Part 8 out of 10
figure, was frightened at the weight of the blow she had struck; and
strange thoughts and conjectures filled her mind. Hitherto, she had felt
sure Robert Penfold was under a delusion as to Arthur Wardlaw, and that
his suspicions were as unjust as they certainly were vague. Yet now, at
the name of Robert Penfold, Arthur turned pale, and fled like a guilty
thing. This was a coincidence that confirmed her good opinion of Robert
Penfold, and gave her ugly thoughts of Arthur. Still, she was one very
slow to condemn a friend, and too generous and candid to condemn on
suspicion; so she resolved as far as possible to suspend her unfavorable
judgment of Arthur, until she should have asked him why this great
emotion, and heard his reply.
Moreover, she was no female detective, but a pure creature bent on
clearing innocence. The object of her life was, not to discover the
faults of Arthur Wardlaw, or any other person, but to clear Robert
Penfold of a crime. Yet Arthur's strange behavior was a great shock to
her; for here, at the very outset, he had somehow made her feel she must
hope for no assistance from him. She sighed at this check, and asked
herself to whom she should apply first for aid. Robert had told her to
see his counsel, his solicitor, his father, and Mr. Undercliff, an
expert, and to sift the whole matter.
Not knowing exactly where to begin, she thought she would, after all,
wait a day or two to give Arthur time to recover himself, and decide
calmly whether he would co-operate with her or not.
In this trying interval, she set up a diary--for the first time in her
life; for she was no egotist. And she noted down what we have just
related, only in a very condensed form, and wrote at the margin:
Arthur never came near her for two whole days. This looked grave. On the
third day she said to General Rolleston:
"Papa, _you_ will help me in the good cause--will you not?"
He replied that he would do what he could, but feared that would be
"Will you take me down to Elmtrees, this morning?"
"With all my heart."
He took her down to Elmtrees. On the way she said: "Papa, you must let me
get a word with Mr. Wardlaw alone."
"Oh, certainly. But, of course, you will not say a word to hurt his
"Excuse me. But, when a person of your age is absorbed with one idea, she
sometimes forgets that other people have any feelings at all."
Helen kissed him meekly, and said that was too true; and she would be
upon her guard.
To General Rolleston's surprise, his daughter no sooner saw old Wardlaw
than she went--or seemed to go--into high spirits, and was infinitely
But at last she got him all to herself, and then she turned suddenly
grave, and said:
"Mr. Wardlaw, I want to ask you a question. It is something about Robert
Wardlaw shook his head. "That is a painful subject, my dear. But what do
you wish to know about that unhappy young man?"
"Can you tell me the name of the counsel who defended him at the trial?"
"No, indeed, I cannot."
"But perhaps you can tell me where I could learn that."
"His father is in our office still; no doubt he could tell you."
Now, for obvious reasons, Helen did not like to go to the office; so she
asked faintly if there was nobody else who could tell her.
"I suppose the solicitor could."
"But I don't know who was the solicitor," said Helen, with a sigh.
"Hum!" said the merchant. "Try the bill-broker. I'll give you his
address;" and he wrote it down for her.
Helen did not like to be too importunate, and she could not bear to let
Wardlaw senior know she loved anybody better than his son; and yet some
explanation was necessary. So she told him, as calmly as she could, that
her father and herself were both well acquainted with Robert Penfold, and
knew many things to his credit.
"I am glad to hear that," said Wardlaw; "and I can believe it. He bore an
excellent character here, till, in an evil hour, a strong temptation
came, and he fell."
"What! You think he was guilty?"
"I do. Arthur, I believe, has his doubts still. But he is naturally
prejudiced in his friend's favor. And, besides, he was not at the trial;
"Thank you, Mr. Wardlaw," said Helen, coldly; and within five minutes she
was on her way home.
"Arthur prejudiced in Robert Penfold's favor!" That puzzled her
She put down the whole conversation while her memory was fresh. She added
this comment: "What darkness I am groping in!"
Next day she went to the bill-broker, and told him Mr. Wardlaw senior had
referred her to him for certain information.
Wardlaw's name was evidently a passport. Mr. Adams said obsequiously,
"Anything in the world I can do, madam."
"It is about Mr. Robert Penfold. I wish to know the name of the counsel
he had at his trial."
"Robert Penfold! What, the forger?"
"He was accused of that crime," said Helen, turning red.
"Accused, madam! He was convicted. I ought to know; for it was my partner
he tried the game on. But I was too sharp for him. I had him arrested
before he had time to melt the notes; indicted him, and sent him across
the herring pond, in spite of his parson's coat, the rascal!"
Helen drew back as if a serpent had stung her.
"It was you who had him transported!" cried she, turning her eyes on him
"Of course it was me," said Mr. Adams, firing up; "and I did the country
good service. I look upon a forger as worse than a murderer. What is the
matter? You are ill."
The poor girl was half fainting at the sight of the man who had destroyed
her Robert, and owned it.
"No, no," she cried, hastily; "let me get away--let me get away from
here-you cruel, cruel man!"
She tottered to the door, and got to her carriage, she scarcely knew how,
without the information she went for.
The bill-broker was no fool; he saw now how the land lay; he followed her
down the stairs, and tried to stammer excuses.
"Charing Cross Hotel," said she faintly, and laid her face against the
cushion to avoid the sight of him.
When she got home, she cried bitterly at her feminine weakness and her
incapacity; and she entered this pitiable failure in her journal with a
severity our male readers will hardly, we think, be disposed to imitate;
and she added, by way of comment: "Is this how I carry out my poor
Robert's precept: Be obstinate as a man; be supple as a woman?"
That night she consulted her father on this difficulty, so slight to any
but an inexperienced girl. He told her there must be a report of the
trial in the newspapers, and the report would probably mention the
counsel; she had better consult a file.
Then the thing was where to find a file. After one or two failures, the
British Museum was suggested. She went thither, and could not get in to
read without certain formalities. While these were being complied with,
she was at a stand-still.
That same evening came a line from Arthur Wardlaw:
"DEAREST HELEN-- I hear from Mr. Adams that you desire to know the name
of the counsel who defended Robert Penfold. It was Mr. Tollemache. He has
chambers in Lincoln's Inn.
"Ever devotedly yours,
Helen was touched with this letter, and put it away indorsed with a few
words of gratitude and esteem; and copied it into her diary, and
remarked: "This is one more warning not to judge hastily. Arthur's
agitation was probably only great emotion at the sudden mention of one
whose innocence he believes, and whose sad fate distresses him." She
wrote back and thanked him sweetly, and in terms that encouraged a visit.
Next day she went to Mr. Tollemache. A seedy man followed her at a
distance. Mr. Tollemache was not at his chambers, nor expected till four
o'clock. He was in court. She left her card, and wrote on it in pencil
that she would call at four.
She went at ten minutes after four. Mr. Tollemache declined, through his
clerk, to see her if she was a client; he could only be approached by her
solicitor. She felt inclined to go away and cry; but this time she
remembered she was to be obstinate as a man and supple as a woman. She
wrote on a card: "I am not a client of Mr. Tollemache, but a lady deeply
interested in obtaining some information, which Mr. Tollemache can with
perfect propriety give me. I trust to his courtesy as a gentleman not to
refuse me a short interview."
"Admit the lady," said a sharp little voice.
She was ushered in, and found Mr. Tollemache standing before the fire.
"Now, madam, what can I do for you?"
"Some years ago you defended Mr. Robert Penfold; he was accused of
"Oh, was he? I think I remember something about it. A banker's
"Oh, no, sir. A clergyman."
"A clergyman? I remember it perfectly. He was convicted."
"Do you think he was guilty, sir?"
"There was a strong case against him."
"I wish to sift that case."
"Indeed. And you want to go through the papers."
"What papers, sir?"
"The brief for the defense."
"Yes," said Helen, boldly, "would you trust me with that, sir? Oh, if you
knew how deeply I am interested!" The tears were in her lovely eyes.
"The brief has gone back to the solicitor, of course. I dare say he will
let you read it upon a proper representation."
"Thank you, sir. Will you tell me who is the solicitor, and where he
"Oh, I can't remember who was the solicitor. That is the very first thing
you ought to have ascertained. It was no use coming to me."
"Forgive me for troubling you, sir," said Helen, with a deep sigh.
"Not at all, madam; I am only sorry I cannot be of more service. But do
let me advise you to employ your solicitor to make these preliminary
inquiries. Happy to consult with him, and re-open the matter should he
discover any fresh evidence." He bowed her out, and sat down to a brief
while she was yet in sight.
She turned away heart-sick. The advice she had received was good; but she
shrank from baring her heart to her father's solicitor.
She sat disconsolate awhile, then ordered another cab, and drove to
Wardlaw's office. It was late, and Arthur was gone home; so, indeed, was
everybody, except one young subordinate, who was putting up the shutters.
"Sir," said she, "can you tell me where old Mr. Penfold lives?"
"Somewhere in the subbubs, miss."
"Yes, sir; but where?"
"I think it is out Pimlico way."
"Could you not give me the street? I would beg you to accept a present if
This sharpened the young gentleman's wits; he went in and groped here and
there till he found the address, and gave it her: No. 3, Fairfield
Cottages, Primrose Lane, Pimlico. She gave him a sovereign, to his
infinite surprise and delight, and told the cabman to drive to the hotel.
The next moment the man who had followed her was chatting familiarly with
the subordinate, and helping him to put up the shutters.
"I say, Dick," said the youngster, "Penfolds is up in the market; a
duchess was here just now, and gave me a soy, to tell her where he lived.
Wait a moment till I spit on it for luck."
The agent, however, did not wait to witness that interesting ceremony. He
went back to his hansom round the corner, and drove at once to Arthur
Wardlaw's house with the information.
Helen noted down Michael Penfold's address in her diary, and would have
gone to him that evening, but she was to dine _tete-a-tete_ with her
Next day she went down to 3 Fairfield Cottages at half past four. On the
way her heart palpitated, for this was a very important interview. Here
at least she might hope to find some clew, by following out which she
would sooner or later establish Robert's innocence. But then came a
fearful thought: "Why had not his father done this already, if it was
possible to do it? His father must love him. His father must have heard
his own story, and tested it in every way. Yet his father remained the
servant of a firm, the senior partner of which had told her to her face
Robert was guilty."
It was a strange and terrible enigma. Yet she clung to the belief that
some new light would come to her from Michael Penfold. Then came. bashful
fears. "How should she account to Mr. Penfold for the interest she took
in his own son, she who was affianced to Mr. Penfold's employer." She
arrived at 3 Fairfield Cottages with her cheeks burning, and repeating to
herself: "Now is the time to be supple as a woman but obstinate as a
She sent the cabman in to inquire for Mr. Penfold; a sharp girl of about
thirteen came out to her, and told her Mr. Penfold was not at home.
"Can you tell me when he will be at home?"
"No, miss. He have gone to Scotland. A telegraphum came from Wardlaws'
last night, as he was to go to Scotland first thing this morning; and he
went at six o'clock."
"Oh, dear! How unfortunate!"
"Who shall I say called, miss?"
"Thank you, I will write. What time did the telegram come?"
"Between five and six last evening, miss."
She returned to the hotel. Fate seemed to be against her. Baffled at the
very threshold! At the hotel she found Arthur Wardlaw's card and a
She sat down directly, and wrote to him affectionately, and asked him in
the postscript if he could send her a report of the trial. She received a
reply directly, that he had inquired in the office, for one of the clerks
had reports of it; but this clerk was unfortunately out, and had locked
up his desk.
Helen sighed. Her feet seemed to be clogged at every step in this
Next morning, however, a large envelope came for her, and a Mr. Hand
wrote to her thus:
"MADAM--Having been requested by Mr. Arthur Wardlaw to send you my
extracts of a trial, the Queen _v._ Penfold, I herewith forward the same,
and would feel obliged by your returning them at your convenience.
"Your obedient servant,
Helen took the inclosed extracts to her bedroom, and there read them both
over many times.
In both these reports the case for the Crown was neat, clear, cogent,
straight-forward, and supported by evidence. The defense was chiefly
argument of counsel to prove the improbability of a clergyman and a man
of good character passing a forged note. One of the reports stated that
Mr. Arthur Wardlaw, a son of the principal witness, had taken the
accusation so much to heart that he was now dangerously ill at Oxford.
The other report did not contain this, but, on the other hand, it stated
that the prisoner, after conviction, had endeavored to lay the blame on
Mr. Arthur Wardlaw, but that the judge had stopped him, and said he could
only aggravate his offense by endeavoring to cast a slur upon the
Wardlaws, who had both shown a manifest desire to shield him, but were
powerless for want of evidence.
In both reports the summing up of the judge was moderate in expression,
but leaned against the prisoner on every point, and corrected the
sophistical reasoning of his counsel very sensibly. Both reports said an
expert was called for the prisoner, whose ingenuity made the court smile,
but did not counterbalance the evidence. Helen sat cold as ice with the
extracts in her hand.
Not that her sublime faith was shaken, but that poor Robert appeared to
have been so calmly and fairly dealt with by everybody. Even Mr.
Hennessy, the counsel for the Crown, had opened the case with humane
regret, and confined himself to facts, and said nobody would be more
pleased than he would, if this evidence could be contradicted, or
explained in a manner consistent with the prisoner's innocence.
What a stone she had undertaken to roll--up what a hill!
What was to be her next step? Go to the Museum, which was now open to
her, and read more reports? She shrank from that.
"The newspapers are all against him," said she; "and I don't want to be
told he is guilty, when I know he is innocent."
She now re-examined the extracts with a view to names, and found the only
names mentioned were those of the counsel. The expert's name was not
given in either. However, she knew that from Robert. She resolved to
speak to Mr. Hennessy first, and try and get at the defendant's solicitor
She found him out by the Law Directory, and called at a few minutes past
Hennessy was almost the opposite to Tollemache. He was about the size of
a gentleman's wardrobe; and, like most enormous men, good-natured. He
received her, saw with his practiced eye that she was no common person,
and, after a slight hesitation on professional grounds, heard her
request. He sent for his note-book, found the case in one moment,
remastered it in another, and told her the solicitor for the Crown in
that case was Freshfleld.
"Now," said he, "you want to know who was the defendant's solicitor?
Jenkins, a stamped envelope. Write your name and address on that."
While she was doing it, he scratched a line to Mr. Freshfield, asking him
to send the required information to the inclosed address.
She thanked Mr. Hennessy with the tears in her eyes.
"I dare not ask you whether you think him guilty," she said.
Hennessy shook his head with an air of good-natured rebuke.
"You must not cross-examine counsel," said he. "But, if it will be any
comfort to you, I'll say this much, there was just a shadow of doubt, and
Tollemache certainly let a chance slip. If I had defended your friend, I
would have insisted on a postponement of the trial until this Arthur
Wardlaw" (looking at his note-book) "could be examined, either in court
or otherwise, if he was really dying. Is he dead, do you know?"
"I thought not. Sick witnesses are often at death's door; but I never
knew one pass the threshold. Ha! ha! The trial ought to have been
postponed till he got well. If a judge refused me a postponement in such
a case, I would make him so odious to the jury that the prisoner would
get a verdict in spite of his teeth."
"Then you think he was badly defended?"
"No; that is saying a great deal more than I could justify. But there are
counsel who trust too much to their powers of reasoning, and underrate a
chink in the evidence pro or con. Practice, and a few back-falls, cure
them of that."
Mr. Hennessy uttered this general observation with a certain change of
tone, which showed he thought he had said as much or more than his
visitor had any right to expect from him; and she therefore left him,
repeating her thanks. She went home, pondering on every word he had said,
and entered it all in her journal, with the remark: "How strange! the
first doubt of Robert's guilt comes to me from the lawyer who caused him
to be found guilty. He calls it the shadow of a doubt."
That very evening, Mr. Freshfield had the courtesy to send her by
messenger the name and address of the solicitor who had defended Robert
Penfold, Lovejoy & James, Lincoln's Inn Fields. She called on them, and
sent in her card. She was kept waiting a long time in the outer office,
and felt ashamed, and sick at heart, seated among young clerks. At last
she was admitted, and told Mr. Lovejoy she and her father, General
Rolleston, were much interested in a late client of his, Mr. Robert
Penfold; and would he be kind enough to let her see the brief for the
"Are you a relation of the Penfolds, madam?"
"No, sir," said Helen blushing.
"Humph!" said Lovejoy. He touched a hand-bell. A clerk appeared.
"Ask Mr. Upton to come to me." Mr. Upton, the managing clerk, came in due
course, and Mr. Lovejoy asked him:
"Who instructed us in the Queen _v._ Penfold?"
"It was Mr. Michael Penfold, sir." Mr. Lovejoy then told Helen that she
must just get a line from Mr. Michael Penfold, and then the papers should
be submitted to her.
"Yes; but, sir," said Helen, "Mr. Penfold is in Scotland."
"Well, but you can write to him."
"No; I don't know in what part of Scotland he is."
"Then you are not very intimate with him."
"No, sir; my acquaintance is with Mr. Robert Penfold."
"Have you a line from _him?"_
"I have no _written_ authority from him; but will you not take my word
that I act by his desire?"
"My dear madam," said the lawyer, "we go by rule. There are certain forms
to be observed in these things. I am sure your own good sense will tell
you it would be cruel and improper of me to submit those papers without
an order from Robert or Michael Penfold. Pray consider this as a delay,
not a refusal."
"Yes, sir," said Helen; "but I meet with nothing but delays, and my heart
is breaking under them."
The solicitor looked sorry, but would not act irregularly. She went home
sighing, and condemned to wait the return of Michael Penfold.
The cab door was opened for her by a seedy man she fancied she had seen
Baffled thus, and crippled in every movement she made, however slight, in
favor of Robert Penfold, she was seduced on the other hand into all the
innocent pleasures of the town. Her adventure had transpired somehow or
other, and all General Rolleston's acquaintances hunted him up; and both
father and daughter were courted by people of ton as lions. A shipwrecked
beauty is not offered to society every day. Even her own sex raved about
her, and about the chain of beautiful pearls she had picked up somehow on
her desolate island. She always wore them; they linked her to that sacred
purpose she seemed to be forgetting. Her father drew her with him into
the vortex, hiding from her that he embarked in it principally for her
sake, and she went down the current with him out of filial duty. Thus
unfathomable difficulties thrust her back from her up-hill task. And the
world, with soft but powerful hand, drew her away to it. Arthur brought
her a choice bouquet, or sent her a choice bouquet, every evening, but
otherwise did not intrude much upon her; and though she was sure he would
assist her, if she asked him, gratitude and delicacy forbade her to call
him again to her assistance. She preferred to await the return of Michael
Penfold. She had written to him at the office to tell him she had news of
his son, and begged him to give her instant notice of his return from
Day after day passed, and he did not write to her. She began to chafe,
and then to pine. Her father saw, and came to a conclusion that her
marriage with Arthur ought to be hastened. He resolved to act quietly but
firmly toward that end.
UP to this time Helen's sex, and its attributes, had been a great
disadvantage to her. She had been stopped on the very threshold of her
inquiry by petty difficulties which a man would have soon surmounted. But
one fine day the scale gave a little turn, and she made a little
discovery, thanks to her sex. Women, whether it is that they are born to
be followed, or are accustomed to be followed, seem to have eyes in the
backs of their heads, and instinct to divine when somebody is after them.
This inexperienced girl, who had missed seeing many things our readers
have seen, observed in merely passing her window a seedy man in the
courtyard of the hotel. Would you believe it, she instantly recognized
the man who had opened her cab door for her in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Quick as lightning it passed through her mind, "Why do I see the same
figure at Lincoln's Inn Fields and at Charing Cross?" At various
intervals she passed the window; and twice she saw the man again. She
pondered, and determined to try a little experiment. Robert Penfold, it
may be remembered, had mentioned an expert as one of the persons she was
to see. She had looked for his name in the Directory; but experts were
not down in the book. Another fatality! But at last she had found
Undercliff, a lithographer, and she fancied that must be the same person.
She did not hope to learn much from him; the newspapers said his evidence
had caused a smile. She had a distinct object in visiting him, the nature
of which will appear. She ordered a cab, and dressed herself. She came
down, and entered the cab; but, instead of telling the man to drive, she
gave him a slip of paper, containing the address of the lithographer.
"Drive there," said she, a little mysteriously. The cabman winked,
suspecting an intrigue, and went off to the place. There she learned Mr.
Undercliff had moved to Frith Street, Soho, number not known. She told
the cabman to drive slowly up and down the street, but could not find the
name. At last she observed some lithographs in a window. She let the
cabman go all down the street, then stopped him, and paid him off. She
had no sooner done this than she walked very briskly back, and entered
the little shop, and inquired for Mr. Undercliff. He was out, and not
expected back for an hour. "I will wait," said Helen; and she sat down
with her head upon her white hand. A seedy man passed the window rapidly
with a busy air. And, if his eye shot a glance into the shop, it was so
slight and careless nobody could suspect he was a spy and had done his
work effectually as he flashed by. In that moment the young lady, through
the chink of her fingers, which she had opened for that purpose, not only
recognized the man, but noticed his face, his hat, his waistcoat, his
dirty linen, and the pin in his necktie.
"Ah!" said she, and flushed to the brow.
She lifted up her head and became conscious of a formidable old woman,
who was standing behind the counter at a side door, eying her with the
severest scrutiny. This old woman was tall and thin, and had a fine face,
the lower part of which was feminine enough; but the forehead and brows
were alarming. Though her hair was silvery, the brows were black and
shaggy, and the forehead was divided by a vertical furrow into two
temples. Under those shaggy eyebrows shone dark gray eyes that passed for
black with most people; and those eyes were fixed on Helen, reading her.
Helen's light hazel eyes returned their gaze. She blushed, and, still
looking, said, "Pray, madam, can I see Mr. Undercliff?"
"My son is out for the day, miss," said the old lady civilly.
"Oh, dear! how unfortunate I am!" said Helen, with a sigh.
"He comes back to-night. You can see him to-morrow at ten o'clock. A
question of handwriting?"
"Not exactly," said Helen; "but he was witness in favor of a person I
know was innocent."
"But he was found guilty," said the other, with cool frankness.
"Yes, madam. And he has no friend to clear him but me, a poor weak girl,
baffled and defeated whichever way I turn." She began to cry.
The old woman looked at her crying, with that steady composure which
marks her sex on these occasions; and, when she was better, said quietly,
"You are not so weak as you think." She added, after a while, "If you
wish to retain my son, you had better leave a fee."
"With pleasure, madam. What is the fee?"
"One guinea. Of course, there is a separate charge for any work he may do
"That is but reasonable, madam." And with this she paid the fee, and rose
"Shall I send any one home with you?"
"No, thank you," said Helen. "Why?"
"Because you are followed, and because you are not used to be followed."
"Why, how did you find that out?"
"By your face, when a man passed the window--a shabby-genteel fellow; he
was employed by some gentleman, no doubt. Such faces as yours will be
followed in London. If you feel uneasy, miss, I will put on my bonnet and
see you home."
Helen was surprised at this act of substantial civility from the Gorgon.
"Oh, thank you, Mrs. Undercliff," said she. "No, I am not the least
afraid. Let them follow me, I am doing nothing that I am ashamed of.
Indeed, I am glad I am thought worth the trouble of following. It shows
me I am not so thoroughly contemptible. Good-by, and many thanks. Ten
And she walked home without looking once behind her till the hotel was in
sight; then she stopped at a shop window, and in a moment her swift eye
embraced the whole landscape. But the shabby-genteel man was nowhere in
WHEN Joseph Wylie disappeared from the scene, Nancy Rouse made a
discovery which very often follows the dismissal of a suitor--that she
was considerably more attached to him than she had thought. The house
became dull, the subordinate washerwomen languid; their taciturnity
irritated and depressed Nancy by turns.
In the midst of this, Michael Penfold discovered that Helen had come back
safe. He came into her parlor, beaming with satisfaction, and told her of
the good news. It gave her immense delight at first. But, when she had
got used to her joy on that score, she began to think she had used Joe
Wylie very ill. Now that Helen was saved, she could no longer realize
that Wylie was so very much to blame.
She even persuaded herself that his disappearance was the act of a justly
offended man; and, as he belonged to a class of whose good sense she had
a poor opinion, she was tormented with fears that he would do some
desperate act--drown himself, or go to sea; or, worst of all, marry some
trollop. She became very anxious and unhappy. Before this misfortune she
used to go about singing the first verse of a song, and whistling the
next, like any plowboy; an eccentric performance, but it made the house
gay. Now both song and whistle were suspended! and, instead, it was all
hard work and hard crying; turn about.
She attached herself to Michael Penfold because he had known trouble, and
was sympathetic. And these two opened their hearts to one another, and
formed a friendship that was very honest and touching.
The scene of their conversation and mutual consolation was Nancy's
parlor; a little mite of a room she had partitioned off from her
business. "For," said she, "a lady I'll be--after my work is done--if it
is only in a cupboard." The room had a remarkably large fireplace, which
had originally warmed the whole floor, but now was used as a ventilator
only. The gas would have been stifling without it. As for lighting a fire
in it, that was out of the question.
On a certain evening, soon after Mr. Penfold's return from Scotland, the
pair sat over their tea, and the conversation fell on the missing
sweetheart. Michael had been thinking it over, and was full of
encouragement. He said:
"Miss Rouse, something tells me that, if poor Mr. Wylie could only know
your heart, he would turn up again directly. What we ought to do is to
send somebody to look for him in all the sailors' haunts--some sharp
fellow-- Dear me, what a knocking they keep up next door!"
"Oh, that is always the way when one wants a quiet chat. Drat the woman!
I'll have her indicted."
"No, you won't, Miss Rouse. She is a poor soul, and has got no business
except letting lodgings; she is not like you. But I do hope she will be
so kind as not to come quite through the wall."
"Dear heart!" said Nancy, "go on, and never mind her noise, which it is
worse than a horgan-grinder."
"Well, then, if you can't find him that way, I say--Advertise."
"Me!" cried Nancy, turning very red. "Do I look like a woman as would
advertise for a man?"
"No, ma'am. Quite the reverse. But what I mean is, you might put in
something not too plain. For instance: If J. W. will return to N. R., all
will be forgotten and forgiven."
"He'd have the upper hand of me for life," said Nancy. "No, no; I won't
advertise for the fool. What right had he to run off at the first word?
He ought to know my bark is worse than my bite by this time. You can,
"Me bite, ma'am?" said the old gentleman.
"Bite? no. Advertise, since you're so fond of it. Come, you sit down and
write one; and I'll pay for it, for that matter."
Michael sat down, and drew up the following: "If Mr. Joseph Wylie will
call on Michael Penfold, at No. 3 E. C., he will hear of something to his
"To his advantage?" said Nancy, doubtfully. "Why not tell him the truth?"
"Why, that is the truth, ma'am. Isn't it to his advantage to be
reconciled to an honest, virtuous, painstaking lady, that honors him with
her affection--and me with her friendship? Besides, it is the common
form; and there is nothing like sticking to form."
"Mr. Penfold," said Nancy, "any one can see you was born a gentleman; and
I am a deal prouder to have you and your washing than I should him as
pays you your wages. Pale eyes--pale hair--pale eyebrows--I wouldn't
trust him to mangle a duster."
"Oh, Miss Rouse! Pray don't disparage my good master to me."
"I can't help it, sir. Thought is free, especially in this here
compartment. Better speak one's mind than die o' the sulks. So shut your
ear when my music jars. But one every other day is enough. If he won't
come back for that, why, he must go, and I must look out for another;
there's as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. Still, I'll not
deny I have a great respect for poor Joe. Oh, Mr. Penfold, what shall I
do! Oh, oh, oh!"
"There, there," said Michael, "I'll put this into the _Times_ every day."
"You are a good soul, Mr. Penfold. Oh--oh, oh!"
When he had finished the advertisement in a clerkly hand, and she had
finished her cry, she felt comparatively comfortable, and favored Mr.
Penfold with some reflections.
"Dear heart, Mr. Penfold, how you and I do take to one another, to be
sure. But so we ought; for we are honest folk, the pair, and has had a
hard time. Don't it never strike you rather curious that two thousand
pounds was at the bottom of both our troubles, yourn and mine? I might
have married Joe, and been a happy woman with him; but the Devil puts in
my head-- There you go again hammering! Life ain't worth having next door
to that lodging-house. Drat the woman, if she must peck, why don't she go
in the churchyard and peck her own grave; which we shall never be quiet
till she is there. And these here gimcrack houses, they won't stand no
more pecking at than a soap-sud. Ay, that's what hurts me, Mr. Penfold.
The Lord had given him and me health and strength and honesty; our
betters had wed for love and wrought for money, as the saying is; but I
must go again Nature, that cried 'Come couple'; and must bargain for two
thousand pounds. So now I've lost the man, and not got the money, nor
never shall. And, if I had, I'd burn-- Ah--ah--ah--ah--ah!"
This tirade ended in stifled screams of terror, caused by the sudden
appearance of a human hand, in a place and in a manner well adapted to
shake the stoutest laundress's nerves.
This hand came through the brick-work of the chimney-place, and there
remained a moment or two. Then slowly retired, and as it retired
something was heard to fall upon the shavings and tinsel of the
Nancy, by a feminine impulse, put her hands before her face, to hide this
supernatural hand; and, when she found courage to withdraw them, and
glare at the place, there was no aperture whatever in the brick-work;
and, consequently, the hand appeared to have traversed the solid
material, both coming and going.
"Oh, Mr. Penfold," cried Nancy; "I'm a sinful woman. This comes of
talking of the Devil arter sunset;" and she sat trembling so that the
very floor shook.
Mr. Penfold's nerves were not strong. He and Nancy both huddled together
for mutual protection, and their faces had not a vestige of color left in
However, after a period of general paralysis, Penfold whispered:
"I heard it drop something on the shavings."
"Then we shall be all in a blaze o' brimstone," shrieked Nancy, wringing
And they waited to see.
Then, as no conflagration took place, Mr. Penfold got up, and said he
must go and see what it was the hand had dropped.
Nancy, in whom curiosity was beginning to battle with terror, let him go
to the fireplace without a word of objection, and then cried out:
"Don't go anigh it, sir; it will do you a mischief; don't touch, it
whatever. _Take the tongs."_
He took the tongs, and presently flung into the middle of the room a
small oilskin packet. This, as it lay on the ground, they both eyed like
two deer glowering at a piece of red cloth, and ready to leap back over
the moon if it should show signs of biting. But oil-skin is not
preternatural, nor has tradition connected it, however remotely, with the
Enemy of man.
Consequently, a great revulsion took place in Nancy, and she passed from
fear to indignation at having been frightened so.
She ran to the fireplace, and, putting her head up the chimney, screamed,
"Heave your dirt where you heave your love, ye Brazen!"
While she was objurgating her neighbor, whom, with feminine justice, she
held responsible for every act done in her house, Penfold undid the
packet, and Nancy returned to her seat, with her mind more at ease, to
examine the contents.
"Bank-notes!" cried Penfold.
"Ay," said Nancy incredulously, "they do look like bank-notes, and feel
like 'em; but they ain't wrote like them. Bank-notes ain't wrote black
like that in the left-hand corner."
"Ten-pound notes are not, nor fives; but large notes are. These are all
"What, each of them bits of paper worth fifty pounds?"
"Yes. Let us count them; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,
15, 16, 17, 18--Oh, Lord!--20. Why, that is two thousand pounds--just two
thousand pounds. It is the very sum that ruined me; it did not belong to
me, and it's being in the house ruined my poor Robert. And this does not
belong to you. Lock all the doors, bar all the windows, and burn them
before the police come."
"Wait a bit," said Nancy--"wait a bit." They sat on each side of the
notes; Penfold agitated and terrified, Nancy confounded and perplexed.
PUNCTUALLY at ten o'clock Helen returned to Frith Street, and found Mr.
Undercliff behind a sort of counter, employed is tracing; a workman was
seated at some little distance from him; both bent on their work.
"Mr. Undercliff?" said Helen.
He rose and turned toward her politely--a pale, fair man, with a keen
gray eye and a pleasant voice and manner; "I am Edward Undercliff. You
come by appointment?"
"A question of handwriting?"
"Not entirely, sir. Do you remember giving witness in favor of a young
clergyman, Mr. Robert Penfold, who was accused of forgery?"
"I remember the circumstance, but not the details."
"Oh, dear! that is unfortunate," said Helen, with a deep sigh; she often
had to sigh now.
"Why, you see," said the expert, "I am called on such a multitude of
trials. However, I take notes of the principal ones. What year was it
Mr. Undercliff went to a set of drawers arranged chronologically, and
found his notes directly. "It was a forged bill, madam, indorsed and
presented by Penfold. I was called to prove that the bill was not in the
handwriting of Penfold. Here is my fac-simile of the Robert Penfold
indorsed upon the bill by the prisoner." He handed it her, and she
examined it with interest.
"And here are fac-similes of genuine writing by John Wardlaw; and here is
a copy of the forged note."
He laid it on the table before her. She started, and eyed it with horror.
It was a long time before she could speak. At length she said, "And that
wicked piece of paper destroyed Robert Penfold."
"Not that piece of paper, but the original; this is a fac-simile, so far
as the writing is concerned. It was not necessary in this case to imitate
paper and color. Stay, here is a sheet on which I have lithographed the
three styles; that will enable you to follow my comparison. But perhaps
that would not interest you." Helen had the tact to say it would. Thus
encouraged, the expert showed her that Robert Penfold's writing had
nothing in common with the forged note. He added: "I also detected in the
forged note habits which were entirely absent from the true writing of
John Wardlaw. You will understand there were plenty of undoubted
specimens in court to go by."
"Then, oh, sir," said Helen, "Robert Penfold was not guilty."
"Certainly not of writing the forged note. I swore that, and I'll swear
it again. But when it came to questions whether he had passed the note,
and whether he knew it was forged, that was quite out of my province."
"I can understand that," said Helen; "but you heard the trial; you are
very intelligent, sir, you must have formed some opinion as to whether he
was guilty or not."
The expert shook his head. "Madam," said he, "mine is a profound and
difficult art, which aims at certainties. Very early in my career I found
that to master that art I must be single-minded, and not allow my ear to
influence my eye. By purposely avoiding all reasoning from external
circumstances, I have distanced my competitors in expertise; but I
sometimes think I have rather weakened my powers of conjecture through
disuse. Now, if my mother had been at the trial, she would give you an
opinion of some value on the outside facts. But that is not my line. If
you feel sure he was innocent, and want me to aid you, you must get hold
of the handwriting of every person who was likely to know old Wardlaw's
handwriting, and so might have imitated it; all the clerks in his office,
to begin with. Nail the forger; that is your only chance."
"What, sir!" said Helen, with surprise, "if you saw the true handwriting
of the person who wrote that forged note, should you recognize it?"
"Why not? It is difficult; but I have done it hundreds of times."
"Oh! Is forgery so common?"
"No. But I am in all the cases; and, besides, I do a great deal in a
business that requires the same kind of expertise--anonymous letters. I
detect assassins of that kind by the score. A gentleman or lady, down in
the country, gets a poisoned arrow by the post, or perhaps a shower of
them. They are always in disguised handwriting; those who receive them
send them up to me, with writings of all the people they suspect. The
disguise is generally more or less superficial; five or six unconscious
habits remain below it, and often these undisguised habits are the true
characteristics of the writer. And I'll tell you something curious,
madam; it is quite common for all the suspected people to be innocent;
and then I write back, 'Send me the handwriting of the people you suspect
the least;' and among them I often find the assassin."
"Oh, Mr. Undercliff," said Helen, "you make my heart sick."
"Oh, it is a vile world, for that matter," said the expert; "and the
country no better than the town, for all it looks so sweet with its green
fields and purling rills. There they sow anonymous letters like barley.
The very girls write anonymous letters that make my hair stand on end.
Yes, it is a vile world."
"Don't you believe him, miss," said Mrs. Undercliff, appearing suddenly.
Then, turning to her son, "How can you measure the world? You live in a
little one of your own--a world of forgers and anonymous writers; you see
so many of these, you fancy they are common as dirt; but they are only
common to you because they all come your way."
"Oh, that is it, is it?" said the expert, doubtfully.
"Yes, that is it, Ned," said the old lady, quietly. Then after a pause
she said "I want you to do your very best for this young lady."
"I always do," said the artist. "But how can I judge without materials?
And she brings me none."
Mrs. Undercliff turned to Helen, and said: "Have you brought him nothing
at all, no handwritings--in your bag?"
Then Helen sighed again. "I have no handwriting except Mr. Penfold's; but
I have two printed reports of the trial."
"Printed reports," said the expert, "they are no use to me. Ah! here is
an outline I took of the prisoner during the trial. You can read faces.
Tell the lady whether he was guilty or not," and he handed the profile to
his mother with an ironical look; not that he doubted her proficiency in
the rival art of reading faces, but that he doubted the existence of the
Mrs. Undercliff took the profile, and, coloring slightly, said to Miss
Rolleston: "It is living faces I profess to read. There I can see the
movement of the eyes and other things that my son here has not studied."
Then she scrutinized the profile. "It is a very handsome face," said she.
The expert chuckled. "There's a woman's judgment," said he. "Handsome!
the fellow I got transported for life down at Exeter was an Adonis, and
forged wills, bonds, and powers of attorney by the dozen."
"There's something noble about this face," said Mrs. Undercliff, ignoring
the interruption, "and yet something simple. I think him more likely to
be a cat's-paw than a felon." Having delivered this with a certain modest
dignity, she laid the profile on the counter before Helen.
The expert had a wonderful eye and hand; it was a good thing for society
he had elected to be gamekeeper instead of poacher, detector of forgery
instead of forger. No photograph was ever truer than this outline. Helen
started, and bowed her head over the sketch to conceal the strong and
various emotions that swelled at sight of the portrait of her martyr. In
vain; if the eyes were hidden, the tender bosom heaved, the graceful body
quivered, and the tears fell fast upon the counter.
Mrs. Undercliff was womanly enough, though she looked like the late Lord
Thurlow in petticoats; and she instantly aided the girl to hide her
beating heart from the man, though that man was her son. She distracted
"Give me all your notes, Ned," said she, "and let me see whether I can
make something of them; but first perhaps Miss Rolleston will empty her
bag on the counter. Go back to your work a moment, for I know you have
enough to do."
The expert was secretly glad to be released from a case in which there
were no materials; and so Helen escaped unobserved except by one of her
own sex. She saw directly what Mrs. Undercliff had done for her, and
lifted her sweet eyes, thick with tears, to thank her. Mrs. Undercliff
smiled maternally, and next these two ladies did a stroke of business in
the twinkling of an eye, and without a word spoken, whereof anon. Helen
being once more composed, Mrs. Undercliff took up the prayer-book, and
asked her with some curiosity what could be in that.
"Oh," said Helen, "only some writing of Mr. Penfold. Mr. Undercliff does
not want to see that; he is already sure Robert Penfold never wrote that
"Yes, but I should like to see some more of his handwriting, for all
that," said the expert, looking suddenly up.
"But it is only in pencil."
"Never mind; you need not fear I shall alter my opinion."
Helen colored high. "You are right; and I should disgrace my good cause
by withholding anything from your inspection. There, sir."
And she opened the prayer-book and laid Cooper's dying words before the
expert; he glanced over them with an eye like a bird, and compared them
with his notes.
"Yes," said he, "that is Robert Penfold's writing; and I say again that
hand never wrote the forged note."
"Let me see that," said Mrs. Undercliff.
"Oh, yes," said Helen, rather irresolutely; "but you look into the things
as well as the writing, and I promised papa--"
"Can't you trust me?" said Mrs. Undercliff, turning suddenly cold and a
"Oh, yes, madam; and indeed I have nothing to reproach myself with. But
my papa is anxious. However, I am sure you are my friend; and all I ask
is that you will never mention to a soul what you read there."
"I promise that," said the elder lady, and instantly bent her black brows
upon the writing. And, as she did so, Helen observed her countenance
rise, as a face is very apt to do when its owner enters on congenial
"You would have made a great mistake to keep this from _me,"_ said she,
gravely. Then she pondered profoundly; then she turned to her son and
said, "Why, Edward, this is the very young lady who was wrecked in the
Pacific Ocean, and cast on a desolate island. We have all read about you
in the papers, miss; and I felt for you, for one, but, of course, not as
I do now I have seen you. You must let me go into this with you."
"Ah, if you would!" said Helen. "Oh, madam, I have gone through tortures
already for want of somebody of my own sex to keep me in countenance! Oh,
if you could have seen how I have been received, with what cold looks,
and sometimes with impertinent stares, before I could even penetrate into
the region of those cold looks and petty formalities! Any miserable straw
was excuse enough to stop me on my errand of justice and mercy and
"Oh, yes, madam. The papers have only told you that I was shipwrecked and
cast away. They don't tell you that Robert Penfold warned me the ship was
to be destroyed, and I disbelieved and affronted him in return, and he
never reproached me, not even by a look. And we were in a boat with the
sailors all starved--not hungry; starved--and mad with thirst, and yet in
his own agony he hid something for me to eat. All his thought, all his
fear, was for me. Such things are not done in those great extremities of
the poor, vulgar, suffering body, except by angels in whom the soul rises
above the flesh. And he is such an angel. I have had a knife lifted over
me to kill me, madam--yes; and again it was he who saved me. I owe my
life to him on the island over and over again; and in return I have
promised to give him back his honor, that he values far more than life,
as all such noble spirits do. Ah, my poor martyr, how feebly I plead your
cause! Oh, help me! pray, pray, help me! All is so dark, and I so weak,
so weak." Again the loving eyes streamed; and this time not an eye was
dry in the little shop.
The expert flung down his tracing with something between a groan and a
curse. "Who can do that drudgery," he cried, "while the poor young lady--
Mother, you take it in hand; find me some material, though it is no
bigger than a fly's foot, give me but a clew no thicker than a spider's
web, and I'll follow it through the whole labyrinth. But you see I'm
impotent; there's no basis for me. It is a case for you. It wants a
shrewd, sagacious body that can read facts and faces; and-- I won't jest
any more, Miss Rolleston, for you are deeply in earnest. Well, then, she
really is a woman with a wonderful insight into facts and faces. She has
got a way of reading them as I read handwriting; and she must have taken
a great fancy to you, for as a rule she never does us the honor to
"Have you taken a fancy to me, madam?" said Helen, modestly and tenderly,
yet half archly.
"That I have," said the other. "Those eyes of yours went straight into my
heart last night, or I should not be here this morning. That is partly
owing to my own eyes being so dark and yours the loveliest hazel. It is
twenty years since eyes like yours have gazed into mine. Diamonds are not
half so rare, nor a tenth part so lovely, to my fancy."
She turned her head away, melted probably by some tender reminiscence. It
was only for a moment. She turned round again, and said quietly, "Yes,
Ned, I should like to try what I can do; I think you said these are
reports of his trial. I'll begin by reading them."
She read them both very slowly and carefully, and her face grew like a
judge's, and Helen watched each shade of expression with deep anxiety.
That powerful countenance showed alacrity and hope at first. Then doubt
and difficulty, and at last dejection. Helen's heart turned cold, and for
the first time she began to despair. For now a shrewd person, with a
plain prejudice in her favor and Robert's, was staggered by the simple
facts of the trial.
MRS. UNDERCLIFF, having read the reports, avoided Helen's eye (another
bad sign). She turned to Mr. Undercliff, and, probably because the
perusal of the reports had disappointed her, said, almost angrily:
"Edward, what did you say to make them laugh at that trial? Both these
papers say that 'an expert was called, whose ingenuity made the court
smile, but did not counterbalance the evidence.'"
"Why, that is a falsehood on the face of it," said the expert, turning
red. "I was called simply and solely to prove Penfold did not write the
forged note; I proved it to the judge's satisfaction, and he directed the
prisoner to be acquitted on that count. Miss Rolleston, the lawyers often
do sneer at experts; but then four experts out of five are rank
impostors, a set of theorists, who go by arbitrary rules framed in the
closet, and not by large and laborious comparison with indisputable
documents. These charlatans are not aware that five thousand cramped and
tremulous but genuine signatures are written every day by honest men, and
so they denounce every cramped or tremulous writing as a forgery. The
varieties in a man's writing, caused by his writing with his glove on or
off, with a quill or a bad steel pen, drunk or sober, calm or agitated,
in full daylight or dusk, etc., etc., all this is a dead letter to them,
and they have a bias toward suspicion of forgery; and a banker's clerk,
with his mere general impression, is better evidence than they are. But I
am an artist of a very different stamp. I never reason _a priori._ I
compare; and I have no bias. I never will have. The judges know this and
the pains and labor I take to be right, and they treat me with courtesy.
At Penfold's trial the matter was easy; I showed the court he had not
written the note, and my evidence crushed the indictment so far. How
could they have laughed at my testimony? Why, they acted upon it. Those
reports are not worth a straw. What journals were they cut out of?"
"I don't know," said Helen.
"Is there nothing on the upper margin to show?"
"What, not on either of them?"
"Show them me, please. This is a respectable paper, too, the _Daily
"Oh, Mr. Undercliff, how can you know that?"
"I don't _know_ it; but I think so, because the type and paper are like
that journal; the conductors are fond of clean type; so am I. Why, here
is another misstatement; the judge never said he aggravated his offense
by trying to cast a slur upon the Wardlaws. I'll swear the judge never
said a syllable of the kind. What he said was, 'You can speak in arrest
of judgment on grounds of law, but you must not impugn the verdict with
facts.' That was the only time he spoke to the prisoner at all. These
reports are not worth a button."
Helen lifted up her hands and eyes in despair. "Where shall I find the
truth?" said she. "The world is a quicksand."
"My dear young lady," said Mrs. Undercliff, "don't you be discouraged.
There must be a correct report in some paper or other."
"I am not so sure of that," said Undercliff. "I believe the reporters
trundle off to the nearest public-house together and light their pipes
with their notes, and settle something or other by memory. Indeed they
have reached a pitch of inaccuracy that could not be attained without
co-operation. Independent liars contradict each other; but these chaps
follow one another in falsehood, like geese toddling after one another
across a common.
"Come, come," said Mrs. Undercliff, "if you can't help us, don't hurt us.
We don't want a man to talk yellow jaundice to us. Miss Rolleston must
employ somebody to read all the other papers, and compare the reports
"I'll employ nobody but myself," said Helen. "I'll go to the British
"The Museum!" cried Mr. Undercliff, looking with surprise. "Why, they
will be half an hour groping for a copy of the _Times._ No, no; go to
Peele's CoffeeHouse." He directed her where to find that place; and she
was so eager to do something for Robert, however small, that she took up
her bag directly, and put up the prayer-book, and was going to ask for
her extracts, when she observed Mr. Undercliff was scrutinizing them with
great interest, so she thought she would leave them with him; but, on
looking more closely, she found that he was examining, not the reports,
but the advertisements and miscellanea on the reverse side.
She waited out of politeness, but she colored and bit her lip. She could
not help feeling hurt and indignant. "Any trash is more interesting to
people than poor Robert's case," she thought. And at last she said
"Those _advertisements_ seem to interest you, sir; shall I leave _them_
"If you please," said the expert, over whose head, bent in dogged
scrutiny, this small thunderbolt of feminine wrath passed unconscious.
Helen drove away to Peele's Coffee House.
Mrs. Undercliff pondered over the facts that had been elicited in this
conversation; the expert remained absorbed in the advertisements at the
back of Helen's reports.
When he had examined every one of them minutely, he held the entire
extracts up to the light, and looked through them; then he stuck a double
magnifier in his eye, and looked through them with that. Then he took two
pieces of card, wrote on them Re Penfold, and looked about for his other
materials, to put them all neatly together. Lo! the profile of Robert
Penfold was gone.
"Now that is too bad," said he. "So much for her dove-like eyes, that you
admired so. Miss Innocence has stolen that profile."
"Stolen! she bought it--of me."
"Why, she never said a word."
"No; but she looked a look. She asked me, with those sweet imploring
eyes, might she have it; and I looked yes. Then she glanced toward you,
and put down a note. Here it is."
"Why, you beat the telegraph, you two! Ten pounds for that thing! I must
make it up to her somehow."
"I wish you could. Poor girl, she is a lady every inch. But she is in
love with that Penfold. I'm afraid it is a hopeless case."
"I have seen a plainer. But hopeless it is not. However, you work your
way, and I'll work mine."
"But you can't; you have no materials."
"No; but I have found a door that may lead to materials."
Having delivered himself thus myteriously, he shut himself up in
obstinate silence until Helen Rolleston called again, two days afterward.
She brought a bag full of manuscript this time--to wit, copies in her own
handwriting of eight reports, the Queen _v._ Penfold. She was in good
spirits, and told Mrs. Undercliff that all the reports were somewhat more
favorable than the two she had left; and she was beginning to tell Mr.
Undercliff he was quite right in his recollection, when he interrupted
her, and said, "All that is secondary now. Have you any objection to
answer me a question?"
She colored; but said, "Oh, no. Ask me anything you like;" then she
"How did you become possessed of those two reports you left with me the
At this question, so different from what she feared, Helen cleared up and
smiled, and said, "From a Mr. Hand, a clerk in Mr. Wardlaw's office; they
were sent me at my request."
The expert seemed pleased at this reply; his brow cleared, and he said:
"Then I don't mind telling you that those two reports will bring
Penfold's case within my province. To speak plainly, Miss Rolleston, your
newspaper extracts--ARE FORGERIES."
"FORGERIES!" cried Helen, with innocent horror.
"RANK FORGERIES," repeated the expert coolly.
"Forgeries!" cried Helen. "Why, how can printed things be that?"
"That is what I should like to know," said the old lady.
"Why, what else can you call them?" said the expert. "They are got up to
look like extracts from newspapers. But they were printed as they are,
and were never in any journal. Shall I tell you how I found that out?"
"If you please, sir," said Helen.
"Well, then, I looked at the reverse side, and I found seven misprints in
one slip, and five in the other. That was a great number to creep into
printed slips of that length. The trial part did not show a single
erratum. 'Hullo!' said I to myself; 'why, one side is printed more
carefully than the other.' And that was not natural. The printing of
advertisements is looked after quite as sharply as any other part in a
journal. Why, the advertisers themselves cry out if they are misprinted!"
"Oh, how shrewd!" cried Helen.
"Child's play," said the expert. "Well, from that blot I went on. I
looked at the edges, and they were cut too clean. A gentleman with a pair
of scissors can't cut slips out of a paper like this. They were cut in
the printer's office. Lastly, on holding them to the light, I found they
had not been machined upon the plan now adopted by all newspapers; but
worked by hand. In one word--forgeries!"
"Oh," said Helen, "to think I should have handled forgeries, and shown
them to you for real. Ah! I'm so glad; for now I have committed the same
crime as Robert Penfold; I have uttered a forged document. Take me up,
and have me put in prison, for I am as guilty as ever he was." Her face
shone with rapture at sharing Robert's guilt.
The expert was a little puzzled by sentiments so high-flown and
"I think," said he, "you are hardly aware what a valuable discovery this
may prove to you. However, the next step is to get me a specimen of the
person's handwriting who furnished you with these. The chances are he is
the writer of the forged note."
Helen uttered an exclamation that was almost a scream. The inference took
her quite by surprise. She looked at Mrs. Undercliff.
"He is right, I think," said the old lady.
"Right or wrong," said the expert, "the next step in the inquiry is to do
what I said. But that demands great caution. You must write a short civil
note to Mr. Hand, and just ask him some question. Let me see. Ask him
what newspapers his extracts are from, and whether he has got any more.
He will not tell you the truth; but no matter, we shall get hold of his
"But, sir," said Helen, "there is no need for that. Mr. Hand sent me a
note along with the extracts."
"The deuce he did. All the better. Any words in it that are in the forged
note? Is Penfold in it, or Wardlaw?"
Helen reflected a moment, and then said she thought both those names were
"Fetch me that note," said Undercliff, and his eyes sparkled. He was on a
hot scent now.
"And let me study the genuine reports, and compare what they say with the
forged ones," said Mrs. Undercliff.
"Oh, what friends I have found at last!" cried Helen.
She thanked them both warmly, and hurried home, for it was getting late.
Next day she brought Hand's letter to Mr. Undercliff, and devoured his
countenance while he inspected it keenly and compared it with the forged
The comparison was long and careful, but unsatisfactory. Mr. Undercliff
could not conscientiously say whether Hand had written the forged note or
not. There were pros and cons.
"We are in deeper water than I thought," said he. "The comparison must be
enlarged. You must write as I suggested, and get another note out of Mr.
"And leave the prayer-book with me," said Mrs. Undercliff.
Helen complied with these instructions, and in due course received a
civil line from Mr. Hand, to say that the extracts had been sent him from
the country by one of his fellow-clerks, and he had locked them up, lest
Mr. Michael Penfold, who was much respected in the office, should see
them. He could not say where they came from; perhaps from some provincial
paper. If of any value to Miss Rolleston, she was quite at liberty to
keep them. He added there was a coffee-house in the city where she could
read all the London papers of that date. This letter, which contained a
great many more words than the other, was submitted to Undercliff. It
puzzled him so that he set to work, and dissected every curve the
writer's pen had made; but he could come to no positive conclusion, and
he refused to utter his conjectures.
"We are in a deep water," said he.
Finally, he told his mother he was at a stand-still for the present.
"But I am not," said Mrs. Undercliff. She added, after a while, "I think
there's felony at the bottom of this."
"Smells like it to me," said the expert.
"Then I want you to do something very clever for me."
"What is that?"
"I want you to forge something."
"Come! I say."
"Quite innocent, I assure you."
"Well, but it is a bad habit to commence."
"All depends on the object. This is to take in a forger, that is all."
The expert's eyes sparkled. He had always been sadly discontented with
the efforts of forgers, and thought he could do better.
"I'll do it," said he, gayly.
GENERAL ROLLESTON and his daughter sat at breakfast in the hotel. General
Rolleston was reading the _Times,_ and his eye lighted on something that
made him start. He looked toward Helen, and his first impulse was to
communicate it to her. But, on second thoughts, he preferred to put a
question to her first.
"You have never told the Wardlaws what those sailors said?"
"No, papa. I still think they ought to have been told; but you know you
positively forbade me."
"Of course I did. Why afflict the old gentleman with such a tale? A
couple of common sailors, who chose to fancy the ship was destroyed."
"Who are better judges of such a thing than sailors?"
"Well, my child, if you think so, I can't help it. All I say is, spare
the old gentleman such a report. As for Arthur, to tell you the truth, I
have mentioned the matter to him."
"Ah, papa! Then why forbid me to tell him? What did he say?"
"He was very much distressed. 'Destroy the ship my Helen was in,' said
he. 'If I thought Wylie had done that, I'd kill him with my own hand,
though I was hanged for it next minute.' I never saw the young fellow
fire up so before. But when he came to think calmly over it a little
while, he said: "I hope this slander will never reach my father's ears;
it would grieve him deeply. I only laugh at it.' "
"Laugh at it! and yet talk of killing?"
"Oh, people say they laugh at a thing when they are very angry all the
time. However, as you are a good girl, and mind what you are told, I'll
read you an advertisement that will make you stare. Here is Joseph Wylie,
who, you say, wrecked the _Proserpine,_ actually invited by Michael
Penfold to call on him, and hear of something to his advantage."
"Dear me!" said Helen, "how strange! Surely Mr. Penfold cannot know the
character of that man. Stop a minute! Advertise for him? Then nobody
knows where he lives? There, papa. You see he is afraid to go near Arthur
Wardlaw; he knows he destroyed the ship. What a mystery it all is! And so
Mr. Penfold is at home, after all; and not to send me a single line. I
never met with so much unkindness and discourtesy in all my life."
"Ah, my dear," said the general, "you never defied the world before, as
you are doing now."
Helen sighed; but, presently recovering her spirit, said she had done
without the world on her dear island, and she would not be its slave now.
As she was always as good as her word, she declined an invitation to play
the lion, and, dressing herself in plain merino, went down that very
evening to Michael Penfold's cottage.
We run thither a little before her, to relate briefly what had taken
Nancy Rouse, as may well be imagined, was not the woman to burn two
thousand pounds. She locked the notes up; and after that night became
very reserved on that head, so much so that, at last, Mr. Penfold saw it
was an interdicted topic, and dropped it in much wonder.
When Nancy came to think of it in daylight, she could not help suspecting
Wylie had some hand in it; and it occurred to her that the old gentleman,
who lodged next door, might be an agent of Wylie's and a spy on her.
Wylie must have told him to push the 2,000 pounds into her room; but what
a strange thing to do! To be sure, he was a sailor, and sailors had been
known to make sandwiches of bank-notes and eat them. Still, her good
sense revolted against this theory, and she was sore puzzled; for, after
all, there was the money, and she had seen it come through the wall. One
thing appeared certain, Joe had not forgotten her; he was thinking of her
as much as ever, or more than ever; so her spirits rose, she began
singing and whistling again, and waited cunningly till Joe should
reappear and explain his conduct. Hostage for his reappearance she held
the 2,000 pounds. She felt so strong and saucy she was half sorry she had
allowed Mr. Penfold to advertise; but, after all, it did not much matter;
she could always declare to Joe she had never missed him, for her part,
and the advertising was a folly of poor Mr. Penfold's.
Matters were in this condition when the little servant came up one
evening to Mr. Penfold and said there was a young lady to see him.
"A young lady for _me?"_ said he.
"Which she won't eat you, while I am by," said the sharp little girl. "It
is a lady, and the same what come before."
"Perhaps she will oblige me with her name," said Michael, timidly.
"I won't show her up till she do," said this mite of a servant, who had
been scolded by Nancy for not extracting that information on Helen's last
"Of course, I must receive her," said Michael, half consulting the mite;
it belonged to a sex which promptly assumes the control of such gentle
creatures as he was.
"Is Miss Rouse in the way?" said he.
The mite laughed, and said:
"She is only gone down the street. I'll send her in to take care on you."
With this she went off, and in due course led Helen up the stairs. She
ran in, and whispered in Michael's ear--
"It is Miss Helen Rolleston."
Thus they announced a lady at No. 3.
Michael stared with wonder at so great a personage visiting him; and the
next moment Helen glided into the room, blushing a little, and even
panting inaudibly, but all on her guard. She saw before her a rather
stately figure, and a face truly venerable, benignant and beautiful,
though deficient in strength. She cast a devouring glance on him as she
courtesied to him; and it instantly flashed across her, "But for you
there would be no Robert Penfold." There was an unconscious tenderness in
her voice as she spoke to him, for she had to open the interview.
"Mr. Penfold, I fear my visit may surprise you, as you did not write to
me. But, when you hear what I am come about, I think you will not be
displeased with me for coming."
"Displeased, madam! I am highly honored by your visit--a lady who, I
understand, is to be married to my worthy employer, Mr. Arthur. Pray be
"Thank you, sir."
Helen began in a low, thrilling voice, to which, however, she gave
firmness by a resolute effort of her will.
"I am come to speak to you of one who is very dear to you, and to all who
really know him."
"Dear to me? It is my son. The rest are gone. It is Robert."
And he began to tremble.
"Yes, it is Robert," said she, very softly; then turning her eyes away
from him, lest his emotion should overcome her, she said-- "He has laid
me and my father under deep obligations."
She dragged her father in; for it was essential not to show Mr. Penfold
she was in love with Robert.
"Obligations to my Robert? Ah, madam, it is very kind of you to say that,
and cheer a desolate father's heart with praise of his lost son! But how
could a poor unfortunate man in his position serve a lady like you?"
"He defended me against robbers, single-handed."
"Ah," said the old man, glowing with pride, and looking more beautiful
than ever, "he was always as brave as a lion."
"That is nothing; he saved my life again, and again, and again."
"God bless him for it! and God bless you for coming and telling me of it!
Oh, madam, he was always brave, and gentle, and just, and good; so noble,
And the old man began to cry.
Helen's bosom heaved, and it cost her a bitter struggle not to throw her
arms around the dear old man's neck and cry with him. But she came
prepared for a sore trial of her feelings, and she clinched her hands and
teeth, and would not give way an inch.
"Tell me how he saved your life, madam."
"He was in the ship, and in the boat, with me."
"Ah, madam," said Michael, "that must have been some other Robert
Penfold; not my son. He could not come home. His time was not up, you
"It was Robert Penfold, son of Michael Penfold."
"Excuse me a moment," said Michael; and he went to a drawer, and brought
her a photograph of Robert. "Was it this Robert Penfold?"
The girl took the photograph, and eyed it, and lowered her head over it.
"Yes," she murmured.
"And he was coming home in the ship with you. Is he mad? More trouble!
"Do not alarm yourself," said Helen; "he will not land in England for
years"--here she stifled a sob--"and long ere that we shall have restored
him to society."
Michael stared at that, and shook his head.
"Never," said he; "that is impossible."
"They all say he is a felon."
"They all _shall_ say that he is a martyr."
"And so he is; but how can that ever be proved?"
"I don't know. But I am sure the truth can always be proved, if people
have patience and perseverance."
"My sweet young lady," said Michael sadly, "you don't know the world."
"I am learning it fast, though. It may take me a few years, perhaps, to
make powerful friends, to grope my way among forgers, and spies, and
wicked, dishonest people of all sorts, but so surely as you sit there
I'll clear Robert Penfold before I die."
The good feeble old man gazed on her with admiration and astonishment.
She subdued her flashing eye, and said with a smile: "And you shall help
me. Mr. Penfold, let me ask you a question. I called here before; but you
were gone to Edinburgh. Then I wrote to you at the office, begging you to
let me know the moment you returned. Now, do not think I am angry; but
pray tell me why you would not answer my letter."
Michael Penfold was not burdened with _amour propre,_ but who has not got
a little of it in some corner of his heart? "Miss Rolleston," said he, "I
was born a gentleman, and was a man of fortune once, till false friends
ruined me. I am in business now, but still a gentleman; and neither as a
gentleman nor as a man of business could I leave a lady's letter
unanswered. I never did such a thing in all my life. I never got your
letter," he said, quite put out; and his wrath was so like a dove's that
Helen smiled and said, "But I posted it myself. And my address was in it;
yet it was not returned."
"Well, madam, it was not delivered, I assure you.
"It was intercepted, then."
He looked at her. She blushed, and said: "Yes, I am getting suspicious,
ever since I found I was followed and watched. Excuse me a moment." She
went to the window and peered through the curtains. She saw a man walking
slowly by; he quickened his pace the moment she opened the curtain.
"Yes," said she, "it was intercepted, and I am watched wherever I go."
Before she could say any more a bustle was heard on the stairs, and in
bounced Nancy Rouse, talking as she came. "Excuse me, Mr. Penfolds, but I
can't wait no longer with my heart a bursting; it _is!_ it _is!_ Oh, my
dear, sweet young lady; the Lord be praised! You really are here alive
and well. Kiss you I must and shall; come back from the dead;
"Nancy! my good, kind Nancy," cried Helen, and returned her embrace
Then followed a burst of broken explanations; and at last Helen made out
that Nancy was the landlady, and had left Lambeth long ago.
"But, dear heart!" said she, "Mr. Penfolds, I'm properly jealous of you.
To think of her coming here to see you, and not me!"
"But I didn't know you were here, Nancy." Then followed a stream of
inquiries, and such warm-hearted sympathy with all her dangers and
troubles, that Helen was led into revealing the cause of it all.
"Nancy," said she, solemnly, "the ship was willfully cast away; there was
a villain on board that made holes in her on purpose, and sunk her."
Nancy lifted up her hands in astonishment. But Mr. Penfold was far more
surprised and agitated.
"For Heaven's sake, don't say that!" he cried.
"Why not, sir?" said Helen; "it is the truth; and I have got the
testimony of dying men to prove it."
"I am sorry for it. Pray don't let anybody know. Why, Wardlaws would lose
the insurance of 160,000 pounds."
"Arthur Wardlaw knows it. My father told him."
"And he never told me," said Penfold, with growing surprise.
"Goodness me! what a world it is!" cried Nancy. "Why, that was murder,
and no less. It is a wonder she wasn't drownded, and another friend into
the bargain that I had in that very ship. Oh, I wish I had the villain
here that done it, I'd tear his eyes out."
Here the mite of a servant bounded in, radiant and giggling, gave Nancy a
triumphant glance, and popped out again, holding the door open, through
which in slouched a seafaring man, drawn by Penfold's advertisement, and
decoyed into Nancy's presence by the imp of a girl, who thought to please
Nancy, who for some days had secretly expected this visit, merely gave a
little squeak; but Helen uttered a violent scream; and, upon that, Wylie
recognized her, and literally staggered back a step or two, and these
words fell out of his mouth--
"The sick girl!"
Helen caught them.
"Ay!" cried she; "but she is alive in spite of you. Alive to denounce you
and to punish you."
She darted forward, and her eyes flashed lightning.
Look at this man, all of you," she cried. "Look at him well. THIS IS THE
WRETCH THAT SCUTTLED THE _Proserpine!"_
"OH, Miss Helen, how can you say that?" cried Nancy, in utter dismay.
"I'll lay my life poor Joe never did such wickedness."
But Helen waved her off without looking at her, and pointed at Wylie.
"Are you blind? Why does he cringe and cower at sight of me? I tell you
he scuttled the _Proserpine,_ and the great auger he did it with I have
seen and handled. Yes, sir, you destroyed a ship, and the lives of many
innocent persons, whose blood now cries to Heaven against you; and if _I_
am alive to tell the cruel tale, it is no thanks to you; for you did your
best to kill me, and, what is worse, to kill Robert Penfold, this
gentleman's son; for he was on board the ship. You are no better than an
"I am a man that's down," said Wylie, in a low and broken voice, hanging
his head. "Don't hit me any more. I didn't mean to take anybody's life. I
took my chance with the rest, lady, as I'm a man. I have lain in my bed
many's the night, crying like a child, with thinking you were dead. And
now I am glad you are alive to be revenged on me. Well, you see, it is
your turn now; you have lost me my sweetheart, there; she'll never speak
to me again, after this. Ah, the poor man gets all the blame! You don't
ask who tempted me; and, if I was to tell you, you'd hate me worse than
ever; so I'll belay. If I'm a sinner, I'm a sufferer. England's too hot
to hold me. I've only to go to sea, and get drowned the quickest way."
And with this he vented a deep sigh, and slouched out of the room.
Nancy sank into a seat, and threw her apron over her head, and rocked and
sobbed as if her heart would break.
As for Helen Rolleston, she still stood in the middle of the room,
burning with excitement.
Then poor old Michael came to her, and said, almost in a whisper:
"It is a bad business; he is her sweetheart, and she had the highest
opinion of him."
This softened Helen in a great measure. She turned and looked at Nancy,
"Oh, dear, what a miserable thing! But I couldn't know that."
After a while, she drew a chair, and sat down by Nancy, and said:
"I won't _punish_ him, Nancy."
Nancy burst out sobbing afresh.
"You have punished him," said she, bruskly, "and me, too, as never did
you no harm. You have driven him out of the country, you have."
At this piece of feminine justice Helen's anger revived. "So, then," said
she, "ships are to be destroyed, and ladies and gentlemen murdered, and
nobody is to complain, or say an angry word, if the wretch happens to be
paying his addresses to you. That makes up for all the crimes in the
world. What! Can an honest woman like you lose all sense of right and
wrong for a man? And such a man!"
"Why, he is as well-made a fellow as ever I saw," sobbed Nancy.
"Oh, is he?" said Helen, ironically--her views of manly beauty were
different, and black eyes a _sine qua non_ with her--"then it is a pity
his soul is not made to correspond. I hope by my next visit you will have
learned to despise him as you ought. Why, if I loved a man ever so, I'd
tear him out of my heart if he committed a crime; ay, though I tore my
soul out of my body to do it."
"No, you wouldn't," said Nancy, recovering some of her natural pugnacity;
"for we are all tarred with the same stick, gentle or simple."
"But I assure you I would," cried Helen; "and so ought you."
"Well, miss, you begin," cried Nancy, suddenly firing up through her
tears. "If the _Proserpine_ was scuttled, which I've your word for it,
Miss Helen, and I never knew you tell a lie, why, your sweetheart is more
to blame for it than mine."
Helen rose with dignity.
"You are in grief," said she. "I leave you to consider whether you have
done well to affront me in your own house." And she was moving to the
door with great dignity, when Nancy ran and stopped her.
"Oh, don't leave me so, Miss Helen," she cried; "don't you go to quarrel
with me for speaking the truth too plain and rude, as is a plain-spoken
body at the best; and in such grief myself I scarce know what to say. But
indeed, and in truth, you mustn't go and put it abroad that the ship was
scuttled; if you do, you won't hurt Joe Wylie; he'll get a ship and fly
the country. Who you'll hurt will be your own husband as is to
"Shall I, Mr. Penfold?" asked Helen, disdainfully.
"Well, madam, certainly it might create some unworthy suspicion.
"Suspicion?" cried Nancy. "Don't you think to throw dust in my eyes. What
had poor Joe to gain by destroying that there ship? you know very well he
was bribed to do it; and risk his own life. And who bribed him? Who
should bribe him, but the man as owned the ship?"
"Miss Rouse," said Mr. Penfold, "I sympathize with your grief, and make
great allowance; but I will not sit here and hear my worthy employer
blackened with such terrible insinuations. The great house of Wardlaw
bribe a sailor to scuttle their own ship, with Miss Rolleston and one
hundred and sixty thousand pounds' worth of gold on board! Monstrous!
"Then what did Joe Wylie mean?" replied Nancy. "Says he, 'The poor man
gets all the blame. If I was to tell you who tempted me,' says he, 'you'd
hate me worse.' Then I say, why should she hate him worse? Because it's
her sweetheart tempted mine. I stands to that."
This inference, thus worded, struck Helen as so droll that she turned her
head aside to giggle a little. But old Penfold replied loftily:
"Who cares what a _Wylie_ says against a great old mercantile house of
"Very well, Mr. Penfolds," said Nancy, with one great final sob, and
dried her eyes with her apron; and she did it with such an air, they both
saw she was not going to shed another tear about the matter. "Very well;
you are both against me; then I'll say no more. But I know what I know."
"And what do you know?" inquired Helen.
"Time will show," said Nancy, turning suddenly very dogged--"time will
Nothing more was to be got out of her after that; and Helen, soon after,
made her a civil, though stiff, little speech; regretted the pain she had
inadvertently caused her, and went away, leaving Mr. Penfold her address.
On her return home, she entered the whole adventure in her diary. She
made a separate entry to this effect:
_Mysterious._--My letter to Mr. Penfold at the office intercepted.
Wylie hints that he was bribed by Messrs. Wardlaw.
Nancy Rouse suspects that it was Arthur, and says time will show.
As for me, I can neither see why Wylie should scuttle the ship unless he
was bribed by somebody, nor what Arthur or his father could gain by
destroying that ship. This is all as dark as is that more cruel mystery
which alone I care to solve.
NEXT morning, after a sleepless night, Nancy Rouse said to Mr. Penfold,
"Haven't I heard you say as bank-notes could he traced to folk?"
"Certainly, madam," said Michael. "But it is necessary to take the
numbers of them."
"Oh! And how do you do that?"
"Why, every note has its own number."
"La! ye don't say so; then them fifties are all numbered, belike."
"Certainly, and if you wish me to take down the numbers, I will do so."
"Well, sir, some other day you shall. I could not bear the sight of them
just yet; for it is them as has been the ruin of poor Joe Wylie, I do
Michael could not follow this; but, the question having been raised, he
advised her, on grounds of common prudence, not to keep them in the house
without taking down their numbers.
"We will talk about that in the evening," said Nancy.
Accordingly, at night, Nancy produced the notes, and Michael took down
the numbers and descriptions in his pocket-book. They ran from 16,444 to
16,463. And he promised her to try and ascertain through what hands they
had passed. He said he had a friend in the Bank of England, who might
perhaps be able to discover to what private bank they had been issued in
the first instance, and then those bankers, on a strong representation,
might perhaps examine their books, and say to whom they had paid them. He
told her the notes were quite new, and evidently had not been separated
since their first issue.
Nancy caught a glimpse of his meaning, and set herself doggedly to watch
until the person who had passed the notes through the chimney should come
for them. "He will miss them," said she, you mark my words."
Thus Helen, though reduced to a standstill herself, had set an inquiry on
foot which was alive and ramifying.
In the course of a few days she received a visit from Mrs. Undercliff.
That lady came in, and laid a prayer-book on the table, saying, "I have
brought it you back, miss; and I want you to do something for my
"Oh, certainly," said Helen. "What is it?"
"Well, miss, first examine the book and the writing. Is it all right?"
Helen examined it, and said it was: "Indeed," said she, "the binding
looks fresher, if anything."
"You have a good eye," said Mrs. Undercliff. "Well, what I want you to do
is-- Of course Mr. Wardlaw is a good deal about you?"
"Does he go to church with you ever?"
"But he would, if you were to ask him."
"I have no doubt he would; but why?"
"Manage matters so that he shall go to church with you, and then put the
book down for him to see the writing, all in a moment. Watch his face and
Helen colored up and said: "No; I can't do that. Why, it would be turning
God's temple into a trap! Besides--"
"The real reason first, if you please," said this horribly shrewd old
"Well, Mr. Arthur Wardlaw is the gentleman I am going to marry."
"Good Heavens!" cried Mrs. Undercliff, taken utterly aback by this most
unexpected turn. "Why, you never told me that!"
"No," said Helen, blushing. "I did not think it necessary to go into
that. Well, of course, it is not in human nature that Mr. Wardlaw should
be zealous in my good work, or put himself forward; but he has never
refused to lend me any help that was in his power; and it is repugnant to
my nature to suspect him of a harm, and to my feelings to lay a trap for
"Quite right," said Mrs. Undercliff; "of course I had no idea you were
going to marry Mr. Wardlaw. I made sure Mr. Penfold was the man."
Helen blushed higher still, but made no reply.