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

Part 6 out of 7

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against that man for /bigamy/." (Sensation.) "He's left me to starve;
me, his lawful wife. Look here," and she tore open the pink satin tea-
gown, "I haven't enough clothes on me; the bailiffs took all my
clothes; I have suffered his cruelty for years, and borne it, and I
can bear it no longer. Justice, your worships; I only ask for
justice."

"Be silent, woman," said Mr. de la Molle; "if you have a criminal
charge to bring against anybody there is a proper way to make it. Be
silent or leave this court."

But she only screamed the more for /justice/, and loudly detailed
fragments of her woes to the eagerly listening crowd.

Then policemen were ordered to remove her, and there followed a
frightful scene. She shrieked and fought in such a fashion that it
took four men to drag her to the door of the court, where she dropped
exhausted against the wall in the corridor.

"Well," said the observant George to himself, "she hev done the trick
proper, and no mistake. Couldn't have been better. That's a master
one, that is." Then he turned his attention to the stricken man before
him. Mr. Quest was sitting there, his face ashen, his eyes wide open,
and his hands placed flat on the table before him. When silence had
been restored he rose and turned to the bench apparently with the
intention of addressing the court. But he said nothing, either because
he could not find the words or because his courage failed him. There
was a moment's intense silence, for every one in the crowded court was
watching him, and the sense of it seemed to take what resolution he
had left out of him. At any rate, he left the table and hurried from
the court. In the passage he found the Tiger, who, surrounded by a
little crowd, her hat awry and her clothes half torn from her back,
was huddled gasping against the wall.

She saw him and began to speak, but he stopped and faced her. He faced
her, grinding his teeth, and with such an awful fire of fury in his
eyes that she shrank from him in terror, flattening herself against
the wall.

"What did I tell you?" he said in a choked voice, and then passed on.
A few paces down the passage he met one of his own clerks, a sharp
fellow enough.

"Here, Jones," he said, "you see that woman there. She has made a
charge against me. Watch her. See where she goes to, and find out what
she is going to do. Then come and tell me at the office. If you lose
sight of her, you lose your place too. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," said the astonished clerk, and Mr. Quest was gone.

He made his way direct to the office. It was closed, for he had told
his clerks he should not come back after court, and that they could go
at half-past four. He had his key, however, and, entering, lit the
gas. Then he went to his safe and sorted some papers, burning a good
number of them. Two large documents, however, he put by his side to
read. One was his will, the other was endorsed "Statement of the
circumstances connected with Edith."

First he looked through his will. It had been made some years ago, and
was entirely in favour of his wife, or, rather, of his reputed wife,
Belle.

"It may as well stand," he said aloud; "if anything happens to me
she'll take about ten thousand under it, and that was what she brought
me." Taking the pen he went through the document carefully, and
wherever the name of "Belle Quest" occurred he put a X, and inserted
these words, "Gennett, commonly known as Belle Quest," Gennett being
Belle's maiden name, and initialled the correction. Next he glanced at
the Statement. It contained a full and fair account of his connection
with the woman who had ruined his life. "I may as well leave it," he
thought; "some day it will show Belle that I was not quite so bad as I
seemed."

He replaced the statement in a brief envelope, sealed and directed it
to Belle, and finally marked it, "Not to be opened till my death.--W.
Quest." Then he put the envelope away in the safe and took up the will
for the same purpose. Next it on the table lay the deeds executed by
Edward Cossey transferring the Honham mortgages to Mr. Quest in
consideration of his abstaining from the commencement of a suit for
divorce in which he proposed to join Edward Cossey as co-respondent.
"Ah!" he thought to himself, "that game is up. Belle is not my legal
wife, therefore I cannot commence a suit against her in which Cossey
would figure as co-respondent, and so the consideration fails. I am
sorry, for I should have liked him to lose his thirty thousand pounds
as well as his wife, but it can't be helped. It was a game of bluff,
and now that the bladder has been pricked I haven't a leg to stand
on."

Then, taking a pen, he wrote on a sheet of paper which he inserted in
the will, "Dear B.,--You must return the Honham mortgages to Mr.
Edward Cossey. As you are not my legal wife the consideration upon
which he transferred them fails, and you cannot hold them in equity,
nor I suppose would you wish to do so.--W. Q."

Having put all the papers away, he shut the safe at the moment that
the clerk whom he had deputed to watch his wife knocked at the door
and entered.

"Well?" said his master.

"Well, sir, I watched the woman. She stopped in the passage for a
minute, and then George, Squire de la Molle's man, came out and spoke
to her. I got quite close so as to hear, and he said, 'You'd better
get out of this.'

"'Where to?' she answered. 'I'm afraid.'

"'Back to London,' he said, and gave her a sovereign, and she got up
without a word and slunk off to the station followed by a mob of
people. She is in the refreshment room now, but George sent word to
say that they ought not to serve her with any drink."

"What time does the next train go--7.15, does it not?" said Mr. Quest.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, go back to the station and keep an eye upon that woman, and
when the time comes get me a first-class return ticket to London. I
shall go up myself and give her in charge there. Here is some money,"
and he gave him a five-pound note, "and look here, Jones, you need not
trouble about the change."

"Thank you, sir, I'm sure," said Jones, to whom, his salary being a
guinea a week, on which he supported a wife and family, a gift of four
pounds was sudden wealth.

"Don't thank me, but do as I tell you. I will be down at the station
at 7.10. Meet me outside and give me the ticket. That will do."

When Jones had gone Mr. Quest sat down to think.

So George had loosed this woman on him, and that was the meaning of
his mysterious warnings. How did he find her? That did not matter, he
had found her, and in revenge for the action taken against the de la
Molle family had brought her here to denounce him. It was cleverly
managed, too. Mr. Quest reflected to himself that he should never have
given the man credit for the brains. Well, that was what came of
underrating people.

And so this was the end of all his hopes, ambitions, shifts and
struggles! The story would be in every paper in England before another
twenty-four hours were over, headed, "/Remarkable occurrence at
Boisingham Quarter Sessions.--Alleged bigamy of a solicitor./" No
doubt, too, the Treasury would take it up and institute a prosecution.
This was the end of his strivings after respectability and the wealth
that brings it. He had overreached himself. He had plotted and
schemed, and hardened his heart against the de la Molle family, and
fate had made use of his success to destroy him. In another few months
he had expected to be able to leave this place a wealthy and respected
man--and now? He laid his hand upon the table and reviewed his past
life--tracing it from year to year, and seeing how the shadow of this
accursed woman had haunted him, bringing disgrace and terror and
mental agony with it--making his life a misery. And now what was to be
done? He was ruined. Let him fly to the utmost parts of the earth, let
him burrow in the recesses of the cities of the earth, and his shame
would find him out. He was an impostor, a bigamist; one who had
seduced an innocent woman into a mock marriage and then taken her
fortune to buy the silence of his lawful wife. More, he had threatened
to bring an action for divorce against a woman to whom he knew he was
not really married and made it a lever to extort large sums of money
or their value.

What is there that a man in his position can do?

He can do two things--he can revenge himself upon the author of his
ruin, and he be bold enough, he can put an end to his existence and
his sorrows at a blow.

Mr. Quest rose and walked to the door. Halting there, he turned and
looked round the office in that peculiar fashion wherewith the eyes
take their adieu. Then with a sigh he went.

Reaching his own house he hesitated whether or not to enter. Had the
news reached Belle? If so, how was he to face her? Her hands were not
clean, indeed, but at any rate she had no mock marriage in her record,
and her dislike of him had been unconcealed throughout. She had never
wished to marry him, and never for one single day regarded him
otherwise than with aversion.

After reflection he turned and went round by the back way into the
garden. The curtains of the French windows were drawn, but it was a
wet and windy night, and the draught occasionally lifted the edge of
one of them. He crept like a thief up to his own window and looked in.
The drawing-room was lighted, and in a low chair by the fire sat
Belle. She was as usual dressed in black, and to Mr. Quest, who loved
her, and who knew that he was about to bid farewell to the sight of
her, she looked more beautiful now than ever she had before. A book
lay open on her knee, and he noticed, not without surprise, that it
was a Bible. But she was not reading it; her dimpled chin rested on
her hand, her violent eyes were fixed on vacancy, and even from where
he was he thought that he could see the tears in them.

She had heard nothing; he was sure of that from the expression of her
face; she was thinking of her own sorrows, not of his shame.

Yes, he would go in.

CHAPTER XXXVI

HOW THE GAME ENDED

Mr. Quest entered the house by a side door, and having taken off his
hat and coat went into the drawing-room. He had still half an hour to
spare before starting to catch the train.

"Well," said Belle, looking up. "Why are you looking so pale?"

"I have had a trying day," he answered. "What have you been doing?"

"Nothing in particular."

"Reading the Bible, I see."

"How do you know that?" she asked, colouring a little, for she had
thrown a newspaper over the book when she heard him coming in. "Yes, I
have been reading the Bible. Don't you know that when everything else
in life has failed them women generally take to religion?"

"Or drink," he put in, with a touch of his old bitterness. "Have you
seen Mr. Cossey lately?"

"No. Why do you ask that? I thought we had agreed to drop that
subject."

As a matter of fact it had not been alluded to since Edward left the
house.

"You know that Miss de la Molle will not marry him after all?"

"Yes, I know. She will not marry him because you forced him to give up
the mortgages."

"You ought to be much obliged to me. Are you not pleased?"

"No. I no longer care about anything. I am tired of passion, and sin
and failure. I care for nothing any more."

"It seems that we have both reached the same goal, but by different
roads."

"You?" she answered, looking up; "at any rate you are not tired of
money, or you would not do what you have done to get it."

"I never cared for money itself," he said. "I only wanted money that I
might be rich and, therefore, respected."

"And you think any means justifiable so long as you get it?"

"I thought so. I do not think so now."

"I don't understand you to-night, William. It is time for me to go to
dress for dinner."

"Don't go just yet. I'm leaving in a minute."

"Leaving? Where for?"

"London; I have to go up to-night about some business."

"Indeed; when are you coming back?"

"I don't quite know--to-morrow, perhaps. I wonder, Belle," he went on,
his voice shaking a little, "if you will always think as badly of me
as you do now."

"I?" she said, opening her eyes widely; "who am I that I should judge
you? However bad you may be, I am worse."

"Perhaps there are excuses to be made for both of us," he said;
"perhaps, after all, there is no such thing as free will, and we are
nothing but pawns moved by a higher power. Who knows? But I will not
keep you any longer. Good-bye--Belle!"

"Yes."

"May I kiss you before I go?"

She looked at him in astonishment. Her first impulse was to refuse. He
had not kissed her for years. But something in the man's face touched
her. It was always a refined and melancholy face, but to-night it wore
a look which to her seemed almost unearthly.

"Yes, William, if you wish," she said; "but I wonder that you care
to."

"Let the dead bury their dead," he answered, and stooping he put his
arm round her delicate waist and drawing her to him kissed her
tenderly but without passion on her forehead. "There, good-night," he
said; "I wish that I had been a better husband to you. Good-night,"
and he was gone.

When he reached his room he flung himself for a few moments face
downwards upon the bed, and from the convulsive motion of his back an
observer might almost have believed that he was sobbing. When he rose,
there was no trace of tears or tenderness upon his features. On the
contrary, they were stern and set, like the features of one bent upon
some terrible endeavour. Going to a drawer, he unlocked it and took
from it a Colt's revolver of the small pattern. It was loaded, but he
extracted the cartridges and replaced them with fresh ones from a tin
box. Then he went downstairs, put on a large ulster with a high
collar, and a soft felt hat, the brim of which he turned down over his
face, placed the pistol in the pocket of his ulster, and started.

It was a dreadful night, the wind was blowing a heavy gale, and
between the gusts the rain came down in sheets of driving spray.
Nobody was about the streets--the weather was far too bad; and Mr.
Quest reached the station without meeting a living soul. Outside the
circle of light from a lamp over the doorway he paused, and looked
about for the clerk Jones. Presently, he saw him walking backwards and
forwards under the shelter of a lean-to, and going up, touched him on
the shoulder.

The man started back.

"Have you got the ticket, Jones?" he asked.

"Lord, sir," said Jones, "I didn't know you in that get-up. Yes, here
it is."

"Is the woman there still?"

"Yes, sir; she's taken a ticket, third-class, to town. She has been
going on like a wild thing because they would not give her any liquor
at the refreshment bar, till at last she frightened them into letting
her have six of brandy. Then she began and told the girl all sorts of
tales about you, sir--said she was going back to London because she
was afraid that if she stopped here you would murder her--and that you
were her lawful husband, and she would have a warrant out against you,
and I don't know what all. I sat by and heard her with my own ears."

"Did she--did she indeed?" said Mr. Quest, with an attempt at a laugh.
"Well, she's a common thief and worse, that's what she is, and by this
time to-morrow I hope to see her safe in gaol. Ah! here comes the
train. Good-night, Jones. I can manage for myself now."

"What's his game?" said Jones to himself as he watched his master slip
on to the platform by a gate instead of going through the booking
office. "Well, I've had four quid out of it, any way, and it's no
affair of mine." And Jones went home to tea.

Meanwhile Mr. Quest was standing on the wet and desolate platform
quite away from the lamps, watching the white lights of the
approaching train rushing on through the storm and night. Presently it
drew up. No passengers got out.

"Now, mam, look sharp if you're going," cried the porter, and the
woman Edith came out of the refreshment room.

"There's the third, forrard there," said the porter, running to the
van to see about the packing of the mails.

On she came, passing quite close to Mr. Quest, so close that he could
hear her swearing at the incivility of the porter. There was a third-
class compartment just opposite, and this she entered. It was one of
those carriages that are still often to be seen on provincial lines in
which the partitions do not go up to the roof, and, if possible, more
vilely lighted than usual. Indeed the light which should have
illuminated the after-half of it had either never been lit or had gone
out. There was not a soul in the whole length of the compartment.

As soon as his wife was in, Mr. Quest watched his opportunity.
Slipping up to the dark carriage, he opened and shut the door as
quietly as possible and took his seat in the gloom.

The engine whistled, there was a cry of "right forrard," and they were
off.

Presently he saw the woman stand up in her division of the compartment
and peep over into the gloom.

"Not a blessed soul," he heard her mutter, "and yet I feel as though
that devil Billy was creeping about after me. Ugh! it must be the
horrors. I can see the look he gave me now."

A few minutes later the train stopped at a station, but nobody got in,
and presently it moved on again. "Any passengers for Effry?" shouted
the porter, and there had been no response. If they did not stop at
Effry there would be no halt for forty minutes. Now was his time. He
waited a little till they had got up the speed. The line here ran
through miles and miles of fen country, more or less drained by dykes
and rivers, but still wild and desolate enough. Over this great flat
the storm was sweeping furiously--even drowning in its turmoil the
noise of the travelling train.

Very quietly he rose and climbed over the low partition which
separated his compartment from that in which the woman was. She was
seated in the corner, her head leaning back, so that the feeble light
from the lamp fell on it, and her eyes were closed. She was asleep.

He slid himself along the seat till he was opposite to her, then
paused to look at the fierce wicked face on which drink and paint and
years of evil-thinking and living had left their marks, and looking
shuddered. There was his bad genius, there was the creature who had
driven him from evil to evil and finally destroyed him. Had it not
been for her he might have been a good and respected man, and not what
he was now, a fraudulent ruined outcast. All his life seemed to flash
before his inner eye in those few seconds of contemplation, all the
long weary years of struggle, crime, and deceit. And this was the end
of it, and /there/ was the cause of it. Well, she should not escape
him; he would be revenged upon her at last. There was nothing but
death before /him/, she should die too.

He set his teeth, drew the loaded pistol from his pocket, cocked it
and lifted it to her breast.

What was the matter with the thing? He had never known the pull of a
pistol to be so heavy before.

No, it was not /that/. He could not do it. He could not shoot a
sleeping woman, devil though she was; he could not kill her in her
sleep. His nature rose up against it.

He placed the pistol on his knee, and as he did so she opened her
eyes. He saw the look of wonder gather in them and grow to a stare of
agonised terror. Her face became rigid like a dead person's and her
lips opened to scream, but no cry came. She could only point to the
pistol.

"Make a sound and you are dead," he said fiercely. "Not that it
matters though," he added, as he remembered that the scream must be
loud which could be heard in that raging gale.

"What are you going to do?" she gasped at last. "What are you going to
do with that pistol? And where do you come from?"

"I come out of the night," he answered, raising the weapon, "out of
the night into which you are going."

"You are not going to kill me?" she moaned, turning up her ghastly
face. "I can't die. I'm afraid to die. It will hurt, and I've been
wicked. Oh, you are not going to kill me, are you?"

"Yes, I am going to kill you," he answered. "I told you months ago
that I would kill you if you molested me. You have ruined me now,
there is nothing but death left for /me/, and /you/ shall die too, you
fiend."

"Oh no! no! no! anything but that. I was drunk when I did it; that man
brought me there, and they had taken all my things, and I was
starving," and she glanced wildly round the empty carriage to see if
help could be found, but there was none. She was alone with her fate.

She slipped down upon the floor of the carriage and clasped his knees.
Writhing in her terror upon the ground, in hoarse accents she prayed
for mercy.

"You used to kiss me," she said; "you cannot kill a woman you used to
kiss years ago. Oh, spare me, spare me!"

He set his lips and placed the muzzle of the pistol against her head.
She shivered at the contact, and her teeth began to chatter.

He could not do it. He must let her go, and leave her to fate. After
all, she could hurt him no more, for before another sun had set he
would be beyond her reach.

His pistol hand fell against his side, and he looked down with
loathing not unmixed with pity at the abject human snake who was
writing at his feet.

She caught his eye, and her faculties, sharpened by the imminent
peril, read relentment there. For the moment, at any rate, he was
softened. If she could master him now while he was off his guard--he
was not a very strong man! But the pistol----

Slowly, still groaning out supplications, she rose to her feet.

"Yes," he said, "be quiet while I think if I can spare you," and he
half turned his head away from her. For a moment nothing was heard but
the rush of the gale and the roll of the wheels running over and under
bridges.

This was her opportunity. All her natural ferocity arose within her,
intensified a hundred times by the instinct of self-protection. With a
sudden blow she struck the pistol from his hand; it fell upon the
floor of the carriage. And then with a scream she sprang like a wild
cat straight at his throat. So sudden was the attack that the long
lean hands were gripping his windpipe before he knew it had been made.
Back she bore him, though he seized her round the waist. She was the
heavier of the two, and back they went, /crash/ against the carriage
door.

It gave! Oh, God, the worn catch gave! Out together, out with a yell
of despair into the night and the raging gale; down together through
sixty feet of space into the black river beneath. Down together, deep
into the watery depths--into the abyss of Death.

The train rushed on, the wild winds blew, and the night was as the
night had been. But there in the black water, though there was never a
star to see them, there, locked together in death as they had been
locked together in life, the fierce glare of hate and terror yet
staring from their glazed eyes, two bodies rolled over and over as
they sped silently towards the sea.

CHAPTER XXXVII

SISTER AGNES

Ten days had passed. The tragedy had echoed through all the land.
Numberless articles and paragraphs had been written in numberless
papers, and numberless theories had been built upon them. But the
echoes were already beginning to die away. Both actors in the dim
event were dead, and there was no pending trial to keep the public
interest alive.

The two corpses, still linked in that fierce dying grip, had been
picked up on a mudbank. An inquest had been held, at which an open
verdict was returned, and they were buried. Other events had occurred,
the papers were filled with the reports of new tragedies, and the
affair of the country lawyer who committed bigamy and together with
his lawful wife came to a tragic and mysterious end began to be
forgotten.

In Boisingham and its neighbourhood much sympathy was shown with
Belle, whom people still called Mrs. Quest, though she had no title to
that name. But she received it coldly and kept herself secluded.

As soon as her supposed husband's death was beyond a doubt Belle had
opened his safe (for he had left the keys on his dressing-table), and
found therein his will and other papers, including the mortgage deeds,
to which, as Mr. Quest's memorandum advised her, she had no claim.
Nor, indeed, had her right to them been good in law, would she have
retained them, seeing that they were a price wrung from her late lover
under threat of an action that could not be brought.

So she made them into a parcel and sent them to Edward Cossey,
together with a formal note of explanation, greatly wondering in her
heart what course he would take with reference to them. She was not
left long in doubt. The receipt of the deeds was acknowledged, and
three days afterwards she heard that a notice calling in the borrowed
money had been served upon Mr. de la Molle on behalf of Edward Cossey.

So he had evidently made up his mind not to forego this new advantage
which chance threw in his way. Pressure and pressure alone could
enable him to attain his end, and he was applying it unmercifully.
Well, she had done with him now, it did not matter to her; but she
could not help faintly wondering at the extraordinary tenacity and
hardness of purpose which his action showed. Then she turned her mind
to the consideration of another matter, in connection with which her
plans were approaching maturity.

It was some days after this, exactly a fortnight from the date of Mr.
Quest's death, that Edward Cossey was sitting one afternoon brooding
over the fire in his rooms. He had much business awaiting his
attention in London, but he would not go to London. He could not tear
himself away from Boisingham, and such of the matters as could be
attended to there were left without attention. He was still as
determined as ever to marry Ida, more determined if possible, for from
constant brooding on the matter he had arrived at a condition
approaching monomania. He had been quick to see the advantage
resulting to him from Mr. Quest's tragic death and the return of the
deeds, and though he knew that Ida would hate him the more for doing
it, he instructed his lawyers to call in the money and make use of
every possible legal means to harass and put pressure upon Mr. de la
Molle. At the same time he had written privately to the Squire,
calling his attention to the fact that matters were now once more as
they had been at the beginning, but that he was as before willing to
carry out the arrangements which he had already specified, provided
that Ida could be persuaded to consent to marry him. To this Mr. de la
Molle had answered courteously enough, notwithstanding his grief and
irritation at the course his would-be son-in-law had taken about the
mortgages on the death of Mr. Quest, and the suspicion (it was nothing
more) that he now had as to the original cause of their transfer to
the lawyer. He said what he had said before, that he could not force
his daughter into a marriage with him, but that if she chose to agree
to it he should offer no objection. And there the matter stood. Once
or twice Edward had met Ida walking or driving. She bowed to him
coldly and that was all. Indeed he had only one crumb of comfort in
his daily bread of disappointment, and the hope deferred which, where
a lady is concerned, makes the heart more than normally sick, and it
was that he knew his hated rival, Colonel Quaritch, had been forbidden
the Castle, and that intercourse between him and Ida was practically
at an end.

But he was a dogged and persevering man; he knew the power of money
and the shifts to which people can be driven who are made desperate by
the want of it. He knew, too, that it is no rare thing for women who
are attached to one man to sell themselves to another of their own
free will, realising that love may pass, but wealth (if the
settlements are properly drawn) does not. Therefore he still hoped
that with so many circumstances bringing an ever-increasing pressure
upon her, Ida's spirit would in time be broken, her resistance would
collapse, and he would have his will. Nor, as the sequel will show,
was that hope a baseless one.

As for his infatuation there was literally no limit to it. It broke
out in all sorts of ways, and for miles round was a matter of public
notoriety and gossip. Over the mantelpiece in his sitting-room was a
fresh example of it. By one means and another he had obtained several
photographs of Ida, notably one of her in a court dress which she had
worn two or three years before, when her brother James had insisted
upon her being presented. These photographs he caused to be enlarged
and then, at the cost of 500 pounds, commissioned a well-known artist
to paint from them a full-length life-size portrait of Ida in her
court dress. This order had been executed, and the portrait, which
although the colouring was not entirely satisfactory was still an
effective likeness and a fine piece of work, now hung in a splendid
frame over his mantelpiece.

There, on the afternoon in question, he sat before the fire, his eyes
fixed upon the portrait, of which the outline was beginning to grow
dim in the waning December light, when the servant girl came in and
announced that a lady wished to speak to him. He asked what her name
was, and the girl said that she did not know, because she had her veil
down and was wrapped up in a big cloak.

In due course the lady was shown up. He had relapsed into his reverie,
for nothing seemed to interest him much now unless it had to do with
Ida--and he knew that the lady could not be Ida, because the girl said
that she was short. As it happened, he sat with his right ear, in
which he was deaf, towards the door, so that between his infirmity and
his dreams he never heard Belle--for it was she--enter the room.

For a minute or more she stood looking at him as he sat with his eyes
fixed upon the picture, and while she looked an expression of pity
stole across her sweet pale face.

"I wonder what curse there is laid upon us that we should be always
doomed to seek what we cannot find?" she said aloud.

He heard her now, and looking up saw her standing in the glow and
flicker of the firelight, which played upon her white face and black-
draped form. He started violently; as he did so she loosed the heavy
cloak and hood that she wore and it fell behind her. But where was the
lovely rounded form, and where the clustering golden curls? Gone, and
in their place a coarse robe of blue serge, on which hung a crucifix,
and the white hood of the nun.

He sprang from his chair with an exclamation, not knowing if he
dreamed or if he really saw the woman who stood there like a ghost in
the firelight.

"Forgive me, Edward," she said presently, in her sweet low voice. "I
daresay that this all looks theatrical enough--but I have put on this
dress for two reasons: firstly, because I must leave this town in an
hour's time and wish to do so unknown; and secondly, to show that you
need not fear that I have come to be troublesome. Will you light the
candles?"

He did so mechanically, and then pulled down the blinds. Meanwhile
Belle had seated herself near the table, her face buried in her hands.

"What is the meaning of all this, Belle?" he said.

"'Sister Agnes,' you must call me now," she said, taking her hands
from her face. "The meaning of it is that I have left the world and
entered a sisterhood which works among the poor in London, and I have
come to bid you farewell, a last farewell."

He stared at her in amazement. He did not find it easy to connect the
idea of this beautiful, human, loving creature with the cold sanctuary
of a sisterhood. He did not know that natures like this, whose very
intensity is often the cause of their destruction, are most capable of
these strange developments. The man or woman who can really love and
endure--and they are rare--can also, when their passion has utterly
broken them, turn to climb the stony paths that lead to love's
antipodes.

"Edward," she went on, speaking very slowly, "you know in what
relation we have stood to each other, and what that relationship means
to woman. You know this--I have loved you with all my heart, and all
my strength, and all my soul----" Here she trembled and broke down.

"You know, too," she continued presently, "what has been the end of
all this, the shameful end. I am not come to blame you. I do not blame
you, for the fault was mine, and if I have anything to forgive I
forgive it freely. Whatever memories may still live in my heart I
swear I put away all bitterness, and that my most earnest wish is that
you may be happy, as happiness is to you. The sin was mine; that is it
would have been mine were we free agents, which perhaps we are not. I
should have loved my husband, or rather the man whom I thought my
husband, for with all his faults he was of a different clay to you,
Edward."

He looked up, but said nothing.

"I know," she went on, pointing to the picture over the mantelpiece,
"that your mind is still set upon her, and I am nothing, and less than
nothing, to you. When I am gone you will scarcely give me a thought. I
cannot tell you if you will succeed in your end, and I think the
methods you are adopting wicked and shameful. But whether you succeed
or not, your fate also will be what my fate is--to love a person who
is not only indifferent to you but who positively dislikes you, and
reserves all her secret heart for another man, and I know no greater
penalty than is to be found in that daily misery."

"You are very consoling," he said sulkily.

"I only tell you the truth," she answered. "What sort of life do you
suppose mine has been when I am so utterly broken, so entirely robbed
of hope, that I have determined to leave the world and hide myself and
my shame in a sisterhood? And now, Edward," she went on, after a
pause, "I have something to tell you, for I will not go away, if
indeed you allow me to go away at all after you have heard it, until I
have confessed." And she leant forward and looked him full in the
face, whispering--"/I shot you on purpose, Edward!/"

"What!" he said, springing from his chair; "you tried to murder me?"

"Yes, yes; but don't think too hardly of me. I am only flesh and
blood, and you drove me wild with jealousy--you taunted me with having
been your mistress and said that I was not fit to associate with the
lady whom you were going to marry. It made me mad, and the opportunity
offered--the gun was there, and I shot you. God forgive me, I think
that I have suffered more than you did. Oh! when day after day I saw
you lying there and did not know if you would live or die, I thought
that I should have gone mad with remorse and agony!"

He listened so far, and then suddenly walked across the room towards
the bell. She placed herself between him and it.

"What are you going to do?" she said.

"Going to do? I am going to send for a policeman and give you into
custody for attempted murder, that is all."

She caught his arm and looked him in the face. In another second she
had loosed it.

"Of course," she said, "you have a right to do that. Ring and send for
the policeman, only remember that nothing is known now, but the whole
truth will come out at the trial."

This checked him, and he stood thinking.

"Well," she said, "why don't you ring?"

"I do not ring," he answered, "because on the whole I think I had
better let you go. I do not wish to be mixed up with you any more. You
have done me mischief enough; you have finished by attempting to
murder me. Go; I think that a convent is the best place for you; you
are too bad and too dangerous to be left at large."

"/Oh!/" she said, like one in pain. "/Oh!/ and you are the man for
whom I have come to this! Oh, God! it is a cruel world." And she
pressed her hands to her heart and stumbled rather than walked to the
door.

Reaching it she turned, and her hands still pressing the coarse blue
gown against her heart, she leaned against the door.

"Edward," she said, in a strained whisper, for her breath came thick,
"Edward--I am going for ever--have you /no/ kind word--to say to me?"

He looked at her, a scowl upon his handsome face. Then by way of
answer he turned upon his heel.

And so, still holding her hands against her poor broken heart, she
went out of the house, out of Boisingham and of touch and knowledge of
the world. In after years these two were fated to meet once again, and
under circumstances sufficiently tragic; but the story of that meeting
does not lie within the scope of this history. To the world Belle is
dead, but there is another world of sickness, and sordid unchanging
misery and shame, where the lovely face of Sister Agnes moves to and
fro like a ray of heaven's own light. There those who would know her
must go to seek her.

Poor Belle! Poor shamed, deserted woman! She was an evil-doer, and the
fatality of love and the unbalanced vigour of her mind, which might,
had she been more happily placed, have led her to all things that are
pure, and true, and of good report, combined to drag her into shame
and wretchedness. But the evil that she did was paid back to her in
full measure, pressed down and running over. Few of us need to wait
for a place of punishment to get the due of our follies and our sins.
/Here/ we expiate them. They are with us day and night, about our path
and about our bed, scourging us with the whips of memory, mocking us
with empty longing and the hopelessness of despair. Who can escape the
consequence of sin, or even of the misfortune which led to sin?
Certainly Belle did not, nor Mr. Quest, nor even that fierce-hearted
harpy who hunted him to his grave.

And so good-bye to Belle. May she find peace in its season!

CHAPTER XXXVIII

COLONEL QUARITCH EXPRESSES HIS VIEWS

Meanwhile things had been going very ill at the Castle. Edward
Cossey's lawyers were carrying out their client's instructions to the
letter with a perseverance and ingenuity worthy of a County Court
solicitor. Day by day they found a new point upon which to harass the
wretched Squire. Some share of the first expenses connected with the
mortgages had, they said, been improperly thrown upon their client,
and they again and again demanded, in language which was almost
insolent, the immediate payment of the amount. Then there was three
months' interest overdue, and this also they pressed and clamoured
for, till the old gentleman was nearly driven out of his senses, and
as a consequence drove everybody about the place out of theirs.

At last this state of affairs began to tell upon his constitution,
which, strong as he was, could not at his age withstand such constant
worry. He grew to look years older, his shoulders acquired a stoop,
and his memory began to fail him, especially on matters connected with
the mortgages and farm accounts. Ida, too, became pale and ill; she
caught a heavy cold, which she could not throw off, and her face
acquired a permanently pained and yet listless look.

One day, it was on the 15th of December, things reached a climax. When
Ida came down to breakfast she found her father busy poring over some
more letters from the lawyers.

"What is it now, father?" she said.

"What is it now?" he answered irritably. "What, it's another claim for
two hundred, that's what it is. I keep telling them to write to my
lawyers, but they won't, at least they write to me too. There, I can't
make head or tail of it. Look here," and he showed her two sides of a
big sheet of paper covered with statements of accounts. "Anyhow, I
have not got two hundred, that's clear. I don't even know where we are
going to find the money to pay the three months' interest. I'm worn
out, Ida, I'm worn out! There is only one thing left for me to do, and
that is to die, and that's the long and short of it. I get so confused
with these figures. I'm an old man now, and all these troubles are too
much for me."

"You must not talk like that, father," she answered, not knowing what
to say, for affairs were indeed desperate.

"Yes, yes, it's all very well to talk so, but facts are stubborn. Our
family is ruined, and we must accept it."

"Cannot the money be got anyhow? Is there /nothing/ to be done?" she
said in despair.

"What is the good of asking me that? There is only one thing that can
save us, and you know what it is as well as I do. But you are your own
mistress. I have no right to put pressure on you. I don't wish to put
pressure on you. You must please yourself. Meanwhile I think we had
better leave this place at once, and go and live in a cottage
somewhere, if we can get enough to support us; if not we must starve,
I suppose. I cannot keep up appearances any longer."

Ida rose, and with a strange sad light of resolution shining in her
eyes, came to where her father was sitting, and putting her hands upon
his shoulders, looked him in the face.

"Father," she said, "do you wish me to marry that man?"

"Wish you to marry him? What do you mean?" he said, not without
irritation, and avoiding her gaze. "It is no affair of mine. I don't
like the man, if that's what you mean. He is acting like--well, like
the cur that he is, in putting on the screw as he is doing; but, of
course, that is the way out of it, and the only way, and there you
are."

"Father," she said again, "will you give me ten days, that is, until
Christmas Day? If nothing happens between this and then I will marry
Mr. Edward Cossey."

A sudden light of hope shone in his eyes. She saw it, though he tried
to hide it by turning his head away.

"Oh, yes," he answered, "as you wish; settle it one way or the other
on Christmas Day, and then we can go out with the new year. You see
your brother James is dead, I have no one left to advise me now, and I
suppose that I am getting old. At any rate, things seem to be too much
for me. Settle it as you like; settle it as you like," and he got up,
leaving his breakfast half swallowed, and went off to moon aimlessly
about the park.

So she made up her mind at last. This was the end of her struggling.
She could not let her old father be turned out of house and home to
starve, for practically they would starve. She knew her hateful lover
well enough to be aware that he would show no mercy. It was a question
of the woman or the money, and she was the woman. Either she must let
him take her or they must be destroyed; there was no middle course.
And in these circumstances there was no room for hesitation. Once more
her duty became clear to her. She must give up her life, she must give
up her love, she must give up herself. Well, so be it. She was weary
of the long endeavour against fortune, now she would yield and let the
tide of utter misery sweep over her like a sea--to bear her away till
at last it brought her to that oblivion in which perchance all things
come right or are as though they had never been.

She had scarcely spoken to her lover, Harold Quaritch, for some weeks.
She had as she understood it entered into a kind of unspoken agreement
with her father not to do so, and that agreement Harold had realised
and respected. Since their last letters to each other they had met
once or twice casually or at church, interchanged a few indifferent
words, though their eyes spoke another story, touched each other's
hands and parted. That was absolutely all. But now that Ida had come
to this momentous decision she felt he had a right to learn it, and so
once more she wrote to him. She might have gone to see him or told him
to meet her, but she would not. For one thing she did not dare to
trust herself on such an errand in his dear company, for another she
was too proud, thinking if her father came to hear of it he might
consider that it had a clandestine and underhand appearance.

And so she wrote. With all she said we need not concern ourselves. The
letter was loving, even passionate, more passionate perhaps than one
would have expected from a woman of Ida's calm and stately sort. But a
mountain may have a heart of fire although it is clad in snows, and so
it sometimes is with women who seem cold and unemotional as marble.
Besides, it was her last chance--she could write him no more letters
and she had much to say.

"And so I have decided, Harold," she said after telling him of all her
doubts and troubles. "I must do it, there is no help for it, as I
think you will see. I have asked for ten days' respite. I really
hardly know why, except that it is a respite. And now what is there
left to say to you except good-bye? I love you, Harold, I make no
secret of it, and I shall never love any other. Remember all your life
that I love you and have not forgotten you, and never can forget. For
people placed as we are there is but one hope--the grave. In the grave
earthly considerations fail and earthly contracts end, and there I
trust and believe we shall find each other--or at the least
forgetfulness. My heart is so sore I know not what to say to you, for
it is difficult to put all I feel in words. I am overwhelmed, my
spirit is broken, and I wish to heaven that I were dead. Sometimes I
almost cease to believe in a God who can allow His creatures to be so
tormented and give us love only that it may be daily dishonoured in
our sight; but who am I that I should complain, and after all what are
our troubles compared to some we know of? Well, it will come to an end
at last, and meanwhile pity me and think of me.

"Pity me and think of me; yes, but never see me more. As soon as this
engagement is publicly announced, go away, the further the better.
Yes, go to New Zealand, as you suggested once, and in pity of our
human weakness never let me see your face again. Perhaps you may write
to me sometimes--if Mr. Cossey will allow it. Go there and occupy
yourself, it will divert your mind--you are still too young a man to
lay yourself upon the shelf--mix yourself up with the politics of the
place, take to writing; anything, so long as you can absorb yourself.
I sent you a photograph of myself (I have nothing better) and a ring
which I have worn night and day since I was a child. I think that it
will fit your little finger and I hope you will always wear it in
memory of me. It was my mother's. And now it is late and I am tired,
and what is there more that a woman can say to the man she loves--and
whom she must leave for ever? Only one word--Good-bye. Ida."

When Harold got this letter it fairly broke him down. His hopes had
been revived when he thought that all was lost, and now again they
were utterly dashed and broken. He could see no way out of it, none at
all. He could not quarrel with Ida's decision, shocking as it was, for
the simple reason that he knew in his heart she was acting rightly and
even nobly. But, oh, the thought of it made him mad. It is probable
that to a man of imagination and deep feeling hell itself can invent
no more hideous torture than he must undergo in the position in which
Harold Quaritch found himself. To truly love some good woman or some
woman whom he thinks good--for it comes to the same thing--to love her
more than life, to hold her dearer even than his honour, to be, like
Harold, beloved in turn; and then to know that this woman, this one
thing for which he would count the world well lost, this light that
makes his days beautiful, has been taken from him by the bitterness of
Fate (not by Death, for that he could bear), taken from him, and given
--for money or money's worth--to some other man! It is, perhaps,
better that a man should die than that he should pass through such an
experience as that which threatened Harold Quaritch now: for though
the man die not, yet will it kill all that is best in him; and
whatever triumphs may await him, whatever women may be ready in the
future to pin their favours to his breast, life will never be for him
what it might have been, because his lost love took its glory with
her.

No wonder, then, that he despaired. No wonder, too, that there rose up
in his breast a great anger and indignation against the man who had
brought this last extremity of misery upon them. He was just, and
could make allowances for his rival's infatuation--which, indeed, Ida
being concerned, it was not difficult for him to understand. But he
was also, and above all things, a gentleman; and the spectacle of a
woman being inexorably driven into a distasteful marriage by money
pressure, put on by the man who wished to gain her, revolted him
beyond measure, and, though he was slow to wrath, moved him to fiery
indignation. So much did it move him that he took a resolution; Mr.
Cossey should know his mind about the matter, and that at once.
Ringing the bell, he ordered his dog-cart, and drove to Edward
Cossey's rooms with the full intention of giving that gentleman a very
unpleasant quarter-of-an-hour.

Mr. Cossey was in. Fearing lest he should refuse to see him, the
Colonel followed the servant up the stairs, and entered almost as she
announced his name. There was a grim and even a formidable look upon
his plain but manly face, and something of menace, too, in his formal
and soldierly bearing; nor did his aspect soften when his eyes fell
upon the full-length picture of Ida over the mantelpiece.

Edward Cossey rose with astonishment and irritation, not unmixed with
nervousness, depicted on his face. The last person whom he wished to
see and expected a visit from was Colonel Quaritch, whom in his heart
he held in considerable awe. Besides, he had of late received such a
series of unpleasant calls that it is not wonderful that he began to
dread these interviews.

"Good-day," he said coldly. "Will you be seated?"

The Colonel bowed his head slightly, but he did not sit down.

"To what am I indebted for the pleasure?" began Edward Cossey with
much politeness.

"Last time I was here, Mr. Cossey," said the Colonel in his deep
voice, speaking very deliberately, "I came to give an explanation; now
I come to ask one."

"Indeed!"

"Yes. To come to the point, Miss de la Molle and I are attached to
each other, and there has been between us an understanding that this
attachment might end in marriage."

"Oh! has there?" said the younger man with a sneer.

"Yes," answered the Colonel, keeping down his rising temper as well as
he could. "But now I am told, upon what appears to be good authority,
that you have actually condescended to bring, directly and indirectly,
pressure of a monetary sort to bear upon Miss de la Molle and her
father in order to force her into a distasteful marriage with
yourself."

"And what the devil business of yours is it, sir," asked Cossey, "what
I have or have not done? Making every allowance for the disappointment
of an unsuccessful suitor, for I presume that you appear in that
character," and again he sneered, "I ask, what business is it of
yours?"

"It is every business of mine, Mr. Cossey, because if Miss de la Molle
is forced into this marriage, I shall lose my wife."

"Then you will certainly lose her. Do you suppose that I am going to
consider you? Indeed," he went on, being now in a towering passion, "I
should have thought that considering the difference of age and fortune
between us, you might find other reasons than you suggest to account
for my being preferred, if I should be so preferred. Ladies are apt to
choose the better man, you know."

"I don't quite know what you mean by the 'better man,' Mr. Cossey,"
said the Colonel quietly. "Comparisons are odious, and I will make
none, though I admit that you have the advantage of me in money and in
years. However, that is not the point; the point is that I have had
the fortune to be preferred to /you/ by the lady in question, and
/not/ you to me. I happen to know that the idea of her marriage with
you is as distasteful to Miss de la Molle as it is to me. This I know
from her own lips. She will only marry you, if she does so at all,
under the pressure of direst necessity, and to save her father from
the ruin you are deliberately bringing upon him."

"Well, Colonel Quaritch," he answered, "have you quite done lecturing
me? If you have, let me tell you, as you seem anxious to know my mind,
that if by any legal means I can marry Ida de la Molle I certainly
intend to marry her. And let me tell you another thing, that when once
I am married it will be the last that you shall see of her, if I can
prevent it."

"Thank you for your admissions," said Harold, still more quietly. "So
it seems that it is all true; it seems that you are using your wealth
to harass this unfortunate gentleman and his daughter until you drive
them into consenting to this marriage. That being so, I wish to tell
you privately what I shall probably take some opportunity of telling
you in public, namely, that a man who does these things is a cur, and
worse than a cur, he is a /blackguard/, and /you/ are such a man, Mr.
Cossey."

Edward Cossey's face turned perfectly livid with fury, and he drew
himself up as though to spring at his adversary's throat.

The Colonel held up his hand. "Don't try that on with me," he said.
"In the first place it is vulgar, and in the second you have only just
recovered from an accident and are no match for me, though I am over
forty years old. Listen, our fathers had a way of settling their
troubles; I don't approve of that sort of thing as a rule, but in some
cases it is salutary. If you think yourself aggrieved it does not take
long to cross the water, Mr. Cossey."

Edward Cossey looked puzzled. "Do you mean to suggest that I should
fight a duel with you?" he said.

"To challenge a man to fight a duel," answered the Colonel with
deliberation, "is an indictable offence, therefore I make no such
challenge. I have made a suggestion, and if that suggestion falls in
with your views as," and he bowed, "I hope it may, we might perhaps
meet accidentally abroad in a few days' time, when we could talk this
matter over further."

"I'll see you hanged first," answered Cossey. "What have I to gain by
fighting you except a very good chance of being shot? I have had
enough of being shot as it is, and we will play this game out upon the
old lines, until I win it."

"As you like," said Harold. "I have made a suggestion to you which you
do not see fit to accept. As to the end of the game, it is not
finished yet, and therefore it is impossible to say who will win it.
Perhaps you will be checkmated after all. In the meanwhile allow me
again to assure you that I consider you both a cur and a blackguard,
and to wish you good-morning." And he bowed himself out, leaving
Edward Cossey in a curious condition of concentrated rage.

CHAPTER XXXIX

THE COLONEL GOES TO SLEEP

The state of mind is difficult to picture which could induce a
peaceable christian-natured individual, who had moreover in the course
of his career been mixed up with enough bloodshed to have acquired a
thorough horror of it, to offer to fight a duel. Yet this state had
been reached by Harold Quaritch.

Edward Cossey wisely enough declined to entertain the idea, but the
Colonel had been perfectly in earnest about it. Odd as it may appear
in the latter end of this nineteenth century, nothing would have given
him greater pleasure than to put his life against that of his unworthy
rival. Of course, it was foolish and wrong, but human nature is the
same in all ages, and in the last extremity we fall back by instinct
on those methods which men have from the beginning adopted to save
themselves from intolerable wrong and dishonour, or, be it admitted,
to bring the same upon others.

But Cossey utterly declined to fight. As he said, he had had enough of
being shot, and so there was an end of it. Indeed, in after days the
Colonel frequently looked back upon this episode in his career with
shame not unmingled with amusement, reflecting when he did so on the
strange potency of that passion which can bring men to seriously
entertain the idea of such extravagances.

Well, there was nothing more to be done. He might, it is true, have
seen Ida, and working upon her love and natural inclinations have
tried to persuade her to cut the knot by marrying him off-hand.
Perhaps he would have succeeded, for in these affairs women are apt to
find the arguments advanced by their lovers weighty and well worthy of
consideration. But he was not the man to adopt such a course. He did
the only thing he could do--answered her letter by saying that what
must be must be. He had learnt that on the day subsequent to his
interview with his rival the Squire had written to Edward Cossey
informing him that a decided answer would be given to him on Christmas
Day, and that thereon all vexatious proceedings on the part of that
gentleman's lawyers had been stayed for the time. He could now no
longer doubt what the answer would be. There was only one way out of
the trouble, the way which Ida had made up her mind to adopt.

So he set to work to make his preparations for leaving Honham and this
country for good and all. He wrote to land agents and put Molehill
upon their books to be sold or let on lease, and also to various
influential friends to obtain introductions to the leading men in New
Zealand. But these matters did not take up all his time, and the rest
of it hung heavily on his hands. He mooned about the place until he
was tired. He tried to occupy himself in his garden, but it was weary
work sowing crops for strange hands to reap, and so he gave it up.

Somehow the time wore on until at last it was Christmas Eve; the eve,
too, of the fatal day of Ida's decision. He dined alone that night as
usual, and shortly after dinner some waits came to the house and began
to sing their cheerful carols outside. The carols did not chime in at
all well with his condition of mind, and he sent five shillings out to
the singers with a request that they would go away as he had a
headache.

Accordingly they went; and shortly after their departure the great
gale for which that night is still famous began to rise. Then he fell
to pacing up and down the quaint old oak-panelled parlour, thinking
until his brain ached. The hour was at hand, the evil was upon him and
her whom he loved. Was there no way out of it, no possible way? Alas!
there was but one way and that a golden one; but where was the money
to come from? He had it not, and as land stood it was impossible to
raise it. Ah, if only that great treasure which old Sir James de la
Molle had hid away and died rather than reveal, could be brought to
light, now in the hour of his house's sorest need! But the treasure
was very mythical, and if it had ever really existed it was not now to
be found. He went to his dispatch box and took from it the copy he had
made of the entry in the Bible which had been in Sir James's pocket
when he was murdered in the courtyard. The whole story was a very
strange one. Why did the brave old man wish that his Bible should be
sent to his son, and why did he write that somewhat peculiar message
in it?

Suppose Ida was right and that it contained a cypher or cryptograph
which would give a clue to the whereabouts of the treasure? If so it
was obvious that it would be one of the simplest nature. A man
confined by himself in a dungeon and under sentence of immediate death
would not have been likely to pause to invent anything complicated. It
would, indeed, be curious that he should have invented anything at all
under such circumstances, and when he could have so little hope that
the riddle would be solved. But, on the other hand, his position was
desperate; he was quite surrounded by foes; there was no chance of his
being able to convey the secret in any other way, and he /might/ have
done so.

Harold placed the piece of paper upon the mantelpiece, and sitting
down in an arm-chair opposite began to contemplate it earnestly, as
indeed he had often done before. In case its exact wording should not
be remembered, it is repeated here. It ran: "/Do not grieve for me,
Edward, my son, that I am thus suddenly and wickedly done to death by
rebel murderers, for nought happeneth but according to God's will. And
now farewell, Edward, till we shall meet in heaven. My moneys have I
hid, and on account thereof I die unto this world, knowing that not
one piece shall Cromwell touch. To whom God shall appoint shall all my
treasure be, for nought can I communicate./"

Harold stared and stared at this inscription. He read it forwards,
backwards, crossways, and in every other way, but absolutely without
result. At last, wearied out with misery of mind and the pursuit of a
futile occupation, he dropped off sound asleep in his chair. This
happened about a quarter to eleven o'clock. The next thing he knew was
that he suddenly woke up; woke up completely, passing as quickly from
a condition of deep sleep to one of wakefulness as though he had never
shut his eyes. He used to say afterwards that he felt as though
somebody had come and aroused him; it was not like a natural waking.
Indeed, so unaccustomed was the sensation, that for a moment the idea
flashed through his brain that he had died in his sleep, and was now
awakening to a new state of existence.

This soon passed, however. Evidently he must have slept some time, for
the lamp was out and the fire dying. He got up and hunted about in the
dark for some matches, which at last he found. He struck a light,
standing exactly opposite to the bit of paper with the copy of Sir
James de la Molle's dying message on it. This message was neatly
copied long-ways upon a half-sheet of large writing paper, such as the
Squire generally used. It's first line ran as it was copied:

"/Do not grieve for me, Edward, my son, that I am thus suddenly and
wickedly done./"

Now, as the match burnt up, by some curious chance, connected probably
with the darkness and the sudden striking of light upon his eyeballs,
it came to pass that Harold, happening to glance thereon, was only
able to read four letters of this first line of writing. All the rest
seemed to him but as a blue connecting those four letters. They were:

D...............E...............a...............d

being respectively the initials of the first, the sixth, the eleventh,
and the sixteenth words of the line given above.

The match burnt out, and he began to hunt about for another.

"D-E-A-D," he said aloud, repeating the letters almost automatically.
"Why it spells '/Dead/.' That is rather curious."

Something about this accidental spelling awakened his interest very
sharply--it was an odd coincidence. He lit some candles, and hurriedly
examined the line. The first thing which struck him was that the four
letters which went to make up the word "dead" were about equi-distant
in the line of writing. Could it be? He hurriedly counted the words in
the line. There were sixteen of them. That is after the first, one of
the letters occurred at the commencement of every fifth word.

This was certainly curious. Trembling with nervousness he took a
pencil and wrote down the initial letter of every fifth word in the
message, thus:

Do not grieve for me, Edward my son, that I am thus suddenly and
D E a

wickedly done to death by rebel murderers, for naught happeneth
d m

but according to God's will. And now farewell, Edward, till we
a n

shall meet in heaven. My moneys have I hid, and on account thereof
s m o

I die unto this world, knowing that not one piece shall Cromwell
u n

touch. To whom God shall appoint shall all my treasure be, for
t a b

nought can I communicate.
c

When he had done he wrote these initials in a line:

DEadmansmountabc

He stared at them for a little--then he saw.

/Great heaven! he had hit upon the reading of the riddle./

The answer was:

"/Dead Man's Mount,"

followed by the mysterious letters A.B.C.

Breathless with excitement, he checked the letters again to see if by
any chance he had made an error. No, it was perfectly correct.

"Dead Man's Mount." That was and had been for centuries the name of
the curious tumulus or mound in his own back garden. It was this mount
that learned antiquarians had discussed the origin of so fiercely, and
which his aunt, the late Mrs. Massey, had roofed at the cost of two
hundred and fifty pounds, in order to prove that the hollow in the top
had once been the agreeable country seat of an ancient British family.

Could it then be but a coincidence that after the first word the
initial of every fifth word in the message should spell out the name
of this remarkable place, or was it so arranged? He sat down to think
it over, trembling like a frightened child. Obviously, it was /not/
accident; obviously, the prisoner of more than two centuries ago had,
in his helplessness, invented this simple cryptograph in the hope that
his son or, if not his son, some one of his descendants would discover
it, and thereby become master of the hidden wealth. What place would
be more likely for the old knight to have chosen to secrete the gold
than one that even in those days had the uncanny reputation of being
haunted? Who would ever think of looking for modern treasure in the
burying place of the ancient dead? In those days, too, Molehill, or
Dead Man's Mount, belonged to the de la Molle family, who had
re-acquired it on the break up of the Abbey. It was only at the
Restoration, when the Dofferleigh branch came into possession under
the will of the second and last baronet, Edward de la Molle, who died
in exile, that they failed to recover this portion of the property.
And if this was so, and Sir James, the murdered man, had buried his
treasure in the mount, what did the mysterious letters A.B.C. mean?
Were they, perhaps, directions as to the line to be taken to discover
it? Harold could not imagine, nor, as a matter of fact, did he or
anybody else ever find out either then or thereafter.

Ida, indeed, used afterwards to laughingly declare that old Sir James
meant to indicate that he considered the whole thing as plain as
A.B.C., but this was an explanation which did not commend itself to
Harold's practical mind.

CHAPTER XL

BUT NOT TO BED

Harold glanced at the clock; it was nearly one in the morning, time to
go to bed if he was going. But he did not feel inclined to go to bed.
If he did, with this great discovery on his mind he should not sleep.
There was another thing; it was Christmas Eve, or rather Christmas
Day, the day of Ida's answer. If any succour was to be given at all,
it must be given at once, before the fortress had capitulated. Once
let the engagement be renewed, and even if the money should
subsequently be forthcoming, the difficulties would be doubled. But he
was building his hopes upon sand, and he knew it. Even supposing that
he held in his hand the key to the hiding place of the long-lost
treasure, who knew whether it would still be there, or whether rumour
had not enormously added to its proportions? He was allowing his
imagination to carry him away.

Still he could not sleep, and he had a mind to see if anything could
be made of it. Going to the gun-room he put on a pair of shooting-
boots, an old coat, and an ulster. Next he provided himself with a
dark lantern and the key of the summer-house at the top of Dead Man's
Mount, and silently unlocking the back door started out into the
garden. The night was very rough, for the great gale was now rising
fast, and bitterly cold, so cold that he hesitated for a moment before
making up his mind to go on. However, he did go on, and in another two
minutes was climbing the steep sides of the tumulus. There was a wan
moon in the cold sky--the wind whistled most drearily through the
naked boughs of the great oaks, which groaned in answer like things in
pain. Harold was not a nervous or impressionable man, but the place
had a spectral look about it, and he could not help thinking of the
evil reputation it had borne for all those ages. There was scarcely a
man in Honham, or in Boisingham either, who could have been persuaded
to stay half an hour by himself on Dead Man's Mount after the sun was
well down. Harold had at different times asked one or two of them what
they saw to be afraid of, and they had answered that it was not what
they saw so much as what they felt. He had laughed at the time, but
now he admitted to himself that he was anything but comfortable,
though if he had been obliged to put his feelings into words he could
probably not have described them better than by saying that he had a
general impression of somebody being behind him.

However, he was not going to be frightened by this nonsense, so
consigning all superstitions to their father the Devil, he marched on
boldly and unlocked the summer-house door. Now, though this curious
edifice had been designed for a summer-house, and for that purpose
lined throughout with encaustic tiles, nobody as a matter of fact had
ever dreamed of using it to sit in. To begin with, it roofed over a
great depression some thirty feet or more in diameter, for the top of
the mount was hollowed out like one of those wooden cups in which
jugglers catch balls. But notwithstanding all the encaustic tiles in
the world, damp will gather in a hollow like this, and the damp alone
was an objection. The real fact was, however, that the spot had an
evil reputation, and even those who were sufficiently well educated to
know the folly of this sort of thing would not willingly have gone
there for purposes of enjoyment. So it had suffered the general fate
of disused places, having fallen more or less out of repair and become
a receptacle for garden tools, broken cucumber frames and lumber of
various sorts.

Harold pushed the door open and entered, shutting it behind him. It
was, if anything, more disagreeable in the empty silence of the wide
place than it had been outside, for the space roofed over was
considerable, and the question at once arose in his mind, what was he
to do now that he had got there? If the treasure was there at all,
probably it was deep down in the bowels of the great mound. Well, as
he was on the spot, he thought that he might as well try to dig,
though probably nothing would come of it. In the corner were a pickaxe
and some spades and shovels. Harold got them, advanced to the centre
of the space and, half laughing at his own folly, set to work. First,
having lit another lantern which was kept there, he removed with the
sharp end of the pickaxe a large patch of the encaustic tiles exactly
in the centre of the depression. Then having loosened the soil beneath
with the pick he took off his ulster and fell to digging with a will.
The soil proved to be very sandy and easy to work. Indeed, from its
appearance, he soon came to the conclusion that it was not virgin
earth, but worked soil which had been thrown there.

Presently his spade struck against something hard; he picked it up and
held it to the lantern. It proved to be an ancient spear-head, and
near it were some bones, though whether or no they were human he could
not at the time determine. This was very interesting, but it was
scarcely what he wanted, so he dug on manfully until he found himself
chest deep in a kind of grave. He had been digging for an hour now,
and was getting very tired. Cold as it was the perspiration poured
from him. As he paused for breath he heard the church clock strike
two, and very solemnly it sounded down the wild ways of the wind-torn
winter night. He dug on a little more, and then seriously thought of
giving up what he was somewhat ashamed of having undertaken. How was
he to account for this great hole to his gardener on the following
morning? Then and there he made up his mind that he would not account
for it. The gardener, in common with the rest of the village, believed
that the place was haunted. Let him set down the hole to the "spooks"
and their spiritual activity.

Still he dug on at the grave for a little longer. It was by now
becoming a matter of exceeding labour to throw the shovelfuls of soil
clear of the hole. Then he determined to stop, and with this view
scrambled, not without difficulty, out of the amateur tomb. Once out,
his eyes fell on a stout iron crowbar which was standing among the
other tools, such an implement as is used to make holes in the earth
wherein to set hurdles and stakes. It occurred to him that it would
not be a bad idea to drive this crowbar into the bottom of the grave
which he had dug, in order to ascertain if there was anything within
its reach. So he once more descended into the hole and began to work
with the iron crow, driving it down with all his strength. When he had
got it almost as deep as it would go, that is about two feet, it
struck something--something hard--there was no doubt of it. He worked
away in great excitement, widening the hole as much as he could.

Yes, it was masonry, or if it was not masonry it was something
uncommonly like it. He drew the crow out of the hole, and, seizing the
shovel, commenced to dig again with renewed vigour. As he could no
longer conveniently throw the earth from the hole he took a "skep" or
leaf basket, which lay handy, and, placing it beside him, put as much
of the sandy soil as he could carry into it, and then lifting shot it
on the edge of the pit. For three-quarters of an hour he laboured thus
most manfully, till at last he came down on the stonework. He cleared
a patch of it and examined it attentively, by the light of the dark
lantern. It appeared to be rubble work built in the form of an arch.
He struck it with the iron crow and it gave back a hollow sound. There
was a cavity of some sort underneath.

His excitement and curiosity redoubled. By great efforts he widened
the spot of stonework already laid bare. Luckily the soil, or rather
sand, was so friable that there was very little exertion required to
loosen it. This done he took the iron crow, and inserting it beneath a
loose flat stone levered it up. Here was a beginning, and having got
rid of the large flat stone he struck down again and again with all
his strength, driving the sharp point of the heavy crow into the
rubble work beneath. It began to give, he could hear bits of it
falling into the cavity below. There! it went with a crash, more than
a square foot of it.

He leant over the hole at his feet, devoutly hoping that the ground on
which he was standing would not give way also, and tried to look down.
Next second he threw his head back coughing and gasping. The foul air
rushing up from the cavity or chamber, or whatever it was, had half
poisoned him. Then not without difficulty he climbed out of the grave
and sat down on the pile of sand he had thrown up. Clearly he must
allow the air in the place to sweeten a little. Clearly also he must
have assistance if he was to descend into the great hole. He could not
undertake this by himself.

He sat upon the edge of the pit wondering who there was that he might
trust. Not his own gardener. To begin with he would never come near
the place at night, and besides such people talk. The Squire? No, he
could not rouse him at this hour, and also, for obvious reasons, they
had not met lately. Ah, he had it. George was the man! To begin with
he could be relied upon to hold his tongue. The episode of the
production of the real Mrs. Quest had taught him that George was a
person of no common powers. He could think and he could act also.

Harold threw on his coat, extinguished the large stable lantern, and
passing out, locked the door of the summer-house and started down the
mount at a trot. The wind had risen steadily during his hours of work,
and was now blowing a furious gale. It was about a quarter to four in
the morning and the stars shone brightly in the hard clean-blown sky.
By their light and that of the waning moon he struggled on in the
teeth of the raging tempest. As he passed under one of the oaks he
heard a mighty crack overhead, and guessing what it was ran like a
hare. He was none too soon. A circular gust of more than usual
fierceness had twisted the top right out of the great tree, and down
it came upon the turf with a rending crashing sound that made his
blood turn cold. After this escape he avoided the neighbourhood of the
groaning trees.

George lived in a neat little farmhouse about a quarter of a mile
away. There was a shot cut to it across the fields, and this he took,
breathlessly fighting his way against the gale, which roared and
howled in its splendid might as it swept across the ocean from its
birthplace in the distances of air. Even the stiff hawthorn fences
bowed before its breath, and the tall poplars on the skyline bent like
a rod beneath the first rush of a salmon.

Excited as he was, the immensity and grandeur of the sight and sounds
struck upon him with a strange force. Never before had he felt so far
apart from man and so near to that dread Spirit round Whose feet
thousands of rolling worlds rush on, at Whose word they are, endure,
and are not.

He struggled forward until at last he reached the house. It was quite
silent, but in one of the windows a light was burning. No doubt its
occupants found it impossible to sleep in that wild gale. The next
thing to consider was how to make himself heard. To knock at the door
would be useless in that turmoil. There was only one thing to be done
--throw stones at the window. He found a good-sized pebble, and
standing underneath, threw it with such goodwill that it went right
through the glass. It lit, as he afterwards heard, full upon the
sleeping Mrs. George's nose, and nearly frightened that good woman,
whose nerves were already shaken by the gale, into a fit. Next minute
a red nightcap appeared at the window.

"George!" roared the Colonel, in a lull of the gale.

"Who's there?" came the faint answer.

"I--Colonel Quaritch. Come down. I want to speak to you."

The head was withdrawn and a couple of minutes afterwards Harold saw
the front door begin to open slowly. He waited till there was space
enough, and then slipped in, and together they forced it to.

"Stop a bit, sir," said George; "I'll light the lamp;" and he did.

Next minute he stepped back in amazement.

"Why, what on arth hev you bin after, Colonel?" he said, contemplating
Harold's filth-begrimed face, and hands, and clothes. "Is anything
wrong up at the Castle, or is the cottage blown down?"

"No, no," said Harold; "listen. You've heard tell of the treasure that
old Sir James de la Molle buried in the time of the Roundheads?"

"Yes, yes. I've heard tell of that. Hev the gale blown it up?"

"No, but by heaven I believe that I am in a fair way to find it."

George took another step back, remembering the tales that Mrs. Jobson
had told, and not being by any means sure but that the Colonel was in
a dangerous condition of lunacy.

"Give me a glass of something to drink, water or milk, and I'll tell
you. I've been digging all night, and my throat's like a limeskin."

"Digging, why where?"

"Where? In Dead Man's Mount!"

"In Dead Man's Mount?" said George. "Well, blow me, if that ain't a
funny place to dig at on a night like this," and, too amazed to say
anything more, he went off to get the milk.

Harold drank three glasses of milk, and then sat down to tell as much
of his moving tale as he thought desirable.

CHAPTER XLI

HOW THE NIGHT WENT

George sat opposite to him, his hands on his knees, the red nightcap
on his head, and a comical expression of astonishment upon his
melancholy countenance.

"Well," he said, when Harold had done, "blow me if that ain't a master
one. And yet there's folks who say that there ain't no such thing as
Providence--not that there's anything prowided yet--p'raps there ain't
nawthing there after all."

"I don't know if there is or not, but I'm going back to see, and I
want you to come with me."

"Now?" said George rather uneasily. "Why, Colonel, that bain't a very
nice spot to go digging about in on a night like this. I niver heard
no good of that there place--not as I holds by sich talk myself," he
added apologetically.

"Well," said the Colonel, "you can do as you like, but I'm going back
at once, and going down the hole, too; the gas must be out of it by
now. There are reasons," he added, "why, if this money is to be found
at all, it should be found this morning. To-day is Christmas Day, you
know."

"Yes, yes, Colonel; I knows what you mean. Bless you, I know all about
it; the old Squire must talk to somebody; if he don't he'd bust, so he
talks to me. That Cossey's coming for his answer from Miss Ida this
morning. Poor young lady, I saw her yesterday, and she looks like a
ghost, she du. Ah, he's a mean one, that Cossey. Laryer Quest warn't
in it with him after all. Well, I cooked his goose for him, and I'd
give summut to have a hand in cooking that banker chap's too. You wait
a minute, Colonel, and I'll come along, gale and ghostesses and all. I
only hope it mayn't be after a fool's arrand, that's all," and he
retired to put on his boots. Presently he appeared again, his red
nightcap still on his head, for he was afraid that the wind would blow
a hat off, and carrying an unlighted lantern in his hand.

"Now, Colonel, I'm ready, sir, if you be;" and they started.

The gale was, if anything, fiercer than ever. Indeed, there had been
no such wind in those parts for years, or rather centuries, as the
condition of the timber by ten o'clock that morning amply testified.

"This here timpest must be like that as the Squire tells us on in the
time of King Charles, as blew the top of the church tower off on a
Christmas night," shouted George. But Harold made no answer, and they
fought their way onward without speaking any more, for their voices
were almost inaudible. Once the Colonel stopped and pointed to the
sky-line. Of all the row of tall poplars which he had seen bending
like whips before the wind as he came along but one remained standing
now, and as he pointed that vanished also.

Reaching the summer house in safety, they entered, and the Colonel
shut and locked the door behind them. The frail building was literally
rocking in the fury of the storm.

"I hope the roof will hold," shouted George, but Harold took no heed.
He was thinking of other things. They lit the lanterns, of which they
now had three, and the Colonel slid down into the great grave he had
so industriously dug, motioning to George to follow. This that worthy
did, not without trepidation. Then they both knelt and stared down
through the hole in the masonry, but the light of the lanterns was not
strong enough to enable them to make out anything with clearness.

"Well," said George, falling back upon his favourite expression in his
amazement, as he drew his nightcapped head from the hole, "if that
ain't a master one, I niver saw a masterer, that's all.

"What be you a-going to du now, Colonel? Hev you a ladder here?"

"No," answered Harold, "I never thought of that, but I've a good rope:
I'll get it."

Scrambling out of the hole, he presently returned with a long coil of
stout rope. It belonged to some men who had been recently employed in
cutting boughs off such of the oaks that needed attention.

They undid the rope and let the end down to see how deep the pit was.
When they felt that the end lay upon the floor they pulled it up. The
depth from the hole to the bottom of the pit appeared to be about
sixteen feet or a trifle more.

Harold took the iron crow, and having made the rope fast to it fixed
the bar across the mouth of the aperture. Then he doubled the rope,
tied some knots in it, and let it fall into the pit, preparatory to
climbing down it.

But George was too quick for him. Forgetting his doubts as to the
wisdom of groping about Dead Man's Mount at night, in the ardour of
his burning curiosity he took the dark lantern, and holding it with
his teeth passed his body through the hole in the masonry, and
cautiously slid down the rope.

"Are you all right?" asked Harold in a voice tremulous with
excitement, for was not his life's fortune trembling on the turn?

"Yes," answered George doubtfully. Harold looking down could see that
he was holding the lantern above his head and staring at something
very hard.

Next moment a howl of terror echoed up from the pit, the lantern was
dropped upon the ground and the rope began to be agitated with the
utmost violence.

In another two seconds George's red nightcap appeared followed by a
face that was literally livid with terror.

"Let me up for Goad's sake," he gasped, "or he'll hev me by the leg!"

"He! who?" asked the Colonel, not without a thrill of superstitious
fear, as he dragged the panting man through the hole.

But George would give no answer until he was out of the grave. Indeed
had it not been for the Colonel's eager entreaties, backed to some
extent by actual force, he would by this time have been out of the
summer-house also, and half-way down the mount.

"What is it?" roared the Colonel in the pit to George, who shivering
with terror was standing on its edge.

"It's a blessed ghost, that's what it is, Colonel," answered George,
keeping his eyes fixed upon the hole as though he momentarily expected
to see the object of his fears emerge.

"Nonsense," said Harold doubtfully. "What rubbish you talk. What sort
of a ghost?"

"A white un," said George, "all bones like."

"All bones?" answered the Colonel, "why it must be a skeleton."

"I don't say that he ain't," was the answer, "but if he be, he's nigh
on seven foot high, and sitting airing of hissel in a stone bath."

"Oh, rubbish," said the Colonel. "How can a skeleton sit and air
himself? He would tumble to bits."

"I don't know, but there he be, and they don't call this here place
'Dead Man's Mount' for nawthing."

"Well," said the Colonel argumentatively, "a skeleton is a perfectly
harmless thing."

"Yes, if he's dead maybe, sir, but this one's alive, I saw him nod his
head at me."

"Look here, George," answered Harold, feeling that if this went on
much longer he should lose his nerve altogether. "I'm not going to be
scared. Great heavens, what a gust! I'm going down to see for myself."

"Very good, Colonel," answered George, "and I'll wait here till you
come up again--that is if you iver du."

Thrice did Harold look at the hole in the masonry and thrice did he
shrink back.

"Come," he shouted angrily, "don't be a fool; get down here and hand
me the lantern."

George obeyed with evident trepidation. Then Harold scrambled through
the opening and with many an inward tremor, for there is scarcely a
man on the earth who is really free from supernatural fears, descended
hand over hand. But in so doing he managed to let the lantern fall and
it went out. Now as any one will admit this was exceedingly trying. It
is not pleasant to be left alone in the dark and underground in the
company of an unknown "spook." He had some matches, but what between
fear and cold it was some time before he could get a light. Down in
this deep place the rush of the great gale reached his ears like a
faint and melancholy sighing, and he heard other tapping noises, too,
or he thought he did, noises of a creepy and unpleasant nature. Would
the matches never light? The chill and death-like damp of the place
struck to his marrow and the cold sweat poured from his brow. Ah! at
last! He kept his eyes steadily fixed upon the lantern till he had lit
it and the flame was burning brightly. Then with an effort he turned
and looked round him.

And this is what he saw.

There, three or four paces from him, in the centre of the chamber of
Death sat or rather lay a figure of Death. It reclined in a stone
chest or coffin, like a man in a hip bath which is too small for him.
The bony arms hung down on either side, the bony limbs projected
towards him, the great white skull hung forward over the massive
breast bone. It moved, too, of itself, and as it moved, the jaw-bone
tapped against the breast and the teeth clacked gently together.

Terror seized him while he looked, and, as George had done, he turned
to fly. How could that thing move its head? The head ought to fall
off.

Seizing the rope, he jerked it violently in the first effort of
mounting.

"Hev he got yew, Colonel?" sung out George above; and the sound of a
human voice brought him back to his sense.

"No," he answered as boldly as he could, and then setting his teeth,
turned and tottered straight at the Horror in the chest.

He was there now, and holding the lantern against the thing, examined
it. It was a skeleton of enormous size, and the skull was fixed with
rusty wire to one of the vertebrae.

At this evidence of the handiwork of man his fears almost vanished.
Even in that company he could not help remembering that it is scarcely
to be supposed that spiritual skeletons carry about wire with which to
tie on their skulls.

With a sigh of relief he held up the lantern and looked round. He was
standing in a good-sized vault or chamber, built of rubble stone. Some
of this rubble had fallen in to his left; but otherwise, though the
workmanship showed that it must be of extreme antiquity, the stone
lining was still strong and good. He looked upon the floor, and then
for the first time saw that the nodding skeleton before him was not
the only one. All round lay remnants of the dead. There they were,
stretched out in the form of a circle, of which the stone kist was the
centre.[*] One place in the circle was vacant; evidently it had once
been occupied by the giant frame which now sat within the kist. Next
he looked at the kist itself. It had all the appearance of one of
those rude stone chests in which the very ancient inhabitants of this
island buried the ashes of their cremated dead. But, if this was so,
whence came the un-cremated skeletons?

[*] At Bungay, in Suffolk, there stood a mound or tumulus, on which
was a windmill. Some years ago the windmill was pulled down, and
the owner of the ground wishing to build a house upon its site,
set to work to cart away the mound. His astonishment may be
conceived when he found in the earth a great number of skeletons
arranged in circles. These skeletons were of large size, and a
gentleman who saw them informed me that he measured one. It was
that of a man who must have been nearly seven feet high. The bones
were, unhappily, carted away and thrown into a dyke. But no house
has been built upon the resting-place of those unknown warriors.
--Author.

Perhaps a subsequent race or tribe had found the chamber ready
prepared, and used it to bury some among them who had fallen in
battle. It was impossible to say more, especially as with one
exception there was nothing buried with the skeletons which would
assist to identify their race or age. That exception was a dog. A dog
had been placed by one of the bodies. Evidently from the position of
the bones of its master's arms he had been left to his last sleep with
his hand resting on the hound's head.

Bending down, Harold examined the seated skeleton more closely. It
was, he discovered, accurately jointed together with strong wire.
Clearly this was the work of hands which were born into the world long
after the flesh on those mighty bones had crumbled into dust.

But where was the treasure? He saw none. His heart sank as the idea
struck him that he had made an interesting archaeological discovery,
and that was all. Before undertaking a closer search he went under the
hole and halloaed to George to come down as there was nothing but some
bones to frighten him.

This the worthy George was at length with much difficulty persuaded to
do.

When at last he stood beside him in the vault, Harold explained to him
what the place was and how ridiculous were his fears, without however
succeeding in allaying them to any considerable extent.

And really when one considers the position it is not wonderful that
George was scared. For they were shut up in the bowels of a place
which had for centuries owned the reputation of being haunted, faced
by a nodding skeleton of almost superhuman size, and surrounded by
various other skeletons all "very fine and large," while the most
violent tempest that had visited the country for years sighed away
outside.

"Well," he said, his teeth chattering, "if this ain't the masterest
one that iver I did see." But here he stopped, language was not equal
to the expression of his feelings.

Meanwhile Harold, with a heart full of anxiety, was turning the
lantern this way and that in the hope of discovering some traces of
Sir James's treasure, but naught could he see. There to the left the
masonry had fallen in. He went to it and pulled aside some of the
stones. There was a cavity behind, apparently a passage, leading no
doubt to the secret entrance to the vault, but he could see nothing in
it. Once more he searched. There was nothing. Unless the treasure was
buried somewhere, or hidden away in the passage, it was non-existent.

And yet what was the meaning of that jointed skeleton sitting in the
stone bath? It must have been put there for some purpose, probably to
frighten would-be plunderers away. Could he be sitting on the money?
He rushed to the chest and looked through the bony legs. No, his
pelvis rested on the stone bottom of the kist.

"Well, George, it seems we're done," said Harold, with a ghastly
attempt at a laugh. "There's no treasure here."

"Maybe it's underneath that there stone corn bin," suggested George,
whose teeth were still chattering. "It should be here or hereabouts,
surely."

This was an idea. Helping himself to the shoulder-blade of some
deceased hero, Harold, using it as a trowel, began to scoop away the
soft sand upon which the stone chest stood. He scooped and scooped
manfully, but he could not come to the bottom of the kist.

He stepped back and looked at it. It must be one of two things--either
the hollow at the top was but a shallow cutting in a great block of
stone, or the kist had a false bottom.

He sprang at it. Seizing the giant skeleton by the spine, he jerked it
out of the kist and dropped it on one side in a bristling bony heap.
Just as he did so there came so furious a gust of wind that, buried as
they were in the earth, they literally felt the mound rock beneath it.
Instantly it was followed by a frightful crash overhead.

George collapsed in terror, and for a moment Harold could not for the
life of him think what had happened. He ran to the hole and looked up.
Straight above him he could see the sky, in which the first cold
lights of dawn were quivering. Mrs. Massey's summer-house had been
blown bodily away, and the "ancient British Dwelling Place" was once
more open to the sky, as it had been for centuries.

"The summer-house has gone, George," he said. "Thank goodness that we
were not in it, or we should have gone too."

"Oh, Lord, sir," groaned the unhappy George, "this is an awful
business. It's like a judgment."

"It might have been if we had been up above instead of safe down
here," he answered. "Come, bring that other lantern."

George roused himself, and together they bent over the now empty kist,
examining it closely.

The stone bottom was not of quite the same colour as the walls of the
chest, and there was a crack across it. Harold felt in his pocket and
drew out his knife, which had at the back of it one of those strong
iron hooks that are used to extract stones from the hoofs of horses.
This hook he worked into the crack and managed before it broke to pull
up a fragment of stone. Then, looking round, he found a long sharp
flint among the rubbish where the wall had fallen in. This he inserted
in the hole and they both levered away at it.

Half of the cracked stone came up a few inches, far enough to allow
them to get their fingers underneath it. So it /was/ a false bottom.

"Catch hold," gasped the Colonel, "and pull for your life."

George did as he was bid, and setting their knees against the hollowed
stone, they tugged till their muscles cracked.

"It's a-moving," said George. "Now thin, Colonel."

Next second they both found themselves on the flat of their backs. The
stone had given with a run.

Up sprang Harold like a kitten. The broken stone was standing edgeways
in the kist. There was something soft beneath it.

"The light, George," he said hoarsely.

Beneath the stone were some layers of rotten linen.

Was it a shroud, or what?

They pulled the linen out by handfuls. One! two! three!

/Oh, great heaven!/

There, under the linen, were row on row of shining gold coins set
edgeways.

For a moment everything swam before Harold's eyes, and his heart
stopped beating. As for George, he muttered something inaudible about
its being a "master one," and collapsed.

With trembling fingers Harold managed to pick out two pieces of gold
which had been disturbed by the upheaval of the stone, and held them
to the light. He was a skilled numismatist, and had no difficulty in
recognising them. One was a beautiful three-pound piece of Charles I.,
and the other a Spur Rial of James I.

That proved it. There was no doubt that this was the treasure hidden
by Sir James de la Molle. He it must have been also who had conceived
the idea of putting a false bottom to the kist and setting up the
skeleton to frighten marauders from the treasure, if by any chance
they should enter.

For a minute or two the men stood staring at each other over the great
treasure which they had unearthed in that dread place, shaking with
the reaction of their first excitement, and scarcely able to speak.

"How deep du it go?" said George at length.

Harold took his knife and loosed some of the top coins, which were
very tightly packed, till he could move his hand in them freely. Then
he pulled out handful after handful of every sort of gold coin. There
were Rose Nobles of Edward IV.; Sovereigns and Angels of Henry VII.
and VIII.; Sovereigns, Half-Sovereigns and gold Crowns of Edward VI.;
Sovereigns, Rials, and Angels of Mary; Sovereigns, Double Crowns and
Crowns of Elizabeth; Thirty-shilling pieces, Spur Rials, Angels,
Unites and Laurels of James I.; Three-pound pieces, Broads, and Half
Broads of Charles I.; some in greater quantity and some in less; all
were represented. Handful after handful did he pull out, and yet the
bottom was not reached. At last he came to it. The layer of gold
pieces was about twenty inches broad by three feet six long.

"We must get this into the house, George, before any one is about,"
gasped the Colonel.

"Yes, sir, yes, for sure we must; but how be we a-going to carry it?"

Harold thought for a minute, and then acted thus. Bidding George stay
in the vault with the treasure, which he was with difficulty persuaded
to do, he climbed the improvised rope ladder, and got in safety
through the hole. In his excitement he had forgotten about the summer-
house having been carried away by the gale, which was still blowing,
though not with so much fury as before. The wind-swept desolation that
met his view as he emerged into the dawning light broke upon him with
a shock. The summer-house was clean gone, nothing but a few uprights
remained of it; and fifty yards away he thought he could make out the
crumpled shape of the roof. Nor was that all. Quite a quarter of the
great oaks which were the glory of the place were down, or splintered
and ruined.

But what did he care for the summer-house or the oaks now? Forgetting
his exhaustion, he ran down the slope and reached the house, which he
entered as softly as he could by the side door. Nobody was about yet,
or would be for another hour. It was Christmas Day, and not a pleasant
morning to get up on, so the servants would be sure to lie a-bed. On
his way to his bed-room he peeped into the dining-room, where he had
fallen asleep on the previous evening. When he had woke up, it may be
remembered, he lit a candle. This candle was now flaring itself to
death, for he had forgotten to extinguish it, and by its side lay the

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