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Colonel Quaritch, V.C. by H. Rider Haggard

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Here the lady burst into a flood of incoherent abuse which tired her
so much that she had a fourth brandy-and-soda; George mixed it for her
and he mixed it strong.

"Is he rich?" she asked as she put down the glass.

"What! Laryer Quest? Well I should say that he is about the warmest
man in our part of the county."

"And here am I starving," burst out the horrible woman with a flood of
drunken tears. "Starving without a shilling to pay for a cab or a
drink while my wedded husband lives in luxury with another woman. You
tell him that I won't stand it; you tell him that if he don't find a
'thou.' pretty quick I'll let him know the reason why."

"I don't quite understand, marm," said George; "there's a lady down in
Boisingham as is the real Mrs. Quest."

"It's a lie!" she shrieked, "it's a lie! He married me before he
married her. I could have him in the dock to-morrow, and I would, too,
if I wasn't afraid of him, and that's a fact."

"Come, marm, come," said George, "draw it mild from that tap."

"You won't believe me, won't you?" said the woman, on whom the liquor
was now beginning to take its full effect; "then I'll show you," and
she staggered to a desk, unlocked it and took from it a folded paper,
which she opened.

It was a properly certified copy of a marriage certificate, or
purported so to be; but George, who was not too quick at his reading,
had only time to note the name Quest, and the church, St.
Bartholomew's, Hackney, when she snatched it away from him and locked
it up again.

"There," she said, "it isn't any business of yours. What right have
you to come prying into the affairs of a poor lone woman?" And she sat
down upon the sofa beside him, threw her long arm round him, rested
her painted face upon his shoulder and began to weep the tears of
intoxication.

"Well, blow me!" said George to himself, "if this ain't a master one!
I wonder what my old missus would say if she saw me in this fix. I
say, marm----"

But at that moment the door opened, and in came Johnnie, who had
evidently also been employing the interval in refreshing himself, for
he rolled like a ship in a sea.

"Well," he said, "and who the deuce are you? Come get out of this, you
Methody parson-faced clodhopper, you. Fairest Edithia, what means
this?"

By this time the fairest Edithia had realised who her visitor was, and
the trick whereby he had left her to pay for the brandy-and-soda
recurring to her mind she sprang up and began to express her opinion
of Johnnie in violent and libellous language. He replied in
appropriate terms, as according to the newspaper reports people whose
healths are proposed always do, and fast and furious grew the fun. At
length, however, it seemed to occur to Johnnie that he, George, was in
some way responsible for this state of affairs, for without word or
warning he hit him on the nose. This proved too much for George's
Christian forbearance.

"You would, you lubber! would you?" he said, and sprang at him.

Now Johnnie was big and fat, but Johnnie was rather drunk, and George
was tough and exceedingly strong. In almost less time that it takes to
write it he grasped the abominable Johnnie by the scruff of the neck
and had with a mighty jerk hauled him over the sofa so that he lay
face downwards thereon. By the door quite convenient to his hand stood
George's ground ash stick, a peculiarly good and well-grown one which
he had cut himself in Honham wood. He seized it. "Now, boar," he said,
"I'll teach you how we do the trick where I come from," and he laid on
without mercy. /Whack! whack! whack!/ came the ground ash on Johnnie's
tight clothes. He yelled, swore and struggled in the grip of the
sturdy countryman, but it was of no use, the ash came down like fate;
never was a Johnnie so bastinadoed before.

"Give it the brute, give it him," shrilled the fair Edithia,
bethinking her of her wrongs, and he did till he was tired.

"Now, Johnnie boar," he panted at last, "I'm thinking I've pretty nigh
whacked you to dead. Perhaps you'll larn to be more careful how you
handles your betters by-and-by." Then seizing his hat he ran down the
stairs without seeing anybody and slipping into the street crossed
over and listened.

They were at it again. Seeing her enemy prostrate the Tiger had fallen
on him, with the fire-irons to judge from the noise.

Just then a policeman hurried up.

"I say, master," said George, "the folk in that there house with the
red pillars do fare to be a murdering of each other."

The policeman listened to the din and then made for the house.
Profiting by his absence George retreated as fast as he could, his
melancholy countenance shining with sober satisfaction.

On the following morning, before he returned to Honham, George paid a
visit to St. Bartholomew's Church, Hackney. Here he made certain
investigations in the registers, the results of which were not
unsatisfactory to him.

CHAPTER XXIX

EDWARD COSSEY MEETS WITH AN ACCIDENT

At the best of times this is not a gay world, though no doubt we ought
to pretend that humanity at large is as happy as it is represented to
be in, let us say, the Christmas number of an illustrated paper. How
well we can imagine the thoughtful inhabitant of this country Anno
Domini 7500 or thereabouts disinterring from the crumbling remains of
a fireproof safe a Christmas number of the /Illustrated London News/
or the /Graphic/. The archaic letters would perhaps be unintelligible
to him, but he would look at the pictures with much the same interest
that we regard bushmen's drawings or the primitive clay figures of
Peru, and though his whole artistic seventy-sixth century soul would
be revolted at the crudeness of the colouring, surely he would
moralise thus: "Oh, happy race of primitive men, how I, the child of
light and civilisation, envy you your long-forgotten days! Here in
these rude drawings, which in themselves reveal the extraordinary
capacity for pleasure possessed by the early races, who could look
upon them and gather gratification from the sight, may we trace your
joyous career from the cradle to the grave. Here you figure as a babe,
at whose appearance everybody seems delighted, even those of your race
whose inheritance will be thereby diminished--and here a merry lad you
revel in the school which the youth of our age finds so wearisome.
There, grown more old, you stand at the altar of a beautiful lost
faith, a faith that told of hope and peace beyond the grave, and by
you stands your blushing bride. No hard fate, no considerations of
means, no worldly-mindedness, come to snatch you from her arms as now
they daily do. With her you spend your peaceful days, and here at last
we see you old but surrounded by love and tender kindness, and almost
looking forward to that grave which you believed would be but the gate
of glory. Oh, happy race of simple-minded men, what a commentary upon
our fevered, avaricious, pleasure-seeking age is this rude scroll of
primitive and infantile art!"

So will some unborn /laudator temporis acti/ speak in some dim century
to be, when our sorrows have faded and are not.

And yet, though we do not put a record of them in our Christmas
numbers, troubles are as troubles have been and will continually be,
for however apparently happy the lot of individuals, it is not
altogether a cheerful world in which we have been called to live. At
any rate so thought Harold Quaritch on that night of the farewell
scene with Ida in the churchyard, and so he continued to think for
some time to come. A man's life is always more or less a struggle; he
is a swimmer upon an adverse sea, and to live at all he must keep his
limbs in motion. If he grows faint-hearted or weary and no longer
strives, for a little while he floats, and then at last, morally or
physically, he vanishes. We struggle for our livelihoods, and for all
that makes life worth living in the material sense, and not the less
are we called upon to struggle with an army of spiritual woes and
fears, which now we vanquish and now are vanquished by. Every man of
refinement, and many women, will be able to recall periods in his or
her existence when life has seemed not only valueless but hateful,
when our small successes, such as they are, dwindled away and vanished
in the gulf of our many failures, when our hopes and aspirations faded
like a little sunset cloud, and we were surrounded by black and lonely
mental night, from which even the star of Faith had passed. Such a
time had come to Harold Quaritch now. His days had not, on the whole,
been happy days; but he was a good and earnest man, with that touching
faith in Providence which is given to some among us, and which had
brought with it the reward of an even thankful spirit. And then, out
of the dusk of his contentment a hope of happiness had arisen like the
Angel of the Dawn, and suddenly life was aflame with the light of
love, and became beautiful in his eyes. And now the hope had passed:
the woman whom he deeply loved, and who loved him back again, had gone
from his reach and left him desolate--gone from his reach, not into
the grave, but towards the arms of another man.

Our race is called upon to face many troubles; sickness, poverty, and
death, but it is doubtful if Evil holds another arrow so sharp as that
which pierced him now. He was no longer young, it is true, and
therefore did not feel that intense agony of disappointed passion,
that sickening sense of utter loss which in such circumstances
sometimes settle on the young. But if in youth we feel more sharply
and with a keener sympathy of the imagination, we have at least more
strength to bear, and hope does not altogether die. For we know that
we shall live it down, or if we do not know it then, we /do/ live it
down. Very likely, indeed, there comes a time when we look back upon
our sorrow and he or she who caused it with wonder, yes even with
scorn and bitter laughter. But it is not so when the blow falls in
later life. It may not hurt so much at the time, it may seem to have
been struck with the bludgeon of Fate rather than with her keen
dividing sword, but the effect is more lasting, and for the rest of
our days we are numb and cold, for Time has no salve to heal us.

These things Harold realised most clearly in the heavy days which
followed that churchyard separation.

He took his punishment like a brave man indeed, and went about his
daily occupations with a steadfast face, but his bold behaviour did
not lessen its weight. He had promised not to go away till Ida was
married and he would keep the promise, but in his heart he wondered
how he should bear the sight of her. What would it be to see her, to
touch her hand, to hear the rustle of her dress and the music of her
beloved voice, and to realise again and yet again that all these
things were not for him, that they had passed from him into the
ownership of another man?

On the day following that upon which Edward Cossey had been terrified
into transferring the Honham mortgages to Mr. Quest the Colonel went
out shooting. He had lately become the possessor of a new hammerless
gun by a well-known London maker, of which he stood in considerable
need. Harold had treated himself to this gun when he came into his
aunt's little fortune, but it was only just completed. The weapon was
a beautiful one, and at any other time it would have filled his
sportsman's heart with joy. Even as it was, when he put it together
and balanced it and took imaginary shots at blackbirds in the garden,
for a little while he forgot his sorrows, for the woe must indeed be
heavy which a new hammerless gun by such a maker cannot do something
towards lightening. So on the next morning he took this gun and went
to the marshes by the river--where, he was credibly informed, several
wisps of snipe had been seen--to attempt to shoot some of them and put
the new weapon to the test.

It was on this same morning that Edward Cossey got a letter which
disturbed him not a little. It was from Belle Quest, and ran thus:

"Dear Mr. Cossey,--Will you come over and see me this afternoon
about three o'clock? I shall /expect/ you, so I am sure you will
not disappoint me.--B.Q."

For a long while he hesitated what to do. Belle Quest was at the
present juncture the very last person whom he wished to see. His
nerves were shaken and he feared a scene, but on the other hand he did
not know what danger might threaten him if he refused to go. Quest had
got his price, and he knew that he had nothing more to fear from him;
but a jealous woman has no price, and if he did not humour her it
might, he felt, be at a risk which he could not estimate. Also he was
nervously anxious to give no further cause for gossip. A sudden
outward and visible cessation of his intimacy with the Quests might,
he thought, give rise to surmises and suspicion in a little country
town like Boisingham, where all his movements were known. So, albeit
with a faint heart, he determined to go.

Accordingly, at three o'clock precisely, he was shown into the
drawing-room at the Oaks. Mrs. Quest was not there; indeed he waited
for ten minutes before she came in. She was pale, so pale that the
blue veins on her forehead showed distinctly through her ivory skin,
and there was a curious intensity about her manner which frightened
him. She was very quiet also, unnaturally so, indeed; but her quiet
was of the ominous nature of the silence before the storm, and when
she spoke her words were keen, and quick, and vivid.

She did not shake hands with him, but sat down and looked at him,
slowly fanning herself with a painted ivory fan which she took up from
the table.

"You sent for me, Belle, and here I am," he said, breaking the
silence.

Then she spoke. "You told me the other day," she said, "that you were
not engaged to be married to Ida de la Molle. It is not true. You are
engaged to be married to her."

"Who said so?" he asked defiantly. "Quest, I suppose?"

"I have it on a better authority," she answered. "I have it from Miss
de la Molle herself. Now, listen, Edward Cossey. When I let you go, I
made a condition, and that condition was that you should /not/ marry
Ida de la Molle. Do you still intend to marry her?"

"You had it from Ida," he said, disregarding her question; "then you
must have spoken to Ida--you must have told her everything. I
suspected as much from her manner the other night. You----"

"Then it is true," she broke in coldly. "It is true, and in addition
to your other failings, Edward, you are a coward and--a liar."

"What is it to you what I am or what I am not?" he answered savagely.
"What business is it of yours? You have no hold over me, and no claim
upon me. As it is I have suffered enough at your hands and at those of
your accursed husband. I have had to pay him thirty thousand pounds,
do you know that? But of course you know it. No doubt the whole thing
is a plant, and you will share the spoil."

"/Ah!/" she said, drawing a long breath.

"And now look here," he went on. "Once and for all, I will not be
interfered with by you. I /am/ engaged to marry Ida de la Molle, and
whether you wish it or no I shall marry her. And one more thing. I
will not allow you to associate with Ida. Do you understand me? I will
not allow it."

She had been holding the fan before her face while he spoke. Now she
lowered it and looked at him. Her face was paler than ever, paler than
death, if that be possible, but in her eyes there shone a light like
the light of a flame.

"Why not?" she said quietly.

"Why not?" he answered savagely. "I wonder that you think it necessary
to ask such a question, but as you do I will tell you why. Because Ida
is the lady whom I am going to marry, and I do not choose that she
should associate with a woman who is what you are."

"/Ah!/" she said again, "I understand now."

At that moment a diversion occurred. The drawing-room looked on to the
garden, and at the end of the garden was a door which opened into
another street.

Through this door had come Colonel Quaritch accompanied by Mr. Quest,
the former with his gun under his arm. They walked up the garden and
were almost at the French window when Edward Cossey saw them. "Control
yourself," he said in a low voice, "here is your husband."

Mr. Quest advanced and knocked at the window, which his wife opened.
When he saw Edward Cossey he hesitated a little, then nodded to him,
while the Colonel came forward, and placing his gun by the wall
entered the room, shook hands with Mrs. Quest, and bowed coldly to
Edward Cossey.

"I met the Colonel, Belle," said Mr. Quest, "coming here with the
benevolent intention of giving you some snipe, so I brought him up by
the short way."

"That is very kind of you, Colonel Quaritch," said she with a sweet
smile (for she had the sweetest smile imaginable).

He looked at her. There was something about her face which attracted
his attention, something unusual.

"What are you looking at?" she asked.

"You," he said bluntly, for they were out of hearing of the other two.
"If I were poetically minded I should say that you looked like the
Tragic Muse."

"Do I?" she answered, laughing. "Well, that is curious, because I feel
like Comedy herself."

"There's something wrong with that woman," thought the Colonel to
himself as he extracted two couple of snipe from his capacious coat
tails. "I wonder what it is."

Just then Mr. Quest and Edward Cossey passed out into the garden
talking.

"Here are the snipe, Mrs. Quest," he said. "I have had rather good
luck. I killed four couple and missed two couple more; but then I had
a new gun, and one can never shoot so well with a new gun."

"Oh, thank you," she said, "do pull out the 'painters' for me. I like
to put them in my riding hat, and I can never find them myself."

"Very well," he answered, "but I must go into the garden to do it;
there is not light enough here. It gets dark so soon now."

Accordingly he stepped out through the window, and began to hunt for
the pretty little feathers which are to be found at the angle of a
snipe's wing.

"Is that the new gun, Colonel Quaritch?" said Mrs. Quest presently;
"what a beautiful one!"

"Be careful," he said, "I haven't taken the cartridges out."

If he had been looking at her, which at that moment he was not, Harold
would have seen her stagger and catch at the wall for support. Then he
would have seen an awful and malevolent light of sudden determination
pass across her face.

"All right," she said, "I know about guns. My father used to shoot and
I often cleaned his gun," and she took the weapon up and began to
examine the engraving on the locks.

"What is this?" she said, pointing to a little slide above the locks
on which the word "safe" was engraved in gold letters.

"Oh, that's the safety bolt," he said. "When you see the word 'safe,'
the locks are barred and the gun won't go off. You have to push the
bolt forward before you can fire."

"So?" she said carelessly, and suiting the action to the word.

"Yes, so, but please be careful, the gun is loaded."

"Yes, I'll be careful," she answered. "Well, it is a very pretty gun,
and so light that I believe I could shoot with it myself."

Meanwhile Edward Cossey and Mr. Quest, who were walking up the garden,
had separated, Mr. Quest going to the right across the lawn to pick up
a glove which had dropped upon the grass, while Edward Cossey slowly
sauntered towards them. When he was about nine paces off he too halted
and, stooping a little, looked abstractedly at a white Japanese
chrysanthemum which was still in bloom. Mrs. Quest turned, as the
Colonel thought, to put the gun back against the wall. He would have
offered to take it from her but at the moment both his hands were
occupied in extracting one of the "painters" from a snipe. The next
thing he was aware of was a loud explosion, followed by an exclamation
or rather a cry from Mrs. Quest. He dropped the snipe and looked up,
just in time to see the gun, which had leapt from her hands with the
recoil, strike against the wall of the house and fall to the ground.
Instantly, whether by instinct or by chance he never knew, he glanced
towards the place where Edward Cossey stood, and saw that his face was
streaming with blood and that his right arm hung helpless by his side.
Even as he looked, he saw him put his uninjured hand to his head, and,
without a word or a sound, sink down on the gravel path.

For a second there was silence, and the blue smoke from the gun hung
heavily upon the damp autumn air. In the midst of it stood Belle Quest
like one transfixed, her lips apart, her blue eyes opened wide, and
the stamp of terror--or was it guilt?--upon her pallid face.

All this he saw in a flash, and then ran to the bleeding heap upon the
gravel.

He reached it almost simultaneously with Mr. Quest, and together they
turned the body over. But still Belle stood there enveloped in the
heavy smoke.

Presently, however, her trance left her and she ran up, flung herself
upon her knees, and looked at her former lover, whose face and head
were now a mass of blood.

"He is dead," she wailed; "he is dead, and I have killed him! Oh,
Edward! Edward!"

Mr. Quest turned on her savagely; so savagely that one might almost
have thought he feared lest in her agony she should say something
further.

"Stop that," he said, seizing her arm, "and go for the doctor, for if
he is not dead he will soon bleed to death."

With an effort she rose, put her hand to her forehead, and then ran
like the wind down the garden and through the little door.

CHAPTER XXX

HAROLD TAKES THE NEWS

Mr. Quest and Harold bore the bleeding man--whether he was senseless
or dead they knew not--into the house and laid him on the sofa. Then,
having despatched a servant to seek a second doctor in case the one
already gone for was out, they set to work to cut the clothes from his
neck and arm, and do what they could, and that was little enough,
towards staunching the bleeding. It soon, however, became evident that
Cossey had only got the outside portion of the charge of No. 7 that is
to say, he had been struck by about a hundred pellets of the three or
four hundred which would go to the ordinary ounce and an eighth. Had
he received the whole charge he must, at that distance, have been
instantly killed. As it was, the point of the shoulder was riddled,
and so to a somewhat smaller extent was the back of his neck and the
region of the right ear. One or two outside pellets had also struck
the head higher up, and the skin and muscles along the back were torn
by the passage of shot.

"By Jove!" said Mr. Quest, "I think he is done for."

The Colonel nodded. He had some experience of shot wounds, and the
present was not of a nature to encourage hope of the patient's
survival.

"How did it happen?" asked Mr. Quest presently, as he mopped up the
streaming blood with a sponge.

"It was an accident," groaned the Colonel. "Your wife was looking at
my new gun. I told her it was loaded, and that she must be careful,
and I thought she had put it down. The next thing that I heard was the
report. It is all my cursed fault for leaving the cartridges in."

"Ah," said Mr. Quest. "She always thought she understood guns. It is a
shocking accident."

Just then one of the doctors, followed by Belle Quest, ran up the lawn
carrying a box of instruments, and in another minute was at work. He
was a quick and skilful surgeon, and having announced that the patient
was not dead, at once began to tie one of the smaller arteries in the
throat, which had been pierced, and through which Edward Cossey was
rapidly bleeding to death. By the time that this was done the other
doctor, an older man, put in an appearance, and together they made a
rapid examination of the injuries.

Belle stood by holding a basin of water. She did not speak, and on her
face was that same fixed look of horror which Harold had observed
after the discharge of the gun.

When the examination was finished the two doctors whispered together
for a few seconds.

"Will he live?" asked Mr. Quest.

"We cannot say," answered the older doctor. "We do not think it likely
that he will. It depends upon the extent of his injuries, and whether
or no they have extended to the spine. If he does live he will
probably be paralysed to some extent, and must certainly lose the
hearing of the right ear."

When she heard this Belle sank down upon a chair overwhelmed. Then the
two doctors, assisted by Harold, set to work to carry Edward Cossey
into another room which had been rapidly prepared, leaving Mr. Quest
alone with his wife.

He came, stood in front of her, looked her in the face, and then
laughed.

"Upon my word," he said, "we men are bad enough, but you women beat us
in wickedness."

"What do you mean?" she said faintly.

"I mean that you are a murderess, Belle," he said solemnly. "And you
are a bungler, too. You could not hold the gun straight."

"I deny it," she said, "the gun went off----"

"Yes," he said, "you are wise to make no admissions; they might be
used in evidence against you. Let me counsel you to make no
admissions. But now look here. I suppose the man will have to lie in
this house until he recovers or dies, and that you will help to nurse
him. Well, I will have none of your murderous work going on here. Do
you hear me? You are not to complete at leisure what you have begun in
haste."

"What do you take me for?" she asked, with some return of spirit; "do
you think that I would injure a wounded man?"

"I do not know," he answered, with a shrug, "and as for what I take
you for, I take you for a woman whose passion has made her mad," and
he turned and left the room.

When they had carried Edward Cossey, dead or alive--and he looked more
like death than life--up to the room prepared for him, seeing that he
could be of no further use the Colonel left the house with a view of
going to the Castle.

On his way out he looked into the drawing-room and there was Mrs.
Quest, still sitting on the chair and gazing blankly before her.
Pitying her he entered. "Come, cheer up, Mrs. Quest," he said kindly,
"they hope that he will live."

She made no answer.

"It is an awful accident, but I am almost as culpable as you, for I
left the cartridges in the gun. Anyhow, God's will be done."

"God's will!" she said, looking up, and then once more relapsed into
silence.

He turned to go, when suddenly she rose and caught him by the arm.

"Will he die?" she said almost fiercely. "Tell me what you think--not
what the doctors say; you have seen many wounded men and know better
than they do. Tell me the truth."

"I cannot say," he answered, shaking his head.

Apparently she interpreted his answer in the affirmative. At any rate
she covered her face with her hands.

"What would you do, Colonel Quaritch, if you had killed the only thing
you loved in the whole world?" she asked dreamily. "Oh, what am I
saying?--I am off my head. Leave me--go and tell Ida; it will be good
news for Ida."

Accordingly he started for the Castle, having first picked up his gun
on the spot where it had fallen from the hands of Mrs. Quest.

And then it was that for the first time the extraordinary importance
of this dreadful accident in its bearing upon his own affairs flashed
upon his mind. If Cossey died he could not marry Ida, that was clear.
This was what Mrs. Quest must have meant when she said that it would
be good news for Ida. But how did she know anything about Ida's
engagement to Edward Cossey? And, by Jove! what did the woman mean
when she asked what he would do if he had killed the only thing he
loved in the world? Cossey must be the "only thing she loved," and now
he thought of it, when she believed that he was dead she called him
"Edward, Edward."

Harold Quaritch was as simple and unsuspicious a man as it would be
easy to find, but he was no fool. He had moved about the world and on
various occasions come in contact with cases of this sort, as most
other men have done. He knew that when a woman, in a moment of
distress, calls a man by his Christian name it is because she is in
the habit of thinking of him and speaking to him by that name. Not
that there was much in that by itself, but in public she called him
"Mr. Cossey." "Edward" clearly then was the "only thing she loved,"
and Edward was secretly engaged to Ida, and Mrs. Quest knew it.

Now when a man who is not her husband has the fortune, or rather the
misfortune, to be the only thing a married woman ever loved, and when
that married woman is aware of the fact of his devotion and engagement
to somebody else, it is obvious, he reflected, that in nine cases out
of ten the knowledge will excite strong feelings in her breast,
feelings indeed which in some natures would amount almost to madness.

When he had first seen Mrs. Quest that afternoon she and Cossey were
alone together, and he had noticed something unusual about her,
something unnatural and intense. Indeed, he remembered he had told her
that she looked like the Tragic Muse. Could it be that the look was
the look of a woman maddened by insult and jealousy, who was
meditating some fearful crime? /How did that gun go off?/ He did not
see it, and he thanked heaven that he did not, for we are not always
so anxious to bring our fellow creatures to justice as we might be,
especially when they happen to be young and lovely women. How did it
go off? She understood guns; he could see that from the way she
handled it. Was it likely that it exploded of itself, or owing to an
accidental touch of the trigger? It was possible, but not likely.
Still, such things have been known to happen, and it would be very
difficult to prove that it had not happened in this case. If it should
be attempted murder it was very cleverly managed, because nobody could
prove that it was not accidental. But could it be that this soft,
beautiful, baby-faced woman had on the spur of the moment taken
advantage of his loaded gun to wreak her jealousy and her wrongs upon
her faithless lover? Well, the face is no mirror of the quality of the
soul within, and it was possible. Further than that it did not seem to
him to be his business to inquire.

By this time he had reached the Castle. The Squire had gone out but
Ida was in, and he was shown into the drawing-room while the servant
went to seek her. Presently he heard her dress rustle upon the stairs,
and the sound of it sent the blood to his heart, for where is the
music that is more sweet than the rustling of the dress of the woman
whom we love?

"Why, what is the matter?" she said, noticing the disturbed expression
on his face.

"Well," he said, "there has been an accident--a very bad accident."

"Who?" she said. "Not my father?"

"No, no; Mr. Cossey."

"Oh," she said, with a sigh of relief. "Why did you frighten me so?"

The Colonel smiled grimly at this unconscious exhibition of the
relative state of her affections.

"What has happened to him?" asked Ida, this time with a suitable
expression of concern.

"He has been accidentally shot."

"Who by?"

"Mrs. Quest."

"Then she did it on purpose--I mean--is he dead?"

"No, but I believe that he will die."

They looked at one another, and each read in the eyes of the other the
thought which passed through their brains. If Edward Cossey died they
would be free to marry. So clearly did they read it that Ida actually
interpreted it in words.

"You must not think that," she said, "it is very wrong."

"It is wrong," answered the Colonel, apparently in no way surprised at
her interpretation of his thoughts, "but unfortunately human nature is
human nature."

Then he went on to tell her all about it. Ida made no comment, that is
after those first words, "she did it on purpose," which burst from her
in astonishment. She felt, and he felt too, that the question as to
how that gun went off was one which was best left uninquired into by
them. No doubt if the man died there would be an inquest, and the
whole matter would be investigated. Meanwhile one thing was certain,
Edward Cossey, whom she was engaged to, was shot and likely to die.

Presently, while they were still talking, the Squire came in from his
walk. To him also the story was told, and to judge from the expression
of his face he thought it grave enough. If Edward Cossey died the
mortgages over the Honham property would, as he believed, pass to his
heir, who, unless he had made a will, which was not probable, would be
his father, old Mr. Cossey, the banker, from whom Mr. de la Molle well
knew he had little mercy to expect. This was serious enough, and still
more serious was it that all the bright prospects in which he had for
some days been basking of the re-establishment of his family upon a
securer basis than it had occupied for generations would vanish like a
vision. He was not more worldly-minded than are other men, but he did
fondly cherish a natural desire to see the family fortunes once more
in the ascendant. The projected marriage between his daughter and
Edward Cossey would have brought this about most fully, and however
much he might in his secret heart distrust the man himself, and doubt
whether the match was really acceptable to Ida, he could not view its
collapse with indifference. While they were still talking the
dressing-bell rang, and Harold rose to go.

"Stop and dine, won't you, Quaritch?" said the Squire.

Harold hesitated and looked at Ida. She made no movement, but her eyes
said "stay," and he sighed and yielded. Dinner was rather a melancholy
feast, for the Squire was preoccupied with his own thoughts, and Ida
had not much to say. So far as the Colonel was concerned, the
recollection of the tragedy he had witnessed that afternoon, and of
all the dreadful details with which it was accompanied, was not
conducive to appetite.

As soon as dinner was over the Squire announced that he should walk
into Boisingham to inquire how the wounded man was getting on. Shortly
afterwards he started, leaving his daughter and Harold alone.

They went into the drawing-room and talked about indifferent things.
No word of love passed between them; no word, even, that could bear an
affectionate significance, and yet every sentence which passed their
lips carried a message with it, and was as heavy with unuttered
tenderness as a laden bee with honey. For they loved each other
dearly, and deep love is a thing that can hardly be concealed by
lovers from each other.

It was happiness for him merely to sit beside her and hear her speak,
to watch the changes of her face and the lamplight playing upon her
hair, and it was happiness for her to know that he was sitting there
and watching. For the most beautiful aspect of true affection is its
accompanying sense of perfect companionship and rest. It is a sense
which nothing else in this life can give, and, like a lifting cloud,
reveals the white and distant peaks of that unbroken peace which we
cannot hope to win in our stormy journey through the world.

And so the evening wore away till at last they heard the Squire's loud
voice talking to somebody outside. Presently he came in.

"How is he?" asked Harold. "Will he live?"

"They cannot say," was the answer. "But two great doctors have been
telegraphed for from London, and will be down to-morrow."

CHAPTER XXXI

IDA RECANTS

The two great doctors came, and the two great doctors pocketed their
hundred guinea fees and went, but neither the one nor the other, nor
eke the twain, would commit themselves to a fixed opinion as to Edward
Cossey's chances of life or death. However, one of them picked out a
number of shot from the wounded man, and a number more he left in
because he could not pick them out. Then they both agreed that the
treatment of their local brethren was all that could be desired, and
so far as they were concerned there was an end of it.

A week had passed, and Edward Cossey, nursed night and day by Belle
Quest, still hovered between life and death.

It was a Thursday, and Harold had walked up to the Castle to give the
Squire the latest news of the wounded man. Whilst he was in the
vestibule saying what he had to say to Mr. de la Molle and Ida, a man
rung the bell, whom he recognised as one of Mr. Quest's clerks. He was
shown in, and handed the Squire a fully-addressed brief envelope,
which, he said, he had been told to deliver by Mr. Quest, and adding
that there was no answer bowed himself out.

As soon as he had gone the envelope was opened by Mr. de la Molle, who
took from it two legal-looking documents which he began to read.
Suddenly the first dropped from his hand, and with an exclamation he
snatched at the second.

"What is it, father?" asked Ida.

"What is it? Why it's just this. Edward Cossey has transferred the
mortgages over this property to Quest, the lawyer, and Quest has
served a notice on me calling in the money," and he began to walk up
and down the room in a state of great agitation.

"I don't quite understand," said Ida, her breast heaving, and a
curious light shining in her eyes.

"Don't you?" said her father, "then perhaps you will read that," and
he pushed the papers to her. As he did so another letter which he had
not observed fell out of them.

At this point Harold rose to go.

"Don't go, Quaritch, don't go," said the Squire. "I shall be glad of
your advice, and I am sure that what you hear will not go any
further."

At the same time Ida motioned him to stay, and though somewhat
unwillingly he did so.

"Dear Sir," began the Squire, reading the letter aloud,--

"Inclosed you will find the usual formal notices calling in the sum
of thirty thousand pounds recently advanced upon the mortgage of
the Honham Castle Estates by Edward Cossey, Esq. These mortgages
have passed into my possession for value received, and it is now
my desire to realise them. I most deeply regret being forced to
press an old client, but my circumstances are such that I am
obliged to do so. If I can in any way facilitate your efforts to
raise the sum I shall be very glad. But in the event of the money
not being forthcoming at the end of six months' notice the
ordinary steps will be taken to realise by foreclosure.

"I am, dear sir, yours truly,
"W. Quest.

"James de la Molle, Esq., J.P., D.L."

"I see now," said Ida. "Mr. Cossey has no further hold on the
mortgages or on the property."

"That's it," said the Squire; "he has transferred them to that
rascally lawyer. And yet he told me--I can't understand it, I really
can't."

At this point the Colonel insisted upon leaving, saying he would call
in again that evening to see if he could be of any assistance. When he
was gone Ida spoke in a cold, determined voice:

"Mr. Cossey told me that when we married he would put those mortgages
in the fire. It now seems that the mortgages were not his to dispose
of, or else that he has since transferred them to Mr. Quest without
informing us."

"Yes, I suppose so," said the Squire.

"Very well," said Ida. "And now, father, I will tell you something. I
engaged myself--or, to be more accurate, I promised to engage myself--
to Edward Cossey on the condition that he would take up these
mortgages when Cossey and Son were threatening to foreclose, or
whatever it is called."

"Good heavens!" said her astonished father, "what an idea!"

"I did it," went on Ida, "and he took up the mortgages, and in due
course he claimed my promise, and I became engaged to marry him,
though that engagement was repugnant to me. You will see that having
persuaded him to advance the money I could not refuse to carry out my
share of the bargain."

"Well," said the Squire, "this is all new to me."

"Yes," she answered, "and I should never have told you of it had it
not been for this sudden change in the position of affairs. What I
did, I did to save our family from ruin. But now it seems that Mr.
Cossey has played us false, and that we are to be ruined after all.
Therefore, the condition upon which I promised to marry him has not
been carried out, and my promise falls to the ground."

"You mean that supposing he lives, you will not marry Edward Cossey."

"Yes, I do mean it."

The Squire thought for a minute. "This is a very serious step, Ida,"
he said. "I don't mean that I think that the man has behaved well--but
still he may have given up the mortgages to Quest under pressure of
some sort and might be willing to find the money to meet them."

"I do not care if he finds the money ten times over," said Ida, "I
will not marry him. He has not kept to the letter of his bond and I
will not keep to mine."

"It is all very well, Ida," said the Squire, "and of course nobody can
force you into a distasteful marriage, but I wish to point out one
thing. You have your family to think of as well as yourself. I tell
you frankly that I do not believe that as times are it will be
possible to raise thirty thousand pounds to pay off the charges unless
it is by the help of Edward Cossey. So if he lives--and as he has
lasted so long I expect that he will live--and you refuse to go on
with your engagement to him we shall be sold up, that is all; for this
man Quest, confound him, will show us no mercy."

"I know it, father," answered Ida, "but I cannot and will not marry
him, and I do not think you can expect me to do so. I became engaged,
or rather promised to become engaged to him, because I thought that
one woman had no right to put her own happiness before the welfare of
an old family like ours, and I would have carried out that engagement
at any cost. But since then, to tell you the truth," and she blushed
deeply, "not only have I learned to dislike him a great deal more, but
I have come to care for some one else who also cares for me, and who
therefore has a right to be considered. Think, father, what it means
to a woman to sell herself into bodily and mental bondage--when she
cares for another man."

"Well, well," said her father with some irritation, "I am no authority
upon matters of sentiment; they are not in my line and I know that
women have their prejudices. Still you can't expect me to look at the
matter in quite the same light as you do. And who is the gentleman?
Colonel Quaritch?"

She nodded her head.

"Oh," said the Squire, "I have nothing to say against Quaritch, indeed
I like the man, but I suppose that if he has 600 pounds a year, it is
every sixpence he can count on."

"I had rather marry him upon six hundred a year than Edward Cossey
upon sixty thousand."

"Ah, yes, I have heard young women talk like that before, though
perhaps they think differently afterwards. Of course I have no right
to obtrude myself, but when you are comfortably married, what is going
to become of Honham I should like to know, and incidentally of me?"

"I don't know, father, dear," she answered, her eyes filling with
tears; "we must trust to Providence, I suppose. I know you think me
very selfish," she went on, catching him by the arm, "but, oh, father!
there are things that are worse than death to women, or, at least, to
some women. I almost think that I would rather die than marry Edward
Cossey, though I should have gone through with it if he had kept his
word."

"No, no," said her father. "I can't wonder at it, and certainly I do
not ask you to marry a man whom you dislike. But still it is hard upon
me to have all this trouble at my age, and the old place coming to the
hammer too. It is enough to make a man wish that his worries were over
altogether. However, we must take things as we find them, and we find
them pretty rough. Quaritch said he was coming back this evening,
didn't he? I suppose there will not be any public engagement at
present, will there? And look here, Ida, I don't want him to come
talking to me about it. I have got enough things of my own to think of
without bothering my head with your love affairs. Pray let the matter
be for the present. And now I am going out to see that fellow George,
who hasn't been here since he came back from London, and a nice bit of
news it will be that I shall have to tell him."

When her father had gone Ida did a thing she had not done for some
time--she wept a little. All her fine intentions of self-denial had
broken down, and she felt humiliated at the fact. She had intended to
sacrifice herself upon the altar of her duty and to make herself the
wedded wife of a man whom she disliked, and now on the first
opportunity she had thrown up the contract on a quibble--a point of
law as it were. Nature had been too strong for her, as it often is for
people with deep feelings; she could not do it, no, not to save Honham
from the hammer. When she had promised that she would engage herself
to Edward Cossey she had not been in love with Colonel Quaritch; now
she was, and the difference between the two states is considerable.
Still the fall humiliated her pride, and what is more she felt that
her father was disappointed in her. Of course she could not expect him
at his age to enter into her private feelings, for when looked at
through the mist of years sentiment appears more or less foolish. She
knew very well that age often strips men of those finer sympathies and
sensibilities which clothe them in youth, much as the winter frost and
wind strip the delicate foliage from the trees. And to such the music
of the world is dead. Love has vanished with the summer dews, and in
its place are cutting blasts and snows and sere memories rustling like
fallen leaves about the feet. As we grow old we are too apt to grow
away from beauty and what is high and pure, our hearts harden by
contact with the hard world. We examine love and find, or believe we
find, that it is nought but a variety of passion; friendship, and
think it self-interest; religion, and name it superstition. The facts
of life alone remain clear and desirable. We know that money means
power, and we turn our face to Mammon, and if he smiles upon us we are
content to let our finer visions go where our youth has gone.

"Trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home."

So says the poet, but alas! the clouds soon melt into the grey air of
the world, and some of us, before our course is finished, forget that
they ever were. And yet which is the shadow of the truth--those
dreams, and hopes, and aspirations of our younger life, or the
corruption with which the world cakes our souls?

Ida knew that she could not expect her father to sympathise with her;
she knew that to his judgment, circumstances being the same, and both
suitors being equally sound in wind and limb, the choice of one of
them should, to a large extent, be a matter to be decided by the
exterior considerations of wealth and general convenience.

However, she had made her choice, made it suddenly, but none the less
had made it. It lay between her father's interest and the interest of
the family at large and her own honour as a woman--for the mere empty
ceremony of marriage which satisfies society cannot make dishonour an
honourable thing. She had made her choice, and the readers of her
history must judge if that choice was right or wrong.

After dinner Harold came again as he had promised. The Squire was not
in the drawing-room when he was shown in.

Ida rose to greet him with a sweet and happy smile upon her face, for
in the presence of her lover all her doubts and troubles vanished like
a mist.

"I have a piece of news for you," said he, trying to look as though he
was rejoiced to give it. "Edward Cossey has taken a wonderful turn for
the better. They say that he will certainly recover."

"Oh," she answered, colouring a little, "and now I have a piece of
news for you, Colonel Quaritch. My engagement with Mr. Edward Cossey
is at an end. I shall not marry him."

"Are you sure?" said Harold with a gasp.

"Quite sure. I have made up my mind," and she held out her hand, as
though to seal her words.

He took it and kissed it. "Thank heaven, Ida," he said.

"Yes," she answered, "thank heaven;" and at that moment the Squire
came in, looking very miserable and depressed, and of course nothing
more was said about the matter.

CHAPTER XXXII

GEORGE PROPHESIES AGAIN

Six weeks passed, and in that time several things happened. In the
first place the miserly old banker, Edward Cossey's father, had died,
his death being accelerated by the shock of his son's accident. On his
will being opened, it was found that property and money to no less a
value than 600,000 pounds passed under it to Edward absolutely, the
only condition attached being that he should continue in the house of
Cossey and Son and leave a certain share of his fortune in the
business.

Edward Cossey also, thanks chiefly to Belle's tender nursing, had
almost recovered, with one exception--he was, and would be for life,
stone deaf in the right ear. The paralysis which the doctors feared
had not shown itself. One of his first questions when he became
convalescent was addressed to Belle Quest.

As in a dream, he had always seen her sweet face hanging over him, and
dimly known that she was ministering to him.

"Have you nursed me ever since the accident, Belle?" he said.

"Yes," she answered.

"It is very good of you, considering all things," he murmured. "I
wonder that you did not let me die."

But she turned her face to the wall and never said a word, nor did any
further conversation on these matters pass between them.

Then as his strength came back so did his passion for Ida de la Molle
revive. He was not allowed to write or even receive letters, and with
this explanation of her silence he was fain to content himself. But
the Squire, he was told, often called to inquire after him, and once
or twice Ida came with him.

At length a time came--it was two days after he had been told of his
father's death--when he was pronounced fit to be moved into his own
rooms and to receive his correspondence as usual.

The move was effected without any difficulty, and here Belle bade him
good-bye. Even as she did so George drove his fat pony up to the door,
and getting down gave a letter to the landlady, with particular
instructions that it was to be delivered into Mr. Cossey's own hands.
As she passed Belle saw that it was addressed in the Squire's
handwriting.

When it was delivered to him Edward Cossey opened it with eagerness.
It contained an inclosure in Ida's writing, and this he read first. It
ran as follows:

"Dear Mr. Cossey,--

"I am told that you are now able to read letters, so I hasten to
write to you. First of all, let me say how thankful I am that you
are in a fair way to complete recovery from your dreadful
accident. And now I must tell you what I fear will be almost as
painful to you to read as it is for me to write, namely, that the
engagement between us is at an end. To put the matter frankly, you
will remember that I rightly or wrongly became engaged to you on a
certain condition. That condition has not been fulfilled, for Mr.
Quest, to whom the mortgages on my father's property have been
transferred by you, is pressing for their payment. Consequently
the obligation on my part is at an end, and with it the engagement
must end also, for I grieve to tell you that it is not one which
my personal inclination will induce me to carry out. Wishing you a
speedy and complete recovery, and every happiness and prosperity
in your future life, believe me, dear Mr. Cossey,

"Very truly yours,
"Ida de la Molle."

He put down this uncompromising and crushing epistle and nervously
glanced at the Squire's, which was very short.

"My dear Cossey," it began,--

"Ida has shown me the inclosed letter. I think that you did unwisely
when you entered into what must be called a money bargain for my
daughter's hand. Whether under all the circumstances she does
either well or wisely to repudiate the engagement after it has
once been agreed upon, is not for me to judge. She is a free agent
and has a natural right to dispose of her life as she thinks fit.
This being so I have of course no option but to endorse her
decision, so far as I have anything to do with the matter. It is a
decision which I for some reasons regret, but which I am quite
powerless to alter.

"Believe me, with kind regards,
"Truly yours,
"James de la Molle."

Edward Cossey turned his face to the wall and indulged in such
meditations as the occasion gave rise to, and they were bitter enough.
He was as bent upon this marriage as he had ever been, more so in
fact, now that his father was out of the way. He knew that Ida
disliked him, he had known that all along, but he had trusted to time
and marriage to overcome the dislike. And now that accursed Quest had
brought about the ruin of his hopes. Ida had seen her chance of
escape, and, like a bold woman, had seized upon it. There was one ray
of hope, and one only. He knew that the money would not be forthcoming
to pay off the mortgages. He could see too from the tone of the
Squire's letter that he did not altogether approve of his daughter's
decision. And his father was dead. Like Caesar, he was the master of
many legions, or rather of much money, which is as good as legions.
Money can make most paths smooth to the feet of the traveller, and why
not this? After much thought he came to a conclusion. He would not
trust his chance to paper, he would plead his cause in person. So he
wrote a short note to the Squire acknowledging Ida's and his letter,
and saying that he hoped to come and see them as soon as ever the
doctor would allow him out of doors.

Meanwhile George, having delivered his letter, had gone upon another
errand. Pulling up the fat pony in front of Mr. Quest's office he
alighted and entered. Mr. Quest was disengaged, and he was shown
straight into the inner office, where the lawyer sat, looking more
refined and gentlemanlike than ever.

"How do you do, George?" he said cheerily; "sit down; what is it?"

"Well, sir," answered that lugubrious worthy, as he awkwardly took a
seat, "the question is what isn't it? These be rum times, they be,
they fare to puzzle a man, they du."

"Yes," said Mr. Quest, balancing a quill pen on his finger, "the times
are bad enough."

Then came a pause.

"Dash it all, sir," went on George presently, "I may as well get it
out; I hev come to speak to you about the Squire's business."

"Yes," said Mr. Quest.

"Well, sir," went on George, "I'm told that these dratted mortgages
hev passed into your hands, and that you hev called in the money."

"Yes, that is correct," said Mr. Quest again.

"Well, sir, the fact is that the Squire can't git the money. It can't
be had nohow. Nobody won't take the land as security. It might be so
much water for all folk to look at it."

"Quite so. Land is in very bad odour as security now."

"And that being so, sir, what is to be done?"

Mr. Quest shrugged his shoulders. "I do not know. If the money is not
forthcoming, of course I shall, however unwillingly, be forced to take
my legal remedy."

"Meaning, sir----"

"Meaning that I shall bring an action for foreclosure and do what I
can with the lands."

George's face darkened.

"And that reads, sir, that the Squire and Miss Ida will be turned out
of Honham, where they and theirs hev been for centuries, and that you
will turn in?"

"Well, that is what it comes to, George. I am sincerely sorry to press
the Squire, but it's a matter of thirty thousand pounds, and I am not
in a position to throw away thirty thousand pounds."

"Sir," said George, rising in indignation, "I don't rightly know how
you came by them there mortgages. There is some things as laryers know
and honest men don't know, and that's one on them. But it seems that
you've got 'em and are a-going to use 'em--and that being so, Mr.
Quest, I have summut to say to you--and that is that no good won't
come to you from this here move."

"What do you mean by that, George?" said the lawyer sharply.

"Niver you mind what I mean, sir. I means what I says. I means that
sometimes people has things in their lives snugged away where nobody
can't see 'em, things as quiet as though they was dead and buried, and
that ain't dead nor buried neither, things so much alive that they
fare as though they were fit to kick the lid off their coffin. That's
what I means, sir, and I means that when folk set to work to do a hard
and wicked thing those dead things sometimes gits up and walks where
they is least wanting; and mayhap if you goes on for to turn the old
Squire and Miss Ida out of the Castle, mayhap, sir, summut of that
sort will happen to you, for mark my word, sir, there's justice in the
world, sir, as mebbe you will find out. And now, sir, begging your
pardon, I'll wish you good-morning, and leave you to think on what
I've said," and he was gone.

"George!" called Mr. Quest after him, rising from his chair, "George!"
but George was out of hearing.

"Now what did he mean by that--what the devil did he mean?" said Mr.
Quest with a gasp as he sat down again. "Surely," he thought, "that
man cannot have got hold of anything about Edith. Impossible,
impossible; if he had he would have said more, he would not have
confined himself to hinting, that would take a cleverer man, he would
have shown his hand. He must have been speaking at random to frighten
me, I suppose. By heaven! what a thing it would be if he /had/ got
hold of something. Ruin! absolute ruin! I'll settle up this business
as soon as I can and leave the country; I can't stand the strain, it's
like having a sword over one's head. I've half a mind to leave it in
somebody else's hands and go at once. No, for that would look like
running away. It must be all rubbish; how could he know anything about
it?"

So shaken was he, however, that though he tried once and yet again, he
found it impossible to settle himself down to work till he had taken a
couple of glasses of sherry from the decanter in the cupboard. Even as
he did so he wondered if the shadow of the sword disturbed him so
much, how he would be affected if it ever was his lot to face the
glimmer of its naked blade.

No further letter came to Edward Cossey from the Castle, but,
impatient as he was to do so, another fortnight elapsed before he was
able to see Ida and her father. At last one fine December morning for
the first time since his accident he was allowed to take carriage
exercise, and his first drive was to Honham Castle.

When the Squire, who was sitting in the vestibule writing letters, saw
a poor pallid man, rolled up in fur, with a white face scarred with
shot marks and black rings round his large dark eyes, being helped
from a closed carriage, he did not know who it was, and called to Ida,
who was passing along the passage, to tell him.

Of course she recognised her admirer instantly, and wished to leave
the room, but her father prevented her.

"You got into this mess," he said, forgetting how and for whom she got
into it, "and now you must get out of it in your own way."

When Edward, having been assisted into the room, saw Ida standing
there, all the blood in his wasted body seemed to rush into his pallid
face.

"How do you do, Mr. Cossey?" she said. "I am glad to see you out, and
hope that you are better."

"I beg your pardon, I cannot hear you," he said, turning round; "I am
stone deaf in my right ear."

A pang of pity shot through her heart. Edward Cossey, feeble,
dejected, and limping from the jaws of Death, was a very different
being to Edward Cossey in the full glow of his youth, health, and
strength. Indeed, so much did his condition appeal to her sympathies
that for the first time since her mental attitude towards him had been
one of entire indifference, she looked on him without repugnance.

Meanwhile her father had shaken him by the hand, and led him to an
armchair before the fire.

Then after a few questions and answers as to his accident and merciful
recovery there came a pause.

At length he broke it. "I have come to see you both," he said with a
faint nervous smile, "about the letters you wrote me. If my condition
had allowed I should have come before, but it would not."

"Yes," said the Squire attentively, while Ida folded her hands in her
lap and sat still with her eyes fixed upon the fire.

"It seems," he went on, "that the old proverb has applied to my case
as to so many others--being absent I have suffered. I understand from
these letters that my engagement to you, Miss de la Molle, is broken
off."

She made a motion of assent.

"And that it is broken off on the ground that having been forced by a
combination of circumstances which I cannot enter into to transfer the
mortgages to Mr. Quest, consequently I broke my bargain with you?"

"Yes," said Ida.

"Very well then, I come to tell you both that I am ready to find the
money to meet those mortgages and to pay them off in full."

"Ah!" said the Squire.

"Also that I am ready to do what I offered to do before, and which, as
my father is now dead, I am perfectly in a position to do, namely, to
settle two hundred thousand pounds absolutely upon Ida, and indeed
generally to do anything else that she or you may wish," and he looked
at the Squire.

"It is no use looking to me for an answer," said he with some
irritation. "I have no voice in the matter."

He turned to Ida, who put her hand before her face and shook her head.

"Perhaps," said Edward, somewhat bitterly, "I should not be far wrong
if I said that Colonel Quaritch has more to do with your change of
mind than the fact of the transfer of these mortgages."

She dropped her hand and looked him full in the face.

"You are quite right, Mr. Cossey," she said boldly. "Colonel Quaritch
and I are attached to each other, and we hope one day to be married."

"Confound that Quaritch," growled the Squire beneath his breath.

Edward winced visibly at this outspoken statement.

"Ida," he said, "I make one last appeal to you. I am devoted to you
with all my heart; so devoted that though it may seem foolish to say
so, especially before your father, I really think I would rather not
have recovered from my accident than that I should have recovered for
this. I will give you everything that a woman can want, and my money
will make your family what it was centuries ago, the greatest in the
country side. I don't pretend to have been a saint--perhaps you may
have heard something against me in that way--or to be anything out of
the common. I am only an ordinary every-day man, but I am devoted to
you. Think, then, before you refuse me altogether."

"I have thought, Mr. Cossey," answered Ida almost passionately: "I
have thought until I am tired of thinking, and I do not consider it
fair that you should press me like this, especially before my father."

"Then," he said, rising with difficulty, "I have said all I have to
say, and done all that I can do. I shall still hope that you may
change your mind. I shall not yet abandon hope. Good-bye."

She touched his hand, and then the Squire offering him his arm, he
went down the steps to his carriage.

"I hope, Mr. de la Molle," he said, "that bad as things look for me,
if they should take a turn I shall have your support."

"My dear sir," answered the Squire, "I tell you frankly that I wish my
daughter would marry you. As I said before, it would for obvious
reasons be desirable. But Ida is not like ordinary women. When she
sets her mind upon a thing she sets it like a flint. Times may change,
however, and that is all I can say. Yes, if I were you, I should
remember that this is a changeable world, and women are the most
changeable things in it."

When the carriage was gone he re-entered the vestibule. Ida, who was
going away much disturbed in mind, saw him come, and knew from the
expression of his face that there would be trouble. With
characteristic courage she turned, determined to brave it out.

CHAPTER XXXIII

THE SQUIRE SPEAKS HIS MIND

For a minute or more her father fidgeted about, moving his papers
backwards and forwards but saying nothing.

At last he spoke. "You have taken a most serious and painful step,
Ida," he said. "Of course you have a right to do as you please, you
are of full age, and I cannot expect that you will consider me or your
family in your matrimonial engagements, but at the same time I think
it is my duty to point out to you what it is that you are doing. You
are refusing one of the finest matches in England in order to marry a
broken-down, middle-aged, half-pay colonel, a man who can hardly
support you, whose part in life is played, or who is apparently too
idle to seek another."

Here Ida's eyes flashed ominously, but she made no comment, being
apparently afraid to trust herself to speak.

"You are doing this," went on her father, working himself up as he
spoke, "in the face of my wishes, and with a knowledge that your
action will bring your family, to say nothing of your father, to utter
and irretrievable ruin."

"Surely, father, surely," broke in Ida, almost in a cry, "you would
not have me marry one man when I love another. When I made the promise
I had not become attached to Colonel Quaritch."

"Love! pshaw!" said her father. "Don't talk to me in that sentimental
and school-girl way--you are too old for it. I am a plain man, and I
believe in family affection and in /duty/, Ida. /Love/, as you call
it, is only too often another word for self-will and selfishness and
other things that we are better without."

"I can understand, father," answered Ida, struggling to keep her
temper under this jobation, "that my refusal to marry Mr. Cossey is
disagreeable to you for obvious reasons, though it is not so very long
since you detested him yourself. But I do not see why an honest
woman's affection for another man should be talked of as though there
was something shameful about it. It is all very well to sneer at
'love,' but, after all a woman is flesh and blood; she is not a
chattel or a slave girl, and marriage is not like anything else--it
means many things to a woman. There is no magic about marriage to make
that which is unrighteous righteous."

"There," said her father, "it is no good your lecturing to me on
marriage, Ida. If you do not want to marry Cossey, I can't force you
to. If you want to ruin me, your family and yourself, you must do so.
But there is one thing. While it is over me, which I suppose will not
be for much longer, my house is my own, and I will not have that
Colonel of yours hanging about it, and I shall write to him to say so.
You are your own mistress, and if you choose to walk over to church
and marry him you can do so, but it will be done without my consent,
which of course, however, is an unnecessary formality. Do you hear me,
Ida?"

"If you have quite done, father," she answered coldly, "I should like
to go before I say something which I might be sorry for. Of course you
can write what you like to Colonel Quaritch, and I shall write to him,
too."

Her father made no answer beyond sitting down at his table and
grabbing viciously at a pen. So she left the room, indignant, indeed,
but with as heavy a heart as any woman could carry in her breast.

"Dear Sir," wrote the not unnaturally indignant Squire, "I have
been informed by my daughter Ida of her entanglement with you. It
is one which, for reasons that I need not enter into, is
distasteful to me, as well as, I am sorry to say, ruinous to Ida
herself and to her family. Ida is of full age, and must, of
course, do as she pleases with herself. But I cannot consent to
become a party to what I disapprove of so strongly, and this being
the case, I must beg you to cease your visits to my house.

"I am, sir, your obedient servant,
"James de la Molle.

"Colonel Quaritch, V.C."

Ida as soon as she had sufficiently recovered herself also wrote to
the Colonel. She told him the whole story, keeping nothing back, and
ended her letter thus:

"Never, dear Harold, was a woman in a greater difficulty and never
have I more needed help and advice. You know and have good reason to
know how hateful this marriage would be to me, loving you as I do
entirely and alone, and having no higher desire than to become your
wife. But of course I see the painfulness of the position. I am not so
selfish as my father believes or says that he believes. I quite
understand how great would be the material advantage to my father if I
could bring myself to marry Mr. Cossey. You may remember I told you
once that I thought no woman has a right to prefer her own happiness
to the prosperity of her whole family. But, Harold, it is easy to
speak thus, and very, very hard to act up to it. What am I to do? What
am I to do? And yet how can I in common fairness ask you to answer
that question? God help us both, Harold! Is there /no/ way out of it?"

These letters were both duly received by Harold Quaritch on the
following morning and threw him into a fever of anxiety and doubt. He
was a just and reasonable man, and, knowing something of human nature,
under the circumstances did not altogether wonder at the Squire's
violence and irritation. The financial position of the de la Molle
family was little, if anything, short of desperate. He could easily
understand how maddening it must be to a man like Mr. de la Molle, who
loved Honham, which had for centuries been the home of his race,
better than he loved anything on earth, to suddenly realise that it
must pass away from him and his for ever, merely because a woman
happened to prefer one man to another, and that man, to his view, the
less eligible of the two. So keenly did he realise this, indeed, that
he greatly doubted whether or no he was justified in continuing his
advances to Ida. Finally, after much thought, he wrote to the Squire
as follows:

"I have received your letter, and also one from Ida, and I hope you
will believe me when I say that I quite understand and sympathise with
the motives which evidently led you to write it. I am unfortunately--
although I never regretted it till now--a poor man, whereas my rival
suitor is a rich one. I shall, of course, strictly obey your
injunctions; and, moreover, I can assure you that, whatever my own
feelings may be in the matter, I shall do nothing, either directly or
indirectly, to influence Ida's ultimate decision. She must decide for
herself."

To Ida herself he also wrote at length:

"Dearest Ida," he ended, "I can say nothing more; you must judge for
yourself; and I shall accept your decision loyally whatever it may be.
It is unnecessary for me to tell you how inextricably my happiness in
life is interwoven with that decision, but at the same time I do not
wish to influence it. It certainly to my mind does not seem right that
a woman should be driven into sacrificing her whole life to secure any
monetary advantage either for herself or for others, but then the
world is full of things that are not right. I can give you no advice,
for I do not know what advice I ought to give. I try to put myself out
of the question and to consider you, and you only; but even then I
fear that my judgment is not impartial. At any rate, the less we see
of each other at present the better, for I do not wish to appear to be
taking any undue advantage. If we are destined to pass our lives
together, this temporary estrangement will not matter, and if on the
other hand we are doomed to a life-long separation the sooner we begin
the better. It is a hard world, and sometimes (as it does now) my
heart sinks within me as from year to year I struggle on towards a
happiness that ever vanishes when I stretch out my hand to clasp it;
but, if I feel thus, what must you feel who have so much more to bear?
My dearest love, what can I say? I can only say with you, God help
us!"

This letter did not tend to raise Ida's spirits. Evidently her lover
saw that there was another side to the question--the side of duty, and
was too honest to hide it from her. She had said that she would have
nothing to do with Edward Cossey, but she was well aware that the
matter was still an open one. What should she do, what ought she to
do? Abandon her love, desecrate herself and save her father and her
house, or cling to her love and leave the rest to chance? It was a
cruel position, nor did the lapse of time tend to make it less cruel.
Her father went about the place pale and melancholy--all his jovial
manner had vanished beneath the pressure of impending ruin. He treated
her with studious and old-fashioned courtesy, but she could see that
he was bitterly aggrieved by her conduct and that the anxiety of his
position was telling on his health. If this was the case now, what,
she wondered, would happen in the Spring, when steps were actually
taken to sell the place?

One bright cold morning she was walking with her father through the
fields down on the foot-path that led to the church, and it would have
been hard to say which of the two looked the paler or the more
miserable. On the previous day the Squire had seen Mr. Quest and made
as much of an appeal /ad misericordiam/ to him as his pride would
allow, only to find the lawyer very courteous, very regretful, but
hard as adamant. Also that very morning a letter had reached him from
London announcing that the last hope of raising money to meet the
mortgages had failed.

The path ran along towards the road past a line of oaks. Half-way down
this line they came across George, who, with his marking instrument in
his hand, was contemplating some of the trees which it was proposed to
take down.

"What are you doing there?" said the Squire, in a melancholy voice.

"Marking, Squire."

"Then you may as well save yourself the trouble, for the place will
belong to somebody else before the sap is up in those oaks."

"Now, Squire, don't you begin to talk like that, for I don't believe
it. That ain't a-going to happen."

"Ain't a-going to happen, you stupid fellow, ain't a-going to happen,"
answered the Squire with a dreary laugh. "Why, look there," and he
pointed to a dog-cart which had drawn up on the road in such a
position that they could see it without its occupants seeing them;
"they are taking notes already."

George looked and so did Ida. Mr. Quest was the driver of the dog-
cart, which he had pulled up in such a position as to command a view
of the Castle, and his companion--in whom George recognised a well-
known London auctioneer who sometimes did business in these parts--was
standing up, an open notebook in his hand, alternately looking at the
noble towers of the gateway and jotting down memoranda.

"Damn 'em, and so they be," said George, utterly forgetting his
manners.

Ida looked up and saw her father's eyes fixed firmly upon her with an
expression that seemed to say, "See, you wilful woman, see the ruin
that you have brought upon us!"

She turned away; she could not bear it, and that very night she came
to a determination, which in due course was communicated to Harold,
and him alone. That determination was to let things be for the
present, upon the chance of something happening by means of which the
dilemma might be solved. But if nothing happened--and indeed it did
not seem probable to her that anything would happen--then she would
sacrifice herself at the last moment. She believed, indeed she knew,
that she could always call Edward Cossey back to her if she liked. It
was a compromise, and like all compromises had an element of weakness;
but it gave time, and time to her was like breath to the dying.

"Sir," said George presently, "it's Boisingham Quarter Sessions the
day after to-morrow, ain't it?" (Mr. de la Molle was chairman of
Quarter Sessions.)

"Yes, of course, it is."

George thought for a minute.

"I'm a-thinking, Squire, that if I arn't wanting that day I want to go
up to Lunnon about a bit of business."

"Go up to London!" said the Squire; "why what are you going to do
there? You were in London the other day."

"Well, Squire," he answered, looking inexpressibly sly, "that ain't no
matter of nobody's. It's a bit of private affairs."

"Oh, all right," said the Squire, his interest dying out. "You are
always full of twopenny-halfpenny mysteries," and he continued his
walk.

But George shook his fist in the direction of the road down which the
dog-cart had driven.

"Ah! you laryer devil," he said, alluding to Mr. Quest. "If I don't
make Boisingham, yes, and all England, too hot to hold you, my mother
never christened me and my name ain't George. I'll give you what for,
my cuckoo, that I will!"

CHAPTER XXXIV

GEORGE'S DIPLOMATIC ERRAND

George carried out his intention of going to London. On the second
morning after the day when Mr. Quest had driven the auctioneer in the
dog-cart to Honham, he might have been seen an hour before it was
light purchasing a third class return ticket to Liverpool Street.
Arriving there in safety he partook of a second breakfast, for it was
ten o'clock, and then hiring a cab caused himself to be driven to the
end of that street in Pimlico where he had gone with the fair
"Edithia" and where Johnnie had made acquaintance with his ash stick.

Dismissing the cab he made his way to the house with the red pillars,
but on arriving was considerably taken aback, for the place had every
appearance of being deserted. There were no blinds to the windows, and
on the steps were muddy footmarks and bits of rag and straw which
seemed to be the litter of a recent removal. Indeed, there on the road
were the broad wheelmarks of the van which had carted off the
furniture. He stared at this sight in dismay. The bird had apparently
flown, leaving no address, and he had taken his trip for nothing.

He pressed upon the electric bell; that is, he did this ultimately.
George was not accustomed to electric bells, indeed he had never seen
one before, and after attempting in vain to pull it with his fingers
(for he knew that it must be a bell because there was the word itself
written on it), as a last resource he condescended to try his teeth.
Ultimately, however, he discovered how to use it, but without result.
Either the battery had been taken away, or it was out of gear. Just as
he was wondering what to do next he made a discovery--the door was
slightly ajar. He pushed it and it opened--revealing a dirty hall,
stripped of every scrap of furniture. Entering, he shut the door and
walked up the stairs to the room whence he had fled after thrashing
Johnnie. Here he paused and listened, thinking that he heard somebody
in the room. Nor was he mistaken, for presently a well-remembered
voice shrilled out:

"Who's skulking round outside there? If it's one of those bailiffs
he'd better hook it, for there's nothing left here."

George's countenance positively beamed at the sound.

"Bailiffs, marm?" he called through the door--"it ain't no varminty
bailiffs, it's a friend, and just when you're a-wanting one seemingly.
Can I come in?"

"Oh, yes, come in, whoever you are," said the voice. Accordingly he
opened the door and entered, and this was what he saw. The room, like
the rest of the house, had been stripped of everything, with the
solitary exceptions of a box and a mattress, beside which were an
empty bottle and a dirty glass. On the mattress sat the fair Edithia,
/alias/ Mrs. d'Aubigne, /alias/ the Tiger, /alias/ Mrs. Quest, and
such a sight as she presented George had never seen before. Her fierce
face bore traces of recent heavy drinking and was moreover dirty,
haggard and dreadful to look upon; her hair was a frowsy mat, on some
patches of which the golden dye had faded, leaving it its natural hue
of doubtful grey. She wore no collar and her linen was open at the
neck. On her feet were a filthy pair of white satin slippers, and on
her back that same gorgeous pink satin tea-gown which Mr. Quest had
observed on the occasion of his visit, now however soiled and torn.
Anything more squalid or repulsive than the whole picture cannot be
imagined, and though his nerves were pretty strong, and in the course
of his life he had seen many a sight of utter destitution, George
literally recoiled from it.

"What's the matter?" said the hag sharply, "and who the dickens are
you? Ah, I know now; you're the chap who whacked Johnnie," and she
burst into a hoarse scream of laughter at the recollection. "It was
mean of you though to hook it and leave me. He pulled me, and I was
fined two pounds by the beak."

"Mean of /him/, marm, not me, but he was a mean varmint altogether he
was; to go and pull a lady too, I niver heard of such a thing. But,
marm, if I might say so, you seem to be in trouble here," and he took
a seat upon the deal box.

"In trouble, I should think I was in trouble. There's been an
execution in the house, that is, there's been three executions, one
for rates and taxes, one for a butcher's bill, and one for rent. They
all came together, and fought like wild cats for the things. That was
yesterday, and you see all they have left me; cleaned out everything
down to my new yellow satin, and then asked for more. They wanted to
know where my jewellery was, but I did them, hee, hee!"

"Meaning, marm?"

"Meaning that I hid it, that is, what was left of it, under a board.
But that ain't the worst. When I was asleep that devil Ellen, who's
had her share all these years, got to the board and collared the
things and bolted with them, and look what she's left me instead," and
she held up a scrap of paper, "a receipt for five years' wages, and
she's had them over and over again. Ah, if ever I get a chance at
her," and she doubled her long hand and made a motion as of a person
scratching. "She's bolted and left me here to starve. I haven't had a
bit since yesterday, nor a drink either, and that's worse. What's to
become of me? I'm starving. I shall have to go to the workhouse. Yes,
me," she added in a scream, "me, who have spent thousands; I shall
have to go to a workhouse like a common woman!"

"It's cruel, marm, cruel," said the sympathetic George, "and you a
lawful wedded wife 'till death do us part.' But, marm, I saw a public
over the way. Now, no offence, but you'll let me just go over and
fetch a bite and a sup."

"Well," she answered hungrily, "you're a gent, you are, though you're
a country one. You go, while I just make a little toilette, and as for
the drink, why let it be brandy."

"Brandy it shall be," said the gallant George, and departed.

In ten minutes he returned with a supply of beef patties, and a bottle
of good, strong "British Brown," which as everybody knows is a
sufficient quantity to render three privates or two blue-jackets drunk
and incapable.

The woman, who now presented a slightly more respectable appearance,
seized the bottle, and pouring about a wine-glass and a half of its
contents into a tumbler mixed it with an equal quantity of water and
drank it off at a draught.

"That's better," she said, "and now for a patty. It's a real picnic,
this is."

He handed her one, but she could not eat more than half of it, for
alcohol destroys the healthier appetites, and she soon went back to
the brandy bottle.

"Now, marm, that you are a little more comfortable, perhaps you will
tell me how as you got into this way, and you with a rich husband, as
I well knows, to love and cherish you."

"A husband to love and cherish me?" she said; "why, I have written to
him three times to tell him that I'm starving, and never a cent has he
given me--and there's no allowance due yet, and when there is they'll
take it, for I owe hundreds."

"Well," said George, "I call it cruel--cruel, and he rolling in gold.
Thirty thousand pounds he hev just made, that I knows on. You must be
an angel, marm, to stand it, an angel without wings. If it were my
husband, now I'd know the reason why."

"Ay, but I daren't. He'd murder me. He said he would."

George laughed gently. "Lord! Lord!" he said, "to see how men play it
off upon poor weak women, working on their narves and that like. He
kill you! Laryer Quest kill you, and he the biggest coward in
Boisingham; but there it is. This is a world of wrong, as the parson
says, and the poor shorn lambs must jamb their tails down and turn
their backs to the wind, and so must you, marm. So it's the workhus
you'll be in to-morrow. Well, you'll find it a poor place; the skilly
is that rough it do fare to take the skin off your throat, and not a
drop of liquor, not even of a cup of hot tea, and work too, lots of it
--scrubbing, marm, scrubbing!"

This vivid picture of miseries to come drew something between a sob
and a howl from the woman. There is nothing more horrible to the
imagination of such people than the idea of being forced to work. If
their notions of a future state of punishment could be got at, they
would be found in nine cases out of ten to resolve themselves into a
vague conception of hard labour in a hot climate. It was the idea of
the scrubbing that particularly affected the Tiger.

"I won't do it," she said, "I'll go to chokey first----"

"Look here, marm," said George, in a persuasive voice, and pushing the
brandy bottle towards her, "where's the need for you to go to the
workhus or to chokey either--you with a rich husband as is bound by
law to support you as becomes a lady? And, marm, mind another thing, a
husband as hev wickedly deserted you--which how he could do so it
ain't for me to say--and is living along of another young party."

She took some more brandy before she answered.

"That's all very well, you duffer," she said; "but how am I to get at
him? I tell you I'm afraid of him, and even if I weren't, I haven't a
cent to travel with, and if I got there what am I to do?"

"As for being afeard, marm," he answered, "I've told you Laryer Quest
is a long sight more frightened of you than you are of him. Then as
for money, why, marm, I'm a-going down to Boisingham myself by the
train as leaves Liverpool Street at half-past one, and that's an hour
and a bit from now, and it's proud and pleased I should be to take a
lady down and be the means of bringing them as has been in holy
matrimony togither again. And as to what you should do when you gets
there, why, you should just walk up with your marriage lines and say,
'You are my lawful husband, and I calls on you to cease living as you
didn't oughter and to take me back;' and if he don't, why then you
swears an information, and it's a case of warrant for bigamy."

The woman chuckled, and then suddenly seized with suspicion looked at
her visitor sharply.

"What do you want me to blow the gaff for?" she said; "you're a leery
old hand, you are, for all your simple ways, and you've got some game
on, I'll take my davy."

"I a game--I----!" answered George, an expression of the deepest pain
spreading itself over his ugly features. "No, marm--and when one hev
wanted to help a friend too. Well, if you think that--and no doubt
misfortune hev made you doubtful-like--the best I can do is to bid you
good-day, and to wish you well out of your troubles, workhus and all,
marm, which I do according," and he rose from his box with much
dignity, politely bowed to the hag on the mattress, and then turning
walked towards the door.

She sprung up with an oath.

"I'll go," she said. "I'll take the change out of him; I'll teach him
to let his lawful wife starve on a beggarly pittance. I don't care if
he does try to kill me. I'll ruin him," and she stamped upon the floor
and screamed, "I'll ruin him, I'll ruin him!" presenting such a
picture of abandoned rage and wickedness that even George, whose
feelings were not finely strung, inwardly shrank from her.

"Ah, marm," he said, "no wonder you're put about. When I think of what
you've had to suffer, I own it makes my blood go a-biling through my
veins. But if you is a-coming, mayhap it would be as well to stop
cursing of and put your hat on, and we hev got to catch the train."
And he pointed to a head-gear chiefly made of somewhat dilapidated
peacock feathers, and an ulster which the bailiffs had either
overlooked or left through pity.

She put on the hat and cloak. Then going to the hole beneath the
board, out of which she said the woman Ellen had stolen her jewellery,
she extracted the copy of the certificate of marriage which that lady
had not apparently thought worth taking, and placed it in the pocket
of her pink silk /peignoir/.

Then George having first secured the remainder of the bottle of
brandy, which he slipped into his capacious pocket, they started, and
drove to Liverpool Street. Such a spectacle as the Tiger upon the
platform George was wont in after days to declare he never did see.
But it can easily be imagined that a fierce, dissolute, hungry-looking
woman, with half-dyed hair, who had drunk as much as was good for her,
dressed in a hat made of shabby peacock feathers, dirty white shoes,
an ulster with some buttons off, and a gorgeous but filthy pink silk
tea-gown, presented a sufficiently curious appearance. Nor did it lose
strength by contrast with that of her companion, the sober and
melancholy-looking George, who was arrayed in his pepper-and-salt
Sunday suit.

So curious indeed was their aspect that the people loitering about the
platform collected round them, and George, who felt heartily ashamed
of the position, was thankful enough when once the train started. From
motives of economy he had taken her a third-class ticket, and at this
she grumbled, saying that she was accustomed to travel, like a lady
should, first; but he appeased her with the brandy bottle.

All the journey through he talked to her about her wrongs, till at
last, what between the liquor and his artful incitements, she was
inflamed into a condition of savage fury against Mr. Quest. When once
she got to this point he would let her have no more brandy, seeing
that she was now ripe for his purpose, which was of course to use her
to ruin the man who would ruin the house he served.

Mr. Quest, sitting in state as Clerk to the Magistrates assembled in
Quarter Sessions at the Court House, Boisingham, little guessed that
the sword at whose shadow he had trembled all these years was even now
falling on his head. Still less did he dream that the hand to cut the
thread which held it was that of the stupid bumpkin whose warning he
had despised.

CHAPTER XXXV

THE SWORD OF DAMOCLES

At last the weary journey was over, and to George's intense relief he
found himself upon the platform at Boisingham. He was a pretty tough
subject, but he felt that a very little more of the company of the
fair Edithia would be too much for him. As it happened, the station-
master was a particular friend of his, and the astonishment of that
worthy when he saw the respectable George in such company could
scarcely be expressed in words.

"Why boar! Well I never! Is she a furriner?" he ejaculated in
astonishment.

"If you mean me," said Edithia, who was by now in fine bellicose
condition, "I'm no more foreign than you are. Shut up, can't you?
or----" and she took a step towards the stout station-master. He
retreated precipitately, caught his heel against the threshold of the
booking office and vanished backwards with a crash.

"Steady, marm, steady," said George. "Save it up now, do, and as for
you, don't you irritate her none of yer, or I won't answer for the
consequences, for she's an injured woman she is, and injured women is
apt to be dangerous."

It chanced that a fly which had brought somebody to the station was
still standing there. George bundled his fair charge into it, telling
the driver to go to the Sessions House.

"Now, marm," he said, "listen to me; I'm a-going to take you to the
man as hev wronged you. He's sitting as clerk to the magistrates. Do
you go up and call him your husband. Thin he'll tell the policeman to
take you away. Thin do you sing out for justice, because when people
sings out for justice everybody's bound to hearken, and say how as you
wants a warrant agin him for bigamy, and show them the marriage lines.
Don't you be put down, and don't you spare him. If you don't startle
him you'll niver get northing out of him."

"Spare him," she snarled; "not I. I'll have his blood. But look here,
if he's put in chokey, where's the tin to come from?"

"Why, marm," answered George with splendid mendacity, "it's the best
thing that can happen for you, for if they collar him you git the
property, and that's law."

"Oh," she answered, "if I'd known that he'd have been collared long
ago, I can tell you."

"Come," said George, seeing that they were nearing their destination.
"Hev one more nip just to keep your spirits up," and he produced the
brandy bottle, at which she took a long pull.

"Now," he said, "go for him like a wild cat."

"Never you fear," she said.

They got out of the cab and entered the Sessions House without
attracting any particular notice. The court itself was crowded, for a
case which had excited public interest was coming to a conclusion. The
jury had given their verdict, and sentence was being pronounced by Mr.
de la Molle, the chairman.

Mr. Quest was sitting at his table below the bench taking some notes.

"There's your husband," George whispered, "now do you draw on."

George's part in the drama was played, and with a sigh of relief he
fell back to watch its final development. He saw the fierce tall woman
slip through the crowd like a snake or a panther to its prey, and some
compunction touched him when he thought of the prey. He glanced at the
elderly respectable-looking gentleman by the table, and reflected that
he too was stalking /his/ prey--the old Squire and the ancient house
of de la Molle. Then his compunction vanished, and he rejoiced to
think that he would be the means of destroying a man who, to fill his
pockets, did not hesitate to ruin the family with which his life and
the lives of his forefathers had been interwoven for many generations.

By this time the woman had fought her way through the press, bursting
the remaining buttons off her ulster in so doing, and reached the bar
which separated spectators from the space reserved for the officials.
On the further side of the bar was a gangway, and beyond it a table at
which Mr. Quest sat. He had been busy writing something all this time,
now he rose, passed it to Mr. de la Molle, and then turned to sit down
again.

Meanwhile his wife had craned her long lithe body forward over the bar
till her head was almost level with the hither edge of the table.
There she stood glaring at him, her wicked face alive with fury and
malice, for the brandy she had drunk had caused her to forget her
fears.

As Mr. Quest turned, his eye caught the flash of colour from the
peacock feather hat. Thence it travelled to the face beneath.

He gave a gasp, and the court seemed to whirl round him. The sword had
fallen indeed!

"Well, Billy!" whispered the hateful voice, "you see I've come to look
you up."

With a desperate effort he recovered himself. A policeman was standing
near. He beckoned to him, and told him to remove the woman, who was
drunk. The policeman advanced and touched her on the arm.

"Come, you be off," he said, "you're drunk."

At that moment Mr. de la Molle ceased giving judgment.

"I ain't drunk," said the woman, loud enough to attract the attention
of the whole court, which now for the first time observed her
extraordinary attire, "and I've a right to be in the public court."

"Come on," said the policeman, "the clerk says you're to go."

"The clerk says so, does he?" she answered, "and do you know who the
clerk is? I'll tell you all," and she raised her voice to a scream;
"he's my husband, my lawful wedded husband, and here's proof of it,"
and she took the folded certificate from her pocket and flung it so
that it struck the desk of one of the magistrates.

Mr. Quest sank into his chair, and a silence of astonishment fell upon
the court.

The Squire was the first to recover himself.

"Silence," he said, addressing her. "Silence. This cannot go on here."

"But I want justice," she shrieked. "I want justice; I want a warrant

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