Chapter 135847846

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Chapter NumberXCI
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1891-09-30
Page Number2
Word Count3150
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleNewcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954)
Trove TitleMinnigrey: A Romance
article text MINNIGREY. OHAPTER XCI (Continued). 'Because he has not come to be buried; and his bones will never rest anywhere but here. So I advise you, dame,' continued Mandrake, ' to keep a close guard upon your tongue-he may be nearer than either you or I imagine.' A loud cro tk from the raven-who, during this conversation, had been busily occupied with the bone his master had thrown him-startled both the speakers. As they looked up the sexton was first to observe a dark shadow falling on the pathway directly opposite the cottage door. With a terrified look he pointed it out to his visitor; each thought they could trace in the faint outline a fantastic likeness to Bawtree. Dame Hawlett screamed, and nearly fell from her seat. The next instant the shadow dis appeared. ' I mustbeoff,' observed the woman, as soon as she had recovered herself; : you are enough to frighten a decent body out of her wits, with your silly stories. You have been so long amongst graves and worms, that you see a ghost in every shadow.' 'It was no ghost,' observed the sexton, seriously. ' Of course it was not!' replied Dame Hawlett; ' but I have no time to lose; the young lord is expected down this evening. There will be plenty of ale and beef given away, and perhaps money,' she added, with a laugh, ' so unless you wish to lose your share of the dole, you had better go with me to the manor.' Although the speaker scarcely cared to confess it to herself, the half invi tation to accompany her was given more for the sake of protection than from any feeling of friendship to Man drake. The old man however de. dlined, and shortly after she left the cottage alone. ' Coming down before the funeral !' muttered the master of the house. 'I wonder which earl-the real earl, or the fellow who has so long nursed himself in the hope of the title ?'-the proud man who treads the earth as if it were not of the same dust? I must see him! I must see him!' So arguing, he threw off his usual corduroy jacket, and put on his Sunday coat. Just as he was about to leave. the place, several gentlemen entered the room; amongst them Were the vicar and Colonel Mortimer, the nearest resident magistrate to Dingley. The clergyman demanded the keys of the church, which Mandrake no sooner placed in -his hands, than the former transferred them to the magis. trate. ' Humph!' muttered the old man, with a dissatisfied look; ' more visitors to the church-always robbing me of my fees.' The vicar's antiquarian tastes, which frequently led him to do the honours of the church himself, had - long been a sore point with his sub ordinate, as he said it robbed him of his fees. For some moments there was a whispered consultation amongst the party. ]'Have you the keys of the vaults ?' inquired the lReverend Mr. Elmtree. The sexton looked surprised. The question was repeated. Mandrake sullenly pointed to the iron hook on which they were hang ing. Colonel kMortimer told him to point out the ones which opened the burial place of the Earls of Eserick. A sudden gleam of intelligence lit the features of the old man as he pointed them out to the colonel, who instantly took possession of them. 'And now, my man,' he said, 'I <have a caution for you.' ' For me, sir ?' ' Yes ! keep silent on the subject of our visit for a few days, and you shall be well rewarded; breathe a syllable to excite the curiosity of the babblers in the village, and you shall repent it. You know me-I am a man of my word.' 'I can keep a secret,' replied the sexton, doggedly; ' as you would say were I to tell you the history of every grave I have dug, or of those who have filled them. I know the purport 7eof your visit,' he added; 'you will find the coffin you seek the first on the right side of the vault.' ' Whose coffin?' demanded the magistrate, with a look of astonish ' ment. . ' The last Earl of Eserick's.' 'Without waiting for a reply, Man drake . quitted the cottage, leaving his visitors in doubt whether they ought to suffer him to depart or not. The party repaired immediately to the church, where they remained about an hour. When they left the sacred edifice, one of the strangers, whq was evidently an assistant or sub ordinate to a grave-looking personage who accompanied the vicar and magis trate on their visit, carried in his hand a box, carefully sealed. They all proceeded to the house of Colonel Mortimer. NeeeCHAPTER XOII. Ne'er be I found by the o'erawed, In that thrice hallowed ere abroad,. When ghosts, as cottage maide beheve, Their pebbled bed permitted leave. -ODE To FnA1. Half way between the churchyard and Dingloy Manor-a distance of aboat two miles-was a deep stream, ranning between two stee;? banks, shaded with elder trees and stunted pollards. The only means of crossing 'it was by a rustic bridge, formed of rough planks, large enough to admit horsemen as well as foot passengers, guarded by a rail on either side. There was a ford about a mile lower .down the stream for waggons and. carriages. As the water sometimes rose to a considerable height, the bridge was not only strongly built, but elevated at least ten feet above the ordinary level of the stream, so that if any person were unfortunate enough to fall in, from the shelving nature of the banks, as well as the height of the bridge, it would be almose im. possible to escape a watery grave. Accidents, previous to the hand-rail ing being put up, had been of such frequent occurrence, especially at night, that the place was known by the name of ' Dead Ntan's Pool.' As Mandrake-whose mind was still ruminating on the visit of the vicar and the magistrate-approached the spot, he saw a group of rustics gathered on the edge. They had just succeeded in drawing a body out of the water. Even his cheek blanched as he recognised the features of the garrulous old crone, Dame Hawlett. 'I was right!' he thought. as he recollected the shadow which had alarmed them both; 'the destroyer has returned.' The body was still warm. 'How did this happen?' he de manded. ' Can't say, Master Sexton,' replied the young farmer who had fished her out of the stream; 'I toor on my way to Dingley Manor when I heard a screech, so Dick and I tarns back, and there wor Mother Eawlett floun dering top o' t'water. I runs to the farm to get the cart ropes to tow her but) when I got back, t'old woman wor stone dead !' 'Did you see no one ?' said the old man, at the same time looking anxiously round him. 'Seed no one!' replied the rustic, with an air of surprise; 'noa ! whoam should I see! Dame wor alone, I reckon.' Mandrake was of a different opinion, but he kept his suspicions to himself. The women who had gathered to *the spot from the farm and the cottages of the labourers, began roll ing the body over and over on the grass, in the hope of recovering her. Their well-meant but ignorant efforts were in vain; the last spark had fled-the old nurse had gone to her last account! By the sexton's persuasion, two of the farm servants removed the corpse to a shed in a brickfield, oh the oppo site side of the hedge. Not one of them would give it house-room. They had a superstitious dread of the dead. With a still sadder spirit, the old man resumed his way to the manor. At every turn he expected to see the object of his terror cross his path for he felt convinced that his late visitor's death was.the work of Baw tree. ' Why should I fear him ?' he said; 'he can't harm me. I have looked. too orten upon tne acea to tear the living. I shall bury him yet 1' he added, with a sigh; 'and then my task will be pretty well over. I shall never live to see the death of another male of his race-I am too old for that!' As he entered the gate of Dingley Park, the spirits of the speaker began to revive, for he encountered crowds of farmers and tenants hastening to the hall to welcome the arrival of their new lord; amongst others the gipsy Hanac, who, the instant he re cognised the sexton, struck* into a lonely footpath, leading through the plantations to the house. Mandrake left the broad carriage road and fol lowed him. ' You too,' said the old man, as soon as he overtook him, 'come to wel come the Earl of Eserick ?' ' What earl?' eagerly demanded the gipsy. 'The very question I have been asking myself. Have you heard any news from Madge Lee ?' 'None,' replied.the man. SNor from her grandson ?' ' None either,' added Hanac, with a sigh. 'As soon I heard of the death of Lady Blanche, I gathered a strong party of our people, in the hope of being useful to him. Perhaps" he added mournfully, ' he is dead !' ' Wait,' replied Mandrake, with a smile, 'the night is not over yet. Something whispers me it will be a strange one.' A distant shout from the mob con gregated at the gates of the park announced the approach of the ex pected heir. The speakers quickened their steps that they migiht witness his reception. To their astonishment the shutters of the mansion were all closed, and a strong body of the tenantry of Sir John de Grey were gathered round the great porch, to the openly expressed discontent of the Eserick tenants, who could not under stand why their neighbours on such an occasion should usurp the place of honour. Whilst the gipsy and the sexton were noting the arrangement, a carriage with outriders came at a brisk rate down the avenue; it was an open one. A frown knit the brows of Hanac as he recognised on the back seat Edward Howard. It was not the earl he expected or wished to see. Opposite to him was Mr. Danvers, .the .obsequious steward. As the vehicle drove up, a faint shout rose from the Eserick farmers. The tenants of Sir John de Grey maintained an ominous silence. ' You must excuse them, my lord ! ' whispered the steward, who had been struck, as well as his master, by the coldness of their reception; 'Lady Blanche is so lately dead.' At the name of his cousin a cold shudder ran through the veins of Edward Howard; he thought of the bouquet of jonquils. 'But how is this ?' continued the steward; ' the mansion closed ! Surely my letters must have miscar-, ried ! A thousand pardons, my dear lord, that you should be kept thus waiting at the doors of your own house, which ought to fly open to re ceive you.' As the stewart gave an impatient, angry knock at the hall door, a loud laugh broke from the group of farmers nearest to him. At the same moment the window above the porch opened, and General Talbot, together with Hickman, Sergeant Williams, and a party of servants,.who were well armed, made their appearance. Lawyer Rushbrook was with them. ' What do you require ?' demanded the last-named personage. 'Require,' repeated the astonished M[r. Danvers; ' why to come in, to be sure ! Don't you see his lordship is waiting ?' ' I see no such person,' coolly re plied the man uf law. 'No such person ! Bless me ! Step forward, my lord, and show yourself. There, sir,' added the steward, as with a countenance pale with rage and mortification, Edward Howard stepped from the carriage; ' now are you satisfied ?' 'Less even than before,' replied the lawyer, coolly. 'That gentleman is no more Earl of Eserick than I am.' 'Liar!' shouted the young man, shaking his clenched hand with im potent fury at the porch. " Men of Eserick,' he added, addressing the group of tenants, who stood with open mouthed astonishment, spectators of the scene, ' will you see your landlord insulted on his own domain ?-the doors of his house closed against him by a set of scheming imposters? Break open the house,' he added, 'if you ever expect to sow or reap a single acre of the broad lands of Dingley again !' 'Captain Howard,' said General Talbot, ' pause before you proceed. I am here under legal advice and authority; both I and my friends are well armed. If these honest fellows,' he added, pointing to the farmers, ' misled by your misrepresentations, attempt to force an entrance into the house, we will resist them as we may; but beware how you cross the thres hold.' The tone of calm resolution with which the caution was given, left no doubt upon the mind of the baffled villain of the speaker's resolution; and his coward cheek turned pale. ' Iunderstand you, General Talbot!' he replied, with a quivering lip and a voice almost inarticulate with passion; ' and shall not give you the opportunity of putting your assassin like threats into execution. We are nolonger in Portugal, but in England; the law,' he added, 'shall decide between us.' 'No one who knows him ever doubted the extreme prudence of Captain Howard,' was the sarcastic rejoinder. ' Dear me-dear me t' exclaimed the bewildered steward; what does all this mean ? Is not this gentleman- my lord here, I mean-the grandson of the Hon. Geoffery Howard ?' 'No one disputes it.' ' Then he must-be Earl of Eserick,' urged Mr. Danvers, more and more confused by the admission. ' Not while his grandfather lives,' shouted the lawyer. This was a thrust which Edward Howard little expected; for a few moments he was speechless with as tonishment and rage. 'Even were your assertion true, as on the contrary I maintain that it is false and preposterous,' he stammered out at last, 'you are not Geoffrey Howard's representatives.' ' Certainly not.' Here was a second admission, which . staggered the. steward still more. Suddenly he recollected to have heard something of the dis covery of a supposed daughter of Sir John and Lady Ellen de Grey. ' If,' he said, ' you are here in the name of Miss de Grey-' ' We are here,' interrupted General Talbot, who felt that it was time to end the scene, 'as the representa tives of your late mother's son Augustus Earl of Eserick.' No sooner had the name escaped his lips, than a loud shout of exultation rose from Hanac and the gipsy band who had gathered round him and old Mandrake, the sexton; the tenants of the baronet repeated it. Edward Howard turned deadly pale-the phantom which for years had haunted him became frightfully distinct. Gradually recovering, himself, he bowed with a satirical smile towards the speaker, and thanked him. 'Thank me! for what ?' ' You have named my enemy,' he replied, 'and that is something.' Poor Hickman could scarcely control his indignation; his hand clutched nervously at one of the pistols in his belt. N No violence,' whispered the general; 'it never yet served a good cause. By this time, .I trust, our friend is safe.' The worthy adjutant groaned; he was far from indulging in the. same hope as.the speaker. The thought of his favourite being in the power of a craven wretch like Howard, nearly drove him mad. Sergeant Williams shared the feeling with him. 'You shall hear from me. in the morning !' exclaimed the baffled claimant, as he stepped into his car riage, and ordered the post.boys to drive to the nearest post-house. ' Whhn we do,' replied Talbot, in a tone of contempt-which- stung the deeper from the consciousness that it was merited-' we shall treat 'the information with all the courtesy it deserves.' The steward was about to follow the example of him whom he still be. lieved to be his real master, when the ruffian pushed the old man im patiently off the steps; adding, with an oath, that he did not require his services. . .. , A . half-suppressed. groan broke from the tenants; many of them were still doubtful, or it would have been general. In the midst o! it the vehicle drove off. 'What think you of your idol now?' demanded Mandrake, as he assisted to raise the crest-fallen Mr. Danvers from the ground. 'I don't know what to think,' sullenly answered the steward; 'should he turn out to be the real earl, this will -prove a bad night's work for all of us.' 'He the real earl!' repeated the sexton, who was thrown off his usual guard by the excitement he had undergone. 'Pshaw!' 'Why, what do you know?' de manded several voices. 'I witnessed the late lord's mar riage, more than twenty years ago, in the church atlDingley.' No sooner were the words uttered than the speaker felt he had acted imprudently. All who heard him crowded round him; he was over whelmed with questions. In the midst of the confusion oc casioned by the declaration of the sexton, one old' peasant, whose long white hair half hid his features, silently retired from the group, and made the best of his way to the northern gate of the park, which opened on the high road to London. Cleverly as he thought to escape from the crowd, he was observed.and fol lowed by a young fellow whose rolling gait denoted that he had not been long from sea. The old peasant was no other than Hanway, who had been a disguised spectator of his grandson's disgrace. The sailor was the gipsy Lanah: like most of his race, he had all the in stinct of the bloodhound in hunting down his prey. One or two impatient gestures and indistinctly-muttered words on the part of the old man had excited his suspicions; he only waited to feel assured to strike his victim-something whispered him he 'should not have long to wait. The road which Edward Howard had to take in his flight from Dingley, by passing through the village, made a detour of at least a couple of miles, so that his grandfather had time to reach the north gate before him. Seating himself on a stone bench in front of the lodge, he awaited his arrival in gloomy meditation. To be Coneinued.