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would change the subject in a manner that admitted of no appeal, and on these occasions I always felt at a tremendous disadvantage. But I would be so no longer. Before another day was out my fate should be decided; and in this resolve I retired to bed.

Next morning when I came down, only Mrs. Oakedale was in the breakfast-room. She was sorry to say that Maude was suffering from a headache, and she had forbidden her to get up to breakfast. "You see," she said, "that gardening was too much for her yesterday. It was far too hot; but she was so set upon it that I did not like to refuse her, and then, besides, she and old Jervis are such sworn allies. How she has managed so completely to get round him I can't imagine. He always looks upon the garden as his special property; and really I am half afraid to pull up a weed without his permission. The old servants are hard masters! But the old fellow was a faithful servant to my dear husband for so many years-followed him all through the Peninsular war-that I let him do just as he likes. He has been very busy this morning polishing his old master's sword and pistols; they are as bright now, I do believe, as on the day they were made. If you go near the room-we call it the orderly-you must admire them. It will gratify the old fellow."

After breakfast I lit a cigar and strolled out into the garden; one of the old-fashioned gardens surrounded by a high brick wall, every brick honeycombed with holes left by nails that had rusted away years ago. Old Jervis was pottering about behind the house armed with a three-pronged fork and what he called "bushel skip," in search of potatoes.

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The best of them," complained the old soldier, "wasn't no bigger

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Jervis brightened up instantly. Throwing down his basket, he drove the fork into the dry earth; carefully scraped his boots thereon in order to preserve the purity of the gravel path, and, leaving the muchdespised potatoes to their fate, he preceded me with alacrity.

The "orderly" was a small room adjoining the pantry, at the foot of the servants' stairs, and the old man, having religiously wiped his boots on the mat and cast a hesitating look at my own, opened the door and ushered me inside. Certainly everything was as neat as a new pin, and the arrangements of the precision. The mere contemplaroom were ordered with military tion of it appeared to afford my ancient cicerone a lively satisfaction, and he received my compliments on the state of the room with honest pride. Over the mantelpiece hung a cavalry sword, the hilt and metal scabbard looking, as Mrs. Oakedale had said, as if they were fresh from the workman's hand; and on either side of it hung a heavy revolver. One of these Jervis took from its hook, and pointed out, with all the pride of ownership, the ease with which the chambers revolved.

"That there pistol," said he, "ain't been fired since I see the colonel shoot it hisself at Balaclava. God help him! he was dead of the cholera in two days;" and the old fellow brushed his hand across his eyes. "I see him load it out o' that very box," and he lifted the lid and showed me the contents. There were about a dozen cartridges still there, and I thought myself that they smelt rather stronger of

1876.]

The Major's Oak.

oil than was absolutely necessary. But I would not have said so for worlds!

I was proceeding to inspect the sword, which was taken from its hook for the purpose, when one of the servants brought word that Mrs. Oakedale wished to see me; so I made my excuses to Jervis and went off to the drawing-room. Blackton was Maude there, equipped for walking, and looking, I thought, in spite of the headache, simply irresistible.

She assured me, in reply to my inquiries, that nothing was the matter-nothing at all. She was just going over to Aylesfield to do a little shopping before the sun got too hot, and then she should be perfectly well.

"My dear Maude," said Mrs. Oakedale, "I can't think of allowing you to go over to Aylesfield alone. You forget, my dear, that this is the last day of the fair, and I think that you had much better postpone your shopping till tomorrow, or have out the carriage this afternoon, if you must go today."

Eventually it was arranged, much to my satisfaction, that I should accompany Maude, as she was bent upon walking; but that I was to be sure to bring her back as soon as the shopping was completed. Here was just the chance that I was looking for, a quiet tête-à-tête; nothing I would make the could be better. most of it.

Aylesfield was a quaint old market-town, distant about a mile from the house, and the road lay between tall hedges that gave shelter from the sun at any time except midday. I had never before noticed anything particularly interesting about those hedges, but on this occasion it really was astonishing the beauties that Maude discovered in them. Half-a-dozen times did I make an awkward attempt to bring

her to the subject that engrossed my
very soul, and just as often was I
pulled up short by her discovering
some fresh beauty in some tangled
woodbine or dusty clump of dog-
wood.

At last I gave up the attempt in despair. As sailors sometimes describe the fickle breeze, Maude was "shy and baffling' to a degree. I felt my utter incapacity to fight against the last-named quality, and I gave in. Wait till after dinner, and I would have it out with her in the drawing-room. Of that I was determined.

The noise of the fair in the market-place became gradually fainter as we arrived at the old stone bridge on our way home, and we leant a moment against the parapet and looked down at the shallow water as it bubbled over the stones. A short distance from where we stood was a picturesque beer-garden, and sitting at a rustic table we observed two shabby-looking men. The back of the one was turned towards us, but in the face of the other I at once recognized my friend the despoiler of the Major's plantation. On the table beside him lay the identical bludgeon, which, by a peculiar twist in the wood, could be Neither unmistakably identified.

But

the stick nor its present owner had
altered much in appearance since I
had last seen them, except that the
dust and dirt were more equally dis-
tributed between them both.
that I recognized the twist in the
wood, I should have thought that
the oak was a very ancient relic, it
was so brown, especially at the
handle.

As we looked at the men, my old
acquaintance raised his mug to his
mouth, and at the same instant he
He paused to
caught sight of us.
glance at us before emptying the
of
mug; but his curiosity was
short duration, and we left him

in conversation with his opposite neighbour.

I had forgotten all about the incident that the sight of the man had just called to mind, and as we walked home I reccunted it to Maude. "How singular," she remarked, "that you should have come across the same man again! And here, too, of all places in the world. But, do you know, I am under the impression that the same man came up to the house the other day to ask for work, and Jervis sent him away? I was in the garden at the time, and Jervis said that he looked much more like robbing henroosts than doing honest work with a spade. Poor old Jervis! he'll never let a stranger come into 'his' garden if he can help it!"

III.

"I hope that you'll find everything that you want in your room," said Mrs. Oakedale as she wished me good night. "I let Charles go away after dinner, as he wanted to sleep at home at Aylesfield. I think he said his brother had come home, or something. It was rather inconvenient, but he is to be back before breakfast." And Mrs. Oakedale left me to myself, Maude accompanying her upstairs.

Maude and she had been inseparable ever since we returned from our walk to Aylesfield, and another day had passed without my having said what, in the morning, I had determined upon saying. I was vexed with myself for my want of resolution, and I went moodily off to bed. Maude could not care a bit for me. If she had she would not have kept so closely at Mrs. Oakedale's side the whole day. I had better go straight home tomorrow and leave all unsaid. I should save myself the grief and mortification of being refused, at any rate, I thought to myself, bitterly. I was a fool ever to have

thought of her-she was a great deal too good for me. And I shut my eyes and tried to sleep.

But the more I tried to sleep the more wide-awake and restless did I become, and at length, half stifled by the heat, I got up. The window was wide open and I sat myself before it and looked out into the silent garden. The moon was shiuing brightly, casting a deep shadow under the garden wall. Old Jervis' black cat was prowling about the bushes, and I watched her as she sat in the middle of the silvery-bright gravel path and licked her paws industriously the while. A faint sound of distant merriment came from Aylesfield-it was the last day of the fair-and the clock in the market tower chimed sadly in the midnight air. Half-past twelve ! Maude must be asleep now; but what did it matter? I must try to forget her, and to-morrow I would say good-bye to Barkstead.

It was hotter than ever; the fieldcrickets were screeching shrilly in the adjacent fields; an owl hooted mournfully from the stable buildings, and was answered by the tingting of a solitary sheep bell. Then puss got up, yawned, stretched herself deliberately, and stalked off into the shadow of the old wall. I roused myself, and returned to bed. Perhaps I might get to sleep now. But the bright moon and the crickets in the field were too much for me, and I dozed uneasily, only to wake again.

As

Two o'clock ! Those crickets were perfectly maddening-I must shut the window. Anything would be better than that awful row, and I tumbled out on to the floor. I raised my hand to the window I glanced out to the lawn, and there, stealing along under the shadow of the wall, to my astonishment I beheld two dark figures. I must be mistaken! And standing behind the curtain I peeped out cautiously.

No, there was no mistake. What could they be doing there at this time of night? Certainly they were there for no good purpose. Still keeping under the shadow of the wall, the two dark objects approached close to the house, and then, leaving the protection of the wall, crossed the gravel path, the pebbles crunching under their boots. Then they disappeared round the corner. But just for one instant the light of the moon fell full upon them, and in the foremost I recog nized a face that I had seen before -that of the tramp who had so attracted my attention in the Major's grove, and whom I had again beheld at the beer-garden at Aylesfield.

For a few moments after I lost sight of the men round the corner of the house, I stood perfectly still and listened intently. Not a sound to be heard-even the crickets had become suddenly quiet. Then all at once I heard a harsh grating sound, followed shortly by what seemed very much like the gentle opening of a window. Without pausing another instant, I hastily threw a dark dressing-gown over me in order to hide my white nightdress, softly opened the door, and stood on the landing. What was to be done? The only man who slept in the house had gone to Aylesfield-worse than useless to wake the womenfolk. Ha! the pistols in the orderly! If I could only get there without being intercepted by these scoundrels, and then return to where I now stood, I might command the whole house.

In less time than it takes to tell it I had glided silently downstairs, turned the corner, and in an instant found myself in the orderly, the door of which, slightly open, creaked horribly as I entered. I had descended by the principal staircase. On my right as I arrived in the hall was a room known as the study-a room now rarely used. It

was through this room that the thieves would probably enter, as the window was more easy of access than the others, and was also not so visible to any one passing along the road. On my left was a rather long passage, at the end of it being the servants' stairs and the orderly. If I could only arm myself in time with one of the old colonel's revolvers, I might return to the upper landing by way of the back stairs, and from thence I could, as has been said, completely command the hall.

The moon shone clearly through the window as I entered the orderly, and there were the pistols, hanging just within reach. I took down one of them from its peg-how delighted I was to feel the cold stock in my hand-and looked about for the box of cartridges. There it was, just at the corner of the mantelpiece. My hand was shaking with suppressed excitement as I removed the lid and saw the greasy bullets; I liked that smell of grease now! The sound of whispering came from the hall as I slipped in the first cartridge. In turning the chamber to make room for the next, the spring gave a sharp click. No matter, it could not be helped; and in went two more bullets, each with the same sharp click. There was no whispering now, and on glancing cautiously out into the hall everything was quiet: only the studydoor stood half open, whereas when I had passed it a few minutes-it seemed hours-ago it was close shut.

Then, with the heavy revolver clutched tightly in my hand, I stepped swiftly across the passage and gained the coveted staircase.

Before mounting the stairs, I paused an instant and listened, terribly afraid at the same time lest in my nervous excitement I should press the trigger and accidentally discharge the pistol. Not a sound to be heard, and I stole softly up towards the landing. Only two

more steps and I should gain it: one more! My foot was on the landing when a dark shadow interposed, and in an instant, before I had time to raise my hand, I was huried headlong down the stairs, completely stunned by a blow delivered with crushing force full on my forehead.

The walks were scattered over with brown and golden leaves, and the autumn sun fell aslant on the well-trimmed lawn.

An armchair stood in the sheltered porch, and from it, well supported by cushions, I lazily watched Maude's taper fingers as she bent over her work, seated on a low stool at my feet.

"Put down your work, my darling," I said, "and talk to me. You are not going to leave me to myself just because I'm getting strong again?"

Maude put down her embroidery, rested her head on my knee, and looked into my face with a bright smile. "What am I to talk aboutJervis, or the cat, or what?"

"Tell me all about that night-I have never heard it from beginning to end. The last time I'll ask you, darling," I hastened to add, as I saw the colour leave her cheek"really the last time."

"Well," she commenced, shuddering slightly, "you know I was awoke by an awful noise-a pistol fired, and then a shout and a heavy fall. I was too frightened to stirhow I hate myself for it! Then I heard the maids screaming and Mrs. Oakedale's voice calling out to know what was the matter, and presently the alarm-bell rang violently. Then, after what seemed hours, I heard Jervis crying out for a light, and that Mister Bayfield was a-lyin' dead at the bottom of the stairs.' At that," she murmured, blushing, "I think I must have fainted. When I came to myself there was

a great commotion in the housethe alarm-bell had attracted the police-patrol-and I learnt from one of the maids that you were not dead, though still almost senseless, but that a man was lying dead at the top of the stairs in a pool of blood-so Jervis said. When he struck you that wicked blow which knocked you down, the pistol must have gone off. Anyway he was shot through the heart. The maid begged me not to go out, but somehow I felt that I must. The men had all gone into the hall-I heard afterwards that the police had captured a man who was running along the road without his boots, and they had brought him back to the house; and I looked out on to the landing. There lay the wretched man, and you may imagine how shocked I was when I recognized the same man that we had seen at Aylesfield! They let him lie there till Doctor Bradford should come. That's all," said she, with a sigh of relief."Unless you want me to tell you that you were in bed six weeks with brain-fever, and that the hair has not nearly grown yet." And Maude rose to her feet, her eyes full of tears, and tenderly rearranged my pillow.

The oak cudgel hangs against the wall as I write this. It was found tightly clenched in the hand that had dealt me the blow that so nearly proved fatal to me. It has a dark stain upon it-a stain that will never be washed out-a stain of blood. The same tree whose destruction I had witnessed that hot summer's day had cost the life of the wretched man who cut it, and was very near costing me my own. But then, on the other hand, but for it I might never have won my darling Maudie-my never weary, gentle nurse for six long weeks. She says it made no difference; and I like to hear her say it. God bless her!

but I don't know.

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