Part 6 out of 9
hours of the night? I can tell you where she was _not_--she was
not in her own room."
"Not in her own room?" I repeated. "Are you really sure of that?"
"I am sure of everything that I say, when I am speaking of Mrs.
Beauly. Mind that: and now listen! This is a drama; and I excel
in dramatic narrative. You shall judge for yourself. Date, the
twentieth of October. Scene the Corridor, called the Guests'
Corridor, at Gleninch. On one side, a row of windows looking out
into the garden. On the other, a row of four bedrooms, with
dressing-rooms attached. First bedroom (beginning from the
staircase), occupied by Mrs. Beauly. Second bedroom, empty. Third
bedroom, occupied by Miserrimus Dexter. Fourth bedroom, empty. So
much for the Scene! The time comes next--the time is eleven at
night. Dexter discovered in his bedroom, reading. Enter to him
Eustace Macallan. Eustace speaks: 'My dear fellow, be
particularly careful not to make any noise; don't bowl your chair
up and down the corridor to-night.' Dexter inquires, 'Why?'
Eustace answers: 'Mrs. Beauly has been dining with some friends
in Edinburgh, and has come back terribly fatigued: she has gone
up to her room to rest.' Dexter makes another inquiry (satirical
inquiry, this time): 'How does she look when she is terribly
fatigued? As beautiful as ever?' Answer: 'I don t know; I have
not seen her; she slipped upstairs, without speaking to anybody.'
Third inquiry by Dexter (logical inquiry, on this occasion): 'If
she spoke to nobody, how do you know she is fatigued?' Eustace
hands Dexter a morsel of paper, and answers: 'Don t be a fool! I
found this on the hall table. Remember what I have told you about
keeping quiet; good-night!' Eustace retires. Dexter looks at the
paper, and reads these lines in pencil: 'Just returned. Please
forgive me for going to bed without saying good-night. I have
overexerted myself; I am dreadfully fatigued. (Signed) Helena.'
Dexter is by nature suspicious. Dexter suspects Mrs. Beauly.
Never mind his reasons; there is no time to enter into his
reasons now. He puts the ease to himself thus: 'A weary woman
would never have given herself the trouble to write this. She
would have found it much less fatiguing to knock at the
drawing-room door as she passed, and to make her apologies by
word of mouth. I see something here out of the ordinary way; I
shall make a night of it in my chair. Very good. Dexter proceeds
to make a night of it. He opens his door; wheels himself softly
into the corridor; locks the doors of the two empty bedrooms, and
returns (with the keys in his pocket) to his own room. 'Now,'
says D. to himself, 'if I hear a door softly opened in this part
of the house, I shall know for certain it is Mrs. Beauly's door!'
Upon that he closes his own door, leaving the tiniest little
chink to look through; puts out his light; and waits and watches
at his tiny little chink, like a cat at a mouse-hole. The
corridor is the only place he wants to see; and a lamp burns
there all night. Twelve o'clock strikes; he hear s the doors
below bolted and locked, and nothing happens. Half-past
twelve--and nothing still. The house is as silent as the grave.
One o'clock; two o'clock--same silence. Half-past two--and
something happens at last. Dexter hears a sound close by, in the
corridor. It is the sound of a handle turning very softly in a
door--in the only door that can be opened, the door of Mrs.
Beauly's room. Dexter drops noiselessly from his chair onto his
hands; lies flat on the floor at his chink, and listens. He hears
the handle closed again; he sees a dark object flit by him; he
pops his head out of his door, down on the floor where nobody
would think of looking for him. And what does he see? Mrs.
Beauly! There she goes, with the long brown cloak over her
shoulders, which she wears when she is driving, floating behind
her. In a moment more she disappears, past the fourth bedroom,
and turns at a right angle, into a second corridor, called the
South Corridor. What rooms are in the South Corridor? There are
three rooms. First room, the little study, mentioned in the
nurse's evidence. Second room, Mrs. Eustace Macallan's
bedchamber. Third room, her husband's bedchamber. What does Mrs.
Beauly (supposed to be worn out by fatigue) want in that part of
the house at half-past two in the morning? Dexter decides on
running the risk of being seen--and sets off on a voyage of
discovery. Do you know how he gets from place to place without
his chair? Have you seen the poor deformed creature hop on his
hands? Shall he show you how he does it, before he goes on with
I hastened to stop the proposed exhibition.
"I saw you hop last night," I said. "Go on!--pray go on with your
"Do you like my dramatic style of narrative?" he asked. "Am I
"Indescribably interesting, Mr. Dexter. I am eager to hear more."
He smiled in high approval of his own abilities.
"I am equally good at the autobiographical style," he said.
"Shall we try that next, by way of variety?"
"Anything you like," I cried, losing all patience with him, "if
you will only go on!"
"Part Two; Autobiographical Style," he announced, with a wave of
his hand. "I hopped along the Guests' Corridor, and turned into
the South Corridor. I stopped at the little study. Door open;
nobody there. I crossed the study to the second door,
communicating with Mrs. Macallan's bedchamber. Locked! I looked
through the keyhole Was there something hanging over it, on the
other side? I can't say--I only know there was nothing to be seen
but blank darkness. I listened. Nothing to be heard. Same blank
darkness, same absolute silence, inside the locked second door of
Mrs. Eustace's room, opening on the corridor. I went on to her
husband's bedchamber. I had the worst possible opinion of Mrs.
Beauly--I should not have been in the least surprised if I had
caught her in Eustace's room. I looked through the keyhole. In
this case, the key was out of it--or was turned the right way for
me--I don't know which. Eustace's bed was opposite the door. No
discovery. I could see him, all by himself, innocently asleep. I
reflected a little. The back staircase was at the end of the
corridor, beyond me. I slid down the stairs, and looked about me
on the lower floor, by the light of the night-lamp. Doors all
fast locked and keys outside, so that I could try them myself.
House door barred and bolted. Door leading into the servants'
offices barred and bolted. I got back to my own room, and thought
it out quietly. Where could she be? Certainly _in_ the house,
somewhere. Where? I had made sure of the other rooms; the field
of search was exhausted. She could only be in Mrs. Macallan's
room--the _one_ room which had baffled my investigations; the
_only_ room which had not lent itself to examination. Add to this
that the key of the door in the study, communicating with Mrs.
Macallan's room, was stated in the nurse's evidence to be
missing; and don't forget that the dearest object of Mrs.
Beauly's life (on the showing of her own letter, read at the
Trial) was to be Eustace Macallan's happy wife. Put these things
together in your own mind, and you will know what my thoughts
were, as I sat waiting for events in my chair, without my telling
you. Toward four o'clock, strong as I am, fatigue got the better
of me. I fell asleep. Not for long. I awoke with a start and
looked at my watch. Twenty-five minutes past four. Had she got
back to her room while I was asleep? I hopped to her door and
listened. Not a sound. I softly opened the door. The room was
empty. I went back again to my own room to wait and watch. It was
hard work to keep my eyes open. I drew up the window to let the
cool air refresh me; I fought hard with exhausted nature, and
exhausted nature won. I fell asleep again. This time it was eight
in the morning when I awoke. I have goodish ears, as you may have
noticed. I heard women's voices talking under my open window. I
peeped out. Mrs. Beauly and her maid in close confabulation! Mrs.
Beauly and her maid looking guiltily about them to make sure that
they were neither seen nor heard! 'Take care, ma'am,' I heard the
maid say; 'that horrid deformed monster is as sly as a fox. Mind
he doesn't discover you.' Mrs. Beauly answered, 'You go first,
and look out in front; I will follow you, and make sure there is
nobody behind us.' With that they disappeared around the corner
of the house. In five minutes more I heard the door of Mrs.
Beauly's room softly opened and closed again. Three hours later
the nurse met her in the corridor, innocently on her way to make
inquiries at Mrs. Eustace Macallan's door. What do you think of
these circumstances? What do you think of Mrs. Beauly and her
maid having something to say to each other, which they didn't
dare say in the house--for fear of my being behind some door
listening to them? What do you think of these discoveries of mine
being made on the very morning when Mrs. Eustace was taken
ill--on the very day when she died by a poisoner's hand? Do you
see your way to the guilty person? And has mad Miserrimus Dexter
been of some assistance to you, so far?"
I was too violently excited to answer him. The way to the
vindication of my husband's innocence was opened to me at last!
"Where is she?" I cried. "And where is that servant who is in her
"I can't tell you," he said. "I don't know."
"Where can I inquire? Can you tell me that?"
He considered a little. "There is one man who must know where she
is--or who could find it out for you," he said.
"Who is he? What is his name?"
"He is a friend of Eustace's. Major Fitz-David."
"I know him! I am going to dine with him next week. He has asked
you to dine too."
Miserrimus Dexter laughed contemptuously.
"Major Fitz-David may do very well for the ladies," he said. "The
ladies can treat him as a species of elderly human lap-dog. I don
t dine with lap-dogs; I have said, No. You go. He or some of his
ladies may be of use to you. Who are the guests? Did he tell
"There was a French lady whose name I forget," I said, "and Lady
"That will do! She is a friend of Mrs. Beauly's. She is sure to
know where Mrs. Beauly is. Come to me the moment you have got
your information. Find out if the maid is with her: she is the
easiest to deal with of the two. Only make the maid open her
lips, and we have got Mrs. Beauly. We crush her," he cried,
bringing his hand down like lightning on the last languid fly of
the season, crawling over the arm of his chair--"we crush her as
I crush this fly. Stop! A question--a most important question in
dealing with the maid. Have you got any money?"
"Plenty of money."
He snapped his fingers joyously.
"The maid is ours!" he cried. "It's a matter of pounds,
shillings, and pence with the maid. Wait! Another question. About
your name? If you approach Mrs. Beauly in your own character as
Eustace's wife, you approach her as the woman who has taken her
place--you make a mortal enemy of her at starting. Beware of
My jealousy of Mrs. Beauly, smoldering in me all through the
interview, burst into flames at those words. I could resist it no
longer--I was obliged to ask him if my husband had ever loved
"Tell me the truth," I said. "Did Eustace really--?"
He burst out laughing maliciously, he penetrated my jealousy, and
guessed my question almost before it had passed my lips.
"Yes," he said, "Eustace did really love her--and no mistake
about it. She had every reason to believe (before the Trial) that
the wife's death would put her in the wife's place. But the Trial
made another man of Eustace. Mrs. Beauly had been a witness of
the public degradation of him. That was enough to prevent his
marrying Mrs. Beauly. He broke off with her at once and
forever--for the same reason precisely which has led him to
separate himself from you. Existence with a woman who knew that
he had been tried for his life as a murderer was an existence
that he was not hero enough to face. You wanted the truth. There
it is! You have need to be cautious of Mrs. Beauly--you have no
need to be jealous of her. Take the safe course. Arrange with the
Major, when you meet Lady Clarinda at his dinner, that you meet
her under an assumed name."
"I can go to the dinner," I said, "under the name in which
Eustace married me. I can go as 'Mrs. Woodville.'"
"The very thing!" he exclaimed. "What would I not give to be
present when Lady Clarinda introduces you to Mrs. Beauly! Think
of the situation. A woman with a hideous secret hidden in her
inmost soul: and another woman who knows of it--another woman who
is bent, by fair means or foul, on dragging that secret into the
light of day. What a struggle! What a plot for a novel! I am in a
fever when I think of it. I am beside myself when I look into the
future, and see Mrs. Borgia-Beauly brought to her knees at last.
Don't be alarmed!" he cried, with the wild light flashing once
more in his eyes. "My brains are beginning to boil again in my
head. I must take refuge in physical exercise. I must blow off
the steam, or I shall explode in my pink jacket on the spot!"
The old madness seized on him again. I made for the door, to
secure my retreat in case of necessity--and then ventured to look
around at him.
He was off on his furious wheels--half man, half chair--flying
like a whirlwind to the other end of the room. Even this exercise
was not violent enough for him in his present mood. In an instant
he was down on the floor, poised on his hands, and looking in the
distance like a monstrous frog. Hopping down the room, he
overthrew, one after another, all the smaller and lighter chairs
as he passed them; arrived at the end, he turned, surveyed the
prostrate chairs, encouraged himself with a scream of triumph,
and leaped rapidly over chair after chair on his hands--his
limbless body now thrown back from the shoulders, and now thrown
forward to keep the balance--in a manner at once wonderful and
horrible to behold. "Dexter's Leap-frog!" he cried, cheerfully,
perching himself with his birdlike lightness on the last of the
prostrate chairs when he had reached the further end of the room.
"I'm pretty active, Mrs. Valeria, considering I'm a cripple. Let
us drink to the hanging of Mrs. Beauly in another bottle of
I seized desperately on the first excuse that occurred to me for
getting away from him.
"You forget," I said--"I must go at once to the Major. If I don't
warn him in time, he may speak of me to Lady Clarinda by the
Ideas of hurry and movement were just the ideas to take his fancy
in his present state. He blew furiously on the whistle that
summoned Ariel from the kitchen regions, and danced up and down
on his hands in the full frenzy of his delight.
"Ariel shall get you a cab!" he cried. "Drive at a gallop to the
Major's. Set the trap for her without losing a moment. Oh, what a
day of days this has been! Oh, what a relief to get rid of my
dreadful secret, and share it with You! I am suffocating with
happiness--I am like the Spirit of the Earth in Shelley's poem."
He broke out with the magnificent lines in "Prometheus Unbound,"
in which the Earth feels the Spirit of Love, and bursts into
speech. "'The joy, the triumph, the delight, the madness! the
boundless, overflowing, bursting gladness! the vaporous
exultation not to be confined! Ha! ha! the animation of delight,
which wraps me like an atmosphere of light, and bears me as a
cloud is borne by its own wind.' That's how I feel,
Valeria!--that's how I feel!"
I crossed the threshold while he was still speaking. The last I
saw of him he was pouring out that glorious flood of words--his
deformed body, poised on the overthrown chair, his face lifted in
rapture to some fantastic heaven of his own making. I slipped out
softly into the antechamber. Even as I crossed the room, he
changed once more. I heard his ringing cry; I heard the soft
thump-thump of his hands on the floor. He was going down the room
again, in "Dexter's Leap-frog," flying over the prostrate chairs.
In the hall, Ariel was on the watch for me.
As I approached her, I happened to be putting on my gloves. She
stopped me; and, taking my right arm, lifted my hand toward her
face. Was she going to kiss it? or to bite it?" Neither. She
smelt it like a dog--and dropped it again with a hoarse chuckling
"You don't smell of his perfumes," she said. "You _haven't_
touched his beard. _Now_ I believe you. Want a cab?"
"Thank you. I'll walk till I meet a cab."
She was bent on being polite to me--now I had _not_ touched his
"I say!" she burst out, in her deepest notes.
"I'm glad I didn't upset you in the canal. There now!"
She gave me a friendly smack on the shoulder which nearly knocked
me down--relapsed, the instant after, into her leaden stolidity
of look and manner---and led the way out by the front door. I
heard her hoarse chuckling laugh as she locked the gate behind
me. My star was at last in the ascendant! In one and the same day
I had found my way into the confidence of Ariel and Ariel's
THE DEFENSE OF MRS. BEAULY.
THE days that elapsed before Major Fitz-David's dinner-party
were precious days to me.
My long interview with Miserrimus Dexter had disturbed me far
more seriously than I suspected at the time. It was not until
some hours after I had left him that I really began to feel how
my nerves had been tried by all that I had seen and heard during
my visit at his house. I started at the slightest noises; I
dreamed of dreadful things; I was ready to cry without reason at
one moment, and to fly into a passion without reason at another.
Absolute rest was what I wanted, and (thanks to my good Benjamin)
was what I got. The dear old man controlled his anxieties on my
account, and spared me the questions which his fatherly interest
in my welfare made him eager to ask. It was tacitly understood
between us that all conversation on the subject of my visit to
Miserrimus Dexter (of which, it is needless to say, he strongly
disapproved) should be deferred until repose had restored my
energies of body and mind. I saw no visitors. Mrs. Macallan came
to the cottage, and Major Fitz-David came to the cottage--one of
them to hear what had passed between Miserrimus Dexter and
myself, the other to amuse me with the latest gossip about the
guests at the forthcoming dinner. Benjamin took it on himself to
make my apologies, and to spare me the exertion of receiving my
visitors. We hired a little open carriage, and took long drives
in the pretty country lanes still left flourishing within a few
miles of the northern suburb of London. At home we sat and talked
quietly of old times, or played at backgammon and dominoes--and
so, for a few happy days, led the peaceful unadventurous life
which was good for me. When the day of the dinner arrived, I felt
restored to my customary health. I was ready again, and eager
again, for the introduction to Lady Clarinda and the discovery of
Benjamin looked a little sadly at my flushed face as we drove to
Major Fitz-David's house.
"Ah, my dear," he said, in his simple way, "I see you are well
again! You have had enough of our quiet life already."
My recollection of events and persons, in general, at the
dinner-party, is singularly indistinct.
I remember that we were very merry, and as easy and familiar with
another as if we had been old friends. I remember that Madame
Mirliflore was unapproachably superior to the other women
present, in the perfect beauty of her dress, and in the ample
justice which she did to the luxurious dinner set before us. I
remember the Major's young prima donna, more round-eyed, more
overdressed, more shrill and strident as the coming "Queen of
Song," than ever. I remember the Major himself, always kissing
our hands, always luring us to indulge in dainty dishes and
drinks, always making love, always detecting resemblances between
us, always "under the charm," and never once out of his character
as elderly Don Juan from the beginning of the evening to the end.
I remember dear old Benjamin, completely bewildered, shrinking
into corners, blushing when he was personally drawn into the
conversation, frightened at Madame Mirliflore, bashful with Lady
Clarinda, submissive to the Major, suffering under the music, and
from the bottom of his honest old heart wishing himself home
again. And there, as to the members of that cheerful little
gathering, my memory finds its limits--with one exception. The
appearance of Lady Clarinda is as present to me as if I had met
her yesterday; and of the memorable conversation which we two
held together privately, toward the close of the evening, it is
no exaggeration to say that I can still call to mind almost every
I see her dress, I hear her voice again, while I write.
She was attired, I remember, with that extreme assumption of
simplicity which always defeats its own end by irresistibly
suggesting art. She wore plain white muslin, over white silk,
without trimming or ornament of any kind. Her rich brown hair,
dressed in defiance of the prevailing fashion, was thrown back
from her forehead, and gathered into a simple knot
behind--without adornment of any sort. A little white ribbon
encircled her neck, fastened by the only article of jewelry that
she wore--a tiny diamond brooch. She was unquestionably handsome;
but her beauty was of the somewhat hard and angular type which is
so often seen in English women of her race: the nose and chin too
prominent and too firmly shaped; the well-opened gray eyes full
of spirit and dignity, but wanting in tenderness and mobility of
expression. Her manner had all the charm which fine breeding can
confer--exquisitely polite, easily cordial; showing that perfect
yet unobtrusive confidence in herself which (in England) seems to
be the natural outgrowth of pre-eminent social rank. If you had
accepted her for what she was, on the surface, you would have
said, Here is the model of a noble woman who is perfectly free
from pride. And if you had taken a liberty with her, on the
strength of that conviction, she would have made you remember it
to the end of your life.
We got on together admirably. I was introduced as "Mrs.
Woodville," by previous arrangement with the Major--effected
through Benjamin. Before the dinner was over we had promised to
exchange visits. Nothing but the opportunity was wanting to lead
Lady Clarinda into talking, as I wanted her to talk, of Mrs.
Late in the evening the opportunity came.
I had taken refuge from the terrible bravura singing of the
Major's strident prima donna in the back drawing-room. As I had
hoped and anticipated, after a while Lady Clarinda (missing me
from the group around the piano) came in search of me. She seated
herself by my side, out of sight and out of hearing of our
friends in the front room; and, to my infinite relief and
delight, touched on the subject of Miserrimus Dexter of her own
accord. Something I had said of him, when his name had been
accidentally mentioned at dinner, remained in her memory, and led
us, by perfectly natural gradations, into speaking of Mrs.
Beauly. "At last," I thought to myself, "the Major's little
dinner will bring me my reward!"
And what a reward it was, when it came! My heart sinks in me
again--as it sank on that never-to-be-forgotten evening--while I
sit at my desk thinking of it.
"So Dexter really spoke to you of Mrs. Beauly!" exclaimed Lady
Clarinda. "You have no idea how you surprise me."
"May I ask why?"
"He hates her! The last time I saw him he wouldn't allow me to
mention her name. It is one of his innumerable oddities. If any
such feeling as sympathy is a possible feeling in such a nature
as his, he ought to like Helena Beauly. She is the most
completely unconventional person I know. When she does break out,
poor dear, she says things and does things which are almost
reckless enough to be worthy of Dexter himself. I wonder whether
you would like her?"
"You have kindly asked me to visit you, Lady Clarinda. Perhaps I
may meet her at your house?"
"I hope you will not wait until that is likely to happen," she
said. "Helena's last whim is to fancy that she has got--the gout,
of all the maladies in the world! She is away at some wonderful
baths in Hungary or Bohemia (I don't remember which)--and where
she will go, or what she will do next, it is perfectly impossible
to say.--Dear Mrs. Woodville! is the heat of the fire too much
for you? You are looking quite pale."
I _felt_ that I was looking pale. The discovery of Mrs. Beauly's
absence from England was a shock for which I was quite
unprepared. For a moment it unnerved me.
"Shall we go into the other room?" asked Lady Clarinda.
To go into the other room would be to drop the conversation. I
was determined not to let that catastrophe happen. It was just
possible that Mrs. Beauly's maid might have quitted her service,
or might have been left behind in England. My information would
not be complete until I knew what had become of the maid. I
pushed my chair back a little from the fire-place, and took a
hand-screen from a table near me; it might be made useful in
hiding my face, if any more disappointments were in store for me.
"Thank you, Lady Clarinda; I was only a little too near the fire.
I shall do admirably here. You surprise me about Mrs. Beauly.
From what Mr. Dexter said to me, I had imagined--"
"Oh, you must not believe anything Dexter tells you!" interposed
Lady Clarinda. "He delights in mystifying people; and he
purposely misled you, I have no doubt. If all that I hear is
true, _he_ ought to know more of Helena Beauly's strange freaks
and fancies than most people. He all but discovered her in one of
her adventures (down in Scotland), which reminds me of the story
in Auber's charming opera--what is it called? I shall forget my
own name next! I mean the opera in which the two nuns slip out of
the convent, and go to the ball. Listen! How very odd! That
vulgar girl is singing the castanet song in the second act at
this moment. Major! what opera is the young lady singing from?"
The Major was scandalized at this interruption. He bustled into
the back room--whispered, "Hush! hush! my dear lady; the 'Domino
Noir'"--and bustled back again to the piano.
"Of course!" said Lady Clarinda. "How stupid of me! The 'Domino
Noir.' And how strange that you should forget it too!"
I had remembered it perfectly; but I could not trust myself to
speak. If, as I believed, the "adventure" mentioned by Lady
Clarinda was connected, in some way, with Mrs. Beauly's
mysterious proceedings on the morning of the twenty-first of
October, I was on the brink of the very discovery which it was
the one interest of my life to make! I held the screen so as to
hide my face; and I said, in the steadiest voice that I could
command at the moment,
"Pray go on!--pray tell me what the adventure was!"
Lady Clarinda was quite flattered by my eager desire to hear the
"I hope my story will be worthy of the interest which you are so
good as to feel in it, "she said. "If you only knew Helena--it is
_so_ like her! I have it, you must know, from her maid. She has
taken a woman who speaks foreign languages with her to Hungary
and she has left the maid with me. A perfect treasure! I should
be only too glad if I could keep her in my service: she has but
one defect, a name I hate--Phoebe. Well! Phoebe and her mistress
were staying at a place near Edinburgh, called (I think)
Gleninch. The house belonged to that Mr. Macallan who was
afterward tried--you remember it, of course?--for poisoning his
wife. A dreadful case; but don't be alarmed--my story has nothing
to do with it; my story has to do with Helena Beauly. One evening
(while she was staying at Gleninch) she was engaged to dine with
some English friends visiting Edinburgh. The same night--also in
Edinburgh--there was a masked ball, given by somebody whose name
I forget. The ball (almost an unparalleled event in Scotland!)
was reported to be not at all a reputable affair. All sorts of
amusing people were to be there. Ladies of doubtful virtue, you
know, and gentlemen on the outlying limits of society, and so on.
Helena's friends had contrived to get cards, and were going, in
spite of the objections--in the strictest incognito, of course,
trusting to their masks. And Helena herself was bent on going
with them, if she could only manage it without being discovered
at Gleninch. Mr. Macallan was one of the strait-laced people who
disapproved of the ball. No lady, he said, could show herself at
such an entertainment without compromising her reputation. What
stuff! Well, Helena, in one of her wildest moments, hit on a way
of going to the ball without discovery which was really as
ingenious as a plot in a French play. She went to the dinner in
the carriage from Gleninch, having sent Phoebe to Edinburgh
before her. It was not a grand dinner--a little friendly
gathering: no evening dress. When the time came for going back to
Gleninch, what do you think Helena did? She sent her maid back in
the carriage, instead of herself! Phoebe was dressed in her
mistress's cloak and bonnet and veil. She was instructed to run
upstairs the moment she got to the house, leaving on the hall
table a little note of apology (written by Helena, of course!),
pleading fatigue as an excuse for not saying good-night to her
host. The mistress and the maid were about the same height; and
the servants naturally never discovered the trick. Phoebe got up
to her mistress's room safely enough. There, her instructions
were to wait until the house was quiet for the night, and then to
steal up to her own room. While she was waiting, the girl fell
asleep. She only awoke at two in the morning, or later. It didn't
much matter, as she thought. She stole out on tiptoe, and closed
the door behind her. Before she was at the end of the corridor,
she fancied she heard something. She waited until she was safe on
the upper story, and then she looked over the banisters. There
was Dexter--so like him!--hopping about on his hands (did you
ever see it? the most grotesquely horrible exhibition you can
imagine!)--there was Dexter, hopping about, and looking through
keyholes, evidently in search of the person who had left her room
at two in the morning; and no doubt taking Phoebe for her
mistress, seeing that she had forgotten to take her mistress's
cloak off her shoulders. The next morning, early, Helena came
back in a hired carriage from Edinburgh, with a hat and mantle
borrowed from her English friends. She left the carriage in the
road, and got into the house by way of the garden--without being
discovered, this time, by Dexter or by anybody. Clever and
daring, wasn't it? And, as I said just now, quite a new version
of the 'Domino Noir.' You will wonder, as I did, how it was that
Dexter didn't make mischief in the morning? He would have done it
no doubt. But even he was silenced (as Phoebe told me) by the
dreadful event that happened in the house on the same day. My
dear Mrs. Woodville! the heat of this room is certainly too much
for you, take my smelling-bottle. Let me open the window."
I was just able to answer, "Pray say nothing! Let me slip out
into the open air!"
I made my way unobserved to the landing, and sat down on the
stairs to compose myself where nobody could see me. In a moment
more I felt a hand laid gently on my shoulder, and discovered
good Benjamin looking at me in dismay. Lady Clarinda had
considerately spoken to him, and had assisted him in quietly
making his retreat from the room, while his host's attention was
still absorbed by the music.
"My dear child!" he whispered, "what is the matter?"
"Take me home, and I will tell you," was all that I could say.
A SPECIMEN OF MY WISDOM.
THE scene must follow my erratic movements--the scene must close
on London for a while, and open in Edinburgh. Two days had passed
since Major Fitz-David's dinner-party. I was able to breathe
again freely, after the utter destruction of all my plans for the
future, and of all the hopes that I had founded on them. I could
now see that I had been trebly in the wrong--wrong in hastily and
cruelly suspecting an innocent woman; wrong in communicating my
suspicions (without an attempt to verify them previously) to
another person; wrong in accepting the flighty inferences and
conclusions of Miserrimus Dexter as if they had been solid
truths. I was so ashamed of my folly, when I thought of the
past--so completely discouraged, so rudely shaken in my
confidence in myself, when I thought of the future, that, for
once in a way, I accepted sensible advice when it was offered to
me. "My dear," said good old Benjamin, after we had thoroughly
talked over my discomfiture on our return from the dinner-party,
"judging by what you tell me of him, I don't fancy Mr. Dexter.
Promise me that you will not go back to him until you have first
consulted some person who is fitter to guide you through this
dangerous business than I am.
I gave him my promise, on one condition. "If I fail to find the
person," I said, "will you undertake to help me?"
Benjamin pledged himself to help me, cheerfully.
The next morning, when I was brushing my hair, and thinking over
my affairs, I called to mind a forgotten resolution of mine at
the time I first read the Report of my husband's Trial. I mean
the resolution--if Miserrimus Dexter failed me--to apply to one
of the two agents (or solicitors, as we should term them) who had
prepared Eustace's defense--namely, Mr. Playmore. This gentleman,
it may be remembered, had especially recommended himself to my
confidence by his friendly interference when the sheriff's
officers were in search of my husband's papers. Referring back to
the evidence Of "Isaiah Schoolcraft," I found that Mr. Playmore
had been called in to assist and advise Eustace by Miserrimus
Dexter. He was therefore not only a friend on whom I might rely,
but a friend who was personally acquainted with Dexter as well.
Could there be a fitter man to apply to for enlightenment in the
darkness that had now gathered around me? Benjamin, when I put
the question to him, acknowledged that I had made a sensible
choice on this occasion, and at once exerted himself to help me.
He discovered (through his own lawyer) the address of Mr.
Playmore's London agents; and from these gentlemen he obtained
for me a letter of introduction to Mr. Playmore himself. I had
nothing to conceal from my new adviser; and I was properly
described in the letter as Eustace Macallan's second wife.
The same evening we two set forth (Benjamin refused to let me
travel alone) by the night mail for Edinburgh.
I had previously written to Miserrimus Dexter (by my old friend's
advice), merely saying that I had been unexpectedly called away
from London for a few days, and that I would report to him the
result of my interview with Lady Clarinda on my return. A
characteristic answer was brought back to the cottage by Ariel:
"Mrs. Valeria, I happen to be a man of quick perceptions; and I
can read the _unwritten_ part of your letter. Lady Clarinda has
shaken your confidence in me. Very good. I pledge myself to shake
your confidence in Lady Clarinda. In the meantime I am not
offended. In serene composure I await the honor and the happiness
of your visit. Send me word by telegraph whether you would like
Truffles again, or whether you would prefer something simpler and
lighter--say that incomparable French dish, Pig's Eyelids and
Tamarinds. Believe me always your ally and admirer, your poet and
Arrived in Edinburgh, Benjamin and I had a little discussion. The
question in dispute between us was whether I should go with hi m,
or go alone, to Mr. Playmore. I was all for going alone.
"My experience of the world is not a very large one," I said.
"But I have observed that, in nine cases out of ten, a man will
make concessions to a woman, if she approaches him by her self,
which he would hesitate even to consider if another man was
within hearing. I don't know how it is--I only know that it is
so; If I find that I get on badly with Mr. Playmore, I will ask
him for a second appointment, and, in that case, you shall
accompany me. Don't think me self-willed. Let me try my luck
alone, and let us see what comes of it."
Benjamin yielded, with his customary consideration for me. I sent
my letter of introduction to Mr. Playmore's office--his private
house being in the neighborhood of Gleninch. My messenger brought
back a polite answer, inviting me to visit him at an early hour
in the afternoon. At the appointed time, to the moment, I rang
the bell at the office door.
A SPECIMEN OF MY FOLLY.
THE incomprehensible submission of Scotchmen to the
ecclesiastical tyranny of their Established Church has
produced--not unnaturally, as I think--a very mistaken impression
of the national character in the popular mind.
Public opinion looks at the institution of "The Sabbath" in
Scotland; finds it unparalleled in Christendom for its senseless
and savage austerity; sees a nation content to be deprived by its
priesthood of every social privilege on one day in every
week--forbidden to travel; forbidden to telegraph; forbidden to
eat a hot dinner; forbidden to read a newspaper; in short,
allowed the use of two liberties only, the liberty of exhibiting
one's self at the Church and the liberty of secluding one's self
over the bottle--public opinion sees this, and arrives at the not
unreasonable conclusion that the people who submit to such social
laws as these are the most stolid, stern and joyless people on
the face of the earth. Such are Scotchmen supposed to be, when
viewed at a distance. But how do Scotchmen appear when they are
seen under a closer light, and judged by the test of personal
experience? There are no people more cheerful, more
companionable, more hospitable, more liberal in their ideas, to
be found on the face of the civilized globe than the very people
who submit to the Scotch Sunday! On the six days of the week
there is an atmosphere of quiet humor, a radiation of genial
common-sense, about Scotchmen in general, which is simply
delightful to feel. But on the seventh day these same men will
hear one of their ministers seriously tell them that he views
taking a walk on the Sabbath in the light of an act of profanity,
and will be the only people in existence who can let a man talk
downright nonsense without laughing at him.
I am not clever enough to be able to account for this anomaly in
the national character; I can only notice it by way of necessary
preparation for the appearance in my little narrative of a
personage not frequently seen in writing--a cheerful Scotchman.
In all other respects I found Mr. Playmore only negatively
remarkable. He was neither old nor young, neither handsome nor
ugly; he was personally not in the least like the popular idea of
a lawyer; and he spoke perfectly good English, touched with only
the slightest possible flavor of a Scotch accent.
"I have the honor to be an old friend of Mr. Macallan," he said,
cordially shaking hands with me; "and I am honestly happy to
become acquainted with Mr. Macallan's wife. Where will you sit?
Near the light? You are young enough not to be afraid of the
daylight just yet. Is this your first visit to Edinburgh? Pray
let me make it as pleasant to you as I can. I shall be delighted
to present Mrs. Playmore to you. We are staying in Edinburgh for
a little while. The Italian opera is here, and we have a box for
to-night. Will you kindly waive all ceremony and dine with us and
go to the music afterward?"
"You are very kind," I answered. "But I have some anxieties just
now which will make me a very poor companion for Mrs. Playmore at
the opera. My letter to you mentions, I think, that I have to ask
your advice on matters which are of very serious importance to
"Does it?" he rejoined. "To tell you the truth, I have not read
the letter through. I saw your name in it, and I gathered from
your message that you wished to see me here. I sent my note to
your hotel--and then went on with something else. Pray pardon me.
Is this a professional consultation? For your own sake, I
sincerely hope not!"
"It is hardly a professional consultation, Mr. Playmore. I find
myself in a very painful position; and I come to you to advise
me, under very unusual circumstances. I shall surprise you very
much when you hear what I have to say; and I am afraid I shall
occupy more than my fair share of your time."
"I and my time are entirely at your disposal," he said. "Tell me
what I can do for you--and tell it in your own way."
The kindness of this language was more than matched by the
kindness of his manner. I spoke to him freely and fully--I told
him my strange story without the slightest reserve.
He showed the varying impressions that I produced on his mind
without the slightest concealment. My separation from Eustace
distressed him. My resolution to dispute the Scotch Verdict, and
my unjust suspicions of Mrs. Beauly, first amused, then surprised
him. It was not, however, until I had described my extraordinary
interview with Miserrimus Dexter, and my hardly less remarkable
conversation with Lady Clarinda, that I produced my greatest
effect on the lawyer's mind. I saw him change color for the first
time. He started, and muttered to himself, as if he had
completely forgotten me. "Good God!" I heard him say--"can it be
possible? Does the truth lie _that_ way after all?"
I took the liberty of interrupting him. I had no idea of allowing
him to keep his thoughts to himself.
"I seem to have surprised you?" I said.
He started at the sound of my voice.
"I beg ten thousand pardons!" he exclaimed. "You have not only
surprised me--you have opened an entirely new view to my mind. I
see a possibility, a really startling possibility, in connection
with the poisoning at Gleninch, which never occurred to me until
the present moment. This is a nice state of things," he added,
falling back again into his ordinary humor. "Here is the client
leading the lawyer. My dear Mrs. Eustace, which is it--do you
want my advice? or do I want yours?"
"May I hear the new idea?" I asked.
"Not just yet, if you will excuse me," he answered. "Make
allowances for my professional caution. I don't want to be
professional with you--my great anxiety is to avoid it. But the
lawyer gets the better of the man, and refuses to be suppressed.
I really hesitate to realize what is passing in my own mind
without some further inquiry. Do me a great favor. Let us go over
a part of the ground again, and let me ask you some questions as
we proceed. Do you feel any objection to obliging me in this
"Certainly not, Mr. Playmore. How far shall we go back?"
"To your visit to Dexter with your mother-in-law. When you first
asked him if he had any ideas of his own on the subject of Mrs.
Eustace Macallan's death, did I understand you to say that he
looked at you suspiciously?"
"And his face cleared up again when you told him that your
question was only suggested by what you had read in the Report of
He drew a slip of paper out of the drawer in his desk, dipped his
pen in the ink, considered a little, and placed a chair for me
close at his side.
"The lawyer disappears," he said, "and the man resumes his proper
place. There shall be no professional mysteries between you and
me. As your husband's old friend, Mrs. Eustace, I feel no common
interest in you. I see a serious necessity for warning you before
it is too late; and I can only do so to any good purpose by
running a risk on which few men in my place would venture.
Personally and professionally, I am going to trust you--though I
_am_ a Scotchman and a lawyer. Sit here, and look over my
shoulder while I make my notes. You will see what is passing in
if you see what I write."
I sat down by him, and looked over his shoulder, without the
smallest pretense of hesitation.
He began to write as follows:
"The poisoning at Gleninch. Queries: In what position does
Miserrimus Dexter stand toward the poisoning? And what does he
(presumably) know about that matter?
"He has ideas which are secrets. He suspects that he has betrayed
them, or that they have been discovered in some way inconceivable
to himself. He is palpably relieved when he finds that this is
not the case."
The pen stopped; and the questions went on.
"Let us advance to your second visit," said Mr. Playmore, "when
you saw Dexter alone. Tell me again what he did, and how he
looked when you informed him that you were not satisfied with the
I repeated what I have already written in these pages. The pen
went back to the paper again, and added these lines:
"He hears nothing more remarkable than that a person visiting
him, who is interested in the case, refuses to accept the verdict
at the Macallan Trial as a final verdict, and proposes to reopen
the inquiry. What does he do upon that?
"He exhibits all the symptoms of a panic of terror; he sees
himself in some incomprehensible danger; he is frantic at one
moment and servile at the next; he must and will know what this
disturbing person really means. And when he is informed on that
point, he first turns pale and doubts the evidence of his own
senses; and next, with nothing said to justify it, gratuitously
accuses his visitor of suspecting somebody. Query here: When a
small sum of money is missing in a household, and the servants in
general are called together to be informed of the circumstance,
what do we think of the one servant in particular who speaks
first, and who says, 'Do you suspect _me?_'"
He laid down the pen again. "Is that right?" he asked.
I began to see the end to which the notes were drifting. Instead
of answering his question, I entreated him to enter into the
explanations that were still wanting to convince my own mind. He
held up a warning forefinger, and stopped me.
"Not yet," he said. "Once again, am I right--so far?"
"Very well. Now tell me what happened next. Don't mind repeating
yourself. Give me all the details, one after another, to the
I mentioned all the details exactly as I remembered them. Mr.
Playmore returned to his writing for the third and last time.
Thus the notes ended:
"He is indirectly assured that he at least is not the person
suspected. He sinks back in his chair; he draws a long breath; he
asks to be left a while by himself, under the pretense that the
subject excites him. When the visitor returns, Dexter has been
drinking in the interval. The visitor resumes the subject--not
Dexter. The visitor is convinced that Mrs. Eustace Macallan died
by the hand of a poisoner, and openly says so. Dexter sinks back
in his chair like a man fainting. What is the horror that has got
possession of him? It is easy to understand if we call it guilty
horror; it is beyond all understanding if we call it anything
else. And how does it leave him? He flies from one extreme, to
another; he is indescribably delighted when he discovers that the
visitor's suspicions are all fixed on an absent person. And then,
and then only, he takes refuge in the declaration that he has
been of one mind with his visitor, in the matter of suspicion,
from the first. These are facts. To what plain conclusion do they
He shut up his notes, and, steadily watching my face, waited for
me to speak first.
"I understand you, Mr. Playmore," I beg impetuously. "You believe
that Mr. Dexter--"
His warning forefinger stopped me there.
Tell me, "he interposed, "what Dexter said to you when he was so
good as to confirm your opinion of poor Mrs. Beauly."
"He said, 'There isn't a doubt about it. Mrs. Beauly poisoned
"I can't do better than follow so good an example--with one
trifling difference. I say too, There isn't a doubt about it.
Dexter poisoned her.
"Are you joking, Mr. Playmore?"
"I never was more in earnest in my life. Your rash visit to
Dexter, and your extraordinary imprudence in taking him into your
confidence have led to astonishing results. The light which the
whole machinery of the Law was unable to throw on the poisoning
case at Gleninch has been accidentally let in on it by a Lady who
refuses to listen to reason and who insists on having her own
way. Quite incredible, and nevertheless quite true."
"Impossible!" I exclaimed.
"What is impossible?" he asked, coolly
"That Dexter poisoned my husband's first wife."
"And why is that impossible, if you please?" I began to be almost
enraged with Mr. Playmore.
"Can you ask the question?" I replied, indignantly. "I have told
you that I heard him speak of her in terms of respect and
affection of which any woman might be proud. He lives in the
memory of her. I owe his friendly reception of me to some
resemblance which he fancies he sees between my figure and hers.
I have seen tears in his eyes, I have heard his voice falter and
fail him, when he spoke of her. He may be the falsest of men in
all besides, but he is true to _her_--he has not misled me in
that one thing. There are signs that never deceive a woman when a
man is talking to her of what is really near his heart: I saw
those signs. It is as true that I poisoned her as that he did. I
am ashamed to set my opinion against yours, Mr. Playmore; but I
really cannot help it. I declare I am almost angry with you."
He seemed to be pleased, instead of offended by the bold manner
in which I expressed myself.
"My dear Mrs. Eustace, you have no reason to be angry with me. In
one respect, I entirely share your view--with this difference,
that I go a little further than you do."
"I don't understand you."
"You will understand me directly. You describe Dexter's feeling
for the late Mrs. Eustace as a happy mixture of respect and
affection. I can tell you it was a much warmer feeling toward her
than that. I have my information from the poor lady herself--who
honored me with her confidence and friendship for the best part
of her life. Before she married Mr. Macallan--she kept it a
secret from him, and you had better keep it a secret
too--Miserrimus Dexter was in love with her. Miserrimus Dexter
asked her--deformed as he was, seriously asked her--to be his
"And in the face of that," I cried, "you say that he poisoned
"I do. I see no other conclusion possible, after what happened
during your visit to him. You all but frightened him into a
fainting fit. What was he afraid of?"
I tried hard to find an answer to that. I even embarked on an
answer without quite knowing where my own words might lead me.
Mr. Dexter is an old and true friend of my husband, I began.
"When he heard me say I was not satisfied with the Verdict, he
might have felt alarmed--"
"He might have felt alarmed at the possible consequences to your
husband of reopening the inquiry," said Mr. Playmore, ironically
finishing the sentence for me. "Rather far-fetched, Mrs. Eustace;
and not very consistent with your faith in your husband's
innocence. Clear your mind of one mistake," he continued,
seriously, "which may fatally mislead you if you persist in
pursuing your present course. Miserrimus Dexter, you may take my
word for it, ceased to be your husband's friend on the day when
your husband married his first wife. Dexter has kept up
appearances, I grant you, both in public and in private. His
evidence in his friend's favor at the Trial was given with the
deep feeling which everybody expected from him. Nevertheless, I
firmly believe, looking under the surface, that Mr. Macallan has
no bitterer enemy living than Miserrimus Dexter."
He turned me cold. I felt that here, at least, he was right. My
husband had wooed and won the woman who had refused Dexter's
offer of marriage. Was Dexter the man to forgive that? My own
experience answered me, and said, No. "Bear in mind what I have
told you," Mr. Playmore proceeded. "And now let us get on to your
own position in this matter, and to the interests that you have
at stake. Try to adopt my point of view for the moment ; and let
us inquire what chance we have of making any further advance
toward a discovery of the truth. It is one thing to be morally
convinced (as I am) that Miserrimus Dexter is the man who ought
to have been tried for the murder at Gleninch; and it is another
thing, at this distance of time, to lay our hands on the plain
evidence which can alone justify anything like a public assertion
of his guilt. There, as I see it, is the insuperable difficulty
in the case. Unless I am completely mistaken, the question is now
narrowed to this plain issue: The public assertion of your
husband's innocence depends entirely on the public assertion of
Dexter's guilt. How are you to arrive at that result? There is
not a particle of evidence against him. You can only convict
Dexter on Dexter's own confession. Are you listening to me?"
I was listening, most unwillingly. If he were right, things had
indeed come to that terrible pass. But I could not--with all my
respect for his superior knowledge and experience--I could not
persuade myself that he _was_ right. And I owned it, with the
humility which I really felt.
He smiled good-humoredly.
"At any rate," he said, "you will admit that Dexter has not
freely opened his mind to you thus far? He is still keeping
something from your knowledge which you are interested in
"Yes. I admit that."
"Very good. What applies to your view of the case applies to
mine. I say, he is keeping from you the confession of his guilt.
You say, he is keeping from you information which may fasten the
guilt on some other person. Let us start from that point.
Confession, or information, how are you to get at what he is now
withholding from you? What influence can you bring to bear on him
when you see him again?"
"Surely I might persuade him?"
"Certainly. And if persuasion fail--what then? Do you think you
can entrap him into speaking out? or terrify him into speaking
"If you will look at your notes, Mr. Playmore, you will see that
I have already succeeded in terrifying him--though I am only a
woman and though I didn't mean to do it."
"Very well answered. You mark the trick. What you have done once
you think you can do again. Well, as you are determined to try
the experiment, it can do you no harm to know a little more of
Dexter's character and temperament than you know now. Suppose we
apply for information to somebody who can help us?"
I started, and looked round the room. He made me do it--he spoke
as if the person who was to help us was close at our elbows.
"Don't be alarmed," he said. "The oracle is silent; and the
oracle is here."
He unlocked one of the drawers of his desk; produced a bundle of
letters, and picked out one.
"When we were arranging your husband's defense," he said, "we
felt some difficulty about including Miserrimus Dexter among our
witnesses. We had not the slightest suspicion of him, I need
hardly tell you. But we were all afraid of his eccentricity; and
some among us even feared that the excitement of appearing at the
Trial might drive him completely out of his mind. In this
emergency we applied to a doctor to help us. Under some pretext,
which I forget now, we introduced him to Dexter. And in due
course of time we received his report. Here it is."
He opened the letter, and marking a certain passage in it with a
pencil, handed it to me.
"Read the lines which I have marked," he said; "they will be
quite sufficient for our purpose."
I read these words:
"Summing up the results of my observation, I may give it as my
opinion that there is undoubtedly latent insanity in this case,
but that no active symptoms of madness have presented themselves
as yet. You may, I think, produce him at the Trial, without fear
of consequences. He may say and do all sorts of odd things; but
he has his mind under the control of his will, and you may trust
his self-esteem to exhibit him in the character of a
substantially intelligent witness.
"As to the future, I am, of course, not able to speak positively.
I can only state my views.
"That he will end in madness (if he live), I entertain little or
no doubt. The question of _when_ the madness will show itself
depends entirely on the state of his health. His nervous system
is highly sensitive, and there are signs that his way of life has
already damaged it. If he conquer the bad habits to which I have
alluded in an earlier part of my report, and if he pass many
hours of every day quietly in the open air, he may last as a sane
man for years to come. If he persist in his present way of
life--or, in other words, if further mischief occur to that
sensitive nervous system--his lapse into insanity must infallibly
take place when the mischief has reached its culminating point.
Without warning to himself or to others, the whole mental
structure will give way; and, at a moment's notice, while he is
acting as quietly or speaking as intelligently as at his best
time, the man will drop (if I may use the expression) into
madness or idiocy. In either case, when the catastrophe has
happened, it is only due to his friends to add that they can (as
I believe) entertain no hope of his cure. The balance once lost,
will be lost for life."
There it ended. Mr. Playmore put the letter back in his drawer.
"You have just read the opinion of one of our highest living
authorities," he said. "Does Dexter strike you as a likely man to
give his nervous system a chance of recovery? Do you see no
obstacles and no perils in your way?"
My silence answered him.
"Suppose you go back to Dexter," he proceeded. "And suppose that
the doctor's opinion exaggerates the peril in his case. What are
you to do? The last time you saw him, you had the immense
advantage of taking him by surprise. Those sensitive nerves of
his gave way, and he betrayed the fear that you aroused in him.
Can you take him by surprise again? Not you! He is prepared for
you now; and he will be on his guard. If you encounter nothing
worse, you will have his cunning to deal with next. Are you his
match at that? But for Lady Clarinda he would have hopelessly
misled you on the subject of Mrs. Beauly."
There was no answering this, either. I was foolish enough to try
to answer it, for all that.
"He told me the truth so far as he knew it," I rejoined. "He
really saw what he said he saw in the corridor at Gleninch."
"He told you the truth," returned Mr. Playmore, "because he was
cunning enough to see that the truth would help him in irritating
your suspicions. You don't really believe that he shared your
"Why not?" I said. "He was as ignorant of what Mrs. Beauly was
really doing on that night as I was--until I met Lady Clarinda.
It remains to be seen whether he will not be as much astonished
as I was when I tell him what Lady Clarinda told me."
This smart reply produced an effect which I had not anticipated.
To my surprise, Mr. Playmore abruptly dropped all further
discussion on his side. He appeared to despair of convincing me,
and he owned it indirectly in his next words.
"Will nothing that I can say to you," he asked, "induce you to
think as I think in this matter?"
"I have not your ability or your experience, "I answered. "I am
sorry to say I can't think as you think."
"And you are really determined to see Miserrimus Dexter again?"
"I have engaged myself to see him again."
He waited a little, and thought over it.
"You have honored me by asking for my advice," he said. "I
earnestly advise you, Mrs. Eustace, to break your engagement. I
go even further than that--I _entreat_ you not to see Dexter
Just what my mother-in-law had said! just what Benjamin and Major
Fitz-David had said! They were all against me. And still I held
I wonder, when I look back at it, at my own obstinacy. I am
almost ashamed to relate that I made Mr. Playmore no reply. He
waited, still looking at me. I felt irritated by that fixed look.
I arose, and stood before him with my eyes on the floor.
He arose in his turn. He understood that the conference was over.
"Well, well," he said, with a kind of sad good-humor, "I suppose
it is unreasonable of me to expect that a young woman like you
should share any opinion with an o ld lawyer like me. Let me only
remind you that our conversation must remain strictly
confidential for the present; and then let us change the subject.
Is there anything that I can do for you? Are you alone in
"No. I am traveling with an old friend of mine, who has known me
"And do you stay here to-morrow?"
"I think so."
"Will you do me one favor? Will you think over what has passed
between us, and will you come back to me in the morning?"
"Willingly, Mr. Playmore, if it is only to thank you again for
On that understanding we parted. He sighed--the cheerful man
sighed, as he opened the door for me. Women are contradictory
creatures. That sigh affected me more than all his arguments. I
felt myself blush for my own head-strong resistance to him as I
took my leave and turned away into the street.
"AHA!" said Benjamin, complacently. "So the lawyer thinks, as I
do, that you will be highly imprudent if you go back to Mr.
Dexter? A hard-headed, sensible man the lawyer, no doubt. You
will listen to Mr. Playmore, won't you, though you wouldn't
listen to me?"
(I had of course respected Mr. Playmore's confidence in me when
Benjamin and I met on my return to the hotel. Not a word relating
to the lawyer's horrible suspicion of Miserrimus Dexter had
passed my lips.)
"You must forgive me, my old friend," I said, answering Benjamin.
"I am afraid it has come to this--try as I may, I can listen to
nobody who advises me. On our way here I honestly meant to be
guided by Mr. Playmore--we should never have taken this long
journey if I had not honestly meant it. I have tried, tried hard
to be a teachable, reasonable woman. But there is something in me
that won't be taught. I am afraid I shall go back to Dexter."
Even Benjamin lost all patience with me this time.
"What is bred in the bone," he said, quoting the old proverb,
"will never come out of the flesh. In years gone by, you were the
most obstinate child that ever made a mess in a nursery. Oh, dear
me, we might as well have stayed in London."
"No," I replied, "now we have traveled to Edinburgh, we will see
something (interesting to _me_ at any rate) which we should never
have seen if we had not left London. My husband's country-house
is within a few miles of us here. To-morrow--we will go to
"Where the poor lady was poisoned?" asked Benjamin, with a look
of dismay. "You mean that place?"
"Yes. I want to see the room in which she died; I want to go all
over the house."
Benjamin crossed his hands resignedly on his lap. "I try to
understand the new generation," said the old man, sadly; "but I
can't manage it. The new generation beats me."
I sat down to write to Mr. Playmore about the visit to Gleninch.
The house in which the tragedy had occurred that had blighted my
husband's life was, to my mind, the most interesting house on the
habitable globe. The prospect of visiting Gleninch had, indeed
(to tell the truth), strongly influenced my resolution to consult
the Edinburgh lawyer. I sent my note to Mr. Playmore by a
messenger, and received the kindest reply in return. If I would
wait until the afternoon, he would get the day's business done,
and would take us to Gleninch in his own carriage.
Benjamin's obstinacy--in its own quiet way, and on certain
occasions only--was quite a match for mine. He had privately
determined, as one of the old generation, to have nothing to do
with Gleninch. Not a word on the subject escaped him until Mr.
Playmore's carriage was at the hotel door. At that appropriate
moment Benjamin remembered an old friend of his in Edinburgh.
"Will you please to excuse me, Valeria? My friend's name is
Saunders; and he will take it unkindly of me if I don't dine with
Apart from the associations that I connected with it, there was
nothing to interest a traveler at Gleninch.
The country around was pretty and well cultivated, and nothing
more. The park was, to an English eye, wild and badly kept. The
house had been built within the last seventy or eighty years.
Outside, it was as bare of all ornament as a factory, and as
gloomily heavy in effect as a prison. Inside, the deadly
dreariness, the close, oppressive solitude of a deserted dwelling
wearied the eye and weighed on the mind, from the roof to the
basement. The house had been shut up since the time of the Trial.
A lonely old couple, man and wife, had the keys and the charge of
it. The man shook his head in silent and sorrowful disapproval of
our intrusion when Mr. Playmore ordered him to open the doors and
shutters, and let the light in on the dark, deserted place. Fires
were burning in the library and the picture-gallery, to preserve
the treasures which they contained from the damp. It was not
easy, at first, to look at the cheerful blaze without fancying
that the inhabitants of the house must surely come in and warm
themselves. Ascending to the upper floor, I saw the rooms made
familiar to me by the Report of the Trial. I entered the little
study, with the old books on the shelves, and the key still
missing from the locked door of communication with the
bedchamber. I looked into the room in which the unhappy mistress
of Gleninch had suffered and died. The bed was left in its place;
the sofa on which the nurse had snatched her intervals of repose
was at its foot; the Indian cabinet, in which the crumpled paper
with the grains of arsenic had been found, still held its little
collection of curiosities. I moved on its pivot the invalid-table
on which she had taken her meals and written her poems, poor
soul. The place was dreary and dreadful; the heavy air felt as if
it were still burdened with its horrid load of misery and
distrust. I was glad to get out (after a passing glance at the
room which Eustace had occupied in those days) into the Guests'
Corridor. There was the bedroom, at the door of which Miserrimus
Dexter had waited and watched. There was the oaken floor along
which he had hopped, in his horrible way, following the footsteps
of the servant disguised in her mistress's clothes. Go where I
might, the ghosts of the dead and the absent were with me, step
by step. Go where I might, the lonely horror of the house had its
still and awful voice for Me: "_I_ keep the secret of the Poison!
_I_ hide the mystery of the death!"
The oppression of the place became unendurable. I longed for the
pure sky and the free air. My companion noticed and understood
"Come," he said. "We have had enough of the house. Let us look at
In the gray quiet of the evening we roamed about the lonely
gardens, and threaded our way through the rank, neglected
shrubberies. Wandering here and wandering there, we drifted into
the kitchen garden--with one little patch still sparely
cultivated by the old man and his wife, and all the rest a
wilderness of weeds. Beyond the far end of the garden, divided
from it by a low paling of wood, there stretched a patch of waste
ground, sheltered on three sides by trees. In one lost corner of
the ground an object, common enough elsewhere, attracted my
attention here. The object was a dust-heap. The great size of it,
and the curious situation in which it was placed, aroused a
moment's languid curiosity in me. I stopped, and looked at the
dust and ashes, at the broken crockery and the old iron. Here
there was a torn hat, and there some fragments of rotten old
boots, and scattered around a small attendant litter of torn
paper and frowzy rags.
"What are you looking at?" asked Mr. Playmore.
"At nothing more remarkable than the dust-heap," I answered.
"In tidy England, I suppose, you would have all that carted away
out of sight," said the lawyer. "We don't mind in Scotland, as
long as the dust-heap is far enough away not to be smelt at the
house. Besides, some of it, sifted, comes in usefully as manure
for the garden. Here the place is deserted, and the rubbish in
consequence has not been disturbed. Everything at Gleninch, Mrs.
Eustace (the big dust-heap included), is waiting for the new
mistress to set it to rights. One of these days you may be queen
"I shall never see this place again,"
"Never is a long day," returned my companion. "And time has its
surprises in store for all of us."
We turned away, and walked back in silence to the park gate, at
which the carriage was waiting.
On the return to Edinburgh, Mr. Playmore directed the
conversation to topics entirely unconnected with my visit to
Gleninch. He saw that my mind stood in need of relief; and he
most good-naturedly, and successfully, exerted himself to amuse
me. It was not until we were close to the city that he touched on
the subject of my return to London.
"Have you decided yet on the day when you leave Edinburgh?" he
"We leave Edinburgh," I replied, "by the train of to-morrow
"Do you still see no reason to alter the opinions which you
expressed yesterday? Does your speedy departure mean that?"
"I am afraid it does, Mr. Playmore. When I am an older woman, I
may be a wiser woman. In the meantime, I can only trust to your
indulgence if I still blindly blunder on in my own way."
He smiled pleasantly, and patted my hand--then changed on a
sudden, and looked at me gravely and attentively before he opened
his lips again.
"This is my last opportunity of speaking to you before you go,"
he said. "May I speak freely?"
"As freely as you please, Mr. Playmore. Whatever you may say to
me will only add to my grateful sense of your kindness."
"I have very little to say, Mrs. Eustace--and that little begins
with a word of caution. You told me yesterday that, when you paid
your last visit to Miserrimus Dexter, you went to him alone.
Don't do that again. Take somebody with you."
"Do you think I am in any danger, then?"
"Not in the ordinary sense of the word. I only think that a
friend may be useful in keeping Dexter's audacity (he is one of
the most impudent men living) within proper limits. Then, again,
in case anything worth remembering and acting on _should_ fall
from him in his talk, a friend may be valuable as witness. In
your place, I should have a witness with me who could take
notes--but then I am a lawyer, and my business is to make a fuss
about trifles. Let me only say--go with a companion when you next
visit Dexter; and be on your guard against yourself when your
talk turns on Mrs. Beauly."
"On my guard against myself? What do you mean?"
"Practice, my dear Mrs. Eustace, has given me an eye for the
little weaknesses of human nature. You are (quite naturally)
disposed to be jealous of Mrs. Beauly; and you are, in
consequence, not in full possession of your excellent
common-sense when Dexter uses that lady as a means of
blindfolding you. Am I speaking too freely?"
"Certainly not. It is very degrading to me to be jealous of Mrs.
Beauly. My vanity suffers dreadfully when I think of it. But my
common-sense yields to conviction. I dare say you are right."
"I am delighted to find that we agree on one point," he rejoined,
dryly. "I don't despair yet of convincing you in that far more
serious matter which is still in dispute between us. And, what is
more, if you will throw no obstacles in the way, I look to Dexter
himself to help me."
This aroused my curiosity. How Miserrimus Dexter could help him,
in that or in any other way, was a riddle beyond my reading.
"You propose to repeat to Dexter all that Lady Clarinda told you
about Mrs. Beauly," he went on. "And you think it is likely that
Dexter will be overwhelmed, as you were overwhelmed, when he
hears the story. I am going to venture on a prophecy. I say that
Dexter will disappoint you. Far from showing any astonishment, he
will boldly tell you that you have been duped by a deliberately
false statement of facts, invented and set afloat, in her own
guilty interests, by Mrs. Beauly. Now tell me--if he really try,
in that way, to renew your unfounded suspicion of an innocent
woman, will _that_ shake your confidence in your own opinion?"
"It will entirely destroy my confidence in my own opinion, Mr.
"Very good. I shall expect you to write to me, in any case; and I
believe we shall be of one mind before the week is out. Keep
strictly secret all that I said to you yesterday about Dexter.
Don't even mention my name when you see him. Thinking of him as I
think now, I would as soon touch the hand of the hangman as the
hand of that monster! God bless you! Good-by."
So he said his farewell words, at the door of the hotel. Kind,
genial, clever--but oh, how easily prejudiced, how shockingly
obstinate in holding to his own opinion! And _what_ an opinion! I
shuddered as I thought of it.
MR. PLAYMORE'S PROPHECY.
WE reached London between eight and nine in the evening.
Strictly methodical in all his habits, Benjamin had telegraphed
to his housekeeper, from Edinburgh, to have supper ready or us by
ten o'clock, and to send the cabman whom he always employed to
meet us at the station.
Arriving at the villa, we were obliged to wait for a moment to
let a pony-chaise get by us before we could draw up at Benjamin's
door. The chaise passed very slowly, driven by a rough-looking
man, with a pipe in his mouth. But for the man, I might have
doubted whether the pony was quite a stranger to me. As things
were, I thought no more of the matter.
Benjamin's respectable old housekeeper opened the garden gate,
and startled me by bursting into a devout ejaculation of
gratitude at the sight of her master. "The Lord be praised, sir!"
she cried; "I thought you would never come back!"
"Anything wrong?" asked Benjamin, in his own impenetrably quiet
The housekeeper trembled at the question, and answered in these
"My mind's upset, sir; and whether things are wrong or whether
things are right is more than I can say. Hours ago, a strange man
came in and asked"--she stopped, as if she were completely
bewildered--looked for a moment vacantly at her master--and
suddenly addressed herself to me. "And asked," she proceeded,
"when _you_ was expected back, ma'am. I told him what my master
had telegraphed, and the man says upon that, 'Wait a bit,' he
says; 'I'm coming back.' He came back in a minute or less; and he
carried a Thing in his arms which curdled my blood--it did!--and
set me shaking from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot.
I know I ought to have stopped it; but I couldn't stand upon my
legs, much less put the man out of the house. In he went, without
'_with_ your leave,' or '_by_ your leave,' Mr. Benjamin, sir--in
he went, with the Thing in his arms, straight through to your
library. And there It has been all these hours. And there It is
now. I've spoken to the police; but they wouldn't interfere; and
what to do next is more than my poor head can tell. Don't you go
in by yourself, ma'am! You'll be frightened out of your wits--you
I persisted in entering the house, for all that. Aided by the
pony, I easily solved the mystery of the housekeeper's otherwise
unintelligible narrative. Passing through the dining-room (where
the supper-table was already laid for us), I looked through the
half-opened library door.
Yes, there was Miserrimus Dexter, arrayed in his pink jacket,
fast asleep in Benjamin's favorite arm-chair! No coverlet hid his
horrible deformity. Nothing was sacrificed to conventional ideas
of propriety in his extraordinary dress. I could hardly wonder
that the poor old housekeeper trembled from head to foot when she
spoke of him.
"Valeria," said Benjamin, pointing to the Portent in the chair.
"Which is it--an Indian idol, or a man?"
I have already described Miserrimus Dexter as possessing the
sensitive ear of a dog: he now allowed that he also slept the
light sleep of a dog. Quietly as Benjamin had spoken, the strange
voice aroused him on the instant. He rubbed his eyes, and smiled
as innocently as a waking child.
"How do you do, Mrs. Valeria?" he said. "I have had a nice little
sleep. You don't know how happy I am to see you again. Who is
He rubbed his eyes once more! and looked at Benjamin. Not knowing
what else to do in this extraordinary emergency, I presented my
visitor to the master of the house.
"Excuse my getting up, sir," said Miserrimus Dexter. "I can't get
up--I have no legs. You look as if you thought I was occupying
your chair? If I am committing an intrusion, be so good as to put
your umbrella under me, and give me a jerk. I shall fall on my
hands, and I shan't be offended with you. I will submit to a
tumble and a scolding--but please don't break my heart by sending
me away. That beautiful woman there can be very cruel sometimes,
sir, when the fit takes her. She went away when I stood in the
sorest need of a little talk with her--she went away, and left me
to my loneliness and my suspense. I am a poor deformed wretch,
with a warm heart, and, perhaps, an insatiable curiosity as well.
Insatiable curiosity (have you ever felt it?) is a curse. I bore
it until my brains began to boil in my head; and then I sent for
my gardener, and made him drive me here. I like being here. The
air of your library soothes me; the sight of Mrs. Valeria is balm
to my wounded heart. She has something to tell me--something that
I am dying to hear. If she is not too tired after her journey,
and if you will let her tell it, I promise to have myself taken
away when she has done. Dear Mr. Benjamin, you look like the
refuge of the afflicted. I am afflicted. Shake hands like a good
Christian, and take me in."
He held out his hand. His soft blue eyes melted into an
expression of piteous entreaty. Completely stupefied by the
amazing harangue of which he had been made the object, Benjamin
took the offered hand, with the air of a man in a dream. "I hope
I see you well, sir," he said, mechanically--and then looked
around at me, to know what he was to do next.
"I understand Mr. Dexter," I whispered. "Leave him to me."
Benjamin stole a last bewildered look at the object in the chair;
bowed to it, with the instinct of politeness which never failed
him; and (still with the air of a man in a dream) withdrew into
the next room.
Left together, we looked at each other, for the first moment, in
Whether I unconsciously drew on that inexhaustible store of
indulgence which a woman always keeps in reserve for a man who
owns that he has need of her, or whether, resenting as I did Mr.
Playmore's horrible suspicion of him, my heart was especially
accessible to feelings of compassion in his unhappy case, I
cannot tell. I only know that I pitied Miserrimus Dexter at that
moment as I had never pitied him yet; and that I spared him the
reproof which I should certainly have administered to any other
man who had taken the liberty of establishing himself, uninvited,
in Benjamin's house.
He was the first to speak.
"Lady Clarinda has destroyed your confidence in me!" he began,
"Lady Clarinda has done nothing of the sort," I replied. "She has
not attempted to influence my opinion. I was really obliged to
leave London, as I told you."
He sighed, and closed his eyes contentedly, as if I had relieved
him of a heavy weight of anxiety.
"Be merciful to me," he said, "and tell me something more. I have
been so miserable in your absence." He suddenly opened his eyes
again, and looked at me with an appearance of the greatest
interest. "Are you very much fatigued by traveling?" he
proceeded. "I am hungry for news of what happened at the Major's
dinner party. Is it cruel of me to tell you so, when you have not
rested after your journey? Only one question to-night, and I will
leave the rest till to-morrow. What did Lady Clarinda say about
Mrs. Beauly? All that you wanted to hear?"
"All, and more," I answered.
"What? what? what?" he cried wild with impatience in a moment.
Mr. Playmore's last prophetic words were vividly present to my
mind. He had declared, in the most positive manner, that Dexter
would persist in misleading me, and would show no signs of
astonishment when I repeated what Lady Clarinda had told me of
Mrs. Beauly. I resolved to put the lawyer's prophecy--so far as
the question of astonishment was concerned--to the sharpest
attainable test. I said not a word to Miserrimus Dexter in the
way of preface or preparation: I burst on him with my news as
abruptly as possible.
"The person you saw in the corridor was not Mrs. Beauly," I said.
"It was the maid, dressed in her mistress's cloak and hat. Mrs.
Beauly herself was not in the house at all. Mrs. Beauly herself
was dancing at a masked ball in Edinburgh. There is what the maid
told Lady Clarinda; and there is what Lady Clarinda told _me._"
In the absorbing interest of the moment, I poured out those words
one after another as fast as they would pass my lips. Miserrimus
Dexter completely falsified the lawyer's prediction. He shuddered
under the shock. His eyes opened wide with amazement. "Say it
again!" he cried. "I can't take it all in at once. You stun me."
I was more than contented with this result--I triumphed in my
victory. For once, I had really some reason to feel satisfied
with myself. I had taken the Christian and merciful side in my
discussion with Mr. Playmore; and I had won my reward. I could
sit in the same room with Miserrimus Dexter, and feel the blessed
conviction that I was not breathing the same air with a poisoner.
Was it not worth the visit to Edinburgh to have made sure of
In repeating, at his own desire, what I had already said to him,
I took care to add the details which made Lady Clarinda's
narrative coherent and credible. He listened throughout with
breathless attention--here and there repeating the words after
me, to impress them the more surely and the more deeply on his
"What is to be said? what is to be done?" he asked, with a look
of blank despair. "I can't disbelieve it. From first to last,
strange as it is, it sounds true."
(How would Mr. Playmore have felt if he had heard those words? I
did him the justice to believe that he would have felt heartily
ashamed of himself.)
"There is nothing to be said," I rejoined, "except that Mrs.
Beauly is innocent, and that you and I have done her a grievous
wrong. Don't you agree with me?"
"I entirely agree with you," he answered, without an instant's
hesitation. "Mrs. Beauly is an innocent woman. The defense at the
Trial was the right defense after all."
He folded his arms complacently; he looked perfectly satisfied to
leave the matter there.
I was not of his mind. To my own amazement, I now found myself
the least reasonable person of the two!
Miserrimus Dexter (to use the popular phrase) had given me more
than I had bargained for. He had not only done all that I had
anticipated in the way of falsifying Mr. Playmore's
prediction--he had actually advanced beyond my limits. I could go
the length of recognizing Mrs. Beauly's innocence; but at that
point I stopped. If the Defense at the Trial were the right
defense, farewell to all hope of asserting my husband's
innocence. I held to that hope as I held to my love and my life.
"Speak for yourself," I said. "My opinion of the Defense remains
He started, and knit his brows as if I had disappointed and
"Does that mean that you are determined to go on?"
He was downright angry with me. He cast his customary politeness
to the winds.
"Absurd! impossible!" he cried, contemptuously. "You have
yourself declared that we wronged an innocent woman when we
suspected Mrs. Beauly. Is there any one else whom we can suspect?
It is ridiculous to ask the question. There is no alternative
left but to accept the facts as they are, and to stir no further
in the matter of the poisoning at Gleninch. It is childish to
dispute plain conclusions. You must give up."
"You may be angry with me if you will, Mr. Dexter. Neither your
anger nor your arguments will make me give up."
He controlled himself by an effort--he was quiet and polite again
when he next spoke to me.
"Very well. Pardon me for a moment if I absorb myself in my own
thoughts. I want to do something which I have not done yet."
"What may that be, Mr. Dexter?"
"I am going to put myself into Mrs. Beauly's skin, and to think
with Mrs. Beauly's mind. Give me a minute. Thank you."
What did he mean? what new transformation of him was passing
before my eyes? Was there ever such a puzzle of a man as this?
Who that saw him now, intently pursuing his new train of thought,
would have recognized him as the childish creature who
had awoke so innocently, and had astonished Benjamin by the
infantine nonsense which he talked? It is said, and said truly,
that there are many sides to every human character. Dexter's many
sides were developing themselves at such a rapid rate of progress
that they were already beyond my counting.
He lifted his head, and fixed a look of keen inquiry on me.
"I have come out of Mrs. Beauly's skin," he announced. "And I
have arrived at this result: We are two impetuous people; and we
have been a little hasty in rushing at a conclusion."
He stopped. I said nothing. Was the shadow of a doubt of him
beginning to rise in my mind? I waited, and listened.
"I am as fully satisfied as ever of the truth of what Lady
Clarinda told you, he proceeded. "But I see, on consideration,
what I failed to see at the time. The story admits of two
interpretations--one on the surface, and another under the
surface. I look under the surface, in your interests; and I say,
it is just possible that Mrs. Beauly may have been cunning enough
to forestall suspicion, and to set up an Alibi."
I am ashamed to own that I did not understand what he meant by
the last word--Alibi. He saw that I was not following him, and
spoke out more plainly.
"Was the maid something more than her mistress's passive
accomplice?" he said. "Was she the Hand that her mistress used?
Was she on her way to give the first dose of poison when she
passed me in this corridor? Did Mrs. Beauly spend the night in
Edinburgh--so as to have her defense ready, if suspicion fell
My shadowy doubt of him became substantial doubt when I heard
that. Had I absolved him a little too readily? Was he really
trying to renew my suspicions of Mrs. Beauly, as Mr. Playmore had
foretold? This time I was obliged to answer him. In doing so, I
unconsciously employed one of the phrases which the lawyer had
used to me during my first interview with him.
"That sounds rather far-fetched, Mr. Dexter," I said.
To my relief, he made no attempt to defend the new view that he
"It is far-fetched," he admitted. "When I said it was just
possible--though I didn't claim much for my idea--I said more for
it perhaps than it deserved. Dismiss my view as ridiculous; what
are you to do next? If Mrs. Beauly is not the poisoner (either by
herself or by her maid), who is? She is innocent, and Eustace is
innocent. Where is the other person whom you can suspect? Have
_I_ poisoned her?" he cried, with his eyes flashing, and his
voice rising to its highest notes. "Do you, does anybody, suspect
Me? I loved her; I adored her; I have never been the same man
since her death. Hush! I will trust you with a secret. (Don't
tell your husband; it might be the destruction of our
friendship.) I would have married her, before she met with
Eustace, if she would have taken me. When the doctors told me she
had died poisoned--ask Doctor Jerome what I suffered; _he_ can
tell you! All through that horrible night I was awake; watching
my opportunity until I found my way to her. I got into the room,
and took my last leave of the cold remains of the angel whom I
loved. I cried over her. I kissed her. for the first and last
time. I stole one little lock of her hair. I have worn it ever
since; I have kissed it night and day. Oh, God! the room comes
back to me! the dead face comes back to me! Look! look!"
He tore from its place of concealment in his bosom a little
locket, fastened by a ribbon around his neck. He threw it to me
where I sat, and burst into a passion of tears.
A man in my place might have known what to do. Being only a
woman, I yielded to the compassionate impulse of the moment.
I got up and crossed the room to him. I gave him back his locket,
and put my hand, without knowing what I was about, on the poor
wretch's shoulder. "I am incapable of suspecting you, Mr.
Dexter," I said, gently. "No such idea ever entered my head. I
pity you from the bottom of my heart."
He caught my hand in his, and devoured it with kisses. His lips
burned me like fire. He twisted himself suddenly in the chair,
and wound his arm around my waist. In the terror and indignation
of the moment, vainly struggling with him, I cried out for help.
The door opened, and Benjamin appeared on the threshold.
Dexter let go his hold of me.
I ran to Benjamin, and prevented him from advancing into the
room. In all my long experience of my fatherly old friend I had
never seen him really angry yet. I saw him more than angry now.
He was pale--the patient, gentle old man was pale with rage! I
held him at the door with all my strength.
"You can't lay your hand on a cripple," I said. Send for the man
outside to take him a way.
I drew Benjamin out of the room, and closed and locked the
library door. The housekeeper was in the dining-room. I sent her
out to call the driver of the pony-chaise into the house.
The man came in--the rough man whom I had noticed when we were
approaching the garden gate. Benjamin opened the library door in
stern silence. It was perhaps unworthy of me, but I could _not_
resist the temptation to look in.
Miserrimus Dexter had sunk down in the chair. The rough man
lifted his master with a gentleness that surprised me. "Hide my
face," I heard Dexter say to him, in broken tones. He opened his
coarse pilot-jacket, and hid his master's head under it, and so
went silently out--with the deformed creature held to his bosom,
like a woman sheltering her child.
I PASSED a sleepless night.
The outrage that had been offered to me was bad enough in itself.
But consequences were associated with it which might affect me
more seriously still. In so far as the attainment of the one
object of my life might yet depend on my personal association
with Miserrimus Dexter, an insurmountable obstacle appeared to be
now placed in my way. Even in my husband's interests, ought I to
permit a man who had grossly insulted me to approach me again?
Although I was no prude, I recoiled from the thought of it.
I arose late, and sat down at my desk, trying to summon energy
enough to write to Mr. Playmore--and trying in vain.
Toward noon (while Benjamin happened to be out for a little
while) the housekeeper announced the arrival of another strange
visitor at the gate of the villa.
"It's a woman this time, ma'am--or something like one," said this
worthy person, confidentially. "A great, stout, awkward, stupid
creature, with a man's hat on and a man's stick in her hand. She
says she has got a note for you, and she won't give it to anybody
_but_ you. I'd better not let her in--had I?"
Recognizing the original of the picture, I astonished the
housekeeper by consenting to receive the messenger immediately.
Ariel entered the room--in stolid silence, as usual. But I
noticed a change in her which puzzled me. Her dull eyes were red
and bloodshot. Traces of tears (as I fancied) were visible on her
fat, shapeless cheeks. She crossed the room, on her way to my
chair, with a less determined tread than was customary with her.
Could Ariel (I asked myself) be woman enough to cry? Was it
within the limits of possibility that Ariel should approach me in
sorrow and in fear?
"I hear you have brought something for me?" I said. "Won't you
She handed me a letter--without answering and without taking a
chair. I opened the envelope. The letter inside was written by
Miserrimus Dexter. It contained these lines:
"Try to pity me, if you have any pity left for a miserable man;
I have bitterly expiated the madness of a moment. If you could
see me--even you would own that my punishment has been heavy
enough. For God's sake, don't abandon me! I was beside myself
when I let the feeling that you have awakened in me get the
better of my control. It shall never show itself again; it shall
be a secret that dies with me. Can I expect you to believe this?
No. I won't ask you to believe me; I won't ask you to trust me in
the future. If you ever consent to see me again, let it be in the
presence of any third person whom you may appoint to protect you.
I deserve that--I will submit to it; I will wait till time has
composed your angry feeling against me. All I ask now is leav e
to hope. Say to Ariel, 'I forgive him; and one day I will let him
see me again.' She will remember it, for love of me. If you send
her back without a message, you send me to the mad-house. Ask
her, if you don't believe me.
I finished the strange letter, and looked at Ariel.
She stood with her eyes on the floor, and held out to me the
thick walking-stick which she carried in her hand.
"Take the stick" were the first words she said to me.
"Why am I to take it?" I asked.
She struggled a little with her sluggishly working mind, and
slowly put her thoughts into words.
"You're angry with the Master," she said. "Take it out on Me.
Here's the stick. Beat me."
"Beat you!" I exclaimed.
"My back's broad," said the poor creature. "I won't make a row.
I'll bear it. Drat you, take the stick! Don't vex _him._ Whack it
out on my back. Beat _me._"
She roughly forced the stick into my hand; she turned her poor
shapeless shoulders to me; waiting for the blow. It was at once
dreadful and touching to see her. The tears rose in my eyes. I
tried, gently and patiently, to reason with her. Quite useless!
The idea of taking the Master's punishment on herself was the one
idea in her mind. "Don't vex _him,_" she repeated. "Beat _me._"