Run to Earth
M. E. Braddon
Part 10 out of 11
"Of being concerned, more or less, in my brother's murder. That piece
of gold which you now hold in your hand was a farewell token, given by
me to him; you may see my initials scratched upon it. I found it in
"And therefore suspected that I was the aider and abettor of thieves
and murderers!" exclaimed the captain of the "Vixen." "George Jernam, I
am ashamed of you."
There was a depth of reproach in the words, common-place though they
George Jernam covered his face with his hands, and sat with bent head
before the man he had so cruelly wronged.
"If I was a proud man," said Joseph Duncombe, "I shouldn't stoop to
make any explanation to you. But as I am not a proud man, and as you
are my daughter's husband, I'll tell you how that bit of gold came into
my keeping; and when I've told you my story, I'll bring witnesses to
prove that it's true. Yes, George, I'll not ask you to believe my word;
for how can you take the word of a man you have thought base enough to
be the accomplice of a murderer? Oh, George, it was too cruel--too
There was a brief silence; and then Captain Duncombe told the story of
the appearance of old Screwton's ghost, and the coin found in the
kitchen at River View Cottage after the departure of that apparition.
"I've faced many a danger in my lifetime, George Jernam," said Captain
Duncombe; "and I don't think there's any man who ever walked the ship's
deck beside me that would call me coward; and yet I'll confess to you I
was frightened that night. Flesh and blood I'll face anywhere and
anyhow; I'll stand up alone, and fight for my life, one against six--
one against twenty, if needs be; but when it comes to a visit from the
other world, Joseph Duncombe is done. He shuts up, sir, like an
"And do you really believe the man you saw that night was a visitant
from the other world?"
"What else can I believe? I'd heard the description of old Screwton's
ghost, and what I saw answered to the description as close as could
"Visitors from the other world do not leave substantial evidences of
their presence behind them," answered George. "The man who dropped that
gold coin was no ghost. We'll see into this business, Captain Duncombe;
we'll fathom it, mysterious as it is. I expect Joyce Harker back from
Ceylon in a month or so. He knows more of my brother's fate than any
man living, except those who were concerned in the doing of the deed.
He'll get to the bottom of this business, depend upon it, if any man
can. And now, friend--father, can you find it in your heart to forgive
me for the bitter wrong I have done you?"
"Well, George," answered Joseph Duncombe, gravely, "I'm not an
unforgiving chap; but there are some things try the easiest of men
rather hard, and this is one of them. However, for my little Rosy's
sake, and out of remembrance of the long night-watches you and I have
kept together out upon the lonesome sea, I forgive you. There's my hand
and my heart with it."
George's eyes were full of tears as he grasped his old captain's strong
"God bless you," he murmured; "and heaven be praised that I came into
this room to-night! You don't know the weight you've lifted off my
heart; you don't know what I've suffered."
"More fool you," cried Joe Duncombe; "and now say no more. We'll start
for Devonshire together by the first coach that leaves London to-morrow
* * * * *
"TREASON HAS DONE HIS WORST."
Black Milsom, otherwise Mr. Maunders, kept a close watch on Raynham
Castle, through the agency of his friend, James Harwood, whose visits
he encouraged by the most liberal treatment, and for whom he was always
ready to brew a steaming jorum of punch.
Mr. Maunders showed a great deal of curiosity concerning the details of
life within the castle, and was particularly fond of leading Harwood to
talk about the excessive care taken of the baby-heiress, and the
precautions observed by Lady Eversleigh's orders. One day, when he had
led the conversation in the accustomed direction, he said:
"One would think they were afraid somebody would try to steal the
"So you would, Mr. Maunders. But you see every situation in life has
its trials, and a child can't be a great heiress for nothing. One day,
when I was sitting in the rumble of the open carriage, I heard Captain
Copplestone let drop in his conversation with Mrs. Morden as how the
child has enemies--bitter enemies, he said, as might try to do her
harm, if she wern't looked after sharp."
"I've known you a good long time now, Mr. Harwood, and you've partaken
of many a glass of rum-punch in my parlour," said Black Milsom,
otherwise Mr. Maunders, of the "Cat and Fiddle "; "and in all that time
you've never once offered to introduce me to one of your fellow-
servants, or asked me to take so much as a cup of tea in your
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Maunders," said the groom, in an insinuating
tone; "as to askin' a friend to take a cup of tea, or a little bit of
supper, without leave from Mrs. Smithson, the housekeeper, is more than
my place is worth."
"But you might get leave I should think, eh, James Harwood?" returned
Milsom; "especially if your friend happened to be a respectable
householder, and able to offer a comfortable glass to any of your
"I'm sure if I had thought as you'd accept a invitation to the
servants'-'all, I'd have asked leave before now," replied James
Harwood; "but I'm sure I thought as you wouldn't demean yourself to
take your glass of ale, or your cup of tea, any-wheres below the
housekeeper's room--and she's a rare starched one is Mrs. Smithson."
"I'm not proud," said Mr. Milsom. "I like a convivial evening, whether
it's in the housekeeper's room or the servants'-hall."
"Then I'll ask leave to-night," answered James Harwood.
He sent a little scrawl to Milsom next day, by the hands of a stable-
boy, inviting that gentleman to a social rubber and a friendly supper
in the servants'-hall that evening at seven o'clock.
To spend a few hours inside Raynham Castle was the privilege which
Black Milsom most desired, and a triumphant grin broke out upon his
face, as he deciphered James Harwood's clumsy scrawl.
"How easy it's done," he muttered to himself; "how easy it's done, if a
man has only the patience to wait."
The servants'-hall was a pleasant place to live in, but if Mrs.
Smithson, the housekeeper, was liberal in her ideas she was also
strict, and on some points especially severe; and the chief of these
was the precision with which she required the doors of the castle to be
locked for the night at half-past ten o'clock.
On more than one occasion, lately, Mrs. Smithson had a suspicion that
there was one offender against this rule. The offender in question was
Matthew Brook, the head-coachman, a jovial, burly Briton, with
convivial habits and a taste for politics, who preferred enjoying his
pipe and glass and political discussion in the parlour of the "Hen and
Chickens" public-house to spending his evenings in the servants'-hall
at Raynham Castle.
He was rarely home before ten; sometimes not until half-past ten; and
one never-to-be-forgotten night, Mrs. Smithson had heard him, with her
own ears, enter the doors of the castle at the unholy hour of twenty
minutes to eleven!
There was one appalling fact of which Mrs. Smithson was entirely
ignorant. And that was the fact that Matthew Brook had entered the
castle by a little half-glass door on several occasions, half an hour
or more after the great oaken door leading into the servants'-hall had
been bolted and barred with all due solemnity before the approving eyes
of the housekeeper herself.
The little door in question opened into a small ground-floor bed-room,
in which one of the footmen slept; and nothing was more easy than for
this man to shelter the nightly misdoings of his fellow-servant by
letting him slip quietly through his bedroom, unknown to any member of
James Harwood, the groom was a confirmed gossip; and, of course, he had
not failed to inform his friend, Mr. Maunders, otherwise Black Milsom,
of Matthew Brook's little delinquencies. Mr. Maunders listened to the
account with interest, as he did to everything relating to affairs in
the household of which Harwood was a member.
It was some little time after this conversation that Mr. Milsom was
invited to sup at the castle.
Several friendly rubbers were played by Mrs. Trimmer, the cook; Matthew
Brook, the coachman; James Harwood, and Thomas Milsom, known to the
company as Mr. Maunders. Honest Matthew and he were partners; and it
was to be observed, by any one who had taken the trouble to watch the
party, that Milsom paid more attention to his partner than to his
cards, whereby he lost the opportunity of distinguishing himself as a
The whist-party broke up while the cloth was being laid on a large
table for supper, and the men adjourned to the noble old stone
quadrangle, on which the servant's-hall abutted. James Harwood, Brook,
Milsom, and two of the footmen strolled up and down, smoking under a
cold starlit sky. The apartments occupied by the family were all on the
garden front, and the smoking of tobacco in the quadrangle was not
Milsom, who had until this time devoted his attention exclusively to
the coachman, now contrived to place himself next to James Harwood, as
the party paced to and fro before the servants' quarters.
"Which is the little door Brook slips in at when he's past his time?"
he asked, carelessly, of Harwood, taking care, however, to drop his
voice to a whisper.
"We're just coming to it," answered the groom; "that little glass door
on my right hand. Steph's a good-natured fellow, and always leaves his
door unfastened when old Mat is out late. The room he sleeps in was
once a lobby, and opens into the passage; so it comes very convenient
to Brook. Everybody likes old Mat Brook, you see; and there isn't one
amongst us would peach if he got into trouble."
"And a jolly old chap he is as ever lived," answered Black Milsom, who
seemed to have taken a wonderful fancy to the convivial coachman.
"You come down to my place whenever you like, Mr. Brook," he said,
presently, putting his arm through that of the coachman, in a very
friendly manner. "You shall be free and welcome to everything I've got
in my house. And I know how to brew a decent jorum of punch when I give
my mind to it, don't I, Jim?"
Mr. James Harwood protested that no one else could brew such punch as
that concocted by the landlord of the "Cat and Fiddle."
The supper was a very cheery banquet; ponderous slices of underdone
roast beef disappeared as if by magic, and the consumption of pickles,
from a physiological or sanitary point of view, positively appalling.
After the beef and pickles came a Titanic cheese and a small stack of
celery; while the brown beer pitcher went so often to the barrel that
it is a matter of wonder that it escaped unbroken.
At a quarter past ten Mr. Maunders bade his new acquaintance good
night; but before departing he begged, as a great favour, to be
permitted one peep at the grand oak hall.
"You shall see it," cried good-natured Matthew Brook. "It's a sight
worth coming many a mile to see. Step this way."
He led the way along a dark passage to a door that opened into the
great entrance-hall. It was indeed a noble chamber. Black Milsom stood
for some moments contemplating it in silence, with a reverential stare.
"And which may be the back staircase, leading to the little lady's
rooms?" he asked, presently.
"That door opens on to the foot of it," replied the coachman. "Captain
Coppletone sleeps in the room you come to first, on the first floor;
and the little missy's rooms are inside his'n."
Gertrude Eversleigh, the heiress of Raynham, was one of those lovely
and caressing children who win the hearts of all around them, and in
whose presence there is a charm as sweet as that which lurks in the
beauty of a flower or the song of a bird. Her mother idolized her, as
we know, even though she could resign herself to a separation from this
loved child, sacrificing affection to the all-absorbing purpose of her
life. Before leaving Raynham Castle, Honoria had summoned the one only
friend upon whom she could rely--Captain Copplestone--the man whose
testimony alone had saved her from the hideous suspicion of murder--the
man who had boldly declared his belief in her innocence.
She wrote to him, telling him that she had need of his friendship for
the only child of his dead friend, Sir Oswald; and he came promptly in
answer to her summons, pleased at the idea of seeing the child of his
He had read the announcement of the child's birth in the newspapers,
and had rejoiced to find that Providence had sent a consolation to the
widow in her hour of desolation.
"She is like her father," he said, softly, after he had taken the child
in his arms, and pressed his shaggy moustache to her pure young brow."
Yes, the child is like my old comrade, Oswald Eversleigh. She has your
beauty, too, Lady Eversleigh, your dark eyes--those wonderful eyes,
which my friend loved to praise."
"I wish to heaven that he had never seen them!" exclaimed Honoria;
"they brought him only evil fortune--anguish--untimely death."
"Come, come!" cried the captain, cheerily; "this won't do. If the
workings of two villains brought about a breach between you and my poor
friend, and resulted in his untimely end, the sin rests on their guilty
heads, not on yours."
"And the sin shall not go unpunished even upon this earth!" exclaimed
Honoria, with intensity of feeling. "I only live for one purpose,
Captain Copplestone, and that is to strip the masks from the faces of
the two hypocrites and traitors, who, between them, compassed my
disgrace and my husband's death; and I implore you to aid me in the
carrying out of my purpose."
"How can I do that?" cried the captain. "When I begged you to let me
challenge that scoundrel, Carrington, and fight him--in spite of our
cowardly modern fashion, which has exploded duelling--you implored me
not to hazard my life. I was your only friend, you told me, and if my
life were sacrificed you would be helpless and friendless. I gave way
in order to satisfy you, though I should have liked to send a bullet
through that French scoundrel's plotting brains."
"And I thank you for your goodness," answered Lady Eversleigh. "It is
not by the bullet of a brave soldier that Victor Carrington should die.
I will pursue the two villains silently, stealthily, as they pursued
me; and when the hour of my triumph comes, it shall be a real triumph,
not a defeat like that which ended their scheming. But if I stoop to
wear a mask, I ask no such service from you, Captain Copplestone. I ask
you only to take up your abode in this house, and to protect my child
while I am away from home."
"You are really going to leave home?"
"For a considerable time."
"And you will tell me nothing about the nature of your schemes?"
"Nothing. I shall do no wrong; though I am about to deal with men so
base that the common laws of honour can scarcely apply to any dealings
"And your mind is set upon this strange scheme?"
"My mind is fixed. Nothing on earth can alter my resolution--not even
my love for this child."
Captain Copplestone saw that her determination was not to be reasoned
away, and he made no further attempt to shake her resolve. He promised
that, during her absence from the castle, he would guard Sir Oswald's
daughter, and cherish her as tenderly as if she had been his own child.
It was by the captain's advice that Mrs. Morden was engaged to act as
governess to the young heiress during her mother's absence. She was the
widow of one of his brother-officers--a highly accomplished woman, and
a woman of conscientious feelings and high principle.
"Never had any creature more need of your protection than my child
has," said Honoria. "This young life and mine are the sole obstacles
that stand between Sir Reginald Eversleigh and fortune. You know what
baseness and treachery he and his ally are capable of committing. You
cannot, therefore, wonder if I imagine all kinds of dangers for my
"No," replied the captain; "I can only wonder that you consent to leave
"Ah, you do not understand. Can you not see that, so long as those two
men exist, their crimes undiscovered, their real nature unsuspected in
the world in which they live, there is perpetual danger for my child?
The task which I have set myself is the task of watching these two men;
and I will do it without flinching. When the hour of retribution
approaches, I may need your aid; but till then let me do my work alone,
and in secret."
This was the utmost that Lady Eversleigh told Captain Copplestone
respecting the motive of her absence from the castle. She placed her
child in his care, trusting in him, under Providence, for the
guardianship of that innocent life; and then she tore herself away.
Nothing could exceed the care which the veteran soldier bestowed upon
his youthful charge.
It may be imagined, therefore, that nothing short of absolute necessity
would have induced him to leave the neighbourhood of Raynham during the
absence of Lady Eversleigh.
Unhappily this necessity arose. Within a fortnight after the night on
which Black Milsom had been invited to supper in the servants'-hall,
Captain Copplestone quitted Raynham Castle for an indefinite period,
for the first time since Lady Eversleigh's departure.
He was seated at breakfast in the pretty sitting-room in the south
wing, which he occupied in common with the heiress and her governess,
when a letter was brought to him by one of the castle servants.
"Ben Simmons has just brought this up from the 'Hen and Chickens,'
sir," said the man. "It came by the mail-coach that passes through
Raynham at six o'clock in the morning."
Captain Copplestone gazed at the superscription of the letter with
considerable surprise. The handwriting was that of Lady Eversleigh, and
the letter was marked _Immediate and important_.
In those days there was no electric telegraph; and a letter conveyed
thus had pretty much the same effect upon the captain's mind that a
telegram would now-a-days exercise. It was something special--out of
the common rule. He tore open the missive hastily. It contained only a
few lines in Honoria's hand; but the hand was uncertain, and the letter
scrawled and blotted, as if written in extreme haste and agitation of
"_Come to me at once, I entreat. I have immediate need of your help.
Pray come, my dear friend. I shall not detain you long. Let the child
remain in the castle during your absence. She will be safe with Mrs.
"_Clarendon Hotel, London_."
This, and the date, was all.
Captain Copplestone sat for some moments staring at this document with
a look of unmitigated perplexity.
"I can't make it out," he muttered to himself.
Presently he said aloud to Mrs. Morden--
"What a pity it is you women all write so much alike that it's
uncommonly difficult to swear to your writing. I'm perplexed by this
letter. I can't quite understand being summoned away from my pet. I
think you know Lady Eversleigh's hand?"
"Yes," answered the lady; "I received two letters from her before
coming here. I could scarcely be mistaken in her handwriting."
"You think not? Very well, then, please tell me if that is her hand,"
said the captain showing Mrs. Morden the address of the missive he had
"I should say decidedly, yes, that is her hand."
"Humph!" muttered the captain; "she said something about wanting me
when the hour of retribution drew near. Perhaps she has succeeded in
her schemes more rapidly than she expected, and the time is come."
The little girl had just quitted the room with her nurse, to be dressed
for her morning run in the gardens. Mrs. Morden and the captain were
"Lady Eversleigh asks me to go up to London," he said, at last; "and I
suppose I must do what she wishes. But, upon my word, I've watched over
little Gertrude so closely, and I've grown so foolishly fond of her,
that I don't like the idea of leaving her, even for twenty-four hours,
though, of course, I know I leave her in the best possible care."
"What danger can approach her here?"
"Ah; what danger, indeed!" returned the captain, thoughtfully. "Within
these walls she must be secure."
"The child shall not leave the castle, nor shall she quit my sight
during your absence," said Mrs. Morden. "But I hope you will not stay
"Rely upon it that I shall not remain away an hour longer than
necessary," answered the captain.
An hour afterwards he departed from Raynham in a post-chaise.
He left without having taken any farewell of Gertrude Eversleigh. He
could not trust himself to see her.
This grim, weather-beaten old soldier had surrendered his heart
entirely to the child of his dead friend. He travelled Londonwards as
fast as continual relays of post-horses could convey him; and on the
morning after he had received the letter from Lady Eversleigh, a post-
chaise covered with the dust of the roads, rattled up to the Clarendon
Hotel, and the traveller sprang out, after a sleepless night of
impatience and anxiety.
"Show me to Lady Eversleigh's rooms at once," he said to one of the
servants in the hall.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said the man; "what name did you say?"
"Lady Eversleigh--Eversleigh--a widow-lady, staying in this house."
"There must be some mistake, sir. There is no one of that name at
present staying in the hotel," answered the man.
The housekeeper had emerged from a little sitting-room, and had
overheard this conversation.
"No, sir," she said, "we have no one here of that name."
Captain Copplestone's dark face grew deadly pale.
"A trap!" he muttered to himself; "a snare! That letter was a forgery!"
And without a word to the people of the house, he darted back to the
street, sprang into the chaise, crying to the postillions,
"Don't lose a minute in getting a change of horses. I am going back to
The intimacy with the household of Raynham Castle, begun by Mr.
Maunders at the supper in the servants'-hall, strengthened as time went
by, and there was no member of the castle household for whom Mr.
Maunders entertained so warm a friendship as that which he felt for
Matthew Brook, the coachman. Matthew began to divide his custom between
the rival taverns of Raynham, spending an evening occasionally at the
"Cat and Fiddle," and appearing to enjoy himself very much at that
About a fortnight had elapsed after the comfortable supper-party at the
castle, when Mr. Milsom took it into his head to make a formal return
for the hospitalities he had received on that occasion.
It happened that the evening chosen for this humble but comfortable
entertainment was the evening after Captain Copplestone's departure
from the castle.
The supper was well cooked, and neatly placed on the table. A foaming
tankard of ale flanked the large dish of hissing steaks; and the
gentlemen from the castle set to work with a good will to do justice to
Mr. Maunders's entertainment.
When the table had been cleared of all except a bowl of punch and a
tray of glasses, it is scarcely a matter for wonder if the quartette
had grown rather noisy, with a tendency to become still louder in its
mirth with every glass of Mr. Milsom's excellent compound.
They were enjoying themselves as much as it is in the power of human
nature to enjoy itself; they had proposed all manner of toasts, and had
drunk them with cheers, and the mirth was at its loudest when the clock
of the village church boomed out solemnly upon the stillness of night,
and tolled the hour of ten.
The three men staggered hastily to their feet.
"We must be off, Maunders, old fellow," said the coachman, with a
certain thickness of utterance.
"Right you are, Mat," answered Stephen. "You've had quite enough of
that 'ere liquor, and so have we all. Good night, Mr. Maunders, and
thank you kindly for a jolly evening. Come, Jim. Come, Mat, old boy--
off we go!"
"No, no," cried Mr. Maunders, the hospitable; "I'm not a-going to let
Matthew Brook leave my house at ten o'clock when he can stay as long as
he likes. You and he beat me at whist, but I mean to be even with him
at cribbage. We'll have a friendly hand and a friendly glass, and I'll
see him as far as the gates afterwards. You'll let him in, Plumpton,
come when he will, I know. If he can stay over his time at the other
house, he can stay over his time with me. Come, Brook, you won't say
no, will you, to a friend?" asked Milsom.
Matthew Brook looked at Mr. Milsom, and at his fellow-servants, in a
stupid half-drunken manner, and rubbed his big head thoughtfully with
his big hand.
"I'm blest if I know what to do," he said; "I've promised Stephen I
wouldn't stay out after time again--and--"
"Not as a rule, perhaps," answered Mr. Milsom; "but once in a way can't
make any difference, I'm sure, and Stephen Plumpton is the last to be
"That I am," replied the good-tempered footman. "Stay, if you like to
stay, Mat. I'll leave my door unfastened, and welcome."
On this, the two other men took a friendly leave of their host and
departed, walking through the village street with legs that were not by
any means too steady.
There was a triumphant grin upon Mr. Milsom's face as he shut the door
on these two departing guests.
"Good night, and a good riddance to you," he muttered; "and now for
Matthew Brook. You'll sleep sound enough to-night, Stephen Plumpton,
I'll warrant. So sound that if Old Nick himself went through your room
you'd scarcely be much wiser."
He went back to the little parlour in which he had left his guest, the
coachman. As he went, he slipped his forefinger and thumb into his
waistcoat pocket, where they closed upon a tiny phial. It contained a
pennyworth of laudanum, which he had purchased a week or so before from
the Raynham chemist, as a remedy for the toothache.
Here he found Matthew Brook seated with his arms folded on the table,
and his eyes fixed on the cribbage-board with that stolid, unseeing
gaze peculiar to drunkenness.
"He's pretty far gone, as it is," Mr. Milsom thought to himself, as he
looked at his guest; "it won't take much to send him further. Take
another glass of punch before we begin, eh, Brook?" he asked, in that
tone of jolly good-fellowship which had made him so agreeable to the
"So I will," cried Matthew; "'nother glass--punish the punch--eh--old
boy? We'll punish glass--'nother punch--hand cribbage--glorious
evenin'--uproarious--happy--glorious--God save--'nother glass."
While Mr. Brook attempted to shuffle the cards, dropping them half
under the table during the process, Black Milsom moved the bowl and
glasses to a table behind the coachman's back.
Here he filled a glass for Mr. Brook, which the coachman emptied at a
draught; but after having done so he made a wry face, and looked
reproachfully at his host.
"What the deuce was that you gave me?" he asked, with some indignation.
"What should it be but rum-punch?" answered Milsom; "the same as you've
been drinking all the evening."
"I'll be hanged if it is," answered Mr. Brook; "you've been playing off
some of your publican's tricks upon me, Mr. Maunders, pouring the dregs
of some stale porter into the bowl, or something of that kind. Don't
you do it again. I'm a 'ver goo'-temper' chap, ber th' man tha'
takes--hic--libert' with--hic--once don't take--hic--libert' with m'
twice. So, don't y' do that 'gen!"
This was said with tipsy solemnity; and then Mr. Brook made another
effort to shuffle the cards, and stooped a great many times to pick up
some of those he had dropped, but seemed never to succeed in picking up
all of them.
"I'll tell you what it is, Maunders," he said, at last; "I'm getting an
old man; my sight isn't what it used to be. I'm bless' if--can tell a
Before he could complete the shuffling of the cards to his own
satisfaction, Mr. Brook's eyelids began to droop over his watery eyes,
and all at once his head fell forward on the table, amongst the
scattered cards, his hair flopping against a fallen candlestick and
smoking tallow candle.
Mr. Milsom's air of jolly good-fellowship disappeared: he sprang up
suddenly, went to his friend, and shook him, rather roughly for such
Matthew snored a little louder, but slept on.
"He's fast as a rock," muttered Black Milsom; "but I must wait till
it's likely Stephen Plumpton will be as sound asleep as this one."
Mr. Milsom went to his kitchen and ordered his only servant--a sturdy
young native of the village--to go off to bed at once.
"I've got a friend in the parlour: but I'll see him out myself when he
goes," said Mr. Milsom. "You pack off to bed as soon as you've put out
the lights in the bar, and shut the back-door."
Mr. Milsom then returned to the apartment where his sleeping guest
The coachman's capacious overcoat hung on a chair near where its owner
Mr. Milsom deliberately put on this coat, and the hat which Mr. Brook
had worn with it. There was a thick woollen scarf of the coachman's
lying on the floor near the chair, and this Black Milsom also put on,
twisting it several times round his neck, so as to completely muffle
the lower part of his face.
He was of about the same height as Matthew, and the thick coat gave him
Thus attired he might, in an uncertain light, have been very easily
mistaken for the man whose clothes he wore.
Mr. Milsom gave one last scrutinizing look at the sleeping coachman,
and then extinguished the candle.
The fire he had allowed to die out while he sat smoking: the room was,
therefore, now in perfect darkness.
He paused by the door to look about him. All was alike still and
lonely. The village street could have been no more silent and empty if
the two rows of houses had been so many vaults in a cemetery.
Black Milsom walked rapidly up the village street, and entered the
gardens of the castle by a little iron gate, of which Matthew Brook,
the reprobate and offender, had a key. This key Black Milsom had often
heard of, and knew that it was always carried by Brook in a small
breast-pocket of his overcoat.
From the garden he made his way quickly, silently, to the quadrangle on
which Stephen Plumpton's bed-chamber opened.
Here all was dark and silent.
Milsom went straight to the little half-glass door which served both as
door and window for the small sleeping-chamber of Stephen Plumpton.
He opened this door with a cautious hand, and stepped softly into the
room. Stephen lay with his head half covered with the bed-clothes, and
his loud snoring resounded through the chamber.
"The rum-punch has done the trick for you, my friend," Mr. Milsom said
He crossed the room with slow and stealthy footsteps, opened the door
communicating with the rest of the house, and went along the passage
leading to the hall.
With cautious steps he groped his way to the door opening on the
secondary staircase, and ascended the thickly carpeted staircase
Here a lamp was left dimly burning all night, and this lamp showed him
another cloth-covered door at the top of the first flight of stairs.
Black Milsom tried this door, and found it also unfastened.
This door, which Black Milsom opened, communicated with the little
passage that had been made across the room usually tenanted by Captain
Copplestone. Within this room there was a still smaller chamber--little
more, indeed, than a spacious closet--in which slept the faithful old
servant, Solomon Grundy.
Both the doors were open, and Black Milsom heard the heavy breathing of
the old man--the breathing of a sound sleeper.
Beyond the short passage was the door opening into the sitting-room
used by the young heiress of Raynham.
Black Milsom had only to push it open. The intruder crept softly across
the room, drew aside a curtain, and opened the massive oak door which
divided the sitting-room from the bed-room.
Mr. Milsom had taken care to make himself familiar with the smallest
details of the castle household, and he had even heard of Mrs. Morden's
habit of sleeping within closely drawn curtains, from his general
informant, James Harwood, the groom, who had received his information
from one of the housemaids, in that temple of gossip--the servants'
Gertrude Eversleigh slept in a white-curtained cot, by the side of Mrs.
Black Milsom lifted the coverlet, threw it over the face of the
sleeping child, and with one strong hand lifted her from her cot, her
face still shrouded by the thick down coverlet, which must effectually
prevent her cries. With the other hand he snatched up a blanket, and
threw it round the struggling form, and then, bundled in coverlet and
blanket, he carried the little girl away.
Only when his feet were on the turf, and the castle stood up black
behind him, did he withdraw the coverlet from the mouth of the half-
CAUGHT IN THE TOILS.
Captain Copplestone did not waste half an hour on the road between
London and Raynham.
No words can paint his agony of terror, the torture of mind which he
endured, as he sat in the post-chaise, watching every landmark of the
journey, counting every minute of the tedious hours, and continually
putting his head out of the front window, and urging the postillions to
He hated himself for having been duped by that forged letter.
"I had no business to leave the child," he kept repeating to himself;
"not even to obey her mother. My place was by little Gertrude, and I
have been a fool to desert my post. If any harm has come to her in my
absence, by the heaven above me, I think I shall be tempted to blow out
Once having decided that the letter, purporting to be written by Lady
Eversleigh, was a forgery, he could not doubt that it formed part of
some plot against the household of Raynham Castle.
To Captain Copplestone, who knew that the life of his friend had been
sacrificed to the dark plottings of a traitor, this idea was terrible.
"I knew the wretches I had to deal with; I was forewarned that
treachery and cunning would be on the watch to do that child wrong," he
said to himself, during those hours of self-reproach; "and yet I
allowed myself to be duped by the first trick of those hidden foes. Oh,
great heaven! grant that I may reach Raynham before they can have taken
any fatal advantage of my absence."
It was daybreak when the captain's post-chaise dashed into the village
street of Raynham. He murmured a thanksgiving and a prayer, almost in
the same breath, as he saw the castle-turrets dark against the chill
The vehicle ascended the hill, and stopped before the arched entrance
to the castle. An old woman, who acted as portress, opened the carved
iron gates. He glanced at her, but did not stop to question her. One
word from her would have put an end to all suspense; but in this last
moment the soldier had not courage to utter the question which he so
dreaded to have answered--Was Gertrude safe?
In another moment that question was answered for Captain Copplestone--
answered completely, without the utterance of a word.
The principal door of the castle was open, and in the doorway stood two
One was Mr. Ashburne, the magistrate; the other was Christopher Dimond,
the constable of Raynham.
The sight of these two men told Captain Copplestone that his fears were
but too surely realized. Something had happened amiss--something of
importance--or Gilbert Ashburne, the magistrate, would not be there.
"The child!" gasped the captain; "is she dead--murdered?"
"No, no, not dead," answered Mr. Ashburne.
"Not dead! Thank God!" exclaimed the soldier, in a devout whisper.
"What then? What has happened?" he asked, scarcely able to command
himself so far as to utter these few words with distinctness. "For
pity's sake speak plainly. Can't you see that you are keeping me in
torture? What has happened to the child?"
"She has disappeared."
"She has disappeared!" echoed the captain. "I left strict orders that
she should not be permitted to stir beyond the castle walls. Who dared
to disobey those orders?"
"No one," answered Mr. Ashburne. "Miss Eversleigh was not allowed to
quit her own apartments. She disappeared in the night from her own cot,
while that cot was in its usual place, beside Mrs. Morden's bed."
"But who could penetrate into that room in the night, when the castle
doors are secured against every one? Where is Mrs. Morden? Let me see
her; and let every servant of the house be assembled in the great
Captain Copplestone gave this order to the butler, who had come out to
the hall on hearing the arrival of the post-chaise. The man bowed, and
departed on his errand.
"I fear you will gain nothing by questioning the household," said Mr.
Ashburne. "I have already made all possible inquiries, assisted by
Christopher Dimond here, but can obtain no information that throws the
smallest ray of light upon this most mysterious business."
"I thank you," replied the captain; "I am sure you have done all that
friendship could suggest; but I should like to question those people
myself. This business is a matter of life and death for me."
He went into the great dining-room--the room in which the inquiry had
been held respecting the cause of Sir Oswald's death. Mr. Ashburne and
Christopher Dimond accompanied him, and the servants of the household
came in quietly, two and three at a time, until the lower end of the
room was full. Mrs. Morden was the last to come. She made no
protestations of her grief--her self-reproach--for she never for a
moment imagined that any one could doubt the intensity of her feelings.
She stood before the captain, calm, collected, ready to answer his
questions promptly and conscientiously.
He questioned the servants one by one, beginning with Mrs. Smithson,
the housekeeper, who was ready to declare that no living creature,
except the members of the household, could have been within the castle
walls on the night of Gertrude Eversleigh's disappearance.
"That anybody could have come into this house and gone out of it in a
night, unknown to me, is a moral impossibility," said the housekeeper;
"the doors were locked at half-past ten, and the keys were brought in a
basket to my room. So, you see it's quite impossible that any one could
have come in or gone out before the doors were open in the morning."
"What time was the child's disappearance discovered?"
"At a quarter to five in the morning," answered Mrs. Morden; "before
any one in the house was a-stir. My darling has always been in the
habit of waking at that hour, to take a little milk, which is left in a
glass by her bedside. I woke at the usual time, and rose, in order to
give her the milk, and when I looked at her cot, I saw that it was
empty. The child was gone. The silk coverlet and one blanket had
disappeared with her. I gave the alarm immediately, and in a quarter of
an hour the whole household was a-stir."
"And did you hear nothing during that night?" asked the captain,
turning suddenly to address Solomon Grundy, who had entered amongst the
rest of the servants.
"Humph," muttered the old soldier, "a sorry watch-dog."
"There is only one entrance to the castle which is at all weakly
guarded," said the magistrate, presently; "and that is a small door
belonging to the bed-room occupied by one of the footmen. But this man
tells me that he was in his room that night at his usual hour, and that
the door was locked and bolted in the usual way."
As he said this, the magistrate looked towards the end of the
apartment, where Stephen Plumpton stood amongst his fellow servants.
The young man had been weak enough, or guilty enough, to commit himself
to a false statement; first, because he did not want to betray the
misdoings of Matthew Brook, and secondly, because he feared to admit
his own culpable carelessness.
"My telling the truth won't bring the child back," he argued with
himself. "If it would, I'd speak out fast enough."
"You say that it is impossible that any one can have entered this
house, and left it, during that night," said Captain Copplestone to the
housekeeper; "and yet some one must have left the house, even if no one
entered it, or Gertrude Eversleigh must be hidden within these walls.
Has the castle been thoroughly searched? There are stories of children
who have hidden themselves in sport, to find the sport end in terrible
"The castle has been searched from garret to cellar," answered Mrs.
Morden. "Mrs. Smithson and I have gone together into every room, and
opened every cupboard."
The captain dismissed the assembly, after having asked many questions
without result. When this was done, he went alone to the library, where
he shut himself in, and seated himself at the writing-table, with pen
and ink before him, to meditate upon, the steps which should be first
taken in the work that lay before him.
That work was no less painful a task than the writing of a letter to
Lady Eversleigh, to inform her of the calamity which had taken place--
of the terrible realization of her worst fears. Captain Copplestone's
varied and adventurous life had never brought him a severer or more
painful duty, but he was not the man to shirk or defer it, because it
involved suffering to himself.
The letter was written, and despatched by the evening post, and then
the captain shut himself up in his own room, and gave way to the
bitterest grief he had ever experienced.
Who shall describe the agony which Lady Eversleigh suffered when
Captain Copplestone's letter reached her? For the first half-hour after
she read it, a blight seemed to fall upon her senses, and she sat still
in her chair, stupefied; but when she rallied, her first impulse was to
send for Andrew Larkspur, who was now nearly restored to his usual
state of sound health.
She rang the bell, and summoned Jane Payland.
"There is a lawyer's clerk living in this house," she said; "Mr.
Andrews. Go to him immediately, and ask him to favour me with an
interview. I wish to consult him on a matter of business."
"Yes, ma'am," answered Miss Payland, looking inquisitively at the ashen
face of her mistress. "There's something fresh this morning," she
muttered to herself, as she tripped lightly up the stairs to do her
Mr. Larkspur--or Mr. Andrews--presented himself before Lady Eversleigh
a few minutes after he received her message. He found her pacing the
room in a fever of excitement.
"Good gracious me, ma'am!" he exclaimed; "is there anything amiss?"
"Yes," she answered, handing him the letter.
Mr. Larkspur read the letter to the end, and then read it again.
"This is a bad job," he said, calmly; "what's to be done now?"
"You must accompany me to Raynham Castle--you must help me to find my
child!" cried Honoria, in wild excitement. "You are better now, Mr.
Larkspur, you can bear the journey? For Heaven's sake, do not say you
cannot aid me. You must come with me, Andrew Larkspur. I do not offer
to bribe you--I say you must come! Bring me my darling safe to my
arms, and you may name your own reward for that priceless service."
"No, no," said Mr. Larkspur; "I don't say _that_. I am well enough, so
far as that goes, but how about our little schemes in London?"
"Never mind them--never think of them! What are they to me now?"
"Very well, my lady," answered Mr. Larkspur; "if it must be so, it must
be. I must turn my back upon the neatest business that ever a Bow
Street officer handled, just as it's getting most interesting to a
"And you'll come with me at once?"
"Give me one hour to make my plans, ma'am, and I'm your man," replied
Mr. Larkspur. "I'll pack a carpet-bag, leave it down stairs, take a
hackney coach to Bow Street, see my deputy, and arrange some matters
for him, and be ready one hour from this time, when you'll be so kind
as to call for me in a post-chaise--not forgetting to bring my carpet-
bag with you in the boot, if you please. And now you be so good as to
keep up your spirits, ma'am, like a Trojan--which I've heard the
Trojans had an uncommon hard time of it in their day. If the child is
to be found, Andrew Larkspur is the man to find her; and as to reward,
we won't talk about that, if you please, my lady. I may be a hard-
fisted one, but I'm not the individual to trade upon the feelings of a
mother that has lost her only child."
Having said this, Mr. Larkspur departed, and in less than two hours he
and Lady Eversleigh were seated in a post-chaise, behind four horses,
tearing along the road between London and Barnet.
And thus additional security attended the schemes of Victor Carrington.
LARKSPUR TO THE RESCUE.
The journey of Lady Eversleigh and her companion, the Bow Street
officer, was as rapid as the journey of Captain Copplestone. Along the
same northern road as that which he had travelled a few days before
flew the post-chaise containing the anguish-stricken mother and her
strange ally. In this hour of agony and suspense, Honoria Eversleigh
looked to the queer, wizened little police-officer, Andrew Larkspur, as
the best friend she had on earth.
"You'll find my child for me?" she cried many times during the course
of that long journey, appealing to Mr. Larkspur, with clasped hands and
streaming eyes. "Oh, tell me that you'll find her for me. For pity's
sake, give me some comfort--some hope."
"I'll give you plenty of comfort, and plenty of hope, too, mum, if
you'll only cheer up and trust in me," answered the luminary of Bow
Street, with that stolid calmness of manner which seemed as if it would
scarcely have been disturbed by an earthquake. "You keep up your
spirits, and don't give way. If the little lady is alive, I'll bring
her back to you safe and sound. If--if--so be as she's--contrarywise,"
added Mr. Larkspur, alarmed by the wild look in his companion's eyes,
as he was about to pronounce the terrible word she so much feared to
hear, "why, in that case I'll find them as have done the deed, and they
shall pay for it."
"Oh, give her back to me!" exclaimed Honoria; "give her back! Let me
hold her in my arms once more. I abandon all thought of revenge upon
those who have so basely wronged me. Let Providence alone deal with
them and their crime. It may be this punishment has come to me, because
I have sought to usurp the office of Providence. Let me have my darling
once more, and I will banish from my heart every feeling which a
Christian should abjure."
Bitter remorse was mingled with the agony which rent the mother's heart
in those terrible hours. All at once her eyes were opened to the deep
and dreadful guilt involved in those vengeful feelings she had so long
nourished, to the exclusion of all tender emotions, all generous
Bitterly did the mother upbraid herself as she sat, with her hands
clasped tightly together, her pale face turned to the window, her
haggard eyes looking out at every object on the road, eager to behold
any landmark that would tell her that she was so many miles nearer the
end of her journey.
She had concluded that, as a matter of course, the disappearance of the
child had been directly or indirectly the work of Sir Reginald
Eversleigh; and she said as much to Mr. Larkspur. But, to her surprise,
she found that he did not share her opinion upon this subject.
"If you ask me whether Sir Reginald is in it, I'll tell you candidly,
no, my lady, I don't think he is. I don't need to tell you that I've
had a deal of experience in my time; and, if that experience is worth a
brass button, Sir Reginald hasn't any hand in this business down in
"Not directly, perhaps, but indirectly," interrupted Honoria.
"Neither one nor the other," answered the great man of Bow Street.
"I've had my eye upon the baronet ever since you put me up to watching
him; and there's precious little he could do without my spotting him. I
know what letters he has written, and I know more or less what has been
in those letters. I know what people he has seen, and more or less what
he has said to them; and I don't see that it's possible he could have
carried on such a game as this abduction of Missy without my having an
inkling of it."
"But what of his ally--his bosom-friend and confederate--Victor
Carrington? May not his treacherous hand have struck this blow?"
"I think not, my lady," replied Mr. Larkspur. "I've had my eye upon
that gentleman likewise, as per agreement; for when Andrew Larkspur
guarantees to do a thing, he ain't the man to do it by halves. I've
kept a close watch upon Mr. Carrington; and with the exception of his
_parleyvous francais_-ing with that sharp-nosed, shabby-genteel lady-
companion of Madame Durski's, there's very few of _his_ goings-on I
haven't been able to reckon up to a fraction. No, my lady, there's some
one else in this business; and who that some one else is, it'll be my
duty to find out. But I can't do anything till I get on the ground.
When I get on the ground, and have had time to look about me, I shall
be able to form an opinion."
Honoria was fain to be patient, to put her trust in heaven, and,
beneath heaven, in this pragmatical little police-officer, who really
felt as much compassion for her sorrow as it was possible for a man so
steeped in the knowledge of crime and iniquity, and so hardened by
contact with the worst side of the world, to feel for any human grief.
She was compelled to be patient, or, at any rate, to assume that
outward aspect of calmness which seems like patience, while the heart
within her breast throbbed tumultuously as storm-driven waves.
At last the wearisome journey came to an end. She entered the arched
gateway of Raynham Castle; and, as she looked out of the carriage
window, she saw the big black letters, printed on a white broadside,
offering a reward of three hundred pounds for the early restoration of
the missing child.
Mr. Larkspur gave a scornful sniff as he perceived this bill.
"That won't bring her back," he muttered. "Those who've taken her away
will play a deeper game than to bring her back for the first reward
that's offered, or the second, or the third. She'll have to be found by
those that are a match for the scoundrel that stole her from her home;
and perhaps he _will_ find his match before long, clever as he is."
The meeting between Honoria and Captain Copplestone was a very quiet
one. She was far too noble, far too just to reproach the friend in whom
she had trusted, even though he had failed in his trust.
He had heard the approach of the post-chaise, and he awaited her on the
threshold of the door. He had gone forth to many a desperate encounter;
but he had never felt so heart-piercing a pang as that which he endured
this day when he went to meet Lady Eversleigh.
She held out her hand to him as she crossed the threshold. "I have done
my duty," he said, in low, earnest tones, "as I am a man of honour and
a soldier, Lady Eversleigh; I have done my duty, miserable as the
result has been."
"I can believe that," answered Honoria, gravely. "Your face tells me
there are no good tidings to greet me here. She is not found?"
The captain shook his head sadly.
"And there are no tidings of any kind?--no clue, no trace?"
"None. The constable of this place, and other men from the market-town,
are doing their utmost; but as yet the result has been only new
"No; nor wouldn't be, if the constables were to have twenty years to do
their work in, instead of three days," interrupted Mr. Larkspur.
"Perhaps you don't know what country police-officers are? I do; and if
you expect to find the little lady by their help, you may just as well
look up to the sky yonder, and wait till she drops down from it, for of
the two things that's by far the most likely. I can believe in
miracles," added Mr. Larkspur, piously; "but I can't believe in rural
The captain looked at the speaker with a bewildered expression, and
Lady Eversleigh hastened to explain the presence of her ally.
"This is Mr. Larkspur, a well-known Bow Street officer," she said: "and
I rely on his aid to find my precious one. Pray tell me all that has
happened in connection with this event. He is very clever, and he may
strike out some plan of action that will be better than anything which
has yet been attempted."
They had passed into a small sitting-room, half ante-room, half study,
leading out of the great hall, and here the police-officer seated
himself, as much at home as if he had spent half his life within the
walls of Raynham, and listened quietly while Captain Copplestone gave a
circumstantial account of the child's disappearance, taking care not to
omit the smallest detail connected with that event.
Mr. Larkspur made occasional pencil-notes in his memorandum-book; but
he did not interrupt the captain's narration by a single remark.
When all was finished, Lady Eversleigh looked at him with anxious,
inquiring eyes, as if from his lips she expected to receive the
sentence of fate itself.
"Well?" she muttered, breathlessly, "is there any hope? Do you see any
"Half a dozen clues," answered the police-officer, "if they're properly
handled. The first thing we've got to do is to offer a reward for that
silk coverlet that was taken away with the little girl."
"Why offer a reward for the coverlet?" asked Captain Copplestone.
"Bless your innocent heart!" answered Mr. Larkspur, contemplating the
soldier with a pitying smile; "don't you see that, if we find the
coverlet, we're pretty sure to find the child? The man who took her
away made a mistake when he carried off the coverlet with her, unless
he was deep enough to destroy it before he had taken her far. If he
didn't do that--if he left that silk coverlet behind him anywhere, I
consider his game as good as up. That is just the kind of thing that a
police-officer gets his clue from. There's been more murders and
burglaries found out from an old coat, or a pair of old shoes, or a
walking-stick, or such like, than you could count in a day. I shan't
make any stir about the child just yet, my lady: but before forty-eight
hours are over our heads, I'll have a handbill posted in every town in
England, and an advertisement in every newspaper, offering five pounds
reward for that dark blue silk coverlet you talk of, lined with
"There seems considerable wisdom in the idea," said the captain,
thoughtfully. "It would never have occurred to me to advertise for the
"I don't suppose it would," answered the great Larkspur, with a slight
touch of sarcasm in his tone. "It has took me a matter of thirty years
to learn my business; and it ain't to be supposed as my knowledge will
come to other folks natural."
"You are right, Mr. Larkspur," replied the captain, smiling at the
police-officer's air of offended dignity; "and since you seem to be
thoroughly equal to the difficulties of the situation, I think we can
scarcely do better than trust ourselves entirely to your discretion."
"I don't think you'll have any occasion to repent your confidence,"
said Mr. Larkspur. "And now, if I may make so bold as to mention it, I
should be glad to get a morsel of dinner, and a glass of brandy-and-
water, cold without; after which I'll take a turn in the village and
look about me. There may be something to be picked up in that direction
by a man who keeps his eyes and ears open."
Mr. Larkspur was consigned to the care of the butler, who conducted him
at once to the housekeeper's room, where that very important person,
Mrs. Smithson, received him with almost regal condescension.
Mrs. Smithson and the butler both would have been very glad to converse
with Mr. Larkspur, and to find out from that gentleman's conversation
who he was, and all about him; but Mr. Larkspur himself had no
inclination to be communicative. He responded courteously, but briefly,
to all Mrs. Smithson's civilities; and after eating the best part of a
cold roast chicken, and a pound or so of ham, and drinking about half a
pint of cognac, he left the housekeeper's room, and retired to an
apartment to which the butler ushered him--a very comfortable little
sitting-room, leading into a small bedchamber, which two rooms were to
be occupied by Mr. Larkspur during his residence at the castle.
Here he employed himself until dark in writing short notes to the chief
police-officers of all the principal towns in England, ordering the
printing and posting of the handbills of which he had spoken to Lady
Eversleigh and the captain. When this was done he put on his hat, and
went out at the great arched gateway of the castle, whence he made his
way to the village street. Here he spent the rest of the evening, and
he made very excellent use of his time, though he passed the greater
part of it in the parlour of the "Hen and Chickens," drinking very weak
brandy-and-water, and listening to the conversation of the gentry who
patronized that house of entertainment.
Among those gentry was the good-tempered, but somewhat weak-minded,
Matthew Brook, the coachman.
"I'll tell you what it is, Mat Brook," said a stout, red-faced
individual, who was butler at one of the mansions in the neighbourhood
of Raynham, "you've not been yourself for the last week; not since
little Missy was stolen from the castle yonder. You must have been
uncommonly fond of that child."
"I was fond of her, bless her dear little heart," replied Matthew.
But though this assertion, so far as it went, was perfectly true, there
was some slight hesitation in the coachman's manner of uttering it--a
hesitation which Andrew Larkspur was not slow to perceive.
"And you've lost your new friend down at the 'Cat and Fiddle,' where
you was beginning to spend more of your evenings than you spent here.
What's become of that man Maunders--eh, Brook?" asked the butler. "That
was a rather queer thing--his leaving Raynham so suddenly, leaving his
house to take care of itself, or to be taken care of by a stupid
country wench, who doesn't know her business any more than a cow. Do
you know why he went, or where he's gone, Mat?"
"Not I," Mr. Brook answered, rather nervously, and reddening as he
The police-officer watched and listened even more intently than before.
The conversation was becoming every moment more interesting for him.
"How should I know where Mr. Maunders has gone?" asked Matthew Brook,
rather peevishly, as he paused from smoking to refill his honest clay
pipe. "How should I know where he's gone, or how long he means to stay
away? I know nothing of him, except that he seems a jolly, good-hearted
sort of a chap in his own rough-and-ready way. James Harwood brought
him up to the castle one night for a hand at whist and a bit of supper,
and he seemed to take a regular fancy to some of us, and asked us to
take a glass now and then down at his place, which we did; and that's
all about it; and I don't mean to stand any more cross-questioning."
"Why, Brook," cried his friend, the butler, "what's come to you? It
isn't like you to answer any man in that way, least of all such on old
friend as me."
Mr. Brook took no notice of this reproach. He went on smoking silently.
"I say, Harris," said the butler, presently, when the landlord of the
"Hen and Chickens" came into the room to attend upon his customers, "do
you know whether the landlord of the 'Cat and Fiddle' has come back
"No, he ain't," answered Mr. Harris; "and folks complain sadly of being
served by that awkward lass he's left in charge of the house. I've had
a many of his old customers come up here for what they want."
"Does anybody know where he's gone?"
"That's as may be," answered Mr. Harris. "Anyhow, I don't. Some say
he's gone to London for a fortnight's pleasure; but if he has, he's a
very queer man of business; and it strikes me, when he comes back he
will find his customers all left him."
"Do you think he's cut and run?"
"Well, you see, he might be in debt, and want to give his creditors the
"But folks down the village say he didn't owe a five-pound note,"
returned the landlord, who was a great authority with regard to all
local gossip. "It's rather a queer business altogether, that chap
taking himself off without why or wherefore, and just about the time as
the little girl disappeared from the castle."
"Why, you don't think he had anything to do with _that_, Joe Harris?"
exclaimed the butler.
Andrew Larkspur took occasion to look at Matthew Brook at this moment;
and he saw the coachman's honest face grow pallid, as if under the
influence of some sudden terror.
"You don't believe as Maunders had a hand in stealing the child, eh,
Joe Harris?" repeated the butler.
Joe Harris shook his head solemnly.
"I don't think nothing, and I don't believe nothing," he answered, with
a mysterious air. "It ain't my place to give an opinion upon this here
subjick. It might be said as I was jealous of the landlord of the 'Cat
and Fiddle,' and owed him a grudge. All I says is this: it's a very
queer circumstance as the landlord of the 'Cat and Fiddle' should
disappear from the village directly after little Miss Eversleigh
disappeared from the castle. You may put two and two together, and you
may make 'em into four, if you like," added Mr. Harris, with profound
solemnity; "or you may leave it alone. That's your business."
"I'll tell you what it is," said the butler; "I've had a chat with old
Mother Smithson since the disappearance of the young lady; and from
what I've heard, it's pretty clear to my mind that business wasn't
managed by any one outside the castle. It couldn't be. There was some
one inside had a hand in it. I wouldn't mind staking a twelvemonth's
wages on that, Matthew and you musn't be offended if I seem to go
against your fellow-servants."
"I ain't offended, and I ain't pleased," answered Matthew, testily;
"all I can say is, as I don't like so much cross-questioning. There's a
sort of a lawyer chap has come down to-day with my lady, I hear, though
I ain't set eyes on him yet; and I suppose he'll find out all about
No more was said upon the subject of the lost heiress, or the landlord
of the "Cat and Fiddle."
The subject was evidently, for some reason or other, unpleasant to Mr.
Brook, the coachman; and as Matthew Brook was a general favourite, the
subject was dropped. Mr. Larkspur devoted the next morning to a
careful examination of all possible entrances to the castle. When he
saw the half-glass door opening from the quadrangle into the little
bedchamber occupied by Stephen Plumpton, the footman, he gave a long,
low whistle, and smiled to himself, with the triumphant smile of a man
who has found a clue to the mystery he wishes to solve.
Mrs. Smithson, the housekeeper, conducted Andrew Larkspur from room to
room during this careful investigation of the premises; and she and
Stephen Plumpton alone were present when he examined this half-glass
"Do you always bolt your door of a night?" Mr. Larkspur asked of the
"A ways, sir."
The tone of the man's voice and the man's face combined to betray him
to the skilled police-officer.
Andrew Larkspur knew that the man had told him a deliberate falsehood.
"Are you certain you bolted this door on that particular night?"
"Oh, quite certain, sir."
The police-officer examined the bolt. It was a very strong one; but it
moved so stiffly as to betray the fact that it was very rarely used.
Mrs. Smithson did not notice this fact; but Mr. Larkspur did. It was
his business to take note of small facts.
"Can you remember what you were doing on that particular night?" he
asked, presently, turning again to the embarrassed Stephen.
"No, sir; I can't say I do remember exactly," faltered the footman.
"Were you at home that night?"
"Well, yes, sir, I think I was."
"You are not certain?"
"Well, yes, sir; perhaps I might venture to say as I'm certain,"
answered the miserable young man, who in his desire to screen his
fellow-servant, found himself led on from one falsehood to another.
He knew that he could rely on the honourable silence of the servants;
and that none among them would betray the secret of the party at the
"Cat and Fiddle."
After completing the examination of the premises, Mr. Larkspur dined
comfortably in the housekeeper's room, and then once more sallied forth
to the village to finish his afternoon. But on this occasion it was to
the "Cat and Fiddle," and not the "Hen and Chickens," that the police-
officer betook himself. Here he found only a few bargemen and
villagers, carousing upon the wooden benches of a tap-room, drinking
their beer out of yellow earthenware mugs, and enjoying themselves in
an atmosphere that was almost suffocating from the fumes of strong
Mr. Larkspur did not trouble himself to listen to the conversation of
these men; he looked into the room for a few minutes and then returned
to the bar, where he ordered a glass of brandy-and-water from the girl
who served Mr. Maunders's customers in the absence of that gentleman.
"So your master is away from home, my lass," he said, in his most
insinuating tone, as he slowly stirred his brandy-and-water.
"Yes, he be, sir."
"Do you know when he's coming back?" inquired Larkspur.
"Lawks, no, sir."
"Or where he's gone?"
"No, sir, I don't know that neither. My master's a good one to hold his
tongue, he is. He never tells nobody nothing, in a manner of speaking."
"When did he go away?"
The girl named the morning on which had been discovered the
disappearance of Sir Oswald's daughter.
"He went away pretty early, I suppose?" said Mr. Larkspur, with assumed
"I should rather think he did," answered the girl. "I was up at six
that morning, but my master had gone clean off when I came down stairs.
There weren't a sign of him."
"He must have gone very early."
"That he must; and the strangest part of it is that he was up very late
the night before," added the girl, who was one of those people who ask
nothing better than the privilege of telling all they know about
anything or anybody.
"Oh," said Mr. Larkspur; "he was up late the night before, was he?"
"Yes. It was eleven when he sent me to bed, ordering me off as sharp as
you please, which is just his way. And he couldn't have gone to bed for
above an hour after that, for I lay awake, on the listen, as you may
say, wondering what he was up to downstairs. But though I lay awake
above an hour, I didn't hear him come up stairs at all; so goodness
knows what time he went to bed. You see he had a party that night."
"Oh, he had a party, had he?" remarked the police-officer, who saw that
he had no occasion to question this young lady, so well-inclined was
she to tell him all she knew.
"Yes, sir. His friends came to have a hand at cards and a hot supper;
and didn't it give me plenty of trouble to get it all ready, that's
all. You see, master's friends are some of the gentlemen up at the
castle; and they live so uncommon well up there, that they're very
particular what they eat. It must be all of the best, and done to a
turn, master says to me; and so it was. I'm sure the steak was a
perfect picture when I laid it on the dish, and the onions were fried a
beautiful golden brown, as would have done credit to the Queen of
England's head-cook, though I says it as shouldn't perhaps," added the
"And which of the gentlemen from the castle came to supper with your
master that night?" Mr. Larkspur asked, presently.
"Well, sir, you see there was three of them. Mr. Brook, the coachman, a
good-natured, civil-spoken man as you'd wish to meet, but a little
given to drink, folks say; and there was James Harwood, the under-
groom; and Stephen Plumpton, the footman, a good-looking, fresh-
coloured young man, which is, perhaps, beknown to you."
"Oh, yes," answered Mr. Larkspur, "I know Stephen, the footman."
Mr. Larkspur and the damsel conversed a good deal after this; but
nothing of particular interest transpired in this conversation. The
gentleman departed from the "Cat and Fiddle" very well satisfied with
his evening's work, and returned to the castle in time to take a
comfortable cup of tea in the housekeeper's room.
He was quite satisfied in his own mind as to the identity of the
delinquent who had stolen the child.
The next thing to be discovered was the manner in which the landlord of
the "Cat and Fiddle" had left Raynham. It must have been almost
impossible for him to leave in any public vehicle, carrying the stolen
child with him, as he must have done, without attracting the attention
of his fellow-passengers. Andrew Larkspur had taken care to ascertain
all possible details of the man's habits from the communicative
barmaid, and knew that he had no vehicle or horse of his own. He must,
therefore, have either gone in a public vehicle, or on foot.
If he had left the village on foot, under cover of darkness, he might
have left unseen; but he must have entered some other village at
daybreak; he must sooner or later have procured some kind of
conveyance; and wherever he went, carrying with him that stolen child,
it was more than probable his appearance would attract attention.
After a little trouble, the astute Andrew ascertained that Mr. Maunders
had certainly not left the village by any public conveyance.
It was late when Mr. Larkspur returned to the castle, after having
mastered this fact. He found that Lady Eversleigh had been inquiring
for him; and he was told that she had requested he might be sent to her
apartments at whatever time he returned.
In obedience to this summons, he followed a servant to the room
occupied by the mistress of Raynham Castle.
"Well, Mr. Larkspur," Honoria asked, eagerly, "do you bring many hope?"
"I don't exactly know about that, my lady," answered the ever-cautious
Andrew; "but I think I may venture to say that things are going on
pretty smoothly. I ain't wasting time, depend upon it; and I hope in a
day or two I may have something encouraging to tell you."
"But you will tell me nothing yet?" murmured Honoria, with a despairing
"Not yet, my lady."
No more was said. Lady Eversleigh was obliged to be content with this
Early the next morning Mr. Larkspur set out on his voyage of discovery
to the villages within two, three, four, and five hours' walk of
ON THE TRACK.
The next day Mr. Larkspur spent in the same manner, and returned to the
castle late at night, and very much out of sorts. He had of late been
spoiled by tolerably easy triumphs, and the experience of failure was
very disagreeable to him.
On both evenings he was summoned to Lady Eversleigh's apartments, and
on each occasion declined going. He sent a respectful message, to the
effect that he had nothing to communicate to her ladyship, and would
not therefore intrude upon her.
But early on the morning after the second day's wasted labour, the post
brought Mr. Larkspur a communication which quite restored him to his
accustomed good humour.
It was neither more nor less than a brief epistle from one of the
officials of the police-staff at Murford Haven, informing Mr. Larkspur
that an old woman had produced the silken coverlet advertised for, and
claimed the offered reward.
Mr. Larkspur sent a servant to inquire if Lady Eversleigh would be
pleased to favour him with a few minutes' conversation that morning.
The man came back almost immediately with a ready affirmative.
"My lady will be very happy to see Mr. Larkspur."
"Oh, Mr. Larkspur!" exclaimed Honoria, as the police-officer entered
the room, "I am certain you bring me good news; I can see it in your
"Well, yes, my lady; certainly I've got a little bit of good news this
"You have found a clue to my child?"
"I have found out something about the coverlet," answered Andrew; "and
that's the next best thing, to my mind. That has turned up at Murford
Haven, thirty miles from here; though how the man who stole Miss
Eversleigh can have got there without leaving a single trace behind him
is more than I can understand."
"At Murford Haven!--my darling has been taken to Murford Haven!" cried
"So I conclude, my lady, by the coverlet turning up there," replied Mr.
Larkspur. "I told you the handbills would do the trick. Murford Haven
is a large manufacturing town, and the sort of place a man who wanted
to keep himself out of sight of the police might be likely enough to
choose. Now, with your leave, my lady, I'll be off to Murford Haven as
soon as I can have a post-chaise got ready for me."
"And I will go with you," exclaimed Lady Eversleigh; "I shall feel as
if I were nearer my child if I go to the town where you hope to find
the clue to her hiding-place."
"I, too, will accompany you," said Captain Copplestone.
"Begging you pardon, sir," remonstrated Mr. Larkspur, "if three of us
go, and one of those three a lady, we might attract attention, even in
such a busy place as Murford Haven. And if those that have got little
missy should hear of it, they'd smell a rat. No, my lady, you let me go
alone. I'm used to this sort of work, and you ain't, and the captain
ain't either. I can slip about on the quiet anywhere like an eel; and
I've got the eye to see whatever is to be seen, and the ear to pick up
every syllable that's to be heard. You trust matters to me, and depend
upon it, I'll do my duty. I've got a clue, and a clue is all I ever
want. You keep to this spot, my lady, and you, too, captain; for there
may come some kind of news in my absence, and you may have to act
without me. I shan't waste time, you may rely upon it; and all you've
got to do, my lady, is to trust to me, and hope that I shall bring you
back good news from Murford Haven."
Very little more was said, and half an hour after this interview, the
police-officer left Raynham in a post-chaise, on the first stage of the
journey to Murford Haven.
Words are too weak to describe the sufferings of the mother of the lost
child, and of the friends to whom she was hardly less dear. They waited
very quietly, with all outward show of calmness, but the pain of
suspense was not less keen. They sat silent, unoccupied, counting the
hours--the minutes even--during the period which must elapse before the
return of the police-officer.
He came earlier than Honoria had dared to expect him, and he brought
with him so much comfort that she could almost have fallen on her
knees, like Thetis at the feet of Jove, in the extremity of her
gratitude for his services.
"I've got the coverlet," said Mr. Larkspur, dragging the little silken
covering from his carpet-bag, and displaying it before those to whom it
was so familiar. "That's about the ticket, I think, my lady. Yes, just
so. I found a nice old hag waiting to claim her five pounds reward;
for, you see, the men at the police-office at Murford Haven contrived
to keep her dancing attendance backward and forwards--call again in an
hour, and so on--till I was there to cross-question her. A precious
deep one she is, too; and a regular jail-bird, I'll wager. I soon
reckoned her up; and I was pretty sure that whatever she knew she'd
tell fast enough, if she was only paid her price. So, after a good deal
of shilly-shally, and handing her over five-and-twenty pounds in solid
cash, and telling her that she'd better beware how she trifled with a
gentleman belonging to Bow Street, she consented to tell me all about
the little girl. The man that stole little missy had been to her
precious hovel, and old Mother Brimstone had found a change of clothes
for little missy, in token of which, and on payment of another
sovereign, the old harpy gave me little missy's own clothes; and there
Hereupon Mr. Larkspur dragged from his capacious carpet-bag the
delicate little garments of lawn and lace which had been worn by the
cherished heiress of Raynham. Ah! who can describe the anguish of the
mother's heart as she gazed upon those familiar garments, so associated
with the form of the lost one?
"Well," gasped Honoria, "go on, I entreat! She told you the child had
been there. But with whom? Did she tell you that?"
"She did," returned Andrew Larkspur. "She told me that the scoundrel
who holds little missy in his keeping is no other than the man
suspected of a foul murder--a man I have long been looking for--a man
who is well known amongst the criminal classes of London by the name of
Black Milsom! the face of Lady Eversleigh, pale before, grew almost
ghastly in its pallor, as that hated name sounded in her ears, ominous
as a death-knell.
"Black Milsom!" she exclaimed at last. "If my child is in the power of
that man, she is, indeed, lost."
"You know him, my lady?" cried Andrew Larkspur, with surprise. "Ah, I
remember, you seemed familiar with the details of the Jernam murder.
You know this man, Milsom?"
"I do know him," answered Honoria, in a tone of utter despair. "Do not
ask me where or when that man and I have met. It is enough that I know
him. My darling could not be in worse hands."
"He can have but one motive, and that to extort money," said Captain
Copplestone. "No harm will come to our darling's precious life. You
have reason to rejoice that your child has not fallen into the hands of
Sir Reginald Eversleigh."
"Tell me more," said Honoria to Mr. Larkspur. "Tell me all you have
"All I could discover was that the man Milsom had taken the child to
London by a certain coach. I went to the inn from which that particular
coach always starts; and here, after much trouble and delay, I was
lucky enough to see the guard. From him I derived some valuable
information; or perhaps, I ought to say some information that I think
may turn up trumps. He perfectly remembered the man Milsom by my
description of him, I having got the description from old Mother
Brimstone; and he remembered the child, because of her crying a deal,
and the passengers pitying her, and being pleased with her pretty
looks, and trying to comfort her, and so on. The guard himself took a
deal of notice of the child, and thought the man was not much good; and
when they got to London, he felt curious like, he said, to know where
the two would go, and what would become of them."
"And did he find out?" gasped Lady Eversleigh.
"As good luck would have it, he did. The man got into a hackney-coach,
and the guard heard the driver tell him to go to Ratcliff Highway--that
"Then I will find him," exclaimed Honoria, with feverish excitement. "I
know the place well--too well! I will go with you to London, Mr.
Larkspur, and I myself will help you to find my treasure."
In the extremity of her excitement she was reckless what secrets she
betrayed. She had but one thought, one consideration, and that to her
was life or death.
"Don't question me," she said to Captain Copplestone, who stared at her
in amazement; "my girlhood was spent in a den of thieves--my womanhood
has been one long struggle against pitiless enemies. I will fight
bravely to the last. And now, in this most bitter trial of my life, the
experience of my miserable youth shall serve in the contest with that
She would brook no delay; she would explain nothing.
"Do not question me," she repeated. "You have counselled me to trust in
the experience of Mr. Larkspur, and I will confide myself to his
wisdom; but I must and will accompany him in his search for my child.
Let a post-chaise be ordered immediately. Can you dispense with rest,
and take a hurried dinner before you start, Mr. Larkspur?" she added,
turning to her ally.
"Dispense with rest? Bless your innocent heart, my lady, I don't know
the meaning of rest when I'm in business; and as for dinner, a ham
sandwich and a glass of brandy out of a pocket-pistol is as much as I
ask for when my blood's up." "You shall be richly rewarded for your
"Thank you kindly, ma'am. The promise of a reward is very encouraging,
of course; but, upon my word, my heart's more in this business than it
ever was before in anything under a murder; and I feel as if it was in
me to do wonders."
No more was said. Andrew Larkspur hurried away to eat as good a dinner
as he could get through in ten minutes, and Honoria went to her
dressing-room to prepare herself for her journey.
"Pray for me, kind and faithful friend," she said, earnestly, as she
bade adieu to the captain.
In a few minutes more she was once again speeding along the familiar
road which she had travelled under such different circumstances, and
with such different feelings. She remembered the first time she had
driven through those rustic villages, past those swelling uplands,
those woods and hills.
Then she had come as a bride, beloved, honoured, seated by the side of
an adoring husband--a happy future shining before her, a bright horizon
without one cloud.
Only one shadow to come between her and the sunshine, and that the
shadow of a cruel memory--the haunting recollection of that foul deed
which had been done beneath the shelter of the darkness, by the side of
the ever-flowing river. Even to-day, when her heart was full of her
child's sweet image, that dark memory still haunted her. It seemed to
her as if some mystic influence obliged her to recall the horrors of
"The curse of innocent blood has been upon me," she thought to herself.
"I shall never know rest or peace till the murder of Valentine Jernam
has been avenged."
Lady Eversleigh went at once to her rooms in Percy Street, and Mr.
Andrew Larkspur betook himself to certain haunts, in which he expected
to glean some information. That he was not entirely unsuccessful will
appear from his subsequent conversation with Lady Eversleigh. After an
absence, in reality short, but which, to her suspense and impatience
appeared of endless duration, Mr. Larkspur presented himself before
"Well, Mr. Larkspur, what news?" she cried, eagerly, as he entered the
"Not much, my lady; but there's something done, at any rate. I've found
out one fact."
"And what is that?"
"That the little lady has not been taken out of the country. Now, you
seem to know something of the man Milsom, my lady. Have you any idea
whether there is any particular place where he'd be _likely_ to take
For some minutes Lady Eversleigh remained silent, evidently lost in
"Yes," she said, at last, "I do know something of that man's past
career; so much, that the very mention of his name sends a thrill of
horror through my heart. Yes, Mr. Larkspur, it is my misfortune to have
known Black Milsom only too well in the bitter past."
"If your ladyship wouldn't consider it a liberty," said the police-
officer, with some hesitation, "I should very much like to put a
"You are free to ask me what questions you please."
"What I should like to ask is this," replied Mr. Larkspur, "when and
where did your ladyship happen to meet Black Milsom? If you would only
be so kind as to speak freely, it might be a great help to me in the
work I've got in hand."
Honoria did not answer him for some moments. She had risen from her
chair, and was walking up and down the room in deep thought.
"Will it help you in your search for my child," she said, at length,
"if I tell you all I know?"
"It may help me. I cannot venture to say more than that, my lady."
"If there is even a chance, I must speak," replied Honoria. "I will
tell you, then," she said, throwing herself into a chair, and fixing
her grave, earnest eyes upon the face of her companion. "In order to
tell you what I know of Black Milsom, I must go back to the days of my
childhood. My first memories are bright ones; but they are so vague, so
shadowy, that it is with difficulty I can distinguish realities from
dreams; and yet I believe the things which I remember _must_ have been
real. I have a faint recollection of a darkly beautiful face, that bent
over me as I lay in some bed or cradle, softer and more luxurious than
any bed I ever slept in for many years after that time. I remember a
soft, sweet voice, that sang me to sleep. I remember that in the place
I called home everything was beautiful."
"And do you not even know where this home was?"
"I know nothing of its locality. I was too young to remember the names
of persons or places. But I have often fancied it was in Italy."
"Yes; for the first home which I really remember was a fisherman's hut,
in a little village within a few miles of Naples. I was the only child
in that miserable hovel--lonely, desolate, miserable, in the power of
two wretches, whose presence filled me with loathing."
"And they were--?"
"An old woman, called Andrinetta--I know that, though I called her
'nurse' when she was with me in the beautiful home I so dimly
remember--and the man whom you have heard of under the name of Black
"Is he an Italian?" asked Andrew, astonished.
"I don't know," replied Honoria. "In England he calls himself an
Englishman--in Italy he is supposed to be an Italian. What his real
calling was in those days I do not know; but I feel assured that it
must been dark and unlawful as all his actions have been since that
time. He pretended to get his living like the other fishermen in the
neighbourhood; but he was often idle for a week at a time, and still
more often, absent. I have seen him count over gold and jewels with old
Andrinetta on his return from some expedition. To me he was harsh and
cruel. I hated him, and he knew that I hated him. He ordered me to call
him father, and I was more than once savagely beaten by him because I
refused to do so. Under such treatment, in such a wretched home,
deprived of all natural companionship, I grew wild and strange. My will
was indomitable as the will of my tyrant; and on many occasions I
resisted him boldly. Sometimes I ran away, and wandered for days
together among the neighbouring hills and woods; but I returned always
sooner or later to my miserable shelter, for I knew not where else to
go. My lonely life had made me shrink from all human creatures, except
the two wretches with whom I lived; and when the few neighbours would
have shown me some kindness, I ran from them in wild, unreasoning
"Strange!" muttered the police-officer.
"Yes; a strange history, is it not?" returned Lady Eversleigh. "And you
wonder, no doubt, to hear of such a childhood from the lips of Sir
Oswald Eversleigh's widow. One day I heard a neighbour reproaching the
man with his cruel treatment of me. 'It is bad enough to have stolen
the child,' he said; 'you shouldn't beat her as well.' From that hour I
knew that I was a stolen child. I told him as much one night, and the
next morning he took me to Naples, where, in the most obscure and yet
most crowded part of the city, I lived for some years. 'Nobody will
trouble himself about you here, my young princess,' my tyrant said to
me. 'Children swarm by hundreds in all the alleys; you will only be one
more drop of water in the ocean.'"
There was a pause, during which Honoria sat in a meditative attitude,
with her eyes fixed upon vacancy. It seemed as if she was looking back
into the shadowy past.
"I cannot tell you how wretched my life was for some time. Andrinetta
had accompanied us to Naples; and soon I saw she was very ill, and she
had fits of violence that approached insanity. Within doors she was my
sole companion. The man only slept in the house, and at times was
absent for months. How he earned his livelihood I knew no more than I
had known in the little sea-side village. I now rarely saw jewels or
gold in his possession; but at night, after he had gone to his chamber,
I often heard the chink of golden coin through the thin partition which
divided my room from his. I think in these days I must have perished
body and soul if Providence had not sent me a friend in the person of a
good Catholic priest--a noble and saintly old man--who visited the
wretched dens of poverty and crime, and who discovered my desolate
state. I need not dwell on that man's goodness to me; it is, doubtless,
remembered in heaven, whither he may have gone before this time. He
taught me, he comforted me, he rescued me from the abyss of
wretchedness into which I had fallen. I took care to conceal his visits
from my tyrant, for I knew how that wicked heart would revolt against
my redemption from ignorance and misery. When I was fifteen years of
age, Andrinetta died. One day, soon after her death--for me a most
sorrowful day--Tomaso (as they called him there) told me that he was
going to bring me to England, I came with him, and for two years I
remained his companion. I will not speak of that time. I have told you
now all that I can tell."
"But the murder of Valentine Jernam!" exclaimed Andrew. "Suspicion
pointed to this man; and you--you know something of that?"
"I will not speak of that now," replied Honoria. "I have said enough.
The day may come when I may speak more freely; but it has not yet
arrived. Trust me that I will not impede the course of justice where
this man is concerned. And now tell me, does my revelation afford one
ray of light which may help to dispel the darkness that surrounds my
"No, I cannot say it does. I cannot find out anything to indicate that
she has been taken far away. I am sure she is in England, and that one
of Milsom's pals, a man named Wayman--"
Lady Eversleigh started, and exclaimed, "I know him! I know him! Go on!
Larkspur directed a glance of keen and eager curiosity towards Lady
Eversleigh. "You know Wayman?" he said.
"Well, well," she repeated. "I know him to be an unscrupulous ruffian.
If he knows where my child is, he will sell the secret for money, and
we will give him money--any sum; do you think I shall count the cost of
"No, no," said Andrew Larkspur, "but you must not get so excited; keep
quiet--tell me all you know of Wayman, and then we shall see our way."
At this point of the conversation Jane Payland knocked at the door of
her mistress's sitting-room, and the interview between Honoria and the
police-officer was interrupted.
"O, ABOVE MEASURE FALSE!"
Victor Carrington was very well content with the state of affairs at
Hilton House in all but one respect. The fulfilment of his purpose was
not approaching with sufficient rapidity. The rich marriage which he
had talked about for Reginald was a pure figment; the virtuous
ironmonger, with the richly dowered daughter, existed only in his
prolific brain--the need of money was growing pressing. He had done
much, but there was still much to do, and he must make haste to do it.
He had also been mistaken on one point of much importance to his
success; he had not calculated on the strength of Douglas Dale's
constitution. Each day that he dined with Paulina--and the days on
which he did not were exceedingly few--Dale drank a small quantity of
curacoa, into which Carrington had poured poison of a slow but sure
nature. As the small carafon in which the liquor was placed upon the
table was emptied, the poisoner never found any difficulty in gaining
access to the fresh supply.
The antique liquor-chest, with its fittings of Venetian glass was
always kept on the side-board in the dining-room, and was never locked.
Paulina had a habit of losing anything that came into her hands, and
the key of the liquor-chest had long been missing.
But the time was passing, and the poison was not telling, as far as he,
the poisoner, could judge from appearances, on Douglas Dale. He never
complained of illness, and beyond a slight lassitude, he did not seem
to have anything the matter with him. This would not do. It behoved
Carrington to expedite matters. His project was to accomplish the death
of Douglas Dale by poison, throwing the burthen of suspicion--should
suspicion arise--upon Paulina. To advance this purpose, he had
industriously circulated reports of the most injurious character
respecting her; so that Douglas Dale, if he had not been blinded and
engrossed by his love, must have seen that he was regarded by the men
whom he was in the habit of meeting even more coldly and curiously than
when he had first boldly announced his engagement to Madame Durski. He
made it known that Douglas Dale had made a will, by which the whole of
his disposable property was bequeathed to Paulina, and circulated a
rumour that the Austrian widow was utterly averse to the intended
marriage, in feeling, and was only contracting it from interested
"If Dale was only out of the way, and his heir had come into the money,
she would rather have Reginald," was a spiteful saying current among
those who knew the lady and her suitor, and which had its unsuspected
origin with Carrington. Supposing Dale to come to his death by poison,
and that fact to be ascertained, who would be suspected but the woman
who had everything to gain by his death, whose acknowledged lover was
his next heir, and who succeeded by his will to all the property which
did not go immediately into the possession of that acknowledged lover?
The plan was admirably laid, and there was no apparent hitch in it, and
it only remained now for Carrington to accelerate his proceedings. He
still maintained reserve with Reginald Eversleigh, who would go to his
house, and lounge purposelessly about, sullen and gloomy, but afraid to
question the master-mind which had so completely subjugated his weak
and craven nature.
Back to Full Books