Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

faint

rays of summer twilighta. Aurora paused for a moment a few paces within the door, and then walked deliberately across the room towards the furthest window from that at which Mrs. Powell was, seated...!

“Are you going out in the garden this dull evening, Mrs. Mellish?" asked the ensign's widow...

I DATOT Aurora stopped half-way between the window and the door to answer her.

"Yes,” she said coldly.--, i luu

“Allow me to advise you not to go far. We are going to have a storm.”

" I don't think so." “What, my dear Mrs. Mellish, not with that thunder-cloud yonder?"

" I will take my chance of being caught in it, then. The weather has been threatening all the afternoon. The house is insupportable tonight."

“But you will not surely go far?".

Mrs. Mellish did not appear to overhear this remonstrance. She hurried through the open window, and out upon the lawn, striking northwards towards that little iron gate across which she had talked to the Softy.

The arch of the leaden sky seemed to contract above the tree-tops in the park, shutting in the earth as if with a roof of hot iron, 'after the fashion of those cunningly contrived metal torture chambers which we read of; but the rain had not yet come.

“What can take her into the garden on such an evening as this?" thought Mrs. Powell, as she watched the white dress receding in the dusky twilight. “It will be dark in ten minutes, and she is not usually so fond of going out alone."

The ensign's widow laid down the book in which she had appeared 50 deeply interested, and went to her own room, where she selected a comfortable gray cloak from a heap of primly folded garments in her capacious wardrobe. She muffled herself in this cloak, hurried down-stairs with a soft but rapid step, and went out into the garden through a little lobby near John Mellish's room. The blinds in the little sanctum were not drawn down, and Mrs. Powell could see the master of the house bending over his paper under the light of a reading-lamp, with the rheumatic trainer seated by his side. It was by this time quite dark, but Aurora's 'white dress was faintly visible upon the other side of the lawn.

Mrs. Mellish was standing beside the little iron gate when the ensign's widow emerged from the house. The white dress was motionless for some time, and the pale watcher, lurking under the shade of a'long verandab, began to think that her trouble was wasted, and that perhaps, after all, Aurora bad no special purpose in this evening ramble.

Mrs. Walter Powell felt cruelly disappointed. Always on the watch for some clue to the secret whose existence she had discovered, she had fondly hoped that even this unseasonable ramble might be some link in the

: در 1 س .

mysterious chain she was so anxious to fit together. But it appeared that she was mistaken. The uniseasonable ramble was very likely nothing more than one of Aurora's caprices-La womanly foolishness signifying .

i ini. "It All The Duo Orava No! The white dress was no longer motionless, and in the unnatural stillness of the hot night Mrs. Powell heard the distant scrooping noise of a hinge revolving slowly, as if guided by a cautious hand. Mrs. Mellish had opened the iron gate, and had passed to the other side of the invisible barrier which separated the gardens from the park. In another moment she had disappeared under the shadow of the trees which made a belt about the lawn.

- mult Mrs. Powell paused, almost terrified by her unlooked-for discovery.

What, in the name of all that was darkly mysterious, could Mrs. Mellish have to do between nine and ten o'clock on the north side of the park—the wildly kept, deserted north side, in which, from year's end to year's end, no one but the keepers ever walked ?-?'.

The blood rushed hotly up to Mrs. Powell's pale face, as she suddenly remembered that the disused, dilapidated lodge upon this north side had been given to the new trainer as a residence. Remembering this was nothing, but remembering this in connexion with that mysteriousletter signed " A.” was enough to send a thrill of savage, horrible joy through the dull veins of the dependent. What should she do? Follow Mrs. Mellish, and discover where she was going? How far would this be a safe thing to attempt?

She turned back and looked once more through the window of John's room. He was still bending over the papers, still in as apparently hopeless confusion of mind. There seemed little chance of his business being finished very quickly. The starless night and her dark dress alike sheltered the spy from observation. :Wh in Wolf'll!

"If I were close behind her, she would never see me, she thought.

She struck across the lawn to the iron gate and passed into the park. The brambles and the tangled undergrowth caught at her dress as she paused for a moment looking about her in the summer night'.stiri

There w: no trace of Aurora's white figure among the leafy alleys stretching in wild disorder before her. j .. twili . to 11.376,

"I'll not attempt to find the path she took," thought Mrs. Powell; “I know where to find her.”

She groped her way into the narrow footpath leading to the lodge. She was not sufficiently familiar with the place to take the short cut which the Softy had made for himself through the grass that afternoon, and she was some time walking from the iron gate to the lodge.

The front windows of this rustic lodge faced the road and the disused north gates; the back of the building looked towards the path down which Mrs. Powell went, and the two small windows in this back wall were both dark.

The ensign's widow crept softly round to the front, looked about her

[ocr errors]

cautiously, and listened. There was no sound but the occasional rustle of a leaf, tremulous even in the still atmosphere, as if by some internal prescience of the coming storm. With a slow, careful footstep, she stole towards the little rustic window and looked into the room within.

She had not been mistaken when she had said that she knew where to find Aurora.

Mrs. Mellish was standing with her back to the window. Exactly opposite to her sat James Conyers the trainer, in an easy attitude, and with his pipe in his mouth. The little table was between them, and the one candle which lighted the room was drawn close to Mr. Conyers's elbow, and had evidently been used by him for the lighting of his pipe. Aurora was speaking. The eager listener could hear her voice, but not her words; and she could see by the trainer's face that he was listening intently. He was listening intently, but a dark frown contracted his handsome eyebrows, and it was very evident that he was not too well satisfied with the bent of the conversation.

He looked up when Aurora ceased speaking, shrugged his shoulders, and took his pipe out of his mouth. Mrs. Powell, with her pale face close against the window-pane, watched him intently.

He pointed with a careless gesture to an empty chair near Aurora, but she shook her head contemptuously, and suddenly turned towards the window; so suddenly, that Mrs. Powell had scarcely time to recoil into the darkness before Aurora had unfastened the iron latch and flung the narrow casement open.

“I cannot endure this intolerable heat,” she exclaimed, impatiently; “I have said all I have to say, and need only wait for your answer."

“You don't give me much time for consideration," he said, with an insolent coolness which was in strange contrast to the restless vehemence of her manner. “ What sort of answer do you want?”

“ Yes or no.”
“Nothing more?"

“No, nothing more. You know my conditions; they are all written here,” she added, putting her hand upon an open paper which lay upon the table ; " they are all written clearly enough for a child to understand. Will you accept them? Yes or no ?" “That depends upon circumstances,” he answered, filling his pipe

, and looking admiringly at the nail of his little finger, as he pressed the tobacco into the bowl.

“Upon what circumstances ?" “ Upon the inducement which you offer, my dear Mrs. Mellish.” “You mean the price ?"

“That's a low expression,” he said, laughing; " but I suppose we both mean the same thing. The inducement must be a strong one which will make me do all that,” — he pointed to the written paper, —" and it must take the form of solid cash. How much is it to be ?"

“ That is for you to say. Remember what I have told you.

Decline

to-night, and I telegraph to my father to-morrow morning, telling him to alter his will.”

“Suppose the old gentleman should be carried off in the interim, and leave that pleasant sheet of parchment standing as it is. I hear that he's old and feeble; it might be worth while calculating the odds upon such an event. I've risked my money on a worse chance before to-night.”

She turned upon him with so dark a frown as he said this, that the insolently heartless words died upon his lips, and left him looking at her gravely.

“Egad,” he said, “ you're as great a devil as ever you were. I doubt if that isn't a good offer after all. Give me ten thousand down, and I'll take it.”

“Ten thousand pounds !"

"I ought to have said twenty, but I've always stood in my own light.”

Mrs. Powell, crouching down beneath the open casement had heard every word of this brief dialogue; but at this juncture, half-forgetful of all danger in her eagerness to listen, she raised her head until it was nearly on a level with the window-sill. As she did so, she recoiled with a sudden thrill of terror. She felt a puff of hot breath upon her cheek, and the garments of a man rustling against her own.

She was not the only listener.
The second spy was Stephen Hargraves the Softy.

“Hush !” he whispered, grasping Mrs. Powell by the wrist, and pinning her in her crouching attitude by the muscular force of his horny hand; "it's only me, Steeve the Softy, you know; the stable-helper that she" (he hissed out the personal pronoun with such a furious impetus that it seemed to whistle sharply through the stillness),—“the fondy that she horsewhipped. I know you, and I know you're here to listen. He sent me into Doncaster to fetch this” (he pointed to a bottle under his arm); "he thought it would take me four or five hours to go and get back ; but I ran all the way, for I knew there was summat oop.”

He wiped his streaming face with the ends of his coarse neckerchief as he finished speaking. His breath came in panting gasps, and Mrs. Powell could hear the laborious beating of his heart in the stillness.

“I won't tell o'you,” he said, “and you won't tell o' me. I've got the stripes upon my shoulder where she cut me with the whip to this day. I look at 'em sometimes, and they help to keep me in mind. She's a fine madam, aint she, and a great lady too? Ay, sure she is; but she comes to meet her husband's servant on the sly, after dark, for all that. Maybe the day isn't far off when she'll be turned away from these gates, and warned off this ground; and the merciful Lord send that I live to see it.

Hush !"

With her wrist still pinioned in his strong grasp, he motioned her to be silent, and bent his pale face forward; every feature rigid, in the listening expectancy of his hungry gaze.

“Listen,” he whispered; “ listen! Every fresh word damns hier deeper than the last.” 1 QILII Trub, JR l The trainer was the first to's

speak after this pause in the dialogue within the cottage. He had quietly smoked out his pipe, and had emptied the ashes of his tobacco upon the table before he took up thie thread of the conversation at the point at which he had dropped it. **

“Ten thousand pounds," he said; "that is the offer, and I think it ought to be taken freely. Ten thousand down," in Bank-of-England notes (fives and tens, higher figures might be awkward), or sterling coin of the realm. You understand ; ' ten thousand down. IsThat's my alternative; or I leave this place to-morrow morning with all belonging to me.

“ By which course you would get nothing,” said Mrs. John Mellista quietly."

R701) Hiwinggris,lb edt tvilsoy 270]! -s Shouldnt I?! What does the chap in the play get for bis trouble when the blackamoor'smother's his wife? Ishould get nothing but my revenge upon a tiger.cat, whose claws have left a mark upon me that I shall carry to my grave." He "lifted his hair with a careless gesture of his hand, and pointed to a seat upon his forehead, white mark, barely visible in the dim light of the tallow-candle. “I'm a goodnatured, easy-going fellow, Mrs. John Mellish, but I don't forget.' Is it to be the ten thousand pounds, or war to the knife ?» in wil

Mrs. Powell waited eagerly for Aurora's answer'; but before it came a round heavy rain-drop pattered 'upon the light hair of the ensign's widow. The hood of her cloak had fallen back, leaving her head uncovered. This one large drop was the warning of the coming storm. The signal peal of thunder rumbled slowly and hoarsely in the distance, and a pale flash of lightning trembled upon the white faces of the two listeners. *11111?

“Let me go," whispered Mrs. Powell," let me go; I must get back to the house before the rain begins."

The Softy slowly relaxed his iron grip upon her wrist. "He had held it unconsciously in his utter abstraction to all things except the two speakers in the cottage.

Mrs. Powell rose from her knees, and crept noiselessly away from the lodge. She remembered the vital necessity of getting back to the house before Aurora, and of avoiding the shower. Her wet garments would betray her if she did not succeed in escaping the coming storm. She was of a spare, wizen figure, encumbered with no superfluous fleshi, and she ran rapidly along the narrow sheltered pathway leading to the iron gate through which she had followed Aurora.

The heavy rain-drops fell at long intervals upon the leaves! A second and a third peal of thunder rattled along the earth, like the horrible roar of some hungry animal creeping nearer and nearer to its prey. Blue flashes of faint lightning lit up the tangled intricacies of the wood, but the fullest fury of the storm had not yet burst forth.

The rain-drops came at shorter intervals as Mrs. Powell passed out of the wood, through the little iron gate; faster still as she hurried across

« AnteriorContinuar »