Part 7 out of 9
"What do you mean by 'vexing him'?" I asked.
She tried to explain, and failed to find the words. She showed me
by imitation, as a savage might have shown me, what she meant.
Striding to the fire-place, she crouched on the rug, and looked
into the fire with a horrible vacant stare. Then she clasped her
hands over her forehead, and rocked slowly to and fro, still
staring into the fire. "There's how he sits!" she said, with a
sudden burst of speech. "Hours on hours, there's how he sits!
Notices nobody. Cries about _you._"
The picture she presented recalled to my memory the Report of
Dexter's health, and the doctor's plain warning of peril waiting
for him in the future.
Even if I could have resisted Ariel, I must have yielded to the
vague dread of consequences which now shook me in secret.
"Don't do that!" I cried. She was still rocking herself in
imitation of the "Master," and still staring into the fire with
her hands to her head. "Get up, pray! I am not angry with him
now. I forgive him."
She rose on her hands and knees, and waited, looking up intently
into my face. In that attitude--more like a dog than a human
being--she repeated her customary petition when she wanted to fix
words that interested her in her mind.
"Say it again!"
I did as she bade me. She was not satisfied.
"Say it as it is in the letter," she went on. "Say it as the
Master said it to Me."
I looked back at the letter, and repeated the form of message
contained in the latter part of it, word for word:
"I forgive him; and one day I will let him see me again."
She sprang to her feet at a bound. For the first time since she
had entered the room her dull face began to break slowly into
light and life.
"That's it!" she cried. "Hear if I can say it, too; hear if I've
got it by heart."
Teaching her exactly as I should have taught a child, I slowly
fastened the message, word by word, on her mind.
"Now rest yourself," I said; "and let me give you something to
eat and drink after your long walk."
I might as well have spoken to one of the chairs. She snatched up
her stick from the floor, and burst out with a hoarse shout of
joy. "I've got it by heart!" she cried. "This will cool the
Master's head! Hooray!" She dashed out into the passage like a
wild animal escaping from its cage. I was just in time to see her
tear open the garden gate, and set forth on her walk back at a
pace which made it hopeless to attempt to follow and stop her.
I returned to the sitting-room, pondering on a question which has
perplexed wiser heads than mine. Could a man who was hopelessly
and entirely wicked have inspired such devoted attachment to him
as Dexter had inspired in the faithful woman who had just left
me? in the rough gardener who had carried him out so gently on
the previous night? Who can decide? The greatest scoundrel living
always has a friend--in a woman or a dog.
I sat down again at my desk, and made another attempt to write to
Recalling, for the purpose of my letter, all that Miserrimus
Dexter had said to me, my memory dwelt with special interest on
the strange outbreak of feeling which had led him to betray the
secret of his infatuation for Eustace's first wife. I saw again
the ghastly scene in the death-chamber--the deformed creature
crying over the corpse in the stillness of the first dark hours
of the new day. The horrible picture took a strange hold on my
mind. I arose, and walked up and down, and tried to turn my
thoughts some other way. It was not to be done: the scene was too
familiar to me to be easily dismissed. I had myself visited the
room and looked at the bed. I had myself walked in the corridor
which Dexter had crossed on his way to take his last leave of
The corridor? I stopped. My thoughts suddenly took a new
direction, uninfluenced by any effort of my will.
What other association besides the association with Dexter did I
connect with the corridor? Was it something I had seen during my
visit to Gleninch? No. Was it something I had read? I snatched up
the Report of the Trial to see. It opened at a page which
contained the nurse's evidence. I read the evidence through
again, without recovering the lost remembrance until I came to
these lines close at the end:
"Before bed-time I went upstairs to prepare the remains of the
deceased lady for the coffin. The room in which she lay was
locked; the door leading into Mr. Macallan's room being secured,
as well as the door leading into the corridor. The keys had been
taken away by Mr. Gale. Two of the men-servants were posted
outside the bedroom to keep watch. They were to be relieved at
four in the morning--that was all they could tell me."
There was my lost association with the corridor! There was what
I ought to have remembered when Miserrimus Dexter was telling me
of his visit to the dead!
How had he got into the bedroom--the doors being locked, and the
keys being taken away by Mr. Gale? There was but one of the
locked doors of which Mr. Gale had not got the key--the door of
communication between the study and the bedroom. The key was
missing from this. Had it been stolen? And was Dexter the thief?
He might have passed by the men on the watch while they were
asleep, or he might have crossed the corridor in an unguarded
interval while the men were being relieved. But how could he have
got into the bedchamber except by way of the locked study door?
He _must_ have had the key! And he _must_ have secreted it weeks
before Mrs. Eustace Macallan's death! When the nurse first
arrived at Gleninch, on the seventh of the month, her evidence
declared the key of the door of communication to be then missing.
To what conclusion did these considerations and discoveries
point? Had Miserrimus Dexter, in a moment of ungovernable
agitation, unconsciously placed the clew in my hands? Was the
pivot on which turned the whole mystery of the poisoning at
Gleninch the missing key?
I went back for the third time to my desk. The one person who
might be trusted to find the answer to those questions was Mr.
Playmore. I wrote him a full and careful account of all that had
happened; I begged him to forgive and forget my ungracious
reception of the advice which he had so kindly offered to me; and
I promised beforehand to do nothing without first consulting his
opinion in the new emergency which now confronted me.
The day was fine for the time of year; and by way of getting a
little wholesome exercise after the surprises and occupations of
the morning, I took my letter to Mr. Playmore to the post.
Returning to the villa, I was informed that another visitor was
waiting to see me: a civilized visitor this time, who had given
her name. My mother-in-law--Mrs. Macallan.
AT THE BEDSIDE.
BEFORE she had uttered a word, I saw in my mother-in-law's face
that she brought bad news.
"Eustace?" I said.
She answered me by a look.
"Let me he ar it at once!" I cried. "I can bear anything but
Mrs. Macallan lifted her hand, and showed me a telegraphic
dispatch which she had hitherto kept concealed in the folds of
"I can trust your courage," she said. "There is no need, my
child, to prevaricate with you. Read that."
I read the telegram. It was sent by the chief surgeon of a
field-hospital; and it was dated from a village in the north of
"Mr. Eustace severely wounded in a skirmish by a stray shot. Not
in danger, so far. Every care taken of him. Wait for another
I turned away my face, and bore as best I might the pang that
wrung me when I read those words. I thought I knew how dearly I
loved him: I had never known it till that moment.
My mother-in-law put her arm round me, and held me to her
tenderly. She knew me well enough not to speak to me at that
I rallied my courage, and pointed to the last sentence in the
"Do you mean to wait?" I asked.
"Not a day!" she answered. "I am going to the Foreign Office
about my passport--I have some interest there: they can give me
letters; they can advise and assist me. I leave to-night by the
mail train to Calais."
"_You_ leave?" I said. "Do you suppose I will let you go without
me? Get my passport when you get yours. At seven this evening I
will be at your house."
She attempted to remonstrate; she spoke of the perils of the
journey. At the first words I stopped her. "Don't you know yet,
mother, how obstinate I am? They may keep you waiting at the
Foreign Office. Why do you waste the precious hours here?"
She yielded with a gentleness that was not in her everyday
character. "Will my poor Eustace ever know what a wife he has
got?" That was all she said. She kissed me, and went away in her
My remembrances of our journey are strangely vague and
As I try to recall them, the memory of those more recent and more
interesting events which occurred after my return to England gets
between me and my adventures in Spain, and seems to force these
last into a shadowy background, until they look like adventures
that happened many years since. I confusedly recollect delays and
alarms that tried our patience and our courage. I remember our
finding friends (thanks to our letters of recommendation) in a
Secretary to the Embassy and in a Queen's Messenger, who assisted
and protected us at a critical point in the journey. I recall to
mind a long succession of men in our employment as travelers, all
equally remarkable for their dirty cloaks and their clean linen,
for their highly civilized courtesy to women and their utterly
barbarous cruelty to horses. Last, and most important of all, I
see again, more clearly than I can see anything else, the one
wretched bedroom of a squalid village inn in which we found our
poor darling, prostrate between life and death, insensible to
everything that passed in the narrow little world that lay around
There was nothing romantic or interesting in the accident which
had put my husband's life in peril.
He had ventured too near the scene of the conflict (a miserable
affair) to rescue a poor lad who lay wounded on the
field--mortally wounded, as the event proved. A rifle-bullet had
struck him in the body. His brethren of the field-hospital had
carried him back to their quarters at the risk of their lives. He
was a great favorite with all of them; patient and gentle and
brave; only wanting a little more judgment to be the most
valuable recruit who had joined the brotherhood.
In telling me this, the surgeon kindly and delicately added a
word of warning as well.
The fever caused by the wound had brought with it delirium, as
usual. My poor husband's mind, in so far as his wandering words
might interpret it, was filled by the one image of his wife. The
medical attendant had heard enough in the course of his
ministrations at the bedside, to satisfy him that any sudden
recognition of me by Eustace (if he recovered) might be attended
by the most lamentable results. As things were at that sad time,
I might take my turn at nursing him, without the slightest chance
of his discovering me, perhaps for weeks and weeks to come. But
on the day when he was declared out of danger--if that happy day
ever arrived--I must resign my place at his bedside, and must
wait to show myself until the surgeon gave me leave.
My mother-in-law and I relieved each other regularly, day and
night, in the sick-room.
In the hours of his delirium--hours that recurred with a pitiless
regularity--my name was always on my poor darling's fevered lips.
The ruling idea in him was the fine dreadful idea which I had
vainly combated at our last interview. In the face of the verdict
pronounced at the Trial, it was impossible even for his wife to
be really and truly persuaded that he was an innocent man. All
the wild pictures which his distempered imagination drew were
equally inspired by that one obstinate conviction. He fancied
himself to be still living with me under those dreaded
conditions. Do what he might, I was always recalling to him the
terrible ordeal through which he had passed. He acted his part,
and he acted mine. He gave me a cup of tea; and I said to him,
"We quarreled yesterday, Eustace. Is it poisoned?" He kissed me,
in token of our reconciliation; and I laughed, and said, "It's
morning now, my dear. Shall I die by nine o'clock to-night?" I
was ill in bed, and he gave me my medicine. I looked at him with
a doubting eye. I said to him, "You are in love with another
woman. Is there anything in the medicine that the doctor doesn't
know of?" Such was the horrible drama which now perpetually acted
itself in his mind. Hundreds and hundreds of times I heard him
repeat it, almost always in the same words. On other occasions
his thoughts wandered away to my desperate project of proving him
to be an innocent man. Sometimes he laughed at it. Sometimes he
mourned over it. Sometimes he devised cunning schemes for placing
unsuspected obstacles in my way. He was especially hard on me
when he was inventing his preventive stratagems--he cheerfully
instructed the visionary people who assisted him not to hesitate
at offending or distressing me. "Never mind if you make her
angry; never mind if you make her cry. It's all for her good;
it's all to save the poor fool from dangers she doesn't dream of.
You mustn't pity her when she says she does it for my sake. See!
she is going to be insulted; she is going to be deceived; she is
going to disgrace herself without knowing it. Stop her! stop
her!" It was weak of me, I know; I ought to have kept the plain
fact that he was out of his senses always present to my mind:
still it is true that my hours passed at my husband's pillow were
many of them hours of mortification and misery of which he, poor
dear, was the innocent and only cause.
The weeks passed; and he still hovered between life and death.
I kept no record of the time, and I cannot now recall the exact
date on which the first favorable change took place. I only
remember that it was toward sunrise on a fine winter morning when
we were relieved at last of our heavy burden of suspense. The
surgeon happened to be by the bedside when his patient awoke. The
first thing he did, after looking at Eustace, was to caution me
by a sign to be silent and to keep out of sight. My mother-in-law
and I both knew what this meant. With full hearts we thanked God
together for giving us back the husband and the son.
The same evening, being alone, we ventured to speak of the
future--for the first time since we had left home.
"The surgeon tells me," said Mrs. Macallan, "that Eustace is too
weak to be capable of bearing anything in the nature of a
surprise for some days to come. We have time to consider whether
he is or is not to be told that he owes his life as much to your
care as to mine. Can you find it in your heart to leave him,
Valeria, now that God's mercy has restored him to you and to me?"
"If I only consulted my own heart," I answered, "I should never
leave him again."
Mrs. Macallan looked at me in grave surprise.
"What else have you to consult?" she asked.
"If we both live," I repli ed, "I have to think of the happiness
of his life and the happiness of mine in the years that are to
come. I can bear a great deal, mother, but I cannot endure the
misery of his leaving me for the second time."
"You wrong him, Valeria--I firmly believe you wrong him--in
thinking it possible that he can leave you again."
"Dear Mrs. Macallan, have you forgotten already what we have both
heard him say of me while we have been sitting by his bedside?"
"We have heard the ravings of a man in delirium. It is surely
hard to hold Eustace responsible for what he said when he was out
of his senses."
"It is harder still," I said, "to resist his mother when she is
pleading for him. Dearest and best of friends! I don't hold
Eustace responsible for what he said in the fever--but I _do_
take warning by it. The wildest words that fell from him were,
one and all, the faithful echo of what he said to me in the best
days of his health and his strength. What hope have I that he
will recover with an altered mind toward me? Absence has not
changed it; suffering has not changed it. In the delirium of
fever, and in the full possession of his reason, he has the same
dreadful doubt of me. I see but one way of winning him back: I
must destroy at its root his motive for leaving me. It is
hopeless to persuade him that I believe in his innocence: I must
show him that belief is no longer necessary; I must prove to him
that his position toward me has become the position of an
"Valeria! Valeria! you are wasting time and words. You have tried
the experiment; and you know as well as I do that the thing is
not to be done."
I had no answer to that. I could say no more than I had said
"Suppose you go back to Dexter, out of sheer compassion for a mad
and miserable wretch who has already insulted you," proceeded my
mother-in-law. "You can only go back accompanied by me, or by
some other trustworthy person. You can only stay long enough to
humor the creature's wayward fancy, and to keep his crazy brain
quiet for a time. That done, all is done--you leave him. Even
supposing Dexter to be still capable of helping you, how can you
make use of him but by admitting him to terms of confidence and
familiarity--by treating him, in short, on the footing of an
intimate friend? Answer me honestly: can you bring yourself to do
that, after what happened at Mr. Benjamin's house?"
I had told her of my last interview with Miserrimus Dexter, in
the natural confidence that she inspired in me as relative and
fellow-traveler; and this was the use to which she turned her
information! I suppose I had no right to blame her; I suppose the
motive sanctioned everything. At any rate, I had no choice but to
give offense or to give an answer. I gave it. I acknowledged that
I could never again permit Miserrimus Dexter to treat me on terms
of familiarity as a trusted and intimate friend.
Mrs. Macallan pitilessly pressed the advantage that she had won.
"Very well," she said, "that resource being no longer open to
you, what hope is left? Which way are you to turn next?"
There was no meeting those questions, in my present situation, by
any adequate reply. I felt strangely unlike myself--I submitted
in silence. Mrs. Macallan struck the last blow that completed her
"My poor Eustace is weak and wayward," she said; "but he is not
an ungrateful man. My child, you have returned him good for
evil--you have proved how faithfully and how devotedly you love
him, by suffering all hardships and risking all dangers for his
sake. Trust me, and trust him! He cannot resist you. Let him see
the dear face that he has been dreaming of looking at him again
with all the old love in it, and he is yours once more, my
daughter--yours for life." She rose and touched my forehead with
her lips; her voice sank to tones of tenderness which I had never
heard from her yet. "Say yes, Valeria," she whispered; "and be
dearer to me and dearer to him than ever!"
My heart sided with her. My energies were worn out. No letter had
arrived from Mr. Playmore to guide and to encourage me. I had
resisted so long and so vainly; I had tried and suffered so much;
I had met with such cruel disasters and such reiterated
disappointments--and he was in the room beneath me, feebly
finding his way back to consciousness and to life--how could I
resist? It was all over. In saying Yes (if Eustace confirmed his
mother's confidence in him), I was saying adieu to the one
cherished ambition, the one dear and noble hope of my life. I
knew it--and I said Yes.
And so good-by to the grand struggle! And so welcome to the new
resignation which owned that I had failed.
My mother-in-law and I slept together under the only shelter
that the inn could offer to us--a sort of loft at the top of the
house. The night that followed our conversation was bitterly
cold. We felt the chilly temperature, in spite of the protection
of our dressing-gowns and our traveling-wrappers. My
mother-in-law slept, but no rest came to me. I was too anxious
and too wretched, thinking over my changed position, and doubting
how my husband would receive me, to be able to sleep.
Some hours, as I suppose, must have passed, and I was still
absorbed in my own melancholy thoughts, when I suddenly became
conscious of a new and strange sensation which astonished and
alarmed me. I started up in the bed, breathless and bewildered.
The movement awakened Mrs. Macallan. "Are you ill?" she asked.
"What is the matter with you?" I tried to tell her, as well as I
could. She seemed to understand me before I had done; she took me
tenderly in her arms, and pressed me to her bosom. "My poor
innocent child," she said, "is it possible you don't know? Must I
really tell you?" She whispered her next words. Shall I ever
forget the tumult of feelings which the whisper aroused in
me--the strange medley of joy and fear, and wonder and relief,
and pride and humility, which filled my whole being, and made a
new woman of me from that moment? Now, for the first time, I knew
it! If God spared me for a few months more, the most enduring and
the most sacred of all human joys might be mine--the joy of being
I don't know how the rest of the night passed. I only find my
memory again when the morning came, and when I went out by myself
to breathe the crisp wintry air on the open moor behind the inn.
I have said that I felt like a new woman. The morning found me
with a new resolution and a new courage. When I thought of the
future, I had not only my husband to consider now. His good name
was no longer his own and mine--it might soon become the most
precious inheritance that he could leave to his child. What had I
done while I was in ignorance of this? I had resigned the hope of
cleansing his name from the stain that rested on it--a stain
still, no matter how little it might look in the eye of the Law.
Our child might live to hear malicious tongues say, "Your father
was tried for the vilest of all murders, and was never absolutely
acquitted of the charge." Could I face the glorious perils of
childbirth with that possibility present to my mind? No! not
until I had made one more effort to lay the conscience of
Miserrimus Dexter bare to my view! not until I had once again
renewed the struggle, and brought the truth that vindicated the
husband and the father to the light of day!
I went back to the house, with my new courage to sustain me. I
opened my heart to my friend and mother, and told her frankly of
the change that had come over me since we had last spoken of
She was more than disappointed--she was almost offended with me.
The one thing needful had happened, she said. The happiness that
might soon come to us would form a new tie between my husband and
me. Every other consideration but this she treated as purely
fanciful. If I left Eustace now, I did a heartless thing and a
foolish thing. I should regret, to the end of my days, having
thrown away the one golden opportunity of my married life.
It cost me a hard struggle, it oppressed me with many a painful
doubt; but I held firm this time. The honor of the father, the
inheritance of the child--I kept these thoughts as constant ly as
possible before my mind. Sometimes they failed me, and left me
nothing better than a poor fool who had some fitful bursts of
crying, and was always ashamed of herself afterward. But my
native obstinacy (as Mrs. Macallan said) carried me through. Now
and then I had a peep at Eustace, while he was asleep; and that
helped me too. Though they made my heart ache and shook me sadly
at the times those furtive visits to my husband fortified me
afterward. I cannot explain how this happened (it seems so
contradictory); I can only repeat it as one of my experiences at
that troubled time.
I made one concession to Mrs. Macallan--I consented to wait for
two days before I took any steps for returning to England, on the
chance that my mind might change in the interval.
It was well for me that I yielded so far. On the second day the
director of the field-hospital sent to the post-office at our
nearest town for letters addressed to him or to his care. The
messenger brought back a letter for me. I thought I recognized
the handwriting, and I was right. Mr. Playmore's answer had
reached me at last!
If I had been in any danger of changing my mind, the good lawyer
would have saved me in the nick of time. The extract that follows
contains the pith of his letter; and shows how he encouraged me
when I stood in sore need of a few cheering and friendly words.
"Let me now tell you," he wrote, "what I have done toward
verifying the conclusion to which your letter points.
"I have traced one of the servants who was appointed to keep
watch in the corridor on the night when the first Mrs. Eustace
died at Gleninch. The man perfectly remembers that Miserrimus
Dexter suddenly appeared before him and his fellow-servant long
after the house was quiet for the night. Dexter said to them, 'I
suppose there is no harm in my going into the study to read? I
can't sleep after what has happened; I must relieve my mind
somehow.' The men had no orders to keep any one out of the study.
They knew that the door of communication with the bedchamber was
locked, and that the keys of the two other doors of communication
were in the possession of Mr. Gale. They accordingly permitted
Dexter to go into the study. He closed the door (the door that
opened on the corridor), and remained absent for some time--in
the study as the men supposed; in the bedchamber as we know from
what he let out at his interview with you. Now he could enter
that room, as you rightly imagine, in but one way--by being in
possession of the missing key. How long he remained there I
cannot discover. The point is of little consequence. The servant
remembers that he came out of the study again 'as pale as death,'
and that he passed on without a word on his way back to his own
"These are facts. The conclusion to which they lead is serious in
the last degree. It justifies everything that I confided to you
in my office at Edinburgh. You remember what passed between us. I
say no more.
"As to yourself next. You have innocently aroused in Miserrimus
Dexter a feeling toward you which I need not attempt to
characterize. There is a certain something--I saw it myself--in
your figure, and in some of your movements, which does recall the
late Mrs. Eustace to those who knew her well, and which has
evidently had its effect on Dexter's morbid mind. Without
dwelling further on this subject, let me only remind you that he
has shown himself (as a consequence of your influence over him)
to be incapable, in his moments of agitation, of thinking before
he speaks while he is in your presence. It is not merely
possible, it is highly probable, that he may betray himself far
more seriously than he has betrayed himself yet if you give him
the opportunity. I owe it to you (knowing what your interests
are) to express myself plainly on this point. I have no sort of
doubt that you have advanced one step nearer to the end which you
have in view in the brief interval since you left Edinburgh. I
see in your letter (and in my discoveries) irresistible evidence
that Dexter must have been in secret communication with the
deceased lady (innocent communication, I am certain, so far as
_she_ was concerned), not only at the time of her death, but
perhaps for weeks before it. I cannot disguise from myself or
from you, my own strong persuasion that if you succeed in
discovering the nature of this communication, in all human
likelihood you prove your husband's innocence by the discovery of
the truth. As an honest man, I am bound not to conceal this. And,
as an honest man also, I am equally bound to add that, not even
with your reward in view, can I find it in my conscience to
advise you to risk what you must risk if you see Miserrimus
Dexter again. In this difficult and delicate matter I cannot and
will not take the responsibility: the final decision must rest
with yourself. One favor only I entreat you to grant--let me hear
what you resolve to do as soon as you know it yourself."
The difficulties which my worthy correspondent felt were no
difficulties to me. I did not possess Mr. Playmore's judicial
mind. My resolution was settled before I had read his letter
The mail to France crossed the frontier the next day. There was a
place for me, under the protection of the conductor, if I chose
to take it. Without consulting a living creature--rash as usual,
headlong as usual--I took it.
ON THE JOURNEY BACK.
IF I had been traveling homeward in my own carriage, the
remaining chapters of this narrative would never have been
written. Before we had been an hour on the road I should have
called to the driver, and should have told him to turn back.
Who can be always resolute?
In asking that question, I speak of the women, not of the men. I
had been resolute in turning a deaf ear to Mr. Playmore's doubts
and cautions; resolute in holding out against my mother-in-law;
resolute in taking my place by the French mail. Until ten minutes
after we had driven away from the inn my courage held out--and
then it failed me; then I said to myself, "You wretch, you have
deserted your husband!" For hours afterward, if I could have
stopped the mail, I would have done it. I hated the conductor,
the kindest of men. I hated the Spanish ponies that drew us, the
cheeriest animals that ever jingled a string of bells. I hated
the bright day that _would_ make things pleasant, and the bracing
air that forced me to feel the luxury of breathing whether I
liked it or not. Never was a journey more miserable than my safe
and easy journey to the frontier. But one little comfort helped
me to bear my heart-ache resignedly--a stolen morsel of Eustace's
hair. We had started at an hour of the morning when he was still
sound asleep. I could creep into his room, and kiss him, and cry
over him softly, and cut off a stray lock of his hair, without
danger of discovery. How I summoned resolution enough to leave
him is, to this hour, not clear to my mind. I think my
mother-in-law must have helped me, without meaning to do it. She
came into the room with an erect head and a cold eye; she said,
with an unmerciful emphasis on the word, "If you _mean_ to go,
Valeria, the carriage is here." Any woman with a spark of spirit
in her would have "meant" it under those circumstances. I meant
it--and did it.
And then I was sorry for it. Poor humanity! Time has got all the
credit of being the great consoler of afflicted mortals. In my
opinion, Time has been overrated in this matter. Distance does
the same beneficent work far more speedily, and (when assisted by
Change) far more effectually as well. On the railroad to Paris, I
became capable of taking a sensible view of my position. I could
now remind myself that my husband's reception of me--after the
first surprise and the first happiness had passed away--might not
have justified his mother's confidence in him. Admitting that I
ran a risk in going back to Miserrimus Dexter, should I not have
been equally rash, in another way, if I had returned, uninvited,
to a husband who had declared that our conjugal happiness was
impossible, and that our married life was at an end? Besides, who
could say that the events of the future might not y et justify
me--not only to myself, but to him? I might yet hear him say,
"She was inquisitive when she had no business to inquire; she was
obstinate when she ought; to have listened to reason; she left my
bedside when other women would have remained; but in the end she
atoned for it all--she turned out to be right!"
I rested a day at Paris and wrote three letters.
One to Benjamin, telling him to expect me the next evening. One
to Mr. Playmore, warning him, in good time, that I meant to make
a last effort to penetrate the mystery at Gleninch. One to
Eustace (of a few lines only), owning that I had helped to nurse
him through the dangerous part of his illness; confessing the one
reason which had prevailed with me to leave him; and entreating
him to suspend his opinion of me until time had proved that I
loved him more dearly than ever. This last letter I inclosed to
my mother-in-law, leaving it to her discretion to choose the
right time for giving it to her son. I positively forbade Mrs.
Macallan, however, to tell Eustace of the new tie between us.
Although he _had_ separated himself from me, I was determined
that he should not hear it from other lips than mine. Never mind
why. There are certain little matters which I must keep to
myself; and this is one of them.
My letters being written, my duty was done. I was free to play my
last card in the game--the darkly doubtful game which was neither
quite for me nor quite against me as the chances now stood.
ON THE WAY TO DEXTER.
"I DECLARE to Heaven, Valeria, I believe that monster's madness
is infectious--and you have caught it!"
This was Benjamin's opinion of me (on my safe arrival at the
villa) after I had announced my intention of returning Miserrimus
Dexter's visit, in his company.
Being determined to carry my point, I could afford to try the
influence of mild persuasion. I begged my good friend to have a
little patience with me. "And do remember what I have already
told you," I added. "It is of serious importance to me to see
I only heaped fuel on the fire. "See him again?" Benjamin
repeated indignantly. "See him, after he grossly insulted you,
under my roof, in this very room? I can't be awake; I must be
asleep and dreaming!"
It was wrong of me, I know. But Benjamin's virtuous indignation
was so very virtuous that it let the spirit of mischief loose in
me. I really could not resist the temptation to outrage his sense
of propriety by taking an audaciously liberal view of the whole
"Gently, my good friend, gently," I said. "We must make
allowances for a man who suffers under Dexter's infirmities, and
lives Dexter's life. And really we must not let our modesty lead
us beyond reasonable limits. I begin to think that I took rather
a prudish view of the thing myself at the time. A woman who
respects herself, and whose whole heart is with her husband, is
not so very seriously injured when a wretched crippled creature
is rude enough to put his arm around her waist. Virtuous
indignation (if I may venture to say so) is sometimes very cheap
indignation. Besides, I have forgiven him--and you must forgive
him too. There is no fear of his forgetting himself again, while
you are with me. His house is quite a curiosity--it is sure to
interest you; the pictures alone are worth the journey. I will
write to him to-day, and we will go and see him together
to-morrow. We owe it to ourselves (if we don't owe it to Mr.
Dexter) to pay this visit. If you will look about you, Benjamin,
you will see that benevolence toward everybody is the great
virtue of the time we live in. Poor Mr. Dexter must have the
benefit of the prevailing fashion. Come, come, march with the
age! Open your mind to the new ideas!"
Instead of accepting this polite invitation, worthy old Benjamin
flew at the age we lived in like a bull at a red cloth.
"Oh, the new ideas! the new ideas! By all manner of means,
Valeria, let us have the new ideas! The old morality's all wrong,
the old ways are all worn out. Let's march with the age we live
in. Nothing comes amiss to the age we live in. The wife in
England and the husband in Spain, married or not married living
together or not living together--it's all one to the new ideas.
I'll go with you, Valeria; I'll be worthy of the generation I
live in. When we have done with Dexter, don't let's do things by
halves. Let's go and get crammed with ready made science at a
lecture--let's hear the last new professor, the man who has been
behind the scenes at Creation, and knows to a T how the world was
made, and how long it took to make it. There's the other fellow,
too: mind we don't forget the modern Solomon, who has left his
proverbs behind him--the brand-new philosopher who considers the
consolations of religion in the light of harmless playthings, and
who is kind enough to say that he might have been all the happier
if he could only have been childish enough to play with them
himself. Oh, the new ideas! the new ideas!--what consoling,
elevating, beautiful discoveries have been made by the new ideas!
We were all monkeys before we were men, and molecules before we
were monkeys! and what does it matter? And what does anything
matter to anybody? I'm with you, Valeria, I'm ready. The sooner
the better. Come to Dexter! Come to Dexter!"
"I am so glad you agree with me," I said. "But let us do nothing
in a hurry. Three o'clock to-morrow will be time enough for Mr.
Dexter. I will write at once and tell him to expect us. Where are
"I am going to clear my mind of cant," said Benjamin, sternly. "I
am going into the library."
"What are you going to read?"
"I am going to read--Puss in Boots, and Jack and the Bean-stalk,
and anything else I can find that doesn't march with the age we
With that parting shot at the new ideas, my old friend left me
for a time.
Having dispatched my note, I found myself beginning to revert,
with a certain feeling of anxiety, to the subject of Miserrimus
Dexter's health. How had he passed through the interval of my
absence from England? Could anybody, within my reach, tell me
news of him? To inquire of Benjamin would only be to provoke a
new outbreak. While I was still considering, the housekeeper
entered the room on some domestic errand. I asked, at a venture,
if she had heard anything more, while I had been away of the
extraordinary person who had so seriously alarmed her on a former
The housekeeper shook her head, and looked as if she thought it
in bad taste to mention the subject at all.
"About a week after you had gone away ma'am," she said, with
extreme severity of manner, and with excessive carefulness in her
choice of words, "the Person you mention had the impudence to
send a letter to you. The messenger was informed, by my master's
orders, that you had gone abroad, and he and his letter were both
sent about their business together. Not long afterward, ma'am, I
happened, while drinking tea with Mrs. Macallan's housekeeper, to
hear of the Person again. He himself called in his chaise, at
Mrs. Macallan's, to inquire about you there. How he can contrive
to sit, without legs to balance him, is beyond my
understanding--but that is neither here nor there. Legs or no
legs, the housekeeper saw him, and she says, as I say, she will
never forget him to her dying day. She told him (as soon as she
recovered herself) of Mr. Eustace's illness, and of you and Mrs.
Macallan being in foreign parts nursing him. He went away, so the
housekeeper told me, with tears in his eyes, and oaths and curses
on his lips--a sight shocking to see. That's all I know about the
Person, ma'am, and I hope to be excused if I venture to say that
the subject is (for good reasons) extremely disagreeable to me."
She made a formal courtesy, and quitted the room.
Left by myself, I felt more anxious and more uncertain than ever
when I thought of the experiment that was to be tried on the next
day. Making due allowance for exaggeration, the description of
Miserrimus Dexter on his departure from Mrs. Macallan's house
suggested that he had not endured my long absence very patiently,
and that he was still as far as ever from giving his shatt ered
nervous system its fair chance of repose.
The next morning brought me Mr. Playmore's reply to the letter
which I had addressed to him from Paris.
He wrote very briefly, neither approving nor blaming my decision,
but strongly reiterating his opinion that I should do well to
choose a competent witness as my companion at my coming interview
with Dexter. The most interesting part of the letter was at the
end. "You must be prepared," Mr. Playmore wrote, "to see a change
for the worse in Dexter. A friend of mine was with him on a
matter of business a few days since, and was struck by the
alteration in him. Your presence is sure to have its effect, one
way or another. I can give you no instructions for managing
him--you must be guided by the circumstances. Your own tact will
tell you whether it is wise or not to encourage him to speak of
the late Mrs. Eustace. The chances of his betraying himself all
revolve (as I think) round that one topic: keep him to it if you
can." To this was added, in a postscript: "Ask Mr. Benjamin if he
were near enough to the library door to hear Dexter tell you of
his entering the bedchamber on the night of Mrs. Eustace
I put the question to Benjamin when we met at the luncheon-table
before setting forth for the distant suburb in which Miserrimus
Dexter lived. My old friend disapproved of the contemplated
expedition as strongly as ever. He was unusually grave and
unusually sparing of his words when he answered me.
"I am no listener," he said. "But some people have voices which
insist on being heard. Mr. Dexter is one of them."
"Does that mean that you heard him?" I asked.
"The door couldn't muffle him, and the wall couldn't muffle him,"
Benjamin rejoined. "I heard him--and I thought it infamous.
"I may want you to do more than hear him this time," I ventured
to say. "I may want you to make notes of our conversation while
Mr. Dexter is speaking to me. You used to write down what my
father said, when he was dictating his letters to you. Have you
got one of your little note-books to spare?"
Benjamin looked up from his plate with an aspect of stern
"It's one thing," he said, "to write under the dictation of a
great merchant, conducting a vast correspondence by which
thousands of pounds change hands in due course of post. And it's
another thing to take down the gibberish of a maundering mad
monster who ought to be kept in a cage. Your good father,
Valeria, would never have asked me to do that."
"Forgive me, Benjamin; I must really ask you to do it. You may be
of the greatest possible use to me. Come, give way this once,
dear, for my sake."
Benjamin looked down again at his plate, with a rueful
resignation which told me that I had carried my point.
"I have been tied to her apron-string all my life," I heard him
grumble to himself; "and it's too late in the day to get loose
from her how." He looked up again at me. "I thought I had retired
from business," he said; "but it seems I must turn clerk again.
Well? What is the new stroke of work that's expected from me this
The cab was announced to be waiting for us at the gate as he
asked the question. I rose and took his arm, and gave him a
grateful kiss on his rosy old cheek.
"Only two things," I said. "Sit down behind Mr. Dexter's chair,
so that he can't see you. But take care to place yourself, at the
same time, so that you can see me."
"The less I see of Mr. Dexter the better I shall be pleased,"
growled Benjamin. "What am I to do after I have taken my place
"You are to wait until I make you a sign; and when you see it you
are to begin writing down in your note-book what Mr. Dexter is
saying--and you are to go on until I make another sign, which
means, Leave off!"
"Well?" said Benjamin, "what's the sign for Begin? and what's the
sign for Leave off?"
I was not quite prepared with an answer to this. I asked him to
help me with a hint. No! Benjamin would take no active part in
the matter. He was resigned to be employed in the capacity of
passive instrument--and there all concession ended, so far as he
Left to my own resources, I found it no easy matter to invent a
telegraphic system which should sufficiently inform Benjamin,
without awakening Dexter's quick suspicion. I looked into the
glass to see if I could find the necessary suggestion in anything
that I wore. My earrings supplied me with the idea of which I was
"I shall take care to sit in an arm-chair," I said. "When you see
me rest my elbow on the chair, and lift my hand to my earring, as
if I were playing with it--write down what he says; and go on
until--well, suppose we say, until you hear me move my chair. At
that sound, stop. You understand me?"
"I understand you."
We started for Dexter's house.
NEMESIS AT LAST.
THE gardener opened the gate to us on this occasion. He had
evidently received his orders in anticipation of my arrival.
"Mrs. Valeria?" he asked.
"Please to step upstairs. You know the house."
Crossing the hall, I stopped for a moment, and looked at a
favorite walking-cane which Benjamin still kept in his hand.
"Your cane will only be in your way," I said. "Had you not better
leave it here?"
"My cane may be useful upstairs," retorted Benjamin, gruffly.
"_I_ haven't forgotten what happened in the library."
It was no time to contend with him. I led the way up the stairs.
Arriving at the upper flight of steps, I was startled by hearing
a sudden cry from the room above. It was like the cry of a person
in pain; and it was twice repeated before we entered the circular
antechamber. I was the first to approach the inner room, and to
see the many-sided Miserrimus Dexter in another new aspect of his
The unfortunate Ariel was standing before a table, with a dish of
little cakes placed in front of her. Round each of her wrists was
tied a string, the free ends of which (at a distance of a few
yards) were held in Miserrimus Dexter's hands. "Try again, my
beauty!" I heard him say, as I stopped on the threshold of the
door. "Take a cake." At the word of command, Ariel submissively
stretched out one arm toward the dish. Just as she touched a cake
with the tips of her fingers her hand was jerked away by a pull
at the string, so savagely cruel in the nimble and devilish
violence of it that I felt inclined to snatch Benjamin's cane out
of his hand and break it over Miserrimus Dexter's back. Ariel
suffered the pain this time in Spartan silence. The position in
which she stood enabled her to be the first to see me at the
door. She had discovered me. Her teeth were set; her face was
flushed under the struggle to restrain herself. Not even a sigh
escaped her in my presence.
"Drop the string!" I called out, indignantly "Release her, Mr.
Dexter, or I shall leave the house."
At the sound of my voice he burst out with a shrill cry of
welcome. His eyes fastened on me with a fierce, devouring
"Come in! come in!" he cried. "See what I am reduced to in the
maddening suspense of waiting for you. See how I kill the time
when the time parts us. Come in! come in! I am in one of my
malicious humors this morning, caused entirely, Mrs. Valeria, by
my anxiety to see you. When I am in my malicious humors I must
tease something. I am teasing Ariel. Look at her! She has had
nothing to eat all day, and she hasn't been quick enough to
snatch a morsel of cake yet. You needn't pity her. Ariel has no
nerves--I don't hurt her."
"Ariel has no nerves," echoed the poor creature, frowning at me
for interfering between her master and herself. "He doesn't hurt
I heard Benjamin beginning to swing his cane behind him.
"Drop the string!" I reiterated, more vehemently than ever. "Drop
it, or I shall instantly leave you."
Miserrimus Dexter's delicate nerves shuddered at my violence.
"What a glorious voice!" he exclaimed--and dropped the string.
"Take the cakes," he added, addressing Ariel in his most imperial
She passed me, with the strings hanging from her swollen wrists,
and the dish of cakes in her hand. She nodded her head at me
"Ariel has got no nerves," she repeated, proudly. "He doesn't
"You see," said Miserrimus Dexter, "there is no harm done--and I
dropped the strings when you told me. Don't _begin_ by being hard
on me, Mrs. Valeria, after your long absence." He paused.
Benjamin, standing silent in the doorway, attracted his attention
for the first time. "Who is this?" he asked, and wheeled his
chair suspiciously nearer to the door. "I know!" he cried, before
I could answer. "This is the benevolent gentleman who looked like
the refuge of the afflicted when I saw him last.--You have
altered for the worse since then, sir. You have stepped into
quite a new character--you personify Retributive Justice
now.--Your new protector, Mrs. Valeria--I understand!" He bowed
low to Benjamin, with ferocious irony. "Your humble servant, Mr.
Retributive Justice! I have deserved you--and I submit to you.
Walk in, sir! I will take care that your new office shall be a
sinecure. This lady is the Light of my Life. Catch me failing in
respect to her if you can!" He backed his chair before Benjamin
(who listened to him in contemptuous silence) until he reached
the part of the room in which I was standing. "Your hand, Light
of my Life!" he murmured in his gentlest tones. "Your hand--only
to show that you have forgiven me!" I gave him my hand. "One?" he
whispered, entreatingly. "Only one?" He kissed my hand once,
respectfully--and dropped it with a heavy sigh. "Ah, poor
Dexter!" he said, pitying himself with the whole sincerity of his
egotism. "A warm heart--wasted in solitude, mocked by deformity.
Sad! sad! Ah, poor Dexter!" He looked round again at Benjamin,
with another flash of his ferocious irony. "A beauteous day,
sir," he said, with mock-conventional courtesy. "Seasonable
weather indeed after the late long-continued rains. Can I offer
you any refreshment? Won't you sit down? Retributive Justice,
when it is no taller than you are, looks best in a chair."
"And a monkey looks best in a cage," rejoined Benjamin, enraged
at the satirical reference to his shortness of stature. "I was
waiting, sir, to see you get into your swing."
The retort produced no effect on Miserrimus Dexter: it appeared
to have passed by him unheard. He had changed again; he was
thoughtful, he was subdued; his eyes were fixed on me with a sad
and rapt attention. I took the nearest arm-chair, first casting a
glance at Benjamin, which he immediately understood. He placed
himself behind Dexter, at an angle which commanded a view of my
chair. Ariel, silently devouring her cakes, crouched on a stool
at "the Master's" feet, and looked up at him like a faithful dog.
There was an interval of quiet and repose. I was able to observe
Miserrimus Dexter uninterruptedly for the first time since I had
entered the room.
I was not surprised--I was nothing less than alarmed by the
change for the worse in him since we had last met. Mr. Playmore's
letter had not prepared me for the serious deterioration in him
which I could now discern.
His features were pinched and worn; the whole face seemed to have
wasted strangely in substance and size since I had last seen it.
The softness in his eyes was gone. Blood-red veins were
intertwined all over them now: they were set in a piteous and
vacant stare. His once firm hands looked withered; they trembled
as they lay on the coverlet. The paleness of his face
(exaggerated, perhaps, by the black velvet jacket that he wore)
had a sodden and sickly look--the fine outline was gone. The
multitudinous little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes had
deepened. His head sank into his shoulders when he leaned forward
in his chair. Years appeared to have passed over him, instead of
months, while I had been absent from England. Remembering the
medical report which Mr. Playmore had given me to read--recalling
the doctor's positively declared opinion that the preservation of
Dexter's sanity depended on the healthy condition of his
nerves--I could not but feel that I had done wisely (if I might
still hope for success) in hastening my return from Spain.
Knowing what I knew, fearing what I feared, I believed that his
time was near. I felt, when our eyes met by accident, that I was
looking at a doomed man.
I pitied him.
Yes, yes! I know that compassion for him was utterly inconsistent
with the motive which had taken me to his house--utterly
inconsistent with the doubt, still present to my mind, whether
Mr. Playmore had really wronged him in believing that his was the
guilt which had compassed the first Mrs. Eustace's death. I felt
this: I knew him to be cruel; I believed him to be false. And yet
I pitied him! Is there a common fund of wickedness in us all? Is
the suppression or the development of that wickedness a mere
question of training and temptation? And is there something in
our deeper sympathies which mutely acknowledges this when we feel
for the wicked; when we crowd to a criminal trial; when we shake
hands at parting (if we happen to be present officially) with the
vilest monster that ever swung on a gallows? It is not for me to
decide. I can only say that I pitied Miserrimus Dexter--and that
he found it out.
"Thank you," he said, suddenly. "You see I am ill, and you feel
for me. Dear and good Valeria!"
"This lady's name, sir, is Mrs. Eustace Macallan," interposed
Benjamin, speaking sternly behind him. "The next time you address
her, remember, if you please, that you have no business with her
Benjamin's rebuke passed, like Benjamin's retort, unheeded and
unheard. To all appearance, Miserrimus Dexter had completely
forgotten that there was such a person in the room.
"You have delighted me with the sight of you," he went on. "Add
to the pleasure by letting me hear your voice. Talk to me of
yourself. Tell me what you have been doing since you left
It was necessary to my object to set the conversation afloat; and
this was as good a way of doing it as any other. I told him
plainly how I had been employed during my absence.
"So you are still fond of Eustace?" he said, bitterly.
"I love him more dearly than ever."
He lifted his hands, and hid his face. After waiting a while, he
went on, speaking in an odd, muffled manner, still under cover of
"And you leave Eustace in Spain," he said; "and you return to
England by yourself! What made you do that?"
"What made me first come here and ask you to help me, Mr.
He dropped his hands, and looked at me. I saw in his eyes, not
amazement only, but alarm.
"Is it possible," he exclaimed, "that you won't let that
miserable matter rest even yet? Are you still determined to
penetrate the mystery at Gleninch?"
"I am still determined, Mr. Dexter; and I still hope that you may
be able to help me."
The old distrust that I remembered so well darkened again over
his face the moment I said those words.
"How can I help you?" he asked. "Can I alter facts?" He stopped.
His face brightened again, as if some sudden sense of relief had
come to him. "I did try to help you," he went on. "I told you
that Mrs. Beauly's absence was a device to screen herself from
suspicion; I told you that the poison might have been given by
Mrs. Beauly's maid. Has reflection convinced you? Do you see
something in the idea?"
This return to Mrs. Beauly gave me my first chance of leading the
talk to the right topic.
"I see nothing in the idea," I answered. "I see no motive. Had
the maid any reason to be an enemy to the late Mrs. Eustace?"
"Nobody had any reason to be an enemy to the late Mrs. Eustace!"
he broke out, loudly and vehemently. "She was all goodness, all
kindness; she never injured any human creature in thought or
deed. She was a saint upon earth. Respect her memory! Let the
martyr rest in her grave!" He covered his face again with his
hands, and shook and shuddered under the paroxysm of emotion that
I had roused in him.
Ariel suddenly and softly left her stool, and approached me.
"Do you see my ten claws?" she whispered, holding out her hands.
"Vex the Master again, and you will feel my ten claws on your
Benjamin rose from his seat: he had seen the action, without
hearing the words. I signed to him to keep his place.
Ariel returned to her stool, and looked up again at her master.
"Don't cry," she said. "Come on. Here are the strings. Tease me
again. Make me screech with the smart of it."
He never answered, and never moved.
Ariel bent her slow mind to meet the difficulty of attracting his
attention. I saw it in her frowning brows, in her colorless eyes
looking at me vacantly. On a sudden, she joyfully struck the open
palm of one of her hands with the fist of the other. She had
triumphed. She had got an idea.
"Master!" she cried. "Master! You haven't told me a story for
ever so long. Puzzle my thick head. Make my flesh creep. Come on.
A good long story. All blood and crimes."
Had she accidentally hit on the right suggestion to strike his
wayward fancy? I knew his high opinion of his own skill in
"dramatic narrative." I knew that one of his favorite amusements
was to puzzle Ariel by telling her stories that she could not
understand. Would he wander away into the regions of wild
romance? Or would he remember that my obstinacy still threatened
him with reopening the inquiry into the tragedy at Gleninch? and
would he set his cunning at work to mislead me by some new
stratagem? This latter course was the course which my past
experience of him suggested that he would take. But, to my
surprise and alarm, I found my past experience at fault. Ariel
succeeded in diverting his mind from the subject which had been
in full possession of it the moment before she spoke! He showed
his face again. It was overspread by a broad smile of gratified
self-esteem. He was weak enough now to let even Ariel find her
way to his vanity. I saw it with a sense of misgiving, with a
doubt whether I had not delayed my visit until too late, which
turned me cold from head to foot.
Miserrimus Dexter spoke--to Ariel, not to me.
"Poor devil!" he said, patting her head complacently. "You don't
understand a word of my stories, do you? And yet I can make the
flesh creep on your great clumsy body--and yet I can hold your
muddled mind, and make you like it. Poor devil!" He leaned back
serenely in his chair, and looked my way again. Would the sight
of me remind him of the words that had passed between us not a
minute since? No! There was the pleasantly tickled self-conceit
smiling at me exactly as it had smiled at Ariel. "I excel in
dramatic narrative, Mrs. Valeria," he said. "And this creature
here on the stool is a remarkable proof of it. She is quite a
psychological study when I tell her one of my stories. It is
really amusing to see the half-witted wretch's desperate efforts
to understand me. You shall have a specimen. I have been out of
spirits while you were away--I haven't told her a story for weeks
past; I will tell her one now. Don't suppose it's any effort to
me! My invention is inexhaustible. You are sure to be amused--you
are naturally serious--but you are sure to be amused. I am
naturally serious too; and I always laugh at her."
Ariel clapped her great shapeless hands. "He always laughs at
me!" she said, with a proud look of superiority directed straight
I was at a loss, seriously at a loss, what to do.
The outbreak which I had provoked in leading him to speak of the
late Mrs. Eustace warned me to be careful, and to wait for my
opportunity before I reverted to _that_ subject. How else could I
turn the conversation so as to lead him, little by little, toward
the betrayal of the secrets which he was keeping from me? In this
uncertainty, one thing only seemed to be plain. To let him tell
his story would be simply to let him waste the precious minutes.
With a vivid remembrance of Ariel's "ten claws," I decided,
nevertheless on discouraging Dexter's new whim at every possible
opportunity and by every means in my power.
"Now, Mrs. Valeria," he began, loudly and loftily, "listen. Now,
Ariel, bring your brains to a focus. I improvise poetry; I
improvise fiction. We will begin with the good old formula of the
fairy stories. Once upon a time--"
I was waiting for my opportunity to interrupt him when he
interrupted himself. He stopped, with a bewildered look. He put
his hand to his head, and passed it backward and forward over his
forehead. He laughed feebly.
"I seem to want rousing," he said
Was his mind gone.? There had been no signs of it until I had
unhappily stirred his memory of the dead mistress of Gleninch.
Was the weakness which I had already noticed, was the
bewilderment which I now saw, attributable to the influence of a
passing disturbance only? In other words, had I witnessed nothing
more serious than a first warning to him and to us? Would he soon
recover himself, if we were patient, and gave him time? Even
Benjamin was interested at last; I saw him trying to look at
Dexter around the corner of the chair. Even Ariel was surprised
and uneasy. She had no dark glances to cast at me now.
We all waited to see what he would do, to hear what he would say,
"My harp!" he cried. "Music will rouse me."
Ariel brought him his harp.
"Master," she said, wonderingly, "what's come to you?"
He waved his hand, commanding her to be silent.
"Ode to Invention," he announced, loftily, addressing himself to
me. "Poetry and music improvised by Dexter. Silence! Attention!"
His fingers wandered feebly over the harpstrings, awakening no
melody, suggesting no words. In a little while his hand dropped;
his head sank forward gently, and rested on the frame of the
harp. I started to my feet, and approached him. Was it a sleep?
or was it a swoon?
I touched his arm, and called to him by his name.
Ariel instantly stepped between us, with a threatening look at
me. At the same moment Miserrimus Dexter raised his head. My
voice had reached him. He looked at me with a curious
contemplative quietness in his eyes which I had never seen in
"Take away the harp," he said to Ariel, speaking in languid
tones, like a man who was very weary.
The mischievous, half-witted creature--in sheer stupidity or in
downright malice, I am not sure which--irritated him once more.
"Why, Master?" she asked, staring at him with the harp hugged in
her arms. "What's come to you? where is the story?"
"We don't want the story," I interposed. "I have many things to
say to Mr. Dexter which I have not said yet."
Ariel lifted her heavy hand. "You will have it!" she said, and
advanced toward me. At the same moment the Master's voice stopped
"Put away the harp, you fool!" he repeated, sternly. "And wait
for the story until I choose to tell it."
She took the harp submissively back to its place at the end of
the room. Miserrimus Dexter moved his chair a little closer to
mine. "I know what will rouse me," he said, confidentially.
"Exercise will do it. I have had no exercise lately. Wait a
little, and you will see."
He put his hands on the machinery of the chair, and started on
his customary course down the room. Here again the ominous change
in him showed itself under a new form. The pace at which he
traveled was not the furious pace that I remembered; the chair no
longer rushed under him on rumbling and whistling wheels. It
went, but it went slowly. Up the room and down the room he
painfully urged it--and then he stopped for want of breath.
We followed him. Ariel was first, and Benjamin was by my side. He
motioned impatiently to both of them to stand back, and to let me
approach him alone.
"I'm out of practice," he said, faintly. "I hadn't the heart to
make the wheels roar and the floor tremble while you were away."
Who would not have pitied him? Who would have remembered his
misdeeds at that moment? Even Ariel felt it. I heard her
beginning to whine and whimper behind me. The magician who alone
could rouse the dormant sensibilities in her nature had awakened
them now by his neglect. Her fatal cry was heard again, in
mournful, moaning tones--
"What's come to you, Master? Where's the story?"
"Never mind her," I whispered to him. "You want the fresh air.
Send for the gardener. Let us take a drive in your pony-chaise."
It was useless. Ariel would be noticed. The mournful cry came
"Where's the story? where's the story?"
The sinking spirit leaped up in Dexter again.
"You wretch ! you fiend!" he cried, whirling his chair around,
and facing her. "The story is coming. I _can_ tell it! I _will_
tell it! Wine! You whimpering idiot, get me the wine. Why didn't
I think of it before? The kingly Burgundy! that's what I want,
Valeria, to set my invention alight and flaming in my head.
Glasses for everybody! Honor to the King of the Vintages--the
Royal Clos Vougeot!"
Ariel opened the cupboard in the alcove, and produced the wine
and the high Venetian glasses. Dexter drained his gobletful of
Burgundy at a draught; he forced us to drink (or at least to
pretend to drink) with him. Even Ariel had her share this time,
and emptied her glass in rivalry with her master. The powerful
wine mounted almost instantly to her weak head. She began to sing
hoarsely a song of her own devising, in imitation of Dexter. It
was nothing but the repetition, the endless mechanical
repetition, of her demand for the story--"Tell us the story.
Master! master! tell us the story!" Absorbed over his wine, the
Master silently filled his goblet for the second time. Benjamin
whispered to me while his eye was off us, "Take my advice,
Valeria, for once; let us go."
"One last effort," I whispered back. "Only one!"
Ariel went drowsily on with her song--
"Tell us the story. Master! master! tell us the story."
Miserrimus Dexter looked up from his glass. The generous
stimulant was beginning to do its work. I saw the color rising in
his face. I saw the bright intelligence flashing again in his
eyes. The Burgundy _had_ roused him! The good wine stood my
friend, and offered me a last chance!
"No story," I said. "I want to talk to you, Mr. Dexter. I am not
in the humor for a story."
"Not in the humor?" he repeated, with a gleam of the old impish
irony showing itself again in his face. "That's an excuse. I see
what it is! You think my invention is gone--and you are not frank
enough to confess it. I'll show you you're wrong. I'll show you
that Dexter is himself again. Silence, you Ariel, or you shall
leave the room! I have got it, Mrs. Valeria, all laid out here,
with scenes and characters complete." He touched his forehead,
and looked at me with a furtive and smiling cunning before he
added his next words. "It's the very thing to interest you, my
fair friend. It's the story of a Mistress and a Maid. Come back
to the fire and hear it."
The Story of a Mistress and a Maid? If that meant anything, it
meant the story of Mrs. Beauly and her maid, told in disguise.
The title, and the look which had escaped him when he announced
it, revived the hope that was well-nigh dead in me. He had
rallied at last. He was again in possession of his natural
foresight and his natural cunning. Under pretense of telling
Ariel her story, he was evidently about to make the attempt to
mislead me for the second time. The conclusion was irresistible.
To use his own words--Dexter was himself again.
I took Benjamin's arm as we followed him back to the fire-place
in the middle of the room.
"There is a chance for me yet," I whispered. "Don't forget the
We returned to the places which we had already occupied. Ariel
cast another threatening look at me. She had just sense enough
left, after emptying her goblet of wine, to be on the watch for a
new interruption on my part. I took care, of course, that nothing
of the sort should happen. I was now as eager as Ariel to hear
the story. The subject was full of snares for the narrator. At
any moment, in the excitement of speaking, Dexter's memory of the
true events might show itself reflected in the circumstances of
the fiction. At any moment he might betray himself.
He looked around him, and began.
"My public, are you seated? My public, are you ready?" he asked,
gayly. "Your face a little more this way," he added, in his
softest and tenderest tones, motioning to me to turn my full face
toward him. "Surely I am not asking too much? You look at the
meanest creature that crawls--look at Me. Let me find my
inspiration in your eyes. Let me feed my hungry admiration on
your form. Come, have one little pitying smile left for the man
whose happiness you have wrecked. Thank you, Light of my Life,
thank you!" He kissed his hand to me, and threw himself back
luxuriously in his chair. "The story," he resumed. "The story at
last! In what form shall I cast it? In the dramatic form--the
oldest way, the truest way, the shortest way of telling a story!
Title first. A short title, a taking title: 'Mistress and Maid.'
Scene, the land of romance--Italy. Time, the age of romance--the
fifteenth century. Ha! look at Ariel. She knows no more about the
fifteenth century than the cat in the kitchen, and yet she is
interested already. Happy Ariel!"
Ariel looked at me again, in the double intoxication of the wine
and the triumph.
"I know no more than the cat in the kitchen," she repeated, with
a broad grin of gratified vanity. "I am 'happy Ariel!' What are
Miserrimus Dexter laughed uproariously.
"Didn't I tell you?" he said. "Isn't she fun?--Persons of the
Drama." he resumed: "three in number. Women only. Angelica, a
noble lady; noble alike in spirit and in birth. Cunegonda, a
beautiful devil in woman's form. Damoride, her unfortunate maid.
First scene: a dark vaulted chamber in a castle. Time, evening.
The owls are hooting in the wood; the frogs are croaking in the
marsh.--Look at Ariel! Her flesh creeps; she shudders audibly.
My rival in the Master's favor eyed me defiantly. "Admirable
Ariel!" she repeated, in drowsy accents. Miserrimus Dexter paused
to take up his goblet of Burgundy--placed close at hand on a
little sliding table attached to his chair. I watched him
narrowly as he sipped the wine. The flush was still mounting in
his face; the light was still brightening in his eyes. He set
down his glass again, with a jovial smack of his lips--and went
"Persons present in the vaulted chamber: Cunegonda and Damoride.
Cunegonda speaks. 'Damoride!' 'Madam?' 'Who lies ill in the
chamber above us?' 'Madam, the noble lady Angelica.' (A pause.
Cunegonda speaks again.) 'Damoride!' ' Madam?' 'How does Angelica
like you?' 'Madam, the noble lady, sweet and good to all who
approach her, is sweet and good to me.' 'Have you attended on
her, Damoride?' 'Sometimes, madam, when the nurse was weary.'
'Has she taken her healing medicine from your hand ' 'Once or
twice, madam, when I happened to be by.' 'Damoride, take this key
and open the casket on the table there.' (Damoride obeys.) 'Do
you see a green vial in the casket?' 'I see it, madam.' 'Take it
out.' (Damoride obeys.) 'Do you see a liquid in the green vial?
can you guess what it is?' 'No, madam.' 'Shall I tell you?'
(Damoride bows respectfully ) 'Poison is in the vial.' (Damoride
starts; she shrinks from the poison; she would fain put it aside.
Her mistress signs to her to keep it in her hand; her mistress
speaks.) 'Damoride, I have told you one of my secrets; shall I
tell you another?' (Damoride waits, fearing what is to come. Her
mistress speaks.) 'I hate the Lady Angelica. Her life stands
between me and the joy of my heart. You hold her life in your
hand.' (Damoride drops on her knees; she is a devout person; she
crosses herself, and then she speaks.) 'Mistress, you terrify me.
Mistress, what do I hear?' (Cunegonda advances, stands over her,
looks down on her with terrible eyes, whispers the next words.)
'Damoride! the Lady Angelica must die--and I must not be
suspected. The Lady Angelica must die--and by your hand.'"
He paused again. To sip the wine once more? No; to drink a deep
draught of it this time.
Was the stimulant beginning to fail him already?
I looked at him attentively as he laid himself back again in his
chair to consider for a moment before he went on.
The flush on his face was as deep as ever; but the brightness in
his eyes was beginning to fade already. I had noticed that he
spoke more and more slowly as he advanced to the later dialogue
of the scene. Was he feeling the effort of invention already? Had
the time come when the wine had done all that the wine could do
We waited. Ariel sat watching him with vacantly staring eyes and
vacantly open mouth. Ben jamin, impenetrably expecting the
signal, kept his open note-book on his knee, covered by his hand.
Miserrimus Dexter went on:
"Damoride hears those terrible words; Damoride clasps her hands
in entreaty. 'Oh, madam! madam! how can I kill the dear and noble
lady? What motive have I for harming her?' Cunegonda answers,
'You have the motive of obeying Me.' (Damoride falls with her
face on the floor at her mistress's feet.) 'Madam, I cannot do
it! Madam, I dare not do it!' Cunegonda answers, 'You run no
risk: I have my plan for diverting discovery from myself, and my
plan for diverting discovery from you.' Damoride repeats, 'I
cannot do it! I dare not do it!' Cunegonda's eyes flash
lightnings of rage. She takes from its place of concealment in
He stopped in the middle of the sentence, and put his hand to his
head--not like a man in pain, but like a man who had lost his
Would it be well if I tried to help him to recover his idea? or
would it be wiser (if I could only do it) to keep silence?
I could see the drift of his story plainly enough. His object,
under the thin disguise of the Italian romance, was to meet my
unanswerable objection to suspecting Mrs. Beauly's maid--the
objection that the woman had no motive for committing herself to
an act of murder. If he could practically contradict this, by
discovering a motive which I should be obliged to admit, his end
would be gained. Those inquiries which I had pledged myself to
pursue--those inquiries which might, at any moment, take a turn
that directly concerned him--would, in that case, be successfully
diverted from the right to the wrong person. The innocent maid
would set my strictest scrutiny at defiance; and Dexter would be
safely shielded behind her.
I determined to give him time. Not a word passed my lips.
The minutes followed each other. I waited in the deepest anxiety.
It was a trying and a critical moment. If he succeeded in
inventing a probable motive, and in shaping it neatly to suit the
purpose of his story, he would prove, by that act alone, that
there were reserves of mental power still left in him which the
practiced eye of the Scotch doctor had failed to see. But the
question was--would he do it?
He did it! Not in a new way; not in a convincing way; not without
a painfully evident effort. Still, well done or ill done, he
found a motive for the maid.
"Cunegonda," he resumed, "takes from its place of concealment in
her bosom a written paper, and unfolds it. 'Look at this,' she
says. Damoride looks at the paper, and sinks again at her
mistress's feet in a paroxysm of horror and despair. Cunegonda is
in possession of a shameful secret in the maid's past life.
Cunegonda can say to her, 'Choose your alternative. Either submit
to an exposure which disgraces you and--disgraces your parents
forever--or make up your mind to obey Me.' Damoride might submit
to the disgrace if it only affected herself. But her parents are
honest people; she cannot disgrace her parents. She is driven to
her last refuge--there is no hope of melting the hard heart of
Cunegonda. Her only resource is to raise difficulties; she tries
to show that there are obstacles between her and the crime.
'Madam! madam!' she cries; 'how can I do it, when the nurse is
there to see me?' Cunegonda answers, 'Sometimes the nurse sleeps;
sometimes the nurse is away.' Damoride still persists. 'Madam!
madam! the door is kept locked, and the nurse has got the key.'"
The key! I instantly thought of the missing key at Gleninch. Had
he thought of it too? He certainly checked himself as the word
escaped him. I resolved to make the signal. I rested my elbow on
the arm of my chair, and played with my earring. Benjamin took
out his pencil and arranged his note-book so that Ariel could not
see what he was about if she happened to look his way.
We waited until it pleased Miserrimus Dexter to proceed. The
interval was a long one. His hand went up again to his forehead.
A duller and duller look was palpably stealing over his eyes.
When he did speak, it was not to go on with the narrative, but to
put a question.
"Where did I leave off?" he asked.
My hopes sank again as rapidly as they had risen. I managed to
answer him, however, without showing any change in my ,manner.
"You left off," I said, "where Damoride was speaking to
"Yes, yes!" he interposed. "And what did she say?"
"She said, 'The door is kept locked, and the nurse has got the
He instantly leaned forward in his chair.
"No!" he answered, vehemently. "You're wrong. 'Key?' Nonsense! I
never said 'Key.'"
"I thought you did, Mr. Dexter."
"I never did! I said something else, and you have forgotten it."
I refrained from disputing with him, in fear of what might
follow. We waited again. Benjamin, sullenly submitting to my
caprices, had taken down the questions and answers that had
passed between Dexter and myself. He still mechanically kept his
page open, and still held his pencil in readiness to go on.
Ariel, quietly submitting to the drowsy influence of the wine
while Dexter's voice was in her ears, felt uneasily the change to
silence. She glanced round her restlessly; she lifted her eyes to
There he sat, silent, with his hand to his head, still struggling
to marshal his wandering thoughts, still trying to see light
through the darkness that was closing round him.
"Master!" cried Ariel, piteously. "What's become of the story?"
He started as if she had awakened him out of a sleep; he shook
his head impatiently, as though he wanted to throw off some
oppression that weighed upon it.
"Patience, patience," he said. "The story is going on again."
He dashed at it desperately; he picked up the first lost thread
that fell in his way, reckless whether it were the right thread
or the wrong one:
"Damoride fell on her knees. She burst into tears. She said--"
He stopped, and looked about him with vacant eyes.
"What name did I give the other woman?" he asked, not putting the
question to me, or to either of my companions: asking it of
himself, or asking it of the empty air.
"You called the other woman Cunegonda," I said.
At the sound of my voice his eyes turned slowly--turned on me,
and yet failed to look at me. Dull and absent, still and
changeless, they were eyes that seemed to be fixed on something
far away. Even his voice was altered when he spoke next. It had
dropped to a quiet, vacant, monotonous tone. I had heard
something like it while I was watching by my husband's bedside,
at the time of his delirium--when Eustace's mind appeared to be
too weary to follow his speech. Was the end so near as this?
"I called her Cunegonda," he repeated. "And I called the other--"
He stopped once more.
"And you called the other Damoride," I said.
Ariel looked up at him with a broad stare of bewilderment. She
pulled impatiently at the sleeve of his jacket to attract his
"Is this the story, Master?" she asked.
He answered without looking at her, his changeless eyes still
fixed, as it seemed, on something far away.
"This is the story," he said, absently. "But why Cunegonda? why
Damoride? Why not Mistress and Maid? It's easier to remember
Mistress and Maid--"
He hesitated; he shivered as he tried to raise himself in his
chair. Then he seemed to rally "What did the Maid say to the
Mistress?" he muttered. "What? what? what?" He hesitated again.
Then something seemed to dawn upon him unexpectedly. Was it some
new thought that had struck him? or some lost thought that he had
recovered? Impossible to say.
He went on, suddenly and rapidly went on, in these strange words:
"'The letter,' the Maid said; 'the letter. Oh my heart. Every
word a dagger. A dagger in my heart. Oh, you letter. Horrible,
horrible, horrible letter.'"
What, in God's name, was he talking about? What did those words
Was he unconsciously pursuing his faint and fragmentary
recollections of a past time at Gleninch, under the delusion that
he was going on with the story? In the wreck of the other
faculties, was memory the last to sink? Was the truth, the
dreadful truth, glimmering on me dimly through the awful shadow
cast before it by the advancing, eclips e of the brain? My breath
failed me; a nameless horror crept through my whole being.
Benjamin, with his pencil in his hand, cast one warning look at
me. Ariel was quiet and satisfied. "Go on, Master," was all she
said. "I like it! I like it! Go on with the story."
He went on--like a man sleeping with his eyes open, and talking
in his sleep.
"The Maid said to the Mistress. No--the Mistress said to the
Maid. The Mistress said, 'Show him the letter. Must, must, must
do it.' The Maid said, 'No. Mustn't do it. Shan't show it. Stuff.
Nonsense. Let him suffer. We can get him off. Show it? No. Let
the worst come to the worst. Show it, then.' The Mistress said--"
He paused, and waved his hand rapidly to and fro before his eyes,
as if he were brushing away some visionary confusion or
entanglement. "Which was it last?" he said--"Mistress or Maid?
Mistress? No. Maid speaks, of course. Loud. Positive. 'You
scoundrels. Keep away from that table. The Diary's there. Number
Nine, Caldershaws. Ask for Dandie. You shan't have the Diary. A
secret in your ear. The Diary will hang, him. I won't have him
hanged. How dare you touch my chair? My chair is Me! How dare you
The last words burst on me like a gleam of light! I had read them
in the Report of the Trial--in the evidence of the sheriff's
officer. Miserrimus Dexter had spoken in those very terms when he
had tried vainly to prevent the men from seizing my husband's
papers, and when the men had pushed his chair out of the room.
There was no doubt now of what his memory was busy with. The
mystery at Gleninch! His last backward flight of thought circled
feebly and more feebly nearer and nearer to the mystery at
Ariel aroused him again. She had no mercy on him; she insisted on
hearing the whole story.
"Why do you stop, Master? Get along with it! get along with it!
Tell us quick--what did the Missus say to the Maid?"
He laughed feebly, and tried to imitate her.
"'What did the Missus say to the Maid?'" he repeated. His laugh
died away. He went on speaking, more and more vacantly, more and
more rapidly. "The Mistress said to the Maid. We've got him off.
What about the letter? Burn it now. No fire in the grate. No
matches in the box. House topsy-turvy. Servants all gone. Tear it
up. Shake it up in the basket. Along with the rest. Shake it up.
Waste paper. Throw it away. Gone forever. Oh, Sara, Sara, Sara!
Ariel clapped her hands, and mimicked him in her turn.
"'Oh, Sara, Sara, Sara!'" she repeated. "'Gone forever.' That's
prime, Master! Tell us--who was Sara?"
His lips moved, but his voice sank so low that I could barely
hear him. He began again, with the old melancholy refrain:
"The Maid said to the Mistress. No--the Mistress said to the
Maid--" He stopped abruptly, and raised himself erect in the
chair; he threw up both his hands above his head, and burst into
a frightful screaming laugh. "Aha-ha-ha-ha! How funny! Why don't
you laugh? Funny, funny, funny, funny. Aha-ha-ha-ha-ha--"
He fell back in the chair. The shrill and dreadful laugh died
away into a low sob. Then there was one long, deep, wearily drawn
breath. Then nothing but a mute, vacant face turned up to the
ceiling, with eyes that looked blindly, with lips parted in a
senseless, changeless grin. Nemesis at last! The foretold doom
had fallen on him. The night had come.
But one feeling animated me when the first shock was over. Even
the horror of that fearful sight seemed only to increase the pity
that I felt for the stricken wretch. I started impulsively to my
feet. Seeing nothing, thinking of nothing but the helpless figure
in the chair, I sprang forward to raise him, to revive him, to
recall him (if such a thing might still be possible) to himself.
At the first step that I took, I felt hands on me--I was
violently drawn back. "Are you blind?" cried Benjamin, dragging
me nearer and nearer to the door. "Look there!"
He pointed; and I looked.
Ariel had been beforehand with me. She had raised her master in
the chair; she had got one arm around him. In her free hand she
brandished an Indian club, torn from a "trophy" of Oriental
weapons that ornamented the wall over the fire-place. The
creature was transfigured! Her dull eyes glared like the eyes of
a wild animal. She gnashed her teeth in the frenzy that possessed
her. "You have done this!" she shouted to me, waving the club
furiously around and around over her head. "Come near him, and
I'll dash your brains out! I'll mash you till there's not a whole
bone left in your skin!" Benjamin, still holding me with one hand
opened the door with the other. I let him do with me as he would;
Ariel fascinated me; I could look at nothing but Ariel. Her
frenzy vanished as she saw us retreating. She dropped the club;
she threw both arms around him, and nestled her head on his
bosom, and sobbed and wept over him. "Master! master! They shan't
vex you any more. Look up again. Laugh at me as you used to do.
Say, 'Ariel, you're a fool.' Be like yourself again!" I was
forced into the next room. I heard a long, low, wailing cry of
misery from the poor creature who loved him with a dog's fidelity
and a woman's devotion. The heavy door was closed between us. I
was in the quiet antechamber, crying over that piteous sight;
clinging to my kind old friend as helpless and as useless as a
Benjamin turned the key in the lock.
"There's no use in crying about it," he said, quietly. "It would
be more to the purpose, Valeria, if you thanked God that you have
got out of that room safe and sound. Come with me."
He took the key out of the lock, and led me downstairs into the
hall. After a little consideration, he opened the front door of
the house. The gardener was still quietly at work in the grounds.
"Your master is taken ill," Benjamin said; "and the woman who
attends upon him has lost her head--if she ever had a head to
lose. Where does the nearest doctor live?"
The man's devotion to Dexter showed itself as the woman's
devotion had shown itself--in the man's rough way. He threw down
his spade with an oath.
"The Master taken bad?" he said. "I'll fetch the doctor. I shall
find him sooner than you will."
"Tell the doctor to bring a man with him," Benjamin added. "He
may want help."
The gardener turned around sternly.
"_I'm_ the man," he said. "Nobody shall help but me."
He left us. I sat down on one of the chairs in the hall, and did
my best to compose myself. Benjamin walked to and fro, deep in
thought. "Both of them fond of him," I heard my old friend say to
himself. "Half monkey, half man--and both of them fond of him.
_That_ beats me."
The gardener returned with the doctor--a quiet, dark, resolute
man. Benjamin advanced to meet them. "I have got the key," he
said. "Shall I go upstairs with you?"
Without answering, the doctor drew Benjamin aside into a corner
of the hall. The two talked together in low voices. At the end of
it the doctor said, "Give me the key. You can be of no use; you
will only irritate her."
With those words he beckoned to the gardener. He was about to
lead the way up the stairs when I ventured to stop him.
"May I stay in the hall, sir?" I said. "I am very anxious to hear
how it ends."
He looked at me for a moment before he replied.
"You had better go home, madam," he said. "Is the gardener
acquainted with your address?"
"Very well. I will let you know how it ends by means of the
gardener. Take my advice. Go home."
Benjamin placed my arm in his. I looked back, and saw the doctor
and the gardener ascending the stairs together on their way to
the locked-up room.
"Never mind the doctor," I whispered. "Let's wait in the garden."
Benjamin would not hear of deceiving the doctor. "I mean to take
you home," he said. I looked at him in amazement. My old friend,
who was all meekness and submission so long as there was no
emergency to try him, now showed the dormant reserve of manly
spirit and decision in his nature as he had never (in my
experience) shown it yet. He led me into the garden. We had kept
our cab: it was waiting for us at the gate.
On our way home Benjamin produced his note-book.
"What's to be done, my dear, with the gib berish that I have
written here?" he said.
"Have you written it all down?" I asked, in surprise.
"When I undertake a duty, I do it," he answered. "You never gave
me the signal to leave off--you never moved your chair. I have
written every word of it. What shall I do? Throw it out of the
"Give it to me."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"I don't know yet. I will ask Mr. Playmore."
MR. PLAYMORE IN A NEW CHARACTER.
BY that night's post--although I was far from being fit to make
the exertion--I wrote to Mr. Playmore, to tell him what had taken
place, and to beg for his earliest assistance and advice.
The notes in Benjamin's book were partly written in shorthand,
and were, on that account, of no use to me in their existing
condition. At my request, he made two fair copies. One of the
copies I inclosed in my letter to Mr. Playmore. The other I laid
by me, on my bedside table, when I went to rest.
Over and over again, through the long hours of the wakeful night,
I read and re-read the last words which had dropped from
Miserrimus Dexter's lips. Was it possible to interpret them to
any useful purpose? At the very outset they seemed to set
interpretation at defiance. After trying vainly to solve the
hopeless problem, I did at last what I might as well have done at
first--I threw down the paper in despair. Where were my bright
visions of discovery and success now? Scattered to the winds! Was
there the faintest chance of the stricken man's return to reason?
I remembered too well what I had seen to hope for it. The closing
lines of the medical report which I had read in Mr. Playmore's
office recurred to my memory in the stillness of the night--"When
the catastrophe has happened, his friends can entertain no hope
of his cure: the balance once lost, will be lost for life."
The confirmation of that terrible sentence was not long in
reaching me. On the next morning the gardener brought a note
containing the information which the doctor had promised to give
me on the previous day.
Miserrimus Dexter and Ariel were still where Benjamin and I had
left them together--in the long room. They were watched by
skilled attendants, waiting the decision of Dexter's nearest
relative (a younger brother, who lived in the country, and who
had been communicated with by telegraph. It had been found
impossible to part the faithful Ariel from her master without
using the bodily restraints adopted in cases of raging insanity.
The doctor and the gardener (both unusually strong men) had
failed to hold the poor creature when they first attempted to
remove her on entering the room. Directly they permitted her to
return to her master the frenzy vanished: she was perfectly quiet
and contented so long as they let her sit at his feet and look at
Sad as this was, the report of Miserrimus Dexter's condition was
more melancholy still.
"My patient is in a state of absolute imbecility"--those were the
words in the doctor's letter; and the gardener's simple narrative
confirmed them as the truest words that could have been used. He
was utterly unconscious of poor Ariel's devotion to him--he did
not even appear to know that she was present in the room. For
hours together he remained in a state of utter lethargy in his
chair. He showed an animal interest in his meals, and a greedy
animal enjoyment of eating and drinking as much as he could
get--and that was all. "This morning," the honest gardener said
to me at parting, "we thought he seemed to wake up a bit. Looked
about him, you know, and made queer signs with his hands. I
couldn't make out what he meant; no more could the doctor. _She_
knew, poor thing--She did. Went and got him his harp, and put his
hand up to it. Lord bless you! no use. He couldn't play no more
than I can. Twanged at it anyhow, and grinned and gabbled to
himself. No: he'll never come right again. Any person can see
that, without the doctor to help 'em. Enjoys his meals, as I told
you; and that's all. It would be the best thing that could happen
if it would please God to take him. There's no more to be said. I
wish you good-morning, ma'am."
He went away with the tears in his eyes; and he left me, I own
it, with the tears in mine.
An hour later there came some news which revived me. I received a
telegram from Mr. Playmore, expressed in these welcome words:
"Obliged to go to London by to-night's mail train. Expect me to
breakfast to-morrow morning."