Leycester had reached Carlyon on foot

Leycester had reached Carlyon on foot. He had left the house in the morning, simply saying that he was going for a walk, and that they were not to wait any meal for him. During the last few days he had wandered in this way, seemingly desirous of being alone, and showing no inclination toward even Charlie’s society. Lady Wyndward half feared that the old black fits was coming on him; but Lenore displayed no anxiety; she even made excuses for him.
“When a man feels the last hour of his liberty approaching, he naturally likes to use his wings a little,” she said, and the countess had smiled approvingly.
“My dear, you will make a model wife; just the wife that Leycester needs.”
“I think so; I do, indeed,” responded Lenore, with her frank, charming smile.
So Leycester was left alone to his own wild will during those last few days, while the dressmakers and upholsterers were hard at work preparing for “the” day.
He could not have told why he came to Carlyon. He did not[268] even know the name of the little village in which he found himself. With his handsome face rather grave and weary-looking, he had tramped into the inn, and sunk down into the seat which had supported many a generation of Carlyon fisherman and many sea-coast travelers.
“This is Carlyon, sir,” said the landlord, in answer to Leycester’s question, eying the tall figure in its knee breeches and shooting jacket. “Yes, sir, this is Carlyon; have you come from St. Michael’s, sir?”
Leycester shook his head; he scarcely heard the old man.
“No,” he answered; “but I have walked some distance,” and he mentioned the place.
The old man stared.
“Phew! that’s a long walk, sir; a main long walk. And what can I get you to eat, sir?”
Leycester smiled rather wearily. He had heard the question so often in his travels, and knew the results so perfectly.
“Anything you like,” he said.
The landlord nodded in approval at so sensible an answer, and went out to consult his wife, who had been staring at the handsome traveler from behind the half-open door of the common living room. Presently he came out with the result. The gentleman could have a bit of fish and a chop, and some Falmouth potatoes.
Leycester nodded indifferently—anything would do.
Both the fish and the chop were excellent, but Leycester did anything but justice to them. A strange feeling of restlessness seemed to have taken possession of him, and when he had lit his cigar, instead of sitting down and taking it comfortably, he felt compelled to get up and wander to the door. The evening was drawing in; there were a fairish number of miles between him and home—it was time for him to start, but still he leant against the door and looked at the sea and cliffs that rose in a line with the house.
At last he paid his reckoning, supplemented it with a half-crown for the landlord in his capacity of waiter, and started. But not homeward; the cliff seemed to exercise a strange fascination for him, and obeying the impulse which was almost irresistible, he set off for the path that ascended to the summit, and strode upward.
A great peace was upon the scene, a great unrest and unsatisfied desire was in his heart. All the air seemed full of Stella; her voice mingled, for him, in the plash of the waves. Thinking of her with a deep, sorrowful wistfulness, he climbed on and—passed her.
Stood within reach of her as she cowered and shrank against the wall of chalk, and all unconscious of her nearness he turned and came down. The evening had grown chilly and keen, but his walk had made him hot, and he turned into the inn to get a glass of ale.
The landlord was surprised to see him again, and said so, and Leycester stood, with the glass in his hand, explaining that he had been up the cliff to look at the view.
“Aye, sir, and a grand view it is,” said the old man, with pardonable pride. “Man and boy I’ve growed under the shadow of that cliff, and I know every inch of it, top and bottom. Mighty dangerous it is too, sir,” he added, reflectively. “It’s not one or two, but nigh upon a score o’ accidents as I’ve known on that cliff.”
“The path is none too wide,” said Leycester.
“No, sir, and in the dark——” he stopped suddenly, and started. “What was that?” he exclaimed.
“What is the matter?” Leycester asked.
The old man caught his arm suddenly, and pointed to the cliff. Leycester looked up, and the glass fell from his hand. There, on the giddy height, clearly defined against the sky, were two figures, locked together in what appeared a deadly embrace.
“Look!” exclaimed the old man. “The glass—give me the glass!”
Leycester caught up a telescope that stood on a seat beside them and gave it to him; he himself did not need a glass to see the dark, struggling figures, they were all too plain. For one second they stood as if benumbed, and then the echo of the shriek smote upon their ears, and the cliff was bare. The old man dropped the telescope and caught Leycester’s arm as he made a bound toward the path.
“No, no, sir!” he exclaimed. “No use to go up there, the boat! the boat!” and he ran to the beach. Leycester followed him like a man in a dream, and tearing off his coat, seized an oar mechanically.
There was not a soul in sight, the peace of the Autumn evening rested on sea and shore, but in Leycester’s ears the echo of that awful death-shriek rung as plainly as when he had first heard it. The landlord of the inn, an old sailor, rowed like a young man, and the boat rose over the waves and cleaved its way round the bay as if a dozen men were pulling.
Not a word was spoken, the great beads of sweat stood on their foreheads, their hearts throbbed in unison with every stroke. Presently Leycester saw the old man relax his stroke and bend peering over the boat, and suddenly he dropped his oar and sprang up, pointing to a dark object floating on the top of the waves. Leycester rose too, calm and acute enough now, and in another minute Jasper Adelstone was lying at their feet.
Leycester uttered no cry as his eyes fell upon the pale, set face, but he sank down in the boat and put his hands to his eyes.
When he looked up he saw the old man quietly putting his oar into its place.
5“Yes, sir,” he said, gravely answering Leycester’s glance, “he is dead, stone dead; row back, sir.”
“But the other!” said Leycester, in a whisper.
The old man shook his head and glanced upward at the cliff.
“He is up there, sir. Alive or dead, he is up there. He didn’t fall into the sea or we should have met him.”
“Then—then,” said Leycester, his voice struggling for calm, “he may be alive!”
“We shall soon see, sir; row for life or death.”
Leycester needed no further prompting, and the boat sped back. By the time they had gained the shore a crowd had collected, and Leycester felt, rather than saw, that the motionless, lifeless form that had haunted him from its place at the bottom of the boat was carried off—felt, rather than was conscious, that he was speeding up the cliff followed by the landlord and half-a-dozen fishermen.
Silent and breathless they gained the top, and stood for a moment uncertain; then Leycester saw one of them step forward with a rope.
“Now, mates,” the old man said, “which of us goes down?”
There was a moment’s silence, then Leycester stepped forward and took up the rope.
“I,” he said.
It was but a word, but no one ventured to dispute his decision.
Quietly and calmly they fastened the rope round his waist, leaving a loop lower down. He had left his coat in the boat, and stood bareheaded for a moment. The old man stood beside him, calm and grave.
“Hold tight, sir,” he said; “and if—if—you find him, sling the rope round him and give the word.”
Leycester nodded, held up his hand, and the next moment was swinging in the air. Slowly and steadily, inch by inch, they lowered him down the awful depths amidst a death-like silence. Suddenly his voice broke it, coming up to them in one word—
Breathless they waited, then they felt the rope jerk and they pulled up. A great sob of relief rather than a cheer rose as he appeared, bearing on his arm the slight figure of poor Frank.
Gently but swiftly they unwound the ropes and laid him down at Leycester’s feet, and the old man knelt beside him.
Leycester did not speak, but stood panting and pale. The old man looked up.
“Give me a hand, boys,” he said, slowly and sternly. “He is alive!”
“Alive!” said Leycester, hoarsely.
“Alive,” repeated the old man. “Yes, sir, you have saved him, but——”
Leycester followed them down the cliff, followed them to the inn. Then, as the thin, wasted figure disappeared within the house, he sank on to the bench at the door, and covered his face with his hands.
Was it an awful dream?—would he awake presently and find himself at home, and this dreadful nightmare vanished?
Suddenly he felt a hand upon his arm, and looking up, saw a staid, elderly man, with “doctor” written plainly on his face.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said. “You know this poor lad?”
Leycester nodded.
“So I understood from a word you let drop on the cliff. As[271] that is the case, perhaps you would not mind breaking it to his friends?”
“His friends?” asked Leycester, mechanically.
The doctor nodded.
“They are staying at that cottage,” he said, pointing. “They should be here at once.”
Leycester rose, dazed for a moment; then he said, in a low voice:
“I understand. Yes, I will do it.”
Without another word, he strode off. It was no great distance, but he had not to traverse it, short as it was. At the turn of the road a slight, girlish figure came flitting toward him. It was Stella. He stopped irresolute, but at that moment she had no thought even for him. Without hesitating, she came toward him, her face pale, her hands outstretched.
“Leycester! where is he?”
Without thinking he put his arm round her and she rested on his breast for a moment.
“Stella, my Stella! be brave.”
She uttered a little inarticulate cry, and hid her face for a moment, then she raised her head, and looked at him.
“Take me to him!” she moaned, “take me to him. Oh my poor boy! my poor boy!”
In silence he led her to the inn, and she passed up the stairs. The fishermen gathered round the door drew back and turned their eyes from him with respectful sympathy, and he stood looking out at the sea. The minutes passed, years they seemed to him, then he heard the doctor’s voice.
“Will you go up-stairs, my lord?”
Leycester started, and slowly ascended the stairs.
Stretched on a small bed lay the poor erring boy, white and death-like, already in the shadow of death. Beside him knelt Stella, her hand clasping his, her face lying beside his.
He looked up as Leycester entered, and raised a thin white hand to beckon him near. Instinctively Leycester knelt beside him.
“You want to see me, Frank?”
The boy raised his eyelids heavily, and seemed to make a great struggle for strength.
“Leycester,” he said, “I—I have something to give you. You—you will understand what it means. It was the charm that bound her to him. I have broken it—broken it! It was for my sake she did it, for mine! I did not know it till to-night. Take it, Leycester,” and slowly he drew from his breast the forged paper.
Leycester took it, deeming the boy delirious, and Frank seemed to read his thought.
“You will understand,” he panted. “I—I—forged it, and he knew it, and held the knowledge and the paper over her head. You saved my life, Leycester: I give you something better than life, Leycester; I give you—her—Stella!”
His lips quivered, and he seemed sinking; but he made a last effort.
“I—I am dying, Leycester. I am glad, very, very glad. I don’t wish to live. It is better that I should die!”
“Frank!” broke from Stella’s white lips.
“Don’t cry, Stella. While I lived he—he would have held you bound. Now I am dying——” Then his voice failed and his eyes closed, but they saw his lips move, and Stella, bending over him, heard the words—”Forgive, forgive!”
With a loud cry she caught him in her arms, but he had passed away, even beyond her love, and the next moment she fell fainting, still holding him to her bosom, as a mother holds her child.
An hour afterward Leycester was pacing the beach, his arms folded across his breast, his head bent, a storm of conflicting emotions raging within. The boy had spoken truly. The time had come when he understood fully the lad’s words. He had gleaned much from the forged bill, which, all torn and stained, lay hidden in his pocket; but the full meaning of the mystery had been conveyed to him by the delirious words of Stella, who lay in a high fever.
He had just left her, and was now waiting for the doctor, waiting for his verdict—life or death. Life or death! He had often heard, often used the words, but never until this moment knew their import.
Presently the doctor joined him, and Leycester uttered the one word:
“She will live,” he said.
Leycester raised his head and drew a long breath. The doctor continued:
“Yes, I think I may say she will pull through. I shall know more to-morrow. You see, she has undergone a severe strain; I do not allude to the tragic incidents of the evening; those in themselves are sufficient to try a young girl; but she has been laboring under extreme nervous pressure for months past.”
Leycester groaned.
“Come, come, my lord,” said the doctor, cheerfully. “You may depend upon me. I should not hold out hope unless I had good reason for so doing. We shall save her, I trust and believe.”
Leycester inclined his head; he could not speak. The doctor looked at him gravely.
“If you will permit me, my lord,” he said, “I would suggest that you should now take some rest. You are far from strong yourself.”
Leycester smiled grimly.
“Far from strong,” repeated the doctor, emphatically. “And there is a great deal more endurance before you. Be advised and take some rest, my lord.
“The landlord has been speaking to me, sir, about the unfortunate man you found. It seems that there are papers and valuables—jewelry, and such like. Will your lordship take charge of them until the police arrive? I understand that you knew him.”
“Yes, I knew him,” said Leycester. He had, in truth, almost forgotten Jasper Adelstone. “I will take charge of the things, if you wish it.”
“Follow me, then,” said the doctor.
They went to the inn, and up the stairs, with that quiet, subdued step with which men approach the presence of grim death, and stood beside the bed upon which lay all that remained of the man who had so nearly wrecked two lives.
Leycester looked down at the white face, calm and expressionless—looked down with a solemn feeling at his heart, and the doctor drew some papers from the coat.
“These are them,” he said, “if your lordship will take charge of them.”
Leycester took them, and as he did so, he glanced mechanically at them as they lay in his hand, and uttered an exclamation.
There in his hand lay the note which Lenore had written, bidding Jasper Adelstone meet her in the wood. He knew the writing in a moment, and before he had time to prevent it, had read the few pregnant words.
The doctor turned round.
“What is the matter?”
Leycester stood, and for the first time that awful night trembled. The idea of treachery and deceit so connected with Lenore utterly unnerved him. He knew, he felt as if by instinct, that he held in his hand a link in the chain of cunning and chicanery which had so nearly entangled him, and the thought that her name would become the prey of the newspapers was torture.
“Doctor,” he said, and his voice trembled, “I have seen by accident a letter written to this unfortunate man. It consists of a few lines only. It will compromise a lady whose good name is in my keeping——”
The doctor held up his hand.
“Your lordship will be guided by your sense of honor,” he said.
Leycester inclined his head and put the note in his pocket.
Then they went down, and the doctor strode off to the cottage and left Leycester still pacing the beach.
Yes, the boy had spoken truly. He saw it all now. He knew how it had been brought to pass that Stella had been entrapped into Jasper’s chambers; he saw the unscrupulous hand of a woman weaving the threads of the net in which they had been entangled. Minute details were not necessary, that little note in the dainty hand-writing told its own story; Jasper Adelstone and Lady Lenore Beauchamp had been in league together; death had squared the reckoning between him and the man, but he had still to settle the tragic account with the woman.
The night passed, and the dawn broke, and the little doctor returning, weary and exhausted, found the tall figure still pacing the beach.