Part 6 out of 9
and honest worker during the later reputable portion of his life. His
friendships of the previous portion had been the friendships of the
railway-carriage and the smoking room, the _cafe_ and the gaming-table.
He could count upon his fingers the people to whom he could apply for
counsel in this crisis of his life. There was George Sheldon, a man for
whom he entertained a most profound contempt; Captain Paget, a man who
might or might not be able to give him good advice, but who would
inevitably sacrifice Charlotte Halliday's welfare to self-interest, if
self-interest could be served by the recommendation of an incompetent
"He would send me to some idiot of the Doddleson class, if he thought he
could get a guinea or a dinner by the recommendation," Valentine said to
himself, and decided that to Horatio Paget he would not apply. There were
his employers, the editors and proprietors of the magazines for which he
worked; all busy over-burdened workers in the great mill, spending the
sunny hours of their lives between a pile of unanswered letters and a
waste-paper basket; men who would tell him to look in the Post-office
Directory, without lifting their eyes from the paper over which their
restless pens were speeding.
No. Amongst these was not the counsellor whom Valentine Hawkehurst needed
in this dire hour of difficulty.
"There are some very good fellows among the Ragamuffins," he said to
himself, as he thought of the only literary and artistic club of which he
was a member; "fellows who stuck by me when I was down in the world, and
who would do anything to serve me now they know me for an honest worker.
But, unfortunately, farce writers and burlesque writers, and young
meerschaum-smoking painters, are not the sort of men to give good advice:
I want the advice of a medical man."
Mr. Hawkehurst almost bounded from his seat as he said this. The advice
of a medical man? Yes; and was there not a medical man among the
Ragamuffins? and something more than a medical man? That very doctor, who
of all other men upon this earth could best give him counsel--the doctor
who had stood by the deathbed of Charlotte Halliday's father.
He remembered the conversation that had occurred at Bayswater, on the
evening of Christmas day, upon this very subject. He remembered how from
the talk about ghosts they had drifted somehow into talking of Tom
Halliday; whereupon Mrs. Sheldon had been melted to tears, and had gone
on to praise Philip Sheldon's conduct to his dying friend, and to speak
of Mr. Burkham, the strange doctor, called in too late to save, or, it
might have been, incapable to save.
"Sheldon seems to have a genius for calling in incapable doctors," he
Incapable as Mr. Burkham might have been for the exigencies of this
particular case, he would at least be able to inform Valentine who among
the medical celebrities of London would be best adapted to advise in such
an illness as Charlotte Halliday's.
"And if, as Diana has sometimes suggested, there is any hereditary
disease, this Burkham may be able to throw some light upon the nature of
it," thought Valentine.
He went straight from the railway terminus to the quiet tavern upon the
first floor of which the Ragamuffins had their place of rendezvous. It
was not an hour for the encounter of many Ragamuffins. A meek-looking
young man, of clerical aspect, who had adapted a Palais Royal farce, and
had awoke in the morning to find himself famous, and eligible for
admission amongst the Ragamuffins, was sipping his sherry and soda-water
while he skimmed the morning papers. Him Mr. Hawkehurst saluted with an
absent nod, and went in search of the steward of the club, from whom he
obtained Mr. Burkham's address, with some little trouble in the way of
hunting through old and obscure documents.
It was the old address; the old dingy, comfortable, muffin-bell-haunted
street in which Mr. Burkham had lived ten years before, when he was
summoned to attend the sick Yorkshire farmer.
Mr. Burkham's career had not been brightened by the sunshine of
prosperity. He had managed to live somehow, and to find food and raiment
for his young wife, who, when she considered the lilies of the field, may
have envied their shining robes of pure whiteness, so dingy and dark was
her own apparel. When children came, the young surgeon contrived to find
food and raiment for them also, but not without daily and hourly
struggles with that grim wolf who haunts the thresholds of so many
dwellings, and will not be thrust from the door. Sometimes a little
glimmering ray of light illumined Mr. Burkham's pathway, and he was
humbly grateful to Providence for the brief glimpse of sunshine. But for
a meek fair-faced man, with a nervous desire to do well, a very poor
opinion of his own merits, and a diffident, not to say depressed manner,
the world is apt to be a hard battle-ground.
Mr. Burkham sometimes found himself well-nigh beaten in the cruel strife;
and at such times, in the dead silence of the night, with mortal agonies,
and writhings as of Pythoness upon tripod, Mr. Burkham gave himself up to
the composition of a farce, adapted, not from the French, but from his
memories of Wright and Bedford in the jovial old student days, when the
pit of the Adelphi Theatre had been the pleasant resort of his evenings.
He could no longer afford the luxury of theatrical entertainments, except
when provided with a free admission. But from the hazy reminiscences
floating in his poor tired brain he concocted little pieces which he
fondly hoped might win him money and fame.
With much effort and interest he contrived to get himself elected a
Ragamuffin; believing that to be a Ragmuffin was to secure a position as
a dramatic writer. But with one or two fortunate exceptions, his pieces
were refused. The managers would not have the poor little feeble
phantasmagoria of bygone fun, even supported by the whole clan of
Ragamuffins. So Mr. Burkham had gradually melted into the dimness of
Bloomsbury, and haunted the club-room of the Ragamuffins no more.
A hansom carried Valentine Hawkehurst swiftly to these regions of
Bloomsbury. It was no time for the saving of cab-hire. The soldier
of fortune thought no longer of his nest-eggs--his Unitas Bank
deposit-notes. He was fighting with time and with death; foes dire and
dreadful, against whose encroachments the sturdiest of mortal warriors
can make but a feeble stand. He found the dingy-looking house in the
dingy-looking street; and the humble drudge who opened the door informed
him that Mr. Burkham was at home, and ushered him into a darksome and
dreary surgery at the back of the house, where a phrenological head,
considerably the worse for London smoke, surmounted a dingy bookcase
filled with the dingiest of books. A table, upon which were a
blotting-book and inkstand, and two shabby horsehair chairs, composed the
rest of the furniture. Valentine sent his card to the surgeon, and seated
himself on one of the horsehair chairs, to await that gentleman's
He came after a brief delay, which seemed long to his visitor. He came
from regions in the back of the house, rubbing his hands, which seemed
to have been newly washed, and the odour of senna and aloes hung about
"I doubt if you remember my name, Mr. Burkham," said Valentine; "but you
and I are members of the same club, and that a club among the members of
which considerable good feeling prevails. I come to ask a favour"--Mr.
Burkham winced, for this sounded like genteel begging, and for genteel
beggars this struggling surgeon had no spare cash--"which it will
scarcely cause you a moment's thought to grant. I am in great
distress"--Mr. Burkham winced again, for this sounded still more like
begging--"mental distress"--Mr. Burkham gave a little sigh of
relief--"and I come to you for advice." Mr. Burkham gave a more profound
sigh of relief.
"I can assure you that my best advice is at your command," he said,
seating himself, and motioning to his visitor to be seated. "I am
beginning to remember your face amongst the members of the club, though
the name on your card did not strike me as familiar. You see, I have
never been able to afford much time for relaxation at the Ragamuffins',
though I assure you I found the agreeable conversation there, the
literary _on dits_, and so on, a very great relief. But my own little
efforts in the dramatic line were not successful, and I found myself
compelled to devote myself more to my profession. And now I have said
quite enough about myself; let me hear how I can be useful to you."
"In the first place, let me ask you a question. Do you know anything of a
certain Dr. Doddleson?"
"Of Plantagenet Square?"
"Yes; of Plantagenet Square."
"Well, not much. I have heard him called Dowager Doddleson; and I believe
he is very popular among hypochondriac old ladies who have more money
than they know what to do with, and very little common sense to regulate
their disposal of it."
"Is Dr. Doddleson a man to whom you would intrust the life of your
"Most emphatically no!" cried the surgeon, growing red with excitement.
"Very well, Mr. Burkham; my dearest friend, a young lady--well, in plain
truth, the woman who was to have been my wife, and whom I love as it is
not the lot of every plighted wife to be loved--this dear girl has been
wasting away for the last two or three months under the influence of an
inscrutable malady, and Dr. Doddleson is the only man called to attend
her in all that time."
"A mistake!" said Mr. Burkham, gravely; "a very great mistake! Dr.
Doddleson lives in a fine square, and drives a fine carriage, and has a
reputation amongst the class I have spoken of; but he is about the last
man I would consult as to the health of any one dear to me."
"That is precisely the opinion which I formed after ten minutes'
conversation with him. Now, what I want from you, Mr. Burkham, is the
name and address of the man to whom I can intrust this dear girl's life."
"Let me see. There are so many men, you know, and great men. Is it a case
"No, thank God!"
"No; there is no organic disease. It is a languor--a wasting away."
Mr. Burkham suggested other diseases whereof the outward sign was languor
"No," replied Valentine; "according to Dr. Doddleson there is actually no
disease--nothing but this extreme prostration--this gradual vanishing of
vital power. And now I come to another point upon which I want your
advice. It has been suggested that this constitutional weakness may be
inherited; and here I think you can help me."
"You attended the lady's father."
"Indeed!" cried Mr. Burkham, delighted. "This is really interesting. In
what year did I attend this gentleman? If you will allow me, I will refer
to some of my old case-books."
He drew out a clumsy drawer in the clumsy table, in order to hunt for old
"I am not quite certain as to the year," answered Valentine; "but it was
more than ten years ago. The gentleman died close by here, in Fitzgeorge
Street. His name was Halliday."
Mr. Burkham had drawn out the drawer to its farthest extent. As Valentine
pronounced this name, he let it drop to the ground with a crash, and sat,
statue-like, staring at the speaker. All other names given to mortal man
he might forget; but this one never. Valentine saw the sudden horror in
his face, before he could recompose his features into something of their
"Yes," he said, looking down at the fallen drawer with its scattered
papers and case-books, "yes, I have some recollection of the name of
"Some very strange and agitating recollection it would seem by your
manner, Mr. Burkham," said Valentine, at once assured that there was
something more than common in the surgeon's look and gesture; and
determined to fathom the mystery, let it be what it might.
"O dear no," said the surgeon nervously; "I was not agitated, only
surprised. It was surprising to me to hear the name of a patient so long
forgotten. And so the lady to whom you are engaged is a daughter of Mr.
Halliday's? The wife--Mrs. Halliday--is still living, I suppose?"
"Yes; but the lady who was then Mrs. Halliday is now Mrs. Sheldon."
"Of course; he married her," said Mr. Burkham. "Yes; I remember hearing
of the marriage."
He had tried in vain to recover his old composure. He was white to the
lips, and his hand shook as he tried to arrange his scattered papers.
"What does it mean?" thought Valentine. "Mrs. Sheldon talked of this
man's inexperience. Can it be that his incompetency lost the life of his
patient, and that he knows it was so?"
"Mrs. Halliday is now Mrs. Sheldon," repeated the surgeon, in a feeble
manner. "Yes, I remember; and Mr. Sheldon--the dentist, who at that time
resided in Fitzgeorge Street--is he still living?"
"He is still living. It was he who called in Dr. Doddleson to attend upon
Miss Halliday. As her stepfather, he has some amount of authority, you
see; not legal authority--for my dear girl is of age--but social
authority. He called in Doddleson, and appears to place confidence in
him; and as he is something of a medical man himself, and pretends to
understand Miss Halliday's case thoroughly--"
"Stop!" cried Mr. Burkham, suddenly abandoning all pretence of calmness.
"Has he--Sheldon--any interest in his stepdaughter's death?"
"No, certainly not. All her father's money went to him upon his marriage
with her mother. He can gain nothing by her death; on the contrary, he
may lose a good deal, for she is the heir-at-law to a large fortune."
"And if she dies, that fortune will go--"
"I really don't know where it will go," Valentine answered carelessly:
he thought the subject was altogether beside the question of Mr.
Burkham's agitation, and it was the cause of that agitation which he was
anxious to discover.
"If Mr. Sheldon can gain by his stepdaughter's death, fear him!"
exclaimed the surgeon, with sudden passion; "fear him as you would fear
death itself--worse than death, for death is neither so stealthy nor so
treacherous as he is!"
"What in Heaven's name do you mean?"
"That which I thought my lips would never utter to mortal hearing--that
which I dare not publicly proclaim, at the hazard of taking the bread out
of the mouths of my wife and children. I have kept this hateful secret
for eleven years--through many a sleepless night and dreary day. I will
tell it to you; for if there is another life in peril, that life shall be
lost through no cowardice of mine."
"What secret?" cried Valentine.
"The secret of that poor fellow's death. My God! I can remember the clasp
of his hand, and the friendly look of his eyes, the day before he died.
He was poisoned by Philip Sheldon!"
"You must be mad!" gasped Valentine, in a faint voice.
For one moment of astonishment and incredulity he thought this man must
needs be a fool or a lunatic, so wildly improbable did the accusation
seem. But in the next instant the curtain was lifted, and he knew that
Philip Sheldon was a villain, and knew that he had never wholly trusted
"Never until to-day have I told this secret," said the surgeon; "not even
to my wife."
"I thank you," answered Valentine, in the same faint voice; "with all my
heart, I thank you."
Yes, the curtain was lifted. This mysterious illness, this slow silent
decay of bloom and beauty, by a process inscrutable as the devilry of
medieval poisoner or Hecate-serving witch--this was murder. Murder! The
disease, which had hitherto been nameless, had found its name at last. It
was all clear now. Philip Sheldon's anxiety; the selection of an utterly
incompetent adviser; certain looks and tones that had for a moment
mystified him, and had been forgotten in the next, came back to him with
a strange distinctness, with all their hidden meaning made clear and
plain as the broad light of day.
But the motive? What motive could prompt the slow destruction of that
innocent life? A fortune was at stake, it is true; but that fortune, as
Valentine understood the business, depended on the life of Charlotte
Halliday. Beyond this point he had never looked. In all his consideration
of the circumstances relating to the Haygarthian estate, he had never
thought of what might happen in the event of Charlotte's decease.
"It is a diabolical mystery," he said to himself. "There can be no
motive--_none_. To destroy Thomas Halliday was to clear his way to
fortune; to destroy Charlotte is to destroy his chance of fortune."
And then he remembered the dark speeches of George Sheldon.
"My God! and this was what he meant, as plainly as he dared tell me! He
did tell me that his brother was an unutterable scoundrel; and I turned a
deaf ear to his warning, because it suited my own interest to believe
that villain. For her dear sake I believed him. I would have believed in
Beelzebub, if he had promised me her dear hand. And I let myself be duped
by the lying promise, and left my darling in the power of Beelzebub!"
Thoughts followed each other swift as lightning through his overwrought
brain. It seemed but a moment that he had been sitting with his
clenched hands pressed against his forehead, when he turned suddenly
upon the surgeon.
"For God's sake, help me, guide me!" he said. "You have struck a blow
that has numbed my senses. What am I to do? My future wife is in that
man's keeping--dying, as I believe. How am I to save her?"
"I cannot tell you. You may take the cleverest man in London to see her;
but it is a question if that man will perceive the danger so clearly as
to take prompt measures. In these cases there is always room for doubt;
and a man would rather doubt his own perceptions than believe the hellish
truth. It is by this natural hesitation so many lives are lost. While the
doctor deliberates, the patient dies. And then, if the secret of the
death transpires--by circumstantial evidence, perhaps, which never came
to the doctor's knowledge,--there is a public outcry. The doctor's
practice is ruined, and his heart broken. The outcry would have been
still louder if he had told the truth in time to save the patient, and
had not been able to prove his words. You think me a coward and a
scoundrel because I dared not utter my suspicion when I saw Mr. Halliday
dying. While it was only a suspicion it would have been certain ruin for
me to give utterance to it. The day came when it was almost a conviction.
I went back to that man Sheldon's house, determined to insist upon the
calling in of a physician who would have made that conviction certainty.
My resolution came too late. It is possible that Sheldon had perceived my
suspicions, and had hastened matters. My patient was dead before I
reached the house."
"How am I to save her?" repeated Valentine, with the same helpless
manner. He could not bring himself to consider Tom Halliday's death. The
subject was too far away from him--remote as the dim shadows of departed
centuries. In all the universe there were but two figures standing out in
lurid brightness against the dense night of chaos--a helpless girl held
in the clutches of a secret assassin; and it was his work to rescue her.
"What am I to do?" he asked. "Tell me what I am to do."
"What it may be wisest to do I cannot tell you," answered Mr. Burkham,
almost as helplessly as the other had asked the question. "I can give you
the name of the best man to get to the bottom of such a case--a man who
gave evidence on the Fryar trial--Jedd. You have heard of Jedd, I
daresay. You had better go straight to Jedd, and take him down with you
to Miss Halliday. His very name will frighten Sheldon."
"I will go at once. Stay--the address! Where am I to find Dr. Jedd?"
"In Burlington Row. But there is one thing to be considered."
"The interference of Jedd may only make that man desperate. He may hasten
matters now as he hastened matters before. If you had seen his coolness
at that time; if you had seen him, as I saw him, standing by that poor
fellow's deathbed, comforting him--yes, with friendly speeches--laughing
and joking, watching the agonising pain and the miserable sickness, and
all the dreary wretchedness of such a death, and _never_ swerving from
his work; if you had seen him, you would understand why I am afraid to
advise you. That man was as desperate as he was cool when he murdered his
friend. He will be more reckless this time."
"Because he has reached a higher stage in the science of murder. The
symptoms of that poor Yorkshireman were the symptoms of arsenical
poisoning; the symptoms of which you have told me to-day denote a
vegetable poison. _That_ affords very vague diagnosis, and leaves no
trace. That was the agent which enabled the Borgias to decimate Rome.
It is older than classic Greece, and simple as _a b c_, and will remain
so until the medical expert is a recognized officer of the law, the
faithful guardian of the bed over which the suspected poisoner
loiters--past-master of the science in which the murderer is rarely more
than an experimentalist, and protected from all the hazards of plain
speaking by the nature of his office."
"Great Heaven, how am I to save her?" exclaimed Valentine. He could not
contemplate the subject in its broad social aspect; he could only think
of this one dear life at stake. "To send this Dr. Jedd might be to hasten
her death; to send a less efficient man would be mere childishness. WHAT
shall I do?"
He looked despairingly at the surgeon, and in that one glance perceived
what a frail reed this was upon which he was leaning. And then, like
the sudden gleam of lightning, a name flashed across his mind,--George
Sheldon, the lawyer, the schemer, the man who of all the world best
knew this vile enemy and assassin against whom he was matched; he it
was of whom counsel should be asked in this crisis. Once perceiving
this, Valentine was prompt to act. It was the first flash of light in
"You mean to stand by me in this, don't you?" he asked Mr. Burkham.
"With all my heart and soul."
"Good. Then you must go to Dr. Jedd instantly. Tell him all you know--Tom
Halliday's death; the symptoms of Charlotte's decline, as you have heard
them from me--_everything_; and let him hold himself in readiness to
start for Hastings directly he hears from or sees me. I am going to a man
who of all men can tell me how to deal with Philip Sheldon. I shall try
to be in Burlington Row in an hour from this time; but in any case you
will wait there till I come. I suppose, in a desperate case like this,
Dr. Jedd will put aside all less urgent work?"
"No doubt of that."
"I trust to you to secure his sympathy," said Valentine.
He was in the darksome entrance-hall by this time. Mr. Burkham followed,
and opened the door for him.
"Have no fear of me," he said. "Good bye."
The two men shook hands with a grip significant as masonic sign-manual.
It meant on the one part hearty co-operation, on the other implicit
confidence. In the next moment Valentine sprang into the cab.
"King's Road--entrance to Gray's Inn, and drive like mad!" he shouted to
the driver. The hansom rattled across the stones, dashed round corners,
struck consternation to scudding children in pinafores, all but
annihilated more than one perambulator, and in less than ten minutes
after leaving Mr. Burkham's door, ground against the kerbstone before the
little gate of Gray's Inn.
"God grant that George Sheldon may be at home!" Valentine said to
himself, as he hurried towards that gentleman's office. George Sheldon
was at home. In this fight against time, Mr. Hawkehurst had so far found
the odds in his favour.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the lawyer, looking up from his desk, as
Valentine appeared on the threshold of the door, pale and breathless; "to
what do I owe the unusual honour of a visit from Mr. Hawkehurst? I
thought that rising _litterateur_ had cut all old acquaintances, and gone
in for the upper circles."
"I have come to you on a matter of life and death, George Sheldon," said
Valentine; "this is no time to talk of why I haven't been to you before.
When you and I last met, you advised me to beware of your brother Philip.
It wasn't the first, or the second, or the third time that you so warned
me. And now speak out like an honest man, and tell me what you meant by
that warning? For God's sake, speak plainly this time."
"I cannot afford to speak more plainly than I have spoken half a dozen
times already. I told you to beware of my brother Phil, and I meant that
warning in its fullest significance. If you had chosen to take my advice,
you would have placed Charlotte Halliday's fortune, and Charlotte
Halliday herself, beyond his power, by an immediate marriage. You didn't
choose to do that, and there was an end of the matter. I have been a
heavy loser by your pigheaded obstinacy; and I dare say before you and
Phil Sheldon have done with each other, you too will find yourself a
"God help me, yes!" cried Valentine, with a groan; "I stand to make the
heaviest loss that was ever made by man."
"What do you mean?" exclaimed George.
"Shall I tell you what you meant when you warned me against your own
brother? Shall I tell you why you so warned me? You know that Philip
Sheldon murdered Tom Halliday."
"Yes; the secret is out. You knew it; how or when you discovered it I
cannot tell. You knew of that one hellish crime, and would have prevented
the commission of a second murder. You should have spoken more plainly.
To know what you knew, and to confine yourself to cautious hints and
vague suggestions, as you did, was to have part in that devilish work. If
Charlotte Halliday dies, her blood be upon your head--upon yours--as well
as upon his!"
The young man had risen in his passion, and stood before George Sheldon
with uplifted hands, and eyes that flashed angry lightnings. It seemed
almost as if he would have called down the Divine vengeance upon this
"If Charlotte Halliday dies!" repeated George, in a horror-stricken
whisper; "why should you suggest such a thing?"
"Because she is dying."
There was a pause. Valentine flung himself passionately upon the chair
from which he had just risen, with his back to George Sheldon, and his
face bent over the back of the chair. The lawyer sat looking straight
before him, with a ghastly countenance.
"I told him he meant _this_," he said to himself, in a hoarse whisper. "I
told him in this office not six months ago. Powers of hell, what a
villain he is! And there are people who do not believe there is a devil!"
For a few moments Valentine gave free vent to his passion of grief. These
tears of rage, of agony the most supreme, were the first he had shed
since he had bent his face over Charlotte's soft brown hair, to hide the
evidence of his sorrow. When he had dashed these bitter drops away from
his burning eyes, he turned to confront George Sheldon, pale as death,
but very calm. And after this he gave way no more to his passion. He was
matched against Time, of all enemies the most pitiless and unrelenting,
and every minute wasted was a point scored by his foe.
"I want your help, George Sheldon," he said. "If you have ever been sorry
that you made no effort to save Charlotte Halliday's father, prove
yourself his friend by trying to save her."
"_If_ I have ever been sorry!" echoed the lawyer. "Why, my miserable
dreams have never been free from the horror of that man's face. You don't
know what it is--murder! Nobody knows who hasn't been concerned in it.
You read of murders in your newspapers. A shot B, or C poisoned D, and so
on, all through the letters of the alphabet, with a fresh batch for every
Sunday; but it never comes home to you. You think of the horror of it in
a shadowy kind of way, as you might think of having a snake twisted round
your waist and legs, like that blessed man and boys one never sees the
last of. But if you were to look at that plaster cast all your life, you
couldn't realize ten per cent of the horror you'd feel if the snake was
_there_, alive, crushing your bones, and hissing in your ear. I have been
face to face with murder, Valentine Hawkehurst; and if I were to live a
century, I should never forget what I felt when I stood by Tom Halliday's
deathbed, and it flashed upon me, all at once, that my brother Phil was
"And you did not try to save him--your friend?" cried Valentine.
"Why, you see," replied the other, in a strange slow way, "it was too
late to save him: I knew that, and--I held my tongue. What could I do?
Against my own brother! That sort of thing in a family is ruin for every
one! Do you think anybody would have brought their business to me after
my brother had stood in the Old Bailey dock to take his trial for murder?
No; my only course was to keep my own counsel, and I kept it. Phil made
eighteen thousand pounds by his marriage with poor Tom's widow, and a
paltry hundred or two is all _I_ ever touched of that money."
"And you _could_ touch that money?" cried Valentine, aghast.
"Money carries no infection. Did you ever ask any questions about the
money you won at German gaming-tables. I dare say some of your napoleons
and ten-thaler notes could have told queer stories if they had been able
to talk. Taking Phil's money has never weighed upon my conscience. I'm
not very inquisitive about the antecedents of a five-pound note; but I'll
tell you what it is, Hawkehurst, I'd give all I have, and all I ever
hope to have, and would go out and sweep a crossing to-morrow, if I could
get Tom Halliday's face out of my mind, with the look that he turned upon
me the last time I saw him. 'Ah, George,' he said, 'in illness a man
feels the comfort of being among friends!' And he took my hand and
squeezed it, in his old hearty way. We had been boys together,
Hawkehurst, birds-nesting in Hyley Woods; on the same side in our
Barlingford cricket-matches. And I shook his hand, and went away, and
left him to die!"
And here Mr. Sheldon of Gray's Inn, the Sheldon who was in with the
money-lenders, sharpest of legal prestigitators, most ruthless of
opponents, most unscrupulous of allies, buried his face in a flaming
bandanna, and fairly sobbed aloud. When the passion had passed, he got up
and walked hastily to the window, more ashamed of this one touch of
honest emotion than of all the falsehoods and chicaneries of his career.
"I didn't think I could have been such an ass," he muttered sheepishly.
"I did not hope that you could feel so deeply," answered Valentine. "And
now help me to save the only child of your ill-fated friend. I am sure
that you can help me."
Without waiting to be questioned, Valentine related the circumstances of
Charlotte's illness, and of his interview with Mr. Burkham.
"I did not even know that the poor girl was ill," said George Sheldon. "I
have not seen Phil for months. He came here one day, and I gave him a bit
of my mind. I told him if he tried to harm her I'd let the light in upon
him and his doings. And I'll keep my word."
"But his motive? What, in the name of Heaven, can be his motive for
taking her innocent life? He knows of the Haygarth estate, and must hope
to profit by her fortune if she lives."
"Yes, and to secure the whole of that fortune if she dies. Her death
would make her mother sole heir to that estate, and the mother is the
merest tool in his hands. He may even have induced Charlotte to make a
will in his favour, so that he himself may stand in her shoes."
"She would not have made a will without telling me of it."
"You don't know that. My brother Phil can do anything. It would be as
easy for him to persuade her to maintain secrecy about the transaction as
to persuade her to make the will. Do you suppose _he_ shrinks from
multiplying lies and forgeries and hypocrisies? Do you suppose anything
in that small way comes amiss to the man who has once brought his mind to
murder? Why, look at the Scotch play of that fellow Shakespeare's. At the
beginning, your Macbeth is a respectable trustworthy sort of person,
anxious to get on in life, and so on, and that's all; but no sooner has
he made an end of poor old Duncan, than he lays about him right and
left--Banquo, Fleance, anybody and everybody that happens to be in his
way. It was lucky for that Tartar of a wife of his that _she_ hook'd it,
or he'd soon have put a stop to her sleep-walking. There's no such wide
difference between a man and a tiger, after all. The tiger's a decent
fellow enough till he has tasted human blood; but when once he _has_,
Lord save the country-side from the jaws of the man-eater!"
"For Heaven's sake let us waste no time in talk!" Valentine cried,
impetuously. "I am to meet Burkham in Burlington Row directly I have got
"To see Dr. Jedd, and take him down to Hastings, if possible."
"That won't do."
"Because Jedd's appearance would give Phil the office. Jedd gave evidence
on the Fryar trial, and must be a marked man to him. All Jedd can tell
you is that Charlotte is being poisoned. You know that already. Of course
she'll want medical treatment, and so on, to bring her round; but she
can't get that under my brother's roof. What you have to do is to get her
away from that house."
"You do not know how ill she is. I doubt if she could bear the removal."
"Anything is better than to remain. _That_ is certain death."
"But your brother would surely dispute her removal."
"He would, and oppose it inch by inch. We must get him away, before we
attempt to remove her."
"I will find the means for that. I know something of his business
relations, and can invent some false cry for luring him off the trail. We
_must_ get him away. The poor girl was not in actual danger when you left
her, was she?"
"No, thank God, there was no appearance of immediate danger. But she was
very ill. And that man holds her life in his hand. He knows that I have
come to London in search of a doctor. What if--"
"Keep yourself quiet, Hawkehurst. He will not hasten her death unless he
is desperate; for a death occurring immediately after your first
expression of alarm would seem sudden. He'll avoid any appearance of
suddenness, if he can, depend upon it. The first thing is to get him
away. But the question is, how to do it? There must be a bait. What bait?
Don't talk to me, Hawkehurst. Let me think it out, if I can."
The lawyer leaned his elbows on the table, and abandoned himself to
profound cogitation, with his forehead supported by his clenched hands.
Valentine waited patiently while he thus cogitated.
"I must go down to Phil's office," he said at last, "and ferret out some
of his secrets. Nothing but stock-exchange business, of an important
character, would induce him to leave Charlotte Halliday. But if I can
telegraph such a message as will bring him to town, I'll do it. Leave all
that to me. And now, what about your work?"
"I am at a loss what to do, if I am not to take Dr. Jedd to Harold's
"Take him to St. Leonards; and if I get my brother out of the way, you
can have Charlotte conveyed to an hotel in St. Leonard's, where she can
stop till she picks up strength enough to come to London."
"Do you think her mother will consent to her removal?
"Do I think you will be such an idiot as to ask for her consent?" cried
George Sheldon impatiently. "My brother's wife is so weak a fool, that
the chances are she'd insist on her daughter stopping quietly, to be
poisoned. No; you must get Mrs. Sheldon out of the way somehow. Send her
to look at the shops, or to bathe, or to pick up shells on the beach, or
anything else equally inane. She's easy enough to deal with. There's that
young woman, Paget's daughter, with them still, I suppose? Yes. Very
well, then, you and she can get Charlotte away between you."
"But for me to take those two girls to an hotel--the chance of scandal,
of wonder, of inquiry? There ought to be some other person--some nurse.
Stay, there's Nancy Woolper--the very woman! My darling has told me of
that old woman's affectionate anxiety about her health--an anxiety which
was singularly intense, it seemed to Lotta. Good God! do you think she,
Nancy Woolper, could have suspected the cause of Mr. Halliday's death?"
"I dare say she did. She was in the house when he died, and nursed him
all through his illness. She's a clever old woman. Yes, you might take
her down with you; I think she would be of use in getting Charlotte
"I'll take her, if she will go."
"I am not sure of that; our north-country folks have stiffish notions
about fidelity to old masters, and that kind of thing. Nancy Woolper
nursed my brother Phil."
"If she knows or suspects the fate of Charlotte's father, she will try to
save Charlotte," said Valentine, with conviction. "And now, good bye! I
trust to you for getting your brother out of the way, George Sheldon;
He held out his hand; the lawyer took it with a muscular grip, which, on
this occasion, meant something more than that base coin of jolly good
fellowship which so often passes current for friendship's virgin gold.
"You may trust me," George Sheldon said gravely. "Stop a moment, though;
I have a proposition to make. If my brother Philip has induced that girl
to make a will, as it is my belief he has, we must counter him. Come down
with me to Doctors' Commons. You've a cab? Yes; the business won't take
half an hour."
"A special licence for your marriage with Charlotte Halliday."
"Yes; her marriage invalidates her will, if she has made one, and does
away with Phil's motive. Come along; we'll get the licence."
"But the delay?"
"Exactly half an hour. Come!"
The lawyer dashed out of his office. "At home in an hour," he shouted
to the clerk, and then ran downstairs, followed closely by Valentine,
and did not cease running until he was in the King's Road, where the
cab was waiting.
"Newgate Street and Warwick Lane to Doctors' Commons!" he cried to the
cabman; and Valentine was fain to take his seat in the cab without
"I don't understand--" he began, as the cabman drove away.
"I do. It's all right; you'll put the licence in your pocket, and call at
the church nearest which you hang out, Edgware Road way, give notice of
the marriage, and so on; and as soon as Charlotte can bear the journey,
bring her to London and marry her. I told you your course six months ago.
Your obstinacy has caused the hazard of that young woman's life. Don't
let us have a second edition of it."
"I will be governed by your advice," answered Valentine, submissively.
"It is the delay that tortures me."
The delay was indeed torture to him. Everything and everybody in Doctors'
Commons seemed the very incarnation of slowness. The hansom cab might
tear and grind the pavement, the hansom cabman might swear until even
monster waggons swerved aside to give him passage; but neither tearing
nor swearing could move the incarnate stolidity of Doctors' Commons. When
he left that quaint sanctuary of old usages, he carried with him the
Archbishop of Canterbury's benign permission for his union with Charlotte
Halliday. But he knew not whether it was only a morsel of waste paper
which he carried in his pocket; and whether there might not ere long be
need of a ghastlier certificate, giving leave and licence for the
rendering back of "ashes to ashes, and dust to dust."
Valentine's first call, after leaving George Sheldon at the gate of
Doctors' Commons, was at the head-quarters of the Ragamuffins. His heart
sank as he ran into the bar of the hostelry to ask for the telegram which
might be waiting for him.
Happily there was no telegram. To find no tidings of a change for the
worse seemed to him almost equivalent to hearing of a change for the
better. What had he not feared after his interview with the surgeon of
From Covent Garden the hansom bowled swiftly to Burlington Row. Here
Valentine found Mr. Burkham, pale and anxious, waiting in a little den of
a third room, on the ground-floor--a ghastly little room, hung with
anatomical plates, and with some wax preparations in jars, on the
mantelpiece, by way of ornament. To them presently came Dr. Jedd, as
lively and business-like as if Miss Halliday's case had been a question
of taking out a double-tooth.
"Very sad!" he said; "these vegetable poisons--hands of unscrupulous man.
Very interesting article in the _Medical Quarterly_--speculative analysis
of the science of toxicology as known to the ancients."
"You will come down to Harold's Hill at once, sir?" said Valentine,
"Well, yes; your friend here, Mr. Burkham, has persuaded me to do so,
though I need hardly tell you that such a journey will be to the last
"It is an affair of life and death," faltered the young man.
"Of course, my dear sir. But then, you see, I have half-a-dozen other
affairs of life and death on my hands at this moment. However, I have
promised. My consultations will be over in half an hour; I have a round
of visits after that, and by--well, say by the five o'clock express, I
will go to St. Leonards."
"The delay will be very long," said Valentine.
"It cannot be done sooner. I ought to go down to Hertfordshire this
evening--most interesting case--carbuncle--three operations in three
consecutive weeks--Swain as operator. At five o'clock I shall be at the
London Bridge station. Until then, gentlemen, good day. Lawson, the
Dr. Jedd left his visitors to follow the respectable white-cravatted
butler, and darted back to his consulting-room.
Mr. Burkham and Valentine walked slowly up and down Burlington Row before
the latter returned to his cab.
"I thank you heartily for your help," said Valentine to the surgeon; "and
I believe, with God's grace, we shall save this dear girl's life. It was
the hand of Providence that guided me to you this morning. I can but
believe the same hand will guide me to the end."
On this they parted. Valentine told his cabman to drive to the Edgware
Road; and in one of the churches of the immediate neighbourhood of that
thoroughfare he gave notice of his intention to enter the bonds of holy
matrimony. He had some difficulty in arranging matters with the clerk,
whom he saw in his private abode and non-official guise. That functionary
was scarcely able to grasp the idea of an intending Benedick who would
not state positively when he wanted to be married. Happily, however, the
administration of half-a-sovereign considerably brightened the clerk's
"I see what you want," he said. "Young lady a invalid, which she wants to
leave her home as she finds uncomfortable, she being over twenty-one
years of age and her own mistress. It's what you may call a runaway
match, although the parties ain't beholden to any one, in a manner of
speaking. _I_ understand. You give me half an hour's notice any morning
within the legal hours, and I'll have one of our young curates ready for
you as soon as you're ready for them; and have you and the young lady
tied up tight enough before you know where you are. We ain't very long
over _our_ marriages, unless it is something out of the common way."
The clerk's familiarity was more good-natured than flattering to the
applicant's self-esteem; but Valentine was in no mood to object to this
easy-going treatment of the affair. He promised to give the clerk the
required notice; and having arranged everything in strictly legal manner,
hurried back to his cab, and directed the man to drive to the Lawn.
It was now three o'clock. At five he was to meet Dr. Jedd at the station.
He had two hours for his interview with Nancy Woolper, and his drive from
Bayswater to London Bridge.
He had tasted nothing since daybreak; but the necessity to eat and drink
never occurred to him. He was dimly conscious of feeling sick and faint,
but the reason of this sickness and faintness did not enter into his
thoughts. He took off his hat, and leant his head back against the
cushion of the hansom as that vehicle rattled across the squares of
Paddington. The summer day, the waving of green trees in those suburban
squares; the busy life and motion of the world through which he went,
mixed themselves into one jarring whirl of light and colour, noise and
motion. He found himself wondering how long it was since he left
Harold's Hill. Between the summer morning in which he had walked along
the dusty high-road, with fields of ripening corn upon his left, and all
the broad blue sea upon his right, and the summer afternoon in which he
drove in a jingling cab through the noisy streets and squares of
Bayswater, there seemed to him a gulf so wide, that his tried brain
shrank from scanning it.
He struggled with this feeling of helplessness and bewilderment, and
"Let me remember what I have to do," he said to himself; "and let me keep
my wits about me till that is done."
PHOENICIANS ARE RISING.
While Mr. Hawkehurst arranged his affairs with the clerk of St.
Matthias-in-the-fields, in the parish of Marylebone, George Sheldon sat
in his brother's office writing a letter to that distinguished
stockbroker. The pretext of writing a letter was the simplest pretext for
being alone in his brother's room; and to be alone in Philip Sheldon's
room was the first step in the business which George had to do.
The room was distractingly neat, and as handsomely furnished as it is
possible for an office to be within the closest official limits. A
Spanish mahogany desk with a cylinder cover, and innumerable drawers
fitted with invisible Bramah locks, occupied the centre of the room; and
four ponderous Spanish mahogany chairs, with padded backs, and seats
covered with crimson morocco, were primly ranged against the wall. Upon
the mantelpiece ticked a skeleton clock; above which there hung the
sternest and grimmest of almanacks, on either whereof were fastened
divers lists and calendars of awful character, affected by gentlemen on
Before penetrating to this innermost and sacred chamber, George Sheldon
wasted some little time in agreeable gossip with a gentleman whom he
found yawning over the _Times_ newspaper in an outer and less richly
furnished apartment. This gentleman was Philip Sheldon's clerk, the
younger son of a rich Yorkshire farmer, who had come to London with the
intention of making his fortune on the Stock Exchange, and whose father
had paid a considerable sum in order to obtain for this young man the
privilege of reading the Times in Mr. Sheldon's office, and picking up
whatever knowledge might be obtained from the business transactions of
The career of Philip Sheldon had been watched with some interest by his
fellow-townsmen of Barlingford. They had seen him leave that town with a
few hundreds in his pocket, and they had heard of him twelve years
afterwards as a prosperous stockbroker, with a handsome house and a
handsome carriage, and the reputation of being one of the sharpest men in
the City. The accounts of him that came to Barlingford were all more or
less exaggerated; and the men who discussed his cleverness and his good
luck were apt to forget that he owed the beginning of his fortunes to Tom
Halliday's eighteen thousand pounds. The one fact that impressed Philip
Sheldon's townsmen was the fact that a Barlingford man had made money on
the Stock Exchange; and the one inference they drew therefrom was the
inference that other Barlingford men might do the same.
Thus it had happened that Mr. Stephen Orcott, of Plymley Rise farm, near
Barlingford, being at a loss what to do with a somewhat refractory
younger son, resolved upon planting his footsteps in the path so
victoriously trodden by Philip Sheldon. He wrote to Philip, asking him to
receive the young man as clerk, assistant, secretary--anything, with a
view to an ultimate junior partnership; and Philip consented, upon
certain conditions. The sum he demanded was rather a stiff one, as it
seemed to Stephen Orcott, but he opined that such a sum would not have
been asked if the advantages had not been proportionately large. The
bargain was therefore concluded, and Mr. Frederick Orcott came to London.
He was a young man of horsey propensities, gifted with a sublime contempt
for any kind of business requiring application or industry, and with a
supreme belief in his own merits.
George Sheldon had known Frederick Orcott as a boy, and had been in his
society some half-dozen times since his coming to London. He apprehended
no difficulty in obtaining from this young gentleman any information he
had the power to afford.
"How do, Orcott?" he said, with agreeable familiarity. "My brother Phil
not come back yet?"
"No," replied the other, sulkily. "There have been ever so many people
here bothering me about him. Where has he gone? and when will he be back?
and so on. I might as well be some d----d footman, if I'm to sit here
answering questions all day. High Wickham races are on to-day, and I
wanted to see Barmaid run before I put my money on her for Goodwood. She
was bred down our way, you see, and I know she's like enough to win the
cup, if she's fit. They don't know much about her this way, either,
though she's own sister to Boots, that won the Chester Cup last year,
owing to Topham's being swindled into letting him off with seven lbs. He
ran at the York Spring, you see, for a twopenny-halfpenny plate, and the
boy that rode him pulled his head half off--I saw him do it--and then he
won the Chester, and brought his owners a pot of money."
This information was not exactly what George Sheldon wanted, but he
planted himself on the hearthrug in an easy attitude, with his back
against the mantelpiece, and appeared much interested in Mr. Orcott's
"Anything stirring in the City?" he asked presently.
"Stirring? No--nothing stirring but stagnation, as some fellow said in a
play I saw the other night. Barlingford folks say your brother Philip has
made a heap of money on the Stock Exchange; but if he has, he must have
done a good deal more business before I came to him than he has done
lately. I can't see how a man is to develop into a Rothschild out of an
occasional two-and-sixpence per cent on the transfer of some old woman's
savings from railway stock to consols; and that's about the only kind of
business I've seen much of lately. Of course Phil Sheldon has got irons
of his own in the fire; for he's an uncommonly deep card, you see, that
brother of yours, and it isn't to be expected he'll tell _me_ all he's up
to. I know he's up to his eyebrows in companies, but I don't see how he's
to make his fortune out of _them_, for limited liability now-a-days seems
only another name for unlimited crash. However, I don't care. It pleased
my governor to get me into Sheldon's office, and it suited my book to
come to London; but if the author of my being thinks I'm going to addle
my blessed brains with the decline and fall of the money market, he's a
greater fool than I took him for--and that's saying a great deal."
And here Mr. Frederick Orcott lapsed into admiring contemplation of his
boots, which were the _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of a sporting bootmaker; boots
that were of the ring, ringy, and of the corner, cornery.
"Ah," said George, "and Phil doesn't tell you much of his affairs,
doesn't he? That's rather a bad sign, I should think. Looks as if he was
rather down upon his luck, eh?"
"Well, there's no knowing, you see, with that sort of close fish. He may
have made his book for a great haul, and may be keeping himself quiet
till the event comes off. He may be laying on to something with all his
might, you know, on safe information. But there's one thing I know he
stands to lose by."
"The Phoenician Loan. He speculated in the bonds when they began to go
down; and I'm blessed if they haven't been dropping ever since, an
eighth a day, as regular as the day comes round. He bought them for the
March account, and has been paying contango since then, and holding on in
hopes of a rise. I don't know whether the purchase was a large one, but I
know he's been uncommonly savage about the drop. He bought on the
strength of private information from the other side of the Channel. The
Emperor was putting his own money into the Phoenician business, and it
was the best game out, and so on. But he seems to have been made a fool
of, for once in a way."
"The bonds may steady themselves."
"Yes, they _may_; but, on the other hand, they mayn't. There are the
Stock Exchange lists, with Phoenicians ticked off by your brother's own
pen. A steady drop, you see. 'Let me have a telegram if there's a sudden
rise,' said Sheldon to me the day he left London; 'they'll go up with
rush when they do move.' But they've been moving the other way ever
since; and I think if he stayed away till doomsday it would be pretty
much the same."
"_Phoenicians are rising rapidly. Come back to town._"
These were the words of the telegraphic despatch which shaped itself in
George Sheldon's brain, as his brother's clerk revealed the secrets of
It was found--the solution of the one great question as to how Philip
Sheldon was to be lured away from the bedside of his unconscious victim.
Here was the bait.
"I knew I could do it; I knew I could get all I wanted to know out of
this shallow-brained idiot," he said to himself, triumphantly.
And then he told the shallow-brained idiot that he thought he would write
a line to his brother; and on that pretence went into Philip's office.
Here, use his eyes as he might, he could discover nothing; he could glean
no stray scrap of information. The secrets that could be guarded by
concealed Bramah locks and iron safes, with mystic words to be learned by
the man who would open them, Philip Sheldon knew how to protect.
Unhappily for himself, he had been compelled to confide some of his
secrets to human receptacles not to be guarded by Bramah locks or mystic
The lawyer did not waste much time in his brother's office. A very hasty
investigation showed him there was nothing to be learned from those bare
walls and that inviolable cylinder-topped desk. He scribbled a few lines
of commonplace at a table by the window, sealed and addressed his note,
and then departed to despatch his telegram, "Phoenicians are rising
rapidly," he wrote, and that was all. He signed the despatch Frederick
"Phil and Orcott may settle the business between them," he said to
himself, as he forged the Yorkshireman's name. "What I have to do is to
get Phil away, and give Hawkehurst a chance of saving Tom Halliday's
daughter; and I shan't stand upon trifles in the doing of it."
After having despatched this telegram, George Sheldon found himself much
too restless and excited for ordinary business. He, so renowned even
amongst cool hands for exceptional coolness, was on this occasion
thoroughly unnerved. He dropped into a City tavern, and refreshed himself
with a dram. But, amidst all the bustle and clatter of a crowded bar, the
face of Tom Halliday, haggard and worn with illness, was before his eyes,
and the sound of Tom Halliday's voice was in his ears. "I can't settle to
anything this afternoon," he said to himself. "I'll run down to
Bayswater, and see whether Hawkehurst has managed matters with Nancy
THE SORTES VIRGILIANAE.
While George Sheldon was still in the depths of the City Valentine
Hawkehurst arrived at the gothic villa, where he asked to see Mrs.
Woolper. Of the woman herself he knew very little: he had seen her once
or twice when some special mission brought her to the drawing-room; and
from Charlotte he had heard much of her affectionate solicitude. To have
been kind to his Charlotte was the strongest claim to his regard.
"This woman's help would be of inestimable service," he thought; "her
age, her experience of sickness, her familiarity with the patient,
especially adapt her for the office she will be required to fill. If Dr.
Jedd should order a nurse to watch by the sick-bed, here is the nurse. If
it should prove possible to remove the dear sufferer, here is the
guardian best calculated to protect and attend her removal." That the
desperate step of an immediate marriage would be a wise step Valentine
could not doubt, since it would at once annihilate Mr. Sheldon's chances,
and destroy his motive. But in contemplating this desperate step
Valentine had to consider the reputation as well as the safety of his
future wife. He was determined that there should be no opportunity for
scandal in the circumstances of his stolen marriage, no scope for future
mischief from the malignity of that baffled villain to whose schemes
their marriage would give the death-blow. He, who from his cradle had
been familiar with the darker side of life, knew how often the innocent
carry a lifelong burden, and perform a perpetual pennance for the sins or
the follies of others. And over his darling's life in the future, should
it please God that he might save her, he would have no shadow cast by
imprudence of his in the present.
"This sharp-witted, sharp-tongued Yorkshirewoman will be the woman of
women to protect her," he thought, as he seated himself in Mr. Sheldon's
study, whither the prim parlour-maid had ushered him.
"Mrs. Woolper have just gone upstairs to clean herself," she said; "which
we are a-having the dining-room and droring-room carpets up, while the
family are away. Would you please to wait?"
Valentine looked at his watch.
"I cannot wait very long," he said; "and I shall be obliged if you will
tell Mrs. Woolper that I wish to see her on very important business."
The parlour-maid departed, and Valentine was left to endure the weariness
of waiting until Mrs. Woolper should have "cleaned herself."
Mr. Sheldon's study at Bayswater did not offer much more to the eye of
the investigator than Mr. Sheldon's office in the City. There were the
handsomely bound books behind the inviolable plate-glass doors, and there
was the neat writing-table with the machine for weighing letters, and the
large business-like looking blotting-pad, and the ponderous brass-rimmed
inkstand, with no nonsense about it; and yonder, on a clumsy little oak
table with thick legs, appeared the copying machine, with a big black
iron lever, and a massive screw with which to screw all the spontaneous
feeling out of every letter that came beneath its crushing influence.
Up and down this joyless den Valentine Hawkehurst paced, with the demon
of impatience raging in his breast. The July sunshine blazed hot upon the
window, and the voices of croquet-players in adjacent gardens rose shrill
upon the summer air. And there were girls playing croquet while she, his
"rose of the garden, garden of girls," lay sick unto death! O, why could
he not offer a hecatomb of these common creatures as a substitute for
that one fair spirit?
He looked into the garden--the prim modern garden, but a few years
reclaimed from that abomination of desolation, the "eligible lot of
building land." Across the well-kept lawn there brooded no shadow of
Old-World cedar; no century-old espaliers divided flower and kitchen
ground; no box-edging of the early Hanoverian era bordered the beds of
roses and mignonette. From one boundary-wall to the other there was not a
bush old enough to hang an association upon. The stereotyped bed of
flaming yellow calceolaria balanced the conventional bed of flaming
crimson verbena; the lavender heliotrope faced the scarlet geranium, like
the four corners in a quadrille. The garden was the modern nurserymen's
ideal of suburban horticulture, and no more. But to Valentine this
half-acre of smooth lawn and Wimbledon gravel pathway had seemed fair as
those pleasure gardens of Semiramis, at the foot of the Bagistanos
mountain, the fame whereof tempted Alexander to turn aside from the
direct road, during his march from Chelone to the Nysaic horse pastures.
To-day the contemplation of that commonplace garden gave him direful
pain. Should he ever walk there again with his dear love, or in any other
garden upon earth?
And then he thought of fairer gardens, in supernal regions whither his
soul was slow to travel. "Not easy is the journey from earth to the
stars," says the sage; and from this young wanderer the stain of earthly
travel had yet to be washed away.
"If she is taken from me, shall I ever be pure enough to follow her?" he
asked himself. "Will a life that began in such darkness ever rise to the
light which is her natural element? If she is taken, and I stay behind,
and bear my burden patiently in the hope to follow her, will there not be
a gate closed against me in the skies, beyond which I shall see her,
shining among her kindred spirits, in the white robes of perfect
innocence? Ah, my love, my love, as between, us on this earth must for
ever be a gulf your pure soul cannot pass, so between us in the skies
will rise a barrier to sever me from your sweet company!"
The thought of probable separation upon earth, of possible separation in
heaven, was too bitter to him.
"I will not think of these things," he said to himself; "I will not
believe in that possibility of this sacrifice. Ah, no! she will be
saved. Against the bright young life the awful fiat has not gone
forth. Providence has been with me to-day. Providence will go with me
till the end."
He thought how other men had so stood, as he was standing now, face to
face with the great uncertainty, the crisis, the turning-point--the pivot
on which life itself revolved. The pendulum of the mighty clock swings
solemnly to and fro; with every vibration a moment; with every moment
each man's shrouded fates move another step in their inexorable progress.
And the end? What was the goal towards which those dark relentless shapes
He thought of Rousseau, balancing the awful question of his soul's
salvation--his poor weak soul adrift upon a sea of doubt.
"Behold yonder tree which faces me, as I sit and meditate the problem of
my destiny--the destiny of me, Jean Jacques Rousseau, self-conscious
genius, and future regenerator of my age. I pick up a pebble, and
poise it between my fingers before taking my aim. In another moment
the question will be answered. If the pebble hits the tree, I, Jean
Jacques, am reserved for salvation. If I miss--O awful, overwhelming
possibility!--my name will blaze upon that dreadful scroll which numbers
Happily the tree is bulky, and within but a few yards of the
speculator; and the great enigma of the Calvinistic church is answered
in favour of Madame de Warenne's protege, whose propensities and
proclivities at that period did not very strongly indicate his claim to
a place among the elect.
Valentine remembered the _sortes Virgilianae_--the Wesleyan's drawing of
inferences from Bible texts. Ah, could he not find an answer to the
question that was the one thought of his mind? He would find some
answer--a lying oracle, perhaps. It might be a voice from heaven,--some
temporary assuagement of this storm of doubt that raged in his breast. "I
doubt if Mr. Sheldon owns either a Bible or an, 'AEneid,'" he said to
himself, as he stopped in his rapid pacing of the room; "I will open the
first book I can put my hand upon, and from the first line my eye falls
on will draw an augury."
He looked about the room. Behind the glazed doors of the mahogany
bookcase appeared Hume and Smollett, Scott and Shakespeare; and
conspicuous among these a handsome family Bible. But the glazed doors
were locked. In Mr. Sheldon's study there appeared to be no other books
than these few standard works. Yes, on some obscure little shelves, low
down in one of the recesses formed by the projection of the fireplace and
the chimney, there were three rows of large quarto volumes, in dingy
dark-green cloth cases.
What these volumes might contain Valentine Hawkehurst knew not; and the
very fact of his ignorance rendered these books all the more suitable for
the purpose of augury. To dip for a sentence into any of these unknown
volumes would be a leap in darkness more profound than he could find in
the Bible or the "AEneid," where his own foreknowledge of the text might
unwittingly influence the oracle. He went over to the recess, bent down,
and ran his hand along the backs of the volumes, with his face turned
away from the books towards the window.
"The first obstruction that arrests my hand shall determine my choice of
the volume," he said to himself.
His hand ran easily along the volumes on the upper shelf--easily along
the volumes on the second shelf; and he began to doubt whether this mode
of determining his choice could be persisted in. But in its progress
along the third and lowest range of volumes, his hand was arrested midway
by a book which projected about half an inch beyond its fellows.
He took this book out and carried it to the table, still without looking
at it. He opened it, or rather let its leaves fall open of their own
accord--still without looking at it; and then, with a strange
superstitious fear--mingled in his mind with the natural shame that
accompanied his conscious folly--he looked at the page before him. The
line on which he fixed his eye was the heading of a letter. It was in
larger type than the rest of the page, and it was very plain to him as he
stood a little way from the table, looking down at the open book.
The line ran thus:
"ON THE FALLIBILITY OF COPPER GAUZE AS A TEST FOR THE DETECTION OF
The book was a volume of the _Lancet_; the date twenty years ago.
"What an oracle!" thought Valentine, with a cynical laugh at his own
folly, and some slight sense of relief. In all feeble tamperings with
powers invisible there lurks a sense of terror in the weak human heart.
He had tempted those invisible ones, and the oracle he only half believed
in might have spoken to his confusion and dismay. He was glad to think
the oracle meant nothing.
And yet, even in this dry as dust title of a scientific communication
from a distinguished toxicologist there was some sinister significance.
It was the letter of a great chemist, who demonstrated therein the
fallibility of all tests in relation to a certain poison. It was one of
those papers which, while they aid the cause of science, may also further
the dark processes of the poisoner, by showing him the forces he has to
encounter, and the weapons with which he may defend himself from their
power. It is needless to dwell here upon the contents of this letter--one
of a series on the same subject, or range of subjects. Valentine read it
with eager interest. For him it had a terrible importance in its relation
to the past and to the present.
"I let the book fall open, and it opened at that letter," he thought to
himself. "Will it open there a second time, I wonder?"
He repeated the experiment, and the book opened in the same place. Again;
and again the book opened as before. Again, many times, and the result
was still the same.
After this he examined the book, and found that it had been pressed open
at this page, as by a reader leaning on the opened volume. He examined it
still more closely, and found here and there on the page faint
indications of a pencil, which had under-scored certain lines, and the
marks of which had been as far as possible erased. The deduction to be
drawn from these small facts seemed only too clear to Valentine
Hawkehurst. By some one reader the pages had been deliberately and
carefully studied. Could he doubt that reader to have been the man in
whose possession he found the book, the man whom that very day he had
heard plainly denounced as a poisoner?
He drew out the previous volume, and in this a rapid search revealed to
him a second fact, significant as the last.
An old envelope marked the place where appeared an article on the
coincidences common to the diagnostics of a certain type of low fever and
the diagnostics of a certain class of poisons. Here the volume again
opened of itself, and a blot of ink on the page seemed to indicate that
the open book had been leant upon by a person engaged in making memoranda
of its contents. Nor was this all. The forgotten envelope that marked the
place had its own dismal significance. The postmark bore the date of the
year and the month in which Charlotte's father had died.
While this volume was still open in his hand the door opened suddenly,
and Mrs. Woolper came into the room.
She had kept Valentine waiting more than half an hour. He had little more
than half an hour at most in which to break the ice of absolute
strangeness, and sound the very depths of this woman's character. If she
had come to him earlier, when his plan of action was clear and definite,
his imagination in abeyance, he would have gone cautiously to work, with
slowness and deliberation. Coming to him now, when his mind, unsettled by
the discovery of fresh evidence against Philip Sheldon, was divided
between the past and the present, she took him off his guard, and he
plunged at once into the subject that absorbed all his thoughts.
Mrs. Woolper looked from Valentine to the open books on the table with a
vague terror in her face.
"I am sorry I was so long, sir; but I'd been polishing the grates and
fenders, and such like, and my hands and face were blacker than a
sweep's. I hope there's nothing wrong at the seaside, where Miss--"
"There is much that's wrong, Mrs. Woolper--hopelessly, irrecoverably
wrong. Miss Halliday is ill, very ill--doomed to die, if she remain in
your master's keeping."
"Lord help us, Mr. Hawkehurst! what do you mean?"
The terror in her face was no longer a vague terror. It had taken a form
and substance, and was a terror unutterably hideous, if ever human
countenance gave expression to human thought.
"I mean that your master is better skilled in the use of the agents that
kill than the agents that cure. Charlotte's father came to Philip
Sheldon's house a hale strong man, in the very prime of manhood. In that
house he sickened of a nameless disease, and died, carefully tended by
his watchful friend. The same careful watcher stands by Charlotte
Halliday's deathbed, and she is dying!"
"Dying! O, sir, for God's sake, don't say that!"
"She is dying, as her father died before her, by the hand of Philip
"O, sir! Mr. Hawkehurst!" cried the old woman, with clasped hands lifted
in piteous supplication towards her master's denouncer. "It's not true.
It is not true. For God's dear love don't tell me it is true! I nursed
him when he was a baby, sir; and there wasn't a little trouble I had to
bear with him that didn't make him all the dearer to me. I have sat up
all the night through, sir, times and often, when he was ill, and have
heard Barlingford church clock strike every hour of the long night; and
O, if I had known that this could ever come to him, I should have wished
him dead in the little crib where he lay and seemed so innocent. I tell
you, sir, it can't be true! His father and mother had been respected and
looked up to in Barlingford for many a year,--his grandfather and
grandmother before them. There isn't a name that stands better in those
parts than the name of Sheldon. Do you think such a man would poison his
"_I_ said nothing about poison, Mrs. Woolper," said Valentine, sternly.
This woman had known all, and had held her tongue, like the rest, it
seemed. To Valentine there was unutterable horror in the thought that a
cold-blooded murder could be thus perpetrated in the sight of several
people, and yet no voice be raised to denounce the assassin.
"And this is our modern civilization!" he said to himself. "Give me the
desert or the jungle. The sons of Bowanee are no worse than Mr. Sheldon,
and one might be on one's guard against them."
Nancy Woolper looked at him aghast. He had said nothing about poison!
What, then--had she betrayed her master?
He saw that she had known, or strongly suspected, the worst in the case
of Tom Halliday, and that she would easily be influenced to do all he
wanted of her.
"Mrs. Woolper, you must help me to save Charlotte," he said, with
intensity. "You made no attempt to save her father, though you suspected
the cause of his death. I have this day seen Mr. Burkham, the doctor who
attended Mr. Halliday, and from his lips I have heard the truth. I want
you to accompany me to Hastings, and to take your place by Charlotte's
bed, as her nurse and guardian. If Mr. Sheldon suspects your knowledge of
the past, and I have little doubt that he does"--a look in the
housekeeper's face told him that he was right--"you are of all people
best fitted to guard that dear girl. Your part will not be a difficult
one. If we dare remove her, we will remove her beyond the reach of that
man's power. If not, your task will be to prevent food or medicine, that
his hand has touched, from approaching her lips. You _can_ do it. It will
only be a question of tact and firmness. We shall have one of the
greatest doctors in London for our guide. Will you come?"
"I don't believe my master poisoned his friend," said Nancy Woolper,
doggedly; "nor I won't believe it. You can't force me to think bad of him
I loved when he was little and helpless, and I carried him in my arms.
What are you and your fine London doctor, Mr. Burkham--he was but a poor
fondy, as I mind well--that I should take your word against my master? If
that young man thought as Mr. Halliday was being poisoned, why didn't he
speak out, like a man, then? It's a fine piece of work to bring it up
against my master eleven years afterwards. As for young missy, she's as
sweet a young creature as ever lived, and I'd do anything to serve her.
But I won't think, and I can't think, that my master would hurt a hair of
her head. What would he gain by it?"
"He has settled that with himself. He has gained by the death of Tom
Halliday, and depend upon it he has made his plans to gain by the death
of Tom Halliday's daughter."
"I won't believe it," the old woman repeated in the same dogged tone.
For such resistance as this Mr. Hawkehurst was in no manner prepared. He
looked at his watch. The half hour was nearly gone. There was little more
time for argument.
"Great Heaven!" he said to himself, "what argument can I employ to
influence this woman's obdurate heart?"
What argument, indeed? He knew of none stronger than those he had used.
He stood for some moments battled and helpless, staring absently at the
face of his watch, and wondering what he was to do next.
As Valentine Hawkehurst stood thus, there came a loud ringing of the
bell, following quickly on the sound of wheels grinding against the
Mrs. Woolper opened the door and looked out into the hall.
"It's master!" cried one of the maids, emerging from the disorganized
dining-room, "and missus, and Miss Halliday, and Mass Paget--and all the
"Charlotte here!" exclaimed Valentine. "You are dreaming, girl!"
"And you told me she was dying!" said Mrs. Woolper, with a look of
triumph. "What becomes of your fine story now?"
"It _is_ Miss Halliday!" cried the housemaid, as she opened the door.
"And O my!" she added, looking back into the hall with a sorrowful face,
"how bad she do look!"
Valentine ran out to the gate. Yes; there were two cabs, one laden with
luggage, the two cabmen busy about the doors of the vehicles, a little
group of stragglers waiting to see the invalid young lady alight. It was
the next best thing to a funeral.
"O, don't she look white!" cried a shrill girl with a baby in her arms.
"In a decline, I dessay, pore young thing," said a matron, in an audible
aside to her companion.
Valentine dashed amongst the group of stragglers. He pushed away the girl
with the baby, the housemaid who had run out behind him, Mr. Sheldon, the
cabman, every one; and in the next moment Charlotte was in his arms, and
he was carrying her into the house.
He felt as if he had been in a dream; and all that exceptional force
which the dreamer sometimes feels he felt in this crisis. He carried his
dear burden into the study, followed by Mr. Sheldon and Diana Paget. The
face that dropped upon his shoulder showed deadly white against his
dark-blue coat; the hand which he clasped in his, ah, how listless and
"Valentine!" the girl said, in a low drowsy voice, lifting her eyes to
his face, "is this you? I have been so ill, so tired; and they would
bring me away. To be near the doctors, papa says. Do you think any
doctors will be able to cure me?"
"Yes, dear, with God's help. I am glad he has brought you here. And now
I must run away," he said; when he had placed Charlotte in Mr. Sheldon's
arm-chair, "for a very little while, darling. I have seen a doctor, a
man in whom I have more confidence than I have in Dr. Doddleson. I am
going to fetch him, my dearest," he added tenderly, as he felt the
feeble hand cling to his; "I shall not be long. Do you think I shall not
hurry back to you? My dearest one, when I return, it will be to stay
with you--for ever."
She was too ill to note the significance of his words; she only knew that
they gave her comfort. He hurried from the room. In less than an hour he
must be at the London Bridge terminus, or in all probability the five
o'clock train would carry Dr. Jedd to St. Leonards; and on Dr. Jedd his
chief hope rested.
"Do you believe me now?" he asked of Mrs. Woolper as he went out
into the hall.
"I do," she answered in a whisper; "and I will do what you want."
She took his hand in her wrinkled horny palm and grasped it firmly. He
felt that in this firm pressure there was a promise sacred as any oath
ever registered on earth. He met Mr. Sheldon on the threshold, and
passed him without a word. The time might come in which he would have to
mask his thoughts, and stoop to the hateful hypocrisy of civility to
this man; but he had not yet schooled himself to do this. At the gate he
met George Sheldon.
"What's up now?" asked the lawyer.
"Did you send your message?"
"Yes; I telegraphed to Phil."
"It has been trouble wasted. He has brought her home."
"What does that mean?"
"Who knows? I pray God that he may have overreached himself. I have set a
watch upon my dear love, and no further harm shall come to her. I am
going to fetch Dr. Jedd."
"And you are not afraid of Phil's smelling a rat?"
"I am afraid of nothing that he can do henceforward. If it is not too
late to save her, I will save her."
He waited for no more, but jumped into the cab. "London Bridge terminus!
You must get me there by a quarter to five," he said to the driver.
George Sheldon went no further than the gate of his brother's domain.
"I wonder whether the Harold's Hill people will send that telegram after
him," he thought. "It'll be rather unpleasant for Fred Orcott if they do.
But it's ten to one they won't. The normal condition of every seaside
lodging-house keeper in one degree removed from idiotcy."
Book the Ninth.
THROUGH THE FURNACE
SOMETHING TOO MUCH.
"Is that young man mad?" asked Philip Sheldon, as he went into his study
immediately after Valentine had passed him in the hall.
The question was not addressed to any particular individual; and Diana,
who was standing near the door by which Mr. Sheldon entered, took upon
herself to answer it.
"I think he is very anxious," she said in a half whisper.
"What brought him here just now? He did not know we were coming home."
Mrs. Woolper answered this question.
"He came for something for Miss Charlotte, sir; some books as she'd had
from the library. They'd not been sent back; and he came to see about
their being sent."
"What books?" murmured Charlotte. But a pressure from Mrs. Woolper's hand
prevented her saying more.
"I never encountered any one with so little self-command," said Mr.
Sheldon. "If he is going to rush in and out of my house in that manner, I
must really put a stop to his visits altogether. I cannot suffer that
kind of thing. For Charlotte's welfare quiet is indispensable; and if Mr.
Hawkehurst's presence is to bring noise and excitement, Mr. Hawkehurst
must not cross this threshold."
He spoke with suppressed anger; with such evident effort to restrain his
anger, that it would have seemed as if his indignation against Valentine
was no common wrath.
Charlotte caught his last words.
"Dear papa," she pleaded in her faint voice, "pray do not be angry with
Valentine; he is so anxious about me."
"I am not angry with him; but while you are ill, I will have quiet--at
"Then I'm sure you should not have brought Charlotte home," exclaimed
Georgy, in tones of wailing and lamentation; "for of all the miseries in
life, there is nothing worse than coming home in the very midst of a
general cleaning. It was agreed between Ann Woolper and me that there
should be a general cleaning while we were away at the seaside. We were
to be away a fortnight, and everything was to be as neat as a new pin
when we came home. But here we are back in less than a week, and
everything at sixes-and-sevens. Where we are to dine I know not; and as
for the carpets, they are all away at the beating-place, and Ann tells me
they won't be home till Friday."
"We can exist without carpets," answered Mr. Sheldon, in a hard dry
voice. "I suppose they are seeing to Miss Halliday's room?" he added,
addressing himself to Mrs. Woolper. "Why don't you go and look after
"Sarah knows what she has to do. The bed-rooms was done first; and
there's not much amiss in Miss Charlotte's room."
Mr. Sheldon dropped wearily into a chair. He looked pale and haggard.
Throughout the journey he had been unfailing in his attention to the
invalid; but the journey had been fatiguing; for Charlotte Halliday was
very ill--so ill as to be unable to avoid inflicting trouble upon
others. The weariness--the dizziness--the dull intervals of
semi-consciousness--the helpless tottering walk, which was like the
walk of intoxication rather than ordinary weakness--the clouded
sight--all the worst symptoms of this nameless disease, had every hour
grown more alarming.
Against this journey to London Mrs. Sheldon and Diana had pleaded--Georgy
with as much earnestness as she could command; Diana as forcibly as she
dared argue a question in which her voice had so little weight.
But upon this point Mr. Sheldon was adamant.
"She will be better off in London," he said resolutely. "This trip to the
seaside was a whim of my wife's; and, like most other whims of my wife's,
it has entailed trouble and expense upon me. Of course I know that Georgy
did it for the best," he added, in reply to a reproachful "O Philip!"
from Mrs. Sheldon. "But the whole business has been a mistake. No sooner
are we comfortably settled down here, than Hawkehurst takes it into his
head to be outrageously alarmed about Charlotte, and wants to bring
half-a-dozen doctors round the poor girl's bed, to her inevitable peril;
for in an illness which begins and ends in mental depression, all
appearance of alarm is calculated to do mischief."
Having said this, Mr. Sheldon lost no time in making arrangements for the
journey. A carriage was ordered; all possible preparations were made for
the comfort of the invalid--everything that care or kindness could do was
done; but the cruelty of the removal was not the less obvious. Georgy
wailed piteously about the sixes-and-sevens to which they were being
taken. Diana cared nothing about sixes-and-sevens; but she felt supreme
indignation against Charlotte's stepfather, and she did not attempt to
conceal her feelings.
Nor was it without an effort to oppose Mr. Sheldon's authority that Miss
Paget succumbed to the force of circumstances. She appealed to his wife.
"Dear Mrs. Sheldon, I beg you not to suffer Lotta's removal," she said
earnestly. "You do not know how ill she is--nor can Mr. Sheldon know, or
he would not take such a step. As her mother, your authority is superior
to his; you have but to say that she shall not be taken from this house
in her present state of prostration and sickness."
"I have only to say!" cried Georgy, piteously. "O Diana, how can you say
such a thing? What would be Mr. Sheldon's feelings if I were to stand up
against him, and declare that Charlotte should not be moved? And he so
anxious too, and so clever. I'm sure his conduct about my poor dear Lotta
is positively beautiful. I never saw such anxiety. Why, he has grown ten
years older in his looks since the beginning of her illness. People go on
about stepfather this, and stepfather that, until a poor young widow is
almost frightened to marry again. But I don't believe a real father ever
was more thoughtful or more careful about a real daughter than Philip has
been about Lotta. And what a poor return it would be if I were to oppose
him now, when he says that the removal will be for Charlotte's good, and
that she will be near clever doctors--if she should require clever
doctors! You don't know how experienced he is, and how thoughtful. I
shall never forget his kindness to poor Tom."
"Yes," exclaimed Miss Paget impatiently, "but Mr. Halliday died."
"O Diana," whimpered Georgy, "I did not think you could be so unkind as
to remind me of that."
"I only want to remind you that Mr. Sheldon is not infallible."
Mr. Sheldon entered the room at this juncture, and Diana left it,
passionately indignant against the poor weak creature, to whom no crisis,
no danger, could give strength of mind or will.
"A sheep would make some struggle for her lamb," she thought, angrily.
"Mrs. Sheldon is lower than a sheep."
It was the first time she had thought unkindly of this weak soul, and her
anger soon melted to pity for the powerless nature which Mr. Sheldon held
in such supreme control. She made no further attempt at resistance after
this; but went to Charlotte's room and prepared for the journey.
"O, why am I to be moved, dear?" the girl asked piteously. "I am too ill
to be moved."
"It is for your good, darling. Mr. Sheldon wants you to be near the great
physicians, who can give you health and strength."
"There are no physicians who can do that. Let me stay here, Di. Beg papa
to let me stay here."
Diana hid her face upon the invalid's shoulder. Her tears choked her. To
repress her grief was agony scarcely endurable. But she did hide all
trace of anger and sorrow, and cheered the helpless traveller throughout
the weariness of the journey.
* * * * *
Charlotte was lying on a sofa in her bedroom, with Mrs. Woolper in
attendance upon her, when Dr. Jedd arrived. It was a quarter to six, and
the low western sunshine flooded the room.
The physician came with Valentine, and did not ask to see Mr. Sheldon
before going to his patient's room. He told the housemaid who admitted
him to show the way to Miss Halliday's room.
"The nurse is there, I suppose?" he said to the girl.
"Yes, sir; leastways, Mrs. Woolper."
"That will do."
Mr. Sheldon heard the voice in the hall, and came out of the library as
the doctor mounted the step of the stairs.
"Who is this? What is this?" he asked of Valentine Hawkehurst.
"I told you I was not satisfied with Dr. Doddleson's opinion," answered
the young man coolly. "This gentleman is here by appointment with me."
"And pray by what right do you bring a doctor of your own choosing to
visit my stepdaughter without previous consultation with me?"
"By the right of my love for her. I am not satisfied as to the medical
treatment your stepdaughter has received in this house, Mr. Sheldon, and
I want to be satisfied. Miss Halliday is something more than your,
stepdaughter, remember: she is my promised wife. Dr. Jedd's opinion will
be more assuring to me than the opinion of Dr. Doddleson."
At the sound of Dr. Jedd's name Mr. Sheldon started slightly. It was a
name he knew only too well--a name he had seen among the medical
witnesses in the great Fryar trial, the record of which had for him
possessed a hideous fascination. He had fancied himself in the poisoner
Fryar's place; and the fancy had sent an icy chill through his veins. But
in the next minute he had said to himself, "I am not such a reckless fool
as that man Fryar was; and have run no such risks as he ran."
At the name of Jedd the same icy shiver ran through his veins again. His
tone of suppressed anger changed to a tone of civility which was almost
"I have the honour to know Dr. Jedd by repute very well indeed, and I
withdraw my objection to your course of proceeding, my dear Hawkehurst;
though I am sure Dr. Jedd will agree with me that such a course is
completely against all professional etiquette, and that Dr. Doddleson
will have the right to consider himself aggrieved."
"There are cases in which one hardly considers professional etiquette. I
shall be very happy to meet Dr. Doddleson to-morrow morning. But as Mr.
Hawkehurst was very anxious that I should see Miss Halliday to-night, I
consented to waive all ceremony, and come with him on the spot."
"I cannot blame his anxiety to secure so valuable an opinion. I only
wonder what lucky star guided him to so excellent an adviser."
Mr. Sheldon looked from Dr. Jedd to Valentine Hawkehurst as he said this.
The physician's face told him no more than he might have learnt from a
blank sheet of paper. Valentine's face was dark and gloomy; but that
gloomy darkness might mean no more than natural grief.
"I will take you to my stepdaughter's room at once," he said to the
"I think it will be better for me to see the young lady alone," the
doctor answered coolly: "that is to say, in the presence of her nurse
"As you please," Mr. Sheldon replied.
He went back to his study. Georgy was sitting there, whimpering in a
feeble way at intervals; and near her sat Diana, silent and gloomy. A
settled gloom, as of the grave itself, brooded over the house. Mr.
Sheldon flung himself into a chair with an impatient gesture. He had
sneered at the inconvenience involved in uncarpeted floors, but he was
beginning to feel the aggravation of that inconvenience. These two women
in his study were insupportable to him. It seemed as if there was no room
in the house in which he could be alone; and just now he had bitter need
of solitary meditation.
"Let them arrange the dining-room somehow, carpet or no carpet," he said
to his wife. "We must have some room to dine in; and I can't have you
here, Georgy; I have letters to write."
Mrs. Sheldon and Diana were not slow to take the hint.
"I'm sure I don't want to be here, or anywhere," exclaimed Georgy in
piteous accents; "I feel so miserable about Charlotte, that if I could
lie down and die, it would be a comfort to me. And it really seems a
mockery having dinner at such a time. It's just as it was during poor
Tom's illness; there were fowls and all sorts of things cooked, and no
one ever ate them."
"For God's sake go away!" cried Mr. Sheldon passionately; "your perpetual
clack is torture to me."
Georgy hurried from the room, followed closely by Diana.
"Did you ever see any one more anxious?" Mrs. Sheldon asked, with
something like pride.
"I would rather see Mr. Sheldon less anxious!" Diana answered gravely.
DR. JEDD'S OPINION.
Alone, Philip Sheldon breathed more freely. He paced the room, waiting
for the appearance of the doctor; and with almost every turn he looked at
the clock upon the chimneypiece.
How intolerable seemed the slow progress of the moments! How long that
man Jedd was staying in the sick-room! And yet not long; it was he,
Philip Sheldon, who was losing count of time. Where was Valentine? He
opened the door of the room, and looked out. Yes, there was a figure on
the stairs. The lover was waiting the physician's verdict.
A door on the landing above opened, and the step of the Doctor sounded on
the upper flight. Mr. Sheldon waited for Dr. Jedd's appearance.
"I shall be glad to hear your opinion," he said quietly; and the Doctor
followed him into the study. Valentine followed the Doctor, to Mr.
Sheldon's evident surprise.
"Mr. Hawkehurst is very anxious to hear what I have to say," said Dr.
Jedd; "and I really see no objection to his hearing it."
"If you have no objection, I can have none," Mr. Sheldon answered. "I
must confess, your course of proceeding appears to me altogether
"Yes, Mr. Sheldon; but then, you see, the case is altogether an
exceptional case," said the physician, gravely.
"You think so?"
"Decidedly. The young lady is in extreme danger. Yes, Mr. Sheldon, in
extreme danger. The mistake involved in her removal to-day is a mistake
which I cannot denounce too strongly. If you had wanted to kill your
stepdaughter, you could scarcely have pursued a more likely course for
the attainment of your object. No doubt you were actuated by the most
amiable motives. I can only regret that you should have acted without
"I believed myself to be acting for the best," replied Philip Sheldon, in
a strange mechanical way.
He was trying to estimate the true meaning of the Doctor's address. Was
he merely expressing anger against an error of ignorance or stupidity, or
was there a more fatal significance in his words?
"You overwhelm me," the stockbroker said presently; "you positively
overwhelm me by your view of my daughter's condition. Dr. Doddleson
apprehended no danger. He saw our dear girl on Sunday morning--yesterday
morning," added Mr. Sheldon, wonder-stricken to find that the interval
was so brief between the time in which he had walked with Valentine and
Dr. Doddleson in the garden at Harold's Hill and the present moment. To
Valentine it seemed still more wonderful. What a bridgeless gulf between
yesterday morning and to-night! All his knowledge of this man Sheldon,
all the horror involved in Tom Halliday's death, had come upon him in
that brief span.
"I should like to see Dr. Doddleson's prescriptions," said Dr. Jedd, with
Mr. Sheldon produced them from his pocket-book with an unshaken hand. No
change of countenance, no tremulous hand, no broken voice, betrayed his
apprehension. The one distinguishing mark of his manner was an absent,
half-mechanical tone, as of a man whose mind is employed otherwise than
in the conversation of the moment. Prompt at calculation always, he was
at this crisis engaged in a kind of mental arithmetic. "The chances of
defeat, so much; the chances of detection--?"
A rapid survey of his position told him what those chances were.
Detection by Dr. Jedd? Yes. That had come to him already perhaps. But
would any actual harm to him come of such detection?
He calculated the chances for and against this--and the result was in his
favour. That Dr. Jedd should form certain opinions of Miss Halliday's
case was one thing; that he should give public utterance to those
opinions was another thing.
"What can his opinion matter to me?" Mr. Sheldon asked himself; "opinion
cannot touch me in a case where there is no such thing as certainty. He
has seen the dilatation of the pupil--even that old fool Doddleson saw
it--and has taken fright. But no jury in England would hang a man on such
evidence as that; or if a jury could be found to put the rope round a
man's neck, the British public and the British press would be pretty sure
to get the rope taken off again."
"Chloric aether, spirits of ammonia--hum, ha, hum--yes," muttered Dr.
Jedd, looking at one prescription. "Quinine, yes; aqua pura," he
murmured, looking at another.
He threw them aside with a half-contemptuous gesture, and then took up a
pen and began to write.
"My mode of treatment will be quite different from that adopted by Dr.
Doddleson," he said; "but I apprehend no difficulty in bringing that
gentleman round to my view of the case when we meet."
As he wrote his prescription Philip Sheldon rose and looked over his
The form of the prescription told him that Dr. Jedd knew--all! He had
suspected this from the first, and the confirmation of this suspicion did
not shake him. He grew firmer, indeed; for now he knew on what ground he
was standing, and what forces were arrayed against him.
"I really do not understand the basis of your treatment," he said, still
looking over the physician's shoulder.
Dr. Jedd turned his chair with a sudden movement, and faced him.
"Am I talking to Mr. Sheldon the stockbroker, or Mr. Sheldon the
surgeon-dentist?" he asked.
_This_ was a blow. This allusion to the past was a sharper stroke than
any that Philip Sheldon had before received. He looked at Valentine; from
Valentine to the physician. What did it mean, this mention of the past?
That blabbing fool George had talked to his friend of the days in
Fitzgeorge Street, no doubt; and Valentine had blabbed Mr. Sheldon's
antecedents to the physician.
Was this what it all meant? Or did it mean more than this? Whatever it
might mean, he faced the hidden danger, and met the uncertainties of his
position as calmly as he met its certainties.
"I have no desire to interfere with your treatment," he said, very
quietly; "but I have some knowledge of the Pharmacopoeia, and I confess
myself quite at a loss to understand your prescription."
"Dr. Doddleson will understand it when he has heard my opinion. There is
no time to be lost--Mr. Hawkehurst, will you take this to the chemist,
and wait for the medicine? Miss Halliday cannot take it too soon. I shall
be here to-morrow at nine o'clock.--If you wish me to see Dr. Doddleson,
Mr. Sheldon, you will perhaps arrange an appointment with him for that
"It is rather an early hour."
"No hour is too early in a case attended with so much danger. Perhaps it
will be as well for me to call on Dr. Doddleson as I drive home. I shall
make a point of seeing Miss Halliday twice a day. I find your housekeeper
a very sensible person. She will remain in close attendance upon the
sick-room; and I must beg that there is no quackery--no home-made
remedies. I have given your housekeeper all directions as to treatment
and diet, and she has my orders to allow no one but herself in the
invalid's room. There is a marked tendency to delirium, and quiet is
"I have said as much myself," answered Mr. Sheldon.
"Mr. Hawkehurst will undertake to see to the making-up of my
prescriptions," continued Dr. Jedd, as he drew on his gloves. "He is very
anxious about the young lady, and it will afford him some relief of mind
to be employed in her service. No, thanks," he said, putting aside Mr.
Sheldon's hand as that gentleman offered him his fee. "I have already
received my honorarium from Mr. Hawkehurst."
There was no more to be said. The physician wished the two men good
evening, and returned to his carriage, to be driven home to dinner by way
of Plantagenet Square, where he saw Dr. Doddleson, and appointed to meet
him next day, much to the delight of that individual, who was proud to be
engaged in a case with the great Jedd.
Valentine left the house on the heels of the Doctor. He came back in
about twenty minutes with the medicine. He did not go to the principal
gate, but to a little side gate, near the offices of the gothic villa--a
gate to which butchers and bakers came with their wares in the morning.
"I want to see Miss Paget," he said to the maid who answered his summons;
"and I want to see her without disturbing Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon. Do you
know where to find her?"
"Yes, sir; she's in her own room. I took her a cup of tea there ten
minutes ago. She's got a headache with fretting about our poor young
lady, and she won't go down to dinner with master and missus."