Part 9 out of 10
a wearisome persistence. She could not forget that wild unearthly sound;
she could not help continually trying to find some solution for the
mystery, until her brain was tired with the perpetual effort.
Ponder upon this matter as she might, she could find no reasonable
explanation of the enigma; and in spite of her common sense--a quality of
which she possessed a very fair share--she was fain to believe at last
that this grim bare-looking old house was haunted, and that the agonised
shriek she and Mrs. Tadman had heard that night was only the ghostly
sound of some cry wrung from a bleeding heart in days gone by, the echo
of an anguish that had been in the far past.
She even went so far as to ask her husband one day if he had ever heard
that the house was haunted, and whether there was any record of crime or
wrong that had been done in it in the past. Mr. Whitelaw seemed scarcely
to relish the question; but after one of his meditative pauses laughed
his wife's inquiry to scorn, and told her that there were no ghosts at
Wyncomb except the ghosts of dead rats that had ravaged the
granaries--and certainly _they_ seemed to rise from their graves in spite
of poison and traps, cats and ferrets--and that, as to anything that had
been done in the house in days gone by, he had never heard tell that his
ancestors had ever done anything but eat and drink and sleep, and save
money from year's end to year's end; and a hard time they'd had of it to
pay their way and put something by, in the face of all the difficulties
that surround the path of a farmer.
If Ellen Whitelaw's life had been as the lives of happier women, full of
small daily cares and all-engrossing domestic interests, the memory of
that unearthly scream would no doubt have faded out of her mind ere long,
instead of remaining, as it did, a source of constant perplexity to her.
But there was no interest, no single charm in her life. There was nothing
in the world left for her to care for. The fertile flats around Wyncomb
Farmhouse bounded her universe. Day by day she rose to perform the same
monotonous duties, sustained by no lofty aim, cheered by neither
friendship nor affection; for she could not teach herself to feel
anything warmer than toleration for her daily companion, Mrs.
Tadman--only working laboriously because existence was more endurable to
her when she was busy than when she was idle. It was scarcely strange,
then, that she brooded upon the memory of that night when the nameless
stranger had come to Wyncomb, and that she tried to put the fact of his
coming and that other incident of the cry together, and to make something
out of the two events by that means; but put them together as she might,
she was no nearer any solution of the mystery. That her husband and the
stranger could have failed to hear that piercing shriek seemed almost
impossible: yet both had denied hearing it. The story of the stranger
having knocked his shin and cried out on doing so, appeared like a feeble
attempt to account for that wild cry. Vain and hopeless were all her
endeavours to arrive at any reasonable explanation, and her attempts to
get anything like an opinion out of Mrs. Tadman were utterly useless. Mr.
Whitelaw's cousin was still inclined to take a gloomy view of the
stranger's visit, in spite of her kinsman's assurance that the
transaction between himself and the unknown was a profitable one.
Horse-racing--if not parting with a farm--Mrs. Tadman opined was at the
bottom of the business; and when did horse-racing ever fail to lead to
ruin sooner or later? It was only a question of time. Ellen sighed,
remembering how her father had squandered his employer's money on the
race-course, and how, for that folly of his, she had been doomed to
become Stephen Whitelaw's wife. But there did not seem to her to be
anything of the horsey element in her husband's composition. He was never
away from home, except to attend to his business at market; and she had
never seen him spelling over the sporting-papers, as her father had been
wont to do, night after night, with a perplexed brow and an anxious face,
making calculations upon the margin of the print every now and then with
a stump of lead pencil, and chewing the end of it meditatively in the
intervals of his lection.
Although Mrs. Whitelaw did not, like Mrs. Tadman, associate the idea of
the stranger's visit with any apprehension of her husband's impending
ruin, she could not deny that some kind of change had arisen in him since
that event. He had always drunk a good deal, in his slow quiet manner,
which impressed people unacquainted with his habits with a notion of his
sobriety, even when he was steadily emptying the bottle before him; but
he drank more now, and sat longer over his drink, and there was an aspect
of trouble and uneasiness about him at times which fairly puzzled his
wife. Of course the most natural solution for all this was the one
offered by the dismally prophetic Tadman. Stephen Whitelaw had been
speculating or gambling, and his affairs were in disorder. He was not a
man to be affected by anything but the most sordid considerations, one
would suppose. Say that he had lost money, and there you had a key to the
He got into a habit of sitting up at night, after the rest of the
household had gone to bed. He had done this more or less from the time of
his marriage; and Mrs. Tadman had told Ellen that the habit was one which
had arisen within the last few months.
"He would always see to the fastenings of the house with his own eyes,"
Mrs. Tadman said; "but up to last autumn he used to go upstairs with me
and the servants. It's a new thing for him to sit up drinking his glass
of grog in the parlour by himself."
The new habit seemed to grow upon Mr. Whitelaw more rapidly after that
visit of the stranger's. He took to sitting up till midnight--an awful
hour in a farm-house; and Ellen generally found the spirit-bottle empty
in the morning. Night after night, he went to bed soddened with drink.
Once, when his kinswoman made some feeble remonstrance with him about
this change in his habits, he told her savagely to hold her tongue--he
could afford to drink as much as he pleased--he wasn't likely to come
upon _her_ to pay for what he took. As for his wife, she unhappily cared
nothing what he did. He could not become more obnoxious to her than he
had been from the first hour of her acquaintance with him, let him do
what he would.
Little by little, finding no other explanation possible, Mrs. Whitelaw
grew to believe quite firmly in the supernatural nature of that
unforgotten cry. She remembered the unexplainable footstep which she had
heard in the padlocked room in the early dusk of that new-year's-day,
when Mrs. Tadman and she explored the old house; and she associated these
two sounds in her mind as of a like ghostly character. From this time
forward she shrank with a nervous terror from that darksome passage
leading to the padlocked door at the end of the house. She had never any
occasion to go in this direction. The rooms in this wing were low, dark,
and small, and had been unused for years. It was scarcely any wonder if
rats had congregated behind the worm-eaten wainscot, to scare nervous
listeners with their weird scratchings and scramblings. But no one could
convince Ellen Whitelaw that the sounds she had heard on new-year's-day
were produced by anything so earthly as a rat. With that willingness to
believe in a romantic impossibility, rather than in a commonplace
improbability so natural to the human mind, she was more ready to
conceive the existence of a ghost than that her own sense of hearing
might have been less powerful than her fancy. About the footsteps she
was quite as positive as she was about the scream; and in the last
instance she had the evidence of Mrs. Tadman's senses to support her.
She was surprised to find one day, when the household drudge, Martha
Holden, had been cleaning the passage and rooms in that deserted wing--a
task very seldom performed--that the girl had the same aversion to that
part of the house which she felt herself, but of which she had never
spoken in the presence of the servants.
"If it wasn't for Mrs. Tadman driving and worrying after me all the time
I'm at work, I don't think I could stay there, mum," Martha told her
mistress. "It isn't often I like to be fidgetted and followed; but
anything's better than being alone in that unked place."
"It's rather dark and dreary, certainly, Martha," Ellen answered with an
admirable assumption of indifference; "but, as we haven't any of us got
to live there, that doesn't much matter."
"It isn't that, mum. I wouldn't mind the darkness and the dreariness--and
I'm sure such a place for spiders I never did see in my life; there was
one as I took down with my broom to-day, and scrunched, as big as a small
crab--but it's worse than, that: the place is haunted."
"Who told you that?"
"Sarah Batts! Why, how should she know anything about it? She hasn't been
here so long as you; and she came straight from the workhouse."
"I think master must have told her, mum."
"Your master would never have said anything so foolish. I know that _he_
doesn't believe in ghosts; and he keeps all his garden-seeds in the
locked room at the end of the passage; so he must go there sometimes
"O yes, mum; I know that master goes there. I've seen him go that way at
night with a candle."
"Well, you silly girl, he wouldn't use the room if he thought it was
haunted, would he? There are plenty more empty rooms in the house."
"I don't know about that, I'm sure, mum; but anyhow I know Sarah Batts
told me that passage was haunted. 'Don't you never go there, Martha,' she
says, 'unless you want to have your blood froze. I've heard things there
that have froze mine.' And I never should go, mum, if it wasn't for
moth--Mrs. Tadman's worrying and driving, about the place being cleaned
once in a way. And Sarah Batts is right, mum, however she may have got to
know it; for I have heard things."
"Moaning and groaning like, as if it was some one in pain; but all very
low; and I never could make out where it came from. But as to the place
being haunted, I've no more doubt about it than about my catechism."
"But, Martha, you ought to know it's very silly and wicked to believe in
such things," Ellen Whitelaw said, feeling it her duty to lecture the
girl a little, and yet half inclined to believe her. "The moanings and
groanings, as you call them, were only sounds made by the wind, I
"O dear no, mum," Martha answered, shaking her head in a decided manner;
"the wind never made such noises as _I_ heard. But I don't want to make
you nervous, mum; only I'd sooner lose a month's wages than stay for an
hour alone in the west wing."
It was strange, certainly; a matter of no importance, perhaps, this idle
belief of a servant's, these sounds which harmed no one; and yet all
these circumstances worried and perplexed Ellen Whitelaw. Having so
little else to think of, she brooded upon them incessantly, and was
gradually getting into a low nervous way. If she complained, which she
did very rarely, there was no one to sympathise with her. Mrs. Tadman had
so many ailments of her own, such complicated maladies, such
deeply-rooted disorders, that she could be scarcely expected to give much
attention to the trivial sufferings of another person.
"Ah, my dear," she would exclaim with a groan, if Ellen ventured to
complain of a racking headache, "when you've lived as long as I have, and
gone through what I've gone through, and have got such a liver as I've
got, you'll know what bad health means. But at your age, and with your
constitution, it's nothing more than fancy."
And then Mrs. Tadman would branch off into a graphic description of her
own maladies, to which Ellen was fain to listen patiently, wondering
vaguely as she listened whether the lapse of years would render her as
wearisome a person as Mrs. Tadman.
She had no sympathy from anyone. Her father came to Wyncomb Farm once a
week or so, and sat drinking and smoking with Mr. Whitelaw; but Ellen
never saw him alone. He seemed carefully to avoid the chance of being
alone with her, guiltily conscious of his part in the contriving of her
marriage, and fearing to hear some complaint about her lot. He pretended
to take it for granted that her fate was entirely happy, congratulated
her frequently upon her prosperity, and reminded her continually that it
was a fine thing to be the sole mistress of the house she lived in,
instead of a mere servant--as he himself was, and as she had been at the
Grange--labouring for the profit of other people.
Up to this time Mr. Carley had had some reason to be disappointed with
the result of his daughter's marriage, so far as his own prosperity was
affected thereby. Not a sixpence beyond that one advance of the two
hundred pounds had the bailiff been able to extort from his son-in-law.
It was the price that Mr. Whitelaw had paid for his wife, and he meant to
pay no more. He told William Carley as much one day when the question of
money matters was pushed rather too far--told him in the plainest
This was hard; but that two hundred pounds had saved the bailiff from
imminent destruction. He was obliged to be satisfied with this advantage,
and to bide his time.
"I'll have it out of the mean hound sooner or later," he muttered to
himself as he walked homewards, after a social evening with the master of
One evening Mr. Carley brought his daughter a letter. It was from Gilbert
Fenton, who was quite unaware of Ellen's marriage, and had written to her
at the Grange. This letter afforded her the only pleasure she had known
since fate had united her to Stephen Whitelaw. It told her that Marian
Holbrook was living, and in all probability safe--though by no means in
good hands. She had sailed for America with her father; but her husband
was in hot pursuit of her, and her husband was faithful.
"I have schooled myself to forgive him," Gilbert went on to say, "for I
know that he loves her--and that must needs condone my wrongs. I look
forward anxiously to their return from America, and hope for a happy
reunion amongst us all--when your warm friendship shall not be forgotten.
I am waiting impatiently for news from New York, and will write to you
again directly I hear anything definite. We have suffered the torments of
suspense for a long weary time, but I trust and believe that the sky is
This was not much, but it was more than enough to relieve Ellen Carley's
mind of a heavy load. Her dear young lady, as she called Marian, was not
dead--not lying at the bottom of that cruel river, at which Ellen had
often looked with a shuddering horror, of late, thinking of what might
be. She was safe, and would no doubt be happy. This was something. Amid
the wreck of her own fortunes, Ellen Whitelaw was unselfish enough to
rejoice in this.
Her husband asked to see Mr. Fenton's letter, which he spelt over with
his usual deliberate air, and which seemed to interest him more than
Ellen would have supposed likely--knowing as she did how deeply he had
resented Marian's encouragement of Frank Randall's courtship.
"So she's gone to America with her father, has she?" he said, when he had
perused the document twice. "I shouldn't have thought anybody could have
persuaded her to leave that precious husband of hers. And she's gone off
to America, and he after her! That's rather a queer start, ain't it,
Nell?" Mrs. Whitelaw did not care to discuss the business with her
husband. There was something in his tone, a kind of veiled malice, which
made her angry.
"I don't suppose you care whether she's alive or dead," she said
impatiently; "so you needn't trouble yourself to talk about her."
"Needn't I? O, she's too grand a person to be talked of by such as me, is
she? Never mind, Nell; don't be cross. And when Mrs. Holbrook comes back
to England, you shall go and see her."
"I will," answered Ellen; "if I have to walk to London to do it."
"O, but you sha'n't walk. You shall go by rail. I'll spare you the money
for that, for once in a way, though I'm not over fond of wasting money."
Day by day Mr. Whitelaw's habits grew more secluded and morose. It is not
to be supposed that he was troubled by those finer feelings which might
have made the misery of a better man; but even in his dull nature there
may have been some dim sense that his marriage was a failure and mistake;
that in having his own way in this matter he had in nowise secured his
own happiness. He could not complain of his wife's conduct in any one
respect. She was obedient to his will in all things, providing for his
comfort with scrupulous regularity, industrious, indefatigable even. As a
housekeeper and partner of his fortunes, no man could have desired a
better wife. Yet dimly, in that sluggish soul, there was the
consciousness that he had married a woman who hated him, that he had
bought her with a price; and, being a man prone to think the worst of his
fellow-creatures, Mr. Whitelaw believed that, sooner or later, his wife
meant to have her revenge upon him somehow. She was waiting for his death
perhaps; calculating that, being so much her senior, and a hard-working
man, he would die soon enough to leave her a young widow. And then, of
course, she would marry Frank Randall; and all the money which he,
Stephen, had amassed, by the sacrifice of every pleasure in life, would
enrich that supercilious young coxcomb.
It was a hard thing to think of, and Stephen pondered upon the expediency
of letting off Wyncomb Farm, and sinking all his savings in the purchase
of an annuity. He could not bring himself to contemplate selling the
house and lands that had belonged to his race for so many generations. He
clung to the estate, not from any romantic reverence for the past, not
from any sentimental associations connected with those who had gone
before him, but from the mere force of habit, which rendered this grim
ugly old house and these flat shelterless fields dearer to him than all
the rest of the universe. He was a man to whom to part with anything was
agony; and if he loved anything in the world, he loved Wyncomb. The
possession of the place had given him importance for twenty years past.
He could not fancy himself unconnected with Wyncomb. His labours had
improved the estate too; and he could not endure to think how some lucky
purchaser might profit by his prudence and sagacity. There had been some
fine old oaks on the land when he inherited it, all mercilessly
stubbed-up at the beginning of his reign; there had been tall straggling
hedgerows, all of a tangle with blackberry bushes, ferns, and dog-roses,
hazel and sloe trees, all done away with by his order. No, he could never
bring himself to sell Wyncomb. Nor was the purchase of an annuity a
transaction which he was inclined to accomplish. It was a pleasing notion
certainly, that idea of concentrating all his hoarded money upon the
remaining years of his life--retiring from the toils of agriculture, and
giving himself up for the rest of his days to an existence of luxurious
idleness. But, on the other hand, it would be a bitter thing to surrender
his fondly-loved money for the poor return of an income, to deprive
himself of all opportunity of speculating and increasing his store.
So the annuity scheme lay dormant in his brain, as it were, for the time
being. It was something to have in reserve, and to carry out any day that
his wife gave him fair cause to doubt her fidelity.
In the mean time he went on living his lonely sulky kind of life,
drinking a great deal more than was good for him in his own churlish
manner, and laughing to scorn any attempt at remonstrance from his wife
or Mrs. Tadman. Some few times Ellen had endeavoured to awaken him to the
evil consequences that must needs ensue from his intemperate habits,
feeling that it would be a sin on her part to suffer him to go on without
some effort to check him; but her gently-spoken warnings had been worse
MR. WHITELAW MAKES AN END OF THE MYSTERY.
Mrs. Whitelaw had been married about two months. It was bright May
weather, bright but not yet warm; and whatever prettiness Wyncomb Farm
was capable of assuming had been put on with the fresh spring green of
the fields and the young leaves of the poplars. There were even a few
hardy flowers in the vegetable-garden behind the house, humble perennials
planted by dead and gone Whitelaws, which had bloomed year after year in
spite of Stephen's utilitarian principles. It was a market-day, the
household work was finished, and Ellen was sitting with Mrs. Tadman in
the parlour, where those two spent so many weary hours of their lives,
the tedium whereof was relieved only by woman's homely resource,
needlework. Even if Mrs. Whitelaw had been fond of reading, and she only
cared moderately for that form of occupation, she could hardly have found
intellectual diversion of that kind at Wyncomb, where a family Bible, a
few volumes of the _Annual Register_, which had belonged to some
half-dozen different owners before they came from a stall in Malsham
market to the house of Whitelaw, a grim-looking old quarto upon domestic
medicine, and a cookery-book, formed the entire library. When the duties
of the day were done, and the local weekly newspaper had been read--an
intellectual refreshment which might be fairly exhausted in ten
minutes--there remained nothing to beguile the hours but the perpetual
stitch--stitch--stitch of an industriously-disposed sempstress; and the
two women used to sit throughout the long afternoons with their
work-baskets before them, talking a little now and then of the most
commonplace matters, but for the greater part of their time silent.
Sometimes, when the heavy burden of Mrs. Tadman's society, and the
clicking of needles and snipping of scissors, grew almost unendurable,
Ellen would run out of the house for a brief airing in the garden, and
walk briskly to and fro along the narrow pathway between the potatoes and
cabbages, thinking of her dismal life, and of the old days at the Grange
when she had been full of gaiety and hope. There was not perhaps much
outward difference in the two lives. In her father's house she had worked
as hard as she worked now; but she had been free in those days, and the
unknown future all before her, with its chances of happiness. Now, she
felt like some captive who paces the narrow bounds of his prison-yard,
without hope of release or respite, except in death.
This particular spring day had begun brightly, the morning had been sunny
and even warm; but now, as the afternoon wore away, there were dark
clouds, with a rising wind and a sharp gusty shower every now and then.
Ellen took a solitary turn in the garden between the showers. It was
market-day; Stephen Whitelaw was not expected home till tea-time, and the
meal was to be eaten at a later hour than usual.
The rain increased as the time for the farmer's return drew nearer. He
had gone out in the morning without his overcoat, Mrs. Tadman remembered,
and was likely to get wet through on his way home, unless he should have
borrowed some extra covering at Malsham. His temper, which of late had
been generally at its worst, would hardly be improved by this annoyance.
There was a very substantial meal waiting for him: a ponderous joint of
cold roast beef, a dish of ham and eggs preparing in the kitchen, with an
agreeable frizzling sound, a pile of hot buttered cakes kept hot upon the
oven top; but there was no fire in the parlour, and the room looked a
little cheerless in spite of the well-spread table. They had discontinued
fires for about a fortnight, at Mr. Whitelaw's command. He didn't want to
be ruined by his coal-merchant's bill if it was a chilly spring, he told
his household; and at his own bidding the fire-place had been polished
and garnished for the summer. But this evening was colder than any
evening lately, by reason of that blusterous rising wind, which blew the
rain-drops against the window-panes with as sharp a rattle as if they had
been hailstones; and Mr. Whitelaw coming in presently, disconsolate and
dripping, was by no means inclined to abide by his own decision about the
"Why the ---- haven't you got a fire here?" he demanded savagely.
"It was your own wish, Stephen," answered Mrs. Tadman.
"My own fiddlesticks! Of course I didn't care to see my wood and coals
burning to waste when the sun was shining enough to melt any one. But
when a man comes home wet to the skin, he doesn't want to come into a
room like an ice-house. Call the girl, and tell her to light a blazing
fire while I go and change my clothes. Let her bring plenty of wood, and
put a couple of logs on top of the coals. I'm frozen to the very bones
driving home in the rain."
Mrs. Tadman gave a plaintive sigh as she departed to obey her kinsman.
"That's just like Stephen," she said; "if it was you or me that wanted a
fire, we might die of cold before we got leave to light one; but he never
grudges anything for his own comfort!"
Martha came and lighted a fire under Mrs. Tadman's direction. That lady
was inclined to look somewhat uneasily upon the operation; for the grate
had been used constantly throughout a long winter, and the chimney had
not been swept since last spring, whereby Mrs. Tadman was conscious of a
great accumulation of soot about the massive old brickwork and ponderous
beams that spanned the wide chimney. She had sent for the Malsham sweep
some weeks ago; but that necessary individual had not been able to come
on the particular day she wished, and the matter had been since then
neglected. She remembered this now with a guilty feeling, more especially
as Stephen had demanded a blazing fire, with flaring pine-logs piled
half-way up the chimney. He came back to the parlour presently, arrayed
in an old suit of clothes which he kept for such occasions--an old green
coat with basket buttons, and a pair of plaid trousers of an exploded
shape and pattern--and looking more like a pinched and pallid scarecrow
than a well-to-do farmer. Mrs. Tadman had only carried out his commands
in a modified degree, and he immediately ordered the servant to put a
couple of logs on the fire, and then drew the table close up to the
hearth, and sat down to his tea with some appearance of satisfaction. He
had had rather a good day at market, he condescended to tell his wife
during the progress of the meal; prices were rising, his old hay was
selling at a rate which promised well for the new crops, turnips were in
brisk demand, mangold enquired for--altogether Mr. Whitelaw confessed
himself very well satisfied with the aspect of affairs.
After tea he spent his evening luxuriantly, sitting close to the fire,
with his slippered feet upon the fender, and drinking hot rum-and-water
as a preventive of impending, or cure of incipient, cold. The
rum-and-water being a novelty, something out of the usual order of his
drink, appeared to have an enlivening effect upon him. He talked more
than usual, and even proposed a game at cribbage with Mrs. Tadman; a
condescension which moved that matron to tears, reminding her, she said,
of old times, when they had been so comfortable together, before he had
taken to spend his evenings at the Grange.
"Not that I mean any unkindness to you, Ellen," the doleful Tadman added
apologetically, "for you've been a good friend to me, and if there's one
merit I can lay claim to, it's a grateful heart; but of course, when a
man marries, he never is the same to his relations as when he was single.
It isn't in human nature that he should be."
Here Mrs. Tadman's amiable kinsman requested her to hold her jaw, and to
bring the board if she was going to play, or to say as much if she
wasn't. Urged by this gentle reminder, Mrs. Tadman immediately produced a
somewhat dingy-looking pack of cards and a queer little old-fashioned
The game lasted for about an hour or so, at the end of which time the
farmer threw himself back in his chair with a yawn, and pronounced that
he had had enough of it. The old eight-day clock in the lobby struck ten
soon after this, and the two women rose to retire, leaving Stephen to his
night's libations, and not sorry to escape out of the room, which he had
converted into a kind of oven or Turkish bath by means of the roaring
fire he had insisted upon keeping up all the evening. He was left,
therefore, with his bottle of rum about half emptied, to finish his
night's entertainment after his own fashion.
Mrs. Tadman ventured a mild warning about the fire when she wished him
good night; but as she did not dare to hint that there had been any
neglect in the chimney-sweeping, her counsel went for very little. Mr.
Whitelaw threw on another pine-log directly the two women had left him,
and addressed himself to the consumption of a fresh glass of
"There's nothing like being on the safe side," he muttered to himself
with an air of profound wisdom. "I don't want to be laid up with the
rheumatics, if I can help it."
He finished the contents of his glass, and went softly out of the room,
carrying a candle with him. He was absent about ten minutes, and then
came back to resume his comfortable seat by the fire, and mixed himself
another glass of grog with the air of a man who was likely to finish the
While he sat drinking in his slow sensual way, his young wife slept
peacefully enough in one of the rooms above him. Early rising and
industrious habits will bring sleep, even when the heart is hopeless and
the mind is weary. Mrs. Whitelaw slept a tranquil dreamless sleep
to-night, while Mrs. Tadman snored with a healthy regularity in a room on
the opposite side of the passage.
There was a faint glimmer of dawn in the sky, a cold wet dawn, when Ellen
was awakened suddenly by a sound that bewildered and alarmed her. It was
almost like the report of a pistol, she thought, as she sprang out of
bed, pale and trembling. It was not a pistol shot, however, only a
handful of gravel thrown sharply against her window.
"Stephen," she cried, half awake and very much, frightened, "what was
that?" But, to her surprise, she found that her husband was not in the
While she sat on the edge of her bed hurrying some of her clothes on,
half mechanically, and wondering what that startling sound could have
been, a sudden glow of red light shone in at her window, and at the same
moment her senses, which had been only half awakened before, told her
that there was an atmosphere of smoke in the room.
She rushed to the door, forgetting that to open it was perhaps to admit
death, and flung it open. Yes, the passage was full of smoke, and there
was a strange crackling sound below.
There could be little doubt as to what had happened--the house was on
fire. She remembered how repeatedly Mrs. Tadman had declared that Stephen
would inevitably set the place on fire some night or other, and how
little weight she had attached to the dismal prophecy. But the matron's
fears had not been groundless, it seemed. The threatened calamity had
"Stephen!" she cried, with all her might, and then flew to Mrs. Tadman's
door and knocked violently. She waited for no answer, but rushed on to
the room where the two women-servants slept together, and called to them
loudly to get up for their lives, the house was on fire.
There were still the men in the story above to be awakened, and the smoke
was every moment growing thicker. She mounted a few steps of the
staircase, and called with all her strength. It was very near their time
for stirring. They must hear her, surely. Suddenly she remembered an old
disused alarm-bell which hung in the roof. She had seen the frayed rope
belonging to it hanging in an angle of the passage. She flew to this, and
pulled it vigorously till a shrill peal rang out above; and once having
accomplished this, she went on, reckless of her own safety, thinking only
how many there were to be saved in that house.
All this time there was no sign of her husband, and a dull horror came
over her with the thought that he might be perishing miserably below.
There could be no doubt that the fire came from downstairs. That
crackling noise had increased, and every now and then there came a sound
like the breaking of glass. The red glow shining in at the front windows
grew deeper and brighter. The fire had begun in the parlour, of course,
where they had left Stephen Whitelaw basking in the warmth of his
Ellen was still ringing the bell, when she heard a man's footstep coming
along the passage towards her. It was not her husband, but one of the
farm-servants from the upper story, an honest broad-shouldered fellow, as
strong as Hercules.
"Lord a mercy, mum, be that you?" he cried, as he recognised the white
half-dressed figure clinging to the bell-rope "let me get 'ee out o'
this; the old place'll burn like so much tinder;" and before she could
object, he had taken her up in his arms as easily as if she had been a
child, and was carrying her towards the principal staircase.
Here they were stopped. The flames and smoke were mounting from the lobby
below; the man turned immediately, wasting no time by indecision, and ran
to the stairs leading down to the kitchen. In this direction all was
safe. There was smoke, but in a very modified degree.
"Robert," Ellen cried eagerly, when they had reached the kitchen, where
all was quiet, "for God's sake, go and see what has become of your
master. We left him drinking in the parlour last night. I've called to
him again and again, but there's been no answer."
"Don't you take on, mum; master's all right, I daresay. Here be the gals
and Mrs. Tadman coming downstairs; they'll take care o' you, while I go
and look arter him. You've no call to be frightened. If the fire should
come this way, you've only got to open yon door and get out into the
yard. You're safe here."
The women were all huddled together in the kitchen by this time, half
dressed, shivering, and frightened out of their wits. Ellen Whitelaw was
the only one among them who displayed anything like calmness.
The men were all astir. One had run across the fields to Malsham to
summon the fire-engine, another was gone to remove some animals stabled
near the house.
The noise of burning wood was rapidly increasing, the smoke came creeping
under the kitchen-door presently, and, five minutes after he had left
them, the farm-servant came back to say that he could find no traces of
his master. The parlor was in flames. If he had been surprised by the
fire in his sleep, it must needs be all over with him. The man urged his
mistress to get out of the house at once; the fire was gaining ground
rapidly, and it was not likely that anything he or the other men could do
would stop its progress.
The women left the kitchen immediately upon this warning, by a door
leading into the yard. It was broad daylight by this time; a chilly
sunless morning, and a high wind sweeping across the fields and fanning
the flames, which now licked the front wall of Wyncomb Farmhouse. The
total destruction of the place seemed inevitable, unless help from
Malsham came very quickly. The farm servants were running to and fro with
buckets of water from the yard, and flinging their contents in at the
shattered windows of the front rooms; but this was a small means of
checking the destruction. The house was old, built for the most part of
wood, and there seemed little hope for it.
Ellen and the other women went round to the front of the house, and stood
there, dismal figures in their scanty raiment, with woollen petticoats
pinned across their shoulders, and disordered hair blown about their
faces by the damp wind. They stood grouped together in utter
helplessness, looking at the work of ruin with a half-stupid air; almost
like the animals who had been hustled from one place of shelter to
another, and were evidently lost in wonder as to the cause of their
But presently, as the awful scene before them grew more familiar, the
instincts of self-interest arose in each breast. Mrs. Tadman piteously
bewailed the loss of her entire wardrobe, and some mysterious pocket-book
which she described plaintively as her "little all." She dwelt dolefully
upon the merits of each particular article, most especially upon a
French-merino dress she had bought for Stephen's wedding, which would
have lasted her a lifetime, and a Paisley shawl, the gift of her deceased
husband, which had been in her possession twenty years, and had not so
much as a thin place in it.
Nor was the disconsolate matron the only one who lamented her losses.
Sarah Batts, with clasped hands and distracted aspect, wept for the
destruction of her "box."
"There was money in it," she cried, "money! Oh, don't you think the men
could get to my room and save it?"
"Money!" exclaimed Mrs. Tadman, sharply, aroused from the contemplation
of her own woes by this avowal; "you must be cleverer than I took you
for, Sarah Batts, to be able to save money, and yet be always bedizened
with some new bit of finery, as you've been."
"It was give to me," Sarah answered indignantly, "by them as had a right
to give it."
"For no good, I should think," replied Mrs. Tadman; "what should anybody
give you money for?"
"Never you mind; it was mine. O dear, O dear! if one of the men would
only get my box for me."
She ran to intercept one of the farm-labourers, armed with his bucket,
and tried to bribe him by the promise of five shillings as a reward for
the rescue of her treasures. But the man only threatened to heave the
bucket of water at her if she got in his way; and Miss Batts was obliged
to abandon this hope.
The fire made rapid progress meanwhile, unchecked by that ineffectual
splashing of water. It had begun at the eastern end of the building, the
end most remote from those disused rooms in the ivy-covered west wing;
but the wind was blowing from the north-east, and the flames were
spreading rapidly towards that western angle. There was little chance
that any part of the house could be saved.
While Ellen Whitelaw was looking on at the work of ruin, with a sense of
utter helplessness, hearing the selfish lamentations of Mrs. Tadman and
Sarah Batts like voices in a dream, she was suddenly aroused from this
state of torpor by a loud groan, which sounded from not very far off. It
came from behind her, from the direction of the poplars. She flew to the
spot, and on the ground beneath one of them she found a helpless figure
lying prostrate, with an awful smoke-blackened face--a figure and face
which for some moments she did not recognize as her husband's.
She knew him at last, however, and knelt down beside him. He was groaning
in an agonized manner, and had evidently been fearfully burnt before he
made his escape.
"Stephen!" she cried. "O, thank God you are here! I thought you were shut
up in that burning house. I called with all my might, and the men
searched for you."
"It isn't much to be thankful for," gasped the farmer. "I don't suppose
there's an hour's life in me; I'm scorched from head to foot, and one
arm's helpless. I woke up all of a sudden, and found the room in a blaze.
The flames had burst out of the great beam that goes across the
chimney-piece. The place was all on fire, so that I couldn't reach the
door anyhow; and before I could get out of the window, I was burnt like
this. You'd have been burnt alive in your bed but for me. I threw up a
handful of gravel at your window. It must have woke you, didn't it?"
"Yes, yes, that was the sound that woke me; it seemed like a pistol going
off. You saved my life, Stephen. It was very good of you to remember me."
"Yes; there's men in my place who wouldn't have thought of anybody but
"Can I do anything to ease you, Stephen?" asked his wife.
She had seated herself on the grass beside him, and had taken his head on
her lap, supporting him gently. She was shocked to see the change the
fire had made in his face, which was all blistered and distorted.
"No, nothing; till they come to carry me away somewhere. I'm all one
His eyes closed, and he seemed to sink into a kind of stupor. Ellen
called to one of the men. They might carry him to some place of shelter
surely, at once, where a doctor could be summoned, and something done for
his relief. There was a humble practitioner resident at Crosber, that is
to say, about two miles from Wyncomb. One of the farm-servants might take
a horse and gallop across the fields to fetch this man.
Robert Dunn, the bailiff, heard her cries presently and came to her. He
was very much shocked by his master's condition, and at once agreed to
the necessity of summoning a surgeon. He proposed that they should carry
Stephen Whitelaw to some stables, which lay at a safe distance from the
burning house, and make up some kind of bed for him there. He ran back to
dispatch one of the men to Crosber, and returned immediately with another
to remove his master.
But when they tried to raise the injured man between them, he cried out
to them to let him alone, they were murdering him. Let him lie where he
was; he would not be moved. So he was allowed to lie there, with his head
on his wife's lap, and his tortured body covered by a coat, which one of
the men brought him. His eyes closed again, and for some time he lay
without the slightest motion.
The fire was gaining ground every instant, and there was yet no sign of
the engine from Malsham; but Ellen Whitelaw scarcely heeded the work of
destruction. She was thinking only of the helpless stricken creature
lying with his head upon her lap; thinking of him perhaps in this hour of
his extremity with all the more compassion, because he had always been
obnoxious to her. She prayed for the rapid arrival of the surgeon, who
must surely be able to give some relief to her husband's sufferings, she
thought. It seemed dreadful for him to be lying like this, with no
attempt made to lessen his agony. After a long interval he lifted his
scorched eyelids slowly, and looked at her with a strange dim gaze.
"The west wing," he muttered; "is that burnt?"
"No, Stephen, not yet; but there's little hope they'll save any part of
"They must save that; the rest don't matter--I'm insured heavily; but
they must save the west wing."
His wife concluded from this that he had kept some of his money in one
of those western rooms. The seed-room perhaps, that mysterious padlocked
chamber, where she had heard the footstep. And yet she had heard him say
again and again that he never kept an unnecessary shilling in the house,
and that every pound he had was out at interest. But such falsehoods and
contradictions are common enough amongst men of miserly habits; and
Stephen Whitelaw would hardly be so anxious about those western rooms
unless something of value were hidden away there. He closed his eyes
again, and lay groaning faintly for some time; then opened them suddenly
with a frightened look and asked, in the same tone,
"The west wing--is the west wing afire yet?"
"The wind blows that way, Stephen, and the flames are spreading. I don't
think they could save it--not if the engine was to come this minute."
"But I tell you they must!" cried Stephen Whitelaw. "If they don't, it'll
be murder--cold-blooded murder. O, my God, I never thought there was much
harm in the business--and it paid me well--but it's weighed me down like
a load of lead, and made me drink more to drown thought. But if it should
come to this--don't you understand? Don't sit staring at me like that. If
the fire gets to the west wing, it will be murder. There's some one
there--some one locked up--that won't be able to stir unless they get her
"Some one locked up in the west wing! Are you mad, Stephen?"
"It's the truth. I wouldn't do it again--no, not for twice the money. Let
them get her out somehow. They can do it, if they look sharp."
That unforgotten footstep and equally unforgotten scream flashed into
Mrs. Whitelaw's mind with these words of her husband's. Some one shut up
there; yes, that was the solution of the mystery that had puzzled and
tormented her so long. That cry of anguish was no supernatural echo of
past suffering, but the despairing shriek of some victim of modern
cruelty. A poor relation of Stephen's perhaps--a helpless, mindless
creature, whose infirmities had been thus hidden from the world. Such
things have been too cruelly common in our fair free country.
Ellen laid her husband's head gently down upon the grass and sprang to
"In which room?" she cried. But there was no answer. The man lay with
closed eyes--dying perhaps--but she could do nothing for him till medical
help came. The rescue of that unknown captive was a more urgent duty.
She was running towards the burning house, when she heard a horse
galloping on the road leading from the gate. She stopped, hoping that
this was the arrival of the doctor; but a familiar voice called to her,
and in another minute her father had dismounted and was close at her
"Thank God you're safe, lass!" he exclaimed, with some warmer touch of
paternal feeling than he was accustomed to exhibit. "Our men saw the fire
when they were going to their work, and I came across directly. Where's
"Under the trees yonder, very much hurt; I'm afraid fatally. But there's
nothing we can do for him till the doctor comes. There's someone in still
greater danger, father. For God's sake, help us to save her--some one
shut up yonder, in a room at that end of the house."
"Some one shut up! One of the servants, do you mean?"
"No, no, no. Some one who has been kept shut up there--hidden--ever so
long. Stephen told me just now. O, father, for pity's sake, try to save
"Nonsense, lass. Your husband's brain must have been wandering. Who
should be shut up there, and you live in the house and not know it? Why
should Stephen hide any one in his house? What motive could he have for
such a thing? It isn't possible."
"I tell you, father, it is true. There was no mistaking Stephen's words
just now, and, besides that, I've heard noises that might have told me as
much, only I thought the house was haunted. I tell you there is some
one--some one who'll be burnt alive if we're not quick--and every
moment's precious. Won't you try to save her?"
"Of course I will. Only I don't want to risk my life for a fancy. Is
there a ladder anywhere?"
"Yes, yes. The men have ladders."
"And where's this room where you say the woman is shut up?"
"At that corner of the house," answered Ellen, pointing.
"There's a door at the end of the passage, but no window looking this
way. There's only one, and that's over the wood-yard."
"Then it would be easiest to get in that way?"
"No, no, father. The wood's all piled up above the window. It would take
such a time to move it."
"Never mind that. Anything's better than the risk of going into yonder
house. Besides, the room's locked, you say. Have you got the key?"
"No; but I could get it from Stephen, I daresay."
"We won't wait for you to try. We'll begin at the wood-yard."
"Take Robert Dunn with you, father. He's a good brave fellow."
"Yes, I'll take Dunn."
The bailiff hurried away to the wood-yard, accompanied by Dunn and
another man carrying a tall ladder. The farm-servants had ceased from
their futile efforts at quenching the fire by this time. It was a labour
too hopeless to continue. The flames had spread to the west wing. The ivy
was already crackling, as the blaze crept over it. Happily that shut-up
room was at the extreme end of the building, the point to which the
flames must come last. And here, just at the moment when the work of
devastation was almost accomplished, came the Malsham fire-engine
rattling along gaily through the dewy morning, and the Malsham amateur
fire-brigade, a very juvenile corps as yet, eager to cover itself with
laurels, but more careful in the adjustment of its costume than was quite
consistent with the desperate nature of its duty. Here came the brigade,
in time to do something at any rate, and the engine soon began to play
briskly upon the western wing.
Ellen Whitelaw was in the wood-yard, watching the work going on there
with intense anxiety. The removal of the wood pile seemed a slow
business, well as the three men performed their work, flinging down great
crushing piles of wood one after another without a moment's pause. They
were now joined by the Malsham fire-escape men, who had got wind of some
one to be rescued from this part of the house, and were eager to exhibit
the capabilities of a new fire-escape, started with much hubbub and
glorification, after an awful fire had ravaged Malsham High-street, and
half-a-dozen lives had been wasted because the old fire-escape was out of
order and useless.
"We don't want the fire-escape," cried Mr. Carley as the tall machine was
wheeled into the yard. "The room we want to get at isn't ten feet from
the ground. You can give us a hand with this wood if you like. That's all
The men clambered on to the wood-pile. It was getting visibly lower by
this time, and the top of the window was to be seen. Ellen watched with
breathless anxiety, forgetting that her husband might be dying under the
poplars. He was not alone there; she had sent Mrs. Tadman to watch him.
Only a few minutes more and the window was cleared. A pale face could be
dimly seen peering out through the dusty glass. William Carley tried to
open the lattice, but it was secured tightly within. One of the firemen
leapt forward upon his failure, and shattered every pane of glass and
every inch of the leaden frame with a couple of blows from his axe, and
then the bailiff clambered into the room.
He was hidden from those below about five minutes, and then emerged from
the window, somehow or other, carrying a burden, and came struggling
across the wood to the ladder by which he and the rest had mounted. The
burden which he carried was a woman's figure, with the face hidden by his
large woollen neckerchief. Ellen gave a cry of horror. The woman must
surely be dead, or why should he have taken such pains to cover her face?
He brought his burden down the ladder very carefully, and gave the
lifeless figure into Ellen's arms.
"Help me to carry her away yonder, while Robert gets the cart ready," he
said to his daughter; "she's fainted." And then he added in a whisper,
"For God's sake, don't let any one see her face! it's Mrs. Holbrook."
AFTER THE FIRE.
Yes, it was Marian. She whom Gilbert Fenton had sought so long and
patiently, with doubt and anguish in his heart; she whose double John
Saltram had followed across the Atlantic, had been within easy reach of
them all the time, hidden away in that dreary old farm-house, the
innocent victim of Percival Nowell's treachery, and Stephen Whitelaw's
greed of gain. The whole story was told by-and-by, when the master of
Wyncomb Farm lay dying.
William Carley and his daughter took her to the Grange as soon as the
farmer's spring cart was ready to convey her thither. It was all done
very quickly, and none of the farm-servants saw her face. Even if they
had done so, it is more than doubtful that they would have recognised
her, so pale a shadow of her former self had she become during that long
dreary imprisonment; the face wan and wasted, with a strange sharpened
look about the features which was like the aspect of death; all the
brightness and colour vanished out of the soft brown hair; an ashen
pallor upon her beauty, that made her seem like a creature risen from the
They lifted her into the cart, still insensible, and seated her there,
wrapped in an old horse-cloth, with her head resting on Mrs. Whitelaw's
shoulder; and so they drove slowly away. It was only when they had gone
some little distance from the farm, that the fresh morning air revived
her, and she opened her eyes and looked about her, wildly at first, and
with a faint shuddering sigh.
Then, after a few moments, full consciousness came back to her, and a
sudden cry of rapture broke from the pale lips. "O God!" she exclaimed,
"am I set free?"
"Yes, dear Mrs. Holbrook, you are free, never again to go back to that
cruel place. O, to think that you should be used so, and I so near!"
Marian lifted her head from Ellen's shoulder, and recognised her with a
second cry of delight.
"Ellen, is it you? Then I am safe; I must be safe with you."
"Safe! yes, dear. I would die sooner than any harm should come to you
again. Who could have brought this cruelty about? who could have shut you
up in that room?"
"My father," Marian answered with a shudder. "He wanted my money, I
suppose; and instead of killing me, he shut me up in that place."
She said no more just then, being too weak to say much; and Ellen, who
was employed in soothing and comforting her, did not want her to talk. It
was afterwards, when she had been established in her old rooms at the
Grange, and had taken a little breakfast, that she told Ellen something
more about her captivity.
"O, Ellen, if I were to tell you what I have suffered! But no, there are
no words can tell that. It's not that they ill-used me. The girl who
waited on me brought me good food, and even tried to make me comfortable
in her rough way; but to sit there day after day, Ellen, alone, with only
a dim light from the top of the window above the wood-stack; to sit there
wondering about my husband, whether he was searching for me still, and
would ever find me, or whether, as was more likely, he had given me up
for dead. Think of me, Ellen, if you can, sitting there for weeks and
months in my despair, trying to reckon the days sometimes by the aid of
some old newspaper which the girl brought me now and then, at other times
losing count of them altogether."
"Dear Mrs. Holbrook, I can't understand it even yet. Tell me how it all
came about--how they ever lured you into that place."
"It was easy enough, Ellen; I wasn't conscious when they took me there.
The story is very short. You remember that day when you left the Grange,
how happy I was, looking forward to my husband's return, and thinking of
the good news I had to tell him. We were to be rich, and our lives free
and peaceful henceforward; and I had seen him suffer so much for the want
of money. It was the morning after you left when the post brought me a
letter from my father--a letter with the Malsham post-mark. I had seen
him in town, as you know, and was scarcely surprised that he should write
to me. But I was surprised to find him so near me, and the contents of
the letter were very perplexing. My father entreated me to meet him on
the river-side pathway, between Malsham station and this house. He had
been informed of my habits, he said, and that I was accustomed to walk
there. That was curious, when, so far as I knew, he had sever been near
this place; but I hardly thought about the strangeness of it then. He
begged me so earnestly to see him; it was a matter of life or death, he
said. What could I do, Nelly? He was my father, and I felt that I owed
him some duty. I could not refuse to see him; and if he had some personal
objection to coming here, it seemed a small thing for me to take the
trouble to go and meet him. I could but hear what he had to say."
"I wish to heaven I had been here!" exclaimed Ellen; "you shouldn't have
gone alone, if I had known anything about it."
"I think, if you had been here, I should have told you about the letter,
for it puzzled me a good deal, and I knew how well I could trust you. But
you were away; and my father's request was so urgent--the hour was
named--I could do nothing but accede to it. So I went, leaving no message
for you or for my husband, feeling so sure of my return within an hour or
"And you found your father waiting for you?"
"Yes, on the river-bank, within a short distance of Mr. Whitelaw's house.
He began by congratulating me on the change in my prospects,--I was a
rich woman, he said. And then he went on to vilify my husband in such
hateful words, Ellen; telling me that I had married a notorious scoundrel
and profligate, and that he could produce ample evidence of what he
affirmed; and all this with a pretended pity for my weakness and
ignorance of the world. I laughed his shameful slanders to scorn, and
told him that I knew my husband too thoroughly to be alarmed even for a
moment by such groundless charges. He still affected to compassionate me
as the weakest and most credulous of women, and then came to a proposal
which he said he had travelled to Hampshire on purpose to make to me. It
was, that I should leave my husband, and place myself under his
protection; that I should go to America with him when he returned there,
and so preserve my fortune from the clutches of a villain. 'My fortune?'
I said; 'yes, I see that it is _that_ alone you are thinking of. How can
you suppose me so blind as not to understand that? You had better be
candid with me, and say frankly what you want. I have no doubt my husband
will allow me to make any reasonable sacrifice in your favour.'"
"What did he say to that?"
"He laughed bitterly at my offer. 'Your husband!' he said 'I am not
likely to see the colour of my father's money, if you are to be governed
by him.' 'You do him a great wrong,' I answered. 'I am sure that he will
act generously, and I shall be governed by him.'"
"He was very angry, I suppose?"
"No doubt of it; but for some time he contrived to suppress all
appearance of anger, and urged me to believe his statements about my
husband, and to accept his offer of a home and protection with him. I
cannot tell you how plausible his words were--what an appearance of
affection and interest in my welfare he put on. Then, finding me firm, he
changed his tone, and there were hidden threats mixed with his
entreaties. It would be a bad thing for me if I refused to go with him,
he said; I would have cause to repent my folly for the rest of my life.
He said a great deal, using every argument it is possible to imagine; and
there was always the same threatening under-tone. He could not move me in
the least, as you may fancy, Nell. I told him that nothing upon earth
would induce me to leave my husband, or to think ill of him. And in this
manner we walked up and down for nearly two hours, till I began to feel
very tired and faint. My father saw this, and when we came within sight
of Wyncomb Farmhouse, proposed that I should go in and rest, and take a
glass of milk or some kind of refreshment. I was surprised at this
proposal, and asked him if he knew the people of the house. He said yes,
he knew something of Mr. Whitelaw; he had met him the night before in the
coffee-room of the inn at Malsham."
"Then your father had slept at Malsham the night before?"
"Evidently. His letter to me had been posted at Malsham, you know. I
asked him how long he had been in this part of the country, and he rather
evaded the question. Not long, he said; and he had come down here only to
see me. At first I refused to go into Mr. Whitelaw's house, being only
anxious to get home as quickly as possible. But my father seemed offended
by this. I wanted to get rid of him, he said, although this was likely to
be our last interview--the very last time in his life that he would ever
see me, perhaps. I could not surely grudge him half an hour more of my
company. I could scarcely go on refusing after this; and I really felt so
tired and faint, that I doubted my capability of walking back to this
house without resting. So I said yes, and we went into Wyncomb Farmhouse.
The door was opened by a girl when my father knocked. There was no one at
home, she told him; but we were quite welcome to sit down in the parlour,
and she would bring me a glass of fresh milk and a slice of
"The house had a strange empty look, I thought. There was none of the
life or bustle one expects to see at a farm; all was silent as the grave.
The gloom and quietness of the place chilled me somehow. There was a fire
burning in the parlour, and my father made me sit down very close to it,
and I think the heat increased that faintness which I had felt when I
came into the house.
"Again and again he urged his first demand, seeming as if he would wear
down all opposition by persistence. I was quite firm; but the effect of
all this argument was very wearisome, and I began to feel really ill.
"I think I must have been on the point of fainting, when the door was
opened suddenly, and Mr. Whitelaw came in. In the next moment, while the
room was spinning round before my eyes, and that dreadful giddiness that
comes before a dead faint was growing worse, my father snatched me up in
his arms, and threw a handkerchief over my face. I had just sense enough
to know that there was chloroform upon it, and that was all. When I
opened my eyes again, I was lying on a narrow bed, in a dimly-lighted
room, with a small fire burning in a rusty grate in one corner, and some
tea-things, with a plate of cold meat, on a table near it. There was a
scrap of paper on this table, with a few lines scrawled upon it in
pencil, in my father's hand: 'You have had your choice, either to share a
prosperous life with me, or to be shut up like a mad woman. You had
better make yourself as comfortable as you can, since you have no hope of
escape till it suits my purpose to have you set free. Good care will be
taken of you. You must have been a fool to suppose that I would submit to
the injustice of J.N.'s will.'
"For a long time I sat like some stupid bewildered creature, going over
these words again and again, as if I had no power to understand them. It
was very long before I could believe that my father meant to shut me up
in that room for an indefinite time--for the rest of my life, perhaps.
But, little by little, I came to believe this, and to feel nothing but a
blank despair. O, Nelly, I dare not dwell upon that time! I suffered too
much. God has been very merciful to me in sparing me my mind; for there
were times when I believe I was quite mad. I could pray sometimes, but
not always. I have spent whole days in prayer, almost as if I fancied
that I could weary out my God with supplications."
"And Stephen; did you see him?"
"Yes, now and then--once in several days, in a week perhaps. He used to
come, like the master of a madhouse visiting his patients, to see that I
was comfortable, he said. At first I used to appeal to him to set me
free--kneeling at his feet, promising any sacrifice of my fortune for him
or for my father, if they would release me. But it was no use. He was as
hard as a rock; and at last I felt that it was useless, and used to see
him come and go with hopeless apathy. No, Ellen, there are no words can
describe what I suffered. I appealed to the girl who waited on me daily,
but who came only once a-day, and always after dark. I might as well have
appealed to the four walls of my room; the girl was utterly stolid. She
brought me everything I was likely to want from day to day, and gave me
ample means of replenishing my fire, and told me that I ought to make
myself comfortable. I had a much better life than any one in the
workhouse, she said; and I must be very wicked if I complained. I believe
she really thought I was a harmless madwoman, and that her master had a
right to shut me up in that room. One night, after I had been there for a
time that seemed like eternity, my father came----"
"What!" cried Ellen Whitelaw, "the stranger! I understand. That man was
your father; he came to see you that night; and as he was leaving you,
you gave that dreadful shriek we heard downstairs. O, if I had known the
truth--if I had only known!"
"_You_ heard me, Ellen? You were there?" Marian exclaimed, surprised. She
was, as yet, entirely ignorant of Ellen's marriage, and had been too much
bewildered by the suddenness of her escape to wonder how the bailiff's
daughter had happened to be so near at hand in that hour of deadly peril.
"Yes, yes, dear Mrs. Holbrook; I was there, and I did not help you. But
never mind that now; tell me the rest of your story; tell me how your
father acted that night."
"He was with me alone for about ten minutes; he came to give me a last
chance, he said. If I liked to leave my husband for ever, and go to
America with him, I might do so; but before he let me out of that place,
he must have my solemn oath that I would make no attempt to see my
husband; that I would never again communicate with any one I had known up
to that time; that I would begin a new life, with him, my father, for my
sole protector. I had had some experience of the result of opposing him,
he said, and he now expected to find me reasonable.
"You can imagine my answer, Ellen. I would do anything, sacrifice
anything, except my fidelity to my husband. Heaven knows I would have
given twenty years of my life to escape from that dismal place, with the
mere chance of being able to get back to my husband; but I would not take
a false oath; I could not perjure myself, as that man would have made me
perjure myself, in order to win my release. I knelt at his feet and clung
about him, beseeching him with all the power I had to set me free; but he
was harder than iron. Just at the end, when he had the door open, and was
leaving me, telling me that I had lost my last chance, and would never
see him again, I clung about him with one wild desperate cry. He flung me
back into the room violently, and shut the door in my face. I fancied
afterwards that that cry must have been heard, and that, if there had
been any creature in the house inclined to help me, there would have come
an end to my sufferings. But the time passed, and there was no change;
only the long dreary days, the wretched sleepless nights."
This was all. There were details of her sufferings which Marian told her
faithful friend by-and-by, when her mind was calmer, and they had leisure
for tranquil talk; but the story was all told; and Marian lay down to
rest in the familiar room, unspeakably grateful to God for her rescue,
and only eager that her husband should be informed of her safety. She had
not yet been told that he had crossed the Atlantic in search of her,
deluded by a false scent. Ellen feared to tell her this at first; and she
had taken it for granted that John Saltram was still in London. It was
easy to defer any explanation just yet, on account of Marian's weakness.
The exertion of telling the brief story of her sufferings had left her
prostrate; and she was fain to obey her friendly nurse.
"We will talk about everything, and arrange everything, by-and-by, dear
Mrs. Holbrook," Ellen said resolutely; "but for the present you _must_
rest, and you must take everything that I bring you, and be very good."
And with that she kissed and left her, to perform another and less
agreeable duty--the duty of attendance by her husband's sick-bed.
MR. WHITELAW MAKES HIS WILL.
They had carried Stephen Whitelaw to the Grange; and he lay a helpless
creature, beyond hope of recovery, in one of the roomy old-fashioned
The humble Crosber surgeon had done his best, and had done it skilfully,
being a man of large experience amongst a lowly class of sufferers; and
to the aid of the Crosber surgeon had come a more prosperous practitioner
from Malsham, who had driven over in his own phaeton; but between them
both they could make nothing of Stephen Whitelaw. His race was run. He
had been severely burnt; and if his actual injuries were not enough to
kill him, there was little chance that he could survive the shock which
his system had received. He might linger a little; might hold out longer
than they expected; but his life was a question of hours.
The doomed man had seemed from the first to have a conviction of the
truth, and appeared in no manner surprised when, in answer to his
questions, the Malsham doctor admitted that his case was fatal, and
suggested that, if he had anything to do in the adjustment of his
affairs, he could scarcely do it too soon. At this Mr. Whitelaw groaned
aloud. If he could in any manner have adjusted his affairs so as to take
his money with him, the suggestion might have seemed sensible enough;
but, that being impracticable, it was the merest futility. He had never
made a will; it cost him too much anguish to give away his money even on
paper. And now it was virtually necessary that he should do so, or else,
perhaps, his wealth would, by some occult process, be seized upon by the
crown--a power which he had been accustomed to regard in the abstract
with an antagonistic feeling, as being the root of queen's taxes. To
leave all to his wife, with some slight pension to Mrs. Tadman, seemed
the most obvious course. He had married for love, and the wife of his
choice had been very dutiful and submissive. What more could he have
demanded from her? and why should he grudge her the inheritance of his
wealth? Well, he would not have grudged it to her, perhaps, since some
one must have it, if it had not been for that aggravating conviction that
she would marry again, and that the man she preferred to him would riot
in the possession of his hardly-earned riches. She would marry Frank
Randall; and between them they would mismanage, and ultimately ruin, the
farm. He remembered the cost of the manure he had put upon his fields
that year, and regretted that useless outlay. It was a hard thing to have
enriched his land only that others might profit by the produce.
"And if I've laid down a yard of drain-pipes since last year, I've laid
down a dozen mile. There's not a bit of swampy ground or a patch of sour
grass on the farm," he thought bitterly.
He lay for some hours deliberating as to what he should do. Death was near,
but not so very close to him just yet. He had time to think. No, come what
might, he would not leave the bulk of his property to fall into the keeping
of Frank Randall.
He remembered that there were charitable institutions, to which a man,
not wishing to enrich an ungrateful race, might bequeath his money, and
obtain some credit for himself thereby, which no man could expect from
his own relations. There was an infirmary at Malsham, rather a juvenile
institution as yet, in aid whereof Mr. Whitelaw had often been plagued
for subscriptions, reluctantly doling out half-a-guinea now and then,
more often refusing to contribute anything. He had never thought of this
place in his life before; but the image of it came into his mind now, as
he had seen it on market-days for the last four years--a bran new
red-brick building in Malsham High-street. He thought how his name would
look, cut in large letters on a stone tablet on the face of that edifice.
It would be something to get for his money; a very poor and paltry
something, compared with the delight of possession, but just a little
better than nothing.
He lay for some time pondering upon this, with that image of the stone
tablet before his eyes, setting forth that the new wing of this
institution had been erected at the desire of the late Stephen Whitelaw,
Esq., of Wyncomb Farm, who had bequeathed a sum of money to the infirmary
for that purpose, whereby two new wards had, in memory of that respected
benefactor, been entitled the Whitelaw wards--or something to the like
effect. He composed a great many versions of the inscription as he lay
there, tolerably easy as to his bodily feelings, and chiefly anxious
concerning the disposal of the money; but, being unaccustomed to the task
of composition, he found it more difficult than he could have supposed to
set forth his own glory in a concise form of words. But the tablet would
be there, of course, the very centre and keystone of the building, as it
were; indeed, Mr. Whitelaw resolved to make his bequest contingent upon
the fulfilment of this desire. Later in the evening he told William
Carley that he had made up his mind about his will, and would be glad to
see Mr. Pivott, of Malsham, rival solicitor to Mr. Randall, of the same
town, as soon as that gentleman could be summoned to his bedside.
The bailiff seemed surprised at this request.
"Why, surely, Steph, you can't want a lawyer mixed up in the business!"
he said. "Those sort of chaps only live by making work for one another.
You know how to make your will well enough, old fellow, without any
attorney's aforesaids and hereinafters. Half a sheet of paper and a
couple of sentences would do it, I should think; the fewer words the
"I'd rather have Pivott, and do it in a regular manner," Mr. Whitelaw
answered quietly. "I remember, in a forgery case that was in the papers
the other day, how the judge said of the deceased testator, that, being a
lawyer, he was too wise to make his own will. Yes, I'd rather see Pivott,
if you'll send for him, Carley. It's always best to be on the safe side.
I don't want my money wasted in a chancery suit when I'm lying in my
William Carley tried to argue the matter with his son-in-law; but the
attempt was quite useless. Mr. Whitelaw had always been the most
obstinate of men--and lying on his bed, maimed and helpless, was no more
to be moved from his resolve than if he had been a Roman gladiator who
had just trained himself for an encounter with lions. So the bailiff was
compelled to obey him, unwillingly enough, and dispatched one of the men
to Malsham in quest of Mr. Pivott the attorney.
The practitioner came to the Grange as fast as his horse could carry him.
Every one in Malsham knew by this time that Stephen Whitelaw was a
doomed man; and Mr. Pivott felt that this was a matter of life and death.
He was an eminently respectable man, plump and dapper, with a rosy
smooth-shaven face, and an air of honesty that made the law seem quite a
pleasant thing. He was speedily seated by Mr. Whitelaw's bed, with a pair
of candles and writing materials upon a little table before him, ready to
obey his client's behests, and with the self-possessed aspect of a man to
whom a last will and testament involving the disposal of a million or so
would have been only an every-day piece of practice.
William Carley had shown himself very civil and obliging in providing for
the lawyer's comfort, and having done so, now took up his stand by the
fire-place, evidently intending to remain as a spectator of the business.
But an uneasy glance which the patient cast from time to time in the
direction of his father-in-law convinced Mr. Pivott that he wanted that
gentleman to be got rid of before business began.
"I think, Mr. Carley, it would be as well for our poor friend and I to be
alone," he said in his most courteous accents.
"Fiddlesticks!" exclaimed the bailiff contemptuously. "It isn't likely
that Stephen can have any secrets from his wife's father. I'm in nobody's
way, I'm sure, and I'm not going to put my spoke in the wheel, let him
leave his money how he may."
"Very likely not, my dear sir. Indeed, I am sure you would respect our
poor friend's wishes, even if they were to take a form unpleasing to
yourself, which is far from likely. But still it may be as well for Mr.
Whitelaw and myself to be alone. In cases of this kind the patient is apt
to be nervous, and the business is done more expeditiously if there is no
third party present. So, my dear Mr. Carley, if you have _no_
"Steph," said the bailiff abruptly, "do _you_ want me out of the room?
Say the word, if you do."
The patient writhed, hesitated, and then replied with some confusion,--
"If it's all the same to you, William Carley, I think I'd sooner be alone
with Mr. Pivott."
And here the polite attorney, having opened the door with his own hands,
bowed the bailiff out; and, to his extreme mortification, William Carley
found himself on the outside of his son-in-law's room, before he had time
to make any farther remonstrance.
He went downstairs, and paced the wainscoted parlour in a very savage
frame of mind.
"There's some kind of devil's work hatching up there," he muttered to
himself. "Why should he want me out of the room? He wouldn't, if he was
going to leave all his money to Ellen, as he ought to leave it. Who else
is there to get it? Not that old mother Tadman, surely. She's an artful
old harridan; and if my girl had not been a fool, she'd have got rid of
her out of hand when she married. Sure to goodness _she_ can never stand
between Stephen and his wife. And who else is there? No one that I know
of; no one. Stephen wouldn't have kept any secret all these years from
the folks he's lived amongst. It isn't likely. He _must_ leave it all to
his wife, except a hundred or so, perhaps, to mother Tadman; and it was
nothing but his natural closeness that made him want me out of the way."
And at this stage of his reflections, Mr. Carley opened a cupboard near
the fire-place and brought therefrom a case-bottle, from the contents of
which he found farther solace. It was about half-an-hour after this that
he was summoned by a call from the lawyer, who was standing on the broad
landing-place at the top of the stairs with a candle in his hand, when
the bailiff emerged from the parlour.
"If you'll step up here, and bring one of your men with you, I shall be
obliged, Mr. Carley," the attorney said, looking over the banisters; "I
want you to witness your son-in-law's will." Mr. Carley's spirits rose a
little at this. He was not much versed in the ways of lawyers, and had a
notion that Mr. Pivott would read the will to him, perhaps, before he
signed it. It flashed upon him presently that a legatee could not benefit
by a will which he had witnessed. It was obvious, therefore, that Stephen
did not mean him to have anything. Well, he had scarcely expected
anything. If his daughter inherited all, it would be pretty much the same
thing; she would act generously of course.
He went into the kitchen, where the head man, who had been retained on
the premises to act as special messenger in this time of need, was
sitting in the chimney-corner smoking a comfortable pipe after his walk
to and from Malsham.
"You're wanted upstairs a minute, Joe," he said; and the two went
clumping up the wide old oaken staircase.
The witnessing of the will was a very brief business. Mr. Pivott did not
offer to throw any light upon its contents, nor was the bailiff,
sharpsighted as he might be, able to seize upon so much as one paragraph
or line of the document during the process of attaching his signature
When the ceremony was concluded, Stephen Whitelaw sank back upon his
pillow with an air of satisfaction.
"I don't think I could have done any better," he murmured.
"It's a hard thing for a man of my age to leave everything behind him;
but I don't see that I could have done better."
"You have done that, my dear sir, which might afford comfort to any
death-bed," said the lawyer solemnly.
He folded the will, and put it into his pocket.
"Our friend desires me to take charge of this document," he said to
William Carley. "You will have no reason to complain, on your daughter's
account, when you become familiar with its contents. She has been fairly
treated--I may say very fairly treated."
The bailiff did not much relish the tone of this assurance. Fair
treatment might mean very little.
"I hope she has been well treated," he answered in a surly manner. "She's
been a good wife to Stephen Whitelaw, and would continue so to be if he
was to live twenty years longer. When a pretty young woman marries a man
twice her age, she's a right to expect handsome treatment, Mr. Pivott. It
can't be too handsome for justice, in my opinion."
The solicitor gave a little gentle sigh.
"As an interested party, Mr. Carley," he said, "your opinion is not as
valuable as it might be under other circumstances. However, I don't think
your daughter will complain, and I am sure the world will applaud what
our poor friend has done--of his own accord, mind, Mr. Carley, wholly and
solely of his own spontaneous desire. It is a thing that I should only
have been too proud to suggest; but the responsibility of such a
suggestion is one which I could never have taken upon myself. It would
have been out of my province, indeed. You will be kind enough to remember
this by-and-by, my dear sir."
The bailiff was puzzled, and showed Mr. Pivott to the door with a moody
"I thought there was some devil's work," he muttered to himself, as he
watched the lawyer mount his stiff brown cob and ride away into the
night; "but what does it all mean? and what has Stephen Whitelaw done
with his money? We shall know that pretty soon, anyhow. He can't last
ELLEN REGAINS HER LIBERTY.
Stephen Whitelaw lingered for two days and two nights, and at the
expiration of that time departed this life, making a very decent end of
it, and troubled by no thought that his existence had been an unworthy
Before he died, he told his wife something of how he had been tempted
into the doing of that foul deed whereof Marian Saltram had been the
victim. Those two were alone together the day before he died, when
Stephen, of his own free will, made the following statement:----
"It was Mrs. Holbrook's father, you see," he said, in a plausible tone,
"that put it to me, how he might want his daughter taken care of for a
time--it might be a short time, or it might be rather a longish time,
according to how circumstances should work out. We'd met once before at
the King's Arms at Malsham, where Mr. Nowell was staying, and where I
went in of an evening, once in a way, after market; and he'd made pretty
free with me, and asked me a good many questions about myself, and told
me a good bit about himself, in a friendly way. He told me how his
daughter had gone against him, and was likely to go against him, and how
some property that ought in common justice to have been left to him, had
been left to her. He was going to give her a fair chance, he said, if she
liked to leave her husband, who was a scheming scoundrel, and obey him.
She might have a happy home with him, if she was reasonable. If not, he
should use his authority as a father.
"He came to see me at Wyncomb next day--dropped in unawares like, when
mother Tadman was out of the way--not that I had asked him, you see. He
seemed to be quite taken with the place, and made me show him all over
the house; and then he took a glass of something, and sat and talked a
bit, and went away, without having said a word about his daughter. But
before he went he made me promise that I'd go and see him at the King's
Arms that night.
"Well, you see, Nell, as he seemed to have taken a fancy to me, as you
may say, and had told me he could put me up to making more of my money,
and had altogether been uncommonly pleasant, I didn't care to say no, and
I went. I was rather taken aback at the King's Arms when they showed me
to a private room, because I'd met Mr. Nowell before in the Commercial;
however, there he was, sitting in front of a blazing fire, and with a
couple of decanters of wine upon the table.
"He was very civil, couldn't have been more friendly, and we talked and
talked; he was always harping on his daughter; till at last he came out
with what he wanted. Would I give her house-room for a bit, just to keep
her out of the way of her husband and such-like designing people,
supposing she should turn obstinate and refuse to go abroad with him?
'You've a rare old roomy place,' he said. 'I saw some rooms upstairs at
the end of a long passage which don't seem to have been used for years.
You might keep my lady in one of those; and that fine husband of hers
would be as puzzled where to find her as if she was in the centre of
Africa. It would be a very easy thing to do,' he said; 'and it would be
only friendly in you to do it.'"
"O, Stephen!" cried his wife reproachfully, "how could you ever consent
to such a wicked thing?"
"I don't know about the wickedness of it," Mr. Whitelaw responded, with
rather a sullen air; "a daughter is bound to obey her father, isn't she?
and if she don't, I should think he had the power to do what he liked
with her. That's how I should look at it, if I was a father. It's all
very well to talk, you see, Nell, but you don't know the arguments such a
man as that can bring to bear. I didn't want to do it; I was against it
from the first. It was a dangerous business, and might bring me into
trouble. But that man bore down upon me to that extent that he made me
promise anything; and when I went home that night, it was with the
understanding that I was to fit up a room--there was a double door to be
put up to shut out sound, and a deal more--ready for Mrs. Holbrook, in
case her father wanted to get her out of the way for a bit."
"He promised to pay you, of course?" Ellen said, not quite able to
conceal the contempt and aversion which this confession of her husband's
"Well, yes, a man doesn't put himself in jeopardy like that for nothing.
He was to give me a certain sum of money down the first night that Mrs.
Holbrook slept in my house; and another sum of money before he went to
America, and an annual sum for continuing to take care of her, if he
wanted to keep her quiet permanently, as he might. Altogether it would be
a very profitable business, he told me, and I ought to consider myself
uncommonly lucky to get such a chance. As to the kindness or unkindness
of the matter, it was better than shutting her up in a lunatic asylum, he
said; and he might have to do that, if I refused to take her. She was
very weak in her head, he said, and the doctors would throw no difficulty
in his way, if he wanted to put her into a madhouse."
"But you must have known that was a lie!" exclaimed Ellen indignantly.
"You had seen and talked to her; you must have known that Mrs. Holbrook
was as sane as you or I."
"I couldn't be supposed to know better than her own father," answered Mr.
Whitelaw, in an injured tone; "he had a right to know best. However, it's
no use arguing about it now. He had such a power over me that I couldn't
go against him; so I gave in, and Mrs. Holbrook came to Wyncomb. She was
to be treated kindly and made comfortable, her father said; that was
agreed between us; and she has been treated kindly and made comfortable.
I had to trust some one to wait upon her, and when Mr. Nowell saw the two
girls he chose Sarah Batts. 'That girl will do anything for money,' he
said; 'she's stupid, but she's wise enough to know her own interest, and
she'll hold her tongue.' So I trusted Sarah Batts, and I had to pay her
pretty stiffly to keep the secret; but she was a rare one to do the work,
and she went about it as quiet as a mouse. Not even mother Tadman ever
"It was a wicked piece of business--wicked from first to last," said
Ellen. "I can't bear to hear about it."
And then, remembering that the sinner was so near his end, and that this
voluntary confession of his was in some manner a sign of repentance, she
felt some compunction, and spoke to him in a softer tone.
"Still I'm grateful to you for telling me the truth at last, Stephen,"
she said; "and, thank God, there's no harm done that need last for ever.
Thank God that dear young lady did not lose her life, shut up a prisoner
in that miserable room, as she might have done."
"She had her victuals regular," observed Mr. Whitelaw, "and the best."
"Eating and drinking won't keep any one alive, if their heart's
breaking," said Ellen; "but, thank heaven, her sufferings have come to an
end now, and I trust God will forgive your share in them, Stephen."
And then, sitting by his bedside through the long hours of that night,
she tried in very simple words to awaken him to a sense of his condition.
It was not an easy business to let any glimmer of spiritual light in upon
the darkness of that sordid mind. There did arise perhaps in this last
extremity some dim sense of remorse in the breast of Mr. Whitelaw, some
vague consciousness that in that one act of his life, and in the whole
tenor of his life, he had not exactly shaped his conduct according to
that model which the parson had held up for his imitation in certain
rather prosy sermons, indifferently heard, on the rare occasions of his
attendance at the parish church. But whatever terrors the world to come
might hold for him seemed very faint and shapeless, compared with the
things from which he was to be taken. He thought of his untimely death as
a hardship, an injustice almost. When his wife entreated him to see the
vicar of Crosber before he died, he refused at first, asking what good
the vicar's talk could do him.
"If he could keep me alive as long as till next July, to see how those
turnips answer with the new dressing, I'd see him fast enough," he said
peevishly; "but he can't; and I don't want to hear his preaching."
"But it would be a comfort to you, surely, Stephen, to have him talk to
you a little about the goodness and mercy of God. He won't tell you hard
things, I'm sure of that."
"No, I suppose he'll try and make believe that death's uncommon
pleasant," answered Mr. Whitelaw with a bitter laugh; "as if it could be
pleasant to any man to leave such a place as Wyncomb, after doing as much
for the land, and spending as much labour and money upon it, as I have
done. It's like nurses telling children that a dose of physic's pleasant;
they wouldn't like to have to take it themselves."
And then by-and-by, when his last day had dawned, and he felt himself
growing weaker, Mr. Whitelaw expressed himself willing to comply with his
"If it's any satisfaction to you, Nell, I'll see the parson," he said.
"His talk can't do me much harm, anyhow." Whereupon the rector of Crosber
and Hallibury was sent for, and came swiftly to perform his duty to the
dying man. He was closeted with Mr. Whitelaw for some time, and did his
best to awaken Christian feelings in the farmer's breast; but it was
doubtful if his pious efforts resulted in much. The soul of Stephen
Whitelaw was in his barns and granaries, with his pigs and cattle. He
could not so much as conceive the idea of a world in which there should
be no such thing as sale and profit.
His end came quietly enough at last, and Ellen was free. Her time of
bondage had been very brief, yet she felt herself twenty years older than
she had seemed before that interval of misery began.
When the will was read by Mr. Pivott on the day of Stephen Whitelaw's
funeral, it was found that the farmer had left his wife two hundred a
year, derivable from real estate. To Mrs. Rebecca Tadman, his cousin, he
bequeathed an annuity of forty pounds, the said annuity to revert to
Ellen upon Mrs. Tadman's death should Ellen survive. The remaining
portion of his real estate he bequeathed to one John James Harris, a
distant cousin, who owned a farm in Wiltshire, with whom Stephen Whitelaw
had spent some years of his boyhood, and from whom he had learned the
science of agriculture. It was less from any love the testator bore John
James Harris than from a morbid jealousy of his probable successor Frank
Randall, that the Wiltshire farmer had been named as residuary legatee.
If Stephen Whitelaw could have left his real estate to the Infirmary, he
would have so left it. His personal estate, consisting of divers
investments in railway shares and other kinds of stock, all of a very
safe kind, was to be realized, and the entire proceeds devoted to the
erection of an additional wing for the extension of Malsham Infirmary,
and his gift was to be recorded on a stone tablet in a conspicuous
position on the front of that building. This, which was an absolute
condition attached to the bequest, had been set forth with great
minuteness by the lawyer, at the special desire of his client.
Mr. Carley's expression of opinion after hearing this will read need not
be recorded here. It was forcible, to say the least of it; and Mr.
Pivott, the Malsham solicitor, protested against such language as an
outrage upon the finer feelings of our nature.
"Some degree of disappointment is perhaps excusable upon your part, my
dear sir," said the lawyer, who wished to keep the widow for his client,
and had therefore no desire to offend her father; "but I am sure that in
your calmer moments you will admit that the work to which your son-in-law
has devoted the bulk of his accumulations is a noble one. For ages to
come the sick and the suffering among our townsfolk will bless the name
of Whitelaw. There is a touching reflection for you, Mr. Carley! And
really now, your amiable daughter, with an income of two hundred per
annum--to say nothing of that reversion which must fall in to her
by-and-by on Mrs. Tadman's decease--is left in a very fair position. I
should not have consented to draw up that will, sir, if I had considered
it an unjust one."
"Then there's a wide difference between your notion of justice and mine,"
growled the bailiff; who thereupon relapsed into grim silence, feeling
that complaint was useless. He could no more alter the conditions of Mr.
Whitelaw's will than he could bring Mr. Whitelaw back to life--and that
last operation was one which he was by no means eager to perform.
Ellen herself felt no disappointment; she fancied, indeed, that her
husband, whom she had never deceived by any pretence of affection, had
behaved with sufficient generosity towards her. Two hundred a year seemed
a large income to her. It would give her perfect independence, and the
power to help others, if need were.
It was not until the day of her husband's funeral that Ellen Whitelaw
wrote to Mr. Fenton to tell him what had happened. She knew that her
letter was likely to bring him post-haste to the Grange, and she wished
his coming to be deferred until that last dismal day was over. Nor was
she sorry that there should be some little pause--a brief interval of
ignorance and tranquillity--in Marian's life before she heard of her
husband's useless voyage across the Atlantic. She was in sad need of rest
of mind and body, and even in those few days gained considerable
strength, by the aid of Mrs. Whitelaw's tender nursing. She had not left
her room during the time that death was in the darkened house, and it was
only on the morning after the funeral that she came downstairs for the
first time. Her appearance had improved wonderfully in that interval of
little more than a week. Her eyes had lost their dim weary look, the
deathly pallor of her complexion had given place to a faint bloom. But
grateful as she was for her own deliverance, she was full of anxiety
about her husband. Ellen Whitelaw's vague assurances that all would be
well, that he would soon be restored to her, were not enough to set her
mind at ease.
Ellen had not the courage to tell her the truth. It was better that
Gilbert Fenton should do that, she thought. He who knew all the
circumstances of Mr. Holbrook's journey, and the probabilities as to his
return, would be so much better able to comfort and reassure his wife.
"He will come to-day, I have no doubt," Ellen said to herself on the
morning after her husband's funeral.
She told Marian how she had written to Mr. Fenton on the day before, in
order to avoid the agitation of a surprise, should he appear at the
Grange without waiting to announce his coming. Nor was she mistaken as to
the probability of his speedy arrival. It was not long after noon when
there came a loud peal of the bell that rang so rarely. Ellen ran herself
to the gate to admit the visitor. She had told him of her husband's death
in her last letter, and her widow's weeds were no surprise to him. He was
pale, but very calm.
"She is well?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes, sir, she is as well as one could look for her to be, poor dear,
after what she has gone through. But she is much changed since last you
saw her. You must prepare yourself for that, sir. And she is very anxious
about her husband. I don't know how she'll take it, when she hears that
he has gone to America."
"Yes, that is a bad business, Mrs. Whitelaw," Gilbert answered gravely.
"He was not in a fit state to travel, unfortunately. He was only just
recovering from a severe illness, and was as weak as a child."
"O dear, O dear! But you won't tell Mrs. Holbrook that, sir?"
"I won't tell her more than I can help; of course I don't want to alarm
her; but I am bound to tell her some portion of the truth. You did her
husband a great wrong, you see, Mrs. Whitelaw, when you suspected him of
some share in this vile business. He has shown himself really devoted to
her. I thank God that it has proved so. And now tell me more about this
affair; your letter explains so little."
"I will tell you all, sir."
They walked in the garden for about a quarter of an hour before Gilbert
went into the house. Eager as he was to see Marian, he was still more
anxious to hear full particulars of that foul plot of which she had been
made the victim. Ellen Whitelaw told him the story very plainly, making
no attempt to conceal her husband's guilty part in the business; and the
story being finished, she took him straight to the parlour where he had
seen Marian for the first time after her marriage.
It was a warm bright day, and all three windows were open. Marian was
sitting by one of them, with some scrap of work lying forgotten in her
lap. She started up from her seat as Gilbert went into the room, and
hastened forward to meet him.
"How good of you to come!" she cried. "And you have brought me news of my
husband? I am sure of that."
"Yes, dear Mrs. Holbrook--Mrs. Saltram; may I not call you by that name
now?--I know all; and have forgiven all."
"Then you know how deeply he sinned against you, and how much he valued
your friendship? He would never have played so false a part but for that.
He could not bear to think of being estranged from you."
"We are not estranged. I have tried to be angry with him; but there are
some old ties that a man cannot break. He has used me very ill, Marian;
but he is still my friend."
His voice broke a little as he uttered the old familiar name. Yes, she
was changed, cruelly changed, by that ordeal of six months' suffering.
The brightness of her beauty had quite faded; but there was something in
the altered face that touched him more deeply than the old magic. She was
dearer to him, perhaps, in this hour than she had ever been yet. Dearer
to him, and yet divided from him utterly, now that he professed himself
her husband's friend as well as her own.
Friendship, brotherly affection, those chastened sentiments which he had
fancied had superseded all warmer feelings--where were they now? By the
passionate beating of his heart, by his eager longing to clasp that faded
form to his breast, he knew that he loved her as dearly as on the day
when she promised to be his wife; that he must love her with the same
measure till the end of his existence.
"Thank God for that," Marian said gently; "thank God that you are still
friends. But why did he not come with you to-day? You have told him about
me, I suppose?"
"Not yet, Marian; I have not been able to do that. Nor could he come with
me to-day. He has left England--on a false scent."
And then he told her, in a few words, the story of John Saltram's voyage
to New York; making very light of the matter, and speaking cheerily of
his early return.
"He will come back at once, of course, when he finds how he has been
deceived," Gilbert said.
Marian was cruelly distressed by this disappointment. She tried to bear
the blow bravely, and listened with a gentle patience to Gilbert's
reassuring arguments; but it was a hard thing to bear.
"He will be back soon, you say," she said; "but soon is such a vague
word; and you have not told me when he went."
Gilbert told her the date of John Saltram's departure. She began
immediately to question him as to the usual length of the voyage, and to
calculate the time he had had for his going and return. Taking the
average length of the voyage as ten days, and allowing ten days for delay
in New York, a month would give ample time for the two journeys; and John
Saltram had been away more than a month.
Gilbert could see that Marian was quick to take alarm on discovering
"My dear Mrs. Saltram, be reasonable," he said gently. "Finding such a
cheat put upon him, your husband would naturally be anxious to bring your
father to some kind of reckoning, to extort from him the real secret of
your fate. He would no doubt stay in New York to do this; and we cannot
tell how difficult the business might prove, or how long it would occupy
"But if he had been detained like that, he would surely have written to
you," said Marian; "and you have heard nothing from him since he left
"Unhappily nothing. But he is not the best correspondent in the world,
"Yes, yes, I know that. Yet, in such a case as this, he would surely have
written, if he were well." Her eyes met Gilbert's as she said this. She
stopped abruptly, dismayed by something in his face.
"You are hiding some misfortune from me," she cried; "I can see it in
your face. You have had bad news of him."
"Upon my honour, no. He was not in very strong health when he left
England, that is all; and, like yourself, I am naturally anxious."
He had not meant to admit even as much as this just yet; but having said
this, he found himself compelled to say more. Marian questioned him so
closely, that she finally extorted from him the whole history of John
Saltram's illness. After that it was quite in vain to attempt
consolation. She was very gentle, very patient, troubling him with no
vain wailings and lamentations; but he could see that her heart was
He left her at the end of a few hours to return to London, promising to
go on to Liverpool next day, in order to be on the spot to await her
husband's return, and to send her the earliest possible tidings of it.
"Your friendship for us has given you nothing but trouble and pain," she
said; "but if you will do this for me, I shall be grateful to you for the
rest of my life."
There was no occasion for that journey to Liverpool. When he arrived in
London that night, Gilbert Fenton found a letter waiting for him at his
Wigmore-street lodgings--a letter with the New York post-mark, but _not_
addressed in his friend's hand. He tore it open hurriedly, just a little
alarmed by this fact.
His first feeling was one of relief. There were three separate sheets of
paper in the envelope, and the first which he took up was in John
Saltram's hand--a hurried eager letter, dated some weeks before.
"My dear Gilbert," he wrote, "I have been duped. This man Nowell is a
most consummate scoundrel. The woman with him is not Marian, but some
girl whom he has picked up to represent her--his wife perhaps, or
something worse. I was very ill on the passage out, and only discovered
the trick at the last. Since then I have traced the scoundrel to his
quarters, and have had an interview with him--rather a stormy one, as you
may suppose. But the long and short of it is that he defies me. He tells
me that my wife is in England, and safe, but will admit no more. I have
consulted a lawyer here, but it seems I can do nothing against him--or
nothing that will not involve a more complicated and protracted business
than I have time or patience for. I don't want this wretch to go
scot-free. It is evident that he has hatched this plot in order to get
possession of his daughter's money, and I have little doubt the lawyer
Medler is in it. But of course my first duty, as well as my most ardent
desire, is to find Marian; and for this purpose I shall come back to
England by the first steamer that will convey me, leaving Mr. Nowell's
punishment to the chances of the future. My dear girl's property, as well
as herself, will be best protected by my presence in England."
There was a pause here, and the next paragraph was dated two days after.
"If I have strength to come, I shall return by the next steamer; but the
fact is, my dear Gilbert, I am very ill--have been completely prostrate
since writing the above--and a doctor here tells me I must not think of
the voyage yet awhile. But I shan't allow his opinion to govern me. If I
can crawl to the steamer, which starts three days hence, I shall come."
Then there was another break, and again the writer went on in a weak and
more straggling hand, without any date this time.
"My dear Gil, it's nearly a week since I wrote the last lines, and I've
been in bed ever since. I'm afraid there's no hope for me; in plain words,
I believe I'm dying. To you I leave the duty I am not allowed to perform.
Marian is living, and in England. I believe that scoundrelly father of hers
told me the truth when he declared that. You will not rest till you find
her, I know; and you will protect her fortune from that wretch. God bless
you, faithful old friend! Heaven knows how I yearn for the sight of your
honest face, lying here among strangers, to be buried in a foreign land.
See that my wife pays Mrs. Branston the money I borrowed to come here; and
tell her that I was grateful to her, and thought of her on my dying bed.
To my wife I send no message. She knows that I loved her; but how dear she
has been to me in this bitter time of separation, she can never know.
"You will find a bulky MS. at my chambers, in the bottom drawer on the
right side of my desk. It is my Life of Swift--unfinished as my own life.
If, after reading it, you should think it worth publishing, as a
fragment, with my name to it, I should wish you to arrange its
publication. I should be glad to leave my name upon something."
In a stranger's hand, and upon another sheet of paper, Gilbert read the
end of his friend's history.
"Sir,--I regret to inform you that your friend Mr. Saltram expired
at eleven o'clock last night (Wednesday, May 2nd), after an
illness of a fortnight's duration, throughout which I gave him my
best attention as his medical adviser. He will be buried in the
Cypress-hill Cemetery, on Long Island, at his own request; and he
has left sufficient funds for the necessary expenses, and the
payment of his hotel bill, as well as my own small claim against
him. Any surplus which may be left I shall forward to you, when
these payments have been made. I enclose a detailed account of the
case for your satisfaction, and have the honour to be, sir,
"Yours very obediently,
"SILAS WARREN, M.D.
"113 Sixteenth-street, New York,
"May 3, 186--."
This was all.
And Gilbert had to carry these tidings to Marian. For a time he was
almost paralyzed by the blow. He had loved this man as a brother; if he
had ever doubted the strength of his attachment to John Saltram, he knew
it now. But the worst of all was, that one bitter fact--Marian must be
told, and by him.
He went back to the Grange next day. Again and again upon that miserable
journey he acted over the scene which was to take place when he came to
the end of it--in spite of himself, as it were--going over the words he
was to say, while Marian's face rose before him like a picture. How was
he to tell her? Would not the very fact of this desolation coming to her
from his lips be sufficient to make him hateful to her in all the days to
come? More than once upon that journey he was tempted to turn back, and
to leave his dismal news to be told in a letter.
But when the fatal moment did at last arrive, the event in no manner
realized the picture of his imagination. Time was not given to him to
speak those solemn preliminary words by which he had intended to prepare
the victim for her deathblow. His presence there, and his presence alone,
were all sufficient to prepare her for some calamity.
"You have come back to me, and without him!" she exclaimed. "Tell me what
has happened; tell me at once."
He had no time to defer the stroke. His face told her so much. In a few
moments--before his broken words could shape themselves into
coherence--she knew all.
There are some things that can never be forgotten. Never, to his dying
day, can Gilbert Fenton forget the quiet agony he had to witness then.
She was very ill for a long time after that day--in danger of death. All
that she had suffered during her confinement at Wyncomb seemed to fall
upon her now with a double weight. Only the supreme devotion of those who
cared for her could have carried her through that weary time; but the day
did at last come when the peril was pronounced a thing of the past, and
the feeble submissive patient might be carried away from the Grange--from
the scene of her brief married life and of her bitter widowhood.