Next day Philip Feltram crossed the lake; and Sir Bale, seeing the boat on the water, guessed its destination, and watched its progress with no little interest, until he saw it moored and its sail drop at the rude pier that affords a landing at the Clough of Feltram. He was now satisfied that Philip had actually gone to seek out the ‘cunning man,’ and gather hints for the next race.
When that evening Feltram returned, and, later still, entered Sir Bale’s library, the master of Mardykes was gladder to see his face and more interested about his news than he would have cared to confess.
Philip Feltram did not affect unconsciousness of that anxiety, but, with great directness, proceeded to satisfy it.
“I was in Cloostedd Forest to-day, nearly all day—and found the old gentleman in a wax. He did not ask me to drink, nor show me any kindness. He was huffed because you would not take the trouble to cross the lake to speak to him yourself. He took the money you sent him and counted it over, and dropped it into his pocket; and he called you hard names enough and to spare; but I brought him round, and at last he did talk.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said that the estate of Mardykes would belong to a Feltram.”
“He might have said something more likely,” said Sir Bale sourly. “Did he say anything more?”
“Yes. He said the winner at Langton Lea would be Silver Bell.”
“Any other name?”
“Silver Bell? Well, that’s not so odd as the last. Silver Bell stands high in the list. He has a good many backers—long odds in his favour against most of the field. I should not mind backing Silver Bell.”
The fact is, that he had no idea of backing any other horse from the moment he heard the soothsayer’s prediction. He made up his mind to no half measures this time. He would go in to win something handsome.
He was in great force and full of confidence on the race-course. He had no fears for the result. He bet heavily. There was a good margin still untouched of the Mardykes estate; and Sir Bale was a good old name in the county. He found a ready market for his offers, and had soon staked—such is the growing frenzy of that excitement—about twenty thousand pounds on his favourite, and stood to win seven.
He did not win, however. He lost his twenty thousand pounds.
And now the Mardykes estate was in imminent danger. Sir Bale returned, having distributed I O Us and promissory notes in all directions about him—quite at his wit’s end.
Feltram was standing—as on the occasion of his former happier return—on the steps of Mardykes Hall, in the evening sun, throwing eastward a long shadow that was lost in the lake. He received him, as before, with a laugh.
Sir Bale was too much broken to resent this laugh as furiously as he might, had he been a degree less desperate.