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Chapter XVIII In the Dead-Water


THERE was no end to Mr. Daunt's understanding—his experience of what was wisest. Early on Thursday morning, a messenger arrived at Pitt's Villa, with a note, hoping that Mrs. Shaxton would accompany the commandant to the Cascades Prison, and that she would be pleased to expect the fly at thirty past two. The letter contained something more. There had, it seems, been some arrangement, but it is still a matter of doubt for which of the many reasons Mr. Daunt repeated the request, and for which it was accepted by Mrs. Shaxton. Of course the sending of the message intimated, in a stern and courteous way, that the Commandant was ready to keep to himself the “accident” to Captain Shaxton. It might have been meant only to convey that point. As well it wrote in polite cold English that it would be a sensible move. Did the matter leak out through “Oughtryn's household,” and the abrasions on Shaxton's face, the preparations for Sir John and Lady Franklin's entertainment would be jeopardised—irremediably, it was likely—and an unhappy meeting take a formidable importance. Did, however, Mrs. Shaxton keep to the arrangement to drive down with Mr. Daunt (the “patient, he was told, had been less nervous and distressed”), it would render any rumour of it burlesque and out of court.

We wonder if Matilda accompanied the Commandant for any of the reasons in or even between the lines of his message. It is known she did not inform her husband with whom she was going, and, evidently, he did not suspect her. She left him in his bedroom. Mr. Daunt had appointed a place in Davey Street at which he would join her, and the carriage had picked him up. Why, then, if she was not moved by this somewhat urgent argument, did she—whom Carnt, in his amusing way, had called “nothing human alien to her”—go down through the heavy rain that afternoon in the Commandant's fly?

Do not let us be sentimental about it. Yet do not let us be hard. Her action is only too easily explicable in a hard way. Can we not give something to “womanly forgiveness?” Hobarton

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knew in the morning, through Captain Carne and Garion, of the mounted police, that Heans had produced and forwarded the handkerchief pad—it was said, with singular good taste—and old Chedsey had examined it on Garion's verandah. So all seemed right on that score. Why then did she surprise Hobarton by her feminine volte face, her “charitable journey,” her quiet turning upon fortune in the afternoon?

We know that she had heard on Wednesday evening something that Hobarton did not know. Indeed, Hobarton did not know all then, nor for some time after.

Of course, in a hard sense, she went to save her poor old husband and herself from further danger from this skilful man. It may well be the poor lady was still frightened of Mr. Daunt. Yet this could hardly be, when she had known him so well. Looking back on her history, and its connection with Mr. Daunt, he appears on the whole in quite a protecting light, if severe and determined, with the two exceptions, so unaccountable. Again, Daunt had shown discretion when attacked by her headlong husband, and perhaps she felt she owed him something, as well as the prisoner who stood by. Or perhaps she was touched by his very weakness—as we have once already hinted, and as history tells great Queens have been of those prisoners who had been their companions, and who had turned aside to be unkind to them, even to “grudge the continuance of their lives.” Perhaps, again, there was something about the Commandant she liked that no man was open to—it seems the way of women to deal in that fashion. And last—let us be hard for once—perhaps she agreed to go because of her old attachment for the prisoner, Heans, who might have increased the Commandant's dislike for himself—by diverting the pad. It was not believable of any one, yet if such a gentleman as Mr. Daunt were socially ruined, would Sir William Heans be worse placed or any differently treated?

We know there were those who “protested” she wished to “increase her figure” by pretending to countenance the Commandant; that the lady was at the bottom of it. We have no leisure for the quags of embittered enmity. There is no doubt the Commandant approached her, and that on this occasion he “made no mistake” of the state of her feelings, whatever that mysterious one had been. Despite of the comments of Cadet Tipton and Miss Meurice (already chronicled) that “old Daunt was in a funk,” and that “his visit meant he was at Matilda's feet,” we cling to the fact that she was a good and wise lady, and that the simplest explanation is often the truest. Looked at in its frankest terms, was she more than courageous, did she more than accept Daunt's implied petition for forgiveness, and go and shed a calming drop in the ear of a distracted woman?

By arrangement Daunt stopped the carriage at the turn from Davey Street; just beneath the very oil-lamp under which she

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had dropped the purse. He was protected in a blue greatcoat, and held an umbrella over his hat. Someone who saw him as he entered the white-wheeled carriage said that he had the manners of a grave and reassuring gentleman, and heard the words rapidly uttered, “I was on the point of thinking your courage was not the weapon I have known it.”

What they said, how they politely whiled the way, as they drove down the short distance to Macquarie Street, and along to the Cascades, we know little, and we hazard a guess it was little enough. Perhaps the reader can see Daunt looking from the window, as he sat beside the lady he had so hurt. We know, however, just so much: that Daunt comforted her with the assurance that the distance to be traversed in the prison was infinitesimal—“ in at the gate and up Major Leete's stairs—and lo the woman who had so enchained our poor friend!” And she had said, very agitated, she was only frightened of seeing some cold face that wouldn't accept her, and which she could never forget. And Daunt answered: “Ah, our Mesdames Les Gehennesnote are under lock and key to-day!” He was very cool and steady, and in these later days it would have been a kind of rudeness to speak of him as “efficient.” The window was down, and he sat rather heavily, with his small hand upon the door: in the narrow road lifting his hat sharp to a black whiskered turnkey and a Mr. Six, the latter the collector of curios, such a pale, draggled figure for the Commandant to notice so markedly. Mrs. Shaxton, however, sat forward, her eager neck poking from her pretty, white collar and shawl, her eyes hot and narrow in her bonnet. Six reported they were red, but as he was almost in tears of excitement himself, how could he have perceived so much through the rain? Of what use is it to hang about the thudding hood of that old vehicle! What happened, however, when the Commandant had seen her under his umbrella through the tall gates, we have an account. Mr. Six ran back almost to the bridge, and saw the gentle creature go in in her brown coal-scuttle, with the gold riband and the grey feather.

Daunt had spoken about the woman's hand-paintings, and he took Mrs. Shaxton into the side room under the arched gate, pointing out the pretty pieces of band-box stacked and slung among guns, chains, tawse, gags, and other implements of correction. Matilda pretended to examine one or two, and bought a dark red rose held in an infant's hand, which Mr. Shaneson said, with a clarion laugh, was also his favourite. The prison accountant, Mr. Carnt, was seated at his desk in the corner beyond

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the slant spy-window, and he rose in his shrunken broad-cloth, watching them all the while they were there, with one hand on his papers. Matilda, though she had the side of her bonnet towards him, thought him a dispirited little man without his hat. She looked again in his direction when Mr. Daunt named him and enquired after his health. It was strange of him to laugh such a wild and silly answer. Daunt, who was waiting behind Matilda, said, in a sort of subdued aside, “Mr. Carnt, you are looking oppressed with this place. Shall we put you out of it for a bit?” And Carnt muttered, with a wild laugh, “it was certainly time he had a rise; would the Commandant get him a secretaryship to Mr. Montague?” Oh, how ironically Mr. Daunt nodded his head! At the door she gave him a bow with Mr. Shaneson, but he turned pallidly away.

There were some neat back stairs, and afterwards, in a small, oblong room, through a door on the left, there was the woman “who had so enchained our poor friend.” A tall, slim figure, with reddish hair, and a long, fine face, was seated with a book by a fire in an inner corner. She stooped slightly, and seemed from the way she had her knees doubled beside her chair to be in a sad mood. Yet the marble face which looked up at Matilda Shaxton was at first so unwelcoming and unfriendly that she stopped in the door: her little umbrella clutched in her soft hand. A look at her surprised, small face softened the other's somewhat—not much, but as it were allowing herself to be interrupted. She lowered the book she had been holding, eyeing her with a jealousy less superior and dejected.

It may be supposed that she had read there through the years of her punishment in this noble and pale jealousy of the mind.

Daunt's voice said, “This is Mrs. Hyde-Shaxton, prisoner. See how kind! I have prevailed upon her to come and talk with you.”

Madam Ruth answered in a voice hardly audible: “It is you, sir? Come in, madam. I may not rise, madam.” There was an embroidered black chair by the second bed, and she drew up her knees about her book, and indicated it with quiet grace. “Madam,” she said, “why have you done this for Madam Ruth! It is heroical!”

“Please,” Matilda said, looking at her with strained brave eyes, “you won't be troubled or disturbed with me. I am told you are better. Ah, that's better news! And now you're in the fair way to health?” She came forward beside the other woman, standing between her and Daunt, and stood looking down.

Madam Ruth looked up white, dejected, and rather discomposed than touched. “Why, madam, it is nothing,” she said, with a perverse softening of her proud face. “They say it is

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mere disobedience. But you have come here with an open mind. I see you are not afraid of poor Ruth and her perverseness. You have bought my picture, madam? Ah, it would be happier if we had it all in our helpless hands like that rose!”

Mrs. Shaxton, after a motionless pause, moved away and sank upon a chair, which Daunt had lifted near the fire. She raised and glanced from her bonnet at the little picture in her trembling hand. “True,” she said, “this rose is too often like our health, and that is the kind of clasp we have upon it. … But you have so many accomplishments: your hand-painting and your studies. …” The speaker turned and examined the elaborate embroidery upon the bed at her side. And for a few sentences the women talked on these and kindred interests—each with a sort of accomplished kindness—the visitor leaning forward with an eagerness just free from feverishness, the other sunk in her chair with a noble, half shrinking dejection.

Daunt, having put his hat down on a table by the window, and examined for a long while a sketch of a dead knight which was there, and the books which hung above the bed, came back and stood a little removed between the women, his gloved hands stroking his side whiskers with a sort of brooding air. His eyes were upon a painting over the chimney of an old rough-cast house among decrepit trees. Yet he seemed to listen rather than look at what was before them. More than probably he heard only such scraps and snatches of the talk as “By Heaven's Providence … A mercy it was not on the night of the ball … They had the day's grace,” being only half with them. Or possibly the malfeasance of the night was clinging upon his shoulder, and he saw only that he was there with the wife of Captain Shaxton, in the cell of the artist-woman. Matilda Shaxton and Madam Ruth more than once lifted glances to his rigid cheek.

“Ah, madam,” said Madam Ruth, in answer to sympathetic Mrs. Shaxton, “I protest, you are as stern as the gentlemen. Do you too tell me I can sadden myself at my will? The gentlemen are John Knoxes, every one of them; to them a woman's will is her one reason.”

“Indeed, prisoner,” said Mr. Daunt, breaking somewhat wearily in, “speak gentler if you can! We have ladies and gentlemen in our prisons who can do that and more. No one has ignored the sad cause of your suffering, nor the necessity there is of overcoming it. No one has pretended to himself you have no cause. Mrs. Shaxton will express by the gift of her presence the sympathy we have so clumsily spoken.”

Madam Ruth fingered her great book, staring dejectedly into the fire. She did not show any feeling—unless by the proud and rigid paleness of her cheeks. Her thin shrinking head and neck lay like some sad sculpture upon her black dress and shawl: the calm harshness of her set face, the gentle coronel of her soft hair.

“Mr. Daunt,” she said, “you speak as usual as if you knew

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the depth of all difficulties. Do you indeed know the bottom of all my secrets? I am in fear of you. You are a gentleman of so much experience.”

“You in fear of me, Madam Ruth!” he answered, with a sharp quiet laugh. “In what way, tell me, could a watchful care do more to make you resigned?”

She answered nothing.

“Then why, faithless prisoner, shame me before Mrs. Shaxton by telling me you have me in such awe?”

“Indeed, I know that you consider me,” she said; yet never looking up from her dejection. “And you do it from your habit, sir.”

Mr. Daunt might have said to the singular woman, “Expect more of humanity than that and you will get less,” but what he said was: “You are open with me, madam. I will be frank with you. I have besides a strong personal belief in and regard for you.”

“Fie, sir! you mean I have not your dislike. Well, though you do not hold me in disapproval, still I am in dreadful awe of you.”

“But honestly, madam,” said he, advancing to the mantelpiece and taking in his glove a parrot's feather of scarlet and green, blue and yellow, which lay there, “if you had that disapproval—even my dislike—would you, while you behaved, fear my firm determination of mind?”

Without moving her face, Madam Ruth gave a quiver of those despondent shoulders. “Ah, do not hate me, Commandant Daunt,” she said, in a low, care-nothing way. “I shall be afraid for my life.”

“As much as that?” he asked, speaking with a sort of grave shrug. “And just because I warn you to grasp after your own health?”

“Indeed, sir, how kind of you to confer my peace back upon me!”

He dropped the feather upon the mantelpiece.

“You would not have us let you drift into folly,” asked the pale, stern man between the two women, “without a protest against so weak and foolhardy a policy! See, I warn you against a grave danger. Sympathy is a hold-fast and a medicine, but where the penalty is grave, we do not haggle with our doctors, or secretly amuse ourselves with the pretensions of well-wishers. Get well, madam, and be discreet. Take the safer way—I beg you—though upon it your feet are leaden, and your secret hope and longing have been unsatisfied.”

He spoke somewhat harshly. Madam Ruth's shoulder quivered up a little, her head drooped yet further, and her thin fingers clasped and wrestled with the leather corners of the ashgrey book in her lap.

As for eager Matilda, she reddened in her bonnet and cried

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out: “Stop, Mr. Daunt, you speak too gravely. Do not misunderstand him, madam. He means divertingly. Indeed, sir, are you one to—can the best of us—advise upon opportunity, and how we shall brave our disappointments, and the things that menace us?”

Daunt drew back with a tragic look. “I am not fit—I am not fit,” he muttered briefly. “Speak for me, madam. You are a healing in yourself. I was forgetting I had prevailed upon your lenient heart. This shall be the drawing-room of a private acquaintance; it shall have no bad record. I will use not one further word but simple kindness—I promise you—not one.”

Matilda said nothing—indeed, seemed confused and troubled she had said so much—but throwing the crossed ruches of her shawl aside, she put her hand upon the book where Madam Ruth's hands moved. The latter raised her head from her still lassitude.

The anger in Mrs. Shaxton's voice seemed to have attracted her. She slowly moved aside the five wrestling fingers over the five hot ones. “I am a sour woman,” she said in a trembling and petitioning voice: “a hermit who has forgotten how to like—indeed, or thank. You have braved me, Mrs. Shaxton, and it is to Commandant Daunt I owe the fact that you are here, and my life is broader. Mrs. Shaxton will come again one day before I go. Madam, will you let me paint a picture of you as you came into my room? Mr. Daunt—won't you bring Mrs. Shaxton again? Don't—don't misunderstand a harsh woman, Mrs. Shaxton, Mr. Daunt. And madam, let a sour woman say, do not be vexed with the Commandant. He has been very good to me. And he speaks of you, madam, with a sort of reverence.”

Did she know he had not always spoken so of her?

Matilda rather wildly answered: “Yes, I will come. I would not have had this pleasure had Commandant Daunt not chosen me, and assured me I should find some one who would like to see me. There, Madam Ruth, perhaps after all the Commandant knows us better than ourselves! Mr. Daunt persuaded me the sight of a lame duck like me might do you good.”

Her staring eyes held the other's with the brightness of tears. Madam Ruth looked at her without tears, her white fingers holding upon her hot hand.

Daunt had observed the prisoner severely, his face not softening much. If he had an opinion, he was not for surrendering it at their devotion. With just sufficient civility for manners, he bowed, saying “he would be glad to have the honour of again escorting Mrs. Shaxton.” He added, with a stern sharpness of feature, “it was surely the kindest of motives which had urged her to make a second journey, while the prisoner's sudden offer to make an effort and devote herself to colouring a portrait of her visitor, was surprising and good news: unless,” he concluded,

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saddening and making a little joke of it, “unless it will have an additional attraction for Mrs. Shaxton to possess a souvenir of herself standing against the bars of the prison?”

And Madam Ruth said in her pale, harsh way, “she would like to paint her, but not by the window.” “Dear madam—as you came in by the door, with the Commandant's inflexible face behind your bonnet.”

“Indeed,” cried Mr. Daunt, laughing rather loudly and pacing away towards the window, “indeed, indeed, do I appear so grim as this?”

And there he stood looking out upon the cosy, dripping court.

“Ah, well,” said Matilda Shaxton gently—and the face in the bonnet near Madam Ruth's stared and smiled a little—“it is not all a good world outside. And bars, if they keep in, shut so much out that we might not have seen or been vexed with. That is an idea congenial to me—if you will allow it. I wish you would paint me at your window, Madam Ruth; where you have sat so long. If you will bring me down here, Mr. Daunt, quite soon, and Madam Ruth thinks I will make a good drawing, I will dress in my best for it.”

As for Captain Daunt, he stood steadily by the window, weightily feeling his palish face; urbane enough in his white cravat, high-shouldered great-coat, and wellingtons, if somewhat too occupied with stern matters for true good manners. He roused himself with a heavy shake to answer Matilda Shaxton.

“I promise Mrs. Shaxton a very willing servitude,” he said, and gave a little harsh bow and smile, but did not turn. “It is truly angelical in her, upon my word it is! And what a healthy pleasure for the prisoner! I promise you, I will give it attention after our historic night, and even arrange with Leete before we leave.” And then he turned to the table, took up his hat and cane, and stood staring solemnly at the unfinished painting which hung above it.

Major Leete presently hobbled to the door upon his stick, and softly requested an interview with Mr. Daunt. The Commandant immediately went out, leaving the door ajar, and he and Leete were heard talking in a low tone. For some while longer, Mrs. Shaxton talked with the shrinking, noble-looking woman by the fire.


Charles Oughtryn shook the rain from his benjamin, and followed the butler into the low, square hall of the chief-district-magistrate. It was late and two lamps were lit. Mr. Magruder had not long begun dinner, and regretted that he must ask Mr. Oughtryn, if his business was any but the briefest, to return

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later. To this Oughtryn, whose eyes seemed very sly and primed, demurred, placing his coat upon the slates and his hat and whip upon that, beside a chair of former Grecian lines, on which he took a slight seat. To the butler's enquiry whether he intended to await the conclusion of dinner, he made the shrill but steady rejoinder, “manifestly, with the notable's permission.” He sat thus for an hour and a half, through the door on one side the quiet rain falling, and through the door at his left, the rattle of silver and harsh flow of voices. Whatever were his conjectures, as he glared round upon these chequered walls (the ornate frames, the tragic prints)—whether he was overburdened with a notion “money and sneers,” or awed with a sense of the “notable fitness of things”—whether he was merely repolishing a keenish weapon for the encounter that was before him—there he sat, a primed and tested ancient, leaning forward with hands folded over knees; somewhat daunted, somewhat removed, and somewhat chary; yet a person decided and determined.

When presently four ladies pressed out in a flutter of laughter, the swim of their severe dresses drowning the rain, they gazed about each other's shoulders at the seated figure (“Mr. Oughtryn, the owner of the famous room”), and smiled as they mistook for inflated consequence his concerned and cabined air. Even when they had passed across into a further door, he was not immediately summoned into the dining-room, but had leisure to listen to the tinkling of a piano, and the low voice of a young lady who sang a somewhat puzzling song of a “deserted castle,” and of Cupid being found unharmed among the ruins, to which Mr. Oughtryn, thinking of “fountains” and “effigies of the new-born young,” observed “it was a mercy it was not broken too.”

The ditty had just ceased, when two fiery young gentlemen crossed over arm in arm, whereon Oughtryn, being beckoned from the dining-room, detached himself from his chair, took up his small hat, his official whip for counsel, and groped, bowing somewhat blindly, out of the slated hall, into a pleasing aroma of sherry and flowers.

In the room, a tall, dark man with bold, weary eyes was leaning to the right of the mantel-piece, and throwing into the fire, piece by piece, some minute fragments of a document which he had evidently just torn in pieces. Magruder, who sat at the end of the table, seemed to endeavour to soften a determined expression to something more forbearing as Oughtryn entered. The latter advanced to the disarranged table, with fingers guarding lips, while the magistrate discussed the wherewithal of hides and casked mutton. Oughtryn gave his answers with an eye straining after the bland in secret concern, and, on his side, it was evident the magistrate was talking more haughtily than he wished. He cried “Ah, ah,” and tossed his weighty head, as if he had seen the other's respectful concealments and would fain forget his own:

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He now indicated some wine the butler had put on the bottom corner of the table, and a chair there against the wall beneath a pretty portrait of a young lady taken against the shrouds of a ship.

Strange beings, men! Here they stood or sat in their discontent in the warm room. Here strove to accomplish their large ends beside the noisy fire. Are we sometimes too forgetful of the pleasant fends we have erected and the second moral effort it is possible to make behind them? How much quicker would these men have surrendered their private determination, or resigned measures in another's behalf, had the roof been removed and the rain allowed to enter?

Oughtryn had conveyed the impression, as one who knew “next to nothing,” but who had listened steadily and blankly to Sir William's bedside narrative, that something careful might be done, and as far as his cautious notions went, had better be attempted. He was sly and forlorn by turns. On his earlymorning visit, he sat by the tent-bed, holding his small hat and whip across his knees, attired in the all-enveloping coat and jack-boots, accoutred to “remove the horses to pasture.” He made very few interruptions, once widely explaining himself as “having no liking for such proceedings,” and again putting it as “a dangerous thing to any one who was steady in his judgment.” When, however, the whole story had been told him, and when Heans had sent him across to the cave to examine the cracks, and the sack-chain, and afterwards, at Oughtryn's request, turned up the one piece of backing he had—the writing in the Plutarch—spelling out the manuscript through his eyeglass—Oughtryn, though he could not admit there was much to go on, “doubted he could stand constant under another night of such conduct.” Nor, when he was told of the afternoon's collision over Abelia's horse (and he had heard something of this), could he allow, without an attempt to stop it, “any fresh discommodiousness being worked upon yourself, honour.” There, at first, he sat, he and Sir William, hemmed in and surrounded by spare furniture early brought in by himself and the woman, squeaking occasionally in a sort of high protesting, and more than once observing, as if to reassure the patient, that he was taking the soldier with the horses, as had been suggested by his Honour, the Deputy-Commissioner. And upon Sir William enquiring if they would be long away, he explained (as if Heans' accident had disarmed a wonted closeness) it would depend whether Leeworthy could take them, as he seemed overfull. If not, he was due two miles on at Gastine's—a name, as it happened, familiar to his questioner. It appeared both Leeworthy and Skipwith of Glen Allen were absent during yesterday's visit, and he had trudged on to Mr. Gastine's, who himself was under-shedded. He considered there was less danger in “fearing too much than too little,” and he

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would be wary of opening the matter to any officer to whom he might appeal, in a way which “couldn't be stood for.” He added that to hearten himself, he would, before calling, find and question Conapanny, though he did not lean much on the backing of a native seen about at night. This last observation evidenced he was not far from crediting the terrible story Sir William had told him. As for his relations with Spafield, he had spoken with him early at the kitchen door, and his account of it had been “bad for yourself, honour, on account of impudent and petty tyrannising with him, and worse for the black that followed him—though I speaks to both being conspicuous held.”

Heans gave as clear an account of his discoveries, and the events of yesterday, as his fever would permit; having so much sadness of dismay, in his excitement, to determine that through no lack of warning should danger chance upon Abelia if to-morrow he departed. Oughtryn, who, when approached on this point, was standing by the bed, having returned from the cave, glared blindly at the bed-clothes, and was as if he could not be made alarmed about his daughter. It was as if he dismissed the women to their own comprehension and defences. After hearing, however, of the afternoon's struggle with Spafield, he admitted, with a twinkle of falsetto obstinacy, “his poor chit might be graver questioned.” It was plain he had already had some talk with her. He held his hat in his left hand, and the Plutarch open in the other, as if he had something given him to read he knew already by heart, and perceived, moreover, it was not pleasing to think upon. Indeed, as if, in his roughened fingers, he held a standard author of whom his sly and reverent mind, somewhat simply furnished (a mind not equipped for deciding), could find no excuse for approving. In a word, before him lay Sir William Heans, “his gentleman,” the worse for a nasty, persistent collisioning with wise privilege (that wall he so feared), and he, an old-hand yet, was feeling prudently his humbler weapon, and scheming a grey campaign by which he might cut a “quietness” about him against the cautious principle by which he lived.

Heans—was it because he was leaving Hobarton?—chose to be reticent about the quarrel between the two gentlemen in his room. He informed Oughtryn there had been some disagreement between Captain Shaxton and Mr. Daunt on coming from the eventful ride, and that he considered Mr. Daunt had taken an unfair part, but he did not touch on the peculiar relation of both gentlemen to himself, nor did he lay undue emphasis on the facts that he had found Mr. Daunt seated there, and that he had reserved him the room. Perhaps he saw by the man's face he had no need to be more particular. To his concluding remarks, Oughtryn, after a short silence, caught his breath in a peculiar, harsh sigh. Then with the neighing and

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somewhat cryptic observation that “crutches were cheap” (not including, it may be supposed, the remainder of the metaphor in deference to Sir William's presence), he snapped to the book, tapped a dark forehead with it, and presently put it in the pocket of his voluminous coat. Afterwards, with a short-sighted peep into the rainy yard, he drew from the same pocket a very crumpled handkerchief, and after carefully unfolding it, took from it his usual crumb of comfort in a small lump of tobacco, which he flipped somewhat forlornly into his mouth.

“Come now, sir,” said Magruder, when Oughtryn, having taken his wine, doubtfully smelt it, and drunk it at a draught, replaced the glass on the table, “what you have to say may be said before our friend Dr. Wardshaw. He and I cannot, I fear, yet part. Let me try to satisfy you better than I am satisfying him. Now, now, Mr. Oughtryn, I thought all was sugar and ale with you?”

“Mr. Oughtryn,” said the dark man, glinting a dark look over the table and smiling too, “you must put up with me. Mr. Magruder has his teeth in my wrist and I can't get away till he lets go.” He pitched a pellet of paper on the fire still smiling, and when Oughtryn had somewhat blankly dropped his eyes, and traced the patterns in the carpet with the tip of his whip, he admitted huskily that “presences of persons like Dr. Wardshaw was a convenience even in private,” and to Mr. Magruder's request to “Come, now,” lifted a blenched face, and shrilly told what he had found the night before on returning to his yard, his pass-man's explanation of the affray, also of the writing in the book which had led the prisoner to watch the soldier, and of the soldier's “supernatious conduct” of which his daughter and servant had been witnesses.

To this Mr. Magruder, flipping the nutshells in his plate as though they were so many human nuts whose tone he was testing, replied with the question: “I know you, Oughtryn, have not come carrying to me the assertions of the one party. What had the file, himself, to say?”

Oughtryn opened his many buttoned coat, and rising, drew from it Sir William's green-leather book, which conducting along the table, he lengthily and laboriously opened at a candle, and lowered gropingly towards the magistrate's chin. Magruder now put on a pair of immense spectacles, and arresting the book, lent back and examined it by the candelabra. He was occupied thus a considerable time, Oughtryn, whip in hand, staring at him, with a sort of grave hope. At length he put it down, and after musing a while at the empty table, “begged his friend, Dr. Wardshaw, to do them the favour to examine the writing.” This the doctor did, clutching up the book and retiring with it to the chimney. Magruder then asked Oughtryn to return to his chair, and when he had again seated himself, primed, obstinate, and

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somewhat fearful, repeated his question. Oughtryn told him word for word what he had told Sir William Heans.

The doctor made a sudden irreconcilable noise like the echo of a sardonic laugh, and Magruder, painstakingly removing his glasses and frowning up, enquired if Oughtryn could say “if the young girl seemed to encourage the attentions of the soldier?”

“For a female so obscure-minded,” said Oughtryn, brushing his hat across his cautious eyes as if he would brush away some puzzle, “she had spoken with him unusual steady. The man is treated obedient by us all.” He did not know what her reason was, if it was more than chit's goodness. She was good, if of a domestic leaning. It was his notion she was hiding fright, and he had not interfered with her because he knew she thought the man the same that had spoken bad over the wall. It was singular for her to be so easy.

“You don't mean she was froward?” asked the magistrate.

“There is nothing showy about my female,” said Oughtryn in explanation: “the child is frightful by nature and obscure by disposition.”

Said Magruder, tapping stern glasses and staring over them at Oughtryn: “And what does the old native say? Could she be made to speak? What enlightenment is there in her account of her movements?”

Oughtryn hung his head. “Putting aside hasty speaking,” he said, “we have not yet found the woman. She seems to have gone off. Conapanny has her runs in the bush. She has not yet been come on.”

Magruder turned to the doctor, remarking acidly: “I hardly expect you to agree, sir; but I cherished a respect for the old native.”

“Ho,” said the doctor, “you drop there, do you?”

The magistrate raised his hand, waving it ironically. He sat for a while with head down. “And did you yourself mention,” he said at last, addressing Oughtryn, “did you mention to the prisoner yourself the superstition against the house, and that Governor Collins had died there?”

“Honour, my gentleman had heard the guard himself speak of it.”

“You petition to have the appointment altered on this?”

“I—I fetches a warning-like to you, gentlemen, and asks you to quarter us less troublesome and threatening.”

“You make no accusation?”

“No, I can't, honour.” (Did Mr. Oughtryn sharply breathe?) “But I fetches the danger.” He rose suddenly, with whip and hat clutched to him, and hand outstretched, his eyes blind in the candles. “And I asks help.”

“What danger? Be specific.”

“The danger that's attacked my gentleman.”

  ― 308 ―

“Nothing more serious than the fracas?” The magistrate looked heavily, narrowly, and enquiring into his eyes.

“Well, honour, I put in a word for my young person having her name let be.”

Magruder fumbled at his white cravat and put a yet more remarkable question.

“Sit down, sir. Calm yourself. Your prisoner is a gentleman, is he? Come—come, I should like to know what in your opinion a gentleman is, Oughtryn?”

“I can't rightly put it, sir,” said Oughtryn, sinking slowly to his chair again, “unless—putting aside notableness—it's him that cheats less than he could—including of his mortal life?”

Both the gentlemen gazed at him whimsically.

“Why, sir, you have so much faith in man!” marvelled the magistrate, showing his fine teeth a little over his corporation. “I expect less and demand more myself. It is my business. Well, well” (growing colder), “so Sir William Heans has left you so much! He has, however, a singular twist for investigating other people's crimes! I am in somewhat of a quandary. I hardly wish to grant him the credit for an invention so grim, nor do I willingly give it him for a blackguard attempt to revenge himself for a blow, or get the man, with whose familiarity with your daughter he was chagrined, into trouble. … I repeat, with a caution” (as Oughtryn rose and sat down again), “I hardly care to entertain these thoughts. … I declare to you privately, if your pass-servant were to bring to me that document he says he found in the cave, and which has disappeared so fortuitously, I would get him his conditional pardon.”

Magruder here stooped forward in his chair, and emphasized what he had to say with a knife, on which he kept his eyes. He seemed to wait upon Oughtryn, but Oughtryn added nothing. He then pushed back his chair and sat for a while with his hand over his forehead. His stern mouth alone showed beneath. Dr. Wardshaw tossed the green book, turning once to examine his be-satined chin in the glass, on the results of which examination he seemed profoundly ironic. Over the table, behind the steady candles, Oughtryn held a stiff forefinger across his lips and peered sly and sharp about the walls, as though amid a heavy oppression of “money and sneers” he were clinging unvanquished among the “notable fitnesses” of his belief.

“Is the red coat of large build?” asked Magruder, sweeping his hand suddenly from his forehead, and crossing his comfortable white trousers.

“A tall man, honour,” answered Oughtryn, “tough by nature, and given to frisky speaking. A deep hand.”

“I suppose,” said the magistrate, sharply, “Sir William Heans has come to consider your daughter to some extent under his protection?”

  ― 309 ―

“My prisoner was pleased to show me he was anxious about my young person—being of a withdrawing nature.”

“Is it not an old story,” said the other, patting his knee, “and the fault with the young girls? They are rather fickle sometimes: some one or other assuming a proprietorship over the young woman which both she and her new gallant resent?”

“The young person being shrinkable?” questioned Oughtryn, staring up past the other, as if he sought some blank and uncomfortable solution in the portrait on the wall behind.

The doctor made his peculiar noise, and spoke. “The young girl is nearly blind, Mr. Magistrate,” cried he. “I take another side. I suppose Heans was trying to protect her against the man and her own innocence.”

“You make the file out to be bad, sir—an intruder on the peace of this family?”

“I have attended this girl,” said Wardshaw, indifferent enough—and holding tenaciously as a watch-dog to his private tragedy. “She is a gentle, shrinking creature. That sort of philandering on her part—and with such a brutish lout—is exceedingly improbable.”

“Dear me,” said the magistrate, somewhat fallen of face, “this is very curious. You believe, then, it might be a sincere state of fright in Heans?”

“I take that point of view,” said Wardshaw. “I add an idle suggestion that the old gambler speaks the truth—that is, so far as the file has made a set at him about the girl. The other thing may be his frantic style—sheer panic in a moment of danger with the lout at him. As for the soldier—it is as Oughtryn says—he has a bad way or a bad mouth.”

“What is this you say about the rest of it?”

“I said fright,” said the doctor, with irritable decision, lifting the book and staring indifferently at its old square back and gilded traceries; “but I leave it to the Court and his wider experience of human character.”

“Oh you do, do you!” said Magruder, shruggingly. “In the end many do, Wardshaw! Indeed they do! And you, Mr. Oughtryn—is it fair to beg of you your private opinion of Sir William Heans' discoveries and losses?”

Oughtryn dropped his eyes over that cautious finger, and seemed to trace a troubled sketch with his whip upon the white carpet. His cheek twice moved as though he was chewing unconsciously on a figurative crumb of comfort. Eventually he said: “It's fell out very foul for my servant. I do not like it, honour;” and glared up again at the portrait above the magistrate, as one might look out, watchful and humble armed, across a battlement.

“Well, now, listen to me,” said old Magruder, with a fell and final air; “you guarantee your story of the file's knowledge of the house and superstition. I think, with that in hand, and

  ― 310 ―
the book, you and your prisoner would strain a very weak chain. That is all. What more is there in evidence beside the ingenuity of the idea, and perhaps a peep of daylight seen at the top of a crack in your stable? A bad exaggeration—such as that about the hat—might get the prisoner into trouble—if it was such. What is to be done? I cannot take it on this. At the worst the quarter is only in authority over you for a few hours—three days, you say. If there is any danger for your daughter—anything in Sir William Heans' fears but mere jealous or super-annuated interference—can she not avoid the man? The same with the prisoner. Let him behave carefully Sunday, and should the man go out of his way to approach your daughter, come to me (with clear evidence) and I will try and free her of her indiscretion. I remind you, Heans' reputation in connection with the ladies is not successful. Should the prisoner, after a few days' reflection—with indignation cooled—stick to his extraordinary story of the ancient hat and writing, still make a body-hunt out of a night's ratting, still wish his evidence tested of the connection between Spafield and the “Spars” of this scrawl, I will listen to him—I will look into it. I repeat—if he still wish it. If not, I will not pursue it. I remark, I don't know who has appointed this file. You remember your prisoner has not been a contented man. The police know more about him than I, or perhaps you do. Who is to say the officers responsible have not put a truculent fellow in a shaking mire—where a mild man would not serve two purposes! You request me to exert my authority to have the man removed. I say to you, Put up with the quarter for three days, or come to me with a piece of rough behaviour unprovoked. Meanwhile the pass-man has been once hurt. I know the prisoner's physique; it is not a heavy one. You may tell the guard, if there is any more rough-handling of the prisoner, I shall not interpret it favourably to him or those to whose carelessness his appointment is due.”

Magruder had not quite finished what he had to say.

“Now mind, sir,” he added, “do not be too loose with your signature while the file is about. Keep Heans in at night. You can be too free with your pass-man!”

He then bowed and wished Mr. Oughtryn and His Excellency better weather for the morrow. Oughtryn rose. Sardonic Dr. Wardshaw swung from the mantel-piece, and with Magruder's consent, carried the Plutarch and put it in the old fellow's hand. As he did so, he said half-comfortably, “Commend me to little Miss; you have all got what you want, haven't you?” Oughtryn, while putting the book away in his coat, seemed to reply that, “it was a kittle fit,” and when he had buttoned up, and gone to the door, he turned and thanked “honours, for steady standing to it.” He then groped his way out, his face, if passive, rather staid than free.

So he left the motionless gentlemen, and emerged into the

  ― 311 ―
hall, where the piano was playing to an accompaniment of warm spring rain.


Towards evening, Sir William rose, dressed, and went into the sitting-room. He felt pretty well, and tramped the floor, testing his ability to perform the long coach journey. His head, bound in a green handkerchief, he found painful, but steady; and was soon confident that, with a good night, it would serve him. He rose about half-past five. The rain had then stopped and he felt more hopeful about the weather. The silver-leaden sky had given way over the hills to a cloth-of-gold cavern. A perpetual noise of steps was in the damp garden, and persons were tramping up and down about the fountain, a sharp melodious “toot” floating out incessantly as they passed the gate. Sir William Heans thought of many things as they went among the clear bushes; how little these merry people made of the groaning old gate; how the grandeur or the sternness that had been was probably part of the amusement—part of the pleasant clamour that came along the passages.

In passing, he has a note remarking how beautiful that night was poor Abelia's red valerian—Bloody Warrior as it is playfully called. On all sides, under the shadows of the motionless bushes, the wet grass was coloured with an old stain of blood. Yes, it was as if the day's rain had washed out of the garden a forgotten discoloration to suit the grim old stones and paths—as the sick ruffian, Spafield, was frightened he might do on the boards of the great room.

Heans had heard the horses leave the yard in the morning, but since then had not seen Oughtryn. He could not detect the red-coat's gabble under the clap of hoofs, but supposed he had departed with it. The man was either subdued or keeping quiet. He had seen the woman, but had not spoken with her. But for a slight outweariedness she was her monumental self. He had some recollection of having seen her face in the night, and from the fact that she expressed no surprise nor barely enquired of his condition, he judged that she had aided Oughtryn in attending him. Abelia he had not seen, nor for a while heard her voice amid the noises of preparation. This was not extraordinary in the quiet girl, but he would have been glad to be made certain in what condition the collision with the villain, and Oughtryn's communications, had left her mind. He was startled by her voice about half-past four.

The occurrence was not quieting. She spoke in the yard, not far from his window, and in a low, clear tremble. He heard her plainly say, “I did not speak to you.”

  ― 312 ―

And then a voice he hardly recognised: “Come now, Shy, I thought you called to me!”


“Well, you looked at me—I thought you wished a word with me.”

“No, soldier—I was just——”

“Just what?”

“Just thinking you were——”

“What was I?”

“Just thinking you were sharp enough.”

“Pretty sharp—why now? But you never seen me sharp—only kind!”

“Something—something tells me, soldier, you're very sharp.”

“Why, miss, you're looking calm as shivering ice at me!”

Sir William rose, flung on his gown, and stood holding by the window. But there was nothing more said. Abelia, perhaps, had turned and gone in. He heard steps move a short distance away and there stop. Leaning forward over his toilette, he saw the vile figure of Spafield, quite close, somewhat turned from the wall. He was drawing a cane across his trousers, the back of his red coat bowed and sulky, the cheek beneath the shako a curious chalky livid. He could not see if Abelia was still there. He pictured her against the wall, shivering and white. In a few moments two men in livery appeared before the stable, and Spafield strolled over, accosting them with folded arms. Heans could not get the picture of her out of his mind all the while he was dressing.

The house was full of a subdued bustle up to a late hour. The woman, as we have said, had little to say, and while the supper-table was undergoing its brief period of array, Sir William sat reading and thinking, and did not intrude upon that monumental silence. He recollected, while she was there, the half-warning, half-entreaty she had made him just previous to his visit to the stable, and though he could not say what point of view she took, he felt his promise to refrain from collision had been broken, and this silence seemed to admit. He said, however, as she was about to mingle with the footsteps and alarm without, that he regretted the anxiety caused last night; it was unavoidable. And whatever she had been told, he begged them to be “shy of all intercourse with the man while he remained.” As for her, she stopped in her slow way, and with the door-handle in her hand, and her proud eyes regarding it, “he should have no fear for them two women,” she said. “Miss and she had got a real fright of the officer.”

He thought that the tone of her voice again insisted that the fear was not for them, but he sat quiet and said no more, and she seemed little more willing, plucking open the door and seeming, in a sort of haste, to stumble out.

Oughtryn knocked and edged into the door as he was seated

  ― 313 ―
before the table. Somewhat blank and secret, he announced, “there was no news of Conapanny, nor did he know where to look for her”; adding “that there was no throwing out the blood-crow either, but honours had ordered him, through Oughtryn, to mind his p's, and this he had told him.” Sir William, dressed with much neatness and seated for this last evening behind his table curiosities, asked a few questions from a brave eyeglass, and was answered careful, high, and breathless from about the door. “He answers me respectful with his arms locked,” said Oughtryn, referring to his words with Spafield, “but he has the look of a marked man; and supernatious in his head again”; he added, “for he tells me the help women have been playing at him, for that he found a candle lit in his bedroom when he went up to-night.” He seemed to add this communication rather as a sort of heartener, and significant point, than a singular thing for Heans' inspection. In any case silence ensued upon it. On this Sir William broke at last (he was sitting back, and he let his glass fall out upon his velvet waistcoat)—broke at last to “suppose that it had been necessary to ride on as far as Gastine's?” and was replied to with a nod.

Oughtryn, having agreed to send in his “chit” during the evening for a few cautioning remarks, withdrew his head, then slowly pushing in again, he placed the green Plutarch on the edge of the table. He had again turned aside when Heans asked if he would take a toast. To this he agreed, Sir William filling a wine-glass and an ancient rum sneaker from the decanter. Elevating the glass with a stern air, Heans proposed “long life to himself and peace in his house”; to which Oughtryn replied with “a roof, honour, and a good end.” He then went away, and Sir William's chin fell upon his cravat.

Yes, Sir William stood by the window, watching the gold pale out of the north, or sat by the fire listening and thinking of the strange things happening and about to happen. He thought of the fellow who had struck him down. It looked a long way over those hills, and the effort was a grave one. And this was grave, and thronging oppressively, this, out of which he was stepping, and armed with vague and arresting talons. The lights in the garden, the low voices, the uncertain under-roll above and below stairs, the sharp trumpeting of the gate (there were times when he unconsciously connected the noise with the call of the little statue on the fountain), these, and the thought of the dangerous fellow about the house, who, if his power had been curbed, had come out of it with hands quite free, were harassed moorings from which to loose a course upon “a tide which had no turn.” He was glad and relieved when Oughtryn shut his shutters, and he was barred for the night in the mild and prosaic company of the Roman soldier, his dove-women, of which he used to say they did him good, for they cast continually into a worldly mind the images of good women, his friend—the empalaced bird, the

  ― 314 ―
steady, little, feminine clock so overweighted with ornament, and those other curious things which had been his companions.

When the woman had drawn the shades and removed the supper, Sir William's thoughts took a dangerous turn, and he looked about him for that world we call “a book.” There was the Plutarch lying on the angled patterns of the cloth. He rose and took the leather volume, examining the green and brown marbling and the gold-lined sides, and reading a portion here and there. Eventually he returned with it to his bead chair, and elevating it, with his sharpened features towards the lamp, tried with painful precision to follow the lines of print.

But this failed to divert him:—

“It is said that when Lycurgus the orator had delivered Xenocrates the philosopher out of the hands of the tax-gatherers who were hurrying him to prison for the tax paid by strangers, and had prosecuted them for their insolence, Xenocrates afterwards meeting the children of Lycurgus, said to them, ‘Children, I have made a noble return to your father for the service he did me; for all the world praise him for it.’”

And this made him sad:—

“Many persons of rank made their court to Alcibiades; but it is evident that they were charmed and attracted by the beauty of his person. Socrates was the only one whose regards were fixed upon the mind, and bore witness to the young man's virtue and ingenuity, the rays of which he could distinguish through his fine form: and fearing lest the pride of riches and high rank, and the crowd of flatterers, both Athenian and strangers, should corrupt him, he used his best endeavours to prevent it, and took care that so hopeful a plant should not lose its fruit and perish in the very flower. If ever Fortune so enclosed and fortified a man with what are called her goods, as to render him inaccessible to the incision knife of philosophy, and the searching-probe of free advice, surely it was Alcibiades.”

While this unsteadied his mind:—

“After this glorious success, Alcibiades, ambitious to show himself as soon as possible to Tissaphernes, prepared presents and other proper acknowledgments for his friendship and hospitality, and then went to wait upon him with a princely train. But he was not welcomed in the manner he expected: for Tissaphernes, who for some time had been accused by the Lacedæmonians, and was apprehensive that the charge might reach the King's ear, thought the coming of Alcibiades a very seasonable incident, and therefore put him under arrest, and confined him at Sardis, imagining that the injurious proceeding would be a means to clear himself.”

Even though it was followed by this most hopeful passage:—

“Thirty days after, Alcibiades, having by some means or other obtained a horse, escaped from his keepers, and fled to Clazomenæ.”

  ― 315 ―

He discarded the book thereafter for last week's Courier. And the Courier for his “poniard,” his old weapon of defence, which he unbuttoned from the breast of his clawhammer, and fell to sharpening with his pen-knife. Was this Sir William Heans at this work? How strange he looks! He says himself he felt a “hard feeling of regret.” While so engaged he changed his mind concerning the “mitred figure” upon the handle. He observes a likeness in it to the cocked hat and uniform—and even the narrow face—of the carving in the stable of the ill-fated Governor Collins.

Perhaps the fancy was father to the discovery, and he was too ready to think he had fallen upon the “dagger-knife” fashioned by Walter Surridge.

At seven the house had quieted, and a little later, there came a groping knock at the door, and Abelia felt her way in. Heans backed the bead chair about and half-faced her as she stood by the table. She had in her hand some Wandering Jew, which perhaps she had brought to put in one of her singular vases—one of which, pleasingly mispainted with a bird-cage, was on the table. However, she laid them instead upon the cloth and tried to blink between Sir William and the fire. Grey dress and black apron, brooch and tatted collar. Flat hair—face a trace fallen, as one not easy where she gropes—and the inevitable, pale, fluttering calm. A singular, trembling, precise hand that twists back and forth upon the greenery.

Sir William remarked: “Is that you, Abelia?” and tapping his knee with his book, and speaking rather irritably, he said he was sorry that, after her father's trouble, a bad man was to remain for some days about her home, with special facilities for intrusion. “He wished again to warn her against speaking with him. He begged to know,” and a sort of wheedling laugh crept into his voice, “if she thought she could give him a promise not, of her free will, to speak with him again?”

The girl shrank against the table and gave the required answer. “She promised, if she could prevent it, not again to speak to the soldier. She said she trusted she might never speak with him.”

“Ah,” said Sir William, “there's no relying on such chance acquaintances, my dear. Lord help us, it's a strange world! No, not in any one. Here to-day, Abelia, and gone to-morrow. No trusting, my child—no trusting, miss.”

“It was not that I was confiding,” she said, pale as death and peaceful.

“Well, what was it?” He spoke hoarse.

“It was, we had better be respectful.”

“That is wise, that is the way your father speaks. But take care that him you prove does not prove something unforgettable. … By Heaven, my head is passably painful—there, that's well! So you promise me this. Yes? That's a great relief.

  ― 316 ―
And I, as your old friend, I wish to kiss your hand, miss, in good-night.”

He half rose from his chair, took her hand, and kissed it, and sank back, staring at the fire.

She stood aside, her eyelids wildly fluttering upon her calm face, and as if they were dragged from her, came the words: “Sir, why is your voice, sir, so heroical sad?”

He did not answer. He sat before the fire, his plaid legs crossed, his chin propped upon the old book.

Abelia pushed slowly to the door, and again stopped while she felt for the handle, her face white and sour-calm.

“Come, miss,” he said, without moving, “are you still there? Abelia, the house is quiet at last. Won't you go and play to me your Robin Adair?

She gropingly pulled open the door and went out. Sir William Heans sat there, and did not move, till he heard the faint tinkle and tang of the piano, when he rose and re-opened it. He stood behind the door and listened. She must have left the stair-door open, for the tune crept in from the hall with unwonted distinctness. It seemed to float away into empty rooms and wander out, falling on little firm cadences, and rising on little scales of seemly and half-shy joyance, taking to air so prudently, alighting to earth so soft and gropingly, like the savour of such a quiet week of a contented life—such provident gaieties and sadness—as should have been lived in such a place. It aspired, it touched and skimmed those old ceilings, it fell a-fingering the air—and sprang peeping at the gentle stars. “Tang-tang-tinkle-tang.” On she played steadily and pretty well. The old house hung about that distant fingering.

Sir William stood by the door, beating time with his book, and making at last a sort of humming. Indeed, what was there sad in the child's playing! Behind him, his friend the bird gave evidences of strange feeling—we hesitate to call it alarm—clambering with a great caution up the minaret. And suddenly, in the midst of a pretty flight, the piano ceased. In the hush there was born in some corner of the house a slow and husky singing:

Murruda, yerrabá, tundy kin ara,
Murruda, yerrabá, min yin guiny wite má lá.