Part 8 out of 9
She had been sitting by the fire reading the paper, and waiting for her
seniors to join her at the dinner table.
"Oh, it's you, Mr. Robert Audley." she remarked, indifferently. "You
dine with us of course. Pray go and find papa. It must be nearly eight
o'clock, and we are supposed to dine at six."
Mr. Audley answered his cousin rather sternly. Her frivolous manner
jarred upon him, and he forgot in his irrational displeasure that Miss
Audley had known nothing of the terrible drama which had been so long
enacting under her very nose.
"Your papa has just endured a very great grief, Alicia," the young man
The girl's arch, laughing face changed in a moment to a tenderly earnest
look of sorrow and anxiety. Alicia Audley loved her father very dearly.
"A grief?" she exclaimed; "papa grieved! Oh! Robert, what has happened?"
"I can tell you nothing yet, Alicia," Robert answered in a low voice.
He took his cousin by the wrist, and drew her into the dining-room as he
spoke. He closed the door carefully behind him before he continued:
"Alicia, can I trust you?" he asked, earnestly.
"Trust me to do what?"
"To be a comfort and a friend to your poor father under a very heavy
"_Yes_!" cried Alicia, passionately. "How can you ask me such a
question? Do you think there is anything I would not do to lighten any
sorrow of my father's? Do you think there is anything I would not suffer
if my suffering could lighten his?"
The rushing tears rose to Miss Audley's bright gray eyes as she spoke.
"Oh, Robert! Robert! could you think so badly of me as to think I would
not try to be a comfort to my father in his grief?" she said,
"No, no, my dear," answered the young man, quietly; "I never doubted
your affection, I only doubted your discretion. May I rely upon that?"
"You may, Robert," said Alicia, resolutely.
"Very well, then, my dear girl, I will trust you. Your father is going
to leave the Court, for a time at least. The grief which he has just
endured--a sudden and unlooked-for sorrow, remember--has no doubt made
this place hateful to him. He is going away; but he must not go alone,
must he, Alicia?"
"Alone? no! no! But I suppose my lady--"
"Lady Audley will not go with him," said Robert, gravely; "he is about
to separate himself from her."
"For a time?"
"Separate himself from her forever!" exclaimed Alicia. "Then this
"Is connected with Lady Audley. Lady Audley is the cause of your
Alicia's face, which had been pale before, flushed crimson. Sorrow, of
which my lady was the cause--a sorrow which was to separate Sir Michael
forever from his wife! There had been no quarrel between them--there had
never been anything but harmony and sunshine between Lady Audley and her
generous husband. This sorrow must surely then have arisen from some
sudden discovery; it was, no doubt, a sorrow associated with disgrace.
Robert Audley understood the meaning of that vivid blush.
"You will offer to accompany your father wherever he may choose to go,
Alicia," he said. "You are his natural comforter at such a time as this,
but you will best befriend him in this hour of trial by avoiding all
intrusion upon his grief. Your very ignorance of the particulars of that
grief will be a security for your discretion. Say nothing to your father
that you might not have said to him two years ago, before he married a
second wife. Try and be to him what you were before the woman in yonder
room came between you and your father's love."
"I will," murmured Alicia, "I will."
"You will naturally avoid all mention of Lady Audley's name. If your
father is often silent, be patient; if it sometimes seems to you that
the shadow of this great sorrow will never pass away from his life, be
patient still; and remember that there can be no better hope of a cure
of his grief than the hope that his daughter's devotion may lead him to
remember there is one woman upon this earth who will love him truly and
purely until the last."
"Yes--yes, Robert, dear cousin, I will remember."
Mr. Audley, for the first time since he had been a schoolboy, took his
cousin in his arms and kissed her broad forehead.
"My dear Alicia," he said, "do this and you will make me happy. I have
been in some measure the means of bringing this sorrow upon your father.
Let me hope that it is not an enduring one. Try and restore my uncle to
happiness, Alicia, and I will love you more dearly than brother ever
loved a noble-hearted sister; and a brotherly affection may be worth
having, perhaps, after all, my dear, though it is very different to poor
Sir Harry's enthusiastic worship."
Alicia's head was bent and her face hidden from her cousin while he
spoke, but she lifted her head when he had finished, and looked him full
in the face with a smile that was only the brighter for her eyes being
filled with tears.
"You are a good fellow, Bob," she said; "and I've been very foolish and
wicked to feel angry with you because--"
The young lady stopped suddenly.
"Because what, my dear?" asked Mr. Audley.
"Because I'm silly, Cousin Robert," Alicia said, quickly; "never mind
that, Bob, I'll do all you wish, and it shall not be my fault if my
dearest father doesn't forget his troubles before long. I'd go to the
end of the world with him, poor darling, if I thought there was any
comfort to be found for him in the journey. I'll go and get ready
directly. Do you think papa will go to-night?"
"Yes, my dear; I don't think Sir Michael will rest another night under
this roof yet awhile."
"The mail goes at twenty minutes past nine," said Alicia; "we must leave
the house in an hour if we are to travel by it. I shall see you again
before we go, Robert?"
Miss Audley ran off to her room to summon her maid, and make all
necessary preparations for the sudden journey, of whose ultimate
destination she was as yet quite ignorant.
She went heart and soul into the carrying out of the duty which Robert
had dictated to her. She assisted in the packing of her portmanteaus,
and hopelessly bewildered her maid by stuffing silk dresses into her
bonnet-boxes and satin shoes into her dressing-case. She roamed about
her rooms, gathering together drawing-materials, music-books,
needle-work, hair-brushes, jewelry, and perfume-bottles, very much as
she might have done had she been about to sail for some savage country,
devoid of all civilized resources. She was thinking all the time of her
father's unknown grief, and perhaps a little of the serious face and
earnest voice which had that night revealed her Cousin Robert to her in
a new character.
Mr. Audley went up-stairs after his cousin, and found his way to Sir
Michael's dressing-room. He knocked at the door and listened, Heaven
knows how anxiously, for the expected answer. There was a moment's
pause, during which the young man's heart beat loud and fast, and then
the door was opened by the baronet himself. Robert saw that his uncle's
valet was already hard at work preparing for his master's hurried
Sir Michael came out into the corridor.
"Have you anything more to say to me, Robert?" he asked, quietly.
"I only came to ascertain if I could assist in any of your arrangements.
You go to London by the mail?"
"Have you any idea of where you will stay."
"Yes, I shall stop at the Clarendon; I am known there. Is that all you
have to say?"
"Yes; except that Alicia will accompany you?"
"She could not very well stay here, you know, just now. It would be best
for her to leave the Court until--"
"Yes, yes, I understand," interrupted the baronet; "but is there nowhere
else that she could go--must she be with me?"
"She could go nowhere else so immediately, and she would not be happy
"Let her come, then," said Sir Michael, "let her come."
He spoke in a strange, subdued voice, and with an apparent effort, as if
it were painful to him to have to speak at all; as if all this ordinary
business of life were a cruel torture to him, and jarred so much upon
his grief as to be almost worse to bear than that grief itself.
"Very well, my dear uncle, then all is arranged; Alicia will be ready to
start at nine o'clock."
"Very good, very good," muttered the baronet; "let her come if she
pleases, poor child, let her come."
He sighed heavily as he spoke in that half pitying tone of his daughter.
He was thinking how comparatively indifferent he had been toward that
only child for the sake of the woman now shut in the fire-lit room
"I shall see you again before you go, sir," said Robert; "I will leave
you till then."
"Stay!" said Sir Michael, suddenly; "have you told Alicia?"
"I have told her nothing, except that you are about to leave the Court
for some time."
"You are very good, my boy, you are very good," the baronet murmured in
a broken voice.
He stretched out his hand. His nephew took it in both his own, and
pressed it to his lips.
"Oh, sir! how can I ever forgive myself?" he said; "how can I ever cease
to hate myself for having brought this grief upon you?"
"No, no, Robert, you did right; I wish that God had been so merciful to
me as to take my miserable life before this night; but you did right."
Sir Michael re-entered his dressing-room, and Robert slowly returned to
the vestibule. He paused upon the threshold of that chamber in which he
had left Lucy--Lady Audley, otherwise Helen Talboys, the wife of his
She was lying upon the floor, upon the very spot in which she had
crouched at her husband's feet telling her guilty story. Whether she was
in a swoon, or whether she lay there in the utter helplessness of her
misery, Robert scarcely cared to know. He went out into the vestibule,
and sent one of the servants to look for her maid, the smart,
be-ribboned damsel who was loud in wonder and consternation at the sight
of her mistress.
"Lady Audley is very ill," he said; "take her to her room and see that
she does not leave it to-night. You will be good enough to remain near
her, but do not either talk to her or suffer her to excite herself by
My lady had not fainted; she allowed the girl to assist her, and rose
from the ground upon which she had groveled. Her golden hair fell in
loose, disheveled masses about her ivory throat and shoulders, her face
and lips were colorless, her eyes terrible in their unnatural light.
"Take me away," she said, "and let me sleep! Let me sleep, for my brain
is on fire!"
As she was leaving the room with her maid, she turned and looked at
Robert. "Is Sir Michael gone?" she asked.
"He will leave in half an hour."
"There were no lives lost in the fire at Mount Stanning?"
"I am glad of that."
"The landlord of the house, Marks, was very terribly burned, and lies in
a precarious state at his mother's cottage; but he may recover."
"I am glad of that--I am glad no life was lost. Good-night, Mr. Audley."
"I shall ask to see you for half an hour's conversation in the course of
to-morrow, my lady."
"Whenever you please. Good night."
She went away quietly leaning upon her maid's shoulder, and leaving
Robert with a sense of strange bewilderment that was very painful to
He sat down by the broad hearth upon which the red embers were fading,
and wondered at the change in that old house which, until the day of his
friend's disappearance, had been so pleasant a home for all who
sheltered beneath its hospitable roof. He sat brooding over the desolate
hearth, and trying to decide upon what must be done in this sudden
crisis. He sat helpless and powerless to determine upon any course of
action, lost in a dull revery, from which he was aroused by the sound of
carriage-wheels driving up to the little turret entrance.
The clock in the vestibule struck nine as Robert opened the library
door. Alicia had just descended the stairs with her maid; a rosy-faced
"Good-by, Robert," said Miss Audley, holding out her hand to her cousin;
"good-by, and God bless you! You may trust me to take care of papa."
"I am sure I may. God bless you, my dear."
For the second time that night Robert Audley pressed his lips to his
cousin's candid forehead, and for the second time the embrace was of a
brotherly or paternal character, rather than the rapturous proceeding
which it would have been had Sir Harry Towers been the privileged
It was five minutes past nine when Sir Michael came down-stairs,
followed by his valet, grave and gray-haired like himself. The baronet
was pale, but calm and self-possessed. The hand which he gave to his
nephew was as cold as ice, but it was with a steady voice that he bade
the young man good-by.
"I leave all in your hands, Robert," he said, as he turned to leave the
house in which he had lived so long. "I may not have heard the end, but
I have heard enough. Heaven knows I have no need to hear more. I leave
all to you, but you will not be cruel--you will remember how much I
His voice broke huskily before he could finish the sentence.
"I will remember you in everything, sir," the young man answered. "I
will do everything for the best."
A treacherous mist of tears blinded him and shut out his uncle's face,
and in another minute the carriage had driven away, and Robert Audley
sat alone in the dark library, where only one red spark glowed among the
pale gray ashes. He sat alone, trying to think what he ought to do, and
with the awful responsibility of a wicked woman's fate upon his
"Good Heaven!" he thought; "surely this must be God's judgment upon the
purposeless, vacillating life I led up to the seventh day of last
September. Surely this awful responsibility has been forced upon me in
order that I may humble myself to an offended Providence, and confess
that a man cannot choose his own life. He cannot say, 'I will take
existence lightly, and keep out of the way of the wretched, mistaken,
energetic creatures, who fight so heartily in the great battle.' He
cannot say, 'I will stop in the tents while the strife is fought, and
laugh at the fools who are trampled down in the useless struggle.' He
cannot do this. He can only do, humbly and fearfully, that which the
Maker who created him has appointed for him to do. If he has a battle to
fight, let him fight it faithfully; but woe betide him if he skulks when
his name is called in the mighty muster-roll, woe betide him if he hides
in the tents when the tocsin summons him to the scene of war!"
One of the servants brought candles into the library and relighted the
fire, but Robert Audley did not stir from his seat by the hearth. He sat
as he had often sat in his chambers in Figtree Court, with his elbows
resting upon the arms of his chair, and his chin upon his hand.
But he lifted his head as the servant was about to leave the room.
"Can I send a message from here to London?" he asked.
"It can be sent from Brentwood, sir--not from here."
Mr. Audley looked at his watch thoughtfully.
"One of the men can ride over to Brentwood, sir, if you wish any message
to be sent."
"I do wish to send a message; will you manage it for me, Richards?"
"You can wait, then, while I write the message."
The man brought writing materials from one of the side-tables, and
placed them before Mr. Audley.
Robert dipped a pen in the ink, and stared thoughtfully at one of the
candles for a few moments before he began to write.
The message ran thus:
"From Robert Audley, of Audley Court, Essex, to Francis Wilmington, of
"DEAR WILMINGTON--If you know any physician experienced in cases of
mania, and to be trusted with a secret, be so good as to send me his
address by telegraph."
Mr. Audley sealed this document in a stout envelope, and handed it to
the man, with a sovereign.
"You will see that this is given to a trustworthy person, Richards," he
said, "and let the man wait at the station for the return message. He
ought to get it in an hour and a half."
Mr. Richards, who had known Robert Audley in jackets and turn-down
collars, departed to execute his commission. Heaven forbid that we
should follow him into the comfortable servants' hall at the Court,
where the household sat round the blazing fire, discussing in utter
bewilderment the events of the day.
Nothing could be wider from the truth than the speculations of these
worthy people. What clew had they to the mystery of that firelit room in
which a guilty woman had knelt at their master's feet to tell the story
of her sinful life? They only knew that which Sir Michael's valet had
told them of this sudden journey. How his master was as pale as a sheet,
and spoke in a strange voice that didn't sound like his own, somehow,
and how you might have knocked him--Mr. Parsons, the valet--down with a
feather, if you had been minded to prostrate him by the aid of so feeble
The wiseheads of the servants' hall decided that Sir Michael had
received sudden intelligence through Mr. Robert--they were wise enough
to connect the young man with the catastrophe--either of the death of
some near and dear relation--the elder servants decimated the Audley
family in their endeavors to find a likely relation--or of some alarming
fall in the funds, or of the failure of some speculation or bank in
which the greater part of the baronet's money was invested. The general
leaning was toward the failure of a bank, and every member of the
assembly seemed to take a dismal and raven-like delight in the fancy,
though such a supposition involved their own ruin in the general
destruction of that liberal household.
Robert sat by the dreary hearth, which seemed dreary even now when the
blaze of a great wood-fire roared in the wide chimney, and listened to
the low wail of the March wind moaning round the house and lifting the
shivering ivy from the walls it sheltered. He was tired and worn out,
for remember that he had been awakened from his sleep at two o'clock
that morning by the hot breath of blazing timber and the sharp crackling
of burning woodwork. But for his presence of mind and cool decision, Mr.
Luke Marks would have died a dreadful death. He still bore the traces of
the night's peril, for the dark hair had been singed upon one side of
his forehead, and his left hand was red and inflamed, from the effect of
the scorching atmosphere out of which he had dragged the landlord of the
Castle Inn. He was thoroughly exhausted with fatigue and excitement, and
he fell into a heavy sleep in his easy-chair before the bright fire,
from which he was only awakened by the entrance of Mr. Richards with the
This return message was very brief.
"DEAR AUDLEY--Always glad to oblige. Alwyn Mosgrave, M.D., 12 Saville
This with names and addresses, was all that it contained.
"I shall want another message taken to Brentwood to-morrow morning,
Richards," said Mr. Audley, as he folded the telegram. "I should be glad
if the man would ride over with it before breakfast. He shall have half
a sovereign for his trouble."
Mr. Richards bowed.
"Thank you, sir--not necessary, sir; but as you please, of course, sir,"
he murmured. "At what hour might you wish the man to go?"
Mr. Audley might wish the man to go as early as he could, so it was
decided that he should go at six.
"My room is ready, I suppose, Richards?" said Robert.
"Yes, sir--your old room."
"Very good. I shall go to bed at once. Bring me a glass of brandy and
water as hot as you can make it, and wait for the telegram."
This second message was only a very earnest request to Doctor Mosgrave
to pay an immediate visit to Audley Court on a matter of serious moment.
Having written this message, Mr. Audley felt that he had done all that
he could do. He drank his brandy and water. He had actual need of the
diluted alcohol, for he had been chilled to the bone by his adventures
during the fire. He slowly sipped the pale golden liquid and thought of
Clara Talboys, of that earnest girl whose brother's memory was now
avenged, whose brother's destroyer was humiliated in the dust. Had she
heard of the fire at the Castle Inn? How could she have done otherwise
than hear of it in such a place as Mount Stanning? But had she heard
that _he_ had been in danger, and that he had distinguished himself by
the rescue of a drunken boor? I fear that, even sitting by that desolate
hearth, and beneath the roof whose noble was an exile from his own
house, Robert Audley was weak enough to think of these things--weak
enough to let his fancy wander away to the dismal fir-trees under the
cold March sky, and the dark-brown eyes that were so like the eyes of
his lost friend.
DR. MOSGRAVE'S ADVICE.
My lady slept. Through that long winter night she slept soundly.
Criminals have often so slept their last sleep upon earth; and have been
found in the gray morning slumbering peacefully, by the jailer who came
to wake them.
The game had been played and lost. I do not think that my lady had
thrown away a card, or missed the making of a trick which she might by
any possibility have made; but her opponent's hand had been too powerful
for her, and he had won.
She looked upon herself as a species of state prisoner, who would have
to be taken good care of. A second Iron Mask, who must be provided for
in some comfortable place of confinement. She abandoned herself to a
dull indifference. She had lived a hundred lives within the space of the
last few days of her existence, and she had worn out her capacity for
suffering--for a time at least.
She ate her breakfast, and took her morning bath, and emerged, with
perfumed hair and in the most exquisitely careless of morning toilets,
from her luxurious dressing-room. She looked at herself in the
cheval-glass before she left the room. A long night's rest had brought
back the delicate rose-tints of her complexion, and the natural luster
of her blue eyes. That unnatural light which had burned so fearfully the
day before had gone, and my lady smiled triumphantly as she contemplated
the reflection of her beauty. The days were gone in which her enemies
could have branded her with white-hot irons, and burned away the
loveliness which had done such mischief. Whatever they did to her they
must leave her her beauty, she thought. At the worst, they were
powerless to rob her of that.
The March day was bright and sunny, with a cheerless sunshine certainly.
My lady wrapped herself in an Indian shawl; a shawl that had cost Sir
Michael a hundred guineas. I think she had an idea that it would be well
to wear this costly garment; so that if hustled suddenly away, she might
carry at least one of her possessions with her. Remember how much she
had periled for a fine house and gorgeous furniture, for carriages and
horses, jewels and laces; and do not wonder if she clings with a
desperate tenacity to gauds and gew-gaws, in the hour of her despair. If
she had been Judas, she would have held to her thirty pieces of silver
to the last moment of her shameful life.
Mr. Robert Audley breakfasted in the library. He sat long over his
solitary cup of tea, smoking his meerschaum pipe, and meditating darkly
upon the task that lay before him.
"I will appeal to the experience of this Dr. Mosgrave," he though;
"physicians and lawyers are the confessors of this prosaic nineteenth
century. Surely, he will be able to help me."
The first fast train from London arrived at Audley at half-past ten
o'clock, and at five minutes before eleven, Richards, the grave servant,
announced Dr. Alwyn Mosgrave.
The physician from Saville Row was a tall man of about fifty years of
age. He was thin and sallow, with lantern jaws, and eyes of a pale,
feeble gray, that seemed as if they had once been blue, and had faded by
the progress of time to their present neutral shade. However powerful
the science of medicine as wielded by Dr. Alwyn Mosgrave, it had not
been strong enough to put flesh upon his bones, or brightness into his
face. He had a strangely expressionless, and yet strangely attentive
countenance. He had the face of a man who had spent the greater part of
his life in listening to other people, and who had parted with his own
individuality and his own passions at the very outset of his career.
He bowed to Robert Audley, took the opposite seat indicated by him, and
addressed his attentive face to the young barrister. Robert saw that the
physician's glance for a moment lost its quiet look of attention, and
became earnest and searching.
"He is wondering whether I am the patient," thought Mr. Audley, "and is
looking for the diagnoses of madness in my face."
Dr. Mosgrave spoke as if in answer to this thought.
"Is it not about your own--health--that you wish to consult me?" he
Dr. Mosgrave looked at his watch, a fifty-guinea Benson-made
chronometer, which he carried loose in his waistcoat pocket as
carelessly as if it had been a potato.
"I need not remind you that my time is precious," he said; "your
telegram informed me that my services were required in a case
of--danger--as I apprehend, or I should not be here this morning."
Robert Audley had sat looking gloomily at the fire, wondering how he
should begin the conversation, and had needed this reminder of the
"You are very good, Dr. Mosgrave," he said, rousing himself by an
effort, "and I thank you very much for having responded to my summons. I
am about to appeal to you upon a subject which is more painful to me
than words can describe. I am about to implore your advice in a most
difficult case, and I trust almost blindly to your experience to rescue
me, and others who are very dear to me, from a cruel and complicated
The business-like attention in Dr. Mosgrave's face grew into a look of
interest as he listened to Robert Audley.
"The revelation made by the patient to the physician is, I believe, as
sacred as the confession of a penitent to his priest?" Robert asked,
"Quite as sacred."
"A solemn confidence, to be violated under no circumstances?"
Robert Audley looked at the fire again. How much should he tell, or how
little, of the dark history of his uncle's second wife?
"I have been given to understand, Dr. Mosgrave, that you have devoted
much of your attention to the treatment of insanity."
"Yes, my practice is almost confined to the treatment of mental
"Such being the case, I think I may venture to conclude that you
sometimes receive strange, and even terrible, revelations."
Dr. Mosgrave bowed.
He looked like a man who could have carried, safely locked in his
passionless breast, the secrets of a nation, and who would have suffered
no inconvenience from the weight of such a burden.
"The story which I am about to tell you is not my own story," said
Robert, after a pause; "you will forgive me, therefore, if I once more
remind you that I can only reveal it upon the understanding that under
no circumstances, or upon no apparent justification, is that confidence
to be betrayed."
Dr. Mosgrave bowed again. A little sternly, perhaps, this time.
"I am all attention, Mr. Audley," he said coldly.
Robert Audley drew his chair nearer to that of the physician, and in a
low voice began the story which my lady had told upon her knees in that
same chamber upon the previous night. Dr. Mosgrave's listening face,
turned always toward the speaker, betrayed no surprise at that strange
revelation. He smiled once, a grave, quiet smile, when Mr. Audley came
to that part of the story which told of the conspiracy at Ventnor; but
he was not surprised. Robert Audley ended his story at the point at
which Sir Michael Audley had interrupted my lady's confession. He told
nothing of the disappearance of George Talboys, nor of the horrible
suspicions that had grown out of that disappearance. He told nothing of
the fire at the Castle Inn.
Dr. Mosgrave shook his head, gravely, when Mr. Audley came to the end of
"You have nothing further to tell me?" he said.
"No. I do not think there is anything more that need be told," Robert
answered, rather evasively.
"You would wish to prove that this lady is mad, and therefore
irresponsible for her actions, Mr. Audley?" said the physician.
Robert Audley stared, wondering at the mad doctor. By what process had
he so rapidly arrived at the young man's secret desire?
"Yes, I would rather, if possible, think her mad; I should be glad to
find that excuse for her."
"And to save the _esclandre_ of a Chancery suit, I suppose, Mr, Audley,"
said Dr. Mosgrave.
Robert shuddered as he bowed an assent to this remark. It was something
worse than a Chancery suit that he dreaded with a horrible fear. It was
a trial for murder that had so long haunted his dreams. How often he had
awoke, in an agony of shame, from a vision of a crowded court-house, and
his uncle's wife in a criminal dock, hemmed in on every side by a sea of
"I fear that I shall not be of any use to you," the physician said,
quietly; "I will see the lady, if you please, but I do not believe that
she is mad."
"Because there is no evidence of madness in anything she has done. She
ran away from her home, because her home was not a pleasant one, and she
left in the hope of finding a better. There is no madness in that. She
committed the crime of bigamy, because by that crime she obtained
fortune and position. There is no madness there. When she found herself
in a desperate position, she did not grow desperate. She employed
intelligent means, and she carried out a conspiracy which required
coolness and deliberation in its execution. There is no madness in
"But the traits of hereditary insanity--"
"May descend to the third generation, and appear in the lady's children,
if she have any. Madness is not necessarily transmitted from mother to
daughter. I should be glad to help you, if I could, Mr. Audley, but I do
not think there is any proof of insanity in the story you have told me.
I do not think any jury in England would accept the plea of insanity in
such a case as this. The best thing you can do with this lady is to send
her back to her first husband; if he will have her."
Robert started at this sudden mention of his friend.
"Her first husband is dead," he answered, "at least, he has been missing
for some time--and I have reason to believe that he is dead."
Dr. Mosgrave saw the startled movement, and heard the embarrassment in
Robert Audley's voice as he spoke of George Talboys.
"The lady's first husband is missing," he said, with a strange emphasis
on the word--"you think that he is dead?"
He paused for a few moments and looked at the fire, as Robert had looked
"Mr. Audley," he said, presently, "there must be no half-confidences
between us. You have not told me all."
Robert, looking up suddenly, plainly expressed in his face the surprise
he felt at these words.
"I should be very poorly able to meet the contingencies of my
professional experience," said Dr. Mosgrave, "if I could not perceive
where confidence ends and reservation begins. You have only told me half
this lady's story, Mr. Audley. You must tell me more before I can offer
you any advice. What has become of the first husband?"
He asked this question in a decisive tone, as if he knew it to be the
key-stone of an arch.
"I have already told you, Dr. Mosgrave, that I do not know."
"Yes," answered the physician, "but your face has told me what you have
withheld from me; it has told me that you _suspect_."
Robert Audley was silent.
"If I am to be of use to you, you must trust me, Mr. Audley," said the
physician. "The first husband disappeared--how and when? I want to know
the history of his disappearance."
Robert paused for some time before he replied to this speech; but, by
and by, he lifted his head, which had been bent in an attitude of
earnest thought, and addressed the physician.
"I will trust you, Dr. Mosgrave," he said. "I will confide entirely in
your honor and goodness. I do not ask you to do any wrong to society;
but I ask you to save our stainless name from degradation and shame, if
you can do so conscientiously."
He told the story of George's disappearance, and of his own doubts and
fears, Heaven knows how reluctantly.
Dr. Mosgrave listened as quietly as he had listened before. Robert
concluded with an earnest appeal to the physician's best feelings. He
implored him to spare the generous old man whose fatal confidence in a
wicked woman had brought much misery upon his declining years.
It was impossible to draw any conclusion, either favorable or otherwise,
from Dr. Mosgrave's attentive face. He rose, when Robert had finished
speaking, and looked at his watch once more.
"I can only spare you twenty minutes," he said. "I will see the lady, if
you please. You say her mother died in a madhouse?"
"She did. Will you see Lady Audley alone?"
"Yes, alone, if you please."
Robert rung for my lady's maid, and under convoy of that smart young
damsel the physician found his way to the octagon antechamber, and the
fairy boudoir with which it communicated.
Ten minutes afterward, he returned to the library, in which Robert sat
waiting for him.
"I have talked to the lady," he said, quietly, "and we understand each
other very well. There is latent insanity! Insanity which might never
appear; or which might appear only once or twice in a lifetime. It would
be a _dementia_ in its worst phase, perhaps; acute mania; but its
duration would be very brief, and it would only arise under extreme
mental pressure. The lady is not mad; but she has the hereditary taint
in her blood. She has the cunning of madness, with the prudence of
intelligence. I will tell you what she is, Mr. Audley. She is
Dr. Mosgrave walked up and down the room once or twice before he spoke
"I will not discuss the probabilities of the suspicion which distresses
you, Mr. Audley," he said, presently, "but I will tell you this much, I
do not advise any _esclandre_. This Mr. George Talboys has disappeared,
but you have no evidence of his death. If you could produce evidence of
his death, you could produce no evidence against this lady, beyond the
one fact that she had a powerful motive for getting rid of him. No jury
in the United Kingdom would condemn her upon such evidence as that."
Robert Audley interrupted Dr. Mosgrave, hastily.
"I assure you, my dear sir," he said, "that my greatest fear is the
necessity of any exposure--any disgrace."
"Certainly, Mr. Audley," answered the physician, coolly, "but you cannot
expect me to assist you to condone one of the worst offenses against
society. If I saw adequate reason for believing that a murder had been
committed by this woman, I should refuse to assist you in smuggling her
away out of the reach of justice, although the honor of a hundred noble
families might be saved by my doing so. But I do not see adequate reason
for your suspicions; and I will do my best to help you."
Robert Audley grasped the physician's hands in both his own.
"I will thank you when I am better able to do so," he said, with
emotion; "I will thank you in my uncle's name as well as in my own."
"I have only five minutes more, and I have a letter to write," said Dr.
Mosgrave, smiling at the young man's energy.
He seated himself at a writing-table in the window, dipped his pen in
the ink, and wrote rapidly for about seven minutes. He had filled three
sides of a sheet of note-paper, when he threw down his pen and folded
He put this letter into an envelope, and delivered it, unsealed, to
The address which it bore was:
Mr. Audley looked rather doubtfully from this address to the doctor, who
was putting on his gloves as deliberately as if his life had never known
a more solemn purpose than the proper adjustment of them.
"That letter," he said, in answer to Robert Audley's inquiring look, "is
written to my friend Monsieur Val, the proprietor and medical
superintendent of a very excellent _maison de sante_ in the town of
Villebrumeuse. We have known each other for many years, and he will no
doubt willingly receive Lady Audley into his establishment, and charge
himself with the full responsibility of her future life; it will not be
a very eventful one!"
Robert Audley would have spoken, he would have once more expressed his
gratitude for the help which had been given to him, but Dr. Mosgrave
checked him with an authoritative gesture.
"From the moment in which Lady Audley enters that house," he said, "her
life, so far as life is made up of action and variety, will be finished.
Whatever secrets she may have will be secrets forever! Whatever crimes
she may have committed she will be able to commit no more. If you were
to dig a grave for her in the nearest churchyard and bury her alive in
it, you could not more safely shut her from the world and all worldly
associations. But as a physiologist and as an honest man, I believe you
could do no better service to society than by doing this; for physiology
is a lie if the woman I saw ten minutes ago is a woman to be trusted at
large. If she could have sprung at my throat and strangled me with her
little hands, as I sat talking to her just now, she would have done it."
"She suspected your purpose, then!"
"She knew it. 'You think I am mad like my mother, and you have come to
question me,' she said. 'You are watching for some sign of the dreadful
taint in my blood.' Good-day to you, Mr. Audley," the physician added
hurriedly, "my time was up ten minutes ago; it is as much as I shall do
to catch the train."
Robert Audley sat alone in the library with the physician's letter upon
the table before him, thinking of the work which was still to be done.
The young barrister had constituted himself the denouncer of this
wretched woman. He had been her judge; and he was now her jailer. Not
until he had delivered the letter which lay before him to its proper
address, not until he had given up his charge into the safe-keeping of
the foreign mad-house doctor, not until then would the dreadful burden
be removed from him and his duty done.
He wrote a few lines to my lady, telling her that he was going to carry
her away from Audley Court to a place from which she was not likely to
return, and requesting her to lose no time in preparing for the journey.
He wished to start that evening, if possible, he told her.
Miss Susan Martin, the lady's maid, thought it a very hard thing to have
to pack her mistress' trunks in such a hurry, but my lady assisted in
the task. She toiled resolutely in directing and assisting her servant,
who scented bankruptcy and ruin in all this packing up and hurrying
away, and was therefore rather languid and indifferent in the discharge
of her duties; and at six o'clock in the evening she sent her attendant
to tell Mr. Audley that she was ready to depart as soon as he pleased.
Robert had consulted a volume of Bradshaw, and had discovered that
Villebrumeuse lay out of the track of all railway traffic, and was only
approachable by diligence from Brussels. The mail for Dover left London
Bridge at nine o'clock, and could be easily caught by Robert and his
charge, as the seven o'clock up-train from Audley reached Shoreditch at
a quarter past eight. Traveling by the Dover and Calais route, they
would reach Villebrumeuse by the following afternoon or evening.
It was late in the afternoon of the next day when the diligence bumped
and rattled over the uneven paving of the principal street in
Robert Audley and my lady had had the _coupe_ of the diligence to
themselves for the whole of the journey, for there were not many
travelers between Brussels and Villebrumeuse, and the public conveyance
was supported by the force of tradition rather than any great profit
attaching to it as a speculation.
My lady had not spoken during the journey, except to decline some
refreshments which Robert had offered her at a halting place upon the
road. Her heart sunk when they left Brussels behind, for she had hoped
that city might have been the end of her journey, and she had turned
with a feeling of sickness and despair from the dull Belgian landscape.
She looked up at last as the vehicle jolted into a great stony
quadrangle, which had been the approach to a monastery once, but which
was now the court yard of a dismal hotel, in whose cellars legions of
rats skirmished and squeaked even while the broad sunshine was bright in
the chambers above.
Lady Audley shuddered as she alighted from the diligence, and found
herself in that dreary court yard. Robert was surrounded by chattering
porters, who clamored for his "baggages," and disputed among themselves
as to the hotel at which he was to rest. One of these men ran away to
fetch a hackney-coach at Mr. Audley's behest, and reappeared presently,
urging on a pair of horses--which were so small as to suggest the idea
that they had been made out of one ordinary-sized animal--with wild
shrieks and whoops that had a demoniac sound in the darkness.
Mr. Audley left my lady in a dreary coffee-room in the care of a drowsy
attendant while he drove away to some distant part of the quiet city.
There was official business to be gone through before Sir Michael's wife
could be quietly put away in the place suggested by Dr. Mosgrave. Robert
had to see all manner of important personages; and to take numerous
oaths; and to exhibit the English physician's letter; and to go through
much ceremony of signing and countersigning before he could take his
lost friend's cruel wife to the home which was to be her last upon
earth. Upward of two hours elapsed before all this was arranged, and the
young man was free to return to the hotel, where he found his charge
staring absently at a pair of wax-candles, with a cup of untasted coffee
standing cold and stagnant before her.
Robert handed my lady into the hired vehicle, and took his seat opposite
to her once more.
"Where are you going to take me?" she asked, at last. "I am tired of
being treated like some naughty child, who is put into a dark cellar as
a punishment for its offenses. Where are you taking me?"
"To a place in which you will have ample leisure to repent the past,
Mrs. Talboys," Robert answered, gravely.
They had left the paved streets behind them, and had emerged out of a
great gaunt square, in which there appeared to be about half a dozen
cathedrals, into a small boulevard, a broad lamp-lit road, on which the
shadows of the leafless branches went and came tremblingly, like the
shadows of a paralytic skeleton. There were houses here and there upon
this boulevard; stately houses, _entre cour et jardin_, and with plaster
vases of geraniums on the stone pillars of the ponderous gateways. The
rumbling hackney-carriage drove upward of three-quarters of a mile along
this smooth roadway before it drew up against a gateway, older and more
ponderous than any of those they had passed.
My lady gave a little scream as she looked out of the coach-window. The
gaunt gateway was lighted by an enormous lamp; a great structure of iron
and glass, in which one poor little shivering flame struggled with the
The coachman rang the bell, and a little wooden door at the side of the
gate was opened by a gray-haired man, who looked out at the carriage,
and then retired. He reappeared three minutes afterward behind the
folding iron gates, which he unlocked and threw back to their full
extent, revealing a dreary desert of stone-paved courtyard.
The coachman led his wretched horses into the courtyard, and piloted the
vehicle to the principal doorway of the house, a great mansion of gray
stone, with several long ranges of windows, many of which were dimly
lighted, and looked out like the pale eyes of weary watchers upon the
darkness of the night.
My lady, watchful and quiet as the cold stars in the wintry sky, looked
up at these casements with an earnest and scrutinizing gaze. One of the
windows was shrouded by a scanty curtain of faded red; and upon this
curtain there went and came a dark shadow, the shadow of a woman with a
fantastic head dress, the shadow of a restless creature, who paced
perpetually backward and forward before the window.
Sir Michael Audley's wicked wife laid her hand suddenly upon Robert's
arm, and pointed with the other hand to this curtained window.
"I know where you have brought me," she said. "This is a MAD-HOUSE."
Mr. Audley did not answer her. He had been standing at the door of the
coach when she addressed him, and he quietly assisted her to alight, and
led her up a couple of shallow stone steps, and into the entrance-hall
of the mansion. He handed Dr. Mosgrave's letter to a neatly-dressed,
cheerful-looking, middle-aged woman, who came tripping out of a little
chamber which opened out of the hall, and was very much like the bureau
of an hotel. This person smilingly welcome Robert and his charge: and
after dispatching a servant with the letter, invited them into her
pleasant little apartment, which was gayly furnished with bright amber
curtains and heated by a tiny stove.
"Madam finds herself very much fatigued?" the Frenchwoman said,
interrogatively, with a look of intense sympathy, as she placed an
arm-chair for my lady.
"Madam" shrugged her shoulders wearily, and looked round the little
chamber with a sharp glance of scrutiny that betokened no very great
"WHAT is this place, Robert Audley?" she cried fiercely. "Do you think I
am a baby, that you may juggle with and deceive me--what is it? It is
what I said just now, is it not?"
"It is a _maison de sante_, my lady," the young man answered, gravely.
"I have no wish to juggle with or to deceive you."
My lady paused for a few moments, looking reflectively at Robert.
"A _maison de sante_," she repeated. "Yes, they manage these things
better in France. In England we should call it a madhouse. This a house
for mad people, this, is it not, madam?" she said in French, turning
upon the woman, and tapping the polished floor with her foot.
"Ah, but no, madam," the woman answered with a shrill scream of protest.
"It is an establishment of the most agreeable, where one amuses one's
She was interrupted by the entrance of the principal of this agreeable
establishment, who came beaming into the room with a radiant smile
illuminating his countenance, and with Dr. Mosgrave's letter open in his
It was impossible to say _how_ enchanted he was to make the acquaintance
of M'sieu. There was nothing upon earth which he was not ready to do for
M'sieu in his own person, and nothing under heaven which he would not
strive to accomplish for him, as the friend of his acquaintance, so very
much distinguished, the English doctor. Dr. Mosgrave's letter had given
him a brief synopsis of the case, he informed Robert, in an undertone,
and he was quite prepared to undertake the care of the charming and very
He rubbed his hands politely, and looked at Robert. Mr. Audley
remembered, for the first time, that he had been recommended to
introduce his wretched charge under a feigned name.
He affected not to hear the proprietor's question. It might seem a very
easy matter to have hit upon a heap of names, any one of which would
have answered his purpose; but Mr. Audley appeared suddenly to have
forgotten that he had ever heard any mortal appellation except that of
himself and of his lost friend.
Perhaps the proprietor perceived and understood his embarrassment. He at
any rate relieved it by turning to the woman who had received them, and
muttering something about No. 14, Bis. The woman took a key from a long
range of others, that hung over the mantel-piece, and a wax candle from
a bracket in a corner of the room, and having lighted the candle, led
the way across the stone-paved hall, and up a broad, slippery staircase
of polished wood.
The English physician had informed his Belgian colleague that money
would be of minor consequence in any arrangements made for the comfort
of the English lady who was to be committed to his care. Acting upon
this hint, Monsieur Val opened the outer doer of a stately suite of
apartments, which included a lobby, paved with alternate diamonds of
black and white marble, but of a dismal and cellar-like darkness; a
saloon furnished with gloomy velvet draperies, and with a certain
funereal splendor which is not peculiarly conducive to the elevation of
the spirits; and a bed-chamber, containing a bed so wondrously made, as
to appear to have no opening whatever in its coverings, unless the
counterpane had been split asunder with a pen-knife.
My lady stared dismally round at the range of rooms, which looked dreary
enough in the wan light of a single wax-candle. This solitary flame,
pale and ghost-like in itself, was multiplied by paler phantoms of its
ghostliness, which glimmered everywhere about the rooms; in the shadowy
depths of the polished floors and wainscot, or the window-panes, in the
looking-glasses, or in those great expanses of glimmering something
which adorned the rooms, and which my lady mistook for costly mirrors,
but which were in reality wretched mockeries of burnished tin.
Amid all the faded splendor of shabby velvet, and tarnished gilding, and
polished wood, the woman dropped into an arm-chair, and covered her face
with her hands. The whiteness of them, and the starry light of diamonds
trembling about them, glittered in the dimly-lighted chamber. She sat
silent, motionless, despairing, sullen, and angry, while Robert and the
French doctor retired to an outer chamber, and talked together in
undertones. Mr. Audley had very little to say that had not been already
said for him, with a far better grace than he himself could have
expressed it, by the English physician. He had, after great trouble of
mind, hit upon the name of Taylor, as a safe and simple substitute for
that other name, to which alone my lady had a right. He told the
Frenchman that this Mrs. Taylor was distantly related to him--that she
had inherited the seeds of madness from her mother, as indeed Dr.
Mosgrave had informed Monsieur Val; and that she had shown some fearful
tokens of the lurking taint that was latent in her mind; but that she
was not to be called "mad." He begged that she might be treated with all
tenderness and compassion; that she might receive all reasonable
indulgences; but he impressed upon Monsieur Val, that under no
circumstances was she to be permitted to leave the house and grounds
without the protection of some reliable person, who should be answerable
for her safe-keeping. He had only one other point to urge, and that was,
that Monsieur Val, who, as he had understood, was himself a
Protestant--the doctor bowed--would make arrangements with some kind and
benevolent Protestant clergyman, through whom spiritual advice and
consolation might be secured for the invalid lady; who had especial
need, Robert added, gravely, of such advantages.
This--with all necessary arrangements as to pecuniary matters, which
were to be settled from time to time between Mr. Audley and the doctor,
unassisted by any agents whatever--was the extent of the conversation
between the two men, and occupied about a quarter of an hour.
My lady sat in the same attitude when they re-entered the bedchamber in
which they had left her, with her ringed hands still clasped over her
Robert bent over to whisper in her ear.
"Your name is Madam Taylor here," he said. "I do not think you would
wish to be known by your real name."
She only shook her head in answer to him, and did not even remove her
hands from over her face.
"Madam will have an attendant entirely devoted to her service." said
Monsieur Val. "Madam will have all her wishes obeyed; her _reasonable_
wishes, but that goes without saying," monsieur adds, with a quaint
shrug. "Every effort will be made to render madam's sojourn at
Villebrumeuse agreeable. The inmates dine together when it is wished. I
dine with the inmates sometimes; my subordinate, a clever and a worthy
man always. I reside with my wife and children in a little pavilion in
the grounds; my subordinate resides in the establishment. Madam may rely
upon our utmost efforts being exerted to insure her comfort."
Monsieur is saying a great deal more to the same effect, rubbing his
hands and beaming radiantly upon Robert and his charge, when madam rises
suddenly, erect and furious, and dropping her jeweled fingers from
before her face, tells him to hold his tongue.
"Leave me alone with the man who has brought me here." she cried,
between her set teeth. "Leave me!"
She points to the door with a sharp, imperious gesture; so rapid that
the silken drapery about her arm makes a swooping sound as she lifts her
hand. The sibilant French syllables hiss through her teeth as she utters
them, and seem better fitted to her mood and to herself than the
familiar English she has spoken hitherto.
The French doctor shrugs his shoulders as he goes out into the lobby,
and mutters something about a "beautiful devil," and a gesture worthy of
"the Mars." My lady walked with a rapid footstep to the door between the
bed-chamber and the saloon; closed it, and with the handle of the door
still in her hand, turned and looked at Robert Audley.
"You have brought me to my grave, Mr. Audley," she cried; "you have used
your power basely and cruelly, and have brought me to a living grave."
"I have done that which I thought just to others and merciful to you,"
Robert answered, quietly. "I should have been a traitor to society had I
suffered you to remain at liberty after--the disappearance of George
Talboys and the fire at Castle Inn. I have brought you to a place in
which you will be kindly treated by people who have no knowledge of your
story--no power to taunt or to reproach you. You will lead a quiet and
peaceful life, my lady; such a life as many a good and holy woman in
this Catholic country freely takes upon herself, and happily endures
until the end. The solitude of your existence in this place will be no
greater than that of a king's daughter, who, flying from the evil of the
time, was glad to take shelter in a house as tranquil as this. Surely,
it is a small atonement which I ask you to render for your sins, a light
penance which I call upon you to perform. Live here and repent; nobody
will assail you, nobody will torment you. I only say to you, repent!"
"I _cannot!_" cried my lady, pushing her hair fiercely from her white
forehead, and fixing her dilated eyes upon Robert Audley, "I _cannot!_
Has my beauty brought me to _this_? Have I plotted and schemed to shield
myself and laid awake in the long deadly nights, trembling to think of
my dangers, for _this_? I had better have given up at once, since _this_
was to be the end. I had better have yielded to the curse that was upon
me, and given up when George Talboys first came back to England."
She plucked at the feathery golden curls as if she would have torn them
from her head. It had served her so little after all, that gloriously
glittering hair, that beautiful nimbus of yellow light that had
contrasted so exquisitely with the melting azure of her eyes. She hated
herself and her beauty.
"I would laugh at you and defy you, if I dared," she cried; "I would
kill myself and defy you, if I dared. But I am a poor, pitiful coward,
and have been so from the first. Afraid of my mother's horrible
inheritance; afraid of poverty; afraid of George Talboys; afraid of
She was silent for a little while, but she held her place by the door,
as if determined to detain Robert as long as it was her pleasure to do
"Do you know what I am thinking of?" she said, presently. "Do you know
what I am thinking of, as I look at you in the dim light of this room? I
am thinking of the day upon which George Talboys disappeared."
Robert started as she mentioned the name of his lost friend; his face
turned pale in the dusky light, and his breathing grew quicker and
"He was standing opposite me, as you are standing now," continued my
lady. "You said that you would raze the old house to the ground; that
you would root up every tree in the gardens to find your dead friend.
You would have had no need to do so much: the body of George Talboys
lies at the bottom of the old well, in the shrubbery beyond the
Robert Audley flung his hands and clasped them above his head, with one
loud cry of horror.
"Oh, my God!" he said, after a dreadful pause; "have all the ghastly
things that I have thought prepared me so little for the ghastly truth,
that it should come upon me like this at last?"
"He came to me in the lime-walk," resumed my lady, in the same hard,
dogged tone as that in which she had confessed the wicked story of her
life. "I knew that he would come, and I had prepared myself, as well as
I could, to meet him. I was determined to bribe him, to cajole him, to
defy him; to do anything sooner than abandon the wealth and the position
I had won, and go back to my old life. He came, and he reproached me for
the conspiracy at Ventnor. He declared that so long as he lived he would
never forgive me for the lie that had broken his heart. He told me that
I had plucked his heart out of his breast and trampled upon it; and that
he had now no heart in which to feel one sentiment of mercy for me. That
he would have forgiven me any wrong upon earth, but that one deliberate
and passionless wrong that I had done him. He said this and a great deal
more, and he told me that no power on earth should turn him from his
purpose, which was to take me to the man I had deceived, and make me
tell my wicked story. He did not know the hidden taint that I had sucked
in with my mother's milk. He did not know that it was possible to drive
me mad. He goaded me as you have goaded me; he was as merciless as you
have been merciless. We were in the shrubbery at the end of the
lime-walk. I was seated upon the broken masonry at the mouth of the
well. George Talboys was leaning upon the disused windlass, in which the
rusty iron spindle rattled loosely whenever he shifted his position. I
rose at last, and turned upon him to defy him, as I had determined to
defy him at the worst. I told him that if he denounced me to Sir
Michael, I would declare him to be a madman or a liar, and I defied him
to convince the man who loved me--blindly, as I told him--that he had
any claim to me. I was going to leave him after having told him this,
when he caught me by the wrist and detained me by force. You saw the
bruises that his fingers made upon my wrist, and noticed them, and did
not believe the account I gave of them. I could see that, Mr. Robert
Audley, and I saw that you were a person I should have to fear."
She paused, as if she had expected Robert to speak; but he stood silent
and motionless, waiting for the end.
"George Talboys treated me as you treated me," she said, petulantly. "He
swore that if there was but one witness of my identity, and that witness
was removed from Audley Court by the width of the whole earth, he would
bring him there to swear to my identity, and to denounce me. It was then
that I was mad, it was then that I drew the loose iron spindle from the
shrunken wood, and saw my first husband sink with one horrible cry into
the black mouth of the well. There is a legend of its enormous depth. I
do not know how deep it is. It is dry, I suppose, for I heard no splash,
only a dull thud. I looked down and I saw nothing but black emptiness. I
knelt down and listened, but the cry was not repeated, though I waited
for nearly a quarter of an hour--God knows how long it seemed to me!--by
the mouth of the well."
Robert Audley uttered a word of horror when the story was finished. He
moved a little nearer toward the door against which Helen Talboys stood.
Had there been any other means of exit from the room, he would gladly
have availed himself of it. He shrank from even a momentary contact with
"Let me pass you, if you please," he said, in an icy voice.
"You see I do not fear to make my confession to you," said Helen
Talboys; "for two reasons. The first is, that you dare not use it
against me, because you know it would kill your uncle to see me in a
criminal dock; the second is, that the law could pronounce no worse
sentence than this--a life-long imprisonment in a mad-house. You see I
do not thank you for your mercy, Mr. Robert Audley, for I know exactly
what it is worth."
She moved away from the door, and Robert passed her without a word,
without a look.
Half an hour afterward he was in one of the principal hotels at
Villebrumeuse, sitting at a neatly-ordered supper-table, with no power
to eat; with no power to distract his mind, even for a moment, from the
image of that lost friend who had been treacherously murdered in the
thicket at Audley Court.
No feverish sleeper traveling in a strange dream ever looked out more
wonderingly upon a world that seemed unreal than Robert Audley, as he
stared absently at the flat swamps and dismal poplars between
Villebrumeuse and Brussels. Could it be that he was returning to his
uncle's house without the woman who had reigned in it for nearly two
years as queen and mistress? He felt as if he had carried off my lady,
and had made away with her secretly and darkly, and must now render up
an account to Sir Michael of the fate of that woman, whom the baronet
had so dearly loved.
"What shall I tell him?" he thought. "Shall I tell the truth--the
horrible, ghastly truth? No; that would be too cruel. His generous
spirit would sink under the hideous revelation. Yet, in his ignorance of
the extent of this wretched woman's wickedness, he may think, perhaps,
that I have been hard with her."
Brooding thus, Mr. Robert Audley absently watched the cheerless
landscape from the seat in the shabby _coupe_ of the diligence, and
thought how great a leaf had been torn out of his life, now that the
dark story of George Talboys was finished.
What had he to do next? A crowd of horrible thoughts rushed into his
mind as he remembered the story that he had heard from the white lips of
Helen Talboys. His friend--his murdered friend--lay hidden among the
moldering ruins of the old well at Audley Court. He had lain there for
six long months, unburied, unknown; hidden in the darkness of the old
convent well. What was to be done?
To institute a search for the remains of the murdered man was to
inevitably bring about a coroner's inquest. Should such an inquest be
held, it was next to impossible that the history of my lady's crime
could fail to be brought to light. To prove that George Talboys met with
his death at Audley Court, was to prove almost as surely that my lady
had been the instrument of that mysterious death; for the young man had
been known to follow her into the lime-walk upon the day of his
"My God!" Robert exclaimed, as the full horror of his position became
evident to him; "is my friend to rest in this unhallowed burial-place
because I have condoned the offenses of the woman who murdered him?"
He felt that there was no way out of this difficulty. Sometimes he
thought that it little mattered to his dead friend whether he lay
entombed beneath a marble monument, whose workmanship should be the
wonder of the universe, or in that obscure hiding-place in the thicket
at Audley Court. At another time he would be seized with a sudden horror
at the wrong that had been done to the murdered man, and would fain have
traveled even more rapidly than the express between Brussels and Paris
could carry him in his eagerness to reach the end of his journey, that
he might set right this cruel wrong.
He was in London at dusk on the second day after that on which he had
left Audley Court, and he drove straight to the Clarendon, to inquire
after his uncle. He had no intention of seeing Sir Michael, as he had
not yet determined how much or how little he should tell him, but he was
very anxious to ascertain how the old man had sustained the cruel shock
he had so lately endured.
"I will see Alicia," he thought, "she will tell me all about her father.
It is only two days since he left Audley. I can scarcely expect to hear
of any favorable change."
But Mr. Audley was not destined to see his cousin that evening, for the
servants at the Clarendon told him that Sir Michael and his daughter had
left by the morning mail for Paris, on their way to Vienna.
Robert was very well pleased to receive this intelligence; it afforded
him a welcome respite, for it would be decidedly better to tell the
baronet nothing of his guilty wife until he returned to England, with
health unimpaired and spirits re-established, it was to be hoped.
Mr. Audley drove to the Temple. The chambers which had seemed dreary to
him ever since the disappearance of George Talboys, were doubly so
to-night. For that which had been only a dark suspicion had now become a
horrible certainty. There was no longer room for the palest ray, the
most transitory glimmer of hope. His worst terrors had been too well
George Talboys had been cruelly and treacherously murdered by the wife
he had loved and mourned.
There were three letters waiting for Mr. Audley at his chambers. One was
from Sir Michael, and another from Alicia. The third was addressed in a
hand the young barrister knew only too well, though he had seen it but
once before. His face flushed redly at the sight of the superscription,
and he took the letter in his hand, carefully and tenderly, as if it had
been a living thing, and sentient to his touch. He turned it over and
over in his hands, looking at the crest upon the envelope, at the
post-mark, at the color of the paper, and then put it into the bosom of
his waistcoat with a strange smile upon his face.
"What a wretched and unconscionable fool I am!" he thought. "Have I
laughed at the follies of weak men all my life, and am I to be more
foolish than the weakest of them at last? The beautiful brown-eyed
creature! Why did I ever see her? Why did my relentless Nemesis ever
point the way to that dreary house in Dorsetshire?"
He opened the first two letters. He was foolish enough to keep the last
for a delicious morsel--a fairy-like dessert after the commonplace
substantialities of a dinner.
Alicia's letter told him that Sir Michael had borne his agony with such
a persevering tranquility that she had become at last far more alarmed
by his patient calmness than by any stormy manifestation of despair. In
this difficulty she had secretly called upon the physician who attended
the Audley household in any cases of serious illness, and had requested
this gentleman to pay Sir Michael an apparently accidental visit. He had
done so, and after stopping half an hour with the baronet, had told
Alicia that there was no present danger of any serious consequence from
this great grief, but that it was necessary that every effort should be
made to arouse Sir Michael, and to force him, however unwillingly, into
Alicia had immediately acted upon this advice, had resumed her old
empire as a spoiled child, and reminded her father of a promise he had
made of taking her through Germany. With considerable difficulty she had
induced him to consent to fulfilling this old promise, and having once
gained her point, she had contrived that they should leave England as
soon as it was possible to do so, and she told Robert, in conclusion,
that she would not bring her father back to his old house until she had
taught him to forget the sorrows associated with it.
The baronet's letter was very brief. It contained half a dozen blank
checks on Sir Michael Audley's London bankers.
"You will require money, my dear Robert," he wrote, "for such
arrangements as you may think fit to make for the future comfort of the
person I committed to your care. I need scarcely tell you that those
arrangements cannot be too liberal. But perhaps it is as well that I
should tell you now, for the first and only time, that it is my earnest
wish never again to hear that person's name. I have no wish to be told
the nature of the arrangements you may make for her. I am sure that you
will act conscientiously and mercifully. I seek to know no more.
Whenever you want money, you will draw upon me for any sums that you may
require; but you will have no occasion to tell me for whose use you want
Robert Audley breathed a long sigh of relief as he folded this letter.
It released him from a duty which it would have been most painful for
him to perform, and it forever decided his course of action with regard
to the murdered man.
George Talboys must lie at peace in his unknown grave, and Sir Michael
Audley must never learn that the woman he had loved bore the red brand
of murder on her soul.
Robert had only the third letter to open--the letter which he had placed
in his bosom while he read the others; he tore open the envelope,
handling it carefully and tenderly as he had done before.
The letter was as brief as Sir Michael's. It contained only these few
"DEAR MR. AUDLEY--The rector of this place has been twice to see Marks,
the man you saved in the fire at the Castle Inn. He lies in a very
precarious state at his mother's cottage, near Audley Court, and is not
expected to live many days. His wife is attending him, and both he and
she have expressed a most earnest desire that you should see him before
he dies. Pray come without delay.
"Yours very sincerely,
"Mount Stanning Rectory, March 6."
Robert Audley folded this letter very reverently, and placed it
underneath that part of his waistcoat which might be supposed to cover
the region of his heart. Having done this, he seated himself in his
favorite arm-chair, filled and lighted a pipe and smoked it out, staring
reflectingly at the fire as long as his tobacco lasted. "What can that
man Marks want with me," thought the barrister. "He is afraid to die
until he has made confession, perhaps. He wishes to tell me that which I
know already--the story of my lady's crime. I knew that he was in the
secret. I was sure of it even upon the night on which I first saw him.
He knew the secret, and he traded on it."
Robert Audley shrank strangely from returning to Essex. How should he
meet Clara Talboys now that he knew the secret of her brother's fate?
How many lies he should have to tell, or how much equivocation he must
use in order to keep the truth from her? Yet would there be any mercy in
telling that horrible story, the knowledge of which must cast a blight
upon her youth, and blot out every hope she had even secretly cherished?
He knew by his own experience how possible it was to hope against hope,
and to hope unconsciously; and he could not bear that her heart should
be crushed as his had been by the knowledge of the truth. "Better that
she should hope vainly to the last," he thought; "better that she should
go through life seeking the clew to her lost brother's fate, than that I
should give that clew into her hands, and say, 'Our worst fears are
realized. The brother you loved has been foully murdered in the early
promise of his youth.'"
But Clara Talboys had written to him, imploring him to return to Essex
without delay. Could he refuse to do her bidding, however painful its
accomplishment might be? And again, the man was dying, perhaps, and had
implored to see him. Would it not be cruel to refuse to go--to delay an
hour unnecessarily? He looked at his watch. It wanted only five minutes
to nine. There was no train to Audley after the Ipswich mail, which left
London at half-past eight; but there was a train that left Shoreditch at
eleven, and stopped at Brentwood between twelve and one. Robert decided
upon going by this train, and walking the distance between Brentwood and
Audley, which was upwards of six miles.
He had a long time to wait before it would be necessary to leave the
Temple on his way to Shoreditch, and he sat brooding darkly over the
fire and wondering at the strange events which had filled his life
within the last year and a half, coming like angry shadows between his
lazy inclinations and himself, and investing him with purposes that were
not his own.
"Good Heaven!" he thought, as he smoked his second pipe; "how can I
believe that it was I who used to lounge all day in this easy-chair
reading Paul de Kock, and smoking mild Turkish; who used to drop in at
half price to stand among the pressmen at the back of the boxes and see
a new burlesque and finish the evening with the 'Chough and Crow,' and
chops and pale ale at 'Evans'. Was it I to whom life was such an easy
merry-go-round? Was it I who was one of the boys who sit at ease upon
the wooden horses, while other boys run barefoot in the mud and work
their hardest in the hope of a ride when their work is done? Heaven
knows I have learned the business of life since then: and now I must
needs fall in love and swell the tragic chorus which is always being
sung by the poor addition of my pitiful sighs and, groans. Clara
Talboys! Clara Talboys! Is there any merciful smile latent beneath the
earnest light of your brown eyes? What would you say to me if I told you
that I love you as earnestly and truly as I have mourned for your
brother's fate--that the new strength and purpose of my life, which has
grown out of my friendship for the murdered man, grows even stronger as
it turns to you, and changes me until I wonder at myself? What would she
say to me? Ah! Heaven knows. If she happened to like the color of my
hair or the tone of my voice, she might listen to me, perhaps. But would
she hear me any more because I love her truly, and purely; because I
would be constant and honest and faithful to her? Not she! These things
might move her, perhaps to be a little pitiful to me; but they would
move her no more! If a girl with freckles and white eylashes adored me,
I should only think her a nuisance; but if Clara Talboys had a fancy to
trample upon my uncouth person, I should think she did me a favor. I
hope poor little Alicia may pick up with some fair-haired Saxon in the
course of her travels. I hope--" His thoughts wandered away wearily and
lost themselves. How could he hope for anything or think of anything,
while the memory of his dead friend's unburied body haunted him like a
horrible specter? He remembered a story--a morbid, hideous, yet
delicious story, which had once pleasantly congealed his blood on a
social winter's evening--the story of a man, monomaniac, perhaps, who
had been haunted at every turn by the image of an unburied kinsman who
could not rest in his unhallowed hiding-place. What if that dreadful
story had its double in reality? What if he were henceforth to be
haunted by the phantom of murdered George Talboys?
He pushed his hair away from his face with both hands, and looked rather
nervously around the snug little apartment. There were lurking shadows
in the corners of the room that he scarcely liked. The door opening into
his little dressing-room was ajar; he got up to shut it, and turned the
key in the lock with a sharp click.
"I haven't read Alexander Dumas and Wilkie Collins for nothing," he
muttered. "I'm up to their tricks, sneaking in at doors behind a
fellow's back, and flattening their white faces against window panes,
and making themselves all eyes in the twilight. It's a strange thing
that your generous hearted fellow, who never did a shabby thing in his
life, is capable of any meanness the moment he becomes a ghost. I'll
have the gas laid on to-morrow and I'll engage Mrs. Maloney's eldest son
to sleep under the letter-box in the lobby. The youth plays popular
melodies upon a piece of tissue paper and a small-tooth comb, and it
will be quite pleasant company."
Mr. Audley walked wearily up and down the room, trying to get rid of the
time. It was no use leaving the Temple until ten o'clock, and even then
he would be sure to reach the station half an hour too early. He was
tired of smoking. The soothing narcotic influence might be pleasant
enough in itself, but the man must be of a singularly unsocial
disposition who does not, after a half dozen lonely pipes, feel the need
of some friendly companion, at whom he can stare dreamily athwart the
pale gray mists, and who will stare kindly back at him in return. Do not
think that Robert Audley was without friends, because he so often found
himself alone in his chambers. The solemn purpose which had taken so
powerful a hold upon his careless life had separated him from old
associations, and it was for this reason that he was alone.
He had dropped away from his old friends. How could he sit among them,
at social wine parties, perhaps, or at social little dinners, that were
washed down with nonpareil and chambertin, pomard and champagne? How
could he sit among them, listening to their careless talk of politics
and opera, literature and racing, theaters and science, scandal and
theology, and yet carry in his mind the horrible burden of those dark
terrors and suspicions that were with him by day and by night? He could
not do it! He had shrunk from those men as if he had, indeed, been a
detective police officer, stained with vile associations and unfit
company for honest gentlemen. He had drawn himself away from all
familiar haunts, and shut himself in his lonely rooms with the perpetual
trouble of his mind for his sole companion, until he had grown as
nervous as habitual solitude will eventually make the strongest and the
wisest man, however he may vaunt himself of his strength and wisdom.
The clock of the Temple Church, and the clocks of St. Dunstan's, St.
Clement's Danes, and a crowd of other churches, whose steeples uprear
themselves above the house tops by the river, struck ten at last, and
Mr. Audley, who had put on his hat and overcoat nearly half an hour
before, let himself out of the little lobby, and locked his door behind
him. He mentally reiterated his determination to engage "Parthrick," as
Mrs. Maloney's eldest son was called by his devoted mother. The youth
should enter upon his functions the very night after, and if the ghost
of the hapless George Talboys should invade these gloomy apartments, the
phantom must make its way across Patrick's body before it could reach
the inner chamber in which the proprietor of the premises slept.
Do not laugh at poor George because he grew hypochondriacal after
hearing the horrible story of his friend's death. There is nothing so
delicate, so fragile, as that invisible balance upon which the mind is
always trembling. "Mad to-day and sane to-morrow."
Who can forget that almost terrible picture of Dr. Samuel Johnson? The
awful disputant of the club-room, solemn, ponderous, severe and
merciless, the admiration and the terror of humble Bozzy, the stern
monitor of gentle Oliver, the friend of Garrick and Reynolds to-night;
and before to-morrow sunset a weak, miserable old man, discovered by
good Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, kneeling upon the floor of his lonely chamber,
in an agony of childish terror and confusion, and praying to a merciful
God for the preservation of his wits. I think the memory of that
dreadful afternoon, and of the tender care he then received, should have
taught the doctor to keep his hand steady at Streatham, when he took his
bedroom candlestick, from which it was his habit to shower rivulets of
molten wax upon the costly carpet of his beautiful protectress; and
might have even had a more enduring effect, and taught him to be
merciful, when the brewer's widow went mad in her turn, and married that
dreadful creature, the Italian singer. Who has not been, or in not to be
mad in some lonely hour of life? Who is quite safe from the trembling of
Fleet street was quiet and lonely at this late hour, and Robert Audley
being in a ghost-seeing mood, would have been scarcely astonished had he
seen Johnson's set come roystering westward in the lamp-light, or blind
John Milton groping his way down the steps before Saint Bride's Church.
Mr. Audley hailed a hansom at the corner of Farrington street, and was
rattled rapidly away across tenantless Smithfield market, and into a
labyrinth of dingy streets that brought him out upon the broad grandeur
of Finsbury Pavement.
The hansom rattled up the steep and stony approach to Shoreditch
Station, and deposited Robert at the doors of that unlovely temple.
There were very few people going to travel by this midnight train, and
Robert walked up and down the long wooden platform, reading the huge
advertisements whose gaunt lettering looked wan and ghastly in the dim
He had the carriage in which he sat all to himself. All to himself did I
say? Had he not lately summoned to his side that ghostly company which
of all companionship is the most tenacious? The shadow of George Talboys
pursued him, even in the comfortable first-class carriage, and was
behind him when he looked out of the window, and was yet far ahead of
him and the rushing engine, in that thicket toward which the train was
speeding, by the side of the unhallowed hiding-place in which the mortal
remains of the dead man lay, neglected and uncared for.
"I must give my lost friend decent burial," Robert thought, as the chill
wind swept across the flat landscape, and struck him with such frozen
breath as might have emanated from the lips of the dead. "I must do it;
or I shall die of some panic like this which has seized upon me
to-night. I must do it; at any peril; at any cost. Even at the price of
that revelation which will bring the mad woman back from her safe
hiding-place, and place her in a criminal dock." He was glad when the
train stopped at Brentwood at a few minutes after twelve.
It was half-past one o'clock when the night wanderer entered the village
of Audley, and it was only there that he remembered that Clara Talboys
had omitted to give him any direction by which he might find the cottage
in which Luke Marks lay.
"It was Dawson who recommended that the poor creature should be taken to
his mother's cottage," Robert thought, by-and-by, "and, I dare say.
Dawson has attended him ever since the fire. He'll be able to tell me
the way to the cottage."
Acting upon this idea, Mr. Audley stopped at the house in which Helen
Talboys had lived before her second marriage. The door of the little
surgery was ajar, and there was a light burning within. Robert pushed
the door open and peeped in. The surgeon was standing at the mahogany
counter, mixing a draught in a glass measure, with his hat close beside
him. Late as it was, he had evidently only just come in. The harmonious
snoring of his assistant sounded from a little room within the surgery.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Mr. Dawson," Robert said, apologetically, as
the surgeon looked up and recognized him, "but I have come down to see
Marks, who, I hear, is in a very bad way, and I want you to tell me the
way to his mother's cottage."
"I'll show you the way, Mr. Audley," answered the surgeon, "I am going
there this minute."
"The man is very bad, then?"
"So bad that he can be no worse. The change that can happen is that
change which will take him beyond the reach of any earthly suffering."
"Strange!" exclaimed Robert. "He did not appear to be much burned."
"He was not much burnt. Had he been, I should never have recommended his
being removed from Mount Stanning. It is the shock that has done the
business. He has been in a raging fever for the last two days; but
to-night he is much calmer, and I'm afraid, before to-morrow night, we
shall have seen the last of him."
"He has asked to see me, I am told," said Mr. Audley.
"Yes," answered the surgeon, carelessly. "A sick man's fancy, no doubt.
You dragged him out of the house, and did your best to save his life. I
dare say, rough and boorish as the poor fellow is, he thinks a good deal
They had left the surgery, the door of which Mr. Dawson had locked
behind him. There was money in the till, perhaps, for surely the village
apothecary could not have feared that the most daring housebreaker would
imperil his liberty in the pursuit of blue pill and colocynth, of salts
The surgeon led the way along the silent street, and presently turned
into a lane at the end of which Robert Audley saw the wan glimmer of a
light; a light which told of the watch that is kept by the sick and
dying; a pale, melancholy light, which always has a dismal aspect when
looked upon in this silent hour betwixt night and morning. It shone from
the window of the cottage in which Luke Marks lay, watched by his wife
Mr. Dawson lifted the latch, and walked into the common room of the
little tenement, followed by Robert Audley. It was empty, but a feeble
tallow candle, with a broken back, and a long, cauliflower-headed wick,
sputtered upon the table. The sick man lay in the room above.
"Shall I tell him you are here?" asked Mr. Dawson.
"Yes, yes, if you please. But be cautious how you tell him, if you think
the news likely to agitate him. I am in no hurry. I can wait. You can
call me when you think I can safely come up-stairs."
The surgeon nodded, and softly ascended the narrow wooden stairs leading
to the upper chamber.
Robert Audley seated himself in a Windsor chair by the cold
hearth-stone, and stared disconsolately about him. But he was relieved
at last by the low voice of the surgeon, who looked down from the top of
the little staircase to tell him that Luke Marks was awake, and would be
glad to see him.
Robert immediately obeyed this summons. He crept softly up the stairs,
and took off his hat before he bent his head to enter at the low doorway
of the humble rustic chamber. He took off his hat in the presence of
this common peasant man, because he knew that there was another and a
more awful presence hovering about the room, and eager to be admitted.
Phoebe Marks was sitting at the foot of the bed, with her eyes fixed
upon her husband's face--not with any very tender expression in the pale
light, but with a sharp, terrified anxiety, which showed that it was the
coming of death itself that she dreaded, rather than the loss of her
husband. The old woman was busy at the fire-place, airing linen, and
preparing some mess of broth which it was not likely the patient would
ever eat. The sick man lay with his head propped up by pillows, his
coarse face deadly pale, and his great hands wandering uneasily about
the coverlet. Phoebe had been reading to him, for an open Testament lay
among the medicine and lotion bottles upon the table near the bed. Every
object in the room was neat and orderly, and bore witness of that
delicate precision which had always been a distinguishing characteristic
The young woman rose as Robert Audley crossed the threshold, and hurried
"Let me speak to you for a moment, sir, before you talk to Luke," she
said, in an eager whisper. "Pray let me speak to you first."
"What's the gal a-sayin', there?" asked the invalid in a subdued roar,
which died away hoarsely on his lips. He was feebly savage, even in his
weakness. The dull glaze of death was gathering over his eyes, but they
still watched Phoebe with a sharp glance of dissatisfaction. "What's she
up to there?" he said. "I won't have no plottin' and no hatchin' agen
me. I want to speak to Mr. Audley my own self; and whatever I done I'm
goin' to answer for. If I done any mischief, I'm a-goin' to try and undo
it. What's she a-sayin'?"
"She ain't a-sayin' nothin', lovey," answered the old woman, going to
the bedside of her son, who even when made more interesting than usual
by illness, did not seem a very fit subject for this tender appellation.
"She's only a-tellin' the gentleman how bad you've been, my pretty."
"What I'm a-goin' to tell I'm only a-goin' to tell to him, remember,"
growled Mr. Mark; "and ketch me a-tellin' of it to him if it warn't for
what he done for me the other night."
"To be sure not, lovey," answered the old woman soothingly.
Phoebe Marks had drawn Mr. Audley out of the room and onto the narrow
landing at the top of the little staircase. This landing was a platform
of about three feet square, and it was as much as the two could manage
to stand upon it without pushing each other against the whitewashed
wall, or backward down the stairs.
"Oh, sir, I wanted to speak to you so badly," Phoebe answered, eagerly;
"you know what I told you when I found you safe and well upon the night
of the fire?"
"I told you what I suspected; what I think still."
"Yes, I remember."
"But I never breathed a word of it to anybody but you, sir, and I think
that Luke has forgotten all about that night; I think that what went
before the fire has gone clean out of his head altogether. He was tipsy,
you know, when my la--when she came to the Castle; and I think he was so
dazed and scared like by the fire that it all went out of his memory. He
doesn't suspect what I suspect, at any rate, or he'd have spoken of it
to anybody or everybody; but he's dreadful spiteful against my lady, for
he says if she'd have let him have a place at Brentwood or Chelmsford,
this wouldn't have happened. So what I wanted to beg of you, sir, is not
to let a word drop before Luke."
"Yes, yes, I understand; I will be careful."
"My lady has left the Court, I hear, sir?"
"Never to come back, sir?"
"Never to come back."
"But she has not gone where she'll be cruelly treated; where she'll be
"No: she will be very kindly treated."
"I'm glad of that, sir; I beg your pardon for troubling you with the
question, sir, but my lady was a kind mistress to me."
Luke's voice, husky and feeble, was heard within the little chamber at
this period of the conversation, demanding angrily when "that gal would
have done jawing;" upon which Phoebe put her finger to her lips, and led
Mr. Audley back into the sick-room.
"I don't want _you_" said Mr. Marks, decisively, as his wife re-entered
the chamber--"I don't want _you_; you've no call to hear what I've got
to say--I only want Mr. Audley, and I wants to speak to him all alone,
with none o' your sneakin' listenin' at doors, d'ye hear? so you may go
down-stairs and keep there till you're wanted; and you may take
mother--no, mother may stay, I shall want her presently."
The sick man's feeble hand pointed to the door, through which his wife
departed very submissively.
"I've no wish to hear anything, Luke," she said, "but I hope you won't
say anything against those that have been good and generous to you."
"I shall say what I like," answered Mr. Marks, fiercely, "and I'm not
a-goin' to be ordered by you. You ain't the parson, as I've ever heerd
of; nor the lawyer neither."
The landlord of the Castle Inn had undergone no moral transformation by
his death-bed sufferings, fierce and rapid as they had been. Perhaps
some faint glimmer of a light that had been far off from his life now
struggled feebly through the black obscurities of ignorance that
darkened his soul. Perhaps a half angry, half sullen penitence urged him
to make some rugged effort to atone for a life that had been selfish and
drunken and wicked. Be it how it might he wiped his white lips, and
turning his haggard eyes earnestly upon Robert Audley, pointed to a
chair by the bedside.
"You made game of me in a general way, Mr. Audley," he said, presently,
"and you've drawed me out, and you've tumbled and tossed me about like
in a gentlemanly way, till I was nothink or anythink in your hands; and
you've looked me through and through, and turned me inside out till you
thought you knowed as much as I knowed. I'd no particular call to be
grateful to you, not before the fire at the Castle t'other night. But I
am grateful to you for that. I'm not grateful to folks in a general way,
p'r'aps, because the things as gentlefolks have give have a'most allus
been the very things I didn't want. They've give me soup, and tracks,
and flannel, and coals; but, Lord, they've made such a precious noise
about it that I'd have been to send 'em all back to 'em. But when a
gentleman goes and puts his own life in danger to save a drunken brute
like me, the drunkenest brute as ever was feels grateful like to that
gentleman, and wishes to say before he dies--which he sees in the
doctor's face as he ain't got long to live--'Thank ye, sir, I'm obliged
Luke Marks stretched out his left hand--the right hand had been injured
by the fire, and was wrapped in linen--and groped feebly for that of Mr.
The young man took the coarse but shrunken hand in both his own, and
pressed it cordially.
"I need no thanks, Luke Marks," he said; "I was very glad to be of
service to you."
Mr. Marks did not speak immediately. He was lying quietly upon his side,
staring reflectingly at Robert Audley.
"You was oncommon fond of that gent as disappeared at the Court, warn't
you, sir?" he said at last.
Robert started at the mention of his dead friend.
"You was oncommon fond of that Mr. Talboys, I've heard say, sir,"
"Yes, yes," answered Robert, rather impatiently, "he was my very dear
"I've heard the servants at the Court say how you took on when you
couldn't find him. I've heered the landlord of the Sun Inn say how cut
up you was when you first missed him. 'If the two gents had been
brothers,' the landlord said, 'our gent,' meanin' you, sir, 'couldn't
have been more cut up when he missed the other.'"
"Yes, yes, I know, I know," said Robert; "pray do not speak any more of
this subject. I cannot tell you now much it distresses me."
Was he to be haunted forever by the ghost of his unburied friend? He
came here to comfort the sick man, and even here he was pursued by this
relentless shadow; even here he was reminded of the secret crime which
had darkened his life.
"Listen to me, Marks," he said, earnestly; "believe me that I appreciate
your grateful words, and that I am very glad to have been of service to
you. But before you say anything more, let me make one most solemn
request. If you have sent for me that you may tell me anything of the
fate of my lost friend, I entreat you to spare yourself and to spare me
that horrible story. You can tell me nothing which I do not already
know. The worst you can tell me of the woman who was once in your power,
has already been revealed to me by her own lips. Pray, then, be silent
upon this subject; I say again, you can tell me nothing which I do not
Luke Marks looked musingly at the earnest face of his visitor, and some
shadowy expression, which was almost like a smile, flitted feebly across
the sick man's haggard features.
"I can't tell you nothin' you don't know?" he asked.
"Then it ain't no good for me to try," said the invalid, thoughtfully.
"Did _she_ tell you?" he asked, after a pause.
"I must beg, Marks, that you will drop the subject," Robert answered,
almost sternly. "I have already told you that I do not wish to hear it
spoken of. Whatever discoveries you made, you made your market out of
them. Whatever guilty secrets you got possession of, you were paid for
keeping silence. You had better keep silence to the end."
"Had I?" cried Luke Marks, in an eager whisper. "Had I really now better
hold my tongue to the last?"
"I think so, most decidedly. You traded on your secret, and you were
paid to keep it. It would be more honest to hold to your bargain, and
keep it still."
"But, suppose I want to tell something," cried Luke, with feverish
energy, "suppose I feel I can't die with a secret on my mind, and have
asked to see you on purpose that I might tell you; suppose that, and
you'll suppose nothing but the truth. I'd have been burnt alive before
I'd have told _her_." He spoke these words between his set teeth, and
scowled savagely as he uttered them. "I'd have been burnt alive first. I
made her pay for her pretty insolent ways; I made her pay for her airs
and graces; I'd never have told her--never, never! I had my power over
her, and I kept it; I had my secret and was paid for it; and there
wasn't a petty slight as she ever put upon me or mine that I didn't pay
her out for twenty times over!"
"Marks, Marks, for Heaven's sake be calm" said Robert, earnestly. "What
are you talking of? What is it that you could have told?"
"I'm a-goin to tell you," answered Luke, wiping his lips. "Give us a
The old woman poured out some cooling drink into a mug, and carried it
to her son.
He drank it in an eager hurry, as if he felt that the brief remainder of
his life must be a race with the pitiless pedestrian, Time.
"Stop where you are," he said to his mother, pointing to a chair at the
foot of the bed.
The old woman obeyed, and seated herself meekly opposite to Mr. Audley.
"I'll ask you another question, mother," said Luke, "and I think it'll
be strange if you can't answer it. Do you remember when I was at work
upon Atkinson's farm; before I was married you know, and when I was
livin' down here along of you?"
"Yes, yes," Mrs. Marks answered, nodding triumphantly, "I remember that,
my dear. It were last fall, just about as the apples was bein' gathered
in the orchard across our lane, and about the time as you had your new
sprigged wesket. I remember, Luke, I remember."
Mr. Audley wondered where all this was to lead to, and how long he would
have to sit by the sick man's bed, hearing a conversation that had no