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dageger was a dete, in spinocently up a halali
stabile-d' an lau. Mungo ehe eafranger
Highland dagger concealed beneath one of the parchments! It was a discovery of no importance in a Highland castle, where, in spite of the proscription of weapons, there might innocently be something so common as a dagger left; but a halfchecked cry from the Baron stirred up again all Count Victor's worst suspicions.
He looked at Doom, and saw his face was hot with some confusion, and that his tongue stammered upon an excuse his wits were not alert enough to make.
He stooped and picked up the weapon—an elegant instrument well adorned with silver on the hilt and sheath; caught it at the point, and, leaning the hilt upon his left wrist in the manner of the courtier slightly exaggerated, and true to the delicacies of the salle-d'armes, proffered it to the owner.
Doom laughed in some confusion. “Ah!” said he lamely, “ Mungo's been at his dusting again,” and he tried to restore the easiness of the conversation that the incident had so strangely marred.
But Montaiglon could not so speedily restore his equanimity. For the unknown who had so unceremoniously brushed against him on the dark stair had been attired in Highland clothes. It had been a bare knee that had touched him on the leg; it had been a plaid-fringe that had brushed across his face; and his knuckles had been rapped lightly by the protuberances upon the sheath and hilt of a mountain dagger. M. le Baron's proscription of arms seemed to have some strange exceptions, he told himself. They were not only treated with contempt by the Macfarlanes, but even in Doom Castle, whose owner affected to look upon the garb of his ancestors as something well got rid of. For the life of him, Count Victor could not disassociate the thought of that mysterious figure on the stair, full clad in all Highland panoply against the law, and the men—the broken men—who had shot his pony in the wood and attempted to rob him. All the eccentricities of his
host mustered before him — his narrow state here with but one servant apparent, a mysterious room tenanted by an invisible woman, and his coldnesssurely far from the Highland temper—to the Count's scheme of revenge upon the fictitious Drimdarroch.
There was an awkward pause even the diplomacy of the Frenchman could not render less uncomfortable, and the Baron fumbled with the weapon ere he laid it down again on the table.
“By the way,” said Count Victor, now with his mind made up, “I see no prospect of pushing my discoveries from here, and it is also unfair that I should involve you in my adventure that had much better be conducted from the plain base of an inn, if such there happens to be in the town down there."
A look of unmistakable relief, quelled as soon as it breathed across his face, came to the Baron. “Your will is my pleasure,” he said quickly; “but there is at this moment no man in the world who could be more welcome to share my humble domicile.”
“Yet I think I could work with more certainty of a quick success from a common lodging in the town than from here. I have heard that now and then French fish dealers and merchants sometimes come for barter to this coast and "
The ghost of a smile came over Doom's face. “ They could scarcely take you for a fish merchant, M. le Count,” said he.
“At all events common fairness demands that I should adopt any means that will obviate getting your name into the thing, and I think I shall try the inn. Is there one?”
“There is the best in all the West Country there,” said Doom, “kept by a gentleman of family and attainments. But it will not do for you to go down there without some introduction. I shall have to speak of your coming to some folk and see if it is a good time.”
“Eh bien ! Remember at all events that I am in affairs,” said Montaiglon, and the thing was settled.
It was only at the dawn, or the gloaming, or in night itself—and above all in the night—that the castle of Doom had its tragic aspect. In the sun of midday, as Count Victor convinced himself on the morrow of a night with no alarms, it could be almost cheerful, and from the garden there was sometimes something to be seen with interest of a human kind upon the highway on the shore.
A solitary land, but in the happy hours people were passing to and fro between the entrances to the ducal seat and the north. Now and then bands of vagrants from the heights of Glencroe and the high Rest where Wade's road bent among the clouds would pass with little or no appeal to the hospitality of Doom, whose poverty they knew ; now and then rustics in red hoods, their feet bare upon the gravel, made for the town market, sometimes singing as they went till their womanly voices, even in airs unfamiliar and a language strange and guttural, gave to Count Victor an echo of old mirth in another and a warmer land. Men passed on rough short ponies; once a chariot with a great caleche roof swung on the rutted road, once a company of red-coat soldiery shot like a gleam of glory across the afternoon, moving to the melody of a fife and drum.
For the latter Mungo had a sour explanation.
They were come, it seemed, to attend a trial for murder. A clansman of the Duke's and a far-out cousin (in the Highland manner of speaking) had been shot dead in the country of Appin; the suspected assassin, a Stewart of course, was on trial; the blood of families and factions was hot over the business, and the Government was sending its soldiery to convoy James Stewart of the Glen, after his conviction, back to the place of execution.
“But, mon Dieu ! he is yet to try, is he not?” cried Count Victor.
“Oh ay !” Mungo acquiesced,“ but that doesna' maitter; the puir cratur is as guid as scragged. The tow's aboot his thrapple and kittlin' him already, I'll warrant, for his name's Stewart, and in this place I would sooner be ca'd Beelzebub; I'd ha’e a better chance o' my life if I found mysel'in trouble wi' a Campbell jury to try me.”
Montaiglon watched this little body of military march along the road, with longing in his heart for the brave and busy outside world they represented. He watched them wistfully till they had disappeared round the horn of land he had stood on yesterday, and their fife and drum had altogether died upon the air of the afternoon. And turning, he found the Baron of Doom silent at his elbow, looking under his hat-brim at the road.
“More trouble for the fesse checkey, Baron,” said he, indicating the point whereto the troops had gone.
“ The unluckiest blazon on a coat," replied the castellan of Doom; “ trouble seems to be the part of every one who wears it. It's in a very unwholesome quarter when it comes into the boar's den— "
“Boar's den ?” repeated Montaiglon interrogatively.
“The head of the pig is his Grace's cognisance. Clan Diarmaid must have got it first by raiding in some Appin stye, as Petullo my doer down-by says. He is like most men of his trade, Petullo; he is ready to make his treasonable joke even against the
look ound theche air
without virtue o Plausible'ssed you inattackecoming
people who pay him wages, and I know he gets the wages of the Duke as well as my fees. I'm going down to transact some of the weary old business with him just now, and I'll hint at your coming. A Bordeaux wine merchant-it will seem more like the thing than the fish dealer."
“And I know a good deal more about wine than about fish," laughed Count Victor, “so it will be safer."
“I think you would be best to have been coming to the town when the Macfarlanes attacked you, killed your horse, and chased you into my place. That's the most plausible story we can tell, and it has the virtue of being true in every particular, without betraying that Bethune or friendship for myself was in any part of it."
“I can leave it all to your astuteness,” said Montaiglon.
The Baron was absent, as he had suggested was possible, all day. The afternoon was spent by Count Victor in a dull enough fashion, for even Mungo seemed morose in his master's absence, perhaps overweighted by the mysteries now left to his charge, disinclined to talk of anything except the vast wars in which his ancestors had shone with blinding splendour, and of the world beyond the confines of Doom. But even his store of reminiscence became exhausted, and Count Victor was left to his own resources. Back again to his seat on the rock he went, and again to the survey of the mainland that seemed so strangely different a clime from this where nothing dwelt but secrecy and decay.
In the afternoon the traffic on the highway had ceased, for the burgh now held all of that wide neighbourhood that had leisure, or any excuse of business to transact in the place where a great event was happening. The few that moved in the sun of the day were, with but one exception, bound for the streets; the exception naturally created some wonder on the part of Count Victor.