Part 7 out of 11
night, at nine. Hush!"
Eversleigh and his cousin were just emerging from the counting-house,
as Victor Carrington gave the groom a warning gesture.
"Mum's the word," muttered the man.
Sir Reginald Eversleigh and Douglas Dale took their places in the
phaeton, and drove away.
Victor Carrington arrived at half-past eight at the "Goat and
Compasses"--a shabby little public-house in a shabby little street.
Here he found Mr. Hawkins lounging in the bar, waiting for him, and
beguiling the time by the consumption of a glass of gin.
"There's no one in the parlour, sir," said Hawkins, as he recognized
Mr. Carrington; "and if you'll step in there, we shall be quite
private. I suppose there ain't no objection to this gent and me
stepping into the parlour, is there, Mariar?" Mr. Hawkins asked of a
young lady, in a very smart cap, who officiated as barmaid.
"Well, you ain't a parlour customer in general, Mr. Hawkins; but I
suppose if the gent wants to speak to you, there'll be no objection to
your making free with the parlour, promiscuous," answered the damsel,
with supreme condescension. "And if the gent has any orders to give,
I'm ready to take 'em," she added, pertly.
Victor Carrington ordered a pint of brandy.
The parlour was a dingy little apartment, very much the worse for stale
tobacco smoke, and adorned with gaudy racing-prints. Here Mr.
Carrington seated himself, and told his companion to take the place
"Fill yourself a glass of brandy," he said. And Mr. Hawkins was not
slow to avail himself of the permission. "Now, I'm a man who does not
care to beat about the bush, my friend Hawkins," said Victor, "so I'll
come to business at once. I've taken a fancy to that bay horse, 'Wild
Buffalo,' and I should like to have him; but I'm not a rich man, and I
can't afford a high price for my fancy. What I've been thinking,
Hawkins, is that, with your help, I might get 'Wild Buffalo' a
"Well, I should rather flatter myself you might, guv'nor," answered the
groom, coolly, "an uncommon good bargain, or an uncommon bad one,
according to the working out of circumstances. But between friends,
supposing that you was me, and supposing that I was you, you know, I
wouldn't have him at no price--no, not if Spavin sold him to you for
nothing, and threw you in a handsome pair of tops and a bit of pink
Mr. Hawkins had taken a second glass of brandy by this time; and the
brandy provided by Victor Carrington, taken in conjunction with the gin
purchased by himself was beginning to produce a lively effect upon his
"The horse is a dangerous animal to handle, then?" asked Victor.
"When you can ride a flash of lightning, and hold that well in hand,
you may be able to ride 'Wild Buffalo,' guv'nor," answered the groom,
sententiously; "but _till_ you have got your hand in with a flash of
lightning, I wouldn't recommend you to throw your leg across the
"Come, come," remonstrated Victor, "a good rider could manage the
"Not the cove as drove a mail-phaeton and pair in the skies, and was
chucked out of it, which served him right--not even that sky-larking
cove could hold in the 'Buffalo.' He's got a mouth made of cast-iron,
and there ain't a curb made, work 'em how you will, that's any more to
him than a lady's bonnet-ribbon. He got a good name for his jumping as
a steeple-chaser; but when he'd been the death of three jocks and two
gentlemen riders, folks began to get rather shy of him and his jumping;
and then Captain Chesterly come and planted him on my guv'nor, which
more fool my governor to take him at any price, says I. And now, sir,
I've stood your friend, and give you a honest warning; and perhaps it
ain't going too far to say that I've saved your life, in a manner of
speaking. So I hope you'll bear in mind that I'm a poor man with a
fambly, and that I can't afford to waste my time in giving good advice
to strange gents for nothing."
Victor Carrington took out his purse, and handed Mr. Hawkins a
sovereign. A look of positive rapture mingled with the habitual cunning
of the groom's countenance as he received this donation.
"I call that handsome, guv'nor," he exclaimed, "and I ain't above
"Take another glass of brandy, Hawkins."
"Thank you kindly, sir; I don't care if I do," answered the groom; and
again he replenished his glass with the coarse and fiery spirit.
"I've given you that sovereign because I believe you are an honest
fellow," said the surgeon. "But in spite of the bad character you have
given the 'Buffalo' I should like to get him."
"Well, I'm blest," exclaimed Mr. Hawkins; "and you don't look like a
hossey gent either, guv'nor."
"I am not a 'horsey gent.' I don't want the 'Buffalo' for myself. I
want him for a hunting-friend. If you can get me the brute a dead
bargain, say for twenty pounds, and can get a week's holiday to bring
him down to my friend's place in the country, I'll give you a five-
pound note for your trouble."
The eyes of Mr. Hawkins glittered with the greed of gold as Victor
Carrington said this; but, eager as he was to secure the tempting
prize, he did not reply very quickly.
"Well, you see, guv'nor, I don't think Mr. Spavin would consent to sell
the 'Buffalo' yet awhile. He'd be afraid of mischief, you know. He's a
very stiff 'un, is Spavin, and he comes it uncommon bumptious about his
character, and so on. I really don't think he'd sell the 'Buffalo' till
he's broke, and the deuce knows how long it may take to break him."
"Oh, nonsense; Spavin would be glad to get rid of the beast, depend
upon it. You've only got to say you want him for a friend of yours, a
jockey, who'll break him in better than any of Spavin's people could do
James Hawkins rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Well, perhaps if I put it in that way it might answer," he said, after
a meditative pause. "I think Spavin might sell him to a jock, where he
would not part with him to a gentleman. I know he'd be uncommon glad to
get rid of the brute." "Very well, then," returned Victor Carrington;
"you manage matters well, and you'll be able to earn your fiver. Be
sure you don't let Spavin think it's a gentleman who's sweet upon the
horse. Do you think you are able to manage the business?"
The groom laid his finger on his nose, and winked significantly.
"I've managed more difficult businesses than that, guv'nor," he said.
"When do you want the animal?"
"Could you make it convenient to slip down here to-morrow night, or
shall I wait upon you at your house, guv'nor?"
"I will come here to-morrow night, at nine."
"Very good, guv'nor; in which case you shall hear news of 'Wild
Buffalo.' But all I hope is, when you do present him to your friend,
you'll present the address-card of a respectable undertaker at the same
"I am not afraid."
"As you please, sir. You are the individual what comes down with the
dibbs; and you are the individual what's entitled to make your choice."
Victor Carrington saw that the brandy had by this time exercised a
potent influence over Mr. Spavin's groom; but he had full confidence in
the man's power to do what he wanted done. James Hawkins was gifted
with that low cunning which peculiarly adapts a small villain for the
service of a greater villain.
At nine o'clock on the following evening, the two met again at the
"Goat and Compasses." This time their interview was very brief and
"Have you succeeded?" asked Victor.
"I have, guv'nor, like one o'clock. Mr. Spavin will take five-and-
twenty guineas from my friend the jock; but wouldn't sell the 'Buffalo'
to a gentleman on no account."
"Here is the money," answered Victor, handing the groom five bank-notes
for five pounds each, and twenty-five shillings in gold and silver.
"Have you asked for a holiday?"
"No, guv'nor; because, between you and me, I don't suppose I should get
it if I did ask. I shall make so bold as to take it without asking.
Sham ill, and send my wife to say as I'm laid up in bed at home, and
can't come to work."
"Hawkins, you are a diplomatist," exclaimed Victor; "and now I'll make
short work of my instructions. There's a bit of paper, with the name of
the place to which you're to take the animal--Frimley Common,
Dorsetshire. You'll start to-morrow at daybreak, and travel as quickly
as you can without taking the spirit out of the horse. I want him to be
fresh when he reaches my friend."
Mr. Hawkins gave a sinister laugh.
"Don't you be afraid of that, sir. 'Wild Buffalo' will be fresh enough,
you may depend," he said.
"I hope he may," replied Carrington, calmly. "When you reach Frimley
Common--it's little more than a village--go to the best inn you find
there, and wait till you either see me, or hear from me. You
"Good; and now, good-night."
With this Carrington left the "Goat and Compasses." As he went out of
the public-house, an elderly man, in the dress of a mechanic, who had
been lounging in the bar, followed him into the street, and kept behind
him until he entered Hyde Park, to cross to the Edgware Road; there the
man fell back and left him.
"He's going home, I suppose," muttered the man; "and there's nothing
more for me to do to-night."
* * * * *
DOWN IN DORSETSHIRE.
There were two inns in the High Street of Frimley. The days of mail-
coaches were not yet over, and the glory of country inns had not
entirely departed. Several coaches passed through Frimley in the course
of the day, and many passengers stopped to eat and drink and refresh
themselves at the quaint old hostelries; but it was not often that the
old-fashioned bed-chambers were occupied, even for one night, by any
one but a commercial traveller; and it was a still rarer occurrence for
a visitor to linger for any time at Frimley.
There was nothing to see in the place; and any one travelling for
pleasure would have chosen rather to stay in the more picturesque
village of Hallgrove.
It was therefore a matter of considerable surprise to the landlady of
the "Rose and Crown," when a lady and her maid alighted from the
"Highflyer" coach and demanded apartments, which they would be likely
to occupy for a week or more.
The lady was so plainly attired, in a dress and cloak of dark woollen
stuff, and the simplest of black velvet bonnets, that it was only by
her distinguished manner, and especially graceful bearing, that Mrs.
Tippets, the landlady, was able to perceive any difference between the
mistress and the maid.
"I am travelling in Dorsetshire for my health," said the lady, who was
no other than Honoria Eversleigh, "and the quiet of this place suits
me. You will be good enough to prepare rooms for myself and my maid."
"You would like your maid's bed-room to be adjoining your own, no
doubt, madam?" hazarded the landlady.
"No," answered Honoria; "I do not wish that; I prefer entire privacy in
my own apartment."
"As you please, madam--we have plenty of bedrooms."
The landlady of the "Rose and Crown" ushered her visitors into the best
sitting-room the house afforded--an old-fashioned apartment, with a
wide fire-place, high wooden mantel-piece, and heavily-timbered
ceiling--a room which seemed to belong to the past rather than the
Lady Eversleigh sat by the table in a thoughtful attitude, while the
fire was being lighted and a tray of tea-things arranged for that
refreshment which is most welcome of all others to an Englishwoman.
Jane Payland stood by the opposite angle of the mantel-piece, watching
her mistress with a countenance almost as thoughtful as that of Honoria
It was in the wintry dusk that these two travellers arrived at Frimley.
Jane Payland walked to one of the narrow, old-fashioned windows, and
looked out into the street, where lights were burning dimly here and
"What a strange old place, ma'am," she said.
Honoria had forbidden her to say "my lady" since their departure from
"Yes," her mistress answered, absently; "it is a world-forgotten old
"But the rest and change will, no doubt, be beneficial, ma'am," said
Miss Payland, in her most insinuating tone; "and I am sure you must
require change and fresh country air after being pent up in a London
Lady Eversleigh shook off her abstraction of manner, and turned towards
her servant, with a calm, serious gaze.
"I want change of scene, and the fresh breath of country air, Jane,"
she said, gravely; "but it is not for those I came to Frimley, and you
know that it is not. Why should we try to deceive each other? The
purpose of my life is a very grave one; the secret of my coming and
going is a very bitter secret, and if I do not choose to share it with
you, I withhold nothing that you need care to know. Let me play my part
unwatched and unquestioned. You will find yourself well rewarded by and
by for your forbearance and devotion. Be faithful to me, my good girl;
but do not try to discover the motive of my actions, and believe, even
when they seem most strange to you, that they are justified by one
Jane Payland's eyelids drooped before the serious and penetrating gaze
of her mistress.
"You may feel sure of my being faithful, ma'am," she answered,
promptly; "and as to curiosity, I should be the very last creature upon
this earth to try to pry into your secrets."
Honoria made no reply to this protestation. She took her tea in
silence, and seemed as if weighed down by grave and anxious thoughts.
After tea she dismissed Jane, who retired to the bed-room allotted to
her, which had been made very comfortable, and enlivened by a wood
fire, that blazed cheerily in the wide grate.
Jane Payland's bedroom opened out of a corridor, at the end of which
was the door of the sitting-room occupied by Honoria. Jane was,
therefore, able to keep watch upon all who went to and fro from the
sitting-room to the other part of the house. She sat with her door a
little way open for this purpose.
"My lady expects some one to-night, I know," she thought to herself, as
she seated herself at a little table, and began some piece of fancy-
She had observed that during tea Lady Eversleigh had twice looked at
her watch. Why should she be so anxious about the time, if she were not
awaiting some visitor, or message, or letter?
For a long time Jane Payland waited, and watched, and listened, without
avail. No one went along the corridor to the blue parlour, except the
chambermaid who removed the tea-things.
Jane looked at her own watch, and found that it was past nine o'clock.
"Surely my lady can have no visitor to-night?" she thought.
A quarter of an hour after this, she was startled by the creaking sound
of a footstep on the uncarpeted floor of the corridor. She rose hastily
and softly from her chair, crept to the door, and peeped put into the
passage. As she did so, she saw a man approaching, dressed like a
countryman, in a clumsy frieze coat, and with his chin so muffled in a
woollen scarf, and his felt hat drawn so low over his eyes, that there
was nothing visible of him but the end of a long nose.
That long, beak-like nose seemed strangely familiar to Miss Payland;
and yet she could not tell where she had seen it before.
The countryman went straight to the blue parlour, opened the door, and
went in. The door closed behind him, and then Jane Payland heard the
faint sound of voices within the apartment.
It was evident that this countryman was Lady Eversleigh's expected
Jane's wonderment was redoubled by this extraordinary proceeding.
"What does it all mean?" she asked herself. "Is this man some humble
relation of my lady's? Everyone knows that her birth was obscure; but
no one can tell where she came from. Perhaps this is her native place,
and it is to see her own people she comes here."
Jane was obliged to be satisfied with this explanation, for no other
was within her reach; but it did not altogether allay her curiosity.
The interview between Lady Eversleigh and her visitor was a long one.
It was half-past ten o'clock before the strange-looking countryman
quitted the blue parlour.
This occurred three days before Christmas-day. On the following evening
another stranger arrived at Frimley by the mail-coach, which passed
through the quiet town at about seven o'clock.
This traveller did not patronise the "Rose and Crown" inn, though the
coach changed horses at that hostelry. He alighted from the outside of
the coach while it stood before the door of the "Rose and Crown,"
waited until his small valise had been fished out of the boot, and then
departed through the falling snow, carrying this valise, which was his
He walked at a rapid pace to the other end of the long, straggling
street, where there was a humbler inn, called the "Cross Keys." Here he
entered, and asked for a bed-room, with a good fire, and something or
other in the way of supper.
It was not till he had entered the room that the traveller took off the
rough outer coat, the collar of which had almost entirely concealed his
face. When he did so, he revealed the sallow countenance of Victor
Carrington, and the flashing black eyes, which to-night shone with a
After he had eaten a hasty meal, he went out into the inn-yard, despite
the fast-falling snow, to smoke a cigar, he said, to one of the
servants whom he encountered on his way.
He had not been long in the yard, when a man emerged from one of the
adjacent buildings, and approached him in a slow and stealthy manner.
"All right, guv'nor," said the man, in a low voice; "I've been on the
look-out for you for the last two days."
The man was Jim Hawkins, Mr. Spavin's groom.
"Is 'Wild Buffalo' here?" asked Victor.
"Yes, sir; as safe and as comfortable as if he'd been foaled here."
"And none the worse for his journey?"
"Not a bit of it, sir. I brought him down by easy stages, knowing you
wanted him kept fresh. And fresh he is--oncommon. P'raps you'd like to
have a look at him."
The groom led Mr. Carrington to a loose box, and the surgeon had the
pleasure of beholding the bay horse by the uncertain light of a stable
The animal was, indeed, a noble specimen of his race.
It was only in the projecting eye-ball, the dilated nostril, the
defiant carriage of the head, that his evil temper exhibited itself.
Victor Carrington stood at a little distance from him, contemplating
him in silence for some minutes.
"Have you ever noticed that spot?" asked Victor, presently, pointing to
the white patch inside the animal's hock.
"Well, sir, one can't help noticing it when one knows where to look for
it, though p'raps a stranger mightn't see it. That there spot's a kind
of a blemish, you see, to my mind; for, if it wasn't for that, the
brute wouldn't have a white hair about him."
"That's just what I've been thinking," answered Victor. "Now, my friend
is just the sort of man to turn up his nose at a horse with anything in
the way of a blemish about him, especially if he sees it before he has
tried the animal, and found out his merits. But I've hit upon a plan
for getting the better of him, and I want you to carry it out for me."
"I'm your man, guv'nor, whatever it is."
The surgeon produced a phial from his pocket, and with the phial a
small painters' brush.
"In this bottle there's a brown dye," he said; "and I want you to paint
the white spot with that brown dye after you've groomed the 'Buffalo,'
so that whenever my friend comes to claim the horse the brute may be
ready for him. You must apply the dye three or four times, at short
intervals. It's a pretty fast one, and it'll take a good many pails of
water to wash it out."
Jim Hawkins laughed heartily at the idea of this manoeuvre.
"Why you are a rare deep one, guv'nor," he exclaimed; "that there game
is just like the canary dodge, what they do so well down Seven Dials
way. You ketches yer sparrer, and you paints him a lively yeller, and
then you sells him to your innocent customer for the finest canary as
ever wabbled in the grove--a little apt to be mopish at first, but
warranted to sing beautiful as soon as ever he gets used to his new
master and missus. And, oh! don't he just sing beautiful--not at all
"There's the bottle, Hawkins, and there's the brush. You know what
you've got to do."
"All right, guv'nor."
"Good night, then," said Victor, as he left the stable.
He did not stay to finish his cigar under the fast-falling snow; but
walked back to his own room, where he slept soundly.
He was astir very early the next morning. He went down stairs, after
breakfasting in his own room, saw the landlord, and hired a good strong
horse, commonly used by the proprietor of the "Cross Keys" on all his
journeys to and from the market-town and outlying villages.
Victor Carrington mounted this horse, and rode across the Common to the
village of Hallgrove.
He stopped to give his horse a drink of water before a village inn, and
while stopping to do this he asked a few questions of the ostler.
"Whereabouts is Hallgrove Rectory?" he asked.
"About a quarter of a mile farther on, sir," answered the man; "you
can't miss it if you keep along that road. A big red house, by the side
of a river."
"Thanks. This is a great place for hunting, isn't it?"
"Yes, that it be, sir. The Horsley foxhounds are a'most allus meeting
somewheres about here."
"When do they meet next?"
"The day arter to-morrow--Boxing-day, sir. They're to meet in the field
by Hallgrove Ferry, a mile and a quarter beyond the rectory, at ten
o'clock in the morning. It's to be a reg'lar grand day's sport, I've
heard say. Our rector is to ride a new horse, wot's been given to him
by his brother."
"Yes, sir; I war down at the rectory stables yesterday arternoon, and
see the animal--a splendid bay, rising sixteen hands."
Carrington turned his horse's head in the direction of Hallgrove
Rectory. He knew enough of the character of Lionel Dale to be aware
that no opposition would be made to his loitering about the premises.
He rode boldly up to the door, and asked for the rector. He was out,
the servant said, but would the gentleman walk in and wait, or would he
leave his name. Mr. Dale would be in soon; he had gone out with Captain
and Miss Graham. Victor Carrington smiled involuntarily as he heard
mention made of Lydia. "So you are here, too," he thought; "it is just
as well you should not see me on this occasion, as I am not helping
your game now, as I did in the case of Sir Oswald, but spoiling it."
No, the stranger gentleman thanked the man; he would not wait to see
Mr. Dale (he had carefully ascertained that he was out before riding up
to the house); but if the servant would show him the way, he would be
glad, to get out on the lower road; he understood the rectory grounds
opened upon it, at a little distance from the house. Certainly the man
could show him--nothing easier, if the gentleman would take the path to
the left, and the turn by the shrubbery, he would pass by the stables,
and the lower road lay straight before him. Victor Carrington complied
with these directions, but his after-conduct did not bear out the
impression of his being in a hurry, which his words and manner had
conveyed to the footman. It was at least an hour after he had held the
above-mentioned colloquy, when Victor Carrington, having made himself
thoroughly acquainted with the topography of the rector's premises,
issued from a side-gate, and took the lower road, leading back to
Then he went straight to the stable-yard, saw Mr. Spavin's groom, and
"I shall take the 'Buffalo' down to my friend's place this afternoon,"
he said to Hawkins. "Here's your money, and you can get back to London
as soon as you like. I think my friend will be very well pleased with
"Ay, ay," said Mr. Hawkins, whose repeated potations of execrable
brandy had rendered him tolerably indifferent to all that passed around
him, and who was actuated by no other feeling than a lively desire to
obtain, the future favours of a liberal employer; "he's got to take
care of hisself, and we've got to take care of ourselves, and that's
all about it."
And then Mr. Hawkins, with something additional to the stipulated
reward in his pocket, and a pint bottle of his favourite stimulant to
refresh him on the way, took himself off, and Carrington saw no more of
him. The people about the inn saw very little of Carrington, but it was
with some surprise that the ostler received his directions to saddle
the horse which stood in the stable, just when the last gleam of the
short winter's daylight was dying out on Christmas-day. Carrington had
not stirred beyond the precincts of the inn all the morning and
afternoon. The strange visitor was all uninfluenced either by the
devotional or the festive aspects of the season. He was quite alone,
and as he sat in his cheerless little bedroom at the small country inn,
and brooded, now over a pocket volume, thickly noted in his small, neat
handwriting, now over the plans which were so near their
accomplishment, he exulted in that solitude--he gave loose to the
cynicism which was the chief characteristic of his mind. He cursed the
folly of the idiots for whom Christmas-time had any special meaning,
and secretly worshipped his own idols--money and power.
The horse was brought to him, and Carrington mounted him without any
difficulty, and rode away in the gathering gloom. "Wild Buffalo" gave
him no trouble, and he began to feel some misgivings as to the truth of
the exceedingly bad character he had received with the animal.
Supposing he should not be the unmanageable devil he was
represented,--supposing all his schemes came to grief, what then? Why,
then, there were other ways of getting rid of Lionel Dale, and he
should only be the poorer by the purchase of a horse. On the other
hand, "Wild Buffalo," plodding along a heavy country road, almost in
the dark, and after the probably not too honestly dispensed feeding of
a village inn, which Carrington had not personally superintended, was
no doubt a very different animal to what he might be expected to prove
himself in the hunting-field. Pondering upon these probabilities,
Victor Carrington rode slowly on towards Hallgrove. He had taken
accurate observations; he had nicely calculated time and place. All the
servants, tenants, and villagers were gathered together under Lionel
Dale's hospitable roof. To the feasting had succeeded games and
story-telling, and the absorbing gossip of such a reunion. That which
Victor Carrington had come to do, he did successfully; and when he
returned to his inn, and gave over his horse to the care of the ostler,
no one but he, not even the man who was there listening to every word
spoken among the servants at the rectory, and eagerly scanning every
face there, knew that "Niagara" was in the inn-stable, and "Wild
Buffalo" in the stall at Hallgrove.
* * * * *
ARCH-TRAITOR WITHIN, ARCH-PLOTTER WITHOUT.
The guests at Hallgrove Rectory this Christmas-time were Douglas Dale,
Sir Reginald Eversleigh, a lady and gentleman called Mordaunt, and
their two pretty, fair-faced daughters, and two other old friends of
the rector's, one of whom is very familiar to us.
Those two were Gordon Graham and his sister Lydia--the woman whose
envious hatred had aided in that vile scheme by which Sir Oswald
Eversleigh's happiness had been suddenly blighted. The Dales and Gordon
Graham had been intimate from boyhood, when they had been school-
fellows at Eton. Since Sir Oswald's death had enriched the two
brothers, Gordon Graham had taken care that his acquaintance with them
should not be allowed to lapse, but should rather be strengthened. It
was by means of his manoeuvring that the invitation for Christmas had
been given, and that he and his sister were comfortable domiciled for
the winter season beneath the rector's hospitably roof.
Gordon Graham had been very anxious to secure this invitation. Every
day that passed made him more and more anxious that his sister should
make a good marriage. Her thirtieth birthday was alarmingly near at
hand. Careful as she was of her good looks, the day must soon come when
her beauty would fade, and she would find herself among the ranks of
confirmed old maids.
If Gordon Graham found her a burden now, how much greater burden would
she be to him then! As the cruel years stole by, and brought her no
triumph, no success, her temper grew more imperious, while the quarrels
which marred the harmony of the brother and sister's affection became
more frequent and more violent.
Beyond this one all-sufficient reason, Gordon Graham had his own
selfish motives for seeking to secure his sister a rich husband. The
purse of a wealthy brother-in-law must, of course, be always more or
less open to himself; and he was not the man to refrain from obtaining
all he could from such a source.
In Lionel Dale he saw a man who would be the easy victim of a woman's
fascinations, the generous dupe of an adventurer. Lionel Dale was,
therefore, the prize which Lydia should try to win.
The brother and sister were in the habit of talking to each other very
"Now, Lydia," said the captain, after he had read Lionel Dale's letter
for the young lady's benefit, "it will be your fault if you do not come
back from Hallgrove the affianced wife of this man. There was a time
when you might have tried for heavier stakes; but at thirty, a husband
with five thousand a year is not to be sneezed at."
"You need not be so fond of reminding me of my age," Lydia returned
with a look of anger. "You seem to forget that you are five years my
"I forget nothing, my dear girl. But there is no parallel between your
case and mine. For a man, age is nothing--for a woman, everything; and
I regret to be obliged to remember that you are approaching your
thirtieth birthday. Fortunately, you don't look more than seven-and-
twenty; and I really think, if you play your cards well, you may secure
this country rector. A country rector is not much for a woman who has
set her cap at a duke, but he is better than nothing; and as the case
is really growing rather desperate, you must play your cards with
unusual discrimination this time, Lydia. You must, upon my word."
"I am tired of playing my cards," answered Miss Graham, contemptuously.
"It seems as if life was always to be a losing game for me, let me play
my cards how I will. I begin to think there is a curse upon me, and
that no act of mine will ever prosper. Who was that man, in your Greek
play, who guessed some inane conundrum, and was always getting into
trouble afterwards? I begin to think there really is a fatality in
She turned away from her brother impatiently, and seated herself at her
piano. She played a few bars of a waltz with a listless air, while the
captain lighted a cigar, and stepped out upon the little balcony,
overhanging the dull, foggy street.
The brother and sister occupied lodgings in one of the narrow streets
of Mayfair. The apartments were small, shabbily furnished,
inconvenient, and expensive; but the situation was irreproachable, and
the haughty Lydia could only exist in an irreproachable situation.
Captain Graham finished his cigar, and went out to his club, leaving
his sister alone, discontented, gloomy, sullen, to get through the day
as best she might.
The time had been when the prospect of a visit to Hallgrove Rectory
would have seemed very pleasant to her. But that time was gone. The
haughty spirit was soured by disappointment, the selfish nature
embittered by defeat.
There was a glass over the mantel-piece. Lydia leaned her arms upon the
marble slab, and contemplated the dark face in the mirror.
It was a handsome face: but a cloud of sullen pride obscured its
"I shall never prosper," she said, as she looked at herself. "There is
some mysterious ban upon me, and on my beauty. All my life I have been
passed by for the sake of women in every attribute my inferiors. If I
was unloved in the freshness of my youth and beauty, how can I expect
to be loved now, when youth is past and beauty is on the wane? And yet
my brother expects me to go through the old stage-play, in the futile
hope of winning a rich husband!"
She shrugged her shoulders with a contemptuous gesture, and turned away
from the glass. But, although she affected to despise her brother's
schemes, she was not slow to lend herself to them. She went out that
morning, and walked to her milliner's house. There was a long and
rather an unpleasant interview between the milliner and her customer,
for Lydia Graham had sunk deeper in the mire of debt with every passing
year, and it was only by the payment of occasional sums of money on
account that she contrived to keep her creditors tolerably quiet.
The result of to-day's interview was the same as usual. Madame Susanne,
the milliner, agreed to find some pretty dresses for Miss Graham's
Christmas visit--and Miss Graham undertook to pay a large instalment of
an unreasonable bill without inspection or objection.
On this snowy Christmas morning Miss Graham stood by the side of her
host, dressed in the stylish walking costume of dark gray poplin, and
with her glowing face set off by a bonnet of blue velvet, with soft
gray plumes. Those were the days in which a bonnet was at once the
aegis and the sanctuary of beauty. If you offended her, she took refuge
in her bonnet. The police-courts have only become odious by the clamour
of feminine complainants since the disappearance of the bonnet. It was
awful as the helmet of Minerva, inviolable as the cestus of Diana. Nor
was the bonnet of thirty-years ago an unbecoming headgear--a pretty
face never looked prettier than when dimly seen in the shadowy depths
of a coal-scuttle bonnet.
Miss Graham looked her best in one of those forgotten headdresses; the
rich velvet, the drooping feathers, set off her showy face, and Laura
and Ellen Mordaunt, in their fresh young beauty and simple costume,
lost by contrast with the aristocratic belle.
The poor of Hallgrove parish looked forward eagerly to the coming of
Lionel Dale's parishioners knew that they would receive ample bounty
from the hand of their wealthy and generous rector.
He loved to welcome old and young to the noble hall of his mansion, a
spacious and lofty chamber, which had formed part of the ancient manor-
house, and had been of late years converted into a rectory. He loved to
see them clad in the comfortable garments which his purse had
provided--the old women in their gray woollen gowns and scarlet cloaks,
the little children brightly arrayed, like so many Red Riding hoods.
It was a pleasant sight truly, and there was a dimness in the rector's
eyes, as he stood at the head of a long table, at two o'clock on
Christmas-day, to say grace before the dinner spread for those humble
All the poor of the parish had been invited to dine with their pastor
on Christmas-day, and this two o'clock dinner was a greater pleasure to
the rector of Hallgrove than the repast which was to be served at seven
o'clock for himself and the guests of his own rank.
There were some people in Hallgrove and its neighbourhood who said that
Lionel Dale took more pleasure in this life than a clergyman and a good
Christian should take; but surely those who had seen him seated by the
bed of sickness, or ministering to the needs of affliction, could
scarcely have grudged him the innocent happiness of his hours of
relaxation. The one thing in which he himself felt that he was perhaps
open to blame, was in his passion for the sports of the field.
No one who had stood amongst the little group at the top of the long
table in Hallgrove Manor-house on this snowy Christmas morning could
have doubted that the heart of Lionel Dale was true to the very core.
He was not alone amongst his poor parishioners. His guests had
requested permission to see the two o'clock dinner-party in the
refectory. Lydia affected to be especially anxious for this privilege.
"I long to see the dear things eating their Christmas plum-pudding,"
she said, with almost girlish enthusiasm.
Mr. Dale's parishioners did ample justice to the splendid Christmas
fare provided for them.
Lydia Graham declared she had never witnessed anything that gave her
half so much pleasure as this humble gathering.
"I would give up a whole season of fashionable dinner-parties for such
a treat as this, Mr. Dale," she exclaimed, with an eloquent glance at
the rector. "What a happy life yours must be! and how privileged these
people ought to think themselves!"
"I don't know that, Miss Graham," answered Lionel Dale. "I think the
privilege is all on my side. It is the pleasure of the rich to minister
to the wants of the poor."
Lydia Graham made no reply; but her eyes expressed an admiration which
womanly reserve might have forbidden her lips to utter.
While the pudding was being eaten, Mr. Dale walked round amongst his
humble guests, to exchange a few kindly words here and there; to shake
hands; to pat little children's flaxen heads; to make friendly
inquiries for the sick and absent.
As he paused to talk to one of his parishioners, his attention was
attracted by a strange face. It was the face of an old man, who sat at
the opposite side of the table, and seemed entirely absorbed by the
agreeable task of making his way through a noble slice of plum-pudding.
"Who is that old man opposite?" asked Lionel of the agricultural
labourer to whom he had been talking. "I don't think I know his face."
"No, sir," answered the farm-labourer; "he don't belong to these parts.
Gaffer Hayfield brought 'un. I suppose as how he's a relation of
Gaffer's. It seems a bit of a liberty, sir; but Gaffer Hayfield always
war a cool hand."
"I don't think it a liberty, William. If the man is a relation of
Hayfield's, there is no reason why he should not be here with the
Gaffer," answered Lionel, good-naturedly, "I am glad to Bee that he is
enjoying his dinner."
"Yes, sir," replied the farm-labourer, with a grin; "he seems to have
an oncommon good twist of his own, wheresoever he belongs to."
No more was said about the strange guest--who was an old man, with very
white hair, which hung low over his eyebrows; and very white whiskers,
which almost covered his cheeks. He had a queer, bird-like aspect, and
a nose that was as sharp as the beak of any of the rooks cawing
hoarsely amongst the elms of Hallgrove that snowy Christmas-day.
After the dinner in the old hall, Lionel Dale and his guests returned
to their own quarters; Mrs. Mordaunt and the three younger ladies
walked in the grounds, with Douglas Dale and Sir Reginald Eversleigh in
attendance upon them.
Miss Graham was the last woman in the world to forget that the income
of Douglas Dale was almost as large as that of his brother, the rector;
and that in this instance she might have two strings to her bow. She
contrived to be by the side of Douglas as they walked in the
shrubberies, and lingered on the rustic bridge across the river; but
she had not been with him long before she perceived that all her
fascinations were thrown away upon him; and that, attentive and polite
though he was, his heart was far away.
It was indeed so. In that pleasant garden, where the dark evergreens
glistened in the red radiance of the winter sunset, Douglas Dale's
thoughts wandered away from the scene before him to the lovely Austrian
woman--the fair widow, whose life was so strange a mystery to him; the
woman whom he could neither respect nor trust; but whom, in spite of
himself, he loved better than any other creature upon earth.
"I had rather be by her side than here," he said to himself. "How is
she spending this season, which should be so happy? Perhaps in utter
loneliness; or in the midst of that artificial gaiety which is more
wretched than solitude."
* * * * *
The rector of Hallgrove and his guests assembled in the old-fashioned
drawing-room of the manor-house rectory at seven o'clock on that snowy
Christmas-night. The snowflakes fell thick and fast as night closed in
upon the gardens and shrubberies, the swift-flowing river, and distant
The rectory drawing-room, beautified by the soft light of wax-candles,
and the rich hues of flowers, was a pleasant picture--a picture which
was made all the more charming by the female figures which filled its
Chief among these, and radiant with beauty and high spirits, was Lydia
She had contrived to draw Lionel Dale to her side. She was seated by a
table scattered with volumes of engravings, and he was bending over her
as she turned the leaves.
Her smiles, her flatteries, her cleverly simulated interest in the
rector's charities and pensioners, had exercised a considerable
influence upon him--an influence which grew stronger with every hour.
There was a sweetness and simplicity in the manners of the two Misses
Mordaunt which pleased him; but the country-bred girls lost much by
contrast with the brilliant Lydia.
"I hope you are going to give us a real old-fashioned Christmas
evening, Mr. Dale," said Miss Graham.
"I don't quite know what you mean by an old-fashioned Christmas
"Nor am I quite clear as to whether I know what I mean myself,"
answered the young lady, gaily. "I think, after dinner, we ought to sit
round that noble old fire-place and tell stories, ought we not?"
"Yes, I believe that is the sort of thing," replied the rector. "For my
own part, I am ready to be Miss Graham's slave for the whole of the
evening; and in that capacity will hold myself bound to perform her
behests, however tyrannical she may be."
When dinner was announced, Lionel Dale was obliged to leave the
bewitching Lydia in order to offer his arm to Mrs. Mordaunt, while that
young lady was fain to be satisfied with the escort of the disinherited
Sir Reginald Eversleigh.
At the dinner-table, however, she found herself seated on the left hand
of her host; and she took care to secure to herself the greater share
of his attention during the progress of dinner.
Gordon Graham watched his sister from his place near the foot of the
table, and was well satisfied with her success.
"If she plays her cards well she may sit at the head of this table next
Christmas-day," he said to himself.
After less than half-an-hour's interval, the gentlemen followed the
ladies into the drawing-room, and the usual musical evening set in.
Lydia Graham had nothing to fear from comparison with the Misses
Mordaunt. They were tolerable performers. She was a brilliant
proficient in music, and she had the satisfaction of observing that
Lionel Dale perceived and appreciated her superiority. She could
afford, therefore, to be as amiable to the girls as she was captivating
to the gentlemen.
The Misses Mordaunt were singing a duet, when a servant entered, and
approached Lionel Dale.
"There is a person in the hall who asks to see you, sir," said the man,
"on most particular business."
"What kind of person?" asked the rector.
"Well, sir, she looks like an old gipsy woman."
"A gipsy woman! The gipsies about here do not bear the best character."
"No, sir," replied the man. "I bore that in mind, sir, with a view to
the plate, and I told John Andrew to keep an eye upon her while I came
to speak to you; and John Andrew is keeping an eye upon her at this
present moment, sir."
"Very good, Jackson. You can tell the gipsy woman that, if she needs
immediate help of any kind, she can apply in the village, to Rawlins,
but that I cannot see her to-night."
The man departed; and the Misses Mordaunt finished their duet, and rose
from the piano, to receive the usual thanks and acknowledgments from
Again Miss Graham was asked to sing, and again she seated herself
before the instrument, triumphant in the consciousness that she could
excel the timid girls who had just left the piano.
But this time Lionel Dale did not place himself beside the instrument.
He stood near the door of the apartment, ready to receive the servant,
if he should return with a second message from the gipsy woman.
The servant did return, and this time he begged his master to step
outside the room before he delivered his message. Lionel complied
immediately, and followed the man into the corridor without.
"I was almost afraid to speak in there, sir," said the man, in an awe-
stricken whisper; "folks have such ears. The woman says she must see
you, sir, and this very night. It is a matter of life and death, she
"Then in that case I will see this woman. Go into the drawing-room,
Jackson, and tell Mrs. Mordaunt, with my compliments, that I find
myself compelled to receive one of my parishioners; and that she and
the other ladies must be so good as to excuse my absence for half an
The rector went to the hall, where, cowering by the fire, he found an
old gipsy woman.
She was so muffled from head to foot in her garments of woollen stuff,
strange and garish in colour, and fantastical in form, that it was
almost impossible to discover what she really was like. Her shoulders
were bent and contracted as if with extreme age. Loose tresses of gray
hair fell low over her forehead. Her skin was dark and tawny; and
contrasted strangely with the gray hair and the dark lustrous eyes.
The gipsy woman rose as Lionel Dale entered the hall. She bent her head
in response to his kindly salutation; but she did not curtsey as before
a superior in rank and station.
"Come with me, my good woman," said the rector, "and let me hear all
about this very important business of yours."
He led the way to the library--a low-roofed but spacious chamber, lined
from ceiling to floor with books. A large reading-lamp, with a Parian
shade, stood on a small writing-table near the fire, casting a subdued
light on objects near at hand, and leaving the rest of the room in
shadow. A pile of logs burnt cheerily on the hearth. On one side of the
fire was the chair in which the rector usually sat; on the other, a
large, old-fashioned, easy-chair.
"Sit down, my good woman," said the rector, pointing to the latter; "I
suppose you have some long story to tell me."
He seated himself as he spoke, and leaned upon the writing-table,
playing idly with a carved ivory paper-knife.
"I have much to say to you, Lionel Dale," answered the old woman, in a
voice which had a solemn music, that impressed the hearer in spite of
himself; "I have much to say to you, and it will be well for you to
mark what I say, and be warned by what I tell you."
The rector looked at the speaker earnestly, and yet with a half-
contemptuous smile upon his face. She was seated in shadow, and he
could only see the glitter of her dark eyes as the fitful light of the
fire flashed on them.
There was something almost supernatural, it seemed to him, in the
brilliancy of those eyes.
He laughed at himself for his folly in the next instant. What was this
woman but a vulgar impostor, who was doubtless trying to trade upon his
fears in some manner or other?
"You have come here to give some kind of warning, then?" he said, after
a few moments of consideration.
"I have--a warning which may save your life--if you hear me patiently,
and obey when you have heard."
"That is the cant of your class, my good woman; and you can scarcely
expect me to listen to that kind of thing. If you come here to me,
hoping to delude me by the language with which you tell the country
people their fortunes at fairs and races, the sooner you go away the
better. I am ready to listen to you patiently: if you need help, I am
ready to give it you; but it is time and labour lost to practise gipsy
jargon upon me."
"I need no help from you," cried the gipsy woman, scornfully; "I tell
you again, I come here to serve you."
"In what manner can you serve me? Speak out, and speak quickly!" said
Lionel; "I must return to my guests almost immediately."
"Your guests!" cried the gipsy, with a mocking laugh; "pleasant guests
to gather round your hearth at this holy festival-time. Sir Reginald
Eversleigh is amongst them, I suppose?"
"He is. You know his name very well, it seems."
"Do you know him?"
"Do _you_ know him, Lionel Dale?" demanded the old woman with sudden
"I have good reason to know him--he is my first-cousin," answered the
"You _have_ good reason to know him--a reason that you are ignorant of.
Shall I tell you that reason, Mr. Dale?"
"I am ready to hear what you have to say; but I must warn you that I
shall be but little affected by it."
"Beware how you regard my solemn warning as the raving of a lunatic. It
is your life that is at stake, Lionel Dale--your life! The reason you
ought to know Reginald Eversleigh is, that in him you have a deadly
"An enemy! My cousin Reginald, a man whom I never injured by deed or
word in my life! Has _he_ ever tried to injure me?"
"He schemed and plotted against you and others before your uncle Sir
Oswald's death. His dearest hope was to bring to pass the destruction
of the will which left you five thousand a year."
"Indeed! You seem familiar with my family history," exclaimed Lionel.
"I know the secrets of your family as well as I know those of my own."
"Then you pretend to be a sorceress?"
"I pretend to be nothing but your friend. Sir Reginald Eversleigh has
been your foe ever since the day which disinherited him and made you
rich. Your death would make him master of the wealth which you now
enjoy; your death would give him fortune, position in the world--all
which he most covets. Can you doubt, therefore, that he wishes your
"I cannot believe it!" cried Lionel Dale; "it is too horrible. What!
he, my first cousin! he can profess for me the warmest friendship, and
yet can wish to profit by my death!"
"He can do worse than that," said the gipsy woman, in an impressive
voice; "he can try to compass your death!"
"No! no! no!" cried the rector. "It is not possible!"
"It is true. Sir Reginald Eversleigh is a coward; but he is helped by
one who knows no human weakness--whose cruel heart was never softened
by one touch of pity--whose iron hand never falters. Sir Reginald
Eversleigh is little more than the tool of that man, and between those
two there is ruin for you."
"Your words have the accent of truth," said the rector, after a long
pause; "and yet their meaning is so terrible that I can scarcely bring
myself to believe in them. How is it that you, a stranger, are so
familiar with the private details of my life?"
"Do not ask me that, Mr. Dale," replied the gipsy woman, sternly; "when
a stranger comes to you to warn you of a great danger, accept the
warning, and let your nameless friend depart unquestioned. I have told
you that an unseen danger menaces you. I know not yet the exact form
which that danger may take. To-morrow I expect to know more."
"I can pledge myself to nothing."
"As you will," answered the gipsy, proudly. "I have done my duty. The
rest is with Providence. If in your blind obstinacy you disregard my
warning, I cannot help it. Will you, for your own sake, not for mine,
let me see you to-morrow; or will you promise to see anyone who shall
ask to see you, in the name of the gipsy woman who was here to-night?
Promise me this, I entreat you. I have nothing to ask of you, nothing
to gain by my prayer; but I do entreat you most earnestly to do this
thing. I am working in the dark to a certain extent. I know something,
but not all, and I may have learned much more by to-morrow. I may bring
or send you information then, which will convince you I am speaking the
truth. Stay, will you promise me this, for my sake, for the sake of
justice? You will, Mr. Dale, I know you will; you are a just, a good
man. You suspect me of practising upon you a vulgar imposition. To-
morrow I may have the power of convincing you that I have not done so.
You will give me the opportunity, Mr. Dale?"
The pleading, earnest voice, the mournful, dark eyes, stirred Lionel
Dale's heart strangely. An impulse moved him towards trust in this
woman, this outcast,--curiosity even impelled him to ask her, in such
terms as would ensure her compliance, for a full explanation of her
mysterious conduct. But he checked the impulse, he silenced the
promptings of curiosity, sacrificing them to his ever-present sense of
his professional and personal dignity. While the momentary struggle
lasted, the gipsy woman closely scanned his face. At length he said
"I will do as you ask. I place no reliance on your statements, but you
are right in asking for the means of substantiating them. I will see
you, or any one you may send to-morrow."
"You will be at home?" she asked, anxiously. "The hunt?"
"The hunt will hardly take place; the weather is too much against us,"
replied Lionel Dale. "Except there should be a very decided change,
there will be no hunt, and I shall be at home." Having said this,
Lionel Dale rose, with a decided air of dismissal. The gipsy rose too,
and stood unshrinkingly before him, as she said:
"And now I will leave you. Good night. You think me a mad woman, or an
impostor. This is the second occasion on which you have misjudged me,
As the rector met the earnest gaze of her brilliant eyes, a strange
feeling took possession of his mind. It seemed to him, as if he had
before encountered that earnest and profound gaze.
"I must have seen such a face in a dream," he thought to himself;
"where else but in a dream?"
The fancy had a powerful influence over him, and occupied his mind as
he preceded the gipsy woman to the hall, and opened the door for her to
The snow had ceased to fall; the bright wintry moon rode high in the
heaven, amidst black, hurrying clouds. That cold light shone on the
white range of hills sleeping beneath a shroud of untrodden snow.
On the threshold of the door the gipsy woman turned and addressed
"There will be no hunting while this weather lasts."
"Then your grand meeting of to-morrow will be put off?"
"Yes, unless the weather changes in the night."
"Once more, good night, Mr. Dale."
The rector stood at the door, watching the gipsy woman as she walked
along the snow-laden pathway. The dark figure moving slowly and
silently across the broad white expanse of hidden lawn and flower-beds
looked almost ghost-like to the eyes of the watcher.
"What does it all mean?" he asked himself, as he watched that receding
figure. "Is this woman a common impostor, who hopes to enrich herself,
or her tribe, by playing upon my fears? She asked nothing of me to-
night; and yet that may be but a trick of her trade, and she may intend
to extort all the more from me in the future. What should she be but a
cheat and a trickster, like the rest of her race?"
The question was not easy to settle.
He returned to the drawing-room. His mind had been much disturbed by
this extraordinary interview, and he was in no humour for empty small-
talk; nor was he disposed to meet Reginald Eversleigh, against whom he
had received so singular, so apparently groundless, a warning.
He tried to shake off the feeling which he was ashamed to acknowledge
He re-entered the drawing-room, and he saw Miss Graham's face light up
with sudden animation as she saw him. He was not skilled in the
knowledge of a woman's heart, and he was flattered by that bright look
of welcome. He was already half-enmeshed in the web which she had
spread for him, and that welcoming smile did much towards his complete
He went to a seat near the fascinating Lydia. Between them there was a
chess-table. Lydia laid her jewelled hand lightly on one of the pieces.
"Would you think it very wicked to play a game of chess on a Christmas
evening, Mr. Dale?" she asked.
"Indeed, no, Miss Graham. I am one of those who can see no sinfulness
in any innocent enjoyment."
"Shall we play, then?" asked Lydia, arranging the pieces.
"If you please."
They were both good players, and the game lasted long. But ever and
anon, while waiting for Lydia to move, Lionel glanced towards the spot
where Sir Reginald Eversleigh stood, engaged in conversation with
Gordon Graham and Douglas Dale.
If the rector himself had known no blot on the character of Reginald
Eversleigh, the gipsy's words would not have had a feather's weight
with him; but Lionel did know that his cousin's youth had been wild and
extravagant, and that he, the beloved, adopted son, the long-
acknowledged heir of Raynham, had been disinherited by Sir Oswald--one
of the best and most high-principled of men.
Knowing this, it was scarcely strange if Lionel Dale was in some degree
influenced by the gipsy's warning. He scanned the face of his cousin
with a searching gaze.
It was a handsome face--almost a perfect face; but was it the face of a
man who might be trusted by his fellow-men?
A careworn face--handsome though it was. There was a nervous
restlessness about the thin lips, a feverish light in the dark blue
More than once during the prolonged encounter at chess, Reginald
Eversleigh had drawn aside one of the window-curtains, to look out upon
Mr. Mordaunt, a devoted lover of all field-sports, was also restless
and uneasy about the weather, peeping out every now and then, and
announcing, in a tone of disappointment, the continuance of the frost.
In Mr. Mordaunt this was perfectly natural; but Lionel Dale knew that
his cousin was not a man who cared for hunting. Why, then, was he so
anxious about the meet which was to have taken place to-morrow?
His anxiety evidently was about the meet; for after looking out of the
window for the third time, he exclaimed, with an accent of triumph--
"I congratulate you, gentlemen; you may have your run to-morrow. It no
longer freezes, and there is a drizzling rain falling."
Mr. Mordaunt ran out of the drawing-room, and returned in about five
minutes with a radiant face.
"I have been to look at the weathercock in the stable-yard," he said;
"Sir Reginald Eversleigh is quite right. The wind has shifted to the
sou'-west; it is raining fast, and we may have our sport to-morrow."
Lionel Dale's eyes were fixed on the face of his cousin as the country
squire made this announcement. To his surprise, he saw that face blanch
to a death-like whiteness.
"To-morrow!" murmured Sir Reginald, with a sigh.
* * * * *
"ANSWER ME, IF THIS BE DONE?"
All through the night the drizzling rain fell fast, and on the morning
of the 26th, when the gentlemen at the manor-house rectory went to
their windows to look out upon the weather, they were gratified by
finding that southerly wind and cloudy sky so dear to the heart of a
At half-past eight o'clock the whole party assembled in the dining-
room, where breakfast was prepared.
Many gentlemen living in the neighbourhood had been invited to
breakfast at the rectory; and the great quadrangle of the stables was
crowded by grooms and horses, gigs and phaetons, while the clamour of
many voices rang out upon the still air.
Every one seemed to be thoroughly happy--except Reginald Eversleigh. He
was amongst the noisiest of the talkers, the loudest of the laughers;
but the rector, who watched him closely, perceived that his face was
pale, his eyes heavy as the eyes of one who had passed a sleepless
night, and that his laughter was loud without mirth, his talk
boisterous, without real cheerfulness of spirit.
"There is mischief of some kind in that man's heart," Lionel said to
himself. "Can there be any truth in the gipsy's warning after all?"
But in the next moment he was ready to fancy himself the weak dupe of
his own imagination.
"I dare say my cousin's manner is but what it always is," he thought;
"the weary manner of a man who has wasted his youth, and sacrificed all
the brilliant chances of his life, and who, even in the hour of
pleasure and excitement, is oppressed by a melancholy which he strives
in vain to shake off."
The gathering at the breakfast-table was a brilliant one.
Lydia Graham was a superb horsewoman; and in no costume did she look
more attractive than in her exquisitely fitting habit of dark blue
cloth. The early hour of the meet justified her breakfasting in riding-
costume; and gladly availing herself of this excuse, she made her
appearance in her habit, carrying her pretty little riding-hat and
dainty whip in her hand.
Her cheeks were flushed with a rich bloom--the warm flush of excitement
and the consciousness of success. Lionel's attention on the previous
evening had seemed to her unmistakeable; and again this morning she saw
admiration, if not a warmer feeling, in his gaze.
"And so you really mean to follow the hounds, Miss Graham?" said Mrs.
Mordaunt, with something like a shudder.
She had a great horror of fast young ladies, and a lurking aversion to
Miss Graham, whose dashing manner and more brilliant charms quite
eclipsed the quiet graces of the lady's two daughters. Mrs. Mordaunt
was by no means a match-making mother; but she would have been far from
sorry to see Lionel Dale devoted to one of her girls.
"Do I mean to follow the hounds?" cried Lydia. "Certainly I do, Mrs.
Mordaunt. Do not the Misses Mordaunt ride?"
"Never to hounds," answered the matron. "They ride with, their father
constantly, and when they are in London they ride in the park; but Mr.
Mordaunt would not allow his daughters to appear in the hunting-field."
Lydia's face flushed crimson with anger; but her anger changed to
delight when Lionel Dale came to the rescue.
"It is only such accomplished horsewomen as Miss Graham who can ride to
hounds with safety," he said. "Your daughters ride very well, Mrs.
Mordaunt; but they are not Diana Vernons."
"I never particularly admired the character of Diana Vernon," Mrs.
Mordaunt answered, coldly.
Lydia Graham was by no means displeased by the lady's discourtesy. She
accepted it as a tribute to her success. The mother could not bear to
see so rich a prize as the rector of Hallgrove won by any other than
her own daughter.
Douglas Dale was full of his brother's new horse, "Niagara," which had
been paraded before the windows. The gentlemen of the party had all
examined the animal, and pronounced him a beauty.
"Did you try him last week, Lionel, as I requested you to do?" asked
Douglas, when the merits of the horse had been duly discussed.
"I did; and I found him as fine a temper as any horse I ever rode. I
rode him twice--he is a magnificent animal."
"And safe, eh, Lio?" asked Douglas, anxiously. "Spavin assured me the
horse was to be relied on, and Spavin is a very respectable fellow; but
it's rather a critical matter to choose a hunter for a brother, and I
shall be glad when to-day's work is over."
"Have no fear, Douglas," answered the rector. "I am generally
considered a bold rider, but I would not mount a horse I couldn't
thoroughly depend upon; for I am of opinion that a man has no right to
As he said this, he happened by chance to look towards Reginald
Eversleigh. The eyes of the cousins met; and Lionel saw that those of
the baronet had a restless, uneasy look, which was utterly unlike their
"There is some meaning in that old woman's dark hints of wrong and
treachery," he thought; "there must be. That was no common look which I
saw just now in my cousin's eyes."
The horses were brought round to the principal door; a barouche had
been ordered for Mrs. Mordaunt and the two young ladies, who had no
objection to exhibit their prettiest winter bonnets at the general
The snow had melted, except here and there, where it still lay in great
patches; and on the distant hills, which still wore their pure white
The roads and lanes were fetlock-deep in mud, and the horses went
splashing through pools of water, which spurted up into the faces of
There was only one lady besides Lydia Graham who intended to accompany
the huntsmen, and this lady was the dashing young wife of a cavalry
officer, who was spending a month's leave of absence with his relatives
The hunting-party rode out of the rectory gates in twos and threes. All
had passed out into the high road before the rector himself, who was
mounted on his new hunter.
To his extreme surprise he found a difficulty in managing the animal.
He reared, and jibbed, and shied from side to side upon the broad
carriage-drive, splashing the melted snow and wet gravel upon the
rector's dark hunting-coat.
"So ho, 'Niagara,'" said Lionel, patting the animal's arched neck;
"gently, boy, gently."
His voice, and the caressing touch of his hand seemed to have some
little effect, for the horse consented to trot quietly into the road,
after the rest of the party, and Lionel quickly overtook his friends.
He rode shoulder by shoulder with Squire Mordaunt, an acknowledged
judge of horseflesh, who watched the rector's hunter with a curious
gaze for some minutes.
"I'll tell you what it is, Dale," he said, "I don't believe that horse
of yours is a good-tempered animal."
"You do not?"
"No, there's a dangerous look in his eye that I don't at all like. See
how he puts his ears back every now and then; and his nostrils have an
ugly nervous quiver. I wish you'd let your man bring you another horse,
Dale. We're likely to be crossing some stiffish timber to-day; and,
upon my word, I'm rather suspicious of that brute you're riding."
"My dear squire, I have tested the horse to the uttermost," answered
Lionel. "I can positively assure you there is not the slightest ground
for apprehension. The animal is a present from my brother, and Douglas
would be annoyed if I rode any other horse."
"He would be more annoyed if you came to any harm by a horse of his
choosing," answered the squire. "However I'll say no more. If you know
the animal, that's enough. I know you to be both a good rider and a
good judge of a horse."
"Thank you heartily for your advice, notwithstanding, squire," replied
Lionel, cheerily; "and now I think I'll ride on and join the ladies."
He broke into a canter, and presently was riding by the side of Miss
Graham, who did not fail to praise the beauty of "Niagara" in a manner
calculated to win the heart of Niagara's rider.
In the exhilarating excitement of the start, Lionel Dale had forgotten
alike the gipsy's warning and those vague doubts of his cousin Reginald
which had been engendered by that warning. He was entirely absorbed by
the pleasure of the hour, happy to see his friends gathered around him,
and excited by the prospect of a day's sport.
The meeting-place was crowded with horsemen and carriages, country
squires and their sons, gentlemen-farmers on sleek hunters, and humbler
tenant-farmers on their stiff cobs, butchers and innkeepers, all eager
for the chase. All was life, gaiety excitement, noise; the hounds,
giving forth occasional howls and snappish yelpings, expressive of an
impatience that was almost beyond endurance; the huntsman cracking his
whip, and reproving his charges in language more forcible than polite;
the spirited horses pawing the ground; the gentlemen exchanging the
compliments of the season with the ladies who had come up to see the
hounds throw off.
At last the important moment arrived, the horn sounded, the hounds
broke away with a rush, and the business of the day had begun.
Again the rector's horse was seized with sudden obstinacy, and again
the rector found it as much as he could do to manage him. An inferior
horseman would have been thrown in that sharp and short struggle
between horse and rider; but Lionel's firm hand triumphed over the
animal's temper for the time at least; and presently he was hurrying
onward at a stretching gallop, which speedily carried him beyond the
ruck of riders.
As he skimmed like a bird over the low flat meadows, Lionel began to
think that the horse was an acquisition, in spite of the sudden freaks
of temper which had made him so difficult to manage at starting.
A horseman who had not joined the hunt, who had dexterously kept the
others in sight, sheltering himself from observation under the fringe
of the wood which crowned a small hill in the neighbourhood of the
meet, was watching all the evolutions of Lionel Dale's horse closely
through a small field-glass, and soon, perceived that the animal was
beyond the rider's skill to manage. The stretching gallop which had
reassured Mr. Dale soon carried the rector beyond the watcher's ken,
and then, as the hunt was out of sight too, he turned his horse from
the shelter he had so carefully selected, and rode straight across
country in an opposite direction.
In little more than half an hour after the horseman who had watched
Lionel Dale so closely left the post of observation, a short man,
mounted on a stout pony, which had evidently been urged along at
unusual speed, came along the road, which wound around the hill already
mentioned. This individual wore a heavy, country-made coat, and leather
leggings, and had a handkerchief tied over his hat. This very
unbecoming appendage was stained with blood on the side which covered
the right cheek and the wearer was plentifully daubed and bespattered
with mud, his sturdy little steed being in a similar condition. As he
urged the pony on, his sharp, crafty eyes kept up an incessant
scrutiny, in which his beak-like nose seemed to take an active part.
But there was nothing to reward the curiosity, amounting to anxiety,
with which the short man surveyed the wintry scene around. All was
silent and empty. If the horseman had designed to see and speak with
any member of the hunting-party, he had come too late. He recognized
the fact very soon, and very discontentedly. Without being so great a
genius, as he believed and represented himself, Mr. Andrew Larkspur was
really a very clever and a very successful detective, and he had seldom
been foiled in a better-laid plan than that which had induced him to
follow Lionel Dale to the meet on this occasion. But he had not
calculated on precisely the exact kind of accident which had befallen
him, and when he found himself thrown violently from his pony, in the
middle of a road at once hard, sloppy, and newly-repaired with very
sharp stones, he was both hurt and angry. It did not take him a great
deal of time to get the pony on its legs, and shake himself to rights
again; but the delay, brief as it was, was fatal to his hopes of seeing
Lionel Dale. The meet had taken place, the hunt was in full progress,
far away, and Mr. Andrew Larkspur had nothing for it but to sit
forlornly for awhile upon the muddy pony, indulging in meditations of
no pleasant character, and then ride disconsolately back to Frimley.
In the meantime, Nemesis, who had perversely pleased herself by
thwarting the designs of Mr. Larkspur, had hurried those of Victor
Carrington towards fulfilment with incredible speed. He had ridden at a
speed, and for some time in a direction which would, he calculated,
bring him within sight of the hunt, and had just crossed a bridge which
traversed a narrow but deep and rapid river, about three miles distant
from the place where he Andrew Larkspur had taken sad counsel with
himself, when he heard the sound of a horse's approach, at a
thundering, apparently wholly ungoverned pace. A wild gleam of
triumphant expectation, of deadly murderous hope, lit up his pale
features, as he turned his horse, rendered restive by the noise of the
distant galloping, into a field, close by the road, dismounted, and
tied him firmly to a tree. The hedge, though bare of leaves, was thick
and high, and in the angle which it formed with the tree, the animal
was completely hidden.
In a moment after Victor Carrington had done this, and while he
crouched down and looked through the hedge, Lionel Dale appeared in
sight, borne madly along by his unmanageable horse, as he dashed
heedlessly down the road, his rider holding the bridle indeed, but
breathless, powerless, his head uncovered, and one of his stirrup-
leathers broken. Victor Carrington's heart throbbed violently, and a
film came over his eyes. Only for a moment, however; in the next his
sight cleared, and he saw the furious animal, frightened by a sudden
plunge made by the horse tied to the tree, swerve suddenly from the
road, and dash at the swollen, tumbling river. The horse plunged in a
little below the bridge. The rider was thrown out of the saddle head
foremost. His head struck with a dull thud against the rugged trunk of
an ash which hung over the water, and he sank below the brown, turbid
stream. Then Victor Carrington emerged from his hiding-place, and
rushed to the brink of the water. No sign of the rector was to be seen;
and midway across, the horse, snorting and terrified, was struggling
towards the opposite bank. In a moment Carrington, drawing something
from his breast as he went, had run across the bridge, and reached the
spot where the animal was now attempting to scramble up the steep bank.
As Carrington came up, he had got his fore-feet within a couple of feet
of the top, and was just making good his footing below; but the
surgeon, standing close upon the brink, a little to the right of the
struggling brute, stooped down and shot him through the forehead. The
huge carcase fell crashing heavily down, and was sucked under, and
whirled away by the stream. Victor Carrington placed the pistol once
more in his breast, and for some time stood quite motionless gazing oh
the river. Then he turned away, saying,--
"They'll hardly look for him below the bridge--I should say the fox ran
west;" and he letting loose the horse he had ridden, walked along the
road until he reached the turn at which Lionel Dale had come in sight.
There he found the unfortunate rector's hat, as he had hoped he might
find it, and having carried it back, he placed it on the brink of the
river, and then once more mounted him, and rode, not at any remarkable
speed, in the opposite direction to that in which Hallgrove lay.
His reflections were of a satisfactory kind. He had succeeded, and he
cared for nothing but success. When he thought of Sir Reginald
Eversleigh, a contemptuous smile crossed his pale lips. "To work for
such a creature as that," he said to himself, "would indeed be
degrading; but he is only an accident in the case--I work for myself."
Victor Carrington had discharged his score at the inn that morning, and
sent his valise to London by coach. When the night fell, he took the
saddle off his horse, steeped it in the river, replaced it, quietly
turned the animal loose, and abandoning him to his fate, made his way
to a solitary public-house some miles from Hallgrove, where he had
given a conditional, uncertain sort of _rendezvous_ to Sir Reginald
* * * * *
The night had closed in upon the returning huntsmen as they rode
homewards. Not a star glimmered in the profound darkness of the sky.
The moon had not yet risen, and all was chill and dreary in the early
Miss Graham, her brother Gordon, and Sir Reginald Eversleigh rode
abreast as they approached the manor-house. Lydia had been struck by
the silence of Sir Reginald, but she attributed that silence to
fatigue. Her brother, too, was silent; nor did Lydia herself care to
talk. She was thinking of her triumphs of the previous evening, and of
that morning. She was thinking of the tender pressure with which the
rector had clasped her hand as he bade her good-night; the soft
expression of his eyes as they dwelt on her face, with a long, earnest
gaze. She was thinking of his tender care of her when she mounted her
horse, the gentle touch of his hand as he placed the reins in hers.
Could she doubt that she was beloved?
She did not doubt. A thrill of delight ran through her veins as she
thought of the sweet certainty; but it was not the pure delight of a
simple-hearted girl who loves and finds herself beloved. It was the
triumph of a hard and worldly woman, who has devoted the bright years
of her girlhood to ambitious dreams; and who, at last, has reason to
believe that they are about to be realized.
"Five thousand a year," she thought; "it is little, after all, compared
to the fortune that would have been mine had I been lucky enough to
captivate Sir Oswald Eversleigh. It is little compared to the wealth
enjoyed by that low-born and nameless creature, Sir Oswald's widow. But
it is much for one who has drained poverty's bitter cup to the very
dregs as I have. Yes, to the dregs; for though I have never known the
want of life's common necessaries, I have known humiliations which are
at least as hard to bear."
The many windows of the manor-house were all a-blaze with light as the
hunting-party entered the gates. Fires burned brightly in all the
rooms, and the interior of that comfortable house formed a very
pleasant contrast to the cheerless darkness of the night, the muddy
roads, and damp atmosphere.
The butler stood in the hall ready to welcome the returning guests with
stately ceremony; while the under-servants bustled about, attending to
the wants of the mud-bespattered huntsmen.
"Mr. Dale is at home, I suppose?" Douglas said, as he warmed his hands
before the great wood fire.
"At home, sir!" replied the butler; "hasn't he come home with you,
"No; we never saw him after the meet. I imagine he must have been
called away on parish business."
"I don't know, sir," answered the butler; "my master has certainly not
been home since the morning."
A feeling of vague alarm took possession of almost everyone present.
"It is very strange," exclaimed Squire Mordaunt. "Did no one come here
to inquire after your master this morning?"
"No one, sir," replied the butler.
"Send to the stables to see if my brother's horse has been brought
home," cried Douglas, with alarm very evident in his face and manner.
"Or, stay, I will go myself."
He ran out of the hall, and in a few moments returned.
"The horse has not been brought back," he cried; "there must be
"Stop," cried the squire; "pray, my dear Mr. Douglas Dale, do not let
us give way to unnecessary alarm. There may be no cause whatever for
fear or agitation. If Mr. Dale was summoned away from the hunt to
attend the bed of a dying parishioner, he would be the last man to
think of sending his horse home, or to count the hours which he devoted
to his duty."
"But he would surely send a messenger here to prevent the alarm which
his absence would be likely to cause amongst us all," replied Douglas;
"do not let us deceive ourselves, Mr. Mordaunt. There is something
wrong--an accident of some kind has happened to my brother. Andrews,
order fresh horses to be saddled immediately. If you will ride one way,
squire, I will take another road, first stopping in the village to make
all possible inquires there. Reginald, you will help us, will you not?"
"With all my heart," answered Reginald, with energy, but in a voice
which was thick and husky.
Douglas Dale looked at his cousin, startled, even in the midst of his
excitement, by the strange tone of Reginald's voice.
"Great heavens! how ghastly pale you look, Reginald!" he cried; "you
apprehend some great misfortune--some dreadful accident?"
"I scarcely know," gasped the baronet; "but I own that I feel
considerable alarm--the--the river--the current was so strong after the
thaw--the stream so swollen by melted snow. If--if Lionel's horse
should have tried to swim the river--and failed--"
"And we are lingering here!" cried Douglas, passionately; "lingering
here and talking, instead of acting! Are those horses ready there?" he
shouted, rushing out to the portico.
His voice was heard in the darkness without, urging on the grooms as
they led out fresh horses from the quadrangle.
"Gordon!" cried Lydia Graham, "you will go out with the others. You
will do your uttermost in the search for Mr. Lionel Dale!"
She said this in a loud, ringing voice, with the imperious tone of a
woman accustomed to command. She was leaning against one angle of the
great chimney-piece, pale as ashes, breathless, but not fainting. To
her, the idea that any calamity had befallen Lionel Dale was very
dreadful--almost as dreadful as it could be to the brother who so truly
loved him; for her own interest was involved in this man's life, and
with her that was ever paramount.
She was well-nigh fainting; but she was too much a woman of the world
not to know that if she had given way to her emotion at that moment,
she would have given rise to disgust and annoyance, rather than
interest, in the minds of the gentlemen present. She knew this, and she
wished to please every one; for in pleasing the many lies the secret of
a woman's success with the few.
Even in that moment of confusion and excitement, the scheming woman
determined to stand well in the eyes of Douglas Dale.
As he appeared on the threshold of the great hall-door, she went up to
him very quietly, with her head uncovered, and her pale, clearly-cut
face revealed by the light of the lamp above her. She laid her hand
gently on the young man's arm.
"Mr. Dale." she said, "command my brother Gordon; he will be proud to
obey you. I will go out myself to aid in the search, if you will let me
Douglas Dale clasped her hand in both his with grateful emotion.
"You are a noble girl," he cried; "but you cannot help me in this. Your
brother Gordon may, perhaps, and I will call upon his friendship
without reserve. And now leave us, Miss Graham; this is no fitting
scene for a lady. Come, gentlemen!" he exclaimed, "the horses are
ready. I go by the village, and thence to the river; you will each take
different roads, and will all meet me on the river-bank, at the spot
where we crossed to-day."
In less than five minutes all had mounted, and the trampling of hoofs
announced their departure. Reginald was amongst them, hardly conscious
of the scene or his companions.
Sight, hearing, perception of himself, and of the world around him, all
seemed annihilated. He rode on through dense black shadows, dark clouds
which hemmed him in on every side, as if a gigantic pall had fallen
from heaven to cover him.
How he became separated from his companions he never knew; but when his
senses awoke from that dreadful stupor, he found himself alone, on a
common, and in the far distance he saw the glimmer of lights--very
feeble and wan beneath the starless sky.
It seemed as if the horse knew his desolate ground, and was going
straight towards these lights. The animal belonged to the rector, and
was, no doubt, familiar with the country.
Reginald Eversleigh had just sufficient consciousness of surrounding
circumstances to remember this. He made no attempt to guide the horse.
What did it matter whither he went? He had forgotten his promise to
meet the other men on the river-brink; he had forgotten everything,
except that the work of a demon had progressed in silence, and that its
fatal issue was about to burst like a thunder-clap upon him.
"Victor Carrington has told me that this fortune shall be mine; he has
failed once, but will not fail always," he said to himself.
The disappearance of Lionel Dale had struck like a thunderbolt on the
baronet; but it was a thunderbolt whose falling he had anticipated with
shuddering horror during every day and every hour since his arrival at
The lights grew more distinct--feeble lamps in a village street,
glimmering candles in cottage windows scattered here and there. The
horse reached the edge of the common and turned into a high road. Five
minutes afterwards Reginald Eversleigh found himself at the beginning
of a little country town.
Lights were burning cheerily in the windows of an inn. The door was
open, and from within there came the sound of voices that rang out
merrily on the night air.
"Great heaven!" exclaimed Reginald, "how happy these peasants are--
these brutish creatures who have no care beyond their daily bread!"
He envied them; and at that moment would have exchanged places with the
humblest field-labourer carousing in the rustic tap-room. But it was
only now and then the anguish of a guilty conscience took this shape.
He was a man who loved the pleasures and luxuries of this world better
than he loved peace of mind; better than he loved his own soul.
He drew rein before the inn-door, and called to the people within. A
man came out, and took the bridle as he dismounted.
"What is the name of this place?" he asked.
"Frimley, sir--Frimley Common it's called by rights. But folks call it
Frimley for short."
"How far am I from the river-bank at the bottom of Thorpe Hill?"
"A good six miles, sir."
"Take my horse and rub him down. Give him a pail of gruel and a quart
of oats. I shall want to start again in less than an hour."
"Sharp work, sir," answered the ostler. "Your horse seems to have done
"That is my business," said Sir Reginald, haughtily.
He went into the inn.
"Is there a room in which I can dry my coat?" he asked at the bar.
He had only lately become aware of a drizzling rain which had been
falling, and had soaked through his hunting-coat.
"Were you with the Horsely hounds to-day, sir?" asked the landlord.
"Good sport, sir?"
"No," answered Sir Reginald, curtly.
"Show the way to the parlour, Jane," said the landlord to a
chambermaid, or barmaid, or girl-of-all-work, who emerged from the tap-
room with a tray of earthenware mugs. "There's one gentleman there,
sir; but perhaps you won't object to that, Christmas being such a
particularly busy time," added the landlord, addressing Reginald.
"You'll find a good fire."
"Send me some brandy," returned Sir Reginald, without deigning to make
any further reply to the landlord's apologetic speech.
He followed the girl, who led the way to a door at the end of a
passage, which she opened, and ushered Sir Reginald into a light and
Before a large, old-fashioned fire-place sat a man, with his face
hidden by the newspaper which he was reading.
Sir Reginald Eversleigh did not condescend to look at this stranger. He
walked straight to the hearth; took off his dripping coat, and hung it
on a chair by the side of the roaring wood fire. Then he flung himself
into another chair, drew it close to the fender, and sat staring at the
fire, with a gloomy face, and eyes which seemed to look far away into
some dark and terrible region beyond those burning logs.
He sat in this attitude for some time, motionless as a statue, utterly
unconscious that his companion was closely watching him from behind the
sheltering newspaper. The inn servant brought a tray, bearing a small
decanter of brandy and a glass. But the baronet did not heed her
entrance, nor did he touch the refreshment for which he had asked.
Not once did he stir till the sudden crackling of his companion's
newspaper startled him, and he lifted his head with an impatient
gesture and an exclamation of surprise.
"You are nervous to-night, Sir Reginald Eversleigh," said the man,
whose voice was still hidden by the newspaper.
The sound of the voice in which those common-place words were spoken
was, at this moment, of all sounds the most hateful to Reginald
"You here!" he exclaimed. "But I ought to have known that."
The newspaper was lowered for the first time; and Reginald Eversleigh
found himself face to face with Victor Carrington.
"You ought, indeed, considering I told you you should find me, or hear
from me here, at the 'Wheatsheaf,' in case you wished to do so, or I
wished you should do so either. And I presume you have come by
accident, not intentionally. I had no idea of seeing you, especially at
an hour when I should have thought you would have been enjoying the
hospitality of your kinsman, the rector of Hallgrove."
"Victor Carrington!" cried Reginald, "are you the fiend himself in
human shape? Surely no other creature could delight in crime."
"I do not delight in crime, Reginald Eversleigh; and it is only a man
with your narrow intellect who could give utterance to such an
absurdity. Crime is only another name for danger. The criminal stakes
his life. I value my life too highly to hazard it lightly. But if I can
mould accident to my profit, I should be a fool indeed were I to shrink
from doing so. There is one thing I delight in, my dear Reginald, and
that is success! And now tell me why you are here to-night?"
"I cannot tell you that," answered the baronet. "I came hither,
unconscious where I was coming. There seems a strange fatality in this.
I let my horse choose his own road, and he brought me here to this
house--to you, my evil genius."
"Pray, Sir Reginald, be good enough to drop that high tragedy tone,"
said Victor, with supreme coolness. "It is all very well to be
addressed by you as a fiend and an evil genius once in a way; but upon
frequent repetition, that sort of thing becomes tiresome. You have not
told me why you are wandering about the country instead of eating your
dinner in a Christian-like manner at the rectory?"
"Do you not know the reason, Carrington?" asked the baronet, gazing
fixedly at his companion.
"How should I know anything about it?"
"Because to-day's work has been your doing," answered Reginald,
passionately; "because you are mixed up in the dark business of this
day, as you were mixed up in that still darker treachery at Raynham
Castle. I know now why you insisted upon my choosing the horse called
'Niagara' for my cousin Lionel; I know now why you were so interested
in the appearance of that other horse, which had already caused the
death of more than one rider; I know why you are here, and why Lionel
Dale has disappeared in the course of the day."
"He has disappeared!" exclaimed Victor Carrington; "he is not dead?"
"I know nothing but that he has disappeared. We missed him in the midst
of the hunt. We returned to the rectory in the evening, expecting to
find him there."
"Did _you_ expect that, Eversleigh?"
"Others did, at any rate."
"And did you not find him ?"
"No. We left the house, after a brief delay, to seek for him; I among
the others. We were to ride by different roads; to make inquiries of
every kind; to obtain information from every source. My brain was
dazed. I let my horse take his own road."
"Fool! coward!" exclaimed Victor Harrington, with mingled scorn and
anger. "And you have abandoned your work; you have come here to waste
your time, when you should seem most active in the search--most eager
to find the missing man. Reginald Eversleigh, from first to last you
have trifled with me. You are a villain; but you are a hypocrite. You
would have the reward of guilt, and yet wear the guise of innocence,
even before me; as if it were possible to deceive one who has read you
through and through. I am tired of this trifling; I am weary of this
pretended innocence; and to-night I ask you, for the last time, to
choose the path which you mean to tread; and, once chosen, to tread it
with a firm step, prepared to meet danger--to confront destiny. This
very hour, this very moment, I call upon you to make your decision; and
it shall be a final decision. Will you grovel on in poverty--the worst
of all poverty, the gentleman's pittance? or will you make yourself
possessor of the wealth which your uncle Oswald bequeathed to others?
Look me in the face, Reginald, as you are a man, and answer me, Which
is it to be--wealth or poverty?"
"It is too late to answer poverty," replied the baronet, in a gloomy
and sullen tone. "You cannot bring my uncle back to life; you cannot
undo your work."
"I do not pretend to bring the dead to life. I am not talking of the
past--I am talking of the future."
"Suppose I say that I will endure poverty rather than plunge deeper
into the pit you have dug--what then?"
"In that case, I will bid you good speed, and leave you to your poverty
and--a clear conscience," answered Victor, coolly. "I am a poor man
myself; but I like my friends to be rich. If you do not care to grasp
the wealth which might be yours, neither do I care to preserve our
acquaintance. So we have merely to bid each other good night, and part
There was a pause--Reginald Eversleigh sat with his arms folded, his
eyes fixed on the fire. Victor watched him with a sinister smile upon
"And if I choose to go on," said Reginald, at last; "if I choose to
tread farther on the dark road which I have trodden so long--what then?
Can you ensure me success, Victor Carrington?"
"I can," replied the Frenchman.
"Then I will go on. Yes; I will be your slave, your tool, your willing
coadjutor in crime and treachery; anything to obtain at last the
heritage out of which I have been cheated."
"Enough! You have made your decision. Henceforward let me hear no
repinings, no hypocritical regrets. And now, order your horse, gallop