UNDER FALSE PRETENCES
Author of Jacobi's Wife, Beyond Recall, An Open Foe, etc.
Entered according to the Act of the Parliament of Canada in the year one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine by William Bryce, in the office of the Minister of Agriculture.
Toronto; William Bryce, Publisher.
UNDER FALSE PRETENCES.
CHAPTER I. Prologue to the Story CHAPTER II. BY THE LOCH. CHAPTER III. HUGO LUTTRELL. CHAPTER IV. IN THE TWILIGHT. CHAPTER V. THE DEAD MAN'S TESTIMONY. CHAPTER VI. MOTHER AND SON. CHAPTER VII. A FAREWELL. CHAPTER VIII. IN GOWER-STREET. CHAPTER IX. ELIZABETH'S WOOING. CHAPTER X. BROTHER DINO. CHAPTER XI. ON A MOUNTAIN-SIDE. CHAPTER XII. THE HEIRESS OF STRATHLECKIE. CHAPTER XIII. SAN STEFANO. CHAPTER XIV. THE PRIOR'S OPINION. CHAPTER XV. THE VILLA VENTURI. CHAPTER XVI. "WITHOUT A REFERENCE." CHAPTER XVII. PERCIVAL'S HOLIDAY. CHAPTER XVIII. THE MISTRESS OF NETHERGLEN. CHAPTER XIX. A LOST LETTER. CHAPTER XX. "MISCHIEF, THOU ART AFOOT." CHAPTER XXI. A FLASK OF ITALIAN WINE. CHAPTER XXII. BRIAN'S WELCOME. CHAPTER XXIII. THE WISHING WELL. CHAPTER XXIV. "GOOD-BYE." CHAPTER XXV. A COVENANT. CHAPTER XXVI. ELIZABETH'S CONFESSION. CHAPTER XXVII. PERCIVAL'S OWN WAY. CHAPTER XXVIII. A REVELATION. CHAPTER XXIX. CHAPTER XXIX. CHAPTER XXX. FRIENDS AND BROTHERS. CHAPTER XXXI. ACCUSER AND ACCUSED. CHAPTER XXXII. RETRIBUTION. CHAPTER XXXIII. WHAT PERCIVAL KNEW. CHAPTER XXXIV. PERCIVAL'S ATONEMENT. CHAPTER XXXV. DINO'S HOME-COMING. CHAPTER XXXVI. BY LAND AND SEA. CHAPTER XXXVII. WRECKED. CHAPTER XXXVIII. ON THE ROCAS REEF. CHAPTER XXXIX. BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH. CHAPTER XL. KITTY. CHAPTER XLI. KITTY'S FRIENDS. CHAPTER XLII. A FALSE ALARM. CHAPTER XLIII. TRAPPED. CHAPTER XLIV. HUGO'S VICTORY. CHAPTER XLV. TOO LATE! CHAPTER XLVI. A MERE CHANCE. CHAPTER XLVII. FOUND. CHAPTER XLVIII. ANGELA. CHAPTER XLIX. KITTY'S WARNING. CHAPTER L. MRS. LUTTRELL'S ROOM. CHAPTER LI. A LAST CONFESSION. CHAPTER LII. "THE END CROWNS ALL, AND THAT IS YET TO COME."
Prologue to the Story.
In Two Parts.
It was in the year 1854 that an English gentleman named Edward Luttrell took up his abode in a white-walled, green-shuttered villa on the slopes of the western Apennines. He was accompanied by his wife (a Scotchwoman and an heiress), his son (a fine little fellow, five years old), and a couple of English servants. The party had been travelling in Italy for some months, and it was the heat of the approaching summer, as well as the delicate state of health in which Mrs. Luttrell found herself, that induced Mr. Luttrell to seek out some pleasant house amongst the hills where his wife and child might enjoy cool breezes and perfect repose. For he had lately had reason to be seriously concerned about Mrs. Luttrell's health.
The husband and wife were as unlike each other as they well could be. Edward Luttrell was a broad-shouldered, genial, hearty man, warmly affectionate, hasty in word, generous in deed. Mrs. Luttrell was a woman of peculiarly cold manners; but she was capable, as many members of her household knew, of violent fits of temper and also of implacable resentment. She was not an easy woman to get on with, and if her husband had not been a man of very sweet and pliable nature, he might not have lived with her on such peaceful terms as was generally the case. She had inherited a great Scotch estate from her father, and Edward Luttrell was almost entirely dependent upon her; but it was not a dependence which seemed to gall him in the very least. Perhaps he would have been unreasonable if it had done so; for his wife, in spite of all her faults, was tenderly attached to him, and never loved him better than when he asserted his authority over her and her possessions.
Mr. and Mrs. Luttrell had not been at their pretty white villa for more than two months when a second son was born to them. He was baptized almost immediately by an English clergyman then passing through the place, and received the name of Brian. He was a delicate-looking baby, but seemed likely to live and do well. Mrs. Luttrell's recovery was unusually rapid; the soft Italian air suited her constitution, and she declared her intention of nursing the child herself.
Edward Luttrell was in high spirits. He had been decidedly nervous before the event took place, but now that it was safely over he was like a boy in his joyous sense of security. He romped with his little son, he talked patois with the inhabitants of the neighbouring village of San Stefano, he gossiped with the monks of the Benedictine foundation, whose settlement occupied a delightful site on the hillside, and no premonition of coming evil disturbed his heart. He thought himself the most fortunate of men. He adored his wife; he worshipped the baby. His whole heart was bound up in his handsome little Dick, who, at five years old, was as nearly the image of his father as a child could be. What had he left to wish for?
There had been a good deal of fever at San Stefano throughout the summer. When the little Brian was barely six weeks old, it became only too evident that Mrs. Luttrell was sickening of some illness—probably the same fever that had caused so much mortality in the village. The baby was hastily taken away from her, and a nurse provided. This nurse was a healthy young woman with very thick, black eyebrows and a bright colour; handsome, perhaps, but not prepossessing. She was the wife of a gardener employed at the villa, and had been recommended by one of the Fathers at the monastery—a certain Padre Cristoforo, who seemed to know the history of every man, woman and child in San Stefano. She was the mother of twins, but this was a fact which the Luttrells did not know.
This woman, Vincenza Vasari by name, was at first domiciled in the villa itself with her charge; but as more dangerous symptoms declared themselves in Mrs. Luttrell's case, it was thought better that she should take the baby to her own home, which was a fairly clean and respectable cottage close to the gates of the villa. Here Mr. Luttrell could visit the child from time to time; but as his wife's illness became more serious he saw less and less of the baby, and left it more than ever to Vincenza's care.
Vincenza's own children were with their grandmother at a hamlet three miles from San Stefano. The grandmother, generally known as old Assunta, used to bring one or another of them sometimes to see Vincenza. Perhaps they took the infection of fever in the course of these visits; at any rate one of them was soon reported to be seriously ill, and Vincenza was cautioned against taking the Luttrells' baby into the village. It was the little Lippo Vasari who was ill; his twin-brother Dino was reported perfectly well.
Some days afterwards Mr. Luttrell, on calling at the cottage as usual, noticed that Vincenza's eyes were red, and her manner odd and abrupt. Old Assunta was there, with the baby upon her knee. Mr. Luttrell asked what was the matter. Vincenza turned away and burst into tears.
"She has lost her baby, signor," the old woman explained. "The little one died last night at the village, and Vincenza could not see it. The doctor will tell you about it all," she said, nodding significantly, and lowering her voice. "He knows."
Mr. Luttrell questioned the doctor, and received his assurance that Vincenza's child (one of the twins) had been kept strictly apart from the little Brian Luttrell; and that there could be no danger of infection. In which assurance the doctor was perfectly sincere, not knowing that Vincenza's habit had been to spend a portion of almost every evening at her mother's house, in order to see her own children, to whom, however, she did not seem to be passionately attached.
It is to be noted that the Luttrells still learned nothing of the existence of the other baby; they fancied that all Vincenza's children were dead. Vincenza had thought that the English lady would be prejudiced against her if she knew that she was the mother of twins, and had left them both to old Assunta's care; so, even when Lippo was laid to rest in the churchyard at San Stefano, the little Dino was carefully kept in the background and not suffered to appear. Neither Mr. Luttrell nor Mrs. Luttrell (until long afterwards) knew that Vincenza had another child.
Two months passed before Mrs. Luttrell was sufficiently restored to health to be able to see her children. The day came at last when little Richard was summoned to her room to kiss a pale woman with great, dark eyes, at whom he gazed solemnly, wonderingly, but with a profound conviction that his own mamma had gone away and left her place to be filled up by somebody else. In point of fact, Mrs. Luttrell's expression was curiously changed; and the boy's instinct discovered the change at once. There was a restless, wandering look in her large, dark eyes which had never been visible in them before her illness, except in moments of strong excitement. She did not look like herself.
"I want the baby," she said, when she had kissed little Richard and talked to him for a few moments. "Where is my baby?"
Mr. Luttrell came up to her side and answered her.
"The baby is coming, Margaret; Vincenza is bringing him." Then, after a pause—"Baby has been ill," he said. "You must be prepared to see a great change in him."
She looked at him as if she did not understand.
"What change shall I see?" she said. "Tell Vincenza to make haste, Edward. I must see my baby at once; the doctor said I might see him to-day."
"Don't excite yourself, Margaret; I'll fetch them," said Mr. Luttrell, easily. "Come along, Dick; let us find Vincenza and little brother Brian."
He quitted the room, with Dick at his heels. Mrs. Luttrell was left alone. But she had not long to wait. Vincenza entered, made a low reverence, uttered two or three sentences of congratulation on the English signora's recovery, and then placed the baby on Mrs. Luttrell's lap.
What happened next nobody ever precisely knew. But in another moment Vincenza fled from the room, with her hands to her ears, and her face as white as death.
"The signora is mad—mad!" she gasped, as she met Mr. Luttrell in the corridor. "She does not know her own child! She says that she will kill it! I dare not go to her; she says that her baby is dead, and that that one is mine! Mine! mine! Oh, Holy Virgin in Heaven! she says that the child is mine!"
Wherewith Vincenza went into strong hysterics, and Mr. Luttrell strode hastily towards his wife's room, from which the cries of a child could be heard. He found Mrs. Luttrell sitting with the baby on her knee, but although the poor little thing was screaming with all its might, she vouchsafed it no attention.
"Tell Vincenza to take her wretched child away," she said. "I want my own. This is her child; not mine."
Edward Luttrell stood aghast.
"Margaret, what do you mean?" he ejaculated. "Vincenza's child is dead. This is our little Brian. You are dreaming."
He did not know whether she understood him or not, but a wild light suddenly flashed into her great, dark eyes. She dashed the child down upon the bed with the fury of a mad woman.
"You are deceiving me," she cried; "I know that my child is dead. Tell me the truth; my child is dead!"
"No such, thing, Margaret," cried Mr. Luttrell, almost angrily; "how can you utter such folly?"
But his remonstrance passed unheeded. Mrs. Luttrell had, sunk insensible to the floor; and her swoon was followed by a long and serious relapse, during which it seemed very unlikely that she would ever awake again to consciousness.
The crisis approached. She passed it safely and recovered. Then came the tug of war. The little Brian was brought back to the house, with Vincenza as his nurse; but Mrs. Luttrell refused to see him. Doctors declared her dislike of the child to be a form of mania; her husband certainly believed it to be so. But the one fact remained. She would not acknowledge the child to be her own, and she would not consent to its being brought up as Edward Luttrell's son. Nothing would convince her that her own baby still lived, or that this child was not the offspring of the Vasari household. Mr. Luttrell expostulated. Vincenza protested and shed floods of tears, the doctor, the monks, the English nurse were all employed by turn, in the endeavour to soften her heart; but every effort was useless. Mrs. Luttrell declared that the baby which Vincenza had brought her was not her child, and that she should live and die in this conviction.
Was she mad? Or was some wonderful instinct of mother's love at the bottom of this obstinate adherence to her opinion?
Mr. Luttrell honestly thought that she was mad. And then, mild man as he was, he rose up and claimed his right as her husband to do as he thought fit. He sent for his solicitor, a Mr. Colquhoun, through whom he went so far even as to threaten his wife with severe measures if she did not yield. He would not live with her, he said—or Mr. Colquhoun reported that he said—unless she chose to bury her foolish fancy in oblivion. There was no doubt in his mind that the child was Brian Luttrell, not Lippo Vasari, whose name was recorded on a rough wooden cross in the churchyard of San Stefano. And he insisted upon it that his wife should receive the child as her own.
It was a long fight, but in the end Mrs. Luttrell had to yield. She dismissed Vincenza, and she returned to Scotland with the two children. Her husband exacted from her a promise that she would never again speak of the wild suspicion that had entered her mind; that under no circumstances would she ever let the poor little boy know of the painful doubt that had been thrown on his identity. Mrs. Luttrell promised, and for three-and-twenty years she kept her word. Perhaps she would not have broken it then but for a certain great trouble which fell upon her, and which caused a temporary revival of the strange madness which had led her to hate the child placed in her arms at San Stefano.
It was not to be wondered at that Edward Luttrell made a favourite of his second son in after life. A sense of the injustice done him by his mother made the father especially tender to the little Brian; he walked with him, talked with him, made a companion of him in every possible way. Mrs. Luttrell regained by degrees the cold composure of manner that had distinguished her in earlier life: but she could not command herself so far as to make a show of affection for her younger son. Brian was a very small boy indeed when he found that out. "Mother doesn't love me," he said once to his father, with grieving lips and tear-filled eyes; "I wonder why." What could his father do but press him passionately to his broad breast and assure him in words of tenderest affection that he loved his boy; and that if Brian were good, and true, and brave, his mother would love him too! "I will be very good then," said Brian, nestling close up to his father's shoulder—for he was a child with exceedingly winning ways and a very affectionate disposition—and putting one arm round Mr. Luttrell's neck. "But you know she loves Richard always—even when he is naughty. And you love me when I'm naughty, too." What could Mr. Luttrell say to that?
He died when Brian was fifteen years old; and the last words upon his tongue were an entreaty that his wife would never tell the boy of the suspicion that had turned her love to him into bitterness. He died, and part of the sting of his death to Mrs. Luttrell lay in the fact that he died thinking her mad on that one point. The doctors had called her conviction "a case of mania," and he had implicitly believed them.
But suppose she had not been mad all the time!
In San Stefano life went on tranquilly from month to month and year to year. In 1867, Padre Cristoforo of the Benedictine Monastery, looked scarcely older than when he picked out a nurse for the Luttrell family in 1854. He was a tall man, with a stooping gait and a prominent, sagacious chin; deep-set, meditative, dark eyes, and a somewhat fine and subtle sort of smile which flickered for a moment at the corner of his thin-lipped mouth, and disappeared before you were fully conscience of its presence. He was summoned one day from the monastery (where he now filled the office of sub-Prior) at the earnest request of an old woman who lived in a neighbouring village. She had known him many years before, and thought that it would be easier to tell her story to him than to a complete stranger. He had received her communication, and stood by her pallet with evident concern and astonishment depicted upon his face. He held a paper in his hand, at which he glanced from time to time as the woman spoke.
"It was not my doing," moaned the old crone. "It was my daughter's. I have but told you what she said to me five years ago. She said that she did change the children; it was Lippo, indeed, who died, but the child whom the English lady took to England with her was Vincenza's little Dino; and the boy whom we know as Dino is really the English child. I know not whether it is true! Santa Vergine! what more can I say?"
"Why did you not reveal the facts five years ago?" said the Father, with some severity of tone.
"I will tell you, Reverend Father. Because Vincenza came to me next day and said that she had lied—that the child, Dino, was her own, after all, and that she had only wanted to see how much I would believe. What was I to do? I do not know which story to believe; that is why I tell both stories to you before I die."
"She denied it, then, next day?"
"Yes, Father; but her husband believed it, as you will see by that paper. He wrote it down—he could write and read a little, which I could never do; and he told me what he had written:—'I, Giovanni Vasari, have heard my wife, Vincenza, say that she stole an English gentleman's child, and put her own child in its place. I do not know whether this is true; but I leave my written word that I was innocent of any such crime, and humbly pray to Heaven that she may be forgiven if she committed it.' Is that right, Reverend Father? And then his name, and the day and the year."
"Quite right," said Padre Cristoforo. "It was written just before Giovanni died. The matter cannot possibly be proved without further testimony. Where is Vincenza?"'
"Alas, Father, I do not know. Dead, I think, or she would have come back to me before now. I have not heard of her since she took a situation as maid to a lady in Turin four years ago."
"Why have you told me so useless a story at all, then?" said the father, again with some sternness of voice and manner. "Evidently Vincenza was fond of romancing; and, probably—probably——" He did not finish his sentence; but he was thinking—"Probably the mad fancy of that English lady about her child—which I well remember—suggested the story to Vincenza as a means of getting money. I wish I had her here."
"I have told you the story, Reverend Father," said the old woman, whose voice was growing very weak, "because I know that I am dying, and that the boy will be left alone in the world, which is a sad fate for any boy, Father, whether he is Vincenza's child or the son of the English lady. He is a good lad, Reverend Father, strong, and obedient, and patient; if the good Fathers would but take charge of him, and see that he is taught a trade, or put to some useful work! He would be no burden to you, my poor, little Dino!"
For a moment the Benedictine's eyes flashed with a quick fire; then he looked down and stood perfectly still, with his hands folded and his head bent. A new idea had darted across his mind. Did the story that he had just heard offer him no opportunity of advancing the interests of his Order and of his Church?
He turned as if to ask another question, but he was too late. Old Assunta was fast falling into the stupor that is but the precursor of death. He called her attendant, and waited for a time to see whether consciousness was likely to return. But he waited in vain. Assunta said nothing more.
The boy of whom she had spoken came and wept at her bed-side, and Padre Cristoforo observed him curiously. He was well worthy of the monk's gaze. He was light and supple in figure, perfectly formed, with a clear brown skin and a face such as one sees in early Italian paintings of angelic singing-boys—a face with broad, serious brows, soft, oval cheeks, curved lips, and delightfully dimpled chin. He had large, brown eyes and a mass of tangled, curling hair. The priest noted that his slender limbs were graceful as those of a young fawn, that his hands and feet were small and well shaped, and that his appearance betokened perfect health—a slight spareness and sharpness of outline being the only trace which poverty seemed to have left upon him.
The sub-Prior of San Stefano saw these things; and meditated upon certain possibilities in the future. He went next day to old Assunta's funeral, and laid his hand on Dino's shoulder as the boy was turning disconsolately from his grandmother's grave.
"My child," he said, gently, "you are alone."
"Yes, Father," said Dino, with a stifled sob.
"Will you come with me to the monastery? I think we can find you a home. You have nowhere to go, poor child, and you will be weary and hungry before long. Will you come?"
"There is nothing in the world that I should like so well!" cried the boy, ardently.
"Come then," said the Padre, with one of his subtle smiles. "We will go together."
He held out his hand, in which Dino gladly laid his hot and trembling fingers. Then the monk and the boy set out on the three miles walk which lay between them and the monastery.
On their arrival, Padre Cristoforo left the boy in the cool cloisters whilst he sought the Prior—a dignitary whose permission would be needed before Dino would be allowed to stay. There was a school in connection with the monastery, but it was devoted chiefly to the training of young priests, and it was not probable that a peasant like Dino Vasari would be admitted to the ranks of these budding ecclesiastics. The Prior thought that old Assunta's grandchild would make a good helper for Giacomo, the dresser of the vines.
"Does that not satisfy you?" said Padre Cristoforo, in a rather peculiar tone, when he had carried this proposal to Dino, and seen the boy's face suddenly fall, and his eyes fill with tears.
"The Reverend Fathers are very good," said Dino, in a somewhat embarrassed fashion, "and I will do all that I can to serve them, and, if I could also learn to read and write—and listen to the music in the chapel sometimes—I would work for them all the days of my life."
Padre Cristoforo smiled.
"You shall have your wish, my child," he said, kindly. "You shall go to the school—not to the vine-dressers. You shall be our son now."
But Dino looked up at him timidly.
"And not the English lady's?" he said.
"What do you know about an English lady, my son?"
"My grandmother talked to me of her. Is it true? She said that I might, turn out to be an Englishman, after all. She said that Vincenza told her that I did not belong to her."
"My child," said the monk, calmly but firmly, "put these thoughts away from your mind. They are idle and vain imaginations. Assunta knew nothing; Vincenza did not always speak the truth. In any case, it is impossible to prove the truth of her story. It is a sin to let your mind dwell on the impossible. Your name is Bernardino Vasari, and you are to be brought up in the monastery of San Stefano by wise and pious men. Is that not happiness enough for you?"
"Oh, yes, yes, indeed; I wish for nothing else," said Dino, throwing himself at Padre Cristoforo's feet, and pressing his lips to the monk's black gown, while the tears poured down his smooth, olive cheeks. "Indeed I am not ungrateful, Reverend Father, and I will never wish to be anything but what you want me to be."
"Better so," soliloquised the Father, when he had comforted Dino with kind words, and led him away to join the companions that would henceforth be his; "better that he should not wish to rise above the station in which he has been brought up! We shall never prove Vincenza's story. If we could do that, we should be abundantly recompensed for training this lad in the doctrines of the Church—but it will never be. Unless, indeed, the woman Vincenza could be found and urged to confession. But that," said the monk, with a regretful sigh, "that is not likely to occur. And, therefore, the boy will be Dino Vasari, as far as I can see, to his life's end. And Vincenza's child is living in the midst of a rich English family under the name of Brian Luttrell. I must not forget the name. In days to come who knows whether the positions of these two boys may not be reversed?"
Thus mused Father Cristoforo, and then he smiled and shook his head.
"Vincenza was always a liar," he said to himself. "It is the most unlikely thing in the world that her story should be true."
END OF THE PROLOGUE.
BY THE LOCH.
"It is you who have been the thief, then?"
The question was uttered in tones of withering contempt. The criminal, standing before his judge with downcast face and nervously-twitching fingers, found not a word to reply.
"Answer me," said Richard Luttrell, imperatively. "Tell me the truth—or, by Heaven, I'll thrash you within an inch of your life, and make you speak! Did you, or did you not, take this money out of my strong-box?"
"I meant to put it back," faltered the culprit. He was a slender lad of twenty, with the olive skin, the curling jet-black hair, the liquid-brown eyes, which marked his descent from a southern race. The face was one of singular beauty. The curved lips, the broad brow on which the dusky hair grew low, the oval cheek and rounded chin might well have served for the impersonation of some Spanish beggar-boy or Neapolitan fisher-lad. They were of the subtilely sensuous type, expressive of passion rather than of intellect or will. At present, with the usual rich, ripe colour vanished from cheek and lips, with eyes downcast, and trembling hands dropped to his sides, he was a picture of embodied shame and fear which his cousin and guardian, Richard Luttrell, regarded with unmitigated disgust.
Luttrell himself was a man of very different fibre. Tall, strong, fiercely indignant, he towered over the youth as if he could willingly have smitten him to the earth. He was a fine-looking, broad-shouldered man of twenty-eight, with strongly-marked features, browned by exposure to the sun and wind. The lower part of his face was almost hidden by a crisp chestnut beard and moustache, whilst his eyes were of the reddish hazel tint which often denotes heat of temper. The fire which now shot from beneath the severely knitted brows might indeed have dismayed a person of stouter heart than Hugo Luttrell. The youth showed no signs of penitence; he was thoroughly dismayed and alarmed by the position in which he found himself, but that was all.
The scene of their interview was hardly in accordance with its painful character. The three men—for there was another whom we have not attempted to describe—stood on the border of a small loch, the tranquil waters of which came lapping almost to their feet as they spoke together. The grassy shores were fringed with alder and rowan-trees. Above the heads of the speakers waved the branches of a great Scotch fir, the outpost and sentinel, as it were, of an army of its brethren, standing discreetly a few yards away from the banks of the loch. Richard Luttrell's house, though not far distant, was out of sight; and the one little, grey-stone cottage which could be seen had no windows fronting the water. It was a spot, therefore, in which a prolonged conversation could be carried on without much fear of disturbance. Beyond the trees, and on each side of the loch, were ranged the silent hills; their higher crags purple in the sunlight, brown and violet in shadow. The tints of the heather were beginning to glow upon the moors; on the lower-lying slopes a mass of foliage showed its first autumnal colouring; here and there a field of yellow stubble gave a dash of almost dazzling brightness to the landscape, under the cloudless azure of a September sky. Hills, woods, and firmament were alike reflected with mirror-like distinctness in the smooth bosom of the loch, where little, brown ducks swam placidly amongst the weeds, and swallows skimmed and dipped and flew in happy ignorance of the ruin that guilt and misery can work in the lives of men.
Richard Luttrell stood with his back towards the open door of a large wooden shed used as a boat-house, the interior of which looked densely black by contrast with the brilliant sunlight on the green grass and trees outside it. An open box or two, a heap, of fishing tackle, a broken oar, could be seen but dimly from without. It was in one of these boxes that Richard Luttrell had made, early in the day, a startling discovery. He had come across a pocket-book which had been abstracted from his strong-box in a most mysterious way about a week before. On opening it, he found, not only certain bank-notes which he had missed, but some marked coins and a cornelian seal which had disappeared on previous occasions, proving that a system of robbery had been carried on by one and the same person—evidently a member of the Luttrell household. The spoil was concealed with great care in a locked box on a shelf, and but for an accidental stumble by which Luttrell had brought down the whole shelf and broken the box itself, it would probably have remained there undisturbed. No one would ever have dreamt of seeking for Luttrell's pocket-book in a box in the boat-house.
"How did this get here? Who keeps the second key of the boat-house?" demanded Richard in the first moment of his discovery.
And Brian, his younger brother, answered carelessly—
"Hugo has had it for the last week or two."
Then, disturbed by his brother's tone, he came to Richard's side and looked at the fragments of the box by which Richard was still kneeling. With an exclamation of surprise he took up the lid of the box and examined it carefully. The name of its owner had been printed in ink on the smooth, brown surface—Hugo Luttrell. And the stolen property was hidden in that little wooden box.
The exclamations of the two brothers were characteristic. Richard raised himself with the pocket-book in his hand, and said vehemently—
"The young scoundrel! He shall rue it!"
While Brian, looking shocked and grieved, sat down on the stump of a tree and muttered, "Poor lad!" between his teeth, as he contemplated the miserable fragments on the ground.
The sound of a bell came faintly to their ears through the clear morning air. Richard spoke sharply.
"We must leave the matter for the present. Don't say anything about it. Lock up the boat-house, Brian, and keep the key. We'll have Hugo down here after breakfast, and see whether he'll make a clean breast of it."
"He may know nothing at all about it," suggested Brian, rising from his seat.
"It is to be hoped so," said Luttrell, curtly. He walked out of the boat-house with frowning brows and sparkling eyes. "I know one thing—my roof won't shelter him any longer if he is guilty." And then he marched away to the house, leaving Brian to lock the door and follow at his ease.
That morning's breakfast was long remembered in the Luttrells' house as a period of vague and curious discomfort. The reddish light in Richard's eyes was well known for a danger signal; a storm was in the air when he wore that expression of suppressed emotion. Brian, a good deal disturbed by what had occurred, scarcely spoke at all; he sat with his eyes fixed on the table, forgetting to eat, and glancing only from time to time at Hugo's young, beautiful, laughing face, as the lad talked gaily to a visitor, or fed the dogs—privileged inmates of the dining-room—with morsels from his own plate. It was impossible to think that this handsome boy, just entering on the world, fresh from a military college, with a commission in the Lancers, should have chosen to rob the very man who had been his benefactor and friend, whose house had sheltered him for the last ten years of his life. What could he have wanted with this money? Luttrell made him a handsome allowance, had paid his bills more than once, provided his outfit, put all the resources of his home at Hugo's disposal, as if he had been a son of the house instead of a penniless dependent—had, in short, behaved to him with a generosity which Brian might have resented had he been of a resentful disposition, seeing that he himself had been much less liberally treated. But Brian never concerned himself about that view of the matter; only now, when he suspected Hugo of dishonesty and ingratitude, did he run over in his mind a list of the benefits which the boy had received for many years from the master of the house, and grow indignant at the enumeration. Was it possible that Hugo could be guilty? He had not been truthful as a schoolboy, Brian remembered; once or twice he had narrowly escaped public disgrace for some dishonourable act—dishonourable in the eyes of his companions, as well as of his masters—a fact which was not to Hugo's credit. Perhaps, however, there was now some mistake—perhaps the matter might be cleared up. Appearances were against him, but Hugo might yet vindicate his integrity——
Brian's meditations were interrupted at this point. His brother had risen from the breakfast-table and was addressing Hugo, with a great show of courtesy, but with the stern light in his eyes which always made those who knew him best be on their guard with Richard Luttrell. "If you are at liberty," he said, "I want you down at the boat-house. I am going there now."
Brian, who was watching his cousin, saw a sudden change in his face. His lips turned white, his eyes moved uneasily in their sockets. It seemed almost as if he glanced backwards and forwards in order to look for a way of escape. But no escape was possible. Richard stood waiting, severe, inflexible, with that ominous gleam in his eyes. Hugo rose and followed like a dog at his master's call. From the moment that Brian marked his sullen, hang-dog expression and drooping head, he gave up his hope of proving Hugo's innocence. He would gladly have absented himself from the interview, but Richard summoned him in a voice that admitted of no delay.
The lad's own face and words betrayed him when he was shown the pocket-book and the broken box. He stammered out excuses, prevaricated, lied; until at last Luttrell lost all patience, and insisted upon a definite reply to his question. And then Hugo muttered his last desperate self-justification—that he had "meant to put it back!"
Richard's stalwart figure, the darkness of his brow, the strong hand in which he was swinging a heavy hunting-crop—caught up, as he left the house, for no decided purpose, but disagreeably significant in Hugo's eyes—became doubly terrible to the lad during the interval of silence that followed his avowal. He glanced supplicatingly at Brian; but Brian had no aid to give him now. And, when Brian's help failed him, Hugo felt that all was lost.
Meanwhile, Brian himself, a little in the back ground, leaned against the trunk of a tree which grew close to the shallow water's edge, bent his eyes upon the ground and tried to see the boy's face as little as possible. His affection for Hugo had given him an influence over the lad which Richard had certainly never possessed. For, generous as Richard might be, he was not fond of his young cousin; and Hugo, being aware of this fact, regarded him with instinctive aversion. In his own fashion he did love Brian—a little bit!
Brian Luttrell was at this time barely three-and-twenty. He had rooms in London, where he was supposed to be reading for the bar, but his tastes were musical and literary, and he had not yet made much progress in his legal studies. He had a handsome, intellectual face of a very refined type, thoughtful dark eyes, a long, brown moustache, and small pointed beard of the same colour. He was slighter, less muscular, than Richard; and the comment often made upon him was that he had the look of a dreamer, perhaps of an artist—not of a very practical man—and that he was extremely unlike his brother. There was, indeed, a touch of unusual and almost morbid sensitiveness in Brian's nature, which, betraying itself, as it did, from time to time, only by a look, a word, a gesture, yet proved his unlikeness to Richard Luttrell more than any dissimilarity of feature could have done.
"You meant to put it back, sir!" thundered Richard, after that moment's pause, which seemed like an eternity to Hugo. "And where did you mean to get the money from? Steal it from some one else? Folly! lies! And for what disgraceful reason did you take it at all? You are in debt, I presume?"
Hugo's white lips signified assent.
"You have been gambling again?"
He bowed his head.
"I thought so. I told you three months ago that I had paid your gambling debts for the last time. I make one exception. I will pay them once again—with the money you have stolen, which you may keep. Much good may it do you!" He flung the pocket-book on the turf at Hugo's feet as he spoke. "Take it. You have paid dearly enough for it, God knows. For the future, sir, manage your own affairs; my house is no longer open to you."
"Don't be hard on him, Richard," said Brian, in a voice too low to reach Hugo's ears. "Forgive him this time; he is only a boy, after all—and a boy with a bad training."
"Will you be so good as to mind your own business, Brian?" said the elder brother, peremptorily. The severity of his tone increased as he addressed himself again to Hugo. "You will leave Netherglen to-day. Your luggage can be sent after you; give your own directions about it. I suppose you will rejoin your regiment? I neither know nor care what you mean to do. If we meet again, we meet as strangers."
"Willingly," said Hugo, lifting his eyes for one instant to his cousin's face, with an expression so full of brooding hatred and defiance that even Richard Luttrell was amazed.
"For Heaven's sake don't say that, Hugo," began the second brother, with a hasty desire to pave the way for reconciliation.
"Why not?" said Hugo.
The look of abject fear was dying out of his face. The worst, he thought, was over. He drew himself up, crossed his arms, and tried to meet Brian's reproachful eyes with confidence, but in this attempt he was not successful. In spite of himself, the eyelids dropped until the long, black lashes almost touched the smooth, olive cheek, across which passed a transient flush of shame. This sign of feeling touched Brian; the lad was surely not hopelessly bad if he could blush for his sins. But Richard went on ruthlessly.
"You need expect no further help from me. I own you as a relation no longer. You have disgraced the name you bear. Don't let me see you again in my house." He was too indignant, too much excited, to speak in anything but short, sharp sentences, each of which seemed more bitter than the last. Richard Luttrell was little concerned for Hugo's welfare, much for the honour of the family. "Go," he said, "at once, and I will not publish your shameful conduct to the world. If you return to my house, if you seek to establish any communication with members of my family, I shall not keep your secret."
"Speak for yourself, Richard," said his brother, warmly, "not for me. I hope that Hugo will do better in time; and I don't mean to give him up. You must make an exception for me when you speak of separating him from the family."
"I make no exception," said Richard.
Brian drew nearer to his brother, and uttered his next words in a lower tone.
"Think what you are doing," he said. "You will drive him to desperation, and, after all, he is only a boy of nineteen. Quite young enough to repent and reform, if we are not too hard upon him now. Do as you think fit for yourself and your own household, but you must not stand in the way of what I can do for him, little though that may be."
"I stand to what I have said," answered Richard, harshly. "I will have no communication between him and you." Then, folding his arms, he looked grimly and sardonically into Brian's face. "I trust neither of you," he said. "We all know that you are only too easily led by those whom you like to be led by, and he is a young reprobate. Choose for yourself, of course; I have no claim to control you, only, if you choose to be friendly with him, I shall cut off the supplies to you as well as to him, and I shall expose him publicly."
Brian took away the hand which, in the ardour of his pleading, he had laid upon Richard's arm. Had it not been for Hugo's sake, he would have quitted the spot in dudgeon. He knew in his heart that it was useless to argue with Richard in his present state of passion. But for Hugo's sake he swallowed his resentment, and made one more trial.
"If he repents——" he began doubtfully, and never finished the sentence.
"I don't repent," said Hugo.
His voice was hoarse and broken, but insolently defiant. By a great effort of will he fixed his haggard eyes full on Richard Luttrell's face as he spoke. Richard shrugged his shoulders.
"You hear?" he said, briefly to his brother.
"I hear," Brian answered, in a low, pained tone.
With an air of bravado Hugo stooped and picked up the pocket-book which still lay at his feet. He weighed it in his hand, and then laughed aloud, though not very steadily.
"It is full still," he said. "It will be useful, no doubt. I am much obliged to you, Cousin Richard."
The action, and the words accompanying it, shocked even Richard, who professed to think nothing too bad for Hugo's powers. He tossed his head back and turned away with a contemptuous "Good Heavens!" Brian walked for a few paces distance, and then stood still, with his back to his cousin. Hugo glanced from one to the other with uneasiness, which he tried to veil by an assumption of disdain, and dropped the purse furtively into his pocket. He was ill-pleased to see Richard turn back with lowered eyebrows, and a look of stern determination upon his bearded face.
"Brian," said Luttrell, more quietly than he had yet spoken, "I think I see mother coming down the road. Will you meet her and lead her away from the loch, without telling her the reason? I don't wish her to meet this—this gentleman—again."
The intonation of his voice, the look that he bestowed upon Hugo at the words that he emphasised, made the lad quiver from head to foot with rage. Brian walked away without turning to bestow another glance or word on Hugo. It was a significant action, and one which the young fellow felt, with a throb of mingled shame and hatred, that he could understand. He clenched his hands until the dent of the nails brought blood, without knowing what he did; then made a step or two in another direction, as if to leave the place. Richard's commanding voice made him pause.
"Stop!" said Luttrell. "Wait until I give you leave to go."
Hugo waited, with his face turned towards the shining waters of the loch. The purple mist amongst the distant hills, the golden light upon the rippling water, the reddening foliage of the trees, had never been more beautiful than they were that morning. But their beauty was lost upon Hugo, whose mind was filled with hard and angry protests against the treatment that he was receiving, and a great dread of the somewhat desolate future.
Richard Luttrell moved about restlessly, stopping short, now and then, to watch the figure in black which he had discerned upon the road near the house. He saw Brian meet it; the two stood and spoke together for a few minutes; then Brian gave his arm to his mother and led her back to the house. When they were quite out of sight, Luttrell turned back to his cousin and spoke again.
"Now that I have got Brian out of the way," he said, as he laid an iron hand on Hugo's arm, "I am free to punish you as I choose. Mind, I would have spared you this if you had not had the insufferable insolence to pick up that pocket-book in my presence. Since you were shameless enough for that, it is plain what sort of chastisement you deserve. Take that—and that—and that!"
He lifted his hunting-crop as he spoke, and brought it down heavily on the lad's shoulders. Hugo uttered a cry like that of a wild animal in pain, and fought with hands, feet, teeth even, against the infliction of the stinging blows; but he fought in vain. His cousin's superior strength mastered him from the beginning; he felt like an infant in Richard's powerful grasp. Not until the storm of furious imprecations in which the lad at first vented his impotent rage had died away into stifled moans and sobs of pain, did Richard's vengeance come to an end. He flung the boy from him, broke the whip between his strong hands, and hurled the fragments far into the water, then walked away to the house, leaving Hugo to sob his heart out, like a passionate child, with face down in the short, green grass.
Hugo's Sicilian mother had transmitted to him a nature at once fierce and affectionate, passionate and cunning. Half-child, half-savage, he seemed to be bound by none of the restraints that civilised men early learn to place upon their instincts. He expressed his anger, his sorrow, his love, with all the abandon that characterised the natives of those sunny shores where the first years of his life were spent. Profoundly simple in his modes of feeling, he was yet dominated by the habits of slyness and trickery which seem to be inherent in the truly savage breast. He had the savage's love of secrecy and instinctive suspicion of his fellow-creatures, the savage's swift passions and vindictiveness, the savage's innate difficulty in comprehending the laws of honour and morality. It is possible to believe that, with good training from his infancy, Hugo Luttrell might have developed into a trustworthy and straightforward man, shrinking from dishonesty and cowardice as infamy worse than death; but his early education had been of a kind likely to foster every vice that he possessed. His father, a cousin of the Luttrells of Netherglen, after marrying a lovely Palermitan, and living for three years with her in her native land, had at last tired of her transports of love and jealousy, and started upon an exploring expedition in South Africa. Hugo was brought up by a mother who adored him and taught him to loathe the English race. He was surrounded by flatterers and sycophants from his babyhood, and treated as if he were born to a kingdom. When he was twelve years old, however, his mother died; and his father, on learning her death some months afterwards, made it his business to fetch the boy away from Sicily and bring him to England. But Hugh Luttrell, the father, was already a dying man. The seeds of disease had been developed during his many journeyings; he was far gone in consumption before he even reached the English shores. His own money was nearly spent. There was a law-suit about the estates belonging to his wife's father, and it was scarcely probable that they would devolve upon Hugo, who had cousins older than himself and dearer to the Sicilian grandfather's heart. The dying man turned in his extremity to the young head of the house, Richard Luttrell, then only twenty-one years of age, and did not turn in vain. Richard Luttrell undertook the charge of the boy, and as soon as the father was laid in the grave, he took Hugo home with him to Netherglen.
Richard Luttrell could hardly have treated Hugo more generously than he did, but it must be confessed that he never liked the boy. The faults which were evident from the first day of his entrance into the Luttrells' home, were such as disgusted and repelled the somewhat austere young ruler of the household. Hugo pilfered, lied, cringed, stormed, in turn, like a veritable savage. He was sent to school, and learned the wisdom of keeping his tongue silent, and his evil deeds concealed, but he did not learn to amend his ways. In spite of his frequent misconduct, he had some qualities which endeared him to the hearts of those whom he cared to conciliate. His naivete, his caressing ways, his beautiful, delicate face and appealing eyes, were not without effect even upon the severest of his judges. Owing, perhaps, to these attributes rather than to any positive merit of his own, he scrambled through life at school, at a tutor's, at a military college, without any irreparable disgrace, his aptitude for getting into scrapes being equalled only by his cleverness in getting out of them. Richard, indeed, had at times received reports of his conduct which made him speak angrily and threaten condign punishment, but not until this day, when the discovery of the lost bank-notes in Hugo's possession betokened an absence of principle transcending even Richard's darkest anticipations, had any serious breach occurred between the cousins. With some men, the fact that it was the first grave offence would have had weight, and inclined them to be merciful to the offender, but Richard Luttrell was not a merciful man. When he discovered wrong-doing, he punished it with the utmost severity, and never trusted the culprit again. He had been known to say, in boasting accents, that he did not understand what forgiveness meant. Forgiveness of injuries? Weakness of mind: that was his opinion.
Hugo Luttrell's nature was also not a forgiving one. He lay upon the grass, writhing, sobbing, tearing at the ground in an access of passion equally composed of rage and shame. He had almost lost the remembrance of his own offence in resentment of its punishment. He had been struck; he had been insulted; he, a Sicilian gentleman! (Hugo never thought of himself as an Englishman.) He loathed Richard Luttrell; he muttered curses upon him as he lay on the earth, with every bone aching from his cousin's blows; he wished that he could wipe out the memory of the affront in Richard's blood. Richard would laugh at a challenge; a duel was not the English method of settling quarrels. "I will punish him in another way; it is a vendetta!" said Hugo to himself, choking down his passionate, childish sobs. "He is a brute—a great, savage brute; he does not deserve to live!"
He was too much absorbed in his reflections to notice a footstep on the grass beside him, and the rustle of a woman's dress. Some one had drawn near, and was looking pityingly, wonderingly, down upon the slight, boyish form that still shook and quivered with irrepressible emotion. A woman's voice sounded in his ear. "Hugo!" it said; "Hugo, what is the matter?"
With a start he lifted his head, showed a flushed, tear-swollen countenance for one moment, and then hid it once more in his hands. "Oh, Angela, Angela!" he cried; and then the hysterical passion mastered him once more. He could not speak for sobs.
She knelt down beside him and placed one hand soothingly upon his ruffled, black locks. For a few minutes she also did not speak. She knew that he could not hear.
The world was not wrong when it called Angela Vivian a beautiful woman, although superfine critics objected that her features were not perfect, and that her hair, her eyes, her complexion, were all too colourless for beauty. But her great charm lay in the harmonious character of her appearance. To deepen the tint of that soft, pale hair—almost ash-coloured, with a touch of gold in the heavy coils—to redden her beautifully-shaped mouth, and her narrow, oval face, to imagine those sweet, calm, grey eyes of any more definite shade would have been to make her no longer the Angela Vivian that so many people knew and loved. But if fault were found with her face, no exception could be taken to her figure and the grace with which she moved. There, at least, she was perfect.
Angela Vivian was twenty-three, and still unmarried. It was said that she had been difficult to please. But her choice was made at last. She was to be married to Richard Luttrell before the end of the year. They had been playmates in childhood, and their parents had been old friends. Angela was now visiting Mrs. Luttrell, who was proud of her son's choice, and made much of her as a guest at Netherglen.
She spoke to Hugo as a sister might have done.
"What is it, dear?" she asked him, smoothing out his short, dark curls, as she spoke. "Can't you tell me? Is it some great trouble?"
For answer he dragged himself a little closer to her, and bowed his hot forehead on one of her hands, which she was resting on the ground, while she stroked his hair with the other. The action touched her; she did not know why. His sobs were quietening. He was by no means very manly, as English people understand manliness, but even he was ashamed to be found crying like a baby over his woes.
"Dear Hugo, can you not tell me what is wrong?" said Angela, more seriously alarmed by his silence than by his tears. She had a right to question him, for he had previously given her as much of his confidence as he ever gave to anybody, and she had been a very good friend to him. "Are you in some great trouble?"
"Yes," he said, in a voice so choked that she could hardly hear the word.
"And you have been in some scuffle surely. Your clothes are torn—you are hurt!" said she, sympathetically. "Why, Hugo, you must have been fighting!" Then, as he gave her no answer, she resumed in a voice of tender concern, "You are not really hurt, are you, dear boy? You can move—you can get up? Shall I fetch anyone to help you?"
"No, no, no!" he cried, clutching at her dress, as though to stay her going. "Don't leave me. I am not hurt—at least, I can walk and stand easily enough, though I have been hurt—set upon, and treated like—like a dog by him——"
"By whom, Hugo?" said Angela, startled by the tenor of his incoherent sentences. "Who has set upon you and ill-treated you?"
But Hugo hid his face. "I won't tell you," he said, sullenly.
There was a silence. "Can I do anything for you?" Angela asked at length, very gently.
She waited a little longer, and, as he made no further sign, she tried to rise. "Shall I go, Hugo?" she said.
"Yes—if you like." Then he burst out passionately, "Of course, you will go. You are like everybody else. You are like Richard Luttrell. You will do what he tells you. I am abandoned by everybody. You all hate me; and I hate you all!"
Little as Angela understood his words, there was something in them that made her seat herself beside him on the grass, instead of leaving him alone. "Dear Hugo," she said, "I have never hated you."
"But you will soon."
"I see," said she, softly. "I understand you now. You are in trouble—you have been doing something wrong, and you think that we shall be angry with you. Listen, Hugo, Richard maybe angry at first, but he is kind as well as just. He will forgive you, and we shall love you as much as ever. I will tell him that you are sorry for whatever it is, and then he will not refuse his pardon."
"I don't want it," said Hugo, hoarsely. "I hate him."
"I hate him—I loathe him. You would hate him, too, if you knew him as well as I do. You are going to marry him! Well, you will be miserable all your life long, and then you will remember what I say."
"I should be angry with you if I did not know how little you meant this," said Angela, in an unruffled voice, although the faint colour had risen to her cheeks, and her eyes looked feverishly bright. "But you are not like yourself, Hugo; you are distressed about something. You know, at least, that we do not hate you, and you do not hate us."
"I do not hate you," said Hugo, with emphasis.
He seized a fold of her dress and pressed it to his lips. But he said nothing more, and by-and-bye, when she gently disengaged her gown from his hold, he made no opposition to her going. She left him with reluctance, but she knew that Mrs. Luttrell would want her at that hour, and did not like to be kept waiting. She glanced back when she reached the bend in the road that would hide him from her sight. She saw that he had resumed his former position, with his head bent upon his arms, and his face hidden.
"Poor Hugo!" she said to herself, as she turned towards the house.
Netherglen was a quaint-looking, irregular building of grey, stone, not very large, but considerably larger than its appearance led one to conjecture, from the fact that a wing had been added at the back of the house, where it was not immediately apparent. The peculiarity of this wing was that, although built close to the house, it did not actually touch it except at certain points where communication with the main part was necessary; the rooms on the outer wing ran parallel for some distance with those in the house, but were separated by an interval of one or two feet. This was a precaution taken, it was said, in order to deaden the noise made by the children when they were in the nurseries situated in this part of the house. It had certainly been an effectual one; it was difficult to hear any sound proceeding from these rooms, even when one stood in the large central hall from which the sitting-rooms opened.
Angela was anxious to find Richard and ascertain whether or not he was really seriously incensed against his cousin, but he was not to be found. A party of guests had arrived unexpectedly for luncheon; Mrs. Luttrell and Brian were both busily engaged in entertaining them. Angela glanced at Brian; it struck her that he was not in his usual good spirits. But she had no chance of asking him if anything were amiss.
The master of the house arrived in time to take his place at the head of the table, and from the moment of his arrival, Angela was certain that he had been, if he were not still, seriously annoyed by some occurrence of the day. She knew his face very well, and she knew the meaning of the gleam of his eye underneath the lowered eyebrows, the twitching nostril, and the grim setting of his mouth. He spoke very little, and did not smile even when he glanced at her. These were ominous signs.
"Where is Hugo?" demanded Mrs. Luttrell as they seated themselves at the table. "Have you seen him, Brian?"
"Yes, I saw him down by the loch this morning," said Brian, but without raising his eyes.
"The bell had better be rung outside the house," said Mrs. Luttrell. "It can be heard quite well on the loch."
"It is unnecessary, mother," said Richard, promptly. "Hugo is not coming in to lunch."
There was a momentary flash of his eye as he spoke, which convinced Angela that Hugo's disgrace was to be no transient one. Her heart sank; she did not find that Richard's wrath was easy to appease when once thoroughly aroused. Again she looked at Brian, and it seemed to her that his face was paler and more sombre than she had ever seen it before.
The brothers were usually on such pleasant terms that their silence to each other during the meal became a matter of remark to others beside Angela and Mrs. Luttrell. Had they quarrelled? There was an evident coolness between them; for, on the only occasion on which they addressed each other, Richard contemptuously contradicted his brother with insulting directness, and Brian replied with what for him was decided warmth. But the matter dropped—perhaps each was ashamed of having manifested his annoyance in public—and only their silence to each other betrayed that anything was wrong.
The party separated into three portions after luncheon. Mrs. Luttrell and a lady of her own age agreed to remain indoors, or to stroll quietly round the garden. Angela and two or three other young people meant to get out the boat and fish the loch for pike. Richard and a couple of his friends were going to shoot in the neighbouring woods. And, while these arrangements were making, and everybody was standing about the hall, or in the wide porch which opened out into the garden, Hugo's name was again mentioned.
"What has become of that boy?" said Mrs. Luttrell. "He is not generally so late. Richard, do you know?"
"I'll tell you afterwards, mother," answered her son, in a low tone. "Don't say anything more about him just now."
"Is there anything wrong?" said his mother, also lowering her voice. But he had turned away.
"Brian, what is it?" she asked, impatiently.
"For Heaven's sake, don't ask Brian," said Richard, looking back over his shoulder, "there is no knowing what he may not require you to believe. Leave the story to me."
"I've no desire to tell it," replied Brian, moving away.
Luttrell's friends were already outside the hall door, lighting their cigars and playing with the dogs. A keeper stood in the background, waiting until the party should start.
"Aren't you coming, Brian?" said one of the young men.
"I'll join you presently," said Brian. "I am going down to the loch first to get out the boat."
"What a splendid gun that is of yours!" said Archie Grant, the younger of the two men. "It is yours, is it not? I saw it in the corner of the hall as I came in. You had it the other day at the Duke's."
"It was not mine. It belongs to Hugo."
"Let me have a look at it again; it's an awfully fine one."
"Are you ready, Grant?" said Richard Luttrell, coming forward. "What are you looking for?"
"Oh, nothing; a gun," said the young fellow. "I see it's gone. I thought it was there when I first came in; it's of no consequence."
"Not your own gun, I suppose?"
"No, no; I have my own. It was Hugo's."
"Yes; rather a fine one," said Richard, indifferently. "You're not coming, then?"—to Brian—"well, perhaps it's as well." And he marched away without deigning to bestow another look or word upon his brother.
Five minutes afterwards, Mrs. Luttrell and Angela encountered each other in a passage leading to one of the upper rooms. No one was near. Mrs. Luttrell—she was a tall, handsome woman, strikingly like Richard, in spite of her snow-white hair—laid her hand gently on Angela's shoulder.
"Why do you look so pale, Angela?" she said. "Your eyes are red, child. Have you been crying because those ill-bred lads of mine could not keep a still tongue in their heads at the luncheon-table, but must needs wrangle together as they used to when they were just babies? Never you mind, my dear; it's not Richard's fault, and Brian was always a troublesome lad. It will be better for us all when he's away at his books in London."
She patted Angela's shoulder and passed on, leaving the girl more vexed than comforted. She was sorry to see Mrs. Luttrell show the partiality for Richard which everyone accused her of feeling. In the mother's eyes, Richard was always right and Brian wrong. Angela was just enough to be troubled at times by this difference in the treatment of the brothers.
Brian went down to the loch ostensibly to get out the boat. In reality he wanted to see whether Hugo was still there. Richard had told him of the punishment to which he had subjected the lad; and Brian had been frankly indignant about it. The two had come to high words; thus there had, indeed, been some foundation for the visitors' suspicions of a previous quarrel.
Hugo had disappeared; only the broken brushwood and the crushed bracken told of the struggle that had taken place, and of the boy's agony of grief and rage. Brian resolved to follow and find him. He did not like the thought of leaving him to bear his shame alone. Besides, he understood Hugo's nature, and he was afraid—though he scarcely knew what he feared.
But he searched in vain. Hugo was not to be found. He did not seem to have quitted the place altogether, for he had given no orders about his luggage, nor been seen on the road to the nearest town, and Brian knew that it would be almost impossible to find him in a short space of time if he did not wish to be discovered. It was possible that he had gone into the woods; he was as fond of them as a wild animal of his lair. Brian took his gun from the rack, as an excuse for an expedition, then sallied forth, scarcely hoping, however, to be successful in his search.
He had not gone very far when he saw a man's form at some little distance from him, amongst the trees. He stopped short and reconnoitered. No, it was not Hugo. That brown shooting-coat and those stalwart limbs belonged rather to Richard Luttrell. Brian looked, shrugged his shoulders to himself, and then turned back. He did not want to meet his brother then.
But Richard had heard the footstep and glanced round. After a moment of evident hesitation, he quitted his position and tramped over the soft, uneven ground to his brother, who, seeing that he had been observed, awaited his brother's coming with some uncertainty of feeling.
Richard's face had wonderfully cleared since the morning, and his voice was almost cordial.
"You've come? That's right," he said.
"Nothing much. I never saw young Grant shoot so wild. And my hand's not very steady—after this morning's work." He laughed a little awkwardly and looked away. "That fellow deserved all he got, Brian. But if you choose to see him now and then and be friendly with him, it's your own look out. I don't wish to interfere."
It was a great concession from Richard—almost as much as an apology. Brian involuntarily put out his hand, which Richard grasped heartily if roughly. Neither of them found it necessary to say more. The mutual understanding was complete, and each hastily changed the subject, as though desirous that nothing farther should be said about it.
If only some one had been by to witness that tacit reconciliation!
IN THE TWILIGHT.
It was already dusk under the thick branches of the wood, although the setting sun shone brilliantly upon the loch. Luttrell's friends were to dine with him, and as dinner was not until eight o'clock, they made rather a long circuit, and had some distance to return. Brian had joined Archie Grant; the second visitor was behind them with the keeper; Richard Luttrell had been accidentally separated from the others, and was supposed to be in front. Archie was laughing and talking gaily; Brian, whose mind ran much upon Hugo, was somewhat silent. But even he was no proof against Archie's enthusiasm, when the young fellow suddenly seized him by the arm, and pointed out a fine capercailzie which the dogs had just put up.
Brian gave a quick glance to his companion, who, however, had handed his gun to the keeper a short time before, and shook his head deprecatingly. Brian lifted his gun. It seemed to him that something was moving amongst the branches beyond the bird, and for a moment he hesitated—then pulled the trigger. And just as he touched it, Archie sprang forward with a cry.
"Don't fire! Are you blind? Don't you see what you are doing!"
But it was too late.
The bird flew away unharmed, but the shot seemed to have found another mark. There was the sound of a sudden, heavy fall. To Brian's horror and dismay he saw that a man had been standing amongst the brushwood and smaller trees just beyond the ridge of rising ground towards which his gun had been directed. The head only of this man could have been visible from the side of the bank on which Brian was standing; and even the head could be seen very indistinctly. As Brian fired, it seemed to him, curiously enough, as if another report rang in his ears beside that of his own gun. Was any one else shooting in the wood? Or had his senses played him false in the horror of the moment, and caused him to mistake an echo for another shot? He had not time to settle the question. For a moment he stood transfixed; then he rushed forward, but Archie had been before him. The young man was kneeling by the prostrate form and as Brian advanced, he looked up with a face as white as death.
"Keep back," he cried, scarcely knowing what he said. "Don't look—don't look, for a moment; perhaps he'll open his eyes: perhaps he is not dead. Keep back!"
Dead! Brian never forgot the sick feeling of dread which then came over him. What had he done? He did not hear Archie's excited words; he came hurriedly to the side of the man, who lay lifeless upon the ground with his head on the young fellow's knee. Archie looked up at him with dilated terrified eyes. And Brian stood stock still.
It was Richard who lay before him, dead as a stone. He had dropped without a cry, perhaps even without a pang. There was a little purple mark upon his temple, from which a drop of black blood had oozed. A half-smile still lingered on his mouth; his face had scarcely changed colour, his attitude was natural, and yet the spectators felt that Death had set his imprint on that tranquil brow. Richard Luttrell's day was over; he had gone to a world where he might perhaps stand in need of that mercy which he had been only too ready to deny to others who had erred.
Archie's elder brother, Donald Grant, and the keeper were hurrying to the spot. They found Brian on his knees beside the body, feeling with trembling hands for the pulse that beat no longer. His face was the colour of ashes, but as yet he had not uttered a single word. Donald Grant spoke first, with an anxious glance towards his brother.
"How——" he began, and then stopped short, for Archie had silenced him with an almost imperceptible sign towards Brian Luttrell.
"We heard two shots," muttered Donald, as he also bent over the prostrate form.
"Only one, I think," said Archie.
His brother pulled him aside.
"I tell you I heard two," he said in a hushed voice. "You didn't fire?"
"I had no gun."
"Was it Brian?"
"Yes. He shot straight at—at Richard; didn't see him a bit. He was always short-sighted."
Donald gave his brother a look, and then turned to the keeper, whose face was working with unwonted emotion at the sight before him.
"We must get help," he said, gravely. "He must be carried home, and some one must go to Dunmuir. Brian, shall I send to the village for you?"
He touched Brian's shoulder as he spoke. The young man rose, and turned his pale face and lack-lustre eyes towards his friend as though he could not understand the question. Donald, repeated it, changing the form a little.
"Shall I send for the men?" he said.
Brian pressed his hand to his forehead.
"The men?" he said, vaguely.
"To carry—him to the house."
Donald was compassionate, but he was uncomprehending of his friend's apparent want of emotion. He wanted to stir him up to a more definite show of feeling. And to some extent he got his wish.
A look of horror came into Brian's eyes; a shudder ran through his frame.
"Oh, my God!" he whispered, hoarsely, "is it I who have done this thing?"
And then he threw up his hands as though to screen his eyes from the sight of the dead face, staggered a few steps away from the little group, and fell fainting to the ground.
It was a sad procession that wound its way through the woodland paths at last, and stopped at the gate of Netherglen. Brian had recovered sufficiently to walk like a mourner behind the covered stretcher on which his brother's form was laid; but he paid little attention to the whispers that were exchanged from time to time between the Grants and the men who carried that melancholy burden to the Luttrells' door. On coming to himself after his swoon he wept like a child for a little time, but had then collected himself and become sadly quiet and calm. Still, he was scarcely awake to anything but the mere fact of his great misfortune, and it was not until the question was actually put to him, that he asked himself whether he could bear to take the news to his mother of the death of her eldest son.
Brave as he was, he shrank from the task. "No, no!" he said, looking wildly into Donald's face. "Not I. I am not the one to tell her, that I—that I——-"
A great sob burst from him in spite of his usual self-control. Donald Grant turned aside; he did not know how to bear the spectacle of grief such as this. And there were others to be thought of beside Mrs. Luttrell. Miss Vivian—Richard Luttrell's promised wife—was in the house; Donald Grant's own sisters were still waiting for him and Archie. It was impossible to go up to the house without preparing its tenants for the blow that had fallen upon them. Yet who would prepare them?
"Here is the doctor," said Archie, turning towards the road. "He will tell them."
Doctor Muir had long been a trusted friend of the Luttrell family. He had liked Richard rather less than any other member of the household, but he was sincerely grieved and shocked by the news which had greeted him as he went upon his rounds. The Grants drew him aside and gave him their account of the accident before he spoke to Brian. The doctor had tears in his eyes when they had finished. He went up to Brian and pressed his unresponsive hand.
"My boy—my boy!" he said; "don't be cast down. It was the will of God." He pulled out a handkerchief and rubbed away a tear from his eyes as he spoke. "Shall I just see your poor mother? I'll step up to the house, and ye'll wait here till my return. Eh, but it's awful, awful!" The old man uttered the last words more to himself than to Brian, whose hand he again shook mechanically before he turned away.
Brian followed him closely. "Doctor," he said, in a low, husky voice, "I'll go with you."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said Dr. Muir, sharply. "Why, man, your face would be enough to tell the news, in all conscience. You may walk to the door with me—the back door, if you please—but further you shall not come until I have seen Mistress Luttrell. Here, give me your arm; you're not fit to go alone with that white face. And how did it happen, my poor lad?"
"I don't know—I can't tell," said Brian, slowly. "I saw the bird rise from the bank—and then I saw something moving—but I thought I must be mistaken; and I fired, and he—he fell! By my hand, too! Oh, Doctor, is there a God in Heaven to let such things be?"
"Hut, tut, tut, but we'll have no such words as these, my bairn. If the Lord lets these things happen, we'll maybe find that He's had some good reason for't. He's always in the right. And ye must just learn to bow yourself, Brian, to the will of the Almighty, for there's no denying but He's laid a sore trial upon ye, my poor lad, and one that will be hard to bear."
"I shall never bear it," said Brian, who caught but imperfectly the drift of the doctor's simple words of comfort. "It is too hard—too hard to bear."
They had reached the back door, by which Dr. Muir preferred to make his entrance. He uttered a few words to the servants about the accident that had occurred, and then sent a message asking to speak alone with Mrs. Luttrell. The answer came back that Mrs. Luttrell would see him in the study. And thither the doctor went, leaving Brian in one of the cold, stone corridors that divided the kitchens and offices from the living-rooms of the house. Meanwhile, the body of Richard Luttrell was silently carried into one of the lower rooms until another place could be prepared for its reception.
How long Brian waited, with his forehead, pressed against the wall, deaf and blind to everything but an overmastering dread of his mother's agony which had taken complete possession of him, he did not know. He only knew that after a certain time—an eternity it seemed to him—a bitter, wailing cry came to his ears; a cry that pierced through the thick walls and echoed down the dark passages, although it was neither loud nor long. But there was something in the intensity of the grief that it expressed which seemed to give it a peculiarly penetrating quality. Ah, it was this sound that Brian now knew he had been dreading; this sound that cut him to the heart.
Dr. Muir, on coming hurriedly out from the study, found Brian in the corridor with his hands pressed to his ears as if to keep out the sound of that one fearful cry.
"Come away, my boy," he said, pitifully. "We can do no good here. Where is Miss Vivian?"
Brian's hands dropped to his sides. He kept his eyes fixed on the doctor's face as if he would read his very soul. And for the moment Doctor Muir could not meet that piercing gaze. He tried to pass on, but Brian laid his hand on his arm.
"Tell me all," he said. "What does my mother say? Has it killed her?"
"Killed her? People are not so easily killed by grief, my dear Mr. Brian," said the doctor. "Come away, come away. Your mother is not just herself, and speaks wildly, as mothers are wont to do when they lose their first-born son. We'll not mind what she says just now. Where is Miss Vivian? It is she that I want to see."
"I understand," said Brian, taking away his hands from the doctor's arm and hiding his face with them, "my mother will not see me; she will not forgive my—my—accursed carelessness——"
"Worse than that!" muttered the doctor to himself, but, fortunately, Brian did not hear. And at that moment a slender woman's figure appeared at the end of the corridor; it hesitated, moved slowly forward, and then approached them hastily.
"Is Mrs. Luttrell ill?" asked Angela.
She had a candle in her hand, and the beams fell full upon her soft, white dress and the Eucharis lily in her hair. She had twisted a string of pearls three times round her neck—it was an heirloom of great value. The other ornaments were all Richard's gifts; two broad bands of gold set with pearls and diamonds upon her arms, and the diamond ring which had been the pledge of her betrothal. She was very pale, and her eyes were large with anxiety as she asked her question of the two men, whom her appearance had struck with dumbness. Brian turned away with a half-audible groan. Doctor Muir looked at her intently from beneath his shaggy, grey eyebrows, and did not speak.
"I know there is something wrong, or you would not stand like this outside Mrs. Luttrell's door," said Angela, with a quiver in her sweet voice. "And Richard is not here! Where is Richard?"
There was silence.
"Something has happened to Richard? Some accident—some——"
She stopped, looked at Brian's averted face, and shivered as if an icy wind had passed over her. Doctor Muir took the candle from her hand, then opened his lips to speak. But she stopped him. "Don't tell me," she said. "I am going to his mother. I shall learn it in a moment from her face. Besides—I know—I know."
The delicate tinting had left her cheeks and lips; her eyes were distended, her limbs trembled as she moved. Doctor Muir stood aside, giving her the benefit of keen professional scrutiny as she passed; but he was satisfied. She was not a woman who would either faint or scream in an emergency. She might suffer, but she would suffer in silence rather than add by word or deed one iota to the burden of suffering that another might have to bear. Therefore, Doctor Muir let her enter the room in which the widowed mother wept, and prayed in his heart that Angela Vivian might receive the news of her bereavement in a different spirit from that shown by Mrs. Luttrell.
The noise of shuffling feet, of muffled voices, of stifled sobs, reached the ears of the watchers in the corridor from another part of the house. Doctor Muir had sent a messenger to bid the men advance with their sad burden to a side door which opened into a sitting-room not very generally used. The housekeeper, an old and faithful servant of the family, had already prepared it, according to the doctor's orders, for the reception of the dead. The visitors hurriedly took their departure; Donald Grant's wagonette had been at the door some little time, and, as soon as he had seen poor Richard Luttrell's remains laid upon a long table in the sitting-room, he drove silently away, with Archie on the box-seat beside him, and the three girls in the seats behind, crying over the troubles of their friends.
Doctor Muir and Brian Luttrell remained for some time in the passage outside the study door. The doctor tried several times to persuade his companion to leave his post, but Brian refused to do so.
"I must wait; I must see my mother," he repeated, when the doctor pressed him to come away. "Oh, I know that she will not want to see me; she will never wish to look on my face again, but I must see her and remind her that—that—she has one son left—who loves her still." And then Brian's voice broke and he said no more. Doctor Muir shook his head. He did not believe that Mrs. Luttrell would be much comforted by his reminder. She had never seemed to love her second son.
"Where is Hugo?" the doctor asked, in an undertone, when the silence had lasted some time.
"I do not know."
"He will be home to-night?"
"I do not know."
All this time no sound had reached them from the interior of the room where the two women sat together. Their voices must have been very low, their sobs subdued. Angela had not cried out as Mrs. Luttrell had done when she received the fatal news. No movement, no sign of grief was to be heard.
Brian lifted up his grief-stricken eyes at last, and fixed them on the doctor's face.
"Are they dead?" he muttered, strangely. "Will they never speak again?"
Doctor Muir did not immediately reply. He had placed the candle on a wooden bracket in the wall, and its flickering beams lighted, the dark corridor so feebly that until now he had scarcely caught a glimpse of the young man's haggard looks. They frightened him a little. He himself took life so easily—fretted so little against the inevitable—that he scarcely understood the look of anguish which an hour or two of trouble had imprinted upon Brian Luttrell's face. It was the kind of sorrow which has been known to turn a man's hair from black to white in a single night.
"I will knock at the door," said the doctor. But before he could carry out his intention, footsteps were heard, and the handle of the door was turned. Both men drew back involuntarily into the shadow as Mrs. Luttrell and Angela came forth.
Angela had been weeping, but there were no signs of tears upon the elder woman's face. Rigid, white, and hard, it looked almost as if it were carved in stone; a mute image of misery too deep for tears. There were lines upon her brow that had never been seen there before; her lips were tightly compressed; her eyes fiercely bright. She had thrown a black shawl over her head on coming away from the drawing-room into the draughty corridors. This shawl, which she had forgotten to remove, together with the dead blackness of her dress, gave her pale face a strangely spectral appearance. Clinging to her, and yet guiding her, came Angela, with the white flower crushed and drooping from her hair. She also was ashy pale, but there was a more natural and tender look of grief to be read in her wet eyes and on her trembling lips than in the stony tranquility of Richard Luttrell's mother.
Brian could not contain himself. He rushed forward and threw himself on the ground at his mother's feet. Mrs. Luttrell shrank back a little and clutched Angela's arm fiercely with her thin, white fingers.
"Mother, speak to me; tell me that you—mother, only speak!"
His voice died away in irrepressible sobs which shook him from head to foot. He dared not utter the word "forgiveness" yet. Unintentional as the harm might be that his hand had done, it was sadly irreparable, too.
Mrs. Luttrell looked at him with scarcely a change of feature, and tried to withdraw some stray fold of her garments from his grasp. He resisted; he would not let her go. His heart was aching with his own trouble, and with the consciousness of her loss—Angela's loss—all the suffering that Richard's death would inflict upon these two women who had loved him so devotedly. He yearned for one little word of comfort and affection, which even in that terrible moment, a mother should have known so well how to give. But he lay at that mother's feet in vain.
It was Angela who spoke first.
"Speak to him, mother," she said, tremblingly. "See how he suffers. It was not his fault."
The tears ran down her pale cheeks unnoticed as she spoke. It was only natural to Angela that her first words should be words of consolation to another, not of sorrow for her own great loss. But Mrs. Luttrell did not unclose her lips.
"Ye'll not be hard upon him, madam," said the old doctor, deprecatingly. "Your own lad, and a lad that kneels to you for a gentle word, and will be heartbroken if you say him nay."
"And is my heart not broken?" asked the mother, lifting her head and looking away into the darkness of the long corridor. "The son that I loved is dead; the boy that came to me like a little angel in the spring of my youth—they say that he is dead and cold. I am going to look at his face again. Come, Angela. Perhaps they have spoken falsely, and he is alive—not murdered, after all."
Brian raised himself a little and repeated the word with shuddering emphasis.
"Murdered!" said Mrs. Luttrell, steadily, as she turned her burning eyes full upon the countenance of her younger son; as if to watch the workings of his agitated features. "If not by the laws of man, by God's laws you are guilty. You had quarrelled with him that day; and you took your revenge. I tell you, James Muir, and you, Angela Vivian, that Brian Luttrell took his brother's life by no mistake—that he is Richard's murderer——"
"No; I swear it by the God who made me—no!" cried Brian, springing to his feet.
But his mother had turned away.
THE DEAD MAN'S TESTIMONY.
About ten o'clock at night Hugo Luttrell was seen entering the courtyard at the back of the house, where keepers, grooms, and indoor servants were collected in a group, discussing in low tones the event of the day. Seeing these persons, he seemed inclined to go back by the way that he had come; but the butler—an old Englishman who had been in the Luttrell family before Edward Luttrell ever thought of marrying a Scotch heiress and settling for the greater part of every year at Netherglen—this said butler, whose name was William Whale, caught sight of the young fellow and accosted him by name.
"Mr. Hugo, sir, there's been many inquiries after you," he began in a lugubrious tone of voice.
"After me, William?" Hugo looked frightened and uneasy. "What for?"
"You won't have heard of the calamity that has come upon the house," said William, shaking his head solemnly; "and it will be a great shock to you, no doubt, sir; a terrible shock. Stand back, you men, there; let Mr. Hugo pass. Come into the housekeeper's room, sir. There's a fire in it; the night has turned chilly. Go softly, if you please, sir."
Hugo followed the old man without another question. He looked haggard and wearied; his clothes were wet, torn and soiled; his very hair was damp, and his boots were soaked and burst as though from a long day's tramp. Mrs. Shairp, the housekeeper, with whom he was a favourite, uttered a startled exclamation at his appearance.
"Guid guide us, sirs! and whaur hae ye been hidin' yoursel' a' this day an' nicht, Mr. Hugo? We've baen sair trouble i' th' hoose, and naebody kent your whaurabouts. Bairn! but ye're just droukit! Whaur hae you hidden yoursel' then?"
"Hidden!" Hugo repeated, catching at one of the good woman's words and ignoring the others. "I've not hidden anywhere. I've been over the hills a bit—that's all. What is the matter?"
He seated himself in the old woman's cushioned chair, and leaned forward to warm himself at the fire as he spoke, holding out first one hand and then the other to the leaping blaze.
"How will I tell you?" said Mrs. Shairp, relapsing into the tears she had been shedding for the last two hours or more. "Is it possible that ye've heard naething ava? The laird—Netherglen himsel'—oor maister—and have you heard naething aboot him as you cam doun by the muir? I'd hae thocht shame to let you gang hame unkent, if I had been Jenny Burns at the lodge."
"I did not come that way," said Hugo, impatiently. "What is the matter with the laird?"
"Maitter?—maitter wi' the laird? The laird's deid, laddie, and a gude freend was he to me and mine, and to your ain sei' forbye, and the hale kintra side will be at the buryin'," said the housekeeper, shaking her head solemnly. "An' if that were na enow for my poor mistress there's a waur thing to follow. The laird's fa'en by his ain brither's han's. Mr. Brian shot him this verra nicht, as they cam' thro' the wud."
"By mistake, Mrs. Shairp, by mistake," murmured William Whale. But Hugo lifted his haggard face, which looked very pale in the glow of the firelight.
"You can't mean what you are saying," he said, in a hoarse, unnatural voice. "Richard? Richard—dead! Oh, it must be impossible!"
"True, sir, as gospel," said Mrs. Shairp, touched by the ring of pain that came into the young man's voice as he spoke. "At half-past eight, by the clock, they brought the laird hame stiff and stark, cauld as a stane a'ready. The mistress is clean daft wi' sorrow; an' I doot but Mr. Brian will hae a sair time o't wi' her and the bonny young leddy that's left ahent."
Hugo dropped his face into his hands and did not answer. A shudder ran through his frame more than once. Mrs. Shairp thought that he was shedding tears, and motioned to William Whale, who had been standing near the door with a napkin over his arm, to leave the room. William retired shutting the door softly behind him.
Presently Hugo spoke. "Tell me about it," he said. And Mrs. Shairp was only too happy to pour into his ears the whole story as she had learned it from the keeper who had come upon the scene just after the firing of the fatal shot. He listened almost in silence, but did not uncover his face.
"And his mother?" he asked at length.
Mrs. Shairp could say little about the laird's mother. It was Dr. Muir who had told her the truth, she said, and the whole house had heard her cry out as if she had been struck. Then Miss Vivian had gone to her, and had received the news from Mrs. Luttrell's own lips. They had gone together to look at Richard's face, and then Miss Vivian had fainted, and had been carried into Mrs. Luttrell's own room, where she was to spend the night. So much Mrs. Shairp knew, and nothing more.
"And where is Brian?"
"Whaur should he be?" demanded the old woman, with some asperity. "Whaur but in's ain room, sair cast doun for the ill he has dune."
"It was not his fault," said Hugo, quickly.
"Maybe no," replied Mrs. Shairp, with reserve. "Maybe ay, maybe no; it's just the question—though I wadna like to think that the lad meant to harm his brother."
"Who does think so?"
"I'm no saying that onybody thinks sae. Mr. Brian was aye a kind-hearted lad an' a bonny, but never a lucky ane, sae lang as I hae kent him, which will be twenty years gane at Marti'mas. I cam' at the term."
Hugo scarcely listened to her. He rose up with a strange, scared look upon his face, and walked unsteadily out of the room, without a word of thanks to Mrs. Shairp for her communications. Before she had recovered from her astonishment, he was far down the corridor on his way to the other portion of the house.
In which room had they laid Richard Luttrell? Hugo remembered with a shiver that he had not asked. He glanced round the hall with a thrill of nervous apprehension. The drawing-room and dining-room doors stood open; they were in darkness. The little morning-room door was also slightly ajar, but a dim light seemed to be burning inside. It must be in that room, Hugo decided, that Richard Luttrell lay. Should he go in? No, he dare not. He could not look upon Richard Luttrell's dead face. And yet he hesitated, drawn by a curious fascination towards that half-open door.
While he waited, the door was slowly opened from the inside, and a hand appeared clasping the edge of the door. A horrible fancy seized Hugo that Richard had risen from his bed and was coming out into the hall; that Richard's fingers were bent round the edge of the open door. He longed to fly, but his knees trembled; he could not move. He stood rooted to the spot with unreasoning terror, until the door opened still more widely, and the person who had been standing in the room came out. It was no ghostly Richard, sallying forth to upbraid Hugo for his misdeeds. It was Brian Luttrell who turned his pale face towards the boy as he passed through the hall.
Hugo cowered before him. He sank down on the lower steps of the wide staircase and hid his face in his hands. Brian, who had been passing him by without remark, seemed suddenly to recollect himself, and stopped short before his cousin. The lad's shrinking attitude touched him with pity.
"You are right to come back," he said, in a voice which, although abstracted, was strangely calm. "He told you to leave the house for ever, did he not? But I think that—now—he would rather that you stayed. He told me that I might do for you what I chose."
The lad's head was bent still lower. He did not say a word.
"So," said Brian, leaning against the great oak bannisters as if he were utterly exhausted by fatigue, "so—if you stay—you will only be doing—what, perhaps, he wishes now. You need not be afraid."
"You are the master—now," murmured Hugo from between his fingers.
It was the last speech that Brian would have expected to hear from his cousin's lips. It cut him to the heart.
"Don't say so!" he cried, in a stifled voice. "Good God! to think that I—I—should profit by my brother's death!" And Hugo, lifting up his head, saw that the young man's frame was shaken by shuddering horror from head to foot. "I shall never be master here," he said.
Hugo raised his head with a look of wonder. Brian's feeling was quite incomprehensible to him.
"He was always a good brother to me," Brian went on in a shaken voice, more to himself than to his cousin, "and a kind friend to you so long as you kept straight and did not disgrace us by your conduct. You had no right to complain, whatever he might do or say to you. You ought to mourn for him—you ought to regret him bitterly—bitterly—while I—I——"
"Do not you mourn for him, then?" said Hugo, when the pause that followed Brian's speech had become insupportable to him.
"If I were only in his place I should be happy," said Brian, passionately. Then he turned upon Hugo with something like fierceness, but it was the fierceness of a prolonged and half-suppressed agony of pain. "Do you feel nothing? Do you come into his house, knowing that he is dead, and have not a word of sorrow for your own behaviour to him while he lived? Come with me and look at him—look at his face, and remember what he did for you when you were a boy—what he has done for you during the last eight years."
He seized Hugo by the arm and compelled him to rise; but the lad, with a face blanched by terror, absolutely refused to move from the spot.
"Not to-night—I can't—I can't!" he said, his dark eyes dilating, and his very lips turning white with fear. "To-morrow, Brian—not to-night."
But Brian briefly answered, "Come," and tightened his grasp on the lad's arm. And Hugo, though trembling like an aspen leaf, yielded to that iron pressure, and followed him to the room where lay all that was mortal of Richard Luttrell.
Once inside the door, Brian dropped his cousin's arm, and seemed to forget his presence. He slowly removed the covering from the dead face and placed a candle so that the light fell upon it. Then he walked to the foot of the table, which served the purpose of a bier, and looked long and earnestly at the marble features, so changed, so passionless and calm in the repose of death! Terrible, indeed, was the sight to one who had sincerely loved Richard Luttrell—the strong man, full of lusty health and vigour, desirous of life, fortunate in the possession, of all that makes life worth living only a few short hours before; now silent, motionless for ever struck down in the hey-day of youth and strength, and by a brother's hand! Brian had but spoken the truth when he said that he would gladly change his own fate for that of his brother Richard. He forgot Hugo and the reason for which he had brought him to that room, he forgot everything except his own unavailing sorrow, his inextinguishable regret.
Hugo remained where his cousin had left him, leaning against the wall, seemingly incapable of speech or motion, overcome by a superstitious terror of death, which Brian was as far from suspecting as of comprehending. In the utter silence of the house they could hear the distant stable-clock strike eleven. The wind was rising, and blew in fitful gusts, rustling the branches of the trees, and causing a loose rose-branch to tap carelessly against the window panes. It sounded like the knock of someone anxious to come in. The candles flickered and guttered in the draught; the wavering light cast strange shadows over the dead man's face. You might have thought that his features moved from time to time; that now he frowned at the intruders, and now he smiled at them—a terrible, ghastly smile.
There was a footstep at the door. It was Mrs. Luttrell who came gliding in with her pale face, and her long black robes, to take her place at her dead son's side. She had thought that she must come and assure herself once more that he was really gone from her. She meant to look at him for a little while, to kiss his cold forehead, and then to go back to Angela and try to sleep. She took no notice of Brian, nor of Hugo; she drew a chair close to the long table upon which the still, white form was stretched, seated herself, and looked steadfastly at the uncovered face. Brian started at the sight of his mother; he glanced at her pleadingly, as if he would have spoken; but the rigidity of her face repelled him. He hung his head and turned a little from her, as though to steal away.