Part 5 out of 6
beggar, to give me from your superfluity, apparel decent enough to
bear the daylight. I ask you next, to help me to some occupation which
will just give me my bread, my shelter, and my hour or two of solitude
in the evening. You have plenty of influence to do this, and you know
I am honest. You cannot choose me too humble and obscure an
employment; let me descend low enough to be lost to sight beneath the
world I have lived in; let me go among people who want to know that I
work honestly for them, and want to know nothing more. Get me a mean
hiding-place to conceal myself and my history in for ever, and then
neither attempt to see me nor communicate with me again. If former
friends chance to ask after me, tell them I am dead, or gone into
another country. The wisest life is the life the animals lead: I want,
like them, to serve my master for food, shelter, and liberty to lie
asleep now and then in the sunshine, without being driven away as a
pest or a trespasser. Do you believe in this resolution?--it is my
"He _did_ believe in it; and he granted what I asked. Through his
interference and recommendation, I entered the service of Mr.
"I must stop here for to-day. To-morrow I shall come to disclosures of
vital interest to you. Have you been surprised that I, your enemy by
every cause of enmity that one man can have against another, should
write to you so fully about the secrets of my early life? I have done
so, because I wish the strife between us to be an open strife on my
side; because I desire that you should know thoroughly what you have
to expect from my character, after such a life as I have led. There
was purpose in my deceit, when I deceived you--there is purpose in my
frankness, when I now tell you all."
"I began in Mr. Sherwin's employment, as the lowest clerk in his
office. Both the master and the men looked a little suspiciously on
me, at first. My account of myself was always the same--simple and
credible; I had entered the counting-house with the best possible
recommendation, and I acted up to it. These circumstances in my
favour, joined to a manner that never varied, and to a steadiness at
my work that never relaxed, soon produced their effect--all curiosity
about me gradually died away: I was left to pursue my avocations in
peace. The friend who had got me my situation, preserved my secret as
I had desired him; of all the people whom I had formerly known,
pitiless enemies and lukewarm adherents, not one ever suspected that
my hiding-place was the back office of a linen-draper's shop. For the
first time in my life, I felt that the secret of my father's
misfortune was mine, and mine only; that my security from exposure was
at length complete.
"Before long, I rose to the chief place in the counting-house. It was
no very difficult matter for me to discover, that my new master's
character had other elements besides that of the highest
respectability. In plain terms, I found him to be a pretty equal
compound by nature, of the fool, the tyrant, and the coward. There was
only one direction in which what grovelling sympathies he had, could
be touched to some purpose. Save him waste, or get him profit; and he
was really grateful. I succeeded in working both these marvels. His
managing man cheated him; I found it out; refused to be bribed to
collusion; and exposed the fraud to Mr. Sherwin. This got me his
confidence, and the place of chief clerk. In that position, I
discovered a means, which had never occurred to my employer, of
greatly enlarging his business and its profits, with the least
possible risk. He tried my plan, and it succeeded. This gained me his
warmest admiration, an increase of salary, and a firm footing in his
family circle. My projects were more than fulfilled: I had money
enough, and leisure enough; and spent my obscure existence exactly as
I had proposed.
"But my life was still not destined to be altogether devoid of an
animating purpose. When I first knew Margaret Sherwin, she was just
changing from childhood to girlhood. I marked the promise of future
beauty in her face and figure; and secretly formed the resolution
which you afterwards came forward to thwart, but which I have
executed, and will execute, in spite of you.
"The thoughts out of which that resolution sprang, counselled me more
calmly than you can suppose. I said within myself: 'The best years of
my life have been irrevocably wasted; misery and humiliation and
disaster have followed my steps from my youth; of all the pleasant
draughts which other men drink to sweeten existence, not one has
passed my lips. I will know happiness before I die; and this girl
shall confer it. She shall grow up to maturity for _me:_ I will
imperceptibly gain such a hold on her affections, while they are yet
young and impressible, that, when the time comes, and I speak the
word--though my years more than double hers, though I am dependent on
her father for the bread I eat, though parents' voice and lover's
voice unite to call her back--she shall still come to my side, and of
her own free will put her hand in mine, and follow me wherever I go;
my wife, my mistress, my servant, which I choose.
"This was my project. To execute it, time and opportunity were mine;
and I steadily and warily made use of them, hour by hour, day by day,
year by year. From first to last, the girl's father never suspected
me. Besides the security which he felt in my age, he had judged me by
his own small commercial standard, and had found me a model of
integrity. A man who had saved him from being cheated, who had so
enlarged and consolidated his business as to place him among the top
dignitaries of the trade; who was the first to come to the desk in the
morning, and the last to remain there in the evening; who had not only
never demanded, but had absolutely refused to take, a single
holiday--such a man as this was, morally and intellectually, a man in
ten thousand; a man to be admired and trusted in every relation of
"His confidence in me knew no bounds. He was uneasy if I was not by to
advise him in the simplest matters. My ears were the first to which he
confided his insane ambition on the subject of his daughter--his
anxiety to see her marry above her station--his stupid resolution to
give her the false, flippant, fashionable education which she
subsequently received. I thwarted his plans in nothing,
openly--counteracted them in everything, secretly. The more I
strengthened my sources of influence over Margaret, the more pleased
he was. He was delighted to hear her constantly referring to me about
her home-lessons; to see her coming to me, evening after evening, to
learn new occupations and amusements. He suspected I had been a
gentleman; he had been told I spoke pure English; he felt sure I had
received a first-rate education--I was nearly as good for Margaret as
good society itself! When she grew older, and went to the fashionable
school, as her father had declared she should, my offer to keep up her
lessons in the holidays, and to examine what progress she had made,
when she came home regularly every fortnight for the Sunday, was
accepted with greedy readiness, and acknowledged with servile
gratitude. At this time, Mr. Sherwin's own estimate of me, among his
friends, was, that he had got me for half nothing, and that I was
worth more to him than a thousand a-year.
"But there was one member of the family who suspected my intentions
from the first. Mrs. Sherwin--the weak, timid, sickly woman, whose
opinion nobody regarded, whose character nobody understood--Mrs.
Sherwin, of all those who dwelt in the house, or came to the house,
was the only one whose looks, words, and manner kept me constantly on
my guard. The very first time we saw each other, that woman doubted
_me,_ as I doubted _her;_ and for ever afterwards, when we met, she
was on the watch. This mutual distrust, this antagonism of our two
natures, never openly proclaimed itself, and never wore away. My
chance of security lay, not so much in my own caution, and my perfect
command of look and action under all emergencies, as in the
self-distrust and timidity of her nature; in the helpless inferiority
of position to which her husband's want of affection, and her
daughter's want of respect, condemned her in her own house; and in the
influence of repulsion--at times, even of absolute terror--which my
presence had the power of communicating to her. Suspecting what I am
assured she suspected--incapable as she was of rendering her
suspicions certainties--knowing beforehand, as she must have known,
that no words she could speak would gain the smallest respect or
credit from her husband or her child--that woman's life, while I was
at North Villa, must have been a life of the direst mental suffering
to which any human being was ever condemned.
"As time passed, and Margaret grew older, her beauty both of face and
form approached nearer to perfection than I had foreseen, closely as I
watched her. But neither her mind nor her disposition kept pace with
her beauty. I studied her closely, with the same patient, penetrating
observation, which my experience of the world has made it a habit with
me to direct on every one with whom I am brought in contact--I studied
her, I say, intently; and found her worthy of nothing, not even of the
slave-destiny which I had in store for her.
"She had neither heart nor mind, in the higher sense of those words.
She had simply instincts--most of the bad instincts of an animal; none
of the good. The great motive power which really directed her, was
Deceit. I never met with any human being so inherently disingenuous,
so naturally incapable of candour even in the most trifling affairs of
life, as she was. The best training could never have wholly overcome
this vice in her: the education she actually got--an education under
false pretences--encouraged it. Everybody has read, some people have
known, of young girls who have committed the most extraordinary
impostures, or sustained the most infamous false accusations; their
chief motive being often the sheer enjoyment of practising deceit. Of
such characters was the character of Margaret Sherwin.
"She had strong passions, but not their frequent accompaniment--strong
will, and strong intellect. She had some obstinacy, but no firmness.
Appeal in the right way to her vanity, and you could make her do the
thing she had declared she would not do, the minute after she had made
the declaration. As for her mind, it was of the lowest schoolgirl
average. She had a certain knack at learning this thing, and
remembering that; but she understood nothing fairly, felt nothing
deeply. If I had not had my own motive in teaching her, I should have
shut the books again, the first time she and I opened them together,
and have given her up as a fool.
"All, however, that I discovered of bad in her character, never made
me pause in the prosecution of my design; I had carried it too far for
that, before I thoroughly knew her. Besides, what mattered her
duplicity to _me?_--I could see through it. Her strong passions?--I
could control them. Her obstinacy?--I could break it. Her poverty of
intellect?--I cared nothing about her intellect. What I wanted was
youth and beauty; she was young and beautiful and I was sure of her.
"Yes; sure. Her showy person, showy accomplishments, and showy manners
dazzled all eyes but mine--Of all the people about her, I alone found
out what she really was; and in that lay the main secret of my
influence over her. I dreaded no rivalry. Her father, prompted by his
ambitious hopes, kept most young men of her class away from the house;
the few who did come were not dangerous; _they_ were as incapable of
inspiring, as _she_ was of feeling, real love. Her mother still
watched me, and still discovered nothing; still suspected me behind my
back, and still trembled before my face. Months passed on
monotonously, year succeeded to year; and I bided my time as
patiently, and kept my secret as cautiously as at the first. No change
occurred, nothing happened to weaken or alter my influence at North
Villa, until the day arrived when Margaret left school and came home
"Exactly at the period to which I have referred, certain business
transactions of great importance required the presence of Mr. Sherwin,
or of some confidential person to represent him, at Lyons. Secretly
distrusting his own capabilities, he proposed to me to go; saying that
it would be a pleasant trip for me, and a good introduction to his
wealthy manufacturing correspondents. After some consideration, I
accepted his offer.
"I had never hinted a word of my intentions towards her to Margaret;
but she understood them well enough--I was certain of that, from many
indications which no man could mistake. For reasons which will
presently appear, I resolved not to explain myself until my return
from Lyons. My private object in going there, was to make interest
secretly with Mr. Sherwin's correspondents for a situation in their
house. I knew that when I made my proposals to Margaret, I must be
prepared to act on them on the instant; I knew that her father's fury
when he discovered that I had been helping to educate his daughter
only for myself, would lead him to any extremities; I knew that we
must fly to some foreign country; and, lastly, I knew the importance
of securing a provision for our maintenance, when we got there. I had
saved money, it is true--nearly two-thirds of my salary, every
year--but had not saved enough for two. Accordingly, I left England to
push my own interests, as well as my employer's; left it, confident
that my short absence would not weaken the result of years of steady
influence over Margaret. The sequel showed that, cautious and
calculating as I was, I had nevertheless overlooked the chances
against me, which my own experience of her vanity and duplicity ought
to have enabled me thoroughly to foresee.
"Well: I had been some time at Lyons; had managed my employer's
business (from first to last, I was faithful, as I had engaged to be,
to his commercial interests); and had arranged my own affairs securely
and privately. Already, I was looking forward, with sensations of
happiness which were new to me, to my return and to the achievement of
the one success, the solitary triumph of my long life of humiliation
and disaster, when a letter arrived from Mr. Sherwin. It contained the
news of your private marriage, and of the extraordinary conditions
that had been attached to it with your consent.
"Other people were in the room with me when I read that letter; but my
manner betrayed nothing to them. My hand never trembled when I folded
the sheet of paper again; I was not a minute late in attending a
business engagement which I had accepted; the slightest duties of
other kinds which I had to do, I rigidly fulfilled. Never did I more
thoroughly and fairly earn the evening's leisure by the morning's
work, than I earned it that day.
"Leaving the town at the close of afternoon, I walked on till I came
to a solitary place on the bank of the great river which runs near
Lyons. There I opened the letter for the second time, and read it
through again slowly, with no necessity now for self-control, because
no human being was near to look at me. There I read your name,
constantly repeated in every line of writing; and knew that the man
who, in my absence, had stepped between me and my prize--the man who,
in his insolence of youth, and birth, and fortune, had snatched from
me the one long-delayed reward for twenty years of misery, just as my
hands were stretched forth to grasp it, was the son of that honourable
and high-born gentleman who had given my father to the gallows, and
had made me the outcast of my social privileges for life.
"The sun was setting when I looked up from the letter; flashes of
rose-light leapt on the leaping river; the birds were winging nestward
to the distant trees, and the ghostly stillness of night was sailing
solemnly over earth and sky, as the first thought of the vengeance I
would have on father and son began to burn fiercely at my heart, to
move like a new life within me, to whisper to my spirit--Wait: be
patient; they are both in your power; you can now foul the father's
name as the father fouled yours--you can yet thwart the son, as the
son has thwarted _you._
"In the few minutes that passed, while I lingered in that lonely place
after reading the letter, I imagined the whole scheme which it
afterwards took a year to execute. I laid the whole plan against you
and your father, the first half of which, through the accident that
led you to your discovery, has alone been carried out. I believed
then, as I believe now, that I stood towards you both in the place of
an injured man, whose right it was, in self-defence and
self-assertion, to injure you. Judged by your ideas, this may read
wickedly; but to me, after having lived and suffered as I have, the
modern common-places current in the world are so many brazen images
which society impudently worships--like the Jews of old--in the face
of living Truth.
"Let us get back to England.
"That evening, when we met for the first time, did you observe that
Margaret was unusually agitated before I came in? I detected some
change, the moment I saw her. Did you notice that I avoided speaking
to her, or looking at her? it was because I was afraid to do so. I saw
that, with my return, my old influence over her was coming back: and I
still believe that, hypocritical and heartless though she was, and
blinded though you were by your passion for her, she would
unconsciously have betrayed everything to you on that evening, if I
had not acted as I did. Her mother, too! how her mother watched me
from the moment when I came in!
"Afterwards, while you were trying hard to open, undetected, the
sealed history of my early life, I was warily discovering from
Margaret all that I desired to know. I say 'warily,' but the word
poorly expresses my consummate caution and patience, at that time. I
never put myself in her power, never risked offending, or frightening,
or revolting her; never lost an opportunity of bringing her back to
her old habits of familiarity; and, more than all, never gave her
mother a single opportunity of detecting me. This was the sum of what
I gathered up, bit by bit, from secret and scattered investigations,
persevered in through many weeks.
"Her vanity had been hurt, her expectations disappointed, at my having
left her for Lyons, with no other parting words than such as I might
have spoken to any other woman whom I looked on merely as a friend.
That she felt any genuine love for me I never have believed, and never
shall: but I had that practical ability, that firmness of will, that
obvious personal ascendancy over most of those with whom I came in
contact, which extorts the respect and admiration of women of all
characters, and even of women of no character at all. As far as her
senses, her instincts, and her pride could take her, I had won her
over to me but no farther--because no farther could she go. I mention
pride among her motives, advisedly. She was proud of being the object
of such attentions as I had now paid to her for years, because she
fancied that, through those attentions, I, who, more or less, ruled
everyone else in her sphere, had yielded to her the power of ruling
_me._ The manner of my departure from England showed her too plainly
that she had miscalculated her influence, and that the power, in her
case, as in the case of others, was all on my side. Hence the wound to
her vanity, to which I have alluded.
"It was while this wound was still fresh that you met her, and
appealed to her self-esteem in a new direction. You must have seen
clearly enough, that such proposals as yours far exceeded the most
ambitious expectations formed by her father. No man's alliance could
have lifted her much higher out of her own class: she knew this, and
from that knowledge married you--married you for your station, for
your name, for your great friends and connections, for your father's
money, and carriages, and fine houses; for everything, in short, but
"Still, in spite of the temptations of youth, wealth, and birth which
your proposals held out to her, she accepted them at first (I made her
confess it herself) with a secret terror and misgiving, produced by
the remembrance of me. These sensations, however, she soon quelled, or
fancied she quelled; and these, it was now my last, best chance to
revive. I had a whole year for the work before me; and I felt certain
"On your side, you had immense advantages. You had social superiority;
you had her father's full approbation; and you were married to her. If
she had loved you for yourself, loved you for anything besides her own
sensual interests, her vulgar ambition, her reckless vanity, every
effort I could have made against you would have been defeated from the
first. But, setting this out of the question, in spite of the utter
heartlessness of her attachment to you, if you had not consented to
that condition of waiting a year for her after marriage; or,
consenting to it, if you had broken it long before the year was
out--knowing, as you should have known, that in most women's eyes a
man is not dishonoured by breaking his promise, so long as he breaks
it for a woman's sake--if, I say, you had taken either of these
courses, I should still have been powerless against you. But you
remained faithful to your promise, faithful to the condition, faithful
to the ill-directed modesty of your love; and that very fidelity put
you in my power. A pure-minded girl would have loved you a thousand
times better for acting as you did--but Margaret Sherwin was not a
pure-minded girl, not a maidenly girl: I have looked into her
thoughts, and I know it.
"Such were your chances against me; and such was the manner in which
you misused them. On _my_ side, I had indefatigable patience; personal
advantages equal, with the exception of birth and age, to yours:
long-established influence; freedom to be familiar; and more than all,
that stealthy, unflagging strength of purpose which only springs from
the desire of revenge. I first thoroughly tested your character, and
discovered on what points it was necessary for me to be on my guard
against you, when you took shelter under my roof from the storm. If
your father had been with you on that night, there were moments, while
the tempest was wrought to its full fury, when, if my voice could have
called the thunder down on the house to crush it and every one in it
to atoms, I would have spoken the word, and ended the strife for all
of us. The wind, the hail, and the lightning maddened my thoughts of
your father and you--I was nearly letting you see it, when that flash
came between us as we parted at my door.
"How I gained your confidence, you know; and you know also, how I
contrived to make you use me, afterwards, as the secret friend who
procured you privileges with Margaret which her father would not grant
at your own request. This, at the outset, secured me from suspicion on
your part; and I had only to leave it to your infatuation to do the
rest. With you my course was easy--with her it was beset by
difficulties; but I overcame them. Your fatal consent to wait through
a year of probation, furnished me with weapons against you, which I
employed to the most unscrupulous purpose. I can picture to myself
what would be your indignation and your horror, if I fully described
the use which I made of the position in which your compliance with her
father's conditions placed you towards Margaret. I spare you this
avowal--it would be useless now. Consider me what you please; denounce
my conduct in any terms you like: my justification will always be the
same. I was the injured man, you were the aggressor; I was righting
myself by getting back a possession of which you had robbed me, and
any means were sanctified by such an end as that.
"But my success, so far, was of little avail, in itself; against the
all-powerful counter-attraction which you possessed. Contemptible, or
not, you still had this superiority over me--you could make a fine
lady of her. From that fact sprang the ambition which all my
influence, dating as it did from her childhood, could not destroy.
There, was fastened the main-spring which regulated her selfish
devotion to you, and which it was next to impossible to snap asunder.
I never made the attempt.
"The scheme which I proposed to her, when she was fully prepared to
hear it, and to conceal that she had heard it, left her free to enjoy
all the social advantages which your alliance could bestow--free to
ride in her carriage, and go into her father's shop (that was one of
her ambitions!) as a new customer added to his aristocratic
connection--free even to become one of your family, unsuspected, in
case your rash marriage was forgiven. Your credulity rendered the
execution of this scheme easy. In what manner it was to be carried
out, and what object I proposed to myself in framing it, I abstain
from avowing; for the simple reason that the discovery at which you
arrived by following us on the night of the party, made my plan
abortive, and has obliged me since to renounce it. I need only say, in
this place, that it threatened your father as well as you, and that
Margaret recoiled from it at first--not from any horror of the
proposal, but through fear of discovery. Gradually, I overcame her
apprehensions: very gradually, for I was not thoroughly secure of her
devotion to my purpose, until your year of probation was nearly out.
"Through all that year, daily visitor as you were at North Villa, you
never suspected either of us! And yet, had you been one whit less
infatuated, how many warnings you might have discovered, which, in
spite of her duplicity and my caution, would then have shown
themselves plainly enough to put you on your guard! Those abrupt
changes in her manner, those alternate fits of peevish silence and
capricious gaiety, which sometimes displayed themselves even in your
presence, had every one of them their meaning--though you could not
discern it. Sometimes, they meant fear of discovery, sometimes fear of
me: now, they might be traced back to hidden contempt; now, to
passions swelling under fancied outrage; now, to secret remembrance of
disclosures I had just made, or eager anticipation of disclosures I
had yet to reveal. There were times at which every step of the way
along which I was advancing was marked, faintly yet significantly, in
her manner and her speech, could you only have interpreted them
aright. My first renewal of my old influence over her, my first words
that degraded you in her eyes, my first successful pleading of my own
cause against yours, my first appeal to those passions in her which I
knew how to move, my first proposal to her of the whole scheme which I
had matured in solitude, in the foreign country, by the banks of the
great river--all these separate and gradual advances on my part
towards the end which I was vowed to achieve, were outwardly shadowed
forth in her, consummate as were her capacities for deceit, and
consummately as she learnt to use them against you.
"Do you remember noticing, on your return from the country, how ill
Margaret looked, and how ill I looked? We had some interviews during
your absence, at which I spoke such words to her as would have left
their mark on the face of a Jezebel, or a Messalina. Have you
forgotten how often, during the latter days of your year of
expectation, I abruptly left the room after you had called me in to
bear you company in your evening readings? My pretext was sudden
illness; and illness it was, but not of the body. As the time
approached, I felt less and less secure of my own caution and
patience. With you, indeed, I might still have considered myself safe:
it was the presence of Mrs. Sherwin that drove me from the room. Under
that woman's fatal eye I shrank, when the last days drew near--I, who
had defied her detection, and stood firmly on my guard against her
sleepless, silent, deadly vigilance, for months and months--gave way
as the end approached! I knew that she had once or twice spoken
strangely to you, and I dreaded lest her wandering, incoherent words
might yet take in time a recognisable direction, a palpable shape.
They did not; the instinct of terror bound her tongue to the last.
Perhaps, even if she had spoken plainly, you would not have believed
her; you would have been still true to yourself and to your confidence
in Margaret. Enemy as I am to you, enemy as I will be to the day of
your death, I will do you justice for the past:--Your love for that
girl was a love which even the purest and best of women could never
have thoroughly deserved.
"My letter is nearly done: my retrospect is finished. I have brought
it down to the date of events, about which you know as much as I do.
Accident conducted you to a discovery which, otherwise, you might not
have made, perhaps for months, perhaps not at all, until I had led you
to it of my own accord. I say accident, positively; knowing that from
first to last I trusted no third person. What you know, you knew by
"But for that chance discovery, you would have seen me bring her back
to North Villa at the appointed time, in my care, just as she went
out. I had no dread of her meeting you. But enough of her! I shall
dispose of her future, as I had resolved to dispose of it years ago;
careless how she may be affected when she first sees the hideous
alteration which your attack has wrought in me. Enough, I say, of the
Sherwins--father, mother, and daughter--your destiny lies not with
_them,_ but with _me._
"Do you still exult in having deformed me in every feature, in having
given me a face to revolt every human being who looks at me? Do you
triumph in the remembrance of this atrocity, as you triumphed in the
acting of it--believing that you had destroyed my future with
Margaret, in destroying my very identity as a man? I tell you, that
with the hour when I leave this hospital your day of triumph will be
over, and your day of expiation will begin--never to end till the
death of one of us. You shall live--refined educated gentleman as you
are--to wish, like a ruffian, that you had killed me; and your father
shall live to wish it too.
"Am I trying to awe you with the fierce words of a boaster and a
bully? Test me, by looking back a little, and discovering what I have
abstained from for the sake of my purpose, since I have been here. A
word or two from my lips, in answer to the questions with which I have
been baited, day after day, by those about me, would have called you
before a magistrate to answer for an assault--a shocking and a savage
assault, even in this country, where hand to hand brutality is a
marketable commodity between the Prisoner and the Law. Your father's
name might have been publicly coupled with your dishonour, if I had
but spoken; and I was silent. I kept the secret--kept it, because to
avenge myself on you by a paltry scandal, which you and your family
(opposing to it wealth, position, previous character, and general
sympathy) would live down in a few days, was not my revenge: because
to be righted before magistrates and judges by a beggarman's
exhibition of physical injury, and a coward's confession of physical
defeat, was not my way of righting myself. I have a lifelong
retaliation in view, which laws and lawgivers are powerless either to
aid or to oppose--the retaliation which set a mark upon Cain (as I
will set a mark on you); and then made his life his punishment (as I
will make your life yours).
"How? Remember what my career has been; and know that I will make your
career like it. As my father's death by the hangman affected _my_
existence, so the events of that night when you followed me shall
affect _yours._ Your father shall see you living the life to which his
evidence against _my_ father condemned _me_--shall see the foul stain
of your disaster clinging to you wherever you go. The infamy with
which I am determined to pursue you, shall be your own infamy that you
cannot get quit of--for you shall never get quit of me, never get quit
of the wife who has dishonoured you. You may leave your home, and
leave England; you may make new friends, and seek new employments;
years and years may pass away--and still, you shall not escape us:
still, you shall never know when we are near, or when we are distant;
when we are ready to appear before you, or when we are sure to keep
out of your sight. My deformed face and her fatal beauty shall hunt
you through the world. The terrible secret of your dishonour, and of
the atrocity by which you avenged it, shall ooze out through strange
channels, in vague shapes, by tortuous intangible processes; ever
changing in the manner of its exposure, never remediable by your own
resistance, and always directed to the same end--your isolation as a
marked man, in every fresh sphere, among every new community to which
"Do you call this a very madness of malignity and revenge? It is the
only occupation in life for which your mutilation of me has left me
fit; and I accept it, as work worthy of my deformity. In the prospect
of watching how you bear this hunting through life, that never quite
hunts you down; how long you resist the poison-influence, as slow as
it is sure, of a crafty tongue that cannot be silenced, of a
denouncing presence that cannot be fled, of a damning secret torn from
you and exposed afresh each time you have hidden it--there is the
promise of a nameless delight which it sometimes fevers, sometimes
chills my blood to think of. Lying in this place at night, in those
hours of darkness and stillness when the surrounding atmosphere of
human misery presses heavy on me in my heavy sleep, prophecies of
dread things to come between us, trouble my spirit in dreams. At those
times, I know, and shudder in knowing, that there is something besides
the motive of retaliation, something less earthly and apparent than
that, which urges me horribly and supernaturally to link myself to you
for life; which makes me feel as the bearer of a curse that shall
follow you; as the instrument of a fatality pronounced against you
long ere we met--a fatality beginning before our fathers were parted
by the hangman; perpetuating itself in you and me; ending who shall
say how, or when?
"Beware of comforting yourself with a false security, by despising my
words, as the wild words of a madman, dreaming of the perpetration of
impossible crimes. Throughout this letter I have warned you of what
you may expect; because I will not assail you at disadvantage, as you
assailed me; because it is my pleasure to ruin you, openly resisting
me at every step. I have given you fair play, as the huntsmen give
fair play at starting to the animal they are about to run down. Be
warned against seeking a false hope in the belief that my faculties
are shaken, and that my resolves are visionary--false, because such a
hope is only despair in disguise.
"I have done. The time is not far distant when my words will become
deeds. They cure fast in a public hospital: we shall meet soon!
"We shall meet soon!"
How? Where? I looked back at the last page of writing. But my
attention wandered strangely; I confused one paragraph with another;
the longer I read, the less I was able to grasp the meaning, not of
sentences merely, but even of the simplest words.
From the first lines to the last, the letter had produced no distinct
impressions on my mind. So utterly was I worn out by the previous
events of the day, that even those earlier portions of Mannion's
confession, which revealed the connection between my father and his,
and the terrible manner of their separation, hardly roused me to more
than a momentary astonishment. I just called to remembrance that I had
never heard the subject mentioned at home, except once or twice in
vague hints dropped mysteriously by an old servant, and little
regarded by me at the time, as referring to matters which had happened
before I was born. I just reflected thus briefly and languidly on the
narrative at the commencement of the letter; and then mechanically
read on. Except the passages which contained the exposure of
Margaret's real character, and those which described the origin and
progress of Mannion's infamous plot, nothing in the letter impressed
me, as I was afterwards destined to be impressed by it, on a second
reading. The lethargy of all feeling into which I had now sunk, seemed
a very lethargy of death.
I tried to clear and concentrate my faculties by thinking of other
subjects; but without success. All that I had heard and seen since the
morning, now recurred to me more and more vaguely and confusedly. I
could form no plan either for the present or the future. I knew as
little how to meet Mr. Sherwin's last threat of forcing me to
acknowledge his guilty daughter, as how to defend myself against the
life-long hostility with which I was menaced by Mannion. A feeling of
awe and apprehension, which I could trace to no distinct cause, stole
irresistibly and mysteriously over me. A horror of the searching
brightness of daylight, a suspicion of the loneliness of the place to
which I had retreated, a yearning to be among my fellow-creatures
again, to live where there was life--the busy life of London--overcame
me. I turned hastily, and walked back from the suburbs to the city.
It was growing towards evening as I gained one of the great
thoroughfares. Seeing some of the inhabitants of the houses, as I
walked along, sitting at their open windows to enjoy the evening air,
the thought came to me for the first time that day:--where shall I lay
my head tonight? Home I had none. Friends who would have gladly
received me were not wanting; but to go to them would oblige me to
explain myself; to disclose something of the secret of my calamity;
and this I was determined to keep concealed, as I had told my father I
would keep it. My last-left consolation was my knowledge of still
preserving that resolution, of still honourably holding by it at all
hazards, cost what it might.
So I thought no more of succour or sympathy from any one of my
friends. As a stranger I had been driven from my home, and as a
stranger I was resigned to live, until I had learnt how to conquer my
misfortune by my own vigour and endurance. Firm in this determination,
though firm in nothing else, I now looked around me for the first
shelter I could purchase from strangers--the humbler the better.
I happened to be in the poorest part, and on the poorest side of the
great street along which I was walking--among the inferior shops, and
the houses of few stories. A room to let was not hard to find here. I
took the first I saw; escaped questions about names and references by
paying my week's rent in advance; and then found myself left in
possession of the one little room which I must be resigned to look on
for the future--perhaps for a long future!--as my home.
Home! A dear and a mournful remembrance was revived in the reflections
suggested by that simple word. Through the darkness that thickened
over my mind, there now passed one faint ray of light which gave
promise of the morning--the light of the calm face that I had last
looked on when it was resting on my father's breast.
Clara! My parting words to her, when I had unclasped from my neck
those kind arms which would fain have held me to home for ever, had
expressed a promise that was yet unfulfilled. I trembled as I now
thought on my sister's situation. Not knowing whither I had turned my
steps on leaving home; uncertain to what extremities my despair might
hurry me; absolutely ignorant even whether she might ever see me
again--it was terrible to reflect on the suspense under which she
might be suffering, at this very moment, on my account. My promise to
write to her, was of all promises the most vitally important, and the
first that should be fulfilled.
My letter was very short. I communicated to her the address of the
house in which I was living (well knowing that nothing but positive
information on this point would effectually relieve her anxiety)--I
asked her to write in reply, and let me hear some news of her, the
best that she could give--and I entreated her to believe implicitly in
my patience and courage under every disaster; and to feel assured
that, whatever happened, I should never lose the hope of soon meeting
her again. Of the perils that beset me, of the wrong and injury I
might yet be condemned to endure, I said nothing. Those were truths
which I was determined to conceal from her, to the last. She had
suffered for me more than I dared think of, already!
I sent my letter by hand, so as to ensure its immediate delivery. In
writing those few simple lines, I had no suspicion of the important
results which they were destined to produce. In thinking of to-morrow,
and of all the events which to-morrow might bring with it, I little
thought whose voice would be the first to greet me the next day, whose
hand would be held out to me as the helping hand of a friend.
It was still early in the morning, when a loud knock sounded at the
house-door, and I heard the landlady calling to the servant: "A
gentleman to see the gentleman who came in last night." The moment the
words reached me, my thoughts recurred to the letter of yesterday--Had
Mannion found me out in my retreat? As the suspicion crossed my mind,
the door opened, and the visitor entered.
I looked at him in speechless astonishment. It was my elder brother!
It was Ralph himself who now walked into the room!
"Well, Basil! how are you?" he said, with his old off-hand manner and
"Ralph! You in England!--you here!"
"I came back from Italy last night. Basil, how awfully you're changed!
I hardly know you again."
His manner altered as he spoke the last words. The look of sorrow and
alarm which he fixed on me, went to my heart. I thought of
holiday-time, when we were boys; of Ralph's boisterous ways with me;
of his good-humoured school-frolics, at my expense; of the strong bond
of union between us, so strangely compounded of my weakness and his
strength; of my passive and of his active nature; I saw how little
_he_ had changed since that time, and knew, as I never knew before,
how miserably _I_ was altered. All the shame and grief of my
banishment from home came back on me, at sight of his friendly,
familiar face. I struggled hard to keep my self-possession, and tried
to bid him welcome cheerfully; but the effort was too much for me. I
turned away my head, as I took his hand; for the old school-boy
feeling of not letting Ralph see that I was in tears, influenced me
"Basil! Basil! what are you about? This won't do. Look up, and listen
to me. I have promised Clara to pull you through this wretched mess;
and I'll do it. Get a chair, and give me a light. I'm going to sit on
your bed, smoke a cigar, and have a long talk with you."
While he was lighting his cigar, I looked more closely at him than
before. Though he was the same as ever in manner; though his
expression still preserved its reckless levity of former days, I now
detected that he had changed a little in some other respects. His
features had become coarser--dissipation had begun to mark them. His
spare, active, muscular figure had filled out; he was dressed rather
carelessly; and of all his trinkets and chains of early times, not one
appeared about him now. Ralph looked prematurely middle-aged, since I
had seen him last.
"Well," he began, "first of all, about my coming back. The fact is,
the morganatic Mrs. Ralph--" (he referred to his last mistress)
"wanted to see England, and I was tired of being abroad. So I brought
her back with me; and we're going to live quietly, somewhere in the
Brompton neighbourhood. That woman has been my salvation--you must
come and see her. She has broke me of gaming altogether; I was going
to the devil as fast as I could, when she stopped me--but you know all
about it, of course. Well: we got to London yesterday afternoon; and
in the evening I left her at the hotel, and went to report myself at
home. There, the first thing I heard, was that you had cut me out of
my old original distinction of being the family scamp. Don't look
distressed, Basil; I'm not laughing at you; I've come to do something
better than that. Never mind my talk: nothing in the world ever was
serious to _me,_ and nothing ever will be."
He stopped to knock the ash off his cigar, and settle himself more
comfortably on my bed; then proceeded.
"It has been my ill-luck to see my father pretty seriously offended on
more than one occasion; but I never saw him so very quiet and so very
dangerous as last night when he was telling me about you. I remember
well enough how he spoke and looked, when he caught me putting away my
trout-flies in the pages of that family history of his; but it was
nothing to see him or hear him then, to what it is now. I can tell you
this, Basil--if I believed in what the poetical people call a broken
heart (which I don't), I should be almost afraid that _he_ was
broken-hearted. I saw it was no use to say a word for you just yet, so
I sat quiet and listened to him till I got my dismissal for the
evening. My next proceeding was to go up-stairs, and see Clara.
Upstairs, I give you my word of honour, it was worse still. Clara was
walking about the room with your letter in her hand--just reach me the
matches: my cigar's out. Some men can talk and smoke in equal
proportions--I never could.
"You know as well as I do," he continued when he had relit his cigar,
"that Clara is not usually demonstrative. I always thought her rather
a cold temperament--but the moment I put my head in at the door, I
found I'd been just as great a fool on that point as on most others.
Basil, the scream Clara gave when she first saw me, and the look in
her eyes when she talked about you, positively frightened me. I can't
describe anything; and I hate descriptions by other men (most likely
on that very account): so I won't describe what she said and did. I'll
only tell you that it ended in my promising to come here the first
thing this morning; promising to get you out of the scrape; promising,
in short, everything she asked me. So here I am, ready for your
business before my own. The fair partner of my existence is at the
hotel, half-frantic because I won't go lodging-hunting with her; but
Clara is paramount, Clara is the first thought. Somebody must be a
good boy at home; and now you have resigned, I'm going to try and
succeed you, by way of a change!"
"Ralph! Ralph! can you mention Clara's name, and that woman's name, in
the same breath? Did you leave Clara quieter and better! For God's
sake be serious about that, though serious about nothing else!"
"Gently, Basil! _Doucement mon ami!_ I did leave her quieter: my
promise made her look almost like herself again. As for what you say
about mentioning Clara and Mrs. Ralph in the same breath, I've been
talking and smoking till I have no second breaths left to devote to
second-rate virtue. There is an unanswerable reason for you, if you
want one! And now let us get to the business that brings me here. I
don't want to worry you by raking up this miserable mess again, from
beginning to end, in your presence; but I must make sure at the same
time that I have got hold of the right story, or I can't be of any use
to you. My father was a little obscure on certain points. He talked
enough, and more than enough, about consequences to the family, about
his own affliction, about his giving you up for ever; and, in short,
about everything but the case itself as it really stands against us.
Now that is just what I ought to be put up to, and must be put up to.
Let me tell you in three words what I was told last night."
"Go on, Ralph: speak as you please."
"Very good. First of all, I understand that you took a fancy to some
shopkeeper's daughter--so far, mind, I don't blame you: I've spent
time very pleasantly among the ladies of the counter myself. But in
the second place, I'm told that you actually married the girl! I don't
wish to be hard upon you, my good fellow, but there was an
unparalleled insanity about that act, worthier of a patient in Bedlam
than of my brother. I am not quite sure whether I understand exactly
what virtuous behaviour is; but if _that_ was virtuous
behaviour--there! there! don't look shocked. Let's have done with the
marriage, and get on. Well, you made the girl your wife; and then
innocently consented to a very queer condition of waiting a year for
her (virtuous behaviour again, I suppose!) At the end of that
time--don't turn away your head, Basil! I _may_ be a scamp; but I am
not blackguard enough to make a joke--either in your presence, or out
of it--of this part of the story. I will pass it over altogether, if
you like; and only ask you a question or two. You see, my father
either could not or would not speak plainly of the worst part of the
business; and you know him well enough to know why. But somebody must
be a little explicit, or I can do nothing. About that man? You found
the scoundrel out? Did you get within arm's length of him?"
I told my brother of the struggle with Mannion in the Square.
He heard me almost with his former schoolboy delight, when I had
succeeded, to his satisfaction, in a feat of strength or activity. He
jumped off the bed, and seized both my hands in his strong grasp; his
face radiant, his eyes sparkling. "Shake hands, Basil! Shake hands, as
we haven't shaken hands yet: this makes amends for everything! One
word more, though, about that fellow; where is he now?"
"In the hospital."
Ralph laughed heartily, and jumped back on the bed. I remembered
Mannion's letter, and shuddered as I thought of it.
"The next question is about the girl," said my brother. "What has
become of her? Where was she all the time of your illness?"
"At her father's house; she is there still."
"Ah, yes! I see; the old story; innocent, of course. And her father
backs her, doesn't he? To be sure, that's the old story too. I have
got at our difficulty now; we are threatened with an exposure, if you
don't acknowledge her. Wait a minute! Have you any evidence against
her, besides your own?"
"I have a letter, a long letter from her accomplice, containing a
confession of his guilt and hers."
"She is sure to call that confession a conspiracy. It's of no use to
us, unless we dared to go to law--and we daren't. We must hush the
thing up at any price; or it will be the death of my father. This is a
case for money, just as I thought it would be. Mr. and Miss Shopkeeper
have got a large assortment of silence to sell; and we must buy it of
them, over the domestic counter, at so much a yard. Have you been
there yet, Basil, to ask the price and strike the bargain?"
"I was at the house, yesterday."
"The deuce you were! And who did you see?--The father? Did you bring
him to terms? did you do business with Mr. Shopkeeper?"
"His manner was brutal: his language, the language of a bully--?"
"So much the better. Those men are easiest dealt with: if he will only
fly into a passion with me, I engage for success beforehand. But the
end--how did it end?"
"As it began:--in threats on his part, in endurance on mine."
"Ah! we'll see how he likes my endurance next: he'll find it rather a
different sort of endurance from yours. By-the-bye, Basil, what money
had you to offer him?"
"I made no offer to him then. Circumstances happened which rendered me
incapable of thinking of it. I intended to go there again, to-day; and
if money would bribe him to silence, and save my family from sharing
the dishonour which has fallen on _me,_ to abandon to him the only
money I have of my own--the little income left me by our mother."
"Do you mean to say that your only resource is in that wretched
trifle, and that you ever really intend to let it go, and start in the
world without a rap? Do you mean to say that my father gave you up
without making the smallest provision for you, in such a mess as
your's? Hang it! do him justice. He has been hard enough on you, I
know; but he can't have coolly turned you over to ruin in that way"
"He offered me money, at parting; but with such words of contempt and
insult that I would have died rather than take it. I told him that,
unaided by his purse, I would preserve him, and preserve his family
from the infamous consequences of my calamity--though I sacrificed my
own happiness and my own honour for ever in doing it. And I go to-day
to make that sacrifice. The loss of the little I have to depend on, is
the least part of it. He may not see his injustice in doubting me,
till too late; but he _shall_ see it."
"I beg your pardon, Basil; but this is almost as great an insanity, as
the insanity of your marriage. I honour the independence of your
principle, my dear fellow; but, while I am to the fore, I'll take good
care that you don't ruin yourself gratuitously, for the sake of any
principles whatever! Just listen to me, now. In the first place,
remember that what my father said to you, he said in a moment of
violent exasperation. You had been trampling the pride of his life in
the mud: no man likes that--my father least of any. And, as for the
offer of your poor little morsel of an income to stop these people's
greedy mouths, it isn't a quarter enough for them. They know our
family is a wealthy family; and they will make their demand
accordingly. Any other sacrifice, even to taking the girl back (though
you never could bring yourself to do that!), would be of no earthly
use. Nothing but money will do; money cunningly doled out, under the
strongest possible stipulations. Now, I'm just the man to do that, and
I have got the money--or, rather, my father has, which comes to the
same thing. Write me the fellow's name and address; there's no time to
be lost--I'm off to see him at once!"
"I can't allow you, Ralph, to ask my father for what I would not ask
"Give me the name and address, or you will sour my excellent temper
for the rest of my life. Your obstinacy won't do with _me,_ Basil--it
didn't at school, and it won't now. I shall ask my father for money
for myself; and use as much of it as I think proper for your
interests. He'll give me anything I want, now I have turned good boy.
I don't owe fifty pounds, since my last debts were paid off--thanks to
Mrs. Ralph, who is the most managing woman in the world. By-the-bye,
when you see her, don't seem surprised at her being older than I am.
Oh! this is the address, is it? Hollyoake Square? Where the devil's
that! Never mind, I'll take a cab, and shift the responsibility of
finding the place on the driver. Keep up your spirits, and wait here
till I come back. You shall have such news of Mr. Shopkeeper and his
daughter as you little expect! _Au revoir,_ my dear fellow--_au
He left the room as rapidly as he had entered it. The minute
afterwards, I remembered that I ought to have warned him of the fatal
illness of Mrs. Sherwin. She might be dying--dead for aught I
knew--when he reached the house. I ran to the window, to call him
back: it was too late. Ralph was gone.
Even if he were admitted at North Villa, would he succeed? I was
little capable of estimating the chances. The unexpectedness of his
visit; the strange mixture of sympathy and levity in his manner, of
worldly wisdom and boyish folly in his conversation, appeared to be
still confusing me in his absence, just as they had confused me in his
presence. My thoughts imperceptibly wandered away from Ralph, and the
mission he had undertaken on my behalf, to a subject which seemed
destined, for the future, to steal on my attention, irresistibly and
darkly, in all my lonely hours. Already, the fatality denounced
against me in Mannion's letter had begun to act: already, that
terrible confession of past misery and crime, that monstrous
declaration of enmity which was to last with the lasting of life,
began to exercise its numbing influence on my faculties, to cast its
blighting shadow over my heart.
I opened the letter again, and re-read the threats against me at its
conclusion. One by one, the questions now arose in my mind: how can I
resist, or how escape the vengeance of this evil spirit? how shun the
dread deformity of that face, which is to appear before me in secret?
how silence that fiend's tongue, or make harmless the poison which it
will pour drop by drop into my life? When should I first look for that
avenging presence?--now, or not till months hence? Where should I
first see it? in the house?--or in the street? At what time would it
steal to my side? by night--or by day? Should I show the letter to
Ralph?--it would be useless. What would avail any advice or assistance
which his reckless courage could give, against an enemy who combined
the ferocious vigilance of a savage with the far-sighted iniquity of a
As this last thought crossed my mind, I hastily closed the letter;
determining (alas! how vainly!) never to open it again. Almost at the
same instant, I heard another knock at the house-door. Could Ralph
have returned already? impossible! Besides, the knock was very
different from his--it was only just loud enough to be audible where I
Mannion? But would he come thus? openly, fairly, in the broad
daylight, through the populous street?
A light, quick step ascended the stairs--my heart bounded; I started
to my feet. It was the same step which I used to listen for, and love
to hear, in my illness. I ran to the door, and opened it. My instinct
had not deceived me! it was my sister!
"Basil!" she exclaimed, before I could speak--"has Ralph been here?"
"Where has he gone? what has he done for you? He promised me--"
"And he has kept his promise nobly, Clara: he is away helping me now."
"Thank God! thank God!"
She sank breathless into a chair, as she spoke. Oh, the pang of
looking at her at that moment, and seeing how she was changed!--seeing
the dimness and weariness of the gentle eyes; the fear and the sorrow
that had already overshadowed the bright young face!
"I shall be better directly," she said, guessing from my expression
what I then felt--"but, seeing you in this strange place, after what
happened yesterday; and having come here so secretly, in terror of my
father finding it out--I can't help feeling your altered position and
mine a little painfully at first. But we won't complain, as long as I
can get here sometimes to see you: we will only think of the future
now. What a mercy, what a happiness it is that Ralph has come back! We
have always done him injustice; he is far kinder and far better than
we ever thought him. But, Basil, how worn and ill you are looking!
Have you not told Ralph everything? Are you in any danger?"
"None, Clara--none, indeed!"
"Don't grieve too deeply about yesterday! Try and forget that horrible
parting, and all that brought it about. He has not spoken of it since,
except to tell me that I must never know more of your fault and your
misfortune, than the little--the very little--I know already. And I
have resolved not to think about it, as well as not to ask about it,
for the future. I have a hope already, Basil--very, very far off
fulfilment--but still a hope. Can you not think what it is?"
"Your hope is far off fulfilment, indeed, Clara, if it is hope from my
"Hush! don't say so; I know better. Something occurred, even so soon
as last night--a very trifling event--but enough to show that he
thinks of you, already, in grief far more than in anger."
"I wish I could believe it, love; but my remembrance of yesterday--"
"Don't trust that remembrance; don't recall it! I will tell you what
occurred. Some time after you had gone, and after I had recovered
myself a little in my own room, I went downstairs again to see my
father; for I was too terrified and too miserable at what had
happened, to be alone. He was not in his room when I got there. As I
looked round me for a moment, I saw the pieces of your page in the
book about our family, scattered on the floor; and the miniature
likeness of you, when you were a child, was lying among the other
fragments. It had been torn out of its setting in the paper, but not
injured. I picked it up, Basil, and put it on the table, at the place
where he always sits; and laid my own little locket, with your hair in
it, by the side, so that he might know that the miniature had not been
accidentally taken up and put there by the servant. Then, I gathered
together the pieces of the page and took them away with me, thinking
it better that he should not see them again. Just as I had got through
the door that leads into the library, and was about to close it, I
heard the other door, by which you enter the study from the hall,
opening; and he came in, and went directly to the table. His back was
towards me, so I could look at him unperceived. He observed the
miniature directly and stood quite still with it in his hand; then
sighed--sighed so bitterly!--and then took the portrait of our dear
mother from one of the drawers of the table, opened the case in which
it is kept, and put your miniature inside, very gently and tenderly. I
could not trust myself to see any more, so I went up to my room again:
and shortly afterwards he came in with my locket, and gave it me back,
only saying--'You left this on my table, Clara.' But if you had seen
his face then, you would have hoped all things from him in the time to
come, as I hope now."
"And as I _will_ hope, Clara, though it be from no stronger motive
than gratitude to you."
"Before I left home," she proceeded, after a moment's silence, "I
thought of your loneliness in this strange place--knowing that I could
seldom come to see you, and then only by stealth; by committing a
fault which, if my father found it out--but we won't speak of that! I
thought of your lonely hours here; and I have brought with me an old,
forgotten companion of yours, to bear you company, and to keep you
from thinking too constantly on what you have suffered. Look, Basil!
won't you welcome this old friend again?"
She gave me a small roll of manuscript, with an effort to resume her
kind smile of former days, even while the tears stood thick in her
eyes. I untied the leaves, glanced at the handwriting, and saw before
me, once more, the first few chapters of my unfinished romance! Again
I looked on the patiently-laboured pages, familiar relics of that
earliest and best ambition which I had abandoned for love; too
faithful records of the tranquil, ennobling pleasures which I had lost
for ever! Oh, for one Thought-Flower now, from the dream-garden of the
"I took more care of those leaves of writing, after you had thrown
them aside, than of anything else I had," said Clara. "I always
thought the time would come, when you would return again to the
occupation which it was once your greatest pleasure to pursue, and my
greatest pleasure to watch. And surely that time has arrived. I am
certain, Basil, your book will help you to wait patiently for happier
times, as nothing else can. This place must seem very strange and
lonely; but the sight of those pages, and the sight of me sometimes
(when I can come), may make it look almost like home to you! The room
is not--not very--"
She stopped suddenly. I saw her lip tremble, and her eyes grow dim
again, as she looked round her. When I tried to speak all the
gratitude I felt, she turned away quickly, and began to busy herself
in re-arranging the wretched furniture; in setting in order the
glaring ornaments on the chimney-piece; in hiding the holes in the
ragged window-curtains; in changing, as far as she could, all the
tawdry discomfort of my one miserable little room. She was still
absorbed in this occupation, when the church-clocks of the
neighbourhood struck the hour--the hour that warned her to stay no
"I must go," she said; "it is later than I thought. Don't be afraid
about my getting home: old Martha came here with me, and is waiting
downstairs to go back (you know we can trust her). Write to me as
often as you can; I shall hear about you every day, from Ralph; but I
should like a letter sometimes, as well. Be as hopeful and as patient
yourself, dear, under misfortune, as you wish me to be; and I shall
despair of nothing. Don't tell Ralph I have been here--he might be
angry. I will come again, the first opportunity. Good-bye, Basil! Let
us try and part happily, in the hope of better days. Good-bye,
dear--good-bye, only for the present!"
Her self-possession nearly failed her, as she kissed me, and then
turned to the door. She just signed to me not to follow her
down-stairs, and, without looking round again, hurried from the room.
It was well for the preservation of our secret, that she had so
resolutely refrained from delaying her departure. She had been gone
but for a few minutes--the lovely and consoling influence of her
presence was still fresh in my heart--I was still looking sadly over
the once precious pages of manuscript which she had restored to
me--when Ralph returned from North Villa. I heard him leaping, rather
than running, up the ricketty wooden stairs. He burst into my room
more impetuously than ever.
"All right!" he said, jumping back to his former place on the bed. "We
can buy Mr. Shopkeeper for anything we like--for nothing at all, if we
choose to be stingy. His innocent daughter has made the best of all
confessions, just at the right time. Basil, my boy, she has left her
"What do you mean?"
"She has eloped to the hospital!"
"Yes, Mannion: I have got his letter to her. She is criminated by it,
even past her father's contradiction--and he doesn't stick at a
trifle! But I'll begin at the beginning, and tell you everything. Hang
it, Basil, you look as if I'd brought you bad news instead of good!"
"Never mind how I look, Ralph--pray go on!"
"Well: the first thing I heard, on getting to the house, was that
Sherwin's wife was dying. The servant took in my name: but I thought
of course I shouldn't be admitted. No such thing! I was let in at
once, and the first words this fellow, Sherwin, said to me, were, that
his wife was only ill, that the servants were exaggerating, and that
he was quite ready to hear what Mr. Basil's 'highly-respected' brother
(fancy calling _me_ 'highly-respected!') had to say to him. The fool,
however, as you see, was cunning enough to try civility to begin with.
A more ill-looking human mongrel I never set eyes on! I took the
measure of my man directly, and in two minutes told him exactly what I
came for, without softening a single word."
"And how did he answer you?"
"As I anticipated, by beginning to bluster immediately. I took him
down, just as he swore his second oath. 'Sir,' I said very politely,
'if you mean to make a cursing and a swearing conference of this, I
think it only fair to inform you before-hand that you are likely to
get the worst of it. When the whole collection of British oaths is
exhausted, I can swear fluently in five foreign languages: I have
always made it a principle to pay back abuse at compound interest, and
I don't exaggerate in saying, that I am quite capable of swearing you
out of your senses, if you persist in setting me the example. And now,
if you like to go on, pray do--I'm ready to hear you.' While I was
speaking, he stared at me in a state of helpless astonishment; when I
had done, he began to bluster again--but it was a pompous, dignified,
parliamentary sort of bluster, now, ending in his pulling your unlucky
marriage-certificate out of his pocket, asserting for the fiftieth
time, that the girl was innocent, and declaring that he'd make you
acknowledge her, if he went before a magistrate to do it. That's what
he said when you saw him, I suppose?"
"Yes: almost word for word."
"I had my answer ready for him, before he could put the certificate
back in his pocket. 'Now, Mr. Sherwin,' I said, 'have the goodness to
listen to me. My father has certain family prejudices and nervous
delicacies, which I do not inherit from him, and which I mean to take
good care to prevent you from working on. At the same time, I beg you
to understand that I have come here without his knowledge. I am not my
father's ambassador, but my brother's--who is unfit to deal with you,
himself; because he is not half hard-hearted, or half worldly enough.
As my brother's envoy, therefore, and out of consideration for my
father's peculiar feelings, I now offer you, from my own resources, a
certain annual sum of money, far more than sufficient for all your
daughter's expenses--a sum payable quarterly, on condition that
neither you nor she shall molest us; that you shall never make use of
our name anywhere; and that the fact of my brother's marriage
(hitherto preserved a secret) shall for the future be consigned to
oblivion. _We_ keep our opinion of your daughter's guilt--_you_ keep
your opinion of her innocence. _We_ have silence to buy, and _you_
have silence to sell, once a quarter; and if either of us break our
conditions, we both have our remedy--_your's_ the easy remedy, _our's_
the difficult. This arrangement--a very unfair and dangerous for us; a
very advantageous and safe one for you--I understand that you finally
refuse?' 'Sir,' says he, solemnly, 'I should be unworthy the name of a
father--' 'Thank you'--I remarked, feeling that he was falling back on
paternal sentiment--'thank you; I quite understand. We will get on, if
you please, to the reverse side of the question.'"
"The reverse side! What reverse side, Ralph? What could you possibly
"You shall hear. 'Being, on your part, thoroughly determined,' I said,
'to permit no compromise, and to make my brother (his family of course
included) acknowledge a woman, of whose guilt they entertain not the
slightest doubt, you think you can gain your object by threatening an
exposure. Don't threaten any more! Make your exposure! Go to the
magistrate at once, if you like! Gibbet our names in the newspaper
report, as a family connected by marriage with Mr. Sherwin the
linen-draper's daughter, whom they believe to have disgraced herself
as a woman and a wife for ever. Do your very worst; make public every
shameful particular that you can--what advantage will you get by it?
Revenge, I grant you. But will revenge put a halfpenny into your
pocket? Will revenge pay a farthing towards your daughter's keep? Will
revenge make us receive her? Not a bit of it! We shall be driven into
a corner; we shall have no exposure to dread after you have exposed
us; we shall have no remedy left, but a desperate remedy, and we'll go
to law--boldly, openly go to law, and get a divorce. We have written
evidence, which you know nothing about, and can call testimony which
you cannot gag. I am no lawyer, but I'll bet you five hundred to one
(quite in a friendly way, my dear Sir!) that we get our case. What
follows? We send you back your daughter, without a shred of character
left to cover her; and we comfortably wash our hands of _you_
"Ralph! Ralph! how could you--"
"Stop! hear the end of it. Of course I knew that we couldn't carry out
this divorce-threat, without its being the death of my father; but I
thought a little quiet bullying on my part might do Mr. Shopkeeper
Sherwin some good. And I was right. You never saw a man sit sorer on
the sharp edges of a dilemma than he did. I stuck to my point in spite
of everything; silence and money, or exposure and divorce--just which
he pleased. 'I deny every one of your infamous imputations,' said he.
'That's not the question,' said I. 'I'll go to your father,' said he.
'You won't be let in,' said I. 'I'll write to him,' said he. 'He won't
receive your letter,' said I. There we came to a pull-up. _He_ began
to stammer, and _I_ refreshed myself with a pinch of snuff. Finding it
wouldn't do, he threw off the Roman at last, and resumed the
Tradesman. 'Even supposing I consented to this abominable compromise,
what is to become of my daughter?' he asked. 'Just what becomes of
other people who have comfortable annuities to live on,' I answered.
'Affection for my deeply-wronged child half inclines me to consult her
wishes, before we settle anything--I'll go up-stairs,' said he. 'And
I'll wait for you down here,' said I."
"Did he object to that?"
"Not he. He went up-stairs, and in a few minutes ran down again, with
an open letter in his hand, looking as if the devil was after him
before his time. At the last three or four stairs, he tripped, caught
at the bannisters, dropped the letter over them in doing so, tumbled
into the passage in such a fury and fright that he looked like a
madman, tore his hat off a peg, and rushed out. I just heard him say
his daughter should come back, if he put a straight waistcoat on her,
as he passed the door. Between his tumble, his passion, and his hurry,
he never thought of coming back for the letter he had dropped over the
bannisters. I picked it up before I went away, suspecting it might be
good evidence on our side; and I was right. Read it yourself; Basil;
you have every moral and legal claim on the precious document--and
here it is."
I took the letter, and read (in Mannion's handwriting) these words,
dated from the hospital:--
"I have received your last note, and cannot wonder that you are
getting impatient under restraint. But, remember, that if you had not
acted as I warned you beforehand to act in case of accidents--if you
had not protested innocence to your father, and preserved total
silence towards your mother; if you had not kept in close retirement,
behaving like a domestic martyr, and avoiding, in your character of a
victim, all voluntary mention of your husband's name--your position
might have been a very awkward one. Not being able to help you, the
only thing I could do was to teach you how to help yourself. I gave
you the lesson, and you have been wise enough to profit by it.
"The time has now come for a change in my plans. I have suffered a
relapse; and the date of my discharge from this place is still
uncertain. I doubt the security, both on your account, and on mine, of
still leaving you at your father's house, to await my cure. Come to me
here, therefore, to-morrow, at any hour when you can get away
unperceived. You will be let in as a visitor, and shown to my bedside,
if you ask for Mr. Turner--the name I have given to the hospital
authorities. Through the help of a friend outside these walls, I have
arranged for a lodging in which you can live undiscovered, until I am
discharged and can join you. You can come here twice a week, if you
like, and you had better do so, to accustom yourself to the sight of
my injuries. I told you in my first letter how and where they had been
inflicted--when you see them with your own eyes, you will be best
prepared to hear what my future purposes are, and how you can aid
This was evidently the letter about which I had been consulted by the
servant at North Villa; the date corresponded with the date of
Mannion's letter to me. I noticed that the envelope was missing, and
asked Ralph whether he had got it.
"No," he replied; "Sherwin dropped the letter just in the state in
which I have given it to you. I suspect the girl took away the
envelope with her, thinking that the letter which she left behind her
was inside. But the loss of the envelope doesn't matter. Look there:
the fellow has written her name at the bottom of the leaf; as coolly
as if it was an ordinary correspondence. She is identified with the
letter, and that's all we want in our future dealings with her
"But, Ralph, do you think--"
"Do I think her father will get her back? If he's in time to catch her
at the hospital, he assuredly will. If not, we shall have some little
trouble on our side, I suspect. This seems to me to be how the matter
stands now, Basil:--After that letter, and her running away, Sherwin
will have nothing for it but to hold his tongue about her innocence;
we may consider _him_ as settled and done with. As for the other
rascal, Mannion, he certainly writes as if he meant to do something
dangerous. If he really does attempt to annoy us, we will mark him
again (I'll do it next time, by way of a little change!); _he_ has no
marriage certificate to shake over our heads, at any rate. What's the
matter now?--you're looking pale again."
I _felt_ that my colour was changing, while he spoke. There was
something ominous in the contrast which, at that moment, I could not
fail to draw between Mannion's enmity, as Ralph ignorantly estimated
it, and as I really knew it. Already the first step towards the
conspiracy with which I was threatened, had been taken by the
departure of Sherwin's daughter from her father's house. Should I, at
this earliest warning of coming events, show my brother the letter I
had received from Mannion? No! such defence against the dangers
threatened in it as Ralph would be sure to counsel, and to put in
practice, might only include _him_ in the life-long persecution which
menaced _me._ When he repeated his remark about my sudden paleness, I
merely accounted for it by some common-place excuse, and begged him to
"I suppose, Basil," he said, "the truth is, that you can't help being
a little shocked--though you could expect nothing better from the
girl--at her boldly following this fellow Mannion, even to the
hospital" (Ralph was right; in spite of myself, this feeling was one
among the many which now influenced me.) "Setting that aside, however,
we are quite ready, I take it, to let her stick to her choice, and
live just as she pleases, so long as she doesn't live under our name.
There is the great fear and great difficulty now! If Sherwin can't
find her, we must; otherwise, we can never feel certain that she is
not incurring all sorts of debts as your wife. If her father gets her
back, I shall be able to bring her to terms at North Villa; if not, I
must get speech of her, wherever she happens to be hidden. She's the
only thorn in our side now, and we must pull her out with gold pincers
immediately. Don't you see that, Basil?'
"I see it, Ralph!"
"Very well. Either to-night or to-morrow morning, I'll communicate
with Sherwin, and find out whether he has laid hands on her. If he
hasn't, we must go to the hospital, and see what we can discover for
ourselves. Don't look miserable and downhearted, Basil, I'll go with
you: you needn't see her again, or the man either; but you must come
with me, for I may be obliged to make use of you. And now, I'm off for
to-day, in good earnest. I must get back to Mrs. Ralph (unfortunately
she happens to be one of the most sensitive women in the world), or
she will be sending to advertise me in the newspapers. We shall pull
through this, my dear fellow--you will see we shall! By the bye, you
don't know of a nice little detached house in the Brompton
neighbourhood, do you? Most of my old theatrical friends live about
there--a detached house, mind! The fact is, I have taken to the violin
lately (I wonder what I shall take to next?); Mrs. Ralph accompanies
me on the pianoforte; and we might be an execrable nuisance to very
near neighbours--that's all! You don't know of a house? Never mind; I
can go to an agent, or something of that sort. Clara shall know
to-night that we are moving prosperously, if I can only give the
worthiest creature in the world the slip: she's a little obstinate,
but, I assure you, a really superior woman. Only think of my dropping
down to playing the fiddle, and paying rent and taxes in a suburban
villa! How are the fast men fallen! Good bye, Basil, good bye!"
The next morning, Ralph never appeared--the day passed on, and I heard
nothing--at last, when it was evening, a letter came from him.
The letter informed me that my brother had written to Mr. Sherwin,
simply asking whether he had recovered his daughter. The answer to
this question did not arrive till late in the day; and was in the
negative--Mr. Sherwin had not found his daughter. She had left the
hospital before he got there; and no one could tell him whither she
had gone. His language and manner, as he himself admitted, had been so
violent that he was not allowed to enter the ward where Mannion lay.
When he returned home, he found his wife at the point of death; and on
the same evening she expired. Ralph described his letter, as the
letter of a man half out of his senses. He only mentioned his
daughter, to declare, in terms almost of fury, that he would accuse
her before his wife's surviving relatives, of having been the cause of
her mother's death; and called down the most terrible denunciations on
his own head, if he ever spoke to his child again, though he should
see her starving before him in the streets. In a postscript, Ralph
informed me that he would call the next morning, and concert measures
for tracking Sherwin's daughter to her present retreat.
Every sentence in this letter bore warning of the crisis which was now
close at hand; yet I had as little of the desire as of the power to
prepare for it. A superstitious conviction that my actions were
governed by a fatality which no human foresight could alter or avoid,
began to strengthen within me. From this time forth, I awaited events
with the uninquiring patience, the helpless resignation of despair.
My brother came, punctual to his appointment. When he proposed that I
should at once accompany him to the hospital, I never hesitated at
doing as he desired. We reached our destination; and Ralph approached
the gates to make his first enquiries.
He was still speaking to the porter, when a gentleman advanced towards
them, on his way out of the hospital. I saw him recognise my brother,
and heard Ralph exclaim:
"Bernard! Jack Bernard! Have you come to England, of all the men in
"Why not?" was the answer. "I got every surgical testimonial the
_Hotel Dieu_ could give me, six months ago; and couldn't afford to
stay in Paris only for my pleasure. Do you remember calling me a
'mute, inglorious Liston,' long ago, when we last met? Well, I have
come to England to soar out of my obscurity and blaze into a shining
light of the profession. Plenty of practice at the hospital,
here--very little anywhere else, I am sorry to say."
"You don't mean that you belong to _this_ hospital?"
"My dear fellow, I am regularly on the staff; I'm here every day of my
"You're the very man to enlighten us. Here, Basil, cross over, and let
me introduce you to an old Paris friend of mine. Mr. Bernard--my
brother. You've often heard me talk, Basil, of a younger son of old
Sir William Bernard's, who preferred a cure of bodies to a cure of
souls; and actually insisted on working in a hospital when he might
have idled in a family living. This is the man--the best of doctors
and good fellows."
"Are you bringing your brother to the hospital to follow my mad
example?" asked Mr. Bernard, as he shook hands with me.
"Not exactly, Jack! But we really have an object in coming here. Can
you give us ten minutes' talk, somewhere in private? We want to know
about one of your patients."
He led us into an empty room, on the ground-floor of the building.
"Leave the matter in my hands," whispered Ralph to me, as we sat down.
"I'll find out everything."
"Now, Bernard," he said, "you have a man here, who calls himself Mr.
"Are _you_ a friend of that mysterious patient? Wonderful! The
students call him 'The Great Mystery of London;' and I begin to think
the students are right. Do you want to see him? When he has not got
his green shade on, he's rather a startling sight, I can tell you, for
"No, no--at least, not at present; my brother here, not at all. The
fact is, certain circumstances have happened which oblige us to look
after this man; and which I am sure you won't inquire into, when I
tell you that it is our interest to keep them secret."
"Then, without any more words about it, our object here, to-day, is to
find out everything we can about Mr. Turner, and the people who have
been to see him. Did a woman come, the day before yesterday?"
"Yes; and behaved rather oddly, I believe. I was not here when she
came, but was told she asked for Turner, in a very agitated manner.
She was directed to the Victoria Ward, where he is; and when she got
there, looked excessively flurried and excited--seeing the Ward quite
full, and, perhaps, not being used to hospitals. However it was,
though the nurse pointed out the right bed to her, she ran in a mighty
hurry to the wrong one."
"I understand," said Ralph; "just as some women run into the wrong
omnibus, when the right one is straight before them."
"Exactly. Well, she only discovered her mistake (the room being rather
dark), after she had stooped down close over the stranger, who was
lying with his head away from her. By that time, the nurse was at her
side, and led her to the right bed. There, I'm told, another scene
happened. At sight of the patient's face, which is very frightfully
disfigured, she was on the point (as the nurse thought) of going into
a fit; but Turner stopped her in an instant. He just laid his hand on
her arm, and whispered something to her; and, though she turned as
pale as ashes, she was quiet directly. The next thing they say he did,
was to give her a slip of paper, coolly directing her to go to the
address written on it, and to come back to the hospital again, as soon
as she could show a little more resolution. She went away at
once--nobody knows where."
"Has nobody asked where?"
"Yes; a fellow who said he was her father, and who behaved like a
madman. He came here about an hour after she had left, and wouldn't
believe that we knew nothing about her (how the deuce _should_ we know
anything!) He threatened Turner (whom, by the bye, he called Manning,
or some such name) in such an outrageous manner, that we were obliged
to refuse him admission. Turner himself will give no information on
the subject; but I suspect that his injuries are the result of a
quarrel with the father about the daughter--a pretty savage quarrel, I
must say, looking to the consequences--I beg your pardon, but your
brother seems ill! I'm afraid," (turning to me), "you find the room
"No, indeed; not at all. I have just recovered from a serious
illness--but pray go on."
"I have very little more to say. The father went away in a fury, just
as he came; the daughter has not yet made her appearance a second
time. But, after what was reported to me of the first interview, I
daresay she _will_ come. She must, if she wants to see Turner; he
won't be out, I suspect, for another fortnight. He has been making
himself worse by perpetually writing letters; we were rather afraid of
erysipelas, but he'll get over that danger, I think."
"About the woman," said Ralph; "it is of the greatest importance that
we should know where she is now living. Is there any possibility (we
will pay well for it) of getting some sharp fellow to follow her home
from this place, the next time she comes here?"
Mr. Bernard hesitated a moment, and considered.
"I think I can manage it for you with the porter, after you are gone,"
he said, "provided you leave me free to give any remuneration I may
"Anything in the world, my dear fellow. Have you got pen and ink? I'll
write down my brother's address; you can communicate results to him,
as soon as they occur."
While Mr. Bernard went to the opposite end of the room, in search of
writing materials, Ralph whispered to me--
"If he wrote to _my_ address, Mrs. Ralph might see the letter. She is
the most amiable of her sex; but if written information of a woman's
residence, directed to me, fell into her hands--you understand, Basil!
Besides, it will be easy to let me know, the moment you hear from
Jack. Look up, young one! It's all right--we are sailing with wind and
Here Mr. Bernard brought us pen and ink. While Ralph was writing my
address, his friend said to me:
"I hope you will not suspect me of wishing to intrude on your secrets,
if (assuming your interest in Turner to be the reverse of a friendly
interest) I warn you to look sharply after him when he leaves the
hospital. Either there has been madness in his family, or his brain
has suffered from his external injuries. Legally, he may be quite fit
to be at large; for he will be able to maintain the appearance of
perfect self-possession in all the ordinary affairs of life. But,
morally, I am convinced that he is a dangerous monomaniac; his mania
being connected with some fixed idea which evidently never leaves him
day or night. I would lay a heavy wager that he dies in a prison or a
"And I'll lay another wager, if he's mad enough to annoy us, that we
are the people to shut him up," said Ralph. "There is the address. And
now, we needn't waste your time any longer. I have taken a little
place at Brompton, Jack,--you and Basil must come and dine with me, as
soon as the carpets are down."
We left the room. As we crossed the hall, a gentleman came forward,
and spoke to Mr. Bernard.
"That man's fever in the Victoria Ward has declared itself at last,"
he said. "This morning the new symptoms have appeared."
"And what do they indicate?"
"Typhus of the most malignant character--not a doubt of it. Come up,
and look at him."
I saw Mr. Bernard start, and glance quickly at my brother. Ralph fixed
his eyes searchingly on his friend's face; exclaimed: "Victoria Ward!
why you mentioned that--;" and then stopped, with a very strange and
sudden alteration in his expression. The next moment he drew Mr.
Bernard aside, saying: "I want to ask you whether the bed in Victoria
Ward, occupied by this man whose fever has turned to typhus, is the
same bed, or near the bed which--" The rest of the sentence was lost
to me as they walked away.
After talking together in whispers for a few moments, they rejoined
me. Mr. Bernard was explaining the different theories of infection to
_"My_ notion," he said, "is, that infection is taken through the
lungs; one breath inhaled from the infected atmosphere hanging
immediately around the diseased person, and generally extending about
a foot from him, being enough to communicate his malady to the
breather--provided there exists, at the time, in the individual
exposed to catch the malady, a constitutional predisposition to
infection. This predisposition we know to be greatly increased by
mental agitation, or bodily weakness; but, in the case we have been
talking of," (he looked at me,) "the chances of infection or
non-infection may be equally balanced. At any rate, I can predict
nothing about them at this stage of the discovery."
"You will write the moment you hear anything?" said Ralph, shaking
hands with him.
"The very moment. I have your brother's address safe in my pocket."
We separated. Ralph was unusually silent and serious on our way back.
He took leave of me at the door of my lodging, very abruptly; without
referring again to our visit to the hospital.
A week passed away, and I heard nothing from Mr. Bernard. During this
interval, I saw little of my brother; he was occupied in moving into
his new house. Towards the latter part of the week, he came to inform
me that he was about to leave London for a few days. My father had
asked him to go to the family house, in the country, on business
connected with the local management of the estates. Ralph still
retained all his old dislike of the steward's accounts and the
lawyer's consultations; but he felt bound, out of gratitude for my
father's special kindness to him since his return to England, to put a
constraint on his own inclinations, and go to the country as he was
desired. He did not expect to be absent more than two or three days;
but earnestly charged me to write to him, if I had any news from the
hospital while he was away.
During the week, Clara came twice to see me--escaping from home by
stealth, as before. On each occasion, she showed the same affectionate
anxiety to set me an example of cheerfulness, and to sustain me in
hope. I saw, with a sorrow and apprehension which I could not
altogether conceal from her, that the weary look in her face had never
changed, never diminished since I had first observed it. Ralph had,
from motives of delicacy, avoided increasing the hidden anxieties
which were but too evidently preying upon her health, by keeping her
in perfect ignorance of our visit to the hospital, and, indeed, of the
particulars of all our proceedings since his return. I took care to
preserve the same secrecy, during her short interviews with me. She
bade me farewell after her third visit, with a sadness which she
vainly endeavoured to hide. I little thought, then, that the tones of
her sweet, clear voice had fallen on my ear for the last time, before
I wandered to the far West of England where I now write.
At the end of the week--it was on a Saturday, I remember--I left my
lodgings early in the morning, to go into the country; with no
intention of returning before evening. I had felt a sense of
oppression, on rising, which was almost unendurable. The perspiration
stood thick on my forehead, though the day was not unusually hot; the
air of London grew harder and harder to breathe, with every minute; my
heart felt tightened to bursting; my temples throbbed with fever-fury;
my very life seemed to depend on escaping into pure air, into some
place where there was shade from trees, and water that ran cool and
refreshing to look on. So I set forth, careless in what direction I
went; and remained in the country all day. Evening was changing into
night as I got back to London.
I inquired of the servant at my lodging, when she let me in, whether
any letter had arrived for me. She answered, that one had come just
after I had gone out in the morning, and that it was lying on my
table. My first glance at it, showed me Mr. Bernard's name written in
the corner of the envelope. I eagerly opened the letter, and read
"My DEAR SIR,
"On the enclosed slip of paper you will find the address of the young
woman, of whom your brother spoke to me when we met at the hospital. I
regret to say, that the circumstances under which I have obtained
information of her residence, are of the most melancholy nature.
"The plan which I arranged for discovering her abode, in accordance
with your brother's suggestion, proved useless. The young woman never
came to the hospital a second time. Her address was given to me this
morning, by Turner himself; who begged that I would visit her
professionally, as he had no confidence in the medical man who was
then in attendance on her. Many circumstances combined to make my
compliance with his request anything but easy or desirable; but
knowing that you--or your brother I ought, perhaps, rather to
say--were interested in the young woman, I determined to take the very
earliest opportunity of seeing her, and consulting with her medical
attendant. I could not get to her till late in the afternoon. When I
arrived, I found her suffering from one of the worst attacks of Typhus
I ever remember to have seen; and I think it my duty to state
candidly, that I believe her life to be in imminent danger. At the
same time, it is right to inform you that the gentleman in attendance
on her does not share my opinion: he still thinks there is a good
chance of saving her.
"There can be no doubt whatever, that she was infected with Typhus at
the hospital. You may remember my telling you, how her agitation
appeared to have deprived her of self-possession, when she entered the
ward; and how she ran to the wrong bed, before the nurse could stop
her. The man whom she thus mistook for Turner, was suffering from
fever which had not then specifically declared itself; but which did
so declare itself, as a Typhus fever, on the morning when you and your
brother came to the hospital. This man's disorder must have been
infectious when the young woman stooped down close over him, under the
impression that he was the person she had come to see. Although she
started back at once, on discovering her mistake, she had breathed the
infection into her system--her mental agitation at the time,
accompanied (as I have since understood) by some physical weakness,
rendering her specially liable to the danger to which she had
accidentally exposed herself.
"Since the first symptoms of her disease appeared, on Saturday last, I
cannot find that any error has been committed in the medical
treatment, as reported to me. I remained some time by her bedside
to-day, observing her. The delirium which is, more or less, an
invariable result of Typhus, is particularly marked in her case, and
manifests. itself both by speech and gesture. It has been found
impossible to quiet her, by any means hitherto tried. While I was
watching by her, she never ceased calling on your name, and entreating
to see you. I am informed by her medical attendant, that her
wanderings have almost invariably taken this direction for the last
four-and-twenty hours. Occasionally she mixes other names with yours,
and mentions them in terms of abhorrence; but her persistency in
calling for your presence, is so remarkable that I am tempted, merely
from what I have heard myself; to suggest that you really should go to
her, on the bare chance that you might exercise some tranquillising
influence. At the same time, if you fear infection, or for any private
reasons (into which I have neither the right nor the wish to inquire)
feel unwilling to take the course I have pointed out, do not by any
means consider it your duty to accede to my proposal. I can
conscientiously assure you that duty is not involved in it.
"I have, however, another suggestion to make, which is of a positive
nature, and which I am sure will meet with your approval. It is, that
her parents, or some of her other relations, if her parents are not
alive, should be informed of her situation. Possibly, you may know
something of her connections, and can therefore do this good office.
She is dying in a strange place, among people who avoid her as they
would avoid a pestilence. Even though it be only to bury her, some
relation ought to be immediately summoned to her bed-side.
"I shall visit her twice to-morrow, in the morning and at night. If
you are not willing to risk seeing her (and I repeat that it is in no
sense imperative that you should combat such unwillingness), perhaps
you will communicate with me at my private address.
"I remain, dear Sir, "Faithfully yours,
"P. S.--I open my letter again, to inform you that Turner, acting
against all advice, has left the hospital to-day. He attempted to go
on Tuesday last, when, I believe, he first received information of the
young woman's serious illness, but was seized with a violent attack of
giddiness, on attempting to walk, and fell down just outside the door
of the ward. On this second occasion, however, he has succeeded in
getting away without any accident--as far, at least, as the persons
employed about the hospital can tell."
When the letter fell from my trembling hand, when I first asked of my
own heart the fearful question:--"Have I, to whom the mere thought of
ever seeing this woman again, has been as a pollution to shrink from,
the strength to stand by her death-bed, the courage to see her
die?"--then, and not till then, did I really know how suffering had
fortified, while it had humbled me; how affliction has the power to
purify, as well as to pain.
All bitter memory of the ill that she had done me, of the misery I had
suffered at her hands, lost its hold on my mind. Once more, her
mother's last words of earthly lament--"Oh, who will pray for her when
I am gone!" seemed to be murmuring in my ear--murmuring in harmony
with the divine words in which the Voice from the Mount of Olives
taught forgiveness of injuries to all mankind.
She was dying: dying among strangers in the pining madness of
fever--and the one being of all who knew her, whose presence at her
bedside might yet bring calmness to her last moments, and give her
quietly and tenderly to death, was the man whom she had pitilessly
deceived and dishonoured, whose youth she had ruined, whose hopes she
had wrecked for ever. Strangely had destiny brought us
together--terribly had it separated us--awfully would it now unite us
again, at the end!
What were my wrongs, heavy as they had been; what my sufferings,
poignant as they still were, that they should stand between this dying
woman, and the last hope of awakening her to the consciousness that
she was going before the throne of God? The sole resource for her
which human skill and human pity could now suggest, embraced the sole
chance that she might still be recovered for repentance, before she
was resigned to death. How did I know, but that in those ceaseless
cries which had uttered my name, there spoke the last earthly anguish
of the tortured spirit, calling upon me for one drop of water to cool
its burning guilt--one drop from the waters of Peace?
I took up Mr. Bernard's letter from the floor on which it had fallen,
and re-directed it to my brother; simply writing on a blank place in
the inside, "I have gone to soothe her last moments." Before I
departed, I wrote to her father, and summoned him to her bedside. The
guilt of his absence--if his heartless and hardened nature did not
change towards her--would now rest with him, and not with me. I
forbore from thinking how he would answer my letter; for I remembered
his written words to my brother, declaring that he would accuse his
daughter of having caused her mother's death; and I suspected him even
then, of wishing to shift the shame of his conduct towards his unhappy
wife from himself to his child.
After writing this second letter, I set forth instantly for the house
to which Mr. Bernard had directed me. No thought of myself; no
thought, even, of the peril suggested by the ominous disclosure about
Mannion, in the postscript to the surgeon's letter, ever crossed my
mind. In the great stillness, in the heavenly serenity that had come
to my spirit, the wasting fire of every sensation which was only of
this world, seemed quenched for ever.
It was eleven o'clock when I arrived at the house. A slatternly, sulky
woman opened the door to me. "Oh! I suppose you're another doctor,"
she muttered, staring at me with scowling eyes. "I wish you were the
undertaker, to get her out of my house before we all catch our deaths
of her! There! there's the other doctor coming down stairs; he'll show
you the room--I won't go near it."
As I took the candle from her hand, I saw that Mr. Bernard was
approaching me from the stairs.
"You can do no good, I am afraid," he said, "but I am glad you have
"There is no hope, then?"
"In my opinion, none. Turner came here this morning, whether she
recognised him, or not, in her delirium, I cannot say; but she grew so
much worse in his presence, that I insisted on his not seeing her
again, except under medical permission. Just now, there is no one in
the room--are you willing to go up stairs at once?"
"Does she still speak of me in her wanderings?"
"Yes, as incessantly as ever."
"Then I am ready to go to her bedside."
"Pray believe that I feel deeply what a sacrifice you are making.
Since I wrote to you, much that she has said in her delirium has told
me"--(he hesitated)--"has told me more, I am afraid, than you would
wish me to have known, as a comparative stranger to you. I will only
say, that secrets unconsciously disclosed on the death-bed are secrets
sacred to me, as they are to all who pursue my calling; and that what
I have unavoidably heard above stairs, is doubly sacred in my
estimation, as affecting a near and dear relative of one of my oldest
friends." He paused, and took my hand very kindly; then added: "I am
sure you will think yourself rewarded for any trial to your feelings
to-night, if you can only remember in years to come, that your
presence quieted her in her last moments!"
I felt his sympathy and delicacy too strongly to thank him in words; I
could only _look_ my gratitude as he asked me to follow him up stairs.
We entered the room softly. Once more, and for the last time in this
world, I stood in the presence of Margaret Sherwin.
Not even to see her, as I had last seen her, was such a sight of
misery as to behold her now, forsaken on her deathbed, to look at her,
as she lay with her head turned from me, fretfully covering and
uncovering her face with the loose tresses of her long black hair, and
muttering my name incessantly in her fever-dream: "Basil! Basil!
Basil! I'll never leave off calling for him, till he comes. Basil!
Basil! Where is he? Oh, where, where, where!"
"He is here," said the doctor, taking the candle from my hand, and
holding it, so that the light fell full on my face. "Look at her and
speak to her as usual, when she turns round," he whispered to me.
Still she never moved; still those hoarse, fierce, quick tones--that
voice, once the music that my heart beat to; now the discord that it
writhed under--muttered faster and faster: "Basil! Basil! Bring him
here! bring me Basil!"
"He is here," repeated Mr. Bernard loudly. "Look! look up at him!"
She turned in an instant, and tore the hair back from her face. For a
moment, I forced myself to look at her; for a moment, I confronted the
smouldering fever in her cheeks; the glare of the bloodshot eyes; the
distortion of the parched lips; the hideous clutching of the
outstretched fingers at the empty air--but the agony of that sight was
more than I could endure: I turned away my head, and hid my face in
"Compose yourself," whispered the doctor. "Now she is quiet, speak to
her; speak to her before she begins again; call her by her name."
Her name! Could my lips utter it at such a moment as this?
"Quick! quick!" cried Mr. Bernard. "Try her while you have the
I struggled against the memories of the past, and spoke to her--God
knows as gently, if not as happily, as in the bygone time!
"Margaret," I said, "Margaret, you asked for me, and I have come."
She tossed her arms above her head with a shrill scream, frightfully
prolonged till it ended in low moanings and murmurings; then turned
her face from us again, and pulled her hair over it once more.
"I am afraid she is too far gone," said the doctor; "but make another
"Margaret," I said again, "have you forgotten me? Margaret!"
She looked at me once more. This time, her dry, dull eyes seemed to
soften, and her fingers twined themselves less passionately in her
hair. She began to laugh--a low, vacant, terrible laugh.
"Yes, yes," she said, "I know he's come at last; I can make him do
anything. Get me my bonnet and shawl; any shawl will do, but a
mourning shawl is best, because we are going to the funeral of our
wedding. Come, Basil! let's go back to the church, and get unmarried
again; that's what I wanted you for. We don't care about each other.
Robert Mannion wants me more than you do--he's not ashamed of me
because my father's a tradesman; he won't make believe that he's in
love with me, and then marry me to spite the pride of his family.
Come! I'll tell the clergyman to read the service backwards; that
makes a marriage no marriage at all, everybody knows."
As the last wild words escaped her, some one below stairs called to
Mr. Bernard. He went out for a minute, then returned again, telling me
that he was summoned to a case of sudden illness which he must attend
without a moment's delay.
"The medical man whom I found here when I first came," he said, "was
sent for this evening into the country, to be consulted about an
operation, I believe. But if anything happens, I shall be at your
service. There is the address of the house to which I am now going"
(he wrote it down on a card); "you can send, if you want me. I will
get back, however, as soon as possible, and see her again; she seems
to be a little quieter already, and may become quieter still, if you
stay longer. The night-nurse is below--I will send her up as I go
downstairs. Keep the room well ventilated, the windows open as they
are now. Don't breathe too close to her, and you need fear no
infection. Look! her eyes are still fixed on you. This is the first
time I have seen her look in the same direction for two minutes
together; one would think she really recognised you. Wait till I come
back, if you possibly can--I won't be a moment longer than I can
He hastily left the room. I turned to the bed, and saw that she was
still looking at me. She had never ceased murmuring to herself while
Mr. Bernard was speaking; and she did not stop when the nurse came in.
The first sight of this woman, on her entrance, sickened and shocked
me. All that was naturally repulsive in her, was made doubly revolting
by the characteristics of the habitual drunkard, lowering and glaring
at me in her purple, bloated face. To see her heavy hands shaking at
the pillow, as they tried mechanically to arrange it; to see her
stand, alternately leering and scowling by the bedside, an incarnate
blasphemy in the sacred chamber of death, was to behold the most
horrible of all mockeries, the most impious of all profanations. No
loneliness in the presence of mortal agony could try me to the quick,
as the sight of that foul old age of degradation and debauchery,
defiling the sick room, now tried me. I determined to wait alone by
the bedside till Mr. Bernard returned.
With some difficulty, I made the wretched drunkard understand that she
might go downstairs again; and that I would call her if she was
wanted. At last, she comprehended my meaning, and slowly quitted the
room. The door closed on her; and I was left alone to watch the last
moments of the woman who had ruined me!
As I sat down near the open window, the sounds outside in the street
told of the waning of the night. There was an echo of many footsteps,
a hoarse murmur of conflicting voices, now near, now afar off. The
public houses were dispersing their drunken crowds--the crowds of a
Saturday night: it was twelve o'clock.