On a wild and blustering evening, seventeen years after the events related in the two preceding chapters, two girls were out, in spite of the fierce wind and gathering darkness, in a little gig that accommodated only two, the body perched on very large and elastic springs. At every jolt of the wheels the body bounced and swayed in a manner likely to trouble a bad sailor. But the girls were used to the motion of the vehicle, and to the badness of the road. They drove a very sober cob, who went at his leisure, picking his way, seeing ruts in spite of the darkness.
The moor stretched in unbroken desolation far away on all sides but one, where it dropped to the gorge of the Tamar, but the presence of this dividing valley could only be guessed, not perceived by the crescent moon. The distant Cornish moorland range of Hingston and the dome of Kit Hill seemed to belong to the tract over which the girls were driving. These girls were Barbara and Eve Jordan. They had been out on a visit to some neighbours, if those can be called neighbours who lived at a distance of five miles, and were divided from Morwell by a range of desolate moor. They had spent the day with their friends, and were returning home later than they had intended.
‘I do not know what father would say to our being abroad so late, and in the dark, unattended,’ said Eve, ‘were he at home. It is well he is away.’
‘He would rebuke me, not you,’ said Barbara.
‘Of course he would; you are the elder, and responsible.’
‘But I yielded to your persuasion.’
‘Yes, I like to enjoy myself when I may. It is vastly dull at Morwell, Tell me, Bab, did I look well in my figured dress?’
‘Charming, darling; you always are that.’
‘You are a sweet sister,’ said Eve, and she put her arm round Barbara, who was driving.
Mr. Jordan, their father, was tenant of the Duke of Bedford. The Jordans were the oldest tenants on the estate which had come to the Russells on the sequestration of the abbey. The Jordans had been tenants under the abbot, and they remained on after the change of religion and owners, without abandoning their religion or losing their position. The Jordans were not accounted squires, but were reckoned as gentry. They held Morwell on long leases of ninety-nine years, regularly renewed when the leases lapsed. They regarded Morwell House almost as their freehold; it was bound up with all their family traditions and associations.
As a vast tract of country round belonged to the duke, it was void of landed gentry residing on their estates, and the only families of education and birth in the district were those of the parsons, but the difference in religion formed a barrier against intimacy with these. Mr. Jordan, moreover, was living under a cloud. It was well-known throughout the country that he had not been married to Eve’s mother, and this had caused a cessation of visits to Morwell. Moreover, since the disappearance of Eve’s mother, Mr. Jordan had become morose, reserved, and so peculiar in his manner, that it was doubted whether he were in his right mind.
Like many a small country squire, he farmed the estate himself. At one time he had been accounted an active farmer, and was credited with having made a great deal of money, but for the last seventeen years he had neglected agriculture a good deal, to devote himself to
mineralogical researches. He was convinced that the rocks were full of veins of metal—silver, lead, and copper, and he occupied himself in searching for the metals in the wood, and on the moor, sinking pits, breaking stones, washing and melting what he found. He believed that he
would come on some vein of almost pure silver or copper, which would make his fortune. Bitten with this craze, he neglected his farm, which would have gone to ruin had not his eldest daughter, Barbara, taken the management into her own hands.
Mr. Jordan was quite right in believing that he lived on rocks rich with metal: the whole land is now honeycombed with shafts and adits: but he made the mistake in thinking that he could gather a fortune out of the rocks unassisted, armed only with his own hammer, drawing only
out of his own purse. His knowledge of chemistry and mineralogy was not merely elementary, but incorrect; he read old books of science mixed up with the fantastic alchemical notions of the middle ages, believed in the sympathies of the planets with metals, and in the virtues of the
‘Does a blue or a rose ribbon suit my hair best, Bab?’ asked Eve. ‘You see my hair is chestnut, and I doubt me if pink suits the colour so well as forget-me-not.’
‘Every ribbon of every hue agrees with Eve,’ said Barbara.
‘You are a darling.’ The younger girl made an attempt to kiss her sister, in return for the compliment.
‘Be careful,’ said Barbara, ‘you will upset the gig.’
‘But I love you so much when you are kind.’
‘Am not I always kind to you, dear?’
‘O yes, but sometimes much kinder than at others.’
‘That is, when I flatter you.’
‘O if you call it flattery——’ said Eve, pouting.
‘No—it is plain truth, my dearest.’
‘Bab,’ broke forth the younger suddenly, ‘do you not think Bradstone a charming house? It is not so dull as ours.’
‘And the Cloberrys—you like them?’
‘Yes, dear, very much.’
‘Do you believe that story about Oliver Cloberry, the page?’
‘That which Grace Cloberry told me.’
‘I was not with you in the lanes when you were talking together. I do not know it.’
‘Then I will tell you. Listen, Bab, and shiver.’
‘I am shivering in the cold wind already.’
‘Shiver more shiveringly still. I am going to curdle your blood.’
‘Go on with the story, but do not squeeze up against me so close, or I shall be pushed out of the gig.’
‘But, Bab, I am frightened to tell the tale.’
‘Then do not tell it.’
‘I want to frighten you.’
‘You are very considerate.’
‘We share all things, Bab, even our terrors. I am a loving sister. Once I gave you the measles. I was too selfish to keep it all to myself. Are you ready? Grace told me that Oliver Cloberry, the eldest son, was page boy to John Copplestone, of Warleigh, in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, you know—wicked Queen Bess, who put so many Catholics to death. Squire Copplestone was his godfather, but he did not like the boy, though he was his godchild and page. The reason was this: he was much attached to Joan Hill, who refused him and married Squire Cloberry, of Bradstone, instead. The lady tried to keep friendly with her old admirer, and asked him to stand godfather to her first boy, and then take him as his page; but Copplestone was a man who long bore a grudge, and the boy grew up the image of his father, and so—Copplestone hated him. One day,
when Copplestone was going out hunting, he called for his stirrup cup, and young Cloberry ran and brought it to him. But as the squire raised the wine to his lips he saw a spider in it; and in a rage he dashed the cup and the contents in the face of the boy. He hit Oliver Cloberry on the brow, and when the boy staggered to his feet, he muttered something. Copplestone heard him, and called to him to speak out, if he were not a coward. Then the lad exclaimed, “Mother did well to throw you over for my father.” Some who stood by laughed, and Copplestone flared up; the boy, afraid at what he had said, turned to go, then Copplestone threw his hunting dagger at him, and it struck him in the back, entered his heart, and he fell dead. Do you believe this story,
‘There is some truth in it, I know. Prince, in his “Worthies,” says that Copplestone only escaped losing his head for the murder by the surrender of thirteen manors.’
‘That is not all,’ Eve continued; ‘now comes the creepy part of the story. Grace Cloberry told me that every stormy night the Whish Hounds run over the downs, breathing fire, pursuing Copplestone, from Warleigh to Bradstone, and that the murdered boy is mounted behind Copplestone, and stabs him in the back all along the way. Do you believe this?’
‘Most assuredly not.’
‘Why should you not, Bab? Don’t you think that a man like Copplestone would be unable to rest in his grave? Would not that be a terrible purgatory for him to be hunted night after night? Grace told me that old Squire Cloberry rides and blows his horn to egg-on the Whish Hounds, and Copplestone has a black horse, and he strikes spurs into its sides when the boy stabs him in the back, and screams with pain. When the Judgment Day comes, then only will his rides be over. I am sure I believe it all, Bab. It is so horrible.’
‘It is altogether false, a foolish superstition.’
‘Look there, do you see, Bab, we are at the white stone with the cross cut in it that my father put up where he first saw my mother. Is it not strange that no one knows whence my mother came? You remember her just a little. Whither did my mother go?’
‘I do not know, Eve.’
‘There, again, Bab. You who sneer and toss your chin when I speak of anything out of the ordinary, must admit this to be passing wonderful. My mother came, no one knows whence; she went, no one knows whither. After that, is it hard to believe in the Whish Hounds, and Black
‘The things are not to be compared.’
‘Your mother was buried at Buckland, and I have seen her grave. You know that her body is there, and that her soul is in heaven. But as for mine, I do not even know whether she had a human soul.’
‘Eve! What do you mean?’
‘I have read and heard tell of such things. She may have been a wood-spirit, an elf-maid. Whoever she was, whatever she was, my father loved her. He loves her still. I can see that. He seems to me to have her ever in his thoughts.’
‘Yes,’ said Barbara sadly, ‘he never visits my mother’s grave; I alone care for the flowers there.’
‘I can look into his heart,’ said Eve. ‘He loves me so dearly because he loved my mother dearer still.’
Barbara made no remark to this.
Then Eve, in her changeful mood, went back to the former topic of conversation.
‘Think, think, Bab! of Black Copplestone riding nightly over these wastes on his black mare, with her tail streaming behind, and the little page standing on the crupper, stabbing, stabbing, stabbing; and the Whish Hounds behind, giving tongue, and Squire Cloberry in the rear
urging them on with his horn. O Bab! I am sure father believes in this, I should die of fear were Copplestone hunted by dogs to pass this way. Hold! Hark!’ she almost screamed.
The wind was behind them; they heard a call, then the tramp of horses’ feet.
Barbara even was for the moment startled, and drew the gig aside, off the road upon the common. A black cloud had rolled over the sickle of the moon, and obscured its feeble light. Eve could neither move nor speak. She quaked at Barbara’s side like an aspen.
In another moment dark figures of men and horses were visible, advancing at full gallop along the road. The dull cob the sisters were driving plunged, backed, and was filled with panic. Then the moon shone out, and a faint, ghastly light fell on the road, and they could see the black figures sweeping along. There were two horses, one some way ahead of the other, and two riders, the first with slouched hat. But what was that crouched on the crupper, clinging to the first rider?
As he swept past, Eve distinguished the imp-like form of a boy. That wholly unnerved her. She uttered a piercing shriek, and clasped her hands over her eyes.
The first horse had passed, the second was abreast of the girls when that cry rang out. The horse plunged, and in a moment horse and rider crashed down, and appeared to dissolve into the ground.