Aurora Floyd, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 24

Captain Prodder Carries Bad News to His Niece’s House.

While Aurora stood upon the threshold of the open window, a man was lingering upon the broad stone steps before the door of the entrance hall, remonstrating with one of John Mellish’s servants, who held supercilious parley with the intruder, and kept him at arm’s length with the contemptuous indifference of a well-bred servant.

The stranger was Captain Samuel Prodder, who had arrived at Doncaster late in the afternoon, had dined at the “Reindeer,” and had come over to Mellish Park in a gig driven by a hanger-on of that establishment. The gig and the hanger-on were both in waiting at the bottom of the steps; and if there had been anything wanting to turn the balance of the footman’s contempt for Captain Prodder’s blue coat, loose shirt-collar, and silver watch-chain, the gig from the “Reindeer” would have done it.

“Yes, Mrs. Mellish is at home,” the gentleman in plush replied, after surveying the sea-captain with a leisurely and critical air, which was rather provoking to poor Samuel, “but she’s engaged.”

“But perhaps she’ll put off her engagements for a bit when she hears who it is as wants to see her,” answered the captain, diving into his capacious pocket. “She’ll tell a different story, I dare say, when you take her that bit of pasteboard.”

He handed the man a card, or rather let me say a stiff square of thick pasteboard, inscribed with his name, so disguised by the flourishing caprices of the engraver as to be not very easily deciphered by unaccustomed eyes. The card bore Captain Prodder’s address as well as his name, and informed his acquaintances that he was part owner of the Nancy Jane, and that all consignments of goods were to be made to him at, etc., etc.

The footman took the document between his thumb and finger, and examined it as minutely as if it had been some relic of the Middle Ages. A new light dawned upon him as he deciphered the information about the Nancy Jane, and he looked at the captain for the first time with some approach to human interest in his countenance.

“Is it cigars you want to dispose hoff,” he asked, “or bandannas? If it’s cigars, you might come round to our ‘all, and show us the harticle.”

“Cigars!” roared Samuel Prodder. “Do you take me for a smuggler, you —?” Here followed one of those hearty seafaring epithets with which polite Mr. Chucks was apt to finish his speeches. “I’m your missus’s own uncle; leastways I— I knew her mother when she was a little gal,” he added, in considerable confusion; for he remembered how far away his sea-captainship thrust him from Mrs. Mellish and her well-born husband; “so just take her my card, and look sharp about it, will you?”

“We’ve a dinner-party,” the footman said, coldly, “and I don’t know if the ladies have returned to the drawing-room; but if you’re anyways related to missus — I’ll go and see.”

The man strolled leisurely away, leaving poor Samuel biting his nails in mute vexation at having let slip that ugly fact of her relationship.

“That swab in the same cut coat as Lord Nelson wore aboard the Victory, will look down upon her now he knows she’s niece to a old sea-captain that carries dry goods on commission, and can’t keep his tongue between his teeth,” he thought.

The footman came back while Samuel Prodder was upbraiding himself for his folly, and informed him that Mrs. Mellish was not to be found in the house.

“Who’s that playin’ upon the pianer, then?” asked Mr. Prodder, with skeptical bluntness.

“Oh, that’s the clugyman’s wife,” answered the man, contemptuously, “a ciddyvong guvness, I should think, for she plays too well for a real lady. Missus don’t play — leastways only pawlkers, and that sort of think. Goodnight.”

He closed the two half-glass doors upon Captain Prodder without farther ceremony, and shut Samuel out of his niece’s house.

“To think that I played hop-scotch and swopped marbles for hardbake with this gal’s mother,” thought the captain, “and that her servant turns up his nose at me, and shuts the door in my face!”

It was in sorrow rather than in anger that the disappointed sailor thought this. He had scarcely hoped for anything better. It was only natural that those about his niece should flout at and contemptuously entreat him. Let him get to her— let him come only for a moment face to face with Eliza’s child, and he did not fear the issue.

“I’ll walk through the Park,” he said to the man who had driven him from Doncaster; “it’s a nice evenin’, and there’s pleasant walks under the trees to win’ard. You can drive back into the high-road, and wait for me agen that ’ere turnstile I took notice of as we come along.”

The driver nodded, smacked his whip, and drove his elderly gray pony toward the Park gates. Captain Samuel Prodder went slowly and deliberately enough — the way that it was appointed for him to go. The Park was a strange territory to him; but, while driving past the outer boundaries, he had looked admiringly at chance openings in the wood, revealing grassy amphitheatres enriched by spreading oaks, whose branches made a shadowy tracery upon the sunlit turf. He had looked with a seaman’s wonder at the inland beauties of the quiet domain, and had pondered whether it might not be a pleasant thing for an old sailor to end his days amid such monotonous woodland tranquillity, far away from the sound of wreck and tempest, and the mighty voices of the dreadful deep; and, in his disappointment at not seeing Aurora, it was some consolation to the captain to walk across the dewy grass in the evening shadows in the direction where, with a sailor’s unerring topographical instinct, he knew the turnstile must be situated.

Perhaps he had some hope of meeting his niece in the pathway across the Park. The man had told him that she was out. She could not be far away, as there was a dinner-party at the house, and she was scarcely likely to leave her guests. She was wandering about the Park most likely with some of them.

The shadows of the trees grew darker upon the grass as Captain Prodder drew nearer to the wood; but it was that sweet summer time in which there is scarcely one positively dark hour among the twenty-four; and though the village clock chimed the half-hour after nine as the sailor entered the wood, he was able to distinguish the outlines of two figures advancing toward him from the other end of the long arcade, that led in a slanting direction to the turnstile.

The figures were those of a man and woman — the woman wearing some light-colored dress, which shimmered in the dusk; the man leaning on a stick, and obviously very lame.

“It is my niece and one of her visitors?” thought the captain; “maybe it is. I’ll lay by to port of ’em, and let ’em pass me.”

Samuel Prodder stepped aside under the shadow of the trees to the left of the grassy avenue through which the two figures were approaching, and waited patiently until they drew near enough for him to distinguish the woman’s face. The woman was Mrs. Mellish, and she was walking on the left of the man, and was therefore nearest to the captain. Her head was turned away from her companion, as if in utter scorn and defiance of him, although she was talking to him at that moment. Her face, proud, pale, and disdainful, was visible to the seaman in the chill, shadowy light of the newly-risen moon. A low line of crimson behind the black trunks of a distant group of trees marked where the sun had left its last track in a vivid streak that looked like blood.

Captain Prodder gazed in loving wonder at the beautiful face turned toward him. He saw the dark eyes, with their sombre depth dark in anger and scorn, and the luminous shimmer of the jewels that shone through the black veil upon her haughty head. He saw her, and his heart grew chill at the sight of her pale beauty in the mysterious moonlight.

“It might be my sister’s ghost,” he thought, “coming upon me in this quiet place; it’s a’most difficult to believe as it’s flesh and blood.”

He would have advanced, perhaps, and addressed his niece, had he not been held back by the words which she was speaking as she passed him — words that jarred painfully upon his heart, telling, as they did, of anger and bitterness, discord and misery.

“Yes, hate you,” she said, in a clear voice, which seemed to vibrate sharply in the dusk —“hate you, hate you, hate you!” She repeated the hard phrase, as if there were some pleasure and delight in uttering it, which in her ungovernable anger she could not deny herself. “What other words do you expect from me?” she cried with a low, mocking laugh, which had a tone of deeper misery and more utter hopelessness than any outbreak of womanly weeping. “Would you have me love you, or respect you, or tolerate you?” Her voice rose with each rapid question, merging into an hysterical sob, but never melting into tears. “Would you have me tell you anything else than what I tell you to-night? I hate and abhor you. I look upon you as the primary cause of every sorrow I have ever known, of every tear I have ever shed, of every humiliation I have ever endured — every sleepless night, every weary day, every despairing hour I have ever passed. More than this — yes, a thousand, thousand times more — I look upon you as the first cause of my father’s wretchedness. Yes, even before my own mad folly in believing in you, and thinking you — what? — Claude Melnotte, perhaps! A curse upon the man who wrote the play, and the player who acted in it, if it helped to make me what I was when I met you! I say again, I hate you; your presence poisons my home, your abhorred shadow haunts my sleep — no, not my sleep, for how should I ever sleep knowing that you are near?”

Mr. Conyers, being apparently weary of walking, leaned against the trunk of a tree to listen to the end of this outbreak, looking insolent defiance at the speaker. But Aurora’s passion had reached that point in which all consciousness of external things passes away in the complete egoism of anger and hate. She did not see his superciliously indifferent look; her dilated eyes stared straight before her into the dark recess from which Captain Prodder watched his sister’s only child. Her restless hands rent the fragile border of her shawl in the strong agony of her passion. Have you ever seen this kind of woman in a passion? Impulsive, nervous, sensitive, sanguine; with such a one passion is a madness — brief, thank Heaven! and expending itself in sharply cruel words, and convulsive rendings of laces and ribbons, or coroners’ juries might have to sit even oftener than they do. It is fortunate for mankind that speaking daggers is often quite as great a satisfaction to us as using them, and that we can threaten very cruel things without meaning to carry them out. Like the little children who say, “Won’t I just tell your mother?” and the terrible editors who write, “Won’t I give you a castigation in the Market-Deeping Spirit of the Times, or the Walton-on-the-Naze Athenæum?

“If you are going to give us much more of this sort of thing,” said Mr. Conyers, with aggravating stolidity, “perhaps you won’t object to my lighting a cigar?”

Aurora took no notice of his quiet insolence; but Captain Prodder, involuntarily clenching his fist, bounded a step forward in his retreat, and shook the leaves of the underwood about his legs.

“What’s that?” exclaimed the trainer.

“My dog, perhaps,” answered Aurora; “he’s about here with me.”

“Curse the purblind cur,” muttered Mr. Conyers, with an unlighted cigar in his mouth. He struck a lucifer match against the bark of a tree, and the vivid sulphurous light shone full upon his handsome face.

“A rascal,” thought Captain Prodder; “a good-looking, heartless scoundrel. What’s this between my niece and him? He is n’t her husband, surely, for he don’t look like a gentleman. But if he a’n’t her husband, who is he?”

The sailor scratched his head in his bewilderment. His senses had been almost stupefied by Aurora’s passionate talk, and he had only a confused feeling that there was trouble and wretchedness of some kind or other around and about his niece.

“If I thought he’d done anything to injure her,” he muttered, “I’d pound him into such a jelly that his friends would never know his handsome face again as long as there was life in his carcass.”

Mr. Conyers threw away the burning match, and puffed at his newly-lighted cigar. He did not trouble himself to take it from his lips as he addressed Aurora, but spoke between his teeth, and smoked in the pauses of his discourse.

“Perhaps, if you’ve — calmed yourself down — a bit,” he said, “you’ll be so good as — to come to business. What do you want me to do?”

“You know as well as I do,” answered Aurora.

“You want me to leave this place?”

“Yes, for ever.”

“And to take what you give me — and be satisfied?”


“What if I refuse?”

She turned sharply upon him as he asked this question, and looked at him for a few moments in silence.

“What if I refuse?” he repeated, still smoking.

“Look to yourself!” she cried, between her set teeth; “that’s all. Look to yourself!”

“What! you’d kill me, I suppose?”

“No,” answered Aurora; “but I’d tell all, and get the release which I ought to have sought for two years ago.”

“Oh! ah! to be sure,” said Mr. Conyers; “a pleasant thing for Mr. Mellish, and our poor papa, and a nice bit of gossip for the newspapers. I’ve a good mind to put you to the test, and see if you’ve pluck enough to do it, my lady.”

She stamped her foot upon the turf, and tore the lace in her hands, throwing the fragments away from her; but she did not answer him.

“You’d like to stab me, or shoot me, or strangle me, as I stand here, would n’t you, now?” asked the trainer, mockingly.

“Yes,” cried Aurora, “I would!” she flung her head back with a gesture of disdain as she spoke.

“Why do I waste my time in talking to you?” she said. “My worst words can inflict no wound upon such a nature as yours. My scorn is no more painful to you than it would be to any of the loathsome creatures that creep about the margin of yonder pool.”

The trainer took his cigar from his mouth, and struck the ashes away with his little finger.

“No,” he said, with a contemptuous laugh, “I’m not very thin-skinned, and I’m pretty well used to this sort of thing into the bargain. But suppose, as I remarked just now, we drop this style of conversation, and come to business. We don’t seem to be getting on very fast this way.”

At this juncture, Captain Prodder, who, in his extreme desire to strangle his niece’s companion, had advanced very close upon the two speakers, knocked off his bat against the lower branches of the tree which sheltered him.

There was no mistake this time about the rustling of the leaves. The trainer started, and limped toward Captain Prodder’s hiding-place.

“There’s some one listening to us,” he said. “I’m sure of it this time — that fellow Hargraves, perhaps. I fancy he’s a sneak.”

Mr. Conyers supported himself against the very tree behind which the sailor stood, and beat among the undergrowth with his stick, but did not succeed in encountering the legs of the listener.

“If that soft-headed fool is playing the spy upon me,” cried the trainer, savagely, “he’d better not let me catch him, for I’ll make him remember it if I do.”

“Don’t I tell you that my dog followed me here?” exclaimed Aurora, contemptuously.

A low rustling of the grass on the other side of the avenue, and at some distance from the seaman’s place of concealment, was heard as Mrs. Mellish spoke.

That’s your dog, if you like,” said the trainer; “the other was a man. Come on a little way farther, and let’s make a finish of this business; it’s past ten o’clock.”

Mr. Conyers was right. The church clock had struck ten five minutes before, but the solemn chimes had fallen unheeded upon Aurora’s ear, lost amid the angry voices raging in her breast. She started as she looked around her at the summer darkness in the woods, and the flaming yellow moon, which brooded low upon the earth, and shed no light upon the mysterious pathways and the water-pools in the wood.

The trainer limped away, Aurora walking by his side, yet holding herself as far aloof from him as the grassy pathway would allow. They were out of hearing, and almost out of sight, before the sea-captain could emerge from a state of utter stupefaction so far as to be able to look at the business in its right bearings.

“I ought to ha’ knocked him down,” he muttered at last; “whether he’s her husband or whether he is n’t. I ought to have knocked him down, and I would have done it too,” added the captain, resolutely, “if it had n’t been that my niece seemed to have a good fiery spirit of her own, and to be able to fire a jolly good broadside in the way of hard words. I’ll find my skull-thatcher if I can,” said Captain Prodder, groping for his hat among the brambles and the long grass, “and then I’ll just run up to the turnstile and tell my mate to lay at anchor a bit longer with the horse and shay. He’ll be wonderin’ what I’m up to; but I won’t go back just yet; I’ll keep in the way of my niece and that swab with the game leg.”

The captain found his hat, and walked down to the turnstile, where he found the young man from the “Reindeer” fast asleep, with the reins loose in his hands, and his head upon his knees. The horse, with his head in an empty nose-bag, seemed as fast asleep as the driver.

The young man woke at the sound of the turnstile creaking upon its axis, and the step of the sailor in the road.

“I a’n’t goin’ to get aboard just yet,” said Captain Prodder; “I’ll take another turn in the wood, as the evenin’s so pleasant. I come to tell you I would n’t keep you much longer, for I thought you’d think I was dead.”

“I did a’most,” answered the charioteer, candidly. “My word, a’n’t you been a time!”

“I met Mr. and Mrs. Mellish in the wood,” said the captain, “and I stopped to have a look at ’em. She’s a bit of a spitfire, a’n’t she?” asked Samuel, with affected carelessness.

The young man from the “Reindeer” shook his head dubiously.

“I doant know about that,” he said; “she’s a rare favorite hereabouts, with poor folks and gentry too. They do say as she horsewhipped a poor fond chap as they’d got in the stables for ill-usin’ her dog; and sarve him right too,” added the young man, decisively. “Them softies is allus vicious.”

Captain Prodder pondered rather doubtfully upon this piece of information. He was not particularly elated by the image of his sister’s child laying a horsewhip upon the shoulders of her half-witted servant. This trifling incident did n’t exactly harmonize with his idea of the beautiful heiress, playing upon all manner of instruments, and speaking half a dozen languages.

“Yes,” repeated the driver, “they do say as she gave t’ fondy a good whopping; and damme if I don’t admire her for it.”

“Ay, ay,” answered Captain Prodder, thoughtfully. “Mr. Mellish walks lame, don’t he?” he asked, after a pause.

“Lame!” cried the driver; “Lord bless your heart, not a bit of it. John Mellish is as fine a young man as you’ll meet in this Riding — ay, and finer, too. I ought to know. I’ve seen him walk into our house often enough in the race week.”

The captain’s heart sank strangely at this information. The man with whom he had heard his niece quarrelling was not her husband, then. The squabble had seemed natural enough to the uninitiated sailor while he looked at it in a matrimonial light, but, seen from another aspect, it struck sudden terror to his sturdy heart, and blanched the ruddy hues in his brown face. “Who was he, then?” he thought; “who was it as my niece was talkin’ to — after dark — alone — a mile off her own home, eh?”

Before he could seek for a solution to the unuttered question which agitated and alarmed him, the report of a pistol rang sharply through the wood, and found an echo under a distant hill.

The horse pricked up his ears, and jibbed a few paces; the driver gave a low whistle.

“I thought so,” he said. “Poachers! This side of the wood’s chock full of game; and, though Squire Mellish is allus threatenin’ to prosecute ’em, folks know pretty well as he’ll never do it.”

The broad-shouldered, strong-limbed sailor leaned against the turnstile, trembling in every limb.

What was that which his niece had said a quarter of an hour before, when the man had asked her whether she would like to shoot him?

“Leave your horse,” he said, in a gasping voice; “tie him to the stile, and come with me. If — if — it’s poachers, we’ll — we’ll catch ’em.”

The young man looped the reins across the turnstile. He had no very great terror of any inclination for flight latent in the gray horse from the “Reindeer.” The two men ran into the wood, the captain running in the direction in which his sharp ears told him the shot had been fired.

The moon was slowly rising in the tranquil heavens, but there was very little light yet in the wood.

The captain stopped near a rustic summer-house falling into decay, and half buried amid the tangled foliage that clustered about the mouldering thatch and the dilapidated woodwork.

“It was hereabout the shot was fired,” muttered the captain; “about a hundred yards due nor’ard of the stile. I could take my oath as it were n’t far from this spot I’m standin’ on.”

He looked about him in the dim light. He could see no one; but an army might have hidden among the trees that encircled the open patch of turf on which the summer-house had been built. He listened with his hat off, and his big hand pressed tightly on his heart, as if to still its tumultuous beating; he listened as eagerly as he had often listened, far out on a glassy sea, for the first faint breath of a rising wind; but he could hear nothing except the occasional croaking of the frogs in the pond near the summer-house.

“I could have sworn it was about here the shot was fired,” he repeated. “God grant as it was poachers, after all; but it’s given me a turn that’s made me feel like some Cockney lubber aboard a steamer betwixt Bristol and Cork. Lord, what a blessed old fool I am!” muttered the captain, after walking slowly round the summer-house to convince himself that there was no one hidden in it. “One ‘ud think I’d never heerd the sound of a ha’-p’orth of powder before to-night.”

He put on his hat, and walked a few paces forward, still looking about cautiously, and still listening, but much easier in his mind than when first he had re-entered the wood.

He stooped suddenly, arrested by a sound which has of itself, without any reference to its power of association, a mysterious and chilling influence upon the human heart. This sound was the howling of a dog — the prolonged, monotonous howling of a dog. A cold sweat broke out upon the sailor’s forehead. That sound, always one of terror to his superstitious nature, was doubly terrible tonight.

“It means death,” he muttered, with a groan. “No dog ever howled like that except for death.”

He turned back and looked about him. The moonlight glimmered faintly upon the broad patch of stagnant water near the summer-house, and upon its brink the captain saw two figures, black against the summer atmosphere — a prostrate figure, lying close to the edge of the water, and a large dog, with his head uplifted to the sky, howling piteously.

It was the bounden duty of poor John Mellish, in his capacity of host, to sit at the head of his table, pass the claret-jug, and listen to Colonel Maddison’s stories of the pig-sticking and the tiger-hunting as long as the Indian officer chose to talk for the amusement of his friend and his son-in-law. It was perhaps lucky that patient Mr. Lofthouse was well up in all the stories, and knew exactly which departments of each narrative were to be laughed at, and which were to be listened to with silent and awe-stricken attention; for John Mellish made a very bad audience upon this occasion. He pushed the filberts toward the colonel at the very moment when “the tigress was crouching for a spring, upon the rising ground exactly above us, sir, and when, by Jove, Charley Maddison felt himself at pretty close quarters with the enemy, sir, and never thought to stretch his legs under this mahogany, or any other man’s, sir;” and he spoiled the officer’s best joke by asking him for the claret in the middle of it.

The tigers and the pigs were confusion and weariness of spirit to Mr. Mellish. He was yearning for the moment when, with any show of decency, he might make for the drawing-room, and find out what Aurora was doing in the still summer twilight. When the door was opened and fresh wine brought in, he heard the rattling of the keys under Mrs. Lofthouse’s manipulation, and rejoiced to think that his wife was seated quietly, perhaps, listening to those sonatas in C flat which the rector’s wife delighted to interpret.

The lamps were brought in before Colonel Maddison’s stories were finished; and when John’s butler came to ask if the gentlemen would like coffee, the worthy Indian officer said “Yes, by all means, and a cheroot with it. No smoking in the drawing-room, eh, Mellish? Petticoat government and window-curtains, I dare say. Clara does n’t like my smoke at the Rectory, and poor Lofthouse writes his sermons in the summer-house; for he can’t write without a weed, you know, and a volume of Tillotson, or some of those fellows, to prig from, eh, George?” said the facetious gentleman, digging his son-in-law in the ribs with his fat old fingers, and knocking over two or three wine-glasses in his ponderous jocosity. How dreary it all seemed to John Mellish tonight! He wondered how people felt who had no social mystery brooding upon their hearth; no domestic skeleton cowering in their homely cupboard. He looked at the rector’s placid face with a pang of envy. There was no secret kept from him. There was no perpetual struggle rending his heart; no dreadful doubts and fears that would not be quite lulled to rest; no vague terror, incessant and unreasoning; no mute argument for ever going forward, with plaintiff’s counsel and defendant’s counsel continually pleading the same cause, and arriving at the same result. Heaven take pity upon those who have to suffer such silent misery, such secret despair! We look at our neighbors’ smiling faces, and say, in bitterness of spirit, that A is a lucky fellow, and that B can’t be as much in debt as his friends say he is; that C and his pretty wife are the happiest couple we know; and to-morrow B is in the Gazette, and C is weeping over a dishonored home, and a group of motherless children, who wonder what mamma has done that papa should be so sorry. The battles are very quiet, but they are for ever being fought. We keep the fox hidden under our cloak, but the teeth of the animal are none the less sharp, nor the pain less terrible to bear; a little more terrible, perhaps, for being endured silently. John Mellish gave a long sigh of relief when the Indian officer finished his third cheroot, and pronounced himself ready to join the ladies. The lamps in the drawing-room were lighted, and the curtains drawn before the open windows, when the three gentlemen entered. Mrs. Lofthouse was asleep upon one of the sofas, with a Book of Beauty lying open at her feet, and Mrs. Powell, pale and sleepless — sleepless as trouble and sorrow, as jealousy and hate, as anything that is ravenous and unappeasable — sat at her embroidery, working laborious monstrosities upon delicate cambric muslin.

The colonel dropped heavily into a luxurious easy-chair, and quietly abandoned himself to repose. Mr. Lofthouse awoke his wife, and consulted her about the propriety of ordering the carriage. John Mellish looked eagerly round the room. To him it was empty. The rector and his wife, the Indian officer and the ensign’s widow, were only so many “phosphorescent spectralities,” “phantasm captains;” in short, they were not Aurora.

“Where’s Lolly?” he asked looking from Mrs. Lofthouse to Mrs. Powell; “where’s my wife?”

“I really do not know,” answered Mrs. Powell, with icy deliberation. “I have not been watching Mrs. Mellish.”

The poisoned darts glanced away from John’s preoccupied breast. There was no room in his wounded heart for such a petty sting as this.

“Where’s my wife?” he cried, passionately; “you must know where she is. She’s not here. Is she up stairs? Is she out of doors?”

“To the best of my belief,” replied the ensign’s widow, with more than usual precision, “Mrs. Mellish is in some part of the grounds; she has been out of doors ever since we left the dining-room.”

The French clock upon the mantle-piece chimed the three-quarters after ten as she finished speaking, as if to give emphasis to her words, and to remind Mr. Mellish how long his wife had been absent. He bit his lip fiercely, and strode toward one of the windows. He was going to look for his wife; but he stopped as he flung aside the window-curtain, arrested by Mrs. Powell’s uplifted hand.

“Hark!” she said, “there is something the matter, I fear. Did you hear that violent ringing at the hall-door?”

Mr. Mellish let fall the curtain, and re-entered the room.

“It’s Aurora, no doubt,” he said; “they’ve shut her out again, I suppose. I beg, Mrs. Powell, that you will prevent this in future. Really, ma’am, it is hard that my wife should be shut out of her own house.”

He might have said much more, but he stopped, pale and breathless, at the sound of a hubbub in the hall, and rushed to the room-door. He opened it and looked out, with Mrs. Powell and Mr. and Mrs. Lofthouse crowding behind him and looking over his shoulder.

Half a dozen servants were clustered round a roughly-dressed, seafaring-looking man, who, with his hat off and his disordered hair falling about his white face, was telling in broken sentences, scarcely intelligible for the speaker’s agitation, that a murder had been done in the wood.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50