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A Rogue's Life by Wilkie Collins

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therefore, to abandon it."

"Very well," said I, "there is no harm done. Thus far, I have
only solicited two persons, Doctor and Miss Dulcifer, in that
delightful little cottage there."

"You don't mean to say you have asked _them_ to come to the
ball!"

"To be sure I have. And I am sorry to say they can't accept the
invitation. Why should they not be asked?"

"Because nobody visits them."

"And why should nobody visit them?"

The Treasurer put his arm confidentially through mine, and walked
me on a few steps.

"In the first place," he said, "Doctor Dulcifer's name is not
down in the Medical List."

"Some mistake," I suggested, in my off-hand way. "Or some foreign
doctor's degree not recognized by the prejudiced people in
England."

"In the second place," continued the Treasurer, "we have found
out that he is not visited at Barkingham. Consequently, it would
be the height of imprudence to visit him here."

"Pooh! pooh! All the nonsense of narrow-minded people, because he
lives a retired life, and is engaged in finding out chemical
secrets which the ignorant public don't know how to appreciate."

"The shutters are always up in the front top windows of his house
at Barkingham," said the Treasurer, lowering his voice
mysteriously. "I know it from a friend resident near him. The
windows themselves are barred. It is currently reported that the
top of the house, inside, is shut off by iron doors from the
bottom. Workmen are employed there who don't belong to the
neighborhood, who don't drink at the public houses, who only
associate with each other. Unfamiliar smells and noises find
their way outside sometimes. Nobody in the house can be got to
talk. The doctor, as he calls himself, does not even make an
attempt to get into society, does not even try to see company for
the sake of his poor unfortunate daughter. What do you think of
all that?"

"Think!" I repeated contemptuously; "I think the inhabitants of
Barkingham are the best finders of mares' nests in all England.
The doctor is making important chemical discoveries (the possible
value of which I can appreciate, being chemical myself), and he
is not quite fool enough to expose valuable secrets to the view
of all the world. His laboratory is at the top of the house, and
he wisely shuts it off from the bottom to prevent accidents. He
is one of the best fellows I ever met with, and his daughter is
the loveliest girl in the world. What do you all mean by making
mysteries about nothing? He has given me an invitation to go and
see him. I suppose the next thing you will find out is, that
there is something underhand even in that?"

"You won't accept the invitation?"

"I shall, at the very first opportunity; and if you had seen Miss
Alicia, so would you."

"Don't go. Take my advice and don't go," said the Treasurer,
gravely. "You are a young man. Reputable friends are of
importance to you at the outset of life. I say nothing against
Doctor Dulcifer--he came here as a stranger, and he goes away
again as a stranger--but you can't be sure that his purpose in
asking you so readily to his house is a harmless one. Making a
new acquaintance is always a doubtful speculation; but when a man
is not visited by his respectable neighbors--"

"Because he doesn't open his shutters," I interposed
sarcastically.

"Because there are doubts about him and his house which he will
not clear up," retorted the Treasurer. "You can take your own
way. You may turn out right, and we may all be wrong; I can only
say again, it is rash to make doubtful acquaintances. Sooner or
later you are always sure to repent it. In your place I should
certainly not accept the invitation."

"In my place, my dear sir," I answered, "you would do exactly
what I mean to do."

The Treasurer took his arm out of mine, and without saying
another word, wished me good-morning.

CHAPTER VII.

I HAD spoken confidently enough, while arguing the question of
Doctor Dulcifer's respectability with the Treasurer of the D
uskydale Institution; but, if my perceptions had not been blinded
by my enthusiastic admiration for Alicia, I think I should have
secretly distrusted my own opinion as soon as I was left by
myself. Had I been in full possession of my senses, I might have
questioned, on reflection, whether the doctor's method of
accounting for the suspicions which kept his neighbors aloof from
him, was quite satisfactory. Love is generally described, I
believe, as the tender passion. When I remember the insidiously
relaxing effect of it on all my faculties, I feel inclined to
alter the popular definition, and to call it a moral vapor-bath.

What the Managing Committee of the Duskydale Institution thought
of the change in me, I cannot imagine. The doctor and his
daughter left the town on the day they had originally appointed,
before I could make any excuse for calling again; and, as a
necessary consequence of their departure, I lost all interest in
the affairs of the ball, and yawned in the faces of the committee
when I was obliged to be present at their deliberations in my
official capacity.

It was all Alicia with me, whatever they did. I read the Minutes
through a soft medium of maize-colored skirts. Notes of melodious
laughter bubbled, in my mind's ear, through all the drawling and
stammering of our speech-making members. When our dignified
President thought he had caught my eye, and made oratorical
overtures to me from the top of the table, I was lost in the
contemplation of silk purses and white fingers weaving them. I
meant "Alicia" when I said "hear, hear"--and when I officially
produced my subscription list, it was all aglow with the roseate
hues of the marriage-license. If any unsympathetic male readers
should think this statement exaggerated, I appeal to the
ladies--_they_ will appreciate the rigid, yet tender, truth of
it.

The night of the ball came. I have nothing but the vaguest
recollection of it.

I remember that the more the perverse lecture theater was warmed
the more persistently it smelled of damp plaster; and that the
more brightly it was lighted, the more overgrown and lonesome it
looked. I can recall to mind that the company assembled numbered
about fifty, the room being big enough to hold three hundred. I
have a vision still before me, of twenty out of these fifty
guests, solemnly executing intricate figure-dances, under the
superintendence of an infirm local dancing-master--a mere speck
of fidgety human wretchedness twisting about in the middle of an
empty floor. I see, faintly, down the dim vista of the Past, an
agreeable figure, like myself, with a cocked hat under its arm,
black tights on its lightly tripping legs, a rosette in its
buttonhole, and an engaging smile on its face, walking from end
to end of the room, in the character of Master of the Ceremonies.
These visions and events I can recall vaguely; and with them my
remembrances of the ball come to a close. It was a complete
failure, and that would, of itself, have been enough to sicken me
of remaining at the Duskydale Institution, even if I had not had
any reasons of the tender sort for wishing to extend my travels
in rural England to the neighborhood of Barkingham.

The difficulty was how to find a decent pretext for getting away.
Fortunately, the Managing Committee relieved me of any perplexity
on this head, by passing a resolution, one day, which called upon
the President to remonstrate with me on my want of proper
interest in the affairs of the Institution. I replied to the
remonstrance that the affairs of the Institution were so
hopelessly dull that it was equally absurd and unjust to expect
any human being to take the smallest interest in them. At this
there arose an indignant cry of "Resign!" from the whole
committee; to which I answered politely, that I should be
delighted to oblige the gentlemen, and to go forthwith, on
condition of receiving a quarter's salary in the way of previous
compensation.

After a sordid opposition from an economical minority, my
condition of departure was accepted. I wrote a letter of
resignation, received in exchange twelve pounds ten shillings,
and took my place, that same day, on the box-seat of the
Barkingham mail.

Rather changeable this life of mine, was it not? Before I was
twenty-five years of age, I had tried doctoring, caricaturing
portrait-painting, old picture-making, and Institution-managing;
and now, with the help of Alicia, I was about to try how a little
marrying would suit me. Surely, Shakespeare must have had me
prophetically in his eye, when he wrote about "one man in his
time playing many parts." What a character I should have made for
him, if he had only been alive now!

I found out from the coachman, among other matters, that there
was a famous fishing stream near Barkingham; and the first thing
I did, on arriving at the town, was to buy a rod and line.

It struck me that my safest way of introducing myself would be to
tell Doctor Dulcifer that I had come to the neighborhood for a
little fishing, and so to prevent him from fancying that I was
suspiciously prompt in availing myself of his offered
hospitality. I put up, of course, at the inn--stuck a large
parchment book of flies half in and half out of the pocket of my
shooting-jacket--and set off at once to the doctor's. The waiter
of whom I asked my way stared distrustfully while he directed me.
The people at the inn had evidently heard of my new friend, and
were not favorably disposed toward the cause of scientific
investigation.

The house stood about a mile out of the town, in a dip of ground
near the famous fishing-stream. It was a lonely, old-fashioned
red-brick building, surrounded by high walls, with a garden and
plantation behind it.

As I rang at the gate-bell, I looked up at the house. Sure enough
all the top windows in front were closed with shutters and
barred. I was let in by a man in livery; who, however, in manners
and appearance, looked much more like a workman in disguise than
a footman. He had a very suspicious eye, and he fixed it on me
unpleasantly when I handed him my card.

I was shown into a morning-room exactly like other morning-rooms
in country houses.

After a long delay the doctor came in, with scientific butchers'
sleeves on his arms, and an apron tied round his portly waist. He
apologized for coming down in his working dress, and said
everything that was civil and proper about the pleasure of
unexpectedly seeing me again so soon. There was something rather
preoccupied, I thought, in those brightly resolute eyes of his;
but I naturally attributed it to the engrossing influence of his
scientific inquiries. He was evidently not at all taken in by my
story about coming to Barkingham to fish; but he saw, as well as
I did, that it would do to keep up appearances, and contrived to
look highly interested immediately in my parchment-book. I asked
after his daughter. He said she was in the garden, and proposed
that we should go and find her. We did find her, with a pair of
scissors in her hand, outblooming the flowers that she was
trimming. She looked really glad to see me--her brown eyes beamed
clear and kindly--she gave my hand another inestimable shake--the
summer breezes waved her black curls gently upward from her
waist--she had on a straw hat and a brown Holland gardening
dress. I eyed it with all the practical interest of a
linendraper. O Brown Holland you are but a coarse and cheap
fabric, yet how soft and priceless you look when clothing the
figure of Alicia!

I lunched with them. The doctor recurred to the subject of my
angling intentions, and asked his daughter if she had heard what
parts of the stream at Barkingham were best for fishing in.

She replied, with a mixture of modest evasiveness and adorable
simplicity, that she had sometimes seen gentlemen angling from a
meadow-bank about a quarter of a mile below her flower-garden. I
risked everything in my usual venturesome way, and asked if she
would show me where the place was, in case I called the next
morning with my fishing-rod. She looked dutifully at her father.
He smiled and nodded. Inestimable parent!

On rising to take leave, I was rather curious to know whether he
would o ffer me a bed in the house, or not. He detected the
direction of my thoughts in my face and manner, and apologized
for not having a bed to offer me; every spare room in the house
being occupied by his chemical assistants, and by the lumber of
laboratories. Even while he was speaking those few words,
Alicia's face changed just as I had seen it change at our first
interview. The downcast, gloomy expression overspread it again.
Her father's eye wandered toward her when mine did, and suddenly
assumed the same distrustful look which I remembered detecting in
it, under similar circumstances, at Duskydale. What could this
mean?

The doctor shook hands with me in the hall, leaving the
workman-like footman to open the door.

I stopped to admire a fine pair of stag's antlers. The footman
coughed impatiently. I still lingered, hearing the doctor's
footsteps ascending the stairs. They suddenly stopped; and then
there was a low heavy clang, like the sound of a closing door
made of iron, or of some other unusually strong material; then
total silence, interrupted by another impatient cough from the
workman-like footman. After that, I thought my wisest proceeding
would be to go away before my mysterious attendant was driven to
practical extremities.

Between thoughts of Alicia, and inquisitive yearnings to know
more about the doctor's experiments, I passed rather a restless
night at my inn.

The next morning, I found the lovely mistress of my destiny, with
the softest of shawls on her shoulders, the brightest of parasols
in her hand, and the smart little straw hat of the day before on
her head, ready to show me the way to the fishing-place. If I
could be sure beforehand that these pages would only be read by
persons actually occupied in the making of love--that oldest and
longest-established of all branches of manufacturing industry--I
could go into some very tender and interesting particulars on the
subject of my first day's fishing, under the adorable auspices of
Alicia. But as I cannot hope for a wholly sympathetic
audience--as there may be monks, misogynists, political
economists, and other professedly hard-hearted persons present
among those whom I now address--I think it best to keep to safe
generalities, and to describe my love-making in as few sentences
as the vast, though soft, importance of the subject will allow me
to use.

Let me confess, then, that I assumed the character of a
fastidious angler, and managed to be a week in discovering the
right place to fish in--always, it is unnecessary to say, under
Alicia's guidance. We went up the stream and down the stream, on
one side. We crossed the bridge, and went up the stream and down
the stream on the other. We got into a punt, and went up the
stream (with great difficulty), and down the stream (with great
ease). We landed on a little island, and walked all round it, and
inspected the stream attentively from a central point of view. We
found the island damp, and went back to the bank, and up the
stream, and over the bridge, and down the stream again; and then,
for the first time, the sweet girl turned appealingly to me, and
confessed that she had exhausted her artless knowledge of the
locality. It was exactly a week from the day when I had first
followed her into the fields with my fishing-rod over my
shoulder; and I had never yet caught anything but Alicia's hand,
and that not with my hook.

We sat down close together on the bank, entirely in consequence
of our despair at not finding a good fishing-place. I looked at
the brown eyes, and they turned away observantly down the stream.
I followed them, and they turned away inquiringly up the stream.
Was this angel of patience and kindness still looking for a
fishing place? And was it _up_ the stream, after all? No! --she
smiled and shook her head when I asked the question, and the
brown eyes suddenly stole a look at me. I could hold out no
longer In one breathless moment I caught hold of both her
hands--in one stammering sentence I asked her if she would be my
wife.

She tried faintly to free her hands--gave up the
attempt--smiled--made an effort to look grave--gave that up,
too--sighed suddenly--checked herself suddenly--said nothing.
Perhaps I ought to have taken my answer for granted; but the
least business-like man that ever lived becomes an eminently
practical character in matters of love. I repeated my question.
She looked away confusedly; her eye lighted on a corner of her
father's red-brick house, peeping through a gap in the plantation
already mentioned; and her blushing cheeks lost their color
instantly. I felt her hands grow cold; she drew them resolutely
out of mine, and rose with the tears in her eyes. Had I offended
her?

"No," she said when I asked her the question, and turned to me
again, and held out her hand with such frank, fearless kindness,
that I almost fell on my knees to thank her for it.

Might I hope ever to hear her say "Yes" to the question that I
had asked on the riverbank?

She sighed bitterly, and turned again toward the red-brick house.

Was there any family reason against her saying "Yes"? Anything
that I must not inquire into? Any opposition to be dreaded from
her father?

The moment I mentioned her father, she shrank away from me and
burst into a violent fit of crying.

"Don't speak of it again!" she said in a broken voice. "I
mustn't--you mustn't--ah, don't, don't say a word more about it!
I'm not distressed with you--it is not your fault. Don't say
anything--leave me quiet for a minute. I shall soon be better it
you leave me quiet."

She dried her eyes directly, with a shiver as if it was cold, and
took my arm. I led her back to the house-gate; and then, feeling
that I could not go in to lunch as usual, after what had
happened, said I would return to the fishing-place.

"Shall I come to dinner this evening?" I asked, as I rang the
gate-bell for her.

"Oh, yes--yes!--do come, or he--"

The mysterious man-servant opened the door, and we parted before
she could say the next words.

CHAPTER VIII.

I WENT back to the fishing-place with a heavy heart, overcome by
mournful thoughts, for the first time in my life. It was plain
that she did not dislike me, and equally plain that there was
some obstacle connected with her father, which forbade her to
listen to my offer of marriage. From the time when she had
accidentally looked toward the red-brick house, something in her
manner which it is quite impossible to describe, had suggested to
my mind that this obstacle was not only something she could not
mention, but something that she was partly ashamed of, partly
afraid of, and partly doubtful about. What could it be? How had
she first known it? In what way was her father connected with it?

In the course of our walks she had told me nothing about herself
which was not perfectly simple and unsuggestive.

Her childhood had been passed in England. After that, she had
lived with her father and mother at Paris, where the doctor had
many friends--for all of whom she remembered feeling more or less
dislike, without being able to tell why. They had then come to
England, and had lived in lodgings in London. For a time they had
been miserably poor. But, after her mother's death--a sudden
death from heart disease--there had come a change in their
affairs, which she was quite unable to explain. They had removed
to their present abode, to give the doctor full accommodation for
the carrying on of his scientific pursuits. He often had occasion
to go to London; but never took her with him. The only woman at
home now, beside herself, was an elderly person, who acted as
cook and housekeeper, and who had been in their service for many
years. It was very lonely sometimes not having a companion of her
own age and sex; but she had got tolerably used to bear it, and
to amuse herself with her books, and music, and flowers.

Thus far she chatted about herself quite freely; but when I
tried, even in the vaguest manner, to lead her into discussing
the causes of her strangely secluded life, she looked so
distressed, and became so suddenly silent, that I naturally
refrained from saying another word on that topic. One conclusion,
however, I felt tolera bly sure that I had drawn correctly from
what she said: her father's conduct toward her, though not
absolutely blamable or grossly neglectful on any point, had still
never been of a nature to make her ardently fond of him. He
performed the ordinary parental duties rigidly and respectably
enough; but he had apparently not cared to win all the filial
love which his daughter would have bestowed on a more
affectionate man.

When, after reflecting on what Alicia had told me, I began to
call to mind what I had been able to observe for myself, I found
ample materials to excite my curiosity in relation to the doctor,
if not my distrust.

I have already described how I heard the clang of the heavy door,
on the occasion of my first visit to the red-brick house. The
next day, when the doctor again took leave of me in the hall, I
hit on a plan for seeing the door as well as hearing it. I
dawdled on my way out, till I heard the clang again; then
pretended to remember some important message which I had
forgotten to give to the doctor, and with a look of innocent
hurry ran upstairs to overtake him. The disguised workman ran
after me with a shout of "Stop!" I was conveniently deaf to
him--reached the first floor landing--and arrived at a door which
shut off the whole staircase higher up; an iron door, as solid as
if it belonged to a banker's strong-room, and guarded millions of
money. I returned to the hall, inattentive to the servant's not
over-civil remonstrances, and, saying that I would wait till I
saw the doctor again, left the house.

The next day two pale-looking men, in artisan costume, came up to
the gate at the same time as I did, each carrying a long wooden
box under his arm, strongly bound with iron. I tried to make them
talk while we were waiting for admission, but neither of them
would go beyond "Yes," or "No"; and both had, to my eyes, some
unmistakably sinister lines in their faces. The next day the
houskeeping cook came to the door--a buxom old woman with a look
and a ready smile, and something in her manner which suggested
that she had not begun life quite so respectably as she was now
ending it. She seemed to be decidedly satisfied with my personal
appearance; talked to me on indifferent matters with great
glibness; but suddenly became silent and diplomatic the moment I
looked toward the stair and asked innocently if she had to go up
and down them often in the course of the day. As for the doctor
himself he was unapproachable on the subject of the mysterious
upper regions. If I introduced chemistry in general into the
conversation he begged me not to spoil his happy holiday hours
with his daughter and me, by leading him back to his work-a-day
thoughts. If I referred to his own experiments in particular he
always made a joke about being afraid of my chemical knowledge,
and of my wishing to anticipate him in his discoveries. In brief,
after a week's run of the lower regions, the upper part of the
red-brick house and the actual nature of its owner's occupations
still remained impenetrable mysteries to me, pry, ponder, and
question as I might.

Thinking of this on the river-bank, in connection with the
distressing scene which I had just had with Alicia, I found that
the mysterious obstacle at which she had hinted, the mysterious
life led by her father, and the mysterious top of the house that
had hitherto defied my curiosity, all three connected themselves
in my mind as links of the same chain. The obstacle to my
marrying Alicia was the thing that most troubled me. If I only
found out what it was, and if I made light of it (which I was
resolved beforehand to do, let it be what it might), I should
most probably end by overcoming her scruples, and taking her away
from the ominous red-brick house in the character of my wife. But
how was I to make the all-important discovery?

Cudgeling my brains for an answer to this question, I fell at
last into reasoning upon it, by a process of natural logic,
something after this fashion: The mysterious top of the house is
connected with the doctor, and the doctor is connected with the
obstacle which has made wretchedness between Alicia and me. If I
can only get to the top of the house, I may get also to the root
of the obstacle. It is a dangerous and an uncertain experiment;
but, come what may of it, I will try and find out, if human
ingenuity can compass the means, what Doctor Dulcifer's
occupation really is, on the other side of that iron door.

Having come to this resolution (and deriving, let me add,
parenthetically, great consolation from it), the next subject of
consideration was the best method of getting safely into the top
regions of the house.

Picking the lock of the iron door was out of the question, from
the exposed nature of the situation which that mysterious iron
barrier occupied. My only possible way to the second floor lay by
the back of the house. I had looked up at it two or three times,
while walking in the garden after dinner with Alicia. What had I
brought away in my memory as the result of that casual inspection
of my host's back premises? Several fragments of useful
information.

In the first place, one of the most magnificent vines I had ever
seen grew against the back wall of the house, trained carefully
on a strong trellis-work. In the second place, the middle
first-floor back window looked out on a little stone balcony,
built on the top of the porch over the garden door. In the third
place, the back windows of the second floor had been open, on
each occasion when I had seen them--most probably to air the
house, which could not be ventilated from the front during the
hot summer weather, in consequence of the shut-up condition of
all the windows thereabouts. In the fourth place, hard by the
coach-house in which Doctor Dulcifer's neat gig was put up, there
was a tool-shed, in which the gardener kept his short
pruning-ladder. In the fifth and last place, outside the stable
in which Doctor Dulcifer's blood mare lived in luxurious
solitude, was a dog-kennel with a large mastiff chained to it
night and day. If I could only rid myself of the dog--a gaunt,
half-starved brute, made savage and mangy by perpetual
confinement--I did not see any reason to despair of getting in
undiscovered at one of the second-floor windows--provided I
waited until a sufficiently late hour, and succeeded in scaling
the garden wall at the back of the house.

Life without Alicia being not worth having, I determined to risk
the thing that very night.

Going back at once to the town of Barkingham, I provided myself
with a short bit of rope, a little bull's-eye lantern, a small
screwdriver, and a nice bit of beef chemically adapted for the
soothing of troublesome dogs. I then dressed, disposed of these
things neatly in my coat pockets, and went to the doctor's to
dinner. In one respect, Fortune favored my audacity. It was the
sultriest day of the whole season--surely they could not think of
shutting up the second-floor back windows to-night!

Alicia was pale and silent. The lovely brown eyes, when they
looked at me, said as plainly as in words, "We have been crying a
great deal, Frank, since we saw you last." The little white
fingers gave mine a significant squeeze--and that was all the
reference that passed between us to what happened in the morning.
She sat through the dinner bravely; but, when the dessert came,
left us for the night, with a few shy, hurried words about the
excessive heat of the weather being too much for her. I rose to
open the door, and exchanged a last meaning look with her, as she
bowed and went by me. Little did I think that I should have to
live upon nothing but the remembrance of that look for many weary
days that were yet to come.

The doctor was in excellent spirits, and almost oppressively
hospitable. We sat sociably chatting over our claret till past
eight o'clock. Then my host turned to his desk to write a letter
before the post want out; and I strolled away to smoke a cigar in
the garden.

Second-floor back windows all open, atmosphere as sultry as ever,
gardener's pruning-ladder quite safe in the tool-shed, savage
mastiff in his kennel crunching his bones for supper. Good. The
dog will not be visited again tonight: I may throw my medicated
bit of beef at once into his kennel. I acted on the idea
immediately; the dog seized his piece of beef; I heard a snap, a
wheeze, a choke, and a groan--and there was the mastiff disposed
of, inside the kennel, where nobody could find out that he was
dead till the time came for feeding him the next morning.

I went back to the doctor; we had a social glass of cold
brandy-and-water together; I lighted another cigar, and took my
leave. My host being too respectable a man not to keep early
country hours, I went away, as usual, about ten. The mysterious
man-servant locked the gate behind me. I sauntered on the road
back to Barkingham for about five minutes, then struck off sharp
for the plantation, lighted my lantern with the help of my cigar
and a brimstone match of that barbarous period, shut down the
slide again, and made for the garden wall.

It was formidably high, and garnished horribly with broken
bottles; but it was also old, and when I came to pick at the
mortar with my screw-driver, I found it reasonably rotten with
age and damp.

I removed four bricks to make footholes in different positions up
the wall. It was desperately hard and long work, easy as it may
sound in description--especially when I had to hold on by the top
of the wall, with my flat opera hat (as we used to call it in
those days) laid, as a guard, between my hand and the glass,
while I cleared a way through the sharp bottle-ends for my other
hand and my knees. This done, my great difficulty was vanquished;
and I had only to drop luxuriously into a flower-bed on the other
side of the wall.

Perfect stillness in the garden: no sign of a light anywhere at
the back of the house: first-floor windows all shut: second-floor
windows still open. I fetched the pruning-ladder; put it against
the side of the porch; tied one end of my bit of rope to the top
round of it; took the other end in my mouth, and prepared to
climb to the balcony over the porch by the thick vine branches
and the trellis-work.

No man who has had any real experience of life can have failed to
observe how amazingly close, in critical situations, the
grotesque and the terrible, the comic and the serious, contrive
to tread on each other's heels. At such times, the last thing we
ought properly to think of comes into our heads, or the least
consistent event that could possibly be expected to happen does
actually occur. When I put my life in danger on that memorable
night, by putting my foot on the trellis-work, I absolutely
thought of the never-dying Lady Malkinshaw plunged in refreshing
slumber, and of the frantic exclamations Mr. Batterbury would
utter if he saw what her ladyship's grandson was doing with his
precious life and limbs at that critical moment. I am no hero--I
was fully aware of the danger to which I was exposing myself; and
yet I protest that I caught myself laughing under my breath, with
the most outrageous inconsistency, at the instant when I began
the ascent of the trellis-work.

I reached the balcony over the porch in safety, depending more
upon the tough vine branches than the trellis-work during my
ascent. My next employment was to pull up the pruning-ladder, as
softly as possible, by the rope which I held attached to it. This
done, I put the ladder against the house wall, listened, measured
the distance to the open second-floor window with my eye,
listened again--and, finding all quiet, began my second and last
ascent. The ladder was comfortably long, and I was conveniently
tall; my hand was on the window-sill--I mounted another two
rounds--and my eyes were level with the interior of the room.

Suppose any one should be sleeping there!

I listened at the window attentively before I ventured on taking
my lantern out of my coatpocket. The night was so quite and
airless that there was not the faintest rustle among the leaves
in the garden beneath me to distract my attention. I listened.
The breathing of the lightest of sleepers must have reached my
ear, through that intense stillness, if the room had been a
bedroom, and the bed were occupied. I heard nothing but the quick
beat of my own heart. The minutes of suspense were passing
heavily--I laid my other hand over the window-sill, then a moment
of doubt came--doubt whether I should carry the adventure any
further. I mastered my hesitation directly--it was too late for
second thoughts. "Now for it!" I whispered to myself, and got in
at the window.

To wait, listening again, in the darkness of that unknown region,
was more than I had courage for. The moment I was down on the
floor, I pulled the lantern out of my pocket and raised the
shade.

So far, so good--I found myself in a dirty lumber-room. Large
pans, some of them cracked and more of them broken; empty boxes
bound with iron, of the same sort as those I had seen the workmen
bringing in at the front gate; old coal sacks; a packing-case
full of coke; and a huge, cracked, mouldy blacksmith's
bellows--these were the principal objects that I observed in the
lumber-room. The one door leading out of it was open, as I had
expected it would be, in order to let the air through the back
window into the house. I took off my shoes, and stole into the
passage. My first impulse, the moment I looked along it, was to
shut down my lantern-shade, and listen again.

Still I heard nothing; but at the far end of the passage I saw a
bright light pouring through the half-opened door of one of the
mysterious front rooms.

I crept softly toward it. A decidedly chemical smell began to
steal into my nostrils--and, listening again, I thought I heard
above me, and in some distant room, a noise like the low growl of
a large furnace, muffled in some peculiar manner. Should I
retrace my steps in that direction? No--not till I had seen
something of the room with the bright light, outside of which I
was now standing. I bent forward softly; looking by little and
little further and further through the opening of the door, until
my head and shoulders were fairly inside the room, and my eyes
had convinced me that no living soul, sleeping or waking, was in
any part of it at that particular moment. Impelled by a fatal
curiosity, I entered immediately, and began to look about me with
eager eyes.

I saw iron ladles, pans full of white sand, files with white
metal left glittering in their teeth, molds of plaster of Paris,
bags containing the same material in powder, a powerful machine
with the name and use of which I was theoretically not
unacquainted, white metal in a partially-fused state, bottles of
aquafortis, dies scattered over a dresser, crucibles, sandpaper,
bars of metal, and edged tools in plenty, of the strangest
construction. I was not at all a scrupulous man, as the reader
knows by this time; but when I looked at these objects, and
thought of Alicia, I could not for the life of me help
shuddering. There was not the least doubt about it, even after
the little I had seen: the important chemical pursuits to which
Doctor Dulcifer was devoting himself, meant, in plain English and
in one word--Coining.

Did Alicia know what I knew now, or did she only suspect it?

Whichever way I answered that question in my own mind, I could be
no longer at any loss for an explanation of her behavior in the
meadow by the stream, or of that unnaturally gloomy, downcast
look which overspread her face when her father's pursuits were
the subject of conversation. Did I falter in my resolution to
marry her, now that I had discovered what the obstacle was which
had made mystery and wretchedness between us? Certainly not. I
was above all prejudices. I was the least particular of mankind.
I had no family affection in my way--and, greatest fact of all, I
was in love. Under those circumstances what Rogue of any spirit
would have faltered? After the first shock of the discovery was
over, my resolution to be Alicia's husband was settled more
firmly than ever.

There was a little round table in a corner of the room furthest
from the door, which I had not yet examined. A feverish longing
to look at everything within my reach--to penetrate to the
innermost recesses of the labyrinth in which I had involved
myself--consumed me. I went to the table, and saw upon it, ranged
symmetrically side by side, four objects which looked like thick
rulers wrapped up in silver paper. I opened the paper at the end
of one of the rulers, and found that it was composed of
half-crowns. I had closed the paper again, and was just raising
my head from the table over which it had been bent, when my right
cheek came in contact with something hard and cold. I started
back--looked up--and confronted Doctor Dulcifer, holding a pistol
at my right temple.

CHAPTER IX.

THE doctor (like me) had his shoes off. The doctor (like me) had
come in without making the least noise. He cocked the pistol
without saying a word. I felt that I was probably standing face
to face with death, and I too said not a word. We two Rogues
looked each other steadily and silently in the face--he, the
mighty and prosperous villain, with my life in his hands: I, the
abject and poor scamp, waiting his mercy.

It must have been at least a minute after I heard the click of
the cocked pistol before he spoke.

"How did you get here?" he asked.

The quiet commonplace terms in which he put his question, and the
perfect composure and politeness of his manner, reminded me a
little of Gentleman Jones. But the doctor was much the more
respectable-looking man of the two; his baldness was more
intellectual and benevolent; there was a delicacy and propriety
in the pulpiness of his fat white chin, a bland bagginess in his
unwhiskered cheeks, a reverent roughness about his eyebrows and a
fullness in his lower eyelids, which raised him far higher,
physiognomically speaking, in the social scale, than my old
prison acquaintance. Put a shovel-hat on Gentleman Jones, and the
effect would only have been eccentric; put the same covering on
the head of Doctor Dulcifer, and the effect would have been
strictly episcopal.

"How did you get here?" he repeated, still without showing the
least irritation.

I told him how I had got in at the second-floor window, without
concealing a word of the truth. The gravity of the situation, and
the sharpness of the doctor's intellects, as expressed in his
eyes, made anything like a suppression of facts on my part a
desperately dangerous experiment.

"You wanted to see what I was about up here, did you?" said he,
when I had ended my confession. "Do you know?"

The pistol barrel touched my cheek as he said the last words. I
thought of all the suspicious objects scattered about the room,
of the probability that he was only putting this question to try
my courage, of the very likely chance that he would shoot me
forthwith, if I began to prevaricate. I thought of these things,
and boldly answered:

"Yes, I do know."

He looked at me reflectively; then said, in low, thoughtful
tones, speaking, not to me, but entirely to himself:

"Suppose I shoot him?"

I saw in his eye, that if I flinched, he would draw the trigger.

"Suppose you trust me?" I said, without moving a muscle.

"I trusted you, as an honest man, downstairs, and I find you,
like a thief, up here," returned the doctor, with a
self-satisfied smile at the neatness of his own retort. "No," he
continued, relapsing into soliloquy: "there is risk every way;
but the least risk perhaps is to shoot him."

"Wrong," said I. "There are relations of mine who have a
pecuniary interest in my life. I am the main condition of a
contingent reversion in their favor. If I am missed, I shall be
inquired after." I have wondered since at my own coolness in the
face of the doctor's pistol; but my life depended on my keeping
my self-possession, and the desperate nature of the situation
lent me a desperate courage.

"How do I know you are not lying?" he asked.

"Have I not spoken the truth, hitherto?"

Those words made him hesitate. He lowered the pistol slowly to
his side. I began to breathe freely.

"Trust me," I repeated. "If you don't believe I would hold my
tongue about what I have seen here, for your sake, you may be
certain that I would for--"

"For my daughter's," he interposed, with a sarcastic smile.

I bowed with all imaginable cordiality. The doctor waved his
pistol in the air contemptuously.

"There are two ways of making you hold your tongue," he said.
"The first is shooting you; the second is making a felon of you.
On consideration, after what you have said, the risk in either
case seems about equal. I am naturally a humane man; your family
have done me no injury; I will not be the cause of their losing
money; I won't take your life, I'll have your character. We are
all felons on this floor of the house. You have come among
us--you shall be one of us. Ring that bell."

He pointed with the pistol to a bell-handle behind me. I pulled
it in silence.

Felon! The word has an ugly sound--a very ugly sound. But,
considering how near the black curtain had been to falling over
the adventurous drama of my life, had I any right to complain of
the prolongation of the scene, however darkly it might look at
first? Besides, some of the best feelings of our common nature
(putting out of all question the value which men so unaccountably
persist in setting on their own lives), impelled me, of
necessity, to choose the alternative of felonious existence in
preference to that of respectable death. Love and Honor bade me
live to marry Alicia; and a sense of family duty made me shrink
from occasioning a loss of three thousand pounds to my
affectionate sister. Perish the far-fetched scruples which would
break the heart of one lovely woman, and scatter to the winds the
pin-money of another!

"If you utter one word in contradiction of anything I say when my
workmen come into the room," said the doctor, uncocking his
pistol as soon as I had rung the bell, "I shall change my mind
about leaving your life and taking your character. Remember that;
and keep a guard on your tongue."

The door opened, and four men entered. One was an old man whom I
had not seen before; in the other three I recognized the
workman-like footman, and the two sinister artisans whom I had
met at the house-gate. They all started, guiltily enough, at
seeing me.

"Let me introduce you," said the doctor, taking me by the arm.
"Old File and Young File, Mill and Screw--Mr. Frank Softly. We
have nicknames in this workshop, Mr. Softly, derived humorously
from our professional tools and machinery. When you have been
here long enough, you will get a nickname, too. Gentlemen," he
continued, turning to the workmen, "this is a new recruit, with a
knowledge of chemistry which will be useful to us. He is
perfectly well aware that the nature of our vocation makes us
suspicious of all newcomers, and he, therefore, desires to give
you practical proof that he is to be depended on, by making
half-a-crown immediately, and sending the same up, along with our
handiwork, directed in his own handwriting, to our estimable
correspondents in London. When you have all seen him do this of
his own free will, and thereby put his own life as completely
within the power of the law as we have put ours, you will know
that he is really one of us, and will be under no apprehensions
for the future. Take great pains with him, and as soon as he
turns out a tolerably neat article, from the simple flatted
plates, under your inspection, let me know. I shall take a few
hours' repose on my camp-bed in the study, and shall be found
there whenever you want me."

He nodded to us all round in the most friendly manner, and left
the room.

I looked with considerable secret distrust at the four gentlemen
who were to instruct me in the art of making false coin. Young
File was the workman-like footman; Old File was his father; Mill
and Screw were the two sinister artisans. The man of the company
whose looks I liked least was Screw. He had wicked little
twinkling eyes--and they followed me about treacherously whenever
I moved. "You and I, Screw, are likely to quarrel," I thought to
myself, as I tried vainly to stare him out of countenance.

I entered on my new and felonious functions forthwith. Resistance
was useless, and calling for help would have been sheer insanity.
It was midnight; and, even supposing the windows had not been
barred , the house was a mile from any human habitation.
Accordingly, I abandoned myself to fate with my usual
magnanimity. Only let me end in winning Alicia, and I am resigned
to the loss of whatever small shreds and patches of
respectability still hang about me--such was my philosophy. I
wish I could have taken higher moral ground with equally
consoling results to my own feelings.

The same regard for the well-being of society which led me to
abstain from entering into particulars on the subject of Old
Master-making, when I was apprenticed to Mr. Ishmael Pickup, now
commands me to be equally discreet on the kindred subject of
Half-Crown-making, under the auspices of Old File, Young File,
Mill, and Screw.

Let me merely record that I was a kind of machine in the hands of
these four skilled workmen. I moved from room to room, and from
process to process, the creature of their directing eyes and
guiding hands. I cut myself, I burned myself, I got speechless
from fatigue, and giddy from want of sleep. In short, the sun of
the new day was high in the heavens before it was necessary to
disturb Doctor Dulcifer. It had absolutely taken me almost as
long to manufacture a half-a-crown feloniously as it takes a
respectable man to make it honestly. This is saying a great deal;
but it is literally true for all that.

Looking quite fresh and rosy after his night's sleep, the doctor
inspected my coin with the air of a schoolmaster examining a
little boy's exercise; then handed it to Old File to put the
finished touches and correct the mistakes. It was afterward
returned to me. My own hand placed it in one of the rouleaux of
false half-crowns; and my own hand also directed the spurious
coin, when it had been safely packed up, to a certain London
dealer who was to be on the lookout for it by the next night's
mail. That done, my initiation was so far complete.

"I have sent for your luggage, and paid your bill at the inn,"
said the doctor; "of course in your name. You are now to enjoy
the hospitality that I could not extend to you before. A room
upstairs has been prepared for you. You are not exactly in a
state of confinement; but, until your studies are completed, I
think you had better not interrupt them by going out."

"A prisoner!" I exclaimed aghast.

"Prisoner is a hard word," answered the doctor. "Let us say, a
guest under surveillance."

"Do you seriously mean that you intend to keep me shut up in this
part of the house, at your will and pleasure?" I inquired, my
heart sinking lower and lower at every word I spoke.

"It is very spacious and airy," said the doctor; "as for the
lower part of the house, you would find no company there, so you
can't want to go to it."

"No company!" I repeated faintly.

"No. My daughter went away this morning for change of air and
scene, accompanied by my housekeeper. You look astonished, my
dear sir--let me frankly explain myself. While you were the
respectable son of Doctor Softly, and grandson of Lady
Malkinshaw, I was ready enough to let my daughter associate with
you, and should not have objected if you had married her off my
hands into a highly-connected family. Now, however, when you are
nothing but one of the workmen in my manufactory of money, your
social position is seriously altered for the worse; and, as I
could not possibly think of you for a son-in-law, I have
considered it best to prevent all chance of your communicating
with Alicia again, by sending her away from this house while you
are in it. You will be in it until I have completed certain
business arrangements now in a forward state of progress--after
that, you may go away if you please. Pray remember that you have
to thank yourself for the position you now stand in; and do me
the justice to admit that my conduct toward you is remarkably
straightforward, and perfectly natural under all the
circumstances."

These words fairly overwhelmed me. I did not even make an attempt
to answer them. The hard trials to my courage, endurance, and
physical strength, through which I had passed within the last
twelve hours, had completely exhausted all my powers of
resistance. I went away speechless to my own room; and when I
found myself alone there, burst out crying. Childish, was it not?

When I had been rested and strengthened by a few hours' sleep, I
found myself able to confront the future with tolerable calmness.

What would it be best for me to do? Ought I to attempt to make my
escape? I did not despair of succeeding; but when I began to
think of the consequences of success, I hesitated. My chief
object now was, not so much to secure my own freedom, as to find
my way to Alicia. I had never been so deeply and desperately in
love with her as I was now, when I knew she was separated from
me. Suppose I succeeded in escaping from the clutches of Doctor
Dulcifer--might I not be casting myself uselessly on the world,
without a chance of finding a single clew to trace her by?
Suppose, on the other hand, that I remained for the present in
the red-brick house--should I not by that course of conduct be
putting myself in the best position for making discoveries?

In the first place, there was the chance that Alicia might find
some secret means of communicating with me if I remained where I
was. In the second place, the doctor would, in all probability,
have occasion to write to his daughter, or would be likely to
receive letters from her; and, if I quieted all suspicion on my
account, by docile behavior, and kept my eyes sharply on the
lookout, I might find opportunities of surprising the secrets of
his writing-desk. I felt that I need be under no restraints of
honor with a man who was keeping me a prisoner, and who had made
an accomplice of me by threatening my life. Accordingly, while
resolving to show outwardly an amiable submission to my fate, I
determined at the same time to keep secretly on the watch, and to
take the very first chance of outwitting Doctor Dulcifer that
might happen to present itself. When we next met I was perfectly
civil to him. He was too well-bred a man not to match me on the
common ground of courtesy.

"Permit me to congratulate you," he said, "on the improvement in
your manner and appearance. You are beginning well, Francis. Go
on as you have begun."

CHAPTER X.

MY first few days' experience in my new position satisfied me
that Doctor Dulcifer preserved himself from betrayal by a system
of surveillance worthy of the very worst days of the Holy
Inquisition itself.

No man of us ever knew that he was not being overlooked at home,
or followed when he went out, by another man. Peepholes were
pierced in the wall of each room, and we were never certain,
while at work, whose eye was observing, or whose ear was
listening in secret. Though we all lived together, we were
probably the least united body of men ever assembled under one
roof. By way of effectually keeping up the want of union between
us, we were not all trusted alike. I soon discovered that Old
File and Young File were much further advanced in the doctor's
confidence than Mill, Screw, or myself. There was a locked-up
room, and a continually-closed door shutting off a back
staircase, of both of which Old File and Young File possessed
keys that were never so much as trusted in the possession of the
rest of us. There was also a trap-door in the floor of the
principal workroom, the use of which was known to nobody but the
doctor and his two privileged men. If we had not been all nearly
on an equality in the matter of wages, these distinctions would
have made bad blood among us. As it was, nobody having reason to
complain of unjustly-diminished wages, nobody cared about any
preferences in which profit was not involved.

The doctor must have gained a great deal of money by his skill as
a coiner. His profits in business could never have averaged less
than five hundred per cent; and, to do him justice, he was really
a generous as well as a rich master.

Even I, as a new hand, was, in fair proportion, as well paid by
the week as the rest.

We, of course, had nothing to do with the passing of false
money--we only manufactured it (sometimes at the rate of four
hundred pounds' worth in a week); and left its circulation to be
managed by our customers in London and the large towns. Whatever
we paid for in Barkingham was paid for in the genuine Mint
coinage. I used often to compare my own true guineas, half-crowns
and shillings with our imitations under the doctor's supervision,
and was always amazed at the resemblance. Our scientific chief
had discovered a process something like what is called
electrotyping nowadays, as I imagine. He was very proud of this;
but he was prouder still of the ring of his metal, and with
reason: it must have been a nice ear indeed that could discover
the false tones in the doctor's coinage.

If I had been the most scrupulous man in the world, I must still
have received my wages, for the very necessary purpose of not
appearing to distinguish myself invidiously from my
fellow-workmen. Upon the whole, I got on well with them. Old File
and I struck up quite a friendship. Young File and Mill worked
harmoniously with me, but Screw and I (as I had foreboded)
quarreled.

This last man was not on good terms with his fellows, and had
less of the doctor's confidence than any of the rest of us.
Naturally not of a sweet temper, his isolated position in the
house had soured him, and he rashly attempted to vent his
ill-humor on me, as a newcomer. For some days I bore with him
patiently; but at last he got the better of my powers of
endurance; and I gave him a lesson in manners, one day, on the
educational system of Gentleman Jones. He did not return the
blow, or complain to the doctor; he only looked at me wickedly,
and said: "I'll be even with you for that, some of these days." I
soon forgot the words and the look.

With Old File, as I have said, I became quite friendly. Excepting
the secrets of our prison-house, he was ready enough to talk on
subjects about which I was curious.

He had known his present master as a young man, and was perfectly
familiar with all the events of his career. From various
conversations, at odds and ends of spare time, I discovered that
Doctor Dulcifer had begun life as a footman in a gentleman's
family; that his young mistress had eloped with him, taking away
with her every article of value that was her own personal
property, in the shape of jewelry and dresses; that they had
lived upon the sale of these things for some time; and that the
husband, when the wife's means were exhausted, had turned
strolling-player for a year or two. Abandoning that pursuit, he
had next become a quack-doctor, first in a resident, then in a
vagabond capacity--taking a medical degree of his own conferring,
and holding to it as a good traveling title for the rest of his
life. From the selling of quack medicines he had proceeded to the
adulterating of foreign wines, varied by lucrative evening
occupation in the Paris gambling houses. On returning to his
native land, he still continued to turn his chemical knowledge to
account, by giving his services to that particular branch of our
commercial industry which is commonly described as the
adulteration of commodities; and from this he had gradually risen
to the more refined pursuit of adulterating gold and silver--or,
to use the common phrase again, making bad money.

According to Old File's statement, though Doctor Dulcifer had
never actually ill-used his wife, he had never lived on kind
terms with her: the main cause of the estrangement between them,
in later years, being Mrs. Dulcifer's resolute resistance to her
husband's plans for emerging from poverty, by the simple process
of coining his own money. The poor woman still held fast by some
of the principles imparted to her in happier days; and she was
devotedly fond of her daughter. At the time of her sudden death,
she was secretly making arrangements to leave the doctor, and
find a refuge for herself and her child in a foreign country,
under the care of the one friend of her family who had not cast
her off. Questioning my informant about Alicia next, I found that
he knew very little about her relations with her father in later
years. That she must long since have discovered him to be not
quite so respectable a man as he looked, and that she might
suspect something wrong was going on in the house at the present
time, were, in Old File's opinion, matters of certainty; but that
she knew anything positively on the subject of her father's
occupations, he seemed to doubt. The doctor was not the sort of
man to give his daughter, or any other woman, the slightest
chance of surprising his secrets.

These particulars I gleaned during one long month of servitude
and imprisonment in the fatal red-brick house.

During all that time not the slightest intimation reached me of
Alicia's whereabouts. Had she forgotten me? I could not believe
it. Unless the dear brown eyes were the falsest hypocrites in the
world, it was impossible that she should have forgotten me. Was
she watched? Were all means of communicating with me, even in
secret, carefully removed from her? I looked oftener and oftener
into the doctor's study as those questions occurred to me; but he
never quitted it without locking the writing-desk first--he never
left any papers scattered on the table, and he was never absent
from the room at any special times and seasons that could be
previously calculated upon. I began to despair, and to feel in my
lonely moments a yearning to renew that childish experiment of
crying, which I have already adverted to, in the way of
confession. Moralists will be glad to hear that I really suffered
acute mental misery at this time of my life. My state of
depression would have gratified the most exacting of Methodists;
and my penitent face would have made my fortune if I could only
have been exhibited by a reformatory association on the platform
of Exeter Hall.

How much longer was this to last? Whither should I turn my steps
when I regained my freedom? In what direction throughout all
England should I begin to look for Alicia?

Sleeping and walking--working and idling--those were now my
constant thoughts. I did my best to prepare myself for every
emergency that could happen; I tried to arm myself beforehand
against every possible accident that could befall me. While I was
still hard at work sharpening my faculties and disciplining my
energies in this way, an accident befell the doctor, on the
possibility of which I had not dared to calculate, even in my
most hopeful moments.

CHAPTER XI.

ONE morning I was engaged in the principal workroom with my
employer. We were alone. Old File and his son were occupied in
the garrets. Screw had been sent to Barkingham, accompanied, on
the usual precautionary plan, by Mill. They had been gone nearly
an hour when the doctor sent me into the next room to moisten and
knead up some plaster of Paris. While I was engaged in this
occupation, I suddenly heard strange voices in the large
workroom. My curiosity was instantly excited. I drew back the
little shutter from the peephole in the wall, and looked through
it.

I saw first my old enemy, Screw, with his villainous face much
paler than usual; next, two respectably-dressed strangers whom he
appeared to have brought into the room; and next to them Young
File, addressing himself to the doctor.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said my friend, the workman-like
footman; "but before these gentlemen say anything for themselves,
I wish to explain, as they seem strangers to you, that I only let
them in after I had heard them give the password. My instructions
are to let anybody in on our side of the door if they can give
the password. No offense, sir, but I want it to be understood
that I have done my duty."

"Quite right, my man," said the doctor, in his blandest manner.
"You may go back to your work."

Young File left the room, with a scrutinizing look for the two
strangers and a suspicious frown for Screw.

"Allow us to introduce ourselves," began the elder of the two
strangers.

"Pardon me for a moment," interposed the doctor. "Where is Mill?"
he added, turning to Screw.

"Doing our errands at Barkingham," answered Screw, turning paler
than ever.

"We happened to meet your two men, and to ask them the way to
your house," said the stranger who had just spoken. "This man,
with a caution that does him infinite credit, required to know
our business before he told us. We managed to introduce the
password--'Happy-go-lucky'--into our answer. This of course
quieted suspicion; and he, at our request, guided us here,
leaving his fellow-workman, as he has just told you, to do all
errands at Barkingham."

While these words were being spoken, I saw Screw's eyes wandering
discontentedly and amazedly round the room. He had left me in it
with the doctor before he went out: was he disappointed at not
finding me in it on his return?

While this thought was passing through my mind, the stranger
resumed his explanations.

"We are here," he said, "as agents appointed to transact private
business, out of London, for Mr. Manasseh, with whom you have
dealings, I think?"

"Certainly," said the doctor, with a smile.

"And who owes you a little account, which we are appointed to
settle."

"Just so!" remarked the doctor, pleasantly rubbing his hands one
over the other. "My good friend, Mr. Manasseh, does not like to
trust the post, I suppose? Very glad to make your acquaintance,
gentlemen. Have you got the little memorandum about you?"

"Yes; but we think there is a slight inaccuracy in it. Have you
any objection to let us refer to your ledger?"

"Not the least in the world. Screw, go down into my private
laboratory, open the table-drawer nearest the window, and bring
up a locked book, with a parchment cover, which you will find in
it."

As Screw obeyed I saw a look pass between him and the two
strangers which made me begin to feel a little uneasy. I thought
the doctor noticed it too; but he preserved his countenance, as
usual, in a state of the most unruffled composure.

"What a time that fellow is gone!" he exclaimed gayly. "Perhaps I
had better go and get the book myself."

The two strangers had been gradually lessening the distance
between the doctor and themselves, ever since Screw had left the
room. The last words were barely out of his mouth, before they
both sprang upon him, and pinioned his arms with their hands.

"Steady, my fine fellow," said Mr. Manasseh's head agent. "It's
no go. We are Bow Street runners, and we've got you for coining."

"Not a doubt of it," said the doctor, with the most superb
coolness. "You needn't hold me. I'm not fool enough to resist
when I'm fairly caught."

"Wait till we've searched you; and then we'll talk about that,"
said the runner.*

The doctor submitted to the searching with the patience of a
martyr. No offensive weapon being found in his pockets, they
allowed him to sit down unmolested in the nearest chair.

"Screw, I suppose?" said the doctor, looking inquiringly at the
officers.

"Exactly," said the principal man of the two. "We have been
secretly corresponding with him for weeks past. We have nabbed
the man who went out with him, and got him safe at Barkingham.
Don't expect Screw back with the ledger. As soon as he has made
sure that the rest of you are in the house, he is to fetch
another man or two of our Bow Street lot, who are waiting outside
till they hear from us. We only want an old man and a young one,
and a third pal of yours who is a gentleman born, to make a
regular clearance in the house. When we have once got you all, it
will be the prettiest capture that's ever been made since I was
in the force."

What the doctor answered to this I cannot say. Just as the
officer had done speaking, I heard footsteps approaching the room
in which I was listening. Was Screw looking for me? I instantly
closed the peephole and got behind the door. It opened back upon
me, and, sure enough, Screw entered cautiously.

An empty old wardrobe stood opposite the door. Evidently
suspecting that I might have taken the alarm and concealed myself
inside it, he approached it on tiptoe. On tiptoe also I followed
him; and, just as his hands were on the wardrobe door, my hands
were on his throat. He was a little man, and no match for me. I
easily and gently laid him on his back, in a voiceless and
half-suffocated state--throwing myself right over him, to keep
his legs quiet. When I saw his face getting black, and his small
eyes growing largely globular, I let go with one hand, crammed my
empty plaster of Paris bag, which lay close by, into his mouth,
tied it fast, secured his hands and feet, and then left him
perfectly harmless, while I took counsel with myself how best to
secure my own safety.

I should have made my escape at once; but for what I heard the
officer say about the men who were waiting outside. Were they
waiting near or at a distance? Were they on the watch at the
front or the back of the house? I thought it highly desirable to
give myself a chance of ascertaining their whereabouts from the
talk of the officers in the next room, before I risked the
possibility of running right into their clutches on the outer
side of the door.

I cautiously opened the peephole once more.

The doctor appeared to be still on the most friendly terms with
his vigilant guardians from Bow Street.

"Have you any objection to my ringing for some lunch, before we
are all taken off to London together?" I heard him ask in his
most cheerful tones. "A glass of wine and a bit of bread and
cheese won't do you any harm, gentlemen, if you are as hungry as
I am."

"If you want to eat and drink, order the victuals at once,"
replied one of the runners, sulkily. "We don't happen to want
anything ourselves."

"Sorry for it," said the doctor. "I have some of the best old
Madeira in England."

"Like enough," retorted the officer sarcastically. "But you see
we are not quite such fools as we look; and we have heard of such
a thing, in our time, as hocussed wine."

"O fie! fie!" exclaimed the doctor merrily. "Remember how well I
am behaving myself, and don't wound my feelings by suspecting me
of such shocking treachery as that!"

He moved to a corner of the room behind him, and touched a knob
in the wall which I had never before observed. A bell rang
directly, which had a new tone in it to my ears.

"Too bad," said the doctor, turning round again to the runners;
"really too bad, gentlemen, to suspect me of that!"

Shaking his head deprecatingly, he moved back to the corner,
pulled aside something in the wall, disclosed the mouth of a pipe
which was a perfect novelty to me, and called down it.

"Moses!"

It was the first time I had heard that name in the house.

"Who is Moses?" inquired the officers both together, advancing on
him suspiciously.

"Only my servant," answered the doctor. He turned once more to
the pipe, and called down it:

"Bring up the Stilton Cheese, and a bottle of the Old Madeira."

The cheese we had in use at that time was of purely Dutch
extraction. I remembered Port, Sherry, and Claret in my palmy
dinner-days at the doctor's family-table; but certainly not Old
Madeira. Perhaps he selfishly kept his best wine and his choicest
cheese for his own consumption.

"Sam," said one of the runners to the other, "you look to our
civil friend here, and I'll grab Moses when he brings up the
lunch."

"Would you like to see what the operation of coining is, while my
man is getting the lunch ready?" said the doctor. "It may be of
use to me at the trial, if you can testify that I afforded you
every facility for finding out anything you might want to know.
Only mention my polite anxiety to make things easy and
instructive from the very first, and I may get recommended to
mercy. See here--this queer-looking machine, gentlemen (from
which two of my men derive their nicknames), is what we call a
Mill-and-Screw."

He began to explain the machine with the manner and tone of a
lecturer at a scientific institution. In spite of themselves, the
officers burst out laughing. I looked round at Screw as the
doctor got deeper into his explanations. The traitor was rolling
his wicked eyes horribly at me. They presented so shocking a
sight, that I looked away again. What was I to do next? The
minutes were getting on, and I had not heard a word yet, through
the peephole, on the subject of the reserve of Bow Street runners
outside. Would it not be best to risk everything, and get away at
once by the back of the house?

Just as I had resolved on v enturing the worst, and making my
escape forthwith, I heard the officers interrupt the doctor's
lecture.

"Your lunch is a long time coming," said one of them.

"Moses is lazy," answered the doctor; "and the Madeira is in a
remote part of the cellar. Shall I ring again?"

"Hang your ringing again!" growled the runner, impatiently. "I
don't understand why our reserve men are not here yet. Suppose
you go and give them a whistle, Sam."

"I don't half like leaving you," returned Sam. "This learned
gentleman here is rather a shifty sort of chap; and it strikes me
that two of us isn't a bit too much to watch him."

"What's that?" exclaimed Sam's comrade, suspiciously.

A crash of broken crockery in the lower part of the house had
followed that last word of the cautious officer's speech.
Naturally, I could draw no special inference from the sound; but,
for all that, it filled me with a breathless interest and
suspicion, which held me irresistibly at the peephole--though the
moment before I had made up my mind to fly from the house.

"Moses is awkward as well as lazy," said the doctor. "He has
dropped the tray! Oh, dear, dear me! he has certainly dropped the
tray."

"Let's take our learned friend downstairs between us," suggested
Sam. "I shan't be easy till we've got him out of the house."

"And I shan't be easy if we don't handcuff him before we leave
the room," returned the other.

"Rude conduct, gentlemen--after all that has passed, remarkably
rude conduct," said the doctor. "May I, at least, get my hat
while my hands are at liberty? It hangs on that peg opposite to
us." He moved toward it a few steps into the middle of the room
while he spoke.

"Stop!" said Sam; "I'll get your hat for you. We'll see if
there's anything inside it or not, before you put it on."

The doctor stood stockstill, like a soldier at the word, Halt.

"And I'll get the handcuffs," said the other runner, searching
his coat-pockets.

The doctor bowed to him assentingly and forgivingly .

"Only oblige me with my hat, and I shall be quite ready for you,"
he said--paused for one moment, then repeated the words, "Quite
ready," in a louder tone--and instantly disappeared through the
floor!

I saw the two officers rush from opposite ends of the room to a
great opening in the middle of it. The trap-door on which the
doctor had been standing, and on which he had descended, closed
up with a bang at the same moment; and a friendly voice from the
lower regions called out gayly, "Good-by!"

The officers next made for the door of the room. It had been
locked from the other side. As they tore furiously at the handle,
the roll of the wheels of the doctor's gig sounded on the drive
in front of the house; and the friendly voice called out once
more, "Good-by!"

I waited just long enough to see the baffled officers unbarring
the window shutters for the purpose of giving the alarm, before I
closed the peephole, and with a farewell look at the distorted
face of my prostrate enemy, Screw, left the room.

The doctor's study-door was open as I passed it on my way
downstairs. The locked writing-desk, which probably contained the
only clew to Alicia's retreat that I was likely to find, was in
its usual place on the table. There was no time to break it open
on the spot. I rolled it up in my apron, took it off bodily under
my arm, and descended to the iron door on the staircase. Just as
I was within sight of it, it was opened from the landing on the
other side. I turned to run upstairs again, when a familiar voice
cried, "Stop!" and looking round, I beheld Young File.

"All right!" he said. "Father's off with the governor in the gig,
and the runners in hiding outside are in full cry after them. If
Bow Street can get within pistol-shot of the blood mare, all I
can say is, I give Bow Street full leave to fire away with both
barrels! Where's Screw?"

"Gagged by me in the casting-room."

"Well done, you! Got all your things, I see, under your arm? Wait
two seconds while I grab my money. Never mind the rumpus
upstairs--there's nobody outside to help them; and the gate's
locked, if there was."

He darted past me up the stairs. I could hear the imprisoned
officers shouting for help from the top windows. Their reserve
men must have been far away, by this time, in pursuit of the gig;
and there was not much chance of their getting useful help from
any stray countryman who might be passing along the road, except
in the way of sending a message to Barkingham. Anyhow we were
sure of a half hour to escape in, at the very least.

"Now then," said Young File, rejoining me; "let's be off by the
back way through the plantations. How came you to lay your lucky
hands on Screw?" he continued, when we had passed through the
iron door, and had closed it after us.

"Tell me first how the doctor managed to make a hole in the floor
just in the nick of time."

"What! did you see the trap sprung?"

"I saw everything."

"The devil you did! Had you any notion that signals were going
on, all the while you were on the watch? We have a regular set of
them in case of accidents. It's a rule that father, and me, and
the doctor are never to be in the workroom together--so as to
keep one of us always at liberty to act on the signals.--Where
are you going to?"

"Only to get the gardener's ladder to help us over the wall. Go
on."

"The first signal is a private bell--that means, _Listen at the
pipe._ The next is a call down the pipe for 'Moses'--that means,
_ Danger! Lock the door._ 'Stilton Cheese' means, _Put the Mare
to;_ and 'Old Madeira' _Stand by the trap._ The trap works in
that locked-up room you never got into; and when our hands are on
the machinery, we are awkward enough to have a little accident
with the luncheon tray. 'Quite Ready' is the signal to lower the
trap, which we do in the regular theater-fashion. We lowered the
doctor smartly enough, as you saw, and got out by the back
staircase. Father went in the gig, and I let them out and locked
the gates after them. Now you know as much as I've got breath to
tell you."

We scaled the wall easily by the help of the ladder. When we were
down on the other side, Young File suggested that the safest
course for us was to separate, and for each to take his own way.
We shook hands and parted. He went southward, toward London, and
I went westward, toward the sea-coast, with Doctor Dulcifer's
precious writing-desk safe under my arm.

---- * The "Bow Street runners" of those days were the
predecessors of the detective police of the present time.

CHAPTER XII.

FOR a couple of hours I walked on briskly, careless in what
direction I went, so long as I kept my back turned on Barkingham.

By the time I had put seven miles of ground, according to my
calculations, between me and the red-brick house, I began to look
upon the doctor's writing-desk rather in the light of an
incumbrance, and determined to examine it without further delay.
Accordingly I picked up the first large stone I could find in the
road, crossed a common, burst through a hedge, and came to a
halt, on the other side, in a thick wood. Here, finding myself
well screened from public view, I broke open the desk with the
help of the stone, and began to look over the contents.

To my unspeakable disappointment I found but few papers of any
kind to examine. The desk was beautifully fitted with all the
necessary materials for keeping up a large correspondence; but
there were not more than half a dozen letters in it altogether.
Four were on business matters, and the other two were of a
friendly nature, referring to persons and things in which I did
not feel the smallest interest. I found besides half a dozen
bills receipted (the doctor was a mirror of punctuality in the
payment of tradesmen), note and letter-paper of the finest
quality, clarified pens, a pretty little pin-cushion, two small
account-books filled with the neatest entries, and some leaves of
blotting-paper. Nothing else; absolutely nothing else, in the
treacherous writing-desk on which I had implicitly relied to
guide me to Alicia's hiding-place.

I groaned in sheer wretchedness over the destruction of all my
dearest plans and hopes. If the Bow Street runners had come into
the plantation just as I had completed the rifling of the desk I
think I should have let them take me without making the slightest
effort at escape. As it was, no living soul appeared within sight
of me. I must have sat at the foot of a tree for full half an
hour, with the doctor's useless bills and letters before me, with
my head in my hands, and with all my energies of body and mind
utterly crushed by despair.

At the end of the half hour, the natural restlessness of my
faculties began to make itself felt.

Whatever may be said about it in books, no emotion in this world
ever did, or ever will, last for long together. The strong
feeling may return over and over again; but it must have its
constant intervals of change or repose. In real life the
bitterest grief doggedly takes its rest and dries its eyes; the
heaviest despair sinks to a certain level, and stops there to
give hope a chance of rising, in spite of us. Even the joy of an
unexpected meeting is always an imperfect sensation, for it never
lasts long enough to justify our secret anticipations--our
happiness dwindles to mere every-day contentment before we have
half done with it.

I raised my head, and gathered the bills and letters together,
and stood up a man again, wondering at the variableness of my own
temper, at the curious elasticity of that toughest of all the
vital substances within us, which we call Hope. "Sitting and
sighing at the foot of this tree," I thought, "is not the way to
find Alicia, or to secure my own safety. Let me circulate my
blood and rouse my ingenuity, by taking to the road again."

Before I forced my way back to the open side of the hedge, I
thought it desirable to tear up the bills and letters, for fear
of being traced by them if they were found in the plantation. The
desk I left where it was, there being no name on it. The
note-paper and pens I pocketed--forlorn as my situation was, it
did not authorize me to waste stationery. The blotting-paper was
the last thing left to dispose of: two neatly-folded sheets,
quite clean, except in one place, where the impression of a few
lines of writing appeared. I was about to put the blotting-paper
into my pocket after the pens, when something in the look of the
writing impressed on it, stopped me.

Four blurred lines appeared of not more than two or three words
each, running out one beyond another regularly from left to
right. Had the doctor been composing poetry and blotting it in a
violent hurry? At a first glance, that was more than I could
tell. The order of the written letters, whatever they might be,
was reversed on the face of the impression taken of them by the
blotting-paper. I turned to the other side of the leaf. The order
of the letters was now right, but the letters themselves were
sometimes too faintly impressed, sometimes too much blurred
together to be legible. I held the leaf up to the light--and
there was a complete change: the blurred letters grew clearer,
the invisible connecting lines appeared--I could read the words
from first to last.

The writing must have been hurried, and it had to all appearance
been hurriedly dried toward the corner of a perfectly clean leaf
of the blotting-paper. After twice reading, I felt sure that I
had made out correctly the following address:

Miss Giles, 2 Zion Place, Crickgelly, N. Wales.

It was hard under the circumstances, to form an opinion as to the
handwriting; but I thought I could recognize the character of
some of the doctor's letters, even in the blotted impression of
them. Supposing I was right, who was Miss Giles?

Some Welsh friend of the doctor's, unknown to me? Probably
enough. But why not Alicia herself under an assumed name? Having
sent her from home to keep her out of my way, it seemed next to a
certainty that her father would take all possible measures to
prevent my tracing her, and would, therefore, as a common act of
precaution, forbid her to travel under her own name. Crickgelly,
North Wales, was assuredly a very remote place to banish her to;
but then the doctor was not a man to do things by halves: he knew
the lengths to which my cunning and resolution were capable of
carrying me; and he would have been innocent indeed if he had
hidden his daughter from me in any place within reasonable
distance of Barkingham. Last, and not least important, Miss Giles
sounded in my ears exactly like an assumed name.

Was there ever any woman absolutely and literally named Miss
Giles? However I may have altered my opinion on this point since,
my mind was not in a condition at that time to admit the possible
existence of any such individual as a maiden Giles. Before,
therefore, I had put the precious blotting-paper into my pocket,
I had satisfied myself that my first duty, under all the
circumstances, was to shape my flight immediately to Crickgelly.
I could be certain of nothing--not even of identifying the
doctor's handwriting by the impression on the blotting-paper. But
provided I kept clear of Barkingham, it was all the same to me
what part of the United Kingdom I went to; and, in the absence of
any actual clew to her place of residence, there was consolation
and encouragement even in following an imaginary trace. My
spirits rose to their natural height as I struck into the
highroad again, and beheld across the level plain the smoke,
chimneys, and church spires of a large manufacturing town. There
I saw the welcome promise of a coach--the happy chance of making
my journey to Crickgelly easy and rapid from the very outset.

On my way to the town, I was reminded by the staring of all the
people I passed on the road, of one important consideration which
I had hitherto most unaccountably overlooked--the necessity of
making some radical change in my personal appearance.

I had no cause to dread the Bow Street runners, for not one of
them had seen me; but I had the strongest possible reasons for
distrusting a meeting with my enemy, Screw. He would certainly be
made use of by the officers for the purpose of identifying the
companions whom he had betrayed; and I had the best reasons in
the world to believe that he would rather assist in the taking of
me than in the capture of all the rest of the coining gang put
together--the doctor himself not excepted. My present costume was
of the dandy sort--rather shabby, but gay in color and outrageous
in cut. I had not altered it for an artisan's suit in the
doctor's house, because I never had any intention of staying
there a day longer than I could possibly help. The apron in which
I had wrapped the writing-desk was the only approach I had made
toward wearing the honorable uniform of the workingman.

Would it be wise now to make my transformation complete, by
adding to the apron a velveteen jacket and a sealskin cap? No: my
hands were too white, my manners too inveterately gentleman-like,
for all artisan disguise. It would be safer to assume a serious
character--to shave off my whiskers, crop my hair, buy a modest
hat and umbrella, and dress entirely in black. At the first
slopshop I encountered in the suburbs of the town, I got a
carpet-bag and a clerical-looking suit. At the first easy
shaving-shop I passed, I had my hair cropped and my whiskers
taken off. After that I retreated again to the country--walked
back till I found a convenient hedge down a lane off the
highroad--changed my upper garments behind it, and emerged,
bashful, black, and reverend, with my cotton umbrella tucked
modestly under my arm, my eyes on the ground, my head in the air,
and my hat off my forehead. When I found two laborers touching
their caps to me on my way back to the town, I knew that it was
all right, and that I might now set the vindictive eyes of Screw
himself safely at defiance.

I had not the most distant notion where I was when I reached the
High Street, and stopped at The Green Bull Hotel and
Coach-office. However, I managed to mention my modest wishes to
be conveyed at once in the direction of Wales, with no more than
a becoming confusion of manner.

The answer was not so encouraging as I could have wished. The
coach to Shrewsbury had left an hour before, and there would be
no other public conveyance running in my direct ion until the
next morning. Finding myself thus obliged to yield to adverse
circumstances, I submitted resignedly, and booked a place outside
by the next day's coach, in the name of the Reverend John Jones.
I thought it desirable to be at once unassuming and Welsh in the
selection of a traveling name; and therefore considered John
Jones calculated to fit me, in my present emergency, to a hair.

After securing a bed at the hotel, and ordering a frugal curate's
dinner (bit of fish, two chops, mashed potatoes, semolina
pudding, half-pint of sherry), I sallied out to look at the town.

Not knowing the name of it, and not daring to excite surprise by
asking, I found the place full of vague yet mysterious interest.
Here I was, somewhere in central England, just as ignorant of
localities as if I had been suddenly deposited in Central Africa.
My lively fancy revelled in the new sensation. I invented a name
for the town, a code of laws for the inhabitants, productions,
antiquities, chalybeate springs, population, statistics of crime,
and so on, while I walked about the streets, looked in at the
shop-windows, and attentively examined the Market-place and
Town-hall. Experienced travelers, who have exhausted all
novelties, would do well to follow my example; they may be
certain, for one day at least, of getting some fresh ideas, and
feeling a new sensation.

On returning to dinner in the coffee-room, I found all the London
papers on the table.

The _Morning Post_ happened to lie uppermost, so I took it away
to my own seat to occupy the time, while my unpretending bit of
fish was frying. Glancing lazily at the advertisements on the
first page, to begin with, I was astonished by the appearance of
the following lines, at the top of a column:

"If F-- --K S--FTL--Y will communicate with his distressed and
alarmed relatives, Mr. and Mrs. B--TT--RB--RY, he will hear of
something to his advantage, and may be assured that all will be
once more forgiven. A--B--LLA entreats him to write."

What, in the name of all that is most mysterious, does this mean!
was my first thought after reading the advertisement. Can Lady
Malkinshaw have taken a fresh lease of that impregnable vital
tenement, at the door of which Death has been knocking vainly for
so many years past? (Nothing more likely.) Was my felonious
connection with Doctor Dulcifer suspected? (It seemed
improbable.) One thing, however, was certain: I was missed, and
the Batterburys were naturally anxious about me--anxious enough
to advertise in the public papers.

I debated with myself whether I should answer their pathetic
appeal or not. I had all my money about me (having never let it
out of my own possession during my stay in the red-brick house),
and there was plenty of it for the present; so I thought it best
to leave the alarm and distress of my anxious relatives
unrelieved for a little while longer, and to return quietly to
the perusal of the _ Morning Post._

Five minutes of desultory reading brought me unexpectedly to an
explanation of the advertisement, in the shape of the following
paragraph:

"ALARMING ILLNESS OF LADY MALKINSHAW.--We regret to announce that
this venerable lady was seized with an alarming illness on
Saturday last, at her mansion in town. The attack took the
character of a fit--of what precise nature we have not been able
to learn. Her ladyship's medical attendant and near relative,
Doctor Softly, was immediately called in, and predicted the most
fatal results. Fresh medical attendance was secured, and her
ladyship's nearest surviving relatives, Mrs. Softly, and Mr. and
Mrs. Batterbury, of Duskydale Park, were summoned. At the time of
their arrival her ladyship's condition was comatose, her
breathing being highly stertorous. If we are rightly informed,
Doctor Softly and the other medical gentlemen present gave it as
their opinion that if the pulse of the venerable sufferer did not
rally in the course of a quarter of au hour at most, very
lamentable results might be anticipated. For fourteen minutes, as
our reporter was informed, no change took place; but, strange to
relate, immediately afterward her ladyship's pulse rallied
suddenly in the most extraordinary manner. She was observed to
open her eyes very wide, and was heard, to the surprise and
delight of all surrounding the couch, to ask why her ladyship's
usual lunch of chicken-broth with a glass of Amontillado sherry
was not placed on the table as usual. These refreshments having
been produced, under the sanction of the medical gentlemen, the
aged patient partook of them with an appearance of the utmost
relish. Since this happy alteration for the better, her
ladyship's health has, we rejoice to say, rapidly improved; and
the answer now given to all friendly and fashionable inquirers
is, in the venerable lady's own humorous phraseology, 'Much
better than could be expected.' "

Well done, my excellent grandmother! my firm, my unwearied, my
undying friend! Never can I say that my case is desperate while
you can swallow your chicken-broth and sip your Amontillado
sherry. The moment I want money, I will write to Mr. Batterbury,
and cut another little golden slice out of that possible
three-thousand-pound-cake, for which he has already suffered and
sacrificed so much. In the meantime, O venerable protectress of
the wandering Rogue! let me gratefully drink your health in the
nastiest and smallest half-pint of sherry this palate ever
tasted, or these eyes ever beheld!

I went to bed that night in great spirits. My luck seemed to be
returning to me; and I began to feel more than hopeful of really
discovering my beloved Alicia at Crickgelly, under the alias of
Miss Giles.

The next morning the Rev. John Jones descended to breakfast so
rosy, bland, and smiling, that the chambermaids simpered as he
tripped by them in the passage, and the landlady bowed graciously
as he passed her parlor door. The coach drove up, and the
reverend gentleman (after waiting characteristically for the
woman's ladder) mounted to his place on the roof, behind the
coachman. One man sat there who had got up before him--and who
should that man be, but the chief of the Bow Street runners, who
had rashly tried to take Doctor Dulcifer into custody!

There could not be the least doubt of his identity; I should have
known his face again among a hundred. He looked at me as I took
my place by his side, with one sharp searching glance--then
turned his head away toward the road. Knowing that he had never
set eyes on my face (thanks to the convenient peephole at the
red-brick house), I thought my meeting with him was likely to be
rather advantageous than otherwise. I had now an opportunity of
watching the proceedings of one of our pursuers, at any rate--and
surely this was something gained.

"Fine morning, sir," I said politely.

"Yes," he replied in the gruffest of monosyllables.

I was not offended: I could make allowance for the feelings of a
man who had been locked up by his own prisoner.

"Very fine morning, indeed," I repeated, soothingly and
cheerfully.

The runner only grunted this time. Well, well! we all have our
little infirmities. I don't think the worse of the man now, for
having been rude to me, that morning, on the top of the
Shrewsbury coach.

The next passenger who got up and placed himself by my side was a
florid, excitable, confused-looking gentleman, excessively
talkative and familiar. He was followed by a sulky agricultural
youth in top-boots--and then, the complement of passengers on our
seat behind the coachman was complete.

"Heard the news, sir?" said the florid man, turning to me.

"Not that I am aware of," I answered.

"It's the most tremendous thing that has happened these fifty
years," said the florid man. "A gang of coiners, sir, discovered
at Barkingham--in a house they used to call the Grange. All the
dreadful lot of bad silver that's been about, they're at the
bottom of. And the head of the gang not taken! --escaped, sir,
like a ghost on the stage, through a trap-door, after actually
locking the runners into his workshop. The blacksmiths from
Barkingham had to break them out; the whole house was found full
of iron doors, back staircases , and all that sort of thing, just
like the Inquisition. A most respectable man, the original
proprietor! Think what a misfortune to have let his house to a
scoundrel who has turned the whole inside into traps, furnaces,
and iron doors. The fellow's reference, sir, was actually at a
London bank, where he kept a first-rate account. What is to
become of society? where is our protection? Where are our
characters, when we are left at the mercy of scoundrels? The
times are awful--upon my soul, the times we live in are perfectly
awful!"

"Pray, sir, is there any chance of catching this coiner?" I
inquired innocently.

"I hope so, sir; for the sake of outraged society, I hope so,"
said the excitable man. "They've printed handbills at Barkingham,
offering a reward for taking him. I was with my friend the mayor,
early this morning, and saw them issued. 'Mr. Mayor,' says I,
'I'm going West--give me a few copies--let me help to circulate
them--for the sake of outraged society, let me help to circulate
them. Here they are--take a few, sir, for distribution. You'll
see these are three other fellows to be caught besides the
principal rascal--one of them a scamp belonging to a respectable
family. Oh! what times! Take three copies, and pray circulate
them in three influential quarters. Perhaps that gentleman next
you would like a few. Will you take three, sir?"

"No, I won't," said the Bow Street runner doggedly. "Nor yet one
of 'em--and it's my opinion that the coining-gang would be nabbed
all the sooner, if you was to give over helping the law to catch
them."

This answer produced a vehement expostulation from my excitable
neighbor, to which I paid little attention, being better engaged
in reading the handbill.

It described the doctor's personal appearance with remarkable
accuracy, and cautioned persons in seaport towns to be on the
lookout for him. Old File, Young File, and myself were all
dishonorably mentioned together in a second paragraph, as
runaways of inferior importance Not a word was said in the
handbill to show that the authorities at Barkingham even so much
as suspected the direction in which any one of us had escaped.
This would have been very encouraging, but for the presence of
the runner by my side, which looked as if Bow Street had its
suspicions, however innocent Barkingham might be.

Could the doctor have directed his flight toward Crickgelly? I
trembled internally as the question suggested itself to me.
Surely he would prefer writing to Miss Giles to join him when he
got to a safe place of refuge, rather than encumber himself with
the young lady before he was well out of reach of the
far-stretching arm of the law. This seemed infinitely the most
natural course of conduct. Still, there was the runner traveling
toward Wales--and not certainly without a special motive. I put
the handbills in my pocket, and listened for any hints which
might creep out in his talk; but he perversely kept silent. The
more my excitable neighbor tried to dispute with him, the more
contemptuously he refused to break silence. I began to feel
vehemently impatient for our arrival at Shrewsbury; for there
only could I hope to discover something more of my formidable
fellow-traveler's plans.

The coach stopped for dinner; and some of our passengers left us,
the excitable man with the handbills among the number. I got
down, and stood on the doorstep of the inn, pretending to be
looking about me, but in reality watching the movements of the
runner.

Rather to my surprise, I saw him go to the door of the coach and
speak to one of the inside passengers. After a short
conversation, of which I could not hear one word, the runner left
the coach door and entered the inn, called for a glass of brandy
and water, and took it out to his friend, who had not left the
vehicle . The friend bent forward to receive it at the window. I
caught a glimpse of his face, and felt my knees tremble under
me--it was Screw himself!

Screw, pale and haggard-looking, evidently not yet recovered from
the effect of my grip on his throat! Screw, in attendance on the
runner, traveling inside the coach in the character of an
invalid. He must be going this journey to help the Bow Street
officers to identify some one of our scattered gang of whom they
were in pursuit. It could not be the doctor--the runner could
discover him without assistance from anybody. Why might it not be
me?

I began to think whether it would be best to trust boldly in my
disguise, and my lucky position outside the coach, or whether I
should abandon my fellow-passengers immediately. It was not easy
to settle at once which course was the safest--so I tried the
effect of looking at my two alternatives from another point of
view. Should I risk everything, and go on resolutely to
Crickgelly, on the chance of discovering that Alicia and Miss
Giles were one and the same person--or should I give up on the
spot the only prospect of finding my lost mistress, and direct my
attention entirely to the business of looking after my own
safety?

As the latter alternative practically resolved itself into the

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