Chapter 71321509

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71321509
Full Date1898-12-17
Page Number19
Corrections0
Word Count3043
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Legend of the Moat: A Tale of a Christmas Eve
article text

.CHAPTER III. .

"Like tho skeleton at the feast," said Derwent, a few hours later. "He seems to have damp ed

everything."

"Why didn't he get himself, buried in the Bnow?" snarled Hilton. "Curse the:hound! I could call him out and shoot him."

"I wouldn't try it," said Derwent, coldly; "he looks the sort of fellow who might shoot you."

"Pooh!"

"Poor fellow! 3 pity him," thought Derwent; "and I pity poor Miriam too, what with the. old folks and my beautiful brother-in-law^.to be, she hasn't had much chance for a word "with - her old lover. Seems a shame for Nelly and me to be so happy., Doesn't it?" he said aloud, for Nelly

camé in.

"Doesn't.it? What do you,mean?"' she cried, wonderingly. it

"I was talking to myself about it's being a shanie for us to be so happy."

"But I'm not happy, Bob; who could be with Ri looking like a ghost, and father snubbing me.hor ribly, just for speaking, civilly to poor Sir Mar cus.' ,

"I say, is he a nice fellow?"

"He's perfect, all but one thing." "What's that-bad temper-vice?" "For shame! ? I quite love him." "Nelly!"

"AB a brother/' said the girl, mischievously. "He's the nicest fellow that ever Jived; but I'm forgetting mother's message."

"To me?"

"Yes. She wants you by and by, when we're all sitting round the fire drinking negus and hot older wine, to speak out, and ask my father to tell us the old legend of the house.''

"Bother the old legend of the house! - Who wants'stories to-night? I want another dance."

"No, no, you must ask him. He always likes to be asked at Christmas time. It's, a whim of his, and if he isn't asked he'll feel hurt."

"But suppose he says no?"

"Oh, he's sure to say no, and make a'fuss about it, but he wants to tell It all the same. You must ask him, and everyone knows it¿ but they'll

all back,you up, and then he'll tell it." - "What is it-a ghost story?"

"Not eocactly. It'B the story of -but you'll hear," ?.. < ;

Robert Derwent had not long to walt for the ; opportunity, for soon after all were gathered round the flaming fire, the wine was being handed round, and -struck by the stillness," Sir Michael went to the window, drew aside the curtain, and looked out, to see that the wind had swept clear the sky, that the moon was .shining brilliantly, and that it was once'more, freezing sharply.

"Just a. violent storm sweeping over," herald,

as he took his seat in the semi-circle. "Here's health and a merry Christmas to all, and -our prayers that no" one may be the worse for the

storm."

The toast was "drunk, and Nelly gave hér lover a sharp look; which made him ^out with the re quest... ? -. .? ? - -

"Ohk by the way, Sir. Michael, it's just the sea son for that sort of thing. I've heard there's a legend or something about this old house. I wis! you'd tell lt."

"My dear boy, no," cried the baronet. "Some day, perhaps, when we're together. I couldn'i think of taking up everyone's time on a night like

thiS."-.-.":

There was a chorus of noes, more pressing more unwillingness on the part of the master o the house; but at last with many apologies, he be gan- '

"I'm sure everyone must be tired of it," he pro tested; "for I've told it these last-twenty years o] more.; It's only a sort of fegend of a lady of oui family. That's her portrait looking down upoi us. It was said that she had a love affair-witl someone to whom her father and mother objected and-and-er-dear me, I-er-I really. fear I'v« lost the thread of the old story," stammered Sli Michael, as, for the first time, it struck him tha he was treading on very thin ice. "There, there it's not worth telling, so let it go."

But a chorus of oh's and protests of so vehemen a. nature arose that-the'host'grew desperate, an went on. . -..-.v....,

. "Well,/!* was like that-^-the-er-.gentleman wa forbidden the house; and the lady, waa told tha she was never to ßpeak to the. gentleman, and hem ham! like a good,, obedient, loving daughter,- sh said ehe would-do as her parents washed, for the (had chosen a husband for her."" ^ r, \

\ "Is,, the silly old Idiot'(mad?'.' "'-wfrispereoV.Hilta to Derwent. ; , ; .",.. .', . -j . '.

,: "Don't know," was the reply. *. ''Ask him." ' ' ..Well, but to begin telling such a tale, as thal As for you, you ought to be kicked' for aakin

hum"

"Come outside and kick me,"'responded Dei went, fiercely, and Slr Michael went onr

"One winter's night, during a- Bbaarp frost, afte she had gone to bed, she came down the sid staircase.from that gallery there, went along th corridor to the door at the end of the house, lei lt open, and walked straight down the grass .wal between the yew hedges right to the top of th steps where the two stone balls are, and, uttei .lng a terrible cry, she leaped head foremost int the moat, breaking the ice. When search wa made for her; they traced her from the open, doc by her footprints in. the snow right to the step! and ih'ere.was the ice -looking black, and they kne' j what had happened. And as they drew her froi ¡ the moat all stiff and stark, her' eyes oipen wid

and staring, and the drops that hung from ht long, dark hair froze hard In the cruel wind, ti they hoing round, like pearls."

"Swoosh," came a rush of icy wind* as Sir Mi chael finished the family legend, and the gm curtains which ; cut off the front of the hall an th© door were wafted out two or three feet froo the 'floor, whilé a piteous, mournful cry can: softly to the ears of the listeners, the wind rusl lng up the chimney with a roaT, succeeded by silence Which sent a-shudder through all presen

i "Great heavens!", cried. Slr Michael; '/that do< must have blown open." . '.*

"Oh!" cried Lady Lee, uttering a piercing shrie] "Märiam! Miriam!"

I All started to their Jfeet.

"Miriam?" cried Slr Michael, turning' ghastil 'fWjhat oi herl,,r .' v .. '

"Gone-T<gone!"- oried his wife. "Ah, Michael, Michael, what have we done!"

Slr Michael tore at his throat, and gazéîi wildly at an empty chair standing by the great curtain, and where last he had seen his child seated. Then, recovering himself, he'^cried wildly: ." .

"Here, Hilton, Derwent, every man, follow ine." He rushed to the door beneath the gallery, led the way into the corridor, which struck icily cold, and made for the end, to find che door wide open.

"My God!" he groaned, shuddering. "Dook, look, someone,"

"Footprints in the snow," said Derwent. ,

"Of two people-a man's and a woman's?" cried

Hilton.

"No; only one person's, and they are very deep.

"Quick, down to the moat," cried Sir Michael; and, taking the lead, once more, he plunged through the dèep snow, following the footprints down the stone steps, where one of the stone balls stood out cl oar of the Bnow, while right in front was a black patch where the ice had. been broken, and tho fragments floated together. ,

"The old story! The old story!" groaned Sir .Michael. "She knew it-she knew it. What have I done?" .

"Stop!" roared Hilton, fiercely; "there's some trick here; If. anyone had jumped on to the ice it wou'ld not have broken. Ah, that's it! Where's that other stoneball?"

Every eye was turned to the place where it had stood, but it was gone.

Sir Michael turned in a weary, helpless way . to Hilton, as if ready to cling to any straw of hope.

"It is a blind-ï-a trick," cried Hilton. . , "Who has seen this Sir Marcus Croyland?".

"Hah!" cried Sir Michael, flashing back into

life and action.

"No one has seen him, of course," continued Hilton, who almost foamed. "A trick-an elope

ment."

"Nonsense!" cried Derwent; "there are only the footmarks of one person."

"That is false," said Hilton. "Someone else has stood there, carried and set down while the stone was thrown on the ice to gain time.".

"Then there would be footsteps further on," cried Slr Michael, who stopped down on to the snow covered ice, skirted the black-looking hole, closely followed by Hilton and Derwent, the for mer of whom uttered a shout as he saw the deep footprinta on the far side going right along'the

moat.

Sir Michael seemed to have grown suddenly twenty years younger, as he hurriedly followed the plainly-marked trail in the bright moonlight, to where, at the angle, it turned off in another direction. There the bank had been climbed, a stretch of open ground crossed; and directly after they came to where the snow had been trampled by horses and wheel tracks ran off towards the park gate.

"Here, quick! The stables!" cried Sir Mi chael; and, leading the way, He shouted to the .grooms and coachman who had been aiding in tho search.

The; men ran on. - Lights were fetched from the servants' hall, and in a few minutes the sta bles presented a busy scene, and three horses

were ^saddled, whips; were .fetched, and Sir Mi chael, Hilton^ . and Derwent mounted, ' the- hoofs sounding dull .on,the paved yard. They made at once_fqr_ the. carriage .drive, .trotted through the 'park, and then, once on.the road, the old man led at a'good hunting gallop, and his companions followed in silence with the grotesque shadows of the party mingled and looking almost black upon the snow.

Not a word was spoken, but Hilton muttered an oath, and he turned to his companion, and pointed with his hunting crop at where, plainly seen in tho white road, were ruts of carriage wheels deeply indented, and the prints of hoofs, evidently of four horses, having gone along at a canter.

Derwent was half dispose'd to shout and call Sir Michael's attention to tho fact, but he felt that the old man would have seen, and he rode on in silence, growing more and more, excited as the keon, frosty wind whistled by his ears, while the horses snorted and increased their speed.

At last Sir Michael turned la his seat, and shouted back- ?

"They can't' 'have, gone long, and they're mak ing for Lay Castle, where they'll change horses. We shall overtake them before they get there."

"I doubt it, sir;" said Hilton. *

- "Don't doubt," cried Sir Michael, "but ride, and . when wo overtake thean you go straight for that scoundrel and shoot 'him. Do you hear! Shoot him! You ¡have pistols?"

"No, sir."

"Wihat! You did not bring pistols?'.'

"No, sir," cried Hilton savagely. ' "Did you?"

, "Hujnipih! No ; . I - forgot. Did you, Derwent!."

."No, sir."

"Never mind. We're armed with right," cried Sir Michael. "Seize the cowardly dog and break his neck instead.'. Thief, robber, treacherous hound.' There, don't talk, boys. Ride-ride!"

"Bah!" growled HiltoT to his companion as they tore on, -"who started the talking. Look (here, Derwent, you are not going to keep on with your engagement, are you?"

"I?, Of course. Aren't you?"

' "I?" ' No; I'm goihig to half kill that fellow Croyland, and then I've done with it."

"You'll not "'help to get-Miss- Lee back ?" "Not I. Wihat is she to me, now?"

Derwent made no reply, but rode on,- enjoying the excitement oí the adventure, for the night was glorious, and the baronet's horses good, while the sharp frost kept the snow from falling beneath the swift creatures' feet.

"How well the old fellow rides!" he thought; ?*I shouldn't like to be In that Croyland's boots when the old man catches them. I don't know, though. Pd-haye done as muon to. get little Nelly if he had* gone against mo. By George,

what a ride at midnight on a Christmas EVe!"

In the wild exhilaration of the go-Hop he pressed his horse's sides, and the brave beast bounded on, "tossing its head and snorting, loudly, for it need ed no urging, but rather a tighter hand upon, the rein to check the desire to race abreast of Its stable companion in front. -"

Shadowing tree and snowy hedge seemed to rush by them; myriads of crystals flashed and sparkled in the moonlight, and two jets as of steam came back from the foremost horse at every expiration.

"He'll have to draw rein after a bit," thought Derwent. "It's going to be a long chase, for they -had a longer start than the old mari fancied; Per haps we shan't catch 'em after ¿11, and I don't I know -that I want to, for Master Hilton here doesn't

show up well. Hulloa! What's that-light at a cottage?"

"Quick, my lads!" cried .Sir Michael, turning'.to shout. "There they are In front. Broken down,

I believe "

The ride had only been short af ter, all, for, at »'

turn of the road, where most exposed, tho snow

had drifted Into a wreath of which the post-boya . had not been aware. Something had gone \vxong,; the post-chalso was half over, leaning against a' high bank, with its off wheels in a ditch and the near-side ones in the air three feet above the road, .while as the three pursuers galloped up lt was to see those of whom they were in chace standing in the snow, while the poet-boys appeared to have been attaching the traces of their team to the hinder part of the chaise, so as to drag it back out of the snow-filled ditch in witch the lower wheels were wedged. '

Croyland had been helping them, and had not. heard the following horses till they were close upon him, when he darted to where the companion of his flight was standing wrapped in a long cloak, ready to defend her at any cost.

The next minute the panting and snorting horses* were pulled up on their haunches, and the two

younger men Imitated the action of their elder, aa .

he sprang from his saddle and called upon them ,

to follow.

''You dog! You villain! You trickster!" he '

roared. "Miriam, you shameless creature, stand , it: asido or 1 shall forget myself and strike you'toOi.".*'-"-Vi:?-'

Miriam's answer was to throw herself in front of her companion,'who was struggling-to, wrest

something from out of the chaise pocket. ^ ' "You hear me," roared Sir Michael as - the two

post boys stood steadying their horses and look- .

ing on. ? '.-. .- " - ? ..: . ?

"Now, Derwent," .cried Hilton, fiercely; "never . ;'?.?> mind his pistol, come on."

"Siand back!" shouted Croyland, as he stood at bay in the snow, his arm about Miriam's waist, and making a barrier of the plunging horses and

tho overturned chaise. *

"Shoot the dog where he stands," roared Slr Michael. "Miriam, girl; come here."

Hilton and Derwent stepped forward after a

moment's hesitation, and then stopped, for Croy- ' land's pistol clicked. . ^

"I have warned you," he cried, "This lady is my wife, Sir Michael.. Call these bullies'back.!*

"It is a .lie!" cried Slr Michael, furiously. ^ ."Miriam, this is not true,?" .

"It is true, father," she said, softly. "This ia r ' ¡. my husband. You cannot part us now"' - . "

Sir Michael's voice shook, as he said in. a chok ing voice which faltered as he-spoke: - .

"Is this true, Croyland-an honest marriage ' with my child?"

"True as that God hears my words this won- * drous night. Ah," he cried, as from the distance

,the> turret clock began to chime'from the 'hilla". '." v couple of miles away; and "then clearly on the

frosty air the* hour of midnight carnie loud and .. deep. "Christmas Day-the day of love and hope

for all., Sir'Michael, this is no time" for thesei'?--" "-r and he threw his pistol at the old man's feet- ? "Sir Michael, father, these four months past have '<* ' I been your son. . This:is.my wife.-but she is still your child. It i.\2be time of f<>rgiveness now'. We .ask it kneeling .at ..your feet.". ?...'?.

The young people sank in the soft^snow and a curious choking gasp escaped from the old man's lips, as he stood" there in full moonlight, looking dazed and strange; . " , ,?

"The son of a long line of enemies," he mutter ed-"Married-my daughter-my son-"

"Father!" cried Miriam, as she clasped. his knees.

Sir Michael uttered a hoarse cry and snatched her to his breast. ... * ?

"Miriam, my child!"-.

The next minute his hand was laid gently on

Croyland's head. . ,

"Yes," he said hoarsely; "after all these years -then'the old feud is dead-my last enemy has:

gone. Mr. Hilton," lie continued, turning to. - where tho young man had stood.

But there was no reply,: only thé dull, rapid beat -

of a horse's feet as the stout hack was urged to a - gallOp. .: .. ? -. .V: '?-?;?, " ?..:?"

"Hah! Gone!" said Sir Michael with a sigh" bf relief as Croyland rose frona where he had

knelt. "' .... /

"Derwent my dear boy. You have nothing

against us. My ;dear wife- is : waiting-broken- ? hearted at home.' Poor Nelly, too. She was cry- - : ing pitlfully. Mount and gallop back. . Tell them,

my lad, that all is well and that it is not late yet -

and that-that-we're < -coming-and ;that. it's ? Christmas morning, and-and peace and goodwill

and-ah!" he groaned as he began to totter-. .';?:. - "found-and safe. ' Thank God! Thank Gerd!" ...

He would have fallen insensible but Croyland » caught him in his arms to bear him to the car

riage, weak now as a child. -*

(The End.)

' .? ._._? -. C