Part 6 out of 8
sure to attend it. Mr. Carling sided enthusiastically with the
members who espoused this latter side of the question, and the
object of his pamphlet was to address the subscribers to the
society on the subject, and so to interest them in it as to win
their charitable support, on a larger scale than usual, to the
He had worked hard at his pamphlet, and had got more than half
way through it, when he found himself brought to a stand-still
for want of certain facts which had been produced on the
discussion of the question eight years since, and which were
necessary to the full and fair statement of his case.
At first he thought of writing to the secretary of the society
for information; but, remembering that he had not held his office
more than two years, he had thought it little likely that this
gentleman would be able to help him, and looked back to his own
Diary of the period to see if he had made any notes in it
relating to the original discussion of the affair. He found a
note referring in general terms only to the matter in hand, but
alluding at the end to a report in the _Times_ of the proceedings
of a deputation from the society which had waited on a member of
the government of that day, and to certain letters to the editor
which had followed the publication of the report. The note
described these letters as "very important," and Mr. Carling
felt, as he put his Diary away again, that the successful
conclusion of his pamphlet now depended on his being able to get
access to the back numbers of the _Times_ of eight years since.
It was winter time when he was thus stopped in his work, and the
prospect of a journey to London (the only place he knew of at
which files of the paper were to be found) did not present many
attractions; and yet he could see no other and easier means of
effecting his object. After considering for a little while and
arriving at no positive conclusion, he left the study, and went
into the drawing-room to consult his wife.
He found her working industriously by the blazing fire. She
looked so happy and comfortable--so gentle and charming in her
pretty little lace cap, and her warm brown morning-dress, with
its bright cherry-colored ribbons, and its delicate swan's down
trimming circling round her neck and nestling over her bosom,
that he stooped and kissed her with the tenderness of his
bridegroom days before he spoke. When he told her of the cause
that had suspended his literary occupation, she listened, with
the sensation of the kiss still lingering in her downcast eyes
and her smiling lips, until he came to the subject of his Diary
and its reference to the newspaper.
As he mentioned the name of the _Times_ she altered and looked
him straight in the face gravely.
"Can you suggest any plan, love," he went on, "which may save me
the necessity of a journey to London at this bleak time of the
year? I must positively have this information, and, so far as I
can see, London is the only place at which I can hope to meet
with a file of the _Times_."
"A file of the _Times?_" she repeated.
"Yes--of eight years since," he said.
The instant the words passed his lips he saw her face overspread
by a ghastly paleness; her eyes fixed on him with a strange
mixture of rigidity and vacancy in their look; her hands, with
her work held tight in them, dropped slowly on her lap, and a
shiver ran through her from head to foot.
He sprang to his feet, and snatched the smelling-salts from her
work-table, thinking she was going to faint. She put the bottle
from her, when he offered it, with a hand that thrilled him with
the deadly coldness of its touch, and said, in a whisper:
"A sudden chill, dear--let me go upstairs and lie down."
He took her to her room. As he laid her down on the bed, she
caught his hand, and said, entreatingly:
"You won't go to London, darling, and leave me here ill?"
He promised that nothing should separate him from her until she
was well again, and then ran downstairs to send for the doctor.
The doctor came, and pronounced that Mrs. Carling was only
suffering from a nervous attack; that there was not the least
reason to be alarmed; and that, with proper care, she would be
well again in a few days.
Both husband and wife had a dinner engagement in the town for
that evening. Mr. Carling proposed to write an apology and to
remain with his wife. But she would not hear of his abandoning
the party on her account. The doctor also recommended that his
patient should be left to her maid's care, to fall asleep under
the influence of the quieting medicine which he meant to give
her. Yielding to this advice, Mr. Carling did his best to
suppress his own anxieties, and went to the dinner-party.
AMONG the guests whom the rector met was a gentleman named
Rambert, a single man of large fortune, well known in the
neighborhood of Penliddy as the owner of a noble country-seat and
the possessor of a magnificent library.
Mr. Rambert (with whom Mr. Carling was well acquainted) greeted
him at the dinner-party with friendly expressions of regret at
the time that had elapsed since they had last seen each other,
and mentioned that he had recently been adding to his collection
of books some rare old volumes of theology, which he thought the
rector might find it useful to look over. Mr. Carling, with the
necessity of finishing his pamphlet uppermost in his mind,
replied, jestingly, that the species of literature which he was
just then most interested in examining happened to be precisely
of the sort which (excepting novels, perhaps) had least affinity
to theological writing. The necessary explanation followed this
avowal as a matter of course, and, to Mr. Carling's great
delight, his friend turned on him gayly with the most surprising
and satisfactory of answers:
"You don't know half the resources of my miles of bookshelves,"
he said, "or you would never have thought of going to London for
what you can get from me. A whole side of one of my rooms
upstairs is devoted to periodical literature. I have reviews,
magazines, and three weekly newspapers, bound, in each case, from
the first number; and, what is just now more to your purpose, I
have the _Times_ for the last fifteen years in huge half-yearly
volumes. Give me the date to-night, and you shall have the volume
you want by two o'clock to-morrow afternoon."
The necessary information was given at once, and, with a great
sense of relief, so far as his literary anxieties were concerned,
Mr. Carling went home early to see what the quieting medicine had
done for his wife.
She had dozed a little, but had not slept. However, she was
evidently better, for she was able to take an interest in the
sayings and doings at the dinner-party, and questioned her
husband about the guests and the conversation with all a woman's
curiosity about the minutest matters. She lay with her face
turned toward him and her eyes meeting his, until the course of
her inquiries drew an answer from him, which informed her of his
fortunate discovery in relation to Mr. Rambert's library, and of
the prospect it afforded of his resuming his labors the next day.
When he mentioned this circumstance, she suddenly turned her head
on the pillow so that her face was hidden from him, and he cou ld
see through the counterpane that the shivering, which he had
observed when her illness had seized her in the morning, had
"I am only cold," she said, in a hurried way, with her face under
He rang for the maid, and had a fresh covering placed on the bed.
Observing that she seemed unwilling to be disturbed, he did not
remove the clothes from her face when he wished her goodnight,
but pressed his lips on her head, and patted it gently with his
hand. She shrank at the touch as if it hurt her, light as it was,
and he went downstairs, resolved to send for the doctor again if
she did not get to rest on being left quiet. In less than half an
hour afterward the maid came down and relieved his anxiety by
reporting that her mistress was asleep.
The next morning he found her in better spirits. Her eyes, she
said, felt too weak to bear the light, so she kept the bedroom
darkened. But in other respects she had little to complain of.
After answering her husband's first inquiries, she questioned him
about his plans for the day. He had letters to write which would
occupy him until twelve o'clock. At two o'clock he expected the
volume of the _Times_ to arrive, and he should then devote the
rest of the afternoon to his work. After hearing what his plans
were, Mrs. Carling suggested that he should ride out after he had
done his letters, so as to get some exercise at the fine part of
the day; and she then reminded him that a longer time than usual
had elapsed since he had been to see a certain old pensioner of
his, who had nursed him as a child, and who was now bedridden, in
a village at some distance, called Tringweighton. Although the
rector saw no immediate necessity for making this charitable
visit, the more especially as the ride to the village and back,
and the intermediate time devoted to gossip, would occupy at
least two hours and a half, he assented to his wife's proposal,
perceiving that she urged it with unusual earnestness, and being
unwilling to thwart her, even in a trifle, at a time when she was
Accordingly, his horse was at the door at twelve precisely.
Impatient to get back to the precious volume of the _Times,_ he
rode so much faster than usual, and so shortened his visit to the
old woman, that he was home again by a quarter past two.
Ascertaining from the servant who opened the door that the volume
had been left by Mr. Rambert's messenger punctually at two, he
ran up to his wife's room to tell her about his visit before he
secluded himself for the rest of the afternoon over his work. On
entering the bedroom he found it still darkened, and he was
struck by a smell of burned paper in it.
His wife (who was now dressed in her wrapper and lying on the
sofa) accounted for the smell by telling him that she had fancied
the room felt close, and that she had burned some paper--being
afraid of the cold air if she opened the window--to fumigate it.
Her eyes were evidently still weak, for she kept her hand over
them while she spoke. After remaining with her long enough to
relate the few trivial events of his ride, Mr. Carling descended
to his study to occupy himself at last with the volume of the
It lay on his table in the shape of a large flat brown paper
package. On proceeding to undo the covering, he observed that it
had been very carelessly tied up. The strings were crooked and
loosely knotted, and the direction bearing his name and address,
instead of being in the middle of the paper, was awkwardly folded
over at the edge of the volume. However, his business was with
the inside of the parcel; so he tossed away the covering and the
string, and began at once to hunt through the volume for the
particular number of the paper which he wished first to consult.
He soon found it, with the report of the speeches delivered by
the members of the deputation, and the answer returned by the
minister. After reading through the report, and putting a mark in
the place where it occurred, he turned to the next day's number
of the paper, to see what further hints on the subject the
letters addressed to the editor might happen to contain.
To his inexpressible vexation and amazement, he found that one
number of the paper was missing.
He bent the two sides of the volume back, looked closely between
the leaves, and saw immediately that the missing number had been
A vague sense of something like alarm began to mingle with his
first feeling of disappointment. He wrote at once to Mr. Rambert,
mentioning the discovery he had just made, and sent the note off
by his groom, with orders to the man to wait for an answer.
The reply with which the servant returned was almost insolent in
the shortness and coolness of its tone. Mr. Rambert had no books
in his library which were not in perfect condition. The volume of
the _Times_ had left his house perfect, and whatever blame might
attach to the mutilation of it rested therefore on other
shoulders than those of the owner.
Like many other weak men, Mr. Carling was secretly touchy on the
subject of his dignity. After reading the note and questioning
his servants, who were certain that the volume had not been
touched till he had opened it, he resolved that the missing
number of the _Times_ should be procured at any expense and
inserted in its place; that the volume should be sent back
instantly without a word of comment; and that no more books from
Mr. Rambert's library should enter his house.
He walked up and down the study considering what first step he
should take to effect the purpose in view. Under the quickening
influence of his irritation, an idea occurred to him, which, if
it had only entered his mind the day before, might probably have
proved the means of saving him from placing himself under an
obligation to Mr. Rambert. He resolved to write immediately to
his bookseller and publisher in London (who knew him well as an
old and excellent customer), mentioning the date of the back
number of the _Times_ that was required, and authorizing the
publisher to offer any reward he judged necessary to any person
who might have the means of procuring it at the office of the
paper or elsewhere. This letter he wrote and dispatched in good
time for the London post, and then went upstairs to see his wife
and to tell her what had happened. Her room was still darkened
and she was still on the sofa. On the subject of the missing
number she said nothing, but of Mr. Rambert and his note she
spoke with the most sovereign contempt. Of course the pompous old
fool was mistaken, and the proper thing to do was to send back
the volume instantly and take no more notice of him.
"It shall be sent back," said Mr. Carling, "but not till the
missing number is replaced." And he then told her what he had
The effect of that simple piece of information on Mrs. Carling
was so extraordinary and so unaccountable that her husband fairly
stood aghast. For the first time since their marriage he saw her
temper suddenly in a flame. She started up from the sofa and
walked about the room as if she had lost her senses, upbraiding
him for making the weakest of concessions to Mr. Rambert's
insolent assumption that the rector was to blame. If she could
only have laid hands on that letter, she would have consulted her
husband's dignity and independence by putting it in the fire! She
hoped and prayed the number of the paper might not be found! In
fact, it was certain that the number, after all these years,
could not possibly be hunted up. The idea of his acknowledging
himself to be in the wrong in that way, when he knew himself to
be in the right! It was almost ridiculous--no, it was _quite_
ridiculous! And she threw herself back on the sofa, and suddenly
burst out laughing.
At the first word of remonstrance which fell from her husband's
lips her mood changed again in an instant. She sprang up once
more, kissed him passionately, with the tears streaming from her
eyes, and implored him to leave her alone to recover herself. He
quitted the room so seriously alarmed about her that he resolved
to go to the doctor privately and question him on the spot. There
was an unspeakable dread in his mind that the ner vous attack
from which she had been pronounced to be suffering might be a
mere phrase intended to prepare him for the future disclosure of
something infinitely and indescribably worse.
The doctor, on hearing Mr. Carling's report, exhibited no
surprise and held to his opinion. Her nervous system was out of
order, and her husband had been needlessly frightened by a
hysterical paroxysm. If she did not get better in a week, change
of scene might then be tried. In the meantime, there was not the
least cause for alarm.
On the next day she was quieter, but she hardly spoke at all. At
night she slept well, and Mr. Carling's faith in the medical man
The morning after was the morning which would bring the answer
from the publisher in London. The rector's study was on the
ground floor, and when he heard the postman's knock, being
especially anxious that morning about his correspondence, he went
out into the hall to receive his letters the moment they were put
on the table.
It was not the footman who had answered the door, as usual, but
Mrs. Carling's maid. She had taken the letters from the postman,
and she was going away with them upstairs.
He stopped her, and asked her why she did not put the letters on
the hall table as usual. The maid, looking very much confused,
said that her mistress had desired that whatever the postman had
brought that morning should be carried up to her room. He took
the letters abruptly from the girl, without asking any more
questions, and went back into his study.
Up to this time no shadow of a suspicion had fallen on his mind.
Hitherto there had been a simple obvious explanation for every
unusual event that had occurred during the last three or four
days; but this last circumstance in connection with the letters
was not to be accounted for. Nevertheless, even now, it was not
distrust of his wife that was busy at his mind--he was too fond
of her and too proud of her to feel it--the sensation was more
like uneasy surprise. He longed to go and question her, and get a
satisfactory answer, and have done with it. But there was a voice
speaking within him that had never made itself heard before--a
voice with a persistent warning in it, that said, Wait; and look
at your letters first.
He spread them out on the table with hands that trembled he knew
not why. Among them was the back number of the _Times_ for which
he had written to London, with a letter from the publisher
explaining the means by which the copy had been procured.
He opened the newspaper with a vague feeling of alarm at finding
that those letters to the editor which he had been so eager to
read, and that perfecting of the mutilated volume which he had
been so anxious to accomplish, had become objects of secondary
importance in his mind. An inexplicable curiosity about the
general contents of the paper was now the one moving influence
which asserted itself within him, he spread open the broad sheet
on the table.
The first page on which his eye fell was the page on the
right-hand side. It contained those very letters--three in
number--which he had once been so anxious to see. He tried to
read them, but no effort could fix his wandering attention. He
looked aside to the opposite page, on the left hand. It was the
page that contained the leading articles.
They were three in number. The first was on foreign politics; the
second was a sarcastic commentary on a recent division in the
House of Lords; the third was one of those articles on social
subjects which have greatly and honorably helped to raise the
reputation of the _Times_ above all contest and all rivalry.
The lines of this third article which first caught his eye
comprised the opening sentence of the second paragraph, and
contained these words:
It appears, from the narrative which will be found in another
part of our columns, that this unfortunate woman married, in the
spring of the year 18--, one Mr. Fergus Duncan, of Glendarn, in
the Highlands of Scotland. . .
The letters swam and mingled together under his eyes before he
could go on to the next sentence. His wife exhibited as an object
for public compassion in the _Times_ newspaper! On the brink of
the dreadful discovery that was advancing on him, his mind reeled
back, and a deadly faintness came over him. There was water on a
side-table--he drank a deep draught of it--roused himself--seized
on the newspaper with both hands, as if it had been a living
thing that could feel the desperate resolution of his grasp, and
read the article through, sentence by sentence, word by word.
The subject was the Law of Divorce, and the example quoted was
the example of his wife.
At that time England stood disgracefully alone as the one
civilized country in the world having a divorce law for the
husband which was not also a divorce law for the wife. The writer
in the _Times_ boldly and eloquently exposed this discreditable
anomaly in the administration of justice; hinted delicately at
the unutterable wrongs suffered by Mrs. Duncan; and plainly
showed that she was indebted to the accident of having been
married in Scotland, and to her consequent right of appeal to the
Scotch tribunals, for a full and final release from the tie that
bound her to the vilest of husbands, which the English law of
that day would have mercilessly refused.
He read that. Other men might have gone on to the narrative
extracted from the Scotch newspaper. But at the last word of the
article _he_ stopped.
The newspaper, and the unread details which it contained, lost
all hold on his attention in an instant, and in their stead,
living and burning on his mind, like the Letters of Doom on the
walls of Belshazzar, there rose up in judgment against him the
last words of a verse in the Gospel of Saint Luke--
_"Whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband,
He had preached from these words, he had warned his hearers, with
the whole strength of the fanatical sincerity that was in him, to
beware of prevaricating with the prohibition which that verse
contained, and to accept it as literally, unreservedly, finally
forbidding the marriage of a divorced woman. He had insisted on
that plain interpretation of plain words in terms which had made
his congregation tremble. And now he stood alone in the secrecy
of his own chamber self-convicted of the deadly sin which he had
denounced--he stood, as he had told the wicked among his hearers
that they would stand at the Last Day, before the Judgment Seat.
He was unconscious of the lapse of time; he never knew whether it
was many minutes or few before the door of his room was suddenly
and softly opened. It did open, and his wife came in.
In her white dress, with a white shawl thrown over her shoulders;
her dark hair, so neat and glossy at other times, hanging tangled
about her colorless cheeks, and heightening the glassy brightness
of terror in her eyes--so he saw her; the woman put away from her
husband--the woman whose love had made his life happy and had
stained his soul with a deadly sin.
She came on to within a few paces of him without a word or a
tear, or a shadow of change passing over the dreadful rigidity of
her face. She looked at him with a strange look; she pointed to
the newspaper crumpled in his hand with a strange gesture; she
spoke to him in a strange voice.
"You know it!" she said.
His eyes met hers--she shrank from them--turned--and laid her
arms and her head heavily against the wall.
"Oh, Alfred," she said, "I was so lonely in the world, and I was
so fond of you!"
The woman's delicacy, the woman's trembling tenderness welled up
from her heart, and touched her voice with a tone of its old
sweetness as she murmured those simple words.
She said no more. Her confession of her fault, her appeal to
their past love for pardon, were both poured forth in that one
sentence. She left it to his own heart to tell him the rest. How
anxiously her vigilant love had followed his every word and
treasured up his every opinion in the days when they first met;
how weakly and falsely, and yet with how true an affection for
him, she had shrunk from the disclosure which she knew but too
well would have separ ated them even at the church door; how
desperately she had fought against the coming discovery which
threatened to tear her from the bosom she clung to, and to cast
her out into the world with the shadow of her own shame to darken
her life to the end--all this she left him to feel; for the
moment which might part them forever was the moment when she knew
best how truly, how passionately he had loved her.
His lips trembled as he stood looking at her in silence, and the
slow, burning tears dropped heavily, one by one, down his cheeks.
The natural human remembrance of the golden days of their
companionship, of the nights and nights when that dear
head--turned away from him now in unutterable misery and
shame--had nestled itself so fondly and so happily on his breast,
fought hard to silence his conscience, to root out his dreadful
sense of guilt, to tear the words of Judgment from their ruthless
hold on his mind, to claim him in the sweet names of Pity and of
Love. If she had turned and looked at him at that moment, their
next words would have been spoken in each other's arms. But the
oppression of her despair under his silence was too heavy for
her, and she never moved.
He forced himself to look away from her; he struggled hard to
break the silence between them.
"God forgive you, Emily!" he said.
As her name passed his lips, his voice failed him, and the
torture at his heart burst its way out in sobs. He hurried to the
door to spare her the terrible reproof of the grief that had now
mastered him. When he passed her she turned toward him with a
He caught her as she sank forward, and saved her from dropping on
the floor. For the last time his arms closed round her. For the
last time his lips touched hers--cold and insensible to him now.
He laid her on the sofa and went out.
One of the female servants was crossing the hall. The girl
started as she met him, and turned pale at the sight of his face.
He could not speak to her, but he pointed to the study door. He
saw her go into the room, and then left the house.
He never entered it more, and he and his wife never met again.
Later on that last day, a sister of Mr. Carling's--a married
woman living in the town--came to the rectory. She brought an
open note with her, addressed to the unhappy mistress of the
house. It contained these few lines, blotted and stained with
May God grant us both the time for repentance! If I had loved you
less, I might have trusted myself to see you again. Forgive me,
and pity me, and remember me in your prayers, as I shall forgive,
and pity, and remember you.
He had tried to write more, but the pen had dropped from his
hand. His sister's entreaties had not moved him. After giving her
the note to deliver, he had solemnly charged her to be gentle in
communicating the tidings that she bore, and had departed alone
for London. He heard all remonstrances with patience. He did not
deny that the deception of which his wife had been guilty was the
most pardonable of all concealments of the truth, because it
sprang from her love for him; but he had the same hopeless answer
for every one who tried to plead with him--the verse from the
Gospel of Saint Luke.
His purpose in traveling to London was to make the necessary
arrangements for his wife's future existence, and then to get
employment which would separate him from his home and from all
its associations. A missionary expedition to one of the Pacific
Islands accepted him as a volunteer. Broken in body and spirit,
his last look of England from the deck of the ship was his last
look at land. A fortnight afterward, his brethren read the
burial-service over him on a calm, cloudless evening at sea.
Before he was committed to the deep, his little pocket Bible,
which had been a present from his wife, was, in accordance with
his dying wishes, placed open on his breast, so that the
inscription, "To my dear Husband," might rest over his heart.
His unhappy wife still lives. When the farewell lines of her
husband's writing reached her she was incapable of comprehending
them. The mental prostration which had followed the parting scene
was soon complicated by physical suffering--by fever on the
brain. To the surprise of all who attended her, she lived through
the shock, recovering with the complete loss of one faculty,
which, in her situation, poor thing, was a mercy and a gain to
her--the faculty of memory. From that time to this she has never
had the slightest gleam of recollection of anything that happened
before her illness. In her happy oblivion, the veriest trifles
are as new and as interesting to her as if she was beginning her
existence again. Under the tender care of the friends who now
protect her, she lives contentedly the life of a child. When her
last hour comes, may she die with nothing on her memory but the
recollection of their kindness!
THE EIGHTH DAY.
THE wind that I saw in the sky yesterday has come. It sweeps down
our little valley in angry howling gusts, and drives the heavy
showers before it in great sheets of spray.
There are some people who find a strangely exciting effect
produced on their spirits by the noise, and rush, and tumult of
the elements on a stormy day. It has never been so with me, and
it is less so than ever now. I can hardly bear to think of my son
at sea in such a tempest as this. While I can still get no news
of his ship, morbid fancies beset me which I vainly try to shake
off. I see the trees through my window bending before the wind.
Are the masts of the good ship bending like them at this moment?
I hear the wash of the driving rain. Is _he_ hearing the thunder
of the raging waves? If he had only come back last night!--it is
vain to dwell on it, but the thought will haunt me--if he had
only come back last night!
I tried to speak cautiously about him again to Jessie, as Owen
had advised me; but I am so old and feeble now that this
ill-omened storm has upset me, and I could not feel sure enough
of my own self-control to venture on matching myself to-day
against a light-hearted, lively girl, with all her wits about
her. It is so important that I should not betray George--it would
be so inexcusable on my part if his interests suffered, even
accidentally, in my hands.
This was a trying day for our guest. Her few trifling indoor
resources had, as I could see, begun to lose their attractions
for her at last. If we were not now getting to the end of the
stories, and to the end, therefore, of the Ten Days also, our
chance of keeping her much longer at the Glen Tower would be a
very poor one.
It was, I think, a great relief for us all to be summoned
together this evening for a definite purpose. The wind had fallen
a little as it got on toward dusk. To hear it growing gradually
fainter and fainter in the valley below added immeasurably to the
comforting influence of the blazing fire and the cheerful lights
when the shutters were closed for the night.
The number drawn happened to be the last of the series--Ten--and
the last also of the stories which I had written. There were now
but two numbers left in the bowl. Owen and Morgan had each one
reading more to accomplish before our guest's stay came to an
end, and the manuscripts in the Purple Volume were all exhausted.
"This new story of mine," I said, "is not, like the story I last
read, a narrative of adventure happening to myself, but of
adventures that happened to a lady of my acquaintance. I was
brought into contact, in the first instance, with one of her male
relatives, and, in the second instance, with the lady herself, by
certain professional circumstances which I need not particularly
describe. They involved a dry question of wills and title-deeds
in no way connected with this story, but sufficiently important
to interest me as a lawyer. The case came to trial at the Assizes
on my circuit, and I won it in the face of some very strong
points, very well put, on the other side. I was in poor health at
the time, and my exertions so completely knocked me up that I was
confined to bed in my lodgings for a week or more--"
"And the grateful lady came and nursed you, I suppose," said the
Queen of Hearts, in her smart, off-h and way.
"The grateful lady did something much more natural in her
position, and much more useful in mine," I answered--"she sent
her servant to attend on me. He was an elderly man, who had been
in her service since the time of her first marriage, and he was
also one of the most sensible and well-informed persons whom I
have ever met with in his station of life. From hints which he
dropped while he was at my bedside, I discovered for the first
time that his mistress had been unfortunate in her second
marriage, and that the troubles of that period of her life had
ended in one of the most singular events which had happened in
that part of England for many a long day past. It is hardly
necessary to say that, before I allowed the man to enter into any
particulars, I stipulated that he should obtain his mistress's
leave to communicate what he knew. Having gained this, and having
further surprised me by mentioning that he had been himself
connected with all the circumstances, he told me the whole story
in the fullest detail. I have now tried to reproduce it as nearly
as I could in his own language. Imagine, therefore, that I am
just languidly recovering in bed, and that a respectable elderly
man, in quiet black costume, is sitting at my pillow and speaking
to me in these terms--"
Thus ending my little preface, I opened the manuscript and began
my last story.
BROTHER GRIFFITH'S STORY
A PLOT IN PRIVATE LIFE.
THE first place I got when I began going out to service was not a
very profitable one. I certainly gained the advantage of learning
my business thoroughly, but I never had my due in the matter of
wages. My master was made a bankrupt, and his servants suffered
with the rest of his creditors
My second situation, however, amply compensated me for my want of
luck in the first. I had the good fortune to enter the service of
Mr. and Mrs. Norcross. My master was a very rich gentleman. He
had the Darrock house and lands in Cumberland, an estate also in
Yorkshire, and a very large property in Jamaica, which produced,
at that time and for some years afterward, a great income. Out in
the West Indies he met with a pretty young lady, a governess in
an English family, and, taking a violent fancy to her, married
her, though she was a good five-and-twenty years younger than
himself. After the wedding they came to England, and it was at
this time that I was lucky enough to be engaged by them as a
I lived with my new master and mistress three years. They had no
children. At the end of that period Mr. Norcross died. He was
sharp enough to foresee that his young widow would marry again,
and he bequeathed his property so that it all went to Mrs.
Norcross first, and then to any children she might have by a
second marriage, and, failing that, to relations and friends of
his own. I did not suffer by my master's death, for his widow
kept me in her service. I had attended on Mr. Norcross all
through his last illness, and had made myself useful enough to
win my mistress's favor and gratitude. Besides me she also
retained her maid in her service--a quadroon woman named
Josephine, whom she brought with her from the West Indies. Even
at that time I disliked the half-breed's wheedling manners, and
her cruel, tawny face, and wondered how my mistress could be so
fond of her as she was. Time showed that I was right in
distrusting this woman. I shall have much more to say about her
when I get further advanced with my story.
Meanwhile I have next to relate that my mistress broke up the
rest of her establishment, and, taking me and the lady's maid
with her, went to travel on the Continent.
Among other wonderful places we visited Paris, Genoa, Venice,
Florence, Rome, and Naples, staying in some of those cities for
months together. The fame of my mistress's riches followed her
wherever she went; and there were plenty of gentlemen, foreigners
as well as Englishmen, who were anxious enough to get into her
good graces and to prevail on her to marry them. Nobody
succeeded, however, in producing any very strong or lasting
impression on her; and when we came back to England, after more
than two years of absence, Mrs. Norcross was still a widow, and
showed no signs of wanting to change her condition.
We went to the house on the Yorkshire estate first; but my
mistress did not fancy some of the company round about, so we
moved again to Darrock Hall, and made excursions from time to
time in the lake district, some miles off. On one of these trips
Mrs. Norcross met with some old friends, who introduced her to a
gentleman of their party bearing the very common and very
uninteresting name of Mr. James Smith.
He was a tall, fine young man enough, with black hair, which grew
very long, and the biggest, bushiest pair of black whiskers I
ever saw. Altogether he had a rakish, unsettled look, and a
bounceable way of talking which made him the prominent person in
company. He was poor enough himself, as I heard from his servant,
but well connected--a gentleman by birth and education, though
his manners were so free. What my mistress saw to like in him I
don't know; but when she asked her friends to stay with her at
Darrock, she included Mr. James Smith in the invitation. We had a
fine, gay, noisy time of it at the Hall, the strange gentleman,
in particular, making himself as much at home as if the place
belonged to him. I was surprised at Mrs. Norcross putting up with
him as she did, but I was fairly thunderstruck some months
afterward when I heard that she and her free-and-easy visitor
were actually going to be married! She had refused offers by
dozens abroad, from higher, and richer, and better-behaved men.
It seemed next to impossible that she could seriously think of
throwing herself away upon such a hare-brained, headlong,
penniless young gentleman as Mr. James Smith.
Married, nevertheless, they were, in due course of time; and,
after spending the honeymoon abroad, they came back to Darrock
I soon found that my new master had a very variable temper. There
were some days when he was as easy, and familiar, and pleasant
with his servants as any gentleman need be. At other times some
devil within him seemed to get possession of his whole nature. He
flew into violent passions, and took wrong ideas into his head,
which no reasoning or remonstrance could remove. It rather amazed
me, considering how gay he was in his tastes, and how restless
his habits were, that he should consent to live at such a quiet,
dull place as Darrock. The reason for this, however, soon came
out. Mr. James Smith was not much of a sportsman; he cared
nothing for indoor amusements, such as reading, music, and so
forth; and he had no ambition for representing the county in
parliament. The one pursuit that he was really fond of was
yachting. Darrock was within sixteen miles of a sea-port town,
with an excellent harbor, and to this accident of position the
Hall was entirely indebted for recommending itself as a place of
residence to Mr. James Smith.
He had such an untiring enjoyment and delight in cruising about
at sea, and all his ideas of pleasure seemed to be so closely
connected with his remembrance of the sailing trips he had taken
on board different yachts belonging to his friends, that I verily
believe his chief object in marrying my mistress was to get the
command of money enough to keep a vessel for himself. Be that as
it may, it is certain that he prevailed on her, some time after
their marriage, to make him a present of a fine schooner yacht,
which was brought round from Cowes to our coast-town, and kept
always waiting ready for him in the harbor.
His wife required some little persuasion before she could make up
her mind to let him have the vessel. She suffered so much from
sea-sickness that pleasure-sailing was out of the question for
her; and, being very fond of her husband, she was naturally
unwilling that he should engage in an amusement which took him
away from her. However, Mr. James Smith used his influence over
her cleverly, promising that he would never go away without first
asking her leave, and engaging that his terms of absence at sea
should never last for more
than a week or ten days at a time. Accordingly, my mistress, who
was the kindest and most unselfish woman in the world, put her
own feelings aside, and made her husband happy in the possession
of a vessel of his own.
While my master was away cruising, my mistress had a dull time of
it at the Hall. The few gentlefolks there were in our part of the
county lived at a distance, and could only come to Darrock when
they were asked to stay there for some days together. As for the
village near us, there was but one person living in it whom my
mistress could think of asking to the Hall, and that person was
the clergyman who did duty at the church.
This gentleman's name was Mr. Meeke. He was a single man, very
young, and very lonely in his position. He had a mild,
melancholy, pasty-looking face, and was as shy and soft-spoken as
a little girl--altogether, what one may call, without being
unjust or severe, a poor, weak creature, and, out of all sight,
the very worst preacher I ever sat under in my life. The one
thing he did, which, as I heard, he could really do well, was
playing on the fiddle. He was uncommonly fond of music--so much
so that he often took his instrument out with him when he went
for a walk. This taste of his was his great recommendation to my
mistress, who was a wonderfully fine player on the piano, and who
was delighted to get such a performer as Mr. Meeke to play duets
with her. Besides liking his society for this reason, she felt
for him in his lonely position; naturally enough, I think,
considering how often she was left in solitude herself. Mr.
Meeke, on his side, when he got over his first shyness, was only
too glad to leave his lonesome little parsonage for the fine
music-room at the Hall, and for the company of a handsome,
kind-hearted lady, who made much of him, and admired his
fiddle-playing with all her heart. Thus it happened that,
whenever my master was away at sea, my mistress and Mr. Meeke
were always together, playing duets as if they had their living
to get by it. A more harmless connection than the connection
between those two never existed in this world; and yet, innocent
as it was, it turned out to be the first cause of all the
misfortunes that afterward happened.
My master's treatment of Mr. Meeke was, from the first, the very
opposite of my mistress's. The restless, rackety, bounceable Mr.
James Smith felt a contempt for the weak, womanish, fiddling
little parson, and, what was more, did not care to conceal it.
For this reason, Mr. Meeke (who was dreadfully frightened by my
master's violent language and rough ways) very seldom visited at
the Hall except when my mistress was alone there. Meaning no
wrong, and therefore stooping to no concealment, she never
thought of taking any measures to keep Mr. Meeke out of the way
when he happened to be with her at the time of her husband's
coming home, whether it was only from a riding excursion in the
neighborhood or from a cruise in the schooner. In this way it so
turned out that whenever my master came home, after a long or
short absence, in nine cases out of ten he found the parson at
At first he used to laugh at this circumstance, and to amuse
himself with some coarse jokes at the expense of his wife and her
companion. But, after a while, his variable temper changed, as
usual. He grew sulky, rude, angry, and, at last, downright
jealous of Mr. Meeke. Though too proud to confess it in so many
words, he still showed the state of his mind clearly enough to my
mistress to excite her indignation. She was a woman who could be
led anywhere by any one for whom she had a regard, but there was
a firm spirit within her that rose at the slightest show of
injustice or oppression, and that resented tyrannical usage of
any sort perhaps a little too warmly. The bare suspicion that her
husband could feel any distrust of her set her all in a flame,
and she took the most unfortunate, and yet, at the same time, the
most natural way for a woman, of resenting it. The ruder her
husband was to Mr. Meeke the more kindly she behaved to him. This
led to serious disputes and dissensions, and thence, in time, to
a violent quarrel. I could not avoid hearing the last part of the
altercation between them, for it took place in the garden-walk,
outside the dining-room window, while I was occupied in laying
the table for lunch.
Without repeating their words--which I have no right to do,
having heard by accident what I had no business to hear--I may
say generally, to show how serious the quarrel was, that my
mistress charged my master with having married from mercenary
motives, with keeping out of her company as much as he could, and
with insulting her by a suspicion which it would be hard ever to
forgive, and impossible ever to forget. He replied by violent
language directed against herself, and by commanding her never to
open the doors again to Mr. Meeke; she, on her side, declaring
that she would never consent to insult a clergyman and a
gentleman in order to satisfy the whim of a tyrannical husband.
Upon that, he called out, with a great oath, to have his horse
saddled directly, declaring that he would not stop another
instant under the same roof with a woman who had set him at
defiance, and warning his wife that he would come back, if Mr.
Meeke entered the house again, and horsewhip him, in spite of his
black coat, all through the village.
With those words he left her, and rode away to the sea-port where
his yacht was lying. My mistress kept up her spirit till he was
out of sight, and then burst into a dreadful screaming passion of
tears, which ended by leaving her so weak that she had to be
carried to her bed like a woman who was at the point of death.
The same evening my master's horse was ridden back by a
messenger, who brought a scrap of notepaper with him addressed to
me. It only contained these lines:
"Pack up my clothes and deliver them immediately to the bearer.
You may tell your mistress that I sail to-night at eleven o'clock
for a cruise to Sweden. Forward my letters to the post-office,
I obeyed the orders given to me except that relating to my
mistress. The doctor had been sent for, and was still in the
house. I consulted him upon the propriety of my delivering the
message. He positively forbade me to do so that night, and told
me to give him the slip of paper, and leave it to his discretion
to show it to her or not the next morning.
The messenger had hardly been gone an hour when Mr. Meeke's
housekeeper came to the Hall with a roll of music for my
mistress. I told the woman of my master's sudden departure, and
of the doctor being in the house. This news brought Mr. Meeke
himself to the Hall in a great flutter.
I felt so angry with him for being the cause--innocent as he
might be--of the shocking scene which had taken place, that I
exceeded the bounds of my duty, and told him the whole truth. The
poor, weak, wavering, childish creature flushed up red in the
face, then turned as pale as ashes, and dropped into one of the
hall chairs crying--literally crying fit to break his heart. "Oh,
William," says he, wringing his little frail, trembling white
hands as helpless as a baby, "oh, William, what am I to do?"
"As you ask me that question, sir," says I, "you will excuse me,
I hope, if, being a servant, I plainly speak my mind
notwithstanding. I know my station well enough to be aware that,
strictly speaking, I have done wrong, and far exceeded my duty,
in telling you as much as I have told you already; but I would go
through fire and water, sir," says I, feeling my own eyes getting
moist, "for my mistress's sake. She has no relation here who can
speak to you; and it is even better that a servant like me should
risk being guilty of an impertinence, than that dreadful and
lasting mischief should arise from the right remedy not being
applied at the right time. This is what I should do, sir, in your
place. Saving your presence, I should leave off crying; and go
back home and write to Mr. James Smith, saying that I would not,
as a clergyman, give him railing for railing, but would prove how
unworthily he had suspected me by ceasing to visit at the Hall
from thi s time forth, rather than be a cause of dissension
between man and wife. If you will put that into proper language,
sir, and will have the letter ready for me in half an hour's
time, I will call for it on the fastest horse in our stables,
and, at my own risk, will give it to my master before he sails
to-night. I have nothing more to say, sir, except to ask your
pardon for forgetting my proper place, and for making bold to
speak on a very serious matter as equal to equal, and as man to
To do Mr. Meeke justice, he had a heart, though it was a very
small one. He shook hands with me, and said he accepted my advice
as the advice of a friend, and so went back to his parsonage to
write the letter. In half an hour I called for it on horseback,
but it was not ready for me. Mr. Meeke was ridiculously nice
about how he should express himself when he got a pen into his
hand. I found him with his desk littered with rough copies, in a
perfect agony about how to turn his phrases delicately enough in
referring to my mistress. Every minute being precious, I hurried
him as much as I could, without standing on any ceremony. It took
half an hour more, with all my efforts, before he could make up
his mind that the letter would do. I started off with it at a
gallop, and never drew rein till I got to the sea-port town.
The harbor-clock chimed the quarter past eleven as I rode by it,
and when I got down to the jetty there was no yacht to be seen.
She had been cast off from her moorings ten minutes before
eleven, and as the clock struck she had sailed out of the harbor.
I would have followed in a boat, but it was a fine starlight
night, with a fresh wind blowing, and the sailors on the pier
laughed at me when I spoke of rowing after a schooner yacht which
had got a quarter of an hour's start of us, with the wind abeam
and the tide in her favor.
I rode back with a heavy heart. All I could do now was to send
the letter to the post-office, Stockholm.
The next day the doctor showed my mistress the scrap of paper
with the message on it from my master, and an hour or two after
that, a letter was sent to her in Mr. Meeke's handwriting,
explaining the reason why she must not expect to see him at the
Hall, and referring to me in terms of high praise as a sensible
and faithful man who had spoken the right word at the right time.
I am able to repeat the substance of the letter, because I heard
all about it from my mistress, under very unpleasant
circumstances so far as I was concerned.
The news of my master's departure did not affect her as the
doctor had supposed it would. Instead of distressing her, it
roused her spirit and made her angry; her pride, as I imagine,
being wounded by the contemptuous manner in which her husband had
notified his intention of sailing to Sweden at the end of a
message to a servant about packing his clothes. Finding her in
that temper of mind, the letter from Mr. Meeke only irritated her
the more. She insisted on getting up, and as soon as she was
dressed and downstairs, she vented her violent humor on me,
reproaching me for impertinent interference in the affairs of my
betters, and declaring that she had almost made up her mind to
turn me out of my place for it. I did not defend myself, because
I respected her sorrows and the irritation that came from them;
also, because I knew the natural kindness of her nature well
enough to be assured that she would make amends to me for her
harshness the moment her mind was composed again. The result
showed that I was right. That same evening she sent for me and
begged me to forgive and forget the hasty words she had spoken in
the morning with a grace and sweetness that would have won the
heart of any man who listened to her.
Weeks passed after this, till it was more than a month since the
day of my master's departure, and no letter in his handwriting
came to Darrock Hall.
My mistress, taking this treatment more angrily than sorrowfully,
went to London to consult her nearest relations, who lived there.
On leaving home she stopped the carriage at the parsonage, and
went in (as I thought, rather defiantly) to say good-by to Mr.
Meeke. She had answered his letter, and received others from him,
and had answered them likewise. She had also, of course, seen him
every Sunday at church, and had always stopped to speak to him
after the service; but this was the first occasion on which she
had visited him at his house. As the carriage stopped, the little
parson came out, in great hurry and agitation, to meet her at the
"Don't look alarmed, Mr. Meeke," says my mistress, getting out.
"Though you have engaged not to come near the Hall, I have made
no promise to keep away from the parsonage." With those words she
went into the house.
The quadroon maid, Josephine, was sitting with me in the rumble
of the carriage, and I saw a smile on her tawny face as the
parson and his visitor went into the house together. Harmless as
Mr. Meeke was, and innocent of all wrong as I knew my mistress to
be, I regretted that she should be so rash as to despise
appearances, considering the situation she was placed in. She had
already exposed herself to be thought of disrespectfully by her
own maid, and it was hard to say what worse consequences might
not happen after that.
Half an hour later we were away on our journey. My mistress
stayed in London two months. Throughout all that long time no
letter from my master was forwarded to her from the country
WHEN the two months had passed we returned to Darrock Hall.
Nobody there had received any news in our absence of the
whereabouts of my master and his yacht.
Six more weary weeks elapsed, and in that time but one event
happened at the Hall to vary the dismal monotony of the lives we
now led in the solitary place. One morning Josephine came down
after dressing my mistress with her face downright livid to look
at, except on one check, where there was a mark as red as burning
fire. I was in the kitchen at the time, and I asked what was the
"The matter!" says she, in her shrill voice and her half-foreign
English. "Use your own eyes, if you please, and look at this
cheek of mine. What! have you lived so long a time with your
mistress, and don't you know the mark of her hand yet?"
I was at a loss to understand what she meant, but she soon
explained herself. My mistress, whose temper had been sadly
altered for the worse by the trials and humiliations she had gone
through, had got up that morning more out of humor than usual,
and, in answer to her maid's inquiry as to how she had passed the
night, had begun talking about her weary, miserable life in an
unusually fretful and desperate way. Josephine, in trying to
cheer her spirits, had ventured, most improperly, on making a
light, jesting reference to Mr. Meeke, which had so enraged my
mistress that she turned round sharp on the half-breed and gave
her--to use the common phrase--a smart box on the ear. Josephine
confessed that, the moment after she had done this, her better
sense appeared to tell her that she had taken a most improper way
of resenting undue familiarity. She had immediately expressed her
regret for having forgotten herself, and had proved the sincerity
of it by a gift of half a dozen cambric handkerchiefs, presented
as a peace-offering on the spot. After that I thought it
impossible that Josephine could bear any malice against a
mistress whom she had served ever since she had been a girl, and
I said as much to her when she had done telling me what had
"I! Malice!" cries Miss Josephine, in her hard, sharp, snappish
way. "And why, and wherefore, if you please? If my mistress
smacks my cheek with one hand, she gives me handkerchiefs to wipe
it with the other. My good mistress, my kind mistress, my pretty
mistress! I, the servant, bear malice against her, the mistress!
Ah! you bad man, even to think of such a thing! Ah! fie, fie! I
am quite ashamed of you!"
She gave me one look--the wickedest look I ever saw, and burst
out laughing--the harshest laugh I ever heard from a woman's
lips. Turning away from me directly after, she said no more, and
never referred to the subject again on any subsequent occasion.
From that time, however, I noticed an alteration in Miss
Josephine; not in her way of doing her work, for she was just as
sharp and careful about it as ever, but in her manners and
habits. She grew amazingly quiet, and passed almost all her
leisure time alone. I could bring no charge against her which
authorized me to speak a word of warning; but, for all that, I
could not help feeling that if I had been in my mistress's place,
I would have followed up the present of the cambric handkerchiefs
by paying her a month's wages in advance, and sending her away
from the house the same evening.
With the exception of this little domestic matter, which appeared
trifling enough at the time, hut which led to very serious
consequences afterward, nothing happened at all out of the
ordinary way during the six weary weeks to which I have referred.
At the beginning of the seventh week, however, an event occurred
One morning the postman brought a letter to the Hall addressed to
my mistress. I took it upstairs, and looked at the direction as I
put it on the salver. The handwriting was not my master's; was
not, as it appeared to me, the handwriting of any well-educated
person. The outside of the letter was also very dirty, and the
seal a common office-seal of the usual lattice-work pattern.
"This must be a begging-letter," I thought to myself as I entered
the breakfast- room and advanced with it to my mistress.
She held up her hand before she opened it as a sign to me that
she had some order to give, and that I was not to leave the room
till I had received it. Then she broke the seal and began to read
Her eyes had hardly been on it a moment before her face turned as
pale as death, and the paper began to tremble in her fingers. She
read on to the end, and suddenly turned from pale to scarlet,
started out of her chair, crumpled the letter up violently in her
hand, and took several turns backward and forward in the room,
without seeming to notice me as I stood by the door. "You
villain! you villain! you villain!" I heard her whisper to
herself many times over, in a quick, hissing, fierce way. Then
she stopped, and said on a sudden, "Can it be true?" Then she
looked up, and, seeing me standing at the door, started as if I
had been a stranger, changed color again, and told me, in a
stifled voice, to leave her and come back again in half an hour.
I obeyed, feeling certain that she must have received some very
bad news of her husband, and wondering, anxiously enough, what it
When I returned to the breakfast-room her face was as much
discomposed as ever. Without speaking a word she handed me two
sealed letters: one, a note to be left for Mr. Meeke at the
parsonage; the other, a letter marked "Immediate," and addressed
to her solicitor in London, who was also, I should add, her
nearest living relative.
I left one of these letters and posted the other. When I came
back I heard that my mistress had taken to her room. She remained
there for four days, keeping her new sorrow, whatever it was,
strictly to herself. On the fifth day the lawyer from London
arrived at the Hall. My mistress went down to him in the library,
and was shut up there with him for nearly two hours. At the end
of that time the bell rang for me.
"Sit down, William," said my mistress, when I came into the room.
"I feel such entire confidence in your fidelity and attachment
that I am about, with the full concurrence of this gentleman, who
is my nearest relative and my legal adviser, to place a very
serious secret in your keeping, and to employ your services on a
matter which is as important to me as a matter of life and
Her poor eyes were very red, and her lips quivered as she spoke
to me. I was so startled by what she had said that I hardly knew
which chair to sit in. She pointed to one placed near herself at
the table, and seemed about to speak to me again, when the lawyer
"Let me entreat you," he said, "not to agitate yourself
unnecessarily. I will put this person in possession of the facts,
and, if I omit anything, you shall stop me and set me right."
My mistress leaned back in her chair and covered her face with
her handkerchief. The lawyer waited a moment, and then addressed
himself to me.
"You are already aware," he said, "of the circumstances under
which your master left this house, and you also know, I have no
doubt, that no direct news of him has reached your mistress up to
I bowed to him and said I knew of the circumstances so far.
"Do you remember," he went on, "taking a letter to your mistress
five days ago?"
"Yes, sir," I replied; "a letter which seemed to distress and
alarm her very seriously."
"I will read you that letter before we say any more," continued
the lawyer. "I warn you beforehand that it contains a terrible
charge against your master, which, however, is not attested by
the writer's signature. I have already told your mistress that
she must not attach too much importance to an anonymous letter;
and I now tell you the same thing."
Saying that, he took up a letter from the table and read it
aloud. I had a copy of it given to me afterward, which I looked
at often enough to fix the contents of the letter in my memory. I
can now repeat them, I think, word for word.
"MADAM--I cannot reconcile it to my conscience to leave you in
total ignorance of your husband 's atrocious conduct toward you.
If you have ever been disposed to regret his absence do so no
longer. Hope and pray, rather, that you and he may never meet
face to face again in this world. I write in great haste and in
great fear of being observed. Time fails me to prepare you as you
ought to be prepared for what I have now to disclose. I must tell
you plainly, with much respect for you and sorrow for your
misfortune, that your husband _has married another wife_. I saw
the ceremony performed, unknown to him. If I could not have
spoken of this infamous act as an eye-witness, I would not have
spoken of it at all.
"I dare not acknowledge who I am, for I believe Mr. James Smith
would stick at no crime to revenge himself on me if he ever came
to a knowledge of the step I am now taking, and of the means by
which I got my information; neither have I time to enter into
particulars. I simply warn you of what has happened, and leave
you to act on that warning as you please. You may disbelieve this
letter, because it is not signed by any name. In that case, if
Mr. James Smith should ever venture into your presence, I
recommend you to ask him suddenly what he has done with his _new
wife,_ and to see if his countenance does not immediately testify
that the truth has been spoken by
"YOUR UNKNOWN FRIEND."
Poor as my opinion was of my master, I had never believed him to
be capable of such villainy as this, and I could not believe it
when the lawyer had done reading the letter.
"Oh, sir," I said, "surely that is some base imposition? Surely
it cannot be true?"
"That is what I have told your mistress," he answered. "But she
says in return--"
"That I feel it to be true," my mistress broke in, speaking
behind the handkerchief in a faint, smothered voice.
"We need not debate the question," the lawyer went on. "Our
business now is to prove the truth or falsehood of this letter.
That must be done at once. I have written to one of my clerks,
who is accustomed to conducting delicate investigations, to come
to this house without loss of time. He is to be trusted with
anything, and he will pursue the needful inquiries immediately.
It is absolutely necessary, to make sure of committing no
mistakes, that he should be accompanied by some one who is well
acquainted with Mr. James Smith's habits and personal appearance,
and your mistress has fixed upon you to be that person. However
well the inquiry is managed, it may be attended by much trouble
and delay, may necessitate a long journey, and may involve some
personal danger. Are you," said the lawyer, looking hard at me,
"ready to suffer any inconvenience and to run any risk for your
"There is nothing I _can_ do, sir," said I, "that I will not do.
I am a fraid I am not clever enough to be of much use; but, so
far as troubles and risks are concerned, I am ready for anything
from this moment."
My mistress took the handkerchief from her face, looked at me
with her eyes full of tears, and held out her hand. How I came to
do it I don't know, but I stooped down and kissed the hand she
offered me, feeling half startled, half ashamed at my own
boldness the moment after.
"You will do, my man," said the lawyer, nodding his head. "Don't
trouble yourself about the cleverness or the cunning that may be
wanted. My clerk has got head enough for two. I have only one
word more to say before you go downstairs again. Remember that
this investigation and the cause that leads to it must be kept a
profound secret. Except us three, and the clergyman here (to whom
your mistress has written word of what has happened), nobody
knows anything about it. I will let my clerk into the secret when
he joins us. As soon as you and he are away from the house, you
may talk about it. Until then, you will close your lips on the
The clerk did not keep us long waiting. He came as fast as the
mail from London could bring him.
I had expected, from his master's description, to see a serious,
sedate man, rather sly in his looks, and rather reserved in his
manner. To my amazement, this practiced hand at delicate
investigations was a brisk, plump, jolly little man, with a
comfortable double chin, a pair of very bright black eyes, and a
big bottle-nose of the true groggy red color. He wore a suit of
black, and a limp, dingy white cravat; took snuff perpetually out
of a very large box; walked with his hands crossed behind his
back; and looked, upon the whole, much more like a parson of
free-and-easy habits than a lawyer's clerk.
"How d'ye do?" says he, when I opened the door to him. "I'm the
man you expect from the office in London. Just say Mr. Dark, will
you? I'll sit down here till you come back; and, young man, if
there is such a thing as a glass of ale in the house, I don't
mind committing myself so far as to say that I'll drink it."
I got him the ale before I announced him. He winked at me as he
put it to his lips.
"Your good health," says he. "I like you. Don't forget that the
name's Dark; and just leave the jug and glass, will you, in case
my master keeps me waiting."
I announced him at once, and was told to show him into the
When I got back to the hall the jug was empty, and Mr. Dark was
comforting himself with a pinch of snuff, snorting over it like a
perfect grampus. He had swallowed more than a pint of the
strongest old ale in the house; and, for all the effect it seemed
to have had on him, he might just as well have been drinking so
As I led him along the passage to the library Josephine passed
us. Mr. Dark winked at me again, and made her a low bow.
"Lady's maid," I heard him whisper to himself. "A fine woman to
look at, but a damned bad one to deal with." I turned round on
him, rather angry at his cool ways, and looked hard at him just
before I opened the library door. Mr. Dark looked hard at me.
"All right," says he. "I can show myself in." And he knocks at
the door, and opens it, and goes in with another wicked wink, all
in a moment.
Half an hour later the bell rang for me. Mr. Dark was sitting
between my mistress (who was looking at him in amazement) and the
lawyer (who was looking at him with approval). He had a map open
on his knee, and a pen in his hand. Judging by his face, the
communication of the secret about my master did not seem to have
made the smallest impression on him.
"I've got leave to ask you a question," says he, the moment I
appeared. "When you found your master's yacht gone, did you hear
which way she had sailed? Was it northward toward Scotland? Speak
up, young man, speak up!"
"Yes," I answered. "The boatmen told me that when I made
inquiries at the harbor."
"Well, sir," says Mr. Dark, turning to the lawyer, "if he said he
was going to Sweden, he seems to have started on the road to it,
at all events. I think I have got my instructions now?"
The lawyer nodded, and looked at my mistress, who bowed her head
to him. He then said, turning to me:
"Pack up your bag for traveling at once, and have a conveyance
got ready to go to the nearest post-town. Look sharp, young
"And, whatever happens in the future," added my mistress, her
kind voice trembling a little, "believe, William, that I shall
never forget the proof you now show of your devotion to me. It is
still some comfort to know that I have your fidelity to depend on
in this dreadful trial--your fidelity and the extraordinary
intelligence and experience of Mr. Dark."
Mr. Dark did not seem to hear the compliment. He was busy
writing, with his paper upon the map on his knee.
A quarter of an hour later, when I had ordered the dog-cart, and
had got down into the hall with my bag packed, I found him there
waiting for me. He was sitting in the same chair which he had
occupied when he first arrived, and he had another jug of the old
ale on the table by his side.
"Got any fishing-rods in the house?" says he, when I put my bag
down in the hall.
"Yes," I replied, astonished at the question. "What do you want
"Pack a couple in cases for traveling," says Mr. Dark, "with
lines, and hooks, and fly-books all complete. Have a drop of the
ale before you go--and don't stare, William, don't stare. I'll
let the light in on you as soon as we are out of the house. Off
with you for the rods! I want to be on the road in five minutes."
When I came back with the rods and tackle I found Mr. Dark in the
"Money, luggage, fishing-rods, papers of directions, copy of
anonymous letter, guide-book, map," says he, running over in his
mind the things wanted for the journey--"all right so far. Drive
I took the reins and started the horse. As we left the house I
saw my mistress and Josephine looking after us from two of the
windows on the second floor. The memory of those two attentive
faces--one so fair and so good, the other so yellow and so
wicked--haunted my mind perpetually for many days afterward.
"Now, William," says Mr. Dark, when we were clear of the lodge
gates, "I'm going to begin by telling you that you must step out
of your own character till further notice. You are a clerk in a
bank, and I'm another. We have got our regular holiday, that
comes, like Christmas, once a year, and we are taking a little
tour in Scotland to see the curiosities, and to breathe the sea
air, and to get some fishing whenever we can. I'm the fat cashier
who digs holes in a drawerful of gold with a copper shovel, and
you're the arithmetical young man who sits on a perch behind me
and keeps the books. Scotland's a beautiful country, William. Can
you make whisky-toddy? I can; and, what's more, unlikely as the
thing may seem to you, I can actually drink it into the bargain."
"Scotland!" says I. "What are we going to Scotland for?"
"Question for question," says Mr. Dark. "What are we starting on
a journey for?"
"To find my master," I answered, "and to make sure if the letter
about him is true."
"Very good," says he. "How would you set about doing that, eh?"
"I should go and ask about him at Stockholm in Sweden, where he
said his letters were to be sent."
"Should you, indeed?" says Mr. Dark. "If you were a shepherd,
William, and had lost a sheep in Cumberland, would you begin
looking for it at the Land's End, or would you try a little
"You're attempting to make a fool of me now," says I.
"No," says Mr. Dark, "I'm only letting the light in on you, as I
said I would. Now listen to reason, William, and profit by it as
much as you can. Mr. James Smith says he is going on a cruise to
Sweden, and makes his word good, at the beginning, by starting
northward toward the coast of Scotland. What does he go in? A
yacht. Do yachts carry live beasts and a butcher on board? No.
Will joints of meat keep fresh all the way from Cumberland to
Sweden? No. Do gentlemen like living on salt provisions? No. What
follows from these three Noes? That Mr. James Smith must have
stopped somewhere on the way to S weden to supply his sea-larder
with fresh provisions. Where, in that case, must he stop?
Somewhere in Scotland, supposing he didn't alter his course when
he was out of sight of your seaport. Where in Scotland? Northward
on the main land, or westward at one of the islands? Most likely
on the main land, where the seaside places are largest, and where
he is sure of getting all the stores he wants. Next, what is our
business? Not to risk losing a link in the chain of evidence by
missing any place where he has put his foot on shore. Not to
overshoot the mark when we want to hit it in the bull's-eye. Not
to waste money and time by taking a long trip to Sweden till we
know that we must absolutely go there. Where is our journey of
discovery to take us to first, then? Clearly to the north of
Scotland. What do you say to that, Mr. William? Is my catechism
all correct, or has your strong ale muddled my head?"
It was evident by this time that no ale could do that, and I told
him so. He chuckled, winked at me, and, taking another pinch of
snuff, said he would now turn the whole case over in his mind
again, and make sure that he had got all the bearings of it quite
By the time we reached the post-town he had accomplished this
mental effort to his own perfect satisfaction, and was quite
ready to compare the ale at the inn with the ale at Darrock Hall.
The dog-cart was left to be taken back the next morning by the
hostler. A post-chaise and horses were ordered out. A loaf of
bread, a Bologna sausage, and two bottles of sherry were put into
the pockets of the carriage; we took our seats, and started
briskly on our doubtful journey.
"One word more of friendly advice," says Mr. Dark, settling
himself comfortably in his corner of the carriage. "Take your
sleep, William, whenever you feel that you can get it. You won't
find yourself in bed again till we get to Glasgow."
ALTHOUGH the events that I am now relating happened many years
ago, I shall still, for caution's sake, avoid mentioning by name
the various places visited by Mr. Dark and myself for the purpose
of making inquiries. It will be enough if I describe generally
what we did, and if I mention in substance only the result at
which we ultimately arrived.
On reaching Glasgow, Mr. Dark turned the whole case over in his
mind once more. The result was that he altered his original
intention of going straight to the north of Scotland, considering
it safer to make sure, if possible, of the course the yacht had
taken in her cruise along the western coast.
The carrying out of this new resolution involved the necessity of
delaying our onward journey by perpetually diverging from the
direct road. Three times we were sent uselessly to wild places in
the Hebrides by false reports. Twice we wandered away inland,
following gentlemen who answered generally to the description of
Mr. James Smith, but who turned out to be the wrong men as soon
as we set eyes on them. These vain excursions--especially the
three to the western islands--consumed time terribly. It was more
than two months from the day when we had left Darrock Hall before
we found ourselves up at the very top of Scotland at last,
driving into a considerable sea-side town, with a harbor attached
to it. Thus far our journey had led to no results, and I began to
despair of success. As for Mr. Dark, he never got to the end of
his sweet temper and his wonderful patience.
"You don't know how to wait, William," was his constant remark
whenever he heard me complaining. "I do."
We drove into the town toward evening in a modest little gig, and
put up, according to our usual custom, at one of the inferior
"We must begin at the bottom," Mr. Dark used to say. "High
company in a coffee-room won't be familiar with us; low company
in a tap-room will." And he certainly proved the truth of his own
words. The like of him for making intimate friends of total
strangers at the shortest notice I have never met with before or
since. Cautious as the Scotch are, Mr. Dark seemed to have the
knack of twisting them round his finger as he pleased. He varied
his way artfully with different men, but there were three
standing opinions of his which he made a point of expressing in
all varieties of company while we were in Scotland. In the first
place, he thought the view of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat the
finest in the world. In the second place, he considered whisky to
be the most wholesome spirit in the world. In the third place, he
believed his late beloved mother to be the best woman in the
world. It may be worthy of note that, whenever he expressed this
last opinion in Scotland, he invariably added that her maiden
name was Macleod.
Well, we put up at a modest little inn near the harbor. I was
dead tired with the journey, and lay down on my bed to get some
rest. Mr. Dark, whom nothing ever fatigued, left me to take his
toddy and pipe among the company in the taproom.
I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was roused by a
shake on my shoulder. The room was pitch dark, and I felt a hand
suddenly clapped over my mouth. Then a strong smell of whisky and
tobacco saluted my nostrils, and a whisper stole into my ear--
"William, we have got to the end of our journey."
"Mr. Dark," I stammered out, "is that you? What, in Heaven's
name, do you mean?"
"The yacht put in here," was the answer, still in a whisper, "and
your blackguard of a master came ashore--"
"Oh, Mr. Dark," I broke in, "don't tell me that the letter is
"Every word of it," says he. "He was married here, and was off
again to the Mediterranean with Number Two a good three weeks
before we left your mistress's house. Hush! don't say a word, Go
to sleep again, or strike a light, if you like it better. Do
anything but come downstairs with me. I'm going to find out all
the particulars without seeming to want to know one of them.
Yours is a very good-looking face, William, but it's so
infernally honest that I can't trust it in the tap-room. I'm
making friends with the Scotchmen already. They know my opinion
of Arthur's Seat; they _see_ what I think of whisky; and I rather
think it won't be long before they hear that my mother's maiden
name was Macleod."
With those words he slipped out of the room, and left me, as he
had found me, in the dark.
I was far too much agitated by what I had heard to think of going
to sleep again, so I struck a light, and tried to amuse myself as
well as I could with an old newspaper that had been stuffed into
my carpet bag. It was then nearly ten o'clock. Two hours later,
when the house shut up, Mr. Dark came back to me again in high
"I have got the whole case here," says he, tapping his
forehead--"the whole case, as neat and clean as if it was drawn
in a brief. That master of yours doesn't stick at a trifle,
William. It's my opinion that your mistress and you have not seen
the last of him yet."
We were sleeping that night in a double-bedded room. As soon as
Mr. Dark had secured the door and disposed himself comfortably in
his bed, he entered on a detailed narrative of the particulars
communicated to him in the tap-room. The substance of what he
told me may be related as follows:
The yacht had had a wonderful run all the way to Cape Wrath. On
rounding that headland she had met the wind nearly dead against
her, and had beaten every inch of the way to the sea-port town,
where she had put in to get a supply of provisions, and to wait
for a change in the wind.
Mr. James Smith had gone ashore to look about him, and to see
whether the principal hotel was the sort of house at which he
would like to stop for a few days. In the course of his wandering
about the town, his attention had been attracted to a decent
house, where lodgings were to be let, by the sight of a very
pretty girl sitting at work at the parlor window. He was so
struck by her face that he came back twice to look at it,
determining, the second time, to try if he could not make
acquaintance with her by asking to see the lodgings. He was shown
the rooms by the girl's mother, a very respectable woman, whom he
discovered to be the wife of the master and part owner of a small
coasting ves sel, then away at sea. With a little maneuvering he
managed to get into the parlor where the daughter was at work,
and to exchange a few words with her. Her voice and manner
completed the attraction of her face. Mr. James Smith decided, in
his headlong way, that he was violently in love with her, and,
without hesitating another instant, he took the lodgings on the
spot for a month certain.
It is unnecessary to say that his designs on the girl were of the
most disgraceful kind, and that he represented himself to the
mother and daughter as a single man. Helped by his advantages of
money, position, and personal appearance, he had made sure that
the ruin of the girl might be effected with very little
difficulty; but he soon found that he had undertaken no easy
The mother's watchfulness never slept, and the daughter's
presence of mind never failed her. She admired Mr. James Smith's
tall figure and splendid whiskers; she showed the most
encouraging partiality for his society; she smiled at his
compliments, and blushed whenever he looked at her; but, whether
it was cunning or whether it was innocence, she seemed incapable
of understanding that his advances toward her were of any other
than an honorable kind. At the slightest approach to undue
familiarity, she drew back with a kind of contemptuous surprise
in her face, which utterly perplexed Mr. James Smith. He had not
calculated on that sort of resistance, and he could not see his
way to overcoming it. The weeks passed; the month for which he
had taken the lodgings expired. Time had strengthened the girl's
hold on him till his admiration for her amounted to downright
infatuation, and he had not advanced one step yet toward the
fulfillment of the vicious purpose with which he had entered the
At this time he must have made some fresh attempt on the girl's
virtue, which produced: a coolness between them; for, instead of
taking the lodgings for another term, he removed to his yacht, in
the harbor, and slept on board for two nights.
The wind was now fair, and the stores were on board, but he gave
no orders to the sailing-master to weigh anchor. On the third
day, the cause of the coolness, whatever it was, appears to have
been removed, and he returned to his lodgings on shore. Some of
the more inquisitive among the townspeople observed soon
afterward, when they met him in the street, that he looked rather
anxious and uneasy. The conclusion had probably forced itself
upon his mind, by this time, that he must decide on pursuing one
of two courses: either he must resolve to make the sacrifice of
leaving the girl altogether, or he must commit the villainy of
Scoundrel as he was, he hesitated at encountering the
risk--perhaps, also, at being guilty of the crime--involved in
this last alternative. While he was still in doubt, the father's
coasting vessel sailed into the harbor, and the father's presence
on the scene decided him at last. How this new influence acted it
was impossible to find out from the imperfect evidence of persons
who were not admitted to the family councils. The fact, however,
was certain that the date of the father's return and the date of
Mr. James Smith's first wicked resolution to marry the girl might
both be fixed, as nearly as possible, at one and the same time.
Having once made up his mind to the commission of the crime, he
proceeded with all possible coolness and cunning to provide
against the chances of detection.
Returning on board his yacht he announced that he had given up
his intention of cruising to Sweden and that he intended to amuse
himself by a long fishing tour in Scotland. After this
explanation, he ordered the vessel to be laid up in the harbor,
gave the sailing-master leave of absence to return to his family
at Cowes, and paid off the whole of the crew from the mate to the
cabin-boy. By these means he cleared the scene, at one blow, of
the only people in the town who knew of the existence of his
unhappy wife. After that the news of his approaching marriage
might be made public without risk of discovery, his own common
name being of itself a sufficient protection in case the event
was mentioned in the Scotch newspapers. All his friends, even his
wife herself, might read a report of the marriage of Mr. James
Smith without having the slightest suspicion of who the
bridegroom really was.
A fortnight after the paying off of the crew he was married to
the merchant-captain's daughter. The father of the girl was well
known among his fellow-townsmen as a selfish, grasping man, who
was too anxious to secure a rich son-in-law to object to any
proposals for hastening the marriage. He and his wife, and a few
intimate relations had been present at the ceremony; and after it
had been performed the newly-married couple left the town at once
for a honeymoon trip to the Highland lakes.
Two days later, however, they unexpectedly returned, announcing a
complete change in their plans. The bridegroom (thinking,
probably, that he would be safer out of England than in it) had
been pleasing the bride's fancy by his descriptions of the
climate and the scenery of southern parts. The new Mrs. James
Smith was all curosity to see Spain and Italy; and, having often
proved herself an excellent sailor on board her father's vessel,
was anxious to go to the Mediterranean in the easiest way by sea.
Her affectionate husband, having now no other object in life than
to gratify her wishes, had given up the Highland excursion, and
had returned to have his yacht got ready for sea immediately. In
this explanation there was nothing to awaken the suspicions of
the lady's parents. The mother thought Mr. James Smith a model
among bridegrooms. The father lent his assistance to man the
yacht at the shortest notice with as smart a crew as could be
picked up about the town. Principally through his exertions, the
vessel was got ready for sea with extraordinary dispatch. The
sails were bent, the provisions were put on board, and Mr. James
Smith sailed for the Mediterranean with the unfortunate woman who
believed herself to be his wife, before Mr. Dark and myself set
forth to look after him from Darrock Hall.
Such was the true account of my master's infamous conduct in
Scotland as it was related to me. On concluding, Mr. Dark hinted
that he had something still left to tell me, but declared that he
was too sleepy to talk any more that night. As soon as we were
awake the next morning he returned to the subject.
"I didn't finish all I had to say last night, did I?" he began.
You unfortunately told me enough, and more than enough, to prove
the truth of the statement in the anonymous letter," I answered.
"Yes," says Mr. Dark, "but did I tell you who wrote the anonymous
"You don't mean to say that you have found that out!" says I.
"I think I have," was the cool answer. "When I heard about your
precious master paying off the regular crew of the yacht I put
the circumstance by in my mind, to be brought out again and
sifted a little as soon as the opportunity offered. It offered in
about half an hour. Says I to the gauger, who was the principal
talker in the room: 'How about those men that Mr. Smith paid off?
Did they all go as soon as they got their money, or did they stop
here till they had spent every farthing of it in the
public-houses?' The gauger laughs. 'No such luck,' says he, in
the broadest possible Scotch (which I translate into English,
William, for your benefit); 'no such luck; they all went south,
to spend their money among finer people than us--all, that is to
say, with one exception. It was thought the steward of the yacht
had gone along with the rest, when, the very day Mr. Smith sailed
for the Mediterranean, who should turn up unexpectedly but the
steward himself! Where he had been hiding, and why he had been
hiding, nobody could tell.' 'Perhaps he had been imitating his
master, and looking out for a wife,' says I. 'Likely enough,'
says the gauger; 'he gave a very confused account of himself, and
he cut all questions short by going away south in a violent
hurry.' That was enough for me: I let the subject drop. Clear as
daylight, isn't it, William? The
steward suspected something wrong--the steward waited and
watched--the steward wrote that anonymous letter to your
mistress. We can find him, if we want him, by inquiring at Cowes;
and we can send to the church for legal evidence of the marriage
as soon as we are instructed to do so. All that we have got to do
now is to go back to your mistress, and see what course she means
to take under the circumstances. It's a pretty case, William, so
far--an uncommonly pretty case, as it stands at present."
We returned to Darrock Hall as fast as coaches and post-horses
could carry us.
Having from the first believed that the statement in the
anonymous letter was true, my mistress received the bad news we
brought calmly and resignedly--so far, at least, as outward
appearances went. She astonished and disappointed Mr. Dark by
declining to act in any way on the information that he had
collected for her, and by insisting that the whole affair should
still be buried in the profoundest secrecy. For the first time
since I had known my traveling companion, he became depressed in
spirits on hearing that nothing more was to be done, and,
although he left the Hall with a handsome present, he left it
"Such a pretty case, William," says he, quite sorrowfully, as we
shook hands--"such an uncommonly pretty case--it's a thousand
pities to stop it, in this way, before it's half over!"
"You don't know what a proud lady and what a delicate lady my
mistress is," I answered. "She would die rather than expose her
forlorn situation in a public court for the sake of punishing her
"Bless your simple heart!" says Mr. Dark, "do you really think,
now, that such a case as this can be hushed up?"
"Why not," I asked, "if we all keep the secret?"
"That for the secret!" cries Mr. Dark, snapping his fingers.
"Your master will let the cat out of the bag, if nobody else
"My master!" I repeated, in amazement.
"Yes, your master!" says Mr. Dark. "I have had some experience in
my time, and I say you have not seen the last of him yet. Mark my
words, William, Mr. James Smith will come back."
With that prophecy, Mr. Dark fretfully treated himself to a last
pinch of snuff, and departed in dudgeon on his journey back to
his master in London. His last words hung heavily on my mind for
days after he had gone. It was some weeks before I got over a
habit of starting whenever the bell was rung at the front door.
OUR life at the Hall soon returned to its old, dreary course. The
lawyer in London wrote to my mistress to ask her to come and stay
for a little while with his wife; but she declined the
invitation, being averse to facing company after what had
happened to her. Though she tried hard to keep the real state of
her mind concealed from all about her, I, for one, could see
plainly enough that she was pining under the bitter injury that
had been inflicted on her. What effect continued solitude might
have had on her spirits I tremble to think.
Fortunately for herself, it occurred to her, before long, to send
and invite Mr. Meeke to resume his musical practicing with her at
the Hall. She told him--and, as it seemed to me, with perfect
truth--that any implied engagement which he had made with Mr.
James Smith was now canceled, since the person so named had
morally forfeited all his claims as a husband, first, by his
desertion of her, and, secondly, by his criminal marriage with
another woman. After stating this view of the matter, she left it
to Mr. Meeke to decide whether the perfectly innocent connection
between them should be resumed or not. The little parson, after
hesitating and pondering in his helpless way, ended by agreeing
with my mistress, and by coming back once more to the Hall with
his fiddle under his arm. This renewal of their old habits might
have been imprudent enough, as tending to weaken my mistress's
case in the eyes of the world, but, for all that, it was the most
sensible course she could take for her own sake. The harmless
company of Mr. Meeke, and the relief of playing the old tunes
again in the old way, saved her, I verily believe, from sinking
altogether under the oppression of the shocking situation in
which she was now placed.
So, with the assistance of Mr. Meeke and his fiddle, my mistress
got though the weary time. The winter passed, the spring came,
and no fresh tidings reached us of Mr. James Smith. It had been a
long, hard winter that year, and the spring was backward and
rainy. The first really fine day we had was the day that fell on
the fourteenth of March.
I am particular in mentioning this date merely because it is
fixed forever in my memory. As long as there is life in me I
shall remember that fourteenth of March, and the smallest
circumstances connected with it.
The day began ill, with what superstitious people would think a
bad omen. My mistress remained late in her room in the morning,
amusing herself by looking over her clothes, and by setting to
rights some drawers in her cabinet which she had not opened for
some time past. Just before luncheon we were startled by hearing
the drawing-room bell rung violently. I ran up to see what was
the matter, and the quadroon, Josephine, who had heard the bell
in another part of the house, hastened to answer it also. She got
into the drawing-room first, and I followed close on her heels.
My mistress was standing alone on the hearth-rug, with an
appearance of great discomposure in her face and manner.
"I have been robbed!" she said, vehemently, "I don't know when or
how; but I miss a pair of bracelets, three rings, and a quantity
of old-fashioned lace pocket-handkerchiefs."
"If you have any suspicions, ma'am," said Josephine, in a sharp,
sudden way, "say who they point at. My boxes, for one, are quite
at your disposal."
"Who asked about your boxes?" said my mistress, angrily. "Be a
little less ready with your answer, if you please, the next time
She then turned to me, and began explaining the circumstances
under which she had discovered her loss. I suggested that the
missing things should be well searched for first, and then, if
nothing came of that, that I should go for the constable, and
place the matter under his direction.
My mistress agreed to this plan, and the search was undertaken
immediately. It lasted till dinner-time, and led to no results. I
then proposed going for the constable. But my mistress said it
was too late to do anything that day, and told me to wait at
table as usual, and to go on my errand the first thing the next
morning. Mr. Meeke was coming with some new music in the evening,
and I suspect she was not willing to be disturbed at her favorite
occupation by the arrival of the constable.
When dinner was over the parson came, and the concert went on as
usual through the evening. At ten o'clock I took up the tray,
with the wine, and soda-water, and biscuits. Just as I was
opening one of the bottles of soda-water, there was a sound of
wheels on the drive outside, and a ring at the bell.
I had unfastened the wires of the cork, and could not put the
bottle down to run at once to the door. One of the female
servants answered it. I heard a sort of half scream--then the
sound of a footstep that was familiar to me.
My mistress turned round from the piano, and looked me hard in
"William," she said, "do you know that step?" Before I could
answer the door was pushed open, and Mr. James Smith walked into
He had his hat on. His long hair flowed down under it over the
collar of his coat; his bright black eyes, after resting an
instant on my mistress, turned to Mr. Meeke. His heavy eyebrows
met together, and one of his hands went up to one of his bushy
black whiskers, and pulled at it angrily.
"You here again!" he said, advancing a few steps toward the
little parson, who sat trembling all over, with his fiddle hugged
up in his arms as if it had been a child.
Seeing her villainous husband advance, my mistress moved, too, so
as to face him. He turned round on her at the first step she
took, as quick as lightning.
"You shameless woman!" he said. "Can you look me in the face in
the presence of that man?" He pointed,
as he spoke, to Mr. Meeke.
My mistress never shrank when he turned upon her. Not a sign of
fear was in her face when they confronted each other. Not the
faintest flush of anger came into her cheeks when he spoke. The
sense of the insult and injury that he had inflicted on her, and
the consciousness of knowing his guilty secret, gave her all her
self-possession at that trying moment.
"I ask you again," he repeated, finding that she did not answer
him, "how dare you look me in the face in the presence of that
She raised her steady eyes to his hat, which he still kept on his
"Who has taught you to come into a room and speak to a lady with
your hat on?" she asked, in quiet, contemptuous tones. "Is that a
habit which is sanctioned by _your new wife?_"
My eyes were on him as she said those last words. His complexion,
naturally dark and swarthy, changed instantly to a livid yellow
white; his hand caught at the chair nearest to him, and he
dropped into it heavily.
"I don't understand you," he said, after a moment of silence,
looking about the room unsteadily while he spoke.
"You do," said my mistress. "Your tongue lies, but your face
speaks the truth."
He called back his courage and audacity by a desperate effort,
and started up from the chair again with an oath.
The instant before this happened I thought I heard the sound of a
rustling dress in the passage outside, as if one of the women
servants was stealing up to listen outside the door. I should
have gone at once to see whether this was the case or not, but my
master stopped me just after he had risen from the chair.
"Get the bed made in the Red Room, and light a fire there
directly," he said, with his fiercest look and in his roughest
tones. "When I ring the bell, bring me a kettle of boiling water
and a bottle of brandy. As for you," he continued, turning toward
Mr. Meeke, who still sat pale and speechless with his fiddle
hugged up in his arms, "leave the house, or you won't find your
cloth any protection to you."
At this insult the blood flew into my mistress's face. Before she
could say anything, Mr. James Smith raised his voice loud enough
to drown hers.
"I won't hear another word from you," he cried out, brutally.
"You have been talking like a mad woman, and you look like a mad
woman. You are out of your senses. As sure as you live, I'll have
you examined by the doctors to-morrow. Why the devil do you stand
there, you scoundrel?" he roared, wheeling round on his heel to
me. "Why don't you obey my orders?"
I looked at my mistress. If she had directed me to knock Mr.
James Smith down, big as he was, I think at that moment I could
have done it.
"Do as he tells you, William," she said, squeezing one of her
hands firmly over her bosom, as if she was trying to keep down
the rising indignation in that way. "This is the last order of
his giving that I shall ask you to obey."
"Do you threaten me, you mad--"