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The Cry Of The Peacock

Scary Books: Border Ghost Stories

'Damn the dice!' cried the elder of the two players, in a spasm of rage;

'damn my ill-luck--damn everything!' and as he shouted his imprecations

he regarded his opponent askance, as if including him in his


''Twas a thousand to one against you throwing two sixes,' he cried. Then

he flung his marker on the floor, pushed back his chair, and rising,

walked moodily to the chimney-piece and gazed d
spairingly into the

fire, for his estate had vanished--his last two farms had been lost to

the 'double six.' Not only had he lost his estate, but he was hopelessly

indebted to his companion for many an I.O.U. and bill beyond his

mortgage. He might be made bankrupt at any moment.

The other kept silence a few moments before he said anything. A gleam of

triumph and delight had shown for a second in his eye, but outwardly he

was as cool as ever.

''Tis a strange thing,' he said soothingly; 'I too have had my turn of

ill-luck before this. I remember well one evening at Oxford years ago

when I played high stakes with Lord Cantrip and others at "The House."

Hadn't a stiver left one night, but I pawned my grandfather's Louis xiv.

watch for the next evening's play. Luck turned, and I had my revenge.

Had it not been for that last heirloom I should have enlisted, and

probably have met my fate at Badajoz.'

The speaker was a powerfully built man of thirty-five years of age; he

was broad rather than tall, underbred, coarse in complexion, and his

jaw, well developed, seemed to indicate will power.

His companion was forty years of age, had a high, well-bred carriage,

and a sensitive face that showed charm rather than strength.

He made no reply to the other's sympathy or suggestion, but continued to

gaze moodily into the dying log fire on the hearth, and on the

smoke-begrimed Sussex 'back' which exhibited the 'Flight into Egypt.'

He groaned within himself; he too would have to make his 'flight into

Egypt,' There was nothing left in the dear old beloved manor house that

would furnish sufficient capital for another gamble.

'The last family heirloom,' he said finally, 'departed in my father's

time. The manor goes in mine.'

There was a space of silence. Then the elder threw out a fresh


'There's maybe something ye've left out of your calculation,' he said

suggestively, 'something that some might put as high as the estate


'What d' ye mean?' inquired the other, turning about so as fully to see

the other's face.

'Well, as 'twixt friends and neighbours I'll speak out fairly,'

responded the man at the green table, 'and as I'm your guest you'll

understand I'm perfectly straight in my proposition. The long and short

o't then is that I'm settled in this new place of mine next yours; that

it is time for me to "range myself," and that if you'll give me your

daughter's hand--give me leave, that is, to propose for her hand in

marriage, and she does me the honour of accepting--well then, I'll

settle your manor, or what's left of it, on her and her heirs for ever.

Make a dower-house of it, in fact. And more than this, I'll burn all

your I.O.U.'s in addition. You'll be a free man once again.'

His host started violently, gave a sudden haughty and contemptuous look

at the speaker, made as if he would speak, then turned swiftly back to

the fire again.

He had a fierce desire to kick this vile newcomer--this Mosenthal, 'the

foreigner,' or 'ootner'--the son of a rich Jewish Manchester

tradesman--out of the house, but the fellow was his guest, and he

checked himself. Above all, he dreaded public bankruptcy; he, the last

male descendant of the proud race of Heronsbeck.

'Think it over,' said the other quietly. 'I think 'tis a fair

offer--free to take or free to drop.'

Still his host made no reply. The other after a little pause proceeded

with his tempting proposals. He had reached out his hand for the

dice-box on the table; he took it up and rattled the dice in the box as

if to throw on to the table.

'Come,' he cried vivaciously. 'Have a throw! Let luck decide. I'll back

your throw against mine. A hundred pounds to a penny.'

He rattled the dice noisily, and cast them on the table, still holding

the box tight over the ivory cubes.

The tempter prevailed; he had re-aroused the gambling fever in his host,

who now advanced to the table and looked irresolutely on the upturned


'Done!' he cried suddenly. The other's fist lifted up; the cubes

nestled close together showing dots two and one.

'Luck's turned,' said his guest philosophically, as he laid down the


The other flung the dice swiftly on to the green board; the cubes rolled

apart, then as they settled they showed six and five.

A spark of momentary fire flickered in the gambler's eye; he picked up

the notes; then the frown came back to his brow; he shivered, looked at

the clock, then, 'It's damned late,' he said, 'and if you don't want any

more to drink we'd better go to bed.'

So saying Heronsbeck of Heronsbeck lit a candle for his guest, showed

him to his chamber, then went gloomily to his own.

There was no sleep, however, for him that night, for he dreaded the

morning and the astounded look of his darling Lily--his only child--when

he had to tell her of Mosenthal's proposal.

'Of course she won't do it--she couldn't. There'll be no harm done, for

she'd as soon accept a Hottentot as a rich Jew.' So her father reflected


But she wouldn't like it. He hated to think of her expression when he

conveyed Mosenthal's offer to her.

The Jew's notes positively burned in his fingers as he had laid them

down on his dressing-table; the fellow's offer was extraordinarily

tempting. Ah, welladay! This was the end, then, of Heronsbeck Hall,

which he prized above every earthly possession after his daughter. His

father had lost the half of it over cards; now he himself had thrown

away the rest in like manner. There was the grouse moor; he counted up

the 'amenities' as he lay in bed, even as a lover enumerates the charms

of his mistress.

The wine-dark moorland--how he loved it! And the great days in autumn

after grouse and blackcock. Then the fishing in the beck for trout as a

boy, and the call of the sounding 'forces.' Then the huntings afoot on

the high fells, and the reckless gallops on the haughs below. No wonder

he loved it, for he and his forefathers were part and parcel of the

land. They had been there and owned it since the days of the Testa de

Nevil. He was 'hefted' to it, as the farmers said of their stock.

Well, all was now over. The 'lament' must sound over Heronsbeck.

Mosenthal must take the estate; he himself would take Lily abroad and

live forgotten, for he had rejected Mosenthal's proposal now,


Just at this decisive moment he distinctly heard the cry of a peacock

sound--weird and discordant--without.

'The peacock's cry!' It was as the wail of the banshee in his ear.

Peacocks had long since disappeared from the Hall, yet their fateful

cry, which had sounded through the night of the strange death of his

ancestor who first brought them there, had been wonderfully allied with

the fortunes of his house.

He accepted the omen.

Rising up with the first gleam of dawn, he went out into the park.

He determined to appraise and make an inventory of all that remained on

the place that he could call his own still and sell. There was some

timber left. Then all the stock on the home farm would be disposed of.

As he endeavoured to 'tot' this up he noticed a figure swinging along

across the park at a great pace. Was a stranger already fearless about


Turning away from the approaching intruder, he commenced his calculation

afresh. Suddenly a voice hailed him joyfully.

'Back again! Back again, Pater, at long last! Yes, the rolling stone has

gathered some moss after all--honourably, if luckily, come by. So here I

am, Pater, like the Prodigal--to crave forgiveness, and--to repay you my


Heronsbeck turned and stared upon the speaker. 'Joe!' he cried faintly,

but with Joe, his only son, he had quarrelled. Joe had vanished on the

Klondyke in a blizzard. This must be his ghost.

'Come, Dad!' called the beloved figure in front of him beseechingly.

'My boy, my boy!' cried his father, pressing his son to his bosom.

'Thank God for ye, my boy, my boy! But how can it be that you're alive?'

he asked apprehensively, as though fearing his son might vanish again

from his eyes.

'A good Samaritan--this time disguised as a Jesuit Father, rescued me.

Then I saved a pal myself eventually, who died of fever and left me all

his pile.'

'Yet I heard the peacock cry this morning,' muttered Heronsbeck to

himself, still apprehensive of misfortune.

'And did you also, Pater, hear the peacock shouting?' asked his son in


'Why, as I came over the fell by the Hanging Stone at break o' day--just

above the young larch plantation where we had the record woodcock

shoot--I heard his rasping cry.

"Hallo!" I called back to him. "Hallo, old bugler! You've got it all

wrong this time. 'Tis not 'The Last Post,' but 'Reveille' that you must

sound over Heronsbeck Hall this day."'