Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

5 erthygl ar y dudalen hon

THE CROWNING OF ESTHER,

Newyddion
Dyfynnu
Rhannu

PUBLISHED BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT. THE CROWNING OF ESTHER, By MO RICE GERARD, Author of Misterton," Oiit," "The Victoria Cross," "Black Gull Hock;" Joek o' tir Beach," "Murray Murgntroyd, Journalist," &c., &c. [0 O P Y E I G H T], CHAPTER I. The photograph of a certain bedroom will always remain in clear outline in my inii,.d I.; ot tliit a.,iytliin,- so very important occurred in it, but u a sti-mo-P perionce connected with that room a*. f history of my life dated, and the story bt.nan v>a.ch I Anitas nothing particular happened in that room so the apartment itaSf was .ordinary, and commou-p^ enough. I had slept in it every .?^btw^rrJfS winter and summer, autanm anu spun. ing it as more than part of the furniture10 n y jit, the table at which I dined, the cuairs,oa which I sat tbe carriages in which I rode. I had never marked it speciafly with the possessive pronoun .« even bedchambers they snare^wiaoz^ (1 d halt to me what the old-fas,.noneU n„.rSom, in that ^aslu-'ITad no l"usehoid goods scattered about it let the room lives in my memory, as x saw it one June morning" when I was eigi eea.. j A„,l the £ 3*% i'SLS or a dfeau,-„ll ft'wS'joi will. '"«■ »ls a i'"rson f,'om that which I liftd heen bcfoic. A marble-topped withstand occupies one side of the window and a wardrobe the other; m one corner are two shelves with a clock on the upper one, which solemnly ticks out the time in ft hoarse voice, which suggests the accumulated colds of several winters. On the second is a china vase intended to contain flotveis but in which, to my knowledge, no flowers ever rested. It would be a shame to put them there they could not have congruity with such a hideous product of the potter's art; the very Cupids below, with their undraped plump little bodies, might well have refused to support a. bowl with that hideous Satyr grinning into its white vacuum at one corner. There were some pictures, not pleasing enough, or done by too unimportant artists, for the dining-room or the staircase there was a large square of carpet of a nondescript faded yellow colour, flanked by polished boards. There was a brass French bedstead, low at head and foot, with one knob permanently departed. In that bed I slept comfortably enough, although without enthusiasm, for five times 35 nights, however many they may be. Really the way one goes on piling up the number of times you do the same thing in the course of an average lifetime is something 2tppalliiig 1 The circumstances of my hitherto uneventful life will be set down in the next chapter. I must begin with this experience, because I always now instinctively begin things from there, and go backwards or forwards as the case may be. It was a warm night; and I had thrown nearly every- thing off me, merely a sheet serving to give an idea of covering without the weight of clothes, which on such a sultry evening would have been insupportable. The window was open from the ton, and while I diligently wooed sleep, I could hear the baying of a dog at some farmstead probably miles away. All else was still. There was not sufficient breeze to stir the leaves of the pear tree, which grow right up to my window in the second storey. I knew there was a dying man in the house—the master, my great-uncle—and C although he was very old, the thought gave solemnity tomy feelings, when I knelt, in my white robe do nuit, to say my prayers against the low bed. I was so full of life myself my limbs full and tree. with the warm blood pulsing through them. It seemed so tenable and strange to think that life would one day merely be existence, and afterwards cease to be even that. I prayed that night that I might live-live it out to the very end. Before a week was over I prayed that I might die—die in my hot inexperienced youth, before ever I saw the light of nineteen years. bleep came to me at last, after I had spent an hour or two tossing from side to side, wondering where the dog lived, and whether it would ever leave off that melancholy baying. BefQre the sleep passed, the dream or visitation came to me. A shuddering sensation of physical dread passed Gver my limbs, seeming to drive the heart's blood back from whence it came. I felt a touch upon my lips I struggled to rouse my torpid faculties, and to awake. I wished to shout aloud but felt instinc- tively no voice could issue from lips so mysteriously touched. Then there came a sound as of wings—birds' wings, large birds; and I felt the room was full of them, skimming in the air as rooks do, flying from side to side over me. Yet I saw nothing in my dream, merely heard the wings. There was a pause, and the sound of wings ceased. Then my name was spoken three times, not loudly, but as by one who knew he was close to me, and could make me hear easily: Caroline Caroline < Caroline The voice was quite strange to me I had never heard it before. It was different from most men's voices, with an intonation of its own, strong and yet sweet. I felt if I heard it again I should know it. But perhaps this was not in my dream but came to me as I recalled all that I had passed through next (lity. Then it came again once, with an ominously signi- ficant word attached to it: and I heard no more. It said, Caroline Beware I must have slept after that; for when I awoke it was after six o'clock. The hot daylight from the already glowing Eastern sky was pouring into my chamber. And without in the passage there was a subdued stir, a confusion of stilled voices, differing from the familiar sounds of an awakening household and I guessed, but only partly, what that some- thing was. CHAPTER II. When I was six years old, a jolly, round, romp of a little girl, both my parents died of a fever my father, who was a naval officer, a captain I think, had brought home with him from abroad. Of him I remember scarcely anything; a vague suspicion of the presents he used to bring me-gaudy toys, and trinkets from foreign parts and Eastern ports, a scrubby beard which I felt it a reluctant duty to kiss more often than I cared, that is about all that remains. I suppose, like most sea-going men on active service, he was but little at home. My mother is a far dearer vision a being of loveliness and love, generally dressed in white. We lived at Lynn in Norfolk. All my childish recollections arc full of the smell of fisli, of tarred ropes, of the sound of foreign sailor voices, talking a lingo which I thought must be very wicked, it was so impossible to understand. Yet I loved those narrow streets, which I threaded with my mother by my side. No avenue of trees has ever seemed so grand to me as that walk to King John's Tower my imagin- ation was filled with the stories of an underground passage, right away from the Tower to Castle Rising. I loved, too, the big hassocks in the old square pew at grand old St. Margaret's Church., with which I played in a quiet unobstrusive fashion, during the long ser- mons, on the Sabbath. Then, when I was six, came the great first change of my life. The gentle influence and the scrubby beard alike passed out of it. The mystery of death shrouded us all for a time, and I only was left when the veil lifted—a solitary child. I know now that the next thing which came was the offer of a home to the fatherless and motherless child from my great-uncle. Squire Wrottisley (as he was always called). I was a Wrottisley, too-Caroline Wrottisley. The Squire lived in the extreme north of Derbyshire, where it borders on the Yorkshire Moors, and to that home I was speedily transferred. Under the same roof lived another great-relative of the Squire's only this was a boy—not a girl, and his name was not Wrattisley-Steplien Fleetwood. He was six years older than I, big and strong, with a mole scar and hair growing on it on his right cheek. I hated him, and he hated me from the day I entered the house. I remember well his saying to rne, when he came back from school at sixteen, I being ten So. you little fool, you think you fire going to have old uncle's property not if I know it. I would kill you first and he pinched my arms, in his long, strong fingers, until they were black and blue. I cried 1 don't want anything I hate you, cousin Stephen.' Don't call me cousin, you little fool, or I'll knock vour helld off.' And I never have called him cousin from that day to this, except when the Squire was by; uwl he made me, The Squire did not love chitdren ana neulier of us quite knew how to make the old man—for he seemed an old man to me even when I first cau-e into the house, at six years old—care for us. He had a strange sardonic way ol tahung, winch no child quite understands they feel they are being lauerhed at and children feel that and hate it even more than grown-up persons. I fancy he must have been a little blind. He tapped with his. stick as he walked along. I know the sound used to frighten me, especially when I heard it at night. Gradually a conception rose up in my mind that there was something, far from canny about the old Squire although I believe now it was nothing more than a sad old man's ways who had grown cross and eccentric from hr.ving nothing in the world to love, and disappointed because he had no lineal heir to leave all his fine property to. It was a fine property no one could doubt that. The house was comparatively modern, occupying the site of a much older building. Originally of red brick, it bad been cased with the white stone for which North Derbyshire is famous, at a great expense, I believe, by Squire Wrottisley's father. Except a few fruit trees, no green tiling grew against the walls but round three sides ran a portico supported by pillars twenty feet high, each a single stone. Gardens surrounded the house, and beyond them was a dry moat with a bridge across it in front of the entrance hall of the Moat House,' as it was called. Beyond were the beautiful Derbyshire hills, some of them covered with vendure to the top, some heather-clad, the home of flocks of sheep, and the haunt of numberless grouse and curlew. And PS fur IS the eye could see when a person was standing on the flat roof of the Moat House, every square rod of the soil belonged to Squire Wrottisley. Stephen Fleetwood had never known either of his parents. Perhaps this may account for his strange, rough, fierce character, although a good share of it must have been born in him. He had lived from his infancy at tha Moat House, which was certainly big enough to hold us all three. Taken in out of com- passion, iust as I was, for we neither of us had a pennyworth of patrimony that I ever heard of, Stephen, nevertheless, regarded himself as the rightful heir and future master of the Moat House, and of Wrottisley Chase, as the property round it was called. Oh, how mortally angry he was when, one day, I told him I was a Wrottisley, and lie wasn't! You little devil, you ever dare to say that to me again and he struck me, and I told Uncle,' as we were taught to call him, both what he had done and what he had called me. Uncle, for the only time in his life that I heard of, told the footman to give Stephen six strokes with a cane, and then shut him up in his bedroom for half a day on bread and water. I stood outside and heard the cane, every swish of it, and I heard Stephen cell out as each blow fell upon him I counted the strokes to see that he had the full number: and I was pleased. Wlik!n Stephen came out I told him I was glad, and he looked as if he would like to hit me again but he remembered the cane, and he didn't. Stephen was not one to forgive or forget. Neither am I. I am afraid, for that matter. We were a strange trio, the sardonic, indifferent old man, and the two children who never played together, and who only met to quarrel and hate one another. The next thing I remember as of sufficient importance to be set down here happened when Stephen was eighteen, and had left school, and seemed to me a man. There had been many talks, I know, between the Squire and Stephen as to what the latter was going to be. Stephen's father had been a doctor, and Uncle wanted him to learn his father's profession Stephen did go for a little while to a neighbouring medical man to see if he had a taste for drugs, but nothing came of it except some scrape of a serious nature which made the old man very angry. Stephen himself wished to be an actor. I heard Uncle tell him that he was ugly enough for Richard the Third; but that he could not go on playing that. Stephen was always very sensitive about remarks on his personal appearance. He muttered something now about it being a family likeness,' he supposed. Possibly,' my uncle said in his most sardonic man- ner but not the Wrottisley cast,' wtih a significant glance at me who was siLting in the wide, red-cushioned window seat. I think that besides the question of the property, which always seemed to be on Stephen's mind, the one other thing which made him hate me was the way everyone spoke of my beauty. Then they would add 'Never mind, Master Stephen, handsome is as'hand- some does, you know;' and they did know that ugly as was his mole-scarred face, what he did was uglier still. Stephen dare not report them for their insolence to him, because they knew too much. But I must come to what I was going to tell. One day I was sitting, with a volume of Scott's poems in my hands, in an arbour at some distance from the house, shaded by two large weeping willows. At the entrance the ivy, which grew in abundance, had been allowed to encroach upon the open doorway, so that anyone coming in had to push it on one side or else stoop very low. I was deep in The Lady of the Lake,' and had not looked up for some time when I did I was startled to -Lee Stephen' face looking in, with the ivy round it and such a hire of concentrated hatred upon it as I had never seen before, which is saying a good deal. He must have come up very silently. Of course he knew I was in the bower, as I always went there every morning. As soon as Stephen met my glance, he thrust the ivy away with a fierce push which would have broken any- thing of a more brittle nature, and strode in. I stood up, wondering whether he was not going to murder me straight away. Stephen gave me a great push with his open hand on my chest, which bore the mark for a week afterwards, and thrust me back on the sent. The volume of poems fell faee downwards with crumpled leaves on to the short grass, which formed the floor of the arbour. Stephen stamped fiercely upon it with his heel until the handsome cover cracked beneath his tread. It was the Squire's last present to mo on my twelfth birthday. Sit down, you little fool,' he said, and listen to what I have got to say.' I was not afraid, only fear- fully angry because he had destroyed my beautiful book and if I had been a boy, although six years his junior, I should have flown at him then and there. 'I hate you I hissed out. IV]iat do you want You sneak, to destroy my book.' That old fool,' with a significant indication with his thumb towards the Moat House, gave it to you. He and I have had a row this morning and he-curse him has ordered me off the place. He says you are his heir and he will leave every stick of the Chase and every stone of the Moat House to you that you are a Wrottisley and I am not; although you arc a girl. Look you, I swear you shall never have it; you may beware of me until the day of your death.' And with that he struck me twice on the cheek with his open palm, and in a moment had thrust the ivy again on one side, and was gone. I felt the burning wrong and sting of that blow for. years afterwards but I never heard the word beware,' again until the night, from which everything in my life dates backwards and forwards, about which I spoke at the outset of my storv. It was true what Stephen told me. He and the Squire had had a quarrel, a fearful quarrel, that morn- ing abont Stephen's friendship and alliance in vice with a notorious poacher of the neighbourhood, named Giles Underwood, who lived in a low, cotton spinning village, jus outside the Chase estate. From that time Stephen never lived at the Moat House again, but as years went on the Squire some- times sent him money, and two or three times, in the six years that followed before the Squire's death, he came and stayed for a couple of nights, but the place was not congenial to him with its quiet, old-fashioned ways, any more than his company suited uncle or me. Personally, I neyQi* spoke to him on these visits but preserved an obstinate silence at meals and whenever I was in the same room with him. I never told Uncle of the scene, or I don't believe he would have extended to Stephen even the small amount of forgiveness and civility that worthy did receive from him. Stephen, we knew, had tried many things for a living, and had travelled over half the world in various capa- cities. At the last he met with a Mr De Havilland in one of the States of America, who was a clairvoyant, mesmerist, and conjuror. The two seemed to have suited each other; so I judge Mr De Havilland—that was his professional name—was no beauty and they struck up an alliance together. Once they came to Sheffield, and my uncle heard of their performing, and was very angry. I heard him thank God,' with a piety he rarely nssumed, that Stephen, at any rate, could not put Wrottisley on the bills. I have often thought of that remark since when there was a chance that my name might appear in letters equally large on a some- what similar poster. Soon after the quarrel with Stephen, Uncle made a will leaving all his property to me, but making a pro- vision of < £ 200 a year to Stephen, with the curious pro- vision that it was to be forfeited if he committed any offence against the law of the land and was condemned by a judge or jury of his country. The old man showed me this will, with its curious clause, some two years after it was made, with one of his sardonic smiles. I think the chances are in favour,' he said, of Stephen never enjoying that legacy unless I die soon, and he thinks it worth his while to keep straight. It was on that chance I made it two hundred instead of one. It will be better worth his while.' My uncle was a very fair judge of human nature although, of late years, he had seen only a very limited sample of it. The question of wills and property troubled me but I very little, as it does most girls, in those days of my youth. I was thoroughly well and strong, 1 and had plenty to eat, with an allowance for dress which, for- tunately for me afterwards, I never contrived to spend the whole of, and what could I want more? Still, there was some satisfaction in knowing that Stephen was not to inherit the Chase, and the Moat House for I knew he wanted it so badly. The Squire deposited one copy of that will with his lawyers whohad drawn it up. The other he placed in the top drawer of the writing-table in his library. If there were only one copy,' he remarked, in his calm cold way, Stephen would steal it; but two will baffle him.' One night, when Stephen was staying in the house. about six months before the Squire died., I came into the library late for a book, and found him reading the will. He did not hear me so I withdrew with the pleasant satisfaction that Stephen was aware of the cheerful possibilities his uncle had pictured with regard to his own future. CHAPTER III. Uncle had been failing, from a general decay of nature, for several months at the time my story opens. Latterly, he had kept solely to one room which was just beneath my bedroom, on the side of the Moat House where the trees grew and there was no portico. It was a long room with the bed at one end the part that was used as a bedroom was shut away by a very large screen. The rest had all the furniture of an ordinary sitting-room—a writing-table under the window, easy chairs, and a sofa. Towards the close of the Squire's illness, two nurses, who took alternate shifts, had been added to the establishment from a Nursing Home at Manchester. They were respectable women, at an age when youth is just bsginnmg to iaue into middle life. One of them had said to me one night: We think Squire Wrottiley cannot last more than twenty-four hours. The doctor has promised to come in at the end of his last round. Both of us will sit up to-night with the old gentleman, in case he sees his It was this expression, 'in case he seer- his end, which had been on my mind when I went to bed. !Not which had been on my mind when I went to bed. Not ) that Nurse Wreford meant anything special by it, more thanictating the fact that, in her opinion, the Squire's death was imminent. But the idell fastened upon my imagination Uncle was to see his end.' It was a weird and gruesome thOlgbt this meEting, this vision, this something that the dying man was to see and no one else. The parting of the ways, the plunge into abysuia! dark, the leaving of IIOUSJ and property, and life-an body behind I had seen pictures enough of the grisly visitant. There weve dozens of them in the old books in the big library of the Moat House. But one that was not of the customary skeleton order dwelt on my imaginatioii more than they all. A young girl was lying on a bed, very much as I did that night, a slight rohe of white falling froiii her frame showing- the open white bosom. But the bed was different, an old-fashioned half-tester with heavy curtains at the head. A dark hand had drawn the curtains on one side, and a shrouded monk- ish figure lef.nt over the bed. The girl's eyes met the gaze of that cowled head, with a glance half filmy, half terror-stricken. I knew the shrouded figure was Death. It was a fancy of some old n¡ecliæval artist to dress the sable monarch up as a monk. Probably he had no love for the order. Pictures had always a great fascina- tion for and power over me, and this one more than all. I felt that I might be that girl. There seemed no reason why she-should die, any more than I, except for one terrible bright red spot on her chest, which might have been a plague spot for she was full and rounded, with shoulders as shapely as my own. and apparently she seemed as life-enjoying as I was myself. I knew that the visitor had come to claim her and I shuddered as I undressed ttitt- night, to think that he might come aid claim me. In a week in my loneliness I wished he would. As I dressed and went down that morning, I did not need to be told that the unbidden one had been in the Meat House. It was expressed in the very air of the place, in the subdued, almost stealthy footfalls on the stairs. No windows were to be heard flung up with hasty hand; the housemaid's broom was not taken from its place. The economy of existence was suspended. It was the dark king's Sabbath, which all kept faithfully. On the stairs I met Nurse Wreford, who had spoken to me the night previously. She was going to have told me what had happened but I motioned to her that it was not necessary, that I knew already. Her face sur- prised me not a little. Surely she must have seen this thing in the pursuit of her calling hundreds of times, for she had probably been a nurse these twenty odd years. Neither was her patient one to move her deeply, to awaken her sympathy, or touch her love, or bespeak the depths of tenderness lying somewhere in every womanly native. He had been his cynical, cold, reserved self all through his days of illness to the very last. Yet Nurse Wreford was moved, troubled, frightened almost with a white, drawn, Beared look, I could not help but notice. I passed by her on the stairs, and entered the room below mine, the long, low, half-sitting, lialf-bedroora, in which Uncle had died. I entered the room, and was going to close the door after me, but Nurse Wreford followed me I should have preferred to be alone, but did not say so. I passed round the screen, and for the third time in my life was face to face with the dead. The body was already laid out, and was resting even to the face under a linen sheet of the finest quality marked at one corner with the Wrottisley crest, as all the linen of the Moat House was. A single deep blue, almost black, pansy lay upon the sheet. If the dead man could have been said to have a favourite flower, the pansy was the one. A vase on his mantel-shelf had been fresh filled from the garden every day during the latter part of his ill- ness. Perhaps the pansy had something to do with his lost youth, and some romance that had been bound up and lost with it. This is only supposition and worth very little, except that caring for any flower seemed go contrary to the nature of the cynical old man. I drew the sheet down sufficiently to look upon the face, not disturbing the pansy which rested upon the chest. On many faces, perhaps most, at such a time there is a look of returned youth, of peace and rest, such as has probably been foreign to it for years. There was none such on the Squire's, as I gazed down upon it that June morning. It was stern and set, almost harsh and angry. I turned to Nurse Wreford, who was standing just behind, almost touching me. I do not think the Squire looks very comfortable,' I said, using words which I felt expressed what I meant, but which I knew were wholly inadequate to the chamber of death. She paused before she replied, as if something within her struggled to say more, and her will repressed the suggestion. No. miss I do not think he is. I think at the last he either did or suffered a great wrong, f cannot tell which and that can't make a man happy where he is gone.' I looked at her, thinking the night watch and the— to me—terrible event which had marked its tenour must have affected her nervous system, and made her not quite herself. I replied, therefore, simply Where is he gone Ah, that is the question.' Then, dropping her voice, she added Perhans he is nearer to us even now thau we think.' I shuddered slightly, and put the sheet back again. The idea was not refreshing-. What did I feel P I had not loved the old man. Nobody could—except his favourite dog. He simply would not let you. But now he was gone I felt his miss terribly. I had grown used to his existence, his personality, all those twelve years—the most important in anyone's life—that I had been under the roof-tree of the Moat House. He had been kind to me after a fashion. At any rate, he had never been unkind. He had sheltered me from danger, and the stress and moil and toil of life, as I was not ungrateful for this negative protection. Now I was absolutely alone. I was more fatherless and motherless, because I knew more than on the day that, at six years old, I had first crossed the hall step below. I had no friend in the world and I had one enemy, a bitter, implacable enemy, whose face with its ugly mole scar rose up before me in imagination on the opposite side of our great-uncle's bed, as I had seen it on the morn- ing of the quarrel which was to bear fruit now (as I imagined), peering at me from between the ivy growths in the arbour. Where Stephen Fleetwood was now, I had not the slightest idea. That I should see him shortly, as soon as the news got blazed abroad, I felt perfectly sure. What I did not know was that I should see him within an hour. My mind still dwelling on Stephen Fleetwood, I crossed the room mechanically, with no particular intention, governed by some controlling instinct within, which was certainly not born of any effort of my reasoning faculties. I went straight to the writing-table at the further end remote from the bed. Perhaps I intended to look out from the window which was wide open just above it. I cannot tell. Whereas what I did is photographed absolutely clearly on my recollection, the motives which prompted me are in a perfectly impenetrable haze. Lying on the writing-table was a sheet of long blue foolscap, which attracted my attention in a moment. In a second I was alert once more. Dream and senti- ment had alike vanished. Even my feminine mind grasped the fact in an instant that this was a Will—a N ew W Nurse Wreford had followed me with her silent tread, the outcome of long habits acquired during years of nursing. I took up the sheet of foolscap, and read as follows:— I, Nicholas Reginald Wrottisley, of the Moat House, Wrottisley Chase, in the County of Derbyshire, a man upon whom death is fast coming but whose mind and tacuities are as clear as they have ever been, do hereby declare that this is my last will and testament, revoking all former wills whatsoever by me set forth. I also declare that I am moved to make this will at the last moment of my life by the feeling that I have done a great wrong, during the later years of my age, to my great-nephew, Stephen Fleetwood, and specially by some expressions I have used in regard to him in my former will. I ask him to pardon me, and I now declare him—the aforesaid Stephen Fleetwoocl-iiiy sole legatee and heir- at-law to all my property, real as well as personal.' This will was signed by Nicholas Reginald Wrottisley, and witnessed by Ann Wreford and Margaret Green- slade (the two nurses), with the usual formalities signi- fying that the testator had signed in their presence, and that they had signed in his presence, and in that of each other. The will was dated that very morning. I turned upon Nurse Wreford, who was very white, and more dazed than ever. Is this true? I asked. I I suppose it is,' she assented. I You suppose it is. What do you mean by your sup- pose I spoke sharply, feeling that I could have shaken the sense out of her. She put up her hands feebly as if to ward of my anger, as though it had taken the mate- rial shape of a blow. I cannot think how we came to do it. It is against our rUles: I cannot imagine what happened, or how it was done.' What do you mean? I questioned helplessly, think- ing hers was the feeblest intellect and the worst balanced mind of any with which I had ever had to do. Why, we must have signed it you see Nurse Greenslade's name is printed, and she always prints. Oilly it is against the rules and we cannot remember. It was a trying night,' she added after a pause, apolo- getically. I did not profess to understand her. But the last remark fitted into the explanation I had already given myself of Nurse Wreford's evidently hopeless mental condition. It may lose us our places if it gets about,' she went on. Yet we must have done it, for there are our sig- natures. Yet it is dead against the rules, which say, No nurse is to sign any document, deed, or will in any house to which she is sent but is to adhere strictly to the duties of her calling, never meddling in the private affairs of her patients.' Then, after a pause, she went on, in a lower tone, which was almost sepulchral in the depth of its stillness 'And we must have signed it, too; for we found him there when—when—when we found him there when we roused ourselves these last words, for which she had evidently been searching her brain, seemed to satisfy her. He died there sit- ting- at that table, not in his bed. Look-his head dropped and blotted the paper there before the ink was dry.' So far this was true, at any rate for her own sig- nature, 'Ann Wreford '—she had signed as the second witness, the last writing on the paper, in fact-was slightly blotted and smudged. I felt it was hopeless to question the woman further. I was only getting more involved every moment in the maze of this woman's mental confusion. The great fact remained. There was the will, not, indeed, in the dead man's handwriting, but the signature was his without a doubt, and it was duly witnessed and attested by the two nurses in attendance. That it was dead against their rules, as Nurse Wreford confessed, mattered r nothing in the world to me. I was an outlaw, and I Stephen Fleetwood the heir. The oiG. man at the last moment in a dying freak, which in some ways did not accord Vw-uilv with the sardonic character of his mind, had turned topsy-turvy the policy of his dpclining vearg, lH., made Stepen Fleetwood the heir and left me one in the cold. I only wondered he bad not added, to complete the grim humour of the thing, a similar clc.use about me and a jury of my countrymen, to the one lie had put in his last will about his great-nephew 8tC'phen. I said so to myseif bitterly—and wronged him: heaven forgive me for traducing the d(d in my moment of bitter disappointment. That wculd have been just like the Squire.1 Out lo-id I in;ld So Stephen Fleetwood has outwitted the eld man after all and instead of stealing the old will, he has managed to make him .write a new one.' Hardly bad the words issued out of my mouth than the man himself stood before me in the room. There we were facing one another, I with the will, and the in fresh upon it, making him the heir, still iu my hand, he with a malicious grin of triutrph and isittisfaction lighting up his steel grey eyeii and ugly mole scar. And beyond the screen lay the dead man undor his sheet, and on his face that look of disappoint- ment and rage, stereotyped by the master stone- ma?on—Death. f (To be continued.) -+- [PCBLISIIED BY SPECIAL ARB.i.XGEMENT.]

THE FORGE OF LIFE,

Advertising

Advertising

THE FORGE OF LIFE,