The Winning Shot by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published in Bow Bells, 11 July 1883.
This is a copy of an advertisement which may have been noticed by many readers
in the columns of the London morning papers during the early part of the
present year. It has, I believe, excited considerable curiosity in certain
quarters, and many guesses have been hazarded as to the identity of Octavius
Gaster and the nature of the charge brought against him. When I state that the
"caution" has been inserted by my elder brother, Arthur Cooper Underwood,
barrister-at-law, upon my representations, it will be acknowledged that I am
the most fitting person to enter upon an authentic explanation.
"Caution.—The public are hereby cautioned against a man
calling himself Octavius Gaster. He is to be recognised by his great height,
his flaxen hair, and deep scar upon his left cheek, extending from the eye to
the angle of the mouth. His predilection for bright colours—green
neckties, and the like—may help to identify him. A slightly foreign
accent is to be detected in his speech. This man is beyond the reach of the
law, but is more dangerous than a mad dog. Shun him as you would shun the
pestilence that walketh at noonday. Any communications as to his whereabouts
will be thankfully acknowledged by A.C.U., Lincoln's Inn, London."
Hitherto the horror and vagueness of my suspicion, combined with my grief at
the loss of my poor darling on the very eve of our wedding, have prevented me
from revealing the events of last August to anyone save my brother.
Now, however, looking back, I can fit in many little facts almost unnoticed
at the time, which form a chain of evidence that, though worthless in a court
of law, may yet have some effect upon the mind of the public.
I shall therefore relate, without exaggeration or prejudice, all that
occurred from the day upon which this man, Octavius Gaster, entered Toynby Hall
up to the great rifle competition. I know that many people will always ridicule
the supernatural, or what our poor intellects choose to regard as supernatural,
and that the fact of my being a woman will be thought to weaken my evidence. I
can only plead that I have never been weak-minded or impressionable, and that
other people formed the same opinions of Octavius Gaster that I did.
Now to the story.
It was at Colonel Pillar's place at Roborough, in the pleasant county of
Devon, that we spent our autumn holidays. For some months I had been engaged to
his eldest son Charley, and it was hoped that the marriage might take place
before the termination of the Long Vacation.
Charley was considered "safe" for his degree, and in any case was rich
enough to be practically independent, while I was by no means penniless.
The old Colonel was delighted at the prospect of the match, and so was my
mother; so that look what way we would, there seemed to be no cloud above our
It was no wonder, then, that that August was a happy one. Even the most
miserable of mankind would have laid his woes aside under the genial influence
of the merry household at Toynby Hall.
There was Lieutenant Daseby, "Jack," as he was invariably called, fresh home
from Japan in Her Majesty's ship Shark, who was on the same interesting
footing with Fanny Pillar, Charley's sister, as Charley was with me, so that we
were able to lend each other a certain moral support.
Then there was Harry, Charley's younger brother, and Trevor, his bosom
friend at Cambridge.
Finally there was my mother, dearest of old ladies, beaming at us through
her gold-rimmed spectacles, anxiously smoothing every little difficulty in the
way of the two young couples, and never weary of detailing to them her
own doubts and fears and perplexities when that gay young blood, Mr. Nicholas
Underwood, came a-wooing into the provinces, and forswore Crockford's and
Tattersall's for the sake of the country parson's daughter.
I must not, however, forget the gallant old warrior who was our host; with
his time-honoured jokes, and his gout, and his harmless affectation of
"I don't know what's come over the governor lately," Charley used to say.
"He has never cursed the Liberal Administration since you've been here, Lottie;
and my belief is that unless he has a good blow-off, that Irish question will
get into his system and finish him."
Perhaps in the privacy of his own apartment the veteran used to make up for
his self-abnegation during the day.
He seemed to have taken a special fancy to me, which he showed in a hundred
"You're a good lass," he remarked one evening, in a very port-winey whisper.
"Charley's a lucky dog, egad! and has more discrimination than I thought. Mark
my words, Miss Underwood, you'll find that young gentleman isn't such a fool as
With which equivocal compliment the Colonel solemnly covered his face with
his handkerchief, and went off into the land of dreams.
How well I remember the day that was the commencement of all our
Dinner was over, and we were in the drawing-room, with the windows open to
admit the balmy southern breeze.
My mother was sitting in the corner, engaged on a piece of fancy-work, and
occasionally purring forth some truism which the dear old soul believed to be
an entirely original remark, and founded exclusively upon her own individual
Fanny and the young lieutenant were billing and cooing upon the sofa, while
Charley paced restlessly about the room.
I was sitting by the window, gazing out dreamily at the great wilderness of
Dartmoor, which stretched away to the horizon, ruddy and glowing in the light
of the sinking sun, save where some rugged tor stood out in bold relief against
the scarlet background.
"I say," remarked Charley, coming over to join me at the window, "it seems a
positive shame to waste an evening like this."
"Confound the evening!" said Jack Daseby.
"You're always victimising yourself to the weather. Fan and I ar'n't going
to move off this sofa—are we, Fan?"
That young lady announced her intention of remaining by nestling among the
cushions, and glancing defiantly at her brother.
"Spooning is a demoralising thing—isn't it, Lottie?" said Charley,
appealing laughingly to me.
"Shockingly so," I answered.
"Why, I can remember Daseby here when he was as active a young fellow as any
in Devon; and just look at him now! Fanny, Fanny, you've got a lot to answer
"Never mind him, my dear," said my mother, from the corner. "Still, my
experience has always shown me that moderation is an excellent thing for young
people. Poor dear Nicholas used to think so too. He would never go to bed of a
night until he had jumped the length of the hearthrug. I often told him it was
dangerous; but he would do it, until one night he fell on the fender and
snapped the muscle of his leg, which made him limp till the day of his death,
for Doctor Pearson mistook it for a fracture of the bone, and put him in
splints, which had the effect of stiffening his knee. They did say that the
doctor was almost out of his mind at the time from anxiety, brought on by his
younger daughter swallowing a halfpenny, and that that was what caused him to
make the mistake."
My mother had a curious way of drifting along in her conversation, and
occasionally rushing off at a tangent, which made it rather difficult to
remember her original proposition. On this occasion Charley had, however,
stowed it away in his mind as likely to admit of immediate application.
"An excellent thing, as you say, Mrs. Underwood," he remarked; "and we have
not been out to-day. Look here, Lottie, we have an hour of daylight yet.
Suppose we go down and have a try for a trout, if your mamma does not
"Put something round your throat, dear," said my mother, feeling that she
had been outmanoeuvred.
"All right, dear," I answered; "I'll just run up and put on my hat."
"And we'll have a walk back in the gloaming," said Charley, as I made for
When I came down, I found my lover waiting impatiently with his fishing
basket in the hall.
We crossed the lawn together, and passed the open drawing-room windows,
where three mischievous faces were looking at us.
"Spooning is a terribly demoralising thing," remarked Jack, reflectively
staring up at the clouds.
"Shocking," said Fan; and all three laughed until they woke the sleeping
Colonel, and we could hear them endeavouring to explain the joke to that
ill-used veteran, who apparently obstinately refused to appreciate it.
We passed down the winding lane together, and through the little wooden
gate, which opens on to the Tavistock road.
Charley paused for a moment after we had emerged and seemed irresolute which
way to turn.
Had we but known it, our fate depended upon that trivial question.
"Shall we go down to the river, dear," he said, "or shall we try one of the
brooks upon the moor?"
"Whichever you like?" I answered.
"Well, I vote that we cross the moor. We'll have a longer walk back that
way," he added, looking down lovingly at the little white-shawled figure beside
The brook in question runs through a most desolate part of the country. By
the path it is several miles from Toynby Hall; but we were both young and
active, and struck out across the moor, regardless of rocks and
Not a living creature did we meet upon our solitary walk, save a few scraggy
Devonshire sheep, who looked at us wistfully, and followed us for some
distance, as if curious as to what could possibly have induced us to trespass
upon their domains.
It was almost dark before we reached the little stream, which comes gurgling
down through a precipitous glen, and meanders away to help to form the Plymouth
Above us towered two great columns of rock, between which the water trickled
to form a deep, still pool at the bottom. This pool had always been a favourite
spot of Charley's, and was a pretty cheerful place by day; but now, with the
rising moon reflected upon its glassy waters, and throwing dark shadows from
the overhanging rocks, it seemed anything rather than the haunt of a
"I don't think, darling, that I'll fish, after all," said Charley, as we sat
down together on a mossy bank. "It's a dismal sort of place, isn't it?"
"Very," said I, shuddering.
"We'll just have a rest, and then we will walk back by the pathway. You're
shivering. You're not cold, are you?"
"No," said I, trying to keep up my courage; "I'm not cold, but I'm rather
frightened, though it's very silly of me."
"By jove!" said my lover, "I can't wonder at it, for I feel a bit depressed
myself. The noise that water makes is like the gurgling in the throat of a
"Don't, Charley; you frighten me!"
"Come, dear, we mustn't get the blues," he said, with a laugh, trying to
reassure me. "Let's run away from this charnel-house place,
and—Look!—see!—good gracious! what is that?"
Charley had staggered back, and was gazing upwards with a pallid face.
I followed the direction of his eyes, and could scarcely suppress a
I have already mentioned that the pool by which we were standing lay at the
foot of a rough mound of rocks. On the top of this mound, about sixty feet
above our heads, a tall dark figure was standing, peering down, apparently,
into the rugged hollow in which we were.
The moon was just topping the ridge behind, and the gaunt, angular outlines
of the stranger stood out hard and clear against its silvery radiance.
There was something ghastly in the sudden and silent appearance of this
solitary wanderer, especially when coupled with the weird nature of the
I clung to my lover in speechless terror, and glared up at the dark figure
"Hullo, you sir!" cried Charley, passing from fear into anger, as Englishmen
generally do. "Who are you, and what the devil are you doing?"
"Oh! I thought it, I thought it!" said the man who was overlooking us, and
disappeared from the top of the hill.
We heard him scrambling about among the loose stones, and in another moment
he emerged upon the banks of the brook and stood facing us.
Weird as his appearance had been when we first caught sight of him, the
impression was intensified rather than removed by a closer acquaintance.
The moon shining full upon him revealed a long, thin face of ghastly pallor,
the effect being increased by its contrast with the flaring green necktie which
A scar upon his cheek had healed badly and caused a nasty pucker at the side
of his mouth, which gave his whole countenance a most distorted expression,
more particularly when he smiled.
The knapsack on his back and stout staff in his hand announced him to be a
tourist, while the easy grace with which he raised his hat on perceiving the
presence of a lady showed that he could lay claim to the savoir faire of
a man of the world.
There was something in his angular proportions and the bloodless face which,
taken in conjunction with the black cloak which fluttered from his shoulders,
irresistibly reminded me of a bloodsucking species of bat which Jack Daseby had
brought from Japan upon his previous voyage, and which was the bugbear of the
servants' hall at Toynby.
"Excuse my intrusion," he said, with a slightly foreign lisp, which imparted
a peculiar beauty to his voice. "I should have had to sleep on the moor had I
not had the good fortune to fall in with you."
"Confound it, man!" said Charley; "why couldn't you shout out, or give some
warning? You quite frightened Miss Underwood when you suddenly appeared up
The stranger once more raised his hat as he apologised to me for having
given me such a start.
"I am a gentleman from Sweden," he continued, in that peculiar intonation of
his, "and am viewing this beautiful land of yours. Allow me to introduce myself
as Doctor Octavius Gaster. Perhaps you could tell me where I may sleep, and how
I can get from this place, which is truly of great size?"
"You're very lucky in falling in with us," said Charley. "It is no easy
matter to find your way upon the moor."
"That can I well believe," remarked our new acquaintance.
"Strangers have been found dead on it before now," continued Charley. "They
lose themselves, and then wander in a circle until they fall from fatigue."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Swede; "it is not I, who have drifted in an open boat
from Cape Blanco to Canary, that will starve upon an English moor. But how may
I turn to seek an inn?"
"Look here!" said Charley, whose interest was excited by the stranger's
allusion, and who was at all times the most openhearted of men. "There's not an
inn for many a mile round; and I daresay you have had a long day's walk
already. Come home with us, and my father, the Colonel, will be delighted to
see you and find you a spare bed."
"For this great kindness how can I thank you?" returned the traveller.
"Truly, when I return to Sweden, I shall have strange stories to tell of the
English and the hospitality!"
"Nonsense!" said Charley. "Come, we will start at once, for Miss Underwood
is cold. Wrap the shawl well round your neck, Lottie, and we will be home in no
We stumbled along in silence, keeping as far as we could to the rugged
pathway, sometimes losing it as a cloud drifted over the face of the moon, and
then regaining it further on with the return of the light.
The stranger seemed buried in thought, but once or twice I had the
impression that he was looking hard at me through the darkness as we strode
"So," said Charley at last, breaking the silence, "you drifted about in an
open boat, did you?"
"Ah, yes," answered the stranger; "many strange sights have I seen, and many
perils undergone, but none worse than that. It is, however, too sad a subject
for a lady's ears. She has been frightened once to-night."
"Oh, you needn't be afraid of frightening me now," said I, as I leaned on
"Indeed there is but little to tell, and yet is it sorrowful.
"A friend of mine, Karl Osgood of Upsala, and myself started on a trading
venture. Few white men had been among the wandering Moors at Cape Blanco, but
nevertheless we went, and for some months lived well, selling this and that,
and gathering much ivory and gold.
"'Tis a strange country, where is neither wood nor stone, so that the huts
are made from the weeds of the sea.
"At last, just as what we thought was a sufficiency, the Moors conspired to
kill us, and came down against us in the night.
"Short was our warning, but we fled to the beach, launched a canoe and put
out to sea, leaving everything behind.
"The Moors chased us, but lost us in the darkness; and when day dawned the
land was out of sight.
"There was no country where we could hope for food nearer than Canary, and
for that we made.
"I reached it alive, though very weak and mad; but poor Karl died the day
before we sighted the islands.
"I gave him warning!
"I cannot blame myself in the matter.
"I said, 'Karl, the strength that you might gain by eating them would be
more than made up for by the blood that you would lose!'
"He laughed at my words, caught the knife from my belt, cut them off and eat
them; and he died."
"Eat what?" asked Charley.
"His ears!" said the stranger.
We both looked round at him in horror.
There was no suspicion of a smile or joke upon his ghastly face.
"He was what you call headstrong," he continued, "but he should have known
better than to do a thing like that. Had he but used his will he would have
lived as I did."
"And you think a man's will can prevent him from feeling hungry?" said
"What can it not do?" returned Octavius Gaster, and relapsed into a silence
which was not broken until our arrival in Toynby Hall.
Considerable alarm had been caused by our nonappearance, and Jack Daseby was
just setting off with Charley's friend Trevor in search of us. They were
delighted, therefore, when we marched in upon them, and considerably astonished
at the appearance of our companion.
"Where the deuce did you pick up that second-hand corpse?" asked Jack,
drawing Charley aside into the smoking-room.
"Shut up, man; he'll hear you," growled Charley. "He's a Swedish doctor on a
tour, and a deuced good fellow. He went in an open boat from What's-it's-name
to another place. I've offered him a bed for the night."
"Well, all I can say is," remarked Jack, "that his face will never be his
"Ha, ha! Very good! very good!" laughed the subject of the remark, walking
calmly into the room, to the complete discomfiture of the sailor. "No, it will
never, as you say, in this country be my fortune,"—and he grinned until
the hideous gash across the angle of his mouth made him look more like the
reflection in a broken mirror than anything else.
"Come upstairs and have a wash; I can lend you a pair of slippers," said
Charley; and hurried the visitor out of the room to put an end to a somewhat
Colonel Pillar was the soul of hospitality, and welcomed Doctor Gaster as
effusively as if he had been an old friend of the family.
"Egad, sir," he said, "the place is your own; and as long as you care to
stop you are very welcome. We're pretty quiet down here, and a visitor is an
My mother was a little more distant. "A very well informed young man,
Lottie," she remarked to me; "but I wish he would wink his eyes more. I don't
like to see people who never wink their eyes. Still, my dear, my life has
taught me one great lesson, and that is that a man's looks are of very little
importance compared with his actions."
With which brand new and eminently original remark, my mother kissed me and
left me to my meditations.
Whatever Doctor Octavius Gaster might be physically, he was certainly a
By next day he had so completely installed himself as a member of the
household that the Colonel would not hear of his departure.
He astonished everybody by the extent and variety of his knowledge. He could
tell the veteran considerably more about the Crimea than he knew himself; he
gave the sailor information about the coast of Japan; and even tackled my
athletic lover upon the subject of rowing, discoursing about levers of the
first order, and fixed points and fulcra, until the unhappy Cantab was fain to
drop the subject.
Yet all this was done so modestly and even deferentially, that no one could
possibly feel offended at being beaten upon their own ground. There was a quiet
power about everything he said and did which was very striking.
I remember one example of this, which impressed us all at the time.
Trevor had a remarkably savage bulldog, which, however fond of its master,
fiercely resented any liberties from the rest of us. This animal was, it may be
imagined, rather unpopular, but as it was the pride of the student's heart it
was agreed not to banish it entirely, but to lock it up in the stable and give
it a wide berth.
From the first, it seemed to have taken a decided aversion to our visitor,
and showed every fang in its head whenever he approached it.
On the second day of his visit we were passing the stable in a body, when
the growls of the creature inside arrested Doctor Gaster's attention.
"Ha!" he said. "There is that dog of yours, Mr. Trevor, is it not?"
"Yes; that's Towzer," assented Trevor.
"He is a bulldog, I think? What they call the national animal of England on
"Pure-bred," said the student, proudly.
"They are ugly animals—very ugly! Would you come into the stable and
unchain him, that I may see him to advantage. It is a pity to keep an animal so
powerful and full of life in captivity."
"He's rather a nipper," said Trevor, with a mischievous expression in his
eye; "but I suppose you are not afraid of a dog?"
"Afraid?—no. Why should I be afraid?"
The mischievous look on Trevor's face increased as he opened the stable
door. I heard Charley mutter something to him about its being past a joke, but
the other's answer was drowned by the hollow growling from inside.
The rest of us retreated to a respectable distance, while Octavius Gaster
stood in the open doorway with a look of mild curiosity upon his pallid
"And those," he said, "that I see so bright and red in the
darkness—are those his eyes?"
"Those are they," said the student, as he stooped down and unbuckled the
"Come here!" said Octavius Gaster.
The growling of the dog suddenly subsided into a long whimper, and instead
of making the furious rush that we expected, he rustled among the straw as if
trying to huddle into a corner.
"What the deuce is the matter with him?" exclaimed his perplexed owner.
"Come here!" repeated Gaster, in sharp metallic accents, with an
indescribable air of command in them. "Come here!"
To our astonishment, the dog trotted out and stood at his side, but looking
as unlike the usually pugnacious Towzer as is possible to conceive. His ears
were drooping, his tail limp, and he altogether presented the very picture of
"A very fine dog, but singularly quiet," remarked the Swede, as he stroked
"Now, sir, go back!"
The brute turned and slunk back into its corner. We heard the rattling of
its chain as it was being fastened, and next moment Trevor came out of the
stable-door with blood dripping from his finger.
"Confound the beast!" he said. "I don't know what can have come over him.
I've had him three years, and he never bit me before."
I fancy—I cannot say it for certain—but I fancy that there was a
spasmodic twitching of the cicatrix upon our visitor's face, which betokened an
inclination to laugh.
Looking back, I think that it was from that moment that I began to have a
strange indefinable fear and dislike of the man.
Week followed week, and the day fixed for my marriage began to draw
Octavius Gaster was still a guest at Toynby Hall, and, indeed, had so
ingratiated himself with the proprietor that any hint at departure was laughed
to scorn by that worthy soldier.
"Here you've come, sir, and here you'll stay; you shall, by Jove!"
Whereat Octavius would smile and shrug his shoulders and mutter something
about the attractions of Devon, which would put the Colonel in a good humour
for the whole day afterwards.
My darling and I were too much engrossed with each other to pay very much
attention to the traveller's occupations. We used to come upon him sometimes in
our rambles through the woods, sitting reading in the most lonely
He always placed the book in his pocket when he saw us approaching. I
remember on one occasion, however, that we stumbled upon him so suddenly that
the volume was still lying open before him.
"Ah, Gaster," said Charley, "studying, as usual! What an old bookworm you
are! What's the book? Ah, a foreign language; Swedish, I suppose?"
"No, it is not Swedish," said Gaster; "it is Arabic."
"You don't mean to say you know Arabic?"
"Oh, very well—very well indeed!"
"And what's it about?" I asked, turning over the leaves of the musty old
"Nothing that would interest one so young and fair as yourself, Miss
Underwood," he answered, looking at me in a way which had become habitual to
him of late. "It treats of the days when mind was stronger than what you call
matter; when great spirits lived that were able to exist without these coarse
bodies of ours, and could mould all things to their so-powerful wills."
"Oh, I see; a kind of ghost story," said Charley. "Well, adieu; we won't
keep you from your studies."
We left him sitting in the little glen still absorbed in his mystical
treatise. It must have been imagination which induced me, on turning suddenly
round half an hour later, to think that I saw his familiar figure glide rapidly
behind a tree.
I mentioned it to Charley at the time, but he laughed my idea to scorn.
I alluded just now to a peculiar manner which this man Gaster had of looking
at me. His eyes seemed to lose their usual steely expression when he did so,
and soften into something which might be almost called caressing. They seemed
to influence me strangely, for I could always tell, without looking at him,
when his gaze was fixed upon me.
Sometimes I fancied that this idea was simply due to a disordered nervous
sytem or morbid imagination; but my mother dispelled that delusion from my
"Do you know," she said, coming into my bedroom one night, and carefully
shutting the door behind her, "if the idea was not so utterly preposterous,
Lottie, I should say that that Doctor was madly in love with you?"
"Nonsense, 'ma!" said I, nearly dropping my candle in my consternation at
"I really think so, Lottie," continued my mother. "He's got a way of looking
which is very like that of your poor dear father, Nicholas, before we were
married. Something of this sort, you know."
And the old lady cast an utterly heart-broken glance at the bed-post.
"Now, go to bed," said I, "and don't have such funny ideas. Why, poor Doctor
Gaster knows that I am engaged as well as you do."
"Time will show," said the old lady, as she left the room; and I went to bed
with the words still ringing in my ears.
Certainly, it is a strange thing that on that very night a thrill which I
had come to know well ran through me, and awakened me from my slumbers.
I stole softly to the window, and peered out through the bars of the
Venetian blinds, and there was the gaunt, vampire-like figure of our Swedish
visitor standing upon the gravel-walk, and apparently gazing up at my
It may have been that he detected the movement of the blind, for, lighting a
cigarette, he began pacing up and down the avenue.
I noticed that at breakfast next morning he went out of his way to explain
the fact that he had been restless during the night, and had steadied his
nerves by a short stroll and a smoke.
After all, when I came to consider it calmly, the aversion which I had
against the man and my distrust of him were founded on very scanty grounds. A
man might have a strange face, and be fond of curious literature, and even look
approvingly at an engaged young lady, without being a very dangerous member of
I say this to show that even up to that point I was perfectly unbiased and
free from prejudice in my opinion of Octavius Gaster.
"I say!" remarked Lieutenant Daseby, one morning; "what do you think of
having a picnic to-day?"
"Capital!" ejaculated everybody.
"You see, they are talking of commissioning the old Shark soon, and
Trevor here will have to go back to the mill. We may as well compress as much
fun as we can into the time."
"What is it that you call nicpic?" asked Doctor Gaster.
"It's another of our English institutions for you to study," said Charley.
"It's our version of a fête champêtre."
"Ah, I see! That will be very jolly!" acquiesced the Swede.
"There are half a dozen places we might go to," continued the Lieutenant.
"There's the Lover's Leap, or Black Tor, or Beer Ferris Abbey."
"That's the best," said Charley. "Nothing like ruins for a picnic."
"Well the Abbey be it. How far is it?"
"Six miles," said Trevor.
"Seven by the road," remarked the Colonel, with military exactness. "Mrs.
Underwood and I shall stay at home, and the rest of you can fit into the
waggonette. You'll all have to chaperon each other."
I need hardly say that this motion was carried also without a division.
"Well," said Charley, "I'll order the trap to be round in half an hour, so
you'd better all make the best of your time. We'll want salmon, and salad, and
hard-boiled eggs, and liquor, and any number of things. I'll look after the
liquor department. What will you do, Lottie?"
"I'll take charge of the china," I said.
"I'll bring the fish," said Daseby.
"And I the vegetables," added Fan.
"What will you do, Gaster?" asked Charley.
"Truly," said the Swede, in his strange, musical accents, "but little is
left for me to do. I can, however, wait upon the ladies, and I can make what
you call a salad."
"You'll be more popular in the latter capacity than in the former," said I,
"Ah, you say so," he said, turning sharp round upon me, and flushing up to
his flaxen hair. "Yes. Ha! ha! Very good!" And with a discordant laugh, he
strode out of the room.
"I say, Lottie," remonstrated my lover, "you've hurt the fellow's
"I'm sure I didn't mean to," I answered. "If you like I'll go after him and
tell him so."
"Oh, leave him alone," said Daseby. "A man with a mug like that has no right
to be so touchy. He'll come round right enough."
It was true that I had not had the slightest intention of offending Gaster,
still I felt pained at having annoyed him.
After I had stowed away the knives and plates into the hamper, I found that
the others were still busy at their various departments. The moment seemed a
favourable one for apologising for my thoughtless remark, so without saying
anything to anyone, I slipped away and ran down the corridor in the direction
of our visitor's room.
I suppose I must have tripped along very lightly, or it may have been the
rich thick matting of Toynby Hall—certain it is that Mr. Gaster seemed
unconscious of my approach.
His door was open, and as I came up to it and caught sight of him inside,
there was something so strange in his appearance that I paused, literally
petrified for the moment with astonishment.
He had in his hand a small slip from a newspaper which he was reading, and
which seemed to afford him considerable amusement. There was something horrible
too in this mirth of his, for though he writhed his body about as if with
laughter, no sound was emitted from his lips.
His face, which was half-turned towards me, wore an expression upon it which
I had never seen on it before; I can only describe it as one of savage
Just as I was recovering myself sufficiently to step forward and knock at
the door, he suddenly, with a last convulsive spasm of merriment, dashed down
the piece of paper upon the table and hurried out by the other door of his
room, which led through the billiard-room to the hall.
I heard his steps dying away in the distance, and peeped once more into his
What could be the joke that had moved this stern man to mirth? Surely some
masterpiece of humour.
Was there ever a woman whose principles were strong enough to overcome her
Looking cautiously round to make sure that the passage was empty, I slipped
into the room and examined the paper which he had been reading.
It was a cutting from an English journal, and had evidently been long
carried about and frequently perused, for it was almost illegible in places.
There was, however, as far as I could see, very little to provoke laughter in
its contents. It ran, as well as I can remember, in this way:—
"Sudden Death in the Docks.—The master of the bark-rigged steamer
Olga, from Tromsberg, was found lying dead in his cabin on Wednesday afternoon.
Deceased was, it seems, of a violent disposition, and had had frequent
altercations with the surgeon of the vessel. On this particular day he had been
more than usually offensive, declaring that the surgeon was a necromancer and
worshipper of the devil. The latter retired on deck to avoid further
persecution. Shortly afterwards the steward had occasion to enter the cabin,
and found the captain lying across the table quite dead. Death is attributed to
heart disease, accelerated by excessive passion. An inquest will be held
And this was the paragraph which this strange man had regarded as the height
I hurried downstairs, astonishment, not un-mixed with repugnance,
predominating in my mind. So just was I, however, that the dark inference which
has so often occurred to me since never for one moment crossed my mind. I
looked upon him as a curious and rather repulsive enigma—nothing
When I met him at the picnic, all remembrance of my unfortunate speech
seemed to have vanished from his mind. He made himself as agreeable as usual,
and his salad was pronounced a chef-d'oeuvre, while his quaint little
Swedish songs and his tales of all climes and countries alternately thrilled
and amused us. It was after luncheon, however, that the conversation turned
upon a subject which seemed to have special charms for his daring mind.
I forget who it was that broached the question of the supernatural. I think
it was Trevor, by some story of a hoax which he had perpetrated at Cambridge.
The story seemed to have a strange effect upon Octavius Gaster, who tossed his
long arms about in impassioned invective as he ridiculed those who dared to
doubt about the existence of the unseen.
"Tell me," he said, standing up in his excitement, "which among you has ever
known what you call an instinct to fail. The wild bird has an instinct which
tells it of the solitary rock upon the so boundless sea on which it may lay its
egg, and is it disappointed? The swallow turns to the south when the winter is
coming, and has its instinct ever led it astray? And shall this instinct which
tells us of the unknown spirits around us, and which pervades every untaught
child and every race so savage, be wrong? I say, never!"
"Go it, Gaster!" cried Charley.
"Take your wind and have another spell," said the sailor.
"No, never," repeated the Swede, disregarding our amusement. "We can see
that matter exists apart from mind; then why should not mind exist apart from
"Give it up," said Daseby.
"Have we not proofs of it?" continued Gaster, his gray eyes gleaming with
excitement. "Who that has read Steinberg's book upon spirits, or that by the
eminent American, Madame Crowe, can doubt it? Did not Gustav von Spee meet his
brother Leopold in the streets of Strasbourg, the same brother having been
drowned three months before in the Pacific? Did not Home, the spiritualist, in
open daylight, float above the housetops of Paris? Who has not heard the voices
of the dead around him? I myself—"
"Well, what of yourself?" asked half a dozen of us, in a breath.
"Bah! it matters nothing," he said, passing his hand over his forehead, and
evidently controlling himself with difficulty. "Truly, our talk is too sad for
such an occasion." And, in spite of all our efforts, we were unable to extract
from Gaster any relation of his own experiences of the supernatural.
It was a merry day. Our approaching dissolution seemed to cause each one to
contribute his utmost to the general amusement. It was settled that after the
coming rifle match Jack was to return to his ship and Trevor to his university.
As to Charley and myself, we were to settle down into a staid respectable
The match was one of our principal topics of conversation. Shooting had
always been a hobby of Charley's, and he was the captain of the Roborough
company of Devon volunteers, which boasted some of the crack shots of the
county. The match was to be against a picked team of regulars from Plymouth,
and as they were no despicable opponents, the issue was considered doubtful.
Charley had evidently set his heart on winning, and descanted long and loudly
on the chances.
"The range is only a mile from Toynby Hall," he said, "and we'll all drive
over, and you shall see the fun. You'll bring me luck, Louie," he whispered, "I
know you will."
Oh, my poor lost darling, to think of the luck that I brought you!
There was one dark cloud to mar the brightness of that happy day.
I could not hide from myself any longer the fact that my mother's suspicions
were correct, and that Octavius Gaster loved me.
Throughout the whole of the excursion his attentions had been most
assiduous, and his eyes hardly ever wandered away from me. There was a manner,
too, in all that he said which spoke louder than words.
I was on thorns lest Charley should perceive it, for I knew his fiery
temper; but the thought of such treachery never entered the honest heart of my
He did once look up with mild surprise when the Swede insisted on relieving
me of a fern which I was carrying; but the expression faded away into a smile
at what he regarded as Gaster's effusive good-nature. My own feeling in the
matter was pity for the unfortunate foreigner, and sorrow that I should have
been the means of rendering him unhappy.
I thought of the torture it must be fora wild, fierce spirit like his to
have a passion gnawing at his heart which honour and pride would alike prevent
him from ever expressing in words. Alas! I had not counted upon the utter
recklessness and want of principle of the man; but it was not long before I was
There was a little arbour at the bottom of the garden, overgrown with
honeysuckle and ivy, which had long been a favourite haunt of Charley and
myself. It was doubly dear to us from the fact that it was here, on the
occasion of my former visit, that words of love had first passed between
After dinner on the day following the picnic I sauntered down to this little
summer-house, as was my custom. Here I used to wait until Charley, having
finished his cigar with the other gentlemen, would come down and join me.
On that particular evening he seemed to be longer away than usual. I waited
impatiently for his coming, going to the door every now and then to see if
there were any signs if his approach.
I had just sat down again after one of those fruitless excursions, when I
heard the tread of a male foot upon the gravel, and a figure emerged from among
I sprang up with a glad smile, which changed to an expression of
bewilderment, and even fear, when I saw the gaunt, pallid face of Octavius
Caster peering in at me.
There was certainly something about his actions which would have inspired
distrust in the mind of anyone in my position. Instead of greeting me, he
looked up and down the garden, as if to make sure that we were entirely alone.
He then stealthily entered the arbour, and seated himself upon a chair, in such
a position that he was between me and the doorway.
"Do not be afraid," he said, as he noticed my scared expression. "There is
nothing to fear. I do but come that I may have talk with you."
"Have you seen Mr. Pillar?" I asked, trying hard to seem at my ease.
"Ha! Have I seen your Charley?" he answered, with a sneer upon the last
words. "Are you then so anxious that he come? Can no one speak to thee but
Charley, little one?"
"Mr. Gaster," I said, "you are forgetting yourself."
"It is Charley, Charley, ever Charley!" continued the Swede, disregarding my
interruption. "Yes, I have seen Charley. I have told him that you wait upon the
bank of the river, and he has gone thither upon the wings of love."
"Why have you told him this lie?" I asked, still trying not to lose my
"That I might see you; that I might speak to you. Do you, then, love him so?
Cannot the thought of glory, and riches, and power, above all that the mind can
conceive, win you from this first maiden fancy of yours? Fly with me,
Charlotte, and all this, and more, shall be yours! Come!"
And he stretched his long arms out in passionate entreaty.
Even at that moment the thought flashed through my mind of how like they
were to the tentacles of some poisonous insect. "You insult me, sir!" I cried,
rising to my feet. "You shall pay heavily for this treatment of an unprotected
"Ah, you say it," he cried, "but you mean it not. In your heart so tender
there is pity left for the most miserable of men. Nay, you shall not pass
me—you shall hear me first!"
"Let me go, sir!"
Nay; you shall not go until you tell me if nothing that I can do may win
"How dare you speak so?" I almost screamed, losing all my fear in my
indignation. "You, who are the guest of my future husband! Let me tell you,
once and for all, that I had no feeling towards you before save one of
repugnance and contempt, which you have now converted into positive
"And is it so?" he gasped, tottering backwards towards the doorway, and
putting his hand up to his throat as if he found a difficulty in uttering the
words. "And has my love won hatred in return? Ha!" he continued, advancing his
face within a foot of mine as I cowered away from his glassy eyes. "I know it
now. It is this—it is this!" and he struck the horrible cicatrix on his
face with his clenched hand. "Maids love not such faces as this! I am not
smooth, and brown, and curly like this Charley—this brainless school-boy;
this human brute who cares but for his sport and his—"
"Let me pass!" I cried, rushing at the door.
"No; you shall not go—you shall not!" he hissed, pushing me
I struggled furiously to escape from his grasp. His long arms seemed to
clasp me like bars of steel. I felt my strength going, and was making one last
despairing effort to shake myself loose, when some irresistible power from
behind tore my persecutor away from me and hurled him backwards on to the
Looking up, I saw Charley's towering figure and square shoulders in the
"My poor darling!" he said, catching me in his arms. "Sit here—here in
the angle. There is no danger now. I shall be with you in a minute."
"Don't Charley, don't!" I murmured, as he turned to leave me. But he was
deaf to my entreaties, and strode out of the arbour. I could not see either him
or his opponent from the position in which he had placed me, but I heard every
word that was spoken. "You villain!" said a voice that I could hardly recognise
as my lover's. "So this is why you put me on a wrong scent?"
"That is why," answered the foreigner, in a tone of easy indifference.
"And this is how you repay our hospitality, you infernal scoundrel!"
"Yes; we amuse ourselves in your so beautiful summer-house."
"We! You are still on my ground and my guest, and I would wish to keep my
hands from you; but, by heavens—"
Charley was speaking very low and in gasps now.
"Why do you swear? What is it, then?" asked the languid voice of Octavius
"If you dare to couple Miss Underwood's name with this business, and
"Insinuate? I insinuate nothing. What I say I say plain for all the world to
hear. I say that this so chaste maiden did herself ask—"
I heard the sound of a heavy blow, and a great rattling of the gravel.
I was too weak to rise from where I lay, and could only clasp my hands
together and utter a faint scream.
"You cur!" said Charley. "Say as much again, and I'll stop your mouth for
There was a silence, and then I heard Gaster speaking in a husky, strange
"You have struck me!" he said; "you have drawn my blood!"
"Yes; I'll strike you again if you show your cursed face within these
grounds. Don't look at me so! You don't suppose your hankey-pankey tricks can
An indefinable dread came over me as my lover spoke. I staggered to my feet
and looked out at them, leaning against the door-way for support.
Charley was standing erect and defiant, with his young head in the air, like
one who glories in the cause for which he battles.
Octavius Gaster was opposite him, surveying him with pinched lips and a
baleful look in his cruel eyes. The blood was running freely from a deep gash
on his lip, and spotting the front of his green necktie and white waistcoat. He
perceived me the instant I emerged from the arbour.
"Ha, ha!" he cried, with a demoniacal burst of laughter. "She comes! The
bride! She comes! Room for the bride! Oh, happy pair, happy pair!"
And with another fiendish burst of merriment he turned and disappeared over
the crumbling wall of the garden with such rapidity that he was gone before we
had realised what it was that he was about to do.
"Oh, Charley," I said, as my lover came back to my side, "you've hurt
"Hurt him! I should hope I have! Come, darling, you are frightened and
tired. He did not injure you, did he?"
"No; but I feel rather faint and sick."
"Come, we'll walk slowly to the house together. The rascal! It was cunningly
and deliberately planned, too. He told me he had seen you down by the river,
and I was going down when I met young Stokes, the keeper's son, coming back
from fishing, and he told me that there was nobody there. Somehow, when Stokes
said that, a thousand little things flashed into my mind at once, and I became
in a moment so convinced of Gaster's villainy that I ran as hard as I could to
"Charley," I said, clinging to my lover's arm, "I fear he will injure you in
some way. Did you see the look in his eyes before he leaped the wall?"
"Pshaw!" said Charley. "All these foreigners have a way of scowling and
glaring when they are angry, but it never comes to much."
"Still, I am afraid of him," said I, mournfully, as we went up the steps
together, "and I wish you had not struck him."
"So do I," Charley answered; "for he was our guest, you know, in spite of
his rascality. However, it's done now and it can't be helped, as the cook says
in 'Pickwick,' and really it was more than flesh and blood could stand."
I must run rapidly over the events of the next few days. For me, at least,
it was a period of absolute happiness. With Gaster's departure a cloud seemed
to be lifted off my soul, and a depression which had weighed upon the whole
household completely disappeared.
Once more I was the light-hearted girl that I had been before the
foreigner's arrival. Even the Colonel forgot to mourn over his absence, owing
to the all-absorbing interest in the coming competition in which his son was
It was our main subject of conversation and bets were freely offered by the
gentlemen on the success of the Roborough team, though no one was unprincipled
enough to seem to support their antagonists by taking them.
Jack Daseby ran down to Plymouth, and "made a book on the event" with some
officers of the Marines, which he did in such an extraordinary way that we
reckoned that in case of Roborough winning, he would lose seventeen shillings;
while, should the other contingency occur, he would be involved in hopeless
Charley and I had tacitly agreed not to mention the name of Gaster, nor to
allude in any way to what had passed.
On the morning after our scene in the garden, Charley had sent a servant up
to the Swede's room with instructions to pack up any things he might find
there, and leave them at the nearest inn.
It was found, however, that all Gaster's effects had been already removed,
though how and when was a perfect mystery to the servants.
I know of few more attractive spots than the shooting-range at Roborough.
The glen in which it is situated is about half a mile long and perfectly level,
so that the targets were able to range from two to seven hundred yards, the
further ones simply showing as square white dots against the green of the
rising hills behind.
The glen itself is part of the great moor and its sides, sloping gradually
up, lose themselves in the vast rugged expanse. Its symmetrical character
suggested to the imaginative mind that some giant of old had made an excavation
in the moor with a titanic cheese-scoop, but that a single trial had convinced
him of the utter worthlessness of the soil.
He might even be imagined to have dropped the despised sample at the mouth
of the cutting which he had made, for there was a considerable elevation there,
from which the riflemen were to fire, and thither we bent our steps on that
Our opponents had arrived there before us, bringing with them a considerable
number of naval and military officers, while a long line of nondescript
vehicles showed that many of the good citizens of Plymouth had seized the
opportunity of giving their wives and families an outing on the moor.
An enclosure for ladies and distinguished guests had been erected on the top
of the hill, which, with the marquee and refreshment tents, made the scene a
The country people had turned out in force, and were excitedly staking their
half-crowns upon their local champions, which were as enthusiastically taken up
by the admirers of the regulars.
Through all this scene of bustle and confusion we were safely conveyed by
Charley, aided by Jack and Trevor, who finally deposited us in a sort of
rudimentary grandstand, from which we could look round at our ease on all that
was going on.
We were soon, however, so absorbed in the glorious view, that we became
utterly unconscious of the betting and pushing and chaff of the crowd in front
Away to the south we could see the blue smoke of Plymouth curling up into
the calm summer air, while beyond that was the great sea, stretching away to
the horizon, dark and vast, save where some petulant wave dashed it with a
streak of foam, as if rebelling against the great peacefulness of nature.
From the Eddystone to the Start the long rugged line of the Devonshire coast
lay like a map before us.
I was still lost in admiration when Charley's voice broke half-reproachfully
on my ear.
"Why, Lottie," he said, "you don't seem to take a bit of interest in
"Oh, yes I do, dear," I answered. "But the scenery is so pretty, and the sea
is always a weakness of mine. Come and sit here, and tell me all about the
match and how we are to know whether you are winning or losing."
"I've just been explaining it," answered Charley. "But I'll go over it
"Do, like a darling," said I; and settled myself down to mark, learn, and
"Well," said Charley, "there are ten men on each side. We shoot alternately;
first, one of our fellows, then one of them, and so on—you
"Yes, I understand that."
"First we fire at the two hundred yards range—those are the targets
nearest of all. We fire five shots each at those. Then we fire five shots at
the ones at five hundred yards—those middle ones; and then we finish up
by firing at the seven hundred yards range—you see the target far over
there on the side of the hill. Whoever makes the most points wins. Do you grasp
"Oh, yes; that's very simple," I said.
"Do you know what a bull's eye is?" asked my lover. "Some sort of sweetmeat,
isn't it?" I hazarded.
Charley seemed amazed at the extent of my ignorance. "That's the
bull's-eye," he said; "that dark spot in the centre of the target. If you hit
that, it counts five. There is another ring, which you can't see, drawn round
that, and if you get inside of it, it is called a 'centre,' and counts four.
Outside that, again, is called an 'outer,' and only gives you three. You can
tell where the shot has hit, for the marker puts out a coloured disc, and
covers the place."
"Oh, I understand it all now," said I, enthusiastically. "I'll tell you what
I'll do Charley; I'll mark the score on a bit of paper every shot that is
fired, and then I'll always know how Roborough is getting on!"
"You can't do better," he laughed as he strode off to get his men together,
for a warning bell signified that the contest was about to begin.
There was a great waving of flags and shouting before the ground could be
got clear, and then I saw a little cluster of red-coats lying upon the
greensward, while a similar group, in grey, took up their position to the left
"Pang!" went a rifle-shot, and the blue smoke came curling up from the
Fanny shrieked, while I gave a cry of delight, for I saw the white disc go
up, which proclaimed a "bull," and the shot had been fired by one of the
Roborough men. My elation was, however, promptly checked by the answering shot
which put down five to the credit of the regulars. The next was also a "bull,"
which was speedily cancelled by another. At the end of the competition at the
short range each side had scored forty-nine out of a possible fifty, and the
question of supremacy was as undecided as ever.
"It's getting exciting," said Charley, lounging over the stand. "We begin
shooting at the five hundred yards in a few minutes."
"Oh, Charley," cried Fanny in high excitement, "don't you go and miss,
whatever you do!"
"I won't if I can help it," responded Charley, cheerfully. "You made a
'bull' every time just now," I said.
"Yes, but it's not so easy when you've got your sights up. However, we'll do
our best, and we can't do more. They've got some terribly good long-range men
among them. Come over here, Lottie, for a moment."
"What is it, Charley?" I asked, as he led me away from the others. I could
see by the look in his face that something was troubling him.
"It's that fellow," growled my lover. "What the deuce does he want to come
here for? I hoped we had seen the last of him!"
"What fellow?" I gasped, with a vague apprehension at my heart.
"Why, that infernal Swedish fellow, Gaster!"
I followed the direction of Charley's glance, and there, sure enough,
standing on a little knoll close to the place where the riflemen were lying,
was the tall, angular figure of the foreigner.
He seemed utterly unconscious of the sensation which his singular appearance
and hideous countenance excited among the burly farmers around him; but was
craning his long neck about, this way and that, as if in search of
As we watched him, his eye suddenly rested upon us, and it seemed to me
that, even at that distance, I could see a spasm of hatred and triumph pass
over his livid features.
A strange foreboding came over me, and I seized my lover's hand in both my
"Oh, Charley," I cried, "don't—don't go back to the shooting! Say you
are ill—make some excuse, and come away!"
"Nonsense, lass!" said he, laughing heartily at my terror. "Why, what in the
world are you afraid of?"
"Of him!" I answered.
"Don't be so silly, dear. One would think he was a demi-god to hear the way
in which you talk of him. But there! that's the bell, and I must be off."
"Well, promise, at least, that you will not go near him?" I cried, following
"All right—all right!" said he.
And I had to be content with that small concession.
The contest at the five hundred yards range was a close and exciting one.
Roborough led by a couple of points for some time, until a series of "bulls" by
one of the crack marksmen of their opponents turned the tables upon them.
At the end of it was found that the volunteers were three points to the
bad—a result which was hailed by cheers from the Plymouth contingent and
by long faces and black looks among the dwellers on the moor.
During the whole of this competition Octavius Gaster had remained perfectly
still and motionless upon the top of the knoll on which he had originally taken
up his position.
It seemed to me that he knew little of what was going on, for his face was
turned away from the marksmen, and he appeared to be gazing into the
Once I caught sight of his profile, and thought that his lips were moving
rapidly as if in prayer, or it may have been the shimmer of the hot air of the
almost Indian summer which deceived me. It was, however, my impression at the
And now came the competition at the longest range of all, which was to
decide the match.
The Roborough men settled down steadily to their task of making up the lost
ground; while the regulars seemed determined not to throw away a chance by
As shot after shot was fired, the excitement of the spectators became so
great that they crowded round the marksmen, cheering enthusiastically at every
We ourselves were so far affected by the general contagion that we left our
harbour of refuge, and submitted meekly to the pushing and rough ways of the
mob, in order to obtain a nearer view of the champions and their doings.
The military stood at seventeen when the volunteers were at sixteen, and
great was the despondency of the rustics.
Things looked brighter, however, when the two sides tied at twenty-four, and
brighter still when the steady shooting of the local team raised their score to
thirty-two against thirty of their opponents.
There were still, however, the three points which had been lost at the last
range to be made up for.
Slowly the score rose, and desperate were the efforts of both parties to
pull off the victory.
Finally, a thrill ran through the crowd when it was known that the last
red-coat had fired, while one volunteer was still left, and that the soldiers
were leading by four points.
Even our unsportsman-like minds were worked into a state of
all-absorbing excitement by the nature of the crisis which now presented
If the last representative of our little town could but hit the bull's-eye
the match was won.
The silver cup, the glory, the money of our adherents, all depended upon
that single shot.
The reader will imagine that my interest was by no means lessened when, by
dint of craning my neck and standing on tiptoe, I caught sight of my Charley
coolly shoving a cartridge into his rifle, and realised that it was upon his
skill that the honour of Roborough depended.
It was this, I think, which lent me strength to push my way so vigorously
through the crowd that I found myself almost in the first row and commanding an
excellent view of the proceedings.
There were two gigantic farmers on each side of me, and while we were
waiting for the decisive shot to be fired, I could not help listening to the
conversation, which they carried on in broad Devon, over my head.
"Mun's a rare ugly 'un," said one.
"He is that," cordially assented the other.
"See to mun's een?"
"Eh, Jock; see to mun's moo', rayther!—Blessed if he bean't foamin'
like Farmer Watson's dog—t' bull pup whot died mad o' the
I turned round to see the favoured object of these flattering comments, and
my eyes fell upon Doctor Octavius Gaster, whose presence I had entirely
forgotten in my excitement.
His face was turned towards me; but he evidently did not see me, for his
eyes were bent with unswerving persistence upon a point midway apparently
between the distant targets and himself.
I have never seen anything to compare with the extraordinary concentration
of that stare, which had the effect of making his eyeballs appear gorged and
prominent, while the pupils were contracted to the finest possible point.
Perspiration was running freely down his long, cadaverous face, and, as the
farmer had remarked, there were some traces of foam at the corners of his
mouth. The jaw was locked, as if with some fierce effort of the will which
demanded all the energy of his soul.
To my dying day that hideous countenance shall never fade from my
remembrance nor cease to haunt me in my dreams. I shuddered, and turned away my
head in the vain hope that perhaps the honest farmer might be right, and mental
disease be the cause of all the vagaries of this extraordinary man.
A great stillness fell upon the whole crowd as Charley, having loaded his
rifle, snapped up the breech cheerily, and proceeded to lie down in his
"That's right, Mr. Charles, sir—that's right!" I heard old McIntosh,
the volunteer sergeant, whisper as I passed. "A cool head and a steady hand,
that's what does the trick, sir!"
My lover smiled round at the gray-headed soldier as he lay down upon the
grass, and then proceeded to look along the sight of his rifle amid a silence
in which the faint rustling of the breeze among the blades of grass was
For more than a minute he hung upon his aim. His finger seemed to press the
trigger, and every eye was fixed upon the distant target, when suddenly,
instead of firing, the rifleman staggered up to his knees, leaving his weapon
upon the ground.
To the surprise of everyone, his face was deadly pale, and perspiration was
standing on his brow.
"I say, McIntosh," he said, in a strange, gasping voice, "is there anybody
standing between the target and me?"
"Between, sir? No, not a soul, sir," answered the astonished sergeant.
"There, man, there!" cried Charley, with fierce energy, seizing him by the
arm, and pointing in the direction of the target, "Don't you see him there,
standing right in the line of fire?"
"There's no one there!" shouted half a dozen voices.
"No one there? Well, it must have been my imagination," said Charley,
passing his hand slowly over his forehead. "Yet I could have sworn—Here,
give me the rifle!"
He lay down again, and having settled himself into position, raised his
weapon slowly to his eye. He had hardly looked along the barrel before he
sprang up again with a loud cry.
"There!" he cried; "I tell you I see it! A man dressed in volunteer uniform,
and very like myself—the image of myself. Is this a conspiracy?" he
continued, turning fiercely on the crowd. "Do you tell me none of you see a man
resembling myself walking from that target, and not two hundred yards from me
as I speak?"
I should have flown to Charley's side had I not known how he hated feminine
interference, and anything approaching to a scene. I could only listen silently
to his strange wild words.
"I protest against this!" said an officer coming forward. "This gentleman
must really either take his shot, or we shall remove our men off the field and
claim the victory."
"But I'll shoot him!" gasped poor Charley.
"Shoot him, then!" growled half a score of masculine voices.
"The fact is," lisped one of the military men in front of me to another,
"the young fellow's nerves ar'n't quite equal to the occasion, and he feels it,
and is trying to back out."
The imbecile young lieutenant little knew at this point how a feminine hand
was longing to stretch forth and deal him a sounding box on the ears.
"It's Martell's three-star brandy, that's what it is," whispered the other.
"The 'devils,' don't you know. I've had 'em myself, and know a case when I see
This remark was too recondite for my understanding, or the speaker would
have run the same risk as his predecessor.
"Well, are you going to shoot or not?" cried several voices.
"Yes, I'll shoot," groaned Charley—"I'll shoot him through!
It's murder—sheer murder!"
I shall never forget the haggard look which he cast round at the crowd. "I'm
aiming through him, McIntosh," he murmured, as he lay down on the grass
and raised the gun for the third time to his shoulder.
There was one moment of suspense, a spurt of flame, the crack of a rifle,
and a cheer which echoed across the moor, and might have been heard in the
"Well done, lad—well done!" shouted a hundred honest Devonshire
voices, as the little white disc came out from behind the marker's shield and
obliterated the dark "bull" for the moment, proclaiming that the match was
"Well done, lad! It's Maister Pillar, of Toynby Hall. Here, let's gie mun a
lift, carry mun home, for the honour o' Roborough. Come on, lads! There mun is
on the grass. Wake up, Sergeant McIntosh. What be the matter with thee? Eh?
A deadly stillness came over the crowd, and then a low incredulous murmur,
changing to one of pity, with whispers of "leave her alone, poor
lass—leave her to hersel'!"—and then there was silence again, save
for the moaning of a woman, and her short, quick cries of despair.
For, reader, my Charley, my beautiful, brave Charley, was lying cold and
dead upon the ground, with the rifle still clenched in his stiffening
I heard kind words of sympathy. I heard Lieutenant Daseby's voice, broken
with grief, begging me to control my sorrow, and felt his hand, as he gently
raised me from my poor boy's body. This I can remember, and nothing more, until
my recovery from my illness, when I found myself in the sick-room at Toynby
Hall, and learned that three restless, delirious weeks had passed since that
Stay!—do I remember nothing else?
Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I think I can recall a lucid interval in
the midst of my wanderings. I seem to have a dim recollection of seeing my good
nurse go out of the room—of seeing a gaunt, bloodless face peering in
through the half-open window, and of hearing a voice which said, "I have dealt
with thy so beautiful lover, and I have yet to deal with thee." The words come
back to me with a familiar ring, as if they had sounded in my ears before, and
yet it may have been but a dream.
"And this is all!" you say. "It is for this that a hysterical woman hunts
down a harmlesssavant in the advertisement columns of the newspapers! On this
shallow evidence she hints at crimes of the most monstrous description!"
Well, I cannot expect that these things should strike you as they struck me.
I can but say that if I were upon a bridge with Octavius Gaster standing at one
end, and the most merciless tiger that ever prowled in an Indian jungle at the
other, I should fly to the wild beast for protection.
For me, my life is broken and blasted. I care not how soon it may end, but
if my words shall keep this man out of one honest household, I have not written
Within a fortnight after writing this narrative, my poor daughter
disappeared. All search has failed to find her. A porter at the railway station
has deposed to having seen a young lady resembling her description get into a
first-class carriage with a tall, thin gentleman. It is, however, too
ridiculous to suppose that she can have eloped after her recent grief, and
without my having had any suspicions. The detectives are, however, working out
the clue.—EMILY UNDERWOOD