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.





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