Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

I SAY NO by Wilkie Collins

Part 2 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

interest. He may have been kind to her in past years--and she may
remember him thankfully. Don't you think so?"

Alban was unable to agree with her. "If Mrs. Rook's interest in
your father was the harmless interest that you have suggested,"
he said, "why should she have checked herself in that
unaccountable manner, when she first asked me if he was living?
The more I think of it now, the less sure I feel that she knows
anything at all of your family history. It may help me to decide,
if you will tell me at what time the death of your mother took

"So long ago," Emily replied, "that I can't even remember her
death. I was an infant at the time."

"And yet Mrs. Rook asked me if your 'parents' were living! One of
two things," Alban concluded. "Either there is some mystery in
this matter, which we cannot hope to penetrate at present--or
Mrs. Rook may have been speaking at random; on the chance of
discovering whether you are related to some 'Mr. Brown' whom she
once knew."

"Besides," Emily added, "it's only fair to remember what a common
family name mine is, and how easily people may make mistakes. I
should like to know if my dear lost father was really in her mind
when she spoke to you. Do you think I could find it out?"

"If Mrs. Rook has any reasons for concealment, I believe you
would have no chance of finding it out--unless, indeed, you could
take her by surprise."

"In what way, Mr. Morris?"

"Only one way occurs to me just now," he said. "Do you happen to
have a miniature or a photograph of your father?"

Emily held out a handsome locket, with a monogram in diamonds,
attached to her watch chain. "I have his photograph here," she
rejoined; "given to me by my dear old aunt, in the days of her
prosperity. Shall I show it to Mrs. Rook?"

"Yes--if she happens, by good luck, to offer you an opportunity."

Impatient to try the experiment, Emily rose as he spoke. "I
mustn't keep Mrs. Rook waiting," she said.

Alban stopped her, on the point of leaving him. The confusion and
hesitation which she had already noticed began to show themselves
in his manner once more.

"Miss Emily, may I ask you a favor before you go? I am only one
of the masters employed in the school; but I don't think--let me
say, I hope I am not guilty of presumption--if I offer to be of
some small service to one of my pupils--"

There his embarrassment mastered him. He despised himself not
only for yielding to his own weakness, but for faltering like a
fool in the expression of a simple request. The next words died
away on his lips.

This time, Emily understood him.

The subtle penetration which had long since led her to the
discovery of his secret--overpowered, thus far, by the absorbing
interest of the moment--now recovered its activity. In an
instant, she remembered that Alban's motive for cautioning her,
in her coming intercourse with Mrs. Rook, was not the merely
friendly motive which might have actuated him, in the case of one
of the other girls. At the same time, her quickness of
apprehension warned her not to risk encouraging this persistent
lover, by betraying any embarrassment on her side. He was
evidently anxious to be present (in her interests) at the
interview with Mrs. Rook. Why not? Could he reproach her with
raising false hope, if she accepted his services, under
circumstances of doubt and difficulty which he had himself been
the first to point out? He could do nothing of the sort. Without
waiting until he had recovered himself, she answered him (to all
appearances) as composedly as if he had spoken to her in the
plainest terms.

"After all that you have told me," she said, "I shall indeed feel
obliged if you will be present when I see Mrs. Rook."

The eager brightening of his eyes, the flush of happiness that
made him look young on a sudden, were signs not to be mistaken.
The sooner they were in the presence of a third person (Emily
privately concluded) the better it might be for both of them. She
led the way rapidly to the house.



As mistress of a prosperous school, bearing a widely-extended
reputation, Miss Ladd prided herself on the liberality of her
household arrangements. At breakfast and dinner, not only the
solid comforts but the elegant luxuries of the table, were set
before the young ladies "Other schools may, and no doubt do,
offer to pupils the affectionate care to which they have been
accustomed under the parents' roof," Miss Ladd used to say. "At
my school, that care extends to their meals, and provides them
with a _cuisine_ which, I flatter myself, equals the most
successful efforts of the cooks at home." Fathers, mothers, and
friends, when they paid visits to this excellent lady, brought
away with them the most gratifying recollections of her
hospitality. The men, in particular, seldom failed to recognize
in their hostess the rarest virtue that a single lady can
possess--the virtue of putting wine on the table which may be
gratefully remembered by her guests the next morning.

An agreeable surprise awaited Mrs. Rook when she entered the
house of bountiful Miss Ladd.

Luncheon was ready for Sir Jervis Redwood's confidential emissary
in the waiting-room. Detained at the final rehearsals of music
and recitation, Miss Ladd was worthily represented by cold
chicken and ham, a fruit tart, and a pint decanter of generous
sherry. "Your mistress is a perfect lady!" Mrs. Rook said to the
servant, wi th a burst of enthusiasm. "I can carve for myself,
thank you; and I don't care how long Miss Emily keeps me

As they ascended the steps leading into the house, Alban asked
Emily if he might look again at her locket.

"Shall I open it for you?" she suggested.

No: I only want to look at the outside of it."

He examined the side on which the monogram appeared, inlaid with
diamonds. An inscription was engraved beneath.

"May I read it?" he said.


The inscription ran thus: "In loving memory of my father. Died
30th September, 1877."

"Can you arrange the locket," Alban asked, "so that the side on
which the diamonds appear hangs outward?"

She understood him. The diamonds might attract Mrs. Rook's
notice; and in that case, she might ask to see the locket of her
own accord. "You are beginning to be of use to me, already,"
Emily said, as they turned into the corridor which led to the

They found Sir Jervis's housekeeper luxuriously recumbent in the
easiest chair in the room.

Of the eatable part of the lunch some relics were yet left. In
the pint decanter of sherry, not a drop remained. The genial
influence of the wine (hastened by the hot weather) was visible
in Mrs. Rook's flushed face, and in a special development of her
ugly smile. Her widening lips stretched to new lengths; and the
white upper line of her eyeballs were more freely and horribly
visible than ever.

"And this is the dear young lady?" she said, lifting her hands in
over-acted admiration. At the first greetings, Alban perceived
that the impression produced was, in Emily's case as in his case,
instantly unfavorable.

The servant came in to clear the table. Emily stepped aside for a
minute to give some directions about her luggage. In that
interval Mrs. Rook's cunning little eyes turned on Alban with an
expression of malicious scrutiny.

"You were walking the other way," she whispered, "when I met
you." She stopped, and glanced over her shoulder at Emily. "I see
what attraction has brought you back to the school. Steal your
way into that poor little fool's heart; and then make her
miserable for the rest of her life!--No need, miss, to hurry,"
she said, shifting the polite side of her toward Emily, who
returned at the moment. "The visits of the trains to your station
here are like the visits of the angels described by the poet,
'few and far between.' Please excuse the quotation. You wouldn't
think it to look at me--I'm a great reader."

"Is it a long journey to Sir Jervis Redwood's house?" Emily
asked, at a loss what else to say to a woman who was already
becoming unendurable to her.

Mrs. Rook looked at the journey from an oppressively cheerful
point of view.

"Oh, Miss Emily, you shan't feel the time hang heavy in my
company. I can converse on a variety of topics, and if there is
one thing more than another that I like, it's amusing a pretty
young lady. You think me a strange creature, don't you? It's only
my high spirits. Nothing strange about me--unless it's my queer
Christian name. You look a little dull, my dear. Shall I begin
amusing you before we are on the railway? Shall I tell you how I
came by my queer name?"

Thus far, Alban had controlled himself. This last specimen of the
housekeeper's audacious familiarity reached the limits of his

"We don't care to know how you came by your name," he said.

"Rude," Mrs. Rook remarked, composedly. "But nothing surprises
me, coming from a man."

She turned to Emily. "My father and mother were a wicked married
couple," she continued, "before I was born. They 'got religion,'
as the saying is, at a Methodist meeting in a field. When I came
into the world--I don't know how you feel, miss; I protest
against being brought into the world without asking my leave
first--my mother was determined to dedicate me to piety, before I
was out of my long clothes. What name do you suppose she had me
christened by? She chose it, or made it, herself--the name of
'Righteous'! Righteous Rook! Was there ever a poor baby degraded
by such a ridiculous name before? It's needless to say, when I
write letters, I sign R. Rook--and leave people to think it's
Rosamond, or Rosabelle, or something sweetly pretty of that kind.
You should have seen my husband's face when he first heard that
his sweetheart's name was 'Righteous'! He was on the point of
kissing me, and he stopped. I daresay he felt sick. Perfectly
natural under the circumstances."

Alban tried to stop her again. "What time does the train go?" he

Emily entreated him to restrain himself, by a look. Mrs. Rook was
still too inveterately amiable to take offense. She opened her
traveling-bag briskly, and placed a railway guide in Alban's

"I've heard that the women do the men's work in foreign parts,"
she said. "But this is England; and I am an Englishwoman. Find
out when the train goes, my dear sir, for yourself."

Alban at once consulted the guide. If there proved to be no
immediate need of starting for the station, he was determined
that Emily should not be condemned to pass the interval in the
housekeeper's company. In the meantime, Mrs. Rook was as eager as
ever to show her dear young lady what an amusing companion she
could be.

"Talking of husbands," she resumed, "don't make the mistake, my
dear, that I committed. Beware of letting anybody persuade you to
marry an old man. Mr. Rook is old enough to be my father. I bear
with him. Of course, I bear with him. At the same time, I have
not (as the poet says) 'passed through the ordeal unscathed.' My
spirit--I have long since ceased to believe in anything of the
sort: I only use the word for want of a better--my spirit, I say,
has become embittered. I was once a pious young woman; I do
assure you I was nearly as good as my name. Don't let me shock
you; I have lost faith and hope; I have become--what's the last
new name for a free-thinker? Oh, I keep up with the times, thanks
to old Miss Redwood! She takes in the newspapers, and makes me
read them to her. What _is_ the new name? Something ending in ic.
Bombastic? No, Agnostic?--that's it! I have become an Agnostic.
The inevitable result of marrying an old man; if there's any
blame it rests on my husband."

"There's more than an hour yet before the train starts," Alban
interposed. "I am sure, Miss Emily, you would find it pleasanter
to wait in the garden."

"Not at all a bad notion," Mrs. Rook declared. "Here's a man who
can make himself useful, for once. Let's go into the garden."

She rose, and led the way to the door. Alban seized the
opportunity of whispering to Emily.

"Did you notice the empty decanter, when we first came in? That
horrid woman is drunk."

Emily pointed significantly to the locket. "Don't let her go. The
garden will distract her attention: keep her near me here."

Mrs. Rook gayly opened the door. "Take me to the flower-beds,"
she said. "I believe in nothing--but I adore flowers."

Mrs. Rook waited at the door, with her eye on Emily. "What do
_you_ say, miss?"

"I think we shall be more comfortable if we stay where we are."

"Whatever pleases you, my dear, pleases me." With this reply, the
compliant housekeeper--as amiable as ever on the
surface--returned to her chair.

Would she notice the locket as she sat down? Emily turned toward
the window, so as to let the light fall on the diamonds.

No: Mrs. Rook was absorbed, at the moment, in her own
reflections. Miss Emily, having prevented her from seeing the
garden, she was maliciously bent on disappointing Miss Emily in
return. Sir Jervis's secretary (being young) took a hopeful view
no doubt of her future prospects. Mrs. Rook decided on darkening
that view in a mischievously-suggestive manner, peculiar to

"You will naturally feel some curiosity about your new home," she
began, "and I haven't said a word about it yet. How very
thoughtless of me! Inside and out, dear Miss Emily, our house is
just a little dull. I say _our_ house, and why not--when the
management of it is all thrown on me. We are built of stone; and
we are much too long, and are not half high enough. Our situation
is on the coldest side of the county, away in the west. We are
close to the Cheviot hills; and if you fancy there is anything to
see when you look out of window, except sheep, you will find
yourself woefully mistaken. As for walks, if you go out on one
side of the house you may, or may not, be gored by cattle. On the
other side, if the darkness overtakes you, you may, or may not,
tumble down a deserted lead mine. But the company, inside the
house, makes amends for it all," Mrs. Rook proceeded, enjoying
the expression of dismay which was beginning to show itself on
Emily's face. "Plenty of excitement for you, my dear, in our
small family. Sir Jervis will introduce you to plaster casts of
hideous Indian idols; he will keep you writing for him, without
mercy, from morning to night; and when he does let you go, old
Miss Redwood will find she can't sleep, and will send for the
pretty young lady-secretary to read to her. My husband I am sure
you will like. He is a respectable man, and bears the highest
character. Next to the idols, he's the most hideous object in the
house. If you are good enough to encourage him, I don't say that
he won't amuse you; he will tell you, for instance, he never in
his life hated any human being as he hates his wife. By the way,
I must not forget--in the interests of truth, you know--to
mention one drawback that does exist in our domestic circle. One
of these days we shall have our brains blown out or our throats
cut. Sir Jervis's mother left him ten thousand pounds' worth of
precious stones all contained in a little cabinet with drawers.
He won't let the banker take care of his jewels; he won't sell
them; he won't even wear one of the rings on his finger, or one
of the pins at his breast. He keeps his cabinet on his
dressing-room table; and he says, 'I like to gloat over my
jewels, every night, before I go to bed.' Ten thousand pounds'
worth of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and what not--at
the mercy of the first robber who happens to hear of them. Oh, my
dear, he would have no choice, I do assure you, but to use his
pistols. We shouldn't quietly submit to be robbed. Sir Jervis
inherits the spirit of his ancestors. My husband has the temper
of a game cock. I myself, in defense of the property of my
employers, am capable of becoming a perfect fiend. And we none of
us understand the use of firearms!"

While she was in full enjoyment of this last aggravation of the
horrors of the prospect, Emily tried another change of
position--and, this time, with success. Greedy admiration
suddenly opened Mrs. Rook's little eyes to their utmost width.
"My heart alive, miss, what do I see at your watch-chain? How
they sparkle! Might I ask for a closer view?"

Emily's fingers trembled; but she succeeded in detaching the
locket from the chain. Alban handed it to Mrs. Rook.

She began by admiring the diamonds--with a certain reserve.
"Nothing like so large as Sir Jervis's diamonds; but choice
specimens no doubt. Might I ask what the value--?"

She stopped. The inscription had attracted her notice: she began
to read it aloud: "In loving memory of my father. Died--"

Her face instantly became rigid. The next words were suspended on
her lips.

Alban seized the chance of making her betray herself--under
pretense of helping her. "Perhaps you find the figures not easy
to read," he said. "The date is 'thirtieth September, eighteen
hundred and seventy-seven'--nearly four years since."

Not a word, not a movement, escaped Mrs. Rook. She held the
locket before her as she had held it from the first. Alban looked
at Emily. Her eyes were riveted on the housekeeper: she was
barely capable of preserving the appearance of composure. Seeing
the necessity of acting for her, he at once said the words which
she was unable to say for herself.

"Perhaps, Mrs. Rook, you would like to look at the portrait?" he
suggested. "Shall I open the locket for you?"

Without speaking, without looking up, she handed the locket to

He opened it, and offered it to her. She neither accepted nor
refused it: her hands remained hanging over the arms of the
chair. He put the locket on her lap.

The portrait produced no marked effect on Mrs. Rook. Had the date
prepared her to see it? She sat looking at it--still without
moving: still without saying a word. Alban had no mercy on her.
"That is the portrait of Miss Emily's father," he said. "Does it
represent the same Mr. Brown whom you had in your mind when you
asked me if Miss Emily's father was still living?"

That question roused her. She looked up, on the instant; she
answered loudly and insolently: 'No!"

"And yet," Alban persisted, "you broke down in reading the
inscription: and considering what talkative woman you are, the
portrait has had a strange effect on you--to say the least of

She eyed him steadily while he was speaking--and turned to Emily
when he had done. "You mentioned the heat just now, miss. The
heat has overcome me; I shall soon get right again."

The insolent futility of that excuse irritated Emily into
answering her. "You will get right again perhaps all the sooner,"
she said, "if we trouble you with no more questions, and leave
you to recover by yourself."

The first change of expression which relaxed the iron tensity of
the housekeeper's face showed itself when she heard that reply.
At last there was a feeling in Mrs. Rook which openly declared
itself--a feeling of impatience to see Alban and Emily leave the

They left her, without a word more.



"What are we to do next? Oh, Mr. Morris, you must have seen all
sorts of people in your time--you know human nature, and I don't.
Help me with a word of advice!"

Emily forgot that he was in love with her--forgot everything, but
the effect produced by the locket on Mrs. Rook, and the vaguely
alarming conclusion to which it pointed. In the fervor of her
anxiety she took Alban's arm as familiarly as if he had been her
brother. He was gentle, he was considerate; he tried earnestly to
compose her. "We can do nothing to any good purpose," be said,
"unless we begin by thinking quietly. Pardon me for saying
so--you are needlessly exciting yourself."

There was a reason for her excitement, of which he was
necessarily ignorant. Her memory of the night interview with Miss
Jethro had inevitably intensified the suspicion inspired by the
conduct of Mrs. Rook. In less than twenty-four hours, Emily had
seen two women shrinking from secret remembrances of her
father--which might well be guilty remembrances--innocently
excited by herself! How had they injured him? Of what infamy, on
their parts, did his beloved and stainless memory remind them?
Who could fathom the mystery of it? "What does it mean?" she
cried, looking wildly in Alban's compassionate face. "You _must_
have formed some idea of your own. What does it mean?"

"Come, and sit down, Miss Emily. We will try if we can find out
what it means, together."

They returned to the shady solitude under the trees. Away, in
front of the house, the distant grating of carriage wheels told
of the arrival of Miss Ladd's guests, and of the speedy beginning
of the ceremonies of the day.

"We must help each other," Alban resumed.

"When we first spoke of Mrs. Rook, you mentioned Miss Cecilia
Wyvil as a person who knew something about her. Have you any
objection to tell me what you may have heard in that way?"

In complying with his request Emily necessarily repeated what
Cecilia had told Francine, when the two girls had met that
morning in the garden.

Alban now knew how Emily had obtained employment as Sir Jervis's
secretary; how Mr. and Mrs. Rook had been previously known to
Cecilia's father as respectable people keeping an inn in his own
neighborhood; and, finally, how they had been obliged to begin
life again in domestic service, because the terrible event of a
murder had given the inn a bad name, and had driven away the
customers on whose encouragement their business depended.

Listening in silence, Alban remained silent when Emily's
narrative had come to an end.

"Have you nothing to say to me?" she asked.

"I am thinking over what I have just heard," he answered.

Emily noticed a certain formality in his tone and manner, which
disagreeably surprised her. He
seemed to have made his reply as a mere concession to
politeness, while he was thinking of something else which really
interested him.

"Have I disappointed you in any way?" she asked.

"On the contrary, you have interested me. I want to be quite sure
that I remember exactly what you have said. You mentioned, I
think, that your friendship with Miss Cecilia Wyvil began here,
at the school?"


"And in speaking of the murder at the village inn, you told me
that the crime was committed--I have forgotten how long ago?"

His manner still suggested that he was idly talking about what
she had told him, while some more important subject for
reflection was in possession of his mind.

"I don't know that I said anything about the time that had passed
since the crime was committed," she answered, sharply. "What does
the murder matter to _us?_ I think Cecilia told me it happened
about four years since. Excuse me for noticing it, Mr.
Morris--you seem to have some interests of your own to occupy
your attention. Why couldn't you say so plainly when we came out
here? I should not have asked you to help me, in that case. Since
my poor father's death, I have been used to fight through my
troubles by myself."

She rose, and looked at him proudly. The next moment her eyes
filled with tears.

In spite of her resistance, Alban took her hand. "Dear Miss
Emily," he said, "you distress me: you have not done me justice.
Your interests only are in my mind."

Answering her in those terms, he had not spoken as frankly as
usual. He had only told her a part of the truth.

Hearing that the woman whom they had just left had been landlady
of an inn, and that a murder had been committed under her roof,
he was led to ask himself if any explanation might be found, in
these circumstances, of the otherwise incomprehensible effect
produced on Mrs. Rook by the inscription on the locket.

In the pursuit of this inquiry there had arisen in his mind a
monstrous suspicion, which pointed to Mrs. Rook. It impelled him
to ascertain the date at which the murder had been committed, and
(if the discovery encouraged further investigation) to find out
next the manner in which Mr. Brown had died.

Thus far, what progress had he made? He had discovered that the
date of Mr. Brown's death, inscribed on the locket, and the date
of the crime committed at the inn, approached each other nearly
enough to justify further investigation.

In the meantime, had he succeeded in keeping his object concealed
from Emily? He had perfectly succeeded. Hearing him declare that
her interests only had occupied his mind, the poor girl
innocently entreated him to forgive her little outbreak of
temper. "If you have any more questions to ask me, Mr. Morris,
pray go on. I promise never to think unjustly of you again."

He went on with an uneasy conscience--for it seemed cruel to
deceive her, even in the interests of truth--but still he went

"Suppose we assume that this woman had injured your father in
some way," he said. "Am I right in believing that it was in his
character to forgive injuries?"

"Entirely right."

"In that case, his death may have left Mrs. Rook in a position to
be called to account, by those who owe a duty to his memory--I
mean the surviving members of his family."

"There are but two of us, Mr. Morris. My aunt and myself."

"There are his executors."

"My aunt is his only executor."

"Your father's sister--I presume?"


"He may have left instructions with her, which might be of the
greatest use to us."

"I will write to-day, and find out," Emily replied. "I had
already planned to consult my aunt," she added, thinking again of
Miss Jethro.

"If your aunt has not received any positive instructions," Alban
continued, "she may remember some allusion to Mrs. Rook, on your
father's part, at the time of his last illness--"

Emily stopped him. "You don't know how my dear father died," she
said. "He was struck down--apparently in perfect health--by
disease of the heart."

"Struck down in his own house?"

"Yes--in his own house."

Those words closed Alban's lips. The investigation so carefully
and so delicately conducted had failed to serve any useful
purpose. He had now ascertained the manner of Mr. Brown's death
and the place of Mr. Brown's death--and he was as far from
confirming his suspicions of Mrs. Rook as ever.



"Is there nothing else you can suggest?" Emily asked.

"Nothing--at present."

"If my aunt fails us, have we no other hope?"

"I have hope in Mrs. Rook," Alban answered. "I see I surprise
you; but I really mean what I say. Sir Jervis's housekeeper is an
excitable woman, and she is fond of wine. There is always a weak
side in the character of such a person as that. If we wait for
our chance, and turn it to the right use when it comes, we may
yet succeed in making her betray herself."

Emily listened to him in bewilderment.

"You talk as if I was sure of your help in the future," she said.
"Have you forgotten that I leave school to-day, never to return?
In half an hour more, I shall be condemned to a long journey in
the company of that horrible creature--with a life to look
forward to, in the same house with her, among strangers! A
miserable prospect, and a hard trial of a girl's courage--is it
not, Mr. Morris?"

"You will at least have one person, Miss Emily, who will try with
all his heart and soul to encourage you."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," said Alban, quietly, "that the Midsummer vacation
begins to-day; and that the drawing-master is going to spend his
holidays in the North."

Emily jumped up from her chair. "You!" she exclaimed. "_You_ are
going to Northumberland? With me?"

"Why not?" Alban asked. "The railway is open to all travelers
alike, if they have money enough to buy a ticket."

"Mr. Morris! what _can_ you be thinking of? Indeed, indeed, I am
not ungrateful. I know you mean kindly--you are a good, generous
man. But do remember how completely a girl, in my position, is at
the mercy of appearances. You, traveling in the same carriage
with me! and that woman putting her own vile interpretation on
it, and degrading me in Sir Jervis Redwood's estimation, on the
day when I enter his house! Oh, it's worse than thoughtless--it's
madness, downright madness."

"You are quite right," Alban gravely agreed, "it _is_ madness. I
lost whatever little reason I once possessed, Miss Emily, on the
day when I first met you out walking with the young ladies of the

Emily turned away in significant silence. Alban followed her.

"You promised just now," he said, "never to think unjustly of me
again. I respect and admire you far too sincerely to take a base
advantage of this occasion--the only occasion on which I have
been permitted to speak with you alone. Wait a little before you
condemn a man whom you don't understand. I will say nothing to
annoy you--I only ask leave to explain myself. Will you take your
chair again?"

She returned unwillingly to her seat. "It can only end," she
thought, sadly, "in my disappointing him!"

"I have had the worst possible opinion of women for years past,"
Alban resumed; "and the only reason I can give for it condemns me
out of my own mouth. I have been infamously treated by one woman;
and my wounded self-esteem has meanly revenged itself by reviling
the whole sex. Wait a little, Miss Emily. My fault has received
its fit punishment. I have been thoroughly humiliated--and _you_
have done it."

"Mr. Morris!"

"Take no offense, pray, where no offense is meant. Some few years
since it was the great misfortune of my life to meet with a Jilt.
You know what I mean?"


"She was my equal by birth (I am a younger son of a country
squire), and my superior in rank. I can honestly tell you that I
was fool enough to love her with all my heart and soul. She never
allowed me to doubt--I may say this without conceit, remembering
the miserable end of it--that my feeling for her was returned.
Her father and mother (excellent people) approved of the
contemplated marriage. She accepted my presents; she allowed all
the customary preparations for a wedding to proceed to
completion; she had not even mercy en ough, or shame enough, to
prevent me from publicly degrading myself by waiting for her at
the altar, in the presence of a large congregation. The minutes
passed--and no bride appeared. The clergyman, waiting like me,
was requested to return to the vestry. I was invited to follow
him. You foresee the end of the story, of course? She had run
away with another man. But can you guess who the man was? Her

Emily's face reddened with indignation. "She suffered for it? Oh,
Mr. Morris, surely she suffered for it?"

"Not at all. She had money enough to reward the groom for
marrying her; and she let herself down easily to her husband's
level. It was a suitable marriage in every respect. When I last
heard of them, they were regularly in the habit of getting drunk
together. I am afraid I have disgusted you? We will drop the
subject, and resume my precious autobiography at a later date.
One showery day in the autumn of last year, you young ladies went
out with Miss Ladd for a walk. When you were all trotting back
again, under your umbrellas, did you (in particular) notice an
ill-tempered fellow standing in the road, and getting a good look
at you, on the high footpath above him?"

Emily smiled, in spite of herself. "I don't remember it," she

"You wore a brown jacket which fitted you as if you had been born
in it--and you had the smartest little straw hat I ever saw on a
woman's head. It was the first time I ever noticed such things. I
think I could paint a portrait of the boots you wore (mud
included), from memory alone. That was the impression you
produced on me. After believing, honestly believing, that love
was one of the lost illusions of my life--after feeling, honestly
feeling, that I would as soon look at the devil as look at a
woman--there was the state of mind to which retribution had
reduced me; using for his instrument Miss Emily Brown. Oh, don't
be afraid of what I may say next! In your presence, and out of
your presence, I am man enough to be ashamed of my own folly. I
am resisting your influence over me at this moment, with the
strongest of all resolutions--the resolution of despair. Let's
look at the humorous side of the story again. What do you think I
did when the regiment of young ladies had passed by me?"

Emily declined to guess.

"I followed you back to the school; and, on pretense of having a
daughter to educate, I got one of Miss Ladd's prospectuses from
the porter at the lodge gate. I was in your neighborhood, you
must know, on a sketching tour. I went back to my inn, and
seriously considered what had happened to me. The result of my
cogitations was that I went abroad. Only for a change--not at all
because I was trying to weaken the impression you had produced on
me! After a while I returned to England. Only because I was tired
of traveling--not at all because your influence drew me back!
Another interval passed; and luck turned my way, for a wonder.
The drawing-master's place became vacant here. Miss Ladd
advertised; I produced my testimonials; and took the situation.
Only because the salary was a welcome certainty to a poor
man--not at all because the new position brought me into personal
association with Miss Emily Brown! Do you begin to see why I have
troubled you with all this talk about myself? Apply the
contemptible system of self-delusion which my confession has
revealed, to that holiday arrangement for a tour in the north
which has astonished and annoyed you. I am going to travel this
afternoon by your train. Only because I feel an intelligent
longing to see the northernmost county of England--not at all
because I won't let you trust yourself alone with Mrs. Rook! Not
at all because I won't leave you to enter Sir Jervis Redwood's
service without a friend within reach in case you want him! Mad?
Oh, yes--perfectly mad. But, tell me this: What do all sensible
people do when they find themselves in the company of a lunatic?
They humor him. Let me take your ticket and see your luggage
labeled: I only ask leave to be your traveling servant. If you
are proud--I shall like you all the better, if you are--pay me
wages, and keep me in my proper place in that way.

Some girls, addressed with this reckless intermingling of jest
and earnest, would have felt confused, and some would have felt
flattered. With a good-tempered resolution, which never passed
the limits of modesty and refinement, Emily met Alban Morris on
his own ground.

"You have said you respect me," she began; "I am going to prove
that I believe you. The least I can do is not to misinterpret
you, on my side. Am I to understand, Mr. Morris--you won't think
the worse of me, I hope, if I speak plainly--am I to understand
that you are in love with me?"

"Yes, Miss Emily--if you please."

He had answered with the quaint gravity which was peculiar to
him; but he was already conscious of a sense of discouragement.
Her composure was a bad sign--from his point of view.

"My time will come, I daresay," she proceeded. "At present I know
nothing of love, by experience; I only know what some of my
schoolfellows talk about in secret. Judging by what they tell me,
a girl blushes when her lover pleads with her to favor his
addresses. Am I blushing?"

"Must I speak plainly, too?" Alban asked.

"If you have no objection," she answered, as composedly as if she
had been addressing her grandfather.

"Then, Miss Emily, I must say--you are not blushing."

She went on. "Another token of love--as I am informed--is to
tremble. Am I trembling?"


"Am I too confused to look at you?"


"Do I walk away with dignity--and then stop, and steal a timid
glance at my lover, over my shoulder?"

"I wish you did!"

"A plain answer, Mr. Morris! Yes or No."

"No--of course."

"In one last word, do I give you any sort of encouragement to try

"In one last word, I have made a fool of myself--and you have
taken the kindest possible way of telling me so."

This time, she made no attempt to reply in his own tone. The
good-humored gayety of her manner disappeared. She was in
earnest--truly, sadly in earnest--when she said her next words.

"Is it not best, in your own interests, that we should bid each
other good-by?" she asked. "In the time to come--when you only
remember how kind you once were to me--we may look forward to
meeting again. After all that you have suffered, so bitterly and
so undeservedly, don't, pray don't, make me feel that another
woman has behaved cruelly to you, and that I--so grieved to
distress you--am that heartless creature!"

Never in her life had she been so irresistibly charming as she
was at that moment. Her sweet nature showed all its innocent pity
for him in her face.

He saw it--he felt it--he was not unworthy of it. In silence, he
lifted her hand to his lips. He turned pale as he kissed it.

"Say that you agree with me?" she pleaded.

"I obey you."

As he answered, he pointed to the lawn at their feet. "Look," he
said, "at that dead leaf which the air is wafting over the grass.
Is it possible that such sympathy as you feel for Me, such love
as I feel for You, can waste, wither, and fall to the ground like
that leaf? I leave you, Emily--with the firm conviction that
there is a time of fulfillment to come in our two lives. Happen
what may in the interval--I trust the future."

The words had barely passed his lips when the voice of one of the
servants reached them from the house. "Miss Emily, are you in the

Emily stepped out into the sunshine. The servant hurried to meet
her, and placed a telegram in her hand. She looked at it with a
sudden misgiving. In her small experience, a telegram was
associated with the communication of bad news. She conquered her
hesitation--opened it--read it. The color left her face: she
shuddered. The telegram dropped on the grass.

"Read it," she said, faintly, as Alban picked it up.

He read these words: "Come to London directly. Miss Letitia is
dangerously ill."

"Your aunt?" he asked.

"Yes--my aunt."




The metropolis of Great Britain is, in certain respects, like no
other metropolis on the face of the earth. In the population that
throngs the st reets, the extremes of Wealth and the extremes of
Poverty meet, as they meet nowhere else. In the streets
themselves, the glory and the shame of architecture--the mansion
and the hovel--are neighbors in situation, as they are neighbors
nowhere else. London, in its social aspect, is the city of

Toward the close of evening Emily left the railway terminus for
the place of residence in which loss of fortune had compelled her
aunt to take refuge. As she approached her destination, the cab
passed--by merely crossing a road--from a spacious and beautiful
Park, with its surrounding houses topped by statues and cupolas,
to a row of cottages, hard by a stinking ditch miscalled a canal.
The city of contrasts: north and south, east and west, the city
of social contrasts.

Emily stopped the cab before the garden gate of a cottage, at the
further end of the row. The bell was answered by the one servant
now in her aunt's employ--Miss Letitia's maid.

Personally, this good creature was one of the ill-fated women
whose appearance suggests that Nature intended to make men of
them and altered her mind at the last moment. Miss Letitia's maid
was tall and gaunt and awkward. The first impression produced by
her face was an impression of bones. They rose high on her
forehead; they projected on her cheeks; and they reached their
boldest development in her jaws. In the cavernous eyes of this
unfortunate person rigid obstinacy and rigid goodness looked out
together, with equal severity, on all her fellow-creatures alike.
Her mistress (whom she had served for a quarter of a century and
more) called her "Bony." She accepted this cruelly appropriate
nick-name as a mark of affectionate familiarity which honored a
servant. No other person was allowed to take liberties with her:
to every one but her mistress she was known as Mrs. Ellmother.

"How is my aunt?" Emily asked.


"Why have I not heard of her illness before?"

"Because she's too fond of you to let you be distressed about
her. 'Don't tell Emily'; those were her orders, as long as she
kept her senses."

"Kept her senses? Good heavens! what do you mean?"

"Fever--that's what I mean."

"I must see her directly; I am not afraid of infection."

"There's no infection to be afraid of. But you mustn't see her,
for all that."

"I insist on seeing her."

"Miss Emily, I am disappointing you for your own good. Don't you
know me well enough to trust me by this time?"

"I do trust you."

"Then leave my mistress to me--and go and make yourself
comfortable in your own room."

Emily's answer was a positive refusal. Mrs. Ellmother, driven to
her last resources, raised a new obstacle.

"It's not to be done, I tell you! How can you see Miss Letitia
when she can't bear the light in her room? Do you know what color
her eyes are? Red, poor soul--red as a boiled lobster."

With every word the woman uttered, Emily's perplexity and
distress increased.

"You told me my aunt's illness was fever," she said--"and now you
speak of some complaint in her eyes. Stand out of the way, if you
please, and let me go to her."

Mrs. Ellmother, still keeping her place, looked through the open

"Here's the doctor," she announced. "It seems I can't satisfy
you; ask him what's the matter. Come in, doctor." She threw open
the door of the parlor, and introduced Emily. "This is the
mistress's niece, sir. Please try if _you_ can keep her quiet. I
can't." She placed chairs with the hospitable politeness of the
old school--and returned to her post at Miss Letitia's bedside.

Doctor Allday was an elderly man, with a cool manner and a ruddy
complexion--thoroughly acclimatized to the atmosphere of pain and
grief in which it was his destiny to live. He spoke to Emily
(without any undue familiarity) as if he had been accustomed to
see her for the greater part of her life.

"That's a curious woman," he said, when Mrs. Ellmother closed the
door; "the most headstrong person, I think, I ever met with. But
devoted to her mistress, and, making allowance for her
awkwardness, not a bad nurse. I am afraid I can't give you an
encouraging report of your aunt. The rheumatic fever (aggravated
by the situation of this house--built on clay, you know, and
close to stagnant water) has been latterly complicated by

"Is that a bad sign, sir?"

"The worst possible sign; it shows that the disease has affected
the heart. Yes: she is suffering from inflammation of the eyes,
but that is an unimportant symptom. We can keep the pain under by
means of cooling lotions and a dark room. I've often heard her
speak of you--especially since the illness assumed a serious
character. What did you say? Will she know you, when you go into
her room? This is about the time when the delirium usually sets
in. I'll see if there's a quiet interval.'

He opened the door--and came back again.

"By the way," he resumed, "I ought perhaps to explain how it was
that I took the liberty of sending you that telegram. Mrs.
Ellmother refused to inform you of her mistress's serious
illness. That circumstance, according to my view of it, laid the
responsibility on the doctor's shoulders. The form taken by your
aunt's delirium--I mean the apparent tendency of the words that
escape her in that state--seems to excite some incomprehensible
feeling in the mind of her crabbed servant. She wouldn't even let
_me_ go into the bedroom, if she could possibly help it. Did Mrs.
Ellmother give you a warm welcome when you came here?"

"Far from it. My arrival seemed to annoy her."

"Ah--just what I expected. These faithful old servants always end
by presuming on their fidelity. Did you ever hear what a witty
poet--I forget his name: he lived to be ninety--said of the man
who had been his valet for more than half a century? 'For thirty
years he was the best of servants; and for thirty years he has
been the hardest of masters.' Quite true--I might say the same of
my housekeeper. Rather a good story, isn't it?"

The story was completely thrown away on Emily; but one subject
interested her now. "My poor aunt has always been fond of me,"
she said. "Perhaps she might know me, when she recognizes nobody

"Not very likely," the doctor answered. "But there's no laying
down any rule in cases of this kind. I have sometimes observed
that circumstances which have produced a strong impression on
patients, when they are in a state of health, give a certain
direction to the wandering of their minds, when they are in a
state of fever. You will say, 'I am not a circumstance; I don't
see how this encourages me to hope'--and you will be quite right.
Instead of talking of my medical experience, I shall do better to
look at Miss Letitia, and let you know the result. You have got
other relations, I suppose? No? Very distressing--very

Who has not suffered as Emily suffered, when she was left alone?
Are there not moments--if we dare to confess the truth--when poor
humanity loses its hold on the consolations of religion and the
hope of immortality, and feels the cruelty of creation that bids
us live, on the condition that we die, and leads the first warm
beginnings of love, with merciless certainty, to the cold
conclusion of the grave?

"She's quiet, for the time being," Dr. Allday announced, on his
return. "Remember, please, that she can't see you in the inflamed
state of her eyes, and don't disturb the bed-curtains. The sooner
you go to her the better, perhaps--if you have anything to say
which depends on her recognizing your voice. I'll call to-morrow
morning. Very distressing," he repeated, taking his hat and
making his bow--"Very distressing."

Emily crossed the narrow little passage which separated the two
rooms, and opened the bed-chamber door. Mrs. Ellmother met her on
the threshold. "No," said the obstinate old servant, "you can't
come in."

The faint voice of Miss Letitia made itself heard, calling Mrs.
Ellmother by her familiar nick-name.

"Bony, who is it?"

"Never mind."

"Who is it?"

"Miss Emily, if you must know."

"Oh! poor dear, why does she come here? Who told her I was ill?"

"The doctor told her."

"Don't come in, Emily. It will only distress you--and it will do
me no good. God bles s you, my love. Don't come in."

"There!" said Mrs. Ellmother. "Do you hear that? Go back to the

Thus far, the hard necessity of controlling herself had kept
Emily silent. She was now able to speak without tears. "Remember
the old times, aunt," she pleaded, gently. "Don't keep me out of
your room, when I have come here to nurse you!"

"I'm her nurse. Go back to the sitting-room," Mrs. Ellmother

True love lasts while life lasts. The dying woman relented.

"Bony! Bony! I can't be unkind to Emily. Let her in."

Mrs. Ellmother still insisted on having her way.

"You're contradicting your own orders," she said to her mistress.
"You don't know how soon you may begin wandering in your mind
again. Think, Miss Letitia--think."

This remonstrance was received in silence. Mrs. Ellmother's great
gaunt figure still blocked up the doorway.

"If you force me to it," Emily said, quietly, "I must go to the
doctor, and ask him to interfere."

"Do you mean that?" Mrs. Ellmother said, quietly, on her side.

"I do mean it," was the answer.

The old servant suddenly submitted--with a look which took Emily
by surprise. She had expected to see anger; the face that now
confronted her was a face subdued by sorrow and fear.

"I wash my hands of it," Mrs. Ellmother said. "Go in--and take
the consequences."



Emily entered the room. The door was immediately closed on her
from the outer side. Mrs. Ellmother's heavy steps were heard
retreating along the passage. Then the banging of the door that
led into the kitchen shook the flimsily-built cottage. Then,
there was silence.

The dim light of a lamp hidden away in a corner and screened by a
dingy green shade, just revealed the closely-curtained bed, and
the table near it bearing medicine-bottles and glasses. The only
objects on the chimney-piece were a clock that had been stopped
in mercy to the sufferer's irritable nerves, and an open case
containing a machine for pouring drops into the eyes. The smell
of fumigating pastilles hung heavily on the air. To Emily's
excited imagination, the silence was like the silence of death.
She approached the bed trembling. "Won't you speak to me, aunt?"

"Is that you, Emily? Who let you come in?"

"You said I might come in, dear. Are you thirsty? I see some
lemonade on the table. Shall I give it to you?"

"No! If you open the bed-curtains, you let in the light. My poor
eyes! Why are you here, my dear? Why are you not at the school?"

"It's holiday-time, aunt. Besides, I have left school for good."

"Left school?" Miss Letitia's memory made an effort, as she
repeated those words. "You were going somewhere when you left
school," she said, "and Cecilia Wyvil had something to do with
it. Oh, my love, how cruel of you to go away to a stranger, when
you might live here with me!" She paused--her sense of what she
had herself just said began to grow confused. "What stranger?"
she asked abruptly. "Was it a man? What name? Oh, my mind! Has
death got hold of my mind before my body?"

"Hush! hush! I'll tell you the name. Sir Jervis Redwood."

"I don't know him. I don't want to know him. Do you think he
means to send for you. Perhaps he _has_ sent for you. I won't
allow it! You shan't go!"

"Don't excite yourself, dear! I have refused to go; I mean to
stay here with you."

The fevered brain held to its last idea. "_Has_ he sent for you?"
she said again, louder than before.

Emily replied once more, in terms carefully chosen with the one
purpose of pacifying her. The attempt proved to be useless, and
worse--it seemed to make her suspicious. "I won't be deceived!"
she said; "I mean to know all about it. He did send for you. Whom
did he send?"

"His housekeeper."

"What name?" The tone in which she put the question told of
excitement that was rising to its climax. "Don't you know that
I'm curious about names?" she burst out. "Why do you provoke me?
Who is it?"

"Nobody you know, or need care about, dear aunt. Mrs. Rook."

Instantly on the utterance of that name, there followed an
unexpected result. Silence ensued.

Emily waited--hesitated--advanced, to part the curtains, and look
in at her aunt. She was stopped by a dreadful sound of
laughter--the cheerless laughter that is heard among the mad. It
suddenly ended in a dreary sigh.

Afraid to look in, she spoke, hardly knowing what she said. "Is
there anything you wish for? Shall I call--?"

Miss Letitia's voice interrupted her. Dull, low, rapidly
muttering, it was unlike, shockingly unlike, the familiar voice
of her aunt. It said strange words.

"Mrs. Rook? What does Mrs. Rook matter? Or her husband either?
Bony, Bony, you're frightened about nothing. Where's the danger
of those two people turning up? Do you know how many miles away
the village is? Oh, you fool--a hundred miles and more. Never
mind the coroner, the coroner must keep in his own district--and
the jury too. A risky deception? I call it a pious fraud. And I
have a tender conscience, and a cultivated mind. The newspaper?
How is _our_ newspaper to find its way to her, I should like to
know? You poor old Bony! Upon my word you do me good--you make me

The cheerless laughter broke out again--and died away again
drearily in a sigh.

Accustomed to decide rapidly in the ordinary emergencies of her
life, Emily felt herself painfully embarrassed by the position in
which she was now placed.

After what she had already heard, could she reconcile it to her
sense of duty to her aunt to remain any longer in the room?

In the hopeless self-betrayal of delirium, Miss Letitia had
revealed some act of concealment, committed in her past life, and
confided to her faithful old servant. Under these circumstances,
had Emily made any discoveries which convicted her of taking a
base advantage of her position at the bedside? Most assuredly
not! The nature of the act of concealment; the causes that had
led to it; the person (or persons) affected by it--these were
mysteries which left her entirely in the dark. She had found out
that her aunt was acquainted with Mrs. Rook, and that was
literally all she knew.

Blameless, so far, in the line of conduct that she had pursued,
might she still remain in the bed-chamber--on this distinct
understanding with herself: that she would instantly return to
the sitting-room if she heard anything which could suggest a
doubt of Miss Letitia's claim to her affection and respect? After
some hesitation, she decided on leaving it to her conscience to
answer that question. Does conscience ever say, No--when
inclination says, Yes? Emily's conscience sided with her
reluctance to leave her aunt.

Throughout the time occupied by these reflections, the silence
had remained unbroken. Emily began to feel uneasy. She timidly
put her hand through the curtains, and took Miss Letitia's hand.
The contact with the burning skin startled her. She turned away
to the door, to call the servant--when the sound of her aunt's
voice hurried her back to the bed.

"Are you there, Bony?" the voice asked.

Was her mind getting clear again? Emily tried the experiment of
making a plain reply. "Your niece is with you," she said. "Shall
I call the servant?"

Miss Letitia's mind was still far away from Emily, and from the
present time.

"The servant?" she repeated. "All the servants but you, Bony,
have been sent away. London's the place for us. No gossiping
servants and no curious neighbors in London. Bury the horrid
truth in London. Ah, you may well say I look anxious and
wretched. I hate deception--and yet, it must be done. Why do you
waste time in talking? Why don't you find out where the vile
woman lives? Only let me get at her--and I'll make Sara ashamed
of herself."

Emily's heart beat fast when she heard the woman's name. "Sara"
(as she and her school-fellows knew) was the baptismal name of
Miss Jethro. Had her aunt alluded to the disgraced teacher, or to
some other woman?

She waited eagerly to hear more. There was nothing to be heard.
At this most interesting moment, the silence remained

In the fervor of her anxiety to set her doubts at rest, Emily's
faith in her own good resolutions began to waver. The temptation
to say somethin g which might set her aunt talking again was too
strong to be resisted--if she remained at the bedside. Despairing
of herself she rose and turned to the door. In the moment that
passed while she crossed the room the very words occurred to her
that would suit her purpose. Her cheeks were hot with shame--she
hesitated--she looked back at the bed--the words passed her lips.

"Sara is only one of the woman's names," she said. "Do you like
her other name?"

The rapidly-muttering tones broke out again instantly--but not in
answer to Emily. The sound of a voice had encouraged Miss Letitia
to pursue her own confused train of thought, and had stimulated
the fast-failing capacity of speech to exert itself once more.

"No! no! He's too cunning for you, and too cunning for me. He
doesn't leave letters about; he destroys them all. Did I say he
was too cunning for us? It's false. We are too cunning for him.
Who found the morsels of his letter in the basket? Who stuck them
together? Ah, _we_ know! Don't read it, Bony. 'Dear Miss
Jethro'--don't read it again. 'Miss Jethro' in his letter; and
'Sara,' when he talks to himself in the garden. Oh, who would
have believed it of him, if we hadn't seen and heard it

There was no more doubt now.

But who was the man, so bitterly and so regretfully alluded to?

No: this time Emily held firmly by the resolution which bound her
to respect the helpless position of her aunt. The speediest way
of summoning Mrs. Ellmother would be to ring the bell. As she
touched the handle a faint cry of suffering from the bed called
her back.

"Oh, so thirsty!" murmured the failing voice--so thirsty!"

She parted the curtains. The shrouded lamplight just showed her
the green shade over Miss Letitia s eyes--the hollow cheeks below
it--the arms laid helplessly on the bed-clothes. "Oh, aunt, don't
you know my voice? Don't you know Emily? Let me kiss you, dear!"
Useless to plead with her; useless to kiss her; she only
reiterated the words, "So thirsty! so thirsty!" Emily raised the
poor tortured body with a patient caution which spared it pain,
and put the glass to her aunt's lips. She drank the lemonade to
the last drop. Refreshed for the moment, she spoke again--spoke
to the visionary servant of her delirious fancy, while she rested
in Emily's arms.

"For God's sake, take care how you answer if she questions you.
If _she_ knew what _we_ know! Are men ever ashamed? Ha! the vile
woman! the vile woman!"

Her voice, sinking gradually, dropped to a whisper. The next few
words that escaped her were muttered inarticulately. Little by
little, the false energy of fever was wearing itself out. She lay
silent and still. To look at her now was to look at the image of
death. Once more, Emily kissed her--closed the curtains--and rang
the bell. Mrs. Ellmother failed to appear. Emily left the room to
call her.

Arrived at the top of the kitchen stairs, she noted a slight
change. The door below, which she had heard banged on first
entering her aunt's room, now stood open. She called to Mrs.
Ellmother. A strange voice answered her. Its accent was soft and
courteous; presenting the strongest imaginable contrast to the
harsh tones of Miss Letitia's crabbed old maid.

"Is there anything I can do for you, miss?"

The person making this polite inquiry appeared at the foot of the
stairs--a plump and comely woman of middle age. She looked up at
the young lady with a pleasant smile.

"I beg your pardon," Emily said; "I had no intention of
disturbing you. I called to Mrs. Ellmother."

The stranger advanced a little way up the stairs, and answered,
"Mrs. Ellmother is not here."

"Do you expect her back soon?"

"Excuse me, miss--I don't expect her back at all."

"Do you mean to say that she has left the house?"

"Yes, miss. She has left the house."



Emily's first act--after the discovery of Mrs. Ellmother's
incomprehensible disappearance--was to invite the new servant to
follow her into the sitting-room.

"Can you explain this?" she began.

"No, miss."

"May I ask if you have come here by Mrs. Ellmother's invitation?"

"By Mrs. Ellmother's _request_, miss."

"Can you tell me how she came to make the request?"

"With pleasure, miss. Perhaps--as you find me here, a stranger to
yourself, in place of the customary servant--I ought to begin by
giving you a reference."

"And, perhaps (if you will be so kind), by mentioning your name,"
Emily added.

"Thank you for reminding me, miss. My name is Elizabeth Mosey. I
am well known to the gentleman who attends Miss Letitia. Dr.
Allday will speak to my character and also to my experience as a
nurse. If it would be in any way satisfactory to give you a
second reference--"

"Quite needless, Mrs. Mosey."

"Permit me to thank you again, miss. I was at home this evening,
when Mrs. Ellmother called at my lodgings. Says she, 'I have come
here, Elizabeth, to ask a favor of you for old friendship's
sake.' Says I, 'My dear, pray command me, whatever it may be.' If
this seems rather a hasty answer to make, before I knew what the
favor was, might I ask you to bear in mind that Mrs. Ellmother
put it to me 'for old friendship's sake'--alluding to my late
husband, and to the business which we carried on at that time?
Through no fault of ours, we got into difficulties. Persons whom
we had trusted proved unworthy. Not to trouble you further, I may
say at once, we should have been ruined, if our old friend Mrs.
Ellmother had not come forward, and trusted us with the savings
of her lifetime. The money was all paid back again, before my
husband's death. But I don't consider--and, I think you won't
consider--that the obligation was paid back too. Prudent or not
prudent, there is nothing Mrs. Ellmother can ask of me that I am
not willing to do. If I have put myself in an awkward situation
(and I don't deny that it looks so) this is the only excuse,
miss, that I can make for my conduct."

Mrs. Mosey was too fluent, and too fond of hearing the sound of
her own eminently persuasive voice. Making allowance for these
little drawbacks, the impression that she produced was decidedly
favorable; and, however rashly she might have acted, her motive
was beyond reproach. Having said some kind words to this effect,
Emily led her back to the main interest of her narrative.

"Did Mrs. Ellmother give no reason for leaving my aunt, at such a
time as this?" she asked.

"The very words I said to her, miss."

"And what did she say, by way of reply?"

"She burst out crying--a thing I have never known her to do
before, in an experience of twenty years."

"And she really asked you to take her place here, at a moment's

"That was just what she did," Mrs. Mosey answered. "I had no need
to tell her I was astonished; my lips spoke for me, no doubt.
She's a hard woman in speech and manner, I admit. But there's
more feeling in her than you would suppose. 'If you are the good
friend I take you for,' she says, 'don't ask me for reasons; I am
doing what is forced on me, and doing it with a heavy heart.' In
my place, miss, would you have insisted on her explaining
herself, after that? The one thing I naturally wanted to know
was, if I could speak to some lady, in the position of mistress
here, before I ventured to intrude. Mrs. Ellmother understood
that it was her duty to help me in this particular. Your poor
aunt being out of the question she mentioned you."

"How did she speak of me? In an angry way?"

"No, indeed--quite the contrary. She says, 'You will find Miss
Emily at the cottage. She is Miss Letitia's niece. Everybody
likes her--and everybody is right.'"

"She really said that?"

"Those were her words. And, what is more, she gave me a message
for you at parting. 'If Miss Emily is surprised' (that was how
she put it) 'give her my duty and good wishes; and tell her to
remember what I said, when she took my place at her aunt's
bedside.' I don't presume to inquire what this means," said Mrs.
Mosey respectfully, ready to hear what it meant, if Emily would
only be so good as to tell her. "I deliver the message, miss, as
it was delivered to me. After which, Mrs. Ellmother went her way,
and I went mine."

"Do you know where she wen t?"

"No, miss."

"Have you nothing more to tell me?"

"Nothing more; except that she gave me my directions, of course,
about the nursing. I took them down in writing--and you will find
them in their proper place, with the prescriptions and the

Acting at once on this hint, Emily led the way to her aunt's

Miss Letitia was silent, when the new nurse softly parted the
curtains--looked in--and drew them together again. Consulting her
watch, Mrs. Mosey compared her written directions with the
medicine-bottles on the table, and set one apart to be used at
the appointed time. "Nothing, so far, to alarm us," she
whispered. "You look sadly pale and tired, miss. Might I advise
you to rest a little?"

"If there is any change, Mrs. Mosey--either for the better or the
worse--of course you will let me know?"

"Certainly, miss."

Emily returned to the sitting-room: not to rest (after all that
she had heard), but to think.

Amid much that was unintelligible, certain plain conclusions
presented themselves to her mind.

After what the doctor had already said to Emily, on the subject
of delirium generally, Mrs. Ellmother's proceedings became
intelligible: they proved that she knew by experience the
perilous course taken by her mistress's wandering thoughts, when
they expressed themselves in words. This explained the
concealment of Miss Letitia's illness from her niece, as well as
the reiterated efforts of the old servant to prevent Emily from
entering the bedroom.

But the event which had just happened--that is to say, Mrs.
Ellmother's sudden departure from the cottage--was not only of
serious importance in itself, but pointed to a startling

The faithful maid had left the mistress, whom she had loved and
served, sinking under a fatal illness--and had put another woman
in her place, careless of what that woman might discover by
listening at the bedside--rather than confront Emily after she
had been within hearing of her aunt while the brain of the
suffering woman was deranged by fever. There was the state of the
case, in plain words.

In what frame of mind had Mrs. Ellmother adopted this desperate
course of action?

To use her own expression, she had deserted Miss Letitia "with a
heavy heart." To judge by her own language addressed to Mrs.
Mosey, she had left Emily to the mercy of a stranger--animated,
nevertheless, by sincere feelings of attachment and respect. That
her fears had taken for granted suspicion which Emily had not
felt, and discoveries which Emily had (as yet) not made, in no
way modified the serious nature of the inference which her
conduct justified. The disclosure which this woman dreaded--who
could doubt it now?--directly threatened Emily's peace of mind.
There was no disguising it: the innocent niece was associated
with an act of deception, which had been, until that day, the
undetected secret of the aunt and the aunt's maid.

In this conclusion, and in this only, was to be found the
rational explanation of Mrs. Ellmother's choice--placed between
the alternatives of submitting to discovery by Emily, or of
leaving the house.

Poor Miss Letitia's writing-table stood near the window of the
sitting-room. Shrinking from the further pursuit of thoughts
which might end in disposing her mind to distrust of her dying
aunt, Emily looked round in search of some employment
sufficiently interesting to absorb her attention. The
writing-table reminded her that she owed a letter to Cecilia.
That helpful friend had surely the first claim to know why she
had failed to keep her engagement with Sir Jervis Redwood.

After mentioning the telegram which had followed Mrs. Rook's
arrival at the school, Emily's letter proceeded in these terms:

"As soon as I had in some degree recovered myself, I informed
Mrs. Rook of my aunt's serious illness.

"Although she carefully confined herself to commonplace
expressions of sympathy, I could see that it was equally a relief
to both of us to feel that we were prevented from being traveling
companions. Don't suppose that I have taken a capricious dislike
to Mrs. Rook--or that you are in any way to blame for the
unfavorable impression which she has produced on me. I will make
this plain when we meet. In the meanwhile, I need only tell you
that I gave her a letter of explanation to present to Sir Jervis
Redwood. I also informed him of my address in London: adding a
request that he would forward your letter, in case you have
written to me before you receive these lines.

"Kind Mr. Alban Morris accompanied me to the railway-station, and
arranged with the guard to take special care of me on the journey
to London. We used to think him rather a heartless man. We were
quite wrong. I don't know what his plans are for spending the
summer holidays. Go where he may, I remember his kindness; my
best wishes go with him.

"My dear, I must not sadden your enjoyment of your pleasant visit
to the Engadine, by writing at any length of the sorrow that I am
suffering. You know how I love my aunt, and how gratefully I have
always felt her motherly goodness to me. The doctor does not
conceal the truth. At her age, there is no hope: my father's
last-left relation, my one dearest friend, is dying.

"No! I must not forget that I have another friend--I must find
some comfort in thinking of _you_.

"I do so long in my solitude for a letter from my dear Cecilia.
Nobody comes to see me, when I most want sympathy; I am a
stranger in this vast city. The members of my mother's family are
settled in Australia: they have not even written to me, in all
the long years that have passed since her death. You remember how
cheerfully I used to look forward to my new life, on leaving
school? Good-by, my darling. While I can see your sweet face, in
my thoughts, I don't despair--dark as it looks now--of the future
that is before me."

Emily had closed and addressed her letter, and was just rising
from her chair, when she heard the voice of the new nurse at the



"May I say a word?" Mrs. Mosey inquired. She entered the
room--pale and trembling. Seeing that ominous change, Emily
dropped back into her chair.

"Dead?" she said faintly.

Mrs. Mosey looked at her in vacant surprise.

"I wish to say, miss, that your aunt has frightened me."

Even that vague allusion was enough for Emily.

"You need say no more," she replied. "I know but too well how my
aunt's mind is affected by the fever."

Confused and frightened as she was, Mrs. Mosey still found relief
in her customary flow of words.

"Many and many a person have I nursed in fever," she announced.
"Many and many a person have I heard say strange things. Never
yet, miss, in all my experience--!"

"Don't tell me of it!" Emily interposed.

"Oh, but I _must_ tell you! In your own interests, Miss Emily--in
your own interests. I won't be inhuman enough to leave you alone
in the house to-night; but if this delirium goes on, I must ask
you to get another nurse. Shocking suspicions are lying in wait
for me in that bedroom, as it were. I can't resist them as I
ought, if I go back again, and hear your aunt saying what she has
been saying for the last half hour and more. Mrs. Ellmother has
expected impossibilities of me; and Mrs. Ellmother must take the
consequences. I don't say she didn't warn me--speaking, you will
please to understand, in the strictest confidence. 'Elizabeth,'
she says, 'you know how wildly people talk in Miss Letitia's
present condition. Pay no heed to it,' she says. 'Let it go in at
one ear and out at the other,' she says. 'If Miss Emily asks
questions--you know nothing about it. If she's frightened--you
know nothing about it. If she bursts into fits of crying that are
dreadful to see, pity her, poor thing, but take no notice.' All
very well, and sounds like speaking out, doesn't it? Nothing of
the sort! Mrs. Ellmother warns me to expect this, that, and the
other. But there is one horrid thing (which I heard, mind, over
and over again at your aunt's bedside) that she does _not_
prepare me for; and that horrid thing is--Murder!"

At that last word, Mrs. Mosey dropped her voice to a whisper--and
waited to see what effect she had produced.

Sorely tried
already by the cruel perplexities of her position, Emily's
courage failed to resist the first sensation of horror, aroused
in her by the climax of the nurse's hysterical narrative.
Encouraged by her silence, Mrs. Mosey went on. She lifted one
hand with theatrical solemnity--and luxuriously terrified herself
with her own horrors.

"An inn, Miss Emily; a lonely inn, somewhere in the country; and
a comfortless room at the inn, with a makeshift bed at one end of
it, and a makeshift bed at the other--I give you my word of
honor, that was how your aunt put it. She spoke of two men next;
two men asleep (you understand) in the two beds. I think she
called them 'gentlemen'; but I can't be sure, and I wouldn't
deceive you--you know I wouldn't deceive you, for the world. Miss
Letitia muttered and mumbled, poor soul. I own I was getting
tired of listening--when she burst out plain again, in that one
horrid word--Oh, miss, don't be impatient! don't interrupt me!"

Emily did interrupt, nevertheless. In some degree at least she
had recovered herself. "No more of it!" she said--"I won't hear a
word more."

But Mrs. Mosey was too resolutely bent on asserting her own
importance, by making the most of the alarm that she had
suffered, to be repressed by any ordinary method of remonstrance.
Without paying the slightest attention to what Emily had said,
she went on again more loudly and more excitably than ever.

"Listen, miss--listen! The dreadful part of it is to come; you
haven't heard about the two gentlemen yet. One of them was
murdered--what do you think of that!--and the other (I heard your
aunt say it, in so many words) committed the crime. Did Miss
Letitia fancy she was addressing a lot of people when _you_ were
nursing her? She called out, like a person making public
proclamation, when I was in her room. 'Whoever you are, good
people' (she says), 'a hundred pounds reward, if you find the
runaway murderer. Search everywhere for a poor weak womanish
creature, with rings on his little white hands. There's nothing
about him like a man, except his voice--a fine round voice.
You'll know him, my friends--the wretch, the monster--you'll know
him by his voice.' That was how she put it; I tell you again,
that was how she put it. Did you hear her scream? Ah, my dear
young lady, so much the better for you! 'O the horrid murder'
(she says)--'hush it up!' I'll take my Bible oath before the
magistrate," cried Mrs. Mosey, starting out of her chair, "your
aunt said, 'Hush it up!'"

Emily crossed the room. The energy of her character was roused at
last. She seized the foolish woman by the shoulders, forced her
back in the chair, and looked her straight in the face without
uttering a word.

For the moment, Mrs. Mosey was petrified. She had fully
expected--having reached the end of her terrible story--to find
Emily at her feet, entreating her not to carry out her intention
of leaving the cottage the next morning; and she had determined,
after her sense of her own importance had been sufficiently
flattered, to grant the prayer of the helpless young lady. Those
were her anticipations--and how had they been fulfilled? She had
been treated like a mad woman in a state of revolt!

"How dare you assault me?" she asked piteously. "You ought to be
ashamed of yourself. God knows I meant well."

"You are not the first person," Emily answered, quietly releasing
her, "who has done wrong with the best intentions."

"I did my duty, miss, when I told you what your aunt said."

"You forgot your duty when you listened to what my aunt said."

"Allow me to explain myself."

"No: not a word more on _that_ subject shall pass between us.
Remain here, if you please; I have something to suggest in your
own interests. Wait, and compose yourself."

The purpose which had taken a foremost place in Emily's mind
rested on the firm foundation of her love and pity for her aunt.

Now that she had regained the power to think, she felt a hateful
doubt pressed on her by Mrs. Mosey's disclosures. Having taken
for granted that there was a foundation in truth for what she
herself had heard in her aunt's room, could she reasonably resist
the conclusion that there must be a foundation in truth for what
Mrs. Mosey had heard, under similar circumstances?

There was but one way of escaping from this dilemma--and Emily
deliberately took it. She turned her back on her own convictions;
and persuaded herself that she had been in the wrong, when she
had attached importance to anything that her aunt had said, under
the influence of delirium. Having adopted this conclusion, she
resolved to face the prospect of a night's solitude by the
death-bed--rather than permit Mrs. Mosey to have a second
opportunity of drawing her own inferences from what she might
hear in Miss Letitia's room.

"Do you mean to keep me waiting much longer, miss?"

"Not a moment longer, now you are composed again," Emily
answered. "I have been thinking of what has happened; and I fail
to see any necessity for putting off your departure until the
doctor comes to-morrow morning. There is really no objection to
your leaving me to-night."

"I beg your pardon, miss; there _is_ an objection. I have already
told you I can't reconcile it to my conscience to leave you here
by yourself. I am not an inhuman woman," said Mrs. Mosey, putting
her handkerchief to her eyes--smitten with pity for herself.

Emily tried the effect of a conciliatory reply. "I am grateful
for your kindness in offering to stay with me," she said.

"Very good of you, I'm sure," Mrs. Mosey answered ironically.
"But for all that, you persist in sending me away."

"I persist in thinking that there is no necessity for my keeping
you here until to-morrow."

"Oh, have it your own way! I am not reduced to forcing my company
on anybody."

Mrs. Mosey put her handkerchief in her pocket, and asserted her
dignity. With head erect and slowly-marching steps she walked out
of the room. Emily was left in the cottage, alone with her dying



A fortnight after the disappearance of Mrs. Ellmother, and the
dismissal of Mrs. Mosey, Doctor Allday entered his
consulting-room, punctual to the hour at which he was accustomed
to receive patients.

An occasional wrinkling of his eyebrows, accompanied by an
intermittent restlessness in his movements, appeared to indicate
some disturbance of this worthy man's professional composure. His
mind was indeed not at ease. Even the inexcitable old doctor had
felt the attraction which had already conquered three such
dissimilar people as Alban Morris, Cecilia Wyvil, and Francine de
Sor. He was thinking of Emily.

A ring at the door-bell announced the arrival of the first

The servant introduced a tall lady, dressed simply and elegantly
in dark apparel. Noticeable features, of a Jewish cast--worn and
haggard, but still preserving their grandeur of form--were
visible through her veil. She moved with grace and dignity; and
she stated her object in consulting Doctor Allday with the ease
of a well-bred woman.

"I come to ask your opinion, sir, on the state of my heart," she
said; "and I am recommended by a patient, who has consulted you
with advantage to herself." She placed a card on the doctor's
writing-desk, and added: "I have become acquainted with the lady,
by being one of the lodgers in her house."

The doctor recognized the name--and the usual proceedings ensued.
After careful examination, he arrived at a favorable conclusion.
"I may tell you at once," he said--"there is no reason to be
alarmed about the state of your heart."

"I have never felt any alarm about myself," she answered quietly.
"A sudden death is an easy death. If one's affairs are settled,
it seems, on that account, to be the death to prefer. My object
was to settle _my_ affairs--such as they are--if you had
considered my life to be in danger. "Is there nothing the matter
with me?"

"I don't say that," the doctor replied. "The action of your heart
is very feeble. Take the medicine that I shall prescribe; pay a
little more attention to eating and drinking than ladies usually
do; don't run upstairs, and don't fatigue yourself by violent
exercise--and I see no reason wh y you shouldn't live to be an
old woman."

"God forbid!" the lady said to herself. She turned away, and
looked out of the window with a bitter smile.

Doctor Allday wrote his prescription. "Are you likely to make a
long stay in London?" he asked.

"I am here for a little while only. Do you wish to see me again?"

"I should like to see you once more, before you go away--if you
can make it convenient. What name shall I put on the

"Miss Jethro."

"A remarkable name," the doctor said, in his matter-of-fact way.

Miss Jethro's bitter smile showed itself again.

Without otherwise noticing what Doctor Allday had said, she laid
the consultation fee on the table. At the same moment, the
footman appeared with a letter. "From Miss Emily Brown," he said.
"No answer required."

He held the door open as he delivered the message, seeing that
Miss Jethro was about to leave the room. She dismissed him by a
gesture; and, returning to the table, pointed to the letter.

"Was your correspondent lately a pupil at Miss Ladd's school?"
she inquired.

"My correspondent has just left Miss Ladd," the doctor answered.
"Are you a friend of hers?"

"I am acquainted with her."

"You would be doing the poor child a kindness, if you would go
and see her. She has no friends in London."

"Pardon me--she has an aunt."

"Her aunt died a week since."

"Are there no other relations?"

"None. A melancholy state of things, isn't it? She would have
been absolutely alone in the house, if I had not sent one of my
women servants to stay with her for the present. Did you know her

Miss Jethro passed over the question, as if she had not heard it.
"Has the young lady dismissed her aunt's servants?" she asked.

"Her aunt kept but one servant, ma'am. The woman has spared Miss
Emily the trouble of dismissing her." He briefly alluded to Mrs.
Ellmother's desertion of her mistress. "I can't explain it," he
said when he had done. "Can _you_?"

"What makes you think, sir, that I can help you? I have never
even heard of the servant--and the mistress was a stranger to

At Doctor Allday's age a man is not easily discouraged by
reproof, even when it is administered by a handsome woman. "I
thought you might have known Miss Emily's father," he persisted.

Miss Jethro rose, and wished him good-morning. "I must not occupy
any more of your valuable time," she said.

"Suppose you wait a minute?" the doctor suggested.

Impenetrable as ever, he rang the bell. "Any patients in the
waiting-room?" he inquired. "You see I have time to spare," he
resumed, when the man had replied in the negative. "I take an
interest in this poor girl; and I thought--"

"If you think that I take an interest in her, too," Miss Jethro
interposed, "you are perfectly right--I knew her father," she
added abruptly; the allusion to Emily having apparently reminded
her of the question which she had hitherto declined to notice.

"In that case," Doctor Allday proceeded, "I want a word of
advice. Won't you sit down?"

She took a chair in silence. An irregular movement in the lower
part of her veil seemed to indicate that she was breathing with
difficulty. The doctor observed her with close attention. "Let me
see my prescription again," he said. Having added an ingredient,
he handed it back with a word of explanation. "Your nerves are
more out of order than I supposed. The hardest disease to cure
that I know of is--worry."

The hint could hardly have been plainer; but it was lost on Miss
Jethro. Whatever her troubles might be, her medical adviser was
not made acquainted with them. Quietly folding up the
prescription, she reminded him that he had proposed to ask her

"In what way can I be of service to you?" she inquired.

"I am afraid I must try your patience," the doctor acknowledged,
"if I am to answer that question plainly."

With these prefatory words, he described the events that had
followed Mrs. Mosey's appearance at the cottage. "I am only doing
justice to this foolish woman," he continued, "when I tell you
that she came here, after she had left Miss Emily, and did her
best to set matters right. I went to the poor girl directly--and
I felt it my duty, after looking at her aunt, not to leave her
alone for that night. When I got home the next morning, whom do
you think I found waiting for me? Mrs. Ellmother!"

He stopped--in the expectation that Miss Jethro would express
some surprise. Not a word passed her lips.

"Mrs. Ellmother's object was to ask how her mistress was going
on," the doctor proceeded. "Every day while Miss Letitia still
lived, she came here to make the same inquiry--without a word of
explanation. On the day of the funeral, there she was at the
church, dressed in deep mourning; and, as I can personally
testify, crying bitterly. When the ceremony was over--can you
believe it?--she slipped away before Miss Emily or I could speak
to her. We have seen nothing more of her, and heard nothing more,
from that time to this."

He stopped again, the silent lady still listening without making
any remark.

"Have you no opinion to express?" the doctor asked bluntly.

"I am waiting," Miss Jethro answered.

"Waiting--for what?"

"I haven't heard yet, why you want my advice."

Doctor Allday's observation of humanity had hitherto reckoned
want of caution among the deficient moral qualities in the
natures of women. He set down Miss Jethro as a remarkable
exception to a general rule.

"I want you to advise me as to the right course to take with Miss
Emily," he said. "She has assured me she attaches no serious
importance to her aunt's wanderings, when the poor old lady's
fever was at its worst. I don't doubt that she speaks the
truth--but I have my own reasons for being afraid that she is
deceiving herself. Will you bear this in mind?"

"Yes--if it's necessary."

"In plain words, Miss Jethro, you think I am still wandering from
the point. I have got to the point. Yesterday, Miss Emily told me
that she hoped to be soon composed enough to examine the papers
left by her aunt."

Miss Jethro suddenly turned in her chair, and looked at Doctor

"Are you beginning to feel interested?" the doctor asked

She neither acknowledged nor denied it. "Go on"--was all she

Book of the day: