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the whole was a sealed book ; individually I
made a thorough acquaintance with not a few,
noting the differences and resemblances between
them and my own, and instead of losing conceit
of the latter, finding more and more reasons for
holding it dear and honourable. I was poising
in one hand, with the blade upright in the air
— for otherwise I could scarcely have held it in
both — a huge two-handed, double-hilted sword
with serrated double edge, when I heard a step
approaching, and before I had well replaced the
sword, a little door in a corner which I had
scarcely noticed — the third door to the room —
opened, and down the last steps of the narrow-
est of winding stairs a little man in black
screwed himself into the armoury. I was start-
led, but not altogether frightened. I felt myseli
grasping my own sword somewhat nervously
in my left hand, as I abandoned the great one,
and let it fall back with a clang into its corner.



190 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

" By the powers !" exclaimed Mr. Close, re-
vealing himself an Irishman at once in the sur-
prise of my presence, "and whom have we here?"

I felt my voice tremble a little as I replied,

" Mrs. Wilson allowed me to come, sir. I
assure you I have not been hurting anything."

"Who's to tell that? Mrs. Wilson has no
business to let any one come here. This is my
quarters. There — you've got one in your hand
now ! You've left finger-marks on the blade,
I'll be bound. Give it me."

He stretched out his hand. I drew back.

" This one is mine," I said.

" Ho, ho, young gentleman ! So you're a
collector — are you ? Already too ! Nothing
like beginning in time. Let me look at the
thing, though."

He was a little man, as I have said, dressed in
black, with a frock coat and a deep white neck-
cloth. His face would have been vulgar, especially
as his nose was a traitor to his mouth, revealing
in its hue the proclivities of its owner, but for a
certain look of the connoisseur which went far
to redeem it. The hand which he stretched out
to take my weapon, was small and delicate —



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 191

like a woman's indeed. His speech was that
of a gentleman. I handed him the sword at
once.

He had scarcely glanced at it when a strange
look passed over his countenance. He tried to
draw it, failed, and looking all along the sheath,
saw its condition. Then his eyes flashed. He
turned from me abruptly, and went up the stair
he had descended. 1 waited anxiously for what
seemed to me half an hour : I daresay it was
not more than ten minutes. At last I heard
him revolving on his axis down the corkscrew
staircase. He entered and handed me my
sword, saying —

" There ! I can't get it out of the sheath. It's
in a horrid state of rust. Where did you fall in
with it?"

I told him all I knew about it. If he did not
seem exactly interested, he certainly behaved
with some oddity. When I told him what my
grandmother had said about some battle in
which an ancestor had worn it, his arm rose
with a jerk, and the motions of his face, especi-
ally of his mouth, which appeared to be eating
its own teeth, were for a moment grotesque.



192 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

When I had finished, he said, with indifferent
tone, but eager face —

" Well, it's a rusty old thing, but I like old
weapons. I'll give yon a bran new officer's
sword, as bright as a mirror, for it — I will.
There now ! Is it a bargain ?"

"I could not part with it, sir — not for the
best sword in the country," I answered. "You
see it has been so long in our family."

" Hm ! hm I you're quite right, my boy. I
wouldn't if I were you. But as I see you know
how to set a right value on such a weapon, you
may stay and look at mine as long as you like.
Only if you take any of them from their sheaths,
you must be very careful how you put them in
again. Don't use any force. If there is any-
one yon can't manage easily, just lay it on the
window-sill, and I will attend to it. Mind you
don't handle — I mean touch the blades at all.
There would be no end of rust-spots before
morning."

I was full of gratitude for the confidence he
placed in me.

" I can't stop now to tell you about them all,
but I will — some day."



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 193

So saying he disappeared once more up the
little staircase, leaving me like Aladdin in the
jewel-forest. I had not been alone more than
half an hour or so, however, when he returned,
and taking down a dagger, said abruptly,

" There, that is the dagger with which Lord
Harry Rolleston " — I think that was the name,
but knowing nothing of the family or its his-
tory, I could not keep the names separate
— " stabbed his brother Gilbert. And there
is "

He took down one after another, and with
every one he associated some fact — or fancy
perhaps, for I suspect now that he invented not
a few of his incidents.

" They have always been fond of weapons in
this house," he said. " There now is one with
the strangest story ! It's in print — I can show
it you in print in the library there. It had the
reputation of being a magic sword "

" Like King Arthur's Excalibur ?" I asked,
for I had read a good deal of the history of
Prince Arthur.

" Just so," said Mr. Close. " Well, that sword
had been in the family for many years — I may

VOL. I.



194 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

say centuries. One day it disappeared, and
there was a great outcry. A lackey had been
discharged for some cause or other, and it was
believed he had taken it. But before they
found him, the sword was in its place upon the
wall. Afterwards the man confessed that he
had taken it, out of revenge, for he knew how
it was prized. But in the middle of the next
night, as he slept in a roadside inn, a figure
dressed in ancient armour had entered the room,
taken up the sword, and gone away with it.
I daresay it was all nonsense. His heart had
failed him when he found he was followed, and
he had contrived by the help of some fellow-
servant to restore it. But there are very queer
stories about old weapons — swords in particu-
lar. I must go now," he concluded, " for we
have company to-night, and I have a good many
things to see to."

So saying he left me. 1 remained a long
time in the armoury, and then returned to the
library, where I seated myself in the same cor-
ner as before, and went on with my reading —
lost in pleasure.

All at once I became aware that the light



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 195

was thickening, and that I was very hungry.
At the same moment I heard a slight rustle in
the room, and looked round, expecting to see
Mrs. Wilson come to fetch me. But there stood
Miss Clara — not now in white, however, but in
a black silk frock. She had grown since I saw
her last, and was prettier than ever. She
started when she saw me.

'• You here !" she exclaimed, as if we had
known each other all our lives. " What are you
doing here f"

" Reading," I answered, and rose from the
floor, replacing the book as I rose. " I thought
you were Mrs. Wilson come to fetch me."

" Is she coming here ?"

" Yes. She told me not to leave the library
till she came for me."

" Then I must get out of the way."

" Why so, Miss Clara ?" I asked.

" I don't mean her to know I am here. If
you tell, I shall think you the meanest "

" Don't trouble yourself to find your punish-
ment before you've found your crime," I said,
thinking of my own processes of invention.
What a little prig I must have been !

o 2



196 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

" Very well, I will trust you," she returned,
holding out her hand. — " I didn't give it you to
keep, though," she added, rinding that, with
more of country manners than tenderness, I
fear, I retained it in my boyish grasp.

I felt awkward at once, and let it go.

" Thank you," she said. " Now, when do you
expect Mrs. Wilson ?"

" I don't know at all. She said she would
fetch me for dinner. There she comes, I do be-
lieve."

Clara turned her head like a startled forest
creature that wants to listen, but does not know
in what direction, and moved her feet as if she
were about to fly.

"Come back after dinner," she said: "you
had better !" and darting to the other side of
the room, lifted a piece of hanging tapestry, and
vanished just in time, for Mrs. Wilson's first
words crossed her last.

" My dear boy — Master Cumbermede, I should
say, I am sorry I have not been able to get to
you sooner. One thing after another has kept
me on my legs till I'm ready to drop. The
cook is as tiresome as cooks only can be. But



THE HOUSE-STEWARD. 197

come along ; I've got a mouthful of dinner for
you at last, and a few minutes to eat my share
of it with you, I hope."

I followed without a word, feeling a little
guilty, but only towards Mrs. Wilson, not to-
wards myself, if my reader will acknowledge
the difference — for I did not feel that I ought
to betray Miss Clara. We returned as we came;
and certainly whatever temper the cook might
be in, there was nothing amiss with the dinner.
Had there been, however, I was far too hungry
to find fault with it.

" Well, how have you enjoyed yourself, Mas-
ter Wilfrid? Not very much, I am afraid. But
really I could not help it," said Mrs. Wilson.

" I couldn't have enjoyed myself more," I
answered. " If you will allow me, I'll go back
to the library as soon as I've done my dinner."

"But it's almost dark there now."

" You wouldn't mind letting me have a can-
dle, Mrs. Wilson?"

" A candle, child ! It would be of no use.
The place wouldn't light up with twenty
candles."

" But I don't want it lighted up. I could



198 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

read by one candle as well as by twenty."

" Very well. You shall do as you like. Only
be careful, for the old house is as dry as tinder,
and if you were to set fire to anything, we
should be all in a blaze in a moment."

" I will be careful, Mrs. Wilson. You may
trust me. Indeed you may."

She hurried me a little over my dinner. The
bell in the court rang loudly.

" There's some of them already I That must
be the Simmonses. They're always early, and
they always come to that gate — I suppose be-
cause they haven't a carriage of their own, and
don't like to drive into the high court in a chaise
from the George and Padding."

" I've quite done, ma'am : may I go now?"

" Wait till I get you a candle."

She took one from a press in the room, light-
ed it, led me once more to the library, and there
left me with a fresh injunction not to be peep-
ing out and getting in the way of the visitors.



199



CHAPTER XIII.



THE LEADS.



r pHE moment Mrs. Wilson was gone, I expect-
* ed to see Clara peep out from behind the
tapestry in the corner ; but as she did not ap-
pear, I lifted it, and looked in. There was nothing
behind but a closet almost filled with books, not
upon shelves, but heaped up from floor to ceiling.
There had been just room, and no more, for Clara
to stand between the tapestry and the books.
It was of no use attempting to look for her —
at least I said so to myself, for as yet the at-
traction of an old book was equal to that of a
young girl. Besides, I always enjoyed waiting
— up to a certain point. Therefore I resumed
my place on the floor, with the Seven Champions
in one hand, and my chamber-candlestick in the
other.



200 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

I had for the moment forgotten Clara in the
adventures of St. Andrew of Scotland, when
the silking of her frock aroused me. She was
at my side.

" Well, you've had your dinner ? Did she
give you any dessert ?"

" This is my dessert," I said, holding up the
book. " It's far more than "

" Far more than your desert," she pursued, " if
you prefer it to me."

" I looked for you first," I said defen-
sively.

" Where V '

" In the closet there."

" You didn't think I was going to wait there,
did you? Why the very spiders are hanging
dead in their own webs in there. But here's
some dessert for you — if you're as fond of apples
as most boys," she added, taking a small rosy-
cheeked beauty from her pocket.

I accepted it, but somehow did not quite
relish being lumped with boys in that fashion.
As I ate it, which I should have felt bound to
do even had it been less acceptable in itself, she
resumed —



THE LEADS. 201

" Wouldn't you like to see the company ar-
rive? That's what I came for. I wasn't going
to ask Goody Wilson."

" Yes, I should," I answered; "but Mrs. Wil-
son told me to keep here, and not get in their
way."

" Oh ! I'll take care of that. We shan't go
near them. I know every corner of the place —
a good deal better than Mrs. Wilson. Come
along, Wilfrid — that's your name, isn't it V

" Yes, it is. Am I to call you Clara ?"

" Yes, if you are good — that is if you like.
I don't care what you call me. Come along."

I followed. She led me into the armoury. A
great clang of the bell in the paved court fell
upon our ears.

"Make haste," she said, and darted to the
door at the foot of the little stair. " Mind how
you go," she went on. " The steps are very
much worn. Keep your right shoulder fore-
most."

I obeyed her directions, and followed her up
the stair. We passed the door of a room over
the armoury, and ascended still, to creep out at
last through a very low door on to the leads of



202 WILFRID OUMBERMEDE.

the little square tower. Here we could on the one
side look into every corner of the paved court,
and on the other, across the roof of the hall,
could see about half of the high court, as they
called it, into which the carriages drove ; and
from this post of vantage, we watched the ar-
rival of a good many parties. I thought the
ladies tripping across the paved court, with
their gay dresses lighting up the Spring twi-
light, and their sweet voices rippling its almost
pensive silence, suited the time and the place
much better than the carriages dashing into the
other court, fine as they looked with their well-
kept horses and their servants in gay liveries.
The sun was down, and the moon was rising —
near the full, but there was too much light in
the sky to let her make much of herself yet. It
was one of those Spring evenings which you
could not tell from ao Autumn one except for a
certain something in the air appealing to an
undefined sense — rather that of smell than
any other. There were green buds and not
withering leaves in it — life and not death ; and
the voices of the gathering guests were of the
season, and pleasant to the soul. Of course



THE LEADS. 203

Nature did not then affect me so definitely as
to make me give forms of thought to her in-
fluences. It is now first that I turn them into
shapes and words.

As we stood, I discovered that I had been a
little mistaken about the position of the Hall. I
saw that, although from some points in front it
seemed to stand on an isolated rock, the ground
rose behind it, terrace upon terrace, the upper-
most of which terraces were crowned with rows
of trees. Over them, the moon was now gather-
ing her strength.

" It is rather cold ; I think we had better go
in," said Clara, after we had remained there
for some minutes without seeing any fresh ar-
rivals.

" Very well," I answered. " What shall we
do ? Shall you go home V

" No, certainly not. We must see a good deal
more of the fun first."

" How will you manage that ? You will go
to the ball-room, I suppose. You can go where
you please, of course."

" Oh no ! Tm not grand enough to be invited.
Oh, dear no ! At least I am not old enough."



204 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

" But you will be some day."

" I don't know. Perhaps. We'll see. Mean-
time we must make the best of it. What are
you going to do ?"

" I shall go back to the library."

" Then I'll go with you — till the music be-
gins ; and then I'll take you where you can see a
little of the dancing. It's great fun."

" But how will you manage that ?"

" You leave that to me."

We descended at once to the armoury, where
I had left my candle ; and thence we returned
to the library.

" Would you like me to read to you ?" I
asked.

" I don't mind — if it's anything worth hear-
ing."

u Well, I'll read you a bit of the book I was
reading when you came in."

" What ! that musty old book ! No, thank
you. It's enough to give one the horrors — the
very sight of it is enough. How can you like
such frumpy old things ?"

" Oh ! you mustn't mind the look of it," I said.
" It's very nice inside !"



THE LEADS. 205

" I know where there is a nice one," she re-
turned. " Give me the candle."

I followed her to another of the rooms, where
she searched for some time. At length —
" There it is !" she said, and put into my hand
The Castle of Otranto. The name promised
well. She next led the way to a lovely little
bay window, forming almost a closet, which
looked out upon the park, whence, without see-
ing the moon, we could see her light on the
landscape, and the great deep shadows cast
over the park from the towers of the Hall.
There we sat on the broad window-sill, and I
began to read. It was delightful. Does it indi-
cate loss of power, that the grown man cannot
enjoy the book in which the boy delight-
ed? Or is it that the realities of the book,
as perceived by his keener eyes, refuse to
blend with what imagination would supply if it
might ?

Xo sooner however did the first notes of the
distant violins enter the ear of my companion
than she started to her feet.

" What's the matter V ' I asked, looking up
from the book.



206 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

" DoD't you bear the music?" she said, half-
indignantly.

" I hear it now," I answered ; "but why V

" Come along," she interrupted, eagerly.
" We shall just be in time to see them go across
from the drawing-room to the ball-room. Come,
come. Leave your candle."

I put down my book with some reluctance.
She led me into the armoury, and from the
armoury out on the gallery half-encompassing
the great hall, which was lighted up, and full
of servants. Opening another door in the
gallery, she conducted me down a stair which
led almost into the hall, but, ascending again
behind it, landed us in a little lobby, on one
side of which was the drawing-room, and on the
other the ball-room, on another level, reached
by a few high, semi- circular steps.

" Quick ! quick !" said Clara, and turning
sharply round, she opened another door, dis-
closing a square-built stone staircase. She
pushed the door carefully against the wall, ran
up a few steps, I following in some trepidation,
turned abruptly and sat down. I did as she



THE LEADS. 207

did, questioning nothing : I had committed my-
self to her superior knowledge.

The quick ear of ray companion had caught
the first sounds of the tuning of the instru-
ments, and here we were, before the invitation
to dance, a customed observance at Moldwarp
Hall, had begun to play. In a few minutes
thereafter, the door of the drawing-room
opened ; when, pair after pair, the company, to
the number of over a hundred and fifty, I
should guess, walked past the foot of the stair
on which we were seated, and ascended the
steps into the ball-room, The lobby was dimly
lighted, except from the two open doors, and
there was little danger of our being seen.

I interrupt my narrative to mention the odd
fact that so fully was my mind possessed with
the antiquity of the place, which it had been
the pride of generation after generation to keep
up, that now, when I recall the scene, the guests
always appear dressed not as they were then,
but in a far more antique style with which after
knowledge supplied my inner vision.

Last of all came Lady Brotherton, Sir Giles's



208 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

wife, a pale, delicate-looking woman, leaning
on the arm of a tall, long-necked, would-be-
stately, yet insignificant-looking man. She
gave a shiver as, up the steps from the warm
drawing-room, she came at once opposite our
open door.

" What a draught there is here !" she said,
adjusting her rose-coloured scarf about her
shoulders. " It feels quite wintry. Will you
oblige me, Mr. Mellon, by shutting that door ?
Sir Giles will not allow me to have it built up.
I am sure there are plenty of ways to the leads
besides that."

" This door, my lady ?" asked Mr. Mellon.

I trembled lest he should see us.

" Yes. Just throw it to. There's a spring
lock on it. I can't think "

The slam and echoing bang of the closing
door cut off the end of the sentence. Even
Clara was a little frightened, for her hand stole
into mine for a moment before she burst out
laughing.

" Hush ! hush !" 1 said. " They will hear
you."

" I almost wish they would," she said. " What



THE LEADS. 209

a goose I was to be frightened, and not speak !
Do you know where we are?"

" No," I answered ; " how should I ? Where
are we ?"

My fancy of knowing the place had vanished
utterly by this time. All my mental charts of
it had got thoroughly confused, and I do not
believe I could have even found my way back
to the library.

" Shut oat on the leads," she answered.
" Come along. We may as well go to meet our
fate."

I confess to a little palpitation of the heart as
she spoke, for I was not yet old enough to feel
that Clara's companionship made the doom a
light one. Up the stairs we went — here no
twisting corkscrew, but a broad flight enough,
with square turnings. At the top was a door,
fastened only with a bolt inside — against no
worse housebreakers than the winds and rains.
When we emerged, we found ourselves in the
open night.

" Here we are in the moon's drawing-room !"
said Clara.

The scene was lovely. The sky was all now
VOL. I. P



210 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

— the earth only a background or pedestal for
the heavens. The river, far below, shone here
and there in answer to the moon, while the
meadows and fields lay as in the oblivion of
sleep, and the wooded hills were only dark
formless masses. But the sky was the dwell-
ing-place of the moon, before whose radiance,
penetratingly still, the stars shrunk as if they
would hide in the flowing skirts of her garments.
There was scarce a cloud to be seen, and the
whiteness of the moon made the blue thin. I
could hardly believe in what I saw. It was as
if I had come awake without getting out of the
dream.

We were on the roof of the ball-room. We
felt the rhythmic motion of the dancing feet
shake the building in time to the music. " A
low melodious thunder " buried beneath — above
the eternal silence of the white moon !

We passed to the roof of the drawing-room.
From it, upon one side, we could peep into the
great gothic window of the hall, which rose high
above it. We could see the servants passing
and repassing, with dishes for the supper which
was being laid in the dining-room under the



THE LEADS. 211

drawing-room, for the hall was never need for
entertainment now, except on such great occa-
sions as a coming of age, or an election -feast,
when all classes met.

" We mustn't stop here," said Clara. " We
shall get our deaths of cold."

" What shall we do, then ?" I asked.

" There are plenty of doors," she answered
— " only Mrs. Wilson has a foolish fancy for
keeping them all bolted. We must try, though."

Over roof after roof we went ; now descend-
ing, now ascending a few steps ; now walking
along narrow gutters, between battlement and
sloping roof; now crossing awkward junctions
— trying doors many in tower and turret — all in
vain ! Every one was bolted on the inside. We
had grown quite silent, for the case looked
serious.

" This is the last door," said Clara — " the last
we can reach. There are more in the towers,
but they are higher up. What shall we do 1
Unless we go down a chimney, I don't know
what's to be done."

Still her voice did not falter, and my courage
did not give way. She stood for a few rao-

p2



212 WILFRID CUMBERMEDE.

merits, silent. I stood regarding her, as one
might listen for a doubtful oracle.

"Yes. I've got it!" she said at length.
" Have you a good head, Wilfrid V

"1 don't quite know what you mean," I
answered.

" Do you mind being on a narrow place, with-
out much to hold by ?"

" High up ?" I asked with a shiver.

« Yes."

For a moment I did not answer. It was a
special weakness of my physical nature, one
which my imagination had increased tenfold —
the absolute horror I had of such a transit as
she was evidently about to propose. My worst
dreams — from which I would wake with my
heart going like a fire-engine — were of adven-
tures of the kind. But before a woman, how
could I draw back ? I would rather lie broken
at the bottom of the wall. And if the fear should


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