It was the heat–the excitement–the overwork

“It’s the book of the day.”

“It’s decidedly the cleverest thing of its sort I ever read.”

“Have you read the review in the _Athenæum_?”

“And in the _Saturday Review_.”

“They all praise it, even the _Spectator_.”

“Who’s the author? Whose initials are R. D.?”

“Why, don’t you know? It’s Major Rupert Devereux, the man who wrote
that awfully clever article in the _Fortnightly_ last month. He’s an
M.P., and a great man on committees. Sort of practical philanthropist.”

I was standing in front of a bookshop leading out of the Strand amongst
a little group of other passers-by, who had halted for a moment to turn
over the volumes which were out on view, and this was the conversation
which I heard being carried on almost at my elbow. I listened eagerly
for more, but the speakers had passed on.

My Uncle Rupert was a great man, then, I thought, bitterly. Curse him!
I was scarcely surprised, for there was in his pale face all the
nervous force of imaginative intellect. What was it he had written? I
wondered. I took up the _Times_, and glanced through its columns. Ah,
there it was–a review two columns long–“Richard Strathdale,
novelist,” by R.D.

I glanced through the review; it was one long eulogy. A profound
metaphysical romance! The most brilliant work of fiction of the age,
and so on, and so on. I stopped at a bookseller’s, and asked for
“Richard Strathdale.” They were sold out. I tried another with the
same result–there had been a tremendous run on it, they told me. But
at last, at a railway bookstall, I was just in time to purchase their
last copy, and hurried back with it to my hotel.

I commenced to read, and I read on deeply interested. There was much
that I could not understand, much that betrayed an intimate knowledge
with schools of philosophic thought the names of which even were
unknown to me. But there was a great deal which, despite my prejudice
against the writer, seemed to me almost sublime. It was written from a
noble, almost an idyllic standpoint. There were no carping pessimisms
in it, no Nineteenth Century disputativeness. It seemed to be the work
of a man who believed in all that was pure and lofty in nature and in
human nature. The spirit of a good, high-minded man seemed to be
breathing through it in every line. I laid it down when I was half-way
through with a startled little gasp. Could this be my Uncle Rupert!
this the man whose life was a living lie? Never had my faith in my
father wavered for one moment, but just then everything seemed chaos.
I read on until I came to a passage where the hero of the story was
speaking of another man:

“An unhappy man! Of course he is an unhappy man! He always will be!
Go and ask him what it is he desires. He will tell you a larger
fortune, or a peerage, or something of that sort. He is a fool–a
blind fool–not to have realised by this time that desires expand with
possessions, and the more the one increases the more ravenous the other
becomes. Bah! the principle is as simple as ABC. ‘Tis the moralists
of the earth, be they Christians or Chinese, who win here! Logic and
philosophy may knock Christianity into a cocked hat. But Christianity
can make a man happy, which is exactly what philosophy won’t do.
Happiness is internal, not external. It must sit in the heart, and not
float in the senses. And what gratification is there which a man can
get out of the good things of the world which can strike deeper than
the senses? Happiness is a consciousness; it is the consciousness of
goodness. Dreadfully common-place talk this, but common-placisms are
often truisms!”

I closed the book, and walked up and down the room restlessly. A great
bewilderment seemed to be closing in upon me. My faith in my father
was never really shaken, and yet this book seemed to me to ring with
evidences that it was written by a high-minded, naturally good man.
All my ideas were disarranged. A great wave of wondering doubt seemed
beating against the prejudice which had grown up in my heart against my
Uncle Rupert. At last I could bear it no longer. With the book still
in my hand I hurried out into the street. Within ten minutes I stood
before Rupert Devereux’s house in Mayfair, and almost immediately was
ushered by the servant into his study.

He was bending close over his writing-desk with his back to me, writing
fast, and sheets of foolscap lay on the floor all around him. He had
not heard me announced, and he wrote on without looking up.

I stepped into the middle of the room and spoke to him:

“Rupert Devereux,” I cried, “it is I, Herbert Devereux’s son. Turn
round, for I have something to say to you.”

He started to his feet, and turned an eager face towards me. Then he
advanced a step or two, half holding out his hand.

“Hugh, you have come to accept my offer. God grant that you have.”

I shook my head. “I have come to ask a question of the man who wrote
this book,” I answered, holding it out. “I have come to ask the man
who writes that happiness is the abstract product of a consciousness of
right doing, whether he is happy? Rupert Devereux, you know what
happiness is. Tell me, are you happy?”

He sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. My heart
grew lighter as I looked upon him.

“They tell me that you are a successful man,” I continued, mercilessly.
“You are a member of Parliament, and a noted one. You are spoken of as
a philanthropist, and a zealous one. You have written a book which any
man might be proud of having written. You are rich, you are well
spoken of everywhere. And you are a miserable man.”

He never answered me, never changed his dejected attitude.

“Out of your own mouth you stand convicted,” I cried, stretching out
the book towards him. “You are not happy because none of these things
can bring you happiness. You are not happy because you have not that
consciousness of right doing in your heart! You are miserable because
you have wrecked another’s life that you might gain his wealth. Fool!
Villain!”

Still he did not answer; only he stretched out his hand as though to
implore my silence.

“Rupert Devereux,” I cried, passionately, “it is not too late to make
amends even now. Confess that lie which you uttered so many years ago,
and you will be a happier man than you are now! You know it! The man
who wrote this book knows it. I will forgive you, my father shall
forgive you everything, if you will lift this weight from him which is
dragging him down to death. You will lose your name, your wealth, your
position. But you will gain something which none of these can give
you. Rupert Devereux, as there is a God above us I charge you to speak
the truth this night!”

Ghastly pale, with the wild agony of his remorse written into his face,
he tottered rather than rose to his feet.

“I admit nothing, I deny nothing,” he faltered out in a broken voice.
“But supposing circumstances were as you imagine them to be, I have
gone too far to retract. There are my children!”

“What of them?” I cried. “This is not a censorious generation, and
none would visit on them their father’s sin. Francis is one whom money
would make happy, and he should have it! Maud! I love Maud, and would
make her my wife.”

He looked up amazed, and then an eager hope flashed out from his sunken
eyes.

“You love Maud!” he repeated. “Then marry her, Hugh; marry her, and I
will dower her with every penny I have, and go and live–anywhere.
Only let this other matter drop between us. If I have sinned in a mad
impulse of folly, I have sinned. What is done cannot be recalled! The
best years of Herbert’s life have gone, and by this time he will have
become resigned. Let me call Maud, or go to her. She is in her room.”

I stretched out my hand, but with a great effort withdrew it. What
should I gain by striking this man? I made one last appeal to him.

“There is but one thing I want from you,” I cried, “and nothing else
will I have. All that I want to know is whether you will go down to
hell with this lie upon your soul, or whether you will do that which
alone can bring you any peace of mind. Answer!”

“I have answered, Hugh,” he said, sadly. “What you ask of me I cannot,
I will not do. If you will accept nothing else–I am sorry.”

“Then curse you for a coward!” I cried, springing up. “A liar and a
coward! Live on your false life, fair before men, but black and
corrupt within; live it on! But see whether their praises, their
admiration or your success will ever lift for one moment from your
heart my curse!”

Then I left him, mad and white with anger, and rushed out into the busy
streets.

* * * * *

Wearily the days dragged on for me, bringing me no news from abroad, no
answer to the passionate entreaty which every morning appeared in the
agony column of the _Times_. I grew disheartened and dispirited,
feeling every day more bitter against my kinsman, whose name seemed to
be in every one’s mouth, and every day a keener longing to stand face
to face with my father, and feel his hand clasped in mine. Fool that I
had been to let him wander off alone, bearing in his heart that dead
weight of misery! What if he were dead–had fallen in the petty
quarrels of some fourth-rate Principality! Had there been war anywhere
I should have known where to look for him; but Europe was at peace, and
I knew not in which country of the globe to commence my search.

One evening I had taken up a society journal, and as usual Rupert
Devereux’s name headed one of the paragraphs. He was giving a fancy
dress ball to-night, at which Royalty was expected to be present. I
threw the paper from me in disgust, and a wild storm of anger laid hold
of me. Rupert Devereux, a great man, a leader of society, everywhere
quoted as brilliant, talented, and withal kind-hearted; whilst my
father, his victim, wandered about in miserable exile, holding his life
in his hand! It was the thought that was with me day and night, but
that moment it gained such a hold on me as to cry out for action of
some sort. But what could I do? All idea of physical punishment which
naturally leaped first into my mind revolted me, for he was a weak man,
and would have been like a lath in my hands. And what other means had
I? Denunciation would make me ridiculous without injuring him; for,
when a man stands firm in the world’s esteem, they are slow to believe
ill of him. I caught up the paper again, and a sudden idea flashed
into my mind which I first scouted as ridiculous, then reconsidered,
and finally embraced. I called a hansom, and drove to several
costumiers. At last I found what I wanted, and returned to the hotel
to dress, for I was going to Major Rupert Devereux’s fancy dress ball.

* * * * *

A suite of reception rooms, decorated like the rooms of a palace, and
the strains of the Hungarian band floating softly on an air heavy with
the rich perfume of banks of rare exotics. Distinguished-looking men
and beautiful women, in the picturesque garb of all ages and nations,
gliding over the smooth floor. Powdered footmen noiselessly passing
backwards and forwards over the thick carpets of a succession of
satin-draped ante-rooms. Flowers, light, music, and perfume; fair
faces and soft words. That night seems like a confused dream of all
these to me, save for one brief minute. One brief minute, when the
giver of all these, the flattered recipient of endless compliments from
noble lips, came face to face with the image of the man on whose misery
all these things were built up, came face to face with him, in the very
uniform, and with the same fiercely reproachful gaze, which he had worn
more than twenty years ago.

“It was the heat–the excitement–the overwork!” his sympathising
guests declared, as their host was carried from their midst in a dead
faint, with his face like the face of a corpse. But I knew better, and
I laughed as I strode into my room at the hotel, and flung myself into
an easy chair. Something on the mantelpiece attracted my attention,
and I sprang up with a quick cry, and caught hold of a thin foreign
envelope. I tore it open with trembling fingers, and read:–“My dear
son. Come to me at Palermo, if you will.–Yours affectionately, H.
D—-”

It had come at last, then! Thank God! Thank God!

“My father! my father!”

We stood on the slope of a wild heath-covered hill, alone, with no
human being or sign of habitation in sight. Before us towered a
dreary, lofty range of bare mountains–on one side was a fearful
precipice, and below us on the other the blue sea. We had met on the
road, my father and I!

With both hands clasping his, I looked into his face. Alas, how
changed it was! Thin and shrunken, with hollow eyes and furrowed brow,
he looked to me what he was, a wreck.

“You have been ill,” I cried, with a lump in my throat and the tears
springing into my eyes; “where have you been? Why did you not send for
me?”

He pointed to a loose piece of rock a few yards off.

“Let us sit down, and I will tell you everything,” he said, wearily; “I
am tired.”

We sat down, and I waited eagerly for him to begin. There was a patch
of brilliantly coloured wild-flowers at our feet which filled the air
all round with a dreamy, intoxicating odour. It was a perfume which
has lingered with me even to this day.

“Ay, I have been ill,” he began, slowly, “almost to death, but death
would have none of me. I have little, very little to tell you, Hugh,
my boy. Since we parted in England I have wandered about in many
countries seeking to find an honourable manner of disposing of my life,
but in vain. The dead calm of peace which seems to rest all over
Europe can be but the hush before a storm, but the storm is long in
coming–long in coming.

“I have done nothing save wander about,” he added, after a moment’s
pause, “after the fashion of a tramp, carrying my luggage with me, and
calling no place home. A few miles from here, about two months ago, I
thought that my release had come. I swooned suddenly in a lonely part
of yonder range of mountains, and when I came to I was still lying on
the track, but a fever had laid hold of me, and I thought then that
surely I must die. I became unconscious again, and when I recovered my
senses for the second time I was no longer lying on the ground, but was
in a rude sort of a tent, lying on a bed of dried leaves and heath.
One of the roughest-looking men I ever saw, dirty, but gaudily dressed,
with a brace of pistols stuck in his belt, was sitting by my side, and
through the opening of the tent I could see more like him moving
backwards and forwards, and shouting to one another in some villainous
patois. For a long time I couldn’t imagine into whose hands I had
fallen, but they were very kind to me, and brought me plenty of
everything they could get–grapes, and olives, and wild aloes, and
wine. At last one of them, who seemed to be their chief, and who spoke
French, came in to talk with me. Then I knew that these men who had
taken such care of me were really bandits, brigands. They had taken
nothing of mine, and would accept nothing in return for their kindness.
They rob the rich only, the chief assured me. I daresay you’ll be
surprised to hear, Hugh, that when I began to get stronger and able to
get about, I felt quite loth to leave the place. I felt that there I
was, at any rate, right out of the world, and secure from any casual
questioning. And the spot where they have fixed their abode is the
most lovely I ever looked upon. So I had a talk with their chief one
day–José his name is–and it was arranged that I should pay a small
sum to them for the use of the tent, and for supplies of fruit and
olives and wine which the peasants bring them in abundance; and, in
short, that I should live with them, though not be of them. I have
felt at rest there, though at times the weariness of complete inaction
is hard to bear. Only a few days ago I travelled into Palermo for the
first time. There I bought the _Times_, and saw your advertisement,
and answered it, and the rest you know. I sent José’s son, a quick
little fellow he is, into the town to hunt you out, and bring you here.
God bless you for coming, Hugh. It has done me good to see you again.”

He ceased, and my heart was very heavy. Through every word he uttered,
and in his whole appearance, I could trace how thoroughly he had
renounced all idea of again mixing with the world, and yet what could
his present state of existence be but a state of living death?

“And now for my story, father,” I said, as lightly as I could. “First,
Marian is married.”

“Marian married!” He repeated the words slowly, with a sort of passive
wonderment in his tones.

“Yes, Marian is married to a clergyman, and a very good fellow, and I,
father–I have been in a situation.”

He frowned, and repeated the words slowly to himself, as though
displeased with it.

“A situation? What sort of a one?”

“I have had the management of a large estate. It was pleasant work.”

“Whereabouts?” he asked.

“Father,” I said, holding his arm, “I held it as Mr. Arbuthnot, of
course, at Devereux.”

He sprang up like a galvanised figure, and looked down at me in eager
amazement.

“At Devereux! At Devereux! Oh, my God, at Devereux!”

He sat down again, and covered his face with his hands. Thinking it
best to leave him alone, I remained silent for a while. Suddenly he
turned round.

“How does the old place look, Hugh? Tell me all about it. And
my–my–Sir Francis. Did you see him? Is he well?”

There was such a lingering pathos in his eager questions, that, with an
aching heart, I turned away and wept. Then, after a while, I told him
everything. Told him of my recognition, of my grandfather’s offer, of
Hilton’s confession, and of my appeal to Rupert Devereux. He listened
as though every word were sinking into his heart–listened with an
utter absorption which was almost painful to witness. I told him of
everything save of Maud.

There was a long silence when I had finished. Then he said quietly–

“You have done wrong, Hugh. You should have accepted your
grandfather’s offer. You must go back to England, and go to him.”

“Father,” I answered, “an oath is a sacred thing, and I have sworn
before God that I will not do this thing. Whilst your name is
Arbuthnot mine will be Arbuthnot. The name of Devereux may die out for
all I care! Those who bear the name now are not worthy of it–an
obstinate old man, blinded by his military notions and his cursed
family pride, and a man who has lived upon a villainous lie, which he
refuses to own to! They may rot before I will go near them again, or
take their cursed name. You are the only Devereux, father, whom I love
and respect, and with you I will stop. I swear it.”

His hands were locked in mine, and a wonderful change had softened his
face. But by degrees the light seemed to die out of it, and he shook
his head anxiously.

“You don’t know what you are saying, Hugh. What, you, a young man,
with your life all before you, bury yourself with a hermit! Ah, no, it
must not be. You must retract that oath, and go back to England. I
wish it; nay, I command it!”

There is no need to reproduce the arguments he used, or my stubborn
opposition. We talked till the sun sank down, tinging the glass-like
sea into which it sank and the clouds in the western horizon with
glowing tints of orange and purple and gold. And when the last word
had been spoken it was I who was unshaken in my resolve, and he who was
yielding. For we had agreed that for a time, at any rate, we would
live together.

The shades of evening had fallen with a suddenness which to me seemed
strange, but to which my father was accustomed.

“We must part for to-night, at any rate, Hugh,” he exclaimed, rising.
“It will be dark in half-an-hour. I must call young Pietro to guide
you back to the town, unless,” he added, hesitatingly, “you would care
to come on and rough it with us for a night. I can only offer you a
shake-down of dried leaves.”

“With you, by all means,” I answered, quickly. “One could sleep out of
doors in this country.”

“Come, then,” he said, and, arm-in-arm, we struck over the heath,
following no path, for the simple reason that there was none, but
aiming for one of the heights of the range of hills before us, and
skirting, at a respectable distance, the cleft-like precipice which
stretched yawning by our side.

Continue Reading

Let her flirt with him

Mr. Holdern dined with us that evening, and when he and I had the table
to ourselves, and little clouds of blue smoke began to curl upwards to
the ceiling, he made a sudden request to rue.

“I want you to let me have Marian at once,” he said. “Why not let us
be married before you go away?”

I raised but few objections, for the plan suited me. But Marian, when
we told her, protested that a month was much too soon. Strangely
enough, however, when I took her view, and rescinded my consent, she
went over to the other side; so I gave in, and it was settled as they
wished. An aunt of Mr. Holdern’s was written for, and arrived in a few
days in a most excited state, with two tin trunks and a box of caps. A
dressmaker took up her abode in our other spare room, and peace at the
cottage was at an end. Even in my sanctum I was never safe, for Marian
would keep waltzing in with her mouth full of pins and her hair all
disarranged, to beseech me to give my opinion as to the draping of a
gown, or to inquire shyly, with a blushing face, whether I thought
Charlie would like this or that! Altogether those few last weeks at
the cottage were not quiet ones.

Lady Olive came often and assisted eagerly at the grave consultations.
But I saw her only for a moment or two now and then, for there were
many things on the estate which needed my attention just then,
especially as I was going so soon, and I was out most nights till long
after our usual dinner-hour.

Once Maud came, but I did not see her, and I was glad of it. If it had
been possible I would have left Devereux without another word with her.
But that was not to be.

On the morning before the wedding I saddled Black Prince myself, and
took him out for a farewell ride. I would sooner say farewell to a man
than a horse any day! The Black Prince had been my chief companion at
Devereux, and a very faithful one too. He had never been the same to
any one else, they told me; in fact, he had got the name of being a
brute, but whenever I entered the stable he would whinny and rub his
head against my coat-sleeve, holding it there sometimes, and looking up
at me out of his mild, brown eyes as though imploring me to take him
out. And now I was riding him for the last time! For the last time I
watched him stretch out his legs for a gallop, and felt him bound away
under me as he thundered over the turf. For the last time he picked up
his legs as clean as a Leicestershire hunter, and flew over the park
railings like a bird. And then who should we meet, as though to spoil
our ride, but Maud and her father cantering over the moor towards us,
Maud with flashing eyes and a colour springing into her soft cheeks as
she waved her whip ever so slightly, with a half-imperative gesture.
But I would see none of it. What had Black Prince and I to do with
them? Nobly he answered my whisper, and cleared the high stone wall
which separated us, and left them on their way to the house, whilst he
and I flew on towards the desolate moorland, heedless whither we went,
so that we were alone.

Three days more and I shall be away–out of temptation, out of
Paradise, alone in the world, with my life’s work before me. What
matter! Banish such thoughts–away with them! Away with that sweet,
sad face, with its proud lips and sorrowing eyes! What are these to my
Prince and I, whilst we fly across the moorland, over hedges and
fences, with the earth skimming beneath and the wind-swept sky clear
and bright above! Live the present! Bury the past! Welcome the
future! Regrets and haunting memories are the plagues of the devil.
The Black Prince and I will have none of them.

Ah! that was a wild ride. The wonder to me now is that we ever reached
home safely. But we did, and when we got there I led him into the
stable myself, and took the bit out of his mouth, and the saddle from
his back. I watched him munch his corn, and daintily thrust his nose
into the bucket of chilled water, and when I turned away and walked
into the house there was a lump in my throat.

A gentleman was waiting to see me in my study, I was told–and without
asking his name, and with very little curiosity, I crossed the hall and
entered the room. Then I gave a great start, and my fingers closed
upon my riding-whip, for upon the hearthrug, hat in hand, stood my
Uncle Rupert.

Had he not been Maud’s father I should have taken him by the neck and
thrown him from the house. As it was, I stood waiting with the door in
my hand and an angry sparkle in my eyes.

“You are not pleased to see me, Mr. Arbuthnot,” he began, nervously.
“I did not expect that you would be. But my daughter tells me that she
has scarcely thanked you for your gallant behaviour the other night,
and, as her father, I trusted that I might be permitted to come and
offer you my most heartfelt thanks.”

And this was my Uncle Rupert! this tall, thin man with the eager eyes
and nervous manner, and sad, sweet tone. For, though I hated him, I
could not help noticing that I had never heard a man’s voice more
pleasant to listen to. Whence had come the affected manners and
thinly-veiled snobbism of my cousin Francis? Not from his father.

“I fear that Miss Devereux, in her very natural terror, has exaggerated
the service I was fortunate enough to be able to render her,” I
answered icily. “I trust that she has recovered from the shock.”

“Quite, thank you. Mr. Arbuthnot, there was another reason which
brought me here. All through my life–which has been a most unhappy
one–I have constantly been troubled with the reflection that though
innocently (that you will not believe, but no matter), I was the cause
of poor Herbert’s–your father’s trouble. If I could render his son
even the slightest service it would be a great happiness to me. You
are going to London, I hear. You know no one there, and you have no
friends. Could you not make my house your home? You will not take the
name of Devereux, I hear, but Mr. Arbuthnot would always be a welcome
and an honoured guest.”

“You have a conscience, then, Rupert Devereux?” I said, quietly.

He looked at me appealingly, flushing to the very roots of his hair.

“I scarcely understand,” he began, hesitatingly.

“Let me explain, then,” I said, looking at him steadily. “It seems to
me that, having wrecked my father’s life by a deliberate conspiracy,
you are now seeking to expiate that most damnable sin by conferring
favours upon his son. It will not do, Rupert Devereux!”

I should have pitied him had he been any other man, for he stood there
looking distressed and disappointed. But, remembering who it was, I
watched him with a bitter, sneering smile.

“Then there is nothing more to be said, I suppose,” he remarked, with a
sigh. “I had better go.”

“You had better go,” I echoed. “The only words I shall ever care to
hear from your lips will be a confession of your villainous lie. I
cannot believe that you will have the courage to die with that foul sin
on your conscience.”

He moved his position, and then for the first time I remarked how like
he was in the outline of the face and the features to Maud. But the
likeness softened me not one whit towards him, whilst it made me feel
harder towards her.

He moved towards the door with a dejected gesture.

“You are very hard,” he said, in a low tone, “very hard for one so
young. But I daresay that, according to your view of the matter, you
are right, quite right. If you won’t let me help you in any way, you
won’t. It’s only another disappointment in a life of disappointments.
I must go, then, Mr. Arbuthnot. But if at any time you should change
your mind, come to me. I live in Mayfair, London.”

He walked out, and, without answering his farewell, I opened the door,
and let him go in silence. This was my first interview with my Uncle
Rupert.

On the morrow Marian was married to Mr. Holdern. It was a very quiet
wedding down at the village church, but it went off very pleasantly,
and Marian looked charming in her plain white satin gown and simple
veil. As we were entering the church I had a great surprise. Sir
Francis Devereux, in a black frock-coat, and with an orchid in his
buttonhole, called me on one side for a moment, and asked for
permission to give away the bride. I would have preferred refusing
such an unusual request–unusual, at any rate, as it would seem to
those who knew us as Mr. and Miss Arbuthnot–but he looked so much in
earnest that I could not find it in my heart to hurt his feelings. So,
in ignorance of what they were beholding, the villagers of Devereux saw
Sir Francis give his granddaughter away, whilst I, his grandson, stood
a few yards behind.

A woman once told me that she always felt inclined to cry at weddings
and laugh at funerals. I can understand it. There is something in the
former exquisitely, though covertly, pathetic; whilst in the latter
case tears are so obviously the correct thing, that sometimes they
absolutely refuse to come. I feel certain that the tears were not far
from Sir Francis’s eyes as he shook hands with us in the churchyard.
Perhaps they were not far from mine.

There were presents from nearly every one at the Court, and a sealed
envelope from Sir Francis, which, when we opened it, contained a cheque
for a thousand pounds. I had offered to make over to Marian half of my
little income, but Mr. Holdern was resolute, and even peremptory, in
his refusal. They would have a good deal more money now than they
could spend in their quiet country home, and eventually, feeling that
Holdern was sincere in his refusal, I had given way. Money would
certainly be useful, nay, necessary, for me in carrying out the course
of action on which I had decided. And so I kept it.

One day longer I had to spend at Devereux, and a dreary day it was.
All the morning I was busy balancing accounts with the solicitor to the
estate, and in the afternoon I finished my packing. In the evening,
after dinner, I wrote a note to Sir Francis, bidding him farewell. He
would understand, I said, why I did not come to him personally. An
oath was not a thing to be broken, and I had sworn that over the
threshold of Devereux Court I would not pass, save with my father. So
I was compelled to write him instead, but I did my best to make my
letter as cordial and grateful as possible, and within an hour an
answer came back, short and informal.

“Farewell, Hugh, my boy. God bless you, wherever you may go, and
remember always that though you may call yourself Hugh Arbuthnot, you
are still a Devereux of Devereux, and this place is your home whenever
you care to make it so.–Ever yours,

“FRANCIS DEVEREUX.”

Through many lands and many years I carried with me that half-sheet of
thick, heavily-crested notepaper. And yellow with age it reposes now
in the secret drawer of my cabinet.

I sent no farewell to Maud. It were better not. My Maud she could
never be, though never another should take her place. Me she would
soon forget; I was not vain enough to think otherwise for a moment.
Only yesterday I had seen her riding with that ill-bred prig, Lord
Annerley, the son of a lawyer peer, with all his father’s innate
vulgarity, and never a feather’s weight of his brains. Let her have
him if she would, him or any other–or let her flirt with him, lead him
on by the beauty of her dazzling fair face and the glances of her deep
blue eyes. , and then throw him over with a
light laugh as very likely she would have done me. A fig for all
women! An ounce of philosophy would weigh them all down in the scales
of reason. But at twenty-four that ounce is hard to get!

Early on the following morning I mounted for the last time into the
high dog-cart, which had been kept in the coach-house at the “cottage”
for my use, and was driven rapidly away with my back to Devereux Court.
It was a grey, misty morning, and a watery sun was shining feebly down
from a cloud-strewn sky. It had been raining, and innumerable
glistening drops of moisture were hanging and falling from the
well-nigh leafless trees. A desolate morning; with a slight vapoury
mist rising from the ground and chilling the air. But my thoughts were
not of the weather, for I was taking my last lingering farewell of
Devereux Court. As we turned the corner and lost sight of it for a
while, a stronger ray of sunlight than any which had as yet succeeded
in piercing the bank of clouds reached its windows, and transformed its
whole appearance. A thousand rays of light seemed to be smiling down
at me from the massive stretching front and the frowning towers, all
the brighter from the contrast with the black woods above and around.
I was young and impressionable to anything in nature, especially with
my heart so full as it was then, and, with a sudden start, I rose up
and waved my hat in an answering farewell Then I sat down and would not
look round again lest the light should have died out from the
diamond-framed windows, and the gloom from the threatening clouds reign
there instead. I was superstitious, perhaps–but I wanted to carry
away with me in my heart the memory of Devereux Court, as I had seen it
a moment ago, with its dark grey front softened and its windows
sparkling gaily in that chance flickering ray of sunlight. And so I
would not look round, even when John slackened at the top of the last
hill, and, pointing with his whip, “reckoned that this wur the last I
should see of t’ould place, and rare sorry he wur too,” he added, with
grateful recollections of a piece of gold at that moment reposing
snugly in his waistcoat pocket.

But I would not look, and, a little offended, he touched the old hunter
with his whip, and before long we reached the station of Devereux.

In six hours I was in London, friendless, and I had well-nigh said,
purposeless, for, after I had written out and myself taken to the
office of the _Times_, a brief but imploring message to my father, I
knew not which way to turn or what to do with myself. London
disgusted, sickened me, and at every step I took I felt myself longing
the more for a strong fresh breeze from a Yorkshire moor, and for the
sight of a country lane and a few ruddy-cheeked, good-natured country
folk, instead of this never-ceasing stream of pale-faced anxious men
and over-dressed artificial women, and this interminable succession of
great dirty buildings. I felt awkward, too, and ill at ease, for
though in the country there had never seemed to be anything
extraordinary in my stature, here, as I walked down the Strand with my
hands behind my back, I seemed head and shoulders above everybody else,
and people looked up at me wonderingly and made laughing remarks to one
another, some of which I could not help but overhear. At last, in
despair, it occurred to me that my country costume had something to do
with it; so I went to a tailor’s in Bond Street, and, with a sigh,
abandoned my loose shooting jacket and breeches and brown deer-stalker
for a black frock coat, dark grey trousers, and tall hat. The change
was an effectual one, however, for though people still stared at me, it
was no longer as though I were some wild animal.

One afternoon during the second week of my stay in London I turned with
a crowd of other loungers into the Park, and there, to my surprise, I
saw Maud. She was sitting in a victoria by herself, leaning back
amongst the cushions with pale face and a light in her cold blue eyes
which seemed to speak of indifference to everything and everybody
around her. As fate would have it there was a block just then, and her
carriage, with its pair of restless fuming bays, came almost to a
standstill close to where I was leaning over the railing. I would have
drawn back, but I could not. I seemed fascinated, and I remained there
with my eyes fixed upon hers, and from that moment I was a believer in
animal magnetism, for suddenly she looked languidly up, and her eyes
rested deliberately upon the little crowd of black-coated loungers of
whom I was one. She saw me, she singled me out from the rest in a
moment, and instantly the proud, bored look left her face, and she
leaned forward in her carriage towards me with her lips parted in a
slight smile. I obeyed her imperious little gesture, and, stepping
over the railings, stood by her side hat in hand.

She laid an exquisitely gloved little hand in mine for a moment, and
then leaned back, looking at me with the old look, half mocking, half
tender, altogether bewildering.

“Saul amongst the prophets!” she laughed. “Since when, might I ask,
has Mr. Arbuthnot become an acclimatised Londoner? Really you ought to
feel flattered that I recognised you,” she added, looking at my black
coat and hat and the gardenia in my buttonhole; I had bought it only
because other men were wearing them, and I wished to look as little
singular as possible.

Bandying words with Maud was beyond me. I rested my foot on the step
of her carriage, and pretended to be carefully examining it, for into
her eyes I dared not look.

“I am only waiting in London until I have news from abroad,” I
answered. “When did you come from Devereux?”

“Only yesterday. And I had not thought to see you so soon,” she said,
in an altered tone.

Why was I standing there at Maud’s feet? Why had I come into the Park
at all? I, who was so little of a man that, amidst all this great
crowd of people I was obliged to struggle hard to keep an unmoved
countenance and a measured tone. I felt bitterly angry with myself as
I answered, with averted face–

“Nor I you. I had forgotten that Devereux was not your home. You live
here, do you not?”

She smiled indulgently at my ignorance.

“We are generally here for the season,” she said. “We have a house in
Mayfair. Will you come and see me?”

I shook my head, and answered bluntly–

“Thank you, no, Miss Devereux.”

She leaned forward in her carriage, with a sudden increase of animation
in her manner.

“You are a Don Quixote, Hugh,” she said, half angrily, half
reproachfully. “How can you be so foolish as to believe that rubbish
about my father! Wait till you hear how people talk of him, and then
you will know how stupidly mistaken you have been. And he likes you so
much, too. You might come and see us whenever you liked, if you would
only not be so silly.”

“How do you do, Miss Devereux?”

She turned round quickly, and saw Lord Annerley, who had ridden up to
the other side of the carriage.

“Lord Annerley! Really, how very surprising! I thought that you had
gone off to break the bank at Monaco. Francis said so.”

“I had meant to go,” he began, twirling his little waxen moustache with
his small hand, of which he seemed inordinately proud; “but something
kept me in London.”

He looked down at her boldly in a manner which he, no doubt, considered
fascinating. Resisting a strong inclination to throw the little cad,
with his irreproachable tailor-like get-up into the mud, I raised my
hat to Maud, and turned away. But she called me back.

“You have not answered me, Mr. Arbuthnot. Is it to be no or yes?”

“I am sorry, Miss Devereux, that I have nothing to add to my previous
answer,” I said stiffly, for her beautiful smiling face seemed to me
like the face of a temptress just then.

“Just as you wish, of course,” she answered coldly, with a slight
haughty inclination of her head. “And now, Lord Annerley,” I heard her
add, in a very altered tone, “I hear that you have a new team. Do tell
me all about them. Are they greys or mixed?”

I walked away, nor did I enter the Park again whilst I was in London.

Continue Reading

GIVE WARNING

By ten o’clock in the morning I had written a letter which had caused
me a good deal of trouble and anxiety. It was to Sir Francis
Devereux:–

“THE COTTAGE, DEVEREUX,

“Wednesday morning.

“DEAR SIR FRANCIS DEVEREUX,–You will, I am sure, agree with me that
the revelation of last evening renders it imperative on my part to
leave Devereux at once, or as soon as possible. I must ask you,
therefore, to accept this note as an intimation of my desire to do so
as soon as is convenient to yourself.

“No one could regret more than I do the necessity which has arisen, and
I am deeply sensible of all your kindness to myself and to my sister.
But, under the circumstances, it would be, of course, quite impossible
for me to remain here as your agent, nor I am sure would you wish it.
As to the other offer which you were generous enough to make, the
answer which I gave you at the time is absolutely irrevocable.

“With regard to the attempted burglary here last night and assault upon
Miss Devereux, I shall be prepared to give evidence when the man is
charged. There are several matters connected with the estate with
which I will not now trouble you, but which I shall be glad to lay
before you or Mr. Benson before I go. My books I am prepared to hand
over to my successor or to Mr. Benson at any moment.

“Thanking you again for the uniform and, I fear, undeserved kindness
which I have always received from you,

“I remain, yours obediently,
“HUGH ARBUTHNOT.
“To Colonel Sir Francis Devereux, Bart.”

Having despatched this, I ordered Black Prince, and rode away to a
distant part of the estate to superintend the felling of some timber.
As usual, when going any distance, I took some lunch in my pocket, and
ate it on a stile whilst the men knocked off for dinner. Just as I had
lit my pipe and was preparing to start work again–for I was not afraid
of using my hands, and used to take a pleasure in getting through as
much as any of the men–I heard the sound of horses’ hoofs on the
smooth, wide, velvet sward, and glancing up quickly saw that the whole
party from the Court were close upon me, all except Maud and the elders.

I drew back indifferently to let them pass, and bowed to Lady Olive,
who was riding by the side of Francis Devereux. She started when she
saw me, and, detaching herself from the rest of the party, rode over to
me.

“Fancy coming upon you, Mr. Arbuthnot, and hard at work too! What are
you doing?”

“Cutting down trees, Lady Olive.”

“Well, you look in a nice mess,” she declared, frankly. “What do you
want to work yourself for? It’s a shame that you should.”

I laughed at her indignation, thinking only that her flushed cheeks
made her look uncommonly pretty.

“I like working,” I answered. “What would you have me do? Shack about
with my hands in my pockets all day?”

“I don’t know,” she said, hotly. “But when I think of that idle, lazy
young Francis dawdling his life away, doing nothing except ape a man
about town, and then think of you working hard every day, and remember
who you are, it makes me feel angry. Do you know, I longed just now to
push him out of his saddle. It wouldn’t take much, I don’t think.”

I laughed outright, but Lady Olive remained serious enough.

“Well, perhaps you’ll be pleased to hear that I am going to give up
working–here, at any rate,” I said. “Of course I can’t stop now.”

She looked steadily between her horse’s ears, growing a shade paler,
and I leaned against the stump of an oak-tree wondering how a
riding-habit could have been made to fit so well, and admiring her
dainty little figure.

“When are you going?” she asked, suddenly.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“As soon as Sir Francis will let me. I have ‘given warning.'”

She looked down at me, and spoke a little hurriedly, but with a frank,
sincere look in her flushed face.

“Mr. Arbuthnot–I suppose I must call you Mr. Arbuthnot–I think yours
is the saddest story I have ever heard. I want you to let me tell you
that I feel for you, as much as any one possibly could do, and I think
you are behaving splendidly, just as I would have my own brother behave
if he were in the same position.”

I felt more moved even than I should have cared to own, for I was just
in that mood when kind words are sweet, and I had always liked Lady
Olive.

“You are very good,” I said, warmly. “Believe me, it is a great
pleasure to me to hear you say this.”

“Have you any idea yet where you are going?” she asked, “or what you
are going to do?”

I shook my head.

“To London, first, and then I shall try and discover my father, and get
him to let me throw in my lot with his. Somehow I think that I shall
end by being a soldier. It’s in the blood, I suppose.”

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” she said, frankly, stretching out her hand, “may we
not be friends? I have never asked so much of a man before,
but–but—-”

I took her little hand, and did not at once release it.

“I shall be always glad to think of you as such,” I said, warmly; “but
I’m afraid it isn’t very likely that we shall meet again after I leave
here. My life and yours will lie very far apart.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” she answered, with an attempt at gaiety.
“I’m going to travel about a good deal next year; and–and, Mr.
Arbuthnot,” she added, colouring a little deeper, “I know you’ll
forgive me for saying it, but my father–he’s ambassador at Rome now,
you know–has a good deal of influence in London, and especially at the
Foreign Office, and if there was anything we could do for you–oh, you
know what I want to say,” she broke off, suddenly, and looking away
that I might not see the tears in her eyes. “You may want to try and
get some appointment abroad or something, or even if you decided to go
into the army, he might be useful to you, and he would do anything I
asked him. He is very kind, and–and it would make me very happy to
feel that we were helping you a little.”

Was it so great a sin that for a moment I longed to draw that tearful
little face down to mine and kiss it? I had never been in the least
danger of falling in love with Lady Olive, bright and fascinating
though she was, but at that moment it occurred to me that the man who
won her would be a very fortunate man indeed.

“Lady Olive,” I said, earnestly, “I scarcely know how to thank you. I
cannot tell you how much I feel your kindness. I shall take you at
your word, and write you if ever I need any help, and if I do not I
shall always like to think of your offer.”

She smiled down at me beamingly.

“I am so glad you’re not offended. Of course I shall see you again
before you go, and I will bring you down a card with my address in
London. Good-bye. No, _au revoir_.”

She touched her horse with the whip and galloped away after the others,
and the bright winter’s day seemed to me less bright when she had gone.
I watched her out of sight, and at the bend of the grassy road she
turned round in her saddle and waved her whip. I returned her farewell
with my hat, then, when she disappeared, I went back to my place
amongst the men, and worked till the perspiration streamed down my
face, and I was obliged to take off my coat and hang it on a branch of
a fallen tree. But I felt all the better for it, for it has always
seemed to me, as it did then, that hard physical labour is the most
magnificent relaxation for an over-wrought mind. When the sun set and
our day’s work was over, I was stiff and my arms were sore, but my
heart was lighter than it had been since this crisis had come. I stood
filling my pipe and chatting to the foreman whilst one of the labourers
had gone for my horse, until he, too, followed the others, and I was
left alone.

At least I thought so, but I was mistaken. A voice, croaking and weak,
almost at my shoulder, suddenly startled me, and I turned round to find
an old woman, bent double, leaning on her stick, with her bead-like
eyes fixed upon me.

“Who be’st you?” she said. “Be you him as they call the agent?”

I acknowledged that it was so, and that my name was Arbuthnot.

“It’s a loi,” she answered, deliberately. “Dost think that Sarah
Milsham knaw’st not a Devereux when she seest one? Be’st thou Muster
Herbert’s son? God bless him.”

I looked around anxiously, but there was not a soul in sight.

“Thou be’st a son o’ my Mr. Herbert,” she muttered. “I knaw’st thou
be’st so like him that I thought thee was a ghost, boy. What be’st
thou a doing here? Wheres’t thy father?”

“Abroad, mother, since you know me. Who are you?”

“Who be I?” she laughed, a mirthless, unpleasant laugh. “Why, thee
hasna heard of Sarah Milsham? I nursed your father when he were a
baby. What be’st a doing here, boy? Hast come to kill Rupert
Devereux?”

“He deserves it,” I cried, hotly.

“So afore God he does,” cried the old hag tremulously, “and die he
will, for I ha’ seen the mark o’ death upon his forehead. But it’ll be
no by your hand, no by your hand, boy. What be’st a doing here? Go to
thy father, boy! Why hast left him alone?”

“I am going,” I answered. “Please God I shall be with him before many
months.”

“Ay, go, boy, go,” she quivered out, “and tell him this from me. Tell
him that sure as Devereux Court is built upon a rock, I, Sarah Milsham,
shall live to see him here again. Sure as that limb of hell, Rupert
Devereux, bears the seal of death upon his forehead, so sure the day
will come when the whole country shall welcome him home again, and old
Sir Francis shall be proud t’ own him for his son. Tell him Sarah
Milsham said so.”

She hobbled away into the wood and commenced picking up sticks. I
would have followed her, but she held out her hand to prevent me, and
would not answer me when I spoke. So I mounted Black Prince and
galloped away homewards.

When I entered Marian’s room I saw that she had a visitor. Sir Francis
Devereux was leaning back in my easy chair, laughing at one of my
sister’s quaint speeches, and she was handing him a cup of tea.

Of all the contingencies which had occurred to me, this was one which I
had not considered, for only once since I had been its occupant had Sir
Francis called at the cottage. But his greeting was even a greater
surprise to me.

“Hugh, my boy,” he said, rising and holding out his hand, “I have come
down to have a chat with you, and Miss Marian has been giving me some
tea.”

Something in his look, his accent, and his words warned me that the
battle of last night would have to be fought over again. But for a
while he talked of nothing, save of last night’s strange adventure and
minor matters connected with the estate, of the turnip prospects, and
the timber felling, until Marian left us to change her frock. Then,
after opening the door for her with his usual stately courtesy, he
returned to the hearthrug, and with the firelight playing round his
tall, slim figure, and with a soft, almost appealing light relaxing the
hard lines in his face, he commenced speaking.

“Hugh,” he said, slowly, “they call me a proud man, but I have come
here to beg a great boon from you. Nay, let me go on,” for I would
have interrupted him. “Let me say outright what I have come to say,”
he continued, stretching out his hands as though to silence me. “I
want to tell you a little of my history.

“You know, perhaps, that I was married twice. To you I do not mind
admitting that my last marriage was an unfortunate one. Your
grandmother was the only woman I ever loved, and it was her son who
took her place in my heart–not Rupert’s mother, much less Rupert
himself. Perhaps I am much to blame, but none the less it is a fact
that the death of my second wife gave me little sorrow, and I have
never been able to feel towards Rupert as a father should feel towards
his son. And since that day when I knew that it was his evidence
(although he was right to give it) which had brought irretrievable
disgrace upon the name of Devereux, I have never been able–I say it to
my shame–I have never been able to bear the sight of him.”

Sir Francis walked restlessly to the other end of the room, and then,
returning, took up his old position.

“For twenty years, Hugh, I have been a lonely, unhappy man. Gradually
I began to lose all pride and interest in our family name, and even the
Court itself, every stone of which was once dear to me. Everything
that had made life endurable for me and pleasant had gone. My pride
in, and love for, my son who had gone away with my blessing to be where
a Devereux should always be, in his country’s battles, was suddenly
blasted for ever. He disgraced our long line of ancestors, disgraced
himself and me, and instead of falling on his sword, as he should have
done, came home here, turned out of the army–a Devereux turned out of
the army, to beg for my forgiveness!”

My heart was burning, but I judged it wisest to hold my peace. He had
thrown his head back, and his eyes were sparkling with anger. His
frowning face was as stern and hard as marble, and, old man though he
was, he looked terrible.

For a moment there was silence, and then he went on–

“Enough of him! If it had been Rupert I might some day have forgiven
him. But Herbert, my eldest son, who at my death must be the head of
the Devereuxs–oh, it is a cursed, cruel thing!”

He turned his back upon me, and I heard a sort of gasping sob. I made
a pretence of stirring the fire, and when I had finished he was himself
again.

“For twenty years,” he went on, “I have lived alone with a leaden
weight of misery dragging me down almost to the grave. And yet I have
struggled against death for the simple reason that the thought of that
disgraced man who was once my son calling himself the head of the
Devereuxs, and lying down to rest within the walls of Devereux Court,
has kept me hanging on to life. My son a coward! To run away from the
enemy! My God, what had I done to deserve this?”

“He was not a coward,” I interrupted, passionately. “Rupert lied! I
know he lied! He was jealous! John Hilton has confessed to me!”

Sir Francis shook his head sorrowfully.

“The word of a servant discharged without a character is worth very
little, especially when it is directed against his master,” he said.
“No, Hugh, my boy, if you had lived as long as I have, and had been a
soldier, you would know that a court-martial never errs. It never
convicts except on overwhelming evidence, and its judgments are
absolute. General Luxton came to see me when he returned to England,
and from him I learned the undoubted truth.”

I remained silent. One might as well have talked to the Sphinx as to
this coldly obstinate, dogmatic old soldier.

“I have come to make you an offer, Hugh,” he went on in an altogether
different tone of voice, “or rather to make you a request, and I beg
you to remember that it is one which lies very near an old man’s heart.
I am childless and lonely, and weary of seeing none but girls’ faces
around me. Come and live with me as my grandson! Let that subject on
which we can never agree, be buried between us! Why should you go away
on a wild-goose chase? Devereux Court is your natural home. Come and
live there.”

I stood up and faced him. He was very much in earnest, I could see,
for the long white hand which rested upon the chimney-piece was
shaking, and his eyes were eagerly searching my face for its answer;
but what they read there could not have been encouraging, for I never
wavered for an instant.

“Sir Francis,” I asked, firmly, “does a Devereux ever break his oath or
neglect his duty?”

He shook his head.

“Never!”

“Neither will I, then,” I answered; “my duty would never urge me to
renounce my father, whose innocence I firmly believe in, and if I did I
should break my oath, Sir Francis. I feel for you, and I love
Devereux. But what you ask I distinctly and absolutely refuse.”

He walked to the window, and stood there for a moment gazing across the
park, with his hands behind him. Then he turned round suddenly and
commenced drawing on his clog-skin gloves. He held himself up in his
usual stiff, soldierly manner, but I could see that he was hurt and
deeply disappointed.

“More than I have said I cannot say,” he remarked, quietly. “Good-bye,
Hugh; make my apologies to your sister.”

I walked with him to the door, and watched him walk across the park
with head bent more than usual, and slow, weary footsteps. Oh, that I
could succeed in my life’s desire and bring him home the son he loved!
What would I not give to attain my end! And yet, save through my Uncle
Rupert, how could I possibly succeed? My Uncle Rupert! Was it not
strange that Maud’s father should be the man whom I hated more than any
one or anything on earth!

Continue Reading

A MIDNIGHT VISITOR

Like a man in a dream, I walked with unsteady footsteps down the
avenue, through the shrubbery, and across the park to the cottage. I
had forgotten my latch-key, and the servant who answered my ring
welcomed me with a little cry of relief.

“John was just a-coming up to the house for you, sir,” she exclaimed,
shutting the door again. “There’s a strange woman wants to see you
most particular. She’s been here more than an hour, a-fretting ever so
because you wasn’t here.”

“Where is she?” I asked.

“In your study, sir. I see’d as there was nothink about as she could
lay ‘er ‘ands on before I let her in.”

I had no doubt but that it was the wife of one of the tenants on the
estate, though why she should choose such a strange time for her visit
I could not imagine. But when I walked into the study I saw at once
that she was a stranger to me. And yet, no. I had seen her face
before somewhere.

She rose nervously when I entered, and pulled her shawl closer around
her.

“You’ll excuse the liberty I’ve taken in coming, sir,” she began,
hurriedly. “I ‘a come to do yer a service. You doan’t seem to
recollect me. I’m John Hilton’s wife; him as you comed to see t’other
week.”

I recognised her at once, and became more interested.

“You see, sir, it’s like this,” she went on. “My Jack, he’s had one o’
his drinking fits on, and he’s always mortal mischievous after one of
’em. He seems to ‘a got a powerful sort o’ a grudge agin’ you, and
there’s that piece o’ paper as you wrote out, and he put ‘is name to.
He says as ‘ow he might get lagged for that if you showed it.”

“Well, has he sent you to try and get it away again?” I asked.

“Not he! If he know’d as I’d come ‘ere at all he’d half kill me.”

“Well, what is it, then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s just like this,” she answered, slowly; “he’s a-coming
himself to try and get it back agin.”

“Indeed! And when may I expect him?” I inquired, becoming suddenly
interested.

“To-night.”

I leaned back in my chair, and laughed dryly. The woman must be mad.

“‘Tain’t no laughing matter, master,” she said, sullenly. “You’d ‘a
laughed t’other side o’ your mouth, I can tell ‘e, if I hadn’ ‘a chosen
ter come and tell ‘e. He ain’t a-coming to ask you for it. He’s
a-coming to take it, and to pay yer back something as yer gave ‘im at
our cottage–him and a mate.”

I began to see what it all meant now, and to understand why the woman
had come.

“And you’ve come here to put me on my guard, is that it?” I remarked.

“Yes. Yer gave me money when I was starving, and I felt sort ‘er
grateful. And when I ‘eard them two blackguards a-planning how they’d
settle you I thought as they just shouldn’t. If you puts a bullet in
that ‘long Jem,’ which is my man’s pal, I shall thank yer for it.
Jack’s bad enough, specially when he’s just getting round from a spell
o’ drinking, which he is now; but he’s a sight worse. Cuss him. He’s
always a-leading my Jack into something.”

“What time are they coming?” I asked, thoughtfully.

“I ‘eerd ’em say as they’d meet at Cop’t Oak, which is a mile from
here, as soon as it were dark, and hide until you was all a-gone to
bed. I’m mortal afeard of their seeing me, although I shall go ‘ome
t’other way.”

I pressed her to stay at the cottage for the night, but she stubbornly
refused. Her Jack would kill her if he found out that she had been
here, she declared. But before she went I made her drink a glass of
wine, and fill her pockets with the bread and food which I had ordered
in.

This promised to be an exciting night for me altogether, I thought, as
I drew out my revolver from the cupboard and carefully loaded it. I
was not inclined altogether to believe or altogether to disbelieve this
woman’s story, but at any rate there was no harm in being prepared. If
I had gone to bed, there would have been little sleep for me with my
head still throbbing with the vivid recollection of that terrible scene
in the picture gallery. I dared not think of it, I dared not let my
thoughts dwell for an instant on the inevitable consequences of what
had happened. The excitement of what might shortly take place kept me
from the full sickening realisation of the change which that evening’s
events must make in my life, but underneath it all there was a dull
aching pain in my heart, for had I not lost Maud?

Presently Marian and Mr. Holdern arrived. I had forgotten their very
existence, and directly the latter had taken his leave, Marian was full
of eager, agitated questions. Why had I left so suddenly? Had I
quarrelled with Sir Francis Devereux? What did it all mean? Maud had
gone to her room with white face and looking like a ghost, and Lady
Olive had not again entered the dancing-room. Sir Francis had
apologised to his guests with the agitation of one who had received a
great shock, and Rupert Devereux none of them had seen again; and I was
mixed up in it. What did it all mean?

She threw herself into my arms, and when I saw the gathering tears in
her soft grey eyes, and her anxious, troubled look, I shrunk from the
task before me.

“Not now, Marian; I will tell you to-morrow; wait until then,” I
begged. But she would not wait.

Then, with a great effort, I braced myself up, and told her everything.
She listened with ever-growing astonishment, and when I had finished
she slipped down from my knee and sank upon the hearthrug.

“Poor papa!” she sobbed. “No wonder you hate that Rupert! Beast! Oh,
Hugh, Hugh, why could you not tell me before? I ought to have known,”
she added, reproachfully.

“It could have done no good,” I answered.

A wave of sudden anxiety passed across her face.

“Oh, Hugh!” she sobbed. “Char—- Mr. Hold—-”

“Mr. Holdern knows all about it,” I interrupted. “I thought it right
to tell him when he asked me for you.”

A great relief brightened her face, and she smiled through her tears.
Even a woman is selfish when she is in love.

“I am glad he knows,” she whispered, looking into the fire. “How
strange it all seems! Why our name is Devereux; you will be Sir Hugh
Devereux. Why, Hugh, Devereux Court will be yours some day!”

“Never!” I answered, firmly; “until Sir Francis asks my father’s
pardon, and receives him as a son, I shall never take the name of
Devereux or enter the Court. I have sworn it, Marian.”

“And it was noble of you to swear it, Hugh,” she whispered, coming over
and kissing me. “They say truth always comes out some time or other.
Perhaps this will all come right some day.”

“For our father’s sake, pray that it may do, Marian dear,” I answered,
gravely. “And now run along to bed, I have some writing to do.”

She lingered by my side.

“Hugh, what are you going to do now? You will leave here, I suppose?”

“I must, Marian. Unless Sir Francis desires otherwise, I shall remain
here until he has found some one else to take my place, though it will
be as Hugh Arbuthnot, his agent, only, and into Devereux Court I will
not go again. It will be well for Rupert Devereux, too, that he keeps
out of my way,” I added to myself. “When does Mr. Holdern want to
marry you, Marian?” I asked her suddenly, changing the subject.

She blushed up to her eyes, and looked at me half pleased, half
reproachfully.

“Hugh! How could you ask me like that? I–I don’t quite know.”

“Because you’ll have to go away with me, you know,” I continued. “I
can’t leave you behind.”

She looked serious enough now.

“Of course you can’t, Hugh. I don’t think I ought to leave you at all.
You’ll be alone if I do, with no one to look after you.”

I pretended to look serious, as though considering the matter, but her
piteous expression and quivering lips were irresistible, and I broke
into a reassuring laugh.

“Not I, Marian! It is the best thing that could possibly have
happened. When I have no longer you to look after I shall go abroad,
wherever our father is, and share his lot. Country life is beginning
to get wearisome to me. I was meant to be a soldier, I think. Now,
Marian, you must really go to bed. I want to be alone.”

It was past twelve, and I was beginning to get anxious. But she still
lingered for a moment.

“Hugh, I had almost forgotten, I have something for you, and a message.”

I bent over my desk, lest she should see the light which sprung into my
face. I did not wish even Marian to know my secret.

“What is it?” I asked. “Be quick.”

“Why, she came to me like I’ve never seen her before, as lifeless and
sorrowful as anything, and said–‘Tell your brother that I think he is
behaving nobly, and that I hope we shall always be friends.'”

“She said that!” I exclaimed, starting round, “Maud said that!”

My sister looked at me amazed.

“Maud! I didn’t say anything about Maud! She didn’t even speak to me.
It was Lady Olive, and she sent you this.”

I stretched out my hand for the gold-topped cut-glass little
smelling-salts, which Marian was holding out for me and laid it down
before me. Disappointed though I was, it was a kindly act of Lady
Olive’s, and I was just in that mood when a man appreciates such a one.
For a moment or two I felt very tenderly towards Lady Olive; for,
reckless little flirt though she was, she was generous and
warm-hearted, or she would never have done this.

“It is very kind of her,” I said, huskily. “Good-night, Marian!”

“Good-night, Hughie. Don’t sit up late, dear, and don’t fret. It
makes me feel so selfish, Hugh, to think that I can’t help being happy
because–because of Charlie, but I can’t help it. I do love him so,
and he is so good to me.”

Then at last she went, and I was left alone. First of all I put a
heavy shade upon the lamp and placed it so that no one could possibly
see it from outside. Then I finished loading my revolver, and put a
life-preserver in my breast pocket. Going out on tip-toe into the
hall, I opened the passage door, and also left my own wide open, so
that if any one should attempt to enter the house from any room I must
hear them. This seemed to me to be all that I could do, and drawing my
easy chair into the corner of the room which faced both door and
windows, I sat down and waited patiently with my revolver on my knee.

At first the time did not seem long. I had come to a crisis in my
life, and there was much for me to think about. In the twenties,
however dark and doubtful the future may be, there is always a certain
fascination connected with it–possibilities, however remote, which the
sanguine spirit of youth loves to peer into and investigate. And so I
sat and thought, and considered, and longed, without ever getting
sleepy, or feeling the spell of weariness.

Two o’clock struck, and of a sudden a curious change came over me. I
became so violently restless that I could sit no longer in my chair.
Sober-minded people may scoff at such a statement, but I declare that
some irresistible impulse compelled me to go to the nearest window and
look cautiously out.

The window was not one of the front ones, but was one which looked
sideways over a strip of garden, a thick privet hedge, into a dark
black fir plantation, through which ran a private pathway into the
gardens of the Court. At first I could see nothing; then suddenly the
blood died out from my cheeks, even from my lips, and I stood
transfixed, rooted to the spot–my limbs numbed and helpless as though
under the spell of some hideous nightmare.

What my eyes looked upon my reason refused to credit. Turning from the
hand-gate of the plantation, without a hat, and with a wealth of golden
hair streaming down upon a swan’s-down cloak, was–Maud! It was
impossible–it was ridiculous–it was beyond all credence. And yet my
straining, riveted eyes watched her walk slowly, with her usual
stately, even tread, down the grass-grown path between the plantation
and the hedge of the cottage garden, and disappear from sight.

Though an earthquake had yawned at my feet I could not have moved.
Nothing but sound can break up such a spell as this sudden shock had
laid upon me. And the sound came, for suddenly there broke upon the
stillness of the night such a cry as I had never heard before–the
thrilling, agonised shriek of a woman in mortal fear.

Like the shock from a galvanic battery did that sound breathe life into
my frozen limbs. Holding a chair before my face I literally burst
through the high French windows, crashing the glass and splintering the
framework into a thousand pieces. With the cry of a wild beast I
dashed across the lawn and leaped over the privet hedge. Maud, my
Maud, was scarcely a dozen yards from me, struggling in the grasp of
the man who had come to rob me of his confession, with his great hand
pressed against her wild, beautiful face to stop her cries.

They heard me coming, and he half released her, and with his other hand
pointed a revolver at me. But passion must have lent me wings, for
before he could pull the trigger I had dashed it into the air, where it
exploded harmlessly, and with my clenched fist I struck him such a blow
as I had never struck before or since. He was a powerful man, with a
thick, bullet-shaped head, but he went down like a log, and well-nigh
never rose again. His companion, without a word, turned and ran across
the park like a hare, and I let him go.

Maud was in my arms, sobbing hysterically, Maud with the moon shining
down on her blanched but exquisite face, and her white arms thrown
around my neck. If she were the daughter of a prince of hell she was
still the woman I loved; and I stooped and covered her cold face and
lips with passionate kisses. Then I caught her up in my arms, for she
was shivering, and ran with her to the house.

Every one had been roused by the sound of my exit, and the report of
the revolver. Marian, with her dressing-gown loosely wrapped around
her, was standing trembling at the head of the stairs, and behind her
were the servants more frightened even than she. When she saw me cross
the hall with Maud’s lifeless form (for her faint seemed almost the
faint of death) in my arms, she gave vent to one cry of blank amazement
and horror, and then hurried down to us.

“Hugh, Hugh,” she whispered, clinging to me as I laid my burden down on
the sofa, and fell on my knees by its side. “Maud here! Maud out in
the park at this time of night! What has happened, Hugh? What does it
all mean?”

“Can’t you see?” I muttered hoarsely, never withdrawing my eyes from
the white, cold face. “She has had a fright, and has fainted!”

“But what on earth has brought her here–out at this time of night?
And in her slippers, too!”

I was on the point of saying that I knew no more than she, but suddenly
the truth flashed into my mind. Maud had walked out in her sleep! I
had heard her say that for a long time she had been obliged to have her
maid in her room at night, and sleep with locked doors; and that when
Sir Francis lay dangerously ill not many years ago, nearly every night
when she had gone to bed thinking of him, she had risen in her sleep
and tried to make her way to his room. Then she must have been
thinking of me! A sudden thrill of joy passed through me at the
thought, and Marian looked at me in stupefied bewilderment to see the
smile which for a moment parted my lips.

“She must have come out in her sleep, Marian,” I whispered. “There
were some men hanging about outside–poachers I suppose–and they have
frightened her. Get some brandy, quick! and tell one of the girls to
light a fire. We must have some hot water.”

She hurried away, and the door had scarcely closed when Maud changed
her position slightly, and her lips moved. I bent my ear close over
her, and this is what I heard:

“Hugh! Hugh!”

My heart throbbed with a great joy. Suddenly I stooped down and kissed
her half-open lips passionately. Then I drew back and stood upright,
for I saw that she was fast recovering consciousness.

First her breathing became deeper and less fitful. Then, with a little
sigh, she opened her eyes and raised herself a little on her elbow.

She looked around in blank bewilderment. Then her eyes fell upon me,
and the hot colour rushed into her cheeks.

“Mr. Arbuthnot! Why, where am I? How did I come here? and those men,”
she added, with a shudder, “those fearful men; was it all a dream?”
She raised her hand to her forehead and looked at me appealingly. I
hardened my voice as much as possible, and avoided meeting her eyes.

“I think I can explain to you what has happened,” I said. “You must
have got up in your sleep, and walked down through the copse. There
were some men outside; I believe they were going to try and break in
here, and one of them must have caught hold of you, for when I heard
your scream and ran out, you were struggling in his grasp. I knocked
him down, and the other one ran away. Then I carried you here, and
here you are. Marian has just gone out to fetch some brandy.”

Womanlike, her first thought was of her appearance, and she sat up and
looked at herself eagerly. Evidently she had fallen asleep before
preparing to retire, for the only change in her dress since the evening
was that she had exchanged her dinner-gown for a long white
dressing-robe, and let down her hair. Nevertheless, she blushed as she
sat up, and looked at me, pushing back the waves of hair from her face.

“I remember falling asleep in the easy chair,” she said, slowly, “and
after that everything seems like a horrid dream. Those men’s fearful
faces, and you–oh, how fierce you looked! But it all seems very
indistinct.”

Then Marian came in, and she turned to her smiling.

“Miss Arbuthnot, I’m afraid you’ll think this a very unceremonious
morning call. You didn’t know I was a sleep-walker, did you?”

Marian put down the decanter she was carrying with a little cry of
relief.

“Oh, dear, I’m so glad to see you all right again. What an awful
adventure you’ve had!”

Maud smiled placidly. She was her old self again, stately and composed.

“It might have been a great deal worse but for your brother,” she
acknowledged; “I wonder if they’ve found out at the Court. They’ll be
getting a little anxious if they have.”

“Unless I’m very much mistaken they’ve found out,” I answered.
“Listen.”

I went out and threw open the hall door. Clearly enough we could hear
the alarm bell at the Court clanging out with shrill, quick strokes,
and the whole of the park seemed dotted with men carrying lanterns,
looking like will-o’-the-wisps, and making the soft night air echo with
their hoarse shouts. Two figures were rapidly approaching the cottage,
and I hailed them.

“Have you seen anything of Miss Devereux?” called out Groves, the head
butler. “She’s out in the park somewhere a-walking in her sleep.”

“She is here,” I answered, and then I went in and told Maud that they
had come for her.

Marian left us to find a warmer cloak and thicker shoes, and for a
moment we were together. She turned to me at once with a sweet, sad
smile on her lips, and a look of regret shining out of the azure depths
of her dim eyes.

“Mr. Arbuthnot, I had quite forgotten, in all this excitement, what
happened in the picture gallery. We are cousins, are we not?”

I shook my head.

“It is not a relationship which I shall claim,” I answered, slowly.
“If I should see you again before I go, Miss Devereux, it will be as
Mr. Arbuthnot.”

Her eyes were speaking to me–speaking words which her lips could not
utter, but I avoided them.

Eager voices were hurrying through the garden, and Maud held out her
hand with a hurried gesture.

“At any rate, you will let me thank you for your timely aid this
evening. But for you I don’t know what might not have happened.”

I took her hand and raised it to my lips. Then I let it drop, and
moved towards the door.

“I think I ought to thank you rather,” I answered, with a pretence at a
laugh, “for giving me the alarm. If those fellows had got into the
house and taken me by surprise, things might have been worse for me, at
any rate.”

I opened the door and admitted Groves and several of the other
servants. Francis Devereux was there, too, but he stood on the pathway
outside, without offering to enter, neither did I invite him. Maud
went out to him at once, and then I explained to the gaping little
crowd what had happened.

“What became of the one you knocked over, sir?” asked Groves, after the
little chorus of wondering exclamations had subsided.

“There now, most likely,” I answered, with a start. “I’d forgotten all
about him.”

We all trooped over to the spot, and there he lay, doubled up in the
underwood, his face drawn with pain, and still unconscious. To say
that I was sorry for him would have been a lie; nay, if Rupert Devereux
had lain by his side I should have been only the better pleased. But
he lay so still and motionless that I stooped over him anxiously, and
felt his heart. It was beating, though faintly, and I felt distinctly
relieved when I looked up again.

“He’s alive,” I declared, “but only just. Better get him some brandy.”

They brought him some from the house, and I poured it between his lips.
He revived at once.

“We’d a best take him up to the Court, sir,” remarked Groves. “You
won’t want him down here with only yourself in the house.”

So they took him away, and as the long streaks of red light in the east
slowly deepened until the autumn sun rose up from behind the pine-trees
like a ball of glowing fire, I threw myself down on the couch and slept.

Continue Reading

FACE TO FACE

I sat between Lady Olive and her younger sister at dinner, and I have
no doubt that both found me very stupid and inattentive. I could
neither eat nor drink, talk nor laugh. Even Lady Olive gave me up at
last, and devoted her attention to Captain Hasleton, her neighbour on
the other side. It was not until dinner was nearly over that I was
able to rouse myself in the slightest degree, and by that time Lady
Olive had quite lost her temper with me.

“Skating doesn’t agree with you, Mr. Arbuthnot,” she whispered, when at
last Maud had given the signal to rise. “I never knew any one so
provokingly stupid in all my life.”

I shrugged my shoulders deprecatingly.

“I’m sorry, Lady Olive,” I said, grimly, “but if you felt as I do for
five minutes you’d forgive me,” which was perfectly true.

She looked up at me with a pitying glance, and I suppose something in
my expression told her that I was suffering, for her piquant little
face clouded over at once.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Arbuthnot. You look as though you had a very bad
headache. Come to me in the drawing-room as soon as you can, and I’ll
give you some sal volatile.”

I thanked her a little absently–perhaps without sufficient gratitude,
for she was a kind-hearted little woman, although she was such a
terrible flirt. But I was eager to watch Maud go by–eager even to be
brushed by her garments as she passed.

She half stopped as she reached me.

“I won’t allow you to flirt with Lady Olive,” she whispered, with a
bewitching little _moue_; then added out loud: “Come to us as soon as
ever you can, Mr. Arbuthnot. We want to commence dancing in good time.”

I bowed, and letting fall the curtain, turned back to the table. Sir
Francis motioned me to take the vacant place by his side, and filled my
glass himself from the decanter which stood at his elbow.

“Hugh, my boy,” he said, slowly–he had got into the habit of calling
me Hugh lately–“I’m upset!”

I looked into his handsome old face, and saw that it was clouded over,
and there was a heavy frown on his brow.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I ventured to say.

“Thanks. I knew you would be. I don’t suppose a man ought to be sorry
because his son’s coming to see him, ought he?”

It depended upon the son, I thought.

“Ay, it depends upon the son, of course,” he said, thoughtfully,
stroking his long grey moustache. “There is nothing against Maud’s
father, nothing at all. He’s nothing like that young cub of his down
there,” he went on, jerking his head to where Francis Devereux was
talking very loudly and drinking a good deal of champagne. “And yet I
don’t want him here. I can’t bear to see him in the place. It’s a
damned funny thing.”

“If you feel like that, sir,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed upon the
tablecloth, “depend upon it, it’s your son’s fault. He’s done
something to deserve it.”

Sir Francis sat silent for a while, toying with his glasses.

“He has done nothing,” he said, half to himself, “and yet I hate the
sight of him, and he of me. It is twelve years since he set foot
within Devereux Court. Twelve years! I wonder what his fancy is for
coming now. Would to God he had stopped away!”

“Sir Francis,” exclaimed a voice from the lower end of the table, “a
promise to ladies is sacred. We were told that ten minutes was as long
as we could be allowed this evening, and we have pledged our words.
Have we your permission?”

“Certainly, gentlemen.”

Sir Francis rose, and there was a general draining of glasses and a
stretching of masculine forms. Then we followed him across the hall
into the blue drawing-room.

I should have made my way at once to Maud but a look in her eyes
checked me, and I turned aside and sat down in an empty recess. I had
scarcely commenced to turn over the pages of a book of engravings which
I had carelessly taken up, when I heard a voice at my elbow.

“As usual, Mr. Arbuthnot, you make me come to you. It’s too bad of
you.”

I put down the book with a start, and stood up. Lady Olive was at my
elbow.

“Now, sit down again, and tell me how the headache is,” she exclaimed,
sinking herself into the cushioned recess, and drawing her skirts aside
to make room for me. “See, I’ve brought you my favourite
smelling-salts, and I have some sal volatile in my pocket. I mustn’t
doctor you before all these people, though! And now for the question
I’m dying to ask. Shall you be able to waltz?”

“Come and see,” I said, rising and offering her my arm, for an exodus
was already taking place from the room. “It’s awfully good of you,
Lady Olive, to remember my headache,” I added, gratefully.

She tapped my fingers with her fan.

“Don’t make speeches, sir. What a grand old place this is, isn’t it?”

We were to dance in the armour gallery, and the whole party were making
their way there now. The magnificent staircase, bordered with massive
black oak balustrades, up which we were passing, descended into the
middle of the hall, and was supported by solid black marble pillars;
and the corridor, which ran at right angles to it, was lighted by
stained-glass windows, in front of each of which armoured knights were
grimly keeping watch. One corridor led into another, all of noble
dimensions, with high oriel windows, and lined by a silent ghostly
guard of steel-clad warriors and polished marble statues. A strange
contrast they seemed to the gay laughing procession of girls, in their
low-necked dinner dresses and flashing diamonds, and men in their mess
jackets and evening coats. Maud alone, moving with the slow, stately
grace of a princess of former days, seemed in keeping with our
surroundings.

Soon the sound of violins reached us, and, pushing aside the heavy
curtains, we descended two steps and stood in the armour gallery.
Maud’s imagination and many nimble fingers had been busy here, and at
first I scarcely knew the place. Fairy lights with various coloured
shades hung from the mailed gloves of many generations of Devereux, and
the black oak floor was shining with a polish beyond its own. But no
fairy lights or bracketed candles could dispel the gloom which hung
about the long lofty gallery, with its vaulted roof black with age, and
its panelled walls hung with the martial trophies of every age and
every land. And yet it was a gloom which seemed in keeping with the
place, and no one found it oppressive.

I danced with Lady Olive, and then, as we stood talking in the shade of
one of my armoured forefathers, Captain Hasleton came up and claimed
her, and I was left alone. Nearly opposite me was Maud, standing like
an exquisite picture in the softened light of one of the stained-glass
windows. But I did not go to her at once. Several men were talking to
her, and she was answering them with the languid air of one who finds
it hard to be amused, and her blue eyes more than once travelled past
them and looked into mine indifferently, but still with a meaning in
them. At last I crossed the room and stood before her.

“You promised me a waltz, I think, Miss Devereux. Will not this one
do?”

She hesitated for a moment, and then she laid her hand on my
coat-sleeve, and we moved away. Without a word I passed my arm around
her waist, and we floated slowly up the room. It was one of
Waldteufel’s wild, sad waltzes, now bursting into a loud flood of
music, now dying away into a few faint melodious chords. For many
years afterwards I never heard it played without longing to rush away
into solitude and recall those few minutes of exquisite happiness in
that strange, dimly-lit ball-room.

All things come to an end, and so did that waltz. Maud promised me the
next but one, and was led away by Lord Annerley, and, to while away the
time, I took a lamp from a bracket on the wall, and, pushing aside the
heavy curtains, stepped into the picture gallery to look at my father’s
portrait.

It was not the first time by many that I had done so, for when I had
been shown over the court soon after my arrival my first visit had been
here. Bitterly indignant had I felt when, after I had looked for long
in vain for my father’s picture, I had found it–with its face turned
against the wall. I had turned it round again during a moment or two
when Groves, the portly house-steward, had been otherwise engaged, and
since then it had not been disturbed, for Sir Francis no longer made
this his favourite lounging-place; indeed, he seldom came here at all.

The sound of the music and of voices–some fresh ones I fancied–came
to me in a faint, indistinct hum through the drawn curtains, and for a
while I forgot all about them. I seemed in another world, amongst
these long rows of my frowning ancestors, beruffed ladies in quilted
gowns and dresses of strange device, armed knights, and beaux of a
later and more peaceful age with perukes, knee-breeches, and
snuff-boxes. But though I walked the whole length of the gallery, and
glanced leisurely at all of them, it was my father’s picture at which I
lingered longest, and before which I was standing absorbed when the
drawing of the curtain and the sound of voices and feet entering the
gallery made me start round and very nearly drop the candle which I
held in my hand.

“Why, Arbuthnot, what are you doing moping in here?” exclaimed Sir
Francis, in a tone of astonishment. “Why don’t you go and dance?”

I turned round with some excuse on my lips, but it died away when I saw
who were his companions. Walking by his side was a tall dark man, with
iron-grey hair, and pale, delicate face. On his arm was Maud, and,
glancing from one to another, I knew that this was her father, my Uncle
Rupert. Behind was my cousin Francis, with Lady Olive on his arm. It
was a strange meeting.

“This is Mr. Arbuthnot, Rupert, whom I was telling you about just now,”
Sir Francis went on, without appearing to notice my start, “Arbuthnot,
this is my son, Mr. Rupert Devereux.”

I bowed slightly, and my Uncle Rupert did the same, withdrawing the
hand which I had affected not to see. God forbid that my hand should
touch his, even in the most casual fashion.

“Well, Arbuthnot, we—-”

Sir Francis broke off in his pleasant speech, with his eyes riveted on
the wall behind me. Slowly his face grew rigid with anger, and his
thick eyebrows were contracted in a stern frown.

“Who has touched that picture?” he asked, in a cold, measured tone,
which I had never heard from him before.

Rupert Devereux’s eyes followed his father’s shaking forefinger, and I
saw a change pass over his face also. His dark eyes filled with a
troubled, fearful light, and he shrank back a pace, as though to escape
from the sight of the handsome boyish face which laughed down on him
from the massive frame. To my eyes, inspired by knowledge, guilt was
written in his pale face as plainly as nature could write, and a
passionate anger which had lain sleeping within me for many weary
months leapt out, burning and fierce, kindled by his presence. I
forgot that I was Mr. Arbuthnot, the land agent; I forgot Maud’s
presence; I forgot everything save that I stood face to face with the
man who had blighted my father’s name and honour. That one maddening
thought alone held me, and it was only by a great effort that I
restrained myself from flying at his throat like a mad bull-dog.

I don’t think that Sir Francis noticed my agitation. In fact, I am
sure that he did not; for I was standing just outside the streak of
light which the moon, shining softly in through the diamond-paned
window, was casting upon the polished floor.

“Mr. Arbuthnot,” he said, firmly, “might I trouble you–or Francis, you
are nearest! Be so good as to turn that picture with its face to the
wall.”

Francis Devereux dropped Lady Olive’s arm, and advancing, laid his
hands upon the frame. Then the devil broke loose within me, and
seizing him by the collar as though he had been a baby, I threw him on
his back upon the floor.

“Dare to lay a finger upon that picture, you or any one else here,” I
cried, passionately, “and I will kill you!”

It is strange that, although so many years have passed, that scene
remains as though written with letters of fire into my memory–vivid
and clear. Word for word, I can remember every sentence that was
spoken; and the different expressions on the face of each I could, if I
were a painter, faithfully reproduce. Sir Francis gazed at me
speechless in a sort of helpless apathy, Maud and Lady Olive looked
horrified and thunderstruck, and my Uncle Rupert, with face as pale as
death, was shaking from head to foot, with eyes riveted upon me in a
sort of fascinated bewilderment, as though I were one risen from the
dead. Sir Francis seemed to be the first to recover himself.

“Arbuthnot! Arbuthnot!” he exclaimed; “what does this mean?”

I pointed to my uncle, and he seemed to shrink back from my
outstretched hand.

“Cannot you see?” he faltered, in a hollow tone. “Look at him and at
the picture.”

I had moved a step forward unconsciously, and was standing in the
centre of the broad stretch, of moonlight which was streaming in from
the high window. Sir Francis looked at me, and then gave a great start.

“My God! Arbuthnot, boy! Who are you? Speak!”

“Hugh Arbuthnot, son of Herbert Arbuthnot, who once called himself
Devereux,” I answered, proudly, looking Sir Francis steadily in the
face; “and who would be a Devereux still,” I added, “but for that man’s
villainous lie.”

Rupert Devereux turned his head away, as though unable to meet the fire
which blazed from my eyes. Maud had sunk, half fainting, upon an
ottoman, and Lady Olive was by her side. Sir Francis stood gazing
fixedly at me, as though in a dream.

“It can’t be!” he muttered, hoarsely. “He could never have had such a
son as you. He was a coward!”

“It’s a lie!” I thundered–so vehemently that Sir Francis staggered
back aghast. “Rupert Devereux!” I cried, taking a quick stride to his
side, “can you, dare you look me in the face and tell me that my father
was a coward? You, who bribed John Hilton, your servant, into a
shameful conspiracy that you might step into his place! You,
you–speak, man, and tell me! Was Herbert Devereux a coward?”

He was white to the lips with a fear not merely physical. His senses
seemed stupefied; and though I waited amidst a deathlike silence for a
full minute, he made me no answer. I turned my back upon him
contemptuously.

“Sir Francis!” I cried. “He could lie to strangers and to you, but to
me he dare not. Before heaven, I swear that my father is an innocent
man, shamefully sinned against by him”–I pointed to my uncle. “Out of
a mean jealousy, and for the sake of being your heir, he did it–he
perjured himself. He to call himself a Devereux, and my father robbed
of his name and honour by such treacherous villainy! Don’t you wonder
that I don’t kill you?” I cried, turning round, a very tempest of
passion surging up within me. “God knows why I don’t do it! Sir
Francis, I appeal to you. John Hilton has confessed to me that his
story was a lie. My father is as brave a soldier and a gentleman as
ever Devereux was. Tell me that you believe it. Let us make that man
confess, aye, even though we have to tear his guilty secret from his
heart!”

Sir Francis had recovered himself entirely, and was again the
aristocratic immovable soldier.

“Hugh, my boy, I believe you,” he said, kindly. “Be my grandson, and I
shall thank God for it, and be proud of you. But you are mistaken
about your father. A court-martial never errs.”

The hope which had sprung up in my heart died away, and in its place
had leaped up a bitter hatred–hatred of Rupert Devereux, hatred of my
grandfather, hatred of Maud, of every one who refused to believe in my
father’s innocence. I drew back from Sir Francis’s outstretched hand,
and looked at him proudly.

“Never, Sir Francis. I will not call myself your grandson, or take the
name of Devereux, until my father bears it too. I would sooner live
and die Hugh Arbuthnot.”

Then, without another look at one of them, without even a glance into
Maud’s white face, I turned, and walked slowly out of the gallery and
out of the house.

Continue Reading