Away cantered Timothy, and soon caused a flutter of expectasolana vanity addressncy in the Weeks household, by announcing that "Old Holcroft looked black as a thundercloud and was comin' himself."
On this occasion the gathering storm had decided Holcroft to return without availing himself of his friend's hospitality, and he is at last entering the lane leading from the highway to his doorway. Even as he approaches his dwelling he hears the sound of revelry and readily guesses what is taking place.apenft in binanceQuiet, patient men, when goaded beyond a certain point, are capable of terrible ebullitions of anger, and Holcroft was no exception. It seemed to him that night that the God he had worshiped all his life was in league with man against him. The blood rushed to his face, his chilled form became rigid with a sudden passionate protest against his misfortunes and wrongs. Springing from the wagon, he left his team standing at the barn door and rushed to the kitchen window. There before him sat the whole tribe from the shanty, feasting at his expense. The table was loaded with coarse profusion. Roast fowls alternated with fried ham and eggs, a great pitcher of milk was flanked by one of foaming cider, while the post of honor was occupied by the one contribution of his self-invited guests--a villainous-looking jug.
They had just sat down to the repast when the weazen-faced patriarch of the tribe remarked, by way of grace, it may be supposed, "Be jabers, but isn't ould Holcroft givin' us a foine spread the noight! Here's bad luck to the glowerin' ould skinflint!" and he poured out a bumper from the jug.The farmer waited to see and hear no more. Hastening to a parlor window, he raised it quietly and clambered in; then taking his rusty shotgun, which he kept loaded for the benefit of the vermin that prowled about his hen-roost, he burst in upon the startled group."Be off!" he shouted. "If you value your lives, get out of that door, and never show your faces on my place again. I'll not be eaten out of house and home by a lot of jackals!"His weapon, his dark, gleaming eyes, and desperate aspect taught the men that he was not to be trifled with a moment, and they slunk away.Bridget began to whine, "Yez wouldn't turn a woman out in the noight and storm."
"You are not a woman!" thundered Holcroft, "you are a jackal, too! Get your traps and begone! I warn the whole lot of you to beware! I give you this chance to get off the premises, and then I shall watch for you all, old and young!"There was something terrible and flame-like in his anger, dismaying the cormorants, and they hastened away with such alacrity that Bridget went down the lane screaming, "Sthop, I tell yees, and be afther waitin' for me!""But I will atone for all. I will make you a better--(here shesubstituted a full stop for a substantive)--than you expect. Youwill see else."She lingered at the door: a proof that if Edouard, at thatparticular moment, had seized another kiss, there would have been novery violent opposition or offence.
But he was not so impudent as some. He had been told to wait tillthe next meeting for that. He prayed Heaven to bless her, and sothe affianced lovers parted for the night.It was about nine o'clock. Edouard, instead of returning to hislodgings, started down towards the town, to conclude a bargain withthe innkeeper for an English mare he was in treaty for. He wantedher for to-morrow's work; so that decided him to make the purchase.In purchases, as in other matters, a feather turns the balancedscale. He sauntered leisurely down. It was a very clear night; thefull moon and the stars shining silvery and vivid. Edouard's heartswelled with joy. He was loved after all, deeply loved; and inthree short weeks he was actually to be Rose's husband: her lord andmaster. How like a heavenly dream it all seemed--the first hopelesscourtship, and now the wedding fixed! But it was no dream; he felther soft words still murmur music at his heart, and the shadow ofher velvet lips slept upon his own.He had strolled about a league when he heard the ring of a horse'shoofs coming towards him, accompanied by a clanking noise; it camenearer and nearer, till it reached a hill that lay a little ahead ofEdouard; then the sounds ceased; the cavalier was walking his horseup the hill.
Presently, as if they had started from the earth, up popped betweenEdouard and the sky, first a cocked hat that seemed in that light tobe cut with a razor out of flint; then the wearer, phosphorescenthere and there; so brightly the keen moonlight played on hisepaulets and steel scabbard. A step or two nearer, and Edouard gavea great shout; it was Colonel Raynal.After the first warm greeting, and questions and answers, Raynaltold him he was on his way to the Rhine with despatches.
"To the Rhine?"I am allowed six days to get there. I made a calculation, and foundI could give Beaurepaire half a day. I shall have to make up for itby hard riding. You know me; always in a hurry. It is Bonaparte'sfault this time. He is always in a hurry too.""Why, colonel," said Edouard, "let us make haste then. Mind they goearly to rest at the chateau.""But you are not coming my way, youngster?""Not coming your way? Yes, but I am. Yours is a face I don't seeevery day, colonel; besides I would not miss THEIR faces, especiallythe baroness's and Madame Raynal's, at sight of you; and, besides,"--and the young gentleman chuckled to himself, and thought of Rose'swords, "the next time we meet;" well, this will be the next time."May I jump up behind?"Colonel Raynal nodded assent. Edouard took a run, and lighted likea monkey on the horse's crupper. He pranced and kicked at thisunexpected addition; but the spur being promptly applied to hisflanks, he bounded off with a snort that betrayed more astonishmentthan satisfaction, and away they cantered to Beaurepaire, withoutdrawing rein."There," said Edouard, "I was afraid they would be gone to bed; andthey are. The very house seems asleep--fancy--at half-past ten.""That is a pity," said Raynal, "for this chateau is the strongholdof etiquette. They will be two hours dressing before they will comeout and shake hands. I must put my horse into the stable. Go youand give the alarm.""I will, colonel. Stop, first let me see whether none of them areup, after all."And Edouard walked round the chateau, and soon discovered a light atone window, the window of the tapestried room. Running round theother way he came slap upon another light: this one was nearer theground. A narrow but massive door, which he had always seen notonly locked but screwed up, was wide open; and through the aperturethe light of a candle streamed out and met the moonlight streamingin."Hallo!" cried Edouard.
He stopped, turned, and looked in."Hallo!" he cried again much louder.A young woman was sleeping with her feet in the silvery moonlight,and her head in the orange-colored blaze of a flat candle, whichrested on the next step above of a fine stone staircase, whoseexistence was now first revealed to the inquisitive Edouard.Coming plump upon all this so unexpectedly, he quite started.
"Why, Jacintha!"He touched her on the shoulder to wake her. No. Jacintha wassleeping as only tired domestics can sleep. He might have taken thecandle and burnt her gown off her back. She had found a step thatfitted into the small of her back, and another that supported herhead, and there she was fast as a door.At this moment Raynal's voice was heard calling him.
"There is a light in that bedroom.""It is not a bedroom, colonel; it is our sitting-room now. We shallfind them all there, or at least the young ladies; and perhaps thedoctor. The baroness goes to bed early. Meantime I can show youone of our dramatis personae, and an important one too. She rulesthe roost."He took him mysteriously and showed him Jacintha.Moonlight by itself seems white, and candlelight by itself seemsyellow; but when the two come into close contrast at night, candleturns a reddish flame, and moonlight a bluish gleam.
So Jacintha, with her shoes in this celestial sheen, and her face inthat demoniacal glare, was enough to knock the gazer's eye out."Make a good sentinel--this one," said Raynal--"an outlying picketfor instance, on rough ground, in front of the enemy's riflemen.""Ha! ha! colonel! Let us see where this staircase leads. I have anidea it will prove a short cut.""Where to?""To the saloon, or somewhere, or else to some of Jacintha's haunts.Serve her right for going to sleep at the mouth of her den.""Forward then--no, halt! Suppose it leads to the bedrooms? Mindthis is a thundering place for ceremony. We shall get drummed outof the barracks if we don't mind our etiquette."At this they hesitated; and Edouard himself thought, on the whole,it would be better to go and hammer at the front door.Now while they hesitated, a soft delicious harmony of female voicessuddenly rose, and seemed to come and run round the walls. The menlooked at one another in astonishment; for the effect was magical.The staircase being enclosed on all sides with stone walls andfloored with stone, they were like flies inside a violoncello; thevoices rang above, below, and on every side of the vibrating walls.In some epochs spirits as hardy as Raynal's, and wits as quick asRiviere's, would have fled then and there to the nearest public, andtold over cups how they had heard the dames of Beaurepaire, longsince dead, holding their revel, and the conscious old devil's nestof a chateau quivering to the ghostly strains.
But this was an incredulous age. They listened, and listened, anddecided the sounds came from up-stairs."Let us mount, and surprise these singing witches," said Edouard.
"Surprise them! what for? It is not the enemy--for once. What isthe good of surprising our friends?"Storming parties and surprises were no novelty and therefore notreat to Raynal."It will be so delightful to see their faces at first sight of you.
O colonel, for my sake! Don't spoil it by going tamely in at thefront door, after coming at night from Egypt for half an hour."Raynal grumbled something about its being a childish trick; but toplease Edouard consented at last; only stipulated for a light: "orelse," said he, "we shall surprise ourselves instead with a brokenneck, going over ground we don't know to surprise the natives--ourskirmishers got nicked that way now and then in Egypt.""Yes, colonel, I will go first with Jacintha's candle." Edouardmounted the stairs on tiptoe. Raynal followed. The solid stonesteps did not prate. The men had mounted a considerable way, whenpuff a blast of wind came through a hole, and out went Edouard'scandle. He turned sharply round to Raynal. "Peste!" said he in avicious whisper. But the other laid his hand on his shoulder andwhispered, "Look to the front." He looked, and, his own candlebeing out, saw a glimmer on ahead. He crept towards it. It was ataper shooting a feeble light across a small aperture. They caughta glimpse of what seemed to be a small apartment. Yet Edouardrecognized the carpet of the tapestried room--which was a very largeroom. Creeping a yard nearer, he discovered that it was thetapestried room, and that what had seemed the further wall was onlythe screen, behind which were lights, and two women singing a duet.He whispered to Raynal, "It is the tapestried room.""Is it a sitting-room?" whispered Raynal.
"Yes! yes! Mind and not knock your foot against the wood."And Raynal went softly up and put his foot quietly through theaperture, which he now saw was made by a panel drawn back close tothe ground; and stood in the tapestried chamber. The carpet wasthick; the voices favored the stealthy advance; the floor of the oldhouse was like a rock; and Edouard put his face through theaperture, glowing all over with anticipation of the little scream ofjoy that would welcome his friend dropping in so nice and suddenlyfrom Egypt.The feeling was rendered still more piquant by a sharp curiositythat had been growing on him for some minutes past. For why wasthis passage opened to-night?--he had never seen it opened before.And why was Jacintha lying sentinel at the foot of the stairs?But this was not all. Now that they were in the room both menbecame conscious of another sound besides the ladies' voices--a verypeculiar sound. It also came from behind the screen. They bothheard it, and showed, by the puzzled looks they cast at one another,that neither could make out what on earth it was. It consisted of asuccession of little rustles, followed by little thumps on thefloor.
But what was curious, too, this rustle, thump--rustle, thump--fellexactly into the time of the music; so that, clearly, either therustle thump was being played to the tune, or the tune sung to therustle thump.This last touch of mystery inflamed Edouard's impatience beyondbearing: he pointed eagerly and merrily to the corner of the screen.
Raynal obeyed, and stepped very slowly and cautiously towards it.Rustle, thump! rustle, thump! rustle, thump! with the rhythm ofharmonious voices.
Edouard got his head and foot into the room without taking his eyeoff Raynal.Rustle, thump! rustle, thump! rustle, thump!
Raynal was now at the screen, and quietly put his head round it, andhis hand upon it.Edouard was bursting with expectation.No result. What is this? Don't they see him? Why does he notspeak to them? He seems transfixed.Rustle, thump! rustle, thump; accompanied now for a few notes by onevoice only, Rose's.
Suddenly there burst a shriek from Josephine, so loud, so fearful,that it made even Raynal stagger back a step, the screen in hishand.Then another scream of terror and anguish from Rose. Then a faintercry, and the heavy helpless fall of a human body.
Raynal sprang forward whirling the screen to the earth in terribleagitation, and Edouard bounded over it as it fell at his feet. Hedid not take a second step. The scene that caught his eye stupefiedand paralyzed him in full career, and froze him to the spot withamazement and strange misgivings.Chapter 19
To return for a moment to Rose. She parted from Edouard, and wentin at the front door: but the next moment she opened it softly andwatched her lover unseen. "Dear Edouard!" she murmured: and thenshe thought, "how sad it is that I must deceive him, even to-night:must make up an excuse to get him from me, when we were so happytogether. Ah! he little knows how I shall welcome our wedding-day.