The Truth about Clement Ker


The Truth about Clement Ker


Fleming, Julia Constance (George Fleming)


December 1888


fiction (serialized)


pp. 65–71


Being an Account of Some Curious Circumstances connected with the Life and Death of the Late Sir Clement Ker, Bart., of Brae House, Perthshire. Told by his Second Cousin, Geoffrey Ker, of London.

Chapter III
I Hear Something Which Astonishes Me

I could not see Dick's face, but I remember now distinctly the feeling of blank bewilderment with which I stared at his familiar shoulders, in the old corduroy suit, and the back of his curly head, after listening to these remarkable words. I had entirely forgotten my own awkward position. I forgot I had no business to hear what was being said. After the first minute, when Dick did not turn around and deny the whole thing with a laugh, when I realised that it was no laughing matter; that it was possible; that it was true — I felt the blood rush to my own face; my heart beat so that I had to grasp the hem of the heavy curtain to steady myself. I understood what Clement meant. I had read of such things; indeed, what else had I to do but to amuse myself with what books I could lay hold of during those long afternoons and evenings in town, when Dick had to leave me, and the heat and the noise of the Strand made me feel too languid to go out and walk? And what hours, what long nights of pain I had cheated poring over old plays and novels! My mind was crammed with precedents for every form of romance or melodrama. And yet when I heard this monstrous charge brought against Dick, my own brother Dick, I sat up among my cushions and stared at him with hot, jealous, incredulous eyes. A hundred opposing feelings drove my mind this way and that. I was suffocated with excitement and expectation. And still he did not speak. I seemed to myself to have lived years while this silence lasted. I began with the ignorant childish folly of expecting him to meet such a charge with a laugh; to receive it like a stupid joke. And even while I thought this, it was as if I had grown from a boy to a man; I understood what was implied; I understood all that Dick must have been keeping from me. For the first time in my life I realised that there could be any division of interests between us; with a sickening pang of jealousy I looked at him sitting there, and felt myself left out of his counsel, excluded from his innermost thought. In my excitement I had thrown aside both curtains. Dick had only to turn his head to see me. I watched him with an angry, miserable hope that even then he might turn and remember. But Dick wasn't thinking of me any more.

I don’t know how long the silence lasted between them.

Then, "I loved her before you did," my brother said, speaking very slowly and clearly, "I have loved her all my life, and she knows nothing about it — nothing.”

“No," Clement said, in the same quiet way.

He looked straight across the room as he spoke, and I felt sure that he saw me, and that with his perverse recklessness he would take no notice of my presence; perhaps he would not care. "No," he said again, and his eyes had the same queer, bright look with which he watched Patterson pour out his money." So you were in love with her before she married me, eh? I thought as much. Before I ever went down to the Manse, then, and saw her. 'Twas you introduced me to the whole family, Richard. You were away at the time, I remember. At Oxford, weren't you? And while you were away I went down––––”

“I never had a chance. I never told her. She doesn't know; she doesn't dream of it," Dick said again, with a kind of groan.

Clement got up. He walked over to the table and poured himself out a glass of wine; but he did not drink it; he put it down on the table again and walked back to the fire.

"Eleanor––––" he began, then he gave a curious sort of sigh. "Do you know anything about mesmerism, Richard?" Dick turned his head so that at last I could see him. His bright, careless, handsome face looked ten years older; it was all changed. If I had met him in the street, looking like that, I should not have known him for my Dick. He stared at Clement as if he had not heard what he said.

“No— I don't know."

“Eleanor, my wife, is an excellent medium. At one time that sort of thing interested me a good deal; I tried experiments. There are things concerned with our family which make it worthwhile asking questions. There has been wild work done in this house before now. Ugly stories! There is no doubt that our immediate ancestors, Richard, were men who were — well, who were not easily frightened."

"I don't know," Dick said again; and I knew by the very sound of his voice he had not been listening. “Look here, Clement, I'll take the boy and go back to London. I thought after eight years it would not matter. I cared a great deal; but, eight years ago — why, I was at college then! And I’ve tried to get over it. I thought I had got over it — you know that— or I wouldn't have come down here."

“She interested me very much. I did not know whether I was in love with her. I don't know now if I was," says Clement. “And she she married me for my money; although I don't suppose you could get her to admit it, even now. She has always behaved very well; I will say that much for her; no woman could have behaved better. I don't suppose it was always easy; but that's her nature. For all that, she never loved me. She cares for her child; not for me. We each go on our own way. I interfere with her very little; though, mind you, I don't think she gives me any particular credit for that. She got over liking me long ago; in her heart I should say now that she hates me. She wouldn't tell you so. Eleanor is a queer compound of impulses and principles. She was brought up in a set where people don't admit that a woman can hate her husband. Perhaps she would deny it still. She has never told me, and I have never asked her, but it wouldn't surprise me if she did deny it, even to herself."

"God help her!" said Richard, without raising his head.

"Ah, women haven't much will; and she has less than most women; but I think she could hate me," Clement repeated, blinking, and stretching out his long, white fingers to the fire.

Then Dick looked up. “I ask myself sometimes," he said, "if you are mad."

"I'm very lonely," said Clement simply.

He had crouched down in the luxurious leather armchair, as if he could never sufficiently warm himself. "Yes, I'm lonely," he repeated. "I wanted you here for that. I've always known that you fancied yourself in love with Eleanor; but I wanted you to come. You were always Quixotic and romantic, and unpractical, and all that sort of thing, Richard. Look at the way you have hampered yourself with that boy! You were always a bit of a fool, but I like it in you. I like you. You are about the only person in the world whom I care six straws for. You don't occupy yourself with such things, but, upon my soul, I believe it is better for the whole atmosphere of the house when you are in it. You see––––"

The younger man made a gesture of impatience.

"Well, well, we won't talk of that now. But I wish you would think better of it, Richard. I wish you would stay. I do really. Why, if I don't mind you being here––––"

"You should not have made it impossible," says Dick, standing up and turning very red. "She — she knows nothing about it," he broke out a moment later. "She never knew; not even when we were all young together. What was the good of my speaking, even then? You had something to offer her, and I hadn't. What have I ever had that I could ask a woman to share? My poor old father — well, dear old man! he died in time not to see the old place sold over his head. I was glad of that. Then Frank settled up with the creditors, and went off to New Zealand; and Geoff and I, we drifted up to town. I had my profession to fall back on — my profession — Heaven save the mark! And the dear old man was so proud of it, and of me. He expected — God knows what he didn't expect from it. But I'm glad of that: he doesn’t know now, and I'm glad of that too." "And you cared for her all this time," says Clement again, eyeing Dick still rather curiously, but quite kindly. I have always believed that Richard was the one person in the world whose troubles in any degree touched him, and that, in his own confused and perverse way, he was willing to do what he could to serve his cousin's interest. "You cared for her — and I got over it so much sooner! I wish I had known. I had money and you hadn't — and do you suppose any one but a woman wouldn't have known which was the better man to choose between us? But they are all alike, women; and upon my word, Richard, I don't think the best of them is worth sighing after — let alone a broken heart. Yes: she could have had either of us, and she chose me. And a fine thing we have made of it between us."

"Perhaps — I don't know — she may have thought that she could change your life. She was a happy, innocent young girl when you married her. And what did she know about you? What could she understand? Her heart was full of dreams, and ignorant expectation, and sweet, loving impulses. And what shipwreck, good heavens! what shipwreck have you made of them all! You talk of being lonely, Clement, but what is she? Your wife, the mother of your child — what sort of a place have you made for her in your life? What happiness do you give her for her daily portion?" Richard cried, his face flushing; he was very much moved; his eyes filled with tears as he spoke. "Again, I ask you, what can be your worst loneliness compared to hers? And you say she married you for your money, but let me tell you, you are mistaken; she is incapable of it, and you wrong her by the very thought. She is your wife, Clement, but in that I understand her better than you. She is incapable of it — incapable of selfishness or calculation — "

"Did she ask you to tell me so?" breaks out Clement with a sneer. I thought surely Richard would lose his temper over this and fire up, but he didn't.

"No one asked me to tell you anything, Clement — and you know it," he answered very steadily, and looking his man full in the face. "We have been here, in your house, hardly a day; but has there not been time enough — and occasion enough — for any one who cared for either of you to judge of the situation? Ask yourself." He was silent for a moment. "You have forced this conversation upon me, Clement; it was none of my seeking, but, since it has taken place, there is no option left to me; I must go. After what I have told you of my feeling for — for your wife, I cannot conceive that you should wish to retain me here. And, indeed, I refuse to stay."

"You are pledged to stay. Look here, Richard, you are pledged. You can't throw me over in this way — and the men, and the work," Clement cried out very eagerly.

"But, great heavens, man! " Richard began, hotly enough. Then suddenly he turned quite quiet. He stood there, with his broad shoulders leaning against the high old-fashioned mantelpiece; he looked down on our cousin in his chair; his young, handsome face was pale and strained-looking, but there was an air of infinite sweetness and loyalty about him as he spoke. "I'm not the hero of a French novel, Clement," he said, very gently. "I don't mean to say that I could not trust myself with — with Eleanor. It would be a pity indeed if, in the last eight years, I had not learned a trifle in the way of self-repression and self-control. It was worse than this at first; it was bad enough, I can tell you — all that first year after your marriage––––"

"When you wouldn't come near us," said Clement.

"When the world wasn't wide enough to put between us!" Dick retorted, with a sorry sort of smile.

"I've had my lesson, and I’ve learned it," he went on again, after a short silence. "I've lived it down: I have learned how to do without her. The care of the boy was a help, and then other things happened; little things, but they all counted. Endure any pain long enough, and it becomes endurable. I won't say I had forgotten her; or that I ever can forget all she has signified to me in my life. But the pang is over. I don't forget her, but I don't think of her once in the day when I used to think of her a hundred times. She is to me as dear, as sacred, and very nearly as removed from any idea of — of love-making, as my own sister. But, I tell you frankly, Clement, I can't stand seeing her made unhappy. I can't. I can't stand by and look on.”

“You're a good fellow, Richard. I wish you would stay. I tell you, we want some one to change the drift of things; we want different influences in this house. If I knew what to say to keep you I would say it," Clement persisted, very earnestly.

From where I was sitting I could only see the profile of his thin face, and one white hand held up like a screen between him and the fire. There was something so forlorn about the whole attitude of his meagre and carefully-dressed figure — he clung to Dick's presence with so abject and yet so desperate a desire for companionship, that — I cannot explain how it was — but from that moment I felt quite differently towards our cousin Clement. The feeling of repulsion with which he inspired me turned, without rhyme or reason, into a sentiment of very mixed compassion. I could not be sorry for him altogether; but I pitied him with something of the same feeling I had once experienced for a lame dog Dick had picked up in the street. It was an ill-conditioned cur, and of a temper which no amount of kindness could modify; but, on the other hand, there was not an inch of its lean body which did not bear the marks of some evil usage; and, once tamed, it followed Dick about like his shadow until the day it died.

They were both silent after that for some minutes. I waited, half in hope and yet more than half in fear, to hear Richard pronounce his ultimatum, and formulate our sentence of departure. I listened for something decisive, and neither of them seemed willing to speak. That was the first time I noticed what I have witnessed since then so often — how, after a very little departure from familiar modes of thinking and of speech, the spirit of most men flags and suffers a revulsion. It is not, I think, at the actual crises of life, but on looking back at them, that men are most definite in their expression. What would make the situation of a play is shuffled over in real life with but fragmentary recognition of its import, and a blunt or an awkward phrase. It is different with women, who are forced by the limitations of their material life, and by a hundred circumstances of habit and fashion, to seek and recognise excitement in the intellectual side of things — in all the more subtle forms of cruelty or kindness; but men, Englishmen at any rate, are not given to prolong difficult situations for the sake of symmetric and dramatic finish.

I saw Dick take out his watch and look at it. "Well; 'tis three o'clock; and however the state fares, these men of yours should be looked after and set to work," he remarked, speaking rather abruptly and awkwardly. The other nodded his head, answering something that I could not hear; a minute or two after that they went out of the room together. It was raining harder than ever, but I heard Clement's voice giving orders to have his horse brought round. There was a door slammed somewhere up-stairs. I pushed aside the curtain, and dropped my feet upon the floor. My stick was close at hand, lying on the cushion behind me, but I was so stiff and cramped with the long sitting, some little time passed before I could move easily. It makes no difference to me how long or how far I walk, but sitting still always gives me that pain in my hip.

Well, I got over it; I started out to look for Dick. But before I found him something else had happened.

Chapter IV.
I Receive the Silver Bottle

I was a very little fellow when the trouble (which ended only with my father's death and the forced sale of our place in Warwickshire) fell upon the family. My poor mother was long since dead. She had been my father's second wife, married to him when he was already an elderly man. I cannot remember her in the least. Curiously, and I think sadly enough, there was not a picture of her, not even a miniature, ever taken. Yet she was, I have heard, a beautiful woman, and I believe my father was passionately attached to her. She died so soon after my birth — there was so little trace of her passage in our melancholy and ruined old house — that, as a child, the nurses and servants had the greatest difficulty in persuading me that it was Frank's and Dick's mother, not mine, whose portrait, in Court dress, hanging between the windows in the great drawing-room, is one of the first things I remember.

My father and the boys sat very seldom in those great, faded, ornate, abandoned rooms. I can remember, perhaps, two or three times to have seen them lighted up and full of guests. To the last, if unchecked by Frank, my father would have gone on lavishing every penny that he could raise, upon some such reckless pleasure of hospitality. And even Frank could only check him within certain limits. There was something splendid, freehanded — a sort of incapacity for calculation of any kind, which seemed an integral part of his nature. We were ruined by it as a family, but I never knew him refuse a service or a pleasure to man, woman, or child. He was more loved by those dependent upon him than any man I ever knew; and he died, on the very verge of bankruptcy as it were, and after a long lifetime of complicated money trouble and desperate expedient, with the firm conviction that all would come right in the end for his boys.

As a child, I was left very much to the servants; and later on, to my tutor's care. Frank was with his regiment; Dick at Oxford. It was a lonely enough life which I led, though not, as I remember it, unhappy. I had space and liberty. I was never strong; I was shut out from half the ordinary enjoyments of my age, but I had very early learned to suffice to myself. My life, quiet as it seemed, was full of pleasures which no one understood or shared in. I lived with books, with music, with a passionate love for the old house and the park, which represented to me the utmost limit of my wanderings — even in desire. I was fourteen when we left, and had scarce been a dozen times beyond our own gates. To the others the old place may have seemed dismal enough, and the final disposal of it have struck them like the loosening of a burden. But I had grown up in that atmosphere of makeshift and discussion. I had listened to it all as a child, and was inured to every form of financial perplexity. I had very soon made the discovery that not one of all these threatened ills could affect my father's spirit or his bearing. (He had been in the army, as a young man, and to the last carried himself like a soldier. I remember him, as an old man, of course, but still very handsome, with short, thick, snow-white hair, and eyes that retained their youth.) I accepted it all as a state of things which would never alter, and lived my life and dreamed my dreams under the old roof, quite undisturbed — having, indeed, grown both sceptical of, and indifferent to, the signs of impending calamity. So that the blow, when it did fall, came down upon me without one softening circumstance.

Dick took me with him up to London; so far as I know, there was never even a question between my two half-brothers as to which one of them was to look after me; and presently we saw Frank start off on his way to New Zealand. He had waited to leave until all the affairs of the estate were settled. After his departure, even the lawyer's letters ceased to arrive at our lodgings, with their calculations of value, their bald details about the sale of this cottage, or that farm — places whose names were as familiar to me as my own. With the sailing of Frank's ship, even this link between our present fortunes and the past was broken.

Then began an unhappy, a miserable part of my life, and one I do not like to recall even at this moment. It is thirty years ago, and as I write of it the old scar starts and throbs — the wound seems still of yesterday. Our sorrows, I believe, are lasting in proportion to our own vitality; and what cut deep into the soul of a lonely imaginative boy, absorbed enough of my youth and strength to make itself a part of me for ever. I can see now the shape and the furniture of those lodging-house rooms. We three brothers had eaten a last hasty meal together before seeing Frank off at the docks. I remember the taste of that food; the long, miserable, jolting of the cab that brought us back without him.

Dick had his work; he had (as I learned now) other interests, other losses, to preoccupy him. At two-and-twenty a man can't well hold himself for long aloof from the claims, the pleasures of daily life. But for myself, who was a boy in years (though with a man's experience in some sorts of trouble, and that silent endurance of evil which even physical pain teaches), those years were empty and bitter enough. I pass over much which might be here mentioned. It is enough for my purpose briefly to record how trying, how impossibIe, I found that stifling city life. When Dick first showed me our cousin Clement's letter, bidding us both to Brae, I could scarce credit the good fortune. I felt as if a window had been thrown open near me; I seemed to breathe fresh air once more and look out on the silent green country. And indeed I have always believed that it was for my sake, to please me, and not in accordance with his own wish, that Dick acted upon the invitation.

Brae House is not so large a place as my dear old Castleton. It does not cover so much ground, and there is no park at all, properly speaking. It is alt Ker's country as far as one can see; but directly about the house there are no fine grounds, only rough fields used for grazing. The walled gardens, which are large and old, are at some distance, near the stables. Between them and the house, to the north and east, a thick plantation of pine-trees and very ancient laurels shuts off the view, making a belt of shelter about the circular stone terrace. Some steps lead from thence, down a steep bank, to the old part of the house, old servants' offices, now unused, and a network of stone corridors, some of them roofless, which end in a small square ruined tower, once part of a votive or expiatory chapel, as is shown by the curiously-worded Latin inscription over the entrance.

The house itself stands at right angles to its principal way of approach, so that it is not until you reach the extreme end of the long, straight, gloomy avenue of Scotch firs that you even catch sight of its grey weather-stained walls. Brae is not in any way a show-place. The building is of all styles and of all ages, some of the thick east wall dating well back into the twelfth century; but the chief part of the present edifice was built about 1570-80, by the Clement Ker of that day, a gentleman of thieving and rieving propensities, at war with all his more decent neighbours, and a most notorious rascal — if local tradition is in any way to be trusted. Brae stands so little removed from the Border, being indeed within a summer day's hard riding from the Debateable Ground, that, given the wild lawless character of its owners, it is little to be wondered at if it was so often the scene of reckless adventure and unaccounted-for bloodshed, which gave the place a black distinction even in those killing times. To this day, and although now but some few hours distant from Edinburgh, the whole surrounding district is curiously isolated. The main lines of traffic sweep by at the horizon, leaving this undistinguished tract of rough hill-country — with excellent shooting, but with no especial charm of scenery or historical association for the mere tourist — leaving it stranded as it were: a country-side very peaceful to look at, but fifty years behind the age in point of custom and civilisation. The estates are large; the villages poor, and very far apart. The nearest hamlet to Brae, the Kirkton, which boasts a post-office, two churches, and a shop, lies some four miles off across the moor. Possibly its inhabitants may be a trifle more educated, something less superstitious than their neighbours. I do not know. I never saw any of the villagers, the country people whom I met in my wanderings were of another class — small tenants on outlying farms, or shepherds and gamekeepers from the hills; all of them dependents, for the most part hereditary dependents, upon Ker; and with old stories enough and to spare about the place and its ancient owners, and hardly, I am ashamed to say, one legend to their credit.

Of late years the place has been left a good deal in the hands of the different agents. Up to the beginning of the present century the Kers of Brae were as homekeeping a race as any other of the small Scottish gentry; but about 1803 or 1805 the elder son of that time going for some unknown reason to India, there laid the foundation of the present family wealth. This was in the days of Clement's great-grandfather, and since then, by a sort of family tradition, the connection with the far East had never been allowed entirely to lapse. Clement himself was bom in India, and had made the journey thither and back more than once.

Inside, to any lover of what is old and curious, the house was disappointing — resembling, indeed, nothing so rnuch as a peculiarly well-conditioned barracks. Everything about the place was too light. A generation or so back the fine old wainscoting had been either painted white or papered over to please the gayer fancy of the day. In the large drawing-room, a hall of most noble proportions, an elaborate white-and-gold paper did all that was possible to dispel the idea of age. Everywhere the old oak panelling disappeared under a levelling mask of whitewash. There was nothing left but the leisurely width of the staircases, the imposing stretch of hall and passage, to give any hint of what ancient sombre state roust once have dignified these desecrated rooms.

Yet, to me, the mere sense of space recalled so much old pleasure — it was such relief, after all the restriction of London, to find myself at liberty to saunter from large unoccupied room to room, that I never grew weary of, or lost delight in, the actual extent of those monotonous corridors.

My first intention on coming out of the dining-room, where I had listened to so much of Clement's involuntary confidence, had been to go and look for Dick. But after a very few minutes I was struck by another aspect of the question. My impulse had been to find him as soon as might be; to tell him what I had heard, and to tax him on the spot with the lack of confidence he had shown in my sympathy and my discretion; I could not wait to upbraid him with the unbrotherly aspect of such long-standing silence.

But the more I thought over the speech I was about to make to him, the less feasible it seemed to become. I have always been cleverer than Dick; I always thought I understood him to the slightest detail of his action, and was proud of him and patronised him in my own mind, like the conceited young fool that I was. But now, of a sudden, a great gulf had opened wide between us. I remembered some tones, never heard before, in Dick's voice as he spoke of Eleanor, and grew hot and cold in turn, realising on what unacknowledged terms I had overheard them. It was not that I had forgiven him for what I called to myself his lack of trust — not a whit of it. I could not bear to give up being first in Dick's thought — and that was the tiiith of the matter. Not the smallest part of what I suffered was the hot returning pang of jealousy which then, and for a long time after, seemed to clutch enviously at my heart each time that I remembered Eleanor. I had been first, and she had dispossessed me. She seemed to have robbed me even of the past with its security. I had lost my father, and the old place I loved, and now Dick. At that moment my father's death pressed upon me as a personal wrong, and I resented it.

On leaving the dining-room I had gone straight up-stairs to the north gallery, which runs from end to end across the front of the house. I had chosen that place to think in, partly because it was out of the way, and likely to be empty at that hour (and I wanted to be alone; no solitude could have been too complete for me), partly because the great end window overlooked the round terrace, and I knew that Dick would come back that way from speaking to his men.

At each turn I stopped in my walk to look out of this window. My stick made no sound upon the soft old Turkey carpet; the strong, steady patter of the rain, for the wind had fallen, made a sort of undertone that I listened to unconsciously, and that seemed like a part of my barren and desolate thought. For, possessed as I was by that ingenious and incessant devil of jealousy, I would not spare myself one smallest recapitulation of whatever could best serve to confirm me in my wretched pangs and suspicions. A hundred different trifles — words heard, looks observed, and fits of silence, and old depressions unexplained — came back to me now, and each one brought its sting.

But as I halted for perhaps the twentieth time before the window I was aware of another watcher bent on the same errand as myself: a second figure keeping step with mine, pacing to and fro out there in the rain, along the stone terrace. She was wrapped to her feet in one of those long red frieze cloaks worn by peasant-women in Ireland. A hood was drawn over her head, even covering her face, but what other woman in the world carried herself in that fashion, or walked with that step as of a queen?

I stood still for a moment looking down at her — waiting there, as was plain enough to my thinking, for Richard — and the bitterness of rage and grief with which my heart was full, overflowed. I felt a hard lump form suddenly in my throat and threaten to choke me. I turned away from the window; my eyes burned. “They may care for one another as they please. What does it matter to me?" I said aloud. I fancied I was speaking in my usual voice, and the sound I heard was toneless and hardly above a whisper. "I am not watching them. I know nothing about them. I know nothing," I cried out sharply.

There is a swinging door, opening into another passage, at right angles with the north gallery, which leads past the nurseries to some back stairs and the servants’ quarter of the house. I pushed this door open, and then another, not caring very much where I went, and found myself suddenly entering, by its farther end, a large, low, oak-panelled hall, with timbered roof, and flagged pavement. A bright fire burned at the other end, opposite the door; there was a table spread with the remains of dessert, and before it were standing two men absorbed in what sounded like a violent discussion.

"You got me the place, says you? Well, who's denying on it? But I don't stay in no place where I'm sworn at, and spoken to as if I was a dog. ‘Call Bright,’ says he. ‘ ‘E used to know ‘ow to choose a servant,’ says he. ‘ ‘E used to know ‘ow to pick out a slave’ would be a tune more to his liking!"

The speaker, whom I recognised at once as the young footman Clement had snubbed, brought the open palm of his hand down upon the table with a bang which set the decanter and the glasses ringing. “I ain't a dog, Mr. Bright, and so I tell you, and that's the end of it. And it ain't only the sharp speaking, mind you; there's other things too." He lowered his voice, shaking his head. "Ah, I've heard other things spoken of ––––"

"Hallo, Bright!" I said, “I meant to come and look you up some time. But I haven't chosen the time very well, I'm afraid."

Old Bright turned sharp round at that, his solemn sour old face clearing like a windy sky. (As for the other fellow, you could have knocked him down with a feather; he gave one great start and walked straight out of the room into a sort of butler's pantry, where I could see him all the time, standing with his back to us, rubbing up some plate. He had taken off his coat before I came in, and his great red ears stood out like two scarlet handles on either side of his sleek fair head.)
“Well, if it is not Master Geoff! Well, I am glad to see you again, sir. It's like old times come again. When I heard that you and Mr. Richard was expected here, if you'll believe me, for a bit I could hardly get it out of my head that we wasn't all back at Castleton. And how is Mr. Frank getting on out there, sir? My memory isn't what it was; I forget the names of places. But I always wanted to ask you what had become of Mr. Frank."

I told him Frank was doing very well, and the name of his New Zealand sheep-run. Then there followed a pause. I sat down on the edge of the heavy oak table and looked about me.

"Uncommonly pleasant quarters you have here, Bright. It's the best room in the house, to my thinking.

"Ay, sir; the room does very well. There's a draught; but it does well enough."

I thought of the look of our cheap, dull chambers in the Strand.

"What a blessed old grumbler you are. Bright! Why, I don't believe there is a better-looking servants' hall than this in the breadth and length of Scotland. You wait till you hear what Dick says about it — about the way it is built. For that matter, it's twice as good a room as any we had at Castleton.”

"Ay, sir; that may be so. Mr. Richard may have a taste for them wooden walls, and the rafters overhead — like a stable. But Brae ain't Castleton, Master Geoffrey."

"But they make it all right here for you. Bright; don't they? I should not like it — Mr. Richard would be very sorry, too — to know you were not getting on well after all the years you were with us; and the best servant and the most dependable my father ever had. I've heard him say so fifty times if I've heard it once."

The man's steady expressionless face brightened up at that for a moment. "The old master said that, did he? And God bless his kind heart and kind speech. Ah, it was a bad day and a black day for some of us when the old master was taken, Master Geoff," he cried out, with some return to his old hearty manner. Then he looked down again at the fire. "But this ain't Castleton, for all that," he repeated doggedly. "Brae ain't Castleton; and to tell you all the truth, sir" — he lowered his voice, glancing furtively across the room at his subordinate — "I shouldn't like it spoken of yet, if you please, Mr. Geoffrey, but I'm thinking of leaving this before very long. I've been a-thinking of it over, sir, and I'm going — that's about the fact of it."

"Well," said I, "I'm very sorry to hear it. An old family servant like you, Bright, is none the better for all these chops and changes. You know your own business best, of course; still, if I were you, I'd think it over once more before giving up the place. If — if Sir Clement speaks a little sharply sometimes––––"

"Lord bless you, sir, that's not it; not a bit of it. Some gentlemen uses language, and some not; just as some of 'em takes sherry, and some of 'em can't abide the look of it. Some of the young ones, they can't stand a gentleman speaking rough to them. There's Parker over there, I wrote to him to come down from London. He knows his work, you can take my word for it, sir. But, speak to him — why, he's like a pan of boiling milk — into the fire before you've time to look about you. But that's not my way, Master Geoff. No; nor it hasn't been Sir Clement's way with me, neither."

"Well?" said I again.

I sat there on the table-edge, swinging my feet and watching old Bright rub up his glasses, and there seemed to me something shrunken and changed about him; a look as of a man who is not quite sure of his nerves; or as of a man going to be ill. He kept staring at the fire while he spoke to me. I never caught his eye. I thought of several things, and then, "Bright!" I said, speaking very sharply and suddenly, "have the servants here ever got hold of — of any queer stories about this house?"

He gave a start which knocked all his glasses together.

"I — I don't think I understood what you said, sir," he answered, after a minute, keeping his head well down, and appearing to be very busy over the polishing of the decanters.

"Because," I went on coolly, being now quite sure of my facts, and not a little pleased with myself for having guessed them, "I was talking to Sir Clement about that sort of thing last night at dinner. And now I think of it, Parker was in the room."

“Well, sir, that is his place at dinner-time," says Bright, giving me a queer look.

“I asked Sir Clement about all the old Ker legends he could remember. A queer lot these Scotch Kers seem to have been in their time — veiy queer. Sir Clement is going to lend me a book about them, which gives the history of the oldest parts of this house. But he says the real way to find out these things is to question the old tenants about the place — the shepherds on the hills. Now that old man who was here to-day. Bright, the old fellow with the dog, I dare say he'd be able to tell one any quantity of tales — the sort of thing that never does get printed, you know, only repeated year after year, and generation after generation, by the men who live out on the heather."

He did not answer, so after a minute or two, "It would be strange," I added carelessly, "if in a house so old as this, and so lonely–––––"

"Sir," said Bright, facing suddenly about, and there was a look of genuine distress on his sober, elderly face, something pinched and harassed, which made one uncomfortable to see — "Sir, Mr. Geoffrey, I don't know if any one has been complaining of me here. I've done my best to keep the household together, and I'll go on doing my best till I leave. But it ain't what I calls respectable conduct, it ain't what they owe to their own characters, let alone to their masters, and I've told 'em so, what's more. If 'twere only among the maid-servants. Master Greoff, I shouldn't take it in this way to heart They're a coming and a going lot at the best; and I shouldn't feel the responsibility. But, sir, it isn't a fortnight since I got those two new men down from London; and there they are now as bad as any of 'em. It's not to be put up with, nohow; not by a man who takes any pride in his work."

I pressed him very hard to tell me what it was which had thrown the household into this disorder and panic; but he could only assure me over and over again, and with the greatest earnestness, that he did not know.

"They don't know themselves, Mr. Geoffrey, and for the best of reasons — for and because there is nothing. Why, sir, you've seen a flock of sheep before now; one starts, and the others never find out if it's a mad dog or the shadow of a leaf that's a chasing and a chivying them away. Only it goes to my heart, it does, to see a fine old place like this and the servants coming and going like as if it was a hotel. My lady says to me the other day, ‘I think we've had more new servants, Bright,' says she, ‘since we come back this time from India' — and that's a matter of six months or so, Master Geoffrey — 'more new servants,' says she, "than in all the years since I first come to Brae.’ And it worries me, sir, and that's the truth of it."

"But it stands to reason, Bright––––"

"Well, sir, begging your pardon for contradicting you, but that's just what it doesn't. There's no reason in it Why, sir, do you suppose there is a hole or corner in all this house I ain't been into and looked over a hundred times, as was my duty to do — more especial since the beginning of this nonsense? Why, I've been down here, and along them galleries, at every hour that you could mention, day or night. And what have I seen or heard, Mr. Geoffrey? Nothing. There ain't nothing to see, and that's why," Bright went on rather sulkily. And then, his voice changing, "And yet they do worry me so, Master Geoff, sir, what with their giving notice and their talk and foolishness — you must have heard Parker at it as you came in — and my feeling that things is going wrong, and getting too much for me to manage, that some days I think to myself that I can hardly a-bear it. It's telling on my health, sir; it is indeed," the poor old boy went on quite tremulously, and looking at him, I was bound to confess that he did seem worn and shaken beyond what was natural. (To be continued.)