Lord Hartledon leaned back in his chair and listened to the explanation. A very simple one, after all. Gum, one of the wildest and most careless characters possible when in Australia, gambled away, before sailing, the money he had acquired. Accident made him acquainted with George Gordon, also going home in the same ship and with money. Gordon was killed the night before sailing—(Mr. Carr had well described it as a drunken brawl)—killed accidentally. Gum was present; he saw his opportunity, went on board as Gordon, and claimed the luggage—some of it gold—already on board. How the mutiny broke out was less clear; but one of the other passengers knew Gum, and threatened to expose him; and perhaps this led to it. Gum, at any rate, was the ringleader, and this passenger was one of the first killed. Gum—Gordon as he was called—contrived to escape in the open boat, and found his way to land; thence, disguised, to England and to Calne; and at Calne he had since lived, with the price offered for George Gordon on his head.
It was a strange and awful story: and Lord Hartledon felt a shiver run through him as he listened. In truth, that shed was the safest and fittest place for him to die in!
As die he did ere the third day was over. And was buried as Pike, the wild man, without a mourner. Clerk Gum stood over the grave in his official capacity; and Dr. Ashton, who had visited the sick man, himself read the service, which caused some wonder in Calne.
And the following week Lord Hartledon caused the shed to be cleared away, and the waste land ploughed; saying he would have no more tramps encamping next door to Mr. and Mrs. Gum.
THE DOWAGER’S ALARM.
Again the years went on, bringing not altogether comfort to the house of Hartledon. As Anne’s children were born—there were three now—a sort of jealous rivalry seemed to arise between them and the two elder children; and this in spite of Anne’s efforts to the contrary. The moving spring was the countess-dowager, who in secret excited the elder children against their little brothers and sister; but so craftily that Anne could produce nothing tangible to remonstrate against. Things would grow tolerably smooth during the old woman’s absences; but she took good care not to make those absences lengthened, and then all the ill-nature and rebellion reigned triumphant.
Once only Anne spoke of this, and that was to her father. She hinted at the state of things, and asked his advice. Why did not Val interpose his authority, and forbid the dowager the house, if she could not keep herself from making mischief in it, sensibly asked the Rector. But Anne said neither she nor Val liked to do this. And then the Rector fancied there was some constraint in his daughter’s voice, and she was not telling him the whole case unreservedly. He inquired no further, only gave her the best advice in his power: to be watchful, and counteract the dowager’s influence, as far as she could; and trust to time; doing her own duty religiously by the children.