Ketira the Gipsy
by Mrs. Henry Wood
"I TELL you what it is, Abel. You think of everybody else before yourself. The Squire says there's no sense in it."
"No sense in what, Master Johnny?"
"Why, in supplying those ill-doing Standishes with your substance. Herbs, and honey, and medicine—they are always getting something or other out of you."
"But they generally need it, sir."
"Well, they don't deserve it, you know. The Squire went into a temper to-day, saying the vagabonds ought to be left to starve if they did not choose to work, instead of being helped by the public."
Our hen-roosts had been robbed, and it was pretty certain that one or other of the Standish brothers was the thief. Perhaps all three had a hand in it. Chancing to pass Abel Carew's garden, where he was at work, I turned in to tell him of the raid; and stayed, talking. It was pleasant to sit on the bench outside the cottage-window, and watch him tend his roots and flowers. The air was redolent of perfume; the bees were humming as they sailed in the summer sunshine from herb to herb, flower to flower; the dark blue sky was unclouded.
"Just look at those queer-looking people, Abel! They must be gipsies."
Abel let his hands rest on his rake, and lifted his eyes to the common. Crossing it, came two women, one elderly, one very young—a girl, in fact. Their red cloaks shone in the sun; very coarse and sunburnt straw hats were tied down with red kerchiefs. That they belonged to the gipsy fraternity was apparent at the first glance. Pale olive complexions, the elder one's almost yellow, were lighted up with black eyes of wonderful brilliancy. The young girl was strikingly beautiful; her features clearly cut and delicate, as though carved from marble, her smooth and abundant hair of a purple black. The other's hair was purple black also, and had not a grey thread in it.
"They must be coming to tell our fortunes, Abel," I said jestingly. For the two women seemed to be making direct for the gate.
No answer from Abel, and I turned to look at him. He was gazing at the coming figures with the most intense gaze, a curious expression of inquiring doubt on his face. The rake fell from his hand.
"My search is ended," spoke the woman, halting at the gate, her glittering black eyes scanning him intently. "You are Abel Carew."
"Is it Ketira?" he asked, the words dropping from him in slow hesitation, as he took a step forward.
"Am I so much changed that you need doubt it for a moment?" she returned: and her tone and accent fell soft and liquid; her diction was of the purest, with just the slightest foreign ring in it. "Forty years have rolled on since you and I met, Abel Carew; but I come of a race whose faces do not change. As we are in youth, so we are in age—save for the inevitable traces left by time."
"And this?" questioned Abel, as he looked at the girl and drew back his gate.
"She is Ketira also; my youngest and dearest. The youngest of sixteen children, Abel Carew; and every one of them, save herself, lying under the sod."
"What—dead?" he exclaimed. "Sixteen!"
"Fifteen are dead, and are resting in peace in different lands: ten of them died in infancy ere I had well taken my first look at their little faces. She is the sixteenth. See you the likeness?" added the gipsy, pointing to the girl's face; as she stood, modest and silent, a conscious colour tingeing her olive cheeks, and glancing up now and again through her long black eyelashes at Abel Carew.
"Likeness to you, Ketira?"
"Not to me: though there exists enough of it between us to betray that we are mother and daughter. To him—her father."
And, while Abel was looking at the girl, I looked. And in that moment it struck me that her face bore a remarkable likeness to his own. The features were of the same high-bred cast, pure and refined; you might have said they were made in the same mould.
"I see; yes," said Abel.
"He has been gone, too, this many a year; as you, perhaps, may know, Abel; and is with the rest, waiting for us in the spirit-land. Kettie does not remember him, it is so long ago. There are only she and I left to go now. Kettie——"
She suddenly changed her language to one I did not understand. Neither, as was easy to be seen, did Abel Carew. Whether it was Hebrew, or Egyptian, or any other rare tongue, I knew not; but I had never in my life heard its sounds before.
"I am telling Kettie that in you she may see what her father was—for the likeness in your face and his, allowing for the difference of age, is great."
"Does Kettie not speak English?" inquired Abel.
"Oh yes, I speak it," answered the girl, slightly smiling, and her tones were soft and perfect as those of her mother.
"And where have you been since his death, Ketira? Stationary in Ai——"
He dropped his voice to a whisper at the last word, and I did not catch it. I suppose he did not intend me to.
"Not stationary for long anywhere," she answered, passing into the cottage with a majestic step. I lifted my hat to the women—who, for all their gipsy dress and origin, seemed to command consideration—and made off.
The arrival of these curious people caused some commotion at Church Dykely. It was so rare we had any event to enliven us. They took up their abode in a lonely cottage no better than a hut (one room up and one down) that stood within that lively place, the wilderness on the outskirts of Chanasse Grange; and there they stayed. How they got a living nobody knew: some thought the gipsy must have an income, others that Abel helped them.
"She was very handsome in her youth," he said to me one day, as if he wished to give some explanation of the arrival I had chanced to witness. "Handsomer and finer by far than her daughter is; and one who was very near of kin to me married her—would marry her. She was a born gipsy, of what is called a high-caste tribe."
That was all he said. For Abel's sake, who was so respected, Church Dykely felt inclined to give respect to the women. But, when it was discovered that Ketira would tell the fortune of any one who cared to go sumptitiously to her lonely hut, the respect cooled down. "Ketira the gipsy," she was universally called: nobody knew her by any other name. The fortune-telling came to the ears of Abel, arousing his indignation. He went to Ketira in distress, begging of her to cease such practices—but she waved him majestically out of the hut, and bade him mind his own business. Occasionally the mother and daughter shut up their dwelling and disappeared for weeks together. It was assumed they went to attend fairs and races, camping out with the gipsy fraternity. Kettie at all times and seasons was modest and good; never was an unmaidenly look seen from her, or a bold word heard. In appearance and manner and diction she might have been a born lady, and a high-bred one. Graceful and innocent was Kettie; but heedless and giddy, as girls are apt to be.
"Look there, Johnny!"
We were at Worcester races, walking about on the course. I turned at Tod's words, and saw Ketira the gipsy, her red cloak gleaming in the sun, just as it had gleamed that day, a year before, on Dykely Common. For the past month she had been away, and her cottage shut up.
She stood at the open door of a carriage, reading the hand of the lady inside it. A notable object was Ketira on the course, with her quaint attire, her majestic figure, her fine olive-dark features, and the fire of her brilliant eyes. What good or ill luck she was promising, I know not; but I saw the lady turn pale and snatch her hand away. "You cannot know what you tell me," she cried in a haughty tone, sharp enough and loud enough to be heard.
"Wait and see," rejoined Ketira, turning away.
"So you have come here to see the fun, Ketira," I said to her, as she was brushing by me. During the past year I had seen more of her than many people had, and we had grown familiar; for she, as she once expressed it, "took" to me.
"The fun and the business; the pleasure and the wickedness," she answered, with a sweep of the hand round the course. "There's plenty of it abroad."
"Is Kettie not here?" I asked: and the question made her eyes glare. Though, why, I was at a loss to know, seeing that a race-ground is the legitimate resort of gipsies.
"Kettie! Do you suppose I bring Kettie to these scenes—to be gazed at by this ribald mass?"
"Well, it is a rabble, and a good one," I answered, looking at the crowd.
"Nay, boy," said she, following my glance, "it's not the rabble Kettie need fear, as you count rabble; it's their betters" —swaying her arms towards the carriages, and the dandies, their owners or guests; some of whom were balancing themselves on the steps to talk to the pretty girls within, and some were strolling about the enclosed paddock, forbidden ground but to the "upper few." "Ketira is too fair to be shown to them."
"They would not eat her, Ketira."
"No, they would not eat her," she replied in a dreamy tone, as if her thoughts were elsewhere.
"And I don't see any other harm they could do her, guarded by you."
"Boy," she said, dropping her voice to an impressive whisper and lightly touching my arm with her yellow hand, "I have read Kettie's fate in the stars, and I see that there is some great and grievous peril approaching her. It may be averted; there's just a chance that it may: meanwhile I am encompassing her about with care, guarding her as the apple of my eye."
"And if it should not be averted?" I asked in the moment's impulse, carried away by the woman's impressive earnestness.
"Then woe be to those who bring the evil upon her!"
"And of what nature is the evil?"
"I know not,"she replied, her eyes taking a gain their dreamy, far-off look. "Woe is me!—for I know it not."
"How do you do, Ludlow? Not here alone, are you?"
A good-looking young fellow, Hyde Stockhausen, had reined in his horse to ask the question: giving at the same time a keen glance to the gipsy woman and then a half-smile at me, as if he suspected I was having my fortune told.
"The rest are on the course somewhere. The Squire is driving old Jacobson about."
As Hyde nodded and rode on, I chanced to see Ketira's face. It was stretched out after him with the most eager gaze on it, a defiant look in her black eyes. l thought Stockhausen must have offended her.
"Do you know him?" I asked involuntarily.
"I never saw him before; but I don't like him," she answered, showing her white and gleaming teeth. "Who is he?"
"His name is Stockhausen."
"I don't like him," she repeated in a muttering tone. "He is an enemy. I don't like his look."
Considering that he was a well-looking man, with a pleasant face and gay blue eyes, a face that no reasonable spirit could take umbrage at, I wondered to hear her say this.
"You must have a peculiar taste in looks, Ketira, to dislike his."
"You don't understand," she said abruptly: and, turning away, disappeared in the throng.
Only once more did I catch sight of Ketira that day. It was at the lower end of Pitchcroft, near the show. She was standing in front of a booth, staring at a group of horsemen who seemed to have met and halted there, one of whom was young Stockhausen. Again the notion crossed me that he must in some way have affronted her. It was on him her eyes were fixed: and in them lay the same curious, defiant expression of antagonism, mingled with fear.
Hyde Stockhausen was the step-son of old Massock of South Crabb. The Stockhausens had a name in Worcestershire for dying off, as I have told the reader before. Hyde's father had proved no exception. After his death the widow married Massock the brickmaker, putting up with the man's vulgarity for the sake of his riches. It took people by surprise: for she had been a lady always, as Miss Hyde and as Mrs. Stockhausen; one might have thought she would rather have put up with a clown from Pershore fair than with Massock the illiterate. Hyde Stockhausen was well educated: his uncle, Tom Hyde the parson, had taken care of that. At twenty-one he came into some money, and at once began to do his best to spend it. He was to have been a parson, but could not get through at Oxford, and gave up trying for it. His uncle quarrelled with him then: he knew Hyde had not tried to pass, and that he openly said nobody should make a parson of him. After the quarrel, Hyde went off to see what the Continent was like. He stayed so long that the world at home thought he was lost. For the past ten or eleven months he had been back at his mother's at South Crabb, knocking about, as Massock phrased it to the Squire one day. Hyde said he was "looking out" for something to do: but he was quite easy as to the future, feeling sure his old uncle would leave him well off. Parson Hyde had never married; and had plenty of money to bequeath to somebody. As to Hyde's own money, that had nearly come to an end.
Naturally old Massock (an ill-conditioned kind of man) grew impatient over this state of things, reproaching Hyde with his idle habits, which were a bad example for his own sons. And only just before this very day that we were on Worcester race-course, rumours reached Church Dykely that Stockhausen was coming over to settle there and superintend certain fields of brick-making, which Massock had recently purchased and commenced working. As if Massock could not have kept himself and his bricks at South Crabb! But it was hardly likely that Hyde, really a gentleman, would take to brick-making.
We did not know much of him. His connection with Massock had kept people aloof. Many who would have been glad enough to make friends with Hyde would not do it as long as he had his home at Massock's. His mother's strange and fatal marriage with the man (fatal as regarded her place in society) told upon Hyde, and there's no doubt he must have felt the smart.
The rumour proved to be correct. Hyde Stockhausen took up his abode at Church Dykely, as overseer, or clerk, or manager—whatever might be the right term for it—of the men employed in his step-father's brick operations. The pretty little house, called Virginia Cottage, owned by Henry Rimmer, which had the Virginia creeper trailing up its red walls, and flowers clustering in its productive garden, was furnished for him; and Hyde installed himself in it as thoroughly and completely as though he had entered on brick-making for life. Some people laughed "But it's only while I am turning myself round," he said, one day, to the Squire.
Hyde soon got acquainted with Church Dykely, and would drop into people's houses of an evening, laughing over his occupation, and saying he should be able to make bricks himself in time. His chief work seemed to be in standing about the brick-yard watching the men, and in writing and book-keeping at home. Old Massock made his appearance once a month when accounts and such-like items were gone over between them.
When it was that Hyde first got on speaking terms with Kettie, or where, or how, I cannot tell. So far as I know, nobody could tell. It was late in the autumn when Ketira and her daughter came back to their hut; and by the following early spring some of up had grown accustomed to seeing Hyde and Kettie together in an evening, snatching a short whisper or a five-minutes' walk. In March, I think it was, she and Ketira, went away again, and returned in May.
The twenty-ninth of May was at that time kept as a holiday in Worcestershire, though it has dropped out of use as such in late years. In Worcester itself there was a grand procession, which country people went in to see, and a special service in the cathedral. We had service also at Church Dykely, and the villagers adorned their front-doors with immense oak boughs, sprays of which we young ones wore in our jackets, the oak-balls and leaves gilded. I remember one year that the big bough (almost a tree) which Henry Rimmer had hoisted over his sign, the "Silver Bear," came to grief. Whether Rimmer had not secured it as firmly as usual, or that the cords were rotten, down came the huge bough with a crash on old Mr. Stirling's head, who chanced to be coming out of the inn. He went on at Rimmer finely, vowing his neck was broken, and that Rimmer ought to be hung up there himself.
On this twenty-ninth of May I met Kettie. It was on the common, near Abel Carew's. Kettie had caught up the fashion of the place, and wore a little spray of oak peeping out from between the folds of her red cloak. And I may as well say that neither she nor her mother ever went out without the cloak. In cold and heat, in rain and sunshine, the red cloak was worn out-of-doors.
"Are you making holiday to-day, Kettie?"
"Not more than usual; all days are the same to us," she answered, in her sweet, soft voice, and with the slightly foreign accent that attended the speech of both. But Kettie had it more strongly than her mother.
"You have not gilded your oak-ball."
Kettie glanced down at the one ball, nestling amid its green leaves. "I had no gilding to put on it, Mr. Johnny."
"No! I have some in my pocket. Let me gild it for you."
Her teeth shone like pearls as she smiled and held out the spray. How beautiful she was! with those delicate features and the large dark eyes!—eyes that were softer than Ketira's. Taking the little paper book from my pocket, and some of the gilt leaf from between its tissue leaves, I wetted the oak-ball and gilded it. Kettie watched intently.
"Where did you get it all from?" she asked, meaning the gilt leaf.
"I bought it at Hewitt's. Don't you know the shop? A stationer's; next door to Pettipher the druggist's. Hewitt does no end of a trade in these leaves on the twenty-ninth of May."
"Did you buy it to gild oak-balls for yourself, sir?"
"For the young ones at home: Hugh and Lena. There it is Kettie."
Had it been a ball of solid gold that I put into her hand instead of a gilded oak-ball, Kettie could not have shown more intense delight. Her cheeks flushed; the wonderful brilliancy that Joy brought to her eyes caused my own eyes to turn away. For her eighteen years she was childish in some things; very much so, considering the experience that her wandering life must (as one would suppose) have brought her. In replacing the spray within her cloak, Kettie dropped something out of her hand—apparently a small box folded in paper. I picked it up.
"Is it a fairing, Kettie? But this is not fair time."
"It is—I forget the name," she replied, looking at me and hesitating. "My mother is ill; the pains are in her shoulder again; and my uncle Abel has given me this to rub upon it, the same that did her good before. I cannot just call the name to mind in the English tongue."
"Say it in your own."
She spoke a very outlandish word, laughed, and turned red again. Certainly there never lived a more modest girl than Kettie.
"Is it liniment?—ointment?"
"Yes, it is that, the last," she said: "Abel calls it so. I thank you for what you have done for me, sir. Good-day."
To show so much gratitude for that foolish bit of gilt leaf on her oak-ball! It illumined every line of her face. I liked Kettie: liked her for her innocent simplicity. Had she not been a gipsy, many a gentleman might have been proud to make her his wife.
Close upon that, it was known that Ketira was laid up with rheumatism. The weather came in hot, and the days went on; and Kettie and Hyde were now and then seen together.
One evening, on leaving Mrs. Scott's, where we had been to arrange with Sam to go fishing with us on the morrow, Tod said he would invite Hyde Stockhausen to be of the party; so we took Virginia Cottage on our road home, and asked for Hyde.
"Not at home!" retorted Tod, resenting the old woman's answer, as though it had been a personal affront. "Where is he?"
"Master Hyde has only just stepped out, sir; twenty minutes ago, or so," said she, pleadingly excusing the fact. Which was but natural: she had been Hyde's nurse when he was a child; and had now come here to do for him. "I dare say, sir, he be only walking about a bit, to get the fresh air."
Tod whistled some bars of a tune thoughtfully. He did not like to be crossed.
"Well, look here, Mrs. Preen," said he. "Some of us are going to fish in the long pond on Mr. Jacobson's grounds to-morrow: tell Mr. Hyde that if he would like to join us, I shall be happy to see him. Breakfast, half-past eight o'clock; sharp."
In turning out beyond the garden, I could not help noticing how pretty and romantic was the scene. A good many trees grew about that part, thick enough almost for a wood in places; and the light and shade, cast by the moon on the grass amidst them, had quite a weird appearance. It was a bright night; the moon high in the sky.
"Is that Hyde?" cried Tod.
Halting for a moment in doubt, he peered out over the field to the distance. Some one was leisurely pacing under the opposite trees. Two people, I thought: but they were completely in the shade.
"I think it is Hyde, Tod. Somebody is with him."
"Just wait another instant, lad, and they'll be in that patch of moonlight by the turning."
But they did not go into that patch of moonlight. Just before they reached it (and the two figures were plain enough now) they turned back again and took the narrow inlet that led to Oxlip Dell. Whoever it was with Hyde had a hooded cloak on. Was it a red one? Tod laughed.
"Oh, by George, here's fun! He has got Kettie out for a moonlight stroll. Let's go and ask them how they enjoy it."
"Hyde might not like us to."
"There you are again, Johnny, with your queer scruples! Stuff and nonsense! Stockhausen can't have anything to say to Kettie that all the world may not hear. I want to tell him about to-morrow."
Tod made off across the grass for the inlet, I after him. Yes, there they were, promenading 0xlip Dell in the flickering light now in the shade, now in the brightest of the moonbeams Hyde's arm hugging her red cloak.
Tod gave a grunt of displeasure. "Stockhausen must be doing it for pastime," he said; "but he ought not to be so thoughtless. Ketira the gipsy would give the girl a shaking if she knew: she——"
The words came to an abrupt ending. There stood Ketira herself.
She was at the extreme end of the inlet amid the trees, holding on by the trunk of one, round which her head was cautiously pushed to view the promenaders. Comparatively speaking, it was dark just here; but I could see the strangely-wild look in the gipsy's eyes: the woe-begone expression of her remarkable face.
"It is coming," she said, apparently in answer to Tod's remarks, which she could not have failed to hear. "It is coming quickly."
"What is coming?" I asked.
"The fate in store for her. And it's worse than death."
"If you don't like her to walk out by moonlight, why not keep her in?—not that there can be any harm in it," interposed Tod. "If you don't approve of her being friendly with Hyde Stockhausen," he went on after a pause, for Ketira made no answer, "why don't you put a stop to it?"
"Because she has her mother's spirit and her mother's will," cried Ketira. "And she likes to have her own way: and I fear, woe's me! that if I forced her to mine, things might become worse than they are even now: that she might take some fatal step."
"I am going home," said Tod at this juncture, perhaps fancying the matter was getting complicated: and, of all things, he hated complications. "Good-night, old lady. We heard you were in bed with rheumatism."
He set off back, up the narrow inlet. I said I'd catch him up and stayed behind for a last word with Ketira.
"What did you mean by a fatal step?"
"That she might leave me and seek the protection of the Tribe. We have had words about this. Kettie says little, but I see the signs of determination in her silent face. 'I will not have you meet or speak to that man,' I said to her this morning—for she was out with him last evening also. She made me no, reply: but—you see—how she has obeyed! Her heart's life has been awakened, and by him. There's only one object to whom she clings now in all the whole earth; and that is to him. I am nothing."
"He will not bring any great harm upon her: you need not fear that of Hyde Stockhausen."
"Did I say he would?" she answered fiercely, her black eyes glaring and gleaming. "But he will bring sorrow on her and rend her heart-strings. A man's fancies are light as the summer wind, fickle as the ocean waves: but when a woman loves it is for life; sometimes for death."
Hyde and Kettie had disappeared at the upper end of the dell, taking the way that in a minute or two would bring them out in the open fields. Ketira turned back along the narrow path, and I with her.
"I knew he would bring some ill upon me, that first moment when I saw him on Worcester race-ground," resumed Ketira in a low tone of pain. "Instinct warned me that he was an enemy. And what ill can be like that of stealing my young child's heart! Once a girl's heart is taken—and taken but to be toyed with, to be flung back at will—her day-dreams in this life are over."
Emerging into the open ground, the first thing we saw was the pair of lovers about to part. They were standing face to. face: Hyde held both her hands while speaking his last words, and then bent suddenly down, as if to whisper them. Ketira gave a sharp cry at that, perhaps she fancied he was stealing a kiss, and lifted her right hand menacingly. The girl ran swiftly in the direction of her home—which was not far off—and Hyde strode, not much less quickly, towards his. Ketira stood as still as a stone image, watching him till he disappeared within his gate.
"There's no harm in it," I persuasively said, sorry to see her so full of trouble. But she was as one who heard not.
"No harm at all, Ketira. I dare answer for it that a score of lads and lasses are out. Why should we not walk in the moonlight as well as the sunlight? For my part, I should call it a shame to stay indoors on this glorious night."
"An enemy, an enemy! A grand gentleman, who will leave her to pine her heart away! What kind of man is he, that Hyde Stockhausen?" she continued, turning to me fiercely.
"Kind of man? A pleasant one. I have not heard any ill of him."
"No. Perhaps he will be rich some time. He makes bricks, you know, now. That is, he superintends the men."
"Yes, I know," she answered: and I don't suppose there was much connected with Hyde she did not know. Looking this way, looking that, she at length began to walk, slowly and painfully, towards Hyde's gate. The thought had crossed me—why did she not take Kettie away on one of their long expeditions if she dreaded him so much. But the rheumatism lay upon her still too heavily.
Flinging open the gate, she went across the garden, not making for the proper entrance, but for a lighted room, whose French-window stood open to the ground. Hyde was there just sitting down to supper.
"Come in with me," she said, turning her head round to beckon me on.
But I did not choose to go in. It was no affair of mine that I should beard Hyde in his den. Very astonished indeed must he have been, when she glided in at the window, and stood before him. I saw him rise from his chair; I saw the astounded look of old Deborah Preen when she came in with his supper ale in a jug.
What they said to one another, I know not. I did not wish to listen, though it was only natural I should stay to see the play out. Just as natural as it was for Preen to come stealing round through the kidney beans to the front-garden, an anxious look on her face.
"What does that old gipsy woman want with the young master, Mr. Ludlow? Is he having his fortune told?"
"I shouldn't wonder. Wish some good genius would tell mine!"
The interview seemed to have been short and sharp. Ketira was coming out again. Hyde followed her to the window. Both were talking at once, and the tail of the dispute reached our ears.
"I repeat to you that you are totally mistaken," Hyde was saying. "I have no 'designs,' as you put it, on your daughter, good or bad; no design whatever. She is perfectly free to go her own way, for me. My good woman, you have no cause to adjure me in that solemn manner. Sacred? 'Under Heaven's protection?' Well, so she may be. I hope she is. Why should I wish to hinder it? I don't wish to, I don't intend to. You need not glare so."
Ketira, outside the window now, turned and faced him, her great eyes fixed on him, her hand raised in menace.
"Do not forget that I have warned you, Hyde Stockhausen. By the Great Power that regulates all things, human and divine, I affirm that I speak the truth. If harm in any shape or of any kind comes to my child, my dear one, my only one, through you, it will cost you more than you would now care to have foretold."
"Bless my heart!" faintly ejaculated old Preen. And she drew away, and backed for shelter into the bean rows.
Ketira brushed against me as she passed, taking no notice whatever; left the garden, and limped away. Hyde saw me swinging through the gate.
"Are you there, Johnny?" he said, coming forward. "Did you hear that old gipsy woman?" And in a few words I told him all about it.
"Such a fuss for nothing!" he exclaimed. "I'm sure I wish no ill to the girl. Kettie's very nice; bright as the day; and I thought no more harm of strolling a bit with her in the moonlight than I should think it if she were my sister."
"But she is not your sister, you see, Hyde. And old Ketira does not like it."
"I'll take precious good care to keep Kettie at arm's-length for the future; make you very sure of that," he said, in a short, fractious tone. "I don't care to be blamed for nothing. Tell Todhetley I can't spare the time to go fishing to-morrow—wish I could. Good-night."
A fine commotion. Church Dykely up in arms. Kettie had disappeared.
About a fortnight had gone on since the above night, during which period Ketira's rheumatism took so obstinate a turn that she had the felicity of keeping her bed. And one morning, upon Duffham's chancing to pay his visit to her before breakfast, for He was passing the hut on his way home from an early patient he found the gipsy up and dressed, and just as wild as a lioness rampant. Kettie had gone away in the night.
"Where's she gone to?" naturally asked Duffham, leaning on his cane, and watching the poor woman; who was whirling about like one demented, her rheumatism forgotten.
"Ah, where's she gone to?—where?" raved old Ketira. "When I lay down last night, leaving her to put the plates away and to follow me up when she had done it, I dropped asleep at once. All night long I never woke; the pain was easier, all but gone, and I had been well-nigh worn out with it. 'Why, what's the time, Kettie?' I said to her in our own tongue, when I opened my eyes and saw the sun was high. She did not answer, and I supposed she had gone down to get the breakfast. I called, and called; in vain. I began to put my clothes on; and then I found that she had not lain down that night; and—woe's me! she's gone."
Duffham could not make anything of it; it was less in his line than rheumatism and broken legs. Being sharp-set for his breakfast, he came away, telling Ketira he would see her again by-and-by.
And, shortly afterwards, he chanced to meet her. Coming out on his round of visits, he encountered Ketira near Virginia Cottage. She had been making a call on Hyde Stockhausen.
"He baffles me?" she said to the doctor: and Duffham thought if ever a woman's face had the expression "baffled" plainly written on it, Ketira's had then. "I don't know what to make of him. His speech is fair: but—there's the instinct lying in my heart."
"Why, you don't suppose, do you, that Mr. Stockhausen has stolen the child?" questioned Duffham, after a good pause of thought.
"And by whom do you suppose the child has been stolen, if not by him?" retorted the gipsy.
"Nay," said Duffham, "I should say she has not been stolen at all. It is difficult to steal girls of her age, remember. Last night was fine; the stars were bright as silver: perhaps, tempted by it, she went out a-roaming, and you will see her back in the course of the day."
"I suspect him," repeated Ketira, her great black eyes flashing their anger on Hyde's cottage. "He acts cleverly; but, I suspect him."
Drawing her scarlet cloak higher on her shoulders, she bent her steps towards Oxlip Dell. Duffham was turning on his way, when old Abel Crew came up. We called him "Crew," you know, at Church Dykely.
"Are you looking for Kettie?" questioned Duffham.
"I don't know where to look for her," was Abel's answer. "This morning I was out before sunrise searching for rare herbs: the round I took was an unusually large one, but I did not see anything of the child. Ketira suspects that Mr. Stockhausen must know where she is."
"And do you suspect he does?"
"It is a question that I cannot answer, even to my own mind, " replied Abel. "That they were sometimes seen talking and walking together, is certain; and, so far, he may be open to suspicion. But, sir, I know nothing else against him, and I cannot think he would wish to hurt her. I am on my way to ask him."
Interested by this time in the drama, Duffham followed Abel to Virginia Cottage. Hyde Stockhausen was in the little den that he made his counting-house, adding up columns of figures in a ledger, and stared considerably upon being thus pounced upon.
"I wonder what next!" he burst forth, turning crusty before Abel had got out half a sentence. "That confounded old gipsy has just been here with her abuse; and now you have come! She has accused me of I know not what all."
"Of spiriting away her daughter," put in Duffham; who was standing back against the shelves.
"But I have not done it," spluttered Hyde, talking too fast for convenience in his passion. "If I had spirited her away, as you call it, here she would be. Where could I spirit her to?—up into the air, or below the ground?"
"That's just the question—where is she?" rejoined Duffham, gently swaying his big cane.
"How should I know where she is?" retorted Hyde. "If I had 'spirited' her away—I must say I like that word!—here she'd be. Do you suppose I have got her in my house?—or down at the brick-kilns?"
Abel, since his first checked sentence, had been standing quietly and thoughtfully, giving his whole attention to Hyde, as if wanting to see what he was made of. For the second time he essayed to speak.
"You see, sir, we do not know that she is not here. We have your word for it; but——"
"Then you had better look," interrupted Hyde, adding something about "insolence" under his breath. "Search the house. You are welcome to. Mr. Duffham can show you about it; he knows all its turnings and windings."
What could have been in old Abel's thoughts did not appear on the surface; but he left the room with just a word of respectful apology for accepting the offer. Hyde, who had made it at random in his passion, never supposing it would be caught at, threw back his head disdainfully, and sent a contemptuous word after him. But when Duffham moved off in the same direction, he was utterly surprised.
"Are you going to search?"
"I thought you meant me to be his pilot," said Duffham, as cool as you please. "There's not much to be seen, I expect, but the chairs and tables."
Any way, Kettie was not to be seen. The house was but a small one, with no surreptitious closets or cupboards, or other hiding-places. All the rooms and passages stood open to the morning sun, and never a suspicious thing was in them.
Hyde had settled to his accounts again when they got back. He did not condescend to turn his head or notice the offenders any way. Abel waited a moment, and then spoke.
"It may seem to you that I have done a discourteous thing in availing myself of your offer, Mr. Stockhausen; if so, I crave your pardon for it. Sir, you cannot imagine how seriously this disappearance of the child is affecting her mother. Let it plead my excuse."
"It cannot excuse your suspicion of me," returned Hyde, pausing for a moment in his adding up.
"In all the ends of this wide earth there lies not elsewhere a shadow of clue to any motive for her departure. At least, none that we can gather. The only ground for thinking of you, sir, is that you and she have been friendly. For all our sakes, Mr. Stockhausen, I trust that she will be found, and the mystery cleared up."
"Don't you think you had better have the brick-kilns visited—as well as my house?" sarcastically asked Hyde. But Abel, making no rejoinder, save a civil good-morning, departed.
"And now I'll go," said Duffham.
"The sooner the better," retorted Hyde, taking a penful of ink and splashing some of it on the floor.
"There's no cause for you to put yourself out, young man."
"I think there is cause," flashed Hyde. "When you can come to my house with such an accusation as this!—and insolently search it!"
"The searching was the result of your own proposal. As to an accusation, none has been made in my hearing. Kettie has mysteriously disappeared, and it is only natural her people should wish to know where she is, and to look for her. You take up the matter in a wrong light, Mr. Hyde."
"I don't know anything of Kettie"—in an injured tone; "I don't want to. It's rather hard to have her vagaries put upon my back."
"Well, you have only to tell them you don't in an honest manner; I dare say they'll believe you. Abel Carew is one of the most reasonable men I ever knew; sensible, too. Try and find the child yourself; help them to do it, if you can see a clue; make common cause with them."
"You would not like to be told that you had 'spirited' somebody away, more than I like it," grumbled Hyde; who, thoroughly put out, was hard to bring round. "I'm sure you are as likely to turn kidnapper as I am. It must be a good two weeks since anybody saw me speak to the girl."
"I shall have my patients thinking I am kidnapped if I don't get off to them," cried Duffham. "Mrs. Godfrey's ill, and she is the very essence of impatience. Good-day."
Thoroughly at home in the house, Duffham made no ceremony of departing by the back-door, it being more convenient for the road he was going. Deborah Preen was washing endive at the pump in the yard. She turned round to address Duffham as he was passing.
"Has the master spoke to you about his throat, sir?"
"No," said Duffham, halting. "What is amiss with his throat?"
"He has been given to sore throats all his life, Dr. Duffham Many's the time I have had him laid up with them when he was a child. Yesterday he was quite bad with one, sir; and so he is this morning."
"Perhaps that's why he's cross," remarked Duffham.
"Cross! and enough to make him cross!" returned she, taking up the implication warmly. "I ask your pard'n, sir, for speaking so to you; but I'd like to know what gentleman could help being cross when that yellow gipsy comes to attack him with her slanderous tongue, and say to him, Have you come across to my hut in the night and stole my daughter out of it?"
"You think your master did not go across and commit the theft?"
"I know he did not," was Preen's indignant answer. "He never stirred out of his own home, sir, all last night, he was nursing his throat indoors. At ten o'clock he went to bed, and I took him up a posset after he was in it. Well, sir, I was uneasy, for I don't like these sore throats, and between two and three o'clock I crept into his room and found him sleeping quietly; and I was in again this morning and woke him up with a cup o' tea."
"A pretty good proof that he did not go out," said Duffham.
"He never was as much as out of his bed, sir. The man that sleeps indoors locked up the house last night, and opened it again this morning. Ketira the gipsy would be in gaol if she got her deservings!"
"I wonder where the rest of us would be if we got ours!" quoth Duffham. "I suppose I had better go back and take a look at this throat!"
To see the miserable distress of Ketira that day, and the despair upon her face as she dodged about between Virginia Cottage and the brickfields, was like a gloomy picture.
"Do you remember telling me once that you feared Kettie might run away to the tribe?" I asked, meeting her on one of these wanderings in the afternoon. "Perhaps that is where she is gone?"
The suggestion seemed to offend her mortally. "Boy, I know better," she said, facing round upon me fiercely. "With the tribe she would be safe, and I at rest. The stars never deceive me."
And, when the sun went down that night and the stars came out, the environs of Virginia Cottage were still haunted by Ketira the gipsy.
YON would not have known the place again. Virginia Cottage, the unpretending little homestead, had been converted into a mansion. Hyde Stockhausen had built a new wing at one end, and a conservatory at the other; and had put pillars before the rustic porch, over which the Virginia creeper climbed.
We heard last month about Ketira the gipsy: and of the unaccountable disappearance of her daughter, Kettie: and of the indignant anger displayed by Hyde Stockhausen when it was suggested that he might have kidnapped her. Curiously enough, within a few days of that time, Hyde himself disappeared from Church Dykely: not in the mysterious manner that Kettie had, but openly and with intention.
The inducing cause of Hyde's leaving, as was stated and believed, was a quarrel with his step-father, Massock. It chanced that the monthly settling-day, connected with the brickfields, fell just after Kettie vanished. Massock came over for it as usual, and was overbearing as usual; and perhaps Hyde, already in a state of inward irritation, was less forbearing than usual. Any way, ill-words arose between them. Massock accused Hyde of neglecting his interests, and of being too much of a gentleman to look after the work and the men. Hyde retorted: one word led to another, and there ensued a serious quarrel. The upshot was that Hyde threw up his post. Vowing he would never again have anything to do with old Massock or his precious bricks as long as he lived, he packed up a small portmanteau and quitted Church Dykely there and then, to the intense tribulation of his ancient nurse and servant, Deborah Preen.
"Leave him alone," said Massock roughly. "He'll be back safe enough in a day or two."
"Where is he gone?" asked Ketira the gipsy: who, hovering still around Virginia Cottage, had seen Hyde's exit with his portmanteau.
Massock stared at her, and at her red cloak: she had penetrated to his presence to ask the question. He had never before seen Ketira; never heard of her.
"What is it to you?" he demanded, in his coarse manner. "Who are you? Do you come here to tell his fortune? Be off, old witch!"
"His fortune may be told sooner than you care to hear it—if you are anything to him," was the gipsy's answer. And that same night she quitted Church Dykely herself, wandering away to be lost in the "wide wide world."
Massock's opinion, that Hyde would return in a day or two, proved to be a mistaken one. Rimmer, at the Silver Bear, got a letter from a lawyer in Worcester, asking him to release Mr. Stockhausen from Virginia Cottage—which Hyde had taken for three years. But, this, Rimmer refused to do. So Hyde had to make the best of his bargain: and every quarter, as the quarters went on, the rent was punctually remitted to Henry Rimmer by the lawyer: who gave, however, no clue to his client's place of abode. It was said that Hyde had been reconciled to his uncle, Parson Hyde (now getting into his dotage), and was by him supplied with funds.
One fine evening, however, in the late spring, when not very far short of a twelvemonth had elapsed, Hyde astonished Deborah Preen by his return. After a fit of crying, to show her joy, Deborah brought him in some supper and stood by while he ate it, telling him the news of what had transpired in the village since he left.
"Are those beautiful brickfields being worked still?" he asked.
"'Deed but they are then, Master Hyde. A sight o' bricks seems to be made at 'em. Pitt the foreman, he have took your place as manager, sir, and keeps the accounts."
"Good luck to him!" said Hyde, drinking a glass of ale. "That queer old lady in the red cloak: what has become of her?"
"What, that gipsy hag?" cried Preen. "She's dead, sir."
"Yes, sir, dead: and a good riddance, too. She went away the very night you went, Mr. Hyde, and never came back again. A week or two ago Abel Carew got news that she was dead."
(Shortly before this, some wandering gipsies had set up their camp within a mile or two of Church Dykely. Abel Carew, never having had news of Ketira since her departure, went to them to make inquiries. At first the gipsies seemed not to understand of whom he was speaking; but upon his making Ketira clear to them, they told him she had been dead about a month; of her daughter, Kettie, they knew nothing.)
"She's not much loss," observed Hyde in answer to Deborah: and his face took a brighter look, as though the news were a relief—Preen noticed it. "The old gipsy was as mad as a March hare."
"And ten times more troublesome than one," put in Preen. "Be you come home to stay, master?"
"I dare say I shall," replied Hyde. "As good settle down here as elsewhere: and there'd be no fun in paying two rents."
So we had Hyde Stockhausen amidst us once more. He did not intend to take up with brickmaking again, but to live as a gentleman. His uncle made him an allowance, and he was going to be married. Abel Carew questioned him about Kettie one day when they met on the common, asking whether he had seen her. Never, was the reply of Hyde. So that what with the girl's prolonged disappearance and her mother's death, it was assumed that we had done with the two gipsies for ever.
Hyde was engaged to a Miss Peyton. A young lady just left an orphan, whom he had met only six weeks ago at some seaside place. He had fallen in love with her at first sight, and she with him. She had two or three hundred a-year: and Hyde, there was little doubt, would come into all his uncle's money so he saw no reason why he should not make Virginia Cottage comfortable for her, and went off to the Silver Bear, to talk to Henry Rimmer about it.
The result was, that improvements were put in hand without delay. A wing (consisting of a handsome drawing-room downstairs, and a bed and dressing-room above) was added to the cottage on one side; on the other side, Hyde built a conservatory. The house was also generally embellished and set in order, and some new furniture brought in. And I think if ever workmen worked quickly, these did; for the alterations seemed no sooner to be begun than they were done.
"So you have sown your wild oats, Master Hyde," remarked the Squire one day in passing, as he stood to watch the finishing touches, then being put to the outside of the house.
"Don't know that I ever had many to sow, sir," said Hyde, nodding to me.
"And what sort of a young lady is this wife that you are about to bring home?" went on the pater.
Hyde's face took a warm flush and his lips parted with a half-smile; which proved what she was to him. "You will see, sir," he said in answer.
"When is the wedding to be?"
"This day week."
"This day week!" echoed the Squire, surprised: and Hyde who seemed to have spoken incautiously, looked vexed.
"I did not intend to say as much; my thoughts were elsewhere," he observed. "Don't mention it again, Mr. Todhetley. Even old Deborah has not been told."
"I'll take care, lad. But it is known all over the place that the wedding is close at hand. '
"Yes: but not the day."
"When do you go away for it?"
"Well, good luck to you, lad! By the way, Hyde," continued the Squire, "what did they do about that drain in the yard? Put a new pipe?"
"Yes," said Hyde, "and they have made a very good job of it. Will you come and see it?"
Pipes and drains held no attraction for me. While the pater went through the house to the yard, I strolled outside the front-gate and across to the little coppice to wait for him. It was shady there: the hot midsummer sun was ablaze to-day.
And I declare that a feather might almost have knocked me down. There, amidst the trees of the coppice, like a picture framed round by green leaves, stood Ketira the gipsy. Or Ketira's ghost.
Believing that she was dead and buried, I might have believed it to be the latter, but for the red cloth cloak: that was real. She was staring at Hyde's house with all the fire of her glittering eyes, looking as though she were consumed by some inward fever.
"Who lives there now?" she abruptly asked me without any other greeting, pointing her yellow forefinger at the house.
"The cottage was empty ever so long," I carelessly said, some instinct prompting me not to tell too much. "Lately the workmen have been making alterations in it. How is Kettie? Have you found her?"
She lifted her two hands aloft with a gesture of despair: but left me unanswered. "These alterations: by whom are they made?"
But the sight of the Squire, coming forth alone, served as an excuse for my making off. I gave her a parting nod, saying I was glad to see her again in the land of the living.
"Ketira the gipsy is here, sir."
"No!" cried the pater in amazement. "Why do you say
"She is here in the coppice."
"Nonsense, lad! Ketira's dead, you know."
"But I have just seen her, and spoken to her."
"Then what did those gipsy-tramps mean by telling Abel Carew that she had died?" cried the Squire explosively, as he marched across the few yards of greensward towards the coppice.
"Abel did not feel quite sure at the time that he and they were not talking of two persons. That must have been the case, sir."
We were too late. Ketira was already half-way along the path that led to the common: no doubt on her road to pay a visit to Abel Carew. And I can only relate what passed there at second hand. Between ourselves, Ketira was no favourite of his.
He was at his early dinner of bread-and-butter and salad when she walked in and astonished him. Abel, getting over his surprise, invited her to partake of the meal; but she just waved her hand in refusal, as much as to say that she was superior to dinner and dinner-eating.
"Have you found Kettie?" was his next question.
"It is the first time a search of mine ever failed," she replied, beginning to pace the little room in agitation, just as a tiger paces its confined cage. "I have given myself neither rest nor peace since I set out upon it; but it has not brought me tidings of my child."
"It must have been a weary task for you, Ketira. I wish you would break bread with me."
"I was helped."
"Helped!" repeated Abel. "Helped by what?"
"I know not yet, whether angel or devil. It has been one or the other:—according as he has, or has not, played me false."
"As who has played you false?"
"Of whom do you suppose I speak but him?" she retorted standing to confront Abel with her deep eyes. "Hyde Stockhausen has in some subtle manner evaded me: but I shall find him yet."
"Hyde Stockhausen is back here," quietly observed Abel.
"Back here! Then it is no false instinct that has led me here," she added in a low tone, apparently communing with herself. "Is Ketira with him?"
"No, no," said Abel, vexed at the question. "Kettie has never come back to the place since she left it."
"When did he come?"
"It must be about two months ago."
"He is in the same dwelling-house as before! For what is he making it so grand?"
"It is said to be against his marriage."
"His marriage with Ketira?"
"With a Miss Peyton; some young lady he has met. Why do you bring up Ketira's name in conjunction with this matter—-or with him?"
She turned to the open casement, and stood there, as if to inhale the sweet scent of Abel's flowers, and listen to the hum of his bees. Her face was working, her strange eyes were gleaming, her hands were clasped to pain.
"I know what I know, Abel Carew. Let him look to it if he brings home any other wife than my Ketira."
"Nay," remonstrated peaceful old Abel. "Because a young man has whispered pretty words in a maiden's ear, and given her, it may be, a moonlight kiss, that does not bind him to marry her."
"And would I have wished to bind him had it ended there?" flashed the gipsy. "No; I should have been thankful that it had so ended. I hated him from the first."
"You have no proof that it did not so end, Ketira."
"No proof; none," she assented. "No tangible proof that I could give to you, her father's brother, or to others. But the proof lies in the fatal signs that show themselves to me continually, and in the unerring instinct of my own heart. If the man puts another into the place that ought to be hers, let him look to it."
"You may be mistaken, Ketira. I know not what the signs you speak of can be: they may show themselves to you but to mislead; and nothing is more deceptive than the fancies of one's imagination. Be it as it may, vengeance does not belong to us. Do not you put yourself forward to work young Stockhausen ill."
"I work him ill!" retorted the gipsy. "You are mistaking me altogether. It is not I who shall work it. I only see it—and foretell it."
"Nay, why speak so strangely, Ketira? It cannot be that you——"
"Abel Carew, talk not to me of matters that you do not understand," she interrupted. "I know what I know. Things that I am able to see are hidden from you."
He shook his head. "It is wrong to speak so of Hyde Stockhausen—or of any one. He may be as innocent in the matter as you or I."
"But I tell you that he is not. And the conviction of it lies here"—striking herself fiercely on the breast.
Abel sighed, and began to put his dinner-plates together. He could not make any impression upon her, or on the notion she had taken up.
"Do you know what it is to have a breaking heart, Abel Carew?" she asked, her voice taking a softer tone that seemed to change it into a piteous wailing. "A broken heart one can bear; for all struggle is over, and one has but to put one's head down on the green earth and die. But a breaking heart means continuous suffering; a perpetual torture that slowly saps away the life; a never-ending ache of soul and of spirit, than which nothing in this world can be so hard to battle with. And for twelve months now this anguish has been mine!"
Poor Ketira! Mistaken or not mistaken, there could be no question that her trouble was grievous to bear; the suspense, in which her days were passed, well-nigh unendurable.
This, that I have told, occurred on Thursday morning. Ketira quitted Abel Carew only to bend her steps back towards Virginia Cottage, and stayed hovering around the house that day and the next. One or another, passing, saw her watching it perpetually, herself partly hidden. Now peeping out from the little coppice; now tramping quickly past the gate, as though she were starting off on a three-mile walk; now stealing to the back of the house, to gaze at the windows. There she might be seen, in one place or another, like a haunting red dragon: her object, as was supposed, being to get speech of Hyde Stockhausen. She did not succeed. Twice she went boldly to the door, knocked, and asked for him. Deborah Preen slammed it in her face. It was thought that Hyde, who then knew of her return and that the report of her death was false, must be on the watch also, to avoid her. If he wanted to go abroad and she was posted at the back, he slipped out in front: when he wished to get in again and caught sight of her red cloak illumining the coppice, he made a dash in at the back-gate, and was lost amid the kidney beans.
By this time the state of affairs was known to Church Dykely: a rare dish of nuts for the quiet place to crack. Those of us who possessed liberty made pleas for passing by Virginia Cottage to see the fun. Not that there was much to see, except a glimpse of the red cloak in this odd spot or in that.
"Stockhausen must be silly!" cried the Squire. "Why does he not openly see the poor woman and inquire what it is she wants with him? The idea of his shunning her in this absurd way! What does he mean by it, I wonder?"
Now, before telling more, I wish to halt and say a word. That much ridicule will be cast on this story by the intelligent reader, is as sure as that apples grow in summer. Nevertheless, I am but relating what took place. Certain things in it were curiously strange; not at all explainable hitherto : possibly never to be explained. I chanced to be personally mixed up with it, so to say, in a degree; from its beginning, when Ketira and her daughter first appeared at Abel Carew's, to its ending, which has yet to be told. For that much I can vouch—I mean what I was present at. But you need not accord belief to the whole, unless you like.
Chance, and nothing else, caused me to be sent over this same evening to Mr. Duffham's. It was Friday, you understand; and the eve of the day Hyde Stockhausen would depart preparatory to his marriage. One of our maids had been ailing for some days with what was thought to be a bad cold: as she did not get better, but grew more feverish, Mrs. Todhetley decided to send for the doctor, if only as a measure of precaution.
"You can go over to Mr. Duffham's for me, Johnny," she said, as we got up from tea—which meal was generally taken at the manor close upon dinner, somewhat after the fashion that the French take their tasse de café. "Ask him if he will be so kind as to call in to see Ann when he is out to-morrow morning."
Nothing loth was I. The evening was glorious, tempting the world out-of-doors, calm and beautiful, but very hot yet. The direct way to Duffham's from our house was not by Virginia Cottage: but, as a matter of course, I took it. Going along at tip-top speed until I came within sight of it, I then slackened to a snail's pace, the better to take observations.
There's an old saying; that virtue is its own reward. If any virtue existed in my choosing this circuitous and agreeable route, I can only say that for once the promise was at fault, for I was not rewarded. Were Hyde Stockhausen's house a prison, it could not have been much more closely shut up. The windows were closed on that lovely midsummer night; the doors looked tight as wax. Not a glimpse could I catch of as much as the bow of Deborah Preen's mob-cap atop of the short bedroom blinds; and Hyde might have been over in Africa for all that. could be seen of him.
Neither (for a wonder) was there any trace of Ketira the gipsy. Her red cloak was nowhere. Had she obtained speech of Hyde, and so terminated her watch, or had she given it up in despair? Any way, there,was nothing to reward me for having come that much out of my road, and I went on, whistling dolorously.
But, hardly had I got past the premises and was well on the field-path beyond, when I met Duffham. Giving him the message from home, which he said he would attend to, I enlarged on the disappointment just experienced in seeing nothing of anybody.
"Shut up like a jail, is it?" quoth Duffham. "I have just had a note from Stockhausen, asking me to call there. His throat's troubling him again, he says: wants me to give him something that will cure him by to-morrow."
I had turned with the doctor, and went walking with him up the garden, listening to what he said. But I meant to leave him when we reached the door. He began trying it. It was fastened inside.
"I dare say you can come in and see Hyde, Johnny. What do you want with him?"
"Not much; only to wish him good luck."
"Is your master afraid of thieves that he bolts his doors?" cried Duffham to old Preen when she let us in.
"'Twas me fastened it, sir; not master," was her reply. "That gipsy wretch have been about yesterday and to-day. wanting to get in. I've got my silver about, and don't want it stolen. Mr. Hyde's mother and Massock have been here to dinner; they've not long gone."
Decanters and fruit stood on the table before Hyde. He started up to shake hands, appearing very much elated. Duffham, more experienced than I, saw that he had been taking quite enough wine.
"So you have had your stepfather here!" was one of the doctor's first remarks. "Been making up the quarrel, I suppose."
"He came of his own accord; I didn't invite him," said Hyde laughing. "My mother wrote me word that they were coming—to give me their good wishes for the future."
"Just what Johnny Ludlow here says he wants to give," said Duffham: though I didn't see that he need have brought my words up, and made a fellow feel shy.
"Then, by Jove, you shall drink them in champagne!" exclaimed Hyde. He caught up a bottle of champagne that stood under the sideboard. from which the wire had been removed and would have cut the string but for the restraining hand of Duffham.
"No, Hyde; you have had rather too much as it is."
"I swear to you that I have not had a spoonful. It has not been opened, you see. My mother refused it, and Massock does not care for champagne: he likes something heavier."
"If you have not taken champagne, you have taken other wine."
"Sherry at dinner, and port since," laughed Hyde.
"And more of it than is good for you."
"When Massock sits down to port wine he drinks like a fish," returned Hyde, still laughing. "Of course I had to make a show of drinking with him. I wished the port at Hanover."
By a dexterous movement, he caught up a knife and cut the string. Out shot the cork with a bang, and he filled three of the tumblers that stood on the sideboard with wine and froth—one for each of us. "Your health, doctor," nodded he, and tossed off his own.
"It will not do your throat good," said Duffham, angrily. "Let me look at the throat."
"Not until you and Johnny have wished me luck."
We did it, and drank the wine. Duffham examined the throat; and told Hyde, for his consolation, that it was not in state to be trifled with.
"Oh, it's nothing," said Hyde carelessly. "But I don't want it to be bad to-morrow when I travel, and I thought perhaps you might be able to give me something or other to set it to rights to-night. I start at ten to-morrow morning."
"Sore throats are not cured so easily," retorted Duffham. "You must have taken cold."
Telling him he would send in a gargle and a cooling draught, and that he was to go to bed soon, Duffham rose to leave. Hyde opened the glass-doors of the room that we might pass out that way, and stepped over the threshold with us. Talking with Duffham, he strolled onwards towards the gate.
"About three weeks, I suppose," he said, in answer to the query of how long he meant to be away. "If Mabel——"
Gliding out of the bushy laurels on one side the path, and planting herself right in front of us, came Ketira the gipsy. Her face looked yellower than ever in the twilight of the summer's evening; her piercing black eyes fiercer. Hyde was taken aback by the unexpected encounter. He started a step back.
"Where's my daughter, Hyde Stockhausen?"
"Go away," he said, in the contemptuous tone one might use to a dog. "I don't know anything of your daughter."
"Only tell me where she is, that I may find her. I ask no more."
"I tell you that I do not know anything of her. You must be mad to think it. Get along with you!"
"Hyde Stockhausen, you lie. You do know where she is; you know that it is with you she has been. Heaven hears me say it: deny it if you dare."
His face looked whiter than death. Just for an instant he seemed unable to speak. Ketira changed her tone to one of plaintive wailing.
"She was my one little ewe lamb. What had she or I done to you that you should come as a spoiler to the fold? I prayed you not. Make her your wife, and I will yet bless you. It is not too late. Do not break her heart and mine."
Hyde had had time to rally his courage. A man full of wine can generally call some up, even in the most embarrassing of situations. He scornfully asked the gipsy whether she had come out of Bedlam. Ketira saw how hard he was—that there was no hope.
"It is said that you depart to-morrow to bring home a bride, Hyde Stockhausen. I counsel you not to do it. For your own sake, and for the young woman's sake, I bid you beware. The marriage will not bring good to you or to her."
That put Hyde in a towering passion. His words came out with a splutter as he spurned her from him.
"Cease your folly, you senseless old beldame! Do you dare to threaten me? Take yourself out of my sight instantly, before I fetch my horsewhip. And, if ever you attempt to molest me again, I will have you sent to the treadmill."
Ketira stood looking at him while he spoke, never moving an inch. As his voice died away she lifted her forefinger in warning. And anything more impressive than her voice, than her whole manner—anything more startlingly defiant than her countenance, I never wish to see.
"It is well; I go. But listen to me, Hyde Stockhausen; mark what I say. Only three times shall you see me again in life. But each one of those times you shall have cause to remember; and after the last of them you will not need to see me more."
It was a strange threat. That she made it, Duffham could, to this day, corroborate. Pulling her red cloak about her shoulders she went swiftly through the gate, and disappeared within the opposite coppice.
Hyde smiled; his good humour was returning to him. One can be brave enough when an enemy turns tail.
"Idiotic old Egyptian!" he exclaimed lightly. "What on earth ever made her take the fancy into her head, that I knew what became of Kettie, I can't imagine. I wonder, Duffham some of you people in authority here don't get her confined as a lunatic!"
"We must first of all find that she is a lunatic," was Duffham's dry rejoinder.
"Why, what else is she?"
"She is; and a dangerous one," retorted Hyde.
"Nonsense, man! Gipsies have queer ways and notions; and—and—are not to be judged altogether as other people," added the doctor, finishing off (as it struck me) with different words from those he had been about to say. "Good-night: and don't take any more of that champagne."
Hyde returned indoors, and we walked away, not seeing a sign of the red cloak anywhere.
"I must say I should not like to be attacked in this manner, were I Hyde," I remarked to Duffham. "How obstinate the old gipsy is!"
"Ah," replied Duffham. "I'd sooner believe her than him."
The words surprised me, and I turned to him quickly. "Why do you say that, sir?"
"Because I do say it, Johnny," was the unsatisfactory answer. "And now good-evening to you, lad, for I must send the physic in."
"Just a word, please, Mr. Duffham. Do you know where that poor Kettie is?—and did you know that Hyde Stockhausen stole her?"
"No, to both your questions, Johnny Ludlow."
Everybody liked Hyde's wife. A fragile girl with a weak voice, who looked as if a strong wind would blow her away. Duffham feared she was not strong enough to make old days.
Virginia Cottage flourished. Parson Hyde had died and left all his fortune to Hyde: who had now nothing to do but take care of his wife and his money, and enjoy life. Before the next summer came round, Hyde had a son and heir. A fine little shaver with blue eyes like Hyde's, and good lungs. His mother was a long while getting about again: and then she looked like a shadow, and had a short, hacking kind of cough. Hyde wore a grave face at times, and would say he wished Mabel could get strong.
But Hyde was regarded with less favour than formerly. People did not scruple to call him "villain." And one Sunday, when Mr. Holland told us in his sermon that man's heart was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, the congregation wondered whether he meant it especially for Stockhausen. For the truth had come out.
When Hyde departed to keep his marriage engagement, Ketira the gipsy had again disappeared from Church Dykely. In less than a month afterwards, Abel Carew received a letter from her. She had found Kettie: and she had found that her own instincts against Hyde Stockhausen were not mistaken ones. For all his seeming fair face and his indignant denials, it was he who had been the thief.
"Of all brazen-faced knaves, that Stockhausen must be the worst!—an adept in cunning, a lying hypocrite!" exploded the Squire.
"I suspected him at the time," said Duffham.
"You did! What were your grounds for it?"
"I had no particular grounds. His manner did not appear to me to be satisfactory; that was all. Of course I was not sure."
"He is a base man," concluded the Squire. And from that time he turned the cold shoulder on Hyde.
But time is a sure healer of wounds; a softener of resentment As it passed on, we began to forget Hyde's dark points, and to remember his good qualities. Any way, Ketira the gipsy and Ketira's daughter passed out of memory, just as they had passed out of sight.
Suddenly we heard that Abel Carew was preparing to go on a journey. I went off to ask him where he was bound for.
"I am going to see them, Master Johnny," he replied. "I don't know how they are off, sir, and it is my duty to see. The child is ill: and I fear they may be wanting assistance, which Ketira is too proud to write and ask for."
"Kettie ill! What is the matter with her?"
Abel shook his head. "I shall know more when I get there, sir."
Abel Carew locked up his cottage and began his pilgrimage into Hertfordshire with a staff and a wallet, intending to walk all the way. In a fortnight he was back again, bringing with him a long face.
"It is sad to see the child," he said to me, as I sat in his room listening to the news. "She is no more like the bonnie Kettie that we knew here, than a dead girl's like a living one. Worn out, bent and silent, she sits, day after day and week after week, and her mother cannot rouse her. She has sat so all along."
"But what is the matter with her?"
"She is slowly dying, sir."
"A broken heart."
"Oh dear!" said I; believing I knew who had broken it.
"Yes," said Abel, "he. He won her heart's best love, Master Johnny, and she pines for him yet. Ketira says it was his marriage that struck her the death-blow. A few weeks she may still linger, but they won't be many."
Very sorry did I feel to hear it: for Ketira's sake as well as Kettie's. The remembrance of the day I had gilded the oak-ball, and her wonderful gratitude for it, came flashing back to me.
And there's nothing more to add to this digression. Except that Kettie died.
The tidings did not appear to affect Hyde Stockhausen. All his thoughts were given to his wife and child. Old Abel had never reproached him by as much as a word: if by chance they met, Abel avoided looking at him, or turned off another way.
When the baby was six months old and began to cut his teeth, he did not appear inclined to do it kindly. He grew thin and cross; and the parents, who seemed to think no baby ever born could come up to this one, began to be anxious. Hyde worshipped the child ridiculously.
"The boy will do well enough if he does not get convulsions," Duffham said in semi-confidence to some people over his surgery counter. "If they come on why, I can't answer for what the result might be. Fat? Yes, he is a great deal too fat: they feed him up so."
The surgeon was sitting by his parlour-fire one snowy evening shortly after this, when Stockhausen burst upon him in a fine state of agitation; arms working, breath gone. The baby was in a fit.
"Come, come; don't you give way," cried the doctor, believing Hyde was going into a fit on his own account. "We'll see."
Out of one convulsion into another went the child that night: but in a few days it was better; thought to be getting well. Mr. and Mrs. Stockhausen in consequence felt themselves in the seventh heaven.
"The danger is quite past," observed Hyde, walking down the snowy path with Duffham, one morning when the doctor had been paying a visit; and Hyde rubbed his hands in gleeful relief, for he had been like a crazed lunatic while the child lay ill. "Duffham, if that child had died, I think I should have died."
"Not a bit of it," said Duffham. "You are made of tougher stuff."
He was about to open the garden-gate as he spoke. But, suddenly appearing there to confront them stood Ketira the gipsy. A moment's startled pause ensued. Duffham spoke kindly to her. Hyde recoiled a step or two; as if the sight had frightened him.
"You may well start back," she said to the latter, taking no notice of Duffham's civility. "I told you, you should not see me many times in life, Hyde Stockhausen, but that when you did, I should be the harbinger of evil. Go home, and meet it."
Turning off under the garden-hedge, without another word, he disappeared from their view as suddenly as she had come into it. Hyde Stockhausen made a feint of laughing.
"The woman is more mad than ever," he said. "Decidedly, Duffham, she ought to be in confinement."
Never an assenting syllable gave Duffham. He was looking as stern as a judge. "What's that?" he suddenly exclaimed, turning sharply to the house.
A maid-servant was flying down the path. Deborah Preen stood at the door, crying and calling as if in some dire calamity. Hyde rushed towards her, asking what was amiss. Duffham followed more slowly. The baby had got another attack of convulsions.
And this time it was for death.
When these events were happening, Great Malvern was not the overgrown, fashionable place it is now; but a quiet little spot with only a few houses in it, chiefly clustering under the highest of the hills. Amid these houses, one bright May day, Hyde Stockhausen went, seeking lodgings.
Hyde had not died of the loss of the baby. For here he was, alive and well, nearly eighteen months afterwards. That it had been a sharp trial for him nobody doubted; and for his wife also And when a second baby came to replace the first, it brought them no good, for it did not live a week.
That was in March: two months ago: and ever since Mrs. Stockhausen had been hovering between this world and the next. A fever and other ailments had taken what little strength she had out of her. This, to Hyde Stockhausen, was a worse affliction than even the loss of the children, for she was to him as the very apple of his eye. When somewhat improving, the doctors recommended Malvern. So Hyde had brought her to it with a nurse and old Deborah; and had left them at the Grown Hotel while he looked for lodgings.
He found them in one of the houses down by the abbey. Some nice rooms, quite suitable. And to them his wife was taken. For a very few days afterwards she seemed to be getting better: and then all the bad symptoms returned. A doctor was called in. He feared she might not rally again; that the extreme debility might prevent it: and he said as much to Hyde in private.
Anything more unreasonable than the spirit in which Hyde met this, the Malvern doctor had never seen.
"You are a fool?" said Hyde. "Begging your pardon, sir, I should think you don't know your profession. My wife is fifty pounds better than she was at Church Dykely. How can you take upon yourself to say she will not rally?"
"I said she might not," replied the surgeon, who happened to possess a temper mild as milk. "I hope she will with all my heart. I shall do my best to bring it about."
It was an anxious time. Mrs. Stockhausen fluctuated greatly: to-day able to sit up in an easy-chair; to-morrow too exhausted to be lifted out of bed. But, one morning she did seem to be ever so much better. Her cheeks were pink, her lips had a smile.
"Ah," said the doctor cheerfully when he went in, "we shall do now, I hope. You are up early to-day."
"I felt so much better that I wanted to get up and surprise you," she answered in quite a strong voice—for her. "And it was so warm, and the world looked so beautiful. I should like to be able to mount one of those donkeys and go up the hill. Hyde says that the view, even from St. Ann's well, is charming."
"So it is," assented the surgeon. "Have you never seen it?"
"No, I have not been to Malvern before."
This was the first day of June. Hyde would not forget the date to the last hour of his life. It was hot summer weather: the sun came in at the open window, touching her hair and her pale forehead as she lay back in the easy-chair after the doctor left, a canary at a neighbouring house was singing sweetly; the majestic hills, with their light and shade, looked closer even than they were in reality. Hyde began to lower the blind.
"Don't, please, Hyde."
"But, my darling, the sun will soon be in your eyes."
"I shall like it. Is it not a lovely day! I think it is that which has put new life into me."
"And we shall soon have you up the hill, where we can sit and look all over everywhere. On one or two occasions, when the atmosphere was rarefied to an unusual degree, I have caught the silver line of the Bristol Channel."
"How pleasant it will be, Hyde! To sit there with you, and to know that I am getting well!"
Early in the afternoon, when Mabel lay down to rest, Hyde went strolling up the hill, for the first time since his present stay at Malvern. He got as far as St. Ann's; drank a tumbler of the water, and then paced about, hither and thither, to the right and left, not intending to ascend higher that day. If he went to the summit, Mabel might be awake before he got home gain; and he would not have lost five minutes of her waking moments for a mine of gold. Looking at his watch, he sat down on a bench that was backed by some dark trees.
"Yes," he mused, "it will be delightful to sit about here with Mabel, and show her the different points of interest in the landscape. Worcester Cathedral, and St. Andrew's Spire, and the Bristol——"
Some stir behind caused him to turn his head. The words froze on his tongue. There stood Ketira the gipsy. She had been sitting or lying amidst the trees, wrapped in her red cloak. Hyde's look of startled dread was manifest. She saw it; and accosted him.
"We meet again, Hyde Stockhausen. Ah, you have cause to fear!—your face may well whiten to the shivering hue of snow at sight of me! You are alone in the world now—as you left my daughter to be. Once more we shall see one another. Till then farewell."
Recovering his equanimity when left alone, Hyde betook himself down the zig-zag path towards the village, calling the gipsy all the wicked names in the dictionary, and feeling tempted to give her into custody.
At his home, he was met by a commotion. The nurse wore a scared face; Deborah Preen, wringing her hands, burst out sobbing.
Mabel was dead. Had died in a fainting-fit.
Leaving his wife in her grave at Malvern, Hyde Stockhausen returned to Church Dykely. We hardly knew him.
A more changed man than Hyde was from that time the world has never seen. He walked about like a melancholy maniac, hands in his coat-pockets, eyes on the ground, steps dragging; looking just like one who has some great remorse lying upon his conscience and is being consumed by the past. The most wonderful thing in the eyes of Church Dykely was, that he grew religious: came to church twice on Sunday, stayed for the Sacrament, was good to the poor, gentle and kindly to all. Mr. Holland observed to the Squire that Stockhausen had become a true Christian. He made his will, and altogether seemed to be tired of life.
"Go you, Johnny, and ask him to come over to us sometimes in an evening; tell him it will be a break to his loneliness," said the Squire to me one day. "Now that the poor fellow is ill and repentant, we must let bygones be bygones. I hear that Abel Carew spent half-an-hour sociably with him yesterday."
I went off as directed. Summer had come round again, for more than a year had now passed since Mabel's death, and the Virginia creeper on the cottage walls was all alight with red flowers. Hyde was pacing his garden in front of it, his head bent.
"Is it you, Johnny?" he said, in the patient, gentle tone he now always used, as he held his hand out. He was more like a shadow than a man; his face drawn and long, his blue eyes large and dark and sad.
"We should be so glad if you would come," I added, after giving the message. "Mrs. Todhetley says you make yourself too much of a stranger. Will you come this evening?"
He shook his head slightly, clasping my hand the while, his own feeling like a burning coal, and smiling the sweetest and saddest smile.
"You are all too good for me; too considerate; better far than I deserve. No, I cannot come to you this evening, Johnny: I have not the spirits for it; hardly the strength. But I will come one evening if I can. Thank them all, Johnny, for me."
And he did come. But he could not speak much above a whisper, to weak and hollow had his voice grown. And of all the humble-minded, kindly-spirited individuals that ever sat at our tea-table, the chiefest was Hyde Stockhausen.
"I fear he is going the way of all the Stockhausens," said Mrs. Todhetley afterwards. "But what a beautiful frame of mind he is in!"
"Beautiful, you call it!" cried the pater. "The man seems to me to be eating his heart out in some impossible atonement. Had I set fire to the church and burnt up all the congregation, I don't think it could have subdued me to that extent."
Of all places, where should I next meet Hyde but at Worcester races! We knew that he had been worse lately, that his mother had come to Virginia Cottage to be with him at the last, and that there was no further hope. Therefore, to see Hyde this afternoon, perched on a tall horse on Pitchcroft, looked more like magic than reality.
"You at the races, Hyde!"
"Yes; but not for pleasure," he answered, smiling faintly; and looking so shadowy and weak that it was a marvel how he could stick on the horse. "I am in search of one who is growing too fond of these scenes. I want to find him—and to say a few last words to him."
"If you mean Jim Massock"—for I thought it could be nobody but young Jim—"I saw him yonder, down by the shows. He was drinking porter outside a booth. How are you, Hyde?"
"Oh, getting on slowly," he said, with a peculiar smile.
"Getting on! It looks to me to be the other way."
Turning his horse quickly round, after nodding to me, in the direction of the shows and drinking booths, he nearly turned it upon a tall, gaunt skeleton in a red cloak—Ketira the gipsy. She must have sprung out of the crowd.
But oh, how ill she looked! Hyde was strangely altered; but not as she was. The yellow face was shrivelled and shrunken, the fire had left her eyes. Hyde checked his horse; but the animal turned restive. He controlled it with his hand, and sat still before Ketira.
"Yes, look at me," she burst forth. "For the last time. The end is close at hand both for you and for me. We shall meet Kettie where we are going."
He leaned from his horse to speak to her: his voice a low sad wail, his words apparently those of deprecating prayer. Ketira heard him quietly to the end, gazing into his face, and then slowly turned away.
"Fare you well, Hyde Stockhausen. Farewell for ever."
Before leaving the course Hyde had an accident. While talking to Jim Massock, some drums and trumpets struck up their noise at a neighbouring show; the horse started violently, and Hyde was thrown. He thought he was not much hurt and mounted again.
"What else could you expect?" demanded Duffham, when Hyde got back to Virginia Cottage. "You have not strength to sit a donkey, and you must go careering off to Worcester races on a fiery horse!"
But the fall had done Hyde some inward damage, and it hastened the end. He died that day week.
"Some men's sins go before them to Judgment, and some follow after," solemnly said Mr. Holland the next Sunday from the pulpit. "He who is gone from among us had taken his to his Saviour—and he is now at rest."
"All chance and coincidence," pronounced Duffham, talking over the strange threat of Ketira the gipsy and its stranger working out. "Yes; chance, I say, each of the three times. The woman, happening to be at hand, must have known by common report that the child was in peril; she may have learnt at Malvern that the wife was dying; and any goose with eyes in its head might have read coming death on his face that afternoon on Pitchcroft. That's all about it, Johnny."
Very probably. The reader can exercise his own Judgment. I only know it all happened.