The Castle Inn
Stanley John Weyman
Part 3 out of 7
Mr. Dunborough's surplice--covers a parson.'
She sat still and silent for a full half-minute after he had spoken.
Then she rose without a word, and without looking at him; and, walking
away to the farther end of the bridge, sat down there with her shoulder
turned to him.
Soane felt himself rebuffed, and for a moment let his anger get the
better of him. 'D--n the girl, I only spoke for her own good!' he
muttered; then reflecting that if he followed her she might remove again
and make him ridiculous, he rose to go into the house. But apparently
that was not what she wished. He was scarcely on his legs before she
turned her head, saw that he was going, and imperiously beckoned to him.
He went to her, wondering as much at her audacity as her pettishness.
When he reached her, 'Sir George,' she said, retaining her seat and
looking gravely at him, while he stood before her like a boy undergoing
correction, 'you have twice insulted me--once in Oxford when, believing
Mr. Dunborough's hurt lay at my door, I was doing what I could to repair
it; and again to-day. If you wish to see more of me, you must refrain
from doing so a third time. You know, a third time--you know what a
third time does. And more--one moment, if you please. I must ask you to
treat me differently. I make no claim to be a gentlewoman, but my
condition is altered. A relation has left me a--a fortune, and when I
met you here last night I was on my way to Bath to claim it.'
Sir George passed from the surprise into which the first part of this
speech had thrown him, to surprise still greater. At last, 'I am vastly
glad to hear it,' he said. 'For most of us it is easier to drop a
fortune than to find one.'
'Is it?' she said, and laughed musically, Then, moving her skirt to show
him that he might sit down, 'Well, I suppose it is. You have no
experience of that, I hope, sir?'
'The gaming-table?' she said.
'Not this time,' he answered, wondering why he told her. 'I had a
grandfather, who made a will. He had a fancy to wrap up a bombshell in
the will. Now--the shell has burst.'
'I am sorry,' she said; and was silent a moment. At length, 'Does it
make--any great difference to you?' she asked naively.
Sir George looked at her as if he were studying her appearance. Then,
'Yes, child, it does,' he said.
She hesitated, but seemed to make up her mind. 'I have never asked you
where you live,' she said softly; 'have you no house in the country?'
He suppressed something between an oath and a groan. 'Yes,' he said, 'I
have a house.'
'What do you call it?'
'Estcombe Hall. It is in Wiltshire, not far from here.'
She looked at her fan, and idly flapped it open, and again closed it in
the air. 'Is it a fine place?' she said carelessly.
'I suppose so,' he answered, wincing.
'With trees, and gardens, and woods?'
'Yes. There is a river.'
'You used to fish in it as a boy?'
'Estcombe! it is a pretty name. And shall you lose it?'
But that was too much for Soane's equanimity. 'Oh, d--n the girl!' he
cried, rising abruptly, but sitting down again. Then, as she recoiled,
in anger real or affected, 'I beg your pardon,' he said formally.
'But--it is not the custom to ask so many questions upon
'Really, Sir George?' she said, receiving the information gravely, and
raising her eyebrows. 'Then Estcombe is your Mr. Dunborough, is it?'
'If you will,' he said, almost sullenly.
'But you love it,' she answered, studying her fan, 'and I do not
Marvelling at her coolness and the nimbleness of her wit, he turned so
that he looked her full in the face. 'Miss Masterson,' he said, 'you are
too clever for me. Will you tell me where you learned so much? 'Fore
Gad, you might have been at Mrs. Chapone's, the way you talk.'
'Mrs. Chapone's?' she said.
'A learned lady,' he explained.
'I was at a school,' she answered simply, 'until I was fifteen. A
godfather, whom I never knew, left money to my father to be spent on my
'Lord!' he said. 'And where were you at school?'
'And what have you done since?--if I may ask.'
'I have been at home. I should have taught children, or gone into
service as a waiting-woman; but my father would keep me with him. Now I
am glad of it, as this money has come to me.'
'Lord! it is a perfect romance!' he exclaimed. And on the instant he
fancied that he had the key to the mystery, and her beauty. She was
illegitimate--a rich man's child! 'Gad, Mr. Richardson should hear of
it,' he continued with more than his usual energy. 'Pamela--why you
might be Pamela!'
'That if you please,' she said quickly, 'for certainly I shall never be
Sir George laughed. 'With such charms it is better not to be too sure!'
he answered. And he looked at her furtively and looked away again. A
coach bound eastwards came out of the gates; but it had little of his
attention, though he seemed to be watching the bustle. He was thinking
that if he sat much longer with this strange girl, he was a lost man.
And then again he thought--what did it matter? If the best he had to
expect was exile on a pittance, a consulship at Genoa, a governorship at
Guadeloupe, where would he find a more beautiful, a wittier, a gayer
companion? And for her birth--a fico! His great-grandfather had made
money in stays; and the money was gone! No doubt there would be gibing
at White's, and shrugging at Almack's; but a fico, too, for that--it
would not hurt him at Guadeloupe, and little at Genoa. And then on a
sudden the fortune of which she had talked came into his head, and he
smiled. It might be a thousand; or two, three, four, at most five
thousand. A fortune! He smiled and looked at her.
He found her gazing steadily at him, her chin on her hand. Being caught,
she reddened and looked, away. He took the man's privilege, and
continued to gaze, and she to flush; and presently, 'What are you
looking at?' she said, moving uneasily.
'A most beautiful face,' he answered, with the note of sincerity in his
voice which a woman's ear never fails to appreciate.
She rose and curtsied low, perhaps to hide the tell-tale pleasure in her
eyes. 'Thank you, sir,' she said. And she drew back as if she intended
to leave him.
'But you are not--you are not offended, Julia?'
'Julia?' she answered, smiling. 'No, but I think it is time I relieved
your Highness from attendance. For one thing, I am not quite sure
whether that pretty flattery was addressed to Clarissa--or to Pamela.
And for another,' she continued more coldly, seeing Sir George wince
under this first stroke--he was far from having his mind made up--'I see
Lady Dunborough watching us from the windows at the corner of the house.
And I would not for worlds relieve her ladyship's anxiety by seeming
unfaithful to her son.'
'You can be spiteful, then?' Soane said, laughing.
'I can--and grateful,' she answered. 'In proof of which I am going to
make a strange request, Sir George. Do not misunderstand it. And yet--it
is only that before you leave here--whatever be the circumstances under
which you leave--you will see me for five minutes.'
Sir George stared, bowed, and muttered 'Too happy.' Then observing, or
fancying he observed, that she was anxious to be rid of him, he took his
leave and went into the house.
For a man who had descended the stairs an hour before, hipped to the
last degree, with his mind on a pistol, it must be confessed that he
went up with a light step; albeit, in a mighty obfuscation, as Dr.
Johnson might have put it. A kinder smile, more honest eyes he swore he
had never seen, even in a plain face. Her very blushes, of which the
memory set his _blase_ blood dancing to a faster time, were a character
in themselves. But--he wondered. She had made such advances, been so
friendly, dropped such hints--he wondered. He was fresh from the
masquerades, from Mrs. Cornely's assemblies, Lord March's converse, the
Chudleigh's fantasies; the girl had made an appointment--he wondered.
For all that, one thing was unmistakable. Life, as he went up the
stairs, had taken on another and a brighter colour; was fuller, brisker,
more generous. From a spare garret with one poor casement it had grown
in an hour into a palace, vague indeed, but full of rich vistas and rosy
distances and quivering delights. The corridor upstairs, which at his
going out had filled him with distaste--there were boots in it, and
water-cans--was now the Passage Beautiful; for he might meet her there.
The day which, when he rose, had lain before him dull and
monotonous--since Lord Chatham was too ill to see him, and he had no one
with whom to game--was now full-furnished with interest, and hung with
recollections--recollections of conscious eyes and the sweetest lips in
the world. In a word, Julia had succeeded in that which she had set
herself to do. Sir George might wonder. He was none the less in love.
A SPOILED CHILD
Julia was right in fancying that she saw Lady Dunborough's face at one
of the windows in the south-east corner of the house. Those windows
commanded both the Marlborough High Street and the Salisbury road,
welcomed alike the London and the Salisbury coach, overlooked the
loungers at the entrance to the town, and supervised most details of the
incoming and outgoing worlds. Lady Dunborough had not been up and about
half-an-hour before she remarked these advantages. In an hour her
ladyship was installed in that suite, which, though in the east wing,
was commonly reckoned to be one of the best in the house. Heaven knows
how she did it. There is a pertinacity, shameless and violent, which
gains its ends, be the crowd between never so dense. It is possible that
Mr. Smith would have ousted her had he dared. It is possible he had to
pay forfeit to the rightful tenants, and in private cursed her for an
old jade and a brimstone. But when a viscountess sits herself down in
the middle of a room and declines to budge, she cannot with decency be
taken up like a sack of hops and dumped in the passage.
Her ladyship, therefore, won, and had the pleasure of viewing from the
coveted window the scene between Julia and Sir George; a scene which
gave her the profoundest satisfaction. What she could not see--her eyes
were no longer all that they had been--she imagined. In five minutes
she had torn up the last rag of the girl's character, and proved her as
bad as the worst woman that ever rode down Cheapside in a cart. Lady
Dunborough was not mealy-mouthed, nor one of those who mince matters.
'What did I tell you?' she cried. 'She will be on with that stuck-up
before night, and be gone with morning. If Dunborough comes back he may
whistle for her!'
Mr. Thomasson did not doubt that her ladyship was right. But he spoke
with indifferent spirit. He had had a bad night, had lain anywhere, and
dressed nowhere, and was chilly and unkempt. Apart from the awe in which
he stood of her ladyship, he would have returned to Oxford by the first
coach that morning.
'Dear me!' Lady Dunborough announced presently. 'I declare he is leaving
her! Lord, how the slut ogles him! She is a shameless baggage if ever
there was one; and ruddled to the eyes, as I can see from here. I hope
the white may kill her! Well, I'll be bound it won't be long before he
is to her again! My fine gentleman is like the rest of them--a damned
Mr. Thomasson turned up his eyes. 'There was something a little
odd--does not your lady think so?'--he ventured to say, 'in her taking
possession of Sir George's rooms as she did.'
'Did I not say so? Did I not say that very thing?'
'It seems to prove an understanding between them before they met here
'I'll take my oath on it!' her ladyship cried with energy. Then in a
tone of exultation she continued, 'Ah! here he is again, as I thought!
And come round by the street to mask the matter! He has down beside her
again. Oh, he is limed, he is limed!' my lady continued, as she searched
for her spying-glass, that she might miss no wit of the love-making.
The tutor was all complacence. 'It proves that your ladyship's
stratagem,' he said, 'was to the point last night.'
'Oh, Dunborough will live to thank me for that!' she answered.
'Gadzooks, he will! It is first come first served with these madams.
This will open his eyes if anything will.'
'Still--it is to be hoped she will leave before he returns,' Mr.
Thomasson said, with a slight shiver of anticipation. He knew Mr.
'Maybe,' my lady answered. 'But even if she does not--' There she broke
of, and stood peering through the window. And suddenly, 'Lord's sake!'
she shrieked, 'what is this?'
The fury of her tone, no less than the expletive--which we have ventured
to soften--startled Mr. Thomasson to his feet. Approaching the window in
trepidation--for her ladyship's wrath was impartial, and as often
alighted on the wrong head as the right--the tutor saw that she had
dropped her quizzing-glass, and was striving with shaking hands--but
without averting her eyes from the scene outside--to recover and
readjust it. Curious as well as alarmed, he drew up to her, and, looking
over her shoulder, discerned the seat and Julia; and, alas! seated on
the bench beside Julia, not Sir George Soane, as my lady's indifferent
sight, prompted by her wishes, had persuaded her, but Mr. Dunborough!
The tutor gasped. 'Oh, dear!' he said, looking round, as if for a way of
retreat. 'This is--this is most unfortunate.'
My lady in her wrath did not heed him. Shaking her fist at her
unconscious son, 'You rascal!' she cried. 'You paltry, impudent fellow!
You would do it before my eyes, would you? Oh, I would like to have the
brooming of you! And that minx! Go down you,' she continued, turning
fiercely on the trembling, wretched Thomasson--'go down this instant,
sir, and--and interrupt them! Don't stand gaping there, but down to
them, booby, without the loss of a moment! And bring him up before the
word is said. Bring him up, do you hear?'
'Bring him up?' said Mr. Thomasson, his breath coming quickly. 'I?'
'Yes, you! Who else?'
'I--I--but, my dear lady, he is--he can be very violent,' the unhappy
tutor faltered, his teeth chattering, and his cheek flabby with fright.
'I have known him--and perhaps it would be better, considering my sacred
'To what, craven?' her ladyship cried furiously.
'To leave him awhile--I mean to leave him and presently--'
Lady Dunborough's comment was a swinging blow, which the tutor hardly
avoided by springing back. Unfortunately this placed her ladyship
between him and the door; and it is not likely that he would have
escaped her cane a second time, if his wits, and a slice of good
fortune, had not come to his assistance. In the midst of his palpitating
'There, there, my lady! My dear good lady!' his tune changed on a sudden
to 'See; they are parting! They are parting already. And--and I think--I
really think--indeed, my lady, I am sure that she has refused him! She
has not accepted him?'
'Refused him!' Lady Dunborough ejaculated in scorn. Nevertheless she
lowered the cane and, raising her glass, addressed herself to the
window. 'Not accepted him? Bosh, man!'
'But if Sir George had proposed to her before?' the tutor suggested.
'There--oh, he is coming in! He has--he has seen us.'
It was too true. Mr. Dunborough, approaching the door with a lowering
face, had looked up as if to see what witnesses there were to his
discomfiture. His eyes met his mother's. She shook her fist at him. 'Ay,
he has,' she said, her tone more moderate. 'And, Lord, it must be as you
say! He is in a fine temper, if I am any judge.'
'I think,' said Mr. Thomasson, looking round, 'I had better--better
leave--your ladyship to see him alone.'
'No,' said my lady firmly.
'But--but Mr. Dunborough,' the tutor pleaded, 'may like to see you
alone. Yes, I am sure I had better go.'
'No,' said my lady more decisively; and she laid her hand on the hapless
'But--but if your ladyship is afraid of--of his violence,' Mr. Thomasson
stuttered, 'it will be better, surely, for me to call some--some of the
'Afraid?' Lady Dunborough cried, supremely contemptuous. 'Do you think I
am afraid of my own son? And such a son! A poor puppet,' she continued,
purposely raising her voice as a step sounded outside, and Mr.
Dunborough, flinging open the door, appeared like an angry Jove on the
threshold, 'who is fooled by every ruddled woman he meets! Ay, sir, I
mean you! You! Oh, I am not to be browbeaten, Dunborough!' she went on;
'and I will trouble you not to kick my furniture, you unmannerly puppy.
And out or in's no matter, but shut the door after you.'
Mr. Dunborough was understood to curse everybody; after which he fell
into the chair that stood next the door, and, sticking his hands into
his breeches-pockets, glared at my lady, his face flushed and sombre.
'Hoity-toity! are these manners?' said she. 'Do you see this reverend
'Ay, and G--d--him!' cried Mr. Dunborough, with a very strong
expletive; 'but I'll make him smart for it by-and-by. You have ruined me
'Saved you, you mean,' said Lady Dunborough with complacency, 'if you
are worth saving--which, mind you, I very much doubt, Dunborough.'
'If I had seen her last night,' he answered, drawing a long breath, 'it
would have been different. For that I have to thank you two. You sent me
to lie at Bath and thought you had got rid of me. But I am back, and
I'll remember it, my lady! I'll remember you too, you lying sneak!'
'You common, low fellow!' said my lady.
'Ay, talk away!' said he; and then no more, but stared at the floor
before him, his jaw set, and his brow as black as a thunder-cloud. He
was a powerful man, and, with that face, a dangerous man. For he was
honestly in love; the love was coarse, brutal, headlong, a passion to
curse the woman who accepted it; but it was not the less love for that.
On the contrary, it was such a fever as fills the veins with fire and
drives a man to desperate things; as was proved by his next words.
'You have ruined me among you,' he said, his tone dull and thick, like
that of a man in drink. 'If I had seen her last night, there is no
knowing but what she would have had me. She would have jumped at it. You
tell me why not! But she is different this morning. There is a change in
her. Gad, my lady,' with a bitter laugh, 'she is as good a lady as you,
and better! And I'd have used her gently. Now I shall carry her off. And
if she crosses me I will wring her handsome neck!'
It is noticeable that he did not adduce any reason why the night had
changed her. Only he had got it firmly into his head that, but for the
delay they had caused, all would be well. Nothing could move him
'Now I shall run away with her,' he repeated.
'She won't go with you,' my lady cried with scorn.
'I sha'n't ask her,' he answered. 'When there is no choice she will come
to it. I tell you I shall carry her off. And if I am taken and hanged
for it, I'll be hanged at Papworth--before your window.'
'You poor simpleton!' she said. 'Go home to your father.'
'All right, my lady,' he answered, without lifting his eyes from the
carpet. 'Now you know. It will be your doing. I shall force her off, and
if I am taken and hanged I will be hanged at Papworth. You took fine
pains last night, but I'll take pains to-day. If I don't have her I
shall never have a wife. But I will have her.'
'Fools cry for the moon,' said my lady. 'Any way, get out of my room.
You are a fine talker, but I warrant you will take care of your neck.'
'I shall carry her off and marry her,' he repeated, his chin sunk on his
breast, his hand rattling the money in his pocket.
'It is a distance to Gretna,' she answered. 'You'll be nearer it outside
my door, my lad. So be stepping, will you? And if you take my advice,
you will go to my lord.'
'All right; you know,' he said sullenly. 'For that sneak there, if he
comes in my way, I'll break every bone in his body. Good-day, my lady.
When I see you again I will have Miss with me.'
'Like enough; but not Madam,' she retorted. 'You are not such a fool as
that comes to. And there is the Act besides!'
That was her parting shot; for all the feeling she had shown, from the
opening to the close of the interview, she might have been his worst
enemy. Yet after a fashion, and as a part of herself, she did love him;
which was proved by her first words after the door had closed upon him.
'Lord!' she said uneasily. 'I hope he will play no Ferrers tricks, and
disgrace us all. He is a black desperate fellow, is Dunborough, when he
The crestfallen tutor could not in a moment recover himself; but he
managed to say that he did not think Mr. Dunborough suspected Sir
George; and that even if he did, the men had fought once, in which case
there was less risk of a second encounter.
'You don't know him,' my lady answered, 'if you say that. But it is not
that I mean. He'll do some wild thing about carrying her off. From a boy
he would have his toy. I've whipped him till the blood ran, and he's
gone to it.'
'But without her consent,' said Mr. Thomasson, 'it would not be
'I mistrust him,' the viscountess answered. 'So do you go and find this
baggage, and drop a word to her--to go in company you understand. Lord!
he might marry her that way yet. For once away she would have to marry
him--ay, and he to marry her to save his neck. And fine fools we
'It's--it's a most surprising, wonderful thing she did not take him,'
said the tutor thoughtfully.
'It's God's mercy and her madness,' quoth the viscountess piously. 'She
may yet. And I would rather give you a bit of a living to marry her--ay,
I would, Thomasson--than be saddled with such a besom!'
Mr. Thomasson cast a sickly glance at her ladyship. The evening before,
when the danger seemed imminent, she had named two thousand pounds and a
living. Tonight, the living. To-morrow--what? For the living had been
promised all along and in any case. Whereas now, a remote and impossible
contingency was attached to it. Alas! the tutor saw very clearly that my
lady's promises were pie-crust, made to be broken.
She caught the look, but attributed it to another cause. 'What do you
fear, man?' she said. 'Sho! he is out of the house by this time.'
Mr. Thomasson would not have ventured far on that assurance, but he had
himself seen Mr. Dunborough leave the house and pass to the stables; and
anxious to escape for a time from his terrible patroness, he professed
himself ready. Knowing where the rooms, which the girl's party occupied,
lay, in the west wing, he did not call a servant, but went through the
house to them and knocked at the door.
He got no answer, so gently opened the door and peeped in. He discovered
a pleasant airy apartment, looking by two windows over a little grass
plot that flanked the house on that side, and lay under the shadow of
the great Druid mound. The room showed signs of occupancy--a lady's
cloak cast over a chair, a great litter of papers on the table. But for
the moment it was empty.
He was drawing back, satisfied with his survey, when he caught the sound
of a heavy tread in the corridor behind him. He turned; to his horror he
discerned Mr. Dunborough striding towards him, a whip in one hand, and
in the other a note; probably the note was for this very room. At the
same moment Mr. Dunborough caught sight of the tutor, and bore down on
him with a view halloa. Mr. Thomasson's hair rose, his knees shook under
him, he all but sank down where he was. Fortunately at the last moment
his better angel came to his assistance. His hand was still on the latch
of the door; to open it, to dart inside, and to shoot the bolt were the
work of a second. Trembling he heard Mr. Dunborough come up and slash
the door with his whip, and then, contented with this demonstration,
pass on, after shouting through the panels that the tutor need not
flatter himself--he would catch him by-and-by.
Mr. Thomasson devoutly hoped he would not; and, sweating at every pore,
sat down to recover himself. Though all was quiet, he suspected the
enemy of lying in wait; and rather than run into his arms was prepared
to stay where he was, at any risk of discovery by the occupants. Or
there might be another exit. Going to one of the windows to ascertain
this, he found that there was; an outside staircase of stone affording
egress to the grass plot. He might go that way; but no!--at the base of
the Druid mound he perceived a group of townsfolk and rustics staring at
the flank of the building--staring apparently at him. He recoiled; then
he remembered that Lord Chatham's rooms lay in that wing, and also
looked over the gardens. Doubtless the countryfolk were watching in the
hope that the great man would show himself at a window, or that, at the
worst, they might see the crumbs shaken from a tablecloth he had used.
This alone would have deterred the tutor from a retreat so public:
besides, he saw something which placed him at his ease. Beyond the group
of watchers he espied three people strolling at their leisure, their
backs towards him. His sight was better than Lady Dunborough's; and he
had no difficulty in making out the three to be Julia, her mother, and
the attorney. They were moving towards the Bath road. Freed from the
fear of interruption, he heaved a sigh of relief, and, choosing the most
comfortable chair, sat down on it.
It chanced to stand by the table, and on the table, as has been said,
lay a vast litter of papers. Mr. Thomasson's elbow rested on one. He
went to move it; in the act he read the heading: 'This is the last will
and testament of me Sir Anthony Cornelius Soane, baronet, of Estcombe
Hall, in the county of Wilts.'
'Tut-tut!' said the tutor. 'That is not Soane's will, that is his
grandfather's.' And between idleness and curiosity, not unmingled with
surprise, he read the will to the end. Beside it lay three or four
narrow slips; he examined these, and found them to be extracts from a
register. Apparently some one was trying to claim under the will; but
Mr. Thomasson did not follow the steps or analyse the pedigree--his mind
was engrossed by perplexity on another point. His thoughts might have
been summed up in the lines--
'Not that the things themselves are rich or rare,
The wonder's how the devil they got there'--
in a word, how came the papers to be in that room? 'These must be
Soane's rooms,' he muttered at last, looking about him. 'And yet--that's
a woman's cloak. And that old cowskin bag is not Sir George's. It is
odd. Ah! What is this?'
This was a paper, written and folded brief-wise, and indorsed:
'Statement of the Claimant's case for the worshipful consideration of
the Eight Honourable the Earl of Chatham and others the trustees of the
Estcombe Hall Estate. Without Prejudice.'
'So!' said the tutor. 'This may be intelligible.' And having assured
himself by a furtive glance through the window that the owners of the
room were not returning, he settled himself to peruse it. When he again
looked up, which was at a point about one-third of the way through the
document, his face wore a look of rapt, incredulous, fatuous
A GOOD MAN'S DILEMMA
Ten minutes later Mr. Thomasson slid back the bolt, and opening the
door, glanced furtively up and down the passage. Seeing no one, he came
out, closed the door behind him, and humming an air from the 'Buona
Figlinola,' which was then the fashion, returned slowly, and with
apparent deliberation, to the east wing. There he hastened to hide
himself in a small closet of a chamber, which he had that morning
secured on the second floor, and having bolted the door behind him, he
plumped down on the scanty bed, and stared at the wall, he was the prey
of a vast amazement.
'Jupiter!' he muttered at last, 'what a--a Pactolus I have missed! Three
months ago, two months ago, she would have gone on her knees to marry
me! And with all that money--Lord! I would have died Bishop of Oxford.
It is monstrous! Positively, I am fit to kill myself when I think
He paused awhile to roll the morsel on the palate of his imagination,
and found that the pathos of it almost moved him to tears. But before
long he fell from the clouds to more practical matters. The secret was
his, but what was he going to do with it? Where make his market of it?
One by one he considered all the persons concerned. To begin with, there
was her ladyship. But the knowledge did not greatly affect the
viscountess, and he did not trust her. He dismissed the thought of
applying to her. It was the same with Dunborough; money or no money was
all one to him, he would take the girl if he could get her. He was
dismissed as equally hopeless. Soane came next; but Sir George either
knew the secret, or must know it soon; and though his was a case the
tutor pondered long, he discerned no profit he could claim from him.
Moreover, he had not much stomach for driving a bargain with the
baronet; so in the end Sir George too was set aside.
There remained only the Buona Figliuola--the girl herself. 'I might pay
my court to her,' the tutor thought, 'but she would have a spite against
me for last night's work, and I doubt I could not do much. To be sure, I
might put her on her guard against Dunborough, and trust to her
gratitude; but it is ten to one she would not believe me. Or I could let
him play his trick--if he is fool enough to put his neck in a noose--and
step in and save her at the last moment. Ah!' Mr. Thomasson continued,
looking up to the ceiling in a flabby ecstasy of appreciation, 'If I had
the courage! That were a game to play indeed, Frederick Thomasson!'
It was, but it was hazardous; and the schemer rose and walked the floor,
striving to discover a safer mode of founding his claim. He found none,
however; and presently, with a wry face, he took out a letter which he
had received on the eve of his departure from Oxford--a letter from a
dun, threatening process and arrest. The sum was one which a year's
stipend of a fat living would discharge; and until the receipt of the
letter the tutor, long familiar with embarrassment, had taken the matter
lightly. But the letter was to the point, and meant business--a spunging
house and the Fleet; and with the cold shade of the Rules in immediate
prospect, Mr. Thomasson saw himself at his wits' end. He thought and
thought, and presently despair bred in him a bastard courage.
Buoyed up by this he tried to picture the scene; the lonely road, the
carriage, the shrieking girl, the ruffians looking fearfully up and down
as they strove to silence her; and himself running to the rescue; as Mr.
Burchell ran with the big stick, in Mr. Goldsmith's novel, which he had
read a few months before. Then the struggle. He saw himself
knocked--well, pushed down; after all, with care, he might play a fine
part without much risk. The men might fly either at sight of him, or
when he drew nearer and added his shouts to the girl's cries; or--or
some one else might come up, by chance or summoned by the uproar! In a
minute it would be over; in a minute--and what a rich reward he
Nevertheless he did not feel sure he would be able to do it. His heart
thumped, and his smile grew sickly, and he passed his tongue again and
again over his dry lips, as he thought of the venture. But do it or not
when the time came, he would at least give himself the chance. He would
attend the girl wherever she went, dog her, watch her, hang on her
skirts; so, if the thing happened, he would be at hand, and if he had
the courage, would save her.
'It should--it should stand me in a thousand!' he muttered, wiping his
damp brow, 'and that would put me on my legs.'
He put her gratitude at that; and it was a great sum, a rich bribe. He
thought of the money lovingly, and of the feat with trembling, and took
his hat and unlocked his door and went downstairs. He spied about him
cautiously until he learned that Mr. Dunborough had departed; then he
went boldly to the stables, and inquired and found that the gentleman
had started for Bristol in a post-chaise. 'In a middling black temper,'
the ostler added, 'saving your reverence's presence.'
That ascertained, the tutor needed no more. He knew that Dunborough, on
his way to foreign service, had lain ten days in Bristol, whistling for
a wind; that he had landed there also on his return, and made--on his
own authority--some queer friends there. Bristol, too, was the port for
the plantations; a slave-mart under the rose, with the roughest of all
the English seatown populations. There were houses at Bristol where
crimping was the least of the crimes committed; in the docks, where the
great ships, laden with sugar and tobacco, sailed in and out in their
seasons, lay sloops and skippers, ready to carry all comers, criminal
and victim alike, beyond the reach of the law. The very name gave Mr.
Thomasson pause; he could have done with Gretna--which Lord Hardwicke's
Marriage Act had lately raised to importance--or Berwick, or Harwich, or
Dover. But Bristol had a grisly sound. From Marlborough it lay no more
than forty miles away by the Chippenham and Marshfield road; a
post-chaise and four stout horses might cover the distance in
He felt, as he sneaked into the house, that the die was cast. The other
intended to do it then. And that meant--'Oh, Lord,' he muttered, wiping
his brow, 'I shall never dare! If he is there himself, I shall never
dare!' As he crawled upstairs he went hot one moment and shivered the
next; and did not know whether he was glad or sorry that the chance
would be his to take.
Fortunately, on reaching the first floor he remembered that Lady
Dunborough had requested him to convey her compliments to Dr. Addington,
with an inquiry how Lord Chatham did. The tutor felt that a commonplace
interview of this kind would settle his nerves; and having learned the
position of Dr. Addington's apartments, he found his way down the snug
passage of which we know and knocked at the door. A voice, disagreeably
raised, was speaking on the other side of the door, but paused at the
sound of his knock. Some one said 'Come in,' and he entered.
He found Dr. Addington standing on the hearth, stiff as a poker, and
swelling with dignity. Facing him stood Mr. Fishwick. The attorney,
flustered and excited, cast a look at Mr. Thomasson as if his entrance
were an added grievance; but that done, went on with his complaint.
'I tell you, sir,' he said, 'I do not understand this. His lordship was
able to travel yesterday, and last evening he was well enough to see Sir
'He did not see him,' the physician answered stiffly. There is no class
which extends less indulgence to another than the higher grade of
professional men to the lower grade. While to Sir George Mr. Fishwick
was an odd little man, comic, and not altogether inestimable, to Dr.
Addington he was an anathema.
'I said only, sir, that he was well enough to see him,' the lawyer
retorted querulously. 'Be that as it may, his lordship was not seriously
ill yesterday. To-day I have business of the utmost importance with him,
and am willing to wait upon him at any hour. Nevertheless you tell me
that I cannot see him to-day, nor to-morrow--'
'Nor in all probability the next day,' the doctor answered grimly.
Mr. Fishwick's voice rose almost to a shriek. 'Nor the next day?' he
'No, nor the next day, so far as I can judge.'
'But I must see him! I tell you, sir, I must see him,' the lawyer
ejaculated. 'I have the most important business with him!'
'The most important?'
'The most important!'
'My dear sir,' Dr. Addington said, raising his hand and clearly near the
end of his patience, 'my answer is that you shall see him--when he is
well enough to be seen, and chooses to see you, and not before! For
myself, whether you see him now or never see him, is no business of
mine. But it _is_ my business to be sure that his lordship does not risk
a life which is of inestimable value to his country.'
'But--but yesterday he was well enough to travel!' murmured the lawyer,
somewhat awed. 'I--I do not like this!'
The doctor looked at the door.
'I--I believe I am being kept from his lordship!' Mr. Fishwick
persisted, stuttering nervously. 'And there are people whose interest it
is to keep me from his lordship. I warn you, sir, that if anything
happens in the meantime--'
The doctor rang the bell.
'I shall hold you responsible!' Mr. Fishwick cried passionately. 'I
consider this a most mysterious illness. I repeat, I--'
But apparently that was the last straw. 'Mysterious?' the doctor cried,
his face purple with indignation. 'Leave the room, sir! You are not
sane, sir! By God, you ought to be shut up, sir! You ought not to be
allowed to go about. Do you think that you are the only person who wants
to see His Majesty's Minister? Here is a courier come to-day from His
Grace the Duke of Grafton, and to-morrow there will be a score, and a
king's messenger from His Majesty among them--and all this trouble is
given by a miserable, little, paltry, petti--Begone, sir, before I say
too much!' he continued trembling with anger. And then to the servant,
'John, the door! the door! And see that this person does not trouble me
again. Be good enough to communicate in writing, sir, if you have
anything to say.'
With which poor Mr. Fishwick was hustled out, protesting but not
convinced. It is seldom the better side of human nature that lawyers
see; nor is an attorney's office, or a barrister's chamber, the soil in
which a luxuriant crop of confidence is grown. In common with many
persons of warm feelings, but narrow education, Mr. Fishwick was ready
to believe on the smallest evidence--or on no evidence at all--that the
rich and powerful were leagued against his client; that justice, if he
were not very sharp, would be denied him; that the heavy purse had a
knack of outweighing the righteous cause, even in England and in the
eighteenth century. And the fact that all his hopes were staked on this
case, that all his resources were embarked in it, that it had fallen, as
it were, from heaven into his hands--wherefore the greater the pity if
things went amiss--rendered him peculiarly captious and impracticable.
After this every day, nay, every hour, that passed without bringing him
to Lord Chatham's presence augmented his suspense and doubled his
anxiety. To be put off, not one day, but two days, three days--what
might not happen in three days!--was a thing intolerable, insufferable;
a thing to bring the heavens down in pity on his head! What wonder if he
rebelled hourly; and being routed, as we have seen him routed, muttered
dark hints in Julia's ear, and, snubbed in that quarter also, had no
resource but to shut himself up in his sleeping-place, and there brood
miserably over his suspicions and surmises?
Even when the lapse of twenty-four hours brought the swarm of couriers,
messengers, and expresses which Dr. Addington had foretold; when the
High Street of Marlborough--a name henceforth written on the page of
history--became but a slowly moving line of coaches and chariots bearing
the select of the county to wait on the great Minister; when the little
town itself began to throb with unusual life, and to take on airs of
fashion, by reason of the crowd that lay in it; when the Duke of
Grafton himself was reported to be but a stage distant, and there
detained by the Earl's express refusal to see him; when the very _KING_,
it was rumoured, was coming on the same business; when, in a word, it
became evident that the eyes of half England were turned to the Castle
Inn at Marlborough, where England's great statesman lay helpless, and
gave no sign, though the wheels of state creaked and all but stood
still--even then Mr. Fishwick refused to be satisfied, declined to be
comforted. In place of viewing this stir and bustle, this coming and
going as a perfect confirmation of Dr. Addington's statement, and a
proof of his integrity, he looked askance at it. He saw in it a
demonstration of the powers ranked against him and the principalities he
had to combat; he felt, in face of it, how weak, how poor, how
insignificant he was; and at one time despaired, and at another was in a
frenzy, at one time wearied Julia with prophecies of treachery, at
another poured his forebodings into the more sympathetic bosom of the
elder woman. The reader may laugh; but if he has ever staked his all on
a cast, if he has taken up a hand of twelve trumps, only to hear the
ominous word 'misdeal!' he will find something in Mr. Fishwick's
attitude neither unnatural nor blameworthy.
During the early days of the Minister's illness, when, as we have seen,
all the political world of England were turning their coaches and six
towards the Castle Inn, it came to be the custom for Julia to go every
morning to the little bridge over the Kennet, thence to watch the
panorama of departures and arrivals; and for Sir George to join her
there without excuse or explanation, and as if, indeed, nothing in the
world were more natural. As the Earl's illness continued to detain all
who desired to see him--from the Duke of Grafton's parliamentary
secretary to the humblest aspirant to a tide-waitership--Soane was not
the only one who had time on his hands and sought to while it away in
the company of the fair. The shades of Preshute churchyard, which lies
in the bosom of the trees, not three bowshots from the Castle Inn and
hard by the Kennet, formed the chosen haunt of one couple. A second pair
favoured a seat situate on the west side of the Castle Mound, and well
protected by shrubs from the gaze of the vulgar. And there were others.
These Corydons, however, were at ease; they basked free from care in the
smiles of their Celias. But Soane, in his philandering, had to do with
black care that would be ever at his elbow; black care, that always when
he was not with Julia, and sometimes while he talked to her, would jog
his thoughts, and draw a veil before the future. The prospect of losing
Estcombe, of seeing the family Lares broken and cast out, and the
family stem, tender and young, yet not ungracious, snapped off short,
wrung a heart that belied his cold exterior. Moreover, when all these
had been sacrificed, he was his own judge how far he could without means
pursue the life which he was living. Suspense, anxiety, sordid
calculation were ever twitching his sleeve, and would have his
attention. Was the claim a valid claim, and must it prevail? If it
prevailed, how was he to live; and where, and on what? Would the
Minister grant his suit for a place or a pension? Should he prefer that
suit, or might he still by one deep night and one great hand at hazard
win back the thirty thousand guineas he had lost in five years?
Such questions, troubling him whether he would or no, and forcing
themselves on his attention when they were least welcome, ruffled at
last the outward composure on which as a man of fashion he plumed
himself. He would fall silent in Julia's company, and turning his eyes
from her, in unworthy forgetfulness, would trace patterns in the dust
with his cane, or stare by the minute together at the quiet stream that
moved sluggishly beneath them.
On these occasions she made no attempt to rouse him. But when he again
awoke to the world, to the coach passing in its cloud of dust, or the
gaping urchin, or the clang of the distant dinner-bell, he would find
her considering him with an enigmatical smile, that lay in the region
between amusement and pity; her shapely chin resting on her hand, and
the lace falling from the whitest wrist in the world. One day the smile
lasted so long, was so strange and dubious, and so full of a weird
intelligence, that it chilled him; it crept to his bones, disconcerted
him, and set him wondering. The uneasy questions that had haunted him at
the first, recurred. Why was this girl so facile, who had seemed so
proud, and whose full lips curved so naturally? Was she really won, or
was she with some hidden motive only playing with him? The notion was
not flattering to a fine gentleman's vanity; and in any other case he
would have given himself credit for conquest. But he had discovered that
this girl was not as other girls; and then there was that puzzling
smile. He had surprised it half a dozen times before.
'What is it?' he said abruptly, holding her eyes with his. This time he
was determined to clear up the matter.
'What?' she asked in apparent innocence. But she coloured, and he saw
that she understood.
'What does your smile mean, Pulcherrima?'
'Only--that I was reading your thoughts, Sir George,' she answered. 'And
they were not of me.'
'Impossible!' he said. I vow, Julia--'
'Don't vow,' she answered quickly, 'or when you vow--some other time--I
may not be able to believe you! You were not thinking of me, Sir George,
but of your home, and the avenue of which you told me, and the elms in
which the rooks lived, and the river in which you used to fish. You were
wondering to whom they would go, and who would possess them, and who
would be born in the room in which you were born, and who would die in
the room in which your father died.'
'You are a witch!' he said, a spasm of pain crossing his face.
'Thank you,' she answered, looking at him over her fan. 'Last time you
said, "D--n the girl!" It is clear I am improving your manners, Sir
George. You are now so polite, that presently you will consult me.'
So she could read his very thoughts! Could set him on the rack! Could
perceive when pain and not irritation underlay the oath or the
compliment. He was always discovering something new in her; something
that piqued his curiosity, and kept him amused. 'Suppose I consult you
now?' he said.
She swung her fan to and fro, playing with it childishly, looking at the
light through it, and again dropping it until it hung from her wrist by
a ribbon. 'As your highness pleases,' she said at last. 'Only I warn
you, that I am not the Bottle Conjuror.'
'No, for you are here, and he was not there,' Sir George answered,
affecting to speak in jest. 'But tell me; what shall I do in this case?
A claim is made against me.'
'It's the bomb,' she said, 'that burst, Sir George, is it not?'
'The same. The point is, shall I resist the claim, or shall I yield to
it? What do you say, ma'am?'
She tossed up her fan and caught it deftly, and looked to him for
admiration. Then, 'It depends,' she said. 'Is it a large claim?'
'It is a claim--for all I have,' he answered slowly. It was the first
time he had confessed that to any one, except to himself in the
If he thought to touch her, he succeeded. If he had fancied her
unfeeling before, he did so no longer. She was red one minute and pale
the next, and the tears came into her eyes. 'Oh,' she cried, her breast
heaving, 'you should not have told me! Oh, why did you tell me?' And she
rose hurriedly as if to leave him; and then sat down again, the fan
quivering in her hand.
'But you said you would advise me!' he answered in surprise.
'I! Oh, no! no!' she cried.
'But you must!' he persisted, more deeply moved than he would show. 'I
want your advice. I want to know how the case looks to another. It is a
simple question. Shall I fight, Julia, or shall I yield to the claim?'
'Fight or yield?' she said, her voice broken by agitation. 'Shall you
fight or yield? You ask me?'
'Then fight! Fight!' she answered, with surprising emotion: and she rose
again to her feet. And again sat down. 'Fight them to the last, Sir
George!' she cried breathlessly. 'Let the creatures have nothing! Not a
penny! Not an acre!'
'But--if it is a righteous claim?' he said, amazed at her excitement.
'Righteous?' she answered passionately. 'How can a claim be righteous
that takes all that a man has?'
He nodded, and studied the road awhile, thinking less of her advice than
of the strange fervour with which she had given it. At the end of a
minute he was surprised to hear her laugh. He felt hurt, and looked up
to learn the reason; and was astounded to find her smiling at him as
lightly and gaily as if nothing had occurred to interrupt her most
whimsical mood; as if the question he had put to her had not been put,
or were a farce, a jest, a mere pastime!
'Sho, Sir George,' she said, 'how silly you must think me to proffer you
advice; and with an air as if the sky were falling? Do you forgive me?'
'I forgive you _that_,' Sir George answered. But, poor fellow, he winced
under her sudden change of tone.
'That is well,' she said confidently. 'And there again, do you know you
are changed; you would not have said that a week ago. I have most
certainly improved your manners.'
Sir George made an effort to answer her in the same strain. 'Well, I
should improve,' he said. 'I come very regularly to school. Do you know
how many days we have sat here, _ma belle_?'
A faint colour tinged her cheek. 'If I do not, that dreadful Mr.
Thomasson does,' she answered. 'I believe he never lets me go out of his
sight. And for what you say about days--what are days, or even weeks,
when it is a question of reforming a rake, Sir George? Who was it you
named to me yesterday,' she continued archly, but with her eyes on the
toe of her shoe which projected from her dress, 'who carried the
gentleman into the country when he had lost I don't know how many
thousand pounds? And kept him there out of harm's way?'
'It was Lady Carlisle,' Sir George answered drily; 'and the gentleman
was her husband.'
It was Julia's turn to draw figures in the dust of the roadway, which
she did very industriously; and the two were silent for quite a long
time, while some one's heart bumped as if it would choke her. At
length--'He was not quite ruined, was he?' she said, with elaborate
carelessness; her voice was a little thick--perhaps by reason of
'Lord, no!' said Sir George. 'And I am, you see.'
'While I am not your wife!' she answered; and flashed her eyes on him in
sudden petulance; and then, 'Well, perhaps if my lady had her choice--to
be wife to a rake can be no bed of roses, Sir George! While to be wife
to a ruined rake--perhaps to be wife to a man who, if he were not
ruined, would treat you as the dirt beneath his feet, beneath his
She did not seem to be able to finish the sentence, but rose choking,
her face scarlet. He rose more slowly. 'Lord!' he said humbly, looking
at her in astonishment, 'what has come to you suddenly? What has made
you angry with me, child?'
'Child?' she exclaimed. 'Am I a child? You play with me as if I were!'
'Play with you?' Sir George said, dumfounded; he was quite taken aback
by her sudden vehemence. 'My dear girl, I cannot understand you. I am
not playing with you. If any one is playing, it is you. Sometimes--I
wonder whether you hate me or love me. Sometimes I am happy enough to
think the one; sometimes--I think the other--'
'It has never struck you,' she said, speaking with her head high, and in
her harshest and most scornful tone, 'that I may do neither the one nor
the other, but be pleased to kill my time with you--since I must stay
here until my lawyer has done his business?'
'Oh!' said Soane, staring helplessly at the angry beauty, 'if that be
'That is all!' she cried. 'Do you understand? That is all.'
He bowed gravely. 'Then I am glad that I have been of use to you. That
at least,' he said.
'Thank you,' she said drily. 'I am going into the house now. I need not
trouble you farther.'
And sweeping him a curtsey that might have done honour to a duchess, she
turned and sailed away, the picture of disdain. But when her face was
safe from his gaze and he could no longer see them, her eyes filled with
tears of shame and vexation; she had to bite her trembling lip to keep
them back. Presently she slackened her speed and almost stopped--then
hurried on, when she thought that she heard him following. But he did
not overtake her, and Julia's step grew slow again, and slower until she
reached the portico.
Between love and pride, hope and shame, she had a hard fight; happily a
coach was unloading, and she could stand and feign interest in the
passengers. Two young fellows fresh from Bath took fire at her eyes; but
one who stared too markedly she withered with a look, and, if the truth
be told, her fingers tingled for his ears. Her own ears were on the
alert, directed backwards like a hare's. Would he never come? Was he
really so simple, so abominably stupid, so little versed in woman's
ways? Or was he playing with her? Perhaps, he had gone into the town? Or
trudged up the Salisbury road; if so, and if she did not see him now,
she might not meet him until the next morning; and who could say what
might happen in the interval? True, he had promised that he would not
leave Marlborough without seeing her; but things had altered between
them since then.
At last--at last, when she felt that her pride would allow her to stay
no longer, and she was on the point of going in, the sound of his step
cut short her misery. She waited, her heart beating quickly, to hear his
voice at her elbow. Presently she heard it, but he was speaking to
another; to a coarse rough man, half servant half loafer, who had joined
him, and was in the act of giving him a note. Julia, outwardly cool,
inwardly on tenterhooks, saw so much out of the corner of her eye, and
that the two, while they spoke, were looking at her. Then the man fell
back, and Sir George, purposely averting his gaze and walking like a man
heavy in thought, went by her; he passed through the little crowd about
the coach, and was on the point of disappearing through the entrance,
when she hurried after him and called his name.
He turned, between the pillars, and saw her. 'A word with you, if you
please,' she said. Her tone was icy, her manner freezing.
Sir George bowed. 'This way, if you please,' she continued imperiously;
and preceded him across the hall and through the opposite door and down
the steps to the gardens, that had once been Lady Hertford's delight.
Nor did she pause or look at him until they were halfway across the
lawn; then she turned, and with a perfect change of face and manner,
smiling divinely in the sunlight,
'Easy her motion seemed, serene her air,'
she held out her hand.
'You have come--to beg my pardon, I hope?' she said.
The smile she bestowed on him was an April smile, the brighter for the
tears that lurked behind it; but Soane did not know that, nor, had he
known it, would it have availed him. He was utterly dazzled, conquered,
subjugated by her beauty. 'Willingly,' he said. 'But for what?'
'Oh, for--everything!' she answered with supreme assurance.
'I ask your divinity's pardon for everything,' he said obediently.
'It is granted,' she answered. 'And--I shall see you to-morrow, Sir
'To-morrow?' he said. 'Alas, no; I shall be away to-morrow.'
He had eyes; and the startling fashion in which the light died out of
her face, and left it grey and colourless, was not lost on him. But her
voice remained steady, almost indifferent. 'Oh!' she said, 'you are
going?' And she raised her eyebrows.
'Yes,' he answered; 'I have to go to Estcombe.'
She tried to force a laugh, but failed. 'And you do not return? We shall
not see you again?' she said.
'It lies with you,' he answered slowly. 'I am returning to-morrow
evening by the Bath road. Will you come and meet me, Julia--say, as far
as the Manton turning? It's on your favourite road. I know you stroll
there every evening. I shall be there a little after five. If you come
to-morrow, I shall know that, notwithstanding your hard words, you will
take in hand the reforming of a rake--and a ruined rake, Julia. If you
do not come--'
He hesitated. She had to turn away her head that he might not see the
light that had returned to her eyes. 'Well, what then?' she said softly.
'I do not know.'
'But Lady Carlisle was his wife,' she whispered, with a swift sidelong
shot from eyes instantly averted. 'And--you remember what you said to
me--at Oxford? That if I were a lady, you would make me your wife. I am
not a lady, Sir George.'
'I did not say that,' Sir George answered quickly.
'No! What then?'
'You know very well,' he retorted with malice.
All of her cheek and neck that he could see turned scarlet. 'Well, at
any rate,' she said, 'let us be sure now that you are talking not to
Clarissa but to Pamela?'
'I am talking to neither,' he answered manfully. And he stood erect, his
hat in his hand; they were almost of a height. 'I am talking to the most
beautiful woman in the world,' he said, 'whom I also believe to be the
most virtuous--and whom I hope to make my wife. Shall it be so, Julia?'
She was trembling excessively; she used her fan that he might not see
how her hand shook. 'I--I will tell you to-morrow,' she murmured
breathlessly. 'At Manton Corner.'
'Now! Now!' he said.
But she cried 'No, to-morrow,' and fled from him into the house, deaf,
as she passed through the hall, to the clatter of dishes and the cries
of the waiters and the rattle of orders; for she had the singing of
larks in her ears, and her heart rose on the throb of the song, rose
until she felt that she must either cry or die--of very happiness.
THE BLACK FAN
I believe that Sir George, riding soberly to Estcombe in the morning,
was not guiltless of looking back in spirit. Probably there are few men
who, when the binding word has been said and the final step taken, do
not feel a revulsion of mind, and for a moment question the wisdom of
their choice. A more beautiful wife he could not wish; she was fair of
face and faultless in shape, as beautiful as a Churchill or a Gunning.
And in all honesty, and in spite of the undoubted advances she had made
to him, he believed her to be good and virtuous. But her birth, her
quality, or rather her lack of quality, her connections, these were
things to cry him pause, to bid him reflect; until the thought--mean and
unworthy, but not unnatural--that he was ruined, and what did it matter
whom he wedded? came to him, and he touched his horse with the spur and
cantered on by upland, down and clump, by Avebury, and Yatesbury, and
Compton Bassett, until he came to his home.
Returning in the afternoon, sad at starting, but less sad with every
added mile that separated him from the house to which he had bidden
farewell in his heart--and which, much as he prized it now, he had not
visited twice a year while it was his--it was another matter. He thought
little of the future; of the past not at all. The present was sufficient
for him. In an hour, in half an hour, in ten minutes, he would see her,
would hold her hands in his, would hear her say that she loved him,
would look unreproved into the depths of her proud eyes, would see them
sink before his. Not a regret now for White's! Or the gaming table! Or
Mrs. Cornelys' and Betty's! Gone the _blase_ insouciance of St. James's.
The whole man was set on his mistress. Ruined, he had naught but her to
look forward to, and he hungered for her. He cantered through Avebury,
six miles short of Marlborough, and saw not one house. Through West
Kennet, where his shadow went long and thin before him; through Fyfield,
where he well-nigh ran into a post-chaise, which seemed to be in as
great a hurry to go west as he was to go east; under the Devil's Den,
and by Clatford cross-lanes, nor drew rein until--as the sun sank
finally behind him, leaving the downs cold and grey--he came in sight of
Then, that no look of shy happiness, no downward quiver of the maiden
eyelids might be lost--for the morsel, now it was within his grasp, was
one to linger over and dwell on--Sir George, his own eyes shining with
eagerness, walked his horse forward, his gaze greedily seeking the
flutter of her kerchief or the welcome of her hand. Would she be at the
meeting of the roads--shrinking aside behind the bend, her eyes laughing
to greet him? No, he saw as he drew nearer that she was not there. Then
he knew where she would be; she would be waiting for him on the
foot-bridge in the lane, fifty yards from the high-road, yet within
sight of it. She would have her lover come so far--to win her. The
subtlety was like her, and pleased him.
But she was not there, nor was she to be seen elsewhere in the lane; for
this descended a gentle slope until it plunged, still under his eyes,
among the thatched roofs and quaint cottages of the village, whence the
smoke of the evening meal rose blue among the trees. Soane's eyes
returned to the main road; he expected to hear her laugh, and see her
emerge at his elbow. But the length of the highway lay empty before, and
empty behind; and all was silent. He began to look blank. A solitary
house, which had been an inn, but was now unoccupied, stood in the angle
formed by Manton Lane and the road; he scrutinised it. The big doors
leading to the stable-yard were ajar; but he looked in and she was not
there, though he noted that horses had stood there lately. For the rest,
the house was closed and shuttered, as he had seen it that morning, and
every day for days past.
Was it possible that she had changed her mind? That she had played or
was playing him false? His heart said no. Nevertheless he felt a chill
and a degree of disillusion as he rode down the lane to the foot-bridge;
and over it, and on as far as the first house of the village. Still he
saw nothing of her; and he turned. Riding back his search was rewarded
with a discovery. Beside the ditch, at the corner where the road and
lane met, and lying in such a position that it was not visible from the
highway, but only from the lower ground of the lane, lay a plain
Sir George sprang down, picked it up, and saw that it was Julia's; and
still possessed by the idea that she was playing him a trick he kissed
it, and looked sharply round, hoping to detect her laughing face.
Without result; then at last he began to feel misgiving. The road under
the downs was growing dim and shadowy; the ten minutes he had lingered
had stolen away the warmth and colour of the day. The camps and
tree-clumps stood black on the hills, the blacker for the creeping mist
that stole beside the river where he stood. In another ten minutes night
would fall in the valley. Sir George, his heart sinking under those
vague and apparently foolish alarms which are among the penalties of
affection, mounted his horse, stood in his stirrups, and called her
name--'Julia! Julia!'--not loudly, but so that if she were within fifty
yards of him she must hear.
He listened. His ear caught a confused babel of voices in the direction
of Marlborough; but only the empty house, echoing 'Julia!' answered him.
Not that he waited long for an answer; something in the dreary aspect of
the evening struck cold to his heart, and touching his horse with the
spur, he dashed off at a hand-gallop. Meeting the Bristol night-wagon
beyond the bend of the road he was by it in a second. Nevertheless, the
bells ringing at the horses' necks, the cracking whips, the tilt
lurching white through the dusk somewhat reassured him. Reducing his
pace, and a little ashamed of his fears, he entered the inn grounds by
the stable entrance, threw his reins to a man--who seemed to have
something to say, but did not say it--and walked off to the porch. He
had been a fool to entertain such fears; in a minute he would see Julia.
Even as he thought these thoughts, he might have seen--had he looked
that way--half a dozen men on foot and horseback, bustling out with
lanterns through the great gates. Their voices reached him mellowed by
distance; but immersed in thinking where he should find Julia, and what
he should say to her, he crossed the roadway without heeding a commotion
which in such a place was not unusual. On the contrary, the long lighted
front of the house, the hum of life that rose from it, the sharp voices
of a knot of men who stood a little on one side, arguing eagerly and all
at once, went far to dissipate such of his fears as the pace of his
horse had left. Beyond doubt Julia, finding herself in solitude, had
grown alarmed and had returned, fancying him late; perhaps pouting
because he had not forestalled the time!
But the moment he passed through the doorway his ear caught that buzz
of excited voices, raised in all parts and in every key, that betokens
disaster. And with a sudden chill at his heart, as of a cold hand
gripping it, he stood, and looked down the hall. It was well perhaps
that he had that moment of preparation, those few seconds in which to
steady himself, before the full sense of what had happened struck him.
The lighted hall was thronged and in an uproar. A busy place, of much
coming and going it ever was. Now the floor was crowded in every part
with two or three score persons, all speaking, gesticulating, advising
at once. Here a dozen men were proving something; there another group
were controverting it; while twice as many listened, wide-eyed and
open-mouthed, or in their turn dashed into the babel. That something
very serious had happened Sir George could not doubt. Once he caught the
name of Lord Chatham, and the statement that he was worse, and he
fancied that that was it. But the next moment the speaker added loudly,
'Oh, he cannot be told! He is not to be told! The doctor has gone to
him! I tell you, he is worse to-day!' And this, giving the lie to that
idea, revived his fears. His eyes passing quickly over the crowd, looked
everywhere for Julia; he found her nowhere. He touched the nearest man
on the arm, and asked him what had happened.
The person he addressed was about to reply when an agitated figure, wig
awry, cravat loosened, eyes staring, forced itself through the crowd,
and, flinging itself on Sir George, clutched him by the open breast of
his green riding-coat. It was Mr. Fishwick, but Mr. Fishwick
transfigured by a great fright, his face grey, his cheeks trembling. For
a moment such was his excitement he could not speak. Then 'Where is
she?' he stuttered, almost shaking Sir George on his feet. 'What have
you done with her, you--you villain?' Soane, with misgivings gnawing at
his heart, was in no patient mood. In a blaze of passion he flung the
attorney from him. 'You madman!' he said; 'what idiocy is this?'
Mr. Fishwick fell heavily against a stout gentleman in splashed boots
and an old-fashioned Ramillies, who fortunately for the attorney,
blocked the way to the wall. Even so the shock was no light one. But,
breathless and giddy as he was the lawyer returned instantly to the
charge. 'I denounce you!' he cried furiously. 'I denounce this man! You,
and you,' he continued, appealing with frantic gestures to those next
him, 'mark what I say! She is the claimant to his estates--estates he
holds on sufferance! To-morrow justice would have been done, and
to-night he has kidnapped her. All he has is hers, I tell you, and he
has kidnapped her. I denounce him! I--'
'What Bedlam stuff is this?' Sir George cried hoarsely; and he looked
round the ring of curious starers, the sweat standing on his brow. Every
eye in the hall was upon him, and there was a great silence; for the
accusation to which the lawyer gave tongue had been buzzed and bruited
since the first cry of alarm roused the house. 'What stuff is this?' he
repeated, his head giddy with the sense of that which Mr. Fishwick had
said. 'Who--who is it has been kidnapped? Speak! D--n you! Will no
'Your cousin,' the lawyer answered. 'Your cousin, who claims--'
'Softly, man--softly,' said the landlord, coming forward and laying his
hand on the lawyer's shoulder. 'And we shall the sooner know what to do.
Briefly, Sir George,' he continued, 'the young lady who has been in your
company the last day or two was seized and carried off in a post-chaise
half an hour ago, as I am told--maybe a little more--from Manton
Corner. For the rest, which this gentleman says, about who she is and
her claim--which it does not seem to me can be true and your honour not
know it--it is news to me. But, as I understand it, Sir George, he
alleges that the young lady who has disappeared lays claim to your
honour's estates at Estcombe.'
Sir George did not reply, but stood staring at the man, his mind divided
between two thoughts. The first that this was the solution of the many
things that had puzzled him in Julia; at once the explanation of her
sudden amiability, her new-born forwardness, the mysterious fortune into
which she had come, and of her education and her strange past. She was
his cousin, the unknown claimant! She was his cousin, and--
He awoke with a start, dragged away by the second thought--hard
following on the first. 'From Manton Corner?' he cried, his voice keen,
his eye terrible. 'Who saw it?'
'One of the servants,' the landlord answered, 'who had gone to the top
of the Mound to clean the mirrors in the summer-house. Here, you,' he
continued, beckoning to a man who limped forward reluctantly from one of
the side passages in which he had been standing, 'show yourself, and
tell this gentleman the story you told me.'
'If it please your honour,' the fellow whimpered, 'it was no fault of
mine. I ran down to give the alarm as soon as I saw what was doing--they
were forcing her into the carriage then--but I was in such a hurry I
fell and rolled to the bottom of the Mound, and was that dazed and
shaken it was five minutes before I could find any one.'
'How many were there?' Sir George asked. There was an ugly light in his
eyes and his cheeks burned. But he spoke with calmness.
'Two I saw, and there may have been more. The chaise had been waiting in
the yard of the empty house at the corner, the old Nag's Head. I saw it
come out. That was the first thing I did see. And then the lady.'
'Did she seem to be unwilling?' the man in the Ramillies asked. 'Did she
'Ay, she screamed right enough,' the fellow answered lumpishly. 'I heard
her, though the noise came faint-like. It is a good distance, your
honour'll mind, and some would not have seen what I saw.'
'And she struggled?'
'Ay, sir, she did. They were having a business with her when I left, I
can tell you.'
The picture was too much for Sir George. Gripping the landlord's
shoulder so fiercely that Smith winced and cried out, 'And you have
heard this man,' he said, 'and you chatter here? Fools! This is no
matter for words, but for horses and pistols! Get me a horse and
pistols--and tell my servant. Are you so many dolls? D--n you,
sir'--this to Mr. Fishwick--'stand out of my way!'
MR. FISHWICK, THE ARBITER
Mr. Fishwick, who had stepped forward with a vague notion of detaining
him, fell back. Sir George's stern aspect, which bore witness to the
passions that raged in a heart at that moment cruelly divided, did not
encourage interference; and though one or two muttered, no one moved.
There is little doubt that he would have passed out without delay,
mounted, and gone in pursuit--with what result in the direction of
altering the issue, it is impossible to state--if an obstacle had not
been cast in his way by an unexpected hand.
In every crowd, the old proverb has it, there are a knave and a fool.
Between Sir George bursting with passion, and the door by which he had
entered and to which he turned, stood Lady Dunborough. Her ladyship had
been one of the first to hear the news and to take the alarm; it is safe
to say, also, that for obvious reasons--and setting aside the lawyer and
Sir George--she was of all present the person most powerfully affected
by the news of the outrage. But she had succeeded in concealing alike
her fears and her interest; she had exclaimed with others--neither more
nor less; and had hinted, in common with three-fourths of the ladies
present, that the minx's cries were forced, and her _bonne fortune_
sufficiently to her mind. In a word she had comported herself so fitly
that if there was one person in the hall whose opinion was likely to
carry weight, as being coolly and impartially formed, it was
When she stepped forward therefore, and threw herself between Sir George
and the door--still more when, with an intrepid gesture, she cried
'Stay, sir; we have not done with you yet,' there was a sensation. As
the crowd pressed up to see and hear what passed, her accusing finger
pointed steadily to Sir George's breast. 'What is that you have there?'
she continued. 'That which peeps from your breast pocket, sir?'
Sir George, who, furious as he was, could go no farther without coming
in contact with her ladyship, smothered an oath. 'Madam,' he said,
'let me pass.'
'Not until you explain how you came by that fan,' she answered sturdily;
and held her ground.
'Fan?' he cried savagely. 'What fan?'
Unfortunately the passions that had swept through his mind during the
last few minutes, the discovery he had made, and the flood of pity that
would let him think of nothing but the girl--the girl carried away
screaming and helpless, a prey to he knew not whom--left in his mind
scant room for trifles. He had clean forgotten the fan. But the crowd
gave him no credit for this; and some murmured, and some exchanged
glances, when he asked 'What fan?' Still more when my lady rejoined,
'The fan in your breast,' and drew it out and all saw it, was there a
plain and general feeling against him.
Unheeding, he stared at the fan with grief-stricken eyes. 'I picked it
up in the road,' he muttered, as much to himself as to them.
'It is hers?'
'Yes,' he said, holding it reverently. 'She must have dropped it--in the
struggle!' And then 'My God!' he continued fiercely, the sight of the
fan bringing the truth more vividly before him, 'Let me pass! Or I
shall be doing some one a mischief! Madam, let me pass, I say!'
His tone was such that an ordinary woman must have given way to him; but
the viscountess had her reasons for being staunch. 'No,' she said
stoutly, 'not until these gentlemen have heard more. You have her fan,
which she took out an hour ago. She went to meet you--that we know from
this person'--she indicated Mr. Fishwick; 'and to meet you at your
request. The time, at sunset, the place, the corner of Manton Lane. And
what is the upshot? At that corner, at sunset, persons and a carriage
were waiting to carry her off. Who besides you knew that she would be
there?' Lady Dunborough continued, driving home the point with her
finger. 'Who besides you knew the time? And that being so, as soon as
they are safely away with her, you walk in here with an innocent face
and her fan in your pocket, and know naught about it! For shame! for
shame! Sir George! You will have us think we see the Cock Lane Ghost
next. For my part,' her ladyship continued ironically, 'I would as soon
believe in the rabbit-woman.'
'Let me pass, madam,' Sir George cried between his teeth. 'If you were
not a woman--'
'You would do something dreadful,' Lady Dunborough answered mockingly.
'Nevertheless, I shall be much mistaken, sir, if some of these gentlemen
have not a word to say in the matter.'
Her ladyship's glance fell, as she spoke, on the stout red-faced
gentleman in the splashed boots and Ramillies, who had asked two
questions of the servant; and who, to judge by the attention with which
he followed my lady's words, was not proof against the charm which
invests a viscountess. If she looked at him with intention, she reckoned
well; for, as neatly as if the matter had been concerted between them,
he stepped forward and took up the ball.
'Sir George,' he said, puffing out his cheeks, 'her ladyship is quite
right. I--I am sorry to interfere, but you know me, and what my position
is on the Rota. And I do not think I can stand by any longer--which
might be _adaerere culpae_. This is a serious case, and I doubt I shall
not be justified in allowing you to depart without some more definite
explanation. Abduction, you know, is not bailable. You are a Justice
yourself, Sir George, and must know that. If this person therefore--who
I understand is an attorney--desires to lay a sworn information, I
must take it.'
'In heaven's name, sir,' Soane cried desperately, 'take it! Take what
you please, but let me take the road.'
'Ah, but that is what I doubt, sir, I cannot do,' the Justice answered.
'Mark you, there is motive, Sir George, and _praesentia in loco_,' he
continued, swelling with his own learning. 'And you have a _partem
delicti_ on you. And, moreover, abduction is a special kind of case,
seeing that if the _participes criminis_ are free the _femme sole_,
sometimes called the _femina capta_, is in greater danger. In fact, it
is a continuing crime. An information being sworn therefore--'
'It has not been sworn yet!' Sir George retorted fiercely. 'And I warn
you that any one who lays a hand on me shall rue it. God, man!' he
continued, horror in his voice, 'cannot you understand that while you
prate here they are carrying her off, and that time is everything?'
'Some persons have gone in pursuit,' the landlord answered with intent
'Just so; some persons have gone in pursuit,' the Justice echoed with
dull satisfaction. 'And you, if you went, could do no more than they can
do. Besides, Sir George, the law must be obeyed. The sole point is'--he
turned to Mr. Fishwick, who through all had stood by, his face distorted
by grief and perplexity--'do you wish, sir, to swear the information?'
Mrs. Masterson had fainted at the first alarm and been carried to her
room. Apart from her, it is probable that only Sir George and Mr.
Fishwick really entered into the horror of the girl's position, realised
the possible value of minutes, or felt genuine and poignant grief at
what had occurred. On the decision of one of these two the freedom of
the other now depended, and the conclusion seemed foregone. Ten minutes
earlier Mr. Fishwick, carried away by the first sight of Sir George, and
by the rage of an honest man who saw a helpless woman ruined, had been
violent enough; Soane's possession of the fan--not then known to
him--was calculated to corroborate his suspicions. The Justice in
appealing to him felt sure of support; and was much astonished when Mr.
Fishwick, in place of assenting, passed his hand across his brow, and
stared at the speaker as if he had suddenly lost the power of speech.
In truth, the lawyer, harried by the expectant gaze of the room, and the
Justice's impatience, was divided between a natural generosity, which
was one of his oddities, and a suspicion born of his profession. He
liked Sir George; his smaller manhood went out in admiration to the
other's splendid personality. On the other hand, he had viewed Soane's
approaches to his client with misgiving. He had scented a trap here and
a bait there, and a dozen times, while dwelling on Dr. Addington's
postponements and delays, he had accused the two of collusion and of
some deep-laid chicanery. Between these feelings he had now to decide,
and to decide in such a tumult of anxiety and dismay as almost deprived
him of the power to think.
On the one hand, the evidence and inferences against Sir George pressed
him strongly. On the other, he had seen enough of the futile haste of
the ostlers and stable-helps, who had gone in pursuit, to hope little
from them; while from Sir George, were he honest, everything was to be
expected. In his final decision we may believe what he said afterwards,
that he was determined by neither of these considerations, but by his
old dislike of Lady Dunborough! For after a long silence, during which
he seemed to be a dozen times on the point of speaking and as often
disappointed his audience, he announced his determination in that sense.
'No, sir; I--I will not!' he stammered, 'or rather I will not--on a
'Condition!' the Justice growled, in disgust.
'Yes,' the lawyer answered staunchly; 'that Sir George, if he be going
in pursuit of them, permit me to go with him. I--I can ride, or at least
I can sit on a horse,' Mr. Fishwick continued bravely; 'and I am
ready to go.'
'Oh, la!' said Lady Dunborough, spitting on the floor--for there were
ladies who did such things in those days--'I think they are all in it
together. And the fair cousin too! Cousin be hanged!' she added with a
shrill ill-natured laugh; 'I have heard that before.'
But Sir George took no notice of her words. 'Come, if you choose,' he
cried, addressing the lawyer. 'But I do not wait for you. And now,
madam, if your interference is at an end--'
'And what if it is not?' she cried, insolently grimacing in his face.
She had gained half an hour, and it might save her son. To persist
farther might betray him, yet she was loth to give way. 'What if it is
not?' she repeated.
'I go out by the other door,' Sir George answered promptly, and, suiting
the action to the word, he turned on his heel, strode through the crowd,
which subserviently made way for him, and in a twinkling he had passed
through the garden door, with Mr. Fishwick, hat in hand, hurrying at
The moment they were gone, the babel, suppressed while the altercation
lasted, rose again, loud as before. It is not every day that the busiest
inn or the most experienced traveller has to do with an elopement, to
say nothing of an abduction. While a large section of the ladies, seated
together in a corner, tee-hee'd and tossed their heads, sneered at Miss
and her screams, and warranted she knew all about it, and had her jacket
and night-rail in her pocket, another party laid all to Sir George,
swore by the viscountess, and quoted the masked uncle who made away with
his nephew to get his estate. One or two indeed--and, if the chronicler
is to be candid, one or two only, out of as many scores--proved that
they possessed both imagination and charity. These sat apart, scared and
affrighted by their thoughts; or stared with set eyes and flushed faces
on the picture they would fain have avoided. But they were young and had
seen little of the world.
On their part the men talked fast and loud, at one time laughed, and at
another dropped a curse--their form of pity; quoted the route and the
inns, and weighed the chances of Devizes or Bath, Bristol or Salisbury;
vaguely suggested highwaymen, an old lover, Mrs. Cornelys' ballet; and
finally trooped out to stand in the road and listen, question the
passers-by, and hear what the parish constable had to say of it. All
except one very old man, who kept his seat and from time to time
muttered, 'Lord, what a shape she had! What a shape she had!' until he
dissolved in maudlin tears.
Meanwhile a woman lay upstairs, tossing in passionate grief and tended
by servants; who, more pitiful than their mistresses, stole to her to
comfort her. And three men rode steadily along the western road.
The attorney was brave with a coward's great bravery; he was afraid, but
he went on. As he climbed into his saddle in the stable-yard, the
muttering ostlers standing round, and the yellow-flaring light of the
lanthorns stretching fingers into the darkness, he could have wept for
himself. Beyond the gates and the immediate bustle of the yard lay
night, the road, and dimly-guessed violences; the meeting of man with
man, the rush to grips under some dark wood, or where the moonlight fell
cold on the heath. The prospect terrified; at the mere thought the
lawyer dropped the reins and nervously gathered them. And he had another
fear, and one more immediate. He was no horseman, and he trembled lest
Sir George, the moment the gates were passed, should go off in a
reckless gallop. Already he felt his horse heave and sidle under him, in
a fashion that brought his heart into his mouth; and he was ready to cry
for quarter. But the absurdity of the request where time was everything,
the journey black earnest, and its issue life and death, struck him, and
heroically he closed his mouth. Yet, at the remembrance that these
things were, he fell into a fresh panic.
However, for a time there was to be no galloping. Sir George when all
were up took a lanthorn from the nearest man, and bidding one of the
others run at his stirrup, led the way into the road, where he fell into
a sharp trot, his servant and Mr. Fishwick following. The attorney
bumped in his saddle, but kept his stirrups and gradually found his
hands and eyesight. The trot brought them to Manton Corner and the empty
house; where Sir George pulled up and dismounted. Giving his reins to
the stable-boy, he thrust open the doors of the yard and entered,
holding up his lanthorn, his spurs clinking on the stones and his
'But she--they cannot be here?' the lawyer ejaculated, his teeth
Sir George, busy stooping and peering about the yard, which was
grass-grown and surrounded by walls, made no answer; and the other two,
as well as Mr. Fishwick, wondered what he would be at. But in a moment
they knew. He stooped and took up a small object, smelt it, and held it
out to them. 'What is that?' he asked curtly.
The stable-man who was holding his horse stared at it. 'Negro-head, your
honour,' he said. 'It is sailors' tobacco.'
'Who uses it about here?'
'Nobody to my knowing.'
'They are from Bristol, then,' Soane answered. And then 'Make way!' he
continued, addressing the other two who blocked the gateway; and
springing into his saddle he pressed his horse between them, his
stirrups dangling. He turned sharp to the left, and leaving the
stable-man to stare after them, the lanthorn swaying in his hand, he led
the way westward at the same steady trot.
The chase had begun. More than that, Mr. Fishwick was beginning to feel
the excitement of it; the ring of the horses' shoes on the hard road,
the rush of the night air past his ears exhilarated him. He began to
feel confidence in his leader, and confidence breeds courage. Bristol?
Then Bristol let it be. And then on top of this, his spirits being more
composed, came a rush of rage and indignation at thought of the girl.
The lawyer clutched his whip, and, reckless of consequences, dug his
heels into his horse, and for the moment, in the heat of his wrath,
longed to be up with the villains, to strike a blow at them. If his
courage lasted, Mr. Fishwick might show them a man yet--when the
Trot-trot, trot-trot through the darkness under the stars, the trees
black masses that shot up beside the road and vanished as soon as seen,
the downs grey misty outlines that continually fenced them in and went
with them; and always in the van Sir George, a grim silent shape with
face set immovably forward. They worked up Fyfield hill, and thence,
looking back, bade farewell to the faint light that hung above
Marlborough. Dropping into the bottom they cluntered over the wooden
bridge and by Overton steeple--a dim outline on the left--and cantering
up Avebury hill eased their horses through Little Kennet. Gathering
speed again they swept through Beckhampton village, where the Bath road
falls off to the left, and breasting the high downs towards Yatesbury,
they trotted on to Cheril.
Here on the hills the sky hung low overhead, and the wind sweeping chill
and drear across the upland was full of a melancholy soughing. The
world, it seemed to one of them, was uncreate, gone, and non-existent;
only this remained--the shadowy downs stretching on every side to
infinity, and three shadowy riders plodding across them; all shadowy,
all unreal until a bell-wether got up under the horses' heads, and with
a confused rush and scurry of feet a hundred Southdowns scampered into
the grey unknown.
Mr. Fishwick found it terrible, rugged, wild, a night foray. His heart
began to sink again. He was sore too, sweating, and fit to drop from his
saddle with the unwonted exertion.
And what of Sir George, hurled suddenly out of his age and world--the
age _des philosophes_, and the smooth world of White's and Lord
March--into this quagmire of feeling, this night of struggle upon the
Wiltshire downs? A few hours earlier he had ridden the same road, and
the prize he now stood in danger of losing had seemed--God forgive
him!--of doubtful value. Now, as he thought of her, his heart melted in
a fire of love and pity: of love that conjured up a thousand pictures of
her eyes, her lips, her smile, her shape--all presently dashed by night
and reality; of pity that swelled his breast to bursting, set his eyes
burning and his brain throbbing--a pity near akin to rage.
Even so, he would not allow himself to dwell on the worst. He had formed
his opinion of the abduction; if it proved correct he believed that he
should be in time to save her from that. But from the misery of
suspense, of fear, of humiliation, from the touch of rough hands and the
shame of coarse eyes, from these things--and alone they kindled his
blood into flame--he was powerless to save her!
Lady Dunborough could no longer have accused him of airs and graces.
Breeding, habit, the custom of the gaming-table, the pride of caste
availed to mask his passions under a veil of reserve, but were powerless
to quell them. What was more remarkable, so set was he on the one object
of recovering his mistress and putting an end to the state of terror in
which he pictured her--ignorant what her fate would be, and dreading the
worst--he gave hardly a thought to the astounding discovery which the
lawyer had made to him. He asked him no questions, turned to him for no
explanations. Those might come later; for the moment he thought not of
his cousin, but of his mistress. The smiles that had brightened the dull
passages of the inn, the figure that had glorified the quiet streets,
the eyes that had now invited and now repelled him, these were become so
many sharp thorns in his heart, so many goads urging him onward.
It was nine when they saw the lights of Calne below them, and trotting
and stumbling down the hill, clattered eagerly into the town. A moment's
delay in front of the inn, where their questions speedily gathered a
crowd, and they had news of the chaise: it had passed through the town
two hours before without changing horses. The canvas blinds were down or
there were shutters; which, the ostler who gave them the information,
could not say. But the fact that the carriage was closed had struck him,
and together with the omission to take fresh horses, had awakened his
By the time this was told a dozen were round them, listening
open-mouthed; and cheered by the lights and company Mr. Fishwick grew
brave again. But Sir George allowed no respite: in five minutes they
were clear of the houses and riding hard for Chippenham, the next stage
on the Bristol road; Sir George's horse cantering free, the lawyer's
groaning as it bumped across Studley bridge and its rider caught the
pale gleam of the water below. On through the village they swept, past
Brumhill Lane-end, thence over the crest where the road branches south
to Devizes, and down the last slope. The moon rose as they passed the
fourth milestone out of Calne; another five minutes and they drew up,
the horses panting and hanging their heads, in the main street of
A coach--one of the night coaches out of Bristol--was standing before
the inn, the horses smoking, the lamps flaring cheerfully, a crowd round
it; the driver had just unbuckled his reins and flung them either way.
Sir George pushed his horse up to the splinter-bar and hailed him,
asking whether he had met a closed chaise and four travelling Bristol
way at speed.
'A closed chaise and four?' the man answered, looking down at the
party; and then recognising Sir George, 'I beg your honour's pardon,' he
said. 'Here, Jeremy,' to the guard--while the stable-man and helpers
paused to listen or stared at the heaving flanks of the riders'
horses--'did we meet a closed chaise and four to-night?'
'We met a chaise and four at Cold Aston,' the guard answered,
ruminating. 'But 'twas Squire Norris's of Sheldon, and there was no one
but the Squire in it. And a chaise and four at Marshfield, but that was
a burying party from Batheaston, going home very merry. No other, closed
or open, that I can mind, sir, this side of Dungeon Cross, and that is
but two miles out of Bristol.'
'They are an hour and a half in front of us!' Sir George cried eagerly.
'Will a guinea improve your memory?'
Ay, sir, but 'twon't make it,' the coachman answered, grinning. 'Jeremy
is right. I mind no others. What will your honour want with them?'
'They have carried off a young lady!' Mr. Fishwick cried shrilly. 'Sir
'To be sure?' ejaculated the driver, amid a murmur of astonishment; and
the crowd which had grown since their arrival pressed nearer to listen.
'Where from, sir, if I may make so bold?'
'From the Castle at Marlborough.'
Dear me, dear me, there is audaciousness, if you like! And you ha'
followed them so far, sir?'
Sir George nodded and turned to the crowd. 'A guinea for news!' he
cried. 'Who saw them go through Chippenham!'
He had not long to wait for the answer. 'They never went through
Chipnam!' a thick voice hiccoughed from the rear of the press.
'They came this way out of Calne,' Sir George retorted, singling the
speaker out, and signing to the people to make way that he might get
'Ay, but they never--came to Chipnam,' the fellow answered, leering at
him with drunken wisdom. 'D'you see that, master?'
'Which way, then?' Soane cried impatiently. 'Which way did they go?'
But the man only lurched a step nearer. 'That's telling!' he said with a
beery smile. 'You want to be--as wise as I be!'
Jeremy, the guard, seized him by the collar and shook him. 'You drunken
fool!' he said. 'D'ye know that this is Sir George Soane of Estcombe?
Answer him, you swine, or you'll be in the cage in a one, two!'
'You let me be,' the man whined, straggling to release himself. 'It's no
business of yours,' Let me be, master!'
Sir George raised his whip in his wrath, but lowered it again with a
groan. 'Can no one make him speak?' he said, looking round. The man was
staggering and lurching in the guard's grasp.
'His wife, but she is to Marshfield, nursing her sister,' answered one.
'But give him his guinea, Sir George. 'Twill save time maybe.'
Soane flung it to him. 'There!' he said. 'Now speak!'
'That'sh better,' the man muttered. 'That's talking! Now I'll tell you.
You go back to Devizes Corner--corner of the road to De-vizes--you
understand? There was a car--car--carriage there without lights an hour
back. It was waiting under the hedge. I saw it, and I--I know
Sir George flung a guinea to the guard, and wheeled his horse about. In
the act of turning his eye fell on the lawyer's steed, which, chosen for
sobriety rather than staying powers, was on the point of foundering.
'Get another,' he cried, 'and follow!'
Mr. Fishwick uttered a wail of despair. To be left to follow--to follow
alone, in the dark, through unknown roads, with scarce a clue and on a
strange horse--the prospect might have appalled a hardier soul. He was
saved from it by Sir George's servant, a stolid silent man, who might be
warranted to ride twenty miles without speaking. 'Here, take mine, sir,'
he said. 'I must stop to get a lanthorn; we shall need one now. Do you
go with his honour.'
Mr. Fishwick slid down and was hoisted into the other's saddle. By the
time this was done Sir George was almost lost in the gloom eat the
farther end of the street. But anything rather than be left behind. The
lawyer laid on his whip in a way that would have astonished him a few
hours before, and overtook his leader as he emerged from the town. They
rode without speaking until they had retraced their steps to the foot of
the hill, and could discern a little higher on the ascent the turn
It is possible that Sir George hoped to find the chaise still lurking in
the shelter of the hedge; for as he rode up to the corner he drew a
pistol from his holster, and took his horse by the head. If so, he was
disappointed. The moon had risen high and its cold light disclosed the
whole width of the roadway, leaving no place in which even a dog could
lie hidden. Nor as far as the eye could travel along the pale strip of
road that ran southward was any movement or sign of life.
Sir George dropped from his saddle, and stooping, sought for proof of
the toper's story. He had no difficulty in finding it. There were the
deep narrow ruts which the wheels of a chaise, long stationary, had made
in the turf at the side of the road; and south of them was a plat of
poached ground where the horses had stood and shifted their feet
uneasily. He walked forward, and by the moonlight traced the dusty
indents of the wheels until they exchanged the sward for the hard road.
There they were lost in other tracks, but the inference was plain. The
chaise had gone south to Devizes.
For the first time Sir George felt the full horror of uncertainty. He
climbed into his saddle and sat looking across the waste with eyes of
misery, asking himself whither and for what? Whither had they taken her,
and why? The Bristol road once left, his theory was at fault; he had no
clue, and felt, where time was life and more than life, the slough of
horrible conjecture rise to his very lips.
Only one thing, one certain thing remained--the road; the pale ribbon
running southward under the stars. He must cling to that. The chaise had
gone that way, and though the double might be no more than a trick to
throw pursuers off the trail, though the first dark lane, the first
roadside tavern, the first farmhouse among the woods might have
swallowed the unhappy girl and the wretches who held her in their power,
what other clue had he? What other chance but to track the chaise that
way, though every check, every minute of uncertainty, of thought, of
hesitation--and a hundred such there must be in a tithe of the
miles--racked him with fears and dreadful surmises?
There was no other. The wind sweeping across the hill on the western
extremity of which he stood, looking over the lower ground about the
Avon, brought the distant howl of a dog to his ears, and chilled his
blood heated with riding. An owl beating the coverts for mice sailed
overhead; a hare rustled through the fence. The stars above were awake;
in the intense silence of the upland he could almost hear the great
spheres throb as they swept through space! But the human world slept,
and while it slept what work of darkness might not be doing? That
scream, shrill and ear-piercing, that suddenly rent the night--thank
God, it was only a rabbit's death-cry, but it left the sweat on his
brow! After that he could, he would, wait for nothing and no man.
Lanthorn or no lanthorn, he must be moving. He raised his whip, then let
it fall again as his ear caught far away the first faint hoof-beats of a
horse travelling the road at headlong speed.
The sound was very distant at first, but it grew rapidly, and presently
filled the night. It came from the direction of Chippenham. Mr.
Fishwick, who had not dared to interrupt his companion's calculations,
heard the sound with relief; and looking for the first gleam of the
lanthorn, wondered how the servant, riding at that pace, kept it alight,
and whether the man had news that he galloped so furiously. But Sir
George sat arrested in his saddle, listening, listening intently; until
the rider was within a hundred yards or less. Then, as his ear told him
that the horse was slackening, he seized Mr. Fishwick's rein, and
backing their horses nearer the hedge, once more drew a pistol from
The startled lawyer discerned what he did, looked in his face, and saw
that his eyes were glittering with excitement. But having no ear for
hoof-beats Mr. Fishwick did not understand what was afoot, until the
rider appeared at the road-end, and coming plump upon them, drew rein.
Then Sir George's voice rang out, stern and ominous. 'Good evening, Mr.
Dunborough,' he said, and raised his hat. 'Well met! We are travelling
the same road, and, if you please, will do the rest of our journey
AN UNWILLING ALLY
Under the smoothness of Sir George's words, under the subtle mockery of
his manner, throbbed a volcano of passion and vengeance. But this was
for the lawyer only, even as he alone saw the moonlight gleam faintly on
the pistol barrel that lurked behind his companion's thigh. For Mr.
Dunborough, it would be hard to imagine a man more completely taken by
surprise. He swore one great oath, for he saw, at least, that the
meeting boded him 110 good; then he sat motionless in his saddle, his
left hand on the pommel, his right held stiffly by his side. The moon,
which of the two hung a little at Sir George's back, shone only on the
lower part of Dunborough's face, and by leaving his eyes in the shadow
of his hat, gave the others to conjecture what he would do next. It is
probable that Sir George, whose hand and pistol were ready, was
indifferent; perhaps would have hailed with satisfaction an excuse for
vengeance. But Mr. Fishwick, the pacific witness of this strange
meeting, awaited the issue with staring eyes, his heart in his mouth;
and was mightily relieved when the silence, which the heavy breathing of
Mr. Dunborough's horse did but intensify, was broken on the last comer's
side, by nothing worse than a constrained laugh.
'Travel together?' he said, with an awkward assumption of jauntiness,
'that depends on the road we are going.'
'Oh, we are going the same road,' Sir George answered, in the mocking
tone he had used before.
'You are very clever,' Mr. Dunborough retorted, striving to hide his
uneasiness; 'but if you know that, sir, you have the advantage of me.'
'I have,' said Sir George, and laughed rudely.
Dunborough stared, finding in the other's manner fresh cause for
misgiving. At last, 'As you please,' he said contemptuously. 'I am for
Calne. The road is public. You may travel by it.'
'We are not going to Calne,' said Sir George.
Mr. Dunborough swore. 'You are d----d impertinent!' he said, reining
back his horse, 'and may go to the devil your own way. For me, I am
going to Calne.'
'No,' said Sir George, 'you are not going to Calne. She has not gone
Mr. Dunborough drew in his breath quickly. Hitherto he had been
uncertain what the other knew, and how far the meeting was accidental;
now, forgetful what his words implied and anxious only to say something
that might cover his embarrassment, 'Oh,' he said, 'you are--you are in
search of her?'
'Yes,' said Sir George mockingly. 'We are in search of her. And we want
to know where she is.'
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