He swallowed some wine and then sat up, leaning against me as I sat at the bottom of the stairs, quite himself again, and assuring us that he was not hurt; Perrault never touched him—“Threatened you, then,” said Fulk.
“No,” said Alured, as if he hadn’t spirit to be indignant; “I meant him to get off.”
“Lord Trevorsham!” cried a voice in great displeasure, and I saw that Mr. Halsted, the nearest magistrate, was standing over us.
“He told me—Trevor did”—said Alured.
“Told you to assist the murderer to escape!” exclaimed Mr. Halsted.
Alured let his head fall back, and would not answer, and Fulk said, “There is no need for him to speak at present, is there? The constable and the rest are gone after Perrault, but I do not yet know what has directed the suspicion against him.”
And then at the stair foot, for there was no other place to go to, we came to an understanding, the two gentlemen and Brand the keeper standing, and I seated on the step with my boy lying against me. I could not trust him out of my sight, nor, indeed, was he fit to be left.
It seems that Brand had been uneasy about the number of shooters whom the report of the swans had attracted; and though the bank of the river was not Trevorsham ground, he had kept along on the border of the covers higher up the hill, to guard his hares and pheasants.
Thus he had seen everything distinctly in the moonlight against the snowy bank below; and he had observed one figure in particular, moving stealthily along, in a parallel line with that which he knew our party would take, though they were in shadow, and he could not see them.
Suddenly, a chance shot fired somewhere made all the ducks fly up. A head and shoulders that Brand took for his young lord’s, appeared beyond the shadow, beside Fulk’s; and, at the same moment, he saw the man whom he had been watching level his gun from behind, and fire. Then came the cry, and Brand running down in horror himself, was amazed to see this person doing the same, and when they came up with the group, he recognised Perrault; and found, at the same time, that Trevor was the sufferer, and that Lord Trevorsham was safe. He then would have thought it an accident, but for Perrault’s own needless wonder, whence the shot came, and that same remark, that Billy Blake, the half-witted son of a farmer, was about that night.
Brand, a shrewd fellow, restrained his reply, that Mr. Perrault knew most about it himself. He saw that the most pressing need was to obey Fulk in fetching necessaries from our house, and that Perrault meant to disarm suspicion by treating it as an accident, so he thought it best to go off to a magistrate with his story, before giving any alarm; feeling certain, as he said, that the shot had been meant for the Earl; as indeed, Perrault’s first exclamation on coming up showed that he too had expected to find Trevorsham the wounded one.