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- Rodney Stone - 50/52 -


his buckskins and top-boots, a riding-crop in his hand. Sir Lothian Hume was at his elbow, and I saw the faces of two country constables peeping over his shoulders.

"Lord Avon," said the squire, "as a magistrate of the county of Sussex, it is my duty to tell you that a warrant is held against you for the wilful murder of your brother, Captain Barrington, in the year 1786."

"I am ready to answer the charge."

"This I tell you as a magistrate. But as a man, and the Squire of Rougham Grange, I'm right glad to see you, Ned, and here's my hand on it, and never will I believe that a good Tory like yourself, and a man who could show his horse's tail to any field in the whole Down county, would ever be capable of so vile an act."

"You do me justice, James," said Lord Avon, clasping the broad, brown hand which the country squire had held out to him. "I am as innocent as you are; and I can prove it."

"Damned glad I am to hear it, Ned! That is to say, Lord Avon, that any defence which you may have to make will be decided upon by your peers and by the laws of your country."

"Until which time," added Sir Lothian Hume, "a stout door and a good lock will be the best guarantee that Lord Avon will be there when called for."

The squire's weather-stained face flushed to a deeper red as he turned upon the Londoner.

"Are you the magistrate of a county, sir?"

"I have not the honour, Sir James."

"Then how dare you advise a man who has sat on the bench for nigh twenty years! When I am in doubt, sir, the law provides me with a clerk with whom I may confer, and I ask no other assistance."

"You take too high a tone in this matter, Sir James. I am not accustomed to be taken to task so sharply."

"Nor am I accustomed, sir, to be interfered with in my official duties. I speak as a magistrate, Sir Lothian, but I am always ready to sustain my opinions as a man."

Sir Lothian bowed.

"You will allow me to observe, sir, that I have personal interests of the highest importance involved in this matter, I have every reason to believe that there is a conspiracy afoot which will affect my position as heir to Lord Avon's titles and estates. I desire his safe custody in order that this matter may be cleared up, and I call upon you, as a magistrate, to execute your warrant."

"Plague take it, Ned!" cried the squire, "I would that my clerk Johnson were here, for I would deal as kindly by you as the law allows; and yet I am, as you hear, called upon to secure your person."

"Permit me to suggest, sir," said my uncle, "that so long as he is under the personal supervision of the magistrate, he may be said to be under the care of the law, and that this condition will be fulfilled if he is under the roof of Rougham Grange."

"Nothing could be better," cried the squire, heartily. "You will stay with me, Ned, until this matter blows over. In other words, Lord Avon, I make myself responsible, as the representative of the law, that you are held in safe custody until your person may be required of me."

"Yours is a true heart, James."

"Tut, tut! it is the due process of the law. I trust, Sir Lothian Hume, that you find nothing to object to in it?"

Sir Lothian shrugged his shoulders, and looked blackly at the magistrate. Then he turned to my uncle.

"There is a small matter still open between us," said he. "Would you kindly give me the name of a friend? Mr. Corcoran, who is outside in my barouche, would act for me, and we might meet to- morrow morning."

"With pleasure," answered my uncle. "I dare say your father would act for me, nephew? Your friend may call upon Lieutenant Stone, of Friar's Oak, and the sooner the better."

And so this strange conference ended. As for me, I had sprung to the side of the old friend of my boyhood, and was trying to tell him my joy at his good fortune, and listening to his assurance that nothing that could ever befall him could weaken the love that he bore me. My uncle touched me on the shoulder, and we were about to leave, when Ambrose, whose bronze mask had been drawn down once more over his fiery passions, came demurely towards him.

"Beg your pardon, Sir Charles," said he; "but it shocks me very much to see your cravat."

"You are right, Ambrose," my uncle answered. "Lorimer does his best, but I have never been able to fill your place."

"I should be proud to serve you, sir; but you must acknowledge that Lord Avon has the prior claim. If he will release me--"

"You may go, Ambrose; you may go!" cried Lord Avon. "You are an excellent servant, but your presence has become painful to me."

"Thank you, Ned," said my uncle. "But you must not leave me so suddenly again, Ambrose."

"Permit me to explain the reason, sir. I had determined to give you notice when we reached Brighton; but as we drove from the village that day, I caught a glimpse of a lady passing in a phaeton between whom and Lord Avon I was well aware there was a close intimacy, although I was not certain that she was actually his wife. Her presence there confirmed me in my opinion that he was in hiding at Cliffe Royal, and I dropped from your curricle and followed her at once, in order to lay the matter before her, and explain how very necessary it was that Lord Avon should see me."

"Well, I forgive you for your desertion, Ambrose," said my uncle; "and," he added, "I should be vastly obliged to you if you would re- arrange my tie."

CHAPTER XXII--THE END

Sir James Ovington's carriage was waiting without, and in it the Avon family, so tragically separated and so strangely re-united, were borne away to the squire's hospitable home. When they had gone, my uncle mounted his curricle, and drove Ambrose and myself to the village.

"We had best see your father at once, nephew," said he. "Sir Lothian and his man started some time ago. I should be sorry if there should be any hitch in our meeting."

For my part, I was thinking of our opponent's deadly reputation as a duellist, and I suppose that my features must have betrayed my feelings, for my uncle began to laugh.

"Why, nephew," said he, "you look as if you were walking behind my coffin. It is not my first affair, and I dare bet that it will not be my last. When I fight near town I usually fire a hundred or so in Manton's back shop, but I dare say I can find my way to his waistcoat. But I confess that I am somewhat accable, by all that has befallen us. To think of my dear old friend being not only alive, but innocent as well! And that he should have such a strapping son and heir to carry on the race of Avon! This will be the last blow to Hume, for I know that the Jews have given him rope on the score of his expectations. And you, Ambrose, that you should break out in such a way!"

Of all the amazing things which had happened, this seemed to have impressed my uncle most, and he recurred to it again and again. That a man whom he had come to regard as a machine for tying cravats and brewing chocolate should suddenly develop fiery human passions was indeed a prodigy. If his silver razor-heater had taken to evil ways he could not have been more astounded.

We were still a hundred yards from the cottage when I saw the tall, green-coated Mr. Corcoran striding down the garden path. My father was waiting for us at the door with an expression of subdued delight upon his face.

"Happy to serve you in any way, Sir Charles," said he. "We've arranged it for to-morrow at seven on Ditching Common."

"I wish these things could be brought off a little later in the day," said my uncle. "One has either to rise at a perfectly absurd hour, or else to neglect one's toilet."

"They are stopping across the road at the Friar's Oak inn, and if you would wish it later--"

"No, no; I shall make the effort. Ambrose, you will bring up the batteris de toilette at five."

"I don't know whether you would care to use my barkers," said my father. "I've had 'em in fourteen actions, and up to thirty yards you couldn't wish a better tool."

"Thank you, I have my duelling pistols under the seat. See that the triggers are oiled, Ambrose, for I love a light pull. Ah, sister Mary, I have brought your boy back to you, none the worse, I hope, for the dissipations of town."

I need not tell you how my dear mother wept over me and fondled me, for you who have mothers will know for yourselves, and you who have not will never understand how warm and snug the home nest can be. How I had chafed and longed for the wonders of town, and yet, now that I had seen more than my wildest dreams had ever deemed possible, my eyes had rested upon nothing which was so sweet and so restful as our own little sitting-room, with its terra-cotta- coloured walls, and those trifles which are so insignificant in


Rodney Stone - 50/52

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