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The Pedlar's Pack by Lucie E. Jackson

 

Colonel Bingham was seated in his library facing the window that looked out on to the green sloping lawn, the smiling meadow, and the dark belt of firs which skirted the wood. There was a frown on his brow, and his eyes wore a perplexed look. On the opposite side of the room stood a young girl of seventeen balancing herself adroitly on the ridge of a chair, and smiling with evident satisfaction at her own achievement.

The colonel was speaking irritably.

“You see, you can't even now sit still while I speak to you, but you must poise yourself on your chair like a schoolboy. Is it a necessary part of your existence that you must behave like a boy rather than a girl?”

Patty hung her head shamefacedly, and the smile left her lips.

“And then, what is this that I hear about a rifle? Is it true that Captain Palmer has lent you one?”

“Only just to practise with for a few weeks. Dad, don't be angry. He has a new one, so he doesn't miss it. Why”—warming to her subject and forgetting for the moment that she was in great danger of still further disgracing herself in her father's eyes by her confession—“I can hit even a small object at a very considerable distance five times out of six.”

The perplexed look deepened in her father's eyes, but the irritability had cleared away. He toyed with the open letter that he held in his hand. “I suppose it is for this as well as for your other schoolboy pranks that your aunt has invited only Rose. But I don't like it—it is not right. If it were not for the unfairness to Rose, I should have refused outright. As it is, the invitation has been accepted by me, and it must stand, for Rose must not be deprived of her pleasures because you like——”

“Invitation! What invitation?” interrupted Patty.

“Your aunt is giving a big ball on the 13th, and she is insistent that Rose should be present. It will be the child's first ball, and I cannot gainsay her. But, Patty, I should like you both to go. You are seventeen, are you not?”

“Seventeen and a half,” returned Patty with a little choke in her voice.

It was the first she had heard of the invitation, and it stung her to think that Lady Glendower thought her too much of a hoyden to invite her with the sister who was but one year older. Patty was girl enough to love dancing even above her other amusements, and the unbidden tears came into her eyes as she stood looking forlornly at her father.

Colonel Bingham coughed, and tapped his writing-desk with the letter.

“Seventeen and a half,” he repeated, “quite old enough to go to a ball. Never mind, Patty, I've a good mind to give a ball myself and leave out her younger daughter, only that it would be too much like tu quoque, and your aunt has a reason for not extending her invitation here which I should not have in relation to your cousin Fanny, eh, Patty?”

But Patty's eyes were still humid, and she could only gaze dumbly at her father with such a pathetic look on her pretty face that Colonel Bingham could not stand it.

“Look here, child,” he said, “why aren't you more like your sister Rose? Then her pleasures would be always yours——”

“Who's talking about me?” asked a gay voice, and into the room walked Patty's sister Rose.

“I am. I have been telling Patty about the invitation.”

“Poor Patty!” said Rose, and she put her arm sympathetically round Patty's neck. “Aunt Glendower is most unkind, I think.”

“It can't be helped,” murmured Patty, choking back the rising sob. “If I had been born a sweet maiden who did nothing but stitch at fancy-work all day long perhaps she would have invited me, but I can't give up my cricket, my riding my horse bare-backed, my shooting, just for the sake of a ball or two that Aunt Glendower feels inclined to give once a year. Much as I love dancing, I can't give up all these pleasures for an occasional dance.”

“Rose has pleasures too,” said her father quietly, “but they are of the womanly kind—music, painting, reading, tending flowers.”

Rose laughed gaily as Patty turned up her pretty nose scornfully.

“Let Patty alone, dad. You know very well that you would grow tired of too much sameness if Patty showed the same tastes that I have.”

Colonel Bingham glanced fondly at her and then at Patty, whose face, in spite of her brave words, was still very tearful-looking. He knew that in his heart he loved his two daughters equally—his “two motherless girls,” as he was wont to call them—and although he belonged to the old school of those who abhor masculine pursuits for women, yet he felt that Rose's words were true, and for that very dissimilarity did he love them.

“Heigho,” said Patty, jumping off her chair, “I am not going to grieve any more. Let's talk of Rose's dress, and when she is going.”

“We both start to-morrow.”

“To-morrow? And do you go too, dad?”

“Yes, Patty. I have business in town with my lawyer, which I have been putting off from day to day, but now I feel I shall take the opportunity of transacting it with him on the occasion of taking Rose up with me. Besides, I can't let her go to her first ball without being there to see how she looks.”

“And what about the dress?”

“Aunt says she will see to that, so we have to start a few days before the ball takes place for Céline to get a dress ready for me,” said Rose, looking tenderly at Patty as she spoke, for the two girls loved each other, and it hurt her to think that Patty must be left behind.

“You won't be nervous, child?” asked her father.

“Nervous, father! dear me, no, a tomboy nervous? Why, I have Mrs. Tucker, cook, and Fanny to bear me company, and if you take the groom we shall still have the stable boy,” returned Patty triumphantly.

“I am glad you sent away that new coachman, dad,” said Rose earnestly. “I never liked his face, it always looked so sly and sneaking.”

“Yes, I am glad too, and we must endeavour to find one when we are in town, and perhaps bring him back with us, Rose—the place is a lonely one without a man when I am away.” He spoke the last words to himself, but the girls heard him and laughed. They knew no fear. Why should they? Nothing had ever come near to harm them during the short years of their existence in their country home.

Colonel Bingham had of late questioned the wisdom of continuing to live with his daughters in his beautiful, isolated house. It was three miles from the nearest village, post-office, and church, and there was not another habitation within that distance; it was five miles from the nearest market town. But his heart clung to it. Hadn't he and his bride, twenty years before, chosen this beautiful spot of all others to build their house upon and make it their home? Had not his wife loved every nook and cranny, every stick and stone of the home they had beautified within and without? And therein lay the colonel's two chief objections to leaving the place—it was beautiful—and—his wife had loved it.

So did his daughters too, for that matter; but they were growing up, and newer scenes and livelier surroundings were now needed for them. The colonel often caught himself pondering over the matter, and one of the reasons for his wishing to visit his sister was that of laying the matter open before her, and hearing her opinion from her own lips.

At an early hour the next morning Colonel Bingham, Rose, and the groom, with two of the horses, had left the house.

There was nothing to alarm Patty. The beautiful home with its peaceful surroundings was perfectly quiet for the two days that followed, and if Patty, in spite of her brave heart, had felt any qualms of fear, they had vanished on the morning of the third day, which dawned so brilliantly bright that she was eager to take her rifle and begin practising at the target she herself had set up at the end of the short wood to the left of the house.

Meanwhile, the housekeeper had set both maids to work in turning out several unused rooms, and a great amount of brisk work was going on. The trim housemaid, Fanny, who was the housekeeper's niece, had come down the back stairs with an armful of carpets, and had brushed into the flagged yard before she noticed a pedlar-like-looking man standing before the back door with a pack upon his back.

“What do you do here?” she called out sharply.

The man appeared weighted down with his bundle, which looked to Fanny's eyes a good deal bigger than most of the pedlars' packs that she had seen.

“I am on my way through the country-side selling what maids most love—a bit of ribbon, a tie, a good serviceable apron, a feather for the hat, and many a pretty gown; but on my way from the village I met a friend from my own part of the country, which is not in this county, but two counties up north, who tells me that my wife is lying dangerously ill. If I wish to see her alive I must needs travel fast, and a man can scarce do that with as heavy a pack on his back as I bear. What I venture to ask most respectfully is that I may place my pack in one corner of this house, and I will return to fetch it as soon as ever I can.”

He gave a furtive dab to his eyes with the corner of a blue-checked handkerchief he held in one hand, and hoisted his bundle up higher with apparent difficulty.

Fanny looked gravely at him “Why didn't you leave your pack at the village inn?” was all she said.

“I would have done so had I met my friend before leaving the village, but I met him just at the entrance to the wood, and it seemed hopeless to trudge all that way back with not only a heavy burden to bear, but a still heavier heart.”

He sighed miserably as he spoke, and Fanny's soft heart was touched.

The man spoke well—better than many pedlars that Fanny had met with, and his tone was respectful, albeit very pleading. Fanny's heart was growing softer and softer. He looked faint and weary himself, she thought, and oh! so very sad——

“Fanny, Fanny, what are you about? Ain't those carpets finished yet?” The housekeeper's voice sounded sharply at the top of the back staircase.

The pedlar looked scared. Fanny beckoned him with one finger to follow her.

“Coming, aunt,” she called back. And, still silently beckoning, she conducted the pedlar into the small breakfast-room.

“Put it down in this corner,” she said, “and come for it as soon as you can.”

“May I beg that it will remain untouched,” said the pedlar humbly. “It contains many valuables—at least to me—for it comprises nearly all that I possess in the world.”

“No one will touch it in here, for this room is never used.”

“I cannot thank you enough for your compassion——” began the pedlar, when the sharp voice was heard again.

“Fanny, cook's waitin' for you to help her move some things. Are you comin' or not?”

“Coming now,” was Fanny's answer, and, shutting the breakfast-room door, she hustled the pedlar out into the flagged yard without ceremony.

With a deferential lifting of his cap the pedlar again murmured his grateful thanks, and made his way out the way he had come in. Fanny waited to lock the yard gate after him, murmuring to herself: “That gate didn't ought to have been left open—it's just like that lazy boy Sam to think that now Britton's gone off with the horses he can do as he likes.”

It was not until the furniture in the room had been moved about to her satisfaction that the housekeeper demanded to know the reason for Fanny's delay downstairs.

“It isn't cook's business to be waitin' about for you,” she said sharply, “she's got her other duties to perform. What kept you?”

Then Fanny told what had caused the delay, and was aghast at the effect it produced upon her aunt.

“I wouldn't have had it happen just now for all my year's wages,” the housekeeper exclaimed hotly. “What do we know about the man and his pack?”

“He looked so white and quiet-like, and so sad,” pleaded her niece half tearfully.

“That's nothin' to us. I promised the master before he went away that I wouldn't let a strange foot pass over the doorway while he was away. And here you—a mere chit of a housemaid—go, without sayin', 'With your leave,' or, 'By your leave,' and let a dirty pedlar with his pack straight into the breakfast-room. He's sure to have scented the silver lyin' on the sideboard for cleanin' this afternoon. If I didn't think he'd gone a long way from here by this I would send you after him to tell him to take it away again.”

Having delivered herself of this long, explosive speech, the housekeeper proceeded in the direction of the breakfast-room to review the pack, and Fanny and the cook followed in her wake.

“As I thought,” she ejaculated, eyeing the pack from the doorway, “a dirty pedlar's smellin' pack.” But the tone of her voice was mollified, for the pack looked innocent enough, although it was somewhat bulky and unwieldy in appearance.

Her niece took heart of grace from her tone, and murmured apologetically:

“He's got the loveliest things in that bundle that ever you'd see, aunt. Feathers, ribbons, dresses, aprons, and he'll unpack them all when he comes back to let us see them.”

“A pack o' tawdry rubbish, I have no doubt,” was her aunt's reply; “only fit for flighty young girls, not for gentlemen's servants.”

Thus silenced, Fanny said no more, and the three women betook themselves to their different occupations.

After half an hour's work her girlish glee was still unabated, and on passing the door of the breakfast-room mere curious elation impelled her to open it softly and to look in. A perplexed look stole into her eyes as they rested on the black object in the corner. It was there sure enough, safe and sound, but had it not been shifted from the corner in which the pedlar had placed it, and in which her aunt had seen it in company with herself and the cook? No, that was impossible. She had only fancied that it was right in the corner, and Fanny softly shut the door again without making a sound, and went on with her daily duties.

This time her aunt employed her, and she was not free again till another two hours had passed. It was now close on the luncheon hour, and Fanny thought she would just take one little peep before setting the luncheon-table for the young mistress who would come home as usual as hungry as a hunter.

Gently she turned the handle, and stood upon the threshold. Her eyes grew fixed and staring, her cheek blanched to a chalky white. Without all doubt—the pack had moved!

Fanny stood rooted to the spot. Wild, strange ideas flitted through her brain. There was something uncanny in this pack. Was it bewitched? She dared not call her aunt or the cook: she was in disgrace with both, and no wonder, the poor girl thought miserably, for the very sight now of that uncouth-looking object in the corner was beginning to assume hideous proportions in the girl's mind. She must watch and wait, and wait and watch for every sign that the pack made, but oh! the agony of bearing that uncanny secret alone! Oh for some one to share it with her!

A figure darkened the window of the breakfast-room, and Fanny caught sight of her young mistress's form as it passed with the rifle over her shoulder.

With a soft step she left the room, and intercepted her on the other side of the verandah. “Miss Patty,” she whispered miserably.

Patty turned, her pretty face lighting up with a good-humoured smile as she nodded and said, “Luncheon ready, Fanny? I am simply ravenous.”

“Ye-es, I think so, miss. But oh! miss, I want to speak to you badly.”

Fatty came forward with the smile still on her lips. “Has Mrs. Tucker been scolding you dreadfully, you poor Fanny?”

“Then she's told you?” gasped the girl.

“She's told me nothing. I haven't seen her, but you look so woebegone that I thought she had been having a pitch battle with you for neglecting something or other, and you wanted me to get you out of the scrape.”

Fanny groaned inwardly. No, her aunt had said nothing, and she must brace herself up, and tell the whole story from beginning to end. The beginning, she began to think, was not so dreadful as the end. Oh that she could dare to disbelieve her eyes, and declare that there was no end—no awful, uncanny end!

At length, in the quiet of the verandah, the story was told, and Fanny's heart misgave her more and more as she observed the exceeding gravity of her young mistress's bright face as the story neared its finish. When the finish did come, Patty's face was more than grave; the weight of responsibility was on her, and to young, unused shoulders that weight is particularly difficult to bear.

“Come and show me where it is,” was the only remark she made, but Fanny noticed that the red lips had lost some of their bright colour, and the pink in the soft cheeks was of a fainter tinge than when she had first seen her.

Without making the slightest sound, without one click of the handle, Fanny opened the door, and Patty looked in. Her courage came back with a bound. Fanny was a goose, there was nothing to be alarmed about.

She looked up to smile encouragingly at Fanny, when the smile froze on her lips, for Fanny's face was livid. Without a word she beckoned her young mistress out of the room, and as softly as before closed the door. Then, turning to her, she whispered through her set teeth:

It has moved again!

A cold shiver ran down through Patty's spine, but she was no girl to be frightened by the superstitious fancies of an ignorant serving maid.

“Nonsense, Fanny!” she said sharply, “you are growing quite crazed over that stupid pack. I saw nothing unusual in it, it looked innocent enough in all conscience.”

“You never saw it move,” was the answer, given in such a lifeless tone that Patty was chilled again.

“I'll tell you what, Fanny. I'll go in after luncheon, and see if it has moved from the place I saw it in.”

“Did you notice the place well where it stood?” asked Fanny.

“Yes,” replied Patty, “I'd know if it moved again. Don't tell Mrs. Tucker or cook anything about it. You and I will try to checkmate that pack if there is anything uncanny in it. Now tell cook I am ready for luncheon if she is.”

But when the luncheon came on the table Patty had lost all hunger. She merely nibbled at trifles till Fanny came to clear away.

“I'm going to that room,” she whispered. “If Mrs. Tucker should want me, or perhaps Sam might, for I told him I was going to see how well he had cleaned the harness that I found in the loft, then you must come in quietly and beckon me out. Don't let any one know I am watching that pack.”

“Yes, miss,” was Fanny's answer, given so hopelessly that Patty put a kind hand on her shoulder with the words:

“Cheer up, Fanny. I don't believe it's so bad as you make out. It is my belief you have imagined that the pack moved.”

“It isn't my fancy, it isn't,” cried the girl, the tears starting to her eyes. “If anything dreadful happens, then it is me that has injured the master—the best master that a poor girl could have.” And with her apron to her eyes Fanny left the room.

She came back a minute later to see Patty examining the priming of her rifle. “Miss Patty,” she whispered aghast, “you ain't never going to shoot at it!”

“I am going to sit in that room all the afternoon,” said Patty calmly, “and if that pack moves while my eyes are on it I'll fire into that pack even if by so doing I riddle every garment in it.” And without another word Patty stalked out of the room with her rifle on her shoulder.

At the door of the breakfast-room she set her teeth hard, and opened the door.

The pack had moved since she saw it.

It was with a face destitute of all colour that Patty seated herself upon the table to mount guard over that black object now lying several yards away from the corner. Her eyes were glued to the bundle; they grew large and glassy, and a film seemed to come over them as she gazed, without daring even to wink. How the minutes passed—if they revolved themselves into half hours—she did not know. No one called her, no one approached the door, she sat on with one fixed stare at the pedlar's pack.

Was she dreaming? Was it fancy? No, the pack was moving! Slowly, very slowly it crept—it could hardly be called moving, and Patty watched it fascinated. Then it stopped, and Patty, creeping nearer, stood over it, and watched more closely. Something was breathing inside! Something inside that pack was alive! Patty could now clearly see the movement that each respiration made. She had made up her mind, and now she took her courage in both hands.

She retreated softly to the opposite side of the room, and raising the rifle to her shoulder fired.

There was a loud, a deafening report, a shrill scream, and a stream of blood trickled forth from the pack. Fanny was in the room crying hysterically, Mrs. Tucker and cook were looking over her shoulder with blanched faces.

Patty, with her face not one whit less white than any of the others, laid the smoking rifle on the table, and spoke with a tremulousness not usual to her.

“Mrs. Tucker, some vile plot has been hatched to rob this house while your master is away. That pack doesn't hold finery as Fanny was at first led to believe, but it holds a man, and I have shot him.”

With trembling hands and colourless lips Mrs. Tucker, with the help of her maids, cut away the oilcloth that bound the pack together, and disclosed the face of a short sturdy man, it was the face of the late coachman, Timothy Smith! With one voice they cried aloud as they saw it.

“Dead! Is he dead?” cried Patty, shuddering and covering her face with her hands. “Oh, Mrs. Tucker, and it is I who have killed him!”

A groan from the prostrate figure reassured the party as to the fatality of the adventure, and aroused in them a sense of the necessity of doing what they could to relieve the sufferings of their prostrate enemy.

The huddled-up position occupied by the man when in the pack made him, of course, a good target, and made it possible for a single shot to do much more mischief than it might have done in passing once through any single part of his body. It was, of course, a random shot, and entering the pack vertically as the man was crouching with his hands upon his knees, it passed through his right arm and left hand and lodged in his left knee, thus completely disabling him without touching a vital part.

With some difficulty they managed to get the wounded man on to a chair bedstead which they brought from the housekeeper's room for the purpose, and such “first aid” as Patty was able to render was quickly given.

“And now,” said Patty, “the question is, who will ride Black Bess to the village and procure help, for we must have help for the wounded as well as aid against the ruffians who no doubt intend to raid the house to-night.”

“Sam, miss?” questioned the housekeeper timidly. All her nerve seemed to have departed from her since the report of that shot had rung through the house, and there was Timothy Smith's face staring up at her. Usually a stout-hearted woman, all her courage had deserted her now.

“Yes,” said Patty gravely, “I think we shall have to take Sam into our confidence, unless I go myself. Perhaps, Mrs. Tucker, I had better go myself. Sam is only a boy, and he might be tempted to tell the story to everybody he met, and if the thieves themselves get wind of what has happened we shall have small chance of ever catching them. Would you be afraid if I rode off at once?”

Without any false pride the young girl saw how much depended on her, and saw too the blanched faces of the two women as they looked in turn at each other at the thought of their sole protector vanishing.

But it was only for a minute. Mrs. Tucker shook off with a courageous firmness the last remnant of nervousness that possessed her.

“Go, and the Lord go with you, Miss Patty,” she said.

       * * * * *

As she rode along through the quiet country lanes smelling sweet of the honeysuckle in the hedge and the wild dog-rose bursting into bloom, Patty's thoughts travelled fast and furiously, every whit as fast as Black Bess's hasty steps. Should she draw bridle at the village? No. She made up her mind quickly at that. In all probability the would-be thieves had made the village inn their headquarters for that day and night, and the pedlar—the man she wished most to avoid—would be the very person she would encounter. The village was small. Only one policeman patrolled the narrow-street, and that only occasionally, and how quickly would the news fly from mouth to mouth that a would-be robbery had been detected in time to save Colonel Bingham's valuable silver!

No, the pedlar would not be allowed to escape in that way if she could help it. Every step of the five miles to the town of Frampton would she ride, and draw help from there.

As she neared the village she walked her horse at a quiet pace, albeit her brain was throbbing, and her nerves all in a quiver to go faster. She nodded smilingly to the familiar faces as she met them in the street, although she felt very far from smiling, and everywhere she seemed to see the face of Timothy Smith. Then her heart gave a bound as she saw, leaning against the wicket-gate of the village inn, three men—two with the most villainous faces she had ever seen, and the third bore the face of the man that Fanny had described as the pedlar. She was not mistaken, then, when she thought they would make this their headquarters.

She drew bridle as she neared the inn. Her quick brain saw the necessity of it, if but to explain her presence there.

“Will you be so good as to ask the landlady to come out to me?” she asked, with a gracious smile—the smile that the villagers always said was “Miss Patty's own.”

The pedlar lifted his cap with the same air that Fanny had so accurately described, and himself undertook to go upon the mission.

“Bless you, Miss Patty,” exclaimed the buxom landlady as she came out, curtseying and smiling, followed in a leisurely manner by the pedlar, “where be you a-ridin' that Black Bess be so hot and foam-like about the mouth?”

Patty stooped forward and patted her horse's neck, fully aware that three pairs of ears at the wicket-gate were being strained to catch her answer.

“It is too bad of me to ride her so fast, Mrs. Clark. The fact of the matter is I ought to be at Miss Price's this moment for tennis and tea, but I am late, and have been trying to make up for lost time. However, I must not breathe Black Bess too much, must I, or else I shall not be allowed to ride her again?” and Patty smiled her bewitching smile, which always captivated the heart of the landlady of the Roaring Lion.

An order for supplies for the servants' cellar, given in a firm voice, justified her appearance in the village and satisfied the eager listeners as to the object of her visit, after which, with a nod and a smile, Patty rode onwards.

Not till she was out of sight and hearing of the village did she urge Black Bess to the top of her bent, and they flew onwards like the wind.

Thud, thud, thud went the horse's hoofs, keeping time to the beating of Patty's heart as she recalled again and again the villainous faces leaning over the wicket-gate.

Even Black Bess seemed to realise the importance of her mission and it was not long before Patty's heart grew lighter as she caught sight not very far off of the spire of Trinity Church, and the turreted roof of the Town Hall of Frampton. Reaching the town she drew rein at Major Price's house, where, with bated breath, her story was received by the major and his two grown-up sons. A message was sent to the police station, and in a short while two burly sergeants of police presented themselves, to whom Patty repeated her tale.

Arrangements were soon made. A surgeon was sent for and engaged to drive over with the police.

“They rascals won't break in till darkness falls, miss,” said one of the men. “But we'll start at once in a trap. Better be too early than too late.”

The Prices would not hear of Patty riding Black Bess back. They themselves would drive her home in the high dog-cart, and Black Bess would be left behind to forget her fatigue in Major Price's comfortable stables.

Of course they didn't go the way that Patty had come. It would never have done to go through the village and meet those same ruffians, who would have understood the position in the twinkling of an eye. Instead, they took a roundabout way, which, although it took an extra half hour, brought them through the wood on the other side of Colonel Bingham's house.

“It is lonely—too lonely a place,” muttered Major Price, as the two conveyances swung round to the front of the house.

“But it's lovely, and we love it,” answered Patty softly.

Then the door was opened cautiously by Sam, and behind him were the huddled figures of Mrs. Tucker, cook, and Fanny. What a sigh of relief ran through the assembly when the burly forms of the two policeman made their appearance in the hall! And tears of real thankfulness sprang to poor Fanny's eyes, whose red rims told their own tale.

Poor Patty's heart beat painfully as she conducted the six men to the breakfast-room where the wounded coachman lay. She stood with averted face and eyes as they bent over him, twining and re-twining her fingers with nervous terror as she thought that it was her hand that had perhaps killed him.

“Ah! this tells something,” exclaimed one of the officers in uniform, detaching as he spoke a small whistle fastened round the neck of the man who lay all unconscious of that official attention. “This was to give the alarm when all in the house were asleep. We shall use this when the time comes to attract the men here.”

Beyond the discovery of the whistle, and a revolver, nothing more of importance was found, and all caught themselves wishing for the time for action to arrive.

The surgeon dressed the man's wounds and declared him to be in no immediate danger, after which they carried him upstairs to a remote room, where it would be quite impossible for him to give any warning to his confederates, even if he should have the strength.

The hour came at last when poor Patty felt worn out with suspense and fearful anxiety; came, when Mrs. Tucker and her two maids were strung up to an almost hysterical pitch of excitement; came, when Sam was beginning to look absolutely hollow-eyed with watching every movement of the police with admiring yet fearful glances.

It was twelve o'clock. The grandfather's clock on the stairs had struck the hour in company with several silvery chimes about the house, making music when all else was still as death.

Up to that time the sky had been dark and lowering, causing darkness to reign supreme, till the full moon, suddenly emerging from the heavy flying clouds, lighted up the house and its surroundings with its refulgent beams. Then suddenly throughout the silent night there rang forth a low, soft, piercing whistle. Only once it sounded, and then dead silence fell again. The wounded man started in his bed, but he could not raise his hand, and the whistle was gone.

The eyes of the women watchers looked at each other with faces weary and worn with anxiety and fear.

Then another sound broke the stillness. Another whistle—an answering call to the one that had rung forth before! It had the effect of startling every one in the house, for it came from under the very window of the room in which they were gathered.

With an upraised finger, cautioning silence, the sergeant stepped to the window and raised it softly.

“Hist!” he said in a thrilling whisper, without showing himself, “the lib'ry winder.”

He softly closed the casement again, having discerned in that brief moment the moonlit shadows of three men lying athwart the lawn.

In stockinged feet the five men slid noiselessly into the library where the Venetians had been so lowered as to prevent the silvery moonrays from penetrating into the room. Placing the three gentlemen in convenient places should their assistance be needed, one of the men in uniform pushed aside the French window which he had previously unfastened to be in readiness.

“Hist! softly there,” he growled; “the swag is ours.”

With a barely concealed grunt of satisfaction the window was pushed farther open, and the forms of three men made their way into the room.

With lightning-like celerity the arms of the first man were pinioned, and when the others turned to fly they found their egress cut off by the three Prices, who stood pointing menacing revolvers at them.

“The game's up!” growled the sham pedlar. “Who blabbed?”

“Not Timothy Smith,” said the elder sergeant lightly, as he adroitly fastened the handcuffs on his man.

“What's come of him?”

“He's in bed, as all decent people ought to be at this time o'night,” and the sergeant laughed at his own wit.

The police carried their men off in triumph in the trap, and the wiry little pony, rejoiced to find his head turned homewards, trotted on right merrily, requiring neither whip nor word to urge him on to express speed, in total ignorance of the vindictive feelings that animated the breasts of three at least of the men seated behind him.

Major Price and his two sons remained till the morning, for Patty had broken down when all was over, and then a telegram summoned Colonel Bingham to return.

“I am not exactly surprised,” he said at length, when he had heard the story; “something like this was bound to occur one day or other, and I cannot be too thankful that nothing has happened to injure my dear brave girl, or any of the household. Patty, I have felt so convinced of something dreadful happening during one of my unavoidable absences from home that I have made arrangements with an old friend of mine in town to lease this place to him for three years.”

“And when does he come?” asked Patty breathlessly.

“Next month. He is going to make it a fishing-and shooting-box, and have bachelor friends to stay with him. So, my dear, we all clear out in a month's time.”

Patty gave a long-drawn sigh. Her father did not know whether it was one of pleasure or regret.

“We can come back if we like after the three years,” he whispered.

“I am glad we are going just now,” she whispered back. “That pedlar's eyes haunt me, and they are all desperate men.”

These words were sufficient to make Colonel Bingham hurry on his arrangements, so that before three weeks were over he and his whole household were on their way to their new home.

As they got out of the train Colonel Bingham turned to Patty. “You and I will drive to Lady Glendower's, where we shall stay the night.”

“Oh, dad, darling dad, don't take me there. Aunt Glendower won't like a hoyden to visit her.”

“She will like to welcome a brave girl,” answered her father quietly.

But as Patty still shrank away from the thought he added:

“I have told her all that has happened, and she herself wrote asking me to bring you, and I promised I would.”

Rose met her with soft, clinging kisses, and then Lady Glendower folded her in an embrace such as Patty had not thought her capable of giving.

“I am proud of my brave niece,” she whispered. “Patty, go upstairs with Rose, and get Céline to measure you for your ball-dress. I am going to give another ball next month, and you are to be the heroine.”

Under skilful treatment Timothy Smith recovered his usual health, though the injury to his hand and knee made him a cripple for the rest of his life. The trial was another terrible experience for Patty, and Fanny thought she would have died when she saw the prisoners stand forward in the dock to receive sentence. “Five years' penal servitude,” said the judge, and Patty sometimes shudders to think that the five years are nearly up.

 
 
 

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