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- The Trespasser, Volume 1. - 4/13 -


"My dearest, they have not asked me for a long time."

"But why not to-night? I have laid out everything nicely for you--your new gaiters, and your D. C. L. coat with the pretty buttons and cord."

"How can I leave you, my dear? And they do not ask you!"

The voice tried for playfulness, but the eyes had a disturbed look.

"Me? Oh! they never ask me to dinner-you know that. Tea and formal visits are enough for Lady Belward, and almost too much for me. There is yet time to dress. Do say you will go. I want you to be friendly with them."

The old man shook his head.

"I do not care to leave you, my dearest."

"Foolish old fatherkins! Who would carry me off?--'Nobody, no, not I, nobody cares for me.'" Suddenly a new look shot up in her face.

"Did you see that singular handsome man who came from the church--like some one out of an old painting? Not that his dress was so strange; but there was something in his face--something that you would expect to find in--in a Garibaldi. Silly, am I not? Did you see him?"

He looked at her gravely.

"My dear," he said at last, "I think I will go after all, though I shall be a little late."

"A sensible grandfather. Come quickly, dear." He paused again.

"But I fear I sent a note to say I could not dine."

"No, you did not. It has been lying on your table for two days."

"Dear me--dear me! I am getting very old."

They passed out of the church. Presently, as they hurried to the rectory near by, the girl said:

"But you haven't answered. Did you see the stranger? Do you know who he is?"

The rector turned, and pointed to the gate of Ridley Court. Gaston and Brillon were just entering. "Alice," he said, in a vague, half-troubled way, "the man is a Belward, I think."

"Why, of course!" the girl replied with a flash of excitement. "But he's so dark, and foreign-looking! What Belward is he?"

"I do not know yet, my dear."

"I shall be up when you come back. But mind, don't leave just after dinner. Stay and talk; you must tell me everything that's said and done --and about the stranger."

CHAPTER II

IN WHICH HE CLAIMS HIS OWN

Meanwhile, without a word, Gaston had mounted, ridden to the castle, and passed through the open gates into the court-yard. Inside he paused. In the main building many lights were burning. There came a rattle of wheels behind him, and he shifted to let a carriage pass. Through the window of the brougham he could see the shimmer of satin, lace, and soft white fur, and he had an instant's glance of a pretty face.

The carriage drew up to the steps, and presently three ladies and a brusque gentleman passed into the hall-way, admitted by powdered footmen. The incident had a manner, an air, which struck Gaston, he knew not why. Perhaps it was the easy finesse of ceremonial. He looked at Brillon. He had seen him sit arms folded like that, looking from the top of a bluff down on an Indian village or a herd of buffaloes. There was wonder, but no shyness or agitation, on his face; rather the naive, naked look of a child. Belward laughed.

"Come, Brillon; we are at home."

He rode up to the steps, Jacques following. A foot man appeared and stared. Gaston looked down on him neutrally, and dismounted. Jacques did the same. The footman still stared. Another appeared behind. Gaston eyed the puzzled servant calmly.

"Why don't you call a groom?" he presently said. There was a cold gleam in his eye.

The footman shrank.

"Yessir, yessir," he said confusedly, and signalled. The other footman came down, and made as if to take the bridle. Gaston waved him back. None too soon, for the horse lunged at him.

"A rub down, a pint of beer, and water and feed in an hour, and I'll come to see him myself late to-night." Jacques had loosened the saddle-bags and taken them off. Gaston spoke to the horse, patted his neck, and gave him to the groom. Then he went up the steps, followed by Jacques. He turned at the door to see the groom leading both horses off, and eyeing Saracen suspiciously. He laughed noiselessly.

"Saracen 'll teach him things," he said. "I might warn him, but it's best for the horses to make their own impressions."

"What name, sir?" asked a footman.

"You are--?"

"Falby, Sir."

"Falby, look after my man Brillon here, and take me to Sir William."

"What name, sir?"

Gaston, as if with sudden thought, stepped into the light of the candles, and said in a low voice: "Falby, don't you know me?"

The footman turned a little pale, as his eyes, in spite of themselves, clung to Gaston's. A kind of fright came, and then they steadied.

"Oh yes, sir," he said mechanically.

"Where have you seen me?"

"In the picture on the wall, sir."

"Whose picture, Falby?"

"Sir Gaston Belward, Sir."

A smile lurked at the corners of Gaston's mouth.

"Gaston Belward. Very well, then you know what to say to Sir William. Show me into the library."

"Or the justices' room, sir?"

"The justices' room will do."

Gaston wondered what the justices' room was. A moment after he stood in it, and the dazed Falby had gone, trying vainly to reconcile the picture on the wall, which, now that he could think, he knew was very old, with this strange man who had sent a curious cold shiver through him. But, anyhow, he was a Belward, that was certain: voice, face, manner showed it. But with something like no Belward he had ever seen. Left to himself, Gaston looked round on a large, severe room. Its use dawned on him. This was part of the life: Sir William was a Justice of the Peace. But why had he been brought here? Why not to the library as himself had suggested? There would be some awkward hours for Falby in the future. Gaston had as winning a smile, as sweet a manner, as any one in the world, so long as a straight game was on; but to cross his will with the other--he had been too long a power in that wild country where his father had also been a power! He did not quite know how long he waited, for he was busy with plans as to his career at Ridley Court. He was roused at last by Falby's entrance. A keen, cold look shot from under his straight brows.

"Well?" he asked.

"Will you step into the library, sir? Sir William will see you there."

Falby tried to avoid his look, but his eyes were compelled, and Gaston said:

"Falby, you will always hate to enter this room." Falby was agitated.

"I hope not, sir."

"But you will, Falby, unless--"

"Yessir?"

"Unless you are both the serpent and the dove, Falby."

"Yessir."

As they entered the hall, Brillon with the saddle-bags was being taken in charge, and Gaston saw what a strange figure he looked beside the other servants and in these fine surroundings. He could not think that himself was so bizarre. Nor was he. But he looked unusual; as one of high civilisation might, through long absence in primitive countries, return in uncommon clothing, and with a manner of distinguished strangeness: the barbaric to protect the refined, as one has seen a bush of firs set to shelter a wheat-field from a seawind, or a wind-mill water cunningly- begotten flowers.

As he went through the hall other visitors were entering. They passed him, making for the staircase. Ladies with the grand air looked at him curiously, and two girls glanced shyly from the jingling spurs and tasselled boots to his rare face.

One of the ladies suddenly gave a little gasping cry, and catching the arm of her companion, said:

"Reine, how like Robert Belward! Who--who is he?"


The Trespasser, Volume 1. - 4/13

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