Part 5 out of 9
it. And stay or go, which you please."
She opened an invisible side door in the wall, masked by one of
the pictures--disappeared through it like a ghost--and left us
together alone in the hall.
Mrs. Macallan approached the oil-lamp, and looked by its light at
the sheet of paper which the woman had given to her. I followed
and peeped over her shoulder without ceremony. The paper
exhibited written characters, traced in a wonderfully large and
firm handwriting. Had I caught the infection of madness in the
air of the house? Or did I really see before me these words?
"NOTICE.--My immense imagination is at work. Visions of heroes
unroll themselves before me. I reanimate in myself the spirits of
the departed great. My brains are boiling in my head. Any persons
who disturb me, under existing circumstances, will do it at the
peril of their lives.--DEXTER."
Mrs. Macallan looked around at me quietly with her sardonic
"Do you still persist in wanting to be introduced to him?" she
The mockery in the tone of the question roused my pride. I
determined that I would not be the first to give way.
"Not if I am putting you in peril of your life, ma'am," I
answered, pertly enough, pointing to the paper in her hand.
My mother-in-law returned to the hall table, and put the paper
back on it without condescending to reply. She then led the way
to an arched recess on our right hand, beyond which I dimly
discerned a broad flight of oaken stairs.
"Follow me," said Mrs. Macallan, mounting the stairs in the dark.
"I know where to find him."
We groped our way up the stairs to the first landing. The next
flight of steps, turning in the reverse direction, was faintly
illuminated, like the hall below, by one oil-lamp, placed in some
invisible position above us. Ascending the second flight of
stairs and crossing a short corridor, we discovered the lamp,
through the open door of a quaintly shaped circular room, burning
on the mantel-piece. Its light illuminated a strip of thick
tapestry, hanging loose from the ceiling to the floor, on the
wall opposite to the door by which we had entered.
Mrs. Macallan drew aside the strip of tapestry, and, signing me
to follow her, passed behind it.
"Listen!" she whispered.
Standing on the inner side of the tapestry, I found myself in a
dark recess or passage, at the end of which a ray of light from
the lamp showed me a closed door. I listened, and heard on the
other side of the door a shouting voice, accompanied by an
extraordinary rumbling and whistling sound, traveling backward
and forward, as well as I could judge, over a great space. Now
the rumbling and the whistling would reach their climax of
loudness, and would overcome the resonant notes of the shouting
voice. Then again those louder sounds gradually retreated into
distance, and the shouting voice made itself heard as the more
audible sound of the two. The door must have been of prodigious
solidity. Listen as intently as I might, I failed to catch the
articulate words (if any) which the voice was pronouncing, and I
was equally at a loss to penetrate the cause which produced the
rumbling and whistling sounds.
"What can possibly be going on," I whispered to Mrs. Macallan,
"on the other side of that door?"
"Step softly," my mother-in-law answered, "and come and see."
She arranged the tapestry behind us so as completely to shut out
the light in the circular room. Then noiselessly turning the
handle, she opened the heavy door.
We kept ourselves concealed in the shadow of the recess, and
looked through the open doorway.
I saw (or fancied I saw, in the ob scurity) a long room with a
low ceiling. The dying gleam of an ill-kept fire formed the only
light by which I could judge of objects and distances. Redly
illuminating the central portion of the room, opposite to which
we were standing, the fire-light left the extremities shadowed in
almost total darkness. I had barely time to notice this before I
heard the rumbling and whistling sounds approaching me. A high
chair on wheels moved by, through the field of red light,
carrying a shadowy figure with floating hair, and arms furiously
raised and lowered working the machinery that propelled the chair
at its utmost rate of speed. "I am Napoleon, at the sunrise of
Austerlitz!" shouted the man in the chair as he swept past me on
his rumbling and whistling wheels, in the red glow of the
fire-light. "I give the word, and thrones rock, and kings fall,
and nations tremble, and men by tens of thousands fight and bleed
and die!" The chair rushed out of sight, and the shouting man in
it became another hero. "I am Nelson!" the ringing voice cried
now. "I am leading the fleet at Trafalgar. I issue my commands,
prophetically conscious of victory and death. I see my own
apotheosis, my public funeral, my nation's tears, my burial in
the glorious church. The ages remember me, and the poets sing my
praise in immortal verse!" The strident wheels turned at the far
end of the room and came back. The fantastic and frightful
apparition, man and machinery blended in one--the new Centaur,
half man, half chair--flew by me again in the dying light. "I am
Shakespeare!" cried the frantic creature now. "I am writing
'Lear,' the tragedy of tragedies. Ancients and moderns, I am the
poet who towers over them all. Light! light! the lines flow out
like lava from the eruption of my volcanic mind. Light! light!
for the poet of all time to write the words that live forever!"
He ground and tore his way back toward the middle of the room. As
he approached the fire-place a last morsel of unburned coal (or
wood) burst into momentary flame, and showed the open doorway. In
that moment he saw us! The wheel-chair stopped with a shock that
shook the crazy old floor of the room, altered its course, and
flew at us with the rush of a wild animal. We drew back, just in
time to escape it, against the wall of the recess. The chair
passed on, and burst aside the hanging tapestry. The light of the
lamp in the circular room poured in through the gap. The creature
in the chair checked his furious wheels, and looked back over his
shoulder with an impish curiosity horrible to see.
"Have I run over them? Have I ground them to powder for presuming
to intrude on me?" he said to himself. As the expression of this
amiable doubt passed his lips his eyes lighted on us. His mind
instantly veered back again to Shakespeare and King Lear.
"Goneril and Regan!" he cried. "My two unnatural daughters, my
she-devil children come to mock at me!"
"Nothing of the sort," said my mother-in-law, as quietly as if
she were addressing a perfectly reasonable being. "I am your old
friend, Mrs. Macallan; and I have brought Eustace Macallan's
second wife to see you."
The instant she pronounced those last words, "Eustace Macallan's
second wife," the man in the chair sprang out of it with a shrill
cry of horror, as if she had shot him. For one moment we saw a
head and body in the air, absolutely deprived of the lower limbs.
The moment after, the terrible creature touched the floor as
lightly as a monkey, on his hands. The grotesque horror of the
scene culminated in his hopping away on his hands, at a
prodigious speed, until he reached the fire-place in the long
room. There he crouched over the dying embers, shuddering and
shivering, and muttering, "Oh, pity me, pity me!" dozens and
dozens of times to himself.
This was the man whose advice I had come to ask--who assistance I
had confidently counted on in my hour of need.
MISERRIMUS DEXTER--SECOND VIEW
THOROUGHLY disheartened and disgusted, and (if I must honestly
confess it) thoroughly frightened too, I whispered to Mrs.
Macallan, "I was wrong, and you were right. Let us go."
The ears of Miserrimus Dexter must have been as sensitive as the
ears of a dog. He heard me say, "Let us go."
"No!" he called out. "Bring Eustace Macallan's second wife in
here. I am a gentleman--I must apologize to her. I am a student
of human character--I wish to see her."
The whole man appeared to have undergone a complete
transformation. He spoke in the gentlest of voices, and he sighed
hysterically when he had done, like a woman recovering from a
burst of tears. Was it reviving courage or reviving curiosity?
When Mrs. Macallan said to me, "The fit is over now; do you still
wish to go away?" I answered, "No; I am ready to go in."
"Have you recovered your belief in him already?" asked my
mother-in-law, in her mercilessly satirical way.
"I have recovered from my terror of him," I replied.
"I am sorry I terrified you," said the soft voice at the
fire-place. "Some people think I am a little mad at times. You
came, I suppose, at one of the times--if some people are right. I
admit that I am a visionary. My imagination runs away with me,
and I say and do strange things. On those occasions, anybody who
reminds me of that horrible Trial throws me back again into the
past, and causes me unutterable nervous suffering. I am a very
tender-hearted man. As the necessary consequence (in such a world
as this), I am a miserable wretch. Accept my excuses. Come in,
both of you. Come in and pity me."
A child would not have been frightened of him now. A child would
have gone in and pitied him.
The room was getting darker and darker. We could just see the
crouching figure of Miserrimus Dexter at the expiring fire--and
that was all.
"Are we to have no light?" asked Mrs. Macallan. "And is this lady
to see you, when the light comes, out of your chair?"
He lifted something bright and metallic, hanging round his neck,
and blew on it a series of shrill, trilling, bird-like notes.
After an interval he was answered by a similar series of notes
sounding faintly in some distant region of the house.
"Ariel is coming," he said. "Compose yourself, Mamma Macallan;
Ariel with make me presentable to a lady's eyes."
He hopped away on his hands into the darkness at the end of the
room. "Wait a little, said Mrs. Macallan, "and you will have
another surprise--you will see the 'delicate Ariel.'"
We heard heavy footsteps in the circular room.
"Ariel!" sighed Miserrimus Dexter out of the darkness, in his
To my astonishment the coarse, masculine voice of the cousin in
the man's hat--the Caliban's, rather than the Ariel's
"My chair, Ariel!"
The person thus strangely misnamed drew aside the tapestry, so as
to let in more light; then entered the room, pushing the wheeled
chair before her. She stooped and lifted Miserrimus Dexter from
the floor, like a child. Before she could put him into the chair,
he sprang out of her arms with a little gleeful cry, and alighted
on his seat, like a bird alighting on its perch!
"The lamp," said Miserrimus Dexter, "and the
looking-glass.--Pardon me," he added, addressing us, "for turning
my back on you. You mustn't see me until my hair is set to
rights.--Ariel! the brush, the comb, and the perfumes!"
Carrying the lamp in one hand, the looking-glass in the other,
and the brush (with the comb stuck in it) between her teeth,
Ariel the Second, otherwise Dexter's cousin, presented herself
plainly before me for the first time. I could now see the girl's
round, fleshy, inexpressive face, her rayless and colorless eyes,
her coarse nose and heavy chin. A creature half alive; an
imperfectly developed animal in shapeless form clad in a man's
pilot jacket, and treading in a man's heavy laced boots, with
nothing but an old red-flannel petticoat, and a broken comb in
her frowzy flaxen hair, to tell us that she was a woman--such was
the inhospitable person who had received us in the darkness when
we first entered the house.
This wonderful valet, collecting her materials for dressing her
still more wonderful master's hair, gave him the looking-glass (a
hand -mirror), and addressed herself to her work.
She combed, she brushed, she oiled, she perfumed the flowing
locks and the long silky beard of Miserrimus Dexter with the
strangest mixture of dullness and dexterity that I ever saw. Done
in brute silence, with a lumpish look and a clumsy gait, the work
was perfectly well done nevertheless. The imp in the chair
superintended the whole proceeding critically by means of his
hand-mirror. He was too deeply interested in this occupation to
speak until some of the concluding touches to his beard brought
the misnamed Ariel in front of him, and so turned her full face
toward the part of the room in which Mrs. Macallan and I were
standing. Then he addressed us, taking especial care, however,
not to turn his head our way while his toilet was still
"Mamma Macallan," he said, "what is the Christian name of your
son's second wife?"
"Why do you want to know?" asked my mother-in-law.
"I want to know because I can't address her as 'Mrs. Eustace
"It recalls _the other_ Mrs. Eustace Macallan. If I am reminded
of those horrible days at Gleninch my fortitude will give way--I
shall burst out screaming again."
Hearing this, I hastened to interpose.
"My name is Valeria," I said.
"A Roman name," remarked Miserrimus Dexter. "I like it. My mind
is cast in the Roman mold. My bodily build would have been Roman
if I had been born with legs. I shall call you Mrs. Valeria,
unless you disapprove of it."
I hastened to say that I was far from disapproving of it.
"Very good," said Miserrimus Dexter "Mrs. Valeria, do you see the
face of this creature in front of me?"
He pointed with the hand-mirror to his cousin as unconcernedly as
he might have pointed to a dog. His cousin, on her side, took no
more notice than a dog would have taken of the contemptuous
phrase by which he had designated her. She went on combing and
oiling his beard as composedly as ever.
"It is the face of an idiot, isn't it?" pursued Miserrimus
Dexter! "Look at her! She is a mere vegetable. A cabbage in a
garden has as much life and expression in it as that girl
exhibits at the present moment. Would you believe there was
latent intelligence, affection, pride, fidelity, in such a
half-developed being as this?"
I was really ashamed to answer him. Quite needlessly! The
impenetrable young woman went on with her master's beard. A
machine could not have taken less notice of the life and the talk
around it than this incomprehensible creature.
"_I_ have got at that latent affection, pride, fidelity, and the
rest of it," resumed Miserrimus Dexter. "_I_ hold the key to that
dormant Intelligence. Grand thought! Now look at her when I
speak. (I named her, poor wretch, in one of my ironical moments.
She has got to like her name, just as a dog gets to like his
collar.) Now, Mrs. Valeria, look and listen.--Ariel!"
The girl's dull face began to brighten. The girl's mechanically
moving hand stopped, and held the comb in suspense.
"Ariel! you have learned to dress my hair and anoint my beard,
Her face still brightened. "Yes! yes! yes!" she answered,
eagerly. "And you say I have learned to do it well, don't you?"
"I say that. Would you like to let anybody else do it for you?"
Her eyes melted softly into light and life. Her strange unwomanly
voice sank to the gentlest tones that I had heard from her yet.
"Nobody else shall do it for me," she said at once proudly and
tenderly. "Nobody, as long as I live, shall touch you but me."
"Not even the lady there?" asked Miserrimus Dexter, pointing
backward with his hand-mirror to the place at which I was
Her eyes suddenly flashed, her hand suddenly shook the comb at
me, in a burst of jealous rage.
"Let her try!" cried the poor creature, raising her voice again
to its hoarsest notes. "Let her touch you if she dares!"
Dexter laughed at the childish outbreak. "That will do, my
delicate Ariel," he said. "I dismiss your Intelligence for the
present. Relapse into your former self. Finish my beard."
She passively resumed her work. The new light in her eyes, the
new expression in her face, faded little by little and died out.
In another minute the face was as vacant and as lumpish as
before; the hands did their work again with the lifeless
dexterity which had so painfully impressed me when she first took
up the brush. Miserrimus Dexter appeared to be perfectly
satisfied with these results.
"I thought my little experiment might interest you," he said.
"You see how it is? The dormant intelligence of my curious cousin
is like the dormant sound in a musical instrument. I play upon
it--and it answers to my touch. She likes being played upon. But
her great delight is to hear me tell a story. I puzzle her to the
verge of distraction; and the more I confuse her the better she
likes the story. It is the greatest fun; you really must see it
some day." He indulged himself in a last look at the mirror.
"Ha!" he said, complacently; "now I shall do. Vanish, Ariel!"
She tramped out of the room in her heavy boots, with the mute
obedience of a trained animal. I said "Good-night" as she passed
me. She neither returned the salutation nor looked at me: the
words simply produced no effect on her dull senses. The one voice
that could reach her was silent. She had relapsed once more into
the vacant inanimate creature who had opened the gate to us,
until it pleased Miserrimus Dexter to speak to her again.
"Valeria!" said my mother-in-law. "Our modest host is waiting to
see what you think of him."
While my attention was fixed on his cousin he had wheeled his
chair around so as to face me. with the light of the lamp falling
full on him. In mentioning his appearance as a witness at the
Trial, I find I have borrowed (without meaning to do so) from my
experience of him at this later time. I saw plainly now the
bright intelligent face and the large clear blue eyes, the
lustrous waving hair of a light chestnut color, the long delicate
white hands, and the magnificent throat and chest which I have
elsewhere described. The deformity which degraded and destroyed
the manly beauty of his head and breast was hidden from view by
an Oriental robe of many colors, thrown over the chair like a
coverlet. He was clothed in a jacket of black velvet, fastened
loosely across his chest with large malachite buttons; and he
wore lace ruffles at the ends of his sleeves, in the fashion of
the last century. It may well have been due to want of perception
on my part--but I could see nothing mad in him, nothing in any
way repelling, as he now looked at me. The one defect that I
could discover in his face was at the outer corners of his eyes,
just under the temple. Here when he laughed, and in a lesser
degree when he smiled, the skin contracted into quaint little
wrinkles and folds, which looked strangely out of harmony with
the almost youthful appearance of the rest of his face. As to his
other features, the mouth, so far as his beard and mustache
permitted me to see it, was small and delicately formed; the
nose--perfectly shaped on the straight Grecian model--was perhaps
a little too thin, judged by comparison with the full cheeks and
the high massive forehead. Looking at him as a whole (and
speaking of him, of course, from a woman's, not a physiognomist's
point of view), I can only describe him as being an unusually
handsome man. A painter would have reveled in him as a model for
St. John. And a young girl, ignorant of what the Oriental robe
hid from view, would have said to herself, the instant she looked
at him, "Here is the hero of my dreams!"
His blue eyes--large as the eyes of a woman, clear as the eyes of
a child--rested on me the moment I turned toward him, with a
strangely varying play of expression, which at once interested
and perplexed me.
Now there was doubt--uneasy, painful doubt--in the look; and now
again it changed brightly to approval, so open and unrestrained
that a vain woman might have fancied she had made a conquest of
him at first sight. Suddenly a new emotion seemed to take
possession of him. His eyes sank, his head drooped; he lifted his
hands with a gesture of regret. He muttered and murmured to
himself; pursuing some secret and melancholy train of thought,
which seemed to lead him further and further away from present
objects of interest, and to plunge him deeper and deeper in
troubled recollections of the past. Here and there I caught some
of the words. Little by little I found myself trying to fathom
what was darkly passing in this strange man's mind.
"A far more charming face," I heard him say. "But no--not a more
beautiful figure. What figure was ever more beautiful than hers?
Something--but not all--of her enchanting grace. Where is the
resemblance which has brought her back to me? In the pose of the
figure, perhaps. In the movement of the figure, perhaps. Poor
martyred angel! What a life! And what a death! what a death!"
Was he comparing me with the victim of the poison--with my
husband's first wife? His words seemed to justify the conclusion.
If I were right, the dead woman had evidently been a favorite
with him. There was no misinterpreting the broken tones of his
voice when he spoke of her: he had admired her, living; he
mourned her, dead. Supposing that I could prevail upon myself to
admit this extraordinary person into my confidence, what would be
the result? Should I be the gainer or the loser by the
resemblance which he fancied he had discovered? Would the sight
of me console him or pain him? I waited eagerly to hear more on
the subject of the first wife. Not a word more escaped his lips.
A new change came over him. He lifted his head with a start, and
looked about him as a weary man might look if he was suddenly
disturbed in a deep sleep.
"What have I done?" he said. "Have I been letting my mind drift
again?" He shuddered and sighed. "Oh, that house of Gleninch!" he
murmured, sadly, to himself. "Shall I never get away from it in
my thoughts? Oh, that house of Gleninch!"
To my infinite disappointment, Mrs. Macallan checked the further
revelation of what was passing in his mind.
Something in the tone and manner of his allusion to her son's
country-house seemed to have offended her. She interposed sharply
"Gently, my friend, gently!" she said. "I don't think you quite
know what you are talking about."
His great blue eyes flashed at her fiercely. With one turn of his
hand he brought his chair close at her side. The next instant he
caught her by the arm, and forced her to bend to him, until he
could whisper in her ear. He was violently agitated. His whisper
was loud enough to make itself heard where I was sitting at the
"I don't know what I am talking about?" he repeated, with his
eyes fixed attentively, not on my mother-in-law, but on me. "You
shortsighted old woman! where are your spectacles? Look at her!
Do you see no resemblance--the figure, not the face!--do you see
no resemblance there to Eustace's first wife?"
"Pure fancy!" rejoined Mrs. Macallan. "I see nothing of the
He shook her impatiently.
"Not so loud!" he whispered. "She will hear you."
"I have heard you both," I said. "You need have no fear, Mr.
Dexter, of speaking before me. I know that my husband had a first
wife, and I know how miserably she died. I have read the Trial."
"You have read the life and death of a martyr!" cried Miserrimus
Dexter. He suddenly wheeled his chair my way; he bent over me;
his eyes filled with tears. "Nobody appreciated her at her true
value," he said, "but me. Nobody but me! nobody but me!"
Mrs. Macallan walked away impatiently to the end of the room.
"When you are ready, Valeria, I am," she said. "We cannot keep
the servants and the horses waiting much longer in this bleak
I was too deeply interested in leading Miserrimus Dexter to
pursue the subject on which he had touched to be willing to leave
him at that moment. I pretended not to have heard Mrs. Macallan.
I laid my hand, as if by accident, on the wheel-chair to keep him
"You showed me how highly you esteemed that poor lady in your
evidence at the Trial," I said. "I believe, Mr. Dexter, you have
ideas of your own about the mystery of her death?"
He had been looking at my hand, resting on the arm of his chair,
until I ventured on my question. At that he suddenly raised his
eyes, and fixed them with a frowning and furtive suspicion on my
"How do you know I have ideas of my own?" he asked, sternly.
"I know it from reading the Trial," I answered. "The lawyer who
cross-examined you spoke almost in the very words which I have
just used. I had no intention of offending you, Mr. Dexter."
His face cleared as rapidly as it had clouded. He smiled, and
laid his hand on mine. His touch struck me cold. I felt every
nerve in me shivering under it; I drew my hand away quickly.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "if I have misunderstood you. I
_have_ ideas of my own about that unhappy lady. "He paused and
looked at me in silence very earnestly. "Have _you_ any ideas?"
he asked. "Ideas about her life? or about her death?"
I was deeply interested; I was burning to hear more. It might
encourage him to speak if I were candid with him. I answered,
"Ideas which you have mentioned to any one?" he went on.
"To no living creature," I replied--"as yet."
"This very strange!" he said, still earnestly reading my face.
"What interest can _you_ have in a dead woman whom you never
knew? Why did you ask me that question just now? Have you any
motive in coming here to see me?"
I boldly acknowledged the truth. I said, "I have a motive."
"Is it connected with Eustace Macallan's first wife?"
"With anything that happened in her lifetime?"
"With her death?"
He suddenly clasped his hands with a wild gesture of despair, and
then pressed them both on his head, as if he were struck by some
"I can't hear it to-night!" he said. "I would give worlds to hear
it, but I daren't. I should lose all hold over myself in the
state I am in now. I am not equal to raking up the horror and the
mystery of the past; I have not courage enough to open the grave
of the martyred dead. Did you hear me when you came here? I have
an immense imagination. It runs riot at times. It makes an actor
of me. I play the parts of all the heroes that ever lived. I feel
their characters. I merge myself in their individualities. For
the time I _am_ the man I fancy myself to be. I can't help it. I
am obliged to do it. If I restrained my imagination when the fit
is on me, I should go mad. I let myself loose. It lasts for
hours. It leaves me with my energies worn out, with my
sensibilities frightfully acute. Rouse any melancholy or terrible
associations in me at such times, and I am capable of hysterics,
I am capable of screaming. You heard me scream. You shall _not_
see me in hysterics. No, Mrs. Valeria--no, you innocent
reflection of the dead and gone--I would not frighten you for the
world. Will you come here to-morrow in the daytime? I have got a
chaise and a pony. Ariel, my delicate Ariel, can drive. She shall
call at Mamma Macallan's and fetch you. We will talk to-morrow,
when I am fit for it. I am dying to hear you. I will be fit for
you in the morning. I will be civil, intelligent, communicative,
in the morning. No more of it now. Away with the subject--the too
exciting, the too interesting subject! I must compose myself or
my brains will explode in my head. Music is the true narcotic for
excitable brains. My harp! my harp!"
He rushed away in his chair to the far end of the room, passing
Mrs. Macallan as she returned to me, bent on hastening our
"Come!" said the old lady, irritably. "You have seen him, and he
has made a good show of himself. More of him might be tiresome.
The chair returned to us more slowly. Miserrimus Dexter was
working it with one hand only. In the other he held a harp of a
pattern which I had hitherto only seen in pictures. The strings
were few in number, and the instrument was so small that I could
have held it easily on my lap. It was the ancient harp of the
pictured Muses and the legendary Welsh bards.
"Good-night, Dexter," said Mrs. Macallan.
He held up one hand imperatively.
"Wait!" he said. "Let her hear me sing." He turned to me. "I
decline to be indebted to other people for my poetry and my
music," he went on. "I compose my own poetry and my own music. I
improvise. Give me a moment to think. I will improvise for You."
He closed his eyes and rested his head on the frame of the harp.
His fingers gently touched the strings while he was thinking. In
a few minutes he lifted his head, looked at me, and struck the
first notes--the prelude to the song. It was wild, barbaric,
monotonous music, utterly unlike any modern composition.
Sometimes it suggested a slow and undulating Oriental dance.
Sometimes it modulated into tones which reminded me of the
severer harmonies of the old Gregorian chants. The words, when
they followed the prelude, were as wild, as recklessly free from
all restraint of critical rules, as the music. They were
assuredly inspired by the occasion; I was the theme of the
strange song. And thus--in one of the finest tenor voices I ever
heard--my poet sang of me:
"Why does she come? She reminds me of the lost; She reminds me
of the dead: In her form like the other, In her walk like the
other: Why does she come?
"Does Destiny bring her? Shall we range together The mazes of the
past? Shall we search together The secrets of the past? Shall we
interchange thoughts, surmises, suspicions? Does Destiny bring
"The Future will show. Let the night pass; Let the day come. I
shall see into Her mind: She will look into Mine. The Future will
His voice sank, his fingers touched the strings more and more
feebly as he approached the last lines. The overwrought brain
needed and took its reanimating repose. At the final words his
eyes slowly closed. His head lay back on the chair. He slept with
his arms around his harp, as a child sleeps hugging its last new
We stole out of the room on tiptoe, and left Miserrimus
Dexter--poet, composer, and madman--in his peaceful sleep.
MORE OF MY OBSTINACY.
ARIEL was downstairs in the shadowy hall, half asleep, half
awake, waiting to see the visitors clear of the house. Without
speaking to us, without looking at us, she led the way down the
dark garden walk, and locked the gate behind us. "Good-night,
Ariel," I called out to her over the paling. Nothing answered me
but the tramp of her heavy footsteps returning to the house, and
the dull thump, a moment afterward, of the closing door.
The footman had thoughtfully lighted the carriage lamps. Carrying
one of them to serve as a lantern, he lighted us over the wilds
of the brick desert, and landed us safely on the path by the
"Well!" said my mother-in-law, when we were comfortably seated in
the carriage again. "You have seen Miserrimus Dexter, and I hope
you are satisfied. I will do him the justice to declare that I
never, in all my experience, saw him more completely crazy than
he was to-night. What do _you_ say?"
"I don't presume to dispute your opinion," I answered. "But,
speaking for myself, I'm not quite sure that he is mad."
"Not mad!" cried Mrs. Macallan, "after those frantic performances
in his chair? Not mad, after the exhibition he made of his
unfortunate cousin? Not mad, after the song that he sang in your
honor, and the falling asleep by way of conclusion? Oh, Valeria!
Valeria! Well said the wisdom of our ancestors--there are none so
blind as those who won't see."
"Pardon me, dear Mrs. Macallan, I saw everything that you
mention, and I never felt more surprised or more confounded in my
life. But now I have recovered from my amazement, and can think
it over quietly, I must still venture to doubt whether this
strange man is really mad in the true meaning of the word. It
seems to me that he only expresses--I admit in a very reckless
and boisterous way--thoughts and feelings which most of us are
ashamed of as weaknesses, and which we keep to ourselves
accordingly. I confess I have often fancied myself transformed
into some other person, and have felt a certain pleasure in
seeing myself in my new character. One of our first amusements as
children (if we have any imagination at all) is to get out of our
own characters, and to try the characters of other personages as
a change--to fairies, to be queens, to be anything, in short, but
what we really are. Mr. Dexter lets out the secret just as the
children do, and if that is madness, he is certainly mad. But I
noticed that when his imagination cooled down he became
Miserrimus Dexter again--he no more believed himself than we
believed him to be Napoleon or Shakespeare. Besides, some
allowance is surely to be made for the solitary, sedentary life
that he leads. I am not learned enough to trace the influence of
that life in making him what he is; but I think I can see the
result in an over-excited imagination, and I fancy I can trace
his exhibiting his power over the poor cousin and his singing of
that wonderful song to no more formidable cause than inordinate
self-conceit. I hope the confession will not lower me seriously
in your good opinion; but I must say I have enjoyed my visit,
and, worse still, Miserrimus Dexter really interests me."
"Does this learned discourse on Dexter mean that you are going to
see him again?" asked Mrs. Macallan.
"I don't know how I may feel about it tomorrow morning," I said;
"but my impulse at this moment is decidedly to see him again. I
had a little talk with him while you were away at the other end
of the room, and I believe he really can be of use to me--"
"Of use to you in what?" interposed my mother-in-law.
"In the one object which I have in view--the object, dear Mrs.
Macallan, which I regret to say you do not approve."
"And you are going to take him into your confidence? to open your
whole mind to such a man as the man we have just left?"
"Yes, if I think of it to-morrow as I think of it to-night. I
dare say it is a risk; but I must run risks. I know I am not
prudent; but prudence won't help a woman in my position, with my
end to gain."
Mrs. Macallan made no further remonstrance in words. She opened a
capacious pocket in front of the carriage, and took from it a box
of matches and a railway reading-lamp.
"You provoke me," said the old lady, "into showing you what your
husband thinks of this new whim of yours. I have got his letter
with me--his last letter from Spain. You shall judge for
yourself, you poor deluded young creature, whether my son is
worthy of the sacrifice--the useless and hopeless
sacrifice--which you are bent on making of yourself for his sake.
Strike a light!"
I willingly obeyed her. Ever since she had informed me of
Eustace's departure to Spain I had been eager for more news of
him, for something to sustain my spirits, after so much that had
disappointed and depressed me. Thus far I did not even know
whether my husband thought of me sometimes in his self-imposed
exile. As to this regretting already the rash act which had
separated us, it was still too soon to begin hoping for that.
The lamp having been lighted, and fixed in its place between the
two front windows of the carriage, Mrs. Macallan produced her
son's letter. There is no folly like the folly of love. It cost
me a hard struggle to restrain myself from kissing the paper on
which the dear hand had rested.
"There!" said my mother-in-law. "Begin on the second page, the
page devoted to you. Read straight down to the last line at the
bottom, and, in God's name, come back to your senses, child,
before it is too late!"
I followed my instructions, and read these words:
"Can I trust myself to write of Valeria? I _must_ write of her.
Tell me how she is, how she looks, what she is doing. I am always
thinking of her. Not a day passes but I mourn the loss of her.
Oh, if she had only been contented to let matters rest as they
were! Oh, if she had never discovered the miserable truth!
"She spoke of reading the Trial when I saw her last. Has she
persisted in doing so? I believe--I say this seriously, mother--I
believe the shame and the horror of it would have been the death
of me if I had met her face to face when she first knew of the
ignominy that I have suffered, of the infamous suspicion of which
I have been publicly made the subject. Think of those pure eyes
looking at a man who has been accus ed (and never wholly
absolved) of the foulest and the vilest of all murders, and then
think of what that man must feel if he have any heart and any
sense of shame left in him. I sicken as I write of it.
"Does she still meditate that hopeless project--the offspring,
poor angel, of her artless, unthinking generosity? Does she still
fancy that it is in _her_ power to assert my innocence before the
world? Oh, mother (if she do), use your utmost influence to make
her give up the idea! Spare her the humiliation, the
disappointment, the insult, perhaps, to which she may innocently
expose herself. For her sake, for my sake, leave no means untried
to attain this righteous, this merciful end.
"I send her no message--I dare not do it. Say nothing, when you
see her, which can recall me to her memory. On the contrary, help
her to forget me as soon as possible. The kindest thing I can
do--the one atonement I can make to her--is to drop out of her
With those wretched words it ended. I handed his letter back to
his mother in silence. She said but little on her side.
"If _this_ doesn't discourage you," she remarked, slowly folding
up the letter, "nothing will. Let us leave it there, and say no
I made no answer--I was crying behind my veil. My domestic
prospect looked so dreary! my unfortunate husband was so
hopelessly misguided, so pitiably wrong! The one chance for both
of us, and the one consolation for poor Me, was to hold to my
desperate resolution more firmly than ever. If I had wanted
anything to confirm me in this view, and to arm me against the
remonstrances of every one of my friends, Eustace's letter would
have proved more than sufficient to answer the purpose. At least
he had not forgotten me; he thought of me, and he mourned the
loss of me every day of his life. That was encouragement
enough--for the present. "If Ariel calls for me in the
pony-chaise to-morrow," I thought to myself, "with Ariel I go."
Mrs. Macallan set me down at Benjamin's door.
I mentioned to her at parting--I stood sufficiently in awe of her
to put it off till the last moment--that Miserrimus Dexter had
arranged to send his cousin and his pony-chaise to her residence
on the next day; and I inquired thereupon whether my
mother-in-law would permit me to call at her house to wait for
the appearance of the cousin, or whether she would prefer sending
the chaise on to Benjamin's cottage. I fully expected an
explosion of anger to follow this bold avowal of my plans for the
next day. The old lady agreeably surprised me. She proved that
she had really taken a liking to me: she kept her temper.
"If you persist in going back to Dexter, you certainly shall not
go to him from my door," she said. "But I hope you will _not_
persist. I hope you will awake a wiser woman to-morrow morning."
The morning came. A little before noon the arrival of the
pony-chaise was announced at the door, and a letter was brought
in to me from Mrs. Macallan.
"I have no right to control your movements," my mother-in-law
wrote. "I send the chaise to Mr. Benjamin's house; and I
sincerely trust that you will not take your place in it. I wish I
could persuade you, Valeria, how truly I am your friend. I have
been thinking about you anxiously in the wakeful hours of the
night. _How_ anxiously, you will understand when I tell you that
I now reproach myself for not having done more than I did to
prevent your unhappy marriage. And yet, what more I could have
done I don't really know. My son admitted to me that he was
courting you under an assumed name, but he never told me what the
name was. Or who you were, or where your friends lived. Perhaps I
ought to have taken measures to find this out. Perhaps, if I had
succeeded, I ought to have interfered and enlightened you, even
at the sad sacrifice of making an enemy of my own son. I honestly
thought I did my duty in expressing my disapproval, and in
refusing to be present at the marriage. Was I too easily
satisfied? It is too late to ask. Why do I trouble you with an
old woman's vain misgivings and regrets? My child, if you come to
any harm, I shall feel (indirectly) responsible for it. It is
this uneasy state of mind which sets me writing, with nothing to
say that can interest you. Don't go to Dexter! The fear has been
pursuing me all night that your going to Dexter will end badly.
Write him an excuse. Valeria! I firmly believe you will repent it
if you return to that house."
Was ever a woman more plainly warned, more carefully advised,
than I? And yet warning and advice were both thrown away on me.
Let me say for myself that I was really touched by the kindness
of my mother-in-law's letter, though I was not shaken by it in
the smallest degree. As long as I lived, moved, and thought, my
one purpose now was to make Miserrimus Dexter confide to me his
ideas on the subject of Mrs. Eustace Macallan's death. To those
ideas I looked as my guiding stars along the dark way on which I
was going. I wrote back to Mrs. Macallan, as I really felt
gratefully and penitently. And then I went out to the chaise.
MR. DEXTER AT HOME.
I FOUND all the idle boys in the neighborhood collected around
the pony-chaise, expressing, in the occult language of slang,
their high enjoyment and appreciation at the appearance of
"Ariel" in her man's jacket and hat. The pony was fidgety--_he_
felt the influence of the popular uproar. His driver sat, whip in
hand, magnificently impenetrable to the gibes and jests that were
flying around her. I said "Good-morning" on getting into the
chaise. Ariel only said "Gee up!" and started the pony.
I made up my mind to perform the journey to the distant northern
suburb in silence. It was evidently useless for me to attempt to
speak, and experience informed me that I need not expect to hear
a word fall from the lips of my companion. Experience, however,
is not always infallible. After driving for half an hour in
stolid silence, Ariel astounded me by suddenly bursting into
"Do you know what we are coming to?" she asked, keeping her eyes
straight between the pony's ears.
"No," I answered. "I don't know the road. What are we coming to?"
"We are coming to a canal."
"Well, I have half a mind to upset you in the canal."
This formidable announcement appeared to require some
explanation. I took the liberty of asking for it.
"Why should you upset me?" I inquired.
"Because I hate you," was the cool and candid reply.
"What have I done to offend you?" I asked next.
"What do you want with the Master?" Ariel asked, in her turn.
"Do you mean Mr. Dexter?"
"I want to have some talk with Mr. Dexter."
"You don't! You want to take my place. You want to brush his hair
and oil his beard, instead of me. You wretch!"
I now began to understand. The idea which Miserrimus Dexter had
jestingly put into her head, in exhibiting her to us on the
previous night, had been ripening slowly in that dull brain, and
had found its way outward into words, about fifteen hours
afterward, under the irritating influence of my presence!
"I don't want to touch his hair or his beard," I said. "I leave
that entirely to you."
She looked around at me, her fat face flushing, her dull eyes
dilating, with the unaccustomed effort to express herself in
speech, and to understand what was said to her in return.
"Say that again," she burst out. "And say it slower this time."
I said it again, and I said it slower.
"Swear it!" she cried, getting more and more excited.
I preserved my gravity (the canal was just visible in the
distance), and swore it.
"Are you satisfied now?" I asked.
There was no answer. Her last resources of speech were exhausted.
The strange creature looked back again straight between the
pony's ears, emitted hoarsely a grunt of relief, and never more
looked at me, never more spoke to me, for the rest of the
journey. We drove past the banks of the canal, and I escaped
immersion. We rattled, in our jingling little vehicle, through
the streets and across the waste patches of ground, which I dimly
remembered in the darkness, and which looked more squalid and
more hideous than ever in the broad daylight. The chaise tur ned
down a lane, too narrow for the passage of any larger vehicle,
and stopped at a wall and a gate that were new objects to me.
Opening the gate with her key, and leading the pony, Ariel
introduced me to the back garden and yard of Miserrimus Dexter's
rotten and rambling old house. The pony walked off independently
to his stable, with the chaise behind him. My silent companion
led me through a bleak and barren kitchen, and along a stone
passage. Opening a door at the end, she admitted me to the back
of the hall, into which Mrs. Macallan and I had penetrated by the
front entrance to the house. Here Ariel lifted a whistle which
hung around her neck, and blew the shrill trilling notes with the
sound of which I was already familiar as the means of
communication between Miserrimus Dexter and his slave. The
whistling over, the slave's unwilling lips struggled into speech
for the last time.
"Wait till you hear the Master's whistle," she said; "then go
So! I was to be whistled for like a dog! And, worse still, there
was no help for it but to submit like a dog. Had Ariel any
excuses to make? Nothing of the sort.
She turned her shapeless back on me and vanished into the kitchen
region of the house.
After waiting for a minute or two, and hearing no signal from the
floor above, I advanced into the broader and brighter part of the
hall, to look by daylight at the pictures which I had only
imperfectly discovered in the darkness of the night. A painted
inscription in many colors, just under the cornice of the
ceiling, informed me that the works on the walls were the
production of the all-accomplished Dexter himself. Not satisfied
with being poet and composer, he was painter as well. On one wall
the subjects were described as "Illustrations of the Passions;"
on the other, as "Episodes in the Life of the Wandering Jew."
Chance speculators like myself were gravely warned, by means of
the inscription, to view the pictures as efforts of pure
imagination. "Persons who look for mere Nature in works of Art"
(the inscription announced) "are persons to whom Mr. Dexter does
not address himself with the brush. He relies entirely on his
imagination. Nature puts him out."
Taking due care to dismiss all ideas of Nature from my mind, to
begin with, I looked at the pictures which represented the
Little as I knew critically of Art, I could see that Miserrimus
Dexter knew still less of the rules of drawing, color, and
composition. His pictures were, in the strictest meaning of that
expressive word, Daubs. The diseased and riotous delight of the
painter in representing Horrors was (with certain exceptions to
be hereafter mentioned) the one remarkable quality that I could
discover in the series of his works.
The first of the Passion pictures illustrated Revenge. A corpse,
in fancy costume, lay on the bank of a foaming river, under the
shade of a giant tree. An infuriated man, also in fancy costume,
stood astride over the dead body, with his sword lifted to the
lowering sky, and watched, with a horrid expression of delight,
the blood of the man whom he had just killed dripping slowly in a
procession of big red drops down the broad blade of his weapon.
The next picture illustrated Cruelty, in many compartments. In
one I saw a disemboweled horse savagely spurred on by his rider
at a bull-fight. In another, an aged philosopher was dissecting a
living cat, and gloating over his work. In a third, two pagans
politely congratulated each other on the torture of two saints:
one saint was roasting on a grid-iron; the other, hung up to a
tree by his heels, had been just skinned, and was not quite dead
yet. Feeling no great desire, after these specimens, to look at
any more of the illustrated Passions, I turned to the opposite
wall to be instructed in the career of the Wandering Jew. Here a
second inscription informed me that the painter considered the
Flying Dutchman to be no other than the Wandering Jew, pursuing
his interminable Journey by sea. The marine adventures of this
mysterious personage were the adventures chosen for
representation by Dexter's brush. The first picture showed me a
harbor on a rocky coast. A vessel was at anchor, with the
helmsman singing on the deck. The sea in the offing was black and
rolling; thunder-clouds lay low on the horizon, split by broad
flashes of lightning. In the glare of the lightning, heaving and
pitching, appeared the misty form of the Phantom Ship approaching
the shore. In this work, badly as it was painted, there were
really signs of a powerful imagination, and even of a poetical
feeling for the supernatural. The next picture showed the Phantom
Ship, moored (to the horror and astonishment of the helmsman)
behind the earthly vessel in the harbor. The Jew had stepped on
shore. His boat was on the beach. His crew--little men with
stony, white faces, dressed in funeral black--sat in silent rows
on the seats of the boat, with their oars in their lean, long
hands. The Jew, also a black, stood with his eyes and hands
raised imploringly to the thunderous heaven. The wild creatures
of land and sea--the tiger, the rhinoceros, the crocodile, the
sea-serpent, the shark, and the devil-fish--surrounded the
accursed Wanderer in a mystic circle, daunted and fascinated at
the sight of him. The lightning was gone. The sky and sea had
darkened to a great black blank. A faint and lurid light lighted
the scene, falling downward from a torch, brandished by an
avenging Spirit that hovered over the Jew on outspread vulture
wings. Wild as the picture might be in its conception, there was
a suggestive power in it which I confess strongly impressed me.
The mysterious silence in the house, and my strange position at
the moment, no doubt had their effect on my mind. While I was
still looking at the ghastly composition before me, the shrill
trilling sound of the whistle upstairs burst on the stillness.
For the moment my nerves were so completely upset that I started
with a cry of alarm. I felt a momentary impulse to open the door
and run out. The idea of trusting myself alone with the man who
had painted those frightful pictures actually terrified me; I was
obliged to sit down on one of the hall chairs. Some minutes
passed before my mind recovered its balance, and I began to feel
like my own ordinary self again. The whistle sounded impatiently
for the second time. I rose and ascended the broad flight of
stairs which led to the first story. To draw back at the point
which I had now reached would have utterly degraded me in my own
estimation. Still, my heart did certainly beat faster than usual
as I approached the door of the circular anteroom; and I honestly
acknowledge that I saw my own imprudence, just then, in a
singularly vivid light.
There was a glass over the mantel-piece in the anteroom. I
lingered for a moment (nervous as I was) to see how I looked in
The hanging tapestry over the inner door had been left partially
drawn aside. Softly as I moved, the dog's ears of Miserrimus
Dexter caught the sound of my dress on the floor. The fine tenor
voice, which I had last heard singing, called to me softly.
"Is that Mrs. Valeria? Please don't wait there. Come in!"
I entered the inner room.
The wheeled chair advanced to meet me, so slowly and so softly
that I hardly knew it again. Miserrimus Dexter languidly held out
his hand. His head inclined pensively to one side; his large blue
eyes looked at me piteously. Not a vestige seemed to be left of
the raging, shouting creature of my first visit, who was Napoleon
at one moment, and Shakespeare at another. Mr. Dexter of the
morning was a mild, thoughtful, melancholy man, who only recalled
Mr. Dexter of the night by the inveterate oddity of his dress.
His jacket, on this occasion, was of pink quilted silk. The
coverlet which hid his deformity matched the jacket in pale
sea-green satin; and, to complete these strange vagaries of
costume, his wrists were actually adorned with massive bracelets
of gold, formed on the severely simple models which have
descended to us from ancient times.
"How good of you to cheer and charm me by coming here!" he said,
in his most mournful and most mu sical tones. "I have dressed,
expressly to receive you, in the prettiest clothes I have. Don't
be surprised. Except in this ignoble and material nineteenth
century, men have always worn precious stuffs and beautiful
colors as well as women. A hundred years ago a gentleman in pink
silk was a gentleman properly dressed. Fifteen hundred years ago
the patricians of the classic times wore bracelets exactly like
mine. I despise the brutish contempt for beauty and the mean
dread of expense which degrade a gentleman's costume to black
cloth, and limit a gentleman's ornaments to a finger-ring, in the
age I live in. I like to be bright and I beautiful, especially
when brightness and beauty come to see me. You don't know how
precious your society is to me. This is one of my melancholy
days. Tears rise unbidden to my eyes. I sigh and sorrow over
myself; I languish for pity. Just think of what I am! A poor
solitary creature, cursed with a frightful deformity. How
pitiable! how dreadful! My affectionate heart--wasted. My
extraordinary talents--useless or misapplied. Sad! sad! sad!
Please pity me."
His eyes were positively filled with tears--tears of compassion
for himself! He looked at me and spoke to me with the wailing,
querulous entreaty of a sick child wanting to be nursed. I was
utterly at a loss what to do. It was perfectly ridiculous--but I
was never more embarrassed in my life.
"Please pity me!" he repeated. "Don't be cruel. I only ask a
little thing. Pretty Mrs. Valeria, say you pity me!"
I said I pitied him--and I felt that I blushed as I did it.
"Thank you," said Miserrimus Dexter, humbly. "It does me good. Go
a little further. Pat my hand."
I tried to restrain myself; but the sense of the absurdity of
this last petition (quite gravely addressed to me, remember!) was
too strong to be controlled. I burst out laughing.
Miserrimus Dexter looked at me with a blank astonishment which
only increased my merriment. Had I offended him? Apparently not.
Recovering from his astonishment, he laid his head luxuriously on
the back of his chair, with the expression of a man who was
listening critically to a performance of some sort. When I had
quite exhausted myself, he raised his head and clapped his
shapely white hands, and honored me with an "encore."
"Do it again," he said, still in the same childish way. "Merry
Mrs. Valeria, _you_ have a musical laugh--_I_ have a musical ear.
Do it again."
I was serious enough by this time. "I am ashamed of myself, Mr.
Dexter," I said. "Pray forgive me."
He made no answer to this; I doubt if he heard me. His variable
temper appeared to be in course of undergoing some new change. He
sat looking at my dress (as I supposed) with a steady and anxious
attention, gravely forming his own conclusions, steadfastly
pursuing his own train of thought.
"Mrs. Valeria," he burst out suddenly, "you are not comfortable
in that chair."
"Pardon me," I replied; "I am quite comfortable."
"Pardon _me,_" he rejoined. "There is a chair of Indian
basket-work at that end of the room which is much better suited
to you. Will you accept my apologies if I am rude enough to allow
you to fetch it for yourself? I have a reason."
He had a reason! What new piece of eccentricity was he about to
exhibit? I rose and fetched the chair. It was light enough to be
quite easily carried. As I returned to him, I noticed that his
eyes were strangely employed in what seemed to be the closest
scrutiny of my dress. And, stranger still, the result of this
appeared to be partly to interest and partly to distress him.
I placed the chair near him, and was about to take my seat in it,
when he sent me back again, on another errand, to the end of the
"Oblige me indescribably," he said. "There is a hand-screen
hanging on the wall, which matches the chair. We are rather near
the fire here. You may find the screen useful. Once more forgive
me for letting you fetch it for yourself. Once more let me assure
you that I have a reason."
Here was his "reason," reiterated, emphatically reiterated, for
the second time! Curiosity made me as completely the obedient
servant of his caprices as Ariel herself. I fetched the
hand-screen. Returning with it, I met his eyes still fixed with
the same incomprehensible attention on my perfectly plain and
unpretending dress, and still expressing the same curious mixture
of interest and regret.
"Thank you a thousand times," he said. "You have (quite
innocently) wrung my heart. But you have not the less done me an
inestimable kindness. Will you promise not to be offended with me
if I confess the truth?"
He was approaching his explanation I never gave a promise more
readily in my life.
"I have rudely allowed you to fetch your chair and your screen
for yourself," he went on. "My motive will seem a very strange
one, I am afraid. Did you observe that I noticed you very
attentively--too attentively, perhaps?"
"Yes," I said. "I thought you were noticing my dress."
He shook his head, and sighed bitterly.
"Not your dress," he said; "and not your face. Your dress is
dark. Your face is still strange to me. Dear Mrs. Valeria, I
wanted to see you walk."
To see me walk! What did he mean? Where was that erratic mind of
his wandering to now?
"You have a rare accomplishment for an Englishwoman," he
resumed--"you walk well. _She_ walked well. I couldn't resist the
temptation of seeing her again, in seeing you. It was _her_
movement, _her_ sweet, simple, unsought grace (not yours), when
you walked to the end of the room and returned to me. You raised
her from the dead when you fetched the chair and the screen.
Pardon me for making use of you: the idea was innocent, the
motive was sacred. You have distressed--and delighted me. My
heart bleeds--and thanks you."
He paused for a moment; he let his head droop on his breast, then
suddenly raised it again.
"Surely we were talking about her last night?" he said. "What did
I say? what did you say? My memory is confused; I half remember,
half forget. Please remind me. You're not offended with me--are
I might have been offended with another man. Not with him. I was
far too anxious to find my way into his confidence--now that he
had touched of his own accord on the subject of Eustace's first
wife--to be offended with Miserrimus Dexter.
"We were speaking," I answered, "of Mrs. Eustace Macallan's
death, and we were saying to one another--"
He interrupted me, leaning forward eagerly in his chair.
"Yes! yes!" he exclaimed. "And I was wondering what interest
_you_ could have in penetrating the mystery of her death. Tell
me! Confide in me! I am dying to know!"
"Not even you have a stronger interest in that subject than the
interest that I feel," I said. "The happiness of my whole life to
come depends on my clearing up the mystery."
"Good God--why?" he cried. "Stop! I am exciting myself. I mustn't
do that. I must have all my wits about me; I mustn't wander. The
thing is too serious. Wait a minute!"
An elegant little basket was hooked on to one of the arms of his
chair. He opened it, and drew out a strip of embroidery partially
finished, with the necessary materials for working, a complete.
We looked at each other across the embroidery. He noticed my
"Women," he said, "wisely compose their minds, and help
themselves to think quietly, by doing needle-work. Why are men
such fools as to deny themselves the same admirable resource--the
simple and soothing occupation which keeps the nerves steady and
leaves the mind calm and free? As a man, I follow the woman's
wise example. Mrs. Valeria, permit me to compose myself."
Gravely arranging his embroidery, this extraordinary being began
to work with the patient and nimble dexterity of an accomplished
"Now," said Miserrimus Dexter, "if you are ready, I am. You
talk--I work. Please begin."
I obeyed him, and began.
IN THE DARK.
WITH such a man as Miserrimus Dexter, and with such a purpose as
I had in view, no half-confidences were possible. I must either
risk the most unreserved acknowledgment of the interests that I
really had at stake, or I must make the best excuse that occurred
to me for abandoning my
contemplated experiment at the last moment. In my present
critical situation, no such refuge as a middle course lay before
me--even if I had been inclined to take it. As things were, I ran
risks, and plunged headlong into my own affairs at starting.
"Thus far, you know little or nothing about me, Mr. Dexter," I
said. "You are, as I believe, quite unaware that my husband and I
are not living together at the present time."
"Is it necessary to mention your husband?" he asked, coldly,
without looking up from his embroidery, and without pausing in
"It is absolutely necessary," I answered. "I can explain myself
to you in no other way."
He bent his head, and sighed resignedly.
"You and your husband are not living together at the present
time," he resumed. "Does that mean that Eustace has left you?"
"He has left me, and has gone abroad."
"Without any necessity for it?"
"Without the least necessity."
"Has he appointed no time for his return to you?"
"If he persevere in his present resolution, Mr. Dexter, Eustace
will never return to me."
For the first time he raised his head from his embroidery--with a
sudden appearance of interest.
"Is the quarrel so serious as that?" he asked. "Are you free of
each other, pretty Mrs. Valeria, by common consent of both
The tone in which he put the question was not at all to my
liking. The look he fixed on me was a look which unpleasantly
suggested that I had trusted myself alone with him, and that he
might end in taking advantage of it. I reminded him quietly, by
my manner more than by my words, of the respect which he owed to
"You are entirely mistaken," I said. "There is no anger--there is
not even a misunderstanding between us. Our parting has cost
bitter sorrow, Mr. Dexter, to him and to me."
He submitted to be set right with ironical resignation. "I am all
attention," he said, threading his needle. "Pray go on; I won't
interrupt you again." Acting on this invitation, I told him the
truth about my husband and myself quite unreservedly, taking
care, however, at the same time, to put Eustace's motives in the
best light that they would bear. Miserrimus Dexter dropped his
embroidery on his lap, and laughed softly to himself, with an
impish enjoyment of my poor little narrative, which set every
nerve in me on edge as I looked at him.
"I see nothing to laugh at," I said, sharply.
His beautiful blue eyes rested on me with a look of innocent
"Nothing to laugh at," he repeated, "in such an exhibition of
human folly as you have just described?" His expression suddenly
changed his face darkened and hardened very strangely. "Stop!" he
cried, before I could answer him. "There can be only one reason
for you're taking it as seriously as you do. Mrs. Valeria! you
are fond of your husband."
"Fond of him isn't strong enough to express it," I retorted. "I
love him with my whole heart."
Miserrimus Dexter stroked his magnificent beard, and
contemplatively repeated my words. "You love him with your whole
heart? Do you know why?"
"Because I can't help it," I answered, doggedly.
He smiled satirically, and went on with his embroidery.
"Curious!" he said to himself; "Eustace's first wife loved him
too. There are some men whom the women all like, and there are
other men whom the women never care for. Without the least reason
for it in either case. The one man is just as good as the other;
just as handsome, as agreeable, as honorable, and as high in rank
as the other. And yet for Number One they will go through fire
and water, and for Number Two they won't so much as turn their
heads to look at him. Why? They don't know themselves--as Mrs.
Valeria has just said! Is there a physical reason for it? Is
there some potent magnetic emanation from Number One which Number
Two doesn't possess? I must investigate this when I have the
time, and when I find myself in the humor." Having so far settled
the question to his own entire satisfaction, he looked up at me
again. "I am still in the dark about you and your motives," he
said. "I am still as far as ever from understanding what your
interest is in investigating that hideous tragedy at Gleninch.
Clever Mrs. Valeria, please take me by the hand, and lead me into
the light. You're not offended with me are you? Make it up; and I
will give you this pretty piece of embroidery when I have done
it. I am only a poor, solitary, deformed wretch, with a quaint
turn of mind; I mean no harm. Forgive me! indulge me! enlighten
He resumed his childish ways; he recover, his innocent smile,
with the odd little puckers and wrinkles accompanying it at the
corners of his eyes. I began to doubt whether I might not have
been unreasonably hard on him. I penitently resolved to be more
considerate toward his infirmities of mind and body during the
remainder of my visit.
"Let me go back for a moment, Mr. Dexter, to past times at
Gleninch," I said. "You agree with me in believing Eustace to be
absolutely innocent of the crime for which he was tried. Your
evidence at the Trial tells me that."
He paused over his work, and looked at me with a grave and stern
attention which presented his face in quite a new light.
"That is _our_ opinion," I resumed. "But it was not the opinion
of the Jury. Their verdict, you remember, was Not Proven. In
plain English, the Jury who tried my husband declined to express
their opinion, positively and publicly, that he was innocent. Am
Instead of answering, he suddenly put his embroidery back in the
basket, and moved the machinery of his chair, so as to bring it
close by mine.
"Who told you this?" he asked.
"I found it for myself in a book."
Thus far his face had expressed steady attention--and no more.
Now, for the first time, I thought I saw something darkly passing
over him which betrayed itself to my mind as rising distrust.
"Ladies are not generally in the habit of troubling their heads
about dry questions of law," he said. "Mrs. Eustace Macallan the
Second, you must have some very powerful motive for turning your
studies that way."
"I have a very powerful motive, Mr. Dexter My husband is resigned
to the Scotch Verdict His mother is resigned to it. His friends
(so far as I know) are resigned to it--"
"Well! I don't agree with my husband, or his mother, or his
friends. I refuse to submit to the Scotch Verdict."
The instant I said those words, the madness in him which I had
hitherto denied, seemed to break out. He suddenly stretched
himself over his chair: he pounced on me, with a hand on each of
my shoulders; his wild eyes questioned me fiercely, frantically,
within a few inches of my face.
"What do you mean?" he shouted, at the utmost pitch of his
ringing and resonant voice.
A deadly fear of him shook me. I did my best to hide the outward
betrayal of it. By look and word, I showed him, as firmly as I
could, that I resented the liberty he had taken with me.
"Remove your hands, sir," I said, "and retire to your proper
He obeyed me mechanically. He apologized to me mechanically. His
whole mind was evidently still filled with the words that I had
spoken to him, and still bent on discovering what those words
"I beg your pardon," he said; "I humbly beg your pardon. The
subject excites me, frightens me, maddens me. You don't know what
a difficulty I have in controlling myself. Never mind. Don't take
me seriously. Don't be frightened at me. I am so ashamed of
myself--I feel so small and so miserable at having offended you.
Make me suffer for it. Take a stick and beat me. Tie me down in
my chair. Call up Ariel, who is as strong as a horse, and tell
her to hold me. Dear Mrs. Valeria! Injured Mrs. Valeria! I'll
endure anything in the way of punishment, if you will only tell
me what you mean by not submitting to the Scotch Verdict." He
backed his chair penitently as he made that entreaty. "Am I far
enough away yet?" he asked, with a rueful look. "Do I still
frighten you? I'll drop out of sight, if you prefer it, in the
bottom of the chair."
He lifted the sea-green coverlet. In another moment he would have
disappeared like a puppet in a show if I had not stopped him.
"Say nothing more, and do
nothing more; I accept your apologies," I said. "When I tell you
that I refuse to submit to the opinion of the Scotch Jury, I mean
exactly what my words express. That verdict has left a stain on
my husband's character. He feels the stain bitterly. How bitterly
no one knows so well as I do. His sense of his degradation is the
sense that has parted him from me. It is not enough for _him_
that I am persuaded of his innocence. Nothing will bring him back
to me--nothing will persuade Eustace that I think him worthy to
be the guide and companion of my life--but the proof of his
innocence, set before the Jury which doubts it, and the public
which doubts it, to this day. He and his friends and his lawyers
all despair of ever finding that proof now. But I am his wife;
and none of you love him as I love him. I alone refuse to
despair; I alone refuse to listen to reason. If God spare me, Mr.
Dexter, I dedicate my life to the vindication of my husband's
innocence. You are his old friend--I am here to ask you to help
It appeared to be now my turn to frighten _him._ The color left
his face. He passed his hand restlessly over his forehead, as if
he were trying to brush some delusion out of his brain.
"Is this one of my dreams?" he asked, faintly. "Are you a Vision
of the night?"
"I am only a friendless woman," I said, "who has lost all that
she loved and prized, and who is trying to win it back again."
He began to move his chair nearer to me once more. I lifted my
hand. He stopped the chair directly. There was a moment of
silence. We sat watching one another. I saw his hands tremble as
he laid them on the coverlet; I saw his face grow paler and
paler, and his under lip drop. What dead and buried remembrances
had I brought to life in him, in all their olden horror?
He was the first to speak again.
"So this is your interest," he said, "in clearing up the mystery
of Mrs. Eustace Macallan's death?"
"And you believe that I can help you?"
He slowly lifted one of his hands, and pointed at me with his
"You suspect somebody," he said.
The tone in which he spoke was low and threatening; it warned me
to be careful. At the same time, if I now shut him out of my
confidence, I should lose the reward that might yet be to come,
for all that I had suffered and risked at that perilous
"You suspect somebody," he repeated.
"Perhaps!" was all that I said in return.
"Is the person within your reach?"
"Do you know where the person is?"
He laid his head languidly on the back of his chair, with a
trembling long-drawn sigh. Was he disappointed? Or was he
relieved? Or was he simply exhausted in mind and body alike? Who
could fathom him? Who could say?
"Will you give me five minutes?" he asked, feebly and wearily,
without raising his head. "You know already how any reference to
events at Gleninch excites and shakes me. I shall be fit for it
again, if you will kindly give me a few minutes to myself. There
are books in the next room. Please excuse me."
I at once retired to the circular antechamber. He followed me in
his chair, and closed the door between us.
IN THE LIGHT.
A LITTLE interval of solitude was a relief to me, as well as to
Startling doubts beset me as I walked restlessly backward and
forward, now in the anteroom, and now in the corridor outside. It
was plain that I had (quite innocently) disturbed the repose of
some formidable secrets in Miserrimus Dexter's mind. I confused
and wearied my poor brains in trying to guess what the secrets
might be. All my ingenuity--as after-events showed me--was wasted
on speculations not one of which even approached the truth. I was
on surer ground when I arrived at the conclusion that Dexter had
really kept every mortal creature out of his confidence. He could
never have betrayed such serious signs of disturbance as I had
noticed in him, if he had publicly acknowledged at the Trial, or
if he had privately communicated to any chosen friend, all that
he knew of the tragic and terrible drama acted in the bedchamber
at Gleninch. What powerful influence had induced him to close his
lips? Had he been silent in mercy to others? or in dread of
consequences to himself? Impossible to tell! Could I hope that he
would confide to Me what he had kept secret from Justice and
Friendship alike? When he knew what I really wanted of him, would
he arm me, out of his own stores of knowledge, with the weapon
that would win me victory in the struggle to come? The chances
were against it--there was no denying that. Still the end was
worth trying for. The caprice of the moment might yet stand my
friend, with such a wayward being as Miserrimus Dexter. My plans
and projects were sufficiently strange, sufficiently wide of the
ordinary limits of a woman's thoughts and actions, to attract his
sympathies. "Who knows," I thought to myself, "if I may not take
his confidence by surprise, by simply telling him the truth?"
The interval expired; the door was thrown open; the voice of my
host summoned me again to the inner room.
"Welcome back!" said Miserrimus Dexter.
"Dear Mrs. Valeria, I am quite myself again. How are you?"
He looked and spoke with the easy cordiality of an old friend.
During the period of my absence, short as it was, another change
had passed over this most multiform of living beings. His eyes
sparkled with good-humor; his cheeks were flushing under a new
excitement of some sort. Even his dress had undergone alteration
since I had seen it last. He now wore an extemporized cap of
white paper; his ruffles were tucked up; a clean apron was thrown
over the sea-green coverlet. He hacked his chair before me,
bowing and smiling, and waved me to a seat with the grace of a
dancing master, chastened by the dignity of a lord in waiting.
"I am going to cook," he announced, with the most engaging
simplicity. "We both stand in need of refreshment before we
return to the serious business of our interview. You see me in my
cook's dress; forgive it. There is a form in these things. I am a
great stickler for forms. I have been taking some wine. Please
sanction that proceeding by taking some wine too."
He filled a goblet of ancient Venetian glass with a purple-red
liquor, beautiful to see.
"Burgundy!" he said--"the king of wine: And this is the king of
Burgundies--Clos Vougeot. I drink to your health and happiness!"
He filled a second goblet for himself, and honored the toast by
draining it to the bottom. I now understood the sparkle in his
eyes and the flush in his cheeks. It was my interest not to
offend him. I drank a little of his wine, and I quite agreed with
him. I thought it delicious.
"What shall we eat?" he asked. "It must be something worthy of
our Clos Vougeot. Ariel is good at roasting and boiling joints,
poor wretch! but I don't insult your taste by offering you
Ariel's cookery. Plain joints!" he exclaimed, with an expression
of refined disgust. "Bah! A man who eats a plain joint is only
one remove from a cannibal or a butcher. Will you leave it to me
to discover something more worthy of us? Let us go to the
He wheeled his chair around, and invited me to accompany him with
a courteous wave of his hand.
I followed the chair to some closed curtains at one end of the
room, which I had not hitherto noticed. Drawing aside the
curtains, he revealed to view an alcove, in which stood a neat
little gas-stove for cooking. Drawers and cupboards, plates,
dishes, and saucepans, were ranged around the alcove--all on a
miniature scale, all scrupulously bright and clean. "Welcome to
the kitchen!" said Miserrimus Dexter. He drew out of a recess in
the wall a marble slab, which served as a table, and reflected
profoundly, with his hand to his head. "I have it!" he cried, and
opening one of the cupboards next, took from it a black bottle of
a form that was new to me. Sounding this bottle with a spike, he
pierced and produced to view some little irregularly formed black
objects, which might have been familiar enough to a woman
accustomed to the luxurious tables of the rich, but which were a
new revelation to a person like myself, who
had led a simple country life in the house of a clergyman with
small means. When I saw my host carefully lay out these occult
substances of uninviting appearance on a clean napkin, and then
plunge once more into profound reflection at the sight of them,
my curiosity could be no longer restrained. I ventured to say,
"What are those things, Mr. Dexter, and are we really going to
He started at the rash question, and looked at me with hands
outspread in irrepressible astonishment.
"Where is our boasted progress?" he cried. What is education but
a name? Here is a cultivated person who doesn't know Truffles
when she sees them!"
"I have heard of truffles," I answered, humbly, "but I never saw
them before. We had no such foreign luxuries as those, Mr.
Dexter, at home in the North."
Miserrimus Dexter lifted one of the truffles tenderly on his
spike, and held it up to me in a favorable light.
"Make the most of one of the few first sensations in this life
which has no ingredient of disappointment lurking under the
surface," he said. "Look at it; meditate over it. You shall eat
it, Mrs. Valeria, stewed in Burgundy!"
He lighted the gas for cooking with the air of a man who was
about to offer me an inestimable proof of his good-will.
"Forgive me if I observe the most absolute silence," he said,
"dating from the moment when I take this in my hand." He produced
a bright little stew-pan from his collection of culinary utensils
as he spoke. "Properly pursued, the Art of Cookery allows of no
divided attention," he continued, gravely. "In that observation
you will find the reason why no woman ever has reached, or ever
will reach, the highest distinction as a cook. As a rule, women
are incapable of absolutely concentrating their attention on any
one occupation for any given time. Their minds will run on
something else--say; typically, for the sake of illustration,
their sweetheart or their new bonnet. The one obstacle, Mrs.
Valeria, to your rising equal to the men in the various
industrial processes of life is not raised, as the women vainly
suppose, by the defective institutions of the age they live in.
No! the obstacle is in themselves. No institutions that can be
devised to encourage them will ever be strong enough to contend
successfully with the sweetheart and the new bonnet. A little
while ago, for instance, I was instrumental in getting women
employed in our local post-office here. The other day I took the
trouble--a serious business to me--of getting downstairs, and
wheeling myself away to the office to see how they were getting
on. I took a letter with me to register. It had an unusually long
address. The registering woman began copying the address on the
receipt form, in a business-like manner cheering and delightful
to see. Half way through, a little child-sister of one of the
other women employed trotted into the office, and popped under
the counter to go and speak to her relative. The registering
woman's mind instantly gave way. Her pencil stopped; her eyes
wandered off to the child with a charming expression of interest.
'Well, Lucy,' she said, 'how d'ye do?' Then she remembered
business again, and returned to her receipt. When I took it
across the counter, an important line in the address of my letter
was left out in the copy. Thanks to Lucy. Now a man in the same
position would not have seen Lucy--he would have been too closely
occupied with what he was about at the moment. There is the whole
difference between the mental constitution of the sexes, which no
legislation will ever alter as long as the world lasts! What does
it matter? Women are infinitely superior to men in the moral
qualities which are the true adornments of humanity. Be
content--oh, my mistaken sisters, be content with that!"
He twisted his chair around toward the stove. It was useless to
dispute the question with him, even if I had felt inclined to do
so. He absorbed himself in his stew-pan.
I looked about me in the room.
The same insatiable relish for horrors exhibited downstairs by
the pictures in the hall was displayed again here. The
photographs hanging on the wall represented the various forms of
madness taken from the life. The plaster casts ranged on the
shelf opposite were casts (after death) of the heads of famous
murderers. A frightful little skeleton of a woman hung in a
cupboard, behind a glazed door, with this cynical inscription
placed above the skull: "Behold the scaffolding on which beauty
is built!" In a corresponding cupboard, with the door wide open,
there hung in loose folds a shirt (as I took it to be) of chamois
leather. Touching it (and finding it to be far softer than any
chamois leather that my fingers had ever felt before), I
disarranged the folds, and disclosed a ticket pinned among them,
describing the thing in these horrid lines: "Skin of a French
Marquis, tanned in the Revolution of Ninety-three. Who says the
nobility are not good for something? They make good leather."
After this last specimen of my host's taste in curiosities, I
pursued my investigation no further. I returned to my chair, and
waited for the truffles.
After a brief interval, the voice of the
poet-painter-composer-and-cook summoned me back to the alcove.
The gas was out. The stew-pan and its accompaniments had
vanished. On the marble slab were two plates, two napkins, two
rolls of bread, and a dish, with another napkin in it, on which
reposed two quaint little black balls. Miserrimus Dexter,
regarding me with a smile of benevolent interest, put one of the
balls on my plate, and took the other himself. "Compose yourself,
Mrs. Valeria," he said. "This is an epoch in your life. Your
first Truffle! Don't touch it with the knife. Use the fork alone.
And--pardon me; this is most important--eat slowly."
I followed my instructions, and assumed an enthusiasm which I
honestly confess I did not feel. I privately thought the new
vegetable a great deal too rich, and in other respects quite
unworthy of the fuss that had been made about it. Miserrimus
Dexter lingered and languished over his truffles, and sipped his
wonderful Burgundy, and sang his own praises as a cook until I
was really almost mad with impatience to return to the real
object of my visit. In the reckless state of mind which this
feeling produced, I abruptly reminded my host that he was wasting
our time, by the most dangerous question that I could possibly
put to him.
"Mr. Dexter," I said, "have you seen anything lately of Mrs.
The easy sense of enjoyment expressed in his face left it at
those rash words, and went out like a suddenly extinguished
light. That furtive distrust of me which I had already noticed
instantly made itself felt again in his manner and in his voice.
"Do you know Mrs. Beauly?" he asked.
"I only know her," I answered, "by what I have read of her in the
He was not satisfied with that reply.
"You must have an interest of some sort in Mrs. Beauly," he said,
"or you would not have asked me about her. Is it the interest of
a friend, or the interest of an enemy?"
Rash as I might be, I was not quite reckless enough yet to meet
that plain question by an equally plain reply. I saw enough in
his face to warn me to be careful with him before it was too
"I can only answer you in one way," I rejoined. "I must return to
a subject which is very painful to you--the subject of the
"Go on," he said, with one of his grim outbursts of humor. "Here
I am at your mercy--a martyr at the stake. Poke the fire! poke
"I am only an ignorant woman," I resumed, "and I dare say I am
quite wrong; but there is one part of my husband's trial which
doesn't at all satisfy me. The defense set up for him seems to me
to have been a complete mistake."
"A complete mistake?" he repeated. "Strange language, Mrs.
Valeria, to say the least of it!" He tried to speak lightly; he
took up his goblet of wine; but I could see that I had produced
an effect on him. His hand trembled as it carried the wine to his
"I don't doubt that Eustace's first wife really asked him to buy
the arsenic," I continued. "I don't doubt that she used it
secretly to improve her complexion. But w hat I do _not_ believe
is that she died of an overdose of the poison, taken by mistake."
He put back the goblet of wine on the table near him so
unsteadily that he spilled the greater part of it. For a moment
his eyes met mine, then looked down again.
"How do you believe she died?" he inquired, in tones so low that
I could barely hear them.
"By the hand of a poisoner," I answered.
He made a movement as if he were about to start up in the chair,
and sank back again, seized, apparently, with a sudden faintness.
"Not my husband!" I hastened to add. "You know that I am
satisfied of _his_ innocence."
I saw him shudder. I saw his hands fasten their hold convulsively
on the arms of his chair.
"Who poisoned her?" he asked, still lying helplessly back in the
At the critical moment my courage failed me. I was afraid to tell
him in what direction my suspicions pointed.
"Can't you guess?" I said.
There was a pause. I supposed him to be seceretly following his
own train of thought. It was not for long. On a sudden he started
up in his chair. The prostration which had possessed him appeared
to vanish in an instant. His eyes recovered their wild light; his
hands were steady again; his color was brighter than ever. Had he
been pondering over the secret of my interest in Mrs. Beauly? and
had he guessed? He had!
"Answer on your word of honor!" he cried. "Don't attempt to
deceive me! Is it a woman?"
"What is the first letter of her name? Is it one of the first
three letters of the alphabet?"
He threw his hands up above his head, and burst into a frantic
fit of laughter.
"I have lived long enough!" he broke out, wildly. "At last I have
discovered one other person in the world who sees it as plainly
as I do. Cruel Mrs. Valeria! why did you torture me? Why didn't
you own it before?"
"What!" I exclaimed, catching the infection of his excitement.
"Are _your_ ideas _my_ ideas? Is it possible that _you_ suspect
Mrs. Beauly too?"
He made this remarkable reply:
"Suspect?" he repeated, contemptuously. "There isn't the shadow
of a doubt about it. Mrs. Beauly poisoned her."
THE INDICTMENT OF MRS. BEAULY.
I STARTED to my feet, and looked at Miserrimus Dexter. I was too
much agitated to be able to speak to him.
My utmost expectations had not prepared me for the tone of
absolute conviction in which he had spoken. At the best, I had
anticipated that he might, by the barest chance, agree with me in
suspecting Mrs. Beauly. And now his own lips had said it, without
hesitation or reserve! "There isn't the shadow of a doubt: Mrs.
Beauly poisoned her."
"Sit down," he said, quietly. "There's nothing to be afraid of.
Nobody can hear us in this room."
I sat down again, and recovered myself a little.
"Have you never told any one else what you have just told me?"
was the first question that I put to him.
"Never. No one else suspected her."
"Not even the lawyers?"
"Not even the lawyers. There is no legal evidence against Mrs.
Beauly. There is nothing but moral certainty."
"Surely you might have found the evidence if you had tried?"
He laughed at the idea.
"Look at me!" he said. "How is a man to hunt up evidence who is
tied to this chair? Besides, there were other difficulties in my
way. I am not generally in the habit of needlessly betraying
myself--I am a cautious man, though you may not have noticed it.
But my immeasurable hatred of Mrs. Beauly was not to be
concealed. If eyes can tell secrets, she must have discovered, in
my eyes, that I hungered and thirsted to see her in the hangman's
hands. From first to last, I tell you, Mrs. Borgia-Beauly was on
her guard against me. Can I describe her cunning? All my
resources of language are not equal to the task. Take the degrees
of comparison to give you a faint idea of it: I am positively
cunning; the devil is comparatively cunning; Mrs. Beauly is
superlatively cunning. No! no! If she is ever discovered, at this
distance of time, it will not be done by a man--it will be done
by a woman: a woman whom she doesn't suspect; a woman who can
watch her with the patience of a tigress in a state of
"Say a woman like Me!" I broke out. "I am ready to try."
His eyes glittered; his teeth showed themselves viciously under
his mustache; he drummed fiercely with both hands on the arms of
"Do you really mean it?" he asked.
"Put me in your position," I answered . "Enlighten me with your
moral certainty (as you call it)--and you shall see!"
"I'll do it!" he said. "Tell me one thing first. How did an
outside stranger, like you, come to suspect her?"
I set before him, to the best of my ability, the various elements
of suspicion which I had collected from the evidence at the
Trial; and I laid especial stress on the fact (sworn to by the
nurse) that Mrs. Beauly was missing exactly at he time when
Christina Ormsay had left Mrs. Eustace Macallan alone in her
"You have hit it!" cried Miserrimus Dexter. "You are a wonderful
woman! What was she doing on the morning of the day when Mrs.
Eustace Macallan died poisoned? And where was she during the dark