Part 6 out of 8
"You trust in her, my boy," said the old doctor. "We'll try our best in
the meantime to find out where she has gone to. If she is unhappy or
needs a friend you may be sure that she will write to your mother."
"Yes, there is always that hope," exclaimed Tom, in a more cheerful
voice. "To-morrow I may learn something at the office."
"Don't make the mistake of quarrelling with the Girdlestones.
After all, they are within their rights in doing what they appear to
"They may be within their legal rights," Tom cried indignantly; "but the
old man made a deliberate compact with me, which he has broken."
"Never mind. Don't give them an advantage by losing your temper." The
doctor chatted away over the matter for some time, and his words,
together with those of his mother, cheered the young fellow's heart.
Nevertheless, after they had retired to their rooms, Dr. Dimsdale
continued to be very thoughtful and very grave. "I don't like it," he
said, more than once. "I don't like the idea of the poor girl being
left entirely in the hands of that pair of beauties. God grant that no
harm come of it, Matilda!" a prayer which his good wife echoed with all
the strength of her kindly nature.
THE JOURNEY TO THE PRIORY.
It was already dusk when John Girdlestone and his ward reached Waterloo
Station. He gave orders to the guard that the luggage should be
stamped, but took care that she should not hear the name of their
destination. Hurrying her rapidly down the platform amid the confused
heaps of luggage and currents of eager passengers, he pushed her into a
first-class carriage, and sprang after her just as the bell rang and the
wheels began to revolve.
They were alone. Kate crouched up into the corner among the cushions,
and wrapped her rug round her, for it was bitterly cold. The merchant
pulled a note-book from his pocket and proceeded by the light of the
lamp above him to add up columns of figures. He sat very upright in his
seat, and appeared to be as absorbed in his work as though he were among
his papers in Fenchurch Street. He neither glanced at his companion nor
made any inquiry as to her comfort.
As she sat opposite to him she could not keep her eyes from his hard
angular face, every rugged feature of which was exaggerated by the
flickering yellow light above him. Those deep-set eyes and sunken
cheeks had been familiar to her for years. How was it that they now,
for the first time, struck her as being terrible? Was it that new
expression which had appeared upon them, that hard inexorable set about
the mouth, which gave a more sinister character to his whole face?
As she gazed at him an ineffable loathing and dread rose in her soul,
and she could have shrieked out of pure terror. She put her hand up to
her throat with a gasp to keep down the sudden inclination to cry out.
As she did so her guardian glanced over the top of the note-book with
his piercing light grey eyes.
"Don't get hysterical!" he cried. "You have given us trouble enough
"Oh, why are you so harsh?" she cried, throwing out her arms towards him
in eloquent entreaty, while the tears coursed down her cheeks.
"What have I done that is so dreadful? I _could_ not love your son, and
I do love another. I am so grieved to have offended you. You used to
be kind and like a father to me."
"And a nice return you have made me! 'Honour your father,' says the
good old Book. What honour did you give me save to disobey every
command which I have ever given you. I have to blame myself to some
extent for having allowed you to go on that most pernicious trip to
Scotland, where you were thrown into the company of this young
adventurer by his scheming old fool of a father."
It would have been a study for a Rembrandt to depict the craggy,
strongly lined face of the old merchant, and the beautiful pleading one
which looked across at him, with the light throwing strange shadows over
both. As he spoke she brushed the tears from her eyes and an angry
flush sprang to her cheeks.
"You may say what you like of me," she said bitterly. "I suppose that
is one of your privileges as my guardian. You have no right, however,
to speak evil of my friends. 'He who calleth his brother a fool,' I
think the good old Book says something of that."
Girdlestone was staggered for a moment by this unexpected counter.
Then he took off his broad-brimmed hat and bowed his head with drooping
"Out of the mouths of babes and of sucklings!" he cried. "You are
right. I spoke too warmly. It is my zeal for you which betrays me."
"The same zeal which made you tell me so many things which I now know to
be untrue about Mr. Dimsdale," said Kate, waxing more fearless as her
mind turned to her wrongs.
"You are becoming impertinent," he answered, and resumed his
calculations in his note-book.
Kate cowered back into her corner again, while the train thundered and
screeched and rattled through the darkness. Looking through the steamy
window, nothing was to be seen save the twinkle here and there of the
lights of the scattered country cottages. Occasionally a red signal
lamp would glare down upon her like the bloodshot eye of some demon who
presided over this kingdom of iron and steam. Far behind a lurid trail
of smoke marked the way that they had come. To Kate's mind it was all
as weird and gloomy and cheerless even as the thoughts within her.
And they were gloomy enough. Where was she going? How long was she
going for? What was she to do when there? On all these points she was
absolutely ignorant. What was the object of this sudden flight from
London? Her guardian could have separated her from the Dimsdales in
many less elaborate ways than this. Could it be that he intended some
system of pressure and terrorism by which she should be forced to accept
Ezra as a suitor. She clenched her little white teeth as she thought of
it, and registered a vow that nothing in this world would ever bring her
to give in upon that point. There was only one bright spot in her
outlook. When she reached her destination she would at once write to
Mrs. Dimsdale, tell her where she was, and ask her frankly for an
explanation of their sudden silence. How much wiser if she had done so
before. Only a foolish pride had withheld her from it.
The train had already stopped at one large junction. Looking out
through the window she saw by the lamps that it was Guildford.
After another interminable interval of clattering and tossing and
plunging through the darkness, they came to a second station of
importance, Petersfield. "We are nearing our destination," Girdlestone
remarked, shutting up his book.
This proved to be a small wayside station, illuminated by a single lamp,
which gave no information as to the name. They were the only passengers
who alighted, and the train rolled on for Portsmouth, leaving them with
their trunks upon the dark and narrow platform. It was a black night
with a bitter wind which carried with it a suspicion of dampness, which
might have been rain, or might have been the drift of the neighbouring
ocean. Kate was numb with the cold, and even her gaunt companion
stamped his feet and shivered as he looked about him.
"I telegraphed for a trap," said he to the guard. "Is there not one
"Yes, sir; if you be Mister Girdlestone, there's a trap from the _Flyin'
Bull_. Here, Carker, here's your gentleman."
At this summons a rough-looking ostler emerged into the circle of light
thrown by the single lamp and, touching his hat, announced in a surly
voice that he was the individual In question. The guard and he then
proceeded to drag the trunks to the vehicle. It was a small wagonette,
with a high seat for the driver in front.
"Where to, sir?" asked the driver, when the travellers had taken their
"To Hampton Priory. Do you know where that is?"
"Better'n two mile from here, and close to the railway line," said the
man. "There hain't been no one livin' there for two year at the least."
"We are expected and all will be ready for us," said Girdlestone.
"Go as fast as you can, for we are cold."
The driver cracked his whip, and the horse started at a brisk trot down
the dark country road.
Looking round her, Kate saw that they were passing through a large
country village, consisting of a broad main street, with a few
insignificant offshoots branching away on either side. A church stood
on one side, and on the other the village inn. The door was open and
the light shining through the red curtains of the bar parlour looked
warm and cosy. The clink of glasses and the murmur of cheerful voices
sounded from within. Kate, as she looked across, felt doubly cheerless
and lonely by the contrast. Girdlestone looked too, but with different
"Another plague spot," he cried, jerking his head in that direction.
"In town or country it is the same. These poison-sellers are scattered
over the whole face of the land, and every one of them is a focus of
disease and misery."
"Beg your pardon, sir," the surly driver observed, screwing round in his
seat. "That 'ere's the _Flyin' Bull_, sir, where I be in sarvice, and
it ain't no poison-seller, but a real right down good house."
"All liquor is poison, and every house devoted to the sale of it is a
sinful house," Girdlestone said curtly.
"Don't you say that to my maister," remarked the driver. "He be a big
man wi' a ter'bly bad temper and a hand like a leg o' mutton. Hold up,
The last remark was addressed to the horse, which had stumbled in going
down a sharp incline. They were out of the village by this time, and
the road was lined on either side by high hedges, which threw a dense
shadow over everything. The feeble lamps of the wagonette bored two
little yellow tunnels of light on either side. The man let the reins
lie loose upon the horse's back, and the animal picked out the roadway
for itself. As they swung round from the narrow lane on to a broader
road Kate broke out into a little cry of pleasure.
"There's the sea!" she exclaimed joyfully. The moon had broken from
behind the clouds and glittered on the vast silvery expanse.
"Yes, that's the sea," the driver said, "and them lights down yonder is
at Lea Claxton, where the fisher-folk live; and over there," pointing
with his whip to a long dark shadow on the waters, "is the Oilywoite."
"The Isle of Wight, he means," said Girdlestone. The driver looked at
him reproachfully. "Of course," said he, "if you Lunnon folks knows
more about it than we who are born an' bred in the place, it's no manner
o' use our tryin' to teach you." With this sarcastic comment he withdrew
into himself, and refused to utter another word until the end of their
It was not long before this was attained. Passing down a deeply rutted
lane, they came to a high stone wall which extended for a couple of
hundred yards. It had a crumbling, decaying appearance, as far as could
be judged in the uncertain light. This wall was broken by a single iron
gate, flanked by two high pillars, each of which was surmounted by some
weather-beaten heraldic device. Passing through they turned up a
winding avenue, with lines of trees on either side, which shot their
branches so thickly above them that they might have been driving through
some sombre tunnel. This avenue terminated in an open space, in the
midst of which towered a great irregular whitewashed building, which was
the old Priory. All below it was swathed in darkness, but the upper
windows caught the glint of the moon and emitted a pallid and sickly
glimmer. The whole effect was so weird and gloomy that Kate felt her
heart sink within her. The wagonette pulled up in front of the door,
and Girdlestone assisted her to alight.
There had been no lights or any symptoms of welcome, but as they pulled
down the trunks the door opened and a little old woman appeared with a
candle in her hand, which she carefully shaded from the wind while she
peered out into the darkness.
"Is that Mr. Girdlestone?" she cried.
"Of course it is," the merchant said impatiently. "Did I not telegraph
and tell you that I was coming?"
"Yes, yes," she answered, hobbling forward with the light. "And this is
the young lady? Come in, my dear, come in. We have not got things very
smart yet, but they will soon come right."
She led the way through a lofty hall into a large sitting-room, which,
no doubt, had been the monkish refectory in bygone days. It looked very
bleak and cold now, although a small fire sputtered and sparkled in the
corner of the great iron grate. There was a pan upon the fire, and the
deal table in the centre of the room was laid out roughly as for a meal.
The candle which the old woman had carried in was the only light, though
the flickering fire cast strange fantastic shadows in the further
corners and among the great oaken rafters which formed the ceiling.
"Come up to the fire, my dear," said the old woman. "Take off your
cloak and warm yourself." She held her own shrivelled arms towards the
blaze, as though her short exposure to the night air had chilled her.
Glancing at her, Kate saw that her face was sharp-featured and cunning,
with a loose lower lip which exposed a line of yellow teeth, and a chin
which bristled with a tuft of long grey hairs.
From without there came the crunching of gravel as the wagonette turned
and rattled down the avenue. Kate listened to the sound of the wheels
until they died away in the distance. They seemed somehow to be the
last link which bound her to the human race. Her heart failed her
completely, and she burst into tears.
"What's the matter then?" the old woman asked, looking up at her.
"What are ye crying about?"
"Oh, I am so miserable and so lonely," she cried. "What have I done
that I should be so unhappy? Why should I be taken to this horrible,
"What's the matter with the place?" asked her withered companion.
"I don't see nought amiss with it. Here's Mr. Girdlestone a-comin'.
He don't grumble at the place, I'll warr'nt."
The merchant was not in the best of tempers, for he had had an
altercation with the driver about the fare, and was cold into the
bargain. "At it again?" he said roughly, as he entered. "It is I who
ought to weep, I think, who have been put to all this trouble and
inconvenience by your disobedience and weakness of mind."
Kate did not answer, but sat upon a coarse deal chair beside the fire,
and buried her face in her hands. All manner of vague fears and fancies
filled her mind. What was Tom doing now? How quickly he would fly to
her rescue did he but know how strangely she was situated!
She determined that her very first action next morning should be to
write to Mrs. Dimsdale and to tell her, not only where she was, but all
that had occurred. The reflection that she could do this cheered her
heart, and she managed to eat a little of the supper which the old woman
had now placed upon the table. It was a rough stew of some sort, but
the long journey had given an edge to their appetites, and the merchant,
though usually epicurean in his tastes, ate a hearty meal.
When supper was over the crone, who was addressed by Girdlestone as
Jorrocks, led the way upstairs and showed Kate to her room. If the
furniture of the dining-room had been Spartan in its simplicity, this
was even more so, for there was nothing in it save a small iron
bedstead, much rusted from want of use, and a high wooden box on which
stood the simplest toilet requisites. In spite of the poverty of the
apartment Kate had never been more glad to enter her luxurious chamber
at home. The little carpetless room was a haven of rest where she would
be left, for one night at least, to her own thoughts. As she lay in
bed, however, she could hear far away the subdued murmur of
Girdlestone's voice and the shrill tones of the old woman. They were in
deep and animated converse. Though they were too far distant for her to
distinguish a word, something told her that their talk was about
herself, and the same instinct assured her that it boded her little
THE MAN WITH THE CAMP-STOOL.
When she awoke in the morning it was some little time before she could
realize where she was or recall the events which had made such a sudden
change in her life. The bare, cold room, with the whitewashed walls,
and the narrow bed upon which she lay, brought back to her the
recollection of a hospital ward which she had seen in Edinburgh, and her
first thought was that she had had some accident and had been conveyed
to some such establishment. The delusion was only momentary, however,
for her true situation came back to her at once with all its vague
horror. Of the two, she would have preferred that her first impression
had been correct.
The small window of her apartment was covered by a dirty muslin blind.
She rose and, drawing it aside, looked eagerly out. From what she had
seen the night before she had hoped that this prison to which she had
been conveyed might make amends for its loneliness by some degree of
natural beauty. The scene which now met her eyes soon dispelled any
expectations of the sort. The avenue with its trees lay on the other
side of the house. From her window nothing was visible but a dreary
expanse of bog-land and mudbanks stretching down to the sea. At high
tide this enormous waste of dreariness and filth was covered by the
water, but at present it lay before her in all its naked hideousness,
the very type of dullness and desolation. Here and there a few
scattered reeds, or an unhealthy greenish scum upon the mud, gave a
touch of colour to the scene; but for the most part the great plain was
all of the same sombre mud tint, with its monotony broken only by the
white flecks where the swarms of gulls and kittiwakes had settled in the
hope of picking up whatever had been left by the receding tide.
Away across the broad surface a line of sparkling foam marked the fringe
of the ocean, which stretched away to the horizon.
A mile or two to the eastward of her Kate saw some sign of houses, and a
blue smoke which flickered up into the air. This she guessed to be the
fishing village of Lea Claxton, which the driver had mentioned the night
before. She felt, as she gazed at the little hamlet and the masts of
the boats in front of it, that she was not alone in the world, and that
even in this strange and desolate place there were honest hearts to whom
as a last resource she could appeal.
She was still standing at the window when there came a knocking at the
door, and she heard the voice of the old woman asking if she were awake.
"Breakfast is ready," she said, "and the master is a-wondering why you
On this summons Kate hastened her toilet and made her way down the old
winding stair to the room in which they had supped the night before.
Surely Girdlestone must have had a heart of flint not to be melted by
the sight of that fair, fresh face. His features set as hard as adamant
as she entered the room, and he looked at her with eyes which were
puckered and angry.
"You are late," he said coldly. "You must remember that you are not in
Eccleston Square. 'An idle soul shall suffer hunger,' says the prophet.
You are here to be disciplined, and disciplined you shall be."
"I am sorry," she answered. "I think that I must have been tired by our
The vast room looked even more comfortless and bleak than on the
preceding evening. On the table was a plate of ham and eggs.
John Girdlestone served out a portion, and pushed it in her direction.
She sat down on one of the rough wooden chairs and ate listlessly,
wondering how all this was going to end.
After breakfast Girdlestone ordered the old woman out of the room, and,
standing in front of the fire with his long legs apart and his hands
behind his back, he told her in harsh concise language what his
"I had long determined," he said, "that if you ran counter to my wishes,
and persisted in your infatuated affection for that scapegrace, I should
remove you to some secluded spot, where you might reconsider your
conduct and form better resolutions for the future. This country house
answered the purpose admirably, and as an old servant of mine, Mrs.
Jorrocks, chanced to reside in the neighbourhood, I have warned her that
at any time I might come down and should expect to find things ready.
Your rash and heartless conduct has, however, precipitated matters, and
we have arrived before her preparations were complete. Our future
arrangements will therefore be less primitive than they are at present.
Here you shall remain, young lady, until you show signs of repentance,
and of a willingness to undo the harm which you have done."
"If you mean until I consent to marry your son, then I shall live and
die here," the girl said bravely.
"That rests with yourself. As I said before, you are under discipline
here, and you may not find existence such a bed of roses as it was in
"Can I have my maid?" Kate asked. "I can hardly stay here with no one
but the old woman in the house."
"Rebecca is coming down. I had a telegram from Ezra to that effect, and
he will himself join us for a day or two in each week."
"Ezra here!" Kate cried in horror. Her chief consolation through all
her troubles had been that there seemed to be some chance of getting rid
of her terrible suitor.
"And why not?" the old man asked angrily. "Are you so bitter against
the lad as to grudge him the society of his own father?"
Kate was saved from further reproaches by the entrance of the old woman
to clear the table. The last item of intelligence, however, had given
her a terrible shock, and at the same time had filled her with
astonishment. What could the fast-living, comfort-seeking man about
town want in this dreary abode? She knew Ezra well, and was sure that
he was not a man to alter his ways of life or suffer discomfort of any
kind without some very definite object. It seemed to her that this was
a new mesh in the net which was being drawn round her.
When her guardian had left the room Kate asked Mrs. Jorrocks for a sheet
of paper. The crone shook her head and wagged her pendulous lip in
"Mister Girdlestone thought as you would be after that," she said.
"There ain't no paper here, nor pens neither, nor ink neither."
"What, none! Dear Mrs. Jorrocks, do have pity on me, and get me a sheet,
however old and soiled. See, here is some silver! You are very welcome
to it if you will give me the materials for writing one letter."
Mrs. Jorrocks looked longingly with her bleared eyes at the few
shillings which the girl held out to her, but she shook her head.
"I dursn't do it," she said. "It's as much as my place is worth."
"Then I shall walk down to Bedsworth myself," said Kate angrily.
"I have no doubt that the people in the post office will let me sit
there and write it."
The old hag laughed hoarsely to herself until the scraggy sinews of her
withered neck stood out like whipcord. She was still chuckling and
coughing when the merchant came back into the room.
"What then?" he asked sternly, looking from one to the other. He was
himself constitutionally averse to merriment, and he was irritated by it
in others. "Why are you laughing, Mrs. Jorrocks?"
"I was a-laughing at her," the woman wheezed, pointing with tremulous
fingers. "She was askin' me for paper, and sayin' as she would go and
write a letter at the Bedsworth Post Office."
"You must understand once for all," Girdlestone roared, turning savagely
upon the girl, "that you are cut off entirely from the outer world.
I shall give you no loophole which you may utilize to continue your
intimacy with undesirable people. I have given orders that you should
not be provided with either paper or ink."
Poor Kate's last hope seemed to be fading away. Her heart sank within
her, but she kept a brave face, for she did not wish him to see how his
words had stricken her. She had a desperate plan in her head, which
would be more likely to be successful could she but put him off his
She spent the morning in her own little room. She had been provided
with a ponderous brown Bible, out of which the fly leaves had been
carefully cut, and this she read, though her thoughts often wandered
away from the sacred pages. About one o'clock she heard the clatter of
hoofs and the sound of wheels on the drive. Going down, she found that
it was a cart which had come from Bedsworth with furniture. There were
carpets, a chest of drawers, tables, and several other articles, which
the driver proceeded to carry upstairs, helped by John Girdlestone. The
old woman was in the upper room. It seemed to Kate that she might never
again have such an opportunity of carrying out the resolve which she had
formed. She put on her bonnet, and began to stroll listlessly about in
front of the door, picking a few straggling leaves from the neglected
lawn. Gradually she sauntered away in this manner to the head of the
avenue, and then, taking one swift timid glance around, she slipped in
among the trees, and made the best of her way, half walking, half
running, down the dark winding drive.
Oh, the joy of the moment when the great white house which had already
become so hateful to her was obscured among the trees behind her!
She had some idea of the road which she had traversed the night before.
Behind her were all her troubles. In front the avenue gate, Bedsworth,
and freedom. She would send both a telegram and a letter to Dr.
Dimsdale, and explain to him her exact situation. If the kind-hearted
and energetic physician once knew of it, he would take care that no harm
befell her. She could return then, and face with a light heart the
worst which her guardian could do to her. Here was the avenue entrance
now, the high lichen-eaten stone pillars, with the battered device upon
the top. The iron gate between was open. With a glad cry she quickened
her pace, and in another moment would have been in the high-road, when--
"Now then, where are you a-comin' to?" cried a gruff voice from among
the bushes which flanked the gate.
The girl stopped, all in a tremble. In the shadow of the trees there
was a camp-stool, and on the camp-stool sat a savage-looking man,
dressed in a dark corduroy suit, with a blackened clay pipe stuck in the
corner of his mouth. His weather-beaten mahogany face was plentifully
covered with small-pox marks, and one of his eyes was sightless and
white from the effects of the same disease. He rose now, and interposed
himself between her and the gate.
"Sink me, if it ain't her," he said slowly, surveying her from head to
foot. "I were given to understand that she was a spanker, an' a spanker
she be." With this oracular remark he took a step back and surveyed
Kate again with his one eye.
"My good man," she said, in a trembling voice, for his appearance was
far from reassuring, "I wish to go past and to get to Bedsworth.
Here is a shilling, and I beg that you will not detain me."
Her companion stretched out a very dirty hand, took the coin, spun it up
in the air, caught it, bit it, and finally plunged it into the depths of
his trouser pockets. "No road this way, missy," he said; "I've given
my word to the guv'nor, and I can't go back from it."
"You have no right to detain me," Kate cried angrily. "I have good
friends in London who will make you suffer for this."
"She's a-goin' to flare up," said the one-eyed man; "knock me helpless,
if she ain't!"
"I shall come through!" the girl cried in desperation. She was only a
dozen yards from the lane which led to freedom, so she made a quick
little feminine rush in the hope of avoiding this dreadful sentinel who
barred her passage. He caught her round the waist, however, and hurled
her back with such violence that she staggered across the path, and
would have fallen had she not struck violently against a tree. As it
was, she was badly bruised and the breath shaken out of her body.
"She _has_ flared up," said the one-eyed man, removing his pipe from his
lips. "Blow me asunder if she bean't a rustler!" He brought his
camp-stool from the side of the pillar and, planting it right in the
centre of the gateway, sat down upon it again. "You see, missy," he
remarked, "it's no manner o' use. If you did get out it would only be
to be put in a reg'lar 'sylum."
"An asylum!" gasped Kate, sobbing with pain and anger. "Do you think I
am mad, then?"
"I don't think nowt about it," the man remarked calmly. "I knows it."
This was a new light to Kate. She was so bewildered that she could
hardly realize the significance of the remark.
"Who are you?" she said. "Why is it that you treat me in this cruel
"Ah, now we come to business," he said, in a satisfied way, crossing his
legs, and blowing great wreaths from his pipe. "This is more like
reason. Who am I? says you. Well, my name's Stevens--Bill Stevens,
hesquire, o' Claxton, in the county o' Hants. I've been an A.B. in the
navy, and I've got my pension to show it. I've been in the loon'cy
business, too--was second warder in the suicide ward at Portsmouth for
more'n two year. I've been out of a billet for some time, and Muster
Girdlestone he came to me and he says, 'You're William Stevens,
hesquire?' says he. 'I am,' says I. 'You've had experience o'
loonies?' says he. 'I have,' says I. 'Then you're the man I want,'
says he. 'You shall have a pound a week an' nothing to do.' 'The very
crib for me,' says I. 'You've got to sit at the gate,' says he, 'and
prevent a patient from gettin' out!' That was all as he said. Then you
comes down from Lunnon, an' I comes up from Claxton, and here we be, all
snug an' comfort'ble. So, you see, missy, it ain't no use at all, and
you'll never get out this way."
"But if you let me past he will think that I ran by so quickly that you
could not stop me. He could not be very angry then, and I shall give
you more money than you would lose."
"No, no," said the man, shaking his head energetically, "I'm true to my
colours, sink me, but I am! I never was bribed yet, and never will be
unless you can offer cash down instead o' promises. You can't lay them
by to live on in your old age."
"Alas!" Kate cried, "I have no money except these few shillings."
"Give them over here, then." He put them in his trouser pocket beside
the other one. "That's all right, missy," he said, in a beery whisper.
"I won't say anything now to Muster Girdlestone about this job.
He'd be wild if he knew, but mum's the word with William Stevens,
hesquire. Lor', if this ain't my wife a-comin' out wi' my dinner!
Away with ye, away! If she seed me a-speakin' to you she'd tear your
hair for you as like as not. She's jealous, that's what's the matter
wi' her. If she sees a woman makin' much o' me, it's just pisen to her,
and she goes for 'em straight. She's the one to make the fur fly!
Away with you, I say!"
Poor Kate, appalled by the possibility of making a new enemy, turned and
retraced her steps slowly and sadly up the avenue. As she glanced back
she saw a gaunt, hard-featured woman trudging up the lane with a tin can
in her hand. Lonely and forlorn, but not yet quite destitute of hope,
she turned to the right among the trees, and pushed her way through
bushes and brambles to the boundary of the Priory grounds. It was a
lofty wall, at least nine feet in height, with a coping which bristled
with jagged pieces of glass. Kate walked along the base Of it, her fair
skin all torn and bleeding with scratches from the briars, until she
satisfied herself that there was no break in it. There was one small
wooden door on the side which was skirted by the railway line, but it
was locked and impassable. The only opening through which a human being
could pass was that which was guarded in the manner she had seen. The
sickening conviction took possession of her mind that without wings it
was an utter impossibility either to get away or to give the least
information to any one in the world as to where she was or what might
When she came back to the house, tired and dishevelled after her journey
of exploration, Girdlestone was standing by the door to receive her with
a sardonic smile upon his thin lips. "How do you like the grounds,
then?" he asked, with, the nearest approach to hilarity which she had
ever heard from him. "And the ornamental fencing? and the lodge-keeper?
How did you like them all?"
Kate tried for a moment to make some brave retort, but it was a useless
attempt. Her lips trembled, her eyes filled, and, with a cry of grief
and despair which might have moved a wild beast, she fled to her room,
and, throwing herself upon her bed, burst into such scalding bitter
tears as few women are ever called upon to shed.
A TALK ON THE LAWN.
That same evening Rebecca came down from London. Her presence was a
comfort to Kate, for though she had never liked or trusted the girl, yet
the mere fact of having some one of her own age near her, gave her a
sense of security and of companionship. Her room, too, had been altered
for the better, and the maid was given the one next door, so that by
knocking on the wall she could always communicate with her. This was an
unspeakable consolation, for at night the old house was so full of the
sudden crackings of warped timber and the scampering of rats that entire
loneliness was unendurable.
Apart from these uncanny sounds there were other circumstances which
gave the Priory a sinister reputation. The very aspect of the building
was enough to suggest weird impressions. Its high white walls were
blotched with patches of mildew, and in some parts there were long
greenish stains from roof to ground, like tear streaks on the crumbling
plaster. Indoors there was a dank graveyard smell in the low corridors
and narrow stair-cases. Floors and ceilings were equally worm-eaten and
rotten. Broad flakes of plaster from the walls lay littered about in
the passages. The wind, too, penetrated the building through many
cracks and crannies, so that there was a constant sighing and soughing
in the big dreary rooms, which had a most eerie and melancholy effect.
Kate soon learned, however, that, besides these vague terrors, all
predisposing the mind to alarm and exciting the imagination, there was a
general belief that another more definite cause for fear existed in the
old monastery. With cruel minuteness of detail her guardian had told
her the legend which haunted those gloomy corridors.
It appears that in olden times the Priory had been inhabited by
Dominicans, and that in the course of years these monks had fallen away
from their original state of sanctity. They preserved a name for piety
among the country folk by their austere demeanour, but in secret, within
the walls of their own monastery, they practised every sort of
dissipation and crime.
While the community was in this state of demoralization, each, from the
abbot downwards, vying with the other in the number and enormity of
their sins, there came a pious-minded youth from a neighbouring village,
who begged that he might be permitted to join the order. He had been
attracted, he said, by the fame of their sanctity. He was received
amongst them, and at first was not admitted to their revels, but
gradually, as his conscience was supposed to become more hardened, he
was duly initiated into all their mysteries. Horrified by what he saw,
the good youth concealed his indignation until he had mastered all the
abominations of the establishment, and then, rising up on the altar
steps, he denounced them in fiery, scathing words. He would leave them
that night, he said, and he would tell his experiences through the
length and breadth of the country. Incensed and alarmed, the friars
held a hasty meeting, and then, seizing the young novice, they dragged
him down the cellar steps and locked him up there. This same cellar had
long been celebrated for the size and ferocity of the rats which
inhabited it which were so fierce and strong that even during the day
they had been known to attack those who entered. It is said that long
into the weary hours of the night, the fearful shrieks and terrible
struggles of the captive, as he fought with his innumerable assailants,
resounded through the long corridors.
"They do say that he walks about the house at times," Girdlestone said,
in conclusion. "No one has ever been found who would live here very
long since then. But, of course, such a strong-minded young woman as
you, who cannot even obey your own guardian, would never be frightened
by such a childish idea as that."
"I do not believe in ghosts, and I don't think I shall be frightened,"
Kate answered; but, for all that, the horrible story stuck in her mind,
and added another to the many terrors which surrounded her.
Mr. Girdlestone's room was immediately above hers. On the second day of
her imprisonment she went up on to this landing, for, having nothing to
read save the Bible, and no materials for writing, she had little to do
but to wander over the old house, and through the grounds. The door of
Girdlestone's room was ajar, and she could not help observing as she
passed that the apartment was most elegantly and comfortably furnished.
So was the next room, the door of which was also open. The solid
furniture and rich carpet contrasted strangely with her own bare,
whitewashed chamber. All this pointed to the fact that her removal to
the Priory had not been a sudden impulse on the part of the old
merchant, but that he had planned and arranged every detail beforehand.
Her refusal of Ezra was only the excuse for setting the machinery in
motion. What was the object, then, and what was to be the end of this
subtle scheming? That was the question which occurred to her every
hour of the day, and every hour the answer seemed more grim and
There was one link in the chain which was ever hidden from her. It had
never occurred to the girl that her fortune could be of moment to the
firm. She had been so accustomed to hear Ezra and his father talk
glibly of millions, that she depreciated her own little capital and
failed to realize how important it might be in a commercial crisis.
Indeed, the possibility of such a crisis never entered her head, for one
of her earliest impressions was hearing her father talk of the great
resources of the firm and of its stability. That this firm was now in
the direst straits, and that her money was absolutely essential to its
existence, were things which never for one instant entered her thoughts.
Yet that necessity was becoming more pressing every day. Ezra, in
London, was doing all that indomitable energy and extraordinary business
capacity could do to prolong the struggle. As debts became due, he
would still stave off each creditor with such skill and plausibility as
allayed every suspicion. Day by day, however, the work became more
severe, and he felt that he was propping up an edifice which was so
rotten that it must, sooner or later, come crumbling about his ears.
When he came down to the Priory upon the Saturday, the young man's
haggard and anxious face showed the severe ordeal which he had
Kate had already retired to her room when he arrived. She heard the
sound of the trap, however, and guessed who it was, even before his deep
bass voice sounded in the room beneath. Looking out of her window a
little later she saw him walking to and fro in the moonlight, talking
earnestly to his father. It was a bitter night, and she wondered what
they could have to talk about which might not be said beside the warm
fire in the dining-room. They flickered up and down among the shadows
for more than an hour, and then the girl heard the door slam, and
shortly afterwards the heavy tread of the two men passed her chamber,
and ascended to the rooms above.
It was a momentous conversation which she had witnessed. In it Ezra had
shown his father how impossible it was to keep up appearances, and how
infallible was their ruin unless help came speedily.
"I don't think any of them smell a rat," he said. "Mortimer and Johnson
pressed for their bill in rather an ugly manner, but I talked them over
completely. I took out my cheque-book. 'Look here, gentlemen,' said I,
'if you wish I shall write a cheque for the amount. If I do, it will be
the last piece of business which we shall do together. A great house
like ours can't afford to be disturbed in the routine of their
business.' They curled up at once, and said no more about it. It was
an anxious moment though, for if they had taken my offer, the whole
murder would have been out."
The old man started at the word his son had used, and rubbed his hands
together as though a sudden chill had struck through him.
"Don't you think, Ezra," he said, clutching his son's arm, "that is a
very foolish saying about 'murder will out'? I remember Pilkington, the
detective, who was a member of our church when I used to worship at
Durham Street, speaking on this subject. He said that it was his
opinion that people are being continually made away with, and that not
more than one in ten are ever accounted for. Nine chances to one, Ezra,
and then those which are found out are very vulgar affairs. If a man of
intellect gave his mind to it, there would be little chance of
detection. How very cold the night is!"
"Yes," returned his son. "It is best to talk of such things in the open
air, though. How has all gone since you have been down here?"
"Very well. She was restive the first day, and wanted to get to
Bedsworth. I think that she has given it up now as a bad job.
Stevens, the gatekeeper, is a very worthy fellow."
"What steps have you taken?" asked Ezra, striking a fusee and lighting a
"I have taken care that they should know that she is an invalid, both at
Bedsworth and at Claxton. They have all heard of the poor sick young
lady at the Priory. I have let them know also that her mind is a little
strange, which accounts, of course, for her being kept in solitude.
When it happens--"
"For God's sake, be quiet!" the young man cried, with a shudder.
"It's an awful job; it won't bear thinking of."
"Yes, it is a sad business; but what else is there?"
"And how would you do it?" Ezra asked, in a hoarse whisper.
"No violence, I hope."
"It may come to that. I have other plans in my head, however, which may
be tried first. I think that I see one way out of it which would
"If there is no alternative I have a man who is ripe for any job of the
"Ah, who is that?"
"A fellow who can hit a good downright blow, as I can testify to my
cost. His name is Burt. He is the man who cut my head open in Africa.
I met him in London the other day, and spotted him at once. He is a
half-starved, poor devil, and as desperate as a man could be. He is
just in the key for any business of the sort. I've got the whip-hand of
him now, and he knows it, so that I could put him up to anything.
I believe that such a job would be a positive pleasure to him, for the
fellow is more like a wild beast than a man."
"Sad, sad!" Girdlestone exclaimed. "If a man once falls away, what is
there to separate him from the beasts? How can I find this man?"
"Wire to me. Put 'Send a doctor;' that will do as well as anything
else, and will sound well at the post-office. I'll see that he comes
down by the next train. You'd best meet him at the station, for the
chances are that he will be drunk."
"Bring him down," said Girdlestone. "You must be here yourself."
"Surely you can do without me?"
"No, no. We must stand or fall together."
"I've a good mind to throw the thing over," said Ezra, stopping in his
walk. "It sickens me."
"What! Go back now!" the old man cried vehemently. "No, no, that would
be too craven. We have everything in our favour, and all that we want
is a stout heart. Oh, my boy, my boy, on the one side of you are ruin,
dishonour, a sordid existence, and the scorn of your old companions; on
the other are success and riches and fame and all that can make life
pleasant. You know as well as I do that the girl's money would turn the
scale, and that all would then be well. Your whole future depends upon
her death. We have given her every chance. She laughed at your love.
It is time now to show her your hate."
"That is true enough," Ezra said, walking on. "There is no reason why I
should pity her. I've put my hand to the plough, and I shall go on.
I seem to be getting into your infernal knack of scripture quoting."
"There is a brave, good lad," cried his father. "It would not do to
draw back now."
"You will find Rebecca useful," the young man said, "You may trust her
"You did well to send her. Have they asked for me much?"
"Yes. I have told them all the same story--nervous exhaustion, and
doctor's orders that you were not to be disturbed by any business
letters. The only man who seemed to smell a rat was that young
"Ah!" cried the old man, with a chuckle; "of course he would be
surprised at our disappearance."
"He looks like a madman; asked me where you had gone, and when I
answered him as I had the others, stormed out that he had a right to
know, and that he would know. His blood was up, and there was nearly
being a pretty scene before the clerks. He follows me home every
evening to Eccleston Square, and waits outside half the night through to
see that I do not leave the house."
"Does he, though?"
"Yes; he came after me to the station to-day. He had a cravat round his
mouth and an ulster, but I could see that it was he. I took a ticket
for Colchester. He took one also, and made for the Colchester train.
I gave him the slip, got the right ticket, and came on. I've no doubt
he is at Colchester at this moment."
"Remember, my boy," the merchant said, as they turned from the door,
"this is the last of our trials. If we succeed in this, all is well for
"We have tried diamonds, and we have tried marriage. The third time is
the charm," said Ezra, as he threw away his cigar and followed his
THE INCIDENT OF THE CORRIDOR.
Ezra Girdlestone hardly went through the formality of greeting Kate next
morning when she came down to breakfast. He was evidently ill at ease,
and turned away his eyes when she looked at him, though he glanced at
her furtively from time to time. His father chatted with him upon City
matters, but the young man's answers were brusque and monosyllabic.
His sleep had been troubled and broken, for the conversation of the
night before had obtruded unpleasantly on his dreams.
Kate slipped away from them as soon as she could and, putting on her
bonnet, went for a long walk through the grounds, partly for the sake of
exercise, and partly in the hope of finding some egress. The one-eyed
gate-keeper was at his post, and set up a hideous shout of laughter when
he saw her; so she branched off among the trees to avoid him, and walked
once more very carefully round the boundary wall. It was no easy matter
to follow it continuously, for the briars and brambles grew in a
confused tangle up to its very base. By perseverance, however, she
succeeded in tracing every foot of it, and so satisfying herself finally
that there was no diminution anywhere in its height, no break in its
continuity, save the one small wooden door which was securely fastened.
There was one spot, however, where a gleam of hope presented itself.
At an angle of the wall there stood a deserted wooden shed, which had
been used for the protection of gardeners' tools in the days when the
grounds had been kept in better order. It was not buttressed up against
the wall, but stood some eight or ten feet from it. Beside the shed was
an empty barrel which had once been a water-butt. The girl managed to
climb to the top of the barrel, and from this she was easily able to
gain the sloping roof of the shed. Up this she clambered until she
stood upon the summit, a considerable height above the ground. From it
she was able to look down over the wall on to the country-road and the
railway line which lay on the other side of it. True that an impassable
chasm lay between her and the wall, but it would be surely possible for
her to hail passers-by from here, and to persuade some of them to carry
a letter to Bedsworth or to bring paper from there. Fresh hope gushed
into her heart at the thought.
It was not a very secure footing, for the planks of, which the shed was
composed were worm-eaten and rotten. They cracked and crumbled beneath
her feet, but what would she not dare to see a friendly human face?
As she stood there a couple of country louts, young lads about sixteen,
came strolling down the road, the one whistling and the other munching
at a raw turnip. They lounged along until they came opposite to Kate's
point of observation, when one of them looking up saw her pale face
surmounting the wall.
"Hey, Bill," he cried to his companion, "blowed if the mad wench bean't
up on the shed over yander!"
"So she be!" said the other eagerly. "Give me your turnip. Jimmy, an'
I'll shy it at her."
"Noa, I'll shy it mysel'," said the gallant Jimmy; and at the word whizz
came the half of a turnip within art inch of Kate's ear.
"You've missed her!" shrieked the other savage. "'Ere, quick, where be
a stone?" But before he could find one the poor girl, sick at heart,
clambered down from her exposed situation.
"There is no hope for me anywhere," she sobbed to herself. "Every man's
hand is against me. I have only one true friend, and he is far away."
She went back to her room utterly disheartened and dispirited.
Her guardian knocked at her door before dinner time. "I trust," he
said, "that you have read over the service. It is as well to do so when
you cannot go to church."
"And why should you prevent me from going to church?" she asked.
"Ah, my lady," he said with a sneer, "you are reaping what you have
sown. You are tasting now, the bitter fruits of your disobedience.
Repent before it is too late!"
"I have done no wrong," she said, turning on him with flashing eyes.
"It is for _you_ to repent, you violent and hypocritical man. It is for
you to answer for your godly words and your ungodly and wicked actions.
There is a power which will judge between us some day, and will exact
atonement for your broken oath to your dead friend and for your cruel
treatment of one who was left to your care." She spoke with burning
cheeks and with such fearless energy that the hard City man fairly
cowered away from her.
"We will leave that to the future," he said. "I came up to do you a
kindness, and you abuse me. I hear that there are insects about the
house, beetles and the like. A few drops from this bottle scattered
about the room would keep them away. Take care, for it is a violent
though painless poison if taken by a human being." He handed her a
phial, with a brownish turbid liquid in it, and a large red poison
label, which she took without comment and placed upon the mantelpiece.
Girdlestone gave a quick, keen glance at her as he retired. In truth he
was astonished at the alteration which the last few days had made in her
appearance. Her cheeks were colourless and sunken, save for the single
hectic spot, which announced the fever within. Her eyes were
unnaturally bright. A strange and new expression had settled upon her
whole countenance. It seemed to Girdlestone that there was every chance
that his story might become a reality, and her reason be permanently
deranged. She had, however, more vitality than her guardian gave her
credit for. Indeed, at the very time when he set her down in his mind
as a broken woman, she had formed a fresh plan for escape, which it
would require both energy and determination to put into execution.
During the last few days she had endeavoured to make friends with the
maid Rebecca, but the invincible aversion which the latter had
entertained for her, ever since Ezra had visited her with his unwelcome
attentions, was not to be overcome by any advances which she could make.
She performed her offices with a heart full of malice, and an eye which
triumphed in her mistress's misfortunes.
Kate had bethought herself that Stevens, the gatekeeper, only mounted
guard during the day. She had observed, too, at the time of her
conversation with him, that the iron gate was in such a state of
disrepair that, even if it were locked, it would not be a difficult
matter to scramble through or over it. If she could only gain the open
air during the night there would be nothing to prevent her from making
her way to Bedsworth, whence she could travel on to Portsmouth, which
was only seven miles away. Surely there she would find some charitable
people who would communicate with her friends and give her a temporary
The front door of the house was locked every night, but there was a nail
behind it, on which she hoped to find the key. There was another door
at the back. Then there were the windows of the ground-floor, which
might be tried in case the doors were too securely fastened. If only
she could avoid waking any one there was no reason why she should not
succeed. If the worst came to the worst and she was detected, they
could not treat her more cruelly than they had already done.
Ezra had gone back to London, so that she had only three enemies to
contend against, Girdlestone, Rebecca, and old Mrs. Jorrocks. Of these,
Girdlestone slept upon the floor above, and Mrs. Jorrocks, who might
have been the most dangerous of all, as her room was on the
ground-floor, was fortunately so deaf that there was little risk of
disturbing her. The problem resolved itself, therefore, into being able
to pass Rebecca's room without arousing her, and, as she knew the maid
to be a sound sleeper, there seemed to be every chance of success.
She sat at her window all that afternoon steeling her mind to the ordeal
before her. She was weak, poor girl, and shaken, little fit for
anything which required courage and resolution. Her mind ran much upon
her father, and upon the mother whom she had never known, but whose
miniature was among her most precious treasures. The thought of them
helped to dispel the dreadful feeling of utter loneliness, which was the
most unendurable of all her troubles.
It was a cold, bright day, and the tide was in, covering the mudbanks
and lapping up against the walls of the Priory grounds. So clear was it
that she could distinguish the houses at the east end of the Isle of
Wight. When she opened her window and looked out she could perceive
that the sea upon her right formed a great inlet, dreary and dry at low
tide, but looking now like a broad, reed-girt lake. This was Langston
Harbour, and far away at its mouth she could make out a clump of
buildings which marked the watering-place of Hayling.
There were other signs, however, of the presence of man. From her
window she could see the great men-of-war steaming up the Channel, to
and from the anchorage at Spithead. Some were low in the water and
venomous looking, with bulbous turrets and tiny masts. Others were long
and stately, with great lowering hulks and broad expanse of canvas.
Occasionally a foreign service gunboat would pass, white and ghostly,
like some tired seabird flapping its way home. It was one of Kate's few
amusements to watch the passing and repassing of the vessels, and to
speculate upon whence they had come and whither they were bound.
On that eventful evening Rebecca went to bed rather earlier than usual.
Kate retired to her room, and having made her final preparations and
stuffed her few articles of jewelry into her pockets, to serve in place
of money, she lay down upon her bed, and trembled at the thought of what
was in front of her. Down below she could hear her guardian's shuffling
step as he moved about the refectory. Then came the creaking of the
rusty lock as he secured the door, and shortly afterwards he passed
upstairs to his room. Mrs. Jorrocks had also gone to bed, and all was
quiet in the house.
Kate knew that some hours must elapse before she could venture to make
the attempt. She remembered to have read in some book that the sleep of
a human being was usually deepest about two in the morning, so she had
chosen that hour for her enterprise. She had put on her strongest dress
and her thickest shoes, but had muffled the latter in cloth, so that
they should make no sound. No precaution which she could think of had
been neglected. There was now nothing to be done but to spend the time
as best she might until the hour of action should arrive.
She rose and looked out of the window again. The tide was out now, and
the moon glittered upon the distant ocean. A mist was creeping up,
however, and even as she looked it drew its veil over the water.
It was bitterly cold. She shivered and her teeth began to chatter.
Stretching herself upon the bed once more, she wrapped the blankets
round her, and, worn out with anxiety and fatigue, dropped into a
She slumbered some hours before she awoke.
Looking at her watch she found that it was after two. She must not
delay any longer. With the little bundle of her more valuable
possessions in her hand, she gave such a gasp as a diver gives before he
makes his spring, and slipping past Rebecca's half-opened door she felt
her way down the wooden stair, picking her steps very carefully.
Even in the daytime she had often noticed how those old planks creaked
and cracked beneath her weight. Now, in the dead silence of the night,
they emitted such sounds that her heart sank within her. She stopped
several times, convinced that she must be discovered, but all was hushed
and still. It was a relief when at last she reached the ground-floor,
and was able to feel her way along the passage to the door.
Shaking in every limb from cold and fear, she put her hand to the lock;
the key was not there. She tried the nail; there was nothing there.
Her wary gaoler had evidently carried it away with him to his room.
Would it occur to him to do the same in the case of the back door?
It was very possible that he might have overlooked it. She retraced her
steps down the passage, passed Mrs. Jorrocks' room, where the old woman
was snoring peacefully, and began to make her way as best she could
through the great rambling building.
Running along the basement floor from front to back there was a long
corridor, one side of which was pierced for windows. At the end of this
corridor was the door which she wished to reach. The moon had broken
through the fog, and pouring its light through each opening cast a
succession of silvery flickering spots upon the floor. Between each of
these bars of uncertain light was an interval of darkness. Kate stood
at the head of this corridor with her hand against the wall, awed by the
sudden sight of the moonlight and by the weird effect which was produced
by the alternate patches of shadow and brightness. As she stood there,
suddenly, with eyes distended with horror, she became aware that
something was approaching her down the corridor.
She saw it moving as a dark formless mass at the further end. It passed
through the bar of light, vanished, appeared once more, lost itself in
the darkness, emerged again. It was half-way down the passage and still
coming on. Petrified with terror, she could only wait and watch.
Nearer it came and nearer. It was gliding into the last bar of light
Immediately in front of her! It was on her! God of mercy, it was a
Dominican friar! The moon shone clear and cold upon his gaunt figure
and his sombre robes. The poor girl threw up her hands, gave one
terrible scream of horror, which rang through the old house, and sank
senseless to the ground.
A CHASE AND A BRAWL.
It would be impossible to describe the suspense in which Tom Dimsdale
lived during these weeks. In vain he tried in every manner to find some
way of tracing the fugitives. He wandered aimlessly about London from
one inquiry office to another, telling his story and appealing for
assistance. He advertised in papers and cross-questioned every one who
might know anything of the matter. There were none, however, who could
help him or throw any light upon the mystery.
No one at the office knew anything of the movements of the senior
partner. To all inquiries Ezra replied that he had been ordered by the
doctors to seek complete repose in the country. Dimsdale dogged Ezra's
footsteps night after night in the hope of gaining some clue, but in
vain. On the Saturday he followed him to the railway station, but Ezra,
as we have seen, succeeded in giving him the slip.
His father became seriously anxious about the young fellow's health.
He ate nothing and his sleep was much broken. Both the old people tried
to inculcate patience and moderation.
"That fellow, Ezra Girdlestone, knows where they are," Tom would cry,
striding wildly up and down the room with unkempt hair and clenched
hands. "I will have his secret, if I have to tear it out of him."
"Steady, lad, steady!" the doctor replied to one of these outbursts.
"There is nothing to be gained by violence. They are on the right side
of the law at present, and you will be on the wrong if you do anything
rash. The girl could have written if she were uncomfortable."
"Ah, so she could. She must have forgotten us. How could she, after
all that has passed!"
"Let us hope for the best, let us hope for the best," the doctor would
say soothingly. Yet it must be confessed that he was considerably
staggered by the turn which things had taken. He had seen so much of
the world in his professional capacity that he had become a very
reliable judge of character. All his instincts told him that Kate
Harston was a true-hearted and well-principled girl. It was not in her
nature to leave London and never to send a single line to her friends to
tell them where or why she had gone. There must, he was sure, be some
good reason for her silence, and this reason resolved itself into one or
two things--either she was ill and unable to hold a pen, or she had lost
her freedom and was restrained from writing to them. The last
supposition seemed to the doctor to be the more serious of the two.
Had he known the instability of the Girdlestone firm, and the necessity
they were under of getting ready money, he would at once have held the
key to the enigma. He had no idea of that, but in spite of his
ignorance he was deeply distrustful of both father and son. He knew and
had often deplored the clause in John Harston's will by which the ward's
money reverted to the guardian. Forty thousand pounds were a bait which
might tempt even a wealthy man into crooked paths.
It was Saturday--the third Saturday since Girdlestone and his ward had
disappeared. Dimsdale had fully made up his mind that, go where he
would, Ezra should not escape him this time. On two consecutive
Saturdays the young merchant had managed to get away from him, and had
been absent each time until the Monday morning. Tom knew, and the
thought was a bitter one, that these days were spent in some unknown
retreat in the company of Kate and of her guardian. This time at least
he should not get away without revealing his destination.
The two young men remained in the office until two o'clock. Then Ezra
put on his hat and overcoat, buttoning it up close, for the weather was
bitterly cold. Tom at once picked up his wide-awake and followed him
out into Fenchurch Street, so close to his heels that the swinging door
had not shut on the one before the other passed through. Ezra glanced
round at him when he heard the footsteps, and gave a snarl like an angry
dog. There was no longer any pretence of civility between the two, and
whenever their eyes met it was only to exchange glances of hatred and
A hansom was passing down the street, and Ezra, with a few muttered
words to the driver, sprang in. Fortunately another had just discharged
its fare, and was still waiting by the curb. Tom ran up to it.
"Keep that red cab in sight," he said. "Whatever you do, don't let it
get away from you." The driver, who was a man of few words, nodded and
whipped up his horse.
It chanced that this same horse was either a faster or a fresher one
than that which bore the young merchant. The red cab rattled down Fleet
Street, then doubled on its tracks, and coming back by St. Paul's
plunged into a labyrinth of side streets, from which it eventually
emerged upon the Thames Embankment. In spite of all its efforts,
however, it was unable to shake off its pursuer. The red cab journeyed
on down the Embankment and across one of the bridges, Tom's able
charioteer still keeping only a few yards behind it. Among the narrow
streets on the Surrey side Ezra's vehicle pulled up at a low beer-shop.
Tom's drove on a hundred yards or so, and then stopped where he could
have a good view of whatever occurred. Ezra had jumped out and entered
the public-house. Tom waited patiently outside until he should
reappear. His movements hitherto had puzzled him completely. For a
moment the wild hope came into his head that Kate might be concealed in
this strange hiding-place, but a little reflection showed him the
absurdity and impossibility of the idea.
He had not long to wait. In a very few minutes young Girdlestone came
out again, accompanied by a tall, burly man, with a bushy red beard, who
was miserably dressed, and appeared to be somewhat the worse for drink.
He was helped into the cab by Ezra, and the pair drove off together.
Tom was more bewildered than ever. Who was this fellow, and what
connexion had he with the matter on hand? Like a sleuth-hound the
pursuing hansom threaded its way through the torrent of vehicles which
pour down the London streets, never for one moment losing sight of its
quarry. Presently they wheeled into the Waterloo Road, close to the
Waterloo Station. The red cab turned sharp round and rattled up the
incline which leads to the main line. Tom sprang out, tossed a
sovereign to the driver, and followed on foot at the top of his speed.
As he ran into the station Ezra Girdlestone and the red-bearded stranger
were immediately in front of him. There was a great swarm of people all
around, for, as it was Saturday, there were special trains to the
country. Tom was afraid of losing sight of the two men in the crowd, so
he elbowed his way through as quickly as he could, and got immediately
behind them--so close that he could have touched them with his hand.
They were approaching the booking-office, when Ezra glanced round and
saw his rival standing behind him. He gave a bitter curse, and
whispered something to his half-drunken companion. The latter turned,
and with an inarticulate cry, like a wild beast, rushed at the young man
and seized him by the throat with his brawny hands.
It is one thing, however, to catch a man by the throat, and another to
retain that grip, especially when your antagonist happens to be an
International football player. To Tom this red-bearded rough, who
charged him so furiously, was nothing more than the thousands of
bull-headed forwards who had come upon him like thunder-bolts in the
days of old. With the ease begotten by practice he circled his
assailant with his long muscular arms, and gave a quick convulsive jerk
in which every sinew of his body participated. The red-bearded man's
stumpy legs described a half-circle in the air, and he came down on the
stone pavement with a sounding crash which shook every particle of
breath from his enormous body.
Tom's fighting blood was all aflame now, and his grey eyes glittered
with a Berserk joy as he made at Ezra. All the cautions of his father
and the exhortations of his mother were cast to the winds as he saw his
enemy standing before him. To do him justice, Ezra was nothing loth,
but sprang forward to meet him, hitting with both hands. They were well
matched, for both were trained boxers and exceptionally powerful men.
Ezra was perhaps the stronger, but Tom was in better condition.
There was a short eager rally--blow and guard and counter so quick and
hard that the eye could hardly follow it. Then a rush of railway
servants and bystanders tore them asunder. Tom had a red flush on his
forehead where a blow had fallen, Ezra was spitting out the fragments of
a broken tooth, and bleeding profusely. Each struggled furiously to get
at the other, with the result that they were dragged farther apart.
Eventually a burly policeman seized Tom by the collar, and held him as
in a vice.
"Where is he?" Tom cried, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of his
enemy. "He'll get away after all."
"Can't 'elp that," said the guardian of the peace phlegmatically.
"A gen'elman like you ought to be ashamed. Keep quiet now! Would yer,
then!" This last at some specially energetic effort on the part of the
prisoner to recover his freedom.
"They'll get away! I know they will!" Tom cried in despair, for both
Ezra and his companion, who was none other than Burt, of African
notoriety, had disappeared from his sight. His fears proved to be only
too well founded, for when at last he succeeded in wresting himself from
the constable's clutches he could find no trace of his enemies. A dozen
bystanders gave a dozen different accounts of their movements.
He rushed from one platform to another over all the great station.
He could have torn his hair at the thought of the way in which he had
allowed them to slip through his fingers. It was fully an hour before
he finally abandoned the search, and acknowledged to himself that he had
been hoodwinked for the third time, and that a long week would elapse
before he could have another chance of solving the mystery.
He turned at last sadly and reluctantly away from the station, and
walked across to Waterloo Bridge, brooding over all that had occurred,
and cursing himself for his stupidity in allowing himself to be drawn
into a vulgar brawl, when he might have attained his end so much better
by quiet observation. It was some consolation, however, that he had had
one fair crack at Ezra Girdlestone. He glanced down at his knuckles,
which were raw and bleeding, with a mixture of satisfaction and disgust.
With half a smile he put his injured hand in his pocket, and looking up
once more became aware that a red-faced gentleman was approaching him in
a highly excited manner.
It could not be said that the red-faced gentleman walked, neither could
it be said that the red-faced gentleman ran. His mode of progression
might best be described as a succession of short and unwieldy jumps,
which, as he was a rather stout gentleman, appeared to indicate some
very urgent and pressing need for hurry. His face was bathed in
perspiration, and his collar had become flaccid and shapeless from the
same cause. It appeared to Tom, as he gazed at those rubicund, though
anxious, features, that they should be well known to him. That glossy
hat, those speckless gaiters, and the long frock-coat, surely they could
belong to none other than the gallant Major Tobias Clutterbuck, late of
her Majesty's 119th of the Line?
As the old soldier approached Tom, he quickened his pace, so that when
he eventually came up with him he could only puff and pant and hold out
a soiled letter.
"Read!" he managed to ejaculate.
Tom opened the letter and glanced his eye over the contents, with a face
which had turned as pale as the major's was red. When he finished it he
turned without a word, and began to run in the direction from which he
had come, the major following as quickly as his breath would permit.
GIRDLESTONE SENDS FOR THE DOCTOR.
When Kate came to herself after the terrible incident which frustrated
her attempt at escape, she found herself in bed in her own little room.
By the light which shone in through the window she knew that it must be
well on in the day. Her head was throbbing violently, and she was so
weak that she could hardly raise herself in bed. When she looked round
she found that Rebecca had brought a chair in from her room and was
sitting by the fire. At the sound of her movement the maid glanced up
and perceived that her mistress had recovered consciousness.
"Lor' bless me!" she cried, "you've given us a pretty fright.
We thought you wasn't coming back to your senses no more. You've been
a-lyin' there since the middle of the night, and now it's close on to
Kate lay silent for some little time, putting together all that had
occurred. "Oh, Rebecca," she said at last, shivering at the
recollection, "I have seen the most dreadful sight. Either I am going
mad, or I have seen a ghost."
"We thought you were a ghost yourself," said the girl reproachfully.
"What with the screechin' and you lying so white in the middle of the
passage, it was enough to make any one's 'air turn grey.
Mr. Girdlestone, he lifted you up, an' carried you back into your room.
He was cut to the heart, the good gentleman, when he saw what you'd been
after, a-tryin' to give him the slip."
"Oh, this dreadful house will kill me--it will kill me!" Kate moaned.
"I cannot stay in it any longer. What shall I do? Oh, Rebecca,
Rebecca, what shall I do?"
The fresh-coloured maid came across with a simper upon her pretty,
vulgar face, and sat on the side of the bed. "What's the matter, then?"
she asked. "What is it that you have seen?"
"I have seen--oh, Rebecca, it is too dreadful to talk of. I have seen
that poor monk who was killed in the cellars. It was not fancy. I saw
him as plainly as I see you now, with his tall thin figure, and long
loose gown, and the brown cowl drawn over his face."
"God preserve us!" cried Rebecca nervously, glancing over her shoulder.
"It is enough to give one the creeps."
"I pray that I may never see such a sight again. Oh, Rebecca, if you
have the heart of a woman, help me to get away from this place.
They mean that I should never go from it alive. I have read it in my
guardian's eyes. He longs for my death. Do, do tell me what I should
do for the best."
"I'm surprised at you!" the maid said with dignity. "When Mr.
Girdlestone and Mr. Ezra is so good to you, and provides you with a
country-house and every convenience as 'eart could wish, all you can
find to do is to go screamin' about at night, and then talk as if you
was a-goin' to be murdered in the day. I really am surprised.
There's Mr. Girdlestone a-callin.' He'd be shocked, poor gentleman, if
he knew how you was abusin' of him." Rebecca's face assumed an
expression of virtuous indignation as she swept out of the room, but her
black eyes shone with the unholy light of cruelty and revenge.
Left to herself, Kate rose and dressed as well as her weakness would
permit. Her nerves were so shaken that she started at the least sound,
and she could hardly recognize the poor pale face which she saw in the
glass as her own. She had scarcely finished her toilet before her
guardian came up into her room.
"You are better, then?" he said.
"I am very ill," she answered gently.
"No wonder, after rushing about the corridors in that absurd fashion in
the dead of the night. Rebecca tells me that you imagine you met with
some apparition. You are crying. Are you so unhappy, then?"
"Very, very miserable," Kate answered, sinking her face upon her hands.
"Ah," said Girdlestone softly, "it is only in some higher life that we
shall find entire peace and contentment." His voice had altered, so
that a little warm spring of hope began to rise in the girl's heart,
that perhaps the sight of her many miseries was beginning to melt this
"Beyond the grave is rest," he continued, in the same gentle tones.
"It has seemed to me sometimes that if it were not for the duties which
I have to perform in this world, and the many who are dependent upon me,
I should be tempted to shorten my existence in order to attain the peace
which is to come. Some precisians have pronounced it to be sinful to
cut the thread of life. For my part I have never thought it so, and yet
my view of morals has been a strict one. I hold that of all things in
this world one's life is the thing which belongs most entirely to one's
self, and may therefore most freely be terminated when it seems good to
us." He picked up the phial from the mantelpiece and gazed thoughtfully
at it. "How strange," he said, "to think that within the compass of
this tiny bottle lies a cure for every earthly evil! One draught and
the body slips off like a garment, while the soul walks forth in all its
beauty and freedom. Trouble is over. One draught, and--Ah, let go, I
say! What have you done?"
Kate had snatched the bottle from him, and with a quick feminine gesture
had hurled it against the wall, where it splintered to pieces, sending a
strong turpentiney odour through the apartment. Her strength was so
impaired that she staggered back after this feat, and sat down on the
side of the bed, while her guardian, grim and threatening, stood over
her with his long, bony fingers opening and shutting, as though he found
it difficult to keep them from her throat.
"I will not help you in it," she said, in a low but firm voice.
"You would kill my soul as well."
The mask had fairly dropped from Girdlestone. No gaunt old wolf could
have glared down with fiercer eyes or a more cruel mouth. "You fool!"
"I am not afraid to die," she said, looking up at him with brave,
Girdlestone recovered his self-possession by an effort. "It is clear to
me," he said calmly, "that your reason is unhinged. What is all this
nonsense about death? There is nothing that will harm you except your
own evil actions." He turned abruptly and strode out of the room with
the firm and decided step of a man who has taken an irrevocable
With a set and rigid face he ascended the steps which led to his
bedroom, and, rummaging in his desk, produced a telegram form. This he
filled up and took with him downstairs. There he put on his hat and
started off to the Bedsworth Post-office at full speed.
At the avenue gate he met his sentinel, who was sitting on his camp
stool as grim as ever.
"She is very bad, Stevens," Girdlestone said, stopping and jerking his
head in the direction of the house. "She is going downhill. I am
afraid that she can't last long. If any one asks you about her, you can
say that she was despaired of. I am just sending off a telegram to a
doctor in London, so that she may have the best advice."
Stevens touched his greasy-peaked cap as a token of respect. "She was
down here behavin' outrageous the other day," said he. "'Let me pass,'
says she, 'and you shall have ten golden guineas.' Them's her very
words. 'Not for ten hundred golden guineas,' I answers, 'would William
Stevens, hesquire, do what he didn't ought to.'"
"Very proper, very proper indeed," said Girdlestone approvingly.
"Every man in his own station has his own duties to fulfil, and he will
be judged as he has fulfilled them, well or ill. I shall see that you
are no loser by your staunchness."
"Thank ye, guv'nor."
"She is wild and delirious, and can get about in spite of her low state
of health. It is possible that she may make some effort to get away, so
be vigilant. Good day to you."
"Good day, sir." William Stevens stood at the gate, looking pensively
after his employer; then he reseated himself upon his camp-stool, and,
lighting his pipe, resumed his meditations. "I can't make nought of
it," he muttered, scratching his head, "It do seem uncommon queer, to be
sure. The boss he says, 'She's very low,' says he, and then next minute
he says, 'She may be comin' down and tryin' to escape. 'I've seen diers
o' all shapes and sizes, but I've never seed one as went a galivantin'
about like this--at least, not among them as died a nat'ral death.
It do seem uncommon strange. Then, again, he's off telegrayphin' for a
doctor to Lunnon, when there's Doctor Corbett, o' Claxton, or Doctor
Hutton, o' Bedsworth, would come quick enough if he wanted them.
I can't make no sense of it. Why, bust my buttons!" he continued,
taking his pipe out of his mouth in a paroxysm of astonishment,
"if here hain't the dier herself!"
It was, indeed, Kate, who, learning that her guardian was gone, had come
out with some vague idea of making a last struggle for her life and
freedom. With the courage of despair, she came straight down the avenue
to the sole spot where escape seemed possible.
"Good mornin', missy," cried Stevens, as she approached. "You don't
look extra bright this mornin', but you ain't as bad as your good
guardian made me think. You don't seem to feel no difficulty in gettin'
"There is nothing the matter with me," the girl answered earnestly.
"I assure you there is not. My mind is as sound as yours."
"That's what they all says," said the ex-warder with a chuckle.
"But it is so. I cannot stay in that house longer. I cannot, Mr.
Stevens, I cannot! It is haunted, and my guardian will murder me.
He means to. I read it in his eyes. He as good as tried this morning.
To die without one word to those I love--without any explanation of what
has passed--that would give a sting to death."
"Well, if this ain't outragis!" cried the one-eyed man; "perfectly
outragis! Going to murder you, says you! What's he a-goin' to do that
"God knows! He hates me for some reason. I have never gone against his
wishes, save in one respect, and in that I can never obey him, for it is
a matter in which he has no right to command."
"Quite so!" said Stevens, winking his one eye. "I knows the feeling
myself, cuss me, but I do! 'Thine for once and thine for never,' as the
"Why won't you let me pass?" pleaded Kate. "You may have had daughters
of your own. What would you do if they were treated as I have been?
If I had money you should have it, but I have none. Do, do let me go!
God will reward you for it. Perhaps when you are on your last bed of
sickness the memory of this one good deed may outweigh all the evil that
you have done."
"Lor', don't she speak!" said Stevens, appealing confidentially to the
nearest tree. "It's like a dictionary."
"And you won't lose by it in this life," the girl added eagerly.
"See, here is my watch and my chain. You shall have that if you will
let me through?"
"Let's see it." He opened it and examined it critically.
"Eighteen carat--it's only a Geneva, though. What can you expect for a
"And you shall have fifty pounds when I get back to my friends.
Do let me pass, good Mr. Stevens, for my guardian may return at any
"See here, miss," Stevens said solemnly; "dooty is dooty, and if every
hair of your 'ead was tagged wi' a jewel, and you offered to make me
your barber, I wouldn't let you through that gate. As to this 'ere
watch, if so be as you would like to write a line to your friends, I'll
post it for you at Bedsworth in exchange for it, though it be only a
"You good, kind man!" cried Kate, all excitement and delight. "I have a
pencil in my pocket. What shall I do for paper?" She looked eagerly
round and spied a small piece which lay among the brushwood. With a cry
of joy she picked it out. It was very coarse and very dirty, but she
managed to scrawl a few lines upon it, describing her situation and
asking for aid. "I will write the address upon the back," she said.
"When you get to Bedsworth you must buy an envelope and ask the
post-office people to copy the address on to it."
"I bargained to post it for the Geneva," he said. "I didn't bargain to
buy envelopes and copy addresses. That's a nice pencil-case of yourn.
Now I'll make a clean job of it if you'll throw that in."
Kate handed it over without a murmur. At last a small ray of light
seemed to be finding its way through the darkness which had so long
surrounded her. Stevens put the watch and pencil-case in his pocket,
and took the little scrap of paper on which so much depended. As Kate
handed it to him she saw over his shoulder that coming up the lane was a
small pony-carriage, in which sat a buxom lady and a very small page.
The sleek little brown pony which drew it ambled along at a methodical
pace which showed that it was entirely master of the situation, while
the whole turnout had an indescribable air of comfort and good nature.
Poor Kate had been so separated from her kind that the sight of people
who, if not friendly, were at least not hostile to her, sent a thrill of
pleasure into her heart. There was something wholesome and prosaic too
about this homely equipage, which was inexpressibly soothing to a mind
so worn by successive terrors.
"Here's some one a-comin'," cried Stevens. "Clear out from here--it's
the governor's orders."
"Oh, do let me stay and say one word to the lady!" Stevens seized his
great stick savagely. "Clear out!" he cried in a hoarse, angry voice,
and made a step towards her as if he would strike her. She shrank away
from him, and then, a sudden thought seizing her, she turned and ran
through the woods as fast as her feeble strength would allow. The
instant that she was out of sight, Stevens very deliberately and
carefully tore up the little slip of paper with which she had entrusted
him, and scattered the pieces to the wind.
A GLEAM OF LIGHT.
Kate Harston fled as quickly as she could through the wood, stumbling
over the brambles and crashing through the briars, regardless of pain or
scratches or anything else which could stand between her and the
possibility of safety. She soon gained the shed and managed to mount on
to the top of it by the aid of the barrel. Craning her neck, she could
see the long dusty lane, with the bare withered hedges upon either side,
and the dreary line of the railway embankment beyond. There was no
pony-carriage in sight.
She hardly expected that there would be, for she had taken a short cut,
and the carriage would have to go some distance round. The road along
which it was travelling ran at right angles to the one which she was now
overlooking, and the chances were equal as to whether the lady would
turn round or go straight on. In the latter case, it would not be
possible for her to attract her attention. Her heart seemed to stand
still with anxiety as she peered over the high wall at the spot where
the two roads crossed.
Presently she heard the rattle of wheels, and the brown pony trotted
round the corner. The carriage drew up at the end of the lane, and the
driver seemed to be uncertain how to proceed. Then she shook the reins,
and the pony lumbered on along the road. Kate gave a cry of despair and
the last ray of hope died away from her heart.
It chanced, however, that the page in the carriage was just at that
happy age when the senses are keen and on the alert. He heard the cry,
and glancing round he saw through a break in the hedge that a lady was
looking over the wall which skirted the lane they had passed.
He mentioned the fact to his mistress.
"Maybe we'd better go back, ma'am," he said.
"Maybe we'd better not, John," said the buxom lady. "People can look
over their garden walls without our interfering with them, can't they?"
"Yes, ma'am, but she was a-hollerin' at us."
"No, John, was she though? Maybe this is a private road and we have no
right to be on it."
"She gave a holler as if some one was a-hurtin' of her," said John with
"Then we'll go back," said the lady, and turned the pony round.
Hence it came about that just as Kate was descending with a sad heart
from her post of observation, she was electrified to see the brown pony
reappear and come trotting round the curve of the lane, with a rapidity
which was altogether foreign to that quadruped's usual habits.
Indeed, the girl turned so very white at the sight, and her face assumed
such an expression of relief and delight, that the lady who was
approaching saw at once that it was no common matter which had caused
her to summon them.
"What is it, my dear?" she cried, pulling up when she came abreast of
the place. Her good, kind heart was touched already by the pleading
expression upon the girl's sweet face.
"Oh, madam, whoever you may be," said Kate, in a low, rapid voice,
"I believe God has sent you here this day. I am shut up in these
grounds, and shall be murdered unless help comes."
"Be murdered!" cried the lady in the pony-carriage, dropping back in her
seat and raising her hands in astonishment.
"It is only too true," Kate said, trying to speak concisely and clearly
so as to enforce conviction, but feeling a choking sensation about her
throat, as though an hysterical attack were impending. "My guardian has
shut me up here for some weeks, and I firmly believe that he will never
let me out alive. Oh, don't, pray don't think me mad! I am as sane as
you are, though, God knows, what I have gone through has been enough to
shake my reason."
This last appeal of Kate's was in answer to an expression of incredulity
and doubt which had passed over the face of the lady below. It was
successful in its object, for the ring of truth with which she spoke and
the look of anxiety and terror upon her face were too genuine to be
mistaken. The lady drew her rein so as to bring the carriage as near
the wall as was possible without losing sight of Kate's face.
"My dear," she said, "you may safely tell me everything. Whatever I can
do to help you shall be done, and where I am powerless there are others
who are my friends and may be of assistance. Scully is my name--
Mrs. Lavinia Scully, of London. Don't cry, my poor girl, but tell me
all about it, and let us see how we can put matters right."
Thus encouraged, Kate wiped away the tears which had been brought to her
eyes by the unwonted sound of a friendly voice. Leaning forward as far
as she could, and preventing herself from falling by passing her arm
round a great branch which shot across the top of the shed, she gave in
as few words as she could a detailed account of all that had befallen
her. She described her guardian's anxiety that she should marry his
son, her refusal, their sudden departure from London, their life at the
Priory, the manner in which she was cut off from all human aid, and the
reasons which made her believe that an attempt would be made upon her
life. In conclusion, she narrated the scene which had occurred that
very morning, when her guardian had tempted her to commit suicide. The
only incident which she omitted from her story was that which had
occurred the night before, for she felt that it might put too severe a
tax upon Mrs. Scully's credulity. Indeed, looking back at it, she
almost persuaded herself that the sight which she had seen might be some
phantom conjured up by her own imagination, weakened as she was in mind
and in body.
Having concluded her narrative, she wound up by imploring her new-found
friend to assist her by letting her friends in London know what had
become of her and where she was. Mrs. Scully listened with a face which
expressed alternately the most profound pity and the most burning
indignation. When Kate had finished, she sat silent for a minute or
more entirely absorbed in her own thoughts. She switched her whip up
and down viciously, and her usually placid countenance assumed an
expression so fierce that Kate, looking down at her, feared that she had
given her offence. When she looked up at last, however, she smiled so
pleasantly that the poor girl was reassured, and felt instinctively that
she had really found a true and effective friend at last.
"We must act promptly," she said, "for we don't know what they may be
about, or what their plans are for the future. Who did you say your
"Dr. Dimsdale, of Phillimore Gardens, Kensington."
"Hasn't he got a grown-up son?"
"Yes," said Kate, with a slight flush on her pale cheeks.
"Ah!" cried the good lady, with a very roguish smile. "I see how the
land lies. Of course, of course, why shouldn't it? I remember hearing
about that young man. I have heard about the Girdlestones also.
African merchants they were in the City. You see I know all about you."
"You know Tom?" Kate cried in astonishment.
"Oh, don't let us get talking of Tom," said Mrs. Scully
good-humouredly. "When girls get on a subject of that sort there's an
end to everything. What I want now is business. In the first place I
shall drive down to Bedsworth, and I shall send to London."
"God bless you!" ejaculated Kate.
"But not to Phillimore Gardens. Hot-headed young men do foolish things
under such circumstances as these. This is a case that wants careful
management. I know a gentleman in London who is just the man, and who I
know would be only too proud to help a lady in distress. He is a
retired officer, and his name is Major Clutterbuck--Major Tobias
"Oh, I know him very well, and I have heard of you, too," said Kate,
with a smile. "I remember your name now in connection with his."
It was Mrs. Scully's turn to blush now. "Never mind that," she said.
"I can trust the major, and I know he will be down here at a word from
me. I shall let him have the facts, and he can tell the Dimsdales if he
thinks it best. Good-bye, dear; don't be unhappy any more, but remember
that you have friends outside who will very quickly set all right.
Good-bye!" and waving her hand in encouragement, the good widow woke up
the pony, which had fallen fast asleep, and rattled away down the lane
in the direction from which she had come.
THE MAJOR HAS A LETTER.
At four o'clock Mr. Girdlestone stepped into the Bedsworth telegraph
office and wired his short message. It ran thus: "Case hopeless. Come
on to-morrow with a doctor." On receipt of this he knew by their
agreement that his son would come down, bringing with him the man of
violence whom he had spoken of at their last interview. There was
nothing for it now but that his ward should die. If he delayed longer,
the crash might come before her money was available, and then how vain
all regrets would be.
It seemed to him that there was very little risk in the matter.
The girl had had no communication with any one. Even of those around
her, Mrs. Jorrocks was in her dotage, Rebecca Taylforth was staunch and
true, and Stevens knew nothing. Every one on the country side had heard
of the invalid young lady at the Priory. Who would be surprised to hear
that she had passed away? He dare not call in any local medical man,
but his inventive brain had overcome the difficulty, and had hit upon a
device by which he might defy both doctors and coroner. If all went as
he had planned it, it was difficult to see any chance of detection.
In the case of a poorer man the fact that the girl's money reverted to
him might arouse suspicion, but he rightly argued that with his great
reputation no one would ever dream that such a consideration could have
weight with him.
Having sent the telegram off, and so taken a final step, John
Girdlestone felt more at his ease. He was proud of his own energy and
decision. As he walked very pompously and gravely down the village
street, his heart glowed within him at the thought of the long struggle
which he had maintained against misfortune. He passed over in his mind
all the successive borrowings and speculations and makeshifts and ruses
which the firm had resorted to. Yet, in spite of every danger and
difficulty, it still held up its head with the best, and would weather
the storm at last. He reflected proudly that there was no other man in
the City who would have had the dogged tenacity and the grim resolution
which he had displayed during the last twelve months. "If ever any one
should put it all in a book," he said to himself, "there are few who
would believe it possible. It is not by my own strength that I have
The man had no consciousness of blasphemy in him as he revolved this
thought in his mind. He was as thoroughly in earnest as were any of
those religious fanatics who, throughout history, have burned, sacked,
and destroyed, committing every sin under heaven in the name of a God of
peace and of mercy.
When he was half-way to the Priory he met a small pony-carriage, which
was rattling towards Bedsworth at a great pace, driven by a good-looking
middle-aged lady with a small page by her side. The merchant
encountered this equipage in a narrow country lane without a footpath,
and as it approached him he could not help observing that the lady wore
an indignant and gloomy look upon her features which was out of keeping
with their general contour. Her forehead was contracted into a very
decided frown, and her lips were gathered into what might be described
as a negative smile. Girdlestone stood aside to let her pass, but the
lady, by a sudden twitch of her right-hand rein, brought the wheels
across in so sudden a manner that they were within an ace of going over
his toes. He only saved himself by springing back into a gap of the
hedge. As it was, he found on looking down that his pearl grey trousers
were covered with flakes of wet mud. What made the incident more
perplexing was that both the middle-aged lady and the page laughed very
heartily as they rattled away to the village. The merchant proceeded on
his way marvelling in his heart at the uncharitableness and innate
wickedness of unregenerated human nature.
Good Mrs. Scully little dreamed of the urgency of the case. Had she
seen the telegram which John Girdlestone had just despatched, it is
conceivable that she might have read between the words, and by acting
more promptly have prevented a terrible crime. As a matter of fact,
with all her sympathy the worthy woman had taken a large part of Kate's
story with the proverbial grain of salt. It seemed to her to be
incredible and impossible that in this nineteenth century such a thing
as deliberate and carefully planned murder should occur in Christian
England. That these things occur in the abstract we are ready to admit,
but we find it very difficult to realize that they may come within the
horizon of our own experience. Hence Mrs. Scully set no importance upon
Kate's fears for her life, and put them down to the excited state of the
girl's imagination. She did consider it, however, to be a very
iniquitous and unjustifiable thing that a young girl should be cooped up
and separated from all the world in such a very dreary place of
seclusion as the Priory. This consideration and nothing more serious
had set that look of wrath upon her pleasant face, and had stirred her
up to frustrate Girdlestone and to communicate with Kate's friends.
Her intention had been to telegraph to London, but as she drove to
Bedsworth she bethought her how impossible it would be for her within
the limits of a telegram to explain to her satisfaction all that she
wanted to express. A letter, she reflected, would, if posted now, reach
the major by the first post on Saturday morning. It would simply mean a
few hours' delay in the taking of steps to relieve Kate, and what
difference could a few hours more or less make to the girl.
She determined, therefore, that she would write to the major, explaining
all the circumstances, and leave it to him what course of action should
Mrs. Scully was well known at the post office, and they quickly
accommodated her with the requisites for correspondence. Within a
quarter of an hour she had written, sealed, stamped, and posted the
"I am afraid you must find your period of probation very slow.
Poor boy! what does he do? No billiards, no cards, no betting--
how does he manage to get through the day at all? Smokes, I
suppose, and looks out of the window, and tells all his grievances
to Mr. Von Baumser. Aren't you sorry that ever you made the
acquaintance of Morrison's second floor front? Poor Toby!
"Who do you think I have come across down here? No less a person
than that Miss Harston who was Girdlestone's ward. You used to
talk about her, I remember, and indeed you were a great admirer of
hers. You would be surprised if you saw her now, so thin and worn
and pale. Still her face is very sweet and pretty, so I won't
deny your good taste--how could I after you have paid your
addresses to me?
"Her guardian has brought her down here and has locked her up in a
great bleak house called the Priory. She has no one to speak to,
and is not allowed to write letters. She seemed to be heart-broken
because none of her friends know where she is, and she fears that
they may imagine that she has willingly deserted them. Of course,
by her friends she means that curly-headed Mr. Dimsdale that you
spoke of. The poor girl is in a very low nervous state, and told
me over the wall of the park that she feared her guardian had
designs on her life. I can hardly believe that, but I do think
that she is far from well, and that it is enough to drive her mad
to coop her up like that. We must get her out somehow or another.
I suppose that her guardian is within his rights, and that it is
not a police matter. You must consider what must be done, and let
young Dimsdale know if you think best. He will want to come down
to see her, no doubt, and if Toby were to come too I should not be
"I should have telegraphed about it, but I could not explain myself
sufficiently. I assure you that the poor girl is in a very bad
way, and we can't be too energetic in what we do. It was very sad
to hear the positive manner in which she declared that her guardian
would murder her, though she did not attempt to give any reason why
he should commit such a terrible crime. We saw a horrid one-eyed
man at the gate, who appeared to be on guard to prevent any one
from coming out or in. On our way to Bedsworth we met no less a
person than the great Mr. Girdlestone himself, and we actually
drove so clumsily that we splashed him all over with mud.
Wasn't that a very sad and unaccountable thing? I fancy I see Toby
smiling over that.
"Good-bye, my dear lad. Be as good as you can. I know you've got
rather out of the way of it, but practice works wonders.
It happened that on the morning on which this missive came to Kennedy
Place, Von Baumser had not gone to the City. The major had just
performed his toilet and was marching up and down with a cigarette in
his mouth and the _United Service Gazette_ in his hand, descanting
fluently, as is the habit of old soldiers, on the favouritism of the
Horse Guards and the deterioration of the service.
"Look at this fellow Carmoichael!" he cried excitedly, slapping the
paper with one, hand, while he crumpled it up with the other. "They've
made him lieutinant-gineral! The demndest booby in the regiment, sir!
A fellow who's seen no service and never heard a shot fired in anger.
They promoted him on the stringth of a sham fight, bedad! He commanded
a definding force operating along the Thames and opposing an invading
army that was advancing from Guildford. Did iver ye hear such infernal
nonsense in your life? And there's Stares, and Knight, and Underwood,
and a dozen more I could mintion, that have volunteered for everything
since the Sikh war of '46, all neglicted, sir--neglicted! The British
Army is going straight to the divil."
"Dat's a very bad look-out for the devil," said Von Baumser, filling up
a cup of coffee.
The major continued to stride angrily about the room. "That's why we
niver have a satisfactory campaign with a European foe," he broke out.
"Our success is always half and half, and leads to nothing. Yet we have
the finest raw material and the greatest individual fighting power and
divilment of any army in the world."
"Always, of course, not counting de army of his most graceworthy majesty
de Emperor William," said Von Baumser, with his mouth full of toast.
"Here is de girl mit a letter. Let us hope dat it is my Frankfort
"Two to one it's for me."
"Ah, he must not bet!" cried Von Baumser, with upraised finger.
"You have right, though. It is for you, and from de proper quarter too,
It was the letter which we have already quoted. The major broke the
seal and read it over very carefully, after which he read it again.
Von Baumser, watching him across the table, saw a very anxious and
troubled look upon his ruddy face.
"I hope dere is nothing wrong mit my good vriend, Madame Scully?" he
remarked at last.
"No, nothing wrong with her. There is with some one else, though;" and
with that he read to his companion all that part of his letter which
referred to Miss Harston.