Run to Earth, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 22

Arch-Traitor Within, Arch-Plotter Without.

The guests at Hallgrove Rectory this Christmas-time were Douglas Dale, Sir Reginald Eversleigh, a lady and gentleman called Mordaunt, and their two pretty, fair-faced daughters, and two other old friends of the rector’s, one of whom is very familiar to us.

Those two were Gordon Graham and his sister Lydia — the woman whose envious hatred had aided in that vile scheme by which Sir Oswald Eversleigh’s happiness had been suddenly blighted. The Dales and Gordon Graham had been intimate from boyhood, when they had been school~fellows at Eton. Since Sir Oswald’s death had enriched the two brothers, Gordon Graham had taken care that his acquaintance with them should not be allowed to lapse, but should rather be strengthened. It was by means of his manoeuvring that the invitation for Christmas had been given, and that he and his sister were comfortable domiciled for the winter season beneath the rector’s hospitably roof.

Gordon Graham had been very anxious to secure this invitation. Every day that passed made him more and more anxious that his sister should make a good marriage. Her thirtieth birthday was alarmingly near at hand. Careful as she was of her good looks, the day must soon come when her beauty would fade, and she would find herself among the ranks of confirmed old maids.

If Gordon Graham found her a burden now, how much greater burden would she be to him then! As the cruel years stole by, and brought her no triumph, no success, her temper grew more imperious, while the quarrels which marred the harmony of the brother and sister’s affection became more frequent and more violent.

Beyond this one all-sufficient reason, Gordon Graham had his own selfish motives for seeking to secure his sister a rich husband. The purse of a wealthy brother-in-law must, of course, be always more or less open to himself; and he was not the man to refrain from obtaining all he could from such a source.

In Lionel Dale he saw a man who would be the easy victim of a woman’s fascinations, the generous dupe of an adventurer. Lionel Dale was, therefore, the prize which Lydia should try to win.

The brother and sister were in the habit of talking to each other very plainly.

“Now, Lydia,” said the captain, after he had read Lionel Dale’s letter for the young lady’s benefit, “it will be your fault if you do not come back from Hallgrove the affianced wife of this man. There was a time when you might have tried for heavier stakes; but at thirty, a husband with five thousand a year is not to be sneezed at.”

“You need not be so fond of reminding me of my age,” Lydia returned with a look of anger. “You seem to forget that you are five years my senior.”

“I forget nothing, my dear girl. But there is no parallel between your case and mine. For a man, age is nothing — for a woman, everything; and I regret to be obliged to remember that you are approaching your thirtieth birthday. Fortunately, you don’t look more than seven-and~twenty; and I really think, if you play your cards well, you may secure this country rector. A country rector is not much for a woman who has set her cap at a duke, but he is better than nothing; and as the case is really growing rather desperate, you must play your cards with unusual discrimination this time, Lydia. You must, upon my word.”

“I am tired of playing my cards,” answered Miss Graham, contemptuously. “It seems as if life was always to be a losing game for me, let me play my cards how I will. I begin to think there is a curse upon me, and that no act of mine will ever prosper. Who was that man, in your Greek play, who guessed some inane conundrum, and was always getting into trouble afterwards? I begin to think there really is a fatality in these things.”

She turned away from her brother impatiently, and seated herself at her piano. She played a few bars of a waltz with a listless air, while the captain lighted a cigar, and stepped out upon the little balcony, overhanging the dull, foggy street.

The brother and sister occupied lodgings in one of the narrow streets of Mayfair. The apartments were small, shabbily furnished, inconvenient, and expensive; but the situation was irreproachable, and the haughty Lydia could only exist in an irreproachable situation.

Captain Graham finished his cigar, and went out to his club, leaving his sister alone, discontented, gloomy, sullen, to get through the day as best she might.

The time had been when the prospect of a visit to Hallgrove Rectory would have seemed very pleasant to her. But that time was gone. The haughty spirit was soured by disappointment, the selfish nature embittered by defeat.

There was a glass over the mantel-piece. Lydia leaned her arms upon the marble slab, and contemplated the dark face in the mirror.

It was a handsome face: but a cloud of sullen pride obscured its beauty.

“I shall never prosper,” she said, as she looked at herself. “There is some mysterious ban upon me, and on my beauty. All my life I have been passed by for the sake of women in every attribute my inferiors. If I was unloved in the freshness of my youth and beauty, how can I expect to be loved now, when youth is past and beauty is on the wane? And yet my brother expects me to go through the old stage-play, in the futile hope of winning a rich husband!”

She shrugged her shoulders with a contemptuous gesture, and turned away from the glass. But, although she affected to despise her brother’s schemes, she was not slow to lend herself to them. She went out that morning, and walked to her milliner’s house. There was a long and rather an unpleasant interview between the milliner and her customer, for Lydia Graham had sunk deeper in the mire of debt with every passing year, and it was only by the payment of occasional sums of money on account that she contrived to keep her creditors tolerably quiet.

The result of to-day’s interview was the same as usual. Madame Susanne, the milliner, agreed to find some pretty dresses for Miss Graham’s Christmas visit — and Miss Graham undertook to pay a large instalment of an unreasonable bill without inspection or objection.

On this snowy Christmas morning Miss Graham stood by the side of her host, dressed in the stylish walking costume of dark gray poplin, and with her glowing face set off by a bonnet of blue velvet, with soft gray plumes. Those were the days in which a bonnet was at once the aegis and the sanctuary of beauty. If you offended her, she took refuge in her bonnet. The police-courts have only become odious by the clamour of feminine complainants since the disappearance of the bonnet. It was awful as the helmet of Minerva, inviolable as the cestus of Diana. Nor was the bonnet of thirty-years ago an unbecoming headgear — a pretty face never looked prettier than when dimly seen in the shadowy depths of a coal-scuttle bonnet.

Miss Graham looked her best in one of those forgotten headdresses; the rich velvet, the drooping feathers, set off her showy face, and Laura and Ellen Mordaunt, in their fresh young beauty and simple costume, lost by contrast with the aristocratic belle.

The poor of Hallgrove parish looked forward eagerly to the coming of Christmas.

Lionel Dale’s parishioners knew that they would receive ample bounty from the hand of their wealthy and generous rector.

He loved to welcome old and young to the noble hall of his mansion, a spacious and lofty chamber, which had formed part of the ancient manor~house, and had been of late years converted into a rectory. He loved to see them clad in the comfortable garments which his purse had provided — the old women in their gray woollen gowns and scarlet cloaks, the little children brightly arrayed, like so many Red Riding hoods.

It was a pleasant sight truly, and there was a dimness in the rector’s eyes, as he stood at the head of a long table, at two o’clock on Christmas-day, to say grace before the dinner spread for those humble Christmas guests.

All the poor of the parish had been invited to dine with their pastor on Christmas-day, and this two o’clock dinner was a greater pleasure to the rector of Hallgrove than the repast which was to be served at seven o’clock for himself and the guests of his own rank.

There were some people in Hallgrove and its neighbourhood who said that Lionel Dale took more pleasure in this life than a clergyman and a good Christian should take; but surely those who had seen him seated by the bed of sickness, or ministering to the needs of affliction, could scarcely have grudged him the innocent happiness of his hours of relaxation. The one thing in which he himself felt that he was perhaps open to blame, was in his passion for the sports of the field.

No one who had stood amongst the little group at the top of the long table in Hallgrove Manor-house on this snowy Christmas morning could have doubted that the heart of Lionel Dale was true to the very core.

He was not alone amongst his poor parishioners. His guests had requested permission to see the two o’clock dinner-party in the refectory. Lydia affected to be especially anxious for this privilege.

“I long to see the dear things eating their Christmas plum-pudding,” she said, with almost girlish enthusiasm.

Mr. Dale’s parishioners did ample justice to the splendid Christmas fare provided for them.

Lydia Graham declared she had never witnessed anything that gave her half so much pleasure as this humble gathering.

“I would give up a whole season of fashionable dinner-parties for such a treat as this, Mr. Dale,” she exclaimed, with an eloquent glance at the rector. “What a happy life yours must be! and how privileged these people ought to think themselves!”

“I don’t know that, Miss Graham,” answered Lionel Dale. “I think the privilege is all on my side. It is the pleasure of the rich to minister to the wants of the poor.”

Lydia Graham made no reply; but her eyes expressed an admiration which womanly reserve might have forbidden her lips to utter.

While the pudding was being eaten, Mr. Dale walked round amongst his humble guests, to exchange a few kindly words here and there; to shake hands; to pat little children’s flaxen heads; to make friendly inquiries for the sick and absent.

As he paused to talk to one of his parishioners, his attention was attracted by a strange face. It was the face of an old man, who sat at the opposite side of the table, and seemed entirely absorbed by the agreeable task of making his way through a noble slice of plum-pudding.

“Who is that old man opposite?” asked Lionel of the agricultural labourer to whom he had been talking. “I don’t think I know his face.”

“No, sir,” answered the farm-labourer; “he don’t belong to these parts. Gaffer Hayfield brought ’un. I suppose as how he’s a relation of Gaffer’s. It seems a bit of a liberty, sir; but Gaffer Hayfield always war a cool hand.”

“I don’t think it a liberty, William. If the man is a relation of Hayfield’s, there is no reason why he should not be here with the Gaffer,” answered Lionel, good-naturedly, “I am glad to Bee that he is enjoying his dinner.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the farm-labourer, with a grin; “he seems to have an oncommon good twist of his own, wheresoever he belongs to.”

No more was said about the strange guest — who was an old man, with very white hair, which hung low over his eyebrows; and very white whiskers, which almost covered his cheeks. He had a queer, bird-like aspect, and a nose that was as sharp as the beak of any of the rooks cawing hoarsely amongst the elms of Hallgrove that snowy Christmas-day.

After the dinner in the old hall, Lionel Dale and his guests returned to their own quarters; Mrs. Mordaunt and the three younger ladies walked in the grounds, with Douglas Dale and Sir Reginald Eversleigh in attendance upon them.

Miss Graham was the last woman in the world to forget that the income of Douglas Dale was almost as large as that of his brother, the rector; and that in this instance she might have two strings to her bow. She contrived to be by the side of Douglas as they walked in the shrubberies, and lingered on the rustic bridge across the river; but she had not been with him long before she perceived that all her fascinations were thrown away upon him; and that, attentive and polite though he was, his heart was far away.

It was indeed so. In that pleasant garden, where the dark evergreens glistened in the red radiance of the winter sunset, Douglas Dale’s thoughts wandered away from the scene before him to the lovely Austrian woman — the fair widow, whose life was so strange a mystery to him; the woman whom he could neither respect nor trust; but whom, in spite of himself, he loved better than any other creature upon earth.

“I had rather be by her side than here,” he said to himself. “How is she spending this season, which should be so happy? Perhaps in utter loneliness; or in the midst of that artificial gaiety which is more wretched than solitude.”

The rector of Hallgrove and his guests assembled in the old-fashioned drawing-room of the manor-house rectory at seven o’clock on that snowy Christmas-night. The snowflakes fell thick and fast as night closed in upon the gardens and shrubberies, the swift-flowing river, and distant hills.

The rectory drawing-room, beautified by the soft light of wax-candles, and the rich hues of flowers, was a pleasant picture — a picture which was made all the more charming by the female figures which filled its foreground.

Chief among these, and radiant with beauty and high spirits, was Lydia Graham.

She had contrived to draw Lionel Dale to her side. She was seated by a table scattered with volumes of engravings, and he was bending over her as she turned the leaves.

Her smiles, her flatteries, her cleverly simulated interest in the rector’s charities and pensioners, had exercised a considerable influence upon him — an influence which grew stronger with every hour. There was a sweetness and simplicity in the manners of the two Misses Mordaunt which pleased him; but the country-bred girls lost much by contrast with the brilliant Lydia.

“I hope you are going to give us a real old-fashioned Christmas evening, Mr. Dale,” said Miss Graham.

“I don’t quite know what you mean by an old-fashioned Christmas evening.”

“Nor am I quite clear as to whether I know what I mean myself,” answered the young lady, gaily. “I think, after dinner, we ought to sit round that noble old fire-place and tell stories, ought we not?”

“Yes, I believe that is the sort of thing,” replied the rector. “For my own part, I am ready to be Miss Graham’s slave for the whole of the evening; and in that capacity will hold myself bound to perform her behests, however tyrannical she may be.”

When dinner was announced, Lionel Dale was obliged to leave the bewitching Lydia in order to offer his arm to Mrs. Mordaunt, while that young lady was fain to be satisfied with the escort of the disinherited Sir Reginald Eversleigh.

At the dinner-table, however, she found herself seated on the left hand of her host; and she took care to secure to herself the greater share of his attention during the progress of dinner.

Gordon Graham watched his sister from his place near the foot of the table, and was well satisfied with her success.

“If she plays her cards well she may sit at the head of this table next Christmas-day,” he said to himself.

After less than half-an-hour’s interval, the gentlemen followed the ladies into the drawing-room, and the usual musical evening set in. Lydia Graham had nothing to fear from comparison with the Misses Mordaunt. They were tolerable performers. She was a brilliant proficient in music, and she had the satisfaction of observing that Lionel Dale perceived and appreciated her superiority. She could afford, therefore, to be as amiable to the girls as she was captivating to the gentlemen.

The Misses Mordaunt were singing a duet, when a servant entered, and approached Lionel Dale.

“There is a person in the hall who asks to see you, sir,” said the man, “on most particular business.”

“What kind of person?” asked the rector.

“Well, sir, she looks like an old gipsy woman.”

“A gipsy woman! The gipsies about here do not bear the best character.”

“No, sir,” replied the man. “I bore that in mind, sir, with a view to the plate, and I told John Andrew to keep an eye upon her while I came to speak to you; and John Andrew is keeping an eye upon her at this present moment, sir.”

“Very good, Jackson. You can tell the gipsy woman that, if she needs immediate help of any kind, she can apply in the village, to Rawlins, but that I cannot see her to-night.”

“Yes, sir.”

The man departed; and the Misses Mordaunt finished their duet, and rose from the piano, to receive the usual thanks and acknowledgments from their hearers.

Again Miss Graham was asked to sing, and again she seated herself before the instrument, triumphant in the consciousness that she could excel the timid girls who had just left the piano.

But this time Lionel Dale did not place himself beside the instrument. He stood near the door of the apartment, ready to receive the servant, if he should return with a second message from the gipsy woman.

The servant did return, and this time he begged his master to step outside the room before he delivered his message. Lionel complied immediately, and followed the man into the corridor without.

“I was almost afraid to speak in there, sir,” said the man, in an awe~stricken whisper; “folks have such ears. The woman says she must see you, sir, and this very night. It is a matter of life and death, she says.”

“Then in that case I will see this woman. Go into the drawing-room, Jackson, and tell Mrs. Mordaunt, with my compliments, that I find myself compelled to receive one of my parishioners; and that she and the other ladies must be so good as to excuse my absence for half an hour.”

“Yes, sir.”

The rector went to the hall, where, cowering by the fire, he found an old gipsy woman.

She was so muffled from head to foot in her garments of woollen stuff, strange and garish in colour, and fantastical in form, that it was almost impossible to discover what she really was like. Her shoulders were bent and contracted as if with extreme age. Loose tresses of gray hair fell low over her forehead. Her skin was dark and tawny; and contrasted strangely with the gray hair and the dark lustrous eyes.

The gipsy woman rose as Lionel Dale entered the hall. She bent her head in response to his kindly salutation; but she did not curtsey as before a superior in rank and station.

“Come with me, my good woman,” said the rector, “and let me hear all about this very important business of yours.”

He led the way to the library — a low-roofed but spacious chamber, lined from ceiling to floor with books. A large reading-lamp, with a Parian shade, stood on a small writing-table near the fire, casting a subdued light on objects near at hand, and leaving the rest of the room in shadow. A pile of logs burnt cheerily on the hearth. On one side of the fire was the chair in which the rector usually sat; on the other, a large, old-fashioned, easy-chair.

“Sit down, my good woman,” said the rector, pointing to the latter; “I suppose you have some long story to tell me.”

He seated himself as he spoke, and leaned upon the writing-table, playing idly with a carved ivory paper-knife.

“I have much to say to you, Lionel Dale,” answered the old woman, in a voice which had a solemn music, that impressed the hearer in spite of himself; “I have much to say to you, and it will be well for you to mark what I say, and be warned by what I tell you.”

The rector looked at the speaker earnestly, and yet with a half~contemptuous smile upon his face. She was seated in shadow, and he could only see the glitter of her dark eyes as the fitful light of the fire flashed on them.

There was something almost supernatural, it seemed to him, in the brilliancy of those eyes.

He laughed at himself for his folly in the next instant. What was this woman but a vulgar impostor, who was doubtless trying to trade upon his fears in some manner or other?

“You have come here to give some kind of warning, then?” he said, after a few moments of consideration.

“I have — a warning which may save your life — if you hear me patiently, and obey when you have heard.”

“That is the cant of your class, my good woman; and you can scarcely expect me to listen to that kind of thing. If you come here to me, hoping to delude me by the language with which you tell the country people their fortunes at fairs and races, the sooner you go away the better. I am ready to listen to you patiently: if you need help, I am ready to give it you; but it is time and labour lost to practise gipsy jargon upon me.”

“I need no help from you,” cried the gipsy woman, scornfully; “I tell you again, I come here to serve you.”

“In what manner can you serve me? Speak out, and speak quickly!” said Lionel; “I must return to my guests almost immediately.”

“Your guests!” cried the gipsy, with a mocking laugh; “pleasant guests to gather round your hearth at this holy festival-time. Sir Reginald Eversleigh is amongst them, I suppose?”

“He is. You know his name very well, it seems.”

“I do.”

“Do you know him?”

“Do you know him, Lionel Dale?” demanded the old woman with sudden intensity.

“I have good reason to know him — he is my first-cousin,” answered the rector.

“You have good reason to know him — a reason that you are ignorant of. Shall I tell you that reason, Mr. Dale?”

“I am ready to hear what you have to say; but I must warn you that I shall be but little affected by it.”

“Beware how you regard my solemn warning as the raving of a lunatic. It is your life that is at stake, Lionel Dale — your life! The reason you ought to know Reginald Eversleigh is, that in him you have a deadly enemy.”

“An enemy! My cousin Reginald, a man whom I never injured by deed or word in my life! Has he ever tried to injure me?”

“He has.”

“How?”

“He schemed and plotted against you and others before your uncle Sir Oswald’s death. His dearest hope was to bring to pass the destruction of the will which left you five thousand a year.”

“Indeed! You seem familiar with my family history,” exclaimed Lionel.

“I know the secrets of your family as well as I know those of my own.”

“Then you pretend to be a sorceress?”

“I pretend to be nothing but your friend. Sir Reginald Eversleigh has been your foe ever since the day which disinherited him and made you rich. Your death would make him master of the wealth which you now enjoy; your death would give him fortune, position in the world — all which he most covets. Can you doubt, therefore, that he wishes your death?”

“I cannot believe it!” cried Lionel Dale; “it is too horrible. What! he, my first cousin! he can profess for me the warmest friendship, and yet can wish to profit by my death!”

“He can do worse than that,” said the gipsy woman, in an impressive voice; “he can try to compass your death!”

“No! no! no!” cried the rector. “It is not possible!”

“It is true. Sir Reginald Eversleigh is a coward; but he is helped by one who knows no human weakness — whose cruel heart was never softened by one touch of pity — whose iron hand never falters. Sir Reginald Eversleigh is little more than the tool of that man, and between those two there is ruin for you.”

“Your words have the accent of truth,” said the rector, after a long pause; “and yet their meaning is so terrible that I can scarcely bring myself to believe in them. How is it that you, a stranger, are so familiar with the private details of my life?”

“Do not ask me that, Mr. Dale,” replied the gipsy woman, sternly; “when a stranger comes to you to warn you of a great danger, accept the warning, and let your nameless friend depart unquestioned. I have told you that an unseen danger menaces you. I know not yet the exact form which that danger may take. To-morrow I expect to know more.”

“I can pledge myself to nothing.”

“As you will,” answered the gipsy, proudly. “I have done my duty. The rest is with Providence. If in your blind obstinacy you disregard my warning, I cannot help it. Will you, for your own sake, not for mine, let me see you to-morrow; or will you promise to see anyone who shall ask to see you, in the name of the gipsy woman who was here to-night? Promise me this, I entreat you. I have nothing to ask of you, nothing to gain by my prayer; but I do entreat you most earnestly to do this thing. I am working in the dark to a certain extent. I know something, but not all, and I may have learned much more by to-morrow. I may bring or send you information then, which will convince you I am speaking the truth. Stay, will you promise me this, for my sake, for the sake of justice? You will, Mr. Dale, I know you will; you are a just, a good man. You suspect me of practising upon you a vulgar imposition. To~morrow I may have the power of convincing you that I have not done so. You will give me the opportunity, Mr. Dale?”

The pleading, earnest voice, the mournful, dark eyes, stirred Lionel Dale’s heart strangely. An impulse moved him towards trust in this woman, this outcast — curiosity even impelled him to ask her, in such terms as would ensure her compliance, for a full explanation of her mysterious conduct. But he checked the impulse, he silenced the promptings of curiosity, sacrificing them to his ever-present sense of his professional and personal dignity. While the momentary struggle lasted, the gipsy woman closely scanned his face. At length he said coldly:

“I will do as you ask. I place no reliance on your statements, but you are right in asking for the means of substantiating them. I will see you, or any one you may send to-morrow.”

“You will be at home?” she asked, anxiously. “The hunt?”

“The hunt will hardly take place; the weather is too much against us,” replied Lionel Dale. “Except there should be a very decided change, there will be no hunt, and I shall be at home.” Having said this, Lionel Dale rose, with a decided air of dismissal. The gipsy rose too, and stood unshrinkingly before him, as she said:

“And now I will leave you. Good night. You think me a mad woman, or an impostor. This is the second occasion on which you have misjudged me, Mr. Dale.”

As the rector met the earnest gaze of her brilliant eyes, a strange feeling took possession of his mind. It seemed to him, as if he had before encountered that earnest and profound gaze.

“I must have seen such a face in a dream,” he thought to himself; “where else but in a dream?”

The fancy had a powerful influence over him, and occupied his mind as he preceded the gipsy woman to the hall, and opened the door for her to pass out.

The snow had ceased to fall; the bright wintry moon rode high in the heaven, amidst black, hurrying clouds. That cold light shone on the white range of hills sleeping beneath a shroud of untrodden snow.

On the threshold of the door the gipsy woman turned and addressed Lionel Dale —

“There will be no hunting while this weather lasts.”

“None.”

“Then your grand meeting of to-morrow will be put off?”

“Yes, unless the weather changes in the night.”

“Once more, good night, Mr. Dale.”

“Good night.”

The rector stood at the door, watching the gipsy woman as she walked along the snow-laden pathway. The dark figure moving slowly and silently across the broad white expanse of hidden lawn and flower-beds looked almost ghost-like to the eyes of the watcher.

“What does it all mean?” he asked himself, as he watched that receding figure. “Is this woman a common impostor, who hopes to enrich herself, or her tribe, by playing upon my fears? She asked nothing of me to~night; and yet that may be but a trick of her trade, and she may intend to extort all the more from me in the future. What should she be but a cheat and a trickster, like the rest of her race?”

The question was not easy to settle.

He returned to the drawing-room. His mind had been much disturbed by this extraordinary interview, and he was in no humour for empty small~talk; nor was he disposed to meet Reginald Eversleigh, against whom he had received so singular, so apparently groundless, a warning.

He tried to shake off the feeling which he was ashamed to acknowledge to himself.

He re-entered the drawing-room, and he saw Miss Graham’s face light up with sudden animation as she saw him. He was not skilled in the knowledge of a woman’s heart, and he was flattered by that bright look of welcome. He was already half-enmeshed in the web which she had spread for him, and that welcoming smile did much towards his complete subjugation.

He went to a seat near the fascinating Lydia. Between them there was a chess-table. Lydia laid her jewelled hand lightly on one of the pieces.

“Would you think it very wicked to play a game of chess on a Christmas evening, Mr. Dale?” she asked.

“Indeed, no, Miss Graham. I am one of those who can see no sinfulness in any innocent enjoyment.”

“Shall we play, then?” asked Lydia, arranging the pieces.

“If you please.”

They were both good players, and the game lasted long. But ever and anon, while waiting for Lydia to move, Lionel glanced towards the spot where Sir Reginald Eversleigh stood, engaged in conversation with Gordon Graham and Douglas Dale.

If the rector himself had known no blot on the character of Reginald Eversleigh, the gipsy’s words would not have had a feather’s weight with him; but Lionel did know that his cousin’s youth had been wild and extravagant, and that he, the beloved, adopted son, the long~acknowledged heir of Raynham, had been disinherited by Sir Oswald — one of the best and most high-principled of men.

Knowing this, it was scarcely strange if Lionel Dale was in some degree influenced by the gipsy’s warning. He scanned the face of his cousin with a searching gaze.

It was a handsome face — almost a perfect face; but was it the face of a man who might be trusted by his fellow-men?

A careworn face — handsome though it was. There was a nervous restlessness about the thin lips, a feverish light in the dark blue eyes.

More than once during the prolonged encounter at chess, Reginald Eversleigh had drawn aside one of the window-curtains, to look out upon the night.

Mr. Mordaunt, a devoted lover of all field-sports, was also restless and uneasy about the weather, peeping out every now and then, and announcing, in a tone of disappointment, the continuance of the frost.

In Mr. Mordaunt this was perfectly natural; but Lionel Dale knew that his cousin was not a man who cared for hunting. Why, then, was he so anxious about the meet which was to have taken place to-morrow?

His anxiety evidently was about the meet; for after looking out of the window for the third time, he exclaimed, with an accent of triumph —

“I congratulate you, gentlemen; you may have your run to-morrow. It no longer freezes, and there is a drizzling rain falling.”

Mr. Mordaunt ran out of the drawing-room, and returned in about five minutes with a radiant face.

“I have been to look at the weathercock in the stable-yard,” he said; “Sir Reginald Eversleigh is quite right. The wind has shifted to the sou’-west; it is raining fast, and we may have our sport to-morrow.”

Lionel Dale’s eyes were fixed on the face of his cousin as the country squire made this announcement. To his surprise, he saw that face blanch to a death-like whiteness.

“To-morrow!” murmured Sir Reginald, with a sigh.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31