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Dead Men Tell No Tales
by E. W. Hornung
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"You think they would take me in?"

"They have taken other men—artists as a rule."

"Then it's a picturesque country?"

"Oh, it's that if it's nothing else; but not a town for miles, mind you, and hardly a village worthy the name."

"Any fishing?"

"Yes—trout—small but plenty of 'em—in a beck running close behind the cottage."

"Come," cried I, "this sounds delightful! Shall you be up there?"

"Only for a day or two," was the reply. "I shan't trouble you, Mr. Cole."

"My dear sir, that wasn't my meaning at all. I'm only sorry I shall not see something of you on your own heath. I can't thank you enough for your kind suggestion. When do you suppose the Braithwaites could do with me?"

His charming smile rebuked my impatience.

"We must first see whether they can do with you at all," said he. "I sincerely hope they can; but this is their time of year for tourists, though perhaps a little late. I'll tell you what I'll do. As a matter of fact, I'm going down there to-morrow, and I've got to telegraph to my place in any case to tell them when to meet me. I'll send the telegram first thing, and I'll make them send one back to say whether there's room in the cottage or not."

I thanked him warmly, but asked if the cottage was close to Kirby Hall, and whether this would not be giving a deal of trouble at the other end; whereupon he mischievously misunderstood me a second time, saying the cottage and the hall were not even in sight of each other, and I really had no intrusion to fear, as he was a lonely bachelor like myself, and would only be up there four or five days at the most. So I made my appreciation of his society plainer than ever to him; for indeed I had found a more refreshing pleasure in it already than I had hoped to derive from mortal man again; and we parted, at three o'clock in the morning, like old fast friends.

"Only don't expect too much, my dear Mr. Cole," were his last words to me. "My own place is as ancient and as tumble-down as most ruins that you pay to see over. And I'm never there myself because—I tell you frankly—I hate it like poison!"



CHAPTER VIII. A SMALL PRECAUTION

My delight in the society of this young Squire Rattray (as I soon was to hear him styled) had been such as to make me almost forget the sinister incident which had brought us together. When I returned to my room, however, there were the open window and the litter on the floor to remind me of what had happened earlier in the night. Yet I was less disconcerted than you might suppose. A common housebreaker can have few terrors for one who has braved those of mid-ocean single-handed; my would-be visitor had no longer any for me; for it had not yet occurred to me to connect him with the voices and the footsteps to which, indeed, I had been unable to swear before the doctor. On the other hand, these morbid imaginings (as I was far from unwilling to consider them) had one and all deserted me in the sane, clean company of the capital young fellow in the next room.

I have confessed my condition up to the time of this queer meeting. I have tried to bring young Rattray before you with some hint of his freshness and his boyish charm; and though the sense of failure is heavy upon me there, I who knew the man knew also that I must fail to do him justice. Enough may have been said, however, to impart some faint idea of what this youth was to me in the bitter and embittering anti-climax of my life. Conventional figures spring to my pen, but every one of them is true; he was flowers in spring, he was sunshine after rain, he was rain following long months of drought. I slept admirably after all; and I awoke to see the overturned toilet-table, and to thrill as I remembered there was one fellow-creature with whom I could fraternize without fear of a rude reopening of my every wound.

I hurried my dressing in the hope of our breakfasting together. I knocked at the next door, and, receiving no answer, even ventured to enter, with the same idea. He was not there. He was not in the coffee-room. He was not in the hotel.

I broke my fast in disappointed solitude, and I hung about disconsolate all the morning, looking wistfully for my new-made friend. Towards mid-day he drove up in a cab which he kept waiting at the curb.

"It's all right!" he cried out in his hearty way. "I sent my telegram first thing, and I've had the answer at my club. The rooms are vacant, and I'll see that Jane Braithwaite has all ready for you by to-morrow night."

I thanked him from my heart. "You seem in a hurry!" I added, as I followed him up the stairs.

"I am," said he. "It's a near thing for the train. I've just time to stick in my things."

"Then I'll stick in mine," said I impulsively, "and I'll come with you, and doss down in any corner for the night."

He stopped and turned on the stairs.

"You mustn't do that," said he; "they won't have anything ready. I'm going to make it my privilege to see that everything is as cosey as possible when you arrive. I simply can't allow you to come to-day, Mr. Cole!" He smiled, but I saw that he was in earnest, and of course I gave in.

"All right," said I; "then I must content myself with seeing you off at the station."

To my surprise his smile faded, and a flush of undisguised annoyance made him, if anything, better-looking than ever. It brought out a certain strength of mouth and jaw which I had not observed there hitherto. It gave him an ugliness of expression which only emphasized his perfection of feature.

"You mustn't do that either," said he, shortly. "I have an appointment at the station. I shall be talking business all the time."

He was gone to his room, and I went to mine feeling duly snubbed; yet I deserved it; for I had exhibited a characteristic (though not chronic) want of taste, of which I am sometimes guilty to this day. Not to show ill-feeling on the head of it, I nevertheless followed him down again in four or five minutes. And I was rewarded by his brightest smile as he grasped my hand.

"Come to-morrow by the same train," said he, naming station, line, and hour; "unless I telegraph, all will be ready and you shall be met. You may rely on reasonable charges. As to the fishing, go up-stream—to the right when you strike the beck—and you'll find a good pool or two. I may have to go to Lancaster the day after to-morrow, but I shall give you a call when I get back."

With that we parted, as good friends as ever. I observed that my regret at losing him was shared by the boots, who stood beside me on the steps as his hansom rattled off.

"I suppose Mr. Rattray stays here always when he comes to town?" said I.

"No, sir," said the man, "we've never had him before, not in my time; but I shouldn't mind if he came again." And he looked twice at the coin in his hand before pocketing it with evident satisfaction.

Lonely as I was, and wished to be, I think that I never felt my loneliness as I did during the twenty-four hours which intervened between Rattray's departure and my own. They dragged like wet days by the sea, and the effect was as depressing. I have seldom been at such a loss for something to do; and in my idleness I behaved like a child, wishing my new friend back again, or myself on the railway with my new friend, until I blushed for the beanstalk growth of my regard for him, an utter stranger, and a younger man. I am less ashamed of it now: he had come into my dark life like a lamp, and his going left a darkness deeper than before.

In my dejection I took a new view of the night's outrage. It was no common burglar's work, for what had I worth stealing? It was the work of my unseen enemies, who dogged me in the street; they alone knew why; the doctor had called these hallucinations, and I had forced myself to agree with the doctor; but I could not deceive myself in my present mood. I remembered the steps, the steps—the stopping when I stopped—the drawing away in the crowded streets—-the closing up in quieter places. Why had I never looked round? Why? Because till to-day I had thought it mere vulgar curiosity; because a few had bored me, I had imagined the many at my heels; but now I knew—I knew! It was the few again: a few who hated me even unto death.

The idea took such a hold upon me that I did not trouble my head with reasons and motives. Certain persons had designs upon my life; that was enough for me. On the whole, the thought was stimulating; it set a new value on existence, and it roused a certain amount of spirit even in me. I would give the fellows another chance before I left town. They should follow me once more, and this time to some purpose. Last night they had left a knife on me; to-night I would have a keepsake ready for them.

Hitherto I had gone unarmed since my landing, which, perhaps, was no more than my duty as a civilized citizen. On Black Hill Flats, however, I had formed another habit, of which I should never have broken myself so easily, but for the fact that all the firearms I ever had were reddening and rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. I now went out and bought me such a one as I had never possessed before.

The revolver was then in its infancy; but it did exist; and by dusk I was owner of as fine a specimen as could be procured in the city of London. It had but five chambers, but the barrel was ten inches long; one had to cap it, and to put in the powder and the wadded bullet separately; but the last-named would have killed an elephant. The oak case that I bought with it cumbers my desk as I write, and, shut, you would think that it had never contained anything more lethal than fruit-knives. I open it, and there are the green-baize compartments, one with a box of percussion caps, still apparently full, another that could not contain many more wadded-bullets, and a third with a powder-horn which can never have been much lighter. Within the lid is a label bearing the makers' names; the gentlemen themselves are unknown to me, even if they are still alive; nevertheless, after five-and-forty years, let me dip my pen to Messrs. Deane, Adams and Deane!

That night I left this case in my room, locked, and the key in my waistcoat pocket; in the right-hand side-pocket of my overcoat I carried my Deane and Adams, loaded in every chamber; also my right hand, as innocently as you could wish. And just that night I was not followed! I walked across Regent's Park, and I dawdled on Primrose Hill, without the least result. Down I turned into the Avenue Road, and presently was strolling between green fields towards Finchley. The moon was up, but nicely shaded by a thin coating of clouds which extended across the sky: it was an ideal night for it. It was also my last night in town, and I did want to give the beggars their last chance. But they did not even attempt to avail themselves of it: never once did they follow me: my ears were in too good training to make any mistake. And the reason only dawned on me as I drove back disappointed: they had followed me already to the gunsmith's!

Convinced of this, I entertained but little hope of another midnight visitor. Nevertheless, I put my light out early, and sat a long time peeping through my blind; but only an inevitable Tom, with back hunched up and tail erect, broke the moonlit profile of the back-garden wall; and once more that disreputable music (which none the less had saved my life) was the only near sound all night.

I felt very reluctant to pack Deane and Adams away in his case next morning, and the case in my portmanteau, where I could not get at it in case my unknown friends took it into their heads to accompany me out of town. In the hope that they would, I kept him loaded, and in the same overcoat pocket, until late in the afternoon, when, being very near my northern destination, and having the compartment to myself, I locked the toy away with considerable remorse for the price I had paid for it. All down the line I had kept an eye for suspicious characters with an eye upon me; but even my self-consciousness failed to discover one; and I reached my haven of peace, and of fresh fell air, feeling, I suppose, much like any other fool who has spent his money upon a white elephant.



CHAPTER IX. MY CONVALESCENT HOME

The man Braithwaite met me at the station with a spring cart. The very porters seemed to expect me, and my luggage was in the cart before I had given up my ticket. Nor had we started when I first noticed that Braithwaite did not speak when I spoke to him. On the way, however, a more flagrant instance recalled young Rattray's remark, that the man was "not like other people." I had imagined it to refer to a mental, not a physical, defect; whereas it was clear to me now that my prospective landlord was stone-deaf, and I presently discovered him to be dumb as well. Thereafter I studied him with some attention during our drive of four or five miles. I called to mind the theory that an innate physical deficiency is seldom without its moral counterpart, and I wondered how far this would apply to the deaf-mute at my side, who was ill-grown, wizened, and puny into the bargain. The brow-beaten face of him was certainly forbidding, and he thrashed his horse up the hills in a dogged, vindictive, thorough-going way which at length made me jump out and climb one of them on foot. It was the only form of protest that occurred to me.

The evening was damp and thick. It melted into night as we drove. I could form no impression of the country, but this seemed desolate enough. I believe we met no living soul on the high road which we followed for the first three miles or more. At length we turned into a narrow lane, with a stiff stone wall on either hand, and this eventually led us past the lights of what appeared to be a large farm; it was really a small hamlet; and now we were nearing our destination. Gates had to be opened, and my poor driver breathed hard from the continual getting down and up. In the end a long and heavy cart-track brought us to the loneliest light that I have ever seen. It shone on the side of a hill—in the heart of an open wilderness—as solitary as a beacon-light at sea. It was the light of the cottage which was to be my temporary home.

A very tall, gaunt woman stood in the doorway against the inner glow. She advanced with a loose, long stride, and invited me to enter in a voice harsh (I took it) from disuse. I was warming myself before the kitchen fire when she came in carrying my heaviest box as though it had nothing in it. I ran to take it from her, for the box was full of books, but she shook her head, and was on the stairs with it before I could intercept her.

I conceive that very few men are attracted by abnormal strength in a woman; we cannot help it; and yet it was not her strength which first repelled me in Mrs. Braithwaite. It was a combination of attributes. She had a poll of very dirty and untidy red hair; her eyes were set close together; she had the jowl of the traditional prize-fighter. But far more disagreeable than any single feature was the woman's expression, or rather the expression which I caught her assuming naturally, and banishing with an effort for my benefit. To me she was strenuously civil in her uncouth way. But I saw her give her husband one look, as he staggered in with my comparatively light portmanteau, which she instantly snatched out of his feeble arms. I saw this look again before the evening was out, and it was such a one as Braithwaite himself had fixed upon his horse as he flogged it up the hills.

I began to wonder how the young squire had found it in his conscience to recommend such a pair. I wondered less when the woman finally ushered me upstairs to my rooms. These were small and rugged, but eminently snug and clean. In each a good fire blazed cheerfully; my portmanteau was already unstrapped, the table in the sitting-room already laid; and I could not help looking twice at the silver and the glass, so bright was their condition, so good their quality. Mrs. Braithwaite watched me from the door.

"I doubt you'll be thinking them's our own," said she. "I wish they were; t'squire sent 'em in this afternoon."

"For my use?"

"Ay; I doubt he thought what we had ourselves wasn't good enough. An' it's him 'at sent t' armchair, t'bed-linen, t'bath, an' that there lookin'-glass an' all."

She had followed me into the bedroom, where I looked with redoubled interest at each object as she mentioned it, and it was in the glass—a masqueline shaving-glass—that I caught my second glimpse of my landlady's evil expression—levelled this time at myself.

I instantly turned round and told her that I thought it very kind of Mr. Rattray, but that, for my part, I was not a luxurious man, and that I felt rather sorry the matter had not been left entirely in her hands. She retired seemingly mollified, and she took my sympathy with her, though I was none the less pleased and cheered by my new friend's zeal for my comfort; there were even flowers on my table, without a doubt from Kirby Hall.

And in another matter the squire had not misled me: the woman was an excellent plain cook. I expected ham and eggs. Sure enough, this was my dish, but done to a turn. The eggs were new and all unbroken, the ham so lean and yet so tender, that I would not have exchanged my humble, hearty meal for the best dinner served that night in London. It made a new man of me, after my long journey and my cold, damp drive. I was for chatting with Mrs. Braithwaite when she came up to clear away. I thought she might be glad to talk after the life she must lead with her afflicted husband, but it seemed to have had the opposite effect on her. All I elicited was an ambiguous statement as to the distance between the cottage and the hall; it was "not so far." And so she left me to my pipe and to my best night yet, in the stillest spot I have ever slept in on dry land; one heard nothing but the bubble of a beck; and it seemed very, very far away.

A fine, bright morning showed me my new surroundings in their true colors; even in the sunshine these were not very gay. But gayety was the last thing I wanted. Peace and quiet were my whole desire, and both were here, set in scenery at once lovely to the eye and bracing to the soul.

From the cottage doorstep one looked upon a perfect panorama of healthy, open English country. Purple hills hemmed in a broad, green, undulating plateau, scored across and across by the stone walls of the north, and all dappled with the shadows of rolling leaden clouds with silver fringes. Miles away a church spire stuck like a spike out of the hollow, and the smoke of a village dimmed the trees behind. No nearer habitation could I see. I have mentioned a hamlet which we passed in the spring-cart. It lay hidden behind some hillocks to the left. My landlady told me it was better than half a mile away, and "nothing when you get there; no shop; no post-office; not even a public—house."

I inquired in which direction lay the hall. She pointed to the nearest trees, a small forest of stunted oaks, which shut in the view to the right, after quarter of a mile of a bare and rugged valley. Through this valley twisted the beck which I had heard faintly in the night. It ran through the oak plantation and so to the sea, some two or three miles further on, said my landlady; but nobody would have thought it was so near.

"T'squire was to be away to-day," observed the woman, with the broad vowel sound which I shall not attempt to reproduce in print. "He was going to Lancaster, I believe."

"So I understood," said I. "I didn't think of troubling him, if that's what you mean. I'm going to take his advice and fish the beck."

And I proceeded to do so after a hearty early dinner: the keen, chill air was doing me good already: the "perfect quiet" was finding its way into my soul. I blessed my specialist, I blessed Squire Rattray, I blessed the very villains who had brought us within each other's ken; and nowhere was my thanksgiving more fervent than in the deep cleft threaded by the beck; for here the shrewd yet gentle wind passed completely overhead, and the silence was purged of oppression by the ceaseless symphony of clear water running over clean stones.

But it was no day for fishing, and no place for the fly, though I went through the form of throwing one for several hours. Here the stream merely rinsed its bed, there it stood so still, in pools of liquid amber, that, when the sun shone, the very pebbles showed their shadows in the deepest places. Of course I caught nothing; but, towards the close of the gold-brown afternoon, I made yet another new acquaintance, in the person of a little old clergyman who attacked me pleasantly from the rear.

"Bad day for fishing, sir," croaked the cheery voice which first informed me of his presence. "Ah, I knew it must be a stranger," he cried as I turned and he hopped down to my side with the activity of a much younger man.

"Yes," I said, "I only came down from London yesterday. I find the spot so delightful that I haven't bothered much about the sport. Still, I've had about enough of it now." And I prepared to take my rod to pieces.

"Spot and sport!" laughed the old gentleman. "Didn't mean it for a pun, I hope? Never could endure puns! So you came down yesterday, young gentleman, did you? And where may you be staying?"

I described the position of my cottage without the slightest hesitation; for this parson did not scare me; except in appearance he had so little in common with his type as I knew it. He had, however, about the shrewdest pair of eyes that I have ever seen, and my answer only served to intensify their open scrutiny.

"How on earth did you come to hear of a God-forsaken place like this?" said he, making use, I thought, of a somewhat stronger expression than quite became his cloth.

"Squire Rattray told me of it," said I.

"Ha! So you're a friend of his, are you?" And his eyes went through and through me like knitting-needles through a ball of wool.

"I could hardly call myself that," said I. "But Mr. Rattray has been very kind to me."

"Meet him in town?"

I said I had, but I said it with some coolness, for his tone had dropped into the confidential, and I disliked it as much as this string of questions from a stranger.

"Long ago, sir?" he pursued.

"No, sir; not long ago," I retorted.

"May I ask your name?" said he.

"You may ask what you like," I cried, with a final reversal of all my first impressions of this impertinent old fellow; "but I'm hanged if I tell it you! I am here for rest and quiet, sir. I don't ask you your name. I can't for the life of me see what right you have to ask me mine, or to question me at all, for that matter."

He favored me with a brief glance of extraordinary suspicion. It faded away in mere surprise, and, next instant, my elderly and reverend friend was causing me some compunction by coloring like a boy.

"You may think my curiosity mere impertinence, sir," said he; "you would think otherwise if you knew as much as I do of Squire Rattray's friends, and how little you resemble the generality of them. You might even feel some sympathy for one of the neighboring clergy, to whom this godless young man has been for years as a thorn in their side."

He spoke so gravely, and what he said was so easy to believe, that I could not but apologize for my hasty words.

"Don't name it, sir," said the clergyman; "you had a perfect right to resent my questions, and I enjoy meeting young men of spirit; but not when it's an evil spirit, such as, I fear, possesses your friend! I do assure you, sir, that the best thing I have heard of him for years is the very little that you have told me. As a rule, to hear of him at all in this part of the world, is to wish that we had not heard. I see him coming, however, and shall detain you no longer, for I don't deny that there is no love lost between us."

I looked round, and there was Rattray on the top of the bank, a long way to the left, coming towards me with a waving hat. An extraordinary ejaculation brought me to the right-about next instant.

The old clergyman had slipped on a stone in mid-stream, and, as he dragged a dripping leg up the opposite bank, he had sworn an oath worthy of the "godless young man" who had put him to flight, and on whose demerits he had descanted with so much eloquence and indignation.



CHAPTER X. WINE AND WEAKNESS

"Sporting old parson who knows how to swear?" laughed Rattray. "Never saw him in my life before; wondered who the deuce he was."

"Really?" said I. "He professed to know something of you."

"Against me, you mean? My dear Cole, don't trouble to perjure yourself. I don't mind, believe me. They're easily shocked, these country clergy, and no doubt I'm a bugbear to 'em. Yet, I could have sworn I'd never seen this one before. Let's have another look."

We were walking away together. We turned on the top of the bank. And there the old clergyman was planted on the moorside, and watching us intently from under his hollowed hands.

"Well, I'm hanged!" exclaimed Rattray, as the hands fell and their owner beat a hasty retreat. My companion said no more; indeed, for some minutes we pursued our way in silence. And I thought that it was with an effort that he broke into sudden inquiries concerning my journey and my comfort at the cottage.

This gave me an opportunity of thanking him for his little attentions. "It was awfully good of you," said I, taking his arm as though I had known him all my life; nor do I think there was another living man with whom I would have linked arms at that time.

"Good?" cried he. "Nonsense, my dear sir! I'm only afraid you find it devilish rough. But, at all events, you're coming to dine with me to-night."

"Am I?" I asked, smiling.

"Rather!" said he. "My time here is short enough. I don't lose sight of you again between this and midnight."

"It's most awfully good of you," said I again.

"Wait till you see! You'll find it rough enough at my place; all my retainers are out for the day at a local show."

"Then I certainly shall not give you the trouble."

He interrupted me with his jovial laugh.

"My good fellow," he cried, "that's the fun of it! How do you suppose I've been spending the day? Told you I was going to Lancaster, did I? Well, I've been cooking our dinner instead—laying the table—getting up the wines—never had such a joke! Give you my word, I almost forgot I was in the wilderness!"

"So you're quite alone, are you?"

"Yes; as much so as that other beggar who was monarch of all he surveyed, his right there was none to dispute, from the what-is-it down to the glade—"

"I'll come," said I, as we reached the cottage. "Only first you must let me make myself decent."

"You're decent enough!"

"My boots are wet; my hands—"

"All serene! I'll give you five minutes."

And I left him outside, flourishing a handsome watch, while, on my way upstairs, I paused to tell Mrs. Braithwaite that I was dining at the hall. She was busy cooking, and I felt prepared for her unpleasant expression; but she showed no annoyance at my news. I formed the impression that it was no news to her. And next minute I heard a whispering below; it was unmistakable in that silent cottage, where not a word had reached me yet, save in conversation to which I was myself a party.

I looked out of window. Rattray I could no longer see. And I confess that I felt both puzzled and annoyed until we walked away together, when it was his arm which was immediately thrust through mine.

"A good soul, Jane," said he; "though she made an idiotic marriage, and leads a life which might spoil the temper of an archangel. She was my nurse when I was a youngster, Cole, and we never meet without a yarn." Which seemed natural enough; still I failed to perceive why they need yarn in whispers.

Kirby Hall proved startlingly near at hand. We descended the bare valley to the right, we crossed the beck upon a plank, were in the oak-plantation about a minute, and there was the hall upon the farther side.

And a queer old place it seemed, half farm, half feudal castle: fowls strutting at large about the back premises (which we were compelled to skirt), and then a front door of ponderous oak, deep-set between walls fully six feet thick, and studded all over with wooden pegs. The facade, indeed, was wholly grim, with a castellated tower at one end, and a number of narrow, sunken windows looking askance on the wreck and ruin of a once prim, old-fashioned, high-walled garden. I thought that Rattray might have shown more respect for the house of his ancestors. It put me in mind of a neglected grave. And yet I could forgive a bright young fellow for never coming near so desolate a domain.

We dined delightfully in a large and lofty hall, formerly used (said Rattray) as a court-room. The old judgment seat stood back against the wall, and our table was the one at which the justices had been wont to sit. Then the chamber had been low-ceiled; now it ran to the roof, and we ate our dinner beneath a square of fading autumn sky, with I wondered how many ghosts looking down on us from the oaken gallery! I was interested, impressed, awed not a little, and yet all in a way which afforded my mind the most welcome distraction from itself and from the past. To Rattray, on the other hand, it was rather sadly plain that the place was both a burden and a bore; in fact he vowed it was the dampest and the dullest old ruin under the sun, and that he would sell it to-morrow if he could find a lunatic to buy. His want of sentiment struck me as his one deplorable trait. Yet even this displayed his characteristic merit of frankness. Nor was it at all unpleasant to hear his merry, boyish laughter ringing round hall and gallery, ere it died away against a dozen closed doors.

And there were other elements of good cheer: a log fire blazing heartily in the old dog-grate, casting a glow over the stone flags, a reassuring flicker into the darkest corner: cold viands of the very best: and the finest old Madeira that has ever passed my lips.

Now, all my life I have been a "moderate drinker" in the most literal sense of that slightly elastic term. But at the sad time of which I am trying to write, I was almost an abstainer, from the fear, the temptation—of seeking oblivion in strong waters. To give way then was to go on giving way. I realized the danger, and I took stern measures. Not stern enough, however; for what I did not realize was my weak and nervous state, in which a glass would have the same effect on me as three or four upon a healthy man.

Heaven knows how much or how little I took that evening! I can swear it was the smaller half of either bottle—and the second we never finished—but the amount matters nothing. Even me it did not make grossly tipsy. But it warmed my blood, it cheered my heart, it excited my brain, and—it loosened my tongue. It set me talking with a freedom of which I should have been incapable in my normal moments, on a subject whereof I had never before spoken of my own free will. And yet the will to—speak—to my present companion—was no novelty. I had felt it at our first meeting in the private hotel. His tact, his sympathy, his handsome face, his personal charm, his frank friendliness, had one and all tempted me to bore this complete stranger with unsolicited confidences for which an inquisitive relative might have angled in vain. And the temptation was the stronger because I knew in my heart that I should not bore the young squire at all; that he was anxious enough to hear my story from my own lips, but too good a gentleman intentionally to betray such anxiety. Vanity was also in the impulse. A vulgar newspaper prominence had been my final (and very genuine) tribulation; but to please and to interest one so pleasing and so interesting to me, was another and a subtler thing. And then there was his sympathy—shall I add his admiration?—for my reward.

I do not pretend that I argued thus deliberately in my heated and excited brain. I merely hold that all these small reasons and motives were there, fused and exaggerated by the liquor which was there as well. Nor can I say positively that Rattray put no leading questions; only that I remember none which had that sound; and that, once started, I am afraid I needed only too little encouragement to run on and on.

Well, I was set going before we got up from the table. I continued in an armchair that my host dragged from a little book-lined room adjoining the hall. I finished on my legs, my back to the fire, my hands beating wildly together. I had told my dear Rattray of my own accord more than living man had extracted from me yet. He interrupted me very little; never once until I came to the murderous attack by Santos on the drunken steward.

"The brute!" cried Rattray. "The cowardly, cruel, foreign devil! And you never let out one word of that!"

"What was the good?" said I. "They are all gone now—all gone to their account. Every man of us was a brute at the last. There was nothing to be gained by telling the public that."

He let me go on until I came to another point which I had hitherto kept to myself: the condition of the dead mate's fingers: the cries that the sight of them had recalled.

"That Portuguese villain again!" cried my companion, fairly leaping from the chair which I had left and he had taken. "It was the work of the same cane that killed the steward. Don't tell me an Englishman would have done it; and yet you said nothing about that either!"

It was my first glimpse of this side of my young host's character. Nor did I admire him the less, in his spirited indignation, because much of this was clearly against myself. His eyes flashed. His face was white. I suddenly found myself the cooler man of the two.

"My dear fellow, do consider!" said I. "What possible end could have been served by my stating what I couldn't prove against a man who could never be brought to book in this world? Santos was punished as he deserved; his punishment was death, and there's an end on't."

"You might be right," said Rattray, "but it makes my blood boil to hear such a story. Forgive me if I have spoken strongly;" and he paced his hall for a little in an agitation which made me like him better and better. "The cold-blooded villain!" he kept muttering; "the infernal, foreign, blood-thirsty rascal! Perhaps you were right; it couldn't have done any good, I know; but—I only wish he'd lived for us to hang him, Cole! Why, a beast like that is capable of anything: I wonder if you've told me the worst even now?" And he stood before me, with candid suspicion in his fine, frank eyes.

"What makes you say that?" said I, rather nettled.

"I shan't tell you if it's going to rile you, old fellow," was his reply. And with it reappeared the charming youth whom I found it impossible to resist. "Heaven knows you have had enough to worry you!" he added, in his kindly, sympathetic voice.

"So much," said I, "that you cannot add to it, my dear Rattray. Now, then! Why do you think there was something worse?"

"You hinted as much in town: rightly or wrongly I gathered there was something you would never speak about to living man."

I turned from him with a groan.

"Ah! but that had nothing to do with Santos."

"Are you sure?" he cried.

"No," I murmured; "it had something to do with him, in a sense; but don't ask me any more." And I leaned my forehead on the high oak mantel-piece, and groaned again.

His hand was upon my shoulder.

"Do tell me," he urged. I was silent. He pressed me further. In my fancy, both hand and voice shook with his sympathy.

"He had a step-daughter," said I at last.

"Yes? Yes?"

"I loved her. That was all."

His hand dropped from my shoulder. I remained standing, stooping, thinking only of her whom I had lost for ever. The silence was intense. I could hear the wind sighing in the oaks without, the logs burning softly away at my feet And so we stood until the voice of Rattray recalled me from the deck of the Lady Jermyn and my lost love's side.

"So that was all!"

I turned and met a face I could not read.

"Was it not enough?" cried I. "What more would you have?"

"I expected some more-foul play!"

"Ah!" I exclaimed bitterly. "So that was all that interested you! No, there was no more foul play that I know of; and if there was, I don't care. Nothing matters to me but one thing. Now that you know what that is, I hope you're satisfied."

It was no way to speak to one's host. Yet I felt that he had pressed me unduly. I hated myself for my final confidence, and his want of sympathy made me hate him too. In my weakness, however, I was the natural prey of violent extremes. His hand flew out to me. He was about to speak. A moment more and I had doubtless forgiven him. But another sound came instead and made the pair of us start and stare. It was the soft shutting of some upstairs door.

"I thought we had the house to ourselves?" cried I, my miserable nerves on edge in an instant.

"So did I," he answered, very pale. "My servants must have come back. By the Lord Harry, they shall hear of this!"

He sprang to a door, I heard his feet clattering up some stone stairs, and in a trice he was running along the gallery overhead; in another I heard him railing behind some upper door that he had flung open and banged behind him; then his voice dropped, and finally died away. I was left some minutes in the oppressively silent hall, shaken, startled, ashamed of my garrulity, aching to get away. When he returned it was by another of the many closed doors, and he found me awaiting him, hat in hand. He was wearing his happiest look until he saw my hat.

"Not going?" he cried. "My dear Cole, I can't apologize sufficiently for my abrupt desertion of you, much less for the cause. It was my man, just come in from the show, and gone up the back way. I accused him of listening to our conversation. Of course he denies it; but it really doesn't matter, as I'm sorry to say he's much too 'fresh' (as they call it down here) to remember anything to-morrow morning. I let him have it, I can tell you. Varlet! Caitiff! But if you bolt off on the head of it, I shall go back and sack him into the bargain!"

I assured him I had my own reasons for wishing to retire early. He could have no conception of my weakness, my low and nervous condition of body and mind; much as I had enjoyed myself, he must really let me go. Another glass of wine, then? Just one more? No, I had drunk too much already. I was in no state to stand it. And I held out my hand with decision.

Instead of taking it he looked at me very hard.

"The place doesn't suit you," said he. "I see it doesn't, and I'm devilish sorry! Take my advice and try something milder; now do, to-morrow; for I should never forgive myself if it made you worse instead of better; and the air is too strong for lots of people."

I was neither too ill nor too vexed to laugh outright in his face.

"It's not the air," said I; "it's that splendid old Madeira of yours, that was too strong for me, if you like! No, no, Rattray, you don't get rid of me so cheaply-much as you seem to want to!"

"I was only thinking of you," he rejoined, with a touch of pique that convinced me of his sincerity. "Of course I want you to stop, though I shan't be here many days; but I feel responsible for you, Cole, and that's the fact. Think you can find your way?" he continued, accompanying me to the gate, a postern in the high garden wall. "Hadn't you better have a lantern?"

No; it was unnecessary. I could see splendidly, had the bump of locality and as many more lies as would come to my tongue. I was indeed burning to be gone.

A moment later I feared that I had shown this too plainly. For his final handshake was hearty enough to send me away something ashamed of my precipitancy, and with a further sense of having shown him small gratitude for his kindly anxiety on my behalf. I would behave differently to-morrow. Meanwhile I had new regrets.

At first it was comparatively easy to see, for the lights of the house shone faintly among the nearer oaks. But the moon was hidden behind heavy clouds, and I soon found myself at a loss in a terribly dark zone of timber. Already I had left the path. I felt in my pocket for matches. I had none.

My head was now clear enough, only deservedly heavy. I was still quarrelling with myself for my indiscretions and my incivilities, one and all the result of his wine and my weakness, and this new predicament (another and yet more vulgar result) was the final mortification. I swore aloud. I simply could not see a foot in front of my face. Once I proved it by running my head hard against a branch. I was hopelessly and ridiculously lost within a hundred yards of the hall!

Some minutes I floundered, ashamed to go back, unable to proceed for the trees and the darkness. I heard the heck running over its stones. I could still see an occasional glimmer from the windows I had left. But the light was now on this side, now on that; the running water chuckled in one ear after the other; there was nothing for it but to return in all humility for the lantern which I had been so foolish as to refuse.

And as I resigned myself to this imperative though inglorious course, my heart warmed once more to the jovial young squire. He would laugh, but not unkindly, at my grotesque dilemma; at the thought of his laughter I began to smile myself. If he gave me another chance I would smoke that cigar with him before starting home afresh, and remove, front my own mind no less than from his, all ill impressions. After all it was not his fault that I had taken too much of his wine; but a far worse offence was to be sulky in one s cups. I would show him that I was myself again in all respects. I have admitted that I was temporarily, at all events, a creature of extreme moods. It was in this one that I retraced my steps towards the lights, and at length let myself into the garden by the postern at which I had shaken Rattray's hand not ten minutes before.

Taking heart of grace, I stepped up jauntily to the porch. The weeds muffled my steps. I myself had never thought of doing so, when all at once I halted in a vague terror. Through the deep lattice windows I had seen into the lighted hall. And Rattray was once more seated at his table, a little company of men around him.

I crept nearer, and my heart stopped. Was I delirious, or raving mad with wine? Or had the sea given up its dead?



CHAPTER XI. I LIVE AGAIN

Squire Rattray, as I say, was seated at the head of his table, where the broken meats still lay as he and I had left them; his fingers, I remember, were playing with a crust, and his eyes fixed upon a distant door, as he leant back in his chair. Behind him hovered the nigger of the Lady Jermyn, whom I had been the slower to recognize, had not her skipper sat facing me on the squire's right. Yes, there was Captain Harris in the flesh, eating heartily between great gulps of wine, instead of feeding the fishes as all the world supposed. And nearer still, nearer me than any, with his back to my window but his chair slued round a little, so that he also could see that door, and I his profile, sat Joaquin Santos with his cigarette!

None spoke; all seemed waiting; and all were silent but the captain, whose vulgar champing reached me through the crazy lattice, as I stood spellbound and petrified without.

They say that a drowning man lives his life again before the last; but my own fight with the sea provided me with no such moments of vivid and rapid retrospect as those during which I stood breathless outside the lighted windows of Kirby Hall. I landed again. I was dogged day and night. I set it down to nerves and notoriety; but took refuge in a private hotel. One followed me, engaged the next room, set a watch on all my movements; another came in by the window to murder me in my bed; no party to that, the first one nevertheless turned the outrage to account, wormed himself into my friendship on the strength of it, and lured me hither, an easy prey. And here was the gang of them, to meet me! No wonder Rattray had not let me see him off at the station; no wonder I had not been followed that night. Every link I saw in its right light instantly. Only the motive remained obscure. Suspicious circumstances swarmed upon my slow perception: how innocent I had been! Less innocent, however, than wilfully and wholly reckless: what had it mattered with whom I made friends? What had anything mattered to me? What did anything matter—

I thought my heart had snapped!

Why were they watching that door, Joaquin Santos and the young squire? Whom did they await? I knew! Oh, I knew! My heart leaped, my blood danced, my eyes lay in wait with theirs. Everything began to matter once more. It was as though the machinery of my soul, long stopped, had suddenly been set in motion; it was as though I was born again.

How long we seemed to wait I need not say. It cannot have been many moments in reality, for Santos was blowing his rings of smoke in the direction of the door, and the first that I noticed were but dissolving when it opened—and the best was true! One instant I saw her very clearly, in the light of a candle which she carried in its silver stick; then a mist blinded me, and I fell on my knees in the rank bed into which I had stepped, to give such thanks to the Almighty as this heart has never felt before or since. And I remained kneeling; for now my face was on a level with the sill; and when my eyes could see again, there stood my darling before them in the room.

Like a queen she stood, in the very travelling cloak in which I had seen her last; it was tattered now, but she held it close about her as though a shrewd wind bit her to the core. Her sweet face was all peeked and pale in the candle-light: she who had been a child was come to womanhood in a few weeks. But a new spirit flashed in her dear eyes, a new strength hardened her young lips. She stood as an angel brought to book by devils; and so noble was her calm defiance, so serene her scorn, that, as I watched and listened; all present fear for her passed out of my heart.

The first sound was the hasty rising of young Rattray; he was at Eva's side next instant, essaying to lead her to his chair, with a flush which deepened as she repulsed him coldly.

"You have sent for me, and I have come," said she. "But I prefer not to sit down in your presence; and what you have to say, you will be good enough to say as quickly as possible, that I may go again before I am—stifled!"

It was her one hot word; aimed at them all, it seemed to me to fall like a lash on Rattray's cheek, bringing the blood to it like lightning. But it was Santos who snatched the cigarette from his mouth, and opened upon the defenceless girl in a torrent of Portuguese, yellow with rage, and a very windmill of lean arms and brown hands in the terrifying rapidity of his gesticulations. They did not terrify Eva Denison. When Rattray took a step towards the speaker, with flashing eyes, it was some word from Eva that checked him; when Santos was done, it was to Rattray that she turned with her answer.

"He calls me a liar for telling you that Mr. Cole knew all," said she, thrilling me with my own name. "Don't you say anything," she added, as the young man turned on Santos with a scowl; "you are one as wicked as the other, but there was a time when I thought differently of you: his character I have always known. Of the two evils, I prefer to speak to you."

Rattray bowed, humbly enough, I thought; but my darling's nostrils only curled the more.

"He calls me a liar," she continued; "so may you all. Since you have found it out, I admit it freely and without shame; one must be false in the hands of false fiends like all of you. Weakness is nothing to you; helplessness is nothing; you must be met with your own weapons, and so I lied in my sore extremity to gain the one miserable advantage within my reach. He says you found me out by making friends with Mr. Cole. He says that Mr. Cole has been dining with you in this very room, this very night. You still tell the truth sometimes; has that man—that demon—told it for once?"

"It is perfectly true," said Rattray in a low voice.

"And poor Mr. Cole told you that he knew nothing of your villany?"

"I found out that he knew absolutely nothing—after first thinking otherwise."

"Suppose he had known? What would you have done?"

Rattray said nothing. Santos shrugged as he lit a fresh cigarette. The captain went on with his supper.

"Ashamed to say!" cried Eva Denison. "So you have some shame left still! Well, I will tell you. You would have murdered him, as you murdered all the rest; you would have killed him in cold blood, as I wish and pray that you would kill me!"

The young fellow faced her, white to the lips. "You have no right to say that, Miss Denison!" he cried. "I may be bad, but, as I am ready to answer for my sins, the crime of murder is not among them."

Well, it is still some satisfaction to remember that my love never punished me with such a look as was the young squire's reward for this protestation. The curl of the pink nostrils, the parting of the proud lips, the gleam of the sound white teeth, before a word was spoken, were more than I, for one, could have borne. For I did not see the grief underlying the scorn, but actually found it in my heart to pity this poor devil of a Rattray: so humbly fell those fine eyes of his, so like a dog did he stand, waiting to be whipped.

"Yes; you are very innocent!" she began at last, so softly that I could scarcely hear. "You have not committed murder, so you say; let it stand to your credit by all means. You have no blood upon your hands; you say so; that is enough. No! you are comparatively innocent, I admit. All you have done is to make murder easy for others; to get others to do the dirty work, and then shelter them and share the gain; all you need have on your conscience is every life that was lost with the Lady Jermyn, and every soul that lost itself in losing them. You call that innocence? Then give me honest guilt! Give me the man who set fire to the ship, and who sits there eating his supper; he is more of a man than you. Give me the wretch who has beaten men to death before my eyes; there's something great about a monster like that, there's something to loathe. His assistant is only little—mean—despicable!" Loud and hurried in its wrath, low and deliberate in its contempt, all this was uttered with a furious and abnormal eloquence, which would have struck me, loving her, to the ground. On Rattray it had a different effect. His head lifted as she heaped abuse upon it, until he met her flashing eye with that of a man very thankful to take his deserts and something more; and to mine he was least despicable when that last word left her lips. When he saw that it was her last, he took her candle (she had put it down on the ancient settle against the door), and presented it to her with another bow. And so without a word he led her to the door, opened it, and bowed yet lower as she swept out, but still without a tinge of mockery in the obeisance.

He was closing the door after her when Joaquin Santos reached it.

"Diablo!" cried he. "Why let her go? We have not done with her."

"That doesn't matter; she is done with us," was the stern reply.

"It does matter," retorted Santos; "what is more, she is my step-daughter, and back she shall come!"

"She is also my visitor, and I'm damned if you're going to make her!"

An instant Santos stood, his back to me, his fingers working, his neck brown with blood; then his coat went into creases across the shoulders, and he was shrugging still as he turned away.

"Your veesitor!" said he. "Your veesitor! Your veesitor!"

Harris laughed outright as he raised his glass; the hot young squire had him by the collar, and the wine was spilling on the cloth, as I rose very cautiously and crept back to the path.

"When rogues fall out!" I was thinking to myself. "I shall save her yet—I shall save my darling!"

Already I was accustomed to the thought that she still lived, and to the big heart she had set beating in my feeble frame; already the continued existence of these villains, with the first dim inkling of their villainy, was ceasing to be a novelty in a brain now quickened and prehensile beyond belief. And yet—but a few minutes had I knelt at the window—but a few more was it since Rattray and I had shaken hands!

Not his visitor; his prisoner, without a doubt; but alive! alive! and, neither guest nor prisoner for many hours more. O my love! O my heart's delight! Now I knew why I was spared; to save her; to snatch her from these rascals; to cherish and protect her evermore!

All the past shone clear behind me; the dark was lightness and the crooked straight. All the future lay clear ahead it presented no difficulties yet; a mad, ecstatic confidence was mine for the wildest, happiest moments of my life.

I stood upright in the darkness. I saw her light!

It was ascending the tower at the building's end; now in this window it glimmered, now in the one above. At last it was steady, high up near the stars, and I stole below.

"Eva! Eva!"

There was no answer. Low as it was, my voice was alarming; it cooled and cautioned me. I sought little stones. I crept back to throw them. Ah God! her form eclipsed that lighted slit in the gray stone tower. I heard her weeping high above me at her window.

"Eva! Eva!"

There was a pause, and then a little cry of gladness.

"Is it Mr. Cole?" came in an eager whisper through her tears.

"Yes! yes! I was outside the window. I heard everything."

"They will hear you!" she cried softly, in a steadier voice.

"No-listen!" They were quarrelling. Rattray's voice was loud and angry. "They cannot hear," I continued, in more cautious tones; "they think I'm in bed and asleep half-a-mile away. Oh, thank God! I'll get you away from them; trust me, my love, my darling!"

In my madness I knew not what I said; it was my wild heart speaking. Some moments passed before she replied.

"Will you promise to do nothing I ask you not to do?"

"Of course."

"My life might answer for it—"

"I promise—I promise."

"Then wait—hide—watch my light. When you see it back in the window, watch with all your eyes! I am going to write and then throw it out. Not another syllable!"

She was gone; there was a long yellow slit in the masonry once more; her light burnt faint and far within.

I retreated among some bushes and kept watch.

The moon was skimming beneath the surface of a sea of clouds: now the black billows had silver crests: now an incandescent buoy bobbed among them. O for enough light, and no more!

In the hall the high voices were more subdued. I heard the captain's tipsy laugh. My eyes fastened themselves upon that faint and lofty light, and on my heels I crouched among the bushes.

The flame moved, flickered, and shone small but brilliant on the very sill. I ran forward on tip-toe. A white flake fluttered to my feet. I secured it and waited for one word; none came; but the window was softly shut.

I stood in doubt, the treacherous moonlight all over me now, and once more the window opened.

"Go quickly!"

And again it was shut; next moment I was stealing close by the spot where I had knelt. I saw within once more.

Harris nodded in his chair. The nigger had disappeared. Rattray was lighting a candle, and the Portuguese holding out his hand for the match.

"Did you lock the gate, senhor?" asked Santos.

"No; but I will now."

As I opened it I heard a door open within. I could hardly let the latch down again for the sudden trembling of my fingers. The key turned behind me ere I had twenty yards' start.

Thank God there was light enough now! I followed the beck. I found my way. I stood in the open valley, between the oak-plantation and my desolate cottage, and I kissed my tiny, twisted note again and again in a paroxysm of passion and of insensate joy. Then I unfolded it and held it to my eyes in the keen October moonshine.



CHAPTER XII. MY LADY'S BIDDING

Scribbled in sore haste, by a very tremulous little hand, with a pencil, on the flyleaf of some book, my darling's message is still difficult to read; it was doubly so in the moonlight, five-and-forty autumns ago. My eyesight, however, was then perhaps the soundest thing about me, and in a little I had deciphered enough to guess correctly (as it proved) at the whole:—

"You say you heard everything just now, and there is no time for further explanations. I am in the hands of villains, but not ill-treated, though they are one as bad as the other. You will not find it easy to rescue me. I don't see how it is to be done. You have promised not to do anything I ask you not to do, and I implore you not to tell a soul until you have seen me again and heard more. You might just as well kill me as come back now with help.

"You see you know nothing, though I told them you knew all. And so you shall as soon as I can see you for five minutes face to face. In the meantime do nothing—know nothing when you see Mr. Rattray—unless you wish to be my death.

"It would have been possible last night, and it may be again to-morrow night. They all go out every night when they can, except Jose, who is left in charge. They are out from nine or ten till two or three; if they are out to-morrow night my candle will be close to the window as I shall put it when I have finished this. You can see my window from over the wall. If the light is in front you must climb the wall, for they will leave the gate locked. I shall see you and will bribe Jose to let me out for a turn. He has done it before for a bottle of wine. I can manage him. Can I trust to you? If you break your promise—but you will not? One of them would as soon kill me as smoke a cigarette, and the rest are under his thumb. I dare not write more. But my life is in your hands.

"EVA DENISON."

"Oh! beware of the woman Braithwaite; she is about the worst of the gang."

I could have burst out crying in my bitter discomfiture, mortification, and alarm: to think that her life was in my hands, and that it depended, not on that prompt action which was the one course I had contemplated, but on twenty-four hours of resolute inactivity! I would not think it. I refused the condition. It took away my one prop, my one stay, that prospect of immediate measures which alone preserved in me such coolness as I had retained until now. I was cool no longer; where I had relied on practical direction I was baffled and hindered and driven mad; on my honor believe I was little less for some moments, groaning, cursing, and beating the air with impotent fists—in one of them my poor love's letter crushed already to a ball.

Danger and difficulty I had been prepared to face; but the task that I was set was a hundred-fold harder than any that had whirled through my teeming brain. To sit still; to do nothing; to pretend I knew nothing; an hour of it would destroy my reason—and I was invited to wait twenty-four!

No; my word was passed; keep it I must. She knew the men, she must know best; and her life depended on my obedience: she made that so plain. Obey I must and would; to make a start, I tottered over the plank that spanned the beck, and soon I saw the cottage against the moonlit sky. I came up to it. I drew back in sudden fear. It was alight upstairs and down, and the gaunt strong figure of the woman Braithwaite stood out as I had seen it first, in the doorway, with the light showing warmly through her rank red hair.

"Is that you, Mr. Cole?" she cried in a tone that she reserved for me; yet through the forced amiability there rang a note of genuine surprise. She had been prepared for me never to return at all!

My knees gave under me as I forced myself to advance; but my wits took new life from the crisis, and in a flash I saw how to turn my weakness into account. I made a false step on my way to the door; when I reached it I leant heavily against the jam, and I said with a slur that I felt unwell. I had certainly been flushed with wine when I left Rattray; it would be no bad thing for him to hear that I had arrived quite tipsy at the cottage; should he discover I had been near an hour on the way, here was my explanation cut and dried.

So I shammed a degree of intoxication with apparent success, and Jane Braithwaite gave me her arm up the stairs. My God, how strong it was, and how weak was mine!

Left to myself, I reeled about my bedroom, pretending to undress; then out with my candles, and into bed in all my clothes, until the cottage should be quiet. Yes, I must lie still and feign sleep, with every nerve and fibre leaping within me, lest the she-devil below should suspect me of suspicions! It was with her I had to cope for the next four-and-twenty hours; and she filled me with a greater present terror than all those villains at the hall; for had not their poor little helpless captive described her as "about the worst of the gang?"

To think that my love lay helpless there in the hands of those wretches; and to think that her lover lay helpless here in the supervision of this vile virago!

It must have been one or two in the morning when I stole to my sitting-room window, opened it, and sat down to think steadily, with the counterpane about my shoulders.

The moon sailed high and almost full above the clouds; these were dispersing as the night wore on, and such as remained were of a beautiful soft tint between white and gray. The sky was too light for stars, and beneath it the open country stretched so clear and far that it was as though one looked out at noonday through slate-colored glass. Down the dewy slope below my window a few calves fed with toothless mouthings; the beck was very audible, the oak-trees less so; but for these peaceful sounds the stillness and the solitude were equally intense.

I may have sat there like a mouse for half an hour. The reason was that I had become mercifully engrossed in one of the subsidiary problems: whether it would be better to drop from the window or to trust to the creaking stairs. Would the creaking be much worse than the thud, and the difference worth the risk of a sprained ankle? Well worth it, I at length decided; the risk was nothing; my window was scarce a dozen feet from the ground. How easily it could be done, how quickly, how safely in this deep, stillness and bright moonlight! I would fall so lightly on my stocking soles; a single soft, dull thud; then away under the moon without fear or risk of a false step; away over the stone walls to the main road, and so to the nearest police-station with my tale; and before sunrise the villains would be taken in their beds, and my darling would be safe!

I sprang up softly. Why not do it now? Was I bound to keep my rash, blind promise? Was it possible these murderers would murder her? I struck a match on my trousers, I lit a candle, I read her letter carefully again, and again it maddened and distracted me. I struck my hands together. I paced the room wildly. Caution deserted me, and I made noise enough to wake the very mute; lost to every consideration but that of the terrifying day before me, the day of silence and of inactivity, that I must live through with an unsuspecting face, a cool head, a civil tongue! The prospect appalled me as nothing else could or did; nay, the sudden noise upon the stairs, the knock at my door, and the sense that I had betrayed myself already even now all was over—these came as a relief after the haunting terror which they interrupted.

I flung the door open, and there stood Mrs. Braithwaite, as fully dressed as myself.

"You'll not be very well sir?"

"No, I'm not."

"What's t' matter wi' you?"

This second question was rude and fierce with suspicion: the real woman rang out in it, yet its effect on me was astonishing: once again was I inspired to turn my slip into a move.

"Matter?" I cried. "Can't you see what's the matter; couldn't you see when I came in? Drink's the matter! I came in drunk, and now I'm mad. I can't stand it; I'm not in a fit state. Do you know nothng of me? Have they told you nothing? I'm the only man that was saved from the Lady Jermyn, the ship that was burned to the water's edge with every soul but me. My nerves are in little ends. I came down here for peace and quiet and sleep. Do you bow that I have hardly slept for two months? And now I shall never sleep again! O my God I shall die for want of it! The wine has done it. I never should have touched a drop. I can't stand it; I can't sleep after it; I shall kill myself if I get no sleep. Do you hear, you woman? I shall kill myself in your house if I don't get to sleep!"

I saw her shrink, virago as she was. I waved my arms, I shrieked in her face. It was not all acting. Heaven knows how true it was about the sleep. I was slowly dying of insomnia. I was a nervous wreck. She must have heard it. Now she saw it for herself.

No; it was by no means all acting. Intending only to lie, I found myself telling little but the strictest truth, and longing for sleep as passionately as though I had nothing to keep me awake. And yet, while my heart cried aloud in spite of me, and my nerves relieved themselves in this unpremeditated ebullition, I was all the time watching its effect as closely as though no word of it had been sincere.

Mrs. Braithwaite seemed frightened; not at all pitiful; and as I calmed down she recovered her courage and became insolent. I had spoilt her night. She had not been told she was to take in a raving lunatic. She would speak to Squire Rattray in the morning.

"Morning?" I yelled after her as she went. "Send your husband to the nearest chemist as soon as it's dawn; send him for chloral, chloroform, morphia, anything they've got and as much of it as they'll let him have. I'll give you five pounds if you get me what'll send me to sleep all to-morrow—and to-morrow night!"

Never, I feel sure, were truth and falsehood more craftily interwoven; yet I had thought of none of it until the woman was at my door, while of much I had not thought at all. It had rushed from my heart and from my lips. And no sooner was I alone than I burst into hysterical tears, only to stop and compliment myself because they sounded genuine—as though they were not! Towards morning I took to my bed in a burning fever, and lay there, now congratulating myself upon it, because when night came they would all think me so secure; and now weeping because the night might find me dying or dead. So I tossed, with her note clasped in my hand underneath the sheets; and beneath my very body that stout weapon that I had bought in town. I might not have to use it, but I was fatalist enough to fancy that I should. In the meantime it helped me to lie still, my thoughts fixed on the night, and the day made easy for me after all.

If only I could sleep!

About nine o'clock Jane Braithwaite paid me a surly visit; in half an hour she was back with tea and toast and an altered mien. She not only lit my fire, but treated me the while to her original tone of almost fervent civility and respect and determination. Her vagaries soon ceased to puzzle me: the psychology of Jane Braithwaite was not recondite. In the night it had dawned upon her that Rattray had found me harmless and was done with me, therefore there was no need for her to put herself out any further on my account. In the morning, finding me really ill, she had gone to the hall in alarm; her subsequent attentions were an act of obedience; and in their midst came Rattray himself to my bedside.



CHAPTER XIII. THE LONGEST DAY OF MY LIFE

The boy looked so blithe and buoyant, so gallant and still so frank, that even now I could not think as meanly of him as poor Eva did. A rogue he must be, but surely not the petty rogue that she had made him out. Yet it was dirty work that he had done by me; and there I had to lie and take his kind, false, felon's hand in mine.

"My poor dear fellow," he cried, "I'm most sorry to find you like this. But I was afraid of it last night. It's all this infernally strong air!"

How I longed to tell him what it was, and to see his face! The thought of Eva alone restrained me, and I retorted as before, in a tone I strove to make as friendly, that it was his admirable wine and nothing else.

"But you took hardly any."

"I shouldn't have touched a drop. I can't stand it. Instead of soothing me it excites me to the verge of madness. I'm almost over the verge—for want of sleep—my trouble ever since the trouble."

Again I was speaking the literal truth, and again congratulating myself as though it were a lie: the fellow looked so distressed at my state; indeed I believe that his distress was as genuine as mine, and his sentiments as involved. He took my hand again, and his brow wrinkled at its heat. He asked for the other hand to feel my pulse. I had to drop my letter to comply.

"I wish to goodness there was something I could do for you," he said. "Would you—would you care to see a doctor?"

I shook my head, and could have smiled at his visible relief.

"Then I'm going to prescribe for you," he said with decision. "It's the place that doesn't agree with you, and it was I who brought you to the place; therefore it's for me to get you out of it as quick as possible. Up you get, and I'll drive you to the station myself!"

I had another work to keep from smiling: he was so ingenuously disingenuous. There was less to smile at in his really nervous anxiety to get me away. I lay there reading him like a book: it was not my health that concerned him, of course: was it my safety? I told him he little knew how ill I was—an inglorious speech that came hard, though not by any means untrue. "Move me with this fever on me?" said I; "it would be as much as my miserable life is worth."

"I'm afraid," said he, "that it may be as much as your life's worth to stay on here!" And there was such real fear, in his voice and eyes, that it reconciled me there and then to the discomfort of a big revolver between the mattress and the small of my back. "We must get you out of it," he continued, "the moment you feel fit to stir. Shall we say to-morrow?"

"If you like," I said, advisedly; "and if I can get some sleep to-day."

"Then to-morrow it is! You see I know it's the climate," he added, jumping from tone to tone; "it couldn't have been those two or three glasses of sound wine."

"Shall I tell you what it is?" I said, looking him full in the face, with eyes that I dare say were wild enough with fever and insomnia. "It's the burning of the Lady Jermyn!" I cried. "It's the faces and the shrieks of the women; it's the cursing and the fighting of the men; it's boat-loads struggling in an oily sea; it's husbands and wives jumping overboard together; it's men turned into devils, it's hell-fire afloat—"

"Stop! stop!" he whispered, hoarse as a crow. I was sitting up with my hot eyes upon him. He was white as the quilt, and the bed shook with his trembling. I had gone as far as was prudent, and I lay back with a glow of secret satisfaction.

"Yes, I will stop," said I, "and I wouldn't have begun if you hadn't found it so difficult to understand my trouble. Now you know what it is. It's the old trouble. I came up here to forget it; instead of that I drink too much and tell you all about it; and the two things together have bowled me over. But I'll go to-morrow; only give me something to put me asleep till then."

"I will!" he vowed. "I'll go myself to the nearest chemist, and he shall give me the very strongest stuff he's got. Good-by, and don't you stir till I come back—for your own sake. I'll go this minute, and I'll ride like hell!" And if ever two men were glad to be rid of each other, they were this young villain and myself.

But what was his villany? It was little enough that I had overheard at the window, and still less that poor Eva had told me in her hurried lines. All I saw clearly was that the Lady Jermyn and some hundred souls had perished by the foulest of foul play; that, besides Eva and myself, only the incendiaries had escaped; that somehow these wretches had made a second escape from the gig, leaving dead men and word of their own death behind them in the boat. And here the motive was as much a mystery to me as the means; but, in my present state, both were also matters of supreme indifference. My one desire was to rescue my love from her loathsome captors; of little else did I pause to think. Yet Rattray's visit left its own mark on my mind; and long after he was gone I lay puzzling over the connection between a young Lancastrian, of good name, of ancient property, of great personal charm, and a crime of unparalleled atrocity committed in cold blood on the high seas. That his complicity was flagrant I had no room to doubt, after Eva's own indictment of him, uttered to his face and in my hearing. Was it then the usual fraud on the underwriters, and was Rattray the inevitable accomplice on dry land? I could think of none but the conventional motive for destroying a vessel. Yet I knew there must be another and a subtler one, to account not only for the magnitude of the crime, but for the pains which the actual perpetrators had taken to conceal the fact of their survival, and for the union of so diverse a trinity as Senhor Santos, Captain Harris, and the young squire.

It must have been about mid-day when Rattray reappeared, ruddy, spurred, and splashed with mud; a comfort to sick eyes, I declare, in spite of all. He brought me two little vials, put one on the chimney-piece, poured the other into my tumbler, and added a little water.

"There, old fellow," said he; "swallow that, and if you don't get some sleep the chemist who made it up is the greatest liar unhung."

"What is it?' I asked, the glass in my hand, and my eyes on those of my companion.

"I don't know," said he. "I just told them to make up the strongest sleeping-draught that was safe, and I mentioned something about your case. Toss it off, man; it's sure to be all right."

Yes, I could trust him; he was not that sort of villain, for all that Eva Denison had said. I liked his face as well as ever. I liked his eye, and could have sworn to its honesty as I drained the glass. Even had it been otherwise, I must have taken my chance or shown him all; as it was, when he had pulled down my blind, and shaken my pillow, and he gave me his hand once more, I took it with involuntary cordiality. I only grieved that so fine a young fellow should have involved himself in so villainous a business; yet for Eva's sake I was glad that he had; for my mind failed (rather than refused) to believe him so black as she had painted him.

The long, long afternoon that followed I never shall forget. The opiate racked my head; it did not do its work; and I longed to sleep till evening with a longing I have never known before or since. Everything seemed to depend upon it; I should be a man again, if only I could first be a log for a few hours. But no; my troubles never left me for an instant; and there I must lie, pretending that they had! For the other draught was for the night; and if they but thought the first one had taken due effect, so much the less would they trouble their heads about me when they believed that I had swallowed the second.

Oh, but it was cruel! I lay and wept with weakness and want of sleep; ere night fell I knew that it would find me useless, if indeed my reason lingered on. To lie there helpless when Eva was expecting me, that would be the finishing touch. I should rise a maniac if ever I rose at all. More probably I would put one of my five big bullets into my own splitting head; it was no small temptation, lying there in a double agony, with the loaded weapon by my side.

Then sometimes I thought it was coming; and perhaps for an instant would be tossing in my hen-coop; then back once more. And I swear that my physical and mental torments, here in my bed, would have been incomparably greater than anything I had endured on the sea, but for the saving grace of one sweet thought. She lived! She lived! And the God who had taken care o me, a castaway, would surely deliver her also from the hands of murderers and thieves. But not through me—I lay weak and helpless—and my tears ran again and yet again as I felt myself growing hourly weaker.

I remember what a bright fine day it was, with the grand open country all smiles beneath a clear, almost frosty sky, once when I got up on tip-toe and peeped out. A keen wind whistled about the cottage; I felt it on my feet as I stood; but never have I known a more perfect and invigorating autumn day. And there I must lie, with the manhood ebbing Out of me, the manhood that I needed so for the night! I crept back into bed. I swore that I would sleep. Yet there I lay, listening sometimes to that vile woman's tread below; sometimes to mysterious whispers, between whom I neither knew nor cared; anon to my watch ticking by my side, to the heart beating in my body, hour after hour—hour after hour. I prayed as I have seldom prayed. I wept as I have never wept. I railed and blasphemed—not with my lips, because the woman must think I was asleep—but so much the more viciously in my heart.

Suddenly it turned dark. There were no gradations—not even a tropical twilight. One minute I aw the sun upon the blind; the next—thank God! Oh, thank God! No light broke any longer through the blind; just a faint and narrow glimmer stole between it and the casement; and the light that had been bright golden was palest silver now.

It was the moon. I had been in dreamless sleep for hours.

The joy of that discovery! The transport of waking to it, and waking refreshed! The swift and sudden miracle that it seemed! I shall never, never forget it, still less the sickening thrill of fear which was cruelly quick to follow upon my joy. The cottage was still as the tomb. What if I had slept too long!

With trembling hand I found my watch.

Luckily I had wound it in the early morning. I now carried it to the window, drew back the blind, and held it in the moonlight. It was not quite ten o'clock. And yet the cottage was so still—so still.

I stole to the door, opened it by cautious degrees, and saw the reflection of a light below. Still not a sound could I hear, save the rapid drawing of my own breath, and the startled beating of my own heart.

I now felt certain that the Braithwaites were out, and dressed hastily, making as little noise as possible, and still hearing absolutely none from below. Then, feeling faint with hunger, though a new being after my sleep, I remembered a packet of sandwiches which I had not opened on my journey north. These I transferred from my travelling-bag (where they had lain forgotten to my jacket pocket), before drawing down the blind, leaving the room on tip-toe, and very gently fastening the door behind me. On the stairs, too, I trod with the utmost caution, feeling the wall with my left hand (my right was full), lest by any chance I might be mistaken in supposing I had the cottage to myself. In spite of my caution there came a creak at every step. And to my sudden horror I heard a chair move in the kitchen below.

My heart and I stood still together. But my right hand tightened on stout wood, my right forefinger trembled against thin steel. The sound was not repeated. And at length I continued on my way down, my teeth set, an excuse on my lips, but determination in every fibre of my frame.

A shadow lay across the kitchen floor; it was that of the deaf mute, as he stood on a chair before the fire, supporting himself on the chimney piece with one puny arm, while he reached overhead with the other. I stood by for an instant, glorying in the thought that he could not hear me; the next, I saw what it was he was reaching up for—a bell-mouthed blunderbuss—and I knew the little devil for the impostor that he was.

"You touch it," said I, "and you'll drop dead on that hearth."

He pretended not to hear me, but he heard the click of the splendid spring which Messrs. Deane and Adams had put into that early revolver of theirs, and he could not have come down much quicker with my bullet in his spine.

"Now, then," I said, "what the devil do you mean by shamming deaf and dumb?"

"I niver said I was owt o' t' sort," he whimpered, cowering behind the chair in a sullen ague.

"But you acted it, and I've a jolly good mind to shoot you dead!" (Remember, I was so weak myself that I thought my arm would break from presenting my five chambers and my ten-inch barrel; otherwise I should be sorry to relate how I bullied that mouse of a man.) "I may let you off," I continued, "if you answer questions. Where's your wife?"

"Eh, she'll be back directly!" said Braithwaite, with some tact; but his look was too cunning to give the warning weight. "I've a bullet to spare for her," said I, cheerfully; "now, then, where is she?"

"Gone wi' the oothers, for owt I knaw."

"And where are the others gone?"

"Where they allus go, ower to t' say."

"Over to the sea, eh? We're getting on! What takes them there?"

"That's more than I can tell you, sir," said Braithwaite, with so much emphasis and so little reluctance as to convince me that for once at least he had spoken the truth. There was even a spice of malice in his tone. I began to see possibilities in the little beast.

"Well," I said, "you're a nice lot! I don't know what your game is, and don't want to. I've had enough of you without that. I'm off to-night."

"Before they get back?" asked Braithwaite, plainly in doubt about his duty, and yet as plainly relieved to learn the extent of my intention.

"Certainly," said I; "why not? I'm not particularly anxious to see your wife again, and you may ask Mr. Rattray from me why the devil he led me to suppose you were deaf and dumb? Or, if you like, you needn't say anything at all about it," I added, seeing his thin jaw fall; "tell him I never found you out, but just felt well enough to go, and went. When do you expect them back?"

"It won't be yet a bit," said he.

"Good! Now look here. What would you say to these?" And I showed him a couple of sovereigns: I longed to offer him twenty, but feared to excite his suspicions. "These are yours if you have a conveyance at the end of the lane—the lane we came up the night before last—in an hour's time."

His dull eyes glistened; but a tremor took him from top to toe, and he shook his head.

"I'm ill, man!" I cried. "If I stay here I'll die! Mr. Rattray knows that, and he wanted me to go this morning; he'll be only too thankful to find me gone."

This argument appealed to him; indeed, I was proud of it.

"But I was to stop an' look after you," he mumbled; "it'll get me into trooble, it will that!"

I took out three more sovereigns; not a penny higher durst I go.

"Will five pounds repay you? No need to tell your wife it was five, you know! I should keep four of them all to myself."

The cupidity of the little wretch was at last overcoming his abject cowardice. I could see him making up his miserable mind. And I still flatter myself that I took only safe (and really cunning) steps to precipitate the process. To offer him more money would have been madness; instead, I poured it all back into my pocket.

"All right!" I cried; "you're a greedy, cowardly, old idiot, and I'll just save my money." And out I marched into the moonlight, very briskly, towards the lane; he was so quick to follow me that I had no fears of the blunderbuss, but quickened my step, and soon had him running at my heels.

"Stop, stop, sir! You're that hasty wi' a poor owd man." So he whimpered as he followed me like the little cur he was.

"I'm hanged if I stop," I answered without looking back; and had him almost in tears before I swung round on him so suddenly that he yelped with fear. "What are you bothering me for?" I blustered. "Do you want me to wring your neck?"

"Oh, I'll go, sir! I'll go, I'll go," he moaned.

"I've a good mind not to let you. I wouldn't if I was fit to walk five miles."

"But I'll roon 'em, sir! I will that! I'll go as fast as iver I can!"

"And have a conveyance at the road-end of the lane as near an hour hence as you possibly can?"

"Why, there, sir!" he cried, crassly inspired; "I could drive you in our own trap in half the time."

"Oh, no, you couldn't! I—I'm not fit to be out at all; it must be a closed conveyance; but I'll come to the end of the lane to save time, so let him wait there. You needn't wait yourself; here's a sovereign of your money, and I'll leave the rest in the jug in my bedroom. There! It's worth your while to trust me, I think. As for my luggage, I'll write to Mr. Rattray about that. But I'll be shot if I spend another night on his property."

I was rid of him at last; and there I stood, listening to his headlong steps, until they stumbled out of earshot down the lane; then back to the cottage, at a run myself, and up to my room to be no worse than my word. The sovereigns plopped into the water and rang together at the bottom of the jug. In another minute I was hastening through the plantation, in my hand the revolver that had served me well already, and was still loaded and capped in all five chambers.



CHAPTER XIV. IN THE GARDEN

It so happened that I met nobody at all; but I must confess that my luck was better than my management. As I came upon the beck, a new sound reached me with the swirl. It was the jingle of bit and bridle; the beat of hoofs came after; and I had barely time to fling myself flat, when two horsemen emerged from the plantation, riding straight towards me in the moonlight. If they continued on that course they could not fail to see me as they passed along the opposite bank. However, to my unspeakable relief, they were scarce clear of the trees when they turned their horses' heads, rode them through the water a good seventy yards from where I lay, and so away at a canter across country towards the road. On my hands and knees I had a good look at them as they bobbed up and down under the moon; and my fears subsided in astonished curiosity. For I have already boasted of my eyesight, and I could have sworn that neither Rattray nor any one of his guests was of the horsemen; yet the back and shoulders of one of these seemed somehow familiar to me. Not that I wasted many moments over the coincidence, for I had other things to think about as I ran on to the hall.

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