Part 6 out of 7
Then, as he saw my look of relief, for I was glad of this temporary
delay, said, with an expressive wink: "It would take a fellow a long
time to go to him--if he wasn't in a hurry--hours, I think."
"Indeed!" I returned, amused at his manner. "Rough road?"
"Very; no horse I could get could travel it faster than a walk."
"Well," said I, "so much the better for us. Mrs. Belden has a long
story to tell, and----"
"Doesn't wish to be interrupted. I understand."
I nodded and he turned towards the door.
"Have you telegraphed Mr. Gryce?" I asked.
"Do you think he will come?"
"Yes, sir; if he has to hobble on two sticks."
"At what time do you look for him?"
"_You_ will look for him as early as three o'clock. I shall be
among the mountains, ruefully eying my broken-down team." And leisurely
donning his hat he strolled away down the street like one who has the
whole day on his hands and does not know what to do with it.
An opportunity being thus given for Mrs. Belden's story, she at once
composed herself to the task, with the following result.
XXXII MRS. BELDEN'S NARRATIVE
"Cursed, destructive Avarice,
Thou everlasting foe to Love and Honor."
"Mischief never thrives
Without the help of Woman.
IT will be a year next July since I first saw Mary Leavenworth. J
was living at that time a most monotonous existence. Loving what was
beautiful, hating what was sordid, drawn by nature towards all that was
romantic and uncommon, but doomed by my straitened position and the
loneliness of my widowhood to spend my days in the weary round of plain
sewing, I had begun to think that the shadow of a humdrum old age was
settling down upon me, when one morning, in the full tide of my
dissatisfaction, Mary Leavenworth stepped across the threshold of my
door and, with one smile, changed the whole tenor of my life.
This may seem exaggeration to you, especially when I say that her
errand was simply one of business, she having heard I was handy with my
needle; but if you could have seen her as she appeared that day,
marked the look with which she approached me, and the smile with which
she left, you would pardon the folly of a romantic old woman, who
beheld a fairy queen in this lovely young lady. The fact is, I was
dazzled by her beauty and her charms. And when, a few days after, she
came again, and crouching down on the stool at my feet, said she was so
tired of the gossip and tumult down at the hotel, that it was a relief
to run away and hide with some one who would let her act like the child
she was, I experienced for the moment, I believe, the truest happiness
of my life. Meeting her advances with all the warmth her manner
invited, I found her ere long listening eagerly while I told her,
almost without my own volition, the story of my past life, in the form
of an amusing allegory.
The next day saw her in the same place; and the next; always with
the eager, laughing eyes, and the fluttering, uneasy hands, that
grasped everything they touched, and broke everything they grasped.
But the fourth day she was not there, nor the fifth, nor the sixth,
and I was beginning to feel the old shadow settling back upon me, when
one night, just as the dusk of twilight was merging into evening gloom,
she came stealing in at the front door, and, creeping up to my side,
put her hands over my eyes with such a low, ringing laugh, that I
"You don't know what to make of me!" she cried, throwing aside
her cloak, and revealing herself in the full splendor of evening
attire. "I don't know what to make of myself. Though it seems folly, I
felt that I must run away and tell some one that a certain pair of eyes
have been looking into mine, and that for the first time in my life I
feel myself a woman as well as a queen." And with a glance in which
coyness struggled with pride, she gathered up her cloak around her, and
"Have you had a visit from a flying sprite? Has one little ray of
moonlight found its way into your prison for a wee moment, with Mary's
laugh and Mary's snowy silk and flashing diamonds? Say!" and she patted
my cheek, and smiled so bewilderingly, that even now, with all the dull
horror of these after-events crowding upon me, I cannot but feel
something like tears spring to my eyes at the thought of it.
"And so the Prince has come for you?" I whispered, alluding to a
story I had told her the last time she had visited me; a story in
which a girl, who had waited all her life in rags and degradation for
the lordly knight who was to raise her from a hovel to a throne, died
just as her one lover, an honest peasant-lad whom she had discarded in
her pride, arrived at her door with the fortune he had spent all his
days in amassing for her sake.
But at this she flushed, and drew back towards the door. "I don't
know; I am afraid not. I--I don't think anything about that. Princes
are not so easily won," she murmured.
"What! are you going?" I said, "and alone? Let me accompany
But she only shook her fairy head, and replied: "No, no; that
would be spoiling the romance, indeed. I have come upon you like a
sprite, and like a sprite I will go." And, flashing like the moonbeam
she was, she glided out into the night, and floated away down the
When she next came, I observed a feverish excitement in her manner,
which assured me, even plainer than the coy sweetness displayed in our
last interview, that her heart had been touched by her lover's
attentions. Indeed, she hinted as much before she left, saying in a
melancholy tone, when I had ended my story in the usual happy way, with
kisses and marriage, "I shall never marry!" finishing the
exclamation with a long-drawn sigh, that somehow emboldened me to say,
perhaps because I knew she had no mother:
"And why? What reason can there be for such rosy lips saying their
possessor will never marry?"
She gave me one quick look, and then dropped her eyes. I feared I
had offended her, and was feeling very humble, when she suddenly
replied, in an even but low tone, "I said I should never marry,
because the one man who pleases me can never be my husband."
All the hidden romance in my nature started at once into life. "Why
not? What do you mean? Tell me."
"There is nothing to tell," said she; "only I have been so weak
as to"--she would not say, fall in love, she was a proud woman--
"admire a man whom my uncle will never allow me to marry."
And she rose as if to go; but I drew her back. "Whom your uncle
will not allow you to marry!" I repeated. "Why? because he is poor?"
"No; uncle loves money, but not to such an extent as that.
Besides, Mr. Clavering is not poor. He is the owner of a beautiful
place in his own country----"
"Own country?" I interrupted. "Is he not an American?"
"No," she returned; "he is an Englishman."
I did not see why she need say that in just the way she did, but,
supposing she was aggravated by some secret memory, went on to inquire:
"Then what difficulty can there be? Isn't he--" I was going to say
steady, but refrained.
"He is an Englishman," she emphasized in the same bitter tone as
before. "In saying that, I say it all. Uncle will never let me marry
I looked at her in amazement. Such a puerile reason as this had
never entered my mind.
"He has an absolute mania on the subject," resumed she. "I might
as well ask him to allow me to drown myself as to marry an Englishman."
A woman of truer judgment than myself would have said: "Then, if
that is so, why not discard from your breast all thought of him? Why
dance with him, and talk to him, and let your admiration develop into
love?" But I was all romance then, and, angry at a prejudice I could
neither understand nor appreciate, I said:
"But that is mere tyranny! Why should he hate the English so? And
why, if he does, should you feel yourself obliged to gratify him in a
whim so unreasonable?"
"Why? Shall I tell you, auntie?" she said, flushing and looking
"Yes," I returned; "tell me everything."
"Well, then, if you want to know the worst of me, as you already
know the best, I hate to incur my uncle's displeasure,
because--because--I have always been brought up to regard myself as his
heiress, and I know that if I were to marry contrary to his wishes, he
would instantly change his mind, and leave me penniless."
"But," I cried, my romance a little dampened by this admission,
"you tell me Mr. Clavering has enough to live upon, so you would not
want; and if you love--"
Her violet eyes fairly flashed in her amazement.
"You don't understand," she said; "Mr. Clavering is not poor; but
uncle is rich. I shall be a queen--" There she paused, trembling, and
falling on my breast. "Oh, it sounds mercenary, I know, but it is the
fault of my bringing up. I have been taught to worship money. I would
be utterly lost without it. And yet"--her whole face softening with the
light of another emotion, "I cannot say to Henry Clavering, 'Go! my
prospects are dearer to me than you!' I cannot, oh, I cannot!"
"You love him, then?" said I, determined to get at the truth of
the matter if possible.
She rose restlessly. "Isn't that a proof of love? If you knew me,
you would say it was." And, turning, she took her stand before a
picture that hung on the wall of my sitting-room.
"That looks like me," she said.
It was one of a pair of good photographs I possessed.
"Yes," I remarked, "that is why I prize it."
She did not seem to hear me; she was absorbed in gazing at the
exquisite face before her. "That is a winning face," I heard her say.
"Sweeter than mine. I wonder if she would ever hesitate between love
and money. I do not believe she would," her own countenance growing
gloomy and sad as she said so; "she would think only of the happiness
she would confer; she is not hard like me. Eleanore herself would love
I think she had forgotten my presence, for at the mention of her
cousin's name she turned quickly round with a half suspicious look,
"My dear old Mamma Hubbard looks horrified. She did not know she
had such a very unromantic little wretch for a listener, when she was
telling all those wonderful stories of Love slaying dragons, and living
in caves, and walking over burning ploughshares as if they were tufts
of spring grass?"
"No," I said, taking her with an irresistible impulse of admiring
affection into my arms; "but if I had, it would have made no
difference. I should still have talked about love, and of all it can do
to make this weary workaday world sweet and delightful."
"Would you? Then you do not think me such a wretch?"
What could I say? I thought her the winsomest being in the world,
and frankly told her so. Instantly she brightened into her very gayest
self. Not that I thought then, much less do I think now, she
partiallaly cared for my good opinion; but her nature demanded
admiration, and unconsciously blossomed under it, as a flower under the
"And you will still let me come and tell you how bad I am,--that
is, if I go on being bad, as I doubtless shall to the end of the
chapter? You will not turn me off?"
"I will never turn you off."
"Not if I should do a dreadful thing? Not if I should run away
with my lover some fine night, and leave uncle to discover how his
affectionate partiality had been requited?"
It was lightly said, and lightly meant, for she did not even wait
for my reply. But its seed sank deep into our two hearts for all that.
And for the next few days I spent my time in planning how I should
manage, if it should ever fall to my lot to conduct to a successful
issue so enthralling a piece of business as an elopement. You may
imagine, then, how delighted I was, when one evening Hannah, this
unhappy girl who is now lying dead under my roof, and who was occupying
the position of lady's maid to Miss Mary Leavenworth at that time,
came to my door with a note from her mistress, running thus:
"Have the loveliest story of the season ready for me tomorrow; and
let the prince be as handsome as--as some one you have heard of,
and the princess as foolish as your little yielding pet,
Which short note could only mean that she was engaged. But the next
day did not bring me my Mary, nor the next, nor the next; and beyond
hearing that Mr. Leavenworth had returned from his trip I received
neither word nor token. Two more days dragged by, when, just as
twilight set in, she came. It had been a week since I had seen her, but
it might have been a year from the change I observed in her countenance
and expression. I could scarcely greet her with any show of pleasure,
she was so unlike her former self.
"You are disappointed, are you not?" said she, looking at me.
"You expected revelations, whispered hopes, and all manner of sweet
confidences; and you see, instead, a cold, bitter woman, who for the
first time in your presence feels inclined to be reserved and
"That is because you have had more to trouble than encourage you in
your love," I returned, though not without a certain shrinking, caused
more by her manner than words.
She did not reply to this, but rose and paced the floor, coldly at
first, but afterwards with a certain degree of excitement that proved
to be the prelude to a change in her manner; for, suddenly pausing, she
turned to me and said: "Mr. Clavering has left R----, Mrs. Belden."
"Yes, my uncle commanded me to dismiss him, and I obeyed."
The work dropped from my hands, in my heartfelt disappointment.
"Ah! then he knows of your engagement to Mr. Clavering?"
"Yes; he had not been in the house five minutes before Eleanore
"Then _she_ knew?"
"Yes," with a half sigh. "She could hardly help it. I was foolish
enough to give her the cue in my first moment of joy and weakness. I
did not think of the consequences; but I might have known. She is so
"I do not call it conscientiousness to tell another's secrets," I
"That is because you are not Eleanore."
Not having a reply for this, I said, "And so your uncle did not
regard your engagement with favor?"
"Favor! Did I not tell you he would never allow me to marry an
Englishman? He said he would sooner see me buried."
"And you yielded? Made no struggle? Let the hard, cruel man have his
She was walking off to look again at that picture which had
attracted her attention the time before, but at this word gave me one
little sidelong look that was inexpressibly suggestive.
"I obeyed him when he commanded, if that is what you mean."
"And dismissed Mr. Clavering after having given him your word of
honor to be his wife?"
"Why not, when I found I could not keep my word."
"Then you have decided not to marry him?"
She did not reply at once, but lifted her face mechanically to the
"My uncle would tell you that I had decided to be governed wholly
by his wishes!" she responded at last with what I felt was
Greatly disappointed, I burst into tears. "Oh, Mary!" I cried, "Oh, Mary!"
and instantly blushed, startled that I had called her by her first name.
But she did not appear to notice.
"Have you any complaint to make?" she asked. "Is it not my
manifest duty to be governed by my uncle's wishes? Has he not brought
me up from childhood? lavished every luxury upon me? made me all I
am, even to the love of riches which he has instilled into my soul with
every gift he has thrown into my lap, every word he has dropped into my
ear, since I was old enough to know what riches meant? Is it for me
now to turn my back upon fostering care so wise, beneficent, and free,
just because a man whom I have known some two weeks chances to offer me
in exchange what he pleases to call his love?"
"But," I feebly essayed, convinced perhaps by the tone of sarcasm
in which this was uttered that she was not far from my way of thinking
after all, "if in two weeks you have learned to love this man more
than everything else, even the riches which make your uncle's favor a
thing of such moment--"
"Well," said she, "what then?"
"Why, then I would say, secure your happiness with the man of your
choice, if you have to marry him in secret, trusting to your influence
over your uncle to win the forgiveness he never can persistently deny."
You should have seen the arch expression which stole across her face
at that. "Would it not be better," she asked, creeping to my arms, and
laying her head on my shoulder, "would it not be better for me to make
sure of that uncle's favor first, before undertaking the hazardous
experiment of running away with a too ardent lover?"
Struck by her manner, I lifted her face and looked at it. It was one
"Oh, my darling," said I, "you have not, then dismissed Mr.
"I have sent him away," she whispered demurely.
"But not without hope?"
She burst into a ringing laugh.
"Oh, you dear old Mamma Hubbard; what a matchmaker you are, to be
sure! You appear as much interested as if you were the lover
"But tell me," I urged.
In a moment her serious mood returned. "He will wait for me," said
The next day I submitted to her the plan I had formed for her
clandestine intercourse with Mr. Clavering. It was for them both to
assume names, she taking mine, as one less liable to provoke conjecture
than a strange name, and he that of LeRoy Robbins. The plan pleased
her, and with the slight modification of a secret sign being used on
the envelope, to distinguish her letters from mine, was at once adopted.
And so it was I took the fatal step that has involved me in all this
trouble. With the gift of my name to this young girl to use as she
would and sign what she would, I seemed to part with what was left me
of judgment and discretion. Henceforth, I was only her scheming,
planning, devoted slave; now copying the letters which she brought me,
and enclosing them to the false name we had agreed upon, and now
busying myself in devising ways to forward to her those which I
received from him, without risk of discovery. Hannah was the medium we
employed, as Mary felt it would not be wise for her to come too often
to my house. To this girl's charge, then, I gave such notes as I could
not forward in any other way, secure in the reticence of her nature, as
well as in her inability to read, that these letters addressed to Mrs.
Amy Belden would arrive at their proper destination without mishap.
And. I believe they always did. At all events, no difficulty that I
ever heard of arose out of the use of this girl as a go-between.
But a change was at hand. Mr. Clavering, who had left an invalid
mother in England, was suddenly summoned home. He prepared to go, but,
flushed with love, distracted by doubts, smitten with the fear that,
once withdrawn from the neighborhood of a woman so universally courted
as Mary, he would stand small chance of retaining his position in her
regard, he wrote to her, telling his fears and asking her to marry him
before he went.
"Make me your husband, and I will follow your wishes in all
things," he wrote. "The certainty that you are mine will make parting
possible; without it, I cannot go; no, not if my mother should die
without the comfort of saying good-bye to her only child."
By some chance she was in my house when I brought this letter from
the post-office, and I shall never forget how she started when she read
it. But, from looking as if she had received an insult, she speedily
settled down into a calm consideration of the subject, writing and
delivering into my charge for copying a few lines in which she promised
to accede to his request, if he would agree to leave the public
declaration of the marriage to her discretion, and consent to bid her
farewell at the door of the church or wherever the ceremony of marriage
should take place, never to come into her presence again till such
declaration had been made. Of course this brought in a couple of days
the sure response: "Anything, so you will be mine."
And Amy Belden's wits and powers of planning were all summoned into
requisition for the second time, to devise how this matter could be
arranged without subjecting the parties to the chance of detection. I
found the thing very difficult. In the first place, it was essential
that the marriage should come off within three days, Mr. Clavering
having, upon the receipt of her letter, secured his passage upon a
steamer that sailed on the following Saturday; and, next, both he and
Miss Leavenworth were too conspicuous in their personal appearance to
make it at all possible for them to be secretly married anywhere within
gossiping distance of this place. And yet it was desirable that the
scene of the ceremony should not be too far away, or the time occupied
in effecting the journey to and from the place would necessitate an
absence from the hotel on the part of Miss Leavenworth long enough to
arouse the suspicions of Eleanore; something which Mary felt it wiser
to avoid. Her uncle, I have forgotten to say, was not here--having
gone away again shortly after the apparent dismissal of Mr. Clavering.
F----, then, was the only town I could think of which combined the two
advantages of distance and accessibility. Although upon the railroad,
it was an insignificant place, and had, what was better yet, a very
obscure man for its clergyman, living, which was best of all, not ten
rods from the depot. If they could meet there? Making inquiries, I
found that it could be done, and, all alive to the romance of the
occasion, proceeded to plan the details.
And now I am coming to what might have caused the overthrow of the
whole scheme: I allude to the detection on the part of Eleanore of the
correspondence between Mary and Mr. Clavering. It happened thus.
Hannah, who, in her frequent visits to my house, had grown very fond of
my society, had come in to sit with me for a while one evening. She had
not been in the house, however, more than ten minutes, before there
came a knock at the front door; and going to it I saw Mary, as I
supposed, from the long cloak she wore, standing before me. Thinking
she had come with a letter for Mr. Clavering, I grasped her arm and
drew her into the hall, saying, "Have you got it? I must post it
to-night, or he will not receive it in time."
There I paused, for, the panting creature I had by the arm turning
upon me, I saw myself confronted by a stranger.
"You have made a mistake," she cried. "I am Eleanore Leavenworth,
and I have come for my girl Hannah. Is she here?"
I could only raise my hand in apprehension, and point to the girl
sitting in the corner of the room before her. Miss Leavenworth
immediately turned back.
"Hannah, I want you," said she, and would have left the house
without another word, but I caught her by the arm.
"Oh, miss--" I began, but she gave me such a look, I dropped her
"I have nothing to say to you!" she cried in a low, thrilling
voice. "Do not detain me." And, with a glance to see if Hannah were
following her, she went out.
For an hour I sat crouched on the stair just where she had left me.
Then I went to bed, but I did not sleep a wink that night. You can
imagine, then, my wonder when, with the first glow of the early morning
light, Mary, looking more beautiful than ever, came running up the
steps and into the room where I was, with the letter for Mr. Clavering
trembling in her hand.
"Oh!" I cried in my joy and relief, "didn't she understand me,
The gay look on Mary's face turned to one of reckless scorn. "If
you mean Eleanore, yes. She is duly initiated, Mamma Hubbard. Knows
that I love Mr. Clavering and write to him. I couldn't keep it secret
after the mistake you made last evening; so I did the next best thing,
told her the truth."
"Not that you were about to be married?"
"Certainly not. I don't believe in unnecessary communications."
"And you did not find her as angry as you expected?"
"I will not say that; she was angry enough. And yet," continued
Mary, with a burst of self-scornful penitence, "I will not call
Eleanore's lofty indignation anger. She was grieved, Mamma Hubbard,
grieved." And with a laugh which I believe was rather the result of her
own relief than of any wish to reflect on her cousin, she threw her
head on one side and eyed me with a look which seemed to say, "Do I
plague you so very much, you dear old Mamma Hubbard?"
She did plague me, and I could not conceal it. "And will she not
tell her uncle?" I gasped.
The naive expression on Mary's face quickly changed. "No," said she.
I felt a heavy hand, hot with fever, lifted from my heart. "And we
can still go on?"
She held out the letter for reply.
The plan agreed upon between us for the carrying out of our
intentions was this. At the time appointed, Mary was to excuse herself
to her cousin upon the plea that she had promised to take me to see a
friend in the next town. She was then to enter a buggy previously
ordered, and drive here, where I was to join her. We were then to
proceed immediately to the minister's house in F----, where we had
reason to believe we should find everything prepared for us. But in
this plan, simple as it was, one thing was forgotten, and that was the
character of Eleanore's love for her cousin. That her suspicions would
be aroused we did not doubt; but that she would actually follow Mary up
and demand an explanation of her conduct, was what neither she, who
knew her so well, nor I, who knew her so little, ever imagined
possible. And yet that was just what occurred. But let me explain.
Mary, who had followed out the programme to the point of leaving a
little note of excuse on Eleanore's dressing-table, had come to my
house, and was just taking off her long cloak to show me her dress,
when there came a commanding knock at the front door. Hastily pulling
her cloak about her I ran to open it, intending, you may be sure, to
dismiss my visitor with short ceremony, when I heard a voice behind me
say, "Good heavens, it is Eleanore!" and, glancing back, saw Mary
looking through the window-blind upon the porch without.
"What shall we do?" I cried, in very natural dismay.
"Do? why, open the door and let her in; I am not afraid of
I immediately did so, and Eleanore Leavenworth, very pale, but with
a resolute countenance, walked into the house and into this room,
confronting Mary in very nearly the same spot where you are now
sitting. "I have come," said she, lifting a face whose expression of
mingled sweetness and power I could not but admire, even in that moment
of apprehension, "to ask you without any excuse for my request, if you
will allow me to accompany you upon your drive this morning?"
Mary, who had drawn herself up to meet some word of accusation or
appeal, turned carelessly away to the glass. "I am very sorry," she
said, "but the buggy holds only two, and I shall be obliged to refuse."
"I will order a carriage."
"But I do not wish your company, Eleanore. We are off on a pleasure
trip, and desire to have our fun by ourselves."
"And you will not allow me to accompany you?"
"I cannot prevent your going in another carriage."
Eleanore's face grew yet more earnest in its expression. "Mary,"
said she, "we have been brought up together. I am your sister in
affection if not in blood, and I cannot see you start upon this
adventure with no other companion than this woman. Then tell me, shall
I go with you, as a sister, or on the road behind you as the enforced
guardian of your honor against your will?"
"You are going to meet Mr. Clavering."
"Twenty miles from home."
"Now is it discreet or honorable in you to do this?"
Mary's haughty lip took an ominous curve. "The same hand that
raised you has raised me," she cried bitterly.
"This is no time to speak of that," returned Eleanore.
Mary's countenance flushed. All the antagonism of her nature was
aroused. She looked absolutely Juno-like in her wrath and reckless
menace. "Eleanore," she cried, "I am going to F---- to marry Mr.
Clavering! _Now_ do you wish to accompany me?"
Mary's whole manner changed. leaping forward, she grasped her
cousin's arm and shook it. "For what reason?" she cried. "What do
you intend to do?"
"To witness the marriage, if it be a true one; to step between you
and shame if any element of falsehood should come in to affect its
Mary's hand fell from her cousin's arm. "I do not understand you,"
said she. "I thought you never gave countenance to what you considered
"Nor do I. Any one who knows me will understand that I do not give
my approval to this marriage just because I attend its ceremonial in
the capacity of an unwilling witness."
"Then why go?"
"Because I value your honor above my own peace. Because I love our
common benefactor, and know that he would never pardon me if I let his
darling be married, however contrary her union might be to his wishes,
without lending the support of my presence to make the transaction at
least a respectable one."
"But in so doing you will be involved in a world of deception--
which you hate."
"Any more so than now?"
"Mr. Clavering does not return with me, Eleanore."
"No, I supposed not."
"I leave him immediately after the ceremony."
Eleanore bowed her head.
"He goes to Europe." A pause.
"And I return home."
"There to wait for what, Mary?"
Mary's face crimsoned, and she turned slowly away.
"What every other girl does under such circumstances, I suppose.
The development of more reasonable feelings in an obdurate parent's
Eleanore sighed, and a short silence ensued, broken by Eleanore's
suddenly falling upon her knees, and clasping her cousin's hand. "Oh,
Mary," she sobbed, her haughtiness all disappearing in a gush of wild
entreaty, "consider what you are doing! Think, before it is too
late, of the consequences which must follow such an act as this.
Marriage founded upon deception can never lead to happiness. Love--
but it is not that. Love would have led you either to have dismissed
Mr. Clavering at once, or to have openly accepted the fate which a
union with him would bring. Only passion stoops to subterfuge like
this. And you," she continued, rising and turning toward me in a sort
of forlorn hope very touching to see, "can you see this young
motherless girl, driven by caprice, and acknowledging no moral
restraint, enter upon the dark and crooked path she is planning for
herself, without uttering one word of warning and appeal? Tell me,
mother of children dead and buried, what excuse you will have for your
own part in this day's work, when she, with her face marred by the
sorrows which must follow this deception, comes to you----"
"The same excuse, probably," Mary's voice broke in, chill and
strained, "which you will have when uncle inquires how you came to
allow such an act of disobedience to be perpetrated in his absence:
that she could not help herself, that Mary would gang her ain gait, and
every one around must accommodate themselves to it,"
It was like a draught of icy air suddenly poured into a room heated
up to fever point. Eleanore stiffened immediately, and drawing back,
pale and composed, turned upon her cousin with the remark:
"Then nothing can move you?"
The curling of Mary's lips was her only reply.
Mr. Raymond, I do not wish to weary you with my feelings, but the
first great distrust I ever felt of my wisdom in pushing this matter so
far came with that curl of Mary's lip. More plainly than Eleanore's
words it showed me the temper with which she was entering upon this
undertaking; and, struck with momentary dismay, I advanced to speak
when Mary stopped me.
"There, now, Mamma Hubbard, don't you go and acknowledge that you
are frightened, for I won't hear it. I have promised to marry Henry
Clavering to-day, and I am going to keep my word--if I don't love him,"
she added with bitter emphasis. Then, smiling upon me in a way which
caused me to forget everything save the fact that she was going to her
bridal, she handed me her veil to fasten. As I was doing this, with
very trembling fingers, she said, looking straight at Eleanore:
"You have shown yourself more interested in my fate than I had any
reason to expect. Will you continue to display this concern all the way
to F----, or may I hope for a few moments of peace in which to dream
upon the step which, according to you, is about to hurl upon me such
"If I go with you to F----," Eleanore returned, "it is as a
witness, no more. My sisterly duty is done."
"Very well, then," Mary said, dimpling with sudden gayety; "I
suppose I shall have to accept the situation. Mamma Hubbard, I am so
sorry to disappoint you, but the buggy _won't_ hold three. If you
are good you shall be the first to congratulate me when I come home
to-night." And, almost before I knew it, the two had taken their seats
in the buggy that was waiting at the door. "Good-by," cried Mary,
waving her hand from the back; "wish me much joy--of my ride."
I tried to do so, but the words wouldn't come. I could only wave my
hand in response, and rush sobbing into the house.
Of that day, and its long hours of alternate remorse and anxiety, I
cannot trust myself to speak. Let me come at once to the time when,
seated alone in my lamp-lighted room, I waited and watched for the
token of their return which Mary had promised me. It came in the shape
of Mary herself, who, wrapped in her long cloak, and with her beautiful
face aglow with blushes, came stealing into the house just as I was
beginning to despair.
A strain of wild music from the hotel porch, where they were having
a dance, entered with her, producing such a weird effect upon my fancy
that I was not at all surprised when, in flinging off her cloak, she
displayed garments of bridal white and a head crowned with snowy roses.
"Oh, Mary!" I cried, bursting into tears; "you are then----"
"Mrs. Henry Clavering, at your service. I'm a bride, Auntie."
"Without a bridal," I murmured, taking her passionately into my
She was not insensible to my emotion. Nestling close to me, she gave
herself up for one wild moment to a genuine burst of tears, saying
between her sobs all manner of tender things; telling me how she loved
me, and how I was the only one in all the world to whom she dared come
on this, her wedding night, for comfort or congratulation, and of how
frightened she felt now it was all over, as if with her name she had
parted with something of inestimable value.
"And does not the thought of having made some one the proudest of
men solace you?" I asked, more than dismayed at this failure of mine
to make these lovers happy.
"I don't know," she sobbed. "What satisfaction can it be for him
to feel himself tied for life to a girl who, sooner than lose a
prospective fortune, subjected him to such a parting?"
"Tell me about it," said I.
But she was not in the mood at that moment. The excitement of the
day had been too much for her. A thousand fears seemed to beset her
mind. Crouching down on the stool at my feet, she sat with her hands
folded and a glare on her face that lent an aspect of strange unreality
to her brilliant attire. "How shall I keep it secret! The thought
haunts me every moment; how can I keep it secret!"
"Why, is there any danger of its being known?" I inquired. "Were
you seen or followed?"
"No," she murmured. "It all went off well, but----"
"Where is the danger, then?"
"I cannot say; but some deeds are like ghosts. They will not be
laid; they reappear; they gibber; they make themselves known whether
we will or not. I did not think of this before. I was mad, reckless,
what you will. But ever since the night has come, I have felt it
crushing upon me like a pall that smothers life and youth and love out
of my heart. While the sunlight remained I could endure it; but now--
oh, Auntie, I have done something that will keep me in constant fear. I
have allied myself to a living apprehension. I have destroyed my
I was too aghast to speak.
"For two hours I have played at being gay. Dressed in my bridal
white, and crowned with roses, I have greeted my friends as if they
were wedding-guests, and made believe to myself that all the
compliments bestowed upon me--and they are only too numerous--were just
so many congratulations upon my marriage. But it was no use; Eleanore
knew it was no use. She has gone to her room to pray, while I--I have
come here for the first time, perhaps for the last, to fall at some
one's feet and cry,--' God have mercy upon me!'"
I looked at her in uncontrollable emotion. "Oh, Mary, have I only
succeeded, then, in making you miserable?"
She did not answer; she was engaged in picking up the crown of roses
which had fallen from her hair to the floor.
"If I had not been taught to love money so!" she said at length.
"If, like Eleanore, I could look upon the splendor which has been ours
from childhood as a mere accessory of life, easy to be dropped at the
call of duty or affection! If prestige, adulation, and elegant
belongings were not so much to me; or love, friendship, and domestic
happiness more! If only I could walk a step without dragging the chain
of a thousand luxurious longings after me. Eleanore can. Imperious as
she often is in her beautiful womanhood, haughty as she can be when the
delicate quick of her personality is touched too rudely, I have known
her to sit by the hour in a low, chilly, ill-lighted and ill-smelling
garret, cradling a dirty child on her knee, and feeding with her own
hand an impatient old woman whom no one else would consent to touch.
Oh, oh! they talk about repentance and a change of heart! If some one
or something would only change mine! But there is no hope of that! no
hope of my ever being anything else than what I am: a selfish, wilful,
Nor was this mood a mere transitory one. That same night she made a
discovery which increased her apprehension almost to terror. This was
nothing less than the fact that Eleanore had been keeping a diary of
the last few weeks. "Oh," she cried in relating this to me the next
day, "what security shall I ever feel as long as this diary of hers
remains to confront me every time I go into her room? And she will not
consent to destroy it, though I have done my best to show her that it
is a betrayal of the trust I reposed in her. She says it is all she has
to show in the way of defence, if uncle should ever accuse her of
treachery to him and his happiness. She promises to keep it locked up;
but what good will that do! A thousand accidents might happen, any of
them sufficient to throw it into uncle's hands. I shall never feel safe
for a moment while it exists."
I endeavored to calm her by saying that if Eleanore was without
malice, such fears were groundless. But she would not be comforted, and
seeing her so wrought up, I suggested that Eleanore should be asked to
trust it into my keeping till such time as she should feel the
necessity of using it. The idea struck Mary favorably. "O yes," she
cried; "and I will put my certificate with it, and so get rid of all
my care at once." And before the afternoon was over, she had seen
Eleanore and made her request.
It was acceded to with this proviso, that I was neither to destroy
nor give up all or any of the papers except upon their united demand. A
small tin box was accordingly procured, into which were put all the
proofs of Mary's marriage then existing, viz.: the certificate, Mr.
Clavering's letters, and such leaves from Eleanore's diary as referred
to this matter. It was then handed over to me with the stipulation I
have already mentioned, and I stowed it away in a certain closet
upstairs, where it has lain undisturbed till last night.
Here Mrs. Belden paused, and, blushing painfully, raised her eyes to
mine with a look in which anxiety and entreaty were curiously blended.
"I don't know what you will say," she began, "but, led away by my
fears, I took that box out of its hiding-place last evening and,
notwithstanding your advice, carried it from the house, and it is
"In my possession," I quietly finished.
I don't think I ever saw her look more astounded, not even when I
told her of Hannah's death. "Impossible!" she exclaimed. "I left it
last night in the old barn that was burned down. I merely meant to hide
it for the present, and could think of no better place in my hurry;
for the barn is said to be haunted--a man hung himself there once --
and no one ever goes there. I--I--you cannot have it!" she cried,
"Unless I found and brought it away before the barn was destroyed,"
Her face flushed deeper. "Then you followed me?"
"Yes," said I. Then, as I felt my own countenance redden, hastened
to add: "We have been playing strange and unaccustomed parts, you and
I. Some time, when all these dreadful events shall be a mere dream of
the past, we will ask each other's pardon. But never mind all this now.
The box is safe, and I am anxious to hear the rest of your story."
This seemed to compose her, and after a minute she continued:
Mary seemed more like herself after this. And though, on account of
Mr. Leavenworth's return and their subsequent preparations for
departure, I saw but little more of her, what I did see was enough to
make me fear that, with the locking up of the proofs of her marriage,
she was indulging the idea that the marriage itself had become void.
But I may have wronged her in this.
The story of those few weeks is almost finished. On the eve of the
day before she left, Mary came to my house to bid me good-by. She had a
present in her hand the value of which I will not state, as I did not
take it, though she coaxed me with all her prettiest wiles. But she
said something that night that I have never been able to forget. It was
this. I had been speaking of my hope that before two months had elapsed
she would find herself in a position to send for Mr. Clavering, and
that when that day came I should wish to be advised of it; when she
suddenly interrupted me by saying:
"Uncle will never be won upon, as you call it, while he lives. If I
was convinced of it before, I am sure of it now. Nothing but his death
will ever make it possible for me to send for Mr. Clavering." Then,
seeing me look aghast at the long period of separation which this
seemed to betoken, blushed a little and whispered: "The prospect
looks somewhat dubious, doesn't it? But if Mr. Clavering loves me, he
"But," said I, "your uncle is only little past the prime of life
and appears to be in robust health; it will be years of waiting, Mary."
"I don't know," she muttered, "I think not. Uncle is not as strong
as he looks and--" She did not say any more, horrified perhaps at the
turn the conversation was taking. But there was an expression on her
countenance that set me thinking at the time, and has kept me thinking
Not that any actual dread of such an occurrence as has since
happened came to oppress my solitude during the long months which now
intervened. I was as yet too much under the spell of her charm to allow
anything calculated to throw a shadow over her image to remain long in
my thoughts. But when, some time in the fall, a letter came to me
personally from Mr. Clavering, filled with a vivid appeal to tell him
something of the woman who, in spite of her vows, doomed him to a
suspense so cruel, and when, on the evening of the same day, a friend
of mine who had just returned from New York spoke of meeting Mary
Leavenworth at some gathering, surrounded by manifest admirers, I began
to realize the alarming features of the affair, and, sitting down, I
wrote her a letter. Not in the strain in which I had been accustomed to
talk to her,--I had not her pleading eyes and trembling, caressing
hands ever before me to beguile my judgment from its proper exercise,
--but honestly and earnestly, telling her how Mr. Clavering felt, and
what a risk she ran in keeping so ardent a lover from his rights. The
reply she sent rather startled me.
"I have put Mr. Robbins out of my calculations for the present, and
advise you to do the same. As for the gentleman himself, I have told
him that when I could receive him I would be careful to notify him.
That day has not yet come.
"But do not let him be discouraged," she added in a postscript.
"When he does receive his happiness, it will be _a_ satisfying one."
_I thought. Ah, it is that _when_ which is likely to ruin all!
But, intent only upon fulfilling her will, I sat down and wrote a
letter to Mr. Clavering, in which I stated what she had said, and
begged him to have patience, adding that I would surely let him know if
any change took place in Mary or her circumstances. And, having
despatched it to his address in London, awaited the development of
They were not slow in transpiring. In two weeks I heard of the
sudden death of Mr. Stebbins, the minister who had married them; and
while yet laboring under the agitation produced by this shock, was
further startled by seeing in a New York paper the name of Mr.
Clavering among the list of arrivals at the Hoffman House; showing
that my letter to him had failed in its intended effect, and that the
patience Mary had calculated upon so blindly was verging to its end. I
was consequently far from being surprised when, in a couple of weeks or
so afterwards, a letter came from him to my address, which, owing to
the careless omission of the private mark upon the envelope, I opened,
and read enough to learn that, driven to desperation by the constant
failures which he had experienced in all his endeavors to gain access
to her in public or private, _a._ failure which he was not
backward in ascribing to her indisposition to see him, he had made up
his mind to risk everything, even her displeasure; and, by making an
appeal to her uncle, end the suspense under which he was laboring,
definitely and at once. "I want you," he wrote; "dowered or
dowerless, it makes little difference to me. If you will not come of
yourself, then I must follow the example of the brave knights, my
ancestors; storm the castle that holds you, and carry you off by force
Neither can I say I was much surprised, knowing Mary as I did, when,
in a few days from this, she forwarded to me for copying, this reply:
"If Mr. Rob-bins ever expects to be happy with Amy Belden, let him
reconsider the determination of which he speaks. Not only would he by
such an action succeed in destroying the happiness of her he professes
to love, but run the greater risk of effectually annulling the
affection which makes the tie between them endurable."
To this there was neither date nor signature. It was the cry of
warning which a spirited, self-contained creature gives when brought to
bay. It made even me recoil, though I had known from the first that her
pretty wilfulness was but the tossing foam floating above the soundless
depths of cold resolve and most deliberate purpose.
What its real effect was upon him and her fate I can only
conjecture. All I know is that in two weeks thereafter Mr. Leavenworth
was found murdered in his room, and Hannah Chester, coming direct to my
door from the scene of violence, begged me to take her in and secrete
her from public inquiry, as I loved and desired to serve Mary
XXXIII. UNEXPECTED TESTIMONY
_Pol._What do you read, my lord?
_Ham._ Words, words, words.[/b]_
MRS. BELDEN paused, lost in the sombre shadow which these words were
calculated to evoke, and a short silence fell upon the room. It was
broken by my asking for some account of the occurrence she had just
mentioned, it being considered a mystery how Hannah could have found
entrance into her house without the knowledge of the neighbors.
"Well," said she, "it was a chilly night, and I had gone to bed
early (I was sleeping then in the room off this) when, at about a
quarter to one--the last train goes through R---- at 12.50--there
came a low knock on the window-pane at the head of my bed. Thinking
that some of the neighbors were sick, I hurriedly rose on my elbow and
asked who was there. The answer came in low, muffled tones, 'Hannah,
Miss Leavenworth's girl! Please let me in at the kitchen door.'
Startled at hearing the well-known voice, and fearing I knew not what,
I caught up a lamp and hurried round to the door. 'Is any one with you?'
I asked. 'No,' she replied. 'Then come in.' But no sooner had she
done so than my strength failed me, and I had to sit down, for I saw
she looked very pale and strange, was without baggage, and altogether
had the appearance of some wandering spirit. 'Hannah!' I gasped, '
what is it? what has happened? what brings you here in this condition
and at this time of night?' 'Miss Leavenworth has sent me,' she
replied, in the low, monotonous tone of one repeating a lesson by rote.
'She told me to come here; said you would keep me. I am not to go out
of the house, and no one is to know I am here.' 'But why?' I asked,
trembling with a thousand undefined fears; 'what has occurred?' 'I
dare not say,' she whispered; 'I am forbid; I am just to stay here,
and keep quiet.' 'But,' I began, helping her to take off her
shawl,--the dingy blanket advertised for in the papers--'you must tell
me. She surely did not forbid you to tell _me?_' 'Yes she did;
every one,' the girl replied, growing white in her persistence, 'and I
never break my word; fire couldn't draw it out of me.' She looked so
determined, so utterly unlike herself, as I remembered her in the meek,
unobtrusive days of our old acquaintance, that I could do nothing but
stare at her. 'You will keep me,' she said; 'you will not turn me
away?' 'No,' I said, 'I will not turn you away.' 'And tell no one?'
she went on. 'And tell no one,' I repeated.
"This seemed to relieve her. Thanking me, she quietly followed me
up-stairs. I put her into the room in which you found her, because it
was the most secret one in the house; and there she has remained ever
since, satisfied and contented, as far as I could see, till this very
same horrible day."
"And is that all?" I asked. "Did you have no explanation with
her afterwards? Did she never give you any information in regard to
the transactions which led to her flight?"
"No, sir. She kept a most persistent silence. Neither then nor when,
upon the next day, I confronted her with the papers in my hand, and the
awful question upon my lips as to whether her flight had been
occasioned by the murder which had taken place in Mr. Leavenworth's
household, did she do more than acknowledge she had run away on this
account. Some one or something had sealed her lips, and, as she said, '
Fire and torture should never make her speak.'"
Another short pause followed this; then, with my mind still hovering
about the one point of intensest interest to me, I said:
"This story, then, this account which you have just given me of
Mary Leavenworth's secret marriage and the great strait it put her into
--a strait from which nothing but her uncle's death could relieve her
--together with this acknowledgment of Hannah's that she had left home
and taken refuge here on the insistence of Mary Leavenworth, is the
groundwork you have for the suspicions you have mentioned?"
"Yes, sir; that and the proof of her interest in the matter which
is given by the letter I received from her yesterday, and which you say
you have now in your possession."
Oh, that letter!
"I know," Mrs. Belden went on in a broken voice, "that it is
wrong, in a serious case like this, to draw hasty conclusions; but,
oh, sir, how can I help it, knowing what I do?"
I did not answer; I was revolving in my mind the old question: was
it possible, in face of all these later developments, still to believe
Mary Leavenworth's own hand guiltless of her uncle's blood?
"It is dreadful to come to such conclusions," proceeded Mrs. Belden,
"and nothing but her own words written in her own hand would ever have
driven me to them, but----"
"Pardon me," I interrupted; "but you said in the beginning of
this interview that you did not believe Mary herself had any direct
hand in her uncle's murder. Are you ready to repeat that assertion?"
"Yes, yes, indeed. Whatever I may think of her influence in
inducing it, I never could imagine her as having anything to do with
its actual performance. Oh, no! oh, no! whatever was done on that
dreadful night, Mary Leavenworth never put hand to pistol or ball, or
even stood by while they were used; that you may be sure of. Only the
man who loved her, longed for her, and felt the impossibility of
obtaining her by any other means, could have found nerve for an act so
"Then you think----"
"Mr. Clavering is the man? I do: and oh, sir, when you consider
that he is her husband, is it not dreadful enough?"
"It is, indeed," said I, rising to conceal how much I was affected
by this conclusion of hers.
Something in my tone or appearance seemed to startle her. "I hope
and trust I have not been indiscreet," she cried, eying me with
something like an incipient distrust. "With this dead girl lying in my
house, I ought to be very careful, I know, but----"
"You have said nothing," was my earnest assurance as I edged
towards the door in my anxiety to escape, if but for a moment, from an
atmosphere that was stifling me. "No one can blame you for anything
you have either said or done to-day. But"--and here I paused and
walked hurriedly back,--" I wish to ask one question more. Have you any
reason, beyond that of natural repugnance to believing a young and
beautiful woman guilty of a great crime, for saying what you have of
Henry Clavering, a gentleman who has hitherto been mentioned by you
"No," she whispered, with a touch of her old agitation.
I felt the reason insufficient, and turned away with something of
the same sense of suffocation with which I had heard that the missing
key had been found in Eleanore Leavenworth's possession. "You must
excuse me," I said; "I want to be a moment by myself, in order to
ponder over the facts which I have just heard; I will soon return ";
and without further ceremony, hurried from the room.
By some indefinable impulse, I went immediately up-stairs, and took
my stand at the western window of the large room directly over Mrs.
Belden. The blinds were closed; the room was shrouded in funereal
gloom, but its sombreness and horror were for the moment unfelt; I was
engaged in a fearful debate with myself. Was Mary Leavenworth the
principal, or merely the accessory, in this crime? Did the determined
prejudice of Mr. Gryce, the convictions of Eleanore, the circumstantial
evidence even of such facts as had come to our knowledge, preclude the
possibility that Mrs. Belden's conclusions were correct? That all the
detectives interested in the affair would regard the question as
settled, I did not doubt; but need it be? Was it utterly impossible to
find evidence yet that Henry Clavering was, after all, the assassin of
Filled with the thought, I looked across the room to the closet
where lay the body of the girl who, according to all probability, had
known the truth of the matter, and a great longing seized me. Oh, why
could not the dead be made to speak? Why should she lie there so
silent, so pulseless, so inert, when a word from her were enough to
decide the awful question? Was there no power to compel those pallid
lips to move?
Carried away by the fervor of the moment, I made my way to her side.
Ah, God, how still! With what a mockery the closed lips and lids
confronted my demanding gaze! A stone could not have been more
With a feeling that was almost like anger, I stood there, when--
what was it I saw protruding from beneath her shoulders where they
crushed against the bed? An envelope? a letter? Yes.
Dizzy with the sudden surprise, overcome with the wild hopes this
discovery awakened, I stooped in great agitation and drew the letter
out. It was sealed but not directed. Breaking it hastily open, I took a
glance at its contents. Good heavens! it was the work of the girl
herself!--its very appearance was enough to make that evident! Feeling
as if a miracle had happened, I hastened with it into the other room,
and set myself to decipher the awkward scrawl.
This is what I saw, rudely printed in lead pencil on the inside of a
sheet of common writing-paper:
"I am a wicked girl. I have knone things all the time which I had
ought to have told but I didn't dare to he said he would kill me if I
did I mene the tall splendud looking gentulman with the black mustash
who I met coming out of Mister Levenworth's room with a key in his hand
the night Mr. Levenworth was murdered. He was so scared he gave me
money and made me go away and come here and keep every thing secret but
I can't do so no longer. I seem to see Miss Blenor all the time crying
and asking me if I want her sent to prisuu. God knows I 'd rathur die.
And this is the truth and my last words and I pray every body's
forgivness and hope nobody will blame me and that they wont bother Miss
Elenor any more but go and look after the handsome gentulman with the
BOOK IV. THE PROBLEM SOLVED
XXXIV. MR. GRYCE RESUMES CONTROL
"It out-herods Herod."
"A thing devised by the enemy."
A HALF-HOUR had passed. The train upon which I had every reason to
expect Mr. Gryce had arrived, and I stood in the doorway awaiting with
indescribable agitation the slow and labored approach of the motley
group of men and women whom I had observed leave the depot at the
departure of the cars. Would he be among them? Was the telegram of a
nature peremptory enough to make his presence here, sick as he was, an
absolute certainty? The written confession of Hannah throbbing against
my heart, a heart all elation now, as but a short half-hour before it
had been all doubt and struggle, seemed to rustle distrust, and the
prospect of a long afternoon spent in impatience was rising before me,
when a portion of the advancing crowd turned off into a side street,
and I saw the form of Mr. Gryce hobbling, not on two sticks, but very
painfully on one, coming slowly down the street.
His face, as he approached, was a study.
"Well, well, well," he exclaimed, as we met at the gate; "this is
a pretty how-dye-do, I must say. Hannah dead, eh? and everything
turned topsy-turvy! Humph, and what do you think of Mary Leavenworth
It would therefore seem natural, in the conversation which followed
his introduction into the house and installment in Mrs. Belden's
parlor, that I should begin my narration by showing him Hannah's
confession; but it was not so. Whether it was that I felt anxious to
have him go through the same alternations of hope and fear it had been
my lot to experience since I came to R----; or whether, in the
depravity of human nature, there lingered within me sufficient
resentment for the persistent disregard he had always paid to my
suspicions of Henry Clavering to make it a matter of moment to me to
spring this knowledge upon him just at the instant his own convictions
seemed to have reached the point of absolute certainty, I cannot say.
Enough that it was not till I had given him a full account of every
other matter connected with my stay in this house; not till I saw his
eye beaming, and his lip quivering with the excitement incident upon
the perusal of the letter from Mary, found in Mrs. Belden's pocket;
not, indeed, until I became assured from such expressions as
"Tremendous! The deepest game of the season! Nothing like it since the
Lafarge affair!" that in another moment he would be uttering some
theory or belief that once heard would forever stand like a barrier
between us, did I allow myself to hand him the letter I had taken from
under the dead body of Hannah.
I shall never forget his expression as he received it; "Good
heavens!" cried he, "what's this?"
"A dying confession of the girl Hannah. I found it lying in her bed
when I went up, a half-hour ago, to take a second look at her."
Opening it, he glanced over it with an incredulous air that
speedily, however, turned to one of the utmost astonishment, as he
hastily perused it, and then stood turning it over and over in his
hand, examining it.
"A remarkable piece of evidence," I observed, not without a certain
feeling of triumph; "quite changes the aspect of affairs!"
"Think so?" he sharply retorted; then, whilst I stood staring at
him in amazement, his manner was so different from what I expected,
looked up and said: "You tell me that you found this in her bed.
Whereabouts in her bed?"
"Under the body of the girl herself," I returned. "I saw one
corner of it protruding from beneath her shoulders, and drew it out."
He came and stood before me. "Was it folded or open, when you first
looked at it?"
"Folded; fastened up in this envelope," showing it to him.
He took it, looked at it for a moment, and went on with his
"This envelope has a very crumpled appearance, as well as the
letter itself. Were they so when you found them?"
"Yes, not only so, but doubled up as you see."
"Doubled up? You are sure of that? Folded, sealed, and then
doubled up as if her body had rolled across it while alive?"
"No trickery about it? No look as if the thing had been insinuated
there since her death?"
"Not at all. I should rather say that to every appearance she held
it in her hand when she lay down, but turning over, dropped it and then
laid upon it."
Mr. Gryce's eyes, which had been very bright, ominously clouded;
evidently he had been disappointed in my answers, paying the letter
down, he stood musing, but suddenly lifted it again, scrutinized the
edges of the paper on which it was written, and, darting me a quick
look, vanished with it into the shade of the window curtain. His manner
was so peculiar, I involuntarily rose to follow; but he waved me back,
"Amuse yourself with that box on the table, which you had such an
ado over; see if it contains all we have a right to expect to find in
it. I want to be by myself for a moment."
Subduing my astonishment, I proceeded to comply with his request,
but scarcely had I lifted the lid of the box before me when he came
hurrying back, flung the letter down on the table with an air of the
greatest excitement, and cried:
"Did I say there had never been anything like it since the Lafarge
affair? I tell you there has never been anything like it in any
affair. It is the rummest case on record! Mr. Raymond," and his eyes,
in his excitement, actually met mine for the first time in my
experience of him, "prepare yourself for a disappointment. This
pretended confession of Hannah's is a fraud!"
"Yes; fraud, forgery, what you will; the girl never wrote it."
Amazed, outraged almost, I bounded from my chair. "How do you know
that?" I cried.
Bending forward, he put the letter into my hand. "Look at it," said
he; "examine it closely. Now tell me what is the first thing you
notice in regard to it?"
"Why, the first thing that strikes me, is that the words are
printed, instead of written; something which might be expected from
this girl, according to all accounts."
"That they are printed on the inside of a sheet of ordinary
"That is, a sheet of commercial note of the ordinary quality."
"But is it?"
"Why, yes; I should say so."
"Look at the lines."
"What of them? Oh, I see, they run up close to the top of the page;
evidently the scissors have been used here."
"In short, it is a large sheet, trimmed down to the size of
"And is that all you see?"
"All but the words."
"Don't you perceive what has been lost by means of this trimming
"No, unless you mean the manufacturer's stamp in the corner." Mr.
Gryce's glance took meaning. "But I don't see why the loss of that
should be deemed a matter of any importance."
"Don't you? Not when you consider that by it we seem to be
deprived of all opportunity of tracing this sheet back to the quire of
paper from which it was taken?"
"Humph! then you are more of an amateur than I thought you. Don't
you see that, as Hannah could have had no motive for concealing where
the paper came from on which she wrote her dying words, this sheet must
have been prepared by some one else?"
"No," said I; "I cannot say that I see all that."
"Can't! Well then, answer me this. Why should Hannah, a girl about
to commit suicide, care whether any clue was furnished, in her
confession, to the actual desk, drawer, or quire of paper from which
the sheet was taken, on which she wrote it?"
"Yet especial pains have been taken to destroy that clue."
"Then there is another thing. Read the confession itself, Mr.
Raymond, and tell me what you gather from it."
"Why," said I, after complying, "that the girl, worn out with
constant apprehension, has made up her mind to do away with herself,
and that Henry Clavering----"
The interrogation was put with so much meaning, I looked up. "Yes,"
"Ah, I didn't know that Mr. Clavering's name was mentioned there;
"His name is not mentioned, but a description is given so
strikingly in accordance----"
Here Mr. Gryce interrupted me. "Does it not seem a little
surprising to you that a girl like Hannah should have stopped to
describe a man she knew by name?"
I started; it was unnatural surely.
"You believe Mrs. Belden's story, don't you?"
"Consider her accurate in her relation of what took place here a
"Must believe, then, that Hannah, the go-between, was acquainted
with Mr. Clavering and with his name?"
"Then why didn't she use it? If her intention was, as she here
professes, to save Eleanore Leavenworth from the false imputation which
had fallen upon her, she would naturally take the most direct method of
doing it. This description of a man whose identity she could have at
once put beyond a doubt by the mention of his name is the work, not of
a poor, ignorant girl, but of some person who, in attempting to play
the _role_ of one, has signally failed. But that is not all. Mrs.
Belden, according to you, maintains that Hannah told her, upon entering
the house, that Mary Leavenworth sent her here. But in this document,
she declares it to have been the work of Black Mustache."
"I know; but could they not have both been parties to the
"Yes," said he; "yet it is always a suspicious circumstance, when
there is a discrepancy between the written and spoken declaration of a
person. But why do we stand here fooling, when a few words from this
Mrs. Belden, you talk so much about, will probably settle the whole
"A few words from Mrs. Belden," I repeated. "I have had thousands
from her to-day, and find the matter no nearer settled than in the
"_You_ have had," said he, "but I have not. Fetch her in, Mr.
I rose. "One thing," said I, "before I go. What if Hannah had
found the sheet of paper, trimmed just as it is, and used it without
any thought of the suspicions it would occasion!"
"Ah!" said he, "that is just what we are going to find out."
Mrs. Belden was in a flutter of impatience when I entered the
sitting-room. When did I think the coroner would come? and what did I
imagine this detective would do for us? It was dreadful waiting there
alone for something, she knew not what.
I calmed her as well as I could, telling her the detective had not
yet informed me what he could do, having some questions to ask her
first. Would she come in to see him? She rose with alacrity. Anything
was better than suspense.
Mr. Gryce, who in the short interim of my absence had altered his
mood from the severe to the beneficent, received Mrs. Belden with just
that show of respectful courtesy likely to impress a woman as dependent
as she upon the good opinion of others.
"Ah! and this is the lady in whose house this very disagreeable
event has occurred," he exclaimed, partly rising in his enthusiasm to
greet her. "May I request you to sit," he asked; "if a stranger may
be allowed to take the liberty of inviting a lady to sit in her own
"It does not seem like my own house any longer," said she, but in a
sad, rather than an aggressive tone; so much had his genial way
imposed upon her." Little better than a prisoner here, go and come,
keep silence or speak, just as I am bidden; and all because an unhappy
creature, whom I took in for the most unselfish of motives, has chanced
to die in my house!"
"Just so!" exclaimed Mr. Gryce; "it is very unjust. But perhaps
we can right matters. I have every reason to believe we can. This
sudden death ought to be easily explained. You say you had no poison in
"And that the girl never went out?"
"And that no one has ever been here to see her?"
"No one, sir."
"So that she could not have procured any such thing if she had
"Unless," he added suavely, "she had it with her when she came
"That couldn't have been, sir. She brought no baggage; and as for
her pocket, I know everything there was in it, for I looked."
"And what did you find there?"
"Some money in bills, more than you would have expected such a girl
to have, some loose pennies, and a common handkerchief."
"Well, then, it is proved the girl didn't die of poison, there
being none in the house."
He said this in so convinced a tone she was deceived.
"That is just what I have been telling Mr. Raymond," giving me a
"Must have been heart disease," he went on, "You say she was
"Yes, sir; or seemed so."
"Though not cheerful?"
"I did not say that; she was, sir, very."
"What, ma'am, this girl?" giving me a look. "I don't understand
that. I should think her anxiety about those she had left behind her in
the city would have been enough to keep her from being very cheerful."
"So you would," returned Mrs. Belden; "but it wasn't so. On the
contrary, she never seemed to worry about them at all."
"What! not about Miss Eleanore, who, according to the papers,
stands in so cruel a position before the world? But perhaps she didn't
know anything about that--Miss Leavenworth's position, I mean?"
"Yes, she did, for I told her. I was so astonished I could not keep
it to myself. You see, I had always considered Eleanore as one above
reproach, and it so shocked me to see her name mentioned in the
newspaper in such a connection, that I went to Hannah and read the
article aloud, and watched her face to see how she took it."
"And how did she?"
"I can't say. She looked as if she didn't understand; asked me why
I read such things to her, and told me she didn't want to hear any more;
that I had promised not to trouble her about this murder, and that if
I continued to do so she wouldn't listen."
"Humph! and what else?"
"Nothing else. She put her hand over her ears and frowned in such a
sullen way I left the room."
"That was when?"
"About three weeks ago."
"She has, however, mentioned the subject since?"
"No, sir; not once."
"What! not asked what they were going to do with her mistress?"
"She has shown, however, that something was preying on her mind--
fear, remorse, or anxiety?"
"No, sir; on the contrary, she has oftener appeared like one
"But," exclaimed Mr. Gryce, with another sidelong look at me,
"that was very strange and unnatural. I cannot account for it."
"Nor I, sir. I used to try to explain it by thinking her
sensibilities had been blunted, or that she was too ignorant to
comprehend the seriousness of what had happened; but as I learned to
know her better, I gradually changed my mind. There was too much method
in her gayety for that. I could not help seeing she had some future
before her for which she was preparing herself. As, for instance, she
asked me one day if I thought she could learn to play on the piano. And
I finally came to the conclusion she had been promised money if she
kept the secret intrusted to her, and was so pleased with the prospect
that she forgot the dreadful past, and all connected with it. At all
events, that was the only explanation I could find for her general
industry and desire to improve herself, or for the complacent smiles I
detected now and then stealing over her face when she didn't know I was
Not such a smile as crept over the countenance of Mr. Gryce at that
moment, I warrant.
"It was all this," continued Mrs. Belden, "which made her death
such a shock to me. I couldn't believe that so cheerful and healthy a
creature could die like that, all in one night, without anybody knowing
anything about it. But----"
"Wait one moment," Mr. Gryce here broke in. "You speak of her
endeavors to improve herself. What do you mean by that?"
"Her desire to learn things she didn't know; as, for instance, to
write and read writing. She could only clumsily print when she came
I thought Mr. Gryce would take a piece out of my arm, he griped it
"When she came here! Do you mean to say that since she has been
with you she has learned to write?"
"Yes, sir; I used to set her copies and----"
"Where are these copies?" broke in Mr. Gryce, subduing his voice to
its most professional tone. "And where are her attempts at writing?
I'd like to see some of them. Can't you get them for us?"
"I don't know, sir. I always made it a point to destroy them as
soon as they had answered their purpose. I didn't like to have such
things lying around. But I will go see."
"Do," said he; "and I will go with you. I want to take a look at
things upstairs, any way." And, heedless of his rheumatic feet, he
rose and prepared to accompany her.
"This is getting very intense," I whispered, as he passed me.
The smile he gave me in reply would have made the fortune of a
Of the ten minutes of suspense which I endured in their absence, I
say nothing. At the end of that time they returned with their hands
full of paper boxes, which they flung down on the table.
"The writing-paper of the household," observed Mr. Gryce; "every
scrap and half-sheet which could be found. But, before you examine it,
look at this." And he held out a sheet of bluish foolscap, on which
were written some dozen imitations of that time-worn copy, "BE GOOD
AND YOU WILL BE HAPPY"; with an occasional "_Beauty soon fades,"_
and "_Evil communications corrupt good manners."_
"What do you think of that?"
"Very neat and very legible."
"That is Hannah's latest. The only specimens of her writing to be
found. Not much like some scrawls we have seen, eh?"
"Mrs. Belden says this girl has known how to write as good as this
for more than a week. Took great pride in it, and was continually
talking about how smart she was." Leaning over, he whispered in my ear,
"This thing you have in your hand must have been scrawled some time
ago, if she did it." Then aloud: "But let us look at the paper she
used to write on."
Dashing open the covers of the boxes on the table, he took out the
loose sheets lying inside, and scattered them out before me. One glance
showed they were all of an utterly different quality from that used in
the confession. "This is all the paper in the house," said he.
"Are you sure of that?" I asked, looking at Mrs. Belden, who
stood in a sort of maze before us. "Wasn't there one stray sheet
lying around somewhere, foolscap or something like that, which she
might have got hold of and used without your knowing it?"
"No, sir; I don't think so. I had only these kinds; besides, Hannah
had a whole pile of paper like this in her room, and wouldn't have been
apt to go hunting round after any stray sheets."
"But you don't know what a girl like that might do. Look at this
one," said I, showing her the blank side of the confession. "Couldn't
a sheet like this have come from somewhere about the house? Examine it
well; the matter is important."
"I have, and I say, no, I never had a sheet of paper like that in
Mr. Gryce advanced and took the confession from my hand. As he did
so, he whispered: "What do you think now? Many chances that Hannah
got up this precious document?"
I shook my head, convinced at last; but in another moment turned to
him and whispered back: "But, if Hannah didn't write it, who did? And
how came it to be found where it was?"
"That," said he, "is just what is left for us to learn." And,
beginning again, he put question after question concerning the girl's
life in the house, receiving answers which only tended to show that she
could not have brought the confession with her, much less received it
from a secret messenger. Unless we doubted Mrs. Belden's word, the
mystery seemed impenetrable, and I was beginning to despair of success,
when Mr. Gryce, with an askance look at me, leaned towards Mrs. Belden
"You received a letter from Miss Mary Leavenworth yesterday, I
"_This_ letter?" he continued, showing it to her.
"Now I want to ask you a question. Was the letter, as you see it,
the only contents of the envelope in which it came? Wasn't there one
for Hannah enclosed with it?"
"No, sir. There was nothing in my letter for her; but she had a
letter herself yesterday. It came in the same mail with mine."
"Hannah had a letter! "we both exclaimed; "and in the mail?"
"Yes; but it was not directed to her. It was"--casting me a look
full of despair, "directed to me. It was only by a certain mark in the
corner of the envelope that I knew----"
"Good heaven!" I interrupted; "where is this letter? Why didn't
you speak of it before? What do you mean by allowing us to flounder
about here in the dark, when a glimpse at this letter might have set us
right at once?"
"I didn't think anything about it till this minute. I didn't know
it was of importance. I----"
But I couldn't restrain myself. "Mrs. Belden, where is this letter?"
I demanded. "Have you got it?"
"No," said she; "I gave it to the girl yesterday; I haven't seen
"It must be upstairs, then. let us take another look," and I
hastened towards the door.
"You won't find it," said Mr. Gryce at my elbow. "I have looked.
There is nothing but a pile of burned paper in the corner. By the way,
what could that have been?" he asked of Mrs. Belden.
"I don't know, sir. She hadn't anything to burn unless it was the
"We will see about that," I muttered, hurrying upstairs and
bringing down the wash-bowl with its contents. "If the letter was the
one I saw in your hand at the post-office, it was in a yellow envelope."
"Yellow envelopes burn differently from white paper. I ought to be
able to tell the tinder made by a yellow envelope when I see it. Ah,
the letter has been destroyed; here is a piece of the envelope," and I
drew out of the heap of charred scraps a small bit less burnt than the
rest, and held it up.
"Then there is no use looking here for what the letter contained,"
said Mr. Gryce, putting the wash-bowl aside. "We will have to ask you,
"But I don't know. It was directed to me, to be sure; but Hannah
told me, when she first requested me to teach her how to write, that
she expected such a letter, so I didn't open it when it came, but gave
it to her just as it was."
"You, however, stayed by to see her read it?"
"No, sir; I was in too much of a flurry. Mr. Raymond had just come
and I had no time to think of her. My own letter, too, was troubling
"But you surely asked her some questions about it before the day
"Yes, sir, when I went up with her tea things; but she had nothing
to say. Hannah could be as reticent as any one I ever knew, when she
pleased. She didn't even admit it was from her mistress."
"Ah! then you thought it was from Miss Leavenworth?"
"Why, yes, sir; what else was I to think, seeing that mark in the
corner? Though, to be sure, it might have been put there by Mr.
Clavering," she thoughtfully added.
"You say she was cheerful yesterday; was she so after receiving
"Yes, sir; as far as I could see. I wasn't with her long; the
necessity I felt of doing something with the box in my charge--but
perhaps Mr. Raymond has told you?"
Mr. Gryce nodded.
"It was an exhausting evening, and quite put Hannah out of my head,
"Wait!" cried Mr. Gryce, and beckoning me into a corner, he
whispered, "Now comes in that experience of Q's. While you are gone
from the house, and before Mrs. Belden sees Hannah again, he has a
glimpse of the girl bending over something in the corner of her room
which may very fairly be the wash-bowl we found there. After which, he
sees her swallow, in the most lively way, a dose of something from a
bit of paper. Was there anything more?"
"No," said I.
"Very well, then," he cried, going back to Mrs. Belden. "But----"
"But when I went upstairs to bed, I thought of the girl, and going
to her door opened it. The light was extinguished, and she seemed
asleep, so I closed it again and came out."
"Did you notice how she was lying?"
"Not particularly. I think on her back."
"In something of the same position in which she was found this
"And that is all you can tell us, either of her letter or her
Mr. Gryce straightened himself up.
"Mrs. Belden," said he, "you know Mr. Clavering's handwriting when
_yon_ see it?"
"And Miss Leavenworth's?"
"Now, which of the two was upon the envelope of the letter you gave
"I couldn't say. It was a disguised handwriting and might have been
that of either; but I think----"
"That it was more like hers than his, though it wasn't like hers
With a smile, Mr. Gryce enclosed the confession in his hand in the
envelope in which it had been found. "You remember how large the
letter was which you gave her?"
"Oh, it was large, very large; one of the largest sort."
"O yes; thick enough for two letters."
"Large enough and thick enough to contain this?" laying the
confession, folded and enveloped as it was, before her."
"Yes, sir," giving it a look of startled amazement, "large enough
and thick enough to contain that."
Mr. Gryce's eyes, bright as diamonds, flashed around the room, and
finally settled upon a fly traversing my coat-sleeve. "Do you need
to ask now," he whispered, in a low voice, "where, and from whom,
this so-called confession comes?"
He allowed himself one moment of silent triumph, then rising, began
folding the papers on the table and putting them in his pocket.
"What are you going to do?" I asked, hurriedly approaching.
He took me by the arm and led me across the hall into toe
sitting-room. "I am going back to New York, ram going to pursue this
matter. I am going to find out from, whom came the poison which killed
this girl, and by whose hand this vile forgery of a confession was
"But," said I, rather thrown off my balance by all this, "Q
and the coroner will be here presently, won't you wait to see them?"
"No; clues such as are given here must be followed while the trail
is hot; I can't afford to wait."
"If I am not mistaken, they have already come," I remarked, as a
tramping of feet without announced that some one stood at the door.
"That is so," he assented, hastening to let them in.
Judging from common experience, we had every reason to fear that an
immediate stop would be put to all proceedings on our part, as soon as
the coroner was introduced upon the scene. But happily for us and the
interest at stake, Dr. Fink, of R ---- , proved to be a very sensible
man. He had only to hear a true story of the affair to recognize at
once its importance and the necessity of the most cautious action in
the matter. Further, by a sort of sympathy with Mr. Gryce, all the more
remarkable that he had never seen him before, he expressed himself as
willing to enter into our plans, offering not only to allow us the
temporary use of such papers as we desired, but even undertaking to
conduct the necessary formalities of calling a jury and instituting an
inquest in such a way as to give us time for the investigations we
proposed to make.
The delay was therefore short. Mr. Gryce was enabled to take the
6:30 train for New York, and I to follow on the 10 p.m.,--the calling
of a jury, ordering of an autopsy, and final adjournment of the inquiry
till the following Tuesday, having all taken place in the interim.
XXXV. FINE WORK
"No hinge nor loop
To hang a doubt on!"
"But yet the pity of it, Iago!
Oh, Iago, the pity of it, Iago."
One sentence dropped by Mr. Gryce before leaving R---- prepared me
for his next move.
"The clue to this murder is supplied by the paper on which the
confession is written. Find from whose desk or portfolio this especial
sheet was taken, and you find the double murderer," he had said.
Consequently, I was not surprised when, upon visiting his house,
early the next morning, I beheld him seated before a table on which lay
a lady's writing-desk and a pile of paper, till told the desk was
Eleanore's. Then I did show astonishment. "What," said I, "are you
not satisfied yet of her innocence?"
"O yes; but one must be thorough. No conclusion is valuable which
is not preceded by a full and complete investigation. Why," he cried,
casting his eyes complacently towards the fire-tongs, "I have even
been rummaging through Mr. Clavering's effects, though the confession
bears the proof upon its face that it could not have been written by
him. It is not enough to look for evidence where you expect to find it.
You must sometimes search for it where you don't. Now," said he,
drawing the desk before him, "I don't anticipate finding anything here
of a criminating character; but it is among the possibilities that I
may; and that is enough for a detective."
"Did you see Miss Leavenworth this morning?" I asked, as he
proceeded to fulfil his intention by emptying the contents of the desk
upon the table.
"Yes; I was unable to procure what I desired without it. And she
behaved very handsomely, gave me the desk with her own hands, and never
raised an objection. To be sure, she had little idea what I was looking
for; thought, perhaps, I wanted to make sure it did not contain the
letter about which so much has been said. But it would have made but
little difference if she had known the truth. This desk contains
nothing _we_ want."
"Was she well; and had she heard of Hannah's sudden death?"
I asked, in my irrepressible anxiety.
"Yes, and feels it, as you might expect her to. But let us see what
we have here," said he, pushing aside the desk, and drawing towards him
the stack of paper I have already referred to. "I found this pile, just
as you see it, in a drawer of the library table at Miss Mary
Leavenworth's house in Fifth Avenue. If I am not mistaken, it will
supply us with the clue we want."