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The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins

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to Dexter himself. Infamously as we now know him to have acted,
the man was not a downright fiend. That he secretly hated Mr.
Macallan, as his successful rival in the affections of the woman
he loved--and that he did all he could to induce the unhappy lady
to desert her husband--are, in this case, facts not to be denied.
On the other hand, it is fairly to be doubted whether he were
additionally capable of permitting the friend who trusted him to
be tried for murder, through his fault, without making an effort
to save the innocent man. It had naturally never occurred to Mr.
Macallan (being guiltless of his wife's death) to destroy his
Diary and his letters, in the fear that they might be used
against him. Until the prompt and secret action of the Fiscal
took him by surprise, the idea of his being charged with the
murder of his wife was an idea which we know, from his own
statement, had never even entered his mind. But Dexter must have
looked at the matter from another point of view. In his last
wandering words (spoken when his mind broke down) he refers to
the Diary in these terms, 'The Diary will hang him; I won't have
him hanged.' If he could have found his opportunity of getting at
it in time--or if the sheriff's officers had not been too quick
for him--there can be no reasonable doubt that Dexter would have
himself destroyed the Diary, foreseeing the consequences of its
production in court. So strongly does he appear to have felt
these considerations, that he even resisted the officers in the
execution of their duty. His agitation when he sent for Mr.
Playmore to interfere was witnessed by that gentleman, and (it
may not be amiss to add) was genuine agitation beyond dispute.

"Questions of the Second Group: relating to the Wife's
Confession. First Question: What prevented Dexter from destroying
the letter, when he first discovered it under the dead woman's

"Answer: The same motives which led him to resist the seizure of
the Diary, and to give his evidence in the prisoner's favor at
the Trial, induced him to preserve the letter until the verdict
was known. Looking back once more at his last words (as taken
down by Mr. Benjamin), we may infer that if the verdict had been
Guilty, he would not have hesitated to save the innocent husband
by producing the wife's confession. There are degrees in all
wickedness. Dexter was wicked enough to suppress the letter,
which wounded his vanity by revealing him as an object for
loathing and contempt--but he was not wicked enough deliberately
to let an innocent man perish on the scaffold. He was capable of
exposing the rival whom he hated to the infamy and torture of a
public accusation of murder; but, in the event of an adverse
verdict, he shrank before the direr cruelty of letting him be
hanged. Reflect, in this connection, on what he must have
suffered, villain as he was, when he first read the wife's
confession. He had calculated on undermining her affection for
her husband--and whither had his calculations led him? He had
driven the woman whom he loved to the last dreadful refuge of
death by suicide! Give these considerations their due weight; and
you will understand that some little redeeming virtue might show
itself, as the result even of _this_ man's remorse.

"Second Question: What motive influenced Miserrimus Dexter's
conduct, when Mrs. (Valeria) Macallan informed him that she
proposed reopening the inquiry into the poisoning at Gleninch?

"Answer: In all probability, Dexter's guilty fears suggested to
him that he might have been watched on the morning when he
secretly entered the chamber in which the first Mrs. Eustace lay
dead. Feeling no scruples himself to restrain him from listening
at doors and looking through keyholes, he would be all the more
ready to suspect other people of the same practices. With this
dread in him, it would naturally occur to his mind that Mrs.
Valeria might meet with the person who had watched him, and might
hear all that the person had discovered--unless he led her astray
at the outset of her investigations. Her own jealous suspicions
of Mrs. Beauly offered him the chance of easily doing this. And
he was all the readier to profit by the chance, being himself
animated by the most hostile feeling toward that lady. He knew
her as the enemy who destroyed the domestic peace of the mistress
of the house; he loved the mistress of the house--and he hated
her enemy accordingly. The preservation of his guilty secret, and
the persecution of Mrs. Beauly: there you have the greater and
the lesser motive of his conduct in his relations with Mrs.
Eustace the second!"*

----------------------------------- * Note by the writer of the

Look back for a further illustration of this point of view to the
scene at Benjamin's house (Chapter XXXV.), where Dexter, in a
moment of ungovernable agitation, betrays his own secret to
Valeria. -----------------------------------

Benjamin laid down his notes, and took off his spectacles.

"We have not thought it necessary to go further than this," he
said. "Is there any point you can think of that is still left

I reflected. There was no point of any importance left
unexplained that I could remember. But there was one little
matter (suggested by the recent allusions to Mrs. Beauly) which I
wished (if possible) to have thoroughly cleared up.

"Have you and Mr. Playmore ever spoken together on the subject of
my husband's former attachment to Mrs. Beauly?" I asked. "Has Mr.
Playmore ever told you why Eustace did not marry her, after the

"I put that question to Mr. Playmore myself," said Benjamin. "He
answered it easily enough. Being your husband's confidential
friend and adviser, he was consulted when Mr. Eustace wrote to
Mrs. Beauly, after the Trial; and he repeated the substance of
the letter, at my request. Would you like to hear what I remember
of it, in my turn?"

I owned that I should like to hear it. What Benjamin thereupon
told me, exactly coincided with what Miserrimus Dexter had told
me--as related in the thirtieth chapter of my narrative. Mrs.
Beauly had been a witness of the public degradation of my
husband. That was enough in itself to prevent him from marrying
her: He broke off with _her_ for the same reason which had led
him to separate himself from _me._ Existence with a woman who
knew that he had been tried for his life as a murderer was an
existence which he had not resolution enough to face. The two
accounts agreed in every particular. At last my jealous curiosity
was pacified; and Benjamin was free to dismiss the past from
further consideration, and to approach the more critical and more
interesting topic of the future.

His first inquiries related to Eustace. He asked if my husband
had any suspicion of the proceedings which had taken place at

I told him what had happened, and how I had contrived to put off
the inevitable disclosure for a time.

My old friend's face cleared up as he listened to me.

"This will be good news for Mr. Playmore," he said. "Our
excellent friend, the lawyer, is sorely afraid that our dis
coveries may compromise your position with your husband. On the
one hand, he is naturally anxious to spare Mr. Eustace the
distress which he must certainly feel, if he read his first
wife's confession. On the other hand, it is impossible, in
justice (as Mr. Playmore puts it) to the unborn children of your
marriage, to suppress a document which vindicates the memory of
their father from the aspersion that the Scotch Verdict might
otherwise cast on it."

I listened attentively. Benjamin had touched on a trouble which
was still secretly preying on my mind.

"How does Mr. Playmore propose to meet the difficulty?" I asked.

"He can only meet it in one way," Benjamin replied. "He proposes
to seal up the original manuscript of the letter, and to add to
it a plain statement of the circumstances under which it was
discovered, supported by your signed attestation and mine, as
witnesses to the fact. This done, he must leave it to you to take
your husband into your confidence, at your own time. It will then
be for Mr. Eustace to decide whether he will open the
inclosure--or whether he will leave it, with the seal unbroken,
as an heirloom to his children, to be made public or not, at
their discretion, when they are of an age to think for
themselves. Do you consent to this, my dear? Or would you prefer
that Mr. Playmore should see your husband, and act for you in the

I decided, without hesitation, to take the responsibility on
myself. Where the question of guiding Eustace's decision was
concerned, I considered my influence to be decidedly superior to
the influence of Mr. Playmore. My choice met with Benjamin's full
approval. He arranged to write to Edinburgh, and relieve the
lawyer's anxieties by that day's post.

The one last thing now left to be settled related to our plans
for returning to England. The doctors were the authorities on
this subject. I promised to consult them about it at their next
visit to Eustace.

"Have you anything more to say to me?" Benjamin inquired, as he
opened his writing-case.

I thought of Miserrimus Dexter and Ariel; and I inquired if he
had heard any news of them lately. My old friend sighed, and
warned me that I had touched on a painful subject.

"The best thing that can happen to that unhappy man is likely to
happen," he said. "The one change in him is a change that
threatens paralysis. You may hear of his death before you get
back to England."

"And Ariel?" I asked.

"Quite unaltered," Benjamin answered. "Perfectly happy so long as
she is with 'the Master.' From all I can hear of her, poor soul,
she doesn't reckon Dexter among moral beings. She laughs at the
idea of his dying; and she waits patiently, in the firm
persuasion that he will recognize her again."

Benjamin's news saddened and silenced me. I left him to his



In ten days more we returned to England, accompanied by Benjamin.

Mrs. Macallan's house in London offered us ample accommodation.
We gladly availed ourselves of her proposal, when she invited us
to stay with her until our child was born, and our plans for the
future were arranged.

The sad news from the asylum (for which Benjamin had prepared my
mind at Paris) reached me soon after our return to England.
Miserrimus Dexter's release from the burden of life had come to
him by slow degrees. A few hours before he breathed his last he
rallied for a while, and recognized Ariel at his bedside. He
feebly pronounced her name, and looked at her, and asked for me.
They thought of sending for me, but it was too late. Before the
messenger could be dispatched, he said, with a touch of his old
self-importance, "Silence, all of you! my brains are weary; I am
going to sleep." He closed his eyes in slumber, and never awoke
again. So for this man too the end came mercifully, without grief
or pain! So that strange and many-sided life--with its guilt and
its misery, its fitful flashes of poetry and humor, its fantastic
gayety, cruelty, and vanity--ran its destined course, and faded
out like a dream!

Alas for Ariel! She had lived for the Master--what more could she
do, now the Master was gone? She could die for him.

They had mercifully allowed her to attend the funeral of
Miserrimus Dexter--in the hope that the ceremony might avail to
convince her of his death. The anticipation was not realized; she
still persisted in denying that "the Master" had left her. They
were obliged to restrain the poor creature by force when the
coffin was lowered into the grave; and they could only remove her
from the cemetery by the same means when the burial-service was
over. From that time her life alternated, for a few weeks,
between fits of raving delirium and intervals of lethargic
repose. At the annual ball given in the asylum, when the strict
superintendence of the patients was in some degree relaxed, the
alarm was raised, a little before midnight, that Ariel was
missing. The nurse in charge had left her asleep, and had yielded
to the temptation of going downstairs to look at the dancing.
When the woman returned to her post, Ariel was gone. The presence
of strangers, and the confusion incidental to the festival,
offered her facilities for escaping which would not have
presented themselves at any other time. That night the search for
her proved to be useless. The next morning brought with it the
last touching and terrible tidings of her. She had strayed back
to the burial-ground; and she had been found toward sunrise, dead
of cold and exposure, on Miserrimus Dexter's grave. Faithful to
the last, Ariel had followed the Master! Faithful to the last,
Ariel had died on the Master's grave!

Having written these sad words, I turn willingly to a less
painful theme.

Events had separated me from Major Fitz-David, after the date of
the dinner-party which had witnessed my memorable meeting with
Lady Clarinda. From that time I heard little or nothing of the
Major; and I am ashamed to say I had almost entirely forgotten
him--when I was reminded of the modern Don Juan by the amazing
appearance of wedding-cards, addressed to me at my
mother-in-law's house! The Major had settled in life at last.
And, more wonderful still, the Major had chosen as the lawful
ruler of his household and himself--"the future Queen of Song,"
the round-eyed, overdressed young lady with the strident soprano

We paid our visit of congratulation in due form; and we really
did feel for Major Fitz-David.

The ordeal of marriage had so changed my gay and gallant admirer
of former times that I hardly knew him again. He had lost all his
pretensions to youth: he had become, hopelessly and
undisguisedly, an old man. Standing behind the chair on which his
imperious young wife sat enthroned, he looked at her submissively
between every two words that he addressed to me, as if he waited
for her permission to open his lips and speak. Whenever she
interrupted him--and she did it, over and over again, without
ceremony--he submitted with a senile docility and admiration, at
once absurd and shocking to see.

"Isn't she beautiful?" he said to me (in his wife's hearing!).
"What a figure, and what a voice! You remember her voice? It's a
loss, my dear lady, an irretrievable loss, to the operatic stage!
Do you know, when I think what that grand creature might have
done, I sometimes ask myself if I really had any right to marry
her. I feel, upon my honor I feel, as if I had committed a fraud
on the public!"

As for the favored object of this quaint mixture of admiration
and regret, she was pleased to receive me graciously, as an old
friend. While Eustace was talking to the Major, the bride drew me
aside out of their hearing, and explained her motives for
marrying, with a candor which was positively shameless.

"You see we are a large family at home, quite unprovided for!"
this odious young woman whispered in my ear. "It's all very well
about my being a 'Queen of Song' and the rest of it. Lord bless
you, I have been often enough to the opera, and I have learned
enough of my music-master, to know what it takes to make a fine
singer. I haven't the patience to work at it as those foreign
women do: a parcel of brazen-faced Jezebels--I hat e them! No!
no! between you and me, it was a great deal easier to get the
money by marrying the old gentleman. Here I am, provided for--and
there's all my family provided for, too--and nothing to do but to
spend the money. I am fond of my family; I'm a good daughter and
sister--_I_ am! See how I'm dressed; look at the furniture: I
haven't played my cards badly, have I? It's a great advantage to
marry an old man--you can twist him round your little finger.
Happy? Oh, yes! I'm quite happy; and I hope you are, too. Where
are you living now? I shall call soon, and have a long gossip
with you. I always had a sort of liking for you, and (now I'm as
good as you are) I want to be friends."

I made a short and civil reply to this; determining inwardly that
when she did visit me she should get no further than the
house-door. I don't scruple to say that I was thoroughly
disgusted with her. When a woman sells herself to a man, that
vile bargain is none the less infamous (to my mind) because it
happens to be made under the sanction of the Church and the Law.

As I sit at the desk thinking, the picture of the Major and his
wife vanishes from my memory--and the last scene in my story
comes slowly into view.

The place is my bedroom. The persons (both, if you will be
pleased to excuse them, in bed) are myself and my son. He is
already three weeks old; and he is now lying fast asleep by his
mother's side. My good Uncle Starkweather is coming to London to
baptize him. Mrs. Macallan will be his godmother; and his
godfathers will be Benjamin and Mr. Playmore. I wonder whether my
christening will pass off more merrily than my wedding?

The doctor has just left the house, in some little perplexity
about me. He has found me reclining as usual (latterly) in my
arm-chair; but on this particular day he has detected symptoms of
exhaustion, which he finds quite unaccountable under the
circumstances, and which warn him to exert his authority by
sending me back to my bed.

The truth is that I have not taken the doctor into my confidence.
There are two causes for those signs of exhaustion which have
surprised my medical attendant--and the names of them
are--Anxiety and Suspense.

On this day I have at last summoned courage enough to perform the
promise which I made to my husband in Paris. He is informed, by
this time, how his wife's Confession was discovered. He knows (on
Mr. Playmore's authority) that the letter may be made the means,
if he so will it, of publicly vindicating his innocence in a
Court of Law. And, last and most important of all, he is now
aware that the Confession itself has been kept a sealed secret
from him, out of compassionate regard for his own peace of mind,
as well as for the memory of the unhappy woman who was once his

These necessary disclosures I have communicated to my
husband--not by word of mouth; when the time came, I shrank from
speaking to him personally of his first wife--but by a written
statement of the circumstances, taken mainly out of my letters
received in Paris from Benjamin and Mr. Playmore. He has now had
ample time to read all that I have written to him, and to reflect
on it in the retirement of his own study. I am waiting, with the
fatal letter in my hand--and my mother-in-law is waiting in the
next room to me--to hear from his own lips whether he decides to
break the seal or not.

The minutes pass; and still we fail to hear his footstep on the
stairs. My doubts as to which way his decision may turn affect me
more and more uneasily the longer I wait. The very possession of
the letter, in the present excited state of my nerves, oppresses
and revolts me. I shrink from touching it or looking at it. I
move it about restlessly from place to place on the bed, and
still I cannot keep it out of my mind. At last, an odd fancy
strikes me. I lift up one of the baby's hands, and put the letter
under it--and so associate that dreadful record of sin and misery
with something innocent and pretty that seems to hallow and to
purify it.

The minutes pass; the half-hour longer strikes from the clock on
the chimney-piece; and at last I hear him! He knocks softly, and
opens the door.

He is deadly pale: I fancy I can detect traces of tears on his
cheeks. But no outward signs of agitation escape him as he takes
his seat by my side. I can see that he has waited until he could
control himself--for my sake.

He takes my hand, and kisses me tenderly.

"Valeria!" he says; "let me once more ask you to forgive what I
said and did in the bygone time. If I understand nothing else, my
love, I understand this: The proof of my innocence has been
found; and I owe it entirely to the courage and the devotion of
my wife!"

I wait a little, to enjoy the full luxury of hearing him say
those words--to revel in the love and the gratitude that moisten
his dear eyes as they look at me. Then I rouse my resolution, and
put the momentous question on which our future depends.

"Do you wish to see the letter, Eustace?"

Instead of answering directly, he questions me in his turn.

"Have you got the letter here?"


"Sealed up?"

"Sealed up."

He waits a little, considering what he is going to say next
before he says it,

"Let me be sure that I know exactly what it is I have to decide,"
he proceeds. "Suppose I insist on reading the letter--?"

There I interrupt him. I know it is my duty to restrain myself.
But I cannot do my duty.

"My darling, don't talk of reading the letter! Pray, pray spare

He holds up his hand for silence.

"I am not thinking of myself," he says. "I am thinking of my dead
wife. If I give up the public vindication of my innocence, in my
own lifetime--if I leave the seal of the letter unbroken--do you
say, as Mr. Playmore says, that I shall be acting mercifully and
tenderly toward the memory of my wife?"

"Oh, Eustace, there cannot be the shadow of a doubt of it!"

"Shall I be making some little atonement for any pain that I may
have thoughtlessly caused her to suffer in her lifetime?"

"Yes! yes!"

"And, Valeria--shall I please You?"

"My darling, you will enchant me!"

"Where is the letter?"

"In your son's hand, Eustace."

He goes around to the other side of the bed, and lifts the baby's
little pink hand to his lips. For a while he waits so, in sad and
secret communion with himself. I see his mother softly open the
door, and watch him as I am watching him. In a moment more our
suspense is at an end. With a heavy sigh, he lays the child's
hand back again on the sealed letter; and by that one little
action says (as if in words) to his son--"I leave it to You!"

And so it ended! Not as I thought it would end; not perhaps as
you thought it would end. What do we know of our own lives? What
do we know of the fulfillment of our dearest wishes? God
knows--and that is best.

Must I shut up the paper? Yes. There is nothing more for you to
read or for me to say.

Except this--as a postscript. Don't bear hardly, good people, on
the follies and the errors of my husband's life. Abuse _me_ as
much as you please. But pray think kindly of Eustace for my sake.

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