The Haunted Baronet, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter XVII

On the Course — Beeswing, Falcon, and Lightning

As he rode towards Golden Friars, through which his route lay, in the early morning light, in which the mists of night were clearing, he looked back towards Mardykes with a hope of speedy deliverance from that hated imprisonment, and of a return to the continental life in which he took delight. He saw the summits and angles of the old building touched with the cheerful beams, and the grand old trees, and at the opposite side the fells dark, with their backs towards the east; and down the side of the wooded and precipitous clough of Feltram, the light, with a pleasant contrast against the beetling purple of the fells, was breaking in the faint distance. On the lake he saw the white speck that indicated the sail of Philip Feltram’s boat, now midway between Mardykes and the wooded shores of Cloostedd.

“Going on the same errand,” thought Sir Bale, “I should not wonder. I wish him the same luck. Yes, he’s going to Cloostedd Forest. I hope he may meet his gipsies there — the Trebecks, or whoever they are.”

And as a momentary sense of degradation in being thus beholden to such people smote him, “Well,” thought he, “who knows? Many a fellow will make a handsome sum of a poorer purse than this at Heckleston. It will be a light matter paying them then.”

Through Golden Friars he rode. Some of the spectators who did not like him, wondered audibly at the gallant show, hoped it was paid for, and conjectured that he had ridden out in search of a wife. On the whole, however, the appearance of their Baronet in a smarter style than usual was popular, and accepted as a change to the advantage of the town.

Next morning he was on the race-course of Heckleston, renewing old acquaintance and making himself as agreeable as he could — an object, among some people, of curiosity and even interest. Leaving the carriage-sides, the hoods and bonnets, Sir Bale was soon among the betting men, deep in more serious business.

How did he make his book? He did not break his word. He backed Beeswing, Falcon, and Lightning. But it must be owned not for a shilling more than the five guineas each, to which he stood pledged. The odds were forty-five to one against Beeswing, sixty to one against Lightning, and fifty to one against Falcon.

“A pretty lot to choose!” exclaimed Sir Bale, with vexation. “As if I had money so often, that I should throw it away!”

The Baronet was testy thinking over all this, and looked on Feltram’s message as an impertinence and the money as his own.

Let us now see how Sir Bale Mardykes’ pocket fared.

Sulkily enough at the close of the week he turned his back on Heckleston racecourse, and took the road to Golden Friars.

He was in a rage with his luck, and by no means satisfied with himself; and yet he had won something. The result of the racing had been curious. In the three principal races the favourites had been beaten: one by an accident, another on a technical point, and the third by fair running. And what horses had won? The names were precisely those which the “fortune-teller” had predicted.

Well, then, how was Sir Bale in pocket as he rode up to his ancestral house of Mardykes, where a few thousand pounds would have been very welcome? He had won exactly 775 guineas; and had he staked a hundred instead of five on each of the names communicated by Feltram, he would have won 15,500 guineas.

He dismounted before his hall-door, therefore, with the discontent of a man who had lost nearly 15,000 pounds. Feltram was upon the steps, and laughed dryly.

“What do you laugh at?” asked Sir Bale tartly.

“You’ve won, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I’ve won; I’ve won a trifle.”

“On the horses I named?”

“Well, yes; it so turned out, by the merest accident.”

Feltram laughed again dryly, and turned away.

Sir Bale entered Mardykes Hall, and was surly. He was in a much worse mood than before he had ridden to Heckleston. But after a week or so ruminating upon the occurrence, he wondered that Feltram spoke no more of it. It was undoubtedly wonderful. There had been no hint of repayment yet, and he had made some hundreds by the loan; and, contrary to all likelihood, the three horses named by the unknown soothsayer had won. Who was this gipsy? It would be worth bringing the soothsayer to Mardykes, and giving his people a camp on the warren, and all the poultry they could catch, and a pig or a sheep every now and then. Why, that seer was worth the philosopher’s stone, and could make Sir Bale’s fortune in a season. Some one else would be sure to pick him up if he did not.

So, tired of waiting for Feltram to begin, he opened the subject one day himself. He had not seen him for two or three days; and in the wood of Mardykes he saw his lank figure standing among the thick trees, upon a little knoll, leaning on a staff which he sometimes carried with him in his excursions up the mountains.

“Feltram!” shouted Sir Bale.

Feltram turned and beckoned. Sir Bale muttered, but obeyed the signal.

“I brought you here, because you can from this point with unusual clearness today see the opening of the Clough of Feltram at the other side, and the clump of trees, where you will find the way to reach the person about whom you are always thinking.”

“Who said I am always thinking about him?” said the Baronet angrily; for he felt like a man detected in a weakness, and resented it.

I say it, because I know it; and you know it also. See that clump of trees standing solitary in the hollow? Among them, to the left, grows an ancient oak. Cut in its bark are two enormous letters H— F; so large and bold, that the rugged furrows of the oak bark fail to obscure them, although they are ancient and spread by time. Standing against the trunk of this great tree, with your back to these letters, you are looking up the Glen or Clough of Feltram, that opens northward, where stands Cloostedd Forest spreading far and thick. Now, how do you find our fortune-teller?”

“That is exactly what I wish to know,” answered Sir Bale; “because, although I can’t, of course, believe that he’s a witch, yet he has either made the most marvellous fluke I’ve heard of, or else he has got extraordinary sources of information; or perhaps he acts partly on chance, partly on facts. Be it which you please, I say he’s a marvellous fellow; and I should like to see him, and have a talk with him; and perhaps he could arrange with me. I should be very glad to make an arrangement with him to give me the benefit of his advice about any matter of the same kind again.”

“I think he’s willing to see you; but he’s a fellow with a queer fancy and a pig-head. He’ll not come here; you must go to him; and approach him his own way too, or you may fail to find him. On these terms he invites you.”

Sir Bale laughed.

“He knows his value, and means to make his own terms.”

“Well, there’s nothing unfair in that; and I don’t see that I should dispute it. How is one to find him?”

“Stand, as I told you, with your back to those letters cut in the oak. Right before you lies an old Druidic altar-stone. Cast your eye over its surface, and on some part of it you are sure to see a black stain about the size of a man’s head. Standing, as I suppose you, against the oak, that stain, which changes its place from day to day, will give you the line you must follow through the forest in order to light upon him. Take carefully from it such trees or objects as will guide you; and when the forest thickens, do the best you can to keep to the same line. You are sure to find him.”

“You’ll come, Feltram. I should lose myself in that wilderness, and probably fail to discover him,” said Sir Bale; “and I really wish to see him.”

“When two people wish to meet, it is hard if they don’t. I can go with you a bit of the way; I can walk a little through the forest by your side, until I see the small flower that grows peeping here and there, that always springs where those people walk; and when I begin to see that sign, I must leave you. And, first, I’ll take you across the lake.”

“By Jove, you’ll do no such thing!” said Sir Bale hastily.

“But that is the way he chooses to be approached,” said Philip Feltram.

“I have a sort of feeling about that lake; it’s the one childish spot that is left in my imagination. The nursery is to blame for it — old stories and warnings; and I can’t think of that. I should feel I had invoked an evil omen if I did. I know it is all nonsense; but we are queer creatures, Feltram. I must only ride there.”

“Why, it is five-and-twenty miles round the lake to that; and after all were done, he would not see you. He knows what he’s worth, and he’ll have his own way,” answered Feltram. “The sun will soon set. See that withered branch, near Snakes Island, that looks like fingers rising from the water? When its points grow tipped with red, the sun has but three minutes to live.”

“That is a wonder which I can’t see; it is too far away.”

“Yes, the lake has many signs; but it needs sight to see them,” said Feltram.

“So it does,” said the Baronet; “more than most men have got. I’ll ride round, I say; and I make my visit, for this time, my own way.”

“You’ll not find him, then; and he wants his money. It would be a pity to vex him.”

“It was to you he lent the money,” said Sir Bale.

“Yes.”

“Well, you are the proper person to find him out and pay him,” urged Sir Bale.

“Perhaps so; but he invites you; and if you don’t go, he may be offended, and you may hear no more from him.”

“We’ll try. When can you go? There are races to come off next week, for once and away, at Langton. I should not mind trying my luck there. What do you say?

“You can go there and pay him, and ask the same question — what horses, I mean, are to win. All the county are to be there; and plenty of money will change hands.”

“I’ll try,” said Feltram.

“When will you go?”

“To-morrow,” he answered.

“I have an odd idea, Feltram, that you are really going to pay off those cursed mortgages.”

He laid his hand with at least a gesture of kindness on the thin arm of Feltram, who coldly answered,

“So have I;” and walked down the side of the little knoll and away, without another word or look.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49