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The Finger of Fate A Romance   By: (1818-1883)

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The Finger of Fate A Romance By Captain Mayne Reid Published by Chapman and Hall, London. This edition dated 1872.



In a wood, within ten miles of Windsor, two youths are seen, gun in hand, in pursuit of game. A brace of thoroughbred setters, guarding the cover in front, and a well equipped keeper, walking obsequiously in the rear, precludes any suspicion of poaching; though the personal appearance of the young sportsmen needs no such testimony.

The wood is only an extensive pheasant cover, and their father is its owner. They are the sons of General Harding, an old Indian officer, who, with a hundred thousand pounds, garnered during twenty years' active service in the East, has purchased an estate in the pleasant shire of Bucks, in the hope of restoring health to a constitution impaired upon the hot plains of Hindostan.

A fine old Elizabethan mansion, of red brick, now and then visible through the openings of the cover, tells that the General has laid out his lacs with considerable taste, while five hundred acres of finely timbered park, a "home farm," and half a dozen others rented out to say nothing of the wood covers and cottage tenements prove that the ci devant soldier has not carefully collected a hundred thousand pounds in India to be carelessly squandered in England.

The two young sportsmen, already introduced as his sons, are his only sons; in short, the only members of his family, with the exception of a maiden sister, who, being sixty years old, and otherwise extremely uninteresting, will not figure conspicuously in our tale, however true it is.

Looking at the two youths, as they step through the pheasant cover, you perceive there is but slight difference in their size; there is in their age, and still more in their personal appearance. Both are what is termed dark ; but there is a difference in the degree. He who is the elder, and who bears the baptismal name Nigel, has a complexion almost olive, with straight black hair, that under the sunlight exhibits a purplish iridescence.

Henry, the younger, with fair skin and ruddier cheek, has hair of an auburn brown, drooping down his neck like clusters of Spanish chestnuts.

So great is their dissimilarity in personal appearance, that a stranger would scarce believe the two young sportsmen to be brothers.

Nor are they so in the exact signification of the word. Both can call General Harding father; but if the word "mother" be mentioned, their thoughts would go to two different personages, neither any longer on the earth. Nigel's should stray back to Hyderabad, to a tomb in the environs of that ancient Indian city; Henry's to a grave of later date, in the quiet precinct of an English country churchyard.

The explanation is easy. General Harding is not the only man, soldier or civilian, who has twice submitted his neck to the matrimonial yoke, though few ever wedded two wives so different in character as were his. Physically, mentally, morally, the Hindoo lady of Hyderabad was as unlike her Saxon successor as India is to England.

Looking at Nigel Harding and his half brother, Henry, one could not help perceiving that the dissimilarity had in both cases been transmitted from mother to son, without any great distraction caused by the blood of a common father. An incident, occurring in the cover, gives evidence of this.

Though especially a pheasant preserve, the young sportsmen are not in pursuit of the bird with strong whirring wings. The setters search for smaller game. It is mid winter. A week ago the youths might have been seen, capped and gowned, loitering along the aisles of Oriel College, Oxford. Now home for the holidays, what better than beating the home covers? The frost bound earth forbids indulgence in the grand chase; but it gives rare sport by driving the snipes and woodcocks both migratory birds among the Chilterns to the open waters of the running rivulet.

Up the banks of one a brook that, defying the frost, gurgles musically among the trees the young sportsmen are directing their search... Continue reading book >>

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