Chronicles of Clovis HTML version

The Hounds Of Fate
In the fading light of a close dull autumn afternoon Martin Stoner plodded his way along
muddy lanes and rut-seamed cart tracks that led he knew not exactly whither. Somewhere
in front of him, he fancied, lay the sea, and towards the sea his footsteps seemed
persistently turning; why he was struggling wearily forward to that goal he could scarcely
have explained, unless he was possessed by the same instinct that turns a hard-pressed
stag cliffward in its last extremity. In his case the hounds of Fate were certainly pressing
him with unrelenting insistence; hunger, fatigue, and despairing hopelessness had
numbed his brain, and he could scarcely summon sufficient energy to wonder what
underlying impulse was driving him onward. Stoner was one of those unfortunate
individuals who seem to have tried everything; a natural slothfulness and improvidence
had always intervened to blight any chance of even moderate success, and now he was at
the end of his tether, and there was nothing more to try. Desperation had not awakened in
him any dormant reserve of energy; on the contrary, a mental torpor grew up round the
crisis of his fortunes. With the clothes he stood up in, a halfpenny in his pocket, and no
single friend or acquaintance to turn to, with no prospect either of a bed for the night or a
meal for the morrow, Martin Stoner trudged stolidly forward, between moist hedgerows
and beneath dripping trees, his mind almost a blank, except that he was subconsciously
aware that somewhere in front of him lay the sea. Another consciousness obtruded itself
now and then--the knowledge that he was miserably hungry. Presently he came to a halt
by an open gateway that led into a spacious and rather neglected farm-garden; there was
little sign of life about, and the farm-house at the further end of the garden looked chill
and inhospitable. A drizzling rain, however, was setting in, and Stoner thought that here
perhaps he might obtain a few minutes' shelter and buy a glass of milk with his last
remaining coin. He turned slowly and wearily into the garden and followed a narrow,
flagged path up to a side door. Before he had time to knock the door opened and a bent,
withered-looking old man stood aside in the doorway as though to let him pass in.
"Could I come in out of the rain?" Stoner began, but the old man interrupted him.
"Come in, Master Tom. I knew you would come back one of these days."
Stoner lurched across the threshold and stood staring uncomprehendingly at the other.
"Sit down while I put you out a bit of supper," said the old man with quavering
eagerness. Stoner's legs gave way from very weariness, and he sank inertly into the arm-
chair that had been pushed up to him. In another minute he was devouring the cold meat,
cheese, and bread, that had been placed on the table at his side.
"You'm little changed these four years," went on the old man, in a voice that sounded to
Stoner as something in a dream, far away and inconsequent; "but you'll find us a deal
changed, you will. There's no one about the place same as when you left; nought but me
and your old Aunt. I'll go and tell her that you'm come; she won't be seeing you, but she'll