They say that a man can never describe

My first plans were not easy to form. I was like a blind man groping
for some object which has slipped from his fingers, and not knowing in
which direction to search for it first. I had a great and solemn
purpose before me, a purpose which was my first consideration in life,
and which nothing but death would cause me to relinquish. But I did
not know how to start upon it.

I was in London when the idea occurred to me, save for which this story
might never have been written. It was simple enough, and very vague.
Nothing more or less than to try to procure employment near the
Devereux estates, which I knew were somewhere in Yorkshire.

My idea was no sooner conceived than I put it into operation. I went
to the firm of agents to whom my late employers had given me a letter
of introduction, and inquired whether they knew of any vacancy in
Yorkshire, either in a land agent’s office or on an estate. One of the
clerks ran through a long list, and shook his head.

“Nothing so far north,” he declared, shutting up the book. “Two or
three in Leicestershire, if that would do.”

I shook my head, and, thanking him, turned away disappointed. At the
door he called me back as though a sudden thought had struck him.

“Just wait one moment, will you?” he said, jumping down from his stool.
“There was a letter from Yorkshire this morning which I haven’t seen
yet. I’ll fetch it from the governor’s room and see what it’s about.”

I took a seat, and he vanished into the inner office. Presently he
reappeared smiling.

“Lucky thing I noticed the postmark of this letter,” he remarked.
“Strikes me it’s just what you want. Listen,” and he read it out:

“‘Devereux Court, Yorkshire.

“‘Colonel Sir Francis Devereux—-”

“Hullo! what’s the matter with you?” he broke off suddenly.

I mastered myself with a quick effort.

“I’m all right,” I answered, a little hoarsely. “It’s a trifle hot in
here, that’s all. Go on.”

He began again–

“‘Colonel Sir Francis Devereux is in want of a young man to act under
his present agent and collaborate with him in the management of his
estate. Applicant must have some knowledge of farming and surveying,
and must be a gentleman. Credentials and unexceptionable references
required. Salary £250 a year and a cottage, rent free.’

“There, Mr. Arbuthnot, how would that do for you?”

“Nothing could suit me better,” I exclaimed–so eagerly that the young
man looked at me surprised. “To whom have I to apply?”

He consulted the letter again.

“Mr. Benson, solicitor, 19, Bedford Row, has authority to engage you.
You had better go and see him, I should think.”

I thanked him and hurried out. So nervous was I lest some one else
should precede me and secure the better chance that I jumped into a
stray hansom and was driven straight to Mr. Benson’s office. There I
was informed, to my great satisfaction, that Mr. Benson was in, and
disengaged, and in a few minutes I was shown into his room.

He was sitting at his desk when I entered, a short, clean-shaven,
grey-haired man, with a keen but not unkindly face. He motioned me to
a seat, and kept his eyes fixed steadfastly upon me whilst I explained
my mission.

When I had finished he took out a bunch of keys from his pocket, and
carefully unlocked a small drawer in his desk. For a full minute he
seemed to be examining something there, glancing up at me more than
once. Then he took it and passed it across the table to me.

“Do you recognise that, Mr. Arbuthnot?” he asked, quietly.

Recognise it? How could I help it? It was a photograph–and the
photograph of my father.

I leaned back in my chair, agitated and disappointed. Mr. Benson
watched me for awhile in silence.

“I see that you are in mourning, Mr. Devereux,” he said suddenly,
noticing it for the first time. “Your father is well, I hope?”

I pulled myself together, and answered him–

“I am in mourning for my mother, Mr. Benson. I can’t say that my
father is well, but he is not ill that I know of.”

The lawyer was sitting with his head resting upon his elbow, and his
eyes fixed upon the photograph.

“Poor Mr. Herbert–poor Mr. Herbert!” he said to himself, in a low tone.

Something, perhaps his sympathetic tone, prompted me to ask him a
question.

“Mr. Benson, you knew my father. Do you believe that he was a coward?”

The lawyer looked up at once.

“I do not,” he said, firmly. “I never did, and never will.”

The words were the sweetest I had ever heard in my life. I jumped up
with tears standing in my eyes, and wrung his hand heartily.

“Thank you for those words, Mr. Benson,” I exclaimed, warmly. “I can’t
tell you how glad I am to hear them. But don’t call me by the name of
Devereux again, please. I won’t hear it, I won’t even own it.”

He nodded approvingly, but made no direct reply. Then, in answer to
his questions, I told him as much of our history as I myself knew.

“And with regard to your application to me, to-day,” he remarked, after
a short pause, “it seems a strange one under the circumstances.”

I hesitated, and then I told him everything–told him of my father’s
breaking heart, of my mother’s last letter to me, and of my vow. He
listened patiently, and with every sign of strong interest.

“Yours is a noble purpose,” he said, when I had concluded, “and though
I fear that it is hopeless, I shall throw no obstacle in your way.
What I can do for you I will. You can go to Devereux, and I shall
write Sir Francis, telling him that you are admirably suited for the
work, and, from my own knowledge, that you are a gentleman.
Fortunately Sir Francis is rather near-sighted, and as he obstinately
refuses to wear glasses there is not the fear of his recognising you
that there would otherwise be. But I’m rather afraid of Mr. Rupert.
Fortunately he’s not often at Devereux.”

“I must chance all that,” I declared. “After all, a resemblance is
very different from actual recognition. I shall try to hit upon some
way of altering my appearance a little.”

“You have my best wishes for your success,” declared the lawyer,
rising. “Write me, Mr. Arbuthnot–Mr. Hugh, I may call you. I shall
be always pleased to hear how you are getting on; and if you need
advice or a friend at any time, come to me. Good-morning.”

I left him feeling almost light-hearted. To have met a man who
believed in my father was like a strong invigorating tonic to me. That
afternoon I telegraphed to Marian to come to me at once, and set about
making the few preparations necessary for our expected move into
Yorkshire.

As yet I have said nothing of my sister Marian. It is necessary for me
now to do so. They say that a man can never describe or appreciate his
own sister, and, on the whole, I am not disinclined to lend some
credence to this statement. I know that Marian was beautiful, for many
people have told me so, but to give a detailed description of her as
she was then I should find an impossible task. I know that her
beauty–prettiness always seemed to me the more appropriate term–was
of the order evolved by the combination of a trim, shapely figure, good
features and complexion, plenty of fair hair, and soft grey eyes (the
latter a heritage from her mother), which knew equally well how to
gleam with mischief, or to flash with a tenderer and more dangerous
light. I feel some diffidence in using the term, but I am bound to
here place on record my conviction that when she left school and, in
obedience to my telegram, joined me in London, my sister Marian was
more or less inclined to be a flirt.

Of the shadow which rested upon my father’s name she knew nothing, nor
did she know that the name we bore was an assumed one, or anything of
the purpose which had induced me to fix our temporary residence in
Yorkshire. I judged her to be of too light a nature to be trusted with
a great secret–besides, she would doubtless be happier not knowing.

Three days we spent together in London making purchases and
superintending the packing up and forwarding of our few belongings.
Then there came a note from Colonel Devereux, short but polite,
intimating that the sooner I could find it convenient to assume my new
position the better. On the next day Marian and I travelled down to
Yorkshire.

It was dusk when we arrived at the little wayside station at which we
had been directed to alight. Directly I had helped Marian out of the
carriage, and we stood together on the platform, a tall, bland-looking
man, dressed in the soberest black, hurried up to us and took off his
hat.

“Mr. Arbuthnot?”

I admitted that his surmise was correct, and presumed that he had come
from Devereux.

“Just so, sir. Colonel Devereux desired me to present his compliments,
and if you find that the cottage is not yet habitable, rooms can be
prepared for you at the Court.”

“Very kind, I’m sure,” I answered, watching with satisfaction our last
box safely thrown out from the van. “We’re quite prepared to rough it
for a day or two, however, and I have no doubt that we shall be able to
manage. Have you brought anything down for the luggage?”

“Certainly, sir. Bring them this way, John,” he added to the porter,
and led us through the little booking office out into the road, where a
small shapely brougham, drawn by a pair of magnificent dark bays, was
waiting.

“I thought it better to bring a brougham, sir,” he explained, “as the
young lady might find it chilly driving across the moor. Londoners
mostly finds it so. There’s no need to wait for the luggage, sir. The
cart’s here for that, and I’ve given orders for them to bring it on.
I’ll have to intrude upon you inside, sir, as far as the cottage, as my
master’s orders is that I don’t leave you until I see you in a fair way
to be comfortable. I’d have come down on the box, but the Colonel is
so mighty particular about little things that it’s more than I dare do
to let a carriage leave the yard without a man on the box, even at
night. This is Knighton, this village, sir. From the top of the next
hill you’d be able to see a good part of Devereux Court if it were only
light enough.”

I let him talk on uninterrupted, for I was too full of a nervous
internal excitement to be able to talk. I was amongst the scenes–in a
few minutes I should be in sight of the very house–where my father had
spent his boyhood. That thought was enough to engross me–to drive
every other from my mind, and for once I was devoutly thankful for
Marian’s ceaseless chatter, which spared me from all necessity of
speech.

We dashed through a tiny village, and up a steep hill. “Dashed” is
rather a clap-trap word, perhaps, but it is not far from correctly
expressing the rate of our progress. The roads were in good order, it
was not yet dark; the thoroughbred horses were eager to get home, and
quivering with impatience, and the coachman seemed to be of the same
mind. And so I could see but very little of the country. A
heather-covered moor, varied by occasional patches of pasture land,
bordered the road on either side, but in front things seemed to be
different. I could just distinguish the dim outline of a low range of
hills, and we seemed to be approaching a wood. Suddenly the carriage
came to a halt, but it was only for a moment. A pair of great iron
gates were rolled open before us, and we proceeded along a smoother
road as swiftly as before.

“Are we nearly there?” asked Marian, looking behind at the grey stone,
thatched lodges, which were as large as moderate-sized houses.

Colonel Devereux’s servant shook his head, and smiled in the light of
his superior knowledge.

“Bless you, no, miss; we’re only just inside the park. It’s six miles
from the lodge gates to the House” (the capital may seem superfluous,
but I’m quite sure that the man meant it), “and five and a half to the
cottage.”

Marian’s grey eyes were wide open in earnest now.

“Oh, dear me! Did you hear that, Hugh? The park six miles from the
house! This must be a very big place.”

“Big!” Our companion’s face grew quite solemn in its impressiveness.
“There ain’t such another place in Yorkshire, nor yet in England,
barring three. Devereux Court, to my mind, is the finest building I
ever set eyes on. Why, it’s the show place of the county, and we gets
no end of visitors from all parts to look at it.”

“Colonel Devereux is a very fortunate man,” I remarked.

The man’s manner grew a shade more confidential, and I listened with
more eagerness than I dared show.

“Well, he should be, sir; but I doubt whether he thinks himself so.
You see, his family ain’t turned out exactly well. He married twice,
and each wife died within two years of her marriage, and, strangely
enough, each left him a son. Of course, when they grew up they both
wanted to be soldiers. They do say, sir, that every Devereux for
twelve generations has been a soldier. A bloodthirsty race they must
be! But, as I was saying, they both became soldiers, and went out
together in the same regiment for their first campaign. Well, they say
that one of ’em, Mr. Herbert his name was, the elder of the two, and
the old Colonel’s favourite and heir, disgraced himself. Anyway, he
was found guilty of cowardice, and turned out of his regiment. It very
near killed the Colonel, and he’s never been the same man since. He’s
taken a mortal dislike to his other son, Mr. Rupert, and, though he
makes no secret of it that he’s left him all his estates and property,
he never lets him come down here scarcely.”

“But the title! He can’t leave that to his second son,” I said. “That
must go to the one whom you say disgraced himself.”

“It just that that’s troubling the Colonel more than anything,” replied
the man. “He says it makes him wild to think that the title of
Devereux of Devereux must be borne by a coward, and that his picture
gallery and grand old house must go to him, too. At times I have heard
him pray that his son may be dead, and have died childless; and yet,
hard old man though he is, it’s easy to see, from the way he talks
about him sometimes, that he’s as fond of him as ever, though he’d
never confess it. But I’m afraid I’m tiring you, sir. Family
histories are not very interesting to strangers.”

To strangers! I could scarcely keep a sardonic smile from my lips as I
echoed the words in my thoughts.

“Not at all,” I answered, as lightly as I could; “but I was going to
ask you, who is there living with Sir Francis now?”

“Well, there’s no one living regularly with him, sir, except you count
old Mrs. Platts, who really ain’t much more than a housekeeper, though
I believe she’s a sort of distant connection. But, just now, there’s
Miss Maud Devereux, Mr. Rupert’s daughter, and a friend of hers
stopping here. Here we are at the cottage, Mr. Arbuthnot.”

The carriage had pulled up, and a tall footman was standing by the side
of the open door. I helped Marian out, and looked around. A little
distance in front there was a low wire fencing, and about fifty yards
further back, with a dark plantation of fir-trees immediately behind
it, was a long, low, grey stone house, with gabled roof and
old-fashioned windows. As we approached, the door was thrown open, and
two smiling, countrified-looking servants, with neat caps and aprons,
stood in a flood of light to welcome us.

We stepped into the hall, and Marian and I looked at one another in
astonishment. This was all very different to what I had expected, and
my first thought was that the few odds and ends of furniture which I
had sent down would be of very little use in such a place as this. But
our greatest surprise was to come, for when one of our pleasant-looking
servants threw open the door of the dining-room, the room was already
furnished, and in a fashion which, made us gaze around in astonishment.
Instead of bare boards, which we had half expected, our feet sank into
a thick Turkey carpet, and the furniture, solid and handsomely carved,
matched the black oak panelling which skirted the walls. A bright fire
was burning in a marble grate, and the table, covered with a snow-white
cloth, and many things more substantial, was glittering with cut-glass,
flowers, and heavy plate, on which were the Devereux arms.

I looked at Colonel Devereux’s servant in an amazement which seemed to
amuse him immensely.

“What has become of the furniture I sent down?” I asked.

“It is in the lumber room, sir,” was the man’s quiet reply. “Colonel
Devereux’s strict orders were that the place should be furnished for
you from attic to cellar, and there’s furniture enough up at the Court
which no one ever sees, enough to furnish a score of such places as
this. I hope I may say that you are satisfied, sir?”

“Satisfied? It’s quite too lovely,” declared Marian, sinking into a
low chair. “Isn’t it, Hugh?”

“Colonel Devereux has been very kind,” I assented, thoughtfully, for I
was not too sure that I was altogether pleased.

“And I was to tell you, miss,” continued the man, backing towards the
door, “that the servants here, and also your man, sir,” turning towards
me, “receive their wages from the steward. You’ll pardon my mentioning
this, but it was the housekeeper’s strict orders. Good-night, miss;
good-night, sir. Colonel Devereux will see you to-morrow morning at
eleven, if you’ll be so good as to come up to the Court. Good-night,
sir.”

This time he really went, and we were left for a moment alone. I am
obliged to confess that the first thing my madcap sister did was to
waltz round the room, and wind up by throwing herself into my arms.

“Isn’t this perfectly delightful, Hugh, and isn’t the Colonel an old
dear? I declare I could kiss him! And I am so hungry, and everything
looks so nice. Do ring the bell, Hugh.”

There was no need, for before she had finished speaking one of our
buxom servants had entered with the tray, and the other was waiting to
show us our rooms, which we found no less comfortable. Everything was
totally different to what I had expected, and for Marian’s sake I was
pleased. But for my own I could not help regretting that I should be
forced to accept favours from the man who believed my father to be a
coward and a liar and whose cruel words “Out of my house and out of my
heart for ever,” he carried always with him in weary exile.