Open main menu


By Compton Mackenzie

Royal Navy

I am not a man naturally fond of adventure, but on the contrary have preserved from earliest youth an ambition to stay at home and watch from a sunny window-seat the orderly course of humanity along an orderly street.

Fortune, however, by depriving my parents of everything except myself, and myself of everything except a flute, made me a raggle-taggle wanderer, dependent for my livelihood on the charms of music.

Ignorant of luxury through the exigencies of a nomadic existence, I owned nevertheless a very fastidious taste which often led me to despise the miseries of my situation—so much so that I believe I would rather a thousand times depend on the hard ground than sacrifice my sensibility in the endurance of an uncongenial bedfellow.

So much by way of explaining the following adventure, which was actually produced by my inability to suffer a common hardship of the wanderer's lot.

On a December dusk of the year 1753, I found myself, with apparently no prospect of a lodging, on a bleak high-road in the middle of Cornwall. What horrid impulse took me to that barbarous peninsula, I cannot now recall exactly; but probably my journey was connected with some roadside rumour of prosperity to be found in the West of England at the holiday season.

My first experience of Cornish hospitality was not happy; for, having begun to flute merrily in the yard of an outlying farmhouse, the savage owner loosed a pair of lean hounds, who followed me with a very odious barking nearly half a mile along the road. I was determined to avoid such places in future, and to keep my breath for a town, where the amenity of a closer social intercourse might have evolved a more generous spirit among the inhabitants.

With gloomy thoughts I trudged on, without a glimpse of any village or hamlet, or even of an isolated dwelling such as I had lately tried.

The night was coming up fast behind me, and I was already pondering the imminent extinction of my life's flame in the wind-swept bogs on either side of the path, when I came suddenly on a small inn, not visible before on account of the road's curve and a clump of firs shorn and blistered by the prevailing wind.

Here I asked for a bed; but on being informed that I must share it with a degraded idiot whom I perceived slobbering in a corner of the taproom, I scorned the accommodation and inquired the distance and direction of the nearest village.

"There's no village for another five mile or more," said the landlord. "What's your trade, master?"

I did not wish to gratify the bumpkin's curiosity; but reflecting that I might hear of a junketing in the neighbourhood, told him I was a musician.

"Then why don't 'ee make for Cannebrake?" he asked.

"Cannebrake?" I exclaimed. "How on earth shall I make for a place of whose existence I am only this moment aware?"

"Never heard of Cannebrake o' the Starlings?" he exclaimed. "Why, 'tis a famous place here around, and the old lord he might be proud to listen to a parcel o' music. Come, I'll show 'ee the road."

A burst of gibberish from the idiot made up my mind, and I hurried after the landlord, who with much circumlocution described my route. I left him by the inn door, and when I turned once or twice to wave a farewell, saw him still standing there, a white patch in the fading light.

I passed, according to his directions, a dry tree, a slab of granite shaped like an elephant's back, and a stretch of waste water stuck here and there with withered reeds like an old brush, until I reached a tall Celtic cross that leaned very forbiddingly towards the path. Here a side track dipped down from the main road to a valley whose ample vegetation contrasted strangely with the barren moors above. My path was soon overarched with trees. A smell of damp woodland pervaded its gloom, and my footsteps were muffled by the drift of wet leaves. Had it not been for the deep ruts into which from time to time I slipped, I should have concluded I had missed the path and was penetrating towards the heart of a forest.

I emerged from the avenue at last; though by now it was so dark that only the fresher air and the rasping of my feet on stones told me I was again in open country. But it was impossible to advance, and I was beginning to regret the inn and rail at myself for objecting to the idiot's company, when I saw above a black hill-top the yellow rim of the full moon, whose light, increasing every moment, was presently strong enough to show me I was not fifty yards from the great gates of Cannebrake.

Yet I was half afraid to set them creaking in the silence, so menacing were they between their tall stone pillars, so complete was the absence of any welcome.

I have often had occasion to visit the seats of the nobility and gentry in more civilised corners of England, and the air of abandonment that surrounded the entrance of Cannebrake did not seem to consort with the traditions of any famous or honoured name.

The very moonlight in that hollow was tainted with a miasma, setting no clear contrasts of shadow and silver, robbing the pillars of all solidity and giving the landscape the tremulous outlines of a half-remembered dream.

I had never before experienced the sensation of absolute decay. I had been affected by the fall of autumn leaves from dripping branches, by the melting of ice on warm winter mornings; but here dissolution was silent, without a curlew's cry or lisp of withered grass to mark its accomplishment.

At last, by an effort of common sense, I pushed the gates ajar, and the creaking of them, as they swung back upon their hinges, followed me up the moss-grown drive with a wailful indignation.

The shrubbery planted round the gates did not extend far, and the drive soon unfolded its direction, running straight and bare over a wide, undulating grassland populated with the shadowy forms of cattle, to the doors of Cannebrake—a long, low building of the undistinguished architecture which I had already learned to associate with Cornish houses.

I stood awhile contemplating the mansion that seemed impalpable in the webs of the moon.

There was neither barking of dogs nor any sign of human life until I observed the shadow of a man carrying from room to room of the second story a circle of candlelight increasing and diminishing with each entrance and exit. I supposed it to be a servant's nightly round of inspection, and, assured of the existence of life within, moved across to the heavily nailed door.

I would have pulled at once the great iron bell-chain, had it not been for a strange disinclination to destroy the quiet with so wild a sound. As it was, I stood there holding my breath, I believe, while I deciphered the coat-of-arms above the door—a medley of Turks' heads and birds.

Then, with the slight knowledge of French gleaned on my wanderings, I fell to translating the motto of the family, "Aux amis l'amour, aux ennemis la mort."

Notwithstanding the pledge of this sentiment in stone, I could not spur myself into arousing the inmates; but as there was a rank growth of grass between the drive and the house itself, I availed myself of its quiet to crawl round and peer unheard into the windows on the ground floor.

On a closer view of the window to the right of the door, I saw glinting on the darkness of heavy curtains a thin line of light. Without more ado I pulled out my flute and started "Come, Lasses and Lads."

This harmless old air seemed to produce a most distressing effect upon the inmates, for the curtains were immediately flung back and an elderly gentleman, with wig all awry and hands tugging at his stock, stared out into the night as if afraid of hell.

I tapped gently with my flute upon the lattice, and in response to my knocking, but with evident dismay, my listener was persuaded to throw it open.

Whether the sight of him pale and horror-struck had led me to expect a timid inquiry as to my business, I do not know, but I doubt if I ever heard so deep a voice from any human creature before. It rumbled like a bull's and, I vow, alarmed me more than the music of my instrument had alarmed its owner.

A horrid stream of blasphemies heralded his demand to know my business.

"My name, my lord, is Tripconey—Peter Tripconey, a flute-player, and your lordship's very humble, obedient servant to command."

This frank avowal had the effect of slightly mitigating his wrath, and he was pleased to ask me what I did in his park at such an ungodly hour.

"Indeed, my lord, I was sent here."

"Sent here, you vagabond? By whom?"

"By an inn-keeper who plies a poor trade on the desolate moors adjacent to your lordship's estate."

He seemed relieved by my information, and was gracious enough to ask if I could play any sea-songs. I answered I could play and sing the "Ballad of the Golden Vanity" and many more besides, as well as any man alive.

"Hark 'ee, Cynthia," he said, turning to address another inmate. "There's a musician outside. Shall we have him in, girl? Shall we have a merry-making? The poor wretch looks as if a good supper would do him no harm. Hi, sirrah, can you eat?" he asked, turning round again to me.

I assured him I had a very tolerable appetite, and he bade me ring the bell forthwith, vowing he would give me bed and board for a night's music. I made haste to obey his orders, and when I stepped into the great hall, lighted by a score of candles and the blaze of a gigantic fire roaring on the hearth, was glad I had done so.

His lordship with much condescension presented me to his daughter, the Honourable Miss Cynthia Starling, who received me with the courtesy it delights a woman of rank to exercise. In the presence of this lovely creature I threw off every evil foreboding, and made haste to entertain the noble company with as much wit as I could command. I may say I was very successful.

His lordship laughed very heartily at all my sallies, and once or twice I plainly detected a faint smile pass over the classic features of the honourable and handsome young woman.

His lordship excused himself from joining me at supper, pointing out with much intelligence that, having already dined, a second meal so soon after the other would be likely to injure his night's rest. I cordially agreed with him, and drank his health in a pint bumper of a very level and solid old Burgundy. His lordship was pleased to acknowledge my toast, and indeed went so far as to drink prosperity to the humble flute-player sheltered by his hospitable roof.

When I had eaten as much as I wanted, my host called out in his great voice for the butler, whom I disliked at first sight. He was a tall, thin man, with pouched eyes and an unnaturally sleek face the colour of tallow. His hands were hairy, blue with gunpowder, and criss-crossed with livid scars.

However, I soon forgot him in racking my memory for the old sea-tunes which his lordship wished to hear. The latter sat upright in the ingle, beating time to the choruses with his ebony cane, or rather crutched-stick, which he leaned upon very heavily in his walk, being, as I supposed, a sufferer from the gout. The crutch itself was very massive and bound with gold bands.

I also played some polite melodies for the pleasure of her ladyship, which she commended very earnestly; but when she had wished us a good night and retired to her chamber, my Lord Cannebrake set out to curse all love-songs and country dances, and bade me get back immediately to the sea-tunes which he loved so well.

Presently he called for the butler, Springle, and to my surprise, and I may add profound vexation, invited him to take a chair by the fire and join in the choruses. I was shocked to see the familiar way in which this fellow treated his master, and, for my own part, was quick to put the insolent rogue in his place as often as I could, thus showing him very plainly how I esteemed his presumption.

One or two of my hits went very well with his lordship; and though Mr. Springle snarled at me from his chair, I was not at all afraid to bait him whenever the circumstances of the conversation gave me an opportunity.

"Springle," said his lordship after a round of tunes, "Mr. Tripconey must whet his whistle. Bring in another bottle of Burgundy and warm me a noggin of rum."

I was amazed to hear a nobleman favour the plebeian beverage of rum, and still more deeply amazed to hear his butler answer him very saucily, "Aye, aye," without offering to move himself.

"Get up, you impudent swab!" bellowed Lord Cannebrake. "What! Disobey orders, would you, you dog! You whimpering, sneering, dirty ship's steward."

Mr. Springle, perceiving he had made too free with his master's affableness, rose at once and slunk from the hall.

My Lord Cannebrake growled to himself awhile, and then sat moodily silent, staring into the fire.

I seized the occasion of the butler's absence to ask him point blank why the first sounds of my flute had alarmed him so violently. "For," said I, "there is nothing surprising at this jolly season of the year, when waits and mummers are abroad, in hearing the sound of music by night."

"Did I look frightened, eh?" asked his lordship. "Hah, and I was frightened, woundily frightened. I come, sir, of a plaguy old family, and I live in a plaguy old house, and I've inherited very little else but a plaguy crew of ghosts."

"And you mistook me for one of 'em?" I laughed.

"We Starlings," he went on, "like most old families, have our omens and death cries and what not, and it has always been accounted very ill work for a Starling to hear a starling's whistle."

I was somewhat put about to learn that my playing had been mistaken for a vulgar bird's whistle, but, concealing my annoyance very genteely, laughed the matter off.

"Indeed, my lord, I believe that is the first time that ever my flute was taken for a bird."

"Yes," he murmured, more to himself than to me, "yes, I heard that whistle forty days out from Sierra Leone, and the next day we was flinging half-cooked niggers into the sea and——"

He stopped suddenly and looked me full in the face, but I thought his mind was wandering and paid small attention to his wild words. "And I heard it again when we were careening in the Pearl Islands off Panama just before I was took with Yellow Jack, but I've never heard it since till to-night. Ecod, I don't like being my Lord Cannebrake, with ghosts thick as seagulls round about. I was happier before; I was happier in the pleasant Isle of Thanet with the sea-wind singing day and night round my cottage. I used to do nothing mostly, except sight the craft beating round the Foreland, and think of 'em so white and handsome in the Downs, a-stroking all the while my little daughter's light-brown hair. And now look at me, stuck in a low, dirty swamp ten miles from the sound of breakers, wi' nothing to think of but ghosts. That's bad for a man who, mark you, was a-seafaring once. But there came an ague and took one; and another broke his neck out hunting; and the third, he fell into the pool fishing for carp; and so I became Lord Cannebrake."

I was at a loss to know why this elderly nobleman honoured me with his confidence, but ascribed it to the influence of the old sea-songs and my own insignificance, for I doubt he never thought me a person of much importance, and he went on with his monologue without seeming to expect any comment from me.

"Then there's Cynthia. Cannebrake's no place for a high-spirited young woman. London's the place for her, where she can meet women of quality and learn the ways of fashion. She's a sweet maid. I never knew a sweeter. But what's to become of her, buried alive, in a manner of speaking, and like to grow into a mumbling, fumbling old maid with nothing to watch all her life but the sun's rise and set, and winter coming in cold, and the spring-time rain, and a few flowers of summer?"

Here I made bold to offer a suggestion that he should go back to the Isle of Thanet.

"Ah, why don't I, Mr. Flute-player? I'll tell you why," and he leaned over, whispering in my ear:

"Because I dare not. Because I lived a vile, bad life when I was young, and I'm afraid. That's a terrible thing for you to ponder, Mr. Tripconey—an old man living alone in a dip of these wild moors—afraid. Listening to the clock tick-ticking, and all the time fast afraid. You've seen me, white and shaking, when you tapped on the window: me—Captain Starling—afraid."

Springle's entrance with rum enough for half a dozen put an end to further reminiscence.

"Why, Conrad," said his lordship, "why, Conrad, boy, I see you've set a glass for yourself. That was thoughtful of you, Conrad."

Then suddenly the old man's fury broke out—very terrible.

"And so you'd make a nincompoop of me before my guests, would you? Below deck, you swab!" he roared, and, picking up one of the heavy cut-glass goblets, flung it between the butler's legs as he hurried from the hall. Lord Cannebrake laughed and made me fill up my glass, while he poured out for himself an extra strong allowance of rum.

"Master Springle thinks he can do as he likes because I give him a moderate amount of freedom, seeing that we were shipmates once."

"It is indeed a condescension on your side, my lord, for which the fellow shows himself monstrous ungrateful. I drink your lordship's very good health."

He acknowledged the compliment by draining his glass to me, and I could not forbear my admiration to see how he poured the fiery liquor down his throat at a single gulp. I myself, a timid drinker, could never have survived the quarter of it sipped slowly. When he had put down his glass I saw taht he was sniffing the air as a stag sniffs for water.

"Tell me," he demanded, "can you smell sea-water?"

So unusual a question put me in some confusion, for if I laughed it aside I would have seemed to suspect him of drunkenness. I determined therefore to humour his fancy, and told him very gravely that I could not smell sea-water.

"I doubt it's my fancy," he muttered. "Or rum. Rum more likely." With which he gulped down a second glass even stronger than the former. All at once a horrid cry rang through the house. The long-drawn echo of it froze my blood and set my glass clinking against the decanter in a tumult of apprehension.

"What's that?" gasped his lordship. And here let me assure you, he looked as much alarmed as myself. I threw a glance up to the gallery, expecting to see her ladyship in bed-gown peering over the balustrade. But there was nothing.

Then Springle, his face as livid as the criss-cross scars on his hand, burst into the hall.

"Cap'n Starling! Cap'n Starling!" he cried.

"Aye, aye," muttered my lord in the dead voice of profoundest agitation.

"Cap'n Starling!" moaned the butler.

"Eh, what!" exclaimed his master. "Who the plague are you calling 'cap'n'? Ha'n't you learned 'tis 'my lord' nowadays?"

"To blazes wi' lords," chattered Springle. "Sea-lords and land-lords. Here's Cap'n Swall walking up the path to this house."

"Cap'n Swall?" repeated his lordship. "Cap'n Swall? Here, give me the rum, my handsome."

He drained the glass a third time, which seemed to calm his excitement.

"This ain't a fancy of yours, Conrad?"

"No fancy, my lord. I seed him quite plain and the stars a-shining through his wicked bow legs as he come down the slope. But let him come!" Springle almost screamed. "Let the swab come! We're too many for him, with pleasant talk of old ships and a knife that goes in easy and quick like."

I confess I was amazed by the coolness with which the rascal proposed to murder a fellow-creature, and was relieved to hear his lordship discourage the notion.

"None of that," he commanded. "None of that. If 'tis Matthew Swall, 'tis him; and maybe there's a reckoning, and maybe there isn't, but none of that. If 'tis man to man, him and me, 'tis out in the moonlight with ship's cutlasses and you and Mr. Tripconey here to see fair play. So drink the rum, you cowardly dog, and stand by."

Springle swallowed the spirit, and the three of us waited in silence till there came a ringing peal from the great bell, a peal that echoed jangling and clanging through Cannebrake of the Starlings.

"Must I let him in, cap'n?" whispered Springle.

There was a tap-tap on the lattice, but when we turned towards the sound the curtains were close drawn and we knew the man outside could not see us.

"Let him in," said his lordship, standing up very stern.

Conrad moved sideways to the door, and what with the way he kept twitching his hairy hands, and what with his chestnut-brown suit and his manner of walking, I could not help comparing him to a large crab.

Captain Swall followed the servant into his master's presence. He was a short, thickset, squab-nosed man, much weather-beaten, and wearing a soiled blue coat trimmed with gold lace frayed and tarnished. In his right hand he carried a cocked beaver hat, in the other a pistol. Flinging down the hat, he went with outstretched palm right up to Lord Cannebrake, saying:

"Well, if this don't beat pay-day. Messmate, how are ye? Lord Cannebrake now, ain't it? And here's Conrad Springle and a bottle of rum and Matthew Swall of the Happy Return, and—why, bless me," he added, catching sight of me, "here's a strange face after all."

His lordship never offered to present me, but, coming sharp to the point, said:

"I thought you were dead, Matthew."

"I know ye did, Dicky. Nor more isn't that very astonishing seeing as I thought I were dead myself. It was a cunning move of yourn, Dicky, that 'ere sheering off in Jamestown. It was a clever trick, when you thought you'd quit being a gentleman of fortune, to leave me laying low with Yellow Jack, and not a single golden George to so much as spit on, not a single golden George to get me clear of Virginia and the tobacco planters. And I was took, Dicky. I was took all right and sold five hundred miles up country, to a Frenchman whose throat I slit so as he died quicker nor ever you'd think a man could die."

"Mr. Tripconey," said his lordship to me, "I think you'll find your bedroom prepared. Springle, show Mr. Tripconey to his chamber."

The butler, with many a backward glance to where the two sea-captains sat facing one another in the firelight, led me up the wide stairs and parted from me by the door of my room without so much as a good night.

Now whether the wicked flavour of Captain Swall's conversation had fascinated my imagination, or whether the Burgundy had fired my blood with an inquisitiveness foreign to my nature, I do not know, but for the life of me I could not help wondering how it fared with the party downstairs. I resented being shut up out of sight and sound in this gaunt bedchamber; and at last, no longer able to bear my ignorance, I snuffed the candle and crept barefooted along the black corridor as far as the opening to the hall. Here, by kneeling close to the wall and peering through the balustrade, I could see and hear all that was happening below. I ran but small risk of discovery; for, as I reasoned, it would be easy to gain my room noiselessly while any one from below was ascending the stairs.

Lord Cannebrake and his visitor were still seated facing one another, while Springle was standing, well out of the way of both, at the farther end of the hall.

"But I don't want to fight, Dicky," Captain Swall was saying. "I done with fighting long ago. This here pop I holds in my hand so pretty, that's not for fighting; that's for protection, Dicky, in case you was to leave me once again on a lee-shore. No, I don't want no revenge nor nothing, Dicky. But seeing as how I'm tired of roaming, and finds it dull at the Prospect of Whitby down by Wapping Stairs, I've a mind to sling my hammock in Cannebrake."

"So you think you're going to live at my expense, do you?" asked his lordship grimly. "But you're not. I don't feed ruffians like you, Matthew Swall."

"Turned pious, have ye?" sneered the other. "Took to religion, maybe? Changed the name of your ship? That's a main unlucky thing to do, and by——" He swore an abominable oath. "By—— it won't go down with me, not with old Matthew. Springle, my lad, it looks as if you was ship's cook aboard here. Let's see the quality of your beef."

I could not help feeling greatly delighted by Mr. Springle's discomfiture as he stood there in a fine quandary.

"What! Mutiny, Conrad?" the captain went on, as the butler made no offer to move. "You was quicker at obeying orders in the old days, Conrad. You was a long way more spry arter I sarved you with your six dozen lashes. You become quite a handy lad arter that. Quick and handy with that 'ere clasp-knife of yourn, Conrad, when you done for the crew of the True Love what was lying on their backs off Calabar a-waiting for you to obey orders. Come, look alive, my lad, or you'll find yourself in Bodmin Gaol, and 'tis Cap'n Swall who says so."

Springle, cowed by the fierce intruder, gave up defiance and went to fetch the victuals.

"That's a nice little place Conrad's got himself," continued Swall, with one eye cocked very wickedly at Lord Cannebrake.

"Do you want to be my butler?" demanded the latter.

"No, I wouldn't rob Conrad. There's room for both of us. Maybe you've got a snug little cabin somewhere between decks, a snug little berth where you and me and Conrad 'll be able to talk over old times and old ships. Better you and I should talk over 'em quiet and comfortable and snug like, with the rum going round as it ought to in a genelman's country house. Better nor talking over 'em at the Old Bailey. Why, you've a darter, haven't you, Dicky? What 'ud she say if she went for a cruise down the river one lovely morning in the summer-time, and seed her father, black as a crow, swinging in the wind at Execution Dock?"

"You won't blackmail me," said my lord.

"Blackmail, is it? By the Lord," shouted Captain Swall, "Black Flag's more the lay."

"Be careful, Matthew. You know I'm a hot-blooded man. You know I won't stand too much."

"Aye, by the plague, and you know mine, Dick Starling, and it ain't lost nothing these twenty years of waiting. Look 'ee here, it comes to this. You've got a darter. Well." Again he swore that fearful oath. "If you don't give me your darter—for I won't be put off with no fine words after Jamestown, Dicky; I'll have something of yours as you vally—I'll have your young maid, or you swing for piracy."

But even while he threatened, shaking the pistol. Lord Cannebrake struck hard with his stick and Captain Swall fell forward among the glasses on the table.

"Springle," his lordship gasped. "Springle, I've killed him, ha'n't I?"

Then I saw that the butler was standing in the corner, a plate of beef in his hand. He came forward and, setting down the plate, shook the sprawling figure.

"Aye, aye, he's dead as his beef," said Springle.

"We'll bury the body quick, Conrad. Wait. I'll see he has no friends outside."

I could not help wondering at the old nobleman's pluck as I saw him move towards the door, and thought of him marching round that desolate house with Heaven knows how many bloodthirsty enemies ambushed in the shadows.

When his master had left the hall, Springle shook the body more roughly, and to my horror, for I thought him stone dead, Captain Swall muttered thickly:

"Curse you, Dicky, you nearly done for me a second time, but you'll pay—you'll pay."

"Look 'ee here, Cap'n Swall," said Springle, turning the wounded man over and staring into his eyes. "Two's company at Cannebrake, but three ain't. You sent me off for beef. You had me flogged once. You've run aground, Cap'n Swall."

Here the fiend caught his enemy by the throat, and, as he squeezed the life out of the thickset man, spoke through clenched teeth:

"You're making port at last, Cap'n Swall. I'll lay Davy Jones is about signalling your sperrit now."

I suppose I should have interrupted the man's villainy, but by this time, between cramp and terror, I could do nothing but lie quaking on the cold floor of the gallery.

Lord Cannebrake came back in a minute or two.

"He's dead?"

"Dead," said the murderer.

"And nobody will know," said his lordship, with a sigh of relief.

"Not if I don't peach."

"What d'ye mean?"

"Why, just this here, my lord. I'm tired of being butler. I wants promotion. I reckon you'll sign some sort of a parlez-vous as'll ensure my promotion."

Lord Cannebrake seemed stricken by his servant's treachery.

"Are you going to turn against me, Conrad?"

"You've been a fool," said the latter—"a fool for twenty years. Afraid o' what I might say about the Jolly Roger. What could I ha' done, a pore ignorant seaman? What was my word against Lord Cannebrake's? You might ha' cut me adrift long ago. But now you can't. Now things is different. Here's murder stepped in on my side."

"Aye, it has!" I shouted, springing up. "Black-hearted, cold murder; but it's you, Mr. Springle, that's the murderer. My lord, my lord, he strangled Captain Swall when you were outside. That villain there—that ruffian——"

In my bare feet, and waving my flute, I came dancing down the stairs—a ludicrous figure, I dare swear, but jubilant at having outwitted the butler.

He had his knife out in a flash, and I owed my life to his lordship, who, without a thought of the scandal, picked up the dead man's pistol and shot his servant through the back, so that he fell huddled at the foot of the staircase.

Then Lord Cannebrake and I looked at each other with two bodies between us.

"Her ladyship?" I said.

"We'll have to tell her."

I felt sorry for the old man who had kept his secret so many years. But the hall was now running with Conrad's blood, and I thought we should do well enough to escape the law.

Her ladyship came along the gallery, very pale and beautiful.

"What is it, father? I heard a shot."

"A bad night's work, my lady-love," said the father gently. "But Mr. Tripconey here has saved Cannebrake."

"And his lordship has saved me," I cried.

"Then we should all be grateful," said my lady, very calm.

I slept prodigious little that night, and blistered my hands so that I couldn't play my flute for a week; but I was always sure for many a year of a hearty welcome at Cannebrake of the Starlings.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1972, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.