The Mysteries of Heron Dyke_ A Novel of Incident. Volume 2 (of 3)
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THEMYSTERIES OF HERON DYKE.
A Novel of Incident.
By the Author of
"In the Dead of Night," "Brought to Light," etc.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
RICHARD BENTLEY AND SON,
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.
[All Rights Reserved.]
CONTENTS OF VOLUME II.
|I.||WINTER AT HERON DYKE.|
|II.||DR. DOWNES' SNUFF-BOX.|
|IV.||THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF APRIL.|
|V.||MR. CHARLES PLACKETT CALLS UPON THE SQUIRE.|
|VII.||THE MISTRESS OF HERON DYKE.|
|VIII.||WHAT DOROTHY SAW IN THE SHRUBBERY.|
|IX.||ON BOARD THE "SEAMEW."|
|X.||RESCUER AND RESCUED.|
|XI.||NOTHING VENTURE, NOTHING WIN.|
|XII.||HUBERT STONE'S RETURN.|
MYSTERIES OF HERON DYKE.
WINTER AT HERON DYKE.
The mellow autumn months darkened and died slowly into winter. Thewild winds that are born in the bitter north blew in stronger andfiercer gusts, and the majestic monotone of the sea grew louder andmore triumphant as the huge tides broke in white-lipped wrath againstthe shuddering sands. There came tidings of fishing boats that neverfound their way back home, of great ships in the offing that madesignals of distress, of dead bodies washed up here and there along theshore. The Easterby lifeboat was ever ready to brave the fiercestseas; while miles away across the seething waters, at once a signal ofwarning and of hope, the ruddy beacon of Easterby lighthouse shoneclear and steady through the darkest night: it was like the eye ofFaith shining across the troubled waters of Life.
At Heron Dyke, to all outward seeming, the winter months broughtlittle or no change in the monotony of life within its four greywalls. And yet there were some changes; all of which, unimportant asthey might seem if taken singly, had a distinct bearing on events tocome. The two housemaids, Martha and Ann, to whom Aaron Stone hadgiven warning in his anger at what he called their folly, were notforgiven. They left the Hall at the expiration of the month's notice,giving place to two strong young women who came all the way fromLondon; and who, never having been in the country before, weresupposed to be superior to the ordinary run of superstitious fancies,which so powerfully affect the rural mind. Aaron took care that Marthaand Ann should be clear of the house before Phemie and Eliza arrivedat it: there should be no collusion with the new-comers if he couldprevent it.
All went well at first. Phemie and Eliza felt dull, but weresufficiently comfortable. They had plenty to eat, and little to do.Not having been told that the Hall was supposed to be haunted, to themthe north wing was the same as any other part of the house, and theyneither saw nor heard anything to frighten them. The deaf and stolidcook kept herself, as usual, to herself, and said nothing. Indeed, itmay be concluded that she had nothing to say. Had a whole army ofapparitions placed themselves in a row before her at the "witchinghour o' night," it would not have affected her; she utterly despisedthem, and the belief that could put faith in them.
Old Aaron chuckled at the success of his new arrangements.
"We shall be bothered with no more cock-and-bull stories about grislyghosts now," thought he.
But, though the new maids were safe enough from hearing gossip insidethe house, they were not out of it. Aaron, however good his will mightbe, could not keep them within for ever: they must go to church, theymust go into the town; they claimed, although strangers in the place,a half-holiday now and then. And the first half-holiday that Phemiehad, something came of it.
The girl made the best of her way to Nullington. Small though the townwas, it had its shops; and shops have a wonderful fascination for thefemale heart. Into one and into another went Phemie, makingacquaintance with this vendor of wares and with that. Mysteriousthings were talked of; and when she got back to the Hall at night, shehad a rare budget of strange news to tell Eliza.
The Hall was haunted. At least, the north wing of it was. A youngwoman. Miss Winter's maid, had mysteriously disappeared in it onenight last winter, and had never been heard of since. The two previoushousemaids had been nearly terrified out of their wits afterwards.They had heard doors clash after dark that were never shut by mortalhands; they had heard a voice that sobbed and sighed along thepassages at midnight; and they had been once awakened by a strangetapping at their bedroom door, as if some one were seeking to come in.More dreadful than all, they had seen the deathlike face of themissing girl staring down at them over the balusters of the gallery inthe great entrance-hall: and it was for being frightened at this, forspeaking of it, they were turned away!--which was shamefully unjust.All this disquieting news, with the observations made on it, hadMistress Phemie contrived to pick up in the course of one afternoon'sshopping, and to bring home to Eliza.
The two servants had now plenty to talk about in the privacy of theirown room, and talk they did; but they were wise enough at present tokeep their own counsel, and to wait with a sort of dread expectancyfor what time might bring forth. Would they hear strange sobbings andsighings in the night? would a ghostly face stare suddenly out uponthem from behind some dark corner when they least expected it? Thedull depths of these girls' minds were stirred as they had never beenstirred before. They half hoped and wholly dreaded the happening ofsomething--they knew not what.
Meanwhile they began to go timorously about the house, to shun thenorth wing most carefully after dark, and to keep together aftercandles were lighted. Old Aaron, silently watching, was not slow tomark these signs and tokens, though he took no outward notice. Whilehis wife Dorothy, watching also in her superstitious fear, drew in hermind the conclusion that the girls were being disturbed as the othertwo girls had been.
It fell out one afternoon, about three weeks after Phemie had broughther strange tidings from Nullington, that Eliza was sent to the townon an errand by her mistress, Mrs. Stone: for, to all intents andpurposes, Dorothy Stone acted as the women-servants' mistress, whetherMiss Winter might be in the house, or whether she was out of it. Elizawas later in starting than she ought to have been, and she was longerdoing her errands--for she took the opportunity to make purchases onher own account--and it was dusk before she turned back to Heron Dyke.It was a pleasant evening, cold but dry, with the stars coming out oneafter another, as she went quickly along the quiet country road,thinking of her mother and sisters far away. She turned into the parkby the lodge on the Easterby road, stopping for a couple of minutes'gossip with Mrs. Tilney, the gardener's wife. How pleasant andhomelike the little lodge looked, Eliza thought, full of ruddyfirelight, for Hannah Tilney would not light the lamp till her husbandshould arrive. The elder girl was making toast for her father's tea,the younger one was hushing her doll to sleep, while Mrs. Tilneyherself was setting out the tea-cups, and the kettle was singing onthe hob--all awaiting the return of the good husband and father.
Bidding the lodge goodnight, Eliza went on her way. It was quite darkby this time, and although the hour was early she did not much likeher lonely walk through the park. She was not used to the country, andthe solitude frightened her a little; fancy whispering that a trampmight be lurking behind every tree. She pictured to herself the lightand bustle of London streets, and was sorry she had left them. Leavingthe carriage-drive to the right when she got within two or threehundred yards of the Hall, she turned into a shrubbery that led to theservants' entrance. It did seem very lonely here, and she hurried on,glancing timidly from right to left, her heart beating a little fasterthan ordinary.
Suddenly a low scream burst from her lips. A dark figure, emergingfrom behind a clump of evergreens, stood full in her path, and placedits hand on her arm. Eliza stood still; she had no other choice; andtrembled as she had never trembled before. It was a woman: she couldsee that much now.
"Won't you please let me speak with you?" cried a gentle voice, whichsomehow served to reassure Eliza.
"My patience!" cried she, anger bubbling up in the reaction offeeling, "how came you to frighten me like that? I was thinkingof--of--all kinds of startling things. What do you want?"
"You are one of the new maids at the Hall," rejoined the figure, inlow, beseeching accents, "and I have been trying for weeks to get tospeak to you."
"Who are you?--and what do you want with me?" demanded Eliza.
"I am Susan Keen."
"Susan Keen," repeated the servant, not remembering at the moment whythe name should seem familiar to her. "Well, I don't know you, if youare."
"My sister lived at the Hall, Miss Winter's maid, and she disappearedin her bedroom one night last winter," went on poor Susan, with a kindof sob. "It was full of mystery. Even Mr. Kettle says that."
"Oh yes, to be sure," cordially replied Eliza, her sympathies arousednow. "Poor Katherine Keen! Yes. What _did_ become of her?"
Susan shook her head. It was a question no one could answer.
"I want you to help me to find out," she whispered.
The avowal struck Eliza with a sort of alarm.
"Good gracious!" she cried.
"I want you to help me to find some traces of her--my poor lostsister," continued Susan--"some clue to the mystery of her fate----"
"But what could _I_ do, even if I were willing?" interrupted thehousemaid.
"You are inside the house, I am outside," replied Susan, with a sob."Your chances are greater than mine. Oh, won't you help me? At anymoment, when least expected, some link might show itself; the merestaccident, as mother says, might put us on the right track. Have you nopity for her?"
"I've a great deal of pity for her; I never heard so strange andpitiful a tale in all my life," was the reply. "Phemie was told allabout it when she went into Nullington. But, you know, she may not bedead."
"She is dead," shivered Susan. "Oh, believe that. I am as sure of itas that we two are standing here. At first I didn't believe she wasdead; I couldn't: but now that the months have gone on, and on, I feelthat there's no hope. If she were alive she would not fail to let usknow it to ease our sorrow--all this while! Katherine was more lovingand thoughtful than you can tell."
"It's said she had no sweetheart: or else----" Eliza was beginning.But the other went on, never hearing.
"If she were not dead, she would not come to me so often in mydreams--and she's always dead in them. And, look here," added thegirl, in awed tones, drawing a step nearer, and gently pressingagainst Eliza's arm: "I wish some one could tell me why her hair isalways wet when she appears. I can see water dripping from the ends ofit."
Eliza shuddered, and glanced involuntarily around.
"Sometimes she calls me as if from a distance, and then I awake,"resumed Susan. "She wants me to find her--I know that; but I nevercan, though I am looking for her continually."
"This poor thing must be crazed," thought the bewilderedwoman-servant.
"And I've fancied that you might help me. I've come about here atnight, wanting to see you, and ask you, for ever so long. You canwatch, and look, and listen when you are going about your work in thehouse, and perhaps you will come upon her, or some trace of her."
"Good mercy! You surely can't think she is _in_ the house!" exclaimedEliza.
"I am sure she's in it."
"She must be dead. She can't be alive--all these weary weeks andmonths."
"I never heard of such a belief," cried Eliza. "What it is that'sthought--leastways, as it has been told to me and my fellow-servant,Phemie--is, that it is her spirit that is in the house, and hauntsit."
"Her spirit does haunt it," affirmed poor Susan. "But she is theretoo."
Eliza felt as if a rush of cold air were