Run to Earth
M. E. Braddon
Part 3 out of 11
she drew nearer to the baronet and his friend, the bluff old soldier's
The introduction was made by Sir Oswald, and Honoria held out her hand
with her brightest and most bewitching smile.
"My husband has spoken of you very often, Captain Copplestone," she
said; "and I feel as if we were old friends rather than strangers. I
have pleasure in bidding welcome to all Sir Oswald's guests; but not
such pleasure as I feel in welcoming you."
The soldier extended his bronzed hand, and grasped the soft white
fingers in a pressure that was something like that of an iron vice. He
looked at Lady Eversleigh with a serio-comic expression of
bewilderment, and looked from her to the baronet.
"Well?" asked Sir Oswald, presently, when Honoria had left them.
"Well, Oswald, if the truth must be told, I think you had some excuse
for your folly. She is a beautiful creature; and if there is any faith
to be put in the human countenance, she is as good as she is
The baronet grasped his friend's hand with a pressure that was more
eloquent than words. He believed implicitly in the captain's powers of
penetration, and this favourable judgment of the wife he adored filled
him with gratitude. It was not that the faintest shadow of doubt
obscured his own mind. He trusted her fully and unreservedly; but he
wanted others to trust her also.
* * * * *
While Sir Oswald and his friend were enjoying a brief interval of
confidential intercourse, Reginald Eversleigh and Victor Carrington
lounged in a pleasant little sitting-room, smoking their cigars, and
leaning on the stone sill of the wide Gothic window.
They were talking, and talking very earnestly.
"You are a very clever fellow, I know, my dear Carrington," said
Reginald; "but it is slow work, very slow work, and I don't see my way
"Because you are as impatient as a child who has set his heart on a new
toy," answered the surgeon, disdainfully. "You complain that the game
is slow, and yet you see one move after another made upon the board--
and made successfully. A month ago you did not believe in the
possibility of a reconciliation between your uncle and yourself; and
yet that reconciliation has come about. A fortnight ago you would have
laughed at the idea of my being here at Raynham, an invited guest; and
yet here I am. Do you think there has been no patient thought necessary
to work out this much of our scheme? Do you suppose that I was on
Thorpe Hill by accident that afternoon?"
"And you hope that something may come of your visit here?"
"I hope that much may come of it. I have already dared to drop hints at
injustice done to you. That idea of injustice will rankle in your
uncle's mind. I have my plans, Reginald, and you have only to be
patient, and to trust in me."
"But why should you refuse to tell me the nature of your plans?"
"Because my plans are as yet but half formed. I may soon be able to
speak more plainly. Do you see those two figures yonder, walking in the
"Yes, I see them--my uncle and his wife," answered Reginald, with a
gesture of impatience.
"They are very happy--are they not? It is quite an Arcadian picture. I
beg you to contemplate it earnestly."
"What a fool you are, Carrington!" cried the young man, flinging away
his cigar. "If my uncle chooses to make an idiot of himself, that is no
reason why I should watch the evidence of his folly!"
"But there is another reason," answered Victor, with a sinister look in
his glittering black eyes. "Look at the picture while you may,
Reginald, for you will not have the chance of seeing it very often."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that the day is near at hand when Lady Eversleigh will fall
from her high estate. I mean that an elevation as sudden as hers is
often the forerunner of a sudden disgrace. The hour will come when Sir
Oswald will mourn his fatal marriage as the one irrevocable mistake of
his life; and when, in his despair, he will restore you, the disgraced
nephew, to your place, as his acknowledged heir; because you will at
least seem to him more worthy than his disgraced wife."
"And who is to bring this about?" asked Reginald, gazing at his friend
in complete bewilderment.
"I am," answered the surgeon; "but before I do so I must have some
understanding as to the price of my services. If the cat who pulled the
chestnuts out of the fire for the benefit of the monkey had made an
agreement beforehand as to how much of the plunder he was to receive
for his pains, the name of the animal would not have become a bye-word
with posterity. When I have worked to win your fortune, I must have my
reward, my dear Reginald."
"Do you suppose I should be ungrateful?"
"Of course not. But, you see, I don't ask for your gratitude--I want a
good round sum down on the nail--hard cash. Your uncle's fortune, if
you get two-thirds of it, will be worth thirty thousand a year; and for
such a fortune you can very well afford to pay me twenty thousand in
ready money within two years of your accession to the inheritance."
"Yes; if you think the sum too much, we will say no more about it. The
business is a very difficult one, and I scarcely care to engage in it."
"My dear Victor, you bewilder me. I cannot bring myself to believe that
you can bring about my restoration to my old place in my uncle's will;
but if you do, the twenty thousand shall be yours."
"Good!" answered the surgeon, in his coolest and most business-like
manner; "I must have it in black and white. You will give me two
promissory notes; one for ten thousand, to fall due a year hence--the
other for the same sum, to fall due in two years."
"But if I do not get the fortune--and I am not likely to get it within
that time; my uncle's life is a good one, and--"
"Never mind your uncle's life. I will give you an undertaking to cancel
those notes of hand if you have not succeeded to the Raynham estates.
And now here are stamps. You may as well fill in the body of the notes,
and sign them at once, and so close the transaction."
"You are prepared with the stamps?"
"Yes; I am a man of business, although a man of science."
"Victor," said Reginald Eversleigh; "you sometimes make me shudder,
There is something almost diabolical about you."
"But if I drag yonder fair lady down from her high, estate, you would
scarcely care if I were the foul fiend in person," said Carrington,
looking at his friend with a sardonic smile. "Oh, I think I know you,
Reginald Eversleigh, better than you know me."
* * * * *
Amongst the guests who had arrived at the castle within the last few
days was Lydia Graham, the young lady of whom the baronet had spoken to
his nephew. She was a fascinating girl, with a bold, handsome face,
brilliant gray eyes, an aquiline nose, and a profusion of dark, waving
hair. She was a woman who knew how to make the most of every charm with
which nature had endowed her. She dressed superbly; but with an
extravagance far beyond the limits of her means. She was, for this
reason, deeply in debt, and her only chance of extrication from her
difficulties lay in a brilliant marriage.
For nearly nine years she had been trying to make this brilliant
marriage. She had "come out," as the phrase goes, at seventeen, and she
was now nine-and-twenty.
During that period she had been wooed and flattered by troops of
admirers. She had revelled in flirtations; she had triumphed in the
power of her beauty; but she had known more than one disappointment of
her fairest hopes, and she had not won the prize in the great lottery
of fashionable life--a wealthy and patrician husband.
Her nine-and-twentieth birthday had passed; and contemplating herself
earnestly in her glass, she was fain to confess that something of the
brilliancy of her beauty had faded.
"I am getting wan and sallow," she said to herself; "what is to become
of me if I do not marry?"
The prospect was indeed a sorry one.
Lydia Graham possessed an income of two hundred a year, inherited from
her mother: but such an income was the merest pittance for a young lady
with Miss Graham's tastes. Her brother was a captain of an expensive
regiment, selfish and extravagant, and by no means inclined to open his
purse for his sister's benefit.
She had no home; but lived sometimes with one wealthy relation,
sometimes with another--always admired, always elegantly dressed; but
not always happy.
Amidst all Miss Graham's matrimonial disappointments, she had endured
none more bitter than that which she had felt when she read the
announcement of Sir Oswald Eversleigh's marriage in the "Times"
She had met the rich baronet very frequently in society. She had
visited at Raynham with her brother. Sir Oswald had, to all appearance,
admired her beauty and accomplishments; and she had imagined that time
and opportunity alone were wanting to transform that admiration into a
warmer feeling. In plain words, Lydia Graham had hoped with a little
good management, to become Lady Eversleigh of Raynham; and no words can
fully describe her mortification when she learnt that the baronet had
bestowed his name and fortune on a woman of whom the fashionable world
knew nothing, except that she was utterly unknown.
Lydia Graham came to Raynham Castle with poisonous feelings rankling in
her heart, but she wore her brightest smiles as well as her most
elegant dresses. She congratulated the baronet in honeyed words, and
offered warmest friendship to the lovely mistress of the mansion.
"I am sure we shall suit each other delightfully, dear Lady
Eversleigh," she said; "and we shall be fast friends henceforward-shall
Honoria's disposition was naturally reserved. She revolted against
frivolous and unmeaning sentimentality. She responded politely to Miss
Graham's proffers of friendship; but not with corresponding warmth.
Lydia Graham perceived the coldness of her manner, and bitterly
resented it. She felt that she had reason to hate this woman, who had
caused the disappointment of her dearest hopes, whose beauty was
infinitely superior to her own; and who was several years younger than
There was one person at Raynham whose scrutinizing eyes perceived the
animosity of feeling lurking beneath Lydia Graham's smooth manner. That
penetrating observer was Victor Carrington. He saw that the fashionable
beauty hated Lady Eversleigh, and he resolved to make use of her hatred
for the furtherance of his schemes.
"I fancy Miss Graham has at some time of her life cherished an idea
that she might become mistress of this place, eh, Reginald?" he said
one morning, as the two men lounged together on the terrace.
"How did you know that?" said Reginald, questioning and replying at
"By no diabolical power of divination, I assure you, my dear Reginald.
I have only used my eyes. But it seems, from your exclamation, that I
am right. Miss Graham did once hope to become Lady Eversleigh."
"Well, I believe she tried her uttermost to win my uncle for a husband.
I have watched her manoeuvres--when she was here two years ago; but
they did not give me much uneasiness, for I thought Sir Oswald was a
confirmed bachelor. She used to vary her amusements by flirting with
me. I was the acknowledged heir in those days, you know, and I have no
doubt she would have married me if I had given her the opportunity. But
she is too clever a woman for my taste; and with all her brilliancy, I
never admired her."
"You are wise, for once in the way, my dear Reginald. Miss Graham is a
dangerous woman. She has a very beautiful smile; but she is the sort of
woman who can smile and murder while she smiles. But she may be made a
very useful tool, notwithstanding."
"Yes; a good workman takes his tools wherever he finds them. I may be
in want of just such a tool as Lydia Graham."
All went merry as a marriage-bell at Raynham Castle during the bright
August weather. The baronet was unspeakably happy. Honoria, too, was
happy in the novelty of her position; happy in the knowledge of her
husband's love. His noble nature had won the reward such natures should
win. He was beloved by his young wife as few men are beloved in the
heyday of their youth. Her affection was reverential, profound, and
pure. To her mind, Oswald Eversleigh was the perfection of all that is
noble in mankind, and she was proud of his devotion, grateful of his
No guest at the castle was more popular than Victor Carrington, the
surgeon. His accomplishments were of so varied a nature as to make him
invaluable in a large party, and he was always ready to devote himself
to the amusement of others. Sir Oswald was astonished at the
versatility of his nephew's friend. As a linguist, an artist, a
musician, Victor alike shone pre-eminent; but in music he was
triumphant. Professing only to be an amateur, he exhibited a scientific
knowledge, a mechanical proficiency, as rare as they were admirable.
"A poor man is obliged to study many arts," he said, carelessly, when
Sir Oswald complimented him on his musical powers. "My life has been
one of laborious industry; and the cultivation of music has been almost
the only relaxation I have allowed myself. I am not, like Lady
Eversleigh, a musical genius. I only pretend to be a patient student of
the great masters."
The baronet was delighted with the musical talents of his guest because
they assisted much in the display of Lady Eversleigh's exceptional
power. Victor Carrington's brilliant playing set off the magnificent
singing of Honoria. With him as her accompanyist, she sang as she could
not sing without his aid. Every evening there was an impromptu concert
in the long drawing-room; every evening Lady Eversleigh sang to Victor
One evening, in the summer dusk, when she had been singing even more
superbly than usual, Lydia Graham happened to be seated near Sir
Oswald, in one of the broad open windows.
"Lady Eversleigh is indeed a genius," said Miss Graham, at the close of
a superb _bravura_; "but how delightful for her to have that
accomplished Mr. Carrington to accompany her--though some people prefer
to play their own accompaniments. I do, for instance; but when one has
a relative who plays so well, it is, of course, a different thing."
"A relative! I don't understand you, my dear Miss Graham."
"I mean that it is very nice for Lady Eversleigh to have a cousin who
is so accomplished a musician."
"Yes. Mr. Carrington is Lady Eversleigh's cousin--is he not? Or, I beg
your pardon, perhaps he is her brother. I don't know your wife's maiden
"My wife's maiden name was Milford," answered the baronet, with some
displeasure in his tone. "And Mr. Carrington is neither her brother nor
her cousin; he is no relation whatever to her."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Miss Graham.
There was a strange significance in that word "indeed"; and after
having uttered it, the young lady seemed seized with a sudden sense of
Sir Oswald looked at her sharply; but her face was half averted from
him, as if she had turned away in confusion. "You seem surprised," he
said, haughtily, "and yet I do not see anything surprising in the fact
that my wife and Mr. Carrington are not related to each other."
"Oh, dear no, Sir Oswald; of course not," replied Lydia, with a light
laugh, which had the artificial sound of a laugh intended to disguise
some painful embarrassment. "Of course not. It was very absurd of me to
appear surprised, if I did really appear so; but I was not aware of it.
You see, it was scarcely strange if I thought Lady Eversleigh and Mr.
Carrington were nearly related; for, when people are very old friends,
they seem like relations: it is only in name that there is any
"You seemed determined to make mistakes this evening, Miss Graham,"
answered the baronet, with icy sternness. "Lady Eversleigh and Mr.
Carrington are by no means old friends. Neither my wife nor I have
known the gentleman more than a fortnight. He happens to be a very
accomplished musician, and is good enough to make himself useful in
accompanying Lady Eversleigh when she sings. That is the only claim
which he has on her friendship; and it is one of only a few days'
"Indeed!" said Miss Graham, repeating the exclamation which had sounded
so disagreeable to Sir Oswald. "I certainly should have mistaken them
for old friends; but then dear Lady Eversleigh is of Italian
extraction, and there is always a warmth of manner, an absence of
reserve, in the southern temperament which is foreign to our colder
Lady Eversleigh rose from her seat just at this moment, in compliance
with the entreaties of the circle about her.
She approached the grand piano, where Victor Carrington was still
sitting, turning over the leaves of some music, and at the same moment
Sir Oswald rose also, and hurried towards her.
"Do not sing any more to-night, Honoria," he said; "you will fatigue
There was some lack of politeness in this speech, as Lady Eversleigh
was about to sing in compliance with the entreaties of her guests. She
turned to her husband with a smile--
"I am not in the least tired, my dear Oswald," she said; "and if our
friends really wish for another song, I am quite ready to sing one.
That is to say, if Mr. Carrington is not tired of accompanying me."
Victor Carrington declared that nothing gave him greater pleasure than
to play Lady Eversleigh's accompaniments.
"Mr. Carrington is very good," answered the baronet, coldly, "but I do
not wish you to tire yourself by singing all the evening; and I beg
that you will not sing again to-night, Honoria."
Never before had the baronet addressed his wife with such cold decision
of manner. There was something almost severe in his tone, and Honoria
looked at him with wondering eyes.
"I have no greater pleasure than in obeying you," she said, gently, as
she withdrew from the piano.
She seated herself by one of the tables, and opened a portfolio of
sketches. Her head drooped over the book, and she seemed absorbed in
the contemplation of the drawings. Glancing at her furtively, Sir
Oswald could see that she was wounded; and yet he--the adoring husband,
the devoted lover--did not approach her. His mind was disturbed--his
thoughts confused. He passed through one of the open windows, and went
out upon the terrace. There all was calm and tranquil; but the tranquil
loveliness of the scene had no soothing influence on Sir Oswald. His
brain was on fire. An intense affection can scarcely exist without a
lurking tendency to jealousy. Until to-night every jealous feeling had
been lulled to rest by the confiding trust of the happy husband; but
to-night a few words--spoken in apparent carelessness--spoken by one
who could have, as Sir Oswald thought, no motive for malice--had
aroused the sleeping passion, and peace had fled from his heart.
As Sir Oswald passed the window by which he had left Lydia Graham, he
heard that young lady talking to some one.
"It is positively disgraceful," she said; "her flirtation with that Mr.
Carrington is really too obvious, though Sir Oswald is so blind as not
to perceive it. I thought they were cousins until to-night. Imagine my
surprise when I found that they were not even distantly related; that
they have actually only known each other for a fortnight. The woman
must be a shameless flirt, and the man is evidently an adventurer."
The poisoned arrow shot to its mark. Sir Oswald believed that these
words had never been intended to reach his ears. He did not for a
moment suspect that Lydia Graham had recognized his approaching figure
on the moonlit terrace, and had uttered these words to her friend on
purpose that they should reach his ears.
How should a true-hearted man suspect a woman's malice? How should he
fathom the black depths of wickedness to which a really false and
heartless woman can descend?
He did not know that Lydia Graham had ever hoped to be mistress of his
home. He did not know that she was inspired by fury against himself--by
passionate envy of his wife. To him her words seemed only the careless
slander of society, and experience had shown him that in such slanders
there lurked generally some leaven of truth.
"I will not doubt her," he thought, as he walked onward in the
moonlight, too proud and too honourable to linger in order to hear
anything more that Miss Graham might have to say. "I will not doubt the
wife I love so fondly, because idle tongues are already busy with her
fair fame. Already! We have not been married two months, and already
evil tongues drop the poison of doubt into my ear. It seems too cruel!
But I will watch her with this man. Her ignorance of the world may have
caused her to be more familiar with him than the rigid usages of
society would permit. And yet she is generally so dignified, so
reserved--apt to err on the side of coldness rather than of warmth. I
must watch!--I must watch!"
Never before had Sir Oswald known the anguish of distrust. But his was
an impulsive nature, easily swayed by the force of any absorbing
passion. Blindly, unquestionably, as he had abandoned himself to his
love for Honoria Milford, so now he abandoned himself to the jealous
doubts inspired by a malicious woman's lying tongue.
That night his slumbers were broken and feverish. The next day he set
himself to watch his wife and Victor Carrington.
The mind, imbued with suspicion, contemplates everything in a distorted
light. Victor Carrington was especially attentive to the mistress of
the castle. It was not that he talked to her, or usurped more of her
society than his position warranted; but he devoted himself to her
service with a slavish watchfulness which was foreign to the manner of
an ordinary guest.
Wherever Lady Eversleigh went, Carrington's eyes followed her; every
wish of hers seemed to be divined by him. If she lingered for a few
moments by an open window, Mr. Carrington was at hand with her shawl.
If she was reading, and the leaves of her book required to be cut open,
the surgeon had procured her a paper-knife before she could suffer
inconvenience or delay. If she went to the piano, he was at the
instrument before her, ready to adjust her chair, to arrange her music.
In another man these attentions might have appeared very common-place,
but so quiet of foot, so subdued of voice, was Victor Carrington, that
there seemed something stealthy, something secret in his devotion;
something which had no right to exist. One long day of patient
watchfulness revealed all this to Sir Oswald Eversleigh; and with the
revelation came a new and terrible agony.
How far was his wife to blame for all that was exceptional in the
surgeon's manner? Was she aware of his devotion? Did she encourage this
silent and stealthy worship? She did not, at any rate, discourage it,
since she permitted it.
The baronet wondered whether Victor Carrington's manner impressed
others as it impressed himself. One person had, he knew, been
scandalized by the surgeon's devotion to Lady Eversleigh; and had
spoken of it in the plainest terms. But did other eyes see as Lydia
Graham and he himself had seen?
He determined on questioning his nephew as to the character of the
gentlemanly and accomplished surgeon, whom an impulse of kindness had
prompted him to welcome under his roof--an impulse which he now
"Your friend, Mr. Carrington, is very attentive to Lady Eversleigh,"
said Sir Oswald to Reginald, with a pitiable attempt at indifference of
manner; "is he generally so devoted in his attention to ladies?"
"On the contrary, my dear uncle," answered Reginald, with an appearance
of carelessness which was as well assumed as that of his kinsman was
awkward and constrained; "Victor Carrington generally entertains the
most profound contempt for the fair sex. He is devoted to the science
of chemistry, you know, and in London passes the best part of his life
in his laboratory. But then Lady Eversleigh is such a superior person--
it is no wonder he admires her."
"He admires her very much, then?"
"Amazingly--if I can judge by what he said when first he became
acquainted with her. He has grown more reserved lately."
"Oh, indeed. He has grown more reserved lately, has he?" asked the
baronet, whose suspicions were fed by every word his nephew uttered.
"Yes. I suppose he thinks I might take objection to his enthusiastic
admiration of Lady Eversleigh. Very absurd of him, is it not? For, of
course, my dear uncle, you cannot feel otherwise than proud when you
see your beautiful young wife surrounded by worshippers; and one
devotee more or less at the shrine can make little difference."
These words, carelessly spoken, galled Sir Oswald to the quick; but he
tried to conceal his pain, and parted from his nephew with affected
gaiety of spirit.
Alone in his own study, he pondered long and moodily over the events of
the day. He shrank from the society of his wife. Her tender words
irritated him; he began to think those soft and loving accents were
false. More than once he answered Honoria's anxious questions as to the
cause of his gloom with a harshness that terrified her. She saw that
her husband was changed, and knew not whence the change arose. And this
vagrant's nature was a proud one. Her own manner changed to the man who
had elevated her from the very mire to a position of splendour and
honour. She, too, became reserved, and a cruel breach yawned between
the husband and wife who, a few short days before, had been so happily
Truly, Victor Carrington's schemes prospered. Reginald Eversleigh
looked on in silent wonder--too base to oppose himself to the foul plot
which was being concocted under his eyes. Whatever the schemer bade him
do, he did without shame or scruple. Before him glittered the dazzling
vision of future fortune.
A week elapsed--a weary week for Sir Oswald Eversleigh, for every day
and every hour seemed to widen the gulf between himself and his wife.
Conscious of her innocence of the smallest offence against the man she
truly and honestly loved, Honoria was too proud to sue for an
explanation of that mysterious change which had banished all happiness
and peace from her breast. More than once she had asked the cause of
her husband's gloom of manner; more than once she had been coldly,
almost rudely, repulsed. She sought, therefore, to question him no
further; but held herself aloof from him with proud reserve. The cruel
estrangement cost her dear; but she waited for Sir Oswald to break the
ice--she waited for him to explain the meaning of his altered conduct.
In the meantime, she performed all her duties as mistress of the
mansion with the same calm grace which had distinguished her from the
first hour of her elevation to her new position. But the struggle was a
painful one, and left its traces on her beautiful face. Sir Oswald
perceived the change in that lovely countenance, and his jealousy
distorted this change into a damning evidence against her.
"This man's devotion has touched her heart," he thought. "It is of him
she is thinking when she is silent and pensive. She loves me no longer.
Fool that I am, she never loved me! She saw in me a dupe ready to lift
her from obscurity into the place she longed to occupy; and now that
place is hers, she need no longer care to blindfold the eyes of her
dupe; she may please herself, and enjoy the attentions of more
Then, in the next moment, remorse took possession of the baronet's
heart, and for awhile he fancied that he had wronged his wife.
"Is she to blame because this man loves her?" he asked himself. "She
may not even be aware of his love, though my watchful eyes have
penetrated the secret. Oh, if I could only take her away from Raynham
without delay--this very moment--or if I could clear the castle of all
this frivolous, selfish, heartless gang--what happiness it would be!
But I can do neither. I have invited these people, and I must play my
part to the end. Even this Victor Carrington I dare not send out of my
house; for, in so doing, I should confirm the suspicions of Lydia
Graham, and all who think like her."
Thus mused Sir Oswald as he paced the broad terrace-walk alone, while
his guests were enjoying themselves in different parts of the castle
and grounds; and while Lady Eversleigh spent the summer afternoon in
her own apartments, brooding sadly on her husband's unkindness.
There was one person to whom, in any ordinary trouble of mind, Sir
Oswald Eversleigh would have most certainly turned for consolation; and
that person was his old and tried friend, Captain Copplestone. But the
jealous doubts which racked his brain were not to be revealed, even to
this faithful friend. There was bitter humiliation in the thought of
opening those bleeding wounds which had so newly lacerated his heart.
If Captain Copplestone had been near his friend in the hour of his
trouble, he might, perhaps, have wrung the baronet's secret from him in
some unguarded moment; but within the last week the Captain had been
confined to his own apartments by a violent attack of gout; and except
a brief daily visit of inquiry, Sir Oswald had seen nothing of him.
He was very carefully tended, however, in his hours of suffering. Even
her own anxiety of mind did not render Lady Eversleigh forgetful of her
husband's invalid friend. Every day, and many times a day, the Captain
received some new evidence of her thoughtful care. It pleased her to do
this--apart from her natural inclination to be kind to the suffering
and friendless; for the soldier was her husband's valued friend, and in
testifying her respect for him, it seemed to her as if she were in some
manner proving her devotion to the husband from whom she had become so
Amongst the many plans which had been set on foot for the amusement of
the guests at Raynham, there was one on which all the visitors, male
and female, had especially set their hearts. This much-talked-of
entertainment was a pic-nic, to take place at a celebrated spot, whose
picturesque loveliness was supposed to be unrivalled in the county, and
scarcely exceeded by any scene in all the expanse of fair England.
AFTER THE PIC-NIC.
The place was called the Wizard's Cave. It was a gigantic grotto, near
which flowed a waterfall of surpassing beauty. A wild extent of
woodland stretched on one side of this romantic scene; on the other a
broad moor spread wide before a range of hills, one of which was
crowned by the ruins of an old Norman castle that had stood many a
siege in days gone by.
It would have been difficult to select a spot better adapted for a pic-
nic; and some of the gentlemen who had ridden over to inspect the scene
were rapturous in their praises of its sylvan beauty. The cave lay
within ten miles of Raynham. "Just the distance for a delightful
drive," said the ladies--and from the moment that Sir Oswald had
proposed the entertainment, there had been perpetual discussion of the
arrangements necessary, the probability of fine weather, and the date
to be finally chosen. The baronet had proposed this rustic _fete_ when
his own heart had been light and happy; now he looked forward to the
day with a sickening dread of its weariness. Others would be happy; but
the sound of mirthful voices and light laughter would fall with a
terrible discordance on the ear of the man whose mind was tortured by
hidden doubts. Sir Oswald was too courteous a host to disappoint his
visitors. All the preparations for the rustic festival were duly made:
and on the appointed morning a train of horses and carriages drew up in
a line in the quadrangle of the castle.
It would have been impossible to imagine a brighter picture of English
life; and as the guests emerged in groups from the wide, arched
doorway, and took their places in the carriages, or sprang lightly into
their saddles, the spectacle grew more and more enlivening.
Lydia Graham had done her utmost to surpass all rivals on this
important day. Wealthy country squires and rich young lordlings were to
be present at the festival, and the husband-huntress might, perchance,
find a victim among these eligible bachelors. Deeply as she was already
in debt, Miss Graham had written to her French milliner, imploring her
to send her a costume regardless of expense, and promising a speedy
payment of at least half her long-standing account. The fair and false
Lydia did not scruple to hint at the possibility of her making a
brilliant matrimonial alliance ere many months were over, in order that
this hope might beguile the long-suffering milliner into giving further
The fashionable beauty was not disappointed. The milliner sent the
costume ordered, but wrote to inform Miss Graham, with all due
circumlocution and politeness, that, unless her long-standing account
were quickly settled, legal proceedings must be taken. Lydia threw the
letter aside with a frown, and proceeded to inspect her dress, which
was perfect in its way.
But Miss Graham could scarcely repress a sigh of envy as she looked at
Lady Eversleigh's more simple toilet, and perceived that, with all its
appearance of simplicity, it was twice as costly as her own more
gorgeous attire. The jewels, too, were worth more than all the trinkets
Lydia possessed; and she knew that the treasures of Lady Eversleigh's
jewel-cases were almost inexhaustible, with such a lavish hand had her
husband heaped his gifts upon her.
"Perhaps he will not be so liberal with his presents in future,"
thought the malicious and disappointed woman, as she looked at Honoria,
and acknowledged to her own envious heart that never had she seen her
look more beautiful, more elegant, or more fitted to adorn the position
which Miss Graham would willingly have persuaded herself she disgraced.
"If he thinks that her love is bestowed upon another, he will scarcely
find such delight in future in offering her costly tributes of
There was a great deal of discussion as to who should occupy the
different carriages; but at last all was arranged apparently to every
one's satisfaction. There were many who had chosen to ride; and among
the equestrians was Sir Oswald himself.
For the first time in any excursion, the baronet deserted his
accustomed place by the side of his wife. Honoria deeply felt the
slight involved in this desertion; but she was too proud to entreat him
to alter his arrangements. She saw his favourite horse brought round to
the broad steps; she saw her husband mount the animal without a word of
remonstrance, without so much as a reproachful glance, though her heart
was swelling with passionate indignation. And then she took her place
in the barouche, and allowed the gentlemen standing near to assist in
the arrangement of the shawls and carriage-rugs, which were provided in
case of change of weather.
Sir Oswald was not slow to remark that appearance of indifference. When
once estrangement has arisen between those who truly love each other,
everything tends to widen the breach. The jealous husband had chosen to
separate himself from his wife in a sudden impulse of angry distrust;
but he was still more angry, still more distrustful, when he saw her
apparent carelessness of his desertion.
"She is happier without me," he thought, bitterly, as he drew his horse
on one side, and watched all that took place around the barouche.
"Unrestrained by my presence, she will be free to revel in the
flatteries of her younger admirers. She will be perfectly happy, for
she will forget for a while that she is chained for life to a husband
whom she does not love."
A silvery laugh from Honoria seemed to answer his thoughts, and to
confirm his suspicions. He little dreamed that laugh was assumed, in
order to deceive the malicious Lydia, who had just uttered a polite
little speech, intended to wound the mistress of Raynham.
The baronet kept his horse a little way behind the carriage, and
watched his wife with jealous and angry eyes.
Lydia Graham had taken her seat in the barouche, and there was now a
slight discussion as to the gentlemen who should accompany the two
ladies. Many were eager for the privilege, and the occasion was a
fitting one for the display of feminine coquetry. Miss Graham did not
neglect the opportunity; and after a little animated conversation
between the lady and a young fop who was heir to a peerage, the
lordling took his place opposite the fashionable beauty.
The second place still remained unoccupied. The baronet waited with
painful eagerness to see who would take this place, for amongst the
gentlemen grouped about the door of the carriage was Victor Carrington.
Sir Oswald had not to wait long. He ground his teeth in a sudden access
of jealous fury as he saw the young surgeon step lightly into the
vehicle, and seat himself opposite Lady Eversleigh. He took it for
granted that it was on that lady's invitation the young man occupied
this place of honour. He did not for a moment imagine that it was at
Lydia Graham's entreaty the surgeon had taken his seat in the barouche.
And yet it was so.
"Do come with us, Mr. Carrington," Lydia had said. "I know that you are
well versed in county history and archaeology, and will be able to tell
us all manner of interesting facts connected with the villages and
churches we pass on our road."
Lydia Graham hated Honoria for having won the proud position she
herself had tried so hard to attain; she hated Sir Oswald for having
chosen another in preference to herself; and she was determined to be
revenged on both. She knew that her hints had already had their effect
on the baronet; and she now sought, by every base and treacherous
trick, to render Honoria Eversleigh an object of suspicion in the eyes
of her husband. She had a double game to play; for she sought at once
to gratify her ambition and her thirst for revenge. On one hand she
wished to captivate Lord Sumner Howden; on the other she wanted to
widen the gulf between Sir Oswald and his wife.
She little knew that she was only playing into the hands of a deeper
and more accomplished schemer than herself. She little thought that
Victor Carrington's searching glance had penetrated the secrets of her
heart; and that he watched her malicious manoeuvres with a calm sense
Though August had already given place to September, the weather was
warm and balmy, as in the full glory of midsummer.
Sir Oswald rode behind Lady Eversleigh's barouche, too remote to hear
the words that were spoken by those who occupied the vehicle; but quite
near enough to distinguish the tones and the laughter, and to perceive
every gesture. He saw Victor bend forward to address Honoria. He saw
that deferential and devoted manner which had so much offended him
since he had first set himself to watch the surgeon. And Lady
Eversleigh did not discourage her admirer; she let him talk; she seemed
interested in his conversation; and as Lydia Graham and Lord Howden
were entirely occupied with each other, the conversation between
Honoria was a complete _tete-a-tete_. The young man's handsome head
bent lower and lower over the plumed hat of Lady Eversleigh; and with
every step of that ten-mile journey, the cloud that overshadowed the
baronet's mind grew more profound in its fatal gloom. He no longer
struggled against his doubts--he abandoned himself altogether to the
passion that held possession of him.
But the eyes of the world were on Sir Oswald, and he was obliged to
meet those unpitying eyes with a smile. The long line of equipages drew
up at last on the margin of a wood; the pleasure-seekers alighted, and
wandered about in twos and threes amongst the umbrageous pathways which
led towards the Wizard's Cave.
After alighting from the barouche, Lady Eversleigh waited to see if her
husband would approach her, and offer his arm; she had a faint hope
that he would do so, even in spite of his evident estrangement; but her
hope was cruelly disappointed. Sir Oswald walked straight to a portly
dowager, and offered to escort her to the cave.
"Do you remember a pic-nic here twenty years ago, at which you and I
danced together by moon-light, Lady Hetherington?" he said. "We old
folks have pleasant memories of the past, and are the fittest
companions for each other. The young people can enjoy themselves much
better without the restraint of our society."
He said this loud enough for his wife to hear. She did hear every word,
and felt there was hidden significance in that careless speech. For a
moment she was inclined to break down the icy barrier of reserve. The
words which she wanted to speak were almost on her lips, "Let me go
with you, Oswald." But in the next instant she met her husband's eyes,
and their cold gaze chilled her heart.
At the same moment Victor Carrington offered her his arm, with his
accustomed deferential manner. She accepted the proffered arm, scarcely
knowing who offered it, so deeply did she feel her husband's
"What have I done to offend him?" she thought. "What is this cruel
mystery which divides us, and which is almost breaking my heart?"
"Come, Lady Eversleigh," cried several voices; "we want you to
accompany us to the Wizard's Cave."
Nothing could be more successful than the pic-nic. Elegantly dressed
women and aristocratic-looking men wandered here and there amidst the
woodland, and by the margin of the waterfall; sometimes in gay little
parties, whose talk and laughter rang out clearly on the balmy air;
sometimes strolling _tete-a-tete_, and engaged in conversations of a
more confidential character. Half-hidden by the foliage of a little
thicket of pollard oaks, there was a military band, whose services Sir
Oswald had obtained from a garrison-town some twenty miles from
Raynham, and the stirring music added much to the charm of the
Lydia Graham was as happy as it is possible for any evil-minded woman
to be. Her envious feelings were lulled to temporary rest by the
enjoyment of her own triumphs; for the young lordling seemed to be
completely subjugated by her charms, and devoted himself exclusively to
attendance upon her.
The scheming beauty's heart thrilled with a sense of triumph. She
thought that she had at last made a conquest that might be better worth
the making than any of those past conquests, which had all ended in
such bitter disappointments.
She looked at Lady Eversleigh with flashing eyes, as she remembered
that by the subjugation of this empty-headed young nobleman she might
attain a higher position and greater wealth than that enjoyed by Sir
Oswald's envied wife.
"As Lady Sumner Howden, I could look down upon the mistress of Raynham
Castle," she thought. "As Countess of Vandeluce, I should take
precedence of nobler women than Lady Eversleigh."
The day waned. The revellers lingered long over the splendid collation,
served in a marquee which had been sent from York for the occasion. The
banquet seemed a joyous one, enlivened by the sound of laughter, the
popping of champagne corks, the joyous talk that emanated alike from
the really light-hearted and those whose gaiety is only a mockery and a
sham. The sun was sloping westward when Lady Eversleigh arose, absent
and despondent, to give the signal for the withdrawal of the ladies.
As she did so, she looked to the other end of the marquee--to the table
where her husband had been seated. To her surprise, his place was
Throughout the whole day Honoria had been a prey to gloomy forebodings.
The estrangement between herself and her husband was so unexpected, so
inexplicable, that she was powerless to struggle against the sense of
misery and bewilderment which it had occasioned in her mind.
Again and again she asked herself what had she done to offend him;
again and again she pondered over the smallest and most insignificant
actions--the lightest words--of the past few weeks, in order to
discover some clue to the mystery of Sir Oswald's altered conduct.
But the past afforded her no such clue. She had said nothing, she had
done nothing, which could offend the most sensitive of men.
Then a new and terrible light began to dawn upon her. She remembered
her wretched extraction--the pitiable condition in which the baronet
had discovered her, and she began to think that he repented of his
marriage. "He regrets his folly, and I am hateful in his eyes," thought
Honoria, "for he remembers my degraded position--the mystery of my past
life. He has heard sneering words and cruel innuendoes fall from the
lips of his fashionable friends, perhaps; and he is ashamed of his
marriage. He little knows how gladly I would release him from the tie
that binds us--if, indeed, it has grown hateful to him." Thus musing
and wandering alone, in one of the forest pathways--for she had
outstripped her guests, and sought a little relief for her overwrought
spirits, constrained to the courtesies of her position for the moment--
she scarcely knew whither, she came presently upon a group of grooms,
who were lounging before a rough canvas tent, which had been erected
for the accommodation of the horses.
"Is 'Orestes' in that tent, Plummer?" she asked of the old groom who
generally attended her in her rides and drives.
"No, my lady, Sir Oswald had him saddled a quarter of an hour ago, and
rode him away."
"Sir Oswald has gone away!"
"Yes, my lady. He got a message, I think, while he was sitting at
dinner, and he rode off as fast as he could go, across th' moor--it's
the nighest way to the castle, you know, my lady; though it ain't the
Honoria grew very uneasy. What was the meaning of this sudden
"Do you know who brought the message from Raynham?" she asked the
"No, indeed, my lady. I don't even know for sure and certain that the
message was from Raynham. I only guess as much."
"Why did not Sir Oswald take you with him?"
"I can't say, my lady. I asked master if I wasn't to go with him, and
he said, 'No, he would rather be alone.'" This was all that Honoria
could learn from the groom. She walked back towards the marquee, whence
the sound of voices and laughter grew louder as the sun sank across the
broad expanse of moorland.
The ladies of the party had gathered together on a broad patch of
velvet greensward, near the oak thicket where the band was stationed.
Here the younger members of the party were waltzing merrily to the
accompaniment of one of Strauss's sweetest waltzes; while the elders
sat here and there on camp-stools or fallen logs of trees, and looked
on, or indulged in a little agreeable gossip.
Honoria Eversleigh made her way unobserved to the marquee, and
approached one of the openings less used and less crowded than the
others. Here she found a servant, whom she sent into the marquee with a
message for Mr. Eversleigh, to inquire if he could explain Sir Oswald's
The man entered the tent, in obedience to his mistress; and Lady
Eversleigh seated herself on a camp-stool, at a little distance,
awaiting the issue of her message.
She had been waiting only a few moments, when she saw Victor Carrington
approaching her hurriedly--not from the marquee, but from the pathway
by which she herself had come. There was an unwonted agitation about
his manner as he approached her, which, in her present state of nervous
apprehension, filled her with alarm.
She went to meet him, pale and trembling.
"I have been looking for you everywhere, Lady Eversleigh," he said,
"You have been looking for me? Something has happened then-Sir
"Yes, it is, unhappily, of Sir Oswald I have to speak."
"Speak quickly, then. What has happened? You are agonizing me, Mr.
Carrington--for pity's sake, speak! Your face fills me with fear!"
"Your fears are, unhappily, too well founded. Sir Oswald has been
thrown from his horse, on his way across the moor, and lies dangerously
hurt, at the ruins of Yarborough Tower--that black building on the edge
of the moor yonder. A lad has just brought me the tidings."
"Let me go to him--for heaven's sake, let me go at once! Dangerously
hurt--he is dangerously hurt, you say?"
"I fear so, from the boy's account."
"And we have no medical man among our company. Yes; you are a surgeon--
you can be of assistance."
"I trust so, my dear Lady Eversleigh. I shall hurry to Sir Oswald
immediately, and in the meantime they have sent from the tower for
"I must go to him!" said Honoria, wildly. "Call the servants, Mr.
Carrington! My carriage--this moment!"
She could scarcely utter the words in her excitement. Her voice had a
choking sound, and but for the surgeon's supporting arm she must have
fallen prone on the grass at his feet.
As she clung to his arm, as she gasped out her eager entreaties that he
would take her to her husband, a faint rustling stirred the underwood
beneath some sycamores at a little distance, and curious eyes peered
through the foliage.
Lydia Graham had happened to stroll that way. Her curiosity had been
excited by the absence of Lady Eversleigh from among her guests, and,
being no longer occupied by her flirtation with the young viscount, she
had set out in search of the missing Honoria.
She was amply rewarded for her trouble by the scene which she beheld
from her hiding-place among the sycamores.
She saw Victor and Lady Eversleigh talking to each other with every
appearance of agitation; she saw the baronet's wife clinging, in some
wild terror, to the arm of the surgeon; and she began to think that
Honoria Eversleigh was indeed the base and guilty wretch she would fain
have represented her.
Lydia Graham was too far from the two figures to hear a word that was
spoken. She could only watch their gestures, and draw her own
"My carriage, Mr. Carrington!" repeated Honoria; "why don't you call
"One moment, Lady Eversleigh," said the surgeon, calmly. "You must
remember, that on such an occasion as this, there is nothing so
important as presence of mind--self-command. If I alarm your servants,
all the guests assembled here will take the alarm; and they will rush
helter-skelter to Yarborough Tower, to testify their devotion to Sir
Oswald, and to do him all the harm they possibly can. What would be the
effect of a crowd of half-drunken men, clustering round him, with their
noisy expressions of sympathy? What I have to propose is this: I am
going to Sir Oswald immediately in my medical capacity. I have a gig
and horse ready, under that group of fir-trees yonder--the fastest
horse and lightest vehicle I could find. If you will trust yourself in
that vehicle behind that horse, I will drive you across the moor, and
we shall reach the ruins in half an hour. Have you courage to come with
me thus, Lady Eversleigh, quietly, unobserved by any one?--or will you
wait for your barouche; and wait until the revellers yonder are all
ready to start with you?"
The voices came loudly from the marquee as the surgeon spoke; and
Honoria felt that he spoke wisely.
"You are right," she said; "these people must know nothing of the
accident until my husband is safely back at Raynham. But you had better
go and tell Plummer, the groom, to send the barouche after us. A
carriage will be wanted to convey Sir Oswald from the tower, if he is
fit to be moved."
"True," answered Victor; "I will see to it."
"And quickly!" cried Lady Eversleigh; "go quickly, I implore. You will
find me by the fir-trees when you return, ready to start with you! Do
not waste time in words, Mr. Carrington. Remember, it is a matter of
life and death."
Victor left her, and she walked to the little grove of firs, where she
found the gig of which he had spoken, and the horse standing near it,
ready harnessed, and with his bridle fastened to a tree.
Two pathways led to this fir-grove--a lower and an upper--the upper
completely screened by brushwood. Along this upper pathway, which was
on the edge of a sloping bank, Lydia Graham made her way, careless what
injury she inflicted on her costly dress, so eager was she to discover
whither lady Eversleigh was going. Completely hidden from Honoria,
though at only a few paces' distance, Miss Graham waited to watch the
proceedings of the baronet's wife.
She was mystified by the appearance of the gig and horse, stationed in
this out-of-the-way spot. She was still more mystified when she saw
Lady Eversleigh clasp her hands before her face, and stand for a few
moments, motionless and statue-like, as if abandoned to despair.
"What does it all mean?" Miss Graham asked herself. "Surely she cannot
intend to elope with this Carrington. She may be wicked; but she cannot
be so insane as to throw away wealth and position for the sake of this
She waited, almost breathless with excitement, crouching amongst the
brushwood at the top of the woody bank, and looking downward towards
the fir-grove, with watchful eyes. She had not to wait long. Victor
appeared in a few minutes, out of breath from running.
"Have you given orders about the carriage?"
"Yes, I have given all necessary orders."
No more was said. Victor handed Lady Eversleigh into the vehicle, and
drove away--slowly while they were still on the edge of the wood; but
accelerating his pace as they emerged upon the moorland.
"It _is_ an elopement!" exclaimed Miss Graham, whose astonishment was
unbounded. "It _is_ an elopement! The infamous creature has gone off
with that penniless young man. And now, Sir Oswald, I think you will
have good reason to repent your fine romantic marriage with a base-born
adventuress, whom nobody ever heard of until she burst forth upon the
world as Lady Eversleigh of Raynham Castle."
Filled with the triumphant delight of gratified malice, Lydia Graham
went back to the broad greensward by the Wizard's Cave. The gentlemen
had now left the marquee; the full moon was rising, round and yellow,
on the horizon, like a great globe of molten gold. Preparations had
already commenced for the return, and the younger members of the party
were busy discussing the arrangements of the homeward drive.
That moonlight drive was looked forward to as one of the chief
pleasures of the excursion; it would afford such glorious opportunities
for flirtation. It would enable romantic young ladies to quote so much
poetry about the moon and the summer night, while poetically-disposed
young gentlemen replied in the same strain. All was animation and
excitement. The champagne and burgundy, the sparkling hock and moselle,
which had been consumed in the marquee, had only rendered the majority
of the gentlemen more gallant and agreeable; and softly-spoken
compliments, and tender pressures of pretty little delicately-gloved
hands, testified to the devotion of the cavaliers who were to escort
the band of fair ones homeward.
Lydia Graham hoped that she would be able to take up the thread of her
flirtation with Lord Howden exactly where it had dropped when she had
risen to leave the dinner-table. She had thought it even possible that,
if she could secure a _tete-a-tete_ drive home with the weak-brained
young nobleman, she might lure him on until he made a formal proposal,
from which he would find it no easy matter to recede; for Captain
Graham was at his sister's call, and was a gentleman of no very
yielding temper where his own interests were at stake. He had long been
anxious that his sister should make a wealthy marriage, for her debts
and difficulties annoyed him; and he felt that if she were well
married, he would be able to borrow money of her, instead of being
pestered by her applications for assistance.
Miss Graham was doomed to endure a disappointment. Lord Sumner Howden
was one of the few gentleman upon whom iced champagne and moselle had
produced anything but an exhilarating effect. He was dull and stupid,
pallid and sleepy; like some great, greedy school-boy who has over-
eaten himself, and is suffering the consequences of his gluttony.
The fair Lydia had the mortification of hearing him tell one of the
grooms to put him into a close carriage, where he could have a nap on
his way home.
Reginald Eversleigh took the lordling's seat in the barouche, which was
the first in the line of carriages for the homeward journey, in spite
of Honoria's entreaties to Victor Carrington. The young man was almost
as dull and stupid, to all appearance, as Lord Sumner Howden; but,
although he had been drinking deeply, intoxication had nothing to do
with his gloomy silence.
He knew that Carrington's scheme had been ripening day by day; and he
knew also that within a few hours the final blow was to be struck. He
did not know the nature of that intended stroke of treachery; but he
was aware that it would involve misery and humiliation for Sir Oswald,
utter ruin and disgrace for Honoria. The very uncertainty as to the
nature of the cruel plot made it all the more dreadful; and he waited
with no very pleasant feelings for the development of his friend's
When all was ready for the start, it was discovered that "dear Lady
Eversleigh" was missing. Servants were sent in every direction to
search for her; but with no avail. Sir Oswald was also missed; but
Plummer, the old groom, informed Mr. Eversleigh that his uncle had left
some hours before; and as some of the party had seen the baronet leave
the dinner-table, in compliance with a sudden summons, this occasioned
The next person missed was Victor Carrington. It was Lydia who drew
attention to the fact of his absence.
The party waited an hour, while search for Lady Eversleigh was renewed
in every direction, while many of the guests expressed their fears that
something must have happened to her--that she had wandered too far,
and lost her way in the wood--or that she had missed her footing on
the edge of one of the deep pools by the cavern, and had fallen into
the water--or that she had been attacked by ruffians.
But in due time it was discovered that Mr. Carrington had been seen to
take a gig from amongst the vehicles; and a lad, who had been in charge
of the gig and the horse belonging to it, told the other servants that
Mr. Carrington had said he wanted the vehicle to drive Lady Eversleigh
home. She was tired, Mr. Carrington had said, and wanted to go home
This information was brought to Reginald by one of the upper servants;
and the question of Lady Eversleigh's disappearance being at once set
at rest, the procession of carriages moved away in the moonlight.
"It was really too bad of dear Lady Eversleigh to give us such
unnecessary alarm," said Lydia Graham.
The lady who had taken the second place in the barouche agreed with
"I never was more alarmed in my life," she said. "I felt sure that
something very dreadful must have happened."
"And to think that Lady Eversleigh should prefer going home in a gig,"
said Lydia, maliciously; "for my part, I think a gig a most unpleasant
The other lady whispered something about Lady Eversleigh's humble
extraction, and her ignorance of the usages of society.
"You can't wonder at it, my dear," she murmured. "For my part, I was
surprised to see her so much at her ease in her new position. But, you
see, her ignorance has now betrayed her into a terrible breach of the
proprieties. Her conduct is, to say the least of it, most eccentric;
and you may depend, no one here will ever forget this ride home in a
gig with that clever young surgeon. I don't suppose Sir Oswald will
very much approve of such conduct."
"Nor I," said Lydia, in the same subdued tone. "Poor Sir Oswald! What
could he expect when he disgraced himself by such a marriage?"
Reginald Eversleigh leaned back in the carriage, with his arum folded,
and his eyes fixed on vacancy, while the ladies gossipped in whispers.
* * * * *
ON YARBOROUGH TOWER.
No sooner had Victor Carrington got completely clear of the wood, than
he drove his horse at a gallop.
The light gig swayed from side to side, and jolted violently several
times on crossing some obstruction in the way.
"You are not afraid?" asked Victor.
"I am only afraid of delay," answered Honoria, calmly; for by this time
she had recovered much of her ordinary firmness, and was prepared to
face her sorrow with at least outward tranquillity. "Tell me, Mr.
Carrington, have you reason to think that my husband is in great
"I can tell you nothing for certain. You know how stupid the country
people are. The boy who brought the message told me that the gentleman
had been thrown from his horse, and was very much hurt. He was
insensible, and was injured about the head. I gathered from this, and
from the boy's manner, rather than his words, that the injuries were
"Why was Sir Oswald taken to such a wretched place as a ruined tower?"
"Because the accident happened near the ruin; and your husband was
found by the people who have charge of the tower."
"And could they take him to no better place?"
"No. There is no habitation of any kind within three miles."
No more was said. It was not very easy to talk while flying through the
air at the utmost speed of a spirited horse.
The moon bathed the broad moorland in mellow light. The wide expanse of
level turf looked like a sea of black water that had suddenly been
frozen into stillness. Not a tree--not a patch of brushwood, or a
solitary bush--broke the monotony of the scene: but far away against
the moonlit horizon rose a wild and craggy steep, and on the summit of
that steep appeared a massive tower, with black and ruined battlements,
that stood out grimly against the luminous sky.
This was Yarborough Tower--a stronghold that had defied many a
besieging force in the obscure past; but of the origin of which little
was now known.
Victor Carrington drove the gig up a rough and narrow road that curved
around the sides of the craggy hill, and wound gradually towards the
He was obliged to drive slowly here, and Lady Eversleigh had ample
leisure to gaze upwards at the dreary-looking ruin, whose walls seemed
more densely black as they grew nearer and nearer.
"What a horrible place!" she murmured. "To think of my husband lying
there--with no better shelter than those ruined walls in the hour of
Honoria Eversleigh looked around her with a shudder, as the gig passed
across a narrow wooden drawbridge that spanned an enormous chasm in the
She looked up at the tower. All was dark, and the dismal cry of a raven
suddenly broke the awful stillness with a sound that was even yet more
"Why are there no lights in the windows?" she asked; "surely Sir Oswald
is not lying in the darkness?"
"I don't know. The chamber in which they have placed him may be on the
other side of the tower," answered Victor, briefly. "And now, Lady
Eversleigh, you must alight. We can go no further with the vehicle, and
I must take it back to the other side of the drawbridge."
They had reached the entrance of the tower, an archway of solid
masonry, over which the ivy hung like a sombre curtain.
Honoria alighted, and passed under the black shadow of the arch.
"You had better wait till I return, Lady Eversleigh," said Victor. "You
will scarcely find your way without my help."
Honoria obeyed. Anxious as she was to reach Sir Oswald without a
moment's unnecessary delay, she felt herself powerless to proceed
without a guide--so dark was the interior of the tower. She heard the
ravens shrieking hoarsely in the battlements above, and the ivy
flapping in the evening wind; but she could hear nothing else.
Victor came back to her in a few minutes. As he rejoined her, there was
a noise of some ponderous object falling, with a grating and rattling
of heavy chains; but Lady Eversleigh was too much absorbed by her own
anxieties to feel any curiosity as to the origin of the sound.
"Come," said Victor; "give me your hand, Lady Eversleigh, and let me
She placed her hand in that of the surgeon. He led her to a steep
staircase, formed by blocks of solid stone, which were rendered
slippery by the moss that had gathered on them. It was a winding
staircase, built in a turret which formed one angle of the tower.
Looking upwards, Honoria saw a gap in the roof, through which the
moonlight shone bright. But there was no sign of any other light.
"Where is my husband?" she asked. "I see no lights; I hear no voices;
the place seems like a tomb."
Victor Carrington did not answer her question.
"Come," he said, in a commanding voice. "Follow me, Lady Eversleigh."
He still held her hand, and she obeyed him, making her way with some
difficulty up the steep and winding staircase.
At last she found herself at the top. A narrow doorway opened before
her; and following her companion through this doorway, she emerged on
the roof of the tower.
Around her were the ruined battlements, broken away altogether here and
there; below her was the craggy hill-side, sloping downwards to the
wide expanse of the moorland; above her was the purple sky, flooded
with the calm radiance of the moon; but there was no sign of human
habitation, no sound of a human voice.
"Where is my husband, Mr. Carrington?" she cried, with a wild alarm,
which had but that moment taken possession of her. "This ruin is
uninhabited. I saw the empty rooms, through gaps in the broken wall as
we came up that staircase. Where is my husband?"
"At Raynham Castle, Lady Eversleigh, to the best of my knowledge,"
answered the surgeon, with imperturbable calmness.
He had seated himself on one of the broken battlements, in a lounging
attitude, with one arm leaning on the ruined stone, and he was looking
quietly out at the solitary expanse of barren waste sleeping beneath
Lady Eversleigh looked at him with a countenance that had grown rigid
with horror and alarm.
"My husband at Raynham--at Raynham!" she repeated, as if she could not
credit the evidence of her own ears. "Am I mad, or are you mad, Mr.
Carrington? My husband at Raynham Castle, you say?"
"I cannot undertake to answer positively for the movements of any
gentleman; but I should say that, at this present moment, Sir Oswald
Eversleigh is in his own house, for which he started some hours ago."
"Then why am I here?"
"To answer that question clearly will involve the telling of a long
story, Lady Eversleigh," answered Victor. "My motive for bringing you
here concerns myself and another person. You are here to farther the
interests of two people, and those two people are Reginald Eversleigh
and your humble servant."
"But the accident? Sir Oswald's danger--"
"I must beg you not to give yourself any further alarm on that subject.
I regret very much that I have been obliged to inflict unnecessary pain
upon a lady. The story of the accident is a little invention of my own.
Sir Oswald is perfectly safe."
"Thank heaven!" cried Honoria, clasping her hands in the fervour of
sudden gratitude; "thank heaven for that!"
Her face looked beautiful, as she lifted it towards the moonlit sky.
Victor Carrington contemplated her with wonder.
"Can it be possible that she loves this man?" he thought. "Can it be
that she has not been acting a part after all?"
Her first thought, on hearing that she had been deceived, was one of
unmingled joy, of deep and heartfelt gratitude. Her second thought was
of the shameful trick that had been played upon her; and she turned to
Victor Carrington with passionate indignation.
"What is the meaning of this juggling, sir?" she cried; "and why have I
been brought to this place?"
"It is a long story, Lady Eversleigh, and I would recommend you to calm
yourself before you listen to it, if you have any wish to understand me
"I can stop to listen to no long stories, sir. Your trick is a shameful
and unmanly one, whatever its motive. I beg that you will take me back
to Raynham without a moment's delay; and I would advise you to comply
with my request, unless you wish to draw upon yourself Sir Oswald's
vengeance for the wrong you have done me. I am the last person in the
world to involve my husband in a quarrel; but if you do not immediately
take steps towards restoring me to my own home, I shall certainly let
him know how deeply I have been wronged and insulted."
"I am not afraid of your husband, my dear Lady Eversleigh," answered
the surgeon, with cool insolence; "for I do not think Sir Oswald will
care to take up the cudgels in your defence, after the events of to-
Honoria Eversleigh looked at the speaker with unutterable scorn, and
then turned towards the doorway which communicated with the staircase.
"Since you refuse to assist in my return, I will go alone and
unassisted," she said.
Victor raised his hand with a warning gesture.
"Do not attempt to descend that staircase, my dear Lady Eversleigh," he
said. "In the first place, the steps are slippery, and the descent very
dangerous; and, in the next, you would find yourself unable to go
beyond the archway."
"What do you mean?"
"Oblige me by looking down through that breach in the battlements."
He had risen from his lounging position, and pointed downward as he
Involuntarily Honoria followed the indication of his hand.
A cry of horror broke from her lips as she looked below. The drawbridge
no longer spanned the chasm. It had fallen, and hung over the edge of
the abyss, suspended by massive chains. On all sides of the tower
yawned a gulf of some fifteen feet wide.
At first Lady Eversleigh thought that this chasm might only be on one
side of the ruin, but on rushing to the opposite battlements, and
looking down, she saw that it was a moss-grown stone-moat, which
completely encircled the stronghold.
"The warriors of old knew how to build their fortresses, and how to
protect themselves from their foes," said Victor Carrington, as if in
answer to his companion's despairing cry. "Those who built this edifice
and dug that moat, little knew how useful their arrangements would be
in these degenerate days. Do not pace to and fro with that distracted
air, Lady Eversleigh. Believe me, you will do wisely to take things
quietly. You are doomed to remain here till daybreak. This ruin is in
the care of a man who leaves it at a certain hour every evening. When
he leaves, he drops the drawbridge--you must have heard him do it a
little while ago--and no hand but his can raise the chains that support
it; for he only knows the secret of their machinery. He has left the
place for the night. He lives three miles and a half away, at a little
village yonder, which looks only a black speck in the distance, and he
will not return till some time after daybreak."
"And you would keep me a prisoner here--you would detain me in this
miserable place, while my husband is, no doubt, expecting me at
Raynham, perplexed and bewildered by my mysterious absence?"
"Yes, Lady Eversleigh, there will be wonder and perplexity enough on
your account to-night at Raynham Castle."
There was a pause after this.
Honoria sank upon a block of fallen stone, bewildered, terror-
stricken, for the moment powerless to express either her fears or her
indignation, so strange, so completely inexplicable was the position in
which she found herself.
"I am in the power of a maniac," she murmured; "no one but a maniac
could be capable of this wild act. My life is in the power of a madman.
I can but wait the issue. Let me be calm. Oh, merciful heaven, give me
fortitude to face my danger quietly!"
The strength she prayed for seemed to come with the prayer.
The wild beating of her heart slackened a little. She swept the heavy
masses of hair away from her forehead, and bound the fallen plaits in a
knot at the back of her head. She did this almost as calmly as if she
had been making her toilet in her dressing-room at Raynham. Victor
Carrington watched her with surprise.
"She is a wonderful woman," he said to himself; "a noble creature. As
powerful in mind as she is lovely in person. What a pity that I should
make myself the enemy of this woman for the sake of such a mean-
spirited hound as Reginald Eversleigh! But my interests compel me to
run counter to my inclination. It is a great pity. With this woman as
my ally, I might have done greater things than I shall ever do by
Victor Carrington mused thus while Honoria Eversleigh sat on the edge
of the broken wall, at a few paces from him, looking calmly out at the
She fully believed that she had fallen into the power of a maniac.
What, except madness, could have prompted such conduct as that of
She knew that there is no defence so powerful as an appearance of
calmness; and it was with tranquillity she addressed her companion,
after that interval of deliberation.
"Now, Mr. Carrington," she said, "since it seems I am your prisoner,
perhaps you will be good enough to inform me why you have brought me to
this place, and what injury I have ever done you that you should
inflict so deep a wrong on me?"
"You have never injured _me_, Lady Eversleigh," replied Victor
Carrington; "but you have injured one who is my friend, and whose
interests are closely linked with mine."
"Who is that friend?"
"Reginald Eversleigh!" repeated Honoria, with amazement. "In what
manner have I injured Reginald Eversleigh? Is he not my husband's
nephew, and am I not bound to feel interest in his welfare? How, then,
can I have injured him?"
"You have done him the worst wrong that one individual can do another--
you stand between him and fortune. Do you not know that, little more
than a year ago, Reginald Eversleigh was the heir to Raynham and all
"I know that; but he was disinherited before I crossed his uncle's
"True; but had you _not_ crossed Sir Oswald's path, there is no doubt
Reginald would have been restored to favour. But you have woven your
spells round his kinsman, and his only hope lies in your disgrace--"
"Yes, Lady Eversleigh. Life is a battle, in which the weakest must be
trodden down; you have triumphed hitherto, but the hour of your triumph
is past. Yesterday you were queen of Raynham Castle; to-morrow no
kitchen-wench within its walls will be so low as you."
"What do you mean?" asked Honoria, more and more mystified every moment
by her companion's words.
For the first time, an awful fear took possession of her, and she began
to perceive that she was the victim of a foul and villanous plot.
"What do you mean?" she repeated, in accents of alarm.
"I mean this, Lady Eversleigh--the world judges of people's actions by
their outward seeming, not by their inward truth. Appearances have
conspired to condemn you. Before to-morrow every creature in Raynham
Castle will believe that you have fled from your home, and with me--"
"Fled from my home!"
"Yes; how else can your absence to-night--your sudden disappearance
from the pic-nic--be construed?"
"If I live, I shall go back to the castle at daybreak to-morrow
morning--go back to denounce your villany--to implore my husband's
vengeance on your infamy!"
"And do you think any one will believe your denunciation? You will go
back too late Lady Eversleigh."
"Oh, villain! villain!" murmured Honoria, in accents of mingled
abhorrence and despair--abhorrence of her companion's infamy, despair
inspired by the horror of her own position.
"You have played for a very high stake, Lady Eversleigh," said the
surgeon; "and you must not wonder if you have found opponents ready to
encounter your play with a still more desperate, and a still more
dexterous game. When a nameless and obscure woman springs from poverty
and obscurity to rank and riches, she must expect to find others ready
to dispute the prize which she has won."
"And there can exist a wretch calling himself a man, and yet capable of
such an act as this!" cried Honoria, looking upward to the calm and
cloudless sky, as if she would have called heaven to witness the
iniquity of her enemy. "Do not speak to me, sir," she added, turning to
Victor Carrington, with unutterable scorn. "I believed a few minutes
ago that you were a madman, and I thought myself the victim of a
maniac's folly. I understand all now. You have plotted nobly for your
friend's service; and he will, no doubt, reward you richly if you
succeed. But you have not yet succeeded. Providence sometimes seems to
favour the wicked. It his favoured you, so far; but the end has not
She turned from him and walked to the opposite side of the tower. Here
she seated herself on the battlemented wall, as calm, in outward
seeming, as if she had been in her own drawing-room. She took out a
tiny jewelled watch; by that soft light she could perceive the figures
on the dial.
It was a few minutes after one o'clock. It was not likely that the man
who had charge of the ruins would come to the tower until seven or
eight in the morning. For six or seven hours, therefore, Honoria
Eversleigh was likely to be a prisoner--for six or seven hours she
would have to endure the hateful presence of the man whose treachery
had placed her in this hideous position.
Despair reigned in her heart, entire and overwhelming despair. When
released from her prison, she might hurry back to the castle. But who
would believe a story so wild, so improbable, as that which she would
have to tell?
Would her husband believe her? Would he, who had to all appearance
withdrawn his love from her for no reason whatever--would he believe in
her purity and truth, when circumstances conspired in damning evidence
of her guilt? A sense of hopeless misery took possession of her heart;
but no cry of anguish broke from her pale lips. She sat motionless as a
statue, with her eyes fixed upon the eastern horizon, counting the
moments as they passed with cruel slowness, watching with yearning gaze
for the first glimmer of morning.
Victor Carrington contemplated that statuesque figure, that pale and
tranquil face, with unalloyed admiration. Until to-night he had
despised women as frail, helpless creatures, only made to be flattered
by false words, and tyrannized over by stronger natures than their own.
Among all the women with whom he had ever been associated, his mother
was the only one in whose good sense he had believed, or for whose
intellect he had felt the smallest respect. But now he beheld a woman
of another stamp--a woman whose pride and fortitude were akin to the
"You endure the unpleasantness of your position nobly, Lady
Eversleigh," he said; "and I can find no words to express my admiration
of your conduct. It is very hard to find oneself the enemy of a lady,
and, above all, of a lady whose beauty and whose intellect are alike
calculated to inspire admiration. But in this world, Lady Eversleigh,
there is only one rule--only one governing principle by which men
regulate their lives--let them seek as they will to mask the truth with
specious lies, which other men pretend to believe, but do not. That one
rule, that one governing principle, is SELF-INTEREST. For the
advancement of his own fortunes, the man who calls himself honest will
trample on the dearest ties, will sacrifice the firmest friendships.
The game which Reginald Eversleigh and I have played against you is a
desperate one; but Sir Oswald rendered his nephew desperate when he
reduced him, in one short hour, from wealth to poverty--when he robbed
him of expectations that had been his from infancy. A desperate man
will do desperate deeds; and it has been your fate, Lady Eversleigh, to
cross the path of such a man."
He waited, with his eyes fixed on the face of Sir Oswald's wife. But
during the whole of his speech she had never once looked at him. She
had never withdrawn her eyes from the eastern horizon. Passionless
contempt was expressed by that curving lip, that calm repose of eye and
brow. It seemed as if this woman's disdain for the plotting villain
into whose power she had fallen absorbed every other feeling.
Victor Carrington waited in vain for some reply from those scornful
lips; but none came. He took out his cigar-case, lighted a cigar, and
sat in a meditative attitude, smoking, and looking down moodily at the
black chasm below the base of the tower. For the first time in his life
this man, who was utterly without honour or principle--this man, who
held self-interest as the one rule of conduct--this unscrupulous
trickster and villain, felt the bitterness of a woman's scorn. He would
have been unmoved by the loudest evidence of his victim's despair; but
her silent contempt stung him to the quick. The hours dragged
themselves out with a hideous slowness for the despairing creature who
sat watching for the dawn; but at last that long night came to an end,
the chill morning light glimmered faint and gray in the east. It was
not the first time that Sir Oswald's wife had watched in anguish for
the coming of that light. In that lonely tower, with her heart tortured
by a sense of unutterable agony, there came back to her the memory of
another vigil which she had kept more than two years before.
_She heard the dull, plashing sound of a river, the shivering of
rushes, then the noise of a struggle, oaths, a heavy crashing fall, a
groan, and then no more_!
Blessed with her husband's love, she had for a while closed her eyes
upon that horrible picture of the past; but now, in the hour of
despair, it came back to her, hideously distinct, awfully palpable.
"How could I hope for happiness?" she thought; "I, the daughter of an
assassin! The sins of one generation are visited on another. A curse is
upon me, and I can never hope for happiness."
The sun rose, and shone broad and full over the barren moorland; but it
was several hours after sunrise before the man who took care of the
ruins came to release the wretched prisoner.
He picked up a scanty living by showing the tower to visitors, and he
knew that no visitors were likely to come before nine o'clock in the
morning. It was nearly nine when Honoria saw him approaching in the
It was after nine when he drew up the bridge, and came across it to the
"You are free from this moment, Lady Eversleigh," said the surgeon,
whose face looked horribly pale and worn in the broad sunlight. That
night of watching had not been without its agony for him.
Honoria did not condescend to notice his words. She took up the plumed
hat, which had been lying among the long grass at her feet. The
delicate feathers were wet and spoiled by the night dew, and she took
them from the fragile hat and flung them away. Her thin, white dress
was heavy with the damp, and clung round her like a shroud. But she had
not felt the chilling night winds.
Lady Eversleigh groped her way down the winding staircase, which was
dark even in the daytime--except here and there, where a gap in the
wall let in a patch of light upon the gloomy stones.
Under the archway she met the countryman, who uttered a cry on
beholding the white, phantom-like figure.
"Oh, Loard!" he cried, when he had recovered from his terror; "I ask
pardon, my lady, but danged if I didn't teak thee for a ghaist."
"You did not know, when you went away last night, that there was any
one in the tower?"
"No, indeed, my lady. I'd been away for a few minutes look'n' arter a
bit of peg I've got in a shed down yander; and when I keame back to let
down th' drawbridge, I didn't sing out to ax if there wur any one in
th' old too-wer, for t'aint often as there be any one at that time of
"Tell me the way to the nearest village," cried Honoria. "I want to get
some conveyance to take me to Raynham."
"Then you had better go to Edgington, ma'am. That's four miles from
here--on t' Raynham ro-ad."
The man pointed out the way to the village of which he spoke; and Lady
Eversleigh set forth across the wide expanse of moorland alone.
She had considerable difficulty in finding her way, for there were no
landmarks on that broad stretch of level turf. She wandered out of the
track more than once, and it was one o'clock before she reached the
village of Edgington.
Here, after considerable delay, she procured a carriage to take her on
to Raynham; but there was little chance that she could reach the castle
until between three and four o'clock in the afternoon.
"HOW ART THOU LOST!--HOW ON A SUDDEN LOST!"
If Honoria Eversleigh had endured a night of anguish amid the wild
desolation of Yarborough Tower, Sir Oswald had suffered an agony
scarcely less terrible at Raynham. He had been summoned from the
dinner-table in the marquee by one of his servants, who told him that a
boy was waiting for him with a letter, which he would entrust to no one
but Sir Oswald Eversleigh himself.
Mystified by the strange character of this message, Sir Oswald went
immediately to see the boy who had brought it. He found a lad waiting
for him under the trees near the marquee. The boy handed him a letter,
which he opened and read immediately.
The contents of that letter were well calculated to agitate and disturb
The letter was anonymous. It consisted of the following words:--
"_If Sir Oswald Eversleigh wishes to be convinced of his wife's truth
or falsehood, let him ride back to Raynham without a moment's delay.
There he will receive ample evidence of her real character. He may have
to wait; but the friend who writes this advises him to wait patiently.
He will not wait in vain_.
"A NAMELESS COUNSELLOR."
A fortnight before, Sir Oswald would have flung such a letter as this
away from him with indignant scorn; but the poison of suspicion had
done its corroding work.
For a little time Sir Oswald hesitated, half-inclined to despise the
mysterious warning. All his better feelings prompted him to disregard
this nameless correspondent--all his noblest impulses urged him to
confide blindly and unquestioningly in the truth of the wife he loved;
but jealousy--that dark and fatal passion--triumphed over every
generous feeling, and he yielded to the influence of his hidden
"No harm can arise from my return to Raynham," he thought. "My friends
yonder are enjoying themselves too much to trouble themselves about my
absence. If this anonymous correspondent is fooling me, I shall soon
discover my mistake."
Having once arrived at this determination, Sir Oswald lost no time in
putting it into execution. He ordered his horse, Orestes, and rode away
as fast as the animal would carry him.
Arrived at Raynham, he inquired if any one had asked for him, but was
told there had not been any visitors at the castle throughout the day.
Again and again Sir Oswald consulted the anonymous letter. It told him
to wait, but for what was he to wait? Half ashamed of himself for
having yielded to the tempter, restless and uneasy in spirit, he
wandered from room to room in the twilight, abandoned to gloomy and
The servants lighted the lamps in the many chambers of Raynham, while
Sir Oswald paced to and fro--now in the long drawing-room; now in the
library; now on the terrace, where the September moon shone broad and
full. It was eleven o'clock when the sound of approaching wheels
proclaimed the return of the picnic party; and until that hour the
baronet had watched and waited without having been rewarded by the
smallest discovery of any kind whatever. He felt bitterly ashamed of
himself for having been duped by so shallow a trick.
"It is the handiwork of some kind friend; the practical joke of some
flippant youngster, who thinks it a delightful piece of humour to play
upon the jealousy of a husband of fifty," mused the baronet, as he
brooded over his folly. "I wish to heaven I could discover the writer
of the epistle. He should find that it is rather a dangerous thing to
trifle with a man's feelings."
Sir Oswald went himself to assist at the reception of his guests. He
expected to see his wife arrive with the rest. For the moment, he
forgot all about his suspicions of the last fortnight. He thought only
of the anonymous letter, and the wrong which he had done Honoria in
being influenced by its dark hints.
If he could have met his wife at that moment, when every impulse of his
heart drew him towards her, all sense of estrangement would have melted
away; all his doubts would have vanished before a smile from her. But
though Sir Oswald found his wife's barouche the first of the carriages,
she was not in it. Lydia Graham told him how "dear Lady Eversleigh" had
caused all the party such terrible alarm.
"I suppose she reached home two hours ago," added the young lady. "She
had more than an hour's start of us; and with that light vehicle and
spirited horse she and Mr. Carrington must have come so rapidly."
"My wife and Mr. Carrington! What do you mean, Miss Graham?"
Lydia explained, and Reginald Eversleigh confirmed her statement. Lady
Eversleigh had left the Wizard's Cave more than an hour before the rest
of the party, accompanied by Mr. Carrington.
No words can describe the consternation of Sir Oswald. He did his best
to conceal his alarm; but the livid hue of his face, the ashen pallor
of his lips, betrayed the intensity of his emotion. He sent out mounted
grooms to search the different roads between the castle and the scene
of the pic-nic; and then he left his guests without a word, and shut
himself in his own apartments, to await the issue of the search.
Had any fatal accident happened to her and her companion?--or were
Honoria Eversleigh and Victor Carrington two guilty creatures, who had
abandoned themselves to the folly and madness of a wicked attachment,
and had fled together, reckless alike of reputation and fortune?
He tried to believe that this latter chance was beyond the region of
possibility; but horrible suspicions racked his brain as he paced to
and fro, waiting for the issue of the search that was being made.
Better that he should be told that his wife had been found lying dead
upon the hard, cruel road, than that he should hear that she had left
him for another; a false and degraded creature!
"Why did she trust herself to the companionship of this man?" he asked
himself. "Why did she disgrace herself by leaving her guests in the
company of a young man who ought to be little more than a stranger to
her? She is no ignorant or foolish girl; she has shown herself able to
hold her own in the most trying positions. What madness could have
possessed her, that she should bring disgrace upon herself and me by
such conduct as this?"
The grooms came back after a search that had been utterly in vain. No
trace of the missing lady had been discovered. Inquiries had been made
everywhere along the road, but without result. No gig had been seen to
pass between the neighbourhood of the Wizard's Cave and Raynham Castle.
Sir Oswald abandoned himself to despair.
There was no longer any hope: his wife had fled from him. Bitter,
indeed, was the penalty which he was called upon to pay for his
romantic marriage--his blind confidence in the woman who had fascinated
and bewitched him. He bowed his head beneath the blow, and alone,
hidden from the cruel gaze of the world, he resigned himself to his
All that night he sat alone, his head buried in his clasped hands,
stunned and bewildered by his agony.
His valet, Joseph Millard, knocked at the door at the usual hour,
anxious to assist at his master's toilet; but the door was securely
locked, and Sir Oswald told his servant that he needed no help. He
spoke in a firm voice; for he knew that the valet's ear would be keen
to mark any evidence of his misery. When the man was gone, he rose up
for the first time, and looked across the sunlit woods.
A groan of agony burst from his lips as he gazed upon that beautiful
He had brought his young wife to be mistress of this splendid domain.
He had shown her that fair scene; and had told her that she was to be
queen over all those proud possessions until the day of her death. No
hand was ever to rob her of them. They were the free gift of his
boundless love! to be shared only by her children, should heaven bless
her and her husband with inheritors for this ancient estate. He had
never been weary of testifying his devotion, his passionate love; and
yet, before she had been his wife three months, she left him for
While he stood before the open window, with these bitter thoughts in
his mind, he heard the sound of wheels in the corridor without. The
wheels belonged to an invalid chair, used by Captain Copplestone when
the gout held him prisoner, a self-propelling chair, in which the
captain could make his way where he pleased.
The captain knocked at his old comrade's door.
"Let me in, Oswald" he said; "I want to see you immediately."
"Not this morning, my dear Copplestone; I can't see any one this
morning," answered the baronet.
"You can see _me_, Oswald. I must and will see you, and I shall stop
here till you let me in."
A loud knock at the door with a heavy-headed cane accompanied the close
of his speech.
Sir Oswald opened the door, and admitted the captain, who pushed his
chair dexterously through the doorway.
"Well," said this eccentric visitor, when Sir Oswald had shut the door,
"so you've not been to bed all night?"
"How do you know that?"
"By your looks, for one thing: and by the appearance of your bed, which
I can see through the open door yonder, for another. Pretty goings on,
"A heavy sorrow has fallen upon me, Copplestone."
"Your wife has run away--that's what you mean, I suppose?"
"What!" cried Sir Oswald. "It is all known, then?"
"What is all known?"
"That my wife has left me."
"Well, my dear Oswald, there is a rumour of that kind afloat, and I
have come here in consequence of that rumour. But I don't believe
there's a word of truth in it."
The baronet turned from his friend with a bitter smile of derision.
"I may strive to hoodwink the world, Copplestone," he said, "but I have
no wish to deceive you. My wife has left me--there is no doubt of it."
"I don't believe it," cried the captain. "No, Oswald Eversleigh, I
don't believe it. You know what I am. I'm not quite like the Miller of
Dee, for I do care for somebody; and that somebody is my oldest friend.
When I first heard of your marriage, I told you that you were a fool.
That was plain-spoken enough, if you like. When I saw your wife, I
told you that had changed my mind, and that I thought your folly an
excusable one. If ever I saw purity and truth in a woman's face, I saw
them in the face of Lady Eversleigh; and I will stake my life that she
is as true as steel."
Sir Oswald clasped his friend's hand, too deeply moved for words. There
was unspeakable consolation in such friendship as this. For the first
tame since midnight a ray of hope dawned upon him. He had always
trusted in his old comrade's judgment. Might he not trust in him
When Captain Copplestone left him, he went to his dressing-room, and
made even a more than usually careful toilet, and went to face "the
In the great dining-room he found all his guests assembled, and he took
his seat amongst them calmly, though the sight of Honoria's empty place
cut him to the heart.
Never, perhaps, was a more miserable meal eaten than that breakfast.
There were long intervals of silence; and what little conversation
there was appeared forced and artificial.
Perhaps the most self-possessed person--the calmest to all appearance,
of the whole party--was Sir Oswald Eversleigh, so heroic an effort had
he made over himself, in order to face the world proudly. He had a few
words to say to every one; and was particularly courteous to the guests
near him. He opened his letters with an unshaking hand. But he
abstained from all allusion to his wife, or the events of the previous
He had finished breakfast, and was leaving the room, when his nephew
"Can I speak to you for a few moments alone?" asked Reginald.
"Certainly. I am going to the library to write my letters. You can go
with me, if you like."
They went together to the library. As Sir Oswald closed the door, and
turned to face his nephew, he perceived that Reginald was deadly pale.
"What is amiss?" he asked.
"You ask me that, my dear uncle, at a time when you ought to know that
my sympathy for your sorrow--"
"Reserve your sympathy until it is needed," answered the baronet,
abruptly. "I dare say you mean well, my dear Reginald; but there are
some subjects which I will suffer no man to approach."
"I beg your pardon, sir. Then, in that case, I can tell you nothing. I
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