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really forget. If you remember the drawer and I don't, will you do me the kindness, my dear fellow, to fetch them for me?"
“ To be sure,” said Brandon, too pre-occupied by his anxieties to think of the oddness of the request; and he left the room at once, closing the door behind him.
“That's a cool thing," said one of the men, “to send your host on a lackey's errand. I suppose you thought that, being your host, he could not well refuse?”
But Musgrave said not a word, only sat watching the shut door and counting the seconds to Brandon's return.
He had not long to wait. Brandon came in wearily and sat down empty-handed.
"You gave me a wild-goose chase, Musgrave," he said ; “the drawer was empty-you must have changed them to some other place. Besides-I remember now-the notes w in the pocket-book when you put them away.”
• Then I must abide by the loss of my money,” said Musgrave, in so strange a tone that all present looked at him in wonder.
“ Prove your loss," said Brandon haughtily, “ This is the first time a guest's money has been missing or stolen in this house, and if the notes are not found I pledge my honour their value shall be restored to you.
Gentlemen, will you all come with me and help to conduct the search ?”
He turned about lightly, and they all followed him; but though they ransacked every nook and corner in Musgrave's room from the chimney downwards, the money was not found; and the strange look on Musgrave's face became more marked as, himself idle, he looked on at the useless toil of the searchers.
His expression was not lost upon Brandon, and as soon as the search was abandoned he said: “Gentlemen, the next room to be searched will be my own.” But at this Musgrave sprang forward and seized Brandon by the arm to hold him back.
“No!” he cried, “the matter shall go no farther; it was a hoax, a stupid practical joke of my own.”
'Your jest was a sorry one,” said Brandon coldly, as he shook himself free, while from the men around burst forth expressions of contempt, anger, and disgust; “but, such as it is, I shall not consider it complete without a sight of the notes that have given us so much useless trouble, and you so much amusement at our expense.”
The notes are my own," said Mnsgrave sullenly. “I
decline for more reasons than one,”—and a meaning glance at Brandon shot from his eyes,—“to produce them.”
"You have them on your person ?” said Brandon quietly. "No." “Then, gentlemen,” said Brandon, “we will continue the search ;” and he led them straight to his own room.
“His fate be on his own head," said Musgrave to himself, as he followed, and, standing in the doorway, heard a low groan escape one of the searchers who stood as though turned to stone, looking at a bundle of notes he held in his hand.
They had all gathered round him in a moment, and it was Brandon's hand that took the notes and his own IO U from his friend, and held them up to Musgrave, who stood beyond.
“Is this the other half of your cursed practical joke?” he said between his teeth. “Before, God, if you were not my guest, I would strike you across the mouth for the dog that you are; as it is, I bid you begone with your gains, and never again darken my doors !"
As he spoke he crushed the notes together into a ball, and flung it at Musgrave, who let it lie, only a bad black look gathered about his lips and eyes, as he said slowly“If & practical joke has been perpetrated, you should know more of it than I."
“By Heaven !" thundered out the young fellow, “I'll get to the bottom of this; and, if you won't speak out here before these men, I'll force you to speak elsewhere at the sword's point.”
To which Musgrave said sullenly, “You have drawn your fate down on your own head. With my own eyes I saw you take these notes from my room and place them in the drawer, from which Sefton, in the presence of us all, took them.”
“You lie!” cried Brandon, his beautiful face ablaze with scorn and anger.
“From the moment I saw you put the pocket-book away last night to that in which Sefton found them here, I have never set eyes on or touched your cursed money. When we Eyres play practical jokes we are not in the habit of doing so with our guests' gold.”
“You came into my room at daybreak,” said Musgrave, quite unmoved; “I saw you take the notes from the pocketbook, which you replaced in the drawer, and I got up and followed you to your own room, where you put the notes away, I watching you from the door. I drew back as you
shut and locked it; across that threshold, I take my oath, I have never stepped. I was already in the dining-room when you came down to breakfast; my reason for asking you to fetch them was that you might have the opportunity of replacing them.”
“You lie !” said Brandon again; but this time his voice was strange even in his own ears. He looked at the faces of those who stood around, and at what he saw there his own grew pale as that of the dead.
“Gentlemen,” he said, pointing to Musgrave, “do you believe him or me?”
But they answered him not a word—only Sefton came to his friend, and stood beside him.
Then,” said Brandon, and swift as thought, before any could hinder him, snatched from the wall one of the loaded pistols that always hung there, “since you believe it to be so, here perishes the first--the last thief of the house of Eyre!”
A report rang out—he made a step forward, shivered all over from head to heel, then fell at their feet—dead!
In the public inquiry that was held on his death the whole story became known, and the black flag of disgrace was unfurled above the house of Eyre for ever; but Lady Sara raved and wept, and swore that it could all be explained ; only the explanation never came, and to this day Brandon Eyre remains in the eyes of the world the first, last thief of the house of Eyre.
After this there came a harder devilry into their deeds; as their pride increased their self-respect diminished, and the women of the family being permitted little or no influence over their fiery husbands and sons, the latter went on their way unchecked-at war with God, their own hearts, and the world.
Alike lovely and unhappy (for no Eyre thought a woman worth the winning who was not unsurpassable of her kind, and whether she loved him or no, it was all one-his passions once lit carried all before him, and marry him she should, if only to repent at her leisure), these women lived simple, anxious lives, only too thankful if open scandal were avoided, and their dead brought home to them to receive decent burial at their hands.
And the old Squire had been wild and lawless even beyond the common wont of the Eyres, and had trained up his sons
to walk in his steps, so that as mere lads they had bid fair to outdo their father in his devilry and misdeeds.
“At sixteen a youth cannot help himself, nor at twenty, nor perhaps at thirty," says Taine; and at thirty-five years of age Barrington Eyre assuredly could not help himself, nor to all appearance could his brother, since some of their worst follies were perpetrated after that age.
But between the two men lay a difference as of alien blood; while Barrington was born to become the slave of habit, his brother was made to be its master, by a single effort of will shaking himself as free of the chains that bound him as if they had been reeds that in sport he had permitted to be twined about him. Abruptly as with the stroke of a sword his marriage had cut his life sharply in twain—the one half he threw behind him, wasting neither thought nor regret on what was irrevocable; the other, honourable and of good repute, he lived in the eyes of all men, devoting himself in his early middle age to those quiet persistent joys and duties that his youth had been spent in defiance of. The mad reckless era of the Eyres had gone by, and a new honourable one begun, said his neighbours as years passed, and no breath of scandal attached itself to Mr. Eyre, who exerted an ascendency over all with whom he came in contact, which proved him to possess that conjuring or masterful quality of the human mind that Goethe in one brief word sums up as “das Damonische," and that never permits its possessor to remain in the background of events, but sets him in the van of every battle, a born leader whom man will follow blindly into the very jaws of death itself. And this force within him working since his marriage in the direction of good, not evil, Mr. Eyre came to be possessed of perhaps the truest riches that earth can afford--the unenforced respect of those among whom he dwelt; and upon his look and word men waited-of what he did nothing was lost or viewed with the indifference often accorded to better deeds than his, and in very truth was to those around him
The tongue of the trump to them a'. For the fame that in quite early youth he had won in the world of letters he felt and expressed a most profound contempt. Now and again, at long intervals, he would put forth from his retreat some rare bit of work that drew all cultured eyes upon him, but to all entreaties that he would boldly enter that arena in which his splendid abilities might pit him successfully against the foremost men of his time he turned a deaf ear. Accused of idleness, he once remarked that his intellect was for his own enjoyment and those immediately about him. “Things beautiful, terrible, pathetic or witty, write themselves on my mind,” he said; “I do not sit down to write them for others. My senses are perfect; I feel what another man only describes, and if nothing visible is wrought by my hand, be sure my impressions endure longer than those written down ones that are imagined, not known.”
And Madcap, the cause of all-Madcap, who had been to the powers of good lying dormant within him as the air and light that had freed them from their prison, and who knew it not, yet working faith's sweet miracle, had made and kept him what she believed him to be-Madcap was to the world one of those women who are principally known by the attitude of their husbands towards them, and through Mr. Eyre was invested with a preciousness that made good wives discover a hundred defects in their lords, and bad ones decide that had they been lawfully loved in such fashion it would have been an easy matter to be as pure as she.
Mr. Eyre's soul was with her then, if his body sate at his father's side. One by one he had strangled those scorpions of memory evoked by the ghastly face before him; they were old and fangless, lacking the venom that, projected into his present life, must have poisoned it to the core . exultantly he said to himself that no past sin of his could harm Madcap now; his misdeeds were all buried fathoms deep beyond the power of God or man to resuscitate. It is so easy to forget the sin that leaves no trace, the hurt that inflicts no abiding scar, as it is in their consequences to those we love that we most forcibly behold our misdeeds; and there was no Eidolon to steal forth from the curtained recesses of Mr. Eyre's soul, and confront him with ghastly presentment of evil as he looked forward, not back, long years of honour stretching before him with Madcap as love and conscience at his side. Even the thought of his treachery to Frank gave him no twinge; one or other of the men who loved her must suffer, and why not Frank? HER happiness was the first consideration; everything and everybody must be made to give way to that.
All his life through he had carried things before him by sheer power of will—and so it would be to the end, said this man who, with Joubert, thought that “force and right are the governors of the world; force till right is ready.”