Ensign Knightley and Other Stories
A. E. W. Mason
Part 1 out of 5
ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY AND OTHER STORIES
A. E. W. MASON
Author of "The Courtship of Morrice Buckler," "The Watchers,"
"Parson Kelly," etc.
THE MAN OF WHEELS
MR. MITCHELBOURNE'S LAST ESCAPADE
THE CROSSED GLOVES
THE SHUTTERED HOUSE
KEEPER OF THE BISHOP
THE CRUISE OF THE "WILLING MIND"
HOW BARRINGTON RETURNED TO JOHANNESBURG
THE PRINCESS JOCELIANDE
A LIBERAL EDUCATION
THE TWENTY-KRONER STORY
THE FIFTH PICTURE
It was eleven o'clock at night when Surgeon Wyley of His Majesty's
ship _Bonetta_ washed his hands, drew on his coat, and walked from the
hospital up the narrow cobbled street of Tangier to the Main-Guard by
the Catherine Port. In the upper room of the Main-Guard he found
Major Shackleton of the Tangier Foot taking a hand at bassette with
Lieutenant Scrope of Trelawney's Regiment and young Captain Tessin of
the King's Battalion. There were three other officers in the room, and
to them Surgeon Wyley began to talk in a prosy, medical strain. Two of
his audience listened in an uninterested stolidity for just so long as
the remnant of manners, which still survived in Tangier, commanded,
and then strolling through the open window on to the balcony, lit
Overhead the stars blazed in the rich sky of Morocco; the
riding-lights of Admiral Herbert's fleet sprinkled the bay; and below
them rose the hum of an unquiet town. It was the night of May 13th,
1680, and the life of every Christian in Tangier hung in the balance.
The Moors had burst through the outposts to the west, and were now
entrenched beneath the walls. The Henrietta Redoubt had fallen that
day; to-morrow the little fort at Devil's Drop, built on the edge of
the sand where the sea rippled up to the palisades, must fall; and
Charles Fort, to the southwest, was hardly in a better case. However,
a sortie had been commanded at daybreak as a last effort to relieve
Charles Fort, and the two officers on the balcony speculated over
their pipes on the chances of success.
Meanwhile, inside the room Surgeon Wyley lectured to his remaining
auditor, who, too tired to remonstrate, tilted his chair against the
wall and dozed.
"A concussion of the brain," Wyley went on, "has this curious effect,
that after recovery the patient will have lost from his consciousness
a period of time which immediately preceded the injury. Thus a man may
walk down a street here in Tangier; four, five, six hours afterwards,
he mounts his horse, is thrown on to his head. When he wakes again to
his senses, the last thing he remembers is--what? A sign, perhaps,
over a shop in the street he walked down, or a leper pestering him for
alms. The intervening hours are lost to him, and forever. It is no
question of an abeyance of memory. There is a gap in the continuity of
his experience, and that gap he will never fill up."
"Except by hearsay?"
The correction came from Lieutenant Scrope at the bassette table. It
was quite carelessly uttered while the Lieutenant was picking up his
cards. Surgeon Wyley shifted his chair towards the table, and accepted
"Except, of course, by hearsay."
Wyley was a new-comer to Tangier, having sailed into the bay less than
a week back; but he had been long enough in the town to find in Scrope
a subject at once of interest and perplexity. Scrope was in years
nearer forty than thirty, dark of complexion, aquiline of feature, and
though a trifle below the middle height he redeemed his stature by the
litheness of his figure. What interested Wyley was that he seemed a
man in whom strong passions were always desperately at war with a
strong will. He wore habitually a mask of reserve; behind it, Wyley
was aware of sleeping fires. He spoke habitually in a quiet, decided
voice, like one that has the soundings of his nature; beneath it,
Wyley detected, continually recurring, continually subdued, a note
of turbulence. Here, in a word, was a man whose hand was against the
world but who would not strike at random. What perplexed Wyley, on the
other hand, was Scrope's subordinate rank of lieutenant in a garrison
where, from the frequency of death, promotion was of the quickest. He
sat there at the table, a lieutenant; a boy of twenty-four faced him,
and the boy was a captain and his superior.
It was to the Lieutenant, however, that Wyley resumed his discourse.
"The length of time lost is proportionate to the severity of the
concussion. It may be only an hour; I have known it to be a day." He
leaned back in his chair and smiled. "A strange question that for a
man to ask himself--What did he do during those hours?--a question to
Scrope chose a card from his hand and played it. Without looking up
from the table, he asked: "To appal him? Why?"
"Because the question would be not so much what did he do, as what may
he not have done. A man rides through life insecurely seated on his
passions. Within a few hours the most honest man may commit a damnable
crime, a damnable dishonour."
Scrope looked quietly at the Surgeon to read the intention of his
words. Then: "I suppose so," he said carelessly. "But do you think
that question would press?"
"Why not?" asked Wyley.
Scrope shrugged his shoulders. "I should need an example before I
The example was at the door. The corporal of the guard at the
Catherine Port knocked and was admitted. He told his story to Major
Shackleton, and as he told it the two officers lounged back into the
room from the balcony, and the other who was dozing against the wall
brought the legs of his chair with a bang to the floor and woke up.
It appeared that a sentry at the stockade outside the Catherine Port
had suddenly noticed a flutter of white on the ground a few yards
from the stockade. He watched this white object, and it moved. He
challenged it, and was answered by a whispered prayer for admission in
the English tongue and in an English voice. The sentry demanded the
password, and received as a reply, "Inchiquin. It is the last password
I have knowledge of. Let me in! Let me in!"
The sentry called the corporal, the corporal admitted the fugitive and
brought him to the Main-Guard. He was now in the guard-room below.
"You did well," said the Major. "The man has come from the Moorish
lines, and may have news which will profit us in the morning. Let
him up!" and as the corporal retired, "'Inchiquin,'" he repeated
thoughtfully: "I cannot call to mind that password."
Now Wyley had noticed that when the corporal first mentioned the word,
Scrope, who was looking over his cards, had dropped one on the table
as though his hand shook, had raised his head sharply, and with his
head his eyebrows, and had stared for a second fixedly at the wall in
front of him. So he said to Scrope:
"You can remember."
"Yes, I remember the password," Scrope replied simply. "I have cause
to. 'Inchiquin' and 'Teviot'--those were password and countersign on
the night which ruined me--the night of January 6th two years ago."
There was an awkward pause, an interchange of glances. Then Major
Shackleton broke the silence, though to no great effect.
"H'm--ah--yes," he said. "Well, well," he added, and laying an arm
upon Scrope's sleeve. "A good fellow, Scrope."
Scrope made no response whatever, but of a sudden Captain Tessin
banged his fist upon the table.
"January 6th two years ago. Why," and he leaned forward across the
table towards Scrope, "Knightley fell in the sortie that morning, and
his body was never recovered. The corporal said this fugitive was an
Englishman. What if--"
Major Shackleton shook his head and interrupted.
"Knightley fell by my side. I saw the blow; it must have broken his
There was a sound of footsteps in the passage, the door was opened
and the fugitive appeared in the doorway. All eyes turned to him
instantly, and turned from him again with looks of disappointment.
Wyley remarked, however, that Scrope, who had barely glanced at the
man, rose from his chair. He did not move from the table; only he
stood where before he had sat.
The new-comer was tall; a beard plastered with mud, as if to disguise
its colour, straggled over his burned and wasted cheeks, but here and
there a wisp of yellow hair flecked with grey curled from his hood, a
pair of blue eyes shone with excitement from hollow sockets, and he
wore the violet-and-white robes of a Moorish soldier.
It was his dress at which Major Shackleton looked.
"One of our renegade deserters tired of his new friends," he said with
"Renegades do not wear chains," replied the man in the doorway,
lifting from beneath his long sleeves his manacled hands. He spoke
in a weak, hoarse voice, and with a rusty accent; he rested a hand
against the jamb of the door as though he needed support. Tessin
sprang up from his chair, and half crossed the room.
The stranger took an uncertain step forward. His legs rattled as he
moved, and Wyley saw that the links of broken fetters were twisted
about his ankles.
"Have two years made so vast a difference?" he asked. "Well, they were
years of the bastinado, and I do not wonder."
Tessin peered into his face. "By God, it is!" he exclaimed.
"Thanks," said Knightley with a smile.
Tessin reached out to take Knightley's hands, then instantly stopped,
glanced from Knightley to Scrope and drew back.
"Knightley!" cried the Major in a voice of welcome, rising in his
seat. Then he too glanced expectantly at Scrope and sat down again.
Scrope made no movement, but stood with his eyes cast down on the
table like a man lost in thought. It was evident to Wyley that both
Shackleton and Tessin had obeyed the sporting instinct, and had left
the floor clear for the two men. It was no less evident that Knightley
remarked their action and did not understand it. For his eyes
travelled from face to face, and searched each with a wistful anxiety
for the reason of their reserve.
"Yes, I am Knightley," he said timidly. Then he drew himself to his
full height. "Ensign Knightley of the Tangier Foot," he cried.
No one answered. The company waited upon Scrope in a suspense so
keen that even the ringing challenge of the words passed unheeded.
Knightley spoke again, but now in a stiff, formal voice, and slowly.
"Gentlemen, I fear very much that two years make a world of
difference. It seems they change one who had your goodwill into a most
His voice broke in a sob; he turned to the door, but staggered as he
turned and caught at a chair. In a moment Major Shackleton was beside
"What, lad? Have we been backward? Blame our surprise, not us."
"Meanwhile," said Wyley, "Ensign Knightley's starving."
The Major pressed Knightley into a chair, called for an orderly, and
bade him bring food. Wyley filled a glass with wine from the bottle on
the table, and handed it to the Ensign.
"It is vinegar," he said, "but--"
"But Tangier is still Tangier," said Knightley with a laugh. The
Major's cordiality had strengthened him like a tonic. He raised the
glass to his lips and drank; but as he tilted his head back his eyes
over the brim of the glass rested on Scrope, who still stood without
movement, without expression, a figure of stone, but that his chest
rose and fell with his deep breathing. Knightley set down his glass
"There is something amiss," he said, "since even Captain Scrope
retains no memory of his old comrade."
"Captain?" exclaimed Wyley. So Scrope had been more than a lieutenant.
Here was an answer to the question which had perplexed him. But it
only led to another question: "Had Scrope been degraded, and why?" He
did not, however, speculate on the question, for his attention was
seized the next moment. Scrope made no sort of answer to Knightley's
appeal, but began to drum very softly with his fingers on the table.
And the drumming, at first vague and of no significance, gradually
took on, of itself as it seemed, a definite rhythm. There was a
variation, too, in the strength of the taps--now they fell light, now
they struck hard. Scrope was quite unconsciously beating out upon the
table a particular tune, although, since there was but the one
note sounded, Wyley could get no more than an elusive hint of its
Knightley watched Scrope for a little as earnestly as the rest.
Then--"Harry!" he said, "Harry Scrope!" The name leaped from his lips
in a pleading cry; he stretched out his hands towards Scrope, and the
chain which bound them reached down to the table and rattled on the
There was a simultaneous movement, almost a simultaneous ejaculation
of bewilderment amongst those who stood about Knightley. Where they
had expected a deadly anger, they found in its place a beseeching
humility. And Scrope ceased from drumming on the table and turned on
"Don't shake your chains at me," he burst out harshly. "I am deaf to
any reproach that they can make. Are you the only man that has worn
chains? I can show as good, and better." He thrust the palm of his
left hand under Knightley's nose. "Branded, d'ye see? Branded. There's
more besides." He set his foot on the chair and stripped the silk
stocking down his leg. Just above the ankle there was a broad indent
where a fetter had bitten into the flesh. "I have dragged a chain, you
see; not like you among the Moors, but here in Tangier, on that damned
Mole, in sight of these my brother officers. By the Lord, Knightley, I
tell you you have had the better part of it."
"You!" cried Knightley. "You dragged a chain on Tangier Mole? For
what offence?" And he added, with a genuine tenderness, "There was no
disgrace in't, I'll warrant."
Major Shackleton half checked an exclamation, and turned it into a
cough. Scrope leaned right across the table and stared straight into
"The offence was a duel," he answered steadily, "fought on the night
of January 6th two years ago."
Knightley's face clouded for an instant. "The night when I was
captured," he said timidly.
The officers drew closer about the table, and seemed to hold their
breath, as the strange catechism proceeded.
"With whom did you fight?" asked Knightley.
"With a very good friend of mine," replied Scrope, in a hard, even
"On what account?"
Knightley laughed with a man's amused leniency for such escapades when
he himself is in no way hurt by them.
"I said there would be no disgrace in't, Harry," he said, with a smile
The heads of the listeners, which had bunched together, were suddenly
drawn back. A dark flush of anger overspread Scrope's face, and the
veins ridged up upon his forehead. Some impatient speech was on the
tip of his tongue, when the Major interposed.
"What's this talk of penalties? Where's the sense of it? Scrope paid
the price of his fault. He was admitted to the ranks afterwards. He
won a lieutenancy by sheer bravery in the field. For all we know he
may be again a captain to-morrow. Anyhow he wears the King's uniform.
It is a badge of service which levels us all from Ensign to Major in
an equality of esteem."
Scrope bowed to the Major and drew back from the table. The other
officers shuffled and moved in a welcome relief from the strain
of their expectancy, and Knightley's thoughts were diverted by
Shackleton's words to a quite different subject. For he picked with
his fingers at the Moorish robe he wore and "I too wore the King's
uniform," he pleaded wistfully.
"And shall do so again, thank God," responded the Major heartily.
Knightley started up from his chair; his face lightened unaccountably.
"You mean that?" he asked eagerly. "Yes, yes, you mean it! Then let it
be to-night--now--even before I sup. As long as I wear these chains,
as long as I wear this dress, I can feel the driver's whip curl
about my shoulders." He parted the robe as he spoke, and showed that
underneath he wore only a coarse sack which reached to his knees, with
a hole cut in it for his head.
"True, you have worn the chains too long," said the Major. "I should
have had them knocked off before, but--" he paused for a second, "but
your coming so surprised me that of a truth I forgot," he continued
lamely. Then he turned to Tessin. "See to it, Tessin! Ensign Barbour
of the Tangier Foot was killed to-day. He was quartered in the
Main-Guard. Take Knightley to his quarters and see what you can do.
By the way, Knightley, there's a question I should have put to you
before. By what road did you come in?"
"Down Teviot Hill past the Henrietta Fort. The Moors brought me down
from Mequinez to interpret between them and their prisoners. I escaped
"Past the Henrietta Fort?" replied the Major. "Then you can help us,
for that way we make our sortie."
"To relieve the Charles Fort?" said Knightley. "I guessed the Charles
Fort was surrounded, for I heard one man on the Tangier wall shouting
through a speaking trumpet to the Charles Fort garrison. But it will
not be easy to relieve them. The Moors are entrenched between. There
are three trenches. I should never have crawled through them, but that
I stripped a dead Moor of his robe."
"Three trenches," said Tessin, with a shrug of the shoulders.
"Yes, three. The two nearest to Tangier may be carried. But the
third--it is deep, twelve feet at the least, and wide, at the least
eight yards. The sides are steep and slippery with the rain."
"A grave, then," said Scrope carelessly; "a grave that will hold
many before the evening falls. It is well they made it wide and deep
The sombre words knocked upon every heart like a blow on a door behind
which conspirators are plotting. The Major was the first to recover
"Curse your tongue, Scrope!" he said angrily. "Let who will lie in
your grave when the evening falls. Before that time comes, we'll show
these Moors so fine a powder-play as shall glut some of them to all
eternity. _Bon chat, bon rat_; we are not made of jelly. Tessin, see
The two men withdrew. Major Shackleton scribbled a note and despatched
it to Sir Palmes Fairborne, the Lieutenant-Governor. Scrope took a
turn or two across the room while the Major was writing the news which
Knightley had brought. Then--"What game is this he's playing?" he
said, with a jerk of his head to the door by which Knightley had gone
out. "I have no mind to be played with."
"But is he playing a game at all?" asked Wyley.
Scrope faced him quickly, looked him over for a second, and replied:
"You are a new-comer to Tangier, or you would not have asked that
"I should," rejoined Wyley with complete confidence. "I know quite
enough to be sure of one thing. I know there lies some deep matter of
dispute between Ensign Knightley and Lieutenant Scrope, and I am sure
that there is one other person more in the dark than myself, and that
person is Ensign Knightley. For whereas I know there is a dispute, he
is unaware of even that."
"Unaware?" cried Scrope. "Why, man, the very good friend I fought
with was Ensign Knightley. The woman on whose account we fought was
Knightley's wife." He flung the words at the Surgeon with almost a
gesture of contempt. "Make the most of that!" And once again he began
to pace the room.
"I am not in the least surprised," returned Wyley with an easy smile.
"Though I admit that I am interested. A wife is sauce to any story."
He looked placidly round the company. He alone held the key to the
puzzle, and since he was now become the centre of attraction he was
inclined to play with his less acute brethren. With a wave of the hand
he stilled the requests for an explanation, and turned to Scrope.
"Will you answer me a question?"
"I think it most unlikely."
The curt reply in no way diminished the Surgeon's suavity.
"I chose my words ill. I should have asked, Will you confirm an
assertion? The assertion is this: Ensign Knightley had no suspicion
before he actually discovered the--well, the lamentable truth."
Scrope stopped his walk and came back to the table.
"Why, that is so," he agreed sullenly. "Knightley had no suspicions.
It angered me that he had not."
Wyley leaned back in his chair.
"Really, really," he said, and laughed a little to himself. "On the
night of January 6th Ensign Knightley discovers the lamentable truth.
At what hour?" he asked suddenly.
Scrope looked to the Major. "About midnight," he suggested.
"A little later, I should think," corrected Major Shackleton.
"A little after midnight," repeated Wyley. "Ensign Knightley and
Lieutenant Scrope, I understand, immediately fight a duel, which seems
to have been interrupted before any hurt was done."
The Major and Scrope agreed with a nod of their heads.
"In the morning," continued Wyley, "Ensign Knightley takes part in a
skirmish, and is clubbed on the head so fiercely that Major Shackleton
thought his skull must be broken in. At what hour was he struck?"
Again he put the question quickly.
"'Twixt seven and eight of the morning," replied the Major.
"Quite so," said Wyley. "The incidents fit to a nicety. Two years
afterwards Ensign Knightley comes home. He knows nothing of the duel,
or any cause for a duel. Lieutenant Scrope is still 'Harry' to him,
and his best of friends. It is all very clear."
He gazed about him. Perplexity sat on each face except one; that face
"I spoke to you all some half an hour since concerning the effects of
a concussion. I could not have hoped for so complete an example," said
Captain Tessin whistled; Major Shackleton bounced on to his feet.
"Then Knightley knows nothing," cried Tessin in a gust of excitement.
"And never will know," cried the Major.
"Except by hearsay," sharply interposed Scrope. "Gentlemen, you go too
fast, Except by hearsay. That, Mr. Wyley, was the phrase, I think. By
what spells, Major," he asked with irony, "will you bind Tangier to
silence when there's scandal to be talked? Let Knightley walk down to
the water-gate to-morrow; I'll warrant he'll have heard the story a
hundred times with a hundred new embellishments before he gets there."
Major Shackleton resumed his seat moodily.
"And since that's the truth, why, he had best hear the story nakedly
"From you?" exclaimed Tessin. "Another duel, then. Have you counted
"Why, yes," replied Scrope quietly.
"Two years of the bastinado," said the Major. "That was what he said.
He comes back to Tangier to find--who knows?--a worse torture here.
Knightley, Knightley, a good officer marked for promotion until that
infernal night. Scrope, I could turn moralist and curse you!"
Scrope dropped his head as though the words touched him. But it was
not long before he raised it again.
"You waste your pity, I think, Major," he said coldly. "I disagree
with Mr. Wyley's conclusions. Knightley knows the truth of the matter
very well. For observe, he has made no mention of his wife. He has
been two years in slavery. He escapes, and he asks for no news of his
wife. That is unlike any man, but most of all unlike Knightley. He has
his own ends to serve, no doubt, but he knows."
The argument appeared cogent to Major Shackleton.
"To be sure, to be sure," he said. "I had not thought of that."
Tessin looked across to Wyley.
"What do you say?"
"I am not convinced," replied Wyley. "Indeed, I was surprised that
Knightley's omission had not been remarked before. When you first
showed reserve in welcoming Knightley, I noticed that he became all at
once timid, hesitating. He seemed to be afraid."
Major Shackleton admitted the Surgeon's accuracy. "Well, what then?"
"Well, I go back to what I said before Knightley appeared. A man has
lost so many hours. The question, what he did during those hours, is
one that may well appal any one. Lieutenant Scrope doubted whether
that question would trouble a man, and needed an instance. I believe
here is the instance. I believe Knightley is afraid to ask any
questions, and I believe his reason to be fear of how he lived during
those lost hours."
There was a pause. No one was prepared to deny, however much he might
doubt, what Wyley said.
"At some point of time before this duel Knightley's recollections
break off. At what precise point we are not aware, nor is it of any
great importance. The sure thing is he does not know of the dispute
between Lieutenant Scrope and himself, and it is of more importance
for us to consider whether he cannot after all be kept from knowing.
Could he not be sent home to England? Mrs. Knightley, I take it, is no
longer in Tangier?"
Major Shackleton stood up, took Wyley by the arm and led him out on to
the balcony. The town beneath them had gone to sleep; the streets were
quiet; the white roofs of the houses in the star-shine descended to
the water's edge like flights of marble steps; only here and there did
a light burn. To one of the lights close by the city wall the Major
directed Wyley's attention. The house in which it burned lay so nearly
beneath them that they could command a corner of the square open
_patio_ in the middle of it; and the light shone in a window set in
that corner and giving on to the _patio_.
"You see that house?" said the Major.
"Yes," said Wyley. "It is Scrope's. I have seen him enter and come
"No doubt," said the Major; "but it is Knightley's house."
"Knightley's! Then the light burning in the window is--"
The Major nodded. "She is still in Tangier. And never a care for him
has troubled her for two years, not so much as would bring a pucker to
her pretty forehead--all my arrears of pay to a guinea-piece."
Wyley leaned across the rail of the balcony, watching the light, and
as he watched he was aware that his feelings and his thoughts changed.
The interest which he had felt in Scrope died clean away, or rather
was transferred to Knightley; and with this new interest there sprang
up a new sympathy, a new pity. The change was entirely due to that one
yellow light burning in the window and the homely suggestions which it
provoked. It brought before him very clearly the bitter contrast: so
that light had burned any night these last two years, and Scrope had
gone in and out at his will, while up in the barbarous inlands of
Morocco the husband had had his daily portion of the bastinado and
the whip. It was her fault, too, and she made her profit of it. Wyley
became sensible of an overwhelming irony in the disposition of the
"You spoke a true word to-night, Major," he said bitterly. "That light
down there might turn any man to a moralist, and send him preaching in
"Well," returned the Major, as though he must make what defence he
could for Scrope, "the story is not the politest in the world. But,
then, you know Tangier--it is only a tiny outpost on the edges of the
world where we starve behind broken walls forgotten of our friends. We
have the Moors ever swarming at our gates and the wolf ever snarling
at our heels, and so the niceties of conduct are lost. We have so
little time wherein to live, and that little time is filled with the
noise of battle. Passion has its way with us in the end, and honour
comes to mean no more than bravery and a gallant death."
He remained a few moments silent, and then disconnectedly he told
Wyley the rest of the story.
"It was only three years ago that Knightley came to Tangier. He should
never have brought his wife with him. Scrope and Knightley became
friends. All Tangier knew the truth pretty soon, and laughed at
Knightley's ignorance.... I remember the night of January 6th very
well. I was Captain of the Guard that night too. A spy brought in news
that we might expect a night attack. I sent Knightley with the news to
Lord Inchiquin. On the way back he stepped into his own house. It was
late at night. Mrs. Knightley was singing some foolish song to Scrope.
The two men came down into the street and fought then and there. The
quarter was aroused, the combatants arrested and brought to me....
There are two faults which our necessities here compel us to punish
beyond their proper gravity: duelling, for we cannot afford to lose
officers that way; and brawling in the streets at night, because the
Moors lie _perdus_ under our walls; ready to take occasion as it
comes. Of Scrope's punishment you have heard. Knightley I released for
that night. He was on guard--I could not spare him. We were attacked
in the morning, and repulsed the attack. We followed up our success by
a sortie in which Knightley fell."
Wyley began again to wonder at what particular point in this story
Knightley's recollection broke off; and, further, what particular fear
it was that kept him from all questions even concerning his wife.
Knightley's voice was heard behind them, and they turned back into the
room. The Ensign had shaved his matted beard and combed out his hair,
which now curled and shone graciously about his head and shoulders;
his face, too, for all that it was wasted, had taken almost a boyish
zest, and his figure, revealed in the graceful dress of his regiment,
showed youth in every movement. He was plainly by some years a younger
man than Scrope.
He saluted the Major, and Wyley noticed that with his uniform he
seemed to have drawn on something of a soldierly confidence.
"There's your supper, lad," said Shackleton, pointing to a few poor
herrings and a crust of bread which an orderly had spread upon the
table. "It is scanty."
"I like it the better," said Knightley with a laugh; "for so I am
assured I am at home, in Tangier. There is no beef, I suppose?"
"Not so much as a hoof."
"Not enough to cover a sixpence."
"There is cheese, however." He lifted up a scrap upon a fork.
"There will be none to-morrow."
"And as for pay?" he asked slyly.
"Two years and a half in arrears."
Knightley laughed again.
"Moreover," added Shackleton, "out of our nothing we may presently
have to feed the fleet. It is indeed the pleasantest joke imaginable."
"In a week, no doubt," rejoined Knightley, "I shall be less sensible
of its humour. But to-night--well, I am home in Tangier, and that
contents me. Nothing has changed." At that he stopped suddenly.
"Nothing has changed?" This time the phrase was put as a question, and
with the halting timidity which he had shown before. No one answered
the question. "No, nothing has changed," he said a third time, and
again his eyes began to travel wistfully from face to face.
Tessin abruptly turned his back; Shackleton blinked his eyes at the
ceiling with altogether too profound an unconcern; Scrope reached out
for the wine, and spilt it as he filled his glass; Wyley busily drew
diagrams with a wet finger on the table.
All these details Knightley remarked. He laid down his fork, he rested
his elbow on the table, his forehead upon his hand. Then absently he
began to hum over to himself a tune. The rhythm of it was somehow
familiar to the Surgeon's ears. Where had he heard it before? Then
with a start he remembered. It was this very rhythm, that very tune,
which Scrope's fingers had beaten out on the table when he first
saw Knightley. And as he had absently drummed it then, so Knightley
absently hummed it now.
Surely, then, the tune had some part in the relations of the two
men--perhaps a part in this story. "A foolish song." The words flashed
into Wyley's mind.
"She was singing a foolish song." What if the tune was the tune of
that song? But then--Wyley's argument came to a sudden conclusion. For
if the tune _was_ the tune of that song, why, then Knightley must know
the truth, since he remembered that song. Was Scrope right after all?
Was Knightley playing with him? Wyley glanced at Knightley in the
keenest excitement. He wanted words fitted to that tune, and in a
little the words came--first one or two fitted here and there to a
note, and murmured unconsciously, then an entire phrase which filled
out a bar, finally this verse in its proper sequence:
"No, no, fair heretick, it needs must be
But an ill love in me,
And worse for thee;
For were it in my power
To love thee now this hour
More than I did the last,
'Twould then so fall
I might not love at all.
Love that can flow...."
And then the song broke off, and silence followed. Wyley looked again
at Knightley, but the latter had not changed his position. He still
sat with his face shaded by his hand.
The Surgeon was startled by a light touch on the arm. He turned with
almost a jump, and he saw Scrope bending across the table towards him,
his eyes ablaze with an excitement no less keen than his own.
"He knows, he knows!" whispered Scrope. "It was that song she was
singing; at that word 'flow' he pushed open the door of the room."
Knightley raised his head and drew his hand across his forehead,
as though Scrope's whisper had aroused him. Scrope seated himself
"Nothing has changed, eh?" Knightley asked, like a man fresh from his
sleep. Then he stood, and quietly, slowly, walked round the table
until he stood directly behind Scrope's chair. Scrope's face hardened;
he laid the palms of his hands upon the edge of the table ready to
spring up; he looked across to Wyley with the expectation of death in
One of the officers shuffled his feet. Tessin said "Hush!" Knightley
took a step forward and dropped a hand on Scrope's shoulder, very
lightly; but none the less Scrope started and turned white as though
he had been stabbed.
"Harry," said the Ensign, "my--my wife is still in Tangier?"
Scrope drew in a breath. "Yes."
"Ah, waiting for me! You have shown her what kindness you could during
He spoke in a wavering voice, as if he were not sure of his ground,
and as he spoke he felt Scrope shiver beneath his hand, and saw upon
the faces of his companions an unmistakable shrinking. He turned away
and staggered, rather than walked, to the window, where he stood
leaning against the sill.
"The day is breaking," he said quietly. Wyley looked up; outside the
window the colour was fading down the sky. It was purple still towards
the zenith, but across the Straits its edges rested white upon the
hills of Spain.
"Love that can flow ..." murmured Knightley, and of a sudden he flung
back into the room. "Let me have the truth of it," he burst out,
confronting his brother-officers gathered about the table--"the truth,
though it knell out my damnation. If you only knew how up there, at
Fez, at Mequinez, I have pictured your welcome when I should get back!
I made of my anticipation a very anodyne. The cudgelling, the chains,
the hunger, the sun, hot as though a burning glass was held above my
head--it would all make a good story for the guard-room when I got
back--when I got back. And yet I do get back, and one and all of you
draw away from me as though I were one of the Tangier lepers we
jostle in the streets. 'Love that can flow ...'" he broke off. "I ask
myself"--he hesitated, and with a great cry, "I ask you, did I play
the coward on that night I was captured two years ago?"
"The coward?" exclaimed Shackleton in bewilderment.
Wyley, for all his sympathy, could not refrain from a triumphant
glance at Scrope. "Here is the instance you needed," he said.
"Yes, did I play the coward?" Knightley seated himself sideways on the
edge of the table, and clasping his hands between his knees, went on
in a quick, lowered voice. "'Love that can flow'--those are the last
words I remember. You sent me, Major, to the Governor with a message.
I delivered it; I started back. On my way back I passed my house. I
went in. I stood in the _patio_. My wife was singing that song. The
window of the room in which she sang opened on to the _patio_. I stood
there listening for a second. Then I went upstairs. I turned the
handle of the door. I remember quite clearly the light upon the room
wall as I opened the door. Those words 'love that can flow' came
swelling through the opening; and--and--the next thing I am aware of,
I was riding chained upon a camel into slavery."
Tessin and Major Shackleton looked suddenly towards Wyley in
recognition of the accuracy of his guess. Scrope simply wiped the
perspiration from his forehead and waited.
"But how does that--forgetfulness, shall we say?--persuade you to the
fear that you played the coward?" asked Wyley.
"Well," replied Knightley, and his voice sank to a whisper, "I played
the coward afterwards at Mequinez. At the first it used to amuse me to
wonder what happened after I opened the door and before I was captured
outside Tangier; later it only puzzled me, and in the end it began to
frighten me. You see, I could not tell; it was all a blank to me, as
it is now; and a man overdriven--well, he nurses sickly fancies.
No need to say what mine were until the day I played the coward in
Mequinez. They set me to build the walls of the Emperor's new Palace.
We used the stones of the old Roman town and built them up in
Mequinez, and in the walls we were bidden to build Christian slaves
alive to the glory of Allah. I refused. They stripped the flesh off my
feet with their bastinadoes, starved me of food and drink, and brought
me back again to the walls. Again I refused." Knightley looked up at
his audience, and whether or no he mistook their breathless silence
for disbelief,--"I did," he implored. "Twice I refused, and twice they
tortured me. The third time--I was so broken, the whistle of a cane
in the air made me cry out with pain--I was sunk to that pitch of
cowardice--" He stopped, unable to complete the sentence. He clasped
and unclasped his hands convulsively, he moistened his dry lips with
his tongue, and looked about him with a weak, almost despairing laugh.
Then he began in another way. "The Christian was a Portuguee from
Marmora. He was set in the wall with his arms outstretched on either
side--the attitude of a man crucified. I built in his arms--his right
arm first--and mortised the stones, then his left arm in the same way.
I was careful not to look in his face. No, no! I didn't look in his
face." Knightley repeated the words with a horrible leer of cunning,
and hugged himself with his arms. To Wyley's thinking he was strung
almost to madness. "After his arms I built in his feet, and upwards
from his feet I built in his legs and his body until I came to his
neck. All this while he had been crying out for pity, babbling
prayers, and the rest of it. When I reached his neck he ceased his
clamour. I suppose he was dumb with horror. I did not know. All I knew
was that now I should have to meet his eyes as I built in his face.
I thought for a moment of blinding him. I could have done it quite
easily with a stone. I picked up a stone to do it, and then, well--I
could not help looking at him. He drew my eyes to his like a steel
filing to a magnet. And once I had looked, once I had heard his eyes
speaking, I--I tore down the stones. I freed his body, his legs, his
feet and one arm. When the guards noticed what I was doing I cannot
tell. I could not tell you when their sticks began to beat me. But
they dragged me away when I had freed only one arm. I remember seeing
him tugging at the other. What happened to me,"--he shivered,--"I
could not describe to you. But you see I had played the coward finely
at Mequinez, and when that question recurred to me as to what had
happened after I had opened the door, I began to wonder whether by any
chance I had played the coward at Tangier. I dismissed the thought as
a sickly fancy, but it came again and again; and I came back here, and
you draw aloof from me with averted faces and forced welcomes on your
lips. Did I play the coward on that night I was captured? Tell me!
Tell me!" And so the torrent of his speech came to an end.
The Major rose gravely from his seat, walked round the table and held
out his hand.
"Put your hand there, lad," he said gravely.
Knightley looked at the outstretched hand, then at the Major's face.
He took the hand diffidently, and the Major's grasp was of the
"Neither at Mequinez nor at Tangier did you play the coward," said the
Major. "You fell by my side in the van of the attack."
And then Knightley began to cry. He blubbered like a child, and with
his blubbering he mixed apologies. He was weak, he was tired, his
relief was too great; he was thoroughly ashamed.
"You see," he said, "there was need that I should know. My wife is
waiting for me. I could not go back to her bearing that stigma.
Indeed, I hardly dared ask news of her. Now I can go back; and,
gentlemen, I wish you good-night."
He stood up, made his bow, wiped his eyes, and began to walk to the
door. Scrope rose instantly.
"Sit down, Lieutenant," said the Major sharply, and Scrope obeyed with
The Major watched Knightley cross the room. Should he let the Ensign
go? Should he keep him? He could not decide. That Knightley would seek
his wife at once might of course have been foreseen; and yet it had
not been foreseen either by the Major or the others. The present
facts, as they had succeeded one after another had engrossed their
Knightley's hand was on the door, and the Major had not decided. He
pushed the door open, he set a foot in the passage, and then the roar
of a gun shook the room.
"Ah!" remarked Wyley, "the signal for your sortie."
Knightley stopped and listened. Major Shackleton stood in a fixed
attitude with his eyes upon the floor. He had hit upon an issue, it
seemed to him by inspiration. The noise of the gun was followed by ten
clear strokes of a bell.
"That's for the King's Battalion," said Knightley with a smile.
"Yes," said Tessin, and picking up his sword from a corner he slung
the bandolier across his shoulder.
The bell rang out again; this time the number of the strokes was
"That's for my Lord Dunbarton's Regiment," said Knightley.
"Yes," said two of the remaining officers. They took their hats and
followed Captain Tessin down the stairs.
A third time the bell spoke, and the strokes were thirty.
"Ah!" said Knightley, "that's for the Tangier Foot. Well, good luck to
you, Major!" and he passed through the door.
"A moment, Knightley. The regiment first. You wear Ensign Barbour's
uniform. You must do more than wear his uniform. The regiment first."
Major Shackleton spoke in a husky voice and kept his eyes on the
floor. Scrope looked at him keenly from the table. Knightley hardly
looked at him at all. He stepped back into the room.
"With all my heart, Major: the regiment first."
"Your station is at Peterborough Tower. You will go there--at once."
"At once," replied Knightley cheerfully. "So she would wish," and he
went down the stairs into the street. Major Shackleton picked up his
"I command this sortie," he said to Wyley; but as he turned he found
himself confronted by Scrope.
"What do you intend?" asked Scrope.
Major Shackleton looked towards Wyley. Wyley understood the look and
also what Shackleton intended. He went from the room and left the two
The grey light poured through the window; the candles still burnt
yellow on the table.
"What do you intend?"
The Major looked Scrope straight in the face.
"I have heard a man speak to-night in a man's voice. I mean to do that
man the best service that I can. These two years at Mequinez cannot
mate with these two years at Tangier. Knightley knows nothing now; he
never shall know. He believes his wife a second Penelope; he shall
keep that belief. There is a trench--you called it very properly a
grave. In that trench Knightley will not hear though all Tangier
scream its gossip in his ears. I mean to give him his chance of
"No, Major," cried Scrope. "Or listen! Give me an equal chance."
"Trelawney's Regiment is not called out. Again, Lieutenant, I fear me
you will have the harder part of it."
Shackleton repeated Scrope's own words in all sincerity, and hurried
off to his post.
Scrope was left alone in the guard-room. A vision of the trench,
twelve feet deep, eight yards wide, yawned before his eyes. He closed
them, but that made no difference; he still saw the trench. In
imagination he began to measure its width and depth. Then he shook his
head to rid himself of the picture, and went out on to the balcony.
His eyes turned instinctively to a house by the city wall, to a corner
of the _patio_ the house and the latticed shutter of a window just
seen from the balcony.
He stepped back into the room with a feeling of nausea, and blowing
out the candles sat down alone, in the twilight, amongst the empty
chairs. There were dark corners in the room; the broadening light
searched into them, and suddenly the air was tinged with warm gold.
Somewhere the sun had risen. In a little, Scrope heard a dropping
sound of firing, and a few moments afterwards the rattle of a volley.
The battle was joined. Scrope saw the trench again yawn up before his
eyes. The Major was right. This morning, again, Lieutenant Scrope had
the harder part of it.
THE MAN OF WHEELS.
When Sir Charles Fosbrook was told by Mr. Pepys that Tangier had been
surrendered to the Moors, he asked at once after the fate of his
gigantic mole; and when he was informed that his mole had been, before
the evacuation, so utterly blown to pieces that its scattered blocks
made the harbour impossible for anchorage, he forbade so much as the
mention in his presence of the name of Africa. But if he had done with
Tangier, Tangier had not done with him, and five years afterwards
he became concerned in the most unexpected way with certain tragic
consequences of that desperate siege.
He received a letter from an acquaintance of whom he had long lost
sight, a Mr. Mardale of the Quarry House near Leamington, imploring
him to give his opinion upon some new inventions. The value of the
inventions could be easily gauged; Mr. Mardale claimed to have
invented a wheel of perpetual rotation. Sir Charles, however, had his
impulses of kindness. He knew Mr. Mardale to be an old and gentle
person, a little touched in the head perhaps, who with money enough
to surfeit every instinct of pleasure, had preferred to live a shy
secluded life, busily engaged either in the collection of curiosities
or the invention of toy-like futile machines. There was a girl too
whom Sir Charles remembered, a weird elfin creature with extraordinary
black eyes and hair and a clear white face. Her one regret in those
days had been that she was not born a horse, and she had lived in the
stables, in as horse like a fashion as was possible. Her ankle indeed
still must bear an unnecessary scar through the application of a
fierce horse-liniment to a sprain. No doubt, however, she had long
since changed her ambitions. Sir Charles calculated her age. Resilda
Mardale must be twenty-five years old and a deuced fine woman into the
bargain. Sir Charles took a glance at his figure in his cheval-glass.
He had reached middle-age to be sure, but he had a leg that many a
spindle-shanked youngster might envy, nor was there any unbecoming
protuberance at his waist. He wrote a letter accepting the invitation
and a week later in the dusk of a June evening, drove up the long
avenue of trees to the terrace of the Quarry House.
The house was a solid square mansion built upon the side of a hill,
and the ground in front of it fell away very quickly from the terrace
to what Sir Charles imagined must be a pond, for a light mist hung at
the bottom. On the other side of the pond the ground rose again in a
steep hill. But Sir Charles had no opportunity at this moment to get
any accurate knowledge of the house and its surroundings. For apart
from the darkness, it was close upon supper-time and Miss Resilda
Mardale must assuredly not be kept waiting. His valet subsequently
declared that Sir Charles had seldom been so particular in the choice
of his coat and small-clothes; and the supper-bell certainly rang out
before he was satisfied with the set of his cravat.
He could not, however, consider his pains wasted when once he was set
down opposite to Resilda. She was taller than he had expected her to
be, but he did not count height a fault so long as there was grace
to carry it off, and grace she had in plenty. Her face had gained in
delicacy and lost nothing of its brilliancy, or of its remarkable
clearness of complexion. Her hair too if it was less rebellious, and
more neatly coiled, had retained its glory of profusion, and her big
black eyes, though to be sure they were grown a trifle sedate, no
doubt could sparkle as of old. Sir Charles set himself to make them
sparkle. Old Mr. Mardale prattled of his inventions to his heart's
delight--he described the wheel, and also a flying machine and besides
the flying machine, an engine by which steam might be used to raise
water to great altitudes. Sir Charles was ready from time to time with
a polite, if not always an appropriate comment, and for the rest he
paid compliments to Resilda. Still the eyes did not sparkle, indeed a
pucker appeared and deepened on her forehead. Sir Charles accordingly
redoubled his gallantries, he was slyly humorous about the
horse-liniment, and thereupon came the remark which so surprised him
and was the beginning of his strange discoveries. For Resilda suddenly
leaned towards him and said frankly:
"I would much rather, Sir Charles, you told me something of your great
mole at Tangier."
Sir Charles had reason for surprise. The world had long since
forgotten his mole, if ever it had been concerned in it. Yet here was
a girl whose thoughts might be expected to run on youths and ribands
talking of it in a little village four miles from Leamington as though
there were no topic more universal. Sir Charles Fosbrook answered her
"I thought never to speak of Tangier and the mole again. I spent many
years upon the devising and construction of that great breakwater. It
could have sheltered every ship of his Majesty's navy. It was wife and
children to me. My heart lay very close to it. I fancied indeed my
heart was disrupted with the disruption of the mole, and it has at all
events, lain ever since as heavy as King Charles' Chest."
"Yes, I can understand that," said Resilda.
Sir Charles had vowed never to speak of the matter again. But he had
kept his vow for five long years, and besides here was a girl of a
remarkable beauty expressing sympathy and asking for information. Sir
Charles broke his vow and talked, and the girl helped him. A suspicion
that she might have primed herself with knowledge in view of his
coming, vanished before the flame of her enthusiasm. She knew the
history of its building almost as well as he did himself, and could
even set him right in his dates. It was she who knew the exact day on
which King Charles' Chest, that great block of mortised stones, which
formed as it were the keystone of the breakwater, had been lowered
into its place. Sir Charles abandoned all reserve, and talked freely
of his hopes and fears as the pier ran farther out and out into the
currents of the Straits, of his bitter disappointment when his labours
were destroyed. He forgot his gallantries, he showed himself the man
he was. Neither he nor Resilda noticed a low rumble of thunder or the
beating of sudden rain upon the windows, so occupied were they with
the theme of their talk; and at last Sir Charles, leaning back in his
chair, cried out with astonishment and delight.
"But how is it that my mole is so familiar a thing to you? Explain it
if you please! Never have I spent so agreeable an evening."
A momentary embarrassment seemed to follow upon his words. Resilda
looked at her father who chuckled and explained.
"Sir, an old soldier years ago came over the hill in front of the
house and begged for alms. He found my daughter on the terrace in a
lucky moment for himself. He had all sorts of wonderful stories of
Tangier and the great mole which was then a building. Resilda was set
on fire that day, and though the King and the Parliament might shut
their eyes to the sore straits of that town and the gallantry of its
defenders, no one was allowed to forget them in the Quarry House. To
tell the truth I sometimes envied the obliviousness of Parliament,"
and he laughed gently. "So from the first my daughter was primed with
the history of that siege, and lately we have had further means of
knowledge--" He began to speak warily and with embarrassment--"For two
years ago Resilda married an officer of The King's Battalion, Major
"Here are two surprises," cried Sir Charles. "For in the first place,
Madam, I had no thought you were wed. Blame a bachelor's stupidity!"
and he glanced at her left hand which lay upon the table-cloth with
the band of gold gleaming upon a finger. "In the second place I knew
Major Lashley very well, though it is news to me that he ever troubled
his head with my mole. A very gallant officer, who defended Charles
Fort through many nights of great suspense, and cleft his way back
to Tangier when his ammunition was expended. I shall be very glad to
shake the Major once more by the hand."
At once Sir Charles was aware that he had uttered the most awkward and
unsuitable remark. Resilda Lashley, as he must now term her, actually
flinched away from him and then sat with a vague staring look of pain
as though she had been shocked clean out of her wits. She recovered
herself in a moment, but she did not speak, neither had Sir Charles
any words. He looked at her dress which was white and had not so much
as a black riband dangling anywhere about it.
But there were other events than death which could make the utterance
of his wish a _gaucherie_. Sir Charles prided himself upon his tact,
particularly with a good-looking woman, and he was therefore much
abashed and confused. The only one who remained undisturbed was Mr.
Mardale. His mind was never for very long off his wheels, or his
works of art. It was the turn of his pictures now. He had picked up a
genuine Rubens in Ghent, he declared. It was standing somewhere in the
great drawing-room on the carpet against the back of a chair, and Sir
Charles must look at it in the morning, if only it could be found. He
had clean forgotten all about his daughter it appeared. She, however,
had a mind to clear the mystery up, and interrupting her father.
"It is right that you should know," she said simply, "Major Lashley
disappeared six months ago."
"Disappeared!" exclaimed Sir Charles in spite of himself, and the
astonishment in his voice woke the old gentleman from his prattle.
"To be sure," said he apologetically, "I should have told you before
of the sad business. Yes, Sir, Major Lashley disappeared, utterly from
this very house on the eleventh night of last December, and though the
country-side was scoured and every ragamuffin for miles round brought
to question, no trace of him has anywhere been discovered from that
day to this."
An intuition slipped into Sir Charles Fosbrook's mind, and though he
would have dismissed it as entirely unwarrantable, persisted there.
The thought of the steep slope of ground before the house and the mist
in the hollow between the two hills. The mist was undoubtedly the
exhalation from a pond. The pond might have reeds which might catch
and gather a body. But the pond would have been dragged. Still the
thought of the pond remained while he expressed a vague hope that the
Major might by God's will yet be restored to them.
He had barely ended before a louder gust of rain than ordinary smote
upon the windows and immediately there followed a knocking upon the
hall-door. The sound was violent, and it came with so opposite a
rapidity upon the heels of Fosbrook's words that it thrilled and
startled him. There was something very timely in the circumstances of
night and storm and that premonitory clapping at the door. Sir Charles
looked towards the door in a glow of anticipation. He had time to
notice, however, how deeply Resilda herself was stirred; her left hand
which had lain loose upon the table-cloth was now tightly clenched,
and she had a difficulty in breathing. The one strange point in her
conduct was that although she looked towards the door like Sir Charles
Fosbrook, there was more of suspense in the look than of the eagerness
of welcome. The butler, however, had no news of Major Lashley to
announce. He merely presented the compliments of Mr. Gibson Jerkley
who had been caught in the storm near the Quarry House and ten miles
from his home. Mr. Jerkley prayed for supper and a dry suit of
"And a bed too," said Resilda, with a flush of colour in her cheeks,
and begging Sir Charles' permission she rose from the table. Sir
Charles was disappointed by the mention of a strange name. Mr.
Mardale, however, to whom that loud knocking upon the door had been
void of suggestion, now became alert. He looked with a strange anxiety
after his daughter, an anxiety which surprised Fosbrook, to whom
this man of wheels and little toys had seemed lacking in the natural
"And a bed too," repeated Mr. Mardale doubtfully, "to be sure! To be
sure!" And though he went into the hall to welcome his visitor, it was
not altogether without reluctance.
Mr. Gibson Jerkley was a man of about thirty years. He had a brown
open personable countenance, a pair of frank blue eyes, and the steady
restful air of a man who has made his account with himself, and who
neither speaks to win praise nor is at pains to escape dislike. Sir
Charles Fosbrook was from the first taken with the man, though he
spoke little with him for the moment. For being tired with his long
journey from London, he retired shortly to his room.
But however tired he was, Sir Charles found that it was quite
impossible for him to sleep. The cracking of the rain upon his
windows, the groaning trees in the park, and the wail of the wind
among the chimneys and about the corners of the house were no doubt
for something in a Londoner's sleeplessness. But the mysterious
disappearance of Major Lashley was at the bottom of it. He thought
again of the pond. He imagined a violent kidnapping and his fancies
went to work at devising motives. Some quarrel long ago in the crowded
city of Tangier and now brought to a tragical finish amongst the oaks
and fields of England. Perhaps a Moor had travelled over seas for his
vengeance and found his way from village to village like that
Baracen lady of old times. And when he had come to this point of his
reflections, he heard a light rapping upon his door. He got out of bed
and opened it. He saw Mr. Gibson Jerkley standing on the threshold
with a candle in one hand and a finger of the other at his lip.
"I saw alight beneath your door," said Jerkley, and Sir Charles made
room for him to enter. He closed the door cautiously, and setting his
candle down upon a chest of drawers, said without any hesitation:
"I have come, Sir, to ask for your advice. I do not wonder at your
surprise, it is indeed a strange sort of intrusion for a man to make
upon whom you have never clapped your eyes before this evening. But
for one thing I fancy Mrs. Lashley wishes me to ask you for the
favour. She has said nothing definitely, in faith she could not as you
will understand when you have heard the story. But that I come with
her approval I am very sure. For another, had she disapproved, I
should none the less have come of my own accord. Sir, though I know
you very well by reputation, I have had the honour of few words with
you, but my life has taught me to trust boldly where my eyes bid me
trust. And the whole affair is so strange that one more strange act
like this intrusion of mine is quite of apiece. I ask you therefore to
listen to me. The listening pledges you to nothing, and at the worst,
I can promise you, my story will while away a sleepless hour. If when
you have heard, you can give us your advice, I shall be very glad. For
we are sunk in such a quandary that a new point of view cannot but
Sir Charles pointed to a chair and politely turned away to hide a
yawn. For the young man's lengthy exordium had made him very drowsy.
He could very comfortably had fallen asleep at this moment. But Gibson
Jerkley began to speak, and in a short space of time Sir Charles was
as wide-awake as any house-breaker.
"Eight years ago," said he, "I came very often to the Quarry House,
but I always rode homewards discontented in the evening. Resilda at
that time had a great ambition to be a boy. The sight of any brown
bare-legged lad gipsying down the hill with a song upon his lips,
would set her viciously kicking the toes of her satin slippers against
the parapet of the terrace, and clamouring at her sex. Now I was not
of the same mind with Resilda."
"That I can well understand," said Sir Charles drily. "But, my young
friend, I can remember a time when Resilda desired of all things to be
a horse. There was something hopeful because more human in her wish to
be a boy, had you only known."
Mr. Jerkley nodded gravely and continued:
"I was young enough to argue the point with her, which did me no good,
and then to make matters worse, the soldier from Tangier came over the
hill, with his stories of Major Lashley--Captain he was then."
"Major Lashley," exclaimed Sir Charles. "I did not hear the soldier
was one of Major Lashley's men!"
"But he was and thenceforward the world went very ill with me. Reports
of battles, and sorties came home at rare intervals. She was the first
to read of them. Major Lashley's name was more than once mentioned. We
country gentlemen who stayed at home and looked after our farms and
our tenants, having no experience of war, suffered greatly in the
comparison. So at the last I ordered my affairs for a long voyage, and
without taking leave of any but my nearest neighbours and friends, I
slipped off one evening to the wars."
"You did not wish your friends at the Quarry House good-bye?" said
"No. It might have seemed that I was making claims, and, after all,
one has one's pride. I would never, I think, ask a woman to wait
for me. But she heard of course after I had gone and--I am speaking
frankly--I believe the news woke the woman in her. At all events there
was little talk after of Tangier at the Quarry House."
Mr. Jerkley related his subsequent history. He had sailed at his own
charges to Africa; he had enlisted as a gentleman volunteer in The
King's Battalion; he had served under Major Lashley in the Charles
Fort where he was in charge of the great speaking-trumpet by which
the force received its orders from the Lieutenant-Governor in Tangier
Castle; he took part in the desperate attempt to cut a way back
through the Moorish army into the town. In that fight he was wounded
and left behind for dead.
"A year later peace was made. Tangier was evacuated, Major Lashley
returned to England. Now the Major and I despite the difference
in rank had been friends. I had spoken to him of Miss Mardale's
admiration, and as chance would have it, he came to Leamington to take
"Chance?" said Sir Charles drily.
"Well it may have been intention," said Jerkley. "There was no reason
in the world why he should not seek her out. She was not promised to
me, and very likely I had spoken of her with enthusiasm. For a long
time she would not consent to listen to him. He was, however, no
less persistent--he pleaded his suit for three years. I was dead you
understand, and what man worth a pinch of salt would wish a woman to
waste her gift of life in so sterile a fidelity.... You follow me?
At the end of three years Resilda yielded to his pleadings, and the
persuasions of her friends. For Major Lashley quickly made himself a
position in the country. They were married, Major Lashley was not a
rich man, it was decided that they should both live at the Quarry
"And what had Mr. Mardale to say to it?" asked Fosbrook.
"Oh, Sir," said Gibson Jerkley with a laugh. "Mr. Mardale is a man of
wheels, and little steel springs. Let him sit at his work-table in
that crowded drawing-room on the first floor, without interruption,
and he will be very well content, I can assure you.... Hush!" and he
suddenly raised his hand. In the silence which followed, they both
distinctly heard the sound of some one stirring in the house. Mr.
Jerkley went to the door and opened it. The door gave on to the
passage which was shut off at its far end by another door from the
square tulip-wood landing, at the head of the stairs. He came back
into the bedroom.
"There is a light on the other side of the passage-door," said he.
"But I have no doubt it is Mr. Mardale going to his bed. He sits late
at his work-table."
Sir Charles brought him back to his story.
"Meanwhile you were counted for dead, but actually you were taken
prisoner. There is one thing which I do not understand. When peace was
concluded the prisoners were freed and an officer was sent up into
Morocco to secure their release."
"There were many oversights like mine, I have no doubt. The Moors were
reluctant enough to produce their captives. We who were supposed to be
dead were not particularly looked for. I have no doubt there is many
a poor English soldier sweating out his soul in the uplands of that
country to this day. I escaped two years ago, just about the time, in
fact, when Miss Resilda Mardale became Mrs. Lashley. I crept down
over the hillside behind Tangier one dark evening, and lay all night
beneath a bush of tamarisks dreaming the Moors were still about me.
But an inexplicable silence reigned and nowhere was the darkness
spotted by the flame of any camp-fire. In the morning I looked down
to Tangier. The first thing which I noticed was your broken stump of
mole, the second that nowhere upon the ring of broken wall could be
seen the flash of a red coat or the glitter of a musket-barrel. I came
down into Tangier, I had no money and no friends. I got away in a
felucca to Spain. From Spain I worked my passage to England. I came
home nine months ago. And here is the trouble. Three months after I
returned Major Lashley disappeared. You understand?"
"Oh," cried Sir Charles, and he jumped in his chair. "I understand
indeed. Suspicion settled upon you," and as it ever will upon the
least provocation suspicion passed for a moment into Fosbrook's brain.
He was heartily ashamed of it when he looked into Jerkley's face. It
would need, assuredly, a criminal of an uncommon astuteness to come at
this hour with this story. Mr. Jerkley was not that criminal.
"Yes," he answered simply, "I am looked at askance, devil a doubt of
it. I would not care a snap of the fingers were I alone in the matter;
but there is Mrs. Lashley ... she is neither wife nor widow ... and,"
he took a step across the room and said quickly--and were she known
for a widow, there is still the suspicion upon me like a great iron
door between us."
"Can you help us, Sir Charles! Can you see light?"
"You must tell me the details of the Major's disappearance," said Sir
Charles, and the following details were given.
On the eleventh of December and at ten o'clock of the evening Major
Lashley left the house to visit the stables which were situated in
the Park and at the distance of a quarter of a mile from the house. A
favourite mare, which he had hunted the day before, had gone lame,
and all day Major Lashley had shown some anxiety; so that there was a
natural reason why he should have gone out at the last moment before
retiring to bed. Mrs. Lashley went up to her room at the same time,
indeed with so exact a correspondence of movement that as she reached
the polished tulip-wood landing at the top of the stairs, she heard
the front door latch as her husband drew it to behind him. That was
the last she heard of him.
"She woke up suddenly," said Jerkley, "in the middle of the night, and
found that her husband was not at her side. She waited for a little
and then rose from her bed. She drew the window-curtains aside and by
the glimmering light which came into the room, was able to read the
dial of her watch. It was seven minutes past three of the morning. She
immediately lighted her candle and went to rouse her father. Her door
opened upon the landing, it is the first door upon the left hand side
as you mount the stairs; the big drawing-room opens on to the landing
too, but faces the stairs. Mrs. Lashley at once went to that room,
knowing how late Mr. Mardale is used to sit over his inventions, and
as she expected, found him there. A search was at once arranged; every
servant in the house was at once impressed, and in the morning every
servant on the estate. Major Lashley had left the stable at a quarter
past ten. He has been seen by no one since."
Sir Charles reflected upon this story.
"There is a pond in front of the house," said he.
"It was dragged in the morning," replied Jerkley.
Sir Charles made various inquiries and received the most
unsatisfactory answers for his purpose. Major Lashley had been a
favourite alike at Tangier, and in the country. He had a winning
trick of a smile, which made friends for him even among his country's
enemies. Mr. Jerkley could not think of a man who had wished him ill.
"Well, I will think the matter over," said Sir Charles, who had not an
idea in his head, and he held the door open for Mr. Jerkley. Both men
stood upon the threshold, looked down the passage and then looked at
"It is strange," said Jerkley.
"The light has been a long while burning on the landing," said Sir
Charles. They walked on tiptoe down the passage to the door beneath
which one bright bar of light stretched across the floor. Jerkley
opened the door and looked through; Sir Charles who was the taller man
looked over Jerkley's head and never were two men more surprised. In
the embrasure of that door to the left of the staircase, the door
behind which Resilda Lashley slept, old Mr. Mardale reclined, with his
back propped against the door-post. He had fallen asleep at his post,
and a lighted candle half-burnt flamed at his side. The reason of his
presence then was clear to them both.
"A morbid fancy!" he said in a whisper, but with a considerable anger
in his voice. "Such a fancy as comes only to a man who has lost his
judgment through much loneliness. See, he sits like any negro outside
an Eastern harem! Sir, I am shamed by him."
"You have reason I take the liberty to say," said Sir Charles
absently, and he went back to his room puzzling over what he had seen,
and over what he could neither see nor understand. The desire for
sleep was altogether gone from him. He opened his window and leaned
out. The rain had ceased, but the branches still dripped and the air
was of an incomparable sweetness. Blackbirds and thrushes on the
lawns, and in the thicket-depths were singing as though their lives
hung upon the full fresh utterance of each note. A clear pure light
was diffused across the world. Fosbrook went back to his old idea of
some vengeful pursuit sprung from a wrong done long ago in Tangier.
The picture of Major Lashley struck with terror as he got news of his
pursuers, and slinking off into the darkness. Even now, somewhere or
another, on the uplands or the plains of England, he might be rising
from beneath a hedge to shake the rain from his besmeared clothes, and
start off afresh on another day's aimless flight. The notion caught
his imagination and comforted him to sleep. But in the morning he woke
to recognise its unreality. The unreality became yet more vivid to
him at the breakfast-table, when he sat with two pairs of young eyes
turning again and again trustfully towards him. The very reliance
which the man and woman so clearly placed in him spurred him. Since
they looked to him to clear up the mystery, why he must do it, and
there was an end of the matter.
He was none the less glad, however, when Mr. Jerkley announced his
intention of returning home. There would at all events be one pair
of eyes the less. He strolled with Mr. Jerkley on the terrace
after breakfast with a deep air of cogitation, the better to avoid
questions. Gibson Jerkley, however, was himself in a ruminative
mood. He stopped, and gazing across the valley to the riband of road
descending the hill:
"Down that road the soldier came," said he, "whose stories brought
about all this misfortune."
"And very likely down that road will come the bearer of news to make
an end of it," rejoined Fosbrook sententiously. Mr. Jerkley looked at
him with a sudden upspringing of hope, and Sir Charles nodded with
ineffable mystery, never guessing how these lightly spoken words were
to return to his mind with the strength of a fulfilled prophecy.
As he nodded, however, he turned about towards the house, and a
certain disfigurement struck upon his eyes. Two windows on the first
floor were entirely bricked up, and as the house was square with level
tiers of windows, they gave to it an unsightly look. Sir Charles
inquired of his companion if he could account for them.
"To be sure," said Jerkley, with the inattention of a man diverted
from serious thought to an unimportant topic. "They are the windows of
the room in which Mrs. Mardale died a quarter of a century ago. Mr.
Mardale locked the door as soon as his wife was taken from it to the
church, and the next day he had the windows blocked. No one but he has
entered the room during all these years, the key has never left his
person. It must be the ruin of a room by now. You can imagine it, the
dust gathering, the curtains rotting, in the darkness and at times the
old man sitting there with his head running on days long since dead.
But you know Mr. Mardale, he is not as other men."
Sir Charles swung round alertly to his companion. To him at all events
the topic was not an indifferent one.
"Yet you say, you believe that he is void of the natural affections.
Last night we saw a proof, a crazy proof if you will, but none the
less a proof of his devotion to his daughter. To-day you give me as
sure a one of his devotion to his dead wife," and almost before he had
finished, Mr. Mardale was calling to him from the steps of the house.
He spent all that morning in the great drawing-room on the first
floor. It was a room of rich furniture, grown dingy with dust and
inattention, and crowded from end to end with tables and chairs and
sofas, on which were heaped in a confused medley, pictures, statues of
marble, fans and buckles from Spain, queer barbaric ornaments, ivory
carvings from the Chinese. Sir Charles could hardly make his way to
the little cleared space by the window, where Mr. Mardale worked,
without brushing some irreplaceable treasure to the floor. Once
there he was fettered for the morning. Mr. Mardale with all the
undisciplined enthusiasm of an amateur, jumping from this invention to
that, beaming over his spectacles. Sir Charles listened with here and
there a word of advice, or of sympathy with the labour of creation.
But his thoughts were busy elsewhere, he was pondering over his
discovery of the morning, over the sight which he and Jerkley had seen
last night, he was accustoming himself to regard the old man in a
strange new light, as an over-careful father and a sorely-stricken
husband. Meanwhile he sat over against the window which was in the
side of the house, and since the house was built upon a slope of hill,
although the window was on the first floor, a broad terrace of grass
stretched away from it to a circle of gravel ornamented with statues.
On this terrace he saw Mrs. Lashley, and reflected uncomfortably that
he must meet her at dinner and again sustain the inquiry of her eyes.
He avoided actual questions, however, and as soon as dinner was over,
with a meaning look at the girl to assure her that he was busy with
her business, he retired to the library. Then he sat himself down to
think the matter over restfully. But the room, walled with books upon
its three sides, fronted the Southwest on its fourth, and as the
afternoon advanced, the hot June sun streamed farther and farther into
the room. Sir Charles moved his chair back, and again back, and again,
until at last it was pushed into the one cool dark corner of the room.
Then Sir Charles closed his wearied eyes the better to think. But he
had slept little during the last night, and when he opened them again,
it was with a guilty start. He rubbed his eyes, then he reached a hand
down quickly at his side, and lifted a book out of the lowest shelf in
the corner. The book was a volume of sermons. Sir Charles replaced it,
and again dipped his hand into the lucky-bag. He drew out a tome of
Mr. Hobbes' philosophy; Sir Charles was not in the mood for Hobbes; he
tried again. On this third occasion he found something very much more
to his taste, namely the second Volume of Anthony Hamilton's Memoirs
of Count Grammont. This he laid upon his knee, and began glancing
through the pages while he speculated upon the mystery of the Major's
disappearance. His thoughts, however, lagged in a now well-worn
circle, they begot nothing new in the way of a suggestion. On the
other hand the book was quite new to him. He became less and less
interested in his thoughts, more and more absorbed in the Memoirs.
There were passages marked with a pencil-line in the margin, and
marked, thought Sir Charles, by a discriminating judge. He began to
look only for the marked passages, being sure that thus he would most
easily come upon the raciest anecdotes. He read the story of the
Count's pursuit by the brother of the lady he was affianced to. The
brother caught up the Count when he was nearing Dover to return to
France. "You have forgotten something," said the brother. "So I have,"
replied Grammont. "I have forgotten to marry your sister." Sir Charles
chuckled and turned over the pages. There was an account of how the
reprobate hero rode seventy miles into the country to keep a tryst
with an _inamorata_ and waited all night for no purpose in pouring
rain by the Park gate. Sir Charles laughed aloud. He turned over more
pages, and to his surprise came across, amongst the marked passages, a
quite unentertaining anecdote of how Grammont lost a fine new suit of
clothes, ordered for a masquerade at White Hall. Sir Charles read the
story again, wondering why on earth this passage had been marked; and
suddenly he was standing by the window, holding the book to the light
in a quiver of excitement. Underneath certain letters in the words of
this marked passage he had noticed dents in the paper, as though by
the pressure of a pencil point. Now that he stood by the light, he
made sure of the dents, and he saw also by the roughness of the paper
about them, that the pencil-marks had been carefully erased. He read
these underlined letters together--they made a word, two words--a
sentence, and the sentence was an assignation.
Sir Charles could not remember that the critical moment in any of his
great engineering undertakings, had ever caused him such a flutter
of excitement, such a pulsing in his temples, such a catching of his
breath--no, not even the lowering of Charles' Chest into the Waters
of Tangier harbour. Everything at once became exaggerated out of its
proportions, the silence of the house seemed potential and expectant,
the shadows in the room now that the sun was low had their message, he
felt a queer chill run down his spine like ice, he shivered. Then he
hurried to the door, locked it and sat down to a more careful study.
And as he read, there came out before his eyes a story--a story told
as it were in telegrams, a story of passion, of secret meetings, of
gratitude for favours.
Who was the discriminating judge who had marked these passages and
underlined these letters? The book was newly published, it was in the
Quarry House, and there were three occupants of the Quarry House. Was
it Mr. Mardale? The mere question raised a laugh. Resilda? Never.
Major Lashley then? If not Major Lashley, who else?
It flashed into his mind that here in this book he might hold the
history of the Major's long courtship of Resilda. But he dismissed the
notion contemptuously. Gibson Jerkley had told him of that courtship,
and of the girl's reluctance to respond to it. Besides Resilda was
never the woman in this story. Perhaps the first volume might augment
it and give the clue to the woman's identity. Sir Charles hunted
desperately through the shelves. Nowhere was the first volume to be
found. He wasted half-an-hour before he understood why. Of course the
other volume would be in the woman's keeping, and how in the world to
Things moved very quickly with Sir Charles that afternoon. He had shut
up the volume and laid it on the table, the while he climbed up and
down the library steps. From the top of the steps he glanced about the
room in a despairing way, and his eyes lit upon the table. For the
first time he remarked the binding which was of a brown leather. But
all the books on the shelves were bound uniformly in marble boards
with a red backing. He sprang down from the steps with the vigour of a
boy, and seizing the book looked in the fly leaf for a name. There was
a name, the name of a bookseller in Leamington, and as he closed the
book again, some one rapped upon the door. Sir Charles opened it and
saw Mr. Mardale. He gave the old gentleman no time to speak.
"Mr. Mardale," said he, "I am a man of plethoric habits, and must
needs take exercise. Can you lend me a horse?"
Mr. Mardale was disappointed as his manner showed. He had perhaps at
that very moment hit upon a new and most revolutionary invention.
But his manners hindered him from showing more than a trace of
the disappointment, and Sir Charles rode out to the bookseller at
Leamington, with the volume beneath his coat.
"Can you show me the companion to this?" said he, dumping it down upon
the counter. The bookseller seized upon the volume and fondled it.
"It is not fair," he cried. "In any other affair but books, it would
be called at once sheer dishonesty. Here have been my subscribers
clamouring for the Memoirs for six months and more."
"You hire out your books!" cried Sir Charles.
"Give would be the properer word," grumbled the man.
Sir Charles humbly apologised.
"It was the purest oversight," said he, "and I will gladly pay double.
But I need the first volume."
"The first volume, Sir," replied the bookseller in a mollified voice,
"is in the like case with the second. There has been an oversight."
"But who has it?"
The bookseller was with difficulty persuaded to search his list. He
kept his papers in the greatest disorder, so that it was no wonder
people kept his volumes until they forgot them. But in the end he
found his list.
"Mrs. Ripley," he read out, "Mrs. Ripley of Burley Wood."
"And where is Burley Wood?" asked Sir Charles.
"It is a village, Sir, six miles from Leamington," replied the
bookseller, and he gave some rough directions as to the road.
Sir Charles mounted his horse and cantered down the Parade. The sun
was setting; he would for a something miss his supper; but he meant to
see Burley Wood that day, and he would have just daylight enough
for his purpose. As he entered the village, he caught up a labourer
returning from the fields. Sir Charles drew rein beside him.
"Will you tell me, if you please, where Mrs. Ripley lives?"
The man looked up and grinned.
"In the churchyard," said he.
"Do you mean she is dead?"
"When did she die?"
"Well, it may have been a month or two ago, or it may have been more."
"Show me her grave and there's a silver shilling in your pocket."
The labourer led Fosbrook to a corner of the churchyard. Then upon
a head-stone he read that Mary Ripley aged twenty-nine had died on
December 7th. December the 7th thought Sir Charles, five days before
Major Lashley died. Then he turned quickly to the labourer.
"Can you tell me when Mrs. Ripley was buried?"
"I can find out for another shilling."
"You shall have it, man."
The labourer hurried off, discovered the sexton, and came back. But
instead of the civil gentleman he had left, he found now a man with a
face of horror, and eyes that had seen appalling things. Sir Charles
had remained in the churchyard by the grave, he had looked about him
from one to the other of the mounds of turf, his imagination already
stimulated had been quickened by what he had seen; he stood with the
face of a Medusa.
"She was buried when?" he asked.
"On December the 11th," replied the labourer.
Sir Charles showed no surprise. He stood very still for a moment, then
he gave the man his two shillings, and walked to the gate where his
horse was tied. Then he inquired the nearest way to the Quarry House,
and he was pointed out a bridle-path running across fields to a hill.
As he mounted he asked another question.
"Mr. Ripley is alive?"
"It must be Mr. Ripley," Sir Charles assured himself, as he rode
through the dusk of the evening. "It must be ... It must be ..." until
the words in his mind became a meaningless echo of his horse's hoofs.
He rode up the hill, left the bridle-path for the road, and suddenly,
and long before he had expected, he saw beneath him the red square of
the Quarry House and the smoke from its chimneys. He was on that very
road up which he and Gibson Jerkley had looked that morning. Down that
road, he had said, would come the man who knew how Major Lashley
had disappeared, and within twelve hours down that road the man was
coming. "But it must be Mr. Ripley," he said to himself.
None the less he took occasion at supper to speak of his ride.
"I rode by Leamington to Burley Wood. I went into the churchyard."
Then he stopped, but as though the truth was meant to come to light,
Resilda helped him out.
"I had a dear friend buried there not so long ago," she said. "Father,
you remember Mrs. Ripley."
"I saw her grave this afternoon," said Fosbrook, with his eyes upon
Mr. Mardale. It might have been a mere accident, it was in any case a
trifling thing, the mere shaking of a hand, the spilling of a spoonful
of salt upon the table, but trifling things have their suggestions.
He remembered that Resilda, when she had waked up on the night of
December the 11th to find herself alone, had sought out her father,
who was still up, and at work in the big drawing-room. He remembered
too that the window of that room gave on to a terrace of grass. A man
might go out by that window--aye and return without a soul but himself
being the wiser.
Of course it was all guess work and inference, and besides, it must be
Mr. Ripley. Mr. Ripley might as easily have discovered the secret
of the Memoirs as himself--or anyone else. Mr. Ripley would have
justification for anger and indeed for more--yes for what men who are
not affected are used to call a crime ... Sir Charles abruptly stopped
his reasoning, seeing that it was prompted by a defence of Mr.
Mardale. He made his escape from his hosts as soon as he decently
could and retired to his room. He sat down in his room and thought,
and he thought to some purpose. He blew out his candle, and stole down
the stairs into the hall. He had met no one. From the hall he went to
the library-door and opened it--ever so gently. The room was quite
dark. Sir Charles felt his way across it to his chair in the corner.
He sat down in the darkness and waited. After a time inconceivably
long, after every board in the house had cracked a million times, he
heard distinctly a light shuffling step in the passage, and after that
the latch of the door release itself from the socket. He heard nothing
more, for a little, he could only guess that the door was being
silently opened by some one who carried no candle. Then the shuffling
footsteps began to move gently across the room, towards him, towards
the corner where he was sitting. Sir Charles had had no doubt but that
they would, not a single doubt, but none the less as he sat there
in the dark, he felt the hair rising on his scalp, and all his body
thrill. Then a hand groped and touched him. A cry rang out, but it was
Sir Charles who uttered it. A voice answered quietly:
"You had fallen asleep. I regret to have waked you."
"I was not asleep, Mr. Mardale."
There was a pause and Mr. Mardale continued.
"I cannot sleep to-night, I came for a book."
"I know. For the book I took back to Leamington to-day, before I went
to visit Mrs. Ripley's grave."
There was a yet longer pause before Mr. Mardale spoke again.
"Stay then!" he said in the same gentle voice. "I will fetch a light."
He shuffled out of the room, and to Sir Charles it seemed again an
inconceivably long time before he returned. He came back with a single
candle, which he placed upon the table, a little star of light,
showing the faces of the two men shadowy and dim. He closed the door
carefully, and coming back, said simply:
"How did you find out?"
"I saw the grave. I noticed the remarkable height of the mound. I
"Yes," said Mr. Mardale, and in a low voice he explained. "I found the
book here one day, that he left by accident. On December 11th Mrs.
Ripley was buried, and that night he left the house--for the stables,
yes, but he did not return from the stables. It seemed quite clear to
me where he would be that night. People hereabouts take me for a
man crazed and daft, I know that very well, but I know something of
passion, Sir Charles. I have had my griefs to bear. Oh, I knew where
he would be. I followed over the hill down to the churchyard of Burley
Wood. I had no thought of what I should do. I carried a stick in my
hand, I had no thought of using it. But I found him lying full-length
upon the grave with his lips pressed to the earth of it, whispering to
her who lay beneath him.... I called to him to stand up and he did. I
bade him, if he dared, repeat the words he had used to my face, to
me, the father of the girl he had married, and he did--triumphantly,
recklessly. I struck at him with the knob of my stick, the knob was
heavy, I struck with all my might, the blow fell upon his forehead.
The spade was lying on the ground beside the grave. I buried him with
her. Now what will you do?"
"Nothing," said Sir Charles.
"But Mr. Jerkley asked you to help him."
"I shall tell a lie."
"My friend, there is no need," said the old man with his gentle
smile. "When I went out for this candle I ..." Sir Charles broke in
upon him in a whirl of horror.
"No. Don't say it! You did not!"
"I did," replied Mr. Mardale. "The poison is a kindly one. I shall be
dead before morning. I shall sleep my way to death. I do not mind, for
I fear that, after all, my inventions are of little worth. I have left
a confession on my writing-desk. There is no reason--is there?--why he
and she should be kept apart?"
It was not a question which Sir Charles could discuss. He said
nothing, and was again left alone in the darkness, listening to the
shuffling footsteps of Mr. Mardale as, for the last time, he mounted
MR. MITCHELBOURNE'S LAST ESCAPADE.
It was in the kitchen of the inn at Framlingham that Mr. Mitchelbourne
came across the man who was afraid, and during the Christmas week
of the year 1681. Lewis Mitchelbourne was young in those days, and
esteemed as a gentleman of refinement and sensibility, with a queer
taste for escapades, pardonable by reason of his youth. It was his
pride to bear his part in the graceful tactics of a minuet, while a
saddled horse waited for him at the door. He delighted to vanish of a
sudden from the lighted circle of his friends into the byways where
none knew him, or held him of account, not that it was all vanity with
Mitchelbourne though no doubt the knowledge that his associates
in London Town were speculating upon his whereabouts tickled him
pleasurably through many a solitary day. But he was possessed both of
courage and resource, qualities for which he found too infrequent an
exercise in his ordinary life; and so he felt it good to be free for
awhile, not from the restraints but from the safeguards, with
which his social circumstances surrounded him. He had his spice of
philosophy too, and discovered that these sharp contrasts,--luxury and
hardship, treading hard upon each other and the new strange people
with whom he fell in, kept fresh his zest of life.
Thus it happened that at a time when families were gathering cheerily
each about a single fireside, Mr. Mitchelbourne was riding alone
through the muddy and desolate lanes of Suffolk. The winter was not
seasonable; men were not tempted out of doors. There was neither
briskness nor sunlight in the air, and there was no snow upon the
ground. It was a December of dripping branches, and mists and steady
pouring rains, with a raw sluggish cold, which crept into one's
The man who was afraid, a large, corpulent man, of a loose and heavy
build, with a flaccid face and bright little inexpressive eyes like a
bird's, sat on a bench within the glow of the fire.
"You travel far to-night?" he asked nervously, shuffling his feet.
"To-night!" exclaimed Mitchelbourne as he stood with his legs apart
taking the comfortable warmth into his bones. "No further than from
this fire to my bed," and he listened with enjoyment to the rain
which cracked upon the window like a shower of gravel flung by some
mischievous urchin. He was not suffered to listen long, for the
corpulent man began again.
"I am an observer, sir. I pride myself upon it, but I have so much
humility as to wish to put my observations to the test of fact. Now,
from your carriage, I should judge you to serve His Majesty."
"A civilian may be straight. There is no law against it," returned
Mitchelbourne, and he perceived that the ambiguity of his reply threw
his questioner into a great alarm. He was at once interested. Here,
it seemed, was one of those encounters which were the spice of his
"You will pardon me," continued the stranger with a great assumption
of heartiness, "but I am curious, sir, curious as Socrates, though
I thank God I am no heathen. Here is Christmas, when a sensible
gentleman, as upon my word I take you to be, sits to his table and
drinks more than is good for him in honour of the season. Yet here are
you upon the roads to Suffolk which have nothing to recommend them. I
wonder at it, sir."
"You may do that," replied Mitchelbourne, "though to be sure, there
are two of us in the like case."
"Oh, as for me," said his companion shrugging his shoulders, "I am on
my way to be married. My name is Lance," and he blurted it out with
a suddenness as though to catch Mitchelbourne off his guard.
Mitchelbourne bowed politely.
"And my name is Mitchelbourne, and I travel for my pleasure, though my
pleasure is mere gipsying, and has nothing to do with marriage. I
take comfort from thinking that I have no friend from one rim of
this country to the other, and that my closest intimates have not an
inkling of my whereabouts."
Mr. Lance received the explanation with undisguised suspicion, and at
supper, which the two men took together, he would be forever laying
traps. Now he slipped some outlandish name or oath unexpectedly into
his talk, and watched with a forward bend of his body to mark whether
the word struck home; or again he mentioned some person with whom
Mitchelbourne was quite unfamiliar. At length, however, he seemed
satisfied, and drawing up his chair to the fire, he showed himself at
once in his true character, a loud and gusty boaster.
"An exchange of sentiments, Mr. Mitchelbourne, with a chance
acquaintance over a pipe and a glass--upon my word I think you are in
the right of it, and there's no pleasanter way of passing an evening.
I could tell you stories, sir; I served the King in his wars, but I
scorn a braggart, and all these glories are over. I am now a man of
peace, and, as I told you, on my way to be married. Am I wise? I do
not know, but I sometimes think it preposterous that a man who
has been here and there about the world, and could, if he were so
meanly-minded, tell a tale or so of success in gallantry, should
hamper himself with connubial fetters. But a man must settle, to
be sure, and since the lady is young, and not wanting in looks or
breeding or station, as I am told--"
"As you are told?" interrupted Mitchelbourne.
"Yes, for I have never seen her. No, not so much as her miniature.
Nor have I seen her mother either, or any of the family, except the
father, from whom I carry letters to introduce me. She lives in a
house called 'The Porch' some miles from here. There is another house
hard by to it, I understand, which has long stood empty and I have a
mind to buy it. I bring a fortune, the lady a standing in the county."
"And what has the lady to say to it?" asked Mitchelbourne.
"The lady!" replied Lance with a stare. "Nothing but what is dutiful,
I'll be bound. The father is under obligations to me." He stopped
suddenly, and Mitchelbourne, looking up, saw that his mouth had
fallen. He sat with his eyes starting from his head and a face grey as
lead, an image of panic pitiful to behold. Mitchelbourne spoke but got
no answer. It seemed Lance could not answer--he was so arrested by a
paralysis of terror. He sat staring straight in front of him, and it
seemed at the mantelpiece which was just on a level with his eyes. The
mantelpiece, however, had nothing to distinguish it from a score of
others. Its counterpart might be found to this day in the parlour of
any inn. A couple of china figures disfigured it, to be sure, but
Mitchelbourne could not bring himself to believe that even their
barbaric crudity had power to produce so visible a discomposure. He
inclined to the notion that his companion was struck by a physical
disease, perhaps some recrudescence of a malady contracted in those
foreign lands of which he vaguely spoke.
"Sir, you are ill," said Mitchelbourne. "I will have a doctor, if
there is one hereabouts to be found, brought to your relief." He
sprang up as he spoke, and that action of his roused Lance out of his
paralysis. "Have a care," he cried almost in a shriek, "Do not move!
For pity, sir, do not move," and he in his turn rose from his chair.
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