done with it. Think of----"

But at this point Burgo would jump up and begin to stamp about the
room, swearing softly to himself as he did so.

No, not if it would have made him the owner of a dozen cattle ranches,
would he have accepted Sir Everard's cheque with the conditions
attached to it.

Far rather would he starve.

It was no more than natural that at times his thoughts should revert
to his other uncle, Mr. Denis Clinton, who was only two and a half
years the junior of Sir Everard. To Burgo he was little more than a
name. Uncle and nephew had never met since the latter was quite a
child. Mr. Denis Clinton was a bachelor and a misogynist, and a miser
to boot. He had no belief in the claims of relationship, more
especially in the case of relatives to whom fortune had not proved
over kind. And that had been the hap of his sister Elinor--Burgo's
mother--who, against the wishes of her relatives, had persisted in
marrying a naval lieutenant of good family, but with no pecuniary
resources except his pay, and a private income of a hundred a year.
When, a few years later, Lieutenant Brabazon died, after a long
illness, and deeply in debt, and when his widow found it imperative on
her to appeal to her relatives for help, Denis Clinton had contented
himself with sending her a twenty pound note, coupled with an
intimation that she must not look to him for any further aid. He would
not have been the man he was if at the same time he had not told her
in the plainest possible terms that she had no one to thank for her
indigent condition but herself, and that she had brought it all on by
her own headstrong folly.

Between Sir Everard and his brother there was no love lost. They were
in every way so wholly the opposite of each other, and had been from
their boyhood, they looked at life from two such different
standpoints, that there seemed no common ground of unity between them.
They had neither seen nor held any communication with each other for
nearly a score years, nor had they any desire to do so.

Mr. Denis Clinton was the owner of a large but not very productive
property on the borders of Yorkshire and Lancashire, attached to which
was an old manor house, in which he lived a secluded and penurious
life, "the world forgetting, by the world forgot." As matters stood at
present he was next heir to the title and entailed estates.

But although, in his many musings over his position, Burgo's thoughts
did occasionally revert to his Uncle Denis, it was never with any
serious intention of applying to him for the pecuniary help needed to
give him, Burgo, a fair start in life. Even if he could have
sufficiently humbled his pride to ask him--which he knew to be an
impossibility--he felt sure that his application would have been met
by a refusal. All he used to say to himself was: "If my Uncle Denis
had been a different kind of man from what he is, if he had been
another Uncle Everard, then, perhaps, I might have made known my need
to him, in which case, if he had chosen to hold out a helping hand, I
should not have turned away."

As matters fell out, his choice of a profession was ultimately
determined by accident.

One night, about eleven o'clock, as he was strolling along the Strand,
he came upon a crowd of men and boys at the corner of a side street,
congregated round a hansom cab and a couple of stalwart policemen.
Burgo was not fond of street crowds, and was proceeding to push his
way through the fringe of this one, when he heard one man say to
another, "What's the bloomin' row?" "A cabby wot's fell off his box in
a fit, and cut his 'ead open," replied the other. Then a third man
joined in, apparently a stranger to the others: "It's one of old
Hendry's 'ansoms," he said. "All that's wanted is for the cabby to get
inside his own flycatcher, and let some cove drive him home."

Burgo shouldered his way through the crowd till he had reached the
heart of it.

"What's the matter, Robert?" he inquired of one of the policemen, as
he slipped a shilling into his hand.

The man carried a finger to his helmet, but could tell him no more
than he knew already.

"You are sure his fall was not the result of drink?" queried Mr.
Brabazon.

"Sure of that, sir. I and my mate both know the man. He's a very
decent sort of fellow, and a teetotaler."

"Is he much hurt?"

"Oh, no, sir; nothing to speak of. A little bit dazed-like, as you may
see for yourself, but nothing more. Still, it's hardly safe to let him
get on the box; he might be took like it again before he got to the
yard."

"Certainly. I see that this is one of my friend Mr. Hendry's cabs, so
I tell you what you had better do. Put the man inside, and I will
drive him home to the yard." And with that he handed the constable his
card.

The police were only too glad to be thus relieved of a difficulty
which was detaining them from their more regular duties. Accordingly
the man was bundled inside, while Burgo mounted to the perch behind;
then the crowd divided to let him through, while somebody called out
for a cheer for the "toff," which was heartily responded to.

Mr. Tobias Hendry was a jobmaster and cab proprietor, well known to
Burgo, who, in the course of his career, had had many a "trap" from
him on hire--an elastic term which must be understood as including
vehicles of various kinds. The only two horses Burgo had ever owned
had been bought for him by Mr. Hendry, and when hard compulsion, in
the shape of certain racing liabilities which he found a difficulty in
meeting, had compelled him to part from them, it was "Toby H."--as he
was generally called among his intimates--who, succeeded in disposing
of them for him at a not too ruinous loss.

Mr. Hendry happened to be in the yard when Burgo drove in, but when
the flaps of the hansom were flung back and Joey Bunch, with his
ensanguined visage, stumbled out of the interior, and when, by the
light of the lamp over the stable door, he recognised the driver, his
face put on such an expression of comic perplexity that Burgo could
not help laughing aloud.

"Been up to some of your little games, Mr. Brabazon, I reckon," said
the jobmaster dryly. He was an elderly, wiry, rather undersized man,
with iron-gray hair and short side whiskers to match.

"For once you are mistaken, Mr. Hendry," replied Burgo. And therewith
he proceeded, as briefly as possible, to put the other in possession
of the facts of the case.

"I'm really very much obliged to you, Mr. Brabazon," said the
jobmaster. "It isn't every gentleman that would put himself to the
trouble you have. As for Bunch, he's the most steady-going driver I
have. I hope there's nothing serious the matter with him, but, of
course, I must have him seen by a doctor before I can let him go out
again. Yes, Mr. Brabazon, I'm _very_ much obliged to you."

"But, as it happens, it is I who want to be obliged to you, Mr.
Hendry."

"In what way can I serve you, sir?"

"If your office is empty, let us go in there for a few minutes." A
sudden resolution (at the time it seemed to him almost like an
inspiration) had come to him while he was driving Joey Bunch home.

The jobmaster led the way, and as soon as the office door was shut
behind them Burgo said: "I don't know whether you are aware that my
uncle, Sir Everard Clinton, has discarded me--cast me off--will have
nothing more to do with me. But such is the unpleasant fact. It's not
because I have kicked over the traces, or done anything to offend him,
but simply because he has taken to himself a wife half his own age
who, to serve some purpose of her own, has succeeded in poisoning his
mind and setting him against me. Now, as I have very little money, and
can't live on air, it's evident I must find work of some kind. The
worst of it is that I've been brought up to nothing, and have no
aptitude or gift of any kind. Under those circumstances what is a man
to do? That is a question, Mr. Hendry, which, if I've put to myself
once, I have a hundred times. At length I have decided that there are
only two things I can do with any degree of credit to myself or
others, and those are, riding and driving. But where's the good of
either of them to a fellow who has neither a horse nor a trap to call
his own?"

"Don't know, I'm sure, Mr. Brabazon, unless he makes use of the horses
and traps of his friends. And a good many young men do that, sir, who
are in the same predicament as yourself."

"True for you, Mr. Hendry, but I've no inclination to add one more to
their number. No, sir, what I've decided upon doing is to try to earn
my living as a hansom-cab driver, and I have come to you, Mr. Hendry,
as a man whom I've known for a number of years, to ask you to give me
a start; in other words, as our friend Joey would say, to 'put me on
the job.'"

Hendry stared at him open-mouthed for a second or two. Then he said:
"You don't seriously mean what you say, Mr. Brabazon?"

"Most seriously I do. I was never more in earnest in my life."

"Well, sir, you're not the first broken-down swell--if you'll excuse
the term--that I've known take to driving a hansom for a living, but
they have mostly been of a different quality from you. Still, needs
must when a certain person drives. I don't suppose starving's any
pleasanter to a man that's had a college education, than to one who
can neither read nor write. If you like to look me up at eleven
to-morrow forenoon, Mr. Brabazon, I may have something to say to you."

Burgo did not fail to keep the appointment, and the result was that on
the following Monday morning, having in the interim taken out a
license in due form at Scotland Yard, he started in his new career. It
appeared that Mr. Hendry had just become the owner of a hansom which
had been the property of a medical man. It was what the jobmaster
himself termed "a real elegant turn-out," and he was only too pleased
to have secured such a man as Mr. Brabazon to drive it. Into its
shafts he put a half-blood mare, which he had bought a bargain,
because she had once come down on her knees when her former owner, a
very nervous old gentleman, was taking his constitutional in the Park.
By this time Burgo had vacated his rooms off New Bond Street for a
much more unpretentious domicile no great distance from Mr. Hendry's
yard. He had written Mr. Garden a half-cynical, half-humorous note,
telling him what he had decided upon doing, and advising him of his
changed address. He had also looked up Benny Hines, partly for the
same purpose, and partly to ascertain whether the old man had anything
fresh to communicate with reference to Sir Everard. But it appeared
that affairs in Great Mornington Street were going on much as they had
for the last two months. If it could not be averred that the baronet
was any worse in health, there seemed to be no visible signs of
improvement. Dr. Hoskins continued to call three or four times a week,
and his patient still went for a drive on most fine afternoons. But
with a man of the baronet's years such a state of things could not go
on much longer. If there was no improvement, it seemed inevitable that
he must gradually, although it might be almost imperceptibly, become
weaker. That they saw no company at No. 22, and went nowhere, was
sufficiently accounted for by the state of Sir Everard's health.

And now for Burgo began a new life indeed, one which, as he presently
found, tended to expand his ideas in directions never thought of
before, and to alter his views of many things in a quite remarkable
way. The "passing show," as seen from the perch of a hansom, wore for
him an aspect very different from that which it had assumed when
looked at from the box-seat of Lord Ockbrook's drag. It seemed to have
undergone a quite kaleidoscopic transformation between whiles. But, as
he told himself, what he saw now was the real thing--was the great
throbbing pulse of London, with some at least of its complex workings
and amazing contrasts laid bare for his inspection; while here and
there he obtained glimpses of its multifarious undercurrents of joy,
hope, fear, misery, and despair, and of a poverty so extreme that it
grinds the life out of some of its victims, while transforming others
into the semblance of brute beasts. To live for six months the life of
a London "cabby" is, for a man with eyes to see and a mind susceptible
of receiving and retaining impressions, an education of itself--but
what an education!

Various reports were current in those clubs of which Mr. Brabazon had
been a member, as to the cause of his sudden disappearance, for, so
far as was known, he had gone without saying a word to anybody.
Although somewhat reserved and stand-offish except with a chosen few,
he had been by no means unpopular; but none, even among his most
intimate friends, was in a position to furnish any authentic tidings
of his whereabouts, or to account definitely for his continued
absence. Some had it (for with your club gossip fact and invention
very often go hand in hand) that he had gone on an exploring
expedition among the wilds either of Africa or Asia, they were not
sure which. Others averred that he had got so deeply into debt, by no
means for the first time, as to have offended his uncle beyond
forgiveness, and that, as a consequence, he had been expatriated, with
the understanding that his allowance would cease the moment he should
set foot on English soil without leave being given him to do so. Nor
were these the only fables promulgated which found a more or less
ready credence in this or the other smoking-room. But when, on
different occasions, two men came forward and averred that they had
seen Burgo Brabazon driving a swell hansom for hire in the West End,
their statements were received either with polite incredulity or
unconcealed derision. Of course the explanation was simple enough. It
was merely one case the more of mistaken identity.

The only change in his appearance made by Burgo, except that he had
taken into regular wear his very oldest suit of tweeds, was that he
had shaved off his moustache, and had begun to cultivate an inch of
side whisker. But this, to an ordinary club acquaintance, or any one
who had not been on intimate terms with him, was enough to alter his
aspect almost beyond casual recognition. Then, his face had sunken
somewhat of late, thereby bringing his cheek bones into greater
prominence; and because his features were thinner, they looked longer
and older. That several of his whilom acquaintances should see him
without recognising him was scarcely to be wondered at. Indeed, more
than one of them had engaged his cab, and been driven by him to
wherever they had wanted to go, and had paid him at the end of the
journey, without having the slightest suspicion as to the driver's
personality. But on such occasions Burgo always spoke in a feigned
voice, and had a trick, which he had picked up when a boy, of treating
his fare to a very pronounced squint of his left eye.

But, as a rule, he saw old acquaintances without seeing them. He
neither turned away his face, nor let his eyes rest on them. To him
they were as the most absolute strangers--people on whom he had never
set eyes before, and, for anything he knew or cared, might never do so
again.

There came an afternoon when, in a temporary jam of vehicles, just
outside the Marble Arch, Burgo, perched aloft on his cab, found
himself close to Mrs. Mordaunt's barouche. For a couple of minutes or
more there was no possibility of turning a wheel. Seated with her back
to the horses, and facing her aunt and another lady, was Clara Leslie.
Her eyes and Burgo's met. She gave a little start, bit her lip, and
then bent forward as if to assure herself that it was really he. A
second look convinced her. He sat as if carved out of stone, his
features as devoid of expression as those of some old Egyptian deity.
But however changed he might be in other ways, she knew him by his
eyes. For her there were no such eyes in the world. Her own seemed to
dilate as she looked, while every trace of colour fled her face. Busy
discussing the latest morsel of scandal, neither Mrs. Mordaunt nor her
friend saw anything. Then the crowd parted as if by magic--the magic
brought to bear by the police on duty--and Burgo's mare, obedient to
its driver's signal, dashed forward. The same instant there was a
little cry from Mrs. Mordaunt. Miss Leslie had fainted.



CHAPTER VIII.
UNCLE AND NEPHEW.


As a cab-driver Burgo was a decided success, earning, as he did,
considerably more money for Mr. Hendry than any other driver in the
yard. But he was not conceited enough to take the merit thereof in any
way to himself, but rightly put it down to the superior attractiveness
of the vehicle driven by him. His hours were long, but he was glad of
that; less time was left him for brooding over the past and all it had
robbed him of. Mr. Hendry and he remained on the best of terms. If the
jobmaster's treatment of him differed in many respects from that which
he usually accorded his men, it was no more, perhaps, than might be
expected under the circumstances; at any rate, it was a state of
things on which Burgo never presumed. He knew his place, and he was
careful never to cross the line he had laid down for himself when he
accepted it. Without associating with his brother cabbies more than
was absolutely necessary, he was on pleasantly free-and-easy terms
with them. In the way of jokes he could give and take with the best,
and when the occasion demanded he could drop into the vernacular, or
hold his own in a slanging match, after a fashion which would have
considerably astonished his uncle had he happened to overhear him.

When in after days Burgo came to look back on this episode in his
career he could recognise that it had not been a wholly unhappy time
with him. He was at an age when it is impossible for a man worth
calling a man to be actively miserable for any length of time. Fate
had smitten him hardly; both Love and Fortune had turned their backs
on him; the gilt had been rubbed off his gingerbread with a vengeance;
and yet, as time went on, he was surprised to find that he was by no
means so wretched as he deemed himself to have a right to be. When the
discovery dawned upon him he could not resist a certain sense of
disappointment, and was inclined to be savage with himself. But
presently it seemed much better to laugh at, rather than be angry
with, himself, and to regard the whole affair with philosophical
indifferentism as from the standpoint of an outsider. He would be at
once both actor and spectator of his own little tragi-comedy.

Summer was on the turn; Goodwood was a thing of the past till another
year; wearied legislators were anxiously speculating as to the
proximate prorogation of Parliament; and the prospects of the coming
grouse season were being eagerly discussed by those interested in such
matters, when, on a certain sunny afternoon, Burgo Brabazon, who had
just set down a fare, and was making his way back in leisurely fashion
to the rank from which he usually plied, was hailed by the porter
of the Mastodon Club. As he drew up by the kerb the man said: "Old
gent--hot weather--fainting-fit--come round again all right--won't
wait for his carriage--wants to be taken home in a keb."

Scarcely had the last words left the man's lips before Burgo beheld
coming slowly and feebly down the club steps, and leaning heavily on
the arm of another member, none other than his uncle, Sir Everard
Clinton.

But what a change there was in him since Burgo had seen him last
He looked the mere wreck of his former self. He had been a tall,
robust-looking, well-set-up man, as upright in figure as a military
martinet, with the fine healthy colour (although he had a way of
fancying himself out of sorts when there was nothing more serious the
matter with him than a mild attack of dyspepsia) of one who habitually
spent much of his time in the open air. Now he had all the appearance
of a man who was slowly but surely dying of some incurable disease.
His face, which wore the pallor of old ivory, had shrunken till there
seemed little left of it besides skin and bone. His eyes had lost all
their old-time brightness and clear fixity of regard. His figure was
bowed as might be that of a man a century old, and so attenuated and
worn away that it seemed hard to believe his clothes had not been made
for some one half as big again as himself. Burgo felt a great wave of
commingled love, grief, compassion, and rage surge over his heart as
he watched his uncle descending the club steps.

His friend, having helped Sir Everard into the cab and taken leave of
him, said to Burgo: "No. 22 Great Mornington Street," adding in a
lower voice, "Ring and summon some of the servants as soon as you get
there and see that he is properly helped out of the cab."

Burgo drove very steadily. Ten minutes brought them to their
destination. As soon as he had drawn up he leapt to the ground, ran up
the steps of the house, and gave a mighty tug at the bell. Then going
back to the cab, he leant forward, and looking Sir Everard straight in
the face, said: "Uncle, won't you let me help you to alight?"

The old man started at the sound of his voice; then he began
to tremble, and staring hard at him, he said: "Who are you?
Surely--surely you can't be my nephew, Burgo Brabazon?"

"But, indeed, I can be, and am Burgo Brabazon, and you are my Uncle
Everard. You used to say I had my mother's eyes. Have you forgotten
what they were like, uncle?"

"Ah! now I recognise you; now I know you are speaking the truth.
Still, you are changed somehow. For that matter"--with a deep
sigh--"are we not all changed? But--but what's this? It was you who
drove me here, and--and you are wearing a badge. What is the meaning
of it?"

"Simply, sir, that I am endeavouring to earn an honest livelihood by
driving a cab."

"My God! and has it come to that? My nephew--poor, hardly done by
Josephine's son! Ah, dear shade, while on earth so dearly loved,
forgive me--forgive!" The last words were spoken half under his
breath.

By this a couple of footmen had appeared on the scene, but not with
any unseemly amount of haste. In their opinion, it was a piece of
"confounded cheek" on the part of a common cabby to ring the bell as
this one had done. But their faces changed at sight of their master.
Waving them aside, Sir Everard said in a low voice to Burgo: "Don't
let those fellows come near me. Help me yourself into the house,
but--but put that horrid badge out of sight!"

So Burgo, having first beckoned a near-at-hand crossing-sweeper to
take charge of his horse and cab, helped his uncle to alight, and then
gave him his arm up the steps and into the house.

"You must not leave me, my dear boy--not on any account," said Sir
Everard emphatically, as soon as the servants had been sent about
their business. "Her ladyship will probably want to get rid of
you--nay, she is sure to do so--but promise me not to leave me,
promise me not to allow yourself to be turned out of doors by her."

"If it is your wish, uncle, that I should remain here I will certainly
do so."

"It is my wish, my most earnest wish." Then, with a ghost of his old
authoritative manner, he added: "In point of fact I order you to
stay."

"In that case, I had better send my horse and cab home as soon as
possible. Have you anyone whom I can entrust them with?"

"Grimes, the stable-help, is your man. Ring for him."

So, presently Grimes drove off with the horse and cab, being also the
bearer of a message from Burgo to Mr. Hendry.

"And now assist me upstairs to my own room," said Sir Everard, when
the man was gone.

It had been a room well-known to Burgo of old, and perhaps was the
only one in the house which had not been more or less transmogrified
by Lady Clinton. Its furniture was dark, substantial, and
old-fashioned. Two of its sides were lined with mahogany cases crammed
with coins, medals, and curios of various kinds. Of late, however, Sir
Everard seemed to have lost all interest in his old pursuits. On the
floor stood a couple of unopened boxes containing purchases forwarded
to him by one of his agents from abroad, but as yet he had not had the
heart to open them. It was a fact which proclaimed more eloquently
than words the pass to which he had been brought. As soon as the
baronet had been relieved of his overcoat, and established in his own
particular chair, he said: "You see a great change in me, don't you,
my boy?"

"I do indeed, sir."

"You, too, are altered, I hardly know how, but there's a difference.
It seems to me that you get more like your mother every time I see
you."

"It's a long time since you saw me last, uncle."

"So it is--more's the pity. How long? But never mind now. If her
ladyship wants to bundle you out, you will refuse to go, eh?"

"You already have my promise, sir. Here I am, and here I will stay
till you yourself order me to begone."

"With you here, Burgo, I shall have nothing to be afraid of."

"But what have you to be afraid of at any time, uncle?"

He cast his eyes slowly around as if to make sure that they were
alone. Then leaning forward, he said in a whisper: "Sometimes--God
help me!--I fear for my life."

Burgo started. Was it because Sir Everard's words had sufficed to give
a definite shape and consistency to certain half-fledged suspicions of
his own?

He did not reply, not, indeed, knowing what to say, but waited to hear
more. "Then, again, there are times," resumed the baronet, "when I
cast the fear--the thought--the suspicion (call it what you will) from
me as utterly unworthy of me--wholly degrading--nay, far worse than
degrading to _her_; times when I tell myself that old age is creeping
upon me, that my constitution is breaking up (a few years earlier,
maybe, than at one time I thought it would), and that, the
circumstances being such as they are, I ought to deem myself one of
the most fortunate of mortals, seeing that in Giulia I have secured
one of the most devoted of nurses and the most affectionate of wives."

Burgo felt that it was expected of him to say something; and yet, on
so delicate a topic, and one about which he knew so little, would it
not be an impertinence on his part to venture on an opinion of any
kind?

"I presume, sir, that you have not gone all this time without seeking
medical advice?" was his diplomatic remark.

"Certainly not. I had only been three days at home when I sent for
Hoskins, who knows my constitution, if anybody does. He's attending me
still; but, if a frequent change of physic may be taken as any
criterion, he's puzzled what to make of me; though, of course, he
would be the last man in the world to admit it. In fact, I've tried to
pin him down more than once to a definite opinion, but there's nothing
to be got out of him save vague generalities."

Not for some weeks had he talked so much in so short a time. The
excitement of meeting his nephew had lent him a fictitious strength,
but the effort now told upon him. "Pour me out three-parts of a
wine-glassful of that green stuff," he said, indicating a bottle on a
side table, "and then fill it up with water."

Having swallowed the cordial, he lay back for a little space with
closed eyes. But presently he roused himself, and looked at his watch.
"Her ladyship is past her time," he said; "she may be here at any
moment."

A curiously apprehensive expression showed itself in his eyes, and
Burgo seemed to detect a distinct note of timidity in his voice when
he spoke next.

"I'm not sure that I've done right, Burgo, in pressing you to stay,"
he said; "she won't approve of it--I'm certain she won't approve of
it."

"I presume, uncle, that you are master in your own house," said Burgo,
with a touch of sternness in his voice.

The old man looked at him for a moment or two in silence. Then he
said: "I used to be master in my own house, wasn't I, my boy?"

"No man more so, sir."

"Ah I well, I'm not now. How it's all come about would take too long
to tell. Indeed, I'm by no means sure that I'm clear about it myself.
It's all due to my breakdown in health, I suppose. I'm not like the
same man I used to be. The days come and go, I hardly know how, nor do
I greatly care. Giulia has relieved me of all worry and
responsibility; she has taken everything into her own hands." Then,
after a momentary pause, he added: "And to-day I'm a cipher in my own
house."

His chin sank forward on his breast, and for a minute or two he seemed
lost in thought. Then, lifting his head, and speaking with an echo of
his old energy, he said: "But whether Giulia approves of your being
here or no, you must stay, Burgo--you have promised me that."

"As I have said already, not till you bid me go will I budge an inch."

"But the worst of it is that I'm by no means sure of myself from one
hour to another. Such is her influence over me that she seems able to
make me say and do whatever she chooses. It's a shameful confession
for a man to make, but it's the truth. As I remarked before, she's the
most devoted of nurses, the most affectionate of wives; and yet, for
all that, there are occasions when, for some inscrutable reason, my
soul rises in revolt against her. Sometimes, when I wake up in the
dark hours, and see her by the dim light of the night-lamp standing by
my bedside, and holding in her hand the potion she has mixed for me, a
chill horror comes over me--an unreasoning dread of I know not what.
It is as though I had just succeeded in breaking the fetters of some
dreadful nightmare, but still felt its influence upon me. Happily for
me, such moments come but seldom. When I look up into Giulia's
beautiful eyes the nightmare feeling leaves me, I swallow my draught,
and sink back on my pillows, feeling profoundly grateful that I am
blessed with so loving a wife. Ah! that must be the barouche."

Burgo rose, crossed to the window, and looked out. "It is her
ladyship," he said quietly.

"Quick--give me a little more of that cordial before she comes
upstairs," said Sir Everard.

As Burgo took back the glass he gripped him by the hand. "Courage,
uncle!" he said; "remember that you are the master of your own
actions, and that under this roof no one has either the right or the
power to act in any way whatever in opposition to your wishes."

But Sir Everard scarcely seemed to hear him; his eyes were bent
apprehensively on the door. Burgo groaned inwardly. He felt that if it
came to a contest with Lady Clinton, both he and his uncle would be
ignominiously defeated, simply because the latter would not have
enough strength of will to hold his own against her.

The door opened and her ladyship entered the room.

She had been later than usual in reaching the club on her return from
the Park, having had to call at her dressmaker's _en route_. When told
by the hall-keeper at the Mastodon that, as a consequence of a slight
attack of indisposition, Sir Everard had already gone home, she drove
there as quickly as possible. The report of Vallance, Sir Everard's
man, reassured her in some measure. His master on his return seemed in
no way worse than when he had left the house with her ladyship, but
the strangest part of the affair was that the cabman who had brought
him home had not only been allowed to assist him into the house, but
was actually closeted with Sir Everard at that moment. Vallance had
only been about a year in the baronet's service, and had never set
eyes on Mr. Brabazon before that day.

Consequently it was with no ordinary feelings of curiosity that her
ladyship opened the study door. Who could this mysterious cabman be
who had been shut up with her husband for the last half-hour or more?
One glance at his face was enough. Despite the change in his
appearance, she recognised Burgo on the instant. Her ebon brows came
together for a second or two while she stood holding the open door,
and her eyelids contracted in a curiously feline manner. She drew a
single long breath, and next moment her face became illumined with one
of her sunniest smiles. Closing the door behind her, she went slowly
forward.

"My dear," Sir Everard made haste to begin, speaking in an anxious,
hurried voice, "this is my nephew, Burgo Brabazon, whom, if I mistake
not, you have met on one occasion already. I came over a little queer
at the club this afternoon--a mere nothing, due entirely, I believe,
to the heat of the weather--and Burgo being fortunately at hand, was
enabled to convey me home. He has fallen upon evil days, Giulia,
having actually been compelled to drive a cab in order to keep himself
from starving. My sister's son--the boy whom I promised his dying
mother I would act a father's part by! It is nothing less than
shocking, and I feel myself greatly to blame that things should have
been allowed to come to such a pass with him. But all that must be
altered from to-day. Meanwhile, until I have time and strength to
think matters over and decide what had best be done, I have requested
him to take up his abode under my roof, which he has agreed to do. So
long as he is here he will be able to attend to my little needs,
especially at night time, and so divide with you a burden which,
although you refuse to admit it, is really beyond your strength, and
cannot fail before long to become altogether intolerable."

"Intolerable! my dear Everard, as if anything could be that to me
which in the slightest degree concerns your dear self!" exclaimed her
ladyship in her clear vibrant tones. "You must not say such things
unless you wish both to hurt and offend me" Then turning to Burgo, she
added: "All the same, Mr. Brabazon, I am very pleased to see you here,
and I trust that your presence and company will help to cheer up your
uncle and do him more good than all Dr. Hoskins's prescriptions."
Speaking thus, she crossed to him, and smilingly offered her hand.
"This house, I have been told, was your home for many years in your
youth; why should it not be the same again?"

The baronet heaved a deep sigh of relief, and his face brightened
perceptibly.

Burgo took her ladyship's hand and bowed over it. "Thank you very
much, Lady Clinton, for your kindly welcome," was all he could find to
say. For once in a way he felt thoroughly nonplussed. His eyes met
hers, but in them he read nothing aggressive, nothing defiant; they
were brilliant, as they could not help being, but beyond that,
expression they had none. He noticed, however, that the smile which
wreathed the full ruddiness of her lips did not extend beyond them.

Her ladyship turned to her husband. "Do you feel well enough, dear,
after your indisposition of this afternoon, to come down to dinner?
Yes--I see that you do. Your nephew's presence has done you good
already. There is only just time for me to dress. By-the-by, which
room have you assigned Mr. Brabazon?"

"Room? He had better have the one that used to be his years ago. I
don't believe it has been slept in since. It will seem to you like old
times come back again, Burgo, my boy." He was evidently in the
cheeriest of spirits.

"I am afraid I must ask your ladyship to excuse my presence at dinner
to-day," said Burgo, evidently a trifle discomposed. "I have no
clothes here but these which I am wearing, and----"

"My ladyship is prepared to excuse all shortcomings on that score,"
she broke in with a short laugh. "And so is Sir Everard. Are you not,
dear?"

"Of course, of course. What does it matter for once?"

Scarcely had the door closed behind Lady Clinton before it opened to
admit Vallance. He had come to assist Sir Everard to his room.



CHAPTER IX.
BURGO'S VIGIL.


Sir Everard, leaning on Vallance's arm, came down to dinner in due
course, looking, Burgo thought, even more frail and feeble in his
dress clothes than in the morning suit he had worn earlier in the day.
His appetite was of the poorest, and it was evidently more by way of
keeping the others company than for anything he partook of himself
that he sat down at table. Greatly to the relief of Burgo, who began
to fear that he might be condemned, later in the evening, to a
_tête-à-tête_ with Lady Clinton (who, not improbably, was beset by a
similar fear), the party was made up at the last moment to a quartette
in the person of Signora Dusanti, the widow of a well-known musical
conductor. The signora, who herself was no mean musician, and had
been a popular teacher before her marriage, was now a middle-aged,
plain-featured woman, but with an expression of amiability and good
sense which at once impressed Mr. Brabazon in her favour. It appeared
that she and Lady Clinton had known each other in years gone by, and
that the signora had come to stay for a couple of days in Great
Mornington Street previously to her final departure for Italy.

After dinner it was a matter of course that there should be music in
the drawing-room; indeed, the evening was given up to it, her ladyship
being evidently bent on utilising her friend's talents to the utmost
while the opportunity of doing so was afforded her. It may here be
remarked that, while merely a third-rate but facile executant, Lady
Clinton had a cultivated voice, and sang with taste and _brio_. It was
the only accomplishment for which she cared, or professed to care.

At ten o'clock Sir Everard retired. As he told his nephew with a
smile, he had not sat up till so late an hour he hardly knew when. It
had already been proposed by the baronet, and assented to by Lady
Clinton in the most amiable manner possible, that, so long as Burgo
should remain in Great Mornington Street, or so long as the necessity
should continue, he should take on himself the task of watching by his
uncle during the night, which her ladyship had heretofore refused to
delegate to anybody. It was not that there was any occasion to sit and
watch by Sir Everard's bedside throughout the night; he was not so ill
as to necessitate any such service; it was merely that Dr. Hoskins
considered it essential that his medicine should be administered to
him at certain stated hours, provided he were not asleep at the time,
in which case the dose must be given him as soon as he should have
awakened of his own accord. Lady Clinton smilingly admitted to Burgo
that the duty had at length become so automatic to her that she could
sleep "like a top" between whiles, and yet always wake up within five
minutes of the time her services were required.

Mr. Brabazon having bidden good-night to Lady Clinton and the signora
(her ladyship had made it a special request that he should not wait up
on their account), was introduced by Vallance to his new quarters. The
baronet's bedroom was a spacious apartment with three doors, the first
opening into the corridor, the second into a commodious dressing-room,
and the third giving access to Lady Clinton's apartments. In the
bedroom was a couch, and in the dressing-room a chair bedstead, Burgo
having the choice of either, on which to take such rest as he might
feel inclined for. On an occasional table near Sir Everard's bed were
placed his medicines, a _carafe_ of water, and a small decanter of
brandy, together with sundry glasses of different shapes and sizes.
Should he be awake at those times, his medicine was to be given him at
one, four, and seven o'clock respectively. A night-light burnt on the
chimney-piece, making the room a home for grotesque shadows, and
imparting to the features of the sleeping man the waxen wanness of
those of a corpse. Indeed, so startled was Burgo when his eyes first
rested on his uncle's face that he bent over him and listened for his
breathing before he could satisfy himself that he was really alive.

The dressing-room, which also had a door opening into the corridor,
was lighted with gas, and Burgo noted with satisfaction the presence
of a big easy-chair which seemed made on purpose to lounge in and read
novels. The nights were too warm for there to be any need for a fire.
In the course of the evening he had sent to his lodgings for his
dressing-case and a portmanteau of linen and clothes, and having
selected two or three volumes from the library before coming upstairs,
as soon as he could get rid of Vallance, he proceeded to settle
himself for the night. He had discarded his boots for a pair of canvas
shoes, and had put on an old shooting-coat, and in place of a stiff
collar had swathed his throat with a soft shawl. By this it was a
quarter-past eleven, so that he had still nearly two hours to wait
before it would be time for Sir Everard to take his first draught.
After satisfying himself that his uncle still slept, he turned up the
gas in the dressing-room, and settled himself with a book in the
easy-chair. But he found it impossible to read. So many strange things
had happened to him in the course of the day that he could not help
going over them again one by one with the object of arranging them
more coherently in his mind than he had yet found an opportunity of
doing. He was still engaged thus when he became aware of a low tapping
at the door which gave access to the corridor. He crossed to it on
tiptoe, opened it, and found himself face to face with Lady Clinton.
She was no longer resplendent in heliotrope velvet, with necklace and
tiara of diamonds and pearls, but swathed in an ample pale blue
_peignoir_ of soft Indian silk, trimmed with swansdown, and it
would have puzzled Burgo to decide in which of the two she looked
the more _ravissante_. In either case she was what he termed her to
himself--"a splendid creature."

"I hope I have not disturbed you," she whispered. "I tried to tap as
gently as possible, and if you had not heard me I should at once have
gone back to my room. I thought I should like to satisfy myself before
finally retiring that dear Sir Everard is likely to have a good night,
for you must know, Mr. Brabazon, that there are nights when he is very
restless, and tosses and turns for hours together." All this was
spoken in a low and rapid whisper.

"I am happy to inform you, madam, that my uncle is still sleeping
soundly, as he was at the time Vallance left him in my charge,"
replied Burgo in a voice little raised above her own.

"In that case I am satisfied. I leave him in your hands with every
confidence. And so, for the second time, _buona notte_. It would be
absurd to wish you pleasant dreams, because I understand that you
propose to yourself to keep awake throughout the night."

"That is certainly my intention."

"You shall tell me in the morning whether Morpheus did not succeed in
taking you unawares, as he has a trick of doing with all of us.
Vallance has instructions to relieve you at seven o'clock." And with a
smile and a nod she was gone.

His thoughts turned persistently to Lady Clinton, to the exclusion
of everything else, after she was gone. Her manner of receiving him,
her smiling cordiality, her instant acquiescence in everything
proposed by her husband, had evidently been as great a surprise to the
latter--possibly a greater--as it had been to him. No simple maiden in
her teens could have been more seemingly candid and ingenuous than was
this woman of three husbands. But was she not overdoing it somewhat?
Did not her very persistence in posing as a woman who had no will of
her own, as one to whom her husband's whims were law, lay her open to
suspicions which might never have germinated had she not accepted what
to her, metaphorically speaking, could seem nothing less than a slap
on the face, with the manner of one wholly unconscious that she had
received a slight at her husband's hands? Was it not a little "too
thin," Burgo asked himself? He felt, in his own despite, that to a
certain extent she fascinated him, and now that he had seen more of
her, seen her in one of her more gracious and captivating moods, he no
longer wondered greatly that his uncle should have succumbed to her
witcheries. It seemed to him that very few men whom she might
deliberately set herself to captivate would be able to hold out
against her in the long run, even although they might have been
prejudiced against her in the beginning. If he credited himself with
being one of the few on whom her fascinations would have been wasted,
it merely goes to prove that he had not yet gauged the extent of his
own fallibility where a charming and determined woman was concerned.
Just then he felt a little bitter against the sex, and was inclined to
believe that the experience he had lately gone through would serve him
as armour of proof against their sorceries for all time to come.

And yet, while admitting to the full Lady Clinton's powers of
fascination, he told himself, almost in the next breath, that there
was an indefinable something about her which had for him a certain
repellent force. Nor did he fail to call to mind that on the first
occasion of his seeing her there was an expression in her eyes which
at once served to warn him against her. The same expression had struck
him unpleasantly again to-day, only to-day it was far less markedly
observable than before. It was as though it had been temporarily
veiled with a shining film of amiability and smiling good humour,
which, however, could not wholly hide a sinister something which lay
darkling below.

Now that he was no longer under the influence of her ladyship's
presence, now that he could harden himself against her by calling to
mind all that he had lost and gone through as the result of her
machinations against him, and when his uncle's ominous words recurred
to him: "Sometimes--God help me!--I fear for my life," he felt it
impossible to come to any other conclusion than that her ladyship was
a very dangerous woman, and that he would be a fool to allow himself
for one moment to be hoodwinked by her. Judging from what had gone
before, it seemed clear that the chief object she had in view was to
create an irreparable breach between himself and his uncle, and if for
the moment, and that only by a pure accident, her scheme had been
foiled, it would be nothing less than fatuous to imagine she had
therefore given it up. "The more she smiles, and the more amiable she
looks, the more she is to be feared," was Burgo's final summing-up of
the affair.

One o'clock came almost before he was aware of it. So far the time had
passed swiftly, and yet he had not read a page. He got up and passed
lightly into the other room. He had done so twice before, each time to
find his uncle still sleeping as calmly as a little child. Nor was he
yet awake. But while Burgo was still standing by his bedside, looking
down upon him and saying to himself: "Is this mysterious illness, this
sudden break-up of his constitution, due to natural causes, or is
there a hidden hand at the bottom of it?" Sir Everard opened his eyes.

For a moment or two he stared up at Burgo as he might have done at a
stranger; then there came a flash of recognition. "You! my boy," he
exclaimed. "I've been dreaming about you. So glad!--so glad!" Then he
held out both his bands. "Help me to sit up," he added.

No sooner had he been helped into a sitting position than he began to
cast apprehensive glances, first on one side of the bed, and then on
the other. "You are sure she is not in the room?" he whispered.

"Who--her ladyship?" Sir Everard nodded. "No; there is no one here but
our two selves," replied Burgo.

"No one behind the curtains, eh?" The bed was of the kind termed
Arabian, with a canopy and curtains at the head of it.

"You and I are alone in the room, uncle, I assure you."

"And that door is close shut?" pointing to the one which led to his
wife's apartments, the _portière_ covering which, just then, was only
half drawn.

Burgo crossed the room and satisfied himself on the point. Half hidden
as it was by the _portière_, it might have been open for the space of
an inch or two without his being aware of it. He pressed it lightly
with his hand. "It is close shut," he said, as he went back, and
therewith he proceeded to pour into a glass his uncle's prescribed
dose of medicine and add to it the requisite quantity of water. Sir
Everard drank it off without a word, but not without the silent
protest of a wry face.

After that he lay back for a little while with closed eyes, his lips
moving silently as though he were communing with himself. Then opening
his eyes and seeing Burgo standing by his bedside, he took hold of one
of his hands and pressed it in both his own. "Do you know, my boy," he
said, "I feel stronger, better, and brighter in every way to-night
than I have any time during the last three weeks."

"I need scarcely assure you, uncle, how glad it makes me to hear you
say so. From what you tell me, I presume that your worst times are
during the night."

"It is nearly always at night that my attacks come on--not every
night, mind you--no, no--if they did I should soon have to be measured
for my coffin, but it may be three or four times in the course of a
week."

"Do you suffer much pain at those times?"

"The attacks are of two kinds. But it's not the painful bouts I dread
most."

"What is the nature of your other attacks?"

"A feverish restlessness which effectually banishes sleep. Hour after
hour I toss and turn, trying first one position and then another,
seeking rest, but nowhere finding it. At such times I have no absolute
pain. It is as if a slow fire were smouldering in my veins and
gradually drying up every drop of moisture in my body. When morning
breaks I feel as weak and helpless as a newborn child, and at such
times I say to myself, 'I hope I shall not live to see another dawn.'"

"This is terrible. And such nights as those you speak of are
interspersed with others of a more painful kind?"

"That is so. But, as I said before, although the cramp spasms are
pretty stiff at times, I contrive to bear them with tolerable
equanimity. They don't exhaust me nearly so much as the other attacks
do."

"Would it not be more satisfactory (pardon the question) if you were
to seek further medical advice--a second opinion, I mean?"

"It will be time enough to do that when Hoskins himself suggests it.
No man stands higher in his profession than he, and I have every
confidence in him."

"That may be, sir, but the simple question remains--does he understand
your case?"

"I am inclined to believe that there are certain features about it
which puzzle him in some measure."

"Then why not----?"

"No, no, my boy, not another word on that score. Did I not say that I
was satisfied? If Hoskins can't do me any good, nobody can."

For a little space silence reigned in the room. Sir Everard was still
holding Burgo's hand, which the latter took as a sign that he did not
want him to go, or to be left alone.

"My brain must be softening," resumed the sick man after a time. "I
seem to be continually losing my reckoning. Your memory is doubtless
better than mine. What day of the week and month is this?"

Burgo told him.

"So! I thought the year was at least a fortnight older than that. I
shall not die till after the 12th of October. I shall live to see my
sixty-fourth birthday." He spoke the words as if to himself. Burgo
felt nearly sure that his uncle was unaware he had spoken aloud.

Nothing more was said. A minute later Sir Everard's hold of his
nephew's hand relaxed. He had dropped off to sleep. Burgo went back to
his easy-chair in the dressing-room.

Six Everard's last words, uttered half unconsciously, had struck a
chill to his heart. What did they portend? What meaning save one could
they have? He had by no means forgotten what "old Garden" had told
him--that if his uncle should live to see his sixty-fourth birthday,
he would inherit the legacy of £15,000 bequeathed him by his cousin,
the eccentric Mrs. Macdona. Coupling this fact with the words last
spoken by his uncle, it seemed to Burgo that but one conclusion could
be deduced therefrom, to wit, that the baronet, unknown to his own
lawyer, had made a will in which the whole, or the greater part of
whatever he might die possessed of, was left to his wife, and that,
consequently, if he outlived his sixty-fourth birthday, Mrs. Macdona's
legacy would come into the settlement. Therefore was there a very
potent reason why his lamp of life, however low it might now seem to
burn, should not be allowed to flicker out till the 12th of October
should have come and gone. After that, who could say what might not
happen? Even now was not the ground being prepared? Was not the plot
developing itself slowly but surely towards a preordained end? Were
not his uncle's mysterious illness and gradually growing feebleness
but the skilfully arranged stepping-stones to a conclusion long
determined on, so that, when at length the end came, it would seem to
all concerned merely the natural, but inevitable outcome of all that
had gone before? Oh, if it were indeed so, as Sir Everard's own words
seemed to clearly imply, it was horrible--horrible!

What was to be done? What could be done? As far as Burgo could
see--nothing. It was true that he was here, under his uncle's roof,
and that unlimited access to the sick man had been granted him by Lady
Clinton, with an absence of any apparent _arrière pensèe_, which,
considering the circumstances, was in itself suspicious; but what
then? He could not be by his uncle's side through every hour of the
day and night. Sir Everard must be waited on and have his medicine
measured out for him by other hands than those of his nephew, and
whatever nefarious design might be afoot, could be persevered in and
carried out to the tragic finale despite all Burgo's vigilance. His
hands were tied; he was bound and helpless; and Lady Clinton knew it
far better than he. When she found that circumstances had brought
uncle and nephew together again, she had doubtless seen her way to
treat the circumstance as one of little or no consequence--perhaps
even to turn it to account for her own purposes. Should Sir Everard
die, it might be to her advantage to be able to point to the fact that
his nephew had helped to nurse him; besides which, Mr. Brabazon would
be one witness the more to her own untiring devotion in the dual rôle
of wife and nurse.

All these things Burgo Brabazon apprehended clearly, but what he did
not discern was a way by which his uncle could be extricated from the
deadly net which too evidently was being woven about him. To broach
the subject to him was out of the question so long as he had nothing
but vague suspicions wherewith to back up his words. Neither could he
repeat to his uncle those last words which the latter had let fall
before dropping asleep, and ask him the meaning of them. It was quite
evident that they had not been intended for his, Burgo's, ear.
Clearly, it would be the height of folly to imperil his position under
his uncle's roof by speaking of things about which he was supposed to
know nothing, and which, it was just possible, might, after all, have
no real basis of fact. All he could do just now was to watch and wait
and keep a close tongue, while being especially careful not to give
Lady Clinton any cause for suspecting that he saw more under the
surface than it was intended he should see. Meanwhile he had time
before him. Sir Everard himself had averred that his life was safe
till the 12th of October should have come and gone.

At four o'clock the sick man was still sleeping. Burgo did not disturb
him, but sat by his side and waited. It was nearly an hour later
before he awoke. "I seem to have overslept my time," he said with a
smile as he glanced at the clock on the chimney-piece, the figures of
which were large enough for him to read as he lay in bed. "It's not
often I do that. The difficulty with me is to get more than about half
as much sleep as I should like. It seems strange to see you here,
Burgo, my boy," he added, while the latter proceeded to pour out his
medicine. "I'm so used to being waited upon through the night by my
wife, that for a second or two after opening my eyes I could not put
this and that together. Ugh! awfully nasty stuff this last mixture
Hoskins has sent me," he added, as he gave the glass back to his
nephew.

Lying back on his pillow, and speaking in the quiet, contemplative way
of a man whose dictum is open to no dispute, he presently went on: "I
think I have already told you what an affectionate wife and devoted
nurse Giulia is. Yes. What would have become of me through all this
wearying illness had it not been for her loving care and untiring
sacrifice of herself to the needs and whims of her sick husband! But
for her I should not be here now. It is she who has kept me alive.
From the first she refused to let any hireling come between herself
and me. How much I owe her I alone could tell."

Burgo stared, as well he might. What was he to think? What believe?
Which mood of his uncle represented the real man? Could it be that his
mind was failing him?--that no weight ought to be attached to anything
he might give utterance to, and that his moods, in whatever direction
they pointed, were merely those of the passing moment? Burgo found
himself in a position at once perplexing and unsatisfactory.

But while he was asking himself these questions his uncle's eyelids
drooped and closed, and a minute later his low regular breathing told
that he was asleep.

As Burgo turned to leave the room he involuntarily started. He saw, or
believed that he saw, a slight movement of the inner door, as though
it might have been open for an inch or two, and suddenly closed at the
instant he turned. He took no further notice, but walked straight out
of the bedroom into the dressing-room. But, trivial as the incident
was, he could not get it out of his mind. Had her ladyship been an
unseen auditor of what had just passed between his uncle and himself?
It was a question which, although he had no means of answering it, led
up to another and a much more startling one: Had his uncle--for the
senses of sick people are often almost preternaturally acute--become
in some way aware that his wife was making an unseen third at the
interview? and had he said what he did in praise of her with the
deliberate intention that it should be overheard by her, and so serve
to lull to sleep any suspicions which his nephew's presence under his
roof might otherwise have given birth to?

Here was food enough for cogitation to last him till seven o'clock or
longer, on the stroke of which hour the punctual Vallance knocked at
the dressing-room door, and brought his first night's vigil to an end.



CHAPTER X.
A SLEEP AND AN AWAKING.


Burgo had not got as far as his own room before he was accosted by one
of the servants. "Lady Clinton's compliments, and would Mr. Brabazon
like a little light breakfast at once?"

Mr. Brabazon was much obliged to her ladyship, and, if it was quite
convenient, he would like a cup of coffee and a rusk.

In five minutes they were brought him.

After that he tumbled into bed, slept like a top for four hours, got
up, tubbed and dressed, after which, in his own parlance, he felt "as
fresh as a daisy." He had ascertained overnight that his uncle never
made his appearance downstairs before luncheon, and very often not
then. So, without saying a word to any one, or troubling himself about
breakfast, he quietly left the house on his way to the "yard" in
search of Mr. Hendry. The jobmaster expressed himself as being very
sorry for his own sake that things had turned out as they had; "but,
of course, I'm very glad for your sake, Mr. Brabazon, that you and Sir
Everard have come together again."

"For anything I can tell to the contrary," said Burgo--"for one can
never be sure what turn affairs will take--you may see me back at the
yard, with nothing to do, before either of us is very much older."

"You will always be welcome, sir, and I'll engage to find you a job at
any time, should you be in need of one."

With that the two men shook hands and parted.

Burgo got back to Great Mornington Street just as luncheon was served.
His uncle was downstairs, and certainly looking no worse than on the
previous day.

There, too, were her ladyship and Signora Dusanti, and the signora's
little daughter, a child of ten. Conversation was general during the
meal, personal topics being avoided as if by common consent. Even Sir
Everard was quite chatty, and once or twice laughed heartily at some
remark of Tina, who seemed a most precocious child for her years.
Burgo found it had been already arranged that he and his uncle should
go for a drive in the barouche, while Lady Clinton and the signora
went shopping in the brougham.

At the last moment her ladyship said to her husband: "If you have no
objection, dear, I should like Tina to go with you and Mr. Brabazon.
I'm afraid the poor child would find shopping very tiresome, and I am
sure a good blow in the Park would do her far more good."

The corners of the baronet's mouth dropped for a moment; the next he
said quite heartily: "Of course--of course. Let the child go with us,
by all means."

A little later Burgo could not help asking himself whether Tina might
not have been purposely sent with them in order to act as a check upon
any confidential talk which might otherwise have passed between his
uncle and himself in the course of the drive. At any rate, if that was
her ladyship's intention, it proved thoroughly successful. The girl
was such a shrewd little thing, and had so evidently been schooled
into making good use of her ears, that both the men felt convinced
that everything which might be said by them would be retailed to the
signora, and would doubtless be passed on in due course to the person
chiefly concerned. Consequently the talk was merely of such a kind as
might have been overheard by the world at large. One remark which his
uncle made gratified Burgo immensely. "Hoskins found a marked
improvement in me this morning," he said; adding, with a laugh, "of
course he gives all the credit of it to the particularly nauseous
stuff I'm taking just now. But, and I would, I could tell him
different from that."

Sir Everard shrank from the publicity of the Row. "I've only been once
in it since my return," he said, "and on that occasion, if I was
commiserated by one person on the score of my health, I was by twenty.
It's an ordeal I don't care to face again. Let us take a quiet drive
down Kensington way."

The rest of the day and evening passed as the preceding ones had done.
After dinner came music and singing, and the baronet went so far as to
indulge in one game of backgammon with his nephew. "It seems like old
days come back," he remarked to Burgo, adding in a lower voice, "if
only it will last! if only it will last!"

Soon after half-past nine he retired.

Burgo's second vigil was arranged on precisely the same lines as the
first. His uncle slept well, only waking twice at irregular intervals,
both times to find Burgo seated within a couple of yards of his bed,
waiting patiently for him to open his eyes. In the course of this
second night no conversation of what might be termed a private nature
passed between them. More than once, when Sir Everard was sitting up
in bed, Burgo saw him glance half-apprehensively, half-suspiciously at
the door which opened into his wife's apartments, or rather, at the
_portière_, which to-night was drawn completely across it. But
whatever his thoughts or suspicions might be, he kept them to himself.

Next forenoon Dr. Hoskins's report was again a favourable one. "A few
more days like this, my clear sir, and you will have made a big stride
on the road to recovery," he said.

After luncheon her ladyship and the signora again went out together,
ostensibly for shopping purposes, and again Sir Everard and Burgo,
with little Tina for eavesdropper, went for a long suburban drive.

The third night of Burgo's sitting up was merely a repetition of the
two previous ones. It was diversified by no incident worth recording,
and again, as on the second night, the invalid confined such talk as
passed between himself and his nephew to matters of little or no
moment. It was evident to Burgo that he felt far from sure they were
really alone, but he was doubtless unwilling to expose his wife to the
ignominy of discovery, should it be a fact that she was playing the
part of an unseen auditor.

Burgo did not feel himself at liberty to try the door as on the first
night, unless requested by his uncle to do so; but, although since
then his eyes had glanced at it times innumerable, after that first
occasion he had seen nothing to lead him to suppose that it was
otherwise than closely shut; still, so long as it remained half hidden
by the _portière_, a doubt would inevitably make itself felt.

All this time Lady Clinton's amiability and graciousness towards Burgo
had been eclipsed by no faintest shadow of change. She treated him as
if he were there of right as a member of the family. That first
interview between them might have had no existence, save in Burgo's
imagination, for any hint or allusion to it which escaped her lips.
Did she wish him to forget it? Was it her desire that he should
consider the breach between his uncle and himself not merely as
healed, but as if it had never arisen? It certainly seemed so, and
under ordinary circumstances, no other conclusion would have been
logically possible. But in this case the circumstances were not
ordinary ones. There was his uncle's mysterious illness to be taken
into account, and, above all, certain things which his uncle had said
to him--phrases, as it seemed to him, charged with a terrible meaning.
These were facts which it was impossible to ignore, or to put lightly
aside as of little import. Then, again, some still, small, inner voice
seemed to warn him against Lady Clinton. He mistrusted her
instinctively, and in such cases he knew how useless it is to ask the
why and the wherefore. Our likes and dislikes have their springs
deeper than we can plumb, and constitute a part of that mysterious Ego
which each of us calls Myself--which is at once our slave and our
master, and which, even at the end of the longest life, we have only
partially learned to know.

There was one very pertinent question which Burgo did not fail to put
to himself, namely, "What change is there in me, what have I done
between the date of my first interview with her ladyship and now, to
cause her so radically to reverse her tactics towards me? She was as
undoubtedly hostile to me then as she undoubtedly wishes me to believe
her my friend now. Why this extraordinary _volte-face?_ There must be
a motive at the bottom of it; what is that motive?" He could only
shake his head, and murmur, "_Ma chère tante_, what your little game
is I don't in the least profess to know, but I believe you to be a
snake in the grass, and a venomous one to boot, and I decline to trust
you farther than I can see you."

He had time enough and to spare in which to turn these and sundry
other matters over in his mind during his long hours of watching.

On this third morning he found his coffee and rusks waiting for him as
usual on reaching his own room. The rusks he left untouched, but the
coffee he drank off almost at a draught. It was nearly broad daylight
outside, but the curtains were closely drawn so as to exclude it, and
a couple of candles were alight on the dressing-table. After
swallowing his coffee he sat down to smoke "just one" cigarette before
turning in. As he lay back in his chair watching the grey spirals of
smoke curl slowly upward, his thoughts reverted to a subject which had
engaged them more than once already. Not a word had escaped Sir
Everard with reference to that first interview between his nephew and
Lady Clinton, and yet it was absurd to suppose that the arrangement
was not of his own making, although probably due to his wife's
instigation, or that the result of it had not been made known to him
in due course. The cheque had been of his own making out, and that it
had been scornfully rejected and torn up by his nephew was a feature
of the affair which there could be little doubt her ladyship would be
only too pleased to paint for his behoof in the most exaggerated
colours. And yet he had never so much as alluded to the affair. It
could not be that he had forgotten it. For anything Burgo had seen to
the contrary his memory was nearly as good as ever it had been. What,
then, could be the reason of his silence? Was it possible that her
ladyship had stated the case as against Burgo in far blacker terms
than the facts warranted, and that as a consequence Sir Everard was
waiting for his nephew to apologise? But Burgo, feeling that he had
nothing to apologise for, and that, in point of fact, he was the
person chiefly aggrieved, had already made up his mind that if the
subject were to be broached at all, his uncle must be the one to take
the initiative. Perhaps, in the course of a day or two, Sir Everard
might bring himself to speak of it. Well, in that case he, Burgo,
would be quite prepared to--what was it he would be prepared to do?
(The thread of his argument had unaccountably escaped him.) Why, to
defend his own action in the--in the what? (How stupid of him!) Why,
in the affair, of course. Yes, yes--that was it. He would be quite
prepared to----

Where was he? What had come over him? His eyelids felt as if they
were being pressed down by invisible fingers; every limb seemed
weighted with lead; a deadly numbness had taken hold on all his
faculties--never had he felt like it before. Was he going to be ill?
Had some fever got a grip of him? Was he--was he----But at this point
his brain refused to do his further bidding. He rose to his feet
somehow and stood for a few moments with his hands pressed to his
head, swaying about like a drunken man. Then, with his arms
outstretched, as though to help him to balance himself, he staggered
across the floor, and falling prone along the bed, remembered nothing
more.


When he awoke to consciousness he knew neither where he was nor what
had happened to him. The first thing he was aware of, and it probably
helped to recall him fully to himself, was that he had a splitting
headache. It was a dull continuous throbbing, as though some piece of
clockwork in his brain were marking off each second as it passed. He
strained his eyes and he strained his ears, but the darkness and
silence were intense--profound. He stretched out his arms and cast
about with his fingers, and presently made out that he was lying fully
dressed on his back on a bed--so much was certain. He must take that
as a starting-point and work mentally backward. What was the last
thing he could remember? It was a question not to be answered
off-hand, more especially when a man's skull seemed to be opening and
shutting twenty times a minute. When he tried to think he seemed to be
groping in a fog as thick as wool. The last thing he---- Ah! now he
had it. It was---- No, it had escaped him. He shut his eyes tight and
pressed his burning head between his hands, which, strange to say,
were cold and clammy. He lay thus immovable for some minutes, chasing
through vacant caverns and tortuous passages a will-o'-the-wisp which
still eluded him.

The last thing he could remember! He kept murmuring the words under
his breath. And then suddenly it was revealed to him in a dazzling
flash, and the same instant he sprang up in bed. Yes, every incident,
down to the most trifling, arranged itself in order before him. He saw
himself, as though it were another he was looking at, leave his
uncle's room and make his way yawningly, and with hands deep buried in
his pockets, to his own room. The curtains were drawn, the candles
alight, his coffee and rusks in readiness for him. The latter he did
not touch; but he was thirsty, and he swallowed the coffee gratefully
at one long draught. He called to mind that the bed had looked very
inviting, but that the temptation of a cigarette had proved too much
for him. Then, a few minutes later, there had crept over him a strange
leaden numbness and lethargy, both of mind and body, the like of which
he had never experienced before. He had stood up, dazed and stupified,
had staggered across the floor, and flung himself on the bed, and then
had followed an absolute blank.

Yes, he saw it all now. His coffee had been drugged! No other
explanation was possible. Of what devilish plot had he been made the
victim? And what black purpose lurked at the bottom of it?

He stood up, feeling faint and giddy, and had to steady himself for a
few moments by gripping the ironwork of the bedstead, before he durst
venture to stir. Then he groped his way carefully and slowly, like a
blind man, till he reached the window and drew aside the curtains. In
the street outside the darkness was absolute; a thick fog pressed
softly against the window, and wholly absorbed the light from the lamp
over the way.

"It was seven o'clock in the morning when I quitted my uncle's room,"
muttered Burgo, "so that I must have slept through one day, and far
into the next night." Then he took out his watch and put it to his
ear. It had stopped for want of winding up. Evidently the thing most
needed was a light. He called to mind that after lighting his
cigarette, he had placed his silver matchbox on the table close by
where he was sitting. He now groped his way from the window to the
table in search of the box, but nowhere could he find it. Then he
proceeded to search his pockets, but to no avail. Had the box been
purposely removed in case he should wake up in the dark and want to
strike a light? Nothing seemed more likely.

He now made his way to the door, only to find that he was locked in;
but, judging from what had happened to him already, he had expected
nothing less. He had been drugged, and was now a prisoner; all he
could do was to wait with such patience as was possible to him for the
break of day.

He felt chilled in every limb, only his head still throbbed and
burned; but, happily, the pain was less poignant than before. Drawing
a counterpane off the bed, he wrapt it round him, and sat down by the
window. Both inside the house and out the silence for some time
remained unbroken, but by-and-by there came to Burgo's ear a faint
rumble of wheels from the busy thoroughfare into which Great
Mornington Street debouches at its upper end; then, before long, the
sounds became more frequent, and, after a little longer, almost
continuous. Then he knew that the dead time of the night was past, and
that he should not have much longer to wait for the first signs of
day.

But already he had become far less concerned about his own predicament
than about what it might possibly portend to his uncle, for that Lady
Clinton was at the bottom of the business he never for a moment
doubted. That it had been conceived and carried out with the view of
bringing about a climax, or a breach of some kind in the new and
cordial relations between his uncle and himself, seemed, on the face
of it, hardly open to question.

And yet, for the life of him, he could not see in what way drugging
him, or making a prisoner of him for four-and-twenty hours (for, of
course, it was absurd to suppose that he would allow himself to remain
locked up there after daylight had fairly set in), could in any way
conduce to whatever end her ladyship might have in view. But, in the
absence of any foundation on which to build, surmise and speculation
were futile, and the merest waste of time. He would put them
resolutely aside, and indulge in them no more. It was an easy enough
promise to make, but a difficult one to keep.

After what to Burgo seemed an interminable time, a faint ghostly light
began to broaden in the reaches of the upper sky, and the silver lamps
of night to be extinguished one by one, for with the coming of dawn
the fog had vanished. And now Burgo began to listen for some signs and
tokens of reviving life in the household below stairs. But time went
on, and the daylight broadened, but all his listening remained in
vain. Within doors no faintest sound broke the silence. It was
unaccountable. How long should he wait before he rang the bell and
summoned some one? What, however, if there was no one to summon? "But
that's absurd," he told himself, with a shrug. "If the servants are
not down already, they can't be long now. I'll wait another half-hour,
and then----" His eyes had wandered to the bell-pull, or, rather, to
the place where it ought to have been, for it was no longer there. It
had been severed within a foot of the ceiling. As Burgo's eyes took in
the fact, the blood for a moment or two seemed to curdle round his
heart. More than all that had gone before it served to strike him with
a chill dismay.

But it was no time for inaction. Not a moment longer would he sit
there waiting for he knew not what. By this time daylight was
sufficiently advanced to enable him to discern everything in the room.
With Burgo necessity was the mother of contrivance. What he now did
was to take off his braces, separate them at the joining, and tie them
end to end.

Then, having dragged his bed, which ran on castors, into position, he
placed a chair on it, and having climbed on to the latter, he found
that he could just reach to knot one end of his braces to the severed
bell-pull. Then, having descended from his somewhat insecure perch, he
gave a vigorous tug at his improvised rope, and awaited the result.



CHAPTER XI.
A CLUE.


Burgo crossed to the door and stood listening with bated breath and
one ear pressed against it, but the silence indoors remained unbroken.
After waiting for full two minutes, but which seemed to him nothing
short of a quarter of an hour, he went back and gave a longer and a
still more vigorous tug at the rope. Then he listened again, and
presently he was rewarded by hearing the banging of a door somewhere
in the lower parts of the house, followed by a peculiar thumping
sound, faint at first, but which gradually came nearer as it quitted
the flagged hall and advanced slowly up the oaken staircase, its
approach being marked by a distinct tap on each stair, twenty-six in
all. Burgo had counted them many a time when a boy, just as he had
slidden many a time down the broad, polished oaken balusters.

As he stood listening his heart beat a little faster than common, and
he told himself that had that sound broken upon his ear in the dead of
night, he could scarcely have heard it without a shudder. Nearer it
came till it stopped opposite the door of his room. Then the key was
turned, and the door flung roughly open, and to Burgo's astonished
eyes there stood revealed a short, thickset, blear-eyed old man, with
what seemed to him a most unprepossessing cast of face, whose chief
garment was a greasy, much-worn overcoat, which reached nearly to his
heels. He was lame, and it was the tapping of the heavy iron-shod
stick which he used to aid him in walking that had so puzzled Burgo.

For a few seconds the men stared at each other in silence. Then Burgo
said: "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"Didn't you ring, sir?" asked the man. Burgo nodded. "Very well,
then, ain't I come to let you out?"

"Who told you to come and let me out, as you term it?"

"My leddy."

"And where is her ladyship?"

"Gone."

"Gone! And where is Sir Everard?

"Gone too--they're all gone."

For a moment or two Burgo's brain reeled, and he had to steady himself
against the doorpost. He was weak from want of food, and he had not
yet recovered from the effects of the narcotic.

"And when did Sir Everard and Lady Clinton take their departure?" was
his next question.

"Between seven and eight o'clock last night."

"Bound for where!"

The fellow favoured Burgo with a cunning grin. "It's none o' my
business to answer that question, sir. Maybe I know, and maybe I
don't, but if you ask no questions, you'll be told no lies."

Burgo smothered the execration that rose to his lips. To have vented
his temper on such a fellow would have been absurd. Besides, he had
not done with him.

"And who may you be, my friend, if the question is not an impertinent
one?" he asked.

"I'm the caretaker appointed by her leddyship. Me and my old woman
have got to look after the house while the family's out of town."

"What has poor Benny Hines done to be turned adrift?" queried Burgo to
himself. Then aloud he said: "And so you were told by her ladyship to
come and let me out when I rang, were you?"

Again the man grinned. "What I was told was, that there was a young
gentleman upstairs what had taken more to drink than was good for him,
and that he was sleeping it off, and that when he rang I was to go
upstairs and unlock the door."

Mr. Brabazon laughed aloud; but it was not a pleasant laugh to hear.
"Oh, ma chère tante, que je vous aime beaucoup!" he exclaimed. The man
was to come when I rang the bell, but care had been taken by robbing
him of his matchbox and cutting the bell rope to delay the summons as
long as possible.

For a few moments he stood considering, then drawing half a sovereign
from his pocket and balancing it on the end of his forefinger, he said
with a meaning look at the man: "Come now, I have no doubt that if you
chose you could tell me where the luggage which the family took with
them was addressed to."

The man glanced from the coin to Burgo's face, and then back again
with a cunning leer. Then drawing a step or two nearer, he said in
something between a whisper and a croak: "I don't mind telling you,
sir, that I did make it my business--and why not, hey?--to see where
her leddyship's big trunk was directed for.",

"Yes," said Burgo.

"Brussels was the word I read, sir, in letters a inch long."

Burgo tossed him the coin. The information was well worth it.

Half an hour later a hansom deposited him and his portmanteau at the
door of his lodgings.

When he had had a bath and some breakfast he felt more like himself
again. Then he lighted a pipe and sat down to consider.

His distrust of Lady Clinton, which not all her smiles and all her
amiability had sufficed to eradicate, had proved to be but too well
grounded. When she had found him, as the result of an accident,
reinstated in Sir Everard's good graces she accepted the situation
like the clever woman she was, but it had only made her all the more
determined to carry out her own schemes, and she had done so with a
boldness and a decision which gave Burgo a far higher opinion of her
powers than he had held before. She had brushed him from her path
after a fashion which not one woman in a thousand would have had
either the brain to plan or the courage to carry out. Once more she
had Sir Everard under her sole control, and there was no one to say
her nay. What had heretofore lurked in the background of Burgo's
mind as nothing more than a sinister shadow now took shape and
consistency--grew and spread till it overshadowed him like a huge
funereal pall, on which an invisible finger traced in letters of
molten flame the one word _Murder_. Burgo faced the word while he
shuddered at it. By what purpose save one had she been actuated from
the beginning?--and recent events clearly proved that she was still as
firmly bent on carrying it out as ever she had been. What that end was
it seemed to him there was no longer any need to ask.

One solitary gleam of comfort came to him, and one only. It was
derived from his uncle's words: "I shall not die till after the 12th
of October." Meanwhile he had been spirited away--whither?

"If her ladyship thinks she has finally choked me off she will find
herself very considerably mistaken," said Burgo to himself with a grim
smile, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe. "Ten o'clock to-morrow
morning will find me in Brussels."

There were two people whom he told himself he should like to see
before leaving town--to wit, Mr. Garden and old Benny Hines. So,
leaving the packing of his portmanteau till later in the day, he now
sallied forth with the intention of calling on the latter of the two
first. He had not forgotten that the old man's niece was parlour-maid
at No. 22, and it seemed to him, seeing how unlikely it was that Lady
Clinton should have taken any of the servants with her, unless it were
her own maid and her husband's valet, that he might be able to obtain
indirectly, through Benny, some information with regard to the
proceedings of the day before, which would prove serviceable to him.

On reaching the house he found there both Benny and the old man's
niece, and as the latter had already exhausted her budget of news as
far as her uncle and aunt were concerned, she was only too glad to
have another listener, and that one a handsome young man, to what she
could tell about the doings at No. 22.

It appeared that no sooner was breakfast over on the previous day than
Lady Clinton summoned all the servants into the morning-room, with the
exception of her maid and her husband's valet, and there told them
that, in consequence of Dr. Hoskins having ordered Sir Everard to quit
London with the least possible delay, the establishment would be
broken up that very day, that they, the domestics, would be paid a
month's wages each in lieu of notice, and that they must one and all
be ready to quit by five o'clock that same afternoon. After that she
(Polly) had been employed all the morning in packing trunks under her
mistress's supervision. About mid-day the Signora Dusanti and her
little girl had taken their departure. Somewhat later the servants had
all been summoned again to the morning-room and paid what was due to
them, with a little present to each over and above their wages. By six
o'clock there was no one left in the house save her ladyship, Sir
Everard, the maid, and the valet. And that was all Miss Polly had to
tell.

Burgo, without in the least doubting the girl's good faith, was
somewhat sceptical on the latter point. Details which to her might
seem of no importance might be of vital consequence to him.

"And did nobody trouble to wonder what had become of me, Polly?" he
smilingly asked, "nor why I had so mysteriously disappeared?"

"Oh, yes, sir, Mr. Vallance told us at breakfast that you had been
called away in the course of the night to attend the deathbed of a
near relation."

"Ah, then Vallance _is_ one of her ladyship's tools, as I suspected
all along," was Burgo's unspoken comment. "My uncle probably suspected
it too, which would account for his unconcealed dislike of the
fellow." What he said aloud was, "It was a statement which reflected
great credit on Mr. Vallance's powers of invention."

"Was it not true, then, sir?" asked Polly, with wide-open eyes.

"Not one word of it. But never mind that now. I suppose you did not
see Sir Everard again before you left the house?"

"Oh, yes, I did, sir. The poor gentleman was much worse yesterday, and
before Dobson, the butler, left, her ladyship asked him to help
Vallance to carry Sir Everard downstairs into the drawing-room."

"To carry him down! Do you mean to say that he could no longer come
downstairs with the help of Vallance's arm on one side and the
balusters on the other, as he had lately been in the habit of doing?"

"He had to be carried down, sir, by the two men between them. As
Dobson said, 'He couldn't put one foot before the other.' I just
caught a glimpse of him and it was enough to make my heart ache. His
face looked more like that of a corpse than of a still breathing man."

Burgo's heart ached too, but the grief he felt was largely leavened
with indignation. That his uncle in the course of a few short hours
should have changed so radically for the worse was to his mind
consistent with one theory, and one only. Sir Everard had had some
drug, or pill, or potion administered to him which had brought on a
sudden relapse, and had thereby incapacitated him for protesting
against, or offering any opposition to, whatever arrangements his wife
might choose to make. Burgo cursed her ladyship in his heart as he sat
there.

A minute or two passed before he could control himself sufficiently to
question Polly further.

Then he said: "I suppose you didn't happen to overhear for what
place her ladyship was bound? It would most likely be some place
abroad--perhaps in Italy or the South of France."

"The label on her ladyship's trunk was directed to some place--it was
a queer name, and I can't quite call it to mind--'near Oakbarrow
station.'"

"What!" exclaimed Burgo, with a burst of amazement. "Are you sure of
that, Polly?"

"I read it with my own eyes, sir."

"This is news indeed! Was the name of the place you can't quite call
to mind Garion Keep?"

Polly considered for a moment or two with a finger pressed to her
lips. Then she said with an air of conviction, "Yes, sir, that was
it--I'm sure of it now--Garion Keep; and a very funny name I thought
it."

"That old scoundrel at No. 22 lied to me in order to put me off the
scent," said Burgo to himself; "whether of his own accord or by her
ladyship's instructions does not matter now."

After a few more questions Burgo took his leave. Polly had nothing
more of consequence to tell him.

From there he drove to Mr. Garden's office, only to learn, to his
great disappointment, that the lawyer had gone for a brief holiday. He
felt that he had never stood more in need of his counsel than just
then. After a call on Mr. Hendry, the jobmaster, he made his way back
to his lodgings.

The information furnished him by Polly with regard to Lady Clinton's
destination had simplified matters for him exceedingly. Instead of
following his uncle and her to Brussels--supposing them to have gone
there--all he had now to do, so as at once to bring himself into
proximity with them, was to book himself for Oakbarrow station by the
night mail from Euston.

Burgo had been at Garion Keep for a couple of days with his uncle
about six years previously, and only a short time after the latter had
succeeded to the property--such as it was. It had been a bequest to
him from a dear friend, an old bachelor without kith or kin, and he
had run down from town, taking his nephew with him, to look at the
place. It was an old-fashioned ramshackle structure, in a great state
of disrepair, fronting the sea, and situated on a bleak and desolate
reach of the Cumberland coast. Unfortunately the weather had been very
cold and stormy during the time they were there, and Sir Everard,
after a stay of forty-eight hours, during which he had never ceased to
shiver, had been glad to turn his back on the place and to hurry
southward again as fast as steam could carry him.

Now, it was quite conceivable to Burgo why Lady Clinton should be
desirous of carrying off her husband to the Keep. There she would be
able, so to speak, to immure him; there he would be lost to the world;
there, without a creature to interfere with her, she would be able to
slowly consummate her fell design. But what he could not understand
was how her ladyship had become acquainted with the place and its
suitability for her purpose. He could hardly believe that Sir Everard
would have suggested it of his own accord, and yet Lady Clinton must
surely have known something, nay, a good deal, about it before
venturing with her invalid husband on so long a journey. From what
Burgo had seen of her he took her pre-eminently for a woman who
calculated each step before she took it, and made sure there was firm
ground for her foot to rest upon.

As we have seen, it had been Burgo's intention to leave Euston that
same evening by the mail train; but, in the course of the afternoon,
in the act of leaping off a bus, he slipped and sprained his ankle so
severely that for the next ten days he was a prisoner to his room, and
compelled to divide his time between bed and sofa.

It was merely one instance more of _l'homme propose_.



CHAPTER XII.
FOUND.


Mr. Brabazon did not make the most patient or sweet-tempered of
invalids, if a man may be termed an invalid who is laid up with
nothing more serious than a sprained ankle. As it happened, he had no
one but himself and his landlady to vent his ill-humour on, and as the
latter was in the habit of bursting into tears on the slightest
provocation, he kept her at arm's length as much as possible. What
made him especially savage was that his accident should have happened
at a time when every hour was, or seemed to him, of infinite
consequence. What might not be happening at Garion Keep--to what
straits might not his uncle be reduced--while he, Burgo, was lying on
his back, a helpless log, unable to walk across the floor without
exquisite pain? A score times a day he ground out maledictions between
his teeth at the untoward fate which had thus scurvily laid him by the
heels.

Nor was his amiability increased when he one day read in the _Times_
an announcement of the marriage of Miss Leslie to Lord Penwhistle.
That Mrs. Mordaunt would hurry on the match he knew full well, and for
some time he had never opened a newspaper without half expecting to
see the announcement, yet for all that, now it had come, it was like a
sudden stab. That Clara was fickle, mercenary, and altogether lacking
in stability of character, he had long ago made up his mind; indeed,
there had not been wanting times when he had told himself he ought to
thank his stars that, at whatever cost to himself, he had been
hindered from uniting his fate with hers. Still, despite all this, it
was inevitable that he should feel a lingering _tendresse_ for one
around whom, only such a little while before, his imagination had
woven the golden tissues of the fairest day-dreams his life had yet
known.

Sadly and bitterly sped the next few days for Burgo. There was nothing
for him to do, there was nothing he could do, save lie on his back and
think--think--think. And what a pleasant and profitable occupation
that is when we are possessed at once with a sense of our helplessness
and a burning anxiety to be up and doing, some of us may unfortunately
have learnt to our cost.

Still, despite his anxiety to follow up with the least possible delay
the clue which Benny Hines's niece had furnished him with, he
recognised how useless and foolish it would be to do so till he should
be able to move about with some measure of activity. Consequently it
was not till upwards of a fortnight from the date of his accident that
he finally found himself _en route_ for Oakbarrow station, and even
then he was not able to walk more than a few yards without the help of
a stout malacca.

Oakbarrow station is between two and three miles inland. On reaching
there Burgo hired a fly to convey himself and his portmanteau to Crag
End, an insignificant fishing hamlet about a mile and a half from the
Keep, which lived in his memory as a spot where he and his uncle had
been caught in a thunder-storm on the occasion of their visit six
years before. There was only one tolerable inn in the place, and there
Burgo alighted. Yes, they would be glad to accommodate him in their
humble way, said the landlord. He could have a bedroom, and also the
use of the upstairs sitting-room, except on market days, when the
country folk and their wives looked to have the run of the house.
Burgo, who was never exacting in minor matters, professed himself as
being quite satisfied; and as things turned out he had every reason
for being so.

Knowing how curious people in little country places are with regard to
the names and business of strangers, Burgo wisely determined to supply
the needful information about himself before curiosity had time to be
hatched. His name was Lumsden, he told Tyson, the landlord; he was
from London, and was by profession an artist. He had journeyed all the
way to Cumberland partly in the hope of benefiting his health, and
partly with the view of taking a series of sketches of the scenery and
objects of interest in the neighbourhood for one of the illustrated
papers. As it happened, he could sketch fairly well for an amateur,
and he had been careful that his luggage should include the needful
drawing materials, together with a portfolio containing sundry studies
in chalks and pencil several years old.

His intention had been to take a quiet stroll with the help of his
malacca in the dusk of evening in the direction of the Keep and
reconnoitre it from a distance.

He wanted to familiarise himself with the features of the old place,
with regard to some of which his memory was rather uncertain. But
towards four o'clock the weather changed and it began to rain heavily,
nor did it cease till night had fairly set in. It was undeniably
annoying, but there was no help for it. "Mr. Lumsden" must perforce
remain indoors till the morrow.

But it seemed to him that if he could not make use of his time in the
way he had designed, he might perhaps be able to do so in another way.
There were many things he was still ignorant of, many things which,
figuratively speaking, he was dying to know, and he thought it not
unlikely that his landlord might be able to enlighten him with regard
to some of them. Tyson, if not a man of much education, was
intelligent and well-mannered, and had nothing of the provincial boor
about him. In his younger days he had been a gentleman's servant and
had travelled--a fact which he was careful to impress upon all who
were brought into contact with him. In that simple little community it
gave him a certain _cachet_, and enabled him to speak with an air of
authority on many subjects about which in reality he knew next to
nothing. His trained eye had at once detected that "Mr. Lumsden" was
not _quite_ what he professed to be--that there was far less of the
wandering artist than of the West End _flâneur_ about him. Dress,
voice, manner, and that elusive something which makes its presence
felt but defies definition, all betrayed him.

"Don't tell me!" said Mr. Tyson to his wife, who had not spoken for
the last five minutes; "he's a swell to his finger-tips, and I think I
ought to know one when I see him. He's doing the artist dodge for a
lark, or because he's quarrelled with his governor, or because his
young woman's given him the go-bye. Anyhow, it's no business of ours,
and if Mr. Lumsden thinks he has thrown dust in my eyes he's quite
welcome to his opinion. Only, as I said before, I know a real swell
when I see one."

It is not, therefore, to be wondered at that when Mr. Lumsden, after
the candles had been lighted, complained of feeling a little lonely,
and requested as a favour that the landlord would keep him company
over a bottle of "John Jameson" (what wine there was in the house he
had found wholly unthinkable), and some of Burgo's own cigars, that
worthy should have complied with alacrity.

Burgo had the knack, when he chose to exercise it, which was not
always by any means, of putting those who, in no offensive sense,
might be termed his inferiors, at their ease, and in five minutes Mr.
Tyson felt himself quite at home, while at the same time perfectly
aware that there was an invisible line drawn between himself and the
man seated opposite him which he must on no account attempt to
overpass. But the landlord was one of the last men to have attempted
anything of the kind.

A turf fire had been lighted which, if it did not throw out much heat,
imparted an air of cheerfulness to the homely sitting-room, for in
September on the Cumberland seaboard the nights often strike
sojourners from the South as being unpleasantly chilly. On this
particular evening a cold rain was falling outside, and the incoming
tide had brought with it a wind which tore in fitful gusts down the
village street and smote each diamond-paned window with a watery lash
in passing. A couple of wax candles, reserved by Mrs. Tyson for very
special occasions, in brass candlesticks of amazing brilliancy, stood
on the oaken three-legged table, together with all the appliances for
the manufacture of toddy after the most approved recipe.

When the landlord, at Mr. Lumsden's request, had mixed a couple of
steaming jorums, the first thing he did was to drink his guest's
health, and the second to help himself to a cigar from the latter's
case. A comfortable hassock had been supplied Burgo on which to rest
his lame ankle, and as he basked in front of the little fire he told
himself that the "Golden Owl" was a bird of which he should retain a
pleasant recollection as long as he lived.

"And which is the most picturesque and interesting mansion, castle, or
ruin within an easy walk of Crag End, Mr. Tyson?" queried Burgo, after
having duly tested the quality of his grog.

"Well, sir, I'm afraid we're rather destitute hereabouts of the things
you speak of. After you've sketched Garion Keep you'll find nothing
worth looking at nearer than Kippsley Castle, eight miles away."

"And this Garion Keep that you speak of, is it a ruin, or does any one
live in it?

"It had been in a partially ruinous condition for longer than I
remember it till about a year ago, when the present owner, Sir Everard
Clinton, took into his head to have it thoroughly restored and made
fit to live in."

"With the usual result, I suppose, of spoiling its old-time
picturesqueness. But I seem to know the name of Sir Everard Clinton.
Was he not married a few months ago to a lady much younger than
himself?"

"The same man, sir. Report has it that he's a good bit over sixty,
whereas the lady looks young enough to be his daughter."

"So I have been told: such things get talked about in London. And are
Sir Everard and his wife now in residence at the Keep?"

"They came down about a fortnight ago, all in a hurry--at least
they never sent word to Farmer Jellicoe, who had the keys and the
looking-after of the place, that they were coming, and so, of course,
nothing had been got ready for them. Next day, however, half a dozen
or more servants followed them from London, though why the servants
couldn't have been sent on first and have got things shipshape for
their master and mistress is what I for one don't profess to
understand."

But Burgo understood.

Polly's information had proved to be correct; his uncle had been
brought to the Keep, and at that moment he, Burgo, was less than a
mile away from him. For a few moments, although he seemed to be
puffing placidly at his cigar, he was too inwardly agitated to trust
himself to speak.

It was the landlord who first broke the silence.

"They do say there's no finer air anywhere than our Cumberland air,"
he remarked; "so let us hope it'll do the poor gentleman good and help
to set him on his legs again."

"Sir Everard was ill when he arrived at the Keep, was he?"

"Mortal bad, sir. At Oakbarrow station he had to be carried from the
railway carriage to Jim Wilson's fly--the same that brought you,
sir--by Jim and his valet, and from the fly into the house when they
reached the Keep."

"That was a fortnight ago. Do you know whether Sir Everard's health
has improved in the meanwhile?"

The landlord shook his head. "They're very close up at the Keep--for
one thing, perhaps, because the servants are all stuck-up Londoners,
and very little news is allowed to leak out. It seems certain that the
poor gentleman has never been outside the house since he was carried
into it; but there's a roomy lawn between the house and the edge of
the cliff, and a sea-wall with a sheltered walk behind it, and mayhap
on fine days he might be found out there, if one really knew."

"Has he no medical man attending him?"

"Oh, yes, sir, Dr. Rapp was sent for the very day after Sir Everard
arrived, and every morning he jogs over from Oakbarrow on his brown
mare, passing here again on his way back about three-quarters of an
hour later."

"But even if poor Sir Everard is too ill to leave the house, that
seems no reason why his wife should not be seen out of doors now and
then."

"She is seen out of doors now and then, sir; I never said she wasn't.
The family brought neither horses nor carriages with them, but her
ladyship has hired a barouche and pair from the King's Arms' at
Oakbarrow, in which she and Miss Roylance take the air on most fine
afternoons."

Mr. Brabazon pricked up his ears. "Miss---- I didn't quite catch the
young lady's name."

"Miss Roylance, sir, who is said to be her ladyship's ward, or niece,
or something of that kind. She arrived at the Keep a couple of days
after the family, and has been staying there ever since."

Burgo had never heard Miss Roylance's name before which was scarcely
to be wondered at.

"Almost on the heels of Miss Roylance another visitor, a gentleman
this time, made his appearance at the Keep," resumed the landlord, "so
like her ladyship both in features and expression, only that he must
be several years the elder of the two, that one hardly needed  to be
told he was her brother. His name, sir, did you say? It's a foreign
one; they say her ladyship is a foreigner born, though she speaks
English as well as you or I. He calls himself Siggnor--Siggnor--hang
me if I can remember the name! nor, if I did, am I rightly sure how to
pronounce it. Anyhow, he's a fine-looking man, nobody can deny that,
but with something in his face that made me say to myself the first
time I clapped eyes on him: 'If you owed me a grudge, you're not the
sort I should care to meet face to face in a lonely road, and you with
a dagger hidden about you.' But of course that was merely a foolish
fancy on my part; for no doubt the gentleman's as harmless as my pet
canary. He seems fond of taking long walks on the cliffs, or across
the moors, his only companions at such times being two big, fierce
dogs of some foreign breed, which, carefully muzzled, follow him about
wherever he goes. At night, however--so I've been told--they are
unmuzzled and turned loose in the courtyard."

After this the men smoked awhile in silence.

It seemed clear to Burgo that he had picked up a lot of information
which, even if it should ultimately prove of little real value, had at
all events served to put him _au courant_ with affairs at the Keep so
far as outsiders had any cognisance of them.

"You said just now," he presently remarked aloud, "that Sir Everard
Clinton had caused the Keep to be put in thorough repair, but I
suppose all that was arranged for some considerable time before his
marriage?"

"Oh, yes, sir. It was some time in the spring of last year that he
wrote to a firm in Whitehaven specifying what he wanted doing to the
old house; but it was not till after he was married, that is to say,
about three months ago, that he was at the trouble to come and see
whether his orders had been carried out in a way to satisfy him. He
and his bride--I heard they had only been married two or three weeks
before--came down from London, staying a couple of nights at
Oakbarrow, and driving over to the Keep during the day. It was then
that the Baronet gave orders about the laying out of the grounds and
the furnishing and fitting up of the old place, so that it seemed only
natural to suppose he intended to make it his home for at least a part
of the year."

Here was a point cleared up which had puzzled Burgo more than enough.
When Lady Clinton decided upon bringing her husband to Garion Keep she
had known quite well what she was about. That two days' visit had made
her sufficiently acquainted with the place to enable her to judge how
far it could be utilised for the furtherance of her secret designs.



CHAPTER XIII.
HELPLESS.


Rain and wind passed away in the course of the night, and next morning
the sun shone softly brilliant. After a hastily demolished breakfast
Burgo took his stick and portfolio--the latter in his assumed _rôle_
of a wandering artist--and sallied forth. He retained sufficient
recollection of the geography of the place to know in which direction
Garion Keep lay, and thereby spare himself the necessity of an appeal
to a native. But, first of all, he strolled down the one straggling
street of the village to the little harbour, with its miniature
jetty, at the extreme end of which was a tiny wooden erection, the
harbour-master's office, to wit, surmounted by a lamp which turned a
blood-red eye seawards during the dark hours. Everything was on a
small scale, for Crag End was one of those places which never grow. As
it was now so it had been as far back as the memory of its oldest
inhabitant could stretch, and so it would continue to be. This morning
the little harbour wore quite a deserted look, for its boats had gone
northward, following in the wake of the herrings, and were not
expected back for an uncertain time to come.

The hamlet nestled cosily in its narrow valley, which, in point of
fact, was nothing more than a gully, or break in the sea frontage of
the line of low cliffs which shut it in on the north and south. It was
to the south cliff that Burgo presently addressed himself, climbing it
by means of a zigzag footway which led almost directly from the
harbour. Scarcely had he set foot on the short and slippery turf which
crowned its summit when he saw looming before him, at a distance of a
mile and a half, the grey weather-worn tower, scarred with the storms
of more winters than men could reckon, because its age was known to
none, which was all that now remained of the ancient Border
stronghold, of which at one time it had formed a component part, known
as Garion Keep.

As his eyes fell on it Burgo paused, less to gather breath after his
climb than because he could no longer delay answering a certain
awkward question which till now he had found no difficulty in putting
aside. The question which thus intrusively thrust itself to the front
was: "And now that I am here, within a mile of my uncle, what am I to
do next? In what way am I nearer him than I was when I stood at the
door of his London house and was refused admittance? Lady Clinton,
having once succeeded in getting rid of me, will take very good care
that I am never allowed to cross my uncle's threshold again, either in
town or country." He had told himself that when he should once have
succeeded in finding his uncle, he must let himself be guided by
circumstances as to what his future course should be. But what if
there were no circumstances to guide him? It would be the easiest
thing in the world for Lady Clinton to set him and all his plans and
schemes at defiance. Never had he realised his helplessness so clearly
as at that moment.

He strolled slowly on in the direction of the Keep in a thoroughly
downcast mood, till he was within a quarter of a mile of it. There, on
a big rounded boulder, half embedded in the soil, and not improbably a
relic of the ice period, he sat down to rest, for his ankle still
pained him. From where he now was he had not only a near-at-hand view
of the tower itself, but also of the more modern building (said to
date no further back than the era of William and Mary), which was
divided from it by a space of, some fifty or sixty yards, and had
lately been renovated and made habitable by Sir Everard's orders.

Although the two structures were entirely distinct from each other
they were both classed together, and had never been known by any other
title than that of Garion Keep.

The modern building, which was long and low, being only two storeys in
height, was constructed of large, roughly-hewn blocks of a stone
indigenous to the district. The walls were of great thickness, and the
high-pitched roof was covered with what looked less like slates than
heavy flagstones; but on that coast the winter storms are often
terrific in their force and fury, and people are wise enough to build
accordingly. Although to an outsider it presented a somewhat gloomy
and repellent appearance, Burgo called to mind that the interior, even
as it was when he saw it, had pleased him far better than the
exterior, and there was no doubt that only taste and the means were
needed in order to convert it into a very charming home during the
summer months. What it would be like as a dwelling-place in winter was
another matter. On the landward side the house was shut in by a high
wall with wrought-iron gates, enclosing a gravelled carriage sweep and
a court paved with small round pebbles, and ornamented with a number
of laurels and rhododendrons in green tubs. On the opposite side,
between the drawing-room windows and the edge of the cliff, from which
the house stood some way back, there stretched a pleasant space of
lawn, interspersed with fancifully-shaped beds of the gayest flowers.
Sir Everard's improvement to-this part of the house was a bow window
with glass doors opening directly on the lawn.

Burgo was still seated on the boulder, trying in vain to hit upon some
means of communicating with his uncle, his eyes bent vacantly on a
distant steamer, when, happening to turn his head, he saw, to his
surprise, the landlord of the "Golden Owl" advancing along the
footpath over the cliff as if coming direct from the inhabited part of
the Keep. In one hand he carried a small basket.

"Good-morning, sir," he said to Burgo, carrying a finger to his
forehead as he came up. "Going to sketch the old tower, I presume.
Never a summer goes by without somebody doing the same thing. There
must be a lot of likenesses of it up and down the country. I've just
left the Keep, sir. Her ladyship is glad to take all the eggs I can
coax my hens into laying. My boy Teddy brings 'em over every morning,
only to-day he happens to be a bit out of sorts, which is the reason
you see me here, sir, when I ought to be doing my cellar work at
home."

He paused to take off his hat and dab his forehead with his
handkerchief.

"Talking about the Keep," he presently went on, "reminds me that when
I was telling you about it last night I forgot to mention one curious
circumstance, which is, that while the workmen were engaged on the
repairs I told you about, they came across an underground passage
right through the body of the cliff, connecting what is now commonly
called the Keep with the old tower. Nobody seems to know not merely
when the passage was made, or why, but when and by whom it was ordered
to be bricked up. However, Sir Everard caused it to be opened up
afresh, and had a strong oak door fixed at either end--not, I suppose,
that the passage will ever be made use of from one year's end to
another."

"There must have been a use for it once on a time," said Burgo, "when
people did not live such quiet lives as we do. By the way, I suppose
the interior of the tower is in an altogether ruinous condition?"

Both his uncle and he had contented themselves with an outside view of
it on the occasion of their brief visit some years before.

"No, sir, it's not quite as bad as that," replied Tyson; "and as I've
been over it on two occasions, I ought to know. It is, I believe, a
fact that Mr. Josselyn, who owned the tower before it came into the
hands of Sir Everard, never made any use of it, but _his_ uncle--so
I've heard say, for it was before my time--used, if all accounts of
him are true, almost to live in it. It seems that he was a great man
for chemistry and experiments of various kinds, and a bit of an
astronomer into the bargain. So he had the place fitted up to suit
himself, and would shut himself up in it for weeks at a time--his
meals being brought him from the Keep by his old housekeeper--among
all the queer things he had got about him to help him in what he
wanted to find out. Report has it that the country folk were afraid of
him, and that's the reason why, even nowadays, they as often as not
speak of the place as the 'Wizard's Tower.' The end of it was that the
old man was found dead on the floor of the upper room, and the story
goes that he was choked by the fumes of some deadly mixture he had
been trying experiments with. Anyhow, there are his rooms to this day,
pretty much, I daresay, as he left them, except, of course, that all
his rubbish has been carted away long ago!"

"But how are the rooms lighted?" queried Burgo. "Two sides of the
tower are visible from where we are, but there are no windows in
either of them."

"There is only one window to each room, and they all front the sea."

"If you are going towards home, I think I will turn and walk with
you," said Burgo, presently. "My ankle is rather painful this morning,
and I'm in no humour for sketching."

"Pleased to have the pleasure of your company, sir," was the
landlord's reply.

They had reached the village, and were slowly making their way up the
hilly, badly-paved street in the direction of the "Golden Owl," when
Tyson, in a guarded tone, suddenly exclaimed, "Ah! here comes the
siggnor with his dogs--her ladyship's brother--him that I told you
about last night."

They were going up the street and he was coming down, carrying a
dog-whip in one hand, while his two muzzled brutes ranged close upon
his heels. As he passed them he bent on Burgo a keenly persistent
stare. It was not the stare either of idle curiosity or of covert
insolence; rather what it seemed to convey was, that, whensoever or
wheresoever he might see Burgo again, he should not fail to recognise
him.

But the latter did not fail to eye him closely in return. Tyson's
account of him had excited his curiosity; but Burgo's stare was that
of the trained man of the world which reveals nothing and implies
nothing, which seems to take note of nothing while yet allowing
nothing to escape it.

Burgo at once detected the Italian's marked likeness to his sister of
which Tyson had made mention, coupled with a certain something at once
sinister and malign, which, in her case, was merely latent, peeping
out at odd times in her glance or her smile, but which in his had
acquired the stamp of permanence. To those who had eyes to discern, it
revealed him--that is to say, his inner self--after a fashion of which
he was wholly unconscious. But how many of us, without being aware of
it, reveal ourselves to our fellows in much the same way!

Said Tyson, half a minute later, after a backward glance: "By Jove!
Mr. Lumsden, if the siggnor ain't standing stock still and staring
after you. It must be after you, because he's seen me many a time
afore--as if--well, as if you might just have escaped out of a
menagerie, sir."

"He's welcome to stare as long as he likes," remarked Burgo, lightly.
"There's no charge for the show." But the landlord's remark had the
effect of opening up a new and disturbing train of thought.

What if Lady Clinton, suspicious that, notwithstanding all her
precautions, she might be traced and followed, had described him,
Burgo, to this brother of hers, with a request to him to keep a sharp
look out, and at once report his arrival on the scene to her ladyship?
If such were not the case, why should the mere sight of a stranger in
the village have betrayed the Italian into such an excess of
curiosity? It had been altogether contrary to his wishes and designs
that Lady Clinton should become aware of his presence at Crag End. She
would be more on her guard than ever, and even more determined than
before, if such a thing were possible, that all channels of access to
his uncle should be hopelessly barred against him. He felt
unequivocally annoyed, but that in no wise altered the facts of the
case.

From that time he felt nearly sure that he was being watched and his
footsteps dogged wherever he went. There was a shabbily-dressed,
slouching fellow, who looked half labourer and half fisherman, but who
probably was something very different from either, of whom he caught
glimpses in the distance a dozen times a day; who seemed never wholly
to lose sight of Burgo in whichever direction his walks might take
him, and who, when the latter was indoors, would lounge by the hour
together at the corner of a side alley half-way down the street,
whence he could take note of every one who entered or left the tavern
of the "Golden Owl." The fellow never ventured within talking
distance, and whenever Burgo made as though he would approach him, he
slunk away more or less rapidly, never failing to maintain a
respectful distance between himself and the dark, stern-faced young
man, who looked fully capable of administering the thorough thrashing
which he probably felt that he richly deserved.

By the time Burgo had been three days at Crag End it was impossible
for him any longer to doubt that he was being "shadowed."

In the interim he had seen nothing further of the Italian.

Meanwhile day was succeeding day without advancing him one iota nearer
the attainment of the object which had brought him so far; neither,
cudgel his brains as he might and did by day and night, was any scheme
or suggestion forthcoming which would serve to help him a single step
on the way he wanted to go. For anything he could see to the contrary,
he might just as well take the next train back to town. His journey
had been utterly futile of results. His uncle was beyond the power of
any help from without. He (Burgo) had no grounds for interference.
Such evidence as he could have brought to bear against her ladyship
was wholly inferential, and would certainly never have been accepted
by any one in authority as sufficient to warrant the arm of the law
in intervening between husband and wife. No; his uncle was a doomed
man--doomed to slowly fade and grow weaker day by day, till at length
the flame of life, reduced to a mere glimmer, would flicker out of its
own accord. He was at the mercy of a vampire, who knew not the meaning
of the word, and who would never let go her hold on him while there
was a breath left in his body. Burgo's consciousness of his
helplessness half maddened him. It was as an ever-present nightmare
from which it was hopeless to rid himself. It tortured him during the
dark hours, and mocked him when the sun was high. There were times
when he was so wrought up that it would have been bad for her ladyship
to be within reach of his hands. At such moments he could have
strangled her without compunction. And by this time the 12th of
October was drawing ominously near.

The afternoon of the fifth day brought heavy rain, but with the rising
of the moon the wind rose and swept the heavier clouds out to sea,
leaving nothing but a thin filmy lacework where they had been, as
though in their hurried flight they had left a portion of their
garments behind them. Burgo felt stifled indoors. The lower part of
the tavern was filled with men drinking and smoking rank tobacco, the
fumes of which seemed to permeate every corner of the place. Taking up
his hat and stick, he went quietly downstairs, and let himself out by
the side door unknown to any one, leaving the candles alight in his
sitting-room. Taking no heed which way he was going, he found himself
before long, after climbing out of the hollow in which the village was
built, at a point where the road from Oakbarrow station debouched into
the Coast Road, as it was called, which latter, a little way further
on, left Garion Keep a hundred yards or more on its right, and keeping
a tolerably straight course for several miles further, finally lost
itself in the outskirts of a town of some importance.

After pausing for a moment at the sign-post, Burgo decided on keeping
to the Coast Road. He would stroll on as far as the Keep, and see how
the old house looked by moonlight. It was between nine and ten
o'clock, and at that hour the country road was as lonely as a
churchyard. Since leaving the last house of the village he had neither
met nor seen a creature, and yet more than once it had seemed to him
as if he were being dogged at a distance by some one who was desirous
of remaining unseen. When, however, he turned to look, it was only to
see the empty road behind him as in front; but the moonlight was too
faint and diffused to permit of his distinguishing anything at a
greater distance than twenty or thirty yards. All he could do was to
shrug his shoulders and keep on his way, while telling himself that if
anybody was following him, it must be that "skulking hound" whom he
had already detected watching him, and who had doubtless been set on
purposely to spy and report on all his comings and goings.

A little way further, and he came in full view of the Keep, that is to
say, of the land front of it. As already stated, it stood somewhat
back from the road, a short carriage drive, fringed on either side by
an ornamental plantation of young firs and larches, leading up to the
wrought-iron gates which gave admission to the courtyard.

It was the first time since his arrival at Crag End that Burgo had
been so close to the Keep, his previous points of view having been
from the cliff beyond the tower, but his memory retained a good
general recollection of the outward appearance of the house during
the years which had intervened since he had seen it last. He had
strolled up the drive, which was open to the high road, and was gazing
through the scroll-work of the gates, trying in the indistinct light
to make out the different features of the building, when the sudden
deep-mouthed baying of a couple of dogs warned him that his presence
had become known to those faithful guardians. Without a doubt they
were the dogs he had seen following the Italian, which Tyson had told
him were always left loose and unmuzzled during the night.

As it seemed unlikely that they would cease their baying so long as he
remained where he was, and as he had no desire to disturb the
household, he turned and began slowly to retrace his steps. In the
press of other thoughts he had forgotten all about his notion that he
was being followed, nor, now that he had turned to go back, was there
anything to recall it to his mind. At the point where the drive merged
into the high road he halted, while he took one last look at the Keep.
Dark, gloomy, and forbidding it looked, fit home for the slow tragedy
which, he could hardly doubt, was at that very moment advancing by
stealthy, but imperceptible degrees, to its preordained catastrophe.
His heart bled for the old man who was being gradually done to death
behind those sombre walls; yet here stood he, Burgo Brabazon, burning
to rescue him, but as powerless to do so as a newborn babe. Oh, it
was horrible, horrible!

A groan broke from his lips, he flung up his arms for a moment as if
appealing to Heaven, then his head drooped forward on his open palms.
"Is there no way--none?" he cried aloud, despairingly.

He was standing with his back to one of the plantations which lined
the drive. So absorbed was he that he did not hear the sound of
stealthy footsteps behind him, nor was he aware of two figures which
crept out from the shadows of the trees, till the hard breathing of
one of them betrayed their presence. He turned quickly, but it was too
late. In the very act of doing so, he fell headlong to the ground,
struck down by a crashing blow on the back of his skull.



CHAPTER XIV.
IN DURANCE VILE.


It was daylight when Burgo next opened his eyes, and asked himself
what had happened to him and where he was. He tried to satisfy himself
on the latter point first, because not to have done so would have
involved an effort of memory such as just then he scarcely felt equal
to. So without attempting to move hand or foot, he proceeded to stare
about him, his eyes wandering from side to side, and taking in one
detail after another of the unfamiliar quarters in which he now found
himself.

Imprimis, he was stretched at full length on a couch which he
afterwards found to be made of mahogany, with old-fashioned cushions
and a pillow of horsehair considerably the worse for wear. The only
other furniture comprised a small octagonal table, and a couple of
straight-backed chairs of unpolished oak, apparently of some
antiquity. Stay, though; in one corner was placed a common washstand
and toilet service, such as in middle-class households are reserved
for servants' cubicles. The room itself was neither very large nor
very lofty, but it was undeniably bare-looking, walls and ceiling
being alike washed a dull creamy white. The room was lighted by one
long, narrow window, with leaded lozenge-shaped panes of thick
greenish glass, but placed so high up in the wall that a man had need
to be full six feet high for his eyes to be on a level with its lowest
panes. As the room had but one window, so it had but one door, which,
like the table and the chairs, seemed to be of substantial oak.

But although he had satisfied himself as to the kind of place in which
he was, that did not help him to solve the question of where he was.
His ears were filled with a long, low, murmurous wash, which now
struck his consciousness for the first time. He at once recognised it
for what it was. "It is the noise of the incoming tide," he said to
himself. "And this place? Is it--can it be that I have been brought to
the Wizard's Tower?"

Everything was clear to him now, without any mental groping backward,
up to the moment when he was struck down as he stood by the edge of
the plantation. He had been the object of a foul and cowardly attack,
and it was not difficult to guess to whose instigation he owed it.
More than ever did he realise at that moment with how resolute and
unscrupulous an antagonist he had to deal.

But why was he lying there? At once he sprang to his feet, but as he
did so an involuntary "Ah!" escaped him, and the same instant he
clapped both his hands to the back of his head. He had not known till
then that he was wounded. But with the change in his position the pain
made itself sharply felt, and presently his fingers informed him that
the hair round the wound had been cut away, and the place itself
covered with strips of sticking-plaster. To such an extent had he been
tended and cared for. Just then, however, his wound was a matter of
quite secondary importance. Having, as he believed, rightly guessed to
what place he had been conveyed while unconscious, the all-important
question at once put itself to him: "Am I a prisoner?"

His heart foreboded the answer but too surely. He crossed to the door
and turned the handle. It was enough.

While he stood staring at the door like a man half dazed, he noticed
that in the upper half of it there was a panel, about a couple of feet
square, which looked as if it were movable, and on trying it with his
hand he found that it slid back in a groove, leaving an aperture of
its own size, of which Burgo at once proceeded to avail himself as a
peep-hole. But what he could discern through it scarcely repaid him
for his trouble--merely another space of whitewashed wall, as it might
be that of a landing, with the two topmost steps of a flight of stone
stairs leading to unknown regions below. Then it struck Burgo that the
aperture might perchance be available for another purpose. Putting one
arm through it up to the shoulder he proceeded to search for the bolt
or key which held him prisoner, but neither one nor the other could he
find. Whoever had locked him in had been careful to remove the key.
Well, he had hardly expected anything else.

He now bethought himself to look at his watch. It was close on seven
o'clock. It had been somewhere about ten o'clock when he was struck
down, so that his unconsciousness had lasted for nearly nine hours. No
wonder that his head smarted as it did.

It was not till later, when he had ample leisure for thinking things
over, that there seemed to come over him a sort of dim consciousness
that in the course of the night something had been given him to
swallow, and that in his ears there had been a faint, confused murmur
of voices, as of people talking a long way off; but it had all been so
vague and unreal that he could never feel sure it was aught but a
dream.

Having pushed the sliding panel back into its place, he crossed to the
window, and found that, after stretching himself to his fullest
height, his eyes were just on a level with the lowermost panes. It was
evident that by standing on a chair his range of vision would be
considerably enlarged, and that was what he at once proceeded to do.
As he had quite expected it would, the window looked directly on the
sea, and on nothing else. Whichever way he turned his eyes not a strip
of land was visible. He could no longer doubt that he was shut up in
the Wizard's Tower. Now that he had, as it were, explored his tiny
domain, he sat down to think, but as yet his brain was so crowded with
impressions, all more or less vivid, which involved the putting of so
many more or less unanswerable questions, that to attempt to evolve
therefrom any definite and consistent line of thought was for the
present an impossibility.

Not long had he sat before his attention was caught by a faint grating
noise, as it might be the turning of a rusty key, which was presently
followed by the sound of shuffling footsteps ascending the stone
stairs from below. Then the sliding panel was thrust back, and, framed
by the aperture, Burgo beheld the yellow, wrinkled visage of a very
old and very unprepossessing female, who stood for some seconds,
gazing at him with weak and watery eyes, before she spoke.

"If you please, sir, I've brought you your breakfus," she said at
length in a thin quavering treble, "so, m'appen you'll please to take
the things as I hands 'em to you."

Burgo crossed to the door, and from the tray the old lady had brought
with her, which she had placed on the floor before opening the slide,
she handed to him, one by one, the various concomitants of a fairly
good and substantial breakfast.

"And now, mother, if you will tell me what place this is, I shall be
much obliged to you," said Burgo, as, last of all, he took from her
hand a small coffee-pot.

The old woman favoured him with what to most people would have seemed
a cunning leer, but which she may have intended for an amiable grin.
"I can tell by the motion of your lips as you're a-talking to me," she
piped; "but I couldn't hear a word you say, no, not even if you
shouted ever so. I've been stone deaf for the last dozen years. I'll
fetch the breakfus things away when I brings your dinner." And, with a
parting nod, she shut the slide and shuffled her way downstairs. Then
came a muffled sound, as it might be the shutting of a heavy door,
followed by the same grating noise as before.

Burgo was hungry, and was glad to be able to stay his appetite. He had
a few cigarettes left in his case, and it may be that he enjoyed
smoking a couple of them after breakfast none the less because his
fortunes just then were at such a desperate pass. It was over his
second cigarette that he came to the sensible conclusion to no longer
badger his brains with a lot of vain surmises and questions which he
had no means of answering, but rather to await the course of events
quietly, and with such philosophy as he could summon to his aid. Any
other course would be both futile and unmanly. Lady Clinton had got
him into her power, and for the present he could but submit to that
which it was out of his power to help.

In pursuance of this more cheerful way of looking at things he
presently stretched himself on the sofa, and before long was fortunate
enough to forget all his anxieties in sleep.

It was noon when he awoke. After a stare round he rose and shook
himself. "I'm neither a Monte Cristo nor a Jack Sheppard," he said,
"but I may as well satisfy myself whether there is or is not the
remotest chance of my being able to escape from this confounded hole."
So he again turned his attention to the door. It was very heavy and
strong, and, judging from appearances, could not have been less than a
century old, while, although the lock was probably of a very simple
kind, it would obviously be impossible for him to pick it without
adequate tools. He had a pocket-knife with three blades, which
fortunately had not been taken from him. Would it be possible by its
means to cut away sufficient of the woodwork round the lock--it was of
tough old oak--to allow of his forcing the bolt? But even should he
prove so far successful, what then? At the foot of the stairs he would
find himself confronted by another door, most likely by two, for he
had not forgotten what Tyson had told him about the opening up of the
underground passage from the Keep. Nor had he forgotten what the door
which opened from the tower on to the cliff was like. It was twice as
massive, and would prove twice as formidable an obstacle to overcome
as the door of his chamber. Not much hope of escape could he perceive
that way. Still, the subject was one which might repay careful thought
by-and-by--for he had already concluded that the tower would have to
be his home for some time to come--when he should have become familiar
with the daily routine of his prison life, and knew for how many hours
he could depend upon being left unvisited by any one.

The window as a possible means of escape proved hopeless from the
first. It was narrow to begin with, and was rendered altogether
impassable for any one bigger than a child of six by a couple of
massive upright bars. In one corner of the room was an open fireplace
with a chimney, but when Burgo stared up the murky throat of the
latter, he felt that he would have to be reduced to very desperate
straits indeed before he ventured to explore it.

At half-past two the same old woman brought him his dinner, passing
the dishes to him one by one as before, and receiving in return the
breakfast things left from morning. "If you please, sir," she said, "I
was to tell you that if there's anything you specially want, would you
write it down on a piece of paper and give it to me." Thereupon she
handed him through the aperture pen, ink, and a couple of sheets of
paper.

Burgo gave vent to a low whistle of surprise. Then, after considering
for a few moments, he sat down and wrote as under:

"If it be your intention to detain me here for any length of time, you
may, if you please, add to the burden of my obligations by letting me
have my portmanteau and contents, which will be found at the inn of
the 'Golden Owl,' in Crag End. If, at the same time, you will settle
my little bill there, I will recoup you the amount.

"I enclose a note to the landlord authorising him to give up my
chattels to whomsoever you may send for them."

The note to Tyson which he enclosed was signed "Burgo Lumsden."

The old woman took the notes, favoured him with another leer, and
went.

As Burgo sat eating his dinner to the accompaniment of an excellent
bottle of claret, having agreed to thrust his cares aside for a while,
his thoughts went wandering hither and thither as they listed,
touching now on things serious and now on others which were just as
trivial. Among other matters which thus casually claimed his thoughts
he found himself wondering again what purpose the sliding panel in the
door had been originally intended to serve. But after a time a light
broke on him. "This must have been one of the rooms occupied by the
old fellow Tyson told me about, who used to shut himself up in the
tower for weeks at a time, and it was doubtless put to the same use by
him that it is put to now. His laboratory was sacred ground; no foot
save his own must cross its threshold; and his food was handed to him
through the aperture as mine is to-day." In the lack of all
possibility of getting at the facts of the case, it seemed as likely
an explanation as could have been arrived at.

Burgo got through the afternoon as he best could. He spent a
considerable portion of the time resting his elbows on the
window-sill, his head supported by his hands, gazing out at the
heaving expanse of water which bounded the whole visible line of his
horizon, watching with his eyes, while far away in thought, an
occasional moving pennon of smoke on the line where sky and water
seemed to meet, or the gleam of a white sail in the offing. In his
ears was the soft, murmurous thunder of the tide, for ever either
coming or going. A portion of the lower half of the window formed a
casement which was now flung wide open. The autumn airs blew soft and
sweet; in their caresses lingered a memory of departed summer.

As he stood thus he could not help telling himself that all which had
befallen him since he left the "Golden Owl" at nine o'clock the
previous night was more like a fragment of some distempered dream than
the grim reality it had proved itself to be. That he should have been
assaulted, kidnapped, and locked up in an old border tower was an
incident such as might well have happened even as lately as a hundred
years ago, but which seemed an anachronism, and altogether out of
keeping with the prosaic realities of the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. And yet, incredible as it might be deemed, it had
happened to him. He was there a prisoner, and when or in what way his
imprisonment would end, he could guess no more than the man in the
moon. It might be that the design was to keep him safe under lock and
key till his uncle's illness should have terminated in the only way it
was intended it should terminate, and that, he felt sure, would not be
till after the 12th of October. Or, again, it might be that even then
steps were being taken to remove his uncle still further away, perhaps
to some place abroad, where no helping hand would avail to reach him.
It seemed monstrous to imagine that such a hellish plot could be
carried out with impunity at this time of day, and all the safeguards
which the law has devised against wrong-doing quietly ignored and
treated as if they had no existence. Yes, it did indeed seem
monstrous; but, as most of us have learnt to our cost, facts are
stubborn things.

It was nearly dark before the old woman made her appearance for the
third time. Following the unlocking of the door, somewhere below
stairs came the sound of a dog's deep baying, mingled with a man's
voice addressing some one in imperative accents. Although it was not
yet seven o'clock the old lady had brought Burgo his supper. He had
not been used to such a primitive arrangement of his meals, but it
would have been folly to complain. When he had exchanged his empty
dishes for full ones, the woman said: "I've a lot o' things downstairs
for you--a lamp, and a couple o' blankits, and a piller, and your
porkmantle--which I'll now fetch up; but afore I open the door and
give 'em to you, you must pass me your sacred word of honour not to
try to leave the room. I can't hear a word, as you know, but if you're
ready and willing to swear not to try to escape, sinnify the same by
holding up your right hand."

A moment's thought convinced Burgo that no other course was open to
him, so up went his right hand.

The old woman leered and nodded; then, beckoning him to go nearer, she
said: "Besides, where would be the use of your trying to get away?
_He's_ down there"--with a jerk of her thumb over her shoulder--"on
the watch with one of his big dogs. Eh! but they're dangerous brutes,
and he's a dangerous man, and he would think nothing of letting the
beast loose to fly at your throat."

With the last word she was gone. But presently she reappeared,
dragging Burgo's portmanteau up the stairs, after which she fetched up
in turn a couple of blankets, a pillow, and a lamp. Then, not without
some difficulty she succeeded in unlocking the door, after which she
took in the things, Burgo meanwhile discussing his supper quietly at
the table.

"And now, sir, I'll wish you a very good-night and pleasant dreams,"
said the old girl presently, "for I shan't trouble you any more till I
bring your breakfus in the morning." Then in rapid whisper, and with
another jerk of her thumb: "He's a devil, that's what he is--a devil!"

Half a minute later the key was turned in the lock, the slide shut,
and Burgo was left alone for the night.



CHAPTER XV.
DACIA ROYLANCE.


Time went on till a week had gone by without anything occurring to
break the monotonous tenor of Burgo's life in the Wizard's Tower.

His meals were supplied to him in the way already described, and as
they were plentiful and good, he had nothing to complain of on that
score.

Once a day old Mrs. Sprowle--for that was her name, she told him--
unlocked the door and entered the room in order to do such humble
_chores_ as were requisite, at which times "that devil," as she
persistently termed the Italian, always kept watch and ward below
stairs in company with one of his ferocious hounds. Him Burgo never
saw, but more than once, as he lay awake, after putting out his lamp,
he was conscious of a stealthy footfall on the stairs, and it seemed
to him as if the slide were pushed softly back; but what the Italian's
motive could be for acting thus--for he did not fail to set it down to
him--he was unable to conceive, unless the latter were anxious to
satisfy himself that his captive was not utilising the dark hours in
an attempt to escape. On the first and second occasions Burgo lay
still and made no sign, but the third time he heard the footsteps on
the stairs, followed by the faint creak of the sliding panel, impelled
by a sudden impulse, he put out his hand, grasped his boot, and aimed
it as straight as he could in the dark at the aperture in the door.
There was a muttered exclamation--or execration--in a man's voice, and
then a sound of retreating footsteps. Burgo broke into a burst of
genuine laughter. He could hardly remember the time when he had
laughed last, it seemed so long ago.

Among the contents of his portmanteau were a meerschaum pipe and a
pound packet of Latakia. He had been a smoker for years, and what such
things could do towards solacing his imprisonment, they did. Another
treasure was a volume containing some half-dozen of Shakespeare's
plays, which he had brought with him as a refuge against _ennui_ in
case of bad weather, or when he could not sleep of nights. Under
similar circumstances a French novel would have recommended itself to
the majority of Mr. Brabazon's friends. But in many ways Burgo was
unlike the majority of his friends, and in none more, perhaps, than in
his love of reading. It was true that hardly any one ever saw him with
a book in his hands, but he was one of those men who can do with very
little sleep, and, notwithstanding his multifarious engagements as a
man about town, he generally contrived to devote at least a couple of
hours out of the twenty-four to good solid reading. It was a fact
which would have greatly surprised his club friends had they been told
it, which they never were; and yet therein lay the answer to a
question which young Hylton propounded one night in the smoking-room
after Burgo had just gone: "Can any of you chappies tell me how it is
that Brabazon seems to know such a lot about such a lot of things, you
know?" But the chappies, one and all, shook their heads. They admitted
ungrudgingly that Brabazon did know a lot, but that how he came by his
knowledge was a mystery.

That Burgo should have crammed a volume of the Bard into his
portmanteau before leaving town vouches something for his taste and
quality.

When Mother Sprowle brought him his breakfast on the third morning of
his incarceration, she brought with her a _Times_ newspaper two days
old, and each morning afterwards she did the same thing. It was a boon
for which Burgo felt sufficiently grateful, enabling him, as it did,
to while away many an hour--for, barring a few matters as to which he
found it impossible to feign the most tepid interest, he read it from
beginning to end--which, but for it, would probably have proved
tedious in the extreme. He could not but regard it as a proof that
there was an unspoken but clearly implied desire on the part of some
one to render his captivity as little irksome to him as possible. Was
that some one her ladyship, or whom?

But oh--but oh, to be free!

It was the eighth dinner Mother Sprowle had brought him, and Burgo,
whose appetite was beginning to fail him for lack of fresh air and
exercise, took the dishes from her languidly, like a man who would
just as lief have sent them back untasted as not. But when, last of
all, the old dame thrust under his nose a tiny envelope addressed
"Burgo Brabazon, Esq.," in a feminine hand, there came a flash into
his eyes and a look into his face which seemed to make another man of
him. Seizing the note, he tore it open, saying to himself in a
breathless whisper: "From her ladyship, of course. What can she have
to write me about? Not----"

But the note was not from her ladyship, as his first startled glance
at it sufficed to tell him.

"Miss Dacia Roylance presents her compliments to Mr. Brabazon," it
ran, "and begs to inform him that she purposes calling upon him
(unless unforeseen circumstances should intervene) between eight and
nine o'clock this evening, as for some time past Miss Roylance has
been extremely desirous of making Mr. Brabazon's acquaintance."

Burgo read the note twice over, so dumfounded was he, before he could
feel sure that he had taken in the sense aright. Then he held up a
finger to the old woman, who was regarding him with one of her
equivocal leers, as a signal that she was to remain, after which he
stood for a long two minutes with his eyes bent on the floor.

He remembered the name of Dacia Roylance as that of a young lady of
whom Tyson had made casual mention as being her ladyship's ward or
niece, and as having made her appearance at Garion Keep a few days
after the arrival of the family. Since then she had scarcely found a
moment's place in his thoughts. She was nothing to him, nor he to her;
they had never even met; he had felt neither curiosity about her, nor
the wish to meet her. Now, however----

The old woman coughed; a hint, evidently, that he must not keep her
waiting much longer.

Surely so polite a note necessitated an answer similar in kind. He had
still the pen and ink which had been brought him the first day, and in
his portmanteau were paper and envelopes. Getting together his
materials without another moment's delay, he cleared a space on the
table and wrote as under:

"Mr. Brabazon presents his compliments to Miss Roylance, and in reply
to her note just received begs to assure Miss Roylance that it will
afford him infinite pleasure to be waited upon by her at whatever hour
may best suit her convenience."

Then he put the note into an envelope, fastened it up, addressed it,
and gave it to Mrs. Sprowle, who took it with a nod as one who knew.

It is almost needless to say that to Burgo the afternoon seemed to
drag its wearisome length along even more slowly than usual. He waited
the coming of evening with impatience, asking himself meanwhile a
hundred questions, although fully aware of the futility of doing so,
seeing that to none of them was any answer forthcoming. By-and-by the
afternoon shadows began to lengthen, and then a great bank of cloud
crept down from the middle sky, and shut out as with a curtain the
flaming splendours of the western heavens. And therewith twilight came
at a bound.

Then Burgo lighted his lamp, and sat down resolutely to read--and
wait. But for once Shakespeare's magic proved of no avail. He read a
page and turned over to the next, but, although his eyes mechanically
took in the words, his mind remained a blank as far as their meaning
was concerned. At length he flung the volume aside, and began to pace
the room as he had paced it hundreds of times before, glancing every
few minutes at his watch, while sneering cynically at himself for
being so weak-minded. "I might be a big school-girl waiting for her
first ball-dress to be brought home," he muttered contemptuously; and
then he looked at his watch again.

Mother Sprowle had brought him his supper--which he did not touch--and
had gone again, and night had settled down in earnest, before Burgo's
alert ear heard the key turned in the lock belowstairs. He drew
himself up, his eyes brightened, and a dark flush mounted to his
cheeks. What was he about to see? Some "vision beatific," or some
ordinary "young person," the bearer it might be, of some message from
Lady Clinton? That Miss Roylance should dare to visit him of her own
initiative, and without the consent or sanction of her ladyship, was
too much to expect. Still, youth sometimes abounds with sweet
audacities.

He listened without moving to the sound of nearing footsteps as they
climbed the stairs one by one. These were certainly not the flying
footsteps of a young girl. They were slow and somewhat laboured, with
a peculiar tapping accompaniment which at once brought to Burgo's mind
that morning in his uncle's house, when he had been puzzled by a
somewhat similar sound, which proved to be the tap-tap of the crippled
caretaker's stick on the oaken stairs as he ascended from the regions
below. Burgo had pushed back the slide some time ago. Drawing nearer
to it he now stood with his eyes fixed intently on the black square in
the door. The tapping became more audible, and then the darkness
outside the door was illumined by a faint light, which began to
creep up the whitewashed wall of the landing, and a second or two
later there appeared a white hand holding aloft a small shaded
lamp--involuntarily Burgo drew a step or two nearer--and then a face
came into view, and so, by degrees, the figure to which it pertained.
Then, with a thrill, Burgo saw that this dark-robed young woman, who
had thus strangely elected to visit him, was supported under her left
arm by a slender crutch, as also that she was slightly humpbacked, and
that one shoulder had the appearance of being somewhat higher than the
other. A great wave of pity swept over him as these things forced
themselves, as it were, on his notice.

Miss Roylance's face broke into a smile, then the smile merged into a
musical laugh as her eyes met those of Burgo fixed so intently on her.
"Confess, now, Mr. Brabazon, that my note took you considerably by
surprise, and that my audacity in coming, under such circumstances, to
see a young man who is an utter stranger to me, has surprised you
still more. But, to be sure, there is a locked door between us." Her
voice was a low rich contralto.

"In any case, the surprise is a charming one," responded Burgo,
reciprocating her smile. "I have been here so long without a soul to
speak to, that I intended to begin spouting Shakespeare aloud
to-morrow, so as to keep my tongue from getting rusty."

"I am glad you did not try to make me believe that you were not
surprised, because that shows a quite uncommon degree of candour on
the part of so young a man, and I like candour, even although I may
not always be able to practise it myself. In any case, Mr. Brabazon,
you can't be nearly as much surprised at me as I am at myself. 'And
yet she is here!' you are saying to yourself. I feel sure of it."

"Then, for calm, Miss Roylance, your perspicacity is at fault,"
retorted Burgo, laughingly. "Just then my thoughts were far
differently engaged, I assure you."

She knew that as well as he--she had read it in his eyes--but she was
not going to let him think so. "Perhaps, as there is no place to stand
it on but the floor, you will take charge of my lamp for me during the
very few minutes to which my stay must be limited."

This brought them closer together than they had yet been, and so
enabled Burgo to scan more clearly the features of his fair visitor,
framed as they now were by the aperture in the door.

And fair she undoubtedly was, her complexion by that half-light giving
her features the appearance of being carved out of ivory; but never,
except in some rare moments of excitement, did more than the faintest
tinge of colour glow through the clear pallor of her cheeks. But it
was the pallor of perfect health, as no one with eyes to see could
doubt, although Miss Roylance did walk with a crutch.

She had blue-gray eyes, large and luminous, in which, sometimes as in
a mirror, her every changing mood and emotion would be faithfully
reflected--but only sometimes. Hard necessity--the atmosphere of
falsehood and double-dealing, in which a considerable part of her
young life had been spent--had taught her how to discharge her eyes of
all expression without detracting in any degree from their brilliancy.
At such times they betrayed nothing. An impalpable film seemed to have
been drawn over their inner depths. You gazed into them, and you
beheld there--yourself.

Miss Roylance's hair, of which she had a great quantity, was of the
colour of dead gold. There were some people who went so far as to
call it red, which merely went to prove, either that they were
partially colour-blind, or else that they belonged to that
unpleasant but numerous class of people with whom envy and detraction
go hand-in-hand. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were some shades darker
than her hair--of the darkest chestnut they might be termed--and
claimed to be clearly-defined items in the _ensemble_ of her features.

But of her face, as a whole, what shall be said? Merely that it owed
whatever charm it possessed--and for many people it had a quite
peculiar charm--less to any chiselled contour of features, or to any
depth and glow of colour, than to its expression of mingled sweetness
and decision, and to the conviction which forced itself upon you that
here was a nature at once tender and strong, into whose safe keeping a
man might entrust his heart (if only she could be persuaded into
accepting it) with the absolute certainty that his trust would never
be betrayed. And yet there were times, and those by no means
infrequent, when the spirit of mirth played round her lips, and the
spirit of mischief peeped out of her eyes. She was only twenty, and
although her experience had been a rather uncommon one, she was still
in some things a mere girl. Finally, her figure was tall and slender,
and but for the deformity of which mention has been made, would have
been deemed more than ordinarily graceful.

There was one reason far outweighing all others which had caused Burgo
to look forward with a mixture of longing and anxiety to Miss
Roylance's promised visit, and he could now keep back no longer the
question which sprang to his lips. "I hope, Miss Roylance, that you
have brought me some news of my uncle," were his first words after he
had taken the lamp from her hand. "Is he better, or is he worse? I
cannot convey to you how anxious I am to hear how he is progressing."

Her face at once became charged with sympathy. "I am afraid, Mr.
Brabazon, that such news of your uncle as I can give you is not of a
very encouraging kind. I have now been nearly a month at Garion Keep,
and although I do not think that Sir Everard is any worse than he was
the first time I saw him, unless it be that he is a shade weaker, I
cannot conscientiously say that he seems to me any better. But then he
fluctuates so from day to day that it is difficult to tell. Some days
he is comparatively brisk and cheerful, and will be wheeled about the
grounds in his chair, or sit out on the lawn, for a couple of hours at
a time; while there are other days on which he never leaves his room."

"It is that slow, sure, yet all but imperceptible access of weakness
which is to be dreaded more than anything. By-and-by a day will come
when--but I will say no more on that point. I have no doubt Lady
Clinton continues to be what she has been all along--the most
attentive and devoted of nurses."

There was something in the way he spoke the last words which caused
her eyes to meet his for a couple of seconds. "As far as my experience
goes, no one could be more so," she contented herself with saying.

"And the doctor who attends my uncle----?"

"Is an old woman. Yet, no; I malign my sex by calling him such,
because some old women are both clever and delightful, and I am quite
sure that Dr. Rapp is neither one nor the other. He is what I should
term an elderly beau, still foppish in his dress, and still addicted
to posing in various absurd attitudes. He ogles Lady Clinton, who is
very gracious to him, and I have no doubt he thinks her one of the
most charming of women; but I don't believe he understands Sir
Everard's case one bit."

It was an immense relief to Burgo to find that, so far as he could
judge, his uncle was not so very much worse than when he left London.
But the 12th of October would not be here for another fortnight, and
till that date should have come and gone his life was a precious
possession to Lady Clinton.

So far Miss Roylance had said nothing by way of enlightening him as to
the motive of her visit, for that something special lay at the back of
it he could scarcely doubt. Perhaps she was waiting for him to
question her; perhaps some motive which he could not be expected to
fathom kept her dumb. She had told him distinctly that her visit could
last but a very few minutes; it was no time for shilly-shallying; at
the risk of offending her he would put to her a question which he was
burning to have answered.

"Pardon the question, Miss Roylance," he said, "but may I ask whether
you are the bearer of a message of any kind from Lady Clinton?"

The silence had been of the briefest, merely while he turned aside to
regulate the lamp; but the shuttle of Burgo's brain worked swiftly,
and his hesitations never lasted long.

A lovely flush suffused the lilies of Dacia's cheeks, but her answer
was prompt and decided. "No, Mr. Brabazon, I am the bearer of no
message of any kind from Lady Clinton; indeed, I would not for a great
deal that her ladyship should become aware of my visit. I am here
altogether surreptitiously." Then, with a little catch in her voice,
she added quickly: "I am here, Mr. Brabazon, to ask you whether there
is anything that I can do by way of helping you to escape--for I
presume you have no wish to remain here an hour longer than you are
compelled to do."

"To help me to escape? Oh! Miss Roylance!" The transformation that
came over his face as he gave utterance to these words startled her.

She went on hurriedly.

"I am sadly afraid it is very little, if, indeed, anything that I can
do to help you. But before another word is said on that point, I must
explain to you the reasons which have influenced me in taking a step
so unconventional, and, perhaps, I ought to add, so unladylike, only
that the latter word is one which I detest. You must know, then----"
She stopped suddenly and held up her hand.

"Hist! hist! Miss Dacia, he's waking up!" came a voice from below.
Burgo thought he recognised the thin acrid tones of Mother Sprowle.

"I must go at once, I dare not stay another moment," exclaimed Miss
Roylance. "Give me my lamp, please." Then, as Burgo passed it to her
through the aperture, she said with a smile and a meaning look:
"To-morrow evening about the same time, if the coast is clear. If not,
I will send you a message by Mrs. Sprowle. Till then, _addio_."

She adjusted her crutch under her left arm and turned and went slowly
down, her sheaf of red-gold hair falling in a dull shimmer over her
shoulders being the last Burgo saw of her.



CHAPTER XVI.
DACIA EXPLAINS.


Not much sleep visited the pillow of Burgo Brabazon that night. The
mere thought that a possibility of escape seemed to be opening itself
out before him would alone have been enough to break his rest.
Supposing that when he saw her next Miss Roylance should ask him in
what way she could help him best, ought he not to be ready with an
answer to her question? And what ought that answer to be? But at this
point he was confronted by a puzzle of which no solution was
forthcoming. If Miss Roylance was so far mistress of the situation
that neither bolts nor bars sufficed to hinder her from penetrating as
far as the outside of his prison door, what was there to prevent her
from opening the door itself and so setting him at liberty? It was a
perplexing question, and as futile as perplexing, which was just the
reason why it kept putting itself to him again and again. And yet he
had only to wait patiently to have both this and other things made
plain to him; but that is what most of us find it so hard to do.

The spell which Dacia Roylance had unwittingly thrown over him was not
broken with her own evanishment. It possessed him and would not let
him go. Some magnetic chord of his being had been struck which no one
had ever sounded before, and of the existence of which he had been
wholly ignorant, and its subtle vibrations thrilled him as he had
never been thrilled before. It was not love, it had no touch of
passion in it, it was an experience altogether fresh and strange. "I
am bewitched, and that's the simple fact," he said to himself. "I
never believed in 'possession' before; I do now." And yet he seemed in
no way put about, but probably in a process of that sort everything
depends upon the sorceress. In any case, Burgo found himself longing,
as he had rarely longed for anything, for the time when he should see
Dacia Roylance again.

From the first day of Burgo's imprisonment till now there had been no
break in the weather. The sun had shone in an all but unclouded sky,
the nights had been soft and balmy, the winds hushed. Hour after hour
had Burgo spent at the window of his prison watching the tide as it
seethed creamily up the sands and broke in softest foam or else its
slow recession as wave by wave it was drawn backward by a force it was
powerless to resist. To-night, however, had brought a change. The sun
had set in a gorgeous cloud-pageant, like some conqueror with torn
ensigns and blood-stained banners marching through tottering
battlements and ruined towers into some great city's flaming heart.
Later the wind had begun to rise, and by midnight it was blowing half
a gale. At high-water every minute or two some thunderous pulsation of
the tide would smite the face of the cliff with such terrific impact
as for a time to almost deafen Burgo. More than once the old tower
seemed to quiver to its foundations. Even if Burgo had had nothing out
of the ordinary to occupy his thoughts, it would have been next to
impossible for him to sleep.

Forming, as it were, a separate note of the elemental diapason
outside, while yet being in full accord with it, was a sound which
Burgo long lay listening to without being able to satisfy himself
whence or how it originated. It was something between a rush and roar
and a sort of Titanic gurgle, and seemed to reach his ear, not from
without, but as if it ascended through the floor of his room. Then all
at once he said to himself, "Can it be that the tower is undermined,
and that what I hear is the noise of the tide as it is being
alternately forced into and sucked out of some natural hollow or
opening in the face of the cliff?" The longer he pondered this
explanation the more satisfied he became that it was the real one.

But when at length sleep came to him he was not thinking of any weird
cavern in the cliff, haunted by mermaid or siren, but of the young
witch with her red-gold hair and wonderful eyes who had cast a spell
over him, the potency of which was already beginning to make itself
felt.

In the course of the forenoon the wind went down, but there was a
heavy sea running for hours to come.

Breakfast and dinner came in due course, but with the latter meal a
letter was handed to Burgo, the address of which--simply his own
name--he at once recognised as being in the calligraphy of Miss
Roylance. He opened it with a sinking of the heart. Had she written to
say that something had intervened, and that she would not be able to
visit him as promised? He motioned to Mrs. Sprowle to remain till he
had read it. There might be something in it which would necessitate an
answer.

"I was about to explain to you yesterday, when interrupted," it began
abruptly, "the reasons by which I was actuated in seeking an interview
in the way I did, with one who was a complete stranger to me. To you,
I have no doubt, it seemed a bold and unmaidenly thing to do, and only
under very special circumstances could such a step be at all
excusable. That the circumstances in this case are of a very special
kind you will, I trust, be ready to admit by the time you have read to
the end of what is here written.

"For various reasons I have deemed it best to put my explanation in
writing, the chief one being that at present I am far from sure I
shall be able to see you again this evening; indeed, it is by no means
unlikely that I may be unable to do so at all. You will understand why
when you have read further.

"I must ask you to bear with me while I jot down, as briefly as may
be, a few details of my early history which are needful for the due
understanding of what follows. I will try not to weary you over-much.

"I was born in India, where my father was in the Civil Service, and
was sent to Lausanne at an early age to be educated. My mother died
when I was too young to remember her, and I lost my father when I was
about twelve years old. Of the two guardians appointed by my father,
one is a London solicitor whom I have never seen, the other being
Colonel Innes, my mother's brother. To finish this part of my
explanation, I may add that when I am twenty-one I shall come into a
fortune of ten thousand pounds, and that I am debarred from marrying
before that age (I am now just turned twenty) without the consent of
my guardians--or rather, of the one who is still living, for my uncle,
Colonel Innes, died a year and a half ago.

"When my uncle Innes retired from the army he came to Europe, and,
after spending some months in England, he settled down for the winter
at Nice. It was there I joined him on leaving school, for his home, he
said, was henceforth to be my home; and it was there he met La Signora
Offredi, whom he shortly afterwards married, and who is now known to
the world as the wife of Sir Everard Clinton.

"The courtship was a very brief one, for my uncle was simply
infatuated. His marriage was to make no difference to me; my home was
to be still with him--an arrangement which his wife most cordially
seconded. Indeed, from the hour I was introduced to her, Lady
Clinton--to give her the title by which she is now known--accorded me
an amount of affection which my more frigid temperament made it
impossible for me to reciprocate in anything like an equivalent
degree. On two occasions she took me with her on her visits to her
son, a boy of twelve, who was at school also at Lausanne.

"When my uncle had been married about eighteen months a great
misfortune befell him. He lost nearly the whole of his fortune by a
bank failure. No doubt it preyed deeply on his mind, and a few weeks
after the news came he broke down completely. He never rallied, but
lingered on for three months, growing gradually weaker, and then died,
his wife having scarcely left his side during the whole of his
illness. On his deathbed he exacted from me a promise to remain with
her, and to be guided by her in everything, in any case till I should
come of age. I gave the promise without a thought of any possible
consequences which it might entail.

"Very shortly after my uncle's death I went to stay for a time with
some relatives, who, having settled some years before in New Zealand,
were now over in England on a visit. Circumstances kept them in this
country for more than a year, and when they finally went back, and
I--having no other home--returned to the shelter of Lady Clinton's
roof, for she had been married again in the interim, it was to Garion
Keep that I came.

"Although I had heard of the existence of such a person, it was not
till then that I made the acquaintance of Signor Sperani, her
ladyship's brother, who had arrived at the Keep two or three days
later than I.

"The first knowledge I had of your existence, Mr. Brabazon, was when
your insensible body was brought into the house late one night by
Signor Sperani and Jared Sprowle, the latter being the son of the old
woman who waits on you, and the man, as I learnt afterwards, who had
been employed to dog your footsteps for days before. I happened to be
crossing the gallery at the moment when they brought your body in and
laid it on the hall table. A single lamp was burning below, the
gallery was in gloom, and from where I stood I could look down on all
that passed, myself unseen.

"Apparently the first thing Sperani did was to satisfy himself that
you were not dead (I have learnt since that he was brought up to the
medical profession, as was his father before him), after which he went
in search of her ladyship, who came back with him two minutes later.
Then a hurried consultation was held between the two, Sprowle standing
somewhat apart meanwhile, but they spoke so guardedly that not a word
of what they said reached me. Then her ladyship went, and the two men,
carrying the body between them--your body, please bear in mind, Mr.
Brabazon--disappeared with it down one of the corridors which diverge
from the hall, but not down the one which leads to her ladyship's and
Sir Everard's rooms, which, I may here remark, are on the ground
floor, in order that the latter may be spared the necessity of going
up and down stairs.

"To what place they had taken you, Mr. Brabazon, I could not in the
least imagine, but from the air of hurried secrecy with which the
affair seemed to be invested, I concluded that it would most likely be
to some part of the house with which the servants have little or
nothing to do, for in the north wing alone there are several rooms
which are always kept locked, and which nobody ever seems to enter. At
that time I had no knowledge of the underground passage which leads
from the house to the tower.

"I need scarcely tell you that the scene I had witnessed from the
gallery took a powerful hold of my imagination. I could not get it out
of my thoughts; but I felt that I durst not ask a question of any one
about it--indeed, there was no one but her ladyship to ask, and I was
quite sure the affair was one I was supposed to know nothing about. In
the house everything went on as usual; there was nothing in the
demeanour of the servants to indicate that they were aware of anything
unusual having occurred; the shut-up rooms in the north wing were
still shut up; what then had become of the insensible body of the
young man which I had seen carried away by Sperani and his accomplice?
That he was not dead I had seen enough to satisfy myself, and yet it
seemed impossible that he should be hidden away in the house without
the servants being cognisant of the fact; for, when all is said, the
Keep has only a limited number of rooms, and the servants are passing
backward and forward almost continually.

"But you know already, Mr. Brabazon, how it was that, as far as I was
concerned, you had so unaccountably vanished. It was either on the
third or fourth evening after the scene in the hall that, as I chanced
to be passing a certain door on what may be called the cellar floor of
the house, to which I had never ventured to penetrate before, it was
opened from the other side, and I found myself face to face with Mrs.
Sprowle. The woman was evidently far more disconcerted than I, indeed,
it is not too much to say that she looked thoroughly terrified. I was
about to pass on, but she took a couple of strides forward and
clutched me by the sleeve. 'Not a word to anybody, miss, that you have
seen me here, she said in my ear, or it will be worse for both of us.'
I nodded and passed on, asking myself what hidden meaning lay behind
her words. Could it be that I had lighted on the clue for which during
the last three days I had been so anxiously searching?

"In the course of next forenoon I made it my business to secure a
private interview with Mrs. Sprowle. As you are doubtless aware, she
is stone deaf--at least, she passes for such, but I think it just
possible that her affliction may not be quite so extreme as it is her
policy to make people believe. But be that as it may, my intercourse
with her is carried on through the medium of the finger alphabet, an
accomplishment which I picked up while at school I had had little or
nothing to do with Mrs. Sprowle before. She and her son had lived at
the Keep in the office of caretakers previously to the arrival of Sir
Everard and her ladyship. Now that I had got her to myself it did not
take me long to discover that her one great passion or failing, or
whatever one chooses to term it, is greed--the love of money--and that
if I would only pay her sufficiently, and, as she termed it, pass her
my word never to 'split' on her, she would answer all my questions
truthfully and to the best of her ability. She had a further incentive
to do so, had any been needed, in her hatred of Sperani, who had
nearly frightened her into a fit one day by making believe to egg on
one of his big brutes to worry her. It was a piece of sport for which
she never forgave him.

"Well, you may be sure that the old lady and I were not long in coming
to terms. And in such fashion it was, Mr. Brabazon, that I learnt you
were Sir Everard Clinton's nephew; that, for some reason unknown, her
ladyship had a great spite against you; that as soon as it was known
you had made your appearance at Crag End, a watch was set upon your
movements; that you were murderously attacked in the dark; and that,
finally, you were now a prisoner in the old tower on the cliff, to
which place your meals were taken you by the woman who told me all
this. From that moment I made up my mind to help you to escape should
it anyhow be possible for me to do so.

"But the more I thought over the affair, the more beset with
difficulties it seemed. Sperani was ever on the watch--he and his
dogs. I was helpless; I could do nothing. But there is no need to
trouble you with all I thought and felt. It is enough to say that I
was beginning to despair, and that I had said to myself more than
once: 'It is useless; I can do nothing,' when chance--if there be such
a thing--came to my aid in a way the most surprising. Yesterday
morning Signor Sperani was called away to London on some business of
importance, the nature of which I am ignorant of. The time of his
return was uncertain; he might be back within thirty-six hours, or he
might be detained considerably longer; that part of the affair was
discussed between him and her ladyship over breakfast, and in my
presence. Before starting for the station, he interviewed both Sprowle
and his mother (so Mrs. S. informed me later), and gave them their
instructions. The key of the room--your room--he took with him; he
would not entrust it to anybody; but the key which opens the two doors
of the underground passage, one at either end, he was compelled to
leave, otherwise you would have had to starve till his return. The
latter key he gave into the custody of Sprowle, who was to let his
mother have it for the time being as often as your meal times came
round, with strict injunctions not to quit the Keep end of the passage
till he had received it from her again on her return from the tower.

"All this Mrs. Sprowle took an early opportunity of telling me. Now,
if ever--that is to say, while Sperani was away--was my chance of
communicating with you. But with Sprowle constantly on the watch, how
was it to be managed? I laid my difficulty before the old woman, who
had already proffered to do anything for me which did not tend to
implicate herself, and before long she found the means of solving it
for me. It appears that her son, whenever money and opportunity
combine, is in the habit of taking more to drink than is good for him.
Sperani's presence had compelled him to be abstemious for a
considerably longer time than he was used to, and his mother felt
absolutely sure that 'her boy' would take advantage of the Italian's
temporary absence to indulge in his favourite weakness. It was in
consequence of what she said that my preliminary note to you was
written. She was fully justified by the event. In the course of the
afternoon her son drank himself stupid, and wound up by falling fast
asleep. Then the astute old woman picked his pocket and brought me the
key.

"His mother assures me that he will repeat the process to-day should
news come to hand that Sperani need not be expected back till
to-morrow or later.

"You will doubtless have asked yourself long before you have read thus
far, why I have been at the trouble of writing all this, and imposing
on you the wearisome task of its perusal. My answer is very simple. I
felt the need of justifying myself for what I have done in thrusting
my presence upon you unsought and unasked. If I have succeeded in
doing so, nothing more need be said on the point; if I have not
succeeded, you have only to return these lines by the bearer, and I
shall know what to do.

"When I had written thus far I went downstairs to luncheon. While the
meal was in progress a messenger from Oakbarrow station arrived with a
telegram. It was from Signor Sperani to his sister, announcing that
the business which has taken him to London will detain him there till
to-morrow or next day.

"Should I, therefore, receive no message from you to the contrary, and
should Sprowle, with his mother's connivance, indulge to-day after the
same fashion that he did yesterday--as to which there seems no
reasonable doubt--then may you look to see me outside your door in the
course of the evening.

"Let me impress upon you once more that in acting as I am, one desire
alone has influenced me throughout--that of being able to help you to
escape; but it rests with you to determine, now that you know what the
difficulties are which stand in your way, whether that desire is
capable of being worked out to a practical issue.

"Devise the means, and if you need the help of Dacia Roylance it will
be most ungrudgingly given.

"Do not forget to burn this as soon as read.

     "D. R."


The first thing Burgo did after a rapid perusal of the foregoing was
to scribble a line in reply, for it was not desirable that Mrs.
Sprowle should be detained longer than was absolutely necessary.

"A thousand thanks. You are indeed kind. I shall look to see you this
evening without fail--B. B."

Then he read Miss Roylance's communication again, and at his leisure.
Then, in accordance with the writer's express request, but not without
a certain amount of regret on his part, he set light to the paper and
watched it slowly consume to ashes.



CHAPTER XVII.
A DOOR BETWEEN.


Dacia's first words to Burgo were: "Have you burnt my scrawl?"

"I have."

"That is well. Seeing that one can't foretell what may happen from day
to day, and that what I wrote was intended for your eyes alone, it was
better it should be burnt. And now tell me, have you devised any plan
of escape?"

"After turning over in my mind some half-dozen more or less
impracticable schemes, I can only think of one which seems to hold out
a tolerable prospect of success."

"And that is----?"

"To file through the two bars which guard the window of my prison,
force out the glass-work, and then by means of a rope lower myself to
the ground outside."

"An admirable scheme, and I see no reason why it should not succeed.
Tell me, in what way can I help you to carry it out?"

"By procuring for me a couple of files and a sufficient length of
rope."

"I will drive to Oakbarrow to-morrow and obtain them, after which they
shall be conveyed to you either by Mrs. Sprowle or myself."

"How can I ever thank you sufficiently?"

"Your success--and you will not fail, I feel assured--will far more
than repay me. But to file through the bars will be a matter of time,
will it not?"

"It will; probably a matter of three or four days, but I can't speak
positively. I don't think I have mentioned before that now and then
Signor Sperani takes it into his head to pay me a stealthy visit in
the middle of the night, probably with the view of satisfying himself
that I am not engaged in any nefarious attempt to escape."

"I can well believe it. From what I have seen of him he seems to me to
abound with underhand ways, and to distrust every one. He is one of
those men who regard their own shadow with suspicion. But so far, Mr.
Brabazon, I am altogether in the dark (and should you have any reason
for wishing me to remain in it, pray don't hesitate a moment to tell
me so), and utterly fail to understand how it happens that you, a
nephew of Sir Everard Clinton, should have been assaulted as you were
in your uncle's grounds, and be here a prisoner under your uncle's
roof. I may tell you that I am indebted to Mrs. Sprowle for my
knowledge of the relationship between you and Sir Everard. Doubtless
it had come to her from her son, but in what way the latter learnt it
I have no means of knowing."

"It will afford me very great pleasure, Miss Roylance," replied Burgo,
"to explain in the fewest possible words what, doubtless, does seem to
you a most inexplicable state of affairs."

He took a turn or two in silence, as if revolving in his mind in what
terms he could best begin that which he wanted to say.

Dacia followed him with her eyes--those wonderful blue-gray eyes,
which by some lights, when half veiled by their dark lashes, seemed
almost black, and could, when she so willed, look as cold and
fathomless as a mountain tarn. Just now, however, they shone with the
light of eager expectancy, and with something more than Dacia was
aware of--something deeper, which sprang from another source than
that. To-day its name was sympathy; what it might be six months hence
it would not have been safe to prophesy.

She was standing just as she had stood the night before, her face
framed by the aperture in the door, and her long slender hands, with
their interlocked fingers, resting on the little shelf outside.

And so Burgo began his story, telling her in a condensed form
everything, so far as it related to his uncle, Lady Clinton, and
himself, all of which is already known to the reader. Of Clara
Leslie's name he made no mention, it was not necessary to his purpose
that he should do so; neither did he repeat much of what had passed
between his uncle and himself in the course of his last brief sojourn
in Great Mornington Street. That he was not without his suspicions of
foul play in the case of Sir Everett, Miss Roylance, if she chose to
do so, might infer from certain of his remarks, but he was especially
careful that not so much as the shadow of a definite charge should be
formulated by him against Lady Clinton.

"Thank you, Mr. Brabazon," said Dacia, when he ceased speaking. "If my
determination to help you to escape had needed any stimulus before, it
certainly does not after what you have told me. As I gather from your
narrative, the one great object to which you still adhere is to obtain
access to your uncle?"

"That is so, most certainly."

"Then--pardon my saying so--even should your--or our--plan of escape
prove successful, you will only, as it seems to me, be in precisely
the same position as before you were brought here, that is to say, you
will not be a step nearer the attainment of your object."

"I admit it--sorrowfully. But the recovery of my liberty will give me
one advantage--it will enable me to devise and, as I trust, carry into
effect some other scheme for rescuing my uncle from the clutches of
that----" He stopped abruptly, and bit his lip.

Miss Roylance smiled. "You need not mince your phrases, as far as I am
concerned, where Lady Clinton is in question," she said.

"You don't like her ladyship?" he queried, with an ambiguous smile.

"I hate her!" was Dacia's emphatic reply, as her dark eyebrows came
together for a moment. "Any milder term would be a euphemism." Then
her face broke into a smile. "And yet, you must know, Mr. Brabazon,
that to all outward seeming, she and I are the best of friends. But
that is the way we women are made."

"In your note you told me that the illness which carried off Colonel
Innes, like my uncle's, was a lingering one."

"Yes, and to me one of the strangest features of the affair is, that
Sir Everard's symptoms seem almost precisely similar to my uncle's."

Burgo drew a long breath. "Is that indeed so?" he said.

For a moment or two they gazed into each other's eyes, Dacia's slowly
dilating the while, reading there, perchance, what neither of them
cared to express in words.

"Then you can no longer wonder, Miss Roylance," continued Burgo, "at
my burning anxiety to rescue my uncle from the fate which, as it seems
to me, is but too surely overtaking him."

"I did not wonder from the first," she said gently. "It is only of
late that my eyes have begun to open by degrees to certain things. And
even now I can scarcely believe that---- No, no; it is altogether too
terrible for belief!"

For a little space she covered her face with her hands, and Burgo
could see that her shoulders were heaving with suppressed emotion. He
made believe to be busying himself with the lamp, while giving her
time to recover her composure.

"Does it not seem a strange thing, Mr. Brabazon," said Dacia,
presently, "that all through my uncle's illness, which lasted over
three months, I was never allowed to help in nursing him, although
again and again I begged to be let do so? An old woman, an Italian,
and her ladyship that is now (I never have, and I never will call her
'aunt'), took it in turns to watch by him, and would not permit me to
go near him unless one or other of them was in the room at the time.
And now it is the same in the case of Sir Everard. I would so gladly
help to wait upon him, and do all that lies in my power to relieve the
others. But, as before, I am thrust aside, and except her ladyship and
Vallance no one is allowed to go near him."

"It is nothing fresh to me to be told that Lady Clinton is the most
devoted of nurses," said Burgo, meaningly. "I heard the same thing
from my uncle's own lips. I am afraid, Miss Roylance, that you fail to
sufficiently appreciate her affectionate solicitude in not permitting
you to risk your health by tending the bedside of a sick old man. But
about this Signor Sperani--what object has brought _him_ to Garion
Keep?"

"To me his object is plain enough, although up till now neither he nor
his sister have so much as hinted at it. It is neither more nor less
than to gradually ingratiate himself with me, with the ultimate view
of persuading me to become his wife. Oh, I am neither so blind nor so
simple as they take me to be!"

"What a vile plot!" was Burgo's sole comment. Indeed, he hardly knew
what to say.

"Of course, Sperani cares nothing about me for myself," resumed
Dacia; "he would not give a second thought to me--a cripple and a
hunchback--were it not for the prospective thousands I shall inherit a
year hence, when I come of age."

"And this is your only home! It cannot be a happy one for you--pardon
my presumption in saying so."

"No, it is not a happy home, but such as it is I am bound to make the
best of it. It is the only home I have, or can have, till I am of age.
Then I shall be my own mistress, and---- But that is nothing to the
purpose." She paused for a moment, then, with a bitterness which was
not without a touch of pathos, she added: "A happy home! To me it is a
phrase without meaning, so far as I myself am concerned. But enough of
all this. We are wandering from the point at issue. _Revenons, s'il
vous plait_. From what you said a little while ago I gathered that,
even if you should succeed in regaining your freedom, you would still
be at a loss what step to take which would serve to give you access to
your uncle, or in any way tend to bring you and him together again."

"That is just my difficulty. Those who are in charge of him are
evidently determined to go to every extreme in order to keep my uncle
and me apart. Even if, when I regain my freedom, I were to enter an
action for false imprisonment, what then? I could not prove that her
ladyship was in any way a party to the attack upon me and what
followed, while as for Sperani, he would simply have to disappear from
this part of the country and there would be an end of the affair. But
let us not count our chickens before they are hatched," he continued
more gaily. "These four walls still hold me fast."

Miss Roylance hardly seemed to be heeding him. Her brows were knit,
her eyes bent on vacancy. She came back with a start and a half smile.

"Supposing," she said--"and I want you to bear in mind that it is only
supposition--that Lady Clinton could be got out of the way for a short
time, that is to say, that she could not merely be induced to quit her
husband's side, but to leave the Keep itself for a few days, would her
absence help your scheme in any way?"

"It would help it in every way, Miss Roylance," said Burgo eagerly,
his black eyes flashing a sudden light. "Lady Clinton is the one and
only obstacle between my uncle and me. So long as she remains by his
side I see no possibility of being able to approach him. Remove her,
and my way is easy." Then, after a pause, as he drew a step or two
nearer, for he had always maintained a respectful distance between
himself and her: "You would not ask me such a question, Miss Roylance,
unless there was some motive at the back of it. Can it be possible
that you have thought of some plan whereby----"

"Here is my plan without further preface, Mr. Brabazon; you can give
me your opinion afterwards as to its feasibility or otherwise. If
there is one person in the world whom Lady Clinton loves it is her
son, young Carlo Offredi, a boy of fourteen, who, as I have already
told you, is at school at Lausanne. Now, as it happens, my dearest
friend--we were schoolmates for a number of years--is married to a
professor in the same town. Marie would do anything for me, and my
idea is, to write to her and ask her, immediately on receipt of my
letter, to telegraph to Lady Clinton to the effect that her son is
dangerously ill, and that her immediate presence is earnestly
requested. I have not forgotten the name of Carlo's _lycée_, and the
message would of course be represented as coming from there. That her
ladyship will at once respond to it I do not doubt. Meanwhile," she
added, with a smile, "that is to say, during the time which would have
to elapse before the message could reach her, you would be slowly and
laboriously filing your way to liberty."

Burgo's chest rose and fell. "Miss Roylance, I know not what to say; I
feel far more than I am able to convey in words. Such a scheme, if
duly carried out, would not merely be the means of bringing my uncle
and me together again, but of defeating one of the most abominable
conspiracies that ever was hatched."

"But consider into what a maze of duplicity I shall be venturing!"
said Miss Roylance with a half-smile. "The message I shall have to ask
my friend to send will not have a single word of truth in it."

"In fighting a woman like Lady Clinton one cannot choose one's
weapons; one is bound to take the first that comes to hand. If ever a
lie was excusable, it is surely in a case like this, where nothing
less than the existence of a helpless old man is at stake."

"I would do more, far more than that to save the life of Sir Everard
Clinton!" said Dacia, with a thrill in her rich, low tones to which
some responsive chord in Burgo vibrated. "But here comes Mrs.
Sprowle," she continued, "to tell me that her precious son is about
waking up, and that I must not stay a minute longer. I will write to
my friend before I sleep, and will post the letter myself before
breakfast. The cord and the files I will make into a parcel and send
you by Mrs. Sprowle in the course of to-morrow. And now my lamp, if
you please, Mr. Brabazon."

"Will you not bring the parcel yourself, Miss Roylance?" asked Burgo,
and his voice had a supplicatory ring in it, or so it seemed to Dacia.

Her sensitive under-lip trembled for a moment. "Perhaps," she said
with a smile such as she had not bestowed on Burgo before, and the
radiance of which struck him dumb. "But it is never wise to promise
more than one is sure of being able to perform."

As she put forth her hand for the lamp, Burgo took it in one of his,
and bending over it, touched it with his lips. "In any case, God bless
you!" he fervently exclaimed.

Her only answer, as she turned from him, was the delicate flush which
suffused alike her throat and face.

He watched her with lingering eyes as she went slowly and carefully
down the stairway, the protuberance on her left shoulder throwing a
clearly-defined shadow on the whitewashed wall; nor did he turn away
till the last faint tap-tap of her crutch had died in the distance.

"What a pity, what an unspeakable pity it is," he said wit a sigh,
"that a creature so incomparable in every other respect should be the
victim of a deformity which nothing can remedy or obviate!"



CHAPTER XVIII.
IN WHICH THE UNEXPECTED COMES TO PASS.


Never had Burgo passed so wearisome a day as that which followed Miss
Roylance's second interview with him. He was burning for the moment to
come when he should see her again, but the hours seemed to mock him,
and the slow afternoon to drag itself out indefinitely. It was not
merely because he looked forward to being able, with her help, to
achieve his freedom that he so longed to see her again; it was quite
as much, even more perhaps, for her own sake, and because she had cast
over him a spell of enchantment which he had neither the will nor the
power to struggle against. He had set eyes on her but twice, and yet
already he was her slave manacled and helpless. "I thought in my
ignorance that I loved Clara Leslie," he said to himself as he paced
his prison from end to end, "but I didn't know the meaning of the
word. I know it now." And yet this woman to whom he had yielded up his
heart without a struggle was both a cripple and a hunchback, and three
days before he had never as much as set eyes on her! It was one of
those riddles which Love takes a mischievous delight in propounding,
but of which it is the merest waste of time to try to find a
reasonable and common-sense solution.

At length the afternoon deepened into dusk, and Burgo lighted his
lamp, knowing that the longed-for moment could not be much longer
delayed. Mrs. Sprowle had been in the habit of bringing him the meal
which with her went by the name of supper some time between seven and
eight o'clock, and Dacia's two visits had been timed about an hour
later. To-night, however, not a little to Burgo's surprise, Miss
Roylance followed close on the old lady's heels. His first glance at
her face told him that she had important news of some kind to
communicate to him--indeed, she hardly waited for Mrs. Sprowle to hand
in her plates and dishes and make room at the aperture before she
began.

"This is the last opportunity I shall have of seeing you here, and my
visit must be limited to a very few minutes. Signor Sperani returns by
the last train to-night, and will no doubt at once take charge of the
key of the underground passage. Sprowle has been sent by her ladyship
on an errand into the village, and has entrusted the key to his mother
meanwhile, otherwise you would not have seen me at all. And now, here
is a parcel for you, containing a couple of files and a length of
rope. Oh dear! oh dear! Never did I think that I should come to be
mixed up with such an adventure as this!"

"The service you have done me, Miss Roylance, is one I can never hope
to be able to repay."

The words were of the simplest, but there was something in the way
they were spoken which brought a flush to Dacia's cheek, and caused
her to turn her eyes another way.

"Pray don't think me too presumptuous," resumed Burgo, "but there was
a certain letter which you promised to write."

"It was written last night, and my own hands posted it before ten
o'clock this morning. And now, Mr. Brabazon, as time is so short," she
went on, bringing back her eyes to face his, "let us go in for a
little supposition. Suppose, then, that my letter has the desired
effect--or rather, that the telegram which will result from it, will
have the effect of taking Lady Clinton all the way to Lausanne on a
fictitious errand; and suppose, further, that you succeed in effecting
your escape--what then?--what is supposed to follow?"

"With myself at liberty, and Lady Clinton temporarily out of the way,
the course I propose to myself is a very simple one. In her ladyship's
absence there will be no one with either the right or the power to
refuse me access to my uncle."

"It seems to me that even if Lady Clinton be got rid of, you will
still have to reckon with Sperani and his dogs."

"As for the dogs, a couple of revolver shots may be counted on to give
them their quietus; while as regards Sperani, I trust that man to man,
I should pretty well prove a match for him."

Dacia shook her head. "There must be no shooting," she said, "and no
unseemly struggle. A far better plan will be for you and me to
communicate with each other through Mrs. Sprowle--I to let you know
when her ladyship has set out for Lausanne, and you to inform me when
all is in readiness for your escape. After that it can be easily
arranged for me to admit you to the house unknown to any one."

"That two heads are better than one I shall never doubt for the
future," said Burgo with a smile.

"But, assuming that you are successful in reaching your uncle, what is
to follow? Is it your intention to stay by his side, and be found
there by Lady Clinton on her return?"

"Certainly not. My first object will be to endeavour to induce my
uncle at once to leave the Keep, of course in my charge, and I don't
think the dear old boy will need much persuasion. Where he may choose
to go, whether back to London, or abroad, or elsewhere, will, of
course, rest with himself; but if I have any voice whatever in the
matter, it will be to some place to which Lady Clinton will be denied
admittance. When once my uncle has been rescued from her clutches, he
must never be allowed to fall into them again."

"She is a very determined woman, Mr. Brabazon."

"As I have ample reason to know. Still, I hope to be able to set her
at defiance. When my uncle gets clear away from her he will be a
different man; and if he will only hold fast to his determination not
to see her, and to communicate with her only through his lawyer, she
will be helpless. That he will be prepared to make her a liberal
allowance, I do not doubt; but the question is not one of money only,
but of life and death."

"Your last words, Mr. Brabazon, remind me of a singular dream I had
the other night. I was in some place, I don't know where, among a
number of figures, each of whom, except myself; wore a domino and
mask. Each figure came up to me in turn, and having whispered in my
ear the same words from Shakespeare: 'A deed without a name,' passed
on. By-and-by there was only one figure left, but his whisper was
different from the others: 'If you would know why I am not still among
the living, ask _her_, was what he said. Then for a moment he drew his
mask aside, and I saw the face of my Uncle Innes, as I saw it for the
last time, when he lay in his coffin. And then with a cry I awoke. But
there is Mrs. Sprowle calling to me from the foot of the stairs. I
have overstayed my time. On no account must her son come back and find
me here. Good-bye, Mr. Brabazon, till I meet you again, a prisoner no
longer. You may rely upon hearing from me as soon as I have anything
to tell you."

To-night she gave him her hand as frankly as she might have done had
he been her brother; nor did her colour come, nor did she suffer her
eyes to drop before the steadfast flame of his. But, as she made her
way downstairs half a minute later her heart was throbbing
tumultuously, and she felt as if she were aflame from head to foot.

In the early hours of next morning, long before daylight, Burgo set to
work with one of the files Dacia had brought him. The height of the
window compelled him to stand on a chair while he worked. He found
that he would have to file through both the bars with which the window
was guarded, and even then the aperture would be none too large to
allow of the passage of his body. Judging from the fact that the bars
were very little corroded by time or weather, Burgo concluded that
they bad been a comparatively modern addition to the old building. He
calculated that it would take him quite three or four days of stiff
work, with a few hours of the night thrown in, before he reached the
end of his task. Although he had no reason whatever to distrust Mrs.
Sprowle, he decided that it might be advisable to keep her in
ignorance of what he was about. The grating of the key in the lock
below stairs always gave him due warning of her approach.

It was on the evening of the third day after his last interview with
Dacia that Mrs. Sprowle handed Burgo the following note when she
brought him his supper:

"Telegram to hand this forenoon. Lady C. started on her way to
Lausanne by the four o'clock train. She will get through to London in
time to catch the Continental Express to-morrow morning. It is left to
me and Vallance to look after Sir Everard during her absence. Let me
know by return how you are progressing, and when you will be ready to
take _the next step_.

     "D. R."


To which Burgo replied:

"Everything going admirably. Shall be ready for next step to-morrow
night. Let me know in course of to-morrow _the hour and the place_.

     "B. B."


He had been hard at work with his file during a great part of the day,
and after he had eaten his supper he lighted his pipe and began the
slow constitutional pacing from end to end of his prison chamber in
which he spent some hours of each day. Yes, everything would be ready
by to-morrow night, he told himself. One bar was filed completely
through and removed and hidden behind his portmanteau, while five or
six more hours of hard work would enable him to treat the other in the
same way. But although he could not help exulting as he thought of
what a few more hours would bring to pass, he was yet conscious of
something tugging at his heartstrings which was far removed from
exultation or gladness of any kind. He could not forget--it  was a
thought which haunted him waking or sleeping--that with the quitting
of Garion Keep by his uncle and himself would be severed the solitary
strand which for a little while had served to bind Miss Roylance and
him so strangely together. Yes, they must part, and it was impossible
to say whether they should ever meet again. Yet a voice within him
whispered that they _must_ meet again, that neither fate nor chance
could avail to sunder them for ever. Already it seemed to him as if
this girl had become an inalienable part of himself; he could no
longer conceive of his future as wholly dissevered from her. He had
seen her for the first time less than a week ago, and yet he felt as
if he had known her for a century. It was as though he and she had
been united in some prior state of existence, and that Destiny had
once more brought them together. In her he felt assured that his life
had found its complement. It was true that she was deformed and walked
with the help of a crutch, but what of that? When he had won her for
his wife, as he fully meant to do, his love and protecting care would
have one claim on them the more: that was all.

On one point he assured himself--that on no account would he part from
her till he had revealed to her something of that which lay so close
to his heart--till he had drawn from her, if it were possible for man
to do so, a promise that their parting should be anything rather than
a final one.

When he had smoked the last pipe to which he had allowanced himself,
for by this time his stock of tobacco was running low, he opened wide
the casement and stood there for some time, inhaling the salt coolness
of the night air, in which there was a faint tang of seaweed, and
staring into the infinitude of darkness outside his window, which
to-night was unillumined by either moon or stars. The tide was coming
in with a low monotonous thunder, which rose and fell rhythmically as
it drew forth and back in unceasing repetition. It would be high-water
about an hour after midnight. Presently Burgo would put out his lamp
and turn in, to wake up long before daybreak and resume work with his
file. Again and again he murmured exultingly to himself: "To-morrow
night I shall be a free man!"

But although the main current of his thoughts was still with Dacia, he
was not so oblivious of things external to him as not to be aware of
an occasional gleam of light which came and went like a firefly within
a certain limited space of darkness, and nearly in a direct line with
his window. He recognised it at once for what it was--some one with a
lantern moving on board the steam yacht which for the last three days
had lain at anchor opposite the tower, about a hundred yards beyond
low-water mark. Burgo had spent some of his unoccupied hours in
watching it, and wondering as to the nature of the business which had
brought it to that remote part of the coast, and kept it there for so
long a time. But to wonder was all that was permitted him. Had he been
free to question the landlord of the "Golden Owl" on the point, he
would have learnt that the yacht's name was the _Naiad_, that its
owner was an Irishman of the name of Marchment, that it had put into
Crag End while certain slight repairs were effected in its machinery,
and in order to obtain a supply of fresh provisions; and that Mr.
Marchment, after having lian for one night in the little harbour, had
declared its odours at low water to be unbearable, and had thereupon
steamed out to the position which the yacht had since occupied. Such
was the sum and substance of what was known about the _Naiad_ at Crag
End. Its crew came and went, and were hail-fellows with the
inhabitants, while the very liberal prices paid by its owner for such
country produce as he required had raised him in the course of a few
hours to the height of popularity.

Burgo watched the light with indifferent eyes while it moved to and
fro, but at the end of a few minutes it went suddenly out, and was
seen no more. But for the shifting light he would not have known that
the yacht was still there. On such a night from where he stood it was
wholly invisible.

Burgo could not tell how long he had been asleep, for it was still
pitch dark, both inside the tower and out, when he was awakened by a
dull, heavy hammering noise which sounded at once remote and near at
hand, as though it were close by, and yet divided from him by some
intervening substance, which had the effect of partially deadening the
sound. To be thus awoke in the dead of night was sufficiently
startling, and Burgo sprang to his feet on the instant. After
listening for the space of a few seconds, as the noise still
continued, he struck a match and lighted his lamp. A glance at his
watch told him that the time was twenty minutes past one.

Crossing to the door, he pushed back the slide and listened. The sound
now reached him much more clearly than before, showing that it
proceeded from some point inside the building--a dull, heavy,
continuous thump--thump, as though someone or something were hammering
a way into or out of the tower. Whence did it proceed? What could be
the meaning of it? Utterly confounded, Burgo could do nothing but
stand and listen.

Then, after a few minutes, which he had employed in partly dressing
himself, there came a crash, and a fall as of some heavy body,
followed by a confused murmur of voices. This was succeeded by a sound
of many footsteps crowding up the stone stairway. Burgo drew back a
few paces and waited, his eyes fixed on the aperture.

First of all the darkness of the staircase was illumined, and then a
hand appeared holding on high a ship's lantern, followed by the head
and figure of the man to whom the hand belonged, crowding on whose
heels came three more men, each of whom carried a revolver, while one,
apparently the leader, was further armed with a drawn cutlass. This
last personage it was--a fair, good-looking man of thirty, with a
short reddish beard and moustache, and wearing a pea-jacket and a
peaked cap with a gold band--who, bringing his face into proximity
with the opening, proceeded to take silent stock of Burgo and his
surroundings. That what he saw filled him with surprise was evident
enough from his expression. After satisfying himself that the door was
locked and the key missing, he said, addressing himself to Burgo:
"Pardon the question, sir, but may I ask whether you are here as a
prisoner?"

"That, sir, is my unfortunate position."

"May I inquire for how long a time you have been shut up in this
place?"

"For somewhere about a fortnight."

"But during the last few days you have been busy in trying to
accomplish your escape?"

Burgo started. "It is quite true, but I should like to know by that
means you have become aware of the fact."

The stranger smiled. "The explanation is a very simple one. I am the
owner and captain of the steam yacht which you have doubtless remarked
during the last few days as being anchored off shore, nearly opposite
your window. Now, after having been distinctly given to understand by
some of the natives, whom I questioned on the point--for I am a bit of
an archaeologist, and such matters interest me--that the tower was in
a semi-ruinous condition, and had been uninhabited for the last fifty
years, it was certainly somewhat startling to see each evening the
window lighted up from within till close on midnight, as also during
several hours of each day to behold a human figure perched close
against the panes, and engaged in some mysterious occupation which,
for a time I was wholly puzzled to make out. At length, with the help
of my binocular, I came to the conclusion that the figure was that of
a man at work with a file, or some other instrument, on one of the two
upright bars which safeguarded the window on its inner side. It is as
a result of the knowledge thus obtained by me that you see me here at
this moment."

He spoke rapidly, and with a clear decisiveness of tone and manner,
like one who was accustomed to imposing his orders upon others, and
looked to have them obeyed.

"And now, sir," he resumed, "if after what I have told you, you choose
to confide your name to me, and also to inform me to what
circumstances your incarceration in this place is owing, it may be
that I shall find myself in a position to give you back your freedom
in a much readier way than your own unaided efforts would allow of
your achieving it."

Thereupon he turned and spoke a few words in a low voice to one of his
followers, with the result that all three of them proceeded to tramp
downstairs, one after the other, leaving the captain of the _Naiad_
standing outside the door alone.

By this time Burgo, whose conclusions in moments of emergency were
rapidly arrived at, had made up his mind to tell enough of his story
to this new-found friend to enlist the latter's sympathies, and
thereby insure his own proximate release. He was taken with the
stranger's manner and expression; they were manly and straightforward,
although not without a touch of imperiousness. You had only to look
into his eyes to feel assured that treachery or double-dealing and he
were far as the poles asunder.

"My name is Burgo Brabazon," he began, "and I am the nephew of Sir
Everard Clinton, who----"

It was now the stranger's turn to start. "Stop," he said abruptly,
before Burgo could utter another word. "Tell me your name again,
please. I am not sure I caught it aright."

Burgo told him.

"Are you, may I ask, a son of the late Lieutenant Godfrey Brabazon of
the Royal Navy, who served at one time on board the _Arcturus?_"

"My father's name was Godfrey Brabazon, and he was a naval lieutenant,
but he died when I was little more than a child; and as to whether he
ever served on the vessel you speak of I have no knowledge."

"Perhaps, then, you can tell me where he was born, or maybe, I ought
rather to say, where he lived for several years as a youth."

"My father was a Tiverton man, born and bred."

"That does away with the last shadow of a doubt. Mr. Brabazon, I am
especially glad to make your acquaintance, and still more pleased that
it is in my power to be of some slight service to you."

Before more could be said, one of the men came pack, and after
whispering something to him, to which he replied by a curt nod,
disappeared once more.

Turning again to Burgo, the captain of the _Naiad_ said: "I am called
away, but you may rely upon seeing me again in less than an hour. A
few minutes after that, Mr. Brabazon, you will be a free man."

He nodded, turned away, and was gone.



CHAPTER XIX.
THE CAPTAIN OF THE "NAIAD."


Burgo stood staring at the door without stirring for quite two minutes
after the captain of the _Naiad_ had disappeared down the staircase,
his brain in such a maze of stupefaction and bewilderment that more
than once he caught himself saying aloud, "Yes, it is really a fact
that I'm awake."

Hitherto he had only been half dressed, and he now proceeded in an
automatic way to finish his toilet, after which he went on to cram and
strap his portmanteau so that everything might be in readiness when
the promised moment of his deliverance should have arrived.

"As my old nurse used to be so fond of remarking, it never rains but
it pours," he said to himself with a philosophic shrug. "If I could
only have foreseen what was going to happen, I might have spared
myself all my drudgery with the file. And yet it has done me no harm.
It has helped to divert my thoughts and to while away the time.
Besides, had I not been seen from the yacht while at work at the
window I should have been left to effect my escape alone as best I
could. In any case, I shall regain my freedom twenty-four hours before
I expected to do, which, circumstanced as I am, may prove an
invaluable boon. As for this remarkable stranger--why he should be so
eager to do me a service; why he and his fellows, if they are nothing
more than peaceful yachtsmen, should be going about at midnight armed
to the teeth, and why, by some means at present unknown to me, they
should have forced their way into the tower for no apparent purpose
except that their leader might be able to satisfy an apparently idle
curiosity--are conundrums all which I should be no nearer solving at
the end of a year than I am now. Let us hope that my friend with the
cutlass will solve them satisfactorily before we part. He said he
would be back in an hour. Will he keep his promise? Yes; I have faith
in him."

When all was done that there was to do, Burgo sat down and lighted a
cigarette. Now that he had nothing to distract his attention he became
conscious of certain vague diffused sounds which had not obtruded them
selves on him before. What he heard was like a low confused murmur of
several voices, broken now and then by the clear imperative ring of
one voice, as though some one were giving orders to the others. Then
the murmur ceased, and he heard what seemed to him like the faint
plash of muffled oars. Impelled by a vague curiosity he crossed to the
window, but an unbroken pall of darkness was all that met his gaze. If
the steam yacht were still at her moorings opposite the tower, she was
apparently showing no light either fore or aft, which was a piece of
highly culpable negligence on the part of those in command. Burgo went
back to his chair more puzzled than before.

He now gave himself up to a consideration of what steps it behoved him
to take first when he should have regained his liberty, and he had
arrived at no clear decision on the point when he became once more
aware of footsteps on the stairs. Then the captain of the _Naiad_
appeared, followed by a man carrying a mat-basket containing tools of
various kinds. "I have not failed to keep my promise, Mr. Brabazon,"
said the captain with a nod and a smile. Then to the man, "I want you
to force the lock of this door, and be as handy about it as you can."

He stood aside while the man went to work, and nothing more was said.
In something less than five minutes the lock was forced, and the door
flung open, whereupon the man took up his bag and went.

Then the captain strode forward into the room and grasped Burgo by the
hand. "Let me be the first, Mr. Brabazon, to congratulate you on the
recovery of your liberty," he said.

"It is you whom I have to thank for it. Will you not let me know to
whom I am so greatly indebted?"

"To be sure I will. I was just on the point of introducing myself. My
name is Felix Marchment, and, as I think I have already remarked, I
am, among other things, both owner and captain of the _Naiad_. But
even now that I have told you this I suppose you are still at a loss
to comprehend why I should have expressed myself as being so
especially glad to have met you, and still more gratified, as I
undoubtedly am, that it has been in my power to render you some slight
service."

"A very signal service, Mr. Marchment. But, as you observe, I am still
awaiting enlightenment."

"Then you shall not wait a minute longer. But what I have to say must
be said quickly, for to-night I have serious business on hand. Even
now the _Naiad_ is getting up steam, and with the first streak of
daylight we shall trip anchor and away."

He drew a chair up and seated himself astride it, while Burgo perched
himself on a corner of the table.

"You must know, then," resumed Marchment, "that your father and mine
were midshipmen together on board the _Arcturus_, and that it was
young Mr. Brabazon's good fortune to save my dad's life, or my dad's
good fortune to have his life saved by him; put it which way you like.
Anyhow, it was a very heroic action. My dad, who couldn't swim a
stroke, had fallen overboard while carrying out some orders aloft, and
your dad at once plunged after him, although the water was known to be
swarming with sharks, and succeeded in keeping him afloat till a
boat's crew picked them both up. A few months afterwards, when the
ship was paid off, the two middies parted, never to meet again. But my
father, sir, was a man who never forgot an obligation--in that
respect, I am sorry to say, hardly resembling the majority of his
fellows--and I have often heard him express his regret that in the
chances and changes of life he should have so wholly lost sight of his
preserver."

"My father, Mr. Marchment, died while still quite a young man."

Marchment bowed gravely. "In that case one can understand how it was
they never met again. But even when on his deathbed my father did not
forget what he owed to Lieutenant Brabazon (as he had become when he
last heard of him), and he laid it on me as a sacred charge that,
should I ever find myself face to face with him, or any of his kin,
and should it be in my power to do him, or them, a service of any
kind, no matter at what cost to myself, I should not fail to do it.
His words have lived in my memory, and to-day, by rare good luck, I
have been enabled to repay to the son some small portion of the debt
originally owing to the father."

He paused for a moment while he looked at his watch.

"And now, Mr. Brabazon, I have said my say. The door is open, and you
are a free man. But before we part, tell me frankly whether there is
anything more I can do for you. If there is, you may command me to
the full extent of my ability. The circumstances under which I find
you here are exceptional, to say the least"--this with a frank
smile--"consequently, without the slightest hankering to pry into
matters which do not concern me, I may perhaps be allowed to say _Me
voici à votre service, cher monsieur!_"

Few people could have helped being touched by an offer so frankly and
spontaneously tendered, and Burgo was not one of those few.

"Mr. Marchment, for what you have already done for me I thank you from
the bottom of my heart," he said in a tone which carried conviction
with it. "But whether you can help me further is another matter, and
one which it will rest with yourself to determine when you have been
told to what circumstances I owe my enforced detention in this place.
I don't forget that your time is precious, and three or four minutes
will suffice for what I have to say."

"My best attention is yours, Mr. Brabazon."

"Again, thanks. In the first place, then, you must know that Sir
Everard Clinton, the owner of this tower and of the house known as
Garion Keep, which stands some threescore yards away from it, and
between which and it there is an underground communication, is my
uncle. He came from London to the Keep several weeks ago--he and his
wife, the latter being an Italian by birth and a woman half his own
age. Unknown to either, I followed them, somewhat later, and took up
my quarters in the village. I had very cogent reasons for believing
that my uncle was being slowly done to death, and my object was to
rescue him from the hands of those in whose power he was. Only by
stratagem could this be effected, because the evidence in my
possession was not of a kind which admitted of my invoking the aid of
the law. But before I could do anything my presence in the village was
discovered, and one night I was murderously set upon, struck down, and
brought here in a state of unconsciousness. Here I have been ever
since, and no doubt the intention was to keep me under lock and key
till the last act of the tragedy should have been consummated. But a
certain person came to my help, who supplied me with a couple of files
and a length of rope to enable me to effect my escape by way of the
window; while, by means of a stratagem, Lady Clinton was temporarily
got rid of. My hope was that to-morrow night would see me at liberty,
when I should at once make my way to my uncle, explain to him for what
purpose I was there, and induce him to leave the Keep with me before
his wife's return. That once accomplished, I felt sure we should be
able to set Lady Clinton at defiance, and--and in short, my dear old
uncle would have been rescued from the jaws of death."

"And you had planned to carry this out in the course of to-morrow
night?"

"I had."

"Well, and now that you find yourself at liberty twenty-four hours
before you expected----?"

"I shall do--or attempt to do--to-night what I should otherwise have
been obliged to defer till to-morrow night."

"Can I assist you in any way to carry out your scheme?--although, as I
have already remarked, the time at my command is limited."

"If you can let me have a couple of your fellows to help me while I
get my uncle out of the house, I shall be grateful. There is a
truculent fellow there, Lady Clinton's brother, who will be pretty
sure to give some trouble, and he has a couple of ferocious brutes of
dogs. Then there is Vallance, my uncle's valet, who----"

"My dear Brabazon, not another word. I will go with you myself and
take four of my men, all well armed. _Allons_. We have no time to
lose." He stepped to the door, and was in the act of putting a whistle
to his lips when an exclamation on Burgo's part arrested him.

"Good heavens!" cried the latter as he smote his forehead with his
open palm; "what can I have been thinking of? My uncle is an all but
helpless invalid. Even when I shall have succeeded in getting him out
of the house, what then? He is unable to walk more than a dozen yards,
and at this hour of the morning, and in this lonely corner of the
world there will be no possibility of obtaining a conveyance of any
kind. Had it been to-morrow night I should have had my arrangements
made beforehand."

His intention had been to let himself down from the window of the
tower as soon as his supper had been brought him, to make his way to
Crag End, enlist the services of Tyson, and through him obtain the
loan of a vehicle of some kind; hurry back to the Keep, and, a little
later, drive away in triumph with his uncle, with, perchance (oh,
blissful possibility!), Dacia Roylance to make up a happy trio. But
to-night, without any vehicle to which to transfer the sick man, with
Dacia unadvised of what had happened within the last couple of hours,
and with the Keep shut up back and front, and all its inmates abed, it
was a wholly different matter. Burgo was utterly nonplussed.

"Then I seem to have done you an ill turn rather than a good one,"
said Mr. Marchment, but still quite pleasantly. "Is there no way in
which I can remedy it? You can't very well stay here till to-morrow
night, because my rascals have broken open the door, and been guilty
of some further trifling damage downstairs, which cannot fail to be
discovered in the course of the next few hours."

"No, most certainly I will stay here no longer than I can help,"
answered Burgo. "Instead of waiting till to-morrow night before
attempting to see my uncle--when some one would have been prepared to
admit me to the house unknown to the rest of the inmates--I will make
a bold dash about breakfast-time to-morrow or rather, to-day, for we
are now in the small hours--and try whether I can't effect my purpose
by a coup de main."

Somehow, he was unable to divest himself of an uncomfortable notion
that Lady Clinton might return unexpectedly at any moment, and he was
determined, now the opportunity had come to him, to lose no time
before making his grand attempt.

Marchment took a turn across the floor and back.

Then taking Burgo by the lapel of his coat, and looking him straight
between the eyes, he said: "I suppose that neither you nor your uncle
would object to a short voyage in my yacht if you and I together could
succeed in getting Sir Everard clear away?"

The question almost took Burgo's breath. He stared, but for the moment
words refused to come.

"I can read in your face that I have found a way out of the
difficulty," laughed Marchment. "And now every minute is precious."

This time he blew his whistle, but by no means shrilly. It was
responded to so promptly that Burgo could only conclude the man had
been in waiting at the foot of the stairs.

"Take this portmanteau and have it put into the boat," said Marchment.
Then turning to Burgo: "One last word, my dear Brabazon," he went on,
with a sudden added gravity of tone and manner. "You will probably
have gathered from what I have let fall already that my errand here is
of a somewhat peculiar kind; indeed, I may add that it is of a very
serious kind, and not without a spice of danger. But when I have told
you that, I have told you as much as it is good for you to know, and
as much as I am at liberty to reveal. Anything out of the ordinary
which may come under your notice while you and I are together, I must
ask you to see, as the children say, with your eyes shut, and to
forget as quickly as possible. In acting as I have decided to do, I
feel assured that I am running no risk whatever, because I am trusting
myself into the hands of a man of honour, and not myself alone, but
interests which are dearer to me than life. And now that we understand
each other, no more need be said."

Burgo held out his hand, which the other gripped.

"My dear Marchment, you have my word of honour that whatever I may
chance to see or hear while with you will be as sacred as if it were
confided to the dead."

"I feel sure of it. Let us go."

As Burgo glanced for the last time round the room which had been his
prison for so many days and nights, a sigh sprang involuntarily to his
lips. He felt that for long to come he should revisit it in his
dreams. For him it would ever be haunted with memories--some of them
unspeakably precious, others very much the reverse.



CHAPTER XX.
RESCUED.

A man standing on one of the lowermost stairs with a lantern lighted
Burgo and Mr. Marchment on their way down.

Burgo now found himself on the ground-floor of the tower. He had been
unconscious when brought there, and he looked about him with some
measure of curiosity. There were a couple of doors facing each other,
the larger and more substantial of which he rightly conjectured to be
the one which gave admittance to the tower from the outside, and that
the other led down to the underground passage. What, however, struck
him most was a hole in the wall, where the masonry, which lay in a
confused heap on the floor, had been knocked away, leaving a gaping
chasm large enough for a man to pass through. But he had only just
time to note these things before the sailor with the lantern led the
way through the gap in the wall. As Marchment beckoned Burgo to follow
him, he said laughingly: "You can see for yourself that I and my
fellows were put to some little trouble before we could get at you.
But you were such a puzzle to us--some of my men would have it the
tower was haunted, and you the ghost--that we couldn't rest till we
had found out all about you."

Burgo had vaguely expected that on stepping through the gap he should
find himself in the open air, instead of which he was in a tiny
chamber, just big enough to hold three men, built in the thickness of
the wall, with a narrow flight of steps at his feet, apparently
leading down into the foundations of the tower. But there was no time
to wonder: down the steps they went in single file, slowly and
carefully, coming before long to a larger chamber, measuring about
twenty feet by twelve, hollowed out of the body of the cliff on which
the tower was built. Burgo could now plainly hear the plash and beat
of the tide, which sounded close at hand.

As before, however, there was only just time to glance around, for the
man with the lantern was still leading the way. There was still
another flight of steps to descend, much broader and of rougher
construction than the first, with a massive _grille_, or open-work
iron door, at the bottom of them, now wide open, and beyond that a
cavern of some spaciousness open to the sea, with, a little lower than
the _grille_, a sort of rude causeway formed of big, slippery sea-worn
slabs, which reached nearly to the mouth of the cave, and was
evidently washed over by every tide. Not far from the end of this
landing-place, the tide being now on the turn, a boat was waiting with
a couple of men in her. The one with the lantern held out his hand to
Burgo to help him over the slippery footway, Marchment followed, and a
couple of minutes later the boat was pushed off, and the oars
unshipped. As they swept out of the cavern on the summit of a reflex
wave, the light of the lantern was extinguished. The oars were
muffled, and the men pulled almost without a sound. The night was dark
and moonless, canopied with heavy clouds which would probably shed
themselves in rain before many hours were over. Not a word above a
whisper was spoken till they pulled up under the lee of the _Naiad_,
which showed like some huge black monster of the deep, with not a
single gleam of light anywhere visible.

"All well?" demanded a voice softly from out the darkness.

"All well!" responded a voice from the boat.

"Await my return," whispered Marchment to Burgo.

Then everybody left the boat save Burgo and one of the men. But barely
five minutes had passed before Marchment was back, and one by one four
men followed him. They began at once to give way, and, as nothing was
said to them, they had doubtless had their orders beforehand.
Marchment seated himself in the stern and took the tiller; but first
he passed a revolver to Burgo, whispering as he did so: "One never
knows what may happen, and it is just as well to be prepared for
eventualities."

Burgo took no heed in which direction they were steering, his mind was
full of other things; and, indeed, just then he had much to think of.
In all probability the next hour would prove one of the most eventful
of his life. He was roused from his reverie by the grating of the
boat's keel on the sandy beach.

"Here we are," said Marchment in a low voice.

"Where _is_ here?" queried Burgo.

"We are opposite a gully, or break in the cliff, about half a mile to
the west of Garion Keep. This we shall ascend, and then make our way
back along the summit of the cliff till we reach the Keep, after which
we shall put ourselves in your hands and obey implicitly whatever
instructions you may choose to give us."

About twenty minutes later the little party were gathered under the
garden wall of the Keep, which on that side was about six feet high.
As they were coming along Burgo imparted his plan to Marchment, so
that there was now no loss of time. One of the sailors, a sturdy,
broad-set fellow, proceeded to make what schoolboys call a "back"
against the wall, as if for a game of leap-frog, thus serving as a
sort of stepping-stone for the others to the top of the wall, whence
one after another they dropped to the ground on the other side. They
were now in the shrubbery which fringed the lawn on the cliff side of
the Keep. Sperani's dogs, as it may be remembered, were turned loose
at night in the courtyard which shut in the Keep on the landward side.
Two facts had been borne in mind by Burgo--one, that his uncle had
caused a bow window with centre glass doors to be built out on the
cliff side, and the other that he, Sir Everard, slept on the ground
floor. It was in the direction of the bow window, the position of
which he could pretty well guess at, that Burgo now led the little
party in silence across the lawn. It seemed to him that there would be
found the most vulnerable point for gaining admittance to the Keep.

His surmise proved to be correct. When the bow window was found it did
not take one of the men--the same who had forced the door of Burgo's
prison, and who had been apprenticed to a locksmith before he ran away
to sea--very many minutes to effect an entrance. The party now found
themselves in a room which had been appropriated by Lady Clinton for
her own especial use, from which they made their way into the main
corridor of the house. A couple of dark lanterns had already been
produced, and their light flashed around. So far everything had
succeeded almost beyond Burgo's expectations. Turning to him,
Marchment now said: "What is our next proceeding, _mon ami?_" and
Burgo was about to answer: "To find my uncle's bedroom," when he was
spared the necessity of replying by the unexpected appearance of
Vallance, who issued from a room half-way down the corridor. He had
been lying, half-dressed and half-asleep, on the couch in Sir
Everard's dressing-room, ready to attend on his master at a moment's
notice, when he had been disturbed by a noise for which he could not
account, and had ventured into the corridor in his desire to ascertain
the origin of it.

"Seize that man," cried Burgo, the moment his eyes fell on him; and
before the valet could gather his scattered wits he had not merely
been seized, but bound hand and foot by two of the seamen, one of whom
said gruffly to him: "Look here, my hearty, if you don't want a bullet
in your gizzard, you'll keep a still tongue in your head." Then by
Burgo's orders he was thrust into an empty room, and the key turned on
him.

Another of the men meanwhile, by Marchment's directions, had lighted
the Argand lamp which hung from the ceiling at one end of the
corridor.

Burgo had at once concluded that Vallance was in attendance on his
uncle, and he lost not a moment in passing through the door which the
valet had left open, and so from the dressing-room into the bedroom
beyond, in both of which a light was burning. There he found his
uncle, who was sitting up in bed, and who had already with his
enfeebled voice called twice for Vallance without avail.

His mind was clear, his memory unclouded, and he recognised Burgo on
the instant. A low cry broke from his lips. "Oh, my boy, my boy!" he
exclaimed, "why did you leave me? Where have you been all this weary
time? They told me--but it matters nothing what they told me. It was
all lies--lies! They thought to deceive me, but they were mistaken.
But you have come back to me at last, and you won't leave me again,
will you, my boy?" His voice quavered and broke as the last words left
his lips.

"Never, so help me Heaven!" exclaimed Burgo fervently as he bent and
touched his uncle's forehead with his lips. "But we will talk about
the past another time. I have come to take you away from here--and to
take you away from her. I have good friends outside to help me. But
there is no time to lose. Come--let me help you to dress."

There was a decanter on the table containing brandy. He mixed a
portion of it with some water, and at his request Sir Everard drank it
off.

The baronet comprehended that a crisis had come, and he wasted no time
in asking questions. He let Burgo help him to dress; indeed, he was
quite as eager to be gone as his nephew was to get him away.

It was evident that he was very weak, but excitement had lent him a
fictitious strength, which, however, would presently evaporate for
lack of stamina to back it up. His face, too, had grown greyer and
more haggard in the interval since Burgo had seen him last, and his
hair was now as colourless as driven snow.

As Burgo was helping his uncle to put on his fur-lined overcoat, he
said; "Do you think, sir, that Miss Roylance would leave here in your
charge? It would be a thousand pities--would it not?--to leave her
behind."

"It would indeed. She is a good girl, a noble girl, and--and I'm
afraid she is not very happy here. She ought to go with us by all
means." It never struck him to ask how it happened that his nephew was
acquainted with Dacia Roylance.

After placing his uncle in an easy-chair, and administering a little
more brandy-and-water, he left the room in order to speak to
Marchment. Although not more than a quarter of an hour had elapsed
since they set foot inside the Keep, he knew that the latter would be
growing impatient. And yet to go and to be compelled to leave Dacia
behind, and that without the chance of a parting word between them,
was a prospect which wrung his heart with anguish of a kind such as
heretofore he had not known. If only he could have seized upon Mother
Sprowle, or one of the female domestics, and have sent a message to
Dacia that he wanted to see her without loss of time But there was no
one to send. Except Vallance and his uncle, no one in the house
appeared to have been disturbed, for the servants slept in another
wing. What to do he knew not.

Marchment and his men were gathered in the entrance-hall out of which
the corridor led. The captain of the _Naiad_ had seated himself on one
of the lower stairs, and was smoking a cigarette with an air of the
utmost _sang-froid_.

"I hope I have not altogether exhausted your patience," said Burgo as
he came up. "My uncle is now ready, and----"

He stopped like one suddenly stricken dumb. His eyes had caught a
glimpse of something white on the stairs. Looking up, he beheld Dacia
coming slowly down, her crutch under her left arm, and her right hand
gliding over the balusters, but on the soft carpet her crutch made no
sound. Late as the hour was, she had not gone to bed, and on hearing a
murmur of strange voices in the hall she had quitted her room and
crept to the darkest corner of the gallery, whence she could see all
that went on below without any risk of discovery. Alarmed, and utterly
at a loss to account for the presence of armed strangers in the house,
who yet had something about them which seemed to mark them out from
common burglars, she had not known what to do. But the moment she saw
Burgo emerge from the corridor in which his uncle's bedroom was
situated she hesitated no longer. So long as he was there, everything
must be right.

Marchment had sprung to his feet, and his eyes had followed the
direction of Burgo's when the latter's speech stopped suddenly short.
At sight of that white-robed figure coming down he flung his cigarette
away, and drew somewhat aside.

Dacia was always pale, but to-night, in her white _peignoir_, and by
the dim light of the solitary lamp, she looked more like a phantom
than a creature of flesh and blood.

"Oh, Mr. Brabazon," she cried with a sort of breathless eagerness, "I
am so glad you are here--so glad to have an opportunity of telling you
I won't stop now to ask you how it is I find you here; you can tell me
that another time. What I want to say is, that in the course of
yesterday afternoon (for this is Wednesday morning) Signor Sperani
received a telegram, which I am nearly sure, although not able to
speak positively, was sent by Lady Clinton. In any case, he has taken
the landau and driven to the junction, a dozen miles away--the night
mail does not stop at Oakbarrow--and although he has not yet returned,
he may be here at any moment. My intention was to have sent you a
message by Mrs. Sprowle, but I found that Sperani had taken the key of
the underground passage with him."

"Then we may yet be in time to get clear away before his return," said
Burgo. "For my uncle's sake I would fain avoid a scene, if it be
possible to do so. I shall have much to tell you, Miss Roylance, later
on. This is my friend, Mr. Marchment, to whose good offices I owe it
that I am here. I was wondering how I could best find, the means of
communicating with you, when you appeared. Fortune sometimes does one
a good turn unexpectedly. Miss Roylance, my uncle will quit this roof
within ten minutes from now, under the charge of Mr. Marchment and
myself, and it is his most earnest wish that you should accompany
him."

"I! Oh, Mr. Brabazon!" It was as though she had been suddenly
transformed from some dim crepuscular phantom into a rosy young
goddess of the dawn.

"Consider--think what it will be for you to stay on here alone, with
Sperani and her ladyship, after my uncle is gone! He would plead with
you himself were he not so feeble and our minutes here so few. But he
has sent me to plead for him--would that I could do it with more
eloquence, more fervour!" He paused, and drew a deep breath. His eyes
were luminous with a love unconfessed in words. "You _must_ go with
us, indeed you must! I ask it for his sake--and my own."

She was trembling a little, but her eyes met his bravely; to Burgo it
seemed as if they were searching his very soul. There was a pause long
enough for half a dozen heart-beats, then Dacia said very gently:
"Tell dear Sir Everard, please, that, since it is his wish, I will go
with him. Five minutes at the most will see me ready to start."

As she turned to go back upstairs she had a glimpse of her lover's
face--for that he was her lover now it would have been folly to deny.
It was as the face of one transfigured. Her equable pulses were
stirred as they had never been stirred before; the blood in her veins
seemed to have been changed into wine--the wine of youth and love and
happiness. She felt how good a thing it was to be alive.

Five minutes later everything was in readiness for a start. Marchment
had been introduced to Sir Everard, and warmly greeted by him. Dacia
had reappeared, habited in blue serge, and with no other luggage than
a handbag, a waterproof, and an umbrella; and the baronet, with one of
her hands clasped in his tenuous fingers, had said, with a tremulous
smile: "My child, you have made me very happy by consenting to keep me
company in my exile." Burgo and Marchment had drawn aside to consult
as to the best mode of transporting Sir Everard from the house to the
boat, for that he would have to be carried was a matter of course.
Marchment had just said, with a smile: "There will be nothing for it
but for Sir Everard to put his dignity in his pocket, and allow my
fellows to carry him pick-a-back, turn and turn about. They are as
strong as bulls, and will think nothing of it," when all there were
startled into vivid life by a burst of deep hoarse-mouthed baying,
intermixed with short, sharp barks and savage growls. It was the
Italian's dogs, on guard in the courtyard, who had suddenly given
tongue. But the clamour died down almost as quickly as it had arisen,
as if the brutes had discovered that they had made a mistake. Then the
sound of wheels was audible on the pebbled sweep, followed by the
sudden pulling-up of some vehicle at the front door.

The eyes of Burgo and Dacia met. "It is Signor Sperani come back,"
said the girl in a low voice. Upon all present there was a sense as if
something unforeseen were about to happen.

A few seconds later there was a cautious knocking at the door, which
it was doubtless intended that Vallance should have responded to,
instead of which it was Mr. Brabazon who now stepped forward and flung
wide the door. On the threshold stood Sperani and her ladyship. They
made a couple of steps forward and then paused--thunderstruck.

On her arrival in Paris, Lady Clinton, finding herself with a couple
of hours to spare before the departure of the express for Pontarlier,
as most fond mothers would have done, telegraphed to Lausanne,
requesting to be informed whether her son was better or worse. In
about an hour's time came the reply: "Cannot understand purport of
your message. Young Offredi in most robust health. Has not suffered an
hour's illness since his arrival at Lausanne."

Lady Clinton let the express go without her. One or two more messages
passed between herself and the head of the _lycée_, and then she set
her face homeward, satisfied that for once in her life she had been
outwitted, and a prey to fears such as turned her soul faint within
her. Who was the unknown enemy that had lured her from home by a
fictitious telegram? And by what hidden motive had he, or she, been
influenced? What might not have happened during her absence from the
Keep? Above all, what might not have been _discovered?_

As she stood for a few seconds just within the doorway, white,
haggard, travel-soiled, nothing of her seeming alive save her eyes,
and as she took in the picture before her--her husband, supported on
one side by Mr. Brabazon and on the other by Miss Roylance, with a
group of armed strangers in the background--she could not but
recognise that the game for which she had played so high and so
desperately, and had risked so much, was lost almost beyond
redemption. Still, she was a woman of an indomitable courage and
resource, and she would have one final throw. If that should fail,
then----!

All in an instant her face changed. It was as if a mask had suddenly
fallen aside, leaving exposed to view the living, breathing,
palpitating woman which it had hidden; while the cold, hard light of
her eyes became veiled, as it were, with a luminous haze, through
which she gazed at her husband with an expression of imploring
tenderness, the power of which she was not now testing for the first
time.

"What is the meaning of all this, Everardo mio?" she said in Italian,
and with an unwonted thrill in her full, rich tones. "What business
has brought these strangers here? And why are you out of bed at this
hour of the night?"

She moved quickly forward as if to join him, but an imperious gesture
on the part of Sir Everard arrested her mid-way.

"It means, Giulia," said the baronet, his left hand clasped firmly
within his nephew's arm, "it means that here--now--to-night I leave
you for ever. Never will I willingly set eyes on you again. By what
reasons I have been actuated in coming to this resolve, you do not, I
am sure, need to be told. Who should know them better than yourself?
When one touches, as you and I do at this moment, one of the supreme
crises of life, mere words seem idle and irrelevant. Therefore I leave
you, without saying more, to the keeping of whatever conscience may
still be existent within you. Madam, my lawyer will communicate with
you in the course of a few days. Burgo, I am ready."

He had spoken with such a cold, sustained dignity, and with a manner
so magisterial and aloof--as though he were a judge addressing some
criminal in the dock--that the last faint ray of hope which her
ladyship might have cherished was, there and then, quenched for ever.
Her features stiffened into an expression of ineffable scorn, hate,
and baffled rage. Her eyes blazed, and could looks have killed, few
there would have been left alive. As Sir Everard and the others
advanced she drew aside, not without dignity, so as not to impede
their going. "And you too, Dacia?" she murmured, as Miss Roylance
passed her.

"And I too, madam," responded the girl.

Sperani had disappeared, like the coward that he was. He had scented a
possible scrimmage, and it had seemed to him that he would be better
out of the way.

No thought of quitting the house except by way of the front door had
occurred to Sir Everard, nor had it struck him to ask by what means
Burgo and the rest had gained admittance to the Keep at that hour of
the night. There, by a fortunate chance, they found the landau which
had brought back Sperani and his sister still waiting. Nobody had
given the driver any instructions, and there he was. Sperani's first
act on alighting had been to chain up his dogs. There was no longer
any question of how Sir Everard should be got to the boat. He and Miss
Roylance were assisted into the carriage, and the little procession
set off at a walking pace.

The front door of the Keep had been left open, and Burgo, glancing
back, could discern a tall, black-clothed figure--which, as it stood
framed by the doorway, with the lamp-light thrown on it from behind,
looked as if it might be chiselled out of black marble--staring
straight out into the night. Then, as the carriage passed out of the
gates, which one of the sailors had hurried forward to open, Burgo
beheld the figure fling up its arms and then fall forward on the
flagged floor.

Already the first tentative pencillings of the dawn were visible in
the eastern sky.

As Burgo paced along by the side of the landau he called to mind that
that day week would be the 12th of October.



CHAPTER XXI.
SURPRISE FOR BURGO.


Sir Everard Clinton had gone through so much, both physically and
mentally, in the course of the preceding two hours that as soon as he
found himself on board the yacht, the inevitable reaction set in. Mr.
Marchment gave up his own cabin to him, and that he lacked nothing
in the way of nursing and attention on the part of Dacia and Burgo
goes without saying. He was terribly weak and low, but beyond that,
there seemed nothing chronically amiss with him. "All that I need is
rest--rest," he murmured more than once. It was rest of mind as much,
or more perhaps, than rest of body that he stood in need of. There was
nothing now to debar him of it. At length he knew that he was safe,
and in that fact everything was implied.

The _Naiad_ had weighed anchor at daybreak, and the forenoon was well
advanced when Burgo went on deck to stretch his legs and enjoy a
smoke. By that time they were out of sight of land. True to the
promise he had given, Burgo asked no questions. To him it mattered not
at all where they were, or for what port they were bound. He had
achieved all that he wanted. He had rescued his uncle from the fate
which had too surely threatened him, and the girl he loved was here on
board with him. What more could any reasonable being long for? He felt
that he would have been quite content to go on voyaging in the _Naiad_
for an indefinite period. To-day he was more like the Burgo Brabazon
of other days than he had been since the date of that memorable
meeting in Great Mornington Street when he and Lady Clinton crossed
weapons for the first time.

By-and-by Miss Roylance came on deck. Sir Everard was sleeping
soundly, and might be left for a little while.

Marchment had a deck chair brought for her, and she sat for upwards of
an hour, drinking in the briny life-giving air and enjoying the
novelty of the scene and its surroundings.

In the afternoon the long-threatened rain began to fall, and they
seemed to have got into one of those cross seas which are apt to make
non-sailors feel somewhat qualmish. Marchment and the crew had donned
their oilskins.

In the dusk of the afternoon Burgo again went on deck and found a
sheltered nook abaft the funnel where his pipe would not be put out by
the rain. They were now well within sight of land again, and in point
of fact were leisurely skirting, at a distance of three or four miles,
a rocky picturesque-looking coast which stretched as far as the eye
could reach nearly due north and south of their course.

Some hours later, long after night had fallen, the screw of the
_Naiad_ ceased to revolve, an intermission which Miss Roylance, at any
rate, did not fail to appreciate. Then presently (as it appeared to
those below) a boat seemed to put off from the yacht and other boats
to put out to her from the shore. There was the tramp of many
footsteps and a confused murmur of many voices, and to Burgo it seemed
as if the contents of the hold, or part of them--whatever they might
consist of--were being brought up by degrees and transferred to the
boats; yet all was done with such an evident caution and such an
absence of more noise than was absolutely unavoidable, that if there
had been some one on board _in extremis_ greater care could scarcely
have been used. In less than an hour and a half the last boat left the
yacht, and then, after a few minutes' interval, the screw began slowly
to revolve.

While this mysterious business had been going forward all lights below
deck had been extinguished. Marchment had apologised, almost humbly,
for the necessity he was under of asking his guests to so far oblige
him; but, as Mr. Brabazon told him, his guests would only have been
too glad had they been called upon to oblige him in some matter of far
greater moment than that.

When Burgo went on deck at an early hour next morning the _Naiad_ was
again out of sight of land. Presently he was joined by Marchment, who
said, "I got rid of my business last evening, and am now my own
master. Perhaps you will ask Sir Everard in the course of the morning
what his programme is, provided he has one. If he would like a few
days' cruise in the yacht, I and it are wholly at his service. On the
other hand, if he would prefer to be landed at some port within, say,
a couple of hundred miles of where we are, we are equally at his
command."

"Marchment, you are weighing us down with obligations which we can
never repay. But may I be permitted to ask whereabouts on the map of
Europe we are just now?"

"It will perhaps be near enough to satisfy you if I tell you that we
are within a score miles of the Mull of Galloway."

When the subject was mentioned to the baronet and he had taken time to
think it over, he said that if it would not be inconveniencing Mr.
Marchment too much, he should like to be landed at Ardrossan. He had
an old friend living within a dozen miles of that place whom he had
not seen for years, and who had lately acquired some very rare
Byzantine coins which he, Sir Everard, was particularly desirous of
examining.

Accordingly the yacht's head was put about and Ardrossan made in due
course. There Marchment and his new-found friends took leave of each
other, not without many expressions of hearty goodwill on both sides,
one may be sure. As for Burgo and Marchment, they by no means intended
to lose touch of each other in time to come.


It was three weeks later. Sir Everard, Miss Roylance, and Burgo were
still at Hazeldean, where the Marrables had accorded them the
heartiest of welcomes, and with that large-hearted hospitality for
which they were noted, would not hear of their leaving short of a
month at the very soonest. Besides, Sir Everard was "picking up
wonderfully," as Mrs. Marrable termed it The bracing Scotch air had
proved the finest of tonics, and it would be a thousand pities for him
to quit Hazeldean with his cure only half accomplished.

But although the baronet and Burgo were going to stay on a while
longer, the eve of Miss Roylance's departure was come. A cousin of her
mother, a widow lady of mature years, of whose existence Dacia had
hardly been aware, had found her out quite by accident, and had
written her such a pressing invitation to go and visit her in
Edinburgh, where she resided, and stay with her for as long as she
liked, that, under the circumstances in which she was placed, the girl
felt she had no option but to accept the offer. She and Burgo had
spent a very happy time together; the more they saw of each other the
stronger became the bond of attraction between them. Although no word
of love had been spoken, each knew the other's secret. They had been
happy from day to day, as children are happy, and had not troubled
themselves about the future. But such halcyon moments could not last
for ever, and this sudden summons must necessarily bring them to an
end.

It was not likely, however, that Burgo would consent to let Dacia go
without coming to an understanding with her. But indeed, whether she
stayed or went, he told himself that further silence on his part might
be construed into a proof of dilatoriness, and that was one of the
last of a lover's crimes which he would willingly have had imputed to
him.

So now, on the eve of Dacia's departure--she was to start almost
immediately after breakfast next morning--he sought his opportunity
and found it.

It was a mild November afternoon, overcast for the most part, yet with
now and then a passing gleam of pallid sunshine. Not a breath of air
fluttered the last poplar leaves which still hung, ragged and forlorn,
on the two tall trees that fronted the house. There seemed a hush over
all things; it was as though the dying year lay with shut eyes and
folded hands awaiting its end. Sir Everard, together with his host and
hostess, had gone in the brougham to visit some archaeological remains
a dozen miles away. Our young people had the house to themselves. It
was possible that kind-hearted Mrs. Marrable had had some hand in this
arrangement. She was a born matchmaker, and had quite early seen how
the land lay as between Burgo and Dacia, while it was equally a matter
of course that her husband should not have seen anything.

The grounds at Hazeldean were extensive, and Dacia, hampered as she
was with her crutch, found them quite ample enough to wander about in.
She and Burgo had been strolling about for half an hour or more, when
they came to a seat fixed at a point from which an especially fine
view was to be had. Here they sat down as they had many times before.
It was not often that Burgo was absent-minded, but he had been so
to-day, and for the last ten minutes he had hardly spoken a word.
Dacia had made no attempt to break his spell of silence, but had
glanced at him once or twice a little timorously. Had she any
prevision of what it was he was about to say to her?

He had been staring straight before him for some little time, but
seeing nothing save some inner vision of his own. Suddenly he turned,
and bending his glowing eyes full upon her, said: "And so you are
going to leave us to-morrow; but for how long, Dacia?--that is the
question, for how long?"

It was not the first time by several that he had called her by her
baptismal name, and she did not seem to resent the liberty.

"You know what my cousin, Mrs. Croxford, said in her letter," she
replied in a low voice. "She virtually offers me a home. Although we
have never met, she is my nearest living relative, and I have no
option but to go to her."

"But not to stay with her long, Dacia--oh, no!--not to stay with her
long. I love you, Dacia--that you have known for days and weeks; it
needed no words on my part to tell you that--and I want you to be my
wife. My uncle knows and approves. During the last few weeks you have
become very dear to him. He loves you as if you were his own child--I
have his word for it--and he has charged me to tell you that the
dearest wish left him in life is that you should--well, become the
wife of his good-for-nothing nephew."

"Dear Sir Everard! I would do much to please him," said Dacia, softly.

"But you must not think I am trying to make love by proxy," continued
Burgo. "It is on my own account I woo you--that you know full well. If
I could only make love to you more pleadingly, and in softer fashion!
but I can't. I know that in such things I am as uncouth as a bear;
Nature has made me so; but, trust me, dearest, the bear knows how to
love! Dacia, will you, dare you, take me with all my imperfections on
my head? Search the world over, and nowhere will you find a truer,
more devoted love than mine, nowhere a man who will strive harder than
I to make you happy! O Dacia!--dearest!--what can I say more? I know
my words must sound terribly trite and commonplace, but for once my
tongue has turned traitor. Before I opened my lips I thought I was
going to be eloquent in a way I had never been before, and the result
is a thin, feeble trickle of words which seem to carry no conviction
with them. It is most pitiable. Still, Dacia, it all comes to this: I
love you!--I love you!"

To Dacia it seemed as if his words were lacking neither in eloquence
nor passion; but then, no one had ever spoken to her in such fashion
before; while there was such a fervour of sincerity in his utterances
that even had she not been predisposed in his favour, her heart could
scarcely have failed to be touched. It was her turn now to gaze
straight before her. She durst not let her eyes meet his; she felt
that they would have betrayed her in her own despite, and the moment
for surrender had not yet come.

There was no coyness about Dacia, no shilly-shallying; she had a way
of speaking straight to the point which was sometimes eminently
disconcerting to others. She was unconventional, and she knew it.

"You ask me, Mr. Brabazon, whether I _dare_ accept you," she said,
trying her best to speak without any trace of emotion, but not quite
succeeding. "I dare do a number of things; but when you further ask me
whether I _will_ accept you, your question becomes one which can only
be met by a straightforward and categorical answer. My answer to it
is, No--for your own sake."

"No--for my own sake!" gasped Burgo. "I wholly fail to apprehend your
meaning."

"Have you considered, have you thought seriously, of all that is
involved in your proposal to wed a girl who is both a cripple and a
hunchback? No, you cannot have done so. You are letting a temporary
infatuation (which before long will seem to you nothing more than am
foolish dream which it were wise to forget as quickly as possible)
blind you to the consequences of a step which you would soon see cause
to bitterly rue that you had ever taken. I should be a clog and an
incubus to you all your life, or at least till death stepped in and
severed the tie between us. When you took me into society, which you
would very quickly tire of doing, think of the lifted eyebrows and the
meaning glances that would be shot from one to another, and of the
whisperings behind your back! 'A cripple and a hunchback! what _could_
he have been thinking about?' How you would writhe in your impotence
and turn hot and cold by turns! And then your love for me would
inevitably cool, and by-and-by it would change into positive dislike.
Oh, I seem to see it all! Therefore, Mr. Brabazon, my answer is, No."

"But it is an answer which I utterly refuse to accept," he retorted
impetuously. "If you have nothing to urge against my suit but that,
you might just as well have left it unsaid for any effect it has upon
me. Such an objection I brush away as the flimsiest of cobwebs. As for
the hobgoblins you have tried to conjure up, they are the merest
futilities, and you yourself would be the first to despise a man who
did not laugh them to scorn. On that score you shall not despise me.
For me the world holds no other woman than you, and that is enough.
Dacia, you are mine!"

His arms enfolded her, he drew her to him, he kissed her again and
again. His masterful style of love-making deprived her of all further
power of resistance. But indeed her heart had been his long before.

Once she murmured while his arms were still round her, her eyes
searching his the while, "Oh, but to think of it! a cripple and----"
but she could not say more for the kiss that sealed her lips.

When they got back to the house an hour later--and it was an hour
which neither of them would ever forget--Sir Everard and the others
had not yet returned. They went together into the library, which was
one of the cosiest rooms in the house, as befitted the purpose to
which it was devoted. A cheerful fire was burning in the grate by way
of antidote to the dull November afternoon. "Sit down here," said
Dacia to her lover, indicating a big easy-chair, "while I go and take
off my outdoor things. I shall not be gone more than a few minutes."

Burgo was quite content to wait. He had won her, she was his, and a
few minutes more or less were of no consequence.

Whether he had sat there five minutes or half an hour he could not
afterwards have told, so pleasantly had his thoughts been occupied,
when the sound of the opening door, which faced him at the other end
of the room, caused him to lift his eyes. On the threshold stood
Dacia, looking at him with an enigmatic smile. She had changed her
heavier outdoor dress for one of pale blue corded silk which fitted
her to perfection. While Burgo was still staring at her she dropped
him an elaborate curtsey; then, still with that strange smile, she
came a little way nearer and dropped him a second curtsey; and then
she ran--yes, actually ran--across the room and sank on her knees by
the side of his chair. Burgo could hardly believe the evidence of his
eyes.

"What has become of your crutch?" he asked in a half-dazed kind of
way.

"Gone."

"And--and your----?" He could not bring himself to utter the hateful
word.

"My hump, I suppose you mean? Gone too--both gone for ever."

He drew a deep breath. "You altogether bewilder me," he said.
"Is there anything real about you?" laying a hand on one of her
shoulders--"or may I look to see you vanish piecemeal and leave not a
wrack behind?"

She sprang to het feet with a happy musical laugh. "No," she replied,
"you will be burdened with the residue of me--and serve you right,
after what you said and did this afternoon--for the term of your
natural life." And thereupon she proceeded to waltz gravely round him
some half-dozen times.

"And to whom are you, or I, or both of us, indebted for this miracle?"
he asked when she had brought her gyrations to an end and was again
kneeling by the side of his chair.

"Why, you dear old simpleton, who should be the miracle-monger but
myself? It is one of the most annoying traits of your sex that you
always want so many explanations. You must know, then, most high and
mighty seigneur, that once on a time--that is to say, somewhere about
a year ago--I met with an accident which necessitated my walking with
a crutch for several months afterwards; and even after I was well
enough to cast it aside there were odd times and seasons when a return
of the old pain compelled me to again seek its help for a day or two,
so that I continued to keep it by me like an old servant whom one
cannot afford to discard. Well, sir, when I first conceived the
audacious scheme of seeking an interview with you I said to myself,
'What if he should get the notion into his head that I have forced
myself upon him simply in the hope that he may fall in love with me?'
The thought was intolerable so I determined to make your acquaintance
in a guise which would--as I fondly imagined--effectually dispose
of any such idea should even the germ of it have found lodgment in
your mind. Hence it was that I called my old crutch into requisition
and manufactured an artificial hump for myself. But alas, and
alack-the-day! my labours were all in vain, my good intentions were
utterly thrown away. There are some people who cannot be made to
see when they are well off, and if they _will_ persist in taking on
themselves a lot of unnecessary burdens simply because they are, as
they term it, in love--well, one can afford to pity them, but that
will hardly make their punishment easier to bear."

"I, at any rate, am prepared to undergo my punishment without the
ghost of a grumble. But tell me this, you young deceiver, how did you
contrive to impose upon my uncle? He, at least, must have known
that----"

"Oh! I took dear Sir Everard into my confidence. He promised not to
betray me, and of course he didn't."

"And simple-minded, kind-hearted Mr. and Mrs. Marrable--you have
deceived them?"

Dacia hung a contrite head, or pretended to do so. "I am very sorry,
but I couldn't help it," she whispered.



CHAPTER XXII.
A MYSTERY SOLVED.


Spring had come round again, the spring of the year succeeding that in
which the events recorded in these pages took place.

It was about the middle of May when Sir Everard Clinton, to whom any
long stay in London had always been distasteful, suddenly made up his
mind to revisit Garion Keep. It was a matter of course that his nephew
and his nephew's wife should accompany him, for Burgo and Dacia had
been married early in the new year, and had spent a short honeymoon in
the Riviera. Sir Everard's home, wherever it might be--and he had
always been of a somewhat roving disposition--was theirs also. He
liked to have Burgo under the same roof with him; only then did he
feel safe, only then could he rid himself of an uneasy fear that at
some unexpected moment he might be confronted by his wife, who, he
seemed to think, was ever on the watch--lying perdu, like a spider in
a corner of its web--to take him unawares. What might or would have
happened in case such an eventuality had come to pass, he did not try
to imagine. The bare possibility of such a thing was enough to scare
him.

But indeed there seemed no valid reason for anticipating any such
unwelcome proceeding on her ladyship's part. She seemed to have
vanished as completely beyond the horizon of Sir Everard's life as if
she had never existed. After their parting that night at the Keep, so
far as was known, she made no attempt to trace his whereabouts;
neither, later on, when he was back in Great Mornington Street, if she
knew he was there, did she make any effort to intrude herself on his
presence. One token, and one only, of her existence was forthcoming in
due course. A lawyer, instructed by her, waited one day upon Mr.
Garden with the view of ascertaining the nature of the baronet's
pecuniary intentions towards his client. That they proved to be
satisfactory may be taken for granted, seeing that no complaint to the
contrary was ever lodged with Mr. Garden. From certain private
information which reached Mr. Brabazon some time later, he had reason
to believe that her ladyship had taken up her permanent abode in
Florence, the English colony of which delightful city was greatly
exercised in its mind as to whether it ought to welcome her with
effusion as an unquestionable acquisition, or quietly turn towards her
that shoulder which is termed cold.

Sir Everard's sixty-fourth birthday came and went in due course. It
was kept by him, not as a festival, but rather as an occasion for
devout thankfulness, as on the part of one who had providentially
escaped a great danger. When, a little later, Mrs. Macdona's legacy of
fifteen thousand pounds was paid over to him, he at once gave
instructions for the whole amount to be transferred from his own
banking account to one which he caused to be opened in the name of his
nephew. When telling Burgo what he had done, he added: "Had it not
been for you, my boy, I verily believe my span of life would have run
out by now. In no case would the money have come to me: it would have
gone to her, and after that--_Mais parlous d'autres choses_. I want
you to regard the money as a thank-offering from your old uncle--a
very inadequate one, he admits, considering all he owes you. Besides,
you are a married man now."

Mr. Garden had been right in his supposition that Sir Everard had
engaged another lawyer to draw up the fresh will rendered necessary by
his marriage, in which, with the exception of a legacy of five
thousand pounds to his nephew (which he had made a point of insisting
upon) everything he might die possessed of was bequeathed to his wife.
But Sir Everard had not been many hours at Hazeldean before he
telegraphed to Mr. Garden to join him there, and next day a final will
was drawn up, the provisions of which were widely different from those
of the previous one.

So Sir Everard, together with his nephew and niece, journeyed down to
Cumberland.

But Burgo had not been more than a couple of hours at the Keep when he
received a telegram from Mr. Garden which recalled him south without
delay. Mr. Denis Clinton was dead. He had died at Worthing, whither
his doctors bad ordered him some months before. Mr. Brabazon, as a
legatee under his uncle's will, was invited to the funeral, as also to
the subsequent reading of the will. The dead man's lawyer, not knowing
where a letter would find Mr. Brabazon, had communicated with Mr.
Garden.

Sir Everard was not invited to the funeral, and he decided not to
attend it. His brother and he had virtually been strangers to each
other for the last twenty years or more, and he saw no reason why he
should undertake a journey of three hundred and fifty miles--and the
same distance back--in order to be present at the obsequies of a man
who had shown no brotherly regard for him while alive. So Burgo went
alone.

Greatly to his surprise, when the will came to be read he found
himself a legatee to the tune of five thousand pounds. The reason
given by his uncle for thus remembering him was an eccentric one;
"Because he has never sought me out to flatter me, or sponge on me,"
ran the clause, "and because he has never asked me to lend him a
sixpence." With the way in which the remainder of the property was
left we are not concerned.

The demise of Mr. Denis Clinton left Burgo Sir Everard's direct heir
both to the title and the entailed estates.

Burgo got back to the Keep late at night after Sir Everard had
retired. At breakfast next morning, after he had pretty well exhausted
his budget of news, he said; "By the way, sir, have you been over the
Wizard's Tower since you came down here?"

The baronet shook his head. "My exploring days are over," he said.
"Still, I have heard so much about the place, that I should not object
to go over it with somebody who knows the ins and outs of the old
pile; in short, if I visit it at all, I must be personally conducted."

"Then I'm the man for the job, sir, for who should know more about it
than I? Indeed, if you will go over it after breakfast this morning
with Dacia and me I shall be glad. I have a special reason for wishing
you to do so."

Accordingly the three of them presently set out for the tower by way
of the underground passage. When they emerged from it into what might
be termed the entrance-hall of the tower, where, it may be remembered,
was the door by which admittance was gained from the outside, Burgo,
having pointed out the gap in the wall made by Marchment's men,
conducted his uncle and Dacia upstairs to the room which had served
for his prison. Everything apparently was just as he had left it. One
of the window-bars lay on the floor; the other, nearly filed through,
was still in its place. The crockery, containing the remnants of the
last meal Mrs. Sprowle had brought him, was still on the table. And
there were the few poor sticks of furniture, and the oaken door with
its sliding panel and broken lock. The eyes of Burgo and his wife met
more than once. What memories the room and its contents brought back
to them Sir Everard was intensely interested in everything.

Then they went back downstairs. But first Burgo pointed out another
flight of stairs, which doubtless led to a room over the one he had
occupied; but they left the exploration of that for another time.

"And now," said Burgo, when they were once more on the ground-floor,
as he proceeded to light a hand-lamp he had brought with him, "I must
ask you to follow me through this hole in the wall, which is at the
head of a flight of steps leading down to a cavern open to the sea.
There can be no reasonable doubt, as it seems to me, that the
underground passage leading to the Keep and this other passage leading
to the cavern were bricked up, and all traces of them as far as
possible obliterated, at one and the same time; but by whom, and for
what purpose, it would now be useless to inquire."

Having passed through the gap, Burgo led his uncle slowly and
carefully down the steps--for since his illness Sir Everard had not
been so active on his feet as he had been before it--while Dacia
brought up the rear, till they came to the chamber of which mention
has been already made as being hollowed out of the body of the cliff.
But this chamber, as Burgo proceeded to prove to the others, was but
the ante-room to another nearly twice as spacious. "I think," he said,
as he held his lamp aloft, "that it is not difficult to guess as to
the use this place was put to in bygone days. At all events, I can
come to no other conclusion than that it was used as a storage place
for smuggled goods."

"You axe right, my boy; it could have been intended for nothing else,"
said the baronet emphatically.

"In that case," remarked Dacia, "bearing in mind that this place had
an opening into the tower, and that there was an underground passage
from the latter to the Keep, it would almost seem as if the owners or
tenants of the Keep, whoever they may have been, must themselves have
been in the smuggling line of business."

"By Jove!" laughed the baronet, "you seem to have hit the right nail
on the head, my dear. But I believe that in those days smuggling was
regarded as a very venial offence, whether indulged in by gentle or
simple. Probably, if we had lived a hundred years ago, we should have
been tarred with the same brush ourselves."

Burgo now led the way down the remaining flight of steps which led
directly into the cavern. The iron grille was still open as he had
seen it last.

It had been night when Burgo was there before. It was now broad
daylight outside, and the cavern was pervaded by a faint yellowish
twilight which might be in part a reflection from the sandy floor. It
widened out from a narrow mouth, but was neither very large nor very
lofty, and probably its existence was due in part to Nature and in
part to man's handiwork. It was nearly ebb tide, and from the mouth of
the cavern to low-water mark there intervened a stretch of yellow
shining sand. Noticing this, Sir Everard said: "The smugglers, if such
they were, can hardly have considered their hiding-place a very secure
one, seeing that whenever the tide was out it must have been open for
any one to enter it from the beach."

"It seems to be so, but it was not so in reality, neither is it now,"
replied Burgo. "That beautiful, innocent looking stretch of beach on
which the sun just now is shining its brightest, is neither more nor
less than a treacherous quicksand which would inevitably engulf any
one who might be rash enough to attempt to reach the cavern by way of
it when the tide is out. Many a grim secret lies buried in its
unfathomed depths."

Dacia shuddered.

"All this is news to me," said the baronet. "Dacia, my dear, you were
talking the other day about going for a ramble along the sands, but
after what your husband has told us about them I hope you will think
twice before doing so."

"I shall indeed, uncle." Then, turning to Burgo, she said, "You have
told us a great deal about this old building and the uses to which it
was put in days gone by. I suppose you will be telling us next that
Mr. Marchment was a smuggler?"

Burgo laughed. "That's just what he was, my dear--after a fashion.
Singularly enough, Marchment and I tumbled across each other yesterday
at the London terminus. He had half an hour to spare and we spent it
together. Now, when I said this morning that I had a special object in
asking you to explore the tower with me, it was that I might tell you
here on the spot, in order that you might be able to realise the facts
more clearly, that which he told me yesterday. Of course it was he who
introduced the subject, not I. He began by asking after each of you,
and he did not fail to congratulate me on my marriage. Then he went on
to say that doubtless we had often wondered and speculated as to the
nature of the business in which he was engaged at the time he made our
acquaintance after so singular a fashion. Although the affair was
still a secret from the world and would continue to be so, the
necessity for the same amount of secrecy no longer existed--at least,
as far as we three were concerned although he was desirous that
whatever he might confide to us should go no further. It appears,
then, that the _Naiad's_ errand at Crag End was to take on board,
secretly of course, a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition
which for some time past had been stored up in that chamber in the
cliff which I showed you just now, awaiting Marchment's arrival."

"Arms and ammunition! God bless my heart!" ejaculated Sir Everard.

"I may say at once that he did not tell me by whose or what agency the
arms and ammunition had first been stored in the chamber, nor did I
conceive it my business to ask him. His part of the affair was to
convey the articles in question to some pre-arranged point on the
Irish coast and there land them with the same amount of secrecy with
which he had taken them on board."

"But why couldn't he do all that quite openly? demanded Dacia.

"Because it is forbidden to land arms and ammunition in Ireland except
at certain specified ports, and then only with the knowledge and
sanction of the Customs officials. As Marchment explained, they were
needed for the 'Cause'--whatever the term may mean--and could only be
obtained secretly and surreptitiously."

"We owe a great deal to our friend Marchment, Burgo, my boy," said Sir
Everard, "but for all that I shall consider it my duty to take such
steps as will secure the tower from being used as a depot for the
storage of any kind of contraband goods in time to come."

"I hope you made Mr. Marchment promise to come and see us when we get
back to town?" said Dacia.

"At the present moment, my dear, Marchment is _en route_ for South
America. He is longing for a little quiet fighting, he says, and he
thinks there's a chance of his meeting with it there."



THE END.





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