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THE CROWNING OF ESTHER,

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PUBLISHED BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT. THE CROWNING OF ESTHER, By MORICE GERAKD, Author of Misterton," "Cast Out," "The Victoria Cross, Black Gull Rock," "Jocko' tli' Beach," "Murray Murgatrovd, Journalist," &c., &c. [C Q P Y R I G H T]. SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS. St CHAPTERS 1. TO III.—Caroline Wrottisley and Stephen Fleetwood, distant relatives of Squire Wrottis- ley, live with him. The old inan clings to his great mece, but discards Stephen, who is not a Wrottisley, Qd makes a will in her favour, leaving a bare £ 200 a e&r to Stephen on the understanding that he keeps out of prison. The two men quarrel and Stephen allies himself to a professional mesmerist who lectures throughout the country. When the old man dies a new will is found and attested by two nurses, in which he revokes all former wills and leaves everything to Stephen. As the will is discovered by Caroline, Stephen and she come face to face. CHAPTERS IV. TO VI.—Miss Wrottisley is turned out by Stephen, the heir, and leaves for London with no plans or prospects. She is annoyed on the way down by a fair-haired man who claims acquaintance with her on account of knowing Stephen. She seeks the protection of a porter, and she obtains lodgings at the house of a Mrs Hedger. A niece, Polly, declares that she is fit to go on the stage, and says she will speak to Mr Lefevre, stage manager, for her. CHAPTER VII. Polly was a good girl, a very good girl. She wouldn't miss her church on Sunday mornings on no account.' Such was the perpetual envoi of Mrs Hedger's I enthusiastic dithyrambs upon her niece. The statement was to have a curious illustration, on the morning of the day following upon the eventful occasion, when I passed through the ordeal of that young lady's first inspection. I had struck against church. The morning was very close. Islington churches are noted for their stuffiness, combined with a length of discourse in inverse propor- tion to its liveliness. The statement that preachers of the last generation timed themselves with an hour glass and those of the present day with an egg boiler is little short of sarcasm-in Islington. I had had a disturbed night visions of the future introduction to Mr Lefevre which Polly had held out to me filled my imagination, but repelled rather than attracted. To a girl of Polly's fibre, brought up as she had been in an atmosphere charged with theatrical electricity, the stage was the natural walk in life to a woman it afforded the high road to a competence or even fame and affluence. My ideas, training, tastes, were widely different. A cruel fate had sheltered me unhealthily for years from every breath of wind, and thrust me out suddenly to bear the fiercest blast of life's storm. At eighteen I was utterly alone without any train- ing to help me one step on the way towards making my own living. I could dance, it is true most girls can. But to make a profession of it, under the conditions which obtained even in the most respectable of theatres —the whole thing was repugnant to every sentiment of my being. Yet to starve to sponge on Mrs. Hedger to marry a stalwart railway porter who ate with a knife and dined without a cloth these seemed the alternatives of exis- tence. They were several degrees more repulsive. It may be asked But if the stage seemed the only outlet, why not the legitimate drama—comedy—acting in some of its many departiileiils ? But to occupy even a minor rOle meant time, training, certain gifts, the favourable regard of a manager. I could lenrnVliat was necessary to a supernumerary in a ballet in a month, with the natural gifts I happened to possess. I should require at least a year before I could hope to be taken round the provinces in a minor role by a legitimate com- pany. All this I had gathered from the pearls of worldly, and especially professional, wisdom which dropped from Mrs. Hedger's lips. My night had tired, not rested me. I could not go to church. So Mrs. Hedger, in brilliantly spotted grena- dine, surmounted by a light guuze bonnet trimmed with a large lavender feather, and armed with a spacious prayer book, departed alone. Hardly had her portly back turned the corner of Mayg-erstone Place than the front door opened," and a knock to my great surprise followed upon the panel of my sitting-room door. Polly entered in obedience to my invitation. The moment selected for her entry suggested that her aunt had been stalked.' At any rate, Polly's strict adherence to a particular seat OIl the morning of the Sabbath did not receive exemplification on that July Sunday. She had not come evidently to see her aunt, she had come to have a talk with me. My heart went pit-a-pat. I felt this was no common call of convenance that a decision of some sort as to my own future was in the horizon, and that the bugbear of the night was about to take shape and outline in the daylight. It is, however, the unexpected which happens. I have learned that fact pretty accurately by this time. It was not so clear to me at the stage of experience which I had reached when Polly Hedger marched into my small sitting-room that Sunday morning. 'Mrs. Hedger is out,' I said, parrying my own ner- vousness by an attempt to look upon this call as an ordinary one. I know that, or I shouldn't have been here. I want to talk to you, not to her.' It is very good of you to take such an interest in me and my affairs.' My tone was rather embarrassed. Polly, too, did not seem at her ease a marked contrast to the day before and this did not tend to make me more com- fortable. Oh, I don't; at least of course I do only what I mean is that it wasn't for you so much I came to-day.' Polly could not be anxious about her aunt's rent, I thought; no one else I feared was much concerned about me. 'Won't you sit down and explain a little ? I don't understand.' No let's go out. This hole is stuffy. Come and have a walk and I can put myself straight in half the time. Go and put your hat on, there's a dear.' Polly followed me to my bedroom, and insisted on buttoning my walking shoes. She looked up into my face as she did so from the vantage ground of the floor. You know I am free and easy; that is my nature and I don't see why we shouldn't be friends. But you are a lady and I am not; and what is more, you always will be and I never shall. I cannot understand what makes the difference, but I can see with half an eye that there is one. I have seen all the leading ladies of the stage, and I always wear gloves, and look after my h's (this was evidently hereditary in the Hedger family) and yet, and yet, I never shall be a lady, try ever so and and yon-whatever you did you could never be anything else! No, not even if you blacked boots until your hands were like leather, or sewed calico until your fingers looked like a pincushion.' I did not know how to reply so, after a pause, Polly ,went on, as she finished the second boot: 'Aunt never told me. She isn't quick in some things, although she is precious quick in others. And she hasn't bad the education. I kissed you before I knew it yester- day.' I should like you to kiss me again,' I replied. This seemed the pleasantest solution of the difficult question seemed the pleasantest solution of the difficult question —what to reply. Would you." Polly read the assurance in my eyes, and rising from her knees she gave me the warm pulsing embrace which was characteristic of the girl's exuberant vitality. There I shall always kiss you now, until you tell me not to; but I know the difference, all the same.' There was something intensely pathetic in the im- possibility of attainment which hedged this girl's ambition. Once outside, Polly seemed more at her ease. If you have anything of a difficult or delicate nature to say to anyone, it seems simpler to say it walking side by side rather than wheu occupying stations vis-a-vis in a room. We walked away from London towards the more open country. There were very few people in the streets. Most of the respectables' were in church or chapel. The toilers were not out of bed. The pavements were comparatively deserted, and the traffic of bicycles and tricycler, in the middle of the road passed unheeded as we talked. After we had placed some distance between ourselves and Haggerstoue Piace, Polly said T don't know whether Aunt has told you much about me?' She always says you are a very good girl. I was goiner to add the rest of the formula-, but the occasion did not seem appropriate. We have been twice to see you—' I paused: I could not say act,' dtnec' was not quite the word eventually I finished up with on the stage.' Is that all ?' She has told me about your engagement.' I did not care about this catechism of confidences. Oh, yes Tom Borrow. He and I walk out together. We are not engaged in your sense that is, we shall never be marriecl. Tom knows it, and so every girl does. Tom will never have enough to marry me and if lie had millions a year in Bank of England notes I Wouldn't marry him. Bless you, I love someone else's little finger more than Tom's whole body. This was P. totally new aspect of life to me. Then why don't you marry him ?' with a stress on the pronoun to supply the hiatus in the name. Polly laughed a harsh, strident laugh, which seemed wholly unnatural to her. I did not believe it could have come out of her round red lips. Why don't I marry him?' she repeated after me in a mocking tone which somehow went to my heart. It must have been instinct: for of love I had not then had the shadow of an experience. Because he is a gentlemen because he is an aris- tocrat. Because he does not, he could not, he never could love me one bit. Because I am Polly Hedger. ■because I am his Model!' Polly almost shrieked the last words out ? I looked round fearfully, expecting that her vehemence would attract the attention of other people. But the street Was deserted except for a solitary old man at the further "nr vneeredto be deaf. The words meant nothing to me in one sense; they were full of expression in another. I had no idea what It lllotlcl was. I had been brought up in the country; and the conditions of modern life, the intricate web of the vast metropolis, the whole world of art jargon and art realities, were completely outside my ken. I can hardly believe now, looking back, in the depths of my own inexperience and ignorance at that period of my life. But what I did fully realise and understand was the hopelessness—the deliberate hopelessness, of the love of the girl walking by my side and shouting the story of her soul into my ear. She had seemed so bright the day before, so sentient of the enjoyment of existence, that it requu'ed all the eloquence of her recent utterance to make me believe that a volcano lay below her seeming smiling bonhomie. s I had this also to learn, that half the world around us buries its secrets of love, of ioy, of hate and sorrow, and repentance, as a dog buries his hidden store of bones, only to dig them up and gloat over their posses- sion in stealth and secrecy when none of its own species is by. There was a pause of a few minutes' duration after this outburst. Then Polly resumed quite quietly I am a fool to talk like that; and I never have to anyone else. Tom even does not know there is anyone else in the way. He only knows he won't do at any price.' Polly spoke this with quiet scorn. But some- how you are different. I feel I can tell you. I suppose You know what that snrt of tliiricr i; ?' I did not reply. No girl, even though she be only eighteen, likes to confess that she has never had a glim- mering of even the A B C of love. Did Aunt Hedger tell you I was a model P' ques- tIOIwd Polly curiously. She said you w-re a very good girl, and-' I was not allowed to finish my sentence for Polly had gone off into peals of laughter. Her very efforts to express the exuberance of her mirth only served to shake her the more. As soon as she could command her voice, Polly exclaimed: Oh, you are green. I never knew there was anyone in the wide world so green. Don't be angry '—I am afraid I looked raffled. Don't you really know what a model' is ? How do you think pictures are painted ?' I have never thought about it at all. There were a great many picttires in the Moat House, where I used to live you known. Some of them were views of the places about; but most of them were portraits,- portraits of our family in former times. Someone painted them, I suppose. I never thought of that I don't think they were very well done but what has that to do with what we are talking about ?' You certainly are green. You ought never to have been left to walk alone, that's certain. So I suppose you have never seen a picture gallery—a public one, I mean, where they are not all pictures of places or of people's ancestors-if they have got any.' I haven't.' Well, I will tell you,' she went on after a pause, during which she was apparently at, -t loss how to begin. There are hundreds of artists in London who live by painting pictures and nothing else and there are hundreds and hundreds of men and women, chiefly women, who live by being painted. My father is a model and nothing else but I am one partly. I dance in a ballet at night and three or four days a week I am painted at a shilling or eighteenpence an hour we call it posing as a model.' But don't people get rather tired of seeing the same thing over and over again 2' They would if they did, but they don't,' replied Polly. sententiously. The artists take care of that; a very few touches makes the faces look differently, and all the rest can be done in a thousand different ways.' I was much interested by this time. I preferred this to Polly's other suggestion. It seemed easier and less public. It does not sound difficult,' I said. Only I suppose models,' as you call them, must be very beautiful ?' N ot more so than you are.' CHAPTER VIII. We walked along silently, side by side, for a little while, then Polly went oil: That was what I really came to you about. It was to speak to you about Coutance. He wants you to do him a favour or rather I want you to And yet,' she added. I know what the result will be. I am not going into it with my eyes shut. You will feel for him you must feel for him as I do.' She was talking thickly, as if something in her throat was choking her. I barely caught the words, and not at all the meaning. Who is Coutance ? I do not know. Nobody knows. He is a great painter; but not as the others are. Some of them only paint for money, and some for love of it and money, too. He alone paints for love only. He has painted the most beautiful pictures, which he has never sold and never will sell. No one knows what he is or who he is. He only says his name is Coutance, but whether it is part of his name, or his whole name, or not his name at all, no one knows, not even his dearest friend, Reginald Storey he has often told me so.' I interrupted the stream of talk. But what has Mr. Coutance to do with me ? He cannot want me, for he has never seen me.' Yes, he has, indeed, through my eyes. I went straight to him yesterday after the rehearsal at the theatre, and told him all about you. He had been look- ing for just such as you for his picture—the great one he is painting now and he had quite despaired of find- ing just what he wanted. But I knew exactly for lie had described his idea to me, and you fitted it like a glove.' I was getting interested, in spite of myself. What picture is he painting ? Aud why am I so specially suited to be represented in it ? Have you ever read the Book of Esther in the Bible r" Yes,' I said, I suppose I have, I do not remember much about it.' Neither did I until he told it me; and then after- wards I read it for myself.' What has that to do with this picture ? Coutance-we never call him Mr.' Coutance some- how—the title is not suitable to him he is above all titles. Coutance is painting what is called a subject picture out of the Book of Esther. The King of Persia—I think—I forget his name—deposed his Queen —I know her name was Vashti—and made Esther Queen in her place. Coutance is painting the departure of Vashti from the Palace, and the coming of Esther. He says it is really quite imaginary; for the two women probably never saw one another, and most likely Vashti was sewed up in a bag and dropped into some river. But it makes a beautiful picture. Esther is to have a crown on her head, and Vashti, the defeated, is casting back a glance at her-oh, with such a lot of meaning in it, more than I ever believed any face could have !—as she goes out of the door. I am Vashti, and you are the very model of Esther. You look like a Queen to commence with. Vashti is dark-like me. Esther, Coutance says, means a star, and she must be fair.' Then the picture is partly painted ?' Oh. yes? Coutance has nearly finished with me a couple of sittings more will do it. And the Palace is painted Coutance did that, he says, in the East some- where from a real Palace. He has been working at the picture for years and he sought everywhere for an Esther without finding one. He has told me all his ideas about it lots of times. And it came to me all of a sudden yesterday, in the very middle o_l' the rehearsal, when I wasn't thinking of you one bit. Is not that what they call an inspiration ?' But this—Coutance—may not think so when he sees me. If li^ ever does see me 'He will be delighted. And I shall have found it for him and vet, and yet "—and the girl placed her hand over her heart as though to still its impassioned beating I know what the end will be.' 1 do not think I will go, I said coldly. The vehemence and conflict of her emotions were unintelli- gible to me. Polly misunderstood me. Oh you will have every respect. Coutance treats every woman as if she were a queen much more you. And'he will pay vou with both hands liberally—because vou are an amateur who does him a service, and he rewards services as if he were a king himself. As for me, I am a professional model, anu ne ™ uus"a the unwritten laws of all artists. But lie has been so good to me. I would lie down on that kerb for him, that I would, any day, if he wanted to walk over me. Polly Hedger's eloquence was so vehement that both my curiosity and interest were thoroughly roused, A hero is not so common nowadays that one can hear of so perfect a specimen as Polly oJ depicted, without being anxious to see the object of so extravagant an eu ogy. We were within a cougle of streets of Haggeistone Place. You will go to him ? T Yes if you are so certain I am what he wants, will go and let him judge for himself, at any rate. Polly was piqued by the coldness and precision of my r ^How cold you are But you could burn burn burn I know vou could. I was eold enough once mvself. He will wake up the fire in you. Not that lie means it. He does not know that his touch burns when he places you in position. He does not know that illS breath burns your cheek when he speaks within a band s- breadth of you, in those deep, sad tones of his. He (oes not know that your legs tremble under you when you come into the room where he is But you will know!' L Really Miss Polly, how excited you are this hoo morning. Where do you get all your steam from ? Not in church, I'll be sworn or out of Mr Tom Borrow, We had been walking and talking absorbed in our- selves without noticing that the streets were getting more crowded, now that the morning service was over. The speaker stood on the opposite pavement balancing a silver-headed cane on a couple of fingers. As soon as he had called out to Polly, he crossed the 1 road. I felt a cold chill pass over me. It was the fair man who had travelled with me from Sheffield to King's Cross. How do you do, Miss Polly ? How is Auntie ? Please introduce me to your friend. We have met before; but have not had the pleasure of a formal intro- duction.' I looked sideways at Polly. She was evidently very angry at the interruption, and the cool insolence of the stranger's address, but for reasons of her own, was evidently trying not to let it appear. Polly took no notice of the last suggestion; but spoke as if it had not been made. What brings you to Islington, Lord Alfred? I never saw you in this neighbourhood before.' Oh, business. I sat behind your aunt in church this morning, and felt quite sorry to see she was alone, when she might have had two such charming ladies '— here iie gave a sweeping bow to include us both— to accompany her. Charming old lady your aunt seems to be; I really must call upon and make her ac- quaintance.' If you have business with this gentleman, Polly,' I said, I will walk on I do not care to have anything to do with him.' Really, Miss Wrottisley. you are very severe upon me]; I do not know what I did to offend you so deeply that day I had the great pleasure of travelling with you. It was all meant in pure kindness, I assure you.' Oh, yes, Lord Alfred Pontifex is very kind He means to be.' Then turning to him, she said, Now do leave us, Lord Alfred, please. We must get home. Aunt will be wondering what has come to us.' As Mrs Hedger believed Polly to be at Brixton, her anxiety on the score of her niece was not likely to be excessive. I will go directly I am introduced to Miss Wrottis- ley, and she has forgiven me.' The stranger spoke with more decision than I should have given him credit for. But this very determination roused my own powers of resistance. But suppose I do not wish to make your acquaint- ance, and forbid my friend to do what you want?' 4 Then I shall find another way, which you may not like so well.' Do you dare to threaten me P' Polly laid her hand upon my arm. Do be satisfied, Lord Alfred, and not get us into trouble. You know this young lady's name and she knows yourg. What more ctzi you vvttnt?' What I want I will take another opportunity of explaining to Miss Wrottisley when we have more time at our disposal He removed his hat and walked slowly away. CHAPTER IX. A spacious, and yet very comfortable, apartment was the dining-room of the Moat House, a trifle sombre per- haps in the evening when shadows rested on the corners, and the faces of the grim portraits of the Wrottisleys on the walls assumed all sorts of curious expressions, under the influence either of the decaying light of day, or that of its substitute, the huge wax candles, sunk in their silver sockets resting some on the sideboard, table, and mantel shelf, or hanging in mirrored magni- ficence from the walls. In this room the Squire had slept every night of his later life for an hour or so after the evening meal, which he took at the old-fashioned hour of half-past six. To those who had known him no room in the house was so associated with his presence. Here, at nine p.m., his man-servant had night by night for thirty years, with rare exceptions, brought him his cup of black coffee with the solitary cigar that he ever smoked in the twenty-four hours. There was no smoking-room proper, fitted up as such, in the Moat House. After the Squire's death, most of the older servants had been paid off, and younger ones were being substituted for them. To do the new owner justice, he behaved fairly liberally to those whom age incapacitated from further service. One night after dinner, Mr Stephen Fleetwood was sitting in an easy chair under the open window, smoking a short clay pipe, and watching the spiral curves of smoke ascend up to the ceiling. It was a fortnight after the Squire's death and the new master was beginning to feel his seat more firmly secured under him. His possessions, however, had not grown so old as yet, that he failed to look round him with the calm satisfaction of ownership. The picture, on the walls of dead and gone Wrottisleys were not of extraordinary moment to Stephen Fleetwood, but the solid mahogany furniture of handsome design and mas- sive construction, the silver candelabra, the wealth of family plate on the sideboard to which the new footman had given an extra polish that very afternoon, these were things which appealed to a man who had known what it was to want a crust of bread, to sleep under a hedgerow in more countries than one, to tout for tips on a racecourse, and to be second showman in a travelling tent. But even more than the wealth and luxury, the sense of security of his present position appealed especially to the glowing imagination of Mr Stephen Fleetwood. Misfortune had led him in his earlier days, when the Moat House door waa closed behind him, into associa- tions all of them shady, and some of them legally dangerous, which he felt now were like an ugly dream of the past. He had been an active member of more than one secret society which had branches in Paris, London, and America. The oaths he had taken some- times disturbed his dreams a little but Stephen Fleet- wood was not a man easily frightened by dreams, if he had been, he probably would never have been master of the Moat House and of Wrottisley Chase, with its broad acres, which lay beyond. He felt now that all the future was before him. The past was an accident, the sooner forgotten and oblite- rated the better. Henceforward he would abjure oack, and live cleanly.' He would take his place as a County Magistrate, :ind show the world how well Stephen Fleet- wood could fill the position. If the iron of the past had not exactly entered his soul, the enjoyment of his pre- sent affluence and luxury was certainly emphasised by its contrast to what had gone before—and so very recently, too. The transition kad been as abrupt as was that of Cinderella when she donned the ball dress at the Prince's bidding. Stephen Fleetwood was in fact a male Cinderella only that the ashes in which he had grovelled so short a while ago were moral and spiritual rather than material. Slowly and thoughtfully those delicate spiral curves lighter than air circled their way to the oak-raftered ceiling. The master of the Moat House watched them ascend without thinking of them one bit. The room had been bathed in the sunshine of the beautiful July evening. The course of Phoebus's chariot across the sky was approaching towards its end. Before the dining-room window there was an open space covered with turf beyond were fir trees, hollies, rhododendrons in the picturesque confusion which undisturbed nature has made her own, and, therefore, graceful. The sun's rays were leaving the carpet, chairs, and table, but still rested on the silver magnificence on the sideboard at the further end of the dining- room, and from the reflecting surface of the plate shot brought radiating beams in every direction dazzling to the eye. Now the sideboard is dark, and except for a few patches high up on the wall near the ceiling, the evening illumination is over. The sun is setting the trees beyond the grass plot have inter- cepted its light except where here and there a few stray- ing beams shoot through the fir tops. The grass was in shadowed gloom a few pheasants and rabbits had come out cautiously from the covert of the tiny wood the former almost as tame as barn door fowls, and quite as carefully looked after. The sight of the birds seemed to bring unpleasant thoughts into the mind of the solitary smoker, judging by his face. I wonder I have not had Giles Underwood here before now, to try and make a little money out of our former acquaintance and my improved position a little of that plate would now come very conveniently to Master Giles. He would soon melt it down into ¡ coin of the realm. Perhaps he knows me better than to come. He won't find me so squeezable now by a good deal, as I was when the Squire was alive, and lie could threaten to let a little light into him,' as he used to call it.' Giles Underwood was the gentleman who had been the original cause of trouble between uncle and nephew. At this moment a footman knocked at the door and then brought in coffee. It was half-past eight. I This is poor weak stuff. Mind it is better to-mcrruw night. Give me flie brandy decanter.' Yes. Sir.' The footman had gone. So had the pheasants and rabbits. Perhaps his approach and the few words that had been spoken in the room had disturbed them. The sun had set, but the lingering reflection of its light remained. Stephen had forgotten to give orders to have the candles lighted. He was just about to get up and ring the bell when a sound attracted his atten- tion from the brushwood opposite. It seemed as if some man or large animal was making his or its way cautiously through it. 'A confounded cow wonder how it got in. Someone must have left the gate open.' There was a notice on all the gates in the vicinity of the Moat House and wherever game was preserved on the estate—' This gate is to be kept shut.' It had been pointed out to the late Squire that if the notice were rigidly obeyed, the gate as a means of entrance and exit might as well have been done away with altogether, and that lie himself dis- obeyed the injunction twenty times a day. "TV hat was meant of course was, that it was not to be left open— not quite the same thing. Stephen glanced at his shoes, which were of a thin material suited to evening wear. A heavy dew had fallen. To go out himself and turn the animal out of the small fir spinney involved wet feet. This was naturally the first impulse of an energetic man who had been used all his life to doing things for himself. The next resource wns the servants. The master of the house had not yet drunk his coffee. He now poured a modicum of brandy into the black liquid and drank it down. The sountl of scrunching on the undergrowth had ceased. Stephen put his head out of the window to make sure he had not made a mistake before summoning assistance from the servants' hall. Some twenty vnrds spnarated the nearest trees from the open windows of the dining-room. The part of the lawn nearest the trees was of course darkest, owing to the shadow they cast. But there was no light in the dining- room to dazzle him, and Stephen's eyes were exception- ally good. Standing under the tallest fir directly oppo- site to him, Stephen distinctly recognised the outline of a man's shape. He was in a curious position, for both hands were held up to his face. The bare silhouette was all that could be distinguished in the ever-deepening gloom. Stephen's nerves had once been like steel; and his courage was proverbial amongst the set of men with whom lie had mixed, and who, to give them their due, were not afflicted with cowardice, whatever other moral and spiritual diseases they might have harboured. He was also fortified by the brandy he had just drunk —just sufficient to steady him, without in the least diminishing the keenness of his vision and the shrewd- ness of his judgment. But the racket of the past had told a little, even upon Stephen Fleetwood's iron hardihood; and the peculiar circumstances of the previous few weeks were fresh in his mind. All men are superstitious in some things, and what Stephen had done on a certain night, not so long before this as to leave no impression behind, came to him now with rush of vivid recollection. For a moment the new master actually thought that the shadowed mysterious figure under the fir tree was the old Squire who had seemed uncanny enough in his lifetime to visit the home he had so recently left, in the pomp of stately funeral, after death. But Stephen was not the man to harbour such thoughts for long. What a bii,, fool I am. I will see whether a shot will wake him up.' Just outsi(le the dining-room door was a rack of guns, most of them old and useless, out of which not a shot had been fired for years. But on the highest run? Stephen had recently placed a repeating rifle, which had borne him company in most parts of the known world. He now went softly to the door. The hall was dimly lighted by an oil lamp hanging high up. Stephen took down the rifle, which he knew to be loaded, and returned into the room. The man had left his position under the tree and had come nearer the window. His hands were still to his head. Stephen now saw that he was covering the house with a spy glass.' [To BE CONTINUED.1

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