The World's Greatest Books, Vol VI.
Part 7 out of 7
on the ground that she was not yet well enough to sit up late. Athenais'
anticipated pleasure was all lost, since she could not crush her rival
with her magnificence. In her jealous rage she began to devote
particular attention to Monsieur Derblay. At last, Claire judged the cup
was full, and on her fete day, encouraged for the first time by her
husband's glances, called Athenais aside and entreated her to stay away
from their home for a time, at least. Athenais, pale with rage, replied
insultingly, and Claire summoned the duke to take his wife away if he did
not wish her to be turned out in presence of everyone.
With perfect composure Bligny asked Philippe if he approved of what
Madame Derblay had done. In a grave voice, the ironmaster answered,
"Monsieur le Duc, whatever Madame Derblay may do, whatever reason she
may have for doing it, I consider everything she does as well done."
* * * * *
Claire saw two pistols lowered. With a shriek, she bounded forward and
clapped her hand on the muzzle of Bligny's pistol!
* * * * *
An hour had elapsed without her regaining consciousness. The ironmaster
was leaning over her. Suddenly her eyes opened, and she threw her arms
round his neck. An acute pain passed through her hand, and she
remembered everything--her despair, her anguish, and her sacrifice.
"One word?" she asked. "Tell me, do you love me?"
Philippe showed her a radiant face.
"Yes, I love you," he replied.
A cry escaped Claire. She clung frantically to Philippe; their eyes met,
and in inexpressible ecstasy they exchanged their first kiss of love.
* * * * *
OUIDA (LOUISE DE LA RAMEE)
Under Two Flags
There are few women writers who have created more stir by
their works than Louise de la Ramee, the lady who wrote under
the pen name of Ouida. Born of English and French parentage at
Bury St. Edmund, England, in 1840, she began to turn to
account her undoubted literary talents at the age of twenty,
when she contributed to the "New Monthly" and "Bentley's
Magazine." In the same year appeared her first long story,
"Granville de Vigne," which was afterwards renamed and
republished as "Held in Bondage." From that time an amazing
output of romances fell in rapid succession from her pen, the
most picturesque of them, perhaps, being "Under Two Flags"
(1867) and "Moths." With respect to the former, although on
occasions it exhibits a tendency towards inaccurate
observation, the story is told with rare dramatic force and
descriptive power. From 1874, Mlle. Ramee made her home in
Italy, where, at Lucca, in spite of her reputation as a
novelist, she died in straightened circumstances Jan. 25,
_I.--An Officer of the Guards_
A Guardsman at home is always luxuriously accommodated, and the Hon.
Bertie Cecil, second son of Viscount Royallieu, was never behind his
fellows in anything; besides, he was one of the crack officers of the
1st Life Guards, and ladies sent him pretty things enough to fill the
Then Hon. Bertie was known generally in the brigade as "Beauty," and the
appellative, gained at Eton, was in no way undeserved. His face, with as
much delicacy and brilliancy as a woman's, was at once handsome,
thoroughbred, languid, nonchalant with a certain latent recklessness,
under the impassive calm of habit.
Life petted him and pampered him; lodged him like a prince, dined him
like a king, and had never let him feel the want of all that is bought
by money. How could he understand that he was not as rich a man as his
oldest and closest comrade, Lord Rockingham, a Colossus, known as "the
Seraph," the eldest son of the Duke of Lyonesse?
A quarrel with his father (whom he always alluded to as "Royal")
reminded him that he was ruined; that he would get no help from the old
lord, or from his elder brother, the heir. He was hopelessly in debt;
nothing but the will of his creditors stood between him and the fatal
hour when he must "send in his papers to sell," and be "nowhere" in the
great race of life.
An appeal for money from his young brother, Berkeley, whom he really
loved, forced Cecil to look, for the first time, blankly in the face of
ruin that awaited him.
Berkeley, a boy of twenty, had been gambling, and came to Cecil, as he
had come often enough before, with his tale of needs. It was L300
Berkeley wanted, and he had already borrowed L100 from a friend--a
shameless piece of degradation in Cecil's code.
"It is no use to give you false hopes, young one," said Cecil gently. "I
can do nothing. If the money were mine it should be yours at a word. But
I am all downhill, and my bills may be called in at any moment."
"You are such chums with Rockingham, and he's as rich as all the Jews
put together. What harm could there be if you asked him to lend you some
money for me?"
Cecil's face darkened.
"You will bring some disgrace on us before you die, Berkeley," he said.
"Have you no common knowledge of honour? If I did such a thing I should
deserve to be hounded out of the Guards to-morrow. The only thing for
you to do is to go down and tell Royal, he will sell every stick and
stone for your sake."
"I would rather cut my throat," said the boy. "I have had so much from
But in the end he promised to go.
It was hard for Bertie to get it into his brain that he really was at
the end of his resources. There still seemed one chance open to him. He
was a fearless rider, and his horse, Forest King, was famous for its
powers. He entered him for a great race at Baden, and piled on all he
could, determined to be sunk or saved by the race. If he won he might be
able to set things right for a time, and then family influence ought to
procure him an advance in the Guards.
Forest King had never failed its master hitherto, and Bertie would have
been saved by his faithful steed, but for the fact that a blackguardly
turf welcher doctored the horse's mouth, and Forest King was beaten, and
couldn't finish the course.
"Something ails King," said Cecil calmly, "he is fairly knocked off his
legs. Some vet must look to him; ridden a yard further he will fall."
_II "A Mystery--An Error"_
Cecil knew that with the failure of Forest King had gone the last plank
that saved him from ruin, perhaps the last chance that stood between him
and dishonour. He had never looked on it as within the possibilities of
hazard that the horse could be defeated, and the blow fell with crushing
force; the fiercer because his indolence had persisted in ignoring his
danger, and his whole character was so accustomed to ease and to
He got away from his companions, and wandered out alone into the gardens
in the evening sunlight, throwing himself on a bench beneath a
Here the little Lady Venetia, the eight-year-old sister of the colossal
Seraph, found him, and Cecil roused himself, and smiled at her.
"They say you have lost all your money," said the child, "and I want you
to take mine. It is my _very_ own. Papa gives it to me to do just what I
like with it. Please do take it."
Twenty bright Napoleons fell in a glittering shower on the grass.
"_Petite reine_," Cecil murmured gently, "how some man will love you one
day. I cannot take your money, and you will understand why when you are
older. But I will take this if you will give it me," and he picked up a
little enamelled sweetmeat box, and slipped it into his waistcoat
pocket. It was only a child's gift, but he kept it through many a dark
day and wild night.
At that moment as he stood there, with the child beside him, one of the
men of the gardens brought him an English letter, marked "instant."
Cecil took it wearily, broke the envelope, and read a scrawled,
miserable letter, blotted with hot tears, and scored out in impulsive
misery. The Lady Venetia went slowly away and when next they met it was
under the burning sun of Africa.
Alone, Cecil's head sank down upon his hands.
"Oh, God!" he thought. "If it were anything--anything except disgrace!"
An hour later and the Seraph's servant brought him a message, asking him
to come to Lord Rockingham's rooms immediately.
Cecil went, and the Seraph crossed the room with his hand held out; not
for his life in that moment would he have omitted that gesture of
friendship. There was a third person in the room, a Jew, M. Baroni, who
held a folded paper, with the forged signature of _Rockingham_ on it,
and another signature, the name of the forger in whose favour the bill
was drawn; that other signature was--_Bertie Cecil_.
"Cecil, my dear fellow," said the Seraph, "I'm ashamed to send for you
on such a blackguard errand! Here, M. Baroni, make your statement. Later
on, Mr. Cecil can avenge it."
"My statement is easily made," said the Jew. "I simply charge the Hon.
Bertie Cecil with having negotiated a bill with my firm for L750 month,
drawn in his own favour, and accepted at two months' date by your
lordship. Your signature you, my lord marquis, admit to be a forgery.
With that forgery I charge your friend!"
Cecil stood silent, with a strange anguish on his face.
"I am not guilty," he said quietly.
"Beauty--Beauty! Never say that to _me_!" said the Seraph. "Do you think
_I_ can ever doubt you?"
"It is a matter of course," replied Baroni, "that Mr. Cecil denies the
accusation. It is very wise. But I _must_ arrest Mr. Cecil! Were you
alone, my lord, you could prosecute or not, as you please; but ours is
the money obtained by that forgery. If Mr. Cecil will accompany me
unresistingly, I will not summon legal force."
"Cecil, tell me what is to be done?" said the Seraph hoarsely. "I will
send for the duke--"
"Send for no one. I will go with this man. He is right as far as he
knows. The whole is a--a mystery--an error."
Cecil hesitated a moment; then he stretched out his hand. "Will you take
"Take it! Before all the world, always, come what will!"
The Seraph's voice rang clear as the ring of silver. Another moment, and
the door had closed. Cecil went slowly out beside his accuser, not
blaming the Jew in anything.
Once out in the air, the Hebrew laid his hand on his arm. Presently, in
a side-street, three figures loomed in the shadow of the houses--a
German official, the commissary of police, and an English detective. The
Hebrew had betrayed him, and arrested him in the open street.
In an instant all the pride and blood of his race was up. He wrenched
his wrists free and with his left arm felled the detective to earth with
a crushing blow. The German---a powerful and firmly-built man--was on
him at once, but Cecil's science was the finer. For a second the two
rocked in close embrace, and then the German fell heavily.
The cries of Baroni drew a crowd at once, but Cecil dashed, with the
swiftness of the deer, forward into the gathering night.
Flight! The craven's refuge--the criminal's resource! Flight! He wished
in the moment's agony that they would send a bullet through his brain.
Soon the pursuers were far behind. But Cecil knew that he had but the
few remaining hours of night left to save those for whom he had elected
to sacrifice his life.
_III.--Under Another Flag_
Cigarette was the pet of the army of Africa, and was as lawless as most
of her patrons. She was the Friend of the Flag. Soldiers had been about
her from her cradle. They had been her books, her teachers, her
guardians, and, later on, her lovers, all the days of her life. She had
no sense of duty taught her, except to face fire boldly, never to betray
a comrade, and to worship but two deities--"_la Gloire_" and "_la
France_." Her own sex would have seen no good in her, but her
comrades-in-arms could, and did. A certain chasseur d'Afrique in this
army at Algiers puzzled her. He treated her with a grave courtesy, that
made her wish, with impatient scorn for the wish, that she knew how to
read, and had not her hair cut short like a boy's--a weakness the little
vivandiere had never been visited with before.
"You are too fine for us, _mon brave_," she said pettishly once to this
chasseur. "They say you are English, but I don't believe it. Say what
you are, then?"
"A soldier of France. Can you wish me more?"
"True," she said simply. "But you were not always a soldier of France?
You joined, they say, twelve years ago. What were you before then?"
"Before?" he answered slowly. "Well--a fool"
"You belonged to the majority, then!" said Cigarette. "But why did you
come into the service? You were born in the noblesse--bah, I know an
aristocrat at a glance! What ruined you, Monsieur l'Aristocrat?"
"Aristocrat? I am none. I am Louis Victor, a corporal of the chasseurs."
"You are dull, _mon brave_."
Cigarette left him, and made her way to the officers' quarters. High or
low, they were all the same to Cigarette, and she would have talked to
the emperor himself as coolly as she did to any private.
She praised the good looks of the corporal of chasseurs, and his
colonel, M. le Marquis de Chateauroy, answered, with a curse, "I wish my
corporal were shot! One can never hear the last of him!"
Meanwhile, the corporal of chasseurs sat alone among the stones of a
ruined mosque. He was a dashing cavalry soldier, who had a dozen wounds
cut over his body by the Bedouin swords in many and hot skirmishes; who
had waited through sultry African nights for the lion's tread; and who
had served well in fierce, arduous work in trying campaigns and in close
From the extremes of luxury and indolence Cecil came to the extremes of
hardship and toil. He had borne the change mutely, and without a murmur,
though the first years were years of intense misery. His comrades had
grown to love him, seeing his courage and his willingness to help them,
with a rough, dog-like love.
Twelve years ago in England it was accepted that Bertie Cecil and his
servant Rake had been killed in a railway accident in France.
And the solitary corporal of chasseurs read in the "Galignani" of the
death of his father, Viscount Royallieu, and of his elder brother. The
title and estate that should have been his had gone to his younger
_IV.--From Death to Life_
The Seraph, now Duke of Lyonesse, and his sister Venetia, Princess
Corona, came on a visit to the French camp, and with them Berkeley,
Viscount Royallieu. Corporal Louis Victor saw them, and, safe from
recognition himself, knew them. But Cecil was not to go down to the
grave unreleased. First, his brother Berkeley coming upon him alone in
the solitude of a desert camp, made concealment impossible.
"Have you lived stainlessly _since_?" were Cecil's only words, stern as
the demand of a judge.
"God is my witness, yes! But you--they said you were dead. That was my
first disgrace, and my last; you bore the weight of my shame. What can I
say? Such nobility, such sacrifice--"
It was for himself that Berkeley trembled.
"I have kept your secret twelve years; I will keep it still," said Cecil
gravely. "Only leave Algeria at once."
A slight incident revealed the corporal's identity to the Princess
Corona. By his bearing he had attracted the attention of the visitors to
the camp, and on being admitted to the villa of the princess to restore
a gold chain dropped carelessly in the road, he disclosed the little
enamelled box, marked "Venetia," the gift of the child in the garden at
"That box is mine!" cried the princess. "I gave it! And you? You are my
brother's friend? You are Bertie Cecil?"
"_Petite reine_!" he murmured.
Then he acknowledged who he was, not even for his brother's sake could
he have lied to _her_; but he implored her to say nothing to the Seraph.
"I was innocent, but in honour I can never give you or any living thing
_proof_ that this crime was not mine."
"He is either a madman or a martyr," she mused, when Cecil had left her.
That he loved her was plain, and the time was not far distant when she
should love him, and be willing to share any sacrifice love and honour
The hatred of Colonel Chateauroy for his corporal brought matters to a
climax. Meeting Cecil returning from his visit to Venetia, Chateauroy
could not refrain from saying insulting things concerning the princess.
"_You lie_!" cried Cecil; "and you know that you lie! Breathe her name
once more, and, as we are both living men, I will have your life for
And as he spoke Cecil smote him on the lips.
Chateauroy summoned the guard, the corporal was placed under arrest, and
brought to court-martial.
In three days' time Corporal Louis Victor would be shot by order of the
Cigarette, and Cigarette alone, prevented the sentence being carried
out, and that at the cost of her life.
She was away from the camp at the time in a Moorish town when the news
came to her; and she stumbled on Berkeley Cecil, and, knowing him for an
Englishman, worked on his feelings, and gave him no rest till he had
acknowledged the condemned man for his elder brother and the lawful
Viscount Royallieu, peer of England.
With this document, signed and sealed by Berkeley, Cigarette galloped
off to the fortress where the marshal of France, who was Viceroy of
Africa, had arrived. The marshal knew Cigarette; he had decorated her
with the cross for her valour in battle, and with the whole army of
Africa he loved and admired her.
Cigarette gave him the document, and told him all she knew of the
corporal's heroism. And the marshal promised the sentence should be
deferred until he had found out the whole truth of the matter.
With the order of release in her bosom Cigarette once more vaulted into
the saddle, to ride hard through the day and night--for at sunrise on
the morrow will the sentence be executed.
And now it is sunrise, and the prisoner has been brought out to the
slope of earth out of sight of the camp.
At the last the Seraph appeared, and found in the condemned man the
friend of his youth. It was only with great difficulty that Rockingham
was overpowered, for he swore Cecil should not be killed, and a dozen
soldiers were required to get him away.
Then Cecil raised his hand, and gave the signal for his own death-shot.
The levelled carbines covered him; ere they could fire a shrill cry
pierced the air: "Wait! In the name of France!"
Dismounted and breathless, Cigarette was by the side of Cecil, and had
flung herself on his breast.
Her cry came too late; the volley was fired, and while the prisoner
stood erect, grazed only by some of the balls, Cigarette fell, pierced
and broken by the fire. She died in Cecil's arms, with the comrades she
had loved around her.
* * * * *
It is spring. Cecil is Lord of Royallieu, the Lady Venetia is his bride.
"It was worth banishment to return," he murmured to her. "It was worth
the trials that I bore to learn the love that I have known."
And the memories of both went back to a place in a desert land where the
folds of the tricolour drooped over one little grave--a grave where the
troops saluted as they passed it, because on the white stone there was
carved a name that spoke to every heart:
ENFANT DE L'ARMEE, SOLDAT DE LA FRANCE.
* * * * *
Lost Sir Massingberd
James Payn, one of the most prolific literary workers of the
second half of the nineteenth century, was born at Cheltenham,
England, Feb. 28, 1830, and died March 23, 1898. After a false
start in education for the army, he went to Cambridge
University, where he was president of the Union, and published
some poems. The acceptance of his contributions by "Household
Words" turned him to his true vocation. After writing some
years for "Chambers's Journal" he became its editor from 1850
till 1874. His first work of fiction, "The Foster Brothers," a
story founded on his college life, appeared in 1859, but it
was not until five years later that Payn's name was
established as a novelist. This was on the publication of
"Lost Sir Massingberd, a Romance of Real Life." The story
first appeared in "Chambers's Journal," and is marked by all
his good qualities--ingenious construction, dramatic
situations, and a skilful arrangement of incidents.
Altogether, Payn wrote about sixty volumes of novels and short
_I.--Neither Fearing God Nor Regarding Man_
In a Midland county, not as yet scarred by factories, there stands a
village called Fairburn, which at the time I knew it first had for its
squire, its lord, its despot, one Sir Massingberd Heath. Its rector, at
that date, was the Rev. Matthew Long, into whose wardship I, Peter
Meredith, an Anglo-Indian lad, was placed by my parents. I loved Mr.
Long, although he was my tutor; and oh, how I feared and hated Mr.
Massingberd! It was not, however, my boyhood alone that caused me to
hold this man as a monster of iniquity; it was the opinion which the
whole county entertained of him, more or less. Like the unjust judge, he
neither feared God nor regarded man.
He had been a fast, very fast friend of the regent; but they were no
longer on speaking terms. Sir Massingberd had left the gay, wicked world
for good, and was obliged to live at his beautiful country seat in spite
of himself. He was irretrievably ruined, and house and land being
entailed upon his nephew Marmaduke, he had nothing but a life interest
Marmaduke Heath was Mr. Long's pupil as well as myself, and he resided
with his uncle at the Hall. He dreaded his relative beyond measure. All
the pretended frankness with which the old man sometimes treated the lad
was unable to hide the hate with which Sir Massingberd really regarded
him; but for this heir-presumptive to the entail, the baronet might
raise money to any extent, and once more take his rightful station in
Abject terror obscured the young existence of Marmaduke Heath. The
shadow of Sir Massingberd cast itself over him alike when he went out
from his hated presence and when he returned to it.
Soon after my first meeting with Marmaduke, Sir Massingberd unexpectedly
appeared before me. He was a man of Herculean proportions, dressed like
an under-gamekeeper, but with the face of one who was used to command.
On his forehead was a curious indented frown like the letter V, and his
lips curled contemptuously upward in the same shape. These two together
gave him a weird, demoniacal look, which his white beard, although long
and flowing, had not enough of dignity to do away with. He ordered his
nephew to go home, and the boy instantly obeyed, as though he almost
dreaded a blow from his uncle. Then the baronet strode away, and his
laugh echoed again and again, for it was joy to know that he was feared.
Mr. Long determined to buy a horse for me, and upon my suggestion that I
wished Marmaduke Heath to spend more time in my company, he and I went
up to the Hall to ask Sir Massingberd if he were willing. The squire
received us curtly, and upon hearing of my tutor's intention, declared
that he himself would select a horse for Marmaduke. Then, since he
wished to talk with Mr. Long concerning Mr. Chint, the family lawyer, he
bade me go to his nephew's room, calling upon Grimjaw, a loathsome old
dog, to act as my guide. This beast preceded me up the old oak staircase
to a chamber door, before which it sat and whined. Marmaduke opened this
and admitted me, and we sat talking together.
My tutor found us together, and knowing the house better than the heir
did, offered to play cicerone and show me over. In the state bed-room, a
great room facing the north, he disclosed to us a secret stairway that
opened behind a full-length portrait. Marmaduke, who had been unaware of
its existence, grew ghastly pale.
"The foot of the stairway is in the third bookcase on the left of the
library door," said Mr. Long. "I dare say that nobody has moved the
picture for twenty years."
"Yes, yes!" said Marmaduke passionately. "My uncle has moved it. When I
was ill, upon my coming to Fairburn, I slept here, and I had terrible
visions. I see it all now. He wanted to frighten me to death, or to make
me mad. He would come and stand by my bedside and stare at me. Cruel--
Then he begged us to go away. "My uncle will wonder at your long delay.
He will suspect something," he said.
"Peter," observed my tutor gravely, as we went homeward, "whatever you
may think of what has passed to-day, say nothing. I am not so ignorant
of the wrongs of that poor boy as I appear, but there is nothing for it
_II.--A Gypsy's Curse_
In a few days I was in possession of an excellent horse, and Marmaduke
had the like fortune. My tutor examined the steed Sir Massingberd had
bought with great attention, and after commenting on the tightness of
the curb, declared that he would accompany us on our first ride. After
we had left the village, he expressed a wish to change mounts with
Marmaduke, and certainly if he had been a horsebreaker he could not have
taken more pains with the animal. In the end he expressed himself highly
satisfied. Some days afterwards, however, Panther, for so we called the
horse, behaved in a strange and incomprehensible fashion, and at last
became positively fiendish. Shying at a gypsy encampment, he rushed at
headlong speed down a zigzagged chalk road, and at last pitched
head-first over a declivity. When I found Marmaduke blood was at his
mouth, blood at his ears, blood everywhere.
"Marmaduke, Marmaduke!" I cried. "Speak! Speak, if it be but a single
word! Great heaven, he is dead!"
"Dead! No, not he," answered a hoarse, cracked voice at my ear. "The
devil would never suffer a Heath of Fairburn to die at his age!"
"Woman," cried I, for it was an old gypsy, who had somehow transported
herself to the spot, "for God's sake go for help! There is a house
yonder amongst the trees."
"And why should I stir a foot," replied she fiercely, "for the child of
a race that has ever treated me and mine as dogs?"
Then she cursed Sir Massingberd as the oppressor of her kith and kin,
concluding with the terrible words, "May he perish, inch by inch, within
reach of the aid that shall never come, ere the God of the poor take him
into His hand!"
"If you hate Sir Massingberd Heath," said I despairingly, "and want to
do him the worst service that lies in your power, flee, flee to that
house, and bid them save this boy's life, which alone stands between his
beggared uncle and unknown riches!"
Revenge accomplished what pity had failed to work. She knelt at his
side, from a pocket produced a spirit-flask in a leathern case, and
applied it to his lips. After a painful attempt to swallow, he
succeeded; his eyelids began tremulously to move, and the colour to
return to his pallid cheeks. She disappeared; during her absence I noted
that the tarnished silver top of the flask bore upon it a facsimile of
one of the identical griffins which guarded each side of the broad steps
that led to Fairburn Hall.
After a short interval, a young and lovely girl appeared, accompanied by
a groom and butler, who bore between them a small sofa, on which
Marmaduke was lifted and gently carried to the house. The master came in
soon, accompanied by the local doctor, who at last delivered the verdict
that my friend "would live to be a baronet."
He said, moreover, that the youth must be kept perfectly quiet, and not
moved thence on any consideration--it might be for weeks. Harvey Gerard,
a noble-looking gentleman, refused to admit Sir Massingberd under his
The baronet, however, did appear towards twilight, and forced his way
into the house, where Harvey Gerard met him with great severity. Soon
hatred took the place of all other expressions on the baronet's face,
and he swore that he would see his nephew.
"That you shall not do, Sir Massingberd," said the gentleman. "If you
attempt to do so, my servants will put you out of the house by force."
"Before night, then, I shall send for him, and he shall be carried back
to Fairburn, to be nursed in his proper home."
"Nursed!" repeated Harvey Gerard hoarsely. "Nursed by the gravedigger!"
Sir Massingberd turned livid.
"To hear you talk one would think that I had tried to murder the boy,"
"I _know_ you did!" cried Harvey Gerard solemnly. "To-day you sent your
nephew forth upon that devil with a snaffle-bridle instead of a curb!
See, I track your thoughts like slime. Base ruffian, begone from beneath
this roof, false coward!"
Sir Massingberd started up like one stung by an adder.
"Yes, I say coward!" continued Harvey Gerard. "Heavens, that this
creature should still feel touch of shame! Be off, be off; molest not
anyone within this house at peril of your life! Murderer!"
For once Sir Massingberd had met his match--and more. He seized his hat,
and hurried from the room.
_III.--A Wife Undesired_
When Marmaduke recovered consciousness, twelve hours after his terrible
fall, he told me that he had been given a sign of his approaching
"I have seen a vision in the night," he said, "far too sweet and fair
not to have been sent from heaven itself. They say the Heaths have
always ghastly warnings when their hour is come; but this was surely a
"Your angel is Lucy Gerard," replied I quietly, "and we are at this
moment in her father's house."
He was silent for a time, with features as pale as the pillow on which
he lay; then he repeated her name as though it were a prayer.
"It would indeed be bitter for me to die _now_," he said.
I myself was stricken with love for Lucy Gerard, and would have laid
down my life to kiss her finger-tips. Nearly half a century has passed
over my head since the time of which I write, and yet, I swear to you,
my old heart glows again, and on my withered cheeks there comes a blush
as I call to mind the time when I first met that pure and lovely girl.
But from the moment that Marmaduke Heath spoke to me as he did, upon his
bed of sickness, of our host's daughter, I determined within myself not
only to stand aside, and let him win if he could, but to help him by all
the means within my power. And so it came about that later I told Lucy
that his recovery depended upon her kindness, and won her to look upon
him with compassion and with tenderness.
Mr. Clint, the lawyer, came from London, and arrangements were made for
Marmaduke to continue in Harvey Gerard's care, and when Marmaduke was
convalescent the Gerards removed him to their residence in Harley
street. After I had bidden them farewell, I rode slowly towards
Fairburn, but was stopped at some distance by a young gypsy boy, who
summoned me to the encampment to converse with the aged woman whom I had
seen on the occasion of the accident. She bade me sit down beside her,
and after a time produced the silver-mounted flask, concerning whose
history I felt great curiosity. I asked her how it came into her
possession, and she herself asked a question in turn.
"Has it never struck you why Sir Massingberd has not long ago taken to
himself a young wife, and begotten an heir for the lands of Fairburn, in
despite of his nephew?"
"If that be so," said I, "why does not Sir Massingberd marry?"
Thereupon she told me that many years ago he had joined their company,
and shared their wandering fortune. Her sister Sinnamenta, a beautiful
girl beloved by the handsome Stanley Carew, had fascinated him, and he
would have married her according to gypsy rites; but since her father
did not believe that he meant to stay with the tribe longer than it
suited him, he peremptorily refused his request. Sir Massingberd left
them; they struck tent at once, and travelled to Kirk Yetholm, in
Roxburghshire, a mile from the frontier of Northumberland. There the
wretch followed her, and again proposed to go through the Cingari
ceremony, and this time the father consented. It was on the wedding-day
that he gave my informant the shooting-flask as a remembrance, just
before he and his wife went away southward. Long months afterwards
Sinnamenta returned heart-stricken, woebegone, about to become a mother,
with nothing but wretchedness in the future, and even her happy past a
The gypsies were at Fairburn again, and Sinnamenta's father sent for Sir
Massingberd, and he was told that the marriage was legal, Kirk Yetholm
being over the border. An awful silence succeeded this disclosure. Sir
Massingberd turned livid, and twice in vain essayed to speak; he was
well-nigh strangled with passion. At last he caught Sinnamenta's Wrist
with fingers of steel.
"What man shall stop me from doing what I will with my own?" he cried.
"Come along with me, my pretty one!"
Stanley Carew flung himself upon him, knife in hand; but the others
plucked him backward, and Sir Massingberd signed to his wife to followed
him, and she obeyed. That night Stanley Carew was arrested on a false
charge of horse-stealing, and lying witnesses soon afterwards brought
him to the gallows.
"I know not what she suffered immediately after she was taken from us,"
concluded the old woman. "But this I have heard, that when he told her
of the death of Stanley Carew, she fell down like one dead, and
presently, being delivered of a son, the infant died after a few hours.
Yonder," she looked menacingly towards Fairburn Hall, "the mother
lives--a maniac. What else could keep me here in a place that tortures
me with memories of my youth, and of loving faces that have crumbled
into dust? What else but the hope of one day seeing my little sister
yet, and the vengeance of Heaven upon him who has worked her ruin? If
Massingberd Heath escape some awful end, there is no Avenger on high. I
am old, but I shall see it yet, I shall see it before I die."
_IV.--The Curse Fulfilled_
I returned to Fairburn, and soon Sir Massingberd, finding that all
correspondence with his nephew was interrupted by Harvey Gerard, began
to pay small attentions to my tutor and myself. At last he appeared at
the rectory, and desired me to forward a letter to Marmaduke.
This--finding nothing objectionable in the contents--I agreed to do, and
he departed, after inviting me to make use of his grounds whenever I
pleased. On the morrow I yielded to curiosity, and after wandering to
and fro in the park, came near a small stone house with unglazed,
iron-grated windows. A short, sharp shriek clove the humid air, and
approaching, I looked into a sitting-room, where an ancient female sat
eating a chicken without knife or fork. Her hair was scanty and white as
snow, but hung almost to the ground.
"Permit me to introduce myself," she said. "I am Sinnamenta, Lady Heath.
You are not Stanley Carew, are you? They told me that he was hung, but I
know better than that. To be hung for nothing must be a terrible thing;
but how much worse to be hung for love! It is not customary to watch a
lady when she is partaking of refreshment."
Then the poor mad creature turned her back, and I withdrew from the sad
scene. A day or two afterwards the post carried misfortune from me to
Harley Street. The wily baronet had fooled me, and had substituted a
terrible letter for that which he had persuaded me to enclose to his
"Return hither, sir, at once," he had written. "It is far worse than
idle to attempt to cross my will. I give you twenty-four hours to arrive
after the receipt of this letter. I shall consider your absence to be
equivalent to a contumacious refusal. However well it may seem with you,
it will not be well. Whenever you think yourself safest, you will be
most in danger. There is, indeed, but one place of safety for you; come
Very soon afterwards, and before we knew of this villainy, word reached
us that the baronet was lost, and could not be found. He had started on
his usual nocturnal rounds in the preserves, and nobody had seen him
since midnight. Old Grimjaw, the dog, had been found on the doorstep,
nigh frozen to death.
The news spread like wild-fire through Fairburn village. I myself joined
the searchers, but soon separated from them, and passing the home
spinney, near by which was the famous Wolsey oak, a tree of great age. I
heard a sound that set my heart beating, and fluttering like the wings
of a prisoned bird against its cage. Was it a strangled cry for "Help!"
repeated once, twice, thrice, or was it the cold wind clanging and
grinding the naked branches of the spinney? But nought living was to be
seen; a bright wintry sun completely penetrated the leafless woodland.
At last I came upon the warm but lifeless body of Grimjaw lying on the
grass, and I hurried madly from the accursed place to where the men were
dragging the lake.
No clue was found, and my tutor began to fear that the gypsies had made
away with their enemy. Word came that they had passed through the
turnpike with a covered cart, and we rode out to interview them. The old
woman met us, and conducted us to the vehicle, when we found Sinnamenta,
Lady Heath, weaving rushes into crowns.
"My little sister is not beaten now," said the beldam. "May God's curse
have found Sir Massingberd! I would that I had his fleshless bones to
show you. Where he may be we know not; we only hope that in some hateful
spot he may be suffering unimagined pains!"
By the next post I received bitter news from Harley Street. A copy of
the menacing epistle reached me from Harvey Gerard. In a postscript Lucy
added that Marmaduke was too ill to write. An hour later Mr. Long and I
set off to town, where we found the lad in a less morbid state than we
had expected. He had asked, and gained, Harvey Gerard's permission to
marry his daughter, and the beautiful girl was supporting him with all
The services of Townsend, the great Bow street runner, were called for;
but in spite of his endeavours, no solution was discovered to the
mystery of Sir Massingberd's disappearance. Fairburn Hall remained
without a master, occupied only by the servants.
At last Marmaduke came of age, and as he and Lucy were now man and wife,
it was decreed that they must return to the old home. Art changed that
sombre house into a comfortable and splendid mansion, and when Lucy
brought forth a son, the place seemed under a blessing, and no longer
under a curse. But it was not until the christening feast of the young
heir was celebrated with due honour that the secret of Sir Massingberd's
disappearance was discovered.
Some young boys, playing at hide-and-seek, were using the Wolsey oak for
"home," and, whilst waiting there, dug a hole with their knives, and
came upon a life-preserver that the baronet had always carried. Then a
keeper climbed the tree, and cried out that it was hollow, and there was
a skeleton inside.
"It's my belief," said the man, "that Sir Massingberd must have climbed
up into the fork to look about him for poachers, and that the wood gave
way beneath him, and let him down feet foremost into the trunk."
Later, as I looked upon the ghastly relics of humanity, the old gypsy's
curse recurred to my mind with dreadful distinctness. "May he perish,
inch by inch, within reach of the aid that shall never come, ere the God
of the poor take him into His hand."
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