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- The Splendid Spur - 30/44 -



Very early next morning I awoke, and hearing no sound in the loft above (whither, since my coming, Joan had carried her bed), concluded her to be still asleep. But in this I was mistaken: for going to the well at the back to wash, I found her there, studying her face in the mirror.

"Luckily met, Jack," she said, when I was cleansed and freshly glowing: "Now fill another bucket and sarve me the same."

"Cannot you wash yourself?" I ask'd, as I did so.

"Lost the knack, I reckon. Stand thee so, an' slush the water over me."

"But your clothes!" I cried out, "they'll be soaking wet!"

"Clothes won't be worse for a wash, neither. So slush away."

Therefore, standing at three paces' distance, I sent a bucketful over her, and then another and another. Six times I filled and emptied the bucket in all: and at the end she was satisfied, and went, dripping, back to the kitchen to get me my breakfast.

"Art early abroad," she said, as we sat together over the meal.

"Yes, for I must ride to Gleys this morning."

"Shan't be sorry to miss thee for a while. Makes me feel so shy-- this cleanliness." So, promising to be back by nightfall, I went presently to saddle Molly: and following Joan's directions and her warnings against quags and pitfalls, was soon riding south across the moor and well on my road to the House of Gleys.

My way leading me by Braddock Down, I turned aside for a while to examine the ground of the late fight (tho' by now little was to be seen but a piece of earthwork left unfinish'd by the rebels, and the fresh mounds where the dead were laid); and so 'twas high noon--and a dull, cheerless day--before the hills broke and let me have sight of the sea. Nor, till the noise of the surf was in my ears, did I mark the chimneys and naked grey walls of the house I was bound for.

'Twas a gloomy, savage pile of granite, perch'd at the extremity of a narrow neck of land, where every wind might sweep it, and the waves beat on three sides the cliff below. The tide was now at the full, almost, and the spray flying in my face, as we crossed the head of a small beach, forded a stream, and scrambled up the rough road to the entrance gate.

A thin line of smoke blown level from one chimney was all the sign of life in the building: for the narrow lights of the upper story were mostly shuttered, and the lower floor was hid from me by a high wall enclosing a courtlage in front. One stunted ash, with boughs tortured and bent toward the mainland, stood by the gate, which was lock'd. A smaller door, also lock'd, was let into the gate, and in this again a shuttered iron grating. Hard by, dangled a rusty bell- pull, at which I tugg'd sturdily.

On this, a crack'd bell sounded, far in the house, and scared a flock of starlings out of a disused chimney. Their cries died away presently, and left no sound but that of the gulls wailing about the cliff at my feet. This was all the answer I won.

I rang again, and a third time: and now at last came the sound of footsteps shuffling across the court within. The shutter of the grating was slipp'd back, and a voice, crack'd as the bell, asked my business.

"To see Master Hannibal Tingcomb," answered I.

"Thy name?"

"He shall hear it in time. Say that I come on business concerning the estate."

The voice mutter'd something, and the footsteps went back. I had been kicking my heels there for twenty minutes or more when they returned, and the voice repeated the question---

"Thy name?"

Being by this time angered, I did a foolish thing; which was, to clap the muzzle of my pistol against the grating, close to the fellow's nose. Singular to say, the trick serv'd me. A bolt was slipp'd hastily back and the wicket door opened stealthily.

"I want," said I, "room for my horse to pass."

Thereupon more grumbling follow'd, and a prodigious creaking of bolts and chains; after which the big gate swung stiffly back.

"Sure, you must be worth a deal," I said, "that shut yourselves in so careful."

Before me stood a strange fellow--extraordinary old and bent, with a wizen'd face, one eye only, and a chin that almost touched his nose. He wore a dirty suit of livery, that once had been canary-yellow; and shook with the palsy.

"Master Tingcomb will see the young man," he squeak'd, nodding his head; "but is a-reading just now in his Bible."

"A pretty habit," answered I, leading in Molly--"if unseasonable. But why not have said so?"

He seem'd to consider this for a while, and then said abruptly--

"Have some pasty and some good cider?"

"Why yes," I said, "with all my heart, when I have stabled the sorrel here."

He led the way across the court, well paved but chok'd with weeds, toward the stable. I found it a spacious building, and counted sixteen stalls there; but all were empty save two, where stood the horses I had seen in Bodmin the day before. Having stabled Molly, I left the place (which was thick with cobwebs) and follow'd the old servant into the house.

He took me into a great stone kitchen, and brought out the pasty and cider, but poured out half a glass only.

"Have a care, young man: 'tis a luscious, thick, seductive drink," and he chuckled.

"'Twould turn the edge of a knife," said I, tasting it and looking at him: but his one blear'd eye was inscrutable. The pasty also was mouldy, and I soon laid it down.

"Hast a proud stomach that cometh of faring sumptuously: the beef therein is our own killing," said he. "Young sir, art a man of blood, I greatly fear, by thy long sword and handiness with the firearms."

"Shall be presently," answered I, "if you lead me not to Master Tingcomb."

He scrambled up briskly and totter'd out of the kitchen into a stone corridor, I after him. Along this he hurried, muttering all the way, and halted before a door at the end. Without knocking he pushed it open, and motioning me to enter, hasten'd back as he had come.

"Come in," said a voice that seem'd familiar to me.

Though, as you know, 'twas still high day, in the room where now I found myself was every appearance of night: the shutters being closed, and six lighted candles standing on the table. Behind them sat the venerable gentleman whom I had seen in the coach, now wearing a plain suit of black, and reading in a great book that lay open on the table. I guess'd it to be the Bible; but noted that the candles had shades about them, so disposed as to throw the light, not on the page, but on the doorway where I stood.

Yet the old gentleman, having bid me enter, went on reading for a while as though wholly unaware of me: which I found somewhat nettling, so began---

"I speak, I believe, to Master Hannibal Tingcomb, steward to Sir Deakin Killigrew."

He went on, as if ending his sentence aloud: "... And my darling from the power of the dog." Here he paused with finger on the place and looked up. "Yes, young sir, that is my name--steward to the late Sir Deakin Killigrew."

"The late?" cried I: "Then you know--"

"Surely I know that Sir Deakin is dead: else should I be but an unworthy steward." He open'd his grave eyes as if in wonder.

"And his son, also?"

"Also his son Anthony, a headstrong boy, I fear me, a consorter with vile characters. Alas? that I should say it."

"And his daughter, Mistress Delia?"

"Alas!" and he fetched a deep sigh.

"Do you mean, sir, that she too is dead!"

"Why, to be sure-but let us talk on less painful matters."

"In one moment, sir: but first tell me--where did she die, and when? "

For my heart stood still, and I was fain to clutch the table between us to keep me from falling. I think this did not escape him, for he gave me a sharp look, and then spoke very quiet and hush'd,

"She was cruelly kill'd by highwaymen, at the 'Three Cups' inn, some miles out of Hungerford. The date given me is the 3d of December last."

The Splendid Spur - 30/44

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