Part 6 out of 9
he let go his muffle to balance himself with the jamb, and same
moment a strong rush of wind laid bare the whole of his wicked face
to me. For a bad wicked face it was, as ever I did see; whether by
reason of the kick I gave, and a splinter in the shin, or by habit
of the mind, a proud and 'aughty and owdacious face, and, as I said
to my poor wife, reminded me a little of our Master George; not in
his ordinary aspect, to be sure, but as Master George might look if
he was going to the devil. Pray excoose me, miss, for bad words,
but no good ones will do justice. And so off he goes, after one
look at me on the ground, not worth considering, with his chin
stuck up, as if the air was not good enough to be breathed
"And of course you followed him," I exclaimed, perceiving that
Stixon would allow me now to speak. "Without any delay you went
"Miss Erma, you forget what my dooty was. My dooty was to stay by
the door and make it fast, as custodian of all this mansion. No
little coorosity, or private resentment, could 'a borne me out in
doing so. As an outraged man I was up for rushing out, but as a
trusted official, and responsible head footman, miss--for I were
not butler till nine months after that--my dooty was to put the big
"And you did it, without even looking out to see if he tried to set
the house on fire! Oh, Stixon, I fear that you were frightened."
"Now, Miss Erma, I calls it ungrateful, after all my hefforts to
obleege you, to put a bad construction upon me. You hurts me,
miss, in my tenderest parts, as I never thought Master George's
darter would 'a doed. But there, they be none of them as they used
to be! Master George would 'a said, if he ever had heard it.
'Stixon, my man, you have acted for the best, and showed a sound
discretion. Stixon,' he would have said, 'here's a George and
Dragon in reward of your gallant conduck.' Ah, that sort of
manliness is died out now."
This grated at first upon my feelings, because it seemed tainted
with selfishness, and it did not entirely agree with my own
recollections of my father. But still Mr. Stixon must have
suffered severely in that conflict, and to blame him for not
showing rashness was to misunderstand his position. And so, before
putting any other questions to him, I felt in my pocket for a new
half sovereign, which I hoped would answer.
Mr. Stixon received it in an absent manner, as if he were still
in the struggle of his story, and too full of duty to be thankful.
Yet I saw that he did not quite realize the truth of a nobly
philosophic proverb--"the half is more than the whole."
Nevertheless, he stowed away his half, in harmony with a good
old English saying.
"Now, when you were able to get up at last," I inquired, with
tender interest, "what did you see, and what did you do, and what
conclusion did you come to?"
"I came to the conclusion, miss, that I were hurt considerable.
Coorosity on my part were quenched by the way as I had to rub
myself. But a man is a man, and the last thing to complain of is
the exercise of his functions. And when I come round I went off to
his lordship, as if I had heared his bell ring. All of us knew
better than to speak till him beginning, for he were not what they
now call 'halfable,' but very much to the contrary. So he says,
'You door-skulker, what do you want there?' And I see that he got
his hot leg up, certain to fly to bad language. According, I
asked, with my breath in my hand, if he pleased to see any young
man there just now, by reason that such likes had been observated
going out in some direction. But his lordship roared to me to go
in another direction, not fit for young ladies. My old lord was up
to every word of English; but his present lordship is the hopposite
"Is that all you have to tell me, Stixon? Did you never see that
fearful man again? Did you never even hear of him?"
"Never, miss, never! And to nobody but you have I ever told all as
I told now. But you seems to be born to hear it all."
It was true enough that Stixon now had nothing more to tell, but
what he had told already seemed of very great importance,
confirming strongly, as it did, the description given me by Jacob
Rigg. And even the butler's concluding words--that I seemed born
to hear it all--comforted me like some good omen, and cheered me
forward to make them true. Not that I could, in my sad and
dangerous enterprise, always be confident. Some little spirit I
must have had, and some resolve to be faithful, according to the
power of a very common mind, admiring but never claiming courage.
For I never did feel in any kind of way any gift of inspiration, or
even the fitness of a quick, strong mind for working out deeds of
justice. There were many good ladies in America then, and now
there are some in England, perceiving so clearly their own
superiority as to run about largely proclaiming it. How often I
longed to be a little more like these, equal to men in achievements
of the body, and very far beyond them in questions of the mind!
However, it was useless to regret my lacks, and foolish, perhaps,
to think of them. To do my very best with what little gifts I had
was more to the purpose and more sensible. Taking in lonely
perplexity now this dim yet exciting view of things, I resolved,
right or wrong, to abide at the place where the only chance was of
pursuing my search. I was pledged, as perhaps has been said
before, to keep from every one excepting faithful Betsy, and above
all from Lord Castlewood, the unexpected little tale wrung out of
Mr. Stixon. That promise had been given without any thought, in my
eagerness to hear every thing, and probably some people would have
thought of it no more. But the trusty butler was so scared when I
asked him to release me from it, so penitent also at his own
indiscretion, which never would have overcome him (as he said in
the morning) only for the thunder-storm, that instead of getting
off, I was quite obliged to renew and confirm my assurances.
Therefore, in truth, I had no chance left but to go back to
Shoxford and do my best, meeting all dark perils with the shield of
right spread over me. And a great thing now in my favor was to
feel some confidence again in the guidance of kind Wisdom. The
sense of this never had abandoned me so much as to make me
miserable about it; but still I had never tried to shelter under
it, and stay there faithfully, as the best of people do. And even
now I was not brought to such a happy attitude, although delivered
by these little gleams of light from the dark void of fatalism,
into which so many bitter blows had once been driving me.
However, before setting off again, I made one more attempt upon
Lord Castlewood, longing to know whether his suspicions would help
me at all to identify the figure which had frightened both the
sexton and the butler. That the person was one and the same, I did
not for a moment call in question, any more than I doubted that he
was the man upon whose head rested the blood of us. But why he
should be allowed to go scot-free while another bore his brand, and
many others died for him, and why all my most just and righteous
efforts to discover him should receive, if not discouragement, at
any rate most lukewarm aid--these and several other questions were
as dark as ever.
"You must not return to Shoxford, my cousin," Lord Castlewood said
to me that day, after a plain though courteous refusal to enlighten
me even with a mere surmise, except upon the condition before
rejected. "I can not allow you to be there without strict
supervision and protection. You will not, perhaps, be aware of it,
as perhaps you have not been before; but a careful watch will be
kept on you. I merely tell you this that you may not make
mistakes, and confound friendly vigilance with the spying of an
enemy. Erema, you will be looked after."
I could not help being grateful for his kindness, and really, try
as I might to be fearless, it would be a great comfort to have some
one to protect me. On the other hand, how would this bear upon my
own freedom of looking about, my desire to make my own occasions,
and the need of going every where? Could these be kept to my
liking at all while an unknown power lay in kind regard of me?
Considering these things, I begged my cousin to leave me to my own
devices, for that I was afraid of nobody on earth, while only
seeking justice, and that England must be worse than the worst
parts of America if any harm to me could be apprehended at quiet
times and in such a quiet place.
My cousin said no more upon that point, though I felt that he was
not in any way convinced; but he told me that he thought I should
pay a little visit, if only for a day, such as I treated him with,
to my good friends at Bruntsea, before I returned to Shoxford.
There was no one now at Bruntsea whom I might not wish to meet, as
he knew by a trifling accident; and after all the kind services
rendered by Major and Mrs. Hockin, it was hardly right to let them
begin to feel themselves neglected. Now the very same thing had
occurred to me, and I was going to propose it; and many things
which I found it hard to do without were left in my little chest of
locked-up drawers there. But of that, to my knowledge, I scarcely
thought twice; whereas I longed to see and have a talk with dear
"Aunt Mary." Now, since my affairs had been growing so strange,
and Lord Castlewood had come forward--not strongly, but still quite
enough to speak of--there had been a kind-hearted and genuine wish
at Bruntsea to recover me. And this desire had unreasonably grown
while starved with disappointment. The less they heard of me, the
more they imagined in their rich good-will, and the surer they
became that, after all, there was something in my ideas.
But how could I know this, without any letters from them, since
letters were a luxury forbidden me at Shoxford? I knew it through
one of the simplest and commonest of all nature's arrangements.
Stixon's boy, as every body called him (though he must have been
close upon five-and-twenty, and carried a cane out of sight of the
windows), being so considered, and treated boyishly by the maids of
Castlewood, asserted his dignity, and rose above his value as much
as he had lain below it, by showing that he owned a tender heart,
and them that did not despise it. For he chanced to be walking
with his cane upon the beach (the very morning after he first went
to Bruntsea, too late for any train back again), and casting
glances of interior wonder over the unaccustomed sea--when from the
sea itself out-leaped a wondrous rosy deity.
"You there, Mr. Stixon! Oh my! How long?" exclaimed Mrs. Hockin's
new parlormaid, ready to drop, though in full print now, on the
landward steps of the bathing-machine set up by the reckless Major.
"Come this very hinstant, miss, honor bright!" replied the junior
Stixon, who had moved in good society; "and just in the hackmy of
time, miss, if I may offer you my 'umble hand."
The fair nymph fixed him with a penetrating gaze through tresses
full of salt curliness, while her cheeks were conscious of an
unclad dip. But William Stixon's eyes were firm with pure truth,
gently toning into shy reproach and tenderness. He had met her at
supper last night, and done his best; but (as he said to the
Castlewood maids) it was only feeling then, whereas now it was
"Then you are a gentleman!" Polly Hopkins cried; "and indeed, Mr.
Stixon, these are slippery things." She was speaking of the steps,
as she came down them, and they had no hand-rails; and the young
man felt himself to be no more Stixon's boy, but a gentleman under
sweet refining pressure.
From that hour forth it was pronounced, and they left the world to
its own opinion, that they were keeping company; and although they
were sixty miles apart by air, and eighty-two by railway, at every
post their hearts were one, with considerable benefit to the United
Kingdom's revenue. Also they met by the sad sea waves, when the
bathing-machines had been hauled up--for the Major now had three of
them--as often as Stixon senior smiled--which he did whenever he
was not put out--on the bygone ways of these children. For Polly
Hopkins had a hundred pounds, as well as being the only child of
the man who kept the only shop for pickled pork in Bruntsea. And
my Mr. Stixon could always contrive to get orders from his lordship
to send the boy away, with his carriage paid, when his health
demanded bathing. Hence it is manifest that the deeds and thoughts
of Bruntsea House, otherwise called "Bruntlands," were known quite
as well, and discussed even better--because dispassionately--at
Castlewood than and as they were at home.
Now I won forever the heart of Stixon's boy, and that of Polly
Hopkins, by recoiling with horror from the thought of going to
Bruntsea unattended. After all my solitary journeys, this might
have been called hypocrisy, if it had been inconvenient; but coming
as it did, it was pronounced, by all who desired either news or
love, to be another proof of the goodness of my heart.
Escorted thus by William Stixon (armed with a brilliant cane bought
for this occasion), and knowing that Sir Montague Hockin was not
there, I arrived at Bruntlands in the afternoon, and received a
kindly welcome from my dear friend Mrs. Hockin. Her husband was
from home, and she grieved to say that now he was generally doing
this; but nobody else could have any idea what his avocations were!
Then she paid me some compliments on my appearance--a thing that I
never thought of, except when I came to a question of likeness, or
chanced to be thinking of things, coming up as they will, at a
That the Major was out was a truth established in my mind some time
ago; because I had seen him, as our fly crawled by, expressly and
emphatically at work on a rampart of his own designing. The work
was quite new to me, but not so his figure. Though I could not see
people three miles off, as Firm Gundry was said to do, I had pretty
clear sight, and could not mistake the Major within a furlong. And
there he was, going about in a row of square notches against the
sea-line, with his coat off, and brandishing some tool, vehemently
carrying on to spirits less active than his own. I burned with
desire to go and join him, for I love to see activity; but Mrs.
Hockin thought that I had better stay away, because it was
impossible to get on there without language too strong for young
This closed the question, and I stopped with her, and found the
best comfort that I ever could have dreamed of. "Aunt Mary" was so
steadfast, and so built up with, or rather built of, the very faith
itself, that to talk with her was as good as reading the noblest
chapter of the Bible. She put by all possibility of doubt as to
the modern interference of the Lord, with such a sweet pity and the
seasoned smile of age, and so much feeling (which would have been
contempt if she had not been softened by her own escapes), that
really I, who had come expecting to set her beautiful white hair on
end, became like a little child put into the corner, but too young
yet for any other punishment at school, except to be looked at.
Nevertheless, though I did look small, it made me all the happier.
I seemed to become less an individual, and more a member of a large
kind race under paternal management. From a practical point of
view this may have been amiss, but it helped to support me
afterward. And before I began to get weary or rebel against her
gentle teaching, in came her husband; and she stopped at once,
because he had never any time for it.
"My geological hammer!" cried the Major, being in a rush as usual.
"Oh, Miss Castlewood! I did not see you. Pardon me! It is the
want of practice only; so wholly have you deserted us. Fallen into
better hands, of course. Well, how are you? But I need not ask.
If ever there was a young lady who looked well--don't tell me of
troubles, or worries, or nerves--I put up my glasses, and simply
say, 'Pretty young ladies are above all pity!' My hammer, dear
Mary; my hammer I must have. The geological one, you know; we have
come on a bit of old Roman work; the bricklayer's hammers go flat,
like lead. I have just one minute and a half to spare. What fine
fellows those Romans were! I will build like a Roman. See to
every bit of it myself, Erema. No contractor's jobs for me. Mary,
you know where to find it."
"Well, dear, I think that you had it last, to get the bung out of
the beer barrel, when the stool broke down in the corner, you know,
because you would--"
"Never mind about that. The drayman made a fool of himself. I
proceeded upon true principles. That fellow knew nothing of
"Well, dear, of course you understand it best. But he told cook
that it was quite a mercy that you got off without a broken leg;
and compared with that, two gallons of spilled ale--" Mrs. Hockin
made off, without finishing her sentence.
"What a woman she is!" cried the Major; "she takes such a lofty
view of things, and she can always find my tools. Erema, after
dinner I must have a talk with you. There is something going on
here--on my manor--which I can not at all get a clew to, except by
connecting you with it, the Lord knows how. Of course you have
nothing to do with it; but still my life has been so free from
mystery that, that--you know what I mean--"
"That you naturally think I must be at the bottom of every thing
mysterious. Now is there any thing dark about me? Do I not labor
to get at the light? Have I kept from your knowledge any single
thing? But you never cared to go into them."
"It is hardly fair of you to say that. The fact is that you, of
your own accord, have chosen other counselors. Have you heard any
more of your late guardian, Mr. Shovelin? I suppose that his
executor, or some one appointed by him, is now your legal
"I have not even asked what the law is," I replied. "Lord
Castlewood is my proper guardian, according to all common-sense,
and I mean to have him so. He has inquired through his solicitors
as to Mr. Shovelin, and I am quite free there. My father's will is
quite good, they say; but it never has been proved, and none of
them care to do it. My cousin thinks that I could compel them to
prove it, or to renounce in proper form; but Mr. Shovelin's sons
are not nice people--as different from him as night from day,
careless and wild and dashing."
"Then do you mean to do nothing about it? What a time she is
finding that hammer!"
"I leave it entirely to my cousin, and he is waiting for legal
advice. I wish to have the will, of course, for the sake of my
dear father; but with or without any will, my mother's little
property comes to me. And if my dear father had nothing to leave,
why should we run up a great lawyer's bill?"
"To be sure not! I see. That makes all the difference. I admire
your common-sense," said the Major--"but there! Come and look, and
just exercise it here. There is that very strange woman again,
just at the end of my new road. She stands quite still, and then
stares about, sometimes for an hour together. Nobody knows who she
is, or why she came. She has taken a tumble-down house on my
manor, from a wretch of a fellow who denies my title; and what she
lives on is more than any one can tell, for she never spends
sixpence in Bruntsea. Some think that she walks in the dark to
Newport, and gets all her food at some ship stores there. And one
of our fishermen vows that he met her walking on the sea, as he
rowed home one night, and she had a long red bag on her shoulder.
She is a witch, that is certain; for she won't answer me, however
politely I accost her. But the oddest thing of all is the name she
gave to the fellow she took the house from. What do you think she
called herself? Of all things in the world--'Mrs. Castlewood!' I
congratulate you on your relative."
"How very strange!" I answered. "Oh, now I see why you connect me
with it; and I beg your pardon for having been vexed. But let me
go and see her. Oh, may I go at once, if you please, and speak to
"The very thing I wish--if you are not afraid. I will come with
you, when I get my hammer. Oh, here it is! Mary, how clever you
are! Now look out of the window, and you shall see Erema make up
to her grandmamma."
NOT AT HOME
Mrs. Hockin, however, had not the pleasure promised her by the
facetious Major of seeing me "make up to my grandmamma." For
although we set off at once to catch the strange woman who had
roused so much curiosity, and though, as we passed the door of
Bruntlands, we saw her still at her post in the valley, like Major
Hockin's new letter-box, for some reason best known to herself we
could not see any more of her. For, hurry as he might upon other
occasions, nothing would make the Major cut a corner of his winding
"drive" when descending it with a visitor. He enjoyed every yard
of its length, because it was his own at every step, and he counted
his paces in an under-tone, to be sure of the length, for perhaps
the thousandth time. It was long enough in a straight line, one
would have thought, but he was not the one who thought so; and
therefore he had doubled it by judicious windings, as if for the
purpose of breaking the descent.
"Three hundred and twenty-one," he said, as he came to a post,
where he meant to have a lodge as soon as his wife would let him;
"now the old woman stands fifty-five yards on, at a spot where I
mean to have an ornamental bridge, because our fine saline element
runs up there when the new moon is perigee. My dear, I am a little
out of breath, which affects my sight for the moment. Doubtless
that is why I do not see her."
"If I may offer an opinion," I said, "in my ignorance of all the
changes you have made, the reason why we do not see her may be that
she is gone out of sight."
"Impossible!" Major Hockin cried--"simply impossible, Erema! She
never moves for an hour and a half. And she was not come, was she,
when you came by?"
"I will not be certain," I answered; "but I think that I must have
seen her if she had been there, because I was looking about
particularly at all your works as we came by."
"Then she must be there still; let us tackle her."
This was easier said than done, for we found no sign of any body at
the place where she certainly had been standing less than five
minutes ago. We stood at the very end and last corner of the
ancient river trough, where a little seam went inland from it, as
if some trifle of a brook had stolen down while it found a good
river to welcome it. But now there was only a little oozy gloss
from the gleam of the sun upon some lees of marshy brine left among
the rushes by the last high tide.
"You see my new road and the key to my intentions?" said the Major,
forgetting all about his witch, and flourishing his geological
hammer, while standing thus at his "nucleus." "To understand all,
you have only to stand here. You see those leveling posts,
adjusted with scientific accuracy. You see all those angles,
calculated with micrometric precision. You see how the curves are
"It is very beautiful, I have no doubt; but you can not have Uncle
Sam's gift of machinery. And do you understand every bit of it
"Erema, not a jot of it. I like to talk about it freely when I
can, because I see all its beauties. But as to understanding it,
my dear, you might set to, if you were an educated female, and
deliver me a lecture upon my own plan. Intellect is, in such
matters, a bubble. I know good bricks, good mortar, and good
"With your great ability, you must do that," I answered, very
gently, being touched with his humility and allowance of my
opinion; "you will make a noble town of it. But when is the
"Not yet. We have first to get our Act; and a miserable-minded
wretch, who owns nothing but a rabbit-warren, means to oppose it.
Don't let us talk of him. It puts one out of patience when a man
can not see his own interest. But come and see our assembly-rooms,
literary institute, baths, etc., etc.--that is what we are urging
"But may I not go first and look for my strange namesake? Would it
be wrong of me to call upon her?"
"No harm whatever," replied my companion; "likewise no good. Call
fifty times, but you will get no answer. However, it is not a very
great round, and you will understand my plans more clearly. Step
out, my dear, as if you had got a troop of Mexicans after you. Ah,
what a fine turn for that lot now!" He was thinking of the war
which had broken out, and the battle of Bull's Run.
Without any such headlong speed, we soon came to the dwelling-place
of the stranger, and really for once the good Major had not much
overdone his description. Truly it was almost tumbling down,
though massively built, and a good house long ago; and it looked
the more miserable now from being placed in a hollow of the ground,
whose slopes were tufted with rushes and thistles and ragwort. The
lower windows were blocked up from within, the upper were shattered
and crumbling and dangerous, with blocks of cracked stone jutting
over them; and the last surviving chimney gave less smoke than a
workman's homeward whiff of his pipe to comfort and relieve the
The only door that we could see was of heavy black oak, without any
knocker; but I clinched my hand, having thick gloves on, and made
what I thought a very creditable knock, while the Major stood by,
with his blue-lights up, and keenly gazed and gently smiled.
"Knock again, my dear," he said; "you don't knock half hard
I knocked again with all my might, and got a bruised hand for a
fortnight, but there was not even the momentary content produced by
an active echo. The door was as dead as every thing else.
"Now for my hammer," my companion cried. "This house, in all sound
law, is my own. I will have a 'John Doe and Richard Roe'--a fine
action of ejectment. Shall I be barred out upon my own manor?"
With hot indignation he swung his hammer, but nothing came of it
except more noise. Then the Major grew warm and angry.
"My charter contains the right of burning witches or drowning them,
according to their color. The execution is specially imposed upon
the bailiff of this ancient town, and he is my own pickled-pork
man. His name is Hopkins, and I will have him out with his seal
and stick and all the rest. Am I to be laughed at in this way?"
For we thought we heard a little screech of laughter from the
loneliness of the deep dark place, but no other answer came, and
perhaps it was only our own imagining.
"Is there no other door--perhaps one at the back?" I asked, as the
lord of the manor stamped.
"No, that has been walled up long ago. The villain has defied me
from the very first. Well, we shall see. This is all very fine.
You witness that they deny the owner entrance?"
"Undoubtedly I can depose to that. But we must not waste your
"After all, the poor ruin is worthless," he went on, calming down
as we retired. "It must be leveled, and that hole filled up. It
is quite an eye-sore to our new parade. And no doubt it belongs to
me--no doubt it does. The fellow who claims it was turned out of
the law. Fancy any man turned out of the law! Erema, in all your
far West experience, did you ever see a man bad enough to be turned
out of the law?"
"Major Hockin, how can I tell? But I fear that their practice was
very, very sad--they very nearly always used to hang them."
"The best use--the best use a rogue can be put to. Some big thief
has put it the opposite way, because he was afraid of his own turn.
The constitution must be upheld, and, by the Lord! it shall be--at
any rate, in East Bruntsea. West Bruntsea is all a small-pox
warren out of my control, and a skewer in my flesh. And some of my
tenants have gone across the line to snap their dirty hands at me."
Being once in this cue, Major Hockin went on, not talking to me
much, but rather to himself, though expecting me now and then to
say "yes;" and this I did when necessary, for his principles of
action were beyond all challenge, and the only question was how he
carried them out.
He took me to his rampart, which was sure to stop the sea, and at
the same time to afford the finest place in all Great Britain for a
view of it. Even an invalid might sit here in perfect shelter from
the heaviest gale, and watch such billows as were not to be seen
except upon the Major's property.
"The reason of that is quite simple," he said, "and a child may see
the force of it. In no other part of the kingdom can you find so
steep a beach fronting the southwest winds, which are ten to one of
all other winds, without any break of sand or rock outside. Hence
we have what you can not have on a shallow shore--grand rollers:
straight from the very Atlantic, Erema; you and I have seen them.
You may see by the map that they all end here, with the wind in the
"Oh, please not to talk of such horrors," I said. "Why, your
ramparts would go like pie crust."
The Major smiled a superior smile, and after more talk we went home
From something more than mere curiosity, I waited at Bruntsea for a
day or two, hoping to see that strange namesake of mine who had
shown so much inhospitality. For she must have been at home when
we made that pressing call, inasmuch as there was no other place to
hide her within the needful distance of the spot where she had
stood. But the longer I waited, the less would she come out--to
borrow the good Irishman's expression--and the Major's pillar-box,
her favorite resort, was left in conspicuous solitude. And when a
letter came from Sir Montague Hockin, asking leave to be at
Bruntlands on the following evening, I packed up my goods with all
haste, and set off, not an hour too soon, for Shoxford.
But before taking leave of these kind friends, I begged them to do
for me one little thing, without asking me to explain my reason,
which, indeed, was more than I could do. I begged them, not of
course to watch Sir Montague, for that they could not well do to a
guest, but simply to keep their eyes open and prepared for any sign
of intercourse, if such there were, between this gentleman and that
strange interloper. Major Hockin stared, and his wife looked at me
as if my poor mind must have gone astray, and even to myself my own
thought appeared absurd. Remembering, however, what Sir Montague
had said, and other little things as well, I did not laugh as they
did. But perhaps one part of my conduct was not right, though the
wrong (if any) had been done before that--to wit, I had faithfully
promised Mrs. Price not to say a word at Bruntlands about their
visitor's low and sinful treachery toward my cousin. To give such
a promise had perhaps been wrong, but still without it I should
have heard nothing of matters that concerned me nearly. And now it
seemed almost worse to keep than to break such a pledge, when I
thought of a pious, pure-minded, and holy-hearted woman, like my
dear "Aunt Mary," unwittingly brought into friendly contact with a
man of the lowest nature. And as for the Major, instead of sitting
down with such a man to dinner, what would he have done but drive
him straightway from the door, and chase him to the utmost verge of
his manor with the peak end of his "geological hammer?"
However, away I went without a word against that contemptible and
base man, toward whom--though he never had injured me--I cherished,
for my poor cousin's sake, the implacable hatred of virtuous youth.
And a wild idea had occurred to me (as many wild ideas did now in
the crowd of things gathering round me) that this strange woman,
concealed from the world, yet keenly watching some members of it,
might be that fallen and miserable creature who had fled from a
good man with a bad one, because he was more like herself--
Flittamore, Lady Castlewood. Not that she could be an "old woman"
yet, but she might look old, either by disguise, or through her own
wickedness; and every body knows how suddenly those southern
beauties fall off, alike in face and figure. Mrs. Price had not
told me what became of her, or even whether she was dead or alive,
but merely said, with a meaning look, that she was "punished" for
her sin, and I had not ventured to inquire how, the subject being
To my great surprise, and uneasiness as well, I had found at
Bruntlands no letter whatever, either to the Major or myself, from
Uncle Sam or any other person at the saw-mills. There had not been
time for any answer to my letter of some two months back, yet being
alarmed by the Sawyer's last tidings, I longed, with some terror,
for later news. And all the United Kingdom was now watching with
tender interest the dismemberment, as it almost appeared, of the
other mighty Union. Not with malice, or snug satisfaction, as the
men of the North in their agony said, but certainly without any
proper anguish yet, and rather as a genial and sprightly spectator,
whose love of fair play perhaps kindles his applause of the spirit
and skill of the weaker side. "'Tis a good fight--let them fight
it out!" seemed to be the general sentiment; but in spite of some
American vaunt and menace (which of late years had been galling)
every true Englishman deeply would have mourned the humiliation of
In this anxiety for news I begged that my letters might be
forwarded under cover to the postmistress at Shoxford, and bearing
my initials. For now I had made up my mind to let Mrs. Busk know
whatever I could tell her. I had found her a cross and well-
educated woman, far above her neighbors, and determined to remain
so. Gossip, that universal leveler, theoretically she despised;
and she had that magnificent esteem for rank which works so
beautifully in England. And now when my good nurse reasonably said
that, much as she loved to be with me, her business would allow
that delight no longer, and it also came home to my own mind that
money would be running short again, and small hope left in this
dreadful civil war of our nugget escaping pillage (which made me
shudder horribly at internal discord), I just did this--I dismissed
Betsy, or rather I let her dismiss herself, which she might not
have altogether meant to do, although she threatened it so often.
For here she had nothing to do but live well, and protest against
tricks of her own profession which she practiced as necessary laws
at home; and so, with much affection, for the time we parted.
Mrs. Busk was delighted at her departure, for she never had liked
to be criticised so keenly while she was doing her very best. And
as soon as the wheels of Betsy's fly had shown their last spoke at
the corner, she told me, with a smile, that her mind had been made
up to give us notice that very evening to seek for better lodgings.
But she could not wish for a quieter, pleasanter, or more easily
pleased young lady than I was without any mischief-maker; and so,
on the spur of the moment, I took her into my own room, while her
little girl minded the shop, and there and then I told her who I
was, and what I wanted.
And now she behaved most admirably. Instead of expressing
surprise, she assured me that all along she had felt there was
something, and that I must be somebody. Lovely as my paintings
were (which I never heard, before or since, from any impartial
censor), she had known that it could not be that alone which had
kept me so long in their happy valley. And now she did hope I
would do her the honor to stay beneath her humble roof, though
entitled to one so different. And was the fairy ring in the
church-yard made of all my family?
I replied that too surely this was so, and that nothing would
please me better than to find, according to my stature, room to
sleep inside it as soon as ever I should have solved the mystery of
its origin. At the moment this was no exaggeration, so depressing
was the sense of fighting against the unknown so long, with
scarcely any one to stand by me, or avenge me if I fell. And
Betsy's departure, though I tried to take it mildly, had left me
with a readiness to catch my breath.
But to dwell upon sadness no more than need be (a need as sure as
hunger), it was manifest now to my wondering mind that once more I
had chanced upon a good, and warm, and steadfast heart. Every body
is said to be born, whether that happens by night or day, with a
certain little widowed star, which has lost its previous mortal,
concentrating from a billion billion of miles, or leagues, or
larger measure, intense, but generally invisible, radiance upon him
or her; and to take for the moment this old fable as of serious
meaning, my star was to find bad facts at a glance, but no bad folk
without long gaze.
THE MAN AT LAST
This new alliance with Mrs. Busk not only refreshed my courage, but
helped me forward most importantly. In truth, if it had not been
for this I never could have borne what I had to bear, and met the
perils which I had to meet. For I had the confidence of feeling
now that here was some one close at hand, an intelligent person,
and well acquainted with the place and neighborhood, upon whom I
could rely for warning, succor, and, if the worst should come to
the very worst, revenge. It is true that already I had Jacob Rigg,
and perhaps the protector promised by my cousin; but the former was
as ignorant as he was honest, and of the latter, as he made no
sign, how could I tell any thing?
Above all things, Mrs. Busk's position, as mistress of the letters,
gave me very great advantage both for offense and defense. For
without the smallest breach of duty or of loyal honor she could see
that my letters passed direct to me or from me, as the case might
be, at the same time that she was bound to observe all epistles
addressed to strangers or new-comers in her district, which
extended throughout the valley. And by putting my letters in the
Portsmouth bag, instead of that for Winchester, I could freely
correspond with any of my friends without any one seeing name or
postmark in the neighboring villages.
It is needless to say that I had long since explored and examined
with great diligence that lonely spot where my grandfather met his
terrible and mysterious fate. Not that there seemed to be any hope
now, after almost nineteen years, of finding even any token of the
crime committed there. Only that it was natural for me, feeling
great horror of this place, to seek to know it thoroughly.
For this I had good opportunity, because the timid people of the
valley, toward the close of day, would rather trudge another half
mile of the homeward road than save brave legs at the thumping cost
of hearts not so courageous. For the planks were now called
"Murder-bridge;" and every body knew that the red spots on it,
which could never be seen by daylight, began to gleam toward the
hour of the deed, and glowed (as if they would burn the wood) when
the church clock struck eleven.
This phenomenon was beyond my gifts of observation; and knowing
that my poor grandfather had scarcely set foot on the bridge, if
ever he set foot there at all--which at present was very doubtful--
also that he had fallen backward, and only bled internally, I could
not reconcile tradition (however recent) with proven truth. And
sure of no disturbance from the step of any native, here I often
sat in a little bowered shelter of my own, well established up the
rise, down which the path made zigzag, and screened from that and
the bridge as well by sheaf of twigs and lop of leaves. It was a
little forward thicket, quite detached from the upland copse, to
which perhaps it had once belonged, and crusted up from the meadow
slope with sod and mould in alternate steps. And being quite the
elbow of a foreland of the meadow-reach, it yielded almost a
"bird's-eye view" of the beautiful glade and the wandering brook.
One evening when I was sitting here, neither drawing, nor working,
nor even thinking with any set purpose, but idly allowing my mind
to rove, like the rivulet, without any heed, I became aware of a
moving figure in the valley. At first it did not appear to me as a
thing at all worth notice; it might be a very straightforward cow,
or a horse, coming on like a stalking-horse, keeping hind-legs
strictly behind, in direct desire of water. I had often seen those
sweet things that enjoy four legs walking in the line of distance
as if they were no better off than we are, kindly desiring,
perhaps, to make the biped spectator content with himself. And I
was content to admire this cow or horse, or whatever it might be,
without any more than could be helped of that invidious feeling
which has driven the human race now to establish its right to a
tail, and its hope of four legs. So little, indeed, did I think of
what I saw, that when among the hazel twigs, parted carelessly by
my hand, a cluster of nuts hung manifest, I gathered it, and began
to crack and eat, although they were scarcely ripe yet.
But while employed in this pleasant way, I happened to glance again
through my leafy screen, and then I distinguished the figure in the
distance as that of a man walking rapidly. He was coming down the
mill-stream meadow toward the wooden bridge, carrying a fishing
rod, but clearly not intent on angling. For instead of following
the course of the stream, he was keeping quite away from it,
avoiding also the footpath, or, at any rate, seeming to prefer the
long shadows of the trees and the tufted places. This made me look
at him, and very soon I shrank into my nest and watched him.
As he came nearer any one could tell that he was no village
workman, bolder than the rest, and venturesome to cross the
"Murder-bridge" in his haste to be at home. The fishing rod alone
was enough to show this when it came into clearer view; for our
good people, though they fished sometimes, only used rough rods of
their own making, without any varnish or brass thing for the line.
And the man was of different height and walk and dress from any of
"Who can he be?" I whispered to myself, as my heart began to beat
heavily, and then seemed almost to stop, as it answered, "This is
the man who was in the churchyard." Ignoble as it was, and
contemptible, and vile, and traitorous to all duty, my first
thought was about my own escape; for I felt that if this man saw me
there he would rush up the hill and murder me. Within pistol-shot
of the very place where my grandfather had been murdered--a lonely
place, an unholy spot, and I was looking at the hand that did it.
The thought of this made me tremble so, though well aware that my
death might ensue from a twig on the rustle, or a leaf upon the
flutter, that my chance of making off unseen was gone ere I could
seize it. For now the man was taking long strides over the worn-
out planks of the bridge, disdaining the hand-rail, and looking
upward, as if to shun sight of the footing. Advancing thus, he
must have had his gaze point-blank upon my lair of leafage; but,
luckily for me, there was gorse upon the ridge, and bracken and
rag-thistles, so that none could spy up and through the footing of
my lurking-place. But if any person could have spied me, this man
was the one to do it. So carefully did he scan the distance and
inspect the foreground, as if he were resolved that no eye should
be upon him while he was doing what he came to do. And he even
drew forth a little double telescope, such as are called
"binoculars," and fixed it on the thicket which hid me from him,
and then on some other dark places.
No effort would compose or hush the heavy beating of my heart; my
lips were stiffened with dread of loud breath, and all power of
motion left me. For even a puff of wind might betray me, the
ruffle of a spray, or the lifting of a leaf, or the random bounce
of a beetle. Great peril had encompassed me ere now, but never had
it grasped me as this did, and paralyzed all the powers of my body.
Rather would I have stood in the midst of a score of Mexican rovers
than thus in the presence of that one man. And yet was not this
the very thing for which I had waited, longed, and labored? I
scorned myself for this craven loss of nerve, but that did not
enable me to help it. In this benumbed horror I durst not even
peep at the doings of my enemy; but presently I became aware that
he had moved from the end of the planks (where he stood for some
time as calmly as if he had done nothing there), and had passed
round the back of the hawthorn-tree, and gone down to the place
where the body was found, and was making most narrow and minute
search there. And now I could watch him without much danger,
standing as I did well above him, while his eyes were steadfastly
bent downward. And, not content with eyesight only, he seemed to
be feeling every blade of grass or weed, every single stick or
stone, craning into each cranny of the ground, and probing every
clod with his hands. Then, after vainly searching with the very
utmost care all the space from the hawthorn trunk to the meadow-
leet (which was dry as usual), he ran, in a fury of impatience, to
his rod, which he had stuck into the bank, as now I saw, and drew
off the butt end, and removed the wheel, or whatever it is that
holds the fishing line; and this butt had a long spike to it,
shining like a halberd in a picture.
This made me shudder; but my spirit was returning, and therewith my
power of reasoning, and a deep stir of curiosity. After so many
years and such a quantity of searching, what could there still be
left to seek for in this haunted and horrible place? And who was
the man that was looking for it?
The latter question partly solved itself. It must be the murderer,
and no other, whoever he might be among the many black spots of
humanity. But as to the other point, no light could be thrown upon
it, unless the search should be successful, and perhaps not even
then. But now this anxiety, and shame of terror, made me so bold--
for I can not call it brave--that I could not rest satisfied where
I was, and instead of blessing every leaf and twig that hid me from
the enemy, nothing would do for me but to creep nearer, in spite of
that truculent long bright spike.
I thought of my father, and each fibre of my frame seemed to harden
with vigor and fleetness. Every muscle of my body could be trusted
now. I had always been remarkably light of foot. Could a man of
that age catch me? It was almost as much as Firm Gundry could do,
as in childish days I had proved to him. And this man, although
his hair was not gray, must be on the slow side of fifty now, and
perhaps getting short of his very wicked breath. Then I thought of
poor Firm, and of good Uncle Sam, and how they scorned poltroonery;
and, better still, I thought of that great Power which always had
protected me: in a word, I resolved to risk it.
But I had not reckoned upon fire-arms, which such a scoundrel was
pretty sure to have; and that idea struck cold upon my valor.
Nevertheless, I would not turn back. With no more sound than a
field-mouse makes in the building of its silken nest, and feet as
light as the step of the wind upon the scarcely ruffled grass, I
quitted my screen, and went gliding down a hedge, or rather the
residue of some old hedge, which would shelter me a little toward
the hollow of the banks. I passed low places, where the man must
have seen me if he had happened to look up; but he was stooping
with his back to me, and working in the hollow of the dry water
trough. He was digging with the long spike of his rod, and I heard
the rattle of each pebble that he struck.
Before he stood up again, to ease his back and to look at the
ground which he still had to turn, I was kneeling behind a short,
close-branched holly, the very last bush of the hedge-row, scarcely
fifteen yards from the hawthorn-tree. It was quite impossible to
get nearer without coming face to face with him. And now I began
again to tremble, but with a great effort conquered it.
The man was panting with his labor, and seemed to be in a vile
temper too. He did not swear, but made low noises full of
disappointment. And then he caught up his tool, with a savage
self-control, and fell to again.
Now was my time to see what he was like, and engrave him on my
memory. But, lo! in a moment I need not do that. The face was the
bad image of my father's. A lowered, and vicious, and ill-bred
image of a noble countenance--such as it was just possible to dream
that my dear father's might have fallen to, if his mind and soul
had plunged away from the good inborn and implanted in them. The
figure was that of a tall strong man, with shoulders rather
slouching, and a habit of keeping his head thrown back, which made
a long chin look longer. Altogether he seemed a perilous foe, and
perhaps a friend still more perilous.
Be he what he might, he was working very hard. Not one of all
Uncle Sam's men, to my knowledge, least of all Martin, would have
worked so hard. With his narrow and ill-adapted tool he contrived
to turn over, in less than twenty minutes, the entire bed of the
meadow-leet, or trough, for a length of about ten yards. Then he
came to the mouth, where the water of the main stream lapped back
into it, and he turned up the bottom as far as he could reach, and
waited for the mud he had raised to clear away. When this had
flowed down with the stream, he walked in for some little distance
till the pool grew deep; but in spite of all his labor, there was
Meanwhile the sunset glow was failing, and a gray autumnal haze
crept up the tranquil valley. Shadows waned and faded into dimness
more diffuse, and light grew soft and vague and vaporous. The
gleam of water, and the gloss of grass, and deep relief of trees,
began to lose their several phase and mingle into one large
twilight blend. And cattle, from their milking sheds, came lowing
for more pasture; and the bark of a shepherd's dog rang quick, as
if his sheep were drowsy.
In the midst of innocent sights and sounds that murderer's heart
misgave him. He left his vain quest off, and gazed, with fear and
hate of nature's beauty, at the change from day to night which had
not waited for him. Some touch of his childhood moved him perhaps,
some thought of times when he played "I spy," or listened to
twilight ghost tales; at any rate, as he rose and faced the
evening, he sighed heavily.
Then he strode away; and although he passed me almost within length
of his rod, there was little fear of his discovering me, because
his mind was elsewhere.
It will, perhaps, be confessed by all who are not as brave as lions
that so far I had acquitted myself pretty well in this trying
matter. Horribly scared as I was at first, I had not allowed this
to conquer me, but had even rushed into new jeopardy. But now the
best part of my courage was spent; and when the tall stranger
refixed his rod and calmly recrossed those ominous planks, I durst
not set forth on the perilous errand of spying out his ways and
tracking him. A glance was enough to show the impossibility in
those long meadows of following without being seen in this stage of
the twilight. Moreover, my nerves had been tried too long, and
presence of mind could not last forever. All I could do,
therefore, was to creep as far as the trunk of the hawthorn-tree,
and thence observe that my enemy did not return by the way he had
come, but hastened down the dusky valley.
One part of his labors has not been described, though doubtless a
highly needful one. To erase the traces of his work, or at least
obscure them to a careless eye, when he had turned as much ground
as he thought it worth his while to meddle with, he trod it back
again to its level as nearly as might be, and then (with a can out
of his fishing basket) sluiced the place well with the water of the
stream. This made it look to any heedless person, who would not
descend to examine it, as if there had been nothing more than a
little reflux from the river, caused by a flush from the mill-pond.
This little stratagem increased my fear of a cunning and active
A STRONG TEMPTATION
Now it will be said, and I also knew, that there was nothing as
yet, except most frail and feeble evidence, to connect that
nameless stranger with the crime charged upon my father. Indeed,
it might be argued well that there was no evidence at all, only
inference and suspicion. That, however, was no fault of mine; and
I felt as sure about it as if I had seen him in the very act. And
this conclusion was not mine alone; for Mrs. Busk, a most clever
woman, and the one who kept the post-office, entirely agreed with
me that there could be no doubt on earth about it.
But when she went on to ask me what it was my intention to do next,
for the moment I could do nothing more than inquire what her
opinion was. And she told me that she must have a good night's
rest before advising any thing. For the thought of having such a
heinous character in her own delivery district was enough to
unhinge her from her postal duties, some of which might be useful
With a significant glance she left me to my own thoughts, which
were sad enough, and too sad to be worth recording. For Mrs. Busk
had not the art of rousing people and cheering them, such as Betsy
Strouss, my old nurse, had, perhaps from her knowledge of the
nursery. My present landlady might be the more sagacious and
sensible woman of the two, and therefore the better adviser; but
for keeping one up to the mark she was not in any way equal to
There is no ingratitude in saying this, because she herself
admitted it. A clever woman, with a well-balanced mind, knows what
she can do, and wherein she fails, better than a man of her own
proportion does. And Mrs. Busk often lamented, without much real
mortification, that she had not been "born sympathetic."
All the more perhaps for that, she was born sagacious, which is a
less pleasing, but, in a bitter pinch, a more really useful,
quality. And before I had time to think much of her defects, in
the crowd of more important thought, in she came again, with a
letter in her hand, and a sparkle of triumph in her small black
eyes. After looking back along the passage, and closing my door,
she saw that my little bay-window had its old-fashioned shutters
fastened, and then, in a very low whisper, she said, "What you want
to know is here, miss."
"Indeed!" I answered, in my usual voice. "How can you know that?
The letter is sealed."
"Hush! Would you have me ruined for your sake? This was at the
bottom of the Nepheton bag. It fell on the floor. That was God's
will, to place it in your power."
"It is not in my power," I answered, whispering in my turn, and
staring at it, in the strong temptation. "I have no right even to
look at it. It is meant for some one else, and sealed."
"The seal is nothing. I can manage that. Another drop of wax--and
I strike our stamp by accident over the breakage. I refuse to know
any thing about it. I am too busy with the other letters. Five
minutes--lock the door--and I will come again."
This was a desperate conflict for me, worse even than bodily
danger. My first impulse was to have nothing to do with it--even
to let the letter lie untouched, and, if possible, unglanced at.
But already it was too late for the eyes to turn away. The address
had flashed upon me before I thought of any thing, and while Mrs.
Busk held it up to me. And now that address was staring at me,
like a contemptuous challenge, while the seal, the symbol of
private rights and deterrent honor, lay undermost. The letter was
directed to "H. W. C., Post-office, Newport, Sussex." The writing
was in round hand, and clear, so as not to demand any scrutiny, and
to seem like that of a lawyer's clerk, and the envelope was of thin
My second impulse was to break the letter open and read it without
shrinking. Public duty must conquer private scruples. Nothing but
the hand of Providence itself could have placed this deadly secret
in my power so amazingly. Away with all squeamishness, and perhaps
prevent more murder.
But that "perhaps" gave me sudden pause. I had caught up the
letter, and stood near the candle to soften the wax and lift the
cover with a small sharp paper-knife, when it flashed on my mind
that my cousin would condemn and scorn what I was doing.
Unconsciously I must have made him now my standard of human
judgment, or what made me think of him at that moment? I threw
down the letter, and then I knew. The image of Lord Castlewood had
crossed my mind, because the initials were his own--those of
Herbert William Castlewood. This strange coincidence--if it were,
indeed, an accident--once more set me thinking. Might not this
letter be from his agent, of whom he had spoken as my protector
here, but to whom as all unseen I scarcely ever gave a thought?
Might not young Stixon, who so often was at Bruntsea, be employed
to call at Newport for such letters, and return with them to his
master? It was not very likely, for my cousin had the strongest
contempt of anonymous doings. Still it was possible, and the bare
possibility doubled my reluctance to break the seal.
For one minute longer I stood in doubt, and then honor and candor
and truth prevailed. If any other life had been in peril but my
own, duty to another might have overridden all. But duty to one's
self, if overpushed in such a case, would hold some taint of
cowardice. So I threw the letter, with a sense of loathing, on a
chair. Whatever it might contain, it should pass, at least for me,
Now when Mrs. Busk came to see what I had done, or rather left
undone, she flew into a towering passion, until she had no time to
go on with it. The rattle of the rickety old mail-cart, on its way
to Winchester that night, was heard, and the horn of the driver as
he passed the church.
"Give it me. 'A mercy! A young natural, that you are!" the good
woman cried, as she flung out of the room to dash her office stamp
upon that hateful missive, and to seal the leathern bag. "Seal,
indeed! Inviolate! How many seals have I got to make every day of
I heard a great thump from the corner of the shop where the
business of the mails was conducted; and she told me afterward that
she was so put out, that broken that seal should be--one way or
another. Accordingly she smashed it with the office stamp, which
was rather like a woman's act, methought; and then, having broken
it, she never looked inside--which, perhaps, was even more so.
When she recovered her leisure and serenity, and came in, to
forgive me and be forgiven, we resolved to dismiss the moral aspect
of the question, as we never should agree about it, although Mrs.
Busk was not so certain as she had been, when she found that the
initials were the initials of a lord. And then I asked her how she
came to fix upon that letter among so many others, and to feel so
sure that it came from my treacherous enemy.
"In the first place, I know every letter from Nepheton," she
answered, very sensibly. "There are only fourteen people that
write letters in the place, and twelve of those fourteen buy their
paper in my shop--there is no shop at all at Nepheton. In the next
place, none of them could write a hand like that, except the parson
and the doctor, who are far above disguise. And two other things
made me certain as could be. That letter was written at the 'Green
Man' ale-house; not on their paper, nor yet with their ink; but
being in great hurry, it was dusted with their sand--a sand that
turns red upon ink, miss. And the time of dispatch there is just
what he would catch, by walking fast after his dig where you saw
him, going in that direction too, and then having his materials
ready to save time. And if all that is not enough to convince you,
miss--you remember that you told me our old sexton's tale?"
"To be sure I do. The first evening I was left alone here. And
you have been so kind, there is nothing I would hide from you."
"Well, miss, the time of old Jacob's tale is fixed by the death of
poor old Sally Mock; and the stranger came again after you were
here, just before the death of the miller's eldest daughter, and
you might almost have seen him. Poor thing! we all called her the
'flower of the Moon,' meaning our little river. What a fine young
woman she was, to be sure! Whenever we heard of any strangers
about, we thought they were prowling after her. I was invited to
her funeral, and I went, and nothing could be done nicer. But they
never will be punctual with burials here; they like to dwell on
them, and keep the bell going, for the sake of the body, and the
souls that must come after it. And so, when it was done, I was
twenty minutes late for the up mail and the cross-country post, and
had to move my hands pretty sharp, I can assure you. That doesn't
matter; I got through it, with the driver of the cart obliging, by
means of some beer and cold bacon. But what I feared most was the
Nepheton bag, having seen the old man at the funeral, and knowing
what they do afterward. I could not return him 'too late' again,
or he would lose his place for certain, and a shilling a day made
all the difference to him, between wife and no wife. The old pair
without it must go to the workhouse, and never see one another.
However, when I was despairing quite of him, up he comes with his
bag quite correct, but only one letter to sort in it, and that
letter was, miss, the very identical of the one you held in your
hands just now. And a letter as like it as two peas had come when
we buried old Sally. It puzzled me then, but I had no clew to it;
only now, you see, putting this and that together, the things we
behold must have some meaning for us; and to let them go without it
is against the will of God; especially when at the bottom of the
"If you hear so soon of any stranger in the valley," I asked, to
escape the re-opening of the opening question, "how can that man
come and go--a man of remarkable stature and appearance--without
any body asking who he is?"
"You scarcely could have put it better, miss, for me to give the
answer. They do ask who he is, and they want to know it, and would
like any body to tell them. But being of a different breed, as
they are, from all outside the long valley, speaking also with a
different voice, they fear to talk so freely out of their own ways
and places. Any thing they can learn in and out among themselves,
they will learn; but any thing out of that they let go, in the
sense of outlandish matter. Bless you, miss, if your poor
grandfather had been shot any where else in England, how different
it would have been for him!"
"For us, you mean, Mrs. Busk. Do you think the man who did it had
that in his mind?"
"Not unless he knew the place, as few know it. No, that was an
accident of his luck, as many other things have been. But the best
luck stops at last, Miss Erema; and unless I am very much mistaken,
you will be the stop of his. I shall find out, in a few days,
where he came from, where he staid, and when he went away. I
suppose you mean to let him go away?"
"What else am I to do?" I asked. "I have no evidence at all
against him; only my own ideas. The police would scarcely take it
up, even if--"
"Oh, don't talk of them. They spoil every thing. And none of our
people would say a word, or care to help us, if it came to that.
The police are all strangers, and our people hate them. And,
indeed, I believe that the worst thing ever done was the meddling
of that old Jobbins. The old stupe is still alive at Petersfield,
and as pompous-headed as ever. My father would have been the man
for your sad affair, miss, if the police had only been invented in
his time. Ah, yes, he was sharp! Not a Moonstock man--you may
take your oath of that, miss--but a good honest native from Essex.
But he married my mother, a Moonstock woman; or they would not put
up with me here at all. You quality people have your ideas to hold
by, and despise all others, and reasonable in your opinions; but
you know nothing--nothing--nothing--of the stiffness of the people
"How should I know any thing of that?" I answered; "all these
things are new to me. I have not been brought up in this country,
as you know. I come from a larger land, where your stiffness may
have burst out into roughness, from having so much room suddenly.
But tell me what you think now your father would have done in such
a case as mine is."
"Miss Erema, he was that long-headed that nobody could play leap-
frog with him. None of them ever cleared over his barrel. He
walked into this village fifty-five years back, this very month,
with his spade upon his shoulder and the knowledge of every body in
his eye. They all put up against him, but they never put him down;
and in less than three months he went to church, I do assure you,
with the only daughter of the only baker. After that he went into
the baking line himself; he turned his spade into a shovel, as he
said, and he introduced new practices."
"Oh, Mrs. Busk, not adulteration?"
"No, miss, no! The very last thing he would think of. Only the
good use of potatoes in the bread, when flour was frightful bad and
painful dear. What is the best meal of the day? he used to reason.
Dinner. And why? Why, because of the potatoes. If I can make
people take potato for their breakfast, and potato for their supper
too, I am giving them three meals a day instead of one. And the
health of the village corresponded to it."
"Oh, but, Mrs. Busk, he might have made them do it by persuasion,
or at least with their own knowledge--"
"No, miss, no! The whole nature of our people, Moonstock or out of
it, is never to take victuals by any sort of persuasion. If St.
Paul was to come and preach, 'Eat this or that,' all I had of it in
the shop would go rotten. They hate any meddling with their
likings, and they suspect doctor's rubbish in all of it."
"I am quite of their opinion," I replied; "and I am glad to hear of
their independence. I always used to hear that in England none of
the poor people dared have a will of their own."
Mrs. Busk lifted up her hands to express amazement at my ignorance,
and said that she "must run away and put the shutters up, or else
the policeman would come rapping, and look for a glass of beer,
which he had no right to till it came to the bottom of the firkin;
and this one was only tapped last Sunday week. Don't you ever
think of the police, miss."
Probably this was good advice, and it quite agreed with the
opinions of others, and my own impressions as to the arrogant
lethargy of "the force," as they called themselves, in my father's
case. Mrs. Busk had more activity and intelligence in her little
head than all the fat sergeants and inspectors of the county,
helmet, belt, and staff, and all.
At first I was much inclined to run for help, or at least for
counsel, either to Lord Castlewood or to Major Hockin; but further
consideration kept me from doing any thing of the kind. In the
first place, neither of them would do much good; for my cousin's
ill health would prevent him from helping me, even if his strange
view of the case did not, while the excellent Major was much too
hot and hasty for a delicate task like this. And, again, I might
lose the most valuable and important of all chances by being away
from the spot just now. And so I remained at Shoxford for a while,
keeping strict watch upon the stranger's haunt, and asking about
him by means of Mrs. Busk.
"I have heard more about him, miss," she said one day, when the
down letters had been dispatched, which happened about middle-day.
"He has been here only those three times this summer, upon excuse
of fishing always. He stays at old Wellham, about five miles down
the river, where the people are not true Moonites. And one thing
that puzzles them is, that although he puts up there simply for the
angling, he always chooses times when the water is so low that to
catch fish is next to impossible. He left his fishing quarters
upon the very day after you saw him searching so; and he spoke as
if he did not mean to come again this season. And they say that
they don't want him neither, he is such a morose, close-fisted man;
and drinking nothing but water, there is very little profit with
"And did you find out what his name is? How cleverly you have
"He passes by the name of 'Captain Brown;' but the landlord of his
inn, who has been an old soldier, is sure he was never in the army,
nor any other branch of the service. He thinks that he lives by
inventing things, for he is always at some experiments, and one of
his great points is to make a lamp that will burn and move about
under water. To be sure you see the object of that, miss?"
"No, really, Mrs. Busk, I can not. I have not your penetration."
"Why, of course, to find what he can not find upon land. There is
something of great importance there, either for its value or its
meaning. Have you ever been told that your poor grandfather wore
any diamonds or precious jewels?"
"No. I have asked about that most especially. He had nothing
about him to tempt a robber. He was a very strong-willed man, and
he hated outward trumpery."
"Then it must be something that this man himself has dropped,
unless it were a document, or any other token, missing from his
lordship. And few things of that sort would last for twenty years
"Nineteen years the day after to-morrow," I answered, with a glance
at my pocket-book. "I determined to be here on that very day. No
doubt I am very superstitious. But one thing I can not understand
is this--what reason can there have been for his letting so many
years pass, and then hunting like this?"
"No one can answer that question, miss, without knowing more than
we know. But many reasons might be supposed. He might have been
roving abroad, for instance, just as you and your father have been.
Or he might not have known that the thing was there; or it might
not have been of importance till lately; or he might have been
afraid, until something else happened. Does he know that you are
now in England?"
"How can I possibly tell, Mrs. Busk? He seems to know a great deal
too much. He found me out when I was at Colonel Gundry's. At
least I conclude so, from what I know now; but I hope he does not
know"--and at such a dreadful idea I shuddered.
"I am almost sure that he can not know it," the good postmistress
answered, "or he would have found means to put an end to you. That
would have been his first object."
"But, Mrs. Busk," I said, being much disturbed by her calmness,
"surely, surely he is not to be allowed to make an end of every
one! I came to this country with the full intention of going into
every thing. But I did not mean at all, except in my very best
moments, to sacrifice myself. It seems too bad--too bad to think
"So it is, Miss Erema," Mrs. Busk replied, without any congenial
excitement. "It does seem hard for them that have the liability on
them. But still, miss, you have always shown such a high sense of
duty, and of what you were about--"
"I can't--I can not. There are times, I do assure you, when I am
fit for nothing, Mrs. Busk, and wish myself back in America. And
if this man is to have it all his own way--"
"Not he, miss--not he. Be you in no hurry. Could he even have his
way with our old miller? No; Master Withypool was too many for
"That is a new thing. You never told me that. What did he try to
do with the miller?"
"I don't justly know what it was, Miss Erema. I never spoke to
miller about it, and, indeed, I have had no time since I heard of
it. But those that told me said that the tall strange gentleman
was terribly put out, and left the gate with a black cloud upon his
face, and the very next day the miller's daughter died, quite
sudden and mysterious."
"How very strange! But now I have got a new idea. Has the miller
a strong high dam to his pond, and a good stout sluice-gate at the
"Yes, miss, to be sure he has," said Mrs. Busk; "otherwise how
could he grind at all, when the river is so low as it is
"Then I know what he wanted, and I will take a leaf out of his own
book--the miscreant! He wanted the miller to stop back the water
and leave the pool dry at the 'Murder-bridge.' Would it be
possible for him to do that?"
"I can not tell you, miss; but your thought is very clever. It is
likely enough that he did want that, though he never would dare to
ask without some pretense--some other cause I mean, to show for it.
He may have been thinking that whatever he was wanting was likely
to be under water. And that shows another thing, if it is so."
"Mrs. Busk, my head goes round with such a host of complications.
I do my best to think them out--and then there comes another!"
"No, miss; this only clears things up a little. If the man can not
be sure whether what he is looking for is on land or under water,
it seems to me almost to show that it was lost at the murder time
in the dark and flurry. A man would know if he dropped any thing
in the water by daylight, from the splash and the ripple, and so
on, for the stream is quite slow at that corner. He dropped it,
miss, when he did the deed, or else it came away from his
"Nothing was lost, as I said before, from the body of my
grandfather, so far at least as our knowledge goes. Whatever was
lost was the murderer's. Now please to tell me all about the
miller, and how I may get round him."
"You make me laugh in the middle of black things, miss, by the way
you have of putting them. But as to the miller--Master Withypool
is a wonder, as concerns the ladies. He is one of those men that
stand up for every thing when a man tries upper side of them. But
let a woman come, and get up under, and there he is--a pie crust
lifted. Why, I, at my age, could get round him, as you call it.
But you, miss--and more than that, you are something like his
daughter; and the old man frets after her terrible. Go you into
his yard, and just smile upon him, miss, and if the Moon River can
be stopped, he'll stop it for you."
This seemed a very easy way to do it. But I told Mrs. Busk that I
would pay well also, for the loss of a day's work at the mill was
more than fifty smiles could make up.
But she told me, above all things, not to do that. For old Master
Withypool was of that sort that he would stand for an hour with his
hands in his pocket for a half-penny, if not justly owing from him.
But nothing more angered him than a bribe to step outside of his
duty. He had plenty of money, and was proud of it. But sooner
would he lose a day's work to do a kindness, when he was sure of
having right behind it, than take a week's profit without earning
it. And very likely that was where the dark man failed, from
presuming that money would do every thing. However, there was
nothing like judging for one's self; and if I would like to be
introduced, she could do it for me with the best effect; taking as
she did a good hundred-weight of best "households" from him every
week, although not herself in the baking line, but always keeping
quartern bags, because the new baker did adulterate so.
I thought of her father, and how things work round; but that they
would do without remarks of mine. So I said nothing on that point,
but asked whether Master Withypool would require any introduction.
And to this Mrs. Busk said, "Oh dear, no!" And her throat had been
a little rough since Sunday, and the dog was chained tight, even if
any dog would bite a sweet young lady; and to her mind the miller
would be more taken up and less fit to vapor into obstacles, if I
were to hit upon him all alone, just when he came out to the bank
of his cabbage garden, not so very long after his dinner, to smoke
his pipe and to see his things a-growing.
It was time to get ready if I meant to catch him then, for he
always dined at one o'clock, and the mill was some three or four
meadows up the stream; therefore as soon as Mrs. Busk had re-
assured me that she was quite certain of my enemy's departure, I
took my drawing things and set forth to call upon Master Withypool.
Passing through the church-yard, which was my nearest way, and
glancing sadly at the "fairy ring," I began to have some uneasiness
about the possible issue of my new scheme. Such a thing required
more thinking out than I had given to it. For instance, what
reason could I give the miller for asking so strange a thing of
him? And how could the whole of the valley be hindered from making
the greatest talk about the stoppage of their own beloved Moon,
even if the Moon could be stopped without every one of them rushing
down to see it? And if it was so talked of, would it not be
certain to come to the ears of that awful man? And if so, how long
before he found me out, and sent me to rejoin my family?
These thoughts compelled me to be more discreet; and having lately
done a most honorable thing, in refusing to read that letter, I
felt a certain right to play a little trick now of a purely
harmless character. I ran back therefore to my writing-desk, and
took from its secret drawer a beautiful golden American eagle, a
large coin, larger and handsomer than any in the English coinage.
Uncle Sam gave it to me on my birthday, and I would not have taken
50 pounds for it. With this I hurried to that bridge of fear,
which I had not yet brought myself to go across; and then, not to
tell any story about it, I snipped a little hole in the corner of
my pocket, while my hand was still steady ere I had to mount the
bridge. Then pinching that hole up with a squeeze, I ran and got
upon that wicked bridge, and then let go. The heavy gold coin fell
upon the rotten plank, and happily rolled into the water, as if it
were glad not to tempt its makers to any more sin for the sake of
Shutting up thought, for fear of despising myself for the coinage
of such a little trick, I hurried across the long meadow to the
mill, and went through the cow-gate into the yard, and the dog
began to bark at me. Seeing that he had a strong chain on, I
regarded him with lofty indignation. "Do you know what Jowler
would do to you?" I said; "Jowler, a dog worth ten of you. He
would take you by the neck and drop you into that pond for daring
to insult his mistress!" The dog appeared to feel the force of my
remarks, for he lay down again, and with one eye watched me in a
manner amusing, but insidious. Then, taking good care to keep out
of his reach, I went to the mill-pond and examined it.
It looked like a very nice pond indeed, long, and large, and well
banked up, not made into any particular shape, but producing little
rushy elbows. The water was now rather low, and very bright
(though the Moon itself is not a crystal stream), and a school of
young minnows, just watching a water-spider with desirous awe, at
sight of me broke away, and reunited, with a speed and precision
that might shame the whole of our very best modern fighting. Then
many other things made a dart away, and furrowed the shadow of the
willows, till distance quieted the fear of man--that most
mysterious thing in nature--and the shallow pool was at peace
again, and bright with unruffled reflections.
"What ails the dog?" said a deep gruff voice; and the poor dog
received a contemptuous push, not enough to hurt him, but to wound
his feelings for doing his primary duty. "Servant, miss. What can
I do for you? Foot-path is t'other side of that there hedge."
"Yes, but I left the foot-path on purpose. I came to have a talk
with you, if you will allow me."
"Sartain! sartain," the miller replied, lifting a broad floury hat
and showing a large gray head. "Will you come into house, miss, or
I chose the garden, and he led the way, and set me down upon an old
oak bench, where the tinkle of the water through the flood-gates
could be heard.
"So you be come to paint the mill at last," he said. "Many a time
I've looked out for you. The young leddy down to Mother Busk's, of
course. Many's the time we've longed for you to come, you reminds
us so of somebody. Why, my old missus can't set eyes on you in
church, miss, without being forced to sit down a'most. But we
thought it very pretty of you not to come, miss, while the trouble
was so new upon us."
Something in my look or voice made the old man often turn away,
while I told him that I would make the very best drawing of his
mill that I could manage, and would beg him to accept it.
"Her ought to 'a been on the plank," he said, with trouble in
getting his words out. "But there! what good? Her never will
stand on that plank no more. No, nor any other plank."
I told him that I would put her on the plank, if he had any
portrait of her showing her dress and her attitude. Without saying
what he had, he led me to the house, and stood behind me, while I
went inside. And then he could not keep his voice as I went from
one picture of his darling to another, not thinking (as I should
have done) of what his feelings might be, but trying, as no two
were at all alike, to extract a general idea of her.
"Nobody knows what her were to me," the old man said, with a quiet
little noise and a sniff behind my shoulder. "And with one day's
illness her died--her died."
"But you have others left. She was not the only one. Please, Mr.
Withypool, to try to think of that. And your dear wife still alive
to share your trouble. Just think for a moment of what happened to
my father. His wife and six children all swept off in a month--and
I just born, to be brought up with a bottle!"
I never meant, of course, to have said a word of this, but was
carried away by that common old idea of consoling great sorrow with
a greater one. And the sense of my imprudence broke vexatiously
upon me when the old man came and stood between me and his
"Well, I never!" he exclaimed, with his bright eyes steadfast with
amazement. "I know you now, miss. Now I knows you. To think what
a set of blind newts us must be! And you the very moral of your
poor father, in a female kind of way! To be sure, how well I knew
the Captain! A nicer man never walked the earth, neither a more
"I beg you--let me beg you," I began to say; "since you have found
me out like this--"
"Hush, miss, hush! Not my own wife shall know, unless your own
tongue telleth her. A proud man I shall be, Miss Raumur," he
continued, with emphasis on my local name, "if aught can be found
in my power to serve you. Why, Lord bless you, miss," he
whispered, looking round, "your father and I has spent hours
together! He were that pleasant in his ways and words, he would
drop in from his fishing, when the water was too low, and sit on
that very same bench where you sat, and smoke his pipe with me, and
tell me about battles, and ask me about bread. And many a time I
have slipped up the gate, to give him more water for his flies to
play, and the fish not to see him so plainly. Ah, we have had many
pleasant spells together; and his eldest boy and girl, Master
George and Miss Henrietta, used to come and fetch our eggs. My
Polly there was in love with him, we said; she sat upon his lap so,
when she were two years old, and played with his beautiful hair,
and blubbered--oh, she did blubber, when the Captain went away!"
This invested Polly with new interest for me, and made me determine
to spare no pains in putting her pretty figure well upon the plank.
Then I said to the miller, "How kind of you to draw up your sluice-
gates to oblige my father! Now will you put them down and keep
them down, to do a great service both to him and me?"
Without a moment's hesitation, he promised that any thing he could
do should be done, if I would only tell him what I wanted. But
perhaps it would be better to have our talk outside. Taking this
hint, I followed him back to the bench in the open garden, and
there explained what I wished to have done, and no longer concealed
the true reason. The good miller answered that with all his heart
he would do that much to oblige me, and a hundred times more than
that; but some little thought and care were needful. With the
river so low as it was now, he could easily stop the back-water,
and receive the whole of the current in his dam, and keep it from
flowing down his wheel trough, and thus dry the lower channel for
perhaps half an hour, which would be ample for my purpose.
Engineering difficulties there were none; but two or three other
things must be heeded. Miller Sims, a mile or so down river, must
be settled with, to fill his dam well, and begin to discharge, when
the upper water failed, so as not to dry the Moon all down the
valley, which would have caused a commotion. Miller Sims being own
brother-in-law to Master Withypool, that could be arranged easily
enough, after one day's notice. But a harder thing to manage would
be to do the business without rousing curiosity, and setting abroad
a rumor which would be sure to reach my enemy. And the hardest
thing of all, said Master Withypool, smiling as he thought of what
himself had once been, would be to keep those blessed boys away,
who find out every thing, and go every where. Not a boy of
Shoxford but would be in the river, or dancing upon its empty bed,
screeching and scolloping up into his cap any poor bewildered trout
chased into the puddles, if it were allowed to leak out, however
feebly, that the Moon water was to stop running. And then how was
I to seek for any thing?
This was a puzzle. But, with counsel, we did solve it. And we
quietly stopped the Moon, without man or boy being much the wiser.
GOING TO THE BOTTOM
It is not needful to explain every thing, any more than it was for
me to tell the miller about my golden eagle, and how I had managed
to lose it in the Moon--a trick of which now I was heartily
ashamed, in the face of honest kindness. So I need not tell how
Master Withypool managed to settle with his men, and to keep the
boys unwitting of what was about to come to pass. Enough that I
got a note from him to tell me that the little river would be run
out, just when all Shoxford was intent upon its dinner, on the
second day after I had seen him. And he could not say for certain,
but thought it pretty safe, that nobody would come near me, if I
managed to be there at a quarter before one, when the stream would
begin to run dry, and I could watch it. I sent back a line by the
pretty little girl, a sister of poor Polly, to say how much I
thanked him, and how much I hoped that he himself would meet me
there, if his time allowed. For he had been too delicate to say a
word of that; but I felt that he had a good right to be there, and,
knowing him now, I was not afraid.
Nearly every thing came about as well as could be wished almost.
Master Withypool took the precaution, early in the morning, to set
his great fierce bull at large, who always stopped the foot-path.
This bull knew well the powers of a valley in conducting sound; and
he loved to stand, as if at the mouth of a funnel, and roar down it
to another bull a mile below him, belonging to his master's
brother-in-law. And when he did this, there was scarcely a boy,
much less a man or woman, with any desire to assert against him the
public right of thoroughfare. Throughout that forenoon, then, this
bull bellowed nobly, still finding many very wicked flies about, so
that two mitching boys, who meant to fish for minnows with a pin,
were obliged to run away again.
However, I was in the dark about him, and as much afraid of him as
any body, when he broke into sight of me round a corner, without
any tokens of amity. I had seen a great many great bulls before,
including Uncle Sam's good black one, who might not have meant any
mischief at all, and atoned for it--if he did--by being washed away
And therefore my courage soon returned, when it became quite clear
that this animal now had been fastened with a rope, and could come
no nearer. For some little time, then, I waited all alone, as near
that bridge as I could bring myself to stand, for Mrs. Busk, my
landlady, could not leave the house yet, on account of the mid-day
letters. Moreover, she thought that she had better stay away, as
our object was to do things as quietly as could be.
Much as I had watched this bridge from a distance, or from my
sheltering-place, I had never been able to bring myself to make any
kind of sketch of it, or even to insert it in a landscape, although
it was very well suited and expressive, from its crooked and
antique simplicity. The overhanging, also, of the hawthorn-tree
(not ruddy yet, but russety with its coloring crop of coral), and
the shaggy freaks of ivy above the twisted trunk, and the curve of
the meadows and bold elbow of the brook, were such as an artist
would have pitched his tent for, and tantalized poor London people
with a dream of cool repose.
As yet the little river showed no signs of doing what the rustic--
or surely it should have been the cockney--was supposed to stand
still and wait for. There was no great rush of headlong water, for
that is not the manner of the stream in the very worst of weather;
but there was the usual style of coming on, with lips and steps at
the sides, and cords of running toward the middle. Quite enough,
at any rate, to make the trout jump, without any omen of impending
drought, and to keep all the play and the sway of movement going on
I began to be afraid that the miller must have failed in his
stratagem against the water-god, and that, as I had read in Pope's
Homer, the liquid deity would beat the hero, when all of a sudden
there were signs that man was the master of this little rustic.
Broadswords of flag and rapiers of water-grass, which had been
quivering merrily, began to hang down and to dip themselves in
loops, and the stones of the brink showed dark green stripes on
their sides as they stood naked. Then fine little cakes of
conglomerated stuff, which only a great man of nature could
describe, came floating about, and curdling into corners, and
holding on to one another in long-tailed strings. But they might
do what they liked, and make their very best of it, as they fell
away to nothing upon stones and mud. For now more important things
began to open, the like of which never had been yielded up before--
plots of slimy gravel, varied with long streaks of yellow mud,
dotted with large double shells, and parted into little oozy runs
by wriggling water-weeds. And here was great commotion and sad
panic of the fish, large fellows splashing and quite jumping out of
water, as their favorite hovers and shelves ran dry, and darting
away, with their poor backs in the air, to the deepest hole they
could think of. Hundreds must have come to flour, lard, and butter
if boys had been there to take advantage. But luckily things had
been done so well that boys were now in their least injurious
moment, destroying nothing worse than their own dinners.
A very little way below the old wooden bridge the little river ran
into a deepish pool, as generally happens at or near a corner,
especially where there is a confluence sometimes. And seeing
nothing, as I began to search intently, stirring with a long-
handled spud which I had brought, I concluded that even my golden
eagle had been carried into that deep place. However, water or no
water, I resolved to have it out with that dark pool as soon as the
rest of the channel should be drained, which took a tormenting time
to do; and having thick boots on, I pinned up my skirts, and
jumping down into the shoals, began to paddle in a fashion which
reminded me of childish days passed pleasantly in the Blue River.
Too busy thus to give a thought to any other thing, I did not even
see the miller, until he said,
"Good-day, miss," lifting his hat, with a nice kind smile. "Very
busy, miss, I see, and right you are to be so. The water will be
upon us again in less than half an hour. Now let me clear away
they black weeds for you. I brought this little shivel a-purpose.
If I may make so bold, miss, what do 'e look to find here?"
"I have not the very smallest notion," I could only answer; "but if
there is any thing, it must be in that hole. I have searched all
the shallow part so closely that I doubt whether even a sixpence
could escape me, unless it were buried in the mud or pebbles. Oh,
how can I manage to search that hole? There must be a yard of
"One thing I ought to have told 'e for to do," Master Withypool
whispered, as he went on shoveling--"to do what the boys do when
they lose a farden--to send another after un. If so be now, afore
the water was run out, you had stood on that there bridge, and
dropped a bright coin into it, a new half crown or a two-shilling
piece, why, the chances would be that the run of the current would
'a taken it nigh to the likeliest spot for holding any other little
matter as might 'a dropped, permiskous, you might say, into this
"I have done so," I answered; "I have done that very thing, though
not at all with that object. The day before yesterday a beautiful
coin, a golden eagle of America, fell from my pocket on that upper
plank, and rolled into the water. I would not lose it for a great
deal, because it was given to me by my dearest friend, the greatest
of all millers."
"And ha'n't you found it yet, miss? Well, that is queer. Perhaps
we shall find it now, with something to the back of it. I thought
yon hole was too far below the bridge. But there your gold must
be, and something else, most likely. Plaise to wait a little bit,
and us 'll have the wet out of un. I never should 'a thought of
that but for your gold guinea, though."
With these words Master Withypool pulled his coat off and rolled up
his shirt sleeves, displaying arms fit to hold their own even with
Uncle Sam's almost; and then he fell to with his shovel and dug,
while I ran with my little spud to help.
"Plaise keep out of way, miss; I be afeard of knocking you. Not
but what you works very brave indeed, miss."
Knowing what men are concerning "female efforts," I got out of the
strong man's way, although there was plenty of room for me. What
he wanted to do was plain enough--to dig a trench down the empty
bed of the Moon River, deep enough to drain that pit before the
stream came down again.
"Never thought to run a race against my own old dam," he said, as
he stopped for a moment to recover breath. "Us never knows what us
may have to do. Old dam must be a'most busting now. But her's
sound enough, till her beginneth to run over."
I did not say a word, because it might have done some mischief, but
I could not help looking rather anxiously up stream, for fear of
the water coming down with a rush, as it very soon must do. Master
Withypool had been working, not as I myself would have done, from
the lips of the dark pit downward, but from a steep run some twenty
yards below, where there was almost a little cascade when the river
was full flowing; from this he had made his channel upward, cutting
deeper as he came along, till now, at the brink of the obstinate
pool, his trench was two feet deep almost. I had no idea that any
man could work so with a shovel, which seems such a clumsy tool
compared with a spade: but a gentleman who knows the country and
the people told me that, with their native weapon, Moonites will do
as much digging in an hour as other folk get through in an hour and
a half with a spade. But this may be only, perhaps, because they
are working harder.
"Now," said Master Withypool at last, standing up, with a very red
face, and desiring to keep all that unheeded--"now, miss, to you it
belongeth to tap this here little cornder, if desirable. Plaise to
excoose of me going up of bank to tell 'e when the wet cometh down
"Please to do nothing of the sort," I answered, knowing that he
offered to stand out of sight from a delicate dread of intrusion.
"Please to tap the pool yourself, and stay here, as a witness of
what we find in it."
"As you plaise, miss, as you plaise. Not a moment for to lose in
arguing. Harken now, the water is atopping of our dam. Her will
be here in five minutes."
With three or four rapid turns of his shovel, which he spun almost
as fast as a house-maid spins a mop, he fetched out the plug of
earth severing his channel from the deep, reluctant hole. And then
I saw the wisdom of his way of working: for if he had dug downward
from the pool itself, the water would have followed him all the
way, and even drowned his tool out of its own strokes; whereas now,
with a swirl and a curl of ropy mud, away rushed the thick,
sluggish, obstinate fluid, and in less than two minutes the hole
was almost dry.
The first thing I saw was my golden eagle, lodged about half-way
down the slope on a crust of black sludge, from which I caught it
up and presented it to Master Withypool, as a small token and
record of his kindness; and to this day he carries it upon his
Sunday watch chain.
"I always am lucky in finding things," I exclaimed, while he
watched me, and the up stream too, whence a babble of water was
approaching. "As sure as I live I have found it!"
"No doubt about your living, miss. And the Captain were always
lively. But what have your bright eyes hit upon? I see nort for
the life of me."
"Look there," I cried, "at the very bottom of it--almost under the
water. Here, where I put my spud--a bright blue line! Oh, can I
go down, or is it quicksand?"
"No quicksand in our little river, miss. But your father's
daughter shannot go into the muck, while John Withypool stands by.
I see un now, sure enough; now I see un! But her needeth care, or
her may all goo away in mullock. Well, I thought my eyes was sharp
enough; but I'm blest if I should have spied that, though. A bit
of flint, mebbe, or of blue glass bottle. Anyhow, us will see the
bottom of un."
He was wasting no time while he spoke, but working steadfastly for
his purpose, fixing the blade of his shovel below the little blue
line I was peering at, so that no slip of the soft yellow slush
should bury it down, and plunge over it. If that had once
happened, good-by to all chance of ever beholding this thing again,
for the river was coming, with fury and foam, to assert its ancient
right of way.
With a short laugh the miller jumped down into the pit. "Me to be
served so, by my own mill-stream! Lor', if I don't pay you out for
His righteous wrath failed to stop the water from pouring into the
pit behind him; and, strong as he was, he nearly lost his footing,
having only mud to stand upon. It seemed to me that he was going
to be drowned, and I offered him the handle of my spud to help him;
but he stopped where he was, and was not going to be hurried.
"I got un now," he said; "now I don't mind coming out. You see if
I don't pay you out for this! Why, I always took you for a
He shook his fist strongly at the river, which had him well up to
the middle by this time; and then he disdainfully waded out, with
wrath in all his countenance.
"I've a great mind to stop there, and see what her would do," he
said to me, forgetting altogether what he went for. "And I would,
if I had had my dinner. A scat of a thing as I can manage with my
thumb! Ah, you have made a bad day of it."
"But what have you found, Mr. Withypool?" I asked, for I could not
enter into his wrath against the water, wet as he was to the
shoulders. "You have something in your hand. May I see it, if you
please? And then do please to go home and change your clothes."
"A thing I never did in my life, miss, and should be ashamed to
begin at this age. Clothes gets wet, and clothes dries on us, same
as un did on the sheep afore us; else they gets stiff and creasy.
What this little thing is ne'er a body may tell, in my line of
life--but look'th aristocratic."
The "mullock," as he called it, from his hands, and from the bed
where it had lain so long, so crusted the little thing which he
gave me, that I dipped it again in the swelling stream, and rubbed
it with both hands, to make out what it was. And then I thought
how long it had lain there; and suddenly to my memory it came, that
in all likelihood the time of that was nineteen years this very
"Will another year pass," I cried, "before I make out all about it?
What are you, and who, now looking at me with such sad, sad eyes?"
For I held in my hand a most handsome locket, of blue enamel and
diamonds, with a back of chased gold, and in front the miniature of
a beautiful young woman, done as they never seem to do them now.
The work was so good, and the fitting so close, that no drop of
water had entered, and the face shone through the crystal glass as
fresh as the day it was painted. A very lovely face it was, yet
touched with a shade of sadness, as the loveliest faces generally
are; and the first thought of any beholder would be, "That woman
was born for sorrow."
The miller said as much when I showed it to him.
"Lord bless my heart! I hope the poor craitur' hathn't lasted half
so long as her pictur' hath."
The discovery which I have described above (but not half so well as
the miller tells it now) created in my young heart a feeling of
really strong curiosity. To begin with, how could this valuable
thing have got into the Moon-stream, and lain there so long,
unsought for, or at best so unskillfully sought for? What
connection could it have with the tragic death of my grandfather?
Why was that man so tardily come to search for it, if he might do
so without any body near him? Again, what woman was this whose
beauty no water or mud could even manage to disguise? That last
was a most disturbing question to one's bodily peace of mind. And
then came another yet more urgent--what was in the inside of this
That there was something inside of it seemed almost a certainty.
The mere value of the trinket, or even the fear that it ever might
turn up as evidence, would scarcely have brought that man so often
to stir suspicion by seeking it; though, after so long a time, he
well might hope that suspicion was dead and buried. And being
unable to open this case--after breaking three good nails over it,
and then the point of a penknife--I turned to Master Withypool, who
was stamping on the grass to drain himself.
"What sort of a man was that," I asked, "who wanted you to do what
now you have so kindly done for me? About a month or six weeks
ago? Do please to tell me, as nearly as you can."
If Mrs. Withypool had been there, she might have lost all patience
with me for putting long questions so selfishly to a man who had
done so much for me, and whose clothes were now dripping in a wind
which had arisen to test his theory of drying. He must have lost a
large quantity of what scientific people call "caloric." But never
a shiver gave he in exchange.
"Well, miss," he said, "I was thinking a'most of speaking on that
very matter. More particular since you found that little thing,
with the pretty lady inside of it. It were borne in on my mind
that thissom were the very thing he were arter."
"No doubt of it," I answered, with far less patience, though being
comparatively dry. "But what was he like? Was he like this
"This picture of the lady? No; I can't say that he were, so much.
The face of a big man he hath, with short black fringes to it.
Never showeth to my idea any likeliness of a woman. No, no, miss;
think you not at all that you have got him in that blue thing.
Though some of their pictures is like men, the way they dress up
"I did not mean that it was meant for him; what I mean is, do you
see any sign of family likeness? Any resemblance about the eyes,
or mouth, or forehead?"
"Well, now, I don't know but what I might," replied Master
Withypool, gazing very hard; "if I was to look at 'un long enough,