Part 4 out of 11
fancied that it was my duty to bring you any information that reached
me; but I defer to you entirely. The subject is a most unhappy one, and
I am glad to be spared the pain involved in speaking of it."
"What do you mean?" said the baronet. "If you have anything to tell
me--anything that can throw light upon the mystery of my wife's
flight--speak out, and speak quickly. I am almost mad, Reginald.
Forgive me, if I spoke harshly just now. You are my nephew, and the
mask I wear before the world may be dropped in your presence."
"I know nothing personally of Lady Eversleigh's disappearance," said
Reginald; "but I have good reason to believe that Miss Graham could
tell you much, if she chose to speak out. She has hinted at being in
the secret, and I think it only right you should question her."
"I will question her," answered sir Oswald, starting to his feet. "Send
her to me, Reginald."
Mr. Eversleigh left his uncle, and Miss Graham very speedily appeared--
looking the very image of unconscious innocence--and quite unable to
imagine what "dear Sir Oswald" could want with her.
The baronet came to the point very quickly, and before Lydia had time
for consideration, she had been made to give a full account of the
scene which she had witnessed on the previous evening between Victor
Carrington and Honoria.
Of course, Miss Graham told Sir Oswald that she had witnessed this
strange scene in the most accidental manner. She had happened to be in
a walk that commanded a view of the fir-grove.
"And you saw my wife agitated, clinging to that man?"
"Lady Eversleigh was terribly agitated."
"And then you saw her take her place in the gig, of her own free will?"
"I did, Sir Oswald."
"Oh, what infamy!" murmured the baronet; "what hideous infamy!"
It was to himself that he spoke rather than to Miss Graham. His eyes
were fixed on vacancy, and it seemed as if he were scarcely aware of
the young lady's presence.
Lydia was almost terrified by that blank, awful look. She waited for a
few moments, and then, finding that Sir Oswald questioned her no
further, she crept quietly from the room, glad to escape from the
sorrow-stricken husband. Malicious though she was, she believed that
this time she had spoken the truth.
"He has reason to repent his romantic choice," she thought as she left
the library. "Perhaps now he will think that he might have done better
by choosing a wife from his own set."
The day wore on; Sir Oswald remained alone in the library, seated
before a table, with his arms folded, his gaze fixed on empty space--a
picture of despair.
The clock had struck many times; the hot afternoon sun blazed full upon
the broad Tudor windows, when the door was opened gently, and some one
came into the room. Sir Oswald looked up angrily, thinking it was one
of the servants who had intruded on him.
It was his wife who stood before him, dressed in the white robes she
had worn at the picnic; but wan and haggard, white as the dress she
"Oswald," she cried, with outstretched hands, and the look of one who
did not doubt she would be welcome.
The baronet sprang to his feet, and looked at that pale face with a
gaze of unspeakable indignation.
"And you dare to come back?" he exclaimed. "False-hearted adventuress--
actress--hypocrite--you dare to come to me with that lying smile upon
your face--after your infamy of last night!"
"I am neither adventuress, nor hypocrite, Oswald. Oh, where have your
love and confidence vanished that you can condemn me unheard? I have
done no wrong--not by so much as one thought that is not full of love
for you! I am the helpless victim of the vilest plot that was ever
concocted for the destruction of a woman's happiness."
A mocking laugh burst from the lips of Sir Oswald.
"Oh," he cried, "so that is your story. You are the victim of a plot,
are you? You were carried away by ruffians, I suppose? You did not go
willingly with your paramour? Woman, you stand convicted of your
treachery by the fullest evidence. You were seen to leave the Wizard's
Cave! You were seen clinging to Victor Carrington--were seen to go with
him, _willingly_. And then you come and tell me you are the victim of a
plot! Oh, Lady Eversleigh, this is too poor a story. I should have
given you credit for greater powers of invention."
"If I am guilty, why am I here?" asked Honoria.
"Shall I tell you why you are here?" cried Sir Oswald, passionately,
"Look yonder, madam! look at those wide woodlands, the deer-park, the
lakes and gardens; this is only one side of Raynham Castle. It was for
those you returned, Lady Eversleigh, for the love of those--and those
alone. Influenced by a mad and wicked passion, you fled with your lover
last night; but no sooner did you remember the wealth you had lost, the
position you had sacrificed, than you repented your folly. You
determined to come back. Your doting husband would doubtless open his
arms to receive you. A few imploring words, a tear or so, and the poor,
weak dupe would be melted. This is how you argued; but you were wrong.
I have been foolish. I have abandoned myself to the dream of a dotard;
but the dream is past. The awakening has been rude, but it has been
efficacious. I shall never dream again."
"Oswald, will you not listen to my story?"
"No, madam, I will not give you the opportunity of making me a second
time your dupe. Go--go back to your lover, Victor Carrington. Your
repentance comes too late. The Raynham heritage will never be yours. Go
back to your lover; or, if he will not receive you, go back to the
gutter from which I took you."
The cry of reproach went like a dagger to the heart of the baronet. But
he steeled himself against those imploring tones. He believed that he
had been wronged--that this woman was as false as she was beautiful.
"Oswald," cried Honoria, "you must and shall hear my story. I demand a
hearing as a right--a right which you could not withhold from the
vilest criminal, and which you shall not withhold from me, your
lawfully wedded and faithful wife. You may disbelieve my story, if you
please--heaven knows it seems wild and improbable!--but you shall hear
it. Yes, Oswald, _you shall_!"
She stood before him, drawn to her fullest height, confronting him
proudly. If this was guilt, it was, indeed, shameless guilt. Unhappily,
the baronet believed in the evidence of Lydia Graham, rather than in
the witness of his wife's truth. Why should Lydia have deceived him? he
asked himself. What possible motive could she have for seeking to
blight his wife's fair name?
Honoria told her story from first to last; she told the history of her
night of anguish. She spoke with her eyes fixed on her husband's face,
in which she could read the indications of his every feeling. As her
story drew to a close, her own countenance grew rigid with despair, for
she saw that her words had made no impression on the obdurate heart to
which she appealed.
"I do not ask you if you believe me," she said, when her story was
finished. "I can see that you do not. All is over between us, Sir
Oswald," she added, in a tone of intense sadness--"all is over. You are
right in what you said just now, cruel though your words were. You did
take me from the gutter; you accepted me in ignorance of my past
history; you gave your love and your name to a friendless, nameless
creature; and now that circumstances conspire to condemn me, can I
wonder if you, too, condemn--if you refuse to believe my declaration of
my innocence? I do not wonder. I am only grieved that it should be so.
I should have been so proud of your love if it could have survived this
fiery ordeal--so proud! But let that pass. I would not remain an hour
beneath this roof on sufferance. I am quite ready to go from this house
to-day, at an hour's warning, never to re-enter it. Raynham Castle is
no more to me than that desolate tower in which I spent last night--
without your love. I will leave you without one word of reproach, and
you shall never hear my name, or see my face again."
She moved towards the door as she spoke. There was a quiet earnestness
in her manner which might have gone far to convince Oswald Eversleigh
of her truth; but his mind was too deeply imbued with a belief in her
falsehood. This dignified calm, this subdued resignation, seemed to him
only the consummate art of a finished actress.
"She is steeped in falsehood to the very lips," he thought. "Doubtless,
the little she told me of the history of her childhood was as false as
all the rest. Heaven only knows what shameful secrets may have been
hidden in her past life!"
She had crossed the threshold of the door, when some sudden impulse
moved him to follow her.
"Do not leave Raynham till you have heard further from me, Lady
Eversleigh," he said. "It will be my task to make all arrangements for
your future life."
His wife did not answer him. She walked towards the hall, her head
bent, her eyes fixed on the ground.
"She will not leave the castle until she is obliged to do so," thought
Sir Oswald, as he returned to the library. "Oh, what a tissue of
falsehood she tried to palm upon me! And she would have blackened my
nephew's name, in order to screen her own guilt!"
He rang a bell, and told the servant who answered it to fetch Mr.
Eversleigh. His nephew appeared five minutes afterwards, still very
pale and anxious-looking.
"I have sent for you, Reginald," said the baronet, "because I have a
duty to perform--a very painful duty--but one which I do not care to
delay. It is now nearly a year and a half since I made a will which
disinherited you. I had good reason for that step, as you know; but I
have heard no further talk of your vices or your follies; and, so far
as I can judge, you have undergone a reformation. It is not for me,
therefore, to hold sternly to a determination which I had made in a
moment of extreme anger: and I should perhaps have restored you to your
old position ere this, had not a new interest absorbed my heart and
mind. I have had cruel reason to repent my folly. I might feel
resentment against you, on account of your friend's infamy, but I am
not weak enough for that. Victor Carrington and I have a terrible
account to settle, and it shall be settled to the uttermost. I need
hardly tell you that, if you hold any further communication with him,
you will for ever forfeit my friendship."
"My dear sir, you surely cannot suppose--"
"Do not interrupt me. I wish to say what I have to say, and to have
done with this subject for ever. You know I have already told you the
contents of the will which I made after my marriage. That will left the
bulk of my fortune to my wife. That will must now be destroyed; and in
the document which I shall substitute for it, your name will occupy its
old place. Heaven grant that I do wisely, Reginald, and that you will
prove yourself worthy of my confidence."
"My dear uncle, your goodness overpowers me. I cannot find words to
express my gratitude."
"No thanks, Reginald. Remember that the change which restores you to
your old position is brought about by my misery. Say no more. Better
that an Eversleigh should be master of Raynham when I am dead and gone.
And now leave me."
The young man retired. His face betrayed conflicting emotions. Lost to
all sense of honour though he was, the iniquity of the scheme by which
he had succeeded weighed horribly upon his mind, and he was seized with
a wild fear of the man through whose agency it had been brought about.
* * * * *
"THE WILL! THE TESTAMENT!"
The brief pang of fear and remorse passed quickly away, and Reginald
went out upon the terrace to look upon those woods which were once more
his promised heritage; on which he could gaze, as of old, with the
proud sense of possession. While looking over that fair domain, he
forgot the hateful means by which he had re-established himself as the
heir of Raynham. He forgot Victor Carrington--everything except his own
good fortune. His heart throbbed with a sense of triumph.
He left the terrace, crossed the Italian garden, and made his way to
the light iron gate which opened upon the park. Leaning wearily upon
this gate, he saw an old man in the costume of a pedlar. A broad,
slouched hat almost concealed his face, and a long iron-grey beard
drooped upon his chest. His garments were dusty, as if with many a
weary mile's wandering on the parched high-roads, and he carried a
large pack of goods upon his back.
The park was open to the public; and this man had, no doubt, come to
the garden-gate in the hope of finding some servant who would be
beguiled into letting him carry his wares to the castle, for the
inspection of Sir Oswald's numerous household.
"Stand aside, my good fellow, and let me pass," said Reginald, as he
approached the little gate.
The man did not stir. His arms were folded on the topmost bar of the
gate, and he did not alter his attitude.
"Let me be the first to congratulate the heir of Raynham on his renewed
hopes," he said, quietly.
"Carrington!" cried Reginald; and then, after a pause, he asked, "What,
in heaven's name, is the meaning of this masquerade?"
The surgeon removed his broad-brimmed hat, and wiped his forehead with
a hand that looked brown, wizen, and wrinkled as the hand of an old
man. Nothing could have been more perfect than his disguise.
The accustomed pallor of his face was changed to the brown and sunburnt
hue produced by constant exposure to all kinds of weather. A network of
wrinkles surrounded the brilliant black eyes, which now shone under
shaggy eyebrows of iron-grey.
"I should never have recognized you," said Reginald, staring for some
moments at his friend's face, completely lost in surprise.
"Very likely not," answered the surgeon, coolly; "I don't want people
to recognize me. A disguise that can by any possibility be penetrated
is the most fatal mistake. I can disguise my voice as well as my face,
as you will, perhaps, hear by and by. When talking to a friend there is
no occasion to take so much trouble."
"But why have you assumed this disguise?"
"Because I want to be on the spot; and you may imagine that, after
having eloped with the lady of the house, I could not very safely show
myself here in my own proper person."
"What need had you to return? Your scheme is accomplished, is it not?"
"Well, not quite."
"Is there anything more to be done?"
"Yes, there is something more."
"What is the nature of that something?" asked Reginald.
"Leave that to me," answered the surgeon; "and now you had better pass
on, young heir of Raynham, and leave the poor old pedlar to smoke his
pipe, and to watch for some passing maid-servant who will admit him to
Reginald lingered, fascinated in some manner by the presence of his
friend and counsellor. He wanted to penetrate the mystery hidden in the
breast of his ally.
"How did you know that your scheme had succeeded?" he asked, presently.
"I read my success in your face as you came towards this gate just now.
It was the face of an acknowledged heir; and now, perhaps, you will be
good enough to tell me your news."
Reginald related all that had happened; the use he had made of Lydia
Graham's malice; the interview with his uncle after Lady Eversleigh's
"Good!" exclaimed Victor; "good from first to last! Did ever any scheme
work so smoothly? That was a stroke of genius of yours, Reginald, the
use you made of Miss Graham's evidence. And so she was watching us, was
she? Charming creature! how little she knows to what an extent we are
indebted to her. Well, Reginald, I congratulate you. It is a grand
thing to be the acknowledged heir of such an estate as this."
He glanced across the broad gardens, blazing with rich masses of vivid
colour, produced by the artistic arrangement of the flower-beds. He
looked up to the long range of windows, the terrace, the massive
towers, the grand old archway, and then he looked back at his friend,
with a sinister light in his glittering black eyes.
"There is only one drawback," he said.
"And that is--"
"That you may have to wait a very long time for your inheritance. Let
me see; your uncle is fifty years of age, I think?"
"Yes; he is about fifty." "And he has an iron constitution. He has led
a temperate, hardy life. Such a man is as likely to live to be eighty
as I am to see my fortieth birthday. And that would give you thirty
years' waiting: a long delay--a terrible trial of patience."
"Why do you say these things?" cried Reginald, impatiently. "Do you
want to make me miserable in the hour of our triumph? Do you mean that
we have burdened our souls with all this crime and falsehood for
nothing? You are mad, Victor!"
"No; I am only in a speculative mood. Thirty years!--thirty years would
be a long time to wait."
"Who says that I shall have to wait thirty years? My uncle may die long
before that time."
"Ah! to be sure! your uncle may die--suddenly, perhaps--very soon, it
may be. The shock of his wife's falsehood may kill him--after he has
made a new will in your favour!"
The two men stood face to face, looking at each other.
"What do you mean?" Reginald asked; "and why do you look at me like
"I am only thinking what a lucky fellow you would be if this grief that
has fallen upon your uncle were to be fatal to his life."
"Don't talk like that, Carrington. I won't think of such a thing. I am
had enough, I know; but not quite so bad as to wish my uncle dead."
"You would be sorry if he were dead, I suppose? Sorry--with this domain
your own! with all power and pleasure that wealth can purchase for a
man! You would be sorry, would you? You wish well to the kind kinsman
to whom you have been such a devoted nephew! You would prefer to wait
thirty years for your heritage--if you should live so long!"
"Victor Carrington," cried Reginald, passionately, "you are the fiend
himself, in disguise! Let me pass. I will not stop to listen to your
"Wait to hear one question, at any rate. Why do you suppose I made you
sign that promissory note at a twelvemonth's date?"
"I don't know; but you must know, as well as I do, that the note will
be waste-paper so long as my uncle lives."
"I do know that, my dear Reginald; but I got you to date the document
as you did, because I have a kind of presentiment that before that date
you will be master of Raynham!"
"You mean that my uncle will die within the year?"
"I am subject to presentiments of that kind. I do not think Sir Oswald
will see the end of the year!"
"Carrington!" exclaimed Reginald. "Your schemes are hateful. I will
have no further dealings with you."
"Indeed! Then am I to go to Sir Oswald, and tell him the story of last
night? Am I to tell him that his wife is innocent?"
"No, no; tell him nothing. Let things stand as they are. The promise of
the estate is mine. I have suffered too much from the loss of my
position, and I cannot forego my new hopes. But let there be no more
guilt--no more plotting. We have succeeded. Let us wait patiently for
"Yes," answered the surgeon, coolly, "we will wait for the end; and if
the end should come sooner than our most sanguine hopes have led us to
expect, we will not quarrel with the handiwork of fate. Now leave me. I
see a petticoat yonder amongst the trees. It belongs to some housemaid
from the castle, I dare say; and I must see if my eloquence as a
wandering merchant cannot win me admission within the walls which I
dare not approach as Victor Carrington."
Reginald opened the gate with his pass-key, and allowed the surgeon to
go through into the gardens.
* * * * *
It was dusk when Sir Oswald left the library. He had sent a message to
the chief of his guests, excusing himself from attending the dinner-
table, on the ground of ill-health. When he knew that all his visitors
would be assembled in the dining-room, he left the library, for the
first time since he had entered it after breakfast.
He had brooded long and gloomily over his misery, and had come to a
determination as to the line of conduct which he should pursue towards
his wife. He went now to Lady Eversleigh's apartments, in order to
inform her of his decision; but, to his surprise, he found the rooms
empty. His wife's maid was sitting at needlework by one of the windows
of the dressing-room.
"Where is your mistress?" asked Sir Oswald.
"She has gone out, sir. She has left the castle for some little time, I
think, sir; for she put on the plainest of her travelling dresses, and
she took a small travelling-bag with her. There is a note, sir, on the
mantel-piece in the next room. Shall I fetch it?"
"No; I will get it myself. At what time did Lady Eversleigh leave the
"About two hours ago, sir."
"Two hours! In time for the afternoon coach to York," thought Sir
Oswald. "Go and inquire if your mistress really left the castle at that
time," he said to the maid.
He went into the boudoir, and took the letter from the mantel-piece. He
crushed it into his breast-pocket with the seal unbroken--
"Time enough to discover what new falsehood she has tried to palm upon
me," he thought.
He looked round the empty room--which she was never more to occupy. Her
books, her music, were scattered on every side. The sound of her rich
voice seemed still to vibrate through the room. And she was gone--for
ever! Well, she was a base and guilty creature, and it was better so--
infinitely better that her polluting presence should no longer
dishonour those ancient chambers, within which generations of proud and
pure women had lived and died. But to see the rooms empty, and to know
that she was gone, gave him nevertheless a pang.
"What will become of her?" thought Sir Oswald. "She will return to her
lover, of course, and he will console her for the sacrifice she has
made by her mad folly. Let her prize him while he still lives to
console her; for she may not have him long. Why do I think of her?--why
do I trouble myself about her? I have my affairs to arrange--a new will
to make--before I think of vengeance. And those matters once settled,
vengeance shall be my only thought. I have done for ever with love!"
Sir Oswald returned to the library. A lamp burned on the table at which
he was accustomed to write. It was a shaded reading-lamp, which made a
wide circle of vivid light around the spot where it stood, but left the
rest of the room in shadow.
The night was oppressively hot--an August rather than a September
night; and, before beginning his work, Sir Oswald flung open one of the
broad windows leading out upon the terrace. Then he unlocked a carved
oak bureau, and took out a packet of papers. He seated himself at the
table, and began to examine these papers.
Among them was the will which he had executed since his marriage. He
read this, and then laid it aside. As he did so, a figure approached
the wide-open window; an eager face, illuminated by glittering eyes,
peered into the room. It was the face of Victor Carrington, hidden
beneath the disguise of assumed age, and completely metamorphosed by
the dark skin and grizzled beard. Had Sir Oswald looked up and seen
that face, he would not have recognized its owner.
After laying aside the document he had read, Sir Oswald began to write.
He wrote slowly, meditating upon every word; and after having written
for about half an hour, he rose and left the room. The surgeon had
never stirred from his post by the window; and as Sir Oswald closed the
door behind him, he crept stealthily into the apartment, and to the
table where the papers lay. His footstep, light always, made no sound
upon the thick velvet pile. He glanced at the contents of the paper, on
which the ink was still wet. It was a will, leaving the bulk of Sir
Oswald's fortune to his nephew, Reginald, unconditionally. Victor
Carrington did not linger a moment longer than was necessary to
convince him of this fact. He hurried back to his post by the window:
nor was he an instant too soon. The door opened before he had fairly
stepped from the apartment.
Sir Oswald re-entered, followed by two men. One was the butler, the
other was the valet, Joseph Millard. The will was executed in the
presence of these men, who affixed their signatures to it as witnesses.
"I have no wish to keep the nature of this will a secret from my
household," said Sir Oswald. "It restores my nephew, Mr. Reginald
Eversleigh, to his position as heir to this estate. You will henceforth
respect him as my successor."
The two men bowed and retired. Sir Oswald walked towards the window:
and Victor Carrington drew back into the shadow cast by a massive
abutment of stone-work.
It was not very easy for a man to conceal himself on the terrace in
that broad moonlight.
Voices sounded presently, near one of the windows; and a group of
ladies and gentlemen emerged from the drawing-room.
"It is the hottest night we have had this summer," said one of them.
"The house is really oppressive."
Miss Graham had enchanted her viscount once more, and she and that
gentleman walked side by side on the terrace.
"They will discover me if they come this way," muttered Victor, as he
shrank back into the shadow. "I have seen all that I want to see for
the present, and had better make my escape while I am safe."
He stole quietly along by the front of the castle, lurking always in
the shadow of the masonry, and descended the terrace steps. From
thence he went to the court-yard, on which the servants' hall opened;
and in a few minutes he was comfortably seated in that apartment,
listening to the gossip of the servants, who could only speak upon the
one subject of Lady Eversleigh's elopement.
* * * * *
The baronet sat with the newly-made will before him, gazing at the open
leaves with fixed and dreamy eyes.
Now that the document was signed, a feeling of doubt had taken
possession of him. He remembered how deliberately he had pondered over
the step before he had disinherited his nephew; and now that work,
which had cost him so much pain and thought, had been undone on the
impulse of a moment.
"Have I done right, I wonder?" he asked himself.
The papers which had been tied in the packet containing the old will
had been scattered on the table when the baronet unfastened the band
that secured them. He took one of these documents up in sheer absence
of mind, and opened it.
It was the letter written by the wretched girl who drowned herself in
the Seine--the letter of Reginald Eversleigh's victim--the very letter
on the evidence of which Sir Oswald had decided that his nephew was no
fitting heir to a great fortune.
The baronet's brow contracted as he read.
"And it is to the man who could abandon a wretched woman to despair and
death, that I am about to leave wealth and power," he exclaimed. "No;
the decision which I arrived at in Arlington Street was a just and wise
decision. I have been mad to-day--maddened by anger and despair; but it
is not too late to repent my folly. The seducer of Mary Goodwin shall
never be the master of Raynham Castle."
Sir Oswald folded the sheet of foolscap on which the will was written,
and held it over the flame of the lamp. He carried it over to the fire-
place, and threw it blazing on the empty hearth. He watched it
thoughtfully until the greater part of the paper was consumed by the
flame, and then went back to his seat.
"My nephews, Lionel and Douglas Dale, shall divide the estate between
them," he thought. "I will send for my solicitor to-morrow, and make a
* * * * *
Victor Carrington sat in the servants' hall at Raynham until past
eleven o'clock. He had made himself quite at home with the domestics in
his assumed character. The women were delighted with the showy goods
which he carried in his pack, and which he sold them at prices far
below those of the best bargains they had ever made before.
At a few minutes after eleven he rose to bid them good night.
"I suppose I shall find the gates open?" he said.
"Yes; the gates of the court-yard are never locked till half-past
eleven," answered a sturdy old coachman.
The pedlar took his leave; but he did not go out by the court-yard. He
went straight to the terrace, along which he crept with stealthy
footsteps. Many lights twinkled in the upper windows of the terrace
front, for at this hour the greater number of Sir Oswald's guests had
retired to their rooms.
The broad window of the library was still open; but a curtain had been
drawn before it, on one side of which there remained a crevice. Through
this crevice Victor Carrington could watch the interior of the chamber
with very little risk of being discovered.
The baronet was still sitting by the writing-table, with the light of
the library-lamp shining full upon him. An open letter was in his hand.
It was the letter his wife had left for him. It was not like the letter
of a guilty woman. It was quiet, subdued; full of sadness and
resignation, rather than of passionate despair.
"_I know now that I ought never to have married you, Oswald_," wrote
Lady Eversleigh. "_The sacrifice which you made for my sake was too
great a one. No happiness could well come of such an unequal bargain.
You gave me everything, and I could give you so little. The cloud upon
my past life was black and impenetrable. You took me nameless,
friendless, unknown; and I can scarcely wonder if, at the first breath
of suspicion, your faith wavered and your love failed. Farewell,
dearest and best of men! You never can know how truly I have loved you;
how I have reverenced your noble nature. In all that has come to pass
between us since the first hour of our miserable estrangement, nothing
has grieved me so deeply as to see your generous soul overclouded by
suspicions and doubts, as unworthy of you as they are needless and
unfounded. Farewell! I go back to the obscurity from whence you took
me. You need not fear for my future. The musical education which I owe
to your generous help will enable me to live; and I have no wish to
live otherwise than humbly. May heaven bless you_!"
This was all. There were no complaints, no entreaties. The letter
seemed instinct with the dignity of truth.
"And she has gone forth alone, unprotected. She has gone back to her
lonely and desolate life," thought the baronet, inclined, for a moment
at least, to believe in his wife's words.
But in the next instant he remembered the evidence of Lydia Graham--the
wild and improbable story by which Honoria had tried to account for her
"No no," he exclaimed; "it is all treachery from first to last. She is
hiding herself somewhere near at hand, no doubt to wait the result of
this artful letter. And when she finds that her artifices are thrown
away--when she discovers that my heart has been changed to adamant by
her infamy--she will go back to her lover, if he still lives to shelter
A hundred conflicting ideas confused Sir Oswald's brain. But one
thought was paramount--and that was the thought of revenge. He resolved
to send for his lawyer early the next morning, to make a new will in
favour of his sister's two sons, and then to start in search of the man
who had robbed him of his wife's affection. Reginald would, of course,
be able to assist him in finding Victor Carrington.
While Sir Oswald mused thus, the man of whom he was thinking watched
him through the narrow space between the curtains.
"Shall it be to-night?" thought Carrington. "It cannot be too soon. He
might change his mind about his will at any moment; and if it should
happen to-night, people will say the shock of his wife's flight has
Sir Oswald's folded arms rested on the table; his head sank forward on
his arms. The passionate emotions of the day, the previous night of
agony, had at last exhausted him. He fell into a doze--a feverish,
troubled sleep. Carrington watched him for upwards of a quarter of an
hour as he slept thus.
"I think he is safe now--and I may venture," murmured Victor, at the
end of that time.
He crept softly into the room, making a wide circle, and keeping
himself completely in the shadow, till he was behind the sleeping
baronet. Then he came towards the lamp-lit table.
Amongst the scattered letters and papers, there stood a claret jug, a
large carafe of water, and an empty glass. Victor drew close to the
table, and listened for some moments to the breathing of the sleeper.
Then he took a small bottle from his pocket, and dropped a few globules
of some colourless liquid into the empty glass. Having done this, he
withdrew from the apartment as silently as he had entered it. Twelve
o'clock struck as he was leaving the terrace.
"So," he muttered, "it is little more than three-quarters of an hour
since I left the servants' hall. It would not be difficult to prove an
_alibi_, with the help of a blundering village innkeeper."
He did not attempt to leave the castle by the court-yard, which he knew
would be locked by this time. He had made himself acquainted with all
the ins and outs of the place, and had possessed himself of a key
belonging to one of the garden gates. Through this gate he passed out
into the park, climbed a low fence, and made his way into Raynham
village, where the landlord of the "Hen and Chickens" was just closing
"I have been told by the castle servants that you can give me a bed,"
The landlord, who was always delighted to oblige his patrons in Sir
Oswald's servants' hall and stables, declared himself ready to give the
traveller the best accommodation his house could afford.
"It's late, sir," he said; "but we'll manage to make things comfortable
So that night the surgeon slept in the village of Raynham. He, too, was
worn out by the fatigue of the past twenty-four hours, and he slept
soundly all through the night, and slept as calmly as a child.
It was eight o'clock next morning when he went down the steep, old-
fashioned staircase of the inn. He found a strange hubbub and confusion
below. Awful tidings had just been brought from the castle. Sir Oswald
Eversleigh had been found seated in his library, DEAD, with the lamp
still burning near him, in the bright summer morning. One of the grooms
had come down to the little inn, and was telling his story to all
comers, when the pedlar came into the open space before the bar.
"It was Millard that found him," the man said. "He was sitting, quite
calm-like, with his head lying back upon the cushion of his arm-chair.
There were papers and open letters scattered all about; and they sent
off immediately for Mr. Dalton, the lawyer, to look to the papers, and
seal up the locks of drawers and desks, and so on. Mr. Dalton is busy
at it now. Mr. Eversleigh is awfully shocked, he is. I never saw such a
white face in all my life as his, when he came out into the hall after
hearing the news. It's a rare fine thing for him, as you may say; for
they say Sir Oswald made a new will last night, and left his nephew
everything; and Mr. Eversleigh has been a regular wild one, and is deep
in debt. But, for all that, I never saw any one so cut up as he was
"Poor Sir Oswald!" cried the bystanders. "Such a noble gentleman as he
was, too. What did he die of Mr. Kimber?--do you know?"
"The doctor says it must have been heart-disease," answered the groom.
"A broken heart, I say; that's the only disease Sir Oswald had. It's my
lady's conduct has killed him. She must have been a regular bad one,
The story of the elopement had been fully discussed on the previous day
at the "Hen and Chickens," and everywhere else in the village of
Raynham. The country gossips shook their heads over Lady Eversleigh's
iniquity, but they said little. This new event was of so appalling a
nature, that it silenced even the tongue of gossip for a while.
The pedlar took his breakfast in the little parlour behind the bar, and
listened quietly to all that was said by the villagers and the groom.
"And where is my lady?" asked the innkeeper; "she came back yesterday,
"Yes, and went away again yesterday afternoon," returned the groom.
"She's got enough to answer for, she has."
* * * * *
Terrible indeed was the consternation, which reigned that day at
Raynham Castle. Already Sir Oswald's guests had been making hasty
arrangements for their departure; and many visitors had departed even
before the discovery of that awful event, which came like a thunderclap
upon all within the castle.
Few men had ever been better liked by his acquaintances than Sir Oswald
His generous nature, his honourable character, had won him every man's
respect. His great wealth had been spent lavishly for the benefit of
others. His hand had always been open to the poor and necessitous. He
had been a kind master, a liberal landlord, an ardent and devoted
friend. There is little wonder, therefore, if the news of his sudden
death fell like an overwhelming blow on all assembled within the
castle, and on many more beyond the castle walls.
The feeling against Honoria Eversleigh was one of unmitigated
execration. No words could be too bitter for those who spoke of Sir
It had been thought on the previous evening that she had left the
castle for ever, banished by the command of her husband. Nothing,
therefore, could have exceeded the surprise which filled every breast
when she entered the crowded hall some minutes after the discovery of
Sir Oswald's death.
Her face was whiter than marble, and its awful whiteness was contrasted
by the black dress which she wore.
"Is this true?" she cried, in accents of despair. "Is he really dead?"
"Yes, Lady Eversleigh," answered General Desmond, an Indian officer,
and an old friend of the dead man, "Sir Oswald is dead."
"Let me go to him! I cannot believe it--I cannot--I cannot!" she cried,
wildly. "Let me go to him!"
Those assembled round the door of the library looked at her with horror
and aversion. To them this semblance of agony seemed only the
consummate artifice of an accomplished hypocrite.
"Let me go to him! For pity's sake, let me see him!" she pleaded, with
clasped hands. "I cannot believe that he is dead."
Reginald Eversleigh was standing by the door of the library, pale as
death--more ghastly of aspect than death itself. He had been leaning
against the doorway, as if unable to support himself; but, as Honoria
approached, he aroused himself from a kind of stupor, and stretched out
his arm to bar her entrance to the death-chamber.
"This is no scene for you, Lady Eversleigh," he said, sternly. "You
have no right to enter that chamber. You have no right to be beneath
"Who dares to banish me?" she asked, proudly. "And who can deny my
"I can do both, as the nearest relative of your dead husband."
"And as the friend of Victor Carrington," answered Honoria, looking
fixedly at her accuser. "Oh! it is a marvellous plot, Reginald
Eversleigh, and it wanted but this to complete it. My disgrace was the
first act in the drama, my husband's death the second. Your friend's
treachery accomplished one, you have achieved the other. Sir Oswald
Eversleigh has been murdered!"
A suppressed cry of horror broke simultaneously from every lip. As the
awful word "murder" was repeated, the doctor, who had been until this
moment beside the dead man, came to the door, and opened it.
"Who was it spoke of murder?" he asked.
"It was I," answered Honoria. "I say that my husband's death is no
sudden stroke from the hand of heaven! There is one here who refuses to
let me see him, lest I should lay my hand upon his corpse and call down
heaven's vengeance on his assassin!"
"The woman is mad," faltered Reginald Eversleigh.
"Look at the speaker," cried Honoria. "I am not mad, Reginald
Eversleigh, though, by you and your fellow-plotter, I have been made to
suffer that which might have turned a stronger brain than mine. I am
not mad. I say that my husband has been murdered; and I ask all present
to mark my words. I have no evidence of what I say, except instinct;
but I know that it does not deceive me. As for you, Reginald
Eversleigh, I refuse to recognize your rights beneath this roof. As the
widow of Sir Oswald, I claim the place of mistress in this house, until
events show whether I have a right to it or not."
These were bold words from one who, in the eyes of all present, was a
disgraced wife, who had been banished by her husband.
General Desmond was the person who took upon himself to reply. He was
the oldest and most important guest now remaining at the castle, and he
was a man who had been much respected by Sir Oswald.
"I certainly do not think that any one here can dispute Lady
Eversleigh's rights, until Sir Oswald's will has been read, and his
last wishes made known. Whatever passed between my poor friend and his
wife yesterday is known to Lady Eversleigh alone. It is for her to
settle matters with her own conscience; and if she chooses to remain
beneath this roof, no one here can presume to banish her from it,
except in obedience to the dictates of the dead."
"The wishes of the dead will soon be known," said Reginald; "and then
that guilty woman will no longer dare to pollute this house by her
"I do not fear, Reginald Eversleigh," answered Honoria, with sublime
calmness. "Let the worst come. I abide the issue of events. I wait to
see whether iniquity is to succeed; or whether, at the last moment, the
hand of Providence will be outstretched to confound the guilty. My
faith is strong in Providence, Mr. Eversleigh. And now stand aside, if
you please, and let me look upon the face of my husband."
This time, Reginald Eversleigh did not venture to dispute the widow's
right to enter the death-chamber. He made way for her to pass him, and
she went in and knelt by the side of the dead. Mr. Dalton, the lawyer,
was moving softly about the room, putting seals on all the locks, and
collecting the papers that had been scattered on the table. The parish
doctor, who had been summoned hastily, stood near the corpse. A groom
had been despatched to a large town, twenty miles distant, to summon a
medical man of some distinction. There were few railroads in those
days; no electric telegraph to summon a man from one end of the country
to another. But all the most distinguished doctors who ever lived could
not have restored Sir Oswald Eversleigh to an hour's life. All that
medical science could do now, was to discover the mode of the baronet's
The crowd left the hall by and by, and the interior of the castle grew
more tranquil. All the remaining guests, with the exception of General
Desmond, made immediate arrangements for leaving the house of death.
General Desmond declared his intention of remaining until after the
"I may be of some use in watching the interests of my dear friend," he
said to Reginald Eversleigh. "There is only one person who will feel
your uncle's death more deeply than I shall, and that is poor old
Copplestone. He is still in the castle, I suppose?"
"Yes, he is confined to his rooms still by the gout."
Reginald Eversleigh was by no means pleased by the general's decision.
He would rather have been alone in the castle. It seemed as if his
uncle's old friend was inclined to take the place of master in the
household. The young man's pride revolted against the general's love of
dictation; and his fears--strange and terrible fears--made the presence
of the general very painful to him.
Joseph Millard had come to Reginald a little time after the discovery
of the baronet's death, and had told him the contents of the new will.
"Master told us with his own lips that he had left you heir to the
estates, sir," said the valet. "There was no need for it to be kept a
secret, he said; and we signed the will as witnesses--Peterson, the
butler, and me."
"And you are sure you have made no mistake, Millard. Sir Oswald--my
poor, poor uncle, said that?"
"He said those very words, Mr. Eversleigh; and I hope, sir, now that
you are master of Raynham, you won't forget that I was always anxious
for your interests, and gave you valuable information, sir, when I
little thought you would ever inherit the estate, sir."
"Yes, yes--you will not find me ungrateful, Millard," answered
Reginald, impatiently; for in the terrible agitation of his mind, this
man's talk jarred upon him. "I shall reward you liberally for past
services, you may depend upon it," he added.
"Thank you very much, sir," murmured the valet, about to retire.
"Stay, Millard," said the young man. "You have been with my uncle
twenty years. You must know everything about his health. Did you ever
hear that he suffered from heart-disease?"
"No, sir; he never did suffer from anything of the kind. There never
was a stronger gentleman than Sir Oswald. In all the years that I have
known him, I don't recollect his having a day's serious illness. And as
to his dying of disease of the heart, I can't believe it, Mr.
"But in heart-complaint death is almost always sudden, and the disease
is generally unsuspected until death reveals it."
"Well, I don't know, sir. Of course the medical gentlemen understand
such things; but I must say that _I_ don't understand Sir Oswald going
off sudden like that."
"You'd better keep your opinions to yourself down stairs, Millard. If
an idea of that kind were to get about in the servants' hall, it might
"I should be the last to speak, Mr. Eversleigh. You asked me for my
opinion, and I gave it you, candid. But as to expressing my sentiments
in the servants' hall, I should as soon think of standing on my head.
In the first place, I don't take my meals in the servants' hall, but in
the steward's room; and it's very seldom I hold any communication
whatever with under-servants. It don't do, Mr. Eversleigh--you may
think me 'aughty; but it don't do. If upper-servants want to be
respected by under-servants, they must first respect themselves."
"Well, well, Millard; I know I can rely upon your discretion. You can
leave me now--my mind is quite unhinged by this dreadful event."
No sooner had the valet departed than Reginald hurried from the castle,
and walked across the garden to the gate by which he had encountered
Victor Carrington on the previous day. He had no appointment with
Victor, and did not even know if he were still in the neighbourhood;
but he fancied it was just possible the surgeon might be waiting for
him somewhere without the boundary of the garden.
He was not mistaken. A few minutes after passing through the gateway,
he saw the figure of the pedlar approaching him under the shade of the
"I am glad you are here," said Reginald; "I fancied I might find you
"And I have been waiting and watching about here for the last two
hours. I dared not trust a messenger, and could only take my chance of
"You have heard of--of--"
"I have heard everything, I believe."
"What does it mean, Victor?--what does it all mean?"
"It means that you are a wonderfully lucky fellow; and that, instead of
waiting thirty years to see your uncle grow a semi-idiotic old dotard,
you will step at once into one of the finest estates in England."
"You knew, then, that the will was made last night?"
"Well, I guessed as much."
"You have seen Millard?"
"No, I have not seen Millard."
"How could you know of my uncle's will, then? It was only executed last
"Never mind how I know it, my dear Reginald. I do know it. Let that be
enough for you."
"It is too terrible," murmured the young man, after a pause; "it is too
"What is too terrible?"
"This sudden death."
"Is it?" cried Victor Carrington, looking full in his companion's face,
with an expression of supreme scorn. "Would you rather have waited
thirty years for these estates? Would you rather have waited twenty
years?--ten years? No, Reginald Eversleigh, you would not. I know you
better than you know yourself, and I will answer for you in this
matter. If your uncle's life had lain in your open palm last night, and
the closing of your hand would have ended it, your hand would have
closed, Mr. Eversleigh, affectionate nephew though you be. You are a
hypocrite, Reginald. You palter with your own conscience. Better to be
like me and have no conscience, than to have one and palter with it as
Reginald made no reply to this disdainful speech. His own weakness of
character placed him entirely in the power of his friend. The two men
walked on together in silence.
"You do not know all that has occurred since last night at the castle,"
said Reginald, at last; "Lady Eversleigh has reappeared."
"Lady Eversleigh! I thought she left Raynham yesterday afternoon."
"So it was generally supposed; but this morning she came into the hall,
and demanded to be admitted to see her dead husband. Nor was this all.
She publicly declared that he had been murdered, and accused me of the
crime. This is terrible, Victor."
"It is terrible, and it must be put an end to at once."
"But how is it to be put an end to?" asked Reginald. "If this woman
repeats her accusations, who is to seal her lips?"
"The tables must be turned upon her. If she again accuses you, you must
accuse her. If Sir Oswald were indeed murdered, who so likely to have
committed the murder as this woman--whose hatred and revenge were, no
doubt, excited by her husband's refusal to receive her back, after her
disgraceful flight? This is what you have to say; and as every one's
opinion is against Lady Eversleigh, she will find herself in rather an
unpleasant position, and will be glad to hold her peace for the future
upon the subject of Sir Oswald's death."
"You do not doubt my uncle died a natural death, do you, Victor?" asked
Reginald, with a strange eagerness. "You do not think that he was
"No, indeed. Why should I think so?" returned the surgeon, with perfect
calmness of manner. "No one in the castle, but you and Lady Eversleigh,
had any interest in his life or death. If he came to his end by any
foul means, she must be the guilty person, and on her the deed must be
fixed. You must hold firm, Reginald, remember."
The two men parted soon after this; but not before they had appointed
to meet on the following day, at the same hour, and on the same spot.
Reginald Eversleigh returned to the castle, gloomy and ill at ease, and
on entering the house he discovered that the doctor from Plimborough
had arrived during his absence, and was to remain until the following
day, when his evidence would be required at the inquest.
It was Joseph Millard who told him this.
"The inquest! What inquest?" asked Reginald.
"The coroner's inquest, sir. It is to be held to-morrow in the great
dining-room. Sir Oswald died so suddenly, you see, sir, that it's only
natural there should be an inquest. I'm sorry to say there's a talk
about his having committed suicide, poor gentleman!"
"Suicide--yes--yes--that is possible; he may have committed suicide,"
"It's very dreadful, isn't it, sir? The two doctors and Mr. Dalton, the
lawyer, are together in the library. The body has been moved into the
The lawyer emerged from the library at this moment, and approached
"Can I speak with you for a few minutes, Mr. Eversleigh?" he asked.
He went into the library, where he found the two doctors, and another
person, whom he had not expected to see.
This was a country gentleman--a wealthy landed squire and magistrate--
whom Reginald Eversleigh had known from his boyhood. His name was
Gilbert Ashburne; and he was an individual of considerable importance
in the neighbourhood of Raynham, near which village he had a fine
Mr. Ashburne was standing with his back to the empty fireplace, in
conversation with one of the medical men, when Reginald entered the
room. He advanced a few paces, to shake hands with the young man, and
then resumed his favourite magisterial attitude, leaning against the
chimney-piece, with his hands in his trousers' pockets.
"My dear Eversleigh," he said, "this is a very terrible affair--very
"Yes, Mr. Ashburne, my uncle's sudden death is indeed terrible."
"But the manner of his death! It is not the suddenness only, but the
"You forget, Mr. Ashburne," interposed one of the medical men, "Mr.
Eversleigh knows nothing of the facts which I have stated to you."
"Ah, he does not! I was not aware of that. You have no suspicion of any
foul play in this sad business, eh, Mr. Eversleigh?" asked the
"No," answered Reginald. "There is only one person I could possibly
suspect; and that person has herself given utterance to suspicions that
sound like the ravings of madness."
"You mean Lady Eversleigh?" said the Raynham doctor.
"Pardon me," said Mr. Ashburne; "but this business is altogether so
painful that it obliges me to touch upon painful subjects. Is there any
truth in the report which I have heard of Lady Eversleigh's flight on
the evening of some rustic gathering?"
"Unhappily, the report has only too good a foundation. My uncle's wife
did take flight with a lover on the night before last; but she returned
yesterday, and had an interview with her husband. What took place at
that interview I cannot tell you; but I imagine that my uncle forbade
her to remain beneath his roof. Immediately after she had left him, he
sent for me, and announced his determination to reinstate me in my old
position as his heir. He would not, I am sure, have done this, had he
believed his wife innocent."
"And she left the castle at his bidding?"
"It was supposed that she left the castle; but this morning she
reappeared, and claimed the right to remain beneath this roof."
"And where had she passed the night?"
"Not in her own apartments. Of that I have been informed by her maid,
who believed that she had left Raynham for good."
"Strange!" exclaimed the magistrate. "If she is guilty, why does she
remain here, where her guilt is known--where she maybe suspected of a
crime, and the most terrible of crimes?"
"Of what crime?"
"Of murder, Mr. Eversleigh. I regret to tell you that these two medical
gentlemen concur in the opinion that your uncle's death was caused by
poison. A _post-mortem_ examination will be made to-night."
"Upon what evidence?"
"On the evidence of an empty glass, which is under lock and key in
yonder cabinet," answered the doctor from Plimborough; "and at the
bottom of which I found traces of one of the most powerful poisons
known to those who are skilled in the science of toxicology: and on the
further evidence of diagnostics which I need not explain--the evidence
of the dead man's appearance, Mr. Eversleigh. That your uncle died from
the effects of poison, there cannot be the smallest doubt. The next
question to be considered is, whether that poison was administered by
his own hand, or the hand of an assassin."
"He may have committed suicide," said Reginald, with some hesitation.
"It is just possible," answered Gilbert Ashburne; "though from my
knowledge of your uncle's character, I should imagine it most unlikely.
At any rate, his papers will reveal the state of his mind immediately
before his death. It is my suggestion, therefore, that his papers
should be examined immediately by you, as his nearest relative and
acknowledged heir--by me, as magistrate of the district, and in the
presence of Mr. Dalton, who was your uncle's confidential solicitor.
Have you any objection to offer to this course, Mr. Eversleigh, or Sir
Reginald, as I suppose I ought now to call you?" It was the first time
Reginald Eversleigh had heard himself addressed by the title which was
now his own--that title which, borne by the possessor of a great
fortune, bestows so much dignity; but which, when held by a poor man,
is so hollow a mockery. In spite of his fears--in spite of that sense
of remorse which had come upon him since his uncle's death--the sound
of the title was pleasant to his ears, and he stood for the moment
silent, overpowered by the selfish rapture of gratified pride.
The magistrate repeated his question.
"Have you any objection to offer, Sir Reginald?"
"None whatever, Mr. Ashburne."
Reginald Eversleigh was only too glad to accede to the magistrate's
proposition. He was feverishly anxious to see the will which was to
make him master of Raynham. He knew that such a will had been duly
executed. He had no reason to fear that it had been destroyed; but
still he wanted to see it--to hold it in his hands, to have
incontestable proof of its existence.
The examination of the papers was serious work. The lawyer suggested
that the first to be scrutinized should be those that he had found on
the table at which Sir Oswald had been writing.
The first of these papers which came into the magistrate's hand was
Mary Goodwin's letter. Reginald Eversleigh recognized the familiar
handwriting, the faded ink, and crumpled paper. He stretched out his
hand at the moment Gilbert Ashburne was about to examine the document.
"That is a letter," he said, "a strictly private letter, which I
recognize. It is addressed to me, as you will see; and posted in Paris
nearly two years ago. I must beg you not to read it."
"Very well, Sir Reginald, I will take your word for it. The letter has
nothing to do with the subject of our present inquiry. Certainly, a
letter, posted in Paris two years ago, can scarcely have any connection
with the state of your uncle's mind last night."
The magistrate little thought how very important an influence that
crumpled sheet of paper had exercised upon the events of the previous
Gilbert Ashburne and the lawyer examined the rest of the packet. There
were no papers of importance; nothing throwing any light upon late
events, except Lady Eversleigh's letter, and the will made by the
baronet immediately after his marriage.
"There is another and a later will," said Reginald, eagerly; "a will
made last night, and witnessed by Millard and Peterson. This earlier
will ought to have been destroyed."
"It is not of the least consequence, Sir Reginald," replied the
solicitor. "The will of latest date is the true one, if there should be
a dozen in existence."
"We had better search for the will made last night," said Reginald,
The magistrate and the lawyer complied. They perceived the anxiety of
the expectant heir, and gave way to it. The search occupied a long
time, but no second will was found; the only will that could be
discovered was that made within a week of the baronet's marriage.
"The will attested last night must be in this room," exclaimed
Reginald. "I will send for Millard; and you shall hear from his lips an
exact account of what occurred."
The young man tried in vain to conceal the feeling of alarm which had
taken possession of him. What would be his position if this will should
not be found? A beggar, steeped in crime.
He rang the bell and sent for the valet. Joseph Millard came, and
repeated his account of the previous night's transaction. It was clear
that the will had been made. It was equally clear that if it were still
in existence, it must be found in that room, for the valet declared
that his master had not left the library after the execution of the
"I was on the watch and on the listen all night, you see, gentlemen,"
said Joseph Millard; "for I was very uneasy about master, knowing what
trouble had come upon him, and how he'd never been to bed all the night
before. I thought he might call me at any minute, so I kept close at
hand. There's a little room next to this, and I sat in there with the
door open, and though I dropped off into a doze now and then, I never
was sound enough asleep not to have heard this door open, if it did
open. But I'll take my Bible oath that Sir Oswald never left this room
after me and Peterson witnessed the will."
"Then the will must be somewhere in the room, and it will be our
business to find it," answered Mr. Ashburne. "That will do, Millard;
you can go."
The valet retired.
Reginald recommenced the search for the will, assisted by the
magistrate and the lawyer, while the two doctors stood by the fire-
place, talking together in suppressed tones.
This time the search left no crevice unexamined. But all was done
without avail; and despair began to gain upon Reginald Eversleigh.
What if all the crime, the falsehood, the infamy of the past few days
had been committed for no result?
He was turning over the papers in the bureau for the third or fourth
time, with trembling hands, in the desperate hope that somehow or other
the missing will might have escaped former investigations, when he was
arrested by a sudden exclamation from Mr. Missenden, the Plimborough
"I don't think you need look any farther, Sir Reginald," said this
"What do you mean?" cried Reginald, eagerly.
"I believe the will is found."
"Thank Heaven!" exclaimed the young man.
"You mistake, Sir Reginald," said Mr. Missenden, who was kneeling by
the fire-place, looking intently at some object in the polished steel
fender; "if I am right, and that this really is the document in
question, I fear it will be of very little use to you."
"It has been destroyed!" gasped Reginald.
"I fear so. This looks to me like the fragment of a will."
He handed Reginald a scrap of paper, which he had found amongst a heap
of grey ashes. It was scorched to a deep yellow colour, and burnt at
the edges; but the few words written upon it were perfectly legible,
These words were the following:--
"--_Nephew, Reginald Eversleigh--Raynham Castle estate--all lands and
tenements appertaining--sole use and benefit_--"
This was all. Reginald gazed at the scrap of scorched paper with wild,
dilated eyes. All hope was gone; there could be little doubt that this
morsel of paper was all that remained of Sir Oswald Eversleigh's latest
And the will made previously bequeathed Raynham to the testator's
window, a handsome fortune to each of the two Dales, and a pittance of
five hundred a-year to Reginald.
The young man sank into a chair, stricken down by this overwhelming
blow. His white face was the very picture of despair.
"My uncle never destroyed this document," he exclaimed; "I will not
believe it. Some treacherous hand has been thrust between me and my
rights. Why should Sir Oswald have made a will in one hour and
destroyed it in the next? What could have influenced him to alter his
As he uttered these words, Reginald Eversleigh remembered that fatal
letter of Mary Goodwin, which had been found lying uppermost amongst
the late baronet's papers. That letter had caused Sir Oswald to
disinherit his nephew once. Was it possible that the same letter had
influenced him a second time?
But the disappointed man did not suffer himself to dwell long on this
subject. He thought of his uncle's widow, and the triumph that she had
won over the schemers who had plotted so basely to achieve her
destruction. A savage fury filled his soul as he thought of Honoria.
"This will has been destroyed by the one person most interested in its
destruction," he cried. "Who can doubt now that my uncle was poisoned,
and the will destroyed by the same person?--and who can doubt that
person to be Lady Eversleigh?"
"My dear sir," exclaimed Mr. Ashburne, "this really will not do. I
cannot listen to such accusations, unsupported by any evidence."
"What evidence do you need, except the evidence of truth?" cried
Reginald, passionately. "Who else was interested in the destruction of
that paper?--who else was likely to desire my uncle's death? Who but
his false and guilty wife? She had been banished from beneath this
roof; she was supposed to have left the castle; but instead of going
away, she remained in hiding, waiting her chances. If there has been a
murder committed, who can doubt that she is the murderess? Who can
question that it was she who burnt the will which robbed her of wealth
and station, and branded her with disgrace?"
"You are too impetuous, Sir Reginald," returned the magistrate. "I will
own there are grounds for suspicion in the circumstances of which you
speak; but in such a terrible affair as this there must be no jumping
at conclusions. However, the death of your uncle by poison immediately
after the renunciation of his wife, and the burning of the will which
transferred the estates from her to you, are, when considered in
conjunction, so very mysterious--not to say suspicious--that I shall
consider myself justified in issuing a warrant for the detention of
Lady Eversleigh, upon suspicion of being concerned in the death of her
husband. I shall hold an inquiry here to-morrow, immediately after the
coroner's inquest, and shall endeavour to sift matters most thoroughly.
If Lady Eversleigh is innocent, her temporary arrest can do her no
harm. She will not be called upon to leave her own apartments; and very
few outside the castle, or, indeed, within it, need be aware of her
arrest. I think I will wait upon her myself, and explain the painful
"Yes, and be duped by her plausible tongue," cried Reginald bitterly."
She completely bewitched my poor uncle. Do you know that he picked her
up out of the gutter, and knew no more of her past life than he knew of
the inhabitants of the other planets? If you see her, she will fool you
as she fooled him."
"I am not afraid of her witcheries," answered the magistrate, with
dignity. "I shall do my duty, Sir Reginald, you may depend upon it."
Reginald Eversleigh said no more. He left the library without uttering
a word to any of the gentlemen. The despair which had seized upon him
was too terrible for words. Alone, locked in his own room, he gnashed
his teeth in agony.
"Fools! dolts! idiots that we have been, with all our deeply-laid plots
and subtle scheming," he cried, as he paced up and down the room in a
paroxysm of mad rage, "She triumphs in spite of us--she can laugh us to
scorn! And Victor Carrington, the man whose intellect was to conquer
impossibilities, what a shallow fool he has shown himself, after all! I
thought there was something superhuman in his success, so strangely did
fate seem to favour his scheming; and now, at the last--when the cup
was at my lips--it is snatched away, and dashed to the ground!"
* * * * *
A FRIEND IN NEED.
While the new baronet abandoned himself to the anguish of disappointed
avarice and ambition, Honoria sat quietly in her own apartments,
brooding very sadly over her husband's death.
She had loved him honestly and truly. No younger lover had ever won
possession of her heart. Her life, before her meeting with Sir Oswald,
had been too miserable for the indulgence of the romantic dreams or
poetic fancies of girlhood. The youthful feelings of this woman, who
called herself Honoria, had been withered by the blasting influence of
crime. It was only when gratitude for Sir Oswald's goodness melted the
ice of that proud nature--it was then only that Honoria's womanly
tenderness awoke--it was then only that affection--a deep-felt and pure
affection--for the first time occupied her heart.
That affection was all the more intense in its nature because it was
the first love of a noble heart. Honoria had reverenced in her husband
all that she had ever known of manly virtue.
And he was lost to her! He had died believing her false.
"I could have borne anything but that," she thought, in her desolation.
The magistrate came to her, and explained the painful necessity under
which he found himself placed. But he did not tell her of the
destruction of the will, nor yet that the medical men had pronounced
decisively as to Sir Oswald's death. He only told her that there were
suspicious circumstances connected with that death; and that it was
considered necessary there should he a careful investigation of those
"The investigation cannot be too complete," replied Honoria, eagerly.
"I know that there has been foul play, and that the best and noblest of
men has fallen a victim to the hand of an assassin. Oh, sir, if you are
able to distinguish truth from falsehood, I implore you to listen to
the story which my poor husband refused to believe--the story of the
basest treachery that was ever plotted against a helpless woman!"
Mr. Ashburne declared himself willing to hear any statement Lady
Eversleigh might wish to make; but he warned her that it was just
possible that statement might be used against her hereafter.
Honoria told him the circumstances which she had related to Sir Oswald;
the false alarm about her husband, the drive to Yarborough Tower, and
the night of agony spent within the ruins; but, to her horror, she
perceived that this man also disbelieved her. The story seemed wild and
improbable, and people had already condemned her. They were prepared to
hear a fabrication from her lips; and the truth which she had to tell
seemed the most clumsy and shallow of inventions.
Gilbert Ashburne did not tell her that he doubted her; but, polite as
his words were, she could read the indications of distrust in his face.
She could see that he thought worse of her after having heard the
statement which was her sole justification.
"And where is this Mr. Carrington now to be found?" he asked,
presently. "I do not know. Having accomplished his base plot, and
caused his friend's restoration to the estates, I suppose he has taken
care to go far away from the scene of his infamy."
The magistrate looked searchingly at her face. Was this acting, or was
she ignorant of the destruction of the will? Did she, indeed, believe
that the estates were lost to herself?
* * * * *
Before the hour at which the coroner's inquest was to be held in the
great dining-room, Reginald Eversleigh and Victor Carrington met at the
appointed spot in the avenue of firs.
One glance at his friend's face informed Victor that some fatal event
had occurred since the previous day. Reginald told him, in brief,
passionate words, of the destruction of the will.
"You are a clever schemer, no doubt, Mr. Carrington," he added,
bitterly; "but clever as you are, you have been outwitted as completely
as the veriest fool that ever blundered into ruin. Do you understand,
Carrington--we are not richer by one halfpenny for all your scheming?"
Carrington was silent for awhile; but when, after a considerable pause,
he at length spoke, his voice betrayed a despair as intense in its
quiet depth as the louder passion of his companion.
"I cannot believe it," he exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper. "I tell you,
man, you must, have made some senseless mistake. The will cannot have
"I had the fragments in my hand," answered Reginald. "I saw my name
written on the worthless scrap of burnt paper. All that was left
besides that wretched fragment were the ashes in the grate."
"I saw the will executed--I saw it--within a few hours of Sir Oswald's
"You saw it done?"
"Yes, I was outside the window of the library."
"And you--! oh, it is too horrible," cried Reginald.
"What is too horrible?"
"The deed that was done that night."
"That deed is no business of ours," answered Victor; "the person who
destroyed the will was your uncle's assassin, if he died by the hand of
"Do you really believe that, Carrington; or are you only fooling me?"
"What else should I believe?"
The two men parted. Reginald Eversleigh knew that his presence would be
required at the coroner's inquest. The surgeon did not attempt to
For the time, at least, this arch-plotter found himself suddenly
brought to a stand-still.
The inquest commenced almost immediately after Reginald's return to the
The first witness examined was the valet, who had been the person to
discover the death; the next were the two medical men, whose evidence
was of a most important nature.
It was a closed court, and no one was admitted who was not required to
give evidence. Lady Eversleigh sat at the opposite end of the table to
that occupied by the coroner. She had declined to avail herself of the
services of any legal adviser. She had declared her determination to
trust in her own innocence, and in that alone. Proud, calm, and self-
possessed, she confronted the solemn assembly, and did not shrink from
the scrutinizing looks that met her eyes in every direction.
Reginald Eversleigh contemplated her with a feeling of murderous
hatred, as he took his place at some little distance from her seat.
The evidence of Mr. Missenden was to the effect that Sir Oswald
Eversleigh had died from the effects of a subtle and little-known
poison. He had discovered traces of this poison in the empty glass
which had been found upon the table beside the dead man, and he had
discovered further traces of the same poison in the stomach of the
After the medical witnesses had both been examined, Peterson, the
butler, was sworn. He related the facts connected with the execution of
the will, and further stated that it was he who had carried the carafe
of water, claret-jug, and the empty glass to Sir Oswald.
"Did you fetch the water yourself?" asked the coroner.
"Yes, your worship--Sir Oswald was very particular about the water
being iced--I took it from a filter in my own charge."
"And the glass?"
"I took the glass from my own pantry."
"Are you sure that there was nothing in the glass when you took the
salver to you master?"
"Quite sure, sir. I'm very particular about having all my glass bright
and clear--it's the under butler's duty to see to that, and it's my
duty to keep him up to his work. I should have seen in a moment if the
glass had been dull and smudgy at the bottom."
The water remaining in the carafe had been examined by the medical
witnesses, and had been declared by them to be perfectly pure. The
claret had been untouched. The poison could, therefore, have only been
introduced to the baronet's room in the glass; and the butler protested
that no one but himself and his assistant had access to the place in
which the glass had been kept.
How, then, could the baronet have been poisoned, except by his own
Reginald Eversleigh was one of the last witnesses examined. He told of
the interview between himself and his uncle, on the day preceding Sir
Oswald's death. He told of Lydia Graham's revelations--he told
everything calculated to bring disgrace upon the woman who sat, pale
and silent, confronting her fate.
She seemed unmoved by these scandalous revelations. She had passed
through such bitter agony within the last few days and nights, that it
seemed to her as if nothing could have power to move her more.
She had endured the shame of her husband's distrust. The man she loved
so dearly had cast her from him with disdain and aversion. What new
agony could await her equal to that through which she had passed.
Reginald Eversleigh's hatred and rage betrayed him into passing the
limits of prudence. He told the story of the destroyed will, and boldly
accused Lady Eversleigh of having destroyed it.
"You forget yourself, Sir Reginald," said the coroner; "you are here as
a witness, and not as an accuser."
"But am I to keep silence, when I know that yonder woman is guilty of a
crime by which I am robbed of my heritage?" cried the young man,
passionately. "Who but she was interested in the destruction of that
will? Who had so strong a motive for wishing my uncle's death? Why was
she hiding in the castle after her pretended departure, except for some
guilty purpose? She left her own apartments before dusk, after writing
a farewell letter to her husband. Where was she, and what was she
doing, after leaving those apartments?"
"Let me answer those questions, Sir Reginald Eversleigh," said a voice
from the doorway.
The young baronet turned and recognized the speaker. It was his uncle's
old friend, Captain Copplestone, who had made his way into the room
unheard while Reginald had been giving his evidence. He was still
seated in his invalid-chair--still unable to move without its aid.
"Let me answer those questions," he repeated. "I have only just heard
of Lady Eversleigh's painful position. I beg to be sworn immediately,
for my evidence may be of some importance to that lady."
Reginald sat down, unable to contest the captain's right to be heard,
though he would fain have done so.
Lady Eversleigh for the first time that day gave evidence of some
slight emotion. She raised her eyes to Captain Copplestone's bronzed
face with a tearful glance, expressive of gratitude and confidence.
The captain was duly sworn, and then proceeded to give his evidence, in
brief, abrupt sentences, without waiting to be questioned.
"You ask where Lady Eversleigh spent the night of her husband's death,
and how she spent it. I can answer both those questions. She spent that
night in my room, nursing a sick old man, who was mad with the tortures
of rheumatic gout, and weeping over Sir Oswald's refusal to believe in
"You'll ask, perhaps, how she came to be in my apartments on that
night. I'll answer you in a few words. Before leaving the castle she
came to my room, and asked my old servant to admit her. She had been
very kind and attentive to me throughout my illness. My servant is a
gruff and tough old fellow, but he is grateful for any kindness that's
shown to his master. He admitted Lady Eversleigh to see me, ill as I
was. She told me the whole story which she told her husband. 'He
refused to believe me, Captain Copplestone,' she said; 'he who once
loved me so dearly refused to believe me. So I come to you, his best
and oldest friend, in the hope that you may think better of me; and
that some day, when I am far away, and time has softened my husband's
heart towards me, you may speak a good word in my behalf.' And I did
believe her. Yes, Mr. Eversleigh--or Sir Reginald Eversleigh--I did,
and I do, believe that lady."
"Captain Copplestone," said the coroner; "we really do not require all
these particulars; the question is--when did Lady Eversleigh enter your
rooms, and when did she quit them?"
"She came to me at dusk, and she did not leave my rooms until the next
morning, after the discovery of my poor friend's death. When she had
told me her story, and her intention of leaving the castle immediately,
I begged her to remain until the next day. She would be safe in my
rooms, I told her. No one but myself and my old servant would know that
she had not really left the castle; and the next day, when Sir Oswald's
passion had been calmed by reflection, I should be able, perhaps, to
intercede successfully for the wife whose innocence I most implicitly
believed, in spite of all the circumstances that had conspired to
condemn her. Lady Eversleigh knew my influence over her husband; and,
after some persuasion, consented to take my advice. My diabolical gout
happened to be a good deal worse than usual that night, and my friend's
wife assisted my servant to nurse me, with the patience of an angel, or
a sister of charity. From the beginning to the end of that fatal night
she never left my apartments. She entered my room before the will could
have been executed, and she did not leave it until after her husband's
"Your evidence is conclusive, Captain Copplestone, and it exonerates
her ladyship from all suspicion," said the coroner.
"My evidence can be confirmed in every particular by my old servant,
Solomon Grundy," said the captain, "if it requires confirmation."
"It requires none, Captain Copplestone."
Reginald Eversleigh gnawed his bearded lip savagely. This man's
evidence proved that Lady Eversleigh had not destroyed the will. Sir
Oswald himself, therefore, must have burned the precious document. And
for what reason?
A horrible conviction now took possession of the young baronet's mind.
He believed that Mary Goodwin's letter had been for the second time
instrumental in the destruction of his prospects. A fatal accident had
thrown it in his uncle's way after the execution of the will, and the
sight of that letter had recalled to Sir Oswald the stern resolution at
which he had arrived in Arlington Street.
Utter ruin stared Reginald Eversleigh in the face. The possessor of an
empty title, and of an income which, to a man of his expensive habits,
was the merest pittance, he saw before him a life of unmitigated
wretchedness. But he did not execrate his own sins and vices for the
misery which they had brought upon him. He cursed the failure of Victor
Carrington's schemes, and thought of himself as the victim of Victor
The verdict of the coroner's jury was an open one, to the effect that
"Sir Oswald Eversleigh died by poison, but by whom administered there
was no evidence to show."
The general opinion of those who had listened to the evidence was that
the baronet had committed suicide. Public opinion around and about
Raynham was terribly against his widow. Sir Oswald had been universally
esteemed and respected, and his melancholy end was looked on as her
work. She had been acquitted of any positive hand is his death; but she
was not acquitted of the guilt of having broken his heart by her
Her obscure origin, her utter friendlessness, influenced people against
her. What must be the past life of this woman, who, in the hour of her
widowhood, had not one friend to come forward to support and protect
The world always chooses to see the darker side of the picture. Nobody
for a moment imagined that Honoria Eversleigh might possibly be the
innocent victim of the villany of others.
The funeral of Sir Oswald Eversleigh was conducted with all the pomp
and splendour befitting the burial of a man whose race had held the
land for centuries, with untarnished fame and honour. The day of the
funeral was dark, cold, and gloomy; stormy winds howled and shrieked
among the oaks and beeches of Raynham Park. The tall firs in the avenue
were tossed to and fro in the blast, like the funereal plumes of that
stately hearse which was to issue at noon from the quadrangle of the
It was difficult to believe that less than a fortnight had elapsed
since that bright and balmy day on which the picnic had been held at
the Wizard's Cave.
Lady Eversleigh had declared her intention of following her husband to
his last resting-place. She had been told that it was unusual for women
of the higher classes to take part in a funeral _cortege_; but she had
stedfastly adhered to her resolution.
"You tell me it is not the fashion!" she said to Mr. Ashburne. "I do
not care for fashion, I would offer the last mark of respect and
affection to the husband who was my dearest and truest friend upon this
earth, and without whom the earth is very desolate for me. If the dead
pass at once into those heavenly regions were Divine Wisdom reigns
supreme over all mortal weakness, the emancipated spirit of him who
goes to his tomb this day knows that my love, my faith, never faltered.
If I had wronged him as the world believes, Mr. Ashburne, I must,
indeed, be the most hardened of wretches to insult the dead by my
presence. Accept my determination as a proof of my innocence, if you
"The question of your guilt or innocence is a dark enigma which I
cannot take upon myself to solve, Lady Eversleigh," answered Gilbert
Ashburne, gravely. "It would be an unspeakable relief to my mind if I
could think you innocent. Unhappily, circumstances combine to condemn
you in such a manner that even Christian charity can scarcely admit the
possibility of your innocence."
"Yes," murmured the widow, sadly, "I am the victim of a plot so
skilfully devised, so subtly woven, that I can scarcely wonder if the
world refuses to believe me guiltless. And yet you see that honourable
soldier, that brave and true-hearted gentleman, Captain Copplestone,
does not think me the wretch I seem to be.
"Captain Copplestone is a man who allows himself to be guided by his
instincts and impulses, and who takes a pride in differing from his
fellow-men. I am a man of the world, and I am unable to form any
judgment which is not justified by facts. If facts combine to condemn
you, Lady Eversleigh, you must not think me harsh or cruel if I cannot
bring myself to acquit you."
During the preceding conversation Honoria Eversleigh had revealed the
most gentle, the most womanly side of her character. There had been a
pleading tone in her voice, an appealing softness in her glances. But
now the expression of her face changed all at once; the beautiful
countenance grew cold and stern, the haughty lip quivered with the
agony of offended pride.
"Enough!" she said. "I will never again trouble you, Mr. Ashburne, by
entreating your merciful consideration. Let your judgment be the
judgment of the world. I am content to await the hour of my
justification; I am content to trust in Time, the avenger of all
wrongs, and the consoler of all sorrows. In the meanwhile, I will stand
alone--a woman without a friend, a woman who has to fight her own
battles with the world."
Gilbert Ashburne could not withhold his respect from the woman who
stood before him, queen-like in her calm dignity.
"She may be the basest and vilest of her sex," he thought to himself,
as he left her presence; "but she is a woman whom it is impossible to
The funeral procession was to leave Raynham at noon. At eleven o'clock
the arrival of Mr. Dale and Mr. Douglas Dale was announced. These two
gentlemen had just arrived at the castle, and the elder of the two
requested the favour of an interview with his uncle's widow.
She was seated in one of the apartments which had been allotted to her
especial use when she arrived, a proud and happy bride, from her brief
honeymoon tour. It was the spacious morning-room which had been sacred
to the late Lady Eversleigh, Sir Oswald's mother.
Here the widow sat in the hour of her desolation, unhonoured, unloved,
without friend or counsellor; unless, indeed, the gallant soldier who
had defended her from the suspicion of a hideous crime might stoop to
befriend her further in her bitter need. She sat alone, uncertain,
after the reading of the dead man's will, whether she might not be
thrust forth from the doors of Raynham Castle, shelterless, homeless,
penniless, once more a beggar and an outcast.
Her heart was so cruelly stricken by the crushing blow that had fallen
upon her; the grief she felt for her husband's untimely fate was so
deep and sincere, that she thought but little of her own future. She
had ceased to feel either hope or fear. Let fate do its worst. No
sorrow that could come to her in the future, no disgrace, no
humiliation, could equal in bitterness that fiery ordeal through which
she had passed during the last few days.
Lionel Dale was ushered into the morning-room while Lady Eversleigh sat
by the hearth, absorbed in gloomy thought.
She rose as Lionel Dale entered the room, and received him with stately
She was prepared to find herself despised by this young man, who would,
in all probability, very speedily learn, or who had perhaps already
learned, the story of her degradation.
She was prepared to find herself misjudged by him. But he was the
nephew of the man who had once so devotedly loved her; the husband
whose memory was hallowed for her; and she was determined to receive
him with all respect, for the sake of the beloved and honoured dead.
"You are doubtless surprised to see me here, madam," said Mr. Dale, in
a tone whose chilling accent told Honoria that this stranger was
already prejudiced against her. "I have received no invitation to take
part in the sad ceremonial of to-day, either from you or from Sir
Reginald Eversleigh. But I loved Sir Oswald very dearly, and I am here
to pay the last poor tribute of respect to that honoured and generous
"Permit me thank you for that tribute," answered Lady Eversleigh. "If I
did not invite you and your brother to attend the funeral, it was from
no wish to exclude you. My desires have been in no manner consulted
with regard to the arrangements of to-day. Very bitter misery has
fallen upon me within the last fortnight--heaven alone knows how
undeserved that misery has been--and I know not whether this roof will
shelter me after to-day."
She looked at the stranger very earnestly as she said this. It was
bitter to stand _quite_ alone in the world; to know herself utterly
fallen in the estimation of all around her; and she looked at Lionel
Dale with a faint hope that she might discover some touch of
compassion, some shadow of doubt in his countenance.
Alas, no,--there was none. It was a frank, handsome face--a face that
was no polished mask beneath which the real man concealed himself. It
was a true and noble countenance, easy to read as an open book. Honoria
looked at it with despair in her heart, for she perceived but too
plainly that this man also despised her. She understood at once that he
had been told the story of his uncle's death, and regarded her as the
indirect cause of that fatal event.
And she was right. He had arrived at the chief inn in Raynham two hours
before, and there he had heard the story of Lady Eversleigh's flight
and Sir Oswald's sudden death, with some details of the inquest. Slow
to believe evil, he had questioned Gilbert Ashburne, before accepting
the terrible story as he had heard it from the landlord of the inn. Mr.
Ashburne only confirmed that story, and admitted that, in his opinion,
the flight and disgrace of the wife had been the sole cause of the
death of the husband.
Once having heard this, and from the lips of a man whom he knew to be
the soul of truth and honour, Lionel Dale had but one feeling for his
uncle's widow, and that feeling was abhorrence.
He saw her in her beauty and her desolation; but he had no pity for her
miserable position, and her beauty inspired him only with loathing; for
had not that beauty been the first cause of Sir Oswald Eversleigh's
"I wished to see you, madam," said Lionel Dale, after that silence
which seemed so long, "in order to apologize for a visit which might
appear an intrusion. Having done so, I need trouble you no further."
He bowed with chilling courtesy, and left the room. He had uttered no
word of consolation, no assurance of sympathy, to that pale widow of a
week; nothing could have been more marked than the omission of those
customary phrases, and Honoria keenly felt their absence.
The dead leaves strewed the avenue along which Sir Oswald Eversleigh
went to his last resting-place; the dead leaves fluttered slowly
downward from the giant oaks--the noble old beeches; there was not one
gleam of sunshine on the landscape, not one break in the leaden grey of
the sky. It seemed as if the funeral of departed summer was being
celebrated on this first dreary autumn day.
Lady Eversleigh occupied the second carriage in the stately procession.
She was alone. Captain Copplestone was confined to his room by the
gout. She went alone--tearless--in outward aspect calm as a statue; but
the face of the corpse hidden in the coffin could scarcely have been
whiter than hers.
As the procession passed out of the gates of Raynham, a tramp who stood
among the rest of the crowd, was strangely startled by the sight of
that beautiful face, so lovely even in its marble whiteness.
"Who is that woman sitting in yonder carriage?" he asked.
He was a rough, bare-footed vagabond, with a dark evil-looking
countenance, which he did well to keep shrouded by the broad brim of
his battered hat. He looked more like a smuggler or a sailor than an
agricultural labourer, and his skin was bronzed by long exposure to the
"She's Sir Oswald's widow," answered one of the bystanders; "she's his
widow, more shame for her! It was she that brought him to his death,
with her disgraceful goings-on."
The man who spoke was a Raynham tradesman.
"What goings-on?" asked the tramp, eagerly. "I'm a stranger in these
parts, and don't know anything about yonder funeral."
"More's the pity," replied the tradesman. "Everybody ought to know the
story of that fine madam, who just passed us by in her carriage. It
might serve as a warning for honest men not to be led away by a pretty
face. That white-faced woman yonder is Lady Eversleigh. Nobody knows
who she was, or where she came from, before Sir Oswald brought her home
here. She hadn't been home a month before she ran away from her husband
with a young foreigner. She repented her wickedness before she'd got
very far, and begged and prayed to be took back again, and vowed and
declared that she'd been lured away by a villain; and that it was all a
mistake. That's how I've heard the story from the servants, and one and
another. But Sir Oswald would not speak to her, and she would have been
turned out of doors if it hadn't been for an old friend of his.
However, the end of her wickedness was that Sir Oswald poisoned
himself, as every one knows."
No more was said. The tramp followed the procession with the rest of
the crowd, first to the village church, where a portion of the funeral
service was read, and then back to the park, where the melancholy
ceremonial was completed before the family mausoleum.
It was while the crowd made a circle round this mausoleum that the
tramp contrived to push his way to the front rank of the spectators. He
stood foremost amongst a group of villagers, when Lady Eversleigh
happened to look towards the spot where he was stationed.
In that moment a sudden change came over the face of the widow. Its
marble whiteness was dyed by a vivid crimson--a sudden flush of shame
or indignation, which passed away quickly; but a dark shadow remained
upon Lady Eversleigh's brow after that red glow had faded from her
No one observed that change of countenance. The moment was a solemn
one; and even those who did not really feel its solemnity, affected to
At the last instant, when the iron doors of the mausoleum closed with a
clanging sound upon the new inmate of that dark abode, Honoria's
fortitude all at once forsook her. One long cry, which was like a
shriek wrung from the spirit of despair, broke from her colourless
lips, and in the next moment she had sunk fainting upon the ground
before those inexorable doors.