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A STRANGE BED.

{Continued.) Leaving the door open* Joyce approached me.; ‘Do vou understand?’ she whispered. I nodded, and, half unconsciously, drew a little away from her. She noticed the involuntary movement, and k faint-color flushed for an instant over her pale face. After a few moments I turned and looked at her. ‘ And, knowing this horrible secret, knowing what devil’s work goes on beneath this roof, you can remain under its shelter? You can continue to eat the bread of these men, knowing—’ ‘As heaven is above us,’ she interrupted, clasping her hands, and speaking with passibnate earnestness, ‘ I did not even suspect it until last month, the last time they—it happened. I have been here three years. More than once travellers have, come to the house at night whom ;I have not seen go away in the morning; if I asked after them, the master . .said they had left early, before I was up. The body of one of them was found days afterwards in a lonely part of the heath, and it was thought he had been waylaid and murdered, though there was no trace. of violence; another was found in the stream, and it wis .supposed that on leaving here before it was light he had missed his footing and fallen in. I believed it with the rest. But one ; stormy , night last month a man—a farmer coming from Packerton market—came here to sleep; they drugged him, no doubt, but they gave him tpo little, I suppose. Anyhow, when they opened the door, he was awake, and there was a dreadful struggle. I heard the noise and came down. They were half in and 'half out of the door, all ngnting 1 together ; he had a knife and wgs defending him-, sejf. He was a strong man, ‘and'might have been too much even for them, but, while he was.. struggling with Reuben, the master took up that iron bar in the corner there, and—’ she

After a slight pause* she —* I did not see otmld not look—but, Oh, Heaven'; ‘ I heard it—l hear it still!’ She coveted he* eyes with both hands, and leaned against the table, trembling from head to foot. In a few minutes she went on, wiping her forehead with her -apron—* I was very ill after that night—l believe I was mad for a time ; but they kept me close, and let no one see me, and when I came to myself—not myself as I was before, for that I shall never be again—l farmer’s body had beeji foupd in . the river close to Beckley "Bridge; he had fallen against the!rocks' It was' and so wounded his heaa.’ : J

‘ And you let the belief pass|uncontradicted ? Yob-did not denounce these men ?’ ; , l 1 They kept me a prisoner,; and/ k cowed me with threats —at least the master did j besides,, my illness seetned , j to have stupefied me. jlyyenjti?ibobt] about like one in a dream,, feeling dazed and stunned, 'they thought I had turned idiotic, and talked of their-, r dreadful secrets. quite openly before me—that is bow I came to know all 1 have told you —but I listened and understood, and I swore to. myself tha,t , they should never have another victim.’ She paused a minute. ‘Even before you entered the: house‘to-night. I believe the master had resolved,,you should never leave it alive. He saw your pack, he guessed you would wear , a watch and carry money,, and when he took off your overcoat I saw him feel your pocket arid look at Reuben. " I knew then that the time was come, -; to keep my vow.’ She paused again ; her voice sank still lower. ‘lf you had been coarse and: brutal to me, ki they are, I would have saved you, all, the same at the risk of xny own life, but when I heard you speak so gently, when you looked at me when you defended me, and afterwards touched me—me, a. poor, half-witted " drudge, as tenderly aS if I ■lfad’.been' ! - ; your,,iistet T -QtivsQK Her voice, fier. breast the warm J color Vbshed" over hifir face from chin to forehead, transfiguring it; her eyes softened; suddenly she caught my hand in both hey own, and i kissed it passionately, and then, cover-*-* ing her face, burst into an agony of tears, the heavy sobs shaking'her slight figure from ! head to foot, / .;. i All ray repugnance ...waa,//gone.j : but compassion remained. What a life must hers have been if a few commonplace wo r ds of 5 sympathy,a trifling act of!!4Sn<ife&p tould IxciteL such- passionate, wondering gratitude!; , I drew nearer to her, and'would have J put my arm about her, as If shfe had I been my sister or: my sweetheart, but, controlling herself :by. an -effort, ! slip raised her head and put me away from her."' "" ■ "

‘ I have stayed too .long,’! she i said, hurriedly. ‘ They think lam still in the kitchen,;’at ahy riioment, miss, me, ' and—Vatic! f |pid ypu he£r a noise?’ / L \, '■ 1 ■:"

We both listened ; mi, all whs still. J * I have more .to.,.say. -tq> ,ypu,’ continued— ‘ the mosl.important;of ail; If you wish to leave this- house 'alive,'' ’ you'must leave it at once.' Listen. : The master told you it wasf hide' piiles '. toj Beckley—that is '’.VSirri out the truth ; it is not more than iive. '. The road crosses the- stream by the old wooden bridge just above .Beckley Fall. The window of your room is not above nine feet from the* ground; drbp into the yard, saddle your horse, lead it out by the side-gate—the snowf p 1 will muffle the sound—you will see 1 th£ road; straight ■ btjfprfe yod,|and|i| less than half ah' hour you 'will bfe at Beckley.’ •' ; ‘ . ■'• ■ ‘ And you ? While I aril riding away in safety, what will become of 1 you ? When they open the dbor and Arid the bed empty—the bird flown— ; ‘ they will at once suspect you of havihg , warned me, and then—’ She. shuddered involuntarily, but , answered, quickly and firmly—

‘I am prepared for the worst; ; I halve expected it,, What does it ■ matter ? Of what value is my life to myself or any one ? Do not waste time in speakirig oif irie‘; ! gb—g& , * / *

;‘ And you think I will leave you—leave you to suffer a;worse|fate than | that from which you have' rescued Me? * What; do you take me for ? If I go, ? you must go too.’, : niv 'No, no; it is impossible. They will miss me before we can get away, and then— ’

* Let them come; I have a bullet for ■ each of them,’ I returned, grimly. ‘No, no,’ she reiterated, ‘your pistols are, gone. The master .tpok. them when he came back to fasten the. window. One man unarmed against : two, both stronger than yourself, what • couldyou do? ‘I could at least die in defending you. But -we| shall yet have time,, if' 5 you will come at once. Come, or it | will be too late.’;

But Joyce stood as if she were turned to stone.

‘ It is too late already !’ she breathed. ‘Hark!’ . .

I listened, and heard the staircase door open. * They have missed, me !’ she said, breathlessly. ‘ The master is coming to look for Jme ! In another moment he will be in the room. Go-go !’ ' > /

‘By heaven, I will not leave you 1’ > ' ‘ You must—you shall! , There will : be time. I can make ari : excuse for being found here; he, wilt suspect, nothing till you are safe away. Go T . ‘lf you go—not else.’ : - ....

I threw my arras round her, and tried to draw her away, but she ! Wrenched herself from my grasp.' ‘No,’ she said, in a vehement , whisper; ‘if he : misses, me, he will suspect—we shall both be lost —two lives instead of one 1 He is coming for heaveh’s sake^-* 1 : /

She threw herself at my feet, and 1 -- raised her;clasped hands in a dumb 5 agony of entreaty. I hesitated. One ' hope remained—a chance of safety for, : ! * us both. I pointed towards, the secret,,, - door. '

‘ How long will it be before they r open .it ?* ‘' " •'■'■■■■—•" ‘I do not know—'-it is iuncertaini V they may come at any moment. The master has been up already to see if your candle was out’ ‘ Then they will not attack mb while the light J>ums ?’ . ; , s ; i / * ‘ No,-, they' will waif— bp, is coining/ down the passage! ’i she-broke off, and, * staggering to. her feet, , thrust the 1 candle I ; into my band; ‘ Quick—in at the ; * door!’ .-l.n wMvn

Putting my hands on the Leg ■, I vaulted through, alighting on the U-d. * Good-bye,’she whispered ‘ 1-k-avui bless you and protect you !’ ‘ And you, Joyce. But this is not good-bye.’ •' Ah, yes,’ she returned, with a forlorn smile, ‘ this is good-bye.’ The next moment the door closed upon me, and I heard her shut that of the cupboard just as Blacklock entered the room; Pressing my ear against the back of the bed, and listening intently, I heard his rough voice harshly questioning her, and hers in reply, leaking some explanation which appeared to satisify him, for when lie spoke again it was in a lower key; finally, after another murmur of question and answer, I heard them leave the room, traverse the landing, and descend the stairs. .Then all was silence. {To bt continual.)

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18810526.2.9

Bibliographic details

A STRANGE BED., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 354, 26 May 1881

Word Count
1,546

A STRANGE BED. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 354, 26 May 1881

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