The Uncollected Short Stories of Duncan Campbell Scott

By Duncan Campbell Scott, edited by Tracy Ware



The Nest of Imposture


[Part One]

    It was just four o’clock on a certain afternoon late in June. Young Oliver Prest had ascended the steps leading from his office to the pavement of St. James Street, when he was accosted by a man in whose air and aspect there was something singular, something far removed from the conventional life which crowded him in the busy metropolitan street. He had the appearance of one who had a friendship for ships and who had seen the world from them. Although there was nothing absolutely strange in the cut of his garments, they seemed outlandish, and when he moved there was the roll of the sea in his gait, and the air of strange harbors and alien coasts seemed to play about his shoulders. He spoke to Oliver Prest in English that smacked of other accents.
    
“If you are the young man who can find out hidden things I would like to speak to you.”
    Oliver turned and they went down into his office. “I have found out things that were hidden, but I have not been infallible, and there are yet many concealed.”
    “I have come to you with one of them. My name you will want to know; call me, St. Pierre Miquelon. I will tell you nothing about myself: all that is unimportant; one does not talk as much about himself who has seen the world as I have.”
    Oliver began to be fascinated by the deep eyes which regarded him.
    “Is there a place called Lacolle near here?” he asked abruptly.
    “There is; it is a village about forty miles from here, not far from the Richelieu River.”
    “On the shore of that river there is a house called the Manor. I’ve never seen it, but I have had it described it to me often, and I think I could rebuild it anywhere, I seem to know it so well.” Oliver began to wonder whether it was the haunted house of the neighborhood which he knew when he was a boy, and the next words answered his questioning. [Page 89]
    “Many years ago the owner of that house disappeared suddenly, mysteriously, and he has never been seen since. That occurrence made a great difference in my life, and after all these years I have come to look upon the house. I want you to be my guide. When shall we start?”
    “As soon as you wish, to-morrow morning. I am fully at your disposal; the train leaves the Bonaventure Depot about nine.”
    “Well, I will meet you there.” And so it was arranged.
    That evening Oliver had leisure to recall impressions of his home on the banks of the Richelieu, and the old house in the neighborhood which filled him with such awe and terror. It stood on the bank of the river; the road, a strip of turf bordered by large trees, and a few feet of beach covered with flat stones, separated it from the water. It was built of grey stone, and the main door was covered by a porch or portico supported by pillars; this was the only attempt at outward adornment. Many years after the main house was finished two wings had been projected by the owners; only one of these had been completed. The other was roofed, but was without windows or doors and lent a most melancholy aspect of ruin to the whole structure.
    Years before, Oliver could remember the master of the house had disappeared. He had set out for Montreal with a drove of fat cattle and had sold them for a good round price; but after he stepped from the ferry at Longueil no one had ever set eyes upon him again. The surmise that he had been murdered for his money grew into a certainty, and so when Oliver became old enough to ask questions, this was the story told him. After the disappearance, strange things had happened. Two sons and two daughters were left—the mother had died years before—and before long they seemed to become possessed of more money than they knew what to do with. They began to enlarge the house, and, when one wing was finished and the other was approaching completion, they dismissed the workmen, and no one ever drove a nail on the place again.
    The family name was Savona: there was Eric and Hugh, Irene and Hortense[.] Eric was a perfect horseman, ruddy in the face, and with wild, red hair. Hugh was small and dark with evil intent lurking in his eye. Irene was fair like Eric, and Hortense—but Hortense had dropped out of the history so young that there is no need to describe her. Shortly after her father’s disappearance, it was said by the others that she had gone into a convent, and, when years went by and she never came home, the convent was said to be the Carmalite at Paris.
    For some reason, quite unaccountable to the neighbors, the Savonas gradually separated themselves from everyone. Instead of their new wealth bringing a free threshold and open hands, it brought bad spirits and savagery. [Page 90] That sounds a hard word, but something savage and unrestrained grew into the manners of the two boys, and when they took to drink it was something beyond credence, the life that Manor saw. It was not long before the countryside had the story that the place was haunted; and it was not to be wondered at, for there were constant strange noises which might have a cause in nature, but which had the air of the supernatural.
    Oliver could never forget the sight he saw one night as he came down the road. The moon was high and bright, and threw deep shadows of the trees on either side of the Manor porch. But this was in the soft light, and here lay Eric Savona, his heels in the hall and his bulk sprawled on the floor of the porch, just as he had thrown himself; and, in the door, the tall shape of Irene holding a candle, the small flame flitting against the hand with which she was guarding it from the wind. She let out a low shriek, and Oliver broke into a run, improving his speed wonderfully, until he saw the lights gleam out from the windows of his own home. Now, he was going back to the old locality bent on unknown adventure.
    St. Pierre Miquelon was a silent old man, as silent as the sea which never tells its secrets, and he hardly spoke as the train carried them to Lacolle. Oliver was conscious again of the strange air of change and seafaring that hung about him, but to a question intended to set the old man talking he only received the answer: “Yes, I have wandered.” It did not take them long to hire horses at Ellard’s, and, well mounted, they proceeded down the leafy road which leads to the Richelieu, where it draws out of Lake Champlain. It was a lovely morning, full of dashes of sun and splendid shadows. As they rode side by side, Oliver asked himself often, upon what errand they were bent. Could his strange companion be the Savona who had so many years ago slipped quietly out of sight, absorbed like a ripple in the water? He was as uncommunicative as the figurehead of a ship, and to Oliver’s leading question as to the design in visiting the Manor and the purpose in asking for this company, he received the simple answer that they must wait and see how the matter would fall out.
    “It is not far now to the house; after this hill we turn a little to the left and have a sight of the river, then three quarters of a mile will bring us to the door.”
    He spoke these words as they began the descent, and he had hardly finished when his horse becoming startled at something in the trees which lined the road, stumbled, and recovering herself sprang blindly into the woods. The movement was so sudden and unaccountable that Oliver had no time to throw himself along her back and he crashed into the maples. [Page 91] The next moment found him lying senseless upon the ground, the blood oozing from a gash in his head.
    When he came to himself, St. Pierre Miquelon was supporting his shoulders. The horses had disappeared. They were alone by the roadside.
    “You have no bones broken” said Miquelon, “but there is an ugly gash in the head. You struck the branch of the tree.” Oliver could not move; there was a turmoil in his head and a light springing before his eyes.
    “The horses are gone,” he said feebly, his voice sounding in his ears thin and far away.
    “Yes,” said Miquelon, “as soon as I dismounted, mine followed yours into the woods.” The old man took a handkerchief from the inner pocket of his coat and proceeded to bind it about Oliver’s head. It was woven of blue silk with a curious design in white, spreading from the centre in intricate spirals and resolving itself into a delicate ferny tracery at the edges. It was an example of the subtle eastern fabrics which represent the lives of generations in the perfection and beauty of their construction.
    He had hardly finished the knot which bound it, when the sound of horses[’] hoofs was blown down the road, and the clash of men’s voices in angry discussion.
    “This may be someone from the Manor,” said Miquelon, hastily. “I will conceal myself in the trees; if they discover you and take you to the house it will serve our purpose. Keep your eyes open. When you can come away with safety you will find me here.”
    Just as the foremost horseman appeared at the top of the hill, Miquelon stepped into the thicket and was out of sight. The leader was Eric Savona. His face was swollen and coarse with blotches of red, his eyes were sullen and hard. He seemed firm in his saddle, although his appearance told of a recent debauch. He was followed at a short distance by Hugh, whose dark and evil eyes leaped at once upon Oliver, as he lay, his face white in the shadow of the trees, his head turbaned by the folds of the curious handkerchief.
    “Hello!” he cried, “what have we here?” at the same time reining in his beast. When they had halted, Oliver explained his plight in a very few words, and there was a consultation between the brothers. At length Eric dismounted, and without a word, lifted Oliver into his saddle. Every movement of the horse sent the blood bounding to his head, often he reeled in his seat, and it seemed an eternity before they halted at the door of the Manor. When Eric and Hugh assisted him to dismount, the old dancing light came into his eyes, there was a tumult of deep waters in his ears, and he knew no more till he awoke in a dark, cool room. [Page 92]
    His clothes had been removed, and he noticed at once that the scarf with which St. Pierre Miquelon had bandaged his head, had been taken off and a damp cloth lay upon his wound. He felt a pleasant sense of ease and refreshment, but when he raised his head from the pillows the room swam before him. Then he was contented to lie still and observe his surroundings. He made out from the shadows of the trees, and the light sound of the ripple breaking on the shore that he was in a room upon the ground floor, and presently from the opening and shutting of a door, and the tramp of feet, that it communicated with the hall. He wondered how long he had lain there, and whether Miquelon was still awaiting him in the wood. From the gradual decrease in the light, he judged that the evening was drawing near; but he reflected that for all he knew he might have been lying as he was for many days.
    Suddenly, through the closed door rose the sound of a violent quarrel; there were curses and heavy words. “I will go in,” he heard Eric protesting, with an oath. “No, you won’t, let Irene go; trust a woman for worming anything out of a man.” It was Hugh’s voice. Then he heard the low voice of a woman trying to quiet them. Soon there came the noise of a scuffle and the great thud of a body thrust against the wall. For a moment there was silence and then the choking sound of someone struggling for breath, and the grinding of a head against the bottom of the door. Oliver sprang up in bed, and with the force of the movement his head ran full of blood, and everything went black before him.
    When he came to himself the room was lighted by a candle, and a woman was bending over him, and changing the cloth on his forehead. The light of the candle was full upon her. Her face was not young and she had masses of snowy hair piled upon her head.
    “You have been wandering,” she said, in a sweet voice.
    “How long have I been here?” asked Oliver.
    “This is the second day,” she replied. “Try to take some broth.”
    Oliver felt refreshed by the nourishment.
    “My head feels better,” he said, touching the cloth.
    “How did it happen?” she asked. Oliver remembered that he must invent a story.
    “I was riding to Rouse’s Point,” he replied; “my horse became frightened and carried me against the limb of a tree. I do not remember anything else clearly.”
    “You bound up your head with the handkerchief?” she said interrogatively. [Page 93]
    Oliver remembered the quarrel he had overheard, and Hugh’s remark, that you could trust a woman for worming anything out of a man. “Oh, yes,[“] he replied, “yes, I remember now, I thought I would ride on, and the next thing I recollect is the two men coming down the hill. It seems a long time ago. You have been very kind to me.”
    “Is there any one to whom we could send word?”
    “No, to-morrow I will be able to move; my horse must have gone back to Lacolle.”
    “Your clothes are in the closet, but you must not try to move yet. The handkerchief I have washed; it is a very curious one. May I ask where you got it?”
    Oliver closed his eyes. He reflected that it would not do for him to mention his companion. What would he say? “My uncle gave it to me. It came from India years ago.”
    “That is strange,” she said; “but you must not talk any longer.” With that she left the room.
Before long he heard voices in the hall. “Yes, from India! That is true enough, but that his uncle gave it to him is a black lie. There is only one man in the world who could have given him that handkerchief, and I will have the truth out of him.” There was a rush for his door. “Irene, stand aside!”
    “He is asleep. Can you not wait? He cannot move hand or foot for a week; there will be time enough.” With that there was silence again, or the sound of conversation which he could not understand. Oliver thought of the woman guarding him from the rudeness of her brothers, and his mind ran upon the many eerie stories which were abroad concerning the house, and he thought of the legend of the white figure which haunted the unfinished building and sat weeping in its unglazed windows. Probably he was the first stranger who had slept within the walls for years. For what purpose had he been brought thither, and how was St. Pierre Miquelon connected with this nest of disordered spirits?
    The broth which Irene had given him made him drowsy, and when he next awoke he was conscious of greater strength. He sat up and felt his wounded head. There was pain where he touched it, but his brain no longer reeled when he moved. The moonlight was streaming into the room, and, as he had before noticed, the pleasant sound of the shallow water on the beach came lapping coolly on the light drift of air that played at the window. As he gazed, in a sort of dreamy half-consciousness, he was aware of a slight figure stealing into the light. It was clothed in white, and moved without a sound. It crossed the casement and glided into the shadow, and [Page 94] the whiteness which it carried glimmered there with an ashy grayness. He was not terrified; the idea crossed his mind that he was again wandering and that the figure was merely an hallucination bred by the waking thoughts of the haunted house and its uncanny occupants. Slowly the figure drifted back into the moonlight; it stood there wringing its hands. Then it leant far out of the open window.
    A moment later, while he was still lost in the novel discussion as to whether he had a proper control of his faculties, there was the sound of voices in the road, and soon the heavy trampling of feet in the portico. Oliver heard the front door thrown violently open. At the same moment the figure vanished. In the hall there was a great confusion; curses, calls for lights, and suddenly, quelling all, the sound of a woman’s suppressed shriek.
    Oliver, without any further doubt that he was perfectly in his senses, slipped out of bed. Whether the excitement under which he labored lent him a fictitious power, or whether he had recovered a great portion of his strength, he knew not, but he found he could stand securely and move without difficulty. The moon gave him sufficient light to distinguish the objects in the room, and swiftly and noiselessly he found the closet door, and thrust himself into his clothes. In this interval the turmoil in the hall had increased; the cries for lights were redoubled, and there was the tramp of heavy boots upon the floor. Oliver cautiously set his door ajar, and looked out into the hall through which he had been carried unconscious.
    Its proportions were hardly revealed by the moonlight, but it seemed to be a large oblong apartment. The door from which Oliver peered was set in an alcove. To his right hand the space was filled with a heavy piece of furniture. He could distinguish that there was sufficient space between it and the wall to admit his body. Cautiously he slipped from the door, behind this protection. It was a sort of buffet and, through the spaces in its scrolled and carved back he could obtain a clear view of the centre of the hall. Here was a table, massive and large, with something dark thrown or heaped upon it. In the dimness of the moonlight, which came faintly through the transom and side lights of the hall door, he could distinguish the bulk of two figures huddled in chairs, and this amorphous shape stretched upon the table. Then from the murk of the chamber rose anew the volley of curses, the impatient stamping of feet upon the floor, and an immoderate cry for candles. “Candles! bring thousands of candles and light all about the table. We went ahunting and we have caught my fellow’s uncle, in good faith! By the brightness of God! trim those tallow dips and let us see the game!” [Page 95]
    This was in Eric’s huge voice, and atop of it came the sharp cry from Hugh, “Irene! Irene!” She came in bearing two candles. They lit up her white face and her blanched hair. “Place them round about. By heaven let us have a ring of fire and see if my man will dance in it.”
    Slowly she brought candles, two at a time, and placed them around the confused indistinct shape on the table. The growing light brought out the angles of the room and the figures of the two brothers as they sat in their great backed chairs. Eric, wild with drink, his eyes jutting and staring, and Hugh’s face looking canine with an uplifted lip, like a malediction in the flesh.
    The growing light brought out point after point in the figure stretched upon the table, line after line in the garb of St. Pierre Miquelon gloated over the curious blue handkerchief dropped upon his face, and the last candle flashed a beam of light from the cairngorm set in the hilt of the dirk which was driven down deep into his heart.

[Part Two]

When Oliver Prest actually comprehended that he was gazing on the body of the man who had, a few hours before, accosted him and induced him to the affair which had already developed into such a misadventure, he reeled, and would have fallen if he had not suddenly recoiled from the danger, collected himself, and grasped the solid support which the buffet, behind which he was hidden, afforded him. In a moment he had so far recovered his equanimity that he could gaze again from his hiding-place.
    There had been no change in the scene before him, except that Irene, after placing the last candle, had disappeared and left the two men and their victim. They were immovable, but Hugh showed some sign of life in a twitching mouth and an eye which rose from the floor and dwelt awhile at the level of the table and sank again. Eric did not voluntarily move, but there was an apoplectic shiver in his hand and arm, which were extended along the arm of the chair. Oliver began to wonder whether he could slip unobserved into his room again, when Eric appeared suddenly to have realized something of the horror of the scene before him, for he pulled himself to his feet and, remaining unsteadily for a moment, plunged forward on the table. He swept half the candlesticks to the floor, and in the confusion which followed Oliver easily reversed the movement which had placed him in his position of vantage. [Page 96]
    When he again found himself in his room, he sat upon his bed and endeavoured to collect his thoughts and decide what he must do. He could hardly realize that what he had just seen was not some ugly vision, and by effort after effort he endeavoured to recall his senses, and resume once more the captaincy of his spirit. But this effort only brought the deeper conviction that he had seen something real, and that he must act and not dream. Quickly he went to the window. It was evidently nearly morning. The moon had disappeared, and threw a wan light upon the tops of the trees. A fresh wind sprang from the river and rustled abroad in the woods. In a moment, hardly without making a resolve, he sprang lightly to the ground. He found himself in what had once been the garden, and a few steps gave him shelter behind an arbor thickly overgrown with vines.
    As he stole from the concealment which the close foliage afforded, he glanced back at the house. There were hurried lights flitting behind the windows, and from the one he had just left a figure was leaning—a figure indistinct and wraithlike in the obscured light of the moon. From the old garden he made his way to the road, and was soon walking in the direction of Lacolle as energetically as if he had not, a few hours before, been babbling incoherently upon his bed.
    His intention was to walk at once to the village and give the alarm, but just as he was nearing the scene of his accident, and the point where he had expected to meet St. Pierre Miquelon, his foot struck something in the road. There was sufficient light in the sky to disclose that it was Miquelon’s cap. This circumstance led him to reason that it might be wiser for him to delay until the sun had risen, in order to collect any evidence of the murder which the wood or road might hold, before the Savonas had the opportunity to remove them. Acting upon this idea, he went into the woods. Here the faint moonlight had no power and the trees were massed in shadow. Gradually, as from the descent of some subtle liquid, he could begin to distinguish the nearest trees, until, from the topmost twigs to the roots, they were bathed in this illuminating fluid.
    As soon as the light grew strong enough, he made a thorough search of the wood, and discovered the spot where the struggle had occurred, for there were the traces of feet deeply set in the soft mould, broken twigs, crushed ferns, and, in the centre of the space, the blade of a small sword, broken off at the hilt, half concealed like a bright snake amongst the débris. Oliver was a lad of great spirit, and his blood ran wild in his veins at the thought of the encounter in the dark; of the two ruffians set against the old man, in whom he could not recollect one trait of violence, and he resolved to avenge him and bring his murderers to their deserved end. At the same [Page 97] time, the feeling of unreality which had all along oppressed him arose anew, and he questioned himself sharply in the endeavor to reconcile his seeming vision with the potency of his present emotions. While so engaged he came out from the trees, and found himself at the very place upon the side of the road where he had fallen from his horse. This brought all the late occurrences back into his mind with such a rush of conviction that he sprang into the middle of the road and began the ascent of the hill. All his uncertainty had vanished.
    The morning was now clear in the sky, and the east, above the cap of the hill, was bright with a long cloud glowing with cinnabar. His one thought was to reach Lacolle as speedily as possible; he did not consider that there could be any danger to avoid. During all his waiting in the wood there had been no sound of pursuit; his escape from the Manor had not been discovered. If the evanescent shape which had appeared at his window was a thing of human parts, either she had not noticed his flight or had not given the alarm. He felt perfectly secure. He proceeded without the least caution, bearing the cap and broken sword-blade in his hand.
    Just as he reached the top of the hill, he saw a figure seated by the roadside upon a heap of stones. He stopped, aghast. It was St. Pierre Miquelon! He was perfectly quiet, gazing intently upon the ground. His head was bare. The early sunlight, falling clearly upon him, gave a freshness to his worn garments. Oliver, when he could realize what he saw, rushed forward with a cry. “Miquelon! Miquelon!” The figure raised its head. The features were those of St. Pierre Miquelon, but all the color had vanished from his face. Instead of the bronze laid on bronze, instead of the skin almost caloussed by wind and hard weather, instead of a twinkling eye set in a socket puckered to temper the sun, Oliver saw a pallid mask, a moist, transparent countenance, and received an irresolute, evasive glance.
    The old man spoke and smiled. “You thought they had killed me? Well, you were wrong, as you see. It would take more than a couple of boys to kill me. I see you have found my hat.”
    Oliver handed it to him, and he placed it on his head. He was so overcome he could hardly speak.
    “You are changed,” he ventured, “terribly changed.”
    “Yes, but then I have had cause to be since you saw me last. I was on the way to Lacolle; in half an hour I would have given the alarm.”
    “Well, there is no need now, we will go on together.”
    The old man rose and they walked side by side in the road.
    They had not gone ten steps when the conviction overcame Oliver that this was not St. Pierre Miquelon. His altered countenance and expression [Page 98] were possible of explanation, but the absence of that strange charm of sea-faring, the air of the rover, the clinging gait of one who had paced a deck from Blomidon to Uclulet, could not be explained.
    “We set out in this adventure together,” he said, abruptly; “I plied you with no questions, but now I ask you to explain.”
    “There will be plenty of time for that, young man,” he answered.
    “Well, the present is as good a time as any.”
    “But it does not fit my mood.”
    “Then I go no further.”
    This evidently nonplussed his companion. “My dear young fellow,” he said in a wheedling tone, “you need not be so unaccommodating; when you hear what I have to say you will be perfectly satisfied, and, in the meantime, I ask you to forbear and come with me.”
    “On one condition,” said Oliver. “I last saw you on your back with a dirk in your ribs; now you are clothed as I saw you then; throw back your coat—over the heart—there.”
    They were standing face to face. The old man shrank back, but Oliver, with a dart of his arm, threw the coat back upon his shoulder, and, before he could clasp his hand over his heart, he saw the fissure which the dirk had made, its edges ridged with the ooze of blood from the heart stricken below.
    Before Oliver had time to move, the old man had whipped a dog-whistle from his pocket and had blown it sharply. In a moment Eric and Hugh rushed from their concealment in the woods, and, after a short, violent scuffle, overpowered him. They bound his hands behind his back, tied a handkerchief across his mouth, and, while Eric guarded him, Hugh went into the forest and soon reappeared leading a horse which Oliver at once recognized as the one ridden by Miquelon. They lifted him into the saddle and formed a procession; Eric leading the horse, Hugh walking by his side, and the old man bringing up the rear.
    When they reached the Manor, Oliver was thrust into a room which opened from the large hall. It was built like a cell, the only aperture, besides a hole for a stove-pipe in the ceiling, being a small window high in the wall, heavily crossed with iron; there was no furniture except a small oak table, ornamented with some rude scroll work at the ends, and a bench against the wall. Here Oliver sat down. His feet were not pinioned, but the handkerchief was still bound upon his mouth, and his hands were fastened firmly behind his back.
    There could be no doubt in his mind for what fate he was reserved; it was only, he thought, a question of the time and the manner of his taking [Page 99] off. In this extremity he did not think further of the mysteries by which he was surrounded, or endeavor to find a clue to them; his one thought was how he could make some show of fight for his life. He carefully examined his cell. The light from the window fell upward upon the stove-pipe hole, and downward toward the door, but he could expect succor from neither of these quarters. At a first survey, he thought the walls were perfectly smooth, but after a more careful scrutiny he discovered a nail or spike about six feet from the floor. Standing upon the bench he found that this spike was just even with his face, and slipping its head under the upper edge of the handkerchief which covered his mouth, he gradually worked the bandage downward until it passed his chin and left his mouth free.
    This was an incalculable relief, and it seemed to him that he could actually think to more purpose when he could expand his lungs to their fullest capacity. But after this first glow had passed he could take no comfort from his cogitations. A prolonged straining at his wrists proved that the knots would hold against any effort of his own. He passed the greater part of an hour chafing the cords against the iron bound corner of the bench. If he had been a Bastile prisoner, with a lifetime to spend in such an occupation, he might have continued with the hope of success after a decade, but he saw that in his present need the task was hopeless. Suddenly he felt faint and sank upon the bench so completely exhausted that a sort of stupor crept upon him. He was aroused from this by a slight tap upon the shoulder. Starting up he looked around.
    There swinging to and fro like a pendulum was a good brave dirk. It was suspended by a string through the hole in the ceiling. He could distinguish no one there, but the action was friendly, for when he turned so that the dagger struck his back, it was lowered to a level with his hands. With some difficulty he grasped it, and after a moment’s consideration, he worked it carefully into one of the holes in the scroll work of the table. This allowed sufficient resistance, and after several wounds to his wrists and hands, he succeeded in severing one of his bonds. A moment later he was free. Not until then was the cord released leaving the weapon under his control. He now felt in a measure prepared for whatever might befall, and braced by the excitement of his freedom he became conscious of a nervous power sufficient to match his prowess. It had not come too soon.
    Eric and Hugh had not delayed from any uncertainty as to their design, but their valor had come after many years to partake of the Dutch quality, and, partially sobered by the morning air and sunshine, they required an interval to renew their spirits. Oliver had scarcely found himself free when he heard an advance of footsteps. Throwing off his coat he wound it firmly [Page 100] about his left forearm. He took the dirk between his teeth, and lifting the bench, rested it upon the table.
    Eric, always the foremost, threw the door open. Hugh was behind him. They were armed with short swords. They had expected to make one wild rush upon a bound victim, and pierce him like a sack of wool. When they saw Oliver alert and ready to receive them, they were checked. Seizing the opportunity he caught up the bench and using it as a ram struck Eric over the heart with such force that he went down through the doorway with a crash into the hall. Following up his advantage he sprang forward on Hugh, who gave way before him, and he found himself in the hall. Casting down the bench which had served him in such good stead, he caught Hugh’s first lunge on his protected arm, and springing forward he tried to reach him with the dirk; but his blow fell short and he was not quick enough to avoid a stroke which slashed his face. The wipe of the cold steel summoned all his spirit, and he felt that the work must be short if he was to carry his life out of the house. Eric lay as still as death where he had fallen. Hugh fronted him, glaring like a wolf, thrusting and slashing. Already the sword edge had found the bone through the folds of his coat. He waited his opportunity to spring within the guard and strike. In a flash he advanced, driving his enemy back toward the table. The rally came. He caught the sword on his arm, threw it off, was over his adversary, and the dirk poised one gleaming second and fell.
    At that moment, as Oliver reeled, he thought he heard the sound of voices and the opening of the door and the advance of succor, but the impression went out in darkness. It was Ellard’s men who had rushed into the hall. The horse which Oliver had ridden had come into the stable the day before with the saddle twisted and a general air of disaster. They had waited for hours for some explanation and had then set out to find the missing animal. They found him before the door of the Manor, quietly ranging about, eating the grass. He had been hobbled by Miquelon and limped about feeding on the scant herbage in the woods until Eric and Hugh had found him. Irene had summoned them almost in time to see Oliver deal Hugh the fatal stroke. Eric had never moved from where he fell. Oliver’s blow had thrust him over the verge of the apoplexy upon which he had so long hovered.
    It was some days before Oliver heard in full the explanation of the mysteries into which he had fallen. Although it was the topic of conversation at the moment, the world soon forgets, and the story may be given here in Irene Savona’s own words. [Page 101]

        

    My grandfather was a London merchant in the India silk trade. From what I have heard, he seems for many years to have been unsuccessful; then there was a turn in the tide of his fortunes, and he became quickly, almost suddenly, rich. This good luck seems to have had a peculiar effect upon him; he was naturally superstitious and the acquisition of this great wealth he ascribed to the intervention of a guardian spirit. This spirit he held to be incorporated in an old Brahmin servant, and when this servant died he was inconsolable, thinking that he would at once lose everything that he had gained. But he was reassured when his servant began to appear to him in dreams, and his wealth, instead of diminishing, began to increase. He had married early in life, but his wife had not survived to enjoy his good fortune. She bore him twin sons and before they had reached their sixth year she died. The boys grew up side by side, watched over by their father, who gave them everything they wished for. When their education was finished he took them into his business, and designed to give them a thorough insight into all his affairs.
    But here something intervened. My father had told me that it was the old Indian servant who wished, for some purpose of his own, to sow discord. However that may have been, his affection became unsettled, and although he had told his sons frequently that he had made his will, giving them equal shares of his great estate, when that document was read after his death, they discovered that instead of straight dealing, it contained most curious provisions, the first will evidently having been destroyed.
    The last will devised that the sons should each receive a small annuity until one of them died. After that event, the whole estate, without any reservation, was to fall to the heirs of the deceased. Not so much as a shilling was to go to the survivor, and, moreover, even his paltry annuity was to cease. In the event of the deceased having no family, the annuity was to be continued to the surviving son, but the bulk of the fortune was to go toward the establishment and maintenance of a home for the widows and orphans of officers who had died in the Indian service.
    At first this curious, whimsical will formed the subject of many a jest between the lads. But when the subject of marriage arose, there came a cloud between them. My father married first. My uncle was not long in following his example; but he was unlucky in everything and in nothing so greatly unfortunate as in his marriage, for his wife died on his wedding day. This calamity so put him out of conceit of living that he turned against his brother violently; there were repeated quarrels and at last he left England. [Page 102]
    My father’s family was increasing, and when he found the four of us at his table, the provisions of that will, which seemed specially framed to foster jealousy and every evil, began to work their spell. I cannot say whether, before he left England, he had formed the plan which he afterwards deliberately carried out. All I know is that he came here, settled down, and began to farm on a large scale. Shortly after we arrived my mother died. After we had been here for about ten years, my father received a letter from England which informed him that his brother had married in Ceylon and had three children. This hastened the carrying out of the plot which he had already laid. We were all informed of its details and schooled in our parts.
    It was in January that he received the letter; Easter was in April that year, and he went to Montreal with cattle for the market, and no one of the outside world ever saw him again until Mr. Prest met him that morning at the top of the hill. We concealed him in the house and by watchfulness we were able to elude all observation and keep our secret. Hortense was specially detailed to keep him constant company, but the poor child’s mind gave way under the monotony of her existence. My father became morose and sullen, and between them and my brothers, who took to drink, my life has been an affliction. This money proved a terrible curse and misfortune. We heard after years that my uncle had not married, that he was wandering over the earth. Sometimes he would communicate with our London solicitors, who gave him information about the life we were living here. But we never had a message from him until Mr. Prest was carried in unconscious, his head bound with the curious handkerchief. My father, as soon as it was shown to him, knew that it had belonged to his father, and that his brother must be somewhere in the vicinity. Eric and Hugh were so ruthless and high-handed that they waylaid and murdered him and concealed the body. It was at first planned to deceive Mr. Prest, and my father, who was the image of his twin brother, donned his clothes. If this deception could have been carried out, the world might never have heard this curious story, but my father was irresolute and in some way suspicion was aroused. Then Mr. Prest was brought back to the Manor, and had to fight for his life, aided by the only assistance I could give him, until I called in the men from Lacolle, who had come in search of the horses.

        

    Not a soul who was interested in this tragedy at the time ever knew the sequel to the story. The provisions of the will were carried out to the letter. As the Savona, whom Oliver Prest had known as St. Pierre Miquelon, had [Page 103] died first of the brothers and without issue the whole of the immense fortune is devoted to the home for the widows of officers who die in the service in India. The small annuity remains to the surviving Savonas.
    Not many years ago the inhabitants of Montreal were familiar with the figure of an old man, led by a girl, in whose face there was something wild and uncanny. Their favorite walk was Sherbrooke Street and the Cote de Neige Road. But the old man is dead. The girls have disappeared. Not even Oliver Prest knows where they sojourn. [Page 104]