The House of Whispers
William Le Queux
Part 4 out of 6
Krail looked him straight in the face with considerable surprise, but
made no comment.
"She knows better," Flockart added.
"Never believe too much in your own power with a woman, _mon cher ami_,"
remarked the other dubiously. "She's young, therefore of a romantic turn
of mind. She's in love, remember, which makes matters much worse for
"Because, being in love, she may become seized with a sentimental fit.
This ends generally in a determination of self-sacrifice; and in such
case she would tell the truth in defiance of you, and would be heedless
of her own danger."
Flockart drew a long breath. What this man said was, he knew within his
own heart, only too true of the girl towards whom they had been so cruel
and so unscrupulous. His had been a lifelong scheme, and as part of his
scheme in conjunction with the woman who was Sir Henry's wife, it had
been unfortunately compulsory to sacrifice the girl who was the blind
man's right hand.
Yes, Gabrielle was deeply in love with Walter Murie--the man upon whom
Sir Henry now looked as his enemy, and who would have exposed him to the
Greek Government if the blind man had not been too clever. The Baronet,
after his daughter's confession, naturally attributed her curiosity to
Walter's initiative, the more especially that Walter had been in Paris,
and, it was believed, in Athens also.
The pair were, however, now separated. Krail, in pursuit of his diligent
inquiries, had actually been in Woodnewton, and seen the lonely little
figure, sad and dejected, taking long rambles accompanied only by a
farmer's sheep-dog. Young Murie had not been there; nor did the pair now
correspond. This much Krail had himself discovered.
The problem placed before Flockart by his shabby friend was a somewhat
disconcerting one. On the one hand, Lady Heyburn had urged him to leave
the Riviera, without giving him any reason, and on the other, he had the
ever-present danger of Gabrielle, in a sudden fit of sentimental
self-sacrifice, "giving him away." If she did, what then? The mere
suggestion caused him to bite his nether lip.
Krail knew a good deal, but he did not know all. Perhaps it was as well
that he did not. There is a code of honour among adventurers all the
world over; but few of them can resist the practice of blackmail when
they chance to fall upon evil days.
"Yes," Flockart said reflectively, as at Krail's suggestion they turned
and began to descend the steep hill towards Ospedaletti, "perhaps it's a
pity, after all, that the girl left Glencardine. Yet surely she's safer
with her aunt?"
"She was driven from Glencardine!"
"By her father."
"You sacrificed her in order to save yourself. That was but natural.
It's a pity, however, you didn't take my advice."
"I suggested it to Lady Heyburn. But she would have nothing to do with
it. She declared that such a course was far too dangerous."
"Dangerous!" echoed the shabby man. "Surely it could not have placed
either of you in any greater danger than you are in already?"
"She didn't like it."
"Few people do," laughed the other. "But, depend upon it, it's the only
way. She wouldn't, at any rate, have had an opportunity of telling the
Flockart pulled a wry face, and after a silence of a few moments said,
"Don't let us discuss that. We fully considered all the pros and cons,
at the time."
"Her ladyship is growing scrupulously honest of late," sneered his
companion. "She'll try to get rid of you very soon, I expect."
The latter sentence was more full of meaning than the speaker dreamed.
The words, falling upon Flockart's ears, caused him to wince. Was her
ladyship really trying to rid herself of his influence? He laughed
within himself at the thought of her endeavouring to release herself
from the bond. For her he had never, at any moment, entertained either
admiration or affection. Their association had always been purely one of
business--business, be it said, in which he made the profits and she the
"It would hardly be an easy matter for her," replied the easy-going,
"She seems to be very popular up at Glencardine," remarked the
foreigner, "because she's extravagant and spends money in the
neighbourhood, I suppose. But the people in Auchterarder village
criticise her treatment of Gabrielle. They hear gossip from the
servants, I expect."
"They should know of the girl's treatment of her stepmother," exclaimed
Flockart. "But there, villagers are always prone to listen to and
embroider any stories concerning the private life of the gentry. It's
just the same in Scotland as in any other country in the world."
"Ah!" continued Flockart, "in Scotland the old families are gradually
decaying, and their estates are falling into the hands of blatant
parvenus. Counter-jumpers stalk deer nowadays, and city clerks on their
holidays shoot over peers' preserves. The humble Scot sees it all with
regret, because he has no real liking for this latter-day invasion by
the newly-rich English. Cotton-spinners from Lancashire buy
deer-forests, and soap-boilers from Limehouse purchase castles with
family portraits and ghosts complete."
"Ah! speaking of the supernatural," exclaimed Krail suddenly, "do you
know I had a most extraordinary and weird experience when at Glencardine
about three weeks ago. I actually heard the Whispers!"
Flockart stared hard at the man at his side, and, laughing outright,
said, "Well, that's the best joke I've heard to-day. You, of all men, to
be taken in by a mere superstition."
"But, my dear friend, I heard them," said Krail. "I swear I actually
heard them! And I--well, I admit to you, even though you may laugh at me
for being a superstitious fool--I somehow anticipate that something
uncanny is about to happen to me."
"You're going to die, like all the rest of them, I suppose," laughed his
friend, as they descended the dusty, winding road that led to the
palm-lined promenade of the quiet little Mediterranean watering-place.
"WHEN GREEK MEETS GREEK"
On their left were several white villas, before which pink and scarlet
geraniums ran riot, with spreading mimosas golden with their feathery
blossom, for Ospedaletti makes a frantic, if vain, bid for popularity as
a winter-resort. Its deadly dullness, however, is too well known to the
habitue of the Riviera; and its casino, which never obtained a licence,
imparts to it the air of painful effort at gaiety.
"Well," remarked the shabby man as they passed along and out upon the
sea-road in the direction of Bordighera, "I always looked upon what the
people at Auchterarder said regarding the Whispers as a mere myth. But
now, having heard them with my own ears, how can I have further doubt?"
"I've listened in the Castle ruins a good many times, my dear Krail,"
replied the other, "but I've never heard anything more exciting than an
owl. Indeed, Lady Heyburn and I, when there was so much gossip about the
strange noises some two years ago, set to work to investigate. We went
there at least a dozen times, but without result; only both of us caught
"Well," exclaimed Krail, "I used to ridicule the weird stories I heard
in the village about the Devil's Whisper, and all that. But by mere
chance I happened to be at the spot one bright night, and I heard
distinct whisperings, just as had been described to me. They gave me a
very creepy feeling, I can assure you."
"Bosh! Now, do you believe in ghosts, you man-of-the-world that you are,
my dear Felix?"
"No. Most decidedly I don't."
"Then what you've heard is only in imagination, depend upon it. The
supernatural doesn't exist in Glencardine, that's quite certain,"
declared Flockart. "The fact is that there's so much tradition and
legendary lore connected with the old place, and its early owners were
such a set of bold and defiant robbers, that for generations the
peasantry have held it in awe. Hence all sorts of weird and terrible
stories have been invented and handed down, until the present age
believes them to be based upon fact."
"But, my dear friend, I actually heard the Whispers--heard them with my
own ears," Krail asserted. "I happened to be about the place that night,
trying to get a peep into the library, where Goslin and the old man
were, I believe, busy at work. But the blinds fitted too closely, so
that I couldn't see inside. The keeper and his men were, I knew, down in
the village; therefore I took a stroll towards the ruins, and, as it was
a beautiful night, I sat down in the courtyard to have a smoke. Then, of
a sudden, I heard low voices quite distinctly. They startled me, for not
until they fell upon my ears did I recall the stories told to me weeks
"If Stewart or any of the under-keepers had found you prowling about the
Castle grounds at that hour they might have asked you awkward
questions," remarked Flockart.
"Oh," laughed the other, "they all know me as a visitor to the village
fond of walking exercise. I took very good care that they should all
know me, so that as few explanations as possible would be necessary. As
you well know, the secret of all my successes is that I never leave
anything to chance."
"To go peeping about outside the house and trying to took in at lighted
windows sounds a rather injudicious proceeding," his companion declared.
"Not if proper precautions are taken, as I took them. I was weeks in
that terribly dull Scotch village, but nobody suspected my real mission.
I made quite a large circle of friends at the 'Star,' who all believed
me to be a foreign ornithologist writing a book upon the birds of
Scotland. Trust me to tell people a good story."
"Well," exclaimed Flockart, after a long silence, "those Whispers are
certainly a mystery, more especially if you've actually heard them. On
two or three occasions I've spoken to Sir Henry about them. He ridicules
the idea, yet he admitted to me one evening that the voices had really
been heard. I declared that the most remarkable fact was the sudden
death of each person who had listened and heard them. It is a curious
phenomenon, which certainly should be investigated."
"The inference is that I, having listened to the ghostly voices, am
doomed to a sudden and violent end," remarked the shabby stranger quite
Flockart laughed. "Really, Felix, this is too funny!" he said. "Fancy
your taking notice of such old wives' fables! Why, my dear fellow,
you've got many years of constant activity before you yet. You must
return to Paris in the morning, and watch in patience."
"I have watched, but discovered nothing."
"Perhaps I'll come and assist you; most probably I shall."
"No, don't! As soon as you leave San Remo Sir Henry will know, and he
"That you are in search of the truth, and of fortune in consequence."
"He believes in me. Only the other day I had a letter from him written
in Goslin's hand, repeating the confidence he reposes in me."
"Exactly. You must remain down here for the present."
Flockart recollected the puzzling decision of Lady Heyburn, and remained
"Our chief peril is still the one which has faced us all along," went on
the man in the grey hat--"the peril that the girl may tell about that
awkward affair at Chantilly."
"She dare not," Flockart assured him quickly.
Krail shook his head dubiously. "She's leading a lonely life. Her heart
is broken, and she believes herself, as every other young girl does, to
be without a future. Therefore, she's brooding over it. One never knows
in such cases when a girl may fling all prudence to the winds," he said.
"If she did, then nothing could save us."
"That's just what her ladyship said the other day," answered Flockart,
tossing away his cigarette. "But you don't know that I hold her
irrevocably. She dare not say a single word. If she dare, why did she
not tell the truth about the safe?"
"Probably because it was all too sudden. She now finds life in that
dismal little village intolerable. She's a girl of spirit, you know, and
has always been used to luxury and freedom. To live with an old woman in
a country cottage away from all her friends must be maddening. No, my
dear James, in this you've acted most injudiciously. You were devoid of
your usual foresight. Depend upon it, a very serious danger threatens.
She will speak."
"I tell you she dare not. Rest your mind assured."
"_She shall not!_"
"How, pray, can you close her mouth?" asked the foreigner.
Flockart's eyes met his. In them was a curious expression, almost a
Krail understood. He shrugged his shoulders, but uttered no word. His
gesture was, however, that of one unconvinced. Adventurer as he was,
ingenious and unscrupulous, he lived from hand to mouth. Sometimes he
made a big _coup_ and placed himself in funds. But following such an
event he was open-handed and generous to his friends, extravagant in his
expenditure; and very soon found himself under the necessity to exercise
his wits in order to obtain the next louis. He had known Flockart for
years as one of his own class. They had first met long ago on board a
Castle liner homeward bound from Capetown, where both found themselves
playing a crooked game. A friendship begotten of dishonesty had sprung
up between them, and in consequence they had thrown in their lot
together more than once with considerable financial advantage.
The present affair was, however, not much to Krail's liking, and this he
had more than once told his friend. It was quite possible that if they
could discover the mysterious source of this blind man's wealth they
might, by judiciously levying blackmail through a third party, secure a
very handsome income which he was to share with Flockart and her
The last-named Krail had always admitted to be one of the cleverest
women he had ever met. His only surprise had been that she, as Sir
Henry's wife, was unable to get at the facts which were so cleverly
withheld. It only showed, however, that the Baronet, though deprived of
eyesight, was even more clever than the unscrupulous woman he had so
Krail held Lady Heyburn in distinct distrust. He had once had dealings
with her which had turned out the reverse of satisfactory. Instinctively
he knew that, in order to save herself, if exposure ever came, she would
"give him away" without the least compunction.
What had puzzled him for several years, and what, indeed, had puzzled
other people, was the reason of the close friendship between Flockart
and the Baronet's wife. It was certainly not affection. He knew Flockart
intimately, and had knowledge of his private affairs; therefore he was
well aware of the existence of an unknown and rather insignificant woman
to whom he was in secret devoted.
No; the bond between the pair was an entirely mysterious one. He knew
that on more than one occasion, when Flockart's demands for money had
been a little too frequent, she had resisted and attempted to withdraw
from further association with him. Yet by a single word, or even a look,
he could compel her to disgorge the funds he needed, for she had even
handed him some of her trinkets to pawn until she could obtain further
funds from Sir Henry to redeem them.
As they walked together along the white Corniche Road, their faces set
towards the gorgeous southern afterglow, while the waves lapped lazily
on the grey rocks, all these puzzling thoughts recurred to Krail.
"Lady Heyburn seems still to remain your very devoted friend," he
remarked at last with a meaning smile. "I see from the _New York Herald_
what pleasant parties she gives, and how she is the heart and soul of
social merriment in San Remo. By Jove, James! you're a lucky man to
possess such a popular hostess as friend."
"Yes," laughed Flockart, "Winnie is a regular pal. Without her I should
have been broken long ago. But she's always ready to help me along."
"People have already remarked upon your remarkable friendship," said his
friend, "and many ill-natured allegations have been made."
"Oh, yes, I'm quite well aware of that, my dear fellow. It has pained me
more than enough. You yourself know that, as far as affection goes, I've
never in my life entertained a spark of it for Winnie. We were children
together, and have been friends always."
"Quite so!" exclaimed Krail, smiling. "That's a pretty good story to
tell the world. But there's a point where mere friendship must break,
"What do you mean?" asked the other, glancing at him in surprise.
"Well, the story you tell other people may be picturesque and romantic,
but with me it's just a trifle weak. Lady Heyburn doesn't give her
pearls to be pawned, out of mere friendship, you know."
Flockart was silent. He knew too well that the man walking at his side
was as clever an intriguer and as bold an adventurer as had ever moved
up and down Europe "working the game" in search of pigeons to pluck. His
shabbiness was assumed. He had alighted at Bordighera station from the
_rapide_ from Paris, spent the night at a third-rate hotel in order not
to be recognised at the Angst or any of the smarter houses, and had met
him by appointment to explain the present situation. His remarks,
however, were the reverse of reassuring. What did he suspect?
"I don't quite follow you, Krail," Flockart said.
"I meant to imply that if friendship only links you with Lady Heyburn,
the chain may quite easily snap," he remarked.
He looked at his friend, much puzzled. He could see no point in that
Krail read what was passing in the other's mind, and added, "I know,
_mon cher ami_, that affection from her ladyship is entirely out of the
question. The gossips are liars. And----"
"Sir Henry himself is quite aware of that. I have already spoken quite
plainly and openly to him, and suggested my departure from Glencardine
on account of ill-natured remarks by her ladyship's enemies. But he
would not hear of my leaving, and pressed me to remain."
Krail looked at him in blank surprise. "Well," he said, "if you've been
bold enough to do this in face of the gossip, then you're a much
cleverer man than ever I took you to be."
For answer, Flockart took some letters from his breast-pocket, selected
one written in a foreign hand, and gave it to Krail to read. It was from
the hermit of Glencardine, written at his dictation by Monsieur Goslin,
and was couched in the warmest and most confidential terms.
"Look here, James," exclaimed the shabby man, handing back the letter,
"I'm going to be perfectly frank with you. Tell me if I speak the truth
or if I lie. It is neither affection nor friendship which links your
life with that woman's. Am I right?"
Flockart did not answer for some moments. His eyes were cast upon the
ground. "Yes, Krail," he admitted at last when the question had been put
to him a second time--"yes, Krail. You speak the truth. It is neither
affection nor friendship."
SHOWS GABRIELLE IN EXILE
Midway between historic Fotheringhay and ancient Apethorpe, the
ancestral seat of the Earls of Westmorland, lay the long, straggling,
and rather poverty-stricken village of Woodnewton. Like many other
Northamptonshire villages, it consisted of one long street of cottages,
many of them with dormer windows peeping from beneath the brown thatch,
the better houses of stone, with old mullioned windows, but all of them
more or less in stages of decay. With the depreciation in agriculture,
Woodnewton, once quite a prosperous little place, was now terribly
shabby and depressing.
As he entered the village, the first object that met the eye of the
stranger was a barn with the roof half fallen away, and next it a ruined
house with its moss-grown thatch full of holes. The paving was ill-kept,
and even the several inns bore an appearance of struggles with poverty.
Half-way up the long, straight, dispiriting street stood a cottage
larger and neater-looking than the rest. Its ugly exterior was
half-hidden by ivy, which had been cut away from the diamond-paned
windows; while, unlike its neighbours, its roof was tiled and its brown
door newly painted and highly varnished.
Old Miss Heyburn lived there, and had lived there for the past
half-century. The prim, grey-haired, and somewhat eccentric old lady was
a well-known figure to all on that country-side. Twice each Sunday, with
her large-type Prayer-book in her hand, and her steel-rimmed spectacles
on her thin nose, she walked to church, while she was one of the
principal supporters of the village clothing-club and such-like
institutions inaugurated by the worthy rector.
Essentially an ascetic person, she was looked upon with fear by all the
villagers. Her manner was brusque, her speech sharp, and her criticism
of neglectful mothers caustic and much to the point. Prim, always in
black bonnet and jet-trimmed cape of years gone by, both in summer and
winter, she took no heed of the vagaries of fashion, even when they
reached Woodnewton so tardily.
The common report was that when a girl she had been "crossed in love,"
for her single maidservant she always trained to a sober and loveless
life like her own, and as soon as a girl cast an eye upon a likely swain
she was ignominiously dismissed.
That the sharp-tongued spinster possessed means was undoubted. It was
known that she was sister of Sir Henry Heyburn of Caistor, in
Lincolnshire; and, on account of her social standing, she on rare
occasions was bidden to the omnium gatherings at some of the mansions in
the neighbourhood. She seldom accepted; but when she did it was only to
satisfy her curiosity and to criticise.
The household of two, the old lady and her exemplary maid, was assuredly
a dull one. Meals were taken with punctual regularity amid a cleanliness
that was almost painful. The tiny drawing-room, with its row of
window-plants, including a pot of strong-smelling musk, was hardly ever
entered. Not a speck of dust was allowed anywhere, for Miss Emily's eye
was sharp, and woe betide the maid if a mere suspicion of dirt were
discovered! Everything was kept locked up. One maid who resigned
hurriedly, refusing to be criticised, afterwards declared that her
mistress kept the paraffin under lock and key.
And into this uncomfortably prim and proper household little Gabrielle
had suddenly been introduced. Her heart overburdened by grief, and full
of regret at being compelled to part from the father she so fondly
loved, she had accepted the inevitable, fully realising the dull
greyness of the life that lay before her. Surely her exile there was a
cruel and crushing one! The house seemed so tiny and so suffocating
after the splendid halls and huge rooms at Glencardine, while her aunt's
constant sarcasm about her father--whom she had not seen for eight
years--was particularly galling.
The woman treated the girl as a wayward child sent there for punishment
and correction. She showed her neither kindness nor consideration; for,
truth to tell, it annoyed her to think that her brother should have
imposed the girl upon her. She hated to be bothered with the girl; but,
existing upon Sir Henry's charity, as she really did, though none knew
it, she could do no otherwise than accept his daughter as her guest.
Days, weeks, months had passed, each day dragging on as its predecessor,
a wretched, hopeless, despairing existence to a girl so full of life and
vitality as Gabrielle. Though she had written several times to her
father, he had sent her no reply. To her mother at San Remo she had also
written, and from her had received one letter, cold and unresponsive.
From Walter Murie nothing--not a single word.
The well-thumbed books in the village library she had read, as well as
those in the possession of her aunt. She had tried needlework, problems
of patience, and the translation of a few chapters of an Italian novel
into English in order to occupy her time. But those hours when she was
alone in her little upstairs room with the sloping roof passed, alas! so
Upon her, ever oppressive, were thoughts of that bitter past. At one
staggering blow she had lost all that had made her young life worth
living--her father's esteem and her lover's love. She was innocent,
entirely innocent, of the terrible allegations against her, and yet she
was so utterly defenceless!
Often she sat at her little window for hours watching the lethargy of
village life in the street below, that rural life in which the rector
and the schoolmaster were the principal figures. The dullness of it all
was maddening. Her aunt's mid-Victorian primness, her snappishness
towards the trembling maid, and the thousand and one rules of her daily
life irritated her and jarred upon her nerves.
So, in order to kill time, and at the same time to study the antiquities
of the neighbourhood--her father having taught her so much deep
antiquarian knowledge--it had been her habit for three months past to
take long walks for many miles across the country, accompanied by the
black collie Rover belonging to a young farmer who lived at the end of
the village. The animal had one day attached itself to her while she was
taking a walk on the Apethorpe road; and now, by her feeding him daily
and making a pet of him, the girl and the dog had become inseparable. By
long walks and short train-journeys she had, in three months, been able
to inspect most of the antiquities of Northamptonshire. Much of the
history of the county was intensely interesting: the connection of old
Fotheringhay with the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots, the beauties of
Peterborough Cathedral, the splendid old Tudor house of Deene (the home
of the Earls of Cardigan), the legends of King John concerning King's
Cliffe, the gaunt splendour of ruined Kirby, and the old-world charm of
Apethorpe. All these, and many others, had great attraction for her. She
read them up in books she ordered from London, and then visited the old
places with all the enthusiasm of a spectacled antiquary.
Every day, no matter what the weather, she might be seen, in her thick
boots, burberry, and tam o'shanter, trudging along the roads or across
the fields accompanied by the faithful collie. The winter had been a
comparatively mild one, with excessive rain. But no downpour troubled
her. She liked the rain to beat into her face, for the dismal,
monotonous cheerlessness of the brown fields, bare trees, and muddy
roads was in keeping with the tragedy of her own young life.
She knew that her aunt Emily disliked her. The covert sneers, the
caustic criticisms, and the go-to-meeting attitude of the old lady
irritated the girl beyond measure. She was not wanted in that painfully
prim cottage, and had been made to understand it from the first day.
Hence it was that she spent all the time she possibly could out of
doors. Alone she had traversed the whole county, seeking permission to
glance at the interior of any old house or building that promised
archaeological interest, and by that means making some curious
Many people regarded the pretty young girl who made a study of old
churches and old houses as somewhat eccentric. Local antiquaries,
however, stared at her in wonder when they found that she was possessed
of knowledge far more profound than theirs, and that she could decipher
old documents and read Latin inscriptions with ease.
She made few friends, preferring solitude and reflection to visiting and
gossiping. Hers was, indeed, a pathetic little figure, and the
countryfolk used to stare at her in surprise and sigh as she passed
through the various little hamlets and villages so regularly, the black
collie bounding before her.
Quickly she had become known as "Miss Heyburn's niece," and the report
having spread that she was "a bit eccentric, poor thing," people soon
ceased to wonder, and began to regard that pale, sad face with sympathy.
The whole country-side was wondering why such a pretty young lady had
gone to live in the deadly dullness of Woodnewton, and what was the
cause of that great sorrow written upon her countenance.
Her daily burden of bitter reflection was, indeed, hard to bear. Her one
thought, as she walked those miles of lonely rural byways, so bare and
cheerless, was of Walter--her Walter--the man who, she knew, would have
willingly given his very life for hers. She had met her just punishment,
and was now endeavouring to bear it bravely. She had renounced his love
One afternoon, dark and rainy, in the gloom of early March, she was
sitting at the old-fashioned and rather tuneless piano in the damp,
unused "best room," which was devoid of fire for economic reasons. Her
aunt was seated in the window busily crocheting, while she, with her
white fingers running across the keys, raised her sweet contralto voice
in that old-world Florentine song that for centuries has been sung by
the populace in the streets of the city by the Arno:
In questa notte in sogno l'ho veduto
Era vestito tutto di braccato,
Le piume sul berretto di velluto
Ed una spada d'oro aveva allato.
E poi m'ha detto con un bel sorriso;
Io no, non posso star da te diviso,
Da te diviso non ci posso stare
E torno per mai pin non ti lasciare.
Miss Heyburn sighed, and looked up from her work. "Can't you sing
something in English, Gabrielle? It would be much better," she remarked
in a snappy tone.
The girl's mouth hardened slightly at the corners, and she closed the
piano without replying.
"I don't mean you to stop," exclaimed the ascetic old lady. "I only
think that girls, instead of learning foreign songs, should be able to
sing English ones properly. Won't you sing another?"
"No," replied the girl, rising. "The rain has ceased, so I shall go for
my walk;" and she left the room to put on her hat and mackintosh,
passing along before the window a few minutes later in the direction of
It was always the same. If she indulged herself in singing one or other
of those ancient love-songs of the hot-blooded Tuscan peasants her aunt
always scolded. Nothing she did was right, for the simple reason that
she was an unwelcome visitor.
She was alone. Rover was conducting sheep to Stamford market, as was his
duty every week; therefore in the fading daylight she went along,
immersed in her own sad thoughts. Her walk at that hour was entirely
aimless. She had only gone forth because of the irritation she felt at
her aunt's constant complaints. So entirely engrossed was she by her own
despair that she had not noticed the figure of a man who, catching sight
of her at the end of Woodnewton village, had held back until she had
gone a considerable distance, and had then sauntered leisurely in the
direction she had taken.
The man kept her in view, but did not approach her. The high, red
mail-cart passed, and the driver touched his hat respectfully to her.
The man who collected the evening mail from all the villages between
Deene and Peterborough met her almost every evening, and had long ago
inquired and learnt who she was.
For nearly two miles she walked onward, until, close by the junction of
the road which comes down the hill from Nassington, the man who had been
following hastened up and overtook her.
She heard herself addressed by name, and, turning quickly, found herself
face to face with James Flockart.
THE VELVET PAW
The new-comer stood before Gabrielle, hat in hand, smiling pleasantly
and uttering a greeting of surprise.
Her response was cold, for was not all her present unhappiness due to
"I've come here to speak to you, Gabrielle--to speak to you in
"Whatever you have to say may surely be said in the hearing of a third
person?" was her dignified answer. His sudden appearance had startled
her, but only for a moment. She was cool again next instant, and on her
guard against her enemy.
"I hardly think," he said, with a meaning smile, "that you would really
like me to speak before a third party."
"I really care nothing," was her answer. "And I cannot see why you seek
me here. When one is hopeless, as I am, one becomes callous of what the
future may bring."
"Hopeless! Yes," he said in a changed voice, "I know that; living in
this dismal hole, Gabrielle, you must be hopeless. I know that your
exile here, away from all your friends and those you love, must be
soul-killing. Don't think that I have not reflected upon it a hundred
"Ah, then you have at last experienced remorse!" she cried bitterly,
looking straight into the man's face. "You have estranged me from my
father, and tried to ruin him! You lied to him--lied in order to save
The man laughed. "My dear child," he exclaimed, "you really misjudge me
entirely. I am here for two reasons: to ask your forgiveness for making
that allegation which was imperative; and, secondly, to assure you that,
if you will allow me, I will yet be your friend."
"Friend!" she echoed in a hollow voice. "You--my friend!"
"Yes. I know that you mistrust me," he replied; "but I want to prove
that my intentions towards you are those of real friendship."
"And you, who ever since my girlhood days have been my worst enemy, ask
me now to trust you!" she exclaimed with indignation. "No; go back to
Lady Heyburn and tell her that I refuse to accept the olive-branch which
you and she hold out to me."
"My dear girl, you don't follow me," he exclaimed impatiently. "This has
nothing whatever to do with Lady Heyburn. I have come to you from purely
personal motives. My sole desire is to effect your return to
"For your own ends, Mr. Flockart, without a doubt!" she said bitterly.
"Ah! there you are quite mistaken. Though you assert that I am your
father's enemy, I am, I tell you, his friend. He is ever thinking of you
with regret. You were his right hand. Would it not be far better if he
invited you to return?"
She sighed at the thought of the blind man whom she regarded with such
entire devotion, but answered, "No, I shall never return to
"Why?" he asked. "Was it anything more than natural that, believing you
had been prying into his affairs, your father, in a moment of anger,
condemned you to this life of appalling monotony?"
"No, not more natural than that you, the culprit, should have made me
the scapegoat for the second time," was her defiant reply.
"Have I not already told you that the reason I'm here is to crave your
forgiveness? I admit that my actions have been the reverse of
honourable; but--well, there were circumstances which compelled me to
act as I did."
"You got an impression of my father's safe-key, had a duplicate made in
Glasgow, as I have found out, and one night opened the safe and copied
certain private documents having regard to a proposed loan to the Greek
Government. The night I discovered you was the second occasion when you
went to the library and opened the safe. Do you deny that?"
"What you allege, Gabrielle, is perfectly correct," he replied. "I know
that I was a blackguard to shield myself behind you--to tell the lie I
did that night. But how could I avoid it?"
"Suppose I had, in retaliation, spoken the truth?" she asked, looking
the man straight in the face.
"Ah! I knew that you would not do that."
"You believe that I dare not--dare not for my own sake, eh?"
He nodded in the affirmative.
"Then you are much mistaken, Mr. Flockart," she said in a hard voice.
"You don't understand that a woman may become desperate."
"I can understand how desperate you have become, living in this 'Sleepy
Hollow.' A week of it would, I admit, drive me to distraction."
"Then if you understand my present position you will know that I am
fearless of you, or of anybody else. My life has ended. I have neither
happiness, comfort, peace of mind, nor love. All is of the past. To
you--you, James Flockart--I am indebted for all this! You have held me
powerless. I was a happy girl once, but you and your dastardly friends
crossed my path like an evil shadow, and I have existed in an inferno of
remorse ever since. I----"
"Remorse! How absurdly you talk!"
"It will not be absurd when I speak the truth and tell the world what I
know. It will be rather a serious matter for you, Mr. Flockart."
"You threaten me, then?" he asked, his eyes flashing for a second.
"I think it is as well for us to understand one another at once," she
They had halted upon a small bridge close to the entrance to Apethorpe
"Then I'm to understand that you refuse my proffered assistance?" he
"I require no assistance from my enemies," was her defiant and dignified
reply. "I suppose Lady Heyburn is at the villa at San Remo as usual, and
that it was she who sent you to me, because she recognises that you've
both gone a little too far. You have. When the opportunity arises, then
I shall speak, regardless of the consequences. Therefore, Mr. Flockart,
I wish you good-evening;" and she turned away.
"No, Gabrielle," he cried, resolutely barring her path. "You must hear
me. You don't grasp the point of my argument."
"With me none of your arguments are of any avail," was her response in a
bitter tone. "I, alas! have reason to know you too well. For you--by
your clever intrigue--I committed a crime; but God knows I am innocent
of what was intended. Now that you have estranged me from my father and
my lover, I shall confess--confess all--before I make an end of my
He saw from her pale, drawn face that she was desperate. He grew afraid.
"But, my dear girl, think--of what you are saying! You don't mean it;
you can't mean it. Your father has relented, and will welcome you back,
if only you will consent to return."
"I have no wish to be regarded as the prodigal daughter," was her proud
"Not for Walter Murie's sake?" asked the crafty man. "I have seen him. I
was at the club with him last night, and we had a chat about you. He
loves you very dearly. Ah! you do not know how he is suffering."
She was silent, and he recognised in an instant that his words had
touched the sympathetic chord in her heart.
"He is not suffering any greater grief than I am," she said in a low,
mechanical voice, her brow heavily clouded.
"Of course I can quite understand that," he remarked sympathetically.
"Walter is a good fellow, and--well, it is indeed sad that matters
should be as they are. He is entirely devoted to you, Gabrielle."
"Not more so than I am to him," declared the girl quite frankly.
"Then why did you write breaking off your engagement?"
"He told you that?" she exclaimed in surprise.
The truth was that Murie had told Flockart nothing. He had not even seen
him. It was only a wild guess on Flockart's part.
"Tell me," she urged anxiously, "what did he say concerning myself?"
Flockart hesitated. His mind was instantly active in the concoction of a
"Oh, well--he expressed the most profound regret for all that had
occurred at Glencardine, and is, of course, utterly puzzled. It appears
that just before Christmas he went home to Connachan and visited your
father several times. From him, I suppose, he heard how you had been
"You told him nothing?"
"I told him nothing," declared Flockart--which was a fact.
"Did he express a wish to see me?" she inquired.
"Of course he did. Is he not over head and ears in love with you? He
believes you have treated him cruelly."
"I--I know I have, Mr. Flockart," she admitted. "But I acted as any girl
of honour would have done. I was compelled to take upon myself a great
disgrace, and on doing so I released him from his promise to me."
"Most honourable!" the man declared with a pretence of admiration, yet
underlying it all was a craftiness that surely was unsurpassed. That
visit of his to Northamptonshire was made with some ulterior motive, yet
what it was the girl was unable to discover. She would surely have been
cleverer than most people had she been able to discern the hidden,
sinister motives of James Flockart. The truth was that he had not seen
Murie, and the story of his anxiety he had only concocted on the spur of
"Walter asked me to give you a message," he went on. "He asked me to
urge you to return to Glencardine, and to withdraw that letter you wrote
him before your departure."
"To return to Glencardine!" she repeated, staring into his face. "Walter
wishes me to do that! Why?"
"Because he loves you. Because he will intercede with your father on
"My father will hear nothing in my favour until--" and she paused.
"Until I tell him the whole truth."
"That you will never do," remarked Flockart quickly.
"Ah! there you're mistaken," she responded. "In all probability I
"Then, before you do so, pray weigh carefully the dire results," he
urged in a changed tone.
"Oh, I've already done that long ago," she said. "I know that I am in
your hands, utterly and irretrievably, Mr. Flockart, and the only way I
can regain my freedom is by boldly telling the truth."
"You must never do that! By Heaven, you shall not!" he cried, looking
fiercely into her clear eyes.
"I know! I'm quite well aware of your attitude towards me. The claws
cannot be entirely concealed in the cat's paw, you know;" and she
laughed bitterly into his face.
The corners of the man's mouth hardened. He was about to speak and show
himself in his true colours; but by dint of great self-control he
managed to smile and exclaim, "Then you will take no heed of these
wishes of the man who loves you so dearly, of the man who is still your
best and most devoted friend? You prefer to remain here, and wear out
your young life with vain regrets and shattered affections. Come,
Gabrielle, do be sensible."
The girl did not speak for several moments. "Does Walter really wish me
to return?" she asked, looking straight at him, as though trying to
discern whether he was really speaking the truth.
"Yes. He expressed to me a strong wish that you should either return to
Glencardine or go and live at Park Street."
"He wishes to see me?"
"Of course. It would perhaps be better if you met him first, either down
here or in London. Why should you two not be happy?" he went on. "I know
it is my fault you are consigned to this dismal life, and that you and
Walter are parted; but, believe me, Gabrielle, I am at this moment
endeavouring to bring you together again, and to reinstate you in Sir
Henry's good graces. He is longing for you to return. When I saw him
last at Glencardine he told me that Monsieur Goslin was not so clever at
typing or in grasping his meaning as you are, and he is only awaiting
"That may be so," answered the girl in a slow, distinct voice; "but
perhaps you'll tell me, Mr. Flockart, the reason you evinced such an
unwonted curiosity in my father's affairs?"
"My dear girl," laughed the man, "surely that isn't a fair question. I
had certain reasons of my own."
"Yes; assisted by Lady Heyburn, you thought that you could make money by
obtaining knowledge of my father's secrets. Oh yes, I know--I know more
than you have ever imagined," declared the girl boldly. "You hope to get
rid of Monsieur Goslin from Glencardine and reinstate me--for your own
ends. I see it all."
The man bit his lip. With chagrin he recognised that he had blundered,
and that she, shrewd and clever, had taken advantage of his error. He
was, however, too clever to exhibit his annoyance.
"You are quite wrong in your surmise, Gabrielle," he said quickly.
"Walter Murie loves you, and loves you well. Therefore, with regret at
my compulsory denunciation of yourself, I am now endeavouring to assist
"Thank you," she responded coldly, again turning away abruptly. "I
require no assistance from a man such as yourself--a man who entrapped
me, and who denounced me in order to save himself."
"You will regret these words," he declared, as she walked away in the
direction of Woodnewton.
She turned upon him in fierce anger, retorting, "And perhaps you, on
your part, will regret your endeavour to entrap me a second time. I have
promised to speak the truth, and I shall keep my promise. I am not
afraid to sacrifice my own life to save my father's honour!"
The man stood staring after her. These words of hers held him
motionless. What if she flung her good name to the winds and actually
carried out her threat? What if she really spoke the truth? Ay, what
BETRAYS THE BOND
The girl hurried on, her heart filled with wonder, her eyes brimming
with tears of indignation. The one thought occupying her whole mind was
whether Walter really wished to see her again. Had Flockart spoken the
truth? The serious face of the man she loved so well rose before her
blurred vision. She had been his--his very own--until she had sent off
that fateful letter.
In five minutes Flockart had again overtaken her. His attitude was
appealing. He urged her to at least see her lover again even if she
refused to write or return to her father.
"Why do you come here to taunt me like this?" she cried, turning upon
him angrily. "Once, because you were my mother's friend, I believed in
you. But you deceived me, and in consequence you hold me in your power.
Were it not for that I could have spoken to my father--have told him the
truth and cleared myself. He now believes that I have betrayed his
business secrets, while at the same time he considers you to be his
"I am his friend, Gabrielle," the man declared.
"Why tell me such a lie?" she asked reproachfully. "Do you think I too
"Certainly not. I give you credit for being quite as clever and as
intelligent as you are dainty and charming. I----"
"Thank you!" she cried in indignation. "I require no compliments from
"Lady Heyburn has expressed a wish to see you," he said. "She is still
in San Remo, and asked me to invite you to go down there for a few
weeks. Your aunt has written her, I think, complaining that you are not
very comfortable at Woodnewton."
"I have not complained. Why should Aunt Emily complain of me? You seem
to be the bearer of messages from the whole of my family, Mr. Flockart."
"I am here entirely in your own interests, my dear child," he declared
with that patronising air which so irritated her.
"Not entirely, I think," she said, smiling bitterly.
"I tell you, I much regret all that has happened, and----"
"You regret!" she cried fiercely. "Do you regret the end of that
woman--you know whom I mean?"
Beneath her straight glance he quivered. She had referred to a subject
which he fain would have buried for ever. This dainty neat-waisted girl
knew a terrible secret. Was it not only too true, as Lady Heyburn had
vaguely suggested a dozen times, that her mouth ought to be effectually
He had sealed it once, as he thought. Her fear to explain to her father
the incident of the opening of the safe had given him confidence that no
word of the truth regarding the past would ever pass her lips. Yet he
saw that his own machinations were now likely to prove his undoing. The
web which, with her ladyship's assistance, he had woven about her was
now stretched to breaking-point. If it did yield, then the result must
be ruin--and worse. Therefore, he was straining every effort to again
reinstate her in her father's good graces and restore in her mind
something akin to confidence. But all his arguments, as he walked on at
her side in the gathering gloom, proved useless. She was in no mood to
listen to the man who had been her evil genius ever since her
school-days. As he was speaking she was wondering if she dared go to
Walter Murie and tell him everything. What would her lover think of her?
What indeed? He would only cast her aside as worthless. No. Far better
that he should remain in ignorance and retain only sad memories of their
"I am going to Glencardine to-night," Flockart went on. "I shall join
the mail at Peterborough. What shall I tell your father?"
"Tell him the truth," was her reply. "That, I know, you will not do. So
why need we waste further words?"
"Do you actually refuse, then, to leave this dismal hole?" he demanded
"Yes, until I speak, and tell my father the plain and ghastly story."
"Rubbish!" he ejaculated. "You'll never do that--unless you wish to
stand beside me in a criminal dock."
"Well, rather that than be your cat's-paw longer, Mr. Flockart!" she
cried, her face flushing with indignation.
"Oh, oh!" he laughed, still quite imperturbed. "Come, come! This is
scarcely a wise reply, my dear little girl!"
"I wish you to leave me. You have insulted my intelligence enough this
evening, surely--you, who only a moment ago declared yourself my
Slowly he selected a cigarette from his gold case, and, halting, lit it.
"Well, if you meet my well-meant efforts on your behalf with open
antagonism like this I can't make any further suggestion."
"No, please don't. Go up to Glencardine and do your worst for me. I am
now fully able to take care of myself," she exclaimed in defiance. "You
can also write to Lady Heyburn, and tell her that I am still, and that I
always will remain, my blind father's friend."
"But why don't you listen to reason, Gabrielle?" he implored her. "I
don't now seek to lessen or deny the wrongs I have done you in the past,
nor do I attempt to conceal from you my own position. My only object is
to bring you and Walter together again. Her ladyship knows the whole
circumstances, and deeply regrets them."
"Her regret will be the more poignant some day, I assure you."
"Then you really intend to act vindictively?"
"I shall act just as I think proper," she exclaimed, halting a moment
and facing him. "Please understand that though I have been forced in the
past to act as you have indicated, because I feared you--because I had
my reputation and my father's honour at stake--I hold you in terror no
longer, Mr. Flockart."
"Well, I'm glad you've told me that," he said, laughing as though he
treated her declaration with humour. "It's just as well, perhaps, that
we should now thoroughly understand each other. Yet if I were you I
wouldn't do anything rash. By telling the truth you'd be the only
sufferer, you know."
"The only sufferer! Why?"
"Well, you don't imagine I should be such a fool as to admit that what
you said was true, do you?"
She looked at him in surprise. It had never occurred to her that he,
with his innate unscrupulousness and cunning, might deny her
allegations, and might even be able to prove them false.
"The truth could not be denied," she said simply. "Recollect the cutting
from the Edinburgh paper."
"Truth is denied every day in courts of law," he retorted. "No. Before
you act foolishly, remember that, put to the test, your word would stand
alone against mine and those of other people.
"Why, the very story you would tell would be so utterly amazing and
startling that the world would declare you had invented it. Reflect upon
it for a moment, and you'll find, my dear girl, that silence is golden
in this, as in any other circumstance in life."
She raised her eyes to his, and met his gaze firmly. "So you defy me to
speak?" she cried. "You think that I will still remain in this accursed
bondage of yours?"
"I utter no threats, my dear child," replied Flockart. "I have never in
my life threatened you. I merely venture to point out certain
difficulties which you might have in substantiating any allegation which
you might make against me. For that reason, if for none other, is it not
better for us to be friends?"
"I am not the friend of my father's enemy!" she declared.
"You are quite heroic," he declared with a covert sneer. "If you really
are bent upon providing the halfpenny newspapers with a fresh sensation,
pray let me know in plenty of time, won't you?"
"I've had sufficient of your taunts," cried the girl, bursting into a
flood of hot tears. "Leave me. I--I'll say no further word to you."
"Except to forgive me," He added.
"Why should I?" she asked through her tears.
"Because, for your own sake--for the sake of your future--it will surely
be best," he pointed out. "You, no doubt, in ignorance of legal
procedure, believed that what you alleged would be accepted in a court
of justice. But reflect fully before you again threaten me. Dry your
eyes, or your aunt may suspect something wrong."
She did not reply. What he said impressed her, and he did not fail to
recognise that fact. He smiled within himself when he saw that he had
triumphed. Yet he had not gained his point.
She had dashed away her tears with the little wisp of lace, annoyed with
herself at betraying her indignation in that womanly way. She knew him,
alas! too well. She mistrusted him, for she was well aware of how
cleverly he had once conspired with Lady Heyburn, and with what
ingenuity she herself had been drawn into the disgraceful and amazing
True it was that her story, if told in a criminal court, would prove so
extraordinary that it would not be believed; true also that he would, of
course, deny it, and that his denial would be borne out by the woman
who, though her father's wife, was his worst enemy.
The man placed his hand on her shoulder, saying, "May we not be friends,
She shook him off roughly, responding in the negative.
"But we are not enemies--I mean we will not be enemies as we have been,
shall we?" he urged.
To this she made no reply. She only quickened her pace, for the twilight
was fast deepening, and she wished to be back again at her aunt's house.
Why had that man followed her? Why, indeed, had he troubled to come
there? She could not discern his motive.
They walked together in silence. He was watching her face, reading it
like a book.
Then, when they neared the first thatched cottage at the entrance to the
village, he halted, asking, "May we not now become friends, Gabrielle?
Will you not listen, and take my advice? Or will you still remain buried
"I have nothing further to say, Mr. Flockart, than what I have already
said," was her defiant response. "I shall act as I think best."
"And you will dare to speak, and place yourself in a ridiculous
position, you mean?"
"I shall use my own judgment in defending my father from his enemies,"
was her cold response as, with a slight shrug of her shoulders, she
turned and left him, hurrying forward in the darkening twilight along
the village street to her aunt's home.
He, on his part, turned upon his heel with a muttered remark and set out
again to walk towards Nassington Station, whence, after nearly an hour's
wait in the village inn, he took train to Peterborough.
The girl had once again defied him.
THE WHISPERS AGAIN
Was it really true what Flockart had told her? Did Walter actually wish
to see her again? At one moment she believed in her lover's strong,
passionate devotion to her, for had she not seen it displayed in a
hundred different ways? But the next she recollected how that man
Flockart had taken advantage of her youth and inexperience in the past,
how he had often lied so circumstantially that she had believed his
words to be the truth. Once, indeed, he had openly declared to her that
one of his maxims was never to tell the truth unless obliged. After
dinner, a simple meal served in the poky little dining-room, she made an
excuse to go to her room, and there sat for a long time, deeply
reflecting. Should she write to Walter? Would it be judicious to explain
Flockart's visit, and how he had urged their reconciliation? If she
wrote, would it lower her dignity in her lover's eyes? That was the
great problem which now troubled her. She sat staring before her
undecided. She recalled all that Flockart had told her. He was the
emissary of Lady Heyburn without a doubt. The girl had told him openly
of her decision to speak the truth and expose him, but he had only
laughed at her. Alas! she knew his true character, unscrupulous and
pitiless. But she placed him aside.
Recollection of Walter--the man who had held her so often in his arms
and pressed his hot lips to hers, the man who was her father's firm
friend and whose uprightness and honesty of purpose she had ever
admired--crowded upon her. Should she write to him? Rigid and staring,
she sat in her chair, her little white hands clenched, as she tried to
summon courage. It had been she who had written declaring that their
secret engagement must be broken, she who had condemned herself.
Therefore, had she not a right to satisfy that longing she had had
through months, the longing to write to him once again. The thought
decided her; and, going to the table whereon the lamp was burning, she
sat down, and after some reflection, penned a letter as follows:--
"MY SWEETHEART, MY DARLING, MY OWN, MY SOUL--MINE--ONLY MINE,--I am
wondering how and where you are! True, I wrote you a cruel letter; but
it was imperative, and under the force of circumstance. I am full of
regrets, and I only wish with all my heart that I might kiss you once
again, and press you in my arms as I used to do.
"But how are you? I have had you before my eyes to-night, and I feel
quite sure that at this very moment you are thinking of me. You must
know that I love you dearly. You gave me your heart, and it shall not
belong to any other. I have tried to be brave and courageous; but, alas!
I have failed. I love you, my darling, and I must see you soon--very
"Mr. Flockart came to see me to-day and says that you expressed to him a
desire to meet me again. Gratify that desire when you will, and you will
find your Gabrielle just the same--longing ever to see you, living with
only the memories of your dear face.
"Can you doubt of my great, great love for you? You never wrote in reply
to my letter, though I have waited for months. I know my letter was a
cruel one, and to you quite unwarranted; but I had a reason for writing
it, and the reason was because I felt that I ought not to deceive you
"You see, darling, I am frank and open. Yes, I have deceived you. I am
terribly ashamed and downhearted. I have tried to conceal my grief, even
from you; but it is impossible. I love you as much as I ever loved you,
and I swear to you that I have never once wavered.
"Grim circumstance forced me to write to you as I did. Forgive me, I beg
of you. If it is true what Mr. Flockart says, then send me a telegram,
and come here to see me. If it be false, then I shall know by your
"I love you, my own, my well-beloved! _Au revoir_, my dearest heart. I
look at your photograph which to-night smiles at me. Yes, you love me!
"With many fond and sweet kisses like those I gave you in the
well-remembered days of our happiness.
"My love--My king!"
She read the letter carefully through, placed it in an envelope, and,
marking it private, addressed it to Walter's chambers in the Temple,
whence she knew it must be forwarded if he were away. Then, putting on
her tam o' shanter, she went out to the village grocer's, where she
posted it, so that it left by the early morning mail. When would his
welcome telegram arrive? She calculated that he would get the letter by
mid-day, and by one o'clock she could receive his reply--his reassurance
So she went to her bed, with its white dimity hangings, more calm and
composed than for months before. For a long time she lay awake, thinking
of him, listening hour by hour to the chiming bells of the old Norman
church. They marked the passing of the night. Then she dropped off to
sleep, to be awakened by the sun streaming into the room.
That same morning, away up in the Highlands at Glencardine, Sir Henry
had groped his way across the library to his accustomed chair, and Hill
had placed before him one of the shallow drawers of the cabinet of
There were fully half a dozen which had been sent to him by the curator
of the museum at Norwich, sulphur-casts of seals recently acquired by
The blind man had put aside that morning to examine them, and settled
himself to his task with the keen and pleasurable anticipation of the
They were very fine specimens. The blind man, sitting alone, selected
one, and, fingering it very carefully for a long time, at last made out
its design and the inscription upon it.
"The seal of Abbot Simon de Luton, of the early thirteenth century," he
said slowly to himself. "The wolf guards the head of St. Edmund as it
does in the seal of the Benedictine Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, while the
Virgin with the Child is over the canopy. And the verse is indeed
curious for its quaintness:"
+ VIRGO . DEUM . FERT . DUX . CAPUD . AUFERT . QUOD . LUPUS . HIC . FERT +
Then he again retraced the letters with his sensitive fingers to
reassure himself that he had made no mistake.
The next he drew towards him proved to be the seal of the Vice-Warden of
the Grey Friars of Cambridge, a pointed one used about the year 1244,
which to himself he declared, in heraldic language, to bear the device
of "a cross raguly debruised by a spear, and a crown of thorns in bend
dexter, and a sponge on a staff in bend sinister, between two threefold
_flagella_ in base"--surely a formidable array of the instruments used
in the Passion.
Deeply interested, and speaking to himself aloud, as was his habit when
alone, he examined them one after the other. Among the collection were
the seals of Berengar de Brolis, Plebanus of Pacina (in Syracuse), and
those of the Commune of Beauvais (1228); Mathilde (or Mahaut), daughter
of Henri Duke of Brabant (1265); the town of Oudenbourg in West
Flanders, and of the Vicar-Provincial of the Carmelite Order at Palermo
(1350); Jacobus de Gnapet, Bishop of Rennes (1480); and of Bondi Marquis
of Sasolini of Bologna (1323).
He had almost concluded when Goslin, the grey-bearded Frenchman, having
breakfasted alone in the dining-room, entered. "Ah, _mon cher_ Sir
Henry!" he exclaimed, "at work so early! The study of seals must be very
fascinating to you, though I confess that, for myself, I could never see
in them very much to interest one."
"No. To the ordinary person, my dear Goslin, it appears no doubt, a most
dryasdust study, but to a man afflicted like myself it is the only study
that he can pursue, for with his finger tips he can learn the devices
and decipher the inscriptions," the blind Baronet declared. "Take, for
instance, only this little collection of a dozen or so impressions which
they have so kindly sent to me from Norwich. Each one of them tells me
something. Its device, its general character, its heraldry, its
inscription, are all highly instructive. For the collector there are
opportunities for the study of the historical allusions, the
emblematology and imagery, the hagiology, the biographical and
topographical episodes, and the other peculiarities and idiosyncrasies
in all the seals he possesses."
Goslin, like most other people, had been many times bored by the old
man's technical discourses upon his hobby. But he never showed it. He,
just the same as other people, made pretence of being interested. "Yes,"
he remarked, "they must be most instructive to the student. I recollect
seeing a great quantity in the Bargello at Florence."
"Ah, a very fine collection--part of the Medici collection, and contains
some of the finest Italian and Spanish specimens," remarked the blind
connoisseur. "Birch of the British Museum is quite right in declaring
that the seal, portable and abounding in detail, not difficult of
acquisition nor hard to read if we set about deciphering the story it
has to tell, takes us back as we look upon it to the very time of its
making, and sets us, as it were, face to face with the actual owners of
The Frenchman sighed. He saw he was in for a long dissertation; and,
moving uneasily towards the window, changed the topic of conversation by
saying, "I had a long letter from Paris this morning. Krail is back
again, it appears."
"Ah, that man!" cried the other impatiently. "When will his
extraordinary energies be suppressed? They are watching him carefully, I
"Of course," replied the Frenchman. "He left Paris about a month ago,
but unfortunately the men watching him did not follow. He took train for
Berlin, and has been absent until now."
"We ought to know where he's been, Goslin," declared the elder man.
"What fool was it who, keeping him under surveillance, allowed him to
slip from Paris?"
"The Russian Tchernine."
"I thought him a clever fellow, but it seems that he's a bungler after
"But while we keep Krail at arm's length, as we are doing, what have we
to fear?" asked Goslin.
"Yes, but how long can we keep him at arm's length?" queried Sir Henry.
"You know the kind of man--one of the most extraordinarily inventive in
Europe. No secret is safe from him. Do you know, Goslin," he added, in a
changed voice, "I live nowadays somehow in constant apprehension."
"You've never possessed the same self-confidence since you found
Mademoiselle Gabrielle with the safe open," he remarked.
"No. Murie, or some other man she knows, must have induced her to do
that, and take copies of those documents. Fortunately, I suspected an
attempt, and baited the trap accordingly."
"What caused you to suspect?"
"Because more than once both Murie and the girl seemed to be seized by
an unusual desire to pry into my business."
"You don't think that our friend Flockart had anything to do with the
affair?" the Frenchman suggested.
"No, no. Not in the least. I know Flockart too well," declared the old
man. "Once I looked upon him as my enemy, but I have now come to the
conclusion that he is a friend--a very good friend."
The Frenchman pulled a rather wry face, and remained silent.
"I know," Sir Henry went on, "I know quite well that his constant
association with my wife has caused a good deal of gossip; but I have
dismissed it all with the contempt that such attempted scandal deserves.
It has been put about by a pack of women who are jealous of my wife's
good looks and her _chic_ in dress."
"Are not Flockart and mademoiselle also good friends?" inquired Goslin.
"No. I happen to know that they are not, and that very fact in itself
shows me that Gabrielle, in trying to get at the secret of my business,
was not aided by Flockart, for it was he who exposed her."
"Yes," remarked the Frenchman, "so you've told me before. Have you heard
from mademoiselle lately?"
"Only twice since she has left here," was the old man's bitter reply,
"and that was twice too frequently. I've done with her, Goslin--done
with her entirely. Never in all my life did I receive such a crushing
blow as when I found that she, in whom I reposed the utmost confidence,
had played her own father false, and might have ruined him!"
"Yes," remarked the other sympathetically, "it was a great blow to you,
I know. But will you not forgive mademoiselle?"
"Forgive her!" he cried fiercely, "forgive her! Never!"
The grey-bearded Frenchman, who had always been a great favourite with
Gabrielle, sighed slightly, and gave his shoulders a shrug of regret.
"Why do you ask that?" inquired Sir Henry, "when she herself admitted
that she had been at the safe?"
"Because----" and the other hesitated. "Well, for several reasons. The
story of your quarrel with mademoiselle has leaked out."
"The Whispers--eh, Goslin?" laughed the old man in defiance. "Let the
people believe what they will. My daughter shall never return to
As he had been speaking the door had opened, and James Flockart stood
upon the threshold. He had overheard the blind man's words, and as he
came forward he smiled, more in satisfaction than in greeting.
CONTAINS A FURTHER MYSTERY
"My dear Edgar, when I met you in the Devonshire Club last night I could
scarcely believe my own eyes. Fancy you turning up again!"
"Yes, strange, isn't it, how two men may drift apart for years, and then
suddenly meet in a club, as we have done, Murie?"
"Being with those fellows who were anxious to go along and see the show
at the Empire last night, I had no opportunity of having a chat with
you, my dear old chap. That's why I asked you to look in."
The two men were seated in Walter's dingy chambers on the second floor
in Fig-Tree Court, Temple. The room was an old and rather frowsy one,
with shabby leather furniture from which the stuffing protruded,
panelled walls, a carpet almost threadbare, and a formidable array of
calf-bound volumes in the cases lining one wall. The place was heavy
with tobacco-smoke as the pair, reclining in easy-chairs, were in the
full enjoyment of very excellent cigars.
Walter's visitor was a tall, dark man, some six or seven years his
senior, a rather spare, lantern-jawed young fellow, whose dark-grey
clothes were of unmistakable foreign cut; and whose moustache was
carefully trained to an upward trend. No second glance was required to
decide that Edgar Hamilton was a person who, having lived a long time on
the Continent, had acquired the cosmopolitan manner both in gesture and
"Well," exclaimed Murie at last, blowing a cloud of smoke from his lips,
"since we parted at Oxford I've been called to the Bar, as you see. As
for practice--well, I haven't any. The gov'nor wants me to go in for
politics, so I'm trying to please him by getting my hand in. I make an
odd speech or two sometimes in out-of-the-world villages, and I hope,
one day, to find myself the adopted candidate for some borough or other.
Last year I was sent round the world by my fond parents in order to
obtain a broader view of life. Is it not Tacitus who says, '_Sua cuique
vita obscura est_'?"
"Yes, my dear fellow," replied Hamilton, stretching himself lazily in
his chair. "And surely we can say with Martial, '_Non est vivere, sed
valere vita_'--I am well, therefore I am alive! Mine has been a rather
curious career up to the present. I only once heard of you after
Oxford--through Arthur Price, who was, you'll remember, at Balliol. He
wrote that he'd spoken one night to you when at supper at the Savoy. You
had a bevy of beauties with you, he said."
Both men laughed. In the old days, Edgar Hamilton had been essentially a
ladies' man; but, since they had parted one evening on the
station-platform at Oxford, Hamilton had gone up to town and completely
out of the life of Walter Murie. They had not met until the previous
evening, when Walter, having dined at the Devonshire--that comfortable
old-world club in St. James's Street which was the famous Crockford's
gaming-house in the days of the dandies--he had met his old friend in
the strangers' smoking-room, the guest of a City stockbroker who was
entertaining a party. A hurried greeting of surprise, and an invitation
to call in at the Temple resulted in that meeting on that grey
Six years had gone since they had parted; and, judging from Edgar's
exterior, he had been pretty prosperous.
Walter was laughing and commenting upon it when his friend, removing his
cigar from his lips, said, "My dear fellow, my success has been entirely
due to one incident which is quite romantic. In fact, if anybody wrote
it in a book people would declare it to be fiction."
"That's interesting! Tell me all about it. My own life has been humdrum
enough in all conscience. As a budding politician, I have to browse upon
blue-books and chew statistics."
"And mine has been one of travel, adventure, and considerable
excitement," declared Hamilton. "Six months after I left Oxford I found
myself out in Transcaucasia as a newspaper correspondent. As you know, I
often wrote articles for some of the more precious papers when at
college. Well, one of them sent me out to travel through the disturbed
Kurdish districts. I had a tough time from the start. I was out with a
Cossack party in Thai Aras valley, east of Erivan, for six months, and
wrote lots of articles which created a good deal of sensation here in
England. You may have seen them, but they were anonymous. The life of
excitement, sometimes fighting and at others in ambush in the mountains,
suited me admirably, for I'm a born adventurer, I believe. One day,
however, a strange thing happened. I was riding along alone through one
of the mountain passes towards the Caspian when I discovered three wild,
fierce-looking Kurds maltreating a girl, believing her to be a Russian.
I called upon them to release her, for she was little more than a child;
and, as they did not, I shot two of the men. The third shot and plugged
me rather badly in the leg; but I had the satisfaction that my shots
attracted my Cossack companions, who, coming quickly on the spot, killed
all three of the girl's assailants, and released her."
"By Jove!" laughed Murie. "Was she pretty?"
"Not extraordinarily--a fair-haired girl of about fifteen, dressed in
European clothes. I fainted from loss of blood, and don't remember
anything else until I found myself in a tent, with two Cossacks patching
up my wound. When I came to, she rushed forward, and thanked me
profusely for saving her. To my surprise, she spoke in French, and on
inquiry I found that she was the daughter of a certain Baron Conrad de
Hetzendorf, an Austrian, who possessed a house in Budapest and a chateau
at Semlin, in South Hungary. She told us a curious story. Her father had
some business in Transcaucasia, and she had induced him to take her with
him on his journey. Only certain districts of the country were
disturbed; and apparently, with their guide and escort, they had
unwittingly entered the Aras region--one of the most lawless of them
all--in ignorance of what was in progress. She and her father,
accompanied by a guide and four Cossacks, had been riding along when
they met a party of Kurds, who had attacked them. Both father and
daughter had been seized, whereupon she had lost consciousness from
fright, and when she came to again found that the four Cossacks had been
killed, her father had been taken off, and she was alone in the brutal
hands of those three wild-looking tribesmen. As soon as she had told us
this, the officer of the Cossacks to which I had attached myself called
the men together, and in a quarter of an hour the whole body went forth
to chase the Kurds and rescue the Baron. One big Cossack, in his long
coat and astrakhan cap, was left to look after me, while Nicosia--that
was the girl's name--was also left to assist him. After three days they
returned, bringing with them the Baron, whose delight at finding his
daughter safe and unharmed was unbounded. They had fought the Kurds and
defeated them, killing nearly twenty. Ah, my dear Murie, you haven't any
notion of the lawless state of that country just then! And I fear it is
pretty much the same now."
"Well, go on," urged his friend. "What about the girl? I suppose you
fell in love with her, and all that, eh?"
"No, you're mistaken there, old chap," was his reply. "When she
explained to her father what had happened, the Baron thanked me very
warmly, and invited me to visit him in Budapest when my leg grew strong
again. He was a man of about fifty, who, I found, spoke English very
well. Nicosia also spoke English, for she had explained to me that her
mother, now dead, had been a Londoner. The Baron's business in
Transcaucasia was, he told me vaguely, in connection with the survey of
a new railway which the Russian Government was projecting eastward from
Erivan. For two days he remained with us; but during those days my wound
was extremely painful owing to lack of surgical appliances, so we spoke
of very little else besides the horrible atrocities committed by the
Kurds. He pressed me to visit him; and then, with an escort of our
Cossacks, he and his daughter left for Tiflis; whence he took train back
"For six months I remained, still leading that roving, adventurous life.
My leg was well again, but my journalistic commission was at an end, and
one day I found myself in Odessa, very short of funds. I recollected the
Baron's invitation to Budapest, therefore I took train there, and found
his residence to be one of those great white houses on the Franz Josef
Quay. He received me with marked enthusiasm, and compelled me to be his
guest. During the first week I was there I told him, in confidence, my
position, whereupon he offered me a very lucrative post as his
secretary, a post which I have retained until this moment."
"And the girl?" Walter asked, much interested.
"Oh, she finished her education in Dresden and in Paris, and now lives
mostly with her aunt in Vienna," was Hamilton's response. "Quite
recently she's become engaged to young Count de Solwegen, the son of one
of the wealthiest men in Austria."
"I thought you'd probably become the happy lover."
"Lover!" cried his friend. "How could a poor devil like myself ever
aspire to the hand of the daughter of the Baron de Hetzendorf? The name
doesn't convey much to you, I suppose?"
"No, I don't take much interest in unknown foreigners, I confess,"
replied Walter, with a smile.
"Ah, you're not a cosmopolitan nor a financier, or you would know the
thousand-and-one strings which are pulled by Conrad de Hetzendorf, or
the curious stories afloat concerning him."
"Curious stories!" echoed Murie. "Tell me some. I'm always interested in
Hamilton was silent for a few moments.
"Well, old chap, to tell you the truth, even though I've got such a
comfortable and lucrative post, I'm, even after these years,
"By the real nature of the Baron's business."
"Oh, he's a mysterious person, is he?"
"Very. Though I'm his confidential secretary, and deal with his affairs
in his absence, yet in some matters he is remarkably close, as though he
"You live always in Budapest, I suppose?"
"No. In summer we are at the country house, a big place overlooking the
Danube outside Semlin, and commanding a wide view of the great Hungarian
"The Baron transacts his business there, eh?"
"From there or from Budapest. His business is solely with an office in
the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, and a registered telegraphic
address also in Paris."
"Well, there's nothing very mysterious in that, surely. Some business
matters must, of necessity, be conducted with secrecy."
"I know all that, my dear fellow, but--" and he hesitated, as though
fearing to take his friend into his confidence.
"Well--but there, no! You'd laugh at me if I told you the real reason of
"I certainly won't, my dear Hamilton," Murie assured him. "We are
friends to-day, dear old chap, just as we were at college. Surely it is
not the place of a man to poke fun at his friend?"
The argument was apparently convincing. The Baron's secretary smoked on
in thoughtful silence, his eyes fixed upon the wall in front of him.
"Well," he said at last, "if you promise to view the matter in all
seriousness, I'll tell you. Briefly, it's this. Of course, you've never
been to Semlin--or Zimony, as they call it in the Magyar tongue. To
understand aright, I must describe the place. In the extreme south of
Hungary, where the river Save joins the Danube, the town of Semlin
guards the frontier. Upon a steep hill, five kilometres from the town,
stands the Baron's residence, a long, rather inartistic white building,
which, however, is very luxuriously furnished. Comparatively modern, it
stands near the ruins of a great old castle of Hetzendorf, which
commands a wide sweep of the Danube. Now, amid those ruins strange
noises are sometimes heard, and it is said that upon all who hear them
falls some terrible calamity. I'm not superstitious, but I've heard
them--on three occasions! And somehow--well, somehow--I cannot get rid
of an uncanny feeling that some catastrophe is to befall me! I can't go
back to Semlin. I'm unnerved, and dare not return there."
"Noises!" cried Walter Murie. "What are they like?" he asked quickly,
starting from his chair, and staring at his friend.
"They seem to emanate from nowhere, and are like deep but distant
whispers. So plain they were that I could have sworn that some one was
speaking, and in English, too!"
"Does the baron know?"
"Yes, I told him, and he appeared greatly alarmed. Indeed, he gave me
leave of absence to come home to England."
"Well," exclaimed Murie, "what you tell me, old chap, is most
extraordinary! Why, there is almost an exactly similar legend connected
"Glencardine!" cried his friend. "Glencardine Castle, in Scotland! I've
heard of that. Do you know the place?"
"The estate marches with my father's, therefore I know it well. How
extraordinary that there should be almost exactly the same legend
concerning a Hungarian castle!"
"Who is the owner of Glencardine?"
"Sir Henry Heyburn, a friend of mine."
"Heyburn!" echoed Hamilton. "Heyburn the blind man?" he gasped, grasping
the arm of his chair and staring back at his companion. "And he is your
friend? You know his daughter, then?"
"Yes, I know Gabrielle," was Walter's reply, as there flashed across him
the recollection of that passionate letter to which he had not replied.
"Is she also your friend?"
"She certainly is."
Hamilton was silent. He saw that he was treading dangerous ground. The
legend of Glencardine was the same as that of the old Magyar stronghold
of Hetzendorf. Gabrielle Heyburn was Murie's friend. Therefore he
resolved to say no more.
REVEALS SOMETHING TO HAMILTON
Edgar Hamilton sat with his eyes fixed upon the dingy, inartistic,
smoke-begrimed windows of the chambers opposite. The man before him was
acquainted with Gabrielle Heyburn! For over a year he had not been in
London. He recollected the last occasion--recollected it, alas! only too
well. His thin countenance wore a puzzled, anxious expression, the
expression of a man face to face with a great difficulty.
"Tell me, Walter," he said at last, "what kind of place is Glencardine
Castle? What kind of man is Sir Henry Heyburn?"
"Glencardine is one of the most beautiful estates in Scotland. It lies
between Perth and Stirling. The ruins of the ancient castle, where the
great Marquis of Glencardine, who was such a figure in Scottish history,
was born, stands perched up above a deep, delightful glen; and some
little distance off stands the modern house, built in great part from
the ruins of the stronghold."
"And there are noises heard there the same as at Hetzendorf, you say?"
"Well, the countryfolk believe that, on certain nights, there can be
heard in the castle courtyard distinct whispering--the counsel of the
devil himself to certain conspirators who took the life of the notorious
"Has any one actually heard them?"
"They say so--or, at any rate, several persons after declaring that they
had heard them have died quite suddenly."
Hamilton pursed his lips. "Well," he exclaimed, "that's really most
remarkable! Practically, the same legend is current in South Hungary
regarding Hetzendorf. Strange--very strange!"
"Very," remarked the heir to the great estate of Connachan. "But, after
all, cannot one very often trace the same legend through the folklore of
various countries? I remember I once attended a lecture upon that very
"Oh, of course. Many ancient legends have sprung from the same germ, so
that often we have practically the same fairy-story all over Europe. But
this, it seems to me, is no fairy story."
"Well," laughed Murie, "the history of Glencardine Castle and the
historic family is so full of stirring episodes that I really don't
wonder that the ruins are believed to be the abode of something
supernatural. My father possesses some of the family papers, while Sir
Henry, when he bought Glencardine, also acquired a quantity. Only a year
ago he told me that he had had an application from a well-known
historical writer for access to them, as he was about to write a book
upon the family."
"Then you know Sir Henry well?"
"Very well indeed. I'm often his guest, and frequently shoot over the
"I've heard that Lady Heyburn is a very pretty woman," remarked the
other, glancing at his friend with a peculiar look.
"Some declare her to be beautiful; but to myself, I confess, she's not
"There are stories about her, eh?" Hamilton said.
"As there are about every good-looking woman. Beauty cannot escape
unjust criticism or the scars of lying tongues."
"People pity Sir Henry, I've heard."
"They, of course, sympathise with him, poor old gentleman, because he's
blind. His is, indeed, a terrible affliction. Only fancy the change from
a brilliant Parliamentary career to idleness, darkness, and knitting."
"I suppose he's very wealthy?"
"He must be. The price he paid for Glencardine was a very heavy one;
and, besides that, he has two other places, as well as a house in Park
Street and a villa at San Remo."
"Cotton, or steel, or soap, or some other domestic necessity, I
Murie shrugged his shoulders. "Nobody knows," he answered. "The source
of Sir Henry's vast wealth is a profound mystery."
His friend smiled, but said nothing. Walter Murie had risen to obtain
matches, therefore he did not notice the curious expression upon his
friend's face, a look which betrayed that he knew more than he intended
"Those noises heard in the castle puzzle me," he remarked after a few
"At Glencardine they are known as the Whispers," Murie remarked.
"By Jove! I'd like to hear them."
"I don't think there'd be much chance of that, old chap," laughed the
other. "They're only heard by those doomed to an early death."
"I may be. Who knows?" he asked gloomily.
"Well, if I were you I wouldn't anticipate catastrophe."
"No," said his friend in a more serious tone, "I've already heard those
at Hetzendorf, and--well, I confess they've aroused in my mind some very
"But did you really hear them? Are you sure they were not imagination?
In the night sounds always become both magnified and distorted."
"Yes, I'm certain of what I heard. I was careful to convince myself that
it was not imagination, but actual reality."
Walter Murie smiled dubiously. "Sir Henry scouts the idea of the
Whispers being heard at Glencardine," he said.
"And, strangely enough, so does the Baron. He's a most matter-of-fact
"How curious that the cases are almost parallel, and yet so far apart!
The Baron has a daughter, and so has Sir Henry."
"Gabrielle is at Glencardine, I suppose?" asked Hamilton.
"No, she's living with a maiden aunt at an out-of-the-world village in
Northamptonshire called Woodnewton."
"Oh, I thought she always lived at Glencardine, and acted as her
father's right hand."
"She did until a few months ago, when----" and he paused. "Well," he
went on, "I don't know exactly what occurred, except that she left
suddenly, and has not since returned."
"Her mother, perhaps. No girl of spirit gets on well with her
"Possibly that," Walter said. He knew the truth, but had no desire to
tell even his old friend of the allegation against the girl whom he
Hamilton noted the name of the village, and sat wondering at what the
young barrister had just told him. It had aroused suspicions within
They sat together for another half-hour, and before they parted arranged
to lunch together at the Savoy in two days' time.
Turning out of the Temple, Edgar Hamilton walked along the Strand to the
Metropole, in Northumberland Avenue, where he was staying. His mind was
full of what his friend had said--full of that curious legend of
Glencardine which coincided so strangely with that of far-off
Hetzendorf. The jostling crowd in the busy London thoroughfare he did
not see. He was away again on the hill outside the old-fashioned
Hungarian town, with the broad Danube shining in the white moonbeams. He
saw the grim walls that had for centuries withstood the brunt of battle
with the Turks, and from them came the whispering voice--the voice said
to be that of the Evil One. The Tziganes--that brown-faced race of gipsy
wanderers, the women with their bright-coloured skirts and head-dresses,
and the men with the wonderful old silver filigree buttons upon their
coats---had related to him many weird stories regarding Hetzendorf and
the meaning of those whispers. Yet none of their stories was so curious
as that which Murie had just told him. Similar sounds were actually
heard in the old castle up in the Highlands! His thoughts were wholly
absorbed in that one extraordinary fact.
He went to the smoking-room of the hotel, and, obtaining a
railway-guide, searched it in vain. Then, ordering from a waiter a map
of England, he eagerly searched Northamptonshire and discovered the
whereabouts of Woodnewton. Therefore, that night he left London for
Oundle, and put up at the old-fashioned "Talbot."
At ten o'clock on the following morning, after making a detour, he
alighted from a dogcart before the little inn called the Westmorland
Arms at Apethorpe, just outside the lodge-gates of Apethorpe Hall, and
making excuse to the groom that he was going for a walk, he set off at a
brisk pace over the little bridge and up the hill to Woodnewton.
The morning was dark and gloomy, with threatening rain, and the distance
was somewhat greater than he had calculated from the map. At last,
however, he came to the entrance to the long village street, with its
church and its rows of low thatched cottages.
A tiny inn, called the "White Lion," stood before him, therefore he
entered, and calling for some ale, commenced to chat with the old lady
who kept the place.
After the usual conventionalities about the weather, he said, "I suppose
you don't have very many strangers in Woodnewton, eh?"
"Not many, sir," was her reply. "We see a few people from Oundle and
Northampton in the summer--holiday folk. But that's all."
Then, by dint of skilful questioning, he elucidated the fact that old
Miss Heyburn lived in the tiled house further up the village, and that
her niece, who lived with her, had passed along with her dog about a
quarter of an hour before, and taken the footpath towards Southwick.
Ascertaining this, he was all anxiety to follow her; but, knowing how
sharp are village eyes upon a stranger, he was compelled to conceal his
eagerness, light another cigarette, and continue his chat.
At last, however, he wished the woman good-day, and, strolling half-way
up the village, turned into a narrow lane which led across a farmyard to
a footpath which ran across the fields, following a brook. Eager to
overtake the girl, he sped along as quickly as possible.
"Gabrielle Heyburn!" he ejaculated, speaking to himself. Her name was
all that escaped his lips. A dozen times that morning he had repeated
it, uttering it in a tone almost of wonder--almost of awe.
Across several ploughed fields he went, leaving the brook, and, skirting
a high hedge to the side of a small wood, he followed the well-trodden
path for nearly half-an-hour, when, of a sudden, he emerged from a
narrow lane between two hedgerows into a large pasture.
Before him, he saw standing together, on the brink of the river Nene,
two figures--a man and a woman.
The girl was dressed in blue serge, and wore a white woollen
tam-o'-shanter, while the man had on a dark grey overcoat with a brown
felt hat, and nearby, with his eye upon some sheep grazing some distance
away, stood a big collie.
Hamilton started, and drew back.
The pair were standing together in earnest conversation, the man facing
him, the girl with her back turned.
"What does this mean?" gasped Hamilton aloud. "What can this secret
meeting mean? Why--yes, I'm certainly not mistaken--it's Krail--Felix
Krail, by all that's amazing!"
DESCRIBES A CURIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE
To Hamilton it was evident that the man Krail, now smartly dressed in
country tweeds, was telling the girl something which surprised her. He
was speaking quickly, making involuntary gestures which betrayed his
foreign birth, while she stood pale, surprised, and yet defiant. The
Baron's secretary was not near enough to overhear their words. Indeed,
he remained there in concealment in order to watch.
Why had Gabrielle met Felix Krail--of all men? She was beautiful. Yes,
there could be no two opinions upon that point, Edgar decided. And yet
how strange it all was, how very remarkable, how romantic!
The man was evidently endeavouring to impress upon the girl some plain
truths to which, at first, she refused to listen. She shrugged her
shoulders impatiently and swung her walking-stick before her in an
attempt to remain unconcerned. But from where Hamilton was standing he
could plainly detect her agitation. Whatever Krail had told her had
caused her much nervous anxiety. What could it be?
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