« ZurückWeiter »
and with tall stems and a red blossom, such as you have not seen before, growing among the trees, and follow where they seem to grow thickest, and there you will find him.'
All the time that Feltram was making this little address, Sir Bale was endeavouring to fix his route by such indications as Feltram described ; and when he had succeeded in quite establishing the form of a peculiar tree-a melancholy ash, one huge limb of which had been blasted by lightning, and its partly stricken arm stood high and barkless, stretching its white fingers, as it were, into the forest, and signing the way for him
I have it now,' said he. Come, Feltram, you'll come a bit of the way with me.'
Feltram made no answer, but slowly shook his head, and turned and walked away, leaving Sir Bale to undertake his adventure alone.
The strange sound they had heard from the midst of the forest, like the rumble of a storm or the distant roar of a furnace, had quite ceased. Not a bird was hopping on the grass, or visible on bough or in the sky. Not a living creature was in sight-never was stillness more complete, or silence more oppressive.
It would have been ridiculous to give way to the odd reluctance which struggled within him. Feltram had strode down the slope, and was concealed by a screen of bushes from his view.
So quite alone, and full of an interest quite new to him, he set out in quest of his adventures.
THE HAUNTED FOREST.
Sir BALE MARDYKES walked in a straight line, by bush and scaur, over the undulating ground, to the blighted ash-tree; and as he approached it, its withered bough stretched more gigantically into the air, and the forest seemed to open where it pointed.
He passed it by, and in a few minutes had lost sight of it again, and was striding onward under the shadow of the forest, which already enclosed him. He was directing his march with all the care he could, in exactly that line which, according to Feltram's rule, had been laid down for him. Now and then, having, as soldiers say, taken an object, and fixed it well in his memory, he would pause and look about him.
As a boy he had never entered the wood so far; for he was under a prohibition, lest he should lose himself in its intricacies, and be benighted there. He had often heard that the wood was haunted, and that too would, when a boy, have deterred him. It was on this account that the scene was so new to him, and that he cared so often to stop and look about him. Here and there a vista opened, exhibiting the same utter desertion, and opening farther perspectives through the tall stems of the trees faintly seen in the solemn shadow. No flowers could he see, but once or twice a wood anemone, and now and then a tiny grove of wood-sorrel.
Huge oak-trees now began to mingle and show themselves more and more frequently among the other timber; and gradually the forest became a great oak wood unintruded upon by any less noble
Vast trunks curving outwards to the roots, and expanding again at the branches, stood like enormous columns, striking out their groining boughs, with the dark vaulting of a crypt.
As he walked under the shadow of these noble trees, suddenly his eye was struck by a strange little flower, nodding quite alone by the knotted root of one of those huge trees.
He stooped and picked it up, and as he plucked it, with a harsh scream just over his head, a large bird with heavy beating wings broke away from the midst of the branches. He could not see it, but he fancied the scream was like that of the huge mackaw whose illpoised flight he had watched. This conjecture was but founded on the odd cry he had heard.
The flower was a curious one--a stem fine as a hair supported a little bell, that looked like a drop of blood, and never ceased trembling. He walked on, holding this in his fingers; and soon he saw another of the same odd type, then another at a shorter distance, then one a little to the right and another to the left, and farther on a little group, and at last the dark slope was all over trembling with these little bells, thicker and thicker as he descended a gentle declivity to the bank of the little brook, which flowing through the forest loses itself in the lake. The low murmur of this forest stream was almost the first sound, except the shriek of the bird that startled him a little time ago, which had disturbed the profound silence of the wood since he entered it. Mingling with the faint sound of the brook, he now heard a harsh human voice calling words at intervals, the purport of which he could not yet catch; and walking on, he saw, seated upon the grass, a strange figure, corpulent, with a great hanging nose, the whole face glowing like copper.
He was dressed in a bottle-green cut-velvet coat, of the style of Queen Anne's reign, with a dusky crimson waistcoat, both overlaid with broad and tarnished gold lace, and his silk stockings on thick swollen legs, with great buckled shoes, straddling on the grass, were rolled up over his knees to his short breeches. This ill-favoured old fellow, with a powdered wig that came down to his shoulders, had a dice-box in each hand, and was apparently playing his left against his right, and calling the throws with a hoarse cawing voice.
Raising his black piggish eyes, he roared to Sir Bale, by name, to come and sit down, raising one of his dice-boxes, and then indicating a place on the grass opposite to him.
Now Sir Bale instantly guessed that this was the man, gipsy, warlock, call him what he might, of whom he had come in search. With a strange feeling of curiosity, disgust, and awe, he drew near. He was resolved to do whatever this old man required of him, and to keep him, this time, in good humour.
Sir Bale did as he bid him, and sat down; and taking the box he presented, they began throwing turn about, with three dice, the copper-faced old man teaching him the value of the throws, as he proceeded, with many a curse and oath; and when he did not like a throw, grinning with a look of such real fury, that the master of Mardykes almost expected him to whip out his sword and prick him through as he sat before him.
After some time spent at this play, in which guineas passed now this way, now that, chucked across the intervening patch of grass, or rather moss, that served them for a green cloth, the old man roared over his shoulder,
* Drink;' and picking up a long-stemmed conical glass which Sir Bale had not observed before, he handed it over to the Baronet; and taking another in his fingers, he held it up, while a very tall slim old man, dressed in a white livery, with powdered hair and cadaverous face, which seemed to run nearly all into a long thin hooked nose, advanced with a flask in each hand. Looking at the unwieldly old man, with his heavy nose, powdered head, and all the bottle-green, crimson, and gold about him, and the long slim serving-man, with sharp beak, and white from head to heel, standing by him, Sir Bale was forcibly reminded of the great old macaw and the long slender kite, whose colours they, after their fashion, reproduced, with something, also indescribable, of the air and character of the birds. Not standing on ceremony, the old fellow held up his own glass first, which the white lackey filled from the flask, and then he filled Sir Bale's glass.
It was a large glass, and might have held about half a pint ; and the liquor with which the servant filled it was something of the colour of an opal, and circles of purple and gold seemed to be spreading continually outward from the centre, and running inward from the rim, and crossing one another, so as to form a beautiful rippling net-work.
'I drink to your better luck next time,' said the old man, lifting his glass high, and winking with one eye, and leering knowingly with the other; and you know what mean.'
Sir Bale put the liquor to his lips. Wine? Whatever it was, never had he tasted so delicious a flavour. He drained it to the bottom, and placing it on the grass beside him, and looking again at the old dicer, who was also setting down his glass, he saw, for the first time, the graceful figure of a young woman seated on the grass. She was dressed in deep mourning, had a black hood carelessly over her head, and, strangely, wore a black mask, such as are used at masquerades. So much of her throat and chin as he could see were beautifully white; and there was a prettiness in her air and figure which made him think what a beautiful creature she in all likelihood was. She was reclining slightly against the burly man in bottle-green and gold, and her arm was round his neck, and her slender white hand showed itself over his shoulders.
Ho! my little Geaiette,' cried the old fellow hoarsely ; it will be time that you and I should get home. So, Bale Mardykes, I have nothing to object to you this time; you've crossed the lake, and you've played with me and won and lost, and drank your glass like a jolly devil, and now we know one another; and an acquaintance is made that will last. I'll let you go, and you'll come when I want you. And now you'll want to know what horse will win next month at Rindermere races.—Whisper me, lass, and I'll tell him.'
So her lips, under the black curtain, crept close to his ear, and she whispered.
* It will be Rainbow,' said the old man harshly. “And now make your best speed out of the forest, or I'll set my black dogs at your heels, ho, ho, ho! and we may chance to pull you down. Away!'
He cried this last order with a look so black and so savage a shake of his huge fist, that Sir Bale, merely making his general bow to the group, clapped his hat on his head, and hastily began his retreat; but the same discordant voice yelled after him :
You'll want that, you fool; pick it up.' And there came hurtling after him a great leather bag, stained, and stuffed with a heavy burden, and bounding by him it stopped with a little wheel that brought it exactly before his feet.
He picked it up, and found it heavy.
Turning about to make his acknowledgments, he saw the two persons in full retreat; the profane old scoundrel in the bottlegreen limping and stumbling, yet bowling along at a wonderful rate, with many a jerk and reel, and the slender lady in black gliding away by his side into the inner depths of the forest.
So Sir Bale, with a strange chill, and again in utter solitude, pursued his retreat, with his burden, at a swifter pace, and after an hour or so had recovered the point where he had entered the forest, and passing by the druidic stone and the mighty oak, saw down the glen at his right, standing by the edge of the lake, Philip Feltram, close to the bow of the boat.
FELTRAM looked grim and agitated when Sir Bale came up to him, as he stood on the flat stone by which the boat was moored.
•You found him ?' said he. « Yes.'
. And the lady in black was there ?'
' A bag of something, I fancy money; it is heavy; he threw it after me.
We shall see just now; let us get away.' He gave you some of his wine to drink ?' said Feltram, looking darkly in his face; but there was a laugh in his eyes.
Yes; of course I drank it; my object was to please him.' • To be sure.'
The faint wind that carried them across the lake had quite subsided by the time they had reached the side where they now were. There was
now not wind enough to fill the sail, and it was already evening.
Give me an oar; we can pull her over in little more than an hour,' said Sir Bale ; 'only let us get away.”
He got into the boat, sat down, and placed the leather bag with its heavy freightage at his feet, and took an oar. Feltram loosed the rope and shoved the boat off; and taking his seat also, they began to pull together, without another word, until, in about ten minutes, they had got a considerable way off the Cloostedd shore.
The leather bag was too clumsy a burden to conceal; besides, Feltram knew all about the transaction, and Sir Bale had no need to make a secret. The bag was old and soiled, and tied about the * neck' with a long leather thong, and it seemed to have been sealed with red wax, fragments of which were still sticking to it.
He got it open, and found it full of guineas.
Halt !' cried Sir Bale, delighted, for he had half apprehended a trick upon his hopes; 'gold it is, and a lot of it, by Jove!'
Feltram did not seem to take the slightest interest in the matter. Sulkily and drowsily he was leaning with his elbow on his knee, and it seemed thinking of something far away. Sir Bale could not wait to count them any longer. He reckoned them on the bench, and found two thousand.
It took some time; and when he had got them back into the leather bag, and tied them up again, Feltram, with a sudden start, said sharply,
• Come, take your oar—unless you like the lake by night; and see, there will soon be a wind up from Golden Friars !'
He cast a wild look towards Mardykes Hall and Snakes Island, and applying himself to his oar, told Sir Bale to take his also; and nothing loath, the Baronet did so.
It was slow work, for the boat was not built for speed; and by the time they had got about midway, the sun went down, and twi