Many persons accustomed to travel the old York and London road, in the days of stage-coaches, will remember passing, in the afternoon, say, of an autumn day, in their journey to the capital, about three miles south of the town of Applebury and a mile and a half before you reach the old Angel Inn, a large black-and-white house, as those old-fashioned cage-work habitations are termed, dilapidated and weather-stained, with broad lattice windows glimmering all over in the evening sun with little diamond panes, and thrown into relief by a dense background of ancient elms. A wide avenue, now overgrown like a churchyard with grass and weeds, and flanked by double rows of the same dark trees, old and gigantic, with here and there a gap in their solemn files, and sometimes a fallen tree lying across on the avenue, leads up to the halldoor.
Looking up its sombre and lifeless avenue from the top of the London coach, as I have often done, you are struck with so many signs of desertion and decay,the tufted grass sprouting in the chinks of the steps and window-stones, the smokeless chimneys over which the jackdaws are wheeling, the absence of human life and all its evidence, that you conclude at once that the place is uninhabited and abandoned to decay. The name of this ancient house is Gylingden Hall. Tall hedges and old timber quickly shroud the old place from view, and about a quarter of a mile further on you pass, embowered in melancholy trees, a small and ruinous Saxon chapel, which, time out of mind, has been the burying-place of the family of Marston, and partakes of the neglect and desolation which brood over their ancient dwelling-place.
The grand melancholy of the secluded valley of Gylingden, lonely as an enchanted forest, in which the crows returning to their roosts among the trees, and the straggling deer who peep from beneath their branches, seem to hold a wild and undisturbed dominion, heightens the forlorn aspect of Gylingden Hall.
Of late years repairs have been neglected, and here and there the roof is stripped, and the stitch in time has been wanting. At the side of the house exposed to the gales that sweep through the valley like a torrent through its channel, there is not a perfect window left, and the shutters but imperfectly exclude the rain. The ceilings and walls are mildewed and green with damp stains. Here and there, where the drip falls from the ceiling, the floors are rotting. On stormy nights, as the guard described, you can hear the doors clapping in the old house, as far away as old Gryston bridge, and the howl and sobbing of the wind through its empty galleries.
About seventy years ago died the old Squire, Toby Marston, famous in that part of the world for his hounds, his hospitality and his vices. He had done kind things, and he had fought duels: he had given away money and he had horse-whipped people. He carried with him some blessings and a good many curses, and left behind him an amount of debts and charges upon the estates which appalled his two sons, who had no taste for business or accounts, and had never suspected, till that wicked, openhanded and swearing old gentleman died, how very nearly he had run the estates into insolvency.
They met in Gylingden Hall. They had the will before them, and lawyers to interpret, and information without stint, as to the encumbrances with which the deceased had saddled them, The will was so framed as to set the two brothers instantly at deadly feud.
These brothers differed in some points; but in one material characteristic they resembled one another, and also their departed father. They never went into a quarrel by halves, and once in, they did not stick at trifles.
The elder, Scroope Marston, the more dangerous man of the two, had never been a favourite of the old Squire. He had no taste for the sports of the field and the pleasures of a rustic life. He was no athlete, and he certainly was not handsome. All this the Squire resented. The young man, who had no respect for him, and outgrew his fear of his violence as he came to manhood, retorted. This aversion, therefore, in the ill-conditioned old man grew into positive hatred. He used to wish that dd pippin-squeezing, humpbacked rascal Scroope, out of the way of better menmeaning his younger son Charles; and in his cups would talk in a way which even the old and young fellows who followed his hounds, and drank his port, and could stand a reasonable amount of brutality, did not like.
Scroope Marston was slightly deformed, and he had the lean sallow face, piercing black eyes, and black lank hair, which sometimes accompany deformity.
I'm no feyther o' that hog-backed creature. I'm no sire of hisn, dn him! I'd as soon call that tongs son o' mine, the old man used to bawl, in allusion to his son's long, lank limbs: Charlie's a man, but that's a jack-an-ape. He has no good nature; there's nothing handy, nor manly, nor no one turn of a Marston in him.
And when he was pretty drunk, the old Squire used to swear he should never sit at the head o' that board; nor frighten away folk from Gylingden Hall wi' his dd hatchet face ' the black loon!
Handsome Charlie was the man for his money. He knew what a horse was, and could sit to his bottle; and the lasses were all clean mad about him. He was a Marston every inch of his six foot two.
Handsome Charlie and he, however, had also had a row or two. The old Squire was free with horsewhip as with his tongue, and on occasion when neither weapon was quite practicable, had been known to give a fellow a tap o' his knuckles. Handsome Charlie, however, thought there was a period at which personal chastisement should cease; and one night, when the port was fiowing, there was some allusion to Marion Hayward, the miller's daughter, which for some reason the old gentleman did not like. Being in liquor, and having clearer ideas about pugilism than self-government, he struck out, to the surprise of all present, at Handsome Charlie. The youth threw back his head scientifically, and nothing followed but the crash of a decanter on the floor. But the old Squire's blood was up, and he bounced from his chair. Up jumped Handsome Charlie, resolved to stand no nonsense. Drunken Squire Lilbourne, intending to mediate, fell fiat on the floor, and cut his ear among the glasses. Handsome Charlie caught the thump which the old Squire discharged at him upon his open hand, and catching him by the cravat, swung him with his back to the wall. They said the old man never looked so purple, nor his eyes so goggle before; and then Handsome Charlie pinioned him tight to the wall by both arms.
Well, I saycome, don't you talk no more nonsense o' that sort, and I won't lick you, croaked the old Squire. You stopped that un clever, you did. Didn't he? Come, Charlie, man, gie us your hand, I say, and sit down again, lad. And so the battle ended; and I believe it was the last time the Squire raised his hand to Handsome Charlie.
But those days were over. Old Toby Marston lay cold and quiet enough now, under the drip of the mighty ash-tree within the Saxon ruin where so many of the old Marston race returned to dust, and were forgotten. The weather-stained top boots and leather breeches, the three-cornered cocked hat to which old gentlemen of that day still clung, and the well-known red waistcoat that reached below his hips, and the fierce pug face of the old Squire, were now but a picture of memory. And the brothers between whom he had planted an irreconcilable quarrel were now in their new mourning suits, with the gloss still on, debating furiously across the table in the great oak parlour, which had so often resounded to the banter and coarse songs, the oaths and laughter of the congenial neighbours whom the old Squire of Gylingden Hall loved to assemble there.
These young gentlemen, who had grown up in Gylingden Hall, were not accustomed to bridle their tongues, nor, if need be, to hesitate about a blow. Neither had been at the old man's funeral. His death had been sudden. Having been helped to his bed in that hilarious and quarrelsome state which was induced by port and punch, he was found dead in the morninghis head hanging over the side of the bed, and his face very black and swollen.
Now the Squire's will despoiled his eldest son of Gylingden, which had descended to the heir time out of mind. Scroope Marston was furious. His deep stern voice was heard inveighing against his dead father and living brother, and the heavy thumps on the table with which he enforced his stormy recriminations resounded through the large chamber. Then broke in Charles's rougher voice, and then came a quick alternation of short sentences, and then both voices together in growing loudness and anger, and at last, swelling the tumult, the expostulations of pacific and frightened lawyers, and at last a sudden break up of the conference. Scroope broke out of the room, his pale furious face showing whiter against his long black hair, his dark fierce eyes blazing, his hands clenched, and looking more ungainly and deformed than ever in the convulsions of his fury.
Very violent words must have passed between them; for Charlie, though he was the winning man, was almost as angry as Scroope. The elder brother was for holding possession of the house, and putting his rival to legal process to oust him. But his legal advisers were clearly against it. So, with a heart boiling over with gall, up he went to London, and found the firm who had managed his father's business fair and communicative enough. They looked into the settlements, and found that Gylingden was
p.5expected. It was very odd, but so it was, specially excepted; so that the right of the old Squire to deal with it by his will could not be questioned.
Notwithstanding all this, Scroope, breathing vengeance and aggression, and quite willing to wreck himself provided he could run his brother down, assailed Handsome Charlie, and battered old Squire Toby's will in the Prerogative Court and also at common law, and the feud between the brothers was knit, and every month their exasperation was heightened.
Scroope was beaten, and defeat did not soften him. Charles might have forgiven hard words; but he had been himself worsted during the long campaign in some of those skirmishes, special motions and so forth, that constitute the episodes of a legal epic like that in which the Marston brothers figured as opposing combatants; and the blight of law costs had touched him, too, with the usual effect upon the temper of a man of embarrassed means.
Years flew, and brought no healing on their wings. On the contrary, the deep corrosion of this hatred bit deeper by time. Neither brother married. But an accident of a different kind befell the younger, Charles Marston, which abridged his enjoyments very materially.
This was a bad fall from his hunter. There were severe fractures, and there was concussion of the brain. For some time it was thought that he could not recover. He disappointed these evil auguries, however. He did recover, but changed in two essential particulars. He had received an injury in his hip, which doomed him never more to sit in the saddle. And the rollicking animal spirits which hitherto had never failed him, had now taken flight for ever.
He had been for five days in a state of comaabsolute insensibilityand when he recovered consciousness he was haunted by an indescribable anxiety.
Tom Cooper, who had been butler in the palmy days of Gylingden Hall, under old Squire Toby, still maintained his post with old-fashioned fidelity, in these days of faded splendour and frugal house-keeping. Twenty years had passed since the death of his old master. He had grown lean, and stooped, and his face, dark with the peculiar brown of age, furrowed and gnarled, and his temper, except with his master, had waxed surly.
His master had visited Bath and Buxton, and came back, as he went, lame, and halting gloomily about with the aid of a stick. When the hunter was sold, the last tradition of the old life at Gylingden
p.6disappeared. The young Squire, as he was still called, excluded by his mischance from the hunting Field, dropped into a solitary way of life, and halted slowly and solitarily about the old place, seldom raising his eyes, and with an appearance of indescribable gloom.
Old Cooper could talk freely on occasion with his master; and one day he said, as he handed him his hat and stick in the hall:
You should rouse yourself up a bit, Master Charles!
It's past rousing with me, old Cooper.
It's just this, I'm thinking: there's something on your mind, and you won't tell no one. There's no good keeping it on your stomach. You'll be a deal lighter if you tell it. Come, now, what is it, Master Charlie?
The Squire looked with his round gray eyes straight into Cooper's eyes. He felt that there was a sort of spell broken. It was like the old rule of the ghost who can't speak till it is spoken to. He looked earnestly into old Cooper's face for some seconds, and sighed deeply.
It ain't the first good guess you've made in your day, old Cooper, and I'm glad you've spoke. It's bin on my mind, sure enough, ever since I had that fall. Come in here after me, and shut the door.
The Squire pushed open the door of the oak parlour, and looked round on the pictures abstractedly. He had not been there for some time, and, seating himself on the table, he looked again for a while in Cooper's face before he spoke.
It's not a great deal, Cooper, but it troubles me, and I would not tell it to the parson nor the doctor; for God knows what they'd say, though there's nothing to signify in it. But you were always true to the family, and I don't mind if I tell you.
'Tis as safe with Cooper. Master Charles. is if 'twas locked in a chest, and sunk in a well.
It's only this, said Charles Marston, looking down on the end of his stick, with which he was tracing lines and circles, all the time I was lying like dead, as you thought, after the fall, I was with the old master. He raised his eyes to Coopers's again as he spoke, and with an awful oath he repeatedI was with him, Cooper!
He was a good man, sir, in his way, repeated old Cooper, returning his gaze with awe. He was a good master to me, and a good father to you, and I hope he's happy. May God rest him!
Well, said Squire Charles, it's only this: the whole of that time I was with him, or he was with meI don't know which. The upshot is, we were together, and I thought I'd never get out of his hands again, and all the time he was bullying me about some one thing; and if it was to save my life, Tom Cooper, byfrom the time I waked I never could call to mind what it was; and I think I'd give that hand to know; and if you can think of anything it might befor God's sake! Don't be afraid, Tom Cooper, but speak it out, for he threatened me hard, and it was surely him.
Here ensued a silence.
And what did you think it might be yourself, Master Charles? said Cooper.
I hadn't thought of aught that's likely. I'll never hit on'tnever. I thought it might happen he knew something about that d humpbacked villain, Scroope, that swore before Lawyer Gingham I made away with a paper of settlementsme and father; and, as I hope to be saved, Tom Cooper, there never was a bigger lie! I'd a had the law of him for them identical words, and cast him for more than he's worth; only Lawyer Gingham never goes into nothing for me since money grew scarce in Gylingden; and I can't change my lawyer, I owe him such a hatful of money. But he did, he swore he'd hang me yet for it. He said it in them identical wordshe'd never rest till he hanged me for it, and I think it was, like enough, something about that, the old master was troubled; but it's enough to drive a man mad. I can't bring it to mindI can't remember a word he said, only he threatened awful, and lookedLord a mercy on us!frightful bad.
There's no need he should. May the Lord a-mercy on him! said the old butler.
No, of course; and you're not to tell a soul, Coopernot a living soul, mind, that I said he looked bad, nor nothing about it.
God forbid! said old Cooper, shaking his head. But I was thinking, sir, it might ha' been about the slight that's bin so long put on him by having no stone over him, and never a scratch o' a chisel to say who he is.
Ay! well, I didn't think o' that. Put on your hat, old Cooper, and come clown wi' me; for I'll look after that, at any rate.
There is a bye-path leading by a turnstile to the park, and thence to the picturesque old burying-place, which lies in a nook by the roadside, embowered in ancient trees. It was a fine autumnal sunset, and melancholy lights and long shadows spread their peculiar effects over the landscape as Handsome Charlie and the old butler made their way slowly toward the place where Handsome Charlie was himself to lie at last.
Which of the dogs made that howling all last night? asked the Squire, when they had got on a little way.
'Twas a strange dog, Master Charlie, in front of the house; ours was all in the yarda white dog wi' a black head, he looked to be, and he was smelling round then' mounting-steps the old master, God be wi' him! set up, the time his knee was bad. When the tyke got up a' top of them, howlin' up at the windows, I'd like to shy something at him.
Hullo! Is that like him? said the Squire, stopping short, and pointing with his stick at a dirty-white dog, with a large black head, which was scampering round them in a wide circle, half crouching with that air of uncertainty and deprecation which dogs so well know how to assume.
He whistled the dog up. He was a large, half-starved bull dog.
That fellow has made a long journeythin as a whipping post, and stained all over, and his claws worn to the stumps, said the Squire, musingly. He isn't a bad dog, Cooper. My father liked a good bull dog, and knew a cur from a good' un.
The dog was looking up into the Squire's face with the peculiar grim visage of his kind, and the Squire was thinking irreverently how strong a likeness it presented to the character of his father's fierce pug features when he was clutching his horsewhip and swearing at a keeper.
If I did right I'd shoot him. He'll worry the cattle, and kill our dogs, said the Squire. Hey, Cooper' I'll tell the keeper to look after him, That fellow could pull down a sheep, and he shan't live on my mutton.
But the dog was not to be shaken off. He looked wistfully after the Squire, and after they had got a little way on, he followed timidly.
It was vain trying to drive him off. The dog ran round them in wide circles, like the infernal dog in Faust; only he left no track of thin flame behind him, These maneuvers were executed with a sort of beseeching air, which flattered and touched the object of this odd preference. So he called him up again, patted him and then and there in a manner adopted him.
The dog now followed their steps dutifully, as if he had belonged to Handsome Charlie all his days. Cooper unlocked the little iron door, and the dog walked in close behind their heels, and followed them as they visited the roofless chapel.
The Marstons were lying under the floor of this little building in rows. There is not a vault. Each has his distinct grave closed in a lining of masonry. Each is surmounted by a stone kist, on the
p.9upper flag of which is enclosed his epitaph, except that of poor old Squire Toby. Over him was nothing but the grass and the line of masonry which indicate the site of the kist, whenever his family should afford him one like the rest.
Well, it does look shabby. It's the elder brother's business; but if he won't, I'll see to it myself, and I'll take care, old boy, to cut sharp and deep in it, that the elder son having refused to lend a hand the stone was put there by the younger.
They strolled round this little burial ground. The sun was now below the horizon, and the red metallic glow from the clouds, still illuminated by the departed sun, mingled luridly with the twilight. When Charlie peeped again into the little chapel, he saw the ugly dog stretched upon Squire Toby's grave, looking at least twice his natural length, and performing such antics as made the young Squire stare. If you have ever seen a cat stretched on the floor, with a bunch of Valerian, straining, writhing, rubbing its jaws in long-drawn caresses, and in the absorption of a sensual ecstasy, you have seen a phenomenon resembling that which Handsome Charlie witnessed on looking in.
The head of the brute looked so large, its body so long and thin, and its joints so ungainly and dislocated, that the Squire, with old Cooper beside him, looked on with a feeling of disgust and astonishment, which, in a moment or two more, brought the Squire's stick down upon him with a couple of heavy thumps. The beast awakened from his ecstasy, sprang to the head of the grave, and there on a sudden, thick and bandy as before, confronted the Squire, who stood at its foot, with a terrible grin, and eyes that glared with the peculiar green of canine fury.
The next moment the dog was crouching abjectly at the Squire's feet.
Well, he's a rum 'un! said old Cooper, looking hard at him.
I like him, said the Squire.
I don't, said Cooper.
But he shan't come in here again, said the Squire.
I shouldn't wonder if he was a witch, said old Cooper, who remembered more tales of witchcraft than are now current in that part of the world.
He's a good dog, said the Squire, dreamily. I remember the time I'd a given a handful for himbut I'll never be good for nothing again. Come along.
And he stooped down and patted him. So up jumped the dog and looked up in his face, as if watching for some sign, ever so slight, which he might obey.
Cooper did not like a bone under that dog's skin. He could not imagine what his master saw to admire in him. He kept him all night in the gun-room, and the dog accompanied him in his halting rambles about the place. The fonder his master grew of him, the less did Cooper and the other servants like him.
He hasn't a point of a good dog about him, Cooper would growl. I think Master Charlie be blind. And old Captain (an old red parrot, who sat chained to a perch in the oak parlour, and conversed with himself, and nibbled at his claws and bit his perch all day),old Captain, the only living thing, except one or two of us, and the Squire himself, that remembers the old master, the minute he saw the dog, screeched as if he was struck, shakin' his feathers out quite wild, and drops down, poor old soul, a-hangin' by his foot, in a fit.
But there is no accounting for fancies, and the Squire was one of those dogged persons who persist more obstinately in their whims the more they are opposed, But Charles Marston's health suffered by his lameness. The transition frown habitual and violent exercise to such a life as his privation now consigned him to, was never made without a risk to health; and a host of dyspeptic annoyances, the existence of which he had never dreamed of before, now beset him in sad earnest. Among these was the now not unfrequent troubling of his sleep with dreams and nightmares. In these his canine favourite invariably had a part and was generally a central, and sometimes a solitary figure. In these visions the dog seemed to stretch himself up the side of the Squire's bed, and in dilated proportions to sit at his feet, with a horrible likeness to the pug features of old Squire Toby, with his tricks of wagging his head and throwing up his chin; and then he would talk to him about Scroope, and tell him all wasn't straight, and that he must make it up wi' Scroope, that he, the old Squire, had served him an ill turn, that time was nigh up, and that fair was fair, and he was troubled where he was, about Scroope.
Then in his dream this semi-human brute would approach his face to his, crawling and crouching up his body, heavy as lead, till the face of the beast was laid on his, with the same odious caresses and stretchings and writhings which he had seen over the old Squire's grave. Then Charlie would wake up with a gasp and a howl, and start upright in the bed, bathed in a cold moisture, and fancy he saw something white sliding off the foot of the bed. Sometimes he thought it might be the curtain with white lining that slipped down, or the coverlet disturbed by his uneasy turnings; but he always fancied, at such moments, that he saw something
p.11white sliding hastily off the bed; and always when he had been visited by such dreams the dog next morning was more than usually caressing and servile, as if to obliterate, by a more than ordinary welcome, the sentiment of disgust which the horror of the night had left behind it.
The doctor half-satisfied the Squire that there was nothing in these dreams, which, in one shape or another, invariably attended forms of indigestion such as he was suffering from.
For a while, as if to corroborate this theory, the dog ceased altogether to figure in them. But at last there came a vision in which, more unpleasantly than before, he did resume his old place.
In his nightmare the room seemed all but dark; he heard what he knew to be the dog walking from the door round his bed slowly, to the side from which he always had come upon it. A portion of the room was uncarpeted, and he said he distinctly heard the peculiar tread of a dog, in which the faint clatter of the claws is audible. It was a light stealthy step, but at every tread the whole room shook heavily; he felt something place itself at the foot of his bed, and saw a pair of green eyes staring at him in the dark, from which he could not remove his own. Then he heard, as he thought, the old Squire Toby sayThe eleventh hour be passed, Charlie, and ye've done nothingyou and I 'a done Scroope a wrong! and then came a good deal more, and thenThe time's nigh up, it's going to strike. And with a long low growl, the thing began to creep up upon his feet; the growl continued, and he saw the reflection of the up-turned green eyes upon the bed-clothes, as it began slowly to stretch itself up his body towards his face. With a loud scream, he waked. The light, which of late the Squire was accustomed to have in his bed-room, had accidentally gone out. He was afraid to get up, or even to look about the room for some time; so sure did he feel of seeing the green eyes in the dark fixed on him from some corner. He had hardly recovered from the first agony which nightmare leaves behind it, and was beginning to collect his thoughts, when he heard the clock strike twelve. And he bethought him of the words the eleventh hour be passedtime's nigh upit's going to strike! and he almost feared that he would hear the voice reopening the subject.
Next morning the Squire came down looking ill.
Do you know a room, old Cooper, said he, they used to call King Herod's chamber?
Ay, sir; the story of King Herod was on the walls o't when I was a boy.
There's a closet off itis there?
I can't be sure o' that; but 'tisn't worth your looking at, now; the hangings was rotten, and took off the walls, before you was born; and there's nou't there but some old broken things and lumber. I seed them put there myself by poor Twinks; he was blind of an eye, and footman afterwards. You'll remember Twinks? He died here, about the time o' the great snow. There was a deal o' work to bury him, poor fellow!
Get the key, old Cooper; I'll look at the room, said the Squire.
And what the devil can you want to look at it for? said Cooper, with the old-world privilege of a rustic butler.
And what the devil's that to you? But I don't mind if I tell you. I don't want that dog in the gun-room, and I'll put him somewhere else; and I don't care if I put him there.
A bull-dog in a bedroom! Oons, sir! the folks 'ill say you're clean mad!
Well, let them; get you the key and let us look at the room.
You'd shoot him if you did right, Master Charlie. You never heard what a noise he kept up all last night in the gun-room, walking to and fro growling like a tiger in a show; and, say what you like, the dog's not worth his feed; he hasn't a point of a dog; he's a bad dog.
I know a dog better than youand he's a good dog! said the Squire, testily.
If you was a judge of a dog you'd hang that 'un, said Cooper.
I'm not going to hang him, so there's an end. Go you, and get the key; and don't be talking, mind, when you go down. I may change my mind.
Now this freak of visiting King Herod's room had, in truth, a totally different object from that pretended by the Squire. The voice in his nightmare had uttered a particular direction, which haunted him, and would give him no peace until he had tested it. So far from liking that dog to-day, he was beginning to regard it with a horrible suspicion; and if old Cooper had not stirred his obstinate temper by seeming to dictate, I dare say he would have got rid of the inmate effectually before evening.
Up to the third story, long disused, he and old Cooper mounted. At the end of a dusty gallery, the room lay. The old tapestry, from which the spacious chamber had taken its name, had long given place to modern paper, and this was mildewed, and in some places hanging from the walls. A thick mantle of dust lay over the floor. Some broken chairs and boards, thick with dust, lay, along with other lumber, piled together at one end of the room.
They entered the closet, which was quite empty. The Squire looked round, and you could hardly have said whether he was relieved or disappointed.
No furniture here, said the Squire, and looked through the dusty window. Did you say anything to me latelyI don't mean this morningabout this room, or the closetor anythingI forget?
Lor' bless you! Not I. I han't been thinkin' o' this room this forty year.
Is there any sort of old furniture called a buffetdo you remember? asked the Squire.
A buffet? Why, yesto be surethere was a buffet, sure enough, in this closet, now you bring it to my mind, said Cooper. But it's papered over.
And what is it?
A little cupboard in the wall, answered the old man.
HoI seeand there's such a thing here, is there, under the paper? Show me whereabouts it was.
WellI think it was somewhere about here, answered he, rapping his knuckles along the wall opposite the window. Ay, there it is, he added, as the hollow sound of a wooden door was returned to his knock.
The Squire pulled the loose paper from the wall, and disclosed the doors of a small press, about two feet square, fixed in the wall.
The very thing for my buckles and pistols, and the rest of my gimcracks, said the Squire. Come away, we'll leave the dog where he is. Have you the key of that little press?
No, he had not. The old master had emptied and locked it up, and desired that it should be papered over, and that was the history of it.
Down came the Squire, and took a strong turn-screw from his gun-case; and quietly he reascended to King Herod's room, and, with little trouble, forced the door of the small press in the closet wall. There were in it some letters and canceled leases, and also a parchment deed which he took to the window and read with much agitation. It was a supplemental deed executed about a fortnight after the others, and previously to his father's marriage, placing Gylingden under strict settlement to the elder son, in what is called tail male. Handsome Charlie, in his fraternal litigation, had acquired a smattering of technical knowledge, and he perfectly well knew that the effect of this would be not only to transfer the house and lands to his brother Scroope, but to leave him at the mercy of that exasperated brother, who might recover from him personally
p.14every guinea he had ever received by way of rent, from the date of his father's death.
It was a dismal, clouded day, with something threatening in its aspect, and the darkness, where he stood, was made deeper by the top of one of the huge old trees overhanging the window.
In a state of awful confusion he attempted to think over his position. He placed the deed in his pocket, and nearly made up his mind to destroy it. A short time ago he would not have hesitated for a moment under such circumstances; but now his health and his nerves were shattered, and he was under a supernatural alarm which the strange discovery of this deed had powerfully confirmed.
In this state of profound agitation he heard a sniffing at the closet-door, and then an impatient scratch and a long low growl. He screwed his courage up, and, not knowing what to expect, threw the door open and saw the dog, not in his dream-shape, but wriggling with joy, and crouching and fawning with eager submission; and then wandering about the closet, the brute growled awfully into the corners of it, and Seemed in an unappeasable agitation.
Then the dog returned and fawned and crouched again at his feet.
After the first moment was over, the sensations of abhorrence and fear began to subside, and he almost reproached himself for requitting the affection of this poor friendless brute with the antipathy which he had really done nothing to earn.
The dog pattered after him down the stairs. Oddly enough, the sight of this animal, after the first revulsion, reassured him; it was, in his eyes, so attached, so good-natured and palpably so mere a dog.
By the hour of evening the Squire had resolved on a middle course; he would not inform his brother of his discovery, nor yet would he destroy the deed. He would never marry. He was past that time. He would leave a letter, explaining the discovery of the deed, addressed to the only surviving trusteewho had probably forgotten everything about itand having seen out his own tenure, he would provide that all should be set right after his death. Was not that fair? At all events it quite satisfied what he called his conscience, and he thought it a devilish good compromise for his brother; and he went out, towards sunset, to take his usual walk.
Returning in the darkening twilight, the dog, as usual attending him, began to grow frisky and wild, at first scampering round him in great circles, as before, nearly at the top of his speed, his
p.15great head between his paws as he raced. Gradually more excited grew the pace and narrow his circuit, louder and fiercer his continuous growl, and the Squire stopped and grasped his stick hard, for the lurid eyes and grin of the brute threatened an attack. Turning round and round as the excited brute encircled him, and striking vainly at him with his stick, he grew at last so tired that he almost despaired of keeping him longer at bay; when on a sudden the dog stopped short and crawled up to his feet wriggling and crouching submissively.
Nothing could be more apologetic and abject; and when the Squire dealt him two heavy thumps with his stick, the dog whimpered only, and writhed and licked his feet. The Squire sat down on a prostrate tree; and his dumb companion, recovering his wonted spirits immediately, began to sniff and nuzzle among the roots. The Squire felt in his breast-pocket for the deedit was safe; and again he pondered, in this loneliest of spots, on the question whether he should preserve it for restoration after his death to his brother, or destroy it forthwith. He began rather to lean toward the latter solution, when the long low growl of the dog not far off startled him.
He was sitting in a melancholy grove of old trees, that slants gently westward. Exactly the same odd effect of light I have before describeda faint red glow reflected downward from the upper sky, after the sun had set, now gave to the growing darkness a lurid uncertainty. This grove, which lies in a gentle hollow, owing to its circumscribed horizon on all but one side, has a peculiar character of loneliness.
He got up and peeped over a sort of barrier, accidentally formed of the trunks of felled trees laid one over the other, and saw the dog straining up the other side of it, and hideously stretched out, his ugly head looking in consequence twice the natural size. His dream was coming over him again. And now between the trunks the brute's ungainly head was thrust, and the long neck came straining through, and the body, twining after it like a huge white lizard; and as it came striving and twisting through, it growled and glared as if it would devour him.
As swiftly as his lameness would allow, the Squire hurried from this solitary spot towards the house. What thoughts exactly passed through his mind as he did so, I am sure he could not have told. But when the dog came up with him it seemed appeased, and even in high good humour, and no longer resembled the brute that haunted his dreams.
That night, near ten o'clock, the Squire, a good deal agitated,
p.16sent for the keeper, and told him that he believed the dog was mad, and that he must shoot him. He might shoot the dog in the gun-room, where he wasa grain of shot or two in the wainscot did not matter, and the dog must not have a chance of getting out.
The Squire gave the gamekeeper his double-barrelled gun, loaded with heavy shot. He did not go with him beyond the hall. He placed his hand on the keeper's arm; the keeper said his hand trembled, and that he looked as white as curds.
Listen a bit! said the Squire under his breath.
They heard the dog in a state of high excitement in the roomgrowling ominously, jumping on the window-stool and down again, and running round the room.
You'll need to be sharp, minddon't give him a chanceslip in edgeways, d'ye see? and give him both barrels!
Not the first mad dog I've knocked over, sir, said the man, looking very serious as he cocked the gun.
As the keeper opened the door, the dog had sprung into the empty grate. He said he never see sich a stark, staring devil. The beast made a twist round, as if, he thought, to jump up the chimneybut that wasn't to be done at no priceand he made a yellnot like a doglike a man caught in a mill-crank, and before he could spring at the keeper, he fired one barrel into him. The dog leaped towards him, and rolled over, receiving the second barrel in his head, as he lay snorting at the keeper's feet!
I never seed the like; I never heard a screech like that! said the keeper, recoiling. It makes a fellow feel queer.
Quite dead? asked the Squire.
Not a stir in him, sir, said the man, pulling him along the floor by the neck.
Throw him outside the hall-door now, said the Squire; and mind you pitch him outside the gate to-nightold Cooper says he's a witch, and the pale Squire smiled, so he shan't lie in Gylingden.
Never was man more relieved than the Squire, and he slept better for a week after this than he had done for many weeks before.
It behooves us all to act promptly on our good resolutions. There is a determined gravitation towards evil, which, if left to itself, will bear down first intentions. If at one moment of superstitious fear the Squire had made up his mind to a great sacrifice, and resolved in the matter of that deed so strangely recovered to act honestly by his brother, that resolution very soon gave place to the compromise with fraud which so conveniently postponed the
p.17restitution to the period when further enjoyment on his part was impossible. Then came more tidings of Scroope's violent and minatory language, with always the same burthenthat he would leave no stone unturned to show that there had existed a deed which Charles had either secreted or destroyed, and that he would never rest till he had hanged him.
This of course was wild talk. At first it had only enraged him; but, with his recent guilty knowledge and suppression, had come fear. His danger was the existence of the deed, and little by little he brought himself to a resolution to destroy it. There were many falterings and recoils before he could bring himself to commit this crime. At length, however, he did it, and got rid of the custody of that which at any time might become the instrument of disgrace and ruin. There was relief in this, but also the new and terrible sense of actual guilt.
He had got pretty well rid of his supernatural qualms. It was a different kind of trouble that agitated him now.
But this night, he imagined, he was awakened by a violent shaking of his bed. He could see, in the very imperfect light, two figures at the foot of it, holding each a bed-post. One of these he half-fancied was his brother Scroope, but the other was the old Squireof that he was sureand he fancied that they had shaken him up from his sleep. Squire Toby was talking as Charlie wakened, and he heard him say:
Put out of our own house by you! It won't hold for long. We'll come in together, friendly, and stay. Forewarned, wi' yer eyes open, ye did it; and now Scroope'll hang you! We'll hang you together! Look at me, you devil's limb.
And the old Squire tremblingly stretched his face, torn with shot and bloody, and growing every moment more and more into the likeness of the dog, and began to stretch himself out and climb the bed over the foot-board; and he saw the figure at the other side, little more than a black shadow, begin also to scale the bed; and there was instantly a dreadful confusion and uproar in the room, and such a gabbling and laughing; he could not catch the words; but, with a scream, he woke, and found himself standing on the floor. The phantoms and the clamour were gone, but a crash and ringing of fragments was in his ears. The great china bowl, from which for generations the Marstons of Gylingden had been baptized, had failed from the mantelpiece, and was smashed on the hearth-stone.
I've bin dreamin' all night about Mr. Scroope, and I wouldn't
p.18wonder, old Cooper, if he was dead, said the Squire, when he came down in the morning.
God forbid! I was adreamed about him, too, sir: I dreamed he was dammin' and sinkin' about a hole was burnt in his coat, and the old master, God be wi' him! saidquite plainI'd 'a swore 'twas himself' Cooper, get up, ye dland-loupin' thief, and lend a hand to hang himfor he's a daft cur, and no dog o' mine. 'Twas the dog shot over night, I do suppose, as was runnin' in my old head. I thought old master gied me a punch wi' his knuckles, and says I, wakenin' up, At yer service, sir; and for a while I couldn't get it out o' my head, master was in the room still.
Letters from town soon convinced the Squire that his brother Scroope, so far from being dead, was particularly active; and Charlie's attorney wrote to say, in serious alarm, that he had heard, accidentally, that he intended setting up a case, of a supplementary deed of settlement, of which he had secondary evidence, which would give him Gylingden. And at this menace Handsome Charlie snapped his fingers, and wrote courageously to his attorney; abiding what might follow with, however, a secret foreboding.
Scroope threatened loudly now, and swore after his bitter fashion, and reiterated his old promise of hanging that cheat at last. In the midst of these menaces and preparations, however, a sudden peace proclaimed itself: Scroope died, without time even to make provisions for a posthumous attack upon his brother. It was one of those cases of disease of the heart in which death is as sudden as by a bullet.
Charlie's exultation was undisguised. It was shocking. Not, of course, altogether malignant. For there was the expansion consequent on the removal of a secret fear. There was also the comic piece of luck, that only the day before Scroope had destroyed his old will, which left to a stranger every farthing he possessed, intending in a day or two to execute another to the same person, charged with the express condition of prosecuting the suit against Charlie.
The result was that all his possessions went unconditionally to his brother Charles as his heir. Here were grounds for abundance of savage elation. But there was also the deep-seated hatred of half a life of mutual and persistent aggression and revilings; and Handsome Charlie was capable of nursing a grudge, and enjoying a revenge with his whole heart.
He would gladly have prevented his brother's being buried in
p.19the old Gylingden chapel, where he wished to lie; but his lawyers doubted his power, and he was not quite proof against the scandal which would attend his turning back the funeral, which would, he knew, be attended by some of the country gentry and others, with an hereditary regard for the Marstons.
But he warned his servants that not one of them were to attend it; promising, with oaths and curses not to be disregarded, that any one of them who did so, should find the door shut in his face on his return.
I don't think, with the exception of old Cooper, that the servants cared for this prohibition, except as it baulked a curiosity always strong in the solitude of the country. Cooper was very much vexed that the eldest son of the old Squire should be buried in the old family chapel, and no sign of decent respect from Gylingden Hall. He asked his master whether he would not, at least, have some wine and refreshments in the oak parlour, in case any of the country gentlemen who paid this respect to the old family should come up to the house? But the Squire only swore at him, told him to mind his own business, and ordered him to say, if such a thing happened, that he was out, and no preparations made, and, in fact, to send them away as they came. Cooper expostulated stoutly, and the Squire grew angrier; and after a tempestuous scene, took his hat and stick and walked out, just as the funeral descending the valley from the direction of the Old Angel Inn came in sight.
Old Cooper prowled about disconsolately, and counted the carriages as well as he could from the gate. When the funeral was over, and they began to drive away, he returned to the hall, the door of which lay open, and as usual deserted. Before he reached it quite, a mourning coach drove up, and two gentlemen in black cloaks, and with crapes to their hats, got out, and without looking to the right or the left, went up the steps into the house. Cooper followed them slowly. The carriage had, he supposed, gone round to the yard, for, when he reached the door, it was no longer there.
So he followed the two mourners into the house. In the hall he found a fellow servant, who said he had seen two gentlemen, in black cloaks, pass through the hall, and go up the stairs without removing their hats, or asking leave of anyone. This was very odd, old Cooper thought, and a great liberty; so upstairs he went to make them out.
But he could not find them then, nor ever. And from that hour the house was troubled.
In a little time there was not one of the servants who had not
p.20something to tell. Steps and voices followed them sometimes in the passages, and tittering whispers, always minatory, scared them at the corners of the galleries, or from dark recesses; so that they would return panic-stricken to be rebuked by thin Mrs. Beckett, who looked on such stories as worse than idle. But Mrs. Beckett herself, a short time after, took a very different view of the matter.
She had herself begun to hear these voices, and with this formidable aggravation, that they came always when she was at her prayers, which she had been punctual in saying all her life, and utterly interrupted them. She was scared at such moments by dropping words and sentences, which grew, as she persisted, into threats and blasphemies.
These voices were not always in the room. They called, as she fancied, through the walls, very thick in that old house, from the neighbouring apartments, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other; sometimes they seemed to holloa from distant lobbies, and came muffled, but threateningly, through the long panelled passages. As they approached they grew furious, as if several voices were speaking together. Whenever, as I said, this worthy woman applied herself to her devotions, these horrible sentences came hurrying towards the door, and, in panic, she would start from her knees, and all then would subside except the thumping of her heart against her stays, and the dreadful tremors of her nerves.
What these voices said, Mrs. Beckett never could quite remember one minute after they had ceased speaking; one sentence chased another away; gibe and menace and impious denunciation, each hideously articulate, were lost as soon as heard. And this added to the effect of these terrifying mockeries and invectives, that she could not, by any effort, retain their exact import, although their horrible character remained vividly present to her mind.
For a long time the Squire seemed to be the only person in the house absolutely unconscious of these annoyances. Mrs. Beckett had twice made up her mind within the week to leave. A prudent woman, however, who has been comfortable for more than twenty years in a place, thinks oftener than twice before she leaves it. She and old Cooper were the only servants in the house who remembered the good old housekeeping in Squire Toby's day. The others were few, and such as could hardly be accounted regular servants. Meg Dobbs, who acted as housemaid, would not sleep in the house, but walked home, in trepidation, to her father's, at the gatehouse, under the escort of her little brother, every night. Old Mrs. Beckett, who was high and mighty with the make-shift servants of
p.21fallen Gylingden, let herself down all at once, and made Mrs. Kymes and the kitchen-maid move their beds into her large and faded room, and there, very frankly, shared her nightly terrors with them.
Old Cooper was testy and captious about these stories. He was already uncomfortable enough by reason of the entrance of the two muffled figures into the house, about which there could be no mistake. His own eyes had seen them. He refused to credit the stories of the women, and affected to think that the two mourners might have left the house and driven away, on finding no one to receive them.
Old Cooper was summoned at night to the oak parlour, where the Squire was smoking.
I say, Cooper, said the Squire, looking pale and angry, what for ha' you been frightenin' they crazy women wi' your plaguy stories? Dme, if you see ghosts here it's no place for you, and it's time you should pack. I won't be left without servants. Here has been old Beckett, wi' the cook and the kitchenmaid, as white as pipeclay, all in a row, to tell me I must have a parson to sleep among them, and preach down the devil! Upon my soul, you're a wise old body, filling their heads wi' maggots! And Meg goes down to the lodge every night, afeared to lie in the houseall your doing, wi' your old wives' storiesye withered old Tom o' Bedlam!
I'm not to blame, Master Charles. 'Tisn't along o' no stories o' mine, for I'm never done tellin' 'era it's all vanity and vapours. Mrs. Beckett 'ill tell you that, and there's been many a wry word betwixt us on the head o't. Whate'er I may think, said old Cooper, significantly, and looked askance, with the sternness of fear in the Squire's face.
The Squire averted his eyes, and muttered angrily to himself, and turned away to knock the ashes out of his pipe on the hob, and then turning suddenly round upon Cooper again, he spoke, with a pale face, but not quite so angrily as before.
I know you're no fool, old Cooper, when you like. Suppose there was such a thing as a ghost here, don't you see, it ain't to them snipe-headed women it' id go to tell its story. What ails you, man, that you should think aught about it, but just what I think? You had a good headpiece o' yer own once, Cooper, don't be you clappin' a goosecap over it, as my poor father used to say; d it old boy, you mustn't let 'em be fools, settin' one another wild wi' their blether, and makin' the folk talk what they shouldn't, about Gylingden and the family. I don't think ye'd like that, old Cooper, I'm sure ye wouldn't. The women has gone out o' the kitchen,
p.22make up a bit o' fire, and get your pipe. I'll go to you, when I finish this one, and we'll smoke a bit together, and a glass o' brandy and water.
Down went the old butler, not altogether unused to such condescensions in that disorderly and lonely household; and let not those who can choose their company, be too hard on the Squire who couldn't.
When he had got things tidy, as he said, he sat down in that big old kitchen, with his feet on the fender, the kitchen candle burning in a great brass candlestick, which stood on the deal table at his elbow, with the brandy bottle and tumblers beside it, and Cooper's pipe also in readiness. And these preparations completed, the old butler, who had remembered other generations and better times, fell into rumination, and so, gradually, into a deep sleep.
Old Cooper was half awakened by someone laughing low, near his head. He was dreaming of old times in the hall, and fancied one of the young gentlemen going to play him a trick, and he mumbled something in his sleep, from which he was awakened by a stern deep voice, saying, You wern't at the funeral; I might take your life, I'll take your ear. At the same moment, the side of his head received a violent push, and he started to his feet. The fire had gone down, and he was chilled. The candle was expiring in the socket, and threw on the white wall long shadows, that danced up and down from the ceiling to the ground, and their black outlines he fancied resembled the two men in cloaks, whom he remembered with a profound horror.
He took the candle, with all the haste he could, getting along the passage, on whose wails the same dance of black shadows was continued, very anxious to reach his room before the light should go out. He was startled half out of his wits by the sudden clang of his master's bell, close over his head, ringing furiously.
Ha, ha! There it goesyes, sure enough, said Cooper, reassuring himself with the sound of his own voice, as he hastened on, hearing more and more distinct every moment the same furious ringing. He's fell asleep, like me; that's it, and his lights is out, I lay you fifty
When he turned the handle of the door of the oak parlour, the Squire wildly called, Who's there? in the tone of a man who expects a robber.
It's me, old Cooper, all right, Master Charlie, you didn't come to the kitchen after all, sir.
I'm very bad, Cooper; I don't know how I've been. Did you meet anything? asked the Squire.
No, said Cooper.
They stared at one another.
Come herestay here! Don't you leave me! Look round the room, and say is all right; and gie us your hand, old Cooper, for I must hold it. The Squire's was damp and cold, and trembled very much. It was not very far from daybreak now.
After a time he spoke again: I 'a done many a thing I shouldn't; I'm not fit to go, and wi' God's blessin' I'll look to itwhy shouldn't I' I'm as lame as old BillyI'll never be able to do any good no more, and I'll give over drinking, and marry, as I ought to 'a done long agonone o' yet fine ladies, but a good homely wench; there's Farmer Crump's youngest daughter, a good lass, and discreet. What for shouldn't I take her? She'd take care o' me, and wouldn't bring a head full o' romances here, and mantua-makers' trumpery, and I'll talk with the parson, and I'll do what's fair wi' everyone and mind, I said I'm sorry for many a thing I 'a done.
A wild cold dawn had by this time broken. The Squire, Cooper said, looked awful bad, as he got his hat and stick, and sallied out for a walk, instead of going to his bed, as Cooper besought him, looking so wild and distracted, that it was plain his object was simply to escape from the house. It was twelve o'clock when the Squire walked into the kitchen, where he was sure of finding some of the servants, looking as if ten years had passed over him since yesterday. He pulled a stool by tile fire, without speaking a word, and sat down. Cooper had sent to Applebury for the doctor, who had just arrived, but the Squire would not go to him. If he wants to see me, he may come here, he muttered as often as Cooper urged him. So the doctor did come, charily enough, and found the Squire very much worse than he had expected.
The Squire resisted the order to get to his bed. But the doctor insisted under a threat of death, at which his patient quailed.
Well, I'll do what you sayonly thisyou must let old Cooper and Dick Keeper stay wi' me. I mustn't be left alone, and they must keep awake o' nights; and stay a while, do you. When I get round a bit, I'll go and live in a town. It's dull livin' here, now that I can't do nou't, as I used, and I'll live a better life, mind ye; ye heard me say that, and I don't care who laughs, and I'll talk wi' the parson. I like 'em to laugh, hang 'em, it's a sign I'm doin' right, at last.
The doctor sent a couple of nurses from the County Hospital, not choosing to trust his patient to the management he had selected, and he went down himself to Gylingden to meet them in
p.24the evening. Old Cooper was ordered to occupy the dressing room, and sit up at night, which satisfied the Squire, who was in a strangely excited state, very low, and threatened, the doctor said, with fever.
The clergyman came, an old, gentle, book-learned man, and talked and prayed with him late that evening. After he had gone the Squire called the nurses to his bedside, and said: There's a fellow sometimes comes; you'll never mind him. He looks in at the door and beckonsa thin, hump-backed chap in mourning, wi' black gloves on; ye'll know him by his lean face, as brown as the wainscot: don't ye mind his smilin'. You don't go out to him, nor ask him in; he won't say nou't; and if he grows anger'd and looks awry at ye, don't be afeared, for he can't hurt ye, and he'll grow tired waitin', and go away; and for God's sake mind ye don't ask him in, nor go out after him!
The nurses put their heads together when this was over, and held afterwards a whispering conference with old Cooper. Law bless ye!no, there's no madman in the house, he protested; not a soul but what ye sawit's just a trifle o' the fever in his headno more.
The Squire grew worse as the night wore on. He was heavy and delirious, talking of all sorts of thingsof wine, and dogs, and lawyers; and then he began to talk, as it were, to his brother Scroope. As he did so, Mrs. Oliver, the nurse, who was sitting up alone with him, heard, as she thought, a hand softly laid on the door handle outside, and a stealthy attempt to turn it. Lord bless us! Who's there? she cried, and her heart jumped into her mouth as she thought of the hump-backed man ill black, who was to put in his head smiling and beckoningMr. Cooper! Sir! Are you there? she cried. Come here, Mr. Cooper, pleasedo, sir, quick!
Old Cooper, called up from his doze by the fire, stumbled in from the dressing room, and Mrs. Oliver seized him tightly as he emerged.
The man with the hump has been atryin' the door, Mr. Cooper, as sure as I am here. The Squire was moaning and mumbling in his fever, understanding nothing, as she spoke. No, no! Mrs. Oliver, ma'am, it's impossible, for there's no sich man in the house: what is Master Charlie sayin'?
He's saying Scroope every minute, whatever he means by that, andandhisht!listenthere's the handle again, and, with a loud scream, she addedLook at his head and neck in at the door! and in her tremor she strained old Cooper in an agonizing embrace.
The candle was flaring, and there was a wavering shadow at the door that looked like the head of a man with a long neck, and a longish sharp nose, peeping in and drawing back.
Don't be a d fool, ma'am! cried Cooper, very white, and shaking her with all his might. It's only the candle, I tell younothing in life but that. Don't you see? and he raised the light. And I'm sure there was no one at the door, and I'll try, if you let me go.
The other nurse was asleep on a sofa, and Mrs. Oliver called her up in a panic, for company, as old Cooper opened the door. There was no one near it, but at the angle of the gallery was a shadow resembling that which he had seen in the room. He raised the candle a little, and it seemed to beckon with a long hand as the head drew back. Shadow from the candle! exclaimed Cooper aloud, resolved not to yield to Mrs. Oliver's panic; and, candle in hand, he walked to the corner.
There was nothing. He could not forbear peeping down the long gallery from this point, and as he moved the light, he saw precisely the same sort of shadow, a little further down, and as he advanced the same withdrawal, and beckon. Gammon! said he; it is nou't but the candle. And on he went, growing half angry and half frightened at the persistency with which this ugly shadowa literal shadow he was sure it waspresented itself. As he drew near the point where it now appeared, it seemed to collect itself, and nearly dissolve in the central panel of an old carved cabinet which he was now approaching.
In the centre panel of this is a sort of boss carved into a wolf's head.
The light fell oddly upon this, and the fugitive shadow seemed to be breaking up, and rearranging itself oddly. The eyeball gleamed with a point of reflected light, which glittered also upon the grinning mouth, and he saw the long, sharp nose of Scroope Marston, and his fierce eve looking at him, he thought, with a steadfast meaning.
Old Cooper stood gazing upon this sight, unable to move, till he saw the face, and the figure that belonged to it, begin gradually to emerge from the wood. At the same time he heard voices approaching rapidly up a side gallery, and Cooper, with a loud Lord a-mercy on us! turned and ran back again, pursued by a sound that seemed to shake the old house like a mighty gust of wind.
Into his master's room burst old Cooper, half wild with fear, and clapped the door and turned the key in a twinkling, looking as if he had been pursued by murderers.
Did you hear it? whispered Cooper, now standing near the dressing room door. They all listened, but not a sound from without disturbed the utter stillness of night. God bless us! I doubt it's my old head that's gone crazy! exclaimed Cooper.
He would tell them nothing but that he was himself an old fool, to be frightened by their talk, and that the rattle of a window, or the dropping o' a pin was enough to scare him now; and so he helped himself through that night with brandy, and sat up talking by his master's fire.
The Squire recovered slowly from his brain fever, but not perfectly.
A very little thing, the doctor said, would suffice to upset him. He was not yet sufficiently strong to remove for change of scene and air, which were necessary for his complete restoration.
Cooper slept in the dressing room, and was now his only nightly attendant. The ways of the invalid were odd: he liked, half sitting up in his bed, to smoke his churchwarden o' nights, and made old Cooper smoke, for company, at the fireside. As the Squire and his humble friend indulged in it, smoking is a taciturn pleasure, and it was not until the master of Gylingden had finished his third pipe that he essayed conversation, and when he did, the subject was not such as Cooper would have chosen.
I say, old Cooper, look in my face, and don't be afeared to speak out, said the Squire, looking at him with a steady, cunning smile; you know all this time, as well as I do, who's in the house. You needn't denyhey?Scroope and my father?
Don't you be talking like that, Charlie, said old Cooper, rather sternly and frightened, after a long silence, still looking in his face, which did not change.
What's the good o' shammin', Cooper? Scroope's took the hearin' o' yer right earyou know he did. He's looking angry. He's nigh took my life wi' this fever. But he's not done wi' me yet, and he looks awful wicked. Ye saw himye know ye did.
Cooper was awfully frightened, and the odd smile on the Squire's lips frightened him still more. He dropped his pipe, and stood gazing in silence at his master, and feeling as if he were in a dream.
If ye think so, ye should not be smiling like that. said Cooper, grimly.
I'm tired, Cooper, and it's as well to smile as t' other thing; so I'll even smile while I can. You know what they mean to do wi' me. That's all I wanted to say. Now, lad, go on wi' yer pipeI'm goin' asleep.
So the Squire turned over in his bed, and lay down serenely,
p.27with his head on the pillow. Old Cooper looked at him, and glanced at the door, and then half-filled his tumbler with brandy, and drank it off, and felt better, and got to his bed in the dressing room.
In the dead of night he was suddenly awakened by the Squire, who was standing, in his dressing gown and slippers, by his bed.
I've brought you a bit o' present. I got the rents o' Hazelden yesterday, and ye'll keep that for yourselfit's a fiftyand give t' other to Nelly Carwell, tomorrow; I'll sleep the sounder; and I saw Scroope since; he's not such a bad 'un after all, old fellow! He's got a crape over his facefor I told him I couldn't bear it; and I'd do many a thing for him now. I never could stand shilly-shally. Good night, old Cooper!
And the Squire laid his trembling hand kindly on the old man's shoulder, and returned to his own room. I don't half like how he is. Doctor don't come half often enough. I don't like that queer smile o' his, and his hand was as cold as death. I hope in God his brain's not a-turnin'! With these reflections, he turned to the pleasanter subject of his present, and at last fell asleep.
In the morning, when he went into the Squire's room, the Squire had left his bed. Never mind; he'll come back, like a bad shillin', thought old Cooper, preparing the room as usual. But he did not return. Then began an uneasiness, succeeded by a panic, when it began to be plain that the Squire was not in the house. What had become of him? None of his clothes, but his dressing gown and slippers, were missing. Had he left the house, in his present sickly state, in that garb? and, if so, could he be in his right senses; and was there a chance of his surviving a cold, a damp night, so passed, in the open air?
Tom Edwards was up to the house, and told them that, walking a mile or so that morning, at four o'clockthere being no moonalong with Farmer Nokes, who was driving his cart to market, in the dark, three men walked, in front of the horse, not twenty yards before them, all the way from Gylingden Lodge to the burial ground, the gate of which was opened for them from within, and the three men entered, and the gate was shut. Tom Edwards thought they were gone in to make preparation for a funeral of some member of tile Marston family. But the occurrence seemed to Cooper, who knew there was no such thing, horribly ominous.
He now commenced a careful search, and at last bethought him of the lonely upper story and King Herod's chamber. He
p.28saw nothing changed there, but the closet door was shut, and, dark as was the morning, something, like a large white knot sticking out over the door, caught his eye.
The door resisted his efforts to open it for a time; some great weight forced it down against the floor; at length, however, it did yield a little, and a heavy crash, shaking the whole floor, and sending an echo flying through all the silent corridors, with a sound like receding laughter, half stunned him.
When he pushed open the door, his master was lying dead upon the floor. His cravat was drawn halter-wise tight round his throat, and had done its work well. The body was cold, and had been long dead.
In due course the coroner held his inquest, and the jury pronounced that the deceased, Charles Marston, had died by his own hand, in a state of temporary insanity. But old Cooper had his own opinion about the Squire's death, though his lips were sealed, and he never spoke about it. He went and lived for the residue of days in York, where there are still people who remember him, a taciturn and surly old man, who attended church regularly, and also drank a little, and was known to have saved some money.