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Stories by Modern English Authors

Part 4 out of 8

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not only concealed the light of my fire, but sheltered me from the
wind, which was cold as well as high.

The life I was leading made me both hardy and frugal. I never
drank but water, and rarely eat anything more costly than oatmeal;
and I required so little sleep, that, although I rose with the peep
of day, I would often lie long awake in the dark or starry watches
of the night. Thus in Graden Sea-Wood, although I fell thankfully
asleep by eight in the evening I was awake again before eleven with
a full possession of my faculties, and no sense of drowsiness or
fatigue. I rose and sat by the fire, watching the trees and clouds
tumultuously tossing and fleeing overhead, and hearkening to the
wind and the rollers along the shore; till at length, growing weary
of inaction, I quitted the den, and strolled toward the borders of
the wood. A young moon, buried in mist, gave a faint illumination
to my steps; and the light grew brighter as I walked forth into the
links. At the same moment, the wind, smelling salt of the open
ocean and carrying particles of sand, struck me with its full
force, so that I had to bow my head.

When I raised it again to look about me, I was aware of a light in
the pavilion. It was not stationary; but passed from one window to
another, as though some one were reviewing the different apartments
with a lamp or candle. I watched it for some seconds in great
surprise. When I had arrived in the afternoon the house had been
plainly deserted; now it was as plainly occupied. It was my first
idea that a gang of thieves might have broken in and be now
ransacking Northmour's cupboards, which were many and not ill
supplied. But what should bring thieves at Graden Easter? And,
again, all the shutters had been thrown open, and it would have
been more in the character of such gentry to close them. I
dismissed the notion, and fell back upon another. Northmour
himself must have arrived, and was now airing and inspecting the
pavilion.

I have said that there was no real affection between this man and
me; but, had I loved him like a brother, I was then so much more in
love with solitude that I should none the less have shunned his
company. As it was, I turned and ran for it; and it was with
genuine satisfaction that I found myself safely back beside the
fire. I had escaped an acquaintance; I should have one more night
in comfort. In the morning, I might either slip away before
Northmour was abroad, or pay him as short a visit as I chose.

But when morning came, I thought the situation so diverting that I
forgot my shyness. Northmour was at my mercy; I arranged a good
practical jest, though I knew well that my neighbor was not the man
to jest with in security; and, chuckling beforehand over its
success, took my place among the elders at the edge of the wood,
whence I could command the door of the pavilion. The shutters were
all once more closed, which I remember thinking odd; and the house,
with its white walls and green venetians, looked spruce and
habitable in the morning light. Hour after hour passed, and still
no sign of Northmour. I knew him for a sluggard in the morning;
but, as it drew on toward noon, I lost my patience. To say the
truth, I had promised myself to break my fast in the pavilion, and
hunger began to prick me sharply. It was a pity to let the
opportunity go by without some cause for mirth; but the grosser
appetite prevailed, and I relinquished my jest with regret, and
sallied from the wood.

The appearance of the house affected me, as I drew near; with
disquietude. It seemed unchanged since last evening; and I had
expected it, I scarce knew why, to wear some external signs of
habitation. But no: the windows were all closely shuttered, the
chimneys breathed no smoke, and the front door itself was closely
padlocked. Northmour, therefore, had entered by the back; this was
the natural, and indeed, the necessary conclusion; and you may
judge of my surprise when, on turning the house, I found the back
door similarly secured.

My mind at once reverted to the original theory of thieves; and I
blamed myself sharply for my last night's inaction. I examined all
the windows on the lower story, but none of them had been tampered
with; I tried the padlocks, but they were both secure. It thus
became a problem how the thieves, if thieves they were, had managed
to enter the house. They must have got, I reasoned, upon the roof
of the outhouse where Northmour used to keep his photographic
battery; and from thence, either by the window of the study or that
of my old bedroom, completed their burglarious entry.

I followed what I supposed was their example; and, getting on the
roof, tried the shutters of each room. Both were secure; but I was
not to be beaten; and, with a little force, one of them flew open,
grazing, as it did so, the back of my hand. I remember, I put the
wound to my mouth, and stood for perhaps half a minute licking it
like a dog, and mechanically gazing behind me over the waste links
and the sea; and, in that space of time, my eye made note of a
large schooner yacht some miles to the north-east. Then I threw up
the window and climbed in.

I went over the house, and nothing can express my mystification.
There was no sign of disorder, but, on the contrary, the rooms were
unusually clean and pleasant. I found fires laid, ready for
lighting; three bedrooms prepared with a luxury quite foreign to
Northmour's habits, and with water in the ewers and the beds turned
down; a table set for three in the dining-room; and an ample supply
of cold meats, game, and vegetables on the pantry shelves. There
were guests expected, that was plain; but why guests, when
Northmour hated society? And, above all, why was the house thus
stealthily prepared at dead of night? and why were the shutters
closed and the doors padlocked?

I effaced all traces of my visit, and came forth from the window
feeling sobered and concerned.

The schooner yacht was still in the same place; and it flashed for
a moment through my mind that this might be the Red Earl bringing
the owner of the pavilion and his guests. But the vessel's head
was set the other way.

II

I returned to the den to cook myself a meal, of which I stood in
great need, as well as to care for my horse, whom I had somewhat
neglected in the morning. From time to time I went down to the
edge of the wood; but there was no change in the pavilion, and not
a human creature was seen all day upon the links. The schooner in
the offing was the one touch of life within my range of vision.
She, apparently with no set object, stood off and on or lay to,
hour after hour; but as the evening deepened, she drew steadily
nearer. I became more convinced that she carried Northmour and his
friends, and that they would probably come ashore after dark; not
only because that was of a piece with the secrecy of the
preparations, but because the tide would not have flowed
sufficiently before eleven to cover Graden Floe and the other sea
quags that fortified the shore against invaders.

All day the wind had been going down, and the sea along with it;
but there was a return towards sunset of the heavy weather of the
day before. The night set in pitch dark. The wind came off the
sea in squalls, like the firing of a battery of cannon; now and
then there was a flaw of rain, and the surf rolled heavier with the
rising tide. I was down at my observatory among the elders, when a
light was run up to the masthead of the schooner, and showed she
was closer in than when I had last seen her by the dying daylight.
I concluded that this must be a signal to Northmour's associates on
shore; and, stepping forth into the links, looked around me for
something in response.

A small footpath ran along the margin of the wood, and formed the
most direct communication between the pavilion and the mansion-
house; and, as I cast my eyes to that side, I saw a spark of light,
not a quarter of a mile away, and rapidly approaching. From its
uneven course it appeared to be the light of a lantern carried by a
person who followed the windings of the path, and was often
staggered and taken aback by the more violent squalls. I concealed
myself once more among the elders, and waited eagerly for the
newcomer's advance. It proved to be a woman; and, as she passed
within half a rod of my ambush, I was able to recognise the
features. The deaf and silent old dame, who had nursed Northmour
in his childhood, was his associate in this underhand affair.

I followed her at a little distance, taking advantage of the
innumerable heights and hollows, concealed by the darkness, and
favored not only by the nurse's deafness, but by the uproar of the
wind and surf. She entered the pavilion, and, going at once to the
upper story, opened and set a light in one of the windows that
looked toward the sea. Immediately afterwards the light at the
schooner's masthead was run down and extinguished. Its purpose had
been attained, and those on board were sure that they were
expected. The old woman resumed her preparations; although the
other shutters remained closed, I could see a glimmer going to and
fro about the house; and a gush of sparks from one chimney after
another soon told me that the fires were being kindled.

Northmour and his guests, I was now persuaded, would come ashore as
soon as there was water on the floe. It was a wild night for boat
service; and I felt some alarm mingle with my curiosity as I
reflected on the danger of the landing. My old acquaintance, it
was true, was the most eccentric of men; but the present
eccentricity was both disquieting and lugubrious to consider. A
variety of feelings thus led me toward the beach, where I lay flat
on my face in a hollow within six feet of the track that led to the
pavilion. Thence, I should have the satisfaction of recognizing
the arrivals, and, if they should prove to be acquaintances,
greeting them as soon as they landed.

Some time before eleven, while the tide was still dangerously low,
a boat's lantern appeared close in shore; and, my attention being
thus awakened, I could perceive another still far to seaward,
violently tossed, and sometimes hidden by the billows. The
weather, which was getting dirtier as the night went on, and the
perilous situation of the yacht upon a lee shore, had probably
driven them to attempt a landing at the earliest possible moment.

A little afterwards, four yachtsmen carrying a very heavy chest,
and guided by a fifth with a lantern, passed close in front of me
as I lay, and were admitted to the pavilion by the nurse. They
returned to the beach, and passed me a third time with another
chest, larger but apparently not so heavy as the first. A third
time they made the transit; and on this occasion one of the
yachtsmen carried a leather portmanteau, and the others a lady's
trunk and carriage bag. My curiosity was sharply excited. If a
woman were among the guests of Northmour, it would show a change in
his habits, and an apostasy from his pet theories of life, well
calculated to fill me with surprise. When he and I dwelt there
together, the pavilion had been a temple of misogyny. And now, one
of the detested sex was to be installed under its roof. I
remembered one or two particulars, a few notes of daintiness and
almost of coquetry which had struck me the day before as I surveyed
the preparations in the house; their purpose was now clear, and I
thought myself dull not to have perceived it from the first.

While I was thus reflecting, a second lantern drew near me from the
beach. It was carried by a yachtsman whom I had not yet seen, and
who was conducting two other persons to the pavilion. These two
persons were unquestionably the guests for whom the house was made
ready; and, straining eye and ear, I set myself to watch them as
they passed. One was an unusually tall man, in a traveling hat
slouched over his eyes, and a highland cape closely buttoned and
turned up so as to conceal his face. You could make out no more of
him than that he was, as I have said, unusually tall, and walked
feebly with a heavy stoop. By his side, and either clinging to him
or giving him support--I could not make out which--was a young,
tall, and slender figure of a woman. She was extremely pale; but
in the light of the lantern her face was so marred by strong and
changing shadows, that she might equally well have been as ugly as
sin or as beautiful as I afterwards found her to be.

When they were just abreast of me, the girl made some remark which
was drowned by the noise of the wind.

"Hush!" said her companion; and there was something in the tone
with which the word was uttered that thrilled and rather shook my
spirits. It seemed to breathe from a bosom laboring under the
deadliest terror; I have never heard another syllable so
expressive; and I still hear it again when I am feverish at night,
and my mind runs upon old times. The man turned toward the girl as
he spoke; I had a glimpse of much red beard and a nose which seemed
to have been broken in youth; and his light eyes seemed shining in
his face with some strong and unpleasant emotion.

But these two passed on and were admitted in their turn to the
pavilion.

One by one, or in groups, the seamen returned to the beach. The
wind brought me the sound of a rough voice crying, "Shove off!"
Then, after a pause, another lantern drew near. It was Northmour
alone.

My wife and I, a man and a woman, have often agreed to wonder how a
person could be, at the same time, so handsome and so repulsive as
Northmour. He had the appearance of a finished gentleman; his face
bore every mark of intelligence and courage; but you had only to
look at him, even in his most amiable moment, to see that he had
the temper of a slaver captain. I never knew a character that was
both explosive and revengeful to the same degree; he combined the
vivacity of the south with the sustained and deadly hatreds of the
north; and both traits were plainly written on his face, which was
a sort of danger signal. In person, he was tall, strong, and
active; his hair and complexion very dark; his features handsomely
designed, but spoiled by a menacing expression.

At that moment he was somewhat paler than by nature; he wore a
heavy frown; and his lips worked, and he looked sharply round him
as he walked, like a man besieged with apprehensions. And yet I
thought he had a look of triumph underlying all, as though he had
already done much, and was near the end of an achievement.

Partly from a scruple of delicacy--which I dare say came too late--
partly from the pleasure of startling an acquaintance, I desired to
make my presence known to him without delay.

I got suddenly to my feet, and stepped forward.

"Northmour!" said I.

I have never had so shocking a surprise in all my days. He leaped
on me without a word; something shone in his hand; and he struck
for my heart with a dagger. At the same moment I knocked him head
over heels. Whether it was my quickness, or his own uncertainty, I
know not; but the blade only grazed my shoulder, while the hilt and
his fist struck me violently on the mouth.

I fled, but not far. I had often and often observed the
capabilities of the sand hills for protracted ambush or stealthy
advances and retreats; and, not ten yards from the scene of the
scuffle, plumped down again upon the grass. The lantern had fallen
and gone out. But what was my astonishment to see Northmour slip
at a bound into the pavilion, and hear him bar the door behind him
with a clang of iron!

He had not pursued me. He had run away. Northmour, whom I knew
for the most implacable and daring of men, had run away! I could
scarce believe my reason; and yet in this strange business, where
all was incredible, there was nothing to make a work about in an
incredibility more or less. For why was the pavilion secretly
prepared? Why had Northmour landed with his guests at dead of
night, in half a gale of wind, and with the floe scarce covered?
Why had he sought to kill me? Had he not recognized my voice? I
wondered. And, above all, how had he come to have a dagger ready
in his hand? A dagger, or even a sharp knife, seemed out of
keeping with the age in which we lived; and a gentleman landing
from his yacht on the shore of his own estate, even although it was
at night and with some mysterious circumstances, does not usually,
as a matter of fact, walk thus prepared for deadly onslaught. The
more I reflected, the further I felt at sea. I recapitulated the
elements of mystery, counting them on my fingers: the pavilion
secretly prepared for guests; the guests landed at the risk of
their lives and to the imminent peril of the yacht; the guests, or
at least one of them, in undisguised and seemingly causeless
terror; Northmour with a naked weapon; Northmour stabbing his most
intimate acquaintance at a word; last, and not least strange,
Northmour fleeing from the man whom he had sought to murder, and
barricading himself, like a hunted creature, behind the door of the
pavilion. Here were at least six separate causes for extreme
surprise; each part and parcel with the others, and forming all
together one consistent story. I felt almost ashamed to believe my
own senses.

As I thus stood, transfixed with wonder, I began to grow painfully
conscious of the injuries I had received in the scuffle; skulked
round among the sand hills; and, by a devious path, regained the
shelter of the wood. On the way, the old nurse passed again within
several yards of me, still carrying her lantern, on the return
journey to the mansion house of Graden. This made a seventh
suspicious feature in the case. Northmour and his guests, it
appeared, were to cook and do the cleaning for themselves, while
the old woman continued to inhabit the big empty barrack among the
policies. There must surely be great cause for secrecy, when so
many inconveniences were confronted to preserve it.

So thinking, I made my way to the den. For greater security, I
trod out the embers of the fire, and lighted my lantern to examine
the wound upon my shoulder. It was a trifling hurt, although it
bled somewhat freely, and I dressed it as well as I could (for its
position made it difficult to reach) with some rag and cold water
from the spring. While I was thus busied, I mentally declared war
against Northmour and his mystery. I am not an angry man by
nature, and I believe there was more curiosity than resentment in
my heart. But war I certainly declared; and, by way of
preparation, I got out my revolver, and, having drawn the charges,
cleaned and reloaded it with scrupulous care. Next I became
preoccupied about my horse. It might break loose, or fall to
neighing, and so betray my camp in the Sea-Wood. I determined to
rid myself of its neighborhood; and long before dawn I was leading
it over the links in the direction of the fisher village.

III

For two days I skulked round the pavilion, profiting by the uneven
surface of the links. I became an adept in the necessary tactics.
These low hillocks and shallow dells, running one into another,
became a kind of cloak of darkness for my inthralling, but perhaps
dishonorable, pursuit.

Yet, in spite of this advantage, I could learn but little of
Northmour or his guests.

Fresh provisions were brought under cover of darkness by the old
woman from the mansion house. Northmour, and the young lady,
sometimes together, but more often singly, would walk for an hour
or two at a time on the beach beside the quicksand. I could not
but conclude that this promenade was chosen with an eye to secrecy;
for the spot was open only to seaward. But it suited me not less
excellently; the highest and most accidented of the sand hills
immediately adjoined; and from these, lying flat in a hollow, I
could overlook Northmour or the young lady as they walked.

The tall man seemed to have disappeared. Not only did he never
cross the threshold, but he never so much as showed face at a
window; or, at least, not so far as I could see; for I dared not
creep forward beyond a certain distance in the day, since the upper
floors commanded the bottoms of the links; and at night, when I
could venture further, the lower windows were barricaded as if to
stand a siege. Sometimes I thought the tall man must be confined
to bed, for I remembered the feebleness of his gait; and sometimes
I thought he must have gone clear away, and that Northmour and the
young lady remained alone together in the pavilion. The idea, even
then, displeased me.

Whether or not this pair were man and wife, I had seen abundant
reason to doubt the friendliness of their relation. Although I
could hear nothing of what they said, and rarely so much as glean a
decided expression on the face of either, there was a distance,
almost a stiffness, in their bearing which showed them to be either
unfamiliar or at enmity. The girl walked faster when she was with
Northmour than when she was alone; and I conceived that any
inclination between a man and a woman would rather delay than
accelerate the step. Moreover, she kept a good yard free of him,
and trailed her umbrella, as if it were a barrier, on the side
between them. Northmour kept sidling closer; and, as the girl
retired from his advance, their course lay at a sort of diagonal
across the beach, and would have landed them in the surf had it
been long enough continued. But, when this was imminent, the girl
would unostentatiously change sides and put Northmour between her
and the sea. I watched these maneuvers, for my part, with high
enjoyment and approval, and chuckled to myself at every move.

On the morning of the third day, she walked alone for some time,
and I perceived, to my great concern, that she was more than once
in tears. You will see that my heart was already interested more
than I supposed. She had a firm yet airy motion of the body, and
carried her head with unimaginable grace; every step was a thing to
look at, and she seemed in my eyes to breathe sweetness and
distinction.

The day was so agreeable, being calm and sunshiny, with a tranquil
sea, and yet with a healthful piquancy and vigor in the air, that,
contrary to custom, she was tempted forth a second time to walk.
On this occasion she was accompanied by Northmour, and they had
been but a short while on the beach, when I saw him take forcible
possession of her hand. She struggled, and uttered a cry that was
almost a scream. I sprung to my feet, unmindful of my strange
position; but, ere I had taken a step, I saw Northmour bareheaded
and bowing very low, as if to apologize; and dropped again at once
into my ambush. A few words were interchanged; and then, with
another bow, he left the beach to return to the pavilion. He
passed not far from me, and I could see him, flushed and lowering,
and cutting savagely with his cane among the grass. It was not
without satisfaction that I recognized my own handiwork in a great
cut under his right eye, and a considerable discoloration round the
socket.

For some time the girl remained where he had left her, looking out
past the islet and over the bright sea. Then with a start, as one
who throws off preoccupation and puts energy again upon its mettle,
she broke into a rapid and decisive walk. She also was much
incensed by what had passed. She had forgotten where she was. And
I beheld her walk straight into the borders of the quicksand where
it is most abrupt and dangerous. Two or three steps farther and
her life would have been in serious jeopardy, when I slid down the
face of the sand hill, which is there precipitous, and, running
halfway forward, called to her to stop.

She did so, and turned round. There was not a tremor of fear in
her behavior, and she marched directly up to me like a queen. I
was barefoot, and clad like a common sailor, save for an Egyptian
scarf round my waist; and she probably took me at first for some
one from the fisher village, straying after bait. As for her, when
I thus saw her face to face, her eyes set steadily and imperiously
upon mine, I was filled with admiration and astonishment, and
thought her even more beautiful than I had looked to find her. Nor
could I think enough of one who, acting with so much boldness, yet
preserved a maidenly air that was both quaint and engaging; for my
wife kept an old-fashioned precision of manner through all her
admirable life--an excellent thing in woman, since it sets another
value on her sweet familiarities.

"What does this mean?" she asked.

"You were walking," I told her, "directly into Graden Floe."

"You do not belong to these parts," she said again. "You speak
like an educated man."

"I believe I have a right to that name," said I, "although in this
disguise."

But her woman's eye had already detected the sash.

"Oh!" she said; "your sash betrays you."

"You have said the word BETRAY," I resumed. "May I ask you not to
betray me? I was obliged to disclose myself in your interest; but
if Northmour learned my presence it might be worse than
disagreeable for me."

"Do you know," she asked, "to whom you are speaking?"

"Not to Mr. Northmour's wife?" I asked, by way of answer.

She shook her head. All this while she was studying my face with
an embarrassing intentness. Then she broke out--

"You have an honest face. Be honest like your face, sir, and tell
me what you want and what you are afraid of. Do you think I could
hurt you? I believe you have far more power to injure me! And yet
you do not look unkind. What do you mean--you, a gentleman--by
skulking like a spy about this desolate place? Tell me," she said,
"who is it you hate?"

"I hate no one," I answered; "and I fear no one face to face. My
name is Cassilis--Frank Cassilis. I lead the life of a vagabond
for my own good pleasure. I am one of Northmour's oldest friends;
and three nights ago, when I addressed him on these links, he
stabbed me in the shoulder with a knife."

"It was you!" she said.

"Why he did so," I continued, disregarding the interruption, "is
more than I can guess, and more than I care to know. I have not
many friends, nor am I very susceptible to friendship; but no man
shall drive me from a place by terror. I had camped in the Graden
Sea-Wood ere he came; I camp in it still. If you think I mean harm
to you or yours, madame, the remedy is in your hand. Tell him that
my camp is in the Hemlock Den, and tonight he can stab me in safety
while I sleep."

With this I doffed my cap to her, and scrambled up once more among
the sand hills. I do not know why, but I felt a prodigious sense
of injustice, and felt like a hero and a martyr; while as a matter
of fact, I had not a word to say in my defense, nor so much as one
plausible reason to offer for my conduct. I had stayed at Graden
out of a curiosity natural enough, but undignified; and though
there was another motive growing in along with the first, it was
not one which, at that period, I could have properly explained to
the lady of my heart.

Certainly, that night, I thought of no one else; and, though her
whole conduct and position seemed suspicious, I could not find it
in my heart to entertain a doubt of her integrity. I could have
staked my life that she was clear of blame, and, though all was
dark at the present, that the explanation of the mystery would show
her part in these events to be both right and needful. It was
true, let me cudgel my imagination as I pleased, that I could
invent no theory of her relations to Northmour; but I felt none the
less sure of my conclusion because it was founded on instinct in
place of reason, and, as I may say, went to sleep that night with
the thought of her under my pillow.

Next day she came out about the same hour alone, and, as soon as
the sand hills concealed her from the pavilion, drew nearer to the
edge, and called me by name in guarded tones. I was astonished to
observe that she was deadly pale, and seemingly under the influence
of strong emotion.

"Mr. Cassilis!" she cried; "Mr. Cassilis!"

I appeared at once, and leaped down upon the beach. A remarkable
air of relief overspread her countenance as soon as she saw me.

"Oh!" she cried, with a hoarse sound, like one whose bosom had been
lightened of a weight. And then, "Thank God you are still safe!"
she added; "I knew, if you were, you would be here." (Was not this
strange? So swiftly and wisely does Nature prepare our hearts for
these great lifelong intimacies, that both my wife and I had been
given a presentiment on this the second day of our acquaintance. I
had even then hoped that she would seek me; she had felt sure that
she would find me.) "Do not," she went on swiftly, "do not stay in
this place. Promise me that you will sleep no longer in that wood.
You do not know how I suffer; all last night I could not sleep for
thinking of your peril."

"Peril!" I repeated. "Peril from whom? From Northmour?"

"Not so," she said. "Did you think I would tell him after what you
said?"

"Not from Northmour?" I repeated. "Then how? From whom? I see
none to be afraid of."

"You must not ask me," was her reply, "for I am not free to tell
you. Only believe me, and go hence--believe me, and go away
quickly, quickly, for your life!"

An appeal to his alarm is never a good plan to rid oneself of a
spirited young man. My obstinacy was but increased by what she
said, and I made it a point of honor to remain. And her solicitude
for my safety still more confirmed me in the resolve.

"You must not think me inquisitive, madame," I replied; "but, if
Graden is so dangerous a place, you yourself perhaps remain here at
some risk."

She only looked at me reproachfully.

"You and your father--" I resumed; but she interrupted me almost
with a gasp.

"My father! How do you know that?" she cried.

"I saw you together when you landed," was my answer; and I do not
know why, but it seemed satisfactory to both of us, as indeed it
was truth. "But," I continued, "you need have no fear from me. I
see you have some reason to be secret, and, you may believe me,
your secret is as safe with me as if I were in Graden Floe. I have
scarce spoken to anyone for years; my horse is my only companion,
and even he, poor beast, is not beside me. You see, then, you may
count on me for silence. So tell me the truth, my dear young lady,
are you not in danger?"

"Mr. Northmour says you are an honorable man," she returned, "and I
believe it when I see you. I will tell you so much; you are right;
we are in dreadful, dreadful danger, and you share it by remaining
where you are."

"Ah!" said I; "you have heard of me from Northmour? And he gives
me a good character?"

"I asked him about you last night," was her reply. "I pretended,"
she hesitated, "I pretended to have met you long ago, and spoken to
you of him. It was not true; but I could not help myself without
betraying you, and you had put me in a difficulty. He praised you
highly."

"And--you may permit me one question--does this danger come from
Northmour?" I asked.

"From Mr. Northmour?" she cried. "Oh, no, he stays with us to
share it."

"While you propose that I should run away?" I said. "You do not
rate me very high."

"Why should you stay?" she asked. "You are no friend of ours."

I know not what came over me, for I had not been conscious of a
similar weakness since I was a child, but I was so mortified by
this retort that my eyes pricked and filled with tears, as I
continued to gaze upon her face.

"No, no," she said, in a changed voice; "I did not mean the words
unkindly."

"It was I who offended," I said; and I held out my hand with a look
of appeal that somehow touched her, for she gave me hers at once,
and even eagerly. I held it for awhile in mine, and gazed into her
eyes. It was she who first tore her hand away, and, forgetting all
about her request and the promise she had sought to extort, ran at
the top of her speed, and without turning, till she was out of
sight. And then I knew that I loved her, and thought in my glad
heart that she--she herself--was not indifferent to my suit. Many
a time she has denied it in after days, but it was with a smiling
and not a serious denial. For my part, I am sure our hands would
not have lain so closely in each other if she had not begun to melt
to me already. And, when all is said, it is no great contention,
since, by her own avowal, she began to love me on the morrow.

And yet on the morrow very little took place. She came and called
me down as on the day before, upbraided me for lingering at Graden,
and, when she found I was still obdurate, began to ask me more
particularly as to my arrival. I told her by what series of
accidents I had come to witness their disembarkation, and how I had
determined to remain, partly from the interest which had been
awakened in me by Northmour's guests, and partly because of his own
murderous attack. As to the former, I fear I was disingenuous, and
led her to regard herself as having been an attraction to me from
the first moment that I saw her on the links. It relieves my heart
to make this confession even now, when my wife is with God, and
already knows all things, and the honesty of my purpose even in
this; for while she lived, although it often pricked my conscience,
I had never the hardihood to undeceive her. Even a little secret,
in such a married life as ours, is like the rose leaf which kept
the princess from her sleep.

From this the talk branched into other subjects, and I told her
much about my lonely and wandering existence; she, for her part,
giving ear, and saying little. Although we spoke very naturally,
and latterly on topics that might seem indifferent, we were both
sweetly agitated. Too soon it was time for her to go; and we
separated, as if by mutual consent, without shaking hands, for both
knew that, between us, it was no idle ceremony.

The next, and that was the fourth day of our acquaintance, we met
in the same spot, but early in the morning, with much familiarity
and yet much timidity on either side. While she had once more
spoken about my danger--and that, I understood, was her excuse for
coming--I, who had prepared a great deal of talk during the night,
began to tell her how highly I valued her kind interest, and how no
one had ever cared to hear about my life, nor had I ever cared to
relate it, before yesterday. Suddenly she interrupted me, saying
with vehemence--

"And yet, if you knew who I was, you would not so much as speak to
me!"

I told her such a thought was madness, and, little as we had met, I
counted her already a dear friend; but my protestations seemed only
to make her more desperate.

"My father is in hiding!" she cried.

"My dear," I said, forgetting for the first time to add "young
lady," "what do I care? If I were in hiding twenty times over,
would it make one thought of change in you?"

"Ah, but the cause!" she cried, "the cause! It is"--she faltered
for a second--"it is disgraceful to us!"

IV

This was my wife's story, as I drew it from her among tears and
sobs. Her name was Clara Huddlestone: it sounded very beautiful in
my ears; but not so beautiful as that other name of Clara Cassilis,
which she wore during the longer and, I thank God, the happier
portion of her life. Her father, Bernard Huddlestone, had been a
private banker in a very large way of business. Many years before,
his affairs becoming disordered, he had been led to try dangerous,
and at last criminal, expedients to retrieve himself from ruin.
All was in vain; he became more and more cruelly involved, and
found his honor lost at the same moment with his fortune. About
this period, Northmour had been courting his daughter with great
assiduity, though with small encouragement; and to him, knowing him
thus disposed in his favor, Bernard Huddlestone turned for help in
his extremity. It was not merely ruin and dishonor, nor merely a
legal condemnation, that the unhappy man had brought upon his head.
It seems he could have gone to prison with a light heart. What he
feared, what kept him awake at night or recalled him from slumber
into frenzy, was some secret, sudden, and unlawful attempt upon his
life. Hence, he desired to bury his existence and escape to one of
the islands in the South Pacific, and it was in Northmour's yacht,
the "Red Earl," that he designed to go. The yacht picked them up
clandestinely upon the coast of Wales, and had once more deposited
them at Graden, till she could be refitted and provisioned for the
longer voyage. Nor could Clara doubt that her hand had been
stipulated as the price of passage. For, although Northmour was
neither unkind, nor even discourteous, he had shown himself in
several instances somewhat overbold in speech and manner.

I listened, I need not say, with fixed attention, and put many
questions as to the more mysterious part. It was in vain. She had
no clear idea of what the blow was, nor of how it was expected to
fall. Her father's alarm was unfeigned and physically prostrating,
and he had thought more than once of making an unconditional
surrender to the police. But the scheme was finally abandoned, for
he was convinced that not even the strength of our English prisons
could shelter him from his pursuers. He had had many affairs in
Italy, and with Italians resident in London, in the latter years of
his business; and these last, as Clara fancied, were somehow
connected with the doom that threatened him. He had shown great
terror at the presence of an Italian seaman on board the "Red
Earl," and had bitterly and repeatedly accused Northmour in
consequence. The latter had protested that Beppo (that was the
seaman's name) was a capital fellow, and could be trusted to the
death; but Mr. Huddlestone had continued ever since to declare that
all was lost, that it was only a question of days, and that Beppo
would be the ruin of him yet.

I regarded the whole story as the hallucination of a mind shaken by
calamity. He had suffered heavy loss by his Italian transactions;
and hence the sight of an Italian was hateful to him, and the
principal part in his nightmare would naturally enough be played by
one of that nation.

"What your father wants," I said, "is a good doctor and some
calming medicine."

"But Mr. Northmour?" objected Clara. "He is untroubled by losses,
and yet he shares in this terror."

I could not help laughing at what I considered her simplicity.

"My dear," said I, "you have told me yourself what reward he has to
look for. All is fair in love, you must remember; and if Northmour
foments your father's terrors, it is not at all because he is
afraid of any Italian man, but simply because he is infatuated with
a charming English woman."

She reminded me of his attack upon myself on the night of the
disembarkation, and this I was unable to explain. In short, and
from one thing to another, it was agreed between us that I should
set out at once for the fisher village, Graden Wester, as it was
called, look up all the newspapers I could find, and see for myself
if there seemed any basis of fact for these continued alarms. The
next morning, at the same hour and place, I was to make my report
to Clara. She said no more on that occasion about my departure;
nor, indeed, did she make it a secret that she clung to the thought
of my proximity as something helpful and pleasant; and, for my
part, I could not have left her, if she had gone upon her knees to
ask it.

I reached Graden Wester before ten in the forenoon; for in those
days I was an excellent pedestrian, and the distance, as I think I
have said, was little over seven miles; fine walking all the way
upon the springy turf. The village is one of the bleakest on that
coast, which is saying much: there is a church in the hollow; a
miserable haven in the rocks, where many boats have been lost as
they returned from fishing; two or three score of stone houses
arranged along the beach and in two streets, one leading from the
harbor, and another striking out from it at right angles; and, at
the corner of these two, a very dark and cheerless tavern, by way
of principal hotel.

I had dressed myself somewhat more suitably to my station in life,
and at once called upon the minister in his little manse beside the
graveyard. He knew me, although it was more than nine years since
we had met; and when I told him that I had been long upon a walking
tour, and was behind with the news, readily lent me an armful of
newspapers, dating from a month back to the day before. With these
I sought the tavern, and, ordering some breakfast, sat down to
study the "Huddlestone Failure."

It had been, it appeared, a very flagrant case. Thousands of
persons were reduced to poverty; and one in particular had blown
out his brains as soon as payment was suspended. It was strange to
myself that, while I read these details, I continued rather to
sympathize with Mr. Huddlestone than with his victims; so complete
already was the empire of my love for my wife. A price was
naturally set upon the banker's head; and, as the case was
inexcusable and the public indignation thoroughly aroused, the
unusual figure of 750 pounds was offered for his capture. He was
reported to have large sums of money in his possession. One day,
he had been heard of in Spain; the next, there was sure
intelligence that he was still lurking between Manchester and
Liverpool, or along the border of Wales; and the day after, a
telegram would announce his arrival in Cuba or Yucatan. But in all
this there was no word of an Italian, nor any sign of mystery.

In the very last paper, however, there was one item not so clear.
The accountants who were charged to verify the failure had, it
seemed, come upon the traces of a very large number of thousands,
which figured for some time in the transactions of the house of
Huddlestone; but which came from nowhere, and disappeared in the
same mysterious fashion. It was only once referred to by name, and
then under the initials "X. X."; but it had plainly been floated
for the first time into the business at a period of great
depression some six years ago. The name of a distinguished royal
personage had been mentioned by rumor in connection with this sum.
"The cowardly desperado"--such, I remember, was the editorial
expression--was supposed to have escaped with a large part of this
mysterious fund still in his possession.

I was still brooding over the fact, and trying to torture it into
some connection with Mr. Huddlestone's danger, when a man entered
the tavern and asked for some bread and cheese with a decided
foreign accent.

"Siete Italiano?" said I.

"Si, Signor," was his reply.

I said it was unusually far north to find one of his compatriots;
at which he shrugged his shoulders, and replied that a man would go
anywhere to find work. What work he could hope to find at Graden
Wester, I was totally unable to conceive; and the incident struck
so unpleasantly upon my mind, that I asked the landlord, while he
was counting me some change, whether he had ever before seen an
Italian in the village. He said he had once seen some Norwegians,
who had been shipwrecked on the other side of Graden Ness and
rescued by the lifeboat from Cauldhaven.

"No!" said I; "but an Italian, like the man who has just had bread
and cheese."

"What?" cried he, "yon black-avised fellow wi' the teeth? Was he
an I-talian? Weel, yon's the first that ever I saw, an' I dare say
he's like to be the last."

Even as he was speaking, I raised my eyes, and, casting a glance
into the street, beheld three men in earnest conversation together,
and not thirty yards away. One of them was my recent companion in
the tavern parlor; the other two, by their handsome sallow features
and soft hats, should evidently belong to the same race. A crowd
of village children stood around them, gesticulating and talking
gibberish in imitation. The trio looked singularly foreign to the
bleak dirty street in which they were standing and the dark gray
heaven that overspread them; and I confess my incredulity received
at that moment a shock from which it never recovered. I might
reason with myself as I pleased, but I could not argue down the
effect of what I had seen, and I began to share in the Italian
terror.

It was already drawing toward the close of the day before I had
returned the newspapers to the manse, and got well forward on to
the links on my way home. I shall never forget that walk. It grew
very cold and boisterous; the wind sung in the short grass about my
feet; thin rain showers came running on the gusts; and an immense
mountain range of clouds began to arise out of the bosom of the
sea. It would be hard to imagine a more dismal evening; and
whether it was from these external influences, or because my nerves
were already affected by what I had heard and seen, my thoughts
were as gloomy as the weather.

The upper windows of the pavilion commanded a considerable spread
of links in the direction of Graden Wester. To avoid observation,
it was necessary to hug the beach until I had gained cover from the
higher sand hills on the little headland, when I might strike
across, through the hollows, for the margin of the wood. The sun
was about setting; the tide was low, and all the quicksands
uncovered; and I was moving along, lost in unpleasant thought, when
I was suddenly thunderstruck to perceive the prints of human feet.
They ran parallel to my own course, but low down upon the beach,
instead of along the border of the turf; and, when I examined them,
I saw at once, by the size and coarseness of the impression, that
it was a stranger to me and to those of the pavilion who had
recently passed that way. Not only so; but from the recklessness
of the course which he had followed, steering near to the most
formidable portions of the sand, he was evidently a stranger to the
country and to the ill-repute of Graden beach.

Step by step I followed the prints; until, a quarter of a mile
farther, I beheld them die away into the southeastern boundary of
Graden Floe. There, whoever he was, the miserable man had
perished. One or two gulls, who had, perhaps, seen him disappear,
wheeled over his sepulcher with their usual melancholy piping. The
sun had broken through the clouds by a last effort, and colored the
wide level of quicksands with a dusky purple. I stood for some
time gazing at the spot, chilled and disheartened by my own
reflections, and with a strong and commanding consciousness of
death. I remember wondering how long the tragedy had taken, and
whether his screams had been audible at the pavilion. And then,
making a strong resolution, I was about to tear myself away, when a
gust fiercer than usual fell upon this quarter of the beach, and I
saw, now whirling high in air, now skimming lightly across the
surface of the sands, a soft, black, felt hat, somewhat conical in
shape, such as I had remarked already on the heads of the Italians.

I believe, but I am not sure, that I uttered a cry. The wind was
driving the hat shoreward, and I ran round the border of the floe
to be ready against its arrival. The gust fell, dropping the hat
for awhile upon the quicksand, and then, once more freshening,
landed it a few yards from where I stood. I seized it with the
interest you may imagine. It had seen some service; indeed, it was
rustier than either of those I had seen that day upon the street.
The lining was red, stamped with the name of the maker, which I
have forgotten, and that of the place of manufacture, Venedig.
This (it is not yet forgotten) was the name given by the Austrians
to the beautiful city of Venice, then, and for long after, a part
of their dominions.

The shock was complete. I saw imaginary Italians upon every side;
and for the first, and, I may say, for the last time in my
experience, became overpowered by what is called a panic terror. I
knew nothing, that is, to be afraid of, and yet I admit that I was
heartily afraid; and it was with sensible reluctance that I
returned to my exposed and solitary camp in the Sea-Wood.

There I eat some cold porridge which had been left over from the
night before, for I was disinclined to make a fire; and, feeling
strengthened and reassured, dismissed all these fanciful terrors
from my mind, and lay down to sleep with composure.

How long I may have slept it is impossible for me to guess; but I
was awakened at last by a sudden, blinding flash of light into my
face. It woke me like a blow. In an instant I was upon my knees.
But the light had gone as suddenly as it came. The darkness was
intense. And, as it was blowing great guns from the sea, and
pouring with rain, the noises of the storm effectually concealed
all others.

It was, I dare say, half a minute before I regained my self-
possession. But for two circumstances, I should have thought I had
been awakened by some new and vivid form of nightmare. First, the
flap of my tent, which I had shut carefully when I retired, was now
unfastened; and, second, I could still perceive, with a sharpness
that excluded any theory of hallucination, the smell of hot metal
and of burning oil. The conclusion was obvious. I had been
awakened by some one flashing a bull's-eye lantern in my face. It
had been but a flash, and away. He had seen my face, and then
gone. I asked myself the object of so strange a proceeding, and
the answer came pat. The man, whoever he was, had thought to
recognize me, and he had not. There was another question
unresolved; and to this, I may say, I feared to give an answer; if
he had recognized me, what would he have done?

My fears were immediately diverted from myself, for I saw that I
had been visited in a mistake; and I became persuaded that some
dreadful danger threatened the pavilion. It required some nerve to
issue forth into the black and intricate thicket which surrounded
and overhung the den; but I groped my way to the links, drenched
with rain, beaten upon and deafened by the gusts, and fearing at
every step to lay my hand upon some lurking adversary. The
darkness was so complete that I might have been surrounded by an
army and yet none the wiser, and the uproar of the gale so loud
that my hearing was as useless as my sight.

For the rest of that night, which seemed interminably long, I
patrolled the vicinity of the pavilion, without seeing a living
creature or hearing any noise but the concert of the wind, the sea,
and the rain. A light in the upper story filtered through a cranny
of the shutter, and kept me company till the approach of dawn.

V

With the first peep of day, I retired from the open to my old lair
among the sand hills, there to await the coming of my wife. The
morning was gray, wild, and melancholy; the wind moderated before
sunrise, and then went about, and blew in puffs from the shore; the
sea began to go down, but the rain still fell without mercy. Over
all the wilderness of links there was not a creature to be seen.
Yet I felt sure the neighborhood was alive with skulking foes. The
light that had been so suddenly and surprisingly flashed upon my
face as I lay sleeping, and the hat that had been blown ashore by
the wind from over Graden Floe, were two speaking signals of the
peril that environed Clara and the party in the pavilion.

It was, perhaps, half-past seven, or nearer eight, before I saw the
door open, and that dear figure come toward me in the rain. I was
waiting for her on the beach before she had crossed the sand hills.

"I have had such trouble to come!" she cried. "They did not wish
me to go walking in the rain."

"Clara," I said, "you are not frightened!"

"No," said she, with a simplicity that filled my heart with
confidence. For my wife was the bravest as well as the best of
women; in my experience, I have not found the two go always
together, but with her they did; and she combined the extreme of
fortitude with the most endearing and beautiful virtues.

I told her what had happened; and, though her cheek grew visibly
paler, she retained perfect control over her senses.

"You see now that I am safe," said I, in conclusion. "They do not
mean to harm me; for, had they chosen, I was a dead man last
night."

She laid her hand upon my arm.

"And I had no presentiment!" she cried.

Her accent thrilled me with delight. I put my arm about her, and
strained her to my side; and, before either of us was aware, her
hands were on my shoulders and my lips upon her mouth. Yet up to
that moment no word of love had passed between us. To this day I
remember the touch of her cheek, which was wet and cold with the
rain; and many a time since, when she has been washing her face, I
have kissed it again for the sake of that morning on the beach.
Now that she is taken from me, and I finish my pilgrimage alone, I
recall our old loving kindnesses and the deep honesty and affection
which united us, and my present loss seems but a trifle in
comparison.

We may have thus stood for some seconds--for time passes quickly
with lovers--before we were startled by a peal of laughter close at
hand. It was not natural mirth, but seemed to be affected in order
to conceal an angrier feeling. We both turned, though I still kept
my left arm about Clara's waist; nor did she seek to withdraw
herself; and there, a few paces off upon the beach, stood
Northmour, his head lowered, his hands behind his back, his
nostrils white with passion.

"Ah! Cassilis!" he said, as I disclosed my face.

"That same," said I; for I was not at all put about.

"And so, Miss Huddlestone," he continued slowly but savagely, "this
is how you keep your faith to your father and to me? This is the
value you set upon your father's life? And you are so infatuated
with this young gentleman that you must brave ruin, and decency,
and common human caution--"

"Miss Huddlestone--" I was beginning to interrupt him, when he, in
his turn, cut in brutally--

"You hold your tongue," said he; "I am speaking to that girl."

"That girl, as you call her, is my wife," said I; and my wife only
leaned a little nearer, so that I knew she had affirmed my words.

"Your what?" he cried. "You lie!"

"Northmour," I said, "we all know you have a bad temper, and I am
the last man to be irritated by words. For all that, I propose
that you speak lower, for I am convinced that we are not alone."

He looked round him, and it was plain my remark had in some degree
sobered his passion. "What do you mean?" he asked.

I only said one word: "Italians."

He swore a round oath, and looked at us, from one to the other.

"Mr. Cassilis knows all that I know," said my wife.

"What I want to know," he broke out, "is where the devil Mr.
Cassilis comes from, and what the devil Mr. Cassilis is doing here.
You say you are married; that I do not believe. If you were,
Graden Floe would soon divorce you; four minutes and a half,
Cassilis. I keep my private cemetery for my friends."

"It took somewhat longer," said I, "for that Italian."

He looked at me for a moment half daunted, and then, almost
civilly, asked me to tell my story. "You have too much the
advantage of me, Cassilis," he added. I complied of course; and he
listened, with several ejaculations, while I told him how I had
come to Graden: that it was I whom he had tried to murder on the
night of landing; and what I had subsequently seen and heard of the
Italians.

"Well," said he, when I had done, "it is here at last; there is no
mistake about that. And what, may I ask, do you propose to do?"

"I propose to stay with you and lend a hand," said I.

"You are a brave man," he returned, with a peculiar intonation.

"I am not afraid," said I.

"And so," he continued, "I am to understand that you two are
married? And you stand up to it before my face, Miss Huddlestone?"

"We are not yet married," said Clara; "but we shall be as soon as
we can."

"Bravo!" cried Northmour. "And the bargain? D--n it, you're not a
fool, young woman; I may call a spade a spade with you. How about
the bargain? You know as well as I do what your father's life
depends upon. I have only to put my hands under my coat tails and
walk away, and his throat would be cut before the evening."

"Yes, Mr. Northmour," returned Clara, with great spirit; "but that
is what you will never do. You made a bargain that was unworthy of
a gentleman; but you are a gentleman for all that, and you will
never desert a man whom you have begun to help."

"Aha!" said he. "You think I will give my yacht for nothing? You
think I will risk my life and liberty for love of the old
gentleman; and then, I suppose, he best man at the wedding, to wind
up? Well," he added, with an odd smile, "perhaps you are not
altogether wrong. But ask Cassilis here. HE knows me. Am I a man
to trust? Am I safe and scrupulous? Am I kind?"

"I know you talk a great deal, and sometimes, I think, very
foolishly," replied Clara, "but I know you are a gentleman, and I
am not the least afraid."

He looked at her with a peculiar approval and admiration; then,
turning to me, "Do you think I would give her up without a
struggle, Frank?" said he. "I tell you plainly, you look out. The
next time we come to blows--"

"Will make the third," I interrupted, smiling.

"Aye, true; so it will," he said. "I had forgotten. Well, the
third time's lucky."

"The third time, you mean, you will have the crew of the 'Red Earl'
to help," I said.

"Do you hear him?" he asked, turning to my wife.

"I hear two men speaking like cowards," said she. "I should
despise myself either to think or speak like that. And neither of
you believe one word that you are saying, which makes it the more
wicked and silly."

"She's a trump!" cried Northmour. "But she's not yet Mrs.
Cassilis. I say no more. The present is not for me."

Then my wife surprised me.

"I leave you here," she said suddenly. "My father has been too
long alone. But remember this: you are to be friends, for you are
both good friends to me."

She has since told me her reason for this step. As long as she
remained, she declares that we two would have continued to quarrel;
and I suppose that she was right, for when she was gone we fell at
once into a sort of confidentiality.

Northmour stared after her as she went away over the sand hill.

"She is the only woman in the world!" he exclaimed with an oath.
"Look at her action."

I, for my part, leaped at this opportunity for a little further
light.

"See here, Northmour," said I; "we are all in a tight place, are we
not?"

"I believe you, my boy," he answered, looking me in the eyes, and
with great emphasis. "We have all hell upon us, that's the truth.
You may believe me or not, but I'm afraid of my life."

"Tell me one thing," said I. "What are they after, these Italians?
What do they want with Mr. Huddlestone?"

"Don't you know?" he cried. "The black old scamp had carbonari
funds on a deposit--two hundred and eighty thousand; and of course
he gambled it away on stocks. There was to have been a revolution
in the Tridentino, or Parma; but the revolution is off, and the
whole wasp's nest is after Huddlestone. We shall all be lucky if
we can save our skins."

"The carbonari!" I exclaimed; "God help him indeed!"

"Amen!" said Northmour. "And now, look here: I have said that we
are in a fix; and, frankly, I shall be glad of your help. If I
can't save Huddlestone, I want at least to save the girl. Come and
stay in the pavilion; and, there's my hand on it, I shall act as
your friend until the old man is either clear or dead. But," he
added, "once that is settled, you become my rival once again, and I
warn you--mind yourself."

"Done!" said I; and we shook hands.

"And now let us go directly to the fort," said Northmour; and he
began to lead the way through the rain.

VI

We were admitted to the pavilion by Clara, and I was surprised by
the completeness and security of the defenses. A barricade of
great strength, and yet easy to displace, supported the door
against any violence from without; and the shutters of the dining-
room, into which I was led directly, and which was feebly
illuminated by a lamp, were even more elaborately fortified. The
panels were strengthened by bars and crossbars; and these, in their
turn, were kept in position by a system of braces and struts, some
abutting on the floor, some on the roof, and others, in fine,
against the opposite wall of the apartment. It was at once a solid
and well-designed piece of carpentry; and I did not seek to conceal
my admiration.

"I am the engineer," said Northmour. "You remember the planks in
the garden? Behold them?"

"I did not know you had so many talents," said I.

"Are you armed?" he continued, pointing to an array of guns and
pistols, all in admirable order, which stood in line against the
wall or were displayed upon the sideboard.

"Thank you," I returned; "I have gone armed since our last
encounter. But, to tell you the truth, I have had nothing to eat
since early yesterday evening."

Northmour produced some cold meat, to which I eagerly set myself,
and a bottle of good Burgundy, by which, wet as I was, I did not
scruple to profit. I have always been an extreme temperance man on
principle; but it is useless to push principle to excess, and on
this occasion I believe that I finished three quarters of the
bottle. As I eat, I still continued to admire the preparations for
defense.

"We could stand a siege," I said at length.

"Ye--es," drawled Northmour; "a very little one, perhaps. It is
not so much the strength of the pavilion I misdoubt; it is the
double danger that kills me. If we get to shooting, wild as the
country is, some one is sure to hear it, and then--why then it's
the same thing, only different, as they say: caged by law, or
killed by carbonari. There's the choice. It is a devilish bad
thing to have the law against you in this world, and so I tell the
old gentleman upstairs. He is quite of my way of thinking."

"Speaking of that," said I, "what kind of person is he?"

"Oh, he!" cried the other; "he's a rancid fellow, as far as he
goes. I should like to have his neck wrung to-morrow by all the
devils in Italy. I am not in this affair for him. You take me? I
made a bargain for missy's hand, and I mean to have it too."

"That, by the way," said I. "I understand. But how will Mr.
Huddlestone take my intrusion?"

"Leave that to Clara," returned Northmour.

I could have struck him in the face for his coarse familiarity; but
I respected the truce, as, I am bound to say, did Northmour, and so
long as the danger continued not a cloud arose in our relation. I
bear him this testimony with the most unfeigned satisfaction; nor
am I without pride when I look back upon my own behavior. For
surely no two men were ever left in a position so invidious and
irritating.

As soon as I had done eating, we proceeded to inspect the lower
floor. Window by window we tried the different supports, now and
then making an inconsiderable change; and the strokes of the hammer
sounded with startling loudness through the house. I proposed, I
remember, to make loopholes; but he told me they were already made
in the windows of the upper story. It was an anxious business,
this inspection, and left me down-hearted. There were two doors
and five windows to protect, and, counting Clara, only four of us
to defend them against an unknown number of foes. I communicated
my doubts to Northmour, who assured me, with unmoved composure,
that he entirely shared them.

"Before morning," said he, "we shall all be butchered and buried in
Graden Floe. For me, that is written."

I could not help shuddering at the mention of the quicksand, but
reminded Northmour that our enemies had spared me in the wood.

"Do not flatter yourself," said he. "Then you were not in the same
boat with the old gentleman; now you are. It's the floe for all of
us, mark my words."

I trembled for Clara; and just then her dear voice was heard
calling us to come upstairs. Northmour showed me the way, and,
when he had reached the landing, knocked at the door of what used
to be called My Uncle's Bedroom, as the founder of the pavilion had
designed it especially for himself.

"Come in, Northmour; come in, dear Mr. Cassilis," said a voice from
within.

Pushing open the door, Northmour admitted me before him into the
apartment. As I came in I could see the daughter slipping out by
the side door into the study, which had been prepared as her
bedroom. In the bed, which was drawn back against the wall,
instead of standing, as I had last seen it, boldly across the
window, sat Bernard Huddlestone, the defaulting banker. Little as
I had seen of him by the shifting light of the lantern on the
links, I had no difficulty in recognizing him for the same. He had
a long and sallow countenance, surrounded by a long red beard and
side-whiskers. His broken nose and high cheek-hones gave him
somewhat the air of a Kalmuck, and his light eyes shone with the
excitement of a high fever. He wore a skull-cap of black silk; a
huge Bible lay open before him on the bed, with a pair of gold
spectacles in the place, and a pile of other books lay on the stand
by his side. The green curtains lent a cadaverous shade to his
cheek; and, as he sat propped on pillows, his great stature was
painfully hunched, and his head protruded till it overhung his
knees. I believe if he had not died otherwise, he must have fallen
a victim to consumption in the course of but a very few weeks.

He held out to me a hand, long, thin, and disagreeably hairy.

"Come in, come in, Mr. Cassilis," said he. "Another protector--
ahem!--another protector. Always welcome as a friend of my
daughter's, Mr. Cassilis. How they have rallied about me, my
daughter's friends! May God in heaven bless and reward them for
it!"

I gave him my hand, of course, because I could not help it; but the
sympathy I had been prepared to feel for Clara's father was
immediately soured by his appearance, and the wheedling, unreal
tones in which he spoke.

"Cassilis is a good man," said Northmour; "worth ten."

"So I hear," cried Mr. Huddlestone eagerly; "so my girl tells me.
Ah, Mr. Cassilis, my sin has found me out, you see! I am very low,
very low; but I hope equally penitent. We must all come to the
throne of grace at last, Mr. Cassilis. For my part, I come late
indeed; but with unfeigned humility, I trust."

"Fiddle-de-dee!" said Northmour roughly.

"No, no, dear Northmour!" cried the banker. "You must not say
that; you must not try to shake me. You forget, my dear, good boy,
you forget I may be called this very night before my Maker."

His excitement was pitiful to behold; and I felt myself grow
indignant with Northmour, whose infidel opinions I well knew, and
heartily despised, as he continued to taunt the poor sinner out of
his humor of repentance.

"Pooh, my dear Huddlestone!" said he. "You do yourself injustice.
You are a man of the world inside and out, and were up to all kinds
of mischief before I was born. Your conscience is tanned like
South American leather--only you forgot to tan your liver, and
that, if you will believe me, is the seat of the annoyance."

"Rogue, rogue! bad boy!" said Mr. Huddlestone, shaking his finger.
"I am no precisian, if you come to that; I always hated a
precisian; but I never lost hold of something better through it
all. I have been a bad boy, Mr. Cassilis; I do not seek to deny
that; but it was after my wife's death, and you know, with a
widower, it's a different thing: sinful--I won't say no; but there
is a gradation, we shall hope. And talking of that-- Hark!" he
broke out suddenly, his hand raised, his fingers spread, his face
racked with interest and terror. "Only the rain, bless God!" he
added, after a pause, and with indescribable relief.

For some seconds he lay back among the pillows like a man near to
fainting; then he gathered himself together, and, in somewhat
tremulous tones, began once more to thank me for the share I was
prepared to take in his defense.

"One question, sir," said I, when he had paused. "Is it true that
you have money with you?"

He seemed annoyed by the question, but admitted with reluctance
that he had a little.

"Well," I continued, "it is their money they are after, is it not?
Why not give it up to them?"

"Ah!" replied he, shaking his head, "I have tried that already, Mr.
Cassilis; and alas! that it should be so, but it is blood they
want."

"Huddlestone, that's a little less than fair," said Northmour.
"You should mention that what you offered them was upward of two
hundred thousand short. The deficit is worth a reference; it is
for what they call a cool sum, Frank. Then, you see, the fellows
reason in their clear Italian way; and it seems to them, as indeed
it seems to me, that they may just as well have both while they're
about it--money and blood together, by George, and no more trouble
for the extra pleasure."

"Is it in the pavilion?" I asked.

"It is; and I wish it were in the bottom of the sea instead," said
Northmour; and then suddenly--"What are you making faces at me
for?" he cried to Mr. Huddlestone, on whom I had unconsciously
turned my back. "Do you think Cassilis would sell you?"

Mr. Huddlestone protested that nothing had been further from his
mind.

"It is a good thing," retorted Northmour in his ugliest manner.
"You might end by wearying us. What were you going to say?" he
added, turning to me.

"I was going to propose an occupation for the afternoon," said I.
"Let us carry that money out, piece by piece, and lay it down
before the pavilion door. If the carbonari come, why, it's theirs
at any rate."

"No, no," cried Mr. Huddlestone; "it does not, it cannot, belong to
them! It should be distributed pro rata among all my creditors."

"Come now, Huddlestone," said Northmour, "none of that."

"Well, but my daughter," moaned the wretched man. "Your daughter
will do well enough. Here are two suitors, Cassilis and I, neither
of us beggars, between whom she has to choose. And as for
yourself, to make an end of arguments, you have no right to a
farthing, and, unless I'm much mistaken, you are going to die."

It was certainly very cruelly said; but Mr. Huddlestone was a man
who attracted little sympathy; and, although I saw him wince and
shudder, I mentally indorsed the rebuke; nay, I added a
contribution of my own.

"Northmour and I," I said, "are willing enough to help you to save
your life, but not to escape with stolen property."

He struggled for awhile with himself, as though he were on the
point of giving way to anger, but prudence had the best of the
controversy.

"My dear boys," he said, "do with me or my money what you will. I
leave all in your hands. Let me compose myself."

And so we left him, gladly enough I am sure.

The last that I saw, he had once more taken up his great Bible, and
with tremulous hands was adjusting his spectacles to read.

VII

The recollection of that afternoon will always be graven on my
mind. Northmour and I were persuaded that an attack was imminent;
and if it had been in our power to alter in any way the order of
events, that power would have been used to precipitate rather than
delay the critical moment. The worst was to be anticipated; yet we
could conceive no extremity so miserable as the suspense we were
now suffering. I have never been an eager, though always a great,
reader; but I never knew books so insipid as those which I took up
and cast aside that afternoon in the pavilion. Even talk became
impossible, as the hours went on. One or other was always
listening for some sound, or peering from an upstairs window over
the links. And yet not a sign indicated the presence of our foes.

We debated over and over again my proposal with regard to the
money; and had we been in complete possession of our faculties, I
am sure we should have condemned it as unwise; but we were
flustered with alarm, grasped at a straw, and determined, although
it was as much as advertising Mr. Huddlestone's presence in the
pavilion, to carry my proposal into effect.

The sum was part in specie, part in bank paper, and part in
circular notes payable to the name of James Gregory. We took it
out, counted it, inclosed it once more in a dispatch box belonging
to Northmour, and prepared a letter in Italian which he tied to the
handle. It was signed by both of us under oath, and declared that
this was all the money which had escaped the failure of the house
of Huddlestone. This was, perhaps, the maddest action ever
perpetrated by two persons professing to be sane. Had the dispatch
box fallen into other hands than those for which it was intended,
we stood criminally convicted on our own written testimony; but, as
I have said, we were neither of us in a condition to judge soberly,
and had a thirst for action that drove us to do something, right or
wrong, rather than endure the agony of waiting. Moreover, as we
were both convinced that the hollows of the links were alive with
hidden spies upon our movements, we hoped that our appearance with
the box might lead to a parley, and, perhaps, a compromise.

It was nearly three when we issued from the pavilion. The rain had
taken off; the sun shone quite cheerfully. I had never seen the
gulls fly so close about the house or approach so fearlessly to
human beings. On the very doorstep one flapped heavily past our
heads, and uttered its wild cry in my very ear.

"There is an omen for you," said Northmour, who like all
freethinkers was much under the influence of superstition. "They
think we are already dead."

I made some light rejoinder, but it was with half my heart; for the
circumstance had impressed me.

A yard or two before the gate, on a patch of smooth turf, we set
down the dispatch box; and Northmour waved a white handkerchief
over his head. Nothing replied. We raised our voices, and cried
aloud in Italian that we were there as ambassadors to arrange the
quarrel, but the stillness remained unbroken save by the seagulls
and the surf. I had a weight at my heart when we desisted; and I
saw that even Northmour was unusually pale. He looked over his
shoulder nervously, as though he feared that some one had crept
between him and the pavilion door.

"By God," he said in a whisper, "this is too much for me!"

I replied in the same key: "Suppose there should be none, after
all!"

"Look there," he returned, nodding with his head, as though he had
been afraid to point.

I glanced in the direction indicated; and there, from the northern
quarter of the Sea-Wood, beheld a thin column of smoke rising
steadily against the now cloudless sky.

"Northmour," I said (we still continued to talk in whispers), "it
is not possible to endure this suspense. I prefer death fifty
times over. Stay you here to watch the pavilion; I will go forward
and make sure, if I have to walk right into their camp."

He looked once again all round him with puckered eyes, and then
nodded assentingly to my proposal.

My heart heat like a sledge hammer as I set out walking rapidly in
the direction of the smoke; and, though up to that moment I had
felt chill and shivering, I was suddenly conscious of a glow of
heat all over my body. The ground in this direction was very
uneven; a hundred men might have lain hidden in as many square
yards about my path. But I who had not practiced the business in
vain, chose such routes as cut at the very root of concealment,
and, by keeping along the most convenient ridges, commanded several
hollows at a time. It was not long before I was rewarded for my
caution. Coming suddenly on to a mound somewhat more elevated than
the surrounding hummocks, I saw, not thirty yards away, a man bent
almost double, and running as fast as his attitude permitted, along
the bottom of a gully. I had dislodged one of the spies from his
ambush. As soon as I sighted him, I called loudly both in English
and Italian; and he, seeing concealment was no longer possible,
straightened himself out, leaped from the gully, and made off as
straight as an arrow for the borders of the wood. It was none of
my business to pursue; I had learned what I wanted--that we were
beleaguered and watched in the pavilion; and I returned at once,
and walked as nearly as possible in my old footsteps, to where
Northmour awaited me beside the dispatch box. He was even paler
than when I had left him, and his voice shook a little.

"Could you see what he was like?" he asked.

"He kept his back turned," I replied.

"Let us get into the house, Frank. I don't think I'm a coward, but
I can stand no more of this," he whispered.

All was still and sunshiny about the pavilion, as we turned to
reenter it; even the gulls had flown in a wider circuit, and were
seen flickering along the beach and sand hills; and this loneliness
terrified me more than a regiment under arms. It was not until the
door was barricaded that I could draw a full inspiration and
relieve the weight that lay upon my bosom. Northmour and I
exchanged a steady glance; and I suppose each made his own
reflections on the white and startled aspect of the other.

"You were right," I said. "All is over. Shake hands, old man, for
the last time."

"Yes," replied he, "I will shake hands; for, as sure as I am here,
I bear no malice. But, remember, if, by some impossible accident,
we should give the slip to these blackguards, I'll take the upper
hand of you by fair or foul."

"Oh," said I, "you weary me!"

He seemed hurt, and walked away in silence to the foot of the
stairs, where he paused.

"You do not understand," said he. "I am not a swindler, and I
guard myself; that is all. I may weary you or not, Mr. Cassilis, I
do not care a rush; I speak for my own satisfaction, and not for
your amusement. You had better go upstairs and court the girl; for
my part, I stay here."

"And I stay with you," I returned. "Do you think I would steal a
march, even with your permission?"

"Frank," he said, smiling, "it's a pity you are an ass, for you
have the makings of a man. I think I must be fey to-day; you
cannot irritate me even when you try. Do you know," he continued
softly, "I think we are the two most miserable men in England, you
and I? we have got on to thirty without wife or child, or so much
as a shop to look after--poor, pitiful, lost devils, both! And now
we clash about a girl! As if there were not several millions in
the United Kingdom! Ah, Frank, Frank, the one who loses his throw,
be it you or me, he has my pity! It were better for him--how does
the Bible say?--that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he
were cast into the depth of the sea. Let us take a drink," he
concluded suddenly, but without any levity of tone.

I was touched by his words, and consented. He sat down on the
table in the dining-room, and held up the glass of sherry to his
eye.

"If you beat me, Frank," he said, "I shall take to drink. What
will you do, if it goes the other way?"

"God knows," I returned.

"Well," said he, "here is a toast in the meantime: 'Italia
irredenta!'"

The remainder of the day was passed in the same dreadful tedium and
suspense. I laid the table for dinner, while Northmour and Clara
prepared the meal together in the kitchen. I could hear their talk
as I went to and fro, and was surprised to find it ran all the time
upon myself. Northmour again bracketed us together, and rallied
Clara on a choice of husbands; but he continued to speak of me with
some feeling, and uttered nothing to my prejudice unless he
included himself in the condemnation. This awakened a sense of
gratitude in my heart, which combined with the immediateness of our
peril to fill my eyes with tears. After all, I thought--and
perhaps the thought was laughably vain--we were here three very
noble human beings to perish in defense of a thieving banker.

Before we sat down to table, I looked forth from an upstairs
window. The day was beginning to decline; the links were utterly
deserted; the dispatch box still lay untouched where we had left it
hours before.

Mr. Huddlestone, in a long yellow dressing gown, took one end of
the table, Clara the other; while Northmour and I faced each other
from the sides. The lamp was brightly trimmed; the wine was good;
the viands, although mostly cold, excellent of their sort. We
seemed to have agreed tacitly; all reference to the impending
catastrophe was carefully avoided; and, considering our tragic
circumstances, we made a merrier party than could have been
expected. From time to time, it is true, Northmour or I would rise
from table and make a round of the defenses; and, on each of these
occasions, Mr. Huddlestone was recalled to a sense of his tragic
predicament, glanced up with ghastly eyes, and bore for an instant
on his countenance the stamp of terror. But he hastened to empty
his glass, wiped his forehead with his handkerchief, and joined
again in the conversation.

I was astonished at the wit and information he displayed. Mr.
Huddlestone's was certainly no ordinary character; he had read and
observed for himself; his gifts were sound; and, though I could
never have learned to love the man, I began to understand his
success in business, and the great respect in which he had been
held before his failure. He had, above all, the talent of society;
and though I never heard him speak but on this one and most
unfavorable occasion, I set him down among the most brilliant
conversationalists I ever met.

He was relating with great gusto, and seemingly no feeling of
shame, the maneuvers of a scoundrelly commission merchant whom he
had known and studied in his youth, and we were all listening with
an odd mixture of mirth and embarrassment, when our little party
was brought abruptly to an end in the most startling manner.

A noise like that of a wet finger on the window pane interrupted
Mr. Huddlestone's tale; and in an instant we were all four as white
as paper, and sat tongue-tied and motionless round the table.

"A snail," I said at last; for I had heard that these animals make
a noise somewhat similar in character.

"Snail be d--d!" said Northmour. "Hush!"

The same sound was repeated twice at regular intervals; and then a
formidable voice shouted through the shutters the Italian word,
"Traditore!"

Mr. Huddlestone threw his head in the air; his eyelids quivered;
next moment he fell insensible below the table. Northmour and I
had each run to the armory and seized a gun. Clara was on her feet
with her hand at her throat.

So we stood waiting, for we thought the hour of attack was
certainly come; but second passed after second, and all but the
surf remained silent in the neighborhood of the pavilion.

"Quick," said Northmour; "upstairs with him before they come."

VIII

Somehow or other, by hook and crook, and between the three of us,
we got Bernard Huddlestone bundled upstairs and laid upon the bed
in My Uncle's Room. During the whole process, which was rough
enough, he gave no sign of consciousness, and he remained, as we
had thrown him, without changing the position of a finger. His
daughter opened his shirt and began to wet his head and bosom;
while Northmour and I ran to the window. The weather continued
clear; the moon, which was now about full, had risen and shed a
very clear light upon the links; yet, strain our eyes as we might,
we could distinguish nothing moving. A few dark spots, more or
less, on the uneven expanse were not to be identified; they might
be crouching men, they might be shadows; it was impossible to be
sure.

"Thank God," said Northmour, "Aggie is not coming to-night."

Aggie was the name of the old nurse; he had not thought of her
until now; but that he should think of her at all was a trait that
surprised me in the man.

We were again reduced to waiting. Northmour went to the fireplace
and spread his hands before the red embers, as if he were cold. I
followed him mechanically with my eyes, and in so doing turned my
back upon the window. At that moment a very faint report was
audible from without, and a ball shivered a pane of glass, and
buried itself in the shutter two inches from my head. I heard
Clara scream; and though I whipped instantly out of range and into
a corner, she was there, so to speak, before me, beseeching to know
if I were hurt. I felt that I could stand to be shot at every day
and all day long, with such remarks of solicitude for a reward; and
I continued to reassure her, with the tenderest caresses and in
complete forgetfulness of our situation, till the voice of
Northmour recalled me to myself.

"An air gun," he said. "They wish to make no noise."

I put Clara aside, and looked at him. He was standing with his
back to the fire and his hands clasped behind him; and I knew by
the black look on his face, that passion was boiling within. I had
seen just such a look before he attacked me, that March night, in
the adjoining chamber; and, though I could make every allowance for
his anger, I confess I trembled for the consequences. He gazed
straight before him; but he could see us with the tail of his eye,
and his temper kept rising like a gale of wind. With regular
battle awaiting us outside, this prospect of an internecine strife
within the walls began to daunt me.

Suddenly, as I was thus closely watching his expression and
prepared against the worst, I saw a change, a flash, a look of
relief, upon his face. He took up the lamp which stood beside him
on the table, and turned to us with an air of some excitement.

"There is one point that we must know," said he. "Are they going
to butcher the lot of us, or only Huddlestone? Did they take you
for him, or fire at you for your own beaux yeux?"

"They took me for him, for certain," I replied. "I am near as
tall, and my head is fair."

"I am going to make sure," returned Northmour; and he stepped up to
the window, holding the lamp above his head, and stood there,
quietly affronting death, for half a minute.

Clara sought to rush forward and pull him from the place of danger;
but I had the pardonable selfishness to hold her back by force.

"Yes," said Northmour, turning coolly from the window, "it's only
Huddlestone they want."

"Oh, Mr. Northmour!" cried Clara; but found no more to add; the
temerity she had just witnessed seeming beyond the reach of words.

He, on his part, looked at me, cocking his head, with a fire of
triumph in his eyes; and I understood at once that he had thus
hazarded his life, merely to attract Clara's notice, and depose me
from my position as the hero of the hour. He snapped his fingers.

"The fire is only beginning," said he. "When they warm up to their
work, they won't be so particular."

A voice was now heard hailing us from the entrance. From the
window we could see the figure of a man in the moonlight; he stood
motionless, his face uplifted to ours, and a rag of something white
on his extended arm; and as we looked right down upon him, though
he was a good many yards distant on the links, we could see the
moonlight glitter on his eyes.

He opened his lips again, and spoke for some minutes on end, in a
key so loud that he might have been heard in every corner of the
pavilion, and as far away as the borders of the wood. It was the
same voice that had already shouted, "Traditore!" through the
shutters of the dining-room; this time it made a complete and clear
statement. If the traitor "Oddlestone" were given up, all others
should be spared; if not, no one should escape to tell the tale.

"Well, Huddlestone, what do you say to that?" asked Northmour,
turning to the bed.

Up to that moment the banker had given no sign of life, and I, at
least, had supposed him to be still lying in a faint; but he
replied at once, and in such tones as I have never heard elsewhere,
save from a delirious patient, adjured and besought us not to
desert him. It was the most hideous and abject performance that my
imagination can conceive.

"Enough," cried Northmour; and then he threw open the window,
leaned out into the night, and in a tone of exultation, and with a
total forgetfulness of what was due to the presence of a lady,
poured out upon the ambassador a string of the most abominable
raillery both in English and Italian, and bade him be gone where he
had come from. I believe that nothing so delighted Northmour at
that moment as the thought that we must all infallibly perish
before the night was out.

Meantime, the Italian put his flag of truce into his pocket, and
disappeared, at a leisurely pace, among the sand hills.

"They make honorable war," said Northmour. "They are all gentlemen
and soldiers. For the credit of the thing, I wish we could change
sides--you and I, Frank, and you, too, missy, my darling--and leave
that being on the bed to some one else. Tut! Don't look shocked!
We are all going post to what they call eternity, and may as well
be above board while there's time. As far as I am concerned, if I
could first strangle Huddlestone and then get Clara in my arms, I
could die with some pride and satisfaction. And as it is, by God,
I'll have a kiss!"

Before I could do anything to interfere, he had rudely embraced and
repeatedly kissed the resisting girl. Next moment I had pulled him
away with fury, and flung him heavily against the wall. He laughed
loud and long, and I feared his wits had given way under the
strain; for even in the best of days he had been a sparing and a
quiet laugher.

"Now, Frank," said he, when his mirth was somewhat appeased, "it's
your turn. Here's my hand. Good-bye, farewell!" Then, seeing me
stand rigid and indignant, and holding Clara to my side--"Man!" he
broke out, "are you angry? Did you think we were going to die with
all the airs and graces of society? I took a kiss; I'm glad I did
it; and now you can take another if you like, and square accounts."

I turned from him with a feeling of contempt which I did not seek
to dissemble.

"As you please," said he. "You've been a prig in life; a prig
you'll die."

And with that he sat down in a chair, a rifle over his knee, and
amused himself with snapping the lock; but I could see that his
ebullition of light spirits (the only one I ever knew him to
display) had already come to an end, and was succeeded by a sullen,
scowling humor.

All this time our assailants might have been entering the house,
and we been none the wiser; we had in truth almost forgotten the
danger that so imminently overhung our days. But just then Mr.
Huddlestone uttered a cry, and leaped from the bed.

I asked him what was wrong.

"Fire!" he cried. "They have set the house on fire!"

Northmour was on his feet in an instant, and he and I ran through
the door of communication with the study. The room was illuminated
by a red and angry light. Almost at the moment of our entrance, a
tower of flame arose in front of the window, and, with a tingling
report, a pane fell inward on the carpet. They had set fire to the
lean-to outhouse, where Northmour used to nurse his negatives.

"Hot work," said Northmour. "Let us try in your old room."

We ran thither in a breath, threw up the casement, and looked
forth. Along the whole back wall of the pavilion piles of fuel had
been arranged and kindled; and it is probable they had been
drenched with mineral oil, for, in spite of the morning's rain,
they all burned bravely. The fire had taken a firm hold already on
the outhouse, which blazed higher and higher every moment; the back
door was in the center of a red-hot bonfire; the eaves we could
see, as we looked upward, were already smoldering, for the roof
overhung, and was supported by considerable beams of wood. At the
same time, hot, pungent, and choking volumes of smoke began to fill
the house. There was not a human being to be seen to right or
left.

"Ah, well!" said Northmour, "here's the end, thank God!"

And we returned to My Uncle's Room. Mr. Huddlestone was putting on
his boots, still violently trembling, but with an air of
determination such as I had not hitherto observed. Clara stood
close by him, with her cloak in both hands ready to throw about her
shoulders, and a strange look in her eyes, as if she were half
hopeful, half doubtful of her father.

"Well, boys and girls," said Northmour, "how about a sally? The
oven is heating; it is not good to stay here and be baked; and, for
my part, I want to come to my hands with them, and be done."

"There's nothing else left," I replied.

And both Clara and Mr. Huddlestone, though with a very different
intonation, added, "Nothing."

As we went downstairs the heat was excessive, and the roaring of
the fire filled our ears; and we had scarce reached the passage
before the stairs window fell in, a branch of flame shot
brandishing through the aperture, and the interior of the pavilion
became lighted up with that dreadful and fluctuating glare. At the
same moment we heard the fall of something heavy and inelastic in
the upper story. The whole pavilion, it was plain, had gone alight
like a box of matches, and now not only flamed sky high to land and
sea, but threatened with every moment to crumble and fall in about
our ears.

Northmour and I cocked our revolvers. Mr. Huddlestone, who had
already refused a firearm, put us behind him with a manner of
command.

"Let Clara open the door," said he. "So, if they fire a volley,
she will be protected. And in the meantime stand behind me. I am
the scapegoat; my sins have found me out."

I heard him, as I stood breathless by his shoulder, with my pistol
ready, pattering off prayers in a tremulous, rapid whisper; and, I
confess, horrid as the thought may seem, I despised him for
thinking of supplications in a moment so critical and thrilling.
In the meantime, Clara, who was dead white but still possessed her
faculties, had displaced the barricade from the front door.
Another moment, and she had pulled it open. Firelight and
moonlight illuminated the links with confused and changeful luster,
and far away against the sky we could see a long trail of glowing
smoke.

Mr. Huddlestone, filled for the moment with a strength greater than
his own, struck Northmour and myself a back-hander in the chest;
and while we were thus for the moment incapacitated from action,
lifting his arms above his head like one about to dive, he ran
straight forward out of the pavilion.

"Here am I!" he cried--"Huddlestone! Kill me, and spare the
others!"

His sudden appearance daunted, I suppose, our hidden enemies; for
Northmour and I had time to recover, to seize Clara between us, one
by each arm, and to rush forth to his assistance, ere anything
further had taken place. But scarce had we passed the threshold
when there came near a dozen reports and flashes from every
direction among the hollows of the links. Mr. Huddlestone
staggered, uttered a weird and freezing cry, threw up his arms over
his head, and fell backward on the turf.

"Traditore! Traditore!" cried the invisible avengers.

And just then a part of the roof of the pavilion fell in, so rapid
was the progress of the fire. A loud, vague, and horrible noise
accompanied the collapse, and a vast volume of flame went soaring
up to heaven. It must have been visible at that moment from twenty
miles out at sea, from the shore at Graden Wester, and far inland
from the peak of Graystiel, the most eastern summit of the Caulder
Hills. Bernard Huddlestone, although God knows what were his
obsequies, had a fine pyre at the moment of his death.

IX

I should have the greatest difficulty to tell you what followed
next after this tragic circumstance. It is all to me, as I look
back upon it, mixed, strenuous, and ineffectual, like the struggles
of a sleeper in a nightmare. Clara, I remember, uttered a broken
sigh and would have fallen forward to earth, had not Northmour and
I supported her insensible body. I do not think we were attacked:
I do not remember even to have seen an assailant; and I believe we
deserted Mr. Huddlestone without a glance. I only remember running
like a man in a panic, now carrying Clara altogether in my own
arms, now sharing her weight with Northmour, now scuffling
confusedly for the possession of that dear burden. Why we should
have made for my camp in the Hemlock Den, or how we reached it, are
points lost forever to my recollection. The first moment at which
I became definitely sure, Clara had been suffered to fall against
the outside of my little tent, Northmour and I were tumbling
together on the ground, and he, with contained ferocity, was
striking for my head with the butt of his revolver. He had already
twice wounded me on the scalp; and it is to the consequent loss of
blood that I am tempted to attribute the sudden clearness of my
mind.

I caught him by the wrist.

"Northmour," I remember saying, "you can kill me afterwards. Let
us first attend to Clara."

He was at that moment uppermost. Scarcely had the words passed my
lips, when he had leaped to his feet and ran toward the tent; and
the next moment, he was straining Clara to his heart and covering
her unconscious hands and face with his caresses.

"Shame!" I cried. "Shame to you, Northmour!"

And, giddy though I still was, I struck him repeatedly upon the
head and shoulders.

He relinquished his grasp, and faced me in the broken moonlight.

"I had you under, and I let you go," said he; "and now you strike
me! Coward!"

"You are the coward," I retorted. "Did she wish your kisses while
she was still sensible of what you wanted? Not she! And now she
may be dying; and you waste this precious time, and abuse her
helplessness. Stand aside, and let me help her."

He confronted me for a moment, white and menacing; then suddenly he
stepped aside.

"Help her then," said he.

I threw myself on my knees beside her, and loosened, as well as I
was able, her dress and corset; but while I was thus engaged, a
grasp descended on my shoulder.

"Keep your hands off her," said Northmour, fiercely. "Do you think
I have no blood in my veins?"

"Northmour," I cried, "if you will neither help her yourself, nor

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