Part 7 out of 8
"Dat is no joke at all," the German remarked; and the two sat for some
little time lost in thought, the major with the letter still lying open
upon his knee.
"What d'ye think of it?" he asked at last.
"I think dat it is a more bad thing than the good madame seems to think.
I think dat if Miss Harston says dat Herr Girdlestone intends to kill
her, it is very likely dat he has dat intention"
"Ged, he's not a man to stick at troifles," the major said, rubbing his
chin reflectively. "Here's a nice kettle of fish! What the deuce could
cause him to do such a thing?"
"Money, of course. I have told you, my good vriend, dat since a year de
firm has been in a very bad way indeed. It is not generally known, but
I know it, and so do others. Dis girl, I have heard, has money which
would come to de old man in case of her death. It is as plain as de
vingers on my hand."
"Be George, the thing looks very ugly!" said the major, pacing up and
down the room. "I believe that fellow and his beauty of a son are game
for anything. Lavinia takes the mather too lightly. Fancy any one
being such a scounthrel as to lay a hand on that dear girl, though.
Ged, Baumser, it makes ivery drop of blood in me body tingle in me
"My dear vriend," Von Baumser answered, "it is very good of your blood
for to tingle, but I do not see how dat will help the mees. Let us be
practical, and make up our brains what we should do."
"I must find young Dimsdale at once. He has a right to know."
"Yes, I should find him. Dere is no doubt that you and he should at
once start off for dis place. I know dat young man. Dere vill be no
holding him at all when he has heard of it. You must go too, to prevent
him from doing dummheiten, and also because good Madame Scully has said
so in her letter."
"Certainly. We shall go down togither. One of us will manage to see
the young lady and find out if she requoires assistance. Bedad, if she
does, she shall have it, guardian or no guardian. If we don't whip her
out in a brace of shakes me name's not Clutterbuck."
"You must remember," remarked Baumser, "dat dese people are desperate.
If dey intend to murder a voman dey vould certainly not stick at a man
or two men. You have no knowledge of how many dere may be. Dere is
certainly Herr Girdlestone and his son and de man mit de eye, but madame
knows not how many may be at de house. Remember also dat de police are
not on your side, but rather against you, for as yet dere is no evidence
dat any crime is intentioned. Ven you think of all dis I am sure dat
you vill agree with me dat it would be vell to take mit you two or tree
men dat would stick by you through thin and broad."
The major was so busy in making his preparations for departure that he
could only signify by a nod that he agreed with his friend's remarks.
"What men could I git?" he asked.
"Dere is I myself," said the German, counting upon his big red fingers,
"and dere are some of our society who would very gladly come on such an
errand, and are men who are altogether to be relied upon. Dere is
little Fritz Bulow, of Kiel, and a Russian man whose name I disremember,
but he is a good man. He vas a Nihilist at Odessa, and is sentenced to
death suppose they could him catch. Dere are others as good, but it
might take me time to find dem. Dese two I can very easily get.
Dey are living together, and have neither of dem nothing to do."
"Bring them, then," said the major. "Git a cab and run them down to
Waterloo Station. That's the one for Bedsworth. I'll bring Dimsdale
down with me and mate you there. In me opinion there's no time to be
The major was ready to start, so Von Baumser threw on his coat and hat,
and picked out a thick stick from a rack in the corner. "We may need
something of de sort," he said.
"I have me derringer," the soldier answered. They left the house
together, and Von Baumser drove off to the East End, where his political
friends resided. The major called a cab and rattled away to Phillimore
Gardens and thence to the office, without being able to find the man of
whom he was in search. He then rushed down the Strand as quickly as he
could, intending to catch the next train and go alone, but on his way to
Waterloo Station he fell in with Tom Dimsdale, as recorded in a
The letter was a thunderbolt to Tom, In his worst dreams he had never
imagined anything so dark as this. He hurried back to the station at
such a pace that the poor major was reduced to a most asthmatical and
wheezy condition. He trotted along pluckily, however, and as he went
heard the account of Tom's adventures in the morning and of the
departure of Ezra Girdlestone and of his red-bearded companion.
The major's face grew more anxious still when he heard of it. "Pray God
we may not be too late!" he panted.
THE CLOUDS GROW DARKER.
When Kate had made a clean breast of all her troubles to the widow
Scully, and had secured that good woman's co-operation, a great weight
seemed to have been lifted from her heart, and she sprang from the shed
a different woman. It would soon be like a dream, all these dreary
weeks in the grim old house. Within a day she was sure that either Tom
or the major would find means of communicating with her. The thought
made her so happy that the colour stole back into her cheeks, and she
sang for very lightness of heart as she made her way back to the Priory.
Mrs. Jorrocks and Rebecca observed the change which had come over her
and marvelled at it. Kate attempted to aid the former in her household
work, but the old crone refused her assistance and repulsed her harshly.
Her maid too answered her curtly when she addressed her, and eyed her in
anything but a friendly manner.
"You don't seem much the worse," she remarked, "for all the wonderful
things you seed in the night."
"Oh, don't speak of it," said Kate. "I am afraid that I have given you
a great fright. I was feeling far from well, and I suppose that I must
have imagined all about that dreadful monk. Yet, at the time, I assure
you that I saw it as plainly as I see you now."
"What's that she says?" asked Mrs. Jorrocks, with her hand to her ear.
"She says that she saw a ghost last night as plain as she sees you now."
"Pack of nonsense!" cried the old woman, rattling the poker in the
grate. "I've been here afore she came--all alone in the house, too--and
I hain't seen nothing of the sort. When she's got nothing else to
grumble about she pretends as she has seen a ghost."
"No, no," the girl said cheerily. "I am not grumbling--indeed I am
"It's like her contrariness to say so," old Mrs. Jorrocks cried
hoarsely. "She's always a-contradictin'."
"You're not in a good temper to-day," Kate remarked, and went off to her
room, going up the steps two at a time with her old springy footstep.
Rebecca followed her, and noticing the change, interpreted it in her own
"You seems cheerful enough now," she said, standing at Kate's door and
looking into her room, with a bitter smile on her lips. "To-morrow is
Saturday. That's what's the matter with you."
"To-morrow Saturday!" Kate repeated in astonishment.
"Yes; you know what I mean well enough. It's no use pretending that you
The girl's manner was so aggressive that Kate was astonished.
"I haven't the least idea of what you mean," she said.
"Oh no," cried Rebecca, with her arms akimbo and a sneer on her face.
"She doesn't know what I mean. She doesn't know that her young man is
coming down on the Saturday. She does not know that Mr. Ezra comes all
the way from London on that day just for to see her. It isn't that that
makes you cheerful, is it? Oh, you double face!" The girl's pretty
features were all distorted with malice as she spoke, and her two hands
were clenched passionately.
"Rebecca!" cried Kate energetically, "I really think that you are the
most complete fool that ever I met in my life. I will trouble you to
remember that I am your mistress and you are my servant. How dare you
speak to me in such a way? Leave my room this instant!"
The girl stood her ground as though she intended to brazen it out, but
Kate swept towards her with so much honest anger in her voice, and such
natural dignity in her bearing, that she sank her bold gaze, and with a
few muttered words slunk away into her own room. Kate closed the door
behind her, and then, her sense of the ludicrous overpowering her anger,
she laughed for the first time since she had been in the Priory. It was
so intensely ridiculous that even the most foolish of mortals should
imagine that she could, under any circumstances, be desirous of seeing
Ezra Girdlestone. The very thought of him brought her amusement to an
end, for the maid was right, and to-morrow would bring him down once
more. Perhaps her friends might arrive before he did. God grant it!
It was a cold but a bright day. From her window she could see the
snow-white sails of the Hampshire fishing-boats dipping and rising
against the deep blue sea. A single barque rode amongst them, like a
swan among ducklings, beating up against the wind for Portsmouth or
Southampton. Away on the right was the long line of white foam which
marked the Winner Sands. The tide was in and the great mudbanks had
disappeared, save that here and there their dun-coloured convexity rose
above the surface like the back of a sleeping leviathan. Overhead a
great flock of wild geese were flapping their way southward, like a broad
arrow against the sky. It was an exhilarating, bracing scene, and
accorded well with her own humour. She felt so full of life and hope
that she could hardly believe that she was the same girl who that very
morning had hurled away the poison bottle, knowing in her heart that
unless she destroyed it she might be tempted to follow her guardian's
sinister suggestions. Yet the incident was real enough, for there were
the fragments of glass scattered over the bare planks of her floor, and
the insidious odour of the drug was still so strong that she opened the
window in order to dissipate it. Looking back at it now, it all seemed
like some hideous nightmare.
She had no very clear idea as to what she expected her friends to do.
That she would be saved, and that speedily, she never for one instant
doubted. She had only to wait patiently and all would be well.
By to-morrow night, at the latest, her troubles would be over.
So thought Girdlestone too, as he sat down below, with his head bent
upon his breast and his eyes looking moodily from under his shaggy brows
at the glowing coals. To-morrow evening would settle the matter once
and for ever. Burt and Ezra would be down by five o'clock, and that
would be the beginning of the end. As to Burt's future there was no
difficulty about that. He was a broken man. If well supplied with
unlimited liquor he would not live long to trouble them. He had nothing
to gain, and everything to lose by denouncing them. Should the worst
come to the worst, the ravings of a dipsomaniac could do little harm to
a man as respected as the African merchant. Every event had been
foreseen and provided for by the old schemer. Above all, he had devised
a method by which even a coroner's inquiry could be faced with impunity,
and which would do away with all necessity for elaborate concealment.
He beckoned Mrs. Jorrocks over to him, for he had been sitting in the
large room, which was used both as a dining-room and as a kitchen.
"What is the latest train to-morrow?" he asked.
"There be one that reaches Bedsworth at a quarter to ten."
"It passes the grounds at about twenty to ten, then?"
"That reg'lar that I could set my clock by it."
"That'll do. Where is Miss Harston?"
"Upstairs, sir. She came back a-laughin' and a-jumpin' and as sassy as
you please to them as was old before she was born."
"Laughing!" said Girdlestone, raising his eyebrows. "She did not seem
in a laughing mood this morning. You don't think she has gone out of
her mind, do you?"
"I don't know nought about that. There was Rebecca came down here
a-cryin' 'cause she'd ordered her out of her room. Oh, she's mistress
of the house--there's no doubt about that. She'll be a-givin' of us
all the sack presently."
Girdlestone relapsed into silence, but his face showed that he was
puzzled by what he had heard.
Kate slept a sound and dreamless sleep that night. At her age trouble
is shaken from the young mind like water from the feathers of a duck.
It had been all very gloomy and terrible while it lasted, but now the
dawn of better days had come. She woke cheerful and light-hearted.
She felt that when once she was free she could forgive her guardian and
Rebecca and all of them--even Ezra. She would bury the whole hideous
incident, and never think of it or refer to it again.
She amused herself that morning by reckoning up in her mind what the
sequence of events would be in London, and how long it would be before
she heard from her friends. If Mrs. Scully had telegraphed, news would
have reached them last night. Probably she would write as well, giving
all the particulars about her. The post came in about nine o'clock, she
thought. Then some time would elapse before the major could find Tom.
After that, no doubt they would have to consider what had best be done,
and perhaps would go and consult with Dr. Dimsdale. That would occupy
the morning and part of the afternoon. They could hardly reach the
Priory before nightfall.
Ezra would be down by that time. On the Saturday before he had arrived
between five and six. A great dread filled her soul at the thought of
meeting the young merchant again. It was merely the natural instinct of
a lady shrinking from whatever is rough and coarse and antagonistic.
She had no conception of the impending danger, or of what his coming
might mean to her.
Mr. Girdlestone was more gracious to her than usual that morning at
breakfast. He seemed anxious to efface the remembrance of his fierce
and threatening words the day before. Rebecca, who waited upon them,
was astonished to hear the way in which he spoke. His whole manner was
less heavy and ungainly than usual, for now that the time for action was
at hand he felt braced and invigorated, as energetic men do.
"You should study botany while you are down here," he said blandly.
"Depend upon it, one cannot learn too many things in one's youth.
Besides, a knowledge of natural science teaches us the marvellous
harmony which prevails throughout the universe, and so enlarges our
"I should very much like to know something of it," answered Kate.
"My only fear is that I should not be clever enough to learn it."
"The wood here is full of wonders. The tiniest mushroom is as
extraordinary and as worthy of study as the largest oak. Your father
was fond of plants and animals."
"Yes, I can remember that," said Kate, her face growing sad as her mind
travelled back to years gone by. What would that same father have
thought, she wondered, had he known how this man opposite to her had
treated her! What did it matter now, though, when she would so soon be
out of his power!
"I remember," said Girdlestone, stirring his tea thoughtfully, "when we
lived in the City as 'prentice lads together, we shared a room above the
shop. He used to have a dormouse that he was very fond of. All his
leisure time was spent in nursing the creature and cleaning its cage.
It seemed to be his only pleasure in life. One night it was running
across the floor, and I put my foot upon it."
"Oh, poor papa!" cried Kate.
"I did it upon principle. 'You have devoted too much time to the
creature,' I said. 'Raise up your thoughts higher!' He was grieved and
angry, but in time he came to thank me. It was a useful lesson."
Kate was so startled by this anecdote that she remained silent for some
little time. "How old were you then?" she asked at last.
"I was about sixteen."
"Then you were always--inclined that way?" She found some difficulty in
conveying her meaning in polite tones.
"Yes; I received a call when I was very young. I became one of the
elect at an early age."
"And which are the elect?" his ward asked demurely.
"The members of the Community of the Primitive Trinitarians--or, at
least those of them who frequent Purbrook Street Chapel. I hold that
the ministers in the other chapels that I have attended do not preach
the unadulterated Word, and have therefore missed the narrow path."
"Then," said Kate, "you think that no one will be saved except those who
frequent the Purbrook Street Chapel?"
"And not all of them--no, nor one in ten," the merchant said
confidently, and with some approach to satisfaction. "Heaven must be a
very small place," Kate remarked, as she rose from the table.
"Are you going out?"
"I was thinking of having a stroll in the wood."
"Think over a text as you walk. It is an excellent commencement of the
"What text should I think of?" she asked, standing smiling in the
doorway, with the bright sunshine bursting in behind her.
"'In the midst of life we are in death,'" he said solemnly. His voice
was so hollow and stern that it struck a chill into the girl's heart.
The effect was only momentary, however. The day was so fine, and the
breeze so fresh, that sadness was out of the question. Besides, was not
her deliverance at hand! On this of all mornings she should be free from
vague presentiments and dim forebodings. The change in her guardian's
manner was an additional cause for cheerfulness. She almost persuaded
herself that she had misconstrued his words and his intentions upon the
She went down the avenue and had a few words with the sentry there.
She felt no bitterness against him now--on the contrary, she could
afford to laugh at his peculiarities. He was in a very bad humour on
account of some domestic difficulties. His wife had been abusing him,
and had ended by assaulting him. "She used to argey first, and then
fetch the poker," he said ruefully; "but now it's the poker first, and
there ain't no argeyment at all."
Kate looked at his savage face and burly figure, and thought what a very
courageous woman his wife must be.
"It's all 'cause the fisher lasses won't lemme alone," he explained with
a leer. "She don't like it, knock me sideways if she do! It ain't my
fault, though. I allers had a kind o' a fetchin' way wi' women."
"Did you post my note?" asked Kate.
"Yes, in course I did," he answered. "It'll be in Lunnon now, most
like." His one eye moved about in such a very shifty way as he spoke
that she was convinced that he was telling a lie. She could not be
sufficiently thankful that she had something else to rely upon besides
the old scoundrel's assurances.
There was nothing to be seen down the lane except a single cart with a
loutish young man walking at the horse's head. She had a horror of the
country folk since her encounter with the two bumpkins upon the Sunday.
She therefore slipped away from the gate, and went through the wood to
the shed, which she mounted. On the other side of the wall there was
standing a little boy in buttons, so rigid and motionless that he might
have been one of Madame Tussaud's figures, were it not for his eyes,
which were rolling about in every direction, and which finally fixed
themselves on Kate's face.
"Good morning, miss," said this apparition.
"Good morning," she answered. "I think I saw you with Mrs. Scully
"Yes, miss. Missus, she told me to wait here and never to move until I
seed you. She said as you would be sure to come. I've been waitin'
here for nigh on an hour."
"Your mistress is an angel," Kate said enthusiastically, "and you are a
very good little boy."
"Indeed, you've hit it about the missus," said the youth, in a hoarse
whisper, nodding his head to emphasize his remarks. "She's got a heart
as is big enough for three."
Kate could not help smiling at the enthusiasm with which the little
"You seem fond of her," she said.
"I'd be a bad 'un if I wasn't. She took me out of the work'us without
character or nothing, and now she's a-educatin' of me. She sent me 'ere
with a message?"
"What was it?"
"She said as how she had written instead o' electro-telegraphing, 'cause
she had so much to say she couldn't fit it all on a telegraph."
"I thought that would be so," Kate said.
"She wrote to Major--Major--him as is a-follerin' of her. She said as
she had no doubt as he'd be down to-day, and you was to keep up your
sperrits and let her know by me if any one was a-wexin' you."
"No, no. Not at all," Kate answered, smiling again. "You can tell her
that my guardian has been much kinder to-day. I am full of hope now.
Give her my warmest thanks for her kindness."
"All right, miss. Say, that chap at the gate hasn't been giving you no
cheek has he--him with the game eye?"
"No, no, John."
John looked at her suspiciously. "If he hasn't, it's all right," he
said; "but I think as you're one of them as don't complain if you can
'elp it." He opened his hand and showed a great jagged flint which he
carried. "I'd ha' knocked his other peeper out with this," he said,
"blowed if I wouldn't!"
"Don't do anything of the sort, John, but run home like a good little
"All right, miss. Good-bye to ye!"
Kate watched him stroll down the lane. He paused at the bottom as if
irresolute, and then she was relieved to see him throw the stone over
into a turnip field, and walk rapidly off in the opposite direction to
the Priory gates.
THE THREE FACES AT THE WINDOW.
Late in the afternoon Ezra arrived at the Priory. From one of the
passage windows Kate saw him driving up the avenue in a high dog-cart.
There was a broad-shouldered, red-bearded man sitting beside him, and
the ostler from the _Flying Bull_ was perched behind. Kate had rushed
to the window on hearing the sound of wheels, with some dim expectation
that her friends had come sooner than she anticipated. A glance,
however, showed her that the hope was vain. From behind a curtain she
watched them alight and come into the house, while the trap wheeled
round and rattled off for Bedsworth again.
She went slowly back to her room, wondering what friend this could be
whom Ezra had brought with him. She had noticed that he was roughly
clad, presenting a contrast to the young merchant, who was vulgarly
spruce in his attire. Evidently he intended to pass the night at the
Priory, since they had let the trap go back to the village. She was
glad that he had come, for his presence would act as a restraint upon
the Girdlestones. In spite of her guardian's amiability at breakfast,
she could not forget the words which he had used the morning before or
the incident of the poison bottle. She was as convinced as ever that he
meant mischief to her, but she had ceased to fear him. It never for one
moment occurred to her that her guardian's machinations might come to a
head before her rescuers could arrive.
As the long afternoon stole away she became more and more impatient and
expectant. She had been sewing in her room, but she found that she
could no longer keep her attention on the stitches. She paced nervously
up and down the little apartment. In the room beneath she could hear
the dull muffled sound of men's voices in a long continuous monotone,
broken only by the interposition now and again of one voice which was so
deep and loud that it reminded her of the growl of a beast of prey.
This must belong to the red-bearded stranger. Kate wondered what it
could be that they were talking over so earnestly. City affairs, no
doubt, or other business matters of importance. She remembered having
once heard it remarked that many of the richest men on 'Change were
eccentric and slovenly in their dress, so the new-comer might be a more
important person than he seemed.
She had determined to remain in her room all the afternoon to avoid
Ezra, but her restlessness was so great that she felt feverish and hot.
The fresh air, she thought, would have a reviving effect upon her.
She slipped down the staircase, treading as lightly as possible not to
disturb the gentlemen in the refectory. They appeared to hear her
however, for the hum of conversation died away, and there was a dead
silence until after she had passed.
She went out on to the little lawn which lay in front of the old house.
There were some flower-beds scattered about on it, but they were
overgrown with weeds and in the last stage of neglect. She amused
herself by attempting to improve the condition of one of them and
kneeling down beside it she pulled up a number of the weeds which
covered it. There was a withered rose-bush in the centre, so she pulled
up that also, and succeeded in imparting some degree of order among the
few plants which remained. She worked with unnatural energy, pausing
every now and again to glance down the dark avenue, or to listen
intently to any chance sound which might catch her ear.
In the course of her work she chanced to look up at the Priory.
The refectory faced the lawn, and at the window of it there stood the
three men looking out at her. The Girdlestones were nodding their
heads, as though they were pointing her out to the third man, who stood
between them. He was looking at her with an expression of interest.
Kate thought as she returned his gaze that she had never seen a more
savage and brutal face. He was flushed and laughing, while Ezra beside
him appeared to be pale and anxious. They all, when they saw that she
noticed them, stepped precipitately back from the window. She had only
a momentary glance at them, and yet the three faces--the strange fierce
red one, and the two hard familiar pale ones which flanked it--remained
vividly impressed upon her memory.
Girdlestone had been so pleased at the early appearance of his allies,
and the prospect of settling the matter once for all, that he received
them with a cordiality which was foreign to his nature.
"Always punctual, my dear son, and always to be relied upon," he said.
"You are a model to our young business men. As to you, Mr. Burt," he
continued, grasping the navvy's horny hand, "I am delighted to see you
at the Priory, much as I regret the sad necessity which has brought you
"Talk it over afterwards," said Ezra shortly. "Burt and I have had no
"I am cursed near starved," the other growled, throwing himself into a
chair. Ezra had been careful to keep him from drink on the way down,
and he was now sober, or as nearly sober as a brain saturated with
liquor could ever be.
Girdlestone called for Mrs. Jorrocks, who laid the cloth and put a piece
of cold corned beef and a jug of beer upon the table. Ezra appeared to
have a poor appetite, but Burt ate voraciously, and filled his glass
again and again from the jug. When the meal was finished and the ale
all consumed, he rose with a grunt of repletion, and, pulling a roll of
black tobacco from his pocket, proceeded to cut it into slices, and to
cram it into his pipe. Ezra drew a chair up to the fire, and his father
did the same, after ordering the old woman out of the room and carefully
closing the door behind her.
"You have spoken to our friend here about the business?" Girdlestone
asked, nodding his head in the direction of Burt.
"Yes. I have made it all clear."
"Five hundred pounds down, and a free passage to Africa," said Burt.
"An energetic man like you can do a great deal in the colonies with five
hundred pounds," Girdlestone remarked.
"What I do with it is nothin' to you, guv'nor," Burt remarked surlily.
"I does the job, you pays the money, and there's an end as far as you
"Quite so," the merchant said in a conciliatory voice. "You are free to
do what you like with the money."
"Without axin' your leave," growled Burt. He was a man of such a
turbulent and quarrelsome disposition that he was always ready to go out
of his way to make himself disagreeable.
"The question is how it is to be done," interposed Ezra. He was looking
very nervous and uneasy. Hard as he was, he had neither the
pseudo-religious monomania of his father, nor the callous brutality of
Burt, and he shuddered at the thought of what was to come. His eyes
were red and bleared, and he sat with one arm thrown over the back of
his chair, while he drummed nervously with the fingers of his other hand
upon his knee. "You've got some plan in your head, I suppose," he said
to his father. "It's high time the thing was carried through, or we
shall have to put up the shutters in Fenchurch Street."
His father shivered at the very thought. "Anything rather than that,"
"It will precious soon come to that. It was the devil of a fight to
keep things straight last week."
"What's the matter with your lip? It seems to be swollen."
"I had a turn with that fellow Dimsdale," Ezra answered, putting his
hand up to his mouth to hide the disfigurement. "He followed us to the
station, and we had to beat him off; but I think I left my marks upon
"He played some damned hokey-pokey business on me," said Burt.
"He tripped me in some new-fangled way, and nigh knocked the breath out
of me. I don't fall as light as I used."
"He did not succeed in tracing you?" Girdlestone asked uneasily.
"There is no chance of his turning up here and spoiling the whole
"Not the least," said Ezra confidently. "He was in the hands of a
policeman when I saw him last."
"That is well. Now I should like, before we go further, to say a few
words to Mr. Burt as to what has led up to this."
"You haven't got a drop to drink, boss?"
"Yes, yes, of course. What is that in the bottle over there?
Ginger wine. How will that do?"
"Here's something better," Ezra said, rummaging in the cupboard.
"Here is a bottle of Hollands. It is Mrs. Jorrocks' private store, I
Burt poured himself out half a tumblerful, and filled it up with water.
"Drive along," he said; "I am lisnin'."
Girdlestone rose and stood with his back to the fire, and his hands
under his coat-tails. "I wish you to understand," he said, "that this
is no sudden determination of ours, but that events have led up to it in
such a way that it was impossible to avoid it. Our commercial honour
and integrity are more precious to us than anything else, and we have
both agreed that we are ready to sacrifice anything rather than lose it.
Unfortunately, our affairs have become somewhat involved, and it was
absolutely necessary that the firm should have a sum of money promptly
in order to extricate itself from its difficulties. This sum we
endeavoured to get through a daring speculation in diamonds, which was,
though I say it, ingeniously planned and cleverly carried out, and which
would have succeeded admirably had it not been for an unfortunate
"I remember," said Burt.
"Of course. You were there at the time. We were able to struggle along
for some time after this on money which we borrowed and on the profits
of our African trade. The time came, however, when the borrowed money
was to be repaid, and once again the firm was in danger. It was then
that we first thought of the fortune of my ward. It was enough to turn
the scale in our favour, could we lay our hands upon it. It was
securely tied up, however, in such a way that there were only two means
by which we could touch a penny of it. One was by marrying her to my
son; the other was by the young lady's death. Do you follow me?"
Burt nodded his shaggy head.
"This being so, we did all that we could to arrange a marriage.
Without flattery I may say that no girl was ever approached in a more
delicate and honourable way than she was by my son Ezra. I, for my
part, brought all my influence to bear upon her in order to induce her
to meet his advances in a proper spirit. In spite of our efforts, she
rejected him in the most decided way, and gave us to understand that it
was hopeless to attempt to make her change her mind."
"Some one else, maybe," suggested Burt.
"The man who put you on your back at the station," said Ezra.
"Ha! I'll pay him for that," the navvy growled viciously.
"A human life, Mr. Burt," continued Girdlestone, "is a sacred thing, but
a human life, when weighed against the existence of a great firm from
which hundreds derive their means of livelihood, is a small
consideration indeed. When the fate of Miss Harston is put against the
fate of the great commercial house of Girdlestone, it is evident which
must go to the wall."
Burt nodded, and poured some more Hollands from the square bottle.
"Having seen," Girdlestone continued, "that this sad necessity might
arise, I had made every arrangement some time before. This building is,
as you may have observed in your drive, situated in a lonely and
secluded part of the country. It is walled round too in such a manner
that any one residing here is practically a prisoner. I removed the
lady so suddenly that no one can possibly know where she has gone to,
and I have spread such reports as to her condition that no one down here
would be surprised to hear of her decease."
"But there is bound to be an inquiry. How about a medical certificate?"
"I shall insist upon a coroner's inquest," his father answered.
"An inquest! Are you mad?"
"When you have heard me I think that you will come to just the opposite
conclusion. I think that I have hit upon a scheme which is really
neat--neat in its simplicity." He rubbed his hands together, and showed
his long yellow fangs in his enjoyment of his own astuteness.
Burt and Ezra leaned forward to listen, while the old man sank his voice
to a whisper.
"They think that she is insane," he said.
"There's a small door in the boundary wall which leads out to the
"Well, what of that?"
"Suppose that door to be left open, would it be an impossible thing for
a crazy woman to slip out through it, and to be run over by the ten
"If she would only get in the way of it."
"You don't quite catch my idea yet. Suppose that the express ran over
the dead body of a woman, would there be anything to prove afterwards
that she _was_ dead, and not alive at the time of the accident? Do you
think that it would ever occur to any one's mind that the express ran
over a dead body?"
"I see your meaning," said his son thoughtfully. "You would settle her,
and then put her there."
"Of course. What could be more delightfully simple. Friend Burt here
does his work; we carry her through the garden gate, and lay her on the
darkest part of the rails. Then we miss her at the house. There is an
alarm and a search. The gate is found open. We naturally go through
with lanterns, and find her on the line. I don't think we need fear the
coroner, or any one else then?"
"He's a sharp 'un, is the guv'nor," cried Burt, slapping his thigh
enthusiastically. "It's the downiest lay I have heard this many a day."
"I believe you are the devil incarnate," said Ezra, looking at his
father with a mixture of horror and of admiration. "But how about
Jorrocks and Stevens and Rebecca? Would you trust them?"
"Certainly not!" Girdlestone answered. "It is not necessary. Mr. Burt
can do his part of the business out of doors. We can entice her out
upon some excuse. There is no reason why any one should have a
suspicion of the truth."
"But they know that she is not mad."
"They will think that she did it on purpose. The secret will be locked
up in our three breasts. After one night's work our friend here goes to
the colonies a prosperous man, and the firm of Girdlestone holds up its
head once more, stainless and irreproachable."
"Speak low!" said Ezra, in a whisper. "I hear her coming downstairs."
They listened to her light springy footstep as it passed the door.
"Come here, Burt," he said, after a pause. "She is at work on the lawn.
Come and have a look at her."
They all went over to the window, and looked out. It was then that
Kate, glancing up, saw the three cruel faces surveying her.
"She's a rare well-built 'un," said Burt, as he stepped back from the
window. "It is the ugliest job as ever I was on."
"But we can rely upon you?" Girdlestone asked, looking at him with
"You bet--as long as you pay me," the navvy answered phlegmatically, and
went back to his pipe and to Mrs. Jorrocks' bottle of Hollands.
THE BAIT ON THE HOOK.
The grey winter evening was beginning to steal in before the details had
all been arranged by the conspirators. It had grown so chill that Kate
had abandoned her attempt at gardening, and had gone back to her room.
Ezra left his father and Burt by the fire and came out to the open
hall-door. The grim old trees looked gaunt and eerie as they waved
their naked arms about in the cutting wind. A slight fog had come up
from the sea and lay in light wreaths over the upper branches, like a
thin veil of gauze. Ezra was shivering as he surveyed the dreary scene,
when he felt a hand on his arm, and looking round saw that the maid
Rebecca was standing beside him.
"Haven't you got one word for me?" she said sadly, looking up into his
face. "It's but once a week, and then never a word of greeting."
"I didn't see you, my lass," Ezra answered. "How does the Priory suit
"One place is the same as another to me," she said drearily. "You asked
me to come here, and I have come. You said once that you would let me
know how I could serve you down here. When am I to know?"
"Why, there's no secret about that. You do serve me when you look after
my father as you have done these weeks back. That old woman isn't fit
to manage the whole place by herself."
"That wasn't what you meant, though," said the girl, looking at him with
questioning eyes. "I remember your face now as you spoke the words.
You have something on your mind, and have now, only you keep it to
yourself. Why won't you trust me with it?"
"Don't be a fool!" answered Ezra curtly. "I have a great deal to worry
me in business matters. Much good it would do telling you about them!"
"It's more than that," said Rebecca doggedly. "Who is that man who has
"A business man from London. He has come to consult my father about
money matters. Any more questions you would like to ask?"
"I should like to know how long we are to be kept down here, and what
the meaning of it all may be."
"We are going back before the end of the winter, and the meaning of it
is that Miss Harston was not well and needed a change of air. Now are
you satisfied?" He was determined to allay as far as possible any
suspicions that the girl might have previously formed.
"And what brings _you_ down here?" she asked, with the same searching
look. "You don't come down into this hole without some good reason.
I did think at first that you might come down in order to see me, but
you soon showed me that it wasn't that. There was a time when you was
fond of me."
"So I am now, lass."
"Ay, very fond! Not a word nor a look from you last time you came.
You must have some reason, though, that brings you here."
"There's nothing wonderful in a man coming to see his own father,"
"Much you cared for him in London," she cried, with a shrill laugh.
"If he was under the sod you would not be the sadder. It's my belief as
you come down after that doll-faced missy upstairs."
"Dry up, now!" said Ezra roughly. "I've had enough of your confounded
"You don't talk in that style to her," she said excitedly. "You scorn
me, but I know this, that if I can't have your love no one else shall.
I've got a dash of the gipsy in me, as you know. Rather than that girl
should have you, I would knife her and you, too!" She shook her
clenched right hand as she spoke, and her face was so full of vindictive
passion that Ezra was astonished.
"I always knew that you were a spitfire," he said, "but you never came
it quite so strong as this before."
The reaction had already come upon her, however, and tears were running
down her cheeks. "You'll never leave me entirely?" she cried, clasping
his arm. "I could bear to share your love with another, but I wouldn't
have you turn altogether against me."
"You'll have my father out presently with your damned noise!" said Ezra.
"Get away, and wash your face."
His word was law to her, and she turned away, still weeping bitterly.
In her poor, dim, eventless life the sole bright spot had been the
attention which the young merchant had occasionally shown her. To her
distorted fancy he was a man among men, a hero, all that was admirable
and magnificent. What was there which she would not do for him?
She had the faithfulness of a dog, but like a dog she would snarl
fiercely at any one who came between her master's affection and herself.
Deep down in her heart rankled the one suspicion which no assurances
could remove, that an understanding existed between the man she loved
and the woman she hated. As she withdrew to her room she determined
that during this visit of Ezra's she would manage in such a way that no
communication could pass between them without her knowledge. She knew
that it was a dangerous thing to play the spy upon the young man, for he
had shown her before now that her sex was no precaution against his
brutality. Nevertheless, she set herself to do it, with all the cunning
and perseverance of a jealous woman.
As the light faded and the greys of evening deepened into darkness, Kate
sat patiently in her bare little room. A coal fire sputtered and
sparkled in the rusty grate, and there was a tin bucket full of coals
beside the fender from which to replenish it. She was very cold, so she
drew her single chair up to the blaze and held her hands over it.
It was a lonesome and melancholy vigil, while the wind whistled through
the branches of the trees and moaned drearily in the cracks and crannies
of the old house. When were her friends coming? Perhaps something had
occurred to detain them to-day. This morning such a thing would have
appeared to her to be an impossibility, but now that the time had come
when she had expected them, it appeared probable enough that something
might have delayed them. To-morrow at latest they could not fail to
come. She wondered what they would do if they did arrive. Would they
come boldly up the avenue and claim her from the Girdlestones, or would
they endeavour to communicate with her first? Whatever they decided
upon would be sure to be for the best.
She went to the window once and looked out. It promised to be a wild
night. Far away in the south-west lay a great cumulus of rugged clouds
from which dark streamers radiated over the sky, like the advance guard
of an army. Here and there a pale star twinkled dimly out through the
rifts, but the greater part of the heavens was black and threatening.
It was so dark that she could no longer see the sea, but the crashing,
booming sound of the great waves filled the air and the salt spray came
driving in through the open window. She shut it and resumed her seat by
the fire, shivering partly from cold and partly from some vague
presentiment of evil.
An hour or more had passed when she heard a step upon the stairs and a
knock came to her door. It was Rebecca, with a cup of tea upon a tray
and some bread-and-butter. Kate was grateful at this attention, for it
saved her from having to go down to the dining-room and face Ezra and
his unpleasant-looking companion. Rebecca laid down the tray, and
then, to her mistress's surprise, turned back and shut the door.
The girl's face was very pale, and her manner was wild and excited.
"Here's a note for you," she said. "It was given Mrs. Jorrocks to give
you, but I am better at climbing stairs than she is, so I brought it
up." She handed Kate a little slip of paper as she spoke.
A note for her! Could it be that her friends had arrived and had
managed to send a message to her? It must be so. She took it from the
maid. As she did so she noticed that the other's hands were shaking as
though she had the ague. "You are not well, Rebecca," said Kate kindly.
"Oh yes, I am. You read your note and don't mind me," the girl
answered, in her usual surly fashion. Instead of leaving the room, she
was bustling about the bed as though putting things in order.
Kate's impatience was too great to allow her to wait, so she untwisted
the paper, which had no seal or fastening. She had hoped in her heart
to see the name of her lover at the end of it. Instead of that, her eye
fell upon the signature of Ezra Girdlestone. What could he have to say
to her? She moved the solitary candle on to the mantelpiece, and read
the following note, roughly scribbled upon a coarse piece of paper:--
"MY DEAR MISS HARSTON."
"I am afraid your confinement here has been very irksome to you.
I have repeatedly requested my father to alleviate or modify it,
but he has invariably refused. As he still persists in his
refusal, I wish to offer you my aid, and, to show you that I am
your sincere friend in spite of all that has passed, it you could
slip out to-night at nine o'clock and meet me by the withered oak
at the head of the avenue, I shall see you safe to Bedsworth, and
you can, if you wish, go on to Portsmouth by the next train.
I shall manage so that you may find the door open by that time.
I shall not, of course, go to Portsmouth with you, but shall return
here after dropping you at the station. I do this small thing to
show you that, hopeless as it may be, the affection which I bear
you is still as deep as ever."
Our heroine was so surprised at this epistle that she sat for some time
dangling the slip of paper between her fingers and lost in thought.
When she glanced round, Rebecca had left the room. She rolled the paper
up and threw it into the fire. Ezra, then, was not so hard-hearted as
she had thought him. He had used his influence to soften his father.
Should she accept this chance of escape, or should she wait some word
from her friends? Perhaps they were already in Bedsworth, but did not
know how to communicate with her. If so, this offer of Ezra's was just
what was needed. In any case, she could go on to Portsmouth and
telegraph from there to the Dimsdales. It was too good an offer to be
refused. She made up her mind that she would accept it. It was past
eight now, and nine was the hour. She stood up with the intention of
putting on her cloak and her bonnet.
THE SHADOW OF DEATH.
This conversation with Rebecca had suggested to Ezra that he might still
have influence enough with his father's ward to induce her to come out
of doors, and so put herself within the reach of Burt. He had proposed
the plan to his father, who approved of it heartily. The only weak
point in his scheme had been the difficulty which might arise in
inducing the girl to venture out of the Priory on that tempestuous
winter's night. There was evidently only one incentive strong enough to
bring it about, and that was the hope of escape. By harping skilfully
upon this string they might lure her into the trap. Ezra and his father
composed the letter together, and the former handed it to Mrs. Jorrocks,
with a request that she should deliver it.
It chanced, however, that Rebecca, keenly alive to any attempt at
communication between the young merchant and her mistress, saw the crone
hobbling down the passage with the note in her hand.
"What's that, mother?" she asked.
"It's a letter for her," wheezed the old woman, nodding her tremulous
head in the direction of Kate's room.
"I'll take it up," said Rebecca eagerly. "I am just going up there with
"Thank ye. Them stairs tries my rheumatiz something cruel."
The maid took the note and carried it upstairs. Instead of taking it
straight to her mistress she slipped into her own room and read every
word of it. It appeared to confirm her worst suspicions. Here was Ezra
asking an interview with the woman whom he had assured her that he
hated. It was true that the request was made in measured words and on a
plausible pretext. No doubt that was merely to deceive any other eye
which might rest upon it. There was an understanding between them, and
this was an assignation. The girl walked swiftly up and down the room
like a caged tigress, striking her head with her clenched hands in her
anger and biting her lip until the blood came. It was some time before
she could overcome her agitation sufficiently to deliver the note, and
when she did so her mistress, as we have seen, noticed that her manner
was nervous and wild. She little dreamed of the struggle which was
going on in the dark-eyed girl's mind against the impulse which urged
her to seize her imagined rival by the white throat and choke the life
out of her.
"It's eight o'clock now," Ezra was saying downstairs. "I wonder whether
she will come?"
"She is sure to come," his father said briefly.
"Suppose she didn't?"
"In that case we should find other means to bring her out. We have not
gone so far, to break down over a trifle at the last moment."
"I must have something to drink," Ezra said, after a pause, helping
himself from the bottle. "I feel as cold as ice and as nervous as a
cat. I can't understand how you look so unconcerned. If you were going
to sign an invoice or audit an account or anything else in the way of
business you could not take it more calmly. I wish the time would come.
This waiting is terrible."
"Let us pass the time to advantage," said John Girdlestone; and drawing
a little fat Bible from his pocket he began to read it aloud in a solemn
and sonorous voice. The yellow light illuminated the old merchant's
massive features as he stooped forwards towards the candle.
His strongly marked nose and his hollow cheeks gave him a vulture-like
aspect, which was increased by the effect of his deep-set glittering
Ezra, leaning back in his chair with the firelight flickering over his
haggard but still handsome face, looked across at his father with a
puzzled expression. He had never yet been able to determine whether the
old man was a consummate hypocrite or a religious monomaniac. Burt lay
with his feet in the light of the fire and his head sunk back across the
arm of the chair, fast asleep and snoring loudly.
"Isn't it time to wake him up?" Ezra asked, interrupting the reading.
"Yes, I think it is," his father answered, closing the sacred volume
reverently and replacing it in his bosom.
Ezra took up the candle and held it over the sleeping man. "What a
brute he looks!" he said. "Did ever you see such an animal in your
The navvy was certainly not a pretty sight. His muscular arms and legs
were all a-sprawl and his head hung back at a strange angle to his body,
so that his fiery red beard pointed upwards, exposing all the thick
sinewy throat beneath it. His eyes were half open and looked bleared
and unhealthy, while his thick lips puffed out with a whistling sound at
every expiration. His dirty brown coat was thrown open, and out of one
of the pockets protruded a short thick cudgel with a leaden head.
John Girdlestone picked it out and tried it in the air. "I think I
could kill an ox with this," he said.
"Don't wave it about _my_ head," cried Ezra. "As you stand in the
firelight brandishing that stick in your long arms you are less
attractive than usual."
John Girdlestone smiled and replaced the cudgel in the sleeper's pocket.
"Wake up, Burt," he cried, shaking him by the arm. "It's half-past
The navvy started to his feet with an oath and then fell back into his
chair, staring round him vacantly, at a loss as to where he might be.
His eye fell upon the bottle of Hollands, which was now nearly empty,
and he held out his hand to it with an exclamation of recognition.
"I've been asleep, guv'nor," he said hoarsely. "Must have a dram to set
me straight. Did you say it was time for the job."
"We have made arrangements by which she will be out by the withered oak
at nine o'clock."
"That's not for half an hour," cried Burt, in a surly voice. "You need
not have woke me yet."
"We'd better go out there now. She may come rather before the time"
"Come on, then!" said the navvy, buttoning up his coat and rolling a
ragged cravat round his throat. "Who is a-comin' with me?"
"We shall both come," answered John Girdlestone firmly. "You will need
help to carry her to the railway line."
"Surely Burt can do that himself," Ezra remarked. "She's not so very
Girdlestone drew his son aside. "Don't be so foolish, Ezra," he said.
"We can't trust the half-drunken fellow. It must be done with the
greatest carefulness and precision, and no traces left. Our old
business watchword was to overlook everything ourselves, and we shall
certainly do so now."
"It's a horrible affair!" Ezra said, with a shudder. "I wish I was out
"You won't think that to-morrow morning when you realize that the firm
is saved and no one the wiser. He has gone on. Don't lose sight of
They both hurried out, and found Burt standing in front of the door.
It was blowing half a gale now, and the wind was bitterly cold.
There came a melancholy rasping and rustling from the leafless wood, and
every now and again a sharp crackling sound would announce that some
rotten branch had come crashing down. The clouds drove across the face
of the moon, so that at times the cold, clear light silvered the dark
wood and the old monastery, while at others all was plunged in darkness.
From the open door a broad golden bar was shot across the lawn from the
lamp in the hall. The three dark figures with their long fantastic
shadows looked eerie and unnatural in the yellow glare.
"Are we to have a lantern?" asked Burt.
"No, no," cried Ezra. "We shall see quite enough as it is. We don't
want a light."
"I have one," said the father. "We can use it if it is necessary.
I think we had better take our places now. She may come sooner than we
expect. It will be well to leave the door as it is. She will see that
there is no obstacle in the way."
"You're not half sharp enough," said Ezra. "If the door was left like
that it might suggest a trap to her. Better close the dining-room door
and then leave the hall door just a little ajar. That would look more
natural. She would conclude that Burt and you were in there."
"Where are Jorrocks and Rebecca?" Girdlestone asked, closing the door as
"Jorrocks is in her room. Rebecca, I have no doubt, is in hers also."
"Things look safe enough. Come along, Burt. This way."
The three tramped their way across the gravelled drive and over the
slushy grass to the border of the wood.
"This is the withered oak," said Girdlestone, as a dark mass loomed in
front of them. It stood somewhat apart from the other trees, and the
base of it was free from the brambles which formed a thick undergrowth
Burt walked round the great trunk and made as careful an examination of
the ground as he could in the dark.
"Would the lantern be of any use to you?" Girdlestone asked.
"No, It's all serene. I think I know how to fix it now. You two can
get behind those trees, or where you like, as long as you're not in the
way. I don't want no 'sistance. When Jem Burt takes a job in hand he
carries it through in a workmanlike manner. I don't want nobody else
"We would not dream of interfering with your arrangements," said
"You'd better not!" Burt growled. "I'll lay down behind this oak, d'ye
see. When she comes, she'll think as he's not arrived yet, and she'll
get standin' around and waitin'. When I see my chance, I'll get behind
her, and she'll never know that she has not been struck by lightnin'."
"Excellent!" cried John Girdlestone; "excellent! We had best get into
"Mind you do it all in one crack," Ezra said. "Don't let us have any
crying out afterwards. I could stand a good deal, but not that."
"You should know how I hits," Burt remarked with a malicious grin, which
was hidden from his companion. "If your head wasn't well nigh solid you
wouldn't be here now."
Ezra's hand involuntarily went up to the old scar. "I think such a one
as that would settle her!" he said, as he withdrew with his father.
The two took up their position under the shadow of some trees fifty
yards off or more. Burt crouched down behind the withered oak with his
weapon in his hand and waited for the coming of his victim.
Ezra, though usually resolute and daring, had completely lost his nerve,
and his teeth were chattering in his head. His father, on the other
hand, was emotionless and impassive as ever.
"It's close upon nine o'clock," Ezra whispered.
"Ten minutes to," said the other, peering at his great golden
chronometer through the darkness.
"What if she fails to come?"
"We must devise other means of bringing her out."
From the spot where they stood they had a view of the whole of the
Priory. She could not come out without being seen. Above the door was
a long narrow window which opened upon the staircase. On this
Girdlestone and his son fixed their eyes, for they knew that on her way
down she would be visible at it. As they looked, the dim light which
shone through it was obscured and then reappeared.
"She has passed!"
Another moment and the door was stealthily opened. Once again the broad
golden bar shot out across the lawn almost to the spot where the
confederates were crouching. In the centre of the zone of light there
stood a figure--the figure of the girl. Even at that distance they
could distinguish the pearl-grey mantle which she usually wore and the
close-fitting bonnet. She had wrapped a shawl round the lower part of
her face to protect her from the boisterous wind. For a minute or more
she stood peering out into the darkness of the night, as though
uncertain whether to proceed or to go back. Then, with a quick, sudden
gesture she closed the door behind her. The light was no longer there,
but they knew that she was outside the house, and that the appointment
would be kept.
What an age it seemed before they heard her footsteps. She came very
slowly, putting one foot gingerly before the other, as if afraid of
falling over something in the darkness. Once or twice she stopped
altogether, looking round, no doubt, to make sure of her whereabouts.
At that instant the moon shone out from behind a cloud, and they saw her
dark figure a short distance on. The light enabled her to see the
withered oak, for she came rapidly towards it. As she approached, she
satisfied herself apparently that she was the first on the ground, for
she slackened her pace once more and walked in the listless way that
people assume when they are waiting. The clouds were overtaking the
moon again, and the light was getting dimmer.
"I can see her still," said Ezra in a whisper, grasping his father's
wrist in his excitement.
The old man said nothing, but he peered through the darkness with eager,
"There she is, standing out a little from the oak," the young merchant
said, pointing with a quivering finger. "She's not near enough for him
to reach her."
"He's coming out from the shadow now," the other said huskily.
"Don't you see him crawling along the ground?"
"I see him," returned the other in the same subdued, awestruck voice.
"Now he has stopped; now he goes on again! My God, he's close behind
her! She is looking the other way."
A thin ray of light shot down between the clouds. In its silvery
radiance two figures stood out hard and black, that of the unconscious
girl and of the man who crouched like a beast of prey behind her.
He made a step forward, which brought him within a yard of her. She may
have heard the heavy footfall above the shriek of the storm, for she
turned suddenly and faced him. At the same instance she was struck down
with a crashing blow. There was no time for a prayer, no time for a
scream. One moment had seen her a magnificent woman in all the pride of
her youthful beauty, the next left her a poor battered, senseless wreck.
The navvy had earned his blood-money.
At the sound of the blow and the sight of the fall both the old man and
the young ran out from their place of concealment. Burt was standing
over the body, his bludgeon in his hand.
"Not even a groan!" he said. "What d'ye think of that?"
Girdlestone wrung his hand and congratulated him warmly. "Shall I light
the lantern?" he asked.
"For God's sake, don't!" Ezra said earnestly.
"I had no idea that you were so faint-hearted, my son," the merchant
remarked. "However, I know the way to the gate well enough to go there
blindfold. What a comfort it is to know that there is no blood about!
That's the advantage of a stick over a knife."
"You're correct there, guv'nor," Burt said approvingly.
"Will you kindly carry one end and I'll take the other. I'll go first,
if you don't mind, because I know the way best. The train will pass in
less than half an hour, so we have not long to wait. Within that time
every chance of detection will have gone."
Girdlestone raised up the head of the murdered girl, and Burt took her
feet. Ezra walked behind as though he were in some dreadful dream.
He had fully recognized the necessity for the murder, but he had never
before realized how ghastly the details would be. Already he had begun
to repent that he had ever acquiesced in it. Then came thoughts of the
splendid possibilities of the African business, which could only be
saved from destruction by this woman's death. How could he, with his
luxurious tastes, bear the squalor and poverty which would be his lot
were the firm to fail? Better a rope and a long drop than such a life
as that! All these considerations thronged into his mind as he plodded
along the slippery footpath which led through the forest to the wooden
THE INVASION OF HAMPSHIRE.
When Tom and the major arrived at Waterloo Station, the latter in the
breathless condition described in a preceding chapter, they found the
German waiting for them with his two fellow-exiles. The gentleman of
Nihilistic proclivities was somewhat tall and thin, with a long
frock-coat buttoned almost up to his throat, which showed signs of
giving at the seams every here and there. His grizzly hair fell over
his collar behind, and he had a short bristling beard. He stood with
one hand stuck into the front of his coat and the other upon his hip, as
though rehearsing the position in which his statue might be some day
erected in the streets of his native Russia, when the people had their
own, and despotism was no more. In spite of his worn attire there was
something noble and striking about the man. His bow, when Baumser
introduced him to the major and Tom, would have graced any Court in
Europe. Round his neck he had a coarse string from which hung a pair of
double eye-glasses. These he fixed upon his aquiline nose, and took a
good look at the gentlemen whom he had come to serve.
Bulow, of Kiel, was a small, dark-eyed, clean-shaven fellow, quick and
energetic in his movements, having more the appearance of a Celt than of
a Teuton. He seemed to be full of amiability, and assured the major in
execrable English how very happy he was to be able to do a service to
one who had shown kindness to their esteemed colleague and persecuted
patriot, Von Baumser. Indeed both of the men showed great deference to
the German, and the major began to perceive that his friend was a very
exalted individual in Socialistic circles. He liked the look of the two
foreigners, and congratulated himself upon having their co-operation in
the matter on hand.
Ill luck was in store for the expedition, however. On inquiry at the
ticket-office they found that there was no train for upwards of two
hours, and then it was a slow one which would not land them until eight
o'clock at Bedsworth. At this piece of information Tom Dimsdale fairly
broke down, and stamped about the station, raving and beseeching the
officials to run a special, be the cost what it might. This, however,
could by no means be done, owing to the press of Saturday traffic.
There was nothing for it but to wait. The three foreigners went off in
search of something to eat, and having found a convenient cookshop they
disappeared therein and feasted royally at Von Baumser's expense.
Major Tobias Clutterbuck remained with the young man, who resolutely
refused to leave the platform. The major knew of a snug little corner
not far off where he could have put in the time very comfortably, but he
could not bring himself to desert his companion even for a minute.
I have no doubt that that wait of two hours in the draughty station is
marked up somewhere to the old sinner's credit account.
Indeed, it was well that day that young Dimsdale had good friends at his
back. His appearance was so strange and wild that the passers-by turned
back to have another look at him, His eyes were open and staring, giving
a fear-inspiring character to his expression. He could not sit still
for an instant, but paced up and down and backwards and forwards under
the influence of the fierce energy which consumed him, while the major
plodded along manfully at his side, suggesting every consideration which
might cheer him up, and narrating many tales, true and apocryphal, most
of which fell upon heedless ears.
Ezra Girdlestone had four hours' start of them. That was the thought
which rankled in Tom's heart and outweighed every other consideration.
He knew Kate's nature so well that he was convinced that she would never
have expressed such fears to Mrs. Scully unless she had very assured
reasons for them. In fact, apart from her own words, what could this
secrecy and seclusion mean except foul play. After what he had learned
about the insurance of the ships and the manner in which the elder
Girdlestone had induced him to cease corresponding with Kate, he could
believe anything of his partners. He knew, also, that in case of Kate's
death the money reverted to her guardian. There was not a single link
missing in the chain of evidence which showed that a crime was in
contemplation. Then, who was that butcher-like man whom Ezra was taking
down with him? Tom could have torn his hair as he thought of his
present impotence and of his folly in losing sight of young Girdlestone.
The major has put it on record that those two hours appeared to him the
longest that ever he passed in his life, and Tom, no doubt, would
endorse the sentiment. Everything must have an end, however, and the
station clock, the hands of which seemed several times to have stopped
altogether, began at last to approach the hour at which the Portsmouth
train was timed to depart. Baumser and his two friends had come back,
all three smoking cigarettes, and looking the better for their visit to
the cookshop. The five got into a first-class railway carriage and
waited. Would they never have done examining tickets and stamping
luggage and going through all sorts of tedious formalities? At last,
thank God! comes the shrill whistle of the guard, the answering snort
from the engine, and they are fairly started upon their mission of
There was much to be arranged as to their plan of action. Tom, Von
Baumser, and the major talked it over in a low voice, while the two
Socialists chatted together in German and consumed eternal cigarettes.
Tom was for marching straight up to the Priory and demanding that
Girdlestone should deliver his ward up to them. To the major and the
German this seemed an unwise proceeding. It was to put themselves
hopelessly wrong from a legal point of view. Girdlestone had only to
say, as he assuredly would, that the whole story was a ridiculous mare's
nest, and then what proof could they adduce, or what excuse give for
their interference. However plausible their suspicions might be, they
were, after all, only suspicions, which other people might not view in
as grave a light.
"What would you advise, then?" Tom asked, passing his hand over his
"Bedad! I'll tell you the plan," the old soldier answered, "and I think
me friend Von Baumser will agray with me. I understand that this place
is surrounded by a wall to which there is only one gate. Sure, we shall
wait outside this wall, and one of us can go in as a skirmisher and find
out how the land lies. Let him ascertain from the young lady herself if
she requires immadiate help, and what she would wish done. If he can't
make his way to her, let him hang about the house, and see and hear all
that he can. We shall then have something solid to work on. I have a
dog whistle here on me watch-chain, given me by Charley Gill, of the
Inniskillens. Our skirmisher could take that with him, and if he wants
immadiate help one blow of it would be enough to bring the four of us
over to him. Though how the divil I am to git over a wall," concluded
the major ruefully, looking down at his own proportions, "is more than I
"I hope, my vriends," said Von Baumser, "dat you vill allow me the
honour of going first, for ven I vas in the Swabian Jager I vas always
counted a very good spion."
"That is my place," said Tom with decision.
"You have the best claim," the major answered. "What a train this is!
Ged, it's as slow as the one which Jimmy Travers, of the Commissariat,
travelled in in America. They were staming along, according to Jimmy,
when they saw a cow walking along the loine in front of them. They all
thought that they were going to run into her, but it was all right, for
they never overtook her, and she soon walked clane out of sight. Here
we are at a station! How far to Bedsworth, guard?"
"Next station, sir."
"Thank the Lord! It's twinty to eight. We are rather behind our time.
You always are if you are in a particular hurry."
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time they reached their destination.
The station-master directed them to the _Flying Bull_, where they
secured the very vehicle in which Kate and her guardian had been
originally driven up. By the time that the horse was put in it was
close upon the half-hour.
"Drive as hard as you can go to the Proiory, me man," said the major.
The sulky ostler made no remark, but a look of surprise passed over his
phlegmatic countenance. For years back so little had been heard of the
old monastery that its very existence had been almost forgotten in
Bedsworth. Now whole troops of Londoners were coming down in
succession, demanding to be driven there. He pondered over the strange
fact as he drove through the darkness, but the only conclusion to which
his bucolic mind could come was that it was high time to raise the fare
to that particular point.
It was a miserable night, stormy and wet and bitterly cold. None of the
five men had a thought to spare for the weather, however. The two
foreigners had been so infected by the suppressed excitement of their
companions, or had so identified themselves with their comrades' cause,
that they were as eager as the others.
"Are we near?" the major asked.
"The gate is just at the end o' the lane, sir."
"Don't pull up at the gate, but take us a little past it."
"There ain't no way in except the gate," the driver remarked.
"Do what you're ordered," said the major sternly. Once again the
ostler's face betrayed unbounded astonishment. He slewed half-way round
in his seat and took as good a look as was possible in the uncertain
light at the faces of his passengers. It had occurred to him that it
was more than likely that he would have to swear to them at some future
date in a police-court. "I'd know that thick 'un wi' the red face," he
muttered to himself, "and him wi' the yeller beard and the stick."
They passed the stone pillars with the weather-beaten heraldic devices,
and drove along by the high park wall. When they had gone a hundred
yards or so the major ordered the driver to pull up, and they all got
down. The increased fare was paid without remonstrance, and the ostler
rattled away homewards, with the intention of pulling up at the county
police-station and lodging information as to the suspicious visitors
whom he had brought down.
"It is loikely that they have a watch at the gate," said the major.
"We must kape away from there. This wall is a great hoight. We'd best
kape on until we find the aisiest place to scale it."
"I could get over it here," Tom said eagerly.
"Wait a bit. A few minutes can make no difference one way or the other.
Ould Sir Colin used to say that there were more battles lost by
over-haste than by slowness. What's the high bank running along on the
"Dat's a railway bankment," said Von Baumser. "See de posts and de
little red lights over yonder."
"So it is. The wall seems to me to be lower here. What's this dark
thing? Hullo, here's a door lading into the grounds."
"It is locked though."
"Give me a hoist here," Tom said imploringly. "Don't throw a minute
away. You can't tell what may be going on inside. At this very moment
for all we know they may be plotting her murder."
"He has right," said Von Baumser. "We shall await here until we hear
from you. Help him, my vriends--shove him up!"
Tom caught the coping of the wall, although the broken glass cut deeply
into his hands. With a great heave he swung himself up, and was soon
astride upon the top.
"Here's the whistle," said the major, standing on tiptoe to reach a
downstretched hand. "If you want us, give a good blow at it. We'll be
with you in a brace of shakes. If we can't get over the wall we'll have
the door down. Divil a fear but we'll be there!"
Tom was in the act of letting himself drop into the wood, when suddenly
the watchers below saw him crouch down upon the wall, and lie
motionless, as though listening intently.
"Hush!" he whispered, leaning over. "Some one is coming through the
The wind had died away and the storm subsided. Even from the lane they
could hear the sound of feet, and of muffled voices inside the grounds.
They all crouched down in the shadow of the wall. Tom lay flat upon the
glass-studded coping, and no one looking from below could distinguish
him from the wall itself.
The voices and the footsteps sounded louder and louder, until they were
just at the other side of the boundary. They seemed to come from
several people walking slowly and heavily. There was the shrill rasping
of a key, and the wooden door swung back on its rusty hinges, while
three dark figures passed out who appeared to bear some burden between
them. The party in the shadow crouched closer still, and peered through
the darkness with eager, anxious eyes. They could discern little save
the vague outlines of the moving men, and yet as they gazed at them an
unaccountable and overpowering horror crept into the hearts of every one
of them. They breathed the atmosphere of death.
The new-comers tramped across the road, and, pushing through the thin
hedge, ascended the railway embankment upon the other side. It was
evident that their burden was a heavy one, for they stopped more than
once while ascending the steep grassy slope, and once, when near the
top, one of the party slipped, and there was a sound as though he had
fallen upon his knees, together with a stifled oath. They reached the
top, however, and their figures, which had disappeared from view, came
into sight again, standing out dimly against the murky sky. They bent
down over the railway line, and placed the indistinguishable mass which
they bore carefully upon it.
"We must have the light," said a voice.
"No, no; there's no need," another expostulated.
"We can't work in the dark," said a third, loudly and harshly.
"Where's your lantern, guv'nor? I've got a lucifer."
"We must manage that the train passes over right," the first voice
remarked. "Here, Burt, you light it?"
There was the sharp sound of the striking of a match, and a feeble
glimmer appeared, in the darkness. It flickered and waned, as though
the wind would extinguish it, but next instant the wick of the lantern
had caught, and threw a strong yellow glare upon the scene. The light
fell upon the major and his comrades, who had sprung into the road, and
it lit up the group on the railway line. Yet it was not upon the
rescuing party that the murderers fixed their terror-stricken eyes, and
the major and his friends had lost all thought of the miscreants above
them--for there, standing in the centre of the roadway, there with the
light flickering over her pale sweet face, like a spirit from the tomb,
stood none other than the much-enduring, cruelly-treated girl for whom
Burt's murderous blow had been intended.
For a few moments she stood there without either party moving a foot or
uttering a sound. Then there came from the railway line a cry so wild
that it will ring for ever in the ears of those who heard it.
Burt dropped upon his knees and put his band over his eyes to keep out
the sight. John Girdlestone caught his son by the wrist and dashed away
into the darkness, flying wildly, madly, with white faces and staring
eyes, as men who have looked upon that which is not of this world.
In the meantime, Tom had sprung down from his perch, and had clasped
Kate in his arms, and there she lay, sobbing and laughing, with many
pretty feminine ejaculations and exclamations and questions, saved at
last from the net of death which had been closing upon her so long.
A MIDNIGHT CRUISE.
If ever two men were completely cowed and broken down those two were the
African merchants and his son. Wet, torn, and soiled, they still
struggled on in their aimless flight, crashing through hedges and
clambering over obstacles, with the one idea in their frenzied minds of
leaving miles between them and that fair accusing face. Exhausted and
panting they still battled through the darkness and the storm, until
they saw the gleam of the surge and heard the crash of the great waves
upon the beach. Then they stopped amid the sand and the shingle.
The moon was shining down now in all its calm splendour, illuminating
the great tossing ocean and the long dark sweep of the Hampshire coast.
By its light the two men looked at one another, such a look as two lost
souls might have exchanged when they heard the gates of hell first clang
Who could have recognized them now as the respected trader of Fenchurch
Street and his fastidious son. Their clothes were tattered, their faces
splashed with mud and scarred by brambles and thorns, the elder man had
lost his hat, and his silvery hair blew out in a confused tangle behind
him. Even more noticeable, however, than the change in their attire was
the alteration in their expression. Both had the same startled, furtive
look of apprehension, like beasts of prey who hear the baying of the
hounds in the distance. Their quivering hands and gasping breath
betrayed their exhaustion, yet they glanced around them nervously, as
though the least sound would send them off once more upon their wild
"You devil!" Ezra cried at last, in a harsh, choking voice, taking a
step towards his father with a gesture as though he would have struck
him. "You have brought us to this with your canting and scheming and
plotting. What are we to do now--eh? Answer me that!" He caught the
old man by the coat and shook him violently.
Girdlestone's face was all drawn, as though he were threatened with a
fit, and his eyes were glassy and vacant. The moonlight glittered in
them and played over his contorted features. "Did you see her?" he
whispered with trembling lips. "Did you see her?"
"Yes, I saw her," the other answered brusquely; "and I saw that
infernal fellow from London, and the major, and God knows how many more
behind her. A nice hornets' nest to bring about one's ears."
"It was her spirit," said his father in the same awe-struck voice.
"The spirit of John Harston's murdered daughter."
"It was the girl herself," said Ezra. He had been panic-stricken at the
moment, but had had time during their flight to realize the situation.
"We have made a pretty botch of the whole thing."
"The girl herself!" cried Girdlestone in bewilderment. "For Heaven's
sake, don't mock me! Who was it that we carried through the wood and
laid upon the rails?"
"Who was it? Why that jealous jade, Rebecca Taylforth, of course, who
must have read my note and come out in the other's cloak and hat to hear
what I had to say to her. The cursed fool!"
"The wrong woman!" Girdlestone muttered with the same vacant look upon
his face. "All for nothing, then--for nothing!"
"Don't stand mumbling to yourself there," cried Ezra, catching his
father's arm and half dragging him along the beach. "Don't you
understand that there's a hue and cry out after you, and that we'll be
hung if we are taken. Wake up and exert yourself. The gallows would be
a nice end to all your preaching and praying, wouldn't it?"
They hurried along together down the beach, ploughing their way through
the loose shingle and tripping over the great mats of seaweed which had
been cast up in the recent gale. The wind was still so great that they
had to lower their heads and to put their shoulders against it, while
the salt spray caused their eyes to smart and tingled on their lips.
"Where are you taking me, my son?" asked the old man once.
"To the only chance we have of safety. Come on, and ask no questions."
Through the murkiness of the night they saw a single light flickering
dimly ahead of them. This was evidently the goal at which Ezra was
aiming. As they toiled on it grew larger and brighter, until it
resolved itself into the glare of a lamp shining through a small
diamond-paned window. Girdlestone recognized the place now. It was the
hut of a fisherman named Sampson, who lived a mile or more from Claxton.
He remembered having his attention attracted to the place by the curious
nature of the building, which was constructed out of the remnants of a
Norwegian barque stranded some years before. The thatch which covered
it and the windows and door cut in the sides gave it a curiously hybrid
appearance, and made it an object of interest to sightseers in those
parts. Sampson was the owner of a fair-sized fishing-boat, which he
worked with his eldest son, and which was said to yield him a decent
"What are you going to do?" asked Girdlestone, as his son made his way
to the door.
"Don't look like a ghost," Ezra answered in an angry whisper.
"We're all safe, if we are only cool."
"I am better now. You can trust me."
"Keep a smiling face, then," said Ezra, and knocked loudly at the door
of the hut. The occupants had not heard their approach owing to the
storm, but the instant that the young merchant struck the door there was
a buzz of conversation and the sharp barking of a dog. Then came a dull
thud and the barking ceased, from which Ezra concluded that some one had
hurled a boot at the animal.
"We hain't no bait," cried a gruff voice.
"Can I see Mr. Sampson?" asked Ezra.
"I tell 'ee we hain't no bait," roared the voice in a more irritable
"We don't want bait. We want a word of talk," said Ezra.
As he spoke, the door flew open, and a burly middle-aged man, in a red
shirt, appeared, with a face which was almost the same colour as his
garment. "We hain't got no--" he was beginning, when he suddenly
recognized his visitors and broke short off, staring at them with as
much surprise as it is possible for human features to express.
"Well, if it ain't the genelman from the Priory!" he exclaimed at last,
with a whistle, which seemed to be his way of letting off the
astonishment which would otherwise remain bottled up in his system.
"We want a minute's talk with you, Mr. Sampson," said Ezra.
"Surely, sir--sure-ly!" the fisherman cried, bustling indoors and
rubbing the top of two stools with his sleeve. "Coom in! 'Ere, Jarge,
pull the seats up for the genelmen."
At this summons, a lanky, big-boned hobbledehoy, in sea boots, pushed
the stools up towards the fire, on which a log of wood was blazing
cheerily. The two Girdlestones sat warming themselves, while the
fisherman and his son surveyed them silently with open eyes and mouth,
as though they were a pair of strange zoological curiosities cast up by
"Keep doon, Sammy!" the fisherman said hoarsely to a great collie dog
who was licking at Girdlestone's hands. "What be he a suckin' at?
Why, sure, sir, there be blood on your hands."
"My father scratched himself," said Ezra promptly.
"His hat has blown away too, and we lost our way in the dark, so we're
rather in a mess."
"Why, so you be!" Sampson cried, eyeing them up and down. "I thought,
when I heard you, as it was they folk from Claxton as comes 'ere for
bait whenever they be short. That's nigh about the only visitors we
ever gets here; bean't it, Jarge?"
George, thus appealed to, made no articulate reply, but he opened his
great mouth and laughed vociferously.
"We've come for something which will pay you better than that," said
Ezra. "You remember my meeting you two or three Saturdays ago, and
speaking to you about your house and your boat and one thing or
The fisherman nodded.
"You said something then about your boat being a good sea-going craft,
and that it was as roomy as many a yacht. I think I told you that I
might give it a try some day."
The fisherman nodded again. His wondering eyes were still surveying his
visitors, dwelling on every rent in their clothes or stain on their
"My father and I want to get down the coast as far as the Downs. Now we
thought that we might just as well give your boat a turn and have your
son and yourself to work it. I suppose she is fit to go that distance?"
"Fit! whoy she be fit to go to 'Meriky! The Downs ain't more'n hunder
and twenty mile. With a good breeze she would do it in a day.
By to-morrow afternoon we'd be ready to make a start if the wind
"To-morrow afternoon! We must be there by that time. We want you to
The seaman looked round at his son, and the boy burst out laughing once
"It 'ud be a rum start for a vyage at this time o' night, with half a
gale from the sou'-west. I never heard tell o' sich a thing!"
"Look here," said Ezra, bending forward and emphasizing his words with
his uplifted hand, "we've set our minds on going, and we don't mind
paying for the fancy. The sooner we start the better pleased we shall
be. Name your price. If you won't take us, there are many in Claxton
"Well, it be a cruel bad night to be sure," the fisherman answered.
"Like as not we'd get the boat knocked about, an' maybe have her riggin'
damaged. We've been a-fresh paintin' of her too, and that would be
spoiled. It's a powerful long way, and then there's the gettin' back.
It means the loss of two or three days' work, and there's plenty of fish
on the coast now, and a good market for them."
"Would thirty pounds pay you?" asked Ezra.
The sum was considerably more than the fisherman would have ventured to
ask. The very magnificence of it, however, encouraged him to hope that
more might be forthcoming.
"Five-and-thirty wouldn't pay me for the loss and trouble," he said;
"forbye the damage to the boat."
"Say forty, then," said Ezra. "It's rather much to pay for a freak of
this sort, but we won't haggle over a pound or two."
The old seaman scratched his head as though uncertain whether to take
this blessing which the gods had sent or to hold out for more.
Ezra solved the matter by springing to his feet. "Come on to Claxton,
father," he cried. "We'll get what we want there."
"Steady, sir, steady!" the fisherman said hastily. "I didn't say as I
wasn't good for the job. I'm ready to start for the sum you names.
Hurry up, Jarge, and get the tackle ready."
The sea-booted youth began to bustle about at this summons, bearing
things out into the darkness and running back for more with an alacrity
which one would hardly have suspected from his uncouth appearance.
"Can I wash my hands?" asked Girdlestone. There were several crimson
stains where he had held the body of the murdered girl. It appeared
that Burt's bludgeon was not such a bloodless weapon after all.
"There's water, sir, in that bucket. Maybe you would like a bit o'
plaster to bind up the cut?"
"It's not bad enough for that," said the merchant hastily.
"I'll leave you here," the fisherman remarked. "There's much to be done
down theer. You'll have poor feedin' I'm afraid; biscuits and water and
"Never mind that. Hurry up all you can." The man tramped away down to
the beach, and Ezra remained with his father in the hut. The old man
washed his hands very carefully, and poured the stained water away
outside the door.
"How are you going to pay this man?" he asked.
"I have some money sewed up in my waistcoat," Ezra answered. "I wasn't
such a fool as not to know that a crash might come at any moment. I was
determined that all should not go to the creditors."
"How much have you?"
"What's that to you?" Ezra asked angrily. "You mind your own affairs.
The money's mine, since I have saved it. It's quite enough if I spend
part of it in helping you away."
"I don't dispute it, my boy," the old merchant said meekly. "It's a
blessing that you had the foresight to secure it. Are you thinking of
making for France now?"
"France! Pshaw, man, the telegraph would have set every gendarme on the
coast on the look-out. No, no, that would be a poor hope of safety!"
"Where is the fisherman?" asked Ezra suspiciously, peering out from the
door into the darkness. "No one must know our destination. We'll pick
up Migg's ship, the _Black Eagle_, in the Downs. She was to have gone
down the Thames to-day, and to lie at Gravesend, and then to work round
to the Downs, where she will be to-morrow. It will be a Sunday, so no
news can get about. If we get away with him they will lose all trace of
us. We'll get him to land up upon the Spanish coast. I think it will
fairly puzzle the police. No doubt they are watching every station on
the line by this time. I wonder what has become of Burt?"
"I trust that they will hang him," John Girdlestone cried, with a gleam
of his old energy. "If he had taken the ordinary precaution of making
sure who the girl was, this would never have occurred."
"Don't throw the blame on him," said Ezra bitterly. "Who was it who
kept us all up to it whenever we wished to back out? If it had not been
for you, who would have thought of it?"
"I acted for the best," cried the old man, throwing his hands up with a
piteous gesture. "You should be the last to upbraid me. It was the
dream of leaving you rich and honoured which drove me on. I was
prepared to do anything for that end."
"You have always excellent intentions," his son said callously.
"They have a queer way of showing themselves, however. Look out, here's
As he spoke they heard the crunching of the fisherman's heavy boots on
the shingle, and he looked in, with his ruddy face all shining with the
"We're all ready now, sirs," he said. "Jarge and I will get into our
oil duds, and then we can lock up the shop. It'll have to take care of
itself until we come back."
The two gentlemen walked down to the edge of the sea. There was a
little dinghy there, and the boat was anchored a couple of hundred yards
off. They could just make out the loom of her through the darkness, and
see her shadowy spars, dipping, rising, and falling with the wash of the
waves. To right and left spread the long white line of thundering foam,
as though the ocean were some great beast of prey which was gnashing its
glistening teeth at them. The gale had partially died away, but there
still came fitful gusts from the south-west, and the thick clouds
overhead were sweeping in a majestic procession across the sky, and
falling like a dark cataract over the horizon, showing that up there at
least there was no lull in the tempest. It was bitterly cold, and both
men buttoned up their coats and slapped their hands against each other
to preserve their warmth.
After some little delay, Sampson and his son came down from the hut with
a lantern in each of their hands. They had locked the door behind them,
which showed that they were ready for a final start. By the lights
which they carried it could be seen that they were dressed in yellow
suits of oilskin and sou'wester hats, as if prepared for a wet night.
"You ain't half dressed for a cruise of this kind," Sampson said.
"You'll be nigh soaked through, I fear."
"That's our look-out," answered Ezra. "Let us get off."
"Step in, sir, and we'll get in after."
The dinghy was shoved off into the surf, and the two seamen clambered in
after. Ezra and his father sat in the sheets, while the others rowed.
The sea was running very high--so high that when the dinghy lay in the
trough of a wave they could see neither the boat for which they were
steering nor the shore which they had left--nothing indeed but the black
line of hissing water above their heads. At times they would go up
until they hung on the crest of a great roller and saw the dark valleys
gaping beyond into which they were forthwith precipitated. Sometimes,
when they were high upon a wave, the fishing-boat would be between the
seas, and then there would be nothing of her visible except the upper
portion of her mast. It was only a couple of hundred yards, but seemed
a long journey to the shivering fugitives.
"Stand by with the boat-hook!" Sampson cried at last. The dark outline
of the boat was looming immediately above them.
"All right, father."
The dinghy was held alongside, and the two gentlemen scrambled aboard as
best they could, followed by their companions.
"Have you the painter, Jarge?"
"Make it fast aft then!"
The lad fastened the rope which held the dinghy to a stanchion beside
the tiller. Then he and his father proceeded to hoist the foresail so
as to get the boat's head round.
"She'll do now," Sampson cried. "Give us a hand here, sir, if you don't
Ezra caught hold of the rope which was handed him and pulled for some
time. It was a relief to him to have something, however small, which
would distract his mind from the events of the night.
"That will do, sir," the skipper cried, and, leaning over the bows, he
seized the anchor which Ezra had hauled up, and tumbled it with a crash
on the deck.
"Now, Jarge, with three reefs in her we might give her the mains'le."
With much pulling at ropes and with many strange nautical cries the
father and the son, aided by their passengers, succeeded in raising the
great brown sail. The little vessel lay over under the pressure of the
wind until her lee bulwark was flush with the water, and the deck lay at
such an angle that it was only by holding on to the weather rigging
that the two gentlemen could retain their footing. The wild waves
swirled and foamed round her bows, and beat at her quarter and beneath
her counter, but the little boat rose gallantly to them, and shot away
through the storm, running due eastward.
"It ain't much of a cabin," Sampson said apologetically. "Such as it
is, you'll find it down there."
"Thank you," answered Ezra; "we'll stay on deck at present. When ought
we to get to the Downs?"
"At this rate we'll be there by to-morrow afternoon."
The fisherman and his boy took turn and turn, one steering and the other
keeping a look-out forward and trimming the sails. The two passengers
crouched huddled together against the weather rail. They were each too
occupied with thought to have time for speech. Suddenly, after passing