Lord Charles was too glad to gain Leycester’s consent to leave town to care where they went

Lord Charles was too glad to gain Leycester’s consent to leave town to care where they went, and to prevent all chance of Leycester’s changing his mind, this stanch and constant friend went with him to his rooms and interviewed the patient Oliver.
“Go away, sir?” said that faithful and long-suffering individual. “I’m glad of it! His lordship—and you too, begging your pardon, my lord—ought to have gone long ago. It’s been terrible hot work these last few weeks. I never knew his lordship so wild. And where are we going, my lord?”
That was the question. Leycester rendered no assistance whatever, beyond declaring that he would not go where there was a houseful of people. He had thrown himself into a chair, and sat moodily regarding the floor. Bellamy’s sudden illness and prophetic words had given him a shock. He was quite ready to go anywhere, so that it was away from London, which had become hateful to him since the last hour.
Lord Charles lit a pipe, and Oliver mixed a soda-and-brandy for him, and they two talked it over in an undertone.
“I’ve got a little place in the Doone Valley, Devonshire, you know,” said Lord Charles, talking to Oliver quite confidentially. “It’s a mere box—just enough for ourselves, and we should have to rough it, rough it awfully. But there’s plenty of game, and some fishing, and it’s as wild as a March hare!”
“That’s just what his lordship wants,” said Oliver. “I know him so well, you see, my lord. I must say that I’ve taken the way we’ve been going on lately very serious; it isn’t the money, that don’t matter, my lord; and it isn’t altogether the wildness, we’ve been wild before, my lord, you know.”
Lord Charles grunted.
“But that was only in play like, and there is no harm in it; but this sort of thing that’s being going on hasn’t been play, and it ain’t amused his lordship a bit; why he’s more down than when we came up.”
“That’s so, Oliver,” assented Lord Charles, gloomily.
“I don’t know what it was, and it isn’t for me to be curious, my lord,” continued the faithful fellow, “but it’s my opinion that something went wrong down at the Hall, and that his lordship cut up rough about it.”
Lord Charles, remembering that letter and the beautiful girl at the cottage, nodded.
“Perhaps so,” he said. “Well, we’ll go down to the Doone[240] Valley. Better pack up to-night, or rather this morning. I’ll go home and get a bath, and we’ll be off at once. Fish out the train, will you?”
Oliver, who was a perfect master of “Bradshaw,” turned over the leaves of that valuable compilation, and discovered a train that left in the afternoon, and Lord Charles “broke it” to Leycester.
Leycester accepted their decision with perfect indifference.
“I shall be ready,” he said, in a dispassionate, indifferent way. “Tell Oliver what you want.”
“It’s a mere box in a jungle,” said Lord Charles.
“A jungle is what I want,” said Leycester, grimly.
With the same grim indifference he started by that afternoon train, smoking in silence nearly all the way down to Barnstaple, and showing no interest in anything.
Oliver had telegraphed to secure seats in the coach that leaves that ancient town for the nearest point to the Valley, and early the next morning they arrived.
A couple of horses and a dogcart had been sent on—how Oliver managed to get them off was a mystery, but his command of resources at most times amounted to the magical—and they drove from Teignmouth to the Valley, and reached the “Hut,” as it was called.
It was in very truth a mere box, but it was a box set in the center of a sportsman’s paradise. Lonely and solitary it stood on the edge of the deer forest, within sound of a babbling trout-stream, and in the center of the best shooting in Devonshire.
Oliver, with the aforesaid magic, procured a couple of servants, and soon got the little place in order; and here the two friends lived, like hermits in a dell.
tumblr_nphdkungxi1tmdkp5o1_1280They fished and shot and rode all day, returning at night to a plain, late dinner; and altogether led a life so different to that which they had been leading as it was possible to imagine.
Lord Charles enjoyed it. He got brown, and as fit and “as hard as nails,” as he described it, but Leycester took things differently. The gloom which had settled upon him would not be dispelled by the mountain air and the beauty of the exquisite valley.
Always and ever there seemed some cloud hanging over him, spoiling his enjoyment and witching the charm from his efforts at amusement. While Charles was killing trout in the stream, or dropping the pheasants in the moors, Leycester would wander up and down the valley, gun or rod in hand, using neither, his head drooping, his eyes fixed in gloomy retrospection.
In simple truth he was haunted by a spirit which clung to him now as it had clung to him in those days of feverish gayety and dissipation.
The vision of the slim, beautiful girl whom he loved was ever before him, her face floated between him and the mountains, her voice mingled with the stream. He saw her by day, he dreamed of her by night. Sometimes he would wake with a start, and fancy that she was still his own, and that they were standing by the weir, her hand in his, her voice whispering, “Leycester,[241] I love you!” Distance only lent enchantment to her beauty and her grace. In a word, he could not forget her!
Sometimes he wondered whether he had been right in yielding her up to Jasper Adelstone so quietly; but as he recalled that morning, and Stella’s face and words, he felt that he could not have done otherwise. Yes, he had lost her, she had gone forever, yet he could not forget her. It seemed very strange, even to himself. After all, there were so many beautiful women he could have chosen; some he had been almost in love with, and yet he had forgotten them. What was there about Stella to cling to him so persistently? He remembered every little unconscious trick of voice and manner, the faint little smile that curved her lip, the deep light in the dark eyes as they lifted to his, asking, taking his love. There was a special little trick or mannerism she had, a way of bending her head and looking at him half over her shoulder, that simply haunted him; she came—the vision of her—to the side of his chair and his bed, and looked at him so, and he could see the graceful curve of the delicate neck. Ah, me! ah, me! It was very weak and foolish, perhaps, that a strong man of the world should be held in such thrall by a simple girl, just a girl; but men are made so, and will so be held, when they are strong and true, till the world ends.
It was very slow for Charlie—very slow and very rough, but he was one of those rare friends who stick close in such a time. He fished, and shot, and rode, and walked, and was always cheerful and never obtrusive; but though he never made any remark, he could not but notice that Leycester was in a bad way. He was getting thinner and older looking, and the haggard lines, which the wild town life had begun to draw, deepened.
Lord Charles was beginning to be afraid that the Doone Valley also would fail.
“Ever hear anything of your people, Ley?” he asked one night, as they sat in the living room of the hut. The night was warm for the time of year, and they sat by the open window smoking their pipes, and clad in their shooting suits of woolen mixture.
Leycester was leaning back, his head resting on his hand, his eyes fixed on the starlit sky, his long knickerbockered legs outstretched.
“My people?” he replied, with a little movement as of one waking from a dream. “No. I believe they are in the country somewhere.”
“Didn’t leave any address for them?”
Leycester shook his head.
“No. I have no doubt they know it, however; Oliver is engaged to Lilian’s maid, Jeanette, and doubtless writes to her.”
Charles looked at him.
“Getting tired of this, old man?” he asked, quietly.
“No,” said Leycester. “Not at all. I can keep it up as long as you like. If you are tired, we will go. Don’t imagine that I am insensible to the boredom you are undergoing, Charlie. But I advised you to let me go my way alone, did I not?”
“That’s so,” was the cheerful response. “But I didn’t choose,[242] did I? And I don’t now. But all the same, I should like to see you look a little more chippy, Ley.”
Leycester looked up at him and smiled, grimly.
“I wonder whether you were ever in any trouble in your life, Charlie,” he said.
Lord Charles drained the glass of whisky and water that stood beside him.
“Yes,” he said; “but I’m like a duck, it pours off my back, and there I am again.”
“I wish I were like a duck!” said Leycester, with bitter self-scorn. “Charlie, you have the misfortune to be tied to a haunted man. I am haunted by the ghost of an old and lost happiness, and I can’t get rid of it.”
Charlie looked at him and then away.
“I know,” he said; “I haven’t said anything, but I know. Well, I am not surprised; she is a beautiful creature, and one of the sort to stick in a man’s mind. I’m very sorry, old man. There isn’t any chance of its coming right?”
“None whatever,” said Leycester, “and that is why I am a great fool in clinging to it.”
He got up and began to pace the room, and the color mounted to his haggard face.
“I cannot—I cannot shake it off. Charlie, I despise myself; and yet, no, no, to love her once was to love her for always—to the end.”
“There’s another man, of course,” said Lord Charles. “Didn’t it occur to you to—well, to break his neck, or put a bullet through him, or get him appointed governor of the Cannibal Islands, Ley? That used to be your style.”
Leycester smiled grimly.
“This man cannot be dealt with in any one of those excellent ways, Charlie,” he said.
“If it’s the man I suppose, that fellow Jasper Addled egg—no, Adelstone, I should have tried the first at any rate,” said Lord Charles, emphatically.
Leycester shook his head.
“It’s a bad business,” he said, curtly, “and there is no way of making it a good one. I will go to bed. What shall we do to-morrow?” and he sighed.
Lord Charles laid his hand on his arm and kept him for a moment.
“You want rousing, Ley,” he said. “Rousing, that’s it! Let’s have the horses to-morrow and take a big spin; anywhere, nowhere, it doesn’t matter. We’ll go while they can.”
Ley nodded.
“Anything you like,” he said, and went out.
Lord Charles called to Oliver, who was standing outside smoking a cigar—he was quite as particular about the brand as his master:
“Where did you say the earl and countess were, Oliver?” he asked.
“At Darlingford Court, my lord.”
“How far is it from here? Can we do it to-morrow with the nags?”
Oliver thought a moment.
“If they are taken steadily, my lord; not as his lordship has been riding lately; as if the horse were cast iron and his own neck too.”
Lord Charles nodded.
“All right,” he said, “we’ll do it. Lord Leycester wants a change again, Oliver.”
Oliver nodded.
“We’ll run over there. Needn’t say anything to his lordship—you understand.”
Oliver quite understood, and went off to the small stable to see about the horses, and Lord Charles went to bed chuckling over his little plot.
When they started in the morning, Leycester asked no questions and displayed the supremest indifference to the route, and Lord Charles, affecting a little indecision, made for the road to which Oliver had directed him.
The two friends rode almost in silence as was their wont, Leycester paying very little attention to anything excepting his horse, and scarcely noticing the fact that Lord Charles seemed very decided about the route.
Once he asked a question; it was when the evening was drawing in, and they were still riding, as to their destination, but Lord Charles evaded it:
“We shall get somewhere, I expect,” he said quietly. “There is sure to be an inn—or something.”
And Leycester was content.
About dusk they reached the entrance to Darlingford. There was no village, no inn. Leycester pulled up and waited indifferently.
“What do we do now?” he asked.
Lord Charles laughed, but rather consciously.
“Look here,” he said: “I know some people who have got this place. We’d better ride up and get a night’s lodging.”
Leycester looked at him, and smiled suddenly.
“Isn’t this rather transparent, Charlie?” he said, calmly. “Of course you intended to come here from the very start, very well.”
“Well, I suspect I did,” said Lord Charles. “You don’t mind?”
Leycester shook his head.
“Not at all. They will let us go to bed, I suppose. You can tell them that you are traveling keeper to a melancholy monomaniac, and they’ll leave me alone. Mind, we start in the morning.”
“All right,” said Lord Charles, chuckling inwardly—”of course; quite so. Come on.”
They rode up the avenue, and to the front of a straggling stone mansion, and a groom came forward and took their horses. Lord Charles drew Leycester’s arm within his.
“We shall be sure of a welcome.”
And he walked up a broad flight of steps.
But Leycester stopped suddenly; for a figure came out of one of the windows, and stood looking down at them.
It was a woman, gracefully and beautifully dressed in some softly-hued evening robe. He could not see her face, but he knew her, and turned almost angrily to Lord Charles. But Lord Charles had slipped away, muttering something about the horses, and Leycester went slowly up.
Lenore—it was she—awaited his approach all unconsciously. She could not see him as plainly as he saw her, and she took him for some strange chance visitor.
But as he came up and stood in front of her she recognized him, and, with a low cry, she moved toward him, her lovely face suddenly smitten pale, her violet eyes fixed on him yearningly.
“Leycester!” she said, and overcome for the moment by the suddenness of his presence, she staggered slightly.
He could do no less than put his arm round her, for he thought she would have fallen, and as he did so his heart reproached him, for the one word “Leycester,” and the tone told her story. His mother was right. She loved him.
“Lenore,” he said, and his deep, grave, musical voice trembled slightly. She lay back in his arms for a moment, looking up at him with an expression of helpless resignation in her eyes, her lovely face revealed in the light which poured from the window full upon her.
“Lenore,” he said, huskily, “what—what is this?”
Her eyes closed for a moment, and a faint thrill ran through her, then she regained her composure, and putting him gently from her, she laughed softly.
“It was your fault,” she said, the exquisite voice tremulous with emotion. “Why do you steal upon us like a thief in the night, or—like a ghost? You frightened me.”
He stood and looked at her, and put his hand to his brow. He was but mortal, was but a man with a man’s passions, a man’s susceptibility to woman’s loveliness, and he knew that she loved him.
“I——” he said, then stopped. “I did not know. Charlie brought me here. Who are here?”
“They are all here,” she said, her eyes downcast. “I will go and tell them lest you frighten them as you frightened me,” and she stole away from him like a shadow.
He stood, his hands thrust in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the ground.
She was very beautiful, and she loved him. Why should he not make her happy? make one person happy at least? Not only one person, but his mother, and Lilian—all of them. As for himself, well! one woman was as good as another, seeing that he had lost his darling! And this other was the best and rarest of all that were left.
It was his mother’s voice. He turned and kissed her; she was not frightened, she did not even kiss him, but she put her[245] hand on his arm, and he felt it tremble, and the way she spoke the word told of all her past sorrow at his absence, and her joy at his return.
“You have come back to us!” she said, and that was all.
“Yes, I have come back!” he said, with something like a sigh.
She looked at him, and the mother’s heart was wrung.
“Have you been ill, Leycester?” she asked, quietly.
“Ill, no,” he said, then he laughed a strange laugh. “Do I look so seedy, my lady?”
“You look——” she began, with sad bitterness, then she stopped. “Come in.”
He followed her in, but at the door he paused and looked out at the night. As he did so, the vision of the slim, graceful girl, of his lost darling, seemed to float before him, with pale face, and wistful, reproachful eyes. He put up his hand with a strange, despairing gesture, and his lips moved.
“Good-bye!” he murmured. “Oh, my lost love, good-bye!”