Part 2 out of 4
experience; he had been officially associated with cases of
striking and notorious crime, in which Government had lent its
assistance to discover and punish the criminals. The opinion of a
person in this position might be of the greatest value to Mr.
Troy, whose practice as a solicitor had thus far never brought
him into collision with thieves and mysteries. He accordingly
decided, in Isabel's interests, on confiding to his friend the
nature of his errand to the police. Concealing the name, but
concealing nothing else, he described what had happened on the
previous day at Lady Lydiard's house, and then put the question
plainly to his companion.
"What would you do in my place?"
"In your place," his friend answered quietly, "I should not waste
time and money in consulting the police."
"Not consult the police!" exclaimed Mr. Troy in amazement.
"Surely, I have not made myself understood? I am going to the
Head Office; and I have got a letter of introduction to the chief
inspector in the detective department. I am afraid I omitted to
"It doesn't make any difference," proceeded the other, as coolly
as ever. "You have asked for my advice, and I give you my advice.
Tear up your letter of introduction, and don't stir a step
further in the direction of Whitehall."
Mr. Troy began to understand. "You don't believe in the detective
police?" he said.
"Who _can_ believe in them, who reads his newspaper and remembers
what he reads?" his friend rejoined. "Fortunately for the
detective department, the public in general forgets what it
reads. Go to your club, and look at the criminal history of our
own time, recorded in the newspapers. Every crime is more or less
a mystery. You will see that the mysteries which the police
discover are, almost without exception, mysteries made penetrable
by the commonest capacity, through the extraordinary stupidity
exhibited in the means taken to hide the crime. On the other
hand, let the guilty man or woman be a resolute and intelligent
person, capable of setting his (or her) wits fairly against the
wits of the police--in other words, let the mystery really _be_ a
mystery--and cite me a case if you can (a really difficult and
perplexing case) in which the criminal has not escaped. Mind! I
don't charge the police with neglecting their work. No doubt they
do their best, and take the greatest pains in following the
routine to which they have been trained. It is their misfortune,
not their fault, that there is no man of superior intelligence
among them--I mean no man who is capable, in great emergencies,
of placing himself above conventional methods, and following a
new way of his own. There have been such men in the police--men
naturally endowed with that faculty of mental analysis which can
decompose a mystery, resolve it into its component parts, and
find the clue at the bottom, no matter how remote from ordinary
observation it may be. But those men have died, or have retired.
One of them would have been invaluable to you in the case you
have just mentioned to me. As things are, unless you are wrong in
believing in the young lady's innocence, the person who has
stolen that bank-note will be no easy person to find. In my
opinion, there is only one man now in London who is likely to be
of the slightest assistance to you--and he is not in the police."
"Who is he?" asked Mr. Troy.
"An old rogue, who was once in your branch of the legal
profession," the friend answered. "You may, perhaps, remember the
name: they call him 'Old Sharon.' "
"What! The scoundrel who was struck off the Roll of Attorneys,
years since? Is he still alive?"
"Alive and prospering. He lives in a court or lane running out of
Long Acre, and he offers advice to persons interested in
recovering missing objects of any sort. Whether you have lost
your wife, or lost your cigar-case, Old Sharon is equally useful
to you. He has an inbred capacity for reading the riddle the
right way in cases of mystery, great or small. In short, he
possesses exactly that analytical faculty to which I alluded just
now. I have his address at my office, if you think it worth while
to try him."
"Who can trust such a man?" Mr. Troy objected. "He would be sure
to deceive me."
"You are entirely mistaken. Since he was struck off the Rolls Old
Sharon has discovered that the straight way is, on the whole, the
best way, even in a man's own interests. His consultation fee is
a guinea; and he gives a signed estimate beforehand for any
supplementary expenses that may follow. I can tell you (this is,
of course, strictly between ourselves) that the authorities at my
office took his advice in a Government case that puzzled the
police. We approached him, of course, through persons who were to
be trusted to represent us, without betraying the source from
which their instructions were derived; and we found the old
rascal's advice well worth paying for. It is quite likely that he
may not succeed so well in your case. Try the police, by all
means; and, if they fail, why, there is Sharon as a last resort."
This arrangement commended itself to Mr. Troy's professional
caution. He went on to Whitehall, and he tried the detective
They at once adopted the obvious conclusion to persons of
ordinary capacity--the conclusion that Isabel was the thief.
Acting on this conviction, the authorities sent an experienced
woman from the office to Lady Lydiard's house, to examine the
poor girl's clothes and ornaments before they were packed up and
sent after her to her aunt's. The search led to nothing. The only
objects of any value that were discovered had been presents from
Lady Lydiard. No jewelers' or milliners' bills were among the
papers found in her desk. Not a sign of secret extravagance in
dress was to be seen anywhere. Defeated so far, the police
proposed next to have Isabel privately watched. There might be a
prodigal lover somewhere in the background, with ruin staring him
in the face unless he could raise five hundred pounds. Lady
Lydiard (who had only consented to the search under stress of
persuasive argument from Mr. Troy) resented this ingenious idea
as an insult. She declared that if Isabel was watched the girl
should know of it instantly from her own lips. The police
listened with perfect resignation and decorum, and politely
shifted their ground. A certain suspicion (they remarked) always
rested in cases of this sort on the servants. Would her Ladyship
obje ct to private inquiries into the characters and proceedings
of the servants? Her Ladyship instantly objected, in the most
positive terms. Thereupon the "Inspector" asked for a minute's
private conversation with Mr. Troy. "The thief is certainly a
member of Lady Lydiard's household," this functionary remarked,
in his politely-positive way. "If her Ladyship persists in
refusing to let us make the necessary inquiries, our hands are
tied, and the case comes to an end through no fault of ours. If
her Ladyship changes her mind, perhaps you will drop me a line,
sir, to that effect. Good-morning."
So the experiment of consulting the police came to an untimely
end. The one result obtained was the expression of purblind
opinion by the authorities of the detective department which
pointed to Isabel, or to one of the servants, as the undiscovered
thief. Thinking the matter over in the retirement of his own
office--and not forgetting his promise to Isabel to leave no
means untried of establishing her innocence--Mr. Troy could see
but one alternative left to him. He took up his pen, and wrote to
his friend at the Government office. There was nothing for it now
but to run the risk, and try Old Sharon.
THE next day, Mr. Troy (taking Robert Moody with him as a
valuable witness) rang the bell at the mean and dirty
lodging-house in which Old Sharon received the clients who stood
in need of his advice.
They were led up stairs to a back room on the second floor of the
house. Entering the room, they discovered through a thick cloud
of tobacco smoke, a small, fat, bald-headed, dirty, old man, in
an arm-chair, robed in a tattered flannel dressing-gown, with a
short pipe in his mouth, a pug-dog on his lap, and a French novel
in his hands.
"Is it business?" asked Old Sharon, speaking in a hoarse,
asthmatical voice, and fixing a pair of bright, shameless, black
eyes attentively on the two visitors.
"It _is_ business," Mr. Troy answered, looking at the old rogue
who had disgraced an honorable profession, as he might have
looked at a reptile which had just risen rampant at his feet.
"What is your fee for a consultation?"
"You give me a guinea, and I'll give you half an hour." With this
reply Old Sharon held out his unwashed hand across the rickety
ink-splashed table at which he was sitting.
Mr. Troy would not have touched him with the tips of his own
fingers for a thousand pounds. He laid the guinea on the table.
Old Sharon burst into a fierce laugh--a laugh strangely
accompanied by a frowning contraction of his eyebrows, and a
frightful exhibition of the whole inside of his mouth. "I'm not
clean enough for you--eh?" he said, with an appearance of being
very much amused. "There's a dirty old man described in this book
that is a little like me." He held up his French novel. "Have you
read it? A capital story--well put together. Ah, you haven't read
it? You have got a pleasure to come. I say, do you mind
tobacco-smoke? I think faster while I smoke--that's all."
Mr. Troy's respectable hand waved a silent permission to smoke,
given under dignified protest.
"All right," said Old Sharon. "Now, get on."
He laid himself back in his chair, and puffed out his smoke, with
eyes lazily half closed, like the eyes of the pug-dog on his lap.
At that moment, indeed there was a curious resemblance between
the two. They both seemed to be preparing themselves, in the same
idle way, for the same comfortable nap.
Mr. Troy stated the circumstances under which the five hundred
pound note had disappeared, in clear and consecutive narrative.
When he had done, Old Sharon suddenly opened his eyes. The
pug-dog suddenly opened his eyes. Old Sharon looked hard at Mr.
Troy. The pug looked hard at Mr. Troy. Old Sharon spoke. The pug
"I know who you are--you're a lawyer. Don't be alarmed! I never
saw you before; and I don't know your name. What I do know is a
lawyer's statement of facts when I hear it. Who's this?" Old
Sharon looked inquisitively at Moody as he put the question.
Mr. Troy introduced Moody as a competent witness, thoroughly
acquainted with the circumstances, and ready and willing to
answer any questions relating to them. Old Sharon waited a
little, smoking hard and thinking hard. "Now, then!" he burst out
in his fiercely sudden way. "I'm going to get to the root of the
He leaned forward with his elbows on the table, and began his
examination of Moody. Heartily as Mr. Troy despised and disliked
the old rogue, he listened with astonishment and
admiration--literally extorted from him by the marvelous ability
with which the questions were adapted to the end in view. In a
quarter of an hour Old Sharon had extracted from the witness
everything, literally everything down to the smallest detail,
that Moody could tell him. Having now, in his own phrase, "got to
the root of the matter," he relighted his pipe with a grunt of
satisfaction, and laid himself back in his old armchair.
"Well?" said Mr. Troy. "Have you formed your opinion?"
"Yes; I've formed my opinion."
"What is it?"
Instead of replying, Old Sharon winked confidentially at Mr.
Troy, and put a question on his side.
"I say! is a ten-pound note much of an object to you?"
"It depends on what the money is wanted for," answered Mr. Troy.
"Look here," said Old Sharon; "I give you an opinion for your
guinea; but, mind this, it's an opinion founded on hearsay--and
you know as a lawyer what that is worth. Venture your ten
pounds--in plain English, pay me for my time and trouble in a
baffling and difficult case--and I'll give you an opinion founded
on my own experience."
"Explain yourself a little more clearly," said Mr. Troy. "What do
you guarantee to tell us if we venture the ten pounds?"
"I guarantee to name the person, or the persons, on whom the
suspicion really rests. And if you employ me after that, I
guarantee (before you pay me a halfpenny more) to prove that I am
right by laying my hand on the thief."
"Let us have the guinea opinion first," said Mr. Troy.
Old Sharon made another frightful exhibition of the whole inside
of his mouth; his laugh was louder and fiercer than ever. "I like
you!" he said to Mr. Troy, "you are so devilish fond of your
money. Lord! how rich you must be! Now listen. Here's the guinea
opinion: Suspect, in this case, the very last person on whom
suspicion could possibly fall."
Moody, listening attentively, started, and changed color at those
last words. Mr. Troy looked thoroughly disappointed and made no
attempt to conceal it.
"Is that all?" he asked.
"All?" retorted the cynical vagabond. "You're a pretty lawyer!
What more can I say, when I don't know for certain whether the
witness who has given me my information has misled me or not?
Have I spoken to the girl and formed my own opinion? No! Have I
been introduced among the servants (as errand-boy, or to clean
the boots and shoes, or what not), and have I formed my own
judgement of _them?_ No! I take your opinions for granted, and I
tell you how I should set to work myself if they were _my_
opinions too--and that's a guinea's-worth, a devilish good
guinea's-worth to a rich man like you!"
Old Sharon's logic produced a certain effect on Mr. Troy, in
spite of himself. It was smartly put from his point of
view--there was no denying that.
"Even if I consented to your proposal," he said, "I should object
to your annoying the young lady with impertinent questions, or to
your being introduced as a spy into a respectable house."
Old Sharon doubled his dirty fists and drummed with them on the
rickety table in a comical frenzy of impatience while Mr. Troy
"What the devil do you know about my way of doing my business?"
he burst out when the lawyer had done. "One of us two is talking
like a born idiot--and (mind this) it isn't me. Look here! Your
young lady goes out for a walk, and she meets with a dirty,
shabby old beggar--I look like a shabby old beggar already, don't
I? Very good. This dirty old wretch whines and whimpers and tells
a long story, and gets sixpence out of the girl--and knows her by
that time, inside and out, as well as if he had made her--and,
mark! hasn't asked her a single ques tion, and, instead of
annoying her, has made her happy in the performance of a
charitable action. Stop a bit! I haven't done with you yet. Who
blacks your boots and shoes? Look here!" He pushed his pug-dog
off his lap, dived under the table, appeared again with an old
boot and a bottle of blackening, and set to work with tigerish
activity. "I'm going out for a walk, you know, and I may as well
make myself smart." With that announcement, he began to sing over
his work--a song of sentiment, popular in England in the early
part of the present century--"She's all my fancy painted her;
she's lovely, she's divine; but her heart it is another's; and it
never can be mine! Too-ral-loo-ral-loo'. I like a love-song.
Brush away! brush away! till I see my own pretty face in the
blacking. Hey! Here's a nice, harmless, jolly old man! sings and
jokes over his work, and makes the kitchen quite cheerful. What's
that you say? He's a stranger, and don't talk to him too freely.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself to speak in that way of a
poor old fellow with one foot in the grave. Mrs. Cook will give
him a nice bit of dinner in the scullery; and John Footman will
look out an old coat for him. And when he's heard everything he
wants to hear, and doesn't come back again the next day to his
work--what do they think of it in the servants' hall? Do they
say, 'We've had a spy among us!' Yah! you know better than that,
by this time. The cheerful old man has been run over in the
street, or is down with the fever, or has turned up his toes in
the parish dead-house--that's what they say in the servants'
hall. Try me in your own kitchen, and see if your servants take
me for a spy. Come, come, Mr. Lawyer! out with your ten pounds,
and don't waste any more precious time about it!"
"I will consider and let you know," said Mr. Troy.
Old Sharon laughed more ferociously than ever, and hobbled round
the table in a great hurry to the place at which Moody was
sitting. He laid one hand on the steward's shoulder, and pointed
derisively with the other to Mr. Troy.
"I say, Mr. Silent-man! Bet you five pounds I never hear of that
Silently attentive all through the interview (except when he was
answering questions), Moody only replied in the fewest words. "I
don't bet," was all he said. He showed no resentment at Sharon's
familiarity, and he appeared to find no amusement in Sharon's
extraordinary talk. The old vagabond seemed actually to produce a
serious impression on him! When Mr. Troy set the example of
rising to go, he still kept his seat, and looked at the lawyer as
if he regretted leaving the atmosphere of tobacco smoke reeking
in the dirty room.
"Have you anything to say before we go?" Mr. Troy asked.
Moody rose slowly and looked at Old Sharon. "Not just now, sir,"
he replied, looking away again, after a moment's reflection.
Old Sharon interpreted Moody's look and Moody's reply from his
own peculiar point of view. He suddenly drew the steward away
into a corner of the room.
"I say!" he began, in a whisper. "Upon your solemn word of honor,
you know--are you as rich as the lawyer there?"
"Look here! It's half price to a poor man. If you feel like
coming back, on your own account--five pounds will do from _you_.
There! there! Think of it!--think of it!"
"Now, then!" said Mr. Troy, waiting for his companion, with the
door open in his hand. He looked back at Sharon when Moody joined
him. The old vagabond was settled again in his armchair, with his
dog in his lap, his pipe in his mouth, and his French novel in
his hand; exhibiting exactly the picture of frowzy comfort which
he had presented when his visitors first entered the room.
"Good-day," said Mr. Troy, with haughty condescension.
"Don't interrupt me!" rejoined Old Sharon, absorbed in his novel.
"You've had your guinea's worth. Lord! what a lovely book this
is! Don't interrupt me!"
"Impudent scoundrel!" said Mr. Troy, when he and Moody were in
the street again. "What could my friend mean by recommending him?
Fancy his expecting me to trust him with ten pounds! I consider
even the guinea completely thrown away."
"Begging your pardon, sir," said Moody, "I don't quite agree with
"What! you don't mean to tell me you understand that oracular
sentence of his--'Suspect the very last person on whom suspicion
could possibly fall.' Rubbish!"
"I don't say I understand it, sir. I only say it has set me
"Thinking of what? Do your suspicions point to the thief?"
"If you will please to excuse me, Mr. Troy, I should like to wait
a while before I answer that."
Mr. Troy suddenly stood still, and eyed his companion a little
"Are you going to turn detective-policeman on your own account?"
"There's nothing I won't turn to, and try, to help Miss Isabel in
this matter," Moody answered, firmly. "I have saved a few hundred
pounds in Lady Lydiard's service, and I am ready to spend every
farthing of it, if I can only discover the thief."
Mr. Troy walked on again. "Miss Isabel seems to have a good
friend in you," he said. He was (perhaps unconsciously) a little
offended by the independent tone in which the steward spoke,
after he had himself engaged to take the vindication of the
girl's innocence into his own hands.
"Miss Isabel has a devoted servant and slave in me!" Moody
answered, with passionate enthusiasm.
"Very creditable; I haven't a word to say against it," Mr. Troy
rejoined. "But don't forget that the young lady has other devoted
friends besides you. I am her devoted friend, for instance--I
have promised to serve her, and I mean to keep my word. You will
excuse me for adding that my experience and discretion are quite
as likely to be useful to her as your enthusiasm. I know the
world well enough to be careful in trusting strangers. It will do
you no harm, Mr. Moody, to follow my example."
Moody accepted his reproof with becoming patience and
resignation. "If you have anything to propose, sir, that will be
of service to Miss Isabel," he said, "I shall be happy if I can
assist you in the humblest capacity."
"And if not?" Mr. Troy inquired, conscious of having nothing to
propose as he asked the question.
"In that case, sir, I must take my own course, and blame nobody
but myself if it leads me astray."
Mr. Troy said no more: he parted from Moody at the next turning.
Pursuing the subject privately in his own mind, he decided on
taking the earliest opportunity of visiting Isabel at her aunt's
house, and on warning her, in her future intercourse with Moody,
not to trust too much to the steward's discretion. "I haven't a
doubt," thought the lawyer, "of what he means to do next. The
infatuated fool is going back to Old Sharon!"
RETURNING to his office, Mr. Troy discovered, among the
correspondence that was waiting for him, a letter from the very
person whose welfare was still the uppermost subject in his mind.
Isabel Miller wrote in these terms:
"Dear Sir--My aunt, Miss Pink, is very desirous of consulting you
professionally at the earliest opportunity. Although South Morden
is within little more than half an hour's railway ride from
London, Miss Pink does not presume to ask you to visit her, being
well aware of the value of your time. Will you, therefore, be so
kind as to let me know when it will be convenient to you to
receive my aunt at your office in London? Believe me, dear sir,
respectfully yours, ISABEL MILLER. P.S.--I am further instructed
to say that the regrettable event at Lady Lydiard's house is the
proposed subject of the consultation. The Lawn, South Morden.
Mr. Troy smiled as he read the letter. "Too formal for a young
girl!" he said to himself. "Every word of it has been dictated by
Miss Pink." He was not long in deciding what course he should
take. There was a pressing necessity for cautioning Isabel, and
here was his opportunity. He sent for his head clerk, and looked
at his list of engagements for the day. There was nothing set
down in the book which the clerk was not quite as well able to do
as the master. Mr. Troy consulted his railway-guide, ordered his
cab, and caught the next train to South Mord en.
South Morden was then (and remains to this day) one of those
primitive agricultural villages, passed over by the march of
modern progress, which are still to be found in the near
neighborhood of London. Only the slow trains stopped at the
station and there was so little to do that the station-master and
his porter grew flowers on the embankment, and trained creepers
over the waiting-room window. Turning your back on the railway,
and walking along the one street of South Morden, you found
yourself in the old England of two centuries since. Gabled
cottages, with fast-closed windows; pigs and poultry in quiet
possession of the road; the venerable church surrounded by its
shady burial-ground; the grocer's shop which sold everything, and
the butcher's shop which sold nothing; the scarce inhabitants who
liked a good look at a stranger, and the unwashed children who
were pictures of dirty health; the clash of the iron-chained
bucket in the public well, and the thump of the falling nine-pins
in the skittle-ground behind the public-house; the horse-pond on
the one bit of open ground, and the old elm-tree with the wooden
seat round it on the other--these were some of the objects that
you saw, and some of the noises that you heard in South Morden,
as you passed from one end of the village to the other.
About half a mile beyond the last of the old cottages, modern
England met you again under the form of a row of little villas,
set up by an adventurous London builder who had bought the land a
bargain. Each villa stood in its own little garden, and looked
across a stony road at the meadow lands and softly-rising wooded
hills beyond. Each villa faced you in the sunshine with the
horrid glare of new red brick, and forced its nonsensical name on
your attention, traced in bright paint on the posts of its
entrance gate. Consulting the posts as he advanced, Mr. Troy
arrived in due course of time at the villa called The Lawn, which
derived its name apparently from a circular patch of grass in
front of the house. The gate resisting his efforts to open it, he
rang the bell.
Admitted by a trim, clean, shy little maid-servant, Mr. Troy
looked about him in amazement. Turn which way he might, he found
himself silently confronted by posted and painted instructions to
visitors, which forbade him to do this, and commanded him to do
that, at every step of his progress from the gate to the house.
On the side of the lawn a label informed him that he was not to
walk on the grass. On the other side a painted hand pointed along
a boundary-wall to an inscription which warned him to go that way
if he had business in the kitchen. On the gravel walk at the foot
of the housesteps words, neatly traced in little white shells,
reminded him not to "forget the scraper". On the doorstep he was
informed, in letters of lead, that he was "Welcome!" On the mat
in the passage bristly black words burst on his attention,
commanding him to "wipe his shoes." Even the hat-stand in the
hall was not allowed to speak for itself; it had "Hats and
Cloaks" inscribed on it, and it issued its directions
imperatively in the matter of your wet umbrella--"Put it here!"
Giving the trim little servant his card, Mr. Troy was introduced
to a reception-room on the lower floor. Before he had time to
look round him the door was opened again from without, and Isabel
stole into the room on tiptoe. She looked worn and anxious. When
she shook hands with the old lawyer the charming smile that he
remembered so well was gone.
"Don't say you have seen me," she whispered. "I am not to come
into the room till my aunt sends for me. Tell me two things
before I run away again. How is Lady Lydiard? And have you
discovered the thief?"
"Lady Lydiard was well when I last saw her; and we have not yet
succeeded in discovering the thief." Having answered the
questions in those terms, Mr. Troy decided on cautioning Isabel
on the subject of the steward while he had the chance. "One
question on my side," he said, holding her back from the door by
the arm. "Do you expect Moody to visit you here?"
"I am _sure_ he will visit me," Isabel answered warmly. "He has
promised to come here at my request. I never knew what a kind
heart Robert Moody had till this misfortune fell on me. My aunt,
who is not easily taken with strangers, respects and admires him.
I can't tell you how good he was to me on the journey here--and
how kindly, how nobly, he spoke to me when we parted." She
paused, and turned her head away. The tears were rising in her
eyes. "In my situation," she said faintly, "kindness is very
keenly felt. Don't notice me, Mr. Troy."
The lawyer waited a moment to let her recover herself.
"I agree entirely, my dear, in your opinion of Moody," he said.
"At the same time, I think it right to warn you that his zeal in
your service may possibly outrun his discretion. He may feel too
confidently about penetrating the mystery of the missing money;
and, unless you are on your guard, he may raise false hopes in
you when you next see him. Listen to any advice that he may give
you, by all means. But, before you decide on being guided by his
opinion, consult my older experience, and hear what I have to say
on the subject. Don't suppose that I am attempting to make you
distrust this good friend," he added, noticing the look of uneasy
surprise which Isabel fixed on him. "No such idea is in my mind.
I only warn you that Moody's eagerness to be of service to you
may mislead him. You understand me."
"Yes, sir," replied Isabel coldly; "I understand you. Please let
me go now. My aunt will be down directly; and she must not find
me here." She curtseyed with distant respect, and left the room.
"So much for trying to put two ideas together into a girl's
mind!" thought Mr. Troy, when he was alone again. "The little
fool evidently thinks I am jealous of Moody's place in her
estimation. Well! I have done my duty--and I can do no more."
He looked round the room. Not a chair was out of its place, not a
speck of dust was to be seen. The brightly-perfect polish of the
table made your eyes ache; the ornaments on it looked as if they
had never been touched by mortal hand; the piano was an object
for distant admiration, not an instrument to be played on; the
carpet made Mr. Troy look nervously at the soles of his shoes;
and the sofa (protected by layers of white crochet-work) said as
plainly as if in words, "Sit on me if you dare!" Mr. Troy
retreated to a bookcase at the further end of the room. The books
fitted the shelves to such absolute perfection that he had some
difficulty in taking one of them out. When he had succeeded, he
found himself in possession of a volume of the History of
England. On the fly-leaf he encountered another written
warning:--"This book belongs to Miss Pink's Academy for Young
Ladies, and is not to be removed from the library." The date,
which was added, referred to a period of ten years since. Miss
Pink now stood revealed as a retired schoolmistress, and Mr. Troy
began to understand some of the characteristic peculiarities of
that lady's establishment which had puzzled him up to the present
He had just succeeded in putting the book back again when the
door opened once more, and Isabel's aunt entered the room.
If Miss Pink could, by any possible conjuncture of circumstances,
have disappeared mysteriously from her house and her friends, the
police would have found the greatest difficulty in composing the
necessary description of the missing lady. The acutest observer
could have discovered nothing that was noticeable or
characteristic in her personal appearance. The pen of the present
writer portrays her in despair by a series of negatives. She was
not young, she was not old; she was neither tall nor short, nor
stout nor thin; nobody could call her features attractive, and
nobody could call them ugly; there was nothing in her voice, her
expression, her manner, or her dress that differed in any
appreciable degree from the voice, expression, manner, and dress
of five hundred thousand other single ladies of her age and
position in the world. If you had asked her to describe herself,
she would have answered, "I am a gentlew oman"; and if you had
further inquired which of her numerous accomplishments took
highest rank in her own esteem, she would have replied, "My
powers of conversation." For the rest, she was Miss Pink, of
South Morden; and, when that has been said, all has been said.
"Pray be seated, sir. We have had a beautiful day, after the
long-continued wet weather. I am told that the season is very
unfavorable for wall-fruit. May I offer you some refreshment
after your journey?" In these terms and in the smoothest of
voices, Miss Pink opened the interview.
Mr. Troy made a polite reply, and added a few strictly
conventional remarks on the beauty of the neighborhood. Not even
a lawyer could sit in Miss Pink's presence, and hear Miss Pink's
conversation, without feeling himself called upon (in the nursery
phrase) to "be on his best behavior".
"It is extremely kind of you, Mr. Troy, to favor me with this
visit," Miss Pink resumed. "I am well aware that the time of
professional gentlemen is of especial value to them; and I will
therefore ask you to excuse me if I proceed abruptly to the
subject on which I desire to consult your experience."
Here the lady modestly smoothed out her dress over her knees, and
the lawyer made a bow. Miss Pink's highly-trained conversation
had perhaps one fault--it was not, strictly speaking,
conversation at all. In its effect on her hearers it rather
resembled the contents of a fluently conventional letter, read
"The circumstances under which my niece Isabel has left Lady
Lydiard's house," Miss Pink proceeded, "are so indescribably
painful--I will go further, I will say so deeply
humiliating--that I have forbidden her to refer to them again in
my presence, or to mention them in the future to any living
creature besides myself. You are acquainted with those
circumstances, Mr. Troy; and you will understand my indignation
when I first learnt that my sister's child had been suspected of
theft. I have not the honor of being acquainted with Lady
Lydiard. She is not a Countess, I believe? Just so! Her husband
was only a Baron. I am not acquainted with Lady Lydiard; and I
will not trust myself to say what I think of her conduct to my
"Pardon me, madam," Mr. Troy interposed. "Before you say any more
about Lady Lydiard, I really must beg leave to observe--"
"Pardon _me_," Miss Pink rejoined. "I never form a hasty
judgment. Lady Lydiard's conduct is beyond the reach of any
defense, no matter how ingenious it may be. You may not be aware,
sir, that in receiving my niece under her roof her Ladyship was
receiving a gentlewoman by birth as well as by education. My late
lamented sister was the daughter of a clergyman of the Church of
England. I need hardly remind you that, as such, she was a born
lady. Under favoring circumstances, Isabel's maternal grandfather
might have been Archbishop of Canterbury, and have taken
precedence of the whole House of Peers, the Princes of the blood
Royal alone excepted. I am not prepared to say that my niece is
equally well connected on her father's side. My sister
surprised--I will not add shocked--us when she married a chemist.
At the same time, a chemist is not a tradesman. He is a gentleman
at one end of the profession of Medicine, and a titled physician
is a gentleman at the other end. That is all. In inviting Isabel
to reside with her, Lady Lydiard, I repeat, was bound to remember
that she was associating herself with a young gentlewoman. She
has _not_ remembered this, which is one insult; and she has
suspected my niece of theft, which is another."
Miss Pink paused to take breath. Mr. Troy made a second attempt
to get a hearing.
"Will you kindly permit me, madam, to say a few words?"
"No!" said Miss Pink, asserting the most immovable obstinacy
under the blandest politeness of manner. "Your time, Mr. Troy, is
really too valuable! Not even your trained intellect can excuse
conduct which is manifestly _in_excusable on the face of it. Now
you know my opinion of Lady Lydiard, you will not be surprised to
hear that I decline to trust her Ladyship. She may, or she may
not, cause the necessary inquiries to be made for the vindication
of my niece's character. In a matter so serious as this--I may
say, in a duty which I owe to the memories of my sister and my
parents--I will not leave the responsibility to Lady Lydiard. I
will take it on myself. Let me add that I am able to pay the
necessary expenses. The earlier years of my life, Mr. Troy, have
been passed in the tuition of young ladies. I have been happy in
meriting the confidence of parents; and I have been strict in
observing the golden rules of economy. On my retirement, I have
been able to invest a modest, a very modest, little fortune in
the Funds. A portion of it is at the service of my niece for the
recovery of her good name; and I desire to place the necessary
investigation confidentially in your hands. You are acquainted
with the case, and the case naturally goes to you. I could not
prevail on myself--I really could not prevail on myself--to
mention it to a stranger. That is the business on which I wished
to consult you. Please say nothing more about Lady Lydiard--the
subject is inexpressibly disagreeable to me. I will only trespass
on your kindness to tell me if I have succeeded in making myself
Miss Pink leaned back in her chair, at the exact angle permitted
by the laws of propriety; rested her left elbow on the palm of
her right hand, and lightly supported her cheek with her
forefinger and thumb. In this position she waited Mr. Troy's
answer--the living picture of human obstinacy in its most
If Mr. Troy had not been a lawyer--in other words, if he had not
been professionally capable of persisting in his own course, in
the face of every conceivable difficulty and discouragement--Miss
Pink might have remained in undisturbed possession of her own
opinions. As it was, Mr. Troy had got his hearing at last; and no
matter how obstinately she might close her eyes to it, Miss Pink
was now destined to have the other side of the case presented to
"I am sincerely obliged to you, madam, for the expression of your
confidence in me," Mr. Troy began; "at the same time, I must beg
you to excuse me if I decline to accept your proposal."
Miss Pink had not expected to receive such an answer as this. The
lawyer's brief refusal surprised and annoyed her.
"Why do you decline to assist me?" she asked.
"Because," answered Mr. Troy, "my services are already engaged,
in Miss Isabel's interest, by a client whom I have served for
more than twenty years. My client is--"
Miss Pink anticipated the coming disclosure. "You need not
trouble yourself, sir, to mention your client's name," she said.
"My client," persisted Mr. Troy, "loves Miss Isabel dearly."
"That is a matter of opinion," Miss Pink interposed.
"And believes in Miss Isabel's innocence," proceeded the
irrepressible lawyer, "as firmly as you believe in it yourself."
Miss Pink (being human) had a temper; and Mr. Troy had found his
way to it.
"If Lady Lydiard believes in my niece's innocence," said Miss
Pink, suddenly sitting bolt upright in her chair, "why has my
niece been compelled, in justice to herself, to leave Lady
"You will admit, madam," Mr. Troy answered cautiously, "that we
are all of us liable, in this wicked world, to be the victims of
appearances. Your niece is a victim--an innocent victim. She
wisely withdraws from Lady Lydiard's house until appearances are
proved to be false and her position is cleared up."
Miss Pink had her reply ready. "That is simply acknowledging, in
other words, that my niece is suspected. I am only a woman, Mr.
Troy--but it is not quite so easy to mislead me as you seem to
Mr. Troy's temper was admirably trained. But it began to
acknowledge that Miss Pink's powers of irritation could sting to
"No intention of misleading you, madam, has ever crossed my
mind," he rejoined warmly. "As for your niece, I can tell you
this. In all my experience of Lady Lydiard, I never saw her so
distressed as she was when Miss Isabel left the house!"
"Indeed!" said Miss Pink, with an incredulous smile. "In my rank
of life, when we feel distressed about a person, we do our best
to comfort that person by a kind letter or an early visit. But
then I am not a lady of title."
"Lady Lydiard engaged herself to call on Miss Isabel in my
hearing," said Mr. Troy. "Lady Lydiard is the most generous woman
"Lady Lydiard is here!" cried a joyful voice on the other side of
At the same moment, Isabel burst into the room in a state of
excitement which actually ignored the formidable presence of Miss
Pink. "I beg your pardon, aunt! I was upstairs at the window, and
I saw the carriage stop at the gate. And Tommie has come, too!
The darling saw me at the window!" cried the poor girl, her eyes
sparkling with delight as a perfect explosion of barking made
itself heard over the tramp of horses' feet and the crash of
carriage wheels outside.
Miss Pink rose slowly, with a dignity that looked capable of
adequately receiving--not one noble lady only, but the whole
peerage of England.
"Control yourself, dear Isabel," she said. "No well-bred young
lady permits herself to become unduly excited. Stand by my
side--a little behind me."
Isabel obeyed. Mr. Troy kept his place, and privately enjoyed his
triumph over Miss Pink. If Lady Lydiard had been actually in
league with him, she could not have chosen a more opportune time
for her visit. A momentary interval passed. The carriage drew up
at the door; the horses trampled on the gravel; the bell rung
madly; the uproar of Tommie, released from the carriage and
clamoring to be let in, redoubled its fury. Never before had such
an unruly burst of noises invaded the tranquility of Miss Pink's
THE trim little maid-servant ran upstairs from her modest little
kitchen, trembling at the terrible prospect of having to open the
door. Miss Pink, deafened by the barking, had just time to say,
"What a very ill-behaved dog!" when a sound of small objects
overthrown in the hall, and a scurrying of furious claws across
the oil-cloth, announced that Tommie had invaded the house. As
the servant appeared, introducing Lady Lydiard, the dog ran in.
He made one frantic leap at Isabel, which would certainly have
knocked her down but for the chair that happened to be standing
behind her. Received on her lap, the faithful creature half
smothered her with his caresses. He barked, he shrieked, in his
joy at seeing her again. He jumped off her lap and tore round and
round the room at the top of his speed; and every time he passed
Miss Pink he showed the whole range of his teeth and snarled
ferociously at her ankles. Having at last exhausted his
superfluous energy, he leaped back again on Isabel's lap, with
his tongue quivering in his open mouth--his tail wagging softly,
and his eye on Miss Pink, inquiring how she liked a dog in her
"I hope my dog has not disturbed you, ma'am?" said Lady Lydiard,
advancing from the mat at the doorway, on which she had patiently
waited until the raptures of Tommie subsided into repose.
Miss Pink, trembling between terror and indignation, acknowledged
Lady Lydiard's polite inquiry by a ceremonious bow, and an answer
which administered by implication a dignified reproof. "Your
Ladyship's dog does not appear to be a very well-trained animal,"
the ex-schoolmistress remarked.
"Well trained?" Lady Lydiard repeated, as if the expression was
perfectly unintelligible to her. "I don't think you have had much
experience of dogs, ma'am." She turned to Isabel, and embraced
her tenderly. "Give me a kiss, my dear--you don't know how
wretched I have been since you left me." She looked back again at
Miss Pink. "You are not, perhaps, aware, ma'am, that my dog is
devotedly attached to your niece. A dog's love has been
considered by many great men (whose names at the moment escape
me) as the most touching and disinterested of all earthly
affections." She looked the other way, and discovered the lawyer.
"How do you do, Mr. Troy? It's a pleasant surprise to find you
here The house was so dull without Isabel that I really couldn't
put off seeing her any longer. When you are more used to Tommie,
Miss Pink, you will understand and admire him. _You_ understand
and admire him, Isabel--don't you? My child! you are not looking
well. I shall take you back with me, when the horses have had
their rest. We shall never be happy away from each other."
Having expressed her sentiments, distributed her greetings, and
defended her dog--all, as it were, in one breath--Lady Lydiard
sat down by Isabel's side, and opened a large green fan that hung
at her girdle. "You have no idea, Miss Pink, how fat people
suffer in hot weather," said the old lady, using her fan
Miss Pink's eyes dropped modestly to the ground--"fat" was such a
coarse word to use, if a lady _must_ speak of her own superfluous
flesh! "May I offer some refreshment?" Miss Pink asked,
mincingly. "A cup of tea?"
Lady Lydiard shook her head.
"A glass of water?"
Lady Lydiard declined this last hospitable proposal with an
exclamation of disgust. "Have you got any beer?" she inquired.
"I beg your Ladyship's pardon," said Miss Pink, doubting the
evidence of her own ears. "Did you say--beer?"
Lady Lydiard gesticulated vehemently with her fan. "Yes, to be
sure! Beer! beer!"
Miss Pink rose, with a countenance expressive of genteel disgust,
and rang the bell. "I think you have beer downstairs, Susan?" she
said, when the maid appeared at the door.
"A glass of beer for Lady Lydiard," said Miss Pink--under
"Bring it in a jug," shouted her Ladyship, as the maid left the
room. "I like to froth it up for myself," she continued,
addressing Miss Pink. "Isabel sometimes does it for me, when she
is at home--don't you, my dear?"
Miss Pink had been waiting her opportunity to assert her own
claim to the possession of her own niece, from the time when Lady
Lydiard had coolly declared her intention of taking Isabel back
with her. The opportunity now presented itself.
"Your Ladyship will pardon me," she said, "if I remark that my
niece's home is under my humble roof. I am properly sensible, I
hope, of your kindness to Isabel, but while she remains the
object of a disgraceful suspicion she remains with me."
Lady Lydiard closed her fan with an angry snap.
"You are completely mistaken, Miss Pink. You may not mean it--but
you speak most unjustly if you say that your niece is an object
of suspicion to me, or to anybody in my house."
Mr. Troy, quietly listening up to this point now interposed to
stop the discussion before it could degenerate into a personal
quarrel. His keen observation, aided by his accurate knowledge of
his client's character, had plainly revealed to him what was
passing in Lady Lydiard's mind. She had entered the house,
feeling (perhaps unconsciously) a jealousy of Miss Pink, as her
predecessor in Isabel's affections, and as the natural
protectress of the girl under existing circumstances. Miss Pink's
reception of her dog had additionally irritated the old lady. She
had taken a malicious pleasure in shocking the schoolmistress's
sense of propriety--and she was now only too ready to proceed to
further extremities on the delicate question of Isabel's
justification for leaving her house. For Isabel's own sake,
therefore--to say nothing of other reasons--it was urgently
desirable to keep the peace between the two ladies. With this
excellent object in view, Mr. Troy seized his opportunity of
striking into the conversation for the first time.
"Pardon me, Lady Lydiard," he said, "you are speaking of a
subject which has been already sufficiently discussed between
Miss Pink and myself. I think we shall do better not to dwell
uselessly on past events, but to direct our attention to the
future. We are all equally satisfied of the complete rectitude of
Miss Isabel's conduct, and we are all equally interested in the
vindication of her good name."
Whether these temperate words would of themselves have exercised
the pacifying influence at which Mr. Troy aimed may be doubtful.
But, as he ceased speaking, a powerful auxiliary appeared in the
shape of the beer. Lady Lydiard seized on the jug, a nd filled
the tumbler for herself with an unsteady hand. Miss Pink,
trembling for the integrity of her carpet, and scandalized at
seeing a peeress drinking beer like a washer-woman, forgot the
sharp answer that was just rising to her lips when the lawyer
interfered. "Small!" said Lady Lydiard, setting down the empty
tumbler, and referring to the quality of the beer. "But very
pleasant and refreshing. What's the servant's name? Susan? Well,
Susan, I was dying of thirst and you have saved my life. You can
leave the jug--I dare say I shall empty it before I go."
Mr. Troy, watching Miss Pink's face, saw that it was time to
change the subject again.
"Did you notice the old village, Lady Lydiard, on your way here?"
he asked. "The artists consider it one of the most picturesque
places in England."
"I noticed that it was a very dirty village," Lady Lydiard
answered, still bent on making herself disagreeable to Miss Pink.
The artists may say what they please; I see nothing to admire in
rotten cottages, and bad drainage, and ignorant people. I suppose
the neighborhood has its advantages. It looks dull enough, to my
Isabel had hitherto modestly restricted her exertions to keeping
Tommie quiet on her lap. Like Mr. Troy, she occasionally looked
at her aunt--and she now made a timid attempt to defend the
neighborhood as a duty that she owed to Miss Pink.
"Oh, my Lady! don't say it's a dull neighborhood," she pleaded.
"There are such pretty walks all round us. And, when you get to
the hills, the view is beautiful."
Lady Lydiard's answer to this was a little masterpiece of
good-humored contempt. She patted Isabel's cheek, and said,
"Your Ladyship does not admire the beauties of Nature," Miss Pink
remarked, with a compassionate smile. "As we get older, no doubt
our sight begins to fail--"
"And we leave off canting about the beauties of Nature," added
Lady Lydiard. "I hate the country. Give me London, and the
pleasures of society."
"Come! come! Do the country justice, Lady Lydiard!" put in
peace-making Mr. Troy. "There is plenty of society to be found
out of London--as good society as the world can show."
"The sort of society," added Miss Pink, "which is to be found,
for example, in this neighborhood. Her Ladyship is evidently not
aware that persons of distinction surround us, whichever way we
turn. I may instance among others, the Honorable Mr. Hardyman--"
Lady Lydiard, in the act of pouring out a second glassful of
beer, suddenly set down the jug.
"Who is that you're talking of, Miss Pink?"
"I am talking of our neighbor, Lady Lydiard--the Honorable Mr.
"Do you mean Alfred Hardyman--the man who breeds the horses?"
"The distinguished gentleman who owns the famous stud-farm," said
Miss Pink, correcting the bluntly-direct form in which Lady
Lydiard had put her question.
"Is he in the habit of visiting here?" the old lady inquired,
with a sudden appearance of anxiety. "Do you know him?"
"I had the honor of being introduced to Mr. Hardyman at our last
flower show," Miss Pink replied. "He has not yet favored me with
Lady Lydiard's anxiety appeared to be to some extent relieved.
"I knew that Hardyman's farm was in this county," she said; "but
I had no notion that it was in the neighborhood of South Morden.
How far away is he--ten or a dozen miles, eh?"
"Not more than three miles," answered Miss Pink. "We consider him
quite a near neighbor of ours."
Renewed anxiety showed itself in Lady Lydiard. She looked round
sharply at Isabel. The girl's head was bent so low over the rough
head of the dog that her face was almost entirely concealed from
view. So far as appearances went, she seemed to be entirely
absorbed in fondling Tommie. Lady Lydiard roused her with a tap
of the green fan.
"Take Tommie out, Isabel, for a run in the garden," she said. "He
won't sit still much longer--and he may annoy Miss Pink. Mr.
Troy, will you kindly help Isabel to keep my ill-trained dog in
Mr. Troy got on his feet, and, not very willingly, followed
Isabel out of the room. "They will quarrel now, to a dead
certainty!" he thought to himself, as he closed the door. "Have
you any idea of what this means?" he said to his companion, as he
joined her in the hall. "What has Mr. Hardyman done to excite all
this interest in him?"
Isabel's guilty color rose. She knew perfectly well that
Hardyman's unconcealed admiration of her was the guiding motive
of Lady Lydiard's inquiries. If she had told the truth, Mr. Troy
would have unquestionably returned to the drawing-room, with or
without an acceptable excuse for intruding himself. But Isabel
was a woman; and her answer, it is needless to say, was "I don't
know, I'm sure."
In the mean time, the interview between the two ladies began in a
manner which would have astonished Mr. Troy--they were both
silent. For once in her life Lady Lydiard was considering what
she should say, before she said it. Miss Pink, on her side,
naturally waited to hear what object her Ladyship had in
view--waited, until her small reserve of patience gave way. Urged
by irresistible curiosity, she spoke first.
"Have you anything to say to me in private?" she asked.
Lady Lydiard had not got to the end of her reflections. She said
"Yes!" --and she said no more.
"Is it anything relating to my niece?" persisted Miss Pink.
Still immersed in her reflections, Lady Lydiard suddenly rose to
the surface, and spoke her mind, as usual.
"About your niece, ma'am. The other day Mr. Hardyman called at my
house, and saw Isabel."
"Yes," said Miss Pink, politely attentive, but not in the least
interested, so far.
"That's not all ma'am. Mr. Hardyman admires Isabel; he owned it
to me himself in so many words."
Miss Pink listened, with a courteous inclination of her head. She
looked mildly gratified, nothing more. Lady Lydiard proceeded:
"You and I think differently on many matters," she said. "But we
are both agreed, I am sure, in feeling the sincerest interest in
Isabel's welfare. I beg to suggest to you, Miss Pink, that Mr.
Hardyman, as a near neighbor of yours, is a very undesirable
neighbor while Isabel remains in your house."
Saying those words, under a strong conviction of the serious
importance of the subject, Lady Lydiard insensibly recovered the
manner and resumed the language which befitted a lady of her
rank. Miss Pink, noticing the change, set it down to an
expression of pride on the part of her visitor which, in
referring to Isabel, assailed indirectly the social position of
"I fail entirely to understand what your Ladyship means," she
Lady Lydiard, on her side, looked in undisguised amazement at
"Haven't I told you already that Mr. Hardyman admires your
niece?" she asked.
"Naturally," said Miss Pink. "Isabel inherits her lamented
mother's personal advantages. If Mr. Hardyman admires her, Mr.
Hardyman shows his good taste."
Lady Lydiard's eyes opened wider and wider in wonder. "My good
lady!" she exclaimed, "is it possible you don't know that when a
man admires a women he doesn't stop there? He falls in love with
her (as the saying is) next."
"So I have heard," said Miss Pink.
"So you have _heard?_" repeated Lady Lydiard. "If Mr. Hardyman
finds his way to Isabel I can tell you what you will _see_. Catch
the two together, ma'am--and you will see Mr. Hardyman making
love to your niece."
"Under due restrictions, Lady Lydiard, and with my permission
first obtained, of course, I see no objection to Mr. Hardyman
paying his addresses to Isabel."
"The woman is mad!" cried Lady Lydiard. "Do you actually suppose,
Miss Pink, that Alfred Hardyman could, by any earthly
possibility, marry your niece!"
Not even Miss Pink's politeness could submit to such a question
as this. She rose indignantly from her chair. "As you aware, Lady
Lydiard, that the doubt you have just expressed is an insult to
my niece, and a insult to Me?"
"Are _you_ aware of who Mr. Hardyman really is?" retorted her
Ladyship. "Or do you judge of his position by the vocation in
life which he has perversely chosen to adopt? I can tell you, if
you do, that Alfred Hardyman is the younger son of one of the
oldest barons in the English Peerage, and that his mother is
related by marriage to the Royal family of Wurtemberg."
Miss Pink received the full shock of this information without
receding from her position by a hair-breadth.
"An English gentlewoman offers a fit alliance to any man living
who seeks her hand in marriage," said Miss Pink. "Isabel's mother
(you may not be aware of it) was the daughter of an English
"And Isabel's father was a chemist in a country town," added Lady
"Isabel's father," rejoined Miss Pink, "was attached in a most
responsible capacity to the useful and honorable profession of
Medicine. Isabel is, in the strictest sense of the word, a young
gentlewoman. If you contradict that for a single instant, Lady
Lydiard, you will oblige me to leave the room."
Those last words produced a result which Miss Pink had not
anticipated--they roused Lady Lydiard to assert herself. As usual
in such cases, she rose superior to her own eccentricity.
Confronting Miss Pink, she now spoke and looked with the gracious
courtesy and the unpresuming self-confidence of the order to
which she belonged.
"For Isabel's own sake, and for the quieting of my conscience,"
she answered, "I will say one word more, Miss Pink, before I
relieve you of my presence. Considering my age and my
opportunities, I may claim to know quite as much as you do of the
laws and customs which regulate society in our time. Without
contesting your niece's social position--and without the
slightest intention of insulting you--I repeat that the rank
which Mr. Hardyman inherits makes it simply impossible for him
even to think of marrying Isabel. You will do well not to give
him any opportunities of meeting with her alone. And you will do
better still (seeing that he is so near a neighbor of yours) if
you permit Isabel to return to my protection, for a time at
least. I will wait to hear from you when you have thought the
matter over at your leisure. In the mean time, if I have
inadvertently offended you, I ask your pardon--and I wish you
She bowed, and walked to the door. Miss Pink, as resolute as ever
in maintaining her pretensions, made an effort to match the great
lady on her own ground.
"Before you go, Lady Lydiard, I beg to apologize if I have spoken
too warmly on my side," she said. "Permit me to send for your
"Thank you, Miss Pink. My carriage is only at the village inn. I
shall enjoy a little walk in the cool evening air. Mr. Troy, I
have no doubt, will give me his arm." She bowed once more, and
quietly left the room.
Reaching the little back garden of the villa, through an open
door at the further end of the hall, Lady Lydiard found Tommie
rolling luxuriously on Miss Pink's flower-beds, and Isabel and
Mr. Troy in close consultation on the gravel walk.
She spoke to the lawyer first.
"They are baiting the horses at the inn," she said. "I want your
arm, Mr. Troy, as far as the village--and, in return, I will take
you back to London with me. I have to ask your advice about one
or two little matters, and this is a good opportunity."
"With the greatest pleasure, Lady Lydiard. I suppose I must say
good-by to Miss Pink?"
"A word of advice to you, Mr. Troy. Take care how you ruffle Miss
Pink's sense of her own importance. Another word for your private
ear. Miss Pink is a fool."
On the lawyer's withdrawal, Lady Lydiard put her arm fondly round
Isabel's waist. "What were you and Mr. Troy so busy in talking
about?" she asked.
"We were talking, my Lady, about tracing the person who stole the
money," Isabel answered, rather sadly. "It seems a far more
difficult matter than I supposed it to be. I try not to lose
patience and hope--but it is a little hard to feel that
appearances are against me, and to wait day after day in vain for
the discovery that is to set me right."
"You are a dear good child," said Lady Lydiard; "and you are more
precious to me than ever. Don't despair, Isabel. With Mr. Troy's
means of inquiring, and with my means of paying, the discovery of
the thief cannot be much longer delayed. If you don't return to
me soon, I shall come back and see you again. Your aunt hates the
sight of me--but I don't care two straws for that," remarked Lady
Lydiard, showing the undignified side of her character once more.
"Listen to me, Isabel! I have no wish to lower your aunt in your
estimation, but I feel far more confidence in your good sense
than in hers. Mr. Hardyman's business has taken him to France for
the present. It is at least possible that you may meet with him
on his return. If you do, keep him at a distance, my
dear--politely, of course. There! there! you needn't turn red; I
am not blaming you; I am only giving you a little good advice. In
your position you cannot possibly be too careful. Here is Mr.
Troy! You must come to the gate with us, Isabel, or we shall
never get Tommie away from you; I am only his second favorite;
you have the first place in his affections. God bless and prosper
you, my child!--I wish to heaven you were going back to London
with me! Well, Mr. Troy, how have you done with Miss Pink? Have
you offended that terrible 'gentlewoman' (hateful word!); or has
it been all the other way, and has she given you a kiss at
Mr. Troy smiled mysteriously, and changed the subject. His brief
parting interview with the lady of the house was not of a nature
to be rashly related. Miss Pink had not only positively assured
him that her visitor was the most ill-bred woman she had ever met
with, but had further accused Lady Lydiard of shaking her
confidence in the aristocracy of her native country. "For the
first time in my life," said Miss Pink, "I feel that something is
to be said for the Republican point of view; and I am not
indisposed to admit that the constitution of the United States
_has_ its advantages!"
THE conference between Lady Lydiard and Mr. Troy, on the way back
to London, led to some practical results.
Hearing from her legal adviser that the inquiry after the missing
money was for a moment at a standstill, Lady Lydiard made one of
those bold suggestions with which she was accustomed to startle
her friends in cases of emergency. She had heard favorable
reports of the extraordinary ingenuity of the French police; and
she now proposed sending to Paris for assistance, after first
consulting her nephew, Mr. Felix Sweetsir. "Felix knows Paris as
well as he knows London," she remarked. "He is an idle man, and
it is quite likely that he will relieve us of all trouble by
taking the matter into his own hands. In any case, he is sure to
know who are the right people to address in our present
necessity. What do you say?"
Mr. Troy, in reply, expressed his doubts as to the wisdom of
employing foreigners in a delicate investigation which required
an accurate knowledge of English customs and English character.
Waiving this objection, he approved of the idea of consulting her
Ladyship's nephew. "Mr. Sweetsir is a man of the world," he said.
"In putting the case before him, we are sure to have it presented
to us from a new point of view." Acting on this favorable
expression of opinion, Lady Lydiard wrote to her nephew. On the
day after the visit to Miss Pink, the proposed council of three
was held at Lady Lydiard's house.
Felix, never punctual at keeping an appointment, was even later
than usual on this occasion. He made his apologies with his hand
pressed upon his forehead, and his voice expressive of the
languor and discouragement of a suffering man.
"The beastly English climate is telling on my nerves," said Mr.
Sweetsir--"the horrid weight of the atmosphere, after the
exhilarating air of Paris; the intolerable dirt and dullness of
London, you know. I was in bed, my dear aunt, when I received
your letter. You may imagine the completely demoralised?? state I
was in, when I tell you of the effect which the news of the
robbery produced on me. I fell back on my pillow, as if I had
been shot. Your Ladyship should really be a little more careful
in communicating these disagreeable surprises to a
sensitively-organised man. Never mind--my valet is a perfect
treasure; he brought me some drops of ether on a lump of sugar. I
said, 'Alfred' (his name is Alfred), 'put me into my clothes!'
Alfred put me in. I assure you it reminded me of my young days,
when I was put into my first pair of trousers. Has Alfred
forgotten anything? Have I got my braces on? Have I come out in
my shirt-sleeves? Well, dear aunt;--well, Mr. Troy!--what can I
say? What can I do?"
Lady Lydiard, entirely without sympathy for nervous suffering,
nodded to the lawyer. "You tell him," she said.
"I believe I speak for her Ladyship," Mr. Troy began, "when I say
that we should like to hear, in the first place, how the whole
case strikes you, Mr. Sweetsir?"
"Tell it me all over again," said Felix.
Patient Mr. Troy told it all over again--and waited for the
"Well?" said Felix.
"Well?" said Mr. Troy. "Where does the suspicion of robbery rest
in your opinion? You look at the theft of the bank-note with a
"You mentioned a clergyman just now," said Felix. "The man, you
know, to whom the money was sent. What was his name?"
"The Reverend Samuel Bradstock."
"You want me to name the person whom I suspect?"
"Yes, if you please," said Mr. Troy.
"I suspect the Reverend Samuel Bradstock," said Felix.
"If you have come here to make stupid jokes," interposed Lady
Lydiard, "you had better go back to your bed again. We want a
"You _have_ a serious opinion," Felix coolly rejoined. "I never
was more in earnest in my life. Your Ladyship is not aware of the
first principle to be adopted in cases of suspicion. One proceeds
on what I will call the exhaustive system of reasoning. Thus:
Does suspicion point to the honest servants downstairs? No. To
your Ladyship's adopted daughter? Appearances are against the
poor girl; but you know her better than to trust to appearances.
Are you suspicious of Moody? No. Of Hardyman--who was in the
house at the time? Ridiculous! But I was in the house at the
time, too. Do you suspect Me? Just so! That idea is ridiculous,
too. Now let us sum up. Servants, adopted daughter, Moody,
Hardyman, Sweetsir--all beyond suspicion. Who is left? The
Reverend Samuel Bradstock."
This ingenious exposition of "the exhaustive system of
reasoning," failed to produce any effect on Lady Lydiard. "You
are wasting our time," she said sharply. "You know as well as I
do that you are talking nonsense."
"I don't," said Felix. "Taking the gentlemanly professions all
round, I know of no men who are so eager to get money, and who
have so few scruples about how they get it, as the parsons. Where
is there a man in any other profession who perpetually worries
you for money?--who holds the bag under your nose for money?--who
sends his clerk round from door to door to beg a few shillings of
you, and calls it an 'Easter offering'? The parson does all this.
Bradstock is a parson. I put it logically. Bowl me over, if you
Mr. Troy attempted to "bowl him over," nevertheless. Lady Lydiard
"When a man persists in talking nonsense," she said, "silence is
the best answer; anything else only encourages him." She turned
to Felix. "I have a question to ask you," she went on. "You will
either give me a serious reply, or wish me good-morning." With
this brief preface, she made her inquiry as to the wisdom and
possibility of engaging the services of the French police.
Felix took exactly the view of the matter which had been already
expressed by Mr. Troy. "Superior in intelligence," he said, "but
not superior in courage, to the English police. Capable of
performing wonders on their own ground and among their own
people. But, my dear aunt, the two most dissimilar nations on the
face of the earth are the English and the French. The French
police may speak our language--but they are incapable of
understanding our national character and our national manners.
Set them to work on a private inquiry in the city of Pekin--and
they would get on in time with the Chinese people. Set them to
work in the city of London--and the English people would remain,
from first to last, the same impenetrable mystery to them. In my
belief the London Sunday would be enough of itself to drive them
back to Paris in despair. No balls, no concerts, no theaters, not
even a museum or a picture-gallery open; every shop shut up but
the gin-shop; and nothing moving but the church bells and the men
who sell the penny ices. Hundreds of Frenchmen come to see me on
their first arrival in England. Every man of them rushes back to
Paris on the second Saturday of his visit, rather than confront
the horrors of a second Sunday in London! However, you can try it
if you like. Send me a written abstract of the case, and I will
forward it to one of the official people in the Rue Jerusalem,
who will do anything he can to oblige me. Of course," said Felix,
turning to Mr. Troy, "some of you have got the number of the lost
bank-note? If the thief has tried to pass it in Paris, my man may
be of some use to you."
"Three of us have got the number of the note," answered Mr. Troy;
"Miss Isabel Miller, Mr. Moody, and myself."
"Very good," said Felix. "Send me the number, with the abstract
of the case. Is there anything else I can do towards recovering
the money?" he asked, turning to his aunt. "There is one lucky
circumstance in connection with this loss--isn't there? It has
fallen on a person who is rich enough to take it easy. Good
heavens! suppose it had been _my_ loss!"
"It has fallen doubly on me," said Lady Lydiard; "and I am
certainly not rich enough to take it _that_ easy. The money was
destined to a charitable purpose; and I have felt it my duty to
pay it again."
Felix rose and approached his aunt's chair with faltering steps,
as became a suffering man. He took Lady Lydiard's hand and kissed
it with enthusiastic admiration.
"You excellent creature!" he said. "You may not think it, but you
reconcile me to human nature. How generous! how noble! I think
I'll go to bed again, Mr. Troy, if you really don't want any more
of me. My head feels giddy and my legs tremble under me. It
doesn't matter; I shall feel easier when Alfred has taken me out
of my clothes again. God bless you, my dear aunt! I never felt so
proud of being related to you as I do to-day. Good-morning Mr.
Troy! Don't forget the abstract of the case; and don't trouble
yourself to see me to the door. I dare say I shan't tumble
downstairs; and, if I do, there's the porter in the hall to pick
me up again. Enviable porter! as fat as butter and as idle as a
pig! _Au revoir! au revoir!_" He kissed his hand, and drifted
feebly out of the room. Sweetsir one might say, in a state of
eclipse; but still the serviceable Sweetsir, who was never
consulted in vain by the fortunate people privileged to call him
"Is he really ill, do you think?" Mr. Troy asked.
"My nephew has turned fifty," Lady Lydiard answered, "and he
persists in living as if he was a young man. Every now and then
Nature says to him, 'Felix, you are old!' And Felix goes to bed,
and says it's his nerves."
"I suppose he is to be trusted to keep his word about writing to
Paris?" pursued the lawyer.
"Oh, yes! He may delay doing it but he will do it. In spite of
his lackadaisical manner, he has moments of energy that would
surprise you. Talking of surprises, I have something to tell you
about Moody. Within the last day or two there has been a marked
change in him--a change for the worse."
"You astonish me, Lady Lydiard! In what way has Moody
"You shall hear. Yesterday was Friday. You took him out with you,
on business, early in the morning."
Mr. Troy bowed, and said nothing. He had not thought it desirable
to mention the interview at which Old Sharon had cheated him of
"In the course of the afternoon," pursued Lady Lydiard, "I
happened to want him, and I was informed that Moody had gone out
again. Where had he gone? Nobody knew. Had he left word when he
would be back? He had left no message of any sort. Of course, he
is not in the position of an ordinary servant. I don't expect him
to ask permission to go out. But I do expect him to leave word
downstairs of the time at which he is likely to return. When he
come back, after an absence of some hours, I naturally asked for
an explanation. Would you believe it? he simply informed me that
he had been away on business of his own; expressed no regret, and
offered no explanation--in short, spoke as if he was an
independent gentleman. You may not think it, but I kept my
temper. I merely remarked that I hoped it would not happen again.
He made me a bow, and he said, 'My business is not completed yet,
my Lady. I cannot guarantee that it may not call me away again at
a moment's notice.' What do you think of that? Nine people out of
ten would have given him warning to leave their service. I begin
to think I am a wonderful woman--I only pointed to the door. One
does hear sometimes of men's brains softening in the most
unexpected manner. I have my suspicions of Moody's brains, I can
Mr. Troy's suspicions took a different direction: they pointed
along the line of streets which led to Old Sharon's lodgings.
Discreetly silent as to the turn which his thoughts had taken, he
merely expressed himself as feeling too much surprised to offer
any opinion at all.
"Wait a little," said Lady Lydiard, "I haven't done surprising
you yet. You have been a boy here in a page's livery, I think?
Well, he is a good boy; and he has gone home for a week's holiday
with his friends. The proper person to supply his place with the
boots and shoes and other small employments, is of course the
youngest footman, a lad only a few years older than himself. What
do you think Moody does? Engages a stranger, with the house full
of idle men-servants already, to fill the page's place. At
intervals this morning I heard them wonderfully merry in the
servants hall--_so_ merry that the noise and laughter found its
way upstairs to the breakfast-room. I like my servants to be in
good spirits; but it certainly did strike me that they were
getting beyond reasonable limits. I questioned my maid, and was
informed that the noise was all due to the jokes of the strangest
old man that ever was seen. In other words, to the person whom my
steward had taken it on himself to engage in the page's absence.
I spoke to Moody on the subject. He answered in an odd, confused
way, that he had exercised his discretion to the best of his
judgment and that (if I wished it), he would tell the old man to
keep his good spirits under better control. I asked him how he
came to hear of the man. He only answered, 'By accident, my
Lady'--and not one more word could I get out of him, good or bad.
Moody engages the servants, as you know; but on every other
occasion he has invariably consulted me before an engagement was
settled. I really don't feel at all sure about this person who
has been so strangely introduced into the house--he may be a
drunkard or a thief. I wish you would speak to Moody yourself,
Mr. Troy. Do you mind ringing the bell?"
Mr. Troy rose, as a matter of course, and rang the bell.
He was by this time, it is needless to say, convinced that Moody
had not only gone back to consult Old Sharon on his own
responsibility, but worse still, had taken the unwarrantable
liberty of introducing him, as a spy, into the house. To
communicate this explanation to Lady Lydiard would, in her
present humor, be simply to produce the dismissal of the steward
from her service. The only other alternative was to ask leave to
interrogate Moody privately, and, after duly reproving him, to
insist on the departure of Old Sharon as the one condition on
which Mr. Troy would consent to keep Lady Lydiard in ignorance of
"I think I shall manage better with Moody, if your Ladyship will
permit me to see him in private," the lawyer said. "Shall I go
downstairs and speak with him in his own room?"
"Why should you trouble yourself to do that?" said her Ladyship.
"See him here; and I will go into the boudoir."
As she made that reply, the footman appeared at the drawing-room
"Send Moody here," said Lady Lydiard.
The footman's answer, delivered at that moment, assumed an
importance which was not expressed in the footman's words. "My
Lady," he said, "Mr. Moody has gone out."
WHILE the strange proceedings of the steward were the subject of
conversation between Lady Lydiard and Mr. Troy, Moody was alone
in his room, occupied in writing to Isabel. Being unwilling that
any eyes but his own should see the address, he had himself
posted his letter; the time that he had chosen for leaving the
house proving, unfortunately, to be also the time proposed by her
Ladyship for his interview with the lawyer. In ten minutes after
the footman had reported his absence, Moody returned. It was then
too late to present himself in the drawing-room. In the interval,
Mr. Troy had taken his leave, and Moody's position had dropped a
degree lower in Lady Lydiard's estimation.
Isabel received her letter by the next morning's post. If any
justification of Mr. Troy's suspicions had been needed, the terms
in which Moody wrote would have amply supplied it.
"DEAR ISABEL (I hope I may call you 'Isabel' without offending
you, in your present trouble?)--I have a proposal to make, which,
whether you accept it or not, I beg you will keep a secret from
every living creature but ourselves. You will understand my
request, when I add that these lines relate to the matter of
tracing the stolen bank-note.
"I have been privately in communication with a person in London,
who is, as I believe, the one person competent to help us in
gaining our end. He has already made many inquiries in private.
With some of them I am acquainted; the rest he has thus far kept
to himself. The person to whom I allude, particularly wishes to
have half an hour's conversation with you in my presence. I am
bound to warn you that he is a very strange and very ugly old
man; and I can only hope that you will look over his personal
appearance in consideration of what he is likely to do for your
"Can you conveniently meet us, at the further end of the row of
villas in which your aunt lives, the day after to-morrow, at four
o'clock? Let me have a line to say if you will keep the
appointment, and if the hour named will suit you. And believe me
your devoted friend and servant,
The lawyer's warning to her to be careful how she yielded too
readily to any proposal of Moody's recurred to Isabel's mind
while she read those lines. Being pledged to secrecy, she could
not consult Mr. Troy--she was left to decide for herself.
No obstacle stood in the way of her free choice of alternatives.
After their early dinner at three o'clock, Miss Pink habitually
retired to her own room "to meditate," as she expressed it. Her
"meditations" inevitably ended in a sound sleep of some hours;
and during that interval Isabel was at liberty to do as she
pleased. After considerable hesitation, her implicit belief in
Moody's truth and devotion, assisted by a strong feeling of
curiosity to see the companion with whom the steward had
associated himself, decided Isabel on consenting to keep the
Taking up her position beyond the houses, on the day and at the
hour mentioned by Moody, she believed herself to be fully
prepared for the most unfavorable impression which the most
disagreeable of all possible strangers could produce.
But the first appearance of Old Sharon--as dirty as ever, clothed
in a long, frowzy, gray overcoat, with his pug-dog at his heels,
and his smoke-blackened pipe in his mouth, with a tan white hat
on his head, which looked as if it had been picked up in a
gutter, a hideous leer in his eyes, and a jaunty trip in his
walk--took her so completely by surprise that she could only
return Moody's friendly greeting by silently pressing his hand.
As for Moody's companion, to look at him for a second time was
more than she had resolution to do. She kept her eyes fixed on
the pug-dog, and with good reason; as far as appearances went, he
was indisputably the nobler animal of the two.
Under the circumstances, the interview threatened to begin in a
very embarrassing manner. Moody, disheartened by Isabel's
silence, made no attempt to set the conversa tion going; he
looked as if he meditated a hasty retreat to the railway station
which he had just left. Fortunately, he had at his side the right
man (for once) in the right place. Old Sharon's effrontery was
equal to any emergency.
"I am not a nice-looking old man, my dear, am I?" he said,
leering at Isabel with cunning, half-closed eyes. "Bless your
heart! you'll soon get used to me! You see, I am the sort of
color, as they say at the linen-drapers," that doesn't wash well.
It's all through love; upon my life it is! Early in the present
century I had my young affections blighted; and I've neglected
myself ever since. Disappointment takes different forms, miss, in
different men. I don't think I have had heart enough to brush my
hair for the last fifty years. She was a magnificent woman, Mr.
Moody, and she dropped me like a hot potato. Dreadful! dreadful!
Let us pursue this painful subject no further. Ha! here's a
pretty country! Here's a nice blue sky! I admire the country,
miss; I see so little of it, you know. Have you any objection to
walk along into the fields? The fields, my dear, bring out all
the poetry of my nature. Where's the dog? Here, Puggy! Puggy!
hunt about, my man, and find some dog-grass. Does his inside
good, you know, after a meat diet in London. Lord! how I feel my
spirits rising in this fine air! Does my complexion look any
brighter, miss? Will you run a race with me, Mr. Moody, or will
you oblige me with a back at leap-frog? I'm not mad, my dear
young lady; I'm only merry. I live, you see, in the London stink;
and the smell of the hedges and the wild flowers is too much for
me at first. It gets into my head, it does. I'm drunk! As I live
by bread, I'm drunk on fresh air! Oh! what a jolly day! Oh! how
young and innocent I do feel!" Here his innocence got the better
of him, and he began to sing, "I wish I were a little fly, in my
love's bosom for to lie!" "Hullo! here we are on the nice soft
grass! and, oh, my gracious! there's a bank running down into a
hollow! I can't stand that, you know. Mr. Moody, hold my hat, and
take the greatest care of it. Here goes for a roll down the
He handed his horrible hat to the astonished Moody, laid himself
flat on the top of the bank, and deliberately rolled down it,
exactly as he might have done when he was a boy. The tails of his
long gray coat flew madly in the wind: the dog pursued him,
jumping over him, and barking with delight; he shouted and
screamed in answer to the dog as he rolled over and over faster
and faster; and, when he got up, on the level ground, and called
out cheerfully to his companions standing above him, "I say, you
two, I feel twenty years younger already!"--human gravity could
hold out no longer. The sad and silent Moody smiled, and Isabel
burst into fits of laughter.
"There," he said "didn't I tell you you would get used to me,
Miss? There's a deal of life left in the old man yet--isn't
there? Shy me down my hat, Mr. Moody. And now we'll get to
business!" He turned round to the dog still barking at his heels.
"Business, Puggy!" he called out sharply, and Puggy instantly
shut up his mouth, and said no more.
"Well, now," Old Sharon resumed when he had joined his friends
and had got his breath again, "let's have a little talk about
yourself, miss. Has Mr. Moody told you who I am, and what I want
with you? Very good. May I offer you my arm? No! You like to be
independent, don't you? All right--I don't object. I am an
amiable old man, I am. About this Lady Lydiard, now? Suppose you
tell me how you first got acquainted with her?"
In some surprise at this question, Isabel told her little story.
Observing Sharon's face while she was speaking, Moody saw that he
was not paying the smallest attention to the narrative. His
sharp, shameless black eyes watched the girl's face absently; his
gross lips curled upwards in a sardonic and self-satisfied smile.
He was evidently setting a trap for her of some kind. Without a
word of warning--while Isabel was in the middle of a
sentence--the trap opened, with the opening of Old Sharon's lips.
"I say," he burst out. "How came _you_ to seal her Ladyship's
The question bore no sort of relation, direct or indirect, to
what Isabel happened to be saying at the moment. In the sudden
surprise of hearing it, she started and fixed her eyes in
astonishment on Sharon's face. The old vagabond chuckled to
himself. "Did you see that?" he whispered to Moody. "I beg your
pardon, miss," he went on; "I won't interrupt you again. Lord!
how interesting it is!--ain't it, Mr. Moody? Please to go on,
But Isabel, though she spoke with perfect sweetness and temper,
declined to go on. "I had better tell you, sir, how I came to
seal her Ladyship's letter," she said. "If I may venture on
giving my opinion, _that_ part of my story seems to be the only
part of it which relates to your business with me to-day."
Without further preface she described the circumstances which had
led to her assuming the perilous responsibility of sealing the
letter. Old Sharon's wandering attention began to wander again:
he was evidently occupied in setting another trap. For the second
time he interrupted Isabel in the middle of a sentence. Suddenly
stopping short, he pointed to some sheep, at the further end of
the field through which they happened to be passing at the
"There's a pretty sight," he said. "There are the innocent sheep
a-feeding--all following each other as usual. And there's the sly
dog waiting behind the gate till the sheep wants his services.
Reminds me of Old Sharon and the public!" He chuckled over the
discovery of the remarkable similarity between the sheep-dog and
himself, and the sheep and the public--and then burst upon Isabel
with a second question. "I say! didn't you look at the letter
before you sealed it?"
"Certainly not!" Isabel answered.
"Not even at the address?"
"Thinking of something else--eh?"
"Very likely," said Isabel.
"Was it your new bonnet, my dear?"
Isabel laughed. "Women are not always thinking of their new
bonnets," she answered.
Old Sharon, to all appearance, dropped the subject there. He
lifted his lean brown forefinger and pointed again--this time to
a house at a short distance from them. "That's a farmhouse,
surely?" he said. "I'm thirsty after my roll down the hill. Do
you think, Miss, they would give me a drink of milk?"
"I am sure they would," said Isabel. "I know the people. Shall I
go and ask them?"
"Thank you, my dear. One word more before you go. About the
sealing of that letter? What _could_ you have been thinking of
while you were doing it?" He looked hard at her, and took her
suddenly by the arm. "Was it your sweetheart?" he asked, in a
The question instantly reminded Isabel that she had been thinking
of Hardyman while she sealed the letter. She blushed as the
remembrance crossed her mind. Robert, noticing the embarrassment,
spoke sharply to Old Sharon. "You have no right to put such a
question to a young lady," he said. "Be a little more careful for
"There! there! don't be hard on me," pleaded the old rogue. "An
ugly old man like me may make his innocent little joke--eh, miss?
I'm sure you're too sweet-tempered to be angry when I meant no
offense.. Show me that you bear no malice. Go, like a forgiving
young angel, and ask for the milk."
Nobody appealed to Isabel's sweetness of temper in vain. "I will
do it with pleasure," she said--and hastened away to the
THE instant Isabel was out of hearing, Old Sharon slapped Moody
on the shoulder to rouse his attention. "I've got her out of the
way," he said, "now listen to me. My business with the young
angel is done--I may go back to London."
Moody looked at him with astonishment.
"Lord! how little you know of thieves!" exclaimed Old Sharon.
"Why, man alive, I have tried her with two plain tests! If you
wanted a proof of her innocence, there it was, as plain as the
nose in your face. Did you hear me ask her how she came to seal
the letter--just when her mind was running on something else?"
"I heard you," said Moody.
"Did you see how she started and stared at me?"
"I di d."
"Well, I can tell you this--if she _had_ stolen the money she
would neither have started nor stared. She would have had her
answer ready beforehand in her own mind, in case of accidents.
There's only one thing in my experience that you can never do
with a thief, when a thief happens to be a woman--you can never
take her by surprise. Put that remark by in your mind; one day
you may find a use for remembering it. Did you see her blush, and
look quite hurt in her feelings, pretty dear, when I asked about
her sweetheart? Do you think a thief, in her place, would have
shown such a face as that? Not she! The thief would have been
relieved. The thief would have said to herself, 'All right! the
more the old fool talks about sweethearts the further he is from
tracing the robbery to Me!' Yes! yes! the ground's cleared now,
Master Moody. I've reckoned up the servants; I've questioned Miss
Isabel; I've made my inquiries in all the other quarters that may
be useful to us--and what's the result? The advice I gave, when
you and the lawyer first came to me--I hate that fellow!--remains
as sound and good advice as ever. I have got the thief in my
mind," said Old Sharon, closing his cunning eyes and then opening
them again, "as plain as I've got you in my eye at this minute.
No more of that now," he went on, looking round sharply at the
path that led to the farmhouse. "I've something particular to say
to you--and there's barely time to say it before that nice girl
comes back. Look here! Do you happen to be acquainted with
Moody's eyes rested on Old Sharon with a searching and doubtful
"Mr. Hardyman's valet?" he repeated. "I wasn't prepared to hear
Mr. Hardyman's name."
Old Sharon looked at Moody, in his turn, with a flash of sardonic
"Oho!" he said. "Has my good boy learned his lesson? Do you see
the thief through my spectacles, already?"
"I began to see him," Moody answered, "when you gave us the
guinea opinion at your lodgings."
"Will you whisper his name?" asked Old Sharon.
"Not yet. I distrust my own judgment. I wait till time proves
that you are right."
Old Sharon knitted his shaggy brows and shook his head. "If you
had only a little more dash and go in you," he said, "you would
be a clever fellow. As it is--!" He finished the sentence by
snapping his fingers with a grin of contempt. "Let's get to
business. Are you going back by the next train along with me? or
are you going to stop with the young lady?"
"I will follow you by a later train," Moody answered.
"Then I must give you my instructions at once," Sharon continued.
"You get better acquainted with Hardyman's valet. Lend him money
if he wants it--stick at nothing to make a bosom friend of him. I
can't do that part of it; my appearance would be against me.
_You_ are the man--you are respectable from the top of your hat
to the tips of your boots; nobody would suspect You. Don't make
objections! Can you fix the valet? Or can't you?"
"I can try," said Moody. "And what then?"
Old Sharon put his gross lips disagreeably close to Moody's ear.
"Your friend the valet can tell you who his master's bankers
are," he said; "and he can supply you with a specimen of his
Moody drew back, as suddenly as if his vagabond companion had put
a knife to his throat. "You old villain!" he said. "Are you
tempting me to forgery?"
"You infernal fool!" retorted Old Sharon. "_Will_ you hold that
long tongue of yours, and hear what I have to say. You go to
Hardyman's bankers, with a note in Hardyman's handwriting
(exactly imitated by me) to this effect:--'Mr. H. presents his
compliments to Messrs. So-and-So, and is not quite certain
whether a payment of five hundred pounds has been made within the
last week to his account. He will be much obliged if Messrs.
So-and-So will inform him by a line in reply, whether there is
such an entry to his credit in their books, and by whom the
payment has been made.' You wait for the bankers' answer, and
bring it to me. It's just possible that the name you're afraid to
whisper may appear in the letter. If it does, we've caught our
man. Is _that_ forgery, Mr. Muddlehead Moody? I'll tell you
what--if I had lived to be your age, and knew no more of the
world than you do, I'd go and hang myself. Steady! here's our
charming friend with the milk. Remember your instructions, and
don't lose heart if my notion of the payment to the bankers comes
to nothing. I know what to do next, in that case--and, what's
more, I'll take all the risk and trouble on my own shoulders. Oh,
Lord! I'm afraid I shall be obliged to drink the milk, now it's
With this apprehension in his mind, he advanced to relieve Isabel
of the jug that she carried.
"Here's a treat!" he burst out, with an affectation of joy, which
was completely belied by the expression of his dirty face.
"Here's a kind and dear young lady, to help an old man to a drink
with her own pretty hands." He paused, and looked at the milk
very much as he might have looked at a dose of physic. "Will
anyone take a drink first?" he asked, offering the jug piteously
to Isabel and Moody. "You see, I'm not wed to genuine milk; I'm
used to chalk and water. I don't know what effect the
unadulterated cow might have on my poor old inside." He tasted
the milk with the greatest caution. "Upon my soul, this is too
rich for me! The unadulterated cow is a deal too strong to be
drunk alone. If you'll allow me I'll qualify it with a drop of
gin. Here, Puggy, Puggy!" He set the milk down before the dog;
and, taking a flask out of his pocket, emptied it at a draught.
"That's something like!" he said, smacking his lips with an air
of infinite relief. "So sorry, Miss, to have given you all your
trouble for nothing; it's my ignorance that's to blame, not me. I
couldn't know I was unworthy of genuine milk till I tried--could
l? And do you know," he proceeded, with his eyes directed slyly
on the way back to the station, "I begin to think I'm not worthy
of the fresh air, either. A kind of longing seems to come over me
for the London stink. I'm home-sick already for the soot of my
happy childhood and my own dear native mud. The air here is too
thin for me, and the sky's too clean; and--oh, Lord!--when you're
wed to the roar of the traffic--the 'busses and the cabs and what
not--the silence in these parts is downright awful. I'll wish you
good evening, miss; and get back to London."
Isabel turned to Moody with disappointment plainly expressed in
her face and manner.
"Is that all he has to say?" she asked. "You told me he could
help us. You led me to suppose he could find the guilty person."
Sharon heard her. "I could name the guilty person," he answered,
"as easily, miss, as I could name you."
"Why don't you do it then?" Isabel inquired, not very patiently
"Because the time's not ripe for it yet, miss--that's one reason.
Because, if I mentioned the thief's name, as things are now, you,
Miss Isabel, would think me mad; and you would tell Mr. Moody I
had cheated him out of his money--that's another reason. The
matter's in train, if you will only wait a little longer."
"So you say," Isabel rejoined. "If you really could name the
thief, I believe you would do it now."