Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Smuggler's Ward: A Story of Ship and Shore
Author: Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100181.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Smuggler's Ward: A Story of Ship and Shore
Author: Sylvanus Cobb, Jr.

* * *

Published in The Brisbane Courier,
Saturday 4 October, 1873.
(Republished from the New York Ledger.)

----------------------------------------------------------------

PROLOGUE.

YEARS have passed--many years--since that day!

It was a poorly furnished chamber, dark and cramped, in that section of
the New England metropolis of America where the streets were narrowest
and most devious, and where the dwellings were most closely packed. The
shingles upon the time battered roof flapped with ghostly pattering in
the wintry wind; the biting blast crept in through many a crack and
cranny; and upon the stool of the low dormer window were tiny drifts,
like hoar-frost, that had been sifted in from the whirling snow that
eddied about the quaint old gables and stumpy chimneys.

Upon a scanty clothed bed lay a man, yet in the morning of life, pale,
wan, wasted--dying. The care-worn woman, beautiful still in all her
suffering, bending over and bathing the clammy brow with tears, was his
wife--fond, faithful, and devoted. And the two little ones--a
golden-haired girl, and a bright-eyed boy--were the offspring of a union
that had been cemented in warmest love, but shadowed by the lowering
clouds of dire and undeserved misfortune.

"O! my Malcolm!--dear, dear Malcolm!--can this be the death touch?"

"Yes, Barbara I am dying. But you should not weep. If I were alone--if I
had no wife and children to leave--'twould be sweet to die--to flee from
this cold, cruel earth to the bright, warm realms of the spirit land!
Some time--some time, my love--you will join me there. O! how happy the
thought--how blessed!--I shall wait for you, Barbara. God grant that it
may be mine to guide you up the starlit path that leads to the house of
the angels!--And our children!--Bless them! You will whisper to them
kindly of their dead father--as kindly as you can. Ah, how cruel I have
been----"

"Cruel, Malcolm?--You,--the kindest, the gentlest, and the most
enduring?"

"I was cruel--unjust--selfish--when I urged you to----"

"Hush! hush! No more of that. Think of brighter things."

"Kiss me, Barbara."

The devoted wife bent further over and imprinted a kiss upon the sunken
cheek; and as she did so she detected a change in her husband's
breathing.

"Malcolm! Malcolm!"

Malcolm St. George opened his eyes, and fixed his gaze upon his wife. A
sweet smile had been wakened by the kiss, and a placid calm had settled
down upon the pale features.

"Can you not speak to me, darling?"

The dying man started, and his lips opened; and in tones that seemed
begotten of a new life--so soft and musical were they--he said:

"Barbara, I am going! I have seen the golden gates flung wide open, and
the angelic host await my coming. This is not death--it is life! I feel
that I shall know and love you still, and watch over my loved ones from
the sphere of the eternal.--Esther!--Noel!--Where are you?"

The girl stepped softly to the side of the low cot, and pillowed her
head upon her father's bosom, while the boy, creeping up into his
mother's lap, stretched forth his tiny hands, and reached the loved and
loving grasp that was failing now for ever.

"My wife!--My children!--God bless and protect you! Sweet
angels--angels----Barbara!----"

The storm of life was past, and the weary one was at rest.

----------------------------------------------------------------




CHAPTER I.--THE SAILOR-BOY'S VISION.


ONE pleasant morning, in early summer, a boy, poorly clad, and carrying
a small bundle in his hand, made his way, slowly and hesitatingly, down
upon the wharf, and approached the berth where an East Indiaman was
taking in her cargo. For a long time he stood and watched the busy
movements of the crew, ever and anon lifting his eyes to the lofty spars
and intricate maze of rigging, and seeming, the while, totally lost to
everything save the novel scene before him. The hearty 'heave-ho's' of
the sturdy seamen, the rattle of the blocks, and the creaking of the
running whips and falls, afforded entrancing music to his senses; and he
might have stood there much longer had not a loaded team started him
from his position and from his reverie. After the team had passed the
memory of a preconceived purpose came to mind, and in a timid, shrinking
tone, he asked one of the men if he could see the captain of the ship.
Said dignitary was pointed out to him--the man standing aft, by the
wheel. The boy ascended the plank that lead over the gang way, and with
trembling steps approached the place where stood the man who, in his
childish mind, held destiny in his hand.

"Is this the captain of the ship?"

There was something so modest and so frank in the manner of the boy as
he lifted the worn cap from his head, and his handsome face so bright
and beaming, and so indicative of intelligence and truth, blended with
the trembling gleams of hopeful expectation, that the stern looks of
command left their wonted rest upon the face of Captain Winslow, and
with a kind expression he answered--

"Yes, my boy. What is your errand?"

"Perhaps you are too busy now?"

"No. Speak on."

"Well, sir, I have come to see if you would be willing to take me on
board your ship. I am small, I know; but if you will only try me, you
will find that I can be faithful, and that I can learn."

Ordinarily the captain would have made quick work of disposing of such
an applicant, but this was not an ordinary boy, as was evident from
every look and tone.

"What is your name?"

"Noel Bradford, sir."

"How old are you?"

"Twelve years, sir."

"Do your parents consent to your going to sea?"

"I have no parents, sir."

"No father nor mother?"

"No, sir. My father died, a long, long time ago, when I was very little,
and my mother died only last--last----"

Big tears filled the boy's bright blue eyes, and deep sobs choked his
utterance; but at length, wiping away the flood with the sleeve of his
torn jacket, he added--

"They buried her last Sunday, sir; and now I've nobody left to care for
me. Do let me come, sir!--take me, and try me,--and you shall never see
anything that is wrong. O, sir, if you will let me go with you, I will
try as hard as I can that you shall never be sorry."

The kind, sympathising look of Captain Winslow had given the boy an
unusual degree of confidence, and as he ceased speaking he dropped upon
his knees, and with folded hands and supplicating gaze, awaited the
answer. And he had not long to wait. A boy was needed on board the ship
and the captain was willing to take him; but with the understanding,
however, that nothing should turn up to prove any of his statements
false.

Nothing of the kind occurred, and at the end of a week the good ship
Hector was standing out from Boston harbor with Noel Bradford duly
installed on board.

For the first time within his remembrance Noel felt at home. His spirit
of growth and culture had found an ample field for development, and he
felt that the wide world was all open before him, and the way clear for
the following of his ambition. Aye--young as he was--reared in the lap
of poverty and want--Noel Bradford felt an ambition to do and to be
something that should lift him to a place of honor among his follows. He
had read of ancient and of modern heroes; of bold and daring deeds; and
of the fame and renown which fell to those who had fought the battle
bravely and truly, and won the laurel crown of success. He had been a
reader and a student.

The ship had crossed the equator, having thus far been favored with
excellent weather; Noel had become used to the various peculiarities of
shipboard, and by his good conduct and quickness of comprehension, his
willingness and faithfulness, he had won the love of all. It was a
pleasant evening; the first watch had been set, and after contemplating
the starry wealth of the heaven, and wondering if from the celestial
sphere loved and loving ones looked down upon him with blessing, the boy
went below, and turned into the hammock. To and fro rocked the ship and
to and fro, with gentle, soothing motion, swayed the orphan's canvas
bed. Gradually his senses became closed to outward things, and as the
interior being, untrammelled by thought and care of present
surroundings, wandered back into a realm of the past which the waking
memory held not in store, he was conscious of a pressure upon his
shoulder, as though a human hand had been lightly and gently laid there.
He turned his head, and opened his eyes, and he beheld a radiant
presence, youthful and bright--as beautiful in maiden loveliness as the
vestal angels of the poet's dream--a presence that smiled upon him from
a beaming countenance not altogether strange, though when or where he
had seen it before he could not divine.

"Noel," spoke the seraphic messenger, in tones of silvery sweetness, "to
you fortune extends an abundant store of her favors. They are far in the
future; but, nevertheless, if you tread the path of virtue and duty,
they may be yours. Years must roll backward into the vortex of the
past--years that now lie between you and the goal--but beyond the trials
and the turmoil of an eventful career--up the steep and rugged height of
hardship and danger--is held the reward. Win it if you can; and be sure
it is worth the winning!"

As the presence thus spoke she stretched forth her hand, and the boy saw
that she extended to him a beautiful wreath like a crown, of laurel and
orange blossoms. With eager impulse he offered to take it, but no
tangible substance met his touch. Still the sweet spirit gazed upon him,
and held up the crown and smiled a heavenly, beatific smile. He sought
to speak, but his voice only swelled to a soft cadence of murmuring
music without form of speech, and soon the bright phantom wasted and
faded away into the surrounding gloom.

Noel Bradford laid his head again upon his pillow, and sought to win the
beautiful presence once more to his sight; but the effort was vain; and
with a fervent prayer that the angel's promise might be verified in his
life, he resigned himself to his rest.

Simple and immaterial might have been the orphan boy's vision, but to
him it was a blissful reality, and its foreshadowings were held as
things of moment. And for long and eventful years that same bright
presence seemed ever near him, at times appearing to his enraptured
sight--gently leading him onward and upward in the path of duty and true
manhood.




CHAPTER II.--THE WRECK.


THE Hector doubled the Cape of Good Hope with everything in excellent
trim, and for a time the noble ship was wafted toward her destination by
fair and favoring winds.

It was Sunday evening. The day had been unusually cool, from the fresh
breeze that came sweeping up from the ice bound regions of the
Antarctic, but as the day closed in the wind gradually lulled, and ere
the last dog-watch was off a dead calm had settled down over the broad
expanse of water, and with it came a warm and sultry disposition of
atmosphere. Heavy swells rolled up from the south, like mountains of
dark, polished glass, and as the ship was lifted upon the towering
summits, and anon plunged into the deep troughs, and rocked and reeled
like a drunken man, while her sails flapped lazily, and the rigging
snapped and rattled against the rigging spars. While the sun was sinking
into its watery bed Captain Winslow came up from his cabin and gazed
anxiously around upon the scene. There was an expression of deep concern
and uneasiness upon his face as he mounted the horse-block and looked
off upon the fiery horizon. He was not the man to be alarmed at trifles,
and when his men observed the cloud upon his brow, and marked the
nervous twitching of his mouth, they knew that danger was at hand. Long
and earnestly the captain gazed, sweeping the horizon from west to
south, and then turning to his chief officer he said, in a voice which
he meant should be calm, but the low tremulousness of which struck every
ear--

"Mr Mason, we shall very soon have a breaking up of this spell."

"A breaking up with a vengeance, I have been thinking, sir," returned
the mate, stepping upon the block. "This air feels a little too light
for my comfort."

"Light!" repeated the captain, a perceptible shudder passing over his
frame. "Mr. Mason, the barometer has settled full three inches since
four o'clock!"

"Three inches?" cried the mate. "Impossible!"

"Over three inches, sir," said Winslow, while the corners of his mouth
betrayed by their nervous twitching the perturbation which he sought to
conceal. "Only once before have I seen the mercury sink like that; and
then--then----"

"Well, sir?" uttered the mate, anxiously, as the captain shuddered, and
hesitated.

The men gathered around the spot and silently awaited the answer.

"Then, Mr Mason, I was a boy on board the Ben Nevis. It was in this same
ocean, but very far to the north of where we now are. We had been in the
monsoon for about a week; but it was about breaking up, and one night
there came a calm like this; the barometer settled as the oldest man on
board had never seen it settle before, and under bare poles we awaited
the blast which we felt sure was to come. It did come, and ere midnight
the Ben Nevis had gone down into the grave of waters, and twenty of the
crew had found eternal sleep with her. Only one besides myself was
saved. We gained a floating spar, and were washed upon one of the
Southern Maldives.--Say your prayers, my men, and then stand by for
work, for God only knows how many of us shall see the sun again."

While the captain was speaking, the sun had sunk from sight, and a
sensation of gloom and dread settled down upon the crew. The atmosphere
had now become so light and rarified that the lungs could with
difficulty perform their functions. The men moved, as it were, in a
vacuum, the air which they inhaled seemed more like an invisible smoke
than like the pure breath of heaven, and as they expanded their chests
in vain attempts to gain an invigorating breath, the organs of
respiration literally collapsed beneath the burdensome oppression.

The sails were all snugly furled, with the exception of the fore and
main stay sails, and a storm spencer, which latter were left in the
brails and clewlines, to be used in case it should be desirable to get
the ship before the wind. The top gallant and royal yards were sent on
deck, the top gallant masts unstayed and lowered, and the topmasts
housed.

"We may need a bit of those topmasts, sir," suggested the mate, as
Captain Winslow gave the order for housing them.

"Need the topmasts! For what?"

"With a heavy sea running we cannot be sure of a steady wind upon the
stay sails," answered Mason. "And either for running before it, or for
lying to, we may need the topsails."

"When that puff comes," returned the captain, with a shrug, "I wouldn't
have a linen frock exposed upon one of those yards. No, sir, you'll want
no canvass for this night, depend upon it. The stay-sails may lie in
their bunts, as they are, and the balance-reefed spencer in its brails,
ready for spreading; but we shall have no occasion for them."

It was now dark. Along the line of the western horizon there was a
visible streak of lurid light, which served to make the surrounding
gloom more terrible. There were a few stars in the heavens, but the
dull, dead atmosphere seemed to have no power of refracting their beams,
and though not a cloud was to be seen, yet the great ocean was black as
ink.

"A gale were better than this," observed Mr. Mason, as his lungs began
to grow weak and fatigued.

"You'll have it soon enough," replied Winslow.

"Hark!"

This exclamation came from the look-out at the taffrail, and in an
instant all ears were bent to catch the sound that had arrested his
attention.

Far away in the southern distance rumbled and groaned the storm spirit.
The loose rigging rattled, and the swinging blocks bumped and cracked;
but above all the clang on shipboard was to be plainly heard the voice
of the grim giant of the tempest. The ship was luckily heading from it,
and in breathless expectation the men awaited the shock. Nearer and
nearer it came, and louder and more loud sounded the fearful howl. At
length it burst upon the devoted barque. Like the simultaneous crash of
a thousand thunderbolts broke the fury of the tempest upon the startled
Hector, and for the time she plunged her bows into the flood as though
she would thus escape the assaulting demon. The men could only hold on
upon the stout standing rigging for support, expecting that the ship was
going under; but with a tremendous struggle she lifted her head from the
water, and throwing the briny burden from her deck, she was borne along
with the gale. Four men were lashed at the wheel, and for a time they
succeeded in keeping her before it.

Captain Winslow stood by the starboard main brace, a bite of which he
had passed around his body, while near him, holding on to the lanyard of
the main topmast backstay, stood the chief mate. The men were all on
deck, and as yet remained unharmed, with the exception of a few slight
bruises. To Noel Bradford the scene presented a diorama of magnificent,
awful grandeur. There was a sense of awe pervading his soul, and with it
was a mystic dread of the terrific power that hurled the storm-bolt; but
to him the gale--the madly breaking seas--and the groaning, creaking
spars and timbers afforded only sublime music. Death might be staring
him in the face, but its terrors were lost in the instinctive sentiment
of wonder and worship. Captain Winslow enjoyed not the emotions of the
awe-stricken boy. He knew too well the fate that hung over the crew of
his charge, and his heart was heavy, sad, and hopeless.

As the ship was hurled onward over the boiling sea, she became more
steady in her movements, and so long as she could be kept before the
wind there were slight hopes of her holding together. By and by Captain
Winslow disengaged himself from the main brace, and made his way to the
companion-hatch, whence, with some difficulty, he gained the cabin,
where the hanging lantern was still burning, though the floor was
completely flooded. When he finally returned to the deck the rays of the
binnacle lamp revealed his face, pale and agitated, and the men at the
wheel knew that he was praying.

"Mr Mason," he said, as he struggled to the spot where his mate stood,
and grasped a belaying pin, "I fear our time has come."

"But we may ride it out yet," returned the mate, seeming to give
utterance to a sunken hope rather than to the expression of a present
thought.

"Yes--if we had the sea in which to ride!" said Winslow, in a husky
tone.

"Sea!" repeated Mason, with a gasp. "And is there danger of more than
the sea?"

The captain was for a time silent, as though conscious only of his own
late discovery; but presently he replied--

"I fear there is. This noon we were in latitude thirty-two forty, and in
longitude fifty-one six, distant from Cape St. Henry about six hundred
miles. Five hundred miles east southeast of the cape there is a low
island, to the westward of which makes out a long, broken reef; and, as
near as I can reckon, that island is in the line of our present course."

"And how far?" asked the mate.

"It was not more than seventy-five miles this noon. You can judge for
yourself what distance we have made since that time."

"Then may God have mercy on us!" ejaculated Mason; "for no earthly power
can aid us now. To think of veering in this gale would be utter
madness."

"You are right," returned the captain. "Our only hope is in clearing
that island, and that is an event entirely in the hands of Providence.
If we loosen a furling line, our canvas will be blown into shreds; and
if we should attempt to change our course while under bare poles, we
should broach to, and be lost in a twinkling."

This conversation had not been heard by the men, for the incessant and
deafening roar of the tempest swallowed up the words almost from the
speaker's lips, but still they knew that something more than the storm
was at hand, for even through the darkness of the night they could make
out the new terror that marked the manner of their commander.

Meanwhile Noel Bradford had gradually worked his way forward; and, all
fearless of the plunging of the ship's head into the surging flood, he
climbed up over the heel of the bowsprit, and finally ensconced himself
in the bunt of the fore stay-sail. He had not long been thus situated
when he was aware that some one called to him from the deck:

"Come down out o' that, Noel, or you'll be washed away!"

The boy turned his head, and could distinguish one of the men, standing
by the night-head, making eager gesticulations for him to come in. But
there were two reasons why Noel did not obey. In the first place he was
fascinated by the awful grandeur of his present position; and, moreover,
the task of getting back by the way he had come was by no means an easy
one. But the man did not call a second time, for a sound had struck upon
his ear, and a sight had met his straining gaze, that put all thoughts
of the boy from his mind. He turned aft, and placed his hands to his
lips; and in a moment more that dreadful, frightful cry echoed above the
voice of the storm:

"Breakers ahead!"

Once more the man looked toward the spot where the angry sea broke upon
the threatening rocks, and then seizing whatever came in his way for
support, he hurried aft. Every ear had caught the note of alarm, and
forgetful of all other danger the men leaped upon the rails wherever
they could find a stay for support, and strained their gaze in the
direction of the foam dashed coast. It required but a single glance to
reveal their doom. Directly ahead, towering up through the darkness,
like storm-born Cyclops playing with the elements in terrific spoil,
were a long line of dark, jugged rocks. All the sails in the world, had
they been of warp and woof of steel, and held by ropes and spars of
triple brass, could not have saved that devoted ship. Not a sheet was
touched, not a sail was thought of; but with clutching hands and lips
tightly closed, the doomed ones awaited their fate.

"Aft! aft!--Lay aft, every man!" was the only order which the captain
had to give; and that was spoken when the far-spreading spray from the
breakers had begun to rain upon their heads.

Home, friends, kindred--father, mother, brother, sister, and wife and
children, were called to mind,--an earnest prayer found utterance--a
prayer for self, and for the loved ones far away,--and then came the
death touch of the dark spirit of the breakers. With a crash like the
note of many thunders the noble ship struck. High up between the opening
jaws of two projecting cliffs was driven the bow of the Hector, and in
an instant she was broken in sunder; and the next sea that came roaring
on in its awful might caught the stern in its resistless grasp; tore the
massive fabric in pieces as though it had been a thing of reeds, and
bore its load of humanity away to swift destruction.

Alone crouched Noel Bradford upon his perch on the bowsprit. Alone? Not
so did it seem to him. From out the blinding spray appeared the bright
spirit--the angel-robed presence--smiling upon him, and whispering, in
notes that sounded above the fierce roar of the elements, as the soft
music of the flute makes itself distinct above the crash of many brazen
instruments--"Be not afraid, my brother, I am with thee!"

* * * * * * *

Morning dawned upon the scene of death and destruction. High up in a
broad fissure between two rocks, upon a bed of folded canvas, reposed a
sailor boy. There had been numbness; and a sense of exhaustion had
succeeded; but still he was comparatively uninjured. The bows of the
ship had been firmly wedged into the fissure at the first shock, and as
the bulk of the hull had been almost immediately broken off and swept
away, the wedged portion had received but little further damage from the
seas. The loosened condition of the fore stay-sail, upon which the boy
had rested, had served to break the force of the concussion, and with
hardly a bruise upon his body he awoke to consciousness.

As the sun came up from its bed of waters, and cast its golden beams
over the troubled ocean, Noel Bradford arose and gazed around. Far down
among the sharp, craggy rocks he beheld the fragments of the wreck, and
when a little exercise had driven out the stiffness and numbness from
his limbs, he set about the task of clambering down to where the waves
broke in upon the shore. Alas! what a scene awaited him! Not in the
broken timbers lay the horror. No, no. All bruised and battered--all
stark and dead--strewed here and there upon the cruel rocks--were the
forms of his once loved and loving shipmates. The notes of thanksgiving
that had been swelling up from his grateful soul were changed to
wailings of grief and agony. The happiness and the joy of deliverance
were gone. He was alone!--all, all alone. The friends whom he had
loved--all that he had known of love and friendship on earth--were gone
for ever. And as he gazed, in mourning and sadness, upon the ghastly
forms of the sleepers, he almost wished that he had been taken with
them.




CHAPTER III.--THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT.


OVER a period of ten years take we now the reader. It is a movement
easily made by us who have only to write and read of it, but what a
flood of life has flowed on and emptied into the great ocean of eternity
during that lapse of time! Ten years ago many a frail barque started
forth upon the voyage of life with a fair wind, a smooth sea, and a
clear sky; while others there were who had been long upon the voyage,
and were sailing prosperously on. But during these ten years how many of
the voyages have been met by the storms and the winds, and while yet the
looked-for haven was far distant, have foundered and gone down! Some
have sailed out the proposed voyage; entered the haven of eternal rest
through the gates of age; furled their worn and tattered sails, and
cheerfully resigned the crumbling timbers of their earthly barks as they
were ready to stop upon the bright and beautiful shore where storms and
tempests can come no more for ever. But, thanks to the Giver of all
Good, even the poor shipwrecked mariner need not be without the chart of
hope and salvation. God hath given to him a compass by which he may
surely guide his spirit barque to the realms of eternal rest; and the
dreadful storm is robbed of half its terrors to him whose chief anchors
in the hour of mortal peril are faith and hope.

The old ship Hector--peace to her shattered timbers!--had almost passed
from the memory of man, and even a remembrance of her devoted crew dwelt
only in the bosoms of a few. Noel Bradford, after many days of wandering
and signalising, had been taken from the island by an English East
Indiaman, and now, at the age of two and twenty, we find him second in
command of one of the largest and best ships that ever spread canvas in
the service of the East India Company. The memory of a kind act--an act
that had saved his life when starvation upon a desolate island had
already placed its wasting grip upon him--and the uniform love and
kindness he had met at the hands of his new companions and shipmates,
all served to warm his soul with generous gratitude, and hence it is
that we find him contentedly quartered and rationed beneath the glorious
old British flag.

It was on a pleasant day in the early part of the Indian summer that the
noble ship Atlas was preparing to leave Calcutta. She had on board,
besides the crew, Lord and Lady Warrington, their son and daughter, and
their servants. The former had been acting as Governor General of the
British dominions in the Indies, but having found the duties more
arduous, and the responsibilities more complicated and wearying than he
deemed his health would permit, he had resigned the commission, and was
about to return to England. In his general manners he was affable and
easy; by nature frank and just, but the conscious dignity of position
was not to be set aside. He was of an old family, and wore his titled
honors with becoming pride, though with nothing of hauteur. The wife was
a pleasant, happy lady in her own circle; but her ideas of lordly
propriety were very rigid, and she seldom unbent to those below her. The
son, Robert--a youth of three-and-twenty--seemed to care but little for
sounding names and empty titles so long as the world went smoothly with
him, and he could enjoy friendship through his father's wealth and
standing. Grace Warrington, the daughter, was one of those rare
exceptions, which are sometimes met with among the lordly families of
the old world, who take people for what they are--who would stoop to
pluck a sweet flower, or to pick up a pearl by the way-side, but pass in
cool disdain by the glare and tinsel that glitters only for the eyes of
fashion, and is without fragrance and without inborn lustre of heart.
She had basked in the sunshine of eighteen happy summers, with the bloom
of health and loveliness growing deeper and richer upon her radiant
face, and was the pride of her parents, and the darling and dearly
beloved of her true hearted brother.

That Grace Warrington was beautiful to look upon no one could deny,--a
single glance was sufficient for the proof,--but the deeper traits of
beauty--the essentials of her character--her deep seated, inherent love
and reverence for the pure and the good--the gentle spirit of
benevolence and charity that dwelt always in her bosom, and was always
active--the quick, bounding impulse which answered in smiles to the
happiness of others, and in tears to others' woes--and withal, that
noble pride in virtue and truth, begetting true maidenly modesty--those
things only became manifest to those who looked deeper than the mere
contour and grace of form and feature.

Everything was in readiness, and as soon as the men had eaten their
dinners Captain McIvor told Noel Bradford that he might get the ship
under way.

"For," he added, as he gave the order to his lieutenant, "the lighter
which is about to return to the city must take back our receipts to the
agent, and I have not yet proved and signed them. So you may get the
ship off as soon as you can, while I fill up the blanks in the returns."

"I think I shall go and help," said Grace Warrington, starting from her
father's side with a light, ringing laugh. "You like help, don't you,
Mr. Bradford?"

"Certainly, my lady," replied Noel, with a bright, warm smile. And then,
taking his trumpet, he turned toward the companion way.

"Stop, sir, stop!" cried the buoyant hearted girl, as she threw a silken
mantle over her shoulders. "If I am to help you get your ship off, you
must assist me up this awkward ladder."

Noel extended his hand, and when Grace had taken it, which she did with
a firm, confiding grasp, he politely assisted her to the deck.

The touch of that fair hand, and the beaming of those lustrous eyes,
might have sent a thrill of pleasure to the heart of a stoic; and it is
no matter of wonder that our youthful hero experienced a peculiar
sensation as he found himself the recipient of such trust and
confidence. The whole voyage might have passed, and Noel would never
have intruded himself upon the society of one whom he considered so far
above him in point of rank and wealth; but now that the lady had so
frankly and freely offered her companionship, for the present, at least,
he felt no hesitation in making himself as agreeable as possible; though
more than once he felt a strange fluttering of the heart as he met the
warm light of those beaming eyes.

Merrily sounded the cheerful song of the hardy sailors as they walked
around the capstan. They were now heaving up the anchor for home, and
the cable was taken in with a will. At length the larboard anchor was
up, and the messenger was nippered to the cable of the starboard anchor.
Again the song arose cheerily upon the breeze--around went the
capstan--and ere long the anchor was reported to be "a-peak."

"Man the braces, fore and aft," ordered Noel, when the ship had been
brought directly over the anchor, and the topsails had been sheeted
home, and the yards hoisted. "Haul home the larboard fore
braces,--starboard braces aft. That's it.--Belay. Now to the
capstan--again.--Lively, boys!"

While the seamen were engaged in obeying the last order, Noel was called
upon by his fair companion to explain the why's and wherefore's of the
various operations.

"Why do you have the yards turned in different directions?" she asked,
pointing to where the larboard fore and main yard-arms almost touched
each other.

"Ah, my lady, I fear you would fail to comprehend were I to explain,"
replied the young officer, gazing with deferential admiration into the
animated face of his interlocutor.

"Never mind that, Mr. Bradford. I would like for you to tell me,
nevertheless."

"With pleasure," quickly responded Noel, whose eyes were aglow with
grateful light. "You observe that our ship now lies with her head
exactly to the wind; and, also, that our true course is very nearly in
the same direction?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well,--as soon as the anchor breaks ground we wish to cast to
starboard, and----"

"Oh, fie, Mr. Bradford! If you would explain, you must speak so that I
can understand."

There was something so free and so happy in the look and bearing of the
beautiful girl, and she spoke with such charming frankness and candor,
that the young man stood for a time like one entranced; but presently he
recollected himself, and replied--

"When I say, 'cast to starboard,' I mean that we wish the ship's head to
turn to the right."

"There,--Now I can understand."

"A little more comprehensive, I suppose. Well,--as soon as the anchor
breaks ground, you can see that the wind will strike upon the head sails
in such a manner as to turn the ship in the right direction; and then,
when we fill away, we shall be able to make a good leg on the larboard
tack."

"O, dear! 'A good leg on the larboard tack!' There,--I'll give it up."

"I mean," said Noel, a little confused, "when the ship has got the right
cast, and we let go and haul forward, we shall catch the wind a-port,
you see,--and with everything----"

A light, ringing laugh interrupted the lieutenant's very clear and lucid
explanation, and as the anchor was breaking its hold, he was forced to
give his attention to his duty. But he promised Grace that he would yet
give her a complete understanding of the mystery and its peculiar
vocabulary.

As the anchor broke ground the ship's head gracefully fell off to
starboard; the after sails soon filled, the jib was hoisted, and the
helm righted.

"But we don't sail any," said Grace Warrington, when she had watched for
several moments the drawing sails.

"Oh, no," replied Noel, with a happy smile. "You observe that the
fore-topsail is receiving the wind upon its front surface, which tends
to drive the ship astern; while the after sails operating in an opposite
direction, counterbalance the tendency. But the moment those head yards
are braced around the other way, the ship will begin to gather headway.
You understand that, don't you?"

"O, yes," answered the enthusiastic girl, gazing up at the swelling
canvas. "I declare, I should like to be a sailor--to live upon the sea!"

"With no friends to comfort and cheer save the rough seas of the ocean?"
cried Noel, with a solemn shadow upon his handsome face.

For a moment Grace gazed upon her companion with an earnest, enquiring
look. It may be that the moisture in her eye gathered into a tear; but,
at all events, there was deep sympathy in her expression, and soft,
generous music in her voice, as she replied--

"I fear you do not set a full value upon the love of these rough seas of
the ocean, Mr. Bradford. Ah, there must be something deeper and richer
in the wealth of those stout hearts than is to be found in the circle of
fashion where my steps have been wont to follow the lead of parents and
friends. I always feel that beneath the homely garb of the true and
honest sailor there beats a heart as warm and as trustful as earth can
know; and that the soul so inured to danger in all its forms must needs
bear firmest friendship and devotion in the hour of need and peril. O, I
love to gaze upon their cheerful, honest faces!"

"Your sentiments are true and noble, dear lady," returned Noel, with
quivering lip. "But--but----"

"But what?" interposed Grace, as her companion hesitated. "Did I
mistake?"

"No, no, lady--you spoke most truly. You say true when you say that the
hardy son of the ocean has a heart full of wealth, and that his soul is
the soul of pure and devoted friendship; but you cannot tell all, for
you do not know all. There are emotions which stir the spirit of the
ocean child, as his thoughts dwell in the future, which you may not
comprehend. Your sex naturally turn to the man of true heart and strong
arm for support, and I thank God there be some, like your own fair self,
who can perceive the jewel of true manhood, even though it be incrusted
in the rough exterior of the honest mariner. But the true man--he whose
aspirations lead heavenward--be he high or lowly, longs for a purer,
holier love than can be found in the stern surroundings of ocean life.
Ah! when storm-tossed and wrecked--when driven about under clouds and
gloom, upon my home of vast waters, I have ever found true and
sympathising friends; and yet there hath been yearning for a softer, a
sweeter, and more tender love. Stout arms have been near to support me;
but no gentle, affection-warmed bosom upon which I might pillow my
aching brow, in trustful, confiding peace and joy!"

While Noel had been speaking Grace had kept her gaze fastened upon his
radiant features; but as he closed she turned away her head to hide an
emotion which she could not repress, and which she might not have
defined had she sought its solution. The youthful officer feared that
the impulse of his feelings might have led him to say more than he
ought, though he had only given utterance to sentiments that were
continually in his silent reveries, and in a lower and more subdued tone
he added--

"I trust, lady, that I have not overstepped the bounds of propriety."

Grace turned her bright, beaming orbs full upon him--orbs warm and
overflowing with liquid light--and was upon the point of reply, when her
parents appeared upon the deck. What she would have said remained
unspoken, and more than once, during the next half hour, as her eyes
rested upon the young lieutenant, did she ask herself why she had
hesitated to trust her feelings in speech while her father and her
mother were so near.

The captain came up with the papers for the lighter, and when the
messenger to whom they were entrusted had stepped over the side, the
head yards were braced around, the top gallant sails set, the courses
spread, and the Atlas was upon her way homeward.

Not until the chill dampness of night began to permeate the atmosphere
did Grace Warrington leave the deck; and as she reached the
companion-way she cast one more earnest glance upon Noel Bradford,
murmuring to herself as she did so--

"Can it be that I have known him in other years? Where--where have I met
that face before?"




CHAPTER IV.--A FEARFUL INTERRUPTION?


THE voyage from India to England, ere steam had come to lend her transit
aid to man upon the sea, was long and tedious; and those who entered
upon it might have safely calculated upon finding a home on shipboard
for nearly half the year. In the main cabin of the Atlas were quartered
Captain McIvor and his principal officer; Lord and Lady Warrington;
Robert and Grace; besides Mr. Sampson, a gentleman past the middle-age,
who had been formerly an extensive merchant and ship owner, but who,
under reduced circumstances, and a broken state of health, was now
officiating as supercargo in the employ of the East India Company. His
lordship loved his ease, so he and Mr. Sampson discussed politics and
played chess. Her ladyship, on the contrary, liked to be moving about,
and Captain McIvor had to do the honors of her escort. Robert Warrington
loved to sit with the sailors, upon the forecastle, and listen to their
interesting yarns, so that to Noel Bradford was often left the duty of
caring for the Lady Grace. And thus matters seemed to be cleverly
arranged for the voyage.

Noel kept his promise with regard to instructing Grace in the various
evolutions and technicalities of shipboard, and she proved an apt
scholar, and very often, in pleasant weather, before entering the trade
winds, did she ascend the block, trumpet in hand, and issue all the
requisite orders for tacking ship. The ringing of her silvery notes upon
the breeze was a source of cheer to the men, and never did the yards
swing more briskly than when the word of command had come from her lips.
When she had seen the braces belayed, and the backstays properly set up,
she would resign her post with a happy, buoyant look, and smile sweetly
and gratefully as she received the approbation of her tutor.

It was a pleasant task for Noel Bradford--far far too pleasant, and ere
long he found it to be a dangerous one! The gentle, lovely being who was
so often by his side, sharing his most ardent thoughts, and his deepest,
warmest emotions, was binding cord after cord about his heart, the
tenacious strands of which were not to be broken without much pain and
anguish.

The last dog-watch had been set; the sun had gone down into its bed of
waters; and the gentle moon, high up in the heavens, where its face had
been paled by the king of day, was beginning to shed her beams upon the
trackless deep. Noel and Grace had been for some time engaged in an
interesting conversation, but as the air grew damp and chill the fair
girl bade her companion good night, and sought the shelter of the cabin.
For some minutes after she had gone the young officer sat in deep
meditation, and, as he was in the act of arising from his seat, he felt
a hand upon his shoulder. He turned as he arose, and beheld Robert
Warrington.

"I hope I do not intrude," said Robert, leaning against the rail.

"Not at all," replied Noel. "To me your company is always welcome."

"Mr. Bradford," continued young Warrington in a tone far more sober and
serious than was his wont, "it has cost me an effort to bring myself to
my present purpose, and you must not be offended at what I may say. For
some time I have desired to speak with you upon a most important
subject, and I have resolved to seize the present opportunity."

"Anything that you may say will be taken kindly by me," returned Noel,
"for I am assured that only in kindness would you seek to address me."

"You are right, sir. And now let us come to it at once. I have not been
unmindful of the growing intimacy between yourself and my sister
and----"

"Sir!"

"Be patient," said Robert, as he saw his companion start and tremble. "I
have watched your intercourse, not with the eye of an eavesdropper, but
with the eye of a brother, and surely I must have been blind if I had
failed to see the tendency thereof. Now I ask you, as a man, and as a
true friend--and I trust you will answer as such--can you lay your hand
upon your heart and solemnly declare that in the depths of your inner
feeling there dwells no other emotion toward my sister than that of mere
friendship?"

Noel met the gaze of his interlocutor, but did not immediately reply. He
could not say Yes; and he hesitated to acknowledge to himself his
inability to say No. At length he returned, rather evasively--

"What can I be to the daughter of one of England's proudest nobles?"

"That is the very thing I would have asked you," replied Robert.

The young officer started, stammered, and was silent.

"Dear Mr. Bradford----"

"Stop!" cried Noel, putting forth his hand. Then he bowed his head, and
a mighty struggle shook his frame. At length he looked up, and drew his
friend further away from the look-out.

"Mr. Warrington," he said, with sad and solemn calmness, "I fear I
cannot lead you to appreciate or understand the feelings of one like
myself. Since the day of my earliest boyhood I have been at the mercy of
wind and wave; a football of fortune; with no companionship save the
heart of the sturdy seaman; no home but the ocean, and with no source of
hope or aspiration save such as I could carve, with my own hands, from
the stern and unpromising material which fate had thrown around me. The
smile of kind parents never warmed my throbbing heart in the years of my
toil; nor can I call to mind one bright memory of my earliest childhood
home. The love of brother and sister was never mine, and I know not that
beneath the arching vault of yonder heaven there breathes a human being
who can claim kindred blood with me. When I had seen and known your
sister--when she had smiled with my joy, and grown sad at the recital of
my sorrows--when she had spoken kindly to me, and had seemed to trust me
and confide in me--a new and entrancing orb of light had arisen in the
heaven of my soul. My heart swelled and bounded in her presence, and
beneath the radiant smile of her happy, truthful face, and the celestial
beaming of her lustrous eyes, I felt a strange, delicious joy. I have
basked in the warm sunlight of her generous sympathy, and have dwelt in
rapture upon the melody of her sweet voice. In a few short weeks we
shall separate, and the poor child of the ocean will once more be alone.
Whatever may be the feelings that have grown up in my bosom toward the
gentle girl whom God hath given to you for a sister, they shall never
escape from my lips, but deep down in my soul let them lie, and in after
years I may sometimes call them forth from their sacred rest, and dwell
again and again in the joys of their undying, fadeless memory. She is a
noble girl, and may God, in his infinite mercy, ever give her friends as
faithful and devoted as I could have been had fortune found me a station
in which I might aspire to serve her. I can be nothing to her. Grace
Warrington will soon forget the companion of her voyage, and if there be
sorrow at parting it must fall upon my own heart!"

A bright tear rolled down the speaker's cheek, and instinctively he
turned away to hide it, and in doing so he did not observe the dewy
drops that had gathered in the eyes of his companion. Robert Warrington
had been deeply moved, for he possessed a warm and generous heart, and
he knew full well that wealth and lordly titles could never make such
true nobility as marked the man who now stood by his side. Several times
he started to speak, and as often put the words back; but finally he
laid his hand upon Bradford's arm, and said,--

"Noel!"

The young man started at this friendly, familiar address and turned
toward the speaker.

"I fear you are deceiving yourself."

"Deceiving myself?"

"Yes."

"In what respect?"

"Think you my sister hath no heart? Think you she is cold and soulless?"

"How!--Your sister?" exclaimed Noel, gazing almost wildly into the face
of young Warrington. "Do you mean--But--No, no,--that cannot be."

"What cannot be?"

"That your sister could ever feel aught toward me but a common, grateful
friendship. No, no,--the petted daughter of Lord Warrington could never
stoop to warmer sentiments toward the nameless wanderer!"

"Noel Bradford," returned Robert, with deep and solemn earnestness, "the
distinction of title and wealth may turn the light head, and dazzle the
fanciful eye, and bond and shape and govern the will and purpose of the
base and the cringing and the needy; but the God-made heart, true to
itself and to its holier aspirations, bends not to the empty name of
inherited power. My father and mother, from long habit, have come to
recognise--in fact, they realise--no other standard of social worth save
rank and fortune; and they are prone to think that all others in high
stations must be like them. To them the idea of their daughter's forming
an attachment below her station would be too absurd for consideration;
but I am younger, and can look down into my sister's bosom through the
eye of sympathy; and I fear that the heart which has held itself unmoved
before the assaults of lordly rank has at length thrown open its portals
to one as poor and as friendless as yourself."

"Do I understand you?" hoarsely whispered Noel, grasping Robert
nervously by the arm.

"It would be foolish for me to attempt to cloke the truth," pursued
Warrington. "But I think I may trust in your honor, and to your own
sense of manly duty. That my sweet sister has been as deeply drawn, in
heart, toward yourself, as you have been toward her, I can read in her
every look and action, when she is with you, and when she is absent from
you. In short, I am sure she has conceived a passion for you as deep and
as strong as I fear it may be lasting and dangerous!"

Again Noel Bradford turned away, this time to hide the emotions which he
did not care that human eye should behold. He struggled manfully and
long, but even in his hopelessness he could not shut his eyes to the new
world of love that had burst into existence before him. At length,
however, he calmed himself, and turning to his friend he laid his hand
frankly upon his arm.

"Robert, I will not affect to misunderstand you. You may trust in my
honor. But, O! God grant that the bright and beatific vision which hath
this night been opened to my senses, be not banished for ever from me!
If, in the years to come, I can raise myself to a position somewhere
near your own point of wealth and social influence, I may then dare to
speak what I must now hold in silence."

"I, with all my heart, pray God that the time may come!" said Robert, as
he warmly grasped the hand of the lieutenant. "I have spoken thus freely
that you might know upon what ground you stood; and I feel sure that you
will thank me, and that during the remainder of the voyage you will be
guarded and circumspect in the expression of your feelings. I ask this
for my sister's sake; and for the welfare of that dear girl I know you
would do much."

Noel would have replied, but before he could shape the words from his
overcharged heart, Robert drew him away to a seat, and then continued,
with a marked change in his manner--

"Now, Noel, I am going to take a liberty; and I must ask you again, not
to take offence. I have no disposition to flatter, but still I cannot
help wondering that one who has been reared as you have been should be
so thoroughly educated in polite and classic branches, and so highly and
truly endowed with all the qualities of a gentleman."

Noel Bradford smiled a faint, unassuming smile, and with modest
frankness he replied--

"I can only tell you that I have but followed the impulses of my nature.
Even in my boyhood's days--when I packed into a small handkerchief all
my worldly effects, and started forth, alone and friendless, to begin
the battle of life--there was within me a spirit that continually
whispered of high and noble things. Great deeds caused my heart to
swell, sweet music had wondrous charm for me, poetry found response of
love in my soul; and my own intuition told me that only one path could
lead to the goal of honor and renown. In that far off hour ambition was
my guiding spirit, and I have not yet broken from her leading strings."

"And ambition has been your grand, your only incentive?"

"Not my only incentive," returned Noel, in tones softly and sweetly
subdued. "You will smile, and perhaps ridicule me, when I tell you that
for long years a strange, angelic presence--a spirit essence--has seemed
to be near me in watchful guard; and that I have often seen it----"

"In your dreams, of course."

"No," replied Noel, slowly and emphatically, shaking his head. "I have
seen it when my senses were as wakeful as they are at this present
moment. The first time I remember to have seen it was during my first
voyage upon the ocean. I was then twelve years old. It came while I lay
in my hammock, and bade me be brave, and true, and hopeful, assuring me
that fame might be mine in the future. The next time I beheld it was on
that fearful night that saw the doomed Hector crashed in pieces upon the
rocks by the fierce, devouring elements, when I was the only soul that
outlived the dreadful storm. In my boyish desire to behold more fully
the terrific grandeur of the tempest tossed sea I had ventured out upon
the bowsprit, and there secured myself upon the soft bunt of the
fore-stay sail. They tried to call me back, assuring me that I was
seeking my death, but to my seemingly perilous position was I to owe my
life; for, when the ship struck, her bows were driven high up and wedged
in between two cliffs, where I was held clear of the whelming flood;
while my companions, who had all retired to the quarter-deck, were swept
away and lost. On that fatal night, while the ship was being dashed
madly toward the rocks the sweet presence, in robes white like the
light, sat by my side, and softly whispered, in notes of ravishing
melody--'Be not afraid, my brother, I am with thee!'----But--what is
the matter? Have I frightened you?"

"No, no--I was only thinking. Go on--go on."

"I can only say, further," added Noel, "that many a time since that dark
hour, when my heart has been bowed with grief, and hope refused her fair
support, that sweet face has shone upon me from the gloom--those
wondrous eyes of heavenly blue have gleamed like stars of promise before
me, and I have taken new courage, and moved on."

"How long is it since you were wrecked in the Hector?"

"Just ten years the first of this present month."

"Strange!--very strange!" murmured Robert Warrington, communing with
himself. "Grace may be right, after all."

Then turning to his companion, he asked--

"Do you remember anything of your parents?"

"Of my father I remember nothing, save a misty, phantom like, scene of
death, in the midst of poverty and wretchedness. But it is only a faint
impression--as the picture of a dream. Of my mother I only know that she
died when I was in my twelfth year, and I saw them bury her in the cold
ground. She had not the wherewith to purchase a crust of bread when she
died, and I came forth into the wide world utterly penniless. But what
means your strange intensity of emotion? What is there in my simple
recital that has thus moved you?"

"There is much--much," replied Robert, gazing earnestly into the face of
our hero.

Noel was upon the point of urging further enquiry upon a subject that
had enlisted both interest and wonder, when he was startled by the cry
of one of the men at that moment engaged in throwing the log--

"Sail ho!"

The lieutenant started to his feet and hastened aft, and following with
his eye the direction indicated by the look-out, he distinctly made out
a large brig just crossing the ship's wake. He called for the
night-glass, and was seen able to get a good view of the stranger. It
was a puzzle to him how she could have got so near without having been
before discovered. The unusual stir upon deck had called up the inmates
of the cabin, and when Noel lowered the glass he found the captain, with
Lord Warrington and Grace, waiting to hear his report.

"What do you make of her, Mr. Bradford?"

"Will you look for yourself, sir?"

McIvor took the glass, and as the young lieutenant stepped back there
was a perceptible tremor in his frame; and a shadow of pain flitted
across his face as his eyes rested for the moment upon Grace Warrington.

The brig was not more than half a mile distant, and by the aid of the
powerful glass, under the light of the moon, she could be very plainly
made out. She had hauled upon the wind, and was fast coming up.

"Is there danger?" asked Lord Warrington, who had not failed to read the
silent report in Bradford's look and manner.

"If a heavy pirate is dangerous, then I fear there is," returned the
captain.

"A pirate!" cried Grace, springing to Noel's side, and grasping him by
the arm.

"They must pass my dead body, lady, ere----"

At that instant a bright volume of flame poured out from the brig's
bows, and a round shot came tearing through the spanker.

Lord Warrington took his child by the arm, and conducted her to the
cabin.




CHAPTER V.--THE OCEAN BATTLE.


AFTER all that has been told and written of pirates, very few of those
who never experienced the sensation can form any adequate idea of the
dreadful, sinking, palsying emotions of the doomed seamen who, upon the
trackless deep, far removed from human succor, finds a swift-winged,
bloodthirsty buccaneer at his heels.

"That's an ugly customer," said Captain McIvor, to his lieutenant, after
all hands had been called to quarters.

"And one not to be easily avoided or overcome," returned Noel.

"Her deck is literally crowded with men, and I can plainly see the
knives glitter in their belts," pursued the captain, with his gaze fixed
upon the brig.

As the last words were spoken another shot came whizzing over the deck,
accompanied by the report of a gun, which, from its sharp ringing tone,
they knew to be of brass. McIvor started toward the wheel, and then
turned again to the rail.

"Something must be done--and that, too, immediately," he said; "for we
cannot afford to offer a target for the pirate's shot at such a range."

"There can be certainly no use in attempting to run," remarked Noel,
"for the brig has the quicker heels, and may follow, and riddle us at
pleasure, giving us no chance of defence. You have six men servants, my
lord?"

"Yes," replied Warrington, who had come again upon the deck, after
having given Grace in charge to her mother.

"And can they fight?"

"Five of them have been bred to little else than fighting from boyhood."

Noel reflected a moment, and then said--

"We have thirty five men before the mast. Then there are three officers
on duty besides the captain and myself, making forty. Your men will make
forty-five, and yourself, with Robert and Mr. Sampson, will make
forty-eight--and well armed at that. I think we had better heave to."

Another shot came over the water, this time crashing through the boat on
the starboard quarter, and the splinters flew about like hail.

"That must be stopped, at all events," cried Robert Warrington. "The
cabin may take the next one."

The wind as from the west, and the Atlas had it upon the larboard beam,
while the pirate, having crossed the ship's wake to leeward, was now
coming up, with her larboard tacks aboard, but with the wind free.

"Down with the helm, and let her come up," ordered the captain. "Stand
by to lay the main top-sail aback!"

In a very few minutes the mainsail had been clewed up, and the topsail
laid to the mast. As the headway of the ship was thus stopped it could
not be long before the brig would be alongside. In those days the East
India Company never suffered their ships to leave port without plenty of
arms; so the Atlas had a full arm-chest, and a sufficient magazine. Each
man had served to him two heavy boarding-pistols and a good cutlass, and
as the captain and his friends looked upon the crew, firmly and
resolutely awaiting the contest, they began to take hope, for the
bulwarks were high, and the pirates might have difficulty in boarding.
Twenty-four muskets stood by the mainmast, loaded with bullets and
slugs; and, take her all in all, the old Atlas did not present a very
easy subject for conquest.

"She will throw her grapplings between our main and mizzen weather
rigging," said Noel, to whom had been given command of the crew. "She
has luffed for that point. Secure your pistols, my men, and take the
muskets. Lie low under the bulwarks, and stand by to fire the moment you
can get the order. Be sure of your aim before you let your bullets fly."

The four-and-twenty men who had the muskets were stationed along under
the bulwarks between the main and mizzen rigging, while the officers,
armed to the teeth, and the remainder of the crew, were alone visible
from the deck of the brig. There was no fear in Noel's mind of shrinking
on the part of his men; for too well they knew that bold, hard fighting
was their only source of hope. At the hands of the dread enemy with whom
they had now to deal, a cry for quarter would only be a submission to
sure death.

The pirate's long jib-boom came sweeping up under the quarter, and with
her deck swarming with savage looking wretches she presented a sight not
at all pleasing. The long brass gun upon her forecastle shone like
burnished gold in the moonbeams, and the smaller guns winch graced her
sides were of a stern looking character.

"Ship ahoy!" shouted a voice from the low deck of the brig.

"Hallo!" returned McIvor. "What ship is that?"

"The Atlas, of London."

The men, save those four-and-twenty with the muskets, were leaning over
the rail, with their weapons out of sight, as though only eager to see
what manner of craft had approached them; and the pirates very naturally
supposed that they had seen the full force of the ship.

"We will come on board," said the pirate, after he had given the order
for putting up the helm.

"Come, if you must," returned McIvor. "We cannot prevent you. But we can
defend ourselves if you offer violence."

An oath, and a mocking laugh, were the only answer, and in a moment more
the brig's side touched the ship. Nearly fourscore bloodthirsty villains
stood upon the low rail, ready to jump as soon as they were laid
alongside.

"Stand by!" spoke Noel, in a suppressed tone, as the pirates crowded
closely together, ready for the leap--crowding and pushing, and fondly
thinking that only those inert looking men were they to meet.

"Fire!"

In an instant were the musketeers upon their feet, with their pieces
levelled. Each man felt that upon the result of his shot might depend
the fate of himself and companions, and with cool, deliberate aim they
each and all discharged their bullets and slugs into the dense mass of
wicked humanity that thronged the waist and forecastle of the brig; and
then throwing aside their emptied muskets, they drew cutlass and pistol,
and, with their companions, awaited the onset.

Fiendish and horrible were the oaths and imprecations of the pirates
when they had received the death-dealing fire of the Atlas' men; and
with impetuous, reckless haste, they leaped to the ship's chains, and
began to make their way over the bulwarks. A full score of their number
had been either killed or utterly disabled, so that their boarding force
was considerably diminished. The first man that showed his head above
the quarter-rail was shot down by Noel Bradford; and for a time the
boarders were successfully repelled, but the pistols were at length all
discharged, and then the pirates began to work their way over the
bulwarks. They were well used to the work before them, and many of them
were able to defend themselves against the ship's crew until they had
gained the deck; but they gained it at their cost, for beneath the
well-aimed blows of the hardy, determined seaman their numbers grew less
and less.

The pirates would not have been in such haste to board had they known
the reception that was in store for them; but would have laid off and
brought the ship to terms with her guns. Now, however, it was too late
to retreat, and with the fierceness of men schooled in deeds of blood
and rapine, they fought their way. But they had found a foe who could
fight as well as they. The Englishmen's lives were at stake. If they
would ever see dear old England again, and once more meet kindred and
friends, they must strike for the privilege.

Noel Bradford was the presiding genius of the conflict. In this hour a
soul that had been cradled in the lap of danger from earliest childhood
arose to the height of a bravery and daring sublime. Death followed the
sweep of his trenchant blade, and his arm knew no fatigue. Grace
Warrington was in danger, and should the ship be captured, a fate too
dreadful for thought must be hers. The inspiration of that noble,
devoted impulse gave him wondrous power, while a protecting fate seemed
to guard him on his ensanguined way.

Twelve of the Indiaman's crew had fallen, but the enemy had lost more
than thrice that number. At length, as the contestants grew weak and
weary with the terrible work, the pirates retreated to the forecastle,
where they formed a solid front, while those in the rear began to load
their firearms. They even now outnumbered the ship's crew, and for the
moment our hero trembled for the result. The fighting had abated, both
parties seeming to have mutually agreed to take breath. Noel had dropped
the point of his reeking cutlass to the deck, when he was called by a
voice from the cabin companion-way; and upon turning he beheld the head
of Mr. Sampson, whom he had missed some time before from the deck.

"Mr. Bradford!"

"Sir?"

"Come nearer."

Noel approached.

"The muskets are all loaded."

"Muskets!--loaded!" repeated the lieutenant, stepping nearer, and gazing
down the companion-way.

"All loaded and primed--double-shotted, and slugged," returned Sampson.

Noel comprehended it all now, and the sight that met his gaze at the
foot of the ladder infused new spirit into his soul. There stood Grace
Warrington, with the barrels of a dozen muskets supported in her arms, a
flush of conscious pride making glorious her beautiful features as she
thus stood armed in the common cause.

"Aft, here!--Quick, my men--quick!" exclaimed our hero, motioning with
his cutlass. "Leap into the cabin, Harrold--and you, Vialle, and pass up
the muskets. Bear a hand, Mr. Sampson!"

The pirates discovered this movement too late; and ere they could break
their solid front the muskets had been levelled upon them.

"Steady, my men," said Noel. "Be sure of your aim. Let each take his
opposite man. Fire!"

At the word the four-and-twenty muskets again rang out their death peal.
The aim had been deliberate, and as the smoke cleared away the hopes of
the Englishmen arose. The pirates were clambering over the bulwarks upon
the bowsprit of their own vessel; and two of them bore in their arms the
form of their chieftain. With a loud shout the merchantmen grasped their
cutlasses and sprang forward; and such of the buccaneers as had not
gained the deck of the brig were driven overboard.

"Cast off those grapplings!" ordered Noel, as the last of the pirates
leaped the rail. "Lee main braces! Up with the helm! Give the main
topsail to the wind! Stand by to set the courses!"

These orders were soon obeyed, and ere long the ship turned her head
from her enemy, and began to move away. There was fear that the pirates
might again resort to their heavy guns; but they did not. They evidently
had work enough on their hands in attending to the wounded, and allowed
the Indiaman to get away without further molestation.

Our brave and steady seamen were thankful for their deliverance; but
there was gloom even in the hour of their joy. The moon, now settling in
the western heavens, cast her pale beams aslant the deck, tinging with
ghostly shimmer the stark forms of those who had fallen. Noel Bradford
moved to the spot where the twelve corpses had been arranged in the
gangway, and in silent grief the mourning shipmates gathered around him.
With bared head and reverent attitude, the lieutenant breathed a
fervent, eloquent prayer; and the responsive "Amen!" from the lips of
the crew was as though one spirit had possessed all tongues.

As the mourners were separating, Grace Warrington came up from the
cabin, and sank, weak and faint, into her brother's arms. During the
conflict her nerves had been strung to their utmost tension; but now
that the danger was past, the wondrous strength departed, and when she
knew that she could give aid no more to those who fought for her, she
clung to stronger arms for support.

"Safe, safe! We are safe, my sister!" said Robert, as he found the
eagerly lighted, enquiring eyes opened upon him.

"And is he safe?"

"Our father has not been harmed."

"But Noel--Mr. Bradford?"

"He, too, is safe," answered Robert, with no thought of blame in that
hour for the sweet girl who thus betrayed her deep interest in the
welfare of one who had done so much for them all.

The young lieutenant heard the question, and he marked the tremulous,
eager accents; and his ear failed not to catch the fervent "Thank God!"
that fell from her lips when she had heard her brother's answer. He
would have given worlds, had he possessed them, for the privilege of
taking that gentle being to his bosom, as Robert held her to his; but he
could only stand apart, and gaze in silent, prayerful longing upon her
transcendent features, as the beams of the sinking moon now touched them
with a subdued and silvery sweetness.

"Mr Bradford," exclaimed Lord Warrington, stepping forward, and grasping
the young man's hand, "you have behaved most bravely--most nobly--and
your reward shall be something more than mere empty thanks."

"I have tried to do my duty, sir," modestly replied Noel, "and if I have
succeeded in meriting your approval, I am fully rewarded."

"But it lies in my power to give you a more substantial reward; and you
shall have it, too," pursued Lord Warrington, still holding the youth by
the hand.

"A more substantial reward?" whispered our hero, a dim vision of
celestial brightness for the moment flashing upon him.

"Aye," returned his lordship. "I have much influence with the Admiralty;
and you may depend upon a commission that shall do you honor."

At another time Noel's heart would have bounded with joy at such a
promise; but there had been a thought of something higher, and a cloud
flitted across his flushed face. In a moment, however, he recollected
himself, and expressed his thanks for the kind offer.

The ship was once more upon her course, her decks cleared and cleansed,
while the pirate was just distinguishable in the dim distance, standing
to eastward before the wind.

The bodies of the fallen heroes had been prepared for sepulchre by being
carefully washed, and shrouded in their hammocks, and as the morning
broke the crew gathered around the gangway to pay their last tribute of
respect to the mortal remains of the dead. Gratings were laid across the
rail, and when the bodies had been placed thereon, Captain McIvor
stepped forward and read the burial service.

The eastern sky was all aglow with the warm tints of the new-born day as
the prayer was concluded, and on the instant when the remnants of
mortality were consigned to the grave of waters the first golden beams
of the morning sun came darting over the sea, bathing with glorious
splendor each shrouded form as it sank into the billowy sepulchre.




CHAPTER VI.--LOVE'S CONFESSION.


WITHOUT anything further to mar the comfort of the voyage the Atlas
arrived safely in Liverpool, whither she was bound. Lord Warrington and
his family took quarters at a hotel for a season, before leaving for
London. One evening, about a week after the arrival of the Indiaman,
Noel Bradford went to the hotel for the purpose of seeing his lordship,
and having found one of the family servants he delivered his card. Very
shortly the messenger returned, and desired Noel to follow him. At the
door of a private drawing-room he stopped, and ushered the lieutenant
in. The only inmate was Grace Warrington.

"Good evening, Mr. Bradford," said the fair young hostess, arising and
extending her hand.

"Ah,--Lady Grace!--Good evening. Is his lordship in?"

"No. Both he and my brother are out; but I expect them shortly."

"Then," said Noel, taking the chair which had been offered, "with your
permission I will wait, as my business is of importance, at least to
myself."

When the young officer proposed to remain and wait for his lordship, he
had been confident that he should at least make himself decently
agreeable and entertaining; but he was very soon to find that, to him,
the companionship of Grace Warrington in her own home, where he had no
right nor interest--no power and no word of authority--was a vastly
different affair from that same companionship upon his own deck, where
he could command, and where she looked to him for guidance and aid.
Words that had once glided freely and fluently, now stuck in his throat.
It was not an inability to converse; nor was it the result of native
diffidence; but the emotions that swelled within him were such as he
dared not breathe in that place, and in that presence. He remembered the
conversation he had held with Robert--he remembered his promise,--and he
could not forget the revelation which reached his ear on that eventful
night--a revelation every word of which now found echo in his thought,
and wrought upon his soul with whelming power. The silence was becoming
oppressive, and lifting his eyes to his companion's face, he said--

"Really, my lady, you must deem me very stupid. But, believe me, there
is no want of will. There is cause----"

He had blundered, and he stopped; and Grace, with a waking smile, half
playfully, and yet with unmistakeable interest, asked--

"What is the cause?"

Noel realised that he was not sufficiently versed in fashionable twaddle
to talk anything but the language of the heart, and he resolved that he
would be honest and straightforward.

"I will tell you," he replied, calling up an answering smile. "Our
acquaintance was formed under circumstances which rendered certain
results unavoidable. Confined by the narrow limits of shipboard, with
the society circumscribed, intimacies spring up from the eager demands
of the social nature, and are cultivated as they would not be cultivated
elsewhere. The full heart seeks companionship, and the soul, prone to
admire the sublime and the bountiful, must find a listening ear for its
speech; but when these circumstances cease to exist, the seeming
equality of the hour goes with them, and the charm is dissipated. To the
humble lieutenant the Lady Grace Warrington, in the titled and
aristocratic circle of home, is not the Grace Warrington of the long and
tedious sea voyage."

There had been a smile upon the beautiful face of the lady as Noel had
spoken, but when he ceased it had faded away; and with a perceptible
quivering of the lips she replied--

"Grace Warrington is Grace Warrington, and neither the society of the
metropolis, nor the society of shipboard, can make her else than she is.
Her friends are her friends, come they whence they may. She takes them
at the hands of God, accepting them as He made them, asking only that
they be after the standard and model of that lowly Nazarine, who drew
his first breath among the beasts of the manger, and breathed his last
upon the cross, reviled and condemned of men. Such friends no
circumstance can unmake."

"So speaks the heart," murmured Noel, hardly conscious of what he
said,--only aware of the rich melody that floated upon the air.

"Aye," replied Grace, impulsively. "It is the heart that speaks." And
then, in a lower tone she added--"Ah, Mr. Bradford, did we oftener
follow the dictates of that faithful monitor, how much brighter and more
peaceful would be the path of life. God grant that my heart may never be
cramped and crushed by the cold and calculating hand of mere external
propriety--only seeming propriety; but, in reality, wickedness and
folly."

"There is only one thing in the way of your success in the cultivation
of heart wealth," remarked Noel, with a smile, and a shake of the head:
"Those who constitute the world of fashion--which is, after all, the
great social world of England--seem, in their plans and movements in
society, to recognise no such thing as a heart. Custom, pride, pomp,
power of wealth and title, take the helm, while the heart--the
sensitive, shrinking heart--that would not meet the jeers of a cold and
senseless circle, must perforce hide its most holy impulses, and appear
the thing it is not; or it must bury itself in the ashes of its own
destruction. How can the true and upright nature, brave and frank and
generous, find social satisfaction in such an atmosphere? How long will
the weary, thirsty traveller remain upon the oasis, no matter how green
and verdant to the eye, which can furnish only poisoned water to the
famishing system?"

"What you say of our society is too true," said Grace, seriously. "'Tis
true the heart of Christianity throbs not in our fashionable body; but
there are individual hearts in our circle as free from the blight as any
that beat in the cloister or in the humble peasant's home."

"I believe you, lady."

"Hearts as free to bestow their wealth----" Grace had commenced very
frankly and impetuously; but she suddenly stopped, and hid her face with
her hands.

Noel Bradford was deeply, strangely moved. The pledge he had given to
Robert Warrington had been fulfilled. The voyage had been performed, and
he had not spoken to the gentle sister a single word of his love; but
now no promise trammelled his tongue--he was free to speak as he
pleased,--and the resolve came suddenly to him that he would know his
fate. He drew his chair nearer to his companion, and while his whole
frame trembled, he softly whispered--

"Pardon, pardon, lady, for the liberty I am about to take; and if I
offend, let the solemn assurance that the offence shall never be
repeated be your satisfaction."

"Noel Bradford must be wonderfully changed by contact with the land if
be could take a liberty which could offend a friend," said Grace,
looking furtively up into the young man's face.

"But," pursued our hero, hurriedly, "when the heart is full and
overflowing, the calmer judgment of the understanding may not be
responsible for its utterance."

"And yet," returned the lady, her eyes bent downward, "I would let the
heart manifest itself."

For some time Noel gazed in silence upon the bowed face of her who
presented such angelic attractions to his beating heart, and then, with
a voice made tremulous by the weight of the thoughts it was to set free,
he said--

"Lady, there is no need that I should recount the events of the past six
months; for you cannot have entirely forgotten them; but upon my
memory--upon the tablets of my inner heart--they are impressed in
characters which time can never efface. From the dawn of life to the
days of manhood I knew nothing of the world but to battle with its
storms and tempests; and, saving the ambition that was mine--the hope
that sometimes trimmed her lamp for me--I knew no real joys. Most men,
when surrounded by clouds and storm, can look back and live over again
some old joy of the past--they can dwell in fancy among the friends of
their earlier youth--amid the happy scenes of childhood. But such joys
were never mine. The past afforded me no pleasant scenes; upon the
picture of memory there were no bright or soul-cheering lights. To the
future alone could I look for rational joy. Hope did not forsake me,
though at times her torch burned very, very dimly. At length, in an hour
not foreseen, a bright and glorious star--a sun in its warmth and
vivifying power--arose upon my path, and with throbbing, joyous heart I
basked in its ravishing beams. You, lady, were the first to warm into
life the pure and holy emotions that had never found life before. In
vain was it that reason forbade the feeling--in vain that I sought to
overcome a passion which might only consume the heart that entertained
it. My soul listened to no reason--only the one deep passion of love had
place therein. From the first hour of our acquaintance I have loved you
as only a faithful heart, ever before unoccupied, can love; and now that
we are about to separate, I would know if the love has been entirely
vain and hopeless."

"About to separate?" repeated Grace, starting and gazing up through her
tears.

"Yes, lady."

"But you go with us to London?"

"No. Your father has already obtained for me a commission as a
lieutenant in the British navy, and I am to proceed at once to
Portsmouth."

"But you will visit us. You will not surely----"

She did not finish the sentence, her feelings seeming to have overcome
her. Noel marked the starting tear, the quivering lip, and the throbbing
bosom, and taking her hand within his own, he said--

"O, tell me--has it all been vain?"

Grace Warrington gazed for a moment up into the face of her companion,
and then, with beaming eye and rapturous look, she answered--

"I cannot deceive myself, nor will I attempt to deceive you. I do love
you, Noel, and I feel proud to own it; and far, far more proud in
knowing that I have won the love of a true and honorable man like
yourself."

"O, thank God for this!" cried the enraptured youth, pressing the fair
hand to his lips. "And may He grant that my high and glorious hope shall
end in fruition."

"Dear Noel, be not too hopeful," said the noble girl, giving to her
lover both her hands, and gazing up into his face with frank and gushing
affection. "To the society of which we have spoken I owe nothing; but to
my parents I owe much; and I need not tell you what, at present, would
be the decision of my father."

"I know all," returned Noel, bravely. "I can see the obstacles that lie
in my path, but the future is open before me--the way to fame and
station is not closed for ever; hope, bright, buoyant hope, shall light
me on; and while my arm retains its strength, and my heart its
integrity, I will not despair."

Before Grace could make reply, the sound of carriage wheels was heard in
the court, and by the time the youthful pair had become calm and
collected, Lord and Lady Warrington entered the apartment. Noel arose
and greeted them with polite cordiality and from his lordship he
received a warm welcome in return.

"I am sorry I disappointed you, Mr. Bradford; but I trust I have caused
you no pain of impatience."

"Not in the least, my lord."

"Business called me out," pursued Warrington; "and I am rather pleased
than otherwise that it did; for I have obtained a grand position for
you. You are appointed to a second lieutenancy on board a good frigate
now lying at Spithead; and in three days the sloop of war, now in the
harbor, will take you on board."

Our hero expressed his gratitude in the warmest terms, and shortly after
he arose, to take his leave.

"Whenever you have opportunity," said Lord Warrington, as the officer
was about to depart, "I desire you to remember that my house is always
open to you."

With a strangely throbbing heart, and with hope and doubt in equal
strife, Noel Bradford pursued his way to his own lodgings. The speech of
Grace still sounded with ravishing music in his ear; but the iron
mandate of the proud father stood as a stern, cruel barrier in his way,
and was not to be easily removed.




CHAPTER VII.--GUY DARRINGFORD.


ON the third day from that on which he received his commission, Noel had
everything in readiness for going on board the sloop-of-war. It was with
a heavy heart that he took leave of his old shipmates, for they were
true and loyal friends, as had been proved in the years of toil and
danger passed together. Stout and stern were the hearts of the hardy
sailors who gathered around our hero upon the quarterdeck of the old
Atlas on the afternoon when he stood there to bid them farewell; but
those same hearts were bent with pain and sorrow with the thoughts of
parting, and the eyes that watched him over the gangway were wet with
tears. He knew that he was leaving a circle of devoted brothers, each
one of whom would have shed the last drop of his blood in his defence.
He cast one last, lingering look upon the noble ship that had so long
been his home--he saw the men gazing tearfully after him,--and then,
turning to hide his own gathering tears, he strode hurriedly away.

Once more alone! Once more a pilgrim on the highway of life! His heart
was heavy within him, and his spirit was given to gloomy forebodings.
How soon might he need the love and the support of the true hearts and
stout arms he had left behind him!

It was near nightfall when Noel entered his hotel, and when he had
thrown aside his hat and cloak, one of the servants handed him a note.
It bore the seal of Lord Warrington. He opened it, and read as
follows:--

"Dear Sir,--When you receive this we shall be on our way to Bath,
whither we have decided to go, and ere many hours thereafter you will
have entered your new field of duty. For your many acts of kindness, and
for your uniform gentlemanly bearing towards us, you have my warmest
thanks. The Royal Navy affords an ample field for the exercise of your
many noble qualities, as well as for a more mature development of your
talent, and it also offers you the way to rank and honor. Accept the
golden opportunity as a small mark of my esteem.

"When I last saw you, I extended to you a welcome to my house at any
time. You must not blame me if I now inform you that circumstances have
since come to my knowledge which render it absolutely necessary that I
should withdraw that invitation. Your own knowledge of what has
transpired between yourself and certain members of my family will
forestall the need of further explanation.

"With the best wishes for your prosperity, I remain your friend,
WARRINGTON.

"To Lieutenant Noel Bradford, H.B.M. Navy."

"And thus ends my dearest hope!" groaned the stricken youth, when he had
read the epistle a second time. "Thus is the bright vision of glorious
promise banished into utter gloom and night. O! would to God I had never
seen her! Why was it? Why did my blind, impulsive heart admit the image
of one so far above me in worldly station?--But she has loved me,--she
has confessed it.--Ah! and must she suffer with me?--Will she suffer?"

So spoke Noel Bradford to himself as he staggered to and fro across the
apartment. The blow had come like a thunderbolt; and then had succeeded
a numbness--an utter prostration of spirit, and an unconsciousness of
all save the one cruel fiat of the proud nobleman. The narrow confines
of the small parlor at length became hot and oppressive, and donning his
hat and cloak, he sought the cool air of the street.

In a state of mind gloomy and wretched our hero wandered down toward the
docks. Since the night on which he had heard from Robert's lips that
Grace loved him, he had courted the bright sunlight of the new hope; and
when he had received the assurance of love from her own lips, his whole
future had been given up in trust to the blissful promise. And now--what
a death blow to all his glowing anticipations! The gentle being who had
been the first and only one to warm his heart with the holy passion of
manly love could never be his. The stern and aristocratic noble would
never consent to such a union; and his own proud spirit would never
kneel to beg and beseech of mortal man while it retained its native
honor and integrity. And, surely, he could never think of seeking to
persuade the idol of his heart against the will of her parents.

Noel had walked on for some time without knowing or caring whither his
steps led him. The air was fresh, cool, and invigorating, and as the
bright moon shed a softening, mellow light around him, he gradually
revived from the prostrating effects of the first paroxysms of grief.
Reason induced reflection, and he acknowledged to himself how wild and
vain, from the first had been his aspiration of love. Yet Grace had
given him seeming encouragement, and had certainly appeared to entertain
a hope that their love might end in fruition. Anon came the
recollections of the mysterious words and manner of both Grace and her
brother, when they seemed to have called to mind some strange event
within their knowledge which formed coincidence with his own appearance
and the story of his life. The incidents of the night when Robert had
been so startled by the account of the shipwreck--when he had questioned
so curiously, and had so mysteriously alluded to a suspicion entertained
by his sister,--all this bore upon the young officer's mind with
bewildering effect. The more he thought of his past life, and brought
the circumstances thereof into a chain with the developments of the
present, the more deeply did he become involved in the strange web of
doubt and mystery.

Thus meditating the youth had approached the vicinity of the Queen's
Dock, and as he was turning the angle of a storehouse that formed the
corner of the block, he felt a heavy hand upon his shoulder. He turned
quickly, and confronted the individual who had thus interrupted him.
Directly over the spot was suspended a street lamp, and by the light
thus blended with the moonbeams Noel was able to clearly distinguish the
stranger. He was a powerfully built man, with an immense breadth and
depth of chest, and with limbs corresponding in their wonderous
development of muscle and sinew. His lower features were mostly covered
with a heavy, dark beard, slightly tinged with gray, but the heavy brow,
the prominent, finely cut nose, and the strange, glowing eyes,
sufficiently indicated the character of the man. He might be a friend,
or an enemy,--he might do an evil act, or a noble deed, as inducements
and provocations offered; but, be he what he might, he was not to be
despised, nor slightly considered.

"Do you seek me?" asked Noel, when he had measured the massive form with
his eye.

"Perhaps, yes; and perhaps, no," replied the stranger, at the same time,
by a pressure upon the youth's shoulder, swinging his face to the light.
"Don't be alarmed," he continued, as he observed an indication on Noel's
part of resenting such liberty. "I think you are the very person I
seek."

"Then you will accommodate me by coming to your business at once," said
our hero, shaking the heavy hand from his arm.

"Are you the young man who has just received a commission in the Royal
Navy?" asked the stranger.

"I have such a commission."

"And your name is Noel Bradford?"

"Well,--suppose such to be the case, what then?" demanded Noel,
wondering at the man's earnest gaze, and strange abruptness.

"Why, if such is the case, then you are the man I wish to see."

"I should judge, from the manner in which you have approached me, that
the business must be of importance, at least to yourself; so you may
understand that my name is as you have said."

"I may, eh? Ah, ha,--a very good name; and I have no doubt it suits you
as well as could another."

At first Noel felt angry at this seeming cool effrontery; but thinking
that the man might have mistaken him for some other person, he said--

"I am inclined to think, sir, that you are in error. If you seek me as
one whom you have ever known, or who can possibly have had dealings with
you, or yours, then you may be assured that your recognition of me is
only fanciful."

"There you are wrong," returned the stranger. And then, in a more sober
tone, he added, "I do seek you as one whom I have known; and, what is
more, I seek you for your own good."

"May I know your business?" asked Noel, beginning to feel interested in
the result of the adventure.

"You are known by the name of Noel Bradford?"

"Such is my name, sir."

"Very well. The woman who reared you almost from infancy died when you
were about twelve years of age?"

"My mother, sir!" replied the youth, starting from his leaning position,
and gazing intently upon the unmoved features of his interlocutor.

"Well--never mind that."

"But I do mind it," cried Noel, his wonder increasing.

"Upon the death of this woman you shipped on board the Hector, under
Captain George Winslow?" interrogatively continued the stranger,
scorning to take no notice of the young man's interruption.

"Yes--yes," was the eager answer.

"And afterward you accompanied Winslow to the house in which this woman
died, where he interrogated the occupants touching the truth of the
statements you had made to him?"

"True--true, sir!" gasped Noel, filled with amaze at the knowledge thus
evinced of his early history.

"And there is not left one of the Hector's crew, save yourself, who can
vouch for your identity?"

"No, no! They are gone--all, all gone! But--there is Captain McIvor. He
picked me up from the island; and he certainly knows that I must have
been wrecked in the Hector," said Noel, grasping the arm of his
companion. "Will you tell me what this means?"

"Not here," replied the stranger, shaking his head; "but if you will
bear me company a short distance hence, I may produce proofs of
something that it might benefit you to know."

"You can tell me the purport of your communication here," urged our
hero, not exactly liking the turn affairs were taking, and yet too
anxious for the result to allow the fear of danger to turn him from his
purpose.

"I will tell you what I have to tell if you will follow me; but nothing
here."

"Then so be it. Lead on, and I will follow. But let me tell you, sir, I
am armed, and can resist----"

"Bah!" interrupted the strange man, a derisive smile perceptible beneath
the thick beard, "if that consideration influences you, then you had
better not go; for I tell you plainly and frankly if I meditated harm by
force, no power or arms of yours could overcome it."

"I accept the compliment," returned Noel, "and will return it should
opportunity offer. In the meantime I am ready to follow."

"Then come on."

"One moment, if you please. You have spoken my name. May I speak yours!"

"What can that matter?"

"It may matter much. You have that much undue advantage of me. Will you
tell me your name?"

The stranger smiled, and then shook his head reflectively. At length he
said--

"Well, I'm like others whom I could mention. Men call me by different
names. It may be Tom--perhaps Dick--or some may call me Jack; but as I
must trust you now, if ever, and as I have no particular fears of
treachery on your part, you may call me--Guy Darringford."

"Darringford! Guy Darringford?" exclaimed Noel, starting back as from
something fearful. "And are you the notorious and much-dreaded smuggler
of the Irish Sea?"

"Were I to answer you no, half the cellars in Westmoreland and
Cumberland, and, I fear, full two-thirds of those in Lancashire, would
give me the lie. So I must acknowledge the gentle allegation."

Noel Bradford hesitated. Within the honest appearing seaman's garb
before him stood the man for whose apprehension and safe delivery into
the hands of justice, ten thousand pounds had been offered by the
Government. No man ever swept the sea with a bolder mein, or outraged
the revenue laws with more impunity than had Guy Darringford. Cargo
after cargo of the choicest wines and brandies, together with various
other articles of import, had found their way into the counties
bordering on St. George's Channel and the Irish Sea, and yet the king's
cutters cruised, and cruised, to no effect.

"Does the name sound familiar?" asked the bold man.

"In the proclamations of the king's officers I have seen it often,"
replied our hero; "and I doubt much if there be a man in England whose
eyes have scanned the Revenue Reports that hath not become familiar
therewith. But the name hath no terror for me. If you be a true son of
the ocean, I will follow you willingly. So lead on."

A kindly smile lighted up the eyes of the smuggler; and he put forth his
hand. Noel took it, and grasped it firmly; and as he felt the warm,
impulsive embrace, outlawed though he might be who gave it, he felt
assured that a true and generous heart directed its movements.

Guy Darringford drew the collar of his rough pea-jacket over his chin,
and moved away, simply motioning with his hand as he did so. The young
lieutenant did not hesitate further; but, with firm, elastic tread,
followed his strange guide.




CHAPTER VIII.--OUR HERO IS BEWILDERED.


NOEL BRADFORD felt that some new and strange development was impending.
It seemed to him that the grand turning point of his life was at
hand--the events of the past few hours had so impressed him,--but
whether the turning should be good or ill--for his weal or woe--yet
remained hidden in the womb of time. The strange language of Darringford
appeared to add another link to the chain of mystery which had already
been extended between the dim past and the unrevealed future; and the
more he thought of the interrogative assertions of the smuggler, the
more was he wrought upon by doubt and anxiety. Who was this strange man,
and what was he? What connection was there in the past that had thus
brought them together? How much, and how far, was the outlaw to be
concerned in his affairs? Those, and a hundred other kindred questions,
were revolving in perplexing confusion and ambiguity in his mind as he
followed his conductor.

Nearly half an hour did the smuggler continue his way toward the lower
part of the town, at length stopping before an oddly constructed
building which stood slightly apart from its neighbors, facing a pier to
which were made fast a number of those small vessels engaged in the
Irish trade.

"Here we will enter," said the guide, drawing a key from his pocket.

"How long shall I need to remain?" asked Noel, inclined to hesitate as
he marked the gloomy shadows of the locality.

"Not long in here," replied the smuggler, rather ambiguously. But even
his ambiguity tended to heighten the youth's curiosity, and to urge him
on upon the strange adventure.

The key was placed in the lock, the bolt shot back, and as the way was
opened, Darringford motioned for his companion to enter. Noel placed his
hand upon his breast, where reposed a trusty pistol, and with a sharp
look out upon the movements of his guide he passed in. A single oil lamp
was suspended from the dingy ceiling of the hall, and by its dim,
uncertain light the two men made their way over a rickety floor toward
the back part of the building, where the smuggler opened a small door
leading to a well lighted room beyond, which they entered. There was a
quick, sharp click as the door was closed behind them, which Noel took
to be the snapping of a spring lock; and his assurance was not at all
enhanced upon observing that the windows were all secured by stout iron
bars.

Upon a table a little removed from the centre of the apartment stood two
good lamps, and by their ample light our hero had opportunity to observe
more closely the appearance of his companion; but he found it no more
easy to read the man's character now than he had by moonlight; only the
massy proportions of frame were more apparent; and as Noel marked the
wondrous wealth of muscle he knew that the physical power must be
immense.

"Now," said Bradford, as he finished his hurried survey of the
surroundings, "let us come at once to the business upon which you have
called me, for I have little time to spare."

"More than you think for, perhaps," quietly returned the smuggler.

"I know my own time, and its value, sir; and I would have you as brief
as possible," pursued the young man, following Darringford's example,
and seating himself near the table. "You have told me that to-night
which evinces a knowledge on your part of as much, at least, of my early
history as I know myself; and the hope that you might know more has led
me to bear you company to this place. I have placed thus much confidence
in you without fear, and without much questioning; but I can assure you
that I am not to be trifled with, even by one so feared and dreaded as
is Guy Darringford."

"You certainly do me honor," returned the smuggler, with a lurking
smile. "When I am feared most, I feel most satisfied; but can you tell
me who they be that fear me?"

"I am not one of them, at least," retorted Noel, beginning to chafe
under the impression that the man before him sought to exercise an
unfair control over his movements.

"Well,--be that as it may," said the smuggler, with a slight shrug of
the broad shoulders; "but of one thing you may rest assured: There is
not in Great Britain an honest, toiling man who fears Guy Darringford.
It is only they who love to hold others in the bondage of fear that fear
me; and I am proud to know that it is so."

"I shall not question or dispute you upon that point," replied Noel.
"And now will you let me hear what you have to say of interest to
myself?"

Darringford reflected a moment, and then said,--

"I was informed to-day, by a person who had seen Lord Warrington, that
you had been appointed to a vacancy on board a frigate now in active
service, and that you were to leave Liverpool by the sloop-of-war which
sails tomorrow."

"Well,--what of that?"

"Why,--simply this: It is my purpose that you do not go."

"Not go? I do not understand you."

"My language, I believe, was plain. But I can make it more explicit: You
cannot go."

"Cannot go? Do you mean that I cannot join my ship?"

"That is my meaning," replied the smuggler, very quietly and very
coolly.

"Sir!" exclaimed the youth, arising from his seat, and taking a stop
toward the door, "you will explain this seeming unfairness at once, or I
shall leave the house as I entered it."

"I have little to explain at present," returned Darringford, with marked
emphasis, and only smiling at the hasty movement of the young man. "I
told you that you could not go on board the sloop-of-war, and I meant
it. I knew if I told you this in the street you would not listen to me."

"But here you think to enforce your unaccountable purpose?" exclaimed
Noel, indignantly.

"If you are wise and moderate, there will be no need of enforcement."

Our hero was for a time undecided as to the course he should pursue. His
good sense told him that if the smuggler had any ulterior or evil
designs, he had probably made preparations for the meeting of any
emergency that might arise in carrying them out; so he wisely determined
that a proper degree of discretion would serve him better than hot
haste.

"I have heard your strange speech, sir," he said, resuming his seat,
"and now I await an explanation."

"I told you I had little to explain; and perhaps I can lead you to
comprehend something of my purpose without broaching a subject which I
myself do not fully understand at present; but upon which I hope to gain
light ere long. In the first place, I would have you to believe that,
though outlawed and prescribed, and a princely price set upon my head,
yet I am your friend. Why it is so--why my particular interest in you--I
cannot now inform you; but you may rest firmly in the assurance that
such is the fact. When the name of Noel Bradford appeared in the Naval
List, together with an account of his personal history, and of the
heroic conduct that led directly to his preferment, there was no little
consternation produced in a certain quarter; and, innocent as you may
deem yourself of any evil deed against your fellows, there be those who
are at this moment seeking to plot your ruin."

"Ruin! Plot my ruin?" exclaimed the youth, in blank astonishment.

"Aye,--even so."

"And how can my appointment have influenced any one against me?"

"It is not your appointment," said Darringford, with an earnestness that
carried truth in its very face; "but it is your identity that has
created the disturbance. The presence of Noel Bradford among the
distinguished officers of the kingdom at this time is alarming to
certain persons, who would much rather he were at the bottom of the sea
than thus mounting into public notice through the medium of naval
honors."

"This is all a riddle to me," cried our hero, gazing intently into the
face of the strange man, who seemed almost playing with his destiny.

"And so much of it must remain for a time," returned Guy. "But thus much
I am able and willing to tell you: The woman who brought you up from
early childhood, and who died when you were twelve years of age, was not
your mother."

"Not my mother!" gasped Noel, who had come to receive the smuggler's
words for truth--or, at least, as meant for truth.

"No--nor was she in any way related to you. Your mother left America
before you were three years of age; and I doubt much if you have any
recollection of her."

For a full minute the youth sat with his hand pressed upon his brow, and
then, rather to himself than in answer to his companion, he murmured--

"I can see it--that death-bed--as I have seen it in seeming dreams many
and many a time. I can see the pale, cold face which I bent upon and
kissed--the hushed lips of him whom I had called father! And I can see
the weary weeping woman who took me from the bed, and strained me to her
bosom, and held me there a long, long time; and who wept and prayed as
she held me. I can see her as I saw her then, but from that hour I have
no vision in which she hath part. She--she--was my mother!"

"She was, young man."

Noel looked up into the face of his new-found friend with a feeling of
strange bewilderment; but soon collecting his thoughts, he arose from
his seat, and laid his hand upon the shoulder of the smuggler, asking,
as he did so--

"Did you know my mother?"

"Yes."

"Is she living?"

"That is more than I can tell; but if she is, her days on earth are
numbered. A disease beyond all human skill to subdue holds fierce battle
against her."

"And this danger to myself--whence comes it?--What is it?"

"I cannot give you information on that point at present."

"Guy Darringford," said Noel, after a few moments silence, "I think you
speak truly. I am convinced that you are not intentionally deceiving me.
The dim, faintly limned pictures that memory holds in that long-gone
time accord well with your revolution. I will trust you--trust you with
my life! Now tell me that you will not deceive me."

Had Noel Bradford seen the strange, dark shadow that rested upon the
face of the smuggler at that moment, he might have hesitated ere he
trusted him as he had said. Guy Darringford turned away to hide the
emotion, and it was some moments ere he ventured a reply; but when he
did so, his eyes were beaming with a frank and honest light, and there
was a warmth of affection in his kindly look.

"If you trust in me you shall, in good time, know all that I can give
you to know; and, I think, all that you can desire."

"Shall I see my mother?"

"It was for that purpose I brought thee hither."

"Hither?--Here?" exclaimed the youth, gazing anxiously around. "Is she
in this----"

"No, no--she is in Westmoreland----Hark!"

At that moment a tramping of foot was heard upon what seemed to be a
staircase near at hand; and presently a door, which our hero had not
before observed, was thrown open, and half a dozen rough-looking men,
clad in the garbs of seamen, unceremoniously entered the apartment.

"How now, Redworth?" demanded Darringford, starting from his seat.

"The officers are after us, sir," hastily replied the man who had been
thus addressed.

"How near are they?"

"Even at the very door. Ha! D'ye hear that?"

As Redworth spoke a loud thumping was heard upon the street door; and
turning to another of the men, Darringford asked--

"McDermot, is the brig ready for sailing?"

"Tops'ls loosed, anchors stowed, an' swingin' by a buoy, sir."

"How's the wind?"

"Right off 'm land, sir--fresh from the east'ard."

"Mark Redworth," pursued the chief, turning to his first officer, "there
has been treachery somewhere, or those minions of the revenue would not
have traced us here. However, we must be on the move."

Thus speaking, he approached one of the high windows, and withdrew from
the stool an old staple, which seemed only to have been set there for
the purpose of securing the sash; but no sooner had it been removed than
a broad panel of the wainscot, between the window and the floor, fell
back from its place, revealing a flight of stone steps beyond.

"Down!--down, my men!" ordered Darringford; and while the new comers
were passing through, he turned to Noel, and remarked--

"You see we are prepared for such little emergencies. I will follow
you."

"No, no," cried the young man, taking a step back from the place. "I
will go out as I came in."

"But I desire you to accompany me. So in you go. Quick, quick! They are
upon us."

Our hero was utterly bewildered. He knew not what to do or to say, nor
which way to move; but Guy Darringford quickly settled the matter for
him by lifting him from the floor, and safely depositing him upon the
steps within the aperture; then seizing one of the lamps, and
extinguishing the other, he entered the passage himself, and carefully
closed the panel after him.

Noel knew that remonstrance would be now in vain; and so, without a
word, he followed the lead of those who had gone before him. The secret
way into which they had thus entered was guarded in the immediate
vicinity of the building by several concealed doors; so that, had the
pursuers found entrance at all, their search would have ended in what
could have only appeared to them an apartment of the common cellar; but
at length the passage became quite narrow and continuous, and finally
Noel felt a current of cool, fresh air, and directly afterward he found
himself up to the knees in water. A boat was close at hand, and
instinctively following the movements of the others, he entered it.

"Of course you will set me on shore," he said.

"--sh! Not a word here!" whispered the smuggler, bending upon the youth
a stern, commanding look.

Noel Bradford regarded the iron-moulded face of the strange man for a
brief moment, and then resigned himself to his fate. The events of the
evening had been so deeply mysterious, and so wonderful in their
bearings, that he felt impelled by an irresistible impulse to continue
on in the path thus opened before him; and bending his head upon his
hands, he sank down in the stern-sheets by the side of his mystic guide,
and gave himself up to thought.

Think on, Noel! You may wander amid the scenes of the past; but beyond
the deep veil that Omniscience has drawn over the future no power of
yours can penetrate. In the time yet to be born are conceived events of
destiny you little dream of now!




CHAPTER IX.--THE CHASE.


IT was near midnight when the smugglers emerged from the subterranean
passage, and as soon as possible the oars were shipped, and the boat
shot out and headed for the mouth of the river. The moon was not yet
down, and, aided by the myriad stars that twinkled in the blue vault,
she shed a light sufficient for the clear discernment of surrounding
objects.

Noel Bradford sat in a maze of doubt and painful anxiety. The
information received from the smuggler chief was certainly none of the
clearest in detail, but still it rested upon his mind with the full
force of truth. There was fear upon his spirit--an undefinable
dread--causing him to quake and shudder, but it did not hinge upon the
truth or falsity of the revelations he had heard from Darringford's
lips.

That the human heart can feel impressions from events yet in the future,
no reasonable man will deny. How often is it bowed down by impending
evil which the eye cannot see, and which the understanding cannot grasp.
There seems to be an electric current flowing in from the unborn time,
communicating to the soul these mysterious auguries.

And something of this influence was upon our hero. Though he believed
that his mother still lived, and that he might see her, the prospect
gave him no present joy. There was something beyond all this--something
which bowed his heart more by its weight of awe and mystery than by its
burden of fear. In fact, the impulse was not of fear; for he thought not
of personal danger; and yet there was much of dread; and there was a
shrinking back of the spirit as from an ordeal too great to be safely
borne. But he was not to be left a great while to his reflections
undisturbed.

"Hallo! What does that mean?" exclaimed Redworth, who was steering the
boat.

"What is it?" asked Darringford, raising his head,--for he, too, had
been meditating.

"Look at that sloop-of-war."

"Lay on your oars, my men."

"When the splashing of the oars had ceased the sounds from the corvette
could be distinctly heard.

"Heaving up her anchors, by Jove!" exclaimed the chief, bending his ear
toward the water. "Hark!"

The wind was from the northward and eastward, and the sloop-of-war,
which lay near the southern shore, was to leeward of the boat, and as
the breeze was fresh, the orders of her officer could not be
distinguished. But there were other signs palpable enough.

"She is getting under way, as sure as fate," said Darringford.

"There go her men aloft!" cried Redworth.

The men-of-warsmen could be plainly seen lying out upon the yards, and
very soon the heavy top sails were loosened from the gaskets.

"Let fall your oars, and pull with a will, my men. That fellow isn't
getting off at this hour for nothing."

"They cannot surely have their eyes on our brig," said McDermot.

"The officers on shore had their eyes on us," returned the chief, "and
it would not be wonderful that they should have them on our vessel.
There has been a spy at work, and the same rascal who told of our
whereabouts in the city has probably given information of our brig."

"And do you think the corvette really meditates your capture?" asked
Noel.

"If she has received information concerning us, she certainly does,"
replied the smuggler.

"But she is under sailing orders for Portsmouth."

"Exactly, but those orders can be very easily suspended, especially if
she is needed to run a chase for Guy Darringford."

"If she does give you chase," said Noel, with a perceptible shudder, "I
fear you will stand a narrow chance of escape; for the Richmond is one
of the swiftest sailors in the Royal navy."

"You have a fear for yourself, as well as for me," intimated
Darringford.

"I do not wish to be overhauled on board a smuggler, certainly," replied
Noel.

"Neither shall you be, young man. Yonder sloop-of-war will poke her nose
into danger if she follows me."

"Danger!" repeated our hero, in surprise. "Certainly."

"You would not venture to give her battle?"

"Not while I can do better. But if she gives me chase, you shall see.
Borrow no trouble in advance of danger."

As the smuggler spoke the boat passed under the stern of a large brig,
which lay in midstream, secured to a wharping buoy, and was soon
alongside.

As soon as Darringford's foot touched the deck he gave orders for making
sail. The topsails were loosed; the yards hoisted; the jib and fore
stay-sail run up; and then the bowfast was cut. The tide was on the ebb,
and setting out quite swiftly, so that the brig lay with her head up
stream, taking the wind nearly upon the larboard beam; but when the
cable had been cut she was very quickly brought around, and with
top-gallant sails and courses set, she darted off toward the sea.

But while the brig had been thus spreading her wings, the sloop-of-war
had not been at rest; and just as the helm was put up for wearing
around, the king's vessel had gained her course and trimmed her yards;
and if there had been any doubt as to her intentions, that doubt was
banished as she came ploughing her way down the river, following
directly the wake of the brig.

This was more than our hero had bargained for, and at first he felt
angry and indignant toward the man who had thus entrapped him, and hoped
that the brig might be overtaken; but after a time his footings
underwent a change. The thought of being found by the officers of the
ship in company with a notorious smuggler, when he should have been
elsewhere, was far from agreeable; and he was forced to wish that the
brig might escape; and with this wish came a natural sympathy with those
around him. His present interest was identical with theirs, and for the
time he must be one of them.

"Does she gain on us?" asked Noel, approaching the spot where the
captain stood with his night glass.

"Not much--perhaps a very little," replied the latter.

"And how do you intend to run?"

"I mean to hug the coast if the wind will let me."

"The sloop is not over two miles distant," suggested our hero.

"No--she is not that," returned Darringford; "but it will do her no
good. If we can pass the mouth of the Ribble clear of her guns, she may
whistle--and so may we."

The log was thrown, and nine and a half knots were run from the reel.

"That's good," said Darringford, as he heard the report. "The sloop
can't be going over ten and a half."

"And will overhaul us in less than two hours,'' added Noel,
instinctively casting his eyes aloft to see if everything drew.

"Before that time," returned the smuggler, "we shall have everything our
own way. Once north of the Ribble's mouth, and I'll find a puzzle for
yonder fellow."

"Ha! that means work in earnest!" cried Noel, as a bright flame issued
from the ship's bow, with the booming report following close upon it.

"She is in earnest, sure enough," laughed the smuggler chief; "but she
must use more powder if she would frighten us."

Half an hour slipped by, during which time the man-of-war gained but
little. She had fired several round shot, which had fallen short of
their mark.

"She does not make her ten and a half knots," remarked Noel Bradford.

"No," returned Darringford. "She has not gained more than quarter of a
mile upon us."

Another half hour passed, and still the brig kept on unharmed. The
corvette had gained a very little, but not sufficiently to admit of any
sort of reach or accuracy in her firing, as all the shot thus far
expended seemed to have been sent at random. The smuggler had hauled
upon the wind, and was heading very near north, the land being visible
upon the weather beam; but at length the bold line of the shore grew dim
and indistinct, and finally disappeared altogether, while the breeze
came sweeping down fresher and stronger.

"Here we are, off the mouth of the Ribble," exclaimed Darringford, as
the southern headland was lost to view. "In less than an hour from this
time we shall be free and clear."

"How long will it be before we can seek the place where you left my
mother?" asked Noel.

"I think we will seek her during the coming day."

"But I thought this chase might have disconcerted your plans."

"Not at all, Mr. Bradford. I shall easily avoid the ship; and if the
wind does not fail me, I shall find my harbor in the morning."

Having thus spoken, the chieftain opened his glass and took a view
toward the point where the river emptied its waters into the sea. After
this he stepped to the binnacle, where the light revealed a quiet smile
lurking about his face; and those who saw it felt assured that all was
safe.

"Ready about!" he ordered, taking another look at the chaser.

"I thought you intended to pass the mouth of the river," said Noel, who
had not expected this order.

"So I do."

"I do not comprehend."

"I suppose not," returned Darringford. And then passing his glass to the
young man, he continued--"Take a look up the river, and tell me what you
see."

"Noel did as requested, and presently he said--

"I see only a brig at anchor."

"Did you notice her sails?"

"Yes; they are hanging loosely in the clewlines and buntlines."

"Well, that brig is waiting for the flood tide and I think I can bring
her in to help me play the sloop-of-war a trick."

The smuggler brig went quickly around upon the larboard tack, standing
up now into the embouchure of the river, and in a very few minutes the
chaser was hidden from view by the abrupt headland. When he had stood on
as long as he wished the smuggler took in his topgallant-sails, and then
tacked, and stood across under the bold, high shore to the northward,
which arose at that point to a frowning cliff, casting a dark shadow
over the water at its base; and just as the brig had reached the cover,
and backed her main top-sail, the sloop-of-war came sweeping around the
southern point, where she tacked and stood directly up the river.

"I think the hound is off the scent," said Darringford. And so it
proved; for the ship stood on by the lurking place of the chase,
evidently thinking that the innocent trader, quietly awaiting a
favorable tide for running in, was the prize she had been so eagerly
pursuing.

In less than half an hour the smuggler slipped back into the open sea,
and at 9 o'clock on the following morning she was safely moored in a
snug, deep harbor, shut in by high and rugged cliffs, near the head of
Morecambe Bay.

A dozen boats from the shore were alongside as soon as the brig's sails
were clewed up, and our naval lieutenant had the privilege of seeing
fourscore and seven pipes of French brandy smuggled into the king's
dominions before noon.

"Rather a heavy operation that, Mr. Bradford," remarked Darringford, as
the last pipe was swung over the side.

"Aye--and rather a dangerous one, too," returned the young man.

"And perhaps you would add--wicked."

"No, not wicked," quickly responded Noel; "for the very best and
truest-hearted sailors I have ever known have been smugglers; but that
it is illegal and subversive of the aims of government you will not
deny."

Before they could speak further one of the men from the shore came aft,
and interrupted the conversation.

"We shall want some of your men, Captain Darringford, to go with us as
far as the southern pass; for report says that the revenue officers are
about, and that they have wind of this cargo."

"Have they been seen?" asked Darringford, starting from his leaning
position against the binnacle.

"None of our folks have seen them," returned he of the shore; "but
they're about, for the men at the Lancaster landing saw them two days
ago."

"When will you be ready to start?"

"Very soon after noon."

"Well, I will be with you, and take a dozen of my men along."

When the man had gone, the chieftain remarked to his companion--

"This will be on our road, so we can accompany the party to the pass
without any trouble."

"So I am to assist in giving escort to your contraband cargo whether I
will or no," said Noel, trying to smile, but nevertheless looking
anything but pleased.

"O, you need not feel under any disagreeable apprehension on that score;
for you may keep as far ahead, or as far behind, as you please."

"Well," returned the youth, soberly, "I have come thus far upon my
errand, and I suppose I may as well carry it out. But, remember, I
follow you willingly, and I trust you as one man would trust another."

"What I have told you is true," said the smuggler; "and if you follow my
directions, joy and great good may be the result."

"And why," ventured Noel, gazing eagerly into the face of the chieftain,
"should you exercise so deep an interest in my affairs? Surely you are
not one of my kin."

"Be the cause what it may, I have a deep and abiding interest in your
welfare--an interest which can cease only with life. There,--ask no
more,--for we verge upon a secret which I cannot unfold."

Noel saw that the smuggler was not to be questioned upon that point, so
he asked no more; but, following the bidding of his mysterious guide, he
set about preparing for his journey on shore.




CHAPTER X.--AN UNWILLING AVENGER.


THE sun had disappeared beyond the forest-crowned headland of the bay,
but as it lacked full half an hour of its final rest for the night, its
disappearance had only served to cast a deep shadow across the intervals
of the Ken. Along the eastern bank of the river ran the high road from
Lancaster to Kendal, and for several miles beyond the point where the
highway strikes off from the bay, the right hand was flanked by a dense
forest, broken here and there by passes which led across to the Loyne.

At the time mentioned--just as the sun disappeared behind the western
highland--a number of heavy waggons, to all outward appearance being
only loaded with hay, emerged from a byway on the left, and struck into
the high road. They were eight in number, and each waggon was
accompanied by two men habited in the garb of the Yorkshire peasantry;
while scattered along at intervals--some in the road, and some threading
the forest--were twenty or thirty more individuals, those who travelled
openly being habited like the waggoners, while those who kept the cover
of the wood wore seamen's garbs.

The reader will not fail to recognise the smuggling party. Every
precaution which experience and ingenuity could suggest had been adopted
for the safe transit of the contraband goods; but should opposition be
offered they were well prepared for resistance.

"Do you often transport such heavy loads as these through the country?"
asked Noel, of the smuggler chieftain, as they threaded a narrow path in
the hedge of the forest.

"O, yes. There is seldom any danger."

"No danger? And are not the officers of the revenue attending to their
duties on the coast?"

"Perhaps so."

"Perhaps? You speak as though the duty is neglected."

"And can you wonder that it should be?"

"Certainly," replied Noel. "The revenue and excise officers are paid
for----"

"Trying to enforce a statute that is odious to the people," interrupted
the smuggler, with a bitter laugh.

"So are all statutes odious to some," returned our hero. "The thief, the
highwayman, the pirate, the murderer, and criminals of every degree,
find laws that are odious to them, in that they are opposed to their
sinful desires. No man, or class of men, can safely condemn a law simply
because it conflicts with their peculiar sentiments and desires. The
very enactment of a law is based upon the pre-existing fact that there
are some who will wish to break it. Were there none such, there would be
no need of the law."

"You talk very well, Mr. Bradford, for a man who has spent his life upon
the sea; but there is one thing that seems entirely to have escaped your
notice. There is a vast difference between a law that protects the lives
and the property of a people, and a law that places a heavy tax upon
their honest labor for no other purpose but to support a Government in
which they have no effective voice, and which grinds them in the dust,
while a titled aristocracy may lord it over them. To support the
Government, did I say? No, no,--these onerous taxes are not for the just
support of true Government, but for the paying of the debts of a
spendthrift king. I should think our old dotard George, and his
ministry, might have learned a lesson from the colonies in America ere
this. England might to-day be holding peaceful sway over what are now
the United State of America had she been content to let the people there
enjoy the fruits of their labor. But no--she must needs try to force
upon the colonists her odious taxes, for the payment of debts in which
they had no part nor interest, and she lost the whole domain."

This reference to America carried the mind of Noel back to his
childhood's home, and for a while he walked on in silence, engaged in
thought of that by-gone time; but finally, recollecting that he had
received no definite answer to a former question, he said--

"Would you have me understand that the king's officers do not perform
their duties?"

"No, you must not understand that; though in most cases they manage to
get over those duties as easily as possible. The people of the country
are with us; and hence even those officers who would perform their duty
to the very letter of the law, are often led from the track. In the
present case, however, there may be trouble."

"How so?" asked our hero, a little anxiously.

"There has been a heavy squad of officers for the last two weeks among
the hills of Yorkshire, and a few days since they went down to
Lancaster; and report says they have now come up this way."

The sun had now set, and the misty gray of twilight was deepening into
darker shades. The path through the wood became more difficult to
follow, and more than once had Noel come near being cast down by the
stumps and projecting roots that obstructed the way. Very soon, however,
the moon came up; and as the young man was beginning to move along with
less of discomfort, his companion suddenly laid his hand upon his arm,
and held him back.

"What is it?" asked Noel, observing that the smuggler was eagerly
listening.

"Stay you here while I go and see why those advance teams have stopped."

He hastened out into the highway, and soon returned.

"Is there trouble?" asked the lieutenant, upon whose mind the idea of
coming into forcible contact with the king's officers had no very
pleasing effect.

"You can remain here in safety," said Darringford, without seeming to
heed the question. "We have been discovered, and the foremost waggons
have been stopped. If the officers take the fancy to search beneath the
hay, we may have to fight for it. You can keep the cover of the forest
until the affair is settled; for I would not that you should be dragged
into the unpleasant results of my violation of law."

Having thus spoken, Guy Darringford hastened back into the road, and
already Noel could hear a confused sound of tongues in the distance.

"Shall I stay here like a coward, and skulk about under cover like a
thief?" said our hero to himself as the din of confusion grew louder.

"Have I shared a berth on shipboard with these men, now to foresake them
in their hour of need? Am I a sailor, or am I a lubberly, false-hearted
landsman? No, no,--I have done no wrong and I fear no man."

With these words Noel stepped forth from the woods into the highway. The
waggons had all passed, and had come to a halt about twenty rods in
advance, where were gathered around them a score or more of soldiers,
upon whose sword-hilts and bright trappings the moonbeams were
glistening. He did not stop long to consider what he should do, but
started at once for the waggons. His impulse, however, was not entirely
beyond the control of reason, and as the thought of being apprehended as
a smuggler arose to his mind he stopped and reflected. Amid the loud din
he could make out that the brandy had been discovered, and he plainly
heard the officers demanding it in the king's name. The noise increased
with oaths and execrations, and presently the sharp clash of steel rang
out significantly upon the air.

While our hero stood in perplexing indecision, he was startled by the
approach of some one from behind, and upon turning he beheld an officer
of the revenue, accompanied by a soldier.

"Hold, there, stranger!" commanded the officer, approaching the
reflective lieutenant. "Who are you?"

"I am what you called me,--a stranger."

"A stranger to me, but not to this smuggling crew. Take him, Spencer,
and bring him along."

The latter remark had been addressed to the soldier, and in accordance
with his superior's orders he advanced upon the young man.

"Stand back!" cried Noel, in a tone which the soldier instinctively
recognised as one of authority; and then turning to the officer, he
said--

"Tell me, sir, by what right you thus interrupt a peaceable man upon the
king's highway."

"Well,--that's cool! Upon my soul, I like it," returned he of the
revenue, with a contemptuous leer. "Did you not come up from the bay
with the smugglers?"

"I am not inclined to answer impertinent questions," returned Noel,
hotly; "but if you have legitimate business with me, I am ready to
satisfy you."

"Business!" cried the officer, derisively. "It'll be business enough for
you before you get through with it, I guess. I suppose you didn't come
up to help protect that brandy?"

"Does my present position indicate that I am engaged in any such work?"

"Well,--as for that matter," returned the officer, showing his
ill-feeling, "I couldn't say; but I think it most likely that upon the
first signal of danger your cowardly legs ran away with you."

There are times when insolence and impudence reach a height beyond the
notice of honorable men--when anger becomes disgust, and passion only
tends to loathing. Had the officer said less Noel might have struck him;
but as it was, he drew back, as from contamination, simply saying--

"Get thee gone, fellow, about thy business."

"I'll show you how I'll get about my business!" cried the man, in
foaming rage. "In the King's name I arrest you as a smuggler! Now do
your duty, Spencer."

Noel had never travelled through England, nor had he ever before come in
contact with Government officers; consequently the sound of that ominous
sentence--"In the King's name!" did not strike him with the peculiar awe
and dread which it usually excited under like circumstances.

Again the soldier approached to obey the order of his superior, Noel
thought not of the law, nor of its disobedience; he only thought, as he
had so often thought in his eventful life, when danger threatened, of
self-defence--and with a blow of his fist he knocked the soldier down.

With a fierce, vindictive oath, the officer sprung forward.

"Villain! you shall suffer! Offer another motion of resistance, and I'll
run you through."

Our hero was not unarmed; for a long walk through the forest was a
sufficient cause at any time for being prepared for emergencies of
danger; and as the officer advanced upon him he drew his cutlass,
saying--

"Don't touch me, sir--I beg--I implore! If you do, your peril be upon
your own head. God knows I would not do you harm."

"Bah! Do you mean resistance to the law?"

"No. I only mean to resist those who trouble me without cause."

"Once for all--Will you surrender?"

"No!"

"Then I'll force you to it."

Thus shouting, the officer sprung upon the youth with his sword in hand;
but he found that the movement had no palsying effect at all. On the
contrary, the bold adventurer stood his ground, as he had said he
should, at the same time presenting the point of his cutlass in a very
unpleasant manner.

"Drop your sword!" yelled the king's man.

"Not while I have use for it," replied Noel.

As the former spoke he pressed hard upon his youthful antagonist, and
became thoroughly heated with passion; while Noel, acting for the
present only on the defensive, was calm and collected. He was entirely
at home with the good cutlass in his hand; and few men were there in the
British marine who knew better how to use it. He soon discovered,
however, that he had serious work before him; for the soldier had arisen
from the ground, and, under the smart of the blow he had received, was
coming fiercely to the aid of his superior.

The seeking of safety in flight was a thought that never presented
itself to our hero's mind; consequently there were but two courses open
to him--he must either resign himself a prisoner, or else fight his way
clear. He would have given much to have been lifted, by some kind power,
honorably out of the scrape; but he was in, and he must help himself.
Surrender he could not; for he shrank with utter dread from the
disgraceful ordeal of arrest and trial as a smuggler; nor did he wish to
be turned from the purpose of his journey; so he determined to fight his
way.

As the soldier came up he drew his short sword, and made a lunge. Noel
sprang nimbly aside and avoided the wicked blow; and from that moment he
was a different man. The lion was aroused within him--he realised only
that deadly enemies were upon him--and he became the fierce warrior that
we have seen in conflict with the terrible buccaneer.

The soldier made another lunge, accompanied by a vulgar oath; and at the
same moment the officer aimed a blow at his head. The blade of the
latter he caught and turned aside, at the same time slipping again away
from the soldier's impetuous charge. Then, with a movement like
lightning, he swept his cutlass in a circle, dazzling the eyes of the
officer, and striking the soldier full upon the top of the head. The
thin cloth cap offered no resistance to that dreadful stroke. It fell
with crushing effect, and the man went down beneath it, never to know,
in this poor life, what had hurt him!

The officer saw his companion fall, and pressed on more hotly. Noel
implored him to stand back--to hold his hand,--but his boiling rage knew
no reason, and with tongue and sword he continued the attack.

Such a conflict could not last long--nor did it. Several passes were
made in quick succession by the king's man, which Noel parried with
difficulty; and the latter soon found that he could no longer act upon
the defensive alone. He shrank from shedding more blood; but he was not
permitted to choose. His antagonist was bent upon fighting to the death;
and it only remained for Noel to decide whose death it should be. Once
again, and only once, did the officer leave his guard in the heat of
attack. Our hero dropped upon his right knee to allow a tremendous
thrust to pass over his shoulder, and as he leaped back to his feet he
drove the point of his cutlass against his adversary's breast.

"Hallo! Where are you, Bradford?" exclaimed Guy Darringford, coming up
just then.

Noel took no notice of the approach, nor of the smuggler's salutation;
but with the point of his dripping blade upon the ground, he stood and
gazed silently upon his melancholy work.

"What!" cried the chieftain, as his eyes rested upon the prostrate forms
at the young man's feet. "Is this of your doing?"

Noel looked up, and soberly, sadly answered--"I had no choice. I could
not help it."

Darringford turned the body of the fallen officer with his foot.

"Ye gods, Noel! You have slain one of the blackest villains that ever
went unhung! This wretch hath long used his authority for most base
purposes. Not many weeks ago he dragged forth from her home one of the
fairest maidens of Yorkshire--one whose father was in the clutches of
the excise law--and--But enough. Would that mine had been the hand for
this work. I could have told him that I struck for Mary McDermott. But
come--the way is clear, and we have only to trudge along in safety."

"Are there others killed?" asked the youth, with a shudder.

"Only a few. The fellows ran when they found our strength."

"I fear this will be sorry business."

"Only for those who have already suffered," returned the smuggler. "The
people hereabouts like not those fellows, and will thwart them in any
further attempt upon us."

Guy Darringford turned to depart, but ere Noel followed he cast one more
look upon the stark forms of those he had slain. The pale moonbeams lay
coldly upon their rigid features, and their beds were damp with crimson
and purple dew!

"I had no vengeance to execute! Would to God some other hand done the
work!"

And with with this ejaculation Noel Bradford turned away and once more
followed his mysterious conductor.




CHAPTER XI.--WHAT OUR HERO FOUND IN KENDAL.


UNTIL near midnight the waggons kept the Lancaster road without further
molestation, at which time they reached the southern pass of the River
Loyne, where they were to turn off for the hills of Yorkshire; and with
a few directions from the chieftain the horses were led down toward the
stream. The regular shore party kept on with the waggons, while the
seamen, with the exception of Noel and Darringford, turned back toward
the bay. The two latter kept on toward Kendal.

The air was cool, and an occasional gust, in fantastic mood, caught up
the dry leaves and whirled them about our travellers' heads in clouds.

"We must push on," said Darringford, as one of those miniature
whirlwinds swept past. "We have four leagues yet before us."

"I thought we stopped at Kendal," said Noel.

"Within the confines of Kendal, but two leagues beyond the town."

Without further remark the twain pursued their way; and when they
reached Kendal they found the streets deserted and quiet. The quaint old
gables looked like ghostly spectres against the cold, gray sky, while
the few sickly lamps that struggled for life upon the corners of the
principal thoroughfares were like the eyes of drowsy monsters just
sinking to sleep. The moon was in the west, at times obscured by driving
clouds, and anon peering down upon the world below.

For a long time the two had walked on in silence. Noel was busy with
thoughts of his strange adventure, while his companion seemed equally
engaged in personal reflections. To the mind of our hero, when he
grasped them as a whole, the events of the past eight and forty hours
seemed more like the phantoms of a dream than like things of reality. He
could not comprehend the full force of the circumstances which had been
leading him; and more than once he pressed his hand upon his brow, and
closed and opened his eyes, to assure himself that he was awake. That he
was to see his mother at the end of his journey he believed; and yet it
was like faith in a prophetic vision, rather than like a reality of
life. Mother! What varied emotions crowded upon his soul as that name
rested upon his lips. From a firm and rational belief that his parents
were both dead--while the pale face of his mother, cold in the arms of
death, was still clearly defined in his memory--while he could look back
upon the green hillock where he had knelt in mourning for her loss--he
had been told that she still lived--that she who had died was not his
mother.

Then came other thoughts, crowding persistently upon his mind. Why had
he been left in infancy to the care of strangers? Why had she who gave
him birth thus deserted him in the hour when 'tis said a mother's love
is strongest, and when the child most needs her loving care and
guidance? Upon this point he could gain no information from the
smuggler. Darringford was either ignorant upon the subject, or he was
unwilling to tell what he knew. He professed to know that the woman whom
they now sought was the true mother, and he hinted at much more. Had
this information come from another source, Noel would have rejected it;
or, at least, would have been very slow to give it credence; but the
smuggler had given undeniable proof that he was thoroughly acquainted
with the circumstances of which he spoke; and, furthermore, there was an
atmosphere of truth about the man--a stern and uncompromising sense of
honor--which gave to his words indisputable weight of authority.

There was no deception in his manner; but he seemed so true and so
frank, and, withal, so devoted to the welfare of his friends, that the
young man could not doubt him; and, with the belief that all would be at
some time satisfactorily explained, he kept on his way.

"Now, my boy," said Darringford, an hour and a half after they had left
Kendal, "we are almost at our journey's end, and the promise which I
gave to your mother is near its fulfilment."

"A promise?" repeated our hero, gazing up into the face of his
companion.

"Yes,--a promise made long ago."

"Then you have known her long?"

"Did I not tell you that I knew her when you were an infant?"

"Aye--you did. But you said nothing of any promise."

"No--I did not deem it necessary."

"But you will now tell me the nature of the promise?"

"Yes. Listen: Years ago, Mr. Bradford, I promised your mother that if I
could find you in any part of the world, I would lead you to her; and,
furthermore, that I would make all possible exertion to discover your
whereabouts. She gave me a clue to your home in Boston, and to the woman
in whose charge you had been left; but when I reached there, the woman
had moved away, and I could not find her. I went again, and she was
dead, and you had gone to sea on board the Hector. From that time I lost
all trace of you until, by the merest accident, I picked up the paper
which contained a notice of your appointment in the navy, together with
an account of your former career. I should not have acted so hastily as
I did had I not discovered that there was danger in your path."

"And yet," said Noel, reproachfully, "you will not tell me what that
danger is."

"I cannot do so now," returned the smuggler. "You must rest satisfied
with the assurance that for the present you are safe from its influence.
Ah! Do you observe that house in the distance?"

"I can distinguish something that resembles a house."

"There I left your mother."

"There!"

"Yes."

The warm blood leaped more rapidly through the young man's frame; and as
the house grew more and more distinct a feverish excitement possessed
his head and heart.

The gray tints of morning were visible in the eastern horizon as the two
travellers stopped in front of the dwelling which had been pointed out.
It was an old, odd structure, a part of it at least dating from the time
of Elizabeth, with an elaborately ornament gable front the street, and
two more on the wings. Below the central gable was a broad porch, upon
the massive oaken door of which the smuggler rapped with the hilt of his
cutlass. Presently a head was put out from one of the upper windows, and
a pleasant female voice asked--

"Who's that?"

"It's Darringford; so make haste, Mary, and let me in."

"You are early this morning," said Mary, as she opened the heavy door.

"Aye--or late, as you may please to call it," replied the smuggler.
"Myself and friend have been on the road all night."

"Your friend?" repeated the girl, for the first time observing the new
face. "Ah, I see--you have company. But come in, and you shall have a
warm fire, and something to warm the stomach, withal. But tread lightly,
for my lady has been worse during the night."

"Worse!" grasped Noel, turning an inquiring look upon Darringford. "Is
it she?--my----"

"--sh! I told you she was very low. You will see her very soon. But
first you shall know the circumstances under which she is placed. When
she married--it is now nearly eight and twenty years ago--she did so
against the express wish of her father; and after the birth of her first
child, which was a daughter, she was disinherited, and forbidden ever to
enter her father's house again. Her husband was poor, and on the birth
of her second child, which yourself----"

"Myself?" interrupted Noel. "Do you say that I was born in England?"

"Certainly," answered the smuggler. "When you were six months old,
however, your father received what he thought to be an excellent offer
to emigrate, and, in company with his wife and children, he took
passage. The business inducement which had been held out to him proved a
failure, and in about a year he died."

"And my mother."

"Don't be impatient. In three months after her husband's death your
mother received news from England that her father was dead, and that in
his will he had made ample provision for her--provided, however, that
she should make her appearance, and present her claims to the executors,
within one year from the date of the instrument. Possessing but scanty
means, and unable to pay all that was demanded for the passage of
herself and child--the daughter was dead before the father died--she
finally resolved to leave you in charge of a woman named Bradford, who
had been very kind to her, intending to send for you as soon as the
business was settled.

"Your mother arrived safely in England, and without difficulty the
living was obtained; but when she sent back for you the woman had moved,
and no intelligence could be obtained of her whereabouts. Years passed
before you were heard from again, though continual search was made. When
Mrs. Bradford was upon her death-bed she informed a clergyman of the
circumstances under which she had adopted the child, and in time this
information reached your mother's ears, and she sent me in search of
you; but when I arrived in Boston you had gone to sea in the Hector, and
when intelligence of that ship's destruction reached England, you were
given up as lost. Two years ago, however, I learned from a man who had
sailed in the Atlas, that a boy had been saved from the wreck of the
Hector bearing the name by which my sister's child had been known, and
that he was then on board the English ship. This I communicated to your
mother; and she exacted from me a promise that I would seek you, and, if
possible, bring you to her. You know how I found you."

"But the wrongs of which you have spoken?"

"I am coming to that. To the will which your mother's father left was
attached a codicil, by which his daughter's eldest son, if he lived to
the age of majority, should succeed to a very important estate and
living. Exertions are now being made to crush that provision of the
will; and but for some collateral evidence which your mother possessed,
of documents, both from her father and from his attorney, her child
might yet be turned penniless upon the world; for the living which she
received dies with her."

"For myself I care not," said Noel, lowering his voice as he heard the
sound of footsteps upon the stairs; "but justice shall be done, even
though I find pain instead of joy."

"Then you will follow up your rights?"

"If they be rights,--yes!--so long as life is mine."

"And you shall have my assistance to the end," said the smuggler, with
much warmth, at the same time extending his hand, which the youth
eagerly grasped.

At this juncture Mary re-entered the apartment, and whispered to
Darringford.

"Quick, my boy!" said the chieftain, laying his hand upon the youth's
shoulder. "If you would see your mother alive, come with me."

With eager, careful tread our hero followed his guide up the broad
stairway, into a passage that led toward the front part of the house. At
length Darringford stopped before a door that opened to the left, and
turning to Noel he placed his finger upon his lips; then raised the
latch, and passed softly through into the room beyond. The youth's heart
beat tumultuously as he followed his conductor, and when he had entered
the room he at first found it difficult to distinguish objects about
him. Upon a sideboard burned a lamp with dim, uncertain flame, the
closely drawn curtains and closed shutters cutting off the beams of the
morning, thus leaving only the sickly light of the lamp to illumine the
place. In a far corner the high, dingy canopy of a bed arose like a
spectre out from the gloom; and a quick, spasmodic breathing struck upon
the new-comer's ears as the soft carpet drank up the sound of his
footfall.

"Has he come?" feebly articulated a voice from the bed, while the
rustling of the clothing indicated an effort on the part of the occupant
to raise herself from her pillow.

"He is here," answered Darringford.

"My son! O, my son!"

Noel waited to hear no more. Whatever may have been the feelings of
doubt, of anxiety, of fear, or of hope, that had found place in his
bosom, they were all set at rest by that plaintive, eager cry; and with
a quick bound he reached the bedside, and as he bent over the form that
lay there, two weakening arms encircled his neck.

"My son, my son! Heaven be praised that I once more hold thee to my
bosom!"

Noel would have spoken, but he could not. The tumultuous throbbing of
his heart choked his utterance, and he could only weep and sob.

"O, Noel!" murmured the failing woman, "is it possible that after all
these years I behold thee again? Draw back the curtains, and let the sun
shine upon me before I die."

"You are not dying!" cried Noel. "O, no--say not so. Live--live, to
bless your son."

Darringford moved noiselessly to the eastern window, and drew back the
curtain. The first beams of the morning floated softly through the high
window, and bathed the bed in its mellow light.

"My time on earth is near its close, and but a few brief moments are
left," whispered the dying woman, as she gazed eagerly into the face of
the youth. "I feel it--I know it. Death has long been near me, but God
hath preserved me to this moment; and now--now that I have opportunity
to make full reparation for all past neglect, I can die in peace."

"God's will be done!" ejaculated Noel, pressing his lips upon the pale
brow. "But talk not of reparation. Let us rather hope----"

"No, no--there is no hope," interrupted the woman. She struggled, and
seemed trying to collect her disturbed and shattered senses; and finally
continued--"Ere I go, you shall have the means to obtain those rights
which are yours. My enemies know not the proofs I possess. Here,
Noel--take this key. Go to that casket--open it--quick, quick! The
papers are--are--the papers--all--there!"

Upon a table near the head of the bed was a small brass-bound box, and
taking the proffered key, our hero tremblingly applied it to the lock,
and threw back the cover. The interior presented a blank, unbroken
space, and, save a few insignificant trinkets, it was utterly empty!

"There is nothing here, my mother," said Noel, when he had assured
himself that there could be no hidden compartment.

"Nothing?"

"Nothing at all, save these few bits of tarnished jewellery."

"Nothing! Gone!--all, all gone!" shrieked the sufferer, in frantic
accents, at the same time raising herself to her elbow. "Is there
nothing? O, be sure!"

Noel carried the casket to the bedside, and she gazed into its vacant
depths.

"Gone, gone! O, merciful God! Noel, dear boy!--I am----"

"Mother, mother--speak to me! O, speak but one word. Tell me who hath
done this. Tell me what I shall do."

The fast failing woman turned her head slightly, and looked upon him who
bent over her; but the expression was vacant, and she seemed unconscious
of the tears that were raining upon her bosom.

"Mother!--dear mother! Can you not speak one word to your son?"

No movement indicated that she heard. "She sleeps!"

A shadow, like the passing of a thin cloud over the face of the sun,
rested upon the still eyes, and the slight quiver of the lips ceased.

The weary child of sorrow was at rest.




CHAPTER XII.--THE MAN IN A PEASANT'S GARB.


WHEN Noel had released the lifeless burden from his embrace, he sank
into a chair and covered his face with his hands.

At length the smuggler left the window, and approached the spot where
our hero sat by the side of the couch. The nervous movements of the
muscles of the face were gone, and his expression was stern and
resolute.

"Noel, you have no time for useless mourning. There is work to be done,
and upon you it devolves to perform it. The papers of which she spoke
are the sole evidences of your birthright, and they must be found."

"But how?--where?" asked the youth, eagerly.

"That remains to be ascertained. Of one thing, however, I am assured:
they cannot be far off." Then turning to Mary, who was weeping bitterly,
the smuggler continued--

"Mary, when did you last see your mistress open this casket?

"To-day is Sunday?" she said, queryingly.

"Yes."

"It was on Thursday that she last opened it. She then arranged the
papers as she wished you to find them; and when she had locked it up, I
placed it on the table."

"And she kept the key?"

"Yes, sir. Ever since the papers have been in her possession she has not
suffered the key to go from her."

"Who has visited this chamber since Thursday?"

"No one but the physician has been here alone."

"Who is this physician?"

"Mr. Thornton."

"Jacob Thornton?" asked Darringford, his brow contracting.

"Yes, sir."

"Then he is the villain!" exclaimed the smuggler, starting from the seat
he had taken by Noel's side. "Thornton is a bosom friend of young St.
George, and----"

"St. George?" interrupted Noel. "Did you say--St. George?"

"Yes. Such was your mother's name, and such is the name of the man who
seeks to wrest from you the property that is legally yours."

"That name is familiar to me," pursued the youth, reflectively. "I
certainly have remembrance of it."

"Not a very distinct one, I opine," suggested Darringford.

"It grows more distinct the more I think of it; and I know that the
impression is of childhood."

"Very likely."

"And is it my own true name?" asked Noel, eagerly.

"For the present, my boy, you had better keep the name you have borne so
long. If there is to be a change, it will be time enough when you regain
the proofs of your right to another."

"And those are the proofs that have been stolen?"

"Yes. But they may be found."

Darringford would have spoken further, but he was interrupted by the
sound of footsteps below, and turning to Mary, he said--

"Go down and see who has come, and then send out for assistance in
preparing the body of your lady."

By and by several of the female neighbors entered the solemn chamber,
after which Darringford and his companion sought the open air. As they
emerged from the porch they beheld a man sitting near the door. He was
of middle-age, and wore the garb of a peasant. From an old clay pipe he
was pulling forth clouds of tobacco smoke, which, as they curled up in
blue wreaths above his head, seemed to engross the whole of his
attention. It was not until our two friends had reached his side that he
gave token of consciousness.

"Ah--good morrow, my masters," he cried, removing the pipe from his
mouth, and arising from his seat.

"The same to you, sir," returned Darringford. "You seem to be taking
your ease."

"Very likely," and the peasant, looking steadily and inquisitively into
the face of his interlocutor. "I allers takes my ease when there's
noth'n else to do, an' 'specially when I'm on the watch for somethin'."

"Were you watching for anything here?"

"May be, yes; and may be, no," laconically replied the stranger, taking
another whiff at his pipe. "That's just as matters turn out. There's
somebody somewhere--p'r'aps hereabouts--that I'd like to see."

The smuggler looked the man over from head to foot, and with a quiet
smile remarked--

"Perhaps you seek me."

"May be so."

"There is no need that you should be overcautious here, unless you have
brought eavesdroppers with you. Do you seek Guy Darringford?"

"That's the man."

"Then your search may end here."

"So I thought."

"And now to your business."

"You had a bout with the revenue beaks on the Lancashire-road last
night?"

"Well?"

"Six men were killed, and the lieutenant was one of 'em?"

"You don't seem to require information upon that point?" said
Darringford, bending a keen glance upon the stranger.

"No," returned the latter; "but you may need a little."

"Very well. If you have it, out with it." The peasant cast an enquiring
look at Noel. "You need not fear to speak."

"All right; but, ye see, we can't allers tell who to trust." The man
knocked the ashes from his pipe, and having put it into his pocket, he
continued--

"'Twasn't only about half o' the sojers that overhawled you last night.
The rest of 'em was further up; but they've got wind of what's been
done, and the whole squad's comin' down arter you."

"After me?" exclaimed the smuggler. "How gained they intelligence of my
whereabouts?"

"You was tracked by two of the excisemen."

"And how come you to know of it?"

"I got it of a man who don't wish to be known, as he's an honest trader
in Kendal, where the excisemen stopped."

"Do you know if I am the only object of their search?" asked
Darringford.

"Not quite," replied the messenger, with a significant nod toward our
hero. "There's two of you, for certain--and if I'm not mistaken, this
ere young man is the second one. At all events, he answers to the
description I heard; and 'tis said he's the one that killed the
leftenant."

"Noel, we must haul our wind out of this," said the chieftain,
reluctantly.

"And leave the remains of my mother uncared for?" cried the youth.

"There are plenty of neighbors who will attend to that. We must not stop
here. The officers will be down upon us by noon."

"Before then, sir," interposed the peasant. "Their men are only a little
way below the Ripples, and they'll be back in a hurry."

"Then let them come," said Noel. "I have no occasion to flee from the
officers of justice, nor do I wish to be hunted to the wall by a pack of
soldiers. You can care for yourself; but I shall remain here--at least
until I have seen the sacred remains of my mother properly interred."

"And be apprehended by those same officers."

"No--I am no smuggler--no outlaw."

"You forget the lieutenant and his man."

"But that was in self-defence," urged Noel.

"Perhaps you can make the revenue officers regard it in that light,"
returned Darringford, ironically. "But, seriously, I think you can much
more easily elude them altogether. Resisting a king's officer, even unto
death, is no slight offence; and if you know when you are well off you
will not tempt the law."

Our hero was placed in a position where calm reflection was not very
pleasant; and yet the words of his companion led his mind into that
channel. He had slain two of the king's men--in self-defence, he said to
himself--but the law would hold that he had killed them while in the
performance of their legitimate duty. Such an offence was punishable
with transportation for life, if not with hanging. Those thoughts marked
a change in the young man's disposition; and to his companion he said--

"I see the difficulty; and since I have unwittingly become involved in
the dangerous business, I must work my way out as best I can, I will
follow you. But when can we prosecute our search after the missing
papers?"

"As soon as we get clear of this scrape," returned the smuggler. And
then lowering his voice, he added--

"Be careful how you disclose your secrets; for we know not the man who
hears us."

At that moment the peasant placed his hand in his bosom, and withdrew a
handkerchief, with which he wiped his brow; and as he returned it he
said--

"That was sorry work, young man--sorry work! And so you killed 'em
both?"

Noel was upon the point of making an affirmative answer, which he
intended to qualify by an explanation, when Darringford laid his hand
heavily upon his shoulder. Our hero felt the hand quiver, and he cast a
quick, eager glance into the chieftain's face. One less skilled in
reading the thoughts and feelings of the impulsive, frank-hearted sons
of the ocean might have failed to gather the meaning of the storm-cloud
that had so suddenly gathered upon Guy's brow; but Noel read it in an
instant. Had the warning of silence and danger been thundered in his
ears, he could not have taken it more surely. He returned a glance of
understanding, upon which Darringford said, addressing him by a false
name--

"Mr. Murray, will you step into the house and inform Mary of our
necessary departure; but tell her we will return to the funeral. While
you are gone I will enquire further of our good friend here about the
number and intention of our pursuers."

As the smuggler thus spoke he touched the youth upon the shoulder, as
though to accelerate his movements, and in a quick, low whisper,
unobserved by the peasant, he added--

"Our cutlasses and pistols! Quick!"

Though Noel had gathered the idea that there was danger impending, yet
the fierce energy of the chieftain's manner startled him; but without
betraying any sign he turned toward the house, and disappeared. In a
very few moments, however, he returned, with the weapons in his hands;
and when Guy Darringford saw him he sprung like a tiger upon the
peasant, seizing him by the throat, and bearing him backward upon the
earth, where he held a hand over his mouth, and a knee upon his breast,
while he turned to Noel.

"Hand me a pistol!"

Darringford received the weapon, cocked it, and then pointing the muzzle
at the head of the prostrate man, he sternly said--

"If you utter one word other than in straightforward answer to my
questions, a brace of bullets shall whistle through your brains on the
instant! Now--how many men have you, and where are they?"

As Darringford spoke he removed his hand from the mouth of the pretended
peasant, and Noel saw the cause of his companion's first signal of
danger. In the struggle the coarse frock had been torn open, and beneath
was revealed the uniform of a revenue officer. When the handkerchief had
been pulled out, the smuggler had caught sight of the official buttons;
and until that moment the idea of the stranger being a spy had not
entered his mind.

"Let me up! Let me up, and I will tell you everything. You are killing
me here."

Without more ado Darringford seized the fellow by the throat and
waistband, and, by his own main strength, lifted him and bore him into
the house, where he and Noel securely bound his wrists and ankles.

"Now, my friend," said the smuggler, placing his prisoner in a chair,
"where are your men?"

"I have none," was the sudden reply.

"Do you mean to tell me that you came from the town, to seek me,
unattended?"

"Yes."

"Then allow me to inform you, that you lie! If you know Guy Darringford,
you will tell him the truth."

At this juncture Mary came down from the chamber in great haste.

"Captain Darringford, there's a party of soldiers approaching the
house."

"Ha! which way come they?"

"From the direction of the Castle Bridge."

The smuggler chief took a stop toward the officer, but stopped.

"Mary, to your care we must leave the dead. When the soldiers come, tell
them I have gone; and if a man of them offers insolence or violence,
mark him so that you can point him out at a future time. Noel, secure
our arms, and follow me."

Thus speaking, Guy Darringford lifted the bound man and threw him across
his shoulder, and then hastened out by the rear court, our hero
following close upon his heels.




CHAPTER XIII.--THE BELDAM.


BACK from the house, through the dense forest that reached to the Loyne
river, led a narrow, beaten track, into the intricate windings of which
the smuggler sped with his heavy burden. At a short distance they came
to a small opening where ran a shallow brook that delivered its flood
into the Ken. Here Darringford stopped, and shook the revenue officer
from his shoulder, saying, as he did so--

"You were somewhat heated with passion a short time since, and here is a
wondrous opportunity for cooling your blood. You will find the bed
soft."

As the unfortunate spy flounced and struggled in the middle of the
stream, he managed to splutter--

"You shall suffer for this! You are a marked man, and though you escape
now, you shall not be long at liberty."

"Very well," returned the chieftain. "I shall try and be prepared for
your entertainment should you ever visit me again; and in the mean time
I wish you much joy of your bath."

Darringford beckoned for Noel to follow him, and together the two struck
off for the eastward. The narrow path became more and more intricate,
but the guide appeared well acquainted with the dubious way, moving on
with a speed that gave our hero not a little trouble of care and
exercise.

"How much further must we travel in this manner?"

"We must keep the forest until we reach the Loyne."

"And when do you think of venturing to return?"

"Either to-night, or to-morrow morning. Near the river is encamped a
band of gipsies; and I hope to obtain important assistance from them."

"Assistance in what?" asked Noel, wondering if his companion meditated
the leading of a force back to the house to resist the officers.

"In finding the papers which have been stolen from your mother."

"And do you think the gipsies can know any thing of them?"

"They may know much. Young St. George has often sought the assistance of
these same people in his evil works, and he may have done so in this
case. You may not be aware of the many and mysterious means through and
by which these forest nomads operate. I think I should not hit very wide
of the mark if I said that Jacob Thornton, under another name, belonged
to their tribe."

"The physician who attended my mother?" asked Noel, in surprise.

"The very same."

"But from the manner in which you spoke of him this morning, I supposed
he was well known in the town as a doctor."

"Not in the town," returned the smuggler; "but in the outskirts--about
the thinly populated verge of the forest--he is quite noted for his
medical knowledge; and, in truth, he is an excellent physician--one
whose school and laboratory have both been in nature, and who seems to
regard disease as an interloper that needs to be quietly taken in hand
and led away, rather than to be nursed and potted or roughly kicked out.
His skill and success have found him plenty of patrons, and this gives
him plenty of opportunity to become acquainted with the private affairs
of families, which knowledge he turns to account in more ways than one."

"And do you really think he had anything to do with the missing
documents?"

"I am confident of it."

"Then let us seek him at once. But--what if the papers have been
destroyed?"

"In that case we must have the evidence of him who stole them," said
Darringford. "At all events, we will make the trial. The interruption of
the revenue men has not materially disconcerted my plans, for I had
intended to seek the gipsies. They frequently assist us in getting our
contraband goods across the country, and many of them are at my
service."

Noel made no immediate reply to the smuggler's remarks, but followed on
in silence. The position in which he was now acting was a peculiar one.
He had no definite plan of his own--no well defined object in view, but
he was merely following at the beck of another; and a train of
circumstances over which he had no control had placed him where he could
hardly be called the master of his own movements. That he was for the
present bound to the outlaw's fortunes there was no denying; for not
only were the highest hopes of life hinged upon the mystery which the
strange man held in keeping, but by his unfortunate combat on the king's
highway, the circumstances of which were known to the officers, he had
laid himself liable to arrest; and he knew of no surer method of keeping
clear of the authorities than in remaining with the smuggler.

An hour had passed since leaving the stream where the spy had been
dropped, and the Loyne was near at hand. Noel began to feel weak and
exhausted from long continued exertion, excitement, and loss of sleep,
and it was with difficulty that he kept pace with his companion, who
seemed to experience but little, if any, inconvenience from the toils
and privations of the preceding night. Darringford observed the youth's
condition, and as the low murmuring of the Loyne struck upon their ears,
he said--

"We have but little further to go, so cheer up, and when we reach the
camp you shall rest. But I wish to give you a warning before we arrive:
Be on your guard, and let not a word slip from your tongue concerning
your mother's death, or the loss of the papers; for it is necessary that
your very existence should remain unknown in the gipsy camp."

"Give me the need of this secrecy, and I may be better guarded."

"The chief need is this, my boy: Rupert St. George must not discover
that his rival heir is in this part of the kingdom; for, should he learn
that fact, he might checkmate us in spite of right and justice. He
already has the move of us."

"I see that point," returned our hero, with peculiar emphasis, "and I
will in so far follow your counsel; but--but----"

"Well--'but' what?" demanded Darringford, stopping and bending an
enquiring look upon his companion.

"I was about to add that your conduct, in spite of all my reasoning,
appears to me strange and incomprehensible."

"How so?" asked the smuggler, still keeping his gaze fixed upon the
varying countenance of the youth. "What particular part seems so
strange?"

"It all seems strange. Whatever information you have to communicate
comes to me in detached fragments, and at different times, though it be
a continuous story. At one moment you refuse me information, and in
another you communicate it. And, furthermore, your movements are----"

"Suspicious, perhaps?" suggested Darringford.

"They certainly would be, had I anything to suspect," replied Noel,
frankly. "But I do not believe you are deceiving me."

"Then rest assured that the time is not far distant when you shall be
entirely satisfied. Ah,--here we are."

They had emerged upon the western bank of the river, and close by lay a
raft of withed logs; while upon the opposite side of the stream could be
seen the smoke of the gipsy camp. It was the work of but a few moments
to set the raft across the river; and ere long our hero, for the first
time, found himself in the midst of the strange nomads of whom he had
heard and read so much. There were near threescore of the gypsies,
occupying a dozen tents, while upon the outskirts of the encampment were
erected a few small huts of poles and brushwood. In the centre of the
space was arranged the cooking department, where a few of the women were
busy in preparations for dinner.

The gipsies at once recognised the smuggler chieftain, and saluted him
with deference as he passed. He continued on through the encampment to
the tent farthest from the river, which he entered, followed by Noel.
The tent was occupied by an old man, who was busily engaged over the
advertising columns of a newspaper and who, when the curtain at the
entrance was pulled aside, started in anger, and was upon the point of
harsh reprimand, when he recognised his visitor.

"Ah, captain,--is it you?"

"Yes, Ethelred. You were not looking for me, eh?"

"Well,--I thought you might come this way in your flight."

"Flight?" repeated Darringford, inquisitively.

"Yes," returned Ethelred. "I heard of your trouble, Or, at least, I
heard that the beaks had tracked you to the edge of Walling Moor. Eh?"
he continued, for the first time observing the youth,--"This, I take it,
is the man that settled the lieutenant and his comrade. I heard of it.
Some of our folks came up from the town this morning."

"Such news flies rapidly, I see," said the smuggler, with apparent
unconcern. "But I have not exactly sought your camp for safety. Had that
been my sole purpose, I should have turned my steps in a different
direction. No, I came on business."

"With me?"

"Perhaps so. At any rate, you shall know what I seek. In the meantime,
will you let my companion have some quiet corner where he can throw
himself down for a bit of repose, while we take a stroll out of earshot
from your people?"

"Certainly," said the gipsy. "The young man shall have as good a
resting-place as my tent affords; for he surely gives token of
weariness."

Thus speaking, Ethelred went to a rear corner, whence he drew forth a
large sack filled with moss and fern, which he spread upon the ground;
and having thrown over it a few goat skins, he turned to Noel, and
kindly remarked--

"There, Mr. Bradford,--that may not be equal to a cot in the gun-room of
a frigate, but you'll find it a very comfortable resting-place for a
body that is really tired."

Noel was somewhat startled by this ready pronunciation of his name; but
as the party which he had accompanied up from Morecambe Bay had known
it, there was, after all, nothing wonderful about it; so he collected
himself, and kindly thanked his host for his hospitality.

When Ethelred and the smuggler had gone, Noel laid himself down upon the
bed, where he reflected upon the wondrous events that were crowding so
thickly upon him; but the weight of fatigue bowed his senses, and he had
closed his eyes to sleep, when he felt a hand laid lightly upon his
shoulder. He looked up, and behold the bright spirit of his boyhood's
vision. The same celestial features beamed upon him that gave him thrill
of life on that fearful night when the Hector found her grave;--the same
mild, loving eyes--the same bright effulgence of smile,--and though the
youth knew 'twas but a phantom, yet he felt that there was to him a
blissful reality in its presence; and he felt, too, that the omen was of
good to himself.

"Noel," whispered the angel visitant, "once more, and only once, shall
you behold me ere your toilsome journey be completed. Rest in peace till
you are refreshed; and when you awake let my visit give you new hope and
courage. The goal is still ahead. Be firm and strong."

Noel had no power to speak--no power to move. He saw the beautiful
presence waste away into the surrounding shadows, and then, while a
tranquil soothing influence settled down upon his spirit, he sank into a
deep sleep.

When our hero awoke, he knew, by the slanting sunbeams which entered
beneath the canopy, that the day was near its close, and that he had
slept long. He arose to a sitting posture, and was upon the point of
springing to his feet, when he was startled by what at first he thought
to be a creation of his own overwrought imagination; but a little
examination proved it to be a thing of flesh and blood--an old
woman--sitting quietly upon a low stool at the foot of the couch. She
was habited in a coarse brown mantle, the ample folds of which reached
to her feet; while her hair, which was thick and unconfined, hung in
masses of dingy, yellowish white, while here and there shadows of darker
hue, where age had not touched its silvery pencil so deeply--hung low
and tangled over her back and shoulders, and upon her breast. Her hands
were shrivelled and brown; and as they rested upon the cross head of the
oaken staff which she carried for support, they looked not unlike the
talons of an eagle. And her face, too, in its sharp angles and
corrugations, and in the wondrous intensity of the brilliant gray eyes
bore a very close resemblance to the physiognomy of the aerial marauder.

"You have slept long, my son," remarked the singular being, as she
caught the eye of the wondering youth.

"Yes," returned Noel. "And I have slept well too."

"So I should judge. The sun has told five hours since you slept, three
of which I have spent here in watching you."

"In watching me?" repeated Noel, arising to his feet, and regarding the
beldam with a curious look.

"Aye," she returned--"in watching you."

"And for what?"

"That I might speak with you."

"Very well," returned the young man, who could not repress a certain
degree of awe and respect in the weird-like presence. "Anything you may
have to say will be listened to very attentively."

"Then take this stool, and sit by my side."

Mechanically our hero obeyed; and having gained the new position, he
waited with no little anxiety for further developments.

"Perhaps you do not believe that the power hath ever been vouchsafed to
mortals to read the language of the unseen," said the old woman.

"I am inclined to believe when I have good and sufficient evidence,"
replied Noel.

"And for that evidence you depend upon your own senses?"

"God hath given me no other medium of evidence."

"And what evidence have you of the existence of the God of whom you
speak?"

"I have the evidence of the highest and noblest of all my senses--that
inborn monitor that points my soul to a Power above my own--a Power that
had wisdom to plan, and ability to create, my living, moving, and
thinking system."

"But that is the mere teaching of religion."

"Nay--it is the teaching of the soul. If you would seek the man who can
see no evidence of Deity, you must look for him among those who have too
much of this world's teaching. But--upon the unbeliever's own
ground--must there not have been a grand centre, or foundation-head, of
all matter, and of all material form?"

"Certainly."

"And is there nothing in man higher than matter?"

The woman nodded.

"Aye," pursued Noel, with enthusiasm--"man is possessed of a soul--of a
spirit-essence or being; and that spirit must have had an origin, and
its origin must have been greater than itself. And, my good woman, the
spirit of man, untrammelled and free, instinctively soars aloft in
search of its Parent."

"Then you are prepared to believe some things of which you can have no
evidence save interior sense?"

"Yes. I can believe that which might be scouted in derision by another."

For several moments the beldam sat in silence. She gazed fixedly into
the youth's face, as though able to read his most private thoughts. At
length she reached forth her skeleton fingers, and took his hand. He did
not resist, but suffered her to open the palm, and trace the lines that
ran to and fro across the skin.

"Well, and what do you see?" asked Noel, his awe fast giving place to
contempt, as she began thus to operate in her witch-like avocation.

"I can see little by your hand," replied the gipsy, scorning to take no
notice of the young man's tone. "From these lines I can only read the
past."

"And that I know better than you do."

"As well, perhaps; but I much doubt me if you know it better, my son."

"At least," pursued Noel, determined not to be trapped into even a
seeming interest in the dark science, "I shall need no history of the
past from you."

"No," returned the woman, with a very quiet, peculiar smile--"Guy
Darringford hath told thee all that."

"And did he tell me the truth?" exclaimed our hero, forgetting, for the
moment, his resolution of unconcern.

For a time the beldam made no answer. She had dropped the young man's
hand, and was intently studying his features. There was something in the
expression of her bronzed countenance that betokened a deeper thought
than that of mere fortune-telling; and once more he experienced a
feeling of awe in her presence.

"Did he tell me the truth?" repeated Noel, with increasing anxiety, as
he watched the woman's varying features.

"I will not unsay what he has said," answered the gipsy. She spoke
solemnly, and at the same time placed her hand upon the youth's full,
high brow, and pushed back the wavy hair. "And yet," she added, "he
spoke only from the evidence of external sense--from what he thought he
knew. But let that pass. I can tell you of the future."

Noel Bradford was not weak-minded, nor was he prone to superstition; but
the memory of his angel visitant, together with the influence which had
thus been exercised over his feelings, led him to regard the pretended
power of his present companion with more favor than he might otherwise
have shown. There was, to be sure, an ominous darkness in the occult
calling of the woman; but then everything connected with his own affairs
seemed equally dark and mysterious; and hence he was led to an anxiety
which might not have reached him had he been unburdened with doubt.

"If you can tell me of the future, I am ready and willing to listen," he
said.

"I can read your future in your face, my son. The most important event
of your life is soon to transpire. Good and ill are equally blended;
though, happily for you, an angel spirit watches over you--watching even
now and here."

Noel started, and gazed eagerly around the tent, expecting to behold his
blessed visitant; but only the dingy, meagre appurtenances of the gipsy
habitation met his view.

"There is danger in your path," continued the beldam, without giving her
companion opportunity to speak, "and secret enemies are lurking round
about you. It is necessary that the business which brought you to our
camp should be quickly performed."

"Business?"

"Aye, young man--business--the papers that were stolen from your
mother."

"Darringford is----"

Noel hesitated as the warning of the smuggler came to his mind.

"I know full well the object of your visit; and I know, too, that
Darringford is seeking for the lost papers; but without my assistance he
can never find them."

"And you know where they are?" cried our hero, eagerly grasping the
woman's arm.

"Yes," she replied.

"Are they safe?"

"Yes."

"And can I obtain them?"

"On certain conditions."

"Name them! Name them!"

"They are simply these: You shall deliver the papers to Guy Darringford,
who will, as soon as possible, place them in the hands of a responsible
attorney; but you shall not tell him whence you obtained them until you
have seen me again. You must return with him to Walling Moor, and as
soon as you have seen your mother's remains interred, you shall
accompany the smuggler chief to Bristol. Will you promise this?"

Noel hesitated.

"They are the only conditions upon which you can obtain the papers."

"I promise."

As the youth thus spoke, the old woman took from a leathern pouch that
hung within the folds of her robe a small, neatly enveloped packet, and
placed it in his hands. He felt that papers were enclosed, and he was
upon the point of opening the end of the packet, when a heavy footfall
was heard without, and upon a sign from the beldam he placed the
precious parcel in his bosom. On the next moment Guy Darringford entered
the tent.




CHAPTER XIV.--MYSTERIOUS HIEROGLYPHICS.


IT was dark when Darringford and Noel reached the house which they had
left in the morning, and everything in the neighborhood seemed safe and
quiet. From Mary they learned that the officers had been there, but had
offered no violence; and, upon learning of the departure of the smuggler
and his youthful companion, they had gone out and found their
lieutenant, and then struck off to the south-east.

Guy was overjoyed when he learned that Noel had the papers; and he had
too much good sense to urge the point as to the source whence they had
been obtained, though it was evident enough that he guessed the truth.
On the following day the mortal remains of Mrs St. George were consigned
to the tomb; and as our hero turned from the sacred spot his feelings
were wondrously varied. There was mourning and sadness; and yet there
was gladness and thanksgiving. The papers were his--the papers which an
enemy had stolen; and though he had not broken the seals, yet he felt
sure that they contained the evidences of his birth and heirship; and
that through them he should find the way to his rights.

No time was to be lost; so, on the afternoon of the day of the funeral,
Noel accompanied Darringford to the attorney's, in whose hands the
papers were to be placed. The man's name was Maybury, an old and
long-tried friend of Mrs. St. George, and a well read and successful
lawyer. To him the papers were given, and their character explained.

"And," added Darringford, "you are to examine, adjust, and execute."

"Have the seals been broken?" asked the old attorney, as he took the
packet.

"Not to my knowledge," replied the smuggler.

"In your presence, then, I will open them."

The seal of the first paper was broken, and Mr. Maybury ran his eyes
over the contents. A second and third were opened in like manner. The
fourth was opened, and at the bottom, on the margin, the attorney found
a cipher which puzzled him.

"Here is something which I cannot translate," he said, after studying
for some time in vain.

Guy Darringford took the document, and for the space of a full minute
studied the mysterious characters. Gradually a dark, ominous frown
gathered upon his brow, and a perceptible tremor shook his frame.

"Can you make anything of it?" asked Maybury, as the paper was returned
to him.

"No, Sir."

"But it seemed to affect you."

"It was not the signification of the mystic figures that affected me,"
replied Guy, hoarsely. "I was thinking of the time when these papers
were drawn up, and of her who has since died."

"Then you can make nothing of them?"

"Nothing, sir."

"It cannot have been that they were put upon the paper when the body of
the document was drawn up," said the attorney, at the same time
examining the hieroglyphics anew. "They are written by a different hand,
with different ink, and bear unmistakeable marks of having been made
quite recently."

"Never mind the cipher now," returned Darringford. "It is certainly no
part of the instrument, and can have no legal bearing upon it. You can
examine the papers at your leisure, and make the necessary arrangements
for executing their provisions."

Mr. Maybury promised to attend faithfully to the trust; and at Guy's
request he furthermore promised to keep the whole matter strictly
private until further orders.

After leaving the attorney's office our two friends walked a
considerable distance in silence. Our hero saw that his companion was
most busily engaged in his own reflections, and he would not disturb
him. At length, however the latter spoke.

"Noel, you received those papers from old Thamar?"

"Thamar? Who is she?"

"The gipsy woman with whom I found you conversing in the tent."

"If you know the fact," said Noel, "there is no need that I should break
my promise by giving you information."

"Certainly not. I know the papers have been in her possession."

"How so?"

"Simply because that cipher was hers."

"Do you mean that the old gipsy woman made those mysterious characters
upon the margin of the document?"

"Yes."

"It is curious, certainly. Why should she have put them there when no
one can read them?"

"Read them?" repeated Darringford. "They were addressed to me."

"But you could not read them."

"Not in the presence of Maybury."

"And did you, then, understand them?"

"As plainly as you could have understood the text that stood above
them."

"But why should she have written to you upon the margin of that
instrument, when she professed to desire that you should not know that
she had had possession of it?"

"She did not mean that I should have seen it until my return from
Bristol," replied the smuggler; "for she takes it upon herself to
explain a circumstance which is supposed to have happened during the
journey."

"Does it concern me?" asked Noel.

"More than it does me."

"Guy Darringford," cried the young man, over whose mind the events of
the interview with Thamar were exercising a potent influence, "I pray
you, trifle with me no more. If this thing concerns me, will you not
explain it to me?"

"I wish I could, Noel. But, truth to tell, I cannot explain it to
myself. The language is simple, and is of an event which is to happen to
you."

"But you must have gathered some idea of her meaning?"

"No, nothing that I can comprehend. Only the event to which she refers
can give us light; and that is yet a thing of the future."

Darringford spoke decisively; but yet our hero was sure he knew more
than he chose to impart; or, at least, that he suspected much more; but
failing, after repeated efforts, to obtain further light, he gave it up.

That night the twain set forth for Morecambe Bay. The sky was clear and
radiant, the weather bracing, and before morning they were again upon
the deck of the smuggler brig.

At sunrise the anchors were hove up, and sail made, and before a fresh
north-westerly breeze the brig ran out into the Irish Sea. Before noon
the Isle of Man bore N.N.W., and two reefs were taken in the top-sails,
and the top-gallant sails set over them. At dark Holyhead light was left
upon the larboard quarter, and the smuggler entered St. George's Channel
with the wind nearly astern.

During the night the wind hauled around to the westward, and in the
morning it had lulled to a perfect calm, while to the southward and
eastward arose a bank of dark clouds.

"There's a gale in those fellows," said Noel, pointing to where the
clouds were piling up.

"Aye--and a smart one, too," responded Darringford. "We shall catch it
with the tide."

"A reg'lar sou'-wester that'll be," ventured McDermot, who had the
wheel.

For a while longer the chieftain watched the rising clouds, and at
length he issued orders for furling the topgallant-sails. As soon as
this had been done, the yards were sent on deck, and a third reef taken
in the top-sails. A light, spitting gust occasionally swept across the
Channel from the Irish coast, but nothing to fill the sails.

The clouds, which had been banked up in the distant horizon, were now
rolling up, volume upon volume, in black, weird shapes; and ere the
seamen were prepared for the event, the sable mantle had shut down over
the sea, casting a gloom upon the dismal-hued water almost like night.
An occasional gust came flitting over the Channel; but at length the
source of these spittings was exhausted, and the calm was dead and
oppressive. Ere long after this a low, dull murmuring was heard,
whispering of the coming gale, Darringford cast his eyes aloft to see
that all was snug and secure; and having calculated the direction of the
rising wind, he pointed the yards that way.

The men had just come down from the main yard, where they had been to
make the bunt of the sail more secure, when to the southward and
westward the sea began to toss its waves over into white foam caps; and
presently a few spiteful gusts came sweeping over the water. From an
inky blackness the clouds had assumed a sort of brassy, lurid glare,
which lent a still deeper terror to the scene. Life-lines were rove fore
and aft, from night-head to taffrail, and from rail to rail.

The brig was now off the Welsh coast of Pembrokeshire, the land not more
than five leagues distant. Several smart squalls had heralded the coming
of the storm; and by and by the crash and the roar of the mighty spirit
were upon the sea.

The brig careened and leapt like a frightened fawn as the gale burst
upon her, and for a time she was literally buried in the foaming,
hissing waters; but she had been built under the eye of a man who had
anticipated such ordeals as this, and she was used to the warfare.

"We must give our canvas a bellyful, and make a run of it," said
Darringford, as the vessel arose from the first shock, and shook the
brine from her head.

"Will she stand it?" asked Noel, doubtingly.

"She must stand it. The tide is setting up the Channel, and if we lie to
we shall be driven and drifted ashore. An hour's run will put us beyond
all harm, and give us full scope of the Bristol Channel."

The orders were given for letting the brig off three points, and for
bracing the yards accordingly, and also for setting the stay-sails fore
and aft. The men trembled as they heard; but they had confidence in
their commander, and they obeyed. When the stay-sail sheets had been
hauled aft the vessel flew through the water like a feather upon the
bosom of a blast; the lee-rail dipped beneath the surging flood; and
ever and anon the hearts of the crew leaped to their throats as they
fancied they were surely going over; but Darringford knew no fear. He
kept the stay-sails on until the rising sea had rendered them almost
useless, and then he had them taken off.

Nearly an hour had elapsed since the brig had been thus laid with her
beam to the gale. It had been a fearful experiment; but there had been
no other alternative. At length, however, when the men had made up their
minds that their gallant craft must be overwhelmed, Darringford sprang
to the wheel, and in a voice that sounded high above the roar of the
gale, he shouted--

"Jump to the braces! Lay aloft, fore-top-men, and stand by to take in
the fore-top-sail!"

With the spirit of a new life the seamen hastened to the work, and very
soon the brig was lying to under a close-reefed main top-sail. The
rock-bound coast of Pembrokeshire was passed, and the men were grateful;
and yet they knew that there still remained a long and dangerous lee
shore between them and safety.




CHAPTER XV.--A BOLD PILOT.


DURING three hours the smuggler brig lay to in safety; but at the end of
that time Darringford began to entertain fears that she could not stand
it much longer. The gale had increased, and the seas, which came
sweeping in from the broad Atlantic, broke in relenting fury over the
smuggling vessel. She was upon the starboard tack, heading south-east;
the Welsh coast not more than twenty miles to leeward; and she every
moment drifting toward it.

"If I thought we could make the mouth of the Towy, I'd put her before
it," said Darringford.

"How does the river bear?" asked Noel.

"As near as I can judge it must be dead to leeward of us."

"So I had thought."

"Bradford, you have had experience. What would you do?"

"If I had the ghost of hope, I should make the run, captain. The brig
must certainly swamp if she breasts these terrible seas much longer."

"She cannot breast them," said Darringford, as a huge mountain of water
broke over the weather bow, and swept aft. "I must put her before it,
and risk the result."

"How many knots will she run off under bare poles?" asked Noel.

"That's hard to tell," replied the smuggler. "The wind is strong enough
to send us through the water at a good speed; and then we have a swift
current setting us to the east-ward up the Bristol Channel. Three hours,
at least, would bring us up."

As the chieftain spoke, he left the main brace, upon which he had been
holding, and staggered across to the binnacle. His situation was
perplexing in the extreme. He knew that his vessel could not much longer
weather the gale as she now lay; for she was completely under water more
than half the time; and to scud, which was the only other alternative,
would be attended by fearful danger; for if, by any chance, he should
miss the entrance of the Towy, utter destruction was certain. The wild
and rugged coast of Caermarthenshire was by no means a desirable
landing-place in such a gale.

"I must try it!" he said, as he stepped back to the weather quarter.

"You have counted the need, and the cost?" suggested Noel.

"I have--and am resolved."

Hardly had the words escaped Darringford's lips when a sea, far mightier
than any of its predecessors, came rolling down in its towering majesty,
and as it struck the brig it completely buried her in the deep, dark,
mad flood. For a long time the stricken bark groaned and quivered
beneath the shock; and when she at length struggled up from the sea, her
main topsail sheets had been carried away, and in a moment more the sail
was blown into ribbons.

"To the braces!" thundered Darringford, as soon as the deck was clear.
"Up with the helm! Ease off to leeward! Round in on the weather braces!
Steady! Belay all! And now may heaven help us!"

The brig was now before the wind, and under bare poles. The log was
thrown, but the following seas 'brought it home,' and no rate of speed
could be ascertained, though it was evident that they were going through
the water quite rapidly; and, furthermore, a tide current of at least
three knots was setting to the eastward.

"Two or three hours will bring our fate," remarked the captain, who,
with our hero, stood near the wheel; for it will be remembered that the
vessel rode with comparative steadiness now that she was before the
wind.

"Now's the time for your prayers, sir," said Redworth, who had the helm.

"Aye," returned Noel, to whom the words had been spoken--"and now is the
time for your seamanship, too; for if you let her off into the trough of
this sea prayers will not save your brig."

"By the piper's cow!" grunted the mate, "it's easy to say; but it's hard
to do. Some o' these seas strike the rudder kind o' savage like."

"Captain," ventured the young man, "we might as well be driven----"

Darringford put forth his hand with an admonitory motion.

"You think we need a little canvas?"

"Yes, sir."

"So I have thought. The sea is too high and strong for us as we are.
Ho--topmen! Lay aloft and loose the fore-top-sail! See that all is clear
on deck for sheeting home!"

When the gasket had been cast off, the starboard clew was loosed, and
carefully sheeted home, and then the larboard clew followed. The yard
was hoisted clear of the cap, and the sail was safely set, close reefed.

"That's more like it!" cried Redworth, who, now that the brig was flying
away from the chasing seas, found no difficulty in keeping her steady
before the wind.

Two look-outs were stationed at the fore-topmast cross-trees, and two
more at the bows, while the anchors were cleared, and the cables got
ready for running.

An hour passed, and the brig continued to fly like a frightened bird
over the wild sea. The decisive moment was drawing nigh, and men who had
faced the king's officers a hundred times without flinching, trembled
and turned pale before the invisible foe.

Fifteen minutes more were told by the glass, and just as the last sand
dropped, one of the men at the fore-topmast head shouted--

"Land-ho!"

The wind howled in fearful fury, and the mad sea raved,--but high above
the crash of contending elements sounded that cry from the mast-head.

"The chieftain seized his trumpet. Every nerve was strained, and the
muscles of his herculean frame worked like laboring cables.

"Mast-head, ahoy!"

"Hallo!"

"How does that land bear?"

"Right ahead, sir!"

"Level your glass, and take a look over the starboard bow," shouted
Darringford, going forward. "Take her when she rises. Now!"

As the captain spoke, the brig rose upon the summit of a towering sea,
and as far as the eye could reach the mountain crests were breaking and
surging in the gale. Upon the right, in the far distance, could be seen
the coast of Glamorgan, while upon the left lay the channel coast of
Pembroke. But what lay ahead?

"What do you make out?" demanded Darringford, as the brig settled into
the deep trough, and the look-out lowered his glass.

"There's a break in the shore a point and a half on the starboard bow."

"Did you look upon the other side?"

"Aye, aye, sir. The land breaks just the same on the larboard bow."

"God be praised!" ejaculated the strong man. "Noel, we are safe!"

"Safe?" repeated the youth, involuntarily clasping his hands.

"Yes, safe! We have the Towy upon our starboard bow, and the Cathy upon
our larboard. Our haven is at hand, and every inch of the way is now
clear to me."

The chieftain took his station upon the heel of the bowsprit, to con the
vessel, Noel standing in the gangway to pass the orders to the helmsman.

Ere long the bold headland that lay between the two rivers loomed up
over the sea, and the brig was put off two points to the eastward. On
dashed the storm-driven bark, and higher loomed the dark coast.

"Port!" shouted Darringford.

"Port!" repeated Noel; and Redworth gave her a couple of spokes of lee
helm.

"Steady!"

"Steady it is!"

"Starboard-quick!"

"Aye, aye!--starboard it is!"

A projecting cliff towered up on the starboard bow, and as the brig flew
by it almost grazed her yard-arms; but she weathered it in safety, and
in a few moments more the helm was put aport, and the vessel was fairly
within the river. The mad sea was shut out; the gale was broken ere it
reached the weary brig; and the crew gave thanks when they saw the
danger escaped.

Ere long the brig found comparatively smooth water, where the top-sail
was taken off, and the anchors let go. She rode safely enough in the
quiet river; but her grateful crew were well aware that very, very few
were the men living who could have brought her to the haven through the
dread dangers they had passed.

On the following morning the storm had abated, and the sun arose clear
and warm. Darringford was in deep thought, and held himself apart from
his companions; and as soon as he had eaten his breakfast, he had his
boat lowered, and went on shore. It was 10 o'clock when he returned, and
calling our hero into the cabin, he said--

"Noel, I believe I shall go to Bristol by land."

"By land?" repeated the young man, in astonishment.

"Yes--by land."

"And for what reason?"

"For two reasons. There is a cargo of tea, coffee, and tobacco a few
miles up the Cathy which must be taken to Lancashire; and if I take the
brig to Bristol, I must lose the run. And, furthermore, there are a
frigate and a sloop of war in the Channel, neither of which I am
particularly desirous of meeting. From here to Landaff is only fifty
miles, and from thence a packet will take us directly across."

"That may do for you," said Noel, hesitatingly; "but with me it is
different."

"How so, pray? You apprehend no danger?"

"No--not danger, exactly."

"Well, what then?"

"Why, to tell the truth, my purse is getting rather light."

"Oho,--and is that all?" returned the smuggler, with a smile.

"And is it not enough? My money is all in the bank at Liverpool."

Darringford arose from his seat, and taking a key from his pocket, he
opened a small locker at the head of his bunk. When he returned he
placed a roll in the youth's hand, saying--

"There, my boy--that you can have without interest; and if you ever
hereafter find yourself desirous and able to repay me, I will receive it
back."

Noel opened the roll, and found it to contain three fifty-pound notes
and twenty golden sovereigns. He knew the character of his companion too
well to object to the loan, and he thankfully said--

"I accept the kindness, as I know it is freely bestowed. And now I am as
ready to go by land as you can be, provided there is good conveyance."

"There is the best of conveyance between Caermarthen and Landaff. We can
take the coach early to-morrow morning, and secure a night's rest on
board the Bristol packet."

That night all was prepared for the journey. At sunset the brig dropped
down with the tide, after the cargo of tea, coffee, and tobacco, while
Darringford and Noel found quarters in the town; and in forty-eight
hours from that time they were safely landed in Bristol.




CHAPTER XVI.--A THUNDER-CLAP.


ON the second morning after our hero's arrival in Bristol, one of the
servants at the inn where he had taken lodgings beckoned to him as he
came from his room, plainly evincing a desire to speak with him in
private.

"Is this Mr. Bradford?" asked the servant, when Noel had followed him to
a distant part of the hall.

"My name is Bradford."

"Noel Bradford?"

"Yes."

"And you were first lieutenant of the Atlas?"

Noel was slightly annoyed by the man's inquisitiveness, but he gave an
affirmative answer, and then added--

"And now, mayhap, you will communicate your business."

"I was directed to give you this letter," replied the servant, handing
over a sealed note.

"What was the need of so many questions when your errand was so simple?"
asked Noel, showing a bit of his feeling.

"Because, sir, I had strict orders not to deliver the letter until I was
sure I had found the right person."

"Very well," said our hero, forgetting his momentary annoyance in his
eager desire to see the inside of the missive. "You did perfectly right,
and I thank you."

He slipped a shilling into the servant's hand, and then returned to his
room, where he broke the seal, and read as follows:--

"Bristol,--,--.

"LIEUTENANT BRADFORD,--By the merest accident I learned, just as I was
on the eve of departure, that you were in this city; but it was too late
for me to call upon you. Our family is in Bath, and I shall have joined
them ere you receive this. We shall remain there a week, and perhaps
longer. Come to us as soon as possible. A strange story has reached my
ears since I last saw you, and I want your assistance in unravelling it,
and in demonstrating its truth. My father will of course offer you no
particular hospitality, and may, if he sees you, treat you coolly; but
you may depend upon the friendship and protection of--Your friend ever.

"ROBERT WARRINGTON."

Again and again did Noel peruse this strange epistle, entirely at a loss
to comprehend its import. The idea uppermost in his mind--and, in fact,
the only one upon which he could fix with any degree of sense--was, that
Robert had by some means learned of his adventure with the smugglers,
and that the suspicion might exist that he had some connection with the
outlaws as a class. Such a proposition was not very agreeable, but as it
appeared to be the only plausible one, he was forced to entertain it.
And then Robert's assurance of 'protection' would seem to imply that
there was danger to be anticipated from some quarter, and the
proposition at issue was the only one upon which he could base such a
result.

But, be this as it might, he determined, in his own mind, that he would
go to Bath, once more to behold the gentle being whom he loved better
than he loved all the world besides, and, if need be, to exculpate
himself from the imputation which he feared might have been cast upon
his character. But he could not go under two or three days at least, for
Darringford had gone off into the country toward Oakhampton, in search
of information concerning his mother's estates, and he had promised to
remain in Bristol until his return.

On the evening of the third day after the reception of the letter from
Robert Warrington, Guy Darringford returned from his journey. He had
travelled hard, and showed evident signs of fatigue; and, moreover, Noel
was sure he detected a gloom in his manner entirely unusual to him. He
had seen the smuggler under the most trying circumstances--when danger
threatened him on every hand, and when there was probability that
trusted ones had proved treacherous,--but he had never before seen him
so dejected as at present. His own fate had come, in a measure, to be so
intimately involved with that of the outlaw, that he felt if Darringford
had failed in his undertaking woe must come to himself. Of the nature of
Guy's mission our hero had been able to gain no clear idea. He knew that
the strong man had wept over the death-bed at Kendal, and that he was
deeply interested in restoring the son to his rights under the law; and
he had faith to believe that he was true at heart. Aye,--outlaw though
he was, with a price set upon his head, the youth felt in the very
depths of his being that there throbbed not a heart in England more
noble and true, in its instinct of love and faith, than was that which
warmed the bosom of the smuggler of the Irish Sea.

As soon as Darringford had partaken of a little refreshment--he wanted
no supper,--Noel followed him to his chamber, where he anxiously awaited
the result.

"Noel," said the chieftain, sinking into a chair, "we have been
deceived!"

"Deceived?"

"Aye,--deceived."

"But how?--In what?"

"In everything!--everything pertaining to our visit here, and to my
tramp down into Devonshire."

"But how? Who has done it?"

"Old Thamar has led us off from the chase."

"What chase? In what manner has she deceived? You must remember that I
have been kept in ignorance of the particular object of this journey."

"True, true, my boy,--and I knew nothing clearly. But we have been sent
down here for nothing. For nothing?" the smuggler repeated starting up
from his seat, and striding across the room. "Worse--worse than nothing!
There are no papers here--none in Bridgewater, nor in Oakhampton--that
we have any interest in."

"But what could have been the gipsy's object?" enquired Noel,
doubiously.

"What? Why--that Rupert St. George might step in and take the estates!"

There was something so fierce and so startling in the tone and manner of
the smuggler, that our hero began to fear the worst, and grasping his
companion's arm, he sternly demanded--

"Guy Darringford, do you know more?--Tell me?"

"Would you hear all?"

"Yes,--only tell me the truth, straightforward and plainly."

"Then, first, read that!" said the smuggler, producing a letter, bearing
the postmark of Kendal.

Noel took the missive, and read as follows:--

"Kendal,--.--

"CAPT. DARRINGFORD,--Rupert St. George has presented an order, bearing
the Royal Seal, and taken the papers relating to the contested estates
which you left in my care, and by a special grant from the Crown he has
taken full possession. Consequently the business of your claim is ended.
Further particulars I will give when I see you--"

Respectfully yours,

"ALLAN MAYBURY."

For some time after Noel had read this letter he sat like one in a
horrible dream. The dim vision of brightness was swept away, and only
darkness gathered around him. But was this all? The mere loss of
property could hardly have affected Darringford so deeply.

"Well,--what think you of that?" asked the smuggler as the youth
returned the missive.

"It would seem that the property is gone," replied Noel.

"Aye,--and past recovery," added Guy.

"But, since I never knew what the possession was, I cannot suffer in the
loss."

Noel said this, partly because he felt it, and partly to bring out the
full truth from his companion, which he believed might be more readily
arrived at by seeming indifference on his part, than by eager demand,
though, truth to tell, he was painfully anxious.

Guy Darringford strode up and down the apartment like a chafed tiger.
The veins of his neck and temples were fearfully swollen, while his
hands and teeth were clenched with vice-like grip. At length he stopped
before the impatient youth, and with a great struggle for self control
he said--

"Boy, you know not the dire calamity that hath befallen you in this!"

"Calamity! Befallen me?" cried Noel, springing forward, and grasping
Guy's wrist--a horrible suspicion--a suspicion that struck his heart
like an ice-bolt--possessing him.

"Aye," answered the smuggler, endeavoring to shake off the grip from his
wrist, but without avail. "A calamity for both you and me."

"I know we have lost the estates; and I suppose they are gone past
redemption. What more is there?"

"Noel," said the strong man, in a tone of deep and heart felt solemnity,
"in this I have received a shock such as the storm dashed reefs of
Caermarthenshire could never have given;--and you--you--have received
one more dreadful still!"

"In Heaven's name! I conjure you,--tell me what you mean!"

"Can you not see it?"

"I cannot."

"Not--when the son fails to inherit the estates of his mother?"

"No--no--unless----"

Noel hesitated, for the thought that was uppermost he dared not breath.

"Shall I tell you all?" asked the chieftain, in a hoarse whisper.

"Yes. In God's name--yes!"

"Then, my poor boy--the unholy born cannot claim estate of a parent!"

The youth's hand dropped powerless from its grasp, and he sank down into
a chair. No word, no sigh, no groan escaped him; but with burning,
tearless gaze, he looked up into the smuggler's face. What a wreck had
come upon all his bright hopes and visions of promise? Suddenly the
glare of his eye softened, and, like the fainting manner who sees a
floating fragment close at hand when the grave of waters is about to
close over him, he started up, and again seized his companion's wrist.

"Darringford, is this thing true?"

Under the influence of that movement, the strong man himself arose.

"I do not believe it! As there is a God in heaven, I believe it
false--false as the very father of lies!"

"And you--you," urged the youth--"Tell me how you are interested--how
connected with me in this matter."

"Noel, your mother was my sister!''

"Your sister?"

"Yes."

"And you have kept this thing from me?"

"Aye,--I did not wish you to know how nearly you were related to the
notorious smuggler of the Irish Sea."

"And in regard to my feelings you have kept the secret?"

"Certainly."

"Guy," said the youth, after a little reflection, "I cannot believe that
your present profession is a calling of your own free choice. Have you
not had some strong provocation?"

"Provocation!" repeated Darringford, forgetting, for the moment, the
pain of the present in harrowing memories of the past. "I did have
provocation, boy--such provocation as would have made most men renounce
their country. But the story is too long to tell now. At another time
you may hear it."

After a brief space Noel murmured, half to himself--

"O, could I but prove the horrible imputation false, I would give up the
estates in welcome! They may take all, even to my family name, if they
will but leave me my own and my mother's honor."

"Courage--courage," cried Guy, who had overcome the fierce flood of
passionate indignation. "We may yet find the proofs. If they exist upon
the face of the earth, I will bring them to light."

"And still," pursued Noel, "the crown has recognised the rights of my
opponent, and bring what we may of proof, we cannot undo the fiat of the
law. O, would to God I had never seen the light of day!"

"What care you for the regard of the world?" exclaimed the smuggler,
fiercely. "If you can feel conscious right and rectitude in your own
soul, why should you care for the opinions of others?"

"Ah, Darringford, you have not the same youthful, hopeful, ambitious
heart that sends the pulses of thought and feeling through my system. To
one like you, who have set at bold defiance the world, its opinions can
matter but little; but to me the world is everything--my all. Toward its
plaudits of approval and its honors I have looked with eager yearning;
and upon its fame I had fixed my goal. But now, alas; the bright fabric
has melted away forever. A mark is set upon my brow, and the finger of
scorn I may not turn aside. O! O! It is dreadful!"

The bold and daring outlaw, with all his hatred of the world, could not
but honor the sentiments of his youthful companion. And taking his hand,
he soothingly said--

"You speak from a noble impulse, my boy; and I respect your grief, and
sympathise with you. But do not despair. We will return to Kendal
immediately, and see what can be done there."

"Immediately?"

"Yes. Why not?"

Noel hesitated.

"You have no other engagement?"

"Not an engagement; but I have received a very urgent invitation to go
to Bath, to meet some old friends. It will take not more than two days."

"But two days may make a vast difference to us in the result of our
business. There can certainly be no business in Bath so pressing as
this."

Again the youth hesitated; and Guy added "You would go up there to see
the Warringtons?"

"How did you know?"

"I heard they had gone there from this place."

"Well, and why may I not go?"

"You may go," answered Darringford, in a tone half bitter, and half sad.
"I know the fatal worm that gnaws at your heart, and I know how you have
cherished and nurtured it; but by what beacon shall your hope take its
course now? You must be aware that, had you even gained your mother's
name and estates, it could not have raised you to a position whence you
could have aspired to the hand of the lordly lady of Warrington; but
now--now that----"

"Stop, stop!" cried Noel, clasping his hands over his eyes as if to shut
out the dreadful picture. "I will not go."

Guy Darringford brushed a pearly drop from his cheek, and after a
moment's pause he said--

"I will go and secure a passage at once; and in the meantime be not
over-despondent. If the worst should come, you have a wider world than
England in which to live and move. America extends her welcoming arms;
and to her sternly democratic and hospitable shores you will not bear
the imputation of a stain that was no fault of yours."

"America!" murmured the stricken youth after the smuggler had gone.
"What is America--what all the world to me, if I must leave England? How
shall I tear myself from the land of my heart's idol? O, what folly,
what blindness of love! Gone!--all, all gone! All that gave light and
hope to life is gone from me for ever. No, Grace, I will not see thee
again. I dare not. I will not again come within the influence of the
celestial smile that can only sink the shaft still deeper into my
bleeding heart. Farewell! Farewell, for ever!"

Noel bowed his head upon his hands, and and sobbed and wept in bitter
anguish of spirit. This was the darkest hour of all his life--dark,
dark, dark! Where, in all the future, should he look for light again?

Hark! What gentle zephyr is that?--Whence the genial warmth and the
radiant glow? And that Voice--

"Once again, Noel!--Once again! There is light in heaven, my
brother,--let it shine into thy heart!"

Noel started from his bowed position, and beheld the bright presence
that had so often and so mysteriously guided his failing, faltering
steps. The form was of celestial loveliness, but not so palpable as of
old; and even as he gazed it faded away like a shadow which the light of
day hath absorbed.

The youth arose to his feet and gazed about him. All was still and
quiet, save the eager throbbing of his own heart--throbbing no more in
dark despair, but bounding with hope revived. And hope in what?

"Let the world frown if it will. There is a God in heaven; and God is
just. Let this deep mystery end as it may, my manhood is mine own, and I
will maintain the right!"




CHAPTER XVII.--IN BONDS.


AT one of the piers of the Lower Avon, nearly a mile below the city of
Bristol, lay a small packet bound for Holyhead, and on board this vessel
Guy Darringford had secured berths for himself and Noel. The tide turned
upon the ebb at 9 o'clock in the evening, at which time the packet was
to drop down.

It was quite dark when our two friends left the inn, and for a long
distance they walked on in silence; but at length, when the more densely
populated part of the town had been left behind, Noel remarked to his
companion--

"Again we are on the move, and I doubt much if there be anything come of
it but disappointment."

"We can try, at all events," returned Darringford.

"And in what direction?"

"First, I shall seek the attorney; and then if there be need, I will
hunt up old Thamar; for I am confident she knows something of your
mother's affairs."

"Aye," cried Noel. "And now you can tell me the purport of that
mysterious cipher."

"I can tell you what she wrote; but she has deceived me."

"It was concerning me?"

"Yes. I think I have told you that there were relations of your mother's
husband living?"

"You have."

"Well, to them I intended to look for aid in substantiating her marriage
with St. George; and this writing of Thamar's informed me that they were
to be found in Bridgewater, or in Oakhampton; and she also wrote that I
must not be surprised at anything that happened to you, for there were
circumstances connected with your life of which I had not the remotest
idea."

"What could she have meant by that?"

"Meant?--why, she meant to blind me,--to get me off down here on a
fruitless search, while Rupert St. George stepped into the estate."

"But," suggested Noel, "if she had aimed to place Rupert in possession,
why should she have trusted those papers in your hands?"

"That was her shrewdest move. She knew very well that so long as the
papers were missing I should remain in that vicinity to hunt them up;
but by disposing of them so that they might quietly fall into my hands,
she was sure I would be lulled into fancied security, and thus sent the
more easily out of the way. And then the blind manner in which her
information was conveyed--as though she had not meant that I should see
it until my return. Bah! the whole thing was planned while she had the
papers, and the villain Maybury was accessory to it."

"But," urged Noel, "what could she have meant by the remark concerning
circumstances in my life of which you were ignorant?"

"Nothing at all."

"She must have meant something."

"No. It was merely additional chaff thrown into my eyes. There can be
nothing of your past history that can affect your present interests,
unknown to me,--and the old hag knows this as well as I."

Darringford spoke earnestly and confidently, but still Noel had his
doubts. Thamar did mean something,--and he was confident that that
something was of moment to himself. Perhaps, if he had seen Robert
Warrington, he might have gained light on this very subject. Robert had
on more than one occasion hinted at a strange mystery in connection with
his life,--and so had Grace. He was sorry now that he had not gone to
Bath; for he knew that his friend would not deceive him.

"Darringford," he said, stopping in the street, "I cannot go to Kendal
now."

"Cannot go to Kendal!" cried the smuggler, in amazement.

"No,--not now."

"And why not, pray?"

"I must go to Bath."

"Do you know what you mean?"

"Yes, Guy Darringford,--I do know what I mean. The old gipsy woman
indicates more in her scroll than you can decipher, and I feel sure
there is something of importance to be learned in this part of England.
Very likely Robert Warrington has some key to the mystery, and for that
reason he would see me."

"Then you will not go on board the packet?"

"I cannot."

"Very well," returned Guy, in a voice that betrayed more sorrow than
anger, "you are your own master, and if you choose not to follow me, so
be it. But I tell you, there is no secret now to be learned, save how to
maintain the honor of the dead. I have a sister's fame at stake,--you, a
mother's."

"There is something--something yet unknown to you," urged the youth, in
eager, supplicating tones; "and in this part of the kingdom it is to be
found. You can stop--a few days at least."

Darringford was upon the point of replying when the sound of carriage
wheels interrupted him, and presently a heavy waggon was distinguished
through the gloom, coming from the town they had left. The twain stopped
aside toward the river to let the vehicle pass; but as it arrived at a
point opposite to them it stopped, and a man, perched upon the box, by
the side of the driver, hailed them--

"Hallo, there!"

"What's wanted?" returned Darringford.

"Can you tell me where the brig Somerset lies?"

"No, sir. I know nothing of the vessels in the river."

"Does the other man know?"

"No, sir," said Noel. "I am a stranger in Bristol."

"She's where I told you, sir," volunteered the driver. "That's her we
passed above here."

"Very well. We'll turn about and see."

The driver turned his horses, and our two friends started to move on;
but ere they had gained the road they were set upon by half a dozen
strong men who had slipped out from the body of the waggon. Darringford
struggled fiercely; but it was as the strength of the lion against the
wiles of the trapper. A stout oaken bar, with straps attached, had been
adroitly shot under his arms from behind, and he was fairly pinioned
before he could help himself, The workmen were old hands at the
business, and knew how to husband strength. Noel offered no resistance.
He had tried it once, and wished not to try it again.

"Villains! Dastard!" exclaimed the smuggler. "What means this outrage?"

"Do you not know?"

"No."

"Can you not guess?"

"I am in no mood for jesting, sirs. I demand to know why I am thus
waylaid and detained."

"Perhaps, were I to speak your name, it would give you light," said the
chief of the gang, with a nod and a smile.

"My name! And what can that be to you?"

"Your name is much, not only to me, but to all England, Guy
Darringford."

"Ha! and have I been betrayed?" exclaimed Darringford, with a start.

"You are known to us, at least, so you can see that we have good cause
for your arrest."

"And by what authority, or for what cause, do you arrest me?" asked
Noel.

"Look 'e, my young friend," returned the officer, not at all
unpleasantly, "the less you say to me the better for yourself. You are
both arrested by order of the king."

"The king!" repeated our hero, in astonishment.

"Aye--the king."

"Do you mean to say that King George has ordered our arrest?" asked the
smuggler, a perceptible shudder shaking his frame.

"Yes," replied the officer. "The king himself, who is now at Bath, has
ordered the arrest and safekeeping of Guy Darringford, and also of a
young man known as Noel Bradford, who lately received a commission in
the Royal Navy."

"Known as Noel Bradford?" repeated the smuggler.

"So reads the order."

"Umph! And whither do you propose to take us?"

"To Bath."

Guy cast a look of deepest significance upon his companion in bonds, and
in a low tone remarked--

"Noel, my boy, this is the work of your very dear and anxious friend.
Robert Warrington hath done this!"

"No, no--Robert would never have been guilty of such baseness. Lord
Warrington may have done it; but his son--never."

"We shall see," muttered Guy.

The prisoners were seated in the heavy waggon, and during a swift drive
of two hours they spoke not. Darringford was moody and defiant, while
Noel was busy with his own reflections.

When the vehicle was at length stopped the prisoners were taken out, and
as they reached the pavement they found themselves in front of a large
stone building; but in the deep gloom they could not discover its
character, nor its surroundings. Leading up to a large double door was a
flight of marble steps, while to the left, and beneath the piazza, was a
smaller door, in an arch, affording entrance to the basement. Toward
this latter door the captive twain were led, and when it had been
unlocked and opened, they were ushered through into the darkness beyond,
where they remained until one of the officers had procured a light.

"This way," said the leader, as he took the smelly horn lantern, the
struggling beams of which revealed a long, narrow, arched passage,
ending in distant gloom. "You will soon find lodgings for the night."

They at length came to a door of iron, set in a massive wall, and
secured upon the outside by ponderous bolts. This opened to a cell of
moderate dimensions, into which our two friends were led. The cords were
taken from Noel's arms, and as the officer set him at liberty he
remarked, with a lurking smile--

"You can set your companion free at your leisure. You will find a
comfortable bed, and in the morning you shall be properly attended to. I
can only, in addition to this, wish you pleasant dreams." Thus speaking
he turned from the cell, leaving the lantern behind him.

As our hero heard the dull grating of the bolts that closed up the door
of his prison house, he sank down upon a stool by the low bed, and for a
time seemed totally oblivious of life and its surroundings. Not so,
however, Guy Darringford. With a mind and a will keenly active, and
ever, in the hour of trial, on the watch for opportunities, he at once
set about examining the character of his present quarters.

The cell was dry and clean, of goodly dimensions, and nearly square, the
walls of smoothly faced stone, with a window on the side opposite the
door, high up from the floor, the aperture being guarded by
perpendicular iron bars. A small deal table, two stools, and quite a
wide bed, constituted the furniture.

"Come, come," cried the smuggler, when he had taken the survey--"arouse
thee, my boy, and cast these bonds from my limbs. They are far from
agreeable, I assure you."

Noel started up, and having taken his knife from his pocket, and opened
the blade, he prepared to set his companion at liberty.

"Don't cut the cords--don't cut them!" said Darringford. "Cast them off
carefully, for they may be of service to us."

Thus enjoined the young man put away his knife, and proceeded to untie
the knots; and as the last turn was cast off, he asked--

"Can you comprehend the meaning of all this?"

"Certainly I can," replied the smuggler, as he shook the cord from his
arms. "Somebody has betrayed us."

"But how?"

"How? Why by informing the officers where we were. Intelligence of that
little affair on the Lancaster road has travelled fast."

"And I am ruined--irretrievably ruined!" groaned the youth.

"Never say ruin till it comes," returned Darringford, brusquely.

"It has come."

"It has not come."

"And what hope have I left?"

"The hope that every brave man, restrained of his liberty, can
feel--escape!"

"Ah, my friend, escape were worse for me than open trial. Such a
movement could only give stronger color to the appearances against me."

"Touching that point," returned Guy, "you should not borrow trouble;
for, if we can but get clear of this, we will leave the country. If the
stain cannot be removed from the memory of my sister, we have nothing to
hope for in England."

"No, no," cried Noel. "I will not leave England yet. I am guiltless of
crime, and on an impartial trial I can prove it. Since England is my
native land, I feel strongly bound to her historic soil, and I will
remain if I can. You can do as seemeth good to you."

"Very well--we will not argue that point. Just now I propose that we see
what can be done toward fresh air."

Thus speaking, Darringford went to the window and examined its
character. The sill was about six feet from the floor, and a stool
afforded our explorer ample accommodation. The sash was a light affair,
and simply hooked upon the inside, upon removing which only the iron
bars remained between the prisoners and the outer world. The cords with
which the smuggler had been bound, when notted together, made a line
full twelve foot long; and having taken a pistol from his bosom, he
secured it to one of the ends and dropped it out at the window.

"I wonder," said he, as he carefully lowered the plummet, "that the
officers did not take our arms. They evidently over-looked that part of
their duty. Ah! we are well down upon the surface, my boy. Look--the
pavement without is only that distance from our window--not even one and
a half yards; and I am very sure there are no high walls around the
building. I looked particularly as we came in. And now, if we can but
remove two of those bars, liberty is mine and yours, if you wish it."

"Those bars look to me as though they were made to resist force,"
replied Noel.

"Of course they were," responded Darringford, grasping one of the rods,
and trying its hold; "but the metal was never yet wrought by the hands
of man, that could not by the hands of man be broken."

"But," suggested the youth, as he arose from the edge of the bed, and
approached the window, "it will require more power than we possess to
overcome those stout bars."

"No man can judge how much power he possesses until he has made an
inventory," returned Guy, stepping down from his stool.

"Let us see what this bed is made of."

So saying he threw off the clothing and the mattress, and found the
frame to be composed of two stout oaken beams, with cross-pieces at the
head and foot, the bedding having rested upon thin deals, supported at
the ends by the cross-ties. Darringford's eye sparkled as he beheld the
material thus under his hand, and having cleared the clothing from his
way, he proceeded to take the frame in pieces. The job was not a
difficult one, for the bed had evidently been constructed with an eye to
its easy removal from place to place, and ere long he had separated one
of the side beams from its connections.

Noel had watched the movements of his companion with no little interest,
and when he saw the means of escape so nearly within his grasp, he began
to feel a desire to profit thereby. There was a novelty and excitement
in the affair that set the pulses of daring and enterprise in motion,
and, ere he knew it, the youth was eagerly anticipating the joys of
liberty.

The stout beam was placed between two of the bars, and most willingly
did our hero lend his force to the lever. The men were strong, and the
lever was a powerful one; and beneath the pressure the iron rod bent
inwardly, and very soon the lower end was wrenched from its socket. A
second bar was as easily removed, and the way was open for escape.

"Now is our time!" cried the smuggler, as he set the table against the
wall beneath the window. "Follow me as quickly as possible. Be cautious,
for a single mishap may cost us our liberty."

Darringford spoke, and then leaped upon the table and began to work his
way out through the aperture they had made. He had reached the coping,
and was lowering himself upon the outside, when the sound of footsteps
near at hand arrested his attention.

"Quick! quick!" he called back to Noel, in a suppressed tone. "Some one
is entering by the front way. Spring to the window, and follow me, if
you would be safe!"

As Darringford spoke he disappeared, and as our hero was upon the point
of mounting the table he heard the heavy bolts grate in their sockets,
and directly afterward the door was opened, and a man, closely enveloped
in a Spanish cloak, interrupted him in his proceedings. The stranger
started as he saw the state of affairs in the cell, but without remark
he stepped quietly forward, and laid his hand upon the prisoner's arm.
The long cloak fell back from his shoulders, and as Noel gazed into the
earnest eyes that beamed upon him, an exclamation of surprise and
astonishment broke from his quivering lips.




CHAPTER XVIII.--- WONDER UPON WONDER.


"NOEL!" spoke the man who had so unceremoniously entered the cell.

"Robert Warrington!" exclaimed our hero, as soon as he could command his
power of utterance.

For some seconds neither of the two spoke further. Robert was evidently
wondering at the strange scene of wreck and confusion presented by the
window and the bed, while Noel's mind was crowded with various and
conflicting emotions. Robert Warrington was before him; but he was not
sure if he beheld friend or foe. He gazed into that well remembered
face, and asked himself if aught of deceit or treachery could lurk
beneath it. It seemed impossible. And yet it could not banish the
warnings of the smuggler from his mind.

"Your companion has gone," said Robert, not with concern, but as though
he only sought to break the silence.

"It certainly looks like it," returned Noel, with a piece of bitterness
in his tone.

"And you would have followed him if I had not arrived as I did?"

"Very likely."

"Then I am glad I was not delayed any longer."

"No doubt--especially when you have been at so much trouble to entrap
me."

"It has cost me some trouble, I must confess," admitted Robert, with a
twinkle in his eye.

For a brief moment, the bosom of our hero swelled with anger; but the
spark quickly died out, and as the memory of other times possessed his
thoughts, a sense of sadness settled upon his spirit, and a bright drop
gathered upon his lashes.

"Robert," he said, with mournful reproach, "I had not expected this of
you. Had I ever done you wrong, or had I even breathed a thought against
you, you might have had the excuse of provocation; but as it is I cannot
understand why you should have raised your hand against me. Remember,
Robert, when the buccaneer threatened you and yours upon the broad
Atlantic. Have you forgotten the blood of that direful day? Have you
forgotten how I struck the foe?--and do you know what nerved my arm? The
memory of that day, at least, might have warmed your heart to better
deeds than this."

As Noel ceased speaking there was a perceptible smile working out from
the corners of Robert's eyes--a smile that warmed the face, and beamed
with token of a kindly feeling that could never have been false to
friendship.

"Noel, you have misunderstood me."

"Misunderstood you?"

"Yes."

"There is one thing, at least, which I have not misunderstood. You have
caused my arrest."

"Perhaps I have. But why did you not come when I wrote to you?"

Noel hesitated. He was at a loss how to translate what he heard in the
light of that kindly face. Robert continued--

"You allowed Guy Darringford to influence you against me. Was it not
so?"

"Partly, and partly my own choice," returned our hero.

"So I thought; and hence I resorted to a bit of strategy, the result of
which you have seen."

"I have seen myself arrested, and cast into prison."

"Come come, Noel--no more of that. You know that Robert Warrington could
never knowingly or willingly do you an injury. I feared that the
peculiar circumstances under which you were placed would influence you
against coming to Bath; so I resorted to the expedient of sending for
you in the manner we have seen. The authorities of Bristol held a
warrant from the king for the arrest of yourself and Guy Darringford;
and through the influence of powerful friends I obtained possession of
the warrant, and became responsible for the bodies of the offenders.
Thus, for the present, you are under my control, and free from
molestation. I wrote you that I had heard a strange story, and that I
wished to ascertain its truth. The story is one fraught with the deepest
interest to yourself, nor is it wholly uninteresting to me."

"To what does that story relate?" asked Noel, with doubt and anxiety in
his manner. He hoped that Robert was true, but he could not forgot that
he was yet a prisoner.

"I cannot explain it here," replied Robert, "but ere long you shall hear
it in full."

"Still the same mystery hangs over me, let me turn which way I will,"
groaned the baffled wanderer. "No one seems willing to solve the dark
problems cast in my face, and if, perchance, I reach a solution, only
misery is the result. Robert, if you hold in your heart one kindly
feeling for me, keep me not in useless suspense."

"I will keep nothing from you that is known to me," said Warrington. "It
was to learn that which I do not know that induced me to send for you."

"Has the story to which you refer anything to do with the affairs of my
mother?"

"It has--much."

Noel trembled like an aspen. A moment of dead silence, and then he laid
his hand nervously upon Robert's arm, and hoarsely whispered--

"Do you know--can you tell me--if my mother's name is free from stain?"

"From stain!" repeated young Warrington, in astonishment.

"Aye--from stain. Was mine an honorable--an----"

"Stop, stop!" cried Robert. "Has any one dared to cast a stain of
reproach upon the character of Lady----St. George?"

"Dared?" murmured Noel, with a vacant stare. "No, no, not dared--not
that. But circumstances have transpired which would seem to cast a shade
over my birth."

"How? What circumstances?" demanded Robert, who was in turn becoming
nervously excited.

"The estates of my mother have been passed to Rupert St. George. How
could they have passed to the nephew while the honestly born son lived?"

The troubled expression left the face of Robert Warrington, and a smile
appeared in its stead.

"Is that all?" he asked.

"And is it not enough?"

"No. The estates in Kendal belong by right to Rupert St. George. The
estates which you claim through your mother lay in Devonshire."

"In Devonshire? But I surely saw the papers of my mother, and the only
property alluded to was that of Walling Moor. And, moreover, Guy
Darringford assured me that said estates were mine."

"Then Darringford had been by some means misinformed. But, tell me, who
is this Guy Darringford, that he should profess to know so much of your
mother's affairs?"

"Do you not know?"

"No."

"I fear I ought not to tell."

"If you know," said Robert, earnestly and beseechingly, "you may trust
the secret with me; and I give you my word that I will never reveal my
knowledge to the injury of any one."

"Then," replied Noel, after a moment's hesitation, "he was my mother's
brother."

"Your mother's brother?" repeated Robert, starting, and staring into our
hero's face. But presently a new light beamed in his eye, and having
muttered an unintelligible sentence to himself, he added--

"I see it now. Now I understand. That man is Sir Oswald St. George--a
worthy baronet whom England has most wrongfully dishonored and
disgraced. But come--let us leave this place. We shall find more
comfortable quarters above."

"And Darringford----"

"O, he is safe enough. I happened to pass the window just as the first
bar was torn away and I placed trusty men in waiting."

Thus speaking Robert took up the lantern, and led the way out,
continuing on further through the vaulted passage until he reached a
flight of stone steps, up which he proceeded, followed closely by Noel.
Ere long our hero found that, instead of having been confined in a
prison-house, he had been quartered in the basement of a superb private
dwelling; and his heart gave a wild bound when he learned that he was
under the same roof that sheltered Grace Warrington!

Robert led the way to an elegantly furnished chamber, where he bade his
companion seek rest, and made himself comfortable for the remainder of
the night, at the same time assuring him that he had nothing to fear,
but much for which to hope.

For some time after his host had gone Noel paced up and down the room in
deep and perplexing reflection.

Was the mystery growing lighter, or was it still deepening? There had
come a break in the dark cloud, and the beams of hope had struggled
through. Strange, strange indeed were the movements of those who had
interested themselves in his behalf--entirely past his finding out. Thus
far they had only seemed to grasp at half-fledged ideas and grave
uncertainties. They knew nothing surely, but imagined or suspected every
thing.

At length, faint and weary, he sought his pillow; and as the power of
slumber gradually soothed his outer senses, the liberated mind began to
wander amid the scenes of the past. He was a boy again--and again he
shipped on board the Hector. Again he sat upon the prow of the
tempest-riven ship, and the sweet spirit of angelic beauty was by his
side, whispering words of hope and cheer. Anon came the lowering form of
the smuggler, wearing upon his person the order of knighthood, and
bearing in his hand the royal pardon.

Finally these fleeting visions passed away, and a radiant face beamed
upon him from the dreamy apace, and a gentle voice whispered to him with
the music of other and happier times.

Nearer, and nearer still--the face and the form of Grace Warrington. She
smiled upon him, and opened her arms; and with his head pillowed upon
her confiding bosom, he sank into a sleep too deep for further dreaming.

THE sun was already up when Noel arose from his bed, and as he proceeded
to perform his toilet a variety of emotions in turn possessed his soul.
His heart felt lighter than it had done for some time, and his spirit
was more buoyant, yet there was fear--an indescribable sensation of
dread--as though some secret enemy were near--some evil lurking at
hand--which might fall upon him ere he could know it to avert it. He
tried to believe that the assurance of Robert Warrington was well
founded, and that all was safe and well. He finished his toilet, and sat
down to await the coming of his host.

Half an hour passed, and no Robert appeared. He looked at his watch and
found it to be almost 9 o'clock. He opened the door by he had entered on
the night before, and looked out into a wide hall. By-and-by a servant
drew near, of whom he enquired for Robert.

"This is Mr. Bradford?"

"Yes."

"My young master has gone out, sir; and he said you would wait until he
came back."

Noel returned to his chamber, where he passed another half-hour; and he
was beginning to entertain suspicions of foul play, when a heavy
footfall sounded in the hall, and presently the door was opened,
and--not Robert Warrington, but Guy Darringford, entered.

"Ah,--and here you are, my boy!" cried the smuggler, first advancing and
taking the youth's hand, and then sinking into a chair.

He was evidently fatigued, and his flushed face was beaming with a
wondrous glow. Noel had never seen him so strangely moved.

"Guy, what is it?"

"Hush, hush, my boy. Don't say a word. I know you must have had another
spoil of uneasiness, being left here so long; but we couldn't help it.
My soul! how wonderful are the mysterious workings of Providence! Noel,
there must be a good genius watching over you. Danger, perhaps death,
has been at your heels this many a day, and you have been held clear of
it by a fate which we had, in our blindness, denounced as evil. But let
me get breath, and I'll tell you."

Our hero sat utterly spell-bound until Darringford was ready to proceed,
which he finally did as follows:--

"Last night, when I had gained the pavement under the cell window, and
was waiting for you, I heard some one enter the place. At first I
thought of flight, but on reflection I determined to remain where I was,
and see if I could gain any information from what I could overhear.

"And did you hear?"

"Yes. But ask me no questions now. I heard nearly all, but not quite.
While you and Robert Warrington were talking I heard footsteps near at
hand in the narrow court where I stood, and presently two men approached
me. I crouched away under the arch of a small door close by, and they
passed on; but I saw their faces, and I heard their speech. The words
that struck my ear were few, but they chanced to give a key to their
business. 'The young chap is in this house somewhere,' said one of them,
'and we shan't nab him to-night. But we'll hang on. He won't escape us
again.'

"The man who said that, I recognised the moment I saw him. It was Ralph
Pettrell, one of the most desperate rascals of the gipsy gang we saw on
the banks of the Loyne. I allowed them to gain the street, and had
started to follow them, when two other men came out from the arch under
the great piazza and stopped me. I was considering whether I should
knock them down or not, when they made me understand that they were
friends. Robert Warrington had sent them to bring me into the house. Of
course I had gathered, from from what I had overboard between that young
gentleman and yourself, that he was all right; so I followed the men,
and before a great while Robert Warrington and I stood face to face. I
can read human nature, when the book is open, and when I had looked
fairly into Robert's face. I believed him to be a true and honest man,
As soon as I was sure he meant well to us both, I told him of what I had
seen and heard in the side court, and asked him to let me have help to
follow the gipsies. He not only called help, but he went with me
himself.

"To make a long story short, my boy, we easily traced the rascals to a
small inn by the river, where one of our men succeeded in getting Ralph
Pettrell out of doors; and without more ado we seized him, and brought
him to this house. He saw that his game was up, and when we had
convinced him that he would go to prison if he did not make a clean
breast of it, and when we had assured him that no harm should come to
him, nor to any concerned with him, through his confession, he told us
the whole story.

"From the very first of your appearance in Kendal, Noel, Rupert St.
George has been aiming at your destruction. Four of the very worst and
most desperate of the gipsies have been in his employ, and have been
constantly at our heels; and their simple object has been to put you out
of the way. They had prepared to strike in Kendal, when the mysterious
cipher of Thamar sent us out of their way. With swift horses they came
to Bristol, and last night, my boy, they lay in ambush not twenty yards
beyond the point where we were overhauled by Warrington's crew. Had we
gone on a few minutes longer we should have both been lost, for the
villains were amply prepared for the work in hand. We were both to have
been shot in our tracks! Oh, you don't know those Bohemian cut-throats!
They would have shot us down with as much unconcern as you would feel in
killing a viper. But your good genius was at hand."

"And now?" interrupted Noel, eagerly.

"Now we are all safe, my boy,--and that is what has kept us away from
you this morning. From Pettrell we learned that Rupert St. George had
arrived in Bath not many hours before; and early this morning Warrington
and I hunted him up, and put him off our track, and upon his own. So we
have nothing more to fear from him."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure? Do you not remember what Robert told you last night? You have
nothing to fear from Rupert, simply because he has nothing to fear from
you. Robert Warrington has convinced him that you have no shadow of a
claim to Walling Moor,--so his cause of enmity is at an end, and he has
taken himself off. And, my dear boy, under all the circumstances, he was
very thankful that we allowed him to go. I was confident that you would
not care to prosecute him for the evil he had meditated against you."

"You were right, Guy--you were right. And O, how shall I ever repay you
for your devotion to me?"

"Don't think of that, Noel. All I ask is to see you once settled in the
full possession of your rights. That will be happiness enough for me."

There was an affectionate, tender look upon the face of the strong man
as he spoke, and his eyes were gemmed with tears. The youth would have
asked many questions, but before he could speak further, the door was
opened, and Robert Warrington entered the apartment.




CHAPTER XIX.--THE SMUGGLER'S STORY.


"MY dear boy," cried Robert, as he advanced, and grasped Noel's hand,
"you must forgive me for leaving you so long; but really----"

"Stop, my brother," interposed our hero, with grateful, beaming look.
"Darringford has told me all. I understand. I know how kind you have
been."

"Very well. If that is the case, then we can go and get some breakfast;
for, if your appetite is like mine, you will not object to taking that
as the next thing in order."

So saying Robert led the way to the breakfast room, and when the meal
had been concluded he took Noel by the arm, and conducted him into one
of the private drawing-rooms.

"Where is Darringford?" our hero asked, when he noticed that the
smuggler had not followed them.

"He chose another direction," answered Warrington, "as he knew that I
would see you alone."

Noel asked no more; but seating himself upon one of the soft lounges, he
awaited his companion's will and pleasure.

"Noel," said Robert, when he had drawn a chair up in front of the sofa,
"I desire that you will be frank and open with me in your answers to
whatever I may ask of you."

"I believe you can trust me on that score."

"To your honor and faith I would trust my very life," pursued Robert;
"but there may be things in the bosom of every man which he would wish
to hold in secrecy."

"From you, Robert," said Noel, warmly, "I know not that I have even a
thought that I should desire to conceal."

A quick glow of gratification beamed upon Warrington's face, and having
given his friend's hand an instinctive grasp, he asked--

"Would the possession of your estates render you satisfied and
contented?"

"I do not comprehend you," said Noel.

"I mean to ask, if the full and complete possession of a large and
valuable landed property would satisfy your longings; or is there other
good you crave?"

The youthful adventurer trembled.

"Robert, the mere possession of material wealth can give no man
happiness. I would rather share the lot of the humblest peasant, with
honor and with love, than live in a palace estranged from loving
companionship."

A moment's pause, and Noel added--

"My brother, are you speaking plainly? If you would have me answer
fairly and frankly, methinks your questions should be direct and
comprehensive."

"Noel, I will speak plainly. Do you still cherish the same affection for
my sister that you once confessed to her?"

"Confessed?" repeated our hero, with a start. "Has she told you?"

"She has."

Noel was for a time silent. What could his companion mean? He asked
himself the question, and his heart sank with the inward answer. What
else could be meant save that he must rest satisfied with the
restoration of his estates? what else but that this restoration must
compensate him for the relinquishment of the Lady Grace's love?

"Robert," he at length said, "if you imagine that the love which has
burned with a flame so pure and so holy within my heart can ever be
extinguished, you do not know me. Years may bear me away from her--bear
me to the age of frost and decay, but never can the tide of life bear me
from the one memory of all memories in which the image of my love is
enshrined. Grace may become anothers, and thus crush the great hope for
ever--but my love can know no abatement while I have sense and knowledge
left!"

Robert turned away his head, and played with his watch seal. At length
he looked up, and said,--

"Could I have my own way, Noel, there should be so bearing of you away
from the object of your love; but you are aware that my father's will is
above mine. Grace has received an offer of marriage from the Earl of
Oakhampton, and the alliance is pleasing to my father. He may insist
upon its consummation."

"And Grace," whispered Noel, hoarsely--"does she----"

He hesitated; and Robert continued--

"The earl is young and handsome, and of good habits. He has been much in
the society of my sister, and you cannot wonder that she should have
conceived a friendship toward him, at least."

"And she has accepted him?"

"No."

"Has not?"

"Not yet."

"But she has not rejected him?"

"Not directly."

Noel sank back with a stifled groan, and his head was bowed.

"Come, come," cried Robert, cheerily--"we must not have unhappiness now.
Upon my soul, Noel, I believe you are the only man who could make Grace
truly happy."

Our hero started back to life.

"I know," Robert continued, "that my sister loves you, truly and
devotedly; and if you still cherish the same feelings toward her, I may
be able, through his great affection for his child, to influence my
father in your favor. But hope not too strongly."

"O, my Father!" ejaculated the youth, fervently clasping his hands,
"grant that this sweet cup be not dashed from my lips!"

A moment more, and Robert arose, and walked to the far part of the room.
Then he paced to and fro a while, finally stopping before the occupied
sofa.

"Noel, I must leave you for a little time, but not for long. I will soon
return."

"One word before you go!" cried our hero, starting to his feet.

"No, not now."

"Only one word."

"By-and-by you may ask a thousand questions. If you like; but not one
now."

And thus speaking, Robert turned away. There was a curious expression
upon his face, and once he hesitated, as though he would speak further,
but with evident effort he overcame the impulse, and left the apartment.

If ever man was bewildered, Noel Bradford was bewildered as he sat alone
in that drawing room. If ever man was at a loss for thought, he was at a
loss then. Deeper and deeper grew the mystery, and beyond its intricate
meshes he could not stretch an idea of reason or probability. There were
bright threads in the web, but he could trace them to no sure connection
with substantial forms.

The young man was floundering in his perplexity when Guy Darringford
entered, and took a seat by his side.

"Noel," said the smuggler, "did you tell Robert Warrington who I was?"

"Yes--that is, I told him you were my mother's brother. But--surely,
I----"

"O, it's no harm," interrupted Guy, as he noticed the youth's confusion.
"I only wished to know how he found out the secret."

"But I thought you heard our conversation in the cell."

"Not the whole of it. You know I was interrupted. You told Robert that I
was your mother's brother; and he, in turn, told you more?"

"Yes, he told me----"

"Why do you hesitate?"

"Because I am repeating a private conversation."

"It can do no harm, nor violate confidence now," said the smuggler.
"Warrington let fall a remark this morning which betrayed his knowledge
of my true name, and I know he must have had the clue from you. Now I
only wished to know if he told that name to you."

"He did, sir. He told me that you were Sir Oswald St George; and he also
informed me that you had been most deeply wronged by the Government."

"And he told you the truth," returned the smuggler, with quivering lip.

"And will you not now tell me more?" urged Noel. "I wish you would open
your heart, and tell me of the circumstance that drove you from the
society of your equals."

"You shall hear it, my boy; and you should have heard it before had I
not been anxious to conceal my family name as long as possible."

Noel listened eagerly.

"There were in our family," commenced the smuggler, "two brothers, and
one sister. I was the oldest. Over the fate of my younger brother there
still hangs a mystery which I cannot fathom, though I am confident that
Robert Warrington possesses a key to its solution. There is, in foot, a
mysterious chain of circumstances seeming to connect the fates of my
brother and my sister, though of the affairs of the latter I know more
than of the former. But let that pass, until some kind hand shall unfold
the tangled web. When quite young I was placed by my father in the royal
navy, and just as the war with the American colonies broke out I had
been rated to the command of a brig of fourteen guns. During the
troubles in Boston, while General Howe held that city, I had a transport
brig and a store-ship placed under my convoy, which vessels I was
ordered to conduct safely into Boston Harbor. The transport was
accidentally blown up at sea, and the store ship was most adroitly
stolen from me--cut out at night--by a Yankee privateer. It was a bold
and daring feat, and in my heart I forgave the fellow for the act. In
the meantime, however, General Howe was suffering for want of the men
and stores I was to bring, and on my arrival empty-handed, he was so
exasperated that he persuaded Admiral Shuldham to send me home in
disgrace. It was asserted that I--that I--had contrived the whole
plot--that I had secretly caused the transport to be blown up, and had
connived with the privateer for the capture of the store-ship."

A moment the smuggler pressed his hand upon his brow, and a low moan
escaped his lips. The memory of the disgrace came upon him with painful
effect, and the dreadful ordeal seemed again opened before him.

"But never mind. It has long since passed, and I have had my revenge.
When I returned to England I was summoned before the Admiralty, and
court-martialled. I was disgraced from the service; and my name,
connected with the black and diabolical lie, was given through the
public prints! Crushed in spirit, and driven from the pale of my equals,
I resolved to be revenged upon the Government that had so foully wronged
me;--and I have kept my pledge. In one year I have taken from her
revenue more than a million pounds sterling! You start, but it is
nevertheless true. Ah, the name of Guy Darringford has been a terror to
our Lords of the Treasury! Do you wonder that I suffered?--Do you wonder
that I sought revenge?--Remember--I had been driven out, like Cain, from
the society of honorable men.--Do you wonder?

"Indeed, I do not," cried Noel, quickly and heartily, "O, the blow must
have been a fearful one!"

"Aye, my boy,--'twas fearful beyond compute!"

"But, Guy,--my uncle,--will you continue this dangerous life?"

"Not if the Government will cry quits, and square accounts," returned
the smuggler. "But she must wash the stain from my name; she must place
me upon my true level."

"And be sure it shall be done!" said Robert Warrington, who had quietly
entered the room, and overheard the last part of the conversation. "It
has long been known to the Admiralty that Sir Oswald St. George was
unjustly condemned. But come, good Darringford,--I would speak with you
in private."

Then turning to our hero, he added--

"You will make yourself comfortable for the present. Before night I
shall have news for you."

And thus speaking, Robert took Darringford's arm, and left the
apartment.




CHAPTER XX.--AN ANGEL IN FLESH AND BLOOD.


GRADUALLY the footfalls of the departing pair died away in the distance,
and the wanderer was once more alone.

The heavy damask curtains, hanging in folds of purple and gold, so
shaded the arched windows that the light was softened and subdued almost
to the temperament of eventide, and the far part of the room, stretching
away into pillared alcoves, hung with sombre drapery, fairly lost its
distinctness of outline. The marble lion, and the quaint unicorn--one
upon each side of the elaborately wrought fire place--seemed to move in
the faint shimmer, as though making ready to leap over the golden crown
that stood out in relief above them.

One of the bells of St. James' struck the hour of ten, and as the rich,
sonorous tones died away upon the air, a strange feeling possessed the
youth,--a soft, soothing influence, as though a charm had been cast upon
his spirit. Presently he heard a slight rustling in the distance, and
upon looking up he saw the drapery of one of the alcoves drawn aside.
With a wild bounding of the heart he leaped to his feet, and stood like
one entranced.

In the far part of the room, against the heavy drapery which had been
let fall behind it, stood the celestial phantom of his oft-repeated
vision. Its whiteness, like light, had lost none of its purity, but its
dazzling, blinding brilliancy was gone. The face was as beautiful as
ever, but not now, as before, that ethereal, nebulous gleaming. Noel
moved not--he spoke not,--but with enraptured gaze he strained his eyes
toward the dimly lighted recess.

Slowly the beautiful presence moved toward the centre of the room, where
the light of day bathed its form and features.

What is that change? It is the same form--the same sweet face, and yet
it is not the same. And that rising and falling of the snowy bosom?
Hark! A breath--a sob!

A single step the youth advanced, and then stopped, fearful that he
should dispel the vision. Involuntarily he opened his arms, and the
soft, liquid light of his eye was supernal. There was a movement, as of
the flitting of a shadow--a low cry broke the air,--and on the next
moment Noel clasped his arms about a form of life and substance; other
arms were twined about his neck--and a head was pillowed upon his bosom.

"O, my brother, my brother!" fell from the angel's lips, and then,
lifting her head from its tear-wet pillow, she gazed up into the youth's
face.

As Noel met that gaze the cloud was rent in sunder. Up from the past was
lifted the dark curtain, and his memory went back to the beginning. Now
he knew his angel visitant--the ideal had become real, and the phantom
presence had come to him a material form, warm with active life. The
celestial had taken on the terrestrial--and he beheld his own, his
loved, his loving his earthly sister!

The flood of joy was whelming, and with tears and sobs--with words of
wonder and of praise--the brother and sister held each other in warm and
rapturous embrace.

* * * * * *

"O, my sweet sister, tell me, if you can, what it all means. It is to me
like the supernal flashing of light that blinds and bewilders."

They had seated themselves upon a sofa, their hands lovingly
interlocked.

"Do you have no remembrance of your sister Esther?"

"It may be a phantasy of the imagination," replied Noel, as the charmed
sound echoed in his ear, and in his soul, "but still that name appears
familiar. It calls up from the mystic chambers of memory emotions that
could not respond to a mere myth. But, Esther, is my face familiar to
you? Would you have known me elsewhere?"

"Aye, as though we had never been separated."

"And how? How have you held my image so strongly?"

Esther looked up, and with a beaming smile replied--

"To the world, Noel, the story might seem wild and incredible, and be
termed foolish and visionary, but nevertheless it is true, though very
wonderful. I am older than you, and can remember an event which can
hardly be reflected in your remembrance. I allude to the death of our
father."

"I have pictured such a scene to myself," Noel said; "but I am fain to
believe that there can be little of absolute memory in it. I probably
received the impression from the oft-repeated account of the scene given
me by the woman who, at the time, I believed to be my mother."

"It must have been so," returned Esther, with fond, devoted gaze into
the frank and manly face of her brother, "for you were too young to have
retained an impression made upon your sense at that period, without
later assistance to memory. Even I remember it but as an isolated event,
much of what followed being all blank. Of my voyage across the Atlantic
I can remember but little. But I can remember how I used to sit, hour
after hour, and through the whole weary day, and cry for my brother--for
little Noel, and from that time your image has been fixed in my mind,
and in my heart--growing with my growth, and developing into youth, and
into manhood as my own spirit found growth and development. Nine years
after we reached this country, one evening in early autumn--I think it
must have been between 9 and 10 o'clock--as I sat alone in one of the
smaller drawing rooms, a strange sense of drowsiness came upon me, and I
sank beneath its influence. It was not like sleep, for there was a chill
upon me, and I shuddered and shivered, as though in the hands of a power
which I could not overcome. My eyes were fixed upon the burning taper as
I sank back, and in a moment more those beams had spread out, over a
vast space, into ten thousand twinkling stars, and I found myself on the
deck of a ship, in the midst of a trackless ocean. At that moment I saw
with spiritual vision, and seemed to comprehend the past, the present,
and the future. I knew that you had sought your hammock, and I descended
to the place of your repose. You had just fallen asleep, but I knew that
I had the power of making myself visible to you; so I laid my hand upon
your arm, and called your name. You opened your eyes and looked upon me,
and I knew you as I had known you ever. Your every feature was as
familiar as though we had spent the years agone in each other's close
companionship. I spoke words of cheer and comfort to you, promising you
peace and joy in the future, and I held out to you a wreath of laurel.
Then you stretched forth your hand, and an irresistible power drew me
away."

"Strange! Oh, how strange!" murmured Noel, scanning again and again the
features of his sister. "How distinctly and vividly every line and shade
of that vision is fixed upon my memory! Ah, Esther, my sister, you may
never know how often the words of that heaven sent messenger have guided
my foot from error. In the dark hours of danger they have given me
strength and courage, and in the still darker hours of temptation they
have lighted me on in the path of manhood and duty. And you came again.
I saw the celestial form once more on board that same ship."

"Aye," returned Esther, while a shudder shook her frame from head to
foot. "That was a fearful scene. I was asleep in my bed, when I was
disturbed by a low rumbling sound, which gradually increased to a
terrific roar, as though the whole grand artillery of heaven had
exploded above my head. Again I was upon the deck of the Hector. The men
were rushing toward the stern of the storm-riven bark, but you were not
with them. I turned to the bows, and saw you there. Mercy! what a sight!
The grim spirit of destruction already had the fated ship in its grasp.
But I knew you were safe, and I whispered to you,--'Be not afraid, my
brother; I am with thee!' Did you see me then?"

"See thee? O! how plainly!--how joyfully! But tell me, Esther. Did you
ever inform Robert Warrington of this circumstance?"

"Yes."

"Before he went to India?"

"Yes."

"And I can now account for his seemingly strange conduct when I told him
the same story, one evening, on our homeward voyage. But what could he
have meant by saying that his sister's suspicion must be right? I had
never spoken to her of this."

Esther gazed up into her brother's face, and a quiet smile lurked about
the corners of her mouth, and twinkled in her lustrous eyes.

"The Lady Grace and myself have been intimate from early childhood."

"Well----"

"And she knew my countenance--every feature of it."

Noel returned his sister's earnest gaze, utterly unable to comprehend
her aim. She noticed his perplexity, and still smiling, she proceeded--

"Methinks, from all I have heard, that Grace had studied your own face
not a little. There, don't blush, Noel. I will tell you the secret. I
think, if you and I were to stand side by side, and look into a mirror,
you would acknowledge that one who had seen the sister, and marked her
features, could not pass the brother by unnoticed."

"Esther, I think there is a similitude in our features."

"I think there is, Noel; and in this remarkable similitude lies the
secret of Grace's emotions upon beholding you."

"And you think, sweet sister, if I had not resembled you so strangely,
Grace would have failed to notice me with interest?"

Noel said this in a sportive mood; but the smile quickly passed away,
and a slight flush came in its place.

"O, no," Esther replied--"I meant not that. I only alluded to the cause
of the suspicion which she entertained, and which she gave to her
brother. Ah, I much fear me that even her first impressions were deeper
than surprise, and far more lasting."

A short silence, and Noel said--

"Of course you have known the brother, if you have known the sister.
Perhaps, Esther, you may, ere long, know Robert Warrington better yet."

Esther blushed; but her blush was tempered with a happy smile, as she
frankly replied--

"I understand you, Noel; and I freely admit that while you have loved
the sister, I have loved the brother; and my only prayer in that
direction is that we may both be happy in our choice."

"Ah, Esther, I know not that I shall ever possess my choice."

"But you can hope?"

"Yes," fervently ejaculated our hero; "and when that hope fades away,
God grant that it may be into the brighter realm of fruition."

For a time the brother and sister sat in silence. Their conversation had
been free and unconstrained, like as though they had met thus after only
a short separation. Theirs were hearts made for the abode of sympathy
and affection--fashioned by the hand of God after the image of His own
love; and thus peculiarly fitted for the reception of those remarkable
impressions which had flashed their emotions to the brain, and led to
strange and startling episodes in their lives.

By and by a look of sadness rested upon Noel's features, and raising his
eyes, he murmured--

"O, that our mother had lived to see this happy moment!"

"Our mother!" repeated Esther.

She seemed upon the point of saying more; but with an effort she put
back the words, and gazed silently into her brother's tearful eyes. She
arose from her seat, and Noel followed her example. She turned toward
him, and was once more clasped in her brother's embrace; and a sweet,
warm, impulsive kiss, through which their heats sent forth whole tomes
of love, was the only token of the brief parting.




CHAPTER XXI.--CONCLUSION.


"Now, my boy," cried Robert Warrington, entering the room, and seizing
his friend by the hand and drawing him toward the door. "Ere we eat our
dinner the last sand in your glass of doubts and fears shall have
dropped through for ever. Come."

"So soon!" murmured Noel, unconscious of what he said, but moving as one
in a dream.

"Yes, yes. Come,--everything is waiting." So saying Robert led the
bewildered youth from the apartment--through the long hall, through an
ante-room, and finally into the grand drawing-room of the dwelling,
where a dozen or more people were collected. The first face which our
hero recognised was that of Captain McIvor, the commander of the Atlas,
and hastening forward, he grasped the old man by the hand, exclaiming,
as he did so--

"My dear captain, this is a pleasure indeed!"

"Aye, aye, my boy; and a true pleasure it is to me also," returned
McIvor, while a gleam of intense satisfaction lighted his eyes.

Noel could speak no further with his old commander, for Robert led him
away to another part of the room, where stood Lord and Lady Warrington,
together with the smuggler, and three old attorneys, in powdered wigs.
When cordial greetings had been interchanged, one of the dignitaries,
who wore the ermine of the King's Bench, called upon the captain of the
Atlas, and having taken a roll of papers from the table, he asked--

"Captain McIvor, is this the person whom you took from the wreck of the
American ship Hector, between ten and eleven years ago?"

"It is, your honor."

"You are confident?"

"I am."

"Depositions have already been taken from you concerning the youth's
account of himself at that time. This signature is yours?"

"It is."

"And this is the individual alluded to therein?"

"It is, your honor."

The judge turned to Noel, and with a bland smile remarked--

"The proceedings in your favor have been closed these two hours; but as
a final cast of evidence we only required the recognition of Captain
McIvor to place the whole thing beyond doubt. These papers and broad
parchments are now yours, and our earnest prayer is, that England may
have reason to be proud of your accession."

As the judge concluded he placed the roll in our hero's hand, and ere
Noel could recover himself from his bewilderment all had left the room
save Lord and Lady Warrington, Guy Darringford, Robert, and himself. For
a time no one spoke, though all seemed full of desire to do so. There
were eager glances from one to another, as though the time for
explanation had come.

Finally Lord Warrington motioned the company to be seated, and then
turning to the waiting youth he said--

"Noel, to me has been left the task of explaining the various
circumstances which have thus far conspired to make up the measure of
your destiny."

Despite his anxiety, Noel could not but remember that two sweet faces
were missing. He was wondering why Grace and Esther were not there, when
the words of the old noble aroused him.

"When your mother was yet but a girl, she had the fortune, or
misfortune, as you may please to term it, to fall in love with a young
baronet, from the north of England, named Malcolm St. George."

"How?" exclaimed the smuggler, starting from his seat. "My brother,
Malcolm St. George, did you say?"

"Be easy," urged Warrington, motioning the astounded man back to his
seat. "Be easy, and you shall soon understand it. It is as I have said,
Sir Oswald--your brother Malcolm was this young man's father."

Then turning to Noel, he continued--

"Your mother's father objected to the match; and when, in time, the
youthful couple were clandestinely married, his rage knew no bounds.
Barbara--that was your mother's name--being an only child, had supposed
that her parent would forgive her when he knew that the marriage had
been consummated; but in this she was mistaken. He not only discarded
her, but forbade her ever to enter his doors again. Sir Malcolm owned a
small property in Westmoreland, and thither he took his young wife,
where dwelt his only sister, Esther. Now, this sister had married a man
of Welsh descent, whose name was also St. George--the son of a branch of
the old family."

"Then my father and Guy Dar--or, I should say, Sir Oswald St.
George--were brothers?" interrupted Noel, excitedly.

"Exactly," returned his lordship. "But when these marriages took place
Sir Oswald had been most wickedly traduced and disgraced from the navy,
and had disappeared from the country; or, at least, so it was supposed,
for none suspected that he and the daring smuggler of the Irish Sea were
one and the same person. But after your sister (who was named for her
aunt) and yourself were born, your father suffered so much from the
persecution of his wife's relatives, and particularly from her father,
that he was forced to flee the country; and he sought refuge in America.
Your aunt, whose death you witnessed at Kendal, suffered so much
mortification and grief in the disgrace of her brother, that she finally
persuaded her husband to take the same route; and they, too, went to
America; but they did not find your parents.

"When you were two years old your father sank under the weight of
disease and misfortune, and died in abject poverty. Shortly after this
bereavement your mother received a letter from her father, in which he
freely forgave her all past offences, promising that if she would return
to his arms, to bless his old-age, she and her children should inherit
his estates. Barbara resolved to return; but she could not find means to
pay the passage of both her children; so she left her son in the care of
a kind hearted widow--a Mrs. Bradford--promising to send for him
immediately upon her arrival in England. She found it difficult to make
this choice--it pained her to the heart,--but Esther was the more
delicate, and hence her selection. As for the matter of leaving either
of her loved ones behind, it was simply a choice between that and
begging. She could not do this latter thing--she could not do it?

"By one of those peculiar circumstances of chance which sometimes turn
up in human affairs. Esther St. George, your aunt, had also lost her
husband, and had taken passage in the same ship with your mother and
sister. Esther had no children, and upon their arrival in England,
Barbara, who did not wish the world to know how poverty-stricken she had
been, got her sister-in-law to claim you as her own son, and under that
guise to send for you herself. Esther readily agreed to the arrangement;
and very shortly afterward she fell in with Guy Darringford, whom she
recognised to be her long-lost brother, Oswald. To him she confided the
task of seeking you, and believing that he would work more zealously if
he thought it was her own child he was to seek, she did not let him into
the secret of your true birth. On his first visit to America he found
that Mrs. Bradford had moved, and he could gain no trace of her; but he
was told that the child he sought had once a sister, and when he
returned he asked Esther the meaning of it. She knew not how far she
might implicate herself by denying the rumor, so she confessed that she
had had another child, but that it died before she left America. And the
smuggler kept up the search, believing all the while that he was
searching for his sister's child instead of his brother Malcolm's."

At this point Lord Warrington paused, and Sir Oswald said, with much
emotion--

"I cannot blame my sister for the deception of later years, for her mind
has been sadly shattered--so much so that I have no doubt she had come
to forget that our dear Noel was not really her own child. Her memory
had failed her, and she evidently had gained an impression of truth from
the long-cherished falsehood. But she should have told me the truth in
the beginning."

"Never mind, Sir Oswald," returned Warrington. "Let the past of error be
forgotten and forgiven, as the king hath this day done by you. Do you
realise that you once more stand, free and unbowed, among your true
peers?"

The restored baronet was moved to tears of joy and gratitude.

Then turning to our hero, the old noble proceeded--

"With the facts and circumstances of the smuggler's search you are fully
acquainted, and upon only one important subject are you now in the dark.
Listen, and I will give you light:--

"Within a few years after your mother's return to the home of her
earlier days her father died; but he had come to love his daughter very
dearly, and had hoped that he should behold his grandson before he had
done with earth. But that privilege was denied him. Still he had
determined, if possible, that a male heir of his own blood should
succeed him. Knowing not what difficulties might be thrown in the way
after he was gone, he drew up a new will, and obtained a patent from the
king for its religious observance. By those instruments his titles and
estates were to remain in wardship until the son of his daughter was
found, or until absolute proof had been presented of his death. It was
also provided that the heir should take the family name, to which, of
course, under the law, he is entitled. This will was made privately, and
lodged in faithful hands, with express instructions, backed by Royal
consent, that it should not be opened until the Lady Barbara gave her
consent. And hence you can understand why your mother continued to keep
her secret, and why the Lady Esther St. George held it sacred to the
last. She feared that there might be male relatives of the family who,
if they gained knowledge of your existence, would seek you out to
destroy you. It seems, however, that you were open to the same danger on
the other hand; for that hot-headed young Welshman, Rupert, believing
you to be the son of his uncle, feared for his own estates. There was
one person, not a member of the family, who knew the secret of your
birth--an old gipsy woman, named Thamar, who once nursed your aunt
through a fit of delirious fever; and to the shrewd planning of this
woman, so far as the settlement of the Westmoreland property is
concerned, we owe much."

"But," continued Warrington, arising, and grasping our hero's hand, "all
is now clear and plain, and well established. The estates of your
maternal grandfather, his family name, and his titles, are now yours."

"And that grandfather," whispered Noel, whose heart was hushed in eager
suspense.

"Who was he?"

"Your mother's father was Lord Henry Milbourne, Earl of Oakhampton."

"And I--I----"

"You are Lord Noel Milbourne, present Earl of Oakhampton."

"Just Heaven! Can this be----"

Thus far had Noel exclaimed when his eye caught a scene that held him
utterly spellbound. Up from the lower end of the room, just emerging
from the broad way which had been opened by withdrawing the heavy
hangings by the Moorish arch, approached Grace Warrington and his sister
Esther, leading between them a mild-eyed, beautiful woman, in the prime
of life. A moment the lovely trio stopped--then she who stood in the
centre broke from her companions, and with a low, stifled cry of
delirious joy, she sprang forward and caught the entranced youth in her
warm, love-tempered embrace.

"My son! my son! O, my son!" And unable to articulate more she hung upon
the neck of her long-lost boy, sobbing as though her heart would burst
with its wild flood of maternal rapture.

Fondly--tenderly--for the time forgetful of all else in the world--did
Noel hold that sacred form in his manly arms; and as he gazed into the
love-lit face he knew that he could safely cry,--"My mother! My own, my
own dear mother!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The hearts that for a time throbbed so painfully in their delirium of
joy had been hushed to a more quiet and peaceful realization of the
blessed reunion; the tears had been wiped away; and the young Earl had
resigned his mother to a seat.

And then Noel turned toward Grace Warrington, and put forth both his
hands. She looked to her father, and met a kind smile of approval. That
was enough. On the next moment she had pillowed her head upon the bosom
of the man whom, above all else in the world, she truly and devotedly
loved.

And so the Earl of Oakhampton had sued for the Lady Grace's hand; and,
in truth, he had won it, and her whole heart with it!

"Now," said Robert Warrington, with eager tremulousness, "I have a favor
to ask of you, Lord Noel; for henceforth you are the head of the family,
and must direct its affairs."

The youthful earl cast a sidelong glance at his sister Esther, and in
her blushing, downcast, yet earnest look, he read the favor they would
ask. He took her hand, and led her forward. He hesitated, and turned
toward the Lady Barbara--

"With your permission, my mother."

"Yes, Noel--yes."

Then he placed the hand of his sister in the keeping of his dear friend,
saying, as he did so--

"There, take her, Robert; and if your joy in receiving the boon is as
great as is mine in bestowing it, you must be happy indeed."



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia