Part 14 out of 15
him by sending him a notice to quit. Every thing had been
prepared, every thing had been sacrificed, to the fulfillment of
one purpose--and how to attain that purpose was still the same
impenetrable mystery to him which it had been from the first!
What was the other alternative? To accept the proposal which
Julius had made. In other words, to give up his vengeance on
Anne, and to turn his back on the splendid future which Mrs.
Glenarm's devotion still offered to him.
Never! He would go back to the books. He was not at the end of
them. The slightest hint in the pages which were still to be read
might set his sluggish brain working in the right direction. The
way to be rid of her, without exciting the suspicion of any
living creature, in the house or out of it, was a way that might
be found yet.
Could a man, in his position of life, reason in this brutal
manner? could he act in this merciless way? Surely the thought of
what he was about to do must have troubled him this time!
Pause for a moment--and look back at him in the past.
Did he feel any remorse when he was plotting the betrayal of
Arnold in the garden at Windygates? The sense which feels remorse
had not been put into him. What he is now is the legitimate
consequence of what he was then. A far more serious temptation is
now urging him to commit a far more serious crime. How is he to
resist? Will his skill in rowing (as Sir Patrick once put it),
his swiftness in running, his admirable capacity and endurance in
other physical exercises, help him to win a purely moral victory
over his own selfishness and his own cruelty? No! The moral and
mental neglect of himself, which the material tone of public
feeling about him has tacitly encouraged, has left him at the
mercy of the worst instincts in his nature--of all that is most
vile and of all that is most dangerous in the composition of the
natural man. With the mass of his fellows, no harm out of the
common has come of this, because no temptation out of the common
has passed their way. But with _him,_ the case is reversed. A
temptation out of the common has passed _his_ way. How does it
find him prepared to meet it? It finds him, literally and
exactly, what his training has left him, in the presence of any
temptation small or great--a defenseless man.
Geoffrey returned to the cottage. The servant stopped him in the
passage, to ask at what time he wished to dine. Instead of
answering, he inquired angrily for Mrs. Dethridge. Mrs. Dethridge
not come back.
It was now late in the afternoon, and she had been out since the
early morning. This had never happened before. Vague suspicions
of her, one more monstrous than another, began to rise in
Geoffrey's mind. Between the drink and the fever, he had been (as
Julius had told him) wandering in his mind during a part of the
night. Had he let any thing out in that condition? Had Hester
heard it? And was it, by any chance, at the bottom of her long
absence and her notice to quit? He determined--without letting
her see that he suspected her--to clear up that doubt as soon as
his landlady returned to the house.
The evening came. It was past nine o'clock before there was a
ring at the bell. The servant came to ask for the key. Geoffrey
rose to go to the gate himself--and changed his mind before he
left the room. _Her_ suspicions might be roused (supposing it to
be Hester who was waiting for admission) if he opened the gate to
her when the servant was there to do it. He gave the girl the
key, and kept out of sight.
* * * * * *
"Dead tired!"--the servant said to herself, seeing her mistress
by the light of the lamp over the gate.
"Dead tired!"--Geoffrey said to himself, observing Hester
suspiciously as she passed him in the passage on her way up
stairs to take off her bonnet in her own room.
"Dead tired!"--Anne said to herself, meeting Hester on the upper
floor, and receiving from her a letter in Blanche's handwriting,
delivered to the mistress of the cottage by the postman, who had
met her at her own gate.
Having given the letter to Anne, Hester Dethridge withdrew to her
Geoffrey closed the door of the drawing-room, in which the
candles were burning, and went into the dining-room, in which
there was no light. Leaving the door ajar, he waited to intercept
his landlady on her way back to her supper in the kitchen.
Hester wearily secured her door, wearily lit the candles, wearily
put the pen and ink on the table. For some minutes after this she
was compelled to sit down, and rally her strength and fetch her
breath. After a little she was able to remove her upper clothing.
This done she took the manuscript inscribed, "My Confession," out
of the secret pocket of her stays--turned to the last leaf as
before--and wrote another entry, under the entry made on the
"This morning I gave him notice to quit, and offered him his
money back if he wanted it. He refuses to go. He shall go
to-morrow, or I will burn the place over his head. All through
to-day I have avoided him by keeping out of the house. No rest to
ease my mind, and no sleep to close my eyes. I humbly bear my
cross as long as my strength will let me."
At those words the pen dropped from her fingers. Her head nodded
on her breast. She roused herself with a start. Sleep was the
enemy she dreaded: sleep brought dreams.
She unfastened the window-shutters and looked out at the night.
The peaceful moonlight was shining over the garden. The clear
depths of the night sky were soothing and beautiful to look at.
What! Fading already? clouds? darkness? No! Nearly asleep once
more. She roused herself again, with a start. There was the
moonlight, and there was the garden as bright under it as ever.
Dreams or no dreams, it was useless to fight longer against the
weariness that overpowered her. She closed the shutters, and went
back to the bed; and put her Confession in its customary place at
night, under her pillow.
She looked round the room--and shuddered. Every corner of it was
filled with the terrible memories of the past night. She might
wake from the torture of the dreams to find the terror of the
Apparition watching at her bedside. Was there no remedy? no
blessed safeguard under which she might tranquilly resign herself
to sleep? A thought crossed her mind. The good book--the Bible.
If she slept with the Bible under her pillow, there was hope in
the good book--the hope of sleeping in peace.
It was not worth while to put on the gown and the stays which she
had taken off. Her shawl would cover her. It was equally needless
to take the candle. The lower shutters would not be closed at
that hour; and if they were, she could lay her hand on the Bible,
in its place on the parlor book-shelf, in the dark.
She removed the Confession from under the pillow. Not even for a
minute could she prevail on herself to leave it in one room while
she was away from it in another. With the manuscript folded up,
and hidden in her hand, she slowly descended the stairs again.
Her knees trembled under her. She was obliged to hold by the
banister, with the hand that was free.
Geoffrey observed her from the dining-room, on her way down the
stairs. He waited to see what she did, before he showed himself,
and spoke to her. Instead of going on into the kitchen, she
stopped short, and entered the parlor. Another suspicious
circumstance! What did she want in the parlor, without a candle,
at that time of night?
She went to the book-case--her dark figure plainly visible in the
moonlight that flooded the little room. She staggered and put her
hand to her head; giddy, to all appearance, from extreme fatigue.
She recovered herself, and took a book from the shelf. She leaned
against the wall after she had possessed herself of the book. Too
weary, as it seemed, to get up stairs again without a little
rest. Her arm-chair was near her. Better rest, for a moment or
two, to be had in that than could be got by leaning against the
wall. She sat down heavily in the chair, with the book on her
lap. One of her arms hung over the arm of the chair, with the
hand closed, apparently holding something.
Her head nodded on her breast--recovered itself--and sank gently
on the cushion at the back of the chair. Asleep? Fast asleep.
In less than a minute the muscles of the closed hand that hung
over the arm of the chair slowly relaxed. Something white slipped
out of her hand, and lay in the moonlight on the floor.
Geoffrey took off his heavy shoes, and entered the room
noiselessly in his stockings. He picked up the white thing on the
floor. It proved to be a collection of several sheets of thin
paper, neatly folded together, and closely covered with writing.
Writing? As long as she was awake she had kept it hidden in her
hand. Why hide it?
Had he let out any thing to compromise himself when he was
light-headed with the fever the night before? and had she taken
it down in writing to produce against him? Possessed by guilty
distrust, even that monstrous doubt assumed a look of probability
to Geoffrey's mind. He left the parlor as noiselessly as he had
entered it, and made for the candle-light in the drawing-room,
determined to examine the manuscript in his hand.
After carefully smoothing out the folded leaves on the table, he
turned to the first page, and read these lines.
CHAPTER THE FIFTY-FOURTH.
"MY Confession: To be put into my coffin; and to be buried with
me when I die.
"This is the history of what I did in the time of my married
life. Here--known to no other mortal creature, confessed to my
Creator alone--is the truth.
"At the great day of the Resurrection, we shall all rise again in
our bodies as we have lived. When I am called before the Judgment
Seat I shall have this in my hand.
"Oh, just and merciful Judge, Thou knowest what I have suffered.
My trust is in Thee.
"I am the eldest of a large family, born of pious parents. We
belonged to the congregation of the Primitive Methodists.
"My sisters were all married before me. I remained for some years
the only one at home. At the latter part of the time my mother's
health failed; and I managed the house in her place. Our
spiritual pastor, good Mr. Bapchild, used often to dine with us,
on Sundays, between the services. He approved of my management of
the house, and, in particular, of my cooking. This was not
pleasant to my mother, who felt a jealousy of my being, as it
were, set over her in her place. My unhappiness at home began in
this way. My mother's temper got worse as her health got worse.
My father was much away from us, traveling for his business. I
had to bear it all. About this time I began to think it would be
well for me if I could marry as my sisters had done; and have
good Mr. Bapchild to dinner, between the services, in a house of
"In this frame of mind I made acquaintance with a young man who
attended service at our chapel.
"His name was Joel Dethridge. He had a beautiful voice. When we
sang hymns, he sang off the same book with me. By trade he was a
paper-hanger. We had much serious talk together. I walked with
him on Sundays. He was a good ten years younger than I was; and,
being only a journeyman, his worldly station was below mine. My
mother found out the liking that had grown up between us. She
told my father the next time he was at home. Also my married
sisters and my brothers. They all joined together to stop things
from going further between me and Joel Dethridge. I had a hard
time of it. Mr. Bapchild expressed himself as feeling much
grieved at the turn things were taking. He introduced me into a
sermon--not by name, but I knew who it was meant for. Perhaps I
might have given way if they had not done one thing. They made
inquiries of my young man's enemies, and brought wicked stories
of him to me behind his back. This, after we had sung off the
same hymn-book, and walked together, and agreed one with the
other on religious subjects, was too much to bear. I was of age
to judge for myself. And I married Joel Dethridge.
"My relations all turned their backs on me. Not one of them was
present at my marriage; my brother Reuben, in particular, who led
the rest, saying that they had done with me from that time forth.
Mr. Bapchild was much moved; shed tears, and said he would pray
"I was married in London by a pastor who was a stranger; and we
settled in London with fair prospects. I had a little fortune of
my own--my share of some money left to us girls by our aunt
Hester, whom I was named after. It was three hundred pounds.
Nearly one hundred of this I spent in buying furniture to fit up
the little house we took to live in. The rest I gave to my
husband to put into the bank against the time when he wanted it
to set up in business for himself.
"For three months, more or less, we got on nicely--except in one
particular. My husband never stirred in the matter of starting in
business for himself.
"He was once or twice cross with me when I said it seemed a pity
to be spending the money in the bank (which might be afterward
wanted) instead of earning more in business. Good Mr. Bapchild,
happening about this time to be in London, staid over Sunday, and
came to dine with us between the services. He had tried to make
my peace with my relations--but he had not succeeded. At my
request he spoke to my husband about the necessity of exerting
himself. My husband took it ill. I then saw him seriously out of
temper for the first time. Good Mr. Bapchild said no more. He
appeared to be alarmed at what had happened, and he took his
"Shortly afterward my husband went out. I got tea ready for
him--but he never came back. I got supper ready for him--but he
never came back. It was past twelve at night before I saw him
again. I was very much startled by the state he came home in. He
didn't speak like himself, or look like himself: he didn't seem
to know me--wandered in his mind, and fell all in a lump like on
our bed. I ran out and fetched the doctor to him.
"The doctor pulled him up to the light, and looked at him;
smelled his breath, and dropped him down again on the bed; turned
about, and stared at me. 'What's the matter, Sir?' I says. 'Do
you mean to tell me you don't know?' says the doctor. 'No, Sir,'
says I. 'Why what sort of a woman are you,' says he, 'not to know
a drunken man when you see him!' With that he went away, and left
me standing by the bedside, all in a tremble from head to foot.
"This was how I first found out that I was the wife
of a drunken man.
"I have omitted to say any thing about my husband's family.
"While we were keeping company together he told me he was an
orphan--with an uncle and aunt in Canada, and an only brother
settled in Scotland. Before we were married he gave me a letter
from this brother. It was to say that he was sorry he was not
able to come to England, and be present at my marriage, and to
wish me joy and the rest of it. Good Mr. Bapchild (to whom, in my
distress, I wrote word privately of what had happened) wrote back
in return, telling me to wait a little, and see whether my
husband did it again.
"I had not long to wait. He was in liquor again the next day, and
the next. Hearing this, Mr. Bapchild instructed me to send him
the letter from my husband's brother. He reminded me of some of
the stories about my husband which I had refused to believe in
the time before I was married; and he said it might be well to
"The end of the inquiries was this. The brother, at that very
time, was placed privately (by his own request) under a doctor's
care to get broken of habits of drinking. The craving for strong
liquor (the doctor wrote) was in the family. They would be sober
sometimes for months together, drinking nothing stronger than
tea. Then the fit would seize them; and they would drink, drink,
drink, for days together, like the mad and miserable wretches
that they were.
"This was the husband I was married to. And I had offended all my
relations, and estranged them from me, for his sake. Here was
surely a sad prospect for a woman after only a few months of
"In a year's time the money in the bank was gone; and my husband
was out of employment. He always got work--being a first-rate
hand when he was sober--and always lost it again when the
drinking-fit seized him. I was loth to leave our nice little
house, and part with my pretty furniture; and I proposed to him
to let me try for employment, by the day, as cook, and so keep
things going while he was looking out again for work. He was
sober and penitent at the time; and he agreed to what I proposed.
And, more than that, he took the Total Abstinence Pledge, and
promised to turn over a new leaf. Matters, as I thought, began to
look fairly again. We had nobody but our two selves to think of.
I had borne no child, and had no prospect of bearing one. Unlike
most women, I thought this a mercy instead of a misfortune. In my
situation (as I soon grew to know) my becoming a mother would
only have proved to be an aggravation of my hard lot.
"The sort of employment I wanted was not to be got in a day. Good
Mr. Bapchild gave me a character; and our landlord, a worthy man
(belonging, I am sorry to say, to the Popish Church), spoke for
me to the steward of a club. Still, it took time to persuade
people that I was the thorough good cook I claimed to be. Nigh on
a fortnight had passed before I got the chance I had been looking
out for. I went home in good spirits (for me) to report what had
happened, and found the brokers in the house carrying off the
furniture which I had bought with my own money for sale by
auction. I asked them how they dared touch it without my leave.
They answered, civilly enough I must own, that they were acting
under my husband's orders; and they went on removing it before my
own eyes, to the cart outside. I ran up stairs, and found my
husband on the landing. He was in liquor again. It is useless to
say what passed between us. I shall only mention that this was
the first occasion on which he lifted his fist, and struck me.
"Having a spirit of my own, I was resolved not to endure it. I
ran out to the Police Court, hard by.
"My money had not only bought the furniture--it had kept the
house going as well; paying the taxes which the Queen and the
Parliament asked for among other things. I now went to the
magistrate to see what the Queen and the Parliament, in return
for the taxes, would do for _me._
" 'Is your furniture settled on yourself?' he says, when I told
him what had happened.
"I didn't understand what he meant. He turned to some person who
was sitting on the bench with him. 'This is a hard case,' he
says. 'Poor people in this condition of life don't even know what
a marriage settlement means. And, if they did, how many of them
could afford to pay the lawyer's charges?' Upon that he turned to
me. 'Yours is a common case,' he said. 'In the present state of
the law I can do nothing for you.'
"It was impossible to believe that. Common or not, I put my case
to him over again.
" 'I have bought the furniture with my own money, Sir,' I says.
'It's mine, honestly come by, with bill and receipt to prove it.
They are taking it away from me by force, to sell it against my
will. Don't tell me that's the law. This is a Christian country.
It can't be.'
" 'My good creature,' says he, 'you are a married woman. The law
doesn't allow a married woman to call any thing her own--unless
she has previously (with a lawyer's help) made a bargain to that
effect with her husband before marrying him. You have made no
bargain. Your husband has a right to sell your furniture if he
likes. I am sorry for you; I can't hinder him.'
"I was obstinate about it. 'Please to answer me this, Sir,' I
says. 'I've been told by wiser heads than mine that we all pay
our taxes to keep the Queen and the Parliament going; and that
the Queen and the Parliament make laws to protect us in return. I
have paid my taxes. Why, if you please, is there no law to
protect me in return?'
" 'I can't enter into that,' says he. 'I must take the law as I
find it; and so must you. I see a mark there on the side of your
face. Has your husband been beating you? If he has, summon him
here I can punish him for _that._'
" 'How can you punish him, Sir?' says I.
" 'I can fine him,' says he. 'Or I can send him to prison.'
" 'As to the fine,' says I, 'he can pay that out of the money he
gets by selling my furniture. As to the prison, while he's in it,
what's to become of me, with my money spent by him, and my
possessions gone; and when he's _out_ of it, what's to become of
me again, with a husband whom I have been the means of punishing,
and who comes home to his wife knowing it? It's bad enough as it
is, Sir,' says I. 'There's more that's bruised in me than what
shows in my face. I wish you good-morning.'
"When I got back the furniture was gone, and my husband was gone.
There was nobody but the landlord in the empty house. He said all
that could be said--kindly enough toward me, so far as I was
concerned. When he was gone I locked my trunk, and got away in a
cab after dark, and found a lodging to lay my head in. If ever
there was a lonely, broken-hearted creature in the world, I was
that creature that night.
"There was but one chance of earning my bread--to go to the
employment offered me (under a man cook, at a club). And there
was but one hope--the hope that I had lost sight of my husband
"I went to my work--and prospered in it--and earned my first
quarter's wages. But it's not good for a woman to be situated as
I was; friendless and alone, with her things that she took a
pride in sold away from her, and with nothing to look forward to
in her life to come. I was regular in my attendance at chapel;
but I think my heart began to get hardened, and my mind to be
overcast in secret with its own thoughts about this time. There
was a change coming. Two or three days after I had earned the
wages just mentioned my husband found me out. The furniture-money
was all spent. He made a disturbance at the club, I was only able
to quiet him by giving him all the money I could spare from my
own necessities. The scandal was brought before the committee.
They said, if the circumstance occurred again, they should be
obliged to part with me. In a fortnight the circumstance occurred
again. It's useless to dwell on it. They all said they were sorry
for me. I lost the place. My husband went back with me to my
lodgings. The next morning I caught him taking my purse, with the
few shillings I had in it, out of my trunk, which he had broken
open. We quarreled. And he struck me again--this time knocking me
went once more to the police court, and told my story--to
another magistrate this time. My only petition was to have my
husband kept away from me. 'I don't want to be a burden on
others' (I says) 'I don't want to do any thing but what's right.
I don't even complain of having been very cruelly used. All I ask
is to be let to earn an honest living. Will the law protect me in
the effort to do that?'
"The answer, in substance, was that the law might protect me,
provided I had money to spend in asking some higher court to
grant me a separation. After allowing my husband to rob me openly
of the only property I possessed--namely, my furniture--the law
turned round on me when I called upon it in my distress, and held
out its hand to be paid. I had just three and sixpence left in
the world--and the prospect, if I earned more, of my husband
coming (with permission of the law) and taking it away from me.
There was only one chance--namely, to get time to turn round in,
and to escape him again. I got a month's freedom from him, by
charging him with knocking me down. The magistrate (happening to
be young, and new to his business) sent him to prison, instead of
fining him. This gave me time to get a character from the club,
as well as a special testimonial from good Mr. Bapchild. With the
help of these, I obtained a place in a private family--a place in
the country, this time.
"I found myself now in a haven of peace. I was among worthy
kind-hearted people, who felt for my distresses, and treated me
most indulgently. Indeed, through all my troubles, I must say I
have found one thing hold good. In my experience, I have observed
that people are oftener quick than not to feel a human compassion
for others in distress. Also, that they mostly see plain enough
what's hard and cruel and unfair on them in the governing of the
country which they help to keep going. But once ask them to get
on from sitting down and grumbling about it, to rising up and
setting it right, and what do you find them? As helpless as a
flock of sheep--that's what you find them.
"More than six months passed, and I saved a little money again.
"One night, just as we were going to bed, there was a loud ring
at the bell. The footman answered the door--and I heard my
husband's voice in the hall. He had traced me, with the help of a
man he knew in the police; and he had come to claim his rights. I
offered him all the little money I had, to let me be. My good
master spoke to him. It was all useless. He was obstinate and
savage. If--instead of my running off from him--it had been all
the other way and he had run off from me, something might have
been done (as I understood) to protect me. But he stuck to his
wife. As long as I could make a farthing, he stuck to his wife.
Being married to him, I had no right to have left him; I was
bound to go with my husband; there was no escape for me. I bade
them good-by. And I have never forgotten their kindness to me
from that day to this.
"My husband took me back to London.
"As long as the money lasted, the drinking went on. When it was
gone, I was beaten again. Where was the remedy? There was no
remedy, but to try and escape him once more. Why didn't I have
him locked up? What was the good of having him locked up? In a
few weeks he would be out of prison; sober and penitent, and
promising amendment--and then when the fit took him, there he
would be, the same furious savage that be had been often and
often before. My heart got hard under the hopelessness of it; and
dark thoughts beset me, mostly at night. About this time I began
to say to myself, 'There's no deliverance from this, but in
death--his death or mine.'
"Once or twice I went down to the bridges after dark and looked
over at the river. No. I wasn't the sort of woman who ends her
own wretchedness in that way. Your blood must be in a fever, and
your head in a flame--at least I fancy so--you must be hurried
into it, like, to go and make away with yourself. My troubles
never took that effect on me. I always turned cold under them
instead of hot. Bad for me, I dare say; but what you are--you
are. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?
"I got away from him once more, and found good employment once
more. It don't matter how, and it don't matter where. My story is
always the same thing, over and over again. Best get to the end.
"There was one change, however, this time. My employment was not
in a private family. I was also allowed to teach cookery to young
women, in my leisure hours. What with this, and what with a
longer time passing on the present occasion before my husband
found me out, I was as comfortably off as in my position I could
hope to be. When my work was done, I went away at night to sleep
in a lodging of my own. It was only a bedroom; and I furnished it
myself--partly for the sake of economy (the rent being not half
as much as for a furnished room); and partly for the sake of
cleanliness. Through all my troubles I always liked things neat
about me--neat and shapely and good.
"Well, it's needless to say how it ended. He found me out
again--this time by a chance meeting with me in the street.
"He was in rags, and half starved. But that didn't matter now.
All he had to do was to put his hand into my pocket and take what
he wanted. There is no limit, in England, to what a bad husband
may do--as long as he sticks to his wife. On the present
occasion, he was cunning enough to see that he would be the loser
if he disturbed me in my employment. For a while things went on
as smoothly as they could. I made a pretense that the work was
harder than usual; and I got leave (loathing the sight of him, I
honestly own) to sleep at the place where I was employed. This
was not for long. The fit took him again, in due course; and he
came and made a disturbance. As before, this was not to be borne
by decent people. As before, they were sorry to part with me. As
before, I lost my place.
"Another woman would have gone mad under it. I fancy it just
missed, by a hair's breadth, maddening Me.
"When I looked at him that night, deep in his drunken sleep, I
thought of Jael and Sisera (see the book of Judges; chapter 4th;
verses 17 to 21). It says, she 'took a nail of the tent, and took
a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the
nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he
was fast asleep and weary. So he died.' She did this deed to
deliver her nation from Sisera. If there had been a hammer and a
nail in the room that night, I think I should have been
Jael--with this difference, that I should have done it to deliver
"With the morning this passed off, for the time. I went and spoke
to a lawyer.
"Most people, in my place, would have had enough of the law
already. But I was one of the sort who drain the cup to the
dregs. What I said to him was, in substance, this. 'I come to ask
your advice about a madman. Mad people, as I understand it, are
people who have lost control over their own minds. Sometimes this
leads them to entertaining delusions; and sometimes it leads them
to committing actions hurtful to others or to themselves. My
husband has lost all control over his own craving for strong
drink. He requires to be kept from liquor, as other madmen
require to be kept from attempting their own lives, or the lives
of those about them. It's a frenzy beyond his own control, with
_him_--just as it's a frenzy beyond their own control, with
_them._ There are Asylums for mad people, all over the country,
at the public disposal, on certain conditions. If I fulfill those
conditions, will the law deliver me from the misery of being
married to a madman, whose madness is drink?'--'No,' says the
lawyer. 'The law of England declines to consider an incurable
drunkard as a fit object for restraint, the law of England leaves
the husbands and wives of such people in a perfectly helpless
situation, to deal with their own misery as they best can.'
"I made my acknowledgments to the gentleman and left him. The
last chance was this chance--and this had failed me.
"The thought that had once found its way into my mind already,
now found its way back again, and never altogether left me from
that time forth. No deliverance for me but in death--his death,
"I had it before me night and day; in chapel and out of chapel
just the same. I read the story of Jael and Sisera so often that
the Bible got to open of itself at that place.
"The laws of my country, which ought to have protected me as an
honest woman, left me helpless. In place of the laws I had no
friend near to open my heart to. I was shut up in myself. And I
was married to that man. Consider me as a human creature, and
say, Was this not trying my humanity very hardly?
"I wrote to good Mr. Bapchild. Not going into particulars; only
telling him I was beset by temptation, and begging him to come
and help me. He was confined to his bed by illness; he could only
write me a letter of good advice. To profit by good advice people
must have a glimpse of happiness to look forward to as a reward
for exerting themselves. Religion itself is obliged to hold out a
reward, and to say to us poor mortals, Be good, and you shall go
to Heaven. I had no glimpse of happiness. I was thankful (in a
dull sort of way) to good Mr. Bapchild--and there it ended.
"The time had been when a word from my old pastor would have put
me in the right way again. I began to feel scared by myself. If
the next ill usage I received from Joel Dethridge found me an
unchanged woman, it was borne in strongly on my mind that I
should be as likely as not to get my deliverance from him by my
"Goaded to it, by the fear of this, I humbled myself before my
relations for the first time. I wrote to beg their pardon; to own
that they had proved to be right in their opinion of my husband;
and to entreat them to be friends with me again, so far as to let
me visit them from time to time. My notion was, that it might
soften my heart if I could see the old place, and talk the old
talk, and look again at the well-remembered faces. I am almost
ashamed to own it--but, if I had had any thing to give, I would
have parted with it all, to be allowed to go back into mother's
kitchen and cook the Sunday dinner for them once more.
"But this was not to be. Not long before my letter was received
mother had died. They laid it all at my door. She had been ailing
for years past, and the doctors had said it was hopeless from the
first--but they laid it all at my door. One of my sisters wrote
to say that much, in as few words as could possibly suffice for
saying it. My father never answered my letter at all.
"Magistrates and lawyers; relations and friends; endurance of
injuries, patience, hope, and honest work--I had tried all these,
and tried them vainly. Look round me where I might, the prospect
was closed on all sides.
"At this time my husband had got a little work to do. He came
home out of temper one night, and I gave him a warning. 'Don't
try me too far, Joel, for your own sake,' was all I said. It was
one of his sober days; and, for the first time, a word from me
seemed to have an effect on him. He looked hard at me for a
minute or so. And then he went and sat down in a corner, and held
"This was on a Tuesday in the week. On the Saturday he got paid,
and the drinking fit took him again.
"On Friday in the next week I happened to come back late--having
had a good stroke of work to do that day, in the way of cooking a
public dinner for a tavern-keeper who knew me. I found my husband
gone, and the bedroom stripped of the furniture which I had put
into it. For the second time he had robbed me of my own property,
and had turned it into money to be spent in drink.
"I didn't say a word. I stood and looked round the empty room.
What was going on in me I hardly knew myself at the time, and
can't describe now. All I remember is, that, after a little, I
turned about to leave the house. I knew the places where thy
husband was likely to be found; and the devil possessed me to go
and find him. The landlady came out into the passage and tried to
stop me. She was a bigger and a stronger woman than I was. But I
shook her off like a child. Thinking over it now, I believe she
was in no condition to put out her strength. The sight of me
"I found him. I said--well, I said what a woman beside herself
with fury would be likely to say. It's needless to tell how it
ended. He knocked me down.
"After that, there is a spot of darkness like in my memory. The
next thing I can call to mind, is coming back to my senses after
some days. Three of my teeth were knocked out--but that was not
the worst of it. My head had struck against something in falling,
and some part of me (a nerve, I think they said) was injured in
such a way as to affect my speech. I don't mean that I was
downright dumb--I only mean that, all of a sudden, it had become
a labor to me to speak. A long word was as serious an obstacle as
if I was a child again. They took me to the hospital. When the
medical gentlemen heard what it was, the medical gentlemen came
crowding round me. I appeared to lay hold of their interest, just
as a story-book lays hold of the interest of other people. The
upshot of it was, that I might end in being dumb, or I might get
my speech again--the chances were about equal. Only two things
were needful. One of them was that I should live on good
nourishing diet. The other was, that I should keep my mind easy.
"About the diet it was not possible to decide. My getting good
nourishing food and drink depended on my getting money to buy the
same. As to my mind, there was no difficulty about _that._ If my
husband came back to me, my mind was made up to kill him.
"Horrid--I am well aware this is horrid. Nobody else, in my
place, would have ended as wickedly as that. All the other women
in the world, tried as I was, would have risen superior to the
"I have said that people (excepting my husband and my relations)
were almost always good to me.
"The landlord of the house which we had taken when we were
married heard of my sad case. He gave me one of his empty houses
to look after, and a little weekly allowance for doing it. Some
of the furniture in the upper rooms, not being wanted by the last
tenant, was left to be taken at a valuation if the next tenant
needed it. Two of the servants' bedrooms (in the attics), one
next to the other, had all that was wanted in them. So I had a
roof to cover me, and a choice of beds to lie on, and money to
get me food. All well again--but all too late. If that house
could speak, what tales that house would have to tell of me!
"I had been told by the doctors to exercise my speech. Being all
alone, with nobody to speak to, except when the landlord dropped
in, or when the servant next door said, 'Nice day, ain't it?' or,
'Don't you feel lonely?' or such like, I bought the newspaper,
and read it out loud to myself to exercise my speech in that way.
One day I came upon a bit about the wives of drunken husbands. It
was a report of something said on that subject by a London
coroner, who had held inquests on dead husbands (in the lower
ranks of life), and who had his reasons for suspecting the wives.
Examination of the body (he said) didn't prove it; and witnesses
didn't prove it; but he thought it, nevertheless, quite possible,
in some cases, that, when the woman could bear it no longer, she
sometimes took a damp towel, and waited till the husband (drugged
with his own liquor) was sunk in his sleep, and then put the
towel over his nose and mouth, and ended it that way without any
body being the wiser. I laid down the newspaper; and fell into
thinking. My mind was, by this time, in a prophetic way. I said
to myself 'I haven't happened on this for nothing: this means
that I shall see my husband again.'
"It was then just after my dinner-time--two o'clock. That same
night, at the moment when I had put out my candle, and laid me
down in bed, I heard a knock at the street door. Before I had lit
my candle I says to myself, 'Here he is.'
"I huddled on a few things, and struck a light, and went down
stairs. I called out through the door, 'Who's there?' And his
voice answered, 'Let me in.'
"I sat down on a chair in the passage, and shook all over like a
with palsy. Not from the fear of him--but from my mind being in
the prophetic way. I knew I was going to be driven to it at last.
Try as I might to keep from doing it, my mind told me I was to do
it now. I sat shaking on the chair in the passage; I on one side
of the door, and he on the other.
"He knocked again, and again, and again. I knew it was useless
to try--and yet I resolved to try. I determined not to let him in
till I was forced to it. I determined to let him alarm the
neighborhood, and to see if the neighborhood would step between
us. I went up stairs and waited at the open staircase window over
"The policeman came up, and the neighbors came out. They were all
for giving him into custody. The policeman laid hands on him. He
had but one word to say; he had only to point up to me at the
window, and to tell them I was his wife. The neighbors went
indoors again. The policeman dropped hold of his arm. It was I
who was in the wrong, and not he. I was bound to let my husband
in. I went down stairs again, and let him in.
"Nothing passed between us that night. I threw open the door of
the bedroom next to mine, and went and locked myself into my own
room. He was dead beat with roaming the streets, without a penny
in his pocket, all day long. The bed to lie on was all he wanted
for that night.
"The next morning I tried again--tried to turn back on the way
that I was doomed to go; knowing beforehand that it would be of
no use. I offered him three parts of my poor weekly earnings, to
be paid to him regularly at the landlord's office, if he would
only keep away from me, and from the house. He laughed in my
face. As my husband, he could take all my earnings if he chose.
And as for leaving the house, the house offered him free quarters
to live in as long as I was employed to look after it. The
landlord couldn't part man and wife.
"I said no more. Later in the day the landlord came. He said if
we could make it out to live together peaceably he had neither
the right nor the wish to interfere. If we made any disturbances,
then he should be obliged to provide himself with some other
woman to look after the house. I had nowhere else to go, and no
other employment to undertake. If, in spite of that, I had put on
my bonnet and walked out, my husband would have walked out after
me. And all decent people would have patted him on the back, and
said, 'Quite right, good man--quite right.'
"So there he was by his own act, and with the approval of others,
in the same house with me.
"I made no remark to him or to the landlord. Nothing roused me
now. I knew what was coming; I waited for the end. There was some
change visible in me to others, as I suppose, though not
noticeable by myself, which first surprised my husband and then
daunted him. When the next night came I heard him lock the door
softly in his own room. It didn't matter to me. When the time was
ripe ten thousand locks wouldn't lock out what was to come.
"The next day, bringing my weekly payment, brought me a step
nearer on the way to the end. Getting the money, he could get the
drink. This time he began cunningly--in other words, he began his
drinking by slow degrees. The landlord (bent, honest man, on
trying to keep the peace between us) had given him some odd jobs
to do, in the way of small repairs, here and there about the
house. 'You owe this,' he says, 'to my desire to do a good turn
to your poor wife. I am helping you for her sake. Show yourself
worthy to be helped, if you can.'
"He said, as usual, that he was going to turn over a new leaf.
Too late! The time had gone by. He was doomed, and I was doomed.
It didn't matter what he said now. It didn't matter when he
locked his door again the last thing at night.
"The next day was Sunday. Nothing happened. I went to chapel.
Mere habit. It did me no good. He got on a little with the
drinking--but still cunningly, by slow degrees. I knew by
experience that this meant a long fit, and a bad one, to come.
"Monday, there were the odd jobs about the house to be begun. He
was by this time just sober enough to do his work, and just tipsy
enough to take a spiteful pleasure in persecuting his wife. He
went out and got the things he wanted, and came back and called
for me. A skilled workman like he was (he said) wanted a
journeyman under him. There were things which it was beneath a
skilled workman to do for himself. He was not going to call in a
man or a boy, and then have to pay them. He was going to get it
done for nothing, and he meant to make a journeyman of _me._ Half
tipsy and half sober, he went on talking like that, and laying
out his things, all quite right, as he wanted them. When they
were ready he straightened himself up, and he gave me his orders
what I was to do.
"I obeyed him to the best of my ability. Whatever he said, and
whatever he did, I knew he was going as straight as man could go
to his own death by my hands.
"The rats and mice were all over the house, and the place
generally was out of repair. He ought to have begun on the
kitchen-floor; but (having sentence pronounced against him) he
began in the empty parlors on the ground-floor.
"These parlors were separated by what is called a
'lath-and-plaster wall.' The rats had damaged it. At one part
they had gnawed through and spoiled the paper, at another part
they had not got so far. The landlord's orders were to spare the
paper, because he had some by him to match it. My husband began
at a place where the paper was whole. Under his directions I
mixed up--I won't say what. With the help of it he got the paper
loose from the wall, without injuring it in any way, in a long
hanging strip. Under it was the plaster and the laths, gnawed
away in places by the rats. Though strictly a paperhanger by
trade, he could be plasterer too when he liked. I saw how he cut
away the rotten laths and ripped off the plaster; and (under his
directions again) I mixed up the new plaster he wanted, and
handed him the new laths, and saw how he set them. I won't say a
word about how this was done either.
"I have a reason for keeping silence here, which is, to my mind,
a very dreadful one. In every thing that my husband made me do
that day he was showing me (blindfold) the way to kill him, so
that no living soul, in the police or out of it, could suspect me
of the deed.
"We finished the job on the wall just before dark. I went to my
cup of tea, and he went to his bottle of gin.
"I left him, drinking hard, to put our two bedrooms tidy for the
night. The place that his bed happened to be set in (which I had
never remarked particularly before) seemed, in a manner of
speaking, to force itself on my notice now.
"The head of the bedstead was set against the wall which divided
his room from mine. From looking at the bedstead I got to looking
at the wall next. Then to wondering what it was made of. Then to
rapping against it with my knuckles. The sound told me there was
nothing but lath and plaster under the paper. It was the same as
the wall we had been at work on down stairs. We had cleared our
way so far through this last--in certain places where the repairs
were most needed--that we had to be careful not to burst through
the paper in the room on the other side. I found myself calling
to mind the caution my husband had given me while we were at this
part of the work, word for word as he had spoken it. _'Take care
you don't find your hands in the next room.'_ That was what he
had said down in the parlor. Up in his bedroom I kept on
repeating it in my own mind--with my eyes all the while on the
key, which he had moved to the inner side of the door to lock
himself in--till the knowledge of what it meant burst on me like
a flash of light. I looked at the wall, at the bedhead, at my own
two hands--and I shivered as if it was winter time.
"Hours must have passed like minutes while I was up stairs that
night. I lost all count of time. When my husband came up from his
drinking, he found me in his room.
"I leave the rest untold, and pass on purposely to the next
"No mortal eyes but mine will ever see these lines. Still, there
are things a woman can't write of even to herself. I shal l only
say this. I suffered the last and worst of many indignities at my
husband's hands--at the very time when I first saw, set plainly
before me, the way to take his life. He went out toward noon next
day, to go his rounds among the public houses; my mind being then
strung up to deliver myself from him, for good and all, when he
came back at night.
"The things we had used on the previous day were left in the
parlor. I was all by myself in the house, free to put in practice
the lesson he had taught me. I proved myself an apt scholar.
Before the lamps were lit in the street I had my own way prepared
(in my bedroom and in his) for laying my own hands on him--after
he had locked himself up for the night.
"I don't remember feeling either fear or doubt through all those
hours. I sat down to my bit of supper with no better and no worse
an appetite than usual. The only change in me that I can call to
mind was that I felt a singular longing to have somebody with me
to keep me company. Having no friend to ask in, I went to the
street door and stood looking at the people passing this way and
"A stray dog, sniffing about, came up to me. Generally I dislike
dogs and beasts of all kinds. I called this one in and gave him
his supper. He had been taught (I suppose) to sit up on his
hind-legs and beg for food; at any rate, that was his way of
asking me for more. I laughed--it seems impossible when I look
back at it now, but for all that it's true--I laughed till the
tears ran down my cheeks, at the little beast on his haunches,
with his ears pricked up and his head on one side and his mouth
watering for the victuals. I wonder whether I was in my right
senses? I don't know.
"When the dog had got all he could get he whined to be let out to
roam the streets again.
"As I opened the door to let the creature go his ways, I saw my
husband crossing the road to come in. 'Keep out' (I says to him);
'to-night, of all nights, keep out.' He was too drunk to heed me;
he passed by, and blundered his way up stairs. I followed and
listened. I heard him open his door, and bang it to, and lock it.
I waited a bit, and went up another stair or two. I heard him
drop down on to his bed. In a minute more he was fast asleep and
"It had all happened as it was wanted to happen. In two
minutes--without doing one single thing to bring suspicion on
myself--I could have smothered him. I went into my own room. I
took up the towel that I had laid ready. I was within an inch of
it--when there came a rush of something up into my head. I can't
say what it was. I can only say the horrors laid hold of me and
hunted me then and there out of the house.
"I put on my bonnet, and slipped the key of the street door into
my pocket. It was only half past nine--or maybe a quarter to ten.
If I had any one clear notion in my head, it was the notion of
running away, and never allowing myself to set eyes on the house
or the husband more.
"I went up the street--and came back. I went down the street--and
came back. I tried it a third time, and went round and round and
round--and came back. It was not to be done The house held me
chained to it like a dog to his kennel. I couldn't keep away from
it. For the life of me, I couldn't keep away from it.
"A company of gay young men and women passed me, just as I was
going to let myself in again. They were in a great hurry. 'Step
out,' says one of the men; 'the theatre's close by, and we shall
be just in time for the farce.' I turned about and followed them.
Having been piously brought up, I had never been inside a theatre
in my life. It struck me that I might get taken, as it were, out
of myself, if I saw something that was quite strange to me, and
heard something which would put new thoughts into my mind.
"They went in to the pit; and I went in after them.
"The thing they called the farce had begun. Men and women came on
to the stage, turn and turn about, and talked, and went off
again. Before long all the people about me in the pit were
laughing and clapping their hands. The noise they made angered
me. I don't know how to describe the state I was in. My eyes
wouldn't serve me, and my ears wouldn't serve me, to see and to
hear what the rest of them were seeing and hearing. There must
have been something, I fancy, in my mind that got itself between
me and what was going on upon the stage. The play looked fair
enough on the surface; but there was danger and death at the
bottom of it. The players were talking and laughing to deceive
the people--with murder in their minds all the time. And nobody
knew it but me--and my tongue was tied when I tried to tell the
others. I got up, and ran out. The moment I was in the street my
steps turned back of themselves on the way to the house. I called
a cab, and told the man to drive (as far as a shilling would take
me) the opposite way. He put me down--I don't know where. Across
the street I saw an inscription in letters of flame over an open
door. The man said it was a dancing-place. Dancing was as new to
me as play-going. I had one more shilling left; and I paid to go
in, and see what a sight of the dancing would do for me. The
light from the ceiling poured down in this place as if it was all
on fire. The crashing of the music was dreadful. The whirling
round and round of men and women in each other's arms was quite
maddening to see. I don't know what happened to me here. The
great blaze of light from the ceiling turned blood-red on a
sudden. The man standing in front of the musicians waving a stick
took the likeness of Satan, as seen in the picture in our family
Bible at home. The whirling men and women went round and round,
with white faces like the faces of the dead, and bodies robed in
winding-sheets. I screamed out with the terror of it; and some
person took me by the arm and put me outside the door. The
darkness did me good: it was comforting and delicious--like a
cool hand laid on a hot head. I went walking on through it,
without knowing where; composing my mind with the belief that I
had lost my way, and that I should find myself miles distant from
home when morning dawned. After some time I got too weary to go
on; and I sat me down to rest on a door-step. I dozed a bit, and
woke up. When I got on my feet to go on again, I happened to turn
my head toward the door of the house. The number on it was the
same number an as ours. I looked again. And behold, it was our
steps I had been resting on. The door was our door.
"All my doubts and all my struggles dropped out of my mind when I
made that discovery. There was no mistaking what this perpetual
coming back to the house meant. Resist it as I might, it was to
"I opened the street door and went up stairs, and heard him
sleeping his heavy sleep, exactly as I had heard him when I went
out. I sat down on my bed and took off my bonnet, quite quiet in
myself, because I knew it was to be. I damped the towel, and put
it ready, and took a turn in the room.
"It was just the dawn of day. The sparrows were chirping among
the trees in the square hard by.
"I drew up my blind; the faint light spoke to me as if in words,
'Do it now, before I get brighter, and show too much.'
"I listened. The friendly silence had a word for me too: 'Do it
now, and trust the secret to Me.'
"I waited till the church clock chimed before striking the hour.
At the first stroke--without touching the lock of his door,
without setting foot in his room--I had the towel over his face.
Before the last stroke he had ceased struggling. When the hum of
the bell through the morning silence was still and dead, _he_ was
still and dead with it.
"The rest of this history is counted in my mind by four
days--Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. After that it all
fades off like, and the new years come with a strange look, being
the years of a new life.
"What about the old life first? What did I feel, in the horrid
quiet of the morning, when I had done it?
"I don't know what I felt. I can't remember it, or I can't tell
it, I don't know which. I can write the history of the four days,
and that's all.
"Wednesday.--I gave the alarm toward noon. Hours before, I had
put things straight and fit to be seen. I had only to call for
help, and to leave the people to do as they pleased. The
neighbors came in, and then the police. They knocked, uselessly,
at his door. Then they broke it open, and found him dead in his
"Not the ghost of a suspicion of me entered the mind of any one.
There was no fear of human justice finding me out: my one
unutterable dread was dread of an Avenging Providence.
I had a short sleep that night, and a dream, in which I did the
deed over again. For a time my mind was busy with thoughts of
confessing to the police, and of giving myself up. If I had not
belonged to a respectable family, I should have done it. From
generation to generation there had been no stain on our good
name. It would be death to my father, and disgrace to all my
family, if I owned what I had done, and suffered for it on the
public scaffold. I prayed to be guided; and I had a revelation,
toward morning, of what to do.
"I was commanded, in a vision, to open the Bible, and vow on it
to set my guilty self apart among my innocent fellow-creatures
from that day forth; to live among them a separate and silent
life, to dedicate the use of my speech to the language of prayer
only, offered up in the solitude of my own chamber when no human
ear could hear me. Alone, in the morning, I saw the vision, and
vowed the vow. No human ear _has_ heard me from that time. No
human ear _will_ hear me, to the day of my death.
"Thursday.--The people came to speak to me, as usual. They found
"What had happened to me in the past, when my head had been hurt,
and my speech affected by it, gave a likelier look to my dumbness
than it might have borne in the case of another person. They took
me back again to the hospital. The doctors were divided in
opinion. Some said the shock of what had taken place in the
house, coming on the back of the other shock, might, for all they
knew, have done the mischief. And others said, 'She got her
speech again after the accident; there has been no new injury
since that time; the woman is shamming dumb, for some purpose of
her own.' I let them dispute it as they liked. All human talk was
nothing now to me. I had set myself apart among my
fellow-creatures; I had begun my separate and silent life.
"Through all this time the sense of a coming punishment hanging
over me never left my mind. I had nothing to dread from human
justice. The judgment of an Avenging Providence--there was what I
was waiting for.
"Friday--They held the inquest. He had been known for years past
as an inveterate drunkard, he had been seen overnight going home
in liquor; he had been found locked up in his room, with the key
inside the door, and the latch of the window bolted also. No
fire-place was in this garret; nothing was disturbed or altered:
nobody by human possibility could have got in. The doctor
reported that he had died of congestion of the lungs; and the
jury gave their verdict accordingly.
"Saturday.--Marked forever in my calendar as the memorable day on
which the judgment descended on me. Toward three o'clock in the
afternoon--in the broad sunlight, under the cloudless sky, with
hundreds of innocent human creatures all around me--I, Hester
Dethridge, saw, for the first time, the Appearance which is
appointed to haunt me for the rest of my life.
"I had had a terrible night. My mind felt much as it had felt on
the evening when I had gone to the play. I went out to see what
the air and the sunshine and the cool green of trees and grass
would do for me. The nearest place in which I could find what I
wanted was the Regent's Park. I went into one of the quiet walks
in the middle of the park, where the horses and carriages are not
allowed to go, and where old people can sun themselves, and
children play, without danger.
"I sat me down to rest on a bench. Among the children near me was
a beautiful little boy, playing with a brand-new toy--a horse and
wagon. While I was watching him busily plucking up the blades of
grass and loading his wagon with them, I felt for the first
time--what I have often and often felt since--a creeping chill
come slowly over my flesh, and then a suspicion of something
hidden near me, which would steal out and show itself if I looked
"There was a big tree hard by. I looked toward the tree, and
waited to see the something hidden appear from behind it.
"The Thing stole out, dark and shadowy in the pleasant sunlight.
At first I saw only the dim figure of a woman. After a little it
began to get plainer, brightening from within
outward--brightening, brightening, brightening, till it set
before me the vision of MY OWN SELF, repeated as if I was
standing before a glass--the double of myself, looking at me with
my own eyes. I saw it move over the grass. I saw it stop behind
the beautiful little boy. I saw it stand and listen, as I had
stood and listened at the dawn of morning, for the chiming of the
bell before the clock struck the hour. When it heard the stroke
it pointed down to the boy with my own hand; and it said to me,
with my own voice, 'Kill him.'
"A time passed. I don't know whether it was a minute or an hour.
The heavens and the earth disappeared from before me. I saw
nothing but the double of myself, with the pointing hand. I felt
nothing but the longing to kill the boy.
"Then, as it seemed, the heavens and the earth rushed back upon
me. I saw the people near staring in surprise at me, and
wondering if I was in my right mind.
"I got, by main force, to my feet; I looked, by main force, away
from the beautiful boy; I escaped, by main force, from the sight
of the Thing, back into the streets. I can only describe the
overpowering strength of the temptation that tried me in one way.
It was like tearing the life out of me to tear myself from
killing the boy. And what it was on this occasion it has been
ever since. No remedy against it but in that torturing effort,
and no quenching the after-agony but by solitude and prayer.
"The sense of a coming punishment had hung over me. And the
punishment had come. I had waited for the judgment of an Avenging
Providence. And the judgment was pronounced. With pious David I
could now say, Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have
cut me off."
Arrived at that point in the narrative, Geoffrey looked up from
the manuscript for the first time. Some sound outside the room
had disturbed him. Was it a sound in the passage?
He listened. There was an interval of silence. He looked back
again at the Confession, turning over the last leaves to count
how much was left of it before it came to an end.
After relating the circumstances under which the writer had
returned to domestic service, the narrative was resumed no more.
Its few remaining pages were occupied by a fragmentary journal.
The brief entries referred to the various occasions on which
Hester Dethridge had again and again seen the terrible apparition
of herself, and had again and again resisted the homicidal frenzy
roused in her by the hideous creation of her own distempered
brain. In the effort which that resistance cost her lay the
secret of her obstinate determination to insist on being freed
from her work at certain times, and to make it a condition with
any mistress who employed her that she should be privileged to
sleep in a room of her own at night. Having counted the pages
thus filled, Geoffrey turned back to the place at which he had
left off, to read the manuscript through to the end.
As his eyes rested on the first line the noise in the
passage--intermitted for a moment only--disturbed him again.
This time there was no doubt of what the sound implied. He heard
her hurried footsteps; he heard her dreadful cry. Hester
Dethridge had woke in her chair in the pallor, and had discovered
that the Confession was no longer in her own hands.
He put the manuscript into the breast-pocket of his coat. On
_this_ occasion his reading had been of some use to him. Needless
to go on further with it. Needless to return to the Newgate
Calendar. The problem was solved.
As he rose to his feet his heavy face brightened slowly with a
terrible smile. While the woman's Conf ession was in his pocket
the woman herself was in his power. "If she wants it back," he
said, "she must get it on my terms." With that resolution, he
opened the door, and met Hester Dethridge, face to face, in the
CHAPTER THE FIFTY-FIFTH.
THE SIGNS OF THE END.
THE servant, appearing the next morning in Anne's room with the
breakfast tray, closed the door with an air of mystery, and
announced that strange things were going on in the house.
"Did you hear nothing last night, ma'am," she asked, "down stairs
in the passage?"
"I thought I heard some voices whispering outside my room," Anne
replied. "Has any thing happened?"
Extricated from the confusion in which she involved it, the
girl's narrative amounted in substance to this. She had been
startled by the sudden appearance of her mistress in the passage,
staring about her wildly, like a woman who had gone out of her
senses. Almost at the same moment "the master" had flung open the
drawing-room door. He had caught Mrs. Dethridge by the arm, had
dragged her into the room, and had closed the door again. After
the two had remained shut up together for more than half an hour,
Mrs. Dethridge had come out, as pale as ashes, and had gone up
stairs trembling like a person in great terror. Some time later,
when the servant was in bed, but not asleep, she had seen a light
under her door, in the narrow wooden passage which separated
Anne's bedroom from Hester's bedroom, and by which she obtained
access to her own little sleeping-chamber beyond. She had got out
of bed; had looked through the keyhole; and had seen "the master"
and Mrs. Dethridge standing together examining the walls of the
passage. "The master" had laid his hand upon the wall, on the
side of his wife's room, and had looked at Mrs. Dethridge. And
Mrs. Dethridge had looked back at him, and had shaken her head.
Upon that he had said in a whisper (still with his hand on the
wooden wall), "Not to be done here?" And Mrs. Dethridge had
shaken her head. He had considered a moment, and had whispered
again, "The other room will do! won't it?" And Mrs. Dethridge had
nodded her head--and so they had parted. That was the story of
the night. Early in the morning, more strange things had
happened. The master had gone out, with a large sealed packet in
his hand, covered with many stamps; taking his own letter to the
post, instead of sending the servant with it as usual. On his
return, Mrs. Dethridge had gone out next, and had come back with
something in a jar which she had locked up in her own
sitting-room. Shortly afterward, a working-man had brought a
bundle of laths, and some mortar and plaster of Paris, which had
been carefully placed together in a corner of the scullery. Last,
and most remarkable in the series of domestic events, the girl
had received permission to go home and see her friends in the
country, on that very day; having been previously informed, when
she entered Mrs. Dethridge's service, that she was not to expect
to have a holiday granted to her until after Christmas. Such were
the strange things which had happened in the house since the
previous night. What was the interpretation to be placed on them?
The right interpretation was not easy to discover.
Some of the events pointed apparently toward coming repairs or
alterations in the cottage. But what Geoffrey could have to do
with them (being at the time served with a notice to quit), and
why Hester Dethridge should have shown the violent agitation
which had been described, were mysteries which it was impossible
Anne dismissed the girl with a little present and a few kind
words. Under other circumstances, the incomprehensible
proceedings in the house might have made her seriously uneasy.
But her mind was now occupied by more pressing anxieties.
Blanche's second letter (received from Hester Dethridge on the
previous evening) informed her that Sir Patrick persisted in his
resolution, and that he and his niece might be expected, come
what might of it, to present themselves at the cottage on that
Anne opened the letter, and looked at it for the second time. The
passages relating to Sir Patrick were expressed in these terms:
"I don't think, darling, you have any idea of the interest that
you have roused in my uncle. Although he has not to reproach
himself, as I have, with being the miserable cause of the
sacrifice that you have made, he is quite as wretched and quite
as anxious about you as I am. We talk of nobody else. He said
last night that he did not believe there was your equal in the
world. Think of that from a man who has such terribly sharp eyes
for the faults of women in general, and such a terribly sharp
tongue in talking of them! I am pledged to secrecy; but I must
tell you one other thing, between ourselves. Lord Holchester's
announcement that his brother refuses to consent to a separation
put my uncle almost beside himself. If there is not some change
for the better in your life in a few days' time, Sir Patrick will
find out a way of his own--lawful or not, he doesn't care--for
rescuing you from the dreadful position in which you are placed,
and Arnold (with my full approval) will help him. As we
understand it, you are, under one pretense or another, kept a
close prisoner. Sir Patrick has already secured a post of
observation near you. He and Arnold went all round the cottage
last night, and examined a door in your back garden wall, with a
locksmith to help them. You will no doubt hear further about this
from Sir Patrick himself. Pray don't appear to know any thing of
it when you see him! I am not in his confidence--but Arnold is,
which comes to the same thing exactly. You will see us (I mean
you will see my uncle and me) to-morrow, in spite of the brute
who keeps you under lock and key. Arnold will not accompany us;
he is not to be trusted (he owns it himself) to control his
indignation. Courage, dearest! There are two people in the world
to whom you are inestimably precious, and who are determined not
to let your happiness be sacrificed. I am one of them, and (for
Heaven's sake keep this a secret also!) Sir Patrick is the
Absorbed in the letter, and in the conflict of opposite feelings
which it roused--her color rising when it turned her thoughts
inward on herself, and fading again when she was reminded by it
of the coming visit--Anne was called back to a sense of present
events by the reappearance of the servant, charged with a
message. Mr. Speedwell had been for some time in the cottage, and
he was now waiting to see her down stairs.
Anne found the surgeon alone in the drawing-room. He apologized
for disturbing her at that early hour.
"It was impossible for me to get to Fulham yesterday," he said,
"and I could only make sure of complying with Lord Holchester's
request by coming here before the time at which I receive
patients at home. I have seen Mr. Delamayn, and I have requested
permission to say a word to you on the subject of his health."
Anne looked through the window, and saw Geoffrey smoking his
pipe--not in the back garden, as usual, but in front of the
cottage, where he could keep his eye on the gate.
"Is he ill?" she asked.
"He is seriously ill," answered Mr. Speedwell. "I should not
otherwise have troubled you with this interview. It is a matter
of professional duty to warn you, as his wife, that he is in
danger. He may be seized at any moment by a paralytic stroke. The
only chance for him--a very poor one, I am bound to say--is to
make him alter his present mode of life without loss of time."
"In one way he will be obliged to alter it," said Anne. "He has
received notice from the landlady to quit this cottage."
Mr. Speedwell looked surprised.
"I think you will find that the notice has been withdrawn," he
said. "I can only assure you that Mr. Delamayn distinctly
informed me, when I advised change of air, that he had decided,
for reasons of his own, on remaining here."
(Another in the series of incomprehensible domestic events!
Hester Dethridge--on all other occasions the most immovable of
women--had changed her mind!)
"Setting that aside," proceeded the surgeon, "there are two
preventive measures which I feel bound to suggest. Mr. Delamayn
is evidently suffering (though he declines to admit it himself)
from mental anxiety. If he is to have a chance for his life, that
anxiety must be set at rest. Is it in your power to relieve it?"
"It is not even in my power, Mr. Speedwell, to tell you what it
The surgeon bowed, and went on:
"The second caution that I have to give you," he said, "is to
keep him from drinking spirits. He admits having committed an
excess in that way the night before last. In his state of health,
drinking means literally death. If he goes back to the
brandy-bottle--forgive me for saying it plainly; the matter is
too serious to be trifled with--if he goes back to the
brandy-bottle, his life, in my opinion, is not worth five
minutes' purchase. Can you keep him from drinking?"
Anne answered sadly and plainly:
"I have no influence over him. The terms we are living on here--"
Mr. Speedwell considerately stopped her.
"I understand," he said. "I will see his brother on my way home."
He looked for a moment at Anne. "You are far from well yourself,"
he resumed. "Can I do any thing for you?"
"While I am living my present life, Mr. Speedwell, not even your
skill can help me."
The surgeon took his leave. Anne hurried back up stairs, before
Geoffrey could re-enter the cottage. To see the man who had laid
her life waste--to meet the vindictive hatred that looked
furtively at her out of his eyes--at the moment when sentence of
death had been pronounced on him, was an ordeal from which every
finer instinct in her nature shrank in horror.
Hour by hour, the morning wore on, and he made no attempt to
communicate with her, Stranger still, Hester Dethridge never
appeared. The servant came up stairs to say goodby; and went away
for her holiday. Shortly afterward, certain sounds reached Anne's
ears from the opposite side of the passage. She heard the strokes
of a hammer, and then a noise as of some heavy piece of furniture
being moved. The mysterious repairs were apparently being begun
in the spare room.
She went to the window. The hour was approaching at which Sir
Patrick and Blanche might be expected to make the attempt to see
For the third time, she looked at the letter.
It suggested, on this occasion, a new consideration to her. Did
the strong measures which Sir Patrick had taken in secret
indicate alarm as well as sympathy? Did he believe she was in a
position in which the protection of the law was powerless to
reach her? It seemed just possible. Suppose she were free to
consult a magistrate, and to own to him (if words could express
it) the vague presentiment of danger which was then present in
her mind--what proof could she produce to satisfy the mind of a
stranger? The proofs were all in her husband's favor. Witnesses
could testify to the conciliatory words which he had spoken to
her in their presence. The evidence of his mother and brother
would show that he had preferred to sacrifice his own pecuniary
interests rather than consent to part with her. She could furnish
nobody with the smallest excuse, in her case, for interfering
between man and wife. Did Sir Patrick see this? And did Blanche's
description of what he and Arnold Brinkworth were doing point to
the conclusion that they were taking the law into their own hands
in despair? The more she thought of it, the more likely it
She was still pursuing the train of thought thus suggested, when
the gate-bell rang.
The noises in the spare room suddenly stopped.
Anne looked out. The roof of a carriage was visible on the other
side of the wall. Sir Patrick and Blanche had arrived. After an
interval Hester Dethridge appeared in the garden, and went to the
grating in the gate. Anne heard Sir Patrick's voice, clear and
resolute. Every word he said reached her ears through the open
"Be so good as to give my card to Mr. Delamayn. Say that I bring
him a message from Holchester House, and that I can only deliver
it at a personal interview."
Hester Dethridge returned to the cottage. Another, and a longer
interval elapsed. At the end of the time, Geoffrey himself
appeared in the front garden, with the key in his hand. Anne's
heart throbbed fast as she saw him unlock the gate, and asked
herself what was to follow.
To her unutterable astonishment, Geoffrey admitted Sir Patrick
without the slightest hesitation--and, more still, he invited
Blanche to leave the carriage and come in!
"Let by-gones be by-gones," Anne heard him say to Sir Patrick. "I
only want to do the right thing. If it's the right thing for
visitors to come here, so soon after my father's death, come, and
welcome. My own notion was, when you proposed it before, that it
was wrong. I am not much versed in these things. I leave it to
"A visitor who brings you messages from your mother and your
brother," Sir Patrick answered gravely, "is a person whom it is
your duty to admit, Mr. Delamayn, under any circumstances."
"And he ought to be none the less welcome," added Blanche, "when
he is accompanied by your wife's oldest and dearest friend."
Geoffrey looked, in stolid submission, from one to the other.
"I am not much versed in these things," he repeated. "I have said
already, I leave it to you."
They were by this time close under Anne's window. She showed
herself. Sir Patrick took off his hat. Blanche kissed her hand
with a cry of joy, and attempted to enter the cottage. Geoffrey
stopped her--and called to his wife to come down.
"No! no!" said Blanche. "Let me go up to her in her room."
She attempted for the second time to gain the stairs. For the
second time Geoffrey stopped her. "Don't trouble yourself," he
said; "she is coming down."
Anne joined them in the front garden. Blanche flew into her arms
and devoured her with kisses. Sir Patrick took her hand in
silence. For the first time in Anne's experience of him, the
bright, resolute, self-reliant old man was, for the moment, at a
loss what to say, at a loss what to do. His eyes, resting on her
in mute sympathy and interest, said plainly, "In your husband's
presence I must not trust myself to speak."
Geoffrey broke the silence.
"Will you go into the drawing-room?" he asked, looking with
steady attention at his wife and Blanche.
Geoffrey's voice appeared to rouse Sir Patrick. He raised his
head--he looked like himself again.
"Why go indoors this lovely weather?" he said. "Suppose we take a
turn in the garden?"
Blanche pressed Anne's hand significantly. The proposal was
evidently made for a purpose. They turned the corner of the
cottage and gained the large garden at the back--the two ladies
walking together, arm in arm; Sir Patrick and Geoffrey following
them. Little by little, Blanche quickened her pace. "I have got
my instructions," she whispered to Anne. "Let's get out of his
It was more easily said than done. Geoffrey kept close behind
"Consider my lameness, Mr. Delamayn," said Sir Patrick. "Not
quite so fast."
It was well intended. But Geoffrey's cunning had taken the alarm.
Instead of dropping behind with Sir Patrick, he called to his
"Consider Sir Patrick's lameness," he repeated. "Not quite so
Sir Patrick met that check with characteristic readiness. When
Anne slackened her pace, he addressed himself to Geoffrey,
stopping deliberately in the middle of the path. "Let me give you
my message from Holchester House," he said. The two ladies were
still slowly walking on. Geoffrey was placed between the
alternatives of staying with Sir Patrick and leaving them by
themselves--or of following them and leaving Sir Patrick.
Deliberately, on his side, he followed the ladies.
Sir Patrick called him back. "I told you I wished to speak to
you," he said, sharply.
Driven to bay, Geoffrey openly revealed his resolution to give
Blanche no opportunity of speaking in private to Anne. He called
to Anne to stop.
"I have no secrets from my wife," he said. "And I expect my wife
to have no secrets from me. Give me the message in her hearing."
Sir Patrick's eyes brightened with indignation. He controlled
himself, and looked for an instant significantly at his niece
before he spoke to Geoffrey.
"As you please ," he said. "Your brother requests me to tell you
that the duties of the new position in which he is placed occupy
the whole of his time, and will prevent him from returning to
Fulham, as he had proposed, for some days to come. Lady
Holchester, hearing that I was likely to see you, has charged me
with another message, from herself. She is not well enough to
leave home; and she wishes to see you at Holchester House
to-morrow--accompanied (as she specially desires) by Mrs.
In giving the two messages, he gradually raised his voice to a
louder tone than usual. While he was speaking, Blanche (warned to
follow her instructions by the glance her uncle had cast at her)
lowered her voice, and said to Anne:
"He won't consent to the separation as long as he has got you
here. He is trying for higher terms. Leave him, and he must
submit. Put a candle in your window, if you can get into the
garden to-night. If not, any other night. Make for the back gate
in the wall. Sir Patrick and Arnold will manage the rest."
She slipped those words into Anne's ears--swinging her parasol to
and fro, and looking as if the merest gossip was dropping from
her lips--with the dexterity which rarely fails a woman when she
is called on to assist a deception in which her own interests are
concerned. Cleverly as it had been done, however, Geoffrey's
inveterate distrust was stirred into action by it. Blanche had
got to her last sentence before he was able to turn his attention
from what Sir Patrick was saying to what his niece was saying. A
quicker man would have heard more. Geoffrey had only distinctly
heard the first half of the last sentence.
"What's that," he asked, "about Sir Patrick and Arnold?"
"Nothing very interesting to you," Blanche answered, readily. "I
will repeat it if you like. I was telling Anne about my
step-mother, Lady Lundie. After what happened that day in
Portland Place, she has requested Sir Patrick and Arnold to
consider themselves, for the future, as total strangers to her.
"Oh!" said Geoffrey, eying her narrowly.
"Ask my uncle," returned Blanche, "if you don't believe that I
have reported her correctly. She gave us all our dismissal, in
her most magnificent manner, and in those very words. Didn't she,
It was perfectly true. Blanche's readiness of resource had met
the emergency of the moment by describing something, in
connection with Sir Patrick and Arnold, which had really
happened. Silenced on one side, in spite of himself, Geoffrey was
at the same moment pressed on the other for an answer to his
"I must take your reply to Lady Holchester, " said Sir Patrick.
"What is it to be?"
Geoffrey looked hard at him, without making any reply.
Sir Patrick repeated the message--with a special emphasis on that
part of it which related to Anne. The emphasis roused Geoffrey's
"You and my mother have made that message up between you, to try
me!" he burst out. "Damn all underhand work is what _I_ say!"
"I am waiting for your answer," persisted Sir Patrick, steadily
ignoring the words which had just been addressed to him.
Geoffrey glanced at Anne, and suddenly recovered himself.
"My love to my mother," he said. "I'll go to her to-morrow--and
take my wife with me, with the greatest pleasure. Do you hear
that? With the greatest pleasure." He stopped to observe the
effect of his reply. Sir Patrick waited impenetrably to hear
more--if he had more to say. "I'm sorry I lost my temper just
now," he resumed "I am badly treated--I'm distrusted without a
cause. I ask you to bear witness," he added, his voice getting
louder again, while his eyes moved uneasily backward and forward
between Sir Patrick and Anne, "that I treat my wife as becomes a
lady. Her friend calls on her--and she's free to receive her
friend. My mother wants to see her--and I promise to take her to
my mother's. At two o'clock to-morrow. Where am I to blame? You
stand there looking at me, and saying nothing. Where am I to
"If a man's own conscience justifies him, Mr. Delamayn," said Sir
Patrick, "the opinions of others are of very little importance.
My errand here is performed."
As he turned to bid Anne farewell, the uneasiness that he felt at
leaving her forced its way to view. The color faded out of his
face. His hand trembled as it closed tenderly and firmly on hers.
"I shall see you to-morrow, at Holchester House," he said; giving
his arm while he spoke to Blanche. He took leave of Geoffrey,
without looking at him again, and without seeing his offered
hand. In another minute they were gone.
Anne waited on the lower floor of the cottage while Geoffrey
closed and locked the gate. She had no wish to appear to avoid
him, after the answer that he had sent to his mother's message.
He returned slowly half-way across the front garden, looked
toward the passage in which she was standing, passed before the
door, and disappeared round the corner of the cottage on his way
to the back garden. The inference was not to be mistaken. It was
Geoffrey who was avoiding _her._ Had he lied to Sir Patrick? When
the next day came would he find reasons of his own for refusing
to take her to Holchester House?
She went up stairs. At the same moment Hester Dethridge opened
her bedroom door to come out. Observing Anne, she closed it again
and remained invisible in her room. Once more the inference was
not to be mistaken. Hester Dethridge, also, had her reasons for
What did it mean? What object could there be in common between
Hester and Geoffrey?
There was no fathoming the meaning of it. Anne's thoughts
reverted to the communication which had been secretly made to her
by Blanche. It was not in womanhood to be insensible to such
devotion as Sir Patrick's conduct implied. Terrible as her
position had become in its ever-growing uncertainty, in its
never-ending suspense, the oppression of it yielded for the
moment to the glow of pride and gratitude which warmed her heart,
as she thought of the sacrifices that had been made, of the
perils that were still to be encountered, solely for her sake. To
shorten the period of suspense seemed to be a duty which she owed
to Sir Patrick, as well as to herself. Why, in her situation,
wait for what the next day might bring forth? If the opportunity
offered, she determined to put the signal in the window that
Toward evening she heard once more the noises which appeared to
indicate that repairs of some sort were going on in the house.
This time the sounds were fainter; and they came, as she fancied,
not from the spare room, as before, but from Geoffrey's room,
next to it.
The dinner was later than usual that day. Hester Dethridge did
not appear with the tray till dusk. Anne spoke to her, and
received a mute sign in answer. Determined to see the woman's
face plainly, she put a question which required a written answer
on the slate; and, telling Hester to wait, went to the
mantle-piece to light her candle. When she turned round with the
lighted candle in her hand, Hester was gone.
Night came. She rang her bell to have the tray taken away. The
fall of a strange footstep startled her outside her door. She
called out, "Who's there?" The voice of the lad whom Geoffrey
employed to go on errands for him answered her.
"What do you want here?" she asked, through the door.
"Mr. Delamayn sent me up, ma'am. He wishes to speak to you
Anne found Geoffrey in the dining-room. His object in wishing to
speak to her was, on the surface of it, trivial enough. He wanted
to know how she would prefer going to Holchester House on the
next day--by the railway, or in a carriage. "If you prefer
driving," he said, "the boy has come here for orders, and he can
tell them to send a carriage from the livery-stables, as he goes
"The railway will do perfectly well for me," Anne replied.
Instead of accepting the answer, and dropping the subject, he
asked her to reconsider her decision. There was an absent, uneasy
expression in his eye as he begged her not to consult economy at
the expense of her own comfort. He appeared to have some reason
of his own for preventing her from leaving the room. "Sit d own a
minute, and think before you decide," he said. Having forced her
to take a chair, he put his head outside the door and directed
the lad to go up stairs, and see if he had left his pipe in his
bedroom. "I want you to go in comfort, as a lady should," he
repeated, with the uneasy look more marked than ever. Before Anne
could reply, the lad's voice reached them from the bedroom floor,
raised in shrill alarm, and screaming "Fire!"
Geoffrey ran up stairs. Anne followed him. The lad met them at
the top of the stairs. He pointed to the open door of Anne's
room. She was absolutely certain of having left her lighted
candle, when she went down to Geoffrey, at a safe distance from
the bed-curtains. The bed-curtains, nevertheless, were in a blaze
There was a supply of water to the cottage, on the upper floor.
The bedroom jugs and cans usually in their places at an earlier
hour, were standing that night at the cistern. An empty pail was
left near them. Directing the lad to bring him water from these
resources, Geoffrey tore down the curtains in a flaming heap,
partly on the bed and partly on the sofa near it. Using the can
and the pail alternately, as the boy brought them, he drenched
the bed and the sofa. It was all over in little more than a
minute. The cottage was saved. But the bed-furniture was
destroyed; and the room, as a matter of course, was rendered
uninhabitable, for that night at least, and probably for more
nights to come.
Geoffrey set down the empty pail; and, turning to Anne, pointed
across the passage.
"You won't be much inconvenienced by this," he said. "You have
only to shift your quarters to the spare room."
With the assistance of the lad, he moved Anne's boxes, and the
chest of drawers, which had escaped damage, into the opposite
room. This done, he cautioned her to be careful with her candles
for the future--and went down stairs, without waiting to hear
what she said in reply. The lad followed him, and was dismissed
for the night.
Even in the confusion which attended the extinguishing of the
fire, the conduct of Hester Dethridge had been remarkable enough
to force itself on the attention of Anne.
She had come out from her bedroom, when the alarm was given; had
looked at the flaming curtains; and had drawn back, stolidly
submissive, into a corner to wait the event. There she had
stood--to all appearance, utterly indifferent to the possible
destruction of her own cottage. The fire extinguished, she still
waited impenetrably in her corner, while the chest of drawers and
the boxes were being moved--then locked the door, without even a
passing glance at the scorched ceiling and the burned
bed-furniture--put the key into her pocket--and went back to her
Anne had hitherto not shared the conviction felt by most other
persons who were brought into contact with Hester Dethridge, that
the woman's mind was deranged. After what she had just seen,
however, the general impression became her impression too. She
had thought of putting certain questions to Hester, when they
were left together, as to the origin of the fire. Reflection
decided her on saying nothing, for that night at least. She
crossed the passage, and entered the spare room--the room which
she had declined to occupy on her arrival at the cottage, and
which she was obliged to sleep in now.
She was instantly struck by a change in the disposition of the
furniture of the room.
The bed had been moved. The head--set, when she had last seen it,
against the side wall of the cottage--was placed now against the
partition wall which separated the room from Geoffrey's room.
This new arrangement had evidently been effected with a settled
purpose of some sort. The hook in the ceiling which supported the
curtains (the bed, unlike the bed in the other room, having no
canopy attached to it) had been moved so as to adapt itself to
the change that had been made. The chairs and the washhand-stand,
formerly placed against the partition wall, were now, as a matter
of necessity, shifted over to the vacant space against the side
wall of the cottage. For the rest, no other alteration was
visible in any part of the room.
In Anne's situation, any event not immediately intelligible on
the face of it, was an event to be distrusted. Was there a motive
for the change in the position of the bed? And was it, by any
chance, a motive in which she was concerned?
The doubt had barely occurred to her, before a startling
suspicion succeeded it. Was there some secret purpose to be
answered by making her sleep in the spare room? Did the question
which the servant had heard Geoffrey put to Hester, on the
previous night, refer to this? Had the fire which had so
unaccountably caught the curtains in her own room, been, by any
possibility, a fire purposely kindled, to force her out?
She dropped into the nearest chair, faint with horror, as those
three questions forced themselves in rapid succession on her
After waiting a little, she recovered self-possession enough to
recognize the first plain necessity of putting her suspicions to
the test. It was possible that her excited fancy had filled her
with a purely visionary alarm. For all she knew to the contrary,
there might be some undeniably sufficient reason for changing the
position of the bed. She went out, and knocked at the door of
Hester Dethridge's room.
"I want to speak to you," she said.
Hester came out. Anne pointed to the spare room, and led the way
to it. Hester followed her.
"Why have you changed the place of the bed," she asked, "from the
wall there, to the wall here?"
Stolidly submissive to the question, as she had been stolidly
submissive to the fire, Hester Dethridge wrote her reply. On all
other occasions she was accustomed to look the persons to whom
she offered her slate steadily in the face. Now, for the first
time, she handed it to Anne with her eyes on the floor. The one
line written contained no direct answer: the words were these:
"I have meant to move it, for some time past."
"I ask you why you have moved it."
She wrote these four words on the slate: "The wall is damp."
Anne looked at the wall. There was no sign of damp on the paper.
She passed her hand over it. Feel where she might, the wall was
"That is not your reason," she said.
Hester stood immovable.
"There is no dampness in the wall."
Hester pointed persistently with her pencil to the four words,
still without looking up--waited a moment for Anne to read them
again--and left the room.
It was plainly useless to call her back. Anne's first impulse
when she was alone again was to secure the door. She not only
locked it, but bolted it at top and bottom. The mortise of the
lock and the staples of the bolts, when she tried them, were
firm. The lurking treachery--wherever else it might be--was not
in the fastenings of the door.
She looked all round the room; examining the fire place, the
window and its shutters, the interior of the wardrobe, the hidden
space under the bed. Nothing was any where to be discovered which
could justify the most timid person living in feeling suspicion
Appearances, fair as they were, failed to convince her. The
presentiment of some hidden treachery, steadily getting nearer
and nearer to her in the dark, had rooted itself firmly in her
mind. She sat down, and tried to trace her way back to the clew,
through the earlier events of the day.
The effort was fruitless: nothing definite, nothing tangible,
rewarded it. Worse still, a new doubt grew out of it--a doubt
whether the motive which Sir Patrick had avowed (through Blanche)
was the motive for helping her which was really in his mind.
Did he sincerely believe Geoffrey's conduct to be animated by no
worse object than a mercenary object? and was his only purpose in
planning to remove her out of her husband's reach, to force
Geoffrey's consent to their separation on the terms which Julius
had proposed? Was this really the sole end that he had in view?
or was he secretly convinced (knowing Anne's position as he knew
it) that she was in personal danger at the cottage? and had he
considerately kept that conviction concealed, in the fear that he
might otherwise e ncourage her to feel alarmed about herself? She
looked round the strange room, in the silence of the night, and
she felt that the latter interpretation was the likeliest
interpretation of the two.
The sounds caused by the closing of the doors and windows reached
her from the ground-floor. What was to be done?
It was impossible, to show the signal which had been agreed on to
Sir Patrick and Arnold. The window in which they expected to see
it was the window of the room in which the fire had broken
out--the room which Hester Dethridge had locked up for the night.
It was equally hopeless to wait until the policeman passed on his
beat, and to call for help. Even if she could prevail upon
herself to make that open acknowledgment of distrust under her
husband's roof, and even if help was near, what valid reason