The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 99/Griffith Gaunt; or, Jealousy
GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY.
He uttered a little shout of joy and amazement; his mare reared and plunged, and then was quiet. And thus Kate Peyton and he met,—at right angles,—and so close that it looked as if she had meant to ride him down.
How he stared at her! How more than mortal fair she shone, returning to those bereaved eyes of his, as if she had really dropped from heaven!
His clasped hands, his haggard face channelled by tears, showed the keen girl she was strong where she had thought herself weak, and she comported herself accordingly, and in one moment took a much higher tone than she had intended as she came along.
"I am afraid," said she, very coldly, "you will have to postpone your journey a day or two. I am grieved to tell you that poor Mr. Charlton is dead."
Griffith uttered an exclamation.
"He asked for you; and messengers are out after you on every side. You must go to Bolton at once."
"Well-a-day!" said Griffith, "has he left me, too? Good, kind old man, on any other day I had found tears for thee! But now, methinks, happy are the dead. Alas! sweet mistress, I hoped you came to tell me you had—I might—what signifies what I hoped?—when I saw you had deigned to ride after me. Why should I go to Bolton, after all?"
"Because you will be an ungrateful wretch else. What! leave others to carry your kinsman and your benefactor to his grave, while you turn your back on him, and inherit his estate? For shame, Sir! for shame!"
Griffith expostulated, humbly.
"How hardly you judge me! What are Bolton Hall and Park to me now? They were to have been yours, you know. And yours they shall be. I came between and robbed you. To be sure, the old man knew my mind. He said to himself,—'Griffith or Kate, what matters it who has the land? They will live together on it.' But all that is changed now; you will never share it with me; and so I do feel I have no right to the place. Kate, my own Kate, I have heard them sneer at you for being poor, and it made my heart ache. I'll stop that, any way. Go you in my place to the funeral; he that is dead will forgive me; his spirit knows now what I endure; and I'll send you a writing, all sealed and signed, shall make Bolton Hall and Park yours; and when you are happy with some one you can love, as well as I love you, think sometimes of poor jealous Griffith, that loved you dear and grudged you nothing; but," grinding his teeth and turning white, "I can't live in Cumberland, and see you in another man's arms."
Then Catharine trembled, and could not speak awhile; but at last she faltered out,—
"You will make me hate you."
"God forbid!" said simple Griffith.
"Well, then, don't thwart me, and provoke me so, but just turn your horse's head and go quietly home to Bolton Hall, and do your duty to the dead and the living. You can't go this way, for me and my horse." Then, seeing him waver, this virago faltered out, "And I have been so tried to-day, first by one, then by another, surely you might have some pity on me. Oh! oh! oh! oh!"
"Nay, nay," cried Griffith, all in a flutter, "I'll go without more words; as I am a gentleman, I will sleep at Bolton this night, and will do my duty to the dead and the living. Don't you cry, sweetest; I give in. I find I have no will but yours."
The next moment they were cantering side by side, and never drew rein till they reached the cross-roads.
"Now tell me one thing," stammered Griffith, with a most ghastly attempt at cheerful indifference. "How—do you—happen to be—on George Neville's horse?"
Kate had been expecting this question for some time; yet she colored high when it did come. However, she had her answer pat. The horse was in the stable-yard, and fresh; her own was tired.
"What was I to do, Griffith? And now," added she, hastily, "the sun will soon set, and the roads are bad; be careful. I wish I could ask you to sleep at our house; but—there are reasons"———
She hesitated; she could not well tell him George Neville was to dine and sleep there.
Griffith assured her there was no danger; his mare knew every foot of the way.
They parted: Griffith rode to Bolton, and Kate rode home.
It was past dinner-time. She ran up stairs, and hurried on her best gown and her diamond comb. For she began to quake now at the prank she had played with her guest's horse; and Nature taught her that the best way to soften censure is—to be beautiful.
"On pardonne tout aux belles."
And certainly she was passing fair, and queenly with her diamond comb.
She came down stairs and was received by her father. He grumbled at being kept waiting for dinner.
Kate easily appeased the good-natured Squire, and then asked what had become of Mr. Neville.
"Oh, he is gone long ago! Remembered, all of a sudden, he had promised to dine with a neighbor."
Kate shook her head skeptically, but said nothing. But a good minute after, she inquired,—
"How did he go? on foot?"
The Squire did not know.
After dinner old Joe sought an interview, and was admitted into the dining-room.
"Be it all right about the gray horse, Master?"
"What of him?" asked Kate.
"He be gone to Neville Court, Mistress. But I suppose" (with a horrid leer) "it is all right. Muster Neville told me all about it. He said, says he,—
"'Some do break a kine or the likes on these here j'yful occasions; other some do exchange goold rings. Your young mistress and me, we exchange nags. She takes my pieball, I take her gray,' says he. 'Saddle him for me, Joe,' says he, 'and wish me j'y.'
"So I clapped Muster Neville's saddle on the gray, and a gave me a goolden guinea, a did; and I was so struck of a heap I let un go without wishing on him j'y; but I hollered it arter un, as hard as I could. How you looks! It be all right, bain't it?"
Squire Peyton laughed heartily, and said he concluded it was all right.
"The piebald," said he, "is rising five, and I've had the gray ten years. We have got the sunnyside of the bargain, Joe."
He gave Joe a glass of wine and sent him off, inflated with having done a good stroke in horseflesh.
As for Kate, she was red as fire, and kept her lips close as wax; not a word could be got out of her. The less she said, the more she thought. She was thoroughly vexed, and sore perplexed how to get her gray horse back from such a man as George Neville; and yet she could not help laughing at the trick, and secretly admiring this chevalier, who had kept his mortification to himself, and parried an affront so gallantly.
"The good-humored wretch!" said she to herself. "If Griffith ever goes away again, he will have me, whether I like or no. No lady could resist the monster long without some other man close at hand to help her."
As, when a camel drops in the desert, vultures, hitherto unseen, come flying from the horizon, so Mr. Charlton had no sooner succumbed than the air darkened with undertakers flocking to Bolton for a lugubrious job. They rode up on black steeds, they crunched the gravel in grave gigs, and sent in black-edged cards to Griffith, and lowered their voices, and bridled their briskness, and tried hard, poor souls! to be sad; and were horribly complacent beneath that thin japan of venal sympathy.
Griffith selected his Raven, and then sat down to issue numerous invitations.
The idea of eschewing funereal pomp had not yet arisen. A gentleman of that day liked his very remains to make a stir, and did not see the fun of stealing into his grave like a rabbit slipping aground. Mr. Charlton had even left behind him a sealed letter containing a list of the persons he wished to follow him to the grave and attend the reading of his will. These were thirty-four, and amongst them three known to fame: namely, George Neville, Esq., Edward Peyton, Esq., and Miss Catherine Peyton.
To all and each of the thirty-four young Gaunt wrote a formal letter, inviting them to pay respect to their deceased friend, and to honor himself, by coming to Bolton Hall at high noon on Saturday next. These letters, in compliance with another custom of the time and place, were all sent by mounted messengers, and the answers came on horseback, too; so there was much clattering of hoofs coming and going, and much roasting, baking, drinking of ale, and bustling, all along of him who lay so still in an upper chamber.
And every man and woman came to Mr. Gaunt to ask his will and advice, however simple the matter; and the servants turned very obsequious, and laid themselves out to please the new master, and retain their old places.
And, what with the sense of authority, and the occupation, and growing ambition, love-sick Griffith grew another man, and began to forget that two days ago he was leaving the country and going to give up the whole game.
He found time to send Kate a loving letter, but no talk of marriage in it. He remembered she had asked him to give her time. Well, he would take her advice.
It wanted just three days to the funeral, when Mr. Charlton's own carriage, long unused, was found to be out of repair. Griffith had it sent to the nearest town, and followed it on that and other business. Now it happened to be what the country folk called "justicing day"; and who should ride into the yard of the "Roebuck" but the new magistrate, Mr. Neville? He alighted off a great bony gray horse before Griffith's very nose, and sauntered into a private room.
Griffith looked, and looked, and, scarcely able to believe his senses, followed Neville's horse to the stable, and examined him all round.
Griffith was sore perplexed, and stood at the stable-door glaring at the horse; and sick misgivings troubled him. He forgot the business he came about, and went and hung about the bar, and tried to pick up a clew to this mystery. The poor wretch put on a miserable assumption of indifference, and asked one or two of the magistrates if that was not Mr. Peyton's gray horse young Neville had ridden in upon.
Now amongst these gentlemen was a young squire Miss Peyton had refused, and galled him. He had long owed Gaunt a grudge for seeming to succeed where he had notably failed, and now, hearing him talk so much about the gray, he smelt a rat. He stepped into the parlor and told Neville Gaunt was fuming about the gray horse, and questioning everybody. Neville, though he put so bold a face on his recent adventure at Peyton Hall, was secretly smarting, and quite disposed to sting Gaunt in return. He saw a tool in this treacherous young squire,—his name was Galton,—and used him accordingly.
Galton, thoroughly primed by Neville, slipped back, and, choosing his opportunity, poisoned Griffith Gaunt.
And this is how he poisoned him.
"Oh," said he, "Neville has bought the gray nag; and cost him dear, it did."
Griffith gave a sigh of relief; for he at once concluded old Peyton had sold his daughter's very horse. He resolved to buy her a better one next week with Mr. Charlton's money.
But Galton, who was only playing with him, went on to explain that Neville had paid a double price for the nag: he had given Miss Peyton his piebald horse in exchange, and his troth into the bargain. In short, he lent the matter so adroit a turn, that the exchange of horses seemed to be Kate's act as much as Neville's, and the interference inevitable.
"It is a falsehood!" gasped Griffith.
"Nay," said Galton, "I had it on the best authority: but you shall not quarrel with me about it; the lady is nought to me, and I but tell the tale as 'twas told to me."
"Then who told it you?" said Gaunt, sternly.
"Why, it is all over the country, for that matter."
"No subterfuges, Sir! I am the lady's servant, and you know it: this report, it slanders her, and insults me: give me the author, or I'll lay my hunting-whip on your bones."
"Two can play at that game," said Galton; but he turned pale at the prospect of the pastime.
Griffith strode towards him, black with ire.
Then Galton stammered out,—
"It was Neville himself told me."
"Ah!" said Griffith; "I thought so. He is a liar, and a coward."
"I would not advise you to tell him so," said the other, maliciously. "He has killed his man in France: spitted him like a lark."
Griffith replied by a smile of contempt.
"Where is the man?" said he, after a pause.
"How should I know?" asked Galton, innocently.
"Where did you leave him five minutes ago?"
Galton was dumbfoundered at this stroke, and could find nothing to say.
And now, as often happens, the matter took a turn not in the least anticipated by the conspirators.
"You must come with me, Sir, if you please," said Griffith, quietly: and he took Galton's arm.
"Oh, with all my heart," said the other. "But, Mr. Gaunt, do not you take these idle reports to heart: I never do. What the Devil, where are you carrying me to? For Heaven's sake, let this foolish business go no farther."
For he found Griffith was taking him to the very room where Neville was.
Griffith deigned no reply; he just opened the door of the room in question, and walked the tale-bearer into the presence of the tale-maker. George Neville rose and confronted the pair with a vast appearance of civility; but under it a sneer was just discernible.
The rivals measured each other from head to foot, and then Neville inquired to what he owed the honor of this visit.
"He tells me you told him Miss Peyton has exchanged horses with you."
"Oh, you indiscreet person!" said George, shaking his finger playfully at Galton.
"And, by the same token, has plighted her troth to you."
"Worse and worse," said George. "Galton, I'll never trust you with any secrets again. Besides, you exaggerate."
"Come, Sir," said Griffith, sternly, "this Ned Galton was but your tool, and your mouth-piece; and therefore I bring him in here to witness my reply to you: Mr. George Neville, you are a liar and a scoundrel."
George Neville bounded to his feet like a tiger.
"I'll have your life for those two words," he cried.
Then he suddenly governed himself by a great effort.
"It is not for me to bandy foul terms with a Cumberland savage," said he. "Name your time and place."
"I will. Ned Galton, you may go. I wish to say a few words in private to Mr. Neville."
"No violence, Gentlemen: consider."
"Nonsense!" said Neville. "Mr. Gaunt and I are going to fight: we are not going to brawl. Be so good as to leave us."
"Ay," said Griffith; "and if you repeat a word of all this, woe be to your skin!"
As soon as he was gone, Griffith Gaunt turned very grave and calm, and said to George Neville,—
"The Cumberland savage has been better taught than to expose the lady he loves to gossiping tongues."
Neville colored up to the eyes at this thrust.
"The least you can do is to avoid fresh scandal."
"I shall be happy to coöperate with you so far," said Neville, stiffly. "I undertake to keep Galton silent; and for the rest, we have only to name an early hour for meeting, and confide it to but one discreet friend apiece who will attend us to the field. Then there will be no gossip, and no bumpkins nor constables breaking in: such things have happened in this country, I hear."
It was Wednesday. They settled to meet on Friday at noon on a hillside between Bolton and Neville's Court. The spot was exposed, but so wild and unfrequented that no interruption was to be feared. Mr. Neville being a practised swordsman, Gaunt chose pistols,—a weapon at which the combatants were supposed to be pretty equal. To this Neville very handsomely consented.
By this time a stiff and elaborate civility had taken the place of their heat, and at parting they bowed both long and low to each other.
Griffith left the inn and went into the street; and as soon as he got there, he began to realize what he had done, and that in a day or two he might very probably be a dead man. The first thing he did was to go with sorrowful face and heavy step to Mr. Houseman's office.
Mr. Houseman was a highly respectable solicitor. His late father and he had long enjoyed the confidence of the gentry, and this enabled him to avoid litigious business, and confine himself pretty much to the more agreeable and lucrative occupation of drawing wills, settlements, and conveyances, and effecting loans, sales, and transfers. He visited the landed proprietors, and dined with them, and was a great favorite in the country.
"Justicing day" brought him many visits; so on that day he was always at his place of business. Indeed, a client was with him when Griffith called, and the young gentlemen had to wait in the outer office for full ten minutes.
Then a door opened and the client in question came out, looking mortified and anxious. It was Squire Peyton. At sight of Gaunt, who had risen to take his vacant place, Kate's father gave him a stiff nod, and an unfriendly glance, then hurried away.
Griffith was hurt at his manner. He knew very well Mr. Peyton looked higher for his daughter than Griffith Gaunt: but for all that the old gentleman had never shown him any personal dislike or incivility until this moment.
So Griffith could not but fear that Neville was somehow at the bottom of this, and that the combination was very strong against him. Now in thus interpreting Mr. Peyton's manner he fell into a very common error and fruitful cause of misunderstanding. We go and fancy that Everybody is thinking of us. But he is not: he is like us; he is thinking of himself.
"Well, well," thought Griffith, "if I am not to have her, what better place for me than the grave."
He entered Mr. Houseman's private room and opened his business at once.
But a singular concurrence of circumstances induced Lawyer Houseman to confide to a third party the substance of what passed between this young gentleman and himself. So, to avoid repetition, the best way will be to let Houseman tell this part of my tale, instead of me; and I only hope his communication, when it comes, may be half as interesting to my reader as it was to his hearer.
Suffice it for me to say that lawyer and client were closeted a good hour, and were still conversing together when a card was handed in to Mr. Houseman that seemed to cause him both surprise and pleasure.
"In five minutes," said he to the clerk. Griffith took the hint, and bade him good-bye directly.
As he went out, the gentleman who had sent in his card rose from a seat in the outer office to go in.
It was Mr. George Neville.
Griffith Gaunt and he saluted and scanned each other curiously. They little thought to meet again so soon. The clerks saw nothing more than two polite gentlemen passing each other.
The more Griffith thought of the approaching duel, the less he liked it. He was an impulsive man, for one thing; and with such, a cold fit naturally succeeds a hot one. And besides, as his heat abated, Reason and Reflection made themselves heard, and told him that in a contest with a formidable rival he was throwing away an advantage. After all, Kate had shown him great favor; she had ridden Neville's horse after him, and made him resign his purpose of leaving her; surely, then, she preferred him on the whole to Neville: yet he must go and risk his chance of possessing her upon a personal encounter, in which Neville was at least as likely to kill him as he to kill Neville. He saw too late that he was playing his rival's game. He felt cold and despondent, and more and more convinced that he should never marry Kate, but that she would very likely bury him.
With all this he was too game to recoil, and indeed he hated his rival too deeply. So, like many a man before him, he was going doggedly to the field against his judgement, with little to win and all to lose.
His deeper and more solemn anxieties were diversified by a lighter one. A few days ago he had invited half the county to bury Mr. Charlton on Saturday, the 19th of February. But now he had gone and fixed Friday the 18th for a duel. A fine thing, if he should be himself a corpse on Friday afternoon! Who was to receive the guests? who conduct the funeral?
The man, with all his faults, had a grateful heart; and Mr. Charlton was his benefactor, and he felt he had no right to go and get himself killed until he had paid the last rites to his best friend.
The difficulty admits of course of a comic view, and smells Hibernian; but these things seem anything but droll to those whose lives and feelings are at stake; and, indeed, there was something chivalrous and touching in Griffith's vexation at the possibility of his benefactor being buried without due honors, owing to his own intemperate haste to be killed. He resolved to provide against that contingency: so, on the Thursday, he wrote an urgent letter to Mr. Houseman, telling him he must come early to the funeral, and be prepared to conduct it.
This letter was carried to Mr. Houseman's office at three o'clock on Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Houseman was not at home. He was gone to a country-house nine miles distant. But Griffith's servant was well mounted, and had peremptory orders; so he rode after Mr. Houseman, and found him at Mr. Peyton's house,—whither, if you please, we, too, will follow him.
In the first place, you must know that the real reason why Mr. Peyton looked so savage, coming out of Mr. Houseman's office, was this: Neville had said no more about the hundred pounds, and, indeed, had not visited the house since; so Peyton, who had now begun to reckon on this sum, went to Houseman to borrow it. But Houseman politely declined to lend it him, and gave excellent reasons. All this was natural enough, common enough; but the real reason why Houseman declined was a truly singular one. The fact is, Catharine Peyton had made him promise to refuse.
Between that young lady and the Housemans, husband and wife, there was a sincere friendship, founded on mutual esteem; and Catharine could do almost what she liked with either of them. Now, whatever might have been her faults, she was a proud girl, and an intelligent one: it mortified her pride to see her father borrowing here, and borrowing there, and unable to repay; and she had also observed that he always celebrated a new loan by a new extravagance, and so was never a penny the richer for borrowed money. He had inadvertently let fall that he should apply to Houseman. She raised no open objection, but just mounted Piebald, and rode off to Houseman, and made him solemnly promise her not to lend her father a shilling.
Houseman kept his word; but his refusal cost him more pain than he had calculated on when he made the promise. Squire Peyton had paid him thousands, first and last; and when he left Houseman's room, with disappointment, mortification, and humiliation deeply marked on his features, usually so handsome and jolly, the lawyer felt sorry and ashamed,—and did not show it.
But it rankled in him; and the very next day he took advantage of a little business he had to do in Mr. Peyton's neighborhood, and drove to Peyton Hall, and asked for Mistress Kate.
His was a curious errand. Indeed, I think it would not be easy to find a parallel to it.
For here was an attorney calling upon a beautiful girl,—to do what?
To soften her.
On a daughter,—to do what?
To persuade her to permit him to lend her father £100 on insufficient security.
Well, he reminded her of his ancient obligations to her family, and assured her he could well afford to risk a hundred or even a thousand pounds. He then told her that her father had shown great pain at his refusal, and that he himself was human, and could not divest himself of gratitude and pity and good-nature,—all for £100.
"In a word," said he, "I have brought the money; and you must give in for this once, and let me lend it him without more ado."
Miss Peyton was gratified and affected, and a tear trembled a moment in her eye, but went in-doors again; and left her firm as a rock sprinkled with dew. She told him she could quite understand his feeling, and thanked him for it; but she had long and seriously weighed the matter, and could not release him from his promise.
"No more of this base borrowing," said she, and clenched her white teeth indomitably.
He attacked her with a good many weapons; but she parried them all so gently, yet so nobly, and so successfully, that he admired her more than ever.
Still, lawyers fight hard, and die very hard. Houseman got warm in his cause, and cross-examined this defendant, and asked her whether she would refuse to lend her father £100 out of a full purse.
This question was answered only by a flash of her glorious eyes, and a magnificent look of disdain at the doubt implied.
"Well, then," said Houseman, "be your father's surety for repayment, with interest at six per centum, and then there will be nothing in the business to wound your dignity. I have many hundreds out at six per centum."
"Excuse me: that would be dishonest," said Kate; "I have no money to repay you with."
"But you have expectations."
"Nay, not I."
"I beg your pardon."
"Methinks I should know, Sir. What expectations have I? and from whom?"
Houseman fidgeted on his seat, and then, with some hesitation, replied,—
"Well, from two that I know of."
"You are jesting, methinks, good Mr. Houseman," said she, reproachfully.
"Nay, dear Mistress Kate, I wish you too well to jest on such a theme."
The lawyer then fidgeted again on his seat in silence,—sign of an inward struggle,—during which Kate's eye watched him with some curiosity. At last his wavering balance inclined towards revealing something or other.
"Mistress Kate," said he, "my wife and I are both your faithful friends and humble admirers. We often say you would grace a coronet, and wish you were as rich as you are good and beautiful."
Kate turned her lovely head away, and gave him her hand. That incongruous movement, so full of womanly grace and feeling, and the soft pressure of her white hand, completed her victory, and the remains of Houseman's reserve melted away.
"Yes, my dear young lady," said he, warmly, "I have good news for you; only mind, not a living soul must ever know it from your lips. Why, I am going to do for you what I never did in my life before,—going to tell you something that passed yesterday in my office. But then I know you; you are a young lady out of a thousand; I can trust you to be discreet and silent,—can I not?"
"As the grave."
"Well, then, my young mistress,—in truth it was like a play, though the scene was but a lawyer's office"———
"Was it?" cried Kate. "Then you set me all of a flutter; you must sup here, and sleep here. Nay, nay," said she, her eyes sparkling with animation, "I'll take no denial. My father dines abroad: we shall have the house to ourselves."
Her interest was keenly excited: but she was a true woman, and must coquette with her very curiosity; so she ran off to see with her own eyes that sheets were aired, and a roasting fire lighted in the blue bed-room for her guest.
While she was away, a servant brought in Griffith Gaunt's letter, and a sheet of paper had to be borrowed to answer it.
The answer was hardly written and sent out to Griffith's servant, when supper and the fair hostess came in almost together.
After supper fresh logs were heaped on the fire, and the lawyer sat in a cosey arm-chair, and took out his diary, and several papers, as methodically as if he was going to lay the case by counsel before a judge of assize.
Kate sat opposite him with her gray eyes beaming on him all the time, and searching for the hidden meaning of everything he told her. During the recital which follows, her color often came and went, but those wonderful eyes never left the narrator's face a moment.
They put the attorney on his mettle, and he elaborated the matter more than I should have done: he articulated his topics; marked each salient fact by a long pause. In short, he told his story like an attorney, and not like a romancist. I cannot help that, you know; I'm not Procrustes.
MR. HOUSEMAN'S LITTLE NARRATIVE.
"Wednesday, the seventeenth day of February, at about one of the clock, called on me at my place of business Mr. Griffith Gaunt, whom I need not here describe, inasmuch as his person and place of residence are well known to the court—what am I saying?—I mean, well known to yourself, Mistress Kate.
"The said Griffith, on entering my room, seemed moved, and I might say distempered, and did not give himself time to salute me and receive my obeisance, but addressed me abruptly and said as follows: 'Mr. Houseman, I am come to make my will.'"
("Dear me!" said Kate: then blushed, and was more on her guard.)
"I seated the young gentleman, and then replied, that his resolution aforesaid did him credit, the young being as mortal as the old. I said further, that many disasters had happened, in my experience, owing to the obstinacy with which men, in the days of their strength, shut their eyes to the precarious tenure under which all sons of Adam hold existence; and so, many a worthy gentleman dies in his sins,—and, what is worse, dies intestate.
"But the said Griffith interrupted me with some signs of impatience, and asked me bluntly, would I draw his will, and have it executed on the spot.
"I assented, generally; but I requested him, by way of needful preliminary, to obtain for me a copy of Mr. Charlton's will, under which, as I have always understood, the said Griffith inherits whatever real estate he hath to bequeath.
"Mr. Griffith Gaunt then replied to me, that Mr. Charlton's will was in London, and the exact terms of it could not be known until after the funeral,—that is to say, upon the nineteenth instant.
"Thereupon I explained to Mr. Gaunt that I must see and know what properties were devised in the will aforesaid, by the said Charlton, to Gaunt aforesaid, and how devised and described. Without this, I said, I could not correctly and sufficiently describe the same in the instrument I was now requested to prepare.
"Mr. Gaunt did not directly reply to this objection. But he pondered a little while, and then asked me if it were not possible for him, by means of general terms, to convey to a sole legatee whatever lands, goods, chattels, etc., Mr. Charlton might hereafter prove to have devised to him, the said Griffith Gaunt.
"I admitted this was possible, but objected that it was dangerous. I let him know that in matters of law general terms are a fruitful source of dispute, and I said I was one of those who hold it a duty to avert litigation from our clients.
"Thereupon Mr. Gaunt drew out of his bosom a pocket-book.
"The said pocket-book was shown to me by the said Gaunt, and I say it contained a paragraph from a newspaper, which I believe to have been cut out of the said newspaper with a knife, or a pair of scissors, or some trenchant instrument; and the said paragraph purported to contain an exact copy of a certain will and testament under which (as is, indeed, matter of public notoriety) one Dame Butcher hath inherited and now enjoys the lands, goods, and chattels of a certain merry parson late deceased in these parts, and, I believe, little missed.
"Mr. Gaunt would have me read the will and testament aforesaid, and I read it accordingly: and inasmuch as bad things are best remembered, the said will and testament did, by its singularity and profaneness, fix itself forthwith in my memory; so that I can by no means dislodge it thence, do what I may.
"The said document, to the best of my memory and belief, runneth after this fashion.
"'I, John Raymond, clerk, at present residing at Whitbeck, in the County of Cumberland, being a man sound in body, mind, and judgment, do deliver this as my last will and testament.
"'I give and bequeath all my real property, and all my personal property, and all the property, whether real or personal, I may hereafter possess or become entitled to, to my housekeeper, Janet Butcher.
"'And I appoint Janet Butcher my sole executrix, and I make Janet Butcher my sole residuary legatee; save and except that I leave my solemn curse to any knave who hereafter shall at any time pretend that he does not understand the meaning of this my will and testament.'"
(Catharine smiled a little at this last bequest.)
"Mr. Gaunt then solemnly appealed to me as an honest man to tell him whether the aforesaid document was bad, or good, in law.
"I was fain to admit that it was sufficient in law; but I qualified, and said I thought it might be attacked on the score of the hussy's undue influence, and the testator's apparent insanity. Nevertheless, I concluded candidly that neither objection would prevail in our courts, owing to the sturdy prejudice in the breasts of English jurymen, whose ground of faith it is that every man has a right to do what he will with his own, and even to do it how he likes.
"Mr. Gaunt did speedily abuse this my candor. He urged me to lose no time, but to draw his will according to the form and precedent in that case made and provided by this mad parson; and my clerks, forsooth, were to be the witnesses thereof.
"I refused, with some heat, to sully my office by allowing such an instrument to issue therefrom; and I asked the said Gaunt, in high dudgeon, for what he took me.
"Mr. Gaunt then offered, in reply, two suggestions that shook me. Imprimis, he told me the person to whom he now desired to leave his all was Mistress Catharine Peyton." (An ejaculation from Kate.) "Secundo, he said he would go straight from me to that coxcomb Harrison, were I to refuse to serve him in the matter.
"On this, having regard to your interest and my own, I temporized: I offered to let him draw a will after his parson's precedent, and I agreed it should be witnessed in my office; only I stipulated that next week a proper document should be drawn by myself, with due particulars, on two sheets of paper, and afterwards engrossed and witnessed: and to this Mr. Gaunt assented, and immediately drew his will according to newspaper precedent.
"But when I came to examine his masterpiece, I found he had taken advantage of my pliability to attach an unreasonable condition, to wit: that the said Catharine should forfeit all interest under this will, in case she should ever marry a certain party therein nominated, specified, and described."
("Now that was Griffith all over," cried Catharine, merrily.)
"I objected stoutly to this. I took leave to remind the young gentleman, that, when a Christian man makes his last will and testament, he should think of the grave and of the place beyond, whither we may carry our affections, but must leave the bundle of our hates behind, the gate being narrow. I even went so far as to doubt whether such a proviso could stand in law; and I also put a practical query: what was to hinder the legatee from selling the property and diverting the funds, and then marrying whom she liked?
"Mr. Gaunt was deaf to reason. He bade me remember that he was neither saint nor apostle, but a poor gentleman of Cumberland, who saw a stranger come between him and his lover dear: with that he was much moved, and did not conclude his argument at all, but broke off, and was fain to hide his face with both hands awhile. In truth, this touched me; and I looked another way, and began to ask myself, why should I interfere, who, after all, know not your heart in the matter; and, to be brief, I withstood him and Parson's law no more, but sent his draught will to the clerks, the which they copied fair in a trice, and the duplicates were signed and witnessed in red-hot haste,—as most of men's follies are done, for that matter.
"The paper writing now produced and shown to me—tush! what am I saying?—I mean, the paper writing I now produce and show to you is the draught of the will aforesaid, in the hand-writing of the testator."
And with this he handed Kate Peyton Griffith Gaunt's will, and took a long and satirical pinch of snuff while she examined it.
Miss Peyton took the will in her white hands and read it. But, in reading it, she held it up and turned it so that her friend could not see her face while she read it, but only her white hands, in which the document rustled a little.
It ran thus:—
"I, Griffith Gaunt, late of the Eyrie, and now residing at Bolton Hall, in the County of Cumberland, being sound in body and mind, do deliver this as my last will and testament. I give and bequeath all the property, real or personal, which I now possess or may hereafter become entitled to, to my dear friend and mistress, Catharine Peyton, daughter of Henry Peyton, Esquire, of Peyton Hall: provided always that the said Catharine Peyton shall at no time within the next ten years marry George Neville of Neville's Court in this county. But should the said Catharine marry the said George within ten years of this day, then I leave all my said property, in possession, remainder, or reversion, to my heir-at-law."
The fair legatee read this extraordinary testament more than once. At last she handed it back to Mr. Houseman without a word. But her cheek was red, and her eyes glistening.
Mr. Houseman was surprised at her silence; and as he was curious to know her heart, he sounded her, asked her what she thought of that part of his story. But she evaded him with all the tact of her sex.
"What! that is not all, then?" said she, quickly.
Houseman replied, that it was barely half.
"Then tell me all, pray tell me all," said Kate, earnestly.
"I am here to that end," said Houseman, and recommenced his narrative.
"The business being done to Mr. Gaunt's satisfaction, though not to mine, we fell into some friendly talk; but in the midst of it my clerk Thomas brought me in the card of a gentleman whom I was very desirous to secure as a client.
"Mr. Gaunt, I think, read my mind; for he took leave of me forthwith. I attended him to the door, and then welcomed the gentleman aforesaid. It was no other than Mr. George Neville.
"Mr. Neville, after such gracious civilities as his native breeding and foreign travel have taught him, came to business, and requested me—to draw his will."
("La!" said Kate,)
"I was a little startled, but hid it and took his instructions. This done, I requested to see the title-deeds of his estates, with a view to describing them, and he went himself to his banker's for them and placed them in my hands.
"I then promised to have the will ready in a week or ten days. But Mr. Neville, with many polite regrets for hurrying me, told me upon his honor he could give me but twenty-four hours, 'After that,' said he, 'it might be too late.'"
("Ah!" said Miss Peyton.)
"Determined to retain my new client, I set my clerks to work, and this very day was engrossed, signed, and witnessed, the last will and testament of George Neville, Esquire, of Neville's Court, in the County of Cumberland, and Leicester Square, London, where he hath a noble mansion.
"Now as to the general disposition of his lands, manorial rights, messuages, tenements, goods, chattels, etc., and his special legacies to divers ladies and gentlemen and domestic servants, these I will not reveal even to you.
"The paper I now produce is a copy of that particular bequest which I have decided to communicate to you in strict and sacred confidence."
And he handed her an extract from George Neville's will.
Miss Peyton then read what follows:—
"And I give and bequeath to Mistress Catharine Peyton, of Peyton Hall, in the said County of Cumberland, in token of my respect and regard, all that my freehold estate called Moniton Grange, with the messuage or tenement standing and being thereon, and the farm-yard buildings and appurtenances belonging thereto, containing by estimation three hundred and seventy-six acres three roods and five perches, be the same little more or less, to hold to her the said Catharine Peyton, her heirs and assigns, forever."
The legatee laid down the paper, and leaned her head softly on her fair hand, and her eyes explored vacancy.
"What means all this?" said she, aloud, but to herself.
Mr. Houseman undertook the office of interpreter.
"Means? Why, that he has left you one of the snuggest estates in the county. 'Tis not quite so large as Bolton; but lies sunnier, and the land richer. Well, Mistress, was I right? Are you not good for a thousand pounds?"
Kate, still manifestly thinking of something else, let fall, as it were, out of her mouth, that Mr. Gaunt and Mr. Neville were both men in the flower of their youth, and how was she the richer for their folly?
"Why," said Houseman, "you will not have to wait for the death of these testators,—Heaven forbid! But what does all this making of wills show me? That both these gentlemen are deep in love with you, and you can pick and choose; I say, you can wed with Bolton Hall or Neville's Court to-morrow; so, prithee, let the Squire have his hundred pounds, and do you repay me at your leisure."
Miss Peyton made no reply, but leaned her exquisite head upon her hand and pondered.
She did not knit her brows, nor labor visibly at the mental oar; yet a certain reposeful gravity and a fixity of the thoughtful eye showed she was applying all the powers of her mind.
Mr. Houseman was not surprised at that: his own wife had but little intellect; yet had he seen her weigh two rival bonnets in mortal silence, and with all the seeming profundity of a judge on the bench. And now this young lady was doubtless weighing farms with similar gravity, care, and intelligence.
But as this continued, and still she did not communicate her decision, he asked her point-blank which of the two she settled to wed: Neville's Court or Bolton Grange.
Thus appealed to, Miss Peyton turned her great eye on him, without really looking at him, and replied,—
"You have made me very uneasy."
He stared. She relapsed into thought a moment, and then, turning to Houseman, asked him how he accounted for those two gentlemen making their wills. They were very young to make their wills all of a sudden.
"Why," said Houseman, "Mr. Neville is a man of sense, and every man of sense makes his will; and as for Mr. Gaunt, he has just come into prospect of an estate; that's why."
"Ah, but why could not Griffith wait till after the funeral?"
"Oh, clients are always in a hurry."
"So you see nothing in it? nothing alarming, I mean?"
"Nothing very alarming. Two landed proprietors in love with you; that is all."
"But, dear Mr. Houseman, that is what makes me uneasy: at this rate, they must look on one another as—as—rivals; and you know rivals are sometimes enemies."
"Oh, I see now," said Houseman: "you apprehend a quarrel between the gentlemen. Of course there is no love lost between them: but they met in my office and saluted each other with perfect civility. I saw them with my own eyes."
"Indeed! I am glad to hear that,—very glad. I hope it was only a coincidence then, their both making their wills."
"Nothing more, you may depend: neither of them knows from me what the other has done, nor ever will."
"That is true," said Kate, and seemed considerably relieved.
To ease her mind entirely, Houseman went on to say, that, as to the report that high words had passed between the clients in question at the "Roebuck," he had no doubt it was exaggerated.
"Besides," said he, "that was not about a lady: I'm told it was about a horse,—some bet belike."
Catharine uttered a faint cry.
"About a horse?" said she. "Not about a gray horse?"
"Nay, that is more than I know."
"High words about a horse," said Catharine,—"and they are making their wills. Oh! my mind misgave me from the first." And she turned pale. Presently she clasped her hands together,—"Mr. Houseman!" she cried, "what shall I do? What! do you not see that both their lives are in danger, and that is why they make their wills? And how should both their lives be in danger, but from each other? Madmen! they have quarrelled; they are going to fight,—fight to the death; and I fear it is about me,—me, who love neither of them, you know."
"In that case, let them fight," said her legal adviser, dispassionately. "Whichever fool gets killed, you will be none the poorer." And the dog wore a sober complacency.
Catharine turned her large eyes on him with horror and amazement, but said nothing.
As for the lawyer, he was more struck with her sagacity than with anything. He somewhat overrated it,—not being aware of the private reasons she had for thinking that her two testators were enemies to the death.
"I almost think you are right," said he; "for I got a curious missive from Mr. Gaunt scarce an hour agone, and he says—let me see what he says"———
"Nay, let me see," said Kate.
On that he handed her Griffith's note. It ran thus:—
"It is possible I may not be able to conduct the funeral. Should this be so, I appoint you to act for me. So, then, good Mr. Houseman, let me count on you to be here at nine of the clock. For Heaven's sake fail me not.
"Your humble servant,
This note left no doubt in Kate's mind.
"Now, first of all," said she, "what answer made you to this?"
"What answer should I make? I pledged my word to be at Bolton at nine of the clock."
"Oh, blind!" sighed Kate. "And I must be out of the room! What shall I do? My dear friend, forgive me: I am a wretched girl. I am to blame. I ought to have dismissed them both, or else decided between them. But who would have thought it would go this length? I did not think Griffith was brave enough. Have pity on me, and help me. Stop this fearful fighting." And now the young creature clung to the man-of-business, and prayed and prayed him earnestly to avert bloodshed.
Mr. Houseman was staggered by this passionate appeal from one who so rarely lost her self-command. He soothed her as well as he could, and said he would do his best,—but added, which was very true, that he thought her interference would be more effective than his own.
"What care these young bloods for an old attorney? I should fare ill, came I between their rapiers. To be sure, I might bind them over to keep the peace. But, Mistress Kate, now be frank with me; then I can serve you better. You love one of these two: that is clear. Which is the man?—that I may know what I am about."
For all her agitation, Kate was on her guard in some things.
"Nay," she faltered, "I love neither,—not to say love them: but I pity him so!"
"Ay, Mistress; but which do you pity most?" asked the shrewd lawyer.
"Whichever shall come to harm for my sake," replied the simple girl.
"You could not go to them to-night, and bring them to reason?" asked she, piteously.
She went to the window to see what sort of a night it was. She drew the heavy crimson curtains and opened the window. In rushed a bitter blast laden with flying snow. The window-ledges, too, were clogged with snow, and all the ground was white.
Houseman shuddered, and drew nearer to the blazing logs. Kate closed the window with a groan.
"It is not to be thought of," said she, "at your age, and not a road to be seen for snow. What shall I do?"
"Wait till to-morrow," said Mr. Houseman.
(Procrastination was his daily work, being an attorney.)
"To-morrow!" cried Catharine. "Perhaps to-morrow will be too late. Perhaps even now they have met, and he lies a corpse."
"Whichever it is, I shall end my days in a convent praying for his soul."
She wrung her hands while she said this, and still there was no catching her.
Little did the lawyer think to rouse such a storm with his good news. And now he made a feeble and vain attempt to soothe her, and ended by promising to start the first thing in the morning and get both her testators bound over to keep the peace by noon. With this resolution he went to bed early.
She was glad to be alone, at all events.
Now, mind you, there were plenty of vain and vulgar, yet respectable girls, in Cumberland, who would have been delighted to be fought about, even though bloodshed were to be the result. But this young lady was not vain, but proud. She was sensitive, too, and troubled with a conscience. It reproached her bitterly: it told her she had permitted the addresses of two gentlemen, and so mischief had somehow arisen—out of her levity. Now her life had been uneventful and innocent: this was the very first time she had been connected with anything like a crime, and her remorse was great; so was her grief; but her fears were greater still. The terrible look Griffith had cast at his rival flashed on her; so did his sinister words. She felt, that, if he and Neville met, nothing less than Neville's death or his own would separate them. Suppose that even now one of them lay a corpse, cold and ghastly as the snow that now covered Nature's face!
The agitation of her mind was such that her body could not be still. Now she walked the room in violent distress, wringing her hands; now she kneeled and prayed fervently for both those lives she had endangered; often she flew to the window and looked eagerly out, writhing and rebelling against the network of female custom that entangled her and would not let her fly out of her cage even to do a good action,—to avert a catastrophe by her prayers, or her tears, or her good sense.
And all ended in her realizing that she was a woman, a poor, impotent being, born to lie quiet and let things go: at that she wept helplessly.
So wore away the first night of agony this young creature ever knew.
Towards morning, exhausted by her inward struggles, she fell asleep upon a sofa.
But her trouble followed her. She dreamed she was on a horse, hurried along with prodigious rapidity, in a darkened atmosphere, a sort of dry fog: she knew somehow she was being taken to see some awful, mysterious thing. By-and-by the haze cleared and she came out upon pleasant, open, sunny fields, that almost dazzled her. She passed gates, and hedges too, all clear, distinct, and individual. Presently a voice by her side said, "This way!" and her horse seemed to turn of his own accord through a gap, and in one moment she came on a group of gentlemen. It was Griffith Gaunt, and two strangers. Then she spoke, and said,—
"But Mr. Neville?"
No answer was made her; but the group opened in solemn silence, and there lay George Neville on the snow, stark and stiff, with blood issuing from his temple, and trickling along the snow.
She saw distinctly all his well-known features: but they were pinched and sharpened now. And his dark olive skin was turned to bluish white. It was his corpse. And now her horse thrust out his nose and snorted like a demon. She looked down, and, ah! the blood was running at her preternaturally fast along the snow. She screamed, her horse reared high, and she was falling on the blood-stained snow. She awoke, screaming; and the sunlight seemed to rush in at the window.
Her joy that it was only a dream overpowered every other feeling at first. She kneeled and thanked God for that.
The next thing was, she thought it might be a revelation of what had actually occurred.
But this chilling fear did not affect her long. Nothing could shake her conviction that a duel was on foot,—and, indeed, the intelligent of her sex do sometimes put this and that together, and spring to a just, but obvious inference, in away that looks to a slower and safer reasoner like divination,—but then she knew that yesterday evening both parties were alive. Coupling this with Griffith's broad hint that after the funeral might be too late to make his will, she felt sure that it was this very day the combatants were to meet. Yes, and this very morning: for she knew that gentlemen always fought in the morning.
If her dream was false as to the past, it might be true as to what was at hand. Was it not a supernatural warning, sent to her in mercy? The history of her Church abounded in such dreams and visions; and, indeed, the time and place she lived in were rife with stories of the kind,—one, in particular, of recent date.
This thought took hold of her, and grew on her, till it overpowered even the diffidence of her sex; and then up started her individual character; and now nothing could hold her. For, languid and dreamy in the common things of life, this Catharine Peyton was one of those who rise into rare ardor and activity in such great crises as seem to benumb the habitually brisk, and they turn tame and passive.
She had seen at a glance that Houseman was too slow and apathetic for such an emergency. She resolved to act herself. She washed her face and neck and arms and hands in cold water, and was refreshed and invigorated. She put on her riding-habit and her little gold spur, (Griffith Gaunt had given it her,) and hurried into the stable-yard.
Old Joe and his boy had gone away to breakfast: he lived in the village.
This was unlucky: Catharine must wait his return and lose time, or else saddle the horse herself. She chose the latter. The piebald was a good horse, but a fidgetty one; so she saddled and bridled him at his stall. She then led him out to the stone steps in the stable-yard, and tried to mount him. But he sidled away; she had nobody to square him; and she could get nothing to mount but his head. She coaxed him, she tickled him on the other side with her whip. It was all in vain.
It was absurd, but heart-sickening. She stared at him with wonder that he could be so cruel as to play the fool when every minute might be life or death. She spoke to him, she implored him piteously, she patted him. All was in vain.
As a last resource, she walked him back to the stable and gave him a sieveful of oats, and set it down by the corn-bin for him, and took an opportunity to mount the bin softly.
He ate the oats, but with retroverted eye watched her. She kept quiet and affected nonchalance till he became less cautious,—then suddenly sprang on him, and taught him to set his wit against a woman's. My Lord wheeled round directly, ere she could get her leg over the pommel, and made for the stable-door. She lowered her head to his mane and just scraped out without injury,—not an inch to spare. He set off at once, but luckily for her she had often ridden a bare-backed horse. She sat him for the first few yards by balance, then reined him in quietly, and soon whipped her left foot into the stirrup and her right leg over the pommel; and then the piebald nag had to pay for his pranks: the roads were clogged with snow, but she fanned him along without mercy, and never drew bridle till she pulled him up, drenched and steaming like a washtub, at Netley Cross-Roads.
Here she halted irresolute. The road to the right led to Bolton, distant two miles and a half. The road in front led to Neville's Court, distant three miles. Which should she take? She had asked herself this a dozen times upon the road, yet could never decide until she got to the place and must. The question was, With which of them had she most influence? She hardly knew. But Griffith Gaunt was her old sweetheart; it seemed somewhat less strange and indelicate to go to him than to the new one. So she turned her horse's head towards Bolton; but she no longer went quite so fast as she had gone before she felt going to either in particular. Such is the female mind.
She reached Bolton at half-past eleven, and, now she was there, put a bold face on it, rode up to the door, and, leaning forward on her horse, rang the hall-bell.
A footman came to the door.
With composed visage, though beating heart, she told him she desired to speak for a moment to Mr. Griffith Gaunt. He asked her, would she be pleased to alight; and it was clear by his manner no calamity had yet fallen.
"No, no," said Kate; "let me speak to him here."
The servant went in to tell his master. Kate sat quiet, with her heart still beating, but glowing now with joy. She was in time, then, thanks to her good horse. She patted him, and made the prettiest excuses aloud to him for riding him so hard through the snow.
The footman came back to say that Mr. Gaunt had gone out.
"Gone out? Whither? On horseback?"
The footman did not know, but would ask within.
While he was gone to inquire, Catharine lost patience, and rode into the stable-yard, and asked a young lout, who was lounging there, whether his master was gone out on horseback.
The lounging youth took the trouble to call out the groom, and asked him.
The groom said, "No," and that Mr. Gaunt was somewhere about the grounds, he thought.
But in the midst of this colloquy, one of the maids, curious to see the lady, came out by the kitchen-door, and curtsied to Kate, and told her Mr. Gaunt was gone out walking with two other gentlemen. In the midst of her discourse, she recognized the visitor, and, having somehow imbibed the notion that Miss Peyton was likely to be Mrs. Gaunt, and govern Bolton Hall, decided to curry favor with her; so she called her "My Lady," and was very communicative. She said one of the gentlemen was strange to her; but the other was Doctor Islip, from Stanhope town. She knew him well: he had taken off her own brother's leg in a jiffy.
"But, dear heart, Mistress," said she, "how pale you be! Do come in, and have a morsel of meat and a horn of ale."
"Nay, my good girl," said Kate; "I could not eat; but bring me a mug of new milk, if you will. I have not broken my fast this day."
The maid bustled in, and Catharine asked the groom if there were no means of knowing where Mr. Gaunt was. The groom and the boy scratched their heads, and looked puzzled. The lounging lout looked at their perplexity, and grinned satirically.
This youth was Tom Leicester, born in wedlock, and therefore, in the law's eye, son of old Simon Leicester; but gossips said his true father was the late Captain Gaunt. Tom ran with the hounds for his own sport,—went out shooting with gentlemen, and belabored the briers for them at twopence per day and his dinner,—and abhorred all that sober men call work.
By trade, a Beater; profession, a Scamp.
Two maids came out together now,—one with the milk and a roll, the other with a letter. Catharine drank the milk, but could not eat. Then says the other maid,—
"If so be you are Mistress Peyton, why, this letter is for you. Master left it on his table in his bed-room."
Kate took the letter and opened it, all in a flutter. It ran thus:—
"Sweet Mistress,—When this reaches you, I shall be no more here to trouble you with my jealousy. This Neville set it abroad that you had changed horses with him, as much as to say you had plighted troth with him. He is a liar, and I told him so to his teeth. We are to meet at noon this day, and one must die. Methinks I shall be the one. But come what may, I have taken care of thee; ask Jack Houseman else. But, O dear Kate, think of all that hath passed between us, and do not wed this Neville, or I could not rest in my grave. Sweetheart, many a letter have I written thee, but none so sad as this. Let the grave hide my faults from thy memory; think only that I loved thee well. I leave thee my substance—would it were ten times more!—and the last thought of my heart.
"So no more in this world
"From him that is thy true lover
"And humble servant till death,
There seems to be room in the mind for only one violent emotion at one instant of time. This touching letter did not just then draw a tear from her, who now received it some hours sooner than the writer intended. Its first effect was to paralyze her. She sat white and trembling, and her great eyes filled with horror. Then she began to scream wildly for help. The men and women came round her.
"Murder! murder!" she shrieked. "Tell me where to find him, ye wretches, or may his blood be on your heads!"
The Scamp bounded from his lounging position, and stood before her straight as an arrow.
"Follow me!" he shouted.
Her gray eyes and the Scamp's black ones flashed into one another directly. He dashed out of the yard without another word.
And she spurred her horse, and clattered out after him.
He ran as fast as her horse could canter, and soon took her all round the house; and while he ran, his black gypsy eyes were glancing in every direction.
When they got to the lawn at the back of the house, he halted a moment, and said quietly,—
"Here they be."
He pointed to some enormous footsteps in the snow, and bade her notice that they commenced at a certain glass door belonging to the house, and that they all pointed outwards. The lawn was covered with such marks, but the Scamp followed those his intelligence had selected, and they took him through a gate, and down a long walk, and into the park. Here no other feet had trodden that morning except those Tom Leicester was following.
"This is our game," said he. "See, there be six footsteps; and, now I look, this here track is Squire Gaunt's. I know his foot in the snow among a hundred. Bless your heart, I've often been out shooting with Squire Gaunt, and lost him in the woods, and found him again by tracking him on dead leaves, let alone snow. I say, wasn't they useless idiots? Couldn't tell ye how to run into a man, and snow on the ground! Why, you can track a hare to her form, and a rat to his hole,—let alone such big game as this, with a hoof like a frying-pan,—in the snow."
"Oh, do not talk; let us make haste," panted Kate.
"Canter away!" replied the Scamp.
She cantered on, and he ran by her side.
"Shall I not tire you?" said she.
The mauvais sujet laughed at her.
"Tire me? Not over this ground. Why, I run with the hounds, and mostly always in at the death; but that is not altogether speed: ye see I know Pug's mind. What! don't you know me? I'm Tom Leicester. Why, I know you: I say, you are a good-hearted one, you are."
"Oh, no! no!" sighed Kate.
"Nay, but you are," said Tom. "I saw you take Harrowden Brook that day, when the rest turned tail; and that is what I call having a good heart. Gently, Mistress, here,—this is full of rabbit-holes. I seen Sir Ralph's sorrel mare break her leg in a moment in one of these. Shot her dead that afternoon, a did, and then b'iled her for the hounds. She'd often follow at their tails; next hunting-day she ran inside their bellies. Ha! ha! ha!"
"Oh, don't laugh! I am in agony!"
"Why, what is up, Mistress?" asked the young savage, lowering his voice. "'Murder,' says you; but that means nought. The lasses they cry murder, if you do but kiss 'em."
"Oh, Tom Leicester, it is murder! It's a duel, a fight to the death, unless we are in time to prevent them."
"A jewel!" cried Master Leicester, his eyes glittering with delight. "I never saw a jewel. Don't you hold him in for me, Mistress: gallop down this slope as hard as you can pelt; it is grass under foot, and ye can't lose the tracks, and I shall be sure to catch ye in the next field."
The young savage was now as anxious to be in at the death as Kate was to save life. As he spoke, he gave her horse a whack on the quarter with his stick, and away she went full gallop, and soon put a hundred yards between her and Tom.
The next field was a deep fallow, and the hard furrows reduced her to a trot; and before she got out of it Tom was by her side.
"Didn't I tell you?" said he. "I'd run you to Peyton Hall for a pot o' beer."
"Oh, you good, brave, clever boy!" said Kate, "how fortunate I am to have you! I think we shall be in time."
Tom was flattered.
"Why, you see, I am none of Daddy Leicester's breed," said he. "I'm a gentleman's by-blow, if you know what that is."
"I can't say I do," said Kate; "but I know you are very bold and handsome, and swift of foot; and I know my patron saint has sent you to me in my misery. And, oh, my lad, if we are in time,—what can I do for you? Are you fond of money, Tom?"
"That I be,—when I can get it."
"Then you shall have all I have got in the world, if you get me there in time to hinder mischief."
"Come on!" shouted Tom, excited in his turn, and took the lead; and not a word more passed till they came to the foot of a long hill. Then said Tom,—
"Once we are at top of this, they can't fight without our seeing 'em. That is Scutchemsee Nob: you can see ten miles all round from there."
At this information Kate uttered an ejaculation, and urged her horse forward.
The first part of this hill, which stood between her and those whose tracks she followed, was grass; then came a strip of turnips; then on the bleak top a broad piece of heather. She soon cantered over the grass, and left Tom so far behind he could not quite catch her in the turnips. She entered the heather, but here she was much retarded by the snow-drifts and the ups and downs of the rough place. But she struggled on bravely, still leading.
She fixed her eyes earnestly on the ridge, whence she could cry to the combatants, however distant, and stop the combat.
Now as she struggled on, and Tom came after, panting a little for the first time, suddenly there rose from the crest of the hill two columns of smoke, and the next moment two sharp reports ran through the frosty air.
Kate stopped, and looked round to Tom with a scared, inquiring air.
"Pistols!" yelled Tom behind her.
At that the woman overpowered the heroine, and Kate hid her face and fell to trembling and wailing. Her wearied horse came down to a walk.
Presently up comes Tom.
"Don't lose your stomach for that," he panted out. "Gentlefolks do pop at one another all day sometimes, and no harm done."
"Oh, bless you!" cried Kate; "I may yet be in time."
She spurred her horse on. He did his best, but ere he had gone twenty yards he plunged into a cavity hidden by the snow.
While he was floundering there, crack went a single pistol, and the smoke rose and drifted over the hill-top.
"Who—op!" muttered Tom, with horrible sang-froid. "There's one done for this time. Couldn't shoot back, ye see."
At this horrible explanation Kate sank forward on her horse's mane as if she herself had been killed; and the smoke from the pistol came floating, thinner and thinner, and eddied high over her head.
Tom spoke rude words of encouragement to her. She did not even seem to hear them. Then he lost all patience at her, and clutched her arm to make her hear him. But at that it seemed as if some of his nature passed into her down his arm; for she turned wild directly, and urged her horse fiercely up the crest. Her progress was slow at first; but the sun had melted the snow on the Nob or extreme summit. She tore her way through the last of the snow on to the clear piece,—then, white as ashes, spurred and lashed her horse over the ridge, and dashed in amongst them on the other side. For there they were.
What was the sight that met her eyes?
That belongs to the male branch of my story, and shall be told forthwith, but in its proper sequence.