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What The Shepherd Saw: A Tale Of Four Moonlight Nights
by [?]

Once within the sound of the horse’s footsteps, Bill Mills felt comparatively comfortable; for, though in awe of the Duke because of his position, he had no moral repugnance to his companionship on account of the grisly deed he had committed, considering that powerful nobleman to have a right to do what he chose on his own lands. The Duke rode steadily on beneath his ancestral trees, the hoofs of his horse sending up a smart sound now that he had reached the hard road of the drive, and soon drew near the front door of his house, surmounted by parapets with square-cut battlements that cast a notched shade upon the gravelled terrace. These outlines were quite familiar to little Bill Mills, though nothing within their boundary had ever been seen by him.

When the rider approached the mansion a small turret door was quickly opened and a woman came out. As soon as she saw the horseman’s outlines she ran forward into the moonlight to meet him.

‘Ah dear–and are you come?’ she said. ‘I heard Hero’s tread just when you rode over the hill, and I knew it in a moment. I would have come further if I had been aware–‘

‘Glad to see me, eh?’

‘How can you ask that?’

‘Well; it is a lovely night for meetings.’

‘Yes, it is a lovely night.’

The Duke dismounted and stood by her side. ‘Why should you have been listening at this time of night, and yet not expecting me?’ he asked.

‘Why, indeed! There is a strange story attached to that, which I must tell you at once. But why did you come a night sooner than you said you would come? I am rather sorry–I really am!’ (shaking her head playfully) ‘for as a surprise to you I had ordered a bonfire to be built, which was to be lighted on your arrival to-morrow; and now it is wasted. You can see the outline of it just out there.’

The Duke looked across to a spot of rising glade, and saw the faggots in a heap. He then bent his eyes with a bland and puzzled air on the ground, ‘What is this strange story you have to tell me that kept you awake?’ he murmured.

‘It is this–and it is really rather serious. My cousin Fred Ogbourne–Captain Ogbourne as he is now–was in his boyhood a great admirer of mine, as I think I have told you, though I was six years his senior. In strict truth, he was absurdly fond of me.’

‘You have never told me of that before.’

‘Then it was your sister I told–yes, it was. Well, you know I have not seen him for many years, and naturally I had quite forgotten his admiration of me in old times. But guess my surprise when the day before yesterday, I received a mysterious note bearing no address, and found on opening it that it came from him. The contents frightened me out of my wits. He had returned from Canada to his father’s house, and conjured me by all he could think of to meet him at once. But I think I can repeat the exact words, though I will show it to you when we get indoors.

“MY DEAR COUSIN HARRIET,” the note said, “After this long
absence you will be surprised at my sudden reappearance, and
more by what I am going to ask. But if my life and future
are of any concern to you at all, I beg that you will grant
my request. What I require of you, is, dear Harriet, that
you meet me about eleven to-night by the Druid stones on
Marlbury Downs, about a mile or more from your house. I
cannot say more, except to entreat you to come. I will
explain all when you are there. The one thing is, I want
to see you. Come alone. Believe me, I would not ask this
if my happiness did not hang upon it–God knows how
entirely! I am too agitated to say more–Yours.