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The Doppel-ganger






So this was the old home--the cradle of his race!

Percy Osbaldistone of Osbaldistone Tower gazed curiously about him in
what had formerly been the library, and espied a capacious Queen Anne
chair by the fireside which looked inviting.

Having ensconced himself therein he put up his feet against the
mantelpiece, lit a long cigar, and drew in the smoke slowly and
meditatively.

The old housekeeper and her pretty niece had given him a good supper,
and he himself, foreseeing empty cellars, had brought with him an ample
freight, so now at the long last he had arrived in harbour.

After all his vicissitudes and being for years the black sheep of the
ancient family, that he should come into possession of Osbaldistone
Tower and Manor touched his vein of humour.

He laughed grimly, rubbed one hand upon the other, and looked
contemptuously up at the portrait of an ancestor who seemed to be
scowling at the last representative of his race. It was true that there
was not much of the old family estate left, and what was left was
mortgaged, but still it was good for a few thousands, and the family
lawyer had to find them or go. The heir of the Osbaldistones continued
his reflections. He didn't 'give a damn' for his ancestors, for what had
they done save bring him into the world--a doubtful blessing?

'Apres moi le Deluge,' murmured he to himself with a cynical smile, as
he ensconced himself deeper in the recesses of his armchair and drank
deep from the glass by his side. His hand shook badly, and he spilled
some drops of whisky and soda upon his trousers.

'Damn!' cried he in annoyance. Then to himself sotto voce, 'Now that
I've got back to this old quiet place I'll soon have my rotten nerves
right again.'

Looking up after wiping his trousers he suddenly perceived to his great
astonishment, for he had heard no sound of entrance, a fellow seated in
the chair opposite which nestled under the Spanish leather screen that
kept off the draught from the door behind.

'Who the devil are you?' inquired the Lord of the Manor angrily, 'and
what d' ye want?'

'I am an Osbaldistone like yourself,' replied the stranger suavely; 'we
are the last of the ancient house that bears upon its chevron the spear
and spurs (mullets), so when I heard of your good fortune I thought it
but polite to call and gratulate you on your succession.'

Percy Osbaldistone looked across upon his unwelcome visitor with
narrowed eyes. The room was dark in its old oak panelling; there was but
the one lamp on the table behind him, and it was by the light of the
fire that he had to scrutinise the newcomer. So far as he could see the
fellow was not unlike himself: he seemed to have the high-ridged nose of
the family, which had become almost a birthmark in course of years. Yet
the sardonic hardness of chin and jaw was very different to his own
flabbiness; and as he watched his opposite Osbaldistone felt hatred
surge up within his soul.

He had heard of men having their 'double.' Perhaps this was his own. He
shivered at the thought.

Then he recollected that a branch of the family had long years ago
migrated to Virginia. Possibly the fellow was one of their descendants.

'Are you from America?' he inquired. Then he went on in haste, not
waiting for reply, 'For myself, I've only just arrived here. The only
servants are an ancient housekeeper and her little niece, and I can't do
with visitors--you'll understand me. Take a whisky and soda and then
go,' and the speaker ended with a snarl and suggestive stretch of leg
and boot.

'You are not very hospitable,' replied his opposite, suavely as before,
'but it matters little, nor do I require a whisky and soda. I simply
called in for a "crack," as you say up here, and to congratulate you on
succeeding.'

'A crack!' echoed his host surlily. 'What about?'

'Oh, about our family and yourself,' returned the other caressingly. 'I
am something of a genealogist, love family histories and dote on
skeletons in the cupboard. As a matter of fact, ours is a singularly
dull chronicle: except that the head of the family was an unsuccessful
rebel in the "15," we never travelled beyond our Anglo-Saxon
fatherdom--deep drinking, gambling, hard riding--and the droit de
Seigneur'--here the speaker paused a moment--'this little niece, for
example?' he hinted delicately.

'How the devil has the fellow guessed that?' thought Osbaldistone, white
with anger and touched by secret fear.

'Get out!' he cried hoarsely, and felt if his revolver lay handy in his
pocket, ready for use if needful.

His guest, however, took no notice of the command. Indeed, he went on
more coolly than before. 'I mention it,' said he, 'because there was an
ugly story about in British East Africa when you were farming out in the
wilds beyond Simba, of the rape of a native girl, who was eventually
turned out of doors at night and never reached her home again. Hyaena or
lion? Which d' ye think?'

Osbaldistone's hand dropped feebly back from his revolver. His face was
ashen-coloured. Good God! Who was this visitor? The episode of this
black girl was the one thing he had never been able to forget. Shrinking
back into his chair, he gazed as a rabbit may gaze upon the approaching
python.

'Damn the fellow!' He plucked forth his revolver with quivering fingers,
levelled it at his guest, and pulled upon the trigger. The bullet sang
across the room, passed through armchair and screen into the wainscot
beyond.

The smoke cleared; Osbaldistone could still see the unmoved and mocking
eye of his enemy that filled him with a nameless horror. He lifted his
pistol to take a better aim, then--on a strange misgiving--turned the
barrel round upon himself. 'You fool!' muttered the strange visitor
sardonically, and as he spake he vanished as silently as he had come.





Next: In My Lady's Bedchamber

Previous: In The Cliff Land Of The Dane



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